Magic, Tidal Pools, & Chocolate Cake

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails

And such are little boys made of.

 

Enders14

 

The sun-kissed days of summer are taking their exit cue and while I can hardly wait for the crisp days of autumn, I am savoring these last weeks of warm breezes and bright blue skies.  Little Man has been enjoying our daily outdoor adventures, especially now that he is at this grand age of discovery and observation.  Should we stumble upon a family of obstinate geese or a fanciful and energetic butterfly, he is entranced; magically his vibrating being becomes quiet and still for a few moments.  His intensity and curiosity for this wide world, for the seemingly mundane or often ignored, renews my own zeal for life and I find myself, also, in a constant state of wonderment.

Enders Tidal Pool1

Enders Island - Fishers Sound

Enders4

While we were at Ender’s Island, he had the pleasure of discovering tidal pools.  I had mentioned in a previous post that one side of the island consisted of slabs of rock gradually descending into Fisher’s Sound.  Here, tenacious life thrives, rooted firmly to withstand the constant rush of waves.  Small white barnacles framed the edges of rocks where air and water met and chartreuse seaweed danced with each surge of foaming water.  Also here, cohabiting in these shallow pools, were hundreds of tiny black snails.  Little Man, who was secured with his father’s grip on his overalls, sat with feet submerged, picking up and examining every snail his greedy little fingers could find.  And so we sat, contently with only the sound of the waves and boats, reveling in the simple joys of our natural world.  This moment I captured in my soul and  preserved in my heart.  In future days when I can hardly believe how old he is, or we are, here is where I will come again to play among the tidal pools.

Enders6Enders7

When snails are in short supply, that magical moment of quiet and stillness can be conjured by appeasing LM’s sweet tooth.  Our family favorite this summer was a Chocolate Zucchini Cake, or Chocolate Courgette Cake if you are partial to alliterations.  Zucchini and buttermilk make this cake remarkably moist and semi-sweet chips scattered on top add a double dose of chocolate and a little texture.  Be sure to use a great quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger, Green & Black, or Ghirardelli for the best results.

 

ChocolateZucchiniCake1

ChocolateZucchiniCake2

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 ¼ cup Flour

½ cup Cocoa

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1 tsp. Salt

1 ¾ cup Sugar

½ cup Butter, softened

½ cup Oil

2 Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla

½ cup Buttermilk

2 cups grated Zucchini (from about 2 ½ medium zucchini)

1 cup Chocolate Chips

Butter a 9 x 13” dish.  Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt.  Beat together sugar, butter, and oil.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Beat in vanilla.  Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour (in three additions).  Fold in the zucchini.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the cake.

Bake at 325°F for 40 – 50 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan.

 

– I do not recall where I picked up this recipe but is is not an original of mine.

Enders13BW

This excerpt is from a popular Nursery Rhyme.  And from what I can remember of my own childhood, little girls are also made of similar stuff.

Grow Wild According To Thy Nature

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms… .

Wildflowers3

 

It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time… .  In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, – for man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost, – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.  Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.  Not tell we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

Spring14.3Wildflowers.White1

Summer is already here and I can hardly believe it.  Forever it was winter and miserably wet and cold.  Then, one morning I awoke to a world running amok with green leaves, delicate blossoms, and dusty yellow pollen.  Spring was fashionably late.

The glorious greenery is what I love the most about Virginia in the spring – there are so many shades concentrated into one area and I am always, every year, surprised by how lush and beautiful this wild State can be.  The trees with their forest green leaves begin at the sky and parade down to where the tangled weeds and vines juxtapose dense colors of fern, moss, olive, and hunter.  Other colors pop against this verdant canvas, especially the wildflowers.  Sprays of white, purple, blue, and yellow fill fields with a confetti-like ecstasy.  We’ve been enjoying the show with daily walks, stopping often to watch the bees shake little flowers or pick tiny clovers.

