Archive | September, 2012

What Matters Most….

30 Sep

One silver quarter; two “train-flattened” quarters

One of my favorite hobbies is collecting coins.  I’ve done this for years and love the thrill of finding a new coin for my collection.  I don’t know why I have this fascination with coins… but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that my Dad was a coin collector.

While Emile and I were traveling back east last week, we had the chance to take an early morning walk along the Hudson River.   We followed a seldom used path that was near the train tracks and walked and talked our way through an hour or two.  Twice we saw trains from the city speed past us;  sleek and powerful they thundered by and were gone.

As we neared our destination, I noticed that this was the first time where a road met the train tracks.   That meant that people could get to the tracks easily in this location… and if that is true, then there was a good chance that we might find what I call “train coins.”  These are coins that have been left on the tracks and that have been smushed by the trains as go by.  I’ve heard it’s illegal to put a coin on the track (a train might derail) so I never put a coin on the track, but I have collected quite a few coins after they’ve been left there by others.

On this day, Emile found the first coin.  It turned out to be a smushed quarter.  You could still feel the ridge on the outer edges of the coin, but it was nearly doubled in size.  Where there is one “train” coin, there are likely to be others… and within minutes, I too found one.   Sounds silly, but finding these coins felt as if we’d won a scavenger hunt.  Then later that day, after I’d made a purchase I heard a distinctive sound as the clerk dropped the change into my hand.  It was the sound of a silver coin.   What a fun surprise!

Recently, a family that we know had a surprise of their own.  Early one morning a few weeks ago, a fire erupted in their home.  Fortunately, the husband, his wife, and their son, all escaped injury.   Unfortunately, they lost everything in the fire.  It was devastating.  But since that day, the family has been amazed by the friends and family and members of the community who have rallied to their aid.

The Chocolate Pecan Pie I brought for the Knudsen family

Yesterday we attended a fundraiser for the family at the lodge on Mt. Ashland.  Mt. Ashland is a special place for this family because Malone, the husband, has been working there for many years, and it is also the place where he met his wife, Sasha.  It was a beautiful day on the mountain and a large group of friends came to wish the family well and offer their support as they danced to music performed by members of the East Main Band.

Near the end of the event, Sasha sang with the band for a few numbers, but before leaving the stage she spoke to the crowd.  As I listened to her thank everyone for what they’d done, I watched Malone.  His glistening eyes were on his wife – and the love, admiration, and gratitude he felt was palpable.  In fact, by the time Sasha finished speaking, most of the eyes in the room were tear-filled.

It was an important reminder that while there are material things that we enjoy (in my case, coins), what really matters in life is being with the people that we love.  Anything beyond that is just a bonus.

In the end, what matters most is how well you lived, how well you loved, and how well you learned to let go.  Unknown

Donations for the Knudsen family can be made at the Umpqua Bank in Talent, Oregon (541) 535-3394.

A Quick Trip to the East Coast

25 Sep

The Old North Church in Boston

Last Tuesday I flew to meet my husband, Emile, in Boston where he was to attend a conference for the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA).  Wednesday, while he spent the day attending the conference, I took a walking tour of Boston.  Once I left the Hyatt in Cambridge, I walked over the Harvard Bridge towards Boston.  It was then that I saw Fenway Park and wanted to get a closer look.  The stadium was closed (no game) but I was able to get an inside view of it via a little tavern called “Bleacher Bar“.  Wow.  I think every ball park could do with a place like this!

Fenway Park

After that, I decided I needed to see the Old North Church.  You remember that this was the church where the signal was given to warn the patriots that the British were approaching (One if by land, two if by sea).  As I tend to be geographically challenged, I approached a couple and asked, “Am I heading in the direction of the Old North Church?” to which one of them replied, “I’m not familiar with that church.”  What did he just say?  Anyway, I found that I was indeed heading north, and kept on walking.

Tombstone of Paul Revere

After a nice long walk (and asking directions of a few more people) I found my way to the Old Granary cemetery where Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre are buried.   On Paul Revere’s headstone, people have left small stones and coins (maybe because he was a silversmith?) and it is said that out of respect for him, even those who could use the change do not disturb it.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but I can tell you that I felt that I was in a very sacred place – and I can’t say that I feel that way often.  And then, less than a mile away, I finally made it to the Old North Church.  Imagine, all that history concentrated in such a small area!

