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.

Boston, MA

Our New England adventure continues. (If you missed the post about Ender’s Island, be sure to read it here.)

We decided to end our road trip visiting Mr. H’s sister and fiancé in Boston.  My dad grew up in Massachusetts so it always comes as a surprise to people, including me, that I have never been to Boston.  Ah, that is the life of a military brat – never seeing the area your parents grew up but having seen Neuschwanstein twice before you were fourteen.

Old Meeting House

It was a one-day whirlwind tour with the intention of freely wandering Boston, just following the beat of the city and where it led us.  After breakfast, we found ourselves wondering where to wander and decided to follow a little red brick trail in the middle of the sidewalk.  We soon discovered it was the Freedom Trail and were led to the Irish Famine Memorial and Old Meeting House on School & Washington Streets and soon found Old City Hall where I paid homage to a statue of the first original Francophile, Benjamin Franklin.  Little Man loved the ABC Hopscotch outside of the First Latin Public School, threw a fit when we decided to move on, fell, scraped his knee, and had a Phineas & Ferb Band-Aid applied while leaning against a short brick wall.  (Semper Paratus – always travel with a little first aid kit.)  King’s Church we viewed from the outside exploring the crooked gravestones engraved with skulls and cherubs.  Then we marched down to Boston Commons, where Little Man stuck his hands into Brewer’s Fountain, rode a Carousel, and ran in circles as we viewed the grounds, Sailors & Soldier’s Memorial, and the Boston Massacre Memorial.  By early afternoon we met up with our lovely family and our officially unofficial city guides, who treated us to a ride in a swan boat and the revelation of Boston’s most important site: the tree under which he proposed.

We watched the ducks swim in the pond, walked through a beautiful little garden, and window shopped on Newbury Street.  I only took photos of Boston’s McKim Library building upon discovering it still was not open.  I was inspired by the two statues in the front of the building: Science is on the left staring to the right where Art sits staring back.  Knowledge requires both logic and creativity, fact and fiction, the tangible and the belief in all possibilities.   These statues are a beautiful reminder.

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We were soon hungry and took the T to Kennmore Square.  (Little Man was quite undone by this combination of train and bus – I am certain this was the ultimate highlight of his trip.)  Lunch at Eastern Standard was spectacular.  It was one of those relaxing, leisurely lunches filled with laughter and absolute pleasure, both in the culinary and company aspect.  There was a long menu of specialty cocktails that was torture to choose from but we overcame.  I sipped on a chilly pink Velo made with lemon, Cognac, and elderflower and also stole a sips of Mr. H’s yellow Becherovka and lemon Metamorphosis.  For lunch I ordered Eggs In Purgatory, because with a name like that how could I not?  I also enjoyed my first raw oysters and efficiently checked a box off of my Life To Do List.  (I refuse to call it a Bucket List because these are not things to do before I die but things to do because I live.)  The oysters were such a pure and clean sensation that I fail to find it comparable to anything else I have eaten.  I look forward to enjoying many more in the future and discovering “how I take them.”

 

(“Why” you may ask “Are there no pictures of your lunch and drinks?  Don’t you mainly write about food?”  I will tell you.  This is an enormous pet peeve of mine: taking pictures when dining out.  When I’m in the privacy of my own kitchen, creating something scrumptious for this blog, I have the thought and time set aside for taking pictures.   It is intentionally for a post and not interrupting my dining/cooking process.  When I am dining, I dine.  I don’t want to stop to take a snapshot of my food because it disrupts “the moment.”  It is a bit like foreplay, a seductive instant between me and what I am about to, hopefully, enjoy.  The anticipation as the plate is lowered before me, the hushed excitement at the table as each person eyes their dish and then mine and then theirs again.  The aromas tantalizing my senses as I pick up my fork and delve into that moment unequivocal truth, of knowledge, good, and evil: will this be everything it has been built up to be?  Delicious or mediocre?  A meal I will remember or just sustenance until the gnawing hunger in my stomach returns?  To take a picture strips my meal down to only the visual characteristics and disrupts “the moment.”   I like that moment.   And this is why I hate taking pictures of food while I am dining out.)

