Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring in L.A.

When spring arrives in L.A., it's subtle. We don't have a thaw, we don't see blades of grass popping out from hardened, snow-weary soil, or whatever the typical signs of spring are in other parts of the country. We just sense a change. I know it's here when tiny green leaves start appearing on a few of the trees in our yard, when I can smell flowers in the air, when I can wear a skirt without my opaque tights (despite my pitifully untanned legs.) Another sure sign of spring: really amazing strawberries. I bought a basket of them at the farmer's market last Saturday, and my daughter proceeded to slurp up most of them sitting in her stroller before we made it to the car. So bright and juicy and sweet. Looking at her face covered in strawberry juice, smiling wide, and saying, "More, mama!" Well, that's just springtime, people.

Spring makes me want to plant things and dig in the dirt and make iced tea with fresh mint and cook things that are light and fresh and lemony. I've been daydreaming about our Driveway named because this is the only place in our backyard that gets enough sun for our potted vegetable garden. We had a huge bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers last year from just 3 pots lined up along the wall of our driveway, perfectly positioned to get the most amount of sun. I was so empowered knowing that I could make food products emerge from my yard simply by putting some plants in some dirt, adding water, and letting it happen. It was a revelation. So until we get the acreage that will roll out for miles behind our dream home (with the Viking range, wood-burning oven, and the ever-elusive walk-in closet), where we will have rows and rows of farm fresh, organic goodness, we will grow food in pots. And this year, more pots, more veggies, more herbs, more spring in the driveway.

We bought two dwarf citrus trees last year at this time, one lemon and one lime. Well, turns out they were both lemons (so much for trusting the plant vendor at the local farmer's market). We're near the end of a great harvest of gorgeous bright yellow lemons that are so fresh and tart and juicy. Since the beginning of this project, I have been saving the famous Icebox Lemon Pie recipe test for when I could use my own lemons. Today was the day!

The handwritten recipe card is a bit cryptic. For instance, nowhere does it say exactly how many Nilla Wafer cookies you are supposed to use. Or what size pie dish, or whether or not it's greased. And the card is written as a narrative, not with a list of ingredients at the top like recipes in cookbooks, but with the ingredients and their amounts included in the instructions...which are pretty funny in themselves. But I'm finding this is often the case with my mother's recipes and it makes it that much for fun...

Icebox Lemon Pie (why the Icebox, don't know...)
Make vanilla wafer crust (Nilla Wafers). Crush until fine cookies—mix in pie pan (glass) with 5 Tbsp melted butter. Press down in bottom of pan. Insert whole wafers around the edge, pressing bottom edge into bottom crust.

1 14 oz. can Eagle Brand Milk
4 eggs yolks, beaten
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 3/4 cup thinking more would be better, but it's a bit too tart even for me)

Mix above items well. Put in saucepan and cook over medium heat over low heat (huh??); stirring constantly about 10 minutes. Finely crush vanilla wafers and sprinkle over crust. Bake about 15 minutes. Or make meringue. Beat 4 eggs whits, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar at high speed. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar a little at a time. Beat until stiff peaks form. Pour over filling, sealing around edges. Bake at 325 about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

I love making meringue. It's like a science experiment watching 4 egg whites turn into this billowy pile of white foam 4 times the original size. I prefer to put it in a piping bag and make these cool little mounds that brown on the top. I then dusted it with grated lemon peel and some of the wafer crumbs.

Except for the fact that I would have made the crust a bit thicker (because it is really a delicious crust) and the mouth-puckering tartness that caused even Olivia to rethink a second bite, I think I replicated the traditional pie pretty well. Plus it was satisfying using an ingredient that we grew in the backyard...foreshadowing great things to come from our Driveway Garden.

1 comment:

  1. You are so lucky to have your own lemon tree! If we had a bigger conservatory, that'd be the first thing to go in!


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