Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pensive Thoughts’ Category

Every year, with the boxes all around me and the tissue paper pushed back, I gaze at my life in ornaments and baubles and am in awe yet again at the wealth of memory and nostalgia that we place on the accepting branches of our chosen tree.


That gorgeous crocheted Santa, aptly named Lunar Santa, was made by my sister. It’s one of my most favorite ornaments. And I still have a handful or ornaments that my Grandma made for us. Every year when she came for Christmas, she would bring a box of her handmade treasures. They had tags on them, with our names in her perfect script. Several of mine still hold those tags, that memory of her permanently in ink. Some of the items on our tree were made by Griffin’s paternal Great-Grandmother too.

I love this faded and fragile paper Christmas tree, with Griffin’s tiny little face in the center. He made it in Kindergarten and I hope I never forget the look on his face when he brought it home to me. He swelled with pride when we placed it on our tree that year. Next to it, see that even more faded little paper chain? I made that in Kindergarten, thirty years earlier that the date on Griffin’s tree.

The year that Christmas almost wasn’t was when Griffin was three. It was a pretty hard time of my life and the ocean of sorrow that swirled around me left me almost broke and lacking much holiday spirit. A friend of mine refused to let me wallow, and said “You need to celebrate for your son’s sake.” They took me shopping and bought me a few ornaments, a tiny little tree and stand and a few groceries. Among the ornaments was a box of these old-fashioned styled glass baubles in all sorts of shapes and colors.


My family had some ornaments like this when I was very little and they reminded me of a better time of life, a time when we just had no clue as to the difficulties that lay ahead. Now, when I pull out the tin that lovingly holds this collection, not only do I remember some beloved childhood treasures, but I also recall the support and guidance of someone who gave selflessly to me at a critical time of need.

It really isn’t fully festive during our decorating time unless someone grabs the Santa-inspired tree skirt and dances around the house with it around their waist. Usually it’s me. This year it was Griffin and I almost collapsed from the hilarity. But shhhhh….don’t tell him I mentioned that here. He is 15, you know.

And me? I’m way beyond the need to shake the packages under the tree in a vague attempt to identify their contents, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the urge every year when they start to accumulate.

I hope that your Christmas is full of treasured people, whether it’s family, or the friends that feel like family. I hope there is delicious food, warm genuine smiles. I hope it is peaceful, because I sure know about celebrating Christmas when it’s the last thing you want to do. I hope snow is involved, if the climate allows, and twinkling lights fill your eyes. We’ll be staring at magical Christmas snow in amazing abundance this year. It is a VERY white Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This time of year it isn’t unusual to find the long winter shadows start to appear around early afternoon. With the swift approach of the Solstice, the darkness seems almost interminable. But the nice thought is, after Monday, the days grow progressively longer. And Spring will be three months away.

Are you one of those, at least those of us in the grasp of a northern hemisphere Winter, that feel the night descend so hard that the 7:00pm darkness can often feel like midnight? Like we need to be going to bed instead of finishing up the dinner dishes and thinking about how to manage the evening ahead? We’ve been plagued with that quite a bit at our house. And I’m never sure how to get past it except to just roll with the changing light and keep in mind that the tilt of the Earth always brings us back to warmer weather, dripping eaves and bare brown patches that miraculously change into green again. And up until recently, I never considered actually embracing that darkness. It was always about trying to get away from it. Then I read this essay by Jeanette Winterson. And I read it again. It struck a chord in me and suddenly the coming darkness that evening didn’t seem so daunting.

Winterson’s essay is all about the enjoyment of darkness for many things considered normal in our lives. She speaks eloquently of the effect of the night on love, cooking, thinking, creativity and all manner of human purpose. Most of it I’ve never considered at all, especially the cooking aspect, at least not in the way that she explains it.

She talks about how our culture has phased out the night, treating it more like failed daylight than a time of slowness and silence, which she urges us to acknowledge as a correction of the day. I especially loved how she talked about the slim hour of time where the day and night meet, where the darkness slowly envelops the light.

