Book Review: Walking the Amazon, by Ed Stafford

My first experience with missions was going to Brazil with my parents as a young boy. Missions had been on my parents’ hearts for a long time, so off we went with New Tribes Mission. Ultimately, my dad was part of a team that was building housing for missionaries coming out of the deep parts of the Amazon jungle. I still have vivid memories (from a child’s perspective) of our time there. We were mainly by the Amazon River (if I remember correctly), and ever since then, my interest is always peaked when I hear about that massive river.

A few years ago, I hosted a film series called “Reel Conversations.” The goal was to watch a film and discuss it afterwards. I love film and I love talking, so it was a perfect fit! When I came across the documentary Big River Man we had to watch it. The movie followed an adventurous Slovenian named Martin Strel as he attempted to swim the length of the Amazon River. It is to this day one of the craziest docs I have ever seen – Martin Strel is quite the character.

More recently, I was looking in Chapters for books I might want to buy for my Kindle. Yes, I am one of those people who “showroom.” I came across a book that immediately got my attention called Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford. The title alone was enough to grab my attention, but then there was the endorsement by Bear Grylls – I knew I had to read this book.

Walking the Amazon took about two weeks to read in the midst of studying to teach OT overview and grading some big books. The book is Stafford’s memoirs of his attempt to walk the entire length of the Amazon River from its source to where it pours into the Atlantic ocean. It is an amazing story of physical endurance and mental strength and is a really different look at an area I have only really heard of through the stories of missionaries. Much of the book focuses on the trials of the walk, from hiking through flooded jungles with water up to his neck, to the isolation that comes from being surrounded by a different culture and language. Ultimately, it is about a journey along one of the most amazing rivers on the planet, and the challenges the river and the people who live along it face in our ever-changing world.

After finishing the book, I realized that 1) the British military creates some great adventurers and, 2) how important one’s perspective really is. Much of the difficulty Ed talks about facing was in his own head – it was in how he perceived his situation and how he chose to react to it. Many of us never face situations that cause us to analyze how we see trials in our lives and how we can choose to respond positively even to the worst situations. I also realized that though I could use some more adventure in my life, I have no desire to spend over 800 days walking through the Amazon jungle. Maybe a little cross-country skiing in Kananaskis will do for now.

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Invincible Ozark Pudding Cake

I first came across this recipe at Everybody Likes Sandwiches, a favourite Canadian food blog, and knew that I wanted to make this cake – it’s baked in a skillet, for goodness sake! The recipe originally comes from a book called Vintage Cakes (which I have already asked Michael to get me for my birthday), and after borrowing the book from the library, I wouldn’t mind trying out a few more “vintage” recipes, especially if the success of this recipe is any indicator of the quality of this book!

I call this cake “Invincible” Ozark Pudding Cake because it seems like you can adapt it quite easily for what you have on hand. The version of the cake I saw online had apples; the book recommends pears. Slivered almonds are called for, but I didn’t have any on hand, so used a chopped almond/pecan mix the first time, and toasted pecans the second (yes, I’ve made this cake twice…in one week!) The second time I made it, I accidentally dumped the fruit and nuts into the liquid ingredients before adding the dry ingredients…and it turned out okay! This is clearly a versatile cake, and I think cakes baked in skillets are just so…charming. Homey. Makes you feel like it’s healthy, even?

I baked this cake on a Sunday morning when I had invited one of our students over for breakfast – that time I used apples and almonds + pecans. The second time round, I made it for our SBS girls’ small group, using pears and toasted pecans. Delicious with a cup of black tea, I dare you not to make this cake twice in one week!

Invincible Ozark Pudding Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 apples/pears; peel, core and chop one; core and thinly slice the other (you can leave the skin on the second one!)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (I didn’t have any so used pumpkin pie spice, which was delicious)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (I used margarine straight out of the fridge, because it’s what I had)
  • 1 cup white sugar (I cut back to 3/4 cup the second time round)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup nuts (original recipe suggests sliced natural almonds, toasted)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional; I might have used raisins, but my breakfast guest was a raisin-hater)

Directions

  1. Centre oven rack and preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare pears/apples as stated above.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger (I used pumpkin pie spice), and salt in small bowl.
  3. Use an electric mixer/stand mixer to blend butter and sugar together (medium speed). Mixture will resemble wet sand. Add egg and vanilla and blend for about five minutes until fluffy (I totally didn’t do that…I don’t think margarine gets “fluffy?” I blended until I was bored for about a minute). Add flour mixture and mix by hand just until blended. Batter will be quite stiff.
  4. Fold in chopped fruit and half of the nuts, and cranberries/raisins if using. Butter your skillet generously. Dump mixture into prepared skillet and spread it evenly. Arrange apple/pear slices on top and sprinkle with remaining nuts. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar on top of the cake.
  5. Bake until cake is golden and centre springs back slightly; this took about 45 minutes for me, but Vintage Cakes says it should take 38-40 minutes. You’ll find that the cake continues to bake in the skillet after you take it out of the oven, so don’t over do it, and remember that this is a “pudding” cake. A little bit of indecisiveness as to whether it is “done” is probably a good thing here.
  6. Eat that yummy cake! It’s best served on the day it is baked (just try to keep it around longer!). If you want to store it for a few days, check your pulse, then wrap it in the skillet and keep it at room temperature.

Makes 8 small pieces or 6 more reasonably sized pieces.