of gardens and grandmothers
a podcast with Margaret Roach
(and a book give-away, too)

unspecifiedIt’s just after 5 a.m. as I type these words, still completely dark outside. But my friend Margaret Roach and I have already said “Good morning” via Skype with a blitz of typed messages. (It’s way too early to talk out loud and risk waking my husband, recovering from a week of flu in our bedroom down the hall.)

Margaret reports she’s having trouble sleeping these days, too. Combine post-election angst, the unusually warm November days,  darkness descending suddenly at 4 pm each afternoon, and a moon that demands one’s full attention, and it’s little wonder that we’re each feeling a bit out of sync with our normal routines.

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spark joy
(and my go-to holiday recipes)

IMG_5882When our sons were young, there was no holding off Christmas. Henry, born December 18, absorbed holiday melodies in the womb, from “Jingle Bells” to the Messiah. His in-utero nickname was Bing, for Crosby, which morphed into Der Bingle after a visiting friend introduced us to the German diminutive. (Of course, we had no way of knowing then that music would turn out to be his “language” of choice but now, looking back, it seems almost pre-ordained; he arrived in a season of shimmer and twinkle, surrounded by love and borne into our arms on a wave of joyful noise.)

That year, in the final weeks of my first pregnancy and with a December due date looming, my husband Steve and I were organized in a way we’ve never been before or since: all our gifts bought and wrapped and shipped weeks in advance, a tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving; holiday cards mailed December first and a newly appointed nursery awaiting its tiny occupant. All was in readiness, every diaper and onesie neatly folded and stacked, every holiday ornament shining in its place.

Four days before Christmas we brought our precious newborn home from the hospital, dressed him up in the miniature velveteen Santa suit my brother had given him, and snapped our first family photo in front of the tree. [continue…]

Buvette–food to love & a cookbook to win

photoSummer, thirty-five years ago. I was nineteen — ripe for adventure, ready to be inspired, in love for the first time, and headed for Paris.

My boyfriend (of whom my parents quietly, firmly disapproved) and I had worked and saved for a year to come up with $4,000 — enough, we hoped, to get us overseas, pay for a cheap used car and fund a summer of low-budget travel. I had my first passport, a few semesters of college French under my belt and a head still swimming with a thousand carefully memorized Art 100 slides.

For months, my more practical (but no more worldly) companion had studied the Michelin green guides and pored over road maps, planning possible routes across the continent.

My own self-assigned homework was less useful but considerably more titillating. Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, A. J. Liebling, Henry Miller, Colette, M.F.K Fisher were my tour guides, and their descriptions of all things French– from oysters on the shell to sex to the light in the sky at dusk — had filled me with hunger and anticipation. 

I’d read everything. Experienced nothing.

KK in paris 1979For a small-town girl from New Hampshire, Paris was a coming-of-age story, an irresistible invitation to leave my old unformed self behind and become someone altogether new – a person who broke bread instead of sliced it, who carried a cheese knife in her backpack, scribbled in a journal at sidewalk cafes, drank diminutive cups of espresso at dusk and pitchers of vin de table in the Latin Quarter by night. (Why I didn’t peel off those ankle socks along the way, I can’t say.) [continue…]

Laurie Colwin — my mentor in the kitchen & on the page

photo copy 2 - Version 2I once bought a black speckled canning pot, two boxes of Ball jars, and twelve pounds of dusky Italian plums in memory of an author I loved.

For years, I’ve suspected I was one of a few remaining Laurie Colwin aficionados, a smallish but loyal band of readers of a certain age and sensibility who still hold her close in our hearts, afford her books prime space on our shelves, and continue to make her signature dishes in our kitchens.

So it was rather wonderful, though a bit startling, to discover in the pages of the New York Times this week that I’m not alone after all. That in fact, in the more than twenty years since her death, Laurie’s following has only grown, attracting “a new, cultishly devoted generation of readers,” many of whom are in their thirties or even younger.

Turns out, Laurie Colwin is bigger than ever. Her books, never out of print, are selling briskly. Some of her most zealous disciples today were toddlers when she died in 1992. Somehow, knowing about her expanding fan base gives me hope — not only for this new generation of readers, secret romantics, and home cooks, but also for the survival of such humble institutions as tea parties, afternoon picnics, and family dinners. [continue…]

Celebrating Valentine’s Day (stories, music, & two irresistible cookie recipes)

hearts“And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”   ~ Paul McCartney

Hearts:

When my sons were young, we always made Valentines.  It was a joy for me to join my boys at our old Formica table in the playroom and, for a few February afternoons each year, devote ourselves to frilly matters of the heart.

Of course, we went all out. Our supplies were bountiful: stacks of construction paper, doilies, paper hearts, pink ribbons, lace, glue sticks and lots of sparkly stuff.  And the lavish creations borne of our efforts pleased us greatly.  Valentine’s Day was easy to celebrate: cozy, hands-on, messy fun.  Love made visible.

I still have our old box of Valentine paraphernalia in the basement, though it’s been over a decade since the three of us made cards together and the glue sticks have no doubt turned rock-hard.  I considered the box briefly the other day: should I carry it all upstairs?  Sit down by myself and cut up a few red doilies for old times’ sake?  No, I realized, that would just feel weird. [continue…]