A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What I Had for Lunch Today: Vegan Egg Salad

I'm trying to eliminate eggs from my diet, for a variety of reasons. In dishes that traditionally call for eggs, substitutes can be made, with varying results. In pancakes and layer cakes, for example, I dare you to tell the difference. In eggplant parmigiana, on the other hand, making a credible batter is difficult. Egg salad, fortunately for me since that's what I was craving today, is one of those dishes for which excellent alternatives exist.

To make this particularly successful batch, I started with pressed tofu from Trader Joe's. It's quite dry, so it doesn't need to be weighted, drained, or dried off with paper towels. It's also organic, nutritious, and cheap. I mashed it up with a fork in a little bowl, then added a couple of spoonsful of nutritional yeast, a couple of pinches of black salt, and some turmeric cooked in a bit of oil. I then had the equivalent of a hard-boiled egg or two.

To the "egg" mixture, I added a couple of dollops of vegan mayonnaise, some sliced celery, and some chopped-up bread-and-butter pickles (which I had made only yesterday), salt and freshly-ground black pepper. I dumped it on a plate of shredded romaine and garnished it with tomato and parsley. That's a soy mocha latte with it.

Nutritional yeast, by the way, has a cheesy or nutty flavor, which gives a boost to notoriously-tasteless tofu. It's also got 9 grams of protein in every two tablespoons. The tofu itself has 14 grams of protein per serving (one serving = a bit over three ounces), so do the math: the vegan version is actually much higher in protein than real egg salad.

The black salt--which I purchased in a local Asian market--contains a lot of sulphur. It comes in big chunks, so I have to pound it into smaller pieces and then grind them up in a mortar and pestle (at least until I find my salt grinder). Although the big chunks are blackish, the ground-up salt is pink. The sulphur in the black salt adds that totally authentic eggy aroma and taste.

Turmeric is mainly for golden color, though it adds a bit of flavor also. But please: never use turmeric raw! You have to fry it in oil first. NEVER just sprinkle it in at the end, no matter what the recipe says. In most traditional recipes calling for turmeric, frying something is part of the cooking process anyway, so that's when the turmeric goes in. For "egg" salad, it's kind of weird, because it's an otherwise no-cook dish. But if you're like me, you can taste the horrible raw taste of uncooked turmeric, and so you get out your tiny cast-iron skillet and add your pinch of spice to a few drops of oil and fry for a few seconds. The result is a cheap, nutritious, cruelty-free vegan dish that tastes pretty much exactly like the original.

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Pillow Concierge!

Most excellent three days in Boston with Brian--a great combination of local color and prodigious luxury. We love Boston, but it's just so darned crowded. A couple of times already this year we've decamped early because we just couldn't deal with the traffic and the crowds. Accommodations at the Battery Wharf Hotel--problem solved! When they say it's "on the water," they mean it's literally on top of the water, on a pier. No cars anywhere around. Even with the windows open, all you hear is the sound of little waves lapping.

Recently, luxury hotels have re-discovered the blatantly obvious fact that real luxury, especially for us boomers, is getting a decent night's sleep. I remember Aunt Wanda and Uncle Eddie used to carry around their pierzyna (Polish featherbed) on trips, whether it was to camp out in the Bay of Fundy (reached by private plane; there were no roads) or rest in regal splendor at the Château Frontenac. No vacation was worth taking, to them, if the bed wasn't as good as theirs at home. And better to be safe than sorry.

I feel the same way. So I was excited to discover that the Battery Wharf Hotel has a pillow concierge! The pillow concierge of my imagination wears a special little costume, poufy and floaty, trimmed with tassels, feathers, and bits of eiderdown. She glides into your room with a selection of restful bed accessories and lets you try them out. Kind of a cross between Mary Poppins, the Sandman and Tinkerbell, but with feathers.

