Lemonpalooza

DSC01932I have a lot of lemons.  Beautiful Meyer lemons.  My tree is extraordinarily fecund (that always sounds a bit off color…) this year.  Truly an embarrassment of riches.  I have heard you can keep ripe citrus on the tree for 10 weeks, and the quality will not be affected (my tree is in a sheltered spot, so frost is not an issue).  That said, I do feel quite a lot of pressure to put all my fruit to use.  In the December issue of Food & Wine magazine, there is a recipe for a lemon Bundt cake.  I made it today. It was quite a project–zesting all those lemons takes a fair amount of time!  But it was well worth it, as the cake is delicious. DSC01936Actually, I didn’t have to zest all 10 lemons–I mean, look at the size of these!  The lemon on the right is the usual size of a Meyer lemon, and I have just a few that size.  Most of the ones on my tree, however, are the size of the one on the left!  Why this is is anybody’s guess.  Radiation from Japan?  Are they Three Mile Island lemons?  No, I don’t think so.  Just a happy confluence of growing conditions that led to this crop.  I was worried that the size would mean a thick skin, more like a Eureka lemon, but no.  Thin skinned and juicy as always. There would have been an even bigger crop, but we had some crazy wind in early fall that knocked a lot of the baby lemons off (which, upon further reflection, may have led to the bigger lemons).  Perhaps just as well! DSC01939Above are some of the ingredients for the Bundt cake–see how much zest there is?  DSC01940The batter is thick and creamy–can you see the little flecks of peel in there? DSC01944

See the finished product?  It’s pretty!  I pasted the recipe in here from the Food & Wine  website, just so you know.  Read to the end of the recipe–I made a few small changes.

Lemon Bundt Cake

Food & Wine Magazine, December 2012

cake

  1. Nonstick cooking spray
  2. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  3. 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  4. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 2 3/4 cups sugar
  7. 1/3 cup lightly packed finely grated lemon zest (from 10 lemons)
  8. 1/2 cup canola oil
  9. 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  10. 3 large eggs
  11. 3 large egg yolks
  12. 3 tablespoons dark rum
  13. 2 tablespoons pure lemon extract
  14. 3/4 cup heavy cream

lemon syrup

  1. 1/4 cup sugar
  2. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  3. 1 tablespoon dark rum

glaze and topping

  1. 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  2. 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  3. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  4. 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted (optional)
  1. MAKE THE CAKE Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust the pan with all-purpose flour. Sift the 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and cake flour into a medium bowl, along with the baking powder and salt.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, use your fingers to rub the sugar with the lemon zest until the sugar resembles pale yellow wet sand. Add the canola oil and cooled butter and beat at medium speed until blended, about 1 minute. Beat in the whole eggs, egg yolks, rum and lemon extract until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the heavy cream and the dry ingredients in 3 alternating batches, starting and ending with the dry ingredients; be sure not to overbeat. Scrape down the side of the bowl and fold the batter until it is blended.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth the surface. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
  4. MEANWHILE, MAKE THE LEMON SYRUP In a small saucepan, combine the sugar with the lemon juice and rum and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Let the lemon syrup cool slightly.
  5. Invert the cake onto a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Using a wooden skewer, poke holes evenly all over the cake and brush with the lemon syrup. Let the cake cool completely.
  6. MAKE THE GLAZE AND TOPPING In a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the lemon juice and almond extract until smooth. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Sprinkle the almonds on top and let the glaze set, about 20 minutes. Cut the cake into wedges and serve.
I put 3 Tbl. of lemon extract in the cake, instead of 2 Tbl.  The Meyer lemons are so sweet, you can lose a bit of the lemony sharpness.  In the syrup I added a 1/2 tsp. of lemon extract, again for the same reason.  As far as the glaze goes, you can see it was a bit too thin.  Next time I’d add a bit more powdered sugar, so so much didn’t end up puddling underneath. And finally, it said to bake for 1 hour, which I did.  Next time, however, I’d check it at 50 minutes, and I bet that 55 minutes would be perfect. Now, go make some tea.  This cake begs to be eaten with a cup of tea!
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Dog Days of Summer

Stinkin’ hot (technical term)

The dog days of summer last from July 3 through August 11, which coincides with the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star (I didn’t just happen to know that–I read it on The Old Farmer’s Almanac).  The dog days also tend to be very, very hot.  As I write this, it is about 104 degrees out on my porch here in Vacaville.  The air conditioning kicked on at 7:00 this morning, which is never a good sign.  When it’s this hot in Vacaville, I always think it’s kind of the equivalent of getting snowed in, since you pretty much have to stay indoors.  For me, personally, having to stay inside is not a terrible hardship. Staying in the air conditioning, reading, sounds like a pretty good day to me.  The rest of my family, however, begs to differ.  So we went on a field trip.

