THE FIRST SNOW
November 10, 2019
My sister and I are apt to remark that one of our family traits is “going off on tangents” in conversation. The challenge is to find our way back. Last week this tangent started with a weather forecast and ended with bread-and-gravy. I’ll try to retrace the steps:
The forecast was for the first snow of the season. Looking at the weather map of New Hampshire on the TV screen, I suddenly could only think of the snow imagery in that short story, “The Dead,” in James Joyce’s Dubliners collection. I’ve always remembered this use of snow, but I realized I probably hadn’t read the story again since college.
So I found the old paperback in my bookcases, opened it to the index and then to this last story in the collection, and there was my handwriting, the notes I’d taken in the Language and Literature class, sitting on the floor in the living room in one of the houses (dorms). Amusing to me now and also poignant, the notes said things like “snow changes meaning thru story; all characters tense; resolution—thru natural event; story has contained snow all way thru—culminates in ‘falling’ at end; sensory image and mythic image; contrasting implications—snow outside, stuffy inside.”
I reread the story, past other margin notes, and arrived at that last description of snow, also marked: “It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right; snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves . . . ” on to the story’s end.
I told Penny about rereading this story and said I’d hoped that literature would help me face the upcoming first snow. After we stopped laughing about this vain hope, we began remembering childhood, back when we’d actually hoped for snow. Especially the first snow for Thanksgiving, when we would go “over the river and through the woods” to our grandparents’ house (in Lexington, Mass.), albeit in the gray Mercury instead of a sleigh. We remembered the luxury of their dining room, a room that we didn’t have in the apartment we were living in during the 1940s, their table set with the best china from the dining room’s china cupboard. We remembered details of the Thanksgiving feast. And then we began talking about how she and I were fed supper on Thanksgiving evenings at the kitchen table, a supper that in its way was as delicious as the feast had been: a flat soup bowl of buttered bread with reheated leftover gravy poured on top.
P.S. Guess what? The first-snow forecast turned out to be a false alarm here in Sandwich. We got rain and some flurries. So the real first snow lies ahead, and I’ll try to look forward to it. As one TV reporter said, “There’s nothing quite so beautiful as the first snowfall.”
JOY OF COOKING
November 3, 2019
Perhaps you’ve seen the news that this month a new edition of The Joy of Cooking is being published, updated by Irma S. Rombauer’s great-grandson, John Becker, and his wife, Megan Scott? After reading this news, I went to my cookbook bookcase to hold the two copies I have, the one that was a 1950s wedding present from my grandmother and the one I bought in the 1970s.
And I remembered my first sight of Joy of Cooking, when my mother got a copy. How astonished we were to see the recipes’ ingredients incorporated into the directions instead of listed at the top, so you didn’t have to keep looking back and forth! In the new edition’s review in the October 7th issue of Publishers Weekly, this method was mentioned: “The signature method of interweaving ingredients with instructions remains, supplemented with rich troves of information, like a three-page spread on mixing and matching salad greens.” The review concludes, “Becker and Scott have improved upon a classic without bending it so sharply that it will feel dated in a decade—quite an achievement indeed.”
In the same issue there was a Q&A interview with John Becker, in which he was asked, “What of the original did you try to replicate?” He replied, “We tried to preserve the sense of being there for cooks, not necessarily trying to prescribe, but trying to be a resource for cooks. A lot of people make Irma out to be a pioneer, but instead she’s somebody who takes the stance of a peer and who is a friend in the kitchen.”
Speaking of pioneers: my sister has given me a clipping from the Fall 2019 Pioneer Woman Magazine about the new-edition cookbook. This “Ode to Joy” piece reminds us that “When Irma S. Rombauer wrote The Joy of Cooking in St. Louis, she wasn’t trying to create one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time—she was just trying to survive. In 1930, a year before it was published, her husband died by suicide, and she needed to support herself. She taught cooking classes at a local women’s organization and loved to entertain, so she compiled a cookbook . . . ”
Penny also gave me another clipping from that issue of the magazine, about favorite cookbooks and collecting cookbooks. This again sent me to my cookbook bookcase, to look at favorites amongst the accumulation. Our mother’s copy of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer is the first one we learned to cook with. In the ensuing years I bought a more recent edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and used it a lot. Also dog-eared is Adelle Davis’s Let’s Cook It Right, my favorite in my middle years. Then there are the literary ones, The Jane Austen Cookbook, which Don gave me, The Barbara Pym Cookbook, and The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (a new hardback edition published in 1985 complete with the famous/infamous recipe for “Haschich Fudge,” omitted from the 1954 edition because of “American Puritanism” but included in the 1960 paperback edition!). Other favorites: Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest. And cookbooks from various places, such as What’s Cooking at Moody’s Diner, the Maine diner beloved by Don and me and by Bev and Snowy.
The latest cookbook in the bookcase is a present from my niece, Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes to Make You a Great Cook, by Carla Lalli Music.
I’m getting hungry!
