Monday, February 27, 2006

Coincidence and Crabapples


Lately I have had "coincidence" on my mind because an old high school classmate and I have become reacquainted on line and he pointed the whole idea out to me. First of all, his picture from 1981 had been in the paper along with the Carnival Queen, another classmate--a "Who are they? Where are they" kind of thing that the local paper does. I Googled both classmates names and got Steve's with an email address on an obscure website (it helps when the surname of the person you are Googling is not the norm). I emailed him in hopes I had the correct "Steve". It turns out I did.

Then he read bits of this blog and the whole conversation about coincidence began. It started with an op-ed in his local paper about the phenomena. It also turns out that Steve's wife grew up right next to the publisher with whom I am writing IN THE PANTRY. He and his wife also had just looked up Annie Proulx the same night I had--just out of curiosity (my previous blog, on the same night they Googled Annie, was on this author). He also mentioned my mention of Mitt Romney's comment about people keeping a year's worth of provisions--particularly the Church of Latter Day Saints (eg. Mormons). Steve elaborated about this tradition of "storage rooms" and "fruit rooms"--some quite sizeable--in Mormon homes (his wife was raised in the church). And then he put me in touch with his sister-in-law who pointed me to many online resources about this phenomena. And now, a new sidebar will be included in "the pantry book".

Meanwhile, my friend Sue and I have had crabapples on the brain since our photo shoot in October. This year, at Gray Goose Farm, the crabapple tree adjacent to the dining room had never been more laden. The fruits were a beautiful wine color--not quite claret, more of a blush tinged with bits of green. When ripe they were almost sweet and they hung like grapes from the c. 40 year old tree. I remembered when my grandfather used to make the most delicious crabapple jelly. We would have it with our peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk spread out beneath the nearby apple trees--every day a picnic when we visited our dear grandparents in the summer in Jaffrey! So, I wanted to replicate that jelly, especially "bittersweet" this, the last year the farm would be in the family. So I sent my husband on a picking mission because first I thought their red beauty would look great in blue-tinged Ball canning jars that I'd been collecting all summer here and there for our pantry shoot. We poured them into the jars, untouched, with the intention of my making jelly soonafter. Well, they looked great in the photo shoot here and there but I never did make the crabapple jelly.

The other day Sue sent me an essay by Nora Ephron in a recent NEW YORKER about cookbooks that have influenced her over the years. She was enamored with Lee Bailey, perhaps the first "style food book" person out there. Sue's friend used to do the photography for Lee's books (I have several: COUNTRY WEEKENDS and COUNTRY DESSERTS). Ephron was all excited about what she might serve Bailey and also the prospect of dinner with him. What he served was simple but memorable and for dessert? Baked crabapples!

So I Googled a recipe for them--no such luck. But I did find a recipe for Crabapple Pie in the most likely of places--another blog! I will list that blog here because it not only is it enjoyable, but it oddly parallels mine at first glance. Check it out (and I'll list in the sidebar when I have more time!):

If you want the crabapple pie recipe, go to the December 10, 2005 archive. She also writes about couches, Yorkshire pudding, and general domestic stuff. I e-mailed her as a new fan.

Meanwhile, I walked out of a major accident yesterday. I am fine, with only a small bruise where the seatbelt clenched. No one can believe I was unscathed let alone not dead. The car will likely be totaled. No one else was in the car or affected by it: just me, my sturdy Honda Pilot that likely saved my life, and a deep ravine. I don't doubt there were a few angels in the car, too. As I was going over the ravine edge I felt as if the car was being gently placed, like a chess piece on a board. It was not violent or jarring. I will never know exactly how the accident occurred or how it ended the way it did but I'm now a firm believer in fate and good fortune and in unseen presences that help guide our lives. I am still grappling with the events of yesterday and likely will be for a long time. Meanwhile, a chest x-ray as a precaution from the accident revealed a probable granuloma on a lung--probably benign but they want to check it out. And another growth was found a week before on another part of my body. Again, likely benign.

But the coincidence of these three things--an internal body that I have no control over and an external accident that should have been a fatality if not something critical--has me wondering about the grand plan, while appreciating the irony of it all and the day as it comes. Like the crabapple we take the bitter with the sweet and hope for the best.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Annie Proulx once wrote about grapes...

I was heartened the other day when I pulled off a pamphlet from the shelf, Great Grapes: Grow the Best Ever, on how to grow and maintain grape vines in the home garden (a Storey Publishing "Country Wisdom" pamphlet in Vermont). I had bought it in the mid-1980s for my, then future, husband Temple who was planting his famous grape arbor here in Hancock (well, famous to our friends who like the jam when we've been able to make it!). The byline? Annie Proulx, the very same Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News and the story behind the movie Brokeback Mountain (based on one of her short stories).

