Tag Archives: figs

Cake and flowers for the inconvenienced.

In the midst of destruction, smoke, fear, and drama of the worst sorts, I rested for most of last week as though at a peaceful (indoor) oasis, with my dear friends. First it was the two evacuees, and then a third who was merely on her way home to Ohio. After all were gone, I hurried to prepare my part of a church school lesson, attended Liturgy…

…and a new week had begun. Whoa! While I had my head turned, a new season had suddenly arrived. The nights are cooler again, the sun is slant. When the wildfire smoke thinned out a bit, I could notice the fall feel of the air, and skies turning from orange to blue. It made me weep with relief.

The butternuts needed to be brought in, the zucchini yanked out, and a general clean-up begun. I had planned to plant peas in September; now I hope to do it before the first week of October is gone.

The zucchini plants were disgusting; for many weeks the white flies have flown up in a cloud every time I rummage around to pick the perfect fruits; those insects are still present, and now ashes blow and drift down wherever I move a stem of salvia, or a fig branch.

I try not to keep talking about cinders, but they have gone from being an unusual element of the weather to being constant, and hard to ignore. When it doesn’t include smoke and ashes I find the weather to be always interesting, but in a more satisfying way. Of course, I am merely inconvenienced; those of you who experience tornadoes, hurricanes and floods have your own reasons to not be exactly “satisfied” even with more natural weather made up of rain and wind.

When the zucchini was gone this flower was revealed, its bloom pristine though its leaves are sooty. My Seek app can’t identify it, and I don’t recall seeing such a plant here before.

The two 4-inch zinnia starts I planted in June have grown gloriously bushy. It took me months to get around to deadheading them; this week was only the second time. A few flowers had formed seeds, which I scattered in hopes of finding some sprouts next spring. But they are likely hybrids, so who knows?

The figs keep coming, and I plan to make this autumn cake again. But I can’t eat the whole thing… who is in my “bubble” that I might invite to share with me? I could give the whole cake to a neighbor! Actually, I had thought to make two, and already planned to give one to a neighbor…. I don’t have my thinking cap on right now to work out this problem.

Because while I was typing, the smoke thickened. I have shut the windows, taken the laundry off the clothesline, and turned on the air purifiers again. Since I did make a little start in the garden, and brought in a few of the red zinnias, I am content. If no new fires start, we can expect the skies to clear more and more, just in time for cold weather and wood fires in the house. I hope.

I know that many of you pray for us who live in wildfire country, for the firefighters, for rain. Thank you!

It’s a mistake to rush through this cake.

My friend Timothy told me yesterday that the only people he knows who can truly multi-task are mothers of young children. It’s true, when you are a mother, you often are solving their problems, teaching them, or nurturing their souls more generally even while sweeping the floor or cooking, etc.

But if like me you are often alone and can fully focus on one thing at a time, that is best. One of my favorite quotes on this subject has long been from St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Whatever you do, do it gently and unhurriedly, because virtue is not a pear to be eaten in one bite.” And this morning I read on Lisa’s blog this good word from Fr. Jacques Philippe:

“To live today well we also should remember that God only asks for one thing at a time, never two. It doesn’t matter whether the job we have in hand is sweeping the kitchen floor or giving a speech to forty thousand people. We must put our hearts into it, simply and calmly, and not try to solve more than one problem at a time. Even when what we’re doing is genuinely trifling, it’s a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it’s worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into.”

When I read that, I had just finished eating a piece of the most delectable cake — while reading at the computer. Everyone knows that is a bad thing for an overeater to do! But the other unfortunate thing is, I missed the full experience of this cake, which I don’t exactly want to put my heart into, but which I do want to receive “gently and unhurriedly,” in a way that promotes the greatest thankfulness and encourages virtue.

I’d been wanting to try this cake to make use of my fig harvest; I think of it as an autumn cake because it is now that the figs really come in. The recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I combined the figs with dried apricots instead of fresh plums, because I had just bought the wonderfully rich Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s, and did not have plums on hand. The apricots were both more flavorful and colorful than plums would have been. Also I cut down on the sugar.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more buttery cake, but the flavor of butter was even lovelier — is that possible? — by being in combination with the almonds and fruit. As it turns out, the fruit and nuts and eggs are all products of California farms or gardens, and perhaps the butter as well? So mine is a California Cake, but yours might be otherwise.

You start with a cookie-like crust that gets pre-baked, an eggy almond-flour paste spread on top, then the fruit over all, before it goes in the oven again for a long time. I added a little water to the fruit to make up for the apricots being dried. I definitely had to give the whole process my full attention.

AUTUMN FIG CAKE

Trying to warm the butter a bit.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1 pound fresh figs, halved or quartered
6 oz dried apricots, preferably Blenheim variety, sliced
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
Almost 1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup finely ground almond flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan; line with 2 wide pieces of parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Butter parchment. Toss fruit with 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If you are using dried fruit add the 1/4 cup water; set aside and stir occasionally.

In a food processor, pulse 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to combine. Add half of butter and pulse until fine crumbs form. Transfer to prepared cake pan and use floured fingers to press dough evenly into bottom of pan. (If too soft to easily press in, refrigerate 10 minutes.)

