Fleur-de-SmartCookie

ice-roseThe thing about baristas, as my dad would have said, is they are smart cookies. Or biscotti. Or scones.

What I mean is, baristas are the type of people you’d like to invite to sit down at your table to sip a small Chai Latte with skim and chat away the morning.

I was sitting and sipping at Café Lemont, alone at Evan’s table (he had already left for the morning so I snagged it), when I caught a snippet of Aine’s conversation with another customer between belches and blasts of the Nuovo Simonelli espresso machine. “Love it…her mother had Alzheimer’s…the stories she tells…my favorite book…”

I tried to catch a name or title but the pre-holiday rush of caffeine seekers, punctuated by jets of steamed milk and the shuffle of the cash drawer, made that impossible.

I had been feeling really down. My mother. The situation. The way the holidays turn dementia into delirium and back again, an emotional kaleidoscope of nonsense and frustration and more nonsense. I needed something, so I threw out a life buoy.

Returning my mug to the clear-your-table wash bin, I stuck my head behind the counter and whispered:

“Aine, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but what book were you talking about?”

“The Near, I mean, The Faraway Nearby.”

Can you repeat that?

“The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.”eves-eve

I’ll never remember that, I mumbled to myself. I wrote it down and went to Barnes & Noble. The store didn’t have it in stock. I went to Schlow Centre Region Library. Not in their inventory, but available through an Interlibrary Loan. A few weeks later I got an email saying the book arrived in State College for pickup, on loan from Lebanon Valley College.

I spent the next few nights dog-earing pages, lightly marking paragraphs or sentences with pencil stars, underlines, or brackets—to be erased before returning. I was like a hungry hummingbird, sliding out that long tongue and curling it around the sweet, life-giving nectar. A book can be a workout. That’s how I found The Faraway Nearby.

For example, Solnit might start with a simple declaration. Then she draws parallels and intersections, and circumnavigates the subject, looking at it from a half-dozen viewpoints. It is exhausting. One minute she’s writing about Frankenstein and the apricots on the tree in her mother’s backyard, next she’s musing on The Snow Queen or the birth of an island off the coast of Iceland in the 1960s (yes, Iceland keeps popping into my life), and miraculously she bundles them into a coherent theme or revelation.

I read it simultaneously with Gypsying After 40 (a how-to on adventuring). I’ve got to believe the combination was serendipity: a search for getting through each day and a quest for what to do after—simple threads spinning, unraveling, and maybe weaving together again. Laurie Lynchsunset

Another Thing Learned From My Barista: “A-i-n-e is as Irish as you can get” and is pronounced “Awn-yah”.

Another Recommendation: A friend and I took my mom to the new musical La La Land. What a treat! It is edgy, yet nostalgic, with fabulous dancing and singing in the City of Stars.

Written on Slate: “Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds.” Rebecca Solnit

Apropos Slate Suggestion: My friend Terese gave me two boxes of slates from her old roof—and sent along a new quote. “I drink wine because my doctor says I shouldn’t keep things bottled up.”

Fleur-de-Package

“Wij kleden ze niet uit.”

It’s a Flemish saying that translates roughly as “We do not undress them” which, in the words of my favorite Ghent gent, means: “We pay a fair price for good produce.”

Only this time, it has a few other meanings.

A package notice arrived in our post office box the other day. If you’ve never been in the State College post office during Christmas season, let me take a moment to describe the scene. It’s not unusual to have 20 box-laden customers waiting in a line in the main section of the post office with one or two holding the glass door open to the postal box lobby to cram another dozen or so customers into the snaking line. And it’s 4:50 p.m., 10 minutes to closing. There are only two clerks working. Then a third appears and shouts, “Anyone here for a pickup?”

My lucky day. I was able to jump to the head of the line for Clerk No. 3. I handed her my slip. A few minutes later, she returned with a battered and tattered heap. Originally, it was a cardboard box about the size of two shoeboxes. But it had been slit and crushed and ripped and slashed to nakedness. Then, it was wrapped with clear plastic tape. Then twined with plastic cord and wrapped again with Shrink Wrap. Before Clerk No. 3 would hand it over, I had to sign an orange notice.

