Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lunar Landing: Where Memory and Fiction Coincide

It's July 20, 1969, the day (and night) of the first lunar landing. Here's what I think I remember: I am four years old. My parents have rented a small cabin in a state park. Everything enthralls me: the peeled wooden logs stacked one on top of another, the slightly musty smell, the strange beds, the tiny hotplate in the corner, the fish someone catches and fillets--my father cooks it on a small round barbecue just outside the cabin door. I'm forbidden to step too close--it's hot!

After my younger brother and sister have gone to sleep, my father takes me for a walk. We walk along a dirt path beneath enormous pines. It is dark. The cicadas sing. Pine needles cushion our steps. The air is aromatic with pine tar and earthy scents. The moon sails overhead, following us wherever we go like a balloon on a string. My father stops in a clearing and looks up at the moon. "Men are on the moon tonight," he tells me. He seems rather excited by this idea, so I am too. I squint as hard as I can, but I can't see those men.

"Lift me up, daddy. Higher. Higher. I want to see." He lifts me onto his shoulders and we stand, looking up at the moon.

I think I remember this--my father begins to tell me about the three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins, but perhaps I've heard the adults talking about the lunar mission while my father was grilling fish. Today, July 20, 1969, is the day that the Eagle, the lunar module with Armstrong and Aldrin inside, will split off from the spaceship, the Columbia, and land on the moon, in the lunar region dubbed "the Sea of Tranquility." If all goes well, Armstrong and Aldrin will debark their small craft and, ensconced in their life-supporting space suits, walk around, take pictures, and collect chunks of rock from the surface of the moon.

I'm not sure how my father knows that the lunar landing has already been successful out there in the woods. Maybe he heard the news on the car radio or from a cabin neighbour. Anyway, he seems to know. He keeps telling me that this is an historic day, a remarkable night. "There are men there, up there on the moon tonight!"

Until this moment, everyone, my father included, has always insisted that there aren't any people in or on the moon, that the moon is a rocky, barren sort of place, not on or of the earth, but something other, circling us. These are not easy notions for a child to grasp, and I do not really understand them. But I seize, readily, my father's excitement, and I desperately want to share it. I squint more and more at the moon and then there, I think I see, just on the rim, dark figures against the light.

"There they are! I see them!" I shout. "I see the men on the moon!"

My father laughs and laughs. He laughs so hard he has to swing me down to the ground. "No," he tries to explain, "you can't see them, not with your eyes." He may even have said "they cannot be seen with the naked eye"--this was a favourite expression of his for a time. But it was too late for this instruction; I knew that if I just peeled (my mother's expression) my naked eyes enough, I could see to and through anything.

This conviction, then and since, has caused me no end of trouble. I couldn't be an eye-witness to the lunar landing--proof positive may be found in the fact that my imaginary men on the moon looked a lot more like a moment from George Melies' 1902 film La Voyage dans la Lune than television footage of Armstrong's small step and large leap. But for me as a child--as perhaps for Melies and the astronauts--such "seeing" what, strictly speaking, could not be seen, was an act of will, an act of imagination that I wished might also be an act of truth-telling.

Alas, it was not.

But maybe to be a writer, particularly of fictions, is forever to dedicate yourself to the task of reconciling acts of imagination and truth-telling--one way or the other.

So, the story I have told above is true. And not. It is, as I'm sure my siblings and parents and friends will be all too happy to hear me admit, pretty well all made up. I remember the pines. And the woodsy scent. And the dark. And my father telling me, with great excitement, that there were men on the moon that night. I remember how bright the moon was, against the night sky. But everything else is cobbled in there, an unholy mixture of imagination, memory and fiction.

Until a few days ago, I didn't think of my "memory"--for I was very convinced at first that it was genuine--in such terms. In fact, in the week when newscasters started talking about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I went looking to see if I had any family photos from 1969. I did have a few--they are reproduced here--and I was shocked to find, as I looked at the dates, how acutely my memory had failed me. To begin with, I'd disregarded the facts that even an elementary grasp of mathematics can supply; the year of the lunar landing, I was not four, but five. If something so obvious had eluded me, how much more of my memory was built on slippery lunar sand?

The "truth" then?

