Starting Fresh

Peach Upside Down Cake

Peach Upside Down Cake from Starting Fresh

My oldest brother is currently on deployment in Afghanistan, something we always knew was a possibility but never thought likely given his actual training and daily work in the military. Though we have lived hundreds and even thousands of miles apart for many years now, he’s never been in actual imminent danger. This assignment is different, and it has me feeling more than a little nostalgic. I find myself thinking of my brother, praying for him, and remembering our childhood more than usual these days.


One of my brother’s favorite desserts growing up was “Pineapple Dump Over” cake, as he used to call it. We grew up in the Caribbean and sweet pineapples were plentiful. I wanted to replicate this dessert but adapt it to the golden fruit of a Southern summer: Peaches. Peach Upside Down Cake is an old American favorite. My oldest brother also enjoys a good rum from time to time, so, in his honor, I’ve added a hint of rum to the syrup. Bourbon, Grand Marnier, or Brandy would do well, too.


Peach Upside Down Cake


10” round tarte tatin pan or other heavy bottomed metal pan such as a cast-iron skillet.
½ cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup lard
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
½ cup brown sugar, well packed
¼ cup butter
¼ cup rum
2 cups peaches (freestones are best)


Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Peel and slice the peaches. To make for easy peeling, bring about 6 cups of water to a boil in a medium stock pot. Using tongs, gently place the peaches in the boiling water for 30 - 60 seconds, depending on their ripeness. Riper peaches will take less time. Remove the peaches from the water and let cool to the touch in a colander. Make a small incision in the skin and begin peeling it back with your fingers. The skins should peel off very easily.

To slice, carefully cut the peaches in half from top to bottom and gently twist them to separate the halves from the pit. Remove the pit. Lay the peaches halves flat on a cutting board and slice into wedges about 1/4” thick. Set the slices aside.

Next, make the cake batter. Begin by creaming the white sugar, egg, and lard in a mixer. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed sugar, about ½ cup at a time. Once the ingredients are well combined, add in the milk. Beat on medium speed about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure the ingredients are well mixed.

On stovetop, melt the butter in the baking dish on medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the brown sugar. Make sure the butter covers the sugar and the sugar is evenly spread in the pan. Over medium-high to high heat, melt the brown sugar. When the sugar begins to melt, do not stir. Instead, grip the sides of the pan and gently swirl the syrup so it moves from the center (the hottest point) to the edges. This is the trickiest step of the recipe and the sugar will go from syrup to burnt in no time at all. Watch vigilantly. When the sugar is melted and just begins to caramelize, add the rum and swirl around to mix. Remove the pan from the heat.

Using tongs, arrange your peach slices in the brown sugar syrup. Work in a spiral from the outer edge toward the inside (or create your own pattern).

Pour the batter carefully over the peaches, working in a zig-zag pattern to cover the entire pan. If you need to spread the batter, do so very gently using a spatula so as not to disturb your pattern of peaches.

Bake at 350ºF for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Set on a cooling rack and let cool for 15-20 minutes. Place your serving platter over the pan and quickly turn the cake over from the pan onto the platter. Let the pan rest over the cake for 1 – 2 minutes so the syrup has time to baste the cake. Gently lift the baking pan off the cake.

You can serve it warm immediately with whipped cream or ice cream. If not serving immediately, leave the serving platter on a cooling rack to avoid the bottom of the cake becoming soggy.

Simple Tomato Peach Panzanella



I love tomatoes. I wait all year for tomatoes. During the fall, winter and spring I feel like my entire life is leading up to tomato season, which will be sweet but too short. Always too short.


This year we planted an obscene number of tomatoes in our backyard garden. I’m talking, enough that even when half of them were wiped out by hornworms and all the icky rain, we still have an overabundance of tomatoes. I wanted it that way. I planned it that way. Nothing was going to stand between me and homegrown tomatoes.


This salad is a celebration of fresh, juicy, incredibly ripe tomatoes. And basil. Oh and peaches. Very little beats a good peach. The key is to use super fresh, very ripe, very tasty ingredients because it’s a very simple recipe that really focuses on the produce. I use my best, most beautiful, colorful, juicy tomatoes in this one.


