Wishful thinking…

I can’t say with authority that Paris is at its prime in autumn. But, autumn in Paris is a lovely season. There’s cooling temperatures, the crunch of fallen leaves on the cobblestones and a golden light that all combine to make this a great time of year in Paris. (Is there a not-so-great time of year in Paris? More research may be needed!) Tina and I have had a chance to spend time together in Paris and while we aren’t there now, thought we’d share a little slice of our adventures on the blog.

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For me, travel is less about a must-see list and more about experiencing a different culture. I want to see a little piece of it in detail, instead of the top picks in brief. I’m happy to find a chair in a sunny spot in Luxembourg Gardens and people watch for an hour than wait in a jostling line to stand close to the Mona Lisa for a moment. We do odd things like frequent various metro stations in hopes of a perfectly moody shot for Tina or follow street bands on their way to the evening’s gig.

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I appreciate the familiarity I find returning to the same wine shop or market vendor. Those snippets of conversation over my wine selection for the evening or multiple questions about when and how I plan to eat the little box of late season fraises des bois (Non, non, don’t leave them for tomorrow!) stand out in my memory.

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We search out boulangeries where ever we go, looking for favorite treats. Tina always has her eye out for a slice of flan and I am happy to sample pain aux raisins at any hour. At midday, we pick out a baguette sandwich and head outside to eat it. As the afternoon winds down, we look for the long line of Parisians, queueing up for their evening baguette and join in the fun.

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We climb most any structure with stairs. Our apartment is on the fifth floor of a building with a tiny spiraling staircase. (Don’t bring a big suitcase!) The Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the stairs of Montmartre, Sacré Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, we climb them all. We stop counting stairs.

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We wander in the markets that stretch out on the street and find mushrooms and pumpkins, cider and artichokes. The olive harvest is happening in the south of France and we search out our favorite varieties. We stand in line for piping hot potato galettes that warm our hands in the chilly morning air.

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On Sunday, there is a little gathering on one end of the market by the church. A square where the stalls end and the tables and chairs begin. There is accordion music and dancing. And on a sunny afternoon in Paris, this is all we need.

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Water two ways

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We are going to try something a little different this week. Nothing fancy, just a couple of photos we took recently. One taken by Ginger and the other by Tina. This week’s theme was water, which we’ve both had a chance to enjoy lately. Happy weekend, everyone.

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Green bean and fresh corn stir-fry

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It’s not everyday that I find a recipe that inspires me to make it immediately. Just like everyone else, I’ve got stacks and bookmarks and torn out magazine pages, waiting for their moment to shine. Unless that recipe is the salted Texas chocolate sheet cake from Bon Appetit, that demands immediate attention. (True story!) Anyway, there is often something keeping me from making them, some missing key ingredient or prep step that seems better suited to a weekend cooking foray. Maybe I am a collector or recipes, a hoarder even? That might be a topic for another day, but in this case, I had the perfect combination of enough of the right ingredients and some time, so I started cooking.

Without even knowing it, I started prepping for this recipe by heading out to my favorite fresh veggie place earlier in the day. Their late season corn is such a treat, and they had it sitting around by the bucket. By now, I have a pretty good idea of just how much corn I can fit in the produce drawer in my fridge, so I loaded up, knowing I would be eating fresh corn for the next few days. I don’t know how the corn and the recipe found me on the same day, but I’m not asking any questions!

I made this for a solo dinner by splitting the recipe, but whether you’re cooking for yourself or a few people, this stir-fry comes together pretty quickly and has great late summer flavors. And while I know the sambal oelek and fresh lime juice I squeezed on top of my plate might not have been exactly in keeping with the originally intended flavors of this recipe, I thought they were pretty darn good additions!

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Stir-Fried Tofu with Green Beans and Corn

 Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe on The New York Times

1 14 oz. package of firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground pepper, preferable white pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 finely sliced scallion
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro

 Cut the tofu into ¼ inch slices, then cut slices into ¼ inch matchsticks. Place on a clean towel or paper towel and allow to drain while you prep the rest of the stirfry.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, and the sesame oil. Combine the salt, pepper and sugar in another small bowl. Keep these handy for when you begin cooking.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the green beans, blanching for about one minute. Remove from heat, rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates immediately. Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and tilt to distribute. Add the tofu and stir-fry for a minute or two, until it just begins to color. Drop in the ginger and jalapeno and stir-fry for a few seconds.

