Girl Of Eleven





After talking it over with Mr. Savory on Sunday, I decided to put aside an essay I began earlier this fall as a response to a writing exercise.

I felt relieved to let it go because that piece of writing, and I really can't call it anything more than a "piece", became an obligation to be the dutiful student, to not give up. Yet, I have no burning desire at present to tell this particular story from my childhood.

At first I was excited by this exercise and relieved to leave the not-too-distant past, as I worried that soon I will run out of material.  I quickly saw that the past holds plenty of material, but my voice is centered in who I am now, not in the girl I was at eleven.

I believe I will return to her when I understand what her story is about, but for the moment, I am enjoying the photo albums I unpacked from storage boxes.  I am remembering her clothes, her bedroom, what her family looked like.

This girl needs time to come to life again. But for now, ttyl girl in braids.

October Table





Three weeks ago, before our leaves in Philadelphia were turning, my friend Emily sent me honest to goodness real maple leaves from Vermont.  She picked them herself, pressed and packed a pile of New England autumn down to the Mid-Atlantic, where the temperatures were in the 70's and our maple leaves were still green and fixed on their branches.

They carried a Vermont chill with them, the feeling of walking amongst the leaves wearing boots and a heavy sweater.




After spreading them out and admiring the colors, I placed them in our wooden salad bowl (made in Vermont, of course), and every morning I come down to the kitchen for breakfast wondering why we forgot to put the salad in the fridge the previous night.

Except we haven't been eating big, green, leafy salads, so I continue to admire my bit of Vermont, pour Vermont maple syrup gifted from another friend on my oatmeal or waffles, and watch golden leaves fall from our own trees now, hearing the dogs crunch them as they run about outdoors and up and down the kitchen door steps. 


Opening Boxes





Sometimes I decide to accept a minor event as a sign pointing me in a particular direction.  I go with it and take the ride.

After reading several tributes to the Italian Cookbook author, Marcella Hazan, who died recently, urging readers to go out and buy Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as a way to honor her, I wondered if I ought to do just that.

A few days later, I was going through some boxes in a third floor closet, looking for some childhood photo albums and scrapbooks.  While I didn't find what I was looking for, I did open a box containing items from my mother's apartment that I had quickly packed up after she died and we were preparing to sell her place. 

It was like Christmas morning, when I pulled out The Classic Italian Cookbook.

This edition is a re-print published in 1980, and my mother must have received it as a gift.  The edges of the jacket are a bit torn at the top, but otherwise it appears to never have been used.  

I thought I'd try dedicating myself to it, at least the recipes not containing meat.  I've been feeling lately that I want to settle in and learn from a master cookbook author.  An opportunity has come knocking. 

I know Marcella wouldn't approve of our eating a bowl of spaghetti as our main course like we did last night, but the tomatoes for the sauce did come from my garden, so I hope she would forgive our American ways.

Give yourself about two and a half hours to prepare this sauce, and while it simmers, putter about and wash that sink-full of dishes from the day, pour yourself a glass of wine and spend a few minutes with a book you're in the middle of reading. 

Maybe take a moment and think about who or what this slow-cooking sauce might connect you to.




Sughi di pomodoro
Tomato Sauce I
adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook


2 pounds fresh, ripe plum tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar


1.  Cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise.  Cook in a covered saucepan at a steady simmer for 10 minutes.  Uncover and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours more.
2.  Puree the tomatoes through a food mill into a bowl.  Discard the seeds and skin.
3.  Rinse and dry the saucepan.  Put in the olive oil, then add the chopped onion, and lightly saute over medium heat until just translucent, not browned.  Add the carrot and celery and saute for another minute.  Add the pureed tomato, the salt, and the sugar, and cook at a gently simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Stir from time to time while cooking.

Serves 4 as a main course


Toadstool Village





Yesterday, as I left the house with Harry and Charlie for their afternoon walk, we ran into our next door neighbor who commented on our mushroom garden.

I looked over to where she was gesturing and gasped. 




Overnight a toadstool village sprang up from the previous day's heavy rain!



 
I felt so grateful because I likely would have missed it in the front corner of our yard.  These mushroom were a perfect subject for a photo prompt on texture.




 It was one of those moments of synchronicity where everything fits together and gets delivered to your door. 

Getting Comfortable





The self-portrait above was a response to a photo prompt.  

The funny thing is that it wasn't until I spent a considerable amount of time setting the self-timer on my camera placed at the end of the table and running back to my chair and posing, that I realized that I had missed the point entirely.

The context of the prompt was a seasonal one: to include a few details giving clues to autumn.  To make yourself comfortable, say on the couch or in an armchair, with a mug of tea and a bowl of popcorn.  Think about what texture and camera angles can convey...Now, popcorn may not be my quintessential autumnal snack, but no matter, it could be an apple, apple pie, a cider donut.

I seized on the get comfortable part and tried to be natural about it.  I log very little couch time, and never by day.  Occasionally, on a weekend, I grab an hour with a glass of wine and a book if Mr. Savory is cooking dinner.

