Archive for January 2012


January 18, 2012

To all of our friends abroad and afar, you who have been reading about Seattle’s Storm of the Century, the storm that was supposed to set records, dumping feet of the white stuff on us and stunning us with its snowy severity, let me just say: not. At least, not here on the island.

And we’re really sorry.  Because boy oh boy did we stock up: on firewood for when the power went out, leaving us shivering,

on candles for when the power went out, leaving us in the dark, and on groceries, especially anything that I could cook on the woodstove for, you guessed it, when the power went out, leaving us kitchenless in our all-electric abode.

Instead what we got was a pretty little four inches, maybe slightly less at our house, sheltered as we are under the cedars and firs. I went out looking for signs of snowmageddon and instead found

my favorite summer garden bench deliciously frosted,

the ferns frozen in sculptural formations,

the last rose hip gently giving up the ghost,

and even, way down at the bottom of the hill, our letter carrier’s truck, proving that she wasn’t letting snow deter her from her duly appointed route.

Beppo and Zazou had evidently been outside, although when I stomped the snow off my boots and shook the flakes out of my hair, diving back into the warmth of the house,

Shel and Zazou, who were entertaining themselves by the blazing woodstove, looked at me as if I were the abominable snowperson,

while Beppo was curled into the tightest possible ball, all four paws securely tucked away from any threat of snow.

I’m tempted to cook spareribs on top of the woodstove anyway, even though the power hasn’t so much as flickered, but instead I think I’ll go put them in the oven and while they’re cooking, run out naked into the snow and plunge into the hot tub, pretending that I’m in Japan in a scalding thermal pool in sight of Mount Fuji. It’ll be no less true than the predicted snowpocalypse, and a whole lot more fun.

L’Epée De Damoclès

January 13, 2012

Sometimes the glass feels all the way empty. Sometimes it feels like living on Death Row. You’d think that after 18 years I’d be used to it, that sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, but these feelings hit me predictably, about every three months, when Shel gets his CT scans.

Every time I think: he’s coughing too much, bleeding too much, winded all the time, this can only mean bad news. Lately he’s been reminding me: you always think that, but I’m always ok. Well no, he’s not always ok. A year and a half ago he was told to get his affairs in order. He did. We cried, we agonized, we despaired. We invited the Death Doctor into our house, discussed the how and when of it all. And now, by yet another miracle of modern medicine, he’s a lot better. Since that horrible day in the doctor’s office we’ve spent six months in our beloved home in France. We’ve laughed far more than we’ve cried. Life has been good to us, and as we did with those empty glasses shining in the morning light, strewn about after a late night party, we’ve washed off the residues, not of martinis and wine and tiramisu but of sorrow and panic, and carried on.

Last night, once again, I imagined my life as a widow. It’s a ritual now, one I perform on each CT’s Eve. After 18 years together, a life alone takes on desperate proportions in my imagination. It seems to me that the sun could never shine on that life, the glass would always be empty, the sword would fall and life as I know it would end, brutally.

But like the luckiest of Death Row inmates, today we had a blessed reprieve. Shel’s fine, or at least as fine as he was the last time he was poked and prodded, and that’s pretty fine indeed, for a guy who’s had cancer for 18 years, and is turning 65 next week. Long ago he said that his cancer goal was “to get old and die of something else.” By gum, I think he’s going to make it. Let’s raise a glass to that, a full one.

Good Morning, America

January 7, 2012

Although when we’re in France we live right next door to a bakery where Shel can go in his slippers to get his morning pain au chocolat, one thing he can’t get there is a blueberry muffin. Or any sort of muffin, for that matter, but blueberry is his favorite, and he misses them. In fact, you almost never see blueberries in France, although they do exist, and so, as soon as we shook off a bit of the jet lag resulting from crossing nine time zones and getting plunked down unceremoniously in the middle of winter, I decided to make him some muffins.

For years I searched for the perfect blueberry muffin recipe, only to learn with each new attempt, that he still preferred the oil-bomb supermarket variety to any that I made. Even using fresh blueberries from our garden didn’t sway him from his conviction that the Safeway bakery department made a better blueberry muffin that I did. You can imagine the shame and frustration I felt (matched only by similar emotions when I tried to duplicate his childhood favorite, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, only to learn that a mix from Duncan Hines was the only way to replicate the cake he loved).

But then I discovered the One True Recipe, the one Shel prefers to any other blueberry muffin in the world. Click here to see the original recipe, and I’ll give you my few special tweaks to it below. I’m sure it’s perfect as is, but according to Shel it’s better than perfect in my variation. For one thing, I make mini muffins, so he can eat a whole plateful. For another, I use a can of those tiny blueberries instead of fresh or frozen large berries, And lastly, I top them with raw sugar, for an extra crunch. If you have a supermarket muffin addict in your household, give these a try. And if you’ve been searching forever for the perfect recipe, I think you’ve found it. Now, if you happen to have the perfect recipe for yellow cake with chocolate frosting…….

Better Than The Best Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups flour, divided use
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 14 oz can blueberries, packed in water
3-4 T raw or turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Line mini-muffin tins with paper cups (I get about 34 muffins  from this recipe) and spray muffin cups lightly with something like Spectrum canola spray. Place the blueberries in a strainer to drain thoroughly.

In a stand mixer, if possible, cream together the butter, salt and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. In a small bowl, stir together 1 3/4 cups of flour and the baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until smooth. Crush 1/4 of the drained blueberries and stir them lightly into the batter by hand. In a small bowl, stir the remaining 1/4 cup of flour together with the rest of the drained blueberries, then fold this mixture gently into the batter.

Drop the batter by the heaping teaspoonful into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins generously with the raw sugar. Bake muffins for about 23 minutes until golden brown.