Thursday, November 21, 2013

A "Bright" Cranberry Recipe

I've been eating lots of cranberries lately. It's the season for them, and they are so delicious. They go with everything. Add to this the many stories I've seen on TV this week about the Kennedy family and their love of Cape Cod, sailing, and lighthouses. Naturally, these things have me thinking about Cape Cod lighthouses. But first, the cranberries--

Cape Cod is known for its cranberry bogs. The fruits ripen in autumn and the bogs are flooded to make the ripe berries float. Today, the berries are harvested in a mechanized way, but in the past they were harvested using a hand-held cranberry scoop. Below is a scoop I found on eBay. These often go for big money; they[re lovely antiques. A visit to the Ocean Spray visitor center in Plymouth is fun this time of year, to sample all the cranberry juices and learn how the berries are grown and harvested. I took my kids there in the late 1980s and, if one could get drunk on cranberry juice, they did!

I'll be making cranberry bread next week for Thanksgiving. The recipe I use is an old one, handed down through several generations. But it's not from my family cookbook. A woman (whose name I failed to record) handed it to me in 1995 when I attended a lighthouse festival on Cape Cod. She came by my book table, bought some signed books, and gave me a small loaf of her cranberry bread wrapped in cellophane and tied with a red ribbon. It was so good I asked for the recipe. She wrote it down and told me the recipe was from her great aunt who had lived on several Cape Cod lighthouses, including Nobska Light.

Cape Cod is a place of rich maritime history and lore. This includes the cape's many lighthouses. They're barely ten miles a part and stand on boath sides of the cape--the notorious "Backside" and the inside facing Cape Cod Bay. There are some unique ones, such as the Three Sisters at Nauset, a set of tiny triple light towers that once guided inshore vessels along the "Backside" of Cape Cod. There were twin lighthouses at Chatham years ago too, at the elbow of the cape. One of the twins was moved to Nauset in the 1920s and then moved again father inland in the 1990s when the cliff eroded away. There are smaller sentinels at the north end where the cape curves northwest like a beckoning finger and becomes a thin strand of tawny, fine sand. Highland Light at Truro is grand and lofty and storied. It has also been moved back from the eroded cliffs. Monomy Light--spidery legged and rusty--sits at the southern tip of the long spit that extends south from the cape, marking a great hazard for ships. And there are more...

Henry David Thoreau visited many of these lighthouses on his walk up the cape in the mid-nineteenth century. He spent an evening with the Highland Lighthouse keeper and wrote at length about it in Cape Cod. Lighthouse author and historian Edward Rowe Snow followed in Thoreau's footsteps a century later, visiting those same lighthouses and eventually detailing them in his Lighthouses of New England. Snow went on to write many lighthouse books and take over the role of Flying Santa over the Lighthouses.

Nobska Lighthouse, of cranberry bread fame, stands watch on the southern part of the cape near Woods Hole. I've been there many times, in various seasons, and the view of the lighthouse on its small hill is always stunning. It's a cast-iron tower with a pretty shake shingle keeper's house. I've heard it's the residence for the officer-in-charge of the Woods Hole Coast Guard Station. It's high-end historic housing!

So, I'm thinking of cranberries today and the gift of that wonderful, historic recipe from a family of Cape Cod lightkeepers. Possibly, they harvested the berries themselves, or at the very least a neighbor brought them a gift of berries to thank them for their benevolent service. That was a common practice in coastal areas, as common as barter: "Keep my boat safe when I go to sea, and I'll keep you in eggs or potatoes or sharpen your scissors or mend your fence. I'll even share my cranberries."

The ritual of making an old, treasured recipe recalls the past in a very sensory and sentimental way. I love such traditions. Perhaps you do too. If so, dig your hands into some flour and sugar and shortening, toss in an egg and some cranberries, and exhume a piece of lighthouse history.

Nobska Lighthouse Cranberry Bread

2 and a 1/4 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup of whole milk
1 T of lard or other shortening
1 cup cranberries, cook in a little water to soften and make a gel
1 cup chopped nuts of your choice

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Combine egg, milk, and lard and beat well. Work in flour a little at a time, then add cooled cranberries and walnuts. Mixture will be thick. Don't overwork it. Grease and flour two loaf pans and divide dough mixture between them. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, inserting a knife to check for doneness. Cool for ten minutes, then turn out onto a plate. When completely cool, sprinkle with sugar and slice.

