Winter’s Revelations

IMG_1359Winter reveals the

wonder of trees –

lacy limbs dividing,

then dividing again,

branches curving high,

arching and bending,

narrowing into many

sturdy brown hands and fine fingers –

held open as if to

bless the wide blue sky.

 

Winter reveals the

beauty of breath –

frosts the steamy workings of

our hidden inner tree –

bronchi dividing to bronchioles

branching off,

finer and finer,

until the microscopic alveoli

perform their miracle –

lungs transform air into the blood,

praising in every breath,

blessing us with life.

Gardens Under Glass

 

43971923_fabe4c4ee5_zThe photo was taken almost ten years ago when my oldest son was first in Helsinki, and I thought of it this morning as I practiced meditative breathing exercises.

The beautiful flower bloomed inside the Helsinki Winter Garden, which is a place much like Saint Paul’s Como Park Conservatory: both transparent glass skins held together by metal bones, both housing carefully gardened ecosystems of  tropical plants and koi ponds.

There is nothing more restorative than a visit to one in winter.

You step inside such a place and, if you wear glasses, they are immediately fogged up, you become overheated but don’t really care, and the vibrant perfume of growing things saturates you in a healing way.

So it was the perfect day to visit the St. Paul Conservatory–especially now that we are in the thick of winter, experiencing one of the coldest days of the year. I needed the restoration it offered. I could imagine that many similar visits are being made these winter days in Helsinki – which can be even colder, and even darker than winter is in St. Paul

The Conservatory was the perfect place to practice my breathing exercises, by which I mean meditation –

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in,

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Nowhere are you more aware of the breath than when you are in such a place, so damp with the thick, wet breath of green things exhaling and inhaling.

As I walked through, occasionally pausing to sit and breathe–I thought how conservatories are much like our own bodies–fragile and resilient–in need of care in order to be remain balanced and vibrant. Beautiful.

I glimpsed a half-dozen gardeners working behind the scenes in staff-only greenhouses. Others stood watchfully in the bonsai room and elsewhere, making sure visitors kept a safe distance from the rarest plants.

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Now I am thinking of myself as both a winter garden and its gardener: I inhale and exhale calmly, protecting and maintaining the beauty within my fragile crystal skin and strong metal bones.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in,

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Kneaded at Solstice, More Bread, More Poetry

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It’s solstice day once again, but with two twists, as it were. Twist #1: the personal challenges are up this year, and several traditions, among them baking bread, may be off the plate. I don’t know yet. However, on schedule for this afternoon is another “kneaded” activity — a massage. I’m thinking this will help slow things down for today, enough for me to consider kneading it forward with a fresh batch of cardamom bread, and therefore I will legitimize this annual post.

Twist #2: I learned, through DNA testing, that I have Finnish genes, further legitimizing my annual activity. Doubly necessary to get it done. Here’s the post:

Time to post my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. In year’s past, I’d been troubled my a non-working recipe and I thought long and hard about giving her a go this year. I was saved by last year’s post on this topic, which reminded me I’d found a working recipe! So – I will do it and update last year’s photo (at right) if everything works out.* Still – there’s always the poetry, right? Here it is:

Solstice

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

*The 2013 batch turned out fine, but we were eating it before I had a chance to take a photo!

Solstice = Bread and Poetry

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It’s solstice day once again! Time to post my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. In year’s past, I’d been troubled my a non-working recipe and I thought long and hard about giving her a go this year. I was saved by last year’s post on this topic, which reminded me I’d found a working recipe! So – I will do it and update last year’s photo (at right) if everything works out.* Still – there’s always the poetry, right? Here it is:

Solstice

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

*The 2013 batch turned out fine, but we were eating it before I had a chance to take a photo!

The Perfect Solstice Recipe for Bread and Poetry

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A few days late, I’m posting my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. While I did bake some on solstice day, there were issues and – honestly – I’d had issues for years with the recipe I’d been using (from a famous Scandinavian cookbook author’s recipe). After searching high and low, I adjusted my recipe

(borrowing the chemistry* from a julekake recipe and ‘tweaking’ it) and finally have arrived at a working recipe! Yay!

Solstice 


I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 


*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

Happy Sadness

It’s that transitional time of year, which, due to my Northern temperament and locale, always seems mournful, but in a good way. : )  A perfect trifecta of three events almost demands reflection: the winter solstice, the end of the year, and a lifetime in a cold, confining climate.

It is particularly the shortest, darkest day of the year — winter solstice — that makes the loudest call for reflection. All that dark makes the soul crave contemplation. What I mean by Happy Sadness is that sort of rumination about how things could be worse, but aren’t. A quiet reflection on one’s blessings, but not to gloat.

The short list – I’ve accomplished a lot this year, met some lifelong goals: published one book, wrote another, made progress on other personal projects. Along with my kids, I took a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime train trip down the West Coast and had what can only be described as a near perfect time with friends in Seattle and L.A. (‘Near’ only because one key family member was unable to join us due to an illness).  We are living comfortably – modestly – and that is quite an accomplishment given the times. On our street alone, there are a half-dozen neighbors who lost their homes, and those homes have remained empty this past year. The extended family is mostly in good health, gainfully employed, and growing (one wedding, one engagement, perhaps more on the way).

Stating what I’ve stated in the past paragraph makes me want to knock on wood. It could all change overnight, but I’m not staying awake nights thinking about that. I have in the past. Times were tougher in other years. But at the moment….knock wood….we’re in good shape.  

And so it is once again time for the Winter solstice poem to make its appearance. The poem is about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. I can think of nothing better than the smell of cardamom bread in the oven: it sustains the spirit on the darkest day of the year, when the reflections sometimes turn away from the positives, and focus too much on the negatives.  Fresh bread always makes things better. I bake several loaves and bring them to holiday gatherings.  Yummy. The poem originally appeared at Tattoo Highway, and the page features this wonderful illustration of a braided loaf.

Solstice 

I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December.