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When I was quite small, I clearly recall my grandmother’s fingers wrapping pieces of walnut in robes of cream cheese.  She then deftly stuffed each into a date with her thumb and rolled the whole thing in granulated sugar.  These were a unique part of the winter holiday menu for our family, and as a child I looked forward to their appearance, because I regarded them as completely magical and delicious.

I discovered years later that dates dipped in butter have been a Bedouin tribal token of hospitality, served with coffee almost since living memory.  Maybe familiarity with dates  somehow migrated across Europe after the ninth century after Spain was colonized.  Maybe Marco Polo brought them along with him over the Silk Road even later – I don’t know.

Twenty years ago, I changed Nonnie’s date recipe slightly by combining the granulated sugar with only a hint of essence of rose.  This gave the stuffed dates a flavor that was nearly impossible to identify.  I made them for Solstice/Christmas one year, and a friend from India told me it was one of the most amazing things she had ever tasted.  Now that was a surprise and a compliment.

For each serving, you will need

-a dried, pitted date

-cream cheese

-half a walnut meat (toasting it would bring out the flavor)

-granulated sugar (either plain or scented with rose petals or rose water).  If you make your own rose sugar by burying petals in the sugar to dry, just make sure you use flowers that haven’t been treated with chemicals.  You can also infuse a little neutral alcohol such as a small amount of vodka with food-grade dry rose-petals (look in the tea section of your local natural food store) and sprinkle that into the sugar.

So simple:  Take your walnut meat, wrap enough cream cheese around it so the whole thing still fits into the cavity of the empty date… and roll it around in the granulated sugar.  It’s ready!

remember, you can always click on any photo for a close up, or a super close-up

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Pound cake is another simple, elegant, universal recipe.  Whether you  have guests or are having an little snack for yourself, homemade pound cake is always heartwarming.  It is a little rich, and not too much trouble.  The name comes from using a pound of each ingredient: flour, butter, sugar.  This recipe comes from an old standby cookbook, The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

I used a natural shortening, called Earth Balance, with some butter mixed in for flavor:

Wonderful Pound Cake

2/3 cup shortening

1-1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 tblsp lemon juice

(I added a tsp of vanilla)

2/3 cup milk

2-1/4 cups flour

1-1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

3 eggs

Set your oven to 300F and butter and line a 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan with parchment paper (or butter & flour it)

Mix the shortening and sugar together with the lemon zest and beat until light (3 min).  Add lemon juice and vanilla.  Beat in the milk.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat on medium speed with a hand held mixer for a couple of minutes, scraping down the sides of your bowl.  Then begin adding your eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each addition, and then beat everything together for another minute.  Don’t overmix, or you will develop the gluten, which will toughen your cake.

Finally, put the batter into your baking pan and place in a slow (300) oven and bake for 1 hour & 20 minutes.  Allow to cool enough to remove from the pan and let it cool completely.  A little cracking on top is perfectly natural.

A little custard and fruit- you have a little slice of heaven 🙂

Last week was pie, this week it’s cake!  This is my grandmother’s recipe

Nonnie’s Rhubarb Cake

½ c shortening

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs Mix well

Sift:            2 cups flour

½ teas. Salt

1 teas. Soda

Add alternately with

1 cup buttermilk (I used yogurt today, since I didn’t have any buttermilk)

Beat well and fold in rhubarb

Sprinkle over top of cake the following:

1 cup brown sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

Bake in a well greased and floured 9X 10 pan for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees.

2 or 3 cups of rhubarb should be cut in length once then in pieces about an inch long.

(Today I also added a couple of cut up, sliced apricots, because I had them nearby- they made for a nice variation on this simple cake, which is almost like  a pineapple upside down cake recipe).

We always had this cake, and other simple homemade desserts when we were growing up.  We often froze quantities of rhubarb in the spring so we were able to make rhubarb cake all through the year.  But of course, it was always wonderful when it went right from your garden into the kitchen and into whatever you happened to be cooking.  We also took the fresh rhubarb stalks and dipped the ends in sugar, which was a very big treat for very small children.

I almost forgot to tell you.  I nearly destroyed this cake- after more than 30 years in the kitchen. The oven was at 300, instead of 350, so I turned up the heat to almost 400, on and off for about 5 minutes.  It survived pretty well, which says something about the recipe and not the baker.