Digging in

LuBarbI spent an hour today sitting on the couch, looking out the big windows into the yard. I was holding a slumped, sleeping boy; Alice Munro’s words (What there is time for is looking out the window … ) and the weight of his fever-warm head kept me from propping him against the pillows and Getting Something Done. Instead through that golden wedge of afternoon, I gazed at our fading open-house landscaping and imagined the very chicken corral that of late I am set on building.  It will have grape vines trained along the fencing, and a little henhouse with a green-planted roof. We’ll rebuild the concrete retaining wall there with natural stone, add a few more dwarf citrus trees in pots, and our lime tree will – ah. Our limping-along, still-fruitless lime tree can always bring me crashing right back into reality.


I have a purple Five Star notebook devoted to my garden imaginings – my dream is so clear that looking out the window is almost surprising. (Wait, daisies? That’s a raised bed of kale and salanova lettuces!) And while many of our people are still deluged with snow and ice, here we are, where I grew up — here, where planting season has arrived. (I will never forget the pitying looks on my in-laws faces when we were living back east and I told them about my plans to plant radishes, and carrots, and peas! In March!) I can feel the steady thrum of to-do in the back of my brain, even as I kiss that sweaty blonde head and shift my arm.

spring treeasparagoose

Blossoms are everywhere, and asparagus too. We fired up the grill last weekend. And while spring officially starts on Thursday – my mom’s birthday – for over a month now I’ve been cherishing my own best sign of springtime’s imminence. Yes, it’s true – the first scraggly stalks of rhubarb have been showing up at the market. Red, pink, and even a delicate green variety. Mornings are still frosty cold some days, but that incomparable puckery-sweet flavor lingers, just like the light is starting to. Spring, spring. The signs are everywhere.


A garden is not going to grow itself, and work is required yet to convince Kyle with regard to the chickens. But we’re slowly settling in.

Rhubarb has to grow for two years before you get anything really resembling a harvest, and even then the leaves are poisonous. It needs the perfect spot – sunny enough, but with afternoon shade, space to spread out, enough cold each year to break its dormancy. It’s not a container plant, not a short timer’s vegetable. Rhubarb needs a home.


I’m thinking this weekend, we’ll plant some. For now though, there’s this – time for smelling sweet orange shampoo, and daydreaming, and looking out the window. I’m digging in.

birthday flags


happybirthdayunclebenFor my brother Ben’s birthday, we baked him a cake. Kyle made steak tacos, the boys waved flags Jacob made, and after dinner we frosted the cake with hand-whipped cream and sang happy birthday over 24 blazing candles (that’s 22, plus one for good luck from each nephew).

Ben’s main food category is meat, and we knew we were going to be going heavy on the tacos when he came for dinner. Because of that, I decided to forgo the usual suspects (pound-inspired loaf cakes, buttery-rich 1-2-3-4 cakes) in favor of a light-as-air sponge cake. Alongside it we had a chunky rhubarb compote, and that was good, even great. But I can see this cake getting a lot of play in the next weeks and months as the season of berries and brunches is upon us. With a fluffy cap of freshly whipped cream and a handful of delicate berries, a slice of this would be just right for after those first meals on the grill. We don’t yet have long summer nights for lingering over shortcake, but we’ve more than enough time to share something sweet in the twilight. 

Happy birthday Ben. xoxo

sponge cake

Sponge Cake
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters

I believe this is the first recipe I’ve shared from this cookbook, which is funny both because I’m a fan of the book and use it a fair amount and because the book’s focus is on garden-related (fruit & veg) meals … but, I bring you cake. Think what you will of me.

This makes a 12×18 rectangle or a 9-inch round cake. We split our round horizontally and filled the center with soft cream for a “layered” feel. The cake itself is a true sponge: lighter than light, not too sweet, and relatively simple to make. It was fun to make with the kids because there is a lot of whisking involved; that said, an electric mixer could be used if you’re willing to wash and dry the bowl between yolks and whites. We loved this with a nice tart compote and a barely-sweetened whipped cream. Our cream was slightly over-whipped because of our enthusiastic whiskers, but made a nice frosting all the same; a more softly whipped cream could be dolloped onto individual slices.

5 eggs, room temperature, separated
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter your pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust the buttered pan and parchment with flour, and tap out the excess.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl, and whisk or mix for 5 minutes or until lightened and uniform in color and texture. Add the water, vanilla, and sugar to the egg yolks and continue whipping for another 5 minutes or until the mixture forms a ribbon when the whisk is lifted.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together until the egg whites form soft peaks.

Carefully fold the flour mixture into the egg yolks. When the flour is incorporated, gently fold in the beaten egg whites.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and begins to pull away from the pan; this took 40 minutes for my 9-inch cake but Waters says 15-20 minutes for the rectangular cake.

Keep at room temperature for a few days, cooled and well wrapped.

2 thoughts on “Digging in

  1. What a lovely read on the first day of Spring! I planted some basil this morning though it is still a bit frosty here. Looking forward to watching your garden grow.

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