Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"

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January - March, 2022

SPECIAL PLACES—POPULAR CAKES

March 27, 2022

                Several days ago, in Martha W. Hickman’s Healing After Loss book of meditations, she wrote for that day’s meditation, “Perhaps we all have our special places of healing. In a class I took on ‘Art as Meditation,’ the leader suggested, ‘Close your eyes. Think of your favorite place in all the world.’”
                Martha Hickman continued, “Where is yours? Where is mine? Perhaps they are different places at different times. But as grievers, we would do well to go, as often as we’re able, to places that have a healing calm for us.”
I                ’ve been reading this book daily in the three years since Don died, and each year when I come to this page I think: the back porch. And that’s what I thought this year, especially because on the previous day we’d had sunny weather warm enough for me to sit on the porch, to work on my manuscript with sounds of birds and brook, even without wearing a jacket!
                But this year I also found myself thinking of two other special places that during the past 25-or-so years I’ve gone to in my mind, to feel again the peace that had come to me there.
                The more distant place was on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Hebrides. The day after we arrived at our guesthouse was a Sunday. We were given a picnic lunch by our host, because most places were closed on Sundays, and we set forth in our rented car to drive around, get our bearings. We were still keyed up after Saturday’s ferry ride from another island and a drive in the dark (on the wrong side of the road for Americans!) to find this village and guesthouse.
                Eventually during our Sunday tour of Lewis, which included seeing the Callanish Standing Stones (the goal of our trip), we stopped to have our picnic in the parking area of the closed Blackhouse Museum. Sitting in the car, looking at the ancient house, we realized we had done it: we were here on this island we’d daydreamed of visiting. We had arrived safely at our destination and we could relax.
                The other special place was also on an island, Maine’s Isle au Haut; it was a little beach near the shore-front cottage we rented. I would walk through the woods to the beach and sit on a rock and watch the ocean. I called it “the Good & Plenty beach” and later gave the name to Blivit to give to a beach at his parents’ unoccupied house where Puddles stays in A Born Maniac. Puddles observes: “The small cove was cluttered with round stones, pale pink and gray. If she recalled correctly, Good & Plenty licorice candies were lozenge-shaped and bright pink and white, very different from these stones. Blivit sure had an imagination, at least when it came to food.”
                Speaking of Maine and food: On March 4th, Maine’s WCSH-TV Early Morning Report told me that March 4th was National Pound Cake Day, adding that pound cake is the most popular cake in Tennessee. So the program’s Daily Stumper was: What is the most popular cake in Maine? Multiple choice: a. chocolate cake; b. ice cream cake; c. cheesecake; d. carrot cake.
                The program’s hosts. Sharon and Lee and Todd, all guessed cheesecake. I guessed chocolate cake. And I’ll be damned, I was right! And then I wondered: what’s the most popular cake in New Hampshire? I Googled without finding an answer. I’m guessing it’s chocolate cake, too.

NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS

March 20, 2022

               Recently on New Hampshire’s WMUR-TV news, I heard an item about Wyatt Park in Laconia, and I was so startled to hear the name of the park and so engulfed by memories that I didn’t catch what the news was about!
               In my youth, I sort of took Laconia’s parks for granted as part of various neighborhoods’ landscapes, each with its own personality. Yet I did realize they were special places. Now I realize they were—and are—treasures.
               During my childhood when we lived ten years in an Academy Street apartment (the inspiration for my first novel, The Lilting House), the nearest park was what we called Pearl Street Park. Its name is now (and perhaps was then) Memorial Park. It has a baseball field, but we didn’t go to the games. What I remember are my first circuses and merry-go-rounds and riding on a Ferris wheel high up, with our father between Penny and me on the seat, the familiar neighborhood terrifyingly far below. In winter Penny and I went often to the skating rink and eek, how cold our feet got in our double-runners despite the wool socks knitted by our mother! When I graduated to figure skates, my feet stayed cold but I pretended I was a skating star, Barbara Ann Scott.
               Wyatt Park was more distant but still in that part of town so we could walk there. It had the added attraction of being in the vicinity of ice-cream cones at Weeks Dairy Bar (inspiration for Cheerleader’s Hooper’s Dairy Bar). Penny and I remember the playground and the Brownie Scout meetings in the clubhouse, and I especially recall the grown-up feeling of the “flying up” ceremony to become Girl Scouts.
               Leavitt Park was very distant, in the Lakeport section of town. You had to get a ride. In junior high we girls began to have big birthday parties, too big for a living room to contain, and at least one party was held in the Leavitt Park clubhouse. And once our Girl Scout troop was in charge of activities for a gathering of younger kids in the clubhouse; while I was overseeing a game of musical chairs, I saw that one of the little girls participating was Don’s sister, eleven years younger than Don. She didn’t yet know who I was, but I certainly paid attention to Debbie!
               When our family moved to a house on Gilford Avenue, we discovered this neighborhood’s park, Tardif Park. Through the park’s grounds ran Jewett Brook. We were getting acquainted with this brook in the woods behind our new backyard; Penny and I and our Sheltie, Annie Laurie, played here, and our father fished. At the Tardif Park clubhouse I had my big birthday party.
               Throughout our lives there was always Opechee Park on Lake Opechee—right near downtown, a park on a lake with a beach! In high school our Girls’ Athletic Association used its tennis courts after school, and my friend Gail (inspiration for Puddles) and I spent most of our time laughing as we missed the ball or slammed it clear out of the court. The clubhouse became a “teens center” for dances. The term “teens” was rather new to us in mid-1950s Laconia; in a way, it made us feel both younger and older than we were.
               Yes, treasures.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

