Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Circle

If you have been reading my posts for a while, you know that I often mention a national wildlife refuge in Concord, Massachusetts, called Great Meadow.  Actually, the place I write about is one of a chain of meadows and wetlands in the refuge.  It is a beautiful marsh surrounded by woods, a spectacular spot for watching birds and all sorts of other wild creatures.  Today, when Todd and I arrived at the gate to the pathway, we discovered a disturbing notice posted by the refuge managers on the bulletin board.   
Someone, it said, had come to the refuge in the past few days and shot a Canada Goose two times in the head with a blow dart.  It is, of course, illegal to shoot birds on a wildlife refuge, and the managers are looking for leads into who did this.  
As we walked along the path that cuts through the center of the wetlands, spotting red winged blackbirds, marsh wrens, great blue herons, a red-tailed hawk, goldfinches, and several other birds, as well as dragonflies and butterflies and jewel-colored frogs, we wondered aloud about people who enjoy harming other creatures--whether humans or other animals--purely for sport.    
After an hour or so of walking in the baking afternoon sun, we turned to head back to the parking lot, but we'd made it only a few dozen yards when we came across a small group of people talking in hushed tones.  As we approached them I realized that they had found the goose who'd been shot.  I'd been assuming that the goose had died, but there he was, the two darts still in his head, standing beside the water.  Apparently, refuge managers have been trying to catch him, with no luck.  
He is clearly suffering.  To say I am sickened by this is an understatement.  
There are so few wild places left in the part of Massachusetts where I live that a refuge like Great Meadow grows more precious by the year.  It is an enchanting place where a person can stand in one spot for twenty minutes, as we did today, and watch a blue heron fishing, silently, for his lunch just a few feet away, the only sounds coming from dragonflies flitting over the water lilies and the 3" long marsh wrens chattering from their hidden nests in the cattails.    

"Our task must be to free ourselves . . . 
widening our circle of compassion 
to embrace all living creatures 
and the whole of nature and its beauty."
~Albert Einstein

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Provincetown Blues

Maybe it's the scorching heat or the mid-summer blahs, but I'm missing Provincetown today. We visit Ptown whenever we get the chance, especially during the fall and spring to take advantage of travel deals and fewer of the crowds that plague Cape Cod in the summer.  Last year, however, we brought Cate there as a graduation present from college, and we had a full-fledged summer-in-Ptown experience, including people-watching at Bubala's, climbing Pilgrim Tower, walking the beaches, biking through the insane traffic, getting sunburned no matter how much sunscreen we slathered on ourselves, and eating pistachio-coconut cake at Clem & Ursie's.  And we can't forget the shopping.  Ptown is an amazing place for shopping.  A few of my favorites (including one in nearby Wellfleet):

The best thing about Provincetown is, well, there are too many best things.  I do love the cottages, and the overflowing gardens, and the smell of salt air in my pillow, and the friendly people, and the little South African restaurant with the stunning food.
Maybe I can choose one best thing, though.  On this last trip to Ptown, we went on a 4-hour whale watch in Cape Cod Bay, and it was spectacular.  In fact, it's a must-do.  We saw several of these magnificent creatures, including a mother and her calf swimming together.  We were lucky enough to see right whales, so-called because whalers thought they were the "right" whales to hunt due to the fact that they float after they've been killed.  They were hunted nearly to extinction, so we are lucky to have them still in Northern Atlantic waters today.  They grow to be nearly fifty feet long and to weigh up to 117 tons, yet they are immensely graceful animals.

As baleen whales (whales with baleen plates that they use to sieve their food) feed on krill and plankton, the sea gulls flock around them to share the feast.

One last thought about Provincetown, and the Cape in general: as beautiful as it is in summer, I love it in fall best, especially when the Wellfleet Oyster Festival is on in October.  The drive on historic Route 6A is blazing with the changing leaves, the sun is still warm, and, truly, how can you beat $1 Wellfleet raw oysters fresh off the dock?  Seafood nirvana.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Style Crushes: Catherine Deneuve

One of my favorite blogs to do was my style crushes post back in June, so I thought I ought to make that a more regular feature.  I have so many style crushes, you see, so there's plenty of delicious material from which to choose.  It would have been easy to begin with Audrey, but Catherine Deneuve feels right for summer.  When I was a girl back in the seventies, I remember her doing commercials for Oil of Olay.  "Come closer," she'd say, "Closer still.  I'm Catherine Deneuve."  The camera would pull in tighter and tighter until her face filled the screen, and I thought she was the most glamorous person I'd ever seen.

