Saturday, November 30, 2013

Craft Tour Time

For three days following Thanksgiving, Putney, Vermont, holds an open studio Craft Tour.  This year, celebrating its 35th anniversary, twenty-six studios are being featured including those of fiber artists, glass-blowers, sculptors, fine art painters, jewelers, wood carvers, potters, and metal workers among others.  A family member and I like to go each year.  Of those we visited yesterday, four gave me permission to take photographs.  Here they are.

Dena Gartenstein Moses, who runs the Vermont Weaving School, is a highly experienced, exquisite weaver and holds classes at 4 Signal Pine Road.  (I was one of her students this autumn, my very first weaving class.)

A few of Dena's exquisite chenille scarves

Susan Wilson is a long-time potter and ceramic sculptor at 105 Westminster Road.

Just down the road, Ken Pick offers stoneware furniture, sculpture, and pottery at 187 Westminster Road.

Each spot offers refreshments--hot cider, pumpkin bread, home-made cookies, and here, popcorn

The real thing, not sculptures
Finally, Carol Keiser's Art Tile Studio has always been one of our favorites, there at 338 Hickory Ridge Road South with her painting on tiles and canvas with subjects reflecting both Vermont and her other home in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
Carol's studio off in the Putney hills
Examples of her painted tiles


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Between Creepy Crawlies and Ho-Ho-Ho's


Hallowe'en gets at least a month of attention.  Fake webs all over the place.  Horrid over-sized images of creepy crawlies.  (Which reminds me, what happened to those cute goblins we used to see?)  And then Christmas starts right up when November rolls around.  The music.  The Christmas-themed TV movies.  The advertisements.  The reinforcement that it's become important only for the spending of dollars.  So what about Thanksgiving?  It seems to get swallowed up.  And now, as the shopping storm blows in, store personnel are going to have to excuse themselves from their turkey dinners so that their employers can acquire more dollars during the holiday itself, so that they can initiate a Black Thursday instead of holding off until Friday.  Poor Thanksgiving.

In fact, as one seemingly continuous season from early October through early January, the whole thing starts way too early and thus carries on way too long.  I don't like shopping for one thing.  Nor being compressed into all this hoop-la for another.  I remember one December--it was the 20th, in fact--when I was in hot Bangkok and walked by a shop window filled with Christmas decor (in a Buddhist country) realizing that, having been in Asia for awhile, I'd totally forgotten that Christmas was around the corner.  It was quite refreshing.  I was able to spend the next five days thinking about Christmas, not the previous two months.

Well, here's to turkey, stuffing, roasted veggies, cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy, and whatever pie is set on the table.  (Apple seems to be the favorite these days; no one much seems to go for pumpkin or mince, those two pies from my childhood.  But I figure any pie tastes just fine.)  And here's to family gatherings with good friends joining in.

One nice thing about Thanksgiving is that it all centers around eating.  No one has to worry about gifts except to share the pie you made, the cranberry conserve, or some fancy sweet potato dish.  It's a pretty cool holiday, one of my favorites, so here's to it:  Happy Thanksgiving!

Ready to carve

Saturday, November 23, 2013

That Friday in 1963

I wasn't going to write about this.  But as yesterday wore on, and with it the memories of that other Friday when JFK died, I felt compelled to put my thoughts on paper.  Yes, it is true:  everyone does remember where he/she was that day.  

I was twenty-four years old and had only just returned to the U.S. five days before after making my first (and solo) trip to Europe at a time when that book, Europe on $5 a Day, was quite appropriate.  I had quit my New York publishing job but had found myself homesick for friends and the Manhattan life, so I returned--though I'd thought I might wander, find work in France, Spain, Greece picking grapes, teaching English, cataloging someone's private library.  So I was only just back in New York City ... and found myself that Friday in the Upper East Side's Convent of the Sacred Heart school with its high-beamed ceilings and intimate court yards--the same that Caroline Kennedy attended some years later.  A college friend of mine had a job there teaching twenty uniformed fifth graders.  She and I had just had lunch in the cafeteria and were back in her classroom as she was reading aloud from The Wind in the Willows.  Soon enough, we heard the click-click of a habit-frocked sister's shoes as she made her way along the corridor going from room to room.

It was 1:25 p.m.  "President Kennedy has been shot in the head," she said, as soon as she entered the room.  "He's been taken to the hospital, but they don't know if he's dead or alive."  A Catholic school, everyone was to go down to the chapel to pray for him, a fellow Catholic.  My friend closed her book and led us downstairs where people knelt amid murmured prayers and sobs.  When we came out, we heard he had died.  We walked as if in slow motion passing the Austrian Consulate at the moment someone was putting their flag at half-mast. The streets were empty.  "You can see the city mourn," a cab driver said later that evening.  You could also hear it in the silence--no horns, no traffic, only bewilderment and grief.  My dinner hosts opened champagne to toast my return.  We drank it as we watched President Johnson address the nation.

