RELAX and ENJOY…There soon comes that one lovely late summer day when fragrant flowers on the windowsill say so much…this is usually the lazy season…after all the hectic nurturing and mulching and weeding earlier in the season, it’s time that most gardens tend to look after themselves, well, kinda…and gardeners tend to relax a bit and enjoy the bounty! Except, of course, for the watering that always needs to be done when Mother Nature fails to provide the necessary one inch of rainfall per week!
All set for summer inspiration…I can smell the lavender, the tall pink phlox, and the roses…I can hear the birds, the bees, and the crunch of gravel as I walk along the path…and I can taste the berries and tomatoes warm and fresh from the vine.
Setting the scene for a long, lazy, late Sunday afternoon lunch…A table set outside under a tree canopy or in a gazebo strung with tiny white lights…dress the table with a blue and white checked cloth, my favorite…add pressed glass goblets, crisp white napkins, a flourish of fresh flowers in a granite ware pitcher and a collection of oil lamps to light as dusk approaches. For added charm, serve homemade dessert treats
on an antique cake stand and pour a taste of your own homemade, icy LIMONCELLO to enjoy…
What better way to celebrate the pleasures of the season at the end of a meal than with a glass of something fresh and lively…LIMONCELLO!
Smooth and sweet, intensely lemony…So astoundingly easy!
Using lemons from my own lemon trees makes this even more special…simple to make and rewarding, in so many ways…To produce this beautiful liqueur, the color of dusky lemons..follow along…
For one-two bottles, you will need:
8-10 Meyer lemons, organic [the best to use]
1 750-ml bottle of vodka, I use Grey Goose or Tito’s [at least 80-100% proof]
Simple syrup made from sugar and water, usually in equal amounts
This is a rather loose recipe so you may need to experiment with sugar amounts a few times to find your best flavor.
First, using a vegetable peeler, remove the peels from all the lemons, being careful not to get too much pith [the white part]. Put the peels in a one quart jar and cover with the whole bottle of vodka. Put the jar in a place out of direct sunlight and let it sit for at least a week. The longer it infuses, the more lemony your limoncello.
Next, strain the vodka through cheesecloth or a brown coffee filter. Now you can prepare the sugar syrup: Bring the water to a simmer and stir in the sugar. Allow to cool. I start with one cup water to one cup sugar, you can always make more as you taste and then add the syrup to the limoncello. More water will dilute the alcohol base, more sugar will obviously make it sweeter. FINALLY, pour the sugar syrup into the infused vodka… after you are happy with the taste…Pour mixture into a clean bottle or bottles. Chill the limoncello in the fridge and then for long term,store in the freezer…which is the best way to keep it fresh.
Something All Sweetness and Light to enjoy with a glass of Limoncello…A thick slice of Victoria Sponge is the perfect dessert treat to end an afternoon meal in the garden. Many variations on a recipe have been around for years, actually since the Queen lent it her name. There were even contests every summer throughout villages in England to determine who could bake the best “Sponge”. The English SPONGE is very much like our old-fashioned pound cake. One taste of this buttery rich cake and you’re immediately transported back to the days of grandmother’s kitchen…but creating the cake is simpler and takes much less time. I often make this small cake and freeze half…the other half I cut into squares to give me just a bite to enjoy with my cup of late evening herb tea. Okay, well sometimes I do eat a whole slice!!
You can play with flavors…I added organic chocolate cocoa once and found the results deliciously just sweet enough; fresh lemon juice and grated peel is also nice.
RECIPE: Cream together: 3 sticks unsalted butter and 1 3/4 cups sugar until light and creamy. Usually about 5 minutes. Add 6 large organic eggs, ONE at a time, beating in well after each. Being patient and mixing well will prevent curdling. Stir in 2 tsp. pure vanilla.
Sift 2 2/3 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and a scant 1 tsp salt into a separate bowl…fold into the wet ingredients by hand. Be gentle and stop mixing when flour is incorporated…careful, do not over mix.
I usually add a few tablespoons of milk or cream to make the mixture drop off the mixing spoon like thick cream. Time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Divide mixture between two 8 inch cake pans that have been lightly greased with butter, and dusted with flour. A piece of parchment paper lining the bottom of the pan is helpful. Bake for 35-40 minutes…till set. Allow cakes to cool for at least 5 minutes in the pan before removing to wire rack for further cooling. As shown in the photo, some bakers like to spread jam, preserves and cream between two layers to serve. I prefer a single layer, plain…or sometimes with fresh strawberries. Try it and see what you prefer.
A sun-ripened tomato is one of the great pleasures of summer…I grew up with just picked tomatoes, huge, bursting with juicy flavor, and warm from the garden. It was LOVE at first taste. There were no dozens of varieties as we see now…just luscious sweet slices waiting for a bit of cracked pepper, and some mayonnaise, of course. Over the years my tastes have changed and I have learned to appreciate tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors…without the mayo!
Sunshine and leaf area help to create the level of sugar in a tomato, which is often why the smaller the fruit the sweeter is is…thus, cherry or plum or grape tomatoes have become the trend. I find they are all good for different uses. Tomatoes benefit greatly from ripening naturally on the vine so do try to let them reach their own rich color before picking…they should easily twist off the vine. Of course there are some grape tomatoes that are perfect left on their vines for grilling whole.
Summer wouldn’t be summer without a huge slice of tomato on a plate dressed with simply salt & pepper and a drizzle of olive oil…OR, the proverbial salad of sliced tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella, feta or goat cheese… tomatoes stuffed with crab salad…zucchini, yellow squash, garlic cloves, cherry tomatoes, basil and goat cheese, baked till bursting with flavor…sliced tomatoes and basil and cucumbers…and so much more!
Speaking of basil…to me, the refreshing scent of basil is evocative of summer…There are so many varieties of basil available it becomes hard to choose…I keep it simple and grow only 2-3 types. I prefer sweet basil for cooking and sometimes spicy globe when available and African Blue Basil for the garden as it attracts pollinators and butterflies.
Basil is quite simple to grow from seed or even easier from starts. Plant it in a sunny spot…with some afternoon shade…in good soil. Keep well-mulched and watered…it’s that easy.
OOPS…pinch out any blooms on sweet basil and use for cooking, but, let blooms go on the blue basil to attract beneficial insects to the garden throughout the summer into fall.
We are in that time of year usually referred to as the dog days, the lazy days and so on…I always thought it was because during the heat of the day, the dogs slept away the afternoon under the coolness of the porch…until that one day in science class when I found out the real reason. It’s all about the stars and the constellations and where they are in the summer sky…and it was so fascinating to learn about…Of course my science teacher smiled over my answer, but she did tell me later that several of her students had similar thoughts until they actually read their homework assignment! I liked art and English [writing] much more!!
Some flowers from the garden…
Black-eyed Susans, summer phlox, coneflowers and butterfly bushes in my garden…
From Holly and me…enjoy the “dog days” and please share my posts with friends who also like gardening and cooking,