First order of business was finding somewhere cool to go.  Thus, off to the beach.  Almost two hours from Vacaville, you will find Bodega Bay.  And if you stay on Highway 1 just past Bodega Bay, you come to Sonoma Coast State Park.  The park  consists of a series of beaches.   The

This would be the wine country…

drive is a nice one, not too windy (car sickness always an issue), through California wine country and California milk country. Rolling hills and eucalyptus groves, abandoned barns, tiny towns, and swanky wineries all nestle together in this part of California.

…and this would be the milk country

Before we went, we checked the Weather Channel, and they claimed it would be 80 degrees. We were suspicious, but since it was so hot here, okay, it sounded plausible that it could be that warm over there.  Usually when we go to the beach I pack just short of what I’d need for an arctic expedition, but this time I didn’t.  Well, long story short, I should have.  It was freezing!  And me only in a light little cardi!  But really, we didn’t mind.  It felt good to be cold!  We had long pants on, and when we were sitting we draped ourselves with the towels I’d brought to dry off after wading in the water.

Pebbly beach (different from Pebble Beach)

The beach we go to, and that my family has been going to for more than 40 years, is Wright’s Beach.  It’s got some sand, but most of the beach is pebbly, which I like. It’s got picnic tables out on the beach, as well as up by the parking lot (where it only costs $8 to park all day), and it even has bathrooms that, while not glamorous, are certainly better than, uh,  finding a big rock. You can camp there, too, but we’ve never done that.  Part of the charm of the Sonoma Coast is that it is easy to get to for a day trip, which certainly keeps the cost down.  And I think we all know how much I need to sleep in my own bed.  And not in a sleeping bag.  Ever.

We brought a picnic, which consisted of Ginger-Soy Marinated Spicy Steak Sandwiches, Confetti Orzo Salad, potato chips (you just have to have potato chips on a picnic, in my book), grapes (same), and molasses cookies for dessert.  It was all quite tasty.  After lunch there were strolls on the beach and a rousing game of paddle tennis. And then, just when the fog

Shortly after I took this photo, this rock completely disappeared in the fog!

usually starts to lift, around 3:00, it started to roll in!  About half an hour later, though, it rolled back out, and we could even feel a little warmth from the sun peeking though here and there. It’s a beautiful part of the

Look! Wildlife! A pelican!

state, and certainly

More wildlife! Seals!

worth the outing.  Driving back along the coast, the fog had completely lifted, and you could see the beautiful scenery.  And once we got back home, the heat didn’t feel quite so horrible.  I mean, you know what they say, “For sleep, riches, and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.”  I guess that goes for weather, too.  Even the dog days.

Heaven?

Maybe someday this will be heaven.

Now brace yourselves: I’ve been doing a little exercise.  I go out early in the morning, when it’s a bit cool still.  There is a faint breeze.  I feel the warm sunshine on my face, and I listen to the beautiful songs of the birds.  And it is, honestly, sheer h…HELL.  No, it’s not heaven!  It hurts! I gasp for air like some kind of dehydrated fish, and I feel like I am staggering along, raising up clouds of dust, barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  But today, instead of my exercise mantra being “thissucksthissucksthissucksthissucks” I started thinking about other things. I started pondering all the things that make me happy.

No one else can make you happy.  It’s a job for you and you alone.  When I thought about pleasant things this morning, the exercise period went by much faster, and I didn’t notice the pain so much.  And so it is with life–make choices to notice the pleasant things, rather than all the things that suck, and your time here on earth will be so much more enjoyable.

Look, I have almost no disposable income. Any entertainment I have is on a rather frayed shoestring.  Are my relationships blissful and trouble-free?  Not exactly.  But I can make the choice to find enjoyment in certain things.

Heaven is a baseball field in a converted cornfield in Iowa? I don’t think so. This, my friends, is heaven.
A little gin, a little tonic…ahhh.

