Christmas Cake

_LME9532A Christmas treat!

There is nothing like a good Christmas Cake, full of nutrition and a TINY bit of booze. It has everything in it to sustain a person doing hard labour or recreating in the mountains, skiing and hiking. It has the power to keep the cold away and get you back on your feet to finish the trek to the top of the ridge or through the deep snow on the way back home. It has even been used to aid in dragging deer through the bush. Thus is the power of the Christmas Cake.

Some people call it fruit cake, but I prefer Christmas Cake because my mother would make them in November and we couldn’t try them until Christmas, plus they always seem like a gift.

My Mother took pride in her wonderful Christmas Cakes. They were always baked in round pans with choice ingredients and wrapped in cheesecloth and a tea towel. The cloth was pulled back and the cakes were regularily soaked with booze. Brandy was used mostly, but I can remember whiskey, sherry and Grand Marnier were also used. I remember my mother saying it was important to get them properly soaked.

About five years ago, it could be ten the way they are flying by, my sister Deb started making Christmas Cakes from my mother’s old recipe that was written down with some of her other recipes and notes. They were every bit as good as my Mother’s, even better because I didn’t have my father rationing it out to me like it was the last water on a life raft stranded in the middle of the Pacific.

_LME9523 A gift in a dented tin!

This year my other sister Wynanne decided to make the Christmas Cakes. Now Wynanne is an absolutely awesome cook! Her meals are legendary among the family. Her children Christian and Meagan and husband Tim have been treated to many wonderful meals. Whenever I make something I haven’t made before I always phone her and ask advice.

But could she make a Christmas Cake that could stand up to my Mother’s and Deb’s?

It’s a lot of pressure. It should come easy to someone with as fine a culinary skills as Wynanne’s, but with Christmas Cake who knows! Never mind such legendary cakes!

First she had to deal with the recipe itself. Stained and worn, and I am sure, not very detailed. Luckily, Wynanne had the presence of mind to phone Deb and say that she though SEVEN cups of butter was too much.

Deb righted what could have been a disaster and told Wynanne it was seven ounces, not seven cups. They had a good laugh over the stained recipe and what could have been some pretty greasy Christmas Cakes. It seems fitting my sister’s laughing over my mother’s recipe, as my mother could always laugh up a storm. I imagined her laughing along with them.

As promised I received my cake just after Christmas. On opening the heavy tin the smell of boozy cake enveloped my senses. It was everything I remembered as good and fine. I unwrapped it carefully., first the tea towel and then the cheese cloth. It was the perfect colour, dark, nothing like some of the store bought ones.

_LME9524Unwrapping the bounty!

Then the moment of truth, the first bite. It was excellent. Every bit as good as I can remember. Thick cake holding the nuts and candied fruit together, all inebriated in a good soaking of booze.

I sprinkled on another layer of booze before rewrapping and putting it away. Christmas Cake must be continuously hydrated if it is going to last the year (this one won’t). 

_LME9533It ain’t gonna last!

Now I have to start rationing myself. The pieces start off big and get smaller as the cake gets smaller. By the end I’m like my father on the life raft. It, at least, has to last to the end of March and the end of the cold weather.

Wynanne lived up to her Mum and sister Deb. Not that there was ever a doubt.

What a wonderful gift. I’ll enjoy it in the bush and while working. Sometimes you get lucky.

Turkey Soup

RCE_1698Willow surveys the sticks on shore, carefully picking one to fetch. 

It is a long standing tradition of rotating hosting Christmas dinner among our family. This year it was Lisa’s brother Brent’s family’s turn. There was plenty of great food and wine and lots of good conversation and laughs.

RCE_1679Grey December beside the Columbia.

Brent generously gives me the turkey carcass as he knows I like to make broth from the bones. He always leaves some meat on the bones so I can add it to the soup the next day. Even at this late hour the soup is boiling. I will wait as long as I can before straining the broth. It will be put outside to cool.

Tomorrow I will sauté onions, carrots and onions, add the broth, the left over turkey and a handful of barley. That’s it, supper taken care of.  The kids always loved that soup. Sometimes they would argue over whether I should add barley or pasta noodles. Barley usually won out.

RCE_1689An American Dipper holds down the ice beside the river.

My Mom and Dad used to make the same soup, from turkeys, but also wild chickens we shot. They called it mulligan. It was thick and gamey. They said it was soup that stuck to your ribs. I used to wonder what that saying meant. I thought, maybe the barley acted as glue and stuck to your insides. Later, when I understood a person could go hungry, I realized it could keep hunger away longer than many other foods, some much more expensive.

We are lucky to have so much.

RCE_1660My old path to the fish holes.

current

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It has been a strange winter so far. The mountains are getting snow, yet very little in the valley bottom. The last week has seen temperatures above freezing during the day. Today was sunny and plus 5°. There is ice on Lake Windermere, but open spots here and there. The ice freezes different than when I was a boy. The open spots are in in other locations. It changed when they filled in some of the wetlands for development. It increased the pull of the river exiting the lake.

Columbia and Windermere Lakes are often described, by experts, to be a widening of the river. When I was young I used to try to see where the current was under the surface of the lake. I imagined a time when the lakes were not as wide. If the banks of the lake looked freshly cut within the last thousand years. I’d squint and remove the railway tracks and the few homes along the shore. I would look for schools of fish, under the ice, how they moved, if they were being fed by the years dead insects and animals finally loose on the current. During summer, I would swim the width of the lake feeling where I would get cold from water moving quicker under the hot sun. I would confirm it swimming back.