On July 20, 1969, I am five years old. In a little more than a month I will start kindergarten, the first step in what has become a long apprenticeship to school. I've learned how to ride a two-wheeler, can count quickly and easily well past ten, but cannot yet write my name. I'll do that backwards and sometimes upside-down when the time comes--a bit dyslexic then, as now. I have a brother who is three and a sister who is almost two. I want to learn to hula hoop but find it pretty hard--I don't yet know how to send my knees and shoulders in different directions. And I'm utterly sure that when I cook meals on my stove you will want to eat them. Especially if they consist strictly of raisins. I read poetry with my grandfather and dress paperdolls with my grandmother and like to make up long songs and shaggy dog stories that no one believes. (Some things never change.) My favourite gambit when asked to play the mother in neighbourhood games of "house" is the counter-proposal: "No, let's say we're all orphans and we have to run away and hide because bad people are after us." And I cover dozens of pages with scribbles that I hope are writing--they look like writing to me-- but my father and mother tell me they aren't.

I fear--then and now--that I will be forever stuck in this moment, caught between the strength of my wish and its shortfall in reality. Forty years passing, in the blink of an eye. A peeled, naked eye, boosted by corrective lenses and, nevertheless, infinitely faulty. Like those lunar images beamed back and copied, degraded, even erased by NASA.* Beyond belief--and so, because of that, perfect candidates for extreme conviction.

There's a truth here somewhere, isn't there?

*See NPR's "Houston, We Erase the Apollo 11 Tapes" July 16, 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106637066

Reading with Grandpa Smith, December 30, 1969
Playing with Lisa (sister) at grandparents' house, August 31, 1969
Collage of images from Georges Melies' La Voyage dans la Lune (1902)--http://www.myspace.com/georges_melies
Riding my bike & playing with Leslie (brother), March 6, 1969
Cooking [raisin] soup, (?) probably November 1969
Playing paperdolls with Grandma Smith, November 1969
Apollo 11 mission, stepdown to the moon from the Eagle, http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2009/07/happy_moonday.php
and http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo11/
Hula hooping at grandparents' house, April 6, 1969

Sunday, July 19, 2009


In a way, my favourite kind of day: warm, gentle rain, swift-moving clouds, the sea rolling but mild, birds fishing on the points, the sun not too far away--just behind those clouds there.

In way, my favourite kind of day, summer calm; rain, hush, relief.

In a way...

Still, I chafe against the darkness, the way that my eyesight is shrouded; in the rain, I feel bounded and too contained. As if getting wet were something to be avoided, at all costs.

Ambivalence then.

I sway in the wind like the trees, rooted despite my legs.

Rain on the pond
Rain and fog over the pond
Rainy self portrait

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Counting Trillions

A much more fashionable number is now on the horizon, or closer. The trillion is almost upon us.
Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions, 1997.

+ $ 11,373, 059, 000,000.00
US National Debt as of 4:40 pm EDT July 4 2009--last digits moving so quickly that it is impossible to record them accurately.

It's the fourth of July in America--of course it's also the fourth of July everywhere else this side of the international dateline, even if "4th of July" doesn't signify National Holiday of Extreme Importance in every other place. Fireworks, fired up barbecues, inflamed rhetoric, blazing heat: the fourth of July is a candescent, enthusiastic holiday--this year, even North Korea has been eager to join the party.

Although it is already July 5 there, Kim Jong Il's regime in Pyongyang has, as promised (or threatened), delivered a few missiles into the atmosphere to commemorate the date. --But whether they've hit their mark--which is a matter more of political than ballistic accuracy--though surely both--remains to be seen.

Given so much glitter, smolder and pyrotechnics, it seems fitting to duck into a bit of shadow (plenty of that here in Nova Scotia-incendiary shadow, we're having thunderstorms) and celebrate the day by contemplating the problem of how to count to a trillion--or several.

This exercise is, of course, inspired by the awesome--note strictly correct use of that word--spectre of America's blistering rampaging wildfire of debt. Indeed the world's.

What does it mean to say the US national debt stands at more than 10 trillion dollars, that defaults on subprime mortgages are already in excess of $1 trillion, or that US government bailout packages promise nearly 1 trillion dollars of aid? What do such figures mean in the context of an expected US GDP of more than $14 trillion in 2009, or an overall mortgage market in the US, by mid-2008, of some $10.6 trillion? Are wildfires always only terrible? One might extend the metaphor more precisely by asking what, in addition to destruction, comes of all of that smoke and fire? Indeed, is such a metaphor even appropriate, apposite? Who knows?

