Un Buon Natale
The Italians were here for Christmas! For all of December, actually. Poala C. stayed with me for the entire month. Melchiorre and Dana stayed with Dana's folks in PA. It was a lovely month of introducing my local friends to "l'italiana vera" and touring about.

Paola was most adventurous and intrepid, venturing into Philadelphia on the bus and heading down to DC on her own. After Christmas, we went up to NYC for a long weekend. I haven't spent that kind of time in NYC for years. We saw almost everything, from Battery Park and Wall Street to the Natural History Museum. New York was all dressed up for the holidays with lights, colors and shimmery things. Gives me chills of joy.

Venison on Delaware

Bill called with a proposition. “Help me put together a dinner party, and I’ll be your best friend.” Bill lives in an historic mansion on the river―a gorgeous old place with lovely gardens and a lawn that sweeps down to the riverbank. He’s a horticulturalist – a landscaper who knows his plants, not a ‘mulch and mow’ guy. He has a10-burner stove I would consider remodeling my entire house for.

The plan―venison. Bill had been given a deer by a local hunter. We got on the internet and started emailing ideas and recipes… venison seared with blackberry reduction, venison roasted with juniper berries, venison in every way imaginable.

Honestly, Bill is a very good cook. He really didn’t need me. I think I was a safety net. (My true purpose was the table setting. For me, a lovely table really kicks up the action a notch.) Bill was concerned about the venison. If you cook it to long, it can get gamey. If you don’t cook it long enough, it’s tough. A quandary. We decided it would have to be long, slow cooking.

We started planning… who to invite, how to seat them, what to serve with the venison, how to tackle the logistics. Whew. The plan was for about 17 people. We would have to set tables diagonally across the room. Due to mansion rules, we were using the servants quarters—a rustic ambiance. The room had an old wood stove at one end and not much else. We set a simple table, white table cloth, a line of fruits and flowers down the middle and candles, of course.

Bill had marinated the roast overnight in a hearty red wine with some spices. The meat was purple when we transferred it to the roasting pan, adding beef broth, more red wine, onions, parsnips, carrots and fresh herbs to the pan for the roast. We were set to serve a roasted squash soup, a vegetable risotto, roasted Brussels sprouts with carmelized shallots, and fresh bread. For dessert, an apple cake.

It was quite an evening… We wanted the guests to have a chance to enjoy the view, so we started with cheese, fruit and wine just before sunset. It was chilly, but we trundled down to the lawn to see the river and the view of Delanco across. We walked the grounds a bit and enjoyed the waning light.

Then it was into the house for more wine and a lively, social dinner party by candelight. Everyone mixed and mingled, we laughed, shared stories and really did not want the evening to end. 

A postscript. Bill and I work very well together in a kitchen. We did a second venison dinner in December when the Italians were in town. This one featured white polenta (by Melchiorre) instead of risotto and a gorgeous panna cotta (by Paola). Again, an evening worth repeating.

Autumn Mornings
The chill is in the air. Temperatures are dipping into the 40s at night suddenly. Somehow, it feels like summer sprinted past. Maybe because we had such heat and humidity, I spent more time hiding indoors.

I filled the bird feeders this morning and put new suet cakes in the suet feeders hidden in the cedars near the house. It's time to hear the birds chatter and chirp. While I work in the dining room, I can watch the branches shimmy and the shadows dance as fat little sparrows and finches battle over a spot by the feeder. Having the action close by makes me smile.

How We're Wired
People are driven by individual passions, interests and motivations. Some folks have a drive to organize. Others have a need to dominate. Still others are thinkers, or dreamers... It's taken years for me to see it, but I am driven to connect and create things... people, web tools, communications channels. Life being short, there are myriad projects that cry to be kicked off. At work, this year's projects will focus on a complete re-tooling of our website (internal and external) and beginning to build a training curriculum. It exciting... for me, training is THE most important thing a company can provide to staff. And I love developing training programs that

Summer Sighs
Summer ends on Sunday, officially. Sigh. But we've had the most amazing sunsets this week... carmine, rose and orange clouds against a clear blue sky. Tonight I'll go down to the river with my new camera. This morning when I left for work, the water was sooo blue, and the white boats against the rich blue water made a big contrast, a big statement.. it just popped up at me.

I've gotten into an organic produce coop here in town. Dawn, a lovely young mother, sends us the menu for the week. We choose our box size and our foods/substitutions. (Say the menu includes green peppers and I have no need for them. I get to choose a substitution.), The organic produce is delivered to Dawn. She divides everything up into boxes, we drop by with a check and take home fresh, organic fruits and veggies. This week I got dandelion greens, red lettuce, pluots, grapefruit (substituting for green peppers!), apples, pears, beets and celery. Everything looked fresh and perky. And the flavors have been so much sharper and richer than the Acme bought produce I normally get! Yum., Tonight I'm making a salad with the lettuce and the dandelion greens, fresh tomatoes, celery and blue cheese crumbles with a white balsamic and orange marmalade vinaigrette..

