Friday, August 30, 2013

Baking Bread

Anyone who bakes their own bread probably knows this and I'm a late comer, but King Arthur Flour has an awesome web site with some pretty incredible recipes. In particular, I'd like to offer praise for their Vermont whole wheat, oatmeal, and honey bread. If you follow the proportions, you get two one-pound loaves that beat Sara Lee by about a buck a loaf and the grocer's bakery by two. Not only that, it tastes better (sorry, Sara, nothing personal) and you've got total control over the calories, fat, and salt.

Now, KA says to use maple sugar but I've substituted 1/4 cup of maple syrup and it comes out fine. Maple sugar's expensive and relatively hard to come by, so substitution is the order of the day. They also call for cinnamon, which is a nice addition. but I held off this week and used only maple syrup plus 1/2 teaspoon of Frontier Natural Products maple extract and it came out wonderfully sweet and tasty. I'd love to try a maple essence but thus far all I've been able to find is orange, but add that to chocolate chip cookies and you'll die happy.

I can also give five stars to their Classic Apple Crisp recipe, having made that this past week, as well. With both big apple trees going postal, I've had to be a little more creative than the usual apples and peanut butter.  

This isn't an especially literary piece; I just thought I'd pass along my good fortune for anyone else who loves the aroma of home-baked bread in the kitchen. 

(Creative commons image of King Arthur Flour types by gabster_ro via Flickr)
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Like Apples off the Tree

I was reading an older post this morning, in which I mentioned hearing the sound of apples falling onto the garage roof from the Black Oxford tree that stands next to it. They've been doing it again lately, dropping like fist-sized bombs and sending my youngest dog running for the window to see what or who's threatening his territory. He's a sensitive little guy, though little is not the best word to use, I suppose. He's almost the height of the big dog, a 90 pound yellow Lab, but half his weight and twice his nerve. I won't say he's fearless, but he does his best to act like it. 

I have four apple trees growing on this parcel of heaven, fifteen or so miles west of the Maine coast. All of them are ancient varieties, the offspring of seeds brought to the Colonies by European immigrants, as are most native Maine apples. You can go to commercial orchards and pick ancients as well as the familiar red and golden delicious and Macintosh. How these four came to be planted here, I have no idea, but I'd wager the largest, the Black Oxford, has been around at least a hundred years, from the diameter of its trunk.

The next largest is a Moses Wood, named for a Winthrop, Maine, farmer who was an early grafter of the tree, and the others are either Summer Sweet or Winter Sweet -- I don't know for sure what they are, to tell the truth -- and produce yellowish-green fruit that are better for cooking than eating from the tree. The Oxfords are a winter apple and really need a frost to bring out the flavor. The Moses Wood, if I've identified it correctly, that is, has had a difficult few years, but it bounced back this month as though trying to make up for lost time. It's been so prolific, I've had to give bags of tangy-sweet apples to my neighbors before they went bad. The apples, not my neighbors.

The little yellow trees are full this year, too, but the fruit are so small that by the time they're pealed, there's little left but the core. They're better for throwing, anyway, or so I imagine a younger version of myself thinking and then doing, trying to see how far he could launch them down the long grassy slope that leads to the hayfield. Much to the delight of the deer that have been feeding there in the evenings.

My tenant, Freddy the Porcupine, who lives under the barn. has taken to munching apples in front of the garage at night. Most mornings I'll find the evidence of his nocturnal snacking inches from the door -- a half-chewed apple -- as though he feels he should leave it for me to finish. I guess it's his way of paying rent. Two years ago, when he moved in, he had the habit of snoozing in the flowerbeds, snuggled up against the house in the afternoon sun. I saw him the other night and he's no more afraid of me now than he was then.

I've been like the little apple trees, it seems, for a long time. Ideas a plenty but none juicy enough to write about. Now, I feel more like the Moses Wood, if not prolific, at least more productive. Pink Hats has been on my mind and like Freddy's apple, "someone" needs to finish it off. Reading over the chapters, a couple of things have caught my attention. We've never really gotten a glimpse of Jessie's inner process, how she got to the place in her life where marrying Bob and becoming an adoptive mother straight off was doable. I've been working on that as well as a post about the conversation between Bob and her father in Untarnished and in Uncharted Territory. I hope, like apples off the tree, they're worth sitting down and biting into. In the meantime, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.

