Delights: August 5 to August 11

August 5: Kevin walked into the kitchen and inhaled the aroma of freshly baked whole wheat chocolate chip banana bread. “I see you made the usual kind,” he said gratefully.

Indeed. One morning last week at the beach house, I decided to bake banana bread as a breakfast treat. But I hadn’t done an inventory of ingredients and, after assembling part of the batter, had to dash to the store for sugar. When I returned, my nieces helped me finish the job and into the oven it went.

Forty-five minutes later, I wandered back into the kitchen and saw two bananas on the counter grinning at me. Yikes. I extracted the loaf pan, scraped the slightly baked batter into a bowl, and added the bananas. The chocolate chips, which usually retain their chippy-ness, swirled into a chocolaty mess. Sigh.

I put this strange concoction back into the oven for another 25 minutes and resigned myself to chucking it all and starting again.

To my shock, the batter cooperated and primly baked itself as it usually did. The liquified chocolate chips ran amok and flavored every corner of the loaf. And the bananas retained a chunky integrity that my sister-in-law Karolina said enhanced their flavor. What do we call it? Chocolate bread with banana?

Whatever its name, the loaf had vanished by lunchtime the following day. (I’m not sure I tasted it.) Next year at the beach, I’ll be sure to bake my traditional recipe — along with what I now call my “Karolina variation.” 

In the spirit of more Assateague pony stories, my son Nate shared this photo with me. He said his neighbors at an Assateague campground last summer had to surrender their campfire to the ponies, who lingered for over two hours (!). The “host” campers eventually gave up and went to bed.

August 6: A breeze. A glass of wine. Chatting late into the night, just the two of us, in my sister’s backyard. 

I arrived in New Jersey last night. We hadn’t seen each other since October 2020, when we attended an exhibit of historical wedding dresses in our hometown. We saw for the first time our mother’s 1958 gown — tea length, Belgian lace bolero, impossibly tiny waist — and recalled her story of making it in four weeks (New Year’s Eve proposal, pre-Lent wedding). Our Mom was a New York City fashion designer, homeowner and confirmed 31-year old bachelor when she married my sportswriting 41-year old Dad (“the most eligible bachelor on the Shore”). 

Today, we did what they would have done: spend Saturday morning at the beach, eat lunch on the beautiful beach club patio, enjoy an afternoon visit with our cousin Phyllis, and then perform public service. My sister is a member of the Shrewsbury Garden Club and, because of severe drought, signed up for periodic watering duty. For two hours, we watered shrubs and planters around the Borough Hall our Mom had built as mayor, we refreshed the perennials around Shrewsbury’s memorial 9/11 gazebo she dedicated, and we sheltered under trees my Dad helped plant and nurture as Shade Tree Commissioner. 

We returned to Dianne’s house for an early bedtime. And I caught up on the baseball games. Just as Mom and Dad would have done.

The view from our table at the beach club. I now certain appreciate all the people who designed, planted and maintained these flower boxes.

August 7: Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” just came on my speaker. Yes, that’s me. Back in the car again (six long-distance trips in 13 days), but this time with my sister. 

After dinner, Jeremiah suggested a movie; I suggested Tampopo, a sweet, funny 1985 “Ramen Western” by Juzo Itami. Jeremiah and I watch it whenever we don’t want to commit to something more fierce in our collection. “You’ll never see the movie anywhere else,” we implored my sister. She assented and laughed at all the right bits. Then we went to bed early because. . . .

August 8: Drag Queens, cauliflower and cocktails along the river, glitter and sequins everywhere. What do these have in common? Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball tour — and my sister and me. 

Video Gaga

Rain poured briefly while Dianne and I sipped drinks under a perfect canopy and slipped tips to gorgeous Drag Queens performing Lady Gaga songs. Long entry lines allowed us to enjoy fans’ costumes. My sister and I had already decided that we like the heat and humidity oppressing us. (Can I vote again?) And I certainly know my way around the venue: Nationals Park, home of the 2019 World Champion … (Ok, I’ll stop). 

Drag Queen Gaga

When the lights dimmed, the spectacle began in the form of huge video screens capturing sculptural abstractions, pulsing colors and Lady Gaga herself in outlandish hard-edged costumes, backed by techno-classical music. (The videos would have been comfortable in an art museum.) The videos fired up the sweating crowd; when Lady Gaga appeared at last — in an outlandish hard-edged costume — the place screamed welcome. Bad Romance, Just Dance, Poker Face. Everyone was jumping, singing and dancing. Fans in the field seats waved illuminated bracelets programmed to create blankets of changing color. Dancers weaved around Lady Gaga and the video screens gave us a close look at her makeup, headdresses and costumes. 

My only regret: no face-paint booth to cover my cheeks, neck and shoulders with glitter. Definitely next time.

Dianne took this amazing photo.

August 9: Jeremiah informed me, “When you’re not here, Aunt Dianne and I always go out for pancakes.” And yesterday he graciously allowed me to join them. Dianne manages to read a dozen books a month, thanks to her commute and commitment. Cluster three bibliophiles (including one bookseller) around omelets and pancakes and you have a two-hour festival of title-swapping and plot summaries. For dessert? A visit to our local used record shop. Another lovely hour. 

And no, Jeremiah, you may not get your birthday present early. 

August 10: I was late, late, late getting to Dianne’s house on Friday, but her beer bread was still warm and literally dripping butter. It’s easy, she said, and gave me the coveted crusty end piece. 