Went to the theater last night to see Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll -- very political play about the uprisings of the 60s, Prague Spring, the idealism of the generation, the passions in music...political ideals...between people. It had heart, but if you have to explain everything... If your play is full of impassioned monologues about politics and ideals, you won';t keep the butts in the seats. They used projection and lots of good music, but I don't think you could hide the fact that the first act is weak. Second act was better... so you left feeling good about it. Anyway - it was great to go to the theater. Made me miss it... all the back stage stuff.

The Philly Fringe Festival is here and I am on my way! Tonight, we're off to The European Lesson. The festival runs from now through Sunday, September 14. Check out the schedule.

Tempus Fugit
It's been busy. We're stretched too thin at work and finding the inspiration to write has been difficult. However, at 9 tonight I am on a flight to London, then onto Italy this weekend.

Travel days are tough for me. I am excited to leave... to see new things, to lounge and laze about with friends, to take a break from the routine. At the same time, deep inside I cling to my routine... my house, my garden, the cats, the people I see every week.  The day I leave is always somewhat fraught... list checking, errands, more list checking, opening the suitcase to make sure I've packed the right things, double checking the lists. Neurotic maybe? I want to leave, but I don't want to leave.

There is a lingering feeling of loss and melancholy... a vague "we may never pass this way again" sadness. Is that a well hidden fear of flying? I don't think so. I have yet to accept my mortality... I accept it intellectually but have always insisted that unlike the rest of you unlucky bastards, I'm immortal. More likely, my melancholy is about change... what will have changed in my absence...  Time move on. People move on. Life's adventures unfold without waiting for absent friends. Every choice I make - to vacation or not to vacation - means a path untrodden that moves on without me. Sigh.

Once gone and on my way though, I am in the moment and thinking about vacation... never work, sometimes home. Mostly, what are we up to today?

Somewhere, Over the Rainbow
A series of bucket dumping rainstorms blew through on Saturday. The weather was warm. but wet and windy so we were indoors pottering about. The sun came out, and we ventured forth to enjoy the warmth. Gabe suggested a walk down to the river to see how high the tide was running.

The late afternoon light was beautiful, creamy and golden against the houses as it slanted low. The deep blue sky contrasted with the slate gray clouds that pushed on in the distance, dumping buckets elsewhere.

In one of those magical moments, a rainbow appeared high in the sky arching back toward Broad Street and toward the river. We hurried down to the river and found a perfect arch of deep color. It was the most clear and saturated rainbow I'd ever seen... and  I kept thinking, "I am living at the end of a rainbow, so this must be a pot of gold."

Small Town Blues
My tiny town is picturesque. We're on the Delaware River. Ships, large and small, ply back and forth all day. The streets and alleys (service alleys of years gone by) are lined with tall sycamores and oaks. The houses are either large stately Victorians or more modest homes where the workers lived. Barring a misguided renovation her and there, most houses have charm.

Founded around the end of the Civil War by wealthy Philadelphians searching for respite from the city's heat, noise and grime, Riverton still offers a little oasis at the waterside. The old Victorian era steamship dock and station were refitted as a sailing club, with races, lessons and cocktail parties on the pier. The library - another gingerbread confection - runs many programs to entice young people into reading, and older folks into donating time and money to keep the library running. We have a historical society, a women's' club that does charitable work, and a lively group of residents always pushing and pulling over the best way to live in this tiny sliver of turf.

For me, the perfect small town needs a healthy downtown. It should be a place where people naturally gather. A place where folks are drawn out of their homes and cars to shop for the average goods and services one needs on a day to day basis. And since people are in the square shopping and stopping to chat with their neighbors and friends, there will be food. A coffee shop, a cafe, a restaurant or two... places to sit and enjoy a quiet or convivial moment in the day.

Once upon a time, we had this in each of our little river towns - Palmyra, Riverside, Beverly, Burlington. Each of these towns had a vibrant downtown with pharmacies, groceries, movie theaters, bakeries, cobblers, tailors, jewelers, bowling alleys, dentists.

I can remember going into Hardts bakery in Beverly and getting a "sample" spice cookie each week. Though unpaid child labor, I was happy to sacrifice myself to ensure the quality of their product.

Or visiting Marty's Butcher Shop in Riverside to get big joint bones for my grandmother's dogs... and to sample the pressed ham, always offered in a tight roll. (Once again, part of my childhood quality commitment.)

And dimly, I can remember being driven to Palmyra (from Beverly) to go to the movies. It seemed like an interminable ride... miles and miles and miles. Then to go into a glamorous movie house. (This is a child's memory. I'm sure by that time there was nothing glamorous or glitzy about the theater in Palmyra. They were, I think, one of the alt local theaters to close down.)

