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The sun came out from behind the murk some time last week. I walk past my favourite green-sided building on my way to work. Come to think of it, it isn’t the green or the actual building that makes it my favourite. There is a huge tree growing next to it. The wall faces west, so that when the sun is shining, the tree casts a beautiful shadow onto the building by late morning, when I walk past, and into the early afternoon. Last October, I was known to invent a 2 pm errand, just so I could go outside and behold the glorious shadows cast by the late autumn sun beaming onto the bare branches of this tree.
Last week, the sun picked out the achingly new, vibrant green leaves and traced their outlines onto the wall.
A 90° pivot to the right provides the background of my favourite terracotta and charcoal multistory car park. I love the contrast between the fluffy yellow green leaves and the delicate, airy fern green leaves set against the broad stripes of colour.
I’m happy for the shining sun and the beautiful shadows it casts. I’m happy to see the new leaves bursting and uncurling from branches which have been too long bare. I’m happy that springtime has arrived at last.
On still, bare branches
new growth appears.
At long last,
the end of Winter?
-Melinda Schwakhofer, 2013
Today is the Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year. Not that we’ve seen much sun today or even recently. Today was a day for staring pensively out of the window at the endless rain.
I have to admit that the lack of warmth and sunlight have been getting to me. However, I’ve been staying cosy at home. Turning the heating on and dressing in my silk, wool and sheepskin loungewear. Steve came home tonight after a few days away. I made baked chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.
We had Pimm’s for an aperitif to celebrate the solstice.
I went out especially to buy some flowers and found these gorgeous peonies. I’m looking forward to watching these open up over the next few days.
So summer’s not so bad after all. Just a bit greyer, colder and wetter than I’d like. Still, as long as I can bundle up, pour a glass of Cabernet, bask in the glow from the kitchen light and (guilty pleasure) read some chick-lit, it’s pretty darn good.
Where sky skimming swallows flew,
apple trees bough
laden with Autumn fruit.
-Melinda Schwakhofer, 2011
I had some leftover plums from my rumtopf adventure, so I let them ripen up for a few days. They sure were pretty, in the middle of our oak dining table, in an ochre bowl from Provence, basking in the golden early Autumn sunlight. When it turned chilly a week ago, I was wearing my grey wool scarf and draped it near the plums to lend some warmth and a soft, deep earthy tone.
A couple of days ago, I decided to make a plum cake to take into work in celebration of our Indian Summer. Yep, it was about 23°C/73°F with wall to wall sunshine today. And will continue like this for the next few days apparently. Well, I wished for an Indian Summer a couple of weeks ago when I made my Liberty print skirt and my wish has come true!
This glorious cake (from BBC Good Food) looks like something in a French pâtisserie, but is actually quite simple to make.
Glazed Plum Cake
- 200g softened butter , plus extra for greasing
- 8 red or purple plums
- 140g golden caster sugar , plus 1 extra tbsp
- 3 eggs , lightly beaten
- grated zest 1 large lemon
- 175g self-raising flour
- 6 tbsp milk
- 85g blanched, lightly toasted almonds , chopped (the pieces should be quite big)
- 6 heaped tbsp redcurrant or plum jelly
Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.
While the oven is heating up, put the almonds in the oven to gently toast. (I always prefer to toast my nuts before adding them to batter. It adds a subtle depth of flavour). Set a timer for about 10 to 15 minutes in case you waft off.
Butter a 23 or 24cm springform tin, line the base with greaseproof paper and butter the paper. Slice and stone the plums. (I find this a good method to deal with not too ripe plums. If I sixth the plum, then twist it, the slices just fall into my hands.)
Beat butter and sugar (minus the extra tbsp) until pale. Beat in eggs, then zest. With mixer on low, beat in flour and milk. Stir in almonds and spoon into the tin.
Lay the plum slices on top of the batter, overlapping them in circles.
Sprinkle with the extra sugar and bake for 55 mins-1 hr. I usually set the timer for half the allotted time, have a peek and then cover it with foil or parchment paper so it doesn’t brown up too fast. Then I take it off for the final 5 minutes. Let it cool in the tin for 15 mins. Remove cake from tin and stand on a rack.
In a small pan, melt the jelly and 2 tbsp water until reduced to a syrupy glaze, about 5 mins. (I had some leftover redcurrant jelly from making Chicken Casserole in Red Wine with Mushrooms a fortnight ago.)
Brush the melted jelly all over the cake. It will seem like a lot, but a thick glaze looks good and tastes amazing. In fact when I took this cake into work today, folks weren’t entirely sure what kind of fruit it was, the sweet-tart plums twizzled delightfully with the sweet-tart red currant jelly. But everyone sure did enjoy it.
Leave to set before serving. I was thinking it would be good with Chantilly cream, clotted cream or vanilla ice cream, but people seemed to like it just the way it was. Pure and simple and unadorned.
You know, these beautiful Indian Summer days begin cupped in the morning-misty shrouded dawn and draw to a close, cradled into night by a chillish dusk. Autumn is gathering us into her embrace, so we need to feast our Souls on the last of the Summer Harvest – and let it go and turn to face the darker days of Autumn and Winter, finding our sustenance within and our warmth at Home.
Over Lent, I went on an online retreat/journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Along the way, I was invited to consider the three virtues or practices in my life right now which feel essential for cultivating my connection to Self and God.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been practising the virtues of Stability, Patience and Presence. As an EdgeDancer and someone who for many years sought Home over the next horizon, these don’t come easily to me. But I am learning to trick my small self and ‘just try them for a moment’ and before I know what has happened, I am in the Eternal Now.
I’m playing with practising one or more of the three virtues, when I remember, at different times of my day. For instance, I can practise Patience if I’m working at a slow computer. Or Stability if I want change just for it’s own sake; rather than begin a new activity, I can relax into what I am already doing and really focus on the task at hand. I find that these small awarenesses give me a different perception of time and a deeper connection to everything.
The apple orchard I walk through from my bike parking spot to my bus stop is a great teacher of many things, including these virtues. It is a grounding Presence in the spiral of changing seasons, embodying them and also remaining constant. In November and December, I stop to count the diamond stars shining through the bare lichen covered branches. Now, I find constellations in the blossom laden boughs.
And I know that in the Autumn, the orchard will give us an abundance of sweet and juicy cider, cooking and eating apples, each with a star in the centre.
And again in the Winter, a beautiful lattice through which to view the deep night sky and shining stars.
So please forgive my silence (not that there aren’t hundreds of other diverting, deep, Muse-inducing blogs and things to keep you occupied!) while I’ve been finding a different point of view and new ground beneath my feet.