“Wake up, lazy bones!” Pindi shouted to her cousin Blade as she poked at him with a stick. Blade, a leaf fairy, was visiting from the Red Japanese Maple Tree near the koi pond. It was a long flight from the back garden and around the house to the Weeping Cherry Tree, and he was tired. Right now, he was lounging in a hammock in the Weeping Cherry Tree, his arms and legs dangling, enjoying the meager warmth of a winter afternoon.
At 18, he considered himself a man fairy and wanted nothing to do with his preteen cousin. He was tall for a fairy. His long, muscled arms and legs were dark brown, as was his shoulder length hair. His wings were golden brown and heavily veined. He looked like what he was; a leaf fairy.
“Go away, pest!” He shouted at Pindi. “Go play your little fairy games.”
“I’m NOT a little fairy! I helped save our home tree from spiders and helped Grandpa save a baby frog. What have you done?” demanded Pindi. “You just lie around all day and then go flirt with the pretty fairies. They just giggle and preen. They’re useless. They don’t DO anything.”
“You don’t know anything, Blade replied. “You’re just a little fairy. One day you’ll giggle and preen, too. Although I doubt anyone will want to flirt with you.”
“NEVER!” shouted Pindi. “I will NEVER be like those mean pretty fairies. I don’t care about the latest fashions in leaves or flowers. I don’t care about their crushes. I will do important things when I grow up.” Pindi stomped along the branch above Blade’s hammock. “What if I unhook the ties to your hammock? What will you do then?”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Blade rolled over and leapt onto the branch. Thoroughly annoyed, Pindi continued stomping down the branch, muttering to herself. “Idiot – thinks he’s a man fairy. Ha! I can do anything he can do. And more. I’ll show him. I’ll show them all!” She stopped to look at the finches flitting around on the branches, picking at the aphids and ants and could harm the tree. They were huge, but Pindi knew they were gentle – unless you were an aphid or an ant.
Pindi reached the end of her branch and jumped off, flying with the breeze. She looked around as she floated on the air currents. “Wheee!” she shouted as she turned summersaults and dove into the wind. She pointed her toes and turned a few pirouettes in the air. “This is fun!” The air smelled like wet leaves; fresh after the recent rains. She heard winter birds chirping their songs and joined in. “Chirp, chirp, chirp” she sang with the chorus. “How happy I am to be here.”
With a whoosh, a group of male fairies, her cousin Blade among them, flew by, upsetting her rhythm and pushing her off course. “Ha, Ha, little fairy! That will teach you.” They shouted as they flew by.
Pindi landed on a small branch and shook her head. “They’re just off to find trouble. Maybe I should follow them to see what they do.”
Pindi started to follow the group of rowdy male fairies but she was, again, blown off course by a gust of wind. She tumbled through the air and looked around. She didn’t know where she was. “OK. OK. I know how to find my way back. I just look for the lights on the Weeping Cherry Tree and follow the light,” she said to herself. Then she heard a noise, a very small groan. It seemed to be coming from a pile of leaves on the sidewalk. Pindi flew closer to look.
“Oh, No,” Pindi exclaimed as she glimpsed an old leaf fairy laying crumpled on the sidewalk, “are you ok? What can I do to help?”
“I-I’m ok. I just need some help to get up. I got caught in a gust of wind as I was going out for lunch.” The old leaf fairy sounded very weak.
“Here, lean on me,” Pindi coaxed as she braced to help the old fairy to his feet. Slowly, he stood, wobbled, and collapsed again.
“I think my leg is broken. And my wing is torn. I can’t fly,” whispered the old leaf fairy. “Just leave me here.”
“No! I’ll find help. We’ll take you to the healer fairy where your leg and wing can be fixed.” Pindi flew off, looking for Blade and his buddies.
She spotted them in a nearby tree, guzzling nectar mead and telling stories. “Blade, I need you! There’s an old leaf fairy laying on the sidewalk. He’s hurt. We have to help him!”
“What?” Blade asked. “Did you follow us? Don’t you have anything better to do than pester me?”
“Did you hear me? I need you and your friends to help get an old leaf fairy to help. Come on!”
“What do you say, guys? Should we help my little cousin with her imaginary adventure?” asked Blade.
