Article

winter-spring

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

We wanted to find hellebores for you for our class present, she said. But there weren’t any in the shops then. So here is one from my garden. This is how February began: with the arrival of winter flowers in a pot. We had a big fire in the fireplace that day. Earlier that week it had snown and the arborist had come to cut the knotwilgen. He stood in the trees and the branches fell around them, and at the end of the day it looked like straight-line winds had come through. Apparently the trees will regrow by summer already, so it won’t look so bare.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Now we are busy with cleaning up the branches, chopping the large pieces into logs for the fire after they cure. The small branches will be kindling or mulch. Jonathan also trimmed the shrubs around the perimeter of the land, and the trimmings will be mulch, too.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

One Saturday, he built this raised bed. We will plant squashes and pumpkins in it and let them run around. It has sun all day long. Next to it is an apple tree that Harumi and Jon helped us plant in November, and a pile of logs waiting to be split and stacked.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

There is a male pheasant here who has gotten very comfortable with us. He walks up and sits by the window for long periods, or even comes over to see what’s going on when we work outside. No pictures here, but it is really a pleasure to get to see him all the time. I came across the female once when I was walking through the meadows, and she was not happy about that. So I’ve been staying out of them and hoping that they will nest here (but maybe not in the meadows, which have to be cleared and planted soon).

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

The ponies are out of the paddock, eating the grass, which is starting to grow. The winter was colder here this year than last (a good number of days with hard freezes; a few days with snow, although never with significant accumulation), but it’s still a maritime-ish climate.

spring is coming (?)

Also starting to grow: snowdrops (first one spotted in early February), other bulbs (volunteer tulips; daffodils planted by Jon and others by us; scilla). A few daffodils are quite high already, but most are just an inch or two out of the ground. When I was first in England I was so amazed by the swathes of daffodils, snowdrops, and other bulbs that bloomed in late February/into March. I think I will always associate these plants with living there, and in particular with walking from Albion House along the canal to Sainsbury’s during the first visit I made there.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Some of the snowdrops have a green mark on their interior petals.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Today I dragged brush into piles and then began outlining the flower garden in front of the house with old bricks taken from Jonathan’s maternal grandparents’ farm. It felt so good to move and be outside. The sun was truly warm. We will build some coldframes soon with more bricks. We already began growing tomato, pepper, and cauliflower plants, and the tiny sprouts are in black boxes in the kitchen (for now). March plans also include a hoop house.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Garlic planted in November is coming up now. Fast. Like the tomato sprouts, it seems like you can see it grow. I will plant more soon, so that it matures after the original planting. This weekend we will get chicken wire and build a fence around the place with the raised beds that Joe built. The cats discovered one bed which had no winter plantings and used it as a litter box, dammit. So that will have to be cleaned out, and then we will hope that the wire keeps the cats away.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Jonathan’s aunt gave us artichoke plants and current and raspberry bushes. I forgot to trim these back. They remind me of William Morris textiles.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Apple tree and neighbors’ barn. A lot of all this is trusting things will happen if you set them in motion. Like planting bulbs, garlic, fruit trees, and berry bushes in November. Just wait and see. (Or like deciding to open a writers’/artists’ residency. And then doing the work, getting the word out, and waiting to see if anyone will show up.) I hope we will have a few blossoms on the fruit trees this spring, although maybe not because they were moved in the fall. But maybe.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Seeing this, and the green at the base of the Japanese anemones and of the delphiniums, it becomes possible to believe that last summer was real, and that it will happen again.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Article

almond meringue cake with cherries and chocolate

cake making

Laressa came to visit and she loves cake. Every time I see her she wants me to make cakes. (Cake-making is one of my favorite things, actually, and definitely my favorite kind of baking.) This time she showed up during a snowy-cold-rainy-sleety week. Early February. I am getting tired of winter cakes—cinnamony, brown-sugary cakes. All through the winter I made banana breads with brown sugar (not much; I don’t like cakes that are super sweet) and almond paste I made; with chocolate chips; with blueberries picked and frozen last summer. I wanted a springtime cake.

cake making

Really this cake is a summer cake: a cake to make when the cherry trees are full of ripe fruit. Pit the cherries, then soak them in something fragrant and rich. You could use a clear alcohol with sugar and vanilla beans, or some almond extract in a brandy, or rum. You could also soak them in lemon juice with some vanilla or almond extract added.  Or just the juice. These are cherries J. picked last summer from his brother’s tree, then pitted and froze.