Although today I'm simply meditating on the number 1 trillion, and trying to fathom its magnitude, it's worth keeping such questions in mind--large numbers on their own aren't scary really; what matters is what these trillions mean. Of course, this is exactly what no one really knows or agrees about. For gold standard enthusiasts, for example, a debt of trillions mean we're all going to hell in a handcart--or at the very least we will soon be buying bread with bills by the handcart--but this is not likely to be true. On the other hand, these trillions probably do mean--already seem to have meant--quite a bit of pain in the US and elsewhere, particularly for the "bottom 2 billion," those worldwide who are already hungry and living in very difficult conditions. Very far from "nothing to worry about" then.


It used to be, not so long ago, that "trillions" were numbers invoked by scientists or science writers, not ordinary citizens or scientific laypeople--unless we were making jokes. But now that it is everywhere a figure for institutional financial obligations, I think it would be fair to say that we are pretty well all--scientists, mathematicians, bankers, poets, farmers, fishermen and taxpayers alike--a bit confused by the magnitudes involved. For starters, even before we try to think about what it might mean, what kind of number is this trillion or two or ten that taxpayers in the US--and elsewhere--seem to be on the hook to pay?

Trillions clearly don't trouble us when they refer to the number of beneficial nematodes in a particular unit of ground; likewise, we accept, without too much worry one way or the other, the fact that distances in space are regularly measured in trillions of miles--there are 6 trillion miles in a light year, and "nearby" star Alpha Centauri, is for example, some 25 trillion miles--or just over 4 light years--from our sun. And while it may trouble some to learn that something like ten trillion bacteria, give or take a few, live in each of our digestive tracts, most of us are prepared to accept that magnificent number as a measure of health--as Picasso put it, although he had something other than bacteria in mind: "we are, each of us, a colony." But trillions of dollars....of debt? Just what is that? What does it mean? It seems unimaginable. Stars and trillions may "have a natural affinity," as Carl Sagan put it in his last book Billions and Billions, but we start to feel a little bit funny when trillions and money, especially money owing get mixed up together.

This may be because what first leaps to mind when we think of money and trillions are terrible examples of hyperinflation from the last hundred years--Zimbabwe's new and, strictly speaking, utterly worthless $100 trillion dollar note is simply the latest egregious illustration of currency collapse.

There are other famous cases of such monetary collapse: in 1923, for example--good years in the US, but the peak of disastrous postwar hyperinflation in Germany--1 US dollar was worth 4.2 trillion marks; to mail a letter required 50 trillion marks, and banknotes with a face value of 100 trillion marks were printed. Inflation was so steep, rising hour upon hour, that at one point, workers were apparently paid three times a day. Family members would rush out to buy what they could with the money in hand before it became still more worthless.

This is the period that inspired the infamous figure for economic catastrophe, in which a wheelbarrow full of banknotes is traded for a single loaf of bread. Worse images still can be found--for example, a woman burning money because it makes for better fuel than anything it could purchase:

Similar conditions obtain today in Zimbabwe, which on January 16, 2009 printed notes like the one above with a face value of 100,000,000,000,000, or 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars. This was after a redenomination last year (1 August 2008) that removed 10 zeros from the currency: $Z10 billion was thus, suddenly $Z1. In old Zimbabwean dollars then, the new 100 trillion note would have had to have been, as my friend John Roston helpfully calculated for me, a $1 septillion note--$1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. I don't know about you, but I can't see numbers that large--at this point it becomes more useful to think about that number with all of its terrifying 0s as 10 to the 24th power.

If your head is starting to hurt (and it should, or at the very least your heart), here are some more figures for you: inflation is so bad in Zimbabwe that prices have been doubling every twenty-four hours. According to Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins and a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, in November 2008 (the latest period for which he could verify figures), the overall inflation rate in Zimbabwe was roughly 516 quintillion percent (516,000,000,000,000,000,000%); monthly inflation for November 2008 was 13.2 billion percent, or a daily rate of 92%. The only country on record with worse inflation was Hungary, which in July 1946 faced a daily rate of 195%, or a doubling of prices every 15.6 hours. No question about it, such hyperinflation is utterly disastrous for the population affected.

But before you panic, get a grip on yourself. We've been comparing apples and oranges here. Debt is not inflation, let alone hyperinflation--or to be more precise, the two--the US and worldwide debts in the trillions and inflation are not (yet) linked. And although there is plenty of argument to suggest that currently rising national government debtloads and inflation are likely bedfellows in the near future, no one seems to think that hyperinflation of the US dollar is a likely consequence of the financial meltdown of the last year.

