Friday, September 30, 2011

Kid Stewed With Potatoes

No, I'm not recommending you eat your children - although I hear they can be tasty. An unexpected gift of goat meat today sent me to my cookbook collection to find recipes, and well, I couldn't resist sharing this one with you. With a name like this, it's just got to be fabulous.

Kid Stewed With Potatoes
from My Bombay Kitchen, Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking
by Niloufer Ichaporia King

Kid papeta ma gos is a dish for festive occasions like weddings; meat braised with fried potatoes is enriched and thickened with milk from a cow or a coconut. This is a dish to convert people who think Indian food is not for them. It proves that "spiciness" has little to do with how hot something turns out. It is truly meat and potatoes in excelsis. The method is essentially the same as for a simpler braised meat, kharu gos (see above). Accompany this with a bright green vegetable. Serves 6 to 8.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds well-trimmed cubed shoulder or leg of kid; or lamb, stewing veal, or boneless chicken thigh meat; or 4 to 6 lamb shanks, sawn in halves or thirds
2 teaspoons Ginger-Garlic Paste (see below)
6 tablespoons ghee
6 to 8 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
2 to 3 dried red chiles
2 (2-inch-long) sticks cinnamon or cassia
4 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped or sliced
4 to 5 cups rich milk, half-and-half, or coconut milk 
1 teaspoon (or more) salt
Sprigs or whole leaves of fresh coriander (cilantro), for garnish

Rub the meat with the paste and let it sit for at least half an hour.
Heat half the ghee in a heavy skillet or pan or medium-high heat. Fry the potatoes until they get a golden skin. Remove them from the pan and set aside. In a Dutch oven, heat the remaining ghee. Sizzle the chiles, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin seeds for a minute before quickly the adding the onion. Lower the heat and let the onion soften and begin to brown for a few minutes. Add the meat, tossing it constantly so that it colors without burning or sticking to the pan. Add splashes of water as necessary to keep things from sticking.
Pour. in enough milk to come up to the top of the meat without flooding it. Add about 1 teaspoon salt for a start. Bring the liquid to a boil; lower the heat, cover, and let the meat simmer gently until it's tender but not in shreds, which will take at least 45 minutes for kid or lamb, an hour for veal, and less than half an hour for chicken. Lamb shanks will take about 1 1/2 hours. Halfway through the cooking, add the fried potatoes. the milk will cook down into a thick, curdy gravy. If you want a smooth sauce, remove the whole cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves before giving the cooking liquid a few pulses in a blender or food processor, then return it to the pan.
Serve garnished with the fresh coriander.

Ginger-Garlic Paste
Every Parsi household must have its supply of this paste. In households where there is a grinding stone and a person to do the work, it is prepared every morning, along with the other pastes needed for the day's menus. the preparation of pastes is now more often done in an electric wet-dry grinder, which can almost duplicate the smooth texture produced on a stone. Fortunately, Ginger Garlic Paste can also be easily prepared in a food processor. It keeps well for up to two weeks refrigerated, and even longer in the freezer. Or if you're in a rush, you can combine equal quantities of very finely chopped or grated peeled fresh ginger and garlic, just as much as you need for the recipe. Makes about 1 cup.

About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled fresh ginger (about 4 ounces)
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped peeled cloves garlic
About 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
Vegetable Oil

In a wet-dry grinder or food processor, grind the ginger and garlic to a smooth paste, using as little water as possible. Add the salt if you plan on storing the paste. Pack it into a small, tightly covered jar with a nonreactive lining to the lid. Pour a thin film of oil on top of the paste. Store in the refrigerator.

Note: Ginger-garlic paste is now commercially available, both in India and in the United States. It's a good idea to look at the ingredients before you buy any. I like Poojiaji's for emergencies because it is preserved with small amounts of vinegar and salt rather than additives with a metallic aftertaste. Of course, nothing is as good as a paste ground at home.

Tiger Matches

She left the box of matches by his bed. It was absent minded to leave such a thing behind. Because she liked the little box. She had purchased it in Bombay, and when she used up all the yellow headed matches, she refilled the box with red headed ones, the kind you get in the grocery store, 100 for fifty cents. The red headed smelled different from the Bombay matches, which smelled almost of burning metal. Perhaps the Bombay matches were made of lethal chemicals.
But as she walked home in the five a.m. rain, she cursed herself. The tiger had been a good talisman  . . . he was a regal soul, who ever painted him was thrifty with stripes, and often, she wondered, why save the stripes? A tiger with such a Roman nose and extra long tail certainly deserves a few more stripes. What he lacked in stripes he made up for with a jeweled collar - rubies stolen from a prince in Kashmir she told herself. The prince foolishly rode his father's horse into the jungle one night - he was a brooding prince and why? Because he missed the elephant and why did he miss the elephant? Nobody would know, because the tiger met the prince and sat back on his haunches and held up his paw and made the most terrible face with all of his yellow teeth bared and this frightened the king's horse so terribly that he whirled and ran, but the foolish and brooding prince was unable to stay in the saddle and he came down like a stone in the path to face the tiger. The tiger was surprised by his good fortune to have such a cowardly horse present him with a prince wearing so many rubies. The rubies were sewn into the boy's saffron vest. The tiger quickly ate the boy and carried the vest back to his lair where he asked his good friend, spider monkey, to fashion him a collar of the burnished silk and the rubies.
She stopped in the diner before going home and ordered a pot of tea. "You want something with that honey? A bagel?"
"No thank you, just the tea please."
Her phone rang. She fished in her evening bag and found the phone glowing blue and singing at the bottom, next to the lipstick she decided was too wine colored for her complexion and a five dollar bill, "Hello?"
"You left a little box here, it has a tiger on it."
"Yes, I know."
"Do you want me to bring it over?"
"No, you keep it."
"Oh . . . I thought."
"I know what you thought. I simply forgot it. Nothing to it."
"So . . . "
"So give it to her, when she gets home."
"Your wife."
"But . . . "
She turned off the phone and put it back in the bag. The waitress came with the tea. "You want cream and sugar?"
"No thank you. Say . . . " She reached into her eveing bag again and produced the lipstick, "I think this color would look fabulous on you." The waitress took the silver tube and opened it.
"Ruby red? Are you sure? Looks expensive."
"It is. It's just right for you."
"Thanks honey. No charge for the tea. It's on me."

When You Wash The Rice . . .

When you wash the rice, wash the rice; when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots; when you stir the soup, stir the soup.

Joseph Conrad says . . .

I need not tell you what it is to be knocking about in an open boat. I remember nights and days of calm, when we pulled, we pulled, and the boat seemed to stand still, as if bewitched within the circle of the sea horizon. I remember the heat, the deluge of rain-squalls that kept us baling for dear life (but filled our water cask), and I remember sixteen hours on end with a mouth dry as cinder and a steering oar over the stern to keep my first command head on to a breaking sea. I did not know how good a man I was till then. I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back anymore--the feeling that will never come back anymore--the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort--to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires--and expires, too soon, too soon--before life itself.

And this is how I see the East. I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset. I have the feel of the oar in my hand, the vision of a scorching blue sea in my eyes. And I see a bay, a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark. A red light burns far off upon the gloom of the land, and the night is soft and warm. We drag at the oars with aching arms, and suddenly a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid and laden with strange odors blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night--the first sigh of the East on my face. That I can never forget. It was impalpable and enslaving, like a charm, like a whispered promise of mysterious delight.

from Joseph Conrad's story YOUTH (1898)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From The Department of Living Vicariously

Imagine you couldn’t eat. That the only way your body could get it’s daily nutrition was through a tube connected to your stomach through your belly. And you live your days in a wheel chair because of a head injury you received many years ago. But you’re vibrant despite the injury. You still make jokes and you’re still interested in the world around you. And you used to like to cook. But you live in a group home now, with other men who by the misfortune of gravity or summer’s heat or a stroke or a drug overdose have to depend on a staff of many to get through every day. You got through Vietnam, you had a family, but gravity caught up with you one day while working on the side of a highway, and now you make the best of a rotten deal.

So how do you still enjoy food if you can’t have it anymore? Easy - you ask other people what they are eating.

So every Thursday, after I assist with Mario’s hippotherapy class, R. arrives. And he’s a chatter box, we all have to resist his questions while helping him up on his horse and into the saddle. We have to be quiet to get the ride underway.
R. is allowed to ask us questions when we halt. But once we are walking, he has to be quiet. Ask R. how he feels on the horse today and he answers very honestly, “Like a wishbone!” R. is stiff from sitting in a wheel chair all the time and getting his legs around a western saddle on a 15.3 hand horse is a big undertaking. And there’s the fear that he fights - he's courageous to let us put him up on a horse, really. We get him to breathe, to loosen his legs, to meditate on the movement of the horse as we go around the ring. And then we halt and the questions start, R. asks the same questions every week, “Did you cook last night?” If the answer is yes, “Wad you cook?” Today I told him I grilled steaks and made a Waldorf salad with two kinds of apple to go with the meat.
R. didn’t care about the salad, but he wanted to know all about the steak, “Did you baste it? In butter?”

“No, I marinated it.”

“Wad you marinate it in?”


“How long did you cook it?”

“Not long, my husband likes his steak bloody rare.”

Later in the session, R. stands in the stirrups while walking for a long period of time. This is a big success, a physical triumph. When he sits back down in the saddle, he asks, “Wad do I get?”

Mary Beth jokes, “Maybe we can push a cookie through that tube . . . ”

“Make it Oatmeal Raisin” says R.

But then Mary Beth thinks and changes her mind, “Hmmm, R. that might not be a good idea though, the cookie might clog up the tube.”

R. is not faised. The thought of cookies bring on more questions, he looks at Mary Beth, “Wads your favorite cookie?”

“Chocolate Chip.”

Then he looks at me, “Wads your favorite cookie?”

“Oh Chocolate Chip. Definitely.”