MORE ABOUT POTATOES—AND MAINE

March 13, 2022

              Thank you very much for your comments and reminiscences about potato chips last week. Great fun!
              This discussion inspired me to dig in my files for a clipping I couldn’t resist saving. It’s from the September 2020 issue of Food & Wine magazine I’d found in the library’s stack of discarded magazines, and it’s an “Editors’ Picks” of “Crispy, Chewy Memories: Our favorite snacks and candies from the road.”  They wrote: “We respect a good postcard or magnet memento from the road, but for team F&W, the ultimate reminder of an incredible trip to Italy, Australia, Turkey, or Mexico comes from popping into a local corner store for colorful, carry-on-friendly packages of sweet, salty, crunchy, and spicy snacks.”
              Amongst the snacks listed (with online info about where to order them) were three varieties of chips: Torres Selecta Black Truffle Potato Chips; Simba Chutney Chips; Lay’s Thai BBQ Shrimp Potato Chips.They sure have traveled a long way from the Saratoga Springs first chips!
              Potatoes are an important crop in Maine and, as I’ve mentioned here before, are even an ingredient in a Maine candy called Needhams. I was amused to see in the Jan/Feb/March issue of AAA Explorer magazine an item by Mimi Bigelow Steadman about “Sweet Spuds”: Mainers have “been nibbling Needhams— chocolate-covered squares filled with shredded coconut, confectioner’s sugar, and mashed potato—since they were created in this potato-growing state back in the 1870s. The tradition continues at Maine Needham Company in Saco,” owned by Malaika and Gerard Picard. “They use only ‘enough potato to bind the coconut and sugar together,’ says Gerard. Though it adds no potato taste, ‘it makes the texture smooth and rich,’ Malaika notes . . . Several unsubstantiated stories exist about why these treats are called Needhams. Devotees just call them delicious.” During our trips to Maine, Don and I were on the lookout for Needhams, but we never saw any. We should’ve stopped in Saco!
B              lueberries are another important Maine crop. I salivate over the Wyman’s Wild Blueberry ads in Down East magazine and resolve to try some of the suggested different ways—besides in muffins and pies and pancakes and yogurt—to enjoy wild blueberries, such as adding dried blueberries to trail mix, making blueberry shortcake, blueberry salsa, and “a summer salad with dried wild blueberries, apple, pecans, and goat cheese atop a bed of greens.” And I remember happily doing, while picking blueberries, just what the last-but-not-least suggestion says: “Gobble up wild blueberries by the handful.”
              Then there’s another famous Maine product: Moxie, which Don and I grew up with and loved. Last month my hometown newspaper, The Laconia Daily Sun, printed this item from Portland, Maine, in its “Odd News” column: “Depending on whom you ask, Maine is in the midst of either a curse or a blessing: a shortage of Moxie. Moxie, a polarizing beverage that is the state’s official soft drink, is in short supply because of supply chain woes [that have] delayed its delivery of Moxie concentrate for months.” Oh, horrors!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

POTATOES

March 6, 2022

              Lately I’ve been lingering longer than usual in the snacks section of the supermarket, browsing amid potato chips.
              This was caused by an article in the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine. In “Crunch Time,” Brandon Tensley writes about the history of potato chips, something I’d never really wondered about before: “Any search for the origins of this signature finger food must lead to George Crum (born George Speck), a 19th-century chef of Native and African American descent who made his name at Moon’s Lake House in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. As the story goes, one day in 1853, the railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt was eating at Moon’s when he ordered his fried potatoes be returned to the kitchen because they were too thick. Furious with such a fussy eater, Crum sliced some potatoes as slenderly as he could, fried them to a crisp and sent them out to Vanderbilt as a prank. Rather than take the gesture as an insult, Vanderbilt was overjoyed.” Soon there were requests for Crum’s “Saratoga Chips,” and in “1860 he opened his own restaurant . . . where a basket of potato chips sat invitingly on every table.”
              There are other tales of origins, such as: “The earliest known recipe for chips dates to 1817, when an English doctor named William Kitchiner published The Cook’s Oracle, a cookbook that included a recipe for ‘potatoes fried in slices or shavings.’”
              Then came inventions for the care and keeping of potato chips. In 1895 Ohio, William Tappenden began making and delivering them to grocery stores “via horse-drawn wagon.” And “In 1926, Laura Scudder, a California businesswoman, began packaging chips in wax-paper bags that included not only a ‘freshness’ date but also a tempting boast—‘the Noisiest Chips in the World,’ a peculiarly American marketing breakthrough that made a virtue of being obnoxious.”
              Brandon Tensley tells us that the onset of the pandemic increased potato-chips sales by about $350 million: “When the chips are down, it seems, Americans gobble them up.”
              Don and I grew up with Wise Potato Chips, and that’s the brand we continued to buy, though when Cape Cod Potato Chips appeared we had to try those, liked them, and afterward we did buy them when we wanted a heartier chip. Nowadays I seem to be making tacos for lunch more often than sandwiches, and after doing my new browsing in potato chips I buy my usual Late July Tortilla Chips. But I do have a bag of Cape Cod in the larder.
              I’ve also been paying more attention to potatoes themselves lately. My sister alerted me to the arrival in her Maine supermarket of small potatoes that can be microwaved in five minutes, so I rushed to my supermarket and lo and behold, there they were, bags of different varieties of these cute spuds. As I chose a bag, I remembered how Don and I planted potatoes in our garden and enjoyed the little early ones the most!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

