Rise and/or Shine

You know how a mother bird returns to her nest with a worm and is met by an angry mob of competing open beaks, straining, chirping, jostling for feathery position to get at the worm, and then all but shoving the mother from the nest so she can go do it again? So that’s morning at my house.

diyIt’s true, I only have two children, and my husband never actually asks for anything. But he is there, all the same, a silent, food-wanting presence. Over it all, the cat yowls with what can only be utter anguish of body and mind. Oh no! Was he lacerated by a vicious raccoon? No, he just wants me to fill his food dish. I realize that I am breaking one of two rules I set out for my blog, (never mention pets, never mention feet) but the over-arching principle of all blogs is this: never miss an opportunity to complain about your life.

Everybody knows I live for morning baked goods. The kitchen is the center of my world, but why is it always so crowded? My youngest is not a morning glory; daybreak is, in fact, an affront to her. She would be happiest with breakfast brought to her on a tray, so she could moodily stir honey into her tea and extend her repose, possibly falling back asleep. I do some crazy stuff, but catering to this might set the bar a bit high for her future college roommates. As she said to me once, “I can rise, but I can’t shine.”

I am not comparing, because I have read parenting manuals, (okay, just one) but I have to commend my oldest (to be fair, her natural rhythm makes her a morning person). She used to sit by in weepy victimhood as she sunk into a hypoglycemic state, despite a bounty of food – a veritable Dutch master’s still life’s worth – within arm’s reach. She is now adept at recognizing the signs of hunger and impending sassmouth, and fixes much of her own food, or at least the pre-breakfast that precedes the warm baked goods. This morning she was packing her lunch, and I reminded her to take a snack for play practice. “Um, mom, this isn’t my first rodeo.” Self-sufficiency and a quick retort? Clearly, my work here is done!

But you don’t choose your children and the unique biological rhythms that make them heaven, hell or purgatory in the morning. And it’s a good thing, too. I could never have dreamt up the particular mixtures of sweetness and quirkiness that are my daughters. My husband, I did get to choose, and besides the new upholstery fabric on the sofa I inherited from my parents, he’s the best choice I’ve made (like the fabric, he’s proved surprisingly durable).

So, since I have to see them every morning – I mean since I get to see them every morning – sometimes, I make them cake. This one comes from a pretty little book, D.I.Y. Delicious. I met the author, Vanessa Barrington, at a San Francisco farmer’s market where she was selling her book, along with some of her homemade preserves. She features her recipe for Plum Verbena Jam in her book. Have I told you I adore plums? I was particularly excited to make her stone fruit yogurt cake, since my freezer is bursting with plums. But I made it with blackberries and coconut because – get this – they don’t like plums in cake.

Because I love to court danger, I made it with all the wheat flour replaced with almond flour. It was crumbly, which I like, and quite good. The next time I made it with the walnuts and used blueberries and cranberries. I preferred the blackberry one, (and would have preferred plum, as I mentioned) because the cranberries were too sour for my impromptu sugar reduction. But my oldest daughter pronounced it the best rendition, and she would know: this isn’t her first rodeo.

Stone Fruit Yogurt Cake with Cornmeal and Walnut Streusel

1 1/2 cups flour (I like whole wheat pastry or almond flour)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (finer grinds are better here to avoid that pebbly sensation
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
8 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup lightly packed granulated sugar (I reduced this by 40%)
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar (I reduced this by 40%)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 cups sliced fresh or thawed frozen plums or other fruit
1 cup pecan or walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Is it just me or does this recipe have a lot of ingredients? It’s good though.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly butter and flour a 9 inch round cake pan. You can use a springform pan if you want to unmold it and serve it on a platter.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and half the brown sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix to combine.

Add the dry ingredients and the yogurt to the sugar mixture in two additions, starting with the dries and ending with the yogurt. Fold in the fruit.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Mix together the nuts and the remaining brown sugar and sprinkle over the top of the cake.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven, until the cake rises in the center and browns, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving, says Vanessa Barrington. But I say, who can wait? Not these gals.

babybirds

 

 

 

 

We’ll miss you, Princess

I originally published this essay (in slightly different form) on February 25, 2013 in The Booklist Reader. I decided to revisit it here to mark the passing of Carrie Fisher.

