Category Archives: friends

Elizabeth’s teacup and my cake.

I don’t think I mentioned here that my friend Elizabeth fell asleep in Christ earlier this year, at the age of 103. Just this morning I was given this teacup of hers, and it made me think about my friends and  tea parties. The mutual friend who brought this cup had been one of the guests at the party that Maggie and I gave not long after her grandpa died.

My house is in such disarray from the usual project paraphernalia plus that of some unusual ones; it’s hard to imagine even a recent time when I was able to clear my head and all horizontal surfaces in preparation for such an event, much less to cook for it! This is what Maggie and I laid out:

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One of my favorite tea goodies is a lemon cake, the recipe for which I’d shared a year before the party above occurred. I’m pretty sure that one was the last tea party I gave, but I don’t intend for it to be the last ever. Here is the recipe again, below, as a little reminder to me of hopes and dreams. It is part of this post titled: “Lemon Trees and Cake.”

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My 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

INGREDIENTS:

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

INSTRUCTIONS:

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.

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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.

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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 time 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!

I admire Marie’s garden.

A mile or so down the mostly dirt road from the monastery lives my friend Marie, who moved there from my county a few years ago. She’s learning by a process of self-education, experimentation and observation how to garden in this “intermountain” area that gets very cold in winter, yet doesn’t escape the summer heat and drought.

She made me a cup of tea, and I sipped while we walked and chatted our way around her vast plantings and greenhouse — herbs, vegetables, trees and flowers, intermingled with native plants and wildflowers, all of which ultimately either thrive or don’t. Many of the trees and shrubs and even perennials she has to plant in mesh cages to keep out the gophers. And of course there are deer, and rabbits.

Marie isn’t sure about many of the flowers, whether they have come from seeds she threw out one time and forgot, or if they are fully native-born. But if they are happy to take the place of weeds and grow in that climate, she is happy, too. She has other work to do besides gardening, sitting at a desk and computer, and appreciates the necessary breaks during which she can work outdoors with material and living things, but still, she was happy to unpack the hedge trimmer that was delivered that morning, which will help her to prune a hundred lavender bushes.

If we had been competing for the prize for who could remember the most names of plants, I don’t know who would have won. Mostly we both had to be accept that we were unable to bring to mind the names of many that were actually very familiar, even our favorite salvias or wildflowers. I knew I had seen this striking bloom before, but I had to ask Pippin that night what it was:  Pretty Face (Triteleia ixioides) or Golden Brodiaea.

It was Marie who told me what Bugleweed was, and who also knew the name of a salvia she showed me and that I would like to find, “Gracias.” When I went looking for it just now I found a site extolling the wonders of our native sages where I read that some of these plants can live 40 years  if they are growing in a spot that they like. They are typically drought tolerant; maybe some of the species I have planted have not thrived because they got too much water. Check out this list: California Native Sages

I wish I could identify this pretty blue flower that I also pictured at top. If someone knows… [update: I think this is the flower I just saw on the Annie’s Annuals blog, Nemophila menziesii “Baby Blue Eyes”] In this picture it looks more purple for some reason.

Out there you don’t find the orchards and gardens such as the monastery tends; you are in the middle of oak and scrub. Marie does like the oaks, but they get a little monotonous, so she is lovingly expanding the botanical interest and color palette by her labors. She has planted more species of manzanitas and ceanothus, also California natives.

When I left her place I got turned around and drove the wrong way for a mile or two, but that route took me past a great view with more flowers that I didn’t know, and which I could only see at a distance — but what a springtime spread that was.

I was halfway home, stopped at a rest area, before I really noticed my shoes, which were carrying with us quite a bit of that mountain dirt. As I cleaned it off that night it was a fitting end of my trip that turned out to be more about farms and gardens than I expected. I’m very thankful for all those who tend the Lord’s creation and are fellow-gardeners with Him, and to be around so many of them in just a few days was a joy. It’s another springtime in God’s world.

The orange blossoms called me…

The orange blossoms beckoned, from my youth, from the Central Valley, from the treasury of olfactory memories in my mind, and from the image imprinted there the last time I visited my childhood home at this time of year. I didn’t remember the scent itself, but I remembered the ecstasy of inhaling it.

In response I made a little road trip last week, and spent time in Tulare, Kern and Fresno Counties, smelling citrus blooms and visiting with family and friends. I stayed with my sister Nancy, the farmer, who lives in the middle of the groves of trees that she and her husband care for. The Sumo mandarins that directly surround them were just about to bloom, so they had recently been covered with bee netting.