“Sure, let’s go and see if there’s really an old leaf fairy laying on the ground.”
Exasperated, Pindi let them back to where she had found the old leaf fairy. He was laying very still. “I hope he’s still alive,” whispered Pindi as she landed beside him and gently touched his forehead. The old leaf fairy groaned.
“Go find a hummer ambulance!” she ordered one of Blade’s friends. “We’ll try to lift him, so he can ride the ambulance back to the Weeping Cherry Tree.”
Pindi stayed with the old leaf fairy, comforting him as best she could. In a few minutes, she heard the thrumming beat of the hummer’s wings as it zoomed down and hovered. Blade and his friends lifted the old leaf fairy as gently as they could and laid him across the hummer’s back. Pindi jumped on and helped him hold onto the bird’s back. Then, with more thrumming, the hummer took off straight up into the air, circled, and zoomed towards the Weeping Cherry Tree.
“You got him here just in time,” said the healer fairy. “He was very cold, and in pain. I’ve set the bones in his leg and stitched up his wing. He’ll be good as new soon. You can see him now if you wish, but don’t stay long.”
Pindi, Blade, and his friends all trooped in and gathered around the bed. “Thank you,” said the old leaf fairy. “You saved my life. You are heroes.”
Blade decided it was nice to be a hero and that Pindi wasn’t a pest after all. Or at least, not too much of a pest.
It was HiFi’s fault, although I didn’t realize that until years later. HiFi was a steer. My Dad bought him to raise for beef. He did end up as beef, but before that, he but took my Dad on a lot of early morning adventures before work, catching HiFi after he broke out of our pasture yet again. He was loud, which was why my Mom named him HiFi, short for High Fidelity. (It was the early 1960s. Mom was modern.) I remember standing in the driveway watching when the butcher truck backed up to the back fence. HiFi wanted nothing to do with that truck. It smelled like death. But he was eventually coaxed and then pulled in. And when he came home, he was dinner!
That sounds harsh. Maybe it is. But it was my first experience with the glory of local, fresh beef. I forgot about how delicious HiFi was until I tasted fresh beef again a few years ago. He taught me my first food lesson. Fresh and local is yummy.
Then, there were the eggs. I grew up in a rural area in a very verdant valley surrounded by mountains. I remember the first time my Mom let me ride my bike to buy eggs. We always bought fresh eggs from a farm about a half mile from our house. I was about 9, and proud to ride my bike. I am absolutely sure Mom had every single mother who lived along that route check for me going and coming. I can imagine them on the telephone shared party line: “Kathy just crossed Country Lane, she’s at the egg farm, now she’s on her way back, she’s at the cross road at Pulver Road.”
And salmon. There just isn’t anything better than fresh King Salmon caught in the cold rivers of Alaska or on the salmon ladders in northwest Washington. We used to buy salmon from the Indian Reservation where the Indians were allowed to net the salmon on the ladders. And, my uncles used to go to Alaska to fish in the rivers.
My Dad used to grow tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in his garden. My Grandmother grew vegetables. My uncle was a farmer, growing strawberries and beans. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to eat such amazing, fresh, local food.
When I was 10, we moved to California. It was the mid -1960s and “modern families” ate packaged and frozen food. It was the “thing”. Since my Mom was more interested in art and books than in cooking, she embraced this new and easy way of feeding her family. Food became boring, too salty, too sweet, and just not interesting.
And then I grew up, went to college, married, had kids, started a career, and moved to Petaluma. And rediscovered fresh, local food. Now, I have a vegetable garden and a small flock of chickens. I remembered how good eggs taste, how good fresh beef tastes, how good fresh fish tastes, how good fresh produce tastes. I know I am lucky to live in an area where we have so much abundance. My taste buds appreciate it. My heart appreciates it. My soul appreciates it.
I like to cook, and I keep a set of very sharp knives. If I had to, I could cook without my food processor or any of my other tools, but I can’t do without my knives. I hone them before every use and have them sharpened a couple of times a year. More often for those I use every day.
My knives are blood thirsty. With me, they are usually quite tame and docile, but once in a while they get feisty, and nick me when I’m not paying attention. Not hard, just enough to get my attention.
