30 November 2009
Quote is from Shakespeare, in Love's Labour's Lost: “Assist me some extemporal god of rime, for I am sure I shall turn sonneter. Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.”
but with 1 butternut squash, 1 potimarron (cousin to the pumpkin,
the national squash of Belgium), and a couple of potatoes.
(inspired by Nigella, using Delhaize pain d'épices
plus extra odds and ends of bread, and far less bacon;
finished off by removing from bird cavity and baked in oven)
Peas Sautéed with Onions
Maple Cream Pie (from Smitten Kitchen)
(Martin very thoughtfully photographed the desserts!)
To finish off the evening:
27 November 2009
I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.
-- The Sound of the Trees by Robert Frost
26 November 2009
photo from epicurious.
1 whole chicken for roasting
2 tbsps olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 bay leaves, chopped
1 chicken bouillon cube, crushed
1 lemon, whole
Salt, paprika, and pepper, to taste
6 small slices of butter
½ cup white wine
- Preheat oven to 180° C.
- Trim any excess skin and fat from the chicken, particularly around the opening to the cavity. Ensure the cavity is empty and wash the chicken.
- Spread the olive oil around the base of a roasting pan. Place the chicken on top of the oil.
- Rub ½ of each of the chopped garlic and bay leaves, along with the crushed chicken cube around the cavity. Insert the whole lemon.
- Pour the white wine over the top of the chicken.
- Sprinkle salt, paprika and pepper, along with the remaining garlic and bay leaves over the top of the chicken.
- Place the small slices of butter, at various locations, on the outside of the chicken, for example in the areas between the breasts and the wings, and between the drumsticks and the thighs, and on top of the breasts.
- Cook for 1 hour and then turn the chicken over and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Let stand for 10 minutes before carving.
Catch up with Odete, Jacqueline and a Little Bit of Hope:
Chapter One, part one
Chapter One, continued
And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving! We're not celebrating until Sunday so we can sit down and eat all afternoon, but with any luck there'll be a photo or two of, hopefully, the turkey.
25 November 2009
(photo taken in field behind The Hurst, Shropshire)
"This place where I took things
sunk shallow in the middle of the field,
a secret bruise hidden by trees."
- from The Pond by Owen Sheers (from The Blue Book)
24 November 2009
As Simon was closing one door, Odete was opening another – the door of the oven to be exact – and as she did so, a blast of heat smacked her in the face.
“It looks ready,” she mumbled to herself and smiled softly. It was roasted chicken just like her mother used to make, the traditional Portuguese way. A whole lemon rather than stuffing occupied the cavity. Paprika, salt, crushed bay leaves, and dabs of butter had been sprinkled on the skin. But not before a glass of white wine had been poured over the top to make sure that the meat would be juicy and tender.
Odete was very proud of herself. It was the first time that she’d made it on her own. Of course, she’d watched her mother thousands of times, but cooking had at one time completely disinterested her and she remembered almost nothing of what she’d been shown.
She slid the dish out of the oven and using the two large forks that had once resided in her mother’s kitchen, transferred the succulent bird to the platter. And as she inhaled deeply and the aroma filled her head, the grin on her face slowly faded to a frown. She wished that her mom could have been here to see this.
Odete’s mother had passed away the year prior. During the woman’s lifetime, Odete had wanted nothing to do with her Portuguese heritage. Her parents had emigrated when she was a child and never went back. As she got older, she did everything she could to be a Canadian, wanting to fit in and avoid the cruel “portuguese, pork and cheese” taunts of her classmates. But with her mother’s passing, something had awakened inside of Odete. A desire not to lose her roots, a desire to somehow keep her mother with her, a desire to get to know her mother in a way she never had when she’d been alive. A need to fill the massive void she felt inside. Not having any siblings, and having lost her father a decade earlier, Odete had no one to talk to to keep the memories from fading, and she’d discovered that food was the next best thing – perhaps even the best thing.
It had started with an accidental trip to the local Portuguese market. Needing milk one afternoon for some soon-to-arrive tea guests, Odete had gone to the closest shop that was open. The last time she’d been there had been with her mother, and Odete found herself purchasing not only the needed milk but all of the same things that she’d bought on her last trip with her mom – chorizo, two types of cheese (the salty Queijo de Castelo Branco, and the creamier Queijo ta Serra), and a few Pastéis de Nata.
Odete had served the latter with the tea that afternoon, and as the sweetness of the custard tart filled her mouth, her mother’s presence touched her soul. As soon as her friends had left, Odete took the larger mound of cheese from the fridge and carefully cut and peeled away a circular “top” from the skin as she’d seen her mother do, and then scooped out the smooth and tangy treat inside. Once she started, she couldn’t stop, and in fact, ate all of her remaining purchases from that day. Savouring the flavour of the cheese and the sausage, she again savoured the energy of her mom. But somehow she knew that it could be even better. Somehow she knew that it was finally time to learn to cook.