From what I can see of the people like me, we get better, but we never get well. – Paul Simon

But the lady tries.

Star Wars was the first movie I saw in a theater. I was six years old, and I wishfuldrinkingphotpdidn’t understand much of it, except that Princess Leia had the best hair in the galaxy. I longed to strut around the death star in snowy white, dirt-repelling robes, looking like I had two danishes stuck to my head. The force was definitely with that hair.

Light years passed, and now, in my 40s, I am loving the sadder, wiser princess in Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, a memoir based on her one-woman show. The trio of original Star Wars films made an indelible impression on Fisher and an entire culture, inspiring the brass-bikini fueled fantasies of a generation of men. But Aldaron’s premier royal didn’t really have much nuance to her character. In her memoir, Fisher pans her Star Wars performance and subsequent “Leia-laden life,” replete with the dolls, PEZ shooters and shampoo bottles it spawned.

Fisher was born into wealth and stardom; her parents are the glamorous and charmingly eccentric Debbie Reynolds and the less charming Eddie Fisher. Though she is often associated with George Lucas’ films and her on-again-off-again role as Paul Simon’s muse, she has experienced much success as a novelist, and on stage.

This is a quick read, and a wildly funny one. Fisher has a foul mouth, so proceed with caution. Whenever a book or film is referred to as a “romp” I am instantly wary, since this seems to be the new code word for depressing. But I pronounce this little book “a romp.” I listened to the audio version as well, performed by Fisher; if you listen to the audio, do pick up the book for the photographs.

Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1985 and utilized electroconvulsive therapy. She is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic; more recently, weathered the passing of a close friend who died in her home. But the girl comes out swinging her formidable talent and humor like a light saber. I take my hat off to anyone who names her two moods “Roy” and “Pam.” That is spinning straw into gold. Here, one of many lines that lingered with me:  “…I heard someone once say that we’re only as sick as our secrets. If that’s true, then this book will go a long way to rendering me amazingly well.”

Happy reading, and may you also be well.

P.S. If you enjoy this book, her novels may also fit the bill: Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful  and Postcards from the Edge. And hang on to your braided buns, because she has another memoir! Shockaholic was published in 2011 and may be even more hilarious than Wishful Drinking, but also more crude and (in the details of the passing of Eddie Fisher) more sad.

 

MerryCake

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing – Edmund Sears

Hey! Unto you a child is born! He’s in the barn! Go! Go! – Gladys Herdman, in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I tried to put it off, but the calendar answers to no one; and so, it’s Christmas (and now, Christmukkah) again. It’s been a season of ricocheting between joy and pain, (remember, I have two daughters) with pauses for cookies. I always find the yuletide somewhat surreal, given that the relentless advertising and decorating begins around July 4th. But I give in all over again when I see how much my children love it. Oh to feel their elfin, greedy joy. “Mom! Do you know what day it is? It’s Christmas Eve EVE Morning.” (For the daughterless: that’s the morning of the day before Christmas Eve.)

Thankfully, they are pretty self-sufficient. We went to the tree farm, and as the girls capered around their chosen tree, (a bushy monster of which I heartily disapproved) squealing, my friend’s husband said, “Aren’t you even going to put up a fight?” No, no fight. They decorate it, make the fudge, and attend to the advent calendar. There are currently 84 (census verified by my husband!) hand-cut snowflakes gracing my living room. As I told my husband, the place looks like Christmas threw up. Next year I am teaching them to use Shutterfly so we can send out Christmas cards again. My husband’s relatives flood us with cards sporting pictures of their lovely families cavorting on beaches. “Do you ever feel guilty when we get these?” my husband says, rifling through the pile. No, just tired. I love my husband’s cousins, but why are they so…productive?

