This blog is a mix of my own photos + images by others. Please link back if you share one of my photos on your blog. Email me if you'd like me to remove a post that features your images.
A small disclosure: I use affiliate links in my "what to wear" posts as a way to pay for my blog fees. In other words, I earn a tiny commission if you end up buying the item from my link. The posts are entirely curated on my own. I do not have sponsored posts.
This blog design and all original content © 2013 by Rachel Ball / Elephantine.
What is it about baking a pie that is so satisfying? It is, I guess, the way it warms up the house, the meditativeness of rolling out and weaving the pie dough, the surge of accomplishment that comes with pulling a golden pie out of the oven, the ritual of slicing and sharing it. I've had my fair share of pie mishaps, but recently they've been turning out better, thanks to some tricks I've picked up. So, I thought I'd share them along with a yummy apple pie recipe. (Be forewarned: this ended up being a very long post! The next recipe I share will be a lot simpler, I promise.) First, here's how to make the pie crust...
Double Pie Crust (recipe from All Recipes)
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
ice water (I throw a couple ice cubes in a big measuring cup then fill it with water)
The secret to a good pie dough is to (a) keep the butter cold, and (b) keep the mixture coarse. Start by slicing the sticks of butter into cubes and place them in your freezer for at least 15 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt. When the butter is chilled, scatter it over the flour mixture.
Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until it's pea-sized. (Lumps of butter = flakier crust; air pockets are formed when the water in the butter turns into steam.)
Drizzle ice water into the dough a little bit at a time, mixing well. I use almost 1 full cup of ice water, but you might need less or more. The goal is to get your dough consistently damp enough for it to hold its shape if you pinch some together. When you get to that point, divide the dough into two balls, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. (I always make my dough the night before baking.)
Once chilled, roll out one ball of dough to a circle 3-4" inches wider than your pie pan. The dough should be about 1/8" thick. Use flour as necessary to prevent sticking, but don't go overboard – my technique is to roll the dough out a few inches, dust it lightly with flour, flip it over, and then repeat those steps until it's the right size. If the dough cracks, wet a fingertip and press it back together. Transfer the rolled dough to a pie dish (gently roll the dough around your rolling pin, then unroll it over the pie dish) and carefully press the dough into the bottom and sides of the dish. Use kitchen scissors or a knife to evenly cut off the excess, leaving at least 1" overhang.
Crack the egg and separate the yolk from the white. Set the yolk aside. Whisk the white with a fork until lightly foamy. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork and brush the crust with the egg white – use enough to evenly coat the dough but not so much that it pools. Doing this helps seal the crust and prevents it from getting soggy from the filling. Place the pie crust in freezer/fridge.
While the pie crust is chilling, prepare the apple filling. My personal preference is to have a higher crust-to-filling ratio, so if you prefer a thick, layers-and-layers-of-apples pie, just increase the amount of filling. (Keep in mind, too, that the apple slices will shrink a bit when baked.)
Apple Pie Filling (recipe adapted from All Recipes)
7 cups peeled and sliced apples (5-8 apples, depending on size)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp butter, to dot on top
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg) and set aside. Peel and slice the apples 1/8" thick (thickness is a personal preference, of course – slice them thicker if you'd like). I like using a mix of sweet and tart apples: granny smith, fuji, and jonagold.
Add the apples to the dry ingredient mix, add the lemon juice, and toss thoroughly until the apples are evenly coated. Let sit for about 15 minutes, to let the sugar draw water out of the apples.
Remove your chilled pie crust from the freezer and place the filling into it. There will be a pool of liquid in the bottom of the bowl by now. I don't recommend pouring that liquid into the pie crust, because you risk ending up with a soggier/soupier pie. You can reduce the liquid down on the stovetop to a thicker consistency, though, if you want to. My preference is to omit the liquid altogether and just lift up the apple slices in handfuls, shake gently to let any excess liquid drain, and then place them into the crust.
Cut the tablespoon of butter into small cubes and scatter on top of the filling. This isn't a crucial step, but it's little things like this that add up to a great pie.
Set your pie dish aside and remove the other ball of dough from the fridge. Roll out the same way you did with the bottom crust – a large circle about 1/8" thick. Using a pizza cutter or a knife, slice it into even strips (I cut mine about 3/4" wide, but again, this is just personal preference). Using a ruler helps a lot with achieving straight lines.
