Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Calorie-Free Citrus Iced Tea


This does have to be made ahead so the tea has time to cool down before serving, but the prep time is basically however long it takes the kettle to boil. If you’re worried about the use of artificial sweeteners, use one can of frozen orange drink or lemonade instead and as much boiling water as it takes to fill the pitcher. Of course, there will be calories with that variant.

4 tea bags (I’ve only tried it with orange pekoe)
8 cups boiling water
4 squirts lemonade-flavoured liquid water enhancer
2 squirts orange-flavoured liquid water enhancer

Place tea bags in bottom of two-quart pitcher. Fill up with boiling water. Let sit 10 minutes, then remove tea bags (a slotted serving spoon works well for this). I usually let it cool down on the counter before putting it in the fridge. Serve cold over ice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Iced Mocha Coffee in Bulk


I like to have a pitcher of this on hand in the summertime. I generally use decaf coffee so I can enjoy it in the late afternoon without worrying about trouble sleeping at night.

4 tablespoons instant espresso
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
7 cups boiling water
1 cup coffee cream (10%)

In a 2-quart pitcher, combine espresso, sugar and cocoa. Whisk together with 2 cups of boiling water. Add the coffee cream and the rest of the boiling water, stirring as you go. Let cool and refrigerate. Serve over ice, stirring first as the cocoa tends to settle out.

Makes 8 cups/2 quarts

While I’ve used instant coffee to make this, of course you can make it with regular coffee instead of the powder and boiling water. Just make it up a bit on the strong side.

You get a richer flavour if you use 5 tablespoons of espresso, sugar and cocoa, but you’ll end up with a lot of sludge in the bottom of the pitcher no matter how much you stir it.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part One


One of mine. A light look at time travel from the perspective of undergrads in Classics.

* * * * *

“The Kessler twins have it sewn up,” said Brent. “Since their mother started talking about endowing two faculty positions, they’ve been getting straight A’s. The grad students are doing their course work for them.”

Brent, Georgia and I sat in our room in residence, drinking beer and moping. We needed an outstanding fourth-year project to get into grad school. Technically, we weren’t supposed to start work until the following September, but even the worst procrastinators in our class were already thinking about it.

Georgia stared into her beer. “That still leaves eight openings. If only we could find something really spectacular.”

“If only they hadn’t burned the Library of Alexandria,” I said. This is a standard classicist beef. The city of Alexandria had had a huge collection of scrolls on every conceivable subject, lost in 48 BC when Julius Caesar set fire to Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. If it had survived, we’d know a lot more than we do about the ancient Mediterranean. And if I’d been born rich, I wouldn’t be worrying about my fourth-year project—I’d be cruising the Greek islands on my yacht.

 “The Library of Alexandria,” Brent repeated. “My cousin Nate is a grad student in engineering. He’s working with Dr. Deeble on the time machine project.”

“That's been running 50 years,” said Georgia. “At least.”

“Yeah,” I said. “The only thing they’ve learned is how to waste time.”

“Nate agrees. He thinks Dr. Deeble’s theory is off-base. He’s been working on his own and he’s come up with a portable time machine.”

We stared. “Portable?” said Georgia. “How come no one’s heard about this?”

“He wants to keep it under wraps until he’s sure it works. He’s used a prototype on plants and lab rats. Now he needs test subjects who can bring back proof.”

“And how does this help us?” I said.

“We speak several dead languages. We’re familiar with ancient history. We’re the perfect test subjects.”

“Are you crazy? Why would we want to volunteer?”

“You said it yourself, Nikos. The Library of Alexandria,” said Brent. “If we could get there just before it burned...”

“...and take some of the books,” put in Georgia, “our future would be guaranteed and no one in the past would even know they were missing.”

“Exactly,” said Brent. “And Nate would get the fame he deserves.”

“And if it doesn’t work? If we get killed or stranded somewhere in the past?”

“Then we don’t have to pay back our student loans,” said Georgia.

* * * * *

We met Nate in the basement of the undergrad library. I’d discovered the place in my first year. It was quiet, so I could study or sleep between classes. And there was something about books on paper—holding one in my hands and wondering about all the other people who had ever read it.

Brent had been working on Nate, stressing our linguistic skills and general knowledge. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use them. I could speak Greek and Latin, but my modern pronunciation would finger me as a foreigner. Georgia was quick to point out there were lots of foreigners in Alexandria, which made it an ideal spot for time travel. Then Nate threw the first snag at us.

