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Awake at the Whisk

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Gram Burde's Fresh Apple Glazed Cookie Recipe

Love for baking and for homegrown food runs in my family. I inherited my passion from a line of women: Mom, Grandma, Great Aunt, and Great Grandma. All of these women shared countless joyful moments together in kitchens in the rural Midwest from Iowa to Illinois, teaching one another (and me!) recipes that have stayed in our family for generations.

Gram Burde's Fresh Apple Glazed Cookie Recipe wrapped in a bow for my mom's birthday!
Every time I step into my own kitchen and open my recipe box, the faded handwriting of these women greets me, along with memories of warm ovens, hands kneading and stirring, and the tastes of rhubarb or apples, freshly picked, and warmed with dough and sugar.

Today, I’ve invited one of these women to share her own childhood memories in the kitchen. Here, my mom debuts on Awake at the Whisk for her birthday. She writes about the matriarch of our family recipes, her Gram Burde, my Great Grandma. 

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom, 4 years old, proudly wearing the bright red skirt my Great Gram Burde sowed for her.
Apple blossom time signals my birthday. My favorite time of year! I’m proud to share my birthday reminisces on my daughter’s blog this year.

My mom’s mother adored me!

Gram Burde rediscovered hope for her life while she developed a strong love for me—upon my arrival only weeks after her husband’s death. At age 51 Gram learned how to giggle again when telling tales of my cute antics as a baby and toddler. I still recall her unstoppable giggle and the sparkle in her eye when she told a tale about me and then said, “That’s just what you did. Isn’t it?” (As early as age 3, I knew instinctively that I should feel proud of myself for being so ingenious as to have done something so adorable. I could tell by Gram’s tone of voice she was handing me an opportunity to claim my fame as “giggle-inducer.”)

When I was still a preschooler, I would often spend a week at Gram Burde’s home. We both woke before dawn to trek to Curtis Woodworking cafeteria, where Gram managed the kitchen in Clinton, Iowa. The sun’s first rays shone on the Mississippi River as we arrived bleary-eyed.

Up to 500 office and factory workers would begin arriving for lunch by 11 A.M. I amused myself with the adding machine or drawing at Gram’s office desk, “playing” the piano at the far end of the dining room, or clearing a few shelves in the store room adjacent to Gram’s office and curling up on a shelf for a nap.

I popped into the big, busy kitchen only occasionally. I loved my own little world in the office and store room. I could see Gram out the open office door and she could see me. Lots of times I proudly wove her and her co-workers potholders on my little loom.

Often I woke from my impromptu naps hungry. I knew that if I asked for a mid-morning ham salad sandwich it meant a trip inside the walk-in coolers. I could never figure out why they needed refrigerators as big as my bedroom, but I knew they were dealing with a lot of food at that place!

As a tiny tot, I had no comprehension of my Gram’s knowledge of food preparation. I only knew she delighted in my company. She never seemed too busy to put her arm around me, to use a patient voice, or to offer me whatever my heart desired.

My first appreciation for Gram’s cooking skills budded when she asked me to gather apples under the tree in her back yard. Once I brought my bounty into her kitchen the magic began. My adoration for Gram melded into a budding appreciation for cooking and being in the kitchen. (This is so similar to the magic that infuses a love of reading into a child when an admired adult shares reading time with that child.)

Gram Burde & me (Amber) on Mother's Day 1980. Note the giant jar of homemade jam. Great Auntie Marilyn, who owned a fabulous bakery at the time, is in the background.
“My” first apple crisp (all I did was gather the apples and watch Gram make it) was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten! I can still envision being in Gram’s kitchen spooning the crisp into my mouth. To this day, fruited desserts are my favorites.

Pink apple sauce remains one of my present-day kitchen “specialties.” My grandson was astonished the first time we made applesauce together from raw apples. He was very apprehensive about eating warm and colored applesauce. My children ate tons of it, since we had two MacIntosh trees in our yard during their growing years.