Okay, so the reality doesn't exactly match the fantasy. The results, however, are the same. The Battery Wharf has a selection of pillows, so if you don't like what's provided (a feather pillow), you have your choice of foam, or gel, for example. In my case, the bed as made up in standard fashion (high-end sheets, snowy duvet, pillowtop mattress, feather pillows) was perfection. So I had no need to call on the services of the pillow concierge. She may forever remain the be-tasselled sprite of my imagination.

On the other hand, the coffee was so good (Nespresso coffee maker in room, yum!) and I drank so much of it (hey, I'm a writer....caffeine is my fuel) that I managed to run out of those little pots of cream. So I got to test out the coffee concierge (as I like to think of him). One phone call and I got enough sugar and cream to last the rest of the trip...from an attendant who beamed at me so brightly, I felt I had somehow made his day.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Carrie Jane Emory

This past weekend, at my Smith College reunion, I was supposed to be reminiscing about 1969, but at least part of the time my thoughts were firmly fixed on 1885. I wasn't there at that time, obviously, but Carrie Jane Emory was. She was the daughter of Pascal Emory, first owner of the house now owned by me. I learned a few years ago from her obituary that she had attended Smith, but I didn't know exactly when. So on Saturday afternoon, while my classmates were eating their box lunches on the lawn, I was in the Smith College Archives hunting for any trace of Carrie.

The wonderful archivist showed me a directory published in the 1930s listing all the students from each class, graduates and non-graduates. Carrie was a non-graduating member of the class of 1885. Oddly enough, I counted 45 graduates and 49 non-graduates. That's a dropout rate higher than Springfield's struggling public high schools! I think that in many cases, girls left because they married or because their families could not afford the tuition, but I don't think either of those reasons was the case for Carrie. She died a spinster, her parents were pretty rich, and she was the only child who survived to adulthood (so no competition for the funds).

The archivist also found me a file containing two identical cabinet card portraits (see above) and several letters written during the summers of her college years to a friend named Abby. The letters are maddeningly fluffy, with little concrete information about anything. "Yesterday, I received six letters, two packages and two visiting cards. It took me all morning to read my mail." "I have owed you a letter for a long time. I hope you shan't be angry with me. I have been meaning to buy more note paper." "I am sorry to hear of your distress. I, too, have felt the same way. I hope you shall feel better." Why is Abby distressed? Why was Carrie distressed? What did they do all day long? No clues.

She seemed to like tennis, refers to tournaments, and mentions playing against the men because the women were "too amateurish." I think my next step will be to see if she belonged to any sort of tennis or country club in Springfield. I can find no evidence that she ever married, worked, or even volunteered for any committees (and of course, she didn't cook or clean because she had a servant). She lived almost 60 years after leaving Smith. She must have done something!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hole You Could Lose a Baby in

Here's a sinkhole on Mattoon Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, a block from where I live. I pass by this scary-looking hole at least four times a day....on foot, thankfully. As a pedestrian, I can stay on the sidewalk and don't have to go anywhere near the asphalt.

An orange construction barrel has been covering the hole, leaving just enough room on the one-way street for a car to get by. This arrangement is an excellent system as long as the barrel remains in place. Unfortunately, April showers have also brought some high winds, and the flimsy barrel doesn't always stay where it belongs. I myself have replaced it over the hole at least six times in the past couple of weeks. I'd wager that many people who drive past don't know exactly why the barrel's been there, and might not automatically avoid the spot it usually occupies if it was blown over. They--and their suspensions--would be in for a bad surprise!

At last night's quarterly meeting of the Mattoon Street Historic Preservation Association, I learned that the street is slated to be paved "sometime before the end of the summer." The pothole situation on the street has been noted, and needs to be addressed before September's Mattoon Street Art Festival, which brings thousands of people to the neighborhood. Last year, at least one festival attendee twisted an ankle while strolling the street.

No plans to make the repair of the sinkhole before the major repaving project seem to be afoot, however. Meanwhile, we've always got the barrel. I guess it's no worse or different than the rest of the country's approach to crumbling infrastructure.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Vegan Sausage and Potato Scramble

If I had to run out of my house with only one item--in the case of some disaster like a fire or flood--it might well be my cast iron skillet. (The family photos are all in the cloud.) These days the skillet rarely makes it back into the cupboard; it's about the only cooking implement I put on my stove. Cooking for the family was a Norman Rockwell-style affair; cooking for myself is usually a one-dish meal.

