Tag Archives: Alexandra

Autumn Arrives… and there are pies (and other treats) in the forecast!

23 Sep

Today in Ashland we awoke to gray skies and much cooler weather.  How did that happen?  Just a few days ago the temperature reached 95 and right now the thermometer is barely hitting 65!  Welcome to Fall everyone!

That last month of summer quickly slipped by me.  Perhaps I was busy but it went by so fast!  One minute we were camping and then it was back to school again (not for my kids but still) and the leaves are now changing.  Now before I get off on a rant (I know, you’re all thinking, “whew”) let me just share a few of the baked goodies that I managed to squeeze into the last few weeks.

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One day, Emile and I were on our morning walk when I saw my friend going to her car.  I called out “Hi… How are you?” She responded, “Not good.  My dog is hemorrhaging.  I need to bring him to the vet.”  I was stunned into silence and don’t even know if I managed to wave goodbye.  As we continued our walk, Emile turned to me and said, “There’s a pie in her future isn’t there?”  He knows me so well!  This gluten-free cheesecake/pear tart (which was later topped with toasted almonds – sorry, no photo of that) was brought to that woman to let her know that I understood the pain of losing a beloved pet.

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Then there were the quiches… with crimini mushrooms and peppers that I roasted (and what a wonderful scent they left in my kitchen!).  One of these was brought to a friend with an ailing partner.  My heart aches for them both.  The other quiche was for our new interim pastor (aka Mary Poppins) on the day that she arrived in the valley.  It was my hope that by bringing her something homemade she would feel welcomed into our community.

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These chocolate cupcakes were my contribution to my friend Marie’s birthday party.  We laughed trying to decide if they were my version of Ding Dong’s or Ho Ho’s.  All I know is that they are simply delicious and deliciously simple to make!  I make my favorite cupcakes, fill them with a squirt of whipped cream, and coat them in chocolate (melted with a bit of coconut oil) and then top with more whipped cream.  Yum!

Here is a photo of them midway through the process… I use a paring knife to cut a slit in the top of each cupcake and then a pastry bag to fill the centers with the whipped cream.  It’s really easy!  By the time you coat them with chocolate and top them with cream, the inside cream becomes a hidden delightful surprise!

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Last week I picked many bowls of delicious grapes at my friend Stella’s house and because I don’t own a food dryer, tried my hand at making raisins in my oven.  It took about a day at 175 degrees… and it worked!  They are the best raisins I’ve ever had (except maybe for the muscat raisins we used to get at the market in south San Francisco).  I probably picked 15 pounds of grapes… and they cooked down to about 3 pounds of raisins…. but they are soooooo good!

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Another treat that I made was for my neighbors, Ellen and Owen.  They came home after a very long “vacation” to visit their granddaughter (and her parents of course!)  As sweets are out of the question for Owen, I decided to make bagels to remind him of his time in New York.  I used this recipe by John D. Lee because it makes bagel making fast (just about 90 minutes) and very easy!  These bagels are incredibly tasty;  I know because I devoured one minutes after it came out of the oven.  Do try this recipe… you won’t be disappointed!

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Finally, last Saturday I created a platter of gluten-free sweets (coconut almond macaroons, raspberry-topped brownies, and peanut butter cookies) for supporters of the Ashland Schools Foundation.  They were treated to a beautiful event at Bel Fiore Winery and though I am sorry I couldn not attend, I was very happy to contribute.

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That’s about all I have to share right now.  Next time I write I hope to share tales of my visit to see my daughter, Alexandra, for her birthday.  She’s been working at Warby Parker since the spring and I am anxious to see New York through her eyes.  Til then, I wish you all sweet dreams!

Pies for so many reasons!

7 Mar

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Coco and Alex, meet their host sister Lucka

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur and for good reason.  First my daughter , Alexandra, decided to come home for a brief visit before she began her new job (with Warby Parker!) and then my son, Coco, surprised me one night with a knock at our front door (he and his Dad were in cahoots about this).  So, for about a week I was back in Mom mode (my favorite place) and let a lot of other things go.  Well, except for pies.

