It’s Never too Late for Gingerbread

IMG_20181224_044353-1

Somehow 2018 has vanished, but when I found myself on the eve of Christmas eve with a bit of stamina left (everyone else passed out on the couch or with earphones on), I decided it’s just never too late for gingerbread. And maybe this will be my mantra for the year going forward. I went with the simple method on this batch, no rolling/cutting/decorating — so these look a little more like peanut butter cookies in traditional shape but with the distinct taste of ginger and cloves — with just the right amount of satisfying crisp around the edges with smooth centers. Recipe courtesy of my favorite flour, King Author.

I think of gingerbread cookies as the hardest working cookie on the Christmas platter: it’s sturdy, spicy and substantial. On the nutrition side, these cookies actually come in quite well: using my method these come in at 69 calories a cookie (60 cookies per the King Author recipe, using a 1/2 tablespoon + a smidge as a size guide). This recipe also includes a bit of iron, potassium and Vitamin D — anytime you can pick up Vitamin D in the winter, from a cookie no less, is an excellent use of calories. Analyzing recipes may not sound glamorous, but this one from verywell fit is excellent, easy and now I know about the Vitamin D, which I didn’t know before. Of further note on gingerbread — these are excellent for hikes, breakfast nearly year-round, with tea or coffee, though probably not with chai — that’s maybe too much spice?

A Passion for Trees: Judi Dench

IMG_20171204_121510.jpg

The lovely cedar tree — not one I see often in the near South, but one that “roots” me of my Pacific Northwest roots for their abundance in not only the general landscape but my yard growing up. Most of my childhood memories are set in my mind as either sunny or rainy, most likely an effect of the climate, but not in short-part due to growing-up experiences — suffice it to say, there was never a drought.

But the cedar, not the tallest among the trees but most assuredly one of the sturdiest for its pliability, reliable scent, little berries that can drunken birds into flying into windows and of course, their mid-tones of green. I’ve just read and only seen thus far the new BBC One program featuring Dame Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees. In the clip making its way around social media, Dame Judi shares a bit about the program and her six acre garden; the show will lead viewers into the life of trees — what is going on underground, under their bark and what looks to be, some super-cool scientific/electronic renderings. Oh to have that technology at my fingertips.

For me, several years of high school horticulture netted some interesting results. We had barely a quarter-acre, but it boasted a row of these lovely cedars as a barrier to our busy road along with several 50-plus foot Douglas Firs. Our cedars were of the Western Red variety, which adds a brickish-red undertone to the multi-hued green needles. During the holidays, I could mass produce projects for class within a five-minute jaunt outside. Need a wreath? Pop out to the yard. Building a yule log? Pop out to the yard. An aged holly bush in addition to this mini-forest of evergreens added the holiday red adornment that every wreath-buyer wants. Now, I’d incline away from this as I favor the layering of the shades of green as I miss it so in my current deciduous landscape.

What strikes me about Dame Judi’s show from its clips is the focus on the life of trees — for me this life, while distinct from human, cannot be removed from human experience. Trees serve our memories in ways that I believe, we cannot yet fully imagine — the cedar is constant for my sunny-side memories: first romp in the yard alone, the feeling of freedom and confidence to nestle alone in the woods, as a profit-making partner, as a solace when nothing else was right in the world. I hope the program will explore the joint existence of human and tree — we all know that nature provides the buoy to health, but the absolute necessity of the bond, is worth exploration.

Grinding Coffee at Costco

IMG_20180120_142058.jpg

I buy all our coffee at Costco — ok, all of my coffee as no one else drinks it in my house. And based on my age and lack-of-sleep pattern, I’ve learned to concoct a special brew that combines varying degrees of caffeine. For this process, Costco is the clear winner when it comes to the cost-experiment ratio of possibly dumping out a batch that either causes the jitters, or reduces motivation to zero.

Inevitably, like last Saturday though, I find myself along with my gal pal to be beyond the line where the Costco folks use highlighters to draw lines across our receipts — when I realize I did not grind the coffee. Again. I’m wondering if I’ve done this “forget” routine part of my forages so often that it is indeed, a routine. Thanks to gal pal, I didn’t have to trek to the car to unload the roasted chicken and baby lettuce before returning to the receipt line for my green sticker so I could return to the grinding machine. With the eye roll and nod I received, clearly I’m not the only person on this particular afternoon to walk this same path.