A few years ago, Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet, republished an essay by Annie Proulx called "The Garlic Wars" which had been sent over the transom, as it were, in the 1970s, and became Proulx's first published essay.

Proulx really didn't start writing regularly until her late 50s when she became a published novelist and short story writer. This excerpt is from a New York Times article that appeared in 1994:

E. Annie Proulx -- E is for Edna, which she never uses, and Proulx rhymes with true -- is 58. She has lived hard, even recklessly, the way she has wanted. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She was a waitress, a postal worker and then, for 19 years, a writer of magazine articles on everything from chili growers to canoeing to mice.

She earned two degrees in history, lived in New York City and the Far East and 13 different towns in Vermont, founded a small-town newspaper (The Vershire Behind the Times), drifted through out-of-the-way places in her pickup truck, learned fly fishing, fiddling, partridge hunting and how to build a house. Once in a while, she wrote a short story. She was past 50 when she found out that what she had become was a novelist.

And now, she declared one recent afternoon: "I'm desperate to write. I'm crazy to write. I want to write." ***

This is one cool woman.

*** [from "At Home with E. Annie Proulx-at Midlife a Novelist is Born," by Sara Rimer, New York Times, June 23, 1994]

Saturday, February 11, 2006

To Blog or Not to Blog or "I Blog, Therefore I Am"

I haven't been blogging lately because I've been writing my pantry book, among a few other assignments and general distractions. Right now I am holed up at an undisclosed but luxurious location near the Lahey Clinic where my husband has had his fifth surgery in nine months (three emergency up in New Hampshire; two planned here in Massachusetts). While he recovers for several days, I am only a mile away and brought my laptop and numerous research. It has been a productive mixture of caring for my husband as best I can while he is in the hospital and being completely selfish in indulging my down time in the hotel room. Here I have no meals to prepare, no children to interrupt me, and 300 count cotton sheets with a duvet (part of the hotel's new upscale campaign). There is even a hotel shuttle that will whisk me within a mile of here for any errand or need: as Lahey is having a lot of parking and construction issues, I am happy to rely on this service. Meanwhile, the Burlington Mall is a mile away and I discovered a Trader Joes tucked around another corner of the town, just off Route 128. I couldn't live here but I could certainly live in a hotel like this for a while--if I'd had half-a-brain when I left, I would have packed gym clothes and shoes as there is a great workout center here, too.

Because of the book and various other things I have often felt guilty about even thinking of blogging. On one hand it seems so silly and self-serving, on the other it is a purging and almost necessary. There is a certain level of self-awareness or perhaps consciousness that accompanies my blogging. I am happy to write here but I find, too, that perhaps too much of my writing energy has been spent in the blogs this year.

Tomorrow there is supposed to be a huge Northeaster, not one that will just impact New England but most of the upper east coast. I am looking forward to sitting in my hotel room, with my lap top, watching the flakes fall past my 8th floor window, and knowing my husband is recovering down the road and that my children are in good care with our friend Judy in New Hampshire. Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to just do what we need to do. Too often, especially in certain partnerships or as parents, we put our own needs last, but only to our detriment.

I am in major write-zone now. The next six weeks will be especially so--besides, mud season in New Hampshire. What better time to be holed up with a project? I promise to write more about it in the coming months--a preview of pantries, so to speak. I have been reluctant to discuss pantries too much in this blog site until the book is written. Otherwise it seems a bit like taking the cake out of the oven before it is ready: it may look done but it is all gooey on the inside and is rather disappointing in the end. I grew up with a writer friend who never even discussed her books or the ideas behind them until they were published. It was intrusive to her to have a discourse about ideas that were not fully formed in her own mind. She said that while the book was a still a secret, it was still "hers" and then it became the world's. There is something to that sentiment, something quite confident and noble in the grand scheme.

This author would have never blogged--I don't even believe she kept a diary except when she started out writing. That, too, was an intrusion on a very private world not to mention a distraction from a disciplined writing life. This friend of mine did not have children--when you look at some of the greatest female writers to date, most do not have children or wrote from an older period in their lives. Let's see: Mary Shelley, George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Emily Dickinson...just to name a few. I'm sure this is not the case today but I don't know enough about contemporary women writers to be certain. But I'm willing to wager that most either aren't yet married or don't yet have children or have had their children, and their marriages, and are into another phase of their lives.

There is a high degree of energy that accompanies parenting, coupling, and the day-to-day. Writing seems like frosting at times but yet for the writer, something that must be written. It is as necessary as the easel for a painter or instrument for the musician: a writer can't not write and if it comes out in a modern 'blog' or the occasional published work, or a hidden journal meant only for the author's eyes, or even a torn piece of paper with an elusive idea, it is the process of writing, not necessarily the conclusion, that drives us on.