baking california holidays vegetarian

What I Did this Weekend

25 March 2008

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Baked. Ate (a lot). Went for a hike. Slept (a lot). Got some sun. Played with dogs. Washed a truck. Ran into a friend and her mom in town. Saw a movie. Ate an enormous sundae (shared). Drank a little bit of wine.

More, please.

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[Poppies along the trail, March 2008.]

Spring, I think I love you. Maybe not so much as summer, maybe not even as much as certain days in October, but on the whole you’re quite grand. I’m looking forward to our next few months together.

Last year around this time, I went a tiny bit crazy and made not only Easter lunch, but dinner, too; it was a triumph of seasonal, low-key dishes that somehow still had me in the kitchen for a good portion of the preceding day (happily so, I will add). I tried a few new things (crab salad, with from-scratch curry mayonnaise; cookies à la française), and we picnicked on assorted sandwiches in Golden Gate Park before devouring all the macarons that were so good and which I haven’t made since. Then we retired back home after a long walk to eat even more and watch the ‘Sopranos.’ Oh, deliciousness.

A year later, my mom and I decided to keep things more minimal. Well, of course I had to make some desserts, but we wanted to take a hike on Sunday and didn’t want to be stuck inside on a day rumored to be beautiful, weather-wise. I offered to roast a platter of assorted vegetables, she made a spinach sauce (note: a recipe I came up with years ago when I first started experimenting with cooking, and which she now makes far more than I do!) to swath a jumble of fettuccine pasta, and would cut up a plate of tomatoes just before sitting down to eat — and that would be dinner.

And it’s a good thing, too, because the weekend was filled with sun and warm temperatures. Much as I love to make a decadent dinner, it would have been a travesty to miss out on all the gorgeous summery weather (Friday’s wind-blown trip to Limantour notwithstanding, it was a string of days that belied the calendar). I very wisely baked my little cakes on Saturday late afternoon, and so save for a quick whipping of some heavy cream Sunday night, the whole day was free for meandering.

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[Russian River view, Sonoma County, March 2008.]

I haven’t taken this hike in ages, but it’s one I’ll have to make time for again in not too long. Tucked away down a dirt road around the bend from Goat Rock beach, the trail head for Pomo Canyon is easy to miss — and in fact we tacked on an extra mile just to reach the start because part of the road was inexplicably closed, locked tight, perhaps, because the campground had to be closed against a potentially rainy winter. Or for other reasons we’ll never know, because there were only a few muddy spots along the trail so why the road closure? Either way, despite a small discussion about whether or not we should still forge ahead, we did, and it was wonderful.

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[Redwoods, in motion, March 2008.]

You start out in a redwood forest where the air smells of bay leaves and damp earth and that cool dryness that is simply redwood; I can’t describe it any other way. The trail winds up (and up) through the trees, and since it is spring, there are little purple flowers scattered here and there amid ferns. Occasionally a thin stream trickles down to muddy the path (and, if you’re not careful, you might end up half-falling down and soaking a shoe in that mud, not that I would know at all) but it is very quiet and still. After a couple of miles the trail levels out and the forest gives way to fields with a view of the hills, and even farther down, a view of the sea. We sat and ate bread and cheese, apples, and pistachios before turning round to go back — macarons and radish sandwiches it was not, but I would argue it was just as good, and without all the fuss.

On the drive home, a stop at the Tides for lemonade and an Orangina, squinting into the sun at the seagulls trying to hold their precarious perch on the outside table as the wind blew them sideways. Then, appetites duly whetted by all those sunny miles, we sat down to a dinner made up of many of my favorite things: spinach, wilted and twirled with parmesan and a dash of milk to make a wonderfully smooth and creamy sauce; pasta cooked just right; cauliflower and asparagus roasted in a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of salt; juicy tomatoes sprinkled with basil; crisp and cold white wine.

We finished nearly all of it.

But what about those desserts, you say? They were lovely — simple, fresh, and perfect for spring. They included

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1. Lemon cake with fresh fruit.

Moist, tart with lemon juice, and showered with powdered sugar, this cake is vegan but you won’t miss the eggs. I cut up some of the season’s first strawberries (note: give it a few more weeks), tossed them with blueberries leftover from breakfast, and it was a slice fit for vegans and non-vegans alike. For the dairy-averse, skip the whipped stuff, but otherwise, feel free to pile it on.

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2. Strawberry shortcakes, with lots of whipped cream.

I baked these in muffin pans, which gave them sort of a funny appearance, but they still tasted good. Simple, sweet, and freckled with lemon zest, the cakes stand up well on their own, but really, aren’t they just a vehicle for piles of whipped cream and strawberries? Tonight I’m having the leftovers, and I plan to slice each cake in thirds, smear the layers with blackberry jam and a bit of whipped cream, and then serve with a big dollop of whipped cream alongside.

I wonder if I can skip dinner and just have dessert?

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3. Chocolate cream pie.

This was the unexpected addition, the dark horse, if you will. I made it for my mom, because she’s had a stressful couple of weeks, and I know it’s one of her favorite desserts. OK, fine, maybe I also made it a little bit for myself — but it was mostly for her, I swear!

The recipe calls for 8 hours of cooking time, but most of that is to let the filling rest in the fridge, and you shouldn’t be daunted by it. Basically, it’s a semi-sweet chocolate pudding poured into a crumbly, crunchy chocolate cookie crust, and then layered over with more — you guessed it — whipped cream (I think the theme of the day was whipped cream). It’s best served cold, and impossible to have only one piece. The cool chocolate slips down so easily you might find yourself scraping your plate for elusive bits you missed on the first round, and wondering if you could justify just one more little taste.

(The answer to that question would be yes, you can always have a little bit more.)

We foisted some of the pie and a couple of shortcakes off on the neighbors, because three desserts? is a bit much, even for me. Still, I can’t say I won’t do it again. I like to be over the top like that every once in awhile.

Perhaps this weekend I’ll have to do a reprise, though with rather less of the whipped cream, for my arteries’ sake.

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Spring/Easter Dinner

Spinach fettucine, with parmesan
Roasted cauliflower and asparagus
Fresh tomatoes with basil

Lemon cake with blueberries and strawberries
Strawberry shortcakes
Chocolate cream pie

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  • amanda 26 March 2008 at 11:45 pm

    what a feast! it all looks delicious. I was enjoying the wonderful weather too on Easter and enjoyed a huge waffle bar with friends. Talk about fun… I went up to Napa and St. Helena on friday and it was absolutely gorgeous. Hopefully spring continues to bring sunny skies :)