We can be with friends! (McFerrin’s song, Friends, has been on repeat over here!)
Our neighbors invited us over to celebrate a birthday in their backyard. It was clear, it was warm, and in the newly free-from-lockdown world, it was even more delightful than usual. We paraded into their back garden bearing hot dishes, met by freshly mown grass, so vivid and fragrant, a set table, sparkling pink wine in glasses, and smiling faces. Since it was our friend’s birthday, I cooked, and when I’d asked earlier in the week what he’d like for his meal, he gave me a list of hearty, mom-style meals—fried chicken, meatloaf, mac & cheese, a broccoli quiche. Now, this pal is a gourmet with no qualms about whipping up a home sushi feast, popcorn flavored ice cream, olive oil cakes, you know, stylish and inventive food. This list he gave me? It warmed my heart. Honestly. No matter how old we get to be, childhood delights bring us comfort.
What would you want at your birthday meal, if, oh, I don’t know, you’d been deprived of friends and family because of a global pandemic for more than a year? Honestly, I’d be happy with my favorite, red wine and buttered popcorn, if I could sit around and laugh with friends.
As we all begin to wean off the zoom cocktail hour portal and have more IRL friend visits, I thought it appropriate to read about friendships as well. Here are just a few books I’ve loved that celebrate pals– laughter, misunderstandings, compassion and competition, love, generosity, betrayals and abandonments– all of which are a part of our human friendships.
RAMONA THE PEST, by Beverly Cleary. RIP Ms. Cleary, and long live Ramona! Ramona, forever preserved as the subject of her own life, lives freely, with a joie de vivre of girlhood adventure, friendships, and a say yes attitude. My children and I spent many bedtimes reading about Ramona, laughing together and loving her world.
FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS, by Arnold Lobel. Not only are Frog and Toad friends, they’re practically Buddhists in their attitudes, kindnesses, and ability to live in the moment. Consider this from the story, “Alone,” when Toad goes to Frog’s home to find a note telling him that Frog isn’t home and that he’s gone off to be alone. The note sets Toad into crisis mode, worrying that Frog is sad. But, when he finds his friend, sitting on an island, staring over the pond, this is what Frog tells him:
“I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.”
I wish I’d had a bit of that attitude during the past thirteen months, bouncing off my four walls.
SWING TIME, by Zadie Smith. Not only is this a novel about a girlhood friendship that comes to an end when the characters hit their twenties. Not only is it about the complications that arise when friends share a dream of the future but only one achieves it, it’s got TAP DANCING!!
WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL, by Lorrie Moore. A gorgeous novella about a friendship, about the liminal time in girls’ lives when they go from girlhood to womanhood, when they shift from being the subjects of their own lives, to objects in the world. The time is fraught and powerful. How do we help a friend when we realize they need help before they are willing to accept it?
TRUTH AND BEAUTY, by Ann Patchett, is the story of her friendship with the writer, Lucy Greely. It was a complicated friendship, both blessing and burden, complicated but neither woman wavered in commitment. None of us escape the sticky moments, the times we feel that it is almost too much, but when loyalty and love prevail we feel lifted up, having built an even more solid intertwined history to see us through.
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.
A number of years ago at SFMOMA I stumbled into an exhibit called, Side by Side. Included were paintings by David Hockney, Frieda Kahlo, Alice Neel, Travis Collinson and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. I remember spending much time in the gallery, particularly in front of the Neel painting, “Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian.”
I love her work. The colors, the insouciance of the gaze, the casual, claiming arm slung over the back of the chair, it all appealed to me.
So I offer you a prompt: How did these two meet? Who are they looking at? What will happen once we turn away?
And, as an additional prompt, museums are opening up! Take yourself on an Artist Date. Bring a notebook. Scribble. Be curious. Fill your well.
If you’re interested in working with me, I’ve got a number of one day craft workshops coming up. Topics will include how to write VIVID SETTINGS (May 15, 10:00 – 1:00PT), creating FULL AND FASCINATING CHARACTERS (June 5, 10:00 – 1:00PT), and, stay tuned for a conversation about conversations, writing DIALOG that truly earns its place on the page, coming July 17. Finally, I am really looking forward to teaching a SIX (LOVE) STORIES IN SIX WEEKS (Thursday evenings, beginning July 8), that will be a totally playful, generative workshop, using stories from the collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, as a launching point into pieces of our own. As always please feel free to email me with questions or to get on my list regarding upcoming spots in my private (via zoom) workshops.
Friendship. Springtime. This girl’s fancy turns to asparagus and strawberries. I’m all for eating what’s in season, hence my grocery cart currently can’t make it through the store without these two plopped in. Here are three recipes I’ve been making over and over, a simple salad, a delectable side dish, and simple dessert.
This salad is vegan, but if you like, a little goat cheese would be a nice addition.
Strawberry Asparagus Salad
- 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 20 medium strawberries, sliced
- About 10 leaves basil, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place asparagus on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil and flakes of salt.
- Roast asparagus for 8-10 minutes, until just tender (do not overcook!)
- While asparagus is roasting, boil the balsamic vinegar until reduced to about 1/4 cup
- Divide asparagus among the plates and top with sliced berries, basil, and salt and pepper.
- Use a spoon to drizzle each serving of asparagus with the balsamic syrup.
Roasted Asparagus with Buttered Almonds, Capers and Dill (Yotam Ottolenghi)
- 1 ⅓ pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed
- 3T olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 2T unsalted butter
- 1/4c sliced (flaked) almonds
- 3T baby capers, patted dry on paper towels
- ½ c roughly chopped fresh dill
- Heat oven to 425 degrees Line a baking sheet w/parchment paper.
- In a large bowl or on a work surface, toss the asparagus with 1T oil, a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Arrange asparagus on the paper-lined pan, spaced well apart. Roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until asparagus is soft and starting to brown in places, 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove from oven and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until foamy. Add almonds and fry, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes (reduce heat to prevent scorching). Pour almonds and butter evenly over asparagus.
- Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat over high heat. Once hot, add the capers and fry, stirring continuously, until they have opened up and become crisp, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove capers from the oil and sprinkle over the asparagus. Add dill. Using tongs, mix gently, transfer to a large plate and serve warm.
And, my personal favorite of the bunch. When I was a young woman, starting out with my own dinner parties, my friend/roommate/sister-from-another-mother, and I served this often.
- 2 pints strawberries, washed and stemmed
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Slice the strawberries. In a large bowl, toss three-quarters of them with the sugar and orange liqueur. Using a fork, mash up a few, breaking them to thicken the liquied and infuse w/flavor even more. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to macerate.
- Put the cream in a cold mixing bowl and, using the whisk attachment, or a handheld electric mixer, whip to soft peaks, about 12 minutes.
- Distribute the cream among 6 chilled bowls. Mix the plain sliced berries with the remaining macerated berries and place on top of the cream.
Serve to your gathered friends and feel très sophistiqué.