Posts Tagged ‘Pleasant Hill’

Anticipating Cherry Blossoms

Friday, February 19th, 2010
Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

Hanami - Cherry Blossom Time in Tokyo, Japan

When we lived in Tokyo, Japan, we learned about “hanami”, cherry blossom viewing – an annual tradition. Weeks in advance, estimates of when the cherry blossoms will bloom are published so gazers can schedule their viewing. Throngs of people descend on their favorite viewing patches, stake out their territory and picnic beneath the blossoms. It’s a beautiful ritual that signals spring – but it’s also fleeting, since cherry blossoms come and go very quickly. The story goes that Japanese samurai chose the cherry blossom as their symbol because cherry blossoms fall from the tree at the peak of their beauty… a reminder that life is fleeting. If you’re feeling philosophical, check out someĀ thoughts on cherry blossoms, grace and dignity!

You can probably tell from the picture above that people are enjoying picnics and camaraderie beneath the beautiful trees. You probably can’t tell that they are actually in a cemetery – this cemetery happens to be known as a great place for hanami. This is some of what the surrounding area looks like…

Hanami

Hanami - Cherry Blossom Viewing in a Tokyo Cemetery

Hanami

Hanami - Cherry Blossom Viewing in a Tokyo Cemetery

At first, picnicing in a cemetery might seem strange – but on second thought, it seems just right. Sitting among your ancestors, enjoying a meal with the people you love – how perfect.

So what made me think about hanami in Tokyo seven years ago? On the trail near my house where I take my walks, the cherry trees are blooming. The pictures above from Japan were taken in April 2003, this one below in California was taken yesterday (February).

Cherry Blossoms Pleasant Hill, CA

Hanami - Cherry Blossoms in Pleasant Hill, CA

Just as in Japan, these blossoms are a signal of spring and renewal here, too. We had a few lovely sunny days with temperatures in the mid-60s, and it just makes me ready for the warmth. We always get a little teaser like this in February and, like the cherry blossoms, it’s fleeting. Today we are back to clouds and imminent rain, but I know we’re not too far away from sunshine, warmth and lots more blooms. Maybe this year we’ll have some picnics too, and we will most definitely have some cherries.

Hanami

Cherry Blossoms Today...

Fresh Cherries

...Mean Fresh Cherries This Summer! Photo from National Geographic, by Taylor Kennedy

Wherever you are, I hope spring and renewal are right around the corner for you, too.

Happy gazing,
Cathy

Peach Crisp and the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ Market

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

Summer in a bowl - ripe peaches, cinnamon oat topping and ice cream

It’s peak summer season at the farmers’ markets right now, and since I’ve written about the outdoor market in Paris I thought I should give my local farmers’ market in Pleasant Hill, CA a little love, too.
Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market nestled at City Hall

This market has been around for 27 years, and runs every Saturday from May until November. It’s found a real home in the city hall parking lot, surrounded by a pond, trees, grass and city hall itself. The beautiful produce, specialty products and live music all make for a warm, casual and comfortable atmosphere – definitely worth checking out. Even onions look amazing at the farmers’ market! I try to find things that I may not see in the local supermarket, along with the standards I can’t resist – like strawberries, stone fruits and tomatoes. Typically, the person you are buying from did the growing, and they are very knowledgeable about their produce and ways to enjoy it. If you have a farmers’ market near you, consider stopping by and taking advantage of a great opportunity.
Farmers' Market Bounty: Yellow and white peaches, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

Farmers' Market Bounty: yellow and white peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, tomatoes, blackberries, strawberries and sunflowers

The peach crisp shown at the top of this post is an easy, quick, satisfying summer dessert – one of my husband’s favorites, and definitely one you can make with your farmers’ market haul. It comes together so quickly – I cut the peaches, sprinkled them with sugar to taste, mixed my crisp topping from The Crumble Top Kit – and still had to wait for the oven to heat up. I used to peel the peaches (the recipe that I wrote for The Crumble Top Kit box calls for the peaches to be peeled), but not anymore. I find that the peach skin softens as it cooks and does not compromise the texture in any way. Not peeling the peaches saves time and trouble, so I’m all for it. Give it a try and see what you think.
And that, as they say, is that . . .

And that, as they say, is that . . .

Best,
Cathy

Pavlova

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

A couple nights a week, I cook dinner at our church’s parish house. Last Saturday night, I made Chicken Paillard with fresh peaches from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate. This is a pretty simple dish to make, and it gives big flavor and presentation; with pancetta, blue cheese, honey and peaches, you get the salty/sweet combination that’s so satisfying. Plus, a platter filled with sauteed chicken breasts topped with crispy pancetta, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette is an eye-popper at the table. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it!

For dessert, I made Pavlova from one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. I first learned to make Pavlova in Australia, when I worked as a pastry cook at a hotel in Sydney. Wikipedia says there is debate about whether Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand; it is agreed, though, that the dessert was named for a Russian ballerina who was performing in those countries in the 1920s, and the dessert was created in her honor. I saw (and made) lots of Pavlova in Australia, but I don’t think I ever saw it in New Zealand when we lived there for several months after our year and half in Australia. We made Pavlova year round, and I don’t recall it being specific to any holiday period.

Pavlova is a meringue cake topped with sweetened whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit. It’s light, soft, sweet and satisfying. A great summertime treat . . . the fruit for this Pavlova came from the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ market. It’s not a fussy cake – I didn’t have my cake spatula when I put the whipped cream on the cake pictured above, so the finish is pretty “relaxed”; I just used a rubber spatula to spread the cream, and I don’t think the cake presentation suffered one bit. This cake would be very cute to do as little individual Pavlovas – one cake per person. I’ll have to try that some time!

The basic steps to make Pavlova are shown below. Enjoy!

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Put the meringue on a baking sheet

Transfer the meringue to a baking sheet . . .

Form the meringue into a cake shape

. . . and form into a cake shape

Bake the Pavlova

Bake the Pavlova

Pavlova with Fruit from Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Cover the Pavlova with plenty of sweetened whipped cream and top with your favorite fruits