And indeed, Odete quickly discovered that she’d been right. Even through the many months of struggle, of wasted flour and burned pans, when she had attempted to prepare and most importantly, consume her mother’s recipes, she was not only touched by her mom’s loving spirit but more and more filled up by it.
“Simon?” Odete looked up from her chicken and saw her son-in-law standing on the other side of the table. He seemed thousands of miles away, and for the first time in all the years she had known him, he looked old. Far beyond his thirty-one years.
“She’s not coming down. She said she was going to, but I know she’s not. She wants to be a kid again. She wants to stay here and live in her old room.”
“I can talk to her.”
“No, please don’t. I don’t think it’s a good idea. She seems very angry with the world right now and especially with me. I wouldn’t want to drag you into the middle of anything.” Whether the problem this time was solely with him or included Odete, Simon honestly didn’t know, but he did know that he didn’t want this special day to be ruined for the older woman and he also knew that she wouldn’t be able to help anyway. He wasn’t sure when it had started, but Jacq seemed to have developed a disregard for her mother, almost a disdain that Odete either didn’t see or didn’t want to see. He glanced at his watch, “Let’s eat. We need to leave soon.”
Odete and Simon ate in silence. The former enraptured with the warmth of her mother that entered her and bite by bite completed her. Her face quickly transforming from an expression of anticipation to one of ecstasy. Across from her, Simon was oblivious to Odete’s rapture, and was obsessed with worry – a worry that grew more and more intense and conquered his appetite. He carefully rested his fork and knife together on the plate as his grandfather had taught him to do – the polite sign that he’d had enough.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to talk to her?” She lifted Simon’s chin so that his eyes could meet hers. He bore a strong resemblance to his mother with reddish-blonde hair and freckles that are usually not attractive on men but somehow on him, worked.
Before he had a chance to answer, Jacq burst into the kitchen. “I’m going out,” she exclaimed, and then whirled around and headed for the door.
He looked back at his mother-in-law, “Yeah, I’m sure. Let’s go. If we don’t leave now, we won’t be there when the flight arrives.”
23 November 2009
21 November 2009
Number one is that I want to do it all and I am afraid that if I don't, something bad will happen. (Like what? I don't know. Something totally unfounded, like I won't be able to write anything if I concentrate on one thing. Which is really stupid all or nothing thinking. What it really means that, of all my "good ideas", I finish nothing. Is that what I want to happen? No, it isn't.
Number two is that I struggle to find an hour each day. But I'm getting better. I find 15 minuteses. I can live with the fact that the work I am doing may be affected by this. I will deal with that later. I am building up my...
Stamina. We've all heard this before: the writers who get published are the ones who did not give up, who showed up at their desk every day and put one word after another, who did not take 20 publisher's noes (yes that's the plural of no) for an answer. Stamina.
I like to think to myself that I've done some things that needed stamina, before. Have I really used all my stamina up? No, I don't think so.
20 November 2009
19 November 2009
from the grounds at The Hurst near Clun, Shropshire
I have been away in Shropshire at an Arvon writing course. I wasn't sure whether I would blog about it -- I don't, you know, blog about everything. But it was such a fantastic week that I feel compelled now to share the experience, especially for anyone who is thinking they might like to do one. I have been on Arvon courses before -- for poetry, in 2003 or 2004, and on an untutored writing retreat in 2006 (or thereabouts). Each time I left the course refreshed and energized and ready to push myself further with the writing. Last week, however, was simply the best. I learned more than I ever imagined I would about "Starting to Write a Novel", with tutors Tiffany Murray and Edward Docx, who were both absolutely wonderful. It is too much to write about all in one post, so I'll be writing about it in bits and pieces over the next week or so, along with some of the photos I took in my early morning walks. By the way, I was wearing these:
17 November 2009
Dear Readers. As I mentioned last week, I have the pleasure of presenting to you, via this blog, the work-in-progress of fellow Brussels-based writer Andrea Rees. It's an experiment by installments that I hope you will enjoy. Feel free to use the comments section, where Andrea will respond to questions and constructive feedback. This is the first part of chapter one....
The room was completely white. The walls, the cushions on the rocking chair, the dressing table, the bed, and of course, the blinds on the window. It wasn’t a stark, harsh hospital white but slightly softer. Still pure and clean but also happy. And somehow it made Jacq feel safe. In fact, this room was the only room right now that could put her at ease. And as she lay, curled up on the snow-like embroidered quilt, she wished she would never have to leave. Life had punched her hard, yet again. The first time, her pain had come out in a torrent of tears, this time her body was simply numb. It wasn’t that there wasn’t anything to shed, she just didn’t have the energy to let it go. And she had no idea how she would find the strength for what was to come next.
