Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Layer Cake And Kitchen Days

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Today we made walnut blondies for eighty people, chestnut génoise and ginger loaf for sixty, plus cherry almond biscotti for one-ten. Karmapa’s visit this year is the first time we’re cooking for so many guests at the Lama house. We debated about hiring a catering company, but we wanted to offer our own labor of love. Even with the incredible changes to the kitchen, it’s still a family kitchen and not a professional one. All the materials and cooking spaces are far away from each other, and the oven is the size of a postage stamp. This means preparing in advance.

Everything that can be made ahead without sacrificing the integrity of what we’re serving is being made now. Pastries, savory tarts, salad dressing, even a couple main dishes. We’ve set up a camping kitchen with a giant bunsen burner on the terrace and we shuttle things back and forth from the Lama House to the oven in the main kitchen.

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It’s hectic, but it’s joyful. We get the pleasure of working all together without the direct stress that comes with being in the heat of a major event. It’s tiring, but there’s an end in sight–final make-ahead dish is scheduled for the 26th of June. After that we have to start deep-cleaning. So it’s all for a good cause, and I’m often astounded by the reserves of energy we unearth when we are committed to what we are working for.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a little pastry for my homies around here. This cake was to celebrate the last day of our Bodhi Path studies on Wednesday. It’s surprisingly light, almost refreshing if you don’t think too much about the cream, and really easy to make with all the glamour of a layer cake!

I got a request from the collective of July birthday folks for “real American layer cake,” like wedding-style with tiers. Fulfilling such a request will require much more effort for the necessary glamour points, hehe. If you’re looking to impress without spending four days in the kitchen, this is the way to go. As for me and my July birthday buddies…we’ll just see how that goes!

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Funfetti Cake And A Different Kind Of Mourning

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On Friday the Buddha’s relics went back to Paris after a year-and-a-half extended stay at Dhagpo. The fact that we got to hang on to them for so long (safekeeping while the Grand Pagoda where they stay normally underwent construction) was a blessing in itself. It doesn’t do to always want more. But I got so used to their presence. To knowing this manifestation of wisdom and physical piece of the Buddha himself was right nearby. To seeing their glittery little enclosure every Saturday, doing prostrations in the Institute and singing aspiration prayers with all the other aspiring folks. To walking quora all together and tucking some special chocolate I scoped out into the silver offering bowl.

I know the relics are technically just a manifestation, and that even if they are real, historical artifacts and extremely blessed, I can also access that blessing by connecting to the meaning whether they are here or not. But I’m not so good at that yet. And sparkly things inspire me. So, yeah, I’m gonna miss them. Loss number one for the week.

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Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Shamar Rinpoche’s death (Tibetan calendar, if you’re worried I’ve lost my basic math skills). Similar to the relics, all the good he has put in place for all of us remains whether his physical presence is here or not. But it’s still hard to accept that I won’t ever get to have tea with him in his rocking chair-filled living room in Virginia or serve him his favorite French salami when he visits Dhagpo or sit in the Institute and listen to him crack jokes while he educates us all or feel the silence sweep through the hall as we sink into meditation with him. Or so many other things. Loss number two for the week.

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And also, my sister called me this week in tears to tell me that she needs time. That it’s hard that we live so far apart and we believe such different things at the very basis of our choices and that our paths have diverged so greatly in our short lives despite our deep love for each other. And so we’re taking space. Reflecting each on our own without the worry of having to figure out what to share or how or what moment with a nine-hour time difference and very busy, different schedules. We’re just…waiting to see what happens. And when things are a little bit more clear, we’ll pick up—not quite where we left off, but where we need to be. And this is good, and I’m proud of us for being mature enough to know that there are things we need to figure out on our own to make our relationship work, but also…loss number three for this week.

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And so I find myself grieving, but strangely, for things I have not truly lost. The strength and love we develop through our relationships stay with us, whether the people who taught us such care and resilience are physically present or not. I know this, and I have faith in this fact to carry me through the transitions. But I’m also wobbly on my feet. I’m used to having support I can connect with tangibly. All these various losses leave me only with inner strength and some fuzzy question marks about what those words even mean.

