Sunday, October 7, 2012

To glue or not to glue

               Last weekend Fern Forest Treehouse guests James and Dorothy let us know in advance of their arrival that they are nongluten vegans who eat only organic food (James signed his request to stay in the treehouse "Namaste"). Wanting to please, H went online and looked up recipes for nongluten vegan breakfasts. He shopped at a natural foods market for organic fruits, rice flour pancake mix, buckwheat bread, powdered egg substitute and soy milk. He was armed and ready to meet dietary requirements.
               I got ready for the visitors by giving up gluten to see what it felt like. A friend told me I’d lose weight almost instantly, which was good incentive to get rid of the ten pounds of flour I’ve been carrying around my middle for the last couple years.
                I sampled the buckwheat raisin bread H bought and found it palatable when smeared with butter (I didn’t sign on for vegan). A toasted slice sweetened a turkey burger. I used a hunk to scoop up humus. All good.
               James, an engineer by training and yoga teacher/martial arts black belt by preference, calls Dorothy “my sweetheart.” She works in corporate development at Tufts and is such a tiny thing that you wouldn’t expect her primary topic of conversation to be food—but it is. She gets her fats from coconut milk and avocados and looks as if she doesn’t eat much of either. She gave me hope for thinning my waistline.
               They arrived late on Friday night, declined the glasses of wine we offered, and headed straight out to the treehouse.
In the morning, James brought in his French press and made an herbal coffee substitute with a chocolate flavor. It smelled delicious. When H offered him soy milk for the drink, James asked if we had any half and half. We did and offered it with raised eyebrows but no questions. For breakfast, H made nongluten waffles, which tasted like sandpaper. Dorothy said if you soak them in enough maple syrup, you can get them down. I doused on syrup and berries and vanilla bean yogurt, which somewhat masked the dense texture.
When Dorothy wanted to try some of my homemade granola, I brought to her attention that oats have gluten. “We’re on vacation,” she said and dished it up.
That night James took his sweetheart to Mary’s Restaurant, which serves organic localvore. They both had the cream of garlic soup, which is rich with, well, cream. Dorothy feasted on the grilled portabella mushroom stuffed with kale and pushed aside the accompanying chevre. James went for the grass fed beef. Dorothy sampled the meat from James’s plate and pronounced it good. They were on vacation.
I guess gluten-free vegan is what you make it. Namaste, James and Dorothy.
As for me, I was eating salads and gluten-free noodles and corn tortillas and getting grumpy. My fitness trainer said our bodies naturally have parasites and bacteria that feed on gluten, and when they’re denied it, they get nasty. I got nasty, too. H tempted me with pizza and cookies, but I was determined to stay the course.
My breadless diet lasted exactly eleven and a half days. It was H’s gluten-rich waffles that did me in this morning. My mood has improved and best of all, I’ve lost one glorious pound. Maybe I’ll give up gluten again—next year.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tour de Pink Hat

I’m pressed against a baby carriage that is wedgeded against a metal barrier. A baby is asleep in the carriage. The afternoon sun is bright, and I adjust my body to cast a shadow over the child. Her sweet talcum scent rises from the carriage. The mother, a redhead, is fair and has a long white scarf over her head and shoulders to shield her from the Parisian sun. There is no shade, and I feel my skin burning.
                We are shoulder to shoulder, chest to back—thousands of us. I’ve been standing in Place des Pyramides for an hour waiting for bicyclists to roll over the finish line in the Tour de France race. Across the road, a crowd of Swiss sing a song in German or Austrian—yell it, really—and wave flags.
                The baby is crying and the back of the redhead mother’s neck is red. She has had too much sun. My throat is dry. The boy beside me—he’s maybe eleven—holds a bottle of water in crossed arms. I’d like to ask for a drink of his water, but I’m in Paris and I don’t know this boy. I don’t know anyone in this crunch of a crowd.
                So far only busses, vans and cars marked with ads have gone by. Nesquick weaves down Rue Rivoli. The Swiss cheer when a van labeled “Sky” skids in front of them—maybe it’s a vodka van or something Swiss I don’t understand. A few motorcycles lean around the corner. Somewhere there’s music and singing and drums.
                At Hotel Regina’s top balcony, people have hung flags of England. An Englishman, Brad Wiggins, wears the yellow jersey. Someone could pass him in this final parade, but it wouldn’t be sportsmanlike. The passer would be derided and so Wiggins is the winner even before the finish line.
            The redhead mother has picked up the baby and put a pink hat on her. She is eating a cookie her father has given her. I’d like a cookie, too, and a drink of water. Above us a Ferris wheel turns slowly and in the middle of the square, a golden Joan of Arc in Medieval battle gear sits atop a gold horse and hoists a French flag. Farther down the street is Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine was set up for head chopping. King Louis XV lost his head there and Marie Antoinette, too. I’m trying to keep my own head in this sun flooded horde.
We are all hot and impatient, but the cyclists have ridden over two thousand miles and I can wait a little longer. Besides, there is a breeze and I have gifts in a bag for friends at home. The father gives the baby another cookie. A man pushes me from behind, and I try to stand my ground. When he pushes again, I nearly lose my balance and snap, “Stop pushing. There is a baby here.” I realize I’ve spoken in English and correct myself. “Ne poussez pas, s’il vous plaĆ®t!” The pushing stops.
            Around me people speak in French, German, perhaps Korean or Laotian or Vietnamese. My legs ache.
            But now a crane—a cherry picker—rises with a man operating a television camera as big as a baby carriage. I’ve heard that because of early childhood amnesia no one has memory earlier than the fourth birthday. The baby in the pink hat is—what—ten months? She won’t remember the music, the singing, the pushing. She won’t remember the bicycles.
            The cherry picker is in place, the baby carriage camera staring down Rue des Pyramides. It must be almost time. Dear God, please let these bicycles come so I can find water and a cookie. And maybe a pink hat.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A guy walks into a bar..wait..that's a bakery

