Sunday, December 23, 2012

a couple of recipes

I have done very little cooking since Maeve came along, but there have been a few exceptions.  I made these pancakes the other weekend for a big family breakfast - the kids devoured them, and the chopped apple cooked through (though it seemed unlikely because of my liberal chopping).  And friends and I ate the cranberry upside-down cake with champagne the other night.  The recipe suggests using four mini loaf pans so you can gift small cakes, but I baked mine in a 8x11ish pan -- just make sure your cranberries cover the bottom.

Pumpkin Apple Pancakes
 Sunset magazine November 2012 -- image from magazine, too

1 large egg
1 c each flour and milk
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 c canned pumpkin
1 T each sugar and baking powder
1/4 t each salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
About 2 T butter, divided

1. Mix all ingredients except butter and syrup
2. Melt 2 t butter in large nonstick frying pan over med heat.  Spoon batter, making 3-4 at a time.  Cook, turning once, until cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
Serve with syrup and more butter if you like

Cranberry-Almond Upside-Down Cake
  Whole Living magazine, December 2012 -- image from magazine, too

4 T unsalted butter, softened, plus more for brushing
2 1/2 c fresh cranberries 
1/2 c plus 2 T granulated sugar
2 c raw almonds, toasted and ground in food processor (instead, I used almond meal and 1/2 t almond extract)
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t coarse salt
3 large eggs
1 t pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Brush pan(s) with butter (be generous, my cranberries stuck a bit)
2. In a small sauce pan cook cranberries and 2 T sugar over med heat, stirring until cranberries begin to pop, about 6 min.  Pour into pan(s), evenly covering the bottom(s)
3.  In a small bowl, whist almonds, baking soda and salt.  
4.  In a med bowl beat butter and remaining sugar until pale and fluffy.  
5. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Add vanilla.  Add almond mixture and stir til combined
6.  Pour batter over cranberries and gently smooth top 
7. Place pan(s) on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until loaves are golden brown and a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 min.
8. Let cool and run spatula around edges to loosen, and invert cake, cranberry side up, on wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


to remember:

the weight of a baby asleep against my chest in the bjorn, her body in a fuzzy suit, my hand on her head to keep the hood on.

Eden ahead of me on a balance bike, her dark pink running shoes pushing off the ground, helmet a bit askew.  Exclamations:
LOOK how BEAUtiful the SKY is! -- darkening grey with fading pale pink clouds, skeletal trees lining the path on both sides.

I tell her, this is what winter looks like

She pulls over --
look at that BEAUtiful building!  through the bare trees, an apartment building lit for the evening that, because it's December, looks to her like Christmas.

As the path darkens, speeding bright headlights of commuters shine behind us and pass.  Each time she bumps off the path onto the gravel shoulder, laughing at herself as she walk-bumps along pulling the bike with her.

to remember:

How toasty her hand feels in my cold one as we cross the street, though my coat is much warmer than hers.  How she wants to keep riding, though the sidewalk has ended, and the street is now dark.
Look!  the moon's following us!

to remember:
her buoyant learning and orange leggings against the darkening night.

This is our first December here.

Heavy this Christmas

Yesterday morning, standing at the kitchen sink, the yard still in morning shadow, I saw light.  The sky stood blue for the first time in weeks and sun pearled the clouds, making them brilliantly white along the edges.

I was down low near the yard where the shadow was.

The night before, I had read a woman's story about adopting two children from Ethiopia and how during her wait for them, she experienced deep, wrenching sadness over them.  Later she found out the week she had been so broken for them was the week they had been moved to the orphanage -- a week of trauma.

Reading this story of a mother's grief over a child, grief over a child thrust into violence and broken there, unlocked me again.  I had cried over Connecticut many times already.  I had looked at those children fleeing the school with their eyes closed, sobbing, holding onto the shoulders of the child in front of them.  I had read the heroic stories -- teachers who held doors shut, hid children in closets, were shot and killed and kept kids alive.  The parents who waited for hours for their child to come out.

The tears wouldn't stop.  I imagine so many mothers have climbed into bed with children this week to smell them and touch their hair and warm foreheads -- me too.  I crawled into the bottom bunk next to Silas and pressed my cheek to his sleeping back, feeling it rise and fall as my hot tears leaked out.  I stayed there a long time.

When I finally settled back in my bed, I felt something and reached down to pull it out -- it was one of Eden's hair clips.  What if a mother in Connecticut had found a hair clip in her bed that night, too, but her child in the other room was gone?

Lying there, I let myself look at those children's faces, at the mothers and fathers trying to breathe in the dark, at the empty beds, at the Christmas presents already bought.

