Friday, October 29, 2010


We had a good friend of the family come by the other night for a late supper and an overnight before he shoved off the next morning for the Catskills, a lovely three hour morning ride. The last time he was here we were building the scaffold for the roof job. He never saw the full scale job and it was too dark when he arrived to see the new roof, but he did say it all sounded "heroic", either when he read the Birdhouse report or maybe in one of my personal letters to him. "Heroic" could mean it indeed was, or little ol' me made my reports this way. I'm ready to take responsibility for both. If we all have anything left of ourselves, and between and with each other, let it be a few inches of the heroic. It need not be selfish or selfless. It can be fully a gift.

I already mentioned in a previous Birdhouse James and Kay Salter's excellent book
Life Is Meals (Knopf) of food chat, menus and all good things eating. Never at McDonalds, mind you, or slumming at any dairy bars that I can recall. The Salters are shimmering in Paris, tending fine NY restaurants, abiding their own cuisine at home in Aspen, and a lot of it surrounded by names like Alice Waters, A.J. Liebling, Craig Claiborne. More heroics. A terrific day book reminiscing on particular food stuffs, vegetables, exquisite meals, personalities, birthdays. The book is all divided into chapters by the month, so I took six days and read two months at a time, all 400 pages of the meaty book aloud to Sweetheart in our Vermont kitchen, between 5&6 o'clock each day, twilight coming, while she prepared our supper. Including the one last night for our guest, except he wasn't here yet so I spoke the book while the chicken cooked, a pot of rice, acorn squash, and I had already fluffed up a salad.

Sweetheart loves to cook and bake. She has since a little girl and was lucky to have a mother who taught her techniques and a certain flair. With me she cooked 30 years on only a wood fired cookstove, and then we added a gas cooking range and on the coldest days of the year we will have both stoves fired up and cooking away. A pie in one (apple or pumpkin), two pans on the flat iron heat, and something roasting in the gas oven. There's a second main woodstove and that's always warming a silver kettle. And keeping our toes warm.

When I would come upon a sumptuous part of the Salter book, say with a recipe, Sweetheart would ask to have it read aloud. Pretty please. Cooks and their recipes are like poets and their best first lines — savor and hold. It's a double treat with this book because the Salters work their prose as poetry. There's everything to learn.

salter photo:
sweetheart: photo © bob arnold