“This Alexandria place is in Egypt or something, right? We’ll have to go to Egypt to use the machine.”

“You can’t just punch in a destination?” Georgia asked.

He got that look on his face that engineers get when explaining something blindingly obvious to us lesser mortals. “It’s not the TARDIS—though that would be seriously cool.”

We stared blankly at him.

He sighed. “It just travels through time, not space. And while the receiver—the part you’ll carry with you—is portable, the transmitter isn’t. It’s got a range of five kilometres—get farther away and I can’t pick you up.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Two


Ironically, it was the Kessler twins who paid our way. For their fourth year project, they had decided to do a travelogue on Alexander the Great (they were a little shaky on the concept of “original research”). They were spending their winter break skiing in Colorado, so when Georgia volunteered to take pictures for them in Egypt, if they’d help with the expenses, they were delighted. Which was how we managed to rent a top-of-the-line (according to Nate) SUV and stay in a decent hotel near the harbour.

The first day we spent figuring out where things were. Landmarks can change a lot in two thousand plus years. We located the old harbour, and chose an isolated spot to try the experiment. We planned to travel back long enough to confirm we were there, and determine our position in relation to the lighthouse of Pharos. Then we could check over our maps and information before returning to break into the Library.

The streets were deserted, which was good, because I felt ridiculous wearing flowing Greek drapery. Not to mention chilly. Once the sun had gone down, so had the temperature. Oh, I know what you’re thinking? Why dress like a Greek in an Egyptian city? But the Ptolemies were Greeks, and it would be far easier to pass for Greek than Egyptian, a language none of us spoke.

Nate handed Georgia the receiver, made to look like a griffin-headed walking staff, and the three of us gripped it firmly. “There's a small camera built into the head,” he said. “Aim it at anything interesting. Ready?”

Gulp. We nodded. He pushed a few buttons on his console. The eyes of the griffin gleamed an eerie yellow. I focused on them and waited. A sudden lurching, and the earth dropped out beneath me. Blackness. Only the solid feel of the staff in my hands kept me grounded.

The tumbling sensation slowed, and I became aware once more of the yellow eyes of the griffin, and Georgia and Brent to either side of me. Taking a deep breath, I looked around. We were in a narrow alley lined with the blank white walls of houses. The road ran up a slight slope, a larger building at the top with a row of statues along the roof line. Georgia pulled a drawing pencil from her pocket and marked a large “X” on the wall beside her so we could find the spot again.

I turned downhill. Atop a multi-tiered tower, a huge ball of orange light shimmered and flickered. Smaller specks of yellow and orange reflected in the water far below. The famed Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Legend said it could be seen for kilometres. I believed it now. And without electricity, let alone modern bio-energetics.

Long minutes passed before we stopped staring and focussed on the task at hand. Yes, this was Alexandria, but when? The lighthouse had been used for centuries; if we were going to pilfer from the Library, we needed to be in 48 BC., before the fire. We hurried down the street towards the harbour.

We came out near the docks. Farther along to our right I saw several large buildings, well-lit by torches, and bustling with activity. Guards armed with spears stood at the foot of each dock. Others were marching up and down in front of the buildings. Hard to believe this would all be under water in 2042.

“Those buildings are probably the palace,” I said. “The Library should be on the palace grounds. There’s supposed to be a garden and a zoo nearby, so we’ll have to look for an area with trees and plants.”

“How are we going to get past the guards?” asked Georgia.

I shook my head. “No idea, but we’d better think of something before tomorrow.”

Across the harbour the lighthouse towered above everything else. Several ships rode at anchor, backlit by the glow. I pulled out a pair of night glasses for a closer look. Definitely not Roman galleys, and definitely war ships. This must be Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. “Our timing’s good,” I said. “The fleet is here to keep Caesar and Cleopatra under siege in the palace.”

“Did you say Cleopatra?” Brent’s voice squeaked. “The Cleopatra?”

I’d forgotten he was a mediaeval specialist and not up on the Greeks and Romans. “The Cleopatra,” I said, skin prickling. “She and her brother Ptolemy were rivals for the throne.” I gazed at the palace. Somewhere in that complex of buildings were the first Roman emperor, in fact, if not in name, and the legendary queen of Egypt.