City or country, that sundown hour is strange and exhilarating, as ordinary spatial relations are altered: trees rear up in their own shadows, buildings bulk out, pavements stretch forward, the red wrapper of brake lights turns a road into a lava flow.”

In the wintertime, this twilight, or “blue time”, as a friend of mine has coined, is my absolute favorite moment of the otherwise dark and chill that surrounds it.  It’s perfect for reflection, a cup of tea and the rather soothing way that the shadows turn the snow from white to opal to purple and then finally to the deepest blue-black of a December night.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough to lift our eyes to the sky, we can be rewarded with sunsets like this:

Which, to my utmost surprise on this particular evening, not only painted the western horizon in this creative and colorful light, but tossed pastel tinted clouds all over the eastern sky as well….

And the sight of it all nearly gave me whiplash as I spun back and forth trying to catch the prime moments happening on both sides of me. With this kind of beauty ushering in our winter darkness, it almost seems a shame to turn on the lights and chase away the winter night. But that’s what we do. Most of the time anyway. For one night, while the guys were gone, I decided to defy that urge and do what Winterson suggests. Sit among the dark, with a fire and candles, and relax in the moment. I actually looked forward to the hours ahead. But I cheated just a little in terms of light though, loving the twinkling look of this bakers rack that resides in the corner of our kitchen.

Fortified after an intense outing on my cross country skis, I made sure that a simple dinner was on hand. A baked sweet potato and a cabbage salad seemed perfect for a solitary night with a few candles and the fireplace. I wished the evening was temperate enough to be out at the fire pit, enjoying the crackling of a true wood fire. Our gas fireplace as all the ambiance of watching a bunsen burner, but the warmth it puts out left the room cozy and comforting. The cats settled on the sofa with me, the contentment seemingly catchy. The flickering candles had a soothing effect on my thoughts, and I found that I had no urge to push through the hours until I could go to bed. It was a nice surprise to find that I really was enjoying myself. With 2010 bearing down on me, and a less than stellar 2009 fading in the rearview mirror, I welcomed the opportunity to reflect and look forward to starting something new again. I enjoyed my simple meal, and more importantly, my own solitary thoughts. I likely will repeat this in the coming months. Anything to break up the monotony of those long, dark hours. I hope it instills in me a new appreciation of these inevitable winter months.

“Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons – all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life – take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have. Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.”

And it was more, for one night anyway.

Read Full Post »

Beyond the sugar, flour and butter of a good cookie, beyond the proper pan, the parchment or silpat on top and the tried and true recipes, even beyond the cookie jar on the counter, rubbed and worn from decades of hands reaching for it, cookies have become infused as a part of me from as far back as I can remember. Thanks to my mom, for certain.

Hey Everyone! You know what time of year it is, right????

Any amount of time in my little obscure corner of the blogging world and you know that my love of baking goes deep. And long. I’ve eaten all manners of cookie; any and all types have passed these cookie-loving lips, of all shapes and sizes and styles and colors and proportions. I’ve had chocolate chip a thousand different ways and oatmeal cookies to swoon over. I’ve had double chocolate rebels and chewy chocolate bites and thumbprints of all manners and madelines that melt in my mouth. I’ve had cakey chocolate drops covered in mocha frosting that nearly made me faint. Gingersnaps both chewy and crisp, macaroons both airy and dense and cheesecake cookies scented with lemon. I’ve had exotic varieties from other lands, sugar cookies of all kinds and shapes, cookies with seeds and nuts and sprinkles and colored sugars and tiny hard candy dots, out of bags, boxes and freezer cases. With one bite I know whether you’ve used butter or not, whether it was built from a recipe or cut from a pre-made log with a brand name on it. I know my cookies. And I think the one item missing from my life, my kitchen and eventually, from my son’s memory is a cookie jar standing on the counter, ready for the next best cookie to fall into it’s fathomless interior. For whatever reason, we don’t have a cookie jar. I love my kitchen, the room where magic occurs and genuine smiles are formed, but my counter does not hold that memorable item.