While she was home, Alexandra mentioned that she wanted to stop at her (and our) alma mater, Southern Oregon University, to visit with her adviser, Rene.  A perfect occasion to bring along a pie!  The ingredients – apples, butter, flour, and sugar – came together quickly and as it baked we got ourselves ready.  Soon we were heading over to the university on a beautiful day.

Alex with pie at SOUAlexandra with Apple Pie

We were thrilled to find Rene (and office manager, Kathy) available to visit for a few minutes and they seemed happy to see us as well (or was it  the still warm pie?)  Alexandra is one of Rene’s first legacy students.  He was a professor to her parents (Emile and I) twenty plus years ago and then was her professor as well.  He still recalls seeing us carry her to school in the baby backpack.   Thanks for everything Rene!

Alexandra with Rene and Kathy

One day during the week I noticed that my friend, Margie Cicerrella, was featured in  the local paper.  Margie is retiring after many years of working as a children’s librarian.  Margie has been a driving force for literacy and among many other things spearheaded  the “Welcome Baby Book Bags” program – a program designed to promote language development in infants by giving new parents a cloth bag filled with board books.  For that alone, Margie deserves a million pies!  But alas, all I could do was bring her this one – a sweet potato and pecan pie.  Thank you Margie for all the wonderful work that you’ve done!

P1000559After a fun-filled week with Alexandra and Coco (cooking together, seeing plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and singing along to Coco’s guitar playing), sadly, they both had to return home. The first day after they left I must admit that I felt pretty blue.  Fortunately, I had agreed to teach a friends’ troop of girl scouts how to bake a pie (and share my story of giving away pies) that very afternoon.

At first, I was a little nervous but the girls were simply delightful.  They listened to my brief talk and then the kitchen was a flurry of flour, pie dough, and pumpkin pie filling!  Lots of questions were hurled at me, but I managed to answer most of them, and at the end of the afternoon, the counter was filled with pies.  There’s nothing like making pie – and helping kids learn to bake – to fix the blues!

P1000584The last pie I made this week was for the family of an old friend who succumbed to cancer a few days ago.  My heart aches for her husband and children and bringing them dinner and a pie felt like a way to ease their pain… and I’m sure my friend would love knowing that her family was cared for in this way.

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“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” —Alan D. Wolfelt

Cold Pizza for Breakfast?

21 Oct

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If you just read those words and thought of Christine Lavin, then you know that “Cold Pizza for Breakfast” is the title of one of her songs and also her new audio book!  If you did not realize that… well, I hope I can change that and introduce you to one of my family’s favorite singer/songwriters.

We were first introduced to Christine in the mid-80’s when my friend Lauretta sent me her CD, “Future Fossils“.   This album is a mix of funny songs and deeply moving ones.  A few of my favorites: The Dakota – a beautiful and touching song dedicated to John Lennon, The Bag Ladies Ball (a poem about what she would do if she became a millionaire), and, one of her funniest songs, “Regretting What I Said.”

Our family played that CD so many times on road trips that we knew all of the words to the songs by heart.  In fact, at our annual camping trip, my daughter, Alexandra and I recited “The Bag Ladies Ball” as our contribution to the talent show.  I really admire Christine’s ability to capture feelings that many of us have, and find a way to put them into words and then match them with music that fits them perfectly.

As I was writing this, I remembered yet another of Christine’s songs… it’s called, “The Moment Slipped Away.” I just listened to it again… and it occurs to me that Christine might have planted a seed for my blog many years ago.  In the song she encourages us to share kind words with one another (and not to keep them to ourselves.)  I’ve certainly tried to do that with the people I have shared pies with over these last few years!

