Thursday, February 16, 2017

STARRY NIGHT




All the moons and comets and stars have been great items of interest in the past little while, and we’ve stood out in the cold back yard, breaths wafting up into the darkness, as we took in these once-in-a-lifetime moments of astronomical significance.  All that cosmic display, going on for untellable time, just up there for the looking at---we seldom think of what grandeur just goes on without us, heedless of our little plans and designs.  

Caro just sent me a lovely video of an unimaginably-painted scene---Van Gogh’s STARRY NIGHT coming to life atop a bowl of dark water.    In a moment, the artist’s hands scatter-spatter, then splash-drip the paint in childish blobs.   Then he magically swirls and contours the masses of  quivering colour into the familiar beauty of Vincent’s nightscape with just a few dips and strokes of brush and fingers.  I cannot think how he ever thought to DO it, let alone honed such a technique into such a frangible art form, ephemeral and fleeting as smoke.  

A moment to take in the beauty of it, then a magnificent swirl of the heavens, like a cosmic interruption that shook galaxies in the creation of the Universe.   A few more drops of colour bring a magical transformation into another familiar painting---simply stunning in the making.


This is too beautiful not to share. Do make it into full screen and use your sound---Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata lends the perfect accompaniment.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

LONG AGO VALENTINES





Young and sweet and innocent as these small images are, this must have been an ADULT Valentine, or at least meant for teenagers, when I was of the send-one-to-every-person-in-your-class age.  If we first, second, third graders had come to school with such a racy message in hand, ready to stash it in the big red box covered just that week by our busy hands in construction paper and streamers of crinkly red crepe, we, as well as the object of our momentary affection, would have been teased beyond bearing.   It was absolutely NOT DONE to verge into romantic territory at our tender ages, despite the heart-strings of the holiday.  You'd have been hearing about tree-sitting and K-I-S-S-I-N-G til the cows came home.

 
Our little twenty-for-a-quarter packs of the small bright die-cut sentiments were painstakingly chosen for just the right person, though the lack of variety at Leon’s Drugstore limited us all to buying identical crinkly red cellophane packages, with perhaps five designs total. They came in small swinging rectangles, hung from the neat hooks on the SUNDRIES aisle which at other seasons might have held corn pads or cards of needles, and the Valentines were cushioned in a thin grey cardboard frame, like the cut-off bottom of a small cheap box.  The whole thing was sealed in a thick, almost indestructible sheet of cellophane impervious to most fingers and even our blunt-nosed scissors, though we were not above employing a quick nip with two eye-teeth to start a little slit for tearing.




I assume there was an unwritten law that you HAD to write out your Valentines the night before, for I cannot remember any earlier contact save for the buying, though I was known to lay them out like a gaudy game of Solitaire on my bed in the days before, choosing the receivers by pattern or poem or whim.   I was also not above putting an unobtrusive small penciled number on the back, with a corresponding name on a line in my notebook, until I could make that final important decision.  I hope that I remembered to erase all those furtive numbers, for I fear that more than one of us knew that trick.


We’d carry our carefully-lettered little flaps of colour up to that big fancy box, inserting them one or two at a time into the slot in the top with everyone avidly looking on, hoping for a flash of their own names to appear as a card was slid into the box, or for the glimpse of a secret crush, revealed to all as the card disappeared between the ruffly overlay of the mail-slot.








Occasionally one or two of us would have had a splurge at the Ben Franklin two towns over, and might just have lucked onto a little cardboard platter from another company, with quite different pictures and quotes inside the red cello cover.  But most usually, when the giver-outer of the Valentines stood reading off the names, and we’d go forward and receive our mail, it was more like dealing out a big stack from a four-card deck, as the little sailor dog and the bird in the tree appeared over and over, interspersed with small Shirley Temple clones and windmills and mice.   But oh, the heart-pounding moments as you waited, heard your name, stepped forward with a trembly hand outstretched, and received another of the showy little slips.  I never looked at mine til the calling had finished and the teacher took off the lid to
see if any errant Valentines might still be caught inside.   I’d made sure that every single one of mine was safely clutched to my front like a nervous gambler, with the white side hidden so no one could see who did and didn’t send me one. 






Being limited to twenty when there were sometimes twenty-five people in our class was no problem either, for quite a few of us girls would make special ones for a few good friends, all festooned in hand-cut little hearts still bearing the center-crease from the folding-to-cut, and with perhaps a little slip of a ribbon bow or some of that squiggle-ribbon which curled when you pulled the scissors blade down the length of it.   So we never truly left out anyone, despite the limit on “bought” cards, and I can remember only perhaps two girls who went around the room asking cattily, “And how many did YOU get” or crowing “Eye got Twenty-NINE!” when we all know perfectly well there were not even that many people in the class, and the handwriting looked mighty similar on at least five of them (and similar to HERS, at that).

Oh, for something so anticipated and pleasurable and fraught with delighted dread as those little cheap, primary-colored bits of childhood. Weren’t we innocent?  Weren’t we small?   I know I’m smiling.





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Monday, January 16, 2017

MIRACLE PIE



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Tomorrow is our Gracie’s birthday, all grown up from the tiny toddler girl she was when she and her Mommy came to live with us for a year and a half.  We had so many wonderful moments and playtimes and adventures during those close-at-home years, from waking to her request for “coffee” to bedtime prayers naming each and every relative, pet, doll and stuffed animal who loved her.   

