Archive for March 2016

Across The Divide

March 29, 2016


If you don’t live in Washington you might not realize that it’s two, two, two states in one. Yesterday I crossed the great divide from the dry side to the wet side, from the Red side to the Blue side, from my new life to my old, sort of.

I left Walla Walla on a cool day and drove across the eastern part of the state where the wind was whipping hard enough to make gripping the steering wheel tightly a necessity. Then I crossed the pass over the Cascades, where the snow was piled high, but the roads were clear and dry. Descending towards the west, there was a little rain, until I arrived in Seattle where the sky was blue. It was a big transition, a some-of-everything sort of day, and it gave me time to think about how I was traveling back in time from my new home to my old, and what I might find there.


The ferry gods smiled on me, and my car got the coveted front spot. I was dumbstruck by the beauty, and wondered how I could ever have left all this to move clear across the state to such a different life.

I came back to the island because of death, yet again. A dear friend died a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to keep her husband company, and cook for him, stock up his freezer, and do anything I could. They were both 81, married for 56 years, and I knew he’d be lost without her, especially in the kitchen. I began cooking for him practically the moment I arrived, wanting him to gain back the fourteen pounds he’d lost in the three weeks since she died. I so much do not want him to disappear too.

As a wholly unanticipated bonus, the sweet guy who’s been renting my house offered to let me stay for a couple of nights, while he’s out of town. So now I sit in my old home, which feels half-unknown. His shared-custody teenagers’ stuff is everywhere, homework, school books, sports jerseys. Some furniture has been rearranged to make for easier TV watching as a family. My stuff is all still here, but now it’s intermingled with heaps of other people’s belongings, in a way that I find quite jarring. A welcome bottle of wine that I left for them seven months ago sits on the counter, unopened. Credit cards and checks (wow, he really trusts me) sit on a glass tray that I made last summer. The fridge is pretty bare, as mine never would be. The heat is on but the windows are open. But still, he put clean sheets on the bed for me. My bed, nominally, although now I hesitate to sleep in it.

The weirdest thing is that the island feels so beloved, so familiar, but the house itself feels alien. It’s about 2000 square feet bigger than my little Walla Walla home, it feels huge, although it never used to. It’s so quiet here, no sound at night but the ferries plying the waters in front of the house. My wine cellar hums away, cooling the hundred or more bottles I left behind. Men’s clothes hang in my closet, but they’re not Shel’s. My apron and knives are still in the kitchen. The cat door is closed. The plants by the front door need watering. Are they mine to tend?

An Easter Birthday

March 27, 2016


You know how it can be, the kids are grown, there’s no reason to fill an Easter basket or cook springtime food. No chocolate bunnies hop your way, ho hum, just another day.

But today my classmate Kelly was kind enough to have an Easter birthday, and to tell me that her Mom always used to make her an angel food cake with confetti color dots inside. Yippee, an Easter project! I wasn’t too sure whether the color would run all over the cake or stay in nice dots like it used to do in those long-ago funfetti cake mixes, but lo and behold, it worked just as it should. I can’t show you the inside of the cake, because between the squishy nature of angel food, and the billowy soft frosting, the cut slices were a mess. but you can make it for yourself, and you’ll have a fun and fluffy cake to serve when whimsy is called for. I used this angel food recipe, omitting the chocolate and adding 1/4 cup of colored sprinkles instead. Then I used this recipe for fluffy pink frosting, a recipe unlike any I’ve used before. It remained very soft and never set up, although it looked like a sort of unicorns-and-rainbows confection on the cake so that didn’t matter.


It wasn’t a total sugar-fest, though. Guests brought a beautiful fruit salad and fragrant raspberry sour cream muffins, which, derelict hostess that I am, I neglected to photograph. I made an egg casserole with asparagus, artichoke hearts, cheeses, and ham, that was pretty darn good and used up the 10 extra egg yolks left behind by the angels. But the star of that plate, to me, was the salad.

A composition of bitter leaves, endive, radicchio, and arugula, it had a beguiling preserved Meyer lemon and crème fraîche dressing that will definitely become a staple in my kitchen, and went exquisitely with a rosé of pinot gris made by one of the guests. The salad recipe is here,  and although I always make preserved Meyer lemons when they’re in season, if you don’t have homemade, you can buy them in a jar. To add to the merriment, we had three different wines made by guests, the rosé, a chardonnay, and a cabernet sauvignon, a definite perk of living a life surrounded by winemakers.  I look forward to the day when every wine on the table is made by one of us, and I thank Kelly for requesting such a delightfully eccentric birthday cake. It’s one of the most fun treats I’ve baked in quite a while, and I recommend it to you as a sure-fire cheerer-upper.

Over The Rainbow

March 20, 2016


Yesterday was a luxuriously warm, dry day in the country, until it wasn’t. To celebrate the first day of spring break, I drove through miles of emerald green winter wheat, and dusty dry-land wheat fields waiting for seed, and went to the stunning Palouse Falls, with these guys.


Eric and Jessica are intrepid climbers and hikers, and we all wanted to get to the bottom of it all. But it’s a really, really long way down.


