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Wooden platter holding three wintry nutty chocolate port sundaes.

The holiday season is a wrap and the dust of 2021 has settled. Perhaps you are back to a work grind, or find yourself buried in winter snow. Or maybe you're sad that your family has left, or maybe elated that your family has left. As great as it was, maybe you are relieved to be past it all. Just because holiday treats are in the rear-view mirror doesn't mean you don't deserve a special little zero-effort dessert. Maybe you need a quiet post-holiday celebration. Maybe you need a nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae.

If this Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae were an actor in a musical, it would make its quiet sultry entrance stage right, while the whole noisy chorus of holiday desserts shuffle-flapped off, stage left. The Sundae (let us call her Sundae) would glide across the stage to a stool waiting under a soft bath of light. Sundae, dressed in a slim black turtleneck and tailored trousers, would lightly park on the stool, one long leg outstretched. Slowly she would look up and raise the mic.

While the holiday dessert chorus is in the back peeling off sparkly garish costumes and wiping off melted greasepaint, Sundae begins her ballad. One part Louis Armstrong, one part Norah Jones, equal parts gravel and smoke, Sundae's song lifts the corner of your mouth and quiets your spirit.

The intimate moment with Sundae passes, but you are never the same. You'll think of this Sundae at the oddest times for years to come. So it is with this little winter dessert recipe.

wooden platter holding glasses of wintry nutty chocolate port ice cream sundaes.

Other Wintry Desserts You'll Love

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee or Spice flavored versions: Get the Recipe.

Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet: Get the Recipe.

Three Nutty Chocolate Port Sundaes on a wood platter

Wintry Nutty Chocolate Port Sundae

Course: Dessert
Keyword: adult dessert, boozy dessert, quick winter dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1
Author: Pam Spettel
Warm melted pure chocolate, a splash of nutty port, a handful of toasted nuts on vanilla ice cream, and a few drops of flavorful bitters. An adult dessert of the best kind.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Ingredients Per Person

  • 1.5 ounces high quality dark chocolate
  • ½ Tbsp. toasted nuts, crushed with the flat of a chef's knife almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts, or a mix of what yu like
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 Tbsp. port, good sherry, or bourbon
  • 2-3 drops Angostura or black walnut bitters (optional)
  • 1 piece crystallized orange (optional) or a wedge of fresh orange
  • pinch Maldon or other finishing salt

Instructions

  • Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water.* Stir frequently until the chocolate is about 85% melted, about 3-4 minutes, and remove from the heat. Stir every minute or two to allow the residual heat to finish melting the chocolate. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid overheating the chocolate and causing it to seize.
  • If they aren't already toasted, put the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and stir frequently until they are aromatic and ever so slightly browned, stirring very frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid burning the nuts. Cool slightly and crush the nuts with the flat side of a chef's knife, or roughly chop.
  • Scoop the ice cream into a small bowl or cocktails glass. Spoon the warm chocolate over the top, followed by the liquor. Top with the crushed nuts and crystallized orange. Sprinkle with a few drops of bitters and a pinch of crunchy Maldon salt. Serve immediately. Sit back and swoon.

Notes

*Alternatively on a convection cooktop, melt the chocolate directly in a small saucepan on a very low setting.  On my convection cooktop, chocolate melts beautifully on 1.5.
Many kinds of nuts would be perfect here: Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. The very best might even be those from a can of fancy mixed nuts.
I'm famous for burning nuts! Don't let that happen to you! 
Experiment with the liquor and or bitters you chose. There are so many kinds available these days. 
This is a happy way to end a dinner party, especially if you've knocked yourself out before the dessert comes. It's the easiest show-stopping winter dessert I can imagine. 
Flourless walnut spice cake adorned with fall fruits and flowers.
Flourless Walnut Spice Cake with Fall Fruits and Flowers

Rustic Cake at Its Very Best

In my calculus, a rustic cake has a short list of ingredients, an interesting texture, and most importantly is adorned very plainly-- a straightforward glaze, scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a smatter of nuts or seasonal fruit is all it takes. This Flourless Walnut Cake and its coffee or spice versions deliver on a promise of simplicity.

What a cake like this misses in complexity is made up with a certain honesty. It's like the fresh rosy-cheeked girl in a calico dress that smells of clothesline sunshine.

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee Glaze and Candied Walnuts

Or, our flourless walnut cake is like filtering your way through a crowded party, and meeting a gentle-souled person standing in the corner with whom to while the evening away.

Uncomplicated joy.

Multi-tiered, colorful swooped, swirled, and filagree-frosted cakes sometimes disappoint on the part that really matters-- flavor. With flourless walnut cake or its coffee or spice versions, what you see is what you get. The beauty is natural, not forced.

Making the Flourless Walnut Cake

Woman holding place with flourless walnut cake.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake, fresh from the oven.

Starting with room temperature eggs, like with most baking, is imperative to the success of this recipe. Sugar simply cannot dissolve into cold yolks. Cold whites don't whip to their lofty heights. Here you spend a good deal of time building structure by dissolving sugar into yolks and stiffening the whites, so give yourself a guaranteed win by setting your eggs out in advance. (When I forget, I help the eggs warm up by placing them on a bowl of lukewarm water, changing it for more when it goes cold. Never try this with hot water or you make crack open a semi-cooked egg!)

