No Greater Gift

Digital illo: The Greatest GiftLove is the answer. Not romance, not lust, not preferential treatment; love. Real, tangible, spoken and expressed with clockwork regularity and with kindness and clarity. The sort of love that fills your car’s gas tank before you leave for work and gives you snow tires for an anniversary gift, that calls Tech Support and sits around on hold for forty minutes before the ninety-minute-long session of troubleshooting to fix your confounded computer’s latest case of the hiccups. The sort of love that silently reaches over and holds your hand when there are no possible words for the occasion, good or bad.

Love is forgetful and fretful, persistent to the point of irritating, deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, and demands, without realizing it, a high percentage of return—and all of this is absolutely nothing in exchange for the comfort, companionship, reverence, and acceptance received before any of these minor shortcomings are called into account. This kind of love transcends human norms so far that I can only assume it derives from some larger, more stable and powerful force than our own desires and whims. Love is what makes me sorrowful for the sorrows of a kindred soul, joyful in her joys, and comforted by a deep sense of her presence when she’s absent.

Love is, too, the act of sending a hand-written note, in this age of technology, that says “I’m thinking of you” and carries with it great personal weight in and between the lines. My second mother, the one I acquired so fortuitously and blessedly through marrying her son, sent just such a note recently. It wasn’t long. It didn’t cover a lot of ground. It said little that she doesn’t say to us in our regular phone conversations. But it was so sweet, so heartfelt and unexpected, that it brought happy tears to my eyes and I was flooded with a renewed sense of how deeply glad I am to be immersed in such love. And it reminded me that I will be all the more deeply blessed if I can find ways to pass along such love, no matter how small or simple those ways might seem at the time, to all of the other people I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can. Amazing how these things can multiply. That, of course, is one of the reasons that love, in all its forms, is such a powerful gift.Digital illo: The Amazing Multiplier

Too Soon

Photo: Blurred by TearsStolen Away

Too soon, cold sorrow steals from me the light

Of promise, of the hope for growing love

Which I had longed to see his mastery of

Bring him to see such stars divide the night

That he might know it possible that day

Was his as much as anyone’s, and keep

Alive, alight, and not succumb to sleep

As refuge from an endlessly dark way,

But my poor strivings—anyone’s, I guess—

Could never generate the power he

Required to light enough so he could see

In such great bleakness any happiness,

And love and hope, invisible and far

From him as he from me, my distant star.Photo: Sorrowful

A Queen among Women

For one wonderfully sweet and lovely woman I know, I struggled to decide what to give her for a token of my respect and affection on her birthday. Then, because she is a superb singer and I, an admirer of her glorious singing, I decided to write her the lyric text for what might—with a composer’s help—become her own sort of theme song someday. For now, it’s simply Bea’s own poem. She said I could share it with you.Digital illo: A Queen Among Women

For a Lady of Great Beauty
For the song, bouquets of roses
For the day, a joyful start
For the labor, peaceful evenings
For the care, I give my heart—
For the wisdom, inspiration
For desire, a glorious year
For the wish, the starry heavens
For delight, companions dear—
For the sorrows, deepest comfort
For the friendships, never part—
For the moment that I met you,
You resided in my heart.

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And since it’s her favorite of my other poems (so far, I hope), I’ll repost the following one. For good measure.

Digital illo: Grace Again

Text: Grace

Weather Report

Digital illo from a photo: Boon CompanionAn afternoon with you
What splendid light comes blazing from the blue
No matter what the promise of the day
When one sweet presence chases drear away:
The prospect of an afternoon with you!
How do you change the climate to such ends
Effortlessly, it seems, with one small grace,
Bringing your cheering spirit to this place
And on its strength, inviting full amends
For every sting of sorrow or of pain,
For any old frustration or regret,
Making the clouds all part, and me forget,
I thought I’d never see such sun again?
All afternoons with you become blue skies
Simply because love shines out of your eyes!

For Guiding Us All

We learn how to live, in many ways, mostly by accident. But those of us who learn to live well, whether as better scholars, more skilled laborers or artisans, or simply as more loving and kind and generous and good-hearted people—that growth and knowledge is gained best of all through the care and guidance of those who serve as our teachers and mentors. Parents and relatives can do this, friends and neighbors and co-workers. We who are most fortunate of all have many such positive influences come into our lives and help to shape us and bring forth our best selves.

And those who are best at being this sort of careful, patient, challenging, and giving tutors in one other person’s life tend to be so naturally inclined to raise up the best in anyone within their reach that they serve as mentors to many, regardless of any plan or intention. We who have been the beneficiaries of this largesse owe a debt of gratitude, and perhaps too, our own best efforts to pass the gifts along to another circle of influence in the great, rippling pond of our connectedness, to a further acre or two of young and beautiful growth that waits between today and our own eventual horizons. Life is brief, and best enriched in its short seasons by propagating mutual help and guidance. I am thankful to have been gifted with a number of superb guides and examples, friends and mentors, in my own life. May you all be as well.Photo: A Dahlia for Neil

Bright Dahlias

The autumn came too soon, and left a pallor on the pretty paint

of those tall dahlias that you had nurtured faithfully, their saint;

It turned them into shadows of

themselves too soon, shadows of love…

Frost cut them down and took them in its bony hands to steal their dance

the graces you had tended there so tenderly, by circumstance,

From shoot to bud to blooming beds,

by stealthy ice that bowed their heads…

And you saw early autumn, too, too soon—were bit untimely by

the frost and plucked from gardening, the sun still in your sky-blue eye

Made winter’s sparkling snowy air

of beauties we were loath to spare…

Yet all this theft you had foreseen, and readied us to stay and tend

bright dahlias, each, our own; to go on gardening, and so amend

Our sorrows in your still-wide gaze

by passing on your gentle ways…

The rich inheritance you gave still grows like dahlias among

us all, your heirs, and in their turn, those we raise up as happy young

New imitators of your gift

for singing to give hearts a lift…

In loving memory of Neil Lieurance, and with deep and abiding gratitude for the treasure that is a true mentor in any life.