AN OVER-THE-HILL CELEBRATION
October 27, 2019
Tuesdays are the hiking days for the Over-the-Hill Hikers of Sandwich, NH, so a Tuesday was decided upon for the celebration of the Over-the-Hillers’ fortieth anniversary. Last Tuesday evening the party was held at the Hobbs Tavern in West Ossipee, attended by seventy-nine of us, the hikers and the hiking-or-non-hiking spouses, from Sandwich and neighboring towns.
I hiked with the group for twenty-two years. On my first hike with them, we climbed Smarts Mountain, on a trail that a few years later the Dartmouth Outing Club named after my father. My last hike was in Kimball Wildlife Forest; an ice-cream stop is part of the Over-the-Hill tradition, and after this hike we stopped at nearby Sawyer’s Dairy Bar, where I had worked one high-school summer. And there were similar personal connections to most of the hikes I did in between, because I was updating my father’s hiking books amid this camaraderie up and down mountains.
At the Hobbs Tavern we old and new members mingled, then sat at about a dozen tables and were welcomed by the new “den mother,” who had organized the celebration beautifully. Hikers were recognized for completing the list of New Hampshire’s highest mountains, to applause and cheers. And there was remembrance: older hikers read the names of hikers who had died since the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. One of the hikers who’d died was the hiker who showed us how to deal with the too-long laces in our boots. When you’re tying them, he’d demonstrated, go around twice to make the knot. So we had named the knot after him. During the mingling, a friend and I had talked about him, and I’d said to her, “I think of Jack every morning when I tie my shoes.” We agreed that this was a fine legacy.
And of course during the celebration I remembered Don’s participation. He hadn’t hiked with the group but, with other non-hiking spouses, had come to our planning-meeting-potluck-suppers. As Shirley Elder Lyons, a retired Washington newspaper reporter and the wife of a hiker, wrote in her delightful Over the Hill Hikers and How They Grew . . . and Grew . . . and Grew, Lib Crooker, our original den mother, “created a button for folks like me that said ‘Party Person.’” Don was a party person, too, and with Shirley and other party persons had many a laugh while lounging around listening to us earnestly (mostly) planning the next year’s hiking schedule, glad that they themselves didn’t feel the urge to slog up some damn mountain.
The evening was a great success. So many memories—arriving at the trailheads and setting forth; the exhilaration; the spells of simply putting one foot in front of the other (my father wrote, “Climbing is like sawing a log with an old-fashioned bucksaw. If you think ahead to the sawed pieces, the job becomes sweating drudgery. Don’t think of the top. Enjoy the climb.”) Then at last the summit views (“The universal reaction at the instant of stepping out on the rock is awe blended with delight. The impact lingers in your memory. It’s not the scenery alone; it’s the power underlying our green and stone-ribbed world.”)
And as the dinner ended with servings of cake, I remembered those end-of-hike rewards of ice cream.
October 20, 2019
“If we could find anything more ridiculous to do, we’d probably do that, too.”
Last weekend I was watching the Maine Channel 6 news about the long weekend’s Damariscotta Pumpkin Festival and I was already giggling, when one of the participants being interviewed made this remark. I burst out laughing. He was talking about the Pumpkinfest’s highlight, the regatta.
I’ve mentioned this regatta before, but it definitely deserves being mentioned again. Another person affectionately referred to it as “the height of absurdity.” Who first had such a crazy idea, turning a pumpkin into a boat (and not Cinderella’s carriage)? Buzz Pinkham. Contemplating a giant pumpkin he’d grown, he suddenly wondered: would it float? After it was in the water, he recalled, “I got on top of it and it didn’t sink.” So the feat was possible. He hollowed it out and made history.
The regatta is held in the Damariscotta River. There are divisions of competitions: paddle boats, powerboats, and a polo match. Volunteers organize everything. Buzz told a reporter, “It’s a community builder. ‘Only in Maine.’” This year a team of two Channel 6 NewsCenter meteorologists, Jessica Conway and Ryan Breton, were determined to win first place in the paddling race. In front of an audience of 2,000 people, Ryan made a false start, his pumpkin was swamped, he got wet. (You can imagine how many times that has been shown on TV and devices.) The NewsCenter crew pumped out his pumpkin. With Jessica in her pumpkin they persevered and their team of two triumphantly came in second.
The paddling is funny, but what I find extra-hilarious is the sight of a guy sitting in a pumpkin trying to steer an outboard motor in the manly manner of the men I’ve seen in motorboats on lakes all my life
Only in Maine? Laconia is having its Pumpkin Festival this weekend. In the newspaper I saw that the list of events included a fifty-four-foot tower of jack o’lanterns, pumpkin carving, pumpkin displays, but still no pumpkin regatta. How I long for there to be one in the lake near downtown, Lake Opechee!
Ah, autumn. Recently a friend sent me this old children’s rhyme:
Come, said the wind
to the leaves one day,
Come o’er the fields
and play with me.
Put on your dresses
of scarlet and gold,me.
for winter is nigh
and the days grow cold.
Eek, winter? It’s time to think ahead to December? Well, Friday morning on Channel 6 I learned that the Blue Bell Ice Cream Company has released its Christmas flavor early this year: Christmas Cookies.
