Celebrating Special Days with Special Treats

Cake imageThe joyful birthday of our country on July fourth happens to be right next to and between my husband Stephen’ birthday on the third and our wedding anniversary on the fifth. Over the many years of our life together what a wonderful time we have had with our celebrations. In the past we would share what we used to call our three days of peace and love with friends. They would come from everywhere and stay for the three days, overflowing our large home and even camping in the back yard. The pool and the hot tub were frequently in use. They were joyous occasions.

Today we live more quietly, yet we still celebrate and have friends in to join us, though not so many or for so long. Special recipes are always fun to share for these occasions. One of Stephen’s favorites is a cake made with Almond paste or Marzipan. The main ingredient can be purchased at almost any market. This cake is not the kind to be frosted however you could also decorate it with fruit. In my case if I decide to make it this year I might spell out Happy Birthday Stephen with pieces of strawberry.

Marzipan Cake for Special Occasions

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour, or grease and line with parchment an 8″ round cake pan.

Ingredients:

7 or 8 oz almond paste or marzipan

¾ cups butter

2/3 cups sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ tsp baking powder

1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method: Crumble almond paste into bowl. Add butter. Beat well until blended. Gradually add sugar and beat well until mixture is light in color and texture. Add beaten eggs, continue beating for 3 minutes. Add flavoring. Sprinkle in baking powder by pinches. Fold in flower. Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and browned on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes on a rack. Slide a thin knife around and under the cake to detach from pan. Invert on rack then turn right side up and finish cooling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

This cake is a wonderful treat, and can easily be made gluten free by using a flour mix from Bob’s Red Mill or another one you might like. It really helps to have a mixer, as it would be very labor intensive to mix it by hand, though it would also be excellent exercise. Whether I make this recipe or another I am fond of, I know I will enjoy celebrating these special days.

Fathers Can Be Nurturers Too

Stephen and FlowersFathers Day actually sprang to life in 1910, the same year as the day honoring mothers. However, Mother’s Day was established as the second Sunday in May in 1914 and took hold as a celebration much faster. Father’s Day also arose in other places, each unbeknownst to the other and was celebrated sporadically for many years. In 1957 Senator Margaret Chase smith proposed it be officially established the third Sunday in June. However in the end it wasn’t until 1972 that President Nixon signed a congressional resolution establishing it like Mother’s Day, on a continuing basis.

It may seem strange that it took much longer to establish a day for fathers, yet until fairly recently in our western society, their role has been more often that of the protector and provider than of the nurturer. My children’s father was a case in point. My first child was about 6 months old when I had to go out and leave her in his care. I asked him to change her diaper if need be. On my return she wore an unfolded cloth diaper, pinned at the corners with the rest of the cloth dangling between her legs. Men didn’t care for their infants then.

It delights my heart to see fathers caring for their infants or toddlers in public. I see them now in markets as well as on sidewalks, in crowds at gatherings and at the beach. This is a new phenomenon in our society and I believe it is an important step toward happier children and a more balanced family life. The tenderness of men is a strong instinct and one I am very happy to see given a chance to blossom. In many older families one or more animal companions may take the place of human children as objects of nurturing love. It is healthy to care for a dependent whether animal or human. The heart thrives on the giving of affection.

My husband Stephen has taken to fathering a collection of succulents. He has evolved a garden in pots that he tends and looks after, calling them “the babies.” Once in the years when we owned our home and had the space for it, I was the gardener in the family. Two years ago he began by purchasing one small succulent garden. It was entirely his idea and he cared for it throughout the summer. He enjoyed it so much that soon he purchased more pots and more succulents and began putting together more miniature gardens.

Now his original single pot has expanded to five and he cares for them tenderly. It makes me happy to see him visiting them several times a day, making sure they are healthy and have enough water and generally caring for them. There is no limit to the nurturing instincts of fatherhood. They can be applied to any and all of creation. Our world came into being with a combination of different energies motivated by a creative force that continues to this day. We are the gardeners here, and the more participation in its nurturance that can be encouraged, the better.

Tasha Halpert

A Rare Day In June

Roses

 

As I drove around doing errands my eyes kept being drawn to the beautiful blossoming trees and bushes on the local lawns and roadsides. The town I live in is truly filled with beautifully kept homes and gardens. People here take pride in the appearance of their homes and everywhere you drive in Grafton there is beauty to be seen. As I drove I thought how eloquently the green grass, the freshness of the leaves, and the tidy gardens spoke of the loveliness of the beginning of summer. It is nearly time for the solstice. June 21 will bring the onset of the long hot bright days of June, July and part of August.

When I was a child I could hardly wait for these wonderful summer days: free time, swimming, sitting in my favorite tree reading, all these activities and more awaited me. As a young adult with my children in tow, on any sunny day I headed for the beach, meeting friends and chatting over iced tea as we watched over our little ones. However, as an elder, I confess that I cringe at the prospect of these long, hot days. The heat of the summer hours robs me of my ability to think and makes it harder for me to sleep at night. I have to lurk indoors with the air conditioner going, hurrying out of the house for an exercise walk either first thing in the morning or later on toward sunset.

Too, the sun is not as benign as it used to be. The thinning of the atmosphere due to global warming has increased the potency of the sun’s rays, necessitating cover-ups and hats, not to mention sunscreen and sun glasses. Remember rushing out to get a tan at the beginning of summer? The “healthy tan” we all used to crave is less desirable now. It’s almost as though we need to go back to Victorian times when pale skin was a sign of beauty. Now it could be a sign of care for one’s health. I remember when I was in college skipping a class I disliked to sit out on the porch roof with my friends so we could “work on our tans,” as we used to say. The idea was to increase the effect of the sun with tanning lotion rather than block it with sunscreen.

