The Hollywood Hills, among which I have lived for most of the last 25 years, are full of secrets. My favorite trail winds through sandy knolls and meadows down to a reservoir. It is the equivalent of a secret surf spot – we don’t discuss it much. Beyond it is the jungle of L.A., then a crescent horizon of the Pacific.
Tuscany? I ask myself some mornings. But this rugged landscape is only 7 minutes from sushi bars, big-box stores, bowling alleys and the Hollywood bus station, a first and last stop for desperadoes, dreamers and drunks. I take this footpath with my three dogs (a gimpy rescue mutt, a chow, and a chow who bites).
We visit lizards, hawks, spiders, deer, coyotes, bunnies and all manner of birds snuggled in the thorny brush. I’ve started to appreciate the wilds of this town. In the back yard, citrus trees yield a relentless amount of fruit – so much that we grow blasé about a garden tree teaming with limes, or a pile of oranges at a farmers’ market table (naah, too many at home already). The lemons have always been my favorites. They season my fish, my chicken, my oysters, my asparagus; they make lemon hollandaise sauce and bright lemon curd year-round staples in my home; they inspire me for limoncella and regular pitchers of Arnold Palmers. We have hearty Eureka trees, trendy Meyers and dwarf trees in clay pots. A bounty of lemons.
Then there is the loquat problem. Every year I am confronted and confounded by all this fuzzy fruit.
Finally, I conquered the loquat, inspired by the German cake with kumquats styled like a Dutch still life at the top of this post. Loquats are delicate and only last a few hours off the vine – one day max. Now I know how to tackle them: grab a cluster of fruit from the tree, slice them individually, pull out their bulky seeds, toss them in a pot with vanilla simple syrup and lemon slices (recipe below). In only a few minutes, a poached fruit topping for coconut ice cream is ready. Or combine them with kumquats to top a cake worthy of a Dutch still life.
Urban Hollywood is a jumble of art deco icons, mini-malls and hidden craftsman houses. Within the chaos, the lady who sells me flowers at my farmers’ market does not know my name nor I hers. She has tan farmer wrinkles and her hair is a California mix of grey and dyed blonde. Every weekend we discuss the weather and the flowers and she tells me I am blessed. I do not feel my usual annoyance with the phrase, spouted by actresses and sports stars on TV. The air around her table smells of eucalyptus as she gathers my flowers in sand-colored paper and twine. I feel the wall of my agnosticism pop fissures from the power of her certainty. I tell her she is blessed, too, hoping I don’t get busted for not knowing who or what is doing the blessing. For a second, I have harmony in my world and perhaps she has a little in hers. Maybe she sees every person who approaches her stand as a bundle of blessings. We go our separate ways. She has to strip more stems and count her cash. I have to buy dog food. But bounty and blessings justify a moment of gratitude. As I look around, whaddya know, I see more of the them in my every day world of old Hollywood.
Loquats in Scented Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar (granulated white or raw)
2 cups loquats or kumquats, washed and pitted
2 vanilla beans, scraped and seeded (OK to sub in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 lemon slices
1 pinch salt
1 Tablespoon coarse sugar for decoration (also known as “sanding sugar”)
Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the loquats, vanilla beans, lemon juice and lemon slices. Turn down the heat and allow the mixture to cook for 3 minutes. Turn the heat off, season to taste, strain, chill and serve over ice cream or cake.