(Creative Commons image of ancient apple trees by gemteck1 via Flickr)

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Behind the Scenes with Dr. Neal Cross

Like many medical schools, fairly early in the first term mine presents a memorial service for families whose loved ones donated their bodies as cadavers for Gross Anatomy. While I've referenced our service in another blog post, I've never revealed how I came to be one of the student speakers for the service celebrated by my entering class, the UNE Class of 2010. 

It came about in the late evening chill of September 17, 2006. September usually acts like summer in my native Colorado, unless it gets a wild hair and decides to imitate winter with an early season snowfall, as it did in 1997, dropping 30 inches overnight. Here in Maine, there's no denying September is autumn, especially in the evening and especially near the coast. My school is within walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean and even though days are comfortably warm, when the sun goes down so goes the temperature. 

For our service, the new class is positioned on the east side of the staging area. They're really present as witnesses, but because they constitute a wall protecting the celebrants and families from intrusion, I like to think of them as Guardians of Reverence. The previous year's class, the one for whom this service is most meaningful. is seated with the family members and faculty. An honor guard, led by a piper, opens the ceremony. Clad in dark blue Yankee uniforms from the Civil War and bearing Old Glory and the state flag of Maine, they are a sight to see.

Why the Civil War and not modern uniforms? This is New England and history is honored here. Our service and the internment of ashes takes place on the rim of a cemetery on campus that dates from the 1600s. Old slate gravestones mark the names of those whose sons and daughters gathered at First Parish Meeting House that used to stand on this very spot (it has since been relocated a mile away) and listened as the Declaration of Indepedance was read aloud in 1776. I stopped once on my way home, and at the invitation of a groundskeeper, stepped inside. It is plain and simple, with white wooden pews covered with black velvet seat pillows. Along the back walls are photos of veterans dating from 1861; the smells of must and dust and time are as vivid as the afternoon sunlight that streams through old, single pane windows. In the silence, you can't help but hear, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

Following an introduction by the Anatomy faculty, two or three students take the podium to speak on behalf of their classmates and try to put into words what it's meant to work so intimately with the bodies of persons we've never met. There are words of thanks and appreciation that we hope become words of comfort to family members who've waited a year to see their loved ones laid to rest, here, at the end of the world.

After the service is over, people mingle and chat, the first years leave early because Gross Anatomy for them is far from over and it seems there's always an exam pending. I wandered over to Dr. Neal Cross, our professor and the director of the anatomy program, and we talked about this and that. I was struggling in anatomy, despite having done well as a premed, and he and I had discussed my situation in detail. The truth is, I was afraid my first term in medical school would be my last. Somewhere in the mix, Dr. Cross said to me, "You should be a speaker next year." 

I responded, "You really think I'll still be here?" I resisted adding, "Are you nuts?"

"You'll be here," he said, nodding, "though I may not be. In either case, I'll make sure you're on the list of student speakers." He asked me to keep it to myself, which I did, but he was contemplating accepting another faculty position elsewhere and mine proved to be his last year teaching in Maine.

I went home with a small, dim but real, glimmer of hope that helped get me through the rest of the term, despite the fact that I'd have to repeat anatomy the following summer. Dr. Cross was right. I made it to next year and the years following, all the way to graduation. I don't know what he saw in me or what he knew. I didn't ask and he didn't say. Some things, I guess, are best left where they lay, behind the scenes. 

This past weekend, Dr. Neal Cross passed away, far too young and far too soon. I'm told a motorcycle accident was partly to blame. Though we never had any contact after he moved on, I've never forgotten the faith he gave me that night and I never will.

Thanks, Neal.  

 (Photo of Dr. Neal Cross courtesy of the University of New England, all rights reserved)
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