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For a while now, I’ve been getting up early, without an alarm, between 5:30 and 6:00.  If it’s a weekday, sometimes it’s with the hubster.  On weekends, I smell his cheek (mmm…), give him a kiss, and rise on my own.  I get dressed, feed the cats and the birds, grab a bottle of kombucha (eight ounces a day, my elixir of life?), and a thoughtful book.  Lately it’s been the Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are, I found at the library (I bought my own copy).  I sit on the bench on the back porch, wrapped up in a scarf and blanket and one cat or another on my lap.

First, I sip my kombucha slowly, listening and watching all that is happening.  At this hour, it is pretty quiet.  The birds chirp and eat (see the crow?), a few cars pass, but not too many.  Though I like being out when it is sunny, so I don’t feel so cold, the rain is nice, too.  It falls so sweetly onto the metal roof over my head.

Once I’ve finished the kombucha, I read, but just a little bit.  I don’t want to crowd my mind with too many ideas.  It’s a busy place already.  Then I sit and think about what I’ve read.  Today, it was, “Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.”  Watch whatever comes up in the mind, the rising and falling of thoughts.  There’s no need to despair about the quality or content.  They’re just thoughts. “No big deal,” Pema says.

I like the freedom this gives me.  Permission.  I have very dark thoughts sometimes.  Heavy.  Unkind.  Cruel.  They’re no big deal when I give them the space to be thoughts.  They lose their potency and dissipate, though not always.  Some are more stubborn and sticky, preferring to linger longer, but I’m finding more lightness around them, too.  Maybe it’s just being outside in a place that I love, that I’ve worked hard to create.  I’ve chosen every piece of furniture, every ornament, every plant with care.  I’ve cleaned, weeded, cut, and fed everything here.  I feel safe, safe to let my thoughts rise and fall like the plants themselves: sprouts, leaves, flowers, and seed, before starting over again.

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This, my friends is a slice of terrific banana cake.  I’ve adapted it from what I think is a pretty terrific book, Classic Home Desserts, by the late Richard Sax.  My number one favorite in this department, and one that I’ve had since 1994, longer than any other, of any kind, I might add.  As someone who is a great purger, this is saying a lot.  This book, no doubt, will be with me until it is coming apart at the seams, all 688 glorious pages.  It is full of great stories and historic recipes, not only a treasure to bake from but one to read, as well.  I’ve made countless recipes from it, all went off without a hitch and tasted even better (two other examples are here and here).  How is that for a product endorsement?  Fortunately, the book is not out of print, but the latest edition, from 2000, is, in my opinion, prohibitively expensive, at least on Amazon ($45 used – $99 new, zoiks!), so, if you’d like to give it a try, head to Powell’s (I’ve seen used copies for $25), your local library, or cross your fingers that they print another edition.

Anyway, to the recipe.  I’ve adapted it from his original, of course, for it is my way, but I honestly don’t think he (or you) will mind.  An additional bit, part of my love for this cake stems from the fact that it is made in a Bundt style pan.  Have I ever spoken of my love for the Bundt pan?  Dessert is somehow elevated when it comes out of a pan shaped like that, truly.

Banana Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened or, if you are short on time, grate it fine with a cheese grater

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup ripe mashed banana (about 2)

1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Generously butter a 10″ tube or Bundt pan.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl.  Set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until very light.  Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one by one; beat in the vanilla.  Put mixer on the lowest speed and add half of the flour mixture, alternating with the banana.  Add the remaining flour, alternating with the sour cream or yogurt, in batches.  Do not overmix.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes.  Carefully unmold the cake and cool to room temperature.  Eat plain, dust with powdered sugar, or frost.  This is great with a caramel, vanilla, or chocolate frosting.  I’ll bet it would be great with a cream cheese frosting, too.  You can’t go wrong!  Like the picture, it also tastes great with coffee.


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Do you cook much for yourself?  I don’t.  When I am on my own, my efforts are pretty slapdash, grabbing this and that, and often eating while standing up in the kitchen, as I just did (I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon), happily consuming two slices of Dave’s Killer Bread with a light smearing of unsalted butter, a giant spoonful of white bean dip (made on Sunday to last the week), a slice of Havarti cheese, and a kiwi.  I guess I’ve never seen the point in making an effort when it is just me.  In contrast, I receive great satisfaction in making food to share with the hubster.  I like the time in the kitchen, the gathering of ingredients, the easy rythm of cooking, like the best jazz.  Then there is the pleasure of sitting down together, chatting happily about whatever strikes us, and having just enough so he can take leftovers for lunch the next day.  Sweet perfection.

Then the book pictured above, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones, came along and got me wondering.  She’d been married a long time, and when her husband died, she didn’t initially cook for herself, thinking it wasn’t worth doing.  Then, with time, and some encouragement from some of her readers, she decided she would do it and found it an exciting and enjoyable challenge to adapt recipes that serve many into individual servings or those that can be morphed further into new meals over the course of days.  More than that, I think it is about deciding that, as individuals, we are important and merit the preparation of a delicious meal.  We matter.  What we eat matters.