This takes about fifteen minutes to prep and is surprisingly substantial. Two grown adults will be happy with the recipe as a main course, or you could divide the portions smaller to serve it as an appetizer salad.  Now, I wouldn’t be opposed to you adding cheese to this salad as well, but this is actually a vegan recipe as-is, something I have a hard time doing (if I could, I would add eggs to everything and cook exclusively with bacon fat).




Simple Tomato Peach Panzanella


2 medium heirloom tomatoes
2 peaches
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
½ loaf day old french bread (or lightly toasted fresh bread)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/8 tsp salt


Slice the tomatoes and peaches into similar small, bite-sized pieces and chop the basil. Toss the tomatoes, basil and peaches in a bowl with the vinegar and salt and allow to sit a minute or two to allow the flavors to combine. If you're timing this to serve with another dish, hold off on adding the bread in the next step until you're just about to serve it.

If you're using fresh bread, lightly toast for a couple of minutes, pulling it just before it starts to get golden. You don't have to use French bread, but you want something that's dense and crusty and will hold up to liquid without immediately going soggy. Slice the bread it into 1-inch cubes and toss it in with the tomatoes and peaches until the bread starts to take in some of the yummy liquids. Serve immediately.

Salted Duck Egg Salad on Grilled Sourdough

Salted Duck Egg Salad on Grilled Sourdough

As a child I had a special affinity for egg salad sandwiches. But when I grew up, I discovered that I’m actually allergic to chicken eggs, though certain other eggs, such as duck eggs, are fine. Like so many things in life, what started as a curse has become its own sort of blessing. By eliminating chicken eggs, I was encouraged to find other egg sources, and I found out that I really love duck eggs, more than I ever loved chicken eggs (and that’s saying something).

While researching recipes for this cookbook, I learned about Salted Duck Eggs, an ancient Chinese tradition. Salted Duck Eggs are cured in a brine solution at room temperature for a month. Once the cured eggs are hardboiled, they’ll keep months in your refrigerator. There are countless Asian recipes for salted duck eggs, but I felt compelled to turn mine into a new spin on an old favorite: Salted Duck Egg Salad on Grilled Sourdough.

I paired my egg salad with microgreens from the farmer’s market. The earthiness of the greens offsets the brininess of the salted duck eggs. The grilled sourdough brings it all together in a combination that hits the tastebuds with near-perfect harmony. Here’s the recipe.

Salted Duck Egg Salad on Grilled Sourdough

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Makes 2 sandwiches

East meets West in perfect harmony with this new spin on 2 traditional recipes.


For the Salted Duck Eggs
1 dozen duck eggs
4 cups water
1 cup kosher salt
2 tsp rice vinegar
For the Egg Salad
2 salted duck eggs, hardboiled and peeled
1 cup pea shoots, torn into bite sized pieces
5 Tbs. mayonnaise or homemade aioli
4 slices sourdough bread
2 Tbs. olive oil


For the Salted Duck Eggs

In a stockpot add water and salt. Stirring frequently, heat the brine until the salt is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

In a clean 1 gallon container, carefully place the eggs, checking for cracks in the shells. Cover the eggs with the brine.

The eggs will float to the top, but they need to remain submerged to cure properly. Weight the eggs down with a plastic bag filled with water.

Place the jar of eggs in a safe place, away from direct sunlight, where they can sit at room temperature for 30 days.

Once cured, you’ll need to cook the eggs within about a week. You probably won’t use them all up in recipes, but you can hard-boil any leftover eggs. After you’ve boiled the salted duck eggs, they’ll keep covered in you refrigerator for months.

For the Egg Salad

Hard-boil the salted duck eggs for 20-30 minutes, depending on how firm you like the yolks. The yolk of the cured eggs has a beautiful rich orange color and a more grainy texture. This will lend extra body to the egg salad.

Run the boiled eggs under cold water to cool them. Peel the eggs. Hint: boiling the eggs ahead of time and allowing them to chill in the refrigerator will make peeling them much easier.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Cut each half into small pieces. Add to a bowl and stir in the mayonnaise. Set aside.

Heat a pan on the stove over medium-high. Brush both sides of the bread with the olive oil and grill the bread in the pan until both sides reach a golden color.

Spread the egg salad on 2 slices of bread. Top with the pea shoots and the remaining slices of bread. Cut in half and serve.

