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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

strawberry rhubarb crisp

I saw a recent post on Dinner: A Love Story in which Jenny and Andy, the writers of that blog, thanked the folks who have taught them important lessons in the kitchen.

Naturally, it got me thinking about my own kitchen teachers, and I thought I’d write a few thank-you notes of my own.

  • Thank you, Ryan and Amy, for teaching me about the joys of rhubarb in the summertime – and for sending me home with armloads of rhubarb from your backyard.
  • Thank you, Cockney fruit sellers at the Oxford farmers’ market, for hawking your (delicious) wares in rhyme and making me smile when you call me “luv.”
  • Thank you, Jacque and Jamie, for teaching me to whip up a meal out of whatever’s in the cupboards, often topped with a fried egg.
  • Thank you, Elizabeth, for teaching me about the versatile deliciousness of stir-fry.
  • Thank you, Marcela, for teaching me how to tell if a mango is ripe, and how to eat them savory (with salt and lime juice) and sweet (in desserts, or simply cut into juicy chunks).
  • Thank you, Janine and Jacque, for teaching me how to brew real English tea.
  • Thank you, Dad, for teaching me to add a little vanilla to pancake batter.
  • Thank you, Julie, for teaching me to use real butter.
  • Thank you, Amanda Hesser, for teaching me that the key to great scrambled eggs is low heat, real butter and patience.
  • Thank you, Pop, for teaching me to make chocolate chip cookies (and the importance of quality control).
  • Thank you, Neno, for teaching me how to snap green beans, how to cook fresh peas from the garden, and for applying calamine lotion to the chigger bites I got picking raspberries on your farm.
  • Thank you, Molly Wizenberg and Ron Morgan, for two very different but equally perfect scone recipes.
  • Thank you, Mimi, for teaching me to laugh about kitchen mistakes.
  • Thank you to the dungeon guys for eating everything I ever baked for you, with relish – even the less-than-perfect cookies and fruit crumbles.
  • Thank you, Lizzie, for introducing me to the restorative powers of apple crumble with fresh custard (either homemade or from Tesco).
  • Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your love of creative sauces and dressings, and your mom’s homemade peppermint fudge.
  • Thank you, Happy, for teaching me to love goat cheese.
  • Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to boil water, make guacamole, plan meals, grocery shop, and bake and cook a hundred dishes. And thank you for teaching me that dinner is at the center of family life.

Who are your kitchen teachers? And what important lessons (or great tips!) would you thank them for?

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willow tree light public garden boston autumn fall

I remember understanding what a brutal thing it is to be the bearer of truly bad news – to break off a piece of that misery and hand it to other people, one by one, and then have to comfort them; to put their grief on your shoulders on top of all your own; to be the calm one in the face of their shock and tears. And then learning that relative weight of grief is immaterial. Being smothered a little is no different than being smothered a lot. Either way, you can’t breathe.”

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

This insightful description of grief – and the heartbreaking process of dealing with the practicalities of death – stopped me in my tracks when I came across it this weekend. I was even more surprised to find it where I did: buried in the middle of a frothy, sassy chick lit novel.

Midway through The Royal We (which I loved, by the way), its narrator, Bex, loses someone important to her and has to fly from England back to her hometown in Iowa, to be with her family and to grieve. And while I have never (yet) lost a close family member, this description of grief hit me right in the chest – because I know what it’s like.

Nearly eleven years ago, just before my junior year of college, my friend Cheryl – a member of the group with whom I’d spent the previous semester studying abroad in Oxford – died in a car crash, the week before school started. It wasn’t the first time I had lost someone I loved, but it was the first time I’d had to deal with the sudden, unexpected death of someone close to me. And it was the first time I had to deal with the details of tragedy as an adult.

From the moment we found out about Cheryl’s death – late on a starry, sultry Texas evening, all of us congregating in the front yard of a house near campus – my Oxford group stuck together. We sat up most of that night telling stories about Cheryl and Oxford and our time together, finally drifting off to sleep, draped over futons and sprawled on the living room floor of a house shared by four of my girlfriends. The next morning, those of us who were able – including me – started making phone calls.

