Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Little Restaurant that Could


One of our favorite places to eat had declined in recent years--same name, same place but new owners, new cook. The general restaurant kiss of death. We tried many times to just give the once-popular restaurant one more chance, hoping, desperately, that our dining experience of the mid-1990s would somehow resurrect itself to its former roadside glory. It never did. We moved on to other venues, but wistful about the corn chowder, cream pies and homemade entrees we used to know.

Spring is indeed the time of new life and Casey J's on Route 12 in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire has reemerged in its former guise and stature thanks to one of the establishment's original waitresses and mainstays. Merrilyn Weston Patch recently bought the 12-year old eatery from its third owners and, judging from the parking lot, word seems to be out that Casey J's is "back". This is one of those unpretentious family places where you can hang with the locals or bring your weekend friends for brunch. We saw several people we recognized from regional towns, including ourselves, proving that people will drive twenty miles or more in the country for a good meal.

There is something on the menu for everyone--they used to even serve tripe but Merrilyn says you can't get it anymore--and portions are large (but you can ask for "lite" servings at a reduced cost). Entrees range from $6-16 but include homemade rolls, choice of potato and a vegetable. My husband had a 2" cut (12 oz) of prime rib, complete with roll, choice of potato and vegetable. On other occasions he often gets the meatloaf dinner. He chose homemade mashed potatoes with gravy and broccoli. It was one of the most flavorful cuts he'd had at a restaurant and perfectly cooked to his liking at medium rare. One of our boys had the homemade macaroni and cheese with a hotdog, from the children's menu, which came with a drink and ice cream. I chose the fried seafood platter with clams and scallops and both were plump, sweet and perfectly cooked. For a vegetable I opted for pickled beets, surprised to find them on the menu and delighted in their fresh-canned crispness.

Specials usually include a fried fish option, like oysters or scallops, steak, and sometimes lobster rolls, despite the rising cost of lobster meat. Regular menu fare ranges from pasta dishes to meat loaf. For Mother's Day, we overheard that Merrilyn will be offering fresh chops from Weston-raised lamb. Sunday brunch is ample and varied and regular breakfasts are also popular with hearty specials under $5 including eggs, pancakes and omelets, even a generous serving of fresh fruit cup, attractively presented, for a mere $2. The restaurant is open daily for all three meals, except Mondays.

Merrilyn was always one of the many reasons we kept returning--in good times and in bad. As a young widow and mother of several children, Merrilyn also managed to put on a brave front through the restaurant's several changes, keeping vigil, and always smiling, despite the diminished fare and increasingly grungy surroundings, and the turmoil in her own life. A native of Hancock, about thirty miles or so to the north, she recently raided her father's farmhouse and barn for antiques to put her own mark on the place: milk bottles from former area dairies line the walls alongside old tools, game boards, vintage cans, and faded Victorian photograph portraits of mystery relatives. [FYI Fitzwilliam and nearby Jaffrey are also great destinations for antiquers. However, there is nothing like going out to the barn on the old homestead for inspiration.] While Merrilyn has put her own touches on the pre-existing railroad decor--if Casey Jones ever lived in Fitzwiliam, no one seems to know about it--she hasn't messed with the food, only improving upon original offerings and bringing back the original baker who has also baked for Twelve Pine, the famed cafe eatery in nearby Peterborough.

Prior to one Thanksgiving dinner my husband and I put on in one of the first years of our marriage, we pre-ordered several dozen Parker House rolls and a number of homemade pies from Casey J's (I am not a good pie maker and at the time had a fear of making a successful yeast bread). The baker, Bett Eleftheriou is just the right fit for a place like this and knows how to make any kind of conceivable dessert, sweet rolls with a slight hint of honey, and a mean Whoopie Pie (for the uninformed, that's essentially two chocolate cake tops, baked as large soft cookies and smudged together with a hearty dollop of a creamy, often marshmallow-based, filling). Dessert specials change daily but there is always something to tempt the palate, like the best Boston Cream Pie, even after you've stuffed yourself on their home cooked entrees. In addition to several kinds of pies and cheescake, you can easily find diner standards like bread or grapenut pudding and apple crisp. But dieters, beware. This place has been banned even by the Weight Watchers™ point system.

