Saturday, February 28, 2009

Comfort Food

I took eggs and milk out of the refrigerator, found the can of baking powder, measured out flour and powdered sugar. Mixing the ingredients in a bowl, adding enough milk and then water to make a thin batter, I could have been six instead of sixty, helping my mother make French pancakes in the old kitchen on Silver Street.

Mama was not a rise-and-shine person like my father. It took a cup of scalding coffee and a quiet half hour by herself in the kitchen before she was functional. It was the smell of that coffee, perking in the little metal coffeepot on the front burner that opened my eyes in the morning and drew me down the stairs. When she saw me standing in the kitchen doorway, my toes curling inside my slippers, my bathrobe buttoned wrong (I am not a morning person either), Mama would smile and set down her cup and give me a hug. Then she would ask me what I wanted for breakfast. If we hadn’t already had them three days in a row, I would tell her, “French pancakes, please.”

I learned to crack eggs making French pancakes. I was allowed to pour the milk from the bottle into the measuring cup, to make a well in the dry ingredients, to mix the batter with a big spoon. “Not too much,” Mama would caution. “The lumps will take care of themselves.”

Mama would light the burner on the gas stove and set the crepe pan, a round, shallow-sided, long-handled fry pan, on to heat. Then she would drop in a small dab of butter and when it melted into a yellowy puddle, she would tip the pan back and forth until the bottom was coated.

I climbed on a chair and helped her ladle a spoonful of batter into the browning butter. With deft movements, Mama made sure the batter ran right up to the sides of the pan. I stood and watched for tiny bubbles to cover the upper side of the pancake and when I called out that it was ready, Mama came with the spatula, worked its blade under a curling edge of the cake and flipped it over with a sizzling splat. The top side of the pancake was now a delightful golden brown and steam eddied in little curls from the edges of the pan. The first pancake was flipped onto a damp towel spread on a plate, covered over, and placed in the warm oven. As each successive pancake was cooked, it was stacked under the towel until the batter bowl was scraped clean.

The smell of them cooking, and my frequent yelps of, “Okay! It’s ready!” roused my brother and sisters out of their beds. They tumbled sleepy-eyed and hungry into the kitchen. French pancakes were their favorite, too, and we all ate happily, forking the thin, perfectly browned morsels of syrup-soaked cakes into our mouths. Some mornings we had bacon alongside, other times we spread the thin cakes with applesauce or jelly and rolled them up before eating them. Mama often filled hers with cottage cheese and fruit but I liked them best stacked, a little pat of butter melting into the top cake, and streams of amber syrup puddling on the plate.

I still do. This morning, by myself in the tiny kitchen of my cottage, I made a small hill of the dry ingredients, pressed a well in the top with the back of my spoon, poured in the water and milk and beaten eggs, stirred just enough to make a thin batter (“The lumps will take care of themselves,” said a voice in my head), and watched as a dollop of batter spread in the hot pan.

I don’t need to stand on a chair anymore, but I watched the cake as tiny bubbles began to cover its surface. Beside me, in a bathrobe buttoned wrong, stood the image of my child-self. “Okay! It’s ready!” I heard her cry and I took the spatula, and with a deftness that would have made Mama proud, flipped the pancake, letting its other side brown to perfection.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taking Stock

Recently, Dick posted about the changes aging brings. He began with a quote by Doris Lessing who said one of the great secrets of the elderly is that though their bodies have changed, what is essentially "them" has not. That made me think about all that's changed about me since I was small, and all that hasn't. I'M STILL ...a hermit by nature, content with my own company, happily needing hours of alone time, still moved by music (except for the discordant or screechy stuff), poetry (especially if Collins or Oliver, Roethke or Sutphen, Frost or Rumi or Basho has written it), and works of art that capture some part of the natural world. I'm still in love with wind and rain, puddles and rainbows, dawn light and evening shadows, grassy meadows and deep forests. And I'm still happier out of doors than in, though my little cottage is delightfully cozy. I will always be carrying on a love affair with food, as well, though now I am careful that my diet includes less sugar and other refined foods. I'm still writing every day, though I no longer publish weekly in the newspaper. I self-published a book in 1999 and did contribute nearly half the articles for a coffee table book about libraries that was published in 2007. And I'm also still delighted by children (especially my own, even though all four of them are well into adulthood), animals, snowstorms, travel. My greatest happinesses still come from family, from old friends and new, from moments when I know I am an integral part of something much larger than myself. 