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And so I’m taking cliché flower pictures because it’s springtime and I have a camera and that seems to be what there is to do. And I’m making funfetti cake because it would make both Shamarpa and my sister smile if they were here and though I’m not sure what the Buddha would think of funfetti, I think he’d approve of the togetherness and gratitude that went into this cake.

Love you guys.

Recipe…

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The Week, The Weekend, And Honey Ginger Cake With Sour Cherry Jam

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Today I am just happy.

When I look back at this week, it has been so full. Weekdays can barely be distinguished from weekends but somehow there is a balance amidst all the activity. Meetings beyond count. 20 hours and 800 lines of event budgeting. Driving lessons. Dinner out with friends. Time spent working with the construction team on the new kitchen; time spent constructing the plan for Karmapa’s visit with the kitchen team. The community mini-retreat that is our monthly morning of group practice. A talk with my sister; e-mails with my parents. The first of a series of community discussions about our Future, capital F and what we’d like to share about it with Karmapa when he comes.

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No moment has lacked richness. I did so incredibly many productive things and somehow still had time to make this cake and have a cup of tea with friends this afternoon. I know my two a.m. budget finish line from last night will make me tired tomorrow, but mostly I’m stunned that I’m not already flat on my ass.

This same amount of busy-ness and activity in the past would have knocked me over. I’d have been sick and tired and grumpy as hell. I think partly I have learned how to do more, but also I have learned how to fret less. When I see a whole crap ton of things to do coming, I’m not immediately petrified that it is totally impossible for me to do them and thus not immediately incapacitated and totaly stressed throughout it all. From all of the doing that I’ve been doing at Dhagpo these last two years, I’ve developed some confidence that…I can accomplish things.
And that if I can’t, I can say so and find a way to work with that.

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There’s also another aspect. Which is this place and its people. There’s something in the water, or the trees, or the history, or maybe something much less abstract than that. I think it’s what we call blessing. That often sounds so mystical, but Jigme Rinpoche is quick to remind us that blessing is anything but mystical. It’s practical.

As I grasp it, blessing works like this: understanding leads to change, and both understanding and change develop exponentially more with a group, and multi-exponentially more with a qualified guide who can point you in the right direction to help you refine your understanding.

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At Dhagpo, we have all the pieces. We are blessed. Hard work becomes less hard because it is meaningful and shared, and what we normally think of as not-directly productive (ahem, lieeesure) becomes productive because it supports the bonds that help us work well together. Even cake is a practice when it is an offering.

And so, I’m both grateful to be able to and quite happy to offer you this springtime version of French spice cake. Like typical French pain d’épices, this cake is honey-rich and has a good dose of ginger. But unlike typical French pain d’épices this cake does not have the I-suppose-nostalgic-but-always-disappointing texture of cardboard. And it does have a touch of allspice for additional depth and a generous spread of sour cherry jam for that springtime boost. Moist, surprisingly light, and delightfully simple to make (No creaming butter! Yay for French baking techniques!), it’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the deck, or however you like.

Recipe…

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Darkness And Light And Four Quarters Cake

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Okay, so, a mini-onslaught of camera experiments, as promised. The same picture (more-or-less) taken with different camera settings. As I’m being extremely scientific about the whole thing (ahem, not), I can’t precisely specify what settings yielded what pictures. For the moment, I’m just trying to get a feel for things.

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The utter basics…like if I make the aperture small enough, I can take a picture in low daytime light that comes out almost back. I’ve spared you any of those. Also, that if I open the aperture and increase the shutter speed, I can get decent light even at night, but um…things get blurry real fast. I’ve subjected you to one of those.

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I’ve been able to take passable photos of the candle offerings next to the stupa for the first time ever, and I’m overjoyed. This spot at Dhagpo is one of my prime comfort-seeking locales, and I envision a whole ton of candle pictures that are basically the same but ever-so-slightly different in our future.

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I’ve stalked all over the Lama House searching for the best mid-morning light window. Does it figure that it appears to be the window just outside of Karmapa’s room?

