We are at full tilt of high season now, in the midst of a really gorgeous summer. The weather, spectacular, just enough hot and humid to make it real; a bit on the dry side but we’re good with it….
Traveling across New York State to Toronto last weekend brought me to the Peace Bridge, one of three spanning the Niagara and up river from the Falls….
The bittersweet high point of our week came from this photo, taken some months ago before a gathering in Malawi where les collines Cider Sage Jelly (lower forefront, center!) was among the dishes of honor to be sampled. …
It is a beauty, full of summer weather, and with a full moon coinciding for the first time in many many years. They said 49 years on the weather yesterday morning, but I saw nearly 70 somewhere else. Anyways, a long time. …
On this last day of May, I’m sending out the announcement for our great new 13 oz. Mason jars. I also just instagrammed the whacky odyssey of our beloved globe jars, en route (supposedly) to Bethel, CT, where I normally pick them up from the warehouse without issue….
Yeah another line from a country song here. A good one, yup. It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To, Billy Currington.
This song, its feelings and lyrics, has been hanging out in my periphery as I approached and then backed off writing the past week plus. It’s about a lost romance, of course. For me, it evokes some other stuff. But whatever I had to say, first I had to get through…duh duh duh… Mother’s Day. Or shall we say, the M day….
The last week of April was a little all over the map on the personal plane, but on the les collines plane it was a banner week of activity and productivity.
So delighted that les collines can now be found at the wonderful Nejaime’s Wine Cellars at both their Stockbridge and Lenox locations, including a first outside the holidays– our little guy sample size, the adorable 1 2/3 oz that everyone loves, perfect for Tanglewood picnics!
In the kitchen this week, we were cookin’ and jammin’ and just about any other pun you can cook up…over 200 jars in one day, a record (may never be repeated!): two batches of rhubarb preserve with vanilla bean & Earl Grey, and though these are small batches they were fairly big ones; two smaller batches of quince preserve, with the very last quince of the season, sniff; a batch of Meyer lemon rosemary jelly; and a batch of sour cherry preserve. Just one jar of our proposed new size (13 oz, shhhh!), then lots of 8 oz and the little ones. We were on a roll.
The rhubarb preserve is the least pretty color-wise of les collines, but the flavor more than compensates. Here, the Earl Grey tea, very strong and well-steeped, has just been strained and is ready to add to the rhubarb for a long simmer.
The quince took on a deeper hue, due perhaps to it cooking a bit longer as it awaited the rhubarb ahead of it! But funnily, the first batch, which cooked for slightly less time than the second, was the darker. Go figure.
The Meyer lemon, so fragrant, so light and sunny in color, and the sour cherry, Fourth of July in a jar. The latter we paired with Midnight Moon goat gouda and an Italian Falanghina from Campania for a lovely apéritif. On a soft spring evening, perfetto.
Closing out the week the weather turned wet and chilly, we had a fire going most of the day. But outside the birds were in full spring mode, and our nesting bluebirds may have some hungry babies as mama and papa both seem to be zooming in and out quite a bit. Timid as they are I managed to catch papa resting on the fence in all his blueness. Happy May Day xo
A week ago, driving over the Berkshire hills to my printer in Lenox, I heard the news that Prince had died. It sort of crept out for me, the news, in that I hadn’t heard anything before I left the house. When I got in the car, I heard a few Prince songs in a row on the radio, somehow that seemed odd, then a reference to him in the past tense. I was like, get your verb tenses straight guys! It did not seem possible, the death of another not very old, very great musician who lived his music, and said to be a genius….
This week at les collines, spring has been ramping up…yeah, a partial pun as ramps are locally coming in, though not yet in the les collines repertoire! Anyways, spring is in the air, broke 70 here today, the buds are close to popping– those that survived the cold snap and snow two weeks ago, at least. Fingers crossed for the apples and all other affected crops.
We are still quite a ways out from local rhubarb, our first spring fruit, coming in. But in the kitchen this week, a few lasts-of for their seasons: summer 2015 Shiro and red sugar plum juices combined for a new favorite color and flavor, and, the last of autumn 2015’s beautiful quince juice for that very special quince jelly. Also a batch of Meyer lemon rosemary jelly that almost wasn’t– a close call with near burning after the second sugar addition and a moment’s near catastrophic distraction, yee gads– and, another thankfully event-free batch of sour cherry preserve. The plums and the sour cherries from wonderful Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook; the quince from individual sources in Berkshire County, MA and Dutchess County, NY.
We are looking forward to a week of several near 70’s days, buds opening to flowers and more and more bird songs in the dawn hour. And hoping from here on out for only good news for our local farmers and orchards xo
The words of the famous Nora Ephron– her mother’s, in fact, also a screenwriter. Their family saying: Everything is fair game for telling a story, better, a good story. The best, the worst, the most illuminating, the most humiliating– and the latter makes better copy– goes into the pot.
Most importantly perhaps for the Ephrons, you must be the heroine (or hero) of your life, not the victim. Comedy helps to this end, a lot. As Ephron described it, if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. If you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, you control the narrative and what they are laughing at, and you can laugh with them.
Ephron’s son, the journalist Jacob Bernstein, has made a documentary about his late mother that premiered on HBO Thursday night. But I was driving up the east coast that day, from the Eastern Shore to the Hudson Valley by way of Annapolis, and so caught only his interview about it on Fresh Air with Terry Gross— of course, yep, on the radio.
