Tag Archives: figs

Doing sensible and human things.

Not only is my mind typically scattered to the four winds, but it is also buffeted and pushed down and downright dominated by currents of thought — and current events — that somehow turn into raging hurricanes. But in my daily life, they are only passing and mental hurricanes, so when I read this quote from my daughter Pearl, I was freshly encouraged to call frequent moratoriums on the practice of wondering whether it might be a Viking or a bomb or a car wreck that will eventually make my loved ones suffer.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

—C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)

I also don’t need to spend (all my) time researching how bombs are made, or why the Vikings are so ruthless. Which is great, because it leaves more time for writing a chatty blog post to my friends, which is a very human thing to do, and I hope sensible as well.

September 1st really felt like the first day of fall! It hasn’t warmed up much since, but I’m sure we will get some hot days in the next weeks. My fig tree is absolutely loaded, and one of the four winds that my mind goes to is Preparation for Preserving. Get out the dehydrator, and gear up for the harvest: pushing through the perennials and bushes that surround my tree, and stooping under the low-hanging branches to extract the plump fruits, which are revealed by contrast with the big green layers when one by one they turn black.

I went to a nursery the other day to lay in a supply of echinacea purpurea plants to set out this month. Some areas of my “new” landscaping need reinvigorating after six years, and I have been longing for the standard echinacea species that I used to have. The white ones in my front garden are thriving, the multicolored ones in the back are not.

A friend who was moving across the country asked if I would like any of the potted plants he’d kept on his small patio. I evidently hadn’t paid much attention to them when I’d visited his duplex, because I said I’d take them all, and was quite surprised to end up with 37 pots of plants. Three of them are quite large, and two of those are gorgeous jade plants.

So — I have more lovelies in my garden to keep me company and give me good work to do. This morning I  went out to take pictures of a couple of them to post here, and ended up watering. Not one but two blue jays were visiting my property, and adding to the ambiance with their scratchy voices that make me feel for a moment that I am in the mountains. I noticed a ripe fig, and ate that as a fast-food breakfast. Then… a few ground cherries for dessert! Ah… September.

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. 🙂