Then he looks at Alecia, his side walker, “Wad your favorite cookie?”

“Chocolate Chip!”

R. pets his horse and says, “Wad about Fig Newtons?”

Mary Beth doesn’t like Fig Newtons, and I admit I’ll eat Fig Newtons if they are around. There’s some flutter about Oreos - Mary Beth doesn’t like those either, and I say Hydrox are better than Oreos, cause they aren’t as sugary.

A couple of weeks ago R. asked me what I cooked for dinner the night before, I told him Salmon. He told me to put lots of butter on it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pigs & Halos

So today, I'm sitting at the light on Highway 57 and instead of watching for the light to turn, I look up and I see a double halo of contrails round a traveling thunderhead and, well, that was the thing that cured me of my latest sadness . . .

and then, I was filling up the truck with gas and while I'm leaning on the truck watching the black men talk at the end of the day in their blue work shirts, I see the pig truck coming pretty fast up 86 and it hits that right-hand bending turn onto 70 going maybe a little too fast and I see all the pink sides of the pigs in the trailer suddenly press up against the round cutouts in the steel of the truck, they press so hard with the g-force of the turn that their skin bulges through the openings and I swear I could see their long white hairs and they all squealed - yes they squealed, loud, and so loud that everyone at the gas station turned and went quiet and we listened to the pigs holler round the corner and for that instant, I think we all swore off ham and bacon, but the pig truck straightened out and the pigs fell away from the sides of the truck and all that remained of them was that piggy smell, an invisible cloud of pig shit stench, and some diesel exhaust went from black to grey to a white mist that mixed with the faded contrail halo and everyone went back to what they were doing before the pigs made their brief presence known.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sometimes . . .

i feel like i'm just chasing my tail . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

If you live near Chapel Hill, or if you are planning to visit the area, don't miss this wonderful Indian restaurant. I took my husband out for his birthday dinner to Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe last night and we swooned over the samosas and ooooed and ahhhed over the tandoori chicken as we sat under the misty sky and little lights stitched into the crooked garden trees of the old abandoned courtyard hidden away from the confused airs of UNC's dilapidated Franklin Street. A boy played Spanish guitar and the rain waited for us to finish our lovely supper. Vimala's is the hope of Chapel Hill's food scene - she supports Food For All and her kitchen just oozes with calm confidence and breathtaking meals. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Red Lights and Old Ladies

Most of the time, you're sitting at a red light and nothing happens, it turns green and you go on your way. But sometimes, things happen . . .

I was making my way home the other day and found myself sitting at the head of the line at the big, busy intersection of highway 70 and highway 86, just north of downtown Hillsborough. My mind was making a small grocery list, it was noontime, and there was a lot of things I had to do after lunch. But all that was swept from my mind when the light turned green.

I hesitated to take my foot off the break and hit the gas, because I noticed two big black guys jump out of the tow truck they were riding in - they were stopped behind a small silver sedan headed north on 70, I was headed south on 86. I watched the men as they chased the little car that was rolling through the intersection against the red light it had just been given. It wasn't being driven, it was rolling. And it's driver was slumped over the wheel. This realization filled me with all sorts of questions and horror. I watched as one of the men bravely stood in the intersection and put up his hands to stop any traffic from proceeding. His cohort ran after the car now gliding along at a good clip, maybe ten or fifteen miles an hour. I held my breath as he reached the driver side door and tried to open it, it was locked. He ran along side and pounded on the window. Was the driver dead? The car held a straight line. Cars were coming from all directions completely unaware of the little runaway car. What would happen next? It was terrifying to watch.

Horns began to blow. The people behind me were furious at me. Why wasn't I going? The third man in the tow truck, the one at the wheel now positioned the truck in the intersection to aid his friend who was trying to stop traffic. More horns blew. I turned just in time to see the little sedan jerk to one side and enter the parking lot on the right of 86 - the driver was conscious! The thumping fists of the man running along side raised her from her dreams.

I drove through the intersection and swerved into the parking lot. The three black men from the tow truck were running to the little car. I rolled down my window and called to them, "Is she okay? Shall I call 911?"
"We don't know, please come talk to her!" They needed a woman to help them now. I stopped my truck and jumped out. "She's confused, will you talk to her?" I went to the passenger window of the car which was rolled half way down. There at the wheel sat a portly elderly woman huffing and puffing. I would come to find out her name was Mary Alice and she was 80 years old.
"M'am, are you alright? Do you need us to call an ambulance?" I asked her, and then I looked at the men, they were all out of breath too. We were in shock. And the traffic out on the road behaved as though nothing had occurred.
"I'm wide awake now, wide awake. I haven't had anything to eat." She gripped the steering wheel hard with both hands.
"She's got Ohio plates, did she come all the way from Ohio all by herself?" asked the youngest of the three men, tall and built right, like a quarterback.
"M'am? Are you traveling? From Ohio?"
"No, no, I'm from Mebane. I was coming from the hospital."
"The hospital?"
"Yes," she took another deep breath, "I haven't had anything to eat. I had an MRI."
"Were you on the highway? On 40?"
"Yes, and I didn't feel well so I got off and heeeere I am. I must have fallen asleep. But I'm awake now, thank you, thanks to all of you. I will just drive home now." She started up the little car. I looked at the men and we all shook our heads in agreement.
"M'am, there's a hamburger place right here, we want to buy you some food, it's not safe for you to keep going with no food." We all leaned closer to the car, ready to stop it if she tried to drive away. "Please," I pleaded with her, "stay here with us and have some lunch. We want to make sure you're okay."
"Oh, that's alright, you all go on, I'll be okay." She continued to grip the steering wheel and the older man, the man who had been driving the tow truck insisted she park the car and let us buy her some food. She gave in and we pooled our money. The small man, the one who had chased her car and thought so quickly to bang on her windows would order her food. She swung the car around and parked it next to the Highway 70 Burger Grill. The red neon light buzzed over the sound of the sun and the panic that still rested in our guts. The older man asked her what she wanted to eat, "What can we get you?" She sat back in her car seat now, color was returning to her cheeks, she undid her seat belt, "Just a soda and some potato chips," she answered. He looked at me and I tried to get her to have more, "What about something hot? A hamburger?" And suddenly I felt like my grandmother, who's answer to any ailment was a hamburger - bad day at school? Have a hamburger. Fall off your pony? Have a hamburger. Sad because of a pimple? Have a hamburger.  Mary Alice decided on French Fries and a Diet Coke. We wanted her to eat more, but we had gotten her this far, and at least I could ask her questions. I began firing questions at her, my phone still in my hand ready to call 911. "So you were in the hospital?"
"Yes, had an MRI this morning at 7:30. Been up since 5:30. I couldn't eat. They won't let you eat, you know. I had to drink that stuff, a big big cup of it . . . "
"Barium - they made you drink barium. I know about that. It's awful stuff. Makes yer insides glow."
"Is that what it does? Gracious. Haven't had anything to eat since last night."
"And they let you leave? Without eating?"
"I'll never do that again. Next time I'll have my neighbor drive me."
"So yer from Ohio?"
"Oh yes. My sons still live there." And then she confided in me, or at least lowered her voice in that confiding sorta way, "The car belongs to my sons. That's why it's got Ohio plates. They bought me the car. They told me, "Ma, we want you to have a nice car. But don't get into any trouble or we'll have to take it away. If they found out about this they'd ground me for sure. Oh boy, I learned my lesson."
"So you were on i40 coming from the hospital?" I repeated questions, I wanted to make sure she was telling me the truth. She was and she was clear as a bell. I put my phone in my pocket and began to relax. The tall young guy walked over, "So she's not from Ohio?" I explained she lived here, but she used to live in Ohio and she piped up, "I'm eighty years old. I used to live in Ohio, near the Pennsylvania boarder, near Erie, Pennsylvania. I came down here for a visit with a friend and I liked it so much I stayed."

"I was just up there M'am. Near Erie and round the woods in Ohio." The young man brightened up, "I was up there with my hounds. I hunt coon dogs. We went up there for a trial. Took 77, do you drive 77?"
"Oh my sons drive me now, when I go for long trips like that. They won't let me visit without coming to get me. One of my sons is a truck driver."

The young man looked at me, "Hey, don't you ride horses?" I was completely surprised. Although I was wearing my paddock boots, but, how did he know?

"Yes, yes I ride."
"Weren't you with that man who's horse fell out of the trailer?"
"Um, what? No, gosh, no. " I had visions of another disaster on the road.
"But I know I've seen you riding your horse. Up there on Schley?"
"Well, yeah. But how?"
"I helped bale some hay up there, maybe you rode by?"
 "I guess I did. That must be it." The french fries and the soda came and I wanted to ask the young man about his coon dogs, but we all sat there and watched Mary Alice drink her soda and eat her fries - she belonged to us in that moment, she didn't know it, but she did, and we weren't putting her back on the road until she ate the food we got her. The old man took me aside, "Shouldn't we call her family?"
"She said they'll take her car away. I don't want to get her in trouble."
"Me neither, I think she's learned her lesson."
"M'am, will you give me your phone number so I can call you later? To make sure you got home alright?"
"Yes, that would okay."
She gave me her number and told me to let it ring several times. She started up the car and we watched her drive away. It was a risk perhaps, but who were we to keep her? Of course, questions ran through my head all afternoon - what was the MRI for? Was it related to her passing out at the wheel? Would she pass out again? I reassured myself that she passed out from hunger, not from something more serious. I thought about calling the hospital - how could they let her leave with no food? But again, I didn't want to get her in trouble. I didn't want to intrude into her life too much. Some might say it was my duty to intrude. I remember how hard it was to tell my grandfather not to drive on the highway anymore. He was 95 years old. The state of Connecticut renewed his driver's license when he was 93 - with an expiration date that carried him till he was 98, so they were no help in discouraging him from taking to the road. He promised me not to drive on the highway, only the secondary roads, which was risky enough. A week later I got a call from a friend who knew we had told Pop to stay off the highway, "Saw Tommy on I95 near Stamford today. He was going 35 in the right hand lane!" I called Pop that night, "Pop, I've got spies and you're busted! Stay off the highway." He cursed me, but he stayed off the highways. I didn't worry so much about him. I worried about him wiping out a family. And so I regretted not getting another number from Mary Alice, her sons' numbers, but she's only 80, I want to believe that she's too young to lose her right to drive, to lose her freedom. In this world of rules and laws, I didn't want to be the one to narc on her, I want to believe that she learned her lesson. Aren't old ladies entitled to a second chance? Isn't a woman who gave birth to three sons entitled to a secret? And yet there's a part of me that worries, I'm a worrier, it's my core really.
I called her number an hour later. She answered the phone, "If I sound funny young lady, it's because my mouth is full. I've been eating ever since I got home."
"I'm glad yer home Mary Alice."
"Me too. I am going to thank God for all of you in my prayers when I go to sleep tonight."
Many years ago I decided that when I reach the age that Mary Alice has reached, I will live somewhere that requires no car - Mexico perhaps, Argentina better yet - I will drive a pony and cart to town, or a motorcycle maybe, and last resort, a large tricycle with a basket for my groceries. I don't want to be old in America, especially old and alone, it's my greatest fear, because this country is so terribly mean to old people, terribly terribly mean.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mixin' It Up