Traditional recipes for this type of cake ask you to whip all of the whites into firm peaks at once. Here, I have you whip them to medium peaks at first, then add only a third of them to the yolk/sugar/nut mixture to lighten the batter. Then, you'll go back and whip the remaining two-thirds of the whites into firm stand-up-at-attention peaks before gently folding them into the batter. I have found this greatly increases the structure of the cake, resulting in a taller cake with less shrinkage when it comes out of the oven. Even though our dear little flourless walnut cakes are humble, they still like to make a good first impression.

If you chose, top either version with a pile of candied walnut halves, made the same way Sarah at Sustainable Cooks makes her pecans. The only difference is that I add 1 tablespoon water to the skillet along with the sugar. Make extra! Candied walnuts are great in salads or on a cheese platter, too.

Both versions-- coffee-walnut and walnut spice cakes together on a table.
Choose plain walnut, walnut spice or coffee-walnut variations with this one simple recipe.

More Rustic Cake Recipes

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake + Blueberry Compote (gluten-free)

Zingy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee + Spice Versions

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: autumn dessert, coffee desserts, nut desserts, spice cake
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12
Author: Pam Spettel
Flourless Walnut cake is tender and delicious just as written, but the addition of coffee or baking spices takes it next level-- One recipe with three variations-- plain, Coffee, or Spice-- to suit your mood. Three primary ingredients, a few simple steps, and you'll have beautiful dessert cakes all winter.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups walnuts, ground (instructions below) 8 ounces
  • 7 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Flavoring Options

Coffee Glaze, Optional

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans
  • 5 tablespoons warm or hot strong brewed coffee
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Flourless Walnut Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour (or use very finely ground walnuts) a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to catch any butter that melts out in the oven.
  • In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. This will likely take only 8 -10 pulses. Stop just as they begin to clump. (Any further and you'll make walnut batter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
  • Seperate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt 6-8 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. (You'll be glad you let your eggs come to room temperature for this-- the sugar more readily dissolves in eggs that are not cold.)
  • If you are making a plain flourless walnut cake, move on to step five. If you are making either a walnut-spice cake or a coffee flavored cake, add the spice mix or the finely ground coffee beans now and mix in thoroughly.
  • Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and with a silicone or rubber spatula, fold the ground walnuts into the yolk mixture.
  • In a separate clean bowl free of any oils or grease, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla to medium peaks. (The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whipped egg whites.) Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the walnut mixture. Then, whip the remaining egg whites once again until they just reach firm peaks. Fold them gently into the walnut mixture in two batches, folding until no more white streaks remain.
  • Place the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed, set (not jiggly) in the middle, and a cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer for this) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 20 minutes before removing the springform ring. The cake will have sunk in the center and formed charming cracks and crags, perfectly normal for this rustic meringue-style cake.
  • Decorate with seasonal fruits, a dusting a powdered sugar, or the coffee glaze below. Seve with whipped cream.

Coffee Glaze

  • Place the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and coffee, tablespoon at a time, and whisk until a glaze forms. It should cling to the whisk and drip off in thick long ribbons. Adjust by adding more powdered sugar or water to make it thicker or thinner. Drizzle the glaze from the whisk around the edges of the cake, allowing some to flow toward the center of the cake and some to drip off the edges. Allow the glaze to set for an hour before covering or serving.

Notes

To make the Coffee Glaze a Spice Glaze, replace the ground coffee with one teaspoon of the same spice blend you use in the cake, and replace the brewed coffee with warm or hot water.
Garnish the spice cake with fresh fig halves, lightly roasted (6 minutes at 350, just to soften) plum prunes, tiny grape clusters, and/or unsprayed organic food-safe flowers or flower petals.  

Or how to say thank you for a huge bag of summer squash and mean it.

lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand with a lemon next to it.

Why people grow so much zucchini is a perfectly legitimate question. As a species we just never catch on that just three zucchini seeds will feed the whole neighborhood. How do we possibly forget year after year? The jokes about the overabundance of zucchini and the lengths people go to get rid of it are only funny because they expose this human flaw.

Neighbors drop off squashes the size of baseball bats to your front porch, ring the bell and run so you can't refuse it. Little old ladies give away brown paper grocery bags of zucchini at every church function. And if you grow a garden, you're rolling in it by mid-summer.

Glazed lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand.

Even using the grate-and-hide technique of sneaking zucchini into everything-- meatloaf, chili, soups and stews, and baked goods, there is only so much one can be expected to eat.

A top-down photo of lemon ginger zucchini cake, glazed and decorated with lemon twists.

I worked out this brightly-flavored zucchini cake as a way to draw down an enourmous supply I was gifted from a generous neighbor. It completely suits my hankering for unassuming cakes, and its sunny lemon-ginger burst is a good excuse for turning on the oven in the middle of August.

Now I get a little happy when I'm gifted a huge bag of summer squash, and my thanks are sincere.

Why is this Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake Special?

All the ingredients that go into the leamon ginger cake.
Mise en place for Lemon Ginger zucchini Cake

In this cake, I swap the typical butter for olive oil. Olive oil adds phenomonal rich flavor that sings with the lemon. The technique remains similar to that of a butter cake, but here the olive oil is added to the whipped eggs and sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff you just know will be good.

