A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Vegan Sausage and Potato Scramble

If I had to run out of my house with only one item--in the case of some disaster like a fire or flood--it might well be my cast iron skillet. (The family photos are all in the cloud.) These days the skillet rarely makes it back into the cupboard; it's about the only cooking implement I put on my stove. Cooking for the family was a Norman Rockwell-style affair; cooking for myself is usually a one-dish meal.

Today it was onions, red peppers, green peppers, vegan Italian-style sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes and a handful of those little cherry tomatoes, all stir-fried in olive oil with a bit of sweet basil and oregano. A good meal for a rainy day.

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Maggie Rose Redux

In 1960, I kept a diary. I was 12 years old. In 2011, I posted in this blog each day the text of my diary entry for that same day in 1960. Many things I remembered, but a surprising number of entries seemed to have been written by another person. In many instances I had no recollection whatsoever of the events described, and I was taken aback by some of my reactions. Overall I had the feeling, copying out those old entries, that a messy, disorganized, slightly mercenary preteen had usurped the place of the saintly little Cicily of my memories. The diary Cicily had terrible taste in movies, didn't always finish her homework, and was occasionally mean to her friends. Part of me wanted to burn the evidence, but being a journalist and a historian, I opted to publish it here.

On April 9, 1960 I wrote:
 "At Steiger's there was a fountain, so we threw in pennies (my pennies). I finished 'Maggie Rose,' it was wonderful."
I have no recollection of having read Maggie Rose. But I was curious about what my younger self--the self I am realizing I don't actually know all that well--would have considered "wonderful." The Springfield library system no longer owns a copy of the book, but the Berkshire Athaneum does, and through the miracle of the inter-library loan, that copy arrived at my local branch a few days ago and I was able to re-read it.

Maggie Rose is written by Newbury medalist Ruth Sawyer, a storyteller, teacher, reporter and author who lived in Boston. (Sawyer's son-in-law was Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings.) It's illustrated by none other than Maurice Sendak. The story takes place in 1951. Maggie Rose is an enterprising little girl, the rest of whose family is cheerfully indolent. On June 24 she realizes her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is exactly half a year away. She makes plans to have, for the first time, a real birthday/Christmas celebration (her family is too lazy and too poor ever to have gone to that much effort). For six months she works to earn money and make preparations. The story ends on December 24 with her party, a smashing success.

Maggie Rose actually is a pretty good book. I think what I like about it--and what my twelve-year-old self probably liked--is the sense of place evoked in the story. Maggie Rose lives in a small Maine seacoast town. She spends a lot of time outdoors in her "secret place" on the fringe of the woods. Flora and fauna are lovingly described by Sawyer...hemlocks and pine, spruce and birch, mosses, rocks, sparrows. The other nice thing about the book is Maggie Rose herself. She's a reader, a dreamer, and a resourceful child. Kind of like me as a girl. Or at least what I think I was like.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Dandelion Omelet

This omelet is nothing but a few shallots and a handful of dandelion leaves, chopped and sautéed, salt, pepper, and one egg. I had it with Tuscan pane toast, slathered with boysenberry jam, a few organic strawberries with sugar and a splash of triple sec, and Café Bustelo with molasses and cream. A real taste of spring.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Polenta with Italian Sausage and Dandelion

Friday night, so, a glass of wine. Vino de tavola, so, something with polenta. Spring, so, dandelion greens. Something spicy needed, so, vegan Italian sausage. Garlic, shallots, olive oil, a few mushrooms, a spoonful of marinara, some crushed red pepper. Pantry to table in twelve minutes.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Tomato Soup with Farro

Soup is odds-and-ends food for me. This one is three or four shallots and a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped and sautéed, plus a few tablespoons of leftover marinara, vegetable bouillon, fresh parsley and dill, and a handful of farro, simmered till the farro was tender. I finished it with a splash of heavy cream, a pat of butter, homemade croutons and a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. For dessert, a couple of chocolate digestive biscuits and an espresso. I would've enjoyed my lunch more if a certain dog and cat had not been staring fixedly at it the entire time. Note to Taz: onions, chocolate and sugar are all bad for dogs.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Festival of Flowers