Let’s call him Andy, for starters. He’s a special educator, hates his job, saves his money and quits. He’s never been to Ireland, where his parents are from, so he finds a cheap flight and gets on the plane. The answer for his dead-end life, he thinks, is finding an Irish wife. Maybe he has read Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s poem, “The Irish Wife,” with the stanza:

My Irish wife has clear blue eyes,
  My heaven by day, my stars by night;

And twin-like truth and fondness lie
  Within her swelling bosom white

My Irish wife has golden hair,

  Apollo’s harp had once such strings,
Apollo’s self might pause to hear
  Her bird-like carol when she sings.

Or maybe he knows the Irish are known for story-telling, a sense of humor and love of family. Their hearts are warm, their dispositions happy. Irish women make tasty Irish stews, corned beef and cabbage and soda bread. And an Irish woman can hold her whisky.

So, where does one find an Irish wife? A pub, of course. In Galway he searches out a nightclub and has himself a Guinness while he looks around. A redhead catches his eye. He asks her to dance. She’s not bad looking, a spark in her eye. When they take a break from the dance floor, he tries to make conversation, but she obviously isn’t entranced by the Yank. She does, however, give him a good tip. Make sure you go to Griffin’s Bakery. Their motto is “Half a loaf is better than being without bread.” The Irish gal has given him half a loaf, but he’s still hungry.

The next day he stumbles into Griffin’s and orders an apple turnover. The counter girl is fresh-face pretty, her brown hair cropped short under a silly baker's cap, her eyes not blue but a captivating hazel. When he asks how much for the turnover, she answers with a strange accent. Not Irish—he’s disappointed. He’s a Massachusetts boy, but this girl is no Yankee. He has to ask. Georgia, she says. Not Russian Georgia. Southern States Georgia.

What are the chances a New England boy will find himself face-to-face across an Irish bakery counter looking straight at a girl from Georgia? A girl named not Fiona or Colleen or Sinead..but Laura? Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions. It’s better to eat pastries.

And so he does. Every day. When he starts putting on weight, Laura takes pity on him and asks if he wants to hang out after work. He does.

Turns out, Laura escaped to Ireland for a five-month Celtic experience. Andy was crashing with Galway friends for a few months. Long enough to fall in love. And love takes this serious educator back to the States and down the east coast to Athens, Georgia. Three years ago he married that bakery lady, and now she’s his heaven by day, his stars at night. Four days ago Laura discovered that she’s pregnant. They are ecstatic. Last night they stayed in the treehouse. H and I are ecstatic.

I didn’t make apple turnovers for breakfast, but we’re serving blueberry muffins. And cheese omelets. And strawberries, melon and kiwi. All in the name of love.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Treehouse Haunts

Now that Fern Forest Treehouse has taken a bite out of the Apple (check out the web developers video at, it’s time to polish up the old blog again. Our most recent guests were Alexandra and Mike from west of Boston. Alexandra was living in Manhattan as a set designer and traveled with a touring production of The King and I, which landed in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Mike, a Green Bay local, happened to be filling in backstage on the same show. Alexandra saw him. She gave him orders. He did what she told him. Then she noticed. He was awfully good looking. Uh-huh.

Mike is a self-starter. When he was 17, he started a haunted house design business, building haunting displays, hiring actors to put on gory makeup and scare people. He had no plans to leave Wisconsin, so Alexandra gave up her New York apartment and moved to Green Bay, no easy task for a die-hard Patriots fan. She never took to the Packers, but Mike forgave her.

His haunted house business grew (check out, and he’s now involved with three companies, managing one that builds haunts in the U.S. and internationally. His displays are so scary that one huge football player fell to the floor in fright while his petite girlfriend stood giggling at the ghouls. Mike’s an outdoors kind of guy who fly fishes from his kayak when he’s not plotting scary sets.

Alexandra grew up outside Boston and missed her family. She also missed the Patriots. A dozen years earlier, she had put her name on the list for season tickets, and when her turn came, she convinced Mike to move east. They now live in a condo near her parents. Mike tries to be a Pats fan, but he can’t compete with Alexandra in enthusiasm. When she won an auction for a Pats helmet, Randy Moss signed it, which Mike took as an insult, considering that Moss had mooned the Green Bay crowd after running thirty yards to score a TD when he played for the Vikings. But he forgave her again.

I can’t blame him. Alexandra is pretty in an unmadeup way. She’s fashionably slender with enough dark tresses to toss over a shoulder. She now teaches yoga classes for children and moms in Southboro (see Mike is robust, a half sleeve of tattoos on his right arm (images of spooky houses, of course) and another tattoo on the calf that shows under his cargo shorts. He wears hiking boots and looks as if he’s ready for anything.

When I told the couple about moose and bear sightings around Fern Forest, Mike said, “Don’t worry. Animals don’t come near me.” Maybe they sense Mike’s profession and keep their distance. Alexandra’s brother, who works with her father in the auto body field, replaced letters on his Pathfinder to read “Wrathfinder.” I wouldn’t mess with Mike, but I might trust him with my life, if things came down to it.