--However, for a marvelous and hair-raising read, you might see John Lanchester's recent (28 May 2009) pessimistic assessment of the effect of the state of Britain's --and America'--banks and financial industries on future national endeavours in the London Review of Books. As he states, rather plainly, "the consequences of the [banks'] unravelling will be with us for a long time, in the most basic way: we will be paying for it. Not metaphorically, but literally: instead of schools and medicines and roads and libraries, huge chunks of money will go to [banks'] balance sheet[s]." Debt payment is painful, but it is not unbridled, out-of-control national collapse. No matter what the gold-standard fanatics say.

So far so good, but we are not really any further ahead in the attempt to imagine what kind of magnitude one or several trillion is--let alone 516 quintillion or 1 septillion. We might simply be, at once, a bit more scared and a bit more comforted by the spectres thrown up by Zimbabwe today or Germany in 1923, in which 1 trillion seems a laughably small--if still utterly unintelligible--number.

What about that number 1,000,000,000,000 then?

Which elements, aside from the flora and fauna of our own intestines, might help us put this number into a more human, which is to say ordinary, manageable, imagineable scale? Stars, galaxies, solar systems and staggering inflation clearly don't work on this front. CNN a few months back suggested that if you (hypothetically speaking) made a stack of $1 trillion US dollar bills, the pile would reach a third of the way to the moon. It's a good figure, but it doesn't really get us any closer to imagining what 1 trillion is really beyond something staggeringly, wildly, unintelligibly large.

Suppose we start with a small unit, one you know well, like that fleeting unit of time we call the second:

1 million seconds amounts to 13 days.
1 billion seconds amounts to some 31 years.
1 trillion seconds is 31,546 years and
11 trillion seconds is something like 342,092 years. You'll be glad to know that in geologic or evolutionary measures on earth this figure is still squarely within "recent" time, the Cenozoic or "new age" post-dinosaur period.

Discouraged yet? That didn't really help, did it? Here are some more "visioning" exercises designed to utilize your ordinary sense of time. We'll measure off a trillion using the unit of the hour this time:

There are 8700 hours in a year.
1 million hours ago was in 1885.
1 billion hours ago, humans did not yet exist as a planetary life form.

I'm not quite sure how to calculate 1 trillion hours ago, let alone 11+ trillion, but I'll give it a try, showing you my work. Let's start with the fact that many estimates put the age of the earth at around 20 Galactic years or 5000 million years (5 billion years). How many hours ago was that if there are roughly 8700 hours in a year?

5 x 1 billion x 8700 = 43,500,000,000,000.

If I've done my math correctly--and you should check it, don't count on it!--43 trillion hours ago give or take a few millenia, the earth was a spinning gaseous lump. I think, if I'm getting my time lines right and my math (some large assumptions to make right there), 11 trillion hours ago multi-cellular organisms might have begun appearing on earth.

What can we conclude from this exercise? One trillion is a VERY large magnitude.

Should we be frightened of trillion dollar bailouts, national debts or bank balance sheets showing such amounts? Perhaps. That remains to be seen. If, as Marike said the other night, Obama can "throw good money after bad," money for projects that will build infrastructure and well-being for ordinary people nation-wide and elsewhere, not just money to fill large holes in the value of banks' and failed companies' assets, then maybe all this debt will add up to something that matters.

As John Lanchester argued in his lament for how much we've wasted with the banks, we have been living in a period in which economic thinking, and the example of the economy has trumped nearly every other kind of thinking about value in the public sphere. "The economic metaphor came to be applied to every aspect of modern life....[But] in fields such as education, equality of opportunity, health, employee's rights, the social contract and culture, the first conversation to happen should be about values; then you have the conversation about costs. In Britain," he says, "for the last 20 to 30 years, that has all been the wrong way round" (Lanchester, "It's Finished" LRB (28 May 2009).

It's not just in Britain that value, or values, have been collapsed to dollar or pound figures, forestalling difficult, divisive and essential debates about what we need to do to create the sorts of societies, the sort of world in which we want to live. It's been easier to pretend everything can be assigned a number and it will all come clear then. But as our trillions are finally showing--even economic numbers, when they get this large, are no longer apparently clear. We've come full circle then; we have to have some conversations about values in order to sort out how to weight the magnitudes of our trillions.

Happy Fourth of July!

I welcome all additional suggestions and corrections, as well, of course as debate!