Pour in the remaining oil, then add the green beans, corn and scallions. Stir-fry for about one minute, then add the salt, pepper and sugar mixture and toss for good measure. Pour in the soy mixture, top with a lid and cook for about 30 seconds. Uncover, throw in the cilantro and stir-fry for another 30 seconds or so. The green beans should be crisp tender by now. Remove from heat and serve.

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What’s for dinner campers

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Camping meals can often be a challenge, especially when you care about how your meals taste. As you can guess I’m not really into the idea of canned beans and Chef Boyardee for dinner every night. But, at the same time, I would rather be at the beach paddle boarding than at the campsite cooking over a stove. We have our tried and true, go to recipes, that without fail always show up on the camping menu. B’s McB’s are one such recipe, but every so often I like to switch things up and add something new to the mix. I like recipes that are nutritious, delicious and also fast and easy.

This year we traded in our usual car camping for kayaking camping and a trip that really called for the usual menu to receive a bit of a shakeup. Not only were we going camping for longer than usual but we also had to pack all our things into a tighter space and we had little in the way of refrigeration.
This quick and easy Chick Pea, Chorizo and Couscous Salad quickly won everyones hearts and has become a main stay, not only at the campground but also at home!
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Chick Pea, Chorizo and Couscous Salad
adapted from Simply Great Meals

Ingredients
1 Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced
1 cup couscous
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder
1 cup boiling water
1 15oz can of chick peas, drained
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)

Instructions
Heat a cast iron pan and cook sausage, remove and set aside.

Add couscous to a bowl, mix in vegetable stock and pour in boiling water, stir until combined. Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff up couscous.

Add chick peas, chorizo and cilantro to the couscous. In a small bowl combine dressing ingredients and whisk to emulsify.

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Two ways with grilled bread

Try as I might, I am pretty sure there is no holding off autumn now. The changing sunrise and sunset times are a pretty strong indicator that a transition is underway. The produce that I picked up at the market last weekend had a totally different color palette than my last shopping trip a few weeks back – deep purple plums, rosy apples and golden pears. I often reach late August not quite ready to make the transition to September. It’s taken all summer to get to these long, lovely days and warm evenings lounging on the patio. I need some time to settle into the idea. Can’t we just stay in late August for a few more weeks?

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By this point in the summer, it seems like my garden is just coming into its own. Everything is growing with gusto, there are armloads of tomatoes just waiting to be picked, a row of kale practically falling all over itself and green beans are gaining such momentum that I am pretty sure that is all we will be eating for the next two weeks. It’s true, I probably brought this situation on myself with I planted four rows of beans, but I was a little excited. I had big plans for beans and I didn’t really stop to see the potential for green bean overload at the time.

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Back in spring, when I would sit out in the empty garden and dream about how things would look at this time of year, I decided to create an archway over the entrance to the garden. And since gardens are lessons in patience, I decided not to “build” an arch, but to grow one out of runner beans. I staked up 6-foot high sections of netting at the front of the two raised beds that make my garden. Then I wired bamboo stakes over the pathway, connecting the two panels. From there, I planted a selection of beans, based mainly on their descriptions, which all included some wording about an 8- to 10-foot plant.

It didn’t taken them long to race up the netting and wind their way over the bamboo bridge to create my archway. It’s turned out really well, in fact. The unintended consequence has been the bumper crop of beans. I’ve been freezing a few batches of them when my harvest takes up too much room in the fridge. But mostly, we’ve been doing our best to keep up with the bounty and eating them at most every meal.

