Mining the Ricotta Vein

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The guests were gone and there was a lot of cake left.  The baby shower was lovely, but it was a lot — a lot of food, a lot of people, a lot of set up and clean up, a lot of cute onesies and receiving blankets and stuffed monkeys. 

Once people had left, a few of us stayed and picked up used paper plates and cups half full of wine or juice, broke down tables and did the dishes.  I collected all the big lavender balloons and popped them, before Kate, Adrienne’s good friend who hosted the shower at her house, went to get her dogs and bring them home.  As the tight balloons popped, shreds of lavender stuck to the walls and my dress.  Carrie, Adrienne’s mother-in-law who’d organized the shower, ordered the food, helped develop the guest list and planned the decorations and activities with Kate, finished packaging up all the leftovers, and left.

Finally, it was quiet.  Adrienne, Kate and I looked at the big slab of cake still sitting on the kitchen table. 

“I’m not going to eat that cake,” Kate said.  Adrienne has gotten more gluten intolerant with her pregnancy, and hadn’t even tasted the cake.  I eat very few sweets, generally avoid refined wheat products, and had already had some of the cake, which made me feel sick.  Kate had eaten a piece earlier too, and we agreed the highlight was the cannoli filling  — sweetened ricotta, laced with cinnamon, running through the cake between the top and middle layers.

“Let’s mine the ricotta vein,” I said.  Kate and Adrienne and I looked at each other, grabbed forks, and got to it.  I cut big pieces off the slab with the cake knife, the handle smeared with frosting which then coated my hand.  Adrienne, Kate and I all broke apart the layers of cake and scooped out the ricotta filling.  I sliced off another big piece, and we again ate the ricotta.  And another.  Once again.  We laughed and ate and felt like we were breaking some rule, but all we were doing was not eating cake, piling discarded pastry into a miniature dessert dump. 

We were eating our delight, and forgetting about the rest.

Country Weekend

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“I’ve been practicing Noel Coward quips all week,” David said as he, Mackenzie, Daisy and I drove west on the Mass Pike.  “I’m going to be a country weekend house guest!”  We were on our way to spend a  weekend at Daisy’s Dad and his girlfriend’s country house, in the Berkshires.  They’re from Manhattan.  We’re from the country.  We spend a lot of weekends in the country, but not in the country house of a New York couple.  We have people come spend country weekends in our house.

As soon as we arrived, Daisy’s Dad came out to greet us.  Dad’s girlfriend came to the door, then out onto the brick walkway, lined with boxwoods and hydrangeas.  There behind them was the house, a country dream.  An antique colonial, the house sat with an aged authority on its patch of meadow.  We went in to examine and admire the original plaster and paint on the walls and woodwork, the artfully hung art, the fireplaces and mantles with age softened colors, and windows with glass so authentically old and rippled none of the windows open in the main part of the house.  The former owners who restored the house didn’t want to risk breaking any of the old glass by making the windows functional.

The “new room” was built from old carriage sheds that formed an ell at the back of the house.  At the end of the room, on either side of the fireplace, were full wall windows.  The seed heads of ornamental grasses flagged in the wind just outside the glass, with a meadow beyond the garden, then trees and then the line of one mountain dipping into the next drawing the horizon.  A living masterpiece. 

Sunday morning we got up to coffee and the NY Times at the thick, wooden kitchen table.  David and I went for a walk, past the dairy farm next door, down the slope of a field to the winding river, the mountains darkening as rain spit in fits.  Then a rainbow arched over the clouds ahead and disappeared into the blue-black clouds to the west.  We talked about children and parents, love and loss, ambition and expectation, and the tangled twist of family we’ve found ourselves in, moving together through a meet the parents weekend without a full set of parents among us.  Yet there is no tangle, just simple threads of love and connection and a weekend built around talking, looking at books of poetry and art, and eating together. 