I’m imbued with the scent of baking cookies, brought on by a lifetime of saturating myself in the process of making them, the rhythmic scooping, the whir of a mixer, the flour covered countertops that result in a hot tray of tiny fragrant orbs that’s sole purpose is to coat and soothe an otherwise hectic life down to a manageable roar. I recall days as a child where the call of the cookie jar would pull me forward, the familiar squawk of the metal lid being pulled off our old worn canister as I eagerly plunged my hand in to bring forth Mom’s comfort and salve. I would indulge until spent, broken and weary from the sugar high but otherwise calmer than when I entered her kitchen, bent on seeking a balm for what ills I had endured. From my cookie coma, I often wished to simply slip to the floor and lay in the sunshine, brushing the crumbs from my face. Likely I just lay my head down on the formica tabletop. If I thought of anything at all, it was when I would feel ready to eat more. My Mom knew that her cookies were our Achilles heel; she knew what each of us liked and didn’t like. She knew how she could draw us to her by simply announcing that she was baking cookies. She just knew. Through chocolate chips and chopped dates and broken nuts and some old worn cookie sheets warped with age and use, she could reach to us across any barriers we tried to put up and give us a piece of her heart. Mom was not so demonstrative with her love, but she made us cookies, and in turn, it gave me the first of many glimpses into the divine dance that occurs when one cooks for someone they love. She taught me to bake cookies and it taught me how to take care of someone’s heart. I make cookies for my family, but what I might be trying to do, at least in spirit, is to awaken in me the memory of her, to keep her alive and beside me, along with grasping a moment where my own child runs to my side, eyes gleaming and smiling wide to take in the cooling rows of cookies. To watch him eagerly reach for a handful, to see him dip into the container that holds them, eyes shut in his delight as he takes a bite is to see pure love.

[[All right, want the mother-lode of Cookies?? More than you can imagine?]]

Christmas comes, and in my life there’s a cookie exchange each year. I always want to offer something new and different, more to stretch my own concept of a cookie than anything else. There are endless variations to be formed through a bowl and a tiny scoop, or sliced from a chilled log. All manner of ingredients can be used. What’s important is the memory and feeling behind pulling out the stand mixer, getting down the ingredients, the smell of the oven and a hot tray of blissful bites on the counter.  This year, just prior to my annual baking frenzy, my tiny cookie scoop was broken and my search for a suitable replacement was futile. These slice and bake cookies saved the day. And opened my eyes. Life’s little surprises, in the shape of a sweet morsel in your fingers, continue to roll forward.

Earl Grey Cookies (bottom left in the photo above)
(courtesy of Shannalee at Food Loves Writing, and everyone’s friend, Martha Stewart)

2 c. AP flour
2 T. finely ground Earl Grey tea (from about 4 teabags. Can be crushed in a baggie with a rolling pin, or in a blender or coffee grinder)
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T. finely grated orange zest

Whisk flour, tea and salt in a large measuring cup.

Place butter, sugar and orange zest into bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrap the bowl occasionally to insure uniformity. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour, only until incorporated.

Divide dough in half and place each piece on parchment paper. Shape into logs and place in fridge until firm, 2-3 hours. Dough can be chilled overnight too, and frozen for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on sheets on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: The Stash tea I used came very finely ground already. I did not have to crush it any further. I strongly recommend a good quality tea for this cookie. Don’t fear the tea leaves in this cookie; the flavor of these is fresh and lovely, chock full of orange essence. The tea is barely noticeable. I am certifiably crazy about this cookie. As soon as the last one was gone, I wanted to make another batch and I better hurry up and do it quickly before I drink up all the delicious tea.

Vanilla Spice Cookies (top right in the photo above)
(from Shannalee again)

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter at medium speed and gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, salt and spices. Add this to the butter mixture on low speed and blend only until incorporated.

