baking california vegan vegetarian

The Turn of the Seasons

15 April 2008

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[Iris along the trail, March 2008.]

Two years out, I’m still re-learning what it’s like to live in the Bay Area. When I lived in DC, and would talk to people who had lived in Northern California, the main thing they always mentioned was the apparent lack of seasons. Nonsense! I’d say. In the summer it is very dry and the hills turn golden (or brown, depending on your interpretation) and in the winter it rains. The fall can be very warm before the rain starts, and spring … well, to be honest, I’d forgotten what spring could be like given I’d only made it back a few times during my East Coast sojourn. I figured it would be similar to Washington: warm, blossoming, and filled with sunshine.

This past weekend, in fact, was quite like that. It started out on Friday, and though I didn’t get to enjoy much of it, I could feel the breeze through the open window of my office and I knew. Saturday dawned bright and hot; it was the kind of weather than made me think of camping, or swimming in the Russian River. Let’s go kayaking! I exclaimed, but then after breakfast (granola and yogurt, lots of oranges, pancakes) and a quick spring clean of the apartment, there wasn’t enough time to drive out to Tomales after all (it’s on the agenda for ‘soon,’ however). It was the kind of day that made me long for a yard, or a balcony upon which to set my coffee cup, and my feet. It was the kind of day that begged for being out in the garden, or in the redwoods.

The thing about Northern California is that the seasons tend to blur into each other. On the East Coast, the seasonal shift is marked by the ‘turn;’ some springs in DC literally overnight the weather could go from cool to sweltering, and except for a few brilliant, unexpected days free of humidity there really was no going back. I’d pull out all my lightest shirts and let my arms go bare for most of the summer; I’d unpack all my cotton skirts and wear sandals. Here, I can do that sometimes, but not too frequently. Case in point: I wore an old DC summer skirt on Sunday, when we drove out to Ocean Beach (luckily I’d also brought a hoodie, which didn’t match). The sun was shining glorious and hot in my neighborhood, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all the way down there. We went into the Safeway to pick up some hummus and carrots (and chips. And orange juice. And laundry detergent) to fortify our walk, and in those five minutes — no kidding — the fog blew in and it was chilly and windy. Summer was gone, and it hasn’t yet returned.

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So this is a strange place sometimes and it’s true on occasion I do miss that obvious seasonal shift. I miss wearing open-toed shoes for four months in a row, though I don’t miss the constant and freezing air conditioning that necessitated wearing sweaters inside. I miss the sudden burst into fall when the leaves seem to change color in a matter of days (though it’s true they do turn here as well, just more subtly) and the weightless relief after summer’s heavy heat. Even the produce here lingers far later than in other parts of the country (strawberries, for example, are often available at the farmers’ markets until early October), but I’ll certainly not complain about that.

Still, every now and again we have a weekend of such perfect blue it’s impossible to criticize the lack of defined seasons. And I know if I can hold on through July’s foggiest afternoons I’ll be rewarded with an October of clear skies and warm winds.

One March (I think it was March, though the adults involved may remember it differently) when I was a kid we took one of our frequent family trips out to the coast for the day. I think it was on a Sunday, late afternoon, and we stopped at Salmon Creek for a ramble. In the spring the river flows very strongly into the ocean, and there were lots of other kids swimming and jumping in and out of the water just before it met the sea; it must have been freezing, but I remember my brother and I went in, too, and could hardly be persuaded to leave. The water was cool, probably cold, but full of the energy of the river rushing hastily to pour itself into the ocean, and it was sunny and fairly warm. That day, those moments of being in the water, was true spring to me: the swirls and pulses of the current brushing against my skin was intoxicating, like when the sun comes out after a week of rain and everything is fresh and new again.

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[Anemone at Keyhoe, January 2008.]

I suppose the sea itself has its seasons, which are, perhaps, much like the gentle ones here above the tides. Now, we are coming into the time to see gray whales (the northern migration along this coast — and beyond — begins in late April and lingers into May; last June we even saw some late-comers off the tip of the Pt. Reyes peninsula ) and if there was to be a salmon season this year, we’d be on the cusp of that, too. The water might feel just a bit warmer, though it will never be as warm as the smoother swells I am wistful for along the Eastern Shore, and in the absence of winter storms the sea will be calmer.

There are few things I like better than to pack up a lunch — cheese and avocado sandwiches, fruit, pistachio nuts, a sparkling juice or two, with a few cookies or pieces of chocolate to finish it off — and go for a coastal hike. I am setting aside at least one Saturday next month to take the Tomales Point Trail (at 9.5 miles, it necessitates its own whole day) which is well worth the wait. On a fine day, you can see clear up the coast into Sonoma County and if luck is particularly kind, the whales will put on their own show for you, turning and blowing in the waves. The elk won’t scatter if you walk quietly enough, and out there, for the next few months at least, spring will be well evidenced by a profusion of wildflowers. It’s enough to make me take back all that stuff about not really seeing the seasons.

Something to help sweeten the miles — or hours at work, or long car trips, or weekend mornings with a strong cup of tea, or a too-chilly spring, or or or — is something I made a few weekends ago: blueberry scones, with a vegan bent. You may use any fresh or frozen berries you like here; I used blueberry because that’s what I had in the freezer, but I think blackberries would be lovely, as would raspberries. They are quick to put together, and not overly sweet, which satisfies as a breakfast treat. I made them for a vegan friend, but I think even the most strident dairy-lovers among us can appreciate them. I might also try throwing in some chopped nuts, or swapping out half the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

In this in-between spring, that bemuses and tantalizes, both, I’ll take my sweetness wherever I find it — either along the sea, or in the city, or in a baked treat.

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Vegan scones, with fruit

1 cup flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine (1 stick)
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup soy milk
1 cup blueberries or other berries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

Stir together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder. Add the butter in pieces, crumbling it iinto the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the soy milk, lemon juice and blueberries and form into a loose ball. Let rest in the freezer about 20 minutes.

Remove the dough and lightly press out flat. With your hands, or with a cookie cutter, cut the dough into 1.5-inch rounds. Place on the cookie sheet and sprinkle some sugar on top. Bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes.

  • Celine 29 April 2008 at 3:33 am

    count me in as a new fan of your blog!

  • Amanda 18 April 2008 at 9:53 am

    People say that Northern California experiences a lack of seasons?! They need to get their butts down to Sacramento then but we get to experience ALL seasons, from 100 degrees to freezing 32 degrees. And all the glorious climates in between :) But I think in the bay area it’s different since you are on the coast. Nonetheless, that hike sounds fantastic. I am really itching to get out and explore more which is something I NEVER wanted to do before, but it could be fun to go on a nice hike.