I never noticed the backside of a pansy until the other day, sitting on the porch at Café Lemont. Green stars on a background of floral moonlight in broad daylight.
Get your politically incorrect mind out of the gutter. I’m talking horticulture, nothing else.
Now pansy stars, as I will call them in very non-horticultural terminology, don’t show up with so much contrast on the deep marine blue pansies I usually choose. I also wouldn’t have noticed them had I sat in my seat on the porch at Café Lemont. It’s the one near the front door, just above the front steps where I park my bike. If anyone dare try to steal it, flower basket and all, I’d leap down the steps and block his/her escape.
I chose a different seat. I wanted to sit shielded by the graceful dogwood branches to be able to cup my hand around the gorgeous rhododendron blossoms. (The Rhodies are exquisite this year, aren’t they?) After tenderly fondling a flower head, I turned and saw, with wonder, the pansy stars.
Why do I spend so much time sitting on Café Lemont’s front porch? In the beginning, there seemed to be a direct connection from that porch to my kids in Belgium. I’d sit there, think of them; be with them. It’s also the two-thirds mark for my home-to-Houserville-to-Lemont-and-back-home bicycle loop—a good place to stop and rest before the dreaded “Cemetery Hill.” And, there is the coffee. The food. The baristas. But truth be told, I stop there to contemplate life even when the café is closed. I just bring my own water bottle.
There are certainly more peaceful places to sit. The porch overlooks the only traffic light in Lemont, a busy intersection that takes people to Oak Hall quarry and Boalsburg, Houserville, the College Township Municipal Building (and a mile or so away, Penn State campus), Hills Plaza or the Nittany Mall. You get the idea—lots of noisy traffic. There’s Mayes Memorial, catty-corner from the café, where you can choose your tombstone, complete with a marble golfer statue if you’d like. (Cemetery Hill is just a shagged ball’s distance from Centre Hills Country Club fairways.)
The back deck at my mom’s home is filled with nothing but birdsong, blue sky and greenery.
I sit on the porch of Café Lemont and think: They should install a bicycle pump station for those of us who take off on a ride without checking our tire pressure. They should paint the “ceiling” of the porch sky blue to brighten all of the cloudy days in Happy Valley. They should serve bite-sized goodies with every cup of coffee as they do in Belgium. They should make a huge pot of old-fashioned oatmeal and microwave individual servings rather than serve pasty “quick” oats. (I do love the steamed milk in a teapot that accompanies the oatmeal, though.)
Then, it occurred to me. I can detail all of the small changes I’d make to Café Lemont because I don’t have to follow through with any of them. My to-do list from that porch is a blank sheet of paper.
On my mom’s deck, the coffee is made by me, there are bills to pay, laundry to wash, weeds to pull, seedlings to water, grass to mow, branches to prune, herbs to harvest, patio to weed-whack, a fallen tree to move…you get the picture. Happy Memorial Day. Laurie Lynch
Caffeinated Flashback: The other day, while standing in line at Café Lemont, a young woman at the head of the line turned to me and said, “Laurie?” Right person, wrong setting. It took me a while to register who she was—a former customer, Destiny, who wrote an article about Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market as part of her KU Master’s Degree class. Years ago I gave her a pre-wedding pesto-making lesson. On this day, she introduced me to her husband, and he said, “Oh, the slate lady.” (I gave them a Written on Slate slate as a wedding gift.) They were getting to-go cups of coffee for their trip back to the Lehigh Valley. I quickly introduced them to my mom and son.
Life with Richard: Richard has been visiting for a couple months and will return to Belgium for his daughter Lais’ 2nd birthday and to start his Master’s degree in International Business at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in the fall. He worked at a local craft brewery in State College long enough to decide it wasn’t his true passion, helped me take care of his Nonna, and had his tonsils removed.
The other week, as I was setting up for our Master Gardener Plant Sale, he texted: Can you make apricot turnovers to take to dinner tonight? We were going to a party and he offered to bring dessert.
They take two days to make. I’ll bake cranberry upside-down cake. It’s easy and I have all ingredients, I texted back, with more than a few texting errors, I’m sure—I blame my lack of texting skills on my big farming fingers. Anyway…
Richard really has had apricot turnovers on the brain. This weekend, while he was recovering from his tonsillectomy, how could I refuse? We chopped and soaked the apricots, then made the pastry to refrigerate over night.
The next morning, Richard asked, “When was the last time you made apricot turnovers?”
“I was about to say, ‘I can’t remember the last time I made apricot turnovers,’” I replied. I make them so seldom that I have to relearn the tricks my grandmother Nene taught me. I forget them until I’m elbow deep in flour and pastry. Then the secrets return, often in Nene’s whisper.
Chop the apricots, the recipe card reads. To Nene, ”chop” meant “mince.” To me, it means, “chop,” which is never fine enough. Next time, we will use the food processor, I told Richard. That way the filling will be smoother and thicker.
The chopped and soaked apricots were boiled with flour and sugar and stirred until they became a thick, jam-like consistency. Then, the filling needed to be cooled. Oh, I forgot about the cooling stage. An hour’s wait before we could start preparing the turnovers for the oven.
“This is why, after making a big holiday dinner and washing all of the dishes, I’d groan when cousin Wille suggested, ‘Let’s make apricot turnovers.’”
“And I’d chime in, ‘Yeah, good idea.’” Richard said, with a heaping helping of irony.
An hour later, I rolled out the first handful of pastry dough on a floured board.
“I never would have thought of baking cottage cheese,” Richard said. (The pastry for the turnovers is made of flour, shortening, egg yolks and cottage cheese.)
The squares we cut stuck to the board.
“I guess we need more flour,” I said, scraping off the pastry and getting ready to add more flour to the surface before trying again.
Finally, success. For the next batch, I had Richard try. He rolled the pin cautiously, with little jerking motions.
“Put some muscle into it,” I said. “Long strokes, stretch the pastry out,” I heard Nene say.
We spaced the triangles onto baking sheets, 15 minutes in the oven, and then onto a cooling rack. Into the oven went another set of baking sheets.
Nonna danced into the kitchen, sampling a turnover as it cooled on the rack. “Mmmmm, very good.”
“They’re not done yet. We have to put the powdered sugar on them,” Richard scolded.
We placed a layer of cooled turnovers on a platter and Richard shook a canister filled with confectioner’s sugar over them. Then, another layer of turnovers, and another dusting of powdered sugar.
When we finally finished, we had several plates of apricot turnovers to eat and share. “Maybe you should take a picture and send it to Marina.”
“I already told her we were making them. I think she’s getting homesick. A photo would be too cruel.” Well, on second thought…