An Apple a Day . . . Autumn Comfort to stay . . .
Hello, my friends. Life is a banquet.
When life takes a turn and decides to do the body good, you surrender.
If you noticed the date since my last post, it is evident that I “checked out” for a couple of weeks. Ander’s Cousin K, from Toronto, came for her annual Autumn visit. As she is expecting in December, it was a wonderful time for her to take in a bit of Northern California’s nature before she begins her new life with “little Pumpkin”. Lady A gave Cousin K the nickname “Pumpkin” as she always takes her holiday in California during “pumpkin season”. However, Little P, is being called lovingly by her expectant mother as “Piibe” (PEE-beh), short for “lily of the valley” flowers in Estonian. During her visit, it was amazing to see her move around in swift, graceful strides. Her nimble body, considering her condition, did not show any signs of the upcoming arrival of “Piibe”. Cousin K was in perpetual motion at every waking moment. You could feel her enthusiasm and excitement for what each day could bring. We had a wonderful time together. We enjoyed meals on the veranda. We brought her a taste of our garden bounty. Heirloom tomatoes galore! Lemon cucumbers abound! Sweet bell peppers a plenty!
"Heirloom Tomatoes . . ."
"Garden Harvest . . ."
She brought us baked delicacies from Toronto that specialized in Estonian baked goods. (I’ll have to give Ivonne, our revered Cream Puff, the heads up – Hillside Bakery.) Alas, the baked goods were being rationed and hoarded by Lady A. The prized delicacies, “Kringal” were to be savored, not devoured. Each bite was like a piece of perfect pleasure.
"Estonian Kringal . . ."
A week before this past Saturday, marked the first day of Autumn. It was also the first day of what I have “self-diagnosed” as “when I caught the BUG”. It wasn’t quite the flu, it wasn’t quite a cold, it wasn’t quite a migraine, it wasn’t quite a stomachache. Just some malady of unknown origin. I suspect it was a combination of all the running around and fun with Cousin K, in addition to “dealing” with Lady A. Poor Ander had to suffice to an array of very simple dinners, ie salad, soup, crackers, salad, soup, toast, salad and yet more soup and crackers. Here’s a shout out for “Premium Saltines”! I'm back on my feet and once again, enjoying putting up some of our garden bounty. I've acquiesced to sharing some of the ripened figs with the country creatures of our property. The bluejays have tasted the fruit from the highest point of the lone fig tree. Deer have munched on the unripened fruit hanging on the lowest boughes and Ander caught a rogue raccoon the other night sitting pretty in the center of the tree trunk. Brazen!
When Autumn comes, I go through a type of metamorphous. Not like a huge transformation, but a slight altered state. My being craves “comfort” as much as possible. The wool blankets are brought out of the closet. Selected sweaters are brought to the cleaners in anticipation of the Autumn night suppers. The flip-flops are put in the back row of the shoe rack and the cozy “Thugg” boots (Legitimate knock-offs of the fashion trendy “UGG” boots) come out from their dormant state of hibernation.
"Applestand . . ."
When Autumn comes, apples are a prevalent fixture at every turn. A recent visit to Stanford Shopping Center illustrated a fabulous display of the multitude of varieties available for our consumption. Our neighbor has a generous Gravenstein tree that is plentiful in supply. I search for the “standard” at the farmer’s market. Whether eaten fresh, out of hand, baked, braised, stuffed or frittered, apples carry a distinctive rank in their status within the food groups. Applesauce is a common food given to young babes once they are introduced to “solids” and capable of the fundamental act of “mastication”. It is a first introduction to “natural” sugar to these little tykes. I remember the first apple I held in my tiny youthful hands. It was no longer sliced or cut in half. It was a “whole” full apple. It fit perfectly in the palm of one hand. It was shiny and red. My first bite brought out the sound of this incredible, “crack, snap and crunch”. The flavor was sweet, tart and luscious. The flesh had speckles of concentrated juice pockets and sugar sacs. I also recall wanting another one as soon as I completely consumed this crimson orb. When Autumn comes, I put together a care package of the locally grown “size two’s” and send them to my little darlings. They are the perfect size for the little ones to handle. I also use this size for candied or caramel apples.
"Apple tree in the orchard . . ."
When apples are abound, a Swedish apple cake is imminent at Le Maison. Although I have several apple recipes collected from my travels, I always rely on my “go to” recipe for this simple, comfort cake.
As a “baking’ apple, the venerable Granny Smith, has always been reliable and highly recommended. ( Savy Sam, has another fabulous opinion.) Since Ander and I live a hop, skip and a jump from Sebastopol, once known as the “apple” capital, we are fortunate to have a selection of varieties to cook with. A quick jaunt to Walker Apple Ranch allowed for me to choose the freshest, crispest and scrumptious main ingredient for my Swedish Apple Cake. Lee and Shirley Walker farm over 25 apple varieties on 30 acres. On the day of our visit, their daughter-in-law, Cindy, was graciously offering tasting slices of the different varieties of apples that had recently been harvested and being offered that day. We tasted Baldwins, Greenings, Winter Banana, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Jonathans and Honey Crisp. We brought back a 20 Pound box of our hand-picked choices plus a few pounds of comice pears. If you're ever in the Sebastopol/Graton area, and want to get a real feel for Autumn, Walker Apple Ranch is the place.
"Apples on the line . . ."
Walker Apple Ranch
10955 Upp Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Swedish Apple Cake
Makes 15-18 servings
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3-1/2 cups peeled and chopped tart, firm fresh apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbls. butter
3 Tbls. light brown sugar
3 Tbls. granulated sugar
3 Tbls. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar; blend well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and salt. Add to egg mixture and blend well. Add apples, nuts and vanilla; mix in with a spoon.
Pour batter into a buttered and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a preheated 325 F. degree oven for 1-1/4 hours, or until cake tests done.
Remove from oven and let rest in the pan 20 minutes.
While cake is resting, prepare glaze. Combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream and vanilla in a small saucepan; bring to a boil and continue boiling 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Remove cake from pan and put on a wire rack or platter. Spoon or drizzle glaze over cake. Serve with whipped cream and/or fresh berries.
As Autumn comes, I can once again, begin my journey to countless moments in the “comfort zone”.
What’s your comfort food? Feel free to share…
Life is a banquet, my friends.