TEA WITH NO TEMPTATIONS

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Summer is over and as each work day winds down the pleasure of tea on the lower deck watching people fish in small electric motored boats helps me get to the end of a long day.  The days are shorter and the length of time we have to linger outdoors is slipping deeper into fall. More leaves are still on the trees than off so a blog about raking is still to come.

When the weather grows cooler we’ll move inside and watch the heron float across the water from the kitchen window as we re-infuse our morning pot of green tea for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Tea in the afternoon has long been my excuse to stop everything and eat sweets. The trouble is, like everyone, I really shouldn’t eat sweets so I try not to. Most days I just drink the tea and head out for a walk.

My mother in law was a first generation Italian woman who thought that coffee and cake was a cure for just about anything that ailed you. Showing up at her house in the afternoon I could pretty much count on a hot cup of coffee and a piece of carrot cake and warm conversations. In her later years she couldn’t remember why things worked the way they did. Like how the trees grew all those leaves or how they put a carrot into a cake.

“Carrots in a cake?” she would exclaim. “I just can’t picture it.”

“They shred them.”

“Shred them? What’s that?”

I saw we weren’t getting anywhere. “They just call it carrot cake because it’s orange like a carrot.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” she said.

“Doesn’t it?” my husband sighed as he cut another piece.

Old habits die hard and I think we keep up the tradition of tea time in some sort of misshapen loyalty to her coffee and cake routine.

However, the old adage that some calories just aren’t worth it, is true. Like an Entenmann’s brownie is not worth one morsel of the calorie or sugar count. The opposite is also true. Some temptations have more value than others like a dessert that reminds you of childhood.

But I seem to have the worst timing for when to be good or bad.

Eight years ago we were traveling home from Cooperstown and we stopped off at Hartmann’s Kaffeehaus in Round Top, New York for coffee. We found the shop in Fodor’s New York which wrote, Desserts are serious business at this simple cafe-bakery, where a “periodic table” of sweets hangs on the wall. The Fürst Pückler torte—layers of marzipan, butter cream, sponge cake, and apricot jam—could put you into sugar shock.

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“That sounds too sweet,” I said as the waitress waited for my choice. “I’ll have the sugar free strudel.”

The plates arrived and for the next half an hour I listened to my family moan in ecstasy with each mouthful.

“It can’t be that good.”

“Better,” my son said.

“Think of the best dessert you ever tasted,” he said closing his eyes and smiling as he swallowed. “This is better.”

“Ten times better,” my daughter added.

Rob rubbed it in more. “I’d let you try some but there’s so many different areas to taste you wouldn’t get the full effect.”

“No, I’m good.” I said picking over my dried out, sugar free apple strudel.

Just when i think I’m done regretting that experience they keep pulling me back in. Recently we were in Gleasons and they offered for one day only; homemade pistachio ice cream inside an anise flavored pizzele with a thin layer of chocolate.

“Those are my three favorite things,” Rob said.

I agreed to split one.

“This is delicious,” I said.

“It is,” Rob agreed.

I could sense something.

“But…?” I prodded.

“But nothing will ever compare to that marzipan cake we ate that time in the Catskills.”

I don’t know why I even bother because I certainly don’t need the calories. I also don’t know who is better off. Me who never tasted it and doesn’t know what I’m missing or my family who understands that nothing will ever measure up to The Fürst Pückler.

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PETS GONE WILD

ImageThe best I can figure is an unknown person probably bought some adorable, fluffy, yellow ducklings for Easter and then when the birds grew bigger, ornery and started pooping all over the yard, the owners snuck into our hamlet under the cover of darkness and released them into the lake.  They probably thought it was a match made in heaven. Unfortunately unwanted Easter ducklings tend to end up in trouble. Our resident mallards seem to have sent out a “stay away” vibe because the domestic ducks keep their distance. The white ducks have become a recent topic of concern.

“They’ll become hawk food,” a neighbor stated. “When the lake freezes, that is.”

“They can withstand cold temperatures,” I said.

“They can’t fly,” the neighbor said. “One of them has already been taken down by a snapping turtle. There used to be six now there’s only five.”

“Really?” I exclaimed.

“Really. A lady went to the duck’s rescue and was able to wrench it free from the snapper but by the time she reached the vet it was too late.”

“She fought off a snapper?” I asked. “Was she hurt?”

“A little.”

“Someone can build a hut,” another person suggested.

Good luck getting them in it, I thought. These ducks don’t want anything to do with humans and I don’t think they would abide by being domesticated again. As much as I love ducks I don’t want them as pets. Let alone pets that are “sitting ducks,” so to speak. Maybe the ducks will have a change of heart when the temperature dips.Image

“Well someone ought to do something or we’ll be digging duck graves.”

The conversation reminded me of years earlier, when we had decided to vacation on Cape Cod for a month and had to bring our pet rabbit with us since no one wanted to take care of it. Who could blame them? We set up an area for the rabbit in the basement of the rented house in part because keeping him in the yard made him raccoon fodder. On our last day on the Cape, as we were packing the car, Robert came upstairs with a solemn face explaining that Violet the rabbit had died.

