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Vanilla Cake and Summer Boquets

(post, Cara Montgomery)

Gourmet Magazine illustrated the most beautiful vanilla cake this summer in an article title " Garden Party" in the August 2009 issue. I bought the magazine on a Friday and on Saturday evening, at a country club B- B -Q, it's doppelganger was on the dessert buffet table; a large, rectangular white cake with  vanilla frosting. Both cakes were sheet form, rather than layer cakes, emphasizing a charming homespun and informal quality. Of course, the perfect partners for this cake are bowls of fresh raspberries, or a raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.

When I think of summer, the summers of imagination, a fragment of childhood, or of longing, I think of lakes, vanilla cakes and small summer bouquets. The lakes are based on my childhood summer home, called "The Cottage", on Lower Straits Lake in Michigan. The house and all activities there possessed a magical energy; all summers should be composed of water ,grass and laughter.

I love to arrange flowers by season and passionately identify certain colors with times of the year. Spring is a range of pinks, very pale yellow , light violet and grass green- the idiom of tulip and daffodil. Autumn is fiery, with it's amazing mix of rust seed heads, variegated leaves, the huge mop head dahlias in tangerine and wine, branches of purples, golds, damson, vermilion and shots of chartreuse green in shaggy "Envy" chrysanthemums. But high summer is, as Constance Spry suggest, the time for a red bouquet.

Like her, I had been no lover of red flowers until I read her chapter in "Flower Decoration" , suggesting a more original approach to them:

"A year of two ago I should have limited my appreciation of red to a few flowers dark roses roses, clear red flax and velvety-red gloxinias, and in arranging them I should have exercised care in  keeping one shade of red to on one vase, and even to one room.

Now I am going to advocate an entirely revolutionary treatment of red flowers. Abandon all idea of being limited to different shades of the same colour, and mix together scarlet and crimson, vermilion, rose and magenta. All quite crude and strong shads of pink and reddish- purples , and you will achieve an effect, not harsh and clashing, but brilliant and alive. Above all things do not be sparing or afraid, and arrange four flowers so that the whole effect is of red and not red and green;in other words, keep the leaves in abeyance."( Flower Decoration, by Constance Spry, p. 53)

Geraniums are, with roses, the archetypal red flower- easy to grow , commonly found and possessed of a tremendous red spectrum.In Florida, geranium time- horticulturly speaking, is winter. The red geraniums that can appear here in all there variety are both Zonal, with large flower heads and Vining, with flowers and stems that add a nice cascade element to an arrangement. I had acquired a collection of  small colored Daum crystal vases, a rainbow of yellow, green, pink and white. Filled with mixtures of hot , clashing geraniums, as  Constance Spry suggests, they are wonderfully lively and march down a a summer table with panache. And what could be simpler then a cluster of geraniums ? Although small in scale, the collective effect of the mixed reds and the vases is quite pretty.

So here is my recipe for a perfect summer: a terrace by the lake as dusk falls, with a mysterious absence of mosquitos, a table set with small bouquets of clashing, vibrant geraniums, a huge bowl of pasta with a rainbow of fresh, chopped heirloom tomatoes and red and purple basil and- yes, of course, a ridiculously large rectangular vanilla flavored and frosted cake, with bowls of raspberries and vanilla ice cream, which appear as the light fades over the water and the fireflies come out to play.