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Thursday, December 1, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Fresh citrus seems decadent to my Midwestern eyes

Just a dusting of snow so far
The last time I lived in California I was seven years old. It was on an Air Force base in Riverside, just an hour from this year's winter residence. I distinctly remember hanging upside down from the crossbar of a swing set with another little girl and talking about the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Whether we were determining to embark on some future mountain journey or just marveling at the snow, I don't remember but I find it interesting after all these years to be so nearly in the same place.

Only vague memories remain from those upside down years: bamboo growing near the back door, holding on to the back of a chair in front of the television and exercising with my mother to Jack LaLanne, chewing on a piece of raw sugarcane purchased as a treat from the local grocer and riding with my siblings in the back seat of the car through endless fields of citrus trees. 

Sampling oranges at the Farmers Market
Being back in Southern California is a huge mind bender for me. The snow-capped mountains are here indeed. Just past the palm trees. Snow. And palm trees. Farmers market stalls offering fresh strawberries and raspberries, any kind of fresh vegetable imaginable, local breads and things like orange juice squeezed to order or gorgeous orchids in an explosion of color complete the 'wonderland' landscape for me.

A Lisbon Lemon tree, heavy with fruit

Here in Palm Springs, citrus trees grow in nearly every yard, their branches holding the bright orange, green and yellow globes over the ubiquitous concrete walls that separate each small housing development. My Midwestern eyes can hardly believe the sight of grapefruit trees. Seriously. In your yard? In the back yard of my friends Kevin and Steve's home, a Lisbon lemon tree stands bent like a woman great with child. I cannot fathom how the branches, so laden with huge, heavy yellow fruit do not break under the weight. The lemons themselves are larger than any I have ever seen and beautifully fragrant when sliced.

A year round desert resident
Across the street from our place is a little neighborhood bistro, Cello's, where owners Tom and Bonnie Barkley make their own Limoncello from local fruit. In this tiny, warmly decorated space, you can sit at the bar, chat with whomever happens by and have a remarkable meal or a great glass of wine at the same time. A few weeks ago, a woman named Jo recounted to me an unexpected evening spent years ago in Palm Springs in the company of Frank Sinatra and friends. A little graffiti in the bar bears witness to a visit to the restaurant last January by Mike Grgich; signing the wall itself.

Maybe this is the way to really learn about a new place, one story at a time, each visit a new opportunity. Everyone here seems to be from somewhere else, drawn to the rugged beauty of the desert, mild weather and, seemingly central to the history of the state itself, the hope for a new start.


Bonnie Barkley was kind enough to share the recipe for Cello's signature dessert: Lemon Tiramisu, just in time for citrus season.


5 Egg yolks (reserve whites)
¼ C Sugar
½ C Limoncello

Mascarpone Cream
2C Mascarpone at room temperature

5 Egg Whites (reserved from above)
¼C Sugar

1C Limoncello
¾ C Fresh squeezed lemon juice (prefer Meyer lemons)
1C Water
½ C Sugar

74 Ladyfingers

For the Zabaglione: Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and Limoncello. Over low heat, whisk constantly until the zabaglione has thickened. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly.

For the Syrup: Combine all the syrup ingredients and place in a sauce pot over high heat. Bring to a boil until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove and cool completely.

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually adding sugar. Set aside.

For the Mascarpone Cream:
Once Zabaglione has cooled completely (this is very important) fold 1/3 of the mixture into the mascarpone cheese until blended. Add the remaining Zabaglione until blended. Fold in the meringue in several additions until blended into the Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture.

To assemble:
Dip Ladyfingers into syrup quickly (if you get them too wet they will fall apart) line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with a layer of ladyfingers. Top with Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture and repeat. After the 3rd layer of Ladyfingers top with remaining Mascarpone/Zabaglione mixture cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.

Serve with an aperitif of Limoncello or drizzle a little on top just before serving.

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