Archive | June, 2014

Toffee, Moose Munch, a Pie, and a Cake too!

24 Jun

italy map

How can it be that three weeks have passed since we returned from Italy?  That’s almost unbelievable! It seems as if we were just there… and yet now we are back in our small town… and settled once again into our daily routines.  I suppose that is how life works.  It just speeds along… and the vacation that you waited forever for is suddenly over, and you find yourself back in “the real world.”

Well, fortunately our “real world” is not so bad.  In fact, it’s pretty darned nice.  We wake up every day in a peaceful place; war is not something we have had to deal with.   We have access to good  food and clean water, we have shelter, and more than our share of good neighbors and friends that help us in so many ways.  We are more than lucky; we are blessed!

Cary's Toffee

Before we leave the Italy trip in the past,  I want to share with you an idea that I read about recently and acted upon while on our vacation.  The author suggested taking along little treats (from his hometown but not home-made goodies!) and he shared how he gave the treats to the people who worked for the airlines (the stewards, the clerks at the ticket counter, etc) to thank them for their service and assistance (notice these employees are generally not tipped).   He also reminded us to say “Please” and “Thank you” more often (unfortunately not everyone does!)  His premise is that even though the airline employees are getting paid to do their job, a simple thank you, or a small gift will not go unappreciated.

I loved this idea and because I also LOVE Cary’sof Oregon Toffees, I brought along a bunch of their small boxes of toffee (and also a couple of bags of Harry and David’s  Moose Munch) so that I could try out this “gifting” technique.   The very first opportunity to gift someone came at the Lufthansa counter in Newark.  Our plane had arrived late and literally hundreds of folks were lined up trying to “fix” their travel plans.   We waited in line  and we watched the ticket agent for more than 30 minutes as he patiently handled crisis after crisis.

When it was finally our turn, he helped us rebook our reservation and because we were going to be late getting into Munich (and would miss the only flight out to Pisa that day), he also arranged for us to get a room for the night (and meals!).  I reached into my suitcase and brought out the Moose Munch (I figured he needed a larger gift as he would likely share it with his co-workers) and set it down in front of him. He looked surprised and said, “You don’t have to give me anything!”   I explained that we were just so grateful that he was taking such good care of everyone that we wanted to thank him.  His happy smile was our reward.

That was our first attempt at gifting and it was a great experience… and so we followed that up by sharing chocolates with the reservations agent in Munich, with the woman who owned the home where we stayed in Vernazza, and  the cooks at the villa, among others.  Each and every one of the “gifted” people was pleasantly surprised by the gesture and it felt so good that I wanted to pass this idea along.   Try it for yourself and see… and do let me know how it works for you.  It will be fun to hear how seemingly small gifts can have a big impact.

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Oh!  about the pie…  Yesterday I finally made a pie to thank a man whom I have never met for doing a huge favor for me.  Tom Marks, is an associate of Emile’s and he operates the Organic Produce Warehouse in Ashland.  Last summer Tom moved a very large refrigerator to my home; clearly not an easy task.  He didn’t have to do it… but he did it and that fridge has made a huge difference in my life.  This pie can’t begin to repay the debt of gratitude I feel, but it is a start!

To begin, I found some lovely blueberries and added some apples and put together a pie in just under an hour (a little long but I am out of practice!) and when it was baked brought it to Tom’s workplace (he was away from the office).  Later in the day I got a very happy email thanking me for the pie.  Thank you Tom for your much needed assistance!

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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  John F. Kennedy

PS: Before I sign off, I’d like to invite anyone interested in learning how to make beautiful (and gluten-free) cakes to come to my class at the Ashland Food Coop on July 8.   You can read more about it here… and I hope you’ll consider joining me.  It promises to be a delicious evening!

Lastly, here’s a photo of a wedding cake I made recently with pints and pints of fresh organic berries.  It was such fun to make and I love how the berries are the only adornment it needed.

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Our Italian Adventure

4 Jun sylvia and karen

It’s been three weeks long weeks since I last wrote.  One reason for my absence was due to an accidental splash of coffee on my computer keyboard… ugh!  The other reason for the delay is that for two glorious weeks, Emile and I were traveling in Italy.