Pit Bulls rule the genetic make-up of most dogs in our shelters now - potential adopters are told “This is a Lab mix, and this is a Beagle mix, and this is a Poodle mix.” The shelters never say, “This is a Pit Bull mix.” My Pansy with the magic foot, that’s the Basset in her,  has pit in her, and it comes out every once in a while in a funny way; she loves to play rough and Boogie obliges, he's twice her size, but if he messes with her bad foot, she squeaks and then goes into a mini rage - but she always catches herself, right at the precipice, she never goes full nuclear, the Basset genes prevail. And she never goes there with Luna because Luna tried to kill her the first week she arrived - Luna went nuclear over a carrot! That's the Fox Hound raised with 80 other Fox Hounds part of Luna, it's not a pretty sight - but she keeps Pansy in check. Poor Boogie, he doesn't have a mean bone in him, he's the gentle giant.

Boogie and I were walking on Sunday afternoon, we have this great 4 mile route we do from our driveway onto a loop road that's mostly rural. Never had any encounters with loose dogs on the road until this walk - there was though, the winter’s day when the albino Pit Bull, that usually lives in a pen at the edge of a soybean plot and mournfully calls to us sometimes, dragged her little boy at the other end of her chain all the way to the street to greet us, it was a frightening sight, but tails were wagging as soon as she reached us, and the boy was unhurt, only embarrassed.

But on this road we pass a family compound that sits on the hill in a grove of mimosa and catalpa trees, right before you get to the 7 Mile Creek bridge - four neatly kept homes, two on each side of the street, all one black family. One of the homes has a Boxer, big beautiful fellow that usually barks at us from the living room window of one of the houses. Well, on Sunday, the driveway was full of cars, they were obviously having a supper gathering after church, and so the Boxer was out in the yard, loose and looking for trouble, and he came barreling out of the yard, hackles up, barking, and thank goodness I had a strong harness on Boogie, all 95 pounds of him, I put myself between Boog and the Boxer, and stomped my foot and hollered "GO HOME!" which means nothing to dogs these days, didn’t everyone used to teach their dogs GO HOME in the old days? But it sounded good at this moment, and you know what? It stopped the Boxer, but then he stood there weighing his options, and Boogie was like, "Mom, let me at 'im" and my good dog turned into guard dog.

So Boogie's barking, using his squirrel-treeing voice, it’s not a bark, it’s a singing, cause he’s really mostly Red Bone you know, no Pit Bull in him, and the Boxer starts trying to get around me to get to Boogie and I'm dancing between them yelling GO HOME over and over and over, while Boogie is singing “Wo Wo Wo” and all I'm thinking is don't let them touch each other, if they touch, the sparks will fly, and then the fight will begin. So Nobody comes out of the house, and I'm yelling at the Boxer and finally I stomp my foot at him so close to his front paws that he turns tail and retreats to the edge of his lawn. Now the old black folks across the street come out on their porch and then the grand kids come out, and you know they're thinking What's Wrong With That White Lady? Cause the Boxer is standing safely in his yard now, just wagging that stump of a tail of his.  Finally the owner of the Boxer comes out on her porch and calls it inside, Get In Here and Don’t Mind That Crazy White Lady and good dog that the Boxer is, it runs straight in the house, which makes me say, “Thank You” very loud and nothing else, cause everyone is looking at me like I'm nuts - oh well. I don't think Boogie and I will walk by there on Sunday afternoons any more - Sunday morning when they're in are church will be just fine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's The Night Before The Blondie Concert Curry

Yes, Wolfy will be fulfilling her lifelong musical dream tomorrow night - she's going to see Blondie in concert! But tonight she has to eat something delicious and have leftovers, so her husband has something to eat while Wolfy runs off to the big city to see Deborah Harry.

Okay, here it is, it's cooking now, I made it up, so don't give me a hard time if it doesn't work for you . . .

4 Chicken thighs, with skin, with bone, c'mon! This is Blondie Curry!
1 Medium Cauliflower, broken up into small florets
1 Onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
4 generous tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
a 1 inch piece of ginger minced
two garlic cloves minced
generous teaspoon onion seeds
generous teaspoon cumin seeds
generous teaspoon tumeric
generous teaspoon coriander
half teaspoon cayenne pepper
one minced green chili
sea salt to taste
one can coconut milk, full fat, you know, this is Punk Music!

Brown the chicken thighs in two tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided skillet.
Remove the chicken and set aside. Pour off the excess fat or not, it's up to you.
Add two more generous tablespoons of oil (if you kept the fat, don't).
On a medium burner, add onion seeds and cumin seeds to the oil.
When the onion seeds start to pop (about a minute), add the onions.
Stir fry the onions til they soften, now add the chili, garlic and the ginger.
Stir fry another minute.
Add the tomatoes and the cauliflower.
Put the chicken thighs back in.
Stir fry two minutes.
Add the tumeric, coriander, cayenne, and salt.
Stir it up.
Shake up the can of coconut milk, open it and add to the curry mixture, bring it all to a simmer, turn down the heat, put a cover on it, leave a gap for steam, and keep simmering for 45 minutes, maybe an hour.

Serve with rice or warm pita bread or buttery couscous (see recipe in What's a Girl to Eat in Vermont Post of a few days ago).

Dreaming is free!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Home Economics

My washing machine has been broken for three weeks. It all started with a small leak, an annoying trickle from the door. The appliance man found a pucker in the door gasket and said he would need to order a new gasket. He returned in a week and replaced the gasket. It looked funny. The new gasket. But I trusted the appliance man and didn’t question this new gasket with the odd shape. That was four weeks ago. The machine worked for a few days, but it began to leak again. This time from the bottom. I called the appliance man. He said he would come back. I continued to use the machine, because well, it was only a trickle. But then it flooded the basement, there was water everywhere. The man came and found a huge tear in the new fangled gasket, “Well there’s yer problem.” But it wasn’t the real problem. He ordered another gasket and called us, “They sent us the wrong gasket.” Yes, yes they did. Well the new, proper gasket was delivered to the appliance man last week. But you know what? He put his back out. He’s on bed rest for the next 14 days. A substitute man was supposed to come this morning. He never came. I called. “Oh, Miss Wooooolfffff . . . we are so sorry. You have been more than patient. We will be there tomorrow, not today, so sorry.” And so the laundry pile grows and grows, despite my going to the laundromat on Saturday where I sat and listened to that lonely house wife talk about how overwhelmed she was with all the clutter in her house - My husband says it’s time to throw away Mary Lynn’s stuffed animals, but each one is very special to her, they each have a name, she keeps them on a special shelf in her bedroom. He says he don’t understand, they just sit on that shelf, don’t they? But Mary Lynn says she talks to them at night - late at night while we’re sleeping. So he’s at home right now putting the summer clothes away and bringing out the sweaters and he says he’s going to throw some stuff away and I can’t look at the bags when I get home. I’m not allowed to look at the bags, cause I’ll pull stuff out, you know? Cause Mary Lynn’s pants might fit Dakota now, you know? I just get so I’m running around trying to put everything in it’s place, that’s what I do all day long, put things in their place, in their place, and so how can I throw it away if it’s got a place? I kept folding towels and remembering a laundromat I used to go to in Greensboro, where the man with the lazy eye carried your laundry basket for you, he wouldn’t let women carry laundry, said it was too heavy for us to carry. It infuriated me when he carried my laundry, I was a young strong girl. If I could carry my laundry up and down three flights of stairs in my apartment building, why couldn’t I carry it from my car into the laundromat? And now, I wish that man worked in the laundromat down the street, cause I would gladly let him carry my laundry, I mean, what if my washing machine never gets fixed? It’s a possibility you know . . .

Back in Junior High School, I had a Home Economics teacher named Mrs. King. She despised me. Really, she did. I tried very hard to make her happy - I cooked in her cooking class, I sewed in her sewing class, and I carefully cut out pictures of furniture in glossy magazines for her Interior Decorating class, but I was a failure in her view. The cooking class in 9th grade was the final blow. If my crooked pillows in sewing class hadn’t been enough proof that I would never measure up as a wife, then the cooking class sealed my fate - I would be a spinster for life, a starving spinster. The cooking class room was really kind of marvelous, it was a lab filled with mini kitchens, maybe five or six in a row, little galleys, very tidy and practical and workman like. I can’t imagine any public school having such a wonderful resource these days - who has time to cook in school now anyway, what with the end of the world coming. Mrs. King divided us in to groups for the semester. I was teamed with Tom and Rich, who were best friends and well, always stoned. Always. I was not very popular, not very cool, and to me, these two were about as cool as you could get. I had terrible crushes on both of them, but I never said two words when we cooked together, I was petrified. They were the class clowns, and because they were boys, King let them slide -- boys didn’t need to cook, why should boys cook? She probably fought vehemently for boys to be excluded from her Home Ec. classes, it wasn’t right to have boys sitting at sewing machines, it just wasn’t right. But then again, the girls took wood shop and metal shop - we were an Equal Opportunity Extravaganza.