Apparently customs clerks on both sides of the Atlantic have a motto that’s quite contrary: “We do undress them,” rifling through the birthday-Christmas package for my mom and me from our Belgian family.gifts

If customs officers were expecting contraband, it must have been a disappointment. From Richard, there were Belgian melt-in-your-mouth chocolates and a smorgasbord of regional/European, edible delights such as canned Belgian “faux gras”, a tin of Portuguese sardines, and a package of Icelandic sea salt flakes. There was also a special treat from my rascally granddaughter Lais: Jimini’s Crickets. From Marina and Koen, a Naaktkalender. Now, you don’t need to know Flemish to figure that one, just pronounce each letter out loud—N-aa-k-t (naked) k-a-l-e-n-d-e-r (calendar).

The package was a gift of years and Christmases past, present, and to come.

The snack packet of pepper and dried tomato crickets brought back memories of this year’s visit to Penn State’s Great Insect Fair…and stirred up desires of looking forward to introducing my granddaughter to the wonders of nature. The company motto at Jimini’s is Think Bigger, Eat Smaller. Check out their products at www.jiminis.com (text available in English and French.) Jimini’s began in October 2012 with an idea, followed by crowd funding. Insect snacks were sold in France the following year and reached supermarkets in Belgium by 2014. All insects used in Jimini’s products are raised in Europe, and the snacks and energy bars are manufactured south of Paris. There are lots of sustainability reasons to intentionally include insects in our diet in the coming years, and, a few nutritional surprises. Crickets, for example, contain twice as much iron as spinach!

Faux Gras de Gaia (www.fauxgras.be —available in French and Dutch) is an animal friendly pate made of mushrooms, champagne, aromatics such as coriander, cinnamon, and cloves, and other organic ingredients. The product information says 200,000 ducks in Belgium are caged and force-fed until their livers swell 10 times their normal size to provide the country’s appetite for foie gras. For me, this gift recalls our first Christmas in Belgium with Marina’s au pair family: Christmas Eve dinner, Liege-style, with foie gras and champagne and midnight Mass in French. Directions say to refrigerate the pate before serving. The faux gras will be cut it into bite-size pieces and then each is placed on a slice of toast, for a single bite. My Chocolate & Zucchini blog guru, Clotilde Dusoulier, instructs that foie gras should never be “spread” on toast, a foie gras and Faux Gras faux pas.

The tin of Rio Azul sardines in olive oil from Setubal, Portugal, brought an immediate smile to my face. I recalled my travels in 2016, picnic lunching on sardines with good Portuguese bread and cheese, gazing at monoliths, cork trees, and beachside cliffs. The people of Setubal (south of Lisbon) have been preserving fish since Roman times. You can order your own at www.rioazul.pt (Website available in English, etc.)

The sea salt may be a gift of future travels, but how did Richard know? I’ve been daydreaming of visiting Iceland for years, prompted by a book I read on Icelandic ponies (A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse by Nancy Marie Brown). This fantasy raised its head once again just this month, listening to a friend’s tale of watching school children in Iceland save baby puffins. Infant puffins, it seems, fall out of their cliff nests with regularity, and students go on field trips to pick up the birds and return them to their nests. The beauty of Mother Nature is that puffin moms don’t care which baby is returned to which nest—they mother whoever ends up in their nest. On second thought, Richard probably just remembered my mom’s salt mill was getting low… Nordur Sea Salt Flakes are blended with handpicked Arctic rhubarb in Karlsey, Iceland, where sea salt has been harvested for 260 years. www.nordursalt.com

All of this discussion leads me to the coming year and the calendar from Marina and Koen, the Ghent food team (VZW Voedselteam) and the team’s motto: “Wij kleden ze niet uit.”

