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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
To 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 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!
Rain, rain, rain! My biggest dodonaea or hopbush was blown over in the last storm. Alejandro came Saturday and Sunday to re-stake three of these bushes, just before this current storm arrived. I was so thankful to get them shored up before the next gale.
I stayed home all day today and did housework. Isn’t it fun, the way housework incorporates everything from book-mending to picture-hanging, laundry to cooking? I did all those things today, and more.
When I wanted to read a certain fairy tale to the grandchildren last week, I opened the anthology I grew up with, and the cover fell off – again. A decade or two ago I had duct-taped it together, and today I put everything back again with clear tape. Afterward I had to browse a few pages, of course, and wonder about how much of my philosophy of life and my ideas about various things might have been shaped by the words and pictures on those pages.
I’ve already written about “The Little Match Girl,” (eight years ago this month, I see!) but other fairy stories, poems and nursery rhymes had a big effect on me. The words generally impressed more than the pictures, as I developed the habit of devouring them greedily, not wanting to take time for the images. “Hickety, Pickety, My Black Hen” was the sole reason I kept black chickens when I was a grown-up lady, but I always envisioned straight black, not laced, feathers. I evidently ignored this drawing.
But – when I think of “Hansel and Gretel,” which I also loved, this is how those forsaken children look in my mind.
Some rhymes were so much fun they seemed to insinuate themselves into my consciousness without any effort:
In our family we were not coddled. I had little sympathy for the princess who was so thin-skinned and tender, but whose story I liked to read again and again, and to stare at the illustration, so simple and absurd:
Ah, “Over in the Meadow” — This one, I’m not sure if I loved it as a child or only after singing it with my own children over the years. All the mothers and children in that rhythmic counting song make me feel cozy.
When I was leafing through these pages this morning I didn’t gravitate to the poems about rain and wind that are more in keeping with the season. We haven’t seen the sun for a couple of days, and are predicted to get six inches of rain before this three-day storm has passed! Right now the wind is howling and the rain clattering; this month has been an average of ten degrees colder than usual, too. I made a big pot of vegetable soup, and roasted another of my butternut squashes, and was grateful.
That’s the theme of the last page I am posting here, which was the first one I saw. It’s not one of the more familiar ones to me, looking at it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in the book, and it started me on my musings. Father in Heaven, we thank Thee!
A few months ago as I was following my usual route along the paved bike path, I heard hammering nearby, and peering through the trees across the creek I saw a man on the opposite bank working on some kind of cabinet. I stopped and called over to him and his wife who was nearby, “What are you working on?” and though we couldn’t see each other very well we raised our voices and they told me about their project and invited me to take part. Though the object of their carpentry had been in that place for many years, I’d never noticed it before, and from that day until now I never took the trouble to respond to their invitation.
This morning felt very leisurely to me, a day with no appointments or commitments, no one to care how long it took me to get home from my walk. I admired the field along one leg of my excursion…
… and when I started back toward the creek I thought again about that spot across the stream. The reason I hadn’t visited it in all these months is that it’s not easily accessible unless you live in the mobile home park on that side. By the time I find myself across from its approximate location and it comes to mind, I am usually far from a way to it. The people I met had built it with the residents of that community in mind: it’s a place for sitting and thinking and for writing down one’s thoughts, to add to the collection in the “thought box” they had built for their parents and other residents.
Steps lead down from that neighborhood, but the more obvious and public way to that destination is blocked by a chain link fence. Today I slowed down and kept my eye out for a way across the water to that side — in late summer there isn’t much flow — and I found a vague path through the foxtails and over the little stream across rocks that seemed to have been brought and piled in one area.
I climbed up to the unpaved path closer to the stream and soon reached the little meditation spot. The chair is upturned so it won’t collect dirt or rainwater.
The box has been fitted with a heavy lid, roofed with composition shingles ! and inside, bright velvet banners hang down from the underside of the lid. A ziploc bag holds 3×5 cards, some of which have been written on. I didn’t take the time to read on this visit. Maybe next time I will sit and ponder and write something myself.
As I went on my way and the yellowing leaves drifted down over my path, I remembered the first time I self-consciously felt the season changing and noticed the effect of the beauty of creation on my soul. I was eleven years old and maybe it was the first time I’d walked by myself down to the river that was about a mile from our house through the orange groves.
It was at this time of year, and some trees that may have been cottonwoods were blowing in the breeze. The water was low in the river, and the plants among the river stones were drying up. I walked very solitary along a dirt road that ran there, and I was glad.
I took no notes on that experience when I got home, I took no pictures. I just was, in the day. And the gifts of that holy afternoon became a part of my self and of my memory, so that I could receive them again this morning. God is so good to me! Maybe when I go back and put my thoughts in that box, they will be these thoughts.
When I got to the end of this path that I’d never walked on before, I was below the bridge that I normally would be walking on, in the spot where I one time looked down on women collecting watercress. And there was some watercress still, and a stretch of concrete by way of a ford over a second creek, leading up to the main path again.
In the jungle of plants down there I saw some bedraggled pennyroyal, one more surprise of the day.
“For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;
Lord, our God, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”