HOUSEPLANTS, NEW AND OLD
October 13, 2019
When the three spider plants in the kitchen become pot-bound, I replace them with their offspring; that is, the baby spiders they produce, which I’ve rooted in water. Penny, my sister, is a plants person, a landscape designer, and during her visit last week she did the replacing maneuver for me, far better than I ever have, while we talked about plants we’ve had and the ages of the plants throughout this house.
In January 2016 I wrote here about these plants:
At this time of year, when attention turns indoors, I fuss more with our houseplants than I do in the spring and summer, when they’re rather like furniture that needs watering. And now that I’m paying attention to them, what strikes me is their age. Most of them have lived with Don and me for quite a while.
The oldest are the grapefruit plants. Sometime in the 1980s, when Don was eating a grapefruit he tucked a few of its seeds into the pot of a houseplant in a kitchen window, just for the hell of it. They sprouted. I’d previously grown avocado plants from pits—was it called “garbage gardening”?—but I was skeptical about Don’s experiment. The seedlings grew. Soon I was transplanting them into pots of their own. The plants eventually reached the living-room ceiling and Don had to prune them! Over the years a couple of them have languished and died, but the three survivors are now so much a part of our lives that we’re startled when guests exclaim over them.
Other old friends include the Norfolk pine, prayer plant, pittosporum, and a Christmas cactus given to us by Penny, who is my green-thumb expert whose advice has come to the rescue many a time.
When a plant is beyond rescuing, Penny reminds me about Thalassa Cruso’s TV series, Making Things Grow. Thalassa was not sentimental. If a plant wasn’t thriving, out it went. We laugh over the time Thalassa quoted from Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar.” Penny says, “Remember how she was holding a dead potted plant in her hand while she intoned, ‘And may there be no moaning of the bar!’ and then she threw the plant, pot and all, over her shoulder without looking back to see where it landed. And she carried on.”
The newest plants in our house are the spider plants . . .
. . . Unlike Puddles’s mother, I’ve never tried growing geraniums indoors year-round. Penny has overseen my descriptions of this feat.
And now in this autumn of 2019, Penny’s house is full of geraniums she has brought indoors for the winter!
October 6, 2019
In A Born Maniac, when Puddles returns to New Hampshire from South Carolina in 2001 for an autumn visit, I reported that after encountering pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin pie, “Puddles was getting a little sick of pumpkins.” If that visit had been in 2019, I would have written, “Puddles was getting a little sick of pumpkin spice.”
On a recent New Hampshire Chronicle program, there was a segment about how “New Hampshire has gone gaga for pumpkin spice,” and numerous examples were shown in visits to places around the state: pumpkin-spice doughnuts, pumpkin-spice whoopie pies, lattes, wines, ice cream, candles, goat-milk pumpkin-spice soap, and goat- milk pumpkin-spice lotion. The segment ended with a sign outside a shop saying: We Don’t Have Pumpkin Spice Pizza!
Pizza? The next day on the Sandwich Board there was post from the North Sandwich store that announced an apple pizza: “New Test Recipe: Come Get It While It’s Hot! Sweet and Savory Pizza Pie: Granny Smith apples, red onion, bacon, crumbled bleu cheese, drizzled with maple syrup on pepper pastry crust.”
My taste buds are making the transition onward from apples to pumpkins, and unlike Puddles I’m not sick of pumpkins—or pumpkin spice. Yet. I’m a purist about whoopie pies—gotta be chocolate—but last week at the small supermarket in Center Harbor I found myself standing in front of the bakery display, staring at pumpkin whoopie pies. But eventually I compromised, choosing Pumpkin Spice Crème-Filled Cookies.
Ah, October! Lately I’ve been dipping into a poetry anthology that was a textbook for my Language and Literature (Lang & Lit) course at Bennington. Much amusement over the copious notes I made in the margins beside some of the poems. One poem without notes, just a little underlining of alliteration, is a Robert Frost poem I don’t remember at all, so now it is new to me and perhaps it will be to you, too, or perhaps it’s an old friend. The title is “October”; here’s an excerpt:
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow . . .
2018-2019 ARCHIVES MENU BELOW
ARCHIVES INDEX: 2019
OCTOBER -- (DECEMBER) 2019
JULY -- SEPTEMBER 2019
The Lot (July 7)
This and That, Again (July 14)
Out of Reach (July 21)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Summer Scenes (August 4)
Old Home Week (August 11)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar (August 18)
Reunions (August 25)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking (Sept 1)
New Hampshire Apple Day (Sept 8)
Castles and Country Houses (Sept 15)
Shakespeare and George (Sept 22)
Wildlife (Sept 29)
APRIL - JUNE, 2019
National Poetry Month, 2019 (April 7)
National Library Week, 2019 (April 14)
Dorothy Parker Poem (April 21)
Spring Is Here! (April 28)
Department Stores (May 5)
Archie (May 12)
It's Radio! (May 19)
The Big Bear (May 26)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Squirrels (January 6)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Kingfisher (January 19)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Home Ec (February 3)
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Our First Date (February 17)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
March, 2018 (first entry)
Earlier: See Ruth's Neighborhood
The Old Country Store (March 25)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (041518)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing;;
Food & Drink Poems (April 22)
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
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