Shape the dough into two rolls, about 12 inches long. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill until firm, 2-4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment. Unwrap rolls and slice into 1/4″ slices. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks and keep in airtight containers.

KATE’S NOTES: I added extra cinnamon and cardamom to these to amp up the spice flavor. They tasted like Chai tea and were just lovely.

Read Full Post »

I’m finding more and more, and sometimes quite rapidly, that what brings me the most pleasure in life is really quite simple.

Whether it’s a shock of color discovered on my daily walk, or the foods that pass through my life, I’ve learned, with some astonishing insight, that often the greatest pleasures we can embrace are found in the tiniest of places and means.

There’s a lot of fodder in the blog world, at least in the North American contingent, regarding preparations for Thanksgiving. I’ve been skipping a lot of these posts, and not because I’m not interested, but mostly because it seems that there is a huge amount of anxiety involved in putting this meal together and making it perfect and I just can’t read about it. Where has all that come from?Somehow, some standard has been ridiculously raised and everyone is straining to jump to new heights, to take a day set aside for gratitude and thanks and make it perfect, flawless and exacting. Mark Bittman even talks about it, and gives a timely and very wise message to cooks everywhere. ‘Just Chill’ he says. He nails this one.

I used to be that way, that awful anxious and stressed person, endlessly making lists, sweating through details and cringing if foods came out less than perfect, and I am really thankful that it’s quietly slipped out of my life. Making my way through life is often all I need for producing an inordinate amount of anxiety, and when I step in my kitchen, I don’t want to be in a position to add anything to that. My kitchen should relax me and strip the rest of the world away. It’s in there that love should surpass most anything else.

These days I’m pretty thankful for that love, in any form it takes. There’s my family, a terrific husband and a pretty amazing teenager, and I’ve got my sibs who provide yet another constant. There are my amazing friends who can both hold a mirror up to me with exceptional grace and then catch me when I see what’s in it. And there’s my huge extended family on Mike’s side that fills me to overflowing. When I think about all of that, I could be reduced to tears from the gratitude I feel.

And my family, well all they really want is to come together and dwell in that love. They aren’t here on Thanksgiving for a feast beyond all belief. They don’t want to be “WOW”ed by the food, in fact, they react often with disappointment when I wander off the playing field and start tossing experimental ideas in the air. The playbook of their holidays is tattered at the edges from overuse. But it has a worn and familiar feel that they need. When they walk into my house, it’s more about who stares back at them from across the flickering candles. It’s about returning to better times in our lives when we had no idea what it was like to be a grown-up. Now I can take those tastes, the ones that stem from years of tradition, and I can make them better and more modern and they look to me for that. But they also just want their mashed potatoes, their gravy with some lumps and a pan of stuffing that they can attack and conquer. They know that I can make it all delicious, so all they really have to think about is whether or not they should refill their wine glass, which game comes out next, or the remembrance of some far distant holiday memory that still brings peals of laughter even when told for the hundredth, no, thousandth time. What’s on their plates is important, but it never has to be perfect. The setting, the faces and the laughter is perfect enough.

And I’m so very thankful for that. This past year has been challenging in so many ways, and the one comfort I’ve derived through this madness that is my life is what happens when the stove comes on and my hands become busy. I pour it all into my food, so my food can give it all back to me; the comfort, the solace and the firm realization of good that I find in my meals. But the simple truth is, I could share a takeout pizza with my guys at home on any given night and as long as I’m staring at their faces, what’s on my plate is irrelevant. Mike’s serious back injury this past May was a huge perspective shift. And Mike and Griffin, my whole world, were both in the car when it was totaled in July. Then, in September, my beloved Harmon was diagnosed with cancer. Holidays always bring about emotions that rise and fall every year: I lost a sister almost 18 years ago. My mother died unexpectedly 15 years back. The holes in my family portrait are acute and tender, and that is never going away. Between now and the end of the year, I feel those losses deeply. And it makes me that much more thankful for everyone who still sits down at my table, who asks for pumpkin pie, who loves the crunchy edges of the stuffing almost as much as I do, who cares little for something extraneous or unusual. Perfection is impossible, and family is forever. I know which one is so much more important.

