Tuesday, March 30, 2010

P is for People

People are definitely what I am thinking about today as the rain continues to pour down, and hundreds of folks who live near rivers all over New England are being evacuated from their homes.  I took the above photo a few weeks ago at Great Meadows in Concord, a place we visit often to go walking and bird watching.  In the photo my husband and his sister are standing in front of what is usually the beginning of a long causeway between two marshes; however, the marshes--home to countless animals--have been flooded for weeks with overflow from the Concord River.  So, displaced animals, too, are on my mind.  

As I watched the local news last night, I saw an elderly woman being evacuated from her home, and her one concern was not for her house; it was for her cats, whom she thinks of as her children.  The caring rescue workers crated them up and brought them to a nearby animal shelter to wait out the storm.    

With nearly 13 inches of rain, this is the wettest March on record in Boston, and it's the fourth wettest month since 1872.  With more rain on the way tonight and tomorrow, it will likely become the second wettest month on record.  The Boston Globe has posted a piece on how to build your own ark.  Indeed, where we live on the mighty Merrimack River, the flood season can seem quite biblical.  

P is for People, yes.  And Pleuvoir and Patience and Pouring and Paddle and Prayers.  

Friday, March 26, 2010

O is for . . .

First, I just have to say that there are few subjects sexier or more fun to photograph than olives.  Does that sound crazy?  Seriously, just look at them!  What could be more wonderful than an olive?  When I was a kid, I hated olives, probably because most of the olives available in small-town USA during the 1970's were of the heinous canned variety or the very cheaply bottled variety.  I might as well have been chewing on pencil erasers.  

But then one night at a dinner party in my twenties I tried my first real, imported Kalamata olives.  Oh, what I'd been missing all those years!  This soon led to Gaetas and Alfonsos and Picholines and . . . well, I never looked back.  Olives and I have been in a love affair ever since.  

So in honor of these little gems, I thought I'd share a very simple but beautiful recipe for olive al forno.  The ingredients are few, but the resulting flavors are sophisticated and multi-layered.  That's the beauty of cooking with olives.  This recipe comes from Michele Scicolone's A Fresh Taste of Italy, a book I adore, and I've made this many times with different kinds of olives.  Today I had Kalamatas on hand, and that seemed just right, since they were the ones that started this whole romance for me.  The recipe sings dinner party, cocktail party, movie snack--even kids who don't like olives will probably like this because the olives become velvety and sweet.  Sigh.

Roasted Olives with Fennel & Lemon

8 ounces imported black olives
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled 
1/2 lemon, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup of your favorite olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
Pinch of crushed red pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Toss all the ingredients together in an 8-inch baking pan.  Bake for 45 minutes, stirring a few times.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm or room temperature, alone or with crusty bread.  In addition to the luscious olives, the lemons taste divine, the garlic is soft and caramelized (sometimes I leave it in its skin before roasting, and then just pop it out and spread it on bread with a little of the leftover oil drizzled over the top).

These keep in the fridge for about a week, but you'll probably eat them all well before that!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

N is for . . .

New season, new header, and the new outlook I'm trying to cultivate after a long, rather hard winter.  I feel like my family, some wonderful old companions, sweet blog friends, my cats, books, and my writing projects have kept me going.  Another gift is that this dreadful winter came on the heels of one of the best autumns of my life.  I believe that the seasons of plenty can prepare us for the lean seasons, and the lean ones make us appreciate those bountiful ones all the more.

Thank you from the soles of my harness boots to the roots of my highlights for all that you give, all that you share.  So often you do it without a single expectation of anything in return.  I've said more than once this winter that I was having a tough time, but then I haven't gone on to share any details or clarify my remarks.  That seems a bit unfair of me, and yet you haven't complained.  Not once.  That is because you are patient; you understand.  Some encounters, some moments, some life events--even the big ones that shape us in new and completely unforeseen ways--can't be shared, and yet it is good to know that there are friends who stop by for visits or send parcels or write unexpected emails just to check in.  