Elinor's Note: I make this with butter instead of lard. It's hard to find lard, and my doctor would swoon if she thought I was eating it. I certainly consumed plenty of it as child; my mother cooked many things with lard. She kept it in a large metal can. Lard gets a bad rap, due to its saturated fat content, but it really is an excellent shortening. The taste is irreplaceable. Butter has saturated fat too, so I don't really see the difference. Use whatever works for you. Also, sometimes I substitute a cup of whole berry cranberry sauce from a can, and it works if I add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. It makes the bread a pretty pink color. My favorite nuts for this recipe are walnuts. Happy baking!

(Photo below of Nobska Lighthouse can be found in Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lighthouse Java

Like most writers, I drink a lot of coffee. I’m drinking it now. I write a few lines, I take a sip of coffee, write a little more, sip a little more. Every half hour or so, I trek from my office to the kitchen microwave to warm up my java or to refill it. Throughout the morning, I probably consume three to four cups of coffee. It fuels my brain, keeps my fingers tapping on the keyboard, and it stains my notes and sometimes my books--a not-so-unpleasant connection between me and my fellow scribes.

It’s a habit, of course, bad in some ways; yet, it tastes so delicious and smells so good, the cup warming my hands. I could have worse habits. I could fatten up my morning libation with too much sugar and cream or add Jack Daniels to it. (A 98 year old woman I used to care for in a nursing home did that, and look how long she lived!)  I could visit Starbucks every day and drop $30 a week on lattes and corporate wealth. I don’t. Most of the coffee I drink comes from my own kitchen. It fills my house with its robust, rich aroma, and the used-up grounds nourish my houseplants and rosebushes. The ritual each morning of making it provides comfort and constancy. I alternate coffee cups, depending on which one is in the dishwasher, between an oversized mug decorated with roosters and one with lighthouses—emblems of morning and coffee!
My coffee habit is hereditary, I think. My parents both were coffee drinkers, especially my father. He’s been gone over twenty years, but even today when I think of him I see that coffee cup in his hand and the brown ring inside it. He once told me that coffee was one of the things that got him through World War II, particularly the winter of 1943-44, which was terribly cold. I was probably five years old when Dad taught me how to set up the percolator with Eight O-Clock coffee grounds in the basket, and set it going—katta-katta-chewg, katta-katta-chewg. I still remember how he liked his coffee, with a splash of evaporated milk and two heaping spoons of sugar. (I use half & half and a no-calorie sweetener.)

Of late I’m hearing good things about java. It’s loaded with beneficial antioxidants, and it defends against diseases like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, and liver cancer. The smell of it and the beep of the coffee-maker can wake me from a dead sleep. The caffeine helps me--I'm not a morning person at all!--perk up, be civil, and be able to think more clearly.

The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Renee Jacques called “Eleven Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee Every Day.” Several of them surprised me, such as coffee consumption being linked to happiness, intelligence, and lower suicide rates, and the aroma of coffee suggested as a stress reducer. Does that mean I’m happy, intelligent, and not apt to end my own life? Maybe I should have another cup right now!

Michael Koh, writing for called coffee “The Writer’s Addiction.” He said, tongue-in-cheek, that 110% of writers abuse this “substance.” I think that means all of us do...and then some. asks us to fill in the blank: “Water is to life as ______ is to writers.” It goes on to note, quite reassuringly for me at least, that some very famous writers fueled their pens with coffee: Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, Gustav Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Honore de Balzac, L. Frank Baum, Jonathan Swift, T.S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
And, yes, Virginia Woolf, author of To the Lighthouse. She was a lighthouse fancier and a coffee swiller, just like me. (There’s hope for literary immortality!)
…all of which reminds me that coffee fueled lighthouse keepers too. The old U.S. Lighthouse Service records list a number of provisions that were provided free to lightkeepers, including coffee. It was almost as important as fuel for the beacon. The coffee pot was kept going 24/7 at lighthouses, a fact I can substantiate, having visited many lighthouses in the 2970s and 80s before automation and been offered a cup by Coast Guard keepers. Lighthouse coffee was always strong, and if you were tough, you drank it black. 

Lighthouse coffee was a remedy for the cold and dampness, it kept the crew alert, it warmed up the occasional visitor or castaway, and drinking it was a shared experience in an otherwise forlorn existence. Gathering around the table to have hot coffee and conversation was a regular activity among lightkeepers; it was balm for their loneliness.

