Food, Family, and Memory

applesinbasketsI miss apple-picking in New England. Overall the produce found in Southern California is superior to anywhere we have lived, but just like football, when it comes to apples, you simply can't beat New England.

New England has scores of picturesque orchards with rolling hills and countless trees. There are few pleasures in life as satisfying as biting into a just picked Macoun apple while standing in the warm sun on a chilly fall New England day.

The first autumn that Jeff and I lived in North Carolina, we planned our annual apple-picking day. When we arrived ready to pick, we were aghast that our treasured McIntosh, Macouns, and Cortlands were nowhere to be found. Instead we had to make due with Red Romes, Galas, and Arkansas Blacks (a hard, tart apple which became my new favorite).

Just as we got used to our apples in the Southeast, we then moved to California and had to learn an entirely new set of apples. Though crunchy, sweet Fujis are probably the most popular apple here, my local favorite is the Pink Lady.

Unlike her name, she's quite sassy, just right for an eating apple. Then there's the Winesap, which according to Riley's Farm of Oak Glen, CA, is the "Celebrity Rock Star of Apples." No wonder. It's deep crimson red, super firm and crispy, and assertively tart. Definitely not an apple for the timid.

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hollycakeIt's autumn and that means....

Max's Fresh Raspberry + Pear Bundt Cake with Buttercream Frosting

This cake was the result of what I didn't have.  I wanted to make a cake for my son's birthday, but it was late in the afternoon and I didn't have time to drive to the store.  So I decided to just wing it in the kitchen, which always leads to the new and unexpected.  Plus, the birthday son isn't a stickler about his birthday cake and in truth doesn't even like sweets.  This gave me permission to experiment. 

So I guess I should call this Max's Fresh Raspberry and Pear Cake.  I'm honoring him. This cake is dense, moist, filed with hunks of fruit, and in my estimation, delicious.  I'm fairly certain that it's also not on any diet plans. I serve it topped with Buttercream frosting, the kind that you make from a SINGLE BOX of powdered sugar (recipe on the back of the blue box -- you add to the powered sugar a cube of butter, a 1/4 cup of whole milk and a teaspoon of vanilla.  Beat with the blender.  Works every time). 

Let us begin....

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beverlyhillssign.jpg The other day I was thumbing through a copy of OK magazine….alright, I was reading it. They have a section that shows celebrities doing normal things! Captions that read, “They pick up their own dry cleaning!” “They put money in the parking meter!” “They go to the carwash!!!”

Growing up in Los Angeles, specifically Beverly Hills, I would see countless celebrities in their normal, every day life. Cary Grant shopping at Carroll & Company. Fred Astaire strolling up Rodeo Drive. Or  Sonny & Cher about to walk into Nate ‘N’ Al’s.

I went to school with the children of many famous people. In some cases, there was a particular tragedy about them. The legacy of their parent’s fame was a tyranny to their self-esteem. The comparisons that were made, especially if, God forbid, the kid wanted to go into the same business imposed an obligation that more often than not was unattainable. Some came to terms with it and went on to live happy and healthy lives. Others perished under it.

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schneckenWhether you like FaceBook or not, it has its' merits. People and relatives are easier to find.

Last week a woman left me a message and a friend request. I hesitated.  I had no idea from her picture who this person was and why she was ‘friending’ me. Curious, I opened up her profile. This dark haired, beautiful woman was my second cousin.

After the surprise of finding a new family member, I explored her profile to find out about her, as I hadn’t seen her in 50 years. She still lived in Florida, the last place that I had visited with her and her family but this time she was all grown up.

Brenda is her name, just like mine. Odd that we share the same name and she is older by barely a month. We messaged back and forth that evening and I liked her. Then she announced that she was coming to Maine 3 days later to see the foliage with her husband. I invited them to dinner and to stay at my house. She declined but agreed to visit us at our store. The common thread we shared was my aunt Alice, my mother’s aunt and her grandmother.

I felt compelled to tell her some obscure piece of information so she had no doubt that I was truly the correct Brenda. I don’t know why.  I said if she stayed overnight I would make pineapple schnecken, for breakfast just like aunt Alice always made for me. She knew I was ‘the’ Brenda that she was looking for. I knew exactly how to make the schnecken because I had saved the recipe in a special place for 50 years in my heart.

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brewedchocolate.jpgI remember first smelling the scent of coffee roasting in North Beach. I was a teenager and it was exotic and intoxicating like the City itself. Even though I didn't drink coffee, I loved that smell. Over the years whenever I've smelled fresh coffee, especially during roasting, it's been a combination of soothing and exciting to me, like the promise of something wonderful and dangerous. Sadly drinking coffee has never held the romance that smelling it does.

If you take the Scharffen Berger factory tour, and I highly recommend that you do, you will more than likely be enveloped by the scent of roasting cocoa beans. It is such a warm and happy scent it reportedly makes those who work there giddy. Even a few minutes will give you a profound sense of well-being. Having taken the tour twice, I've often wondered, would it be possible to make a drink out of the roasted beans? Not the cocoa powder or chocolate, but the roasted beans themselves, like coffee? 

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