Thursday, September 24, 2009

Down with dusting, up with cake!

I helped my son make a zucchini car last Sunday at the Fremont Oktoberfest. We didn't go to any boring beer garden, but instead, after the bouncy houses and face painting, we decorated a baby zucchini with buttons, feathers and other flair. Then we raced it, Cub-Scout-Pinewood-Derby-style down a ramp with five other competitors.

If you wonder why I say "we" rather than "he", it's because I think I was more excited than he was. I was always jealous that my brothers got to make those pinewood derby cars in Cub Scouts every year. We never did fun things like that in Bluebirds. Once I got to make a Pioneer recipe for meat pie that turned out very tasty. Another time I won some Malt balls.

One year I joined a Christian version of Bluebirds that made us earn housecleaning badges. That was a real eye opener for me. My brothers were painting their pinewood cars in super-shiny black paint with a red stripe while I was at some lady's house dusting. I quit after they gave me a vacuuming badge. I was eight and even then I knew that was one of the most insulting moments of my life.

So I may have been a little overly zealous in the zucchini car project.

Our zucchini car leaned to the right a little down the ramp. OK, it lurched then stopped completely, but it looked fabulous. I haven't grown zucchini in years but do remember that come harvest time, there is always too much zucchini. I think we'll have to plant some next spring - to eat and to make another car. One that flies straight this time. Maybe. But it will definitely be loaded with flair.

This year, instead of too much zucchini, we have been trying to catch the myriad of plums falling from our tree. It's so sad to see all those lovely plums being eaten by worms or smashed by cars in the alley. But we just couldn't get them all. We did get a good haul a few of the days and I am busy freezing half plums for winter, making plum syrup, and hopefully some preserves if I can get it together. My brother also unloaded about 20 or so pears from his tree. He and his wife canned about a bushel (does one say a bushel of pears?), and he had hopes that I would make a pear tart.

Instead, we combined our harvests and made a plum-pear cake. It's an olive oil cake - great for when you are plum out of butter (heh heh). It tastes like a pound cake, yet has neither a pound, nor a tablespoon of butter. In my book, it's practically diet cake, so admittedly I ate a lot of it. Breakfast cake, tea cake, after dinner cake...I really have no shame when it comes to cake.The recipe is from my neighbor, Olga. I thought it was a sacred family recipe from Russia and was almost afraid to ask her for it. You know how some people get. My great aunt Lou would always leave an ingredient or two out of her recipes. But Olga got it out of a cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. (She's a vegetarian, but we don't hold it against her). She makes this cake often and I love it every time.

Harvest Cake (Adapted from the above mentioned Olive Oil Cake recipe)
4 eggs, separated + one egg
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 T finely grated orange and lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 2 T Olive oil
1 1/3 cups milk
2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup diced pears and/or plums


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat 4 egg whites with 1/3 cup sugar until fluffy (but not as stiff as in meringue), set aside

Beat yolks with rest of sugar, then add vanilla, zest and milk. Add in olive oil.

Sift flour with salt and baking powder.

Mix 1/4 dry ingredients with wet ingredients, repeat until mixed.

Fold in egg whites until just blended.

Fold in fruit.

Pour cake batter into lightly greased cake pan. Bake on 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then turn down to 325 degrees. The recipe stated to cook for 40 more minutes, but my cake was done in 30 minutes. My bunt pan was small, though, and I poured the rest into a single layer cake pan. If you use two small rounds, bake for less time than one large bundt.

Eat your cake for breakfast, tea time, after dinner, or any other time you please. You can vacuum the crumbs another day.

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