What? you ask. Yes, they are protecting the trees from the bees, because if the Sumos get cross-pollinated with other citrus such as lemons they may make seeds, and that is a no-no for seedless mandarins. It’s just one of the many sorts of special treatment that the trees and the harvest get, and an example of the extra work involved to grow this fruit that was developed in Japan. If you haven’t eaten a Sumo it may be because the costs add up quickly to make them expensive in the stores.

Nancy found a few Sumos remaining from this year’s harvest to give me. They are large for a mandarin orange, seedless, very tasty, and their loose rind makes them super easy to peel.

I came home with oranges from my father’s navel orange trees, too, which I didn’t expect. That fruit would normally be all picked and gone to market long before now, but this year the trees in the Valley are loaded with fruit, and it’s very small. That is a recipe for not being able to sell it, so the oranges fall on the ground eventually and the farmers take a loss. Farming is hard in many ways, and it’s not getting easier.

The next few photos below are from years past, taken at various times of year, of these country roads and places where I spent my childhood.

The view below of the Sierras with the sun rising behind reveals the profile of a formation that looks from there like a man lying on his back. We call it Homer’s Nose (though I didn’t remember “meeting” Homer until recently, and only heard about him from afar):

Since I was “so close,” one day I drove farther south an hour and a half to visit another Farm Girl, Kim of My Field of Dreams. After reading blog posts about each other’s gardens and families for many years, we enjoyed our first face-to-face meeting. We were like old friends or long-lost sisters (well, we are sisters in Christ, after all) and talked and talked, while I ate her delicious flourless muffins and got my wish of a spell of porch-sitting with Kim, looking out at the gardens that she was anticipating planting this week.

lemon flower

I didn’t want to leave, but I must. I got back on the two-lane highway with crazy tailgaters, and survived the ordeal again in reverse. When I arrived safe and sound back at Nancy’s it was the most relaxing thing to be able to sit outdoors before dinner and chat. Here we get chased indoors by fog or cold breezes very early, but there we were warmed by the rays of the sun on our backs and the air was still, and laden with orange scents. 🙂

I spent three days with my family. The last night we four siblings all were together, with some spouses and a few members of the younger generations, at the house where we grew up together, where my brother now lives. There again we ate our barbecue on the patio, and never went in, and it was the sweetest thing just to be together with those persons so fundamental to our psyches. My brother helped me pick a couple of bags of oranges from the same trees that have fed us for decades — they weren’t too tiny — and I’m confident that the eating of them will help me to prolong the savor of my brother and sisters and the whole family that I love.

With the cows on a winter day.

A cup of tea with Farmer Betty, that was all that Pippin asked for. Instead, five of us drank cups of the freshest milk at the close of a dairy-rich afternoon.

Nearly twenty years ago (we all pinch ourselves here to be sure this is real) Pippin worked on this dairy for a summer, and the intimate and intense dailiness on her part joined with the great hearts of all three current generations of the farmers to create a bond with our whole family.

Betty gave us a very hands-on tour and let the children help bring the cows into the barn for milking, carry dry feed and milk to heifers and calves, pet the cows who were okay with that, and peer into the giant tank to watch milk come straight from the milking machines through a cooling device.

This farm is not too far from the ocean, and when rains are heavy the tides affect the creeks on the property. The pasture was flooded only a few days previous, so we definitely needed our mud boots. Everyone except me had rubber muck boots, but my solid Vasque hikers worked well, and were easily sprayed off before we entered the milking parlor. All the kids enjoyed testing the feel of their boots in the varying muckiness of the terrain.

I liked the cow dog Lady, who looked just like a pet we had when I was a teenager; she liked to snuggle up to me. We heard from the other family farmers that she is affectionate with them, but only responds to Farmer Betty’s commands as to herding the cows.

Unlike the milk that the calves drank from buckets and bottle, what we got in cups had already been brought to a cool temperature; it wouldn’t be further processed until it reached the creamery. I hadn’t drunk raw milk in many years and it tasted pure and wholesome. Betty asked the children if they could taste alfalfa, or clover maybe? Or floodwaters? 😉

These farmers can still remember the old days when the milk warm from the cows would flow over exposed metal pipes containing freon, for quick cooling. When everyone went to fully contained conduits for more sanitary transport, the taste of the milk changed because it was not ever allowed to “breathe.”

I was soaking up the whole delicious atmosphere of the place; it will likely be a long time before I experience a milking parlor, with its aromatic mix of disinfectant and sweet milk, or a pasture wet with spring grass and manure. The air was chill, and our feet numb in the wintry mud. As we were getting in the car to go home Lady was still at the ready, and over the cow barns a full moon was rising.