To that, I’ll raise my cup of writer’s brew and invite you to enjoy some images of current brands of lighthouse coffee. Advertisers know the value in using a lighthouse to hawk their wares. Lighthouse coffee? It suggests warmth, richness, aroma, safety, and camaraderie.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Today in Lighthouse History

November 11, 1921—The keepers of Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse at the tip of the San Pedro Breakwater filed the following report with the Superintendent of Lighthouses, San Francisco:

I respectfully report a most unusual submarine disturbance in the vicinity of this station yesterday. It began at 10 a.m. and continued to recur at regular intervals through the afternoon and evening. The water of the bay would become violently agitated and swirl around in a whirlpool for about ten minutes, then suddenly slacken and run backwards slowly. At times there would be a 7 to 8 knot current flowing underneath the lighthouse wharf. The steam Daisy Matthews, inbound and lumber-laden, was seen to careen and be thrown off her course and driven rapidly eastward when she poked her bow around the breakwater. The battleship Arizona, anchored at her berth 300 yards north of the station, make 8 or 10 complete cycles during the afternoon and dragged anchor slightly. On her last turn, at 4 p.m., her stern was within 75 feet of the rocks at the base of the tower. She was then removed to an anchorage near Long Beach. A shore boat came alongside the wharf and reported that the tide was running like a millrace under the drawbridge in the Inner Harbor, and there was an 8 knot current at Deadman’s Island. The earthquake theory has been suggested as accounting for this phenomenon.

Elinor's Note: The report was probably correct about the earthquake. The Journal of Geophysical Research for December 1922 carried an abstract for an article about the November 2011 earthquake in Australia that probably caused the phenomenon at Los Angels Harbor Lighthouse:

There was a record of an earthquake on the magnetograms of the Watheroo Magnetic Observatory, Western Australia, on November 11, 1921. The declination and horizontal-intensity traces showed a slight broadening, while there was a very slight blurring of the vertical-intensity trace. The extreme Greenwich mean times of the record were from 18h 45m to 19h 0lm for declination, 18h 44m to 18h 56m for horizontal intensity, and 18h 52m to 18h 59m (uncertain) for vertical intensity. Mr. Curlewis, Government Astronomer at Perth, reported the following times of phases as obtained on the seismograph: 18h 43m 56s.6, P; 18h 46m 00s.5, uncertain; 18h 50m 10s.4, L.

Earthquakes near or at sea create seismic energy waves that can travel long distances and cause tidal and wave fluctuations as they shoal up in harbors and their waves come on shore. These earthquake tsunamis can be huge, as we know from the tsunami in Japan several years ago. Today's Pacific Tsunami Warning System (established in 1946) warns of these events.

Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse, nicknamed Angel's Gate Light, was built in 1913. It takes its share of pummeling from tremors and earthquakes and from storms and wind too. One storm caused the concrete platform on which it sits to sink on one side, giving the tower a slight list. The same storm slammed the tower with a wind gust that knocked one of the lightkeepers to the floor.  The lighthouse was destaffed in 1971 and now operates automatically. It guards one of the largest shipping ports in the world at Long Beach. (Images courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.)


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Author Meets Author

I usually don’t meet other writers unless I attend a conference or take a class specifically for writers. We scribes spend a lot more time in our quiet spaces writing than socializing with our peers. But if there's a place to meet fellow writers, it's a bookstore.

So, imagine my surprise yesterday when I made a quick trip into my local Barnes & Noble in Silverdale Mall, Washington and met none other than world-famous romance author, Debbie Macomber. ( 

Debbie is actually my neighbor. In the world of rural writers, any one who lives within 20 miles of me is considered my neighbor! She makes her home in Port Orchard, just a short drive south from my boondocks property in Seabeck. I visit the yarn shop she owns on occasion to satisfy my crochet craving, and dine in the adjacent tea room. Both places are so Debbie--absolute escapes from the daily rat race.

I had just signed six copies of one of my books, Lighthouses of the Pacific Coast, for Barnes & Noble when the clerk helping me yelled, “Debbie! Come meet another local writer. She does lighthouse books.”

A beaming little woman that you might mistake for your beloved kindergarten teacher trotted toward us--almost ran--with her hand extended. The clerk gave introductions and we both got that astonished expression that comes with meeting a kindred spirit. Debbie had an armload of books and a face that said, "I know you, simply because we're both writers."

It's true. Writers recognize and know things about each other, even when they've never met before. I saw Debbie glance quickly at my hands; writer's hands. Hers were the same, only smaller than mine--short manicured nails and a couple of knobby knuckles from years of pounding a keyboard. She lightly grasped my arm and offered a gracious, "So pleased to meet you, Elinor!"

My first impression: That smile! And, she’s so tiny! But she’s a mighty mouse among writers, with more than 100 books to her credit. All are bestsellers. Debbie has found her niche, and she never seems to lack for a plot. She bucks the romance writer stereotype too. She’s more grandmotherly than glamorous, no Danielle Steele, Lisa Kleypas, Jill Sanders, or Susan Wigg (another neighbor in Puget Sound). Debbie Macomber is much more real, with stories drawn from a believable life.

