Buddy, my bulldog is a lot of things: my top dog, my moment-to-moment muse, my unwitting comic, and my cherished companion; but lately Mr. Buddy has assumed a new role, that of a model, specifically a massage model. Yep, my favorite fur-ball has secured the best gig a quadruped could be fortunate enough to enjoy on Vashon Island, that of a massage dog at the Northwest School of Animal Massage (NWSAM). In essence, Buddy has a dedicated team of students learning the art and practice of animal massage on him–a hands-on experience the likes of which Buddy has only dreamed of.
At first I was worried Buddy would suffer a little separation anxiety when I introduced him to the class and handed the leash over to the wonderful Lola Michelin, animal whisperer extraordinaire. Buddy instead had the look of a kid at Disneyland, the bulldog equivalent of let’s get this party started, oh yeah, and buh-bye Pops. As I turned to leave, Buddy was making new friends, ensconced in the attention, and reveling in each student’s unbridled adoration of the new big boy in class.
Buddy did look back at me, and mustered an assuring I-got-this kind of nod. I knew he was in good hands, lots of good hands. After arriving home, the house seemed empty without him–grunts, slobbers, farts, snoring, and barks nowhere to be found or heard. Ironic that I was the one now with separation anxiety.
When I returned to pick up Buddy, a student body of devotees shared some Buddy-love in tales and laughter and delight. Instead of being worn out, my little Master and Commander was fully charged and ready for playing, eating, walking, barking, and getting in my face. I think we play enough tug-o-war on his school days to lengthen my right arm.
A big thank you to the Lola and Wendy of NWSAM who love Buddy just as much as I do, and provide for his welfare and good health every time we visit. Buddy agrees, he’s got the best gig in town!
Saturday had finally arrived and my weekly pastry treat (be it sticky bun, scone, danish or croissant) from Snapdragon Bakery weighed heavily on my mind. It was a big decision as my self-imposed regimen of moderation had relegated sugary treats from the popular food category “staple” to the more rarified rank of “ration”–a wise course correction based on dicey blood sugar levels and sixty-some years of eating exactly what I wanted. (Old dog, new tricks.)
Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe’s iconic stature is well-earned: butter reigns supreme; one scone easily serves a family of four; and the proprietors Adam and Megan (and crew) are loved like family. And besides, Buddy (house celeb that he is) has access to the garden patio for unapologetic begging, crumb scarfing, and endless butt rubs and head pats. What’s not to like?
Today sunlight floods the shop, and the front of the house in full squint-mode greets each faceless, backlit silhouette before them. Every may-I-help-you is followed by an oh-let-me-look. The pastry case buckles under the weight of croissants, muffins the size of a child’s head, cinnamon rolls chockablock with seasonal fruit, and mazurka bars hearty enough to sustain a hiker. Today’s special treat, sticky buns bejeweled with walnut crowns covered in a sugary-spiced goo, catches my eye and appetite. Lip-smacking ensues. I point to the yeasty motherlode and request a slather of butter on side. (Hey, no judgement, it’s a once-a-week thing.)
With Buddy at my side, splayed on the floor, the kitchen crew chants, “Buddy!” and his lordship raises an eyebrow in acknowledgement before returning to his morning repose, of course now he’s spotlit by the sun. Next to him, a drowsy dad and timid toddler nod toward the pastry case with one eye on a slumbering bulldog. I ask the little guy if he’d like to say “hi” to Buddy, if okay with his dad. The little man’s countenance bespeaks a curious combination of intrigue and terror. He opts for a respectable compromise: waving out of reach. Buddy responds in kind with a well-placed snore and a minor spatial readjustment.
The gentleman behind me comments on Buddy’s wide berth (Buddy ignores him), and then smiles at the young lad, and turns to chat with his dad, asking the age of the little fellow. A very cats-in-the-cradle moment, the silver-haired elder waxes poetic about the virtues of raising his children, watching them grow up, and sharing new moments with his grandkids, even citing these years as the most special in his life. You could see by his smile he was reliving some sweet memories. Young pop was cordial, but the words seemed lost on him or a least attenuated by the underlying desire to be left alone in a quiet corner, with a quiet child, and a hot cup of coffee.