“Our two hours are nearly up. We’d better get back,” said Georgia. We retraced our steps and gathered around the staff, depressing the small knob at the base of the griffin's head. The eyes flashed green for several seconds, before switching to a steady yellow glow. The falling sensation hit the bottom of my stomach like a glass of sour milk.

We filled Nate in on what we’d seen on the drive back to the hotel, and Brent handed over the staff.

“If there’s enough detail on that thing,” Nate said, “I can put you inside the palace grounds.”

Detail? The three of us looked at each other. No one had thought to point it at anything. Good thing we hadn’t had to actually turn it on.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Three


Sun flooded through the curtains. Looking at my watch, I discovered it was already past nine, and hastily rolled out of bed. Following the sound of voices, I wandered out to our large balcony. Brent, Georgia, and Nate were sitting around a cast-iron table covered with food.

“Morning, Nikos,” Georgia mumbled through a mouthful of baklava.

“We left you some coffee,” said Brent, holding up the pot. “Though if you'd been five minutes later...”

I added milk and sugar and downed half a cup, then refilled it.

“I reviewed the video,” said Nate. “At first I thought the recorder had malfunctioned because there was nothing but black for the first 30 seconds.”

“That only lasted 30 seconds?” said Georgia, echoing my thought.

“30.2 seconds. I can’t be more precise than that with the current software.”

“Never mind that,” said Brent. “Was there anything useful?”

“I’m reasonably sure I can extrapolate from the video and where you guys left, to where you need to be standing to land in the palace grounds—there was a treed area, next to a building with a big dome.”

“Perfect!” I said. “That’s probably the Library.”

“There is a problem,” Nate said. “I nearly got arrested for loitering last night. The cop let me off because I was a tourist, but apparently you can’t sit in parked cars after dark. Good thing he didn’t see the equipment in the back, or I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it. I’ll have to drive around the block until I get your signal.”

“That’s not too serious,” I said, “as long as we’re not being chased by a Roman patrol.” Nobody laughed.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Four


Once again we clustered around the staff. My stomach was already lurching, and the process hadn’t even started. Everything faded to black. I felt as if I was struggling through warm taffy, and at the same time travelling at great speed.

It took some time for my sight to return. I thought something had gone wrong, then realized we were standing in the shadow of a large tree. Insects sang, and water splashed in the distance. Fragrance drifted on the air. “Nate’s done it,” I said. “This must be the garden. Now we have to find the Library. Look for a building with a big dome.”

“Like that?" asked Brent, pointing past several trees. An immense white dome floated above them, glowing in the moonlight. Twin flagpoles rose in front of it, pennons hanging limply.

I nodded, my heart thumping. A winding path headed in the right direction, and I took it, the other two close behind me. As we walked the splashing grew louder, until it drowned out the rest of the night noises. Rounding a bend, we came across the source. A large basin of pale pink marble, perhaps 5 metres across, filled a small clearing. Water lilies floated on its surface, releasing a heavenly perfume. In the centre was a sculpture of three leaping dolphins, water spouting merrily from their mouths.

Someone gasped, and a slight figure rose from her seat on the edge of the basin. “Who goes there?” she called in Greek. She was garbed in the Egyptian style in a dress of fine linen, very nearly transparent. She looked our age or perhaps younger, with smooth skin, pale as ivory under the moon. Around her neck she wore a heavy beaded collar in blue and white. Dark, wavy hair fell to her shoulders, accented by a gold circlet with the figure of a hooded cobra over her brow.

The royal insignia. Cleopatra. An eternity passed as I stood and gaped. “Please forgive the intrusion, my queen,” I finally managed to say. “We are scholars, out to look at the stars.” Behind me, Brent gurgled.

“Astrologers,” she said slowly, relaxing. Her hand dropped to her side and I saw she held one of the water lilies. “Can you read my destiny?”

Ulp. I’m no geek, but even I know giving people information about future events is a bad idea. And if I did tell her the truth—that two of her lovers would be killed, and she would commit suicide, not to mention that her country would become a Roman province? Even if it didn’t change anything, she’d probably put us to death on the spot.

Luckily, Georgia was still thinking. “We have seen your future, oh queen. Much is veiled, but I can tell you that you will be remembered among the great ones.”

Her head went up, a fierce look kindling in her eyes. “Yes. Yes. I have always known it.” With the moonlight spilling down on her, she looked more like a goddess than a queen. No wonder Caesar and Anthony had loved her, and Rome feared her. She was the very essence of womanhood, distilled into one human being.