Apparently the food team farmers and food purveyors decided they would undress themselves. Most years they open their farms for tours or events, but this year they stripped off their overalls and work shirts to promote another form of transparency within their food system. The calendar idea struck a soft spot with me because I loved the 2003 British comedy Calendar Girls (starring my favorite Helen Mirren). Just this summer, I went to a local Boal Barn production of Calendar Girls in which a Master Gardener friend had a role. With the Naaktkalender hanging on my wall, it promises to be an interesting new year. Happy 2017. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Live each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” Henry David Thoreau

Fleur-de-Kabocha

A few weeks ago, Valerie wrote a comment about her favorite winter squash—kabocha—and I responded saying I didn’t know anything about it. Days later, I went to pick up my winter Plowshares. Eureka, kabocha!

Kabocha (pronounced kah BOH chah) is a dark green winter squash with splashes of orange, round and squat with a flattened top. Inside, hunter’s orange flesh surrounds a small seed cavity.

Botanically known as Cucurbita maxima, it is one of a family of winter squash that originated in South America. Like all winter squash, it is a powerhouse of vitamins A and C, with calcium, iron, and some vitamin B as well.

kabocha

Kabocha

Kabocha is drought tolerant and easy to grow in Pennsylvania. It is a warm season crop so it should be harvested before the first frost. To develop optimum flavor and texture after harvest, kabocha should be ripened for 13 days in a warm space, and then cured in cold storage for a month. Like all winter squash, it keeps for several weeks/months in cool, dry storage.

What I find fascinating is that the South American winter squash has a Japanese name. From what I’ve read, it was Portuguese sailors who introduced the squash to Japan in 1541. Centuries later, it is known throughout the Western World as Japanese pumpkin, and is intertwined in Asian foods and fable.

In Japan, they call it haku kabocha or “nutty pumpkin.” It is eaten around winter solstice (Dec. 21) with adzuki beans in a sweet soup believed to boost the immune system. The Japanese also serve it battered and fried with other tempura vegetables.

In the1980s, to keep up with the demand, the Japanese introduced kabocha to Tonga in an effort to create a cash crop. In the years since, kabocha has become Tonga’s primary export, the bulk of supply going to Japan and Korea. I must admit my ignorance, but I had no idea where Tonga was—I would have guessed somewhere in Africa. As I used to tease my kids, “I didn’t have Mr. Cottone for Geography,” so I had to look it up. Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of 169 islands, east of Australia in the South Pacific.

OK, so back to the kabocha sitting in my Central Pennsylvania kitchen. Kabocha can be roasted, steamed, pan-fried, baked, braised, pureed. It has a sweet, buttery texture and holds its shape well, so it can be added in cubes to risotto, soup, stew, curry or pasta.

Some sources suggest microwaving kabocha for a few minutes before cutting to soften its hard shell, but with newly sharpened knives I had no problem cutting, peeling and chopping it uncooked.

After days of enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I was ready for a change in taste, so this Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash recipe on Chowhound caught my eye. As usual, I made a few adjustments. If red chili paste isn’t a staple in your kitchen, it should be, along with unsweetened coconut milk.

Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash

1 T. vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

Salt to taste

2 red bell peppers, cut into strips

4 cloves garlic, minced

Peeled and chopped fresh ginger, 1”-2” piece

3 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste

1 can (13-14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk

½ cup water

1 Tbsp. tamari

1 medium kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tsp. lime juice

Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and salt, cook and stir until onion softens. Add peppers, garlic and ginger, stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add curry paste, stir for another minute. Then, add coconut milk, water, tamari, and bring to a simmer. Stir in squash, return to simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat, add fresh-squeezed lime juice, and salt to taste.

Serve over steamed rice.

As the winter solstice approaches, perhaps it’s time to chow down on kabocha. Laurie Lynch

Follow-Up: Watermelon radishes are fun for salads, but they’ve taken on a new role in our kitchen. They are nice for roasted vegetable dishes. The radishes slices retain their bright magenta color but don’t bleed like beets do. And, the taste is mild.