Though Judith and I don’t share all of the same tastes (tongue and organ meats not being among mine), we are both economical shoppers and make every attempt not to waste.  The photo is a perfect example.  I was on my own for dinner (the hubster was working out), and I decided I would really make something for myself rather than my usual slapdash meal (though I did double the recipe so he could have some when he arrived – I love to share).  I looked in the fridge and realized it would have to be the souffle because I had neglected to go to the store that day, and we didn’t have much on hand.   I had eggs, rice milk, a little bit of Appenzeller cheese, and butter lettuce.  The souffle left me with two egg yolks, so I decided to gild the lily and make a hollandaise sauce.  The timing was perfect, too.  I made the souffle batter, put it in the oven, made the hollandaise, washed and dressed the lettuce with a simple balsamic vinaigrette, and had about one minute to spare.  As I sat there on my own, with a crazy bun atop my head, wearing sweats stretched at the knees, I felt kind of special, savoring every bite, even oohing and ahhing, like I was being treated to a delicious meal.  Which, I guess, was true.  I treated myself, because, as they say in the commercials, I’m worth it.  Aren’t we all?  I’d definitely do it again.  Thank you, Judith, for the inspiration and the recipes.

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Without intending to, I’ve been on a bit of a reading hiatus.  I’ve started a few that I actually intend on finishing, but just couldn’t fully get into them.  Thankfully, dear Julia came to the rescue.  I put my name in the library queue for this last year, probably in September, and it finally made it to the top of the list.  This can be blamed on the fact that, if you look at the sticker on the cover, I read the LARGE PRINT edition, of which there is only one copy.  But, alas, as silver linings abound under this red roof, the book arrived in the right state, at just the right time.  I felt so gloomy last Monday, wondering about my life.   Then, when I started to read this boisterously large print, it was like having Julia’s effervescent personality reading aloud to me, the words bright, lively, and heartfelt. The two of us sat in my favorite chair, while she told me all about  her remembrances of la belle France, delicious food, and the perils of finding direction a bit later in life, for much like me, Julia Child knew what she didn’t want before she knew what she wanted, and then everything just felt right.

The story moves in time, from her first view of France at Le Havre, at the age of thirty-six, to her last day, closing up her beloved getaway La Pitchoune for the last time in 1992.  From her first meal to her last, Julia describes, in glorious detail, what a joy it was for her to discover French food and immerse herself completely in the mind boggling detail of its creation, the painstaking formulation of recipes, and testing, so much testing!  Batch after batch of mayonnaise down the toilet, yet totally worthwhile for the knowledge and pleasure it brought her.  She also writes about the perils of the publishing world, of working so hard for so long only to wonder if anyone, beyond her loved ones, would ever see the merit of her work. (Gulp.)

Though I certainly got a kick out of her love for all things French,  in and out of the kitchen, it was the relationship between Julia and Paul that resonated most with me.  They were such a delightful pair: witty, caring, and fun, too.  They gave marvelous parties, sent charming Valentines (they weren’t organized enough to send cards at Christmas), loved each other beyond measure, supported each other through thick and thin, and were, quite simply, the best companion each could ask for.

A bit of humor and wonder in the end.  The picture shows the lunch I was enjoying as I was reading.  I set the book down, and realized, what I was eating – a kiwi, carrot, sliced spicy pickle, and a breaded Quorn patty, slathered in homemade “Come Back” sauce (mayo, yellow mustard, ketchup, and pickle relish) and topped with pickled peppers.  Though I made the pickle and the relish, the irony of my choice, and Julia’s certain horror, made me laugh out loud.  Truth be told, I can be a very lazy cook, and thought I might be doing the world and the environment a favor by eating Quorn.  It’s vegetarian and doesn’t make me feel awful, like soy.  Now I’m not so sure.  The stuff is made in England.  That’s a tad further than the farms where New Seasons gets their chicken (as our friend Hans would say, “Which is more worser?”).  With that in mind, I felt inspired to make and freeze some chicken with various seasonings for other lazy lunches.  I think she would approve.

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For a long stretch of time last year, I wanted to move to the country.  I thought it would be nice to have quiet, to see the stars shine, and a bit more space between me and some of my neighbors, without a view of their varying, ahem, decorating styles (snob).  I also thought raising my own livestock, like chickens and a pig, would be fulfilling.  I’d know where everything came from, what it was fed, and that it had a good life.  I have since changed my mind – loving the easy walk to Hawthorne, Woodstock, and downtown, the lure of the Academy Theater, and best of all, my dear friends who live nearby.

This, however, does not mean that I don’t like to occasionally wax poetic on the virtues of a hobby farm, and so I read about them in wonderful blogs and books like today’s.  In Made from Scratch, Jenna Woginrich writes in simple, yet beautiful prose about her life as a homesteader: baking, raising animals, growing vegetables, keeping bees, even making music on a fiddle.

What I liked best about the book is her honesty.  She’s never done any of this before, but is willing to “Research, Son” and ask questions (and for help) like nobody’s business.  As she writes about her experiences, we learn that, while there are many, many joys to a more earth driven and sustainable life, homesteading isn’t always easy, poetic, or romantic.  There are many hurdles and much to learn, like how to plant a sensible garden, keep bears from a bee hive, or to put down an animal in dire pain (the hardest part of all, I think).

It is a wonderfully rewarding journey, even if it was only vicarious.  She’s also got a blog if you’d like to see what she’s up to at the moment.  It’s pretty interesting: Cold Antler Farm.

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