Marshmallow Magic

Posted July 5, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America, Posts Containing Recipes

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Do we ever outgrow s’mores? I can’t eat them, but even I can’t imagine camping without them. So for this year’s camping trip, I decided to really up the ante in the s’mores department. I bought Annie’s Organic graham crackers, Lindt chocolates in milk, dark, and chili. And then I made the marshmallows.

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Now I’ve made marshmallows before and wasn’t very impressed with them. Mostly it was just the wow factor that saved them, and not any real flavor difference from Jet-Puff. But then I made this epiphany of a recipe, and the confection turned marshmallow-rejecters into dévotés, and the s’more-indifferent into ravening, s’more-scrounging beasts.

This marshmallow toasts, it melts, it smooshes, like a marshmallow should. The real big deal is that it also tastes wonderful, addictively so, judging by the fact that after the camping trip Eric and Jessica insisted that I show them how to make marshmallows, and were likewise adamant about the fact that we should have more s’mores around the chiminea as we watched our neighbors’4th of July fireworks.

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And the secret? In the most improbable way, they’re made with Lillet. Quite a bit of Lillet, whose haunting flavor I love. The recipe for Lillet Marshmallows is here, and I didn’t change a single thing about it. The recipe works perfectly if you follow the instructions exactly. The marshmallows hold their shape, cut nicely, and of course, make the best s’mores anyone’s ever tasted. There’s lots of summer left, don’t miss your chance to bedazzle your friends and family with this treat.

These Boots Are Made For……..

Posted June 21, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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I’m here to report that I’m well and truly on my way. It’s the longest day of the year, and it’s also Father’s Day. Our second solstice, our second Father’s Day, without Shel. I’m in my new home, however temporarily, in Walla Walla. I had solstice dinner guests tonight. This is progress. I’m halfway here, half way to a new life, and in that new life I still cook, still invite people over, even though my kitchen is lacking the most basic things. No sheet pan, no spatula, no Shel as a sous chef. Hey, I can make do!

I drove over earlier in the week with a huge carload of winter clothes. I’m actually prepared for life in the Arctic, and will probably never wear half of what I brought with me. It’s especially hard to contemplate right now, when I have the air conditioning running pretty much constantly. Peeling fava beans this afternoon, in preparation for my dinner guests, made me sweat, as in drops running down my nose. I kid you not.

In a couple of days I’ll be heading back to the island, to spend the rest of the hot, hot summer by the cool, cool water. But still, I’m loving this preview of my new life. It’s true that Laura and Haven were up from Eugene for a couple of days, giving me the false sense of life as it used to be. Old friends, easy together, no need to explain. But it’s also true that Joel, Chandler, and Leila were here tonight, giving me what I hope is a true sense of life as it could be here – convivial, intellectual, engaging.

A cool thing about Walla Walla is that everything you need is here. On the island, there are mostly tourist-related things, and if you need tires, big packs of toilet paper, or a tune-up, you are probably going to drive off-island. Here, there’s everything, right within reach. Okay, so far I haven’t found pimenton, but most things I require to begin my new life are right here. Especially Mexican groceries – this is far and away the best place I’ve lived for local Mexicana. Asian, not so much. But then, Asian and I, carb-avoider that I am, are no longer compatible, so I’m not complaining.

Shel would have loved my new house, and I wish he could have seen it. But it’s mine, all mine, and it doesn’t make me ache for him, like our island home does. He would be so proud to see how I’m going on with life, even in his absence, and I dedicate this longest day, this shortest night, this day to remember fathers, to him. I wish there were a Husband’s Day, so I could celebrate it in his sweet memory.

But I am building a new life, and it’s about to begin. My own life, ma vie à moi, and those boots will take me there, waterproof for the vineyards of my future.

 

Shifting Patterns

Posted May 4, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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You’re looking at the colors, and patterns, of my new life. Bold, different, not shrinking from stepping forward and proclaiming “here I am!” Not what Shel would have picked. Not a life that includes Shel. My own separate life. Such a concept, at the nexus of joy and pain.

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It’s time to let the cat out. Of the bag, that is. I’m moving, for a couple of years. Maybe not “moving on,” as one is said to do after a terrible loss, but moving, fair and square.

I’ve bought a little house in Walla Walla, WA, and I’m going to live in it during two school years. Why school years? Because I love to go to school. And in this case, I’m thrilled to say that I’m going to be studying at the Center for Enology  and Viticulture. Learning to grow grapes, and make wine. And writing about it, of course. What could be a better way to spend the next two years?

