Wednesday, September 30, 2020

This Weekend

Allow me a few minutes of self pity.
  This would have been the day we left for our fall quilt retreat and we aren't going.  We aren't doing much of anything organized and collectively this year, some things I took in stride and didn't go on about.   In the grand scheme of life right now the people I personally know have been lucky with the effects of this pandemic.  There are millions who have lost their jobs, their lives, their way of life.  I have merely been inconvenienced and so very, very lucky and have no room to complain.  The clock is still ticking and that may change, but while PH and I have done a few things this summer, we were always careful and diligent, and so, lucky.

 Losing this quilt retreat weekend hurts.  Our group is spread out  and even though some of us email or text or follow each other on Instagram, it's not the same as five days together truly catching up.

                                                                   This is the place

These are the people
And this is their philosophy.  
 Here we are cosseted and cared for and spoiled and treated as human beings worthy of our time on earth. We are given  sumptuous rooms in a gorgeous setting that invites me to walk for an hour after lunch through pine forests, along lakes and labyrinth, following paths, and sometimes not.   For me, half of the weekend is just the being here with these people in this place.

 We are fed to maximum body capacity

Happy hour is on the porch, enjoying the view, the wine, the company, the peace of the place.

Sometimes happy hour starts a little early and sometimes in the spring it snows a bit so there's that.

Our workspace is a place where we visit, solve the problems of the world, share ideas and help with stitching problems.  Everyone has their area of expertise, everyone's taste is different, everyone's technique is their own.  And it's all shared.

 In my moment of self pity I will miss this place this weekend, I will miss the peace of the Inn and the women who open their world to us.  I will miss these people.  I will miss it all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The End of the Day

The End of the Day by [Bill Clegg]  The End of the Day by Bill Clegg

Have you ever searched through your past, your family, your ancestors looking for something you didn't even know you were searching for?  Why do we do that, search for who and what?  I mean, everyone concerned is probably gone and has been for a long time.  What possible difference could a search make to your life today? Well, sometimes it does make a difference.
Three women,  Dana, Jackie and Lupita all, now forty-nine years after they last saw each other are once again reminded of their past when Dana shows up at Jackie's doorstep holding a briefcase. But Jackie won't open the door.
Dana's family owned an estate that Jackie lived her modest life next door to and Lupita's family were caretakers of.  With that knock on the door it all comes flooding back. Dana is the driving force behind the friendship with Jackie. She was the instigator, Jackie the follower. They are inseparable during the weekend visits Dana’s family makes to the estate. Lupita is, like any servant employee, quite invisible to Dana.
Hap, Hapworth Foster, saw his father maybe once a year. When he was young he understood it was because of his father’s job as a photographer who traveled the world. As he got older and his step father showed what it was to really be a father, Hap had more questions but not enough desire to really want answers. Hap arrives to meet his father after a long absence and arrives just as his father has fallen down stairs at his hotel and now Hap finds himself keeping a bedside vigil. Alice and Lee and Hap’s wife and brand new days old daughter are now a part of Hap’s life and enter into the equation. Hap SHOULD be home with his wife and new, yet to be named baby. But he can’t take himself away from finding the answers to questions he didn’t know he had.
Now is when the story connects these people. That briefcase Dana brings to Jackie’s doorstep holds answers, what’s inside takes Lupita, Dana and Jackie back to a time they thought was well over and done with. Try as you might, a secret doesn’t stay a secret if it’s written down.
When we go searching for answers we might sometimes find it better to not make that journey, especially if the people involved are still alive. As Hap looks at his life in that briefcase he realizes how ignorant he was of the lives of the people in his life. At the End of the Day, he must choose.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Slow Food Old Food

 I like looking through old cookbooks, using utensils found at estate sales, hand cranked can openers, ugly pots.  I like thinking someone else used the spatula or knife or seasoned the cast iron pan. I like wondering what they cooked in these pots and how it tasted.  I like cooking from scratch and experimenting and improvising and using recipes as suggestions.   A long time ago a chef told me I'm an old world cook and I think he's right.  I have a friend who cooks like I do and when we talk about our foods it feels like we're two little old ladies passing recipes after a potluck.   But don't be thinking PH eats like a king every evening.  You would be mistaken.  He would vouch for that.

The other day I saw my sister-in-law's cookbook and just started to laugh.  It was wonderful. Spineless,  much used, stained, torn pages, you knew which part of the book she used the most.  Cakes and cookies.

