Monday morning I awoke, melancholic and drowsy. Blue. I’m not one of those bounce-out-of-bed types. Most days, it’s slow going; a thoroughly caffeinated journey to “awake.” But Blue mornings are different.
Plum in love - Discovery and Gifts of Friendship
Sunday night, I tidied up my weekly spreadsheet of the week’s work, editing, sorting, filing, into the wee hours last night. Even when I’m in the midst of work I love, I love it more in the wee hours of the night.
Regardless of how early I go to bed, some mornings just start this way. I hover on the brink, worries creeping around the edges. This week is the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birthday, gone more years than I can remember but still very much alive in my heart. She would have no tolerance for my self-indulgent, late starts, but in other ways, she understood me better than many do.
I know that blue canyon’s call is a siren song. Even in the fuzzy first moments, I know it’s a dangerous thing to flirt with. “Dip a cup in, but don’t go for a swim”, I tell myself. This Monday morning, confident that my spreadsheet would contain any disasters, I did something different. I sat quietly with my coffee and a good book. I reached for Red.
Red is the color of appetite. Of deep, lush fruit. In feng shui it represents fire, passion. Often it’s the color recommended for dramatic accents, but I like to go big. Like bonfires. Like the chili-colored walls of my old dining room.
Today Red is Small
Like Methley plums I discovered at the farmers’ market. These little gems, about the size of ping pong balls, have deep red flesh and only the slightest tartness in the skin. They are luscious. These are extremely juicy and will squirt, drip, and dribble with only the slightest encouragement. They fit perfectly in a little boy’s hand and can be the perfect “suhpwise” for a day when this days-old baby sister business doesn’t seem like the best of plans. Not at all. A perfect plum gets a big wet smile.
Plums remind me of a girl with freckles in fourth grade named Melissa. She was taller than anyone in the class, she had curly pig tales and freckles. One day at lunch, Melissa was eating a plum. I was so intrigued. I don’t think I’d had one up till then. “Fruit” in our house was a Red Delicious apple. This plum had black skin, with a purply-red edge and a golden interior. She gave me one. I was smitten.
Red can be the symbol of danger.
Years later, the next Melissa I met was also tall. Melissa #2 was thin, had bouncy hair and had a cat that fetched pencils. We still used pencils back then. This Melissa was was so smart and beguiling that more than one professor was rumored to be her lover. We also heard that she’d married some striking, exotic man to enable him to get a green card. In that era, this was a mysterious, maybe even heroic, countercultural sort of thing to do. It was not a dangerous deed that landed you on a watch list. My boyfriend at the time (Mr. “Massive Potential for Growth”) was among the smitten and proved himself untrustworthy already. So, while this Melissa was perfectly friendly, I steered clear.
So, red plums and black plums, but not Melissa, entered my life as I could afford them. I thought I knew a thing or two about plums, about seemingly friendly and possibly threatening women, about seemingly trustworthy, and utterly-not, men. Turns out, I still had much to learn.
When I got the chance to travel back to Japan with my Mother years later and years ago now, I discovered hazelnut-sized pickled plums in a vending machine. A vending machine! They were unlike the wrinkly, soft umeboshi I’d already added to my expanding plum universe. These were tart, a taste representation of an exclamation point. ! They were hard and round and crunchy. My mouth waters for one now.
Plums are friendly fruit. Perhaps it’s because of that first Melissa, who was open and without an agenda just as I was learning that other girls were beginning to plot and plan. It all seemed too difficult and treacherous to me. Melissa #1 offered plums with no strings attached and that may be why I always think of them in that way. Slightly magical, innocent, in their friendly simplicity. And plums are also beguiling like that second Melissa, they can be charming, they can hold dark secrets.
In this Summer, a late Summer afternoon of my seasons, I discover again something wonderful in a simple plum. The wide-eyed joy of a little boy’s face as the ruby red juice squirts into his mouth and onto his chin, his shirt. The new-to-us Methley plum quickly devoured in a shared moment.
When Romney Steele’s Plum Gorgeous: Recipes and Memories from the Orchard arrived, I was bowled over by the deep red cover, and of course, the plums. This book, like her earlier one, My Nepenthe, opens a window into the bohemian life of coastal California. My Nepenthe looks back in time while Plum Gorgeous is firmly planted in here and now. Now as in the season of perfect Summer plums.
Plum Gorgeous, true to its title, contains recipes and stories from Romney’s orchard wanderings lead you to an enchanted life. Like the meandering garden path in the last pages of the book, it leads me away from the edge of Blue. It leads me to Red with a stop to taste a plum along the way. To share a plum, tender a plum as a surprise; to feel the shift from Blue to Red is a gift from a friend we hardly know, on a day when it is most welcome.
Julia Child's Clafouti, sort of.
This is not from the book, but since it was Julia Child's birthday, and I had those plums, and this book was an important part of the day.
Clafouti - besides being the most fun word to say, (I mean, what other dessert rhymes with Djibouti?!) - is so easy and so versatile. It's something between a crêpe and a pancake when it's finished, but it puffs up like a popover or soufflé while it bakes. Serve it hot, warm or room temp for breakfast, if there's any leftover.
I adapted this classic recipe to incorporate blueberries (going with the Blue to Red theme) and replaced milk with soy milk to make it dairy-free. Also, my plums were ripe so I didn't blanch them, but I did let them macerate, along with the blueberries, in a couple tablespoons of Cointreau. Pretty sure Julia would have approved.
My modifications (in parentheses)
- 1 pound firm, ripe plums (combination of ripe Methley plums and blueberries)
- 1 1/4 C milk (Soy milk, and maceration liquid to make 1 1/4 C)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (Neilsen-Massey Tahitian)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/3 extra cup sugar (not needed as these plums were so juicy sweet!)
- icing sugar for dusting (used confectioner's)
- Preheat oven to 350F. Cut plums in half and sprinkle with some sugar. (not needed! macerated with Cointreau) Set aside.
- Place all of the ingredients except the last 1/3 cup sugar in a blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.
- Pour a 1/4-inch layer of the batter in a buttered fireproof baking dish or pyrex pie plate about 1 1/2 inches deep. Place in the oven for about 5 minutes–until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish.
- Spread the plums over the batter with the skins facing up. Sprinkle with the extra 1/3 cup sugar (can be omitted). Pour on the rest of the batter.
- Bake in the middle position of the oven for about an hour, until the clafouti has puffed and browned and a toothpick or knife plunged into its center comes out clean. Sprinkle the clafouti with icing (confectioner's) sugar before serving.