I know the joy that came to me each time I handled all those apples had its roots in Gram’s kitchen. Never mind the backaches that were inevitable from the long process of churning out the pink applesauce. I knew my kids loved it and I focused on memories of Gram as I worked. You know all your life just which people you are most bonded to—by your vivid memories.   

Gram Burde's Fresh Apple Glazed Cookies Recipe in her handwriting
On my birthday, Gram might have made me one of her rhubarb desserts, or an angel food cake decorated like a dress with a doll standing in the center. Apple blossoms were always the decoration on the table for my birthday.

I credit Gram for teaching me to bake these apple cookies. Ever my favorite, I made them endlessly for my own children…Amber, Amy, and Aaron. This is Gram’s Raw Apple Cookie Recipe—in her own handwriting.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011


Surviving the Grand Canyon: Part 2

Last week, Awake at the Whisk left you on the edge of the cliff (or, at the bottom of a cliff in the basin of Grand Canyon, as it were). Will we make it out in one piece? 

The Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
...We decided this option might be worth the two extra miles it would add to our hike. We hoped it wasn’t a decision we would live to regret. 

But before we started out of the canyon, I just couldn't resist that gloriously bubbling stream. My feet, which had been pounded by the downhill jogging, were aching for a dip. My shoes were filled with dust and dirt that had made its way into my socks and was chaffing my poor skin.

We stopped. For the first time, we took off our packs and sat. Still. I plunged my feet in the cool stream. The red earth washed my toes. The sun wrapped around us. I forgot about our timeline. We filtered water from the creek and drank it. It tasted fresh, clean, like the air in cold liquid form. No bottled water could ever match that!

Resting by the stream
We pulled nuts and granola bars from our packs. I could barely eat, but I made myself swallow. I knew I’d need energy to start the trek upward.

My husband, a quiet man of very few words, wore a smooth, worry-free face beside that creek. Peace.

“When I was here ten years ago,” he said as if starting an old campfire story, “I sat right here by this stream and wondered if I would ever get to come back.”


“I’m really glad we made it,” he finished.

My little heart fluttered. My husband is the world’s nicest guy. He is perpetually trying to make me happy (which has not been an easy task this last year as I have been so depressed). I sometimes forget how much his soul needs replenishing, too. I was so glad I had made the decision to attempt this hike. He had never even hinted at how much it would mean to him. What a selfless guy!

Life flourishes near the river, beneath the barren rock walls of the Grand Canyon
Moments later, our rest was over and we were back on our feet, upward bound.

Our decision to take the longer Bright Angel Trial back turned out to be a visually pleasing one. The charming trail was lined with lush trees and a gurgling creek—a wonderful juxtaposition to the forthright and ominous rock walls surrounding us on all sides.

Not that I had the chance to look around me much. Once again, we were flying, hiking at a jog, ever-conscious of the looming deadline before us: 9.4 miles before six o’clock. It was one-thirty when we started back up, and it was all uphill from here.

We mixed fitness drink packets into our water bottles and sucked on them like a baby calf suckling from its mother. Our bodies craved the sugars, the salts, the electrolytes, and the fluid. We hiked up one switchblade, around the bend, up another, and another, and another. At each bend, or so it seemed, we guzzled from our bottles.

The dramatic landscape--surrounded endlessly by the rock walls of the canyon.
“Where are all the people?” I wondered. Our downhill hike had been cluttered with people. Even at Phantom Ranch there had been a steady stream of hikers milling about. But on our upward hike?—it seemed as though we were completely alone.

“Will we make it?” I thought aloud—yet again.

“When are you going to stop worrying?” my husband asked politely.

“When I’m sitting in our car,” I answered. The stories of the people who never completed the hike kept whirling in my mind. Without anyone in sight, I felt completely isolated. Was it a sign that we were too far behind the stronger hikers?