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Today I am sharing a couple of late summer ideas that are starting to warm me up to the idea of my dinner spending more that a few minutes on the stove. Think of this grilled bread as a blank canvas, just awaiting your creativity. We’ve been loving a recipe for slow simmered green beans that I shared here. I completed the toasty trifecta with a couple of slivers of speck and topped it off with a slice of fresh feta. But it would also be delicious with ratatouille or some sauteed greens and a poached egg. Don’t stop with the savory options, the grilled bread is also a delicious base for the late summer fruit that is in season. Sliced fresh or lightly grilled alongside the toast, peaches, plums and pears are all going to be delicious. No need to mention the addition of ice cream – you know I already went there!

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GRILLED BREAD

Loaf of French bread, or other favorite loaf
Olive oil

Slice bread to a medium thickness. Brush both sides of the slice with olive oil. Place on a hot grill until char marks appear. Repeat on the other side. Remove from grill, top and eat immediately.

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A new kind of icebox cookie

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My son has been asking me to let him help in the kitchen. Since he brings his toys out into the kitchen to play most evenings, he has a good view of the happenings and has zeroed in on a few tasks that interest him. Most recently, he wants to know how to use a knife. This comes after lessons with the box grater, egg cracking 101 and ice cream churning. I’ve started him out with the smallest, dullest knife that I have and Sean is under strict orders not to sharpen it. Might as well get him in there while he is interested, right? With constant supervision, he has gotten pretty good at slicing olives and cucumbers, his favorite tasks since he also gets to snack while working! Consistency will come eventually, I suppose, but for now, slice width varies widely!

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One of his earliest tasks was stirring. We’ve had our fair share of spills and sloshes. But once we got past those, he has become quite a good little helper. Which brings me to the cookies I am sharing today – they are a perfect recipe to make with kids.

The summer heat is upon us – days and days of 100+ degree weather. By late afternoon, it seems like the heat has hits its high point and just maintains a searing level of intensity that can undo the deepest air conditioned shivers in two minutes flat.

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These days the oven is rarely on. I can’t bear to add to the indoor temperature. We grill, we eat salads and ice cream. And when we need cookies, we gather at the counter and make these little freezer treats, then go park it somewhere cool for awhile.

If you have a small cookie scoop, you’ll want to use it for this recipe. Otherwise, you can use a spoon to shape these cookies.

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Chocolate Freezer Macaroons

Makes about 15 cookies

⅔ cup dark cocoa powder
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened coconut

Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.

Stir in shredded coconut until everything is combined. Use a small cookie scoop to form cookies, place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Freeze for 30 minutes or until firm. Store in the freezer.

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Blue-beary beware

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I have numerous childhood memories that I have to call partial memories. One of these such memories revolves around blueberry picking. When we were young our family did a fair amount of adventuring and also did a lot of food growing and collecting.

We had a large garden that was probably the size of a football field or maybe 5 or 6 fields. It’s hard to know where the truth actually lies these days. Ginger and I spent most of our summer days amongst the rows of veggies, helping with weeding but primarily sampling the goods.

One late summer day I recall the family loading up into my dads big’old red Ford. There was my mom and dad, ginger and I and likely a plethora of buckets, we were heading up into the mountains to pick blueberries. We weren’t just off to the local farm, we had actually set out to forage for wild berries.

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I’ll be honest with you here, I may have been fudging the details in the beginning of this story. In fact, I have no memory of how we got into the mountains, if we were really on a blueberry picking mission or if we just stumbled upon a patch of wild berries while hiking. What I do clearly remember is that I was pretty sure that picking wild blueberries was a terrible idea!

Although I was young, I did know one thing. Bears like berries. Especially wild mountain blueberries. We were basically sitting ducks, collecting buckets of bear food and then stealing it from them!! We really were asking for trouble, am I right here or what?

I had some berry picking tactics that I hoped would ensure that I wasn’t caught by a bear. I’ll share them with you just in case you plan on doing a little mountain blueberry picking sometime soon.

  1. Always pick berries with someone who feels responsible for you. Ever heard of sibling rivalry? Don’t choose your older brother or sister, think parent or grandparent. They will likely try to protect you.
  2. If you find a rustling berry laden bush, make sure that you check all side of the bush before you just assume that it is your uncle Pete picking berries on the other side of the bush.
  3. And my final tip, always be the closest person to the car. Even if it means that you will not be getting the biggest juiciest berries. None of that matters if you are the one being eaten by a bear.