 

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a Guy!

Photo: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a GuyDad, who celebrated his eightieth birthday last week, is a peach of a guy. His uncle was fond of using that phrase to extol the sweetness and excellence of anybody he liked and admired greatly, including his own nephew David, and Uncle Lloyd himself was special, as the only person in the known universe (other than us kids, who imitated him with a certain amount of childish glee when we heard it) who ever called my dad Davy. But he was fond and proud, too, of his nephew—enough to include him in the Peachy category. So to my father David, and to my late great-uncle Lloyd, and to all of the other ‘guys’ (male, female, or other) worthy of the title, I dedicate this birthday treat that I made in honor of their being truly swell human beings.

It’s a gluten-free pound cake recipe, essentially (as long as you check that the individual ingredients meet that requirement in their production, should you be truly gluten sensitive); I only went GF because I happened to find several GF pound cake recipes that piqued my interest and I also happened to have the necessary ingredients for this variant of them on hand. I made it with cardamom both because I think that a grand companion flavor for peaches and because, being of Norwegian descent, I believe there may be at least a hint of cardamom in my bloodstream. In any case, I love the stuff. Almond flavors, too, and what better flour to use in the cake than almond flour, then?

The topping, which of course one can eliminate if it’s too much for the occasion—not that I know any people who absolutely adore sliced, toasted day-old pound cake for breakfast, preferably with yet more butter melted on top—is less Norwegian in its overall flavor profile, perhaps. It is somewhat like a peach sangria, I suppose. But maybe I can pass it off as “Scan-gria,” if pressed for a commitment. No matter; it’s a bit peachy, zippy, happy, has a lot of color and flavor, and is pretty sweet. All kind of like Dad and Uncle Lloyd, come to think of it. PS—no law against using the icing for the breakfast version of this, either.

Cardamom-Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F/ca. 177°C. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2-1/4 cups almond flour/meal, 1/4 cup coconut flour (I ground some from toasted coconut flakes), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, and 1 tsp baking soda. In another container (I like to use a spouted measuring pitcher for prepping liquids so I can easily pour them up when ready), blend 2/3 cup melted butter or oil (I used clarified browned butter), 2/3 cup raw honey, 1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons full-fat coconut milk, 2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract, and beat in 4 large eggs until all is blended thoroughly. Pour the mix into the dry ingredients and gently blend everything together. The batter fits into a standard 9×9″ baking pan or, as I used, a round casserole of about the same capacity, and goes into the oven for about 25-35 minutes.

My famously unreliable oven temperatures make me distrust giving anything other than approximate times and temps, and I just watch every individual dish, as I did this time. It’s a gooey cake, not light and fluffy, but I’d rather err on the moist side than otherwise. Just my thing. Meanwhile, I had prepared and refrigerated the icing earlier.

Tipsy Peaches & Cream Icing

Simmer together 2 ounces sliced freeze-dried peaches, 1/2 tsp rosewater, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 tsp vanilla, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp cardamom, 3/4 cup red wine, and 1 cup brown sugar until the sugar melts and the peaches are well rehydrated. [I warmed this mix in the evening until it was close to ready and then just left the pot sitting, covered, until the morning, so there was no question everything was well soaked and softened, but that was just because I was too tired after a long day of work to do it all that night.] Then, using a stick blender, puree the mix fully, adding 3/4 cup coconut oil (melted or room temp), 1 cup marshmallow fluff, and 1 cup cream cheese (or labneh). I threw in about 1/4 tsp silver edible glitter, just for fun. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Photomontage: Cake-WreckingI will confess to going a little further over the top this time, since I was in the mood to play with my food and it was for a good person’s cause. So I sliced a “lid” from the cake, carved out its middle, crumbled the interior hunk, blended it with a bunch of the icing stuff (reserving enough icing to drizzle over the exterior), packed the icing/cake crumb mix into the crater of the cake, closed the lid and covered up my tracks with a slathering of the remaining icing before putting peach (canned—it’s winter, y’all) and toasted almond slices on top of it all. I pinned the toppings together before sticking it in the refrigerator to chill out and set without sliding into oblivion. But it’s messy enough that it just might end up being a trifle or a bombe (possibly even a bomb) instead of a cake this way. And that’s okay. If I learned nothing else from my father, I did see in him a fine example of both how to make any situation work as well as possible—and how to play with my food.Photo: Squishy Cake

A Place Full of Love

Photo: Timeless ITimeless I

Great friendship leads to kindling of a kind

Unknown to lovers who have never spent

Nights they devoted purely to content

Intimate intercourse strictly of mind—

Love is expansion, at its best, of souls’

Learned connectivity in friendship first,

And then the cultivating of the thirst,

Pursuing stronger wine, and then the coals—

Embers long banked as friendship had begun—

Light into fire new brilliance from a spark

Lifting great stars from the eternal dark,

Exquisite as a newly blazing sun—

Rich is the love that from such friendship springs,

Kisses of wine—and of more stellar things.Photo: Timeless II

Timeless II

In morning light, the palest leafy shade

Of birches’ green is cast upon the wall

Where portraits hang, ancestral friends who all

Keep silent watch on what the years have made

Of their descendants and their memories;

The secretary, small and staunch, remains,

And in its graceful curving shape contains

What documents can speak these histories;

Oft, in this room, the whisper of that sense

Of timeless care embracing present love

Reaches so gently from its great remove

That love fills up the room itself, immense.

When I am here, I know love so begun

Will flourish to the final setting sun.Photo: Timeless III