My hope for everyone is that somewhere in the chaos of your family traditions and meals that you stop to embrace what you have, the faces that smile at you and take the time to appreciate them deeply. Be very thankful for the food on your table, whatever form it takes,  as we celebrate through some very tough times. Please remember that not everyone is as fortunate as you may be. Show gratitude. Speak tenderly. And have a wonderful, feast-ful, delicious and tantalizing Thanksgiving, from my house to yours.

Read Full Post »

Update on Harmon

Thanks to those of you who still ask about Harmon. It’s been two months since he was diagnosed with cancer and really, he’s doing pretty good. It’s surprising to me, joyful and really a bit scary too.

I’m afraid that I could get complacent about him. That I’ll forget that anyone even uttered the word ‘Cancer’ to me, or that he could well have a ticking bomb inside him that could burst forth one of these days and swiftly remove him from my life. I did prepare for it, and process it and felt like I at least got to a place of good reckoning. I am at peace. But for each day that he lifts his head in his customary chirp of greeting, that he settles in to snuggle against me in the morning as I sip coffee and surf or climbs on my lap when I sit down in front of the television for a movie or show, I have to remind myself that it’s one more day that is gifted to me that I never expected to receive. I have to remember that I am not promised any tomorrows with him, or even a ‘next month’ kind of scenario. I listen to his breathing. I feel and stroke his chin for any suspicious lumps that might indicate a resurgence. I note his stiff, old-age gait and the amount of time he sleeps and wonder about him. I wonder constantly. I hold him as much as he’ll allow, and to his credit, he seems so much more tolerable of being drawn close to me than at any other time in his life.

And I am more tolerable of indulging him in the foods that are usually forbidden in a feline diet, mainly anything off our table. Harmon has always had a taste for people food, with thanks to me, but lately, as I have watched his former bulk shrink to being almost non-existent, I’ve felt that to slip him a few nibbles from my plate isn’t such a bad thing. He has, of course, taken this to his full advantage. Harmon is a true gourmand. He enjoys all manner of people food, not just the normal aspects of our diet that one would expect a cat to enjoy, like meat or cheese. He eats legumes, and seems to have a particular love for them, well, unless they’re highly spiced lentils. He does spit those out. But great northerns? Black beans? Pintos? Chickpeas? He eats them all. He loves cauliflower too. Go figure. And peas, corn and green beans as well. He’s more adventurous than my teenager when it comes to food he hasn’t tried yet either, willingly accepting it and showing us his most baffled expression if he’s not so certain whether it’s to his liking. Is this guilt driven, my slipping him the good stuff? No. It’s more like my wish for him to be happy, to put something in his tummy. Although his ample belly and squishy pouch is still evident, there is no more intense reminder to me of the state of his health than the fact that his spine and rib bones, once sheltered in his former bulk along his back, are now clearly visible and sharply defined. Petting him is emotionally painful, to feel those old bones. If his time with me were to end tomorrow, the last thing I would be concerned about was sharing the grand tastes and flavors of life with him. What a way to go.

So there it is, for now. He’s well, apparently, and is quite content and happy. He is in no pain that we can tell, unless you count his old-age stiffness. He eats like a champ. He still purrs his trademark rumble, and snuggles in at every chance he gets. I’ll take it. And for as long as I can. Every day with him is a gift.

 

Read Full Post »

I should have known. Us Minnesotans wrote the book on the phrase ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Right on time, at the heels of my dreary October report, came a smashingly beautiful Fall day; just in time to lift spirits across the city, to pour sunshine down on the deprived and saddened. It was blinding. It felt hot. Car interiors warmed up and jackets were shed. Lots of skin came out to say ‘Hello’, to welcome the sun.