SPRING TEASE

February 27, 2022

              Early last week I heard a weather forecaster predict a “spring tease.” Immediately into my mind soared striptease music, the bump-and-grind rhythm rotating boisterously. Not Gypsy Rose Lee but Saucy Springtime!
And I thought of the images in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Goose-Girl” poem, which I’ve quoted here often:

               Spring rides no horses down the hill,
               But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
               And all the loveliest things there be
               Come simply, so it seems to me.
               If ever I said, in grief or pride,
               I tired of honest things, I lied;
               And should be cursed forevermore
               With Love in laces, like a whore,
               And neighbors cold, and friends unsteady,
               And Spring on horseback, like a lady!

              A week ago, I’d had an early sign of spring when a friend on a neighborhood farm told me they were about to start tapping trees. Maple syrup! Then that weather forecaster’s warm spell arrived. On Wednesday, here in Sandwich the temperature got up to fifty degrees; southern New Hampshire reached sixty-eight.
              But uh-oh, this meant a preview of what’s not-so-affectionately called our “fifth season,” Mud Season. As I stepped outdoors that sunny Wednesday morning into easy warmth instead of the usual invigorating shock of cold, our gravel/dirt driveway squished under my boots, and as I drove off to do errands I chose a route that wouldn’t take me onto the dirt parts of our road for fear of sinking out of sight. (And later that day I saw a message on the Sandwich Board from the Road Agent and the Selectmen’s Office saying that weight-limit restrictions on roads will be posted March 8; “The less travel on our roads at this time the better while the frost is letting go.” Of course my thoughts went to Frost and his road “less traveled by”!)
              The brook alongside my route was still snow-covered but enough had melted to top the white ice with water that was the pale yellow-green that somehow always reminds me of olive oil. Parts of the lake had thawed to translucent stretches; the New Hampshire news has been full of cars and trucks and snowmobiles and ATVs going through the ice. I remembered how Don and I used to take “winter picnics” to the shores of Squam Lake or Lake Winnipesaukee and sit in the car in a parking area, watch the ice-fishing activity around the bob houses, and marvel at how people dared to drive onto a lake no matter how thick the ice supposedly was.
              In the village center, folks were out walking their dogs or just plain walking, humans and canines basking, seduced by spring. At the library, the assistant director  mentioned that she had smelled a skunk that morning, a sign of spring and a hazard for dogs. We discussed methods of trying to wash a skunk-sprayed dog; in my day, it was tomato juice and/or Lestoil, and nowadays, she told me, it’s tomato juice and Dawn dishwashing liquid and other potions. And we agreed that we mustn’t hope that springtime had really almost arrived. Spring was teasing.
              When I returned home, I heard a chickadee giving its springtime call in the woods.
              On Thursday, ten degrees here. The weather forecaster used the term “weather whiplash.” And on Friday we got a foot of snow.

  © 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

PILLOWS

February 20, 2022

              Recently my dear friend Molly mentioned that she’d been thinking about pillows and remembering how, in my novel Wife and Mother, the heroine never slept with a pillow unless she had a cold because her mother wouldn’t let her.
              Molly asked if this was something I’d experienced or had I made it up. I whooped with laughter. Oh yes indeed, Penny and I grew up sleeping flat because our mother insisted! Ernie (our mother) claimed that sleeping on a pillow gave you a double chin. She herself had developed such a chin and she wanted to save us from this fate.
              Penny also whooped when I told her about Molly’s question and we laughed over the trials of youth. Penny reminded me that Ernie used a thin horsehair pillow. We were allowed one of those when we were sick—hardly a pillow at all.
              In the freedom of college, at first I slept on the pillow on my dorm bed. Such luxury! But I couldn’t get used to it—and did I feel guilty, did I worry about my damn chin?—and I stopped. It wasn’t until I was in a—er—conjugal double bed with Don that I settled down to pillow-sleeping, on our brand-new pillows with our brand-new pretty sheets and matching pillowcases I’d blissfully chosen.
              Molly had pointed out how personal a pillow can be and how some people travel with their own pillows. Penny travels with hers; she explains, “I can’t sleep on strange pillows.” Even at her sister’s house! (More laughter.) A friend with a sinus problem also arrived here bringing her own pillow, very sensible.
              And Molly observed that some people prefer more than one pillow; some people build nests!
              And then there’s the multitude of pillows, mostly decorative, that are arranged high and wide on beds in inns. At bedtime, I swear it has sometimes taken me a half hour to remove them to unearth two basics.
              The variety of pillows available is rather daunting. A few years ago when Don and I decided it was time for new pillows, we were overwhelmed by the choices and decisions, so many fillings—goose down, synthetic, foam, etc.—and so many styles. Do you sleep on your back, your side, or your stomach? Don slept on his stomach; I go to sleep on my back and find myself on my side when I wake up. At Bed, Bath, and Beyond we finally gave up and simply bought two identical “hypoallergenic” pillows.
              Penny, like me a murder-mystery reader (as was Ernie), has reminded me about other uses of pillows: to smother victims and to muffle the sound of a gun!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

