Nectarine kuchen.

This week has been my first week off work, and the days are long. Where last week I spent my days in a panic that I wouldn’t get everything done before this kid arrives, now I am beginning to think he’s never coming. The doctor assures me that “we’re close,” but that all I can do now is wait.

Patience is not my virtue, and “any day now” is not enough information to make plans around.

It’s a weird feeling, this lack of a sense of purpose or structure. In the absence of a real to-do list, I don’t do much of anything. I should probably finish addressing the thank-you cards from my shower. I should put the laundry away and do something about the kitchen floor.

I was proud of myself yesterday because I made dinner, a word that if I were being totally honest would be placed in quotation marks. We eat a lot of take-out. During the day, when the light in this place is most oppressive, I wander up and down Granville Street because I am told that walking will help speed things along. At home the cat no longer feigns interest in our conversation, though we do spend long hours napping.

The evenings are much nicer. The light is softer, and people come over. I feel most like myself in the evenings.

My parents called on Saturday to tell us they were going to come over on Sunday to bring baby things and dinner. There are still local peaches and nectarines at the markets, because the season was late this year, so I grabbed the last few big nectarines in the bin and decided to make dessert, which counts toward my total productivity for the week and also means cake for breakfast until the leftovers run out – double win.

The nice thing about this dessert is that you do it in bursts with long stretches of sitting down in between. You make the batter, and then it rises, and then you put the batter in a pan, and it rises again. You make the topping, and it macerates, and then you bake the thing. Not much standing, at least not for too long.

It’s also fun to say – kuchen, or “kooken,” and oh how I wish I spoke German. And while I wasn’t sure of it as an after-dinner treat, this kuchen would certainly be lovely with tea in the middle of the day if you were going to have company some Sunday afternoon. It’s not too sweet, with a coarse, bread-like crumb and slightly yeasty taste that was nice (but not what I was in the mood for post-pasta). You’ll want to serve it warm, ideally the day it’s made, but it does reheat well.

I’ve made minor adaptations to the Gourmet Today recipe, as I didn’t like the lemon in it and wanted a touch more vanilla. And while the Gourmet recipe calls for those cute little Italian prune plums, I am not ready to bid farewell to sweeter, muskier stone fruit just yet. In winter this would be nice with a whisper of cinnamon and topped with poached pears or thin slices of orange.

Nectarine kuchen

(Based on plum kuchen recipe from Gourmet Today, page 733; serves 8.)

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, warmed to about 110°F
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into tablespoons (room temperature)

Topping:

  • 1 lb. nectarines, pitted and sliced to between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick
  • Half of one vanilla bean, scraped
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar

Butter a 9″x13″ baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and water and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

In a large bowl, beat 1 3/4 cups flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, vanilla, and yeast mixture at medium-low until smooth. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, sprinkle dough with remaining 1/4 cup of flour, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Leave to rise somewhere warm for 45 to 60 minutes (until doubled in bulk).

Stir batter until flour is thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into prepared pan, cover, and let rise until doubled, another 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine nectarine slices with vanilla bean and brown sugar. Toss to coat, and let stand at room temperature, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Drain liquid from nectarines, and arrange nectarine slices over top of dough. They can overlap. Bake until cake is golden and fruit is tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

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Pepper pot.

A friend and I once took a Caribbean cooking class through the Vancouver School Board’s Continuing Education program. I had taken other classes through the same program and they were all taught by professional chefs and I learned some fabulous things, including recipes I still use on a regular basis, so I thought the Caribbean class would be equally useful.

When we got to the first class, the instructor was wearing a lot of red lipstick, some of it on her lips, and a T-shirt printed with a picture of her face. She was no longer allowed to sell her herbs and spices in class – the school board forbade it – so if you wanted to come out to her car after class, she’d sell you spices in Zip-Loc bags. I can imagine how it would look, buying a baggy of dried thyme from the trunk of someone’s car in a south Vancouver high school parking lot, but I guess that’s how she supplemented her income; she would mention her spices two to three times, every time.

She also ran a catering company and would deliver your Christmas turkey or Hanukkah feast, and taught she taught basic cookery to children (I was once handed a recipe for a spaghetti dessert involving raisins, cottage cheese, and cinnamon – I think it was supposed to be Noodle Kugel, but it missed the mark … a bit). The course was four classes long and basically one giant commercial. And the food was terrible.

What I did get out of the class, aside from a Certificate of Attendance and a desire for my own face on a T-shirt, was an introduction to some of the basic flavour combinations that comprise Caribbean cooking. What follows is a version of Caribbean Pepper Pot, which I was introduced to in that class, but which has evolved into something less complicated but infinitely more complex.

It is mildly sweet, as spicy as you want it, and full of autumn veggies, which makes it a cozy dinner that’s lovely this time of year. I hope you’ll try it. And no need to follow me out to my car afterward.

Pepper pot

(Serves six to eight)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 lbs. yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 scotch bonnet or habañero peppers, pierced (unless you like it really hot, then chop the peppers finely … but be careful)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 lb. okra, chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs and brown each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onions and garlic to the pan, scraping up any chicken bits from the bottom. Add bay leaves, brown sugar, thyme, allspice, and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, scotch bonnet or habañero pepper(s), chicken stock, coconut milk, and lime zest and juice. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add okra, red pepper, and kale and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until okra is soft. Stir in cilantro. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Remove pepper and bay leaves. Serve with rice.