• Mocha Layer Cake

    Mocha Layer Cake.

    We had a busy weekend with family, friends and our eldest’s Memorial Day wooden bat baseball tournament (great, low-key fun, btw). But Memorial day weekend also means a few birthdays and anniversaries, so we usually end up entertaining. We always enjoy entertaining, but it’s sometimes a challenge to decide what to make. But, as we often remind ourselves, successful summer entertaining is all about simplicity. With cocktails, we make it easy and serve punch or home-made Margaritas, guests serve themselves at their own pace and we get to visit. For dinner we grill meat, a nice piece of fish and fresh veggies from the garden with a few tortillas, guacamole and fresh salsa. And for dessert Carolyn bakes a big ol’ cake.

    And for a party, particularly on a holiday weekend, nothing beats a good cake. Everyone likes cake (or at least frosting), it lasts a few days and you can eat it any time (and yes, there has been breakfast cake enjoyed here at the farm…;-). When baking for us, Carolyn makes small cakes with 6 inch pans. But when a large group is coming, Carolyn pulls out the 9 inch pans and makes 2, 3 (and sometimes 4) layer cakes with loads of frosting. You know it’s a good party when the host pulls out a big, beautiful, homemade cake. Add a scoop of ice cream and suddenly the kids are quiet (but not for long) and the parents are smiling and enjoying a well-earned indulgence. There is no hurry. Feels like summer now.

    While we like to keep things simple, it is still good to branch out and learn new techniques and try new recipes. In this case Carolyn adapted a recipe from Susan Purdy’s “A Piece of Cake” that included a new technique she wanted to try. Usually baking a cake is straight-forward, albeit time-consuming. Melt chocolate (if using), cream butter and eggs, add other wet and dry ingredients. Blend batter until smooth and fluffy. Bake.

    Grease and dust the pans with cocoa powder.

    Melt the chocolate.

    Mix your batter.

    Ready to bake, note using a scale to evenly divide the batter.

    But for this recipe, we add a cup of boiling water with coffee powder (or very hot coffee) to the batter. The batter sags with the heat, but then reconstituted itself with added mixing. We are unsure of the chemistry involved here, normally we would assume the boiling water helps with activating baking powder, but there is only baking soda in the recipe. Something to figure out, as we like to know why things happen in the kitchen. Regardless, the cake was unusually moist and rich, and Carolyn already makes very moist cakes. The flavor was very good as well, with the coffee really bringing out the chocolate. Continue reading

  • Heavy Branches and the Lonely Peach

    Bing cherries, we will harvest later this week.

    We planted our stone fruit orchard nearly 5 years ago. And while there have been a few successes, this is the first year we can say the trees are “heavy” with fruit. The peaches and nectarines are in process, but the Bing cherries are truly on the cusp. We eat them daily, but the big harvest will come later this week. The limbs on the Bing cherry tree are bending under the weight of the fruit. Amazingly, this same tree yielded just a few tiny, tepid berries last year but will give us baskets of cherries this year. A small reminder that patience and effort are sometimes rewarded.

    Cherry branch bending under the weight of the fruit. This is good.

    We are pleasantly surprised by the density of the cherries.

    And sometimes there are pleasant surprises. The hybrid Van and Black Tartarian cherry tree was mostly planted to  pollinate the Bing. But, as we noted last week, this tree is also bearing fruit. The Vans are tasty and the Tartarians are just coming in. We look forward to tasting all three of the cherries just off the tree.

    Netting the tress to protect the fruit in the orchard.

    On a more sober note, we took the plunge and netted the trees in the orchard. We needed help to do this, but as most of the trees have real fruit, now is the time. The orchard is less picturesque, but is hopefully protected from some of the nighttime raids of earlier years. We’ve written about our more…ummm, “active” protection of the garden and orchard from varmints, so let’s hope the passive systems work as well.

    A flash of purple amidst the green.

    Otherwise, the apple and pear trees outside of the orchard are looking great. The blossoms of spring are now the small fruits of the tree. These are older trees that bear fruit every year. We deal with leaf curl and the occasional pest, but we rarely worry about these trees. They are in their prime. Our younger Macintosh apple is also looking good and we expect a decent crop this year.

    Pears on an older tree. Lots of fruit, but months from being ready. Continue reading

  • Cinnamon-Filled Scones

    Cinnamon-filled scones.

    The concept of the “lazy days of summer” doesn’t really apply to Carolyn. While the boys and I are still snoozing on Saturdays, she is up making pancakes, scones or muffins. She takes very good care of us, we are very lucky. And this weekend we were very,very lucky and got some cinnamon-filled scones. And they were great. Along with a few berries from the garden (the berries in the photos are part of this weekend’s haul) and a cup of coffee, this was a perfect breakfast. Lots of happy faces at the table this morning.

    Notice the “cake-like” crumb. This is a good thing.

    These scones are a bit different as well. Based on a King Arthur Flour recipe (and you do know about King Arthur Flour, don’t you?), these scones have a mixture of cinnamon chips and a rich cinnamon filling. The filling impacts the moisture of the scone while baking, and the result is a more tender and slightly less flaky scone. This recipe is almost “scone as coffee-cake”, and since scones are much easier to make, this is a very good thing, and a very good recipe.

    The recipe is pretty standard for scones, with the exception of the cinnamon filling and layering it into the dough. The filling is a combination of sugar, cinnamon, flour, butter and milk that, if the butter is soft, takes just a few minutes. Otherwise the steps should be familiar to the home baker (and similar to our Maple Syrup Scones). Dry ingredients are combined and butter is cut into the mixture. Wet ingredients are combined and then added to the dry ingredients and then the whole is lightly kneaded into a dough.