Memories and Honeysuckle Macarons with Mulberry Buttercream



Food is about more than nourishment- good food is about memories. It may be that comforting soup and saltines your mom always made you when you were sick. Or maybe it’s the funny pancake shapes your dad made when he was home on the weekends.  Or maybe it’s just the smell of butter and sugar, and the memory of licking the cookie dough (no, I never got salmonella). I don’t remember La Sagrada Familia that well, but I remember the incredible paella that was accompanied with a soda they tried to charge me 8 Euros for. Whatever it may be, we all have memories associated with the food we eat.


I’ve talked a bit about food memories here on the blog. Most of my memories are hazy, from before my teenage years, of my mom’s very nineties-semi-health-conscious-Midwestern cooking. I still have some of her recipes written down. But the strange thing for me is that I was adopted when I was 16. My first job at age 15 was working for a garden shop and when things got rough for me, the owner and her husband, after much struggle and heartbreak, took me in. It’s tough for me to talk about my childhood memories, because I haven’t spoken to my mom in years, but those were the formative years when I developed many of my likes and dislikes. I still remember cooking with my mom in the kitchen, and I like to call up those happier times.




Last week we celebrated Lani’s birthday. I made Cacio e Pepe, homemade aioli and steamed artichoke. I didn’t really cook when I lived with my adopted parents, and so they asked me where I learned to cook. Was I holding out on them? Did I learn out of desperation in college? New York? I guess it was a combination of a lot of things. Living with a new family things were different and we didn’t eat a lot of the same things my family had eaten growing up. I loved fajita night and the chickens they got delivered each week that they roasted with plenty of kosher salt. But I didn’t really cook with them. When I got to college I cooked a lot, but mostly weird survival meals. I wanted desperately to have potlucks and dinner parties with my friends but despite my organizational efforts I was unable to coax anyone to participate, and it usually just led to me cooking for ten. It wasn’t until I moved to New York and found other people who were interested in cooking that I started to really get excited about food. I took every opportunity I could to learn, pouring over books and blogs and picking the brain of anyone who would let me.


For Lani’s birthday dessert we had homemade macarons. My husband has been begging me to make them for ages but I’ve always been intimidated by their perfection and precision. But I finally got up the courage, only to find that they’re less complicated than many pastries and desserts I’ve attempted. I used mulberries from the tree in our backyard, which have a very subtle earthy flavor that is easy to overpower. I paired them with lavender. I’ll always credit my initial knowledge of plants and herbs working in the garden shop with Lani in high school. After all the praise for the meal, we bit into the macarons to discover they were quite  spicy. Apparently I mixed up the cardamom and white pepper. But everyone swore they were great just the same.


Lani’s been in the hospital this week, which I guess is what got me on this train of thought. In times of crisis and stress I bake. It brings order to my life. Organizing my ingredients, cleaning the countertops, precise measurements. Gives me something to focus on. So I re-did the macaron recipe, this time without the white pepper. These are the revised forager edition. Mulberries are kind of a pain to pick for us because our tree is so tall we have to wait for them to fall and pick through the bruised ones for useable berries. And you can’t buy mulberries, nor would you buy honeysuckle. So this recipe is nice for minimal urban foraging (just a couple berries and a handfull of honeysuckle blossoms).



If you’re intimidated by these fancy french puffs of sugar and egg whites, I’m here to tell you that like most undertakings in baking, if you can be precise in your measurements and follow directions you’ll be fine. Set out your tools and ingredients ahead of time. Let your ingredients come to room temperature. Read the recipe through a couple of times. And relax.

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Strawberry Krupnikas Pie and Some Love For SEEDS



Just over a year ago we bought a house in East Durham, which is a little rough compared to some other areas of Durham, but we absolutely love it. One of my favorite things about it is SEEDS, a little community garden just up the road. SEEDS has been around since the 1990s and has since made an incredible impact on the neighborhood and Durham on a whole. They are especially interested in youth-oriented programs and this past Sunday they held their annual pie social. The proceeds from the social help to fund the Durham Inner-City Gardener Program, which teaches high schoolers all about organic gardening, entrepreneurial skills and food security. Wow, wow, WOW! Seriously folks, it just makes me so happy hearing about what the folks over at SEEDS are doing. If you’re in the area you should definitely stop by. Right now their mulberry trees are producing plenty of tasty little berries!




