Paradise, by the Morning Lights

I am pleased—nay, relieved—to announce that paradise has arrived chez nous.

Paradise, according to my standards, that is.

Your idea of paradise might be very different from mine. Yours might not include early morning walks, with long shadows and stunning green.

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Maybe you don’t care for birds singing and roosters crowing, and woodpeckers pecking. Maybe the sight of old cats finding their inner kitten and frolicking in the sun fails to impress.

Maybe you’re bored with flowers blooming and grass greening, and the sound of lawns being mowed. Maybe the uncurling, unfurling, of tender hosta leaves doesn’t move you.

A lake free of ice and full of sparkles, with boats venturing out in spite of the water temperature being a mere 40 degrees F (that’s about 4 C)—maybe that doesn’t spell paradise to you.

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The signs of spring and the hints of summer abound. The promises of things to come are all around.

My paradise isn’t a static place—paradise doesn’t stand still. It whispers and suggests and promises that even more and even better is . . . soon.

Peonies, Solomon seal, lilies of the valley . . . they will come.

Old chairs on new grass, and the good old, same old sun. Kayaks in the water, bikes on the road, hot dogs on the grill. Music and song at the campfire.

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And two of our favorite people will arrive from their Florida home and take up residence just down the road.

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My paradise is . . . well, paradise! I hope you have your own, whatever it looks like.

Dances of Delight

2007 sunsets-72I almost always have one song or another running through my head. Often it’s something silly and annoying, like Roger Miller’s “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” or “Waltzing with Bears,” which was apparently written by Dr. Seuss. He should’ve known better.

But for the last few days, as spring has sprung in the North Country of upstate New York, the song in my head has been “When I’m Gone,” by folksinger Phil Ochs. Not a silly or annoying song at all, but one that sets forth a philosophy I wish I could live up to. (You can hear the song by going to the link. I admit I almost never click on links in blogs but I think you’ll really like the song!)

In the song, Ochs lists the things he won’t be able to do anymore “when I’m gone” and concludes, “So, I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.” He itemizes the things we take for granted and put off and say we want to do, but shy away from, and reminds us that our time here is not limitless.

I’ve always loved and been moved by this song but it’s in my head right now because the last few days have seemed so perfect to me. These days have made me think constantly of a phrase Ochs uses in the song–“dances of delight.”

I’ve been in the sunshine, raking last fall’s leftover leaves, and finding tender-green new growth beneath. I can recognize that these will be peonies and those will be heuchera, when they’ve had a few weeks to grow.

I’ve been on my knees weeding, feeling muscles glow and tell me that no, I did not stay fit over the winter, but I can be soon.

On my whim, I’ve moved from yard work to old linens, and spent time reclaiming them from years of neglect in storage, returning them to beauty, and finding new homes for them.

When the spirit moves, I’ve wandered to my weaving, to wind warp for a gift and to help my husband figure out a new-to-us loom where he’ll make something beautiful out of ordinary string.

I‘ve stopped by here and visited with you. I’ve shared a meal with dear friends. I’ve watched my cats nap in the sunshine and dive headfirst into piles of leaves, older cats made young again by springtime. I’ve heard geese honk on a lake of lapping water (not ice!), watched the weeping willows turn green-gold as they bud, and smelled the sun on pine needles.

These days are much of a muchness. Nothing wild or crazy or exotic or thrilling.

But, these are my dances of delight. Full of anticipation and promise, hard work, productive and varied, but unpressured and mellow.

I’m very aware that this won’t last forever. Things change. Complications arise. Nothing gold can stay. But, right now, it all seems so delightful.

I won’t be able to dance these delights when I’m gone, so I guess I better do it while I’m here. What delights are you dancing?


Phil Ochs, When I’m Gone, 1966 lyrics

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.

Your Spring, My Spring

You.

Yes, you, with your signs of spring. With your hellebores and your hyacinths and all that green and gold, and those cherry blossoms. And those lambs!

Well, we have signs of spring, too, you know.

We have dirty snow and lots of leftover sand on the roads, left by road crews to get us through the winter. We have the teensiest of buds on a few shrubs. We’ve had four snow-free days in a row!

But we also have ice that’s finally melting on the bay. We have moving water for the first time in months!

It'll all break up soon

It’ll all break up soon

We have cats, luxuriating on warm flagstones, feeling frisky, spring in their blood.

Sweet Beau in the sun

Sweet Beau in the sun

We have maple sap dripping into metal buckets, all along the roadsides.

Looking down the barrel of the spile, at a little drop of sap!

Looking down the barrel of the spile, at a little drop of sap!

And we have the annual pancake breakfast, with family and neighbors, shucking off wool jackets, slathering on the maple syrup, and lingering in the bright sunshine of a perfect spring day.

Finally . . . spring. Always worth the wait.

Manly Hands at Home: A Cake for All Seasons

Why, yes, that is rhubarb. And, yes, I know that rhubarb is a spring treat and it is not currently spring anywhere.

