In the herb garden outside my kitchen window a weed sprouted. I wasn't sure what it was. It was different than everything else that was growing there. It grew singularly upright and seemed to be minding it's own business. It wasn't invasive and didn't cast shade on anything I valued so I left it alone.
As it grew it looked rather awkward. It was tall and lean with rough homely leaves on a gangly stalk, sprouting up in a bed of basil, parsley, oregano and other compact and pretty herbs. The stalk continued to grow without much promise and it stuck out like a sore thumb. From neglect as much as anything I left it to its own devices.
In time I recognized it as a sunflower plant. Having had bad luck with sunflowers I assumed it would blossom and open a large heavy head which would soon droop and bow to the ground. I thought of pulling it up, but I never did. Sunflowers are pretty and, though this one was growing in an odd location, I knew if it survived I would enjoy looking at it. Eventually I invited it to stay.
When the ungainly stalk was about five feet tall it formed a flower head. The shape was interesting and I began to take notice. From my kitchen window, day by day, I watched it get larger and begin to take on color as it gradually opened and unfurled its petals. I was wrong about it having blossoms too heavy for the stalk to support. This sunflower has smaller blossoms than the ones I was familiar with and looks like it will develop at least five flowers on that one lanky stalk.
In the end that little weak and awkward weed that I thought of as an eyesore turned out to be an education and an inspiration. Little birds gather and sit on its coarse leaves. It has been a subject of my photography and its bright petals, now opening and reaching outward, make me smile.
The harvest from gardening is in more than the abundant produce we bring in to supplement our menus and enrich our meals. It is also in the lessons learned from nurturing and watching the garden as it grows and in the little surprises that turn out to be God's quiet blessings.
This cake reminds me of that blessing and it is easy to make at this time of year, especially if you have sunflowers in your garden that you know have been grown pesticide-free. If not ask your vendor about how the flowers were grown to make sure the petals are safe to eat. Sunflower petals are edible but still they may not compliment the flavor of the cake. Declining to eat them is really okay. Still you might try any that are left over in a tossed salad where the flavors would be more compatible.
Idea from the October 2003 issue of "Better Homes and Gardens"
One 8 inch round chocolate cake layer
12-15 large mint leaves
30 or so pesticide-free sunflower or yellow chrysanthemum petals
Bake a one layer chocolate cake in an 8 inch round baking pan. You can use the recipe below for low-fat Midnight Chocolate Cake, the recipe for Less-Mess Chocolate Cake, or another recipe of your choice.
Ice the cake with your favorite chocolate frosting. I used ½ recipe of Mexican Hot Chocolate Frosting.
Decorate the top of the cake by placing twelve or so mint leaves at even intervals around the outside edge of the cake, pointing outward like petals on a flower.
Arrange the sunflower petals over the mint leaves around the outer edge of the cake with the petals pointing outward to resemble the petals of a sunflower blossom
Arrange chocolate chips inside the circle of petals, touching and overlapping a bit, to resemble sunflower seeds in the center of a sunflower blossom.
Serve and enjoy!
Note: Sunflower petals are edible but the taste is somewhat bitter. Whole you may eat the sunflower or chrysanthmum petals if they are chemical free, you may not want to. If not just remove them before biting into your slice.
Midnight Chocolate Cake
Recipe from the February 2000 issue of "Sunset"
2/3 cup cocoa
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup salad oil
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large egg whites
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8-inch round cake pan by cutting a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Oil the pan and paper and dust with cocoa powder. Shake out the excess. Set aside.
In a medium bowl mix the cocoa, flour, soda and salt until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, salad oil, egg whites, vanilla and water. Add the flour mixture and continue beating until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake and invert the pan on a wire rack, lifting off the pan and peeling off the parchment paper. Allow to rest until cool.
Transfer the cake to a serving plate. Frost as desired or dust with powdered sugar.