I used to make this cake with all-purpose flour only, but have recently added finely-ground almond flour to add a soft airiness to cakes, and it works really well here.

The copius amount of ginger in this cake comes in two forms-- freshly grated and ground-- to amp the gingery quality. Lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven, so I use a lot of lemon zest zing along with the double-dose of ginger. This large cake can hold all this flavor. It is a flavor bomb, not a flavor whisper.

The crunchy glaze-- think glazed donut and you've got the idea-- is due to the addition of granulated sugar to the typical powdered sugar. Just make sure and paint it on while the cake is still somewhat warm for this magic to happen.

Tips for Success

In this cake and all others, start with room temperature eggs.

A stand or handheld mixer is best for the eggs/sugar/olive oil steps. It is also good for gently beginning to incorporate the flour mixture, but stop there and pick up your spatula. Folding in the zucchini, ginger, and lemon zest by hand will automatically involve the streaky bits of flour without toughening the glutens in the all-purpose flour. Your tender result will make you glad you did.

All kinds of summer squash work. I've even made this with peeled young spaghetti squash to great success. If you're using an older/larger zucchini, take out the watery seeds, and gently squeeze the grated squash over the sink to remove some of the moisture to avoid a heavy wet cake.

This turns out a large cake-- 2" tall and 9" across, making 12-15 generous slices. If you want to take it easy on cake, or are like me in a small household, this recipe fits neatly into three 6" round cakepans, with six slices each. This way we can have a little splurge, and stash two cakes in the freezer for on-the-fly entertaining or when the mood strikes again.

Use this method for releasing the cake from the pan without it breaking or crumbling.

Zippy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Course: Dessert
Keyword: crowd pleaser, summer cake
Season: Bounty (August - October)
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 15
Author: Pam Spettel
Made with olive oil, almond and AP flours, ginger in two forms, and loads of lemon zest, this bright rustic cake makes good use of excess garden zucchini. It's the perfect reason to use the oven on a hot summer day.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

  • 3 cups zucchini or other summer squash, finely grated if large, remove seeds before grating and gently squeezed some of its water off over the sink
  • 4 lemons, zested grated reserve juice for glaze
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • cups almond flour, finely ground
  • cups all-purpose four
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • cups granulated sugar
  • cups extra virgin olive oil

Cake Glaze

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

For the Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter a 9" springform pan, 9" x 2" round pan, or three 6" round pans. Dust the pan/s with flour and tap out any excess.
  • Grate the zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger and set aside.
  • Combine the flour baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together well. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with paddle attachement or with a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until creamy and slightly fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Again turn the mixer to medium speed and add the olive oil in a steady stream. Continue mixing in the olive oil until fully incorporated and quite fluffy, another 3 minutes. Again scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • With the mixer at low speed, quickly add the flour mixture one cup at a time, not waiting for it to fully incorporate. Turn the mixer off and remove the mixing bowl.
  • Add the grated zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger to the bowl, and gently stir with a rubber or silicone spatula, folding up from the bottom, until the grated ingredients are evenly mixed through the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cakepan/s and smooth the top and bake. For the 9" pans, bake for 50-60 minutes until the top springs bake when gently pushed and the edges are just beginning to pull away from the pan, and a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. for the 6" pans, bake 35-45 minutes. It is easy to underbake this cake, especially the larger pans, so take extra care to make sure they are done in the center.
  • Allow the cake to cool 15 minutes before inverting on a cooling rack. While the cake is cooling, make the glaze.

For the glaze:

  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk the granulated and powdered sugars to break up the powerded sugar clumps. Whisk in the lemon juice until smooth and no tiny bits of powdered sugar remain. Invert the cake onto the cooling rack and place a peice of parchment, wax paper, or a large plate directly under it to catch the glaze drips and make cleanup easier. While the cake is still warm, generously paint on the glaze with a pastry brush. Allow the cake to completely cool before slicing.
sweet corn buttermilk cake with bowl of blueberry compote

The first cake on 101-Mile Kitchen is like a country summer day on a plate. It is rustic in nature-- meaning it has textural interest and isn't overly sweet or elaborate. It is unfussy. It is flourless, therefore can be served to our gluten-sensitive beloveds. And most of all it uses fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.

A slice of Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake with blueberry compote and whipped cream on a plate.
Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake in a puddle of blueberry compote, with a tuft of lightly whipped cream atop.

A decade ago I played with and wrote about the magical flavor triad of sweet corn, blueberries, and buttermilk. I had two inspirations at the time. First by Claudia Fleming's sweet corn ice cream recipe from her famous out-of-print book, The Last Course, from her time as the innovative pastry chef at Grammercy Tavern in the 1990's. Tim Mazurak of the delicious blog Lottie + Doof created a blueberry galette in a cornmeal crust and served it with the same sweet corn ice cream. Swoon.

My addition of buttermilk to the corn and blueberries brought bucolic thoughts of summer full circle. I promptly forgot about this happy flavor song until now.

The Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake

The Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake is made with Floriani Red Flint stone-ground cornmeal from a local company, Camas Country Mill. This fantastic cornmeal and other flours, grains, and beans can be purchased at the charming Camas Country Schoolhouse Bakery and Store outside of Junction City, Oregon. Whatever brand you use, a stone-ground version is what gives this cake its particular toothsome texture.

close-up of the sweet corn buttermilk cake with a slice removed.
Flourless, moist, and tender Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake, studded with kernels of corn, and a little cornmeal crunch

This simple cake has ingredients from the farm. Before you scoff at the idea of sweet corn in your dessert, remember that peak-season fresh sweet corn is much sweeter than zucchini, an ingredient that commonly makes its way into cakes and sweet breads.

As an aside, this flourless cake will be gluten free if your cornmeal is certified that way. The generous dose of buttermilk makes it moist, tender, and subliminally tangy.

The recipe makes enough batter for one 8" round or 8" square cake. The former will result in a taller cake, the latter a shorter cake that will bake more quickly. It also makes two perfectly tall 6" round cakes. As a household of two, six-inchers are my frequent choice. One for now, the other to be tightly wrapped and popped into the freezer for impromptu company or when the dessert mood strikes.

Be sure and view this short video tutorial for how to tip a cake out of its pan without it falling apart. If you're not familiar with the technique you may find it helpful.

sweet corn buttermilk cakes in their pans.
Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cakes, ready to be tipped out of their pans.

About homemade cakes in general: Please take the time to bring butter, eggs, and milk or buttermilk to room temperature. This is critical to achieving a good emulsion. If you've ever made a cake batter that turned curdly part way through, it is because cold ingredients just cannot emulsify. Your butter may get nice and fluffy, but plop a cold egg into it and it will seize back up into tiny bits rather than become one with the egg. The same goes for the milk or buttermilk you may add. Temperature matters!

The Blueberry Compote

A bowl of blueberry sauce being spooned.
Blueberry Compote

One fanciful learning I've had this summer is to use berry-flavored vinegar in place of lemon juice in berry desserts. Berries often need a little acid to brighten them up and to balance their sweetness. The typical remedy is lemon juice. In several trials I've found that replacing lemon juice with berry vinegar gives the same lift while amplifying the berry flavor. Either works just fine in this recipe. Use what you have.

This Blueberry Compote recipe makes a lot. It can easily be halved, but it is so wonderful on pancakes, waffles, and vanilla (or sweet corn) ice cream. Don't cut yourself short.

The ingredients for the sweet corn buttermilk cake on a platter.
Things you'll need for the cake
sweet corn buttermilk cake with bowl of blueberry compote

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake + Blueberry Compote

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Dessert
Keyword: rustic cake, summer dessert
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Gluten-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 10
Author: Pam Spettel
The magical trio-- sweet corn, blueberries, and buttermilk-- come together in this summery dessert. Rustic yet special, it makes a great summer gathering dessert and an indulgent breakfast the next morning.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake

  • cups stone-ground cornmeal (not corn flour) I use Floriani Red Flint Cornmeal from Camas Country Mill
  • 1 cup almond flour, finely ground
  • tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 cube), room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. blackstrap or dark molasses
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla
  • 1-2 cups sweet corn kernels, cut from cob
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

Blueberry Compote

  • 4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. water, separated
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice or berry vinegar

Instructions

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter two 6" round cake pans or one 8" round cakepan, and generously dust the pans with cornmeal.
  • In a medium bowl, mix the stone ground cornmeal, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • Using a stand or handheld mixer, beat butter to smooth it out. Gradually add the sugar, ¼ cup at a time, and continue beating until the mixture as paled in color and is light and fluffy. Add the molasses and beat until thoroughly incorporated into the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl several times during this step.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each one. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the buttermilk a little at a time to avoid it splashing out, and to keep the mixture emulsified. If the mixture breaks/curdles during this step, stop adding ingredients and turn your mixer to high speed for a minute or two. If the ingredients are room temperature, that should bring it back together. Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl several times during this step.
  • Gently add the dry ingredients, again scraping down the sides of your mixing bowl several times during this step, until the cake batter is well combined.
  • If you are using two 6" pans, evenly divide the batter between them, or if you are using the 8" pan fill it with all the batter. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the center is set and a knife point or bamboo stick cake tester comes out almost clean. The center will feel puffy and springy when lightly tapped.
  • Allow the cake to cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes before removing the cake from the pans, and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack.
  • Serve individual slices on a puddle of Blueberry Compote and a top with a tuft of lightly whipped cream, or if using the cake all at once, place the cake on a serving plate atop a puddle of Blueberry Sauce, top with a billow of lightly whipped cream, and pass a bowl of Blueberry Compote to your guests to serve themselves more.

Blueberry Compote

  • Place blueberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the berries have turned from dusky blue to deep purple, and some of them have started to pop open.
  • Combine the cornstarch and 2Tbsp. water in a small bowl. While constantly stirring, quickly and thoroughly stir the cornstarch mixture into the blueberries. Return to a boil for one minute.
  • Stir in the lemon juice or berry vinegar. Allow to cool.
  • Store in the refrigerator until using. You can easily cut this recipe in half, but you'll love having extra sauce for pancakes, waffles, and ice cream!