Anyway, Tom and Rich came to every cooking class stoned. And there I’d be, doing most of the cooking, because I couldn’t fail cooking class, I was already failing Algebra and Chemistry, I wanted to get to high school somehow, so I would cook and they would tell jokes. If you think about it, this was the life lesson of Home Economics wasn’t it? Mrs. King would pace up and down, never saying a word until the end, when your recipe results was evaluated. All went pretty smoothly until the day when Tom and Rich actually wanted to help me cook. They came into class more baked than usual, perhaps someone’s big brother had gotten a shipment of Maui Wowie, and they insisted on doing the recipe. I cannot remember what it was we had to cook that day, but there were eggs involved and a mixer, perhaps it was a chocolate cake? God only knows, but whatever it was, it did not come close to being the thing that Mrs. King expected it to be at the end of the class and so there we were with this disaster on a plate and she pulled me aside and said, “You know, this is all your fault.” And I stuttered and tried to defend myself by saying Tom and Rick were cooking too, but she bore down on me with her mean blue eyes and finished me off for good, “You have an effect on people that makes them do everything wrong.” Tom and Rick were exonerated because I apparently had this cosmic power to make anyone within a few feet of me screw up. It wasn’t their screw up, it was mine, all mine. If Tom and Rick had heard her, I think one of them, at least, in their purple haze might have stood up for me, but she made certain they weren’t privy to her words. I had to take it like a woman, and I did, I swallowed her words silently like some awful medicine.

I can't remember a single thing I cooked in Mrs. King's class. I can't even remember the color of the crooked pillow I made in her sewing class. It wasn't until I went to work in Allan's Clam House that I began my culinary education. I watched the line cooks, all men, get through the Saturday night rushes behind a curtain of steam as I made salads and plates of clams on the half shell. I shucked oysters and cleaned soft shell crabs and mixed House Dressing just the way Wayne, the owner and head chef told me to. I sliced pies with a string and made hot fudge sundaes. I spent afternoons breading frogs legs in the way back of the kitchen with the sun pouring through the old windows. And when the frog legs were done, we made a vat of chocolate mouse and decanted it into small crystal desert dishes to be wrapped in cellophane and stacked in the pantry fridge. I washed pots and pans. I mopped the floors. And at the end of the night I smelled like everyone else in that kitchen - like a two day old fish wrapped in seaweed on a sandbar.

Can You Find This For Me?

Anybody? This was my most favorite book in the world when I was little - I read it over and over and over and wished to be Lilibet. I no longer have the book and damn the internet, it can't seem to come up with a copy for me . . . I would steal this book if I could find one, because it's that much a part of my psyche.

I'm Lilibet, and I have lots of horses.
"They're not your horses," says Leo. "They belong to the circus."
"That doesn't matter," I say. They're mine anyway."
Sometimes I get awfully angry with Leo. But I play with him everyday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

La Piscine

 Sun On The Pool by David Hockney
Summer is gone, and I swam exactly eight times - there were three afternoons spent in the quarry (two with a full cast on my left arm, so I spent most of the time in my big blue inner tube), one time in a pool, again with the cast, ,  twice in a pond in Vermont sans cast, sans everything, and once more, the last dip of the season, in an absolutely freezing cold river in Vermont, so I don’t think that one really counts, because I dove in, and exited so quickly that buoyancy was never achieved. I began the summer with a goal to swim often and to swim in places other than Connecticut, my usual swimming hole, and I achieved the second part of the goal, but the frequency was limited severely by the fact that I broke my hand in mid-June - plaster-a-paris and pond water don’t mix very well.

The busted fifth metacarpal drove me to swimming substitutes and one of those was watching films with swimming themes. I want to tell you about three.

The first film is The Swimmer, made in 1968, starring Burt Lancaster. I was so excited about seeing this film because it’s based on my favorite author John Cheever’s story of the same name. What a terrible disappointment. Burt Lancaster isn’t the problem, if anything, he is the only saving grace of a perfectly terrible adaptation of a perfect short story. Don’t see it. Read Cheever’s story instead.

That was brief, wasn’t it?

Next up, I want to compare two fabulous watery films: La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) made in 1969, starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and the young, and unbelievably vapid Jane Birkin, and 2004’s Swimming Pool with Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier.

Before you read on, this is your SPOILER WARNING.

Both films take place in France, and the pools at the center of their stories are near Marseilles and St. Tropez.

A young, beautiful girl shows up unexpectedly in both stories and causes irreversible trouble.

Each film produces a murdered man, one is drowned in the pool, one is bludgeoned to death by a rock at the edge of the pool.

Both murders go unsolved and unpunished.

There is an older woman in each tale who is perturbed and nearly destroyed by the young and beautiful, albeit calamitous female character - Romy Schneider’s seemingly perfect life and sexual power are no match for Jane Birkin’s effortless and innocent intrusion. And Charlotte Rampling’s self-loathing spinster mystery writer is driven deeper into despair by Sagnier’s trampy taunts. But both Schneider and Rampling prevail in the end, as older, wiser women should.

Both films are full of sex.

But they do diverge. La Piscine is a tangled web of intrigue amongst a group of friends, with few things in common, except wealth and a jet-setting life that bores them to tears. Their self-indulgent life-style breeds contempt and they turn on one another. But Swimming Pool is actually the story of one woman's inner mind. Rampling's travails are a complete fantasy, and Sagnier simply a figment of the her imagination, indeed, a character in the mystery novel she writes while on holiday.

Ultimately, both films are rich and must-sees, much like David Hockney’s swimming pool paintings - these works can extend summer far past Labor Day, canning it, like tomatoes, for a cold January day.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Gregory

I made a hand-made book today for my dear friend Gregory Blaine.

The book contains all the poems I read in my short, but exciting, capacity as The Resident Poet of The Blue Bayou Club, a now defunct blues bar in Hillsborough. It was thanks to Gregory that I got up on that stage and read my poems between music sets back in 2009. Twenty-three poems in all, some written just for the Bayou, some written way back in time. I was timid, but Gregory cheered me on. I was completely inexperienced, but Gregory was my mentor. Gregory had the power to quiet the somewhat rowdy bar crowd, and you know, because they respected Gregory, they listened to my poems quietly - it was very different from the usual raucous din that accompanied the great music that played there most nights. It was a lot to expect of the audience, to be silent, and listen to me stand up there and read my poems. But they did. And it was surprising to me and very thrilling really. I met some very interesting people in the Bayou, people who didn't seem like they might go for my poetry, but they connected with it. Gregory made that possible for me, and I'll never forget him for that.

Today was a special occasion - an all day, all night gathering of Gregory's friends to support him in his fight against cancer. The bands started playing at 1 pm and they will continue to play through the evening, til 1 am, including Gregory's own band, Rootzie. I was able to get some precious time with him tonight before he and his girl Dolie started their music set at 8 pm, and was so happy when he smiled at the hand-sewn book I made for him. I had never given him copies of the poems I read, so now, he has all of them.

Gratitude, and courage, and peace, and light Gregory, you are a treasure to so many.

Here is the first poem I read at the Blue Bayou - I read it so quickly and so quietly that Gregory came up on stage and asked me to read it again, more carefully, "It's beautiful, let the people really hear it." and so I read it again, and the little crowd hung on to my every word, and I felt so lucky.

with a lover in my mind
i ride a red horse
on the power line
and find the perfect wing of a hawk
lying torn at the shoulder
in the yellow grass
a flawless apparatus
without its owner
lost perhaps at midnight
in the clorox light of the moon
in a battle
with what?
i wish i knew
the great steel tension towers
whir in the wind
over me and my horse
and i unwittingly search the sky
for the glide of a one winged bird

Thursday, September 15, 2011

With A Breeze

It's funny, you expect it to fade gradually, but it ends quite suddenly, with a strong steady breeze that comes at dusk, within the time the evening train passes, blowing it's horn, and summer is gone. Tonight a soft steady rain falls at the sides of my house, taking down the first of the leaves, and my wood shed needs tidying, needs the first cord, to carry us through till the bright days of November . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Aloof in Freckles