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As I play around with being behind the camera, the metaphoric nature of taking photographs becomes ever more evident. I used to think of a photograph as just a freeze frame of the immutable, physical world. But I stopped thinking of the world as immutable or objective a while ago now, and taking photographs only affirms that understanding. What the eye sees is not objective. The shots that we choose, how we frame them, tones, depth of field, angle. No two photographers would take the same picture, even of the same subject matter. Our images reveal our interests, our views, our bias even.

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It’s funny, I think of myself as a big picture person, developed frontal lobe as the brain scientists would say. And yet I like taking pictures of small-things up close, like a way of becoming intimate with the details of the world. I seek out low light and warm light because they feel cradling and haunting. This last is not so easy in the Dordogne, and here I start to see my Californian-ness. I can deal with the cold in the winter, but the grey wears me down and I get lonesome for sunshine and frequent hugs and high fives.

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Maybe this is what the camera is for though, I can’t help think. It is a way to talk to oneself, to say, “Ah yes, this is what my solitude looks like,” and make peace with that. This is my hope anyway, and where all my fumbling clicks and winding of the gears and geared toward taking me. Another tool on the path, you know?

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In other notes, cake. This one I made for my friend Tokpa, one of my prime inspirations for finally daring to get behind the lens. He and his camera are leaving for Nepal tomorrow. His journey was originally planned to document the inauguration of Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche’s new monastery and the anniversary of Shamar Rinpoche’s passing away. When the earthquake hit, he decided to go anyway, to help fix up an orphanage run by friends and well, take pictures, because sometimes that’s what there is to do.

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And so I made cake, because that’s what there is for me to do. A French pound cake, what they call a quatre quarts, or “four quarters,” because it’s one quarter butter, one quarter eggs, one quarter sugar, and one quarter flour. You’d hardly know it’s pound cake, as light as it is from whipping the eggs and sugar. I added a teaspoon of baking powder, but if you want a more typical pound cake texture, you can leave it out. I also browned the butter, for that special savory something, and threw in a chopped pear because leftovers and why not, and it was delicious. This cake is remarkably easy to put together and incredibly refined when finished. For the moments when words don’t suffice, but we still need something.

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Having The Potato And Bread Pudding With Pastry Cream

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Welcome to springtime in the Dordogne. It’s bright. It’s wet. It’s moss on the column of my terrace, and I actually kind of like it.

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Welcome to jokes on the community room white board. In case you’re wondering, that’s a potato. The jokes…well, they don’t make any sense in English, but I’ll give you the direct translation and then the meaning and if you can fit together the play on words in your own head, I bet you’ll get how it’s funny. It really is funny; I promise.

Direct translation:
It’s better to have the potato than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get a potato.

What it means:
It’s better to feel awesome than to be a potato.
It’s better to be a potato than to get hit in the face with one.

And then, next to all the judgmental potato commentary, Miss Potato, who says…

Direct translation:
I’ve got the French fry!
What it means:
I feel awesome!

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Basically, potatoes are really funny and the French like using food metaphors to say they’re in a good mood. I’ve got the potato/French fry/peach/banana are all ways to say one is feelin’ good.

It’s springtime, and I’m feelin’ good.

Good enough to whip out the whisk and resume some cake creation, which I haven’t fit in a lot of for the last couple months.

This isn’t exactly cake, but it could almost pass for one. It’s bread pudding baked in a cake pan and slathered with pastry cream pretending to be frosting. It is, dare I say it, a bit more reasonable than cake. It feels decadent without knocking you flat on your ass for the rest of the afternoon. I can’t necessarily say the same for the birthday cake I’m planning for myself, but you know, we can’t be reasonable all the time.

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Fun fact: my Dhagpo anniversary and my birthday are only about a week part. So this week (well, last Tuesday and next Monday) I get to celebrate two years in the humid, mossy, blessed woods of the Dordogne and all the potato jokes I can handle as well as twenty-six years of life on this earth. Hooray!

Next time we chat, I’ll be writing from the good ol’ US of A, where I’m stopping in to say a hello to the people who made me. I’ll also be at the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path on Wednesday the 15th from 6-9 if you want to stop by for a bit of sitting and a cup of tea.

