Thoughts and meanderings from my corner of the state
A life problem I never wanted to have: trying to remember which of the boxed sympathy cards I sent to someone six weeks ago so I wouldn't send them the same one.
A few weeks ago I wrote about when my Aunt MaryJane died at the beginning of January. Last week I didn't write, couldn't bring myself to write, because we had just lost my Uncle Bill, her husband.
My count now is one pandemic, six deaths in my circle of family and friends (none COVID-related) , and zero funerals. One neighbor and two dear friends were widowed last year. My husband's brother died at his home in Florida. Now, in 2021, my aunt and uncle are both gone in the space of six weeks.
This is the most inhuman part of coping with this pandemic for me -- no funerals. No gathering together to grieve and reminisce and comfort each other.
No hugs. This is particularly brutal for me, as I'm an avid hugger. The first and one of the few times I ugly cried this past year was when the friend I've known since high school lost her husband. I knew there was no way I would travel to Washington State and put my arms around her any time soon.
I've hugged exactly one human being (other than my husband) since this started, and two trees. I read the advice to hug a tree if you were missing hugs during the pandemic. It's no substitute, but it still helped somehow.
I made a firm decision early in the pandemic that I wouldn't attend any funerals. I've been fortunate there have been no hurt feelings so far. Most of the people I know are comforting each other by mail and email and text for now and holding off on gatherings until it's safer.
Uncle Bill died on February 14. My recurring thought is that he went to be with his sweetheart on Valentine's Day. Each time this comes to mind, I cry. Losing them both so close together was devastating.
Uncle Bill was a kind and quiet man, a fan of classic cars. He was so quiet I never felt as if I knew him well, but he was always a peaceful presence. After Aunt MaryJane died, he opened up more. We had a lengthy and lovely conversation before he landed in the hospital with pneumonia.
I'll take the gift of that last conversation and treasure it even more, knowing there won't be more.
Bill and MaryJane lived in Arizona, near most of that side of my convoluted family. It's warm in Phoenix. I hope the family gathers in a park on a pleasant day, to grieve together in that way humans need.
I won't be there, but maybe I can take that time to cry and remember and be with them in time, if not in space.
Eating nothing but orange kiss-me-cake for lunch was probably ill-advised. As the saying goes, I regret nothing.
What is orange kiss-me cake, you ask? (Or didn't ask… a little presumptuous on my part.) It's a lovely concoction somewhere between cake and quick bread with orange juice concentrate (and a lot of butter) in the batter. More orange concentrate drizzled on top, sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and pecans.
My sister Cindy always used to make kiss-me cake around Christmas when I was a kid. She must have baked it at other times, but I associate it with the holidays -- the happiness of the tree and carols and family.
The cake doesn't turn out quite as intended. No recipe goes without glitches on first try, or on first try after many years of not making it. The project gave me an excuse to call her for advice -- remove the cakes from the pans before drizzling/sprinkling or not? Our conversation lasted much longer than a simple answer. Cooking or sewing advice is mere pretext for a chat. All of us grew up cooking and crafting, which still binds us together.
The imperfect cake tastes like Christmas, even though I'm living in the depths of a Wyoming February, with battering winds that make me hesitate to step outside. It tastes like Cindy canning jam with me or teaching me how to use a sewing machine. It tastes like family and love.
Below is the recipe as written. I used a bit less sugar, skipped the salt, and used butter instead of shortening, since I never have shortening on hand. Word to the wise: make sure the butter is WELL softened if you go that route (one of my oopsies this time).
Orange Kiss-Me Cake
1 6-oz. (¾ cup) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
½ cup milk
⅓ cup chopped pecans
Set oven at 350 degrees. Combine ½ cup orange juice with all remaining ingredients except pecans in a large mixing bowl. Blend at low speed 30 seconds. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Stir in pecans. Pour batter into two greased bread loaf pans. Bake 40-45 minutes.
You can also bake this in a 9 x 13 cake pan instead of bread pans, but the texture will be fluffier.
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle remaining orange juice concentrate over the warm cake and sprinkle it with topping.
I chafe at lists of writing rules, all the nevers and don'ts that imply there is one way to tell a story. If I want to use a dialogue tag other than "said," Mr. Leonard, I will. (She opined.) Despite that, a few years ago I wrote my own list that I'm reposting this morning.
RULES FOR MY KITCHEN
Coffee first, then food.
Live dangerously. Lick the batter off the spoon.
Eat what you want. Listen to your body.
Make a mess. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my kitchen when I cook.
Food is forgiving. Create recklessly.
Recipes are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong starting dinner with sizzling onions.
Although there are limits. Sizzling onions over ice cream? Doubtful.
On the other hand, I could be mistaken. Try onion ice cream if you want.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much butter.
Vanilla, too. Measure it over the bowl so the extra spills over.
Garlic makes life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in good knives. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.
RULES FOR MY WRITING
Coffee first, then writing.
Live dangerously. Release the muse.
Write what you want. Listen to your soul.
Make a messy first draft. Clean it up.
I love you, but stay out of my room when I write.
Words are forgiving. Create recklessly.
Writing guides are mere suggestions. Experiment.
You can never go wrong finding the sizzling, red-hot core of your story.
There are no limits to that sizzling core.
I am not mistaken on this one.
When in doubt, err on the side of too much writing time.
Self-care, too. Fill yourself until you overflow.
Words make life complete.
Fresh is better.
Invest in your editing. Chop with confidence.
There are no rules.