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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In The Silence, There Is Noise

Happy New Year. Sorry for a bit of radio silence there.

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This is how my brain feels. Blurry, and a little dark in the haze of the New Year, yet lit by a persistent sun. I am eighteen days jet-lagged, and I feel like shit, as I have for eighteen days, and I am tired of it. I want things to change. I want people to change. I want to feel better. I want to be better.

I’ll tell you what, it’s exhausting to be exhausted. I highly recommend against two-way, nine-hour time changes, coupled with family Christmas, major event planning, and the New Year, in a two-week time period. But then again, maybe I will recommend it, but with a fat #beforewarned.

The thing about true exhaustion is that it doesn’t let up. When you have no energy left–you don’t know what time it is, what country you’re in, or what language to speak, and your whole body is shaking from the confusion–and you still have to keep going; well, you can learn a lot about what goes on underneath the daily trill of who you think you are. Where you hang your hopes, where you seek respite, where you place blame. You can get all wrapped-up in a deep artistic righteousness or even a deep artistic altruism. You can overflow with love and overflow with need. You can set yourself apart and you can melt into a group. You can wish with all your heart that all of your recourse will free you from having to do it all again the next day and the next day and the next day.

But it won’t. Because this is life. And it’s exhausting. All the time, even if the toll becomes more notable when travel makes you lose your sense of time. But it’s also okay. Because it’s rich. And it strengthens us. And softens us. And makes us ready to be here. All the time. Because we are here, all the time.

IMG_0786Happy 2014, kids. I wish you…a New Year full of wisdom.

The Cold Season And A Black Sesame Caramel Tart

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The frost is on the leaves, the leaves are on the ground, and bare branches begin to pierce the clear, cold sky. I saw my first French chickadee this morning. They’re fatter than the chickadees I have known in Arizona mountains and New England woodlands. It must be all the cheese. 😉

Oh wait, it’s just me that dosing on delicious French dairy these days. If you live near a decent cheese shop, go ask for roquefort, morbier, and tomme catalan straightaway. Eat the roquefort with golden delicious apples, the morbier with grilled mushrooms, and the tomme catalan with quince jelly and toasted almonds.

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I’m a bit giddy and heady these days. Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah, by the way, to all the other Americans and Jews out there. In lieu of celebrating proper Thanksgiving today, I’m commemorating my own favorite version of the holiday this weekend: Friendsgiving! It’s Thanksgiving with your friends, when you want, how you want, in whatever country you want, and one step further removed from the massacre of America’s indigenous people that Thanksgiving so handily sweeps under the rug. Hehe.

And then I am heading into a week of retreat at Kundreul Ling, the monastic sister center of the Buddhist center where I live. And then I’m heading to Bordeaux to get my visa properly validated. And then to Paris to visit my French family, the incredible people who put up with me when I was a headstrong, naive teenager (now I’m a headstrong, moderately-less naive young adult…it makes all the difference). And then to Cal-i-for-nigh-ay to visit my actual family.

For all my heartache and sadness and frustration, I am very, very happy to get to see my family. My faaaamily. My fambly. The folks who hold my heart close to their own, who have done so as long as I’ve been present in this world. The folks who know what I like to eat on Christmas morning, what the feel of sand under my toes does for me on blue days, what color shoes to get (and not to get) me for Christmas. Who know to look for good museum shows when I’m in town, to plan our schedules around the restaurants we want to try, and to not hesitate to invite me to this year’s super cheesy, hilarious kids Christmas movie (but only if it’s animated).

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When the weather gets cold and the air smells like ice, I start to think of things like hearth fires and the scent of cinnamon. These things are awesome, but they are also mostly cultural proxies drilled into me by American holiday culture. What all that actually stands for is the comfort of home, wherever that may be.

I am lucky to have and have known many loving homes in this life. Home is the invisible ties to the people who color my life. It is profound love expressed through the everyday. Cinnamon is cozy and I’m as much a sucker for that as every other American, but actually, the taste of black sesame renders me much more nostalgic. Not homesick but home-well, heart-happy, for memories of basement Chinese restaurants, my mom’s favorite brittle candy, sharing chocolate halvah with my dad, and not wanting to say the word “furikake” (my favorite condiment on earth; comprised of salt, sugar, seaweed, and sesame) at four years old because it sounded too much like “kaka.” Oh yes, I was refined as a toddler.

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Enough years in the woods has worn down my modesty for bodily-functions, but I try to keep my culinary tastes at least a little refined. Though I can’t deny having a serious weakness for snack food; in France we have these peanut flavored corn puffs that are basically like peanut-butter flavored Cheetos, which sounds weird, but is actually delicious and addictive. Ahem, anyway, all that to say that, unlike my strange ramblings today, the recipe that follows is reliable, sophisticated, and complex. It’s a bit of East-meets-West, which I guess I am too, with Oriental flavors of black sesame and orange flower meeting classic French caramel and flaky pastry crust. While the feeling of home this tart brings about may be particular to me, its deliciousness expresses love under any roof.

Recipe follows…

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