Last Saturday night we were delighted to attend Christine’s concert put on by St. Clair Productions.  As always, we enjoyed Christine’s musical talent, her vibrant spirit, and her showmanship (Would you believe she can twirl glow in the dark batons?)  To thank her for being such an integral part of our family (unbeknownst to her!) for all these years, I brought her a Kick Ass Apple Almond Pie.  Thanks Christine… from the bottom of my heart.

UPDATE!  I just received the sweetest thank you note from Christine!  In her email she sent a short video that she made… and unbelievably I am in it!  What a wonderful coincidence!  This is a day I will long remember…  Don’t you just love it when things like that happen?  

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One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.  Bob Marley

Reading Simple Dreams

 

Christine took this photo of me reading Linda Ronstadt’s book, “Simple Dreams”… after I answered her Trivia Question!

 

Life, gratitude, and pie

14 Jul

Life feels so strange right now.  Just last Sunday my husband and I drove our daughter, Alexandra, to the airport so that she could get on a plane that would take her to Denmark.  Alexandra has flown to Denmark many times before, but this time was different in one big way: she did not have a return ticket.  She has gone to Denmark to work for e-conomic, an online accounting company.  She was an intern with this company for one year and will be working with their clients in the United Kingdom.

I know this is a pretty awesome gig for a new graduate and I am very proud of what Alexandra has accomplished.  I guess I just wish that Europe was a bit closer.  It’s hard to find yourself with an empty nest and realize that your little birds are hundreds… or thousands of miles away.  That’s a long way for a mama bird to fly to give a hug… or cook a meal.  And a part of me is finding that a little bit of a challenge.

On a brighter note, a week or so ago I was honored to be interviewed by Nadine Natour from National Public Radio.  It seems that NPR had decided to do a week-long segment about pies… and I was lucky enough to share a part of my pie journey.  It was really surreal to be included in their story… and even more fun to have friends across the country tell me that they heard me on their radio.  What a thrill!

Another bright spot in the last few weeks was having a chance to meet with representatives from Guanajuato, Mexico during their visit to Ashland for the 4th of July celebration.  As you may recall from one of my previous posts, the Ashland Rotary Club has worked to raise money to help the poor people of Guanajuato and when we visited that city in May, I saw Francesca, a young girl that we met five years before. It was a very happy moment for me because it was clear that our work had made a difference in her life.

Enrique, one of the Guanajuato representatives, told me that he would see Francesca and if I wanted to send her a card or letter, he would deliver it for me. And so the night before he left Ashland, I brought Enrique a small gift for Francesca – and yesterday I received an email from him with a couple of photos.  Clearly Francesca was delighted to be remembered!

What has all this to do with pies?  Well, not much I guess.  But since I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude I was definitely in a pie baking mood.  Yesterday, while I was baking a Strawberry Rhubarb pie, my friend Maylee sent me a message that she had play tickets and asked if I wanted them.  Of course I did!  And suddenly I knew that a warm Strawberry Rhubarb pie was going to go home with Maylee.  It was my way to thank her for her friendship and thoughtfulness.

And today… I made another pie.  This one was for Marian, a 93-year-old lady from church who was the only person who seemed upset that I had not brought her a pie during my “year of pies.”  I’ve thought about that for a while and felt that it  was about time to correct that situation.  Think about it… if it was within your power to make someone happy, with such a simple gesture,  wouldn’t you want to do so?

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.  ~John E. Southard

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. — Thornton Wilder

What a wonderful life!

26 Jun

What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been!  Much of the focus was on our daughter, Alexandra, as she completed her studies and prepared to graduate from Southern Oregon University.  There was a fair amount of stress to be sure, but everything worked out perfectly in the end.  We were both so proud to see Alexandra walk across the same stage to receive her diploma that her Dad and I carried her across 22 years before.  What a wonderful experience we have shared!  A friend remarked about Alexandra this weekend, “She is such a person.”  I would have to agree.

