Oh my ganache!

Goblets of raspberries and ganache on a table

    What happens when you whisk one cup simmering heavy whipping cream, one cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, one teaspoon vanilla extract, and two tablespoons butter together?

 Ganache! A no-fuss, no-fail recipe sure to raise eyebrows as a glaze, icing, or sauce.

Fond of Appalachian chocolate gravy, my favorite way to consume ganache is hot from the pot over steamy, split buttermilk biscuits.

However, in the midst of this brief raspberry season, nothing compliments ganache like fresh berries. Pour one-half cup chocolate into four small bowls and chill in the fridge. Meanwhile, pick your berries or run to your local farm stand or grocer.

The key to a quick, delicious and beautiful dessert is to stock the ingredients. In my kitchen, that’s easier said than done, for I’ve come to consider chocolate chips as my husband does potato chips.

A handful of semi-sweet or dark chocolate morsels (preferably Ghirardelli) satisfies my sweet tooth with a lot less sugar than a cookie or two. The results of my recent blood test support my logic.

That in mind, this morning I was glad to find more than enough Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips, heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and butter to make ganache.

But first, I baked a batch of currant lemon lavender scones for lunch with Yolanda at noon. Then I resurrected four vintage ice cream bowls I found at the Armada Flea Market, filled them with hot ganache, and cooled them.

Meanwhile, I washed the pot, heated homemade asparagus soup, and assembled two salads of greens, grapes, apples, and pecans. A teapot and teacups stood waiting with Earl Gray and a bouquet of mums and clematis for my guest.

The only Yolanda I’ve met in my lifetime, she’s a mother of two daughters and two sons. One daughter and her husband live locally with two Siberian Huskies and two huge furry rescued cats. Her remaining three offspring landed in Denver, Colorado, San Diego, California, and Bethesda, Maryland, in that order.

With their four grandchildren residing in three distant destinations, Yolanda and her husband Art travel to the east and west coast frequently. Furthermore, when they’re not visiting their kids and grandkids, Yolanda rotates the care of her 101 year-old mother with her sister.

Thus, when Yolanda calls and says, “I’m home,” we plan several hours to catch up.

A friendship rooted in our children’s high school plays and soccer games, Yolanda remained a secret pen pal to my surviving two daughters after our firstborn’s death in 1996.

Both in college, those years were undeniably the most grievous for my young women and me. Yet, faithfully, Yolanda mailed my girls letters of encouragement. Quietly, she stood in the gap for me—bowed her head in prayer.

Dear Reader, what happens when you share your table with a long-lived friend? When you scrape the last bit of chocolate from a recycled ice cream dish together?

Oh my ganache! You realize your bond has long surpassed the rooted stage, and in the spirit of Jesus’ love, blossoms as we age.





A wholesome thing

Sixty new Grosso lavender plants grow on a slope facing west
My computer sits marooned under our painter’s drop cloth. For the first time in my life as a journalist, I carry a recycled composition book and pen outside, and write.
                  It feels good. How could it not when I’m overlooking sixty new lavender plants happily growing on a green slope? My husband and neighbor accompany birdsong with background lawnmower music.
       The natural and manmade live in harmony as Mel swipes an apple off the tree and bites into it. He holds it up and smiles.

       The weather is ideal for open-air musings. Breezy. Low humidity. Sunny. With most of summertime’s gardening and canning behind, the blue sky waits to infuse my spirit again with faith, hope, and love.
                  I pray to God for my daily dose of forgiveness and wisdom.
                  Today is September 11, 2020, and evokes memoires of New York City’s Twin Towers in flames. And the day I drove our third-born daughter to Chicago where she’d enrolled in art school. We arrived to the city gathered downtown to rally in support of the families who lost loved ones, and America’s safety against terrorism.                   
                  I didn’t want to leave my youngest child to duke it out alone with Chicago. But she said, “Mom, I have to do this.”
                  A familiar refrain raising three girls.
                 Thankfully, my baby overcame an assault and three more Chicago moves and returned to Michigan, found her place in our Great Lakes State.
                  The scent of fresh-mown lawn wafts over the landscape. I absorb September’s colors; the border of tall, amber grasses, tinged russet of a maple, the persistent cardinal flower blooming in the copper pot once used for stirring Macintoshes on an open fire.
                  We love homemade applesauce.


