Countdown to 2016…

Hey, People of the Internet.

In the waning moments of 2015, I want to wish all of you a Happy New Year, and share this video that my brother made with our nieces and nephews offering a nostalgic take on Old Times Past. See you back here on Monday, January 4th for our last first episode recap of Downton Abbey. (I’m making choking sounds as I type this: half in relief, half in grief.)

Feast!

feast table long viewToday is the greatest feast day on the calendar (The “-mas” in Christmas literally means feast in Latin). The day which conveys, above all other days, the spirit of generosity and fellow-feeling. So it seems fitting to share a few images from a dinner which took place on December 14th at Flatrocks Gallery which took generosity of spirit as its guiding principle. Net proceeds from the evening went to support the work of the Open Door, an organization which feeds thousands of people here on Cape Ann while offering a range of other crucial services.

The owners of Flatrocks Gallery, AnneMarie Crotty and Cynthia Roth, wanted to hold the fundraising dinner in conjunction with their current show, also called Feast! and asked food writer Heather Atwood and myself to help put the event together.

The menu was conceived and cooked by Heather, who provided a four-course meal via several crock pots and giant roaster full of ingenuity, metaphorically-speaking. The food evoked warmth and light and conviviality and coming inside out of the cold and dark to sit together elbow to elbow with strangers, eating at a common table via candlelight. Like an idealized version of a 17th century wayside tavern where it’s warm and clean and everyone smells awesome.

The mulled wine and roasted brussel sprouts start the evening by the fire.

The mulled wine and roasted brussel sprouts start the evening by the fire.

The guests ate and drank mulled wine over the fire on a beautiful snowy New England night before heading inside to eat and drink some more. A fisherman/musician neighbor, with a great white beard and the evocative nickname of Sasquatch, stopped by with a guitar and a set of reindeer antlers on his head to offer a bit of spontaneous song in return for a bit of spontaneous cheer — given in the form of warm appreciation and a pull of whiskey. The spirit of the Irish mystic poet-priest, John O’Donohue, was at the table in the reading of his work (he would have fit right in). A few more songs, played on the flute along with a banjo and guitar, came at the end of the meal, and the guests even had the chance to join in, singing on the chorus in full voice.

On the way out the door, guests could stop by the photo booth for a chance to put themselves in the middle of a huge painting of a true medieval feast, hanging ham hock and all.

Heather Atwood looks appropriately medieval at the Feast! photo booth.

Heather Atwood looks appropriately medieval at the Feast! photo booth.

It was a warm evening on a cold night, at nearly the darkest time of the year in our part of the world, and at every point in the evening we stopped to remember, and remember again, that those of us who have much are blessed when we make an offering of our abundance, out of the fullness of our hearts.

Vintage cookbook pages were used to make the cones that held the evening's menu.

Vintage cookbook pages were used to make the cones that held the evening’s menu.

Grace Before Meals

As we begin this meal with grace,
Let us become aware of the memory
Carried inside the food before us:
The quiver of the seed
Awakening in the earth,
Unfolding in a trust of roots
And slender stems of growth,
On its voyage toward harvest,
The kiss of rain and surge of sun;
The innocence of animal soul
That never spoke a word,
Nourished by the earth
To become today our food;
The work of all the strangers
Whose hands prepared it,
The privilege of wealth and health
That enables us to feast and celebrate.

— John O’Donohue, 1956-2008

Curatorial: The Dollar Store in the Spring

As has been previously established here, The Dollar Store is my go-to place for cheap holiday thrills. I’m not a fan of seasonal-specific decorating, at least when it comes to my own life (all that dragging out, sorting, and putting away with the holiday stuff becoming increasingly broken and disorganized with each passing year…it’s too much of a reminder of my own mortality and decay). The Dollar Store, however, provides just enough of a nod to whatever it is we’re currently celebrating to satisfy my household. And as a bonus, it is less hypocritical to shop there than other stores such as, say, every other chain store. They are all built on cheap imports, and while avoiding such places altogether would no doubt be the best way to celebrate modern life, at this point I settle for a life nearly free of cheap imports.

Paper garland up close

Apologies for contributing to our cultural poverty aside, I love The Dollar Store. Specifically, Dollar Tree (not all dollar stores are created equal).  For Easter this year I bought pretty much the cutest thing I have ever seen, anywhere. My children agreed, as it was the winning element in their Easter baskets. It was a little wind-up white bunny, that hopped around the table in a way that made our hearts sing. The other hit at the table was the floral paper garlands. Total cost: $5. Breakdown: 3 bunnies and 2 paper garlands at one.dollar.each. And I can pull these items out year after year, theoretically anyway, at least until they break or it gets too depressing to see them again.

Bunny up close

Of course there are entire sections of Dollar Tree that would qualify for a house of horrors, but that’s part of the fun. Find the high design (well…that might be a stretch) buried in the middle of the low, exploitative design. Speaking of high design, Brett from Lula’s Pantry here in Rockport (a store that is practically perfect in every way) provided the most delicious and mindful components of the Easter baskets: chocolate bunny ears and jelly beans so good that you could eat handfuls without feeling as though you’d been doused in a chemical bath. Not that anyone should eat handfuls of jellybeans, ever. But people do. And we should be provided with a means to not become ill in the process.

Thank you, Brett.

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