We grieve these twenty children, six adults, safe places invaded, violent sick perpetrators, danger.

Then I thought about our cities and the children who every night fear the gunshots they hear from their beds, fear the drug dealers next to the bus stop, the gangs in the hallways of their schools, who miss a father in jail, a brother who got shot last month.  I thought of the children in beds across the country, in this neighborhood, around the world who are beaten.  I thought of the thousands children massacred by machetes.  The children who are raped every day for money.  I thought of the children whose parents don't come home because of bombings in the street -- the monstrous acts of violence that penetrate our world.  I thought of the 4 million people displaced in Syria.  The Philippine families dying for food and water after the typhoon.  The women being raped in the Congo's violence, the children there without homes or medicine.

The list does not end.

It is worth stopping to look.  It is worth being sad, sickened.

This Christmas week my eyes feel heavy.  Christmas cards papering my door frame say JOY JOY JOY!  But standing in shadows of loss*, it is hard to remember that joy grows from the inside and can exist even as terror rattles the windows.**

Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth, God come to Earth under a bright star.  If this is so, that God entered  this earth in human form, Christmas also celebrates God removing Himself from untouchable realms to stand in a fleshy body on this dark earth where we live, and where he, the peacemaker, was brutally murdered, too.

In the Christmas story Jesus is named Immanuel.  It means God with us.  God who wept, who knows what it is to suffer, who weeps over our children, and the darkness we stand in, came to be with us.

He came to face terror -- real terror -- and to be killed.  He came for the three days of silent despair that followed.  He came here to die and then to beat death, to rise out of it and prove stronger.  He came to redefine life and to give vision beyond all that we touch, hold, and lose.  That, more than an infant in a manger, is what I am thinking about this Christmas -- the sight beyond what we lose.

As I've written this, snippets of psalm 23 have popped into my head, which makes me think of Nana, whom I'm missing this month.  The day before she died as I said these words to her, her wordless face brightened.  It was the first time I really tasted the darkness of that valley.

The words to that psalm:

The Lord is my Shepherd
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

*Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
**I will fear no evil
for you are with me,
Your rod and your staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies
You anoint my head with oil,
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

in the midst of a loud month: a poem (thanks CP*)

The Mockingbird

All summer
the mockingbird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely.

for he is the thief of other sounds –
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through.  He begins
by giving up his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard –

perhaps you understand –
to speak or sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.

from Mary Oliver’s new collection, A Thousand Mornings

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


It's Christmas tree fetching time, which makes me think of Ben in all his glory and our different approaches to tasks, like bringing a tree home -- to use rope or the human hand?  Ben.  Ben is man who gets things done, most anything, really.  It may not be tidy, it may not be thorough, but he will make it happen.  I actually can't think of a time in the last 20 years when he's said a job was impossible, except perhaps this summer when he bowed out of re-piping all of the plumbing between the basement and upstairs (thankfully).

In these early days of babyhood, I've watched a lot of yard happenings through the windows.  This is the first time we've had any sort of yard to care for, and as most things new, I've gotten to learn more about Ben's ways -- you have a baby, you meet your spouse as a parent.  You have a yard, you meet your spouse as a yardman (I'm afraid he has yet to discover this part of me, however).  I grew up in a townhouse without a blade of grass, so it's possible I just never knew the versatility of a lawnmower; I thought it was literally for cutting flat planes of grass...

One day, after watching Ben madly chainsaw down a row of azaleas that must be decades old (huge, and yes, smack in the middle of the yard), I saw him push and shove the lawnmower up a bank of thick weedy ivy, losing his footing as he pushed, his body nearly parallel to the ground.  At the top, he jammed the mower over the tree-like azalea stumps again and again, shards of wood wildly flying, until the stumps were sufficiently blunted.  (He was smoothing the hill for sledding, naturally).

And just now, I saw Ben push the mower out of the garage and mow the concrete, with, I believe, the purpose of blowing away the dirt.  He mowed it steadily in neat rows, engulfed by a whirlwind of dirt until the slab looked clean.  Then he moved on to the grass.

This year, Ben and I did not tussle about the tree.  Eden and I unceremoniously picked one up while running errands and a strange man tied it to the car -- he also happened to tie our car doors closed in the process so that I had to feed Eden into her car seat through the back window and gracefully hoist myself in through another.  And all were glad to have a tree in the house.  Ben didn't even insist on pulling out the chainsaw to recut the end or trim the trees in the yard while he was at it.  He does, I am sure, have great bonfire plans for the end of this season, but more about that to come.