I don’t remember how many times I gave the bad news that week. I do remember the gasps of shock on the other end of the phone, the blatant disbelief, my reluctance to say the awful words. I wasn’t as close to Cheryl as some of the others were – but I learned, as Bex does, that the relative weight of your grief doesn’t matter. We were all hurting, and trying to bear the pain in our own ways.

We piled into a string of cars (including mine) to drive down to San Antonio for the funeral. We sat and watched the Summer Olympics in stunned silence, needing to be together, trying to come to grips with the loss of our friend. We wept, or clung dry-eyed to each other, and wondered how this could have happened to us.

Every time I lose someone I love, I flash back to those days in West Texas, and the awful responsibility of sharing the news with my friends, making travel plans, trying to handle questions for which I had no answers. I wasn’t at the center of that sorrow, but I remember how it felt to share it, to bear it together. So this passage from The Royal We made me say simply: Yes. Me too. I know what that’s like.

Not bad for a (mostly) lighthearted piece of chick lit.

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palm trees san diego

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I hopped a plane to the West Coast. After a long, bitter winter and a packed early spring, we’d planned a much-needed getaway to see our friends Allison and Duncan, former New Yorkers who moved back to their native state a couple of years ago. This was our second trip to see them in San Diego, and it was utterly lovely.

We stayed again on Coronado Island – walkable and gorgeous. We ate Mexican food four times in three days, including burritos from Clayton’s and fish tacos from Allison and Duncan’s favorite food truck. I snapped a photo of this pennant at Seaside Papery, because the sentiment was so perfect.

tacos pennant

We wandered down to the beach at least once a day, even though our first full day there was chilly and rainy. We dipped our toes in the Pacific, and came home with sand on the soles of our sandals and in the creases of our jeans.

toes beach san diego

Last winter, on our first trip to San Diego, everything was new. Neither J nor I had ever been to SoCal, and there were fresh delights around every corner. This time, we made sure to revisit some favorites – like Clayton’s, the beach, lunch at Burger Lounge, and browsing the gorgeous Bay Books. It felt good to savor some things we already knew we loved, as well as exploring some new neighborhoods (and trying a few new restaurants).

We still haven’t made it to the zoo, but we did drive to Balboa Park one afternoon for a quick tour through the Museum of Photographic Art. They’re currently showing an amazing video project called 7 Billion Others, and we lingered until closing time. The project involves interviews with people from around the world, but also included this video mosaic screen – you can see yourself reflected in a mosaic of faces, which I thought was amazing on so many levels.

katie mopa video mosaic

We stopped by MooTime on Coronado for ice cream – before dinner! – on our last day. And, of course, we enjoyed every minute of being with Duncan and Allison: trading stories, sharing old inside jokes and creating new ones, sipping tea around the kitchen table, and catching up on our lives. I wish they didn’t live so far away – but if they can’t be close by any more, at least they’re living in a place I love to visit.

katie jer beach san diego

San Diego, you are lovely. We’ll be back (again).

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tulips-public-garden

Back in early April (which feels like ages ago now), I posted a spring list. I’ve been working on it since then – so here, an update for you.

  • Bake my favorite strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I made it for a Sunday night potluck, and we all but licked the baking dish clean.

strawberry rhubarb crisp

  • Read some poetry. (Spring makes me long for Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.)
  • Watch the Masters. It was a great tournament, as always. 21-year-old Jordan Spieth blew everyone away.
  • Reread Jane of Lantern Hill, the perfect spring book. Love love love.
  • Knit something pink for my friend Abigail’s baby girl, who will arrive in May. I made her a sweet little dress.

pink sproutlette dress

  • Savor the new season of Call the Midwife. I’ve enjoyed it, though this season is heavy.
  • Go on a getaway with the hubs. We had a fabulous trip to San Diego, about which more soon.

katie jer beach san diego

  • Keep buying flowers from my local florist – tulips and daffodils, delivered with a smile. I’m in there twice a week.

tulips

  • Participate in Susannah Conway’s April Love photo challenge. I posted about a dozen photos. So fun.

Looks like the only thing I need to do is read some poetry. But that’s never a problem.