My order arrives and lands on the counter, where it sits for the moment. I’ve learned leashes and steaming cups ne’er the twain should meet when connected to an English bulldog. After tying Buddy’s leash to the picnic table, I return to fetch my (make that our) goodies. Buddy knows the drill, and waits patiently for his cut of the loot. He watches intently, he drools intently, he barks intently. A treat is given, bad behavior rewarded. Witnesses to this regrettable display of caving in laugh not so much at Buddy, but at me. (Yeah, yeah, I’m a pushover in case you weren’t paying attention.)
Saturday morning wakes up slowly on Vashon Island, and one by one, the line grows, chatter fills the room, a work week is washed away, and sleepy heads ease into the day with friends and refreshments. It’s Saturday at Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe where pastries are loaded, the conversations light; where the friendships endure and a man and his dog are right at home.
Nature doles out some amazing colors. When my Taylor’s Pink Perfection camellia began to bloom for the first time, I found its blush exuberant, unapologetic and very reminiscent of a hue I’d come across before: the lipstick color of my fourth grade teacher Miss Wells.
In my recollection, Miss Wells and Delta Burke are now the same person. When Miss Wells wanted your attention (read disciplinary action), she’d lean over your desk placing her well-manicured hand on your shoulder, and zero in, her lips to your ear, and politely, albeit sternly, in the most lilting of southern accents say, “May I please have a word with you, [insert child’s first and last name]?” Trouble was, she would have many words with the pupil and always win the argument.
I had a theory that her weapons-grade perfume* was a numbing agent used to lull kids into a semi-lucid, obedient state, but that’s another story. Because she insisted on unflinching eye contact (her form of a Vulcan mind meld), I was forced to behold the brightest shade of pink lipstick known to man. And now that I’ve seen this camellia, I can say it’s also known to nature.
If you’d like to know more about my favorite florid flirt, I’ve posted information below:
Lustrous evergreen foliage cover this upright shrub; masses of semi-double pink flowers bloom over a long period, beginning in late winter; provide rich, acidic, moist, well-drained soil
Taylor’s Perfection Camellia features showy shell pink round flowers with yellow eyes at the ends of the branches from late winter to early spring. It has dark green foliage. The glossy pointy leaves remain dark green throughout the winter. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.
Taylor’s Perfection Camellia is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.
This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Taylor’s Perfection Camellia is recommended for the following landscape applications;
General Garden Use
Planting & Growing
Taylor’s Perfection Camellia will grow to be about 10 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 8 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 1 foot from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 40 years or more.
This shrub does best in partial shade to shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth, but will die in standing water. It is particular about its soil conditions, with a strong preference for rich, acidic soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in both summer and winter to conserve soil moisture and protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.
Taylor’s Perfection Camellia makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. Its large size and upright habit of growth lend it for use as a solitary accent, or in a composition surrounded by smaller plants around the base and those that spill over the edges. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag – this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.
*weapons-grade perfume, is the indelible reference originally coined by my friend Mark Hoben.
Editor’s note: I first posted this story years ago, and I thought it was time to revisit it with updated photos and information.
Spring seemed to takes its own sweet time this year; arriving late, leaving early, hopscotching around the Pacific Northwest in quick visits tied to its own whims. I’ve made peace with winter, now that spring has unpacked and decided to stay. God bless the daffodil, the sunny little recruit trumpeting warmer days are ahead. It’s hope in flower form.
After living in my house for close to fifteen years, and planting and splitting bulbs each fall, I’ve come to expect an eruption of garden surprises each spring. Much like an absent-minded squirrel, I usually forget where I bury the flower bulbs, but then spring steps in to joyfully remind me.