And after that, it’s anyone’s guess. Mistress of Reinvention, I christen myself. Skipping in to the Vast Unknown, Shel no longer by my side, but always in my heart, forging ahead, not quite fearless, but determined. And thrilled to be learning something so cool, to have this chance, and to have seized it.

Keep A Fire Burning

Posted April 7, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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Yesterday was the day. The earth has traveled 584 million miles around the sun since Shel left the planet, a full year of a Shel-less world. I still don’t understand how one day a person is here, full of love and passions and fun and sorrows and history, and the next day it’s all only a memory, so long as someone remembers, but I have been forced to recognize that it happens, and will happen to us all.

It seems impossible, a year already. I’d been dreading the day for a couple of weeks, thinking that it would shatter my new-found peace. But in the event, it was not at all what I expected. On Sunday, the one year anniversary of Shel’s last day on earth, I remembered what a good day that last day had been. Tom and Nancy, who were here with us on that day, called me Sunday morning and we reminisced about how happy we had all been to be together, not one of us having the slightest premonition that we were living Shel’s last hours. So the day before the anniversary itself was unexpectedly sweet.

I wondered whether I should set an alarm to wake up at the moment Shel died, about 5:00 in the morning, to re-live and release those terrible moments, but then Eric and Jessica and their friend Brian and I stayed up very late and drank far too much, and so I slept blissfully past the hour that had been so terrifying just a year ago. I thought I would awaken to find myself overwhelmed by loss, but no.

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Instead I thought, all day long, about how much has changed in just one year. Nearly everything. I would never have imagined that in one short year I’d be able to regain my equilibrium, be eager to make plans, to create a new life for myself. Yes, it’s true, that tight-knit circle the two of us formed has begun to melt away, ever so slightly, and I’m finding myself again, at the center. And I’ve found my own center again, in the process. Throughout the last few years, and most especially the last year of Shel’s life, I was always off-balance, so afraid that he’d die any minute, that he’d be suffering and I wouldn’t be able to help, that I’d be left alone and fall into the abyss. And then, he did suffer, he did die, I couldn’t do anything to stop it although I know I eased his passing, I was left alone, and I didn’t fall, at least not into the abyss. I fell out of a kayak, I fell on my face taking out the recycling, but that was the worst of it. The abyss did not beckon as I’d thought it might.

Yes I stumbled, yes I wandered blindly, yes I sat alone through hundreds, no thousands, of hours of trying to find my way. And yes I drank too much, smoked too much pot, slept too little, didn’t brush my teeth every single night before bed, and some days ate hot dogs for breakfast and almond butter from a spoon for dinner, and slept too often in the recliner just to have the warm and comforting weight of Toby sleeping in my lap. I’m human, and I forgive myself for all of that. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, making it through this year, but really, amazing as it seems, I think I’m mostly alright now.

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I’ve learned that the strong heart prevails, and I’ll always have him in mine, even if he’s no longer in my life. Our twenty years together were the best part of my life so far, and I’m not saying that I know that the next chapter can be even better, because I’m getting older every day, and that has its own perils. But I do have a plan, a really good plan, for what comes next, and I’m thrilled about it. Is it better to love, lose, be alone, and come up with a great plan, or to be with the one you love and live in daily fear of losing him? Think about it. I sure have.

Spring Has Sprung

Posted March 20, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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I haven’t been sharing much lately, as I’ve been busy cooking up a new life for myself. I’ll reveal all in a bit, when everything’s settled, but for now, here’s my garden on the first day of spring. It’s way too early for all this, but I have to admit that I’m really enjoying it. And Toby loves to be in the garden with me, hiding in the feathery grasses and pouncing out joyously at every opportunity. If there’s still snow where you are, here, have a few spring flowers.

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Awakening

Posted February 27, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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For six months after Shel died I sat still. Frozen, paralyzed with grief, surrendering to my loss. I didn’t do much, didn’t see many people, didn’t make much of an effort, just let the pain take me away. I suppose that I shopped and cooked and did laundry, but it’s all pretty much a blur now. If you spent time with me then, wrote to me, did something kind for me, I thank you sincerely. I’m afraid that I don’t remember much of the detail, except who was there, and who wasn’t.