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…is meeting the friends you make online in real life.

sarah katie brookline booksmithI first met Sarah McCoy when she came to the Concord Bookshop on tour for her second novel, The Baker’s Daughter, back in 2012. We were already Twitter buddies, but we bonded (and squealed) when we finally got to meet in person. We’ve kept up online ever since. And in a stroke of serendipity this spring, my editor for Shelf Awareness asked if I’d be interested in interviewing Sarah about her new book, The Mapmaker’s Children.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. We had a delightful (two-hour!) conversation ranging from books to family to music to the expectations placed on women in the modern world. And when Sarah came to Brookline Booksmith this week to do a book event, of course I was there in the front row.

As you can see above, we squealed and hugged and bonded again. We didn’t have a chance for a longer catch-up, sadly – she’s just in town for two days, sleep-deprived and running hither and yon to book events. But being together, even for an hour or so, was the best.

I love the bookish Internet.

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pasta salad red bowl book

Spring is (finally) springing here in Boston, and though the farmers’ markets won’t be open yet awhile, I’m feeling the need to bring a little spring into my kitchen.

We’ve been eating hearty soups all winter, and while I love them, I’m mixing in a few lighter recipes these days. I’m on my annual asparagus kick, and last week I whipped up our favorite pasta salad.

I’m not a fan of most pasta salads – cold, slimy things full of suspect ingredients. But this particular one is warm, light and fresh. It involves several of my favorite things: juicy tomatoes, creamy goat cheese, peppery arugula. It’s quick and easy. And it makes me think of my friend Happy.

His real name isn’t Happy, of course – it’s Craig. He’s a tall Californian ex-hippie who’s lived in Texas for many years. Back when he used to blog, “Happy the man” was his blog moniker, and it stuck. His granddaughters, and lots of his friends, still call him Happy.

One spring when we lived in Abilene, J and I spent a weekend in Austin (during South by Southwest) for a college friend’s wedding. Happy and his wife, Laura, were our hosts – treating us to fish tacos at Wahoo’s and taking us to a couple of fabulous concerts. But we spent one rainy afternoon just hanging out at their house. Happy whipped up this dish, and we ate it from white ceramic bowls, curled up on their sectional leather couch with our shoes off. I felt so warm and taken care of and – well – happy.

Every time I make this for dinner, I remember that afternoon, and a little of that glow comes back. (Plus it’s delicious.)

This is more of a guideline than a recipe, but here goes:

  • Boil a pot of salted water and cook pasta (we like fusilli or bow tie) according to package directions.
  • Slice a handful of cherry or cocktail tomatoes; saute briefly in olive oil if you like.
  • Toss pasta with tomatoes, 2-3 cups arugula, and a small log of goat cheese, crumbled.
  • Garnish with a few grinds of black pepper. If you have some fresh basil to toss in, so much the better.
  • Eat warm, in your favorite bowl. Enjoy!

What are your favorite springtime dishes?

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windy willows

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, – but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, –
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

I came across this poem last month, about a week after Jeff’s passing. Heather Lende quotes from it in the last chapter of her first memoir, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name.

Lende writes obituaries for her small-town Alaska newspaper, and I write obituaries for the alumni magazine of my West Texas alma mater. A couple of days after Jeff died, I sent what details I had (name, age, birthdate) to my editor (who is also my former boss, and a friend).

It isn’t much, these few lines in a college magazine, especially in light of such a loss. But it is what I can do to mark the passing of someone I loved.

I am in charge of the honoree list for the Easter lilies at church. Every year, we fill the altar with flowers, and publish a list in the bulletin of those we would like to remember and honor. The list is long this year, for some reason; we have twice as many names as last year. It isn’t much, but I understand why we do it. This, too, is a small but important way of remembering our dead.

Earlier this week, I heard about the passing of Susan, a family friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years. She fought the cancer longer than anyone expected she would, but she is gone now, and I know her children – including her three eldest daughters, whom I used to baby-sit in the summers – are grieving.

Like Millay, I do not approve, and I am not resigned. But her eloquent words have helped sustain me as I think about death and loss and grief. I share them, on this Good Friday, hoping that perhaps, when you are faced with a loss, they might do the same for you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing more poetry here on Fridays this month.

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