Back in May, when the Covid bubble first expanded, I stayed over at my parents’ cottage for the night. We were there to plant a garden, mow the lawn, make up beds and vacuum unwanted bits in the cutlery drawer. My dad lit a fire, we ate lentil soup, played scrabble, then he topped up water bottles with boiling water and tucked them under the blankets in our respective beds. I was in the sun porch, the room with a curtain to pull across for privacy and a princess and the pea stack of quilts layered on the bed. I nestled into the warm spot, read for a little while, then turned off the light. But I couldn’t fall asleep. I heard music. Pop music. Vintage music. The 60’s greatest hits. Was a window open? A party nearby? I put a pillow over my head and eventually drifted off to the Beach Boys’ mellow harmonies crooning in my ears.
“That was just Randy Backman’s Vinyl Tap,” laughed my mother over coffee the next morning. “We always fall asleep to his 11-1am CBC radio show on Friday nights.”
Oh Randy, that famous member of The Guess Who and Backman Turner Overdrive who wrote hits like These Eyes, American Woman, and famously eschewed drink, sex and drugs for Mormonism back in the 1970’s. All that clean living explains his late-night on-air energy at the tender age of 76.
Randy Bachman came up again this week. I’ve been listening to Jill Barber’s new French album, Entre Nous, specifically the sixth track, Comme les fleurs. It’s a song about the fleeting moments of life, like love and flowers in bloom. Randy Bachman collaborated with Jill and her writing partner, Maia Davies, on the song.
“I thought it was a bit strange collaborating with Mister Takin’ Care of Business, but of course he’s a great singer-songwriter,” Jill writes in the liner notes. “He knew we were inspired by ‘60s French pop, and he came up with 8 different proposals, without getting involved in the lyrics.”
The result is a song that explores the ephemeral, but the feeling of the song … it lasts.
Isolation has wed me to the ephemeral in a way I couldn’t have expected. This time last year I was away at a workshop. I wasn’t around for the laburnum unfurling, or the phlox creeping across the garden. I didn’t notice the wild white roses at my mother-in-law’s, or the way their petals fall and create a bridal path across the stone steps. Now I watch carefully as flowers arrive, bloom and fall. I bottle these moments. I make lilac facial spritzes. I make rose syrup.
Soon, I’ll be lying in bed on Friday nights, listening to Vinyl Tap.
Wild Rose Syrup
This is a gentle syrup – aromatic but not soapy. Use whatever rose petals you can find, preferably from roses growing wild (or conveniently on your mother-in-law’s property), free from chemicals.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups wild rose petals
Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, swirling the pot to dissolve the sugar, then turn the heat down and simmer for 2 minutes or so. Add rose petals and continue to simmer gently for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Strain syrup into a glass jar. Discard petals. Use syrup to flavour sparkling water, cocktails, or spoon over cakes, as below.
Little Rose Cakes
1 cup white sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup salted butter, at room temperature
2 cups almond flour
3/4 cup polenta ( I used coarse cornmeal, it was a rougher texture, but all I had)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350F / 180C.
Grease 12 muffin cups.
Place sugar in a mixing bowl. Add lemon zest and using your fingers, rub it into the sugar. Add butter and whip the two together until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, combine almond flour, polenta, and baking powder. Whip a little bit into the butter mixture. Follow with an egg, beat, add more flour mixture, and continue in this fashion, taking turns, until combined. Spoon mixture into the muffin cups, 3/4 of the way up. There may be a little extra batter, depending on the size of your muffin tins. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out a little crumbly. You don’t want it to be dry.
Cool in tin for 5 minutes or so, then run a knife around the edge of the cakes to loosen. Invert cakes on to a cooling rack that’s been positioned over a cookie sheet. The sheet will catch the syrup drips.
Using a toothpick, prick random holes in the cakes (to allow syrup to soak through). Spoon the rose syrup over the cakes – the amount it up to you – and serve. The syrup makes the cakes extra moist, so they’ll last, covered in an airtight container, for a few days.
Serve with rose petals, if you have any left!