Autumn will arrive on Sept. 22 and to me, and perhaps you, too, it gets a warm welcome. This is the time when fall cleaning (before cooking) happens. The fridge, freezer pantry, stovetop and oven, windows and kitchen curtains all get a do-over because it's the season to stock up and prepare for colder weather and hotter food. Not only is it fun and fulfilling to act like a busy squirrel amid pine cones and needles, it's rejuvenating.Speaking of renewal, last month when I revisited the Bay Area, I did go back to Laurel Street, the main drag in San Carlos. It has changed big time. Nowadays it has a strong European flair with its metropolitan-style bistros — a combo of San Francisco and Palo Alto — and crowds of all types of people.The vision spawned memories of an unforgettable relationship with my late surrogate grandmother, my octogenarian foodie pal who I accompanied many times on this street of yesteryear. She was my best friend. One fall she took me on one of many spending sprees before my birthday. On Laurel Street, she bought me a pound (each) of pumpkin and chocolate fudge. “It will test your willpower,” she quipped. Then, it was to Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo to purchase a bathing suit before my business-pleasure trip to Hawaii. Six bathing suits later — she didn't want me to regret not having a selection — it was back to San Carlos, our home, for dinner. Italian fare and a huge dark chocolate cake were delivered to our table complete with the traditional birthday song sung by cute waiters. I blushed. I was overwhelmed with her boundless energy and generosity and the delicious eats. To top it off, she purchased breakfast foods complete with bowls, glasses and a lace tablecloth to impress a health magazine editor's visit to my bungalow before I made my departure to the islands. Fast-forward to the week the season changes. I am an orphan in the mountains. I no longer get treated to such extravagant delights. But cooking and baking in my cabin does have its perks, sort of. While I miss this cultured woman and our gift of gab, I realized today that there are people on the South Shore that have given to me and my companion animals their time and efforts as well. So, this sweet recipe is my healthful gift to each and every one of you; you know who you are.Mini Banana Bundt Cakes1⁄2 cup organic light brown sugar4 tablespoons Mediterranean-style butter2 brown eggs1⁄4 cup low-fat buttermilk (or Greek yogurt)2 ripe bananas, mashed2 cups 100 percent natural whole-wheat flour1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder2 tablespoons pure honey, orange1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract1 teaspoon allspice1⁄2 cup walnuts, choppedRaw sugar (for sprinkles)Fresh fall fruit, slices (apples, berries, nectarines)Cream together sugar and butter in a bowl; add eggs, milk and bananas. Combine dry ingredients: flour, soda and powder. Add honey, vanilla, spice and nuts. Pour into lightly buttered greased mini Bundt pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until firm and golden brown. Cool. Serves a dozen or more (depends on the size of each mini cake).These little Bundt cakes are so European — small, sophisticated, and perfect served with fresh fruit and real whipped cream (add a bit of maple flavoring). The recipe is easy, budget-smart, ideal for breakfast, dessert, or a snack. Sure, creamy, decadent fudge and high-fat Italian food is to live for but for now staying lean, eating smaller heart-healthy portions, and getting a move on during fall — and our Indian summer — is healthier and will keep you happy, too. Gosh, I miss that sweet and spicy pumpkin fudge!Motto: Don't take people for granted, especially when they are nice to you. Giving the gift of gratitude nourishes the soul.— Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include "The Healing Powers" series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. (The Healing Powers of Honey and Coffee are offered by the Good Cook Book Club.) “Animal Attraction: A Collection of Tales & Tails” will be released this fall. Her website is www.calorey.com.
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