When you are weak, stand with me. I’ll lend you strength.

I’ll hand you a crumpled paper bag.

You’ll open it to find a scrap of heart, still beating.

I’ll reveal the scars that criss cross a back.

They will not diminish us.

I’ll offer you a photograph.

Allow the images to speak.

You’ll sense a glance, familiar. A posture, strong. A smile so endearing, your heart cracks. Turn the photo. A penciled notation is fashioned in perfect script. Evidence of loss and struggle amidst beauty.

I’ll reach for your hand.

You’ll reach back.

It’s impossible to separate our souls, our stories.

Our ancestors do not leave us, rather, they gather to bear witness, to stand alongside.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

~Long ago I learned to make friends with silence.

” We must have pie. Stress can’t exist in the presence of pie.”

David Mamet, Boston Marriage

I close the book. Summer rain falls. A breeze slips through the screen on the open door. Autumn is a patient friend. One who waits for leaves to fly. A resident squirrel, cheeks full with acorns, scoots between the tall evergreen and fence. The world’s metronome taps a steady beat.

Some things remain uncertain, even in their certainty. I miss my mother. She waits for the seasons to turn and the pandemic to leave.

“It will leave.”

Her voice sounds less certain, more guarded.

“I don’t know. The world’s a mess,” she says.

These are not the words I wish to hear. I want her to rally, offer up sage advice, to have an answer.

“Hold to hope, Mom. The world is changing, perhaps, for the better.”

The world is slowing down.

Every sunrise, hope returns. Built to heal, I find comfort in words, friends, mornings and increasingly, time spent in the kitchen. There is something sacred about standing in silence, in front of a stove, while flipping through the pages of a cookbook. If I can’t help you, I can nourish you.

I will bake a pie. Pie is a reminder of a simpler, slower time. The act of baking something as lovely as pie, soothes.

Pie is a memory.

‘Julie London’ croons from the speaker. My mother hums ‘Black Coffee,’ off- key. She stands in the kitchen, notices the large mixing bowl, her rolling pin, the one I kept. Flour dusts the floor. Pie is messy. Fruit stains like a bruise. She adjusts her apron.

I watch her turn. She pours herself a cup of Joe from the espresso machine. Tucking a lock of hair behind one ear, she pivots and smiles. “A looker,” with her symmetrical features, fairy- tale widow’s peak, a grid mark leading to a crown of raven hair. Red lips. She favoured red lipstick.

I remember. Standing in the doorway of the tiny bathroom, I’d watch as she opened the tube and etched colour to her lips.

She had said, ” The trick is to blot with Kleenex.”

As children, we’d find ruby lip stained tissues carelessly left upon the bathroom counter, accidentally dropped onto the floor or peeking from her opened purse. Sometimes, I would scoop one up like a specimen, tuck it into a book, all to preserve a tangible piece of her.

Those days, I’d sit at the table and exchange knowing glances with my sister. Our mother’s style is now lost, other era, a nod to a fancier time where dresses ruled the kitchen and sling backs waited at the front door. Her ‘French look’ and clothing cut from Vogue, tailored by Singer, was soon to be another lost art. We thought her beautiful.

I watch as she lifts a teaspoon from the drawer and samples the filling. She closes her eyes, pleased.

Turning around, she has gone.

It’s certain. The world spins, seasons change, people come and go. What’s new is old. Some people enter our lives to teach us. Others, so precious we never forget their presence, and then there is pie.

Once considered old fashioned, pies are having a moment. Boutique bakeries offer pies “to go” because “made from scratch” pies are thieves of time. There are steps to follow: use cold butter, cut it into the flour (use two knives). Slightly beat the eggs. Add sugar by the teaspoon. Squeeze the lemon. There is timing in the mix. Chill the dough. There are tools to assemble. Find a four inch cutter. Shhh. I use a marimekko sugar bowl. Find a pastry brush (a small, clean paint brush does the trick). Prep the fruit.

As children, we picked our fruit from backyard trees. Sometimes apple, other times, pear or plum and once in awhile, at the end of a particularly long school day, we’d arrive home and spy a freshly baked pie on the counter. Cinnamon whispered stories of far away lands.

Our family rarely ate pie. When the spirit moved our mother to make a pie (and it was usually in autumn), she’d save the left over pastry bits, kneading and patting the dough to form a ball. If she was short of filling, she’d substitute jam.

I sense my mother’s return.

Gently, she rolls the dough out onto the counter. Dipping a spoon into the saucepan, she tops each round with filling. A brush stroke dips into a saucer of milk, coats the edges of pastry. Overlapping and pressing, she lifts a fork, touching the tines to the dough. With a sharp knife she fashions a top cut.

“Hand Pies.” The semilunar fit was perfect for our small hands. Silently, we’d nibble along the pressed edge, allowing crumbs to fall into a dish of vanilla ice cream, every bite of steamed fruit, richer, tastier. In this moment, we understood. Mom had loved us enough to create a magical delight at the sweet end of the scale.

I place three Hand Pies into a tin. For her.

A text appears.

You bake pies?

I smile. Say it like it’s a bad thing.

You can’t.

