"I never experienced a fritter I didn't enjoy."
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This, from myhusband when I brought up the idea of Marjorie Standish's corn fritters.  I don't often share our daily interactions in a public forum because those feel intimate to me.  Odd, yes, given that I write professionally about all manner of TMI topics.  But Travis?  He's special, and I like the world we've created to stay private. 

But two nights ago, he zipped up my dress, drove me to the venue, clapped the loudest, and said "I'm so proud of you" on the ride home.  He'd taken the night off to act as audience support for the Maine Women Write inaugural event, and to show my thanks, I made corn fritters. 

Yes, I did think of Billy Collins and The Lanyard

She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim,
and I , in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

My husband zipped my dress, drove me to the venue, clapped the loudest, and said "I'm so proud of you" on the ride home.  I, in turn, made corn fritters.
I cannot remember the last time I bought creamed corn.
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I remember eating a lot of baked potatoes and creamed corn when I was little.  If you have not tasted that combination, you should.  It's good.  (Note: creamed corn doesn't technically have any cream in it.  No dairy at all, actually.)
Like with any easy Marjorie Standish recipe, you just mix it all up in a single bowl.
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Drop the batter by spoonful into hot oil and watch the fritters puff up like little pancakes.  Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
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Add some sauteed rainbow chard, a little salt, and here is my pre-game meal of thanks for my husband.
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My husband zipped my dress, drove me to the venue, clapped the loudest, and said "I'm so proud of you" on the ride home.  I, in turn, made corn fritters.
Writing Prompt:  If someone in your life showed you an act of incredible kindness, what meal would you prepare as thanks?
 
 
There is usually a single moment to signify the shift of seasons.  This can be as simple as putting on a pair of socks after a long summer of sandals, or as complex as trying to get a house painted before vacation ends.  For me, the moment of shift was a gift of apples.

During our last visit home, Trav's cousin Linda gave me a paper bag full of native apples she'd picked from trees just down the path from her cabin on East Grand Lake.  I am sad to note that although these apples were given to me a couple weeks ago, I just remembered them today.  Always a fan of summer, I was in denial about fall.

I sorted through the bag this afternoon, and, luckily, not all of them had gone bad.  So, I decided to visit Marjorie Standish's recipe for Raw Apple Cake.
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 If you cook with apples and want to make life even easier, I vote to buy one of these.
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I bought mine from L.L.Bean years ago, but I can't find a link online.  Williams-Sonoma carries them for $28 at this link.  Here's what mine looks like in action.  It takes a few practice runs to get used to it, and the apples need to be hard, but once you discover the ease and simplicity of this gadget, it will change your apple-peeling life.

I threw a Granny Smith apple into the mix, too, just because I had one on the counter that was lacking a purpose.
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I also love the simplicity of one-bowl recipes. 
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Here is what the batter looked like before I mixed in the apples and pecans.
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Into the pan.
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Out of the oven.
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Onto a plate. 
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Enjoy! You'll note that Marjorie offers up a recipe for icing this cake, but I am a purist, and this cake stands on its own merit.  I love this cake so very much.  Bonus points to Marjorie for a recipe that makes my house smell so wonderfully autumnal.  Spices, apples, warm kitchen--if the shift has to happen, Raw Apple Cake a nice ease into the season.
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Writing Prompt:  What is the moment you most identify with the change of seasons?
 
 
I interrupt the regular parade of Marjorie Standish recipes to bring attention to my all-time favorite piece of 9/11 writing.  It seems appropriate on the 10-year anniversary.  It is "You Can't Even Remember What I'm Trying to Forget."

I like this essay not because I was lucky enough to hear its very first incarnation as part of Rebecca's graduate MFA lecture and still remember being blown away by her delivery.  The entire Bennington audience was riveted, and I had to sit still for a moment after.  She got it.  Rebecca got it so unequivocally right.

She did not speak in cliched, hackneyed language meant to sound profound.  No ultimate sacrifices, no lost innocence, no fallen heroes, and no jingoistic song lyrics.  She didn't put a boot in our ass because it's the American way, and she didn't point to an American flag sticker or a bible and say with authority "See? This means I am a patriot."

Rebecca was a flight attendant, in the air, at the time of the attacks.  She wrote about fear.  She noted the smallest details, and she captured the moment when her world view shifted.