Three years ago my beloved and I bought our forever home. We'd come together later in life and it took us a while to figure out where and how to live in a way that meets both of our needs. For ten years we searched to find this place we both love and have made our home.

Our sweet forever home visually melts into the backdrop of a 260+ acre forest that also backs the properties of our two neighbors. We have loved the forest for all it gives. Birdsong, shade, the ever-present rustling of the treetops, the pure fresh earthy scent that's especially noticeable in the early mornings, and the creaks and howls that call from it after dark.

Three dishes of Douglas fir tip sorbet.

Beginning Tuesday, as happens in Oregon, the crop of timber-- the entire forest-- will be harvested. By September what once was a Douglas Fir forest will be three new homesites. We knew this would happen one day. We just liked to think that one day was 20 years from now.

I am heartbroken.

My husband, who has had something grumbly to say about every clear-cut we've ever driven by, has nobly risen to reframe the situation as our "view expansion and sunset enhancement opportunity." His forward lean and courage is beautiful.

I fleetingly think of changing my name to Butterfly and chaining myself to a tree. Instead I just weep.

Douglas Fir tip sorbet

Our dear neighbors with whom we have shared the glories of this forest gathered this weekend to pay homage to the lush, oxygen-scrubbing, interconnected organism we've enjoyed and appreciated. A wake of sorts. Poetry was recited, a tear or two was shed, and we laughed and shared community lore. My hurting heart considered serving Funeral Potatoes but I refrained.

What does one serve on the occasion of a forest being cut down?

We ate from the forest, that's what we did.

Fir tip sorbet in a glass

Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet or Granita

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Chill Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Servings: 12
Author: Pam Spettel
How does one eat a forest? One little bite of fir tip sorbet at a time! A little resiny and a little limey, this refreshing sorbet or granita makes a wonderful dessert with a hazelnut cookie, or a fantastic palate cleanser between courses. Forage away!
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • Ice Cream Maker/Freezer (optional)

Ingredients

  • cups water, divided
  • cups white sugar
  • ½ lime, zested
  • cups fir tips, packed
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice (about 6 larger limes)
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 medium lemons)
  • 3 Tbsp. Douglas Fir Brandy, champagne, or vodka*

Instructions

  • In a small saucepan combine 2 cups of water, sugar, zest of ½ lime, packed fir tips. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Put a lid on the pan and remove from heat. Allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture into an 8-cup measuring cup or mixing bowl.
  • Squeeze the lime and lemon juices. Add the remaining 2½ cups of water and the juices to the strained sugar mixture. Stir in the Douglas Fir brandy, champagne, or vodka. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator 2 hours or overnight.**
  • For sorbet, freeze according to ice cream maker manufacturers instructions. Serve immediately for slushier soft-serve, or harden in the freezer for two hours for scoopable sorbet.

Notes

*If you make the icy granita version, increase the brandy, champagne, or vodka to 4 Tablespoons.
**If you are making icy granita, skip the chilling step and pour the mixture into a large flat plastic container with lid and place in the freezer. Freeze for at least four hours, scraping every hour or so with a fork to break up chunks and create the fluffy "snow-cone" texture. To serve, rake through the frozen mixture again with a fork to create the fluffy icy texture and serve.

Other Ways to Eat a Forest

Douglas Fir Fettucine Alfredo and another beautiful sad story.

Douglas Fir Shortbread and Healing Conifer Tea from The View From Great Island

Douglas Fir Roasted Amarosa Potatoes Hasselback Style

hazelnut cookies on chair in field

I have a strong difference of opinion with myself. Brightly colored vibrant foods are my first choices. The more colors in the market basket or on a plate the better. The oranges and greens, reds and purples, and occasional black foods make me salivate just to look at.

hazelnut meringue cookies on a baking sheet

Yet when it comes to desserts, I'm drawn to the modest beiges, creamy whites, and browns of all shades. My affinity is for rustic, crumbly sweets that out-perform their appearances. There is a place for sprinkles and colorful frosting and fancy flourishes, but for day-to-day desserts the homier the better.

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies

Oregonians are rightfully proud of our home-grown hazelnuts, with 99% of U. S. hazelnuts grown right here in the Willamette Valley. This fast and simple four-ingredient recipe (five if you use the optional almond extract) features them like the heroes they are.

Nutty meringue cookies have been around for decades. The difference here is that I've developed this recipe to feature as much hazelnut flavor and texture as the egg white meringue will hold. Don't let this quiet beige cookie fool you-- they pack in a lot of hazelnut along with their very pleasant crispy and chewy texture.

measuring cup filled with hazelnuts

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies are terrific served with summer fruit platters, any kind of fruit, chocolate, or caramel ice creams or sorbets, (like my Strawberry Sorbet and DF Ice Cream duo!) They are also delicious as a coffee or tea break treat.

The recipe contains no gluten, no grain, and no additional fat besides that which is natural to the nuts.

