• 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

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  • 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