Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Year with Mrs. Appleyard - April

This month’s entry is purely whimsical - a story told to her by man who heard it from his cousin who knew a cousin of the man who cut down the overgrown forsythia bushes at the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, outside of Boston. Though she suspects it isn’t true, 
when she likes a story she never investigates it. 
Mrs. Appleyard loves forsythias, and 
wonders how people got along in the world before William Forsyth brought this flowering shrub from China. Without the yellow starred sprays that droop over walls, without the tangled thickets that catch the sunlight and hold it, without the patches that seem like sunshine itself on gray days, the time before the leaves come would be bleak indeed.
The forsythias of the story were “so old that they had grown into each other.” When the flowers went by, the leaves filled the branches, “thick enough to keep out rain and hot sun.” The man who passes along this tale said that when the bushes were cut down, they found a whole family of Italians living there. “My cousin says it was their summer cottage.”

Well, Mrs. Appleyard takes such a fancy to this notion that she begins to invent a whole life around this family, which she calls, fittingly enough, the Forsythia family. They lived in the North End of Boston the rest of the year, and settled in their forsythia ‘cave’ during the hot summer months. Some of them worked in the city, and would leave the Arboretum when the gates opened in the morning. Mr. Forsythia kept a fruit and vegetable shop, and 
Doubtless he would often bring home a bag of bananas or tomatoes. They would ripen splendidly in the pleasant twilight and even temperature of the cave.
They did their washing at the edge of the pond. The older son “that rising young stonemason” builds a fireplace upon which his mother “makes an especially succulent variety of spaghetti.” An older daughter worked in a beauty shop and brought home bread.
In fact, the whole thing was idyllic and Mrs. Appleyard thinks it was a great pity that the shrubs were ever cut down. However, they are responding to their pruning and perhaps in a few years …
And thus ends the April installment. What a lovely little children’s book this would make, with delightful illustrations of the Forsythia family and their home and activities. I was utterly enchanted.

You may read about the Arnold Arboretum here. And though this photo is not from the Arboretum, it gives me the feeling that a cozy home could be made underneath the tangle of branches.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


How do I explain why I love this 1980 movie so much? I must have seen it when it first came out, but since then I haven’t gone looking for it, or even remembered it particularly. But a while ago I watched it, and then watched it again, and again, and then finally bought the DVD. 

I think one of the reasons I love it is that the hero, Miles Kendig, played by Walter Matthau, is always in control. There is never a moment in the film when he is outsmarted or thwarted or in danger. Another reason the movie is so appealing is takes place in some beautiful locations - Salzburg, London, the English countryside, Savannah, and Munich.

Kendig is a savvy ex-CIA agent who decides to write his memoirs when the agency demotes him to an office job. He reconnects with an old girlfriend, played by Glenda Jackson. They have one of the best on-screen relationships ever. They really understand and deeply love one another. 

The movie is fast-paced and funny and relaxing because we know that Matthau will come out on top. Now that I have the DVD, I watch it as often as I like, and I never, ever tire of it. The cast is excellent, and Matthau’s son and step-daughter are also in the film which makes for a little extra fun. 

David Matthau, Herbert Lom, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston

Another treat is that Kendig is a Mozart fan so there is a lot of beautiful music. There’s a great deal of humor - some slapstick and some intellectual and I love it all. 

Here are a couple quotes from the movie that I found interesting. 

At one point there is a discussion about how many publishers are in London, and the answer was
A dozen or so major houses. Perhaps 30 or 40 small presses.
I wonder how many there are now. I’d guess a lot fewer.

And there's a funny line spoken by Isobel -
An American without ice in his drink is unthinkable, if not unconstitutional.
This is certainly true of all the Americans I know, but not this one. I never put ice in my cosmo. 

You may read a great review of Hopscotch here. And you may watch it on Hulu Plus.

If you buy the DVD, there is a wonderful conversation with the writer of the book, which won the Edgar Award in 1976, Brian Garfield and the director of the film Ronald Neame who says that Hopscotch "didn’t get very good reviews but it was tremendously popular."

Here is the trailer

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pictures of Bee-bim Bop

For this week’s Weekend Cooking

I thought I’d offer pictures my kids posted on Instagram of their versions of Bee-bim Bop, based on the children's book I wrote about here. The suppers were a huge success!