Recipe…

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Hibiscus Coriander Spelt Bread And Foregone Days

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This morning we finished the accumulation of praises to Tara that I mentioned back in January when we began. When I wrote a friend back in February that things were busy, he joked back that it was no wonder, considering we were soliciting a meditation deity associated with activity and prompt reaction every darn morning.

Well, it’s been three months and they’ve been very active. In addition to all the studying and cleaning I’ve moaned about a bit, I also joined the web and communications team. Part of my role has been helping to start Dhagpo’s first blog, a chronicle of the events at the center related to our fortieth anniversary. And guess what, it exists in English too! Curious about what we’re up to? You can read along here. If you click on an article, you can switch the little country flag in the top right corner to read in English. We’re still working out a few kinks with the translation plug-ins, so the whole site isn’t available in English yet.

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Working on web and comm business, I’m learning a lot lately about hard work that goes unseen. Most of time when we’re on the internet, things are streamlined and reliable. Typos and broken links are considered affronts, signs of people or organizations that don’t know what they’re doing.

Having spent the last week entering the new program into Dhagpo’s website, hand copying each course title and changing the dates in the website platform software, I’m starting to see how carefully created the online world is. I’ve been writing this blog for almost three years, and I basically just picked a layout and stuck with it. I never really took the time to explore the complexity behind it.

Joining the web and communications teams at the center shows me just one minute example of the hours of meticulous effort that go into making this place run. It starts me thinking of all the long and serious labors of love that people here carry out that never get noticed or acknowledged. Sometimes in a volunteer community, there are moments when I’ve asked myself or seen other people asking why something isn’t done (why isn’t the community fridge clean; why didn’t you write back to my e-mail, etc).

With a few exceptions for legal reasons (the cook and accountant mainly) nobody’s paid and we’re here because we want to be. Sometimes when we’re working extra hard to make a certain project happen or because it’s a busy time for one department or another, we tend to wonder what the heck everybody else is doing. Just barely poking my nose into a new department, I get the feeling that if we looked into details anywhere, we’d be amazed to see all the hard work and care that go into every aspect of what happens here.

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When you care about something, there’s often a tendency to want to see it constantly improving and there can be impatience about the things that aren’t the way we want them. I see it all the time here: why is the logo a bit dated, why aren’t the electrical connections in the temple that cause occasionally blinky lights fixed yet, why isn’t there a lounge for course participants, why is the hill behind the Institute only partially landscaped? We have a tendency to think somebody must be slacking if things that seem important aren’t done. But I’m starting to think that nobody’s slacking. We’re all applying ourselves with loads of dedication and this is just what’s possible for the moment.

Sometimes, when I work hard and I just see lots more hard work ahead, the days feel foregone. It’s a long damn road. But then I remember that this is how most things get done in life. Not by magic or sudden cataclysim. By regular effort over long days or months or years. When I remind myself of that, I find there’s also something comforting in the rhythm; there’s a stability in hard work. I know that through my daily efforts I’m adding something to the world around me and developing endurance and resilience within myself. It’s a different kind of daily bread than the common sort, but just as nourishing if not more. And I’ve got actual daily bread to keep me going for the rest.

For kicks this week, I included hibiscus petals in my bread and found they add a subtle fruity kick to breakfast. I threw in some coriander for a little spice and brightness and used spelt flour because it’s gentler on the tummy. Nourishment for the long road; it’s a good thing.

A little musical nourishment, too…here’s my bread making and internet updating soundtrack for the evening. Clifton Hicks and Julie Chiles playing a cradling, twanging folk tune called Rocky Island. I’m a bluegrass nerd, if you didn’t know.

Recipe…

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GF Chocolate Chip Cookies And Working With The Heart

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Week five of study retreat. Each week has been steadily less and less in retreat mode, as regular life needs creep steadily in. Around week three I started panicking about all the things that would need to be done if I left them till the end. Around week four I realized that a lot of things couldn’t be left till the end. And now I am just trying not to feel too feckless or lacking in diligence for the fact that, beyond attending the formal teachings and rereading the transcript or maybe my notes once, I’m not devoting my time to studying. Four hours a day is already a lot, but it’s not enough to memorize what’s being given, which is what I would like to do and what feels like doing justice to the teaching.