                  But back to this story.
                  After Roland our painter renews my office, I’ll do one last weeding of this season to the stacks of books holed up in the study’s closet. My empty bookshelves loafing in the living room want some space for new books—poetry, biography, history, memoir, novels, and gardening.
                  My list of new titles to preview grows daily.
                  It’s four o’clock on Friday, September 11, 2020, and the sun’s aglow on the pink petunias cascading from the hen house window box. Deadheading pays off.
                  The Rose of Sharon by the beehive blooms her last flurry of lavender petals. The three boxes of the hive painted the same color stand stacked in the shade. After a pest-free spring and summer, I’m fighting yellow jackets presently. The worker bees sacrifice their two-week life cycle in a valiant duel with the honey thieves.

                  I don’t know why I haven’t written outdoors all these years. A vitamin C and D and radiation-free environment encourages composition more so than sitting before a computer screen for hours.
                  Dear Reader, I recall a photo of Robert Frost sitting on a porch with his writing table on his lap, pen in hand.
                  Indeed, a marooned computer on a fine, September day is a wholesome thing. Makes one feel a bit Robert Frost-ish.


Learning by example

Gino & Marlene Mallia, March 19, 1955

My grandmother taught me to love good food by her joy in growing it, cooking and serving it. During my childhood, Granny’s table was the safest and most delicious place in the world.

My mother taught me the absolute bliss of birthday parties. Without fail she baked five birthday cakes each year, iced them with buttercream frosting, and decorated them with roses and green leaves. We celebrated in our basement with neighborhood playmates and family.

My father taught me to value home movies, his handwritten captions with the name and age of the birthday girl. A barber who filmed everything he prized, including his five daughters and the Detroit Tigers, Dad zoomed in on Mom’s roses.

Miss Shindler, my sophomore English teacher, introduced me to the beauty of language and tragedy of thwarted love when our class read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Miss Liennemann, my senior English teacher, assigned Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to her students. The novel opened my eyes to the blind spots in romantic love.

Now, well over the hill, I reflect upon these and other people who laid foundational life lessons in my mind and spirit unawares. Productive memory exercise, this review also generates gratitude for those who guided me into the rewarding avocations of parenthood, writing, and gardening.

I’m learning to recognize the fluent hosts of folk who also teach by example. Gino and Marlene Mallia of Leonard, for instance.

The past twenty years, Gino and Marlene have conscientiously fulfilled their respective roles as treasurer and president for the Addison Township Cemetery Auxiliary.

When Gino phoned this past March and said, “We’ve cancelled the meetings and spaghetti dinners,” I replied, “I’ve been expecting your call.”

The low-key auxiliary meetings mean much to me. I learn who’s been born, gone off to college or military service, and who’s elderly and needs help. We discuss the cemetery’s history and needed repairs. Gino reports on the program for the Memorial Day Ceremony.

Furthermore, gathering as a community twice a year over a plate of Gino’s spaghetti sustains the ties that bind in peace and understanding.

Presently, Marlene is recovering from a fall. After sixty-five years of marriage, Gino is counting down the days until his wife returns from rehab.

“The people at church signed up to bring meals when Marlene comes home,” he said when we spoke tonight. “Neighbors have brought me dinner, and the kids take me out. I’m puttin’ on weight!”

Yes, we learn how to take care of one another by example. Now it’s Gino and Marlene’s turn to receive.

“Someone offered to take Marlene’s place as president,” Gino said. “She can’t do the heavy lifting any longer.”

I hear in Gino’s voice his concern for his bride and the roles they vacate in the township where they married March 19, 1955, raised their children, and now live with their great-grandchildren.

Dear Reader, this is what sixty-five years of life-lessons can build.

I think that’s worthy of a party, don’t you? When Marlene’s on her feet again, I’ll bake Mom’s banana-nut cake with buttercream frosting, sans the roses.

Reconciliation of summers

Tennessee greasy beans for our table
I awake before dawn to the roar of rolling thunder. After another dry spell, the heavens at last shake the house with the sound waves of kettledrums and cymbals. I smell the crescendo of rainfall before I hear its blessed tap-dance on the rooftop.
           My abused bones and muscles relax. Hallelujah! I’m saved from dragging the hose from our rhubarb patch to flower gardens!
           Perfect timing; for I believe I’ve run out of gas. I’ve burned a double portion this droughty summer.  
            I rest; know my beloved honeybees will find raindrops on grass, leaves, and flowers. Perhaps I’ll chance upon another bee drinking a sparkling drib on a begonia petal—my wage for faithfully watering birdbaths, pots, and window boxes in ninety-degree weather.
            A cool, clean breeze carries the scent of soil, foliage, and rain to my pillow. Like a good convalescent, I turn on my side and welcome Nature’s cure.
            I listen to the storm’s fireworks explode above our land, glad for the married elements of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
            Water. We can’t survive without it. Even my potted succulents need moisture. Beware, without drainage, a succulent is doomed.

