Sweet Heaven

Thou art the vegetable most unsung.
Scorned for the raw sourness you impart,
though your sapor glides, winged, o’er the tongue.
O! sweet rhubarb! Thine flesh, stringed and tart, 
melts into the ambrosia of the gods.
Thy ruby hue knows no earthly confines;
deepens when simmer’d with a vanilla pod.
Thine taste is heightened by nutmeg and wine.

Be not forlorn, for here ready I stand,
thy sweet delicacy must be made known
I stand proud, lemon and rhubarb in hand,
layers set thee on thy velvet throne.

Tis past time for us to make way, posthaste!
‘Tis time to revel in thy piquant taste.


Ahem.  Yes, I wrote a sonnet.
… About rhubarb.
It happens, okay?!
I just love this weird ass vegetable.  
I like most weird vegetables.
I identify with them.  They’re like my tribe.
I, too, do not move and spend much of my life under a thick layer of dirt.
I, too, do not fit in with the rest of the produce aisle.
I, too, frighten many as they open up their CSA box to see me sitting inside.
Rhubarb is so yucky when uncooked- fibrous, extremely sour, and, hello! poisonous.
Yet there is a magical transformation that takes place when rhubarb is subjected to heat, sweetened just a touch, and spiked with plenty of nutmeg, vanilla, and salt.
It melts down and becomes velveteen and ever so silky.
The vegetal taste is lost, and transforms into a mysteriously addicting, but difficult to describe, earthy, fruity flavor.
Rhubarb and strawberries and lemon were meant to be together.
Rhubarb is thus the gateway drug vegetable between winter and summer produce.
Lemons abound (year round, really) in the winter, when citrus is essentially the only fruit to be found.
Strawberry season begins in spring and extends well into summer.
But rhubarb, wily and tricksy (tricksy little hobbitses) as it is, has a very brief season, right at the beginning of spring; after early spring, it becomes increasingly harder to find.
Marry these three (I suppose you could even add in some raspberries, you minx), and you have a divine combination, which hits your taste buds in all the right places.
Seriously.  I took one bite of this cake and promptly cut myself another slice.
I’m not kidding.  The cake was all but gone this morning, when I finished it off for breakfast.
It’s that good.
The crisp meringue softens slightly and becomes pillowesque and marshmallow-y, while the whipped cream plays gorgeously off of all the tartness coming from the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon, providing just enough richness to please your palate.
Now, it’s true that I prefer fruit desserts (especially lemon curd) over chocolate ones (strange but true), but I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of my all time favorite cakes, perhaps even the numero uno big dog.
And it’s not even cake!
It’s a miracle.
P.S. Have you met my friend, Kohlrabi?
She looks like an alien space capsule and a squid mixed with a cabbage.
Just beautiful.
Sweet Heaven Cake
note: I tried to keep the sugar to a minimum here, because I prefer tart desserts.  
If you prefer things sweeter, feel free to bump up the sugar in the lemon curd to 5 or 6 tablespoons, and to increase the maple syrup in the compote (I free-poured somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of a cup and that was plenty).  
You can also increase the sugar in the meringue to 3/4 cup, but I don’t think that is necessary.  
Oh, and also, you can sweeten the whipped cream with a tablespoon or so of powdered sugar.
for the meringue layers:
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  
Line two sheet pans with parchment and trace 2 six inch circles on each.
Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until they begin to foam.
Slowly begin to add in the sugar, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until meringue is stiff and holds peaks.
Whip in the vanilla extract.
Transfer to a piping bag, or go freehand- pipe out meringue, about 3/4 inch thick, onto each of the pre-traced circles.
Bake for 2 or so hours, until the meringue is no longer sticky and is slightly golden.  
Turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven; prop the door with a wooden spoon handle.
for the rhubarb compote:
1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/4 inch moons
1/2 cup maple syrup, to taste
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
splash vanilla extract
Place all ingredients except vanilla in a large sauce pot; heat over medium high heat until the rhubarb breaks down and the whole compote has no chunks. 
Stir in the vanilla and let cool.
for the lemon curd:
adapted from Alice Medrich
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg
scant quarter cup sugar
pinch salt
Whisk everything together and cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes.  
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
to assemble:
1/2 cup cold heavy cream, whipped softly with a pinch of agar (optional)
sliced and whole strawberries
Place your first meringue layer on a cake stand or plate.  
Spread lemon curd over it, then spoon rhubarb compote in the middle and spread over the curd.  
Place your second layer on top of the first, then spread whipped cream over it.  
Add rhubarb compote and spread over the cream,then layer sliced strawberries over the compote.
Place the third layer over the second, and repeat the steps for the first layer.
Place the fourth layer on top, and dollop/spread the rest of the whipped cream over it.
Decorate with more sliced and whole strawberries.