One complaint I have always had about Casey J's is the tendency to overcook vegetables into a pallid, lifeless state (except for the carrots which can always pass as well done). Yet as the limp broccoli sits alongside the gravy I feel I'm back in London at the university dining hall so it easily becomes a nostalgic oversight. Since that time in my life I've realized that I like my veggies bright green and at least al dente. However, I can't hold it against them as Casey J's is not the place to go for your vegetables. You want to bring it all on and make your meal worth every caloric, amply served bite. If you want a menu that features items like "Pan-seared Spawning Brook Trout and Rabbit-bitten Field Greens with a White Raspberry-Tuscan Oil Spritz" or black-clad waiters hovering over you with large pepper grinders, then you shouldn't have gotten off at Petticoat Junction, my friend. But since you did, you may as well stick around and enjoy yourself and catch a later train.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

**Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain

My Inspiration for IN THE PANTRY

E. had a wonderful birthday but his cake was too dry...and pale. Betty, what happened? I just got the new Martha Stewart KIDS and there is a beautiful black moist chocolate cake made with oil, buttermilk and cocoa. It is the blackest, richest looking chocolate cake I've ever seen. I shall try that one next time. E.'s cake had the palor of Milk of Magnesia, not a chocolate cake. The 'crumb' and texture were good--it was just bland and ugly but the kids loved that age, just as long as it's cake! I have to admit, as most of the cake decorators I have met do, that the best and tastiest and moistest cakes are those made from box mixes. I still seek to prove them wrong. When I find a cake, such as the banana chocolate cake at Fiddlehead's Cafe across the street or the delectable cakes made by Pam at the Dublin General Store, I want to know: what is your recipe? But they are closely guarded secrets. I would have to buy the cafe to find out and assure their longevity and I just don't have Oprah's ability to do that.

Aside from E's birthday, yesterday I signed my contract with Gibbs-Smith for my upcoming IN THE PANTRY book. It was a pleasant process but laden with somewhat intimidating factors so new to me. I consulted many people: friends who have photographed and written several books, other freelance writers, a copyright attorney, a cousin who had published. I realized in the end that you can't be in this for the money and it is really all about a publisher not only wanting your idea but getting your idea. I don't have an agent at this time and as much as I can see why they are useful--it is difficult to dicker for additional money or terms with a group with whom you may soon be working closely--I would rather establish a good working relationship with a publishing house on my own. I've heard nothing but good things about this publisher. They have published a number of excellent "coffee table" and shelter books in the past few years. They also publish cookbooks and even children's books. Check out:

I was introduced to Gibbs-Smith last fall when I was asked to contribute a chapter on pantries to VICTORIAN KITCHENS & BATHS by Franklin & Esther Schmidt (to be published in May 2006). That request came from them talking with my editor at OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS Magazine, the wonderful Patty Poore, for whom I had written a feature article last year on pantries. I have always loved pantry spaces and this inspired the article which inspired the chapter which inspired the book. I look forward to putting the book together and having a particular passion of mine put into print, to creating something as wonderful as a book--not only for myself but for others. Everyone I tell about the book always has a pantry story to share. One friend recalls making orange layered 1-2-3 Jello gelatin (remember that stuff?) in her grandmother's huge complex of pantries in a large Mediterranean-style house overlooking Dublin Lake. Another acquaintance often slept in her grandmother's pantry at night because it was so cozy and safe. Others recall the ample security of the pantry--of having every good thing at hand, especially the cookie jar.

I can not help but be persuaded by symbolism and meaning in all things. This of course has nothing to do with my training as an art and architectural historian--or a purveyor of fine literature. I expect the book writing and production process has a similiar alchemy to the chemical properties of baking: you mix the different ingredients in right measure and then bake for a set amount of time. Don't frost until cool and if any of the ingredients are off or the oven too hot or the mixing too vigorous, you're sunk. Sometimes no matter what you do, the recipe is a dud. As I have made many cakes in my day, I'm going to blame Betty and her band of domestic science harpies in their 1940s test kitchen. Or maybe people liked their cake pale and dry in the mid-20th century...was it that long ago? As for the book process ahead, although it will be somewhat of a collaborative effort, I'm the one to blame if it's a dry dud. But it will be fun, regardless of the outcome.