The commercial grade grinder at our local quasi-surburban Costco is wedged between the  .25 bottled water cooler and the condiment bar — yes, ketchup and ground-up pickles are mere inches away. This naturally creates an odd range of odors, and collection of people hovering in the same area. Not to mention, cleanliness is not first on the minds of either customers or employees on this stretch of industrial steel counter. On the best days, there is a marginally functioning tape dispenser and a pair of scissors covered in coffee mist on the grinder’s section of table — on the not-so-great days, you have to carefully maneurver back to membership to secure your fresh roast.

But when you remove the iron-clad tab, flex your triceps to open the seeled bag of two pounds or more of beans — the aroma snakes its way out and starts to cover the mustard smell down the row. Dumping those beans in is satisfying not just for the nose but for the upcoming victory over cheap condiments you’re about to win. Turn that dial to finer roast and you know it will be insta-coffee dist spewing forth in just seconds. Is there a word bigger than aroma? I don’t know and I’m too lazy to pull out the thesaurus just now (it’s spelling bee season, and I’m wearying on word-aides). Bigger and louder to the senses than scent, aroma, odor or all the rest — when that on button is pushed, nothing short of powdery intoxication comes forth — overtaking your brain and the rest of the counter crew. Instant seratonin boost, followed by waves of memories and expectations rolled all into one brown-ish cloud of desire.

And then I realized I forgot to push the off button when all the beans were pulverized, which would explain the continuing cloud of dust holding sway over my hands and possibly the folks to my right. Um, whoops; clearly I’ve been washed away in my own dreams of cookies at my great-grandma’s house, what kind of cream I’ll be using in the morning, do I have any cream, and maybe I should just drink this as soon as I get home.

There is no way to remove each and every brown crystal of former bean from your hands once you try to reseal the newly soft, pliable bag…solution: shake hands a little, then just rub in the rest so that while driving, you can reach your hand near your face, for a little whiff of what is to come.

The Domino’s Driver that loves Frozen

IMG_20180117_160024.jpg

So this is our front window — and it is only a window into the Frozen inspired decorations that have adorned the front of our house since my daughter’s birthday in October…yes, we are the people with the blue lights on our shrubs for the past three months that I’m sure a nervous, particular nelly nearby cannot stand. We live in one of those neighborhoods that still has “yard of the month” and “best daytime decorations” during Christmas. I do enjoy the caroling, though it has its ups and downs as an event (kids run amock, a fair amount of Scrooge-ish behavior, lack of cultural sensitivity, etc. – your basic suburban folly). On the upside it is lovely and green here, when not covered in snow — and I like to think our signage has helped to welcome the abundance of the white stuff this year.

Last week, we indulged…in Domino’s — the forbidden fruit of the pizza underworld. I’ve had my troubles with Domino’s and their politics over the years, and nutrtionally it’s a bomb but given where we live and there’s no place to pop in for a slice within several miles — we occassionally feast on this treat of sodium-riddled chessey-ness. And a glory their system truly is: order online, and watch the pulsing red bar graph and the bottom of the screen chug through your progress from successful order to “Tim” is on his way with your piping hot deliciousness. We can already taste the crispy cheese overrun that adheres pizza to box (not compostable here in the near South) from which dinner will soon produce.

It’s quite here so we totally here “Tim” pull up out front and greet him at the door — it’s a frigid night so I have a $5 ready for his speedy service — less than 20 minutes from “press order” to delivery. He’s a tall young man, blonde and immediately reminds me of boys I grew up with — clean and sporty — so if you imagine the usual Domino’s characters, he is completely not that. The first thing he says is not, “Here’s your pizza” but “I just love Frozen! I sing the songs at work all the time…some of the guys think I’m crazy, but I just love it. And I love your decorations.”

Well there you go…he is like the boys I grew up with in so many ways — loves a good musical, a Disney princess or two, a strong female voice in song. It’s not everyday you meet a pizza driver that does anything but grunt, but “Tim” (if that’s his real name and not just his Domino’s website identity) has the gift of gab and the love of music in his hear. I like to think maybe he put our little house and its decorations on his pizza delivery houses of charms…a nice view for a few minutes where a weary pizza driver in near zero temperatures can catch a breath and hum a few bars in the icy night.

Snow Angels

IMG_20180117_104226.jpgYet another snow event has blanketed the near-South, in winter wonder — this time not so much powder as last time, a little more wet and without a doubt this morning will be an icey mess. My family is struggling through a new health diagnosis for one member of our small team; and it is into this snow that I walked as I pondered the angels among us. While I am not the person of the strongest faith (in anything), I do try to take my time in nature as a gift from above and I regularly see the messages — not always the best messages, but clear interventions nonetheless. When I see a bluebird, I know it’s my gram sending a direct dispatch to me to either wake-up, or get moving — metaphorically, intellectually or physically — as standing still was just not her thing.