OUR SONG

February 13, 2022

              Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow!
              Last Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment about Peggy Lee. I realized I was avidly hoping to hear, amongst her songs, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.” Then I heard it, and the reporter said it was her favorite song.
              Listening, I was back in my freshman year at Bennington listening to it on my roommate’s LP album of Peggy Lee songs. Don had taken a break from Keene Teachers’ College to do a two-year hitch in the Coast Guard, and we’d got married by a justice of the peace before Don left for boot camp. We decided to get married at this time, we told each other (laughing), not for foolish, romantic reasons but for purely practical ones; if we were married, I would receive a hundred dollars a month as his dependent, money I’d save toward our future. Listening to that song on the record player, oh, how I longed for our future, when all this schooling would be over and we could be “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”!
              One of the feature stories in the February/March issue of Reminisce magazine is “They’re Playing Our Song.” Deputy Editor Mary-Liz Shaw writes in her “Editor’s Note” that “It was a delight learning how couples adopted the tunes that became the soundtrack of their lives together.” Accompanying the article’s stories from couples about “our songs” is a little timeline of favorite love songs through the decades,  “Treasured Songs of Love . . . These tunes have strong connections to their eras, yet like all good love songs they are timeless”:
              “1931 ‘Stardust’; 1939 ‘If I Didn’t Care’; 1942 ‘As Time Goes By’; ‘1957 ‘Chances Are’; 1961 ‘Stand by Me’; 1967 ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’; 1972 ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’; 1992 ‘I Will Always Love You.’”
              Don and I didn’t have an official “our song,” and neither do Snowy and Tom. But in The Cheerleader’sscene in which Snowy and Tom are on their first date and go parking after the movies, my choice of Al Hibbler’s “Unchained Melody” as the song being played on the car radio probably means that I think of it as our 1955 love song.
              Bev and Roger do have a song, from the 1956 New Year’s Eve party when they dance to “My One and Only You.” In The Husband Bench, at their vows-renewal ceremony Bev makes her entrance to it: “Bev heard the flute and guitar begin to play the song she had chosen instead of the wedding march. Her cue . . . ‘My One and Only You.’”
              While writing the new sequel, Off Shore, I’ve learned that Puddles and Blivit have a song!
              Although I never happened to mention to Don my special fondness for that Peggy Lee song and although we never actually built a house on a hill, I realize now that it could be our song:
                            “Someday we’ll build a home
                            On a hilltop high, you and I,
                            Shiny and new, a cottage that two can fill.
                            And we’ll be pleased to be called
                            ‘The folks who live on the hill.’”

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

UNDIES

February 6, 2022

            There’s been a parade of my underwear in my mind lately, a little history of undies through the years, from Lollipops to Spanx.
            This was caused by a children’s book! In the January 10th issue of Publishers Weekly I read a review of A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken by Hannah Holt, illustrated by Korwin Biggs. The review said, “A fowl marches across time and space shedding new light on the history of people’s intimate relationship with intimate apparel . . . Professor Chicken (who sports a bow tie, but not underpants) touches on subjects including why underwear is still referred to as a ‘pair,’ as well as the innovation and taste that led from the loincloth to the codpiece (‘fancy underwear on the outside’) and, eventually, the thong . . . Holt writes with relish for juicy facts and irreverent wordplay (about the loincloths buried with King Tut: ‘That’s a lot of Fruit of the Tomb’). But she also makes a compelling case for the historicity of material culture: how even mundane items can speak volumes about a society’s technologies, class structure, and commitment to sustainability.”
            I’m remembering that in my youthful reading, descriptions of women’s fashions of the past made me feel very lucky; pretty petticoats were nice, but corsets? My mother wore a girdle with garters but not a corset! No wonder women in books were always fainting! I really realized this when reading Gone with the Wind’s scene in which Scarlett, wearing “lace pantalets, linen corset cover and three billowing lace and linen petticoats,” grips a bedpost while her corset is pulled tighter and tighter into a seventeen-inch “whalebone-girdled waist.” A thousand eeks!
However, in the 1950s getting dressed was still complicated. In The Cheerleader Snowy is dressing for the junior prom: “Garter belt, nylons, underpants, strapless bra and falsies, hoop, three petticoats, and the pink gown. Mascara, red lipstick. Earrings, necklace, the pink shoes.”
            Our crinoline petticoats weren’t just for proms. We wore them under our everyday clothes, our circle skirts and quilted skirts. We had to maintain them, soaking them in gelatin to revive the stiffness.
            And bras! My graduation from undershirts to my first bra was embarrassing, supervised by my mother and not mentioned to my friends. I hoped the bra straps couldn’t be seen through my blouses. It was a great relief when more of us reached this milestone and talked about bras, and by the time we were in high school some girls cut the word “Lovable” out of “Lovable Bra” ads in magazines and brazenly put it under their boyfriends’ pictures in their wallets.
            Then into the 1960s and 1970s came the liberation from bras. Going braless! But I soon returned to tradition.
            There’s also the subject of slips. Bev has fun with one in The Cheerleader: “Bev paraded around the dining room for Roger, holding Snowy’s new slip in front of her. ‘Note,’ she said, ‘the shadow panel.’ Roger said, ‘I’m noting.’” Progress sort of came with petti-pants.
            And the best liberation of all was pantyhose. Farewell to garter belts!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