Simon stood in the doorway, one hand resting on the frame, the other hanging loose at his side. His eyes were fixed on his wife. “Jacqueline, are you okay?”
Jacq turned her head so she could face him. Very calmly, very slowly, as if she had known that he’d been there all along. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just like being here sometimes. Do you ever wish you could be a kid again?”
“No, never. I didn’t like being young. Always wanted to be older than I was. My friends were mostly older. But you know that. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine.” Her voice snapped.
Simon knew she was lying. She’d been lying about it for weeks. But every time he asked, she got short with him.
“Is lunch ready?” Her voice had become gentle again, but in a fake, sickly sort of way.
“You can tell my mother I’ll be there in a minute.” She turned her head towards the window.
Simon’s body remained still but his mind was debating – should he stay, wrap his arms around her, and insist on the truth? Or could he support her best by just leaving her alone?
“Please go.” She was still facing the window. Her words were little more than a whisper.
As Simon left the room, he pulled the door gently towards him. He knew they would be eating without her.
To be continued...
14 November 2009
2. Went shopping at the local mall - or The W Shopping, as someone apparently calls it. I don't like malls and I don't like shopping, but we needed some stuff and we could some discounts there if we used a credit card. And you know, it wasn't half bad in terms of parking, crowds or anything. There were some lovely things on offer, too. But soooooo unbelievably expensive. I could not find a decent young girl's coat for less than €120. By decent I mean made of some material that will actually keep the child warm, not fall apart after one winter's wearing and no sparkles, spangles, faux fur, or Miley Cyrus logos. (I'm one hard-ass mother, aren't I.) Some beautiful items in Mer du Nord.* Covetables. But my god. Who can afford it?
3. Came out of the "W" into the pitch dark. Still not used to that. Fortunately, there is Strictly Come Dancing to waltz, jive and foxtrot us through the pitch, even though this season has got the most dire set of Z-list celebrity dancers known to Strictlykind. Still. A bit of swish and glitter is good for the soul. It's almost like a festival of glitz, and right in these darkest hours when we most need a reminder to Keeeeeeep dancing!
* I am not giving link because their website is completely useless and annoying.
13 November 2009
My industrious friend Vincent has posted Button on a site he recently found called
Your Mic - Your Online Stage for Poetry. From what I can tell it is pretty new and I'm not quite sure how it all works but hey, I'm game for new kinds of fun. Enjoy !
12 November 2009
Emily Dickinson said that mushrooms were the elves of plants. Mary Oliver has a different take:
Rain, and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
out of the ground -
red and yellow skulls
through sand; astonishing
in their suddenness,
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison,
chunkily, and delicious -
those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers,
shark-white death angels
in their town veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:
is to stagger down
fast as mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
slide back under the shining
fields of rain.
-- Mushrooms, by Mary Oliver
2. Walked home in the pitch dark at 6 pm. It had rained, but wasn't raining anymore which made me feel lucky. I am so rarely out in the night, it reminded me how sleek one feels in the dark.
3. The girls wanted to watch a film and we settled on Dirty Dancing. Timeless chicklet flick -- they got up and danced during the credits. It was a little bittersweet for me, watching young Patrick Swayze, and knowing now how he ended up. Is this the kind of thing one has to look forward to, with one's idols of youth? Probably.
10 November 2009
"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
(leaves in the air at Zoet Water near Leuven, Belgium)
This is the novel of another Brussels-based writer, Andrea Rees. She's completed one novel already ("a huge learning experience") and has very graciously agreed to post her second as she writes it, right here on this blog. We've discussed the pros and cons of doing this (as you might imagine), and will make clear now: it's an experiment, it's a work in progress, Andrea's work remains Andrea's work, but we want to see what happens, and we would like your feedback.
How it will work is, a new chapter or part of a chapter will be posted here every other Tuesday. It will look just like a regular blog post, with the possible exception that if the text is very long I may link it to another web page. If that happens you will be cued with a simple link such as "continue reading" -- and you would simply click on that link to get to the rest of the story.
You'll be able to comment as on any other post... Constructively, we trust. For example it would be good to know if you enjoy the story, if you want to hear more, or if something doesn't make sense, things like that. We can talk about this sort of thing more later, as the story develops.
As for the story itself, it revolves around Odete Ramalho and her two adult daughters Jacqueline and Hope, their relationships, and their secrets. I don't really want to say too much more about it..... Suffice to say that the first part of chapter one will be posted next Tuesday, November 17 -- hope to see you here!
09 November 2009
From the geyser ventilators
Autumn winds are blowing down
On a thousand business women
Having baths in Camden Town.
Early nip of changeful autumn,
Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,
At the back precarious bathrooms
Jutting out from upper floors;
And behind their frail partitions
Business women lie and soak,
Seeing through the draughty skylight
Flying clouds and railway smoke.
Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!
- Business Girls by John Betjeman
08 November 2009
A conversation with Brussels-based (or at least was, at one point) author Trilby Kent on BookChildWorld. Ms Kent's book Medina Hill is being published in Canada. Check out the cool cover!
Top writing reference books selected by the Strictly Writing team (See my own top choices for poetry books here)
Interesting new "storytelling" website LitDrift (via @meandmybigmouth)
My fascination with The Pleiades continues: this "open cluster", I have learned, contains over 3,000 stars, is about 400 light years away, and only 13 light years across. Photo from APOD.
07 November 2009
1. Patterns in a building near Espace Bizarre (trendy furniture shop):
2. Lunch at Den Teapot -- no photo for this sadly; you will have to instead have the mural angel on the wall across the street:
L'Ange de Sambre (comic strip by Yslaire).
3. Dessert for two at AM Sweet:
Clockwise from left: rhubarb crumble, chocolate moelleux cake, cheesecake (to die for!), pecan pie.
Image credit for the Angel. The rest are mine so if you use one give credit!
06 November 2009
2. Some sort of tree, I don't know what kind, is changing colour: the most beautiful, golden yellow. Does anyone know what tree it might be? Like this one:
3. I ate the salad I brought for lunch even though I was tempted to go out and buy something. I'm proud to say I've been bringing a lunch to work since September this year. By my estimations, I'm saving at least €25 a week, which I then of course feel totally justified in spending on myself.
cool lunch box credit image here, website to buy it here
05 November 2009
2. Later, Lichfield went out with his mate (code name, Eastwood) and during the course of the evening sent me texts saying how much he loved me.
3. And I stayed in and fell asleep, totally, blissfully, deeply, on the couch.
04 November 2009
2. Brussels sprouts roasted with red onion, olive oil, etc: I stood at the stove and ate them straight from the pan.
3. I realize that I am the only person I know who likes brussels sprouts.
03 November 2009
The Few Remaining Members of the writers workshop met last night. We should start calling ourselves The Remainders. We all missed being in our usual space, Madame Sour Puss or no Madame Sour Puss. More about her later. We are counter-offering her €10 instead of the €25 ransom she's demanded along with a reminder of how much we drink at each meeting. Yes we are lame. We are a prime example of why writers need agents, or mafia back-up, or something. On the other hand, I got very good feedback on four poems, none of which I quite know what to do with. And while that hasn't changed it does feel good having aired them out. It would be a shame if this workshop collapses.
I have shepherded the angels into their pyjamas and through a round of tooth brushing. Lights out and now for the whispering and giggling. What's that quote at the end of "Stand By Me"? "You never have friends like you do when you are 12..." Or in Clover's case, 9 nearly 10.... Lichfield is out rooting for the big reds so it's just me and David Copperfield from here on out. That's all... See you next week on Tuesday Night Live.
2. Helsinki, sensing my utter exhaustion, offered to make me a boiled egg.
3. By complete chance, my downstairs neighbour dropped off two fat girly magazines, Red and Easy Living, that she had finished with, so I was able to spend an hour in bed in girly mag bliss. Just what was needed.
02 November 2009
It's the first day of a week of school holiday. I also had the day off. We discovered Helsinki's bike was stolen from the bike room of our building. The bike room was broken into two weeks ago, for about the 200th time. I was surprised to see Helsinki's bike gone -- must have been slim pickins. Our bikes generally survive the thieving bastards. I doubt the insurance covers the bike and in any case the deductible is more than a new one.
In a little while I'm off to the writers workshop, also known as the Writers Workshop of Ever Decreasing Members, and now the sour little lady from the Café Imaginaire wants to charge us €25 a night for the use of her dour little room. As if. She has no other customers on a Monday evening, never turns on the heat for us or seems in the least glad to see us, and we generally spend a fair amount on drink each time we meet. I am in favour of telling her where to stick her €25, but cooler heads have prevailed and we may attempt a negotiation of sorts, or at least a congenial ending to our relationship. In the meantime we are looking for a spare room to meet in....
Your suggestions welcome.
If you don't know the original 3BT, please check out the lovely blog by Clare Grant, link either just above or to the right on my blog roll ("If you can't stand the heat...").
The idea is to simply "record three things that have given me pleasure" each day. There are many 3BT blogs listed on Clare's Roll of Honour, if you are interested....
Anyway, here's mine for today.
Dentist, slanty sunlight, and cheesecake
1. Helsinki's dentist appointment for this afternoon has been cancelled. Not that we don't like our dentist. We just like the reprieve a bit better.
2. The sunlight is slanting over the top of the building across the street, right into my window.
3. The chocolate cheesecake I made for Sunday tastes EVEN BETTER today.