Saturday, May 16, 2020

Things I Actually Did During The Lockdown: Vol. 1

Time on my hands.

Yes, another list. It's what I do. Expect more in the future. This is an incomplete list of some of the things that I actually managed to accomplish during The Lockdown.  Alternate title: A Less Than Enchanted April in Rooms Without Much in the Way of a View is Cold Comfort Indeed!*
  • Re-read all the library books I’d picked up before this mess began. Those things are seriously overdue, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay. If I'd realized what we were in for, I would have checked out a bunch more.   
  • Gave Hubby an awesome haircut. Full disclosure: I give him haircuts even when we’re not in lockdown. This one though, really looked good! Pity nobody saw it! I also gave myself a major trim. I figured that even when I have to go out, my hair is up or in a baseball cap (so the mask ties don’t get caught in it)… nobody will see a bad trim!
  • Finished a crochet hat with a challenging pattern that I’d started over a year ago and misplaced. The bigger challenge was figuring out where I'd left off. Gotta remember not to stop mid-project like that.
  • Tested some Christmas gift ideas. In April! What is the world coming to? I'd say more but that would be telling.
  • Weeded the garden. Yes, I weeded. Totally not joking, I really did. And then, after getting up close and personal with the little darlings, had to find out what they’re actually called and other non-pertinent information about them. Because I could. And it was the least I could do after unceremoniously ripping them up by their invasive %$#@!& roots.  My favorite weed? The Redstem Storksbill!
  • Did some reading up on the habits and habitats of our local feathered friends. We had an Oak Titmouse family in our front yard birdhouse. I could watch their comings and goings as they “feathered their nest” and fledged their young. Forget the Lion King, we've got the circle of life right here in our front yard. And it's awesome.  
  • A bit of clutter clearing happened. Then the sun came out! After a cold grey winter, I've pretty much planted myself on the porch to soak up as much heat as possible. Not sun, heat. There is a difference. Might do some more de-cluttering now that the fickle weather has turned on us once again.
  • With the libraries still closed, and you know, a swirling vortex of stress, I turned to my favorite novels for comfort and escape. They’re the ones in green print cotton covers in the photo above. Re-reading them is like therapy. No, it's more like a special treat; a visit with an old friend. I don’t like the look of paperbacks, so to cover up the sometimes damaged (sometimes ugly) covers, I glue fabric over them. It’s pretty and it reinforces the cheap paper covers.
So that was April. This is May. May is thus far just like April. But if I look closely, there are some positive changes happening….

Cheer up, Buttercups!

*Three of the top favs: Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, A Room With a View by EM Forster, and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. These also have the distinction of having had excellent movies made from them with stellar casts. The same can not be said of all my favorite novels.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Spring Means Cherry Cake Weather

Cherry Tea Cake on pretty vintage plate
or... What to do with that glowing jar of maraschino cherries hiding in the back of the pantry (other than topping bowls of ice cream)

It's still Springtime. I can tell because the bugs are fully activated, the weeds are on steroids, the wild onions are in bloom, and there are still a few cherry trees festooned in their floral finery in our neighborhood. Not many, and not for much longer, but a few nonetheless. Pretty sure the late-bloomers are the Kwanzan variety (one of my favorites). I had meant to post this in March or April when all the other varieties of fruit trees were showing off too, but things were starting to get weird in the world and blogging was not my focus.

We don't have cherry trees in our yard anymore, but we do have a crab-apple tree that came with this house, and when it comes to blossomy spring beauty, it's a close second to the cherry trees. Most of the year it's a nondescript unattractive old thing, showing its previous decades of neglect. For three to four weeks out of each year though (usually in March), it's a real stunner. A profusion of dark pink buds start the show and soon burst into pale pink blossoms that finish off creamy white before dropping their petals, swirling and fluttering to the ground, like springtime snow-flurries, with each passing breeze.

The color of this cake reminds me of those pretty buds and blossoms that every year herald the coming spring. The color is achieved by the inclusion of maraschino cherries and specifically, the "liquid" they live in. I won't go into how very unnatural the color of these jarred cherries is or what non-nutritive chemicals could create such a vivid hue, nor why you might want to avoid ingesting these things too terribly often. I'm a "waste not, want not" type of person, and even though they're not healthy, they are still sort of like food and need to be used if at all possible.

The reason we have a jar of maraschino's in the pantry at all is because of a sweet and wonderful Christmas tradition in my hubby's family. And now I have found the perfect thing to use them for. Don't get me wrong, we've had no problem at all using them to adorn bowls of ice cream every year! But next Christmas when I thank my mother-in-law for another jar of cherries, I will look forward to making this cake again.

When our crab-apple starts to bloom (or the neighbor's cherry trees, or all those darned wild onions, or frankly, whenever I feel like making a pink cake), I'll say, "It looks like Cherry Cake weather!"* and reach into the pantry for that jar of maraschinos, vivid with love, family, and memories.

Cherry Tea Cake
adapted from: here, here, here, and here

1 16-ounce jar maraschino cherries
1 3/4 cups All Purpose Flour (+ 2 Tbsp, reserved)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
a good pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup maraschino liquid
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a standard 8.5"x 4.5" glass loaf pan.
  1. Drain the cherries well, reserving their liquid. Put the drained cherries in a small bowl lined with a couple folded paper towels, set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. 
  3. In a separate bowl, add the eggs, oil, and the rest of the liquids. Mix well.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Give the cherries a few chops, then toss them with 2 Tbsp flour until coated (this prevents the cherries from sinking to the bottom while it's baking). 
  6. Fold the cherries into the batter and pour it into the greased loaf pan. Bake for about 70 minutes (start checking after 50 though, as ovens and pans vary).
  7. If you notice the top of the cake getting too dark too early, make it a little hat out of foil and perch it over the top of the pan.
  8. Cake is done when it tests clean with a toothpick in the very middle. 
  9. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then carefully tip it out and finish cooling it on a rack.
My Notes...
  • This cake goes together really fast. No mixer needed, just a whisk and a spoon. 
  • Almond extract can be substituted for the Vanilla in whole or part if you like. 
  • Powdered sugar or cream cheese glaze would look nice over the top of this cake if gifting or taking to a party etc. Save a little bit of the jar liquid to tint the icing pink. I find that the cake is plenty sweet on its own, so I don't bother to frost it if it's just us eating it. 
  • The cake can be frozen (unglazed) if wrapped well. 
  • You can bake two mini-loaves instead for gifting (bake time will be shorter), or even make pretty pink cupcakes! 
  • If you use a metal loaf pan, the baking time may be different. 
  • And lastly, if you're sensitive to red food coloring, you'll want to just stay away from this cake altogether.
Happy spring, late bloomers!

P.S. This essay would have worked so much better if we still had a cherry tree in our yard (or if I'd managed to post it six weeks ago). But this is me, doing my best with what I've got (and missing my old cherry trees a little also, I think).

*An homage to Truman Capote's short story A Christmas Memory, about fruitcake and family ("It's fruitcake weather!"). If you haven't read it before, do so in November or December for the right ambiance.