This post is the first in a series that I dreamed up gradually over the summer as I was preparing to move from one state to another, from one phase of my life to another. I have moved many times in my adult life, but this move was different. It came after a particularly difficult experience, which itself had followed on the heels of what for me were an exceptionally tough few years. As I've written about before, this move--back to the state where I was born and raised, back to the city where I met my husband, back to the streets and shoreline of my soul--was the first move I've ever made that wasn't for school or a job or any other practical reason at all. This move was made entirely for love.
Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road that "everybody goes home in October." While technically I went home in August, I feel in my bones exactly what he meant. As we head into the holiday season and, here in the northern hemisphere, the coldest, darkest months of the year, my own sense of family and history deepens. I draw my circle closer for warmth and comfort in the face of shortening days. Home and hearth and what they represent lie at the center of this circle. This year, my sense of being at home in this city and in my own skin has been strengthened by the choices I have made over the past few months. The move itself was the biggest choice, but within that were many smaller decisions that I cherish.
During the month leading up to the big move, as I sorted through our mountains of belongings, I questioned what items and memories mattered most to me, and I realized that I only wanted to keep things that told a story or that reminded me of a person or a time that I love. Everything else--the impulse buys and the random vases and pots and bowls and unplayed board games and unloved sweaters and unused aperitif glasses--seemed extraneous and wasteful.
I would never say that material things don't matter at all, for we live in the physical world. But an edited home, a pared down existence is what I crave--one in which the pieces around me speak to the past and help me lead a better, more considered life in the present. This is no easy task for a girl with a magpie's heart and eye, but as one of my design heroes, William Morris, once said, "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Utility and beauty help to feed us, body and soul. I feel this every time I glide my husband's babci's rolling pin over a pie crust or slide open the drawer of my father's roll-top desk. These things are undeniably useful and they are beautiful in form as well as in what they mean to me. They represent the legacy passed down to me by those who came before and helped me become who I am--and who I will be.
And so, I decided to start a series of posts about the objects and ideas, the people and memories that we treasure. From now until mid-November, some of my blogging friends will be joining me on Wednesdays to talk about their own legacies. I hope you'll join in the conversation.
I mentioned Babci's rolling pin and my father's desk, and there are a dozen or so other treasured objects I could write about in this series, but when I think of my own legacy--and a gift I would most want to pass on to my nieces and nephews and other family and friends--I think of my Memere's kitchen and of the foods she prepared for us there on the turquoise formica counters. I think of her perfectly manicured fingers, their glittering rings flashing as she stirred a pot of fiddleheads or minced onions for liver pate. I think of her laughter and of the stories she told as we gathered round her table. And then there were her cookies and donuts and pies. Whatever she put on the table on a Sunday was my favorite. Memere died just a few months after my father in 1984, but we speak of her at most family gatherings still, and when I set a table for those I love, it is her table that I emulate, her skill, economy, grace, and care that I hope to achieve in each meal that I make. After Memere passed away, my cousin Gary's wife, Pattie, typed up some of her best loved recipes for everyone in the family. I treasure that little book, and so I thought I'd share one of my favorite recipes with you. I think Memere would get a kick out of knowing that a favorite Old Town, Maine, recipe is going global!
Blueberry Crumb Cake
During the summer, when local blueberries are in season, I make this every couple of weeks. The rest of the year I keep some frozen berries on hand so I can whip this beauty up whenever a craving hits (which is often, especially in the fall). It is probably the number one favorite cake in my family. We all bake it, adding our own touches and twists, and everyone's is delicious. I've tried making this with other kinds of berries as well. Blueberries are still my favorite for this, but a half blueberry, half raspberry blend is lovely, too.
~Set aside 1/2-3/4 cup for crumb topping (I like extra crumbs!).
~In a measuring cup, measure out 1/2 cup milk.
~Add 1 teaspoon of plain vinegar or lemon juice to the milk to sour it.
~Stir 1/2 teaspoon baking soda into the soured milk.
~In another bowl beat
2 large eggs
~To the eggs add the milk mixture, plus
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
~Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and combine.
~Toss 2 cups of blueberries, fresh or frozen, with 1/2 cup flour.
~Fold the blueberries into the batter.
~Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the reserved topping.
~Bake for about 40 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving. While I think it is most delicious on the day it's baked, in our family, no one objects to eating leftover cake the next morning along with scrambled eggs and coffee.
Check back in next Wednesday, September 29th, for a Legacy post from a blogger whose life and art and writing are endless sources of inspiration.