Helena spent her 14th birthday sitting by the pool. Her father's driver dropped her off at 11 am and she told him to return for her at 4, "That way we can pick up Daddy together." It wasn't the biggest pool she had ever swum in, she was quite sure it was the smallest. And it was in the shade half the day, which made the water cold, and there was algea in the deep end. Sometimes she found water bugs swimming on the surface, but she enjoyed watching their mechanical movements, she attempted to tell her father about them, that they might be a divine idea for a movie - giant water bugs and he, naturally, would save the world from them. But he ignored her, as he often did when he was preoccupied with making a movie, even though she used his favorite word, "Divine," Liz used that word so often, and he hung onto all her stories, so Helena thought it might work for her, but she was coming to the conclusion that it wasn't a word that kept her father enamored of Liz, it was something else entirely.
Liz's pool was perhaps the grandest pool Helena had ever put her toes in, and she paddled in the Playboy mansion pool when she was 8, or was that 9? Her mother's indoor pool had Chinese lions at each end, the lions were slightly larger than their standard poodles Cassandra and Pharaoh, and sometimes the poodles drank the water that exited the lions' mouths, but even funnier, sometimes the poodles sat next to the lions, and when the sun was low, it was hard to tell who was a poodle and who was lion.
But this pool, the Farmington Club pool, had no fountains in the guise of lions, no Playboy Bunnies, and no starlets asking the help for another "one of those divine drinks . . . weren't those just divine? So divine we need another, and another, and another . . . " This pool sat too close to the stables and the hound kennels and the road. There were no palm trees, only pines and some rather old oak trees inhabited by crows, and a particularly chatty squirrel. There wasn't even a snack bar, only a country store across the road, the road her father asked her not to cross, but she went once, and bought herself a can of Tab and some grape flavored bubble gum.
She always brought the same book with her, and People magazine, and they usually lay under her lounge chair, because she would rather die than read The Great Gatsby or the gossip about her father and mother's divorce again. She found a book in the dusty den of the house her father had rented for the summer, and thought she might trade it for The Great Gatsby, something about a place called Peyton, but it wasn't on her summer reading list.
The other swimmers arrived at the same time every day, 12:45, dropped off by a large woman in a wooden-sided station wagon, a Country Squire, but some of the letters had fallen off, so now it was a "C unt y S  ir", something Liz would have told everyone about, "Why she doesn't fix it, I have no earthly idea, can you imagine what the grocery boys think?" The kids would pour out of the wagon, still wearing blue jeans and riding boots, and the large woman, always in a moomoo, she had a different colored moomoo for each day of the week, would holler, "Don't swim for another half hour or y'all will drown with cramps! I'll be back at 4:30, be ready! I don't want to be late for Cocktail Hour!" And then she would speed off in a cloud of gravel and dust and turn toward town.
The kids always filed past her as if she were a Greek statue, and she could smell the horses on them as they stripped down to their bathing suits, socks and t-shirts and little paddock boots flying everywhere, "Are you going to wait a half hour?"
"Hell no!" and they would all jump in and the never-ending game of Marco Polo would ensue.
The girls were not much younger than Helena, maybe a year. And they were all formally introduced on the first day at the pool, "Girls, this is Helena Howe, her father is Bud Howe, you know, the movie star? Isn't that right Helena?" and Helena nodded, embarrassed, and she could see the girls didn't know who her father was, and the woman in the moomoo could see that fact too, so she tried to shake some recollection loose, "Oh you know Mr. Howe, he was in those biblical movies they show on Easter, and wasn't he in that movie about monkeys? The scary monkeys?" Still blank wide looks from the girls, so they made the best of the moment and asked Helena for some really important information, "Do you ride horses?" They all cocked their hips and pointed their little paddock boot toes at her, and it was then that she noticed they were all flat-chested, not a training bra among them, "No, I don't ride horses, but my brother surfs." And this was true, her brother was in Hawaii for the summer, "bumming around" as her father liked to call it, and she couldn't wait to see him again in the fall, because Bud Jr. was her most favorite person on earth, he was like no one else, and he didn't care what anyone thought of him, especially not his father.
So it was like this everyday, somewhere way into the incessant game of Marco Polo, the girls would stop, and suddenly realize that they hadn't said hello to Helena, and they would huddle in the middle of the pool, treading water, breathy and quietly, and then they would send one scout to the edge of the pool to ask Helena if she would like to play Marco Polo with them? And she always declined with the same phrase, "Maybe tomorrow," and the scout would always reply with the same, "Suit yerself," and would swim back to the others, where they would shrug their shoulders. Helena always felt their relief. They didn't really want to play with her and she didn't want to play with them.
"Helena, are you enjoying the country sweetie?" Her mother had called to say Happy Birthday early that morning, "Because, you can always fly home to Malibu if you're not enjoying yourself."
"I'm fine mother, really I am. Daddy said I could take riding lessons if I like."
"Horses are dangerous Helena . . ." her mother hated horses.
"Daddy rides them in all his movies. He told me I should learn how to ride if I want to be a movie actress. Mother, isn't it terribly early there?"
"Yes dear, it's 4 am, but we just came in from a party, I haven't even been to bed yet."
"Oh, well, thank you for calling Mother."
"Sweetie, when will you be taking these riding lessons?"
Helena didn't answer, she pretended not to hear her mother and hung up.
Today was the same as all the other days at the club pool, except it was her birthday. Her father promised to take her to a very lovely restaurant for dinner, and he had a new dress ordered for Helena from the ladies' shoppe in town, a dress he was assured was just right for a young woman as beautiful as Helena. The sun had moved to her end of the pool. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the game of Marco Polo. But the game stopped and she opened one eye, waiting for the usual invitation, but she saw instead a group of boys step through the pool gate. The girls in the pool herded together and giggled. Helena thought of a movie she'd seen last year, a movie about a herd of mustangs, the girls were behaving like frightened mares. The boys were older, maybe 15, one looked like he might be 16, and they headed for the chairs next to Helena. They threw down their towels and peeled off their polo shirts, "Is anyone sitting here?" One of the boys asked Helena about the chair next to her, he had a nice smile, he looked like he went to a prep school in Massachusetts, they all looked like that really, in their cutoffs, and docksiders, not like the boys in California, "No, the girls in the pool are the only ones here besides me, and they like to sit over there by the wall." She pointed. The boy lowered himself in the chair next to her, and stuck out his hand to shake, "I'm Percy, and you are?"
"Helena, nice to meet you Percy."
"Never seen you here before Helena." Percy swept his long brown bangs across his forehead and leaned back in his chair. "My brother's the tall one, his name is Frank, and that goofy looking red head is Danny. So do you ride horses?"
"No. Do you?"
"Yeah, yeah Frank and I play polo - see that arena over there? We play on our school team. My father plays polo too. He taught us. So you don't ride?"
"No, but those girls do, they ride with Mrs. Zinnia."
"Oh, yeah, we've seen those girls. We met them at a wedding the other night, Mrs. Zinnia's son got married. Good Party! You shoulda been there, but you don't ride, so . . ."
"No, I guess only the people who ride went to that party."
"So if you don't ride horses, what do you do?"
"I'm here for the summer . . . "
"You don't live here?"
"No, I'm from California. I play tennis in California."
"We play tennis . . . hey, wait! You're Bud Howe's daughter, aren't you his daughter?"
"Well, yes, yes I am."
"We heard he was here, making a movie, and he had a daughter. My mother was asking Mrs. Zinnia all about you the other night at the party, but all Mrs. Zinnia said was that you were aloof, and that you had more freckles than any child she'd ever seen, but you don't seem to have too many freckles."
"Why thanks, I think."
"Oh, I meant to say you don't seem aloof either, I mean . . . "
Percy's brother cannonballed into the pool and suddenly a wave of water fell over Helena and the boy. "Aw shit, I wish he wouldn't do that!" The girls got out of the pool as the boys dove in, they wrapped themselves in their towels and stood talking, strategizing, and shivering. Helena wished she were invisible, she wished her driver would come early so she could leave. Percy touched her arm, "You want to swim with us? We don't bite."
She thought for a moment. She wanted to swim with Percy, and the other boys for that matter, they looked like fun. But the girls had asked her to play Marco Polo for weeks now and she had never said yes. No wonder Mrs. Zinnia called her aloof, and Helena knew she wasn't like these girls, she had hips and breasts under all those freckles. She had smoked cigarettes and drunk champagne with boys much older than Percy and Frank, "No thanks Percy, I think I'll pass this time. You guys swim, it's too cold for me."
"Too cold?"
"Yes, too cold."
"Suit yerself." Percy took a running leap and dove straight as a Roman arrow into the green waters of the deep end. Helena saw one of the girls drop her towel and jump feet first into the shallow end, "You guys want to play Marco Polo?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

What's A Girl To Eat In Vermont?

Well for starters, she can eat crepes . . .
J.'s Crepes in Her Own Words:
Crepes are 1 cup flour, 2 beaten eggs, 3/4 c milk, 3/4 c beer, pinch of salt.  Mix.  Preferable to let it rest for a half hour or so.  Fry in buttered pan.  Flip once.  Easy peasy.  Oh, I like to put freshly toasted coconut and walnuts, slivers of banana and a dash of cinnamon inside, then roll them up and pour some maple syrup on top, but you can do absolutely anything.  Good savory or sweet.

And on the night when welding class is over, she can eat big thick steaks fro Yuskak's Supermarket in Shushan, NY.  - put J.'s mother's potatoes and squash and onions on the side - share a bottle of red with J.'s mom, talk too much and forget all yer troubles . . .
Squash & Onions
Slice three or four small yellow squash from the garden. Slice up one large sweet onion. Melt a big gob of butter in a fry pan, add the onions, cook them til their soft, add the squash, add a teaspoon of sugar, plenty of salt and pepper, cook til the squash are soft.

She can eat pizza made in a fiery oven on a NY State hilltop among the Utopians . . .