If you’ve had trouble growing flower bulbs in the past, consider the daffodil and related narcissus cousins. These bulbs are easily grown without much fuss or care, or interest from deer or voles. Daffodils naturalize beautifully, that is once you plant them, the bulbs multiply and establish flowering colonies requiring little care. In fact, I plant bulbs in my lawn to add interest to swaths of green. The only real secret is you have to let the leaves die back to the ground to recharge the bulb and blooms for next season.
Like much of the country this winter, the Pacific Northwest succumbed mightily to the whims of wild weather. Our February, the coldest on record, left islanders grousing about temperatures Midwesterners would scoff at. But for us, freezing weather is as much an anomaly as a Seattle corner without a coffee shop.
The mile-high meringue on our baked-Alaska winter came in the form of unprecedented snowfall, which led to school closures, fallen trees, compromised structures, and power outages. The good news is warmer weather is on its way next week, the daffodils and crocus are blooming, and I’ll get by with a little help (make that a lot of help) from my friends as I’m finally at an age and/or state where accepting help is fine with me (such an adult approach). Plans are in the works to dismantle and reconstruct the greenhouse for starters. I’ll keep you posted.
So here’s to a spring without downed trees, flattened greenhouses or collapsed coops. And may these photos be dispatched as faded memories quickly making way for the promise of sunshine and soulful renewal.
Oh a side note, snow storms and power outages can certainly bring us together, and on occasion yield a mighty-fine recipe. This hot buttered rum mix (and tasty elixir) was served to me one very chilly morning by my friend Margo, who received it from her 87-year old neighbor who had rescued Margo and son from their unheated cottage. That’s my kind of neighbor! And let me just say, this recipe makes you hope there’s a power outage.
The snow has melted and we are free to move about the island to see old friends and meet new ones.
Snow comes and goes in the Pacific Northwest, but it usually prevails at higher elevations, and leaves the shores of Puget Sound unfettered by the constraints of its icy grip. With Vashon so close to Cascade-Mountain ski slopes, we islanders usually travel to see the snow, not the other way around. But last week was the 100-year exception; the snow went coastal and never left, breaking a February snowfall record set in 1923.
There is no disputing the beauty ushered in by a fresh snowfall, but with each accumulating inch, I, like most Vashonites, standby for the imminent power outage caused by the whims of tall timber, feeble footholds, precarious powerlines, and heavy snow.
With our local meteorologists hyperventilating on network news about Snowmageddon 2019 or Snowpocalypse Now, Puget Sounders took notice. In fact, most grocery store shelves were emptied in a 24-hour period. Produce sections had one offering: parsnips. Dairy refrigerators were denuded of everything but a few tubs of pineapple cottage cheese and some curiously-flavored coffee creamers. But with a giant jar of Jif, six cans of tuna, one box of milk bones, and a bag of bagels (the last one), I qualified for and breezed through the 15-item-or-less line, while my poor island pals followed an outer-aisle labyrinth to the promised land of frenetic checkers. Truth be told, I feel I may have missed a good party by not standing in that long line.
When the first flake arrived, I was safe, warm, showered and down-comforter ready, though the chill of procrastination had me shivering over my wimpy stash of firewood and my reluctance to procure more. And why was that; well it required splitting more.
Right on time, a freezing air flow from British Columbia’s Fraser River Valley embraced our coastal moisture, and the snow event was on. A steady snowfall silenced the island; everyone was in for the night. Like a heavenly pillow fight, feathery flakes danced their way down to earth, dressing all surfaces in winter white. Only a few souls ventured out to prove their snow-driving prowess, and many of the island’s hills and ditches welcomed their foolhardiness with expected outcomes.
Within five hours of the first flake, the entire island was without power, about 10,000 folks. I know the exact time because my CPAP machine stopped and I was awakened by the need to breathe. (Gets me every time.) My bedroom was cold already as I don’t heat the upstairs, and Buddy wasn’t budging, wrapped as tight as a bulldog blanket burrito.
