...are yellow and red carnations. (I think carnations are underrated.)
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This blog design and all original content ©2014 by Rachel Ball / Elephantine.
Listen to this story here:
She is born in the winter. It snows that year, and even more so the next year, like thick frosting on a cake, and the winter after that they move to Monroe, where her father has a new job waiting for him. Every day he comes home smelling of flour and cinnamon. She is four when her baby brother is born and nine when he has his accident. Gentle now, says her mother, when she hugs her brother, newly home from the hospital. After a while the scars on his legs aren't so noticeable. When she is ten, her father brings home a dog from the shelter. She insists on naming him Lady and cannot be convinced otherwise. He sleeps at the foot of her bed every night except for one week out of the year when they are on summer vacation. Those days they spend driving down the coast with the windows down and her hair whipping across her face. She collects sand from every beach they go to, scooping it into little vials and labeling them with tape. In the middle of a fight with her brother, he smashes one of the vials on the living room floor, specks of sand everywhere.
Then she is fifteen and telling people to call her Anna, not Annabelle; then fifteen and a half and she almost crashes the high school's Driver's Ed car, her hands sweaty and slipping on the steering wheel; then sixteen and sitting in a dark movie theater beside Alex Atwood, hardly breathing when he runs his hand over hers. She writes everything down in lined journals, which her brother steals from her nightstand drawer and reads, hooting with laughter, until he gets to the part about him. When she is eighteen she wins a prize for a poem she has written, and her mother hangs a copy of it in the house, which embarrasses her only slightly more than having to read it in front of the senior class at graduation. We all were once young, it begins. Nobody in the house remembers to flip the calendar hanging in the kitchen, and it lingers on July as the months go on. Then, suddenly, she is coming home for the first time from college. Her mother has put new sheets on her bed; how large and luxurious it feels now, after being away. Her father comes home from work, still smelling of flour and cinnamon, and turns on the local news while dinner is bubbling on the stovetop. The weatherman is predicting snow, days of it, the first flakes likely falling in a few hours.
Rufus loves this bar stool, but he does not appreciate me taking photos of him on it (or so I gather, based on the expression he is giving me in the second photograph). More than once I have I glanced over and seen him sitting there, on the bar stool, facing in toward the counter, with his two little green eyes staring at me impatiently as if waiting for dinner to be served. King of the castle, indeed.
I've been working on a short story (of much longer length than the ones I've share with you) with the intention of submitting it to a lit magazine when it's ready. It's tentatively called "The Painters." It's about a boy and his grandfather. I've written just over 1,700 words, but trust me when I say that it's in pretty terrible shape and there's still a big chunk that hasn't even gotten onto the page yet. But I am feeling hopeful because this time* I have a solid vision of my characters and their wants and their troubles. That's the hardest part, developing characters that are so vivid in your mind that you forget they don't actually exist. Well, I guess they do exist, in little bits and pieces taken from real people in your life, but you know what I mean.
*have I ever mentioned the 60+ unfinished, abandoned stories on my hard drive? Yikes.
Wow, first off – thank you for all the recipe suggestions. Every one of them sounds yummy and you're going to keep me awfully busy trying them all out. But first... applesauce. It really is ridiculously easy to make, and I love having full control over its consistency (by adjusting the amount of water) and its sweetness.
Super Easy Applesauce (fills a 16 oz. jar)
4 cups chopped apples (I left the peels on, but you don't have to)
1 cup water
½ tsp ground cinnamon
honey or sugar to taste (optional)
Toss the chopped apples, water, and cinnamon into a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook with a lid on, stirring occasionally, until the apples have broken completely apart (about 20-30 minutes). Sweeten it a little with honey or sugar, or leave it deliciously tart if you prefer. Let cool and refrigerate.
