Hey, isn't that the raisin cake from yesterday? Yes, but today we have the story of the raisin cake.

One of the privileges of being a published author is the ability to make a magazine-style pun headline out of my own book. The fact that about 12 people in the world may get it, and I’m related to most of them, takes nothing away from the feeling that I have arrived.

So, the explanation behind the pun is a really lovely story. One of the sweetest people (no pun intended there) I’ve come to know via the book is Cookie Baker Lynn, who does a gorgeous website of all the great things she bakes. After visiting her site, I considered hanging up my baking sheets forever and just going back to doing whatever it was I did before I started baking things for The Hubbins to take to work. Until I remembered that what I did was buy pretty-but-manufactured crap or very-pretty-and-pretty-expensive bakery goods. Hm. So I turned that jealous frown upside down and figured I could be inspired by Lynn and her cookie-baking ways. Thus was I led to another on-ramp toward the happy path of destiny.

Lynn wrote an incredible review of Cherries in Winter, for which I am indebted to her many times over. Then she managed to trump that: On a day when I’d come across a review of CIW that was a little less than incredible–in fact, it was a tad more than unkind–I got a box in the mail. It was a package of Trader Joe’s Raisins, big fat juicy ones, and a beautiful card from Lynn.

As any cookie baker worth her pinch of salt can tell you, timing is everything, and the timing of this package couldn’t have been better for me. Instead of spending my morning wondering whether I was a worse baker or writer, I tore open that package of TJ’s raisins and baked a raisin spice cake in honor of Lynn and her support of baking-challenged writers like myself.

My base recipe comes from one of my other favorite bakers–Edward Espe Brown, the baking Zen Buddhist priest and author of the renowned Tassajara Bread Book, among other cookbooks. I’ve cited Edward as an inspiration in an article I wrote for O, the Oprah Magazine, and my lack of prowess is not his fault at all. In fact, he’d remind me that baking is a process, just like meditation.

So, thank you to Lynn and Edward, who inspire and support me and countless others; such is the power of baked goods.

Raisin Spice Cake
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2-3/4 cup (depending on your sweet tooth) blackstrap molasses or brown rice syrup
1 1/2 cups milk or soy milk or vanilla soymilk or even almond soymilk; go wild!
Generous 1/2 cup of raisins–black, gold, red, mixed, whatever

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.
In another bowl, mix up those wet ingredients.
Dry meets wet as east meets west–gently, mixing slowly. Expect a few lumps and you won’t be disappointed.
Fold in raisins.
Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan.
Bake spicy little raisin loaf for about 40 minutes. Set kitchen timer in case you’re meditating while baking. Test center for doneness; if toothpick or shish-kebab rod comes out clean, you’re done meditating. If not, five-ish more minutes or until test probe comes out clean. Cool and then perform eating meditation ritual with a cup of tea or java.

Three weeks ago, The Hubbins and I adopted a Bella, a beagle who’d been abandoned in Tennessee. Around that time, I was hell-bent on adopting a dog, and our experience with our neighbors’ beagle, the petite and charming Isabel, prompted me to find a pup of almost the same size, temperament, and even name. Holy doppelganger, Batman.

I can’t even remember why I needed to get a dog so badly, especially now, when actually having one has almost driven me crazy. Not that Bella makes me insane; she’s a very well-behaved dog. But I’m used to having cats, among the lowest-maintenance creatures on the planet. You open the can, they eat, and then they sleep for the rest of the day–until the other can is opened. Then they rub up against you, purr, and go back to sleep.

The dog, though, required almost constant maintenance at first. Where was she? What was she chewing/eating/destroying? Did she know that we were going outside for a reason other than stretching her beagle bones and taking in the air? Did she understand my point about rugs being decorative and not functional (ie, a rather large beige toilet)? Did she realize that I was begrudging her chicken bones because they might cause her serious internal damage, and not because I was just being a puppy party pooper? She most definitely not get the fact that whatever she found on the street was edible. She looked very confused when I repeatedly pulled whatever thing–sometimes identifiable as food, sometimes completely unidentifiable–out of her mouth.

And yet, three weeks and many walks later, I’m slowly learning that Bella is a teacher. While I’m busy rehashing the past, chewing it the way Bella attacks her Nylabone, and forecasting the future with nearly zero accuracy, Bella is very much in the moment. She brings me back to the present, this little flappy-eared Eckhart Tolle, by snacking on street yucks; either I pay attention, or I pay for a trip to the vet for emergency chicken bone extraction.

Unlike me, Bella does not spend her days fretting. Witness a week in the life of a beagle:

Striking a glam pose.

Monday.

"I refuse to give up all worldly possessions. I am a beagle, not a monk."

Tuesday.


"'Cat' bed, you say? Not when there's a dog in it. Then it's a 'dog' bed. Specifically, my bed."

Wednesday.

You get the picture(s). It looks like this for a few hours a day in between walks every day.

I’m trying to take a cue from this Zen master, who seems to have only a few desires in life–kibble, toys, a couch, and to walk without me pulling on her and constantly saying, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” Go where? That’s what I realized this morning: If I’m walking Bella (or, to be more accurate, she’s walking me), is that not her walk, her time, on her terms? Where is it that I need to go? If she wants to stop and sniff the pee on the roses, shouldn’t I let her?

So, I’m learning from my little tri-color teacher. Zen master or not, though, I’m drawing the line at those chicken bones.