And then I see someone who is suffering, someone who is hungry or lonely or scared, and my own cares and worries seem petty.  Look at that roof over my head: not a leak in it tonight as the rain clamors against the skylight, searching for a way in.  The seal holds tight.  We are safe and warm inside.  Tomorrow I'll make soup with kale and white beans, and maybe some homemade biscuits.  My husband will tell me a joke and forget the punch line (this is not a vague prediction; I can say this with far more certainty than a meteorologist can forecast the weather).  Someone in my family will call just as I'm picking up the phone to call them.  I possess more riches than I can measure.

Usually I'm a vintage girl, a celebrator of thrift and reuse, a magpie and picker, gleaning treasures from cast offs and long-forgotten troves.  Tonight, though, I sing of the new, of turning the proverbial new leaf, of seeing the world through new, perhaps rosier glasses.  Yet even as I wax rhapsodic about the new, I keep in my sights the glimmer of the past, for it's from the old, wizened stem that a green branch grows, and from this branch a new bud blooms.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

M is for . . .

When I was a little girl, one of my mum's friends used to say to me, "Gigi, you've got moxie."  She meant that I had pep, verve, chutzpah, a general can-do attitude.  I loved that she said it, because her saying it made me believe it.  Ah, the power of a word.  

This particular word, moxie, is an Americanism borrowed from the trademark name of a 19th-century drink that was originally sold as a health tonic, but, like Coca-Cola, it soon became popular less for its medicinal purposes and more for its distinct flavor.  Unlike Coca-Cola, at no point in Moxie's history did it ever contain cocaine as an ingredient.  Also unlike Coke, it obviously never attained worldwide popularity.  Why it didn't is a mystery to me.    Some folks (my husband and almost everyone else I know) claim Moxie is an acquired taste.  If so, it's one I acquired at birth.  Maybe that's because I grew up in Maine, the state where its inventor, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born.  Sealing the deal on my Moxie adoration birthright is the fact that I now live in the very city where Dr. Thompson invented his patent medicine, "Moxie Nerve Food" in 1876.  Yup.  Lowell, Massachusetts, is famous for a few things: it's the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, Bette Davis, and Ed MacMahon; for years it was the home of Prince (not the singer, the pasta company--we still have a neighborhood in Lowell called Spaghettiville); and it is the birthplace of delicious and refreshing Moxie. 
Moxie isn't widely enjoyed or even known outside of New England, but if you can get your hands on a bottle or can, or better yet, a case, I guarantee you will find it an especially useful treatment of "paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia".  Okay, maybe I can't guarantee all of Dr. Thompson's claims, but I will tell you that when I have a tummy ache, Moxie makes it feel better.  I think it's the Gentian root extract that does the trick.  It's also the Gentian root extract that makes it taste so good, "good" being a highly subjective term.  Others say the Gentian root makes it taste like tar.  They are wrong, of course.  Todd used to say this, but he is now a Moxie convert, I am proud to say.  It only took him nineteen years to acquire the taste.   

I am not a soda drinker.  I don't like really sugary drinks.  On occasion, though, maybe once every couple of months, I will have a can of Moxie.  I hate it in these newfangled plastic bottles; they wreck the flavor.  I say this, of course, in my orneriest old-duffer voice.  Back in the day we bought it in thick 8-ounce glass bottles with a picture of the Moxie Man on the front--a fellow in a white lab coat pointing at us like some cross between a clean-cut country doctor and Uncle Sam.  You took one look at the Moxie Man and you just knew this drink had to be good for you.  These days he's still on the plastic bottles, but they've taken him off the cans, at least the cans I can find in my area.  I've photographed the current cans above, along with a glass of Moxie on the rocks (Moxie on the Roxies, I called it as a kid).  I miss Dr. Moxie, but I'm just glad this old-fashioned drink is still around.  It gives me pep.  It gives me vigor.  It gives me know-how and a can-do (forgive the pun) attitude.  Others may like their Coke and their Pepsi, and even their Dr. Pepper, but I'm with Dr. Thompson, who always said, "Make Mine a Moxie."   

For more information on Moxie, visit here.  
For information on the annual Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine (you know you want to go!), visit here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

L is for . . .