Elizabeth and I have been talking about different potential applications for Krupnikas, a spiced honey liqueur that’s made here in Durham with local honey. I’m a big fan of this stuff, it’s a sweet, syrupy liqueur with plenty of spices (think Christmas) and every bottle has the bottler’s name hand written on the top. Classy. It may not be the first thing you think of in the spring, but last year I made a strawberry jam with Drambuie and so I had a pretty good idea that it was going to work in my favor. What I really love about this pairing is that you don’t really need to add additional spices to the pie because the liqueur is already so heavily spiced. It’s really just strawberries, sugar and booze. The syrupy consistency of the liqueur, when baked, actually enhances the texture of what is usually a pretty liquidy pie. Don’t get me wrong, you should still treat the strawberries with plenty of care, extracting as much liquid as possible, but part of me thinks this is what my strawberry pies have been missing all along.



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Quick Pickled Asparagus Eggs Benedict



Because my husband manages the farmers’ market on Saturdays, Sunday is usually our only day off. We do our best to clear our schedules for that day and just relax. One of my favorite ways to spend a lazy Sunday is to start off with a truly decadent brunch. I love challenging myself to make as many of the components as possible from scratch, and two weekends ago I made a super-homemade pickled asparagus Benedict with homemade hollandaise, quick pickles and home baked nooks & crannies bread (the simpler loaf version of English muffins). My husband brought the asparagus home from Sassafras Fork Farm, and it was a lovely mix of thicker and thinner purple and green spears.


I love asparagus. Growing up, asparagus was one of the few vegetables I remember as really having a season. Even if we saw it in the grocery store we didn’t buy it unless it was spring. I was always a huge fan of asparagus when I was little because my mom always served it the same way- smothered in hollandaise sauce. Now I’ll eat it prepared plenty of other ways, but my favorite is still slathered in that magnificent concoction of egg yolks, butter, lemon juice and fresh ground pepper.




I’ve been on a bit of a quick pickle kick (say that five times fast), so I’m going to share that part of the recipe here on the blog. I was going to reveal the entire brunch process from start to finish, but there’s still a bit of tweaking to be done on the bread recipe. Don’t judge my crumb! Plus, I think I’d rather save the whole shebang for the cookbook….


The pickled asparagus was nice and vinegary with just a little hint of sweetness. My 17-month old daughter LOVED it. I looked down after handing her a spear and thought she had dropped it. Imagine my surprise and joy to find she had devoured it in five seconds flat. Quick pickles are a great way to use up extra veggies from a CSA (you can keep them in the fridge much longer than the veggies themselves will last), you can use them to make your own Eggs Benedict or if you’re like me and my family, they’re just great for snacking.



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Strawberry Victorian Sponge Cake with Cava Syllabub

Strawberry Victorian Sponge Cake with Syllabub

Yes, this cake is as extravagant as it sounds.


We are in the full throws of strawberry season (can I get an AMEN?), and that means much joy in my household. Of course, deciding how to eat these wonderful red berries is always the hardest part: Strawberries and champagne, strawberries and cream, or strawberry shortcake? This creation gives you the best of all worlds wrapped up into one stunning dessert.


The champagne, or in this case the cava, comes into play thanks to a wonderful NPR interview with Ted and Matt Lee, authors of the new cookbook Charleston Kitchen. In the interview, the Lee brothers talk about syllabub, which is essentially an alcoholic whipped cream. During the Tudor reign in England, this light dessert was apparently the thing to serve. And though many people have heard of syllabub, it’s not something you see very often.


I had been dreaming for weeks about the first berries of the season and what kind of cake and whipped cream delight I could make with them. When I heard about syllabub, I had a hallelujah moment. One really can have it all: strawberries, cake, cream, and sparkling wine.


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Green Garlic & Chevre Crostini – This Weekend at the South Durham Farmers’ Market

