Friday, August 7, 2015

Cut Flowers

Playing catch-up yesterday, I bustled out into the bone-dry garden to harvest something, anything, to display in a crude pottery vessel that sits on the table in the front hall. The process was more akin to Sally Field’s “Norma Rae” flip-out dinner menu than a stately exercise in ikebana.

I cut dock, fireweed, Queen Anne’s lace, a shaft of nascent bamboo, the odd sport of boxwood, and topped the whole mess with a couple of stems of potato blossom, arranging as I cut by rotating the bunch in my hand a la David N. Hicks. I trimmed the stems even and called it good.

The pot