I prefer to spend the time walking in the woods, doing a bit of baking, and starring at candles with my family (silently, please) around me. I see it as a season of contemplation: Jesus lived on earth among us avaricious, myopic, sh**heads – why did he bother? I want to ponder the mystery, maybe see if it makes me nicer. Can we please sleep in heavenly peace? Please?

cranberry-lime-pie2
I tried something new this year: Cranberry-Lime Pie (bonappetit.com)

The girls insist on Christmas music, so any car trip finds me pinned to Warm 106.9. I have only just been introduced to Michael Buble’s “The Christmas Song” (the one I have always referred to as “The Chestnut Song”). Wow, that velvet-voiced devil can sure sing. I found my eyelids had succumbed to half-mast and I was feeling around for a jade green, lace-trimmed negligee to slip into when my eyes popped open and I remembered I was in my minivan, cruising down the interstate on my way to leave a broken chair at the dump. What just happened? I can only say, in my defense, he made me feel like a girl of 45 again.

Yes, that’s right, it’s December, so another birthday has come and gone. Again, mixed feelings, again melancholy mingled with gratitude mingled with incredulity at my age. My birthday went more smoothly this year, though last year’s car breakdown and sick husband offered me more colorful blogging fodder. What can I say? I am lucky to be alive, and, for all my failings, I still make a startlingly good chocolate cake (my birthday cake was a chocolate bundt with coffee glaze – a little bit of brandy in the cake really tips it over). Plus my oldest made me a key lime coconut cake – reminding me, again, why we reproduce: doubles the kitchen staff.

We had the pleasure of seeing Olympia Family Theater’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a story that surprised me by bringing tears to my eyes with its reminder to be always attuned to the sacred as it walks among us, offering us the chance to experience wonder. I used to be a crier, but gave it up in my late 30’s after what my best friend describes as two decades of weeping. But it’s a hobby I have recently revived, post-election. We saw OFT perform this play seven years ago and were so grateful they revisited it. If you have not seen it, or read Barbara Robinson’s novella, I recommend it. We are going to read it together every Christmas Eve from now on, while we crank out our annual noodles.

In the end, it’s a season of contradictions; I am overwhelmed by glitter and wastefulness but always deeply moved by certain Christmas songs (I am not talking about Michael B. right now). As I have said before, if you don’t see my eyes get at least faintly moist during, for instance, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, then I am officially tired of life, so mercifully shoe me out into the cold, cold night, stark naked, to perish quietly under the stars. Edmund Sears, a Unitarian minister, wrote these ebulliently lovely lines in 1849:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Go ahead, fling those ancient splendors. May we ever be eager for peace. Search it out. Make it, if you have to.

marycake

 

 

 

Glutton Girls: a year of living dangerously

Allow me to lay bare my shame: I watched, in rapid succession, all four episodes of the Gilmore Girls; a year in the life. I won’t say it didn’t have its moments, (like the too-brief appearance of Jason Ritter, any appearance of whom is too brief) but all told, it was some of the worst television I have ever watched (and I have seen Mistresses  [the British version, not the American remake, because what would be left for me to disdain?]). It’s a chunk of my life that I can’t get back, and what’s more, I gave it willingly.

I feel you, Lorelei.

Ten years have gone by since I bid a tearful farewell to the girls (actually, it’s been one year since I binged watched all the episodes, but the show stopped airing a decade ago). Little has changed; Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel still play too women who subsist on sugar, burgers and coffee, don’t believe in exercise or vegetables, and wear the tiniest jeans, on the tiniest bodies. At one point, Graham’s character thinks she will hike the Pacific Crest Trail, (good luck!) and she starts out in (guess what?) tiny jeans. Who hikes in fitted denim? Okay, I did once, but it was only to prove to women everywhere that American Eagle’s 360 denim is a technological marvel (it stretches in every direction, ladies!). But never mind that, back to other people and their shortcomings, namely, television characters.

Precious little irritates me more than seeing skinny actresses eat carbohydrates on film. They never, ever touch that stuff off screen. And between takes, they spit it out. These women starve themselves to within an inch of their sanity to get parts. Anyone eating the way these sugar/grease/chemical-inhaling characters do (Costco portions of candy! Donuts by the bale! Horse troughs of ice cream!) would be dead or diabetic by 30. If not, they would at least be overweight enough to exclude them from acting and possibly, from society. Don’t show me an actress pigging out, it’s twice as disgusting because it’s a lie.