I know I’m not wise enough and I haven’t studied the prerequisite subjects enough to truly understand the Abhidharmakosha, but I’m convinced that if I could just solder all the lists of associated faculties and mental activities and types of sovereign mind into my memory now, I’d be able to make sense of it all properly in some future time. Only I can’t.

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Partly because the groceries and the new steam-infusing vacuum machine and the pre-Lhosar deep clean and next month’s schedule and departmental meetings and new tasks with the communications team (yours truly may be contributing to a Dhagpo blog in the near future!), not to mention life, like teaching English classes, paying doctor’s bills, and studying for my French driver’s license (speedbumps are called donkey backs here). So yeah, partly all that. But partly also my heart.

Every time I study seriously, intensively, I live this. And every time, I forget. I always tell myself it’s the schedule, the being with people all the time, the intellectual gymnastics. But no, actually, if I can say it this way, I think it’s my heart.

Last night at dinner, Micka said, “After a certain amount of time with the teachings, I start to only see the flaws in everything.”

The first of the Four Noble Truths is that the nature of conditioned existence is suffering. The teachings go far beyond this, to its cause, to its ending, to the means to achieve that. Becoming free from suffering is the whole goal after all–well, half, anyway, getting everybody else free too is the whole goal. But for my part, when I start really looking and listening, I can’t help it, I tend to get a bit mired in the first part.

I am SO far from anything resembling clarity, one-pointed focus, or non-self-referential love. My faith is emotional and my understanding is personal. My discipline is superficial and mostly neurotic when it does function. That long list of mental activities that accompany afflicted mind…yaaah, I know them well.

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Whenever I reach this point, I tend to think of three things. Well, no, actually what happens is that I tend to start slipping into motionlessness, into the grey static where no act is meaningful enough to combat the hugeness of it all, and I no longer know how to greet the day or my mind or other human beings. Trying to be fair, this overwhelmption is maybe part of me, and I will have to accept it perhaps at many turns in my life. But Shamar Rinpoche said that if a person practices calm-abiding meditation long enough, she will no longer experience depression. Until my efforts take effect, I’m building a toolkit for when reality becomes overwhelming.

Here are my three things:

1) Some enlightened being in some treatise or sutra (maybe Gampopa in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation?) once said, “Ordinary beings cannot perceive the true nature of reality, of emptiness. It is too vast for the ordinary mind.” Which helps because it means that it’s normal that touching on this vastness through the teachings sends me spinning. I’m an ordinary being. I can only understand as much as my mind can take, and increasing my understanding means working the edge. Vertigo is part of the process, and I need to rest with that.

2) Dhongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche said in his book Not for Happiness that true compassion is like a dagger in the heart. So all this pain and this vision of anguish perhaps simply mean that I’m headed in the right direction. And practice is learning to see them and keep moving.

3) The Buddha gave us this one directly, and in the Heart Sutra no less: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Form is no other than emptiness. Emptiness is no other than form.” Though I am far from understanding it truly–speaking of that emptiness too vast for the ordinary mind–I try to remind myself that for all of its sharp edges and smothering weight, suffering has no essence. That if I keep going, the illusion will fragment on its own and I will be able to see suffering and its formlessness at the same time. And from there, I will truly be able to act, and act for the benefit of all.

It’s not exactly a monkey wrench or a tape measure, but it’s what I have for now and it helps, even if it doesn’t silence the static completely. And like always, the little worldly things that make up my worldly life are still here for me. They are what I know and where I’m at and maybe I am learning to be kind about what gives me solace on the path. I made cookies almost completely without feeling frivolous, and much more with gratitude for something simple and solid that I understand and touch and share. It’s not ultimate anything, but it might be relative something, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

Recipe…

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Study Days And Vanilla Cake With Brown Sugar Buttercream

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Woke up to a blanket of white and wondered if the spector of promised snow had indeed arrived. No, it was only a thick coating of frost crystals, but dreamlike all the same and quick to dissipate in the mid-winter sun. On account of the study retreat, I don’t get out all too much, but when I do, I’m always grateful when the days look like this. Lustrous and living and sparkling.