On this 10-year anniversary, many people will share their recollections.  There will be a subtle jockeying for credibility as people claim connections.  In fact, I find myself doing it.  I was in DC.  I drove to the apartment just before the highway was closed, one of three vehicles on the road in the two miles between the Pentagon and where I lived.  I saw the wreckage within an hour of the impact, but I smelled the sour, chemical odor for weeks after.  I spent thirty agonizing minutes trying to locate my husband, whose role with the military often put him inside the Pentagon.  Married for less than a month, when I finally spoke to him, we made an emergency plan. As I drove out of the District, I saw armed street patrols.

Travis and I waited with a friend who endured eight crippling hours to see his wife.  In a tiny kitchen far away from Maine, I cooked from the Marjorie Standish collection.  I made blueberry cobbler.  Lemon chicken soup.  Spicy black bean soup, too.  I baked banana bread, and I sent Travis out the door with armfuls of casserole dishes.  When we heard the military planes above our building, even though his wife was still absent, our friend noted "I feel good knowing our guys are up there."  We watched George W. Bush on the television, and my liberal sensibilities shifted.  "Whatever it takes," I nodded, acutely aware that this was bigger than ideology.  He had my support.

Glazed and numb from the television, Travis and I sought solace in music a couple days later.  Ellis Paul and Lucy Kaplansky played a double bill, and we sat in the half full venue, trying to make sense of things in a new normal.

That was my experience of fear. 

Here is Rebecca's. 

You Can't Even Remember What I'm Trying to Forget
Threepenny Review, Winter 2005

Challenge:  In the spirit of remembrance, note your own experience of September 11.  Use only concrete words and phrases: things you can see, taste, touch, feel, or smell.  Describe your experience with physical terms, and avoid abstractions.  New writers believe abstractions strengthen prose, and they generally do not.  Like new construction or repairs, the most solid effects come from bricks, not imagined phrases.



 
 
I'm told the origin of this potato candy dates back to an 1872 evangelical minister, a come-to-Jesus revival-type event, and a Portland candy shop in the midst of developing a new product. I'm told the candy shop owner, swept up in the euphoria, named the candy in honor of this traveling minister.

Since Marjorie never mentioned anything about an evangelical revival, I won't either.  It seems wrong to associate the two things.  One is a decadent confection calling for two full pounds of powdered sugar and fruit native to tropical islands and naked people--all the while making particularly inventive use of Maine mashed potatoes.  And the other?  Well, it's an evangelical revival.  I'm all for people inviting the latter into their own kitchens, but I prefer to limit my personal kitchen to the former. 

So Needhams.  Potato candy.   They embody the Maine libertarian spirit of contrast, good living, and eclectic improvisation.

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My grandmother used to buy these candies by the boxful, and every time I see them on the shelves at Reny's, I think of her.  (Every time I see cans of chicken bone candy and Canada mints, too, but those are entirely different stories that I'll tell another time.)  As often as I ate them from the box at her house, or from the Seavey orange and blue waxed paper wrappers in the candy aisle, I never thought to make them from scratch.

Needhams are remarkably easy, but it's not an intuitive process.  Melt a stick of butter.  Add 3/4 cup of mashed potato.  Then dump two pounds of powdered sugar and half pound of coconut into the pan, so it sort of looks like this:
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It will seem like not enough fluid.  It will seem that way, and you may find yourself stirring the pan until your arm aches, trying to incorporate the butter into way too much sugar.  As your arm is about to fall off, you may read and re-read the recipe, wondering if there was a mistake.  Take heart though.  Marjorie knows what she's writing about.  Be patient, and keep stirring and mashing it all together.
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Eventually, it works, and you can spread it into a greased pan.
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Now, here's the part where I cheated.  I'm not opposed to melting paraffin into chocolate.  Not at all.  I just did not have any in my cupboard.  I did not have the paraffin, and I was hungry.  So, I melted chocolate chips in the microwave and rather than cut each Needham into squares and dunk individually, I just spread the melted chocolate on top.

Into the fridge to cool.  And while my approximation isn't the individually dunked piece of Maine nostalgia that is a proper Needham, it is a delicious treat.

See?
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Challenge:  Remember a food from your childhood and describe it in concrete prose with no abstractions.  What made it special?  What memories do you associate with it? Once you have written about it, seek it out. Locate it or create it.  Is the power of the experience in the food itself or with your associations?