The half-way point of the upward hike came surprisingly soon—and yet not soon enough. I could feel the blisters forming on my toes. My knees were aching from the pounding. Every muscle in my legs burned with overwork and weary. I hobbled in to the rest area, threw my shoes and socks off, and gave my heavy legs rest across a park bench.

Even though I didn’t feel hungry, I ate. And I drank, gulping more water and taking advantage of the refilling station for the journey back up to the top.

I took the long-overdue chance to rest. We stayed a full 30 minutes while I rebooted. When I finally placed my feet back on the ground, my knees resisted, my legs threatened to buckle.

“Must keep moving,” I told myself.

Seemingly endless switchbacks
It had taken us 2 hours to hike up 4.6 miles. We still had 4.7 miles to go—the distance most people probably consider a normal hike.

The rest of the hike is a blur. The trees disappeared, the creek faded down below, and the crowds of people returned. I felt like I was willing my feet to take every step, commanding my legs to move, to bend, to straighten. The sun sank behind the cliffs, and I pulled on my long sleeved shirt once again. The top of the canyon still stretched frighteningly high above. I hoped my feet would carry me out.

Every 10 minutes I asked my husband for the time. I think I needed to reassure myself that we were making progress, though each time he answered I felt certain an hour must have gone by since my last inquiry. I was fading—perhaps faster than the sun.

8.2 hours and 16.5 miles after we started the ominous journey, we stepped across the trailhead marker. Mission—finally—accomplished!

I felt amazed that I had actually done it! I half expected a crowd to be standing, waiting, and cheering upon my return. But no one even noticed. The same crowds swarmed along the rim, snapping photos, talking on their cell phones. We were just two bodies in a sea of tourists.

I wanted a medal I could place around my neck, as they do when you finish a hard race. But no, there was nothing. Just my tired, aching legs and my exhaustion.

Back at the rim. You can't even see how far we've come!
Was it worth it? To see my husband’s joy, it most certainly was. Do I remember much of it? I feel like the whole scene flew past in a flurry of flying feet. Thankfully, my husband has photographic evidence (and was somehow agile enough to take photos despite our rush)—so I know this story’s true.

Would I do it again? If you asked me the day after our hike, when my legs were throbbing in pain, I would have said, “Hell, no!” But today? I’d say, “Maybe.” 

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Thursday, April 14, 2011


Surviving the Grand Canyon

What do I do when I'm not eating food, growing food, and talking about food? I go outdoors and enjoy the wonderful environment that I am so devoted to protecting. Hiking through nature is just one way I live la vida locavore. 

“Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year… DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day…” the National Park Service website warns about hiking the Grand Canyon.

Note the warning in the upper right.
At the trailhead to the South Kaibab Trail, a large sign displays the image of a runner who completed the Boston marathon in three hours. In large letters, the sign reads, “She didn’t have to die.” The sign warns hikers not to make the fatal mistake this runner made by overestimating their physical abilities and attempting to hike the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back in one day.

Well, my husband and I attempted it anyway.

Several months ago when I was feeling quite depressed over the loss of my fairy god sister, my husband decided we were long overdue for a vacation—just the two of us. He planned the whole thing. I merely sat back and shrugged at his suggestion. I didn’t have the energy to dream.

When he said we were going to the Grand Canyon, I merely blocked the dates off my calendar. As the trip drew closer, and I was feeling better, I realized what he had signed me up for. “Yikes!” I thought. “People die there!”

Surviving the Grand Canyon. Notice the steep switchbacks in the distance?
My husband is not the type of guy who takes hiking lightly. While many of us might consider it a “hike” to stroll through the woods for a few hours and stretch our legs, my husband only considers it a hike if backpacks, headlamps, and supplies are employed. And generally, there’s a far-away destination as the end goal, like the peak of a summit or a high mountain lake.

To him, three hours is not a hike. It’s a warm-up. 