The sun shone yesterday, and the air was sweet, 
so we traveled the old road
of salt marshes and blueberry patches 
to my childhood beach;
the beach where we played in the surf 
until, even in August, our skin was red 
from the ice-cold, pounding waves;
the beach where my father dove in,
fully clothed, to save me from the undertow
when I was five (for years after he held on
to the salt-stained leather belt
that he'd worn that day); 

the beach where we built sandcastles and forts,
where we scrambled over granite rocks,
fed french fries to greedy sea gulls,
and drank grape Shasta from cans.
This is love, revisiting a place
that shaped you
in the best ways, a place
where danger and comfort
are intertwined, 
where ever scrub pine
whispers the past,

where when your love takes your hand,
you hold fast--
not from fear--
but from the sense 
that in the space between your palms
lie the answers
to all the questions
you could ever ask.

Todd's Point, Reid State Park, Georgetown, Maine

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

K is for Knocked Out . . .

or maybe Kitty Nap
(although Dill finds "kitty" a little wimpy for him) . . .
or candlesticK
(cheating, I know) . . .
or ________________ (feel free to fill in the blank).

This is my mother's bay window.  Cats always, always sleep here in the sunshine among the candlesticks.  It is the number one catnap spot in her house.  In 40-odd years, not one cat has broken one candlestick.  K is for Knock on Wood that Dill won't break one now!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

J is for . . .

This jasmine plant was a gift to me from my friend Morgan, so this post is a big thank you to her as well as a celebration of life and renewal.  

If you are feeling down today, think of the jasmine plant; it releases its scent at night and brings sweetness even to the darkest hours.  And then there are the blooms to enjoy when we find our way to the dawn.  

xo Gigi

P.S. This post is for my friend Jen out in LA, too, because in my world, J is always for Jen.  Miss you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I is for Indie

It's easy these days to despair at the state of the economy, and here in the US, it's easy to despair about the state of our government, health care, education, and myriad social woes.  Empty storefronts, foreclosures, and unemployment are rampant.  In the face of these crises, however, I see certain trends that give me hope.  One is that some folks are finally cutting back on out-of-control spending; another is that some families are rediscovering simpler pastimes (like the old board games I mentioned in G is for Games); a third is that some civic-minded individuals are recognizing the value of our old main streets as a place to gather, shop, and spend time.  

I'll say it right here: I hate shopping malls and chains.  They kill the souls of small towns and mid-sized cities.  They destroy the sense of a communal center, a solid, real, and enduring civic anchor.  When towns become endless corridors of strip malls and parking lots, what is left in which we can take pride?  If every town has a Chili's and a Starbuck's and a Walmart, and if all of those businesses are housed in cinderblock and corrugated metal excuses for buildings, what makes one town indistinguishable from another?  If beauty and enduring value are traded in for convenience and instant gratification, any sense of investment in community and heritage is destroyed.  In fact, what we are left with is nothing but empty consumerism.  

When I have the alternative of buying a freshly baked scone from a local baker, he will always win over Panera.  And when there's the option of getting a cup of coffee at a local cafe, forget about Starbucks.  The indie places I frequent source as much as possible from local suppliers (other indies!); they give back to their communities; and perhaps just as importantly, they give us all a sense of belonging.  Back in the 1980's one of the most popular US television shows was Cheers.  People loved that show about a local Boston bar because, it's true, sometimes you do "want to go where everybody knows your name."  

I don't usually use my blog as a soap box, but the first word that came to my mind when I thought about the letter I was "independent," and I thought about all the indie bookstores, cafes, restaurants, grocers, farmers, merchants of various wares, and craftspeople that I love.  In my own town of Lowell, Massachusetts, these intrepid folks make me proud to be a part of the community, and in the many other towns and cities I visit, they are what draws me onto a main street and makes me want to get to know the place better.  In some cases, they make me fall hopelessly, irreversibly in love with a place (as in Portland, Maine, or Savannah, Georgia!).  No TGIFridays or Dunkin' Donuts has ever, ever done that to me!   

I just want to mention one such indie place that knocks my socks off every time I go there: Frontier Cafe, Cinema, and Gallery in Brunswick, Maine.  If you visit coastal Maine, I cannot recommend it highly enough for the great food, the baked goods, the beer & wine and coffees, the movie house, and the art.  Who could ask for more?  Housed in a wonderful old mill (you know me and old mills) on the Androscoggin River, it is a very hip yet comfy place to spend an afternoon or watch a great indie film--double the indie fun!  