Other large number visioning projects may be found at the following sites:
This project uses the penny as a basic unit of dimension; it would, for example, take 1.8 trillion pennies to fill up a space as large as the Empire State Building in New York. Keep in mind as you think about this example that 1.2 trillion pennies is not yet $1 trillion dollars!

http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/Numbers/Math/Mathematical_Thinking/how_big_is_a_trillion.htm I am indebted to this site for my how many seconds is a trillion examples.

My images come from the following sites:
Woman burning money

Zimbabwean money and wallpaper

All other links appear embedded in the text above.

And thanks so much to all of those who responded to my call for examples of trillions--in particular big thanks to Marike Finlay-de Monchy, as always, for helping me to keep my head on straight, to John Roston, Jules Jung and Barry Leonard, who came through with fabulous examples, and to my Uncle Bob Gutches, who send me lovely wishful photos of panda rescues in China--their number nowhere near 1 trillion, but heartening as I contemplated the the holes in my knowledge and our economies.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Strawberries and Hot Spice

We're winding up the second week of a weather phenomenon Marike calls "fogstorms": fog so thick and wet that it beads every surface with moisture, spatters the windows, rolls down the gutters. It is twilight all day long, blank damp greyness. Everyone is depressed. It is as if we've all suddenly been striken blind. There's no escape from the looming gloomy gloaming, the isolation, the blankness. We light candles at breakfast, candles at lunch, candles at dinner, a fire at night. We play music, make up goofy dances, force ourselves to go for walks. Our shoes are never dry. In such a season one craves fine sharp sunshiny tastes, exquisite surprises, anything that will break through the batting that smothers us. Enter: the spicy strawberry!

Last week, already bored with the fog, I experimented with making a ginger syrup I read about on composer Nico Muhly's blog. Usually such syrups are added to cocktails to juice them up--drinking is of course a time-honoured Maritime solution to bad weather....or anything really. Then I realized I could candy ginger at the same time--AND that I could use the syrup in all kinds of other ways as well: to flavour salmon filets, salsas, strawberries, ice cream....you get the picture. So--

Double Recipe for Ginger Spicy Syrup and Candied Ginger

2.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 whole ancho peppers
a chunk of ginger root the size of your hand or larger
2 teaspoons anise seeds (star anise would surely work too, but more than 1 tsp!)
2 tsps black pepper corns
6-8 whole cloves
1 tablespoon allspice berries

1. If you're making candied ginger with this recipe, then peel the ginger and slice thinly. If not, don't bother to peel it, just chop it up and drop it in a heavy saucepan.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Let boil vigorously, stirring frequently, until the liquid is syrupy--usually a reduction to a quarter or less of its volume. You may have to modulate the heat to prevent the mixture from burning or sticking.

3. When your syrup has reached a suitable consistency (if you're using a candy thermometer, it will get above boil but below "jelly"), turn off the heat. Let sit overnight, so that the flavours steep and the ginger soaks up some sugar.

4. The next day, bring quickly to a boil, then turn off the heat. Once the syrup has cooled a bit, strain it through a tight-meshed sieve--syrup will store well in the fridge in a glass jar.

5. If you want a bit more syrup and/or candied ginger, return the berries/spices/ginger mess to the saucepan. Add, again, 2.5 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar and, again, bring to a vigorous boil. Reduce, again, until the liquid is a nice thick syrup and the ginger is soft and sweet and not too chewy or fibrous. If it is, repeat steps 3-5 again. When everything seems to your taste, strain the syrup into your glass jar and pick out the ginger pieces--a wide-mouthed glass jar will work well to store them, too. Discard the rest of the spices--mine go right into the compost bin.

The day my syrup was done, Elisabeth came home with an enormous salmon filet. I thought the syrup might help make a tasty marinade/sauce for the fish, which it did.

Marinade and Sauce for Barbecued Salmon
2-3 T. spicy ginger syrup
2 T olive oil 1 T mustard (Dijon, of course!)
2 cloves of garlic finely minced with 1/2 of a seeded, reconstituted chipotle pepper
1/4 c. + orange juice or orange and lemon juice mixed
1 tsp roasted cumin seeds, finely ground

1. Mix ingredients together (add more orange or lemon juice if you want more liquid). Brush over salmon filet.

2. Marike started to cook our salmon on a wetted cedar plank--kept it there until it seized. Then she slipped the fish onto the grill skin side down and cooked it, basting it with the sauce, for 7 minutes or so--until it was quite hot through, but still very pink inside. Then she flipped it over to grill the top for a minute or so.