I’ve been reminiscing over the sweet days when we had such a close bond, and how it’s had to stretch mightily as they moved so far away.   They’re now within an hour and a half, and perhaps we’ll get to celebrate together soon.   One of my sweetest memories is a Thanksgiving when she was about five, and very fond of helping out in the kitchen.   She always had her own little aprons and tiny set of kitchen tools.

She and Caro and I had spent the afternoon of Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving making pies---sweet potato and pecan and lemon, and she had punched out little leaves and flowers and all sorts of beautiful decorations from the crust scraps. We arrayed them grandly around the margins, crimped them into the edges, and scattered them atop, crusted with sugar.

When we finished the three, there was one of the roll-up crusts left in the box. She said "Let's make a CHERRY pie!!!" I said I don't think we have any cherries; she smiled me the patient smile we’d reserve for a gently-addled aunt and said, "See, there they are---Cherries!" And they were, right where she pointed---on the crust box. So, as not to undo any child's fancy of the magical power of being in Ganjin's kitchen, I went unhopefully to the pantry, knowing I hadn’t bought a can of pie filling in a coon’s age.

And there, atop everything else, front and center, over the tuna and the Del Monte beans, the crushed pineapple and the Campbell's, with the beam of that 100-watt hitting it like the Gleam of Glory, sat a can of Lucky Leaf, shining in the shelf-light. Not a mote of dust, not a sign of its having lived a moment in that pantry---I'm convinced it sprang to life as I hit the light switch---soft strains of angel-song in the background, and a swell of harps.

And it was a LOVELY pie; we ate every bite for Supper dessert, and I so wish she could be here tomorrow to celebrate her birthday.  I know I haven't bought any pie filling in a long time, but miracles do happen.






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Saturday, January 14, 2017

SUMMER IN A SPOON



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Apropos of nothing except that I saw a young woman make and construct the most elaborately beautiful Napoleon on one of the Baking Shows last night, with perfect planks of just-made puff sandwiched with poufs of cream and the most enormous shining blackberries---I’m thinking of blackberry cobbler.

Blackberries are a Summer thought, of course, strange on these iron-hard cold days, except for a spoonful from that preciously-hoarded pint of blackberry preserves from last year’s crop grown by friends Lil and Ben, and brought to us on their travels.   The very thought conjures steamy mornings, both outside braving the brambles for those elusive globules of colour and sweet, and inside over the canning kettles as the blub and simmer turn the fruit into such a lively, lovely mass of remembered moments: fresh-opened biscuits with butter melting within, or a piece of slumpy-toast with a smear of purple sweetness cuddled within the warmth.


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A church supper with Aunt Bessie setting down her perfectly-latticed 9x13 of Blackberry Cobbler was a moment in time that I’d love to recapture.



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  And Auntie Bond made the most wonderfully-memorable cobblers with “Sankers” in them---a crust laid into the bottom of the big blue-and-white roaster-pan, a great sluice of sugared berries and juice poured in, then a smaller top crust laid on atop the filling.  As the cobbler baked, the top crust cooked for a while, then was pushed down into the berries, with more of the filling poured in, then another
larger crust sealed on top and baked til golden.  


When you cut down through those differing layers with that big old spoon, you got layers of crisp top and firm bottom crust, with a great cascade of the filling and melty middle crust, which had simmered into the most delightful soft bits like the fruitiest dumplings swirled in.


 And I never fail to think of a memorable dish that we stumbled upon on the way to Cincinnati several years ago.  On a back-road meander through a little town, we found a little country diner---a rustic, comfy one of the Kafe'-with-a-K sort, and the walls covered with the proprietor's paintings of birdhouses and barns, each with a little Post-It pennant announcing the price.

We partook of unimportant hamburgers, and asked what kind of pie. That's what you DO in a diner. Even though CAKE is our favorite, and there WAS a pretty white one sitting under the flat-topped dome on the counter, there's just something about a DINER that says "Pie." And sometimes you order some of every kind, just to be friendly.   Haven’t you always wanted to order “two slices of every kind of pie you’ve got” for the table, like in the MICHAEL movie?  

This time the choices were apple and pecan, neither of which appealed at the moment. We were about to pass on dessert, when the hostess (and owner) tilted her head slightly toward the kitchen-cutout and said, "Let me see if that Blackberry Cobbler has come out of the oven yet." (I
remember her face and demeanor as much like the lady who recommended the Dutch Apple Pie to Starman in the diner---his first taste of Earthfood, and I loved the waitress' pleasure at the total enjoyment on his cream-smeared face). 

Our server hostess returned with a shallow bowl the size of a dinnerplate, two long iced-tea spoons---the better to share it with, My Dear---and a quite visible trail of fragrant steam. She set it down with a little flourish, and stepped back a step as we admired.   In the bowl was a BIG river of beautiful purple, little rivulets of lavender and mauve spreading as it melted the two huge scoops of vanilla atop the sugar-crusted lattice. 


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It was too hot to eat at first, but we were determined to dig in before it melted the ice cream into liquid, so we did. Spoon after spoon, it was the essence and life and vitality and round dark sweetness of every blackberry that ever swelled on the bramble. It was the most delicious cobbler I've ever tasted, big ole whole blackberries with their shapes altered just enough to let free all those pent-up Summer juices. I hope we can find that little out-of-the-way place again.




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Blackberry Cobbler, in all its forms and fashions---whether crusted, latticed, Sankered, with biscuits or crescent rolls baked on, or with that CuppaCuppaCuppa thing stirred up in the bottom, to magically rise into a cloud of crisp doughy sweetness like floating teacakes---it conjures other times, other climes, in the way no other fruit pie can.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

HUSH








"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."       Dylan Thomas