LAUGHTER

January 30, 2022 (Posted January 28)

              I’m posting this a couple of days early, just in case there’s a problem with our internet during the weekend’s blizzard!
             In Healing after Loss by Martha A. Hickman, the daily meditation for January 25 began with a French proverb: “That day is lost on which one has not laughed.”
              Judi Dench mentioned laughter in the “Upfront/What I Know Now” section of the December/January issue of AARP Magazine. She said, “The greatest thing of all is to have a sense of humor. And if you’re born with it, at least you’ve got that going for you. I’d be lost without it.”
              Her other thoughts at age 87 included: “I used to run everywhere as a young actress at the Old Vic—run to get onto the stage, run to get off the stage. I think it was Dame Peg [Ashcroft] who said to me once, ‘You should take that a bit slower.’ . . . I love to learn new things. I rapped with [British rapper] Lethal Bizzle a few years ago, and it was just heaven. I got my first tattoo six years ago . . . I’ve always had a photographic memory. I could stop anywhere in a play and know exactly where the line is on the page that I need to look up. My macular degeneration makes this quite hard, so I have somebody saying them to me. But I just got a machine that may enable me to see the lines more clearly . . . Sometimes you feel ghastly and old. I get terribly tired. Nap whenever you can! And keep thinking, Tomorrow I’ll look and feel a bit better.” And laugh.
              Three of the things I’ve laughed over this week are:
1. A cookbook. Penny discovered a darling little cookbook at the Main Street Grocery in Damariscotta, which has a used-books table with proceeds going to the library. She sent it to me, Cobblers, Crumbles & Crisps, and Other Old-Fashioned Fruit Desserts by Linda Zimmerman and Peggy Mellody. The other dessert names range from Pandowdies and Bettys and Buckles to Slumps and Grunts. Slumps?! That was the name new to me. The authors tell us that Slumps and Grunts “seem to have come from colonial America. Both are a type of stove-top cobbler consisting of stewed fruit and feathery-light steamed dumplings . . . No one really knows how these names originated. Grunt is thought to refer to the sound made by the bubbling fruit when it was prepared in a kettle hanging over an open fire in the early days of America. Apple Slump was immortalized by Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, who called her home in Concord, Massachusetts, by that name.” She did? Penny and I were taken to the Orchard House a million times by our Grandmother Ruth but we never heard about Apple Slump! I’ve Googled and found Louisa’s Apple Slump recipe and also the information that the nickname “was both a fond reference to the favorite dessert as well as a wink at the prior collapse of [the commune] Fruitlands, a slump in its own right.”
2. A bumper sticker. During errands I came back to my car in a parking lot and saw that the car parked beside it had a skis-carrier on top and a sticker that said, “Think Snow! Snow is like sex. You never know how much you’re going to get or how long it’s going to last!!”
3. A joke. On Burns Night I told myself my favorite joke, which long ago I saw Orson Bean tell on The Merv Griffin Show.
       It’s also Snowy’s favorite. In A Born Maniac she tells it to Puddles:
       Snowy set out an aluminum-foil-wrapped package of sandwiches. “A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a Scot are standing near a guillotine waiting to be executed. The Frenchman goes first, but the guillotine doesn’t work and he escapes. The Englishman goes next, and again the guillotine doesn’t work, so the Englishman is spared, too. Then it’s the Scot’s turn. He looks up at the guillotine and says, “I think I see what you’re doing wrong.”

              
      Laughter!

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

A BURNS NIGHT

January 23, 2022

              In Lazy Beds I wrote, “Next Sunday was Burns Night, when she would as usual make Cock-a-Leekie Soup for supper.” This Tuesday is Burns Night. I must confess that unlike Snowy I’ve never made Cock-a-Leekie Soup, though I’ve studied the recipe in my copy of Theodora FitzGibbon’s Taste of Scotland cookbook. Instead I always made my quick version I’d invented by adding chopped onions to canned chicken-noodle soup; of course I couldn’t resist naming it Mock Cock Soup.
              For several years the Corner House Inn in Sandwich had a Burns Night dinner, and we once went. There we had a splendid Scottish feast that started off with real Cock-a-Leekie and included haggis, which we’d already sampled in Scotland so our taste buds were prepared.
              In Henrietta Snow, I mentioned Robert Burns when Snowy and Ruhamah were  in Edinburgh and visited the Writer’s Museum, as Don and I did:

“The Writer’s Museum, Snowy thought, was obviously a place to be avoided because it would make her work seem so paltry. But hell, hadn’t she been looking at the grandiose Scott Monument, not that you could miss it? . . . [She and Ruhamah] spotted a tiny opening into some sort of enclosed courtyard, and there it was, the Writer’s Museum, formerly Lady Stair’s House, an old mansion whose turrets and chimney pots contributed to a very imaginative effect, appropriate to the present purpose. Hesitantly, Snowy followed Ruhamah inside. In the main room’s Sir Walter Scott exhibit, she read how he had worked himself to death, writing to pay off the debt of his publisher. Robert Burns, a sign said, was upstairs, and with fear she climbed the stairs to face the emotions that seeing his work exhibited would churn up. But as she looked and read, what she felt was sick-at-heart pity when she learned that he had blithely sold the copyrights to his poems for next to nothing.”