She can make J. a meal of black bean ful which will not only suffice for dinner with lots of crusty bread, but will travel well to welding class the next day for lunch with chocolate zucchini bread . . .
Moosewood Restaurant's Black Bean Ful slightly abridged:
2 cans black beans
1/2 cup olive oil
5 or 6 smashed garlic cloves
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 cup chopped parsley
several boiled eggs in wedges
one lemon in wedges
Drain and rinse the beans, put in a sauce pan with enough water to cover and heat them gently over medium heat - don't bring the water to a boil, you just want the beans warm enough so that when you add them to a large bowl containing the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper that the heat of the beans bring all those flavors together. Let them sit for ten minutes, then add the tomatoes and parsley and mix carefully. Arrange the boiled egg wedges around the edge of the bowl and serve with lemon wedges. Great warm, even better cold the next day!
If she remembered to pack her tagine, which she did, and if J. happens to have some spring lamb in the freezer, which she did, and if J.'s mother genersously provides an exquisite eggplant from her garden, which actually happened, well then, a tagine of lamb with apricots served with buttery couscous and a side of roasted sliced eggplant can be made pretty easily . . .
Mishmishiya - Tagine of Lamb with Apricots
from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Serves 6 -8 The dish derives its name from the Arabic word for apricot -- mishmish. Only a tart natural -- not sweetened -- dried or semi-dried variety will do. Fresh apricots may also be used, in which case they should be added at the end and cooked for few minutes only, so that they don't fall apart. The reason why there is fresh gingeroot rather than the ground spice which is usual in Morocco is that the recipe come from Paris. Serve with bread. [J. and Wolfy served it with buttery couscous, recipe to follow]
2 large onions, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable or extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Good pinch of ground chili pepper, to taste
2 pounds leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and plenty of pepper
1 1/2 inches fresh gingerroot, cut into slices
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound dried apricots
A 14-ounce can chickpease, drained (optional)
Fry the onions gently in oil until soft.
Stir in the cinnamon, cumin, and chili powder, and put in the meat. Turn the pieces over, add salt and pepper, ginger, and garlic, and cover with about 2 1/2 cups water. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours [this is where using a genuine tagine really makes all the difference!], turning the meat over occasionally, and adding water if necessary.
Add the apricots and cook for 1/2 hour or more, adding water if necessary.
Add the drained chickpeas, if using, 10 minutes before the end.
Roasted Eggplant:
Slice eggplant in half inch thick slices. Salt and let sit for 30 to 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Rinse and pat eggplant dry, rub with generous amount of olive oil, arrange on a metal baking pan, roast until golden brown and soft.
Plain Buttery Couscous
from Gillie Basan's Tagine, Spicy Stews from Morocco
1 2/3 cups traditional couscous, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons safflower or olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, in small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degress F.
Tip the couscous into an ovenproof dish. Stir the salt into the water and pour it over the couscous. Leave the couscous to absorb the water for about 10 minutes.
Using your fingers, rub the ol into the grains to break up the lumps and air them. Dot the butter over the surface and cover with a piece of foil or wet, greaseproof paper. Put the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat through. 
Fluff up the grains with a fork and serve the couscous from the dish, or tip it onto a plate piled high in a pyramid.
Note from Wolfy: This couscous is extremely addictive - once you have eaten it, you will figure out that just about any meal you make goes with couscous - you will find yourself making every excuse to make couscous . . . you have been warned.

And finally when she goes to the races in Saratoga for the day, she can eat fried chicken with cranberry coleslaw at Hattie's Chicken Shack.

 yes, one of those customers is Wolfy,
photo by J.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sometimes, The Best Thing About Art Museums Ain't the Art

My Vermont excursion was really a tri-state adventure - J. is lucky to live in the southwestern region of Vermont close to the New York and Massachusetts borders - she crosses state lines the way I cross county lines in North Carolina. And each state has gifts to give her and fortunate guests like me. The day before we went to the races in Saratoga disguised as railbirds of the classiest sort, we journeyed to a small town in the Berkshires by the name of North Adams to visit the extraordinary Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art - MASSMoCa.

MASS stands for massive in my opinion, as this 120,000 square foot museum is housed in a former factory complex that dates back to the 1700s. In more recent times it was the headquarters for Sprague Electric Company, the manufacturer of a wide array of products ranging from components for weapons, including the atomic bomb, in World War II, to launch systems for Gemini Moon Missions. The galleries are vast, maze-like, and filled with natural light that pours into windows you could drive a truck through. The industrial setting is practically all you need, but then you fill it with amazing art and well, you've got yourself a party.

J. and I covered the whole place in one afternoon and while that might sound overwhelming, as though we didn't take our time to take in everything put before us, the opposite is true. We spent the majority of our time with the Sol LeWitt collection - his life's work found a permanent home with MASSMoCA because Yale just didn't have 30,000 square feet just lying around in New Haven to offer him. His geometrical masterpieces delight you in their numerousness and scale. I believe there's a Sol LeWitt at the NC Museum of Art, and it never really did anything for me - I think you have to be immersed in his drawings and really, MASSMoCa's LeWitt galleries kidnap you and beat you into submission to his genius. It really got me to thinking about how wonderful it would be if other major artists had their life's work housed in such a way . . . I pictured 30,000 square feet of Jackson Pollock or Picasso, can you imagine how much it would teach you? You can't walk away from something like that without being effected by it.

And then I stood at the mouth of Nari Ward's Nu Collosus - a huge sculpture made of split wood resembling a cornucopia filled with flotsam and jetsam. Ward hales from the Caribbean and his work spoke to me because of my expat years in Bermuda. Nu Collosus reminded me of living in the middle of the ocean for so many reasons, just the size of it alone overwhelmed me like the feeling of being on a tiny island surrounded by miles and miles of water. But it also seemed as though it had washed ashore, a tangle of sea garbage, held together by sailing line and seaweed. I swear I could hear the waves crashing in my ears when I stood a certain distance from the great entrance to Nu Collosus and for that reason alone I was hesitant to walk away from it.

There was nothing delicate about the works in MASSMoCA and such was the case of a series of photographs by Italian photographer Santiago Sierra. Burial of Ten Workers, Calambrone, Italy drove home the message of The Workers, an long term exhibit lasting through March of 2012. So powerful was this exhibit that I considered joining a union upon exit, if not the Communist Party. I spent a considerable amount of time with Sierra's time lapsed series - in which the the seascape changes little, a freighter changes position in the distance, a fishing boat appears and disappears, and the ten laborers go from standing firmly on the shore to being buried alive in the sand. It messes with your head and your ideas of labor, class, and human rights.

But I haven't told you the best thing I saw at MASSMoCa - the thing that wasn't installed in a gallery, the thing that wasn't hanging on a wall. It ran through the gigantic second floor open gallery home to Katharina Grosse's installation One Floor Up More Highly - it did not walk slowly to gaze upon Grosse's outrageous styrofoam glaciers half immersed in gaudy mounds of spray-painted dirt. The best thing came in the form of a messy little blond girl, perhaps eight or nine, wearing the most stupendous LED sneakers ever manufactured. These sneakers didn't coyly blink at the back of the heel like a weak turn signal, no, these sneakers were a one-girl Studio 54 on Saturday night with every star in attendance, including Andy Warhol, Halston, Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger too. I watched her approach from the far end of the gallery from a third floor balcony overlooking the great hall - she was simply catching up to her mother who stood below me, small pink backpack in hand, and a disgruntled brother in tow. The LEDs flashed pink and green and blue and really they stole Grosse's thunder - if that gallery only featured Miss LED Sneaker Queen running to and fro every day, that alone would be worth the price of admission.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thurber's Josephine

I tend to avoid dog stories, and horse stories for that matter -- most end tragically. Lately there's been a scourge of horse stories that end well - Seabiscuit, although it was touch and go there for a while in his case,  triumphant Secretariat, and now there's a book about a little known horse named Snowman, who apparently inspired the nation, but I'm not too sure about that.

I had several collections of stories as a kid, dog stories, horse stories, animal stories - big dusty volumes - hand-me-downs from my mother's childhood library - and all of them left you devastated.  With the exception of The Black Stallion, I was hard pressed to find hope in any animal story I read. My grandmother took The Red Pony away from me one afternoon when she saw me delving into the first pages of it, "Don't read that, it's awful." I don't think she liked Steinbeck for a lot of reasons, but I think she genuinely hated him for writing that book. I never read it, but I watched the movie late one night, almost by mistake, I was terribly curious. Well, it was awful, my grandmother was right.

There was of course Lassie, the book and the completely unrelated TV show - I thought Timmie was pretty undeserving of such a fabulous dog, that kid made me feel brilliant in comparison.  I remember a picture book I had in first or second grade about a boy who finds a kitten in Harlem, that turned out very badly, and scarred me for quite some time - cat stories I never read because of that little book.

In our bizarre collection of records, my grandparents had a set of 45s called So Dear To My Heart - the audio story set for the famous Walt Disney movie. I listened to the scratchy records several times despite the storm scene which plunged you into deep terrifying darkness -- but I was obsessed with Dan Patch, the champion harness racer, and his brief appearance took my breath away every time I listened. But I had to steel myself for the storm and terrible middle of the story. It ends well, doesn’t it? I barely remember, but it was a hell of a way to get to a happy ending. I read all of C.W. Anderson’s Billy and Blaze stories, but they left me filled with anxiety - I was certain gypsies would steal my pony and sell him to all sorts of horrible characters.  To this day, I can’t really watch any movie with a dog or a horse in it, I’m fairly sure something terrible is going to happen to them - remember The Getaway with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw? What do I obsess over when I watch that movie? The fate of all the animals left behind when the evil Rudy takes Sally Struthers and her pathetic veterinarian husband Harold as hostages - who cares if the people come out alive, it’s the animals I get all stressed over. Silly? I know . . .

And yet I’ve written a tragic dog story, and it’s here on the blog, but you know what you’re getting yourself into because of the title, Death of a Hound - I don’t want anyone to start reading it with the idea that he’s going to get out of the story alive. Why did I write a tragic dog story when I hate reading them so much? I don’t know, really, except, I had an idea, and was compelled to write it. Maybe it was some sort of strange catharsis? You tell me. But if you want the dog to live, don’t read it.

So it was with trepidation I purchased Everyman’s Pocket Classics Dog Stories on the day Irene blew through North Carolina. I was bored, the wind was howling, there was barely any rain, and so I drove myself to The Regulator Bookshop on Ninth Street in Durham. There were a few other brave souls out that day, it was a good day to be in a bookstore. I came home with a comforting stack of books: The Vision of Modern Dance - In the Words of Its Creators, Art & Fear - Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, Little Red Riding Hood (a gorgeous graphic novel by artist Daniel Egneus), and Dog Stories.

Well, here I am in the middle of my life, finally getting a clue, although, ten years from now that will be up for review again, I’m sure, and my faith in animal stories has been restored with James Thurber’s Josephine Has Her Day. Thurber has always had a hold on me, but I believe this might be one of his best stories. And while there is a bit of a scare somewhere in the middle, it’s a mild scare, and Thurber doesn’t manipulate your anxiety to a high level, he let’s you know that things are going to turn out right with a psychic pat on the shoulder as your reading about Josephine and her people, the Dickinsons.