I layered up from the one-day-I’ll-fold-these clothes pile. Now about 3 a.m., I stumbled downstairs to my first mistake: I had failed to reset my furnace thermostat from its nighttime temp of 50 degrees to a higher temperature in case the power went out. My first order of business was to build a fire in my ancient and rarely-used wood stove. An hour later, the fire was roaring and my living room was enjoying a whopping two-degree rise to 52 degrees Fahrenheit (and that is why it’s rarely used). Candles were lit. Buddy trundled downstairs, seeking company and warmth, and found both on the sofa.
Perhaps my favorite thing about snow is not only its ability to change the landscape, but its wizardry to change the human heart. Add a few flakes, and we lose years and jaded outlooks, and take a shining to childlike wonder. I walked around the house looking through the wavy window panes of my snowglobe within a snowglobe. Upstairs, downstairs, east, west, north and south, I gazed at views transformed into fairytale vistas.
When Buddy finally ventured out, the snow reached his jowls, while his body remained below the surface like a lumbering submarine. He plowed through the white stuff , then stopped to zig, then zag, roll and bark. His “business trip” had taken to a snow cave under the hedge. His triumphant return to hearth and home was marked by ample treats, hugs, a towel-off, and a resumption of his napping duty.
For the most part, I was stranded, but at home in my island snowglobe. Power crews worked feverishly to restore electricity to the island, and within twelve hours my center quadrant was being spoiled once again with heat, hot coffee, drawn baths, and WiFi.
The snow covered neighbors under the same blanket, but awakened us to our interdependency. We visited. We told stories. We offered to help. We checked on each other and marveled at the rarity and beauty of such a storm. Many intrepid islanders were out in their monster trucks, chainsaw ready to clear a blocked road.
For five days, I stayed home. My lane was impassable and I was uninterested in trying to find a reason to travel farther than my chicken coop or orchard. My job became knocking snow off of my greenhouse, and fruit trees. In the end some of my efforts paid off, some did not. My fruit trees were spared dramatic breakage, but my greenhouse collapsed, fencing failed, trees fell and the chicken yard ain’t what she used to be. Our big snow did some big damage, but I’ll see what insurance has to say about all this in the days to come, and then ponder my next move.
For now, it’s dark outside, my feet are warmed by the snoring bulldog lug atop them, and a full moon is slipping behind a cloud. To-do lists and chores can wait a little longer, perhaps until my boots dry out, and the sun shows its face, oh, and when I’m through toggling through some lovely photos of Snowmageddon 2019!
Few symbols capture my heart like the heart. There’s no gray area here, no mistaken intent. Whether rendered in a doodle, decal, cookie-cutter, pie plate or box of chocolates, a heart-shaped anything delivers the simple, eloquent, and unwavering message that you are loved, or at the very least, thought of most fondly.
While Valentine’s Day is all about delivering such heartfelt pronouncements in various ways, I rely heavily on my baking bent as a conveyance of my love. (Though I fear the ultimate measure would be my willingness to drive someone to the airport.) And sure, roses are nice, but hand pies bless your beloved with a batch of sweetness that lingers on the lips like a Valentine’s Day kiss. Here’s how I do it.
Hand-to-Heart Cherry Pocket Pies
1 double-crust pie dough (store-bought or homemade)
2 cups pie cherries (fresh or frozen)
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 pinch kosher salt (⅛-¼ teaspoon)
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Divide chilled dough in half. Roll out each dough round to ⅛” thickness. Use a medium to large heart-shaped cookie cutter and cut out as many hearts as dough allows.
Combine leftover dough, reshape dough into a round and roll out again. Cut out remaining hearts. Divide the number of hearts in two; half will be the bottom crust and half will be the top crust.
Add cornstarch to cherries and mix; next add sugar, salt, extract and mix again. Pour melted butter over mixture and stir to coat cherries. (You can also use canned cherry pie filling.)
Plan B: A super simple and equally delicious way to make these hand pies is to simply use your favorite jam or preserves in place of the cherry pie filling. A dollop of fruit jam works just fine. And you can also substitute the cherries in the recipe for any other pie-appropriate fruit (e.g., berries, apples, peaches, rhubarb).
