The recipe card reads Cashew Cookies but I always add the extra nomenclature in honor of the gracious hostess and great baker who, years ago, sent me on the road with a fresh batch of these sweet treats. I don’t usually make them. My cookie baking tends towards the quick, crunchy kind without the extra step of frosting. Plus, this frosting calls for browned butter requiring extra vigilance since butter can go from nutty caramel to burnt in just those few seconds when you look away from the stove.
And, of course, there is a story with this recipe — In 1978, I had been invited to teach a summer storytelling class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. At the time, I was working as a school librarian and going to Library School at UW-Madison. The chance to teach at the academic level, even if only for a week, would have been a great additional to my resume. However, I was seriously considering declining the offer simply due to the math. Even though I would be totally responsible for developing the curriculum, teaching unsupervised and managing all the required paperwork I would only receive an un-degreed TA (teaching assistant) stipend. By the time I covered a week’s expenses – motel, meals, gas and maybe a glass of wine or two – I would be paying the university for the experience. Then a friend connected me with a retired parish housekeeper who loved to host short term guests. It was like a private B&B as Clara baked fresh pastries each morning and when I left at the end of the week she gave me a “care package” for the long (90 mile) journey from LaCrosse to Eau Claire.
And yes, those with a discerning eye will note it is a pistachio and not a cashew atop each cookie as I claim a baker’s prerogative to modify the recipe so these are made with chopped pistachios.
At precisely midnight, we rang the Swiss cow bell, a 1982 souvenir that sits on our kitchen window sill, to usher out the old year in raucous fashion and toasted the new year with a glass of bubbly. Today, my first bake of 2021 is a cherryly delicious welcome to a new year.
Each year we celebrate the Solstice, acknowledging the shortest day, celebrating a holy darkness, and enjoying a special meal. In a year where nothing was as it was supposed to be, it felt even more important last night to gather fresh evergreens, bake a sweet treat and claim tradition.
Needing a recipe that did not require an extra trip to the store since we had already picked up our drive-through, online order, I landed on Easy French Almond Cake from the café sucre farine. Just as promised in the intro, “Incredibly delicious cake and it’s incredibly easy!” I did modify it slightly (a baker’s prerogative) as I replaced the orange glaze and sliced almonds garnish with Cafe Delites’s homemade blueberry sauce. Bon appétit!
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
I bought the first of our many pottery bowls in an art gallery in Tiburon, California while visiting a friend in San Francisco. Enough time has passed since that 1974 purchase that I have no recollection whether color or shape drew my attention. What I do know is that I have continued to be drawn to hand-thrown pottery, especially bowls. Whether the bowl holds dough rising or serves as a catch all for knitting notions, each bowl is blend of art and functionality.
When looking for a unique gift whether a small token of holiday cheer or a gift for a momentous occasion I usually defer to pottery. I have made purchases while traveling – Portland, Saint Petersburg, San Diego (carefully hand carrying my new treasure home) – but my favorite potter is David Caradori. David grew up across the street from my house in Eau Claire. His brother was in my grade school class and our Moms shared a church card club. But regardless of our childhood connections, I buy from David because he is simply an amazing artist.
His years of study with Japanese masters are visible in his glaze designs and the wood firings take days to transform thrown clay with flames and ash. A short (4 minute) YouTube video reveals the result of the 2020 Autumn Firing from the Suskenei Kiln which produced approximately 650 finished pieces including the nine small bowls I requested in May for Christmas presents. Each small bowl is approximately 4 inches in diameter and perfect for holding a pinch of herbs to flavor a sauce or to keep stitch markers corralled or just to enjoy.
This was a kitchen day from mid-morning to mid-afternoon while prepping Richard’s simple birthday celebration requests.
Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake – Modified from one large springform pan to four small 5-inch silicone & glass bottom pans since there are just the two of us celebrating together in these Covid days. The topping is still to be determined. Do I go with simple fresh whipped cream, the recipe prescribed Amaretto flavored whipped cream, or a decadent chocolate glaze for a chocolate-on-chocolate birthday treat? (Decisions. Decisions.)
Barbecued short ribs – In the slow cooker after modifying Mom’s c. 1940 rib recipe from the Good Housekeeping cookbook she received as a 1945 wedding present.
All to be toasted with Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve, his early morning present. Additional packages mailed to Eau Claire to ensure secrecy will have to wait as we opt back into semi-self-quarantine with Minnesota and Wisconsin experiencing pandemic spikes.
My chocolate chip cookies may not be the height of gourmet desserts but they have the right mix of buttery crunch, pecans and, of course, extra chips to be scrumptious. Best enjoyed on a day when falling leaves compete with spitting snow for air space.
After months of car spec research, Richard determined the perfect combo of options for our new 2020 Audi Q5. He placed a February order specifically timed for a spring delivery so we could enjoy driving at least one season with clear vision through a windshield without sand and salt micro-pits.