I’m referring to stoned fruits, of course: those token fruits of summer.  Juicy, sweet, ripe peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and apricots.

Now that summer has started and these fruits abound, I’m in heaven.  Seriously.  There is nothing better on a summer morning than some plain Greek yogurt with a sliced up white peach.  
Summer is a fruit lover’s dream.  Go to your local farmer’s market and take a look around: you’re sure to find some amazing fruits, right along with the towering piles of garlic scapes and swiss chard.  The other weekend, I picked up some beautiful red and green gooseberries and long, slender stalks of rhubarb, which I combined into an olive/pumpkin seed oil-polenta crumble.  It was divine… In fact, it was gone too quickly for me to photograph (ugh), but I’ll share the recipe anyways.  It’s a keeper, for those times when you might have some gooseberries and rhubarb lying around… Actually, it might be worth seeking out these seemingly esoteric ingredients.  Inquire around your local market, I’m sure you can get your greedy paws hands on some.
As for the tart(s) that are in the photos, they were quick almond-plum-nectarine tarts that I whipped up for a dinner guest.  Slightly sweet chantilly topped them off for a perfectly light summer dessert.  I was lucky that I took photos of them that very night, because the next morning not a crumb was left.  

Other than the aforementioned stone fruits, I’m looking forward to a summer bounty of beets, kale, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, spicy carrots, an overwhelming amount of zucchini, melons, peppers, and squash.  I’m always somewhat surprised when I’m reminded of how bountiful the region where I live really is;  I’m always reminded to be thankful.  What are you looking forward to in your CSA baskets, grocery shopping carts, or gardens this summer?

Gooseberry, Rhubarb, and Polenta Crumble
1 1/2 cups red and green gooseberries
6 small stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch long pieces
2/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup stone-ground polenta
1/4 cup cornmeal
pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup+ oil (I used pumpkin seed and olive oil, and ended up needing just a splash more)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Toss the gooseberries and rhubarb with 1/3 cup turbinado sugar in an oven-proof dish.  Put them in the oven while you prepare the crumble.  Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and cornmeals in a bowl.  While stirring, add in the oil until the mixture comes together and has a texture like wettish sand.  Pull the fruit out of the oven and top with the crumble.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling at the sides and the crumble is slightly crisp.

Nectarine and Plum Almond Tart
Bits and pieces from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking
1 recipe tart dough
4 ripe nectarines
3 ripe plums
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup blanched, ground almonds
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 egg
splash vanilla extract
tiny splash almond extract
Press your tart dough into your pan , prick with a fork, line with buttered foil, shiny side down, and freeze.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake tart dough for 15 minutes.  Pulse the butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is smooth.  Add the almonds, flour, and cornstarch and process, then add the egg.  Add the extracts and process for just 15 seconds.  Refrigerate.  Slice up your plums and nectarines into thin slices.  Remove the foil from the shells, pour in the almond cream, and arrange the slices as you desire.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the almond cream has puffed up and become golden brown.  Let cool in pan, then remove to serve.  Serve with fresh chantilly if desired (whip cream with a touch of confectioner’s sugar until soft peaks form).