Later, on my way back through town I came upon the Museum of African-American History, but even though it was only 3:30 it was closed! (the magazine article I’d read about this place listed the hours as 10-4).   I’d been especially looking forward to seeing the exhibit entitled “The Color of Baseball in Boston” which tells the little-known stories of players of color and the teams that they played on.   I’m sorry I missed this exhibit and hope I’ll have a chance to see it on my next trip to Boston.

After my long walk back to our hotel, I met up with Emile and his fellow food coop managers and we took a tour of Boston on Segways with a company called (remarkably) Boston by Segway.  It was a little bit scary (for me) at first, but within a few minutes, we were all zipping around town.  It was AWESOME!  Without a doubt, this is a really great way to tour the city.

The next few days are a bit of a blur!  Thursday we drove to the western tip of Massachusetts….

had an amazing lunch…

And spent a night with our friends Susan and John.

Emile and Susan

Friday we headed back east towards New York where we had lunch with our niece, Grace, in the town of New Paltz and then went on to a homecoming dinner at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  Whew!

Saturday morning, we drove back to Boston to board separate planes.  Emile is now back at home in Ashland, and I am visiting my sister, Janice, on Staten Island.  My days have been much less hectic here, but we do fit in a 4.5 mile walk along the boardwalk each day.   I’ve seen a few friends… but mostly, am happy just to spend time with Janice.

With my friend Laura!

With my sister Janice on the Boardwalk

But what would all these words be about, if I didn’t throw a pie in the mix?  Who could resist making apple pies with the abundance of apples in every store and farm stand?  Not me… and so, I baked two.  One for my brother-in-law to take to work to share with his buddies… and one for an old friend who is dealing with some health issues right now.

I’m tremendously  grateful for the chance to take such a fun-filled trip… and truly grateful for the dear friends and family that we have.  This short vacation has reminded me of just how very blessed we are.

MacIntosh Apple Pie

Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has  many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
Charles Dickens

 

 

Welcoming visitors from far and near

17 Sep

It will come as no surprise for me to say “Life has been busy!”  For four days last week we were lucky to be visited by a couple from Scotland, Andy and Ryan Bond, who were traveling with fellow Scots on a Rotary exchange.  They traveled all the way to Oregon and spent two weeks visiting various Rotary clubs around the state.  As part of their visit to Oregon, these folks had a chance to tour the coast at Newport and the Rotary club there made sure that they had a fabulous time.

Ashland was the last stop on the journey for many of the Scots, though some of our visitors did plan to extend their trip into Vancouver, B.C.  We met our  guests on Tuesday and had a lovely dinner together.  I think that Rotary has a great idea here:  visitors come to a new city and are greeted by Rotarians… and are hosted by Rotarians, and are shown around the area by Rotarians.  It is a great way to see a new area… and make new friends along the way.

One of the goals of this “program” is to break down barriers, find common interests, and forge new friendshps.  That was easily done with our guests.  Andy and I found that we both loved to cook and bake… and we also shared an interest in contests!  She is a wonderful baker and one of her specialties is making traditional cakes covered in marzipan.  From the way she describes them, I just know that they are delectable!

Saturday was our last day with Andy and Ryan and I asked Andy to visit the Rotary Garden with me.  On the way I saw a sign for a yard sale and thought Andy might like to see what we call a yard sale here in Southern Oregon.  After a few minutes of browsing the items for sale, I could tell that Andy was sorry that the weight limit on checked luggage is 50 pounds!

We are so lucky to be a part of this amazing organization.  Through our participation in Rotary, we have made friends around the world.  Our world view is greater because we are not isolated from the rest; we can see that we are all connected.  And that is a wonderful thing.

What does this have to do with a pie?  Well, give me another moment and I will explain.

Quiche prep

Today I made a quiche for a couple who run a business in Ashland.  They are both hardworking, caring people.  They are amazing to me because they help out a man who has few options.  This man is like a visitor in a way.  He lives simply, doesn’t ask for much, but he needs help.  And these folks give it to him when they can… not because they have to… but because it is the right thing to do.

Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes

I’ve gone to church all of my life… and I think I know how we “should” live.  And I believe that these folks are doing it.  Just because.  I am truly touched by their simple act of grace and wish that we all could give of ourselves as easily and without judgement.   It seems like a nice dream anyway.

