Food-wise, I’m waiting for peaches. That’s when I know I’m in Los Angeles. More than lemons and oranges, which have an all-year-round prolific, whoreish quality – if they’re not blossoming they’re bearing fruit, it’s a constant publicity machine – peaches can only mean early summer here. And they get riper and more aromatic and squishier as the weeks go by, the skin seemingly more paper-thin, the round globe of flesh beneath more sunset-orange, more dripping, before it goes over, starts to rot. We have a nectarine tree which is coming into blossom and that counts as my stone fruit barometer of how things will be. The blossoms are pink and furtive still, with only a few little dazzlers. There is no point waiting for the fruit, which will be eaten by squirrels. Every year I have been thwarted by them and so I don’t bother now – they know the perfect moment at which the fruit needs to be eaten better than I do and besides they’re more likely to be up and ready. They demolished my sunflowers, full of nascent seeds. They eat all the bird food.
And we have B&B to do. We’re ‘doing’ B&B though sometimes it feels as if we are being done to, depending on the caliber of guest. Some make it easy. Our first guests since our return were from Amsterdam and behaved as if these were their last days on earth. They breakfasted early and then played tennis, swam in the pool and generally ran themselves ragged in a pleasant and contained way. They loved the place and we loved them for loving it all. Then came a mother and daughter team – New Yorkers originally from Egypt – who alternated between days spent dragging around theme parks and long hours holed up in their room lobbing shrill and indecipherable insults at each other. They also filled our fridge with foodstuffs of no particular seasonal bias: Ranch dressing, a bumper box of strawberries, little dwarf tomatoes, chocolate milk, an enormous chocolate Bundt cake, boxed up. “Fresh,” the mother announced, “I need fresh.” As if this explained it. It may have explained their blocked toilet, which I had to investigate with a forced smile and a plunger.
It was the Bundt cake that bothered me. They were passing up my homemade lemon shortbread, which languished to staleness. Five ingredients (lemon zest, butter, sugar, flour, almonds) versus – actually I lost count. They had me at sorbitan monostearate. I’m not against junk food in its place (a burger at midnight, fries, sweet fries for dipping into an omelette, a tranche of milk chocolate and a hot mug of tea), but if I’m being offered something home-made, I devour it. And I say thank you a lot. And where’s the fricking Ranch anyway? What is Ranch dressing? I need to know this before I leave.
Some strangers become stranger still, the longer you make their acquaintance; in this case, we were all mutually baffled by one another but tried for the sake of sanity to get along. They were nice people and kind in this instance: Joe did his back in and they gave us Tiger Balm and it helped. But it always happens in the first moment of meeting, the mould is set and there’s no turning back; the apartment becomes a set of enclosures, returning to rooms only when the keys are returned.
Back to blossoms. I will let you know when the peaches are in. In the meantime, there are rosemary blossoms (however, on the turn) to add to peach and nectarine and they are all edible. You could festoon salads with them, or adorn this cake with them if you are in favour of icing/frosting (they would need something to stick to, I should think). I immediately wanted to make chocolate cake; I wanted to make the opposite of the towering brown behemoth chilling in our fridge for seven days. So this is an austere, silken and rather un-American square of dark chocolate brownie spiked with rosemary. The herb gives it a silvery, savoury edge and the chocolate is dense and rather grown up. I also added a handful of almonds and two small clouds of cocoa.
Rosemary and chocolate brownie
100g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa) broken up into pieces
100g unsalted butter
2 large eggs (room temp)
250g unrefined caster sugar
100g (scant) self-raising flour, sifted
2 heaped tablespoons cocoa, sifted
25g roughly chopped almonds (optional)
½ tsp sea salt
25ml extra virgin olive oil
50g dates, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, one intact, the other with leaves chopped & stem removed
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a square brownie or cake tin with baking paper. Melt the chocolate and butter together above (but not in) a pan of simmering water. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a mixer or with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Now fold the eggs and sugar into the melted chocolate and butter, then add the flour, cocoa, almonds (if using), dates, chopped rosemary, salt and oil. Pour the mixture into the tin, embed the remaining rosemary sprig, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the brownie is setting around the outside but still slightly gooey in the centre. Don’t be tempted to bake it to cake consistency, as it will be hard-bottomed and uninteresting. A skewer inserted into the centre of the brownie should come out with a little of the mixture still on it. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to rest for 20 minutes before cutting. Don’t necessarily embellish with cream, though you can if you like.