Spelt Bread, For the Love of You

IMG_1821I took a picture of you laughing. It’s grainy because the light is low in the kitchen. You laugh at me often: when I squeak at unexpected occurrences, when I dance while I’m cooking, when I try to convince you to do what I want when it’s not what you want. Your laughter. It’s how I knew that you remembered me when I came back from six weeks in California. You chuckled and said, “She always tells me, ‘Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that. Don’t eat that, Lama!'” In your particular mix of Tibetan, French, and Old Age, it sounded like “Pomo, Lama no mangiez; no mangiez; no mangiez!” I laughed too, and I was glad that you remembered me.

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There are a lot of things you don’t remember these days. Then again, maybe it is more precise to say you remember certain things, and only those things now. You remember practice. You remind me every hour, “Mahakala. Mahakala,” until five o’clock rolls around and it is, indeed, time for that ceremony. You remember that the rest of us would do well to practice also. You interrupted me in the middle of this paragraph, closing my computer, pointing toward the temple, and saying, “Go. Go.” I nodded acquiescence and snuck off to the office to keep writing.

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You remember where the spelt flakes are in the cupboard, so that when you are hungry–which is all the time–you can find a snack. I know if you’ve been by because I’ll find a trail of errant flakes, sprinkled newly on the counter since the last time I wiped it clean. You remember that you are not allowed to eat sugar, but that you love it above all else. The first week we met, you tried to stick your fingers straight into my birthday cake and grab a mouthful before I whisked it to safety. We have these confrontations often and mostly I win, because I don’t want you to drop dead on my watch and also because I’m, um, a little vain of my baked goods. Don’t go putting holes in my cake, Lama.

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Every now and then I sneak you a cookie. A small one. I’m not supposed to. None of us are, but you’ll find them on your own if we don’t give them to you, and fortunately your diabetes hasn’t come back, and the amount of joy these little treats bring…I guess it’s a question we each ask ourselves. How much longer might you live without a biscuit or a peach or a bite of cake? How much more joyful will life be for the time you have with a biscuit or a peach or a bite of cake?

This is a gift you give us, along with your laughter and your dedication to the path: the cognizance that life is fleeting. You live on the border now. I see it when I’m with you. You drift between languages, between times and countries. Some days in your mind it is years ago in Tibet. You talk to me about the masters that you know, the ceremonies held. I only catch a word or two, a name sometimes, but your devotion envelops me. Sometimes you forget that I am here, struck as you are by the color of the sky or the sound of a bird. When you catch me by your side, you say, “Pomo, look,” and point at the thing of beauty with awe.

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You remind me that the world is awesome. That I am blessed to be in it. To be granted a life to devote to understanding. You remind me to use it well, for it will leave me–this birth, this body, this place and time and context. In all likelihood, you will leave me first.

I carry the knowledge heavy, but with gratitude. For that, I remember to laugh instead of despair when you open the pot of rice before it’s done cooking. For that, I stop whatever I’m doing to help you find your prayer beads when their location has slipped into the mists of your memory. For that, I make loaf after loaf of bread until I hit upon the one that’s good enough to make you happy as well as healthy. For the love of you, I do my best to make my own life count.

Recipe follows…

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The Beautiful Things (Hearty Cornbread Among Them)

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This is the city at night, a strip of fireflies in the darkness. The blackness of the ocean beyond, and the blackness of mountains before. I’ve been getting my mountain time in lately, soaking up the chaparral and smell of sandstone mingled with oak leaves.

IMG_0700My mom and I had dinner with an old friend on Friday. He took us to the El Encanto, a fancy old hotel recently reopened after years of renovation. The waitresses sported gray, tailored cocktail dresses and the menu erred toward molecular gastronomy. We ate on the terrace, looking into the hillside. Mountain time. The silhouette of eucalyptus trees always makes me gasp, even if they are damned invasive.

Wally is an old-school business man who sold the family business into what he thought were good hands and watched it dwindle to nothing. He is eighty-seven; he calls himself a bachelor and then says, “a widower, I suppose, but I don’t like the sound of that.” When I ask him how he is spending his days, he tells me, “I don’t get out much. There isn’t a cure for the sort of malaise I’ve got.”

rosecandleSomewhere between the valet parking, the swirls of French butter, and the sound of the word malaise, I got the sense that I’d fallen into The Great Gatsby. My friend is perhaps the gentleman Jay Gatsby would have lived to be if he had learned to love less recklessly.

Wally says, “I only ever got really loaded once in my life: the night I got out of the army.” He asks me, “Do you know what they call a quantity of champagne?” I ponder, “…a Magnum!” He chuckles, “That’s just a little one. They go up and up. There’s a Methuselah and a Salma, Salma-something, and a Balthazar, and anyway, it was the biggest one.” A Nebuchadnezzar. Fifteen liters. I looked it up. He says, “There were twelve of us. We drank the whole thing between us. I remember coming home with that giant bottle of champagne. Well, it was empty by then. I don’t remember how I got home, but I remember arriving at home with that bottle.”

So perhaps not Gatsby in his drinking habits, but at least a bit in his lavishness and loneliness. He gives me a hundred dollar bill in a tiny envelope and a vintage Instamatic camera for my journey. I give him a kiss on the cheek and a promise to write him about where the hundred dollars goes.

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As I pass through my days lately, the moments kaleidoscope together. Books I have read, people I have loved, trails I have walked, meals I have shared, cities I have known. My life has been rife with beauty. Positively teeming with it. And yet, wending throughout, there is the reedy melody of sadness. The purple whisper of a violin always in the back of my mind.

