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Fall and baking go together like birthdays and cupcakes; Brooklyn and BAM; your right and left shoe. Or, turns out, pears and polenta.

As soon as the weather turns crisp I want to be in my kitchen on a Saturday with the oven on, music playing (well, really, NPR Saturday programming), and time on my hands to knead, stir, blend, bake. There’s something comforting and satisfying about making pies, cakes, and muffins using the last of the year’s good local produce.

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner party and my lovely friend served this easy-to-make polenta-pear-olive oil cake. She couldn’t have known, but those are three of my favorite ingredients and the combination was a revelation. I’ve had olive oil cake before, and maybe even cornmeal olive oil cake, but never with the addition of pear. The olive oil produces a crispy crust-like top that provides a satisfying crunch.

The recipe is from Lucy Waverman—”the Melissa Clark of Canada” is how my friends, the dinner party hosts who are from Montreal, described her. She writes a regular column for The Globe and Mail newspaper and I’m happy to have discovered her simple and seasonal recipes!

This is a snap to make and you’re sure to love it. It’s not too sweet to begin with but you could even reduce the sugar a little bit like I did. Would also make great muffins, just reduce the cooking time. Oh and if you don’t want to poach your own pears you can use canned pears and just reduce the canned pear syrup.


Polenta, Pear & Olive Oil Cake
From Lucy Waverman, The Globe & Mail

For the poached pears

1 cup water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1 star anise, broken up, optional
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 pears, peeled, quartered and cored

For the cake

1¼ cup polenta or cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour [I used half whole-wheat flour and half white]
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup sugar [I used 1/4 cup sugar]
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the poached pears:

Combine water, sugar, honey, star anise and cinnamon stick in a small pot and bring to boil. Add pears. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and a knife slides in easily. Remove from heat and let cool in poaching liquid. Remove from pot, reserving ½ cup poaching liquid. Chop pears and pat dry with a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

For the cake:

Butter and flour a loaf pan and line the base with parchment paper.

Combine polenta, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Reserve.

Cream together butter, honey and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs and yolk one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add reserved flour mixture and mix together until just combined. Stir in olive oil and fold in chopped poached pears.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and remove from pan.

While cake is cooling, reduce reserved pear poaching liquid over medium heat for 5 minutes or until thick and syrupy.

Prick holes in warm cake and brush liberally with syrup.

This time last year I made these: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls and Rustic Harvest Tart.

Maybe because the weather has been so mild, or maybe because my body is craving greens, I seem to be back to my green smoothie routine. I temporarily left them behind for much of the last two to three months in favor of warm grains in the morning.

The food co-op had beautiful bright green dandelion greens Sunday so I couldn’t resist picking up a bunch from Lady Moon Farms. I’ve learned that dandelions (tampopo, in Japanese—yes, like the movie) are ranked in the top 5 green vegetables for nutritional value. They are incredibly rich in beta-carotene (Vitamin A), as well as Vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, potassium, and magnesium. They are also rich in micronutrients like copper, cobalt, zinc, and Vitamin D. The vitamins and minerals found in dandelions can reduce inflammation of the liver, stabilize blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of strokes.

Ok, enough of the science stuff. Dandelion greens taste good. They’re slightly bitter—but not as bitter as, say, arugula, and can be eaten raw in salads or sauteed the way you would other greens. I like their addition to green smoothies as much as, if not more, than spinach or chard, in part because they blend very finely. Drink a tall glass of this in the morning to put a little bounce in your step. Works better than coffee in my opinion. (Seriously, green smoothies have helped wean me off of caffeine.)

Go Green Morning Smoothie

2 c dandelion greens
1/2 grapefruit
1 banana
1 ripe pear
10 oz water

Add everything to a blender and puree until smooth, approximately 1 minute. You could also add a little bit of fresh ginger to spice up the smoothie. Makes about 20 oz of smoothie.

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