Daisy has been learning the art of bread baking and brought a cinnamon loaf and the dough for baguettes.  Saturday night, before dinner, Daisy baked the baguettes.  They came out with a perfectly crisp and chewy crust and smooth and light on the inside.  We gathered in the kitchen, artisan cheeses, a rose of roasted figs in a grape leaf and sliced pear on a platter, and broke bread together.  A blessing slipped through me and went out into the country air.

Al’s Gardens

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Today was the annual Deerfield Arts Tour.  Eighteen artists and craftspeople in Deerfield open their studios for the weekend, showing their painting, photography, custom furniture and woodworking, ceramics and jewelry.  Last year David and I only got to two of the studios, my friends Kathy and Al.  I had talked about both Al and Kathy to David, as they’re both accomplished ceramic artists with unique styles, and I knew David would connect with their creative sensibilities. 

But last year it was a cold, dismal and rainy day so I didn’t get to show David Al’s garden.  Today was glorious — cloudless and crisp.   We drove under yellow and orange maples and russet oaks along the half mile woods road Al built to get back far enough into the woods to create his home.  Along the road are occassional ceramic houses and tiny castles that Al crafted, sitting atop granite outcroppings as the road twists and climbs up to his open land.  Decades ago Al cleared these acres, creating fields that ripple over the hummocked landscape.  He’s built two houses (the first one burned), a studio, numerous sheds, and now has a large kiln building.

But most spectacular is his garden.  With hand stacked stone walls reminiscent of the high walls in Wales, arches built from curved tree limbs and woven branch trellises, walking by and through Al’s garden is a delight.  Form, function, variety, and the obvious hand of long attention and eye for composition makes Al’s garden, yard, terraced walkways and plantings of trees a whole piece of art in itself.

“This is a life I didn’t live,” David said as we walked up towards the walled vegetable and flower garden.  When we arrived, David had stood on the slight rise where the cars were parked, looking over the expanse of slope down to the stone walls and then up to the house on a higher hill.  A maple tree was screaming red against the blue sky.  “This is what staying in one place can create.”

We opened the gate in the stone wall and walked along the central path of the garden.  A trellis heavy with grape vines created a green tunnel, led into the open, and then under the curved arch entrance on the other side.  We walked up the hill to the studio to find Al and look at his ceramics.  When Al saw me I got a big smile and a bigger hug.  Then he turned to David.  “You’re still together?” he said, smiling more.  “I’ve been wondering all year.”

“Yes,” I said, “and you?” 

“My David is downstairs,” he said and now I was smiling.  Last year when David and I arrived I introduced the two of them and Al said, “I have a David too, he just left.”  Al and his David had just met weeks before, and Al was obviously happy to have a partner again.  Like me.

Today we all went out in the yard behind the studio so Al could show us the path to the high ridge on his land that looks down on his pond.  The shade was cool, the sun warm.  Al told us about the trip he and his David are taking in two weeks to Spain.  I stood in the sun, running my hand along the curved and twisted rim of a three foot clay vessel standing on a stump.  It had rain water in the bottom, colored leaves floating on the surface. 

Art, sun, leaves, another year of love and a life in a garden.  It was a good afternoon.  We bought two mugs for our morning capuccinno.


“That meeting was so ridiculous,” Jill said, coming in late and heading straight for the bathroom. “We spent so much time talking about whether we were on the motion or the amendment to the vote on the motion and other stupid minutiae of the process instead of the issues themselves. We couldn’t get anything done. It’s those Rigley’s or Riley’s Rules or whatever.” She was standing in the bathroom doorway.

“It’s Robert’s Rules of Order,” Jen and I said, at the same time, laughing, which we do a lot of when the three of us are together.

Jill shut the door and called out to us as she peed. “I’m upset that you both knew the right name of those Rules and I didn’t.”

“It’s just all the boards we’ve been on,” Jen said, still laughing.

Jill came out of the bathroom and stood next to the couch. “Okay, I’m going to write a book.  Robert Sucks, Rockey Rules: How to Get Shit Done.”

If you know my girlfriends, you’ll get the joke and you know we get shit done.