We buried Beacon this morning. Out under the great tree in the back field by the pond. When Jason came in and woke me this morning, I saw it on his face, I knew something was wrong. Not sure if it was Wile or Beacon that was heavy in his gaze, Jason gently told me that Beacon had been hit by a car. It’s difficult to even write these words. We were reminded of Solomon, our first cat, as we walked all the way out in the field to the great tree in silence, Jason ahead with Beacon in his right arm, a shovel in his left, Savarin on my hip, Wile unaware as he faithful trotted by, cows trailing behind. And we wept, and wept, and said goodbye.
He was such a loyal, loving cat. There was not a mean bone in his body. He was neither spiteful nor distant, as cats can be. He was not judgmental or cunning. He was faithful like a dog, as he took long walks with us out in the field, occasionally dashing close underfoot for security when he felt a cow got to close. We adopted Beacon in Beacon, New York, with our friends Katie and Troy, where he was discovered with his sister, another grey kitty, as tiny kittens alone in the winter, and brought into the animal shelter. They lived together in their crate until we came in, just weeks after Solomon had passed away. When the worker opened the crate door, Beacon leapt out onto Jason’s shoulders, in true Beacon fashion, and would not let go, wrapping his tail around his face. In fact, just last night, he did the same thing to Jason, leaping onto his shoulders and doing a balancing act to stay there while Jason walked around and Savarin watched with glee. We quickly realized this was the cat for us, as he took so much ownership over us from the start, and the whole ride home, more than eight years ago now, we went through names, royal names, strong names, silly names, like Alexander or Rufus or Cletus; Solomon had been so majestic—would that be this cat’s personality? But until we could find the right fit of a name, we settled on call him the cat from Beacon, so we could get to know him more. And in that, we realized this was his name! Beacon! Both of us knew it within a couple of days! (Not “Bacon” as my brother would mistakenly believe for years…) Beacon made the transition from outdoors to animal shelter to New York City apartment quite well, and nested himself a little home. He loved to sleep on our heads at night, to wake us with wet nose nudges in the morning, and greeted everyone who came to the door. He even made the transition to living with Lahi, Carly & Ashley’s excitable cattle dog, and transitioned quite well after that to a house he could call his own here in Virginia. And to our surprise, he made the transition to being an outdoor kitty so well that you would have thought he was born in a chicken house! Beacon spent a lot of his day either chasing Wile around, being chased by Wile, sitting among the chickens, climbing a tree, hunting birds or field mice, or rolling in the grass. I’ve known a lot of cats, but I haven’t known one to take walks as faithfully as Beacon did. When we walked, he walked. When we stopped, he just laid down right where you were. He would go with us for miles. He would stay at our pace over hills, through woods, by the ponds, never going his own way or turning bac. And because his four little legs were shorter than Wile’s, occasionally Wile would get far ahead, and then stop and wait for Beacon to catch up.