During the rainy days, I have kept in touch with nature with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  I loved this book with one exception – the second half.  The first part was filled with inspirational, challenging, and philosophical discourse that I eagerly devoured.  The second half, I am convinced, would be very interesting if I was Charles Darwin or Bear Grylls.   I’m sure I would find a Discovery Channel documentary, or National Geographic article, on how pond-water freezes fascinating (I am a visual person) but Thoreau’s systematic and dry delivery had me going cross-eyed.  The Conclusion and final chapter is beautiful and re-invigorated my numb mind.  If you have not given Walden a try, now you know to enjoy the first half, skim the second unless you are an avid biologist/botanist/naturalist, and go straight to the Conclusion.

ApricotTart1Pastry1

What is absolutely wonderful, from start to finish, are these little Apricot Tartlets.  To me, the apricot is the official herald of spring.  They come a little later in the season, closer to summer, a sure sign that the cold is behind me and the sunshine will only increase with warmth and intensity.  I love to eat these fuzzy little fruits straight; sweet, tart, and always satisfactory.  Yet, I cannot resist baking with them.  They hold up well and do nothing more than improve what I am already making.

The original recipe from Mireille Guiliano is for one large apricot tart – this is easily adaptable to six tartlets if you have the smaller tins.  I love the almond mixture before the addition of fruit; it soaks up the juices and gives great texture between flaky crust and soft baked fruit.  I served mine with a small dollop of honey-sweetened crème fraîche and freshly grated lemon zest.  However, they would be great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a few toasted almonds.  Or, as I can personally attest to, with a bit of yogurt for breakfast, along with a cup of hot, black coffee.

 

Apricot6Wildflowers2

Apricot Tart

Makes 1 (9”) Tart or 6 Tartlets

1 recipe Sweet Pâte Brisée (for 9” tart)

1 cup Slivered Blanched Almonds

¼ cup + 2 teaspoons Sugar

1 ½ – 2 lbs. Fresh Apricots, halved and pitted

2 teaspoons Honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to an 11” round. Transfer to a 9” tart pan. Prick the dough with a fork, cover, and chill for 10 minutes. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°F.

In a food processor, combine the blanched almonds and ¼ cup of sugar and pulse just until the almonds are finely ground. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Place the apricot halves, cut side down, on top, slightly overlapping. Drizzle with honey, place the oven, and bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Remove from oven and sprinkle over the remaining two teaspoons of sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with desired accompaniment.

For Tartlets: Only blind bake the pastry shells for about 5 minutes. Bake the tartlets for about 30 minutes.

– The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano (page 232)

 

Sweet Pâte Brisée

This makes enough for 2 (9”) pie shells; or a top and bottom.

2 ¾ cups Flour

1 ½ teaspoons Salt

1 tablespoon Sugar

18 tablespoons Butter, cold and cut into pieces

7 – 10 tablespoons Ice Water

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 10 seconds. While pulsing, add ice water in a slow steady stream until a dough forms but is not sticky or wet. (Pulse for no longer than 30 seconds.)

Gently fold and bring together dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions, shape into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

The dough disks can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

– Saveur Magazine

Spring14.1Greenery1

Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day, – farther and wider, – and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee ever where at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here by played. Grow wild according to thy nature.

 

Beetle

Excerpts from Walden, the better half, by Henry David Thoreau.

 

 

 

Autumnal Farewell

Lake2

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine

‘Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,

‘Because our love is waning.’

 

And then she:

‘Although our love is waning, let us stand

‘By the lone border of the lake once more,

‘Together in that hour of gentleness

‘When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:

‘How far away the stars seem, and how far

‘Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

 

Autumn - Bridge PumpkinLeaves7

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,

While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:

‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’


The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves

Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once

A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;

Autumn was over him: and now they stood

On the lone border of the lake once more:

Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves

Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,

In bosom and hair.

 

‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,

‘That we are tired, for other loves await us:

‘Hate on and love through unrepining hours;

‘Before us lies eternity; our souls

‘Are love, and a continual farewell.