“Did you see her?” She smiled wistfully.
“No,” said Dick, with a great effort at lightness. “But she’s doing fine, Timmons said.”
“I’m sure she is, ” said Mrs. Dickinson. “I’ve told Mrs. Timmons all about her idiosyncrasies. Well . . . I guess we must be getting back home. It looks a lot like rain.”
And it did rain, a slow, depressing drizzle, as they returned, Dick hard put to it to affect an easy cheerfulness while his mind turned over and over the quandry into which Josephine - and he - had fallen. Perhaps it might be an easy matter to buy her back for Timmons. But how was he to arrange a meeting without his wife’s knowing? Through his speculations ran alternately an undercurrent of exasperation at all this bother about an undesirable pup, a thin-lipped anger at the unknown brute’s action, and a faint feeling of dread.

Thurber’s story takes such a marvelous turn that you find yourself cheering in bed late at night while reading it, much to the consternation of your sleeping spouse and all the dogs under the blankets - Would you please? If only they knew what I was making such a fuss over they wouldn’t be so ill-tempered, shifting their weight and kicking me with their warm little feet.

I was so buoyed by Thurber’s story, that I have dared to read another story in the little book, O. Henry’s Memoir of a Yellow Dog - and without spoiling it, in fact it’s no spoil at all to say you can read it with full confidence that the dog will live happily ever after.

Next? I shall brave P.G. Wodehouse’s The Mixer - who said a girl can’t change?

Here's Soap In Yer Eye . . .

Have you ever had one of those years?

Well, i'm having one this year . . .

and then today, just when i think things might be going my way, when the tide might be turning, i get soap in my eye - i'm washing my face with a new face wash that agrees with my ruddy excitable Irish skin and damn if don't manage to let a good glob of it run straight into my right eye and i've gotten stuff in my eyes before - shampoo, mustard (don't ask), chili pepper, horse liniment, nail polish (i was nine when that happened, my grandmother questioned my fitness to live over that one), but this soap was a unique experience in pain and i wondered as i flushed and flushed and flushed if this might be it - the end of my right eye, the one that is just as green with the gold ring around the pupil as the left, the one that has the astigmatism that is getting progressively worse now that i'm over forty-oof, over forty-five!

but, the pain is only slight now, and the tearing has subsided . . . just another mishap in a long year of mishaps.

"Do not try," says the sage, "Do not try . . . "

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

don't let your heart get heavy . . .

Eye of Newt -- An Interpretive Dance to Vermont

There’s a mountain between J.’s house and her parents’ farm. And apparently J. has hiked it a few times to get to the farm, but never successfully - she ends up in all sorts of places, and never the farm. It’s a mountain dense with forest, and while the trail is obvious when you start out, it gets vaguer and vaguer. And the ferns are humungous and there’s been some timber men up there disturbing things, so there are great swathes of mud. We set out for the farm late on a rainy afternoon, with welding class behind us, and grand ideas that THIS TIME J. would triumph and we’d come out on the ridge over looking farm. And I had my iPhone with it's nifty GPS to keep our bearings. And Pip was going to be a good dog and give us hints that we were on the right track. Right? Wrong. We slogged around on that dark medieval hill chest high in blackberries and nettles . . . but wait, what child has strewn little orange rubber toys on the trail? Look, the moss, the dark wet soil is positively alive with burnt ochre bodies . . . I stop, “J., what are these?”


“They’re everywhere!”

“Yes, yes they are . . . Pip wants to go that way? Do you think we should follow her?”

I watched the newt at my feet, his dark eyes, his black speckles, his wet wrinkled skin, his little fingers feeling the earth beneath him - oh! what a feast for a hungry bird - so tropical, really, which set my head to wondering, how do they survive the horrible winters?

The GPS was useless, the blue dot barely moved, we seemed to be headed in the right direction, but J. didn’t recognize a thing, apparently her hikes are never the same up here, it’s as though this mountain transforms each time she hikes it.

“Have you ever hiked from the other direction?” I ask her.


“Started out from your parents and worked your way back . . . maybe you could tie it altogether that way.”

“Maybe, I dunno.” She started down a steep bank, “Oof, we aren’t supposed to be here, I don’t think. If we get to the creek . . . ”

J. apologizes for leading me astray as the rain comes down harder, and I joke, “So this is the part of the trip where you actually murder me . . . the past few days were just a ruse, you fattened me up, made me slow, and now you’ll cut my throat and leave me in this godforsaken wood never to be seen again, my corpse nibbled by newts . . . ”

J. tells me about the bears. How certain times of year you don’t come up here cause of bears. What times? Breeding season? When they have cubs? Pip suddenly yips and dives onto a mound, digging and insistent - she stops, whips her tail and pleads with us to join her, “Leave it Pip! Leave it!” we walk on without her, she is steadfast in her find, You people don’t know ANYthing! This is IT. This is why I came out here with you! Never mind getting somewhere. We’re THERE!

“LEAVE IT PIP!” and finally she does, because a Meunsterlander eventually listens, and she bounces to J.’s side and J. asks her? “Is it this way Pip?” and Pip runs ahead excitedly having completely forgotten the golden mound and J. says, “We should be there by now, where are we?” J. is visibly annoyed in her orange rain coat and her rubber boots and for some reason I’m not bothered by being Lost. Lost was the key word on this trip - even when I knew where I was on the trip, I was lightheaded and lost, displaced, and out there in the rain, with the stupid GPS which is meant for city streets, I didn’t flinch - I was a blinking blue beacon not far from a road according to the little screen, and that was comfort enough.

Pip took a hard left and we decided to follow her into a clearing. There was a livestock trailer overgrown with vines and then the roof of a house. We were in someone’s backyard, but no backyard that J. knew of. We skittered out onto their driveway and J. guessed we were on the road one over from her parents road, and the GPS confirmed this . . . which was annoying as hell, now it decided to be of assistance. We began walking the road and came to the base of her parents’ road, we hiked up the windy road, and now that we were out in the open, the rain really started to come down and there was just enough wind to make us cold.

We are greeted by a terrific crowd of bird dogs, J.’s father’s setters all feathered and full of news - “Oh you’re here! Your mother will be so relieved she’s out on the porch in a panic!” J.’s father leads us to the kitchen and offers us something to drink, “So you came up the road? You got lost again?”

“I’m still shaking! You won’t believe it!” J.’s mother comes in from the porch, wine glass in hand, all a twitter, “We were watching for you two up on the hill and we see two dark figures up by the grove of small birches, and I say to your father, there they are! They’re in dark rain coats, they must be soaking wet, but they made it! We look through the binoculars and the dogs are all excited and it’s bears! Two bears, small, probably brothers, a year or so old! And I thought oh no! They’re going to run into the bears! And your father says, don’t worry, they’ll run. Oh but thank goodness you got lost and didn’t run into the bears!”

J. and her mother headed back into the house and J.’s father stands with me on the porch looking out over the rain on their garden and the pond and I stare up on the ridge hoping the bears might circle back so I can see what we missed up close and personal, but all I see is the wind. And J.’s father begins to tell me bear stories; cubs in trees, dogs finding a bear and leading the bear back to him as though he were supposed to save the dogs from the bear, and everyone having to run, bears tearing down the bird feeders, but leaving the garden alone, and then he tells me black bears tend more toward eating people than grizzlies, and I’m getting colder and wishing I had a glass of wine in my hand instead of the cold can of seltzer, but most of all I’m trying to decide if I’m disappointed or glad that we barely missed the bears.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How To Find An Owl

Tack up your horse
Ride out on a green-grey morning
With a chance of rain
Into the woods
Mind the deer
Gallop up a hill
Trot a long trail
Cross the road
Trot half the field
Canter the other
on the left lead
Go slow by the men building
the big house in the clearing
Tell Joe to never mind that noise
Its only a drill . . .
Laugh, at your joke
the joke that only your horse heard
Admit your tired
Walk for a while
But jump the log and trot all the way
to the dry river
Cross the thirsty rocks
imagining a current of green water
not a stagnant puddle
not dust
Jog up the bank
Mind the deer
Hear the crows
They are loud
Caw, caw, caw, caw!
Trot toward the crows
Hear the Blue Jay
Jay, jay, jay, jay!
Are the crows mobbing the jay?
Is the jay mobbing the crows?
Pull up going down hill
Look up
See the crows dispersing
Count the crows
Five, six, seven?
Oh, eight!
Hear the jay again
Find the jay
See him dive bomb
Ask yourself
The crows are gone?
What’s that crazy jay doing?
See the jay fly back to the river
Notice the quiet
Silence after crows is a jewel
Cross the little dry tributary
oh, go right . . .
Pat your horse
Trot again
Look up
Hear a whoomp
a whoomp whoomp whoomp
of wings against a big body
And see the owl
in his grey flannel suit
disappear up the ridge
Where the poplars are giving way
to September,
to gold . . .

Leaving? So Soon?

It’s the end of the summer, and something is about to happen - summer tomatoes are about to pack up and leave. Where do they go? Florida? Like the Snow Birds in their Cadallacs down I95?

No,  I think they go to Sicily. In fact, I’m sure of it, because if I was a Summer Tomato, that’s where I would go spend the winter. But some people, those people who garden, they are imprisoning the slow tomatoes, the ones that can’t get to the airport, in mason jars, to be let out sometime in January, on a snowy day, which, if you like that sort of thing, a Summer Tomato in a dusty mason jar on some spaghetti, well, then okay, and well, perhaps, I’m jealous of those who can grow their own tomatoes and then take the time to jail them for release on the darkest winter nights.

But since I don’t grow my own tomatoes, I used to, and was quite successful at it until the Cut Worms found my address, I like to be more zen about the whole impending migration of the Summer Tomatoes to a foreign land, you know? I want to party with them now in the most excellent way I can, bid them farewell until next year, and ask them to send me a postcard from Sicily, if they can find time in their busy social calendar over there, cause you know they are way busier in Sicily than they are here, and with much more interesting people, people who make their own wine and work on caper farms, those kinds of people.

