Damson Plum Jam

Damson plum jam has been a household favorite for many years. I had never heard of these plums until I did a search years ago trying to learn about this tree in our yard with small purplish-skinned plums that definitely are not fresh eaters. That search led to my discovery of Damson plums. While not tasty off the tree they make a rich, flavorful jam with a beautiful color and aroma. There isn’t a jam that really compares.

Damson Plum Jam on Gluten-free Toast

Unfortunately last year we had no harvest. Several plum trees in the neighborhood were lost to a mysterious ailment. This year a couple young trees graciously presented us with enough plums for one very small batch. It was nice to have the aroma of Damson plums cooking in the house again.

With a small harvest, the jam making process was quite simpler this year. First comes the harvest in early September. My harvest pattern is to pick when the plums are quite ripe — actually already falling or just hanging on. You may question my technique but I start with picking fresh drops from the ground then I may lay some landscaping fabric on the ground. Now I grab a branch, look down, and shake the branch. After gathering that group of fresh fallen fruit off the fabric I continue to the next branch. This year with only a few branches I did actually handpick but did not on the mature tree we lost. With the fruit picked, you can let the plums ripen further for some days before cooking. Don’t want to wait too long though, they won’t last and the fruit flies love them.

Place the plums into a pot, add sugar and cook. I’m flexible on the proportions but you can start with 5 cups of plums, 3 cups of sugar and a little water. Note that the pits have not been removed. The pits are the hard part with this jam. Some people remove them before cooking and, I admit, with this year’s small harvest I did so as well. It isn’t too hard when they are quite ripe but when you have a lot of plums I prefer to let the cooking do the work for me. I bring them to a boil on medium-high heat then turn it down to medium or a bit lower to continue cooking until the jam sets.

As the plums cook the pits come free from the meat and float. This is when you can start scooping them out. This isn’t the safest method but it works for me. The scooped out pits get piled in a bowl and set aside. Later after they have cooled a bit pop some jam coated pits in your mouth for a very tasty treat — like a hard candy. Just don’t swallow the pits.

When the jam is ready — we’re typically doing freezer jam — it is off to jars, a nice cool down and then the freezer. Except for one jar that immediately gets used on a piece of toast and then goes in the refrigerator until tomorrow’s breakfast.

Gluten-free German’s chocolate cake

Here is my gluten-free version of the Original BAKER’S GERMAN’S Sweet Chocolate Cake. The only change from this recipe was to replace the 2 cups of flour with a gluten-free flour combination. I’ve found that a combination is much more effective than using any single replacement.

Gluten-free flour combination (2 cups):

  • 1-1/4 cup gluten-free oat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/8 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/8 cup coconut flour
  • 1/8 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/8 cup buckwheat flour

In the Portland area you can get all these gluten-free flours at Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store. Conveniently these flours are all available in their bulk food bins allowing you to buy as much or as little as you’d like.

This flour combination produced nice flat layers of moist cakes ready for layering.

Three cake layers fresh from the oven still in the cake pans

Cake layer now out of the pan and looking moist and tasty

Of course between layers and the top must have a coconut-pecan frosting. Our pecans were fresh from a recent trip to Texas. No pecans, no problem. Choose a local nut to use in your frosting like hazelnuts or walnuts here in Oregon.

A not so great iPhone shot of the cake on a platter with coconut-pecan frosting showing between layers

The sides left plain is a pretty layered cake but my wife likes her cake wrapped in a cozy layer of chocolate frosting. The top also likes a bit of dressing — in this case with some coconut flakes and shredded dark chocolate.

Finished cake from the side with chocolate frosting now hugging the side

Another not-so-great iPhone shot from the top showing coconut-pecan frosting, coconut flakes and chocolate shavings, time to slice it up and enjoy.

This delicious birthday cake quickly disappeared (and deserved better photos). Those lucky enough to enjoy a slice — or two — would not have guessed this was a gluten-free cake without being told. Enjoy!

A bad picture of a delicious slice of cake.

Easter Cooking: Pierogies and Babka Bread

This Easter traditions continued with bread baking and pierogi making.

