November 16th, 2016
Last week felt endless.
Our escape to a little town in Wine Country with the dog and one of the boys was perfectly timed. The sun was warm. The river was low, but it flowed. Golden leaves dazzled against a clear blue sky.
We didn’t fully unplug, but we took a time-out.
We breathed in.
We breathed out.
We appreciated the clean sweet air.
We hoped it stays this clean, this sweet.
We laughed at our dog who wants to swim in the river but doesn’t seem to know how.
She was happy, even if she wasn’t brave, or even very wet, for that matter.
We biked to the town square and had lunch in the sun. We joked with our 12-year-old, who spoke in various accents and insisted we buy reindeer hats for the dog and the cat. We listened as he explained his thinking: Al Gore won the popular vote. Hillary won the popular vote. The Electoral College is a busted system.
We discussed, clarified, agreed.
We thought how lucky he is to have a 7th-grade teacher who admitted to the class she almost skipped school the day after the election because she was so sad. Then she heard Hillary’s speech and remembered showing up is more important now than ever.
We ate Parmesan truffle French fries and chocolate ice cream.
We watched Big with Tom Hanks and marveled at how young he looked.
We slept well in soft, warm beds.
We woke up to news of a massive earthquake in New Zealand and waited, anxiously, to hear our loved ones were okay.
We acknowledged the earthquake puts a bit of a damper on the post-election option, “Move to New Zealand.”
We strolled by the river one more time, tossing sticks the dog refused to fetch.
We started making the subtle “back to reality” shift that happens at the end of a weekend away.
The dog, the son and the husband left.
I stayed a little longer, loading the dishwasher, checking in again with friends on the other side of the world who had just felt the ground tremble and slip under their feet. They’d been unexpectedly shaken and stirred.
I thought about those words: shaken. Stirred.
And I thought, yes, that seems about right.
Sticky Toffee Date Cake With Bourbon Glaze
If you’re figuring out what to serve for dessert this Thanksgiving, consider one of my all-time favorites. This Sticky Toffee Date Cake recipe comes from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust. I think it’s an absolute winner. Yes, it’s a little time-consuming, but trust me, it’s worth it!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch
round cake pan.
For the cake
¾ pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 tsp baking soda
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1½ Tbs baking powder
For the sauce
12 Tbs (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)
Place the dates in a deep saucepan with one cup of water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Allow to simmer for one minute. Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!). Set aside.
Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl. (The mixture may look curdled.) Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter.
With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl. The batter will be runny but don’t worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup. Set aside.
As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour the remaining sauce on top. Cool completely.
Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My friend Stephanie contributed this week’s book review. Stephanie is one of my favorite people to hike with, and when we do, we often talk about books. When she told me she had just finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, I was intrigued. I knew it had received rave reviews. I also knew many such reviews included words like “traumatic,” “difficult” and “torrentially long.” In other words, Not. My. Kind. Of. Book. Here’s what Stephanie has to say about A Little Life, including why she’d recommend it.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara follows four friends who meet at a prestigious New England college. Their journey continues to New York City, where they pursue their dreams in each of their desired careers. Malcolm is an architect. Willem is an aspiring actor. JB is a visual artist and Jude is a lawyer and brilliant mathematician. A Little Life focuses mainly on Jude, who suffers in secret over his brutal and violent past. Jude is haunted by demons he tells no one about, leaving him isolated. Jude’s many traumas make it difficult, if not impossible, to get close to anyone, even though he is deeply loved by his friends. In fact, his friends are his only salvation.
Jude’s shame about his past, which dictates his every move, is revealed slowly and painfully throughout the 700-plus-page novel. This subversive novel graphically depicts the horrors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse and self-mutilation. It is a dark and, at times, disturbing book. Yet it is written with such depth of emotion that I found it impossible not to get swept away by the author’s incredible prose. I liked A Little Life because it is raw and real. It takes readers on a journey through the very best and the very worst of human behavior. This ride is not for the faint of heart.
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