Summer Evenings in Citrus Groves

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If I could choose to live the rest of my days filled with only one weather condition and specific time window, it would have to be summer evenings. There is nothing that can compare to the blissful warmth that remains in the air after the sun has fallen low in the sky and the crickets begin to chirp and the world becomes hushed. The days may be blistering hot, but with a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade in hand, I am more than willing to take the heat for the twilight that ensues.

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Maybe it’s the memories that are associated with these nights…the lazy evenings of my childhood spent lying out on the lawn, with a citronella candle softly burning nearby as we stared up at the stars, guessing where each passing plane was destined in a seemingly ever expanding globe…the evenings where it was too hot to sleep, and we would stay up late just to swim in my grandparents’ pool…or the more recent memories spent in South Africa, enjoying sundowners on the beach with friends, ignorant of any state of reality…

Well, this weekend sure felt like summer with its long hot days turning into cozy nights. I spent Saturday and Sunday an hour or so north of Los Angeles working in the field with a 4×5 camera. Our photography department funded this field trip (including film and processing!) and an instructor came with us to teach us even more about lighting and the technicalities of using such an impressive camera. For those of you who don’t know, the 4×5 is one of those cameras that you have seen in old movies, ya know…the one with the bellows, the dark cloth and those big old negative holders? Yeah, they’re awesome. The first day we spent in a town called Fillmore and on Sunday we went to a ranch in Santa Paula. The property was endless, and filled with rows and rows of beautiful lemon trees. Even in the heat of midday I felt like I was in paradise. Of course, the best part of the entire day was right around six, as the sun began to set and that enchanting light began to illuminate the ranch grounds. I feel so blessed to have already tasted a bit of summer when it is only March! Now, I was able to bring some lemons home from the ranch…so I knew that I had to make use of them immediately!

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I made both lemon poppy seed muffins and a lemon alfredo dish with spinach. Call me crazy with my lemon obsessed Monday…but I just had to extend my summer filled weekend a bit further to lighten up the beginning of the week. Now, I love to add lots of lemon to really have its flavor burst, so please adjust the lemon zest quantity to your taste. The recipes below contain slightly more zest than their original counterparts, but I found the muffins definitely needed the extra zest. The muffin recipe also includes a glaze, which is very sweet on its own, but pairs nicely when brushed on top. Also as a side note, I always use raw unprocessed sugar in my cooking, so when I list sugar as an ingredient, that is what I mean. It is a simple 1:1 ratio with refined sugar, so use what you like.

I hope these bring a bit of sunshine to your week!

Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins – Makes 10 muffins (adapted from Inquiring Chef)

For muffins:

1.5 cups all purpose flour; 1.5 tsp. baking powder; 1/4 tsp. baking soda; 1/2 tsp.salt; 8 Tbsp. butter (softened); 2 Tbsp. poppy seeds; 1.5 Tbsp. lemon zest; 1/2 cup sugar; 1 large egg; 3/4 cup low fat plain yogurt

For glaze:

1/4 cup sugar; 1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease muffin tin or line with liners (these are very fluffy but fragile muffins, so take care when removing them). Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, poppy seeds and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add lemon zest to mixture. Add egg and beat well. With a wooden spoon, stir in half of dry ingredients, followed by 1/3 of the yogurt. Add remaining dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with yogurt.

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Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin cups. Bake until muffins are golden brown, 15-20 minutes (the original recipe says 20-25 minutes, but mine only took 15…). While muffins are baking, prepare glaze. Heat sugar and lemon juice in small saucepan until sugar dissolves and mixtures turns into light syrup, 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

When muffins are done baking, allow to cool in tin for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and place on wire rack. Generously brush the top of each muffin with glaze and serve immediately.

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Light Lemon Alfredo – Serves two (adapted from Food Network Magazine March 2011)

1 Tbsp. butter; 1 clove garlic (minced); 1.5 tsp. lemon zest; 2 tsp. flour; 1 cup low fat milk; salt, 2 Tbsp. Neufchatel or low fat cream cheese; 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese; 3 tbsp. parsley (chopped); 12 oz. fresh fettuccine or noodles; 2 cups fresh spinach (stemmed)

Make sauce: melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and lemon zest and cook until garlic is slightly soft, about 1 minute. Add in flour and cook, stirring with spoon, 1 minute. Whisk in milk and salt and cook, whisking constantly until just thickened, about 3 minutes. Add Neufchatel and parmesan, whisk until melted. Stir in chopped parsley.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water and drain pasta. Add sauce and as much cooking water as necessary to reach desired sauce consistency. Add spinach and stir gently until spinach begins to wilt. Divide among bowls and top with parmesan and pepper.Image

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