I know I sound unhinged, but that’s what watching bony women gulping down Oscar Meyer does to me. I remember watching The Good Wife, with the gym-cut Juliana Margulies, who never, ever touched anything but wine. This felt equally offensive to me, but more believable. And if you think I am taking this too seriously, check out the Amanda Rodriguez piece on the Gilmore diet. See? I told you so. I am not actress-thin, (or actress-tall) but I am regular-person-fit enough to walk down the street without fear of being screamed at by fat-phobes (except in LA, where I was asked to leave). I am a reasonable weight, partly because I seldom touch junk food (like Graham, I am no longer young, and can’t afford to). How then does an actress maintain her ridiculous body? By never touching any food,ever.

More.com
More.com

In a More magazine interview featuring one of the best dresses I have ever seen, Graham said, “I have been on a diet for 35 years.” Thank you, I thought so. I think the GG revival would have been 6% better if mother and daughter had experienced tandem health scares with resulting wisdom and weight gain. They find themselves wheezing like asthmatic oxen when they attempt to traverse couch to fridge for chilled ho-hos, or they realize they no longer possess the muscle tone required to lift a straightening iron, or due to atherosclerosis, they are unable to engage in rapid fire repartee without suffering minor strokes. Now that would scare you to the salad bar.

All my yammering making you hungry? Reach for this salad. Binge on bad telly if you must, but never on bad food.

Not Your Mother’s Salad

Mixed salad greenery (romaine, baby leaves, green or red leaf lettuces)
A golden beet, cut into matchsticks
Shavings of parmesan, or other strong cheese
An avocado, cubed or in hunks
A sliced apple OR a ripe tomato (not both)
A handful of toasted walnuts

Dressing for this is a simple vinaigrette: one part rice vinegar to four parts olive oil, pepper and salt. A little lemon or orange juice in place of some of the vinegar is good, especially if you use the apple. A half teaspoon of Dijon mustard goes well in this dressing, as could a little garlic.

 

 

 

 

 

I am (about 47%) back

It’s harder to start again, than it is to begin. – Stan Rogers, Canadian singer, songwriter

The excuses for my long absence are, like those of the bad boyfriend I hope you didn’t marry, too numerous and too tedious to recount. I will only say I have missed writing terribly, but every time I commenced, I was distracted by a surreal election season. Having lurched around like a zombie since November 9th, I finally had to make a choice, Eaters. I had to choose not to eat brains (not least because there’s a national shortage). So rise up with me, reanimate your corpse, and let’s live again. That means we need something to do, and something to eat.

Anyone for comfort food? Last week, I had a hard day, one in a series. But I returned home to find that my husband had made chicken pot pie, the kind with biscuits on top! Pot pies can be made with pastry crusts, biscuits or mashed potatoes atop. Any version of a savory pie is comforting (I have even made fish pie, though God only knows why). When I make it, I use minimal butter, and milk rather than cream. That is why my husband’s rendition was, inevitably, way better than mine. Those lofty, buttery biscuits blanketing the gravy-swathed filling are kindness in food form.

For anyone meatless, this dish is also good with tofu, especially if you use curry seasoning in place of sage. Tofu is tricky as a substitute, and you won’t catch me using it in desserts, (do not mention tofu puddings and “cheesecakes” in my presence) but it works here.

I have also been enjoying soup, and have found it helpful to put the parts of the soup that can tolerate long cooking (carrots, onions, root vegetables) in the slow cooker in the morning, then you can think about the soup all day. When existence becomes particularly trying, when someone shows you a fake news story about the pope endorsing a presidential candidate, you can say to yourself, “Yes, but there’s soup at home,” and smile a wan, anesthetized smile. Later, you can add the last minute items (frozen edamame, tofu, greens, leftover vegetable or meats that are already cooked, et cetera). Herbs (I love parsley in almost any soup and cilantro in Asian-themed ones) can be added to each bowl upon serving. I often want something hot and soothing, but I need that touch of green to freshen it up. If you are feeling ambitious, you can blend the herbs into a green sauce (using the herbs with olive oil, maybe garlic) and drizzle it on top. But, I have never actually felt ambitious.

I hope you will find my suggestions restorative, and please, send me some of your own. In my time away from writing, I have witnessed madness, rage and pain. But I have also stumbled upon beauty, great and small. Look and listen; you never know what might bring you back to life. Hopefully we will find, as Mark Twain did, that the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.

