I'm glad my birthday is in the springtime. It's my favorite time of year, with plants in bloom, birds nesting, corn and beans peeking up through the soil. Springtime just feels like time for celebrating being alive. And eating strawberries! I made my annual strawberry cake yesterday to share with our Friday night dinner group. You don't have to believe the following story of the birthday cake, but it is absolutely, completely true.Many years ago when I was newly in the Air Force and my first birthday that far away from home, I asked my mom in advance for her recipe of the cake she always made for me. It's not out of the ordinary, probably came from Better Homes & Gardens or one of the women's magazines back in the early '60s. But it has always been my favorite cake and I wanted to make it especially because I was stationed in Texas and not able to go home for the occasion.
I had joined a college-age Sunday school group in Wichita Falls and every Sunday drove from Shepherd Air Force Base and spent the day with the group, discussing, barbecuing, enjoying friends' company. I asked one of the girls in the group if I could come over on the Saturday of my birthday weekend and make my mom's strawberry cake. Mom had sent the recipe and I filed it away in my desk in the barracks until I needed it.
On the Saturday I was to go to the friend's house to bake the cake, the recipe was no where to be found. I tore my desk and locker apart but the recipe was not there. Dejected, I drove into town, disappointed that I didn't have the recipe. I had the ingredients, but not the recipe to put them together.
When I arrived at the girl's house, it was pouring down rain, not a drizzle but a drencher, which further served to dampen my spirits. I missed home, I wanted my birthday cake and I wanted to share it with my Sunday school friends. It's embarrassing now, looking back, but at age 20, in the Vietnam war years, away from home, I wanted the taste of something familiar.
I got out of my car, ready to give up. I had a grocery bag of ingredients in one hand - cake mix, strawberries, oil, everything but the recipe. I locked the car and walked a few steps, really blue over losing Mom's recipe. And I'd promised the group a cake.
Because of the rain I was looking down to shade the rain from my face and to dodge puddles. After a few steps, I saw a piece of paper laying on the sidewalk, stuck to the concrete in the pouring rain. I bent down and couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a 3 x 5 notecard with handwriting I didn't recognize, for a strawberry cake recipe! I picked it up and went to the door where my friend let me in. I told her the story and she, rightly, didn't believe me.
We baked the cake from the foreign recipe, and let it cool, me expressing my amazement at the strange coincidence, my friend obviously thinking I was making it up. We iced the cake with strawberry icing and took it to church for sharing the following day, putting it in the Anex kitchen with a note that it was for the college group. But upon arriving at church a little early, neither my friend nor I could find the cake anywhere. It had completely disappeared. By the time the entire group had assembled, someone found the cake in the women's bathroom, in the trash, with one piece missing. Eventually a girl we all called, "And/Or" because she could never make a decision, confessed to trashing my cake. She was jealous I had chosen someone else's house to make the cake in. (And/Or and I had dated just once and trashing my birthday cake was definitely not the way to get asked out again). So you see, I have to make the cake every year, it has a history. And the 2 recipes? I kept the one found on the sidewalk and later found Mom's recipe in the envelope she'd sent it in. Both are filed away in my recipe collection and each May I get them out and recount the story and make the cake using Mom's recipe.
The gazebo is finished! Well, almost. It has to be painted, but the construction is done and I'm very pleased. George deemed it, "Chi-Zarks" which is what we call just about everything he and I have built on the farm over the years. Chinese styled Ozarks architecture. Or Ozarks styled Chinese. The new gazebo is strong enough to hold up a lot of vines. I have a very large, thornless climbing rose that came from an old estate in Georgia and had been passed down through multiple generations. It will climb 20 feet or more. I have another yellow thornless rose from Mississippi, that was growing on the old gazebo and had to be chopped back for construction, so it will be up and climbing again soon.
Lots of roses are in bloom in the garden, part of what makes this season for my birthday so fragrant and enjoyable. In the same family of the rose and apple, are blackberries, which are also in bloom now. I grow several varieties of thornless blackberries, new releases from the Univ. of Arkansas, including Navajo, Arapaho and Ouachita, Cherokee and Comanche. Notice the two colors of blackberry blossoms, one pink, the other white.
WWOOFer Paul left us this week, off on his next adventure through S. Carolina, up to Long Island to see his G'ma, over to Boston to pick up his girlfriend, then the two of them are heading to Wayne, Maine for an anthropology project that Katie is working on. We were glad to get to know Paul and grateful for all his nice work in the garden. I can't help but wonder what he could have accomplished had it not rained for 3 of the weeks he was here. One of the things he did was teach himself to bake pies and for one whole week he baked a pie nearly every day. I suggested he might make an herb pie and so the last pie he made for us before heading east was a lemon balm chess pie. He included lemon balm, lemongrass and lemon thyme and it was an outstanding pie! And to go with it, he made a lemon sorbet to serve on the side. I think a chef's apron may be in Paul's future somehow.
And Squeak, our cat, left us a present, too. She's a hunter and occasionally leaves us an offering on the doorstep as cats often do - to pay their rent some say. Squeak left us a packrat, splayed out on the welcome mat. I'm sure she believes she has provided well for us. I turned around to thank her where she was laying on the porch loveseat (peeking through barely open eyelids, to see if I approved). When I turned back to the "present" it was gone and our Jack Russell was carrying it around as if she had just caught the rat herself.
So it's been a productive week at the farm. Birthday cake, Lemon balm Pie, a gazebo completed, a packrat offering, roses in bloom and lots of things coming up in the garden. I'm thankful for it all. Happy gardening!