It is a lot tougher now trying to figure out the current. My father and I used to venture onto the ice, early in winter, when it was safe. We would put up a tree in the places the last of the ice froze, to warn people of thin ice. It was the same spots year after year. My father said there was a spring under the ice in those spots. The tree always looked like an undecorated Christmas tree. The warning was observed, everybody knew.

Now, the lake freezes later. The weak spots are more plentiful. The current doesn’t meander like it used to. I ask myself, why should it be different? The snow is coming. I know that.

Late November

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A proud raven, with a shiny red piece of meat in it’s beak, flew and perched on our roof. I distracted Willow, so she wouldn’t see, but she caught a whiff. The barking started, the raven took off into the grey November sky. 

Used the last of the summer onions today. The ones I plucked out of the dry earth when the sky was shrouded in smoke from forest fires. They were tucked away and it was lucky I’d found them.

We still have plenty of beets, spuds, carrots, garlic and smoke. The firewood is also plenty, more than holding up.

November, when the ground is either froze or not, can be harsh. The light continues to diminish, colours disappear and are replaced by grey. It can rain or snow and footing must be tested.

There’ll come a day, sure as hell, we’ll suffer shortages.  But for now, thank God, it’s only money.

***

Rode into the bush tonight just to make sure the stars were still up there. It’s been awhile since the sky has cleared. Sure enough there they were between breaks in the clouds. They were all out of place from the last time I looked. It is reassuring to become aligned once again.

We were treated to two owls hooting back and forth. The one who started first sounded like a dog barking. Willow’s hackles went up. Her circle got smaller and she barked back. Then another owl started. It was the the barking owl, the barking dog and then the hooting owl, over and over, for about ten minutes. Finally, between the three of them, they must have worked out their differences and stopped the chatter. Quiet returned. Willow’s circle grew.

***

Down in the valley or up in the mountains, at my age, I’m lucky, I walk where I want, I’m either not worth the bother or too much trouble. Willow stays alert just in case my bluff is called.

ghosts

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There are ghosts everywhere. In the trees and clouds, between mountains, deep in the holler, along the coolies beside the creek, overgrown tangled in willow, littered with deadfalls: each and every overhead cliff, an ancient snag ready and able to hang the guilty.

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Not that I believe in them. Ghosts I mean.

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Most are wondering around. Possibly lost. They don’t say much. Nor me back to them. A courteous nod is about it. Most of the times they are surprised, as I, to have run into each other.

Long ago they’d nudge me awake. My mother used to want to know what they were wearing. I used to be afraid at first. I’d listen to the radio until I was asleep. She would ask, was he wearing an army uniform, a plaid shirt, a tam? Don’t be afraid she’d say. They’re not here to hurt you.

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They’re here to tell you something, she’d say.

I didn’t believe.

The ghosts kept appearing, in the creek bottoms. At night they were among the stars. I’d feel them go through me, in a rush, taking my breath into the sky above the crags.

We got used to each other. They don’t talk, but sometimes I will. I tell them I don’t believe. Then tell them the creek is low, the snow will be early, there is a moose in the upper basin that comes out in the morning to walk the slough, it better keep it’s head down until the end of hunting season.

Animals curve where they shouldn’t. Same as people. Ghosts blend in. Once you see them you will always see them. 

If you believe in that stuff.

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Late Fall

_LME8964BCresting the summit.

We have had a few beautiful days. It only seemed right to get into the mountains one more time before the snow started falling in earnest.

_LME8843BMorning light touches the mountain tops. Willow scans the trail ahead.

Willow, Maynard and I set out early and were on the trail before sun up. We climbed up quickly through the bush. I studied the places I was going to have difficulty with coming down. The snow was crisp, but it would be icy directly under the trees come afternoon. Some of the ice would be unavoidable. There was a day I would hop, skip and jump down the trail.

_LME8981BMaynard and Willow walk the ridge. 

Now I am more economical, to put it kindly. Not to many waisted steps. Some of those steps are damn slow. It reminds me that I have to stay in shape so I can show these places to Cooper and Scarlett.

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In some places the snow was hard and others I broke through. On the ridge the snow was windblown hard or blown off the rocks so the going was relative easy.

_LME8953B.jpgLooking back along the windy ridge.

Willow led the way. Maynard stayed right with me.

The sky and sun was brilliant. The next snowstorm will make the ridge inaccessible.

_LME8891BHypnotizing Maynard and Willow with a piece of cheese.

When we got back to the truck I had a cold coffee waiting for me. It hit the spot. The hounds slept the way home. Very fine day.

Clearing

_LME8804-sm.jpgThe Milky Way dips below the horizon, leaving the night to the brilliant winter stars.

Willow and I took for the benches, beyond the ruck, into the burn. We arrived early. The Moon wasn’t down and Orion wasn’t up. We neither had a cup of coffee or a beer to expedite the wait. Willow occupied herself looking for mice. I thought about hunting. How I could have filled the freezer by now, instead I’m foolishly after stars.

_LME8818-Pano.jpgIt was an exceptional fall day. No clouds, cool but with sunshine. Today cannnabis is legal for recreational use in Canada. It is the step in the right direction to give people the right to do what they have been doing all along. Growing, packaging, advertising, pricing distribution and tax collecting will now be handled and approved by government and friends.

_LME8794-smA meteor streaks beside Mars before it follows the moon over the eastern ridge. 

It is odd to see folks so long in favour of prohibition now on the other side, espousing and controlling the market they see as lucrative.

_LME8820-smAlong the fence line, into the darkness, chasing the night.

Wouldn’t it be funny if everybody just grew their own.

More small gardens would be a good thing.

It took the moon to go down before the sky was dark enough to make out The Milky Way.

_LME8799-smOrion rises, in pursuit of Taurus and Pleiades. The trees limbs point to Orion’s Belt.

Very fine night.