Yesterday, as I headed out into this scene the wind was starting its whip and froth — having just driven home a few nights before in a severe storm (in which a tornado touched down, too much to think about digesting that right now) I was a bit tentative as the first stings of wet snow scratched my cheeks. But as I walked on, the most glorious circular wind grasped the top of a rather overgrown tropical tree on the corner, and down plopped powdery-marshamallow like snow-drops all over the street. It was as if, a leaf full of snow gathered itself into a froth and joined the circular wind, and down came the goblins — or angels to smatter and splatter the pavement — and our coats.

For every frosty landscape, of mind or time, perhaps there really are angels, or breaths of air that buoy and comfort us. Perhaps not naturally, and maybe it is just wishful thinking. For today, I will be on the hunt for the wind to see if might just produce another angelic moment.

These boots, downtown?

IMG_20180104_151735.jpgThese boots are size 10 Keens — purchased at REI several years ago when we still lived in the often damp Pacific Northwest. At the time I was trying to replace nearly 20 year old hiking boots that I’d purchased in the Northwest, hiked parts of the Pacific Crest Trail in, taken these same boots east and hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail in. But those old boots, just could never be replaced and when the sales staff that day in REI told me these new Keens were so stylish I could wear them downtown, all I could wonder is, where on earth are these boots downtown appropriate? While these Keens fit well and seemed to fill a rain/snow need (at the same time making my feet look monstrously huge), in no way were these “downtown” much the same as my aged hikers were not “downtown” — I’m no slave to fashion, but I do have my boundaries.

It’s odd what can be wrapped up in footwear, aside from feet and socks. For me, shoes are m go-to purchase for a seratonin rush that covers all sorts of ailments — from the need for beauty in my life, to the times when current clothing styles and my body don’t match — I can always find shoes. While my style has changed over the years (walking in heels on escalators isn’t happening in 2018 or beyond), my shoes are where my memories rest. So the thought of wearing rugged, somewhat nondescript Keen black boots downtown — unless there is a major snowstorm — was unfathomable. Downtown is lights, work, ready, look great — not slothic, cumbersome (albeit lightweight) and clunky. Even in bad weather, it took awhile for me to transition to these Keens from my sportier (and prettier) hikers of yore. I went so far as to purchase high quality insoles for those oldsters, and hot glue them into the shoe bed (not recommended) to somehow extend their life. Hot glue and socks don’t mix, just an FYI.

But now during Bombogenesis, cyclonic snowstorm of the decade, I have a new appreciation for my Keens — hours in low digit temps combined with bamboo socks and I’m nothing but toasty. Keens are the workhorse of boots — these boots will not let you down, will not leak, will not allow you to suffer when you are the sole shoveler of snow in your household because your working-at-home husband is on a day-long conference call. You can sweep off those cars, sprinkle that snow-melt and tromp to the open coffee shop for hot chocolates with your kiddo, no problem. Downtown these boots will never be, and these shall never replace my old hikers, but they are the future…the workboots for work I didn’t anticipate.

Those old hikers? Yes, I’ve moved them again. And I want to build a shadowbox for them — my love for these laces, swoops and divits will never die. Five cross country moves, and counting…

IMG_20180105_063944.jpg

 

 

Bombogenesis! The first snow of 2018

IMG_20171210_100921.jpg

I called my dad yesterday to let him know the Governor had declared a state of emergency in advance of the pending Bombogenesis — to which he naturally asked, “What on earth is that? Is it similar to snowmageddon? Snowpocalypse? Why is there a bomb in it?” All good questions, for which I had no answers — but the real thrill of it is…my dad and I both love to completely succumb to the Weather Channel, when the big ones are coming. He neglected to mention that in our home state, multiple earthquakes around Mt. St Helens and a rapidly shifting ridge to the east of the mountain should be equal cause for concern.

Defined: a bongenesis = a cyclonic snowstorm, where Arctic air (that generally builds the more famous Nor’Easter) meets topicla air like a brick wall, the air swirls in a centrifugal manner (severe) and creates the “bomb” effect of blasting everything in its path..leaving strong, possibly hurricane force winds and plunging temperatures in its wake. The upside: schools are delayed or cancelled well ahead of mother nature’s fury leaving folks some time to plan ahead — since I work from home, this also allows time to do some early morning meal pondering (pondering is better than planning) and a little daydreaming — what about baked potatoes — for lunch! Fresh banana bread with chocolate (thank you Molly from Orangette, I’ve never been able to make regular banana bread since your first book) for breakfast! Almond butter cookies (trying this one today, three ingredients – sounds simply perfect) by mid-afternoon! And dinner — no one will need dinner, though there is a bag-o-salad from last week’s Trader Joe’s pilgrimmage in the fridge. But, who eats salad in a snowstorm?

