Haven or Hell?

I read the gentle, but firm, reminder of Scandinave Spa’s no talking rule: “Welcome,” the sign read, “to our haven of silence.” Ah, what a relief! I was stealing a few hours away from the nonstop bonding of our family vacation.* I planned to get scalding hot, dunk in a cold plunge pool, and then wrap up in towels to read my mystery novel. Scald. Freeze. Read. Repeat – all in blessed tranquility. Trust me, it’s why Scandinavians are thin and don’t hate their children.

But I did speak aloud a couple times, “It’s so clean,” I whimpered to a perfectly maintained hosta. “It’s so tidy and smells of eucalyptus,” I practically wept to the lemon wheel floating in my water.

I have trouble keeping order and creating beauty in my life. My house is a constant, wailing metaphor for the unfocused mind. When I try to flee inward to escape the toppling laundry cairn that is my living room, I crash into the Sanford and Son junkyard of my brain, complete with the requisite bellowing dog, Entropy.

I try to form little oases of beauty and intention in my home, but these days, they end up coated in dog hair (real dog, not the one from that scene in my brain). Okay, so clearly, I have some mental and domestic work to do. But – here comes the bright spot – I usually manage to get a meal on. The forethought and execution involved in coaxing ingredients into dishes is my way of giving shape to the day, and finding an orderly spot in my home/life.

This spicy kimchi slaw recently brought me much eating joy, and appeared in several iterations on our table over the course of a week. Though the Bon Appetit recipe is lovely as it is, it benefits from a grated apple, toasted peanuts and/or grilled tofu. Once I grated on some beets – fantastic – and also added slivered snap peas. And I used red radishes for more color than daikon provided. I left out the kimchi once, and went for lots of lime juice and sriracha.

So set yourself up with some serenity slaw, and stop glancing around at the chaos that threatens to flush you down a toilet of unopened mail, forlornly single socks, and aspirational books you will never read. Focus solely on the slaw. Fork, Crunch, Repeat. There…see? Now isn’t that a healthy, pretty little haven of order? All silent…save for the munching.

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*Yes, I was back in Canada! I should write for their tourism board. My motto: “Canada! If there’s anywhere else to vacation, I don’t want to know about it!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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.

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Okay, that’s kind of pretty, I guess.