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.

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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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whoever Hateth His Brother Is a Murderer

History is not exactly "everything that happened in the past." It's more like "everything that happened in the past of interest to human beings that has been written down or otherwise recorded." According to the latter definition, the town of Wilbraham, Massachusetts has precious little history. Before its settlement in 1636 by white Europeans (mainly English), the area was populated by nothing more than beaver, salmon, otter, mink, deer, skunks, and Nipmuc Indians, none of whom had any written language--hence, no history.

For centuries afterward, the history of Wilbraham consisted mainly of a dry chronology of births, marriages, deaths, and real estate transactions, punctuated every few decades by a colorful anecdote. In the early 1700s, somebody named Peggy fell off of her horse into a shallow marsh on the way to Sunday meeting, soaking her best clothes, on a road still to this day called Dipping Hole. On August 7, 1761, young Timothy Mirrick was fatally bitten by a "ratel snake" while mowing a meadow. A famous ballad was written about that "pesky sarpent." On June 15, 1763 the town was officially incorporated as Wilbraham. No one bothered to record the origin of the name or who came up with it, only that "the name was very grevious to us and we are hardly reconciled to it yet." WTF?? On April 29, 1799, six young people fell out of a boat on Nine Mile Pond and were drowned. Their bodies sank like stones, although for several hours "the red skirts and white bonnets of one or two of the young ladies" as well as "a solitary hat or two" could be seen floating upon the surface of the water. In 1854, some zealous Millerites were sure the world was about to end in a great conflagration and, sure enough, within a week of each other, not one, but two barns east of Main Street burned to the ground.

But perhaps the most notable event ever to have occurred in Wilbraham was the murder, in 1806, of a young farmer named Marcus Lyon. His horse came home one day without a rider, and sometime later his body, shot and bludgeoned, was found in the Chicopee River. A young boy recalled having seen two Irishmen walking down the Boston Post Road that day. That seemed to be sufficient evidence. Dominic Daley and James Halligan were found, arrested, jailed in Northampton, tried, found guilty, and hanged on June 5 of that year. According to Chauncey E. Peck's 1913 The History of Wilbraham, "of the 15,000 supposed to be present, scarcely one had a doubt of their guilt. Daley and Halligan were natives of Ireland."

The Reverend Jean-Louis Anne Madelain Lefebvre de Cheverus, first Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, was allowed to visit them in jail. He counseled them, heard their confessions, held the first Catholic Mass in Northampton in their cell, and at their request preached what was deemed "an appropriate and eloquent discourse" on Gallows Hill just before they were put to death. His text: 1 John 3:15, "Whoever hateth his brother is a murderer."

It seems obvious from our contemporary perspective that the murderous brother-haters to whom the Reverend Cheverus referred were the 15,000 over-eager spectators, and not the accused. On St. Patrick's Day in 1984, then-governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, officially exonerated the two men. A marker was placed on Gallow's Hill, a.k.a. Pancake Plain, presently called Hospital Hill, easily viewable from Route 66. A yearly ceremony on St. Patrick's Day and another on the anniversary of the hangings commemorates the sad event.

This year Retired Massachusetts state trial court judge Michael Ryan spoke at the commemoration. He likened old-timey prejudice against Irish immigrants to contemporary attitudes towards Blacks and gays. While I see his point, I think he missed a better analogy. When a crime is committed these days, we don't automatically assume it's a homosexual. We've got Muslim "terrorists" for that.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Parmesan Soup

Remember when bones were free, or practically so? You asked the butcher for them when you wanted to make soup, or give a treat to your dog. Suet was the same: a waste product that bird lovers knew to ask about. The butcher went in the back and reappeared with a hunk, which you could wrap up in a piece of chicken wire and hang up in the back yard to attract chickadees and woodpeckers. Then the markets got wise, and now the fat and the bones cost as much as some of the meats.

Same thing with cheese rinds. Stores used to toss them; if you knew someone in the back, they might save them for you. Most people wouldn't even know what to do with them in any case. But then word got out about using them for gourmet soup, and now they're six to ten dollars a pound.

Here's some of that gourmet soup. What it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in taste. Half a pound of Parmigiano Reggiano rinds, an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a handful of Italian parsley, salt and pepper simmered for an hour with a quart and a half of water makes the broth. It's supposed to be strained, and the solids discarded. As if! I just chopped up the cheese into chewy nuggets and kept going. I added cooked cannellini and some ribbons of kale, cooked it a bit longer till the kale was tender, then drizzled olive oil over it to serve.

This is divine with a couple of slices of toasted sperlonga. Although spring is technically less than a week away, it's still ridiculously cold here, with views of snowbanks from all the windows. A pot of this will be long gone before anyone at the Emory House wants warm-weather fare.

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