From the very start, Beacon loved. He loved and loved and loved us. He lavished us with love, even when we didn’t deserve it (or didn’t necessarily want it!). And so often we didn’t deserve the unconditional love he gave us. He licked us, he left his hair all over us in gestures of his love, he curled up on any little part of ourselves we would extend to him—an arm, a shoulder, even just a part of a knee, if we were busy with something else. He loved Wile deeply. He was coming to love Savarin deeply. And he loved our friends deeply! How many of our friends would he just drape himself across and purr? He liked to be held upside down, scooped up, thrown over my shoulder like a continental soldier… and his trust was like a canyon for us—any way we held him, anywhere we took him, anything we asked of him, he was not afraid. He deeply trusted. And he played. He would chase Wile around the yard just to get a rise out of him! He was Wile’s best buddy, and he taught Wile how to be a puppy, and how to be a part of our family. Those two found rest in one another’s company—not to mention, their matching coats! Beacon’s beautiful muted grey coat was actually the reason we even looked for a “blue” Border Collie like Wile! And he listened. Strange thing for a cat. He listed to numerous commands, including ‘no’ and ‘come on’. He came when you called his name and stayed when you told him to. And he had those funny little teeth that stuck out as if he were a vampire, yet he never purposefully scratched or bit us. His green eyes often glowed against the matte blue-grey of his short-haired coat. Our hearts ache, they are heavy and sad and empty and riddled with the “it’s my fault” and “we shouldn’t have let him out.” But our hearts also rejoice for the joy and the depth of life he added to our lives for the past eight and a half years, for the way he helped us to make the many transitions we did during those years, from saying goodbye to Solomon, from 312 to 314 W. 115th, from New York to the farm. We so thank the Lord for that. And I am in awe yet again of the fact that we are created to have such deep relationship with these animals, as all of us do, that we’re created by the Lord to love and care for them, to be loved by and cared for by them, and to experience a more intricate and reflective life because of them. Even though it was much too soon to say goodbye, to let go of a member of our family, we said our goodbyes with grateful aching hearts. As we sat there in silence, Jason, myself, Savarin, Wile, and the cows crowded behind us, we just listened in silence. We felt the weight of birth, as Savarin looked out with us solemnly, and the bitter weight of the passing of life. The tree that towered above us sounded like rain, the air smelled of rain, and Beacon laid nestled warmly in the earth, under the living dirt and grass, as lovingly as he used to crawl up under our blankets to sleep all day. And we said our goodbyes without words, for they were not necessary. We love you, we thank you, we miss you like hell…already.
In light of the fact that our Christmas Photograph was unfashionably late this year, we rolled it over into a few holidays, and realized that the biggest holiday that we had to share with those we love was the impending arrival in our lives… So here, we offer you loved ones, you friends near and far, you friends across oceans and across the street, those with whom we share our heart and with whom we can always share a good meal…we offer you this very late Christmas Card.
And just for fun, since we never sent them out, the other Christmas photos…
With these Christmas-New-Year-MLK-Day-Valentine’s Day wishes come our deep love and gratitude for the friends and family in our lives. As we reflect back over the past year, we think of the ways that we are utterly blessed beyond compare by the lives of those we love. And as we look forward to the year ahead, we are ever-grateful for the people and personalities and stories in all of you that will undoubtedly make our coming little girl’s life so rich and full. As we await her arrival, maybe days away, maybe weeks, we are reminded of the fullness in our lives that reflects the fullness in our hearts and the fullness in this womb…
And speaking of setting a table, this can be taken in the most metaphorical and most literal of senses, as we are also rebuilding the soul of our little farmhouse, the kitchen. As the small wimpers and cries of a new life enter these age-old walls, so too will the warmth of a new oven and the glow of renewed wooden floors. We await (and work diligently) towards both!
Harrigan + Jason + Baby
Sending you warmest wishes of cozy, crackling fires in the heart, gooey, melted cheese in the oven, warm bread dough raising in the corners of your mind, and cool airs of anticipation and growth and change in the best of ways throughout your spirit. Thanking God for the stitches of your hands across dappled, playful, storytelling fabrics that carry as much love in their life as a dog or a ball or a blanket as they do durability. Thanking Him for the ways that your smile and your generosity of self teaches your girls that they are secure, loved, accepted, and free to be themselves, and they are. Thanking him for years of unspeakable friendship that is woven up tight and tied down through battering winds and sealed off from heat and chill. And thanking Him for the year and the burst of life in the new that is ahead.
Much love, Harrigan
I feel so much like her tonight. Pushing back the covers past midnight, pressing the balls of my feet lightly over the ever-aging creek of the pine floor as to not wake him or the dog, shuffling down the stairs with hunger creeping up inside of me, probably coming on stronger because of the baby girl I harbor.
