I didn’t make too many donuts this summer… I don’t know why. Maybe the heat is to blame. And the fact that baking always equates to heating up the house even more with the oven. And that baked goods (especially donuts) always, must, go hand in hand with a hot mug of coffee — neither of which was appealing to me when the weather app kept creeping up toward the triple digits.
But we finally have a week of relief where it’s beginning to feel a little like fall around here… I’m closing the doors and windows at night to keep the chill out, thinking about soup for dinner, and dreaming up all kinds of apple-y desserts now that apple season is in full swing.
I’m not sure you can classify donuts as dessert, but since I heaped a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of one, I’m saying yes. (No evidence as to that actually happening though, as it disappeared almost as soon as I finished writing this.)
These are simple donuts. When you have good ingredients, you don’t need much to adorn them. A spoonful of cinnamon and a dollop of applesauce spruce them up plenty. I’ve made these with golden apples, red apples, green apples… I like them all, both sweet and sour, so follow your tastebuds. You can use store-bought applesauce for this recipe, but homemade (especially when it’s this easy) will make it taste that much better.
Living in California means I’ve seen my fair share of beaches, and spectacularly beautiful ones at that, from the dramatic coves down the hill from my house to the Central California coastline that includes Big Sur.
So I don’t say it lightly when I profess that Salt Point, a serene stretch of coastline in Northern California, ranks up there as one of the most picturesque beaches in the state.
One of my favorite things about growing heirloom varieties is learning the history behind the seed and how it arrived in my hands. In the case of these fish peppers, they come from a long history in African-American culinary culture that predates the 1870s.
Fish peppers are distinctive plants due to their vividly striped fruits and beautifully variegated foliage. They’re like no other pepper plant I’ve seen, and they nearly became lost in the early 20th century.
The five little things that made my week…
1. Ending the weekend (and then starting the week) with my new favorite soak in the Sierra, where a little hike brings you to a series of stone-lined hot tubs along a river. Geothermal water trickles down the cave from above.
One of my favorite films of all time is Sean Penn’s “Into The Wild,” a true story based on the Jon Krakauer novel (of the same name) about a young vagrant named Christopher McCandless. In the middle of his soul-searching journey, Christopher stopped at Salvation Mountain and Slab City, two famously eclectic landmarks in the Colorado Desert of California.
There, he met an intriguing and colorful cast of characters, from the creator of Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight (who played himself), to the artists and wanderers who sought refuge in what’s frequently called “The Last Free Place on Earth.”
I’d almost forgotten about those scenes until I found myself close to the very locations where the movie was filmed, just a few miles from the Salton Sea near the nondescript town of Niland.
It was early September when we drove through the sun-baked section of desert that regularly reaches temps of 120°F in peak summer. That day, it was 111°F and the first time the thermostat in my car climbed into the triple digits all year.
The Salton Sea, one of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest points on earth, exists entirely by accident.
Situated in the Sonoran Desert (the hottest desert in North America) and occupying the Salton Sink (a valley below sea level that has no outlet), the Salton Sea was created in 1905 through an engineering mishap by the California Development Company. Irrigation canals were dug from the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley to support the agricultural land surrounding the sink. When heavy silt build-up threatened the livelihood of the farmers, a cut was made into the western bank of the Colorado to allow more water to flow through. Unfortuately, torrential spring runoff caused the water to crash the canal gates and flood into the Imperial Valley.
For two years, the entire Colorado flowed steadily into the Salton Sink and submerged the town of Salton until repairs of the canals could be made in 1907. Out of this flood was born the Salton Sea, a body of fresh water measuring 45 miles long and 20 miles wide with 130 miles of shoreline. (To this day, it remains the largest lake in California.)
When the water didn’t evaporate from the basin as quickly as engineers had hoped, real estate developers seized the opportunity to build the “Riviera of the West,” a shangri-la in the desert with ritzy resort towns going by names like Bombay Beach, Salton Sea Beach, Salton City, and Desert Shores; a sort of Palm Springs by the water, if you will.
I recently dug and divided the salad burnet in my herb garden and a thought occurred to me — why didn’t more people use this ancient herb? With its clean, crisp cucumber flavor, salad burnet is surprising to those who try it for the first time, and appreciated the more it’s used in the kitchen.
Introduced to Elizabethan England in the 16th century as an ornamental herb, the leaves were floated as a garnish in goblets of wine. Eventually they found favor in European cuisine (where they’re often bundled together with other herbs at the markets these days), the name alone telling you what they’re most used for.
But salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) isn’t just for sprinkling on salads. It can be folded into cream cheese or compound butter to brighten little tea sandwiches, or infused into a bottle of vinegar to make a zesty salad dressing. It can turn into a fresh, tangy puree for topping steamed fish and swirling into light soups. And personally, my favorite is using it as a garnish for gin and tonics, iced teas, lemonades, and what I call “spa water” — cold, refreshing glasses of cucumber- and lemon-scented water.
I’ve been road tripping around Northern California all month (have you been following me on Instagram?) and as the weeks have passed, I’ve really been enjoying the change of seasons. The pine needles are dropping, the leaves are turning color, and the days are getting cooler. It’s something we don’t see much of in Southern California, especially with the Indian summers we usually have in September.
But up north, it’s undeniably fall. And one of the first telltale signs of fall is the arrival of sweet, juicy, tree-ripened apples by the bushel. These are the kinds of apples that may be full of worms or holes, or grow a little smaller or appear a little duller, but they’re above and beyond the year-round supermarket apple that looks perfect but tastes a bit like styrofoam.
Our friend in Sebastopol lives on several acres of fruit trees, and right outside his kitchen is a beautiful apple tree grafted with four different varieties of apples. I went fruit-picking on his property one afternoon and filled up my basket (a souvenir from the Sebastopol farmers’ market) with armfuls of apples and even some pears.
The apples have traveled with me from place to place, making the rounds from Sonoma to Marin to Placer Counties and now to Nevada County, where I’m spending my last week on the road. In every house we’ve stayed, I’ve whipped up some version of this puffed apple pancake for brunch (and sometimes with a pear or two thrown in for good measure).
The five little things that made my week…
1. Getting my sunset kayak on in Tomales Bay. I was hoping to paddle through the bioluminescence this time of year, but the glow was very faint, even on a moonless night. C’est la vie.