That's the Shrub.

I would normally start off by suggesting the merits of this liquid as an alcoholic mixer.  I believe cocktails have a therapeutic and social nature which—as long as you do not set out to have, say, seven—can enhance an evening much like candle votives and Ray Charles on piano.  

The gastronome Brillat-Savarin, once said “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  Please forgive the political incorrectness (he spent most of his life in the eighteenth century). 

I appreciate the general sentiment though.  And feel similarly about beer, wine, and drinks that contain gin or bourbon and the occasional egg white.  However, I cannot suggest much in the way of booze with this mixture today. 

For the past two weeks, I have been battling some sort of viral something that has chosen me as an agreeable host.  I have also been bitten by what general consensus indicates was a spider.  The cocktail of these two organisms has irritated a lymph node in my neck so that it has puffed up to the size of a pea. 

Consequently, I have found my bed more appetizing than a bar and have not done much in the way of imbibing. Unless you count translucents, like soup and hot water, in a list of boring possible antidotes.

In alcoholic terms, I can tell you that this liquid works with a little seltzer and about an ounce of vodka. (But what doesn’t?)  Luckily, it also works as a lovely base for homemade soda with some bubbly water and ice cubes.

The bright cherry-colored liquid is called a shrub and earns its name through the addition of vinegar.  It is an old timey drink that has recently experienced a popularity resurrection. The slight sourness from the vinegar balances and pulls together the other flavors—providing a cohesive kick.

I used damson plums because it was early fall at the time and the market still had some. I suspect you could use supermarket stone fruit, as you will be concentrating the flavors through heat anyhow. You may also want to experiment with a variety of herbs, fruits, and types of vinegars. 

Either way, it is worth trying.  It is an elixir that makes other clear liquids vastly more appealing.  Which is really what we are all after, in some form, anyhow.

Damson Shrub
Inspired by Kathy Gunst of WBUR’s Here & Now


½ cup sugar
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup whole damsons (with the pits) (or about 2 large plums, pits removed and roughly chopped)
½ cup apple cider vinegar, see note


In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and add the basil.  Simmer about 10 minutes then add the plums and cook about 5 to 10 minutes, until the plums start to burst and break down.

Add the vinegar and cook at a simmer 2 to 5 minutes more.  Strain out the basil leaves (or leave them in if you want a stronger herbal note; I did not).  Let sit for 1 hour.

Strain out the remaining ingredients using a wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth set over a small colander or strainer.  Keep the resulting liquid in the refrigerator until ready for use.  It will last for several weeks (mine has thrived for about a month).

Yields about 2 cups

-The apple cider I used was fairly mild in terms of its acidity: if you have strong vinegar start with 1/3 cup. (I suspect this will include most supermarket grades.)

-I kept the pits in the damsons because they were too many to remove and was going to have to strain out all the bits anyway.  I also thought maybe they’d add a little structure to the final product, like stems and skins can with wine. Maybe?

-You’ll probably need about ½ cup of the shrub if making a cocktail (adding an ounce of booze and an ounce or two of seltzer, for fizz, with some ice cubes is a good place to start).



It is 10:30 PM and I am eating a slice of squash bread.  It is quiet in my kitchen.  I just had the shattering realization that some people—many people—I went to high school with now have multiple children.

I do not have children.  I have a one-bedroom apartment I can barely afford.  I have towels that get moldy. I have a sourdough starter and a few succulents that, some days, seem very challenging to keep alive.

I start to feel a little bad about all this, so I remind myself I just baked two loaves of very good bread.  And that I added a vegetable—not because I needed to—but because I wanted to.  Because I had a craving for butternut squash, and also for cake, and the universe was in low supply of acceptable recipes with these combined appetites.

So I took the bones of a banana bread recipe—a very good one—and browned some butter.  Added autumnal cues by way of cinnamon and allspice. Quartered a whole squash—without chopping a single finger off—and roasted it into submission.