3. Serve with sauce and extra lemon. A pinch of salt perhaps.

We ate our salmon with grilled asparagus (olive oil salt pepper wrap them in foil and put them on the grill, flip them). Desert was fresh strawberries with a drizzle of syrup, candied ginger and dark dark chocolate. Mmm. By the time we were finished it was dark and we'd forgotten the fog.

But the fog had not forgotten us. It stayed and greyed and greyed and stayed. Our chins sank, so too our spirits--it's like being buried alive, nuclear winter. Here we are in the lightest brightest time of the year in the north and we are smothered in gloom. I decided I'd start to photograph small things--if you get close enough to the wild strawberries (half the size of your smallest thumbnail) you can capture all sorts of colours. Myopia, in such weather, is perhaps a blessing.

Just before Canada Day (July 1), Marike and Elisabeth came home from a trip to the hardware store with a flat of strawberries. Someone had been selling berries, picked near Truro, at the side of the road. Suddenly we had a dozen quarts or more, so we all got busy.

Elisabeth washed and stemmed several quarts then spread the berries on cookie sheets, covered them in wax paper and put them in the freezer. As soon as they were frozen she packed the berries in bags--these we'll pull out later or throw into smoothies or crisps or pies.

Then Marike and I started ice cream production. Here's Marike's recipe, which was really her mother, Marguerite's:

Marguerite's Easy No Machine Strawberry Ice Cream
1.5 litres (3 pints) of heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
3-4 quarts of strawberries
1 cup sugar (or more if you crave sweetness)
optional: nutmeg, black pepper

1. Whip the cream and vanilla together in a large bowl. If you like nutmeg, grate some in; it's always good with cream. (Besides, in large enough quanitites, it's a hallucinogin--a detail that can feel as if it's worth contemplating when you can't SEE anything in the external world...)

2. Using a cuisinart or similar implement, grind up the strawberries. No need to puree them--they should hover between liquid and solid with many elements of each. Add the sugar. You can add lots of ground black pepper here if you like, too.

3. Mix whipped cream and berries together in a large bowl. Spoon into smaller containers with tight lids & wide mouths. Be sure to leave a bit of space for the mixture to expand when it freezes. Freeze.

4. Bcause you haven't used an ice cream maker, your ice cream will be very hard (but it was also really easy, wasn't it?) You might want to take it out of the freezer for 10 minutes so that it can soften before you try to spoon it out.

We'd frozen, in one fashion or another, half of our berries, but there were still half a dozen quarts to contend with. Elisabeth made straberry jam (add water and sugar and boil; can); we had sliced strawberries on toast with anise flavoured powdered sugar (a Dutch treat, called Gestampte muisjes or, in our house, because muisjes souds a bit like "mouses--moushes--"stamped mice"). We contemplated strawberry soup (with my ginger syrup of course, and cream), strawberry souffle, strawberries on salad with goat's feta and pepper, and, of course, strawberry shortcake--which is really just strawberries on fancied up biscuits. Here's my latest greatest modification:

Strawberry Shortcake with Spicy Ginger Syrup Sauce and Whipped Cream
1 scant cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 scant cup whole wheat flour
2T granulated sugar
1T baking powder
4 T (that's 1/8 of a pound or half a stick) sweet butter (chilled)
3/4 to 1 cup light cream
optional 1/4 cup ground roasted almonds or pecans
1 qt of stemmed sliced strawberries, sprinkled with sugar
1 c. heavy cream whipped with vanilla and nutmeg
spicy ginger syrup sauce

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

1. Using a cuisinart or similar implement with a sharp blade, blend together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, ground nuts if you're using them).

2. Cut butter into cubes and drop it into the flour mixture. Pulse it in (don't over-mix)--you're looking for a coarse cornmeal-like texture here.

3. Add 1/2 c. cream. Mix. With machine running, add remaining 1/4 cup--or more, as necessary to create a fairly thick well-mixed batter.

4. Spoon the batter in large spoonfuls onto a buttered cookie sheet. Flatten each spoonful. You should have about 9 biscuits staggered across your sheet.

5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Your shortcakes should be puffed up and just a little bit browned.

6. Let cool on a rack.

7. To serve, slice the shortcakes in half. Pour syrup over each half. Cover in strawberries. Top with cream. Keep a pitcher of syrup nearby to add as necessary. If you're feeling really extravagant, shave dark chocolate over each serving.

Now, if only the fog would lift!

Nova Scotia strawberries
Ginger Spicy Syrup
Wild strawberries on stones, in the grass