With a graceful movement, Cleopatra slid a bracelet in the shape of a coiled snake from her forearm, and handed it to Georgia. “My thanks go with it,” she said. “If you ever need a favour from me, present this.” The three of us bowed. She nodded briefly at us, then glided across the open area and entered the woods, walking towards the palace.

We stood there a few moments, numb with the shock of it, Georgia staring down at the bracelet in her cupped hand as if it really was a snake and might bite her. To talk to one of the great ones of history—my body tingled with awe. My heart raced and I felt vibrantly alive, yet a bit wistful. Whatever else happened to me, I was certain nothing would match this moment.

“Did you get that on camera?” Brent asked. Georgia froze, her face blanching, then turning rosy as the blood rushed to her cheeks.

“Oh no! I never thought—I was holding the staff behind me—it couldn’t have picked up anything.” She slid the bracelet onto her wrist for safekeeping and belatedly brought the staff around to record the image of the fountain.

“I didn't think of it either,” I said, patting her on the shoulder. Secretly, I was pleased. My memory of Cleopatra would remain mine, not shared with the rest of the world.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Five


“Time’s running out,” Brent said. “We’d best find the Library, grab our books, and go.” He started around the fountain and we followed wordlessly. A short distance through the woods, and the building with the dome was in front of us. We climbed a brief flight of steps and passed through a pillared porch into a large round room. I saw couches and tables by the moonlight seeping through the windows. Between the windows, half-a-dozen darkened corridors led into the building's interior.

Georgia scanned the room with the staff, then turned to me. “Where to?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to try the halls one by one until we find the bookshelves.”

“We’re going to need a light,” said Brent, eyeing the dark openings.

“Didn’t anyone bring one?” I said. They both shook their heads. “Probably just as well, it could be spotted. We’ll have to feel our way along. Let’s begin with that hall on the left.” I saw a faint gray patch at the other end; hopefully there would be enough light to find our way around. We started down the corridor, running our fingers along the wall on our right.

On reaching the doorway at the end, I grinned. Rows of shelves lined the two side walls, filled with scrolls. We had found one of the book rooms. Picking up a scroll reverently, I carried it over by the window, and gently unrolled the first few inches. Straining to read the characters in the dim light, I realized I was holding a copy of Euripide's play “The Trojan Women.” “This must be the literature room,” I said. “We’ve struck pure gold. Grab as many as you can, and put them...” I looked around, and saw a wooden chest sitting open against the back wall “ that armarium,” I continued triumphantly. “Then we can signal Nate and go.”

I plucked scrolls from the shelves at random and handed them to Georgia, who carried them to Brent for packing. In less than ten minutes, the chest held several dozen scrolls. I looked regretfully at those still remaining. I’d come back first chance I got. “Let’s go.”

Brent and I each held one of the handles of the chest, our other hand firmly grasping the staff. Georgia pushed the knob, and the griffin's eyes flashed green. I counted to myself. One, two, hundred. No response. Ice cubes slid up and down my back, as I told myself Nate was just driving around the block.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Six


“Maybe our signal can’t be read through the building,” said Brent. “We should go back out.”

“Could be right,” I agreed. With the chest between us, we staggered into the hallway, then stopped in surprise. It was lit with a dancing yellow light coming from an opening halfway down—an opening we would have to pass to get out. Brent and I glanced at each other, shrugged, then continued down the hall at a faster pace.

Reaching the doorway, we saw and felt the source of the light. A pile of scrolls on the floor blazed with fire. Two Roman soldiers, carrying torches, were silhouetted by the flames. Even as we watched, they torched the scrolls on the shelves. I was stunned. According to legend, the Library had burned accidentally, caught up in the conflagration of Ptolemy’s fleet by Julius Caesar. But this was deliberate!

One of the soldiers glanced our way. Cursing, he drew his sword.

“Run!” Georgia cried, fleeing down the hall. Brent and I dropped the chest and followed, hands holding up our robes. Behind us, we heard the soldier trip over the chest. We scrambled into the round room, through the porch, down the steps, and into the woods.

We huddled around the receiver and again pushed the signal button. Clutching the staff, I watched the flashing green eyes. Come on, Nate, I pleaded. A steady yellow glow appeared, and we were in the comforting blackness.

Shortly thereafter, we climbed into the back of the SUV. “Sorry I couldn't pick you up right away,” said Nate. “I saw a car coming. What did you get?”