We always said she turned water into wine (read: soup) in a couple of minutes. The joke was she’d mix some water, crushed noodles, wilted salad, and pecorino and there would be the heartiest meal one could imagine. As much as each of her grandchildren grew strong out of this Italian-American-Depression-era broth, I think it also secretly kind of pissed some of us off in adulthood with something akin to jealousy, coveting her hand. Or eye. Or magic, I don’t know. I mean, she’s so haphazard, throwing this and that “little bit” into the pot, and bam. Soup. She had no recipe to give, no cooking lessons to offer. Just the comfort of warmth in your bones as she grated pecorino generously on top with her wiry, blue-veined hands. Of course that’s what soup is, right? Water and the leftovers of the day. And still, as much as many of us turned to cooking as a part of our joy and our identity in the family, we still never touched her soup.
In learning to cook soup, I sought the path of the French during times of gastronomical abundance. Roast a chicken stuffed with hearty root vegetables, a bouquet garni and slathered thick butter. Then boil the bones and drippings of that chicken for hours, with more vegetables and onions. Then strain those bones, and use the broth as a base to a dark, rich-bodied soup that took all day to cook, garnishing it with huge hunks of the previously roasted meat, new herbs, a combination of the roasted root vegetables sliced up such as parsnips, turnips, carrots and purple onions, with new ones for a clean look and complex flavor. Finish off with a handful of fresh greens—arugula, or kale, or spinach or chard, whatever is on hand. Top with a dash of balsamic or saba vinegar and a splatter of olive oil, and you’re good to go. A far cry from the 10 minute water to wine soup she used to make.
Until tonight. When I crept past my sleeping husband and passed-out pup towards the kitchen, to an empty fridge and emptier stomach, the product of just returning home after days away and getting over a terrible stomach virus that depleted my body of all nutrients. It finally took having little to nothing on hand to call on the familial instincts of my grandmother. “I have little to work with. Think. I’m hungry. What’s in the pantry. The freezer. This baby needs nutrients.” And thus, a water-to-wine soup was born in ten minutes flat. Orzo boiled in chicken broth with kale, egg and a few mushrooms. Bam. Somehow, light and clean is equally as complex as dark and rich-boiled. And I began to understand why to her, there is never a recipe (at least for soup). Because there’s never one way to make it. It really does depend on what’s on hand. It’s a combination of scarcity, hunger and pantry, stirred together with a bit of ingenuity and pecorino (for even in scarcity, she has pecorino…). And so, even though I shall break the rule of no recipes for 10-minute water-to-wine soup, I must share it here, at least to honor Grandma Ree.
- Pour some chicken broth in a pot and bring to a rolling boil (here I used low-sodium carton chicken broth)
- Add a handful of orzo and reduce heat to medium high
- Dig around in your pantry. Find an herb of your liking (or herb blend)
- Add a dash of that herb (I used herbes de provence)
- Find a handful of some wilted old greens you left in the fridge a week ago ( I found old kale…shame on me)
- Tear pieces of the greens off and drop into boiling broth
- Beat an egg in a bowl with salt and pepper
- With a fork, drip the egg into the soup
- If you have one or a couple, pull a mushroom out of the fridge or freezer (they freeze well for soup!)
- Slice and add to soup
- Cook another minute
- Bowl up and sit down. Grate Pecorino that is always on hand
- (If you are like me, and your “always on hand” is truffle oil, even be it cheap truffle oil from TJ Maxx (I hear you gasp, oh true purist-foodist friends and true lovers of French truffles! well I admit, on a slim budget I keep mine on hand from TJ’s…), splash on a dash in the end).
VOILA. 10 minutes or less (and 2 or less to eat it).
Enjoy with the crusty old bread that is stale and you forgot to freeze before leaving town.
Xoxo. Thank you Gram. I suppose I shall never starve because of you.