Or maybe this is heaven, just back from the library.

My friends, my books,

Ohhh, the smell, the taste of fresh pizelle cookies…heaven, of course.

my cooking, my adult beverages, my cozy

No, wait. THIS is heaven. For sure.

Heavenly sunset? A cliche, but true nonetheless.

home–they all make me happy.

Heavenly–a stack of magazines, all waiting for me to read (I may have a bit of an addiction, but it’s just that it’s so cheap to subscribe through Amazon…).

And this is heaven if you are a dog who isn’t allowed up on the couch.

So here’s a little gallery of some things that make it a heaven on earth for me. Now you find some things that make YOU happy.  You’ll feel so much better.

Listen to Your Mother! And Make Lunch for Her on Mother’s Day!

Before I forget, I wanted to show you how pretty my Spanish lavender is–it loves Vacaville! You could plant some Spanish lavender for your mother in her garden for Mother’s Day!

Trust me, lady–I know how you feel

Moving on.  I had a bit of a hard day yesterday. No, in the scheme of things it wasn’t tragic.  Well, maybe a little.  I was in a store and I got asked if I wanted the senior citizen discount.  I wasn’t sure whether to punch the clerk in the head or cry. I did neither, but the whole episode certainly did provide fuel for thought.

I remember, when I was about 25, my mother told me that no matter how old you get, you never really feel very different inside.  That once you pass 30, you stop feeling like you are getting older.  That you don’t feel any different than you did when you were about 30, even if you are, say, 48.  Sure, I know that I’ve aged on the outside, but inside?  I still feel pretty young. Now bear in mind my mother died at 66, so I can’t vouch for how she would have felt at 83.  But it’s true–I don’t feel much different than when I was about 30, even though I am fast approaching 50. So I cannot tell you how dismayed I was when the clerk asked me about the senior citizen discount.  “What?? I’m not old!  How could you think I’m that old??” (No, I didn’t say that–I just gasped a little and shook my head.)  The whole thing kind of laid me low.  A little reminder that hell yes,  I’m getting old and looking it.

I know it shouldn’t matter, that every wrinkle and grey hair I have is a testament to the fact that, yes, I am much wiser now that I’m older (no, really, I am), a testament to the woman I have become, and to the life I’ve led, blah blah blah.  YOU get asked if you want the senior citizen discount and tell me how you feel about the life you’ve led and the woman you’ve become.

The age thing, on the whole, doesn’t usually bother me that much–but that was before I knew I looked old enough for the senior citizen discount.  Holy crap!  Am I wasting away my years bemoaning my waxing weight and waning looks? Maybe that’s what my mother was telling me, to appreciate whatever age you are, ’cause you’re only going to keep getting older, no matter how you feel inside.

Ava

Cyd

My mother was very pretty–when she was young she looked a lot like a combination of  Cyd Charisse and Ava Gardner. The shape of Cyd’s face, but with Ava’s eyes. So even when she was older, she still had men (who were a bit older still) look at her, and that’s what prompted our conversation.  We were out shopping one day and she was getting checked out by a man, and she said that you never stop enjoying that feeling of being noticed and appreciated. It was a little gift, really, to pass this knowledge on to me, to remember that the pretty girl is always inside the aging woman.

So here’s a few more of her tidbits:

1.  Stay out of the sun (can’t tell you how much I wish I’d listened to that one).

2.  Stop wishing your life away ( I was always wishing for things to be different than they were).

3.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (all the champagne and chandeliers in the world won’t help–trashy is still trashy).

4.  Pay yourself first (I still have a hard time with this one–keep forgetting to save money).

5. Children (and pets, too, actually!) come to live with you.

6.  Put on a happy face.

I feel completely confident that your own mother has or had little sayings that crop up regularly, and that you still apply to your life.  So be good!  Be nice to her!  Mother’s Day is coming, so make her a nice lunch.  You could start with the Mother’s Day Punch I mentioned last year about this time, and then move on to this easy and very make-aheadable lunch. Oven-fried chicken, tortellini salad, followed by chocolate dipped strawberries?  Delightful.