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ingredients for hazelnut meringue cookies
hazelnut meringue cookies on a plate

Chewy Hazelnut Meringue Cookies

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: French, Pacific Northwest
Keyword: GF, DF, and grain free, versatile cookie
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 30 cookies
Author: Pam Spettel
Five handy ingredients come together fast and easy for these delicious chewy cookies. Perfect with coffee or tea, and especially nice alongside a dish of your favorite ice cream for a simple dessert.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick baking mats.
  • Finely chop hazelnuts in a food processor or by hand, if using whole. Set aside.
  • In an upright mixer or using a hand mixer, begin whipping egg whites on medium speed. As they begin to get bubbly and foamy, add in the extracts and salt. Increase mixer speed to high and continue beating until eggs white turn solid white. Begin adding sugar in, one Tablespoon at a time in fairly quick succession, until all the sugar is added.
  • Continue whipping egg whites until they are very stiff and hold stiff peaks, and the sugar is completely dissolved into them. (Rub a little of the mixture between your fingers to feel if the sugar is dissolved.
  • Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold the hazelnuts into the egg whites in three batches. The mixture will become a little stiff at the end-- that's OK.
  • Using a one Tablespoon scoop or spoon, drop the batter into the baking sheets. With lightly damp fingers, gently pat the tops of the cookies down. (They will not spread as they bake.) Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden around the edges and on the bottom. Cool on baking sheets.
  • These will keep in a sealed container for several days, and freeze well.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
This recipe works well with chopped walnuts and almond, too!
If you like your cookie a bit chewier, add 1/4 cup less nuts to the whipped egg whites. 

It was May, just as the strawberry fields were beginning to ripen, when my family and I moved to rural Oregon from the desert southwest. A big hand-painted plywood sign announcing "U-Pick Strawberries" near our new house beckoned. As motivation and reward I promised my then nine, seven, and three-year-old kids we would go as soon as we were unpacked and settled in.

Having grown up in cities, this "U-Pick" idea was just the best thing I'd ever heard of. Farmers actually let people onto their property to pick their produce? I had no idea I was expected to bring our own buckets or bowls, and we showed up that first day empty-handed and wearing inappropriate shoes for farm work.

Farmers, in general, are really nice people, and they had met our kind before. Spare grocery sacks were handed out, and we skipped off to our assigned rows.

The four of us had never tasted strawberries before. Yes, we'd had the trucked-in grocery store variety a lot of times, but the color, aroma, and taste of these field-ripened berries was like Dorothy entering the technicolor Land of Oz.

The kids and I laughed and stopped to look at the loamy earth, the bugs, and the whiskery leaves of the strawberry plants growing in mounds. We raced to see who could pick the most berries. There was no way to hide my then three-year-old's strawberry-stained face, hands, and belly, and truth be told all of us had eaten our fair share in the field. I offered to pay for what we'd eaten, and the clerk made me a customer for life when she laughed and said it was all part of the experience.

There are no words to describe how alive I felt that day.

It was then I realized what a sheltered life I'd lived in the big city. It was then that I developed my sustained mad crush on local farms, farm stands, farmers, and the generosity of Oregon itself. That day goes down as one of the best in my life, and it changed me forever.

As the summer moved along and for many summers afterward we U-picked cherries, raspberries, blueberries, and Oregon's famous Marionberries. Wonder-filled memories were made through the years, from the gathering of the berries to the lovely things we made and ate from them.

Fun Dessert Duo: Strawberry Sorbet + Strawberry Ice Cream

The only thing better than ice cream for dessert is ice cream and sorbet for dessert! Making them with the same fruit makes a beautifully balanced contrast of color, tanginess, sweetness, creaminess and frostiness.

This type of dessert duo is one of my entertaining go-to's. The frozen desserts can be made in advance-- a big win for any host! There is something show-stopping about serving the two this way.

I like to serve my ice cream/sorbet duos with some type of cookie, often a shortbread or something nutty. This time I made my Rustic + Lovely Hazelnut Meringue Cookies.

Frozen strawberry treats with hazelnut meringue cookies
Strawberry sorbet and strawberry dairy free ice cream

Strawberry Sorbet and Strawberry Ice Cream Duo (Dairy-Free)

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: easy, frozen strawberry desserts, no-cook
Season: Evergreen (April - July)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free
Prep Time: 30 minutes
30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 8
Author: Pam Spettel
The only thing better than ice cream for dessert is ice cream and sorbet for dessert! Making them with the same fruit makes a beautifully balanced contrast of color, tanginess, sweetness, creaminess and frostiness. This type of frozen dessert duo is one of my entertaining go-to's. The frozen desserts can be made in advance-- a big win for the host! There is something show-stopping about serving it this way.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Strawberry Sorbet Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 5 ½ cups)
  • 2 small lemons, divided
  • ¾ - 1 cup sugar depending on the ripeness of the berries)
  • 1 pinch salt

Dairy-Free Strawberry Ice Cream Ingredients

  • 10 oz. strawberries, hulled and quartered, divided (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 13.6 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
  • ? - ½ cup honey depending the the ripeness of the berries
  • ½ tsp. xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 drops almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice

Instructions

Strawberry Sorbet Instructions

  • Prepare (hull and quarter) strawberries and set aside.
  • In a food processor, process ½ small lemon with sugar, pulsing and whirring until the lemon is in tiny even bits and fully incorporated into the sugar.
    lemon and sugar in food processor
  • Add the strawberries, the juice of 1 ½ lemons, and the salt. Process until the strawberries are completely pureed, stopping to scrape the sides a few times to incorporate all of the sugar mixture.
    strawberry sorbet mixture in food processor
  • For best results, chill the sorbet mixture at least one hour or up to overnight. (It will freeze better in an ice cream maker if it is chilled, or you can make it ahead to this step and freeze the mixture the next day.) Freeze according to your ice cream maker directions. For soft-serve, serve right away. For a firmer scoop, store in the freezer for an hour before serving.