From top left: all it needs is a toad, rainbow at Ward Lake, the enormous mango of legend, Falls Creek Falls, a certain quality of light on the night of the rainbow, (also, see final photo below)

Mark Bittman’s Chicken Pot Pie recipe (in his own words) including variations

Introduction:

Whether you start from scratch (as in the main recipe) or with leftovers (as in one of the variations), chicken pot pie is extreme comfort food. Don’t let the extra steps put you off, since each component (the piecrust, the chicken and sauce, and the vegetables) can be executed a day or two ahead and the whole assembled right before baking. For vegetables I use carrots, peas, and pearl onions—the classics—though you can try other complementary trios, like parsnips, green beans, and shallots or rutabaga, celery, and leeks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • Salt
  • 1 recipe Sweet Tart Crust, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled (frozen are fine; run under cold water to thaw a bit, then drain)
  • 2 large or 4 small to medium carrots, diced
  • 2 tablespoons all‐purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 cup peas (frozen are fine; don’t bother to thaw)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Steps:

  1. Put the chicken and onions in a large pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium‐high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to medium‐low. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, and a generous pinch of salt. Simmer until the chicken and vegetables are nearly tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes; the bird is done when an instant‐read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155–165°F.
  2. Remove the chicken to cool and save the cooking liquid. (This is a good time to make the tart dough if you haven’t already done so.)
  3. Remove the chicken meat from the bones, roughly chop or pull into pieces, and reserve. Return the carcass to the pot (break the pieces up a bit so they’re all submerged, but don’t add any more water), and bring the liquid back to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or so. Strain into a wide pot, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce until you have about 1½ cups, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much you started with. (At this point, the chicken and cooking liquid may be stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) If you’re baking the pie now, heat the oven to 375°F and generously grease a 2‐quart baking dish.
  4. Put 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium‐low and stir in the flour; continue cooking and stirring until it just turns tan. Add the sage and cook and stir for another minute. (At this point you can refrigerate the vegetable mixture for up to a day, then reheat just before proceeding.)
  5. Add the chicken‐cooking liquid and the cream to the vegetable‐flour mixture and turn the heat up to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, but don’t let it come to a rolling boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, turn off the heat, and stir in the chicken pieces and the peas. Put the mixture into the prepared baking dish. (At this point, you may cover and refrigerate the filling for up to a day; bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
  6. Roll out the tart crust large enough to cover the baking dish. Lay it on top of the dish and flute it as for a piecrust (see Crimping the Pie Shell) or just leave it draped over the sides a little. Use a sharp knife to cut 3 or 4 vents in the top. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust is deeply golden and the filling is bubbling.

Variations:

Faster Chicken Pot Pie

For when you have leftovers or pick up an already‐cooked bird: Skip Steps 1, 2, and 3 and start by putting 4 cups of chicken stock (to make your own, see Quickest Chicken Stock) in a large pot and bringing it to a boil. Reduce by about half. Meanwhile, bone and chop the cooked chicken. You should have about 3 cups, but if not, simply substitute more vegetables (green beans are nice) to make up the difference. Proceed with the recipe from Step 4.

Chicken Pot Pie With Biscuit Crust

Replace the tart dough with 1 recipe Buttermilk Biscuits  Proceed with the recipe through Step 5 or follow the first variation. In Step 6, roll out the biscuit dough into one piece large enough to cover the baking dish or cut into biscuits; top the filling with the biscuit dough or the cut biscuits. Bake as directed.

 

20161117_145225
This felt miraculous. It’s blurry, but look for the owl.

 

 

 

 

 

Splendor

This post is dedicated to two beloved men in my life, Les Perry and John Woodley, my dad and my uncle. Each of these men know how to walk a simple road to happiness: what life puts before you, love with all your heart. Neither are ever to be found far from home, and certainly never south of the border

My close friend drove her dying father from Tacoma to Mexico, to see a Shaman. I was, and I remain, skeptical about this venture. I was concerned about the medical cannabis they needed to toss before the border, the travel warning for the area they were visiting, and the logistics of dealing with a possible death, or abduction, somewhere between here and Puerto Vallarta. I also had misgivings about the mood (make that moods) of my friend’s father, which falls, on a good day, somewhere in the vicinity of a junkyard dog. At last report, they reached their destination in eight days and three vehicles. They left the second vehicle at a rental car lot in Northern Mexico, and we can only assume it has been efficiently stripped down to the  steering wheel and owner’s manual.