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This is where I spent my time these days. Somewhere in between the 18 elements, the 22 governing faculties, and the 4 fruits of realization of the listeners, I notice I am learning things. Things that can seem technical beyond reason or frustrating for their lack of daily applicability, but which feel to me like scaffolding. A steady support through which I can build higher knowledge. The philosophy we are learning now is not the view we seek. In fact, it’s already been proven wrong. And while spending hours nitpicking details that one doesn’t even believe could seem ulcer-inducing, I am fortunate not to have found it so.

I’ve studied the skeleton of this system of knowledge before. And the last time I looked at it in any great detail, I was half-tempted to throw the book against a wall, find myself a nice cave in the Himalayas, and call it a day. But it seems enlightenment doesn’t work like that. At least not for most of us these days. From what I’ve seen, enlightenment in the modern day is more about the process of gaining enough knowledge that our wealth of preconceived misconceptions about reality undo themselves when we take them to the cushion and into daily life. This inevitably means serious nose-to-book time.

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So we show up and listen and type hundreds of pages of notes, and reread transcripts, and puzzle through study groups, and pose questions. And somehow it all trickles in. And will continue to for years to come, I think. And in between, when the lists of what is the fruit of karmic ripening and what is not, what is the cause of karmic ripening and what is not, and what must be abandoned on this path and that path and actually not abandoned after all gets to be a bit too much, we do what we can to unwind our minds and keep going. A brain-drain doodle here, a shared cup of tea there, and birthday cake decked out in buttercream when the moment presents itself. These are mostly good days.

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And this is a fully good cake. Made for a friend who happened to be present for the last birthday cake that came around: a yogurt-apple cake that just happened to be gluten-free. And when he heard that there was no flour, no butter, and not even an absurd amount of sugar involved, he pursed his lips and said, “That’s not cake.” Well it was, but it wasn’t an extravaganza of dietary exceptions. Which often of the best cake is.

So I made him a sturdy vanilla butter cake slathered with brown-sugar buttercream, which is 100% decadence and also the last thing you could accuse of not being cake. Mission accomplished. A dense, buttery cake with a fine, fluffy frosting supported by warm hints of vanilla and molasses makes for a proper winter birthday cake. If you have a similar sugar tolerance to me, I recommend small slices, but if you’re not sugar-sensitive, you do as you please and enjoy!

Recipe…

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Pumpkin Scones And Identity Politics

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Scones because sometimes you just need a baked good to bring it all home and pretend you have nothing else to do than sit in a cozy room and drink tea. Scones because sometimes a lot of things happen in one week that point to the same question and it’s a hard question. Scones because I usually keep my mouth shut about politics because what could I say in light of the vastness of it all? But especially scones because I’m about to go out on a limb and actually talk about politics so first a food offering to show that I come in peace.

How do we talk about politics without pointing fingers?

I think this is my question for the week. Underneath it is a bigger question. How do we relate to our individual identities–to diversity–and to the inequalities, and yes violence, that we can experience based on these without pointing fingers?

The media does not report the news objectively. It does so based on categorization of gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, and more…you name it. The media is written, read, and created by ordinary human beings. We do not regard each other objectively. We regard each other based on the aforementioned distinctions and so many others.

Both daily inequality and largescale violence arise from these distinctions. Examples in my mind this week (it’s been a hell of a week for violence and inequality): the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, the bombing of the NAACP in Colorado, Scarlett Johanssen’s latest casting, and one’s woman’s experiment on walking down the street. There’s religious and ideological aggression, there’s race aggression, there’s the silencing of race and religious aggression, there’s gender aggression. And in all cases the aggression tends to go both in the direction of aggressors towards victims and victims towards aggressors. Which makes us all aggressors in the end.