But up there in that photo is me in my spot at the kitchen table.  I suppose it is where I am most comfortable, not necessarily physically, but creatively.  And while that capture was posed, it looks completely natural and familiar to me.  I habitually sit right there, with my Moleskine, clutching my coffee.

This prompt got me thinking about being comfortable.  Somehow, through culture or being a list-maker, I've taken to equating being comfortable with laziness or relaxation.  What you do in your down time.

But really, they are not the same thing.  Being comfortable can be making sure you are not hot or cold, hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction.  It can mean wearing clothes that make you feel confident or support your activity for the day, not tight or baggy, nor shoes that give you blisters.

It can mean preparing food that nourishes you in the season, and consuming enough but not so much that your stomach hurts.  

I think it's time for me to take a seat in my living room, on the couch or in that armchair we picked up by the curb and had new springs put in.  When it's daylight.  Thirty minutes to read or knit.

 A few years ago, Olivia and I took needlework outings, where we went to our local yarn store and sat upstairs in their comfy seating area.  I brought my knitting and she her needlepoint.  I commented one day to the shop owner how I never knit at home during the day, only on the couch in the evenings.  She understood and said, "I know, that guilty pleasure, right?"

Maybe October is my month to explore getting comfortable.  Tease apart the notion that it means I'm a slouch. I'll be back later, in a new pose, with my camera and a snack.


Golden





The leaves are still strongly attached to their branches in our parts.  Little by little, though, if you look carefully, the tops of the trees are turning, and a few leaves scatter the ground.

This could have more to do with the fact that we've had two days of rain this month.  Nearly every day has boasted blue skies and warm, sunny days.


 

I spent the weekend clearing out, changing over closets, ordering boots.  We ate lunches outside on the patio, and I planted the last of the lettuce seeds until spring.  I bought a watermelon and two pints of raspberries at the farmer's market. 

Our pumpkin sits fat and whole on the porch.  Olivia and a friend discussed Halloween costumes while they helped me make brownies.

The Phillies played their last game of the season, and we ate dinner while watching Sunday night football. 

I could stay in this half and half place a long time.  It feels leisurely, a stretching out of time before we're really in the rustling and simmering.  I have time to prepare.


Writing Exercises





Last night Mr. Savory woke me talking in his sleep.  I was up for a while once I listened to his non-discernible chatter, thinking about everything from what shoes I need for my fall wardrobe, to what to make for dinner tonight, to eventually wondering what I was going to write about today.

I decided I would start some of the writing exercises from a memoir writing book Mr. Savory gave me for my birthday.  I thought I would share the first ones with you.

OneA designated space.  I am lucky; I already have such a place.  As I have mentioned before, it's the kitchen table.  The pumpkin and flowers above are my view this morning. 

TwoA designated time to read.  The authors provide a great list, some of the selections I already have and read years ago.  They suggest setting aside enough time to get through one book a week.  I decided to make it easy and economical for myself, so I went upstairs and grabbed the first memoir I found from the list.  Tender At The Bone was facing out, waiting for me.  Easy.

ThreeA writing circle.  I don't have one yet.  However, I do have a writing partner, or let's just say an editor:  Mr. Savory.  I have yet to reciprocate.

FourA writing schedule.  I do have one.  I cheat sometimes, but for the most part it is two hours a day, Monday to Friday.  If I work ahead, I get a morning off to do something else.  If I fall behind, such as a day spent at jury duty, I have to make up the time.  Blogging counts, as does journal writing.  Uploading a photo or two works as a warm-up and is a good way to get a story started.

FiveFirst lines.  I love this one, and I once wrote about my all-time favorite.  This is two-part:  compile a list of twenty or thirty first lines that grab you; then, make a list from your own work.  I'll leave you today with the first line from Tender At The Bone, just because it is here in front of me.

"This is a true story."

Ms. Reichl warns us.  And recalling some of the stories she has to tell, I can see why she did.



Fog and Mist: San Francisco

 

Surfers and The Golden Gate


View of the street from Ocean Beach
 

On The Golden Gate

 
Looking Out After Crossing The Golden Gate


San Francisco from The Other Side of The Golden Gate





Released





I served my one day of jury duty yesterday.  I spent my morning on a panel for a criminal case.  After questioning, I was sent back downstairs, told to go to lunch for an hour and report back.  After my Chinese lunch, I took a seat in the main room, only to be handed my $9.00 check and released until the next time I am called, perhaps in a year.

As I made my way down the stairs of the train station to return home, I was overwhelmed by the need to bake something.  To work with my hands in a familiar environment.  Walk in my garden, pick flowers for my table with the dogs at my side.  To find color and warmth.


 The Criminal Justice Center environment disturbs me on so many levels.  There's the good, at least let's hope, and then there's the sordid, the ugly, the pathetic.  I sat in a small room with total strangers for two hours, while one by one we were taken into the courtroom for questioning.  Everyone is complaining.  No one wants to get picked.  I am fearful some may be untruthful in attempt to dodge the responsibility.  Two point out that at least we live in a country where it's possible to be given a trial.

In that little room there was a table top artificial Christmas tree, fully decorated. It's September 18th, at this point it may as well remain; a couple more months, and it will be the season.  That bit of decoration lent nothing but strangeness to the sterile, colorless place.