So yesterday, April 26, was my youngest son's fifth birthday, I signed a contract for my first book, and, as my friend Sue tells me, New Order released their new album. Today my adorable curly-haired niece turned one. She reminds me of myself as a toddler and I see glimmers of my father in her, too. I hope she will become like my honorary daughter--the imagined second one that I never had.

I can think of no better combination of events. And it is time to dance.

**Ok, I just don't get it--if anyone can adequately explain to me the lyrics of this song, MacArthur Park, sung by Donna Summers, disco queen in the 1970s, and before that by Frank Sinatra (the cooler version by far), I will FED-EX you a dozen of my homemade scones. It has remained one of life's unknown questions...and I usually can decypher code and symbol.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

On Being Five

Five Years Old!

Our youngest son is five today and it seems such a threshold year. He has been emerging out of toddlerhood in the past two years, long out of diapers, and able to hold his own with his 7.5 year old brother and even his 16 year old sister. When my husband and I got married almost nine years ago, an aunt said, "Wouldn't it be nice if you had two boys, about two years apart?" Well, the Fates so blessed us--they are like best friends or scrapping pound puppies depending on the day--and the Fates had also blessed me with a daughter a decade before that.

E. is our baby and he will always be my "Easy-Eye". He was the kind of baby who slept for three hours, woke and nursed heartilty, smiled and cooed a bit, and then fell back asleep for another three hours. He still smiles and coos and thrives on the routine of a well-paced day. Yet, fortunately, he is not bound by it as "Routine" and I are at constant odds.

I must now frost his cake and wrap the rest of his presents. He has requested cheeseburgers on the grill, deviled eggs and "YOUR macaroni and cheese, Mommy...NOT Annie's!" for his birthday dinner. It really is the best mac & cheese on the planet and the secret ingredient is Velveeta...although I find that Kraft makes a shredded cheese blend, "Classic", I think, that works just as well, especially when paired with the tang of the sharp cheddar (I also use whole raw milk and a pinch of dry mustard, and a hearty dash of cayenne pepper). Dinner will be served in our cozy but seldom-used breakfast room, at E's request, complete with fine dishes and silver. You are not five every day!

A white sauce for macaroni and cheese was the first thing I ever learned to cook, aside from cake mixes in my Easy Bake Oven--one of the prized toys of my childhood. It was aqua-colored, one of the first, before they went all microwave on us. Imagine, baking a cake to the heat of a lightbulb. Their cake and frosting mixes were adorable as were the miniature implements that came with the oven set. Betty Crocker mini mixes had the same boxes as Mom's right down to the logo.

I made E. a devil's food cake from the old BETTY CROCKER PICTURE COOKBOOK. I just got a first edition that belonged to a friend's mother who passed away (she was in her 90s). Surprisingly, the family didn't want the book. It is in excellent shape and even filled with recipe clippings from the 1970s. I'll let you know about the cake--it looks a bit pale in color for a chocolate cake but hopefully it will make up in flavor and "crumb".

"I like a good 'crumb'." Sounds like something George Constanza would have said on SEINFELD...maybe he did. Or was it cheek? "I like a good 'cheek'".

So, here is to my five-year old beautiful boy, E. May you have a full and happy life and a good 'crumb'.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Five Cup Salad ~ Ambrosia of the God(desse)s!

I just needed to share this easy recipe, in honor of my son's 5th birthday tomorrow, and recently found in a copy I picked up of SQUARE MEALS by Jane & Michael Stern (out of print, I believe, but c. early 1980s). It was contributed to them by Carol Sama Sheehan who is now editor of COUNTRY HOME Magazine. As a born and bred Midwesterner, I can appreciate this salad. I made it after seeing the ingredients listed and because my husband loves "Ambrosia" (I believe another name for this delightful concoction) and I was trying to replicate a recipe we had tried at a party.