Thanks for letting me sing the praises of indies.  I want to spread the word about them whenever I can.  The more we each of us invests in our own local economies, the more we support the growth of unique, responsible, and cool places in our towns and cities.  So, that said, what indie businesses do you love?

the beverage bar at Frontier
fresh flowers abound
a comfy corner--
shortly after I took this shot a group of friends 
celebrated a baby shower here.
looking out a window toward the bridge spanning the Androscoggin

Saturday, March 13, 2010

H is for Hydrangea

Okay, so maybe this no longer resembles a lush, pompon of a flower, but I couldn't resist taking this shot of the plant's skeletal remains before the gardener in the park where I was walking hacked them all down to make way for the much-anticipated arrival of the first spring blooms.  There's something that draws me to the stripped-bare beauty of leaves and twigs at the end of winter.  I think it is in part the textures, but it is also, I'm quite certain, the fact that these very twigs and leaves will soon be gone.  Sometimes the value of a thing or a person or a place grows greater to me when I realize how transient it is, how transient I am.  Ah, yes, mutability.  Percy Shelley and I would have been best friends.  Perhaps I should have named this post H is for Hurrah, as in the last one--at least until spring bursts on the scene.

I'm thinking tonight of what daylight will bring: the smell of cold mud and new moss, the taste of early morning tea and wheat toast with raspberry jam, and the feel of a pair of work gloves on hands that after a long winter have become too used to indoor pursuits.  There are gardens to clear at my mother's house, a fence to mend, and, yes, old hydrangeas to cut back.  Life itself right now is all about mending damage and pruning and preparing for a tomorrow that brings with it some things as expected and familiar as snowdrops and daffodils, but also, of course, surprises--some as welcome as a new plant volunteering itself in the garden, others as unwanted as a fence blowing down in a storm or a tree falling on the chicken coop (notice how much I want chickens; they peck their way into nearly every conversation and thought!).  I've got a good pair of pruning shears, a box full of tools, and my back is nearly mended from the tumble I took last fall.  I can pull on my wellies and tackle anything.  I'm ready.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

G is for Games

Visiting my mother this week, I discovered all our favorite childhood games stacked on a shelf in the laundry room.  Most of the boxes are a bit ratty, but the boards are fairly intact and nearly all the playing pieces are miraculously still in their little cardboard slots.

These are the real deal--vintage seventies rainy-day specials.  Including the best game of all time: CLUE
My sister and I always fought to be Miss Scarlet.  She was older, so she usually won.  My second choice was Professor Plum; third was Colonel Mustard.  No one ever wanted to be Mrs. White.  

And then there was Twister.  This game was only fun when I was about twelve and when there were boys around.  My mum and I looked Twister up on the ever-reliable and always factual (ahem) Wikipedia, and we discovered that Twister was first released in 1966, but it didn't become a hit until Eva Gabor played it with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.  What a hoot that must have been!  Apparently, Milton Bradley was accused by its competitors of selling "Sex in a Box."  Well, duh, as we  used to say when we were kids!

From the looks of it, our Twister spinner is one of the early ones.  Don't ask me who wrote the numbers on it or what they were for.  We were always inventing our own spinoff games using various bits and pieces from other less-loved games.

Last but not least is the Ouija Board, produced by Parker Brothers, who, forgive the pun, had quite a monopoly on the game industry in those days.  Ouija isn't strictly speaking a game, but we treated it like one, albeit a terrifying, pee-your-pants kind of game.  Sitting around the Ouija board in a dark room with candles lit and a half-dozen or so kids wired on orange soda and chips is one of my most vivid childhood memories.  So vivid that I ended up writing a poem about Ouija, which I've included below just in case you're in a poetry mood.  It's written as if it were the rules for how to "play" Ouija.  Definitely read it aloud.  It begins as a kind of funny poem, but don't let that fool you.  Read all the way through, beginning slowly and letting your pace pick up as you go.  I should mention, too, that it's not a poem about childhood.