    Cinnamon filling is easy to make.

    Cut the butter into the dry ingredients.

    Combine wet ingredients with dry to form the dough.

    The extra step for this recipe is splitting the dough in half so you can place a later of cinnamon filling in the scone. This can be done two ways. The first way is to simply layer half the dough in a 9-inch baking pan, spread the cinnamon filling in and then layer in the rest of the dough. We like it this way, as we get a more rustic appearance. But if you like a more uniform look, split the dough and roll out two circles that will fit in the baking pan. Then simply place a circle of dough in  the pan, layer on the cinnamon filling and place the other circle on top. Finish with a light brushing of milk and a sprinkle of sugar.

    Layer in 1/2 the dough and then the cinnamon filling. Continue reading

  • Cocktails for Memorial Day: The Pegu Club

    Pegu Club Cocktail and ingredients.

    Another classic cocktail for the weekend. And after posting the Ancient Mariner, a tiki drink with a hard-to-find ingredient in allspice dram, we decided to go for a cocktail you can make almost anywhere. And the Pegu Club has been made and enjoyed just about everywhere.

    The Pegu Club is named after an old-time (and now defunct) British colonial club in Rangoon, Burma Myanmar. As with many colonial clubs they had their own cocktail, in this case a mixture of London dry gin (the British need their gin), Cointreau (or orange curacao), lime juice and a few bitters. A simple drink, but a very good one. And if you just thought “margarita with gin”, you are onto something. The Sidecar begets the Pegu Club and soon enough you get a Margarita. Old recipe + new booze= new cocktail. And so it goes.

    Pegu Club Cocktail.

    Cocktail historians track the Pegu Club back to at least the 1920’s, when the drink became popular worldwide. It is listed as a popular cocktail in Harry Craddock’s Savory Cocktail Book from the 1930’s. Then after World War II, the Pegu faded from view as other cocktails emerged. But good cocktails never die, and sometimes they don’t fade away either. They re-emerge. Luckily the Pegu Club is making a comeback. It certainly helps that Audrey Sanders, widely considered one of the best bartenders in the world, opened her bar “The Pegu Club” in NYC many years ago and helped spur the cocktail revival. If you name your bar after a drink, it had better be good.

    And it is very good. Openly sour, but smooth and with enough sweetness from the Cointreau and spice from the bitters, the Pegu Club goes down almost too easy. But as it was a “club” drink, the Pegu Club is still an elegant creation. If you have to put on a collared shirt (or, god forbid, dress-up) this weekend, the Pegu Club would be an excellent companion. And if you are grilling and listening to baseball on the radio with your family, and we hope you are, the Pegu Club can hold its own.

    Pegu Club Cocktail ingredients.

    Continue reading

  • Memorial Day Flowers

    Early hydrangea flowers

    Memorial Day is a day to remember the sacrifices of our soldiers. It is also the unofficial start of summer and a weekend to spend with family and friends. Some may find this hard to reconcile, but for us there is no better way to show respect for the fallen than to value and be grateful for the truly important parts of our lives.

    Memorial Day is literally a good time to “smell the roses”.

    Bougainvillea climbing anywhere it can.

    The transition to summer brings changes to the garden. Spring flowers fade and some fry in the sun. Other plants and flowers start to thrive. The Bougainvillea begins its fiery climb. The roses come and go with new splashes of color. The lavender and hydrangea are on the cusp.

    Continue reading

  • Tiki Drink for Memorial Day: The Ancient Mariner

    Ancient Mariner Cocktail

    We can’t resist tiki drinks for long here at the farm, and Memorial Day provides a good excuse, so here we go again. Although for this tiki drink, we need no excuse. The Ancient Mariner is one of our favorite cocktails, period. And unlike most tiki drinks, the Ancient Mariner is a recent creation from a mixologist in his prime, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. We’ve mentioned Berry’s books on tiki drinks and culture and his excellent iPhone app. Berry is well-known for chronicling the world-famous tiki bartenders “Trader Vic” Bergeron and Don the Beachcomber,  but he also makes his own recipes and the Ancient Mariner is his creation. And it is a great drink.

    A mix of dark rum, light Demerara rum, allspice dram, lime juice, grapefruit juice and simple syrup, the Ancient Mariner has all the fruit and sugar flavors of a classic tiki drink, but with a dry, spicy finish from the allspice dram. Mixologists like to talk about “balance” a lot, and it is often hard to define. (Often I think balance means “what I like”). But whatever balance is, the Ancient Mariner has it. Sweet, sour, tangy and spicy with just a touch of boozy heat, the Ancient Mariner is a lovely sip. The only downside we see is that it might be tempting to have way a few too many.

    Note the “ancient” jelly jar for a glass. We need some lowball glasses…

    But there is one part of this drink that kept us from posting it sooner, the allspice dram. We try to avoid more obscure cocktail ingredients in the blog, but this one is worth finding. Allspice dram (also known as pimento dram) is an allspice and rum-based liqueur from Jamaica. It is a low-alcohol (45 proof) ingredient used to add spice and a touch of almost tannic dryness to cocktails. Widely used in tiki drinks, allspice dram is also used in regular cocktails like The Lion’s Tail and the Balm Cocktail. But about 25 years ago the Jamaican importer stopped bringing allspice dram to the States. So unless you wanted to make your own (and many a mixologist did) you were out of luck.

    Allspice Dram

    Continue reading