Listen to this story here:
The dream was always the same: it was almost November, and he was ice fishing with his grandfather, and the baby sharks were circling under the thick cloudy ice beneath their boots. He was feeling cheerful, despite the wind numbing the tips of his ears and the unscratchable itch creeping along the middle of his back; these were things that ordinarily irritated him and made him morose. But that day he was feeling good. An envelope had come that morning. From her. There was a photograph, and she moved in it as he rotated it back and forth. This part of the dream he especially liked. At one angle, she looked down shyly, and at another angle, she looked straight ahead with the slightest smile. She was standing beneath a palm tree, an open air market blurry behind her.
On the back, she had written: still waiting for you.
He had never made it past that point. Always the alarm, or Judith nudging him awake, or the kids crawling over him, squealing Daddy, or even when there was nothing to wake him: it just stopped, like the film had run out.
Do you ever have recurring dreams? he asked Ray, over their nightly beers at Smokey's.
What, said Ray, you mean like... oh, for crying out loud! He'd been looking up at the television above the bar. Then he wiped the corners of his mouth, and turned back.
What were you saying? Ray asked.
Never mind, he said. Nothing important.
The sharks he understood. There had been a field trip to the zoo when he was in grade school and an incident with a zookeeper that had turned out to be nothing, really, but had still scared him, being so young. But the rest confused him. He had never known his grandfather. Couldn't even say a single thing about the old man, so what was he doing showing up in his sleep?
And, of course, there was the girl. Still waiting for him, but where? But there was nothing more to be seen in the dream. What he had been given was all there was. So in his waking life, he looked. He looked for her when they went on vacation in Santa Monica. He looked for her in crowds at the mall while his wife shopped for Christmas presents. He kept his eyes open. It was all he could do, until it was night again, and time to sleep.
Listen to this story here:
After the man in coveralls pinpointed us on the map and gave me directions ("Just keep going straight," he'd said, and I'd replied with, "Well, that's easy enough to remember,") I went back to the car, which was idling with Lynn in the passenger seat. She was staring out into the moonlit fields of red wildflowers that ran down the length of the highway. Not pretty ones; just weeds, really, that would scratch your legs and get caught in your hair if you tried, let's say, to run through them.
While I was asking for directions, she'd turned the radio to oldies. I turned it back. I reminded her that the driver picked the station; wasn't that one of the first things we'd agreed on when planning this trip?
"Right," she said, rolling her eyes. "You and all your rules."
While I drove, she dozed off. She made little whimpering sounds as she slept, and then one long, squeaky snore that I couldn't stop myself from laughing at, and then finally she fell into a silent sleep. A half hour went by, and nothing – the road, the moon, the radio music – seemed to change.
Then, so quickly: I felt wobbly, like I'd been spun and then halted still. In the next moment, the sensation was gone. I reached over to shake Lynn awake, but she pushed my hand away, laughed, asked what I was doing.
"When did you wake up?" I asked, and she gave me an odd look.
In the distance, there was a light squeezing out of the dark. It developed into a small gas station, where a man in coveralls came out to greet me. He pulled out a map like an illusionist pulling a trick from his sleeve. He had dirt under his fingernails, the kind you get from really digging down deep in the earth.
"Do I know you?" I asked. "I have the weirdest feeling..."
But he interrupted me. "Just keep following the road," he said, tracing his forefinger along the thick purple highway line on the map. Then he raised his finger up off the page and pointed into the darkness ahead.
"Are you sure?" I asked. "I'm worried that we missed it. It wasn't supposed to take this long."
"Like I said," he repeated, "Just keep going straight."
"Okay," I said, and heard myself say, the words coming on their own: "That's easy enough to remember."
Back in the car, Lynn had been fiddling with the radio, and it was humming oldies. I switched it, and then we drove on, looking out over the dark fields of wildflowers that were unlike anything we'd seen before.
I spent most of the summer wanting it to last longer, but now that it's gone, I don't miss it so much. Now there's varicolored leaves strewn across the sidewalk, and it's scarf weather, and the evenings suddenly feel longer, and pumpkins are winking from the neighbors' porches... and (hooray!) it's the season for baked potatoes and hot cocoa and warm buttered bread with soup. So many good things.