But, when there’s a man in the house who loves to cook and is willing, nay, eager to cook, you mustn’t quibble when he wants to bake with rhubarb out of season!

My husband is the main cook at our house. He likes it and is amazingly good at it. And since I’ve already posted the three or four recipes that I know how to make, it’s time to move on to sharing some of his concoctions!

He found this recipe for Rhubarb-Pecan Upside-Down Cake in a back issue of Yankee magazine, a US magazine featuring all things New England. And even though he is usually more of a cook than a baker, this recipe seduced him and he could not rest until he made it!

I hope it’ll seduce you, too, and that, even if you believe that rhubarb can only be cooked with in spring, you will remember it when the time comes. It’s a lovely balance of sweet and tart, crunchy and crumbly. Plus you get to use a springform pan, which, if you’re like me, will make you feel like a real cook!

Rhubarb–Pecan Upside-Down Cake by Jane Walsh

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Overview: You start with pecans, brown sugar, butter, and rhubarb, then cover those ingredients with the cake batter. When the cake is baked and inverted, the rhubarb, sugar, and nuts create a caramelized topping that is delightful!

General instructions

Preheat oven to 350° and set a rack in the middle position. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; then cut a round piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. (The original recipe says you can use a cake pan). Place the pan on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, in case your springform pan leaks. (Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do).

Ingredients for the topping (which will be at the bottom for now!):

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • ¾ pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch-long diagonals
  • ½ cup pecan halves (we used a full cup and we toasted the pecans in the oven first; see notes)
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar (we used more!)

IMG_8742Instructions or the cake topping:

To create the topping, start by arranging the pecan halves in the bottom of the pan and pour melted butter over them. Arrange the rhubarb, then sprinkle all over with the ½ cup of brown sugar. Set aside.

Ingredients for cake batter

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup whole or reduced-fat milk

Instructions or the cake batter:

In a food processor, pulse the pecans until very finely chopped.

Mix the nuts with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. You can do this mixing of dry ingredients in your food processor or by hand in a bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining ½ cup of butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times.

Add the remaining ½ cup of brown sugar

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add vanilla.

Add the milk in two batches, alternating with the dry ingredients, and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter over the rhubarb mixture, and smooth with a spatula.

IMG_8748Bake until the sides of the cake are beginning to pull away from the pan and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen, and invert the warm cake onto a serving plate. (If the cake cools too long, it will be hard to remove from the pan.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_8755Notes:

Toasting the pecans before using adds a great deal of flavor. I toast pecans in the oven, set at 350 degrees, for about 12 minutes. I use a heavy cookie sheet and stir the nuts every few minutes. They will start to smell yummy; be sure not to let them burn!

You may be tempted to use more than the called-for amount of rhubarb. If you do, you’ll be adding extra moisture to the cake and it will take longer to cook and may not cook fully in the center. Don’t ask me how we know that. We just do.

We served this with vanilla ice cream and a puree made from the leftover fresh rhubarb. YUM!

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Spring? Bring It On!

IMG_6643Here in upstate New York, it’s far too early to do any planting of annual flowers but the garden centers are beginning to tempt and seduce us with spring glories!

For now, the flaming orange blossoms and rich green foliage of this trailing begonia glow indoors, in the afternoon sun. It anticipates, as do we, the days when we can move outdoors for the spring and summer, to enjoy the filtered sun and shade under the pergola.

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Spring Tradition: The Pancake Breakfast

IMG_6492In my continuing celebration of spring and all things maple, we spent yesterday morning at a very special place—a pancake breakfast!

My cousins own and operate a sugarhouse that has been going strong for three generations. For 44 (!) springs, they have worked with the local square dance club to host an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast that is a tradition for people all over the North Country.

IMG_6488 When we arrive, the rural road is lined with cars and trucks, and folks of all ages are streaming toward the sugarhouse and the smell of pancakes. IMG_6538

We pass by an avenue of ancient maples wearing their battered sap buckets; I like the contrast of this symbol of spring and rebirth and newness contrasted with the cemetery beyond.

IMG_6488 - Version 2 IMG_6481It’s cold and rainy outside but the inside of the sugarhouse is warm and steamy and noisy. We greet family members and neighbors get caught up with neighbors.

IMG_6490The evaporator dominates the scene inside—this is where the syrup is made. The process needs attending to, hence the rockers, to provide the tenders with comfort and companionship.

IMG_6496 IMG_6493A huge mural by the family artist honors the way the sap was traditionally collected.IMG_6501

Today, though, it’s all about the food.

Pancakes and sausages are really only a vehicle for maple syrup.

IMG_6514Young runners keep the pancakes coming.

IMG_6507Almost no one leaves without getting some syrup or maple sugar or maple butter to take home.

IMG_6519The sugarhouse also serves as a museum of sorts, with lovely old artifacts of the history of sugaring down.

This fragment of an old maple shows signs of having been tapped many times over many, many years.IMG_6525

We eat our pancakes, we visit with relatives, we commiserate about the winter, we welcome spring.

The pancake breakfast is over and we immediately begin to look forward to next year!