I regret that the onset of the summer heat and more especially the humidity takes more out of me than it used to do. I’d love it if I had a personal air conditioner I could wear around my neck that would provide me with a cooling breeze when I need to be refreshed from the heat. Even so, there are some delights that nothing can spoil. Yesterday, as I walked past a wild rose bramble my nose caught the sweet scent of the tiny white blossoms snuggled into some trees by the side of the road. I stopped and inhaled, taking time to smell these very special June treats. The present moment joy is what matters, not the prospect of discomfort, and at least I do have the benefit of the air conditioner in our apartment. Indeed, what is can possibly be so rare as a day in June when it brings me gifts like the wafting glory of these tiny June treats.

Tasha Halpert

 

The Importance of Self Care

Teddy Bear 2

As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

A Memorial Day Remembrance

DSCF0171-1My father’s father died in World War One when my dad was six years old. I can still see the picture of them both that stood on top of our piano in my childhood home. It was in an old fashioned, gold toned frame partnered by one of my Great Grandmother on the other side. Tinted brown, it showed a handsome man in an army officer’s uniform wearing riding boots—he was in the Calvary, standing opposite a small boy in a sailor suit, saluting his father. It may have been the last picture ever taken of him. My grandmother never remarried but raised my father and his brother alone.

My father was a colorful character who dressed as he chose and did things the way he wanted. Although he didn’t care too much what others thought, he was in many ways a traditional person. Every Sunday he attended the Episcopal Church in the neighboring town where he had grown up, and where my grandmother had endowed a stained glass window dedicated to her late husband. On the rare occasions I attended it with him as a child, I would gaze up entranced at the light shining through the image of a knight in armor with a face that seemed to me to resemble the man I’d never met, surrounded with emblems symbolic of his life.

A square in the center of that town was dedicated to my grandfather. He was a decorated hero and had been awarded a medal posthumously. Each Memorial Day the parade of marchers would stop there and a member from the American Legion would place a wreath of Laurel leaves on the hook on the pole beneath the sign that bore his name. My grandmother and later my father would add a big bunch of red carnations. I can remember one year my father lifted me up so I could do it. Each year we went as a family for the ceremony.

My father also decorated the graves of two elderly friends who had come from England to live in our town. Their pink marble gravestones still stand out among the somber gray granite of the rest of the local cemetery. He had been fond of them and I remember his taking me to visit them when I was very small.

My father’s grave is in a family cemetery on Cape Cod where some of his ancestors lived and worked. It is too far for me to travel to easily. His headstone, a simple boulder with a brass plaque, was his unique choice for his grave. It stands out boldly among the more traditional gravestones of his ancestors and the other members of his family. He was an individualist to the end.

On this Memorial Day as always I honor my late father in my heart. When I donate to a charity I know he would have given to, when I pray in my own fashion for the good of others, as well as when I emulate his kind nature and unique sense of fashion, I am honoring his memory. I cannot place flowers on his grave nor can I tend it as I would if I lived nearby; I can honor his memory in my own way by how I live my life and carry on in the way he taught me to do.

Tasha Halpert

 

Easy, Healthy Spring Recipes

TashasSpiralGardenEven though I love to cook, in the good weather I’m happy not to have to   labor in the kitchen or spend time fussing with complicated recipes when I would rather be doing things out of doors and elsewhere. In addition, local fresh green vegetables are more and more often available as farm stands open and crops are harvested. It is such a treat when local asparagus as well as rhubarb become available. Both are helpful for the bodily cleansing that helps make for a healthful change of season.

This first recipe is win/win in that it goes together quickly, will please just about anyone, and is inexpensive to make. Gluten free or intolerant diners can make and eat it confidently using one of the many good gluten free pastas available in the local supermarkets. Asparagus Pesto and Pasta : Ingredients:1 Lb. Fresh Asparagus (The equivalent of 2 cups) 3 fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried—more is fine. ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup chopped pecans, walnuts or cashews, whatever you like is fine; 1 small clove raw garlic, ¼ tsp salt, 3 Tbs olive oil, 8 Oz fine spaghetti or fettuccine.

Method: Cook spaghetti to taste and drain. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and stir well. Place remaining oil, asparagus and all other ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth, pour over spaghetti, stir and serve with a side salad and some fruit for a complete meal. This is also a good recipe to have fun with: try other green vegetables and/or vary the herb as desired. The addition of Parsley would be a natural. Or combine say half a cup of parsley and any green fresh or lightly steamed and still bright green vegetable.

If you have access to rhubarb leaves, you might be tempted to think they are edible. However, they are poisonous for humans, so under no circumstances ought you to consume them. There is a simple recipe for an insecticide on Google so I won’t repeat it. But don’t spray the leaves of your lettuce with it. It’s poisonous and potentially dangerous.Use caution on vegetables, a simple onion garlic spray is better there.

Rhubarb is technically a vegetable and yet we generally serve it as a dessert. There are many ways to prepare it—pies, cakes, puddings and so forth. However, I have always preferred it steamed and eaten plain with honey. To enjoy rhubarb easily, simply purchase fresh, young stems at the market or if you are lucky, pick them from a friend’s rhubarb patch. Snip them into inch or so sections with a pair of sharp scissors. Put them into the top half of a double boiler or a bowl that will fit into a pot with some water in the bottom.

Another interesting thing about rhubarb is that it has so much liquid in it already you really don’t need to add any when you cook it the way I do in a double boiler. Cover and steam for about 45 minutes. Add ½ to ¾ cups honey or sugar, to taste. Stir well and chill. Serve any time of day for a refreshing treat as well as good cleansing for your system. Let your food be your medicine, especially in the spring!