My dad had a penchant for infomercials. We had miracle mops that you never had to touch with your hands, all of our silver was pristine, and he could wax our cars to a mirror-like shine. Then came the big guns- the Ronco dehydrator with extra trays for maximum output. Our small kitchen became a virtual beef jerky factory. The scent of liquid smoke and hickory lay heavy in the air. It wasn’t a bad thing, just a tad overwhelming.
A Ronco dehydrator is one apparatus you will not find in my kitchen, so when I had an itch to craft a natural element for this holiday season, I had to find an alternative method. It turns out, as one might expect, an oven, a cooling rack and a sheet pan can do the same trick.
The key ingredient is time- about 6-12 hours, so pop those slices in the oven before bed, and you’ll awake to a refreshing citrus scent in the morning. The landscape will be a winter wonderland, birds will somehow be singing, the kitchen will sparkle, and peace treaties will teeter on the horizon. It’s amazing what a warm oven and a little citrus on a winter morning can do!
Then, start crafting!
My main motivation for these organic ornaments was the purchase of “Fronds Ferdinand,” our new Norfolk Pine, but I’ll also be sharing some other ideas for dried citrus, so stay tuned and good luck with holiday stresses.
There is a vulnerability to spring I hadn’t noticed until walking through the spindly branches and brown brush of my neighborhood. Winter had protected those same trees and littered ground like long hair protects an insecure girl, basking the earth in a security blanket of snow and a wash of grays. We do not scrutinize winter. We hide from it.
Spring, however, emerges to watchful eyes, like a debut role performed to an audience of critics. People pour into the streets in prematurely short sleeves with exposed legs and toes, demanding warmth, a gentle breeze, greens and blooms.
Meanwhile, seeds and seedlings leave farmers and gardeners guessing- will they or won’t they? Will they spring back from the freak snow? Will they be on schedule for transplanting? Will they emerge at all?
Yet somehow, the early buds prove resilient. The greens and pinks emerge, and if given a little time, they paint the most fabulous landscape. From barren to beautiful, the transition to full-force spring is a process worth observing, worth noting, worth taking to heart.
There are plenty of ugly moments and doubts en route to a masterpiece. Once those painterly strokes of genius appear, they are but brief and fleeting, so we better appreciate the messes and spindly branches along the way.
Like the season, I feel myself reemerging. I just wrapped a major project, a labor of love that consumed my early mornings and late nights and nearly every minute in between. I had to remind myself all along to enjoy the process. That process, like the spring blossoms, can pass so quickly leaving me to question whether the tree ever had blooms or if I had dreamt it.
This cake tastes like walking in the newness of spring, when fresh scents hit you, but you can’t quite locate the tiny buds emitting the perfume. The floral notes of the rose feel cleansing and purifying, like splashing your face with water.
Here’s to the vulnerabilities of spring, to the process of reemerging, and as always, to the sweetness of special desserts worth sharing with special people! This one was for The Urban Farmer’s mama because she is one of the loveliest!
Whole Grain Blood Orange & Rose Water Cake with Rose Water Frosting
About this Recipe: I used a 7-inch and a 6-inch springform pan to create two cake layers, which I then cut in halves to create more layers. Alternately, you could make 3 6×2-inch round cakes. If using fresh flowers as a garnish, be careful to protect the cake from any floral byproduct and caution eaters against eating the flowers (unless they are edible varieties of course). You can wrap the ends of stems in foil or floral tape as a cautionary measure.
The light rain saturated the sky like watercolors bleeding onto paper fibers- gradations from grays to bright blues seeped into the clouds. Below, branches swayed back and forth, growing fuller by the day with a captivating chartreuse. Inside, the curtains billowed and floated in the flicker of the returning sunlight. The cool air breezed through the fine mesh of the screen. Its worn, frayed holes caught flecks of light like tiny prisms on the periphery, and I listened to a rosined bow glide purposefully across four strings.
The lyrics, the light, the corner chair… it was that precise moment when the sun is warm, but the air is crisp, cool, and carries the scent of fresh rain. It’s not too hot, not too cold; not too damp, not too dry… it’s the perfect cusp, teetering on the edge of tan lines and summer wanderlust. The shadows and rays teased one another through water droplets on weathered wood, and the window framed the moment, like a long, slow detail in a film. These cusps call for deep breaths, far off gazes, closed mouths, quiet pauses, quiet thoughts and meandering minds. That window, that corner, and that chair is the best part of my day. It’s my corner of spring.
From my quiet perch, the distant traffic became a wave crashing on a shoreline. The neighborhood had yet to emerge fully from winter’s dormancy, and the lull allowed the birds their due spotlight. They sang their return from every corner, and every now and then, there was a faint hum of a little bee at work.
I made this cake for the keepers of bees (the Urban Farmer amongst them). The apiarists gathered in a beautiful barn, where flowers hung from aged beams to dry. These men and women gathered to share the many lessons they had learned in their quests for liquid gold. If ever a spoonful could evoke what my spring corner embraces, it would be a spoonful of honey. This cake was an ode to the way a taste of honey distills a season into amber sweetness, with notes of a region’s beauty, so I featured a liquor that’s an ode to the region’s apiaries.
Wigle Whiskey is a local distillery on a mission to restore Pennsylvania’s whiskey history, a mission I salute! Their playful approach to craft spirits always has them exploring and experimenting. One of their curious pursuits led them to create a Pennsylvania interpretation of Rum in celebration of our region’s prolific apiaries.
Made from scratch and pot-distilled from Pennsylvania buckwheat honey, this distilled mead is a uniquely inland approach to island spirits with whole, organic botanicals–roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon–to complement the buckwheat honey’s distinctive character. Simply put, Wigle’s Landlocked Spiced is just the right touch for a beekeeper’s cake (and for a beekeeper’s glass too!).
About This Recipe: This recipe starts by candying oranges with honey, instead of the traditional sugar approach, which yields a more complex flavor. The remaining syrup finds its way into each element of the dessert. Add a Tablespoon or two to the whipped cream, and use the remaining syrup to seep into the cake when it’s fresh from the oven. Be sure to use a local, raw honey for the most flavor and to support your local beekeepers. If you’re not in Wigle’s shipping range, you can road trip to Pittsburgh, or substitute your favorite rum or mead. For a simple cocktail, add one of the honey candied orange slices to a glass of Landlocked Spiced on the rocks, and sip slowly.
April 2014 Sometimes my sweet tooth demands something fast but flavorful. Sometimes I push up my sleeves, don my apron, carve out an afternoon and set my sights on something rich and fancy [I'm not talking gold…