See the teeny tiny colored dots in the bottom of the photo, like just a bit of scattered confetti? Those are hikers. Really brave and stalwart hikers, because there’s virtually no way to get down there, for a normal person.


People had also managed to get themselves here, passing all understanding and numerous bright red warning signs,


that cautioned that all evacuations of injured persons would be at the idiot’s own expense. I wanted to be there, on the edge of all that violently streaming water,



and even more I wanted to swim in the undoubtedly frigid waters at the base of the falls. The descending terrain, through, was not my style, and the ascent, should one survive the downhill climb, was sure to have been brutal.


This guy could have done it in a heartbeat, but even he was staying up where we were, on the sunny and dry plateau, not too close to the perilous edge.


It’s a treasure, this place. A castle built by time and floods, breath-taking even if you don’t brave the climb,


refreshment for the hot and dusty traveler. Because yes, on the day before the first day of spring, there we were in shirtsleeves, drinking rosé and picnicking on assorted fresh green foods, right on the edge of what the Missoula floods of 12,000 years ago had wrought. And it was very good.


My French Brain

March 13, 2016


This was the “TV room” in the house we lived in in France. Here’s the sofa where we snuggled together and watched French talk shows, improving both our language skills and our understanding of the culture. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that.

Last night I decided to listen to my favorite French album, one by Gérard Darmon. I’ve probably listened to it 100 times, maybe many more. The whole year before Shel died I played it regularly, and the year after I still wanted to hear it a lot. But since I’ve moved here, I’ve been too busy for music a lot of the time, and not thinking much about France because school has overtaken my life.

Last night, though, as soon as French entered my ears, my brain said a long, relieved aaahh. All of a sudden my head felt clear and freshly washed, clean clothes snapping in the breeze on the laundry line. The words of the songs seemed to go directly to my heart, and because it’s an album of love songs, my tears slicked down like the afternoon’s rain. It felt indescribably good, like coming home after a long absence, but it hurt so sharply that I gasped out loud. And I’m no masochist.

I remember how the French prize emotion, and I miss that so much. The sensibility that lead four or five grown men to break into tears when they spoke at the memorial I had for Shel, in the town where we lived, elle me manque. I’ve always felt like a different person when French is my daily language, and I want to be that person again. How could I have forgotten how much I love that?

I’m working up to saying goodbye to a lot of things on April 6, which will be the second anniversary of Shel’s death. Before you ask, I don’t know why I’ve set myself that goal, to say goodbye, on that day. I’m trying to figure that out now, and I’ll probably be thinking out loud right here.

But last night I saw that it’s linked to France, somehow. I saw someone carrying a white pizza box today, and immediately I thought of how Shel and I used to go to the Serrebonnet, and I’d always get pizza with Corsican figatelle. Friends came over unexpectedly for a drink yesterday  and I realized that my cupboards were embarrassingly bare of treats, a state I’d never have let myself get into in France. I think about friends in France and I want to feel their kisses on my salty, wet cheeks.

Spring Too Soon?

March 6, 2016


Can spring ever come too soon? I’ve been so busy worrying about it being way too warm for the grapevines under my care that I’ve semi-forgotten to pay attention to the lusciousness of my own garden. There are still several weeks of possible frost ahead, and I know that a bud break in the grapes before frost is ruled out for the year could be disastrous. In my own garden, I’m not as sure.

This is my first year with this garden, and my first time gardening in this climate zone, so almost everything here was planted by someone else, someone who knew what was normal here, and many years ago at that. Now, with a warming climate, all bets are off. These hellebores are happily blooming when they should, in early March, and so I’m not fretting over them.


Perhaps these filbert catkins, so ethereally lovely, can cope. This tree looks to have been planted about when the house was built, in 1955, so who knows how many early and late springs it’s seen. It’s ancient, though, and I feel protective toward it.


But this indomitable tulip is surely confused. Last fall I buried its home in rock, not knowing there were bulbs underneath. And now it, and several more like it, have banged their heads through the stones, getting to the surface and the warmth they’d normally have found next month.


And not only is the forsythia at the height of its golden gorgeousness, so too are the roses leafing out. They say that you should prune roses when the forsythia blooms, which is definitely now, but then, what if it freezes?


I’m not worried about these guys, because I don’t know what they are or what their habits should be. I’m just happy to see their true blue every time I pull into the driveway, where they’ve come out just as the snowdrops have faded.


Nor am I worried about my scruffy, scrappy lawn, which is full of violets. My Plants professor thinks of them as weeds that should be banished from the grass, but I love them. They look like little bright Easter eggs, peeking through the unruly grass. Last night’s high wind brought down a small branch of the weeping birch, but I’m not worried about the tree either. It’s another one that’s probably stood as long as the house has, and knows how to take care of itself.

But in truth it’s hard to know when to worry and when to just admire what the world has to offer. The consequences of a freeze here in my sweet little spot wouldn’t be dire, unlike the vineyard, where crop yields could suffer mightily if the climate doesn’t cooperate. And that’s another lesson that’s not in my official curriculum – life as a farmer is uncertain, fraught with perils and powers that you can’t control. All you can do is keep your eye on the sky and hope for the best, while doing what little you can to help nature along. Wait, am I talking about farming, or life?