Heat your oven to about 180°C. Grease and flour a bundt or springform pan, about 8-9″ in diameter (if you’re using a bundt pan, it can be a bit smaller). Measure out your dry ingredients first. I used about 1.5 cups almond meal (if you are in Belgium or the Netherlands, Pit en Pit have it at a good price for a big jar). and about 1/3 cup of plain (not self-raising) white flour. Keep the almond meal separate, but into the flour, mix 1 tsp. baking powder, a pinch of salt (maybe 1/4 tsp.). You could probably make this cake without the flour at all. Then you might use a bit more almond meal.

Set aside 1/2 cup or so of chocolate chips (fewer is ok, and more is ok. This depends on your taste). Also you might want to set aside in its own bowl a small amount of a neutral-tasting oil, about 1/4 cup. I had canola oil on hand, but I have made a variation on this cake with olive oil (then no cherries or chocolate, but lemon and thyme). For this version probably something plain is best.

cake making

You take maybe 3/4 cup of white sugar and three eggs, and beat them together for about five minutes with a mixer at a medium-high speed. If you do this by hand, it will take a long time but it’s not impossible. You want the mixture to be opaque, a pale yellow, and holding soft peaks. When it is ready, add the oil, mix in quickly with a fork (you could also add some vanilla extract at this point, if you wanted), then add the almond meal and beat together with the mixer briefly, just to combine and keep air in the mixture. Then add the other dry ingredients and a half-cup of chocolate chips and mix with your fork just to combine.

Quickly pour the batter into your pan, then drain the cherries. Set them one by one on the top of the batter, pushing them down a little so they are almost covered. It’s ok if there is a little liquid around them or if they sink (they will sink anyway). Then put the cake in the oven. After about ten minutes, turn the heat down to 160°. Our oven cooks very hot and fast, so I actually turned it down a bit farther. The cake is done when it is high and light and crunchy-looking, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If you used a bundt pan, and want to avoid the top of the cake sticking in the pan (if you didn’t grease/flour enough), try these tips.

Caveats: I did not use a recipe, and all my measurements are approximate. This should be a light batter, but not runny. Use your judgment, experiment, and trust that sugar + almonds + eggs + fat + cherries + chocolate will make something good pretty much no matter how it comes out exactly.

This cake would be nice with a dry green tea, or maybe with some champagne for a party.

While you are waiting for the cake to cool, you can make yourself some coasters like the pretty ones Laressa made. Or you can come stay at Dickinson House, where one of these coasters now lives, and have cakes like this nearly every day during your residency.

cake making

Article

pink [blue]

morning olsene february 2015I’ve written about pink before and about blue also. Last Saturday I taught a little sewing but I forgot how labor- and thought-instensive teaching that is. So I had planned to be able to make something for myself (a yellow dress like the blue gingham one) but in the end it wasn’t possible. After the others left I felt a little adrift in that I-had-plans-but feeling. So I decided to take scraps that ND left me from the quilt she is making and make something without a real plan. I just sewed them together in strips.quilted mat

The combination of orangey-pink, pink-pink, and blues is one of my favorites. It expresses the feeling of pinkness very completely. And I have been wanting to do some kind of blunt, expressive, semi-naïve quilting for a while. So I did it on this. The front and back are assembled over a layer of cotton-bamboo batting I had leftover from a quilt I made a friend’s baby.

quilted mat

One thing I rediscovered in 2014 was the pleasure of making things and the true connection I feel between writing and making objects. Like writing, drawing makes a flat thing (or a thing dimensional in the mind). And then (I forget, often) that can become an object with dimension (dimension to the hand).