 I'M NO LONGER nervous about trying new things, or at least I can talk myself around my anxiety with greater success. Having learned to drive in a one-horse town, I was afraid to drive in traffic and terrified of getting lost. But in the last forty years or so, I've driven any number of cars (both automatic and stick shift), a fifteen passenger van, a farm tractor, a pickup, a dump truck, and a golf cart, and understood that rather than being lost, I was simply taking the long way home. I've traveled overseas to a country whose language I did not understand, and applied for at least two jobs where I bluffed about my experience, then ended up teaching the the very skills I'd needed. I'm no longer thin and sleek and svelte. I'm more rounded in body as well as in expertise but I'm working at reversing the pudding-bag-tied-in-the-middle look. And I'm not as impatient. Being a mother, a teacher, and a writer has taught me patience and the rewards of taking my time, reworking problems, and slowing down in order to enjoy whatever process I'm going through. I'm no longer a moody teenager, a frustrated young adult, or an anxious single mother. I've learned to pay attention to what's around me, to my feelings, to my thoughts. I have become aware of being the creator of my own life, believing there is no greater privilege or freedom. I am not in doubt about my present abilities or so defensive about what I haven't mastered yet. Each day is both challenging and delightful, the two so often intertwined that I can't experience one without the other. It's a joy to wake up in the morning, and a blessing to sleep at night (and sometimes a genuine pain to be in the middle).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Writing Out

Tomorrow I will hike the Cobble with my naturalist friend. It is supposed to snow. And rain. And snow again. I will have to take mental notes and wait to write them until we are snug in the shelter, watching the birds that frequent the feeders and warming my toes on the heating vent. Perhaps a poem will emerge from the welter of words, or an essay. Perhaps the words will be like track lines in the snow, telling only part of the story. You never know, with words...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sound of Silence

I had thoughts of going out this afternoon - to the library, to the gym, to the store. Two hours ago the sun was shining as I hiked along a meadow's edge and explored a stream bank for signs of Spring. Two hours ago the chickadee and the cardinal were singing. Now snow is falling thickly, a silent, drifting veil of dense flakes. On second thought, I think I shall stay in and curl up with the cat, a mug of hot tea, and a good book. It is very, very quiet in my little cottage. I am missing my grandchildren with a gentle, steady ache that will subside slowly over the next few days.

I have been out in the yard, tilting my head up to stare into the white. As far as I can see there are tumbling flakes and a diffused light that only comes with falling snow. Now I am dry and snug and merely lonesome for small arms and soft lips and the high-pitched chatter of happy children.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

All Good Things...

This is our last evening together until next month when I head to the grands' house for my grandson's 6th birthday. I've made popcorn and we're watching the old Haley Mills version of Parent trap. (Earlier we watched the Lindsay Lohan version - twice!)

Tomorrow we will have a last visit to the farm and a last cow pancake breakfast. Mumma and Daddy will come late in the morning and there will be lots of hugs and kisses and a few tears as they pull out of the drive. Right now I have to go hug two cherished children...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Being a Grandmother is Grand

It's been a grand week so far. We've had cow and sheep pancakes for breakfast,

visited the farm and conversed with the cows and sheep,

gone sliding down an icy hill, and spent hours drawing and cutting and gluing. We've made pot holders galore,

set up an art school and a bank and a store, had some company, and went visiting. Tomorrow we're supposed to have snow, a visit from a cousin, and tortellini for dinner. Right now it's ice cream and movie time!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In Absentia

The next week will be filled with crayons and markers, sleds and snow pants, creative cooking and bedtime stories. My two grandchildren (ages 8 and nearly 6) will be staying with me in my little cottage. We have all sorts of plans, all of which may change on a whim. It's too early to garden...

(they'll just have to come back in May!) but that won't keep us indoors. We have plans to visit the farm next door to check on the cows and the sheep and make forays into the henhouse for eggs. We'll trek up and slide down the hill I played on as a child, visit relatives, and invite the kids next door over to make some crafts. We'll get up early and stay up late, have macaroni and cheese for breakfast if we feel like it, and pancakes for supper. We'll call my son and his wife every evening to say how noisy we've been and they'll tell us how quiet it is there. If I don't show up here too often in the next few days, it just means I'm having too much fun being a kid again.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Walk in New Snow

Snow is falling on New England and old England alike.

These were taken after our most recent snowfall.

The footing is treacherous - under these few inches lies a layer of slick ice.