Magic, Tidal Pools, & Chocolate Cake

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails

And such are little boys made of.

 

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The sun-kissed days of summer are taking their exit cue and while I can hardly wait for the crisp days of autumn, I am savoring these last weeks of warm breezes and bright blue skies.  Little Man has been enjoying our daily outdoor adventures, especially now that he is at this grand age of discovery and observation.  Should we stumble upon a family of obstinate geese or a fanciful and energetic butterfly, he is entranced; magically his vibrating being becomes quiet and still for a few moments.  His intensity and curiosity for this wide world, for the seemingly mundane or often ignored, renews my own zeal for life and I find myself, also, in a constant state of wonderment.

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Enders Island - Fishers Sound

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While we were at Ender’s Island, he had the pleasure of discovering tidal pools.  I had mentioned in a previous post that one side of the island consisted of slabs of rock gradually descending into Fisher’s Sound.  Here, tenacious life thrives, rooted firmly to withstand the constant rush of waves.  Small white barnacles framed the edges of rocks where air and water met and chartreuse seaweed danced with each surge of foaming water.  Also here, cohabiting in these shallow pools, were hundreds of tiny black snails.  Little Man, who was secured with his father’s grip on his overalls, sat with feet submerged, picking up and examining every snail his greedy little fingers could find.  And so we sat, contently with only the sound of the waves and boats, reveling in the simple joys of our natural world.  This moment I captured in my soul and  preserved in my heart.  In future days when I can hardly believe how old he is, or we are, here is where I will come again to play among the tidal pools.

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When snails are in short supply, that magical moment of quiet and stillness can be conjured by appeasing LM’s sweet tooth.  Our family favorite this summer was a Chocolate Zucchini Cake, or Chocolate Courgette Cake if you are partial to alliterations.  Zucchini and buttermilk make this cake remarkably moist and semi-sweet chips scattered on top add a double dose of chocolate and a little texture.  Be sure to use a great quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger, Green & Black, or Ghirardelli for the best results.

 

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 ¼ cup Flour

½ cup Cocoa

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1 tsp. Salt

1 ¾ cup Sugar

½ cup Butter, softened

½ cup Oil

2 Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla

½ cup Buttermilk

2 cups grated Zucchini (from about 2 ½ medium zucchini)

1 cup Chocolate Chips

Butter a 9 x 13” dish.  Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt.  Beat together sugar, butter, and oil.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Beat in vanilla.  Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour (in three additions).  Fold in the zucchini.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the cake.

Bake at 325°F for 40 – 50 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan.

 

– I do not recall where I picked up this recipe but is is not an original of mine.

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This excerpt is from a popular Nursery Rhyme.  And from what I can remember of my own childhood, little girls are also made of similar stuff.

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A Snowy Day At Pooh Corner

The clock was still saying five minutes to eleven when Pooh and Piglet set out on their way half an hour later.  The wind had dropped, and the snow, tired of rushing round in circles trying to catch itself up, now fluttered gently down until it found a place on which to rest, and sometimes the place was Pooh’s nose and sometimes it wasn’t, and in a little while Piglet was wearing a white muffler round his neck and feeling more snowy behind the ears than he had ever felt before.

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“Hallo, Eeyore,” said Christopher Robin, as he opened the door and came out.  “How are you?”

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

“And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore.  “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

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By Virginian standards, this winter has been tremendous.  Most of the places I have lived provided a sense of  predictability in regards to the weather.  Germany offered cold, snowy winters and breezy, cool summers.  Florida’s pendulum swung between periods of warm winds and muggy rains.  Texas was so awful I have forgotten it completely.  Virginia, however, must be just south enough and just enough north to never really know where it is, offering a wonderful unpredictability when it comes to every season.  In my twelve years here, I have never seen so much snow in one winter.

This snowy season has been an adventure with interesting discoveries:  One, we do not own a shovel –  something that might be useful in getting to one’s vehicle.  Two, I don’t actually own proper gloves for a real winter, but I do have a wonderful selection of hats.  Three, even if Little Man’s socks are soaked and mittens soggy, he will throw a loud and flailing tantrum when I carry him back inside from playing in the snow.

Once we are indoors and warmed through, we find various activities to occupy the little mind and busy hands.  Then something magical happens in the afternoons: He tires.  Not tired enough to nap, yet just enough where his little limbs find comfort as they sink into the couch and chubby fingers curl around neck of a small stuffed giraffe.  And so we are, during the quietest part of the day, piled under soft blankets with a stack of books, completely immersed in a world of childish wonder and imagination.

