the song sings itself.

What makes me happy? Well, lots of things.
 But few come as easily as a bouquet of zinnias from my garden. I'm sure that a fancy-pants florist would never put all of these clashy flowers together, but it just goes to show that fancy-pants florists don't know everything, after all.

The air is turning here, Autumn is on the way, but I am not yet compelled to dash off to buy mums and pumpkins. I still have big plans for a picnic and putting the finishing touches on summer. I also have a beach vacation to plan, three more birthdays to celebrate.

 I'm not daft.  I know Labor Day is the real deal.  Still I'm going to say that summer is still with me.  

This is how I know:
I slipped outside Sunday night and snapped those zinnias, up there.  At ten to eight, there was still light enough.  A few weeks ago, I was going on late light walks at ten to nine, dark not even close to nipping at dusk's heels as I meandered. Now times have changed.  How I miss light late nights. 

The garden is losing it's vibrancy.  The big Van Gough canvases of  June, July and August, have all given way to higgledy-piggledy.  It's all about layers, changing textures and colors. So, sadly another gardening season is coming to a close and it's time to say goodbye to my sweet flowery friends and wish them a nice, long, safe slumber. This time of year always makes me a bit melancholy, especially so this year, so I'm letting them stay up past their normal bedtime. Still, some of the responsible ones, have already put themselves to bed and are snoozing away in their dormancy, but my hydrangeas are like giggly girls at a slumber party and I am not yet ready to go out and tuck them in and turn out the lights.

Armed with my rusty garden tools, I will head out into the garden one last time. I know parents are not supposed to have favorites but I will admit that roses absolutely drop me to my knees. When healthy and in full-bloom, they are heartbreakingly beautiful and come in so many luscious colors and scents it's like trying to pick a ball-gown and a favorite perfume when I'm contemplating my next purchase. Ok, yes, they are a bit high maintenance but my roses at the end of the season remind me of a queen who has fallen on hard times. Her dress might be a bit tattered and torn from weather, aphids and powdery mildew but she valiantly fights off marauding deers with her thorns and sends up blooms so gorgeous that there is no question who rules this garden. And as any good serf will, though it's time-consuming, back-breaking work, I gladly kneel at their feet.

So, I've been a bit lost lately. Due to inspiration to get my nutritional life in order, my baking has all but stopped. I know, I know it's good for me, still, my poor soul was sad....

But, I've held firm and, now, on special occasions I allow myself to indulge in a little kitchen magic. I have tried to embrace cooking as a substitute for baking. Frankly, it just doesn't do it for me.What's the difference you might ask, and to you I say there's a grand canyon size gap between the crazy chopping, dicing, sauteing, roasting and simmering of cooking and the beautiful ballet of sifting, folding, whipping, melting and rolling of baking. Sigh... it just plain and simple, does not satisfy my piecakecookiesbreadsloving, homemade-baked-good, deprived soul.

And, thus, I found myself at loose ends. what to do? Well, luckily for me the end of summer is packed with birthdays and special occasions. so naturally, wait for it.... Birthday Cupcakes!! Oh yes, people, a REAL, honest-to-goodness, drop-to-your-knees-and-thank-the-baking-gods, enchanting, marvelous, magical, filled-with-butter-and-sugar-coca-and-salted caramel...hold on, I need a moment....

And they were amazing! Yep, no joke, they nearly made us pass out. there was mocha in the cake. and salted caramel on top for godsakes. In a tiny cupcake. And, let me repeat, they were amazing.   I'm having heart palpitations... But that's not even the best part. I got to share them with my mom and sister (a.k.a. the Birthday girl).  all that love welled right up and bubbled over. our hearts were full. lunch was over before we knew it, and we found ourselves laughing hysterically in an empty restaurant. the hostess, staring wildly at us in confusion while our oh-so-polite, sweet server smiled and invited us to stay as long as we liked. it was magical. Birthday heaven. (insert angels singing here).

And, just so you know this whole fairytale is fact and not something I made up out of the clarity of my nutritionally-satisfied but sugar-deprived brain.
 As I wander around my garden and savor the warm sweet air, I am at peace. I realized that I took all of this for granted, when I was younger. I was the one who dreamed of escaping my small-town existence, but I had no idea that the summer way of life had taken root so deeply within me.

I had no inkling, back then, that I would ever be the girl who swerves to the side of a lonely road just to photograph rows of corn. I did not know then that in summer, the song sings itself.

just sayin'.

Strawberry Summer Cake

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (low fat is fine)
About 3/4 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter a 9-inch deep dish pie pan or 9-inch square cake pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, and beat on low speed until smooth. (Note: the batter will be very thick.)
  4. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula (if you use a square cake pan, the batter will only come about 3/4-inch up the sides of the pan -- that's ok). Arrange the strawberries on top, cut side down, so that they completely cover the batter (the recipe calls for approximately 3/4 pound of strawberries; use more or less if necessary). Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the strawberries.
  5. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 325°F and bake until the cake is lightly golden and a tester comes out clean, about an hour. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
  6. Note: Cake can be stored at room temperature for several days, loosely covered.


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