The grass, flattened by layers of snow, lies nearly bare, dull. The ground, scattered with patches of snow, squishes beneath my boots. These splotches of white provide contrast with the somber hues of a still sleeping earth. Each day, there is a fog that hazes over the outlines of trees, the facades of homes. I welcome the dewiness on my winter-parched cheeks.
The walk is bracing, the briskness generating a pleasant warmth despite the thinness of my jacket. No doubt, my sense of well-being enhanced by the company and the stack of blueberry pancakes I had for a late brunch.
I arrive home and am greeted by the expected appearance of our gray cat sauntering to the back door. As usual, our black cat next appears on the scene to give his companion a peevish swat on her flicking tail with his brindled paw. The chiding is heeded, and she retreats into the kitchen to cede her spot. After sufficient cooing and petting - given equitably to both felines - I get ready for tea.
A new Japanese tea awaits me, an ureshinocha from the Green Teaist. The scent of its dry leaves is one of freshly mowed grass. I brew it like I would a sencha - briefly and in cooler water. I take the first sip and note that the vegetal nature of sencha here is milder, more honeyed, lacking the initial bitterness present in an asamushi sencha. The subsequent palette of flavors of the ureshinocha is a full one, richly satisfying.
And then there is the accompaniment to the tea. A variation on the lemon yogurt cake I have made many times in the past, its incarnation now a lime yogurt cake made with ground almonds and fresh vanilla seeds. These tweaks give the cake an added piquancy - the vanilla taste fuller, the almond imparting a pleasant nuttiness, melding well with the inherently crumbly nature of this loaf cake.
The streetlights come on, and there is an otherworldliness to the gray mistiness outside, zigzagged with branches. A black and white photo dreamily rendered of the coming evening, I am reminded of Stieglitz's cityscapes.
I am content to be indoors, the lamplights now flicked on for the night. I brew the second infusion of the ureshinocha and have another slice of cake. Both of these, variations on a theme, subtle changes wrought, ripple the evenness of routine.
The cats stir, sated with sleep. Their anticipated meal of uniformly-shaped pellets deferred, they revel in the unexpected sprigs of catnip I lay at their paws.
Baking notes: For other variations on the loaf cake, I have used orange zest and the juice of one orange, or grapefruit zest plus the juice from one half the fruit. Adding a dash of rosewater gives this cake a piquancy. You can also use 1/2 the sugar called for and less olive oil (1/3 cup instead of 1/2) with impunity.