Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chocolate-Coffee Gingerbread

This recipe is a keeper if you like a rich, moist and flavourful cake. The gingerbread flavour would be perfect around Christmas time, but since I woke up to snow this morning, I see no reason why I shouldn't be eating this now. Terrific with a cup of coffee and dolloped with plain whipped cream.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup mild flavoured olive oil
3 large eggs
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (60% cocoa)
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 ˚F. Generously butter a 12 cup Bundt pan (or two smaller Bundt pans), then spray with nonstick spray. Dust pan lightly with flour. Whisk 2 cups of flour and the next 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine sugar, molasses, olive oil, and eggs in large bowl; whisk until well blended. Add dry ingredients and stir to blend. Mix in hot coffee, then chocolate and crystallized ginger (most of chocolate will melt). Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan, 55 to 60 minutes. Transfer pan to rack; cool cake in pan 20 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool at least 1 hour.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Life Over 100

Perhaps some of you have already read this, but it is too beautiful not to share. This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News.
In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. I hope you laugh as much as I did.


My father never drove a car. Well, that's not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car.

He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

'In those days,' he told me when he was in his 90s, 'to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.'

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:
'Oh, bull!' she said. 'He hit a horse.'

'Well,' my father said, 'there was that, too.'

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars -- the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford -- but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines , would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. 'No one in the family drives,' my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, 'But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one.'
It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts,
loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. 'Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?' I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps -- though they seldom left the city limits -- and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.

(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests Father Fast ' and 'Father Slow.'

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: 'The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.'

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along
to carry the bags out -- and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, 'Do you want to know the secret of a long life?'

'I guess so,' I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

'No left turns,' he said.

'What?' I asked.

'No left turns,' he repeated. 'Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.'

'What?' I said again.

'No left turns,' he said. 'Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three right s.'

'You're kidding!' I said, and I turned to my mother for support 'No,' she said, 'your father is right.. We make three rights. It works.' But then she added: 'Except when your father loses count.'

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

'Loses count?' I asked.

'Yes,' my father admitted, 'that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again.'

I couldn't resist. 'Do you ever go for 11?' I asked.

'No,' he said ' If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week.'

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom -- the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily -- he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising -- and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, 'You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.' At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, 'You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer.'

'You're probably right,' I said.

'Why would you say that?' He countered, somewhat irritated.

'Because you're 102 years old,' I said.

'Yes,' he said, 'you're right.' He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:

'I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet.'

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

'I want you to know,' he said, clearly and lucidly, 'that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.'

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life, Or because he quit taking left turns.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
So love the people who treat you right.
Forget about those who don't.
Believe everything happens for a reason.
If you get a chance, take it.
If it changes your life, let it.
Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.'

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Winter just doesn't want to release its hold this year. Sure, we've had a few sunny warm days, but then the north wind blows in our direction leaving a trail of frost in her wake. We were enshrouded in fog again today as snow angrily inched its way down the mountain side. The winter jackets and boots are safely ensconced at the back of the closet and I just haven't the heart to pull them back out again. I've resorted to wearing layers, usually about five so that I can adjust depending on what the weather decides to do and it seems to change numerous times throughout the day. I saw one lone crocus trying fearlessly to cheer up the barren yard wondering when the rest would make their debut. The whole lot of them have decided that late is fashionable and it's questionable whether they'll even turn up for Easter. Just the same, I've decided to will spring. I've hauled out my pots, filled them with dirt and various sorts of seeds. Some have been sitting on my window sills for the last week, and the rest I finished up today. It doesnt seem to matter how many times I do this, the thrill is just the same when I see them finally poking their heads through the dirt. Now if it were only warm enough that I could start working out in the yard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Saturday ten guardian angels floated through the mountain mist and landed upon my sandy shores.

Absolute bliss.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hamlet as Facebook Feed

Horatio thinks he saw a ghost

Hamlet thinks it's annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet's annoying.

Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.

Hamlet's father is now a zombie.

The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.

Marcellus is pretty sure there's something's rotten around here.

Hamlet became a fan of daggers.

Polonius says Hamlet's crazy ... crazy in love!

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.

Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.

Ophelia removed "moody princes" from her interests.

Hamlet posted an event: A Play That's Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family

The king commented on Hamlet's play: "What is wrong with you?"

Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good hiding place.

Polonius is no longer online.
Hamlet added England to the Places I've Been application.

The queen is worried about Ophelia.

Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.

Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don't Float.

Laertes wonders what the hell happened while he was gone.

The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.

The queen likes wine!

The king likes ... oh crap.

The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.

Horatio says well that was tragic.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We'll take it from here.

Denmark is now Norwegian.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


When I was a child, I remember my mother drinking buttermilk. She said it reminded her of the fresh milk she drank as a child, the milk you get straight from a cow. It's tartness made my lips pucker and I never fully appreciated its tangy flavour...that is until traveling in southern Germany. I can't say precisely what triggered this new found appreciation. Perhaps it was the fresh mountain air, seeing the cows grazing on the hillside, the abundance of food that flooded my mind with childhood memories, food that felt like home. Whatever it was, I felt compelled to give buttermilk another chance. I don't know why I didn't appreciate it sooner, I had always loved everything else dairy (even though I try to limit it in my diet these days) and there really isn't much of a jump from yogurt to buttermilk. In fact, it's kind of like drinking Yop, although much more economical. I simply throw some buttermilk in my blender along with some fresh or frozen berries (today the feature fruit was blackberries, gathered fresh last summer and lovingly stored in my freezer). Sometimes I add a little maple syrup if the fruit is especially tart, and voila...instant meal chalk full of nutrients. I guess tastes change, because I love the stuff now. Or perhaps the appreciation was there all along and I just didn't know it. Is this sort of stuff hard wired into us?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Poor Marie

The guillotine drops.
I fall into a deep abyss.
Darkness envelopes
My aching head.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Kootenay Kritters

Gerhard and Gunda have, as of late, become semi-permanent fixtures in the neighbourhood. When they first started frequenting the premises, they would waddle hurriedly across the yard throwing angry honks in my direction if I showed up unexpectedly. They have since become more accustomed to my comings and goings at odd hours. They mainly sit upon the berm, Gerhard puffing up his chest surveying his realm, Gunda more interested in what yummy morsels she can find to fill her tummy. She casts a glance in my direction, proudly displaying her morning find dangling from her mouth before slurping it down. I was once told that the Canada Goose mates for life. Gerhard and Gunda do seem mighty fond of each other. Where there is one, the other is never far behind.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Buttermilk Blackberry Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 large egg
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp melted butter
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (or other frozen fruit)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease 10 muffin cups.
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and lemon zest in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Measure (into 4 cup liquid measure) buttermilk, lemon juice, egg, vanilla. Beat gently until smooth.
  4. Slowly pour this mixture along with the melted butter into the dry ingredients. Stir using a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are moistened. Carefully fold in blackberries. Don't over mix.
  5. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tins.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick insered into the center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and place on a rack to cool.