Finished Quiche

“If you can’t fee a hundred people, then feed just one.”  Mother Teresa

 

 

Serendipity?

12 Sep

Pear Upside Down Cake

Last Saturday it was my turn to bake the treat for the volunteers at the Ashland Rotary garden.  As I looked around the kitchen at the items that I had available, I saw the pears that I’d picked at the garden a few weeks earlier and noticed that they were ripe and ready to be used.  At first I thought I would find an apple cake recipe and just substitute the pears for apples but then I thought of this recipe from Fanny Farmer’s Baking Book (I found it on a website called “365 Days of Baking“. (Holy cow – that sure sounds familiar!  I need to get in touch with this woman because we have a lot in common!)

Back to last Saturday…  Once my cake was baked, I placed it in my car and began my drive out to the garden.  As I headed up the street I saw our friend Steve setting up a yard sale.  I pulled over (no screeching brakes I swear!) and noticed he was selling mostly toys that his grandson has outgrown.  Since my ‘kids’ are 19 and 23, I wasn’t in need of toys, so instead Steve and I started chatting.

He told me that he made a quiche recently but he wasn’t thrilled with the results and asked would I share my recipe with him.  I told him that I relied on a ratio for my quiche filling.  For the custard portion of a 9″ deep dish pie, I use 4 eggs, 2 cups of half and half (or whole milk if I am trying to lessen the caloric content) and then add 2 cups of grated cheese (usually cheddar or swiss).  Of course, you’ll still need to add some sautéed vegetables (and cooked sausage or bacon if you’re so inclined) but that’s about it.  Just about then the yard sale got busy.  I knew I had to get to the garden so I promised Steve I’d write the recipe down and get it to him later.

Spinach, Onion, and Pepper Quiche

Well, a few days later I still  had not written down the recipe, and I thought of how amazing Steve and Ellie are for adopting their grandson and putting all their time, love, and energy into raising him… and before you could say “Jiminy Cricket” I had a quiche in the oven for them.  A short while later I knocked on their door and handed Ellie the quiche still hot from the oven… with the promise that I would get the recipe to Steve soon.   Ellie thanked me and gave me a big hug and I was off.

The very next day I wanted to prepare fresh tomato sauce for the Baked Manicotti that I was making for guests that evening when I went into my pantry and found only one onion when I really needed two.  I began thinking of who might have an onion I could borrow when there was a knock at the door.   When I opened the door, there was Ellie handing me several paper bags filled with goodies from her garden… including 2 onions! 

The bounty from Ellie’s garden!

This sort of occurrence might fall under the heading of serendipity or luck, but I like to think that there is a grander scheme that we are all a part of and that sometimes – if we are lucky – we get to glimpse its magic.

Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and pulleys.
-Emma Bull

A Cake, Some Cookies, and a Pie

7 Sep

Lemon Cake layer, lemon curd, blackberries, and whipped cream

As I’ve mentioned before, I am an Honorary Member of the Ashland Rotary Club.  One of the ways that I serve my club is by providing a cake for the Birthday table on the first Thursday of each month.  It’s an honor that I’ve had for at least the last dozen years.

When the first Thursday rolls around, you can be sure that I will be focused on making a cake.  Sometimes members of the club ask for a particular kind of cake – but most of the time, I’m on my own.

Yesterday, I decided to use the blackberries I picked as an ingredient in the cake – and that seemed to call for  a lemon cake, with lemon curd and whipped cream to complete the package.  As I was putting the cake together I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the process that I go through to take the cake from beginning to end.

My recipe is very similar to this one from Land o Lakes butter and I bake it in a 10 inch round pan that is greased and lined with parchment paper.  Once the cake is baked, I let it rest until cool.  Then I take the cake and slice it horizontally into three layers.   You can follow the steps in theses photos.

First layer

Second layer

Soaking the  top layer of the cake with simply syrup – to help ensure moistness

Using an offset spatula to smooth the whipped cream

Almost done!

The finished cake.

I’ll be making another cake for a fundraising event this Sunday for La Clinica.   I’ve participated in this fundraiser for several years now and love to help them in their mission to bring affordable health care to everyone.