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After our stomachs were filled and limbs rested, we trekked to Harvard to fulfill another life-long desire of mine: to go to an Ivy League school.  Now I can say, truthfully, I went to Harvard.  I did not attend but I did go there.  Semantics, people.  Alas, another library visit was thwarted as only ID card-holding students could enter the Harvard Library.  We explored a small part of the campus, admiring the brick buildings and trees and thought them all to look very smart before going to the bookstore, where I bought a Harvard coffee cup with the intention drinking from it every morning and, also, feeling very smart.

Old Court House

By the time we arrived at the Harbor, walked through Faneuil Hall, and stopped to watch the sea lions swim near the aquarium, our feet ached and Little Man was falling asleep in his future uncle’s arms.  Our gracious city guides offered to become our gracious dinner hosts, to which we happily accepted.   And this was my favorite part of Boston.

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We were greeted with glasses of wine and a comforting meal of steak, mashed potatoes, summer squashes and asparagus, and this avocado-olive salsa to go with our beef that was absolutely incredible.  I still crave it. I’ll find myself daydreaming about it while waiting at the butcher counter.  The decision not to go to a restaurant happened to be a brilliant one as Little Man’s gentlemanly-and-good-behavior levels dropped into the red, having been drained by the day’s previous activities.  Dinner consisted of picking up his fork from the ground multiple times, half conversations interrupted by whining, and the inevitable game of everyone taking a turn holding him while the others ate.  Somewhere between that all-too-usual urge to both laugh and cry when my child acts up,  I realized that this was my favorite part of our trip to Boston.

Because when we are with family we have the luxury of being our stripped-down and exhausted selves.  We can expose those dirty secrets of “our child isn’t always perfect” and “parenting is basically us having no idea what we are doing.” And family still loves us, and feeds us, and will more than likely be happy to see us again. This moment may not be a grand historical event or large monument but for me it was epic.  Because love always is.

We'll be back, Harvard.

We’ll be back, Harvard.

 

Ender’s Island, CT

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A few weeks ago we found ourselves in New England. Our particular reason for being there wasn’t a very joyous one, as we paid tribute to my late grandmother.  However, she lived exuberantly and finding moments of pleasure and beauty during our trip was only appropriate and honorable.

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We started with a short visit to one of my brothers (I am the ring leader of seven: four brothers and two sisters.) on Ender’s Island, near Mystic, Connecticut.  It is a small island.  Very small.  In fact if you stand over its heart you can look from side to side and see water.  (This observation halted my lull to sleep as I suddenly realized we were completely surrounded by water.  Then I thought it was curious and exciting, then proceeded to drift off.)  The island is home to a Catholic Retreat, a place of peace and solace for those who need it.  My brother works there whilst going to school and pursuing priesthood.  Watching my siblings become adults is delightfully riveting.  People with whom I used to create Playmobil worlds, steal sun-warmed berries from prickly bushes, and was forced to do things such as share my M&Ms are suddenly doing things like getting married, joining the military, or becoming a priest.  At times this makes me feel old.  Most of the time it makes me thankful I’m no longer in my twenties!

 

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Back to the island.  Ender’s Island was exactly what my heart needed before such a sobering weekend.  Stone walls and buildings are scattered among green stretches of grass under large shady trees.  Everywhere you turned there were little gardens filled with bright flowers, blooming bushes, and statues of saints and deities.  A small sandy beach on one end and large slabs of rock going into Fisher’s Island Sound provided immediate access to the refreshing smells and breezes of the salty sea.  Mr. H, who loves all things calm and composed, proclaimed that he’d be content sitting in a chair and watching the ocean and sailboats for the rest of his days.  The Little Man, whose current passions and hobbies are anything but placid, had many things to explore plus doting Grandparents, uncles, and an auntie to give his tattered parents a break.

The tranquility of the island is mirrored in its people as the few I met were overwhelmingly sweet and generous.  From sharing Lindt Chocolates to casual conversations between meals or in the gardens, we were, and are, so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this little haven.

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Next up: Boston!