Mushrooms1

I am emphatically captivated by autumn:  The gold and crimson leaves shocking the grey skies;  the smell of nutmeg and roasting squash filling my kitchen; brisk morning walks invigorating the body and awakening the spirit; dark evenings spent reading  a good book.   As of late, Yeats has been my read of choice, rekindling my love for poetry.  “Stolen Child” is has always been a favorite.  I’ve read and re-read it so many times that the words have rooted into my memory, and yet, I still always cry a little at the end.

However, this year “Ephemera,” has entranced me, emphasizing another aspect of my beloved autumn: Growth and Renewal.   I find this season of celebrating life and harvest irrevocably intertwined with the acknowledgment of death as its partner.  As the leaves fall, making way for impending winter, I remember that to grow with dignity and evolve with grace I must accept the ending of things with just as much elegance and fortitude as preparation for future challenges.  Whether it is a habit or expectations that I lay to rest, a relationship, or a chapter in life, I can never realize my greatest potential by carrying with me all of my past.  Our memories should propel us to greater things ahead, never should they imprison us in the shadows and ghosts of a long-gone reality.  Before us lies eternity, and as we move toward eternity, we must live presently in our continual farewell.

Cake EsspressoFall9

Even if it is a little mourned, a farewell should be celebrated.  I prefer to celebrate with cake.   Perhaps you find it odd that I discuss poetry, philosophical musings, and then proceed to  cake as though it all goes together.  Is this comprehensive?  Does it all flow?  I’ve given up on order and structure a long time ago – not only is it boring, but is an expectation that is rarely fulfilled.  Life is moves rapidly, chaotically, one most bathe in every depth and dimension of it.  Soak in the color of the autumn!  Vow to self-refinement!  Read intelligently!  Love ardently!  Celebrate in the little things, trinkets, and tidbits of time that connect the dots of our existence!  Eat cake!

This Pumpkin Cake is a celebration in and of itself.  It  is anything but pretentious, reveling in its own simplicity and brilliance.  You could serve it plain with a dusting of sugar, but the Brown Butter Frosting is a religious experience, transforming this cake from delicious to transcendent.  I actually broke into a little fit of enthusiastic, and for some reason, slightly diabolical laughter when I first tasted it. The Brown Butter adds a smooth, nutty, buttery fullness that plays well  with the cotton candy-like sweetness of the frosting complimenting perfectly the simplicity of the cake.  This is best served with strong coffee and stimulating conversation.

____________________

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

For the Cake

8 tablespoon  Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

1 2/3 cups  All-Purpose Flour, plus more for the pan

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

¼ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

¼ teaspoon Ground Allspice

½ teaspoon Salt

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Baking Soda

1 ½ cups Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 cup Pumpkin Purée, canned or fresh

½ cup Whole Milk, warmed (110 degrees)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9” round cake pan and line with parchment.  Butter the parchment and then coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  Add pumpkin purée and milk, beat until combined.  Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 40 – 55 minutes, until the center is springy to the touch or cake tester comes out clean.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool and let rest in the pan for 20 minutes.

Unmold the cake onto a plate and let finish cooling before frosting.

For the Frosting

8 tablespoon Unsalted Butter

2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

2 tablespoons Whole Milk

Place a tempered bowl in a fridge to chill.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat.  The butter will begin to foam then crackle, turning brown and develops the nutty aroma.  The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  Pour brown butter  into the chilled bowl and set aside.  (You can complete this step earlier in the day, keeping the brown butter at room temperature until you are ready to make the frosting.)

Pour the brown butter into a mixing bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, and the vanilla.  Beat on medium-high until smooth.  Adding the remaining tablespoon of milk, little by little, until a spreadable consistency is achieved.  Use immediately.

Cake3 - Pumpkin

– Original Recipe from Martha Stewart (here).  For everything you need to know about making Brown Butter, view this post from one of my favorite blogs, Poires au Chocolat.

 

 

-This poem is titled “Ephemera” (1895) by William Butler Yeats.

Summertime Peach Crostata

‘Miss Eliza Bennet,’ said Miss Bingley, ‘despises cards.  She is a great reader and has no pleasure in any thing else.’