Ouija-Board Rules
“Ouija board, ouija board, ouija board,
would you help me?
Because I still do feel 
so horribly lonely.”
The board should be bought
during a waxing moon
at a two-family yard sale 
in Ohio or Vermont,
or found on a Wednesday
at the town dump, 
or passed down 
from a spinster aunt 
with gout and houseplants.
It must be kept 
in a box whose corners
are held with cellophane
tape the color of tea,
and after obsessive use 
for three consecutive nights
during which six
thirteen-year-old girls
receive this message
from the spirit world
three consecutive times:
warning staircase good bye,
it must be wedged
with trembling hands
on a shelf in the hall closet
beside the hat box 
with the brown fedora no one has worn, 
and between the Candy Land 
and Clue with missing candlestick
replaced by a penny marked 1973.
It must wait then for at least 
a decade in the dark to speak.
Only then, on a weekend 
when the house smells of pea soup
and a particularly pungent
strain of family tension and loss,
may it be taken down,
the planchette placed gently
as a beating heart 
in its center,
and the fingers of those present
may take their positions.
Expect nothing.
Let someone else ask the questions.
Do not let your pulse
quicken its pace.
Place a pure silver coin
over the moon.
Picture a piece of the one you lost--
the crescent scar behind her ear--
never picture her face.
Do not want this too much.
When the planchette trembles,
glides to the letters,
let someone else spell the answers.
The room will be dark, of course.
Spirits like dark, 
and rain’s good, too.
Windows will rattle
as windows do.
Ignore words
from the man who died
in the basement
or the sea captain 
who murdered his second wife.
You’ll be tempted to flip 
on all the switches, bake chocolate
chip bars, play Twister, 
which you found in the closet, too,
but do not let go.
Wait for the words that matter,
the ones for you,
the ones from her,
the ones she never said,
the ones about bacon 
sandwiches in the park 
on a Sunday; the word shoe,
which could only mean
the one you lost chasing
her drunk down Deering Street
on New Year’s Eve.
Wait for her words,
the ones you never heard;
do not let go.
If they don’t come,
if you must,
if all else fails,
ignore the others
around the board,
push the planchette;
push it past S, past F,
past YES, past the sun,
past the moon, past Parker Brothers,
and X;
push the needle in the heart,
push it all the way to HELLO--
do not let go.

(This poem was previously published in Mid-American Review, published by Bowling Green State University, and in my chapbook Learning to Tell Time, published by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.)

I'd love to hear about your favorite childhood board games.  Do you still play any of them now?  I think I'm going to pester my nephews to play Clue with me sometime soon.  Maybe now I'll finally get to be Miss Scarlet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

F is for . . .

I have come here my whole life, returned to scramble over stones, climb dark stairs, explore the honeycomb cells and arches and hear the wind moan.
I was born near the mouth of a river, that in-between realm, neither salt nor fresh, shifting with tides and storms and the ocean's swell.  Yet still the fort stands, and we return for welcomes, farewells, the fights that no words can solve, the pains that time never seems to quell.   
We come back to the stronghold, defenseless ourselves, seeking solace in the salt and wind and seagrass whipping harsh against our legs.  Here we stand at the edge, not safe at all, but still we stay
as if the stones themselves support us, as if memories of the years we've spent sustain us, as if we've never had to say goodbye, as if as long as these arches stand we are safe, there is something sure, there is this, always this, if nothing else--some things endure.
Fort Popham, Phippsburg, Maine

Saturday, March 6, 2010


is for egg.

I am tempted to fill this post with all sorts of bad egg puns, but I will resist.  Poor Todd had to hear a barrage of them this morning over his morning bowl of oatmeal.  We'd decided that since we finally had a beautiful day--50 whole sunshiny degrees fahrenheit--we needed to be outside and breathing in all that muddy, mossy, nearly blossoming air.  So what better way to enjoy the day than to visit a local organic egg farm?  Until we finally get to raise our own chickens, it's the next best thing. 