quilted mat

In Vermont I was reminded of the pleasure of working with and near visual artists. Also of my own ability to make visual objects and of the pleasure I have in that. I struggle with the fact of time, which is limited in ways I do and don’t create. Nevertheless, I was reminded of the power of being in rooms with objects and substances (paint, lithotine, wood, clay) and of the ways that physical transformation (of a dress dipped in dye, e.g.) can help me understand other transformations.

quilted mat

And this winter, when Jonathan and I sat around making small objects out of clay for fun, listening to podcasts and enjoying ourselves, I was reminded that a drawing can be an object in itself (I had recently finished all the drawings for this calendar) and also a schematic for another object (I made a set of tiny cups to match the ones I drew for the February page). This also reminded me of reading books in the library at the Vermont Studio Center in June, specifically this one (immensely pleasing object because it has pieces that move/flap/hide things).

quilted mat

Making an object that doesn’t matter (has no preconceived end, or to which I’m not attached) is a pleasure because it unfolds on its own and because “its own” is also a way of seeing what happens within and under my consciousness/recording self. I know I love those pinks and blues together and I knew that especially now (February 2015) I feel them as intensely warm, hopeful, possible, creative, exciting, and beloved, but I didn’t realise until I looked at my instagram photos from this morning just where that sense might be coming from—in this moment. Yes, the sky in the mornings now is (when not cloudy) a spectacular movement from gold-pink to blue. Earlier and earlier. There will be spring.

quilted mat

Article

DANDARIANS, Lee Ann Roripaugh

Lee Ann Roripaugh: DANDARIANS

Lee Ann Roripaugh: DANDARIANSThis book was given to me on my way back to Belgium from Minneapolis. A book with so much text: it appealed to me immediately. Did not read about it, just began reading. Right away it reminded me of this. Then I read far enough to see that Roripaugh has a connection to Japanese literature and the space on the pages (looking like Basho’s own Narrow Road) made sense to me.

In a dense space, like history or heredity, many things can happen or be about to happen. As in these poems. Teetering “on the precipice of the next” (11). Like Hahn’s book, Roripaugh’s does not feel indebted to a reader, or not to a reader who requires revelation. That one can tell a great deal and still withhold or privilege information, without coyness and without evasiveness, but in a kind of awareness of how (in the end) all tellings are also incomplete. Completeness a kind of confession—acquiescence to authority—that Roripaugh’s poems don’t undertake.

Landscape is here in pieces (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vermillion River”). Time also (:: history, family, the Future, accompanying worry and wonder). An archive of banal details which—assembled—show the value of the intimate, forgettable individual life. An “inventory of lost things”. Roripaugh catalogs an “American grandmother’s glittery blue metal music box, kokeshi [italics in original] dolls fishing on a geta shoe [no italics], unpaired earrings, black-and-white photos with yellowed scalloped edges, an entire language” once spoken (71). The absolute beauty and precision of “Dee Aster” and the play around language (::history, family, inheritance, loss) in the book in general.

Not about Roripaugh’s book, now: I dislike talking about zuihitsu as ‘form’. (I say ‘form’ because it seems to me ‘zuihitsu’ is a way of classifying after the fact of composition rather than, e.g., forms like ‘sonnet’ which require formal decisions as part of their composition. Zuihitsu, for me, is less ‘form’ and more ‘texture’, a way of sensing how texts go together. Maybe that is form.) Why are so many people interested in and adopting these now? Yes, echoes of how thinking happens online are there (longer prose objects interspersed with aporia, fragments, pieces of poems, incidental texts, all mostly unrehearsed). An accumulation like this is not unlike the scrapbook kept by a very active parent, documenting everything, is what I’m saying. But zuihitsu has a more literary ring. A more something ring. But similar to the recentish (the last five years or so) online obsession I’ve observed with boro and other Japanese/non-Western folk textiles, the sometimes-purposeful construction of zuihitsu (or the appropriation of the word to give cachet) feels like a disregard for the way that time plays a role in composition and in texture (whether textile or text), not to mention for the ways in which zuihitsu itself has specific, embedded cultural and linguistic meaning and is not simply ‘form’.

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