Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The First Bite is the Sweetest

Bit into my first peach yesterday since last year – a definite early offering but being in the south it was just a few weeks sooner than anticipated, and it is never too soon to leave a dental impression on one of summer’s succulent sensations.

Having been in the land of Dixie for over a year now, I have sampled the peaches from three southern states. My apologies to the Peach State but your neighbor to just the north delivers a superior experience. I have found that South Carolina’s crop has produced the juiciest, sweetest and most fragrant of them all. Only when I was in the south of France, in early July, have I had peaches that were more intoxicating – releasing a siren’s scent that could not be ignored and bursting with a nectar that dare not be wasted that I licked every inch of its trail down my forearm.  For reasons unknown I have never experienced that concentration of juice in a domestic variety but the smell and sweetest has been revisited.

Peaches are one of those fruits along with plums, apricots, cantaloupe, and most berries that I will never eat if they come further than a half-day’s drive from where I am, and if they are bought in on refrigerated vehicles forget about it. These summer fruits need their full time on the branch to ripen and created those flavors that sends me into olfactory and taste nirvana. And, once exposed to the chill of refrigeration they muster a mere fraction of their true potency. This may seem extremely militant but when I have waited an entire year to bite into a summer miracle I want to get completely transfixed by its voodoo.

Southern Peach Cake – yields 10-inch cake
1-pound sliced peaches
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2-cup sweetened condensed milk
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8-teaspoon salt

Buttered and flour a 10-inch cake pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a standing mixer mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

In another bowl beat the eggs, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla together to combine.

In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Then on a low speed add the flour to the butter mixture. Once the flour has been added to the butter pour in the egg mixture, and mix to well.

Place the sliced peaches on the bottom of the cake pan, and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool completely before un-molding. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Change - Stress - Happiness

Life’s upheavals and unexpected turns takes you to places you may never imagined. I have gone from an urban forager of daily markets to a backyard garden on the outskirts of a congested metropolitan area to now, a resident secreted away in a bucolic setting of rolling hills where horses lazily graze on rich pastureland. I cannot wrap my head around the idea that this town has less people in it than the apartment building I use to live in.

I made this move just around the time my seedlings needed to be set free from their incubators but the move delayed their ability to take root in the earth. Everything is a bit off schedule and nothing is benefitting from a known routine – change is grand but the transition is stressful.  The dogs are not sure if we are just visiting, and continually sit by the car waiting to go “home.” My spouse and I are still searching through boxes and organizing never finding enough hours in the day to get what needs to be done. A first priority for me was tilling a spot and getting those seedlings to ground. I hope I have not over-shot my timing and the increasingly intense heat does not fry them. Those seedlings carried along in their earthen padded cradles, which they clearly had out grown, have been the first to settle with love and generous soakings will flourish and provide me with the happiness I get from fruit laden plants – however, in the interim this pastoral surrounding provides enough access to farms and a myriad of markets dotted throughout the region, and I am grateful for all the others who till some land. For me, nothing can surpass the pleasure and excitement I feel when I present a table resplendent with the gifts of my own tending. While the peas, radishes and strawberries of spring maybe of someone else’s touch I hold on to the promise that the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and watermelons will be from those later started newcomers. 

Spring Salad – yields 4 to 6 servings

1-pound baby beets – boiled and peeled
½-cup fresh shelling peas
¼-pound baby carrots – thinly sliced
4-scallions – thinly sliced
1-teaspoon chopped Texas tarragon

½-teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
1-teaspoon chopped lemon verbena leaves
¼-cup chopped loveage leaves
¼-cup Balsamic vinegar
¼-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼-pound baby lettuce leaves

Tossed all the ingredients together, correct seasoning and serve.