If we generalise, we can maybe sum it up like this: extreme religious groups versus liberal cultural groups; racial majorities versus racial minorities; men versus women. This week’s prime aggressions range from the grave taking of lives and the attempt to do so, to the silencing of a certain group’s experience by erasing them from the media, to the daily antagonisms created by generations-long habits (because apparently men are used to having space made for them and do not get out the way when walking in the street).

At the end of the day, it’s a lot of violence. What I wonder is this: does outrage at violence do something other than create more violence? And if it doesn’t, then how do we react differently to create something other than violence?

I see all this stuff and it makes me heartbroken. It also makes me exhausted and angry. Looking at my own experience, I would postulate that positive change happens when we work from the heartbreak, because this is our love for others. When we fall into frustration and anger, we only sow the seeds for further violence and aggression. Can we rally for each other without rallying against some one else?

Still waiting to find out. And trying to start by keeping my finger pointed firmly at myself; change begins here. Because until I clarify my own aggression, I don’t think I can do much for the rest of the world.

Other than make scones. Recipe…

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The Fêtes, With Aah-mazing Chewy Gingerbread

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So Christmas happened. Happy Christmas, y’all! (And late Chanukah and Solstice and other meaningful winter happenings).

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I did the road to Bordeaux with friends and a lunch stop at their family home. So many creches from so many countries! Guatemala or possibly Peru above. There was an old-fashioned American pinball machine too…we may have played a couple rounds, and I may have done not horribly. All those years of pizzeria pinball and early computer game versions apparently paid off.

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I did Bordeaux with the sis. We stayed at one of Dhagpo’s sister centers, Dhagpo Bordeaux and got the best welcome ever. Warm beds, homemade bread, and sole meunière with good humor. All of these families that aren’t actually my family somehow made me feel like it’s family Christmas after all. It doesn’t made me any less nostalgic for my actual family, but it makes me appreciate them even more for how they have taught me to love and to share.

There’s a sweet old cemetery by the center and we went to visit the departed. Could seem creepy, but it was more peaceful than anything. The wrought iron alone merited the visit.

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Things got pretty real too, as far as actual family goes. I realized it’s been a year since I’ve seen my sister, the longest we’ve ever gone. We know each other less well than we used to and we have less things in common than we’re used to. But we still know each other better than any one else in the world (except maybe our parents) and there’s a commitment in that. To promise to keep track of someone, to follow their story, to face their disappointment, to own up to what we could do better and what we simply cannot yet do for the love of them.

My sister makes me appreciate how often the best relationships are the ones where you don’t agree on everything, but you care enough to figure out why and understand what the other believes.

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We visited some gardens. Saw some lollipop trees and spiral hedges, the odd castle in the mist.

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History, people. I think it matters. To understand where we come from, how we came to where we are now.

Tomorrow, the year end course at Dhagpo begins. Jigme Rinpoche will talk to us about meditation, and we’ll try to listen and get wiser. Another year is passing, has passed. Time is precious. This is good to remember. To cherish and to share it.

This is obvious perhaps, but it strikes now as the time comes for resolutions and reflection: I want my heart open. I want to love with all I have and embrace the whole of the world. Forget the smallness of my self and remember the vastness of connectedness. We are causes and conditions, and we depend upon each other. All we can do is look after one another.

Happy New Year people; I’m thinking of you.

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And um, cake, because apparently I’m on a cake roll again. This picture is terrible and usually I try not to post recipes with truly deplorable photos, but I’m doing it mostly for myself. Because this cake is so good that I need to have the recipe recorded somewhere easily accessible. You don’t have to make it or be convinced; this is a simple, humble cake. But if you’re curious, I’ll tell you: it’s like a hug from some one you have been missing a long time. You feel their arms around you and it’s like plugging in a light; the current runs down the line and the connection is direct. You know you’re in the right place and you are grounded.

This cake is all molasses and spices. It’s chewy like a brownie with a deep, enveloping flavor. For me, it’s comfort and it’s definitely the taste that goes with the hearth at wintertime. Also happens to be friendly for gluten and dairy sensitive people because I’m on that kick too.

Recipe…

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