Last week I told my dad he better not make his dying wish a road trip to Mexico. This was a hilarious thought; not only is my wheelchair-bound father a challenge to care for, let alone transport, but he has a phobia of Mexico. His one trip there, undertaken reluctantly with my mother, cost him a couple weeks of debilitating intestinal penance. Plus he’s convinced he will land in a Mexican jail if he crosses the border. He won’t even drink Corona; this from a man who used to claim he could drink gasoline. On top of all that, he is world’s most predictable man. He chuckled, “Not Mexico,” he looked wistful,
“but Canada, maybe.” Okay, I actually wasn’t expecting that.

IMG_1756As faithful (thank you!) readers of my blog, you must wonder if I have done anything at all this summer besides go to Canada, reminisce about Canada, learn their national anthem, watch CBC, and apply for Canadian citizenship. But wait! I have!

IMG_6762I have explored my gorgeous state. I swam down into the teal depths of Lakes Cushman and Crescent with my children (okay, only about 3 feet under the water). I hiked up the Glacier Basin and Summerland trails at Mt. Rainier with my sister, and beheld bubbling brooks, avalanche flowers, even a cinnamon bear shuffling by on an errand. I understand why they call it the Wonderland Trail. Your jaw will be slack with awe the entire time, and when you remember to snap it shut, you risk crushing a wee fairy, clad in a flower petal kilt. I have been east to Lake Chelan, picked blueberries and huckleberries, harvested the spotty peaches from our tree, (a thank you, to the mason bees for the copious, albeit fungous, crop). My husband, a reluctant camper, agreed to venture into the woods with me this year. He remained cheerful, even as our blow-up mattress popped, disgorging its air in a slow, insulting whine. I even got to hike stunning Sauk Mountain in the lower cascades, with my friend Peter. But Canada (“O Canada!…”)…that trip made my summer.

20160627_120746

20160627_122024I took these pictures in the Ancient Forest, the only inland temperate rain forest in the world. These are the roots of a thousand year old cedar tree. The forest was slated for logging, (the neon spray paint is evident on several gnarled trunks) when a graduate student at UNBC realized what was there. Now it is in line to be a UNESCO world heritage site.

20160628_124143I saw Mount Robson, the highest peak in the rugged Canadian Rockies. Those jagged, wild heights are different from what I am used to. Rainier, though majestic, still seems friendly to me, beckoning me for a trot through the wildflowers. But Robson is terrifying, like an enraged, long-bearded God sliced it out of the earth with a thunderbolt.

Mt_Robson_South_Face

Mount_Robson_(Sunset)The flowers! The Trees! The roadside was swathed in endless Lupine, wild strawberries, Indian paintbrush, Tamaracks. Indulge me, it you will, by taking note of this charming, impassioned description of these lovely trees:

Tamarack tree, or Eastern larch, is among the few conifers that lose their leaves in the Fall. They do so gracefully, taking on a beautiful fall coloration beforehand. The tamarack, native throughout northern North America, is underappreciated as a landscape tree. It is at least as interesting as many of the imported species often used in its place.­ http://home.howstuffworks.com/tamarack-tree.htm

I wish I had written that. Quaking Aspens, that I always mistakenly call whispering aspens, did whisper to me, but I am not sure I can reveal what was spoken.

Of course, it was not just the beauty, but the reunion with my uncle, too long absent from my life, that made the journey so memorable. I understand how, decades ago, he fell in love with another country and adopted it as his own. I miss him, but I don’t blame him. And I see how my dad might imagine a trip north as a desirable final destination, a gorgeous diversion after years of routine.