Bottom dough: place a healthy dollop of cherry mixture in the middle of the heart. Leave edges bare.
Top dough: gently roll the top dough hearts to enlarge their surface area, allowing more coverage when placed over the cherries.
Cover the bottom dough heart and cherry mixture with a top heart cover. Gently press the edges together, crimp to seal.
Placed filled hearts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (Love can get messy.)
Brush heart pies with milk and sprinkle white sugar on the top.
Forget about timed baking, and observe hearts every 15 minutes. Bake at 350 F until crusts brown, and cherries and syrup bubble. Remove and cool.
Hand pies are best if not sealed or wrapped in plastic, which softens the dough.
I love bread-and-butter pickles: not too sweet; not too sour; can stand on their own; and can dress up any sandwich worth its weight in Cougar Gold. In my youth, as with many of my culinary journeys, bread-and-butter pickles didn’t even register as a destination on my taste-bud triptik. I would instead opt for bites, nibbles, and snacks laden with sugar and heavy-handed flavors (ah, the palate of a ten-year-old).
Sweet Gherkins were my pickle of choice. The first time I had a cornichon, I thought it was a gherkin-gone-bad. I began to doubt the French—Sacre Bleu! Where was the sweetness? Where was the sugary syrup? Now I’m all grown-up and I apologize mes amis for my childish ways. As part of my penance, I wish to offer up a great bread-and-butter pickle provided by one of my favorite cooks (and peeps) Sharon B, though I’ve tweaked it a little bit based on my own preferences.
When it comes to her bread-and-butters, Sharon is a master canner of preserved pickled perfection. Her pickles are brightly colored, crisp, and wickedly addictive—a happy family of flavors: sweet, sour, spicy and savory. When the lid comes off of the jar, the contents go quickly. And her pickled beets made me a believer in a root vegetable that had tormented me my entire childhood; I spent countless hours alone, pouting at the kitchen table sentenced to choke down the lesser canned version of the beet.
Sharon’s recipe calls for brining the cucumbers in salt and ice.
This draws out unnecessary moisture, ensures crispness, and brightens the color of the cucumbers.
My back porch Mise En Place, with the most important ingredient front and center: super-fresh organic pickling cucumbers. I buy mine from Rob at Plum Forest Farm on Vashon Island.
Sometimes, I like to crinkle cut my cucumbers for extra crispiness, other times sliced thin in a mandoline, and for a relish type texture perfect for sandwiches or hotdogs, I run the cucumbers through my zoodle maker (spiralizer ).
( Image/link for Amazon veggie spiralizer listing.)
The recipe includes a lovely combination of herbs and spices, and over the years I’ve customized the seasonings a bit, adding a few things I like in a pickle, such as cinnamon, ginger and clove. Each batch is a bit different.
I cold pack the cucumbers and add the spices to each jar. I then pour the vinegar-sugar mixture into the jar and leave one half inch of head (air) space between lid and contents. Then, I seal in a water bath for ten minutes.
The final product is a crowning addition to any sandwich or charcuterie plate.
Sharon’s Bread-and-Butter Pickles (With Tommy Spice)
This Bread and Butter pickle recipe highlights how easy it is to make pickles at home. The pickles are crispy, flavorful and wickedly addictive. My favorite bread and butter pickles!
1/3 cup canning salt
2 large garlic cloves (slice, add one slice per jar)
4 cups sugar
2lb ice cubes ((2 trays))
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1.5 teaspoons celery seed
1.5 teaspoons tumeric
4 cups apple cider vinegar
This recipe is a starting point and lends itself to customization, that is, add the herbs and spices you like, leave out those you don't. I usually add a slice of ginger and garlic, and a couple peppercorns per jar. Other times I'll add a bay leaf, clove and cinnamon stick. Experiment to find your favorite combination of seasonings for the pickles. Also, sometimes I spiralize (cut) the cucumber like super-thin ribbons. This works great for pickles destined for sandwiches; the pickles stay put.
