Bar None

As the antiquated adage goes, when it rains, it pours. When in drought-stricken California however, what falls from the sky is not a deluge of precipitation, but of citrus. Yes, you heard me right: Fruit is showering the city streets at this very moment, heavy with juice and blown asunder by the most gentle gusts of wind. Every variety you can imagine, from the average lemon and lime to more exotic mandarins, yuzu, pomelo, even Buddha’s hand litter the pavement. Dash out for a quick walk around the neighborhood, eyes to the ground, and you can take care of your vitamin C needs without spending a dime.

Urban foraging has kept my fruit bin full of these tart, tangy, sour, and sometimes sweet gems. Oranges are real treasures, eaten straight out of hand, sometimes before even returning home, but the most plunder is the venerated Meyer lemon. Popularized by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, it’s no surprise that this particular specimen that’s come to represent so much of California cuisine now thrives up and down the coast, and is especially concentrated so close to home.

Thus, lemons have been on the menu at every turn lately, when alternative acids and groceries in general are scarce. Large pitchers of lemonade sit chilled, at the ready as the days grow warmer, threatening to skip right over spring and straight into the summer season. Fine flecks of zest sparkle in simple vinaigrettes, lavished over everything from greens to grains. Jars of marmalade use up every scrap of peel, preserving the harvest for countless slabs of toast to come.

For dessert, of course, you can do no better than homemade lemon bars.

Luscious, silken curd dazzles like a semi-sold bite of sunshine atop a buttery, pleasantly sandy shortbread crust. Tender and yielding, each square trembles gently in the hand, melting the instant it hits the tongue. Avowed lemon-lovers and fair weather friends alike can agree that a properly baked lemon bar can even surpass the appeal of a beguiling chocolate cake.

Finished with a flurry of powdered sugar, this classic, unassailable treat suits every occasion, every season, every craving, as far as I’m concerned. Even if lemons aren’t literally falling into your lap, do yourself the kindness of splurging on a generous surplus. Trust me, you’ll find a way to use them up without any difficulty, especially with this sweet serving suggestion on deck.

Continue reading “Bar None”

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Sunshine On a Rainy Day

Oh spring, you’re such a tease. Naturally the 70-degree, sunny weather couldn’t last, but did you have to go so far in the opposite direction, so quickly? Now grey clouds have rolled in and settled downward, engulfing and insulating our little town from the rest of the world. Like a blanket of cushy bubble wrap, I’m comfortably stuck in place; this fog is thick enough that I can pretend it’s still winter. Not that I really want to, of course… I think we’ve all had enough winter for one, or perhaps two years at this point.

So here we are, arriving at April’s doorstep, with an atmosphere just barely warmed over and the forecast still foreboding. The only thing to do is bake muffins, and those muffins absolutely must contain bright, cheerful citrus- I think it might even be a law in some states. Consider these simple yet comforting lemon-poppy seed sweets as artificial sunshine for this dark, chilly time in between seasons. Better than an anti-depressant, in my opinion.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

Poppy Seed Topping:

2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Poppy Seeds

Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins:

2 Cup All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 Teaspoons Poppy Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Vegan “Sour Cream” or Non-Dairy Yogurt
2/3 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
2 Teaspoons Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a baking tin of 12 standard muffin cups.

To first make the topping, simply mix together all of the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a fork, until thoroughly combined and slightly clumpy. Set aside.

Moving on to the main muffins, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, poppy seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Make sure that all of the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the “sour cream” or yogurt, lemon juice, canola oil, lemon zest, and vanilla until smooth. Pour these wet goods into the bowl of dry, and with a wide spatula, stir just enough to bring the two together. Make sure there are no remaining pockets of flour hiding in the batter, but it’s alright if a few small lumps remain.

Distribute the batter between the prepared muffin cups, and don’t be afraid to really mound them up- The more the tins are filled, the better the muffin tops will be. Sprinkle your poppy seed topping evenly over each unbaked muffin, piling it on until you’ve used it all up.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the muffins comes out clean, with perhaps just a few moist but fully baked crumbs clinging to it. Let rest in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack until completely cool.

Makes 12 Muffins

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