This graced our Easter table and was as delicious as it was colorful (it can be easily doubled or tripled for a crowd--as written, the 5-cup version comfortably serves 5-6 as a side dish):

FIVE CUP SALAD (for the FIVE year old in all of us!)

Toss the following and chill:

~ 1 cup drained mandarin orange segments
~ 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
~ 1 cup miniature marshmallows
~ 1 cup shredded coconut
~ 1 cup sour cream

What could be more simple? I expect, if you wanted, you could add chopped nuts of some sort but they may get soggy.

A keeper in our recipe coffers.

Recipe Clippings and Food Magazines

Assorted Cookbooks
I'm realizing I am either in need of a 12-step "clippers" recovery program or am just a major "foodie". For the past ten years, since my marriage more or less, I've been a consumate recipe clipper. Because I contribute articles to a variety of "shelter" magazines, I tend to subscribe to too many to count. Many, of course, have a recipe section. I even had to stop my subscription to GOURMET because it was overwhelming--now I've discovered that many recipe archives for magazines are on-line. But there is nothing so tangible as a recipe file in or near your kitchen. [I do find, however, when looking for an occasional recipe, that the internet is the quickest route--but then you have to sift through ten or more versions.]

Unfortunately, as with 10+ years of photographs, I have yet to get around to actually clipping and filing these recipes! Lately I've been taking a pile of torn magazine pages from a box (this box is 2.5 feet deep) and going through them. Many I've thrown away and others, like the garden & house clippings (of gardens and rooms that I like) have gone into their own box for a possible scrap book. About a year ago, before I even clipped, I asked myself the following questions. I find it has greatly thwarted my past habits of impulsively ripping and tearing and piling.

My criteria for clipping a recipe is as follows:

~ Is it something vastly different than a recipe that appears in any one of my several hundred cookbooks? (eg. How many recipes for cranberry scones or corn pudding does one need?)
~ Is it something my children might eat?
~ Is it something my husband might eat, and eat again? (Ditto that for the kids.)
~ If no one will eat it in my family, is there another reason for keeping it? (eg. Special tea party or dinner party idea?)

When finally using a recipe clipping to prepare a new addition to a meal, I make the decision whether or not it's a keeper based on its reception at the table. [It might be beneficial to add at this point that I've made no more than 50 recipes from the thousand or more clippings I have been stockpiling in the past ten years.] If I don't hear at least three out of five sincere "Mom, this is GOOD!"s, then out it goes in the trash (the recipe and sometimes the food itself). I don't normally look for it, but genuine praise goes a long way in the kitchen if only to make things easier in menu planning.

Cooking for my family each evening has become a chore after ten years (breakfasts and lunches are usually quick and cafe style, fortunately, and as I joke with my husband, "I married you for life, NOT for lunch!"). Perhaps this is why I've recently torn apart my kitchen to resettle myself in the cooking arena: change is good. Perhaps it is also why I'm revisiting my recipe stash. I hope to be inspired--if not from the divine muse of cuisine, then from any other cook who has been there.

My favorite, most used, cookbooks in my home are the following:

~ All three books by Ann Hodgman (BEAT THIS!, BEAT THAT!, and another one designed for children's palates). As far as I am concerned she could be the long-lost older sister I never had.
~ THE BUTTR'Y SHELF COOKBOOK by Mary Mason Campbell and delightfully illustrated by Tasha Tudor. My very first cookbook from 1973 and its description of a New England buttr'y is one of the inspirations for my book, IN THE PANTRY. Here you will find lots of traditional New England style family recipes--the pair also collaborated on several other books, all collectible now and out-of-print, but well worth the price.
~ Several of the MOOSEWOOD cookbooks (before they got fat conscious!)
~ THE JOY of COOKING--need I say more?
~ THE BETTY CROCKER COOKY COOKBOOK is used often at Christmas and always brings me right back to our first kitchen in Akron, Ohio--with its pink 1950s/early 60s appliances and decor--and memories of my mother whipping up chocolate chip cookies and my sneaking the dough when she went to put a load in the laundry. Of course, I'm sure she never noticed that I'd rearranged her neat arrays on the cookie sheets. [NOTE: This is now back in print, exactly as it first appeared in the 1950s.]
~ CLASSIC HOME DESSERTS by Richard Sax (recently reprinted). You can't go wrong with any recipe in this cookbook and there are many (awesome Boston Cream Pie and Banana Cream Pie, for starters).
~ FARMHOUSE COOKING by Susan Herrmann Loomis who also did several "Farmhouse Cooking" books in France and Italy.
~ ENDANGERED RECIPES-TOO GOOD TO BE FORGOTTEN by Lari Robling, a new favorite!