Green Garlic at Market
Spring is the season for food happenings in Durham, or at least, it’s the beginning of a season that is jam-packed until the fall. Elizabeth and I thought it would be great to get involved in some of these events, and somehow ended up with two events on the same day! So before you head out to what promises to be an amazing block party, swing by the South Durham Farmers’ Market where we’ll be doing a quick demo on how to make crostini with green garlic and goat cheese.
Elizabeth’s initial inspiration for this cookbook (that is becoming more and more real each day) was overhearing a someone at market ask a farmer how they should prepare the produce they were buying. Plenty of people are excited about buying local food, but a lot of the time they’re stumped on what to do with it. A lot of the time I’m stumped. And green garlic is definitely one of those less familiar crops.
To demystify it a little, let’s talk about what green garlic actually is. Green garlic is not a variety of garlic, it’s simply young garlic, pulled before it has fully matured. It’s very similar to green onions (ahhh… see where we’re going with this? Green onions? Green garlic??) and can be used in many of the same ways. The difference is that it’s, well…. more garlicky. It has a stronger flavor than green onions, but it’s not nearly as pungent as its fully-grown counterpart. As the season progresses, you may even find green garlic with tiny little bulbs that have started to develop, which are milder than full-sized bulbs. If you love garlic chances are you will love green garlic.
There’s so many uses for it! You can throw it in an omelette, you can add it to pasta, you can putt in in a salad, you can even pickle it. Think about all the ways we use green onions and leeks and shallots and try to apply some of those to green garlic. Chances are you can’t go wrong.
On Saturday we’ll be set up at the South Durham Farmers’ Market, frying pan in hand, with a quick and simple crostini recipe. Elizabeth will be leading the show since she developed the recipe and I’ll be standing there pretending to know what I’m talking about and handing out recipe cards. If you can’t make it down, you can still try your hand at the recipe, posted below. Let us know how it turns out!

Green Garlic & Chevre Crostini

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 16 crostini


1 cup green garlic, thinly sliced (about 6 stalks)
1 cup olive oil
5-6 oz soft goat cheese
1 loaf day old crusty sourdough bread
fleur de sel


Remove the goat cheese from the fridge about 30 minutes before you begin working on this recipe so it can begin to soften.

Chop the stalks of green garlic starting from the bulb until you reach the tough, green leaves, just like you would with a leek or green onion. Wash the green garlic slices to remove any sediment. Pat dry.

Slice the bread into slices about ¼ inch thick.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the green garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the garlic begins to caramelize and just starts to turn brown on the edges. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside.

Very carefully drain the oil from the pan into a heat-proof bowl. Return the pan to the heat. Brush the oil onto both sides of several slices of bread and place the bread on the hot pan. Toast until the bread just begins to brown. Turn it over and repeat. Do this with all the bread, transferring the toasted pieces to a warm oven.

Spread the goat cheese on each slice of toast. Spoon on your green garlic, making sure it is evenly distributed on the toast. Sprinkle with a little fleur de sel or fine sea salt.

For a stronger garlic flavor, set aside some of your raw green garlic slices, finely chop them, and sprinkle them on top of the finished crostini.

Durham’s Longest Dinner Table

When I visited Nashville last fall we ate at Monell’s, a restaurant made up of a few large tables in a big Victorian home. As you arrived you were seated next to whoever had arrived before you, and you and a group of people you’d most likely never met before passed big bowls of delicious southern food to the person on your left. We ended up sitting with a group of police officers and a few out-of-towners like ourselves, and bonded over good food. Last fall my husband and I had the opportunity to eat a farm to table dinner at Little Hen in Cary. Goat meat and pork for tacos were served on large wood cutting boards which we shared with those within reach. We got to chat with an older couple from Cary and to our surprise we found out their favorite activity was taking their Harley out for rides on the weekend.  It’s amazing how sharing a table and a meal can break down boundaries and help you get to know the folks around you.
block party
On Saturday the city is closing down Mangum Street to make room for Thanksgiving In Spring- a dinner table that will stretch for almost three blocks. People from all over Durham will sit down, together, sharing home cooked food for the city’s first family dinner.

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Abuela’s Bisté with Caramelized Leeks

Bifstek with Caramelized Leaks

For years my husband and step daughter told me about this wonderful Cuban dish called Bisté. Beef has always been a rarity for families in Cuba (now, it’s actually illegal), so when a piece does come along, it’s pounded thin to stretch as far as it can go. Also, the more affordable cuts of meat are often the tougher cuts. Pounding the meat tenderizes it considerably.


My husband’s grandmother would make a sauce with caramelized onions and vino seco (a dry white Cuban cooking wine). Cuban onions are often smaller than the ones we get in the US, so that led me to think about green onions and leeks.


This bisté recipe uses young caramelized leeks to make the most of spring and leftover white wine for the sauce. Green onions, or even green garlic would go equally well. Because the beef is pounded thin and cooked in a skillet, it takes almost no time at all to prepare and makes this an ideal weeknight meal.


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