Monthly Archives: August 2014

Garden Doll and Summer

fennel and nasturtiums

Summer is not over! On this I heartily agree with Jody. I’m glad she wrote about late summer (and new potatoes) so eloquently, because she reminded me that I also wanted to reflect on this time of year. Perhaps we have a similar perspective because our years of homeschooling allowed us to flow with the feeling of the air around us, rather than to have our energies diverted away from the real and natural seasons of the earth.

In my micro-climate there is precious little summery feeling to begin with, and no matter what the high temperature of the day, if the thermometer drops below 60 at night, and we wake up to fog that hangs on until noon…well, it’s hard to be content with that.

P1110177moth crp lrgBUT if the tomatoes are coming  to the peak of production, and we get a day that starts out sunny and stays warm through the dinner hour — Praise God for SUMMER! That’s how today has been, and it’s very comforting.

My dear goddaughter gave me a present of her hippie Garden Doll. The story of this doll — why she was made and why she was given — is meaningful to the giver and me, but essentially unexplainable to anyone else. For that reason I didn’t plan to share her here. I didn’t want her to go where she might not be appreciated; she’s that special to me that I feel protective of her.

You will think I have been reading too many Rumer Godden books. Perhaps, but I think they have done me good. And I decided after all to show her picture because her face is like the sun, so appropriate for her theme, and makes her perfect for a summertime gift as well.

garden doll slant

Maybe Soldier son brought some heat with him from his home in the Sacramento area this morning. Did you know that people sometimes call our state capital SacraTomato? It’s a good place to grow tomatoes. He drove over to help us with various home maintenance projects, and afterward he suggested we have bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches for lunch. It was National Bacon DaP1030481(1)y after all. Just lucky the weather cooperated.

He helped pick the lovely red fruits I have been neglecting, and we assembled those sandwiches that are also a sign of summer. They are not worth eating if they don’t contain homegrown-quality tomatoes.

Just a few days ago Maggie told me, “Grandma, it smells like summer in your house.” Really?? Wow, what a surprise for me, and almost a rebuke for my discontent. We didn’t try to analyze that perception of hers that warmed my heart the way I was wishing summer would warm my body. I will just hold it in my mind’s treasure box along with the image of Garden Doll.

Just so you know, summer extends well into September in this place. So next month won’t be too late for me to tell you about The Summer Book and another one of Tove Jansson’s that tells a summer story. October will be soon enough to move on.

Maggie and Her Grandma

P1110167 maggie wash car 14After the hubbub of the wedding and the excitement of being a bridesmaid, after playing with cousins and chatting with numerous aunts and uncles, after her dad and brothers departed for home and school, our granddaughter Maggie and her mom Pearl stayed on for another week.

It had been close to two years since I’d even seen this girl, and the change from nine to eleven years is a big one. I’m so thankful it worked out for her to be around all those lazy summery days, so we could enjoy just living our lives together. It didn’t seem necessary to plan interesting outings — Maggie had plenty of ideas in her head and resources at hand, for creative and homey things.

charles hedgehog This hedgehog that had been given to her grandpa had not been named, so Maggie created a contest to choose a name for him. She gathered suggestions from all the family into a teapot and after a few days she had Grandpa choose his favorite. He picked Charles, but Maggie calls him Charlie.  He looked on during many of our fun times.thedollshouse

The first thing the two of us did in the relative quietness was to start reading The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. I read aloud to her as we snuggled on the couch or on her bed in my sewing/prayer room. It seemed to be the perfect book for our limited time — just long enough, and with a dramatic plot. The doll characters were very well drawn and complex – not fluffy.

We went to the craft store where Maggie bought a big pad of paper to go with ribbons and bows I had on hand, and she created some pretty cards for her grandpa and me.


I mostly forgot about my chores that week. I could do that because Pearl was always loading and unloading the dishwasher and clothes washer. She climbed a ladder to prune the unruly and invasive wisteria, and one morning she and Maggie washed both of our very dirty cars till they were shining.

Maggie did a lot of flipping, diving and acrobatics in the pool. She had the idea of baking some brownies, but “only if your recipe is the same as my mom’s…?”  Our family has made “Anne’s Brownies” for so many decades, I thought it likely that Pearl was still using the same, and when I handed Maggie the card she said it was the Right One. (Anne, when you read this, you will know who you are.)