So, as our “relaxing” vacation drew nearer, I became ever-conscious of the feat that lay ahead. Gulp.

I warned my husband that I had no interest in hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back. We had only one day scheduled for this visit in our tour of Arizona, so camping at the bottom overnight wasn’t even a consideration. We weren’t packing such supplies. He reluctantly agreed to stick to a short hike.

The evening before said hike, we arrived in Tusayan, Arizona. It was a few hours before sunset, so we decided to get our first look at the canyon. As we pulled into the massive parking lot, I was immediately reminded of visits to theme parks. People were swarming everywhere!

Children were screaming. Cameras were flashing. Elbows were knocking. Cell phones were ringing.

“This is hell,” I thought secretly. This wasn’t my idea of experiencing nature.

My husband and I fought the crowds to snap a few scenic photos, and then headed to our hotel to pack our supplies for the next day’s short hike.

Once safely in the quiet of our hotel room, I heard myself saying, “How long would it take to get to the bottom of the canyon and back? Can it be done in one day?”

I somehow knew that in the bottom of that canyon there would be peace and quiet. I wanted to get away from the zoo that was sure to crowd every trail near the top of the rim. Suddenly, the bottom of the canyon had great appeal.

My husband’s face lit up like a puppy being offered fresh bacon for the first time. My competitive side started kicking into overdrive. We were going to do this!

“But we’re going to time ourselves,” I cautioned. “When the clock strikes noon, if we haven’t made it to the bottom, we’ll have to turn around.” I might be competitive, but I’m not crazy. I didn’t want to join the others who never made it out.

My husband and I have hiked long distances before, so I knew we were capable of completing a difficult hike of at least 14 miles in a single day (the farthest we’ve gone in one day). I pulled out my laptop and started doing some research.

The National Park Service website states that the average hiker walks one mile per hour. The total distance of the shortest route in the Grand Canyon was 14.2 miles. We knew we could hike faster than one mile per hour, but having never timed ourselves, had no idea how much faster we might be.

The website also warned about taking enough food and water, so we had to pack smart. We were hoping to travel light with only our fanny packs, so space was limited. I decided to forgo my camera in lieu of a second large water bottle.

The trail near the top is fairly crowded.
Since the morning temperature was scheduled to be 35 degrees, and the afternoon temperature in the canyon would be 85 degrees, I knew I needed to pack layers of clothing.

For food, we almost always hike with fitness drink mix packets to pour into our water bottles, nuts, fruit (dried and/or fresh), chocolate, granola bars, and something salty. This hike would be no different, but we packed more than we thought we’d need—just to be safe.

Because I’m worthless unless I get at least eight hours of sleep, we planned to be at the trailhead by nine o’clock the next morning, hoping to complete the trek out before sunset just after 6 P.M.

The next morning, right on schedule, we arrived at South Kaibab Trail amid a minor swarm of people. There were three teenage guys carrying backpacks and headscarves. They looked ready for serious hiking.

There were also parents with their small children, young couples who appeared to be on vacation, and tourists in jeans and Converse tennis shoes. From the looks of this mostly unprepared crowd, it became obvious how the canyon might grab onto someone and never let them go.

As we stepped onto the trail, my husband set the timer on his watch. I wanted to keep strict track of how far we’d come and in how long. We immediately broke into a brisk walk, something akin to a gallop.

Below, we could see the switchbacks cutting into the valley at precipitous angles. Down, down, down they went. From our view at the top, they looked like a child’s toy train tracks cut into the rock. “Can we really make it down?” I wondered.

My feet gave way on the dry, bare red earth that was sliding beneath my feet like an escalator. My arms spun wildly around in a circle like a cartoon bird as I quickly regained my balance. Falling from this height would be lethal. Yet, we had to keep up this dangerously steady clip if we hoped to complete the trail before dark.