Kennedy's death changed things for us more than we may appreciate.  This summer, I read a fine, detailed, and excellently researched book by James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why It Matters.  It seems he would not have escalated the Vietnam War but brought troops home.  He was already making private peace overtures to Castro and Khrushchev.  Though his generals and others (including our hawkish ambassador to Vietnam) urged him to win the Cold War by following a belligerent policy, he knew that could lead to a nuclear confrontation.  He knew about war--he was, after all, a World War II war hero--and because he did know about it, he decided not to try to win the war (which turned out to be an unpopular stance) but to work to win the peace.  Of course, with his death, we got the war and we got it in spades.

As well, it changed things because many of us felt--and still feel--that we were not told the truth about what happened in Dallas ... that we could no longer trust our government either to do right by us or to level with us.  When Kennedy died, I felt, too, that we'd lost what I would call the marriage of elegance, promise, and intelligence.  With his death, it was back to confusion, gloom, and mis-truths.  The hope we'd all had for something better--a hope that sprang up with his inauguration--was destroyed that afternoon.  The spark, the optimism that we could finally become the nation we wanted to become, died with him. It marked a definite change for me in my attitude toward our government.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Steaming Up the Kitchen

The makings of a white bean, roasted garlic, carrot, and parsley soup with a single bay leaf.

I love soup.  And I love making soup.  Especially this time of year.  Going in the kitchen, putting on an apron, getting out my chopping board and enormous chopping knife, looking through the fridge for things to add--celery, parsley, left over squash or potatoes.  It all gives me a sense of satisfaction.  Oh, yes, and listening to some Bach while I cook.

Then, too, according to Chinese medicine--those who practice acupuncture or teach Tai Chi or make feng shui adjustments--it's best not to eat raw/cold in winter but cooked/hot.  So there go my salad lunches for the time being.

I enjoy cooking, but these days, at least, I usually wing it and don't refer to recipes unless I'm making some hot-shot dessert or fancy entree.  Generally, I just set out the ingredients I want to use and go from there.  And most of the soups I make start the same way:  sauteing chopped onions.  So I get out my Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch oven, set it on a lit burner, then, when it's hot, add and heat either ghee or olive oil, then toss in a chopped onion to start the whole process.  Stirring, I let that cook for five or ten minutes over lowish heat so it doesn't burn.  (If I'm making a curry-flavored soup, this is when I'd add that flavoring since such spices like to be heated with the onions, but only for a minute or two.  This would also be the time to saute a bit of chopped garlic.  And, note:  if I'm including bacon or sausage, I saute those even before the onions.)

Then I add the broth.  Something I've made from ham, lamb, beef, chicken, or turkey bones.  Or something commercial.

Next, I put in the rest of the ingredients.  Celery can be stringy so unless I'm planning on pureeing the soup and then straining out the strings, I like to cut a stalk into thirds, drop that into the pot, and then easily pull it all out at the end.  I often make bean soup so add a can of white, red, or black beans  Or lentils.  Maybe some tomatoes.  Mushrooms.  Then I add a bit of salt, put on the lid, turn down the heat, and let everything bubble for a good half hour. 

Or, if I want a slightly thicker soup, I'll add 4 tablespoons of cous-cous to the broth after it's first come to a boil.
My current supply of red and white onions, garlic, and shallots, any of which are splendid in soups.

A drizzle of olive oil or a bit of bacon fat adds a nice richness. As for other flavoring, a bit of tamari, or roasted sesame oil, or a half-teaspoon of vinegar works well.  Plus a selection between bay leaf, parsley, chives, sage, oregano, and celery seed.

Once the soup is cooked and cooled, I often put it in the food processor.  Pureed is good.  But I also like soups that are a bit chunky--made by pulsing them just a bit rather than pureeing them.  Then I have a choice about how to serve.  (If I've pureed or pulsed the soup, I'll need to reheat it.)  Sometimes, I add a bit of half-and-half to each individual bowl.  Or, I particularly like the taste of miso--a paste-like ingredient that goes in at the very end since it prefers not to be heated.  If you're planning to use all the soup without reheating next day, you can just spoon a bit of miso in the pot at the tail-end and stir well.  Otherwise, the best way is to put a half teaspoon of miso in your empty soup bowl, add a small amount of liquid, stir until it's all incorporated, then ladle in the soup. That provides the flavoring without cooking the miso.

The beginnings of an onion and shitake mushroom soup

Using sauteed onions as my basic start, here are some of my favorite soups:
  • White bean ... with or without sausage
  • Cauliflower
  • Onion ... with or without curry seasoning
  • Potato and leek
  • Summer squash ... good in summer, pureed, and then served chilled
  • Asparagus
  • Mushroom
  • Lentil
  • Broccoli
One recent batch gave me a lot of pleasure because everything was produced locally.  I'd gotten a beef knuckle bone from one farmer ... leeks, parsley, and carrots from others.  Plus some chives and sage from my herb garden.  It produced a good old-fashioned pot of soup!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Bit of Movie Star Nostalgia

This all started when I recently heard Jeremy Irons narrate something on TV making me realize once again just how beautiful the English language can be.  Crisp consonants, exquisite vowels, perfect pacing between each word so that one word didn't tumble into the next and get all mushed up.  As I listened, I was reminded of Ronald Colman whose voice captured me when I was only six years old.  With that, my mind began to wander to others of that era.  Here's what I ended up with.  Of course, it's ancient history now.  But for me, these people are still with us in their way.