Somewhere in the 60s/70s we gladly got in our cars and drove away from our small towns, to go to the "big" stores out on the highway where we got huge selections and slightly lower prices. So, Weiss's Hardware in Beverly (or Fosters in Riverside) gave way to Rickels out on 130.

(An aside - how has Palmyra managed to keep its locally owned stores for so long? Schwering is still going strong - thankfully. They have 3 flower stores... how they manage that I do not know.)

Now, in the early 2000s, some of us would like to stop getting into our cars and driving to the truly huge big box stores that have gobbled up our local farms and open space.  Maybe malls were once thought to be the townsquare of the future. What we've found is that they don't bring us together in any meaningful way... Though we wander the mall in and out of shops en masse, you could not say that we interact or come together in any meaningful way.

Groundhog Day
Punxsutawney Phil is predicting a longer winter.

For those of you who are now local, that means the groundhog saw his shadow and we are in for 6 more weeks of.... well so far, it has not seemed much like winter. Maybe we are going to condense winter into the next 6 weeks. I would not mind a little white stuff to ice my world.

Birdies Bathing
My writing table is the dining room table. Ahead of me is a window that looks at a bird feeder. To my right are the french doors that look out onto the deck with the yard beyond. Today, the birds are everywhere...

A small flock of fat mourning doves have been perched on the roof of the birdhouse, sitting this way and that at right angles to each other, trying to figure out how to get on a perch designed for more compact birds. They flutter and flap, hover, wedge on sideways... a foot slips, more fluttering. Another dove tries to insinuate itself ungracefully. Maybe they shovel a few nuts and seeds into their gullets before being shoved aside for the next ungainly attempt.

The able and chairs on the deck are covered for the winter. Serendipitously, the green cover has created a shallow pond, freshly filled with these weeks rains. The sparrows and finches are splashing and ducking about. You would think it was summer with all the exuberant bathing.

It makes me happy to see the birds doing their noisy flapping/chattering thing so close I can see it all.  This new winter water feature makes the yard a complete Audubon Habitat!

The Yellow Marble
Are you superstitious? I'm not. Not really... But I do find - sometimes - a kind of knee jerk, good luck, magical thinking creeping into my planning.  I was raised Catholic. Ritual is a part of my belief system. I may have jettisoned the dogma, but the repetition and ritual (that were adopted to feed the pagan soul) still holds some sway. I'm a collector of amulets and planter of wolfsbane*.

A friend of mine has a yellow marble. It's the good luck yellow marble, passed from hand to hand amongst her friends whenever someone needs that little something extra to get them what they need. The yellow marble has many converts who sing its praises... recite the litany of jobs won, disasters averted, coincidences arranged. I've heard the stories... and I've heard the conviction in the voices of the folks for whom the marble has come through. The marble has followers.

There are rules. You need to be patient. The marble cannot work miracles every day. It has to be near you. I think it's rather like a pearl, that needs to be near you, to draw its strength from your skin, your warmth, your soul. (Perhaps it actually sees into your soul, to give you what you really need but not necessarily what you want. Hmmm... that could be a porch discussion.) And I think you need to relax and believe.

I've been re-evaluating a large part of my life... what I do for a living... I'm tossing ideas around with people... examining my options. And I've been offered the marble for this transition phase.

Wouldn't it be nice to have that extra something? To know that whatever that little thing is that you need but don't really know you need...that secret in your soul... will be sussed out and given to you?  It's the rabbit's foot, the horseshoe (pointing upward), your mother's old handkerchief tucked into your pocket. A little yellow marble like a pearl in the hand.

*Wolfsbane, also known as aconite and monkshood, is flowering plant in the buttercup family.

New Year
Every year we get better and better. That is the way it works, right? Better as people, better at our lives, our relationships... betters friends, better daughters, better cooks, better photographers. It's all about goals and improvements.

My goal is to look at time in a different way... to do the things that make me happy and find creative ways to do more of the fun stuff.

You've heard of the Slow Food Movement? Well, there is also a Slow travel movement. And -- my favorite -- The Society for the Deceleration of Time... the Slow Life movement. And they are completely low key about it. Work it in at your own pace - no pressure.

This year I'm getting paid offers to go to Italy and organize/guide people during their vacations. This is my idea of heaven... but how do I coordinate these interludes with a full time job? That is my creative challenge!

Suggestions are welcomed.
Philadelphia Tales
Link to the Italiani Bravi conversation group on Google or check out
assorted pictures at Flickr
intro . 2010 . 2009 . 2008 . 2007 . 2006 . 2005 . 2004 . garden . kayak . travel . to see . to eat . Forking Delicious . My Umbrian Adventure
Yellow Marble courtesy of Gabriele83 and flickr
Groundhog courtesy of trisheroverton and flickr.com
Small Town Riverton, NJ
historical society . porch club . borough. classic towns
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The Riverton Yacht Club
Victorian home with wrap-around porch
A summer regatta on the river
Winter in Riverton
A path through the snow in Riverton
Mel and Dana on Xmas Eve
La Paola