And S’More: In my last blog, I mentioned s’mores. I opened the mail this week and there was a birthday card from my sister Leslie for my mom and me (we share the same birthday). It is a photo of a Sandy-lookalike and two other dogs toasting marshmallows over a campfire. Open it up and out pops…

smore-card

Fleur-de-FiredUp

lots-of-firewood

Oven, grill & Wille

What I learned as a Thanksgiving sous chef…

Cooking with fire is no big deal. The Indians did it. The Pilgrims did it. Heck, what Girl Scout hasn’t made S’mores over a campfire? And, yes, barbecue grills use fire…but I’ve always left that to the men in my life (sorry, Gloria).

My Chef-phew Wille has baked pizzas in his Nonno’s pizza oven and wanted to pull a “Jamie O” (that’s Jamie Oliver, the Brit celeb-chef-restaurateur) by cooking our Thanksgiving turkey in a wood-fed, outdoor oven. In November. In State College, PA.

I suggested Wille arrive on Wednesday to make sure he had enough wood. I knew that Richard had cut and stacked a lot of wood for the Secret Garden campfire before he left for Belgium, but I didn’t know if any of it would fit in the pizza oven, or if it would be dry enough.

Well, he arrived at Nonna’s house after dark on Wednesday and we couldn’t find a functioning flashlight, even with a drawer full of D batteries. Not one to worry, Wille brined the 16-pound heritage turkey he bought from a Virginia pig farmer. He cut the wings, thighs and drumsticks off the bird and placed them in one pot; the body in a second pot. All of the turkey pieces were submerged in a brine mixture: Sea salt, water, Harner (Wille’s uncle’s orchard) apple cider, molasses, chili peppers, and “aromatics” which included thyme, shallots, garlic, fennel seeds, coriander, and lavender (more about that later.)

roasting-turkey-neckpumpkinacorn-squash

Turkey & pumpkin roasting

“Aromatics” is the foodie term for herbs, spices, and anything within easy reach of the kitchen stove or the herb garden.

I went to bed. The last thing I said that night: “If you need more room in the basement refrigerator, just put some of my seeds on the ironing board.” (I store my leftover and collected seeds in the downstairs Frigidaire.)

Thursday, 9 a.m.: I pushed the wheelbarrow and led Wille to the firewood stacks. We gathered a load and returned to the oven. The rain started. I found a plastic garbage bag to over the wheelbarrow and gave Chef-phew Wille some elbow room (and a pack of waterproof matches).

Don’t assume. Be clear. Later that morning, I asked Wille what he put in the brine. He gave me the rundown and said, “Your rosemary looks and smells a lot like lavender.”

“Well, they are similar.”

A few minutes later, I saw him out in my herb garden, picking off bits of the lavender plants. “That is lavender, Wille. The rosemary is in a strawberry pot, inside.”

jacobs-cattle

Jacob’s Cattle Beans

Outdoor roasting and grilling isn’t just for turkeys. Wille pushed the fire to the back of the oven, and in went the body of the turkey, along with an Amish neck pumpkin, a Rebersburg acorn squash, and a foil-wrapped package of my Picasso shallots, still in their skins, drizzled with olive oil.

Next, Wille asked for white wine and olive oil, and another large pan. He took the thighs, wings and drumsticks out of the brine mixture and quickly browned each piece in the olive oil and wine over the grill. Then he returned each piece to the brine pot, put the lid on, and braised it in the kitchen oven on low heat for several hours.

Nothing is out of bounds for the determined chef. The night before, when Wille put the brining pots in the basement refrigerator, he found a mason jar of white and maroon mottled Jacob’s Cattle Gasless Beans…and the wheels started turning.

Thanksgiving morning, “Hey, do you mind if I cook up those beautiful dry beans of yours?”

I didn’t tell him this, but I had forgotten about them. “Sure, but save me a handful to plant.”

The beans were soaked and boiled and cooked. Aromatics added. He grabbed a packet of pancetta that I dole out by the tablespoon and dumped the entire thing into a frying pan.

turnips-rosemary-honey-glaze

Turnips & Rosemary Honey Glaze

Improvisation knows no bounds. My mother, who had a gourmet kitchen shop for almost 30 years, has dozens of pots, pans, and cooking gadgets. One of the family treasures looks like a frying pan with a long handle—except that there are quarter-size holes punched into the bottom—perfect for roasting chestnuts. We had no chestnuts, but Wille grabbed it anyway, repurposing it. He tossed in a shredded Chinese cabbage and quick-cooked the slivers of cabbage over the grill, giving them a smoky flavor.