We exchanged some thoughts about books and interests, and then she grabbed one of my signed books: “I love lighthouses, and everyone thinks there’s one in Port Orchard! I’m buying your book!”

I thanked her and quickly looked around for Jon, hoping he’d snap a photo of us with his Smart Phone—two matronly writers in residence at the local B&N sharing their craft and love for their town's bookstore and readers—but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe next time our paths cross…

Port Orchard is the model for Cedar Cove, the fictional town in many of Debbie’s novels, as well as the spinoff Hallmark Channel series starring Andie MacDowell.. I am embarrassed to say I've read only one of Debbie’s books, an older title called Navy Woman. It was like listening in on a conversation over coffee, very straight-forward and honest. She gets grist for her novels from her community, including the military bases in Washington.

Romance novels are fun to read, often carry heartwarming and enduring messages, and they are a good distraction from life’s serious business. But with all the reading and research I do for my college teaching and writing, I don’t find much time for recreational reading. But you can bet, now that I've met Debbie Macomber, I’ll get a copy of 16 Lighthouse Road and devour it!

A footnote: I've decided Port Orchard should build a lighthouse. It’s on the edge of Sinclair Inlet and has a small ferry and plenty of boat traffic. It also has a nautical feel and hosts several salty festivals each year. Yes, it has a restaurant with a faux lighthouse, but that isn't what I have in mind. With America’s most popular romance writer in residence, it seems only fair to build a lighthouse in her honor. The Debbie Macomber Lighthouse—what do you think? (If my plan flies, maybe Seabeck will follow suit and build a cute little  lighthouse on the tip of the little marina at Seabeck Harbor. I wonder what the name of it would be?)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Smitten with the Sea Gods

Trevi Fountain, Rome (Wikimedia Commons)

When I was small and just learning to read, my family had a set of old encyclopedia-like books called the How and Why Series. There must have been thirty or more books in the set, each with its own theme. I spent hours lying on the braided rug in front of the bookcase in our living room flipping through each one, looking at the pictures and, when I was old enough, consuming every word. After my older sister started school and I was home alone playing school, I often fell asleep in the afternoon with one of these books in my hands. An hour or two later, I would wake to find that Mom had covered me with a blanket and placed a bookmark at the page where I stopped reading. It was pleasurable to open my eyes, refreshed from a nap, and find one of my treasured books beside me with a place marker.

There were titles such as Insects, Amphibians, Planets, Famous People, Ships, Seashells, Oceans, Stars, Lost Cities, Air & Water, and Weather. The titles about the sea and sky were my favorites; they took me on imaginary journeys on and under the sea and into the air and beyond to outer space. I had the travel bug even then! From these books I also learned of the fantastic characters from Greek and Roman mythology. I still love them today, and enjoy telling about their exploits—a lore than gets woven in small colored threads into most everything I write.

I admit I am shamelessly in love with Poseidon, a.k.a. King Neptune! His undersea palace, his chariot pulled by fishtailed horses, his salty wife, Amphitrite, and his retinue of Nereids, sea nymphs and sirens, and fantastical monsters like Hydra and the Kraken captivate me. This fascination began more than fifty years ago and remains so strong in adulthood that when I visited Greece a few years ago to do research for The Lighthouses of Greece, I became fixated with the many statues and friezes I saw with sea themes. Greece’s history is so intimately tied to the sea that briny denizens are everywhere. A row of Poseidon-like statues stands off to the side of The Forum (one is pictured below), and fountains abound with old Oceanus bathing himself and entourage of his many children alongside, some spitting water. Indeed, Athens itself was founded on the gift of water, given by Athena herself.

When my host in Athens, Dolores Pergioudakis, told me about the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, I simply had to see it.

The temple sits on the southernmost tip of the Attic Peninsula near the ruins of an old Greek lighthouse at Fonias and another well-kept sentinel at Vrisaki. (In a nation of islands and seas, Greece has an abundance of lighthouses!) The cape has been documented as the site of a fire beacon for ancient sailors, probably inside the temple itself. Standing among the ruins, I could easily picture the huge statue of Poseidon with a fire burning at his feet, a light to signal a welcome and a warning to ships miles at sea. The cape overlooks the Saronic Gulf to the southwest, the great Aegean Sea directly south and southeast, and the Makronisi Channel directly east. The great city of Athens is visible on the hills to the west.