Another element of fun during this time period was the fact that my son, Coco, returned home for a visit to see his sister graduate.  What that meant for our family is that we were all four at home and doing things together that have become a part of our family tradition.  We cooked lots of wonderful food and hosted a graduation party so friends and family would have a chance to congratulate Alexandra.  We told stories, shared jokes, and reveled in the fact that we were all together.  And we listened to John Prine on vinyl and sang the words to songs that we have come to know by heart:

Blow up your TV, Throw away your paper,

Go to the country, Build you a home.

Plant a little garden, Eat a lot of peaches,

Try and find Jesus on your own

(from Spanish Pipedream)

And just to throw a little excitement into the mix, I received a phone call a few days before Alex’s graduation from a woman named Jinnee.  Her wedding had been planned for the week after Alex’s graduation and her caterer had backed out at the last minute.  She told me a friend had recommended that she call me and then she asked if I could I cater her wedding.  Wow.  I had to tell her, “Of course… but we can’t talk until next week because my daughter is graduating this Saturday.”  And so Jinnee agreed to my catering her wedding without meeting me until 5 days before the actual event!

When Jinnee and I did meet, we agreed on a menu and a budget, and then called or emailed over the next few days with questions about all the many details that arose.  Friday morning, I thought of all that she was going through and realized that she was having me prepare her wedding buffet and she had yet to taste anything that I had ever cooked.  And so I decided to bake Jinnee and her fiance a Kick Ass Apple Pie.  I thought she deserved one for all that she was going through… and it might give her some comfort once she had a bite.

That afternoon I called Jinnee to ask how things were going and if I might stop by for a minute.  I could sense concern and I finally blurted out, “Jinnee, I made you a pie.  Can I bring it by tonight?” Jinnee was thrilled… and I felt that I had offered her a moment to enjoy the wedding that she was planning.

The next afternoon, Jinnee and Peter were married… and as soon as they exchanged their vows, the heavens opened up and the rains came down.  There was a mad scramble for cover… and the outdoor wedding that had been planned soon became a warm and cozy indoor gathering of dear friends and family.  And I was blessed to be a part of it all.

Tonight I want to offer thanks for such a wonderfully busy time… and all the things that I hold dear: family, friends – old and new, and all of the little miracles that grace our lives.

“Three things are needed for a good life: good friends, good food, and good song.”  Jason Zebehazy

A Miracle in Guanajuato

28 May

Francesca

First a story: A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.

Engrossed in her task, she didn’t notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, “What are you doing?” to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”

He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. “Look ahead of you down the beach,” he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. “There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can’t hope to save them all. You’re just wasting your time. What you’re doing doesn’t matter,” he exclaimed in a dismissive tone.

The girl stopped, momentarily pondering his words. Then she picked up a starfish and threw it far into the water. She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “It matters to that one,” she said, and continued down the beach.

Why do I tell you this story?  Well, this past week,  several members from the Ashland Rotary Club flew to Guanajuato, Mexico and I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of that group.  With the help of our very generous community,  and working with “Mi Casa Diferente”, aka “DIF”, (Mexico’s version of Habitat for Humanity), the Ashland Rotary Club has raised many thousands of dollars to build homes for some of the neediest people of Guanajuato.  And while these homes are very simple structures, the people who get them are thrilled to have them and are deeply grateful.

Back in the spring of 2007, during my first visit to Guanajuato with Rotary, we spent a day with a family in one of the communities that had recently built their home.  One of the children in that family was a young girl named “Francesca.”  She was about eight years old and easily charmed every member of our group with her insatiable curiosity, her lovely smile,  and her delight in showing us her new home.  When I spoke with Francesca and told her that I had a son named Francesco she seemed to think that this “coincidence” was funny and smiled.   She asked about my “other” children and I showed her the photo I’d brought of my daughter, Alexandra.  I think that Francesca must have thought it strange for me to have had only two children.

After a few hours, the house was painted, we’d all been fed fresh tortillas in gratitude, and our time with Francesca and her family came to an end.  It was very hard to think of leaving and never seeing this delightful, precocious child again  for she represented what we were there for: to make a difference in someone’s life.