Friday, April 17, 2015

Clothesline revisited

Three years ago, almost to the day, I posted about my new clothesline. I didn’t keep it there too long. Turns out that the little walkway out to it between the lilac and honeysuckle wasn’t so much fun because of the giant rhubarb in the path. I could have transplanted it somewhere else, but decided it was easier to move the line.

So, Tom dug up the clothesline and put it out by the barn. It was a lovely spot, and served as a blog header picture last May. 

Today it was moved again to a place closer to the house. We could put it here because the old maple was cut down last fall, leaving a sun-drenched place just right for a clothesline. I couldn't be more pleased.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Judi Dench short movie

There's a wonderful 2011 short (about ten minutes) film on youtube called Friend Request Pending which stars Judi Dench. It is simply delightful. And here it is!

Saturday, April 11, 2015


I must say right at the beginning that I have never eaten an omelet. I’m a little funny with eggs. I like scrambled eggs cooked the Mary Poppins way. And I like some versions of egg salad, and I bake with eggs all the time, but there’s just something about them that makes me feel squeamish. Two of my favorite characters in children’s fiction are not fond of eggs. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona doesn’t like soft-boiled eggs ‘because she did not like slippery, slithery food.’  But while Ramona will eat deviled eggs (as I will sometimes), Russell Hoban’s Frances doesn’t like eggs in any form, and makes up little songs about them.
I do not like the way you slide,  I do not like your soft inside, I do not like you lots of ways, and I could do for many days without eggs.
Poached eggs on toast, why do you shiver with such a funny little quiver.
Frances says that
Sunny-side up eggs lie on the plate and look up at you in a funny way. And sunny-side down eggs just lie on their stomachs and wait.  … Scrambled eggs fall off the fork and roll under the table. 

In movies and books often an omelet is a romantic late-night meal shared by a couple. It may also be a Sunday brunch item cooked with lots of vegetables and cheese. An omelet is Tom’s go-to food. Just for fun last night I did a search on how to make an omelet. One of the results was this youtube video. I left Tom a note suggesting he might want to make one using this fellow’s method. Tom cooks his omelets quickly at a high temp, using two eggs, and while he has always enjoyed them, he did indeed try this slower method with three eggs, and he thought it was perfectly delicious. He made his with cheddar cheese, spinach, tomato, yellow pepper, and a little parsley. 

He was so pleased that I thought I’d share the video with any of you who are omelet fans, 

and use it as an offering for Weekend Cooking.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Article on Laurie Colwin written by her daughter Rosa Jurjevics

This was in the Barnes and Noble Review, here. If you've read my letters for a while, you know how fondly I feel toward Laurie Colwin. If not, just type her name into the search bar.

Looking for Laurie
Posted by Rosa Jurjevics  November 26, 2014

Editor’s NoteTo mark the publication of a new edition of Laurie Colwin’s classic works on food and life, Rosa Jurjevics looks back on her mother’s legacy, on and off the page.

Sometimes, all it takes is a glance. I’ll be on the train, or waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, or about to cross the street, and right thereright over there, is a tiny piece of my mother. It’s always a small something—a skin tone or a hairstyle, a striped shirt, those perfect teeth I’m lucky enough to have inherited—grafted onto the body or face of a stranger. Once it was a tiny, irregularly shaped gold-hoop earring on someone with a head full of chestnut brown curls that did it. I hung there as everything rushed by me at the same speed, tunnel vision locked on the unfamiliar woman who had no idea why the big-eyed weirdo was staring at her unflinchingly.

Shocked doesn’t quite describe how I am or how I feel after the sudden appearance of a mysterious not-my-mother; dumbfounded might be a better word, with longing a close second.

It’s strange to think that the last time I saw my mother (whom I will at times, out of habit these days,
refer to as Laurie) was more than 20 years ago. I was eight—a newly minted third grader with a beige plastic recorder, a fish tank full of neon tetras, and a matted blond ponytail trailing down my back. My biggest concerns then were: if my friend Julia and I were fighting or not, which Playmobil set I wanted for Christmas, and how I could get out of having to load the dishwasher. Little did I know…

Laurie’s death was the end of the line for us as mother and child, in most ways; in the ways that matter the most. No longer could we quarrel over what was going in my school lunch (“YES, Fruit Roll-Ups, Mom!”), or go for a walk around the neighborhood together (just because), or shop for my father’s birthday present (a tie, from Saks).