Lovely at every age, she's been the muse for Yves Saint Laurent, and the face for companies like Chanel, L'Oreal, and MAC.  She is also an activist for the rights of children, AIDS patients, and victims of land mines, among many other charitable causes.  Style, substance, and ageless grace. I adore her.  Whose style do you love? 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Indigo, Azure, Topaz, Plum, and other Shades of Joy

Cate's here for a visit. We have been magpies and adventurers.
It seems like everything we've done has been bursting with color.
~this tiny pot from the hollis flea cost 2 whole smackeroos~

~ sunshine in a blossom~

~endless plums at lull farm for grilling with butter & honey~

~endless blooms too~

~cake just because~

~settling in for an afternoon snooze~

~lights in the trees at peet's in cambridge~

~a rare blue sky~
~lavender for heart sachets~

Hope your weekend was full of color, too, my friends!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Remembering Uncle Ed

My Aunt Connie lost her husband of fifty-seven years this past week; my cousins lost their father, their grandfather, their great-grandfather.  Many in Old Town, Maine, lost their loyal friend.  When I think of Ed Sirois, I think of a gardener and a storyteller, a devoted family man blessed with a healthy balance of humility and humor.  Back when my brother, sister, and I were kids, weekend visits to Old Town were about afternoons spent around the table, eating the profoundly good food made by Aunt Connie and Memere, playing cribbage, and listening to gifted storytellers.  Yesterday, as we gathered after Uncle Ed's funeral back in Aunt Connie's kitchen, my cousin Peter told stories about the old days, and I almost felt like they were there, the ones we've lost, Memere & Pepere, Aunt Annette, my father, and now Uncle Ed.  After we left, my mum remarked that we would have had a different conversation if we'd been in the living room, and she was right.  It was in the kitchen, around the table's circle, with chairs and stools pulled up, and watermelon that Pam had brought passed from hand to hand, that we talked about the old days.  
As stories are swapped around a table, talk, like food, becomes a sort of nourishment in itself.  As Aunt Connie says, we all have memories, some good some bad, but we share them.  And this, I believe, is what binds us.  This is what gives us strength.   

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Heart Hatch Show Print

The Hatch family has been involved in letterpress printing since the mid 1800's when William H. Hatch ran a print shop in Prescott, Wisconsin, but it wasn't until after William moved his family to Nashville, Tennessee, and his two sons, Charles and Herbert, opened their own shop that the company began to develop a style which would become an icon of American culture.  The Hatch brothers' first print job was a handbill announcing that the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) was coming town. 
The company has always been known for its circus, vaudeville, and carnival posters,
but it is most famous for the stunning music posters advertising everyone 
from Johhny Cash to Cab Calloway . . .

from Patsy Cline to Coldplay . . .
and from Elvis to Elvis.

Sigh.  How do I express my love for Hatch Show posters?  They are Americana, good design, and nostalgia all rolled into one for me, and yet they retain a cutting-edge feel that I think one can only achieve with, perhaps ironically, a traditional technique like letterpress printing.  
You can find your own Hatch Show Print at The Country Music Hall of Fame.  You can also visit Hatch Show Print in downtown Nashville to see how they make their art or to buy a poster in person.  When we were in Nashville, I bought a poster of the Hatch Show cats.  While I'm on this track, I should say that Nashville is a great place to visit.  The Hall of Fame is packed with memorabilia: Nudie the Rodeo Tailor's classic country clothing, Elvis' gold car, photos and letters of all the great country stars, guitars, gold records, loads and loads of music samples, and great history.  Another must see is Ryman Auditorium, the true Grand Ol' Opry.  Plus, if you like cowboy boots as much as certain people in my house do (addiction is not too strong a word), this is the town in which to go boot shopping!  Who'da thought a New England girl like me would have such a crush on Hatch Show Print and Nashville, Tennessee?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Magpie's Fancy Pie

Okay, I swear this will be my last post about berries and desserts for a while.  I promise.  It's just that when they're in season, I must pick them, and once I've picked them, I must find a way to use them.  It's my duty.  The recipe below is one I've adapted from Nick Malgieri's blueberry pie recipe in How to Bake, which is a fantastic book for beginner and well-seasoned baker alike.  If the lattice crust looks like too much work, you could simply make this as a regular two-crust pie.  I'm not gonna lie: I played tennis yesterday, and the whole time I was playing a part of my brain was thinking about going home and making this pie.  I'm hoping that if I play tennis again today it will make me feel less guilty about eating it.

The Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
2 large eggs
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and add to the dry ingredients.  Toss once or twice to coat the butter.  Using your hands or a pastry blender, break the butter into tiny pieces and pinch into the dry ingredients.  Continue rubbing the butter into the flour mixture until it all resembles coarse cornmeal.  
  2. Beat the eggs in a small separate bowl and then pour over the flour and butter mixture.  Stir in with a fork until the dough begins to hold together but still appears somewhat dry.  Scatter a little flour onto your work surface and scrape the dough out onto it.  Press and knead the dough quickly 3 or 4 times until it is smooth and uniform.
  3. Separate the dough into 2 equal pieces and press each piece into a disk.  Sandwich the disks of dough between pieces of plastic wrap, and press each one into a 6-inch circle.  Refrigerate the disks for 1 hour or until ready to use (up to 2 days).
The Filling:
1 heaping pint blueberries, rinsed, drained, and picked over
1 heaping pint raspberries, rinsed, drained, and picked over
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Egg Wash: 
1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar for finishing top of pie
  1. Combine 1/2 cup blueberries and 1/2 cup raspberries with the sugar in a nonreactive saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is melted, about 5 minutes.  Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and whisk the hot berry mixture into it.  Return everything to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Pour into a large bowl and stir in the remaining filling ingredients, adding the berries last.  Cool completely.
  2. Set a rack at the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
  3. Roll out the bottom crust and arrange in the pie plate.  Pour the cooled filling into the bottom  crust.  
Make a Lattice-Top Crust: 
  1. Lightly flour the work surface and dough, and shape the dough into a square by pressing the sides of the disk against the work surface.  Roll the dough into a 9 x 12-inch rectangle. 
  2. Cut the dough the short way into 24 strips, each 1/2 inch wide and 9 inches long.  You can make the strips wider, just plan on having fewer strips and a larger, more rustic lattice pattern.  
  3. Arrange 12 of the strips, 1/4 inch apart, on the floured back of a jelly-roll pan.  Position the pan so that the strips are facing vertically to you.
  4. Beginning with the first strip of dough on your left, fold every other strip in half, back toward you (see photo above right).
  5. Place one of the reserved strips horizontally across the unfolded strips, just next to the fold of the other strips.
  6. Unfold the strips back to their original position, over the horizontal strip. 
  7. Repeat the process, this time beginning with the second vertical strip, folding back every other strip and then covering the remaining strips with a reserved strip.  
  8. Repeat the process, alternating until you have six strips in a basket-weave pattern.
  9. Turn the jelly roll pan and repeat the process on the other side.  If it works out to be fewer than twelve rows across, that's fine as long as the resulting basket weave is large enough to cover the top of the pie with some excess for crimping.
  10. Gently press the top of the lattice to make the strips stick together slightly, then refrigerate.  This step is important, as refrigerating the lattice top will allow you to slide it off the pan and onto the pie without breaking it! 
  11. Once the lattice is cooled, moisten the rim of the bottom crust with egg wash.  Slide the lattice carefully off the pan and onto the pie (using a spatula to make sure it is loose from the pan first), tilting the pan to assist you.  If any pieces break, you can mend them by pressing them together gently with your fingers.  If the lattice is very firm, allow it to warm up a bit, then press the lattice firmly to the bottom crust.  Trim off excess dough and flute the edge of the pie.
  1. Brush the the lattice and crust edge with egg wash (this will help to brown the crust).  Sprinkle with sugar.
  2. Place the pie on the lower rack in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, then check to make sure it is browning well.  If it is, let it bake for 10 more minutes on the bottom rack.  If it isn't browning enough, move it to the top rack for the last 10 minutes.  The filling should be bubbling when you take it out of the oven, and the crust should be golden brown and shiny.
  3. Allow to cool on a rack for about half an hour to an hour.  This is important!  The pie will still be warm inside, but the filling will hold together nicely.
  4. Serve warm (not piping hot) with ice cream (I like coffee, as you know, but vanilla's always nice, too).  
NOTE: Nick Malgieri's version uses only blueberries, and it is lovely, lovely, lovely.  I happen to adore the flavor that the raspberries bring to the pie, though.  If you find blueberry pie a bit cloying, try this version, because the raspberries are more tart and they lift the flavor considerably.  I know this crust has a lot of steps, but it is fun to make, and the resulting pie is a stunner. 

ENJOY!  xoxo

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Heart Takes Flight

On Newbury Street in Boston today we watched these amazing kids dancing, and I thought about how most students I teach tell me that Peter Pan was their favorite childhood story for one reason: the kids in the story could fly.    