“A stupid piece of jewellery,” said Brent. “Some Roman soldiers chased us and we had to drop everything.”

“Can you send us back?” I said. “Maybe an hour or two earlier?” Nate shook his head. “Between last night and tonight the battery’s done. The power pack takes 18 hours to recharge. We'll be halfway home by then. What about pictures?”

“I did get some film of the Library burning,” said Georgia.

“You got that on film?” I said. “That’s something at least.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Seven


“Pity we aren’t in dramatic arts,” Brent said, watching the dolphin fountain scroll by. “We could at least turn it into a movie.”

“Maybe we should sell it to the Kessler twins for their travelogue,” I said. The Library steps filled the screen, and then the dark interior of the round room—except that it wasn’t dark. I leaned forward to get a better look at the murals painted on the walls.

Nate pushed a button. A close-up appeared. “I knew you’d be running around at night, so I put digital enhancers on the camera.”

“Could be a paper or two in those,” I said. “Pity my major’s literature and not art, but maybe Georgia could.” I groaned as the book room appeared. All those scrolls. Even one could have made my entire career. Even a fragment of one.

“What the hell?” Brent said. On the screen, the two Roman soldiers set fire to the pile of scrolls. They had been shadows to us, but thanks to Nate’s enhancements, we could see their faces. They looked familiar. “Zoom in,” Brent ordered Nate.

The two heads filled the screen—Professor Rickett, the Classics Department Chair, and Professor Emeritus Robinson, both looking considerably younger.

“Deeble must have had a working time machine years ago,” said Nate. "He’s good friends with Robinson. He’s deliberately sent us all on the wrong track.”

“So that’s how they got their hands on the Falconetti Scrolls,” said Georgia. “But why destroy the Library?”

“Because the Romans didn’t,” I guessed. “They knew the Library had been burnt, so they torched it themselves to ensure the value of their books. Supply and demand.”

“But why would Deeble keep his time machine secret?” Nate asked. “He could have had a Nobel prize.”

“He’s an accessory to arson,” said Brent. “A crime against humanity. And he’s married to Professor Rickett’s sister.”

“What do we do?” Georgia set her beer mug on the coffee table with a loud thunk. “We can’t let them get away with this!”

“We go back earlier and stop them,” Brent said. Georgia and I sat up straighter.

“No,” said Nate. “That might change history.”

“We'd be fixing it,” said Brent. “Not changing anything. Of course, we’d still have to get back to Egypt.”

 * * * * *

In the end, we decided to confront them. As Dr. Rickett was Georgia’s faculty adviser, she sent him a note asking to speak with him about her fourth year project. She attached a close-up of him and Dr. Robinson setting the scrolls on fire.

He called that afternoon to set up a meeting for the following evening at the Faculty Club.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Eight


The maitre’d took our coats and escorted us to a private dining room in the back, where Professors Deeble, Robinson, and Rickett were already seated. Dinner was excellent; it was hard to believe the same caterers provided the meals at the student cafeteria. We nervously exchanged small talk, waiting for the profs to make the first move.

At last the waiter wheeled out the dirty dishes, leaving us with clean glasses and a large decanter of port. Dr. Deeble followed him to the door, locking it behind him. Dr. Rickett poured us each a glass of port, then cleared his throat. “My colleagues and I have looked over this ‘problem’ of yours. What do you want from us?”

“An explanation for starters,” said Georgia. “Why did you do it?” Their expressions relaxed subtly, and Dr. Deeble’s hand came away from his back pocket.

“It was an accident,” said Dr. Rickett, tugging on his earring.

“Oh, come on,” said Brent. “We have the whole thing on film. It was clearly deliberate.”

“The math scrolls, yes,” Dr. Rickett said. “But we never meant to destroy the Library.”

“Our professors told us we would be the last graduate students in Classics, and the Department would be phased out, unless someone came up with some highly original work,” Dr. Robinson began. “We found out Dr. Deeble had made a major breakthrough in chronometry and we begged him to let us test his machine by travelling to the Library of Alexandria to retrieve some scrolls. Jon McLean, the University’s biggest donor, had a particular interest in mathematics, so we took some scrolls on geometry and presented them to him.”

“He had his lawyers draw up a perpetual endowment for the Classics Department. We started work on our theses. Everyone was happy.” He sighed.