Today it was onions, red peppers, green peppers, vegan Italian-style sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes and a handful of those little cherry tomatoes, all stir-fried in olive oil with a bit of sweet basil and oregano. A good meal for a rainy day.

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Maggie Rose Redux

In 1960, I kept a diary. I was 12 years old. In 2011, I posted in this blog each day the text of my diary entry for that same day in 1960. Many things I remembered, but a surprising number of entries seemed to have been written by another person. In many instances I had no recollection whatsoever of the events described, and I was taken aback by some of my reactions. Overall I had the feeling, copying out those old entries, that a messy, disorganized, slightly mercenary preteen had usurped the place of the saintly little Cicily of my memories. The diary Cicily had terrible taste in movies, didn't always finish her homework, and was occasionally mean to her friends. Part of me wanted to burn the evidence, but being a journalist and a historian, I opted to publish it here.

On April 9, 1960 I wrote:
 "At Steiger's there was a fountain, so we threw in pennies (my pennies). I finished 'Maggie Rose,' it was wonderful."
I have no recollection of having read Maggie Rose. But I was curious about what my younger self--the self I am realizing I don't actually know all that well--would have considered "wonderful." The Springfield library system no longer owns a copy of the book, but the Berkshire Athaneum does, and through the miracle of the inter-library loan, that copy arrived at my local branch a few days ago and I was able to re-read it.

Maggie Rose is written by Newbury medalist Ruth Sawyer, a storyteller, teacher, reporter and author who lived in Boston. (Sawyer's son-in-law was Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings.) It's illustrated by none other than Maurice Sendak. The story takes place in 1951. Maggie Rose is an enterprising little girl, the rest of whose family is cheerfully indolent. On June 24 she realizes her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is exactly half a year away. She makes plans to have, for the first time, a real birthday/Christmas celebration (her family is too lazy and too poor ever to have gone to that much effort). For six months she works to earn money and make preparations. The story ends on December 24 with her party, a smashing success.

Maggie Rose actually is a pretty good book. I think what I like about it--and what my twelve-year-old self probably liked--is the sense of place evoked in the story. Maggie Rose lives in a small Maine seacoast town. She spends a lot of time outdoors in her "secret place" on the fringe of the woods. Flora and fauna are lovingly described by Sawyer...hemlocks and pine, spruce and birch, mosses, rocks, sparrows. The other nice thing about the book is Maggie Rose herself. She's a reader, a dreamer, and a resourceful child. Kind of like me as a girl. Or at least what I think I was like.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Dandelion Omelet

This omelet is nothing but a few shallots and a handful of dandelion leaves, chopped and sautéed, salt, pepper, and one egg. I had it with Tuscan pane toast, slathered with boysenberry jam, a few organic strawberries with sugar and a splash of triple sec, and Café Bustelo with molasses and cream. A real taste of spring.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Polenta with Italian Sausage and Dandelion

Friday night, so, a glass of wine. Vino de tavola, so, something with polenta. Spring, so, dandelion greens. Something spicy needed, so, vegan Italian sausage. Garlic, shallots, olive oil, a few mushrooms, a spoonful of marinara, some crushed red pepper. Pantry to table in twelve minutes.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

What I Had for Lunch Today: Tomato Soup with Farro

Soup is odds-and-ends food for me. This one is three or four shallots and a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped and sautéed, plus a few tablespoons of leftover marinara, vegetable bouillon, fresh parsley and dill, and a handful of farro, simmered till the farro was tender. I finished it with a splash of heavy cream, a pat of butter, homemade croutons and a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. For dessert, a couple of chocolate digestive biscuits and an espresso. I would've enjoyed my lunch more if a certain dog and cat had not been staring fixedly at it the entire time. Note to Taz: onions, chocolate and sugar are all bad for dogs.

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