Most of all, my knives love my brother in law’s blood. He is a fantastic cook. He’s also the most meticulous chopper of ingredients I’ve ever known. His diced aromatics and carrots are a sight to behold. A thing of wonder. He is, after all, a chemical engineer. Precise. Brilliant. And he always bleeds when he steps into my kitchen.
My knives lay in wait for when he visits. I can hear them rustling in their drawer when they sense he is close, anticipating his arrival. Craving his blood. He is always wary when he comes into my kitchen. It is rare that I can talk him into cooking. Maybe I have an ulterior motive. Once my knives have had their fill of his blood, they will behave, at least until his next visit. I keep a supply of band aids in the kitchen, just in case. Beware Mark W.
One bright, sunny morning, Pindi and Mindi, 10-year-old twin fairies, set out for their short trip to visit their grandparents, the King and Queen of the Weeping Cherry Tree Fairies. Excited about visiting their grandparents, they chattered happily as they flew towards the front garden and the Weeping Cherry Tree. Guards trumpeted their arrival as they landed on the entry branch. Their grandmother, Queen Ainsel, met them in the grand hall. After warm embraces and lots of kisses, the queen waved them towards the end of the hall for treats. The sisters gorged themselves on bee honey and flower nectar. When they had eaten their fill, Queen Ainsel clapped her hands and said, “ok, now let’s play!” Pindi, Mindi, and the queen spent the afternoon playing and laughing and singing.
That evening, as the sky just began to darken into the gloaming, Pindi, Mindi, and Queen Ainsel listened to the crickets sing their nightly chorus. Pindi loved listening to the crickets. But she heard something deeper, something lower. “Grandmother, what is that other sound – the one that isn’t crickets?” she asked.
“Frogs.” Queen Ainsel said, “The frogs are sounding an alarm. Something has happened, but I can’t quite make out what they are croaking.”
“You speak frog?” asked Mindi, desperately impressed.
“Yes, off course,” said the queen. “They are in our neighbors after all. Our kingdom is responsible for the crickets and the frogs.”
“I must go tell King Oisin. He will know what to do.” And Queen Ainsel flew off to alert her husband to the frogs’ trouble.
King Oisin strode quickly out to the branch where his grandchildren waited. He hugged and kissed them both and then fluttered out beyond the branch and listened carefully. “A baby frog is lost, and the frogs need help to rescue him. I need to talk with the frogs and crickets and then we’ll figure out how to help.” He flew out towards the street to talk with frogs and crickets and learn what he could about what had happened.
A fierce rain storm had blown through a day before and the storm drains were blocked with garbage, causing the water to back up into the frog’s underground home. The baby frog had been swept up in the dark rising water. The Frog Prince hopped back and forth in his lair, fretting and worrying.
King Oisin flew back to his tree, thinking frantically about what he could do to help. After updating Queen Ainsel and his granddaughters, he zoomed off to see if he could find the baby frog. The gusty wind blew him off course and he fought valiantly against it, straining towards the gutter. He saw paper coffee cups and lids, empty food containers, and plastic bags piled against the grate, preventing the water from flowing through. “Stupid, selfish giants,” he muttered to himself. “They have no idea how much damage they do to our world.”
He fought his way through the storm drain and into the dark, dank underground pipes. At last out of the wind, he flew straight and fast. He saw the baby frog clinging desperately to the slippery side of the drain pipes, trapped against a grate by the garbage piling up around him.
Meanwhile, back at the Weeping Cherry Tree, Pindi paced impatiently. “I won’t wait for Grandfather!”, she proclaimed. Defiantly, she flew down towards the gutter and through the storm drain, followed by her sister Mindi. The frogs didn’t know them, and they attacked, thinking Pindi and Mindy were mosquitoes. The fairies flew crazily down the pipes, dodging and swerving to avoid the long sticky tongues. “I’m not a mosquito!” Pindi yelled as loud as she could, her voice barely carrying over the sound of the water. “I’m a fairy! Don’t eat me! I’m trying to help you!”
Pindi and Mindi flew on and on inside the damp, smelly pipes, staying just above the water. They were getting tired when Mindi shouted, “Look, there’s Grandfather up ahead! And there’s the baby frog. Let’s go help!”
“Pindi, Mindi, go back. The water is getting too high. It’s too dangerous for you down here,” King Oisin shouted.
“But we want to help!” called Pindi. “We CAN help!”