“Died?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”

He nodded. “What are we going to do?”

“Bury it,” I said.

“You can’t just bury an animal.”

“Why not? You did that a lot when you were a kid.”

He shook his head. “Well for one thing I buried lizards and hamsters for Christ’s sake.”

“So.”

“And for another thing this isn’t our yard. Don’t you think the owners will be suspicious of a fresh pile of dirt on their lawn?”

I thought about how to disguise the mound.  

“I also think it’s a health hazard,” he said, as he phoned the only local veterinarian and asked what to do.

I was nervous because it was the end of our vacation and we were low on funds.

“Uh huh…Oh…uh huh…I see…well, okay then,” he said. “Just a minute, I’ll check.”

There was a brief pause as Rob cupped the phone receiver and turned to me. “Well, for three hundred dollars we can have a private cremation and funeral, and for two hundred dollars we can have a private cremation and remains in an urn.”

“That’s it?”

“Well for thirty dollars we can only get a mass cremation and no remains.”

“Robert!” I screeched.

He uncapped his hand. “Uh, we’ll take the thirty dollar one.”

Which in the end is what we did just before driving back to New York petless.  At least the rabbit didn’t die in the hands of a hungry raccoon. In our defense we didn’t buy him for Easter and he was our pet for over seven years. And call me heartless, but I don’t think I would have tried to wrestle a snapping turtle for a duck, even a nice white domestic one. I tend to give snapping turtles a wide berth.

This afternoon I was sitting on the dock after an end of summer swim and a hawk swooped down in front of me and snatched a pretty big fish out of the water. It was precision timing and the normally fast moving fish didn’t have a chance.  What kind of chance do five fat, displaced, white ducks have on a field of black ice with hawks circling overhead? I feel for my feathered friends but I’m not getting involved in that one either. I just wish people would stop trying to make their children so damn happy at Easter.

 

*Easter bunny horror stories: Resist the urge to give rabbits, ducks, chicks

 

BORROWED LANDSCAPES

ImageI try to choose homes with a view. Our first apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was on the top floor of a third floor walkup. During the 1985 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty we hosted a roof-top party with a clear line view of New York Harbor. Our friends ate, drank and danced to fireworks but what they really talked about was the view. 

Then we moved out to the North Fork of Suffolk County and we had to walk around the corner to the view. The Long Island Sound stretched out endlessly from the tops of enormous beach boulders. The winter was cold and lonely for newlyweds who missed city life but the view of the Sound helped sustain us that entire year. I still miss it.

            Our next apartment was a dump in Yonkers in a crummy neighborhood where I made the mistake of staring at a neighbor’s Mohawk haircut a few seconds too long. The girl shouted out every time she saw me.

“Hey lady, what’re you staring at?”

It worsened when the girl stared calling out to Rob.

“Hey, man what is your wife staring at?”

“There really is no good answer to that question,” Rob said.

 For obvious reasons we only lived there a year as well but the backdoor faced out into an expansive valley with colorful houses that dotted the landscape. I could sit on the back staircase free to watch the sunset each night with no thought of seeing “the girl.”

We moved to Hastings-on Hudson and for nine years we gazed at the Palisades out two picture windows. I used to stand in a darkened kitchen in the middle of the night and watch the flashing green lights on the passing barges. It didn’t matter if it was a blizzard, you would find the slow, steady chug of the barges as a source of comfort.Image

In 1997 we moved to White Plains and lived on the top floor of a house that was built on the highest point of land in the entire city. From our veranda we had a line of site view of the World Trade Center Towers. We bought our lake house and moved away before they came down and I’m glad we weren’t there anymore to be constantly reminded. Because when you have something in your daily view you start to feel like it belongs to you. The Japanese refer to this as a “borrowed landscape.”

The best way to appreciate a borrowed landscape is to leave it. Once you return the relationship strengthens. We recently returned from a trip to Seattle to visit my brother and his wife. Their beautiful house rests on the top of Sixth Avenue in Edmonds, Washington with a partial view of the Puget Sound.

“Wow, what a great view, “ I noted.

“It is,” my bother agreed. “But if we could tear that house down it would be an even better view.”

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View from Chris and Sonia’s House

The point was hard to argue except everybody blocks someone, somewhere. But their view still boasted a daily surveillance of the Kingston Ferry traveling back and forth and the sun setting over the Puget Lowland, hard to beat. While I was there I found myself taking some ownership of their view and I started to miss my own so I knew it was time to leave. Traveling provides views of every variety and most of them aren’t meant to last, which is why we buy postcards and take photographs. Even stationary views are altered by light and shadow. Our most impressive view was of Mt. Rainier at sunset that Rob took from the airplane window as we began our descent into Seattle. It isn’t one anyone is likely to see again anytime soon. Image