It turns out very well, the bread, until I realize I have compared it to having a child and not killing a cactus.  I recently turned thirty-three and part of me feels I should have more grown-up ends by now. At the very least, maybe a yard?

But instead I live in a pest-free rental—with the black and white-tiled floors I wanted in my mid-twenties—in an area bolstered by the mafia and cannoli.

I have a smart, thoughtful, and very handsome boyfriend who never lets me drink alone, whom I love. I have maintained a job at a well-respected institution for over a decade. Plus I am old enough to swear and not feel bad about it.

I also have the sense to know bad things happen and enough emotional collateral, I think, to navigate them. And to realize that having kids does not make one feel any more put together.

In truth, I do not know if I even want a yard.  I certainly do not want to mow it.  What I do know, for now, is that I want butternut squash in dessert form.  And I know how to make that happen.

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread


1½ cups mashed cooked butternut squash (about ½ a medium squash, see instructions below)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed dark muscovado sugar (or regular dark brown sugar)
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
1 cup chopped pecans


A few hours in advance (or the night before):

Set the oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a sheet pan lightly with olive or canola oil.  Quarter a whole butternut squash, leaving the skin on.  Place on the prepared pan, flesh side down and skin side up.  Roast for 60 to 70 minutes, or until it softens and the flesh side become caramelized (you’ll have to peak to see this).  Let cool and refrigerate until needed.

When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9 x 5-inch (or two 8 x 4-inch) loaf pan(s).

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter on medium-low until it becomes caramel-colored and starts to smell nutty; this will take 5 to 10 minutes, swirl the butter occasionally to prevent it from burning in spots and adjust the heat as necessary.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugars and brown butter on medium-high speed until fully combined and the mixture resembles wet sand (about 2 minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, then the buttermilk, 1½ cups squash (flesh only), and vanilla; mix on medium-high until fully combined and smooth. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three swift additions.  Stir in the ginger and pecans with a rubber spatula until just combined (make sure bits of flour are no longer visible).

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.  (Start checking around 55 minutes with the two smaller loaves.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then, with a knife, loosen the sides of the bread from the pan.  Let cool on the wire rack for one hour before slicing.

Makes one 9 x 5 loaf or two 8 x 4 loaves

-The pecans seemed seasonally timely, and were good, but I prefer walnuts in breads like this.

-In a pinch, substitute 1 tsp dried ginger for the fresh variety.

-It is decorative gourd season too, and if you need a proclamation mug, you can find it here.


Gold’s Banana Bread and Circumstance

Here is what I know about banana bread. It happens under two circumstances.

One is that you get a craving for it on a Tuesday and then wait for the bananas to become speckled and chestnut in spots.  Then you satisfy your needs on Friday. 

The other is that you buy more bananas than you, and anyone in close cohabitation, could humanly eat in a three or four day period.  The decreasingly yellow fruits make their presence known through aspirations of breakfasts gone by. And you must dispose of them.

The trash is not an option.  Banana bread happens when becoming wholly-rotten-to-the-point-of-disbandment is not an option.  Or when waiting is the only option.  It is a wonderful, strange thing that occurs when either too much or too little planning takes place. 

And thus, it is accessible to many types.  This is one of the reasons, I think, why it is so appealing.  It is likely the person who makes you banana bread is either a good planner or someone who often makes the best of a bad situation.  Both types are handy to have around.  Particularly with concurrent skills in the banana bread making department.

The last time I made a loaf was November, 2011.  I documented it on a trip with some friends to the mountains of New York.  (Banana bread is good on trips.)  A solid recipe for sure, but arguably a little too bedazzled when simplicity is what you require.  It also suffers from inaccessibility with the cardamom-haters that walk the earth.

Then, a few months ago, a classmate brought in two loaves of still-warm banana bread—one with chocolate chips—both served with honey butter. It was the best banana bread ever.  The recipe came from the back of a bag of Gold Medal flour. Which should be a lesson to all of us.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to our negligence and to the ordinary. After all, that’s the stuff really good banana bread is made of.