On that very helpful note let’s get down to the business of eating blueberries. Whether your berries came from a farm or were stolen from some mountain bears, what are you going to do with them? Maybe a little cobbler? I adapted this Martha Stewart recipe by adding a tablespoon of fresh rosemary to the cobbler topping.

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Quick refrigerator pickles

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During the summer months, I don’t make many trips to the grocery store. So much of my usual wintertime shopping list is available at local farm stands or the farmers market. My standing grocery list is most likely a couple of scribbles about picking up limes and lemons, milk for coffee, a couple of whole grains or pasta and frozen treats. You’ve got to have plenty of ice cream in the summer!

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We are big fans of pickled things around here, so we’re never without a jar or two of some combination of vinegar and vegetable. I think they make the perfect snack when I am in need of a little something. The salty tang of a couple of pickles really hits the spot when I’m hungry. But once the pickling cucumbers and other veggies of that persuasion start showing up at the market, I take pickle production in-house. The recipes I am sharing today give you a couple of options for easy cucumber pickles that have become favorites around here.

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While you certainly can commit to the big batch of pickles, one of my favorite things about this recipe is that there is no cooking involved. No commitment to 20 pounds of cucumbers and no boiling caldron and steamy kitchen in the summer heat wave. Instead, we’re talking about a couple of pounds of cucumbers and a little time at the cutting board. And as the reward, the cool crisp crunch of refrigerator pickles just shouts of summertime.

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These recipes are a great starting point for any kind of spice combination you can muster. Feeling spicy, throw in a few slices of jalapeno or a dried chile pepper. Is garlic your thing? You may have noticed that it’s not mine, but go ahead and throw some in! Don’t have fresh dill? Dried dill weed or dill seeds will add a similar flavor. And don’t stop there, you can mix and match flavors to come up with all kinds of options.

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Both of these recipes make enough to fill one quart jar, which makes them perfectly sharable at summertime get-togethers.  However, you can easily double them once you decide which one is your favorite! Enjoy!

SPICY REFRIGERATOR PICKLES

4 to 5 pickling cucumber
5 fresh dill sprigs
½ cup white vinegar
1 ¼ cups water
1 tablespoon pickling salt
½ teaspoon white sugar
½ teaspoon dill seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Scrub cucumbers and trim off ends. Cut into quarters length-wise and place in a clean 1-quart jar, along with the sprigs of dill.

Top with the vinegar and water, then measure in the spices. Cover the jar and gently shake to combine the liquids and spices. Refrigerate for at least three days before eating. Will keep well for one month.

SWEET PICKLES WITH ONIONS

1 pound pickling cucumbers
1 small onion, sliced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 cup white sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seed

Scrub cucumbers and peel onion. Trim ends off the cucumbers and cut into ½ inch slices. Cut onion into ¼ inch slices. Layer cucumbers and onion slices in a colander with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes. Toss gently and allow any excess liquid to drain from the colander.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a small pot and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Pack drained cucumbers in a jar, the top with brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least three days before eating. Will keep well in the fridge for a month.

 

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A lotta taco

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Choose your own adventure books were a favourite of mine as a child. Every time Ginger and I went to the library you could find me scouring the rows of books in search of a new one to take home. I would read the books over and over again, reading all the different stories and endings that I could create. That being said, it should come as no surprise that I love dinners that allow for a certain about of customization. Tacos are on the top of my, choose your own dinner, adventure list. All you need is a shell, from there the option are limitless.

As the weather warms, I prefer a fresh and spicy fish taco. They always start off with a soft corn shell and white fish coated in a spicy, sweet rub. Extra toppings depend greatly on what is in the kitchen but I usually like to get a few special additions. Some of my favourite toppings are pickled red onions, lime white sauce, guacamole and lime soaked shredded cabbage.