Babka bread was this year’s bread feature. (In the past it has been hot cross buns and Challah bread.) Babka bread is impressive due to its size and stateliness. Adorned with a decorative cross and other embellishments it is beautiful, fills a room with heart-warming smells and tastes wonderful. In this picture we have our Babka bread on a Ukrainian table runner and alongside Easter eggs of year’s past.

Babka break on a Ukrainian table runner with Easter eggs next to the bread

Great to look at but better to eat. Our Babka bread had substance and great flavor along with a nice moist lightness to it. Babka bread sliced and on a plate ready to serve

Pierogies highlighted our meal and our day as the preparation does take time — but provides for ample family bonding. This year’s highlights included the teenagers making the pierogies. It was nice to see the cousins having fun and socializing while taking on this family tradition.

Last time they participated in the pierogi crafting but took it on full force this year. I think they found the mountain of flour building and hands-on work entertaining.

Ava smiles trying to keep the mountain of flour, eggs and other pierogi makings from collapsing before digging in with her hands to mix it all together

Unfortunately I enjoyed our meal before thinking of taking a picture of our beautiful place setting with plates full of pierogies with sour cream, kielbasa, German sweet mustard, dill sauerkraut, asparagus, and salad. Dessert featured gluten-free carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. A yummy day!

We have a few pierogies in the freezer, maybe I’ll remember to take a picture when we fry those up. Until then, you can take a look at SewPixie’s plate full of pierogies and sausage from her Flickr photostream.

Yay dinner! I was starving. Thank you Mr S for pierogies, kraut, and kielbasa. :)

Evening Shadow Graffiti in Oaxaca

Shadow graffiti comes to life at night thanks to a streetlampGraffiti on this wall in Oaxaca, Mexico doesn’t really come to life until the evening when a street lamp casts a shadow on the wall. The lamp shines on a bust of Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón. Cute and clever use of shadow.

I also like this because I like random connections. In this case I have to admit no previous knowledge of Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón. Of course a quick search provides some awareness in which I learn that Álvaro Carrillo is a famous composer from the state of Oaxaca. The connection comes in the realization that I know of his music — well, at least some of it. My favorite is Sabor a Mi, I’ve always liked the Los Lobos version.

Although an instrumental version is also very nice.

Here is a shot with the Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón bust.

Shot of shadow graffiti with bust of Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón creating the defining shadow

The small park containing this bust is on Calle de Macedonio Alcalá. Apparently this is quite a musical street. Being the primary pedestrian street in the tourist area, music can be heard constantly — street musicians, marching bands, dance performances, concerts and, of course, a park honoring Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón. The street, I learned, honors a Mexican musician and composer born in Oaxaca. I assume the text on the wall is referring to Macedonio Alcalá because “Dios nunca muere” is the title of his famous waltz. Here is a YouTube video playing Dios Nunca Muere, unofficial hymn of the state of Oaxaca, and views of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Team Building Fun

Takeoff, a group launch of balloonsThe college sent me to Oaxaca to learn about the culture and bring this back to Portland. Rather than buy small gifts for my work team, I shared a bit of Oaxaca in the form of drink, food and fun. This afternoon we enjoyed watermelon flavored water, conchas (a Mexican sweet bread), and fun with globos.

Globos is Spanish for balloons. At the Zócalo in Oaxaca there are globos vendors selling all kinds of balloons but for our activity the long tubular balloons were the stars. I’ve been told two different Spanish names for these toys: globos salchicha and globos cohete. While they may look sausage-like, for our purposes — and the way the kids used them in the Zócalo — globos cohete (or rocket balloons) seems more fitting.

I’ll be sharing more stories with the group but this bit of culture made for a fun team building break this afternoon.

Fireworks on the last day

One instructor at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca celebrates with his students at the end of their class. Instructor and students have a chance to carry a beast of pyrotechnical wonder.

Yes, a beast — well, maybe a donkey — but with an impressive stockpile of fireworks as its burden this is a beast not to be ignored. The curious crowded close as the fuse was lit but all retreated as the initial spiral of fire ignited. The relative safety of the fireworks we are used to are not so common here. These spirals of fire engage the crowd by spewing fire — no standing still, you are ready to dance out of this beast’s path.