              Back in 1959, when Don and I settled into our apartment in the Keene Teachers’ College married-students’ barracks, we decorated the walls college-style with prints and posters, mainly Toulouse-Lautrec, which I’d mail-ordered. But in the bathroom we found ourselves thumbtacking up (there was no rule about not using tacks on the walls of that old firetrap) quotations that intrigued or amused us. I typed and tacked up an entire poem, my favorite Burns poem, “A Red, Red Rose”:


             O my Luve’s like a red, red, rose
               That’s newly sprung in June:
            O my Luve’s like the melodie
               That’s sweetly play’d in tune!

            As fair art thou, my bonnie lass [of course in my mind it was “lad”],
               So deep in luve am I:
            And I will luve thee still, my dear,
               Till a’ the seas gang dry:

            Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
               And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
            And I will luve thee still, my dear,
               While the sands o’ life shall run.

            And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
               And fare the weel a while!
            And I will come again, my Luve,
               Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

    FROM KEATS TO SPAGHETTI SAUCE

January 16, 2022

                When Andrew Marvell wrote that first line about “Had we but world enough, and time” in his “To His Coy Mistress” poem, he wasn’t thinking about reading books, was he! He was thinking of his Coy Mistress and her—er—charms. But I hear the line in my head when I’m reading Publishers Weekly and wishing for the time to read all the books that take my fancy. Well, as I’ve said before, reading the reviews can suffice. Here are three such books:
                Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph, by Lucasta Miller, to be published in March. The review says, “Critic Miller (The Bronte Myth) considers the life of English poet John Keats (1795-1821) via nine of his poems in this detailed and original study . . . and the epitaph, titled ‘Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water,’ offers insight into his death in Rome at the age of 25, which he viewed as his ‘only comfort.’” Don and I were living in England when I was twenty-five; my agent had recently sold my first novel, and somehow I was thinking of Keats often and remembering that epitaph. In 1964 I was his age and just beginning.  In 1821 at twenty-five he was dying of tuberculosis.
                The review concludes, “Miller conveys a strong personal connection with the poet (having ‘lived in Keats’s stomping ground’), and shares anecdotes about her research, her visit to one of Keats’s residences, and her attempt to find a bench he supposedly sat on. These personal sections bring in some levity to balance her taut analysis.
                The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts, by Silvia Ferrara, translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz, to be published in March. The review tells us, “Ferrara (Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions), professor of Aegean civilization at the University of Bologna, takes an entertaining and complex look at how written language has evolved. As she notes, readers may have a ‘vague, Proustian memory . . . from your days in elementary or middle school, something about Mesopotamia and how cuneiform was the first and only time writing was invented, the  source from which all other scripts descended. In fact, she suggests, writing, which she calls the ‘greatest invention in the world,’ without which ‘we would be only voice, suspended in a continual present,’ was invented at least three other times, in China, Egypt, and Central America.”
                And then there’s another Italian translation: A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, by Massimo Montanari, translated by Gregory Conti, published in November 2021. The review says, “Food historian Montanari (Let the Meatballs Rest) ‘reflect[s] on the meaning of roots, identities, and origins’ in this illuminating examination of one of the world’s most famous culinary pairings . . . He also examines the evolution of cooking ‘al dente’ (a departure from the two-hour boil noodles endured in medieval times); the shift from eating pasta with white cheese sauce to red sauce with tomato in the 17th century; and the emergence of the ‘Mediterranean diet,’ which popularized the use of olive oil.”
We can hope that in his last days in Rome, Keats could find some solace in a meal of pasta.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

CHOWDER RECIPES

January 9, 2022

           Our coldest weather so far this winter is in the forecast for New Hampshire this week. I’ve been remembering that several years ago during our weekly phone chat, Penny and I talked about a very cold spell in our winter weather and she quoted the first verse of one of A. E. Housman’s “Last Poems”:

The night is freezing fast,
Tomorrow comes December;
And winterfalls of old
Are with me from the past;
And chiefly I remember
How Dick would hate the cold.

           Alas, Dick needed a bowl of chowder!
           Thank you, everybody, for your thoughts last week about chowders and cheeses.

           There was a request for my Corn Chowder recipe, and here it is:

Dice and put in a kettle or Dutch oven:
    1 ½” cube salt pork

Cook slowly until crisp and brown. Add:
    1 large or two small onions, diced

Cook slowly 5 minutes, stirring often. Add:
     3-4 medium potatoes, cubed
    1 cup water

Cook until potatoes are tender. Add:
     1 can cream-style corn
    1 can whole-kernel corn
    1 to 2 cups milk

Heat.

Store in refrigerator a few hours or overnight to improve flavor.)

When serving, add a tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

Last week I also wrote about the Salt Codfish Chowder I’d devised from recipes by Julia Child, Marjorie Mosser and Kenneth Roberts (from their Good Maine Food cookbook), and Fannie Farmer, with adjustments that suited Don and me. Here’s that recipe:

Soak overnight or several hours, changing water three times:
   1 lb. salt cod
Drain. Put cod in a kettle of cold water to cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and flake it.
In a kettle or Dutch oven, heat:
   3 T. olive oil
Saute gently:
   1 medium onion, diced
Blend in:
   3 T. flour
Cook slowly, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Slowly blend in:
   4 cups fish stock (I use a box of seafood stock)
Add:
   4 cups peeled and sliced “boiling” potatoes
Bring to a boil and cook slowly until tender.
Add cod.
Add:
   2 cups milk
   3 strips of cooked bacon, crumbled

Simmer.
Serve with common crackers.
Serves 4 +

           Bon appétit!