In some ways, such a measurable thing, pregnancy, proves itself immeasurable. The weeks count down, rush by, maybe like any other week or any other day that often seems to slip smoothly through our grasp. The body changes, expands, allows, makes room for, and the pants must with it! There are “milestones” like in the rest of our lives, even though we spend much of adulthood not counting any more, for fear of how fast indeed we will see it rush by. But somehow, even though we are just over 23 weeks pregnant, it mostly feels like an immeasurable experience, one that halts time, as your body becomes (as lacking as all the metaphors are, due to either familiarity or over-use) an incubator for life, a bed of growth for another. The gentle kicks and flutters remind you that yes, indeed, someone else is there, and she needs her space in the world. Such a thing is immeasurable, with words, with maternity pants, with calendars and due dates. Simply immeasurable. Because although we measure a life in, now weeks, soon months, and then years, and even though we measure our own by either years or careers or relationships or homes or…what do we measure by? There is simply no way. It is too vast to put a measuring line to…
Yet despite these ponderings about the depth and breadth of the timespan of our lives, and now, our children’s lives, I have opted to capture a few moments on camera. For what is a girl who is a photographer if she cannot concede to the allure of editing out a moment in life and memorializing it as a keepsake of ourselves? How I devour the images of my grandmother and mother when they were young. And these, I shall pass on to my daughter, so she can get a sense of something of her mother before she was… My friend Kathy came over and snapped a few photos – creative eye that she has – to depict the immeasurable 5 month mark.
A brief note…this post was written last Tuesday; forgive the opening present tense…
Today is a day of cooking pork. The house smells of it…the lard rendering in the cast iron pan in the oven occasionally echoing a crackle, the pork back bones slow roasting so we can pick the meat and marrow off diligently and smear it on toast with robust, whole grain French mustard, the pot of pork bones on the stove slowly simmering with ginger, onion, soybean paste and chili peppers, forming the base of the traditional Korean soup, Gamjatang. Speaking of traditional, all this pork spreading its tantalizing fumes of fat throughout our kitchen is a direct product of tradition at its best. Now I must admit to being one who swings to the opposite side of the pendulum when it comes to appreciating tradition, succeeding more at recognizing how “tradition” might serve to stifle new growth, new ideas, the sharing and creating of culture, and the like. At times, I have even thought of myself as “traditionless…” which is clearly a misnomer—that would be like calling oneself “cultureless…” which is simply not possible. It is possible to live within what one might consider to be an invisible culture, so accepted in its assumptions and values that it takes on the misrepresentation of the definition “normal.” To be “normal” would be to be of “my culture,” and as proceeds the thought, to be outside of this (invisible) culture would therefore be abnormal. But clearly, any way we slice it, we are not cultureless. And neither are most any of us traditionless. And it is in all this pork cooking and a visit to a neighboring farm last Saturday that reminded me of the beauties of the local traditions that I am slowly learning of, consuming as excitedly as I once consumed the international traditions of places I have traveled to. My home here has become my own foreign playground for exploration of traditions!
An aspect of tradition that I have always been keenly drawn to, along with the majority of the population of the earth, is food. The act of cooking, of tasting, of learning about life and living life through food has always fascinated me, increasingly so. When I was a child, we were deeply encouraged to explore our gastronomical sensibilities. At age 10, when I caught pneumonia, I ate little and refused to drink the horrid, chalky green liquid grandma called my medicine. With a little urging from my father and a hefty bribe of being able to eat a whole ¼ pound of prosciutto all for myself, I promptly took my medicine, ate the prosciutto, and vomited it all back up. But the point is, since you are sidetracked by the vomiting, that I could be bribed—not with candy, but with prosciutto. On my 8th birthday in Rhode Island, when my parents still ran their little dream pizza and seafood restaurant in Shannock near the shore, I was asked what I wanted. I want to have all my friends over to make their own pizzas, with any toppings they might desire. And I proceeded with my culinary plans, encouraging friends to pile as many handfuls of mozzarella or Pecorino Romano or spicy sausage or basil leaves atop the freshly-risen crust…all to have my mother pull the line of cheese out of my throat after indulging in my overloaded first bite. Are we seeing a theme here? No, not with choking on food, but the extreme fascination and love of the way food is made, tastes and operates in culture! My sister and brother undoubtedly have their own mischievous adventure stories with food, such as when Jewells and I spent weeks dotting from train station to train station in little towns in India, weighing what food we would sample and risk potential illness to satiate our lusting taste buds and what food we would politely but with deep-seated personal regret, decline. And certainly living in New York City is a foodluster’s playground. Between the access to affordable cuisine from around the world and access to essentially the United Nations of grocery stores, a person could eat or make anything their mouth-heart might desire.