As we drove away, the DIF representative said that it would be nearly impossible to keep in touch with, or send anything to,  Francesca and her family. After all, they lived in a remote area where there  was no mail service, and the DIF workers had too much to do and could not guarantee anything that we sent would reach them.

Until last Monday I had all but given up on ever seeing Francesca again.  On that day, our group of Rotarians was taken on a ride deep into the hills outside Guanajuato to paint a small schoolhouse.  As we unloaded all of our painting supplies we greeted the women and children of the community who had come to help us (most of the men were off at work making charcoal).

As I looked around, I noticed a girl peeking at me from behind the far wall of the schoolhouse.  Each time I looked over at her, she ducked back behind the building.  I thought she might have been afraid of our group and so I  waved and said “hello.”  When she looked out again, I noticed that she looked like Francesca and mentioned this to our group’s leader, Angelica.  She looked at me and said, “No mija, you want it to be Francesca, but it can’t possibly be her.”  Sadly I agreed that she was probably right and I went inside to begin painting the walls of the schoolhouse.

About fifteen minutes later, I heard Angelica screaming my name, “Karen, Karen… it is Francesca!”  I raced out of the building to where Angelica was standing with Francesca.  They were both smiling at me and my heart almost burst with joy.  I asked Francesca if I could hug her and told her how I had thought it was her but had been convinced that this was too much to hope for. I exclaimed, “Este es un milagro” (This is a miracle!) as tears streamed down my face.

As we talked she asked about my daughter, and of course, my son, Francesco.  Then she took me a few hundred yards down a steep path to see her mother and her family home – the same one we had painted five years before!  She even showed me a pillow we’d brought as a gift way back then… a remembrance of the people who had come to help.  And to think I’d thought that this day would never happen… but it seemed that Francesca was not at all surprised.  It was as if she’d been expecting this moment all along.   Talk about faith!

As we parted ways this time, I told Francesca that this would not be the last time she would see my face and I know that she believed me.  She simply waved goodbye and turned to walk back home with her sister.  I am certain that Francesca will go on expecting miracles, and it is just as certain that I will do all I can to make sure that they come true.

The very next day, I made an Apple Pie for our home hosts, Oscar and Marta.  It was a small gesture to thank them for offering the comfort of their home during our stay… and also a chance to offer my sincerest thanks to the universe for rediscovering a very special starfish.

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world, there will not be, another child like him.”  Pablo Casals

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

Day 314: Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Apple Blackberry Cobbler

The legend of St. Valentine – or at least one of the legends – tells us that St. Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century.  Claudius, the emperor at the time, felt the need to build up a strong army to fight Rome’s many battles but he was having trouble recruiting men because they did not want to leave their women at home. So he did what any power crazy person might do and banned all marriages!

But our dear Saint Valentine was a kind man and he continued to marry young couples in love… that is until he was caught and sentenced to death.  Yet the legend goes further.  Before his execution, Valentine befriended the jailer’s daughter and left her a note signed, “from your Valentine.”

The reason I share this story is only to give some background to a holiday that has been reduced to just another reason to shop for gifts.  Saint Valentine so believed in love that he was willing to die for it.  That kind of conviction is not something we see very often.

On this Valentine’s Day, I chose to make a pie – actually an Apple Blackberry Cobbler – for my daughter Alexandra.  On her birthday, last October 1, instead of making her a pie, I brought one to the nurses at the maternity ward at Ashland Community Hospital where she was born to thank them for their patience and dedication.  (I made Alexandra  cupcakes for her birthday!)

Alexandra was my first-born and tested my mothering skills from the beginning.  It has been such an amazing journey watching her blossom from a fearless little girl into the remarkable woman she has become. This past year, Alexandra created a blog, sheisred.com, and she has also been a tremendous support to me with my blog as well. I am so grateful to her for all she has done to help me with this project.  Tonight I wish my dear daughter Alexandra, a very Happy Valentine’s Day!

A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart.  ~Author Unknown

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