From about October until late May, northeastern Florida is released from the oppressive, humid air that grips us through the rest of the year. During these months the sky is likely to present stunning variations on a theme of blue, polished to gleaming by the clarity of the air. Not always, of course; low pressure changes everything and there are lots of other reasons for haze or clouds.
But during these gently changing seasons, before the unforgivingly abrupt, rapid-cycle, winter/summer seasonal gear shift common to the sub-tropics, we have many days of near-perfect light. In the relative atmospheric civility that governs late fall to early spring, the color of light purely takes your breath away. More accurately, the colors of light: there are so many colors they positively defy my ability to articulately name or describe them. They're present in the azures and greens of the sea and the red-brown and gold colors of the sand; in the sharp white contrast of the clouds; in the many shades of emerald and moss of our tiny forest. You can see them reflected in the clear water, and in the pale color of spring's tiny violets. The glorious, almost-but-but-not-quite visible color of light is apparent to me in almost every photo I've taken this year, and most of the ones I've shared with you. It seems to me one of the most generous gifts of nature, too abundant and freely given not to share, especially since some of you are buried in snow or freezing drizzle, waiting for the smallest hint of the breath of spring. The photo on the right was taken about 3 weeks ago during a very low Atlantic tide. The water is little more than 60 degrees, but so clear you can see right through it to the coquina below. The hard west wind was blocked by the dunes from reaching us but managed to riffle the water's surface gently. I hope it feels to you like a tiny bit of a beach vacation, basking in the color of light.
The relationship of light to time is changing tonight as we re-set our clocks into the (for me, at least) hated "spring forward". For comfort, I believe in fresh Florida strawberries. These are best with creme fraiche, homemade whipped cream lightly sweetened and perhaps scented with lavender (this last is delightful and way easier than you think) or just fresh whole milk. You can serve them on the very naughty Cream Biscuits or you can make Butter Cake.
Yes. It is as wonderful as it sounds. It's extremely easy to make, and has its roots as most of my cake recipes do in Susan Purdy's wonderful cookbook, A Piece of Cake, my copy of which is quite literally falling to pieces. I've adapted it a little over the years and it's favored by my family, and the imaginary customers at Eat Here Eatery. I'll tell you how I make it, and if you want to understand the balance of art and science of baking, and why homemade cakes are really not any more work than cake mix-made cakes, do yourself a favor and buy and copy of Ms. Purdy's excellent book.
Cream together about 2 sticks of softened butter and about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups of sugar. When they're very well blended and begin to take on a lovely lightened color, add 2 regular eggs, or 3 eggs if yours are small. (It depends on the hens. You've learned that from Ms. Moon by now, right?) Add about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you used less sugar, you can use a little more vanilla. (You can use Grand Marnier instead of vanilla extract if you have it. Subtle but wonderful.) Cream all this together until the mixture is very light; you'll recognize the look when you've made a few cakes from real ingredients.
To this mixture, alternate dry ingredients and milk, beginning and ending with milk. The dry ingredients are 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt (I mix these in a small bowl with a fork to lighten them. True confessions? I haven't sifted flour in 20 years). You'll need about 3/4 cup of milk. When you finish mixing them together, put in a tube or Bundt pan, carefully sprayed with Pam and dusted with flour, and bake in a 350 oven for about an hour. I test at about 50 minutes, and monitor after that. After you take it out of the oven let the pan rest for 5 minutes or so and then invert on a serving plate. Top with fresh strawberries and cream to taste.
The lavender cream? Here's the secret: you can BUY lavender flowers in a spice jar at your local grocery store. Yes, really. Who knew? If you can find them, put about a cup of cream in a saucepan and heat gently until it's just ready to boil. Remove from heat and add a couple of tablespoons of lavender flowers; stir in a couple of tablespoons of honey, to taste. Refrigerate overnight. Note: I left out this step in v.1. Strain the cream to remove the lavender flowers and refrigerate until you're ready to use. When you're ready to serve, whip the cream lightly with a hand mixer and kiss plain old whipped cream good-bye forever. I know. Love you.
All kidding aside, get yourself some fresh strawberries and put them on SOMETHING. Cream biscuits, butter cake or a crisp butter lettuce salad. You can put a tablespoon of brown sugar in a cup of yogurt and dip strawberries in that. You can blend them into a smoothie or just wash them and eat them with your fingers. The most important thing is that they'll bring you a taste of spring however you eat them. The taste will last into the summer, depending on where they're grown, but for right now, what we all need is spring. We need the taste of strawberries. And the color of light.