She added the peppermint extract and a buttercream icing she makes kind of free-form, and Voilà! we were blessed with mint brownies that she decorated with findings from the garden. Mr. Glad thought he didn’t like something chocolate mint, but he gave them a try and said they were yummy like Thin Mints, so he is still finishing the leftovers.P1110178 mint brownies

At the time of The Brownies, we were getting down to the last day or two of our extended reunion, and Maggie and I both were feeling some anticipatory pain of separation. We started watching more episodes of “Bleak House” with Grandpa — even though Maggie hadn’t been around to see the beginning of the series — and playing marathons of Bananagrams, which we both love.

Maggie makes us word-lovers proud with her skill at discovering words among the tiles. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, words may be formed going up as well as down, and from right to left as well as in the usual direction. This was one of Maggie’s crossword arrangements, and I think it was for a game that she ended up winning.

P1110189 b-grams Maggie

I have a dream of someday offering my services to families as a spelling tutor for young readers. I would go to their houses with nothing but my bag of Bananagram tiles and a dictionary, and just play this game side-by-side with the kids. It’s excellent for a broad range of ages, because each player is doing her own thing, competing against herself, and winning a game has nothing to do with how many words you’ve formed by the end.

I won’t be playing with Maggie anytime soon, though, and we will go back to writing e-mails or talking on the phone about our gardens and books and cooking projects, and about her busy 6th-grade life. I love being a grandma!

lemon trees and cake

lemon cake 7-27-14My father scorned Meyer lemons. Growing his own lemons made him, and all of our family, partial to the intensity of a Normal Lemon. If anyone wants to give me lemons, Meyer or otherwise, I will never turn them down, but I also prefer what I grew up with.



When I cook with lemons I usually think of my father and our trees. If as I child I ever found my father lying on the living room floor it was not because he’d been wrestling with my brother, but more like he’d been wrestling with those trees. During pruning season he’d invariably put his back out doing that necessary work on our ten acres (We had twenty more acres in oranges.) That would be more than a thousand lemon trees.

precious zest

I learned to drive a tractor before I was old enough to drive a car, because Daddy needed me to pull a trailer between the rows when my sisters and I were picking the second, smaller crop of lemons that wasn’t worth hiring a whole picking crew for.

In those pictures that I retain in my mind, my brother wasn’t old enough to buckle down and help yet. He was sitting under a lemon tree crying, and the dust mixed with his tears to make a miserable face.  I must say that he’s more than made up for it in the years since, and is one of the most buckled down and hardworking people on the planet.P1100844eggs

a grandma’s trusty old sifter

The latest thing I cooked with lemons is this meltingly appealing cake, which Mr. Glad requested for his birthday last month. That he wanted cake was very strange, because it’s been Blackberry Pie as long as anyone can remember, and a good month to be born if you want that. But I was happy to oblige with the cake, and I devoted most of one Saturday to making it, so I had plenty of time to enjoy the process.

In the past I’d only baked this glazed cake for tea parties that I used to have in a bygone era. Now that it’s been revived in my repertoire I’ll want to make it more often. It uses a lot of lemons in the form of juice, and in this recent case, even more fruits to get enough lemon zest to impart the deep lemony flavor. It can be made up to three days ahead and freezes well.

Lemon-Sour Cream Cake


1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large or extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon minced lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 cup sour cream

The Glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely minced lemon zest


Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch lightweight Bundt pan. Sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

very thick and fluffy batter

In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs, minced zest and lemon extract and mix for 2 more minutes.

Reduce the speed to low or pulse with the food processor. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until well combined. Add half of the sour cream, mixing constantly, then add the rest of the flour and sour cream, ending with the sour cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and remove the pan. Make the glaze while the cake is still warm.

P1100842To make the glaze, using a fine-meshed strainer, sift the powdered sugar into a small, non-aluminum bowl. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and whisk to break up lumps.

Transfer the cake to a rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper. Using a long skewer, poke holes in the cake at 1-inch intervals, almost going through to the bottom. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, giving it time to absorb as you pour. Let the cake cool to room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve.


Every time I make this cake, about 1/4 cup of the glaze ends up on the baking sheet under the cake, and would be wasted and washed down the drain in all its precious lemonzestiness if I didn’t find a way to use it. This timP1100881e I whipped some heavy cream and slowly drizzled the syrup into it at the end when it was getting nice and thick. I froze the mixture in custard cups, and ate one of them the next day. It was quite delicious!