“Fly back to the storm drain and find the Frog Prince. Tell him I’ve found the baby frog and need his help to push the garbage away from the grate. Tell him to bring his strongest frogs and meet me here – quickly.”
“O-ok,” Pindi replied, trembling a little, remembering how she and Mindi had to dodge those long sticky frog tongues. They turned and flew back towards the storm drain. The frogs remembered them and didn’t try to eat them this time.
“Frog Prince! Frog Prince! King Oisin sent us to tell you he had found the baby frog and he needs your help. Quickly.” Pindi breathlessly delivered her grandfather’s message to the massive, green, slimy Frog Prince, who eyed them like he would like to eat them for dinner. “We’re small, but we’re fairies, not food.”
“Ok,” grunted the Frog Prince, I’ll tell my people not to eat you.” He turned and croaked out his orders. A dozen large frogs appeared from the sides of the watery frog home and followed their prince down the drain pipes towards the blocked grate.
Frogs are strong swimmers and they reached the blocked grate in no time. King Oisin looked up from his perch on the grate and waved them over. The baby frog croaked loudly for his mother. King Oisin tried to push the garbage out of the way, but he needed help quickly.
The frogs got to work using their strong legs to push the garbage to the sides of the pipe, letting the water rush through. Slowly, the water level lowered until the baby frog felt safe enough to move. He hopped on the back of one of the frogs and they all swam back home.
“Grandfather,” said Pindi, “I have an idea. I know the giant who lives in the big house near your home tree. I can ask her to clear the garbage away from the storm drain so it isn’t pulled down into the drainage pipes. I am sure she will do it. She believes in us and she cares.”
“That’s not safe, Pindi,” King Oisin replied, “what if she mistakes you for a wasp?”
“She won’t! I’ve talked with her before, and she helped us when the spiders invaded. I know it will work.”
Pindi and Mindi flew back to their home tree, the Green Japanese Maple Tree and were greeted by their parents, the King and Queen of the Green Japanese Maple Tree, who were amazed at their daughters’ adventures.
The next day, as soon as Pindi saw one of her giants emerge from the big house, she flew over and, in her loudest voice – the one she used when talking with giants, she shouted, “We need your help again. The storm drains are blocked by garbage that other giants have carelessly dropped in the gutter. Will you please take your big rake and pull out the garbage and dispose of it properly? The drains keep getting blocked and it is hurting the frogs, and all the animals downstream.” Then she told the story of the baby frog.
“Of course,” said the giant. “Some of us are very careless. We will make sure the storm drains stay clear. You are a very brave fairy.”
This is what I cook when it is a little cold outside, I want something simple and here’s not much in the fridge or pantry. It presents well and is very elegant. I have served it to guests. Its also good with female friends and wine. Or with a romantic partner…and wine…
This really isn’t a recipe. It’s a list of ingredients. It can be divided or multiplied easily.
Angel hair pasta cooked to al dente
Thinly sliced onion caramelized until brown and beautiful in a mixture of olive oil and butter
Pasta water if you need it
Olive oil if you need more oil and don’t want to “over truffle” your pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
Shaved Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Chopped parsley to garnish
If instructions are needed: toss the cooked pasta with the caramelized onions, truffle oil, olive oil if needed, a little pasta water if needed, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley. Serve. Enjoy.
Simple pleasures delight me.
The golden light of autumn.
Parades. I spent a lovely afternoon last weekend sitting in a beach chair watching the Veterans’ Day Parade with leaves falling around me from the sidewalk tree.
My mother was a delight. And, she is always on my mind on Veterans’ Day. The day her father was born. The day he died. And the day Mom saw him waiting for her while she took her last breath. Her smile when she saw him in the light was complete delight. “I see my Dad”, she whispered through tears of love while she struggled for breath. Then she breathed her last and her hands, holding my sister’s hand and mine, relaxed. All the wrinkles, age, care, and worries fell from her face and she looked young. At peace. It was such a gift to be with her in her final moments. She is still with me in spirit. I still feel her arms around me, feel her love – and her delighted laugh as something unexcepted or silly. She gave me sense of delight, my sense of humor, love for simplicity and elegance, love of music, and my penchant for changing home decor with each season.
I strive to emulate her grace, her acceptance of what life throws, her patience. It is a struggle.