Now the lattice: there are different methods, and I think the easiest way to learn is by watching someone do it... but basically what I do is first lay the two middle strips to establish the center, then work out from there. Before each new strip is laid down, you have to lift back every other strip in the perpendicular rows, so that when those strips are laid back in place, it creates an over-under-over-under weave. If that's completely confusing, youtube has plenty of examples you can watch.
(Also – unless you make a really tight weave, you'll have leftover dough. Either discard it or roll it back into a ball and make something fun like a mini pie.) Pinch the lattice strips to the bottom crust to help seal them; trim away the excess dough. Finish your edge by folding the overhanging dough under itself...
... also crimping the edge if you'd like to. (Here's a video how to.) I love a really pretty pie crust, but, you know, it doesn't really matter if your crust is a bit lopsided or funny looking. If it tastes good, it's a good pie.
To finish the pie, mix a little water in with the egg yolk that you set aside earlier and brush this mixture on top (just to evenly coat, don't let it pool anywhere). This helps you get that beautiful golden color, and it also acts as a 'glue' for the turbinado sugar (now's the time to sprinkle it on). The turbinado sugar is added for texture more than sweetness.
Throw the pie back into the freezer/fridge for one last chill. Don't skip this step – it helps prevent the crust from shrinking. While the pie is chilling, place an empty baking sheet in your oven on the rack below the one you'll be baking the pie on (to catch any drips). Preheat your oven to 425°F.
Place a crust shield on your pie, or if you don't own one, make one with foil (video tutorial here). Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350°F and continue baking for 30 min. Remove pie shield / foil and continue baking (still at 350°F) for another 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. I let the crust get very golden brown and crisp; if you prefer a softer crust, the baking time will be shorter. And also remember that these times might vary depending on your particular oven, so peek at your pie often and adjust as needed.
Let the pie cool for at least an hour before serving to allow the filling to set. My favorite way to eat apple pie is to reheat a slice and then add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mmm. So good.
Do you have any pie tricks or favorite recipes? (I can't wait until cherry season...)
In the beginning there was a crackle, a spark, phones that never stopped buzzing, an extraordinary kiss while passing through a covered bridge, parties at which several of her old friends cared to comment, "Look how happy you are! What a change from last year," which embarrassed her, though not as much as when her mother took him aside on Labor Day weekend – God knows what she said to him – despite that, months later, there he was kneeling on the frozen leaves at Carson Park, and after that day every conversation somehow ended up being about the cost of flowers, and who would be offended if they weren't invited, and kidding-but-not-kidding about scrapping the whole thing and booking tickets to Cabo, where it could just be the two of them on the beach. And yet. There was a suspicion, a revelation, one deflating night getting him to admit his wrongdoing, then a lunch at which her oldest friend told her, "We all secretly could tell he wasn't right for you," and a slew of slow, indistinct mornings where she woke and boiled water for tea and considered the sparrows through the window as they pecked the soft grass, watching them until she was alright again, which took both less and more time than she expected, because there was always something that reminded her of him – certain idioms, his brand of shampoo – but, finally, it had been long enough, and she said yes to a man who asked for her phone number, missing his call that night, calling him back the next, talking late, laughing at a coincidence they had discovered; they had grown up half a dozen blocks from each other. "So, this Friday?" he asked. In the end it was only one date; they would be friends, they saw, and that was all. It was alright with her. There would be another. When she drove home she took the long way, passing through the covered bridge and easing up off the gas pedal to stretch the seconds out, the resounding echo carrying her forward. ♦
I think this year I'm going to forgo the 'monthly' part of this series and just share books whenever I have four new great ones to share. Sound good? (It always feels like I read a bunch of great books all at once, then go for stretches of time where none really move me, then the pattern repeats. Is it like that for you, too?) Here are the books that have most recently swept me away...
1. Someone (Alice McDermott) – "I deployed all my excuses in a rush: the water was too hot, the house too cold, I'd had a bath last week, I had a stomachache, I was sleepy. But my mother had a grip on my arm, and my thin legs were all obedience. They raised themselves against my will, up over the cold rim of the high tub and into the steaming water, where the pain from the heat became a chill in my spine and my thin body – bright red to my calves but pale white, nearly blue, through my chest and my arms – became no more than a scrap of cloth, a scrap of cloth caught and shaken and snapped by a sudden wind."
2. Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life (Dani Shapiro) – "Fill your ears with the music of good sentences, and when you finally approach the page yourself, that music will carry you. It will remind you that you are part of a vast symphony of writers, that you are not alone in your quest to lay down words, each one bumping against the next until something new is revealed."
3. Dog Songs (Mary Oliver) – "You may not agree, you may not care, but / if you are holding this book you should know / that of all the sights I love in this world — / and there are plenty — very near the top of / the list is this one: dogs without leashes."
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey) – "The Big Nurse is able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants by just turning one of those dials in the steel door; she takes a notion to hurry things up, she turns the speed up, and those hands whip around that disk like spokes in a wheel. The scene in the picture-screen windows goes through rapid changes of light to show morning, noon, and night – throb off and on furiously with day and dark, and everybody is driven like mad to keep up with that passing of fake time..."
If you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them, too.
once more i am hunting for le mot juste,
upturning my pillows
and the cups in the drainboard; i've checked
the mailbox, the keyhole, the washing machine,
the dark slender gaps between the books on the high shelf,
and the backs
(and middles and fronts)
of drawers. i have even
turned my pockets inside out,
peered into the splintered pile of firewood
and carved away the hard wax
from the necks of half-burnt tapers.
it is three in the morning now
and still, the small thing eludes me.
when i go hunting again i find:
an earring i thought was gone for good,
an hour to nap while the moon rises,
an unopened birthday card
you sent me after all –
and i forget,
i am looking for.
I haven't taken ballet for something like fifteen years. When I stopped, exactly, is fuzzy; all I remember is trading it in for piano lessons, and feeling some regret because I had just gotten demi-pointe shoes and it probably wouldn't have been too much longer until pointe shoes came along. But anyway. I was young and I quit, and I've been wanting to go back for years. I've missed it.
Maybe you have a similar story? In the last month, it seems that every friend I tell about my plan to start taking ballet again replies with, "Oh, same here. I'd love to get back into it, too." So, why not? Time, money, worries that you'll be the worst in the class? I guess I had those excuses too. But eventually my desire to dance outweighed all of that. I stopped caring that I wasn't as graceful or flexible or in shape as I wish I was. I wrote ballet drop-in on my calendar, and I counted down the days.
I took my first class today. There were five other women there, and I liked our instructor instantly. She was kind and encouraging, and maybe most importantly, she was enthusiastic about teaching us. Class began. We warmed up at the barre, we moved to the floor, we did a short combination from one corner to the other. Most of it came back to me, but it wasn't easy; by the end of the hour I was thirsty and hot, and it felt good to step out into the cool winter air in leggings and a thin sweater. When I came home I said hello to Rufus, and warmed up a bowl of homemade soup, and I laid my ballet shoes back on top of my dresser. I hope I will keep reaching for them for a long time to come.
I came galloping over Strawberry Hill in a fit of anger. Those dopes had gone on without me again (how many times did I have to tell them that I slept standing up, that I often looked awake when I wasn't?) but when I crested the hill I could see them out there belly-high in the bowing grass. The Palomino was still out in front, his body golden in the warm light. He had tried to get the rest of us to call him Captain and failed; the only reason we were following him at all was because he said he knew where the Great Field was, or at least he had heard of the landmarks one follows to get there. Who were we to argue? We didn't know any better. We just knew we wanted to get there.
Among our group was a Clydesdale who, it was rumored, could haul eight times his own weight; a handsome but temperamental Thoroughbred; a sarcastic pony from the petting zoo upstate; and a few Appaloosas, one of which I thought had a particularly lovely coat, and thus far she had been the only one to make conversation with me, to ask about the stable I had come from. She was sweet, you know? Okay. Okay. So maybe I had a crush on her. Maybe that was why I wasn't breaking from the group and trying to find the Great Field on my own.
What we had heard – what we had all been told from foalhood – was that if you could find it, you would never have to leave. In the Great Field there was uninterrupted land that stretched so far you would always tire before reaching the edge of it, there were songbirds that came twice a week to report the news of the world, there were occasionally young children who wandered into the field to offer apples from the nearby orchard, the fruit hacked in half, the juice so sweet and fragrant. The horses back home had warned each one of us not to go. It was all equine lore, they said. It was the stuff of movies. What do you say to that? All you can do is shrug, I suppose. When I left, I left before dawn, and I left deep hoof prints in the dry earth.