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Then I went to Europe for three months, and I started to come alive again. The struggle of travelling alone, being in London and Villefranche sur Mer all alone when I’d never been there before, being in Uzès where I’d lived for so long, but never on my own, it was all hard enough that I had to come back to life or else lose myself completely. Lose myself in the words swirling around me, in the masses of strangers, in the different ways friends saw me, now that I’m alone. Really, the whole three months was a sweet slap in the face. And if you were part of that cosmic slap, je te remercie vivement. Thank you.

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Coming home was easier that I’d expected. This orchid that Hilary and Nelson sent me when Shel died has decided to bloom again to welcome me back, even though I haven’t been here to tend it. In this house I have a clothes dryer, a garbage disposal, only 15 carpeted stairs, as opposed to the 50 stone and tile steps that I had in France. Here I have my own bed, where Shel and I slept together for so many years, and my own car, as opposed to the tiny Panda I had in France, a doll-sized car if ever there was one. Here I have a closet full of clothes, as opposed to living out of one suitcase, as I have for the past three months. Here I have comfort, and convenience.

There was a time when all the comfort, all the convenience in the world couldn’t compare with the charms of life in France. But that was in another lifetime. Alone, recovering from a great loss, comfort is what I seek, and I’m trying not to be ashamed about it. I pride myself on being tough, but the recliner, the one Shel always called “the comfy chair,” beckons to me so seductively; it embraces me when no one else does, and I give myself over to that.

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Spring is not far off here, the time of awakening. Winter is passing, the darkness and cold will soon be memories. Just as we don’t seek to hold onto the winter, I’m letting go of the pain, letting spring into my heart. Not letting go of Shel, because of course he’ll be forever with me. But I’m letting go of the piercing, paralyzing grief, and in doing so I’m awakening to the new season, to my new life, wherever I may find it.

I Get Around

Posted February 19, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

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I’m sitting in my hotel room looking out over the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, because I’m leaving Europe tomorrow, after just a bit more than three months here. Most of it I’ve spent getting my head straight, but just recently I’ve spent a lot of it traveling. I have a lot to show you about the lovely Netherlands, but that will have to wait for a couple of days. Right now, my brain is humming and clickety-clacking from a day spent training through three countries.

I left this morning from Ommen, via a small commuter train, in the sweet company of Katherine. I had been sure that she didn’t need to come with me, but thank goodness she did, because really, I have about 7-8 words of Dutch, none of which were very useful in train stations. So from Ommen we went to Zwolle, where we changed trains and went to Schiphol airport. Not because I was flying anywhere from there, mind you, but just to change trains and take the Thalys train to Brussels. Katherine and I had a surprisingly good lunch at Schiphol, and then, with a flurry of kisses and waves, we said au revoir.

In case you ever happen to find yourself on the Thalys, let me tell you that in First Class they serve you beautiful complimentary meals, at your seat, with wine. They look delicious, but there’s never a low-carb option, so all I do is look, and accept a bottle of wine, which, in itself, makes the trip just that much more enjoyable.

I arrived in Brussels to find that there was a lot of confusion about my train to CDG – they changed the departure track, the announcements were misleading, everyone was asking each other what was going on, and so on. Once on board, the restaurant workers were on strike, so no food or drink was available. I was fine, but I did hear some grumbling around me.

Seven hours after leaving Ommen I arrived at CDG. You know, I could have flown it in about an hour, but it just didn’t occur to me. Shel and I always took the train whenever possible, and I guess I’m continuing that tradition. We always stayed at the Sheraton inside the airport, and so here I am, overlooking the runway as we did so many times together. And we always had dinner at Brasserie Flo, in Terminal 2F. However, by some quirk of mis-memory, I headed to Terminal 2 E, which is about as far as you can get from 2F without taking a train. After a cheery couple of kilometers of trans-terminal strolling (mercifully sans luggage) I sat down to dinner, where I absolutely unconsciously, but unerringly, ordered exactly what Shel ate the last time we dined there together, just a year and a half ago. He had said that it was very good, and so it was.

I came to Europe in mid-November, to close out my life spent here with Shel, and to face up to being alone. I’ve done that, in spades, right up to my final dinner in France, at least for the foreseeable future. I feel so much better than I did when I arrived, almost normal in fact. It’s been tough, lonely, interesting, loving, scary, reassuring, and satisfying by turns. But one thing is clear now – nine and a half months after Shel died I still miss him like crazy, but the acute grief is finished. I’m my own person again, feeling like myself, feeling better every day, and looking forward to whatever comes next. I’m hoping to spend an uneventful day up in the sky tomorrow, and to being re-united with my little family, my house, my garden, and my cat. And to not taking the train again for at least a season or two.


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