There are never enough pans when there is a chef in the kitchen. And that’s the primary reason for a sous chef—someone has to wash and dry all of the pans and utensils.

Simplicity is sweet. Wille sliced our Plowshare turnips, sautéed them in olive oil, with generous clippings of the real rosemary. To finish off the dish, he drizzled my Spring Mills floral honey over top creating Turnips with a Rosemary Honey Glaze.

And those Picasso shallots roasting in the pizza oven? After they cooled a bit, it was my job to squeeze them out of their skins so they could be stirred into the heirloom bean and pancetta dish, which turned out to be one of my favorites. Laurie Lynch

It Takes a Village: Wille’s mom Larissa brought family favorites: bowls of broccoli and corn. His brother Andre brought wine and two pumpkin pies, brother Nick brought a crockpot of mashed potatoes, and brother Leon brought beer and made several trips to the woodpile to feed the hungry fire. I made kale salad, cranberry chutney, an apple pie, and washed a lot of pots and pans.

Fleur-de-Plowshare

micah

Micah

In this season of Thanksgiving, Bethany and Micah are on my list.

Last September, our Master Gardener group took a tour of their Plowshare Produce in McAlevys Fort.

What we saw were rows and rows of some of the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen stretching over three acres. Micah showed us their hoop houses and fields. Nearby, sheep grazed on the rest of the farm. Bethany talked about how they met in Washington, D.C., she working as a farm and food advocate, he working in a soup kitchen. They spent two years in a farm apprenticeship and then decided to come back to her family’s 60-Acre farm in Huntingdon County to raise a family and farm the land.

They’ve had the CSA for eight years and the pleasure of being able to raise their two sons there while earning a living. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm sells seasonal shares, you pay upfront, they use the money to buy seeds and other supplies, and each week, or two, shareholders get a portion of the harvest.

Bethany showed us a sample of a share basket. As she was talking, toddler Daniel couldn’t resist. He grasped a Hakurei turnip in his tiny hand and took several bites. Then, he switched course and started on a red bell pepper. What an advertisement! Bethany smiled and didn’t skip a beat as she talked about the email newsletter they write, the seeding charts that enable them to grow a rotation of 50 types of vegetables, and their successes and failures in the field.

A few days later, I emailed Bethany and asked to be included on her email newsletter list, even though I wasn’t a member of the CSA. No problem, she said. So for several weeks I read about the boys splashing in Stone Creek, the steam that runs through their farm, looking for crayfish. She wrote about the abundance of the fields, bursting with goodness. Of Micah working into the evening light, growing weary from harvesting 50 bushels of frost-sweetened carrots. I got swept up in the poetry of the farm and rural living, and got a chuckle when she talked about the valley’s hard frost…”good riddance, galinsoga.” (Bethany and I share distain for the annual weed that torments vegetable gardens.)

The newsletter also shares how-to storage and prep tips for under utilized vegetables such as rutabaga and parsnip, and gives operating instructions for vegetables you have never tried, such as Watermelon Radishes. Bethany suggests peeling their skin, cutting them into thin round slices and then cutting the slices in half to see why they’re called watermelon radishes—they are bright magenta on the inside and pale green on the outside. And, she features several recipes. One I’m saving for next August is called Farmer Mike’s Zucchini Crabcakes.