“Ever heard of the McLean proof? It’s a geometrical proof worked out by Jon McLean’s great grandmother. One of the scrolls showed that the Greeks had already solved it 2,600 years previously. Jon was adamant we destroy every mathematical scroll in the Alexandrian collection to preserve Great Grandma’s reputation. We agreed, thinking we’d go back after he was dead and rectify the damage.”

“Unfortunately, we were interrupted by three, as we thought, Alexandrians. We gave chase and in our absence the fire got out of control.”

I slumped in my chair. We’d distracted them. The greatest library of the ancient world was a charred ruin because I’d wanted a sensational school project. I had to make it right.

“Why didn’t you go back and fix it?” Georgia demanded. “Jon McLean died years ago.”

Dr. Deeble laughed. “We tried, but we could never get closer than twenty hours before or after. And the more we tried, the worse it got. It seems to be an innate law of time travel that you can’t be in the same place and time twice. We’d no choice but to accept our complicity and get on with our lives.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Dr. Rickett, “living with the guilt all these years.” The large diamond on his middle finger reflected the light from the ornate chandelier as he reached across to refill our port glasses. “Not easy at all.” His eyes strayed to his watch. “I have to leave soon. My wife and I have tickets to the symphony. Opening night, you know.”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Nine


We weren’t about to believe in Dr. Deebles’ innate law of time travel until we’d tested it. It was easy enough to check. All we had to do was put ourselves into last week.

We failed miserably. We’d get the blackness, and the falling sensation. Then we’d crash into some invisible barrier, get hurled backwards, and find ourselves in our room in residence, feeling hungover.

“There has to be some way around this,” said Brent. “If the fire was caused by our being there, we have to stop it.”

Georgia toyed with the cobra bracelet on her wrist, glaring at the empty bottle of pain killers on the coffee table. Nate scanned the recording of our latest attempt frame by frame, muttering to himself. I was staring off into space, when my eye was caught by the fire extinguisher Brent’s mom had given us, hanging on the side of the cupboard by the stove. If only there was some way of getting it to the Library. But we couldn’t get back to the appropriate time window to use it. We’d been there already.

Nate hadn’t. He’d stayed behind to run the transmitter. I jumped to my feet. “Nate, how hard is it to operate that thing?”

“Programming’s tricky. But the transmitting part is easy. All I have to do is watch for the signal and flip a switch.”

“So even I could do it?”

“Sure, a six-year-old could do it.”

“How would you like to take a trip?”

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Ten


Once again, the problem was funding. And once again the Kessler twins came to our rescue. They’d been quite pleased with the footage we’d shot before, and wanted more. With finances out of the way, we began planning our summer vacation. We managed to book the same suite in the same hotel. The car agency was out of the model we wanted, so gave us a free upgrade. And when we got to our suite, room service brought up afternoon tea on the house as a thank you for our repeat business. The ancient gods were smiling on us.

That night, we drove down to our previous point of departure. Nate sat in the back of the car for several minutes, checking readouts and power levels on the transmitter before he was satisfied. Climbing out, he once more reminded Georgia (sorry, Nikos, you get distracted too easily), “When this light turns green and starts flashing, flip that switch.” Then he grabbed the staff and pushed the start button.

Nothing happened. I noticed a slight distortion in the air around him, like a heat shimmer on a hot July noon. The distortion grew worse, then he was gone. We all looked at the transmitter. A steady yellow light shone from the console. That was supposed to mean Nate had made the trip safely, and was still within range. While Georgia monitored the transmitter, Brent and I popped the SUV’s hood, then disconnected the battery. If the police came by, we had an excuse for loitering—our battery was giving us trouble.

We assumed the transmitter would return Nate if he stopped the fire and restored history, but we didn’t know. He’d tried to explain about string theory and multiple universes, but it was all geek to me. Could history even be changed? I didn’t like to think so. Sweat evaporated off my body in the breeze blowing off the water, leaving me chilled. Shouldn’t Nate be signalling by now? I peeked at my phone. Only ten minutes had passed.

Brent paced up and down beside the car, whistling off-key.

“Stop that!” Georgia snapped. “You’re distracting me.” On the board, the yellow light turned green. All three of us reached for the switch, bumping heads. “Got it,” said Georgia with satisfaction.

The heat shimmer formed and there was Nate, covered in ash, with the fire extinguisher tucked under one arm. He held the staff up triumphantly in his other hand.