Quote: David Mamet: Boston Marriage

COVID19 Moment

she bakes pies

Paeonia

Bees dance. If the sun is hot, you’ll swear they talk.

“Walk barefoot through the garden until you find her,” they say.

Paeonia. The bees have held back her stories and claimed her as one of their own. They beckon to follow beyond the fence of rose canes, thorns sharp. An ornate bird bath stands in the distance. You wonder who placed it there and the story behind it.

You follow to a clearing carpeted by moss. Beneath your feet is hidden evidence of another world- a black tunnelled darkness where drowsy beetles sleep and artifacts are buried: the torso of a child’s broken toy soldier, the bones of a bunny, lovingly set to rest in a cloth lined, cardboard box.

A completely different map. Where you stand, a river once flowed. Boulders line the now dusty bank. Ancient time seeps into your bones.

The bee’s drone reminds you: she waits, green fists tight amidst the darkest of foliage. Wild yet tame. Her head bows under the weight of a heavy crown.

Paeonia.

You sense a rustle, feel a breeze. Soft petals drop at your feet.

And suddenly, you’re in love again.

The world is a mysterious place, so much of what exists is hidden. This truth magnifies the allure. It is the dance of bees, the forgotten bird bath and mossy life. It is layer upon layer. Such is the peony seed that drops from the swallow’s beak to bury between the crack in the paver. Humble yet proud, it fights to bloom another spring.

~ Draft

Simple Goodness

heaven is a rhubarb crisp

If you had climbed the high fence that surrounded our back yard, and peeked over, you’d have noticed a garden. Tomato plants stood, tall and staked, ruby orbs shadowing the sunniest wall. Lazy bees slept in lavender bushes. A clump of chives grew in one corner of the plot. As children, we snipped the verdant tips to bring to the kitchen, a garnish for new potatoes. There was rhubarb, its crimson stalks ranging from rich, deep red to shy, speckled pink.

It is satisfying to pull something from the ground. We’d snip, our tiny fingers fumbling with scissors. We’d pick the fattest tomatoes from the vine and pluck the firmest stalks of rhubarb. A quick rinse and a slow dip into the sugar bowl, when our mother’s back was turned. Rhubarb was our garden candy: tart and sweet.

Rhubarb is an old fashioned slice of heaven- any time. Imagine my ‘Oh Joy’ moment when I opened the front door and saw the unexpected paper bag, a gift from a friend. Inside, was half a banana cake (vanilla iced), delicious chilled with a cup of dark roast coffee. She could spin this cake to gold. Tucked alongside the cake, three stalks of rhubarb, perfect for my second favourite dessert: crisp.

There are many reasons to bake: to nourish, create, perfect, and comfort. We bake to love: ourselves and others. When we bake something and offer a slice, we shrug, knowing to bake is a form of love. Crisp is simple. There is absolutely nothing fanciful about oats. I chop, bag and freeze the rhubarb for the perfect moment.

Today, this morning, is the moment I’ve waited for. Cloudy mornings and another day of COVID19 isolation, feel ‘lighter’ with a plate of warm crisp. There is comfort, knowing the clouds will disappear and the oven holds promise.

Open the freezer. Rhubarb compliments dark berries and strawberries. Use whatever is on hand. Modify. There are better recipes than mine, on line. I ‘wing’ it, reducing the sugar content, eliminating cornstarch. If the finished product appears too runny, drain the excess juice. You won’t be disappointed. Add slightly more oats (for the heart), cut back the butter.

There isn’t a crisp I haven’t devoured, best served with a scoop of ice cream or a ring of fresh cream. Heaven! Acknowledge these times. Be still. Be grateful. Savour each bite.

BEWARE: Recently I read: Fresh rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten, as it may be high in oxalic acid which migrates from the leaves and can cause illness. Who knew?

~ bake barefoot, little thoughts, COVID19, keepitsimple, simplegoodness

Lilacs and lost time. This is what I recall, whenever, I think of her. Lilacs and lost time.

The Lilacs are blooming. A favourite blossom, reminding me of lost time and dusty roads, elderly Aunties, climbing roses, and picnics on the lawn.

Lilacs are lovely. Their stems hate to be indoors. You can expect about a week of bloom if you follow these suggestions.

First thing in the morning, cut some long stems. Immediately, place your stems into cold water. These tips will help to preserve the tightness of flower.

I prefer tin buckets or tall glass cylinders to ‘house’ the lilacs. Let the heavenly scent fill a room.

Leave a bouquet on a doorstep.

“May: the lilacs are in bloom. Forget yourself.” 
― Marty Rubin

“Listen, Child.

Remember who we are: daughters of strong limbed women with imperfect hearts, makers and givers of life. Suffering to our dreams. Forming circles of comfort, sweet tea and honey. We cooked because we had to. Who else fed the children? Believers on a crooked path to a better life- a place where every other step didn’t involve a battle. Give it all up, lay it all down. Sacrifice is all we knew.

Sacrifice. This is your power. You don’t have to win. You don’t have to have all the answers. Grit your teeth and bear it. Turn suffering into beauty. Be a true hero. Fight for more than just your own heart. Have the courage to let some things go. You are victorious for the decisions you have made. They can not steal memories. Brave one, this is who we are. “

~Her Truth