I don’t call mine malaise–wistfulness usually, or nostalgia–but the word feels familiar. I look at my friend, his tall back tilted over, his hands shaking despite his strength. I may have the camera now, and the places to take pictures of, but we are no different. We hearken to the places that feel like home, whether it’s a foreign country or a favorite restaurant. We mourn the loss of all the humans and hours that have passed in all such places, which we will see no more again. Then we take our sadness, and set it to one side, and carry on living. Carry on making more beautiful things for which we will surely mourn when they are past, but which, for now, hold our hearts in place.

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Bread is a beautiful thing. It is simple and humble and can be shared. It brings a lot of joy, but the loss when it is finished is not so great; it’s easy to make more. This one is homey and earthy, made with a mix of grains and just a skosh of molasses for depth. I whip up a mini batch for days when I’m in the mood for multi-grain bread but don’t want a whole giant loaf. Being a quickbread, this is more fragile than yeasted dough, but I find it’s still a great sub for sandwich bread, especially toasted, open face.

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Recipe follows…

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Plum Poppyseed Cake and Friendship Thoughts

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Lately I have been thinking about friendship. I made this cake for my friend Joy’s birthday party yesterday. Joy’s kind of a bad ass. She wears a lot of lace but also rides a motorcycle, is a blacksmith, and has agreed to come whisky tasting with me. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been getting in touch with all of my friends in the States, and I keep being struck by how awesome they are.

My one friend is part of an art show put on by the Getty in LA. Another is planning a trip to Sweden to do cutting edge soil chemistry research (okay, I think this is rad; if you don’t, you can just go kick rocks). Somebody’s helping open a new farm-to-table restaurant here in town. Somebody else is a fleet captain in the Caribbean, teaching kids to sail and study ecology. It’s super wonderful, but it’s also kind of alarming.

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Too many awesome people; not nearly enough time! I am trying to cram in as many morning coffees, baking parties, and yoga dates as I can in the next six weeks. I’m not doing badly, but at the same time, if I’m lucky, I’ll see most people once or twice. Which is hard for me.

So much of friendship is small, simple things over time; the accumulation of coffees drunk, goodies bakes, asanas posed and then later discussed. Little pieces of good times and also bummer times that weave our lives together and let us know and be part of each other’s stories.

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But as I get older–live more places, meet more people—so many friendships become a single coffee, a long phone call, a periodic e-mail. There’s part of me that wants to rail against it. I want to spend a whole lifetime watching foreign films, traversing mountain trails, dusting off my dancing shoes—doing whatever we do together–with every person I know.

But of course, I don’t get a whole lifetime with each of you fabulous folks.  If I’m lucky, and I have been, I get a few months or a few years in proximity to build shared memories, rack up inside jokes, learn everything I need to know to blackmail you, should ever the occasion arise. And then. And then I hear your voice or see your face for a couple hours or a couple days every few months or every few years. And I miss you and I think of you and I hope that you feel the joy and love that I feel for you even when we aren’t sharing it or making it in the same time or place.

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If you want to feel some love, or share some love, this cake is a good place to start. It is homey and grounding and a little surprising; like a good friend, perhaps. It also happens to be gluten-free, not because I combined a bunch of random things to make it that way, but just because it’s an awesome cake that’s not made out of wheat. Poppyseed and buckwheat give the cake its fragrance and earthiness. Honey and plums add sweetness and tang. We eat a lot of poppy seeds in France. I dunno if that’s a regional thing or just ‘cuz Chef likes them, but it got me thinking.

They’re a little floral and a little herby and I happen to love them. They don’t get a lot of play, but I’m out to change that. This recipe was adapted from a cake that mixed buckwheat with almonds, but I’m swapped out the almond meal for ground poppy seeds. It’s a win. More experiments to come!

Recipe after the jump…

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Empowerment Days and Endings

IMG_0718Karmapa is teaching and giving empowerments (blessings related to specific deities) this week. Thus come the crowds. KIBI is hosting somewhere near three hundred people right now. The energy is giddy and exhausting. Each day has three sessions: morning teachings with Khenpo Tsering, the main teacher at KIBI, afternoon blessings, teachings, or ceremonies with Karmapa, and evening teachings with Professor Sempa Dorje, the president of the Institute. It’s a heady thing to have so much access to Dharma all at once.

IMG_0715In response to the addition of several hundred people to our midst, the community developing in the last couple months has pulled together. A loose group of friends has become a tight-knit band of gypsies. Irish James and Russian Katya pose beneath the archway erected for the celebration of the one-year anniversary of The Karmapa International Buddhist Society, the consolidated operating body of both the Institute and all of Karmapa’s cultural, educational, and philanthropic projects. Ten or so of us have naturally glommed together to have tea parties on the upstairs balcony, trundle into town for cake, and plan daydreamy reunions in sundry Europeans locations.

IMG_0714I got an e-mail from the center in France. Apparently I’ll be helping to cook and clean for the Lama House, the place where visiting teachers stay. I’m thrilled to get to spend time in a kitchen again, and I feel incredibly lucky to be working near to the teachers. It’s hard to believe that in two weeks I’ll be in France. I haven’t been back to France since I lived there when I was a teenager. I am both excited for new memories to be made and curious what specters of the past may raise their heads. Some of my gypsy friends will also be spending time nearby and there are new connections to be made. The loneliness of the Paris of my youth lingers in my mind, but I intend to discover a new France in the Dordogne. Until then, adventures remain to be lived in the East.

Things to Draw: Chocolate Chip Cookies Playing the Banjo

Chocolate Chip Cookies Playing the Banjo, Ink and Colored Pencil on Paper, 8 1/2″ x 5 3/4″

Another from the most lovely Claire. This is us, on the fantastic occasion that we are in the same place – two cookie-minded, banjo-jamming dudettes!