Moving to the Shenandoah Valley has had its blessings and its curses, as does anything else. And it has certainly demanded some sacrifice in terms of access. But it has provided a new kind of access all its own. Farm. Fresh. Food. Everyone knows the story—farm-to-table, “clean” food, “green” food; we’ve all digested the cultural headlines a thousand times now (and we should be proud that we have!). To this end, Jason and I have traded in our metro card down to Chinatown or over to the Lower East Side or to the Flatiron district for dinner…we have traded that freedom to access certain kinds of food for access to another kind…for a flock of crazy birds, a freezer full of our own beef, and a garden full of tomatoes. And I’ve also gained access to a local food culture that is simply delightful.
Now, not many people would call attending an old-fashioned hog butchering delightful, and I respect that fully. Butchering, in its essence of the act is never delightful. Reverent, maybe, but not delightful. Last Saturday, I was able to join a good ol’ fashioned hog butchering. Every November, the Wakeman family holds a hog butchering where a group of people (mostly men) get together to help one another butcher their hog or hogs to go in the freezer for the year. Billy Wakeman, now 84, was a butcher in his day travelling from farm to farm with a wagon to butcher people’s animals on site. Billy heads up the day’s efforts while men half his age run circles around him, consulting him here and there, and his wife Geneva in the kitchen keeping hot coffee, a hot pot of beans, and pies flowing to the picnic table outside. It is the numerous men’s jobs to do the actual butchering, while it is Geneva’s job to work inside, cleaning each bladder by hand with a small, sharp knife in order that they might be stuffed with meat and hung for six months or more to cure as Summer Sausage.
There must have been 20 men or more, some young boys following their fathers around to learn the customs. That’s just the thing—the whole day’s efforts were a well-oiled machine because of the customs. Everyone knew their part to play. One man knew he was good with the saw to open the rib cage, another knew exactly how hot to stoke the fire underneath the huge black cast iron kettles of water, prepped to rinse down the hog, the cutting tables, and ultimately to boil huge chunks of meat in. A pig is cut just so because of custom. Sausage is mixed just so because that’s the tradition. Sure, there were stories swapped of “my granddaddy used to do his sausage this way,” or “my grandmother made the best pon hoss because she added this spice…” but again and again, it came down to the tradition of that’s the way we do things ‘round here. We cut the pig just so. We scrub the pig just so. We like these cuts. We render the lard just so. Often, as I mentioned, I am quick to see the side of tradition that tends to limit, and so I become a cherry picker of traditions, sampling and tasting through the traditions of a bouquet of cultures. But last Saturday, at Billy and Geneva Wakeman’s annual hog butchering, I also basked in a moment of so appreciating the way that the culture of generations gave birth to a well-oiled machine. From the first sliver of sun pressing over the mountains and the steam of breath that rose from the men that gathered with the family pigs that would serve as a good portion of their protein for the next year, each person knew their place. There was no arguing, no deciding who went where, no discussion over how to hold the knife or where to bring the tractor or how to start the fire. Men moved calmly and steadily to their station, cleaning, scraping, cutting, mixing spices and feeding meat into the grinder to make sausage. And it was tradition that set Geneva inside cleaning bladders, scraping them swiftly with a worn, old knife probably as old as she, preparing them to be first soaked in salt water to “pull out all the impurities,” then stuffed with sausage meat and hung in the meat house for 6 months to cure. And I was grateful for how invited into such a tradition I was. “Photograph this!” a man would say to me and point to his skillful cutting. Another would explain a process, and another would explain why his spices were the best. “Here, taste this,” one man approached me with a slab of fresh liver out of the pot. “Want a pickle or some mustard?” It was delicious, I might add. Although there is a huge jury still out on the health value of liver, and the opponents are as stanchly established as are those tooting its extremely high iron value, if I judged on taste alone, I would have to say it’s an amazing thing and we should all eat it, savoring its tremendous iron levels and its tradition of being a historical health food. That said, this liver was a far cry from the stuff packaged in stores from oversized feed-lot cattle that turns mushy and chalky when cooked. This was intense flavor and consistency that stood its ground. I digress… But I also happened to be in the right place at the right time when one of the men cutting up the prime meats of his hog decided he didn’t need to keep his backbone (usually kept attached to the ribs). “Can I have that?” I asked without getting too close as to seem in the way of the quickly moving knives and small saw. “Sure! Get yourself a bag, and I’ll cut it up for you!” I’ll just say we didn’t let a drop of it go to waste, as mentioned, but after slow-roasting it, smeared the soft, sweet meat onto toast with mustard. Must have been some of the best pork I’ve ever had.