After decades of silver vehicles we thought we’d whirl the color wheel and picked Azores Green only to learn that color had been discontinued just one week earlier. Then came Covid. Audi factories worldwide closed and our order for a Navarra Blue Q5 with Nougat Brown interior went into limbo.
Our excitement began building when Richard read factories were starting up. Anticipation took a big leap when we learned our car was built on August 11, then grew a bit more when it arrived in Houston from Mexico on September 4 Needless to say I did a happy dance yesterday when we learned our new Audi was being prepped in Rochester for Saturday pick up. With just 15 miles on the odometer, we have a future of driving fun starting with fall colors and nearby blue line twisty bits.
There are those iconic images that immediately alert the viewer to a special place, maybe a special time and memory as well: Mount Rushmore when I was seven; the Matterhorn on an early September morning in 1991 or the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium, 2018.
After decades of watching Formula 1 with Richard (free practice on Fridays, Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race) and attending five race weekends onsite, I recognize a number of international race tracks. One of the most iconic with homage to a bygone era is Spa where we watched a somewhat less exciting race from the bleachers at La Source in 2018. My travel journal reports:
As races go, this one was not the most exciting. All of the drama happened on lap one right in front of us. Hulkenberg hit the back of Alonso’s car as they accordioned into La Source, sending Fernando airborne over the top of Charles Leclerc. Very scary. Race results: Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen
Today’s race was viewed in home comfort with large screen details and ongoing color commentary without any of the radical weather changes for which the Ardennes Forest is known. And, without Flemish Frietes (thick cut, twice fried French fries served with gobs and gobs of mayo.) 2020 race results: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen
 Phoenix – 1989; Montreal – 2000 & 2014; Indianapolis – 2005; Spa – 2018
I can count on one hand the times I’ve flown in a small 2- or 4-seater plane and I don’t even need my thumb to complete the tally. Last night’s flight, in a Beechcraft Bonanza, made four. On a spectrum of summer evenings, this one was a definite top 10 with good company, cloudless skies and a rare spontaneous experience. Our flight path took us northeast from Rochester to Red Wing, south over the Mississippi River nearly to Winona before heading back west.
Over the years, with countless trips from Hokah to Lonsdale, Vasa to Alden and all the libraries and bookmobile stops in between, I know the blue line highways curve through the rolling hills of our Driftless area. But there is a missing link between knowing there are hills and only seeing our corner of Minnesota as a distant 2-dimensional view from the lightly scratched window of a Delta commercial flight. From 3,000 feet the geological undulations are beyond beautiful.
The evening sky had that early August haze and, while the groves of trees still held their verdant green color, the fields were twinged with late summer yellow, ripe for harvest. It was evident that within weeks the landscape would shift from green to amber to rich fall browns.
I always think of the Zumbro as more of a small stream than a real river but flying over the watershed showed an extensive network of creeks and a main channel that eventually winds its way east. And then, almost to Red Wing, but not quite to Wisconsin, we banked right and so we could follow the mighty Mississippi past Wabasha, over Lake City (the home of waterskiing) and to Alma. The bluffs on each side climb out of the river valley. There was a small smattering of boat traffic, including one barge. With the sun setting over my right shoulder, we made another sweeping right turn before engaging the instrument approach and landing. After parking on the tarmac, we helped spray and wipe the leading edge of the wings and tail to remove the summer bug splats.
Our last single engine flight was in September 1991 when a Swiss cousin took Richard, Dad and me up for a view of the Alps around Luzerne. While the landscape may have been more dramatic that day, this most recent flight was maybe even more memorable as it gave us a different view of our chosen home.
I have resurrected my long dormant WordPress skills to recreate this new personal website. While I have never been a real writer (unlike someone such as Elizabeth Klein who said that for her “writing is like breathing”), I tend to periodically dabble. In the immediate pre- and post- retirement days, I wrote to capture the swing of emotions as I left my professional days behind. And, since I preceeded a good friend into this next chapter of our working lives by six months, she had requested I share any insights. She claimed my musing were useful although I am still skeptical.
At the onset of our Covid-19 confinement as days merged totally undistinguishable into one another and spurred on by The Isolation Journals, I thought to capture some of the emotions of these unprecedented times. And it worked – sort of. But, never having taken a creative writing class, the daily exercises felt artificial. So another nonstarter.
But nagging at the back of my brain was the fact that my Raverly profile included a link to my long-abandoned Tumblr account, The Bead Working Librarian. This site was initially created in December 2013 as Thing 1 at the launch of 23 Mobile Things (the mobile edition of 23 Things on a Stick). As the title suggests, my artistic focus at the time was still on beads but the individual posts reflect my switch to fiber. My first thought was to simply migrate all the content to its own page within this new site so as to not loose the thread of my early knitting experiences. But, having gone through the painstaking work of migrating content several times for the SELCO website, my earlier writing simply did not merit that amount of time and work. Hence the content will stay at The Bead Working Librarian until Tumbr or this link disappears into cyberspace. What I will migrate from Tumblr is the crisp formatting that fits my writing style – – lots of pictures with short descriptive phrases to describe the current events in my life.