Then, I got the issue featuring their Winter Share program. Every two weeks, from mid-November through January, they deliver their CSA produce to several locations, including a Mennonite church about two miles from our home. I’ve always avoided CSAs because I still grow so much in my garden throughout the season…but a winter share would be perfect for us when all I have in the ground are shallots and garlic buried under a blanket of leaves snoozing until spring, and a few pots of herbs.

plowshare-spread

Plowshare Swag

Ta-da-ta-da, our first Plowshare Produce cornucopia! I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of our Plowshare Food Pyramid—well, more of a swag, the rounded sides of turnips and beets and watermelon radishes don’t make for easy stacking…

Besides the wholesome goodness that filled two refrigerator vegetable bins and a cool storage area in the garage, we’re set for Thanksgiving. My chef-phew Wille is coming up from Washington, D.C., with a heritage turkey he plans to roast in Nonno’s outdoor pizza oven, and I just can’t wait to see what he does with our Plowshare. Happy Thanksgiving! Laurie Lynch

A Recipe for Now:

Beet Salad with Caramelized Onions and Feta

(from Mama’s Minutia)

4 cups boiled or roasted beets, cubed

2 large onions

3 oz. feta cheese

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

¾ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

5 tbsp. olive oil

While the beets are cooking, cut onions into thin slices, then quarter the stack of slices. Heat some olive oil and add onions, sprinkle with salt, and stir on medium high heat until they start to blacken. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 30 minutes until the onions are caramelized. Mix dressing ingredients from vinegar to oil, toss the beets with the dressing and sprinkle with the onions, feta and pine nuts.

harvest

Can you spot Chippy in the upper right? Look for a shiny black eye.

Stocking Up: My mother and I had a wonderful treat this week. A chipmunk was helping himself to the orange berries from an espaliered Pyracantha shrub above our deck. (He’s braver than I. There’s a reason Pyracantha’s common name is “firethorn” as I found out one year pruning it and ending up with a painful rash on my arms.) Anyway, this little guy was comical as he climbed the branches and stuffed his cheek pouches with berries. Sometimes he disappeared, probably stashing his harvest in his little den. Then he’d return for more and gobble them down right in front of our picture window.

chippyWritten on Slate: “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.” Erma Bombeck

Fleur-de-MartinSong

Several years ago I was telling Cousin Ruthie about a book Richard bought me, and how much I enjoyed it.

The real treasure, she said, is having a son who knows what his mother loves to read.

How true.

Before Richard returned to Belgium in July, he gave me George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice five-pack: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons.

I had heard of the Game of Thrones series on HBO, but had not watched it. From bits and pieces I’d read about the shows, the whole thing sounded too violent, too weird, like too many dungeons and dragons for me.

But here I was, with my little library, and an empty nest shared with my 87-year-old mother. I started the first book and I told Richard I was enjoying it, but thought I’d alternate each volume with a “normal” book.

“Oh no,” he said, “I think you should read them one right after the other.”

Well, one-third of the way through A Game of Thrones, I was hooked. There was no going back to “normal”.

During the Olympics, I heard a journalist refer to a fencing match as sword fighting and I thought to myself, she must be a Game of Thrones groupie too. In September, I began wondering if the coyote/fox a neighbor spotted was really a direwolf. And soon, I started hungering for a glass of wine and a little snack to accompany my bedside reading.

What do I love so much about the books? The characters. The suspense. George R.R. Martin’s writing. And, perhaps the biggest surprise of all, I am drawn in (to the books as well as the refrigerator) with his descriptions of food.

The food connection carries throughout all five books, but it wasn’t until I was devouring A Dance with Dragons that I started making notes.

Page 79: “They nibbled on spiced sausage that morning, washed down with a dark smokeberry brown. Jellied eels and Dornish reds filled their afternoon. Come evening there were sliced hams, boiled eggs, and roasted larks stuffed with garlic and onions, with pale ales and Myrish fire wines to help in their digestion.“

Well, anything stuffed with garlic and onions makes my mouth water, and a Myrish fire wine sounds perfect for sipping with the fowl in front of a stone hearth.

Page 542: “The Lord of White Harbor had furnished the food and drink. Black stout and yellow beer and wines red and gold and purple, brought up from the warm south on flat-bottomed ships and aged in his deep cellars. The wedding guests gorged on cod cakes and winter squash, hills of neeps and great round wheels of cheese, on smoking slabs of mutton and beef ribs charred almost black, and lastly on three great wedding pies as wide across as wagon wheels, their flaky crusts stuffed to bursting with carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms and chunks of seasoned pork swimming in a savory brown gravy.”

