BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE

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Blueberry Crumb Cake with wild, fresh blueberries

 

It was on my first visit to Block Island, RI, where my husband’s family has a home, that I fell in love with foraging…food, that is. I’ve always love furniture and art scavenging, in fact, on my first date with my husband, we dumpster-dived (dove??) for cool junk in Soho–back when Soho was still pretty industrial.  There are those fanatical folks who dumpster-dive for food  (much like extreme couponers–do you really need 100 bottles of hair conditioner? Is a case of E-coli really worth that half-rotten case of Iceberg?)  but that’s where I draw the line. Food foraging in nature is another thing altogether.  On Block Island alone, I’ve foraged blackberries, blueberries, apples, rose hips, beach plums, wild Concord grapes, mussels, clams, striped bass (i suppose that’s called fishing…)  and watercress. In Brooklyn, I’ve found figs, epazote, ginkgo and Juneberry and in upstate New York, ramps, and loads of mushrooms (those, i’m a little wary of)

A few hours a day during our family’s late-summer vacation on Block Island was always spent picking blackberries and rose hips and making pint after pint of jam. My goal was to only buy sugar and new canning lids–everything else was free or else recycled. We’d pick fresh, peppery watercress (too spicy to eat raw) and sauté it with garlic and sausage. In recent years, our vacations have fallen at the beginning of summer, some weeks before blackberries and rose hips are ripe, so my foraging is limited to what I find at the grocery store–and believe me, sorting through mediocre produce sometimes feels like foraging.

On our way home from Block Island last week, we stopped off at my husband’s grandfather’s lake cottage in central Connecticut for an impromptu family reunion. It’s a sweet little house on a lovely lake that my grandfather-in-law bought in the 1940’s. He and his wife planted 2 blueberry bushes near the water’s edge. This week, they were full of blueberries–perfect timing as we usually visit long after they’re gone. In about an hour’s time, I picked more than a quart. The elders were impressed–I think they’d stopped picking them a long time ago. After doling out a few small handfuls, I promised to make a coffee cake for breakfast the following morning with Maggie’s blueberries. 

 

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux's  Cedar Lake cottage

Wild blueberries from Maggie & Charlie Marcoux’s Cedar Lake cottage

 

 

BLUEBERRY CRUMB CAKE 

hands-on time: 20 min

total time: 80 min

Serves 12 to 16

 

Crumb Topping

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

 

Cake

2  2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups blueberries

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter and flour a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan.  Make the crumb topping: in a medium bowl, combine the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and butter and pinch together with your fingers until evenly moistened. Press into clumps.

2. Make the cake: In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar. In a medium pitcher, whisk the eggs with the butter, milk and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in 3/4 of the blueberries and scrape the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Scatter the remaining berries on top. Sprinkle the crumb topping all over and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.

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How to Curry Favors (that may get you free fish)

My friend and neighbor, Bob Wheeler is a fisherman—a generous fisherman who gladly shares his catch with me whenever he can. He’s brought me tuna that’s fresher than any I’ve ever had and more bountiful than I could ever afford. One time, there was enough for 3 dinners and each dish took advantage of the subsequent changing freshness of the fish. Day 1—Tuna Tartar (raw); Day 2—Tuna Salade Nicoise (lightly seared); Day 3—Tuna Burgers (cooked through). All good and all free!

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This time he brought me about 5 black sea bass. Thankfully he gutted the fish, though I have been known to clean my own catch, but left the scaling and filleting to me.  I don’t mind breaking down fish, but scaling is a messy project. The scales fly all over, landing is some pretty unexpected places—inside drawers (closed!) on window sills but the oddest was inside my coffee pot. How??

Unlike the tuna boon, I wasn’t able to use all the bass right away.  I grilled what I could for dinner and vacuum-sealed the rest to freeze for later, knowing that the frozen fish would be relegated to bouillabaisse or fish tacos. (No complaints here!)  I was not in the mood for a tomato-y stew or motivated enough to shop and prep for tacos last night, so I checked my pantry for what I did have: ginger, unsweetened shredded coconut, dried curry leaves, a handful of cherry tomatoes and a pint of clam broth that I’d frozen after a clamming excursion last year (a cool story for another time!) Everything I needed for a fish curry. 

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Quickly sautéing the aromatics, then simmering the broth and coconut milk, and finally adding the chunks of fish for the last few minutes yielded a most delicious curry which I served with rice. Three of us devoured what I’d intended for four. 

Bob gives me fish but what do I give Bob? Where’s the squid-pro-quo? Bob knows that to the core of my being, I appreciate the effort, the adventure and the absolute perfect freshness.  I love listening to his fish tales, but he loves listening to my kitchen exploits. Like a proud father, he beams when I tell him what I did with his catch. And even though I don’t have a fishing rod in my hand, he knows that I am a kindred spirit. 

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COCONUT FISH CURRY

Total time: 40 min

4 Servings

 

2 tablespoons oil

½ large sweet onion, minced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 jalapeno, minced

1 large garlic, minced

¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 branch curry leaves (about 10) fresh or dried

½ cup chopped tomatoes

2 cups clam broth

½ cup coconut milk

2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Salt

1 pound white fish fillets, such as sea bass, red snapper or halibut, cut into 2-inhc pieces

½ cup peas

2 scallions sliced

Steamed rice for serving

Heat the oil in a medium enameled cast-iron casserole or large saucepan until shimmering. Add the onion, ginger, jalapeno, and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 7 to 8  minutes. Add the shredded coconut, curry powder, mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, clam broth and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in the corn starch mixture and bring to a boil. Season with salt. Add the fish and peas and simmer just until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the scallions and serve with rice.