‘I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,’ cried Elizabeth; ‘I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.’

– –

“Then,’ observed Elizabeth, ‘you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.’

“Oh! certainly,’ cried his faithful assistant, ‘no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.’

“All this she most possess,’ added Darcy, ‘and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.’

‘I am no longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women.  I rather wonder now at your knowing any.’

Orchard - MtVernon

Summer_2013

This is my seventh time reading Pride & Prejudice.  The exact same copy.  Dover Edition published in 1995 with the cream cover embellished with flowers and a peach and turquoise peacock.  The pages have begun to yellow and each turn emits the smell of dust and vanilla.  Memories are evoked:  Being thirteen, falling in love with Darcy and finding a kindred spirit in Elizabeth; staying up late on summer nights, reading with anticipation despite already knowing the ending; placing it on the windowsill-cum-bookshelf of my first place altering my shabby surroundings into something of a home…

This is why I could never own a Kindle or get Botox.  I’m too attached to my passing of time, the memories and talismans that create my history. The old books, faded photographs, a movie ticket stub from a first date that turned into a first love, or the increased lines around my eyes reflecting the joy and terror of parenthood.  These small measures remind me where I’ve been, where I’m going, and most importantly, to fully invest in where I am.

And where I am right now is in the middle of summer.  I take advantage of the long days filled with sunlight perfect for small adventures and excursions.   I delight in the bountiful farmers’ markets filled with red berries, bright verdant zucchinis, and fuzzy peaches bursting with sweet juices that run down to my elbows.  It is the summer evenings I take pleasure in the most, with its seductively warm breezes carrying the mellow sound of the serenading cicadas as the stars appear on their stage.  These are the nights perfect for curling up next to someone comfortable, with a good book, and perhaps a piece of something tantalizing to share.  One plate, two forks.

PeachCrostata1

Summertime Peach Crostata

For The Pastry

2 3/4 C. All-Purpose Flour

1/2 C. Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder

1/2 tsp. Salt

Freshly grated Zest of 1 Lemon

3/4 C. Unsalted Butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1 Large Egg + 1 Large Egg Yolk

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

For The Filling

2 C. Peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced

1/2 C. Granulated Sugar

2 TB. All-Purpose Flour

For The Topping

1 Large Egg

Demerara, Turbinado, or Other Coarse Sugar, for sprinkling

To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture.  Using a pastry cutter, fork, or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of peas.  (You can also use your hands, which is what I usually do.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until well blended.  Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is evenly moist and begins to come together.  If the mixture seems dry, add a teaspoon or so of cold water.  Transfer the dough to a work surface, divide with one piece sightly larger than the other, and form into two disks.  Wrap separately with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°F.  To make the filling, in a bowl, toss together the peach slices, granulated sugar, and flour.  Set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the larger dough disk into a 12″ round.  Carefully roll the dough around the pin and position pin over a 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Unroll dough onto the tart pan and press gently, yet firmly, into the bottom and sides of the pan.  Trim edges of the dough, leaving a 1/2″ overhang.  Fold the overhang over against the inside of the rim of the pan.  Pour the peaches into the pastry-lined tart pan, spreading them into an even layer.

Roll out the second dough disk into a 10″ round.  Using a pastry wheel or knife, cut the dough into 10 strips, each 1/2″ wide.  Arrange half of the strips across the top of the tart, spacing them evenly.  Give the pan a quarter turn and place the remaining dough strips across the top to form a lattice pattern.  If the strips break, patch them together with a drop of water.  Press the ends of the strips against the sides of the tart shell to seal.

To make the topping, in a bowl, whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the dough strips with the egg mixture.  Sprinkle the strips generously with the coarse sugar.  Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack, let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the outer ring and cool until warm or room temperature.  Cut into wedges to serve.

– From Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian

Peaches

Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view.  They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberly House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound.  It was large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; – and in front, a stream of some natural important was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance.  Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.  Elizabeth was delighted.  She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.  They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Excerpts from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.