Aegeus, the king of Athens for whom the unbelievably blue Aegean Sea is named, leapt to his death here when he thought his son Theseus had died in a battle with the Minotaur. The view from the temple is indescribable on a clear day, with islands floating magically on the horizon in every direction and the insistent warm wind carving the rocks and columns particle by particle. Sailors of all eras journeyed to the temple and have carved their names and the names of their ships into the columns. On one column of the temple Lord Byron inscribed his name. I so wanted to touch his signature, but there was a fence....

 That's me, hot and dusty and tired from my trek up to the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. Except for the tacky gift shop down the hill from the temple, and that fence that prevented a closer inspection, it's an amazing place. Photo by Derith Bennett.

Tainaro Lighthouse, also in Greece, is steeped in sea god lore: Legend tells how Zeus gave this part of the ocean to Poseidon's worshippers and how a cult to honor the sea god arose here. The cult followers were called the Tainariste, a name drawn from the sea god Tainaro, the son of Poseidon. Sailors came here to worship Tainaro and Poseidon and to give offerings to them for safe travels asea. Long before the lighthouse was built in 1882, a fire burned in the temple at Tainaro. Shipwrecks were many at this point, and most of them were considered to be the work of Poseidon. A well-known wreck was the Mentor, ship of Lord Elgin, who removed the ornate friezes from the top of the Parthenon, had loaded them onto a ship bound for England, but as it passed Cape Tainaro, Poseidon grew angry at the theft and blew up a nasty storm that sank the ship. The wealthy Lord Elgin paid handsomely to have the friezes salvaged from the wreck. They were loaded onto another ship and taken to England where today they are on display at the British Museum.

 Tainaro Lighthouse, photographed by my co-author of The Lighthouses of Greece, Dolores Pergioudakis.

The Greek sea god, Poseidon, and his briny cohorts have left their mark on lighthouse history in other places. Poseidon was immortalized two millennium ago in a statue on top of the world's oldest recorded lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt—the Pharos Lighthouse. Modern marine archaeologists estimate the statue was about 12-feet tall, atop a near-5000 foot tall tower. Around Poseidon was probably an allegorical arrangement of nymphs and merfolk and Tritons. Several of these have been recovered from the harbor at an archaeological dive site.

Australia has its own sea god tribute with two aptly-named lighthouses: the Neptune Island Light, a red metal framework tower, and South Neptune Island Lighthouse, a cylindrical brownstone lighthouse. Both mark the sea road to Adelaide. (Someday, I’ll take my youngest granddaughter there; her name is Adelaide.) Like its motherland, Great Britain, Down Under loves a good mythological soap opera.

Amphitrite is remembered at Amphitrite Point  and Amphitrite Point Lighthouse on the western shore of Vancouver Island at Ucluelet in British Columbia. The wrath of Poseidon’s consort can be felt every winter as huge Pacific storms pound the rocky coastline here. Winds easily gust above hurricane force and waves crash ashore violently in an area that is part of the grisly Graveyard of the Pacific. Amphitrite’s personal attendants sound their horns during bouts of fog; the lighthouse foghorn operates many hours a year. This is one of the rainiest, stormiest places on the Pacific NW coast. The weather station at the lighthouse is critical to navigation, both by sea and air. The point takes its name directly from the British ship HMS Amphitrite, herself named for the stormy wife of Poseidon.

 Amphitrite Point Lighthouse in British Columbia as it appears on Wikimedia Commons. Triton's foghorns are on the opposite side of the lighthouse facing seaward.

One of my favorite stories from lighthouse lore took place at Northern California's Battery Point Lighthouse years ago, where one of the lightkeepers went a little daft. Who wouldn't go mad penned up on a tiny isle close to shore but  separated by a narrow stream of fickle tides. As usual, this is more the stuff of legend than fact, but it's fun to tell.

Apparently this lonely man of solitude met a few members of King Neptune's following one morning as he walked the narrow apron of his littoral home. A gam of pretty Nereids swam to the rocks at Battery Point, perched on them with fishtails dangling, and began to do up their seaweed hair with pearl and shell-encrusted combs. The keeper claimed he befriended these tiny mermaids and that they sang to him (all mermaids do this, don't they?) and brought him delicious treasures from the sea for his dinner plate.He described them in great detail as the lighthouse inspector came to fetch him one day and gently took him aboard the district's supply ship. He was taken to San Francisco and given a much needed vacation at a mental hospital....


'Thou rememberest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a Dolphin's back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea grew civil at her song;
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
To hear the sea-maid's music.' 

-- Shakespeare --
A Midsummer Night's Dream