What a treasure this book is! You know exactly which cookies were on her plate.  And her edition of the cookbook is from decades ago.  You aren't going to find avocado toast in this book.
I've spent the past couple of weeks making Aunt Marcella's Catsup (or as we say, ketchup.)  I remember the first time I made it, just after we were married. I had gallons and gallons and gallons of the stuff and it was decades before I attempted it again.  Aunt Marcella poured hers into washed out salad dressing bottles, she didn't process can it.   But tomatoes are different now and I wouldn't put this much time into this unless I made sure it was safe months from now. So I process mine.

She started with real tomatoes and cooked them down and put them through a sieve, the process takes two days and the house smells like ketchup.  And because that's how she did it, I do it too.I made two batches, two half bushels of tomatoes - four days of cooking it down.

While they were cooking I watched a few episodes of Pasta Grannies.  Do you know about Pasta Grannies?  It's a YouTube program and I'm addicted to watching 80, 90 even 100 year old Italian grannies making their pasta specialty.   One made her own tomato paste.  "Hmmm..." I thought.  So I tried it with the tomatoes I'd cooked down a few days before.  I didn't have a picnic table sized board on the roof of my home so the hot Sicilian sun could dehydrate them but I have a dehydrating feature on my oven and a pizza stone.  It sounded like slow low heat and a porous surface was all I needed. 

So I tried it, too.  This picture is three ladles of cooked down unseasoned tomatoes swirled on the stone in a 150 degree oven
 An hour later I had tomato paste.

Why do I do it?  It's not a health conscious thing, it's a taste conscious thing and I just like to do it.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Road Apples

We have been making this selling trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for five years.  We spend a week on the road circling the west half of the peninsula.  After we cross the Mackinac Bridge we turn left and keep going.  One of the most peaceful places we drive through is called the Garden peninsula.  It's a piece of land that juts out into Green Bay separating Big Bay De Noc from Little Bay De Noc.  It's peaceful and beautiful and I noticed the first year there are orphaned apple trees all over the place.  
I've asked a few people where they came from and I was told they were planted by the birds dropping seeds in their droppings.   I don't accept that.  These trees are too evenly spaced, too close to the roads, they outline fields so I'm thinking early settlers of the area.  The first sawmill was built in the early 1800's so there were enough people living there then to NEED a sawmill. And apples.  These trees are scattered everywhere and  of many, many different varieties.
These are the size of a dime.  A gumball.  A nut. 
In the past I've picked one or two to try and always managed to pick one that was really, really sour.  This year I brought a big bag along and we stopped whenever I saw one that seemed to be easily accessible.  I climbed down road ditches, climbed up road ditches, walked through fields and tromped through tall grasses and pulled branches down to reach the fruit.   I wasn't the only one picking.  The grasses around the trees were sometimes tromped down, you could tell the deer are loving these apples.
There are all different varieties and sizes.  I picked what was in good shape, not buggy, sometimes one sometimes five or six. 
Sometimes I was Eve, taking a bite out of an apple and left it hanging. I nursed that bag of apples in the car all week, checking for bruising causing spoiling, bugs I overlooked, softness.  I really, really wanted to get these home.  I wish I could have gotten more but sometimes what looked accessible from the road wasn't once I got there.

Yesterday I peeled some for a pie.  I took a bite (read: a slice) out of each one to see what I was getting.  Some were soft and sweet like a Macintosh, an apple I don't like at all because they are soft.  I like an apple that's cracking crisp.   Some were SO sour, some were surprisingly sweet and crisp.  They were all very different and that would be a good experimental pie.
What didn't go into the pie went into the pot for applesauce.

So. I made a pie.  Now, first a disclaimer.  I will never order an apple pie in a restaurant or bakery.  They are too cloyingly sweet and when I see one with a streusel topping drizzled in caramel, well, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  The only apple pie I eat is the one I make.  My grandma used Northern Spy apples so I do too.  Sour, firm, they aren't sweet.  I use little sugar and my grandma even spritzed a lemon in hers.  I will make and eat that pie because it isn't sweet.  So the pie I made with these found apples was a test for today.
We had my brother and sister and spouses over for dinner and they were my test case for a pie that can never be duplicated.  I'll never have these apples, this combination of apples again so it was a one time deal.   I also made home made cinnamon ice cream just for insurance.

