August Beginnings

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I noticed something the other day about me. Not exactly an epiphanic moment, just a coincidence. Or maybe not. Either way, it seems my life has a tendency towards august beginnings. As in the things I start in August tend to be important, august if you will. Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this. Probably I’m reading too much into this, but bear with me a minute. First of all, I began in August. Well technically 9+months before, but my first breath was in August which is pretty important to me, so there’s that. Next, I began this cyber-journey into my kitchen, stomach and psyche 4 years ago in August (August 3rd actually.) And last August (the 3rd again), I started something sorta great with a pretty terrific guy. So, you can’t blame me for thinking there may just be something to this ‘august August’ thing.

Anyway, I’ve decided not to dwell on it and just celebrate it. To help me do that, I invite you to read the first blog post I ever posted 4 years ago, The Sweet Potato Incident, and try the two new recipes below. The second, Fennel Focaccia, comes from the book Savoring the Wine Country, which was given to me by the inspiration for Winemaker’s Focaccia.

Thank you for reading and sharing, and for making the last 4 years (and especially the past one) pretty awesome too. ❤

2015-08-02 13.22.32-1Winemaker’s Focaccia (Adapted from recipes in Saveur and Jim Lahey’s Bread Book, inspired by a special winemaker)

Makes one 9-1/2″ x 13″ Focaccia (1/4 sheet pan). If you don’t have the pan, you can make this free-form on a cookie sheet instead.


  • File Aug 03, 4 59 54 PM3/4 cup chopped Italian plums (Damson plums)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup sugar, depending upon the sweetness of the plums
  • 1/4 cup+ port wine
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 1/2 pkg active dry yeast
  • 3- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (whole is best, 2% ok, but don’t use skim)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 TBSP olive oil, plus extra for pan and dough
  • 1 cup red seedless grapes
  • flakey sea salt

Recipe Note:  The addition of the plums is an example of how my recipes often evolve. One of the recipes I looked at called for soaking dried fruit in white wine. I didn’t have dried fruit. I didn’t have white wine. It did have a bunch of italian plums ripening on my windowsill, and a bottle of port in my pantry. Presto-chango….plums in foccaccia!

Generously oil your pan with olive oil and set aside. Add the plums, sugar and port and toss. You want enough port so it just about covers the plums. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the water and milk together until warm (about 115ºF). Add yeast and mix until the yeast dissolves. Mix the flour, salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook or food processor with dough blade. Drain the plums (save the juices) and toss in the flour mixture. Add the two tablespoons olive oil to the yeast/water/milk. With the mixer on low, slowly add the liquid and mix until the dough comes together into a ball. If it’s too wet, add flour, one to two tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together – you want it dry enough so the sides of the mixer are cleaned of dough. Remove to a floured board and knead a little until smooth. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 45 -60 minutes, or until doubled.

While you are waiting for the dough to rise, take the liquid from the drained plums (you should have about 1/4 cup), add 1 teaspoon honey and taste. If it’s too tart, add the second teaspoon of honey. Add the sprig of rosemary and heat until just boiling. Remove from heat, let sit for about 30 minutes, then remove the rosemary and set aside to cool. Once cooled, toss in the grapes and mix so all of the grapes are coated.

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Once the dough has doubled, punch down, then pick up by one end and use gravity to stretch the long way to fit the length of your pan. Brush the dough with olive oil and use your fingers to push the dough into the corners and fill the pan. Push the grapes into the dough in rows, leaving about an inch and a half between. (Hang onto those juices, you aren’t finished with them yet!)

2015-08-02 13.23.06-1Sprinkle with a little bit of coarse salt, and let sit, loosely covered until puffed, about 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes before your dough is ready, preheat oven to 400ºF. Uncover the focaccia and push the grapes down into the puffy dough. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a rack and while still hot, brush the dough with the rest of the juices from the plums and port, and sprinkle with tiny bit of flakey salt.

2015-08-02 12.56.47-1Fennel Focaccia (Adapted from Savoring the Wine Country, Collins Publishers, San Francisco 1995)

Makes 8 6″ focaccia


  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups warm water (about 120ºF – warm but not hot)
  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 5 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP toasted fennel seeds (toast in a dry pan just until you start to smell them)
  • 2 TBSP Pernod (Anise flavored liquor)
  • 1-2 TBSP olive oil for pan and brushing focaccia
  • 1 tsp+ coarse sea salt for sprinkling on top

Dissolve the yeast in a cup of the warm water. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook, add flour, salt and pepper and fennel seeds and toss together to mix. Add 2 TBSP olive oil and Pernod to water/yeast mixture. Start on slow and add enough water to form a dough. Increase the speed to medium and knead in mixer for about 8 minutes (or by hand for 10) until the dough is soft and satiny. Set aside in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap or damp towel, and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour or until doubled.

2015-08-02 12.36.19-1Once the dough has risen, punch down and on a floured board, divide into 8 balls. Using your hands, gently pat out the dough to about 6″ circles. Place four focaccia on parchment lined baking sheets. Brush with olive oil, and form dimples with your fingers. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Repeat with the other 4 focaccia. Set aside in a warm spot while the oven heats up.

2015-08-02 12.59.00-1Preheat oven to 500ºF. Once it’s at temperature, bake the focaccia for 16-18 minutes, rotating pans halfway. If they look like they are baking too fast, lower the heat to 400ºF when you rotate pans. They are done when golden brown and the bottoms have a hollow sound when tapped. Remove from oven, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with a little more sea salt. Serve warm. If you want, you can let cool completely and freeze leftovers, wrapped well in foil and sealed in plastic bag.  Warm 15 minutes in 350ºF oven before serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at Thanks!  


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