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins -Part Eleven


We slept off the effects of the celebratory Greek brandy the next morning, and had a leisurely breakfast on the patio. “What shall we do today?” asked Georgia, stretching lazily.

“The museum,” I said. “The last time I spent several hours looking at their display on the Library. It was pretty cheesy, they had a button you could push to watch it go up in flames.”

“Good idea,” Nate agreed. “I'd like to see what effect we’ve had.”

It was hard not to race up the museum steps. What wonderful scrolls might now be on exhibit, lost masterpieces of Greek drama, Egyptian medicine, Roman literature—it would be a life’s work just to read it. I herded everyone down the corridor to the Library exhibit. It was wall-to-wall school children, there with their teacher, chattering excitedly in Arabic.

They still had the same diorama, right down to the miniature fleet positioned in the harbour. The teacher held up his hand for silence, then pushed a button on the display. The ships caught on fire, then the buildings on the dock. Then the Library. As I stared in disbelief, flames engulfed the dome.

We found our way into the museum's courtyard and sat down heavily on the edge of the reflecting pool. “What happened?” I asked.

Nate shrugged. “It’s as if we didn’t do anything.” He stared into the pool, stirring the water with his hand. “Like we had no more effect than these drops of water.” Then he laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

“Maybe we should take you back to the hotel,” Georgia suggested. “It’s awfully warm today.”

Nate shook his head. “I’m fine. But do you realize what this means? We can’t change history—what’s already happened will still happen, regardless of what we do. We’ve discovered a new law of time travel!”

“So it’s not our fault the Library burned,” I said.

“And you’ll be rich and famous,” said Brent.

Nate grinned. “I’ll have a great thesis. And this means time travel is safe. Classicists can travel back and observe—the field will really open up.”

Georgia pulled out her phone. “Deeble, Robinson, and Rickett will be relieved to hear this. We’d better call them.”

I thought back to our dinner at the Faculty Club. They’d looked pretty well-fed and self-satisfied for people who had been ‘living with the guilt all these years.’ “Naah,” I said. “They can read all about it in Nate’s thesis. Let's hit the beach.”

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Lazy Woman’s Maple Sugar Pie


While I was binge-watching the Old Cookbook Show a few weeks back, I came across the episode where they were making maple sugar pie from the 1915 edition of the Toronto Queen City of Canada Cookbook. That sounded like something I’d want to try, if I could get my hands on some maple sugar. And a couple of days later, there it was, on the shelf at my local grocery store.

So why am I blogging about it here when it’s already available online elsewhere? Because I did make a few changes in the technique and the ingredients (in blue), hence the title. And also because it came out really, really tasty.

2 cups milk (I used one cup of 10% cream and one cup of water instead, figuring 1915 milk probably had a higher fat content than the 1% in my fridge)
1 cup maple sugar
2 rounded teaspoons cornstarch
2 eggs (I only used the egg yolks)
¼ cup icing sugar (didn’t use since I wasn't making meringue)
paste-lined plate (1 9-inch graham cracker crust)
whipping cream for topping

Original Instructions:

Heat one and one-half cups of milk in a double boiler and add one cup of maple sugar broken fine or grated.

Bring to the boiling point, add two rounding teaspoons cornstarch mixed, with one-half cup milk and cook eight minutes.

Pour a little over the yolks of two eggs and stir and return to boiler and cook until smooth.

Pour into a paste-lined plate and bake.

Cover with meringue made of the whites of two eggs beaten stiff with one-quarter cup powdered sugar and brown.

Like so many of these old recipes, no directions are given about oven temperature, such as slow oven, hot oven, or how long to cook. I looked at other custard pie recipes to figure that out.

My Instructions:

I started out following the recipe, but it was taking forever for the cream/maple sugar mixture to reach boiling point in my makeshift double boiler (a glass bowl over a saucepan). I got impatient and I said to myself, “This is just a custard, and I know you can make custard in the microwave.” So here’s my version of making the filling.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl, combine the maple sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in the two egg yolks. Add enough of the water/cream mixture to make a thin paste.

In a large microwavable container (a large glass measuring cup is perfect for this), heat the rest of the water/cream mixture until it boils. Whisk in the paste. Continuing microwaving in 30-second bursts and whisking until the mixture thickens.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

At this point, if you’re following the original recipe, you’ll want to make the meringue. I opted to serve my cooled pie with whipped cream instead, and I think it was a better choice. It was certainly easier.