Ephron was so good at using comedy to get to the heart of stuff and did not hesitate to turn her writerly magnifying glass on anyone, herself included. As a writer, I have often lacked the hard-assed balls– sorry to mix anatomical metaphors– to go full out and risk hurting people. As Bernstein says, his mother seemed to be made of sterner, other, less ambivalent stuff than the rest of us. This is something I personally as a writer really need to keep working on. Not to set out to intentionally hurt anyone, but to be more honest without such accompanying compunction.
I’ve been keeping an ear out for Bernstein– I actually did not know about this film he was making– since I saw him on Morning Joe a few years back, speaking eloquently about his mother and her death. I felt this sorrowful connection, you see, as Ephron died, in June 2012, of the same kind of hideous leukemia that took my mother’s life in October 2011.
When I heard the news of Ephron’s death I had just traveled to Annapolis for my mother’s half-inurnment– half of her ashes went to the U. S. Naval Academy Columbarium, overlooking Dorsey Creek and surely one of the most lovely spots in the world to rest, and where my father, class of ’48, will go, and half to her beloved Halifax; so poetically appropriate that she would divide herself thus. That June, I went south from Annapolis to visit my college roommate, and it was there one lovely early summer evening in Virginia Beach I heard the news of Ephron’s death, so unexpected, and the cause, startling to me, acute myeloid leukemia, a disease I’d only learned of with my mother’s diagnosis ten months earlier.
A little uncanny then that I was traveling up the Eastern Shore on my way to Annapolis for the first time since that June, when I heard the Bernstein interview on Fresh Air.
I had fairly literally propelled myself southward, in the face of exhaustion both physical and emotional, to this peninsula that draws me continually back, the tail of a seahorse that is the DelMarVa. In this case to a little town as the crow flies about 60 miles northeast across the Bay of my alma mater and about the same distance southeast from where my first two Spinoni were born.
Once you cross into Delaware, the land flattens out, and it all seems greener even in winter; the trees get taller toward the Chesapeake. You sense the presence of a lot of water though you can’t see it yet. It makes me think of the Netherlands, water all around and underneath, everywhere water lapping at the edges.
In an essay I wrote about my mother in the year after her death, I described her as a little like the Nora Ephron of Halifax, that combination of brilliance and wicked sense of humor. One of my sisters cringed, saying it was going too far and that Mum would have cringed as well out of humility. But I stand by it.
As a writer Ephron remained on my periphery for a long time, but once she entered my radar I became a fast fan of her honesty, always hilarious though brutal at times– Bernstein aptly describes comedy as a fine line between bravery and ruthlessness, this is especially true of his mother– as well as her inclusion of cooking and recipes in her fiction, and her ability of course to laugh at herself: controlling the narrative.
When I got my ten-year passport renewal photo and saw, for the first time, the beginning of chicken cordon neck, my first thought was of Ephron’s essay about her own, and I felt less bereft. I loved her ruminations about enjoying food without all the American-style (my adjective) hangups, seeming to give everyone permission, herself included, to eat what they liked, and enjoy, dammit. Though little did we know, she wrote this knowing her days, and her enjoyment of food, were very likely severely numbered.
So into Annapolis this past week with a few of Nora Ephron’s words in my mind, and his son’s tribute to her. The literal touchstone of granite at the Columbarium, as I communed with my mother. How I wish she were here, to shed her wit on this crazy political cycle, to talk cooking, to tell me what she thinks of people I am wondering about– she had the most acute sense of the fabric of someone with only the briefest meeting or even a verbal description. To hold my hand as I walk through this fire of loss, and of love. Though something I read after her death does feel true, that she is more completely present to me in death than she ever could be in life.
Meanwhile for comic relief right then and there I had Clarence, three melatonin, two valium in and still going strong– he stood most of the way of the nine-plus hour drive, 13 to 301 to 50 to 95 to the TSP, I don’t think he slept at all. Sedated as he was I thought it was safe to take him out of the car with Nocci at the Columbarium for a leg stretch. I think we may have been headed back over the Bay Bridge before I was able to rein him in.
This trip was an investment in sanity, to hit reset and re-center. A change of scene, a change of pace, going on three years vacationless was a few years too many and I could not sustain the pace. Work can be, has been a refuge but a chronic lack of rest took its toll. Easter Monday 2012 is the last time I saw my son under normal– what I thought were normal– circumstances, when I took him to the airport to fly back to Chicago; I can still see him leaning to the window to say good bye again at the curb. I felt I could not take one more cycle of a holiday in the house where we’d celebrated a few, and though too exhausted to pick up and go away, I had to go away.
Driving back it struck me how many bridges I crossed– so many rivers, and the Bay, I lost count but there must have been at least a dozen. Looking at a map of this area you wonder how the land holds together at the edges, there are so many creeks and rivers and inlets and the bay and the ocean.
I am ok with bridges but the Bay Bridge to Annapolis always freaks me: so high, and you can feel it, and for some reason it seems less substantial than others, with a more direct view down. It did not help that there was a crosswind warning at the entrance, with one lane closed as a result.
It is one of the snapshots, visual as well as affective, that will remain with me from this week, along with ones like my birddogs conversing with passing geese on the Chesapeake, the thick fog that rolled in on Easter, suiting my mood perfectly, the crunch of the oyster shell driveway, typical of the region and so familiar from my earliest days, visiting Williamsburg as a child. And most of all the feeling of being surrounded by water, and the sanctuary of it. Traveling over the Bay Bridge, tight grip on the wheel, trying not to look through those spindly seeming rails to the water far far below, felt like a coda for the whole of my existence at present. Hang on, it’s stronger than it looks, and you are stronger than you feel right now. We’ll get to the other side. Just don’t forget, all the way, you are the heroine, not the victim, of your story. Grab the damn narrative and don’t let go, xo