I miss you, Mom. Every day.
My mom died on November 11, 1999. These are some of her drawings.
Words own me
I am their slave
I am powerless against them
And they won’t let me sleep
Sometimes they flow through me gently like a sprinkler
And stories write themselves
My characters cavort in the fine spray
And it is joyous
Sometimes words are a torrent, a flood
A fire hose with more force than I can handle
And I am left with the devastation of half-finished ideas
And dismembered thoughts with no structure
Sometimes the words won’t come
The spigot is closed
I hear my characters calling
But I can’t reach them
When that happens, my stories won’t tell themselves
No matter how much I want them to
It’s a desert and I’m parched
And there are no words to quench my thirst
Words own me
They won’t let me go
But I like it when the words come out to play
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, Spring 1918
The train took 8 hours to travel the 300 miles to Minneapolis. At the station, Sessel gathered her satchel and reticule, and stepped off the train. So many people! So much noise! Sessel had never seen so much activity. She was as excited as she was overwhelmed. With a sparkle in her eyes, she marched through the station, a tall, dark haired young woman of 18, wearing a serviceable black skirt, white blouse, button shoes, and a cloak. At the curb, she hailed a coach to take her to the boarding house for young, unmarried Christian women that the doctor had referenced in his letter.
In her room, she unfolded the letter and read it again. An offer of a job in the city! Freedom from farm chores and from sitting on a hard bench all day on Sunday listening to Father read the Bible. Freedom to listen to music, and maybe even dance, Sessel smiled to herself.
Maybe she should change her name before she went to apply for the job. An Americanized name for a modern American working girl. Sessel became Cecile that very day.
The next morning, bright and early, Cecile presented herself at the servant’s door to the house. “A mansion,” thought Cecile, “3 stories. I wonder how many people work here.” She stood a little straighter and took a deep breath before ringing the bell. A woman wearing a black serge dress and white apron, her hair pinned under a lace cap, answered the bell. “Yes?” she asked.
“I’m here for the position”, Cecile said, handing over the letter from the owner of the house.
“This way. I am Mrs. Nelsen, the head housekeeper”, the woman said as she ushered Cecile into a beautifully decorated parlor. William Morris wallpaper graced the walls along with paintings hung from picture rales. Kazakh style rugs were placed carefully over the dark stained floors. Doorways were framed in dark mahogany. Velvet upholstered furniture lined the walls. A wide, gracious stairway led the way to the second floor.
Mrs. Nelson read over the letter Cecile handed her and motioned Cecile to a chair. “Your duties will be to keep the second floor as a maid. You will be given a uniform. The cost will be deducted from your pay. You may take your meals in the kitchen with the rest of the staff. You will have Sundays off. You will be expected at all times to comport yourself as a proper Christian young woman. Do you have a place to stay or will you be boarding in?”
Head spinning, Cecile could only nod at what she was hearing. “I have a place to stay”, she heard herself say.
“I am responsible for hiring staff, but you will meet with the owner, Mr. Acton before you begin your duties. You may start tomorrow at 7:00 am sharp. Punctuality is required. Good Day.” Mrs. Nelsen dismissed Cecile with a nod.
It was her first full day in Minneapolis and she had a new name and work as a maid. In a mansion of all things.
Cecile hurried back to the boarding house and found she had a new roommate. Christine had just arrived and was going to work at a paper factory in St. Paul. The two young women hit it off immediately and become inseparable. Their friendship lasted their entire lives.
Cecile and Christine spent nearly every minute they weren’t working with each other. They walked down the sidewalks of Minneapolis, window shopping and giggling over displays in shop windows. One winter, they joined a group of other young people for sleigh rides in the snow, wrapped in warm blankets, and pulled by 2 strong horses, their hooves spraying clouds of snow with each step. At Christmas time, they sang carols. “Silent Night” drifted into the night air, sung in German, Norwegian, Danish, and English. A young man named Clarence Swenson joined the singing. Cecile pretended to ignore him.
I charred the meatballs
And spilled the broth on the floor
The siren song of words called me
As I was cooking dinner
It was meant to be Asian meatballs with noodles
And greens and veggies and broth
The broth was delicious I didn’t ruin that
But I charred the meatballs
Words are dangerous