Well, it's too bad this is a one time pie because it was wonderful.  Absolutely the best.  It wasn't sweet but once in awhile you hit a sweet bite.  It wasn't mushy, or oozy or overly anything.  It was delicious.  This happens a lot when I cook.  I open the refrigerator or cupboard and toss in whatever looks or sounds good and don't write things down and can't duplicate it again.  But if you happen to be here for dinner, well...


Friday, September 11, 2020

One week


   We've been gone for a week. PH was working the Upper Peninsula and I went along for the ride.  It's a long ride but the scenery is so beautiful you just don't care you've been in the car for hours and hours. Well, hardly.  Sometimes the inside of the car just wasn't appealing.

    Our Great Lakes are huge and spectacular and Lake Superior is probably the most of the most. It's deeper, colder, wilder and bigger than all of the others.  I don't know if it ever gets warm enough for swimming.  But for raw beauty it can't be beat.

We stopped at a roadside pull out to walk a little, climb a little and shiver a lot.  For the most part it was sunny but very windy and cold with that wind bringing in the cold air over the lake.  We did some long walks, sightseeing, we ate well, stayed at quaint little roadside motels,
One of the things we time the route for is a stop on Tuesday at the grocery store in Mohawk.  They have the best pasties we've ever had so we stop first thing in the morning to get some for that day's meal.  They are so big we eat just once that day.  Usually we get four, one each to eat that day and two to bring home for the freezer.  But we are expecting this was his last selling trip so we brought four home for the freezer.

We stopped at a roadside when we just couldn't stand the wonderful smell coming from the back seat any longer.  It was like sitting inside the oven while Thanksgiving dinner is cooking.  Look at the size of them!  After stuffing ourselves we decided the four we brought home could be enough to split one between us when we eat them. 
While we ate this was our view on a cloudy and COLD day.  Very distracting!

 After driving over 1, 930 miles  I have 634 hexies to show for it.  I am a very impatient passenger and need something to keep me busy but it has to be mindless.  Two or three years I knitted, one year I made a bazillion yo-yos and this time I had lots and lots of these to keep me (and PH) sane.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Anxious People

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

By now, if you read this blog or the reviews I post you will know I am completely enamored with Fredrik Backman’s books. He just gets it. He gets us. Somehow he gets inside and perfectly portrays all different kinds of people, many of them in my age range and he holds up a mirror and confirms we are who we are. Sometimes I laugh at a phrase or description, sometimes I shaky my head and sometimes I just say aloud to the page, “How did you know? You’re not this old!”

When Anxious People was offered as an advance I tried to hold off reading it as long as I could, but it’s like standing me in front of a case of fresh baked pastries and telling me to wait. I want it. I want it all and I want it now. If I cave in, then it’s done and gone. But that’s not quite what happened to this book. I read it. Then I read it again. Then I went back and read the first few pages again because in the second paragraph he declares we are idiots. I honed in on his explanation and of course, he was right on.

I am not supposed to quote from advance review copies but in this case the publisher can delete this if they want to. It explains these last few months so well, even if the book was written well before the Covid thing changed everything. “It’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is...” “there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days..” and then he lists the things we have to know just to survive and how insanely unprepared we are to do that. And all I could think of was, after being locked down this past year, how intolerable I find other people. I’ve become out of practice with dealing. I’ve become so much more impatient – and I don’t count patience as one of my virtues to begin with. Mr. Backman declaring us idiots spoke to me and I was only to the second paragraph. Idiots indeed.

There’s a desperate person who jumps off a bridge, forever changing the lives of the people who saw it happen. There’s a desperate person who attempts to rob a bank and ridiculously bungles the job just because the robber didn’t realize the bank was a cashless bank. But the die had been cast.
There’s a whole apartment full of desperate people who are looking to live in the apartment.
Someone wants to buy the apartment so it can be renovated and sold, someone else doesn’t. Someone else just wants a home for the new baby. Someone else who is there just for curiosity. Toss in the real estate agent and a man hiding in the bathroom in his underwear and eventually you have eight anxious people in one place all trying to cope. There are some who are connected through the suicide but don’t realize it until they do. These desperate people are anxious in their own lives and now they are hostages.

As with all of Mr. Backman’s books, the people you start out with aren’t the ones you end up with. They change, they adapt, they cope and show us that we can, too.