Dairy-Free Strawberry Ice Cream Instructions

  • Reserve about 1/2“ of the hulled and quartered strawberries. Add all remaining ingredients (1/2 of the berries through lemon juice) to a food processor and process until smooth.
  • Add the reserved 1/2“ strawberries to the mixture in the processor, and pulse a few times to break them up into bits and chunks.
  • For best results, chill the ice cream mixture at least one hour or up to overnight. (It will freeze better in an ice cream maker if it is chilled, or you can make it ahead to this step and freeze the mixture the next day.) Freeze according to your ice cream maker directions. For soft-serve, serve right away. For a firmer scoop, store in the freezer for an hour before serving.

Notes

Plan ahead if you are making these both at once. If you are using a Cuisinart-style tabletop ice cream maker you will either need two freezer inserts or you will need time to refreeze your insert. 
Banana Coconutty Breakfast Cookies for Mom

The broad category of humans called mothers, like all the other broad categories of humans, are not intractably indivisible and uniform. Nope, the perfect motherhood monolith is just a false notion. Every single person who bears the label "Mother" stands uniquely alone in their personhood. The way each mom fills out their mother-space is theirs alone.

My mom and I live nearly 3,000 coast-to-coast miles apart, or roughly the same distance as it is from my home to Mexico City or Montreal, Quebec. It's been nearly 16 months since I've seen her.

We've missed some big things this year-- we made the most of her 80th birthday celebration with a Zoom party. She's stayed well, the most important thing. But I miss her.

Here are some of the things that make my mom different than all the other moms in the world:

  • My mom has always had that young-for-her-age cuteness.
  • My mom has a great sense of aesthetic. It is from her that I learned to group things in odd numbers, what the word monochromatic meant, how to fan a stack of paper napkins with the bottom of a glass, and how to accessorize an outfit.
  • My mom throws great parties. She makes custom invitations for every event, even a neighborhood weinie roast. She carries a theme all the way through the party, from that early invitation to some little parting gift-- usually something she's made.
  • My mom made sure that my Christmas birthday was never overlooked. Not one single year in all my years has she ever given me a birthday gift wrapped in Christmas paper, and she always held some fun birthday party in the midst of the holiday bustle.
  • My mom was a good cook and made sure she introduced my brother and me to lots of different foods at an early age.
  • My mom is an intuitive gift-giver. She gives clever, meaningful presents that always surprise and delight.
  • My mom likes bananas only if they are in the four-hour window of being pale-to-medium yellow and ever-so-slightly slightly green at the tip. At the ice-cream shop she asks to see the bananas before ordering a banana split. Deep yellow or spotted bananas are meant for baking ONLY.
  • My mom LOVES all things wedding. My mom has made wedding bouquets for more brides than I can count, and a few wedding dresses and cakes too. Her telephone ringtone is Mendelssohn's Wedding March.
  • My mom hosted a ladies-only royal wedding sleepover for William and Kate and stayed up all night watching the festivities. People from three states attended.
  • My mom always cries at the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, the playing of the national anthem or Amazing Grace, and at goodbyes.
  • My mom allowed me full access to her kitchen as a tiny little kid. It wasn't her kitchen-- it was our kitchen. She taught me how to use flame and knife safely and didn't hover over my experiments thereafter.
  • My mom taught me that cleaning up after myself was an important part of cooking and would call me back into the kitchen if I'd slap-dashed through it. I appreciate the sense of discipline she instilled.
  • My mom is not afraid to be the only couple on the dancefloor.
  • My mom starts almost every day with coffee and a breakfast bar in bed. Her routine makes me smile.

If I were with her this week, I'd make mom these tasty Banana Coconutty Breakfast Cookies. I'd actually make a double-batch, and zippy-bag them up for her freezer so she'd have a month of homemade breakfast cookies after I left.

What makes your mom the unique person she is or was? Please leave a comment to help us all celebrate our mothers this week.

These breakfast cookies are made with hazelnuts, one of our Oregon treasures. They are naturally gluten-free if you chose GF oats. The contain no dairy, and no added sugar-- just naturally sweetened with very ripe bananas. Don't be tempted to use the green-stemmed ones here. The browner the better and you will never know there is no sugar added.

plate of banana coconutty breakfast cookies

Banana Coconutty Breakfast Cookies

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Dessert
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: GF option, grab-and-go breakfast, naturally sweetened, no sugar added, Oregon hazelnuts
Season: Bounty (August - October), Evergreen (April - July), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 20 cookies
Author: Pam Spettel
A naturally sweetened, moist, nutty grab-and-go breakfast, coffee-break treat or after-school snack.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 large very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • ¾ cup hazelnut flour
  • 1 tsp. baking power
  • ½ tsp. ground cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, OR ginger
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut chips or flakes