Italy… I still can hardly believe it but we were really in Italy.  The impetus for our trip was created by a classmate of Emile’s who has been living in Italy for the past 30 years.  This classmate, Sylvia, is a teacher and has recently studied to become a tour guide.  Sylvia organized a week-long reunion at a villa in Tuscany for her high school classmates…. but wait, I’ll speak more about that in a moment.

Emile and I left for our trip a week ahead of the reunion date to explore Italy a little bit on our own.  We flew into Pisa, and then spent about five days in a place called Cinque Terre, a group of five villages built along the hillsides abutting the sea… and each one is breathtakingly beautiful!

cinque_terre_vernazza

The village of Vernazza

While there we walked, tasted wonderful food and wine, and collected pretty stones and other gifts from the sea.

photo of beach treasure

Ocean treasures:  Beach glass, broken tiles, and small pieces of copper.

After a week spent relaxing on the “Italian Riviera” Emile and I traveled to La Spezia, then to Lucca,  and then on to a town called Ponte a Moriano where the villa was located.  When we left the train we found a small store/bar at the station and decided to wait until others arrived.  Sure enough, within thirty minutes, Emile’s classmate, Lydia, arrived with her husband, David.  Soon afterwards we all walked up the hill to the villa.

The group of students for whom the reunion was organized attended a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania called Westtown, and there were about 100 students in their class.  Of those, fourteen came to Tuscany to celebrate, and most brought along a spouse.  It was the first time in over 35 years that some of those folks had seen each other and I thought it was remarkable how soon we all (spouses included) were at ease with one another.

Our “organizer extraordinaire” Sylvia put together a week full of activities for us including a tour of Pisa (to see the Piazza dei Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles, home of the Leaning Tower), a walking tour through several museums in Florence (home of Michelangelo’s David), and  a trip inside the marble mine in Carrara ( where the marble for David came from).

Sylvia also arranged for us to dine together each night at the villa… beginning with wine on the lawn and ending with a sumptuous feast. She did this all with grace and humor and she catered to so many personal requests that I think she earned a few gold stars for patience as well.

One of those “special” requests came from me… because I wanted to make a “pie” (okay, it was actually two cobblers) for the group.  Sylvia took me to the grocery store and helped me find the necessary ingredients.  Sylvia understood that this was my way of reaching out to everyone and took it in stride… and I appreciated that.

On the last day of our time together I knew I wanted to make a pie for Sylvia, but we were late in getting back from Carrara and all of the markets were closed for the afternoon so I couldn’t purchase any fruit.  There was nothing I could do but try to figure out a plan B.

the wood fired oven

That evening we were treated to pizzas baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven… and as I sat at the table with Sam watching the cooks I noticed that there was a cherry tree above my head… groaning with fresh cherries.  The cook, Christina,  told me that the cherries would be eaten by the birds if we didn’t pick them… and so that is what we did. In no time at all we had plucked a large bowl of cherries and Sam and I and a few others sat and pitted them as we watched the sun go down.

cherries for pie

Early the next morning I went to the kitchen and found the last bit of butter and made a crust with it and put it into the pie tin that I had brought from home (I know, I’m just a little bit crazy).   Then I mixed the cherries with sugar and cornstarch and searched for a topping for the pie.  In short order I found the Amaretti cookies that I had purchased and crumbled them on top of the pie.  Then, once we figured out how to turn on the Italian oven, the pie was put in to bake.

After an hour or so, Sylvia and the rest of the group began to congregate in the kitchen… oh my, I forgot to mention the kitchen.  This is it…

kitchen

Gorgeous isn’t it?  Well, anyway, it wasn’t long before I was able to present Sylvia with her pie… it’s a small token of thanks for all the time and effort that she put forth to make this trip so special.  We were all very lucky to share this time together.

Sylvia, me, and Sam

Sylvia, me, and Sam

sylvia and karen

 

The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo. Mark Twain

 

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