Scent of Almonds

Today has involved, among other things, the internet’s insistence that it couldn’t establish a secure connection to the blog, a singing lesson, and the augmenting of the Christmas Cake. We’re fairly sure the last one went wrong, somewhere between skewering the cake and soaking it in orange juice as per the instructions. Turn upside-down, they read. Add Orange Juice, they said .So we did these things, and righted the cake, because it said to do that too. And then we thought about it, and wondered how, gravity being what it is, a perforated cake was going to absorb orange juice sitting right-side-up and wrapped in clingfilm and tinfoil. The marzipan was on by then too – also as per the instructions – and we’re pretty sure that none of the above sequence is good for marzipan. We’re certain, after a sample of the stuff, that we prefer making it from scratch. It’s nothing against store-bought, but it always tastes sweeter than the home-made stuff. And not quite like almond. On the other hand, we were all saved eyeing marzipan out of obscure kitchen corners into the next millennia, so that was good.

Almonds resurfaced in the tea. It smelled of sweet almonds, which is good, because anything else would send a sane literary critic running the other direction and worrying about cyanide. Just us? It may be entirely possible we’ve read one murder mystery too many. Anyway, it’s a green tea that tastes of roasted almonds a combination that works well. It’s long in the mouth and stands being steeped for long periods of time.

Things being what they are, we ought to have a poem on hand about almonds or Christmas cakes, or something for consistency. In fairness, we did look. The absolute dearth of literate has us convinced that all anyone ever took away from marzipan was a blizzard of icing-sugar. Blizzard being, naturally, the collective noun for amassed icing sugar. Probably any poet whose baked the stuff is still coaxing it out of the crevices of counters and finding residual powder behind the toaster. Good to know we’re in good company on that one.

Instead, here’s a poem about the new year. Precipitate, possibly, but then, Advent is our liturgical new year, so it’s not entirely without relevance.

Year’s End

Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.
I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.
There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii
The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

The Theology of Dogs

. We’re drinking spiced green tea tonight, a worthy successor to the Crumble Tea sacramentalized by the Anglican Inquisition. If that sounds like dubious theology, it probably is. You must understand that the Anglican Inquisition is comprised of one Anglican, two Presbyterians and an atheist, among others. Ecumenical Inquisition is just a mouthful though -even if not even the tea shops expect them. Besides, we’re not the only ones with suspect doctrine.

Pictured above are the Dachshunds of Dawlish. We don’t mention them as often as we do the Marschallin-cat, which is a grievous disservice considering their adoration of the the Human Pillow. Though as you will gather from the pictures, the theology of Dachshunds is fairly fluid. Buffy (she sits right) is also a sun-worshipper and a coveter of warm floor tiles and heat vents. Augie (pictured left) is braw, blue, and frequently pays fealty to the Fabulous Orange Ball. No one, not even his fellow Dachshund, understands why. Of course, he’s not averse to a spot of sun-worship either.

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Or to crossword solving:

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Or, as it turns out, to baking, though we failed to document evidence of this, being too taken up the other evening with the shortbread. Here they are petitioning for food though. All that hopeful watching is hungry work when shortbread is at stake.

Anyway, in loving and long-overdue tribute to the Dancing Dachshunds of Dawlish (who are also by turns delightful, devious, and decidedly stubborn) here’s a poem about their canine contemporaries and the things they put their trust in.

Pete’s Theology

Donald Marquis

god made seas to play beside
and rugs to cover dogs
god made cars for holidays
and beetles under logs
god made kitchens so thered be
dinners to eat and scraps
god made beds so pups could crawl
under them for naps
god made license numbers so theyd find
lost pups and bring them home
god made garbage buckets too
to pry in when you roam
god made tennis shoes to chew
and here and there a hat
but i cant see why god should make
mehitabel the cat

pete the pup

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The Marschallin-cat, by the way, has no doubt about why God made Dachshunds. They exist to have their noses hit. Dachshunds, are, after all, at optimum nose-hitting level. What you see in the picture is the rare and amicable convening of the Dachshund Embassy with her Imperiousness. Augie, alas, has yet to make any headway. Only girls allowed in this particular club. But he lives in hope. And in the meantime there’s spiced green tea, illicit sandwiches, shortbread crumbs, rugs and cars and beetles under logs. Dachshunds really do have an idyllic existence.

 

Culinary Inheritances

We made shortbread this evening -our grandmother’s recipe -in a bowl beloved by a great-great-grandmother, repaired by our father when we were in hospital years ago. We stir our tea with apostle teaspoons that came by way of a great-great-grandmother, whose crucifix we also have; no one else was quite catholic enough for these, apparently. There’s a tea cozy quilted by our aunt to see if she could, and the long-handled teaspoon, a gift from our academic daughter when we moved house to the Scotland flat years ago. She gave it us with tea towels and some tea, wee mindings all, but the long-handled teaspoon is the best thing we have for measuring tea, and we still use the tea towels. The tea we used up long ago.

There’s the lavender-stamp china that came to us early when our other grandmother, who uses a different shortbread recipe -one with salted butter -moved from Guelph to Toronto, and it only gets an airing at Christmas. There’s our jumble of everyday china too, Dresden plate (a birthday gift) knocks elbows with Cloudough (now too cracked for practical use) and Gladstone Blue Ribbon, to name a handful.

Most of this is now in boxes, but the kitchen is still the beating heart of a house to us. We’re mulling it over while contemplating a cup of Cream of Earl Grey, smoother than usual, but to paraphrase Dr Johnson on Edinburgh, about which not a lot can be said that hasn’t been said already. Naturally there’s no poem for Earl Grey along those lines, but imagine our surprise, and delight when we found this one on the familial histories kitchens tell.

When I Am In the Kitchen

Jeanne Marie Beaumont

I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend’s
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt’s sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband’s grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother’s
teapot, my mother’s Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law’s Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin’s egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father’s hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, “sift and mix dry ingredients”
with his note that this makes “3 waffles in our
large pan” and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.