Most enchanting voices (all Brits):
1.  Ronald Colman
2.  Laurence Olivier
3.  Richard Burton
4.  Jeremy Irons (yes, a totally different generation)

Most deliciously stylish:
1.  Grace Kelly
2.  Audrey Hepburn
3.  Jackie Kennedy (the only non-movie star in the bunch)
4.  Fred Astaire

Most drop-dead gorgeous:
1.  Ava Gardner
2.  Vivien Leigh
3.  Elizabeth Taylor
4.  Hedy Lamarr
5.  Robert Taylor
6.  Cary Grant
7.  Tyrone Power

1.  Ingrid Bergman
2.  Jimmy Stewart

Best Mr. Tough Guy:
1.  Burt Lancaster
2.  Kirk Douglas
3.  Edward G. Robinson
4.  James Cagney

Best Villain:
1.  James Mason

Feistiest Female:
1.  Susan Hayward
2.  Maureen O'Hara
3.  Bette Davis

Best Charioteer:
1.  Charlton Heston

Best War Hero:
1.  John Wayne
2.  Robert Montgomery
3.  Robert Mitchum

Best Sword Fighter:
1.  Erroll Flynn
2.  Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
3.  Basil Rathbone

Best Ingenue:
1.  Joan Fontaine

Most Self-Sacrificing All Around Nice Gal:
1.  Greer Garson
2.  Claudette Colbert

Perkiest All Around Nice Gal:
1.  Doris Day

Best Smile:
1.  William Holden

1.  Ava Gardner
2.  Clark Gable
3.  William Holden

Best Comedienne:
1.  Marilyn Monroe

Best Dancers Who Weren't Dancers:
1.  Charlie Chaplin
2.  James Cagney

Best in Whatever They Did:
1.  Katharine Hepburn
2.  Wendy Hiller
3.  Humphrey Bogart
4.  Spencer Tracey

1.  Danny Kaye
2.  Charlie Chaplin
3.  W. C. Fields

Best Crooner:
1.  Bing Crosby
2.  Dean Martin
3.  okay, okay, Frank Sinatra

Most Wonderful and Beautiful at the Same Time:
1.  Deborah Kerr

Most Supreme Favorite:
1.  Gregory Peck

Award for Those Still Hanging in There, Now in Their 90s (except for #1):
1.  Luise Rainer (born 1910, won her first Oscar in 1936)
2.  Olivia de Havilland
3.  Kirk Douglas
4.  Zsa Zsa Gabor
5. Joan Fontaine
6.  Louis Jourdan
7.  Maureen O'Hara
8.  Mickey Rooney
9.  Doris Day
10.  Eleanor Parker
11.  Lizabeth Scott
12.  Rhonda Fleming
13.  Glynis Johns

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Visit to Pickity Place

Pickity Place's "Grandmother's House" with the luncheon room through the door and to the right.

We recently visited Pickity Place in Mason, New Hampshire, off in the middle of the state not that far from the Massachusetts border.  We happened on it some years back with its attractive acreage that supports flower and herb gardens, its gourmet herbal luncheon, its little paths, and shopping opportunities for such as soaps, herbs, jams, whisks, note cards, etc.

It seems that this little red cottage was built in 1786 and used by the artist, Elizabeth Orton Jones, as a model for her illustrations in the 1948 Golden Book edition of Little Red Riding Hood.  Now, as one would imagine, the cottage has taken on the character of Grandmother's House with an appropriate wolf in a big four-poster bed plus red capes-with-hoods, grandmotherly lace caps, and, of course, various editions of the story on display.

With a seven-year-old in tow, we thought it a good place to spend a Sunday afternoon complete with a delicious lunch.  Pickity Place only serves lunch ... with a new menu each month.  Everyone eats the same thing making service easy with choices only between a meat or a vegetarian dish as well as hot or cold drinks including mocha coffee, orange spiced tea, and lavender lemonade.  (There was also a children's menu with sandwiches as well as a Little Red-Riding-Hood basket that contained a crispy red apple and a newly-baked chocolate chip cookie.)  Of the three sittings--11:30, 12:45, and 2:00--we picked the earliest.  The dishes are made with Pickity Place's home-grown herbs (fresh or dried depending upon the season) and decorated with their edible flowers.

Butternut Squash Soup with Pistachio Oil

Radish and Pear Salad over Baby Kale

Pork Tenderloin Chimichurri over Safrito Rice.  (The vegetarian choice was Acorn Squash with Root Vegetable Couscous.)  Plus Sauteed Autumn Greens.
We were also given lovely chewy rolls with a garlic butter spread.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Sweet Walnut Dust  (Divine!)

After lunch, we wandered into the gift shops, the herbal drying shed, and the herb and perennial gardens.

Looking down toward the Drying Shed

Inside the Drying Shed

Another view

Some of the herb gardens

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