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together mashed bananas, egg, olive oil, and vanilla. Set aside.
  • Crush the hazelnuts with the wide side of a chef's knife blade, then roughly chop the hazelnuts a few times, leaving them somewhat chunky. Slide them into the wet ingredients.
  • In a food processor fitted with its steel blade, pulse the oats five or six times to begin breaking them down. Add the hazelnut flour and pulse another 5 or 6 times to combine. Add the baking powder, spice of your choice, and salt and pulse another few times just to incorporate.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the bowl, along with the coconut. Stir thoroughly. Leave it sit 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the tops are light golden brown and the bottoms are lightly browned, switching the pans half-way through. (Teaspoon-sized drops will bake in about 16 minutes; larger drops will take longer.) Allow the cookies to cool on their baking sheets 5 minutes or so, them move them to a cooling rack to complete cooling.
    browned bottoms of banana cookies
  • Store airtight for up to 5 days. These also freeze nicely.

Mr. Fred Rogers, my truest childhood hero, said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Love is showing up, on repeat, day after day. It's the things you never knew you'd do-- like catching your six-year-old's barf in your hands, or forgiving a friend and forgiving the hurt over and over again until you don't remember it anymore, which you hope is soon. Sometimes you are the target of your own love when you allow yourself to let go of guilt, grief, or fear.

"I know the secret of life: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things."

Anne Lamott

The wonderous thing about love is that you will mess it up. That's just part of it.

Just like the verb cooking, loving calls for a lot of trial, practice, mistake-making, and what can feel like wasted time and resources. But your flops are exactly how you learn to love better. The trick is to not give up. Keep practicing. Your acts refine as you practice them. Your acts become who you are. With a little tenacity your love eventually looks more like the souffle you'd hoped for and less like the dog's breakfast.

Remember all this when you make these pretty little cookies for your Valentine beloveds. Each time you press your pinky into the dough, you imprint the part of yourself that's set on loving. The soft, unchilled dough gives way to make adorable little heart shaped vessels that hold a tad of sweet goodness you also have made.

As you form the little hearts, they will remind you of your beloveds. Some, like a crotchety uncle, hide their tenderness in wrinkly crookedness. Some, like an emotional 8th grader, absolutely cannot contain their contents. Others are the picture of every-hair-in-place perfection. The likeness of each heart says they belong together on the plate. Their uniquenesses make the plateful interesting. Just like you and your beloveds.

Blood Orange Pinkyprint Shortbread Heart Cookies

Course: Dessert
Keyword: blood orange curd, cookies for your sweeties, Pink blood orange curd cookies, shortbread, Valentines cookies
Season: Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Nut-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 4 minutes
Servings: 40 cookies
Author: Pam Spettel
Why make thumbprints when with your loving touch, each little heart cookie bears its own personality? No need for perfection here-- just celebrate each cookie's unique heart, just as you do your beloveds.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Blood Orange Curd

  • 3 egg yolks, whites saved for another purpose
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup blood orange juice freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp blood orange zest finely grated
  • 1 stick unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Vanilla Shortbread Dough

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • cups AP flour

Instructions

For the Blood Orange Curd

  • Make a double boiler by simmering 3" deep of water in a large saucepan. In a medium/large stainless steel bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar until sugar just starts to dissolve.
  • Whisk in both juices and zest.
  • Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Cook curd, stirring with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until it begins to thicken. It should have the consistency of loosely whipped cream. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in butter cubes all at once, stirring until butter is completely melted and fully incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove bits of zest and any solid egg proteins.
  • Chill at 2 hours before using in the cookies. This makes about 1 ¾ cups-- you will only use about ½ cup for the cookies. Store the rest for another purpose.

For the Vanilla Pinkprint Cookie Dough

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick mats.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy. On low speed, blend in the flour until just incorporated.
  • Using small scoop, scoop up a bit of dough and roll into a 1" ball with your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Using your pinky, press down near the top of the ball, making an indentation. Make another indentation right next to it. Make a third indentation centered in the hollow just below the first and second indentations to begin making a heart shape in the dough. Use your fingers to elongate the edge at bottom of the ball, and to make a dent in the edge of the top of the ball. Repeat, making fun little heart shapes, each with their own personality, using up the dough. You should have close to 20 hearts on each baking sheet.
  • Chill dough hearts until they are very firm, at least an hour. This part is critical, or you'll end up with a puddle in the end.

Putting the cookies all together:

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Bake one sheet for 7 minutes. Working quickly, once again use your pinky to depress the heart shape that has puffed up. It will be hot, so use caution. Using a very small spoon, like a baby or demitasse spoon, fill the depressions with cold blood orange curd. Don't over flow!
    Place the cookies back in the oven for another 5 - 7 minutes, keeping a close eye. You want them fully cooked and just barely beginning to go golden on the bottom, but not browning on the cookie itself.
    Allow to cook for two or three minutes on the baking sheet, to set up, them remove to a cooling rack to complete cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if they last that long.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Use store- bought lemon, lime, or raspberry curd instead of making your own. 
Save time by simply using your thumb to make an indent. No need to make a heart to make these cookies pretty and delish all year long.

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Welcome!

Photo of 101-Mile Kitchen blog owner.

You’re in the right place to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar. I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how.

Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.

Inspiration: Ingredients! Fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients as an artistic medium.

Heroes: Food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.

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