Yesterday I made this coleslaw and immediately filed it away as a favorite recipe. It's sweet and nutty and makes use of jicama, which is one of those ingredients that doesn't get as much attention as it should. I recommend eating this slaw with stir-fried chicken and steamed rice; it's a simple meal, but it will leave you happy.
Sesame Coleslaw (serves 4)
recipe from All Recipes
½ head green cabbage, shredded
½ large carrot, grated
½ cup jicama, grated
½ Tbsp toasted or black sesame seeds
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
½ Tbsp sesame oil
1 ½ Tbsp honey
Toss the cabbage, carrot, jicama, and sesame seeds into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients, then drizzle over the salad. Toss evenly to coat, then chill until ready to serve.
Recently I've received some requests for book recommendations. Easy, I thought, but it was exactly the opposite; a list of good books can go on and on and on when you get to thinking about it. How to choose? But I managed to slim this list down to twelve, because twelve books will keep anyone busy for a decent chunk of time. (A note: I've linked to Amazon in this list, but of course, also check your library!) So here goes:
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.
and last but not least, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Listen to this story here:
Wait for a windy day. Heat up a little butter in the tallest stockpot you own, then dig out the biggest onion you can find. In all likelihood it will be hiding at the very back of your cupboard; the good onions always do that. Chop it up with a recently sharpened knife and toss the pieces into the pot. While the onion cooks, read a few pages from a book you haven't touched in ages, and if you like the way it sounds in your head, tear them out, crinkle them up, and add them to the onions. Don't worry about the missing pages; you'll remember how the story goes.
If you have any tiny potatoes, toss those into the pot, along with anything else with a thick skin, like that ugly little squash your neighbor handed to you over his fence, or the persimmons that have been sleeping for a week in your fruit bowl. Cook everything until it is so translucent it's hard to see it at all. Fill the remaining space with chicken stock, or vegetable stock, or the rainwater that has been coming down for weeks. Herbs are happy to be included here, a handful knotted tightly with twine and dunked to the bottom of the pot. By the time you've done all of this, it will be evening, and you will be getting hungrier than you thought possible. Maybe, then, there will be a knock at the door, an old friend. He will come with a loaf of hot bread under his arm, which you will tear pieces from with tingling hands. You will lean against the kitchen counter and talk about how quickly this year has gone by. He will check on the soup for you, and season it, and ask where you keep your fine china.
When the soup is ready, the whole house will be fragrant, and nearly all of the bread will be gone. You will tear the remaining piece in half and ladle the soup into porcelain bowls, licking a drop that lands on your thumb. Your friend will tell you a story about an island he once traveled to that was covered in fruit trees. "We could go there together," he offers. "There's plenty of time." It's past midnight when you finish your meal. Your guest has to leave, and so you change into your pajamas, and wash the makeup off your face, and pour the rest of the soup into tupperware to stack in the freezer. This way the soup will keep until you need it, even if that is years from now.
...because I've been wanting to offer prints of my photos for a while now, but I would be crazy to even consider opening up another shop. Thanks to Ez's post, though, I realized that there's a perfect solution, and it's called Society6. They produce and ship products on behalf of the artist, so (ta-da!) I now have a handful of prints available for purchase. (And iPhone cases too, how cool is that?) If you've been looking for a way to sell your own photos or illustrations or designs, definitely check out their site.
I'm guessing that many of you have made homemade granola. (I'd love to hear your favorite add-ins.) Me? I've been meaning to do it for years, but yesterday was the first time I actually got around to it. Here's my recipe...
Cranberry Date Granola (about 10-12 servings)
granola base from Chow
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. chopped dates
Preheat your oven to 300˚F. In a large bowl, combine oats, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, combine honey, canola oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. It's more effective and fun to do this part with your hands.
Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes. Remove from oven when the granola is light to medium golden brown. (Remember: it will still harden more as it cools.) Careful not to let it get too dark – it will taste burnt!
When the granola is completely cool, break it up and mix in the cranberries and chopped dates, then transfer to an airtight container and enjoy within two weeks.
p.s. for clumpier granola, try adding an egg white.
Listen to this story here:
The thing that drives Zeek the craziest about his mother is that she's always talking to everyone. It doesn't matter if they're in the supermarket, or at Powell Street Laundry, or in the waiting room at Dr. Pinsky's. His mother talks to anyone within earshot. She asks strangers where she can find a nice pair of boots like theirs, or informs them about how bad the traffic was on the drive in, or tells them some humdrum anecdote from her past. When she runs out of the truth, she moves into the imaginative parts of her mind. "I was in the paper once," she might say. "Got my picture taken and everything!" And hearing this, Zeek blushes and pulls on his mother's sweatshirt, whispering, Mom, Mom, stop please.
Other times, he can't stop her, like when he's sitting slumped outside of the womens' dressing room at Clark's, and his mother is telling the dressing room attendant about the diet she's been on for weeks and weeks, though in truth they've had hot fudge sundaes for the last three evenings in a row. There is even still a chocolate stain on the front of Zeek's shirt in the shape of a fox. But his mother is saying, "You get used it, after a while, all the calorie counting," while zipping up the floor length evening gown that she'd carried so happily into the dressing room.
"You must have a special event coming up, I imagine," says the attendant.
"You won't believe this," Zeek's mother says, "But I won tickets to a movie premiere. Hollywood! Here I'm in my forties, and I've never been. But with this dress... it's alright if my son comes in for a second, isn't it? Zeek, honey, come tell me what you think." And though he doesn't want to, he goes in. It feels like stepping through into another world, like being caught in some large, soft web. He sees her standing in front of a three-way mirror at the end of the narrow hallway, blue sequins shimmering all over. Her face is lit up, her cheeks rosy.
"Excited to go on your trip?" the attendant asks him.
"Trip?" he asks, and then, "Oh, right. The premiere." The attendant is still looking at him, smiling, waiting. "I can't wait," he forces himself to say, and for the first time in his life, he feels the thrill of the lie. It unfolds. It beckons him. You can say anything you like, it promises. Anything at all.
Judith called his name for what felt like forever, and when he finally took notice, he couldn't believe it had taken him that long, considering the unmistakable way she drew out the a in his name like no one else did. "You finally heard me," she said, running to him, "Hi, James. Can you believe it? Running into me here?" She was panting for air, but smiling in that big way she always had. Ten years hadn't done a thing to her smile or her eyes. After she hugged him – during which he felt his face flush a little, having a sudden flashback to a dark booming gymnasium, slow dancing with her, her body warm – he asked what she was doing here. A conference, she said. Was she here long? No, just a few hours more. Her flight back to Colorado left that afternoon.
As she spoke, he moved his grocery bag behind his legs, obscured from her view. He hadn't really thought about it, until he parted from her and realized that the baby food jars were sitting at the top of the bag, and he also hadn't, somehow, really gotten around to telling her much about his life these days. He had even kissed her on the cheek before they said goodbye, a detail, of course, he would omit when he was at home that evening telling Cecile about running into his old high school girlfriend. At the end of his story, Cecile only responded by holding up one of the tiny orange jars and saying, "You bought squash. James, you know she doesn't like squash." And for a moment, he thought that Cecile meant that Judith didn't like squash, and he laughed, and then the baby laughed, and Cecile sighed and put the little jar back in the bag.
"Well, maybe one day she will," he said, and looked over at the baby.
"And she doesn't like peas, either," Cecile said, holding up another jar.
"Just hold onto them," he said. "She could soon change her mind."
A little shop update: two cookbooks! The first is Small Sweet Treats, full of all kinds of sweet recipes, and the second is Tart Love, a guide to savory and sweet tart making. Both are beautiful books (Tart Love was photographed by the very talented Helene Dujardin) and I want to make every single recipe in them. Yum.
We have this one kitchen cabinet that I always dread opening because it's such a mess. Anything that I buy in bulk gets tossed into this cabinet, along with packages of crackers and chocolate bars and so on and so forth. I finally just couldn't take it anymore and invested in a couple dozen wide mouth mason jars (in both pint and quart sizes) and did away with all those saggy plastic bags and half-empty boxes. Now everything looks and functions so much better; it only takes me a moment to find those lentils, oats, basmati rice, popcorn kernels, panko crumbs, or even marshmallows. (Every pantry needs marshmallows, in case of late night s'more emergencies.)
Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
I welcomed September by pulling out my measuring cups and looking for a new recipe to try. This plum skillet cake caught my eye right away – it's baked in a cast-iron skillet, which I love the weight and simplicity of, and it gives the cake such a beautiful chewy crust. (I have a 9-inch pre-seasoned skillet.) Since the cake isn't overly sweet, it would be perfect for brunch or a mid-afternoon snack, especially enjoyed with a hot mug of tea.
Plum Skillet Cake (serves 4-6)
recipe from Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a cast-iron skillet (8" or 9" works best), dust with flour, then tap out excess. (You can also use a regular baking pan, but the baking time may change.)
Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and 3/4 cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg. Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk.
Pour batter into prepared skillet, and smooth top with a spatula. Fan plums on top, and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly.
We lived in a house by the sea. Nobody there had seen a family quite like ours before; we had hair the color of fire, and we were so rosy skinned, and so tall. We had to duck under the doorways of our neighbors. "Twins!" people would say. "We thought that was just a myth."
But the Colliers – a retired couple, who had never gotten around to having any children – didn't act surprised. Maybe they had originally come from somewhere else. They had a little thickness in their voices, after all. In their pale yellow kitchen, Mrs. Collier pressed pastry dough into tart shells while we eagerly watched over her shoulder. She let us pour the filling in, then we sat at the dining table until they were ready. "Won't Mr. Collier want some?" we asked as we dug our forks in, but Mrs. Collier shook her head. She said he didn't care for sweets, and besides, right now he was in the woods behind their house, harvesting firewood and hunting rabbits for dinner.
"Oh," we said.
"Hundreds of them out there," she said. "Mr. Collier could bring you along next time, if you'd like."
Our mother had taught us to accept invitations, even when we didn't want to, and so we went with him the following Saturday. We linked our arms together, my twin and I, and we followed Mr. Collier at a cautious distance. "Let's turn back," we whispered to each other, shivering, but then we came to a clearing.
"There!" Mr. Collier said. "You see?" But we didn't see any rabbits. All we saw were stones upon stones, all smooth and gray and speckled with mica. Mr. Collier picked one up, and held it against his chest. He was smiling. We brought the stone back to the house, and then we politely said that we had to be home for dinner.
They watched us go, waving from the doorway. And the next day, they were gone. No house, no trace of the winding driveway, not a crumb. This is what we remember most from our time by the sea, when we were most awake, when we were so young.
Today marks three years since I launched my jewelry collection, and I have a new necklace in the shop made especially for the occasion. It's called just the beginning, designed with three frosted glass beads... and to celebrate, I'm giving one away! To enter, leave a comment below. International readers are welcome to enter. For up to 2 additional entries, tweet and/or blog about the giveaway, then leave a comment with a link to your tweet/post. A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the day on August 31st.
Update: Milynn is the winner. Thank you for your comments, everyone!
I'm also having a 20% off sale now through August 31st. Just use the coupon code "THREE" during checkout (click "apply shop coupon code" first). There's lots in the shop, so go take a peek!
And thank you so much for all your ongoing support – it means the world to me.
Two photos: passing by lavender while on a walk, and taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island.
p.s. thank you for all your sweet birthday wishes!