Wash and slice cucumbers. Thickness and cut are up to you: crinkle cut, thin or thick cut medallions, spiralizer noodles.
Peel and slice onions thinly. Combine cucumbers and onion; add salt and mix. Cover with the ice cubes and let stand 3 hours. Drain in colander. I don't usually rinse.
Combine sugar, mustard and celery seed, turmeric, and vinegar in large pot. Heat for 5-10 minutes to a simmer to meld flavors, dissolve sugar and make syrup.
Pack uncooked cucumbers and onions in pint jars (10-12) leaving one inch from the top clear. Add any additional flavorings per jar at this time, such as one clove or one slice of ginger per jar. Your choice, or don't add anything for a traditional Bread and Butter Pickle.
Pour syrup in jars, leaving 1/2" head space. Wipe top of jar clean, add lid, tighten securely but not crazy tight. The air needs to escape. Process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes, then remove to cool.
After an hour, make sure lids are sunken in, showing a vacuum seal has occurred. Enjoy and refrigerate after opening.
Merry Christmas Friends and Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Buddy and I have been plugging away here on the farm, tending to daily duties and quietly watching the seasons change through the wavy windows of our beloved farmhouse and from the soggy fields underfoot.
I’d have to say (ironically) that I haven’t had much to say as of late. I think sometimes the world funnels so much information our way, seemingly from a firehose of images, texts, tweets, articles and videos, that I find stillness and quiet a nice respite during the days of shortened light. Sometimes our lives call for reflection and listening and for me it seems that time is present. All is well, all is bright. I’m just sticking close to home in my head and heart.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and to thank you for checking in. I feel most blessed to have people, family, and friends in my life who warm my heart and share their love with me at every turn. May I always return that gift in the minutes, hours, days and years to come.
I’d like to leave you with a little slideshow of photos from the farm. Yep Buddy and me mugging for the camera and sharing some of the fruits of our labor and smiles of our days. It was a fine year and we look forward to new discoveries, friends, and moments in 2019.
One of the benefits of sporting a roadmap of wrinkles, carting around a bone bag of stiff joints, and having a fond memory of a thick head of hair, is knowing that along the way I may have grown a brain—and a more empathetic brain at that. And while the physical features and physiologies of youth are nice, I’ve come to believe it’s the awareness of the soul, the kindness, the selfless deed, and generous nature that will in the end keep me (keep us) young. My body may go south, but the heart and head can still hasten me forward (as long as I remember where I put my truck keys and how to shift the gears).
This past year has been especially illuminating and also challenging. I’m aging, my siblings are aging, my mom is aging. And though life goes on, the gentle and not-so-gentle reminders of mortality become more prescient each year.
This year my mother sustained a fall, and through sheer pluck and hard work, she has made remarkable strides toward her recovery and well-being. It has not been easy. But we have to laugh, for when we tell her she’s amazing, she grows quiet and moves onto the next subject as if never hearing a word we’ve said. While my mom is not one to talk about herself nor does she wish to be fussed over, I am especially grateful for two things: her spirit and the devotion of her friends and neighbors.
I live a coast away, and knowing that an angel brigade helps my mom is a comforting balm for the soul. I’ve been to see her and have another trip planned, but because my siblings and I can’t be there all the time, the people who are there readily in her daily life are the true unsung heroes of my heart. They say it’s nothing and that they’re happy to do it, but I’m here to tell you it’s very much something.
I’d like to thank (and give a big written-word hug to) the everyday heroes who help, who check in, who show up when a friend is in need, especially when lack of mobility or access apply. The ride to the doctor’s appointment or church, the picking up of groceries, and the visitations are indeed heroic actions that elevate and comfort the treasured souls in our lives. Selfless actions may go unmentioned, but their uplifting, life-affirming impact speaks volumes. May my gratitude always be evident and forthcoming for you everyday heroes, bettering lives you likely have no idea you’re touching, and always in a meaningful, generous, profound and quiet way.