She didn’t get to see me graduate from high school or college; she didn’t have a chance to read the articles I wrote, watch the videos I made, or get a hand-drawn card from me in the mail. In turn, I don’t get to have her over for coffee (from the blue Hall teapot I would have begged off of her) at my apartment, call her up to ask how long I ought to bake chicken and at what temperature (45–55 minutes, 350 degrees in the oven I have now), or introduce her to a significant other (not that she’d have liked most of them).

It is hard to carry on a rapport of any kind with a person who is no longer alive— harder still when that person is your mother. But, though the idea is undoubtedly an odd one, there is still a relationship between us. As I would were she alive, I still get mad at her when I learn of something she did that angered another person, or left them hurting.

In antique stores, I consider which pattern of plate I would have bought for her, or what kind of teacup would have fit perfectly in her small, long-fingered hands. When another of her beloved New York institutions closes and reopens as a gentrified mess, I am indignant on her behalf as well as my own. Laurie would have forever mourned losing the Empire Diner, Balducci’s in the Village, and the L&S Dairy, and would have cursed every mega-million-dollar hotel to invade the meatpacking district. “These developers are morally bankrupt and out to lunch,” she might have said, slouched in a booth at the still-standing Carnegie Deli. And, lifting her can of Cel-Ray high, she’d toast: “To the same old thing!”

Though there will be no more words from Laurie Colwin, no more –isms and quotable sayings, no more long breakfasts, roast chicken dinners, or lazy Connecticut summers together, I still continually discover her. More of her comes out through what has already happened—the past rockets into the present in the form of the letters that I rescued from my grandmother’s nutty Philadelphia townhouse, or scribbled notes my mother took throughout my lifetime, and stories her friends and frenemies (though death seems to bury most hatchets) relate to me over meals, emails, and the phone calls.

And, of course, there are the books. I need only to crack open my well-worn copies of Home Cooking—complete with an illustrated inscription from my mother, crayon-colored in my 4-year-old hand—and More Home Cooking to see the life we led together as real and as immediate as if those days of warm fires and tussles over chores and Halloween gallivanting and gingerbread-making were still ahead of us.

Laurie leaps off the pages of her books, and not just in my hot little hands but in kitchens and favorite reading chairs across the country; from bedside tables and shelves holding beloved volumes in France, England, Spain, and Japan. “She’s like the best friend I never met,” people tell me, and I get it, for she was the mother I never fully got to know.

I will constantly be looking for Laurie; I will reach for her again and again and again, as long as I’m here. It’s to be expected, and it’s not a sad thing. In fact, it’s a hopeful one. I can still get to know my mother as her now-grown child, by hearing tales of her years as a young woman, learning who her favorite poet was, or reading about where she got the original recipe that inspired her amazing beef stew.

Laurie Colwin—Mom to me, really; forever Mom—wrote as she spoke, with a light in her eye and keen wit about her, and for this I am forever thankful; in some small way, my mother will always be here, on those pages, almost as alive as ever.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spot's First Easter by Eric Hill

In the days leading up to Easter I read Spot's First Easter to Hazel Nina. She enjoyed it just as much as Spot's First Christmas which I wrote about here.

It begins with Spot and his friend Helen going off to find Easter eggs, as Spot's mother looks on. 

And the reader's fun begins!

They look outdoors

and indoors, where they find a surprise.

When all six eggs are found, the book ends so beautifully.

After the reading we had a treat. Margaret had hidden eggs around our house with little snacks inside, and Hazel Nina loved finding them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quote du jour/Rocky in As Time Goes By

The first episode when we meet Mrs Bale in As Time Goes By,

she makes pina coladas. 

Lionel’s father Rocky 

She's a sullen creature, but she shakes a great cocktail.
Yes indeed, I am watching this wonderful series all over again. Mrs B hasn't made an appearance here on the blog offering a weather report for a long time. She hopes to return soon.