Dispatch #20: Dahlia Season
Let the moment go...
I’ve turned in the next chunk of revised novel pages and as I await notes I thought I’d send a fun little dispatch about various things giving me joy right now.
For one, it’s dahlia season. I love dahlias: the delicate yet sharp tiers of petals, and the colors they come in—deep burgundy, blush orange, and the bright pink (see below)—and how the older ones turn a little blowsy before going brittle.
Dahlias always remind me that it’s fall (well, it must be fall somewhere—it’s in the nineties here in LA today). And they also remind me of my wedding, since they were part of our floral arrangements: succulents and dark red dahlias. And then it makes me remember that my wedding anniversary’s coming up. This November, it’ll be sixteen years. Wow, we were children!
Speaking of children, Ginger brought this home from the school cafeteria, and I couldn’t get over its name:
Cherry Smooth ‘n Good?! It’s so bad it’s…smooth ‘n good.
As for a fashion update, after writing the last dispatch, I ordered two vests from Alex Mill (this one and this one). They arrived yesterday. The corduroy one is a total bust. I love the fabric and color, and it’s well made, but it’s far too cropped. Patrick said without a shirt beneath it looks weird and not flattering (I agreed), and with a shirt everyone (in my household) laughed at me. Bean said, “You look steampunk.” I shivered with disgust and ripped it off. I’m not sure about the sweater vest. I’m just not certain it’s essential to my wardrobe. Don’t I need more basic items? Also, I long for other things, like these boots.
The corduroy vest looked better on Bean:
If you want a wine recommendation, here’s a bottle of red that I’ve been loving, a blend of Gamay, Cab Franc and Pinot. It’s very easy to drink, a touch smoky (but also bright), and great chilled. I picked it up at Highland Park Wine, for those of you in the neighborhood. (Also, it’s called Time Machine—a fitting name for me, a person revising her time travel novel!)
As for eating, Patrick recently made us mushroom toasts from the wonderful cookbook Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Josh McFadden and they were so tasty. I am fairly new to eating mushrooms: news alert, they’re good! The toasts are supposed to be made with botarga but I couldn’t snag any in time. Didn’t matter because parmesan was listed as a substitute and it worked well.
Here are the ingredients needed:
Extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves: 2 smashed and peeled, 1 halved
1 pound mushrooms (we used cremini but any and all work; the recipe calls for “wild” mushrooms but, um, I wasn’t foraging this week)—cut into chunks
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
1 tsp lemon zest
4 slick slices of country bread
bottarga or parm
Now how to cook:
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil and smashed garlic. Cook slowly and be careful it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes.
Add mushrooms, increase heat a little, salt and pepper it up. Saute for 5-8 minutes until their juices have been rendered out and then reabsorbed.
Cook until mushrooms brown and crisp, 3-4 minutes more. Remove from heat, add the butter, parsley, and lemon zest. Shake pan to incorporate.
Rub your other garlic on toasted bread. Then scoop the mushroom onto the toast, and top with a lot of grated botarga or parmesan. Serve with lemon wedge.
We had these with some jammy eggs and braised kale, plus a salad, and, bam, a terrific vegetarian dinner.
What are you reading?
I’m currently into The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Body Problem by Julia Phillips. My sister got it from the library and abandoned it at the intro, deeming it too academic; that might be true but boy am I loving it. Phillips investigates what the tensions and conflicts, benefits and inspirations, are for mother-artists. To shed light on their struggles and choices, she writes these mini-bios of mother-artists who were born early in the twentieth century, like the painter Alice Neel, the writer Ursula Le Guin, and the poet Audre Lorde, among others. I’m loving the discussion about the divided consciousness of a parent: “The frustration —and pleasure—that writer-mothers experience seems better expressed with images of improvisation and compromise than of multiple selves in amicable accord.” I also love the idea of “the motherhood plot,” that is, the end of the story for a woman handed a prescribed narrative about how her life should go; as Phillips writes, “We know the motherhood plot makes no provision for the creative self.” The women in the book contend with this plot in different ways, and how they reject or subvert it is fascinating.
There is also a terrific quote from Louise Erdrich in the book about breastfeeding:
One day as I am holding baby and feeding her, I realize that this is exactly the state of mind and heart that so many male writers from Thomas Mann to James Joyce describe with yearning—the mystery of the epiphany, the sense of oceanic oneness, the great yes, the wholeness. There is also the sense of a self merged and at least temporarily erased—it is deathlike…Perhaps we owe some of our most moving literature to men who didn’t understand that they wanted to be women nursing babies.
Last, I’ll leave you with a song.
Now, before I tell you what it is, let me be the first to admit that people who sing musicals in non-musical settings are the most annoying subset of human being on the planet, right up there with people who try to push past you when disembarking from an airplane and potluck dinner enthusiasts. I am a survivor of Hamilton High School’s Music Academy where people would walk down the hall singing Guys and Dolls. It was awful, truly awful. I hate musicals and musical theatre people in general due to this experience.
(Now, years later, I tell people Hamilton sucks (the musical, not the school)…just to watch them get mad. I haven’t even seen it! I just enjoy ragging on it! Call it revenge.)
ANYWAY. I watched Into the Woods on VHS in my Musical Theatre Techniques class in high school. This class was full of students with a love for musicals but not enough talent to get into the school one—they were, somehow, bitter and earnest all at once. There were also a few randos like me in the class, those of us who “majored” in something other than musical theatre (like dance) but needed this class to graduate. I did get to do some knock-off Bob Fosse moves in a performance of (the song) “All That Jazz” (in pleather leggings!), but I also had to sing “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof—and I had a solo. I am a horrible singer and this is up there as one of my top ten most mortifying moments.
(See? I’m scarred.)
But, I loved Into the Woods—it was so smart and surprising! And then I totally forgot about it. When I saw there was a version being performed outdoors at Descanso Gardens this summer, I bought tickets for me and Bean.
Well—we both loved it! After this single viewing, Bean could sing the songs from memory (Even now he walks around singing, “It’s not my fault…”) I possess no such skill, alas, but I loved the songs and I reveled in the commentary on narrative and the upending of master stories. The song “Moments in the Woods” is emblematic of all that’s so beautiful about the musical’s deeper subjects.
When my former college professor David Walker posted this video of Sara Bareilles recording “Moments in the Woods” for the new Into the Woods soundtrack, I watched it…oh…three times in a row.
I watch it regularly now, and I find myself singing snatches of its lyrics, thus annoying Patrick:
Let the moment go
Don’t forget it for a moment, though
When you’ve had an AND
and you go back to OR
the OR means more than it did before
Genius! RIP Sondheim.
(Fun fact, midway through my singing, Patrick always says, “NO,” really loudly.)
Thus concludes my various delights. Send me something that made you happy lately. Thanks for reading.