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Princesses, Secrets, Poems, and Pirates

Once upon a time in a city distant as the mountains and near as the moon and real as the setting sun, there lived a woman who read many, many children's books.  She spent much of each day talking about the stories she found inside their pages and wishing she had enough hours to read all the books that had even been written about runaway mice and fairy tale princesses and little boys who never grew up.

Illustration by Edmund Dulac

It's true.  I really do spend enormous amounts of time reading children's and young adult books.  I teach children's literature to college students who want to be teachers or psychologists or even mums and dads.  I teach other English courses, too, but children's literature is perhaps my favorite.  I wrote a post about it a few months back when I first started blogging because it is such a profound experience to watch people become reacquainted with childhood reading.  Many of my students stopped reading books outside of school once they reached middle-school age.  Revisiting a play like Peter Pan or a novel like Bridge to Terabithia or a book of poems like Where the Sidewalk Ends doesn't just bring back memories; for some students it reopens a door that was long ago locked, its key hidden away somewhere quite secret.  Maybe my job in that class is to be the robin who shows them the key.  Sometimes they find it, sometimes not, but the journey we take in that class is never, ever boring.
One of the first questions I ask at the beginning of the semester is, "What was your favorite book when you were a kid?"  I love the answers I hear, and I love thinking about this question myself.  For me, it depends on what part of my childhood I consider.  In the early years I loved all fairy tales and all 23 Beatrix Potter books, plus Charlotte's Web and Peter Pan, then Little House on the Prairie and The Secret Garden, and later, To Kill A MockingbirdThe Outsiders, and The Hobbit.  The list goes on and on.  Todd says he loved Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  My good friend Jen loved The Lord of the Flies (she rules), and another friend loved The Wind in the Willows.

Key in all of this for me was that I was always read to when I was small, and later I was encouraged to read whatever I liked.  Books were everywhere in our house.  My bedroom was a chaos of books as well as notepads full of my own scribblings.  This was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me--a world of imagination and problem-solving and mystery and grand adventure.  As a grownup, I cherish contemporary writers like Cornelia Funke, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, and Philip Pullman for writing books that respect children and encourage them to dream of countless possible ever afters.

What books did you love as a kid and why?  I am dying to know.  Is there a favorite childhood book that you still love today? 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Meadow at Great Brook Farm

How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold?  
Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, 
and in that freedom bold.
~William Wordsworth

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Raspberries, Currants, and Chocolate, Oh My!

Please forgive my current obsession with all things berry.  'Tis the season, I suppose.  Yesterday we went for a long walk in Concord at Minute Man National Park, which runs along the old Battle Road.  This, along with the North Bridge, is where the opening battle of the American Revolution was fought.  While it's obviously a place of great historical importance, it is also a place of tremendous natural beauty and the perfect spot to see indigo buntings, cedar waxwings, and finches of all kinds.   

Most of the trail leads through woods, fields, and swamps, but a small portion runs along the battle road itself, and it was at that spot on the trail that we came across a small farm stand with the above sign out front.  If you read my post yesterday, you know I have a soft spot for hand painted signs.  And this one was even misspelled, which made me love it all the more (please don't tell my freshman composition students).  The gentleman who runs the stand was, of course, out of raspberries, and I already have loads anyway, but he did have luscious currants!
We bought a pint and ate a few along our hike, feeling a bit like kids as we spit out the occasional larger seeds and wandered through the tall grass, surrounded by butterflies.  When we came back home, I washed the remaining currants, plucked them from their stems, and tossed them into a pot with a pint or so of raspberries, a few tablespoons of sugar, the zest of one lime, and a slurry of a little cornstarch and water.  The whole lot cooked down to a gorgeous sauce.  You can see in the picture below that it's full of seeds.  I simply strained the sauce through a sieve, and it was ready to go.
On the way home from our walk, we had stopped at the Bedford farmers market, where we couldn't resist buying a jar of this amazing dark chocolate sauce from Sassy Sauces.  We sampled all the sauces, of course, just to make certain that this was the best possible one.

The result of our walking and buying and cooking was a dessert from heaven: vanilla ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce and raspberry-currant sauce.  I nearly wept--it was that good.  
Happily, we have lots of sauce left.  This morning I dipped my brioche in it.  It is so beautiful and so delicious (the lime zest sends it over the top) that I want to put it on almost everything.  Hope you're having a sweet Tuesday, my friends. xo