But you can tell, this environment makes people want to talk because there is nothing else encouraging you to feel human and alive.  We would have been a chatty bunch after four days together, the expected duration of this trial.  

Lucky me, I came home in time to pick Olivia up at school at the regular time.  I kicked off my flats, walked barefoot in the garden, picking flowers, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, and eggplant.  I made cornbread to go with a vegetable soup for dinner.  This morning we toasted leftover cornbread for breakfast. 
 
Today I am home, sitting at my kitchen table writing, with sunshine pouring in, flowers on the table, one dog outside, the other one sleeping on the couch.  My sourdough starter is fed and is on it's way to becoming bread dough.

My good fortune at being released is ultimately about being spared stories of gun violence and kids, and the burden of deciding the fate of two young individuals.  Instead I sit in sunshine, in the company of snoozing dogs.


Buttermilk Cornbread


1 1/2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
3 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt  and sift well.  Beat the buttermilk and eggs together with 3 tablespoons of the melted butter.

Brush a 9-inch cake pan with the remaining melted butter and preheat in the oven for 5 minutes.  Combine the liquid and dry ingredients, and stir until just mixed.  Pour into the hot pan and bake 30 minutes in middle level of oven.  When done, it will be golden brown and the cake will have pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Serves 8 generously.

Walking Chinatown: San Francisco




 Like so many tourists before us, we spent a morning touring San Francisco's Chinatown. 

 

 These are a few collected shots of this colorful and vibrant neighborhood.

 

These last two are hard to read, but I loved the messages on some of these stones in Jack Kerouac Alley.







The Signs Tell You





A short walk from our Cape May rental house is a tiny community garden lushly planted and curated with a mulched pathway.  Those who tend have kindly offered guides to what is planted.  It is a shady retreat from the relentlessly sunny sidewalks along Madison Avenue.



 I am rather taken with the signs.  They are charming yet helpful indicators of what one might find along the way.  

Right now, today, I wish for my own little metaphorical garden to have such signage.  Brightly colored ones amidst the greenery that would show me the way, with arrows pointing to which photography or writing class is right for me at present.  Which cookbooks I might learn most from.  What direction to take my dog training.

How bold am I now in regards to wading through my grief?

 


Every day recently, a writer, photographer, blogger, I follow, links to a class or course being offered.  Soon!  Registration is open!  I have spent considerable time checking each one out.  Each teacher offers inspiration or new sets of skills to learn.  Most are e-courses, available through a series of clicks with credit card at the ready.  Some are highly interactive, some are self-paced and more solitary, with support available.  The two that nailed me in between the eyes are in real time and place, on separate weekends, mornings only, six-plus hours away...

Do I want to sign myself up for something that offers to take me way deep, or do I want to stay closer to the surface and learn in comfort?  Do I want to be immersed, consumed, or is it best to make sure I have ample space for a little of everything?

I could and desperately want to ask you your opinion.  What do you think I should choose?  But most likely, you would say it depends, it depends on what you want, what you are looking for.  All the choices look promising, don't they?










A New Place





Every year we find someplace new to try, even if that someplace is not the slightest bit new.

 

This year, one such place was dinner at The Rusty Nail.  It's part of the Beach Shack hotel on Beach Avenue, and we have driven by it for years.  Our thought was that it was a twenty-something bar scene.  Certainly not for the likes of our small crowd.



 But another parent who spends the summers in Cape May recommended it, and with two thirteen year olds, we gave it a whirl.  My clams were the best of the trip and our service was everything it should be.  It's even dog-friendly, although we did not put that experience to the test!



A Vineyard Sunday




These photos are from our afternoon at Hawk Haven Winery earlier in the summer.  

 

During the summer months the winery hosts Sangria Sundays, an afternoon of music, lawn games, and sangria drinking.   We always pick one sunday to stop by, do a wine tasting, and sit a while sipping a red or white sangria.




It's one of our favorite Cape May afternoons, and as we work our way through our purchased case of wine during the year, each sip brings us back to this scene.

Waiting For Bread





Our annual two weeks in Cape May is not complete without several visits to Elizabeth's clay oven baked bread stand. I was happily surprised to find that last winter she built the structure you see above.





I wrote about my visits last summer in the post, Knowing The Baker.


checkerboard

I keep myself entertained while waiting in line by taking photos of the scene!







playing checkers

You will find Elizabeth selling her clay oven baked breads on Sunset Boulevard in Cape May on weekend mornings.  Her schedule changes at different points in the season.

The rosemary thyme bread remains my favorite, with the sage and polenta loaf coming in as a close second.





The End Of The Day




These days, in late afternoon, the sun streams onto my kitchen table and illuminates the windowsill near the patio.



 The light is more golden than what spills in while I eat my breakfast and sit at the table and write.



 The arrangements vary slightly, too, as at some point during all those hours I have gone out into the garden and cut what blossoms are in their prime.  I add them in, take what is wilted out, and freshen the water.




It feels good to pause and take notice after one phase of rushing ends for the day and before the next begins:  dinner, dog walking, bedtime routines.