The wind howled and ripped through my fleece jacket. I wrapped my arms around myself in a hug to stay warm. I didn’t dare look out at the view around me, but instead, had to watch my every footstep carefully. We were hiking fast on loose dirt heading down steeply. I was taking no chances to miss a step.

We quickly passed by the groups of parents and children. We passed the young couples. We passed the three guys with their backpacks. We were traveling lighter than them and making faster time.

One and a half hours into our decent, we passed a trail marker indicating that we had come half way. We also passed a group of four teenage girls.

“We left at seven this morning,” I heard one of them say.

“Let’s see,” pondered another.

“If it takes us four more hours to reach the bottom…” the third girl was saying as we passed by.

“They’re never going to make it,” I told my husband. “Should we tell them we only left at nine?” I asked.

“They’re figuring it out,” my husband said. I could tell he wanted to keep moving.

Moments later, one of the girls from the group of four came sprinting past us. Her decision was clear: she was obviously hoping to run down to the bottom to make up for lost time while her three friends headed back.

By now, the sun had risen high into the sky and was sending warming rays our way. I peeled off all my layers and was now wearing only a tank top and shorts. I applied an extra layer of sunscreen while we walked. A sun burn would zap any energy I needed to climb out of these rocks. I was taking no chances.

Before long, the Colorado River came into sight. Twisting around the rocks, it still looked unbelievably far away. Could we really make it?

I started to gallop a little faster. I didn’t want to run and waste precious energy. But I was afraid we’d never make it if we walked.

Down, down, down we continued. We came upon a mule train and had to wait along the side of the trail. We took the opportunity to refuel with a fresh orange. The juicy sugars slid welcome down my throat as I gobbled my food. I probably looked like a wild dog, scarffing rapidly, barely chewing, a combination of hunger and urgency overriding my manners.

“Come on, mule train!” I impatiently wailed inside my mind. “We’re on a schedule!”

I was worried. We were getting closer to the bottom—close enough that the river could only be seen in small stretches like sidewalk, not like the giant snake it appeared to be from above. But the clock was inching closer, too, to the appointed hour of noon—my self-imposed deadline that would give me piece of mind that we were on target to make it out of that canyon by sunset.

As if those donkeys read my mind, the mule train moved through. By now, the number of bodies hiking down had grown thin. There was only one couple ahead of us, and we were hiking on their heels, all of us jumping and, well, at this point, we were running, toward the bottom.

Before I knew it, we were there! The river rushed below. A large metal bridge hanging by cables swung above the massive body of water. It wordlessly spoke of an earlier time—of the Wild West. This was the kind of moment where normal human beings stop to ponder, reflect, and perhaps take a few pictures.

But not us! We were on a strict schedule! We snapped a few fast photos and continued on our quest.

Next stop: Phantom Ranch. Beneath the barren reds and creams of the canyon rocks that stretched endlessly as far as the eye could see, along the swiftly flowing river, lush green trees and bushes grew with vigor. Tiny birds twirped and flitted about. A clear, refreshing creek bubbled happily alongside the muddy river.

Phantom Ranch--wayyyy down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
I wanted nothing more than to sit and rest at that moment, to take it all in, this gorgeous view and the joyful sounds of nature.

But as I’ve said before—we were on a mission! We kept moving.

We reached the ranch house, where my husband knew they had a mail drop. He wanted to send postcards from the bottom of the canyon. After all, how many people can say they’ve done that? He pulled two postcards from his pack, and I dug for a pen in mine.

When I hike, my hands and fingers swell. They looked like they belonged to a teddy bear—not to me. I gripped the pen awkwardly in my puffy hands and scrawled a shaky note to my mom and grandma. “We’re insane,” I wrote.

With postcards delivered, we hopped back on the trail. Upon the advice of the park ranger, we decided not to return the way we had come. There was another trail that ran along the creek that offered more shade and a watering hole. We decided this option might be worth the two extra miles it would add to our hike. We hoped it wasn’t a decision we would live to regret. 

To be continued... 

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