Where there’s no television, computer, or wireless connection, there is peace. And cookies.
We began the weekend with some slight trepidation. Rorie, one of our neighbors near our mountain cabin,emailed us earlier this week to let us know that it had been vandalized. Our cabin is in a little town in the Sierra called Washington, California, that still thinks it’s the 1850’s. George Hearst, the notorious father of William Randolph Hearst, had a claim there back in the day when Washington was a swaggering gold rush town boasting a population of 3000, with multiple brothels, saloons and hotels. Today, Washington’s downtown is basically one colorful block with a general store, the original Washington Hotel that once lodged the likes of Wyatt Earp and Grover Cleveland , a saloon, a two-room school house with 8 students, and a gold store. There’s also an ancient-looking stone building with bizarre, bug-eyed statues in front that houses something called the Washington Historical Society, which seems concerned with a more recent history than the gold rush — its walls display hundreds beer bottles from the last few decades. Wander into the saloon across the street and you’ll swear that time has stopped as you watch a group of scraggly men with skinny, white, three-foot beards, dressed in flannel with stained suede vests downing their whiskey. Indeed, many of the 150 or so denizens of this once prosperous town live as though it is still the glorious wild, wild West. A town where the nearest sheriff is 30 minutes away will naturally attract folks who live as they please, including ones who partake of some of what the Washington Historical Society has to offer at 8 am in the middle of town, and others who grow a certain crop on their land, and whatever disputes arise are mostly settled amongst themselves. Other citizens, members of what I call the Washington Improvement Society, would like to see certain aspects of their charming town cleaned up and would welcome a new sheriff in town, patrolling the street, thumbs in his pockets, a shiny silver star on his vest.
What everyone agrees about, however, is the beauty and wonder of the South Fork of the Yuba River, which runs through Washington. Its aqua waters, shimmering with flecks of gold under the hot, summer sun, are as clear as clear can be: in places you can see twenty feet down to the bottom. Meandering through huge granite boulders and slate outcroppings, some of which form natural water slides and tunnels, with dramatically changing scenery around each bend, The Yuba offers some of the best swimming outside of Hawaii. It is Mother Nature’s Water Park.
We love it up there, and were dismayed to hear that someone had broken into our beloved place. So we left our teens at home with a friend who agreed to keep them out of trouble, and we drove up Saturday morning. We were expecting the worst, and were surprised that the exploits of the thief were not as bad as we had imagined: whoever it was had kicked open the front door and stolen some tools, motorcycle helmets, camping gear, and a flat screen TV. We had gotten the TV just a year or so back; in all our years up there, we resisted television, and only last year, had finally caved in to our teen-age daughters.
But it was not meant to be after all. After straightening out the place and fixing the door with the help of Larry, Rorie’s husband, we were left to ourselves on a snowy afternoon in the quiet of our cabin, with our only company a pile of old National Geographics and Gourmet Magazine (and our dog, Chloe, who frolicked in the snow). It was, essentially, The Way Things Used to Be. No internet or wireless connection, no computer, no digital devices of any kind, and once again, no television. After flipping through old issues of Gourmet (did you know that this magazine no longer exists?), I thought I’d make cookies. I hadn’t brought much food up there, except for some produce we picked up at a farm stand along the way, so I pecked through the pantry and found odd bits of things I could use. I made one kind with the dried bing cherries we had picked up at the farm stand, and another with a dark chocolate bar from the pantry. They were both scrumptious, and we filled up cookies and soy milk and were too full and relaxed to bother with dinner.
The chocolate cookies – made with ground almond, melted chocolate and some polenta — exploded and dissolved in our mouths with their delicate crispness and crunch. After eating a few, I packed the rest to take back, but they didn’t last: my husband demolished them on our ride home the next day. Oh, well. I guess our girls get enough sweets as it is.
Nobody near us to see us or hear us
No friends of relations on weekend vacations
And we won’t have it known, dear
That we own a telephone, dear.
(Tea for Two)
Chocolate Almond Polenta Puffs
It might be fun to add a tablespoon of instant coffee to these to make them mocha flavor. I haven’t done that yet, but don’t let that stop you!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1 cup lightly packed almond meal
½ cup polenta
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. Baking powder
½ cup canola oil
½ cup Sucanat or Rapadura (evaporated cane juice)
5 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate, melted
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Instant coffee, optional (for mocha flavor)
Combine the almond meal with the flour, polenta and baking powder in a bowl and mix well with a whisk to distribute all ingredients. If using coffee, add with the dry ingredients. Add the oil and mix well; it will look crumbly and wet. Add the evaporated cane juice and mix to incorporate, then mix in the chocolate and vanilla and combine to form a sticky, dark dough.
With your hands, form 40 balls. Keep washing your hands so the balls don’t stick. Place them on cookie sheets lined with parchment. Bake for about 10 minutes. They will feel slightly hard on top when they are ready. While warm, they will easily fall apart, so allow to cool a bit before popping one in your mouth.