Neeps, it turns out, is a Scottish term for turnips…I never knew that. It’s more than coincidence that I started gathering turnips in my market bag along with sweet potatoes and carrots for roasting. And just imagine “pies as wide across as wagon wheels”—what a visual—even though they wouldn’t fit in my oven!winter-is-coming-newletter

Page 553: “The feast continued late into the night, presided over by the grinning skull on its pillar of black marble. Seven courses were served, in honor of the seven gods and the seven brothers of the Kingsguard. The soup was made with eggs and lemons, the long green peppers stuffed with cheese and onions. There were lamprey pies, capons glazed with honey, a whiskerfish from the bottom of the Greenblood that was so big it took four serving men to carry it to table. After that came a savory snake stew, chunks of seven different sorts of snake slow simmered with dragon peppers and blood oranges and a dash of venom to give it a good bite. The stew was fiery hot, Hotah knew, though he tasted none of it. Sherbet followed, to cool the tongue. For the sweet, each guest was served a skull of spun sugar. When the crust was broken, they found sweet custard inside with bits of plum and cherry.”

Wouldn’t that be the perfect Halloween spread? No feasting for me. I’m in withdrawal. Book No. 6 isn’t due out until 2017, and Winter is Coming. Happy reading. Happy eating. Laurie Lynch

Written on Blackwood Vale Slate: “Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend.” George R.R. Martin

 

Fleur-de-SandyTales

sandyOur dog Sandy is guilty. Guilty of robbing the ‘hood.

Just after midnight, I can hear his tail banging against my mother’s bed. His long, caramel-colored body starts doing a snake dance. It doesn’t matter if there is a full moon, a quarter moon, or no moon; he is raring to go.

Simply put, Sandy steals from the rich of bone and bauble, and gives to…himself. And us. He always shares his finds. As far as I know, he doesn’t bury them. He drops them with a clunk at the front door or smuggles them into the house, clenched in his jaws.

The stash of bones gathers in a corner beneath the stairs, or under the radiator, with the dust bunnies. We have a running joke that we never have to buy Sandy bones because, under the cover of darkness, he collects them from the neighbors’ dogs.

After one nighttime raid, about a year ago, I heard Sandy’s gentle scratch at the screen door. In he came. But what was that on the mat? A purple bottle of liqueur?

I brought the mysterious object inside, leaving it on the terrazzo floor. It looked like an upside-down purple mushroom, with the heft of a bowling ball. It was clearly no bottle of booze.

I went back to bed. My head on the pillow, the demons awoke. “Maybe it is an IED. What does IED stand for anyway? Improvised Explosive Device. It’s too big for a grenade. It could be an IED. I got up, walked down the hall, picked up the damn thing and put it outside again.

Daylight brings such clarity.

Turns out Sandy found a BusyBuddy, at least that’s what was imprinted on the surface. I typed b-u-s-y-b-u-d-d-y into my computer and found it is some kind of plastic dog toy. The owner hides treats inside to amuse the nose of the dog, even though the pooch can never reach the nugget without human help.4-pt

That weekend, Sandy’s puppy cousin Tulla came for a visit. Tulla took one look at the abandoned BusyBuddy and started knocking it around the wood floor. The BusyBuddy crashed into table legs and crushed bare toes as it was batted between Tulla’s paws. Long story short, the BusyBuddy went home with Tulla (named after an Irish whiskey named Tullamore Dew) to Connecticut.

I’ve known that Sandy is worth his weight in gold, trademark of the first name of his breed: Golden. It has taken a while, but it finally occurs to me that his thieving ways are also the result of nature, and his second name: Retriever. Laurie Lynch

pumpkin-displayFast forward to this week: Around midnight I heard Sandy’s familiar rumbling. I let him outside and took a snooze on the living room couch. There was a whine at the door. Sandy. With a gift. Just in time for Halloween. A deer skull, teeth intact, below a crown of antlers—a four-point rack. Another mystery to solve.

Fast forward to yesterday: I snapped a few photos and took my laptop to Café Lemont to bask in the sun, have lunch, and write this piece. I got home around 3 p.m. The skull and antlers were gone.