 © 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

CHEESES AND CHOWDERS

January 2, 2022

              ’When my niece gave me the luscious Christmas present of a box of Harry and David’s pears, I immediately scribbled “bleu cheese” on my grocery list. (I can’t stop spelling it the old-fashioned way; “blue cheese” just doesn’t conjure up the cheese itself or the memories.) I’m very fond of bleu cheese with pears.
              ’And “stinky” cheeses have been on my mind since reading an article by Joshua Levine about the most famous one, Roquefort, in the December issue of Smithsonian magazine: “Reign of Terror: Rich. Powerful and eccentric. Roquefort is still the King of Cheeses. But for how much longer?” He writes, “Merely saying the word Roquefort provokes various reactions. A fair number of people will pantomime their opinion by holding their nose and rolling their eyes, or worse . . In fairness, Roquefort really is stinky. That’s the whole point of infecting an otherwise bland mound of sheep’s-milk curds with Pencillium roqueforti, the mold that runs through its gloriously fetid blue-green veins.”
              ’I was lucky to grow up in a household that had stinky cheeses—and lucky to love them. There usually was a wedge of bleu and on special occasions there would be Liederkrantz getting nice and gooey. For that matter, even the everyday rat-trap cheese was far from sweet-smelling.
              ’Don grew up in a Velveeta household, but hooray, although he was wary at first, he soon became a fan of more adventuresome cheeses. I especially recall how, when we were living in England, we rejoiced to buy Stilton—and once a friend gave us a piece of Stilton pinkly laced with port.
              ’Also on my grocery list is “Bar Harbor Clam Chowder,” our favorite canned clam chowder.  I jotted this down after seeing that the cover girl on the January/February issue of Yankee magazine is a pot of seafood chowder and after reading the article within, “Into the Thick of It: Take a deep dive into New England’s classic warm-up, chowder, in all its tasty forms,” by Nadine Nelson.
              ’I can’t remember my mother ever making chowder from scratch, but I do remember the debate about the use of tomatoes in canned clam chowder—horrors, that’s Manhattan style! The first homemade chowder I remember was made by the father of New Girl Gail, who had arrived in Laconia Junior High from California (and who was my inspiration for Puddles). He dished up his corn chowder for lunch the first time I went to her parents’ house, and I adored it.
              ’n my early-married years I saw a recipe for corn chowder in a library cookbook and was reminded of that lunch. Aha! Corn chowder became the star of my recipe repertoire. When Penny, my sister, got married, I put together a little looseleaf-notebook collection of my favorite recipes for her, and of course it featured corn chowder. (I titled the cookbook Recipes of Ruhamah. As no doubt I’ve mentioned before, there was a Ruhamah way back in my mother’s family tree, and my mother almost named me this before she decided on my grandmother’s name. However, when she wanted to address me with more than a one-syllable name for emphasis, she said, “Ruhamah!” in a certain tone. Penny of course already had “Penelope!”)
              ’Last week I saw in my diaries that on December 29, 2011, I made blueberry muffins for supper. As usual I would’ve used my grandmother’s blueberry muffin recipe and the blueberries we’d picked that summer in a neighbor’s hilltop field. And I would’ve served the muffins beside bowls of Bar Harbor Clam Chowder. I called this combination our “Maine suppers,” even though the blueberries were New Hampshire born and bred.
              ’For homemade chowders, our favorite became a Salt Codfish Chowder I created from a combination of recipes by Julia Child, Marjorie Mosser and Kenneth Roberts, and Fannie Farmer, with my own inclinations added.
              ’I thought of these chowders in my life when I received a Christmas card from my dear friend Marney, a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation card that had a recipe for “Chowning’s Tavern Brunswick Stew.” In a note after the recipe we are told, “It is a rule in some Tidewater homes never to eat Brunswick stew the same day it is made, as its flavor improves if it is left to stand overnight and served reheated.” This is a version what we always say about a homemade chowder: “It’s even better the second day.”
              ’And so are cheeses, ripening.

© 2022 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

 

 

 

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ARCHIVE of PAST ENTRIES

2022

Special Places—Popular Cakes(March 27) Neighborhood Parks ( (March 20)
More About Potatoes—and Maine (March 13)
Potatoes (March 6)
Spring Tease (February 27)
Pillows (February 20)
Our Song (February 13)
Undies (February 6)
Laughter  (January 28/30)
A Burns Night  (January 23)
From Keats to Spaghetta Sauce (January 16)
Chowder Recipes  (January 9)
Cheeses and Chowders  (January 2)