A succulent blooms in my rock garden
Since I’ve nowhere to go and nothing to do this hour of the morning, my mind considers such necessities as food, healthy plants, and family.
I’m grateful for the fallout of nitrogen fixation onto our weedy lawn. It shall be green again, unlike our dehydrated tomato plants. We’ve learned no amount of rainfall will revive them. Although my husband soaked the vegetable garden with well water, there’s nothing like a drenching shower in due season for a robust crop.
Yet, we’ve seen worse dry spells—say twenty or so years ago before we grew a vegetable garden. We didn’t dare light a bonfire back then.
As summers sweep over me, it seems we built our little homestead in a drought zone. The earth is green and lush just south, east, and west of us, and a few miles north.
Thank God we can’t foresee the future.
When our girls lived here, what seems a century ago, yet just yesterday, fierce storms sometimes sent us to the basement. Once, the wind blew all the straw off the grass seed we’d sown. As we raked the straw back in place, our daughters declared country living wasn’t for them.
And they’ve kept their word.
With our cat Cuddles sleeping at my side, I recall my mother, her passion for growing food and flowers. Whenever my family arrived on her Kentucky doorstep for our annual summer visit, we found a huge pot of white-half runner green beans on the stove, a pone of cornbread in the oven, and a bouquet of zinnias on her dinning room table.
This hospitality we enjoyed until the unsettling of her memory.
Dear Reader, with the tail end of another summer making a spectacle of itself with lightning and thunder, my younger self reconciles with my older self.
I rest, consider the two-week lifespan of the worker honeybee.

The Storytelling Tree

Olivia learns to play croquet
Andy loved building things. He worked a good, long day on my whim to swing like a kid again.
           Up and down his extension ladder he went, drilling two holes into a limb of a maple, turning giant eyehooks until secure, knotting the rope and threading it through the wood seat.   
“Want to test it?” he asked at last.
I did for twelve years until the weathered rope gave up the ghost this summer. Unable to find someone like Andy to tackle the replacement, I forewarned my friend Debra that her granddaughter, Olivia, wouldn’t be able to swing when they visited the following week.
“Olivia said she would help you fix it,” Debra replied.
I understood the child’s whim to swing again.
On the scheduled day and time, Debra and Olivia arrived on my doorstep. “I’m three and seven twelfths now,” Olivia announced.
The second she devoured her first scone with cream, she ran to examine the swing. “It doesn’t look broken.”
The man of the house came to the rescue. “Hello Olivia,” Mel said, aware of the child’s disappointment.
“Let’s ask Mel to test the swing,” I said.
The frayed rope snapped in two.
Olivia played the good sport. She rolled down hills, ate another scone with cream, and taught Debra and me her version of croquet, which evolved into bowling.
Yet, Olivia wandered back to the broken swing, longing to fulfill her heart’s expectation, and came close to whining.
In consolation, Debra sat beside her three and seven twelfths grandchild on our swing-for-two, but “it didn’t go high enough,” Olivia said.
“Is it time to go home?” Debra asked.
What else is a grandmother to do?
Then the sugar maple by the fire pit called our names. “Let’s go to the storytelling tree,” I said.
To my surprise, Olivia took Debra’s hand and followed me.
“Who wants to go first?” I asked.
“You go,” Olivia said.
I sat with my back to the tree trunk. Olivia snuggled in the cradle of Debra’s lap, the girl’s dress and green crinoline slip splayed over Debra’s legs.
“Once upon a time,” I began, “there were three hens: Blackie, Goldie, and Whitey. Every night Blackie, a pessimist, worried Mel wouldn’t show up to close their chute and then a critter would walk up the ramp, through the chute, and into the house where they roosted. And then no more Blackie, Goldie, and Whitey.” 
“’Don’t worry Blackie,’ said Goldie, ‘Mel always shows up.’”
“’And if Mel doesn’t, Iris does,’ said Whitey.’”
“Then they heard Mel at the door. ’Hello girls!’ he said, and closed their chute. ‘Sleep tight!’”
“‘Bock! Told you, Blackie!’ Goldie and Whitey sang. Then they all slept tight. The end.”
To my utmost surprise, Olivia cheered, “Tell the story again!”
Debra took my cue and told her embellished version.
“Tell the story again!” Olivia pleaded.
You see, dear Reader, Debra and I love building stories. Unlike tangible things, good stories stand the test of time.
Especially when they’re built for a three and seven twelfths year old.