And while most of the city wandered around in a daze, strangers smiling at each other with lots of contented sighs, I escaped.

october sun at loveless6785

october sun at loveless6781

Just a few short months ago, that deck was covered in soggy footprints, soaked towels, half empty sunscreen bottles, juice boxes, a few toys, often a stray lifejacket and maybe a wet child or two. It held chairs that held bodies that held hair off their warms necks and cold drinks in hand. The deck groaned under the weight of languid summer days, resplendent in the hot sun. And the lake laughed up at the blue sky, at the boats skipping across it’s surface and popped up a turtle or two to take stock, or a loon that just as quickly dove for cooler waters beneath. At night, the waters slept, still as glass, covered occasionally in a gentle fog, as the rubber band snap of bullfrogs sang harmonious shoreline lullabies. Idyllic barely does it justice. And it always ends far too soon.

But now, it’s just empty, save for the few hardy anglers, a lazy boat or two that holds tight to the remaining light and good weather and maybe the eagle, if he’s fishing today. Still, in it’s emptiness, and the solitude that tends to follow Labor Day like a reluctant puppy, Loveless Lake retains it’s beauty in entirely different ways, and offers a means to escape just once more before it settles down for a long winter’s nap.

october sun at loveless6783october sun at loveless6787

And I settle in, pulling a bag of two of food with me and some warm clothing. The furnace kicks out it’s cozy heat and a few candles lead the daylight hours into night. I settle into the profound silence with a good book or two, some music and the need to just be me for a day or two. To hike and sit on a stone overlooking the St.Croix River, or to just stare at the water outside. Maybe I’ll do nothing at all. Stay in my pajamas all day and drink coffee, invite the muse to visit and tap away until it’s satisfied. I might rake leaves and lay among the crunch. There certainly should be a nap on the sofa, a good snack. And a bonfire as the sun disappears over the tree line. The bed is piled with blankets and I turn off the furnace at night, hunkering down under the weight that lulls me to sleep. I think about nothing at all. And everything, but really, it’s nothing. Winter is coming and this will end for several months. I won’t be able to walk down the hill, with the water winking an invitation at me beyond the corner of the cabin. There won’t be the giddy anticipation of a weekend with my nieces and nephews, racing around the water in the boat, dragging an inner-tube with a shrieking child holding on for dear life. It will end, with the last drop of water drained from the water heater, and the final look around before the car door slams on yet another season.

It’s always bittersweet.

Read Full Post »

Photo on 2009-09-28 at 13.07

Harmon is doing better, thanks to a steroid prescribed on Saturday. The stitches from the surgery are starting to fall out, and he allows me to gently rub the incision with my fingertip. The surgery was two weeks ago today. I’m hoping to be able to clip out the remaining stitches, as I think they are itching him quite a bit.

The swelling that came as a result of the other mass became very bad, and was alarming to us. The steroid has helped reduce this, plus he managed to scratch it open and the amount that drained out was beneficial as well. Had this not occurred, we likely would have needed to lance it, as it looked terrible and was clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully he didn’t need that procedure. The other mass in his chin has gone down in size, but I can still feel it. His mood is better, he eats better- thanks to the steroid- and on Saturday night, for the first time in months, he climbed the stairs to our bedroom and got on the bed, snuggling up against my legs all night long. He even got up in the night, went downstairs for a drink and then came back up again for more snuggling. That to me was a clear sign that he has improved.

The hardest part now is not to become complacent about him, which I am trying hard not to think about. I can’t think that he’s fine, I can’t let go of the sorrow. He still has cancer. He is still sick, but I guess this could be called a reprieve, or maybe even a remission. He is very thin, comparatively, and it is still obvious to me that it’s difficult for him to eat as well as he should. But anything, for now, is a reason to rejoice. And for taking more time to draw him as close as he will allow, and bury myself in his fur as much as I can.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »