Jan 30, 2007

Diana is Still Missing

The Philadelphia Inquirer is still gushing about the city's visit from Prince Charles and Camilla over the weekend. I must say it did seem a bit incongruous for them to be wandering around among the life-size statues of signers of the Declaration of Independence, not the least bit on their guard. We certainly have managed to get over our little spat with the British, as Philadelphians waited in line to spot the royals, take pictures, and shake hands.

I wasn't one of them. Now if Princess Di were still alive, I would have. If Princess Di were still married to Charles, that is. Or, better yet, Princess Di without Charles would have been fine. I confess, I still have my copy of Royal Wedding, by Kathryn Spink. It's one of those coffee table books full of glossy but poor-quality papparazzi shots, along with professional portraits by Lord Snowdon, archive photos, whatever. It's filled with fulsome praise that no one reads. A thrown-together opportunistic souvenir book that made lots of money. The lovely couple prancing in the woods at Balmoral. The dashing bachelor prince looking at the breasts of an African dancer. (Yes, really.) The virginal "Shy Di" before she had an inkling of her destiny as princess, live or dead; mother of two princes; wife, or bitter divorcee. And Diana, Prince Charles at her side as an accessory, wearing The Gown.

At the age of 22, I followed Diana and Charles' courtship with great interest. I watched their wedding live, along with my roommate, on our 13-inch black and white TV. Such a beautiful fairy tale, indeed. And how fleeting. The bulimia, the affairs, the divorce, the recriminations. When she was killed, I was stricken. I had been watching her become her own person, and was looking forward with a great deal of curiosity to see what she would make of herself, what her legacy would turn out to be. And--I'll say it--what fabulous clothes she would wear.

But that was it. There was to be no more. I watched her funeral, live, for hours, with lots of tissues on hand. I can't entirely explain what Diana represents to me, but after watching her wedding with such dedication, it seemed only right to watch her funeral.

At the funeral, a choir sang the hymn that borrows the melody from Holst's "Jupiter" (from The Planets). It had also been sung at the royal wedding. I had always found the melody achingly beautiful, so much so that John and I had a harpist and violinist play it at our wedding, two months before Diana's death. ("The harpist asked us, "Why don't you want Pachelbel's Canon like everyone else?") Strangely, John and the rest of the choir sang that same hymn on Sunday at our church, the day that Charles and his new wife left Philadelphia.

Jan 26, 2007

Notes from the Dream Kitchen

For a second I'll peep out from under an avalanche of self-imposed work to say an unlikely thing, "Thank you, junky entertainment center for kids with the big ugly mouse!" Because tomorrow I'll take Will to a birthday party there and work on my MFA application. One of my references wants to see my application essay before she writes the letter, which is understandable, but that means I need to write the thing. I have scraped together just over 25 pages of manuscript to send in, flotsam and jetsam from the past seven years. I fixed a lot of inconsistencies in "Hawaiian Delight," and need to work on "Blind" and a few more pieces.

I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about whether I should be doing this. It's a chunk of change, but truly the best way for me to get direction for my writing. And, really, I want to have a good portion of a book started by my 50th birthday. As I mentioned before, it's a low-residency MFA, which will be the easiest, and it's only creative nonfiction. I've already been to a conference at this college, back when I was pregnant with Jack, and I knew, This is What I Want to Do. So two kids, one relocation, and a few gray hairs later, I hope to be back. I've ordered the transcripts, so it's really just asking for recommendations, editing my ms. and writing the essay. In other words, almost everything. The deadline is Feb. 23. Oh, and the other thing? Is that if I have an MFA I could teach creative nonfiction, which I may want to do, just possibly.

Here are some completely undeveloped notions about what I want to write about, not in any particular order

--a food memoir, using my grandmother's, my mother's, and my favorite recipes as focal points (like "Hawaiian Delight" only I hope not as sappy).

--a nonpreachy book about home cooking as a practice that liberates you from the "corporate takeover of your larder," as Jean Zimmerman calls it in Made from Scratch: Rediscovering the Pleasures of the American Hearth. Why do American watch so many cooking shows and yet have "no time" to cook? Because they're watching cooking shows? Why do we "need" huge fancy kitchens but eat out more than any time in history? No, really. Why? I'm going to find out. And what happened to dinner parties, anyway?

--a book of essays about the Reading Terminal Market. Not a history of the market, as David O'Neil, the former manager, already did, but a portrait of it. Stories about the life of the market. Maybe a year at the market, season by season, New Year's to New Year's. This would hit a lot of the topics above, of course, and give me a structure to hang them on.

By the way, Nora Ephron is going to write and direct a movie based on Julie Powell's book Julie & Julia, which I wrote about in this blog several months ago. She is probably the perfect person to do it.

Jan 20, 2007

The Train Schedule Fairy

Our boys are now very interested in the Regional Rail timetables and stops. They have now memorized the stops on the R3, the Media-Elwyn line, and are learning the R2 stops. Every day or so the Train Schedule Fairy leaves a new schedule lying about the house somewhere. Yesterday it was the R5.

Oh, and I'm pulling together an application for a low-residency creative nonfiction MFA program . . . . That is partly why I haven't been hanging around the blog that much lately. Also I have two deadlines on Monday, a review of Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, for my friend Robin's online magazine, and an article for Will's Montessori's parents newsletter. I actually get paid for the latter. If my review of Ephron book is decent, then I'll post it here. dear friends.

Oh. Here's a scene from Macy's this morning: I was in the shoe department, looking for some flat black shoes. And for some flat black boots. Will was with me, and he picked up every glittery pair of high-heeled strap shoes for me to try on. And he would shout over to me, "Wear these! You won't look like my mom!"

Jan 9, 2007

Inchworm in the Winter Sun

On Saturday we had unusually warm weather. I let Will wear a T-shirt and shorts for our walk to the bank and grocery store. We had a lovely time, as the sun radiated good cheer. Will found a gumball from the sweetgum tree in our neighbor's yard, and put it in his pocket.

One of the tellers at the bank asked the lady in front of me if the little boy wanted a lollipop. She looked puzzled and said, "Oh, he isn't MINE!" We all laughed at the confusion and the teller asked me the same question, and I said, "No thanks." Will missed the exchange because he was too busy snapping those rope things that keep the the patrons in an orderly line. The last time I did my banking with Will there was a box of doughnut holes just sitting out for anyone to take. Will immediately availed himself of several before I even had a chance to notice. (His Grammy was supposed to be watching, but I think she snaffled down a couple, too.) You have to watch these branch banks and their attempts to foist sugar on you.

On the way to the grocery store, we stopped in a shop called "The Head Nut," which, because of the name, I had never even been tempted to enter. I had always thought of the store as "The Head Nut," when it's actually "The Head Nut." Because the store sells a lotta nuts, is why, not because it's a head shop, which I really didn't think it was, but in the back of my mind I guess I had felt obscurely confused. We didn't buy any nuts, but I did buy one ounce of ground coriander for 29 cents and a tube of tomato paste. A tube is what tomato paste should always be sold in, not a can. You never use the whole can, so you freeze the rest of it in a little bag, and in two years you throw it out because you don't know what is. O, but the life of most canned tomato paste is a long cold waste indeed.

We then proceeded to the grocery store, where we bought two cartons of milk We rested at a table outside the grocery store before walking back, this time lugging milk in a brown paper bag. This was actually enjoyable, walking a distance and carrying things. We need to do this more often. Shifting the weight now and then, I thought of my carless pre-internet days in the city, when what I bought was limited to what I could carry, a time when weather and the fit of my shoes were paramount to everyday life.

Will exclaimed, "A worm! Look!", but it was a twig. In the next block we did get to see our worm, its shiny gray body contracting and expanding in waves as it progressed purposefully across the sunny sidewalk. For a worm, it was rushing. I set the groceries down and we watched it. Finally it stopped and rested when it reached the end, no doubt relieved to be near grass and farther from the specter of frying in the sun.

Will found another gumball by the same tree on the way back, and he put it in his other pocket. And so, satisfied with the fruits of our walk and warmed by the sun, we arrived home. But this doesn't mean Will accepts this weather. No. He has had me read The Snowglobe Family to him a half dozen times. He wore his snowboots down to breakfast on Sunday. He! Wants! Snow!

Jan 3, 2007

A Thingue about Meringue

You have to admire egg whites. I mean there they are, looking like snot run amok, until you beat them mercilessly and they attain their full glossy glory. If you add sugar, cocoa powder, and yes, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, you've got Nigella Lawson's recipe for "Gooey Chocolate Stack" well under way, my friend. The egg whites will transform into three lovely meringues (or orangutans, as Will called them).

As for the six yolks that have been divorced from their whites, you beat those (with less dramatic results) with cream, sugar, and milk, and add melted bittersweet chocolate and vanilla and you've begun creating the chocolate creme de patissiere to dollop over the big flat meringues. Like Nigella says, chocolate heaven. I brought this to a New Year's brunch and it was devoured. Even though Jack and Will say they like Hershey's chocolate better than the Scharffenberger's I used, they had no objections to eating this rather adult confection. I found a copy of the recipe here, with no attribution. It's from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, p. 185. I couldn't find pistachios so I sprinkled slivers of honey roasted almonds over the top. If I ever find candied violets, I'd like to use those. I am in love with just the idea of candied violets.

Oh, if you make this? Please be advised that Nigella may be a relaxed cook but when she says to make the meringues eight inches across, she means eight inches. So don't make them nine. Because then the meringues will be too thin and the chocolate creme will absorb them. And also? Please do assemble this layered creation just a few minutes before eating, because, again, the absorption situation. The meringues must be crisply separate and distinct from the creme for maximal mouth feel. (Why am I talking like this?)

We don't eat meringues so much in the U.S. and I don't know why. They are often called pavlovas in Britain and Australia and have a fruit sauce. Nigella's word for the meringues in this recipe is "gungy," British slang for, well, pretty much exactly what the inside of a meringue is like. On this side of the pond we have no slingue to describe meringue. Our loss.