Bake until crust is light golden in color, about 20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and let cool 15 minutes.

In food processor, pulse remaining half of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt with baking powder until combined. Add almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, eggs, and almond extract; process until smooth.

Spread batter evenly over crust. Gently stir fruit to reincorporate sugar mixture and arrange on top of batter (cut-side up). Bake until fruit is bubbling and filling is firm, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (Mine took 10 minutes longer). Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then use parchment overhang to lift cake out of pan and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool 1 hour and serve. Cake can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Wouldn’t the base of this cake be good with just about any fruit topping? I think it would.

Whatever you make of it, when you do partake,
I hope you can do it with attentive thanksgiving. 🙂

The darling juncos flew in.

Last month a man I barely know came into town and put a new roof on my playhouse. It’s a long story involving his grief and pain, and it was a long week while he was in town, but all in all it seems to have been a good thing for him who has been a carpenter his whole life to have this familiar but minor project to focus on.

When I bought the playhouse on Craigslist four years ago I think the red plastic roof may have been freshly painted by the previous owner; after the first winter it was peeling, and two more repaintings have also not lasted. For a long time I’ve planned to replace the plastic roof with something paintable, but couldn’t find the right person to help me, someone with the vision and the know-how and the time.

Carpenter Friend heard about my remodel and didn’t understand that I already have a team of younger people for that project; when he arrived from Idaho with his tools I pointed him toward the playhouse, and within a few days he had put on a real roof. He was going to paint it, too, but I could tell he was ready to move on, so I did that part myself.

This all happened at the perfect time, because somehow I was mostly available for that week, to listen to the stories from a long life, and to admire the work. Also, I am going to replant my matching strawberry barrels this fall, and will put a coat of the same color on them before I do. There’s a little trim piece that is supposed to go on the front of the playhouse, and which I haven’t yet figured out how to adapt without plastic. So the area above the door looks a bit plain still.

This month I want to put a coat of sealer on the rest of the playhouse, and then it will be ready for winter. After a cold snap that was a warning call, the weather has been milder again, but I don’t think we’ll be having the windows wide open anymore — the night breezes are too chill. The sunflowers continue in their enthusiastic blooming behavior, and the repeating irises never stop! I accidentally broke one off today so it is in the house.

High winds brought in the cooler temps, and blew bushels of redwood twigs cascading down from the tree behind me. You can see them all over the place in the photo above. I haven’t had the energy or time to rake them up.

It was because of their mess I had the little broom out where the Oregon junco could pose near it. Of course he didn’t pose – he and his friend only hopped about on the patio and this is as close as I could get to them, through the window in my kitchen and family room. Yesterday I gave up getting a picture at that distance, and began to look for pictures online, but they were not my juncos; this morning I managed to get (fuzzy) images that are much as I usually see them, with their signature little black caps being the most distinctive feature for sure. My husband first told me who they were, long ago, and it’s always exciting when they arrive in the garden and hang around the neighborhood for months.

Bit by bit little things are done toward the remodeling. Lots of demolition, and bags and bags of old ceiling and sheet rock are collecting in my utility yard, for the construction guys to carry off, soon I hope: that’s where I want to put the firewood I am waiting to order. But the area in front of my wood stove is currently taken by bathroom vanity parts ready to be installed. Here is one picture of actual construction going on, but it is only a small cabinet that needed assembling.

The fig harvest continues gloriously. I’m giving them away, and finding recipes that I can use to turn them into something freezable to use later. This picture below is of Honey Fried Figs, a simple sauteing in butter and honey, which makes a kind of preserve to serve on its own or as a topping for ice cream. 🙂

I also have my cook’s eye on a Martha Stewart fig cake. I did try a fig clafoutis but it did not please the palate, however pretty it looked just out of the oven.

My gardener’s eye will have plenty to keep it happy in the days to come, and the sorts of things I find outdoors are more certain to be satisfying to the whole person. So, out I go again, and maybe I’ll find a few moments to sit still and watch juncos for a while.

September is a benefaction.

figs with strawberry tree fruit

This might be the first September in ten years that I have stayed home all month. I usually go to the cabin or to celebrate Ivy’s birthday, or both. This staying in place has given me time to pay attention to all the sweetness, and I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite month of the year. Where I live the earth has not lost its deep warmth, the bees are still humming away, and there is more time to just wander in the garden and be astonished.

Instead of the rush of springtime and all the related chores that pile up urgently in that season, late summer/early fall in this mild climate brings with it rudbeckia flowers, bursting milkweed pods, and figs that softly droop on their stems. Am I not the most favored of humans, that I can walk a few steps out my back door and pick a ripe fig to eat then and there?

The heat waves are less intense than the spells in August. We can comfortably leave the windows open all day and night and enjoy the breezes blowing through, as they cycle from cool to warm and back to cool and damp again in the evening. I respond in my several mood and sweater changes.

Many people talk about Indian Summer, but it’s just normal California weather to have hot spells in late September and even into October. If it gets hot after a killing frost, I think that is what they call a true Indian Summer… Call it what you will, I love it, and hate to see it go.

But October is nearly here, and suddenly I need to put toys under cover, order firewood, and plant peas. Last night I had to put another blanket on my bed. Good-bye September! I love you!