2021

The Roaring Twenties (December 26
Christmas Traditions (December 19)
Trail Cameras (December 12)
Cars and Trucks(December 5)
Return? (November 28)
Lipstick (November 20)
Tricks of the Trade (November 12)
A New Dictionary Word (November 7)
A 50th Reunion (October 31) "
Sides to Middle" Again
(October 23)
Pantries and Anchovies (October 1i7)
Fairs and Festivals (October 10)
Reunions  (October 3) A Lull  (September 26)
The Queen and Others (
Sept. 19)
Scones and Gardens (Sept.12)
Best Maine Diner (September 5)
Neighborhood Grocery Store; Neighborhood Café (August 28)
PW Picks of the Week (August 21)
A Goldilocks Morning_and More (August 15)
Desks (August 8)
Sports Bras and Pseudonyms (August 1)
Storybook Foods (July 25)
Rachel Field(July 18)
The Bliss Point  (July 11)
Items of Interest  (July 4)
Motorcycle Week 2021 (June 27)
Seafood, Inland and Seaside  (June 20)
Thrillers to Doughnuts (June 13)
National Trails Day  (June 6)
New Hampshire Language (May 30 )
Books and Squares(May 23)
Gardening in May (May16)
The Familiar (May 9)
Synonyms (May 2)
"Bear!" (April 25)
Blossoms  (April 18)
Lost Kitchen and Found Poetry (April 11)
More About Mud (April 4)
Gilbert and Sullivan (March 28)
St. Patrick's Day 2021 (March 21)
Spring Forward (March 14)
A Blank Page (March 7)
No-Recipe Recipes (February 28)
Libraries and Publishers Weekly (February 21)
Party; Also, Pizza (February 13)
Groundhog Day (February 6)
Jeeps (January 31) Poems and Paper-Whites (January 24) Peanut Butter (January 17)
Last Wednesday  (January 10)
Hoodsies and Animal Crackers  (January 3)

2020

Welcome, 2021December 27
Cornwall at Christmastime( December 20)
 Mount Tripyramid ( December 13) 
New Hampshire Pie ( December 6)   
Frost, Longfellow, and Larkin ( November 29)
Rocking Chairs ( November 22)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( November 15)
Election 2000 ( November 8)
Jell-O and Pollyanna ( November 1)
Peyton Place in Maine  (October 25)
Remember the Reader  (October 18)
Sandwich Fairs In Our Past  (October11)
Drought and Doughnuts  (October 4)
Snacks (September 27)
Support Systems, Continuing (September 20)
The 85 Best Things to Do in New England (Sept
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 3
Poutine and A Postscript(August 23)
Pandemic Listening and Reading (August 16)
Mobile Businesses (August 9)
Backyard Wildlife (August 2)
Maine Books (July 26)
Garlic (July 19)
Birthday Cakes (July 12)
A Collection of Quotations  (July 5)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
Hair (June 21)
Learning (June 14)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Laconia (May 10)
Results (May 3)
Singing (April 26 )
Dining Out (April 19 )
Red Hill (March 29)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
Food for Hikes (March 8)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Books Sandwiched In   (February 9)
Mailboxes February 2)
Ironing (January 26)
The Cup & Crumb  (January 19)
Catalogs  (January 12)
Audiobook Travels  (January 5)

                        2020

Christmas Weather  (Dec. 29 )
Christmas in the Village  (Dec. 22)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again  (Dec. 15)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York  (December 8)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving.  (December 1)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again.  (Nov. 24
Louisa and P.G.  (November 17)
The First Snow  (November 10)
Joy of Cooking  (November 3)
Over-the-Hill Celebration  (October 27)
Pumpkin Regatta  (October 20)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Spice  (October 6)
Wildlife  (Sept 29)
Shakespeare and George  (Sept 22)
Castles and Country Houses  (Sept 15)
New Hampshire Apple Day  (Sept 8)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking  (Sept 1)
Reunions  (August 25)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar  (August 18)
Old Home Week  (August 11)
Summer Scenes  (August 4)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Out of Reach  (July 21)
This and That, Again  (July 14)
The Lot  (July 7)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
The Big Bear (May 26)
It's Radio! (May 19)
Archie (May 12)
Department Stores  (May 5)
Spring Is Here!  (April 28)
Dorothy Parker Poem  (April 21)
National Library Week, 2019  (April 14)
National Poetry Month, 2019  (April 7)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Our First Date (February 17) 
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Home Ec (February 3)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Kingfisher (January 19)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Squirrels (January 6)

                    2018

Clothesline Collapse   (December 2)
Thanksgiving 2018
(November 25)  
Bookmarks
(November 18)
A Mouse Milestone (November 11)
Farewell to Our Magee   (November 4)
Sistering (October 28)
Sears (October 21)
Love and Ruin (October 14)
A New Furnace (October 7)
Keene Cuisine September 30)
A Mini-Mini Reunion (September 23)
Support System  (September 16)
Five & Ten  (September 9)
Dining Out Again  (September 2)
Summer Listening (August 26)
Donald K. MacDougall 1936-2018  (August 19)
Update--Don (August 12)
Telling Don (August 5)
Don's Health (July 29)
Seen and Overheard (July 22)
Donald Hall  (July 15)
Fireworks (July 8)
Off Season (July 1)
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (June 24)
2018 Motorcycle Week (June 17)
Springtime Sights (June 10)
Seafood at the Seacoast? (June 3)
Lilacs (May 27)
Going Up Brook, revisited  (May 20)
The Weirs Drive-In Theater  (May 13)
The Green and Yellow Time, (May 6 )
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing (April 21)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (April 14)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Old Country Store (March 25; First  FB entry)

Earlier: :Ruth's Neighborhood
(multiple entries, 2011 - 2017)