Joining the annual Wakeman Hog Butchering was an education and an honor, and I’ve already been invited back—a couple of people asked why we didn’t have our own hog to bring to be butchered. Don’t worry, I’ve already asked Jason that question. And let’s just say we haven’t ruled it out… I suppose we are building our own traditions, even if we make Korean Gamjatang soup from the bones instead of scrapple…
Bonjour, good people! This morning is the morning after hurricane Sandy smashed into the eastern shore board, tearing paths of wind, scattering downed trees and flooding streets, tunnels, homes and rivers along her path. How life changes in an instant, we are humbly reminded. And how ours has changed in an instant as well! Well, I suppose an instant has transformed itself into something more like four and a half months… but none-the-less! An instant! We had quite the rambunctious summer, our home filled with a continual flow of people we love so dearly coming to visit from near and far. There was the laughter of two little girls and their mama from New York City, the long walks with a friend from Berkley, the day-long thrifting affairs and hours-long tea and coffee breaks at the kitchen table with a soul-mate from Sweden, country adventures for her birthday with a delightful sister and friends, long swims in the cool springs that run from the West Virginia mountains with girlfriends from New York, and a county fair introduction to friends again from New York, via Malaysia and Taiwan. Boy, did we have quite the summer of hosting loved ones and touring the Shenandoah Valley, near and far. But amidst all of the delight of summer-time visitors, we also embarked on our own little adventure…one so unknown and so sweet in its mystery that we kept it a secret all to ourselves for a few weeks, to savor and ponder the thought that we might invite another into our home.
It wouldn’t be long before we would spread the whisper to loved ones, calling 94 year old grandma and sister and girlfriend and brother, and not much longer before we would declare it with glee. Now, at 20 weeks, the half-way point, it has settled deep into both of our bones and our realities, and we feel ourselves shifting into the coming season of life. And in the midst of a hurricane, we made the arduous trip up to our midwives to discover our little girl, kicking, swirling, and turning, making herself known to the world. Little Girl! Ah, the delight. I’m not sure which was more delightful–the ultrasound images or Jason’s face!
The image below is difficult to see clearly, but more than the image is the striking reality that this tiny 12 ounces of life is a force to be reckoned with in her own right–she would not slow down enough to catch most of the images the midwife needed! This image captures her, fists clenched, like most babies en utero…something I could not convince her father was normal no matter how much I tried, as he’s determined to believe that it’s the sign of the Fightin’ Irish, something he regularly attributes to my spirit (despite the fact that my Irish heritage is only 1/4, much less than my namesake would betray). Jason’s diagnosis: she has his nose, my lips, his feet, and my hands. Wow, a lot of information to draw from a tiny, indescript image! But I suppose a father has his intuition… And so the slow, steady race towards the next season of life continues, as it always does, as it always has.
And finally, here are a few of the pregnancy progression images, in crappy phone photographs…gotta love ’em, quick and pixelated they may be!