And in a month or so, I will donate a cake to a fundraiser for a woman named Kathryn Veatch (aka Katie).  Katie plans to go to Vietnam to volunteer with a program called “Liddlekidz.”  Here is an excerpt from her flier about this trip: “Children in orphanages around the world may have food, clothing and shelter, but often they lack an essential ingredient for basic health and happiness – touch.  Without it, children often feel discarded, forgotten and even untouchable… ”  

Liddlekidz will bring a team of therapists (massage, occupational, physical) and various pediatric specialists to teach massage and nurturing touch techniques to caregivers in Vietnam. I met Katie at her yard sale fundraiser.  She told me she was accepting donations for the yard sale and the next day I brought her some clothing to sell – and some gluten-free chocolate espresso cookies – since I’d heard Katie mention to someone that she didn’t eat gluten.  I’m excited to support Katie in her quest to help children and if you’d like to contribute to her mission, you can do so here.

Lastly, (you knew this was coming) I made a pie yesterday for a couple who’ve recently moved into a new living space.  I’d been thinking about them all week and finally had a chance to put a pie together.  I mixed the rest of the blackberries I had picked with a little bit of cornstarch and some sugar, rolled out a crust, filled it with the berries and made some crumb topping to finish it.  I love crumb topping… and remember when I was about fourteen years old that I ate all the crumbs off of a crumb cake while I was babysitting for a friend.  Kind of gross to admit that now… and I don’t do that any longer.  Really.

In case you’re interested, below you’ll find my recipe for crumb topping.  Enjoy!

Crumb Topping Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour 

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Blend flour, sugar, and cinnamon  in a mixing bowl.  Add softened butter and use a fork (or your fingers) to combine the butter and dry ingredients until the mixture becomes uniformly “crumbly.”

“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.”

 Dalai Lama

Baking and Love – One and the Same?

4 Sep

This last week was pretty busy around here.  There were so many things I wanted to do with our Japanese exchange students, Saya and Hitomi, and it seems that our time together went by so very fast!

Last Tuesday I gave them a couple of baking lessons – the first to make pecan shortbread cookies – and the next was to bake a chocolate cake for one of their classmates.  They really seemed to enjoy the process and were delighted to present Yuta with his birthday cake!

Saya holding pastry bag as Hitomi adds more whipped cream

Putting the finishing touches on the cake

A very happy Yuta – on his 20th Birthday!

We also were able to squeeze in a trip to Grant’s Pass to visit Cary’s of Oregon (they make the best english toffee ever!)  And on our last night with our girls, we took them and a few friends out to dinner.   It was a great evening.

The next morning, as we helped the girls prepare for their trip to San Francisco, and then home to Tokyo, they presented us with a photo book that they had stayed up to the wee hours of the morning making.  It is so amazingly thoughtful – and filled with pictures of all the things we’d done together.  At the very end of the book they’d pasted hand-printed thank you letters to us; as you might imagine,  we were both in tears.   We feel so very fortunate that we were asked to host these girls.  It’s been such a wonderful experience.

Our lovely photo book from Saya and Hitomi

Lest you thought I forgot, I did find time to make a few pies this week.  The first was for my friend Ken who was celebrating his birthday Friday evening.  His favorite pie?  Blackberry.   Knowing this, earlier in the week I found a blackberry patch and picked a large bowlful of berries – and escaped with only a few scratches!  Once the pie was constructed and in the oven, I made one of my favorite appetizers for Ken’s party – Spanakopita!  It was one of the first things I learned to make at the Culinary Institute of America (taught by Chef Vitoulis).  A delicious treat that is really quite simple to make.  Here is a recipe I found that is very similar to the way I learned to prepare it.  It’s definitely worth the time and effort!

Spanakopita and Blackberry Pie

The second pie I made was for our good friend Anny who recently completed her studies at Seattle Culinary Academy , a branch of Seattle Central Community College.  Anny earned perfect scores on her final baking projects – one of only a handful of people who have done so in the last ten years!   We are so very proud of her accomplishment and are very excited about her upcoming paid internship in Paris.  Way to go Anny!

Prep for Anny’s Pie

As for today – I plan to spend a quiet day at home – and will likely bake something yummy to give away – and I’ll be thinking of my sister Nancy on her 18th anniversary in heaven.

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