Gold’s Banana Bread
Adapted from the back of a Gold Medal Flour bag


1¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 or 4 whole)
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts


Set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9 x 5-inch (or two 8 x 4-inch) loaf pan(s).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Add the eggs, bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix on medium-high until fully combined and smooth. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  With the mixer running on low, add the flour mixture in three swift additions.  Stir in the walnuts with a rubber spatula until just combined (make sure bits of flour are no longer visible).

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.  (Start checking around 55 minutes with the two smaller loaves.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then, with a knife, loosen the sides of the bread from the pan.  Let cool one hour before slicing.

Makes one 9 x 5 loaf or two 8 x 4 loaves


The Curious Path of a Midsummer Cake

There are many paths to knowing you have stumbled upon a winning recipe.

Perhaps the quintessential indicator is when company in the room goes silent.  (Laurie Colwin notes this is also how you know you will not be enjoying leftovers.)

Our busy lives often separate us from communal eating.  In which case, modernity may allow that you receive a message sent by way of a technological gadget in ALL CAPS.

Or it could be an employment of expletives, a telltale that transcends time.  As is the invocation of a saint or religious figure, as in: “holy Mary sweet mother of God.”  

This cake’s praise, however, took a path less traveled. After sending a slice with Brett to work, I received an ALL CAPS text.  (The cake was absolutely FANTASTIC.) But he then momentarily became a nineteenth century British diplomat and said, “I tip my hat to you madam, superb job.”

After earning madam status by way of cookery, things diverged further.  A fellow blogger-friend identified the cake’s origin by both cookbook and name, with nothing but a picture (above) and the mention of raspberries and almonds.  (I did also note its superlative breakfast qualities, though I am certain this is true of any cake known to man.)

The cookbook:  Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard. The name: A cake for midsummer.  I am painfully aware it is no longer midsummer. As I am also painfully aware I have largely missed apricot season in Massachusetts, yet again.  But this recipe has been on my list to make for an embarrassment of years and I was not going to let another cake slip past me with the summer wind.

So there are late summer peaches—instead of the white whaled New England apricot—and raspberries in the cake. (I doubt this detail matters.)

As with so many of Nigel Slater’s cake recipes, the batter is thickly stiff and still supple, like a buttercream. It then becomes littered with raspberries and chunks of stone fruit. And again, as with so many of his desserts, it becomes beloved immediately. 

The cake is a crowd-pleaser plain and simple.  Compliments, of any shape and size, don’t get that kind of thing wrong.

Raspberry Stone Fruit Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard


¾ cup (175 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 ground scant cup (175 grams) demerara sugar (see notes)
2 medium peaches or 4 to 5 apricots (200 grams)
2 large eggs
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup plus 1/3 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 scant cup (100 grams) almond flour
2 tbsp half and half (or whole milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups (170 grams) raspberries


Butter an 8-inch springform pan; line with parchment paper and butter the paper; set aside.  Set oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (about 5 minutes); scrape down the sides occasionally, if needed.  Meanwhile, halve, pit, and chop the peaches into ½-inch pieces. 

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. With the mixer running on medium-low, slowly add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar; mix until fully combined, scraping down the sides to corral the batter occasionally.

In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, and salt together; mix in the almond flour.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flours in two or three additions; add in the half and half.

Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and with a rubber spatula, gently fold in the vanilla extract, peaches, and raspberries until just combined.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan (the batter will be thick); lightly smooth the top. 

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool slightly in the pan then run a knife around the edges and release from the springform. Let cool completely.

Yields 8 to 10 slices

-The original recipe calls for golden bakers sugar.  If you can't find it, grind demerara or turbinado sugar in food processor instead.

-The original recipe calls for 1-1/3 cups white self-rising flour, which you could substitute for the pastry flour, cake flour, and baking powder. The salt may need to be modified, depending on the brand. ¼ tsp will yield about 600 milligrams of sodium.