A few afternoons ago, as the snow hovered down softly, we began The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.  The first story in the book follows Pooh and Piglet as they build a house for their friend Eeyore in the midst of a snow storm.  I laughed aloud at Eeyore’s brand of optimism and for the first time sympathized with a timid little pig.  We finished our story time and with new energy  Little Man began to make soup with a pot and wooden blocks.  I reheated some coffee and I felt the urge for a little smackerel of something.

What could be more perfect than Honey Madeleines for our snowy day at Pooh Corner?

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These madeleines are superbly moist and sweet with the floral richness of honey.  While they are fine at room temperature, they are best warm, right out of the tin.  I could never confess how many I immediately devoured – it is quite embarrassing.  I should be ashamed of myself.

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Honey Madeleines
Makes 18 Madeleine Cookies.

¾ cup Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter, melted

1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus extra for the madeleine tins

1 teaspoon Baking Powder

3 large Eggs

¾ cup of Sugar

3 tablespoons of Honey

Brush the madeleine tins with the melted butter and dust with flour then tap out excess.  Set the tins in the freezer.

In a bowl whisk together one cup of flour and the baking powder.  In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the eggs, sugar, and honey until pale yellow.  Add the butter, one piece at a time, beating  constantly.  On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  Set the bowl in the fridge to rest for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove the madeleine tins from the freezer and the batter from the fridge.  Give the batter a quick stir and then place heaping spoonfuls into each madeleine mold.  Don’t worry about the batter touching all the edges as it will spread while baking.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 – 15 minutes, the edges should be golden brown and the tops of the madeleines should spring back gently when touched.

Cool on a wire rack until the madeleines are cool enough to handle.  Remove from the tins and serve at once.

– Recipe from The Essentials of French Cooking by Williams-Sonoma, with additional explanations.

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Excerpts from The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne.

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Time Travel

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Time is not linear or progressive.  It bends, flowing chaotically, moving us from place to place, from moment to moment.  Sometimes you can travel through the minutes and years with an instantaneous thought, recalling sensations and intimacy of a forgotten existence.  Sometimes you need a time machine.  They really aren’t that hard to come by, you just need to know how to find them.  We all have our own, particular to us.  They surround us, always ready for use, patiently waiting to bring us through worlds past and present, remembrance of things good and bad.

My latest time machine was a purchase.  Usually they are free, but sometimes you need to buy one.  This one was small red box decorated with pictures of animals.  I originally bought it for my son, as a little surprise, unaware of its transmutable power.

There we were, my boy and I, sitting on a blanket I had laid out on the floor.  He rubbed his eyes, still sleepy from an afternoon nap, and his wispy blonde hair stuck up on one side of his head.  I sipped Earl Grey.  Tea time.  One of my favorite moments in the day.  I placed the red box in the middle of the blanket.  His eyes opened with curiosity.  I pulled up the lid, revealing a brown waxy package crimped at the top.  A sugary aroma mixed with wheat and cardboard drifts upwards as I pull apart the edges and exotic creatures begin their escape.

I no longer exist in the now.

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I am pulled and replaced.  My hands are small, fingers long but still a little chubby, poking through a metal framework of squares.  My knees are up to my chest, making room for boxes of spaghetti, cans of soup, and a bunch of bananas also residing in my space.  My mother and brothers are nearby, but I do not see them.  Right now I am obsessed with the same red box, being held by a thin, papery, white string looped around my arm.  There is a circus in my little purse.  I stop poking my fingers through the side of the cart, reach inside, and pull out a ridiculous monkey with a banana.  He is ridiculous because all monkeys are.  He runs along my knees, attempting to jump through one of the little metal squares, but today is not his day.  I devour him, head first of course.  That is the merciful way to do it.  Next, I pull out an elephant, who was quite furious that the monkey was let out first, until he, too, realized his fate.  One by one, giraffes, hippos, and lions leave in my ultimate enjoyment, until the only crumbs and a few limbs remain.

I begin to move.  Traveling forward, my pasts intertwine, where glimpses of my life move through a zoetrope of space and time progressing faster and faster.  Memories blur, seconds collide.  Faster and faster until I – STOP.

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My son has his hand deep in the heart of the circus and pulls out a giraffe.  He laughs and knowingly bites off the head first.  He is not old enough to time travel yet, but I know I’ll be back here one day – sitting with him and watching his sheer pleasure over his first box of animal crackers.  I’ll tell him about it.  The day he tamed lions, ate a giraffe, held an elephant in the palm of his hand, and danced around with ridiculous monkeys.

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