Otherwise, I cook from my head or my recipe file and pour through other cookbooks for inspiration and the occasional "must try".

The only magazines I actually save are the following:

~ THE BAKING SHEET a quarterly publication of baking recipes by King Arthur Flour Company in Vermont (now with photos)...and if you don't already use their fine flours, you should. See:
~ KITCHEN GARDEN by Taunton Press. While this magazine didn't last more than a few years, I've saved every issue--full of great gardening tips and fabulous recipes focusing on seasonal fruits and vegetables.
And, a new find:
~ COOK'S COUNTRY by the folks who publish Cook's Illustrated (run out and buy the first issue of this sure-fire hit!) or check out

I have also been collecting old issues of AMERICAN COOKERY (originally The Boston Cooking School Magazine) from c. 1890-1946. I enjoy them not so much for their recipes (and we're talking liver molds and "dainty dishes" like Plover's Egg Mayonaisse with Beeswax Aspic...I exaggerate but there are some obscure dishes for the odd post-Victorian palate) but for their articles on domestic economy and features like "New England Hallways", "A Child's Nursery" and pantries, of course.

It would be so easy to just have one or a few cookbooks, wouldn't it? But certainly a boring prospect. I actually enjoy reading cookbooks at the end of the day when I can really get into them--both visually and for their text and numerous ideas. Among the many books piled on my bedside table, there are always a few cookbooks or food-related books, most marked with colored Post-its for future culinary possibilities in my own kitchen. In the meantime, I'm secure in knowing that I am surrounded by cookbooks--it is almost like eating comfort food.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sunday Dinner: Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire Pudding

We found a sirloin roast at the bottom of our freezer this morning--not quite freezer-burned but another month or so and it would have been stew meat for our dog. It has been thawing all day on the countertop while I continued to put away kitchen drawer contents (see my blog of April 23). Now it is sizzling in the oven and I need to get back down to that kitchen and put in the Yorkshire pudding.

I like to roast beef and lamb--even turkey--slowly. I first sear the meat at 450 degrees farenheit for about 15 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 250 degrees until it's done (use an oven thermometer--the digital ones are amazing--and to assure accuracy for desired "doneness"). This can take anywhere from an hour and fifteen minutes to three hours, depending on its size. Before roasting, I like to bring the meat to room temperature if possible and then season it liberally with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and sometimes garlic.

Meanwhile, I halve red potatoes (or peel and par boil Idahos) and toss them lightly in some olive oil, sprinkling them with sea salt. They roast in another oven (we have a pair of wall ovens, which helps when juggling) at around 450 Farenheit during the last 45 minutes or so of cooking the roast. Two boxes of chopped frozen spinach go into a saucepan with a bit of water and two chicken boullion cubes. I simmer it gradually and crank it up towards the end of cooking time. Then I add a huge pat of butter and about 1/4 cup of cream or half-and-half. Voila--quick Creamed Spinach.

And then the Yorkshire pudding--this is derived from my Uncle John's famous popover recipe [at least according to THE GENERAL'S COOKBOOK (Akron General Hospital Cookbook, c. 1960) and certainly amongst the family]. I triple this recipe for Yorkshire pudding but it also makes the biggest popovers you've ever seen. Uncle John was born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts and I suspect he brought this family recipe with him to Akron when he married my aunt. I know it was a tradition in their family to serve them every Christmas morning with plenty of butter and jelly.


3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
4 dashes of salt

REMEMBER to triple ingredients for Yorkshire Pudding. Beat eggs well; add salt in quick dashes. Add milk and beat. Add flour quickly and beat to get lumps out; beat again for several minutes. Let rest in bowl until oven ready. (An eggbeater works fine or you can use an electric mixer, but don't over beat!)