Snow’s meditative and silencing qualities are my buoys of comfort — many adults hate the white stuff, and I’ll admit I am no fan of the ice storm so should our “bomb” friend turn that direction, our loving relationship is officially cancelled. Snow is candles, wool socks and a chance to stay inside — willingly (I am not usually a fan of the indoors or staying at home and all its laundry implications). While snow allows the mind to rest and the gaze to settle evenly — is also energizing in all its light reflective gloriousness. The peace that snow provides as it coats the landscape, allows new ideas to sprout — snow is the incubation that is needed by the soul and the heart. My yoga instructor says each time our class teeters in tree-pose that there is always movement in balance. So it goes with the snowfall — in peace, there is always endeavor.

IMG_20180104_153044.jpg

Hygge, Hearts and the Solstice

IMG_20171205_131721.jpgLast year the New Yorker named 2016 as the year of hygge — the Danish tradition of “getting cozy” during the winter months; for those of us with Danish and other Nordic roots, hygge — and open faced sandwiches are routine parts of the winter holidays and that the New Yorker, is sort of way behind. Candles and wool socks, warm rice pudding and pea soup are not a new things, and in fact, many of us grew up this way — along with grandparents with accents from all of the Scandinavian countries (hygge is not limited to Denmark). The idea of hygge is one of comfort — in both the environment around us, and in our own skin — which sometimes craves wool, snowflakes and soup. Hygge is not a fad, but an emphasis on the beauty of the soul and our relationship to nature; there is never bad weather, but there can be the wrong outerwear.

So to kick the hygge season off, here are a few of my favorite things:

Danish Sandwiches or Smorrebrod : during cozy times, it’s important to eat well — sandwiches offer creativity, variety and fresh flavors — and the opportunity to gather friends and family to partake in preparation. More on sandwiches from Serious Eats for further ideas on how to concoct delicious creations. Of note: if you’re looking for an excellent, and easier-than-roasting-a-20-pound-bird Thanksgiving, consider smorrebrod with a turky-ish and cranberry flair. We went this route this year, and a total success — amongst our variety we included a turkey (chicken works well) salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, honey and mustard resting atop a rustic sourdough cranberry bread, lightly toasted, with plenty of Finlandia butter as a base. Always open-faced, always use a knife and fork.

Juleharter = Danish woven hearts: a quick tutorial and template from the site Bits of Ivory. Red and white are the traditional color scheme, but going a little rogue is okay. Scandinavian holiday decorations lean towards the natural with use of materials such as wood, wheat, wool and of course these hearts which may adorn trees filled with treats or as a simple exchange with a friend. Legend has it that Hans Christian Andersen invented this simple woven treasure — like Santa, this is a legend I think is worth embracing.

Aebelskiver – round, ball-like pancakey donuts: a little trickier than sandwiches and a special pan is needed to create these treats, or a weeknight dinner or brunch in the winter months depending on how you choose to fill them. This recipe is excellent, but I simply use pancake mix and modify — whether with jam filling, ricotta, bacon or really any ingredient that is choppable and droppable into the batter in the aebelskiver pan. Tip: us a wooden skewer (kabob) stick to turn the sometimes wiley rounds of batter — this will take practice, and is totally worthwhile once you’ve conquered the pan and there is no smoke simmering from your stove. Do not use any cooking spray on this pan, unless a black tinge is something you crave with pancakes.

Bokaflod or Julebokaflod: book flood i.e. buy books and read books for the holiday season. This is an Icelandic tradition and most publishers there issue all their new releases in November to get folks ready to celebrate; and if you’re going to pursue hygge — a stash of books purchased for or during the holiday season, then you’re half-way to sandwich making. Think — a mug of strong coffee, a few butter (spritz) cookies, a few candles (pine or balsam scent) your brand new woolen socks and perhaps a high-performance fleece — a fire and now your stack of reading material. You’ve now achieved hygge nirvana.

As the solstice approaches — remember the outerwear — get yourself outside and enjoy the natural world, as there is no better way to begin to understand the majesty and wonder that abounds when darkness merges to light.

Happy Hygge!

p.s. don’t forget to post a few gnomes!

