[Sebastopol, March 2012.]
to Friday, I’m here to report I pushed through a fairly successful 6-miler on Sunday afternoon – see photo above – along the winding country roads of home. The sun drifted in and out, but the earlier rain had been blown away and clouds sailed serenely off toward Mt. St. Helena.
It’s a bit too early for blossoms on the apple trees, but I love them so nonetheless; my brother and I always like to say they have so much more character than the vineyards that are rapidly encroaching on the orchards and we lament their untimely demise. I’ve long wanted to write a piece about the changing landscape and agricultural implications of the shift toward growing grapes in my home town, but as is often the case with freelance writing you can pitch and pitch and pitch an idea but someone else will probably end up writing about it far better than you ever could. And after all what’s most important is that the story is out there regardless of who writes it, no?
For it’s true that when I go for my runs along the back roads it breaks my heart a little to see a lot of the orchards replaced with vineyards. I’m not denying grapes are pretty to look at, but those 100-year-old apple trees are not just special but indicative of the whole region. (Not to mention: with California in yet another of its perpetual drought cycles self-sustaining agriculture which doesn’t tax the ever lowering water table is key.) Those trees have been around far longer than most of the area’s current residents and although one can’t stop the march of progress, and change is mostly a good thing, I do wish my beloved apple trees would endure for yet another 100 years.
Of course — some of them will, and there are still those who let their trees grow wild, the Apple Blossom Parade and Festival is still a yearly tradition, roadside stands still sell delicious fruit in season. It’s just that I get wistful for how things were …
[Along Pleasant Hill Road, March 2012.]
It felt like spring this weekend, as much as ‘spring’ can feel like in Northern California. When I visited Maine this January I had yet another discussion about how California doesn’t have seasons, and oh, how so-and-so would miss the snow, the turning leaves, the hot summers, the etc. etc. And while I do agree with this to a certain extent – no, it does not ever snow in the Bay Area – I must gently argue that there are in fact seasons! Brilliant yellow and red leaves pile up in October and in November, just around Thanksgiving, it’s often quite frigid. Summer heat waves are not an anomaly by any stretch of the imagination (just in San Francisco) and in spring? Well, in spring there’s no finer time to be in this fair state (even barring this rain we’re currently experiencing).
On the cusp of the season, I could feel it up in Sonoma County. If the trees are still biding their time to bloom and blossom the light is different now. I may make my peace with winter and claim to love summer – or at least the idea of it – but this weekend solidified for me that my favorites are fall and spring, a.k.a. the in-betweens. In fall there is that held-breath feeling of anticipation and energy, and the sky is a deep, endless blue. In spring there is that possibility, and the sunshine is a kind of pale yellow. I’d call it ‘buttery’ except for that some butters, like egg yolks, are a darker shade than others. So maybe it’s more ‘daffodil-esque’? But no – daffodils are quite vibrant and this light to me is like a bit of cornmeal mixed with heavy cream … lighter, frothier, even a little chillier.
(Yeah – you can really get bogged down with the simile-making; it’s a wonder anything ever gets written at all.)
March is the in-between month. It bridges the gap between winter and spring (which arrives next week and it is so close I can feel it). It is the work-horse, the alarm clock of the calendar, entreating the earth to emerge from its long rest with strong winds and bright sun, but happily, mind. March calls, Look! The sea is blue again and under it there are secret treasures and the whales still making their way South. The birds are coming back to town and are already singing their busy summer songs. There is so much to do; let us get started!
Not to mention there is the time change tucked in there to lengthen the daylight hours – o, best beloved day of the year! Wake up, the March wind whispers to the earth, sweeping away the snow and puddles. And thus the ground rouses itself to put forth tulips, new grass, a faint greening all over the trees. March blows out the cobwebs and scours the air clean; it tidies away the detritus still lingering from the holidays and pushes us out firmly into the year. It is literally a deep breath.
And so I took full advantage Sunday and ran as much as I could. I came home and made cauliflower soup and a vegan pear-apple galette sweetened just with maple syrup and thought about the vegan chocolate cake I baked last month and which I’ve wanted to share for awhile now (vegan galette = vegan cake … or some such). I have my standard vegan cake recipe o’course, which has stood me well for many years and with which I’m well satisfied. But I’m always open to something new. Which is why when Joy the Baker posted her recipe, one that called for a cup of coffee in the batter, I knew I must try it.
Mine is good, but so is hers. I think I’ll probably still rely on mine, but love the idea of incorporating coffee into it as she did. It rounds out the inherent fudginess of the cake, tempering the chocolate flavor a bit. As I’ve probably written before, I think I actually prefer a vegan chocolate cake to a ‘regular’ one (though make no mistake I’ll happily bake those too). Plus there’s the added bonus of not having to dig around for the eggs you thought you had – but in fact were eaten by your loving husband; oops – or threatening your cholesterol with two sticks of butter. Or whatever – it really just tastes good.
Welcome, almost-spring. Have a piece of cake. I’m glad you’re here.
Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat-
You must have walked-
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell.
Vegan Chocolate Cake, via Joy the Baker
I’m not really a bundt cake kind of girl – it’s often an arm-wrestle to get the cake out of the pan – but I do think it’s a pretty shape. It took some elbow grease for my (admittedly non-non-stick and fairly old) pan to release its prize, but it was well worth the effort. I drizzled a simple glaze of melted dark chocolate whisked with a little warm water over the top.
makes 1 9-inch chocolate bundt cake
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm coffee
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch bundt pan with vegetable shortening and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together coffee, oil, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. The batter will be relatively thick. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.