Saturday, September 19, 2009

nectarine buttemilk cake with lemon verbena sugar

I had a funny day yesterday. I know that funny is not a good word to describe anything, it might as well be interesting, or nice, and you'd have equally no idea what I was trying to get at. But in reflecting on it, that's all I've got. I'll try to explain.
Yesterday was a home day. I get these sometimes, in between work days and other days, and I cook through these days, and do laundry, and call the health insurance company about confusing bills and things like that. At times, I am wonderfully efficient on these days. They are precious, quiet stretches of useful time that I never could have imagined I would be so fortunate to possess just a few short years ago. These are the joys of working part time and having two kids in school. And I mean joys with all sincerity.
But some sort of strange alchemy has occurred within my work ethic the last few years. I come from a very efficient and working Jewish depression era family, and we all work like crazy. But in the past, I've been pretty good at turning that off. I am a girl who knows how to enjoy my leisure. Or was, at least. As I've gone into in greater detail in the past, I went straight from college into motherhood, and those are my two most recent states. Last year the little one went to school, and these days emerged, and as I said for the most part, they are wonderful, but sometimes, a deep restlessness comes out. I wake up with a long list of things to do, and I just can't bring myself to get through it, and so I pace around, feeling bad about my inefficiency. The truth is, it is hard to bring myself to do what I know I should in these situations, which is give up the to-do list and take a minute, for a walk or a book, or just spacing out on the hammock. I think that having two little kids and various jobs over the years has taught me at the cellular level that I must be doing something useful at every moment.
Which brings us to yesterday. It is Rosh Hashanah, and although we've got nothing in Jewish celebration department, the girls had expressed interest and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. So I was going to make challah. But I didn't. And I didn't do the other things that I set out to do either, so I paced. But yesterday, in my restlessness, I went outside with my new camera. We took a peek at the fall coming.

And then we enjoyed the sky, and the land behind the house.

We played with f-stops for a while, and my restlessness oozed away. All of the sudden I was so motivated. I hadn't made challah, but I wanted to make something to surprise the girls when they got home. The two things that I know about Rosh Hashanah are that it is a holiday of sweets (thank you Aunt Cindy) and a time for reflection (thank you Uncle Michael). So I'd make a lovely sweet, a poor substitute for challah with honey, and we'd have a lovely picnic when we got home, and talk about reflection on the year. It was all set out in my head, and it was beautiful.
You can see where this is going by now, I'm sure.
So I pick up the ladies at school, and Sadie says, "Are we doing anything special today?" And I say yes, and that perhaps they would want to save their granola bars that I had packed for the car for another time, because there was something nice at home waiting for them.
You'd think this might be good news?
No, not on a Friday afternoon with tired and unpleasant children. They got the plan out of me. Rosie said that she wanted her car snack instead, that she didn't want a picnic or cake. Of course she felt quite a bit of emotion about this declaration, so she screamed it the whole way home. Sadie was more excited, and patiently sat in her seat, thinking about the picnic to come. But of course when Sadie starts thinking, we get into some trouble, because she has some very unique anxieties.
"Yes, Sadie?"
"I'm feeling worried that we're going to go home and have cake now, and then Daddy will come home and he'll have cake after dinner, and we will have already had our cake and so won't be able to have any more and that won't be fair and I'll be upset."
Yeah, I know. I'm starting to think that this whole thing was a bad idea.
But we made it home, and set out our blanket, and made a bit of tea, and had a picnic under a threat of rain. Rosie had a little piece after all, and everyone was happy for cake.

And I think even a bit of reflection might have happened, at least for the big one.

Rosie reflected in her own way too, I think.

Maybe I'll make Challah next year.

Nectarine Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Verbena Sugar
adapted from Gourmet, June 2009

1 cup all-purpose flour
teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
stick unsalted butter, softened
cup sugar
teaspoon pure vanilla extract
large egg
cup well-shaken buttermilk
3 medium nectarines, pitted and sliced
1 tablespoon lemon verbena sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Arrange nectarines in a pattern on the top, gently pressing them in to the cake, and sprinkle the lemon verbena sugar over the nectarines. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.