IMG_20171204_140355

 

 

You can take the girl out of the rain…

IMG_20171116_075658...but you can never take the rain out of the girl. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, rain is a constant; we have 90 ways of describing the gray-ness that envelopes the city, lowlands and coasts — and the words differ depending on your location. In my current near-South location, autumn is rapidly coming to a close and yet, the sun still shines — and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the sun, but I miss the life-giving force and comfort of the rain, despite the fact that when I live in the Northwest I must seek the healing power of acupuncture and high-intensisity lights to work through my seasonal depression. When I find neighbors still watering their lawns here, I’m aghast at the wastefulness — for in such a dry climate, how could one use this precious water for such luxury, when we have no idea when next we’ll see it in the sky? If my skin is so parched that no amount of water consumption or moisturizer makes a dent in my appearance or well-being, how must the land feel? It doesn’t take much historical reading to learn that crop failure is routine in the Mid-Atlantic due to weather conditions — early writings of Thomas Jefferson amongst other historical figures clearly indicate the financial boom and ruin of the region based on rain’s presence or absence.

As a Northwesterner, you learn as a child that rain and then snowpack define your level of water-usage throughout the year — no rain and no snow indicate “hold back” and most folks I knew growing up never watered their lawns — this obvious waste of a natural resource was forbodden. You learn to crave the rain, even when it causes traffic snarls, afternoon letheragy (an abundance of caffeine and chocolate cures exist to assist) and an obsession with the latest fleece styles. I suppose it’s possible that those of us that grew up with constant water in the sky are both blessed and cursed with the love of mist, dew, drizzle, sprinkle, downpour (usually only during November i.e. many famous Thanksgiving Day storms), pineapple express, el nino, el nina — and the list goes on. According to The Weather Channel, most PNW cities have less than five days per year with more than one inch of rain — but it rains at minimum, 150 days per year. To compare, New York receives about the same amount of average rain — but 30 more dry days (120 or so wet ones).

As the season of Advent unfolds, thoughts of light, darkness and shades between allow a bit of time for ponderance. Does my ever-watering neighbor continue in their pursuit of a lush lawn because their faith is stronger than mine? It’s a question worth asking, because my faith generall falls to go-slow, ponderous yet sporadic methodology. Does their watering timer provide the comfort of knowing that moisture, will be restored and that light will always follow darkness? Is my lack of watering, a lack of faith that the skies will once again open to reveal both skin and land-saving drizzle or even all-out stormdrain clogging, fat, lucious drops of what we Northwesterners call liquid sunshine?

This I know — I now dream in rain, because it is missing from my soul — the same rain that often tortures me, is part of me — it allows me a freedom that endless sun and heat do not. Rain provides the mental and intellectual respite for which sun is the opposite — sun drives, it does not rest. So until I return to greener roots…

 

 

Pennies from Heaven

IMG_20171120_093357.jpgFrom late summer and as this autumn progresses — it seems like the constant theme is loss. While the wild colors of fall leaves in the mid-Atlantic are glorious as always, this year each falling leaf is accompanied by a sadness that a once beautiful, green, living life has passed onto the other side — the whithering side where memories grow dust in the farthest reaches of the mind. Grief and mourning are constants in life of course — there can be no birth without its opposite of death; it is also at this time of year when temperatures turn colder and cozy scarves abound that songs on the radio proclaim as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ are endless. Autumn serves as a not subtle reminder, that to move towards rebirth we must plunge into darkess — and thanks for daylight savings time, darkness comes ever so early during this season.

On the day of the most recent human passing, pennies appeared at nearly every turn on my daily walk — my cousin has reminded me regularly since the death of her brother in August how pennies rain down on us from heaven. Bing Crosby sang ‘Pennies from Heaven’ in a 1936 film of the same title; other famous artists of the time recorded the song as well including Billie Holiday and Tommie Dorsey — a decade later Frank Sinatra, then Tony Bennet, Rosemarie Clooney — the list is long, and a list I never would’ve thought to look for, had I not been nearly tripping over pennies. The Sinatra version can be heard here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/pennies-from-heaven-lyrics-frank-sinatra.html — the most poignat lyric, “If you want the things you love, you must have showers.” And so must we have autumn — with all its sadness. While working towards the light and all its meanings from religious to earth-bound and metaphorical — the real movement is finding the beauty in those dusty memories that contradicts the raw placidness of falling leaves. Autumn is death in living reality. It is often said that memory fades with time, or that memories are enhanced to inaccruate levels of enlightened delusion — but perhaps not so, perhaps memories are the lights that carry and sustain us (however contrary to historic record). What is light if not manifest joy? What is a scuffed, or shimmering penny in the wane light of a fall afternoon, if not a tiny speck of light tossed into our path for remembrance?