So, want to party with the Summer Tomatoes before they set sail? Here’s one of the most sublime ways to wish them Arrivederci!


from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

This is good basic tomato sauce is served just as it is, or may be flavored with herbs or combined with other sauces whenever you wish a tomato flavoring. It is at its best with fresh tomatoes, but canned tomatoes  or canned tomato puree will also produce a good sauce. You will notice, during it’s simmering, that it really should cook for about an hour and a half to develop its full flavor.

For about 2 1/2 cups

A heavy-bottomed , 2 1/2-quart saucepan

1/4 cup each: finely diced carrots, onions, and celery

2 Tb minced boiled ham; OR 2 Tb minced lean bacon,
simmered for about 10 minutes in water, rinsed, and

3 Tb butter
1 Tb oil

Cook the vegetables and the ham or bacon slowly in the butter and oil for 10 minutes without letting them brown


1 1/2 Tb flour


Blend the flour into the ham (or bacon) and vegetables, and cook slowly for 3 minutes, stirring.


1 1/2 cups boiling stock


Off heat, beat in the stock.


2 lbs. (4 cups) chopped, ripe, red tomatoes which
need not be peeled; OR 3 cups canned tomatoes; OR
1 1/2 cups canned tomato puree and 1 1/2 cups water

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp sugar

2 unpeeled cloves garlic

4 parsley sprigs

1/2 bay leaf

1/4 tsp thyme


Stir in the tomatoes, salt, and sugar. Add the garlic and herbs. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, skimming occasionally, and adding water if sauce reduces and thickens too much. You should end up with about
2 1/2 cups of rich, fairly thick sauce.


1 to 2 Tb tomato paste if necessary


Strain, pressing juice out of ingredients. Correct seasoning. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste if you feel the sauce lacks color, and simmer again for 5 minutes.
If not used immediately, film surface with stock or a few drops of oil. May be refrigerated or frozen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Here Now

I wonder where the praying mantis I gently carried outside in a coffee can last night is spending her day - she came in through the open porch door during the Braves game, just when the Braves were beginning to lose to the Dodgers and she flitted across the back of the sofa and slapped me in the face before she disappeared somewhere in our music collection. I didn’t get a good look at her, I thought she was a moth and so I shut the door thinking that was the end of any more insect encounters. Some time later I was blogging and still watching the game, which was hopeless for the Braves, and Praying Mantis came up the arm of the sofa like a mountain climber and she scared me out of my wits. I almost threw my laptop to the floor. I shrieked, I actually shrieked and fled. But I returned though, with my sleepy husband for back-up and a coffee can, just the right size to capture her. We found her ascending the table lamp next to the sofa, stopping, rocking to and fro, and then moving up toward the light of the bulb. I asked her most politely to get in the can - she cocked her head and bound right on to the side of the can, good enough for me and we hurried for the door. She stared up at me with those agate eyes, and today I wish I had kept her around a bit longer, she was terribly smart, and one always needs to surround themselves with smart souls.

When my goats arrive in the spring, I have decided to name them after Civil War horses -- I plan to start with two goats, they will be named Cincinnati and Traveller. The herd will grow from there perhaps with Highfly and Firefly . . . we’ll see.

I rode Joe across a different part of the river today, and still we found no water, just a lot of thirsty rocks.

It was cool enough today that I saw the old black lady who lives near the intersection of highways 86 and 57 sitting on her porch - a place that she sits almost all the time when the weather allows. I did not see her blue tick hound. But I did catch sight of a new dog on her porch, something the shade of cadet blue, long in back, short in legs, chihuahua in countenance, and white on the belly. Something is always right with the world when I see that magnificent thin old woman presiding over her front yard.

I bought a green tea pot this afternoon and ingredients for black bean ful, which made an excellent supper. Tomorrow night we’ll have corn and potato curry with lots of cumin seed.

I began taking tumeric capsules for my mysterious case of The Vapors today, they cannot hurt, and they might just possibly help. The bottle makes many promises, and I can only hope that it is being somewhat honest with me.

There is a little crescent moon in a hole in the oak tree tonight.

And there was a cuckoo in the front yard this morning - geez, I hope he didn’t eat my praying mantis . . .

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Interpretive Dance to Vermont - Part D - The Circus

I will never look at metal in the same way. Two days in a welding shop changed me - a pile of discarded metal in the back of a pick-up truck at the dump has an allure to me. While sitting at a red light the other day, I glanced over at a building under construction, and there, on the roof, was a man in a welding mask applying a bead to a beam - I got so excited watching him work I missed the light change and the driver behind me layed on the horn. My hostess J. took me to MASSMoCa two days after our class, and we both went a little gaga over the giant steel girder that acts as their front desk - it's enormous, and the beads of weld on it were fatter thatn our fingers, we appreciated how difficult it was to make that thing. I think back to Dock Yards in Bermuda, and now I want to go back there and examine the weld work. In other words, I'm hooked.
Gary, our welding instructor at SAW, turned us loose on the afternoon of our welding class, to scavenge the scrap metal pile. My classmates and I dove into the pile of discarded pieces - one man's junk is another man's gold. There were old signs, rods, cogs, wheels, saw blades, car parts, coils, and what I wanted most, some plain flat sheets to cut figures out with the plasma cutter. We climbed all over that pile turning it over and wrestling out material for our projects, helping each other find the right pieces of magic.

"What are you going to make?" I looked up from my hoard of scrap metal to see Sam, the tall bright intern girl standing over me in her heavy duty Carhart's, a cigarette in her hand, a modern hip version of Rosie the Riveter. Gary was helping J. with her bookshelf concept,  and everyone was a flutter with their ideas. I had come all the way from North Carolina with a very clear idea of what I wanted to make, but I wasn't so sure now, I wasn't sure if I was tough enough to see it through. Sam changed all that for me. "I want to make a wall hanging - I make collages of paper, and I want to make a collage of metal."
"Cool. You have some good materials there - what will it be?"
"Well, I want to make a circus scene, with horses and riders, kind of like Toulouse Lautrec's circus drawings? Do you know them? Of course I'm not Toulouse, but he's my inspiration."
"Oh! This will be great, you can make it like a Pop Up Book." and when Sam said this, I was filled with hope, and childlike glee really, I mean, I was giddy.
I spent that afternoon drawing my horses and silly circus ladies with tutus on my sheet metal. I had found this wonderful coil that I planned to cut into sections to make the horses tails and the ladies' head dresses with. I'd found an old burnished sign for my base and even a diorama like stage. I practiced cutting with the plasma cutter all morning. The day ended and J. and I were ready to go home and have a cocktail. I was still slightly unsure that I could put the whole thing together in the time we had, but Sam was my cheerleader. And I was so impressed with the story she told me of her goal for the summer - she was interning at SAW and building a glass furnace. What a girl! J. and I made a great dinner that night and I retired for the evening with rusty circus ponies dancing in my head.
"What have you got going on here?" It was Gary. I had spent the morning cutting my horses and tutu clad ladies, my rods to set them on were ground and measured, my coil was now in happy pieces ready to become horse tails and head ornaments. I had everything laid out on the concrete floor of the workshop and was planning my welding strategy with Sam. I was embarrassed by Gary's question, I was sure he would think my plan was silly, "Um, it's going to be a circus, a wall hanging - in Sam's words, like a pop-up book." I bit my lip and looked up at him and waited for his advice.
"Oh! This is marvelous! Have you ever seen Alexander Calder's wire circus?"
"I know Calder, yes, but I don't think I know about his circus."
"He made it late in his life. Wait, we have a book, let me go get it for you!" Gary dashed off and returned with a wonderful book of photographs of Calder at his home and studion. We poured over the book and found the wire circus photos at the end. They are wonderful bent wire figure, like a children's circus toyset. Animals and acrobats on a high wire, a man swings on a trapeze. Gary was really excited about my project and instructed Sam that this would take very delicate torch work, with brass flox - I would use the MIG for the stage and the background piece, but the rest was light welding, and I was so pleased, because this was what I was made for, I had found my niche in the welding shop. The rest of the place was humming with grinders and the ZWIP crackle of the MIG. SAW visitors strolled by the shop and looked in as all of us worked and J. and I joked that the tourists must have thought we were real artists, we were so cool, so impressive looking in our heavy jeans and boots and welding shields. By midday, I was feeling almost competent, but Sam was with me every step of the way, I couldn't have done it without her.
By 4:30 the workshop was filled with everyone's fabulous projects. We were all quite pleased with ourselves and I think Gary was surprised that such a bunch of ragtag beginners could get so much done in a couple of days. There was the husband-wife team who made a 7 foot garden bird - a stork of incredible stature with a set of skate blades welded back to back for his handsome head, the Prodigy made a heavy abstract that was a miniature Henry Moore for sure, the grandfather-grandson team from New Hampshire made a fantastic wheel with their street address and name and the grandson had narrowly escaped a frightening tussle with a grinder earlier in the day while polishing his apocolyptic abstract, J. got the prize for most prolific with two bookshelves completed, and several garden ornaments, including The Hook - a sublime piece really, a 4 foot arched rod welded to a heavy cog as it's base, and then playfully, a small found hook, something from her father's barn, a utilitarian and sturdy thing, welded to the head of the rod - only small things would be able to hang from it, and this was the genius of The Hook - all that metal, for such an absurd purpose made it the best piece created that day, I think. There was the crazy mobile made by the Lady Who Lived Just Down the Street who shared cucumber salad with us at lunch. And then there was my Circus - it's just what I hoped to make, only much much better. It elicited joy from my classmates - it was a surprise, a silly surprise. Best of all when I brought it home, my husband liked it - and my good friend Lee who is an artist, a big man, and a carpenter, and the one whose approval of my metal work I most sought, exclaimed when seeing The Circus, "Oh Honey! It's Wonderful! It's Whimsical! I'm Jealous!" Lee and I are planning the purchase of torches now. I must weld again, there is just too much metal out there, waiting for me.