Tag Archives: California

Not codes, but cookies!

This morning I started gathering and measuring ingredients for a few of the cookie recipes I like to make at Christmas. I was afraid to start mixing them and actually cooking, afraid I would make a mistake, with so many distractions of carpenters and tile-setters coming and going, asking questions.

The truck that brought the new sheet rock had a boom so long and mighty that it reached all the way from the street up to the second-story window, which was the easiest route in. The delivery was two hours late, so it arrived about the same time as the contractor and the inspector.

While the inspector was here I was on pins and needles from the suspense; she was returning to inspect the “corrections” she had noted on Monday. I opened the door to the wet back garden and looked out there without seeing, and prayed. It is scary what power these inspectors have, and in California the building code provides a endlessly shifting and growing body of regulations to draw from so that it is easy to find lots of things that need correcting, which translates to extra hours and money fixing things that aren’t broken. But enough about that — I started out wanting to talk about cookies!

And sugar. I know that sugar is BAD, but I find it hard to come down too hard on the stuff, partly because I have a historical family interest in C&H (California and Hawaiian) Sugar Company, for which my great uncle was a chemist.

Have you heard that cane sugar is better for you (or, more precisely, not as bad for you!) and makes better-tasting baked goods than beet sugar? I don’t know if either or both of those are true or myths. But I do always buy C&H cane, when I am buying white sugar.

When I poured a fresh bag into my sugar jar today I noted how pretty it is. I wonder if I ever showed you the jar that I have kept sugar in for decades; it came from my husband’s family’s cabin where I think they were using it for sugar when I first saw it.

Do you remember this picture from when I was in India,
of women buying coarse sugar from bulk bins?

This year I’m experimenting with making a few of my traditional cookies gluten-free, for the sake of a family member who I’d like to be able to eat them. But when it comes to sweetening, I don’t worry whether it’s fructose or sucrose or honey or beets — I just try to keep the sweetness to a minimum so we can taste the butter and other interesting flavors.

I eventually got the dough made for the Ginger Spice cookies, but I haven’t got one cookie into the oven yet. The kinds that I’ve started measuring out ingredients for are:

Chunky Ginger Spice
Double Pecan Thumbprints
Apricot Macaroons

I was going to link you to the recipes…. Oops — I’ve never transcribed the recipes here! But the link on the Thumbprints above will take you to the recipe eventually. The photo of a cookie platter at top is from a few years ago. I hope tomorrow I can make a little more progress. It soothes my nerves to bake Christmas cookies.

The inspector signed off on all the corrections. She was surprised that “we” were able to get them done so fast. 🙂 I wish I’d had a plate of cookies to give her as she went out the door.

The balm of thistles and a mighty tree.

tarweed

“Mmm-mmm, star thistle and tarweed — the scents of fall!” That’s what my daughter Pippin said as we started out from the trailhead on our latest outing together. Every time I am outdoors with her I learn something new. I should say, I don’t remember being introduced to tarweed  before, and that feels as exciting as brand new.

Pippin and the Professor had come from their home in more northern California for the weekend. Saturday we hung around my neighborhood in the morning, and went afield in the afternoon.

Ivy adopted the doll Madeleine for the day and took her out to gather strawberry tree fruit. Scout dissected the ripest-looking dwarf pomegranate, and we decided it was almost sweet enough to be worth the bother. We walked along the creek path to the playground at the park, but probably the “playground” on the way was the most fun. In two places kids had hung rigging from big trees, from which you could swing out into the space where the ground fell away steeply toward the creek channel. Pippin was the only one with the strength and length to hoist herself up on to what seemed to be a launching platform. Jamie tried to be patient, but reminded us, “Let’s go, to the park!”

Our destination in the afternoon was a giant California bay laurel tree that may be the largest of its species. I had visited this particular tree at least twice before, but probably not since the 80’s.

Our short walk up the hill stretched out, as we stopped to observe lichens and poison oak, the tarweed and star thistle. Two of us had painful feet that slowed us down. We saw a wild buckwheat, Eriogonum, taller and bushier than the species we were familiar with. From my reading today I think it might be California Buckwheat. But as you can probably guess, the first photos below are of star thistle, a plant you never want to have to break a trail through.

Eventually we came out of the woods onto the grassy hilltop where lots of cows were grazing with their calves, and bellowing almost without stopping. There was The Tree on the horizon, and a smaller companion alongside.

Umbellularia californica is the only species in its genus, in Oregon known as the Oregon myrtle. It’s been called by several other names including pepperwood and balm of heaven. The flavor of its leaves is similar to the true bay leaves from Laurus nobilis, only stronger, and most of my life I’ve used leaves from the abundant local “bay” trees in cooking. For a long time I didn’t know they were not the real thing. The map shows its natural range.

Umbellularia californica range map.png

I hadn’t read that nickname “balm of heaven” before our outing, but standing under the massive canopy with thousands and thousands of leaves exuding their aromatic oil, I definitely felt the olfactory presence as a balm, its scent filling my nostrils as hugely as its image filled my vision.

The children right away began to climb, and to stake out their “houses” in the several neighborhoods that have been formed under branches as thick as big tree trunks, some of them weighing themselves down horizontal with the ground. The adults took pictures of the wide views of the landscape below. Pippin and I studied the tree’s flowers, trying to figure out where they are in their bloom cycle. If it hadn’t been late in the day it would have been the perfect place to have a picnic and linger a while.

In the last few years I’ve been buying the few bay leaves I need. But I brought home a handful of the mega-flavored, special California-and-Oregon pepperwood/balm of heaven leaves, and will simmer them in a winter soup. When I get a whiff of their essence in the steam that rises from my bowl, it will keep me connected to that magnificent tree until I can get back for a longer visit.

The seeds dropped out.

When my Landscape Lady suggested Delta Sunflowers for my front garden, she said they would reseed themselves year after year. Those in her own garden have done that, and she gave me my original plants from her excess of volunteers when they came up in May of 2017. My plants did make their own starts in succeeding springtimes, but not very many, which I think has something to do with the thick bark mulch. The seedlings that did emerge were not in the right places, so I had to transplant them.

Here I will insert three pictures I took on the dry east side of California’s Central Valley before I ever knew what these sunflowers were, or dreamed that this species would end up in my own garden. These shots show how well they do with no water at all, in temperatures often well above 100°, all summer long. They just keep going.

Last fall and this, I saved some flower heads from my plants, but I could not see any seeds in them. They are very stiff and prickly by the time they are dry enough to be certain the seeds will have matured. This year my second picking of them I set on the workbench as I was going into the house, and there they sat for a couple of weeks, where I walked past many times a day.

One day I noticed seeds under them – the hidden seeds had simply fallen out. I knocked each bristle brush flower hard against the wood and more seeds came out, so now I have a good collection. I can start them myself in the greenhouse and have some sturdy seedlings to plant in exactly the right spots next spring. 🙂