Heat oven to 475 degrees farenheit. Grease (Crisco works best and use it lavishly) a large Pyrex 13x9 dish (or 18-20 custard cups). Place in oven for 5-7 minutes until really hot. Take out and add batter, working quickly. Place back in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes at 475 degrees. Then, with popovers still in oven (do not open!), reduce heat to 350 degrees for an additional 13-15 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve with butter and currant jelly, or your own favorite. You can also put gravy on them, if desired.

And that is Sunday dinner: start time, 4:30pm; served with a smile at 6:45pm. While cooking I puttered around the kitchen clipping recipes, setting the table, and yelling at my husband.

Well at least the food was good.

Now I am eager to crawl into bed with our two boys and read the pile of books they have selected--then it is time for DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (mmmm?) and the return of BOSTON LEGAL (with Rupert Everett, no less). Perhaps a glass of wine will perfect the evening.

Cheers! May all of your Sundays be pleasant ones.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Kitchen Drawers


This morning, as I had a lot of energy and not much else to do because of the rain, I decided to take apart one drawer in our kitchen just to get to the bottom of it. Our kitchen drawers have been a wreck since we redid the kitchen seven years ago: never "quite right" and never exactly in the place I wanted them to be. Some work well but most are a complete disaster. I might put clutter on the countertop or all over my desk with papers to file and mail to sort. However, I like an organized drawer or I go slowly mad...and I guess I've been doing just that for the past seven years.

So, drawer one came apart and was divided up easily into piles of unused cocktail napkins, coasters pinched from pubs and bars around the world, cocktail stirs and toothpicks. Out went crinkled paper napkins, old plastic straws and packets of ketchup, perhaps gathered from half-a-dozen fast food franchises in the past ten years.

Meanwhile, I realized that I didn't want to put everything back in the same drawer of whence stuff came. Within minutes several other drawers were torn apart...even the dreaded one where no one dares to go: my husband's "catch all" drawer. Incredibly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Mostly lapsed batteries and odds and ends. I decided on second thought to leave that drawer well enough alone.

With the contents of 8 or 9 drawers spread across counter tops and tables I was able to group things into categories like birthday candles (50 or so boxes/half used) and regular candles; corks saved for well, cork; several million paperclips and rubber bands (half dried out and useless); a half-used package of "Sponge Bob" birthday plates and cups; fifty odd pieces of children's toys needing gluing; numerous packets of Splenda; matches with the Queen Mother on them (huh?); half-full containers of Tic-Tacs; 30 odd pens and markers. That is a brief picture of our kitchen ephemera (and we haven't even begun to touch the cake pan drawer or the Tupperware bins...). The rest was more easily pulled out and piled: vintage aprons and table cloths in need of ironing; old baby bibs, no longer needed; and about 1,000 cookie cutters of all shapes, sizes and epochs.

Once I started, I couldn't stop. Even my husband joined in and was especially useful at reaching things from high places and putting them in equally high places (you see, I am a dwarf--excuse me, short person). We found so much extra space in one cupboard that we decided it was high time we brought in the dozen embossed "cow" glasses and 18 painted red rooster juice glasses (both Crate & Barrel finds of a few years ago), as well as 6 additional dairy glasses that my brother Bob gave me several Christmases ago, to arrange in our "glass cupboard".

Phew...and I'm just beginning. I love being organized but I rarely am--the last time I felt 100% organized was in the six weeks before my daughter was born...and that unprecedented bout of tidying was seventeen years ago. I know it is likely borderline obsessive compulsive, but I feel more functional when I know where I can find the small tube of "Super Glue" or that all of my linen dinner napkins are washed, ironed and folded in their own little drawer.

We have accumulated way too much stuff and most of it is in our kitchen. I am at the point where I need to build another pantry (two dish pantries are already brimming) or rotate collections as in a museum. Or, in a fit of crazy desperation, sell a bunch of stuff on eBay to help support my eBay habit...but then, I would miss something. I'm not to that point yet. Hopefully, I will be by the time I am ready to downsize into a smaller house. (My husband and I often muse at how fun--or how cruel--it would be to just leave a houseful of stuff for our children to sort out and fight over.)