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But my most favourite topping of all is hot sauce. I often arrange a small army of hot sauce bottles in the middle of the table and experiment with different mixes, two dashes of Cholua and one lazy pour of Lizano. Frank’s and its vinegary tang is often the winner of the taste wars.

And that’s how I roll my summer time taco. Oh, but how could I forget about the margarita on the side?

*On a side note Ginger and I are so honoured to have been included on Instagrams suggested user page. Check us out @thealbrecht, we would love to have you follow along!

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Cherry picnic cake

I am calling it Summer Chop Madness, but it seems like most meals around here involve some kind of chopped salad. I’ve been busy shopping at the farmer’s market, as well as my favorite family farm and the best way to use the great selection of fresh veg is with giant salads. I should also mention the crazy heat that we’ve been sweltering in, as I am sure it has had a part in this. On a hot summer evening, a cool salad bowl is just what I want to eat. We’re not talking about a leafy green number – these salads have enough heft to carry a meal. Wedges of newly dug potatoes, handfuls of the best green beans and no end of cucumbers. But more on that later. With all of this talk of salad, I feel I am within my right to bake cake or two.

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I have no favorite summer fruit. I cannot be pinned down to just one top pick. I love them all in their turn – the few weeks when each one has a little window of perfection before giving way to the next one on the list. For us, cherries have been enjoying their time to shine. While I can’t get enough of a just-warm cherry clafoutis, like this one, I do have a new cherry recipe to add to the mix this year. I found this amazing recipe for a cherry picnic cake just about the time cherry season was starting. I’ve been baking it on a weekly basis ever since. And now that we are nearing the tail end of our season, I am finally getting around to sharing it with you.

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After my first time baking this cake, I spent several evenings standing at the kitchen sink with a dark apron and a box full of cherries to be pitted. You see, this recipe is just as happy with fresh fruit as it is with frozen. I imagine myself pulling this cake out of the oven on a grey winter day, when the smudge of a juicy cherry will make a slice of pound cake seem like the sweetest treat. And all of my cherry pitting efforts will be well rewarded in that moment.

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But for now, I’ll be serving thick slices of this cake in the garden or packed up for a picnic. It travels so well and you know you won’t go wrong when you finish off a meal with this treat.

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This cake turned out perfectly the first time I made it, so I haven’t changed a thing from the original recipe. I did make one swap, toasted walnuts for the pecans called for in the original recipe. Go with your favorite flavor on that one. And while a 6-inch cake pan may not be in your cupboard, I made do with a 6-inch soufflé dish the first time around. Since then, I added a pan to my collection. I know it is going to be well used!

CHERRY PICNIC CAKE

Recipe by Tara O’Brady via Herriott Grace

Makes 2, 6-inch round cakes

For the cake

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (256 g) cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/3 cups (275 g) granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling if not using the glaze

4 large eggs

Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons thick yogurt or sour cream (not nonfat)

1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts

1 cup pitted dark cherries, fresh or frozen

For the glaze (optional, but recommended)

1 1/4 cups (142 g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1/4 cup heavy cream

A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300°F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter two 6-inch round cake pans and line both the bottom and sides with parchment. Butter generously.

Sift flour and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream on the medium-high setting for 8 minutes. Scrape down the bowl regularly. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Turn the mixer down to low, mix in the flour in two additions, alternating with the yogurt until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the nuts with a spatula. Spread one-quarter of the batter between the prepared pans, then scatter with a few of the cherries. Continue to layer dollops of batter with cherries until finished. Smooth the tops with a spatula, then sprinkle with granulated sugar if you are not planning to glaze the cakes later.

Bake the cakes for about 60 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. They are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before unmolding. Return the cakes to the cool rack and allow to cool, right side up, until completely cool.

If you are making the glaze, whisk together all ingredients until smooth. The glaze should be soft enough to drizzle nicely from a spoon. If more liquid is needed, add more cream one teaspoon at a time. Spoon the glaze over both cakes and allow to set for at least one hour before cutting.

These cakes keep nicely at room temperature for a few days and will look lovely under a cake dome or loosely covered in plastic.

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