Not only did we hang out with the roosters and hens at Chip-In Farm (so named because the original owners "chipped in" back in 1944 to buy the farm) in Beford, Massachusetts, we also got to chill with a large russet pig named Lilac, a few bunnies, a sheep, and various and sundry goats.  I have a few pretty great photos of a particular part of Lilac's anatomy, but I think I shall save those for another day and another post.  They are too special; I wouldn't want them stealing the glory from the chickens.
After the farm we went for a long walk at Minuteman Park in Concord.  The first spring-like day of the year had families and couples out in droves.  

And speaking of glory, look at these beauties we brought home.  Tonight we made a basic but wonderful egg salad with a little mayo, mustard powder, paprika, salt & pepper, a dash of Tabasco, a finely chopped scallion, and a finely chopped bread-and butter pickle.  The salad on a bed of fresh lettuce with the best hothouse tomato we could find (gosh I miss summer tomatoes!) sandwiched between slices of multigrain quinoa bread made a perfect early evening supper after our "mudlucious" (apologies to e.e. cummings) day.  

Oh, and the E at the top of the post is a handmade vintage E from an old wooden sign.  It's about two feet tall and it hangs on our living room wall.  It has never had any particular significance other than that we like it.  Neither of us has any names beginning with E, but we thought it was pretty when we saw it at an antiques store in Waldoboro, Maine, so home it came with us.  Now I suppose it will forever stand for egg, which seems a perfectly lovely word to me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

D is for Daisy

This sweet beaded daisy was given to me by my friend Marlowe.  I can't look at it without feeling hopeful.  I'm sending it out tonight to her with love and hope and wishes for sunnier days.

C is for Cadeau

A special parcel arrived last night--special because of what was inside, special because of how it was wrapped, and , most importantly, special because of how it came to arrive at my doorstep.  Sande, the woman behind the amazing blog and online boutique, A Gift Wrapped Life, hosted a North American giveaway in celebration of her one-year blog anniversary.  Dustjacket Attic, the woman whose blog we all visit for fashion, beauty, humor, and a large dose of wit, was one of the winners of Sande's giveaway.  DJ, who lives in Australia, shared her beautiful gift with me.   
First, I need to say that I tried to resist.  Really, I did.  I tried to wait until morning light to open this package in order to photograph it in natural light, but when the delivery man arrived in the evening with this parcel--well, let's just say I'm only human.  Even the brown shipping box was decorated with Sande's gorgeous blog-header photo.  I dove in, pausing just long enough to snap a few shots.  Please excuse the less-than-stellar photos.  My hands were shaking (Who has time for a tripod at a moment like this?), my knees were knocking, and the lighting--ugh.  

Yet the package, even under the circumstances, was glorious.  Let's begin with the photo above.  That was the label on the envelope just inside the box.  I photographed it behind a few of my own peach blossom branches.  

Inside the envelope was this knockout card from Sande.  Underneath the card lay perfectly pleated pink tissue.  Sigh.

I lifted the tissue to discover this ruffled peony tucked into a satin wired ribbon bow in a deeper shade of pink.  This was tied around a box impeccably wrapped in dove-grey patterned paper.

I lifted the lid (the box, by the way, is gorgeous, too) only to discover more pleated pink tissue fastened with this delicious tag.  At this point, imagine me talking aloud to an empty room.  I was so excited that I needed to comment on every stage of the unveiling.  There I was exclaiming, squealing even, with no one but the cats to hear.  I think they were just hoping I'd drop some tissue on the floor for them to play with.  They were out of luck.  It was too perfect to just toss on the floor.  I carefully laid each piece in a stack on the table as I went.  And look what I found next:

Beneath perfectly creased tissue triangles were two paper roses tucked into more ribbon--grey this time.  And these ribbons were wrapped around my giveaway gift:
a trio of exquisitely-scented Left Bank candles from Charlotte Moss.  The candles are stunning, the silvered glass is perfection, and just look at that marbled paper inside the lozenge-shaped box!  Swoon.  Serious swoon.

Thank you Sande and DJ, for generosity and beauty and un cadeau much loved by me.  When I started blogging a year ago, I wrote a post called The Art of the Parcel about how I often love the parcel, the wrapping and card and ribbons, as much as I love the gift itself.  When someone takes the time to make receiving the gift such a delight for the senses, it adds layers of meaning and memory that I treasure.  

I've received a few other magical treasures recently, but I'll save them for another post.