The fun is in the collecting, there is no doubt. At some point when I have every piece of "Country Fare" by Zanesville Pottery ever made--and I'm getting there--I will probably sigh deeply, look it all over, and say: "What else now? What possibly more can there be to life now that I have every single piece of 'Country Fare' pottery ever made?" No doubt this is how Barbra Streisand felt before she sold her Arts & Crafts and Mission pieces at auction. Been there, done that...on to the next passion.

After I plow through the kitchen cupboards and drawers (which is so much easier than filing paper or sorting through old letters, isn't it?), I will finish going through my office piles. All of this is to prepare me for larger chunks of writing time for my book and other projects--when I won't have to worry, while writing about pantries, where I put my Pyrex corn dishes last summer when we finished with them for the season. It's the unanswered voices of disheveled clutter and misplaced items that call to us, consuming our waking moments and sapping our productivity.

Who needs that kind of aggravation from a set of unorganized Pyrex?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Emily Dickinson's Pantry

The Old Kitchen Cupboard

The other day I discovered, when I Googled "Emily Dickinson and pantry" together on the Internet, hoping for a literary reference. [ASIDE: the Internet is where I glean 99.9% of my research these new fix? On-line databases...anyway, for another posting.], that Emily Dickinson wrote many of her poems in the kitchen pantry of her large Greek Revival house in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wrote in and around her kitchen when not writing in her upstairs bedroom.

This conveys many things: that Emily also had domestic duties (we know she used to enjoy making gingerbread for the neighborhood children and lowering it down to them by basket from her bedroom) and that her ideas were fleeting and constant, as so many are. So she grabbed the closest recipe or recent invoice from the butcher and scribbled her thin, but sure, lines on any free white space she could find, perhaps fueled by the "horror vacui" of any spare or potentially wasted bits of precious paper. This implies an immediacy in her writing--perhaps she had mulled over the words in her head while kneading bread dough or washing dishes and then, hurriedly and with purpose, set out to find something, anything, on which to write her phrases.

I, too, have done this. Domestic work and raising children (something Emily did not do) requires that any ideas be caught and held, if only temporarily, on fragments of notebook paper, quick computer rantings, or even tape recorded while driving. I have tried all of these methods. As with anything, some ideas hold, others fritter away and blow down the road never to be seen again. We only have so many "A-ha!" moments in a lifetime and sometimes it helps if we can record them, even if in the midst of doing dishes or setting the table.

Emily had many of these epiphanies and wrote when she had the inspiration--and what better place than a kitchen to be inspired. Here is the domestic pulse of the house where the comings and goings of the day are most realized, even then when kitchen quarters and adjacent pantries were relegated to the back of the house or the ell, far away from the inner sanctum of the parlor.

So she wrote her poems and stuffed them in drawers on snippets of paper and recipes and invoices so that someday someone might find them again...or not. In her case it was her servant who we credit today with saving these special gems and preserves from Emily's own pantry--both from her domestic larder and her cluttered, brilliant mind. And after all her pantry scribblings, the actual place only made it into one of Emily's poems: "My pantry has a fish for every palate in the year..." Go figure...

This blog will be a figurative pantry for my own thoughts--an interior monologue, if you will, especially on the kitchen and related spaces--as well as the occasional documentation of the writing and behind-the-scenes process of my forthcoming book, IN THE PANTRY [to be published by Gibbs-Smith in Spring 2007]. I'm sure I will also interject other thoughts as they arise but I'd like to keep this fairly thematic as related to domestic life.

Another day of domestic activity looms in our household--and another day spent trying to balance and juggle the ideas and thoughts that bubble over in me, like the fragrant mist that hovers over a great vat of grape jam, waiting to be canned for our cellar storeroom and opened again one day to give to family and friends.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why not?

I used to keep a journal, many moons ago..that was before I had children (one has just awoken from his nap)...I will continue this later. An intriguing place. A new journey.