I cook pretty much the opposite of the way I live, so I was dubious of her assurances. With trepidation, I approached this morning’s baking: either my usual oatmeal-and-yogurt bread dripping with flax seeds (it’s actually quite yummy) or beer bread dripping with butter. Mmmm, butter. I just saw Lady Gaga walk on eight-inch platform shoes; I can do this.

I pulled up the recipe Dianne shared and, with incredulity, read the ingredient list and instructions five times. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and beer; spoon the batter into the loaf pan; pour melted butter on top. 

Even I can do that. And I did, using ordinary lite beer. The taste led me to seconds, but the bread’s beauty enchanted me: a crust of crags and gullies in four shades of gold and brown. Kevin munched on a slice and saluted me. We still have half a loaf to go, and he may finally forgive me for selling his beer bread (and other) recipe cards in a yard sale 30 years ago. 

Bonus: Here’s the beer bread recipe.

Arizona Bonus: Here’s a note I received from my friend Anne. In March, Anne and Nina hosted me in Tucson and took me on magnificent desert hikes. She writes: “We always long for the monsoons each year, especially now since we’ve been in drought conditions for several years in Tucson and much of Arizona. We go stand outside on the porch to watch and smell it every time it rains. When you visited, we went to Madera Canyon. We returned recently to hike up in the clouds and see the transformation. Truly magical.”

Anne sent me these photos.

August 11: Recently, one of my friends sent me a lovely note thanking me for the joy blooming from my posts — and reminding me that I should also acknowledge the weeds. It’s a deal. So let’s talk about golf.

My friend Aileen proposed that we visit a Washington, D.C., driving range this afternoon. She’s taking golf lessons. I took golf lessons in 1975. Happily, I’m now wise enough to accept whatever comes. Oh boy, was my equanimity tested.

Things started well. We found a sweet National Park with views of the Washington Monument and the Potomac River (if you squinted), adjacent driving range tee boxes, and about 40 balls left behind by previous golfers. The temperature had dipped to the delightful mid-80s and we had shade and a breeze. 

Then I started to swing my 9-iron. I made every possible mistake with my golf swing over and over again. I drew a blister. Relaxing my grip, I flung my club over my shoulder and just missed hitting a young woman walking by. I clenched my teeth. I nearly forgot to suspend my empty bucket under the golfball dispenser and barely avoided picking up 65 balls scurrying everywhere. I abandoned my iron, swapped tee boxes with Aileen, and tried my 1-wood. Eventually, I staggered through my last ill-hit ball. 

And yet. 

I hit one beautiful shot with each club. Twice, I heard the sweet “ping” of club meeting ball (a glorious sound). Then, sticky, tired and exhilarated, Aileen and I left the course and drove to the nearby DC waterfront, were we toasted our many opportunities for improvement. I agreed to join her again sometime (with bandaids).

Decades ago, John Feinstein wrote a book about the PGA tour called “A Good Walk Spoiled.” Golf can be like that. Indeed, this afternoon I emitted more than my share of grunts and sighs. Aileen and I also had a bucket of fun. Aren’t weeds just a question of perspective?

Vegetation and fungi in Madera Canyon, Arizona, during monsoon season. Photo by Anne Ryan

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If you’d like to browse my past delights, please consult the “word cloud” featured at the very bottom of this post. Find a theme or two that interests you and sift through the sands. Or learn a bit more about my Blog by visiting my Welcome page. You’ll also see links to four essays that were published in print magazines. I’m glad you’re here!

8 thoughts on “Delights: August 5 to August 11

  1. What a fun packed week! That bread looks almost too easy….How lovely to get to see your sister again too. I bet that banana chocolate loaf was excellent 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right on all counts! (I did nibble a corner crumb of the banana chocolate bread before it vanished.) Thanks, as always, for saying hello!

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  2. Into every life some weeds must come. 😉 Or tomato hornworms, in my case. What an action-packed week you had! I was particularly taken with your mother and father’s wedding and some of the details of their life together. How lovely that you could honor their creativity and energy with some community work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for noticing that about my parents, Laurie. That all came to me as I tried to figure out how to write about two hours with a garden hose! They were wonderful people and are with me still. In my blog, my page entitled “My Mother’s Pattern” has a bit about them. I need to write all my stories!

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  3. I’m impressed that you have the energy and enthusiasm to bake bread for breakfast. Although generally comfortable in the kitchen, in the early morning I’m capable of little more than pouring milk on to a bowl of breakfast cereal. Your new take on the banana bread recipe sounds wonderful…my mouth’s watering as I type this. Kevin is a very lucky guy to have you catering to his culinary needs and flooding the house with delightful aromas in the early morning – I note that you didn’t even get to taste your own creation! I wish I had!

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    1. Hi, Mr. P. Thanks for your enthusiasm and kind words. Kevin definitely appreciates my kitchen efforts, and I like making banana bread for him. I treat myself less often but am adding more arrows to my morning baking quiver. (If I bake once, it last me days!)

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      1. The only time I eat a breakfast that has been baked earlier the same morning is when we stay overnight in a hotel. This is no criticism of Mrs P – I can’t expect her to do something I wouldn’t contemplate myself – but it does explain my awe at your dedication to the culinary art. May your quiver overflow with arrows, particularly arrows lightly flavoured with cinnamon!

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