It was all too beautiful, too wonderful; only B.C.’s own motto can suffice to describe it: splendor sine occasu, that is:

Splendor without Diminishment.

marycake

 

Purebread

It has taken me this long to write about what should be one of the seven wonders of Canada, Purebread bakery in Whistler. The Montreal bagel was shortlisted, so don’t scoff. Okay, maybe the Northern Lights do deserve a place on the list, but this bakery, Easters! If you have to hitchhike, if you have to drag yourself across the border by your lips, get to this bakery.*

Twice this year, (the first time at Nuvrie in Portland) I have eaten baked goods so transcendently (even transcendentally) scrumptious, I wished I were a musician (quite a good one, too) so I could dispense with all the wordsmithing and just compose a symphony. Both these confections contained bananas, and I am as surprised as you are about that. All I know is I longed, not for the first time, to be Beethoven – when he wasn’t cranky – so I could immortalize my beloved.

20160624_100141

I was standing here, taking a picture and agonizing, torn between two brownies, when the charming Irish lass behind the pastry case said, “Do you like banoffee pie? Because the carmelized banana brownies taste like banoffee pie.” I beheld her fresh, freckled face and thought, this country is full of beautiful people who ask fascinating questions. I go weeks, whole weeks, in the states with no one inquiring whether I like banoffee pie. “I love it,” I said, and she handed me the brownie. In truth, I had never eaten banoffee pie, just like I have never sat in a geothermal pool in Iceland while wild ponies caper about; but the pie and the pool, both I love without limits.

So, a word of caution, Eaters, because nothing is free. Earthly indulgences of this magnitude could give you a body like mine. I don’t have a bad figure, it’s not that. But it’s a physique that says, “I try, unless I don’t want to.” Or maybe it says, “I try to try.” So just go easy. As you can see from this picture of me in one of my favorite places, (I don’t spend all my time in bakeries) sometimes I can’t even be bothered to tense up my abdomen enough to look like I have ever tried.

IMG_3833
North Fork, Skokomish River

There are a variety of ways to make banoffee pie, which is a heaven-sent amalgamation of bananas, whipped cream, toffee/caramel, coffee (hopefully) and buttery crust. Like tiramisu, it’s a very more-is-more dessert. For some reason this sweet sensation has not penetrated American culture, but remains a treasure of the English. Jamie Oliver, also a treasure of the English, has a recipe that is criminally easy, (I hope so anyway, since I am making it tomorrow for my parents) especially if you go for not only a purchased crust, but purchased caramel. I want to try making my own caramel, now that the burns from my last attempt have healed and I was given a reluctant okay from my doctor. Make this, please, but as far as eating goes, pace yourself.

Cheat’s Banoffee Pie from Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes

1/4 heaping cup sugar (preferably superfine)
4 ripe bananas
7 tablespoons 2% milk
9″ ready to serve shortbread pie shell
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon camp coffee (I use decaffeinated instant espresso powder)
4 ounce bar dark chocolate

Put a medium frying pan with 1/4 heaping cup sugar in it on high heat. Shake the pan to spread it around. Let it melt while you peel two bananas and blitz them with 7 tablespoons of milk in a blender until you have a smoothie consistency. Carefully tilt the frying pan to help disolve all the sugar. Once bubbling and golden, pour in the banana mixture. Do not touch anything in the pan – caramel is hot and can burn badly. Keep stirring constantly, so it doesn’t catch, for 1 to 2 minutes, until dark and golden, then pour into the pie shell. Spoon and spread it around evenly, then carefully slide the pie shell onto a platter and put it into the freezer to cool down for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream until fairly thick. Lightly fold through a tablespoon of coffee. Peel and thinly slice 2 remaining bananas at an angel. Get your filled base out of the freezer and top with slices of banana. Spread the cream on top of the pie. Scrape over a little dark chocolate, using a vegetable peeler to create shaving curls, and pop back into the freezer for a few minutes. Take out and serve.

marycake

* There’s a Purebred in Vancouver too, which is convenient because then you can make a side trip to True Confections for English trifle that will make you not just compose, but perform an entire opera in full costume. I don’t spend all my time eating desserts, I just have a superb memory for the ones I do eat. This is what will remain with me as I lose facts like how to spell “physique.” The letters “ph” can be used to make the “f” sound. Who knew? I used to.

aurora_borealis_from_iceland_by_porbital-d6ubzrl
Okay, that’s kind of pretty, I guess.