A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine. – Anne Bronte
Sometimes one must just force summer’s hand a little bit.
Mme. Lainel showed up in reception Tuesday evening, later than was her habit of dropping in, making her way carefully across the courtyard, clutching her cane in one hand, crunching on the gravel, kicking up pebbles, and a potted plant pressed to her breast in the other. Breathlessly, she dropped into a chair in front of the reception desk as Lara, our receptionist, kindly took the plant and placed it on a nearby table.
“I left my keys at the club and didn’t realize it until I got to my front gate. It’s too late and too far to walk all the way back so I hope you’ll excuse my barging in like this and burdening you with my troubles!” Her poof of white hair tousled by the wind, her puffy coat buttoned up to the neck framing her face in a cloud of pale sage green, she covers her natural shyness and embarrassment with giggles that give her such innocent charm that I want to hug her.
“Don’t worry!” I tell her, although she refuses to believe me, or at least feigns disbelief, “You know the hotel doors are always open for you and we are always so happy if we can be of any service to you! And I know how horrible it is to get home and find that you haven’t got your keys!”
“It’s all the fault of that plant!” she exclaimed! “They gave it to me as a gift along with the rose (pointing to the single red rose wrapped in cellophane sticking unceremoniously out of the potted plant) because it’s International Women’s Day today. Did you know that? Anyway, I’d rather have the key to my house than a plant!” She shook her head “And it isn’t just my keys; all of my papers and identity cards are in my pocketbook at the club. I hate not having my papers with me, I’m old! What would happen if something happened to me and I didn’t have my papers on me!” We laughed and we teased her and continued to convince her that everything would be solved quickly and to her satisfaction. And that she was never a bother.
We spent several minutes trying to track down the man with the key to the building where her club meets but he had long locked up and left and wasn’t answering his home phone. “Oh, I think he drove someone to the other side of the river and then when he gets home he takes care of all of his dogs so he might not answer,” she worries, brow furrowed. “Shall we call your step-daughter? She surely must have a copy of the key to your house!” Mme. Lainel looked perturbed, hesitating, before finally, guiltily, agreeing to “disturb” her stepdaughter – who finally arrived (in bright pink house slippers), apologizing for all the trouble that the two women had caused us, like stepmother like stepdaughter. We all laughed and shook hands and I saw them out – Mme. Lainel slipping the jar of pumpkin jam I had given her into her coat pocket, holding onto the thick slice of orange cake wrapped in foil – as I continued to reassure her that she was never any trouble and that, worse comes to worse – we always had a bed for her at the hotel.
Thursday late morning as I was putting the dining room into order after breakfast, Mme. Lainel shuffles into the hotel lugging a huge and obviously heavy plastic shopping bag. “This is for you, something I promised you a while ago,” as she hefted the bag onto the table. She digs in the bag and pulls out a wine bottle with no label. “This is a Bourgueil (naming the Chinon’s neighboring appellation), the wine was made by my stepson from my first marriage. There’s no label on it so I have no idea if I grabbed a good wine or not, I don’t even know what year he made it, but I wanted to thank you for the jam and the cake and for taking care of me the other night! And this….” and she proudly shows me the rest of the treasure tucked into the sack: more than a dozen empty jam jars she has saved for me to clean, sterilize, and reuse for the hotel jams! How wonderful! “And I even left the labels on the artisan jams thinking that maybe they’ll give you ideas for new flavors!” she proudly exclaims!
Even the darkest, grimmest days are brightened by Mme. Lainel. She pushes through the two glasses doors and takes hold of the handle of her shopping caddy and turns to say goodbye, commenting on the weather, remarking how ready she is for the arrival of spring. “I wish it would snow,” I say, peering up into the pewter sky, hugging myself to ward off the deep chill. “I know that I’m the only one here who prays for snow, but I’m a Florida girl and it still has the power to fascinate me!” “Oh no, I don’t want it to snow or I’m stuck at home; it’s too dangerous for me to walk,” she taps the sidewalk with the tip of her cane, and I suddenly begin praying for warmth and sunshine. She deserves as much for the warmth she brings to me, to us all at the hotel.
My friend Rosa, another spot of sunshine in my life, reminded me about this Glazed Lemon Bundt Cake that has been a family favorite since I first made it more than 25 years ago.
Based on a Maida Heatter recipe, this is a dense, moist cake, bright with lemon thanks not only to the lemon zest added to the silky batter but to the tangy sweet lemony glaze pour onto the cake. The glaze (and do not be stunned or put off by the quantity; use it all!) soaks into the pound cake and forms a paper thin crust on the outside of the cake as it dries and infuses the entire moist cake with its tart lemony flavor. Don’t let the simple, plain-Jane demeanor of the Lemon Bundt fool you: this is the perfect cake, delicious and flavorful, fantastic for a dinner party dessert, barbecues, picnics, lunchboxes and snacks. Want to dress it up? All it needs is lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream.
- 3 cups (420 grams) flour, very lightly spooned into measuring cup, leveled, then sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ pound (1 cup/225 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup milk, preferably whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- ⅓ cup (about 85 ml) freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- Adjust the oven rack one-third up from the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and generously butter a Bundt pan (or 9 x 3½ – inch tube pan) and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed to keep the mixture smooth and blended.
- Beat in the vanilla.
- On lowest speed, beat in the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternating with the milk in 2, beginning and ending with the dry, beating only until blended and smooth after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold in the grated lemon zest.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan then level the top by rotating the pan briskly back and forth.
- Bake the cake for an hour or a bit more, until puffed, the top a golden brown, and it is completely set in the center (lightly press the top of the cake to tell and a tester inserted in the cake should come out dry).
- Let the cake stand in the pan for about 3 minutes and then cover with a rack and invert. Gently remove the pan, leaving the cake upside down (if using a tube pan instead of a Bundt pan, I would flip back upright). Place the cake on the rack over a large piece of aluminum foil or wax paper and prepare the Lemon Glaze.
- Make the glaze once the cake is out of the oven, just as you are ready to pour the glaze on the cake; use the glaze as soon as it is made.
- Stir the lemon juice and sugar together until thick and well blended.
- Brush all over the cake (top, sides and inside the “tube”) heavily and evenly until you have brushed on all of the glaze.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before gently sliding onto a serving platter using wide, flat, metal spatulas.