Oven Fried Chicken with Tortellini Salad

The Chicken:

Water

3 Tbl. salt

8 to 10 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

2 Tbl. butter

1/2 cup flour

1 Tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

About 6 to 8 hours before you plan to cook the chicken, place the chicken in a large bowl. Toss in the 2 Tbl. salt and fill bowl with water, completely covering the chicken. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (or you could use a giant Tupperware, if you were so inclined) and place in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the bowl, and dry it well (I put paper towels on a baking sheet, put the chicken on the paper towels, and then dab chicken with more paper towels–it must be dry!). Put the butter in a large roasting pan and put the pan in the oven for a few minutes while it preheats–don’t forget it, though, or it will burn.  Put the timer on if you need to.  Remove the pan when the butter is melted.  Put the flour, remaining 1 Tbl. salt, and the black pepper in a plastic bag.  Add the chicken to the bag, a piece or two at a time, and shake to coat the pieces well with flour.  Shake the excess flour off well. Lay each piece, skin side down, in the butter in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes.  Turn the pieces over and cook for 20 more minutes.  Remove chicken from pan and drain on paper towels momentarily, then on a rack set over a baking sheet.  Serves 4 – 5

The Tortellini:

9 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini

2 tomatoes, deglopped and chopped

1/2 cup thin slivers of red onion

1/2 cup thin slivers of red (or yellow or orange) bell pepper

1/2 cup small black olives, halved

2 Tbl. chopped Italian parsley

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbl. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

Cook tortellini according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cool water.  Place tortellini in a bowl, then add onion, bell pepper, olives and parsley.  In food processor combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and whiz to emulsify.  Pour dressing over the salad and let stand about 30 minutes before serving, stirring occasionally.  Serves 4

The Strawberries:

You know how to do this–dip strawberries in melted chocolate!

Autumn in New York? No, it’s Vacaville! (and…Happy Thanksgiving!)

You may already have an inkling of how much I love fall.  Cool weather, rain, sweaters–I love all of it.  And now, Vacaville is doing Mother Nature proud.  We are amassing quite a quantity of the most gorgeous autumn colors.  Hard to believe these pictures are taken here in Vacaville. Look how picturesque we are!  This could be some little town in New England.  I’ve heard that the fall color is diminishing in the eastern states due to climate change.  Maybe we’ll get to have our own fall color now.We won’t talk about the fact that the Christmas banners are already up downtown.  The city is probably just being efficient.  But look!  It’s just so pretty!Okay, last one, this time of one of my favorite haunts, the Vacaville Public Library (the old new library, as opposed to the new new library–I love them both).  Yes, we have two.  It’s fantastic.

I’m in the process of getting ready for Thanksgiving.  We are an intimate little group this year, so I tried to decide which of the usual side dishes should get the axe.  Due to extensive lobbying, all  have been spared.  There will be lots of leftovers, that’s for sure.  This way I won’t have to cook until about Tuesday!  What’s the line-up, you ask?  Well, hors d’ouevres are minimal–don’t want everyone filling up, what with all those side dishes on deck.  Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and marcona almonds are the extent of the pre-dinner snacks.  Oh–and prosecco.  Then we move on to a little salad with pears and blue cheese, with shallot vinaigrette.  We have a jello salad, a vestige from 1967, that we cannot bear to part with (and plus it’s really good–it has a little wine in it!). Cranberries,  just the recipe on the bag.  Rolls–this year I’m trying the buttermilk dinner rolls from the Williams Sonoma book, Cooking at Home.  Sweet potatoes, corn pudding, creamed spinach, brussels sprouts with shallots, peas with bacon and garlic, traditional bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, the make-ahead gravy I made a couple of weeks ago that has been relaxing in the freezer,  and, of course, turkey.  The option of pinot noir or sauvignon blanc to wash it all down.  And then pumpkin pie or pecan pie.  Whew!  My waistband is tightening just thinking about it.  An embarrassment of riches, yes, but certainly nothing expensive or extravagant.

Thankfulness, certainly, is the theme of the day on Thursday.  Hasn’t been a great year, all in all.  But then I look around, and I see so many struggling so hard, and I am thankful we’re still hanging on.  Some months it’s by our toenails, but hanging on we are.  Jean Paul Richter (1763 – 1825) said that “For sleep, riches, and health to be truly enjoyed, they must be interrupted.”  So true!  Maybe these past few years have been our interruption.  Maybe we were a bit complacent, a bit spoiled, and now we are paying a price.  So let’s be thankful for any lessons we learn, however painful they may be, so that we don’t get in this mess again.  And be thankful for families and friends, the most important things of all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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