The Springfield Museums' wildly popular monthly series "Culture and Cocktails" always has seasonal themes, but this month's could not have been better planned. March this year came in like a lion and went out like a lion. Winter lingered so long in Massachusetts that I seriously wondered whether spring would ever come. The last two days of March brought bitter cold, snow, sleet, and Arctic winds, and then suddenly this week it's April, the sun is out, the air is soft, and the crocuses are up. And the Museum is having a Festival of Flowers. 

Local florists and garden clubs were invited to submit floral arrangements inspired by various works in the museums. The arrangements are scattered throughout the four museums, placed near the pieces that sparked them. Patrons can pick up a diagram identifying the locations and then it's like a scavenger hunt, roaming around the Quadrangle looking for all of them.

My favorite is the arrangement by Sherry Williams of the Springfield Garden Club, interpreting a glass and bronze Tiffany Studios lamp from 1910. She's spot-on, not only with the colors and the form of the lamp, but with the overall feel of the piece. What amuses me the most is that the lamp is botanically inspired, with its base in the form of a trunk and leaves, and she's taken it back to the original plants. Plus it's pretty and I could totally picture it in my house.

The design team at Flowers, Flowers! took over the entire Blake Court in the Museum of Fine Arts, and did a bang-up job. The interpretation of Herman Herzog's "View of Niagara Falls in Moonlight" has huge cascades of white flowers, frothy moss and a beautiful palette of greys and greens. The interpretation of Joseph Whiting Stock's "The Fisherman with His Dog" is very large, like the painting itself, with a dangly exotic flower to represent the fishing rod and line, and a mirror so that you see yourself as the fisherman. Very whimsical. The interpretation of "Evening at Low Tide, Manomet" has rocks, seaweed, and tight chrysanthemums which look like some form of sea life. Gorgeous.

In the French Impressionist Gallery, Tara Northway Ostrosky had the courage to tackle the Degas, "Rehearsal Before the Ballet," with success I might add. The gorgeous pink parrot tulips, delphiniums, Queen Anne's lace, plum blossoms, combined with sage green leaves,
are the essence of spring.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Liquor for Lunch

One of the best things about working from home is, you can drink on the job. Not that I drink all that much, but when I make a pasta dish for lunch and want to have a glass of wine with it, I don't have to think twice. It's perfectly legal. I remember when I was working at Intel, some poor guy had a couple of beers on his lunch break and ended up in a world of trouble, suspended I think. Of course, every box of wafers we handled had a street value of four million dollars, and the equipment was worth much more than that, so probably it was a good rule. But it's not my rule any more.

I don't even like pasta much, so when I do cook it, I always add a lot of other stuff to it. This was a dribs-and-drabs meal anyway...some forgotten tortellini in the freezer and a bit of leftover marinara from last week's pizza. I turned it into vodka sauce with olive oil, shallots, artichoke hearts, rosemary, heavy cream and of course the vodka. I jazzed up some overripe kiwis, persimmon, and raspberries with a splash of Chambord, and ate both dishes with some Merlot. And there you have it...liquor for lunch.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Braised Cabbage and Pierogi

Braising is a cooking method I like very much, right after stir-frying. It's a combination of frying and boiling...what you do when stir-frying alone would burn the food before it would cook it through. You just begin by frying your cabbage or whatever, then add a bit of water and cover the pan till the food is tender. Sometimes I reverse the process: moist-cook the whatever, then add oil as the water evaporates to make the food crispy.

These were the outer leaves of a head of cabbage, sort of tough to be handled with oil alone. Slivered and braised, with plenty of garlic, they were delicious. And those are some of the homemade pierogi I had frozen at Christmastime. A nod to both my Irish and Polish heritage.

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