A new bamboo bowl that I just added to the shop, and the rain-soaked view out my office window.
early in the year
I start jogging again
cleaning the caked mud
out of the soles of my shoes
breaking off the old earth in continental-shaped clumps.
the route I like to take
dips downhill very suddenly
and then gradually climbs back up
winding through blocks of cape cod houses
and past front windows with sleepy dogs resting their chins
on the backs of couches –
one, as big as a bear and white as milk,
opens an eye to observe me huff and puff past.
at the end of the third mile
my heart may just
punch out of my chest
but I can see the street sign at the top of the hill,
Bloomer, it says, and if I can just
make it to that sign,
touch its perforated metal post,
I can make it the rest of the way home.
Things I'm looking forward to this year: finishing writing my novel, going on some adventures (maybe Victoria, BC, maybe the Oregon coast, maybe somewhere a bit further away), losing track of time while gardening, discovering more fantastic books, in particular reading more poetry, and taking ballet lessons (more on this soon).
This is the third time I'll be kicking off a new year by making pad thai from scratch – the first year it was mediocre and the second year it was pretty good but not, you know, that amazing. When I finally get it right, I'll share the recipe.
Happy 2014 to you.
We were in Los Angeles part of last week and it felt like zipping forward into summer. Sun! So much sun. Who knew I'd be slathering sunscreen on my shoulders the day before Christmas. During our stay, we caught up with my extended family, hiked from my grandmother's house in the Hollywood Hills to a lookout point for the Hollywood sign, walked over the footprints and handprints at Grauman's, ate dinner the first night at Pig N' Whistle and brunch the last day at Alcove, watched the sunset at The Getty, explored Griffith Observatory. On Christmas day we brought flowers to the cemetery where my grandfather is buried, and we had tamales for dinner, and some of us played music late into the night and some of us just listened.
I haven't gone on vacation in the last two years, and I had sort of forgotten how restorative it can be. You start to get numb to your surroundings when you stay in them too long. But leaving, spending four days with family in the sunshine, sleeping in a house that isn't yours, eating different food, forgetting what day it is, watching the world shrink back through an airplane window: what a good thing.
Woke up today to snow and the sound of kids frolicking outside. Hope you have a warm, wonderful weekend.
Every time my husband bakes, I say to him: we should totally open a bakery. And he usually says: but think of how early bakers have to get up. To which I reply: well, we wouldn't be a typical bakery. We could open at noon and target the afternoon crowd. We could be the rare bakery that stays open in the evenings! I'm not serious about this utopian daydream of mine, but still, it's a fun one to imagine. Whenever one of us bakes something that's really good, I mentally file it away for our future pretend bakery.
We recently learned from a friend that one secret to making amazing cookies is to use brown butter (aka beurre noisette). Brown butter yields a more complex, nutty, magical taste, and it's completely worth the extra few minutes of prep. After learning that, my husband took a recipe for ginger molasses cookies – it is the season, after all – and gave it the brown butter treatment. What came out of the oven was pretty great.
Ginger Molasses Cookies (makes about 4 dozen smallish cookies)
adapted from Joy of Baking
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
large grained sugar (optional)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Brown the butter by heating the sliced butter over medium heat, whisking frequently, until it starts to brown. (Here's a more detailed guide to browning butter.) As soon as the butter browns, pour it into a heatproof mixing bowl and beat with the sugar until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix well. Roll the dough into two logs – these logs can be round, but if you give them a rectangular shape, the cookies are especially well shaped for dunking into milk or coffee. Wrap each of the logs in plastic wrap and place in the freezer until firm. You can store the dough in your freezer for several days before baking.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the chilled dough in 1/4 inch thick pieces and place on prepared baking sheets, leaving some space between each cookie. Sprinkle with large grain sugar, like turbinado, if desired. (This is more for texture than sweetness.) Bake for about 10 minutes for chewy cookies or 12 minutes for crisp cookies – it's a good idea to bake a test cookie first to see what works for you. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Keeps for up to a week in an airtight container.
Carnations, carnations, carnations. (I especially love the multicolored ones.) Happy weekend!
baking chocolate crinkles for friends...
lighting up our christmas tree...
...and stopping by anchored ship to warm up on a chilly day.
and some other good things:
(photos from instagram.)
My most recent additions to the shop: caramel sauce by Hot Cakes, whole leaf tea by No. Six Depot, letterpress recipe cards and gift tags by Satsuma Press, a basic flour sifter, and hazelnut cacao nib granola by Marge Granola. (The caramel sauce & granola are both made in Seattle, if you're looking for a taste of the Pacific Northwest!)
After last week, I thought I'd be sick of cranberries, considering our Thanksgiving table was topped with cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, and that aforementioned cranberry cheesecake (which, by the way, I successfully did not drop), and yet... I still crave them. So I made cranberry hazelnut bread. It's tart, a little sweet, a little nutty, and soft and crumbly on the inside. If I was baking gifts this year, this is what I'd make.
Cranberry Hazelnut Bread (makes 1 loaf)
adapted from Food.com
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts (you can also use walnuts, or pecans, or omit the nuts altogether)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Heat oven to 350º. Grease a loaf pan. Mix together cranberries, sugar, oil, milk, lemon peel, vanilla, and eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared pan and bake about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Run a knife along the edges to loosen, then cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Last month I stopped by Open Books, which looks very modest from the outside but in truth is packed with thousands and thousands of books. I wanted to linger there for hours, lost in verse; I wanted to take as many home with me as I could carry. But I limited myself to two books, one of which was The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins:
By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.
One of my favorite novels last month was Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist. It's set in turn-of-the-century Washington State, and it's a thoughtful, slow, luxurious read:
There was an apricot tree in the orchard that was perfect for stepping up into. Once one of the girls did this, a curved branch invited another step up, and a branch above that dipped slightly in the middle, inviting a hand to grip it for leverage. [...] There was a type of heat and light that was direct and overhead and bleached the orchard of color. The orchard at noon on the hottest days. And then there were mornings when the air was blue and soft, and the leaves of the trees looked like velvet.
I also finished the Rabbit Angstrom books, re-reading the ones I'd already read years before and finally getting around to the ones I hadn't. Technically I started these a few months ago, but wanted to wait and recommend them as a series. I'm constantly reveling in Updike's prose. From Rabbit at Rest:
"Are we lost, Grandpa?" "We can't be," he tells her. In their sudden small plight he is newly aware of her preciousness, the jewel-cut of her eyes and eyelashes, the downy glaze in front of her ears and the gleam of each filament of her luxuriant hair, pulled taut into a thick pigtail adorned with an unreal stiff white ribbon. For the first time he sees she is also wearing symmetrical white barrettes, shaped like butterflies. Judy looks up toward his face and fights crying at the vagueness she sees there. '"This coat is too hot," she complains. "I'll carry it," he says.
We had invented time, and we could not kill it fast enough. After dinner, dancing, and baths, we read, wrote our poems and stories, brushed our teeth, and tumbled into bed, only to find the next day was exactly the same. [...] We shared our ideas like sweaters, with easy exchange and lack of ownership. We gave over excess words, a single beautiful sentence that had to be cut but perhaps the other would like to have.
How about you? Read any great books recently?
Last weekend I drove down to Tacoma to visit a dear friend of mine. We had lunch at Antique Sandwich Co., which is a vast, open room filled with old wooden furniture and soft fabric bunting strung from the ceiling and a bunch of old polaroids hanging on one wall. It feels like you've stepped into someone's living room. We got settled, and the waiter brought out our sandwiches and tabouli salads and steaming mugs of chai. The woman sitting behind us declared how cute my friend's five month old baby was – the first of many strangers to do so.
Later we meandered along the water, watched a ferry set out toward Tahlequah, and visited Point Defiance Park's rhododendron garden even though it was no longer in bloom. Well, I guess that's not entirely true. There were still two or three flowers clinging to one lonely bush, holding on for dear life, ignoring the change of seasons.
You know when you feel nostalgic about a time and place while you're still in it? That day was one of those times.
Today I'm baking for Thanksgiving. Usually my mom is the one who makes the pumpkin pies – two of them, always. But this year I'm in charge of desserts. I'm making a pumpkin pie (how could I not?) and a cranberry-topped cheesecake. The last time I remember making cheesecake when when I was in college, for my then-boyfriend-now-husband's birthday. When I took the cheesecake out of the fridge to serve it, it flipped out of my hands and landed face down on the kitchen floor. It's the kind of moment that was – still is – hopelessly funny and sad at the same time.
Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. I hope you get to spend it with lots of people you love.
in iowa, I live with a poet
whose voice passes through our shared wall, muffled,
as she reads her work out loud
or, maybe, just has conversations with herself.
come winter she plants paperwhites
in pots filled with pebbles and tap water
and when the white flowers blossom,
the plants flop over, top-heavy, sleepy.
but she ties them back upright
with grey grosgrain ribbon
and on christmas eve when I come home blubbering
she takes care of me with the same tender hands:
putting the kettle on, then helping me remove
with soap and warm water
the tiny engagement ring that has lodged itself into my swollen skin.
in january our lease is up
and we move to other landscapes: she to the west, me to the north.
every once in a blue moon
a poem from her arrives in the mail
and I read it aloud, doing my best impression of her,
running into the adjoining room afterwards
trying to catch the words before they fade.
I've been wanting to add these teapots to my shop for at least a year and now that I have a bit more storage space I can finally stock them. They're the perfect size for tea for two people. And I'm also thrilled to now carry a few food-themed Rifle Paper Co. products, like shopping pads and fruit cards.
...are some pretty chrysanthemums. Fun fact I learned today: "chrysanthemum" comes from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower).
Before the holiday rush starts, I thought I'd have a sale for any of you doing some early holiday shopping (or looking for a treat for yourself). Take 20% off your order with the coupon code "earlybird", now until midnight on November 14th. And there's two new pieces in the shop, too! A necklace called equis and earrings called julep.
As she does every weekend, the roommate brings home something new from the lab. She is standing in your bedroom doorway, pinching a diamond-shaped pill between her thumb and forefinger. "This one's called Liveforever, for the time being," she says, "Personally, I think the name's dumb, but you know how the marketing people are." She brings it to you. In your hand, it looks even smaller. It's a shade of yellow that reminds you of spring, of wildflowers.
"Yes. Yesterday. So far, so good." She laughs. "I mean, they're estimating a very, very tiny percentage of people will experience a side effect. Like, an infinitesimal amount. One out of a million, give or take."
"The side effect being?"
"Well, you kind of... your body just... freezes up, is the best way to put it, I guess. But your mind still works – you don't die."
"Oh," you say. You set it down on the table. You both stare at it.
"Come on," she says. "That scared you?"
"I'm saving it for later. With dinner."
"You don't need to take it with food. Just–" Her hand reaches out, but you beat her to it, thanks to that dosage of Quikreflex she gave you last week.
"I thought we had a deal," she says, frowning. The pill is in your closed hand, and she is standing so close to you, you can see the constellation of freckles running across her chin. "Are you... breaking... our deal?" It's been so long since you first moved in, since you explained your situation. You remember what will happen if you don't, and so you do. You open your hand. The pill is chalky at first, and then sweet, and then dissolves as it goes down, breaking apart into a million pieces, into every inch of your being.
One more photo of autumn before these colors are gone... so many trees around here are already bare. Happy monday!
Right now I'm in the middle of reading my 100th book of the year and I'm so glad to have made reading more of a priority. The more I read, the more I love books. Here are my favorites from October:
1. Too Much Happiness (Alice Munro) – "None of the people she worked with knew what had happened. Or, if they did, they didn't let on. Her picture had been in the paper – they'd used the picture he took of her and the three kids, the new baby, Dimitri, in her arms, and Barbara Ann and Sasha on either side, looking on. Her hair had been long and wavy and brown then, natural in curl and color, as he liked it, and her face bashful and soft – a reflection less of the way she was than of the way he wanted to see her."
2. Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates) – "When she looked briefly away from him, down at her cup or off misty-eyed into the room, it was only for a kind of emotional catching of breath; once he could have sworn he saw her planning how she would tell Norma about him tonight ("Oh, the most fascinating man..."), and the way she seemed to melt when he helped her on with her coat, the way she swayed against him as they walked out of the place for a stroll in the sunshine, made it clear that the last shred of doubt could be safely abandoned. He had it made."
3. Stoner (John WIlliams) – "And she grew fat. Between that winter and her thirteenth birthday she gained nearly fifty pounds; her face grew puffy and dry like rising dough, and her limbs became soft and slow and clumsy. She ate little more than she had eaten before, though she became very fond of sweets and kept a box of candy always in her room; it was as if something inside her had gone loose and soft and hopeless, as if at last a shapelessness within her had struggled and burst loose and now persuaded her flesh to specify that dark and secret existence."
4. The Last Picture Show (Larry McMurtry) – "They soon left the boulevard and got into some of the narrowest streets the boys had ever seen. Barefooted kids and cats and dogs were playing in the street, night or no night, and they moved aside for the pickup very reluctantly. A smell of onions seemed to pervade the whole town, and the streets went every which direction. There were lots of intersections but no stop signs – apparently the right of way belonged to the driver with the most nerve. Sonny kept stopping at the intersections, but that was a reversal of local custom: most drivers beeped their horns and speeded up, hoping to dart through before anyone could hit them."
I hope my monthly recommendations have been useful! I'd love to hear your recent favorites, too...
When I saw them, I just couldn't resist. Mini-sized (and extremely cute) mortar and pestles are now in the shop.
We were six, seven, eight and a half, and ten, and we went everywhere together. We stayed up way past our bedtimes. We always looked both ways. We knew Where the Sidewalk Ends by heart. We were constantly looking for moonbirds. We never wanted the night to end, but there was always another one lifting up from the horizon.
We were unprepared at our piano lessons. We all broke our wrists the same year. We played sardines and almost locked ourselves in the cellar. We saw old Mrs. Abrams accidentally run over our beagle, and we cried in our separate bedrooms into faded pinstripe pillowcases. In early spring we swam farther than anyone thought we could, and climbed out of the pool shivering, grinning through the dripping water.
You took us to our favorite place on earth that summer. We were wild. We met the girls in the rental cabin next door. One of us got his heart broken, and the rest of us just laughed at the poor sap, though secretly we'd gotten our hearts broken too. We came back home and wrote our names inside stacks of spiral notebooks. We were at the end of the bus route and we never sat together. The girls at school were pretty, but they were nothing like those girls at the lake.
We were so excited for Christmas that we couldn't get to sleep. We were each other's lookouts and peeked at our meticulously wrapped gifts. We were getting good at lying. We were difficult, we were territorial, we were jealous. We tried to tell you all sorts of things but could not always find the right words. We were just trying our best. Even when we were older, the feeling always stayed with us. Whenever we were with each other, the space in our hearts no longer felt so cavernous.
A mix of film from last year and this year, taken around the neighborhood, at the arboretum, in pioneer square. This time of year makes me want to collect a little piece of everything.
alice munro on how a story is like a house.
i've never roasted a cauliflower whole, but after seeing this i want to try it.
henry gustave molaison, the man who forgot everything.
and just in case you haven't seen it yet, the trailer for the grand budapest hotel. i can't wait.
Has it really been three and a half months since the last update about my novel? Yikes. I don't mean to be secretive. I guess I haven't shared anything with you because I haven't reached any big milestones. But for those of you who asked, here's how it's been going:
I typed up everything I handwrote on those yellow legal pads and am now working exclusively on my laptop. On a bad day I'm uninspired and unproductive. On a good day I can write a new scene from start to finish. My manuscript has 64,328 words. It's still a big mess plot-wise, but quantity-wise that's roughly 250 pages in a typical book. I have a separate document titled "unused" with 40,488 words – stuff I've edited out but can't bring myself to delete yet. Yes, it's somewhat discouraging to have written so much that is going in the trash bin, but you can't write the good stuff without working your way through the bad. I used to think that writing a book was about translating the story in your head onto the page; now I think of it more as starting with a nugget of inspiration in your head and using the process of writing to navigate through it and discover it and unfold it. All the hard work is done on the page.
I'm struggling most my ability to gauge what's interesting and what's not. I'm struggling with how to make the small pieces add up to something bigger, and how to do that subtly and lyrically. I'm struggling with believable dialogue. It's a strange thing, being able to read a story written by somebody else and so clearly understanding its structure, its strengths, its faults, and yet not being able to do the same with your own work.
Despite all the frustration and slow progress, the last nine and half months that I've spent working on this book have reaffirmed my lifelong feelings about dedicating myself to fiction. I've never stuck with a story for this long before, so that means something. I have never, until now, written anything so close to what I have wanted to write. Every so often I write a paragraph that captures the mood and crispness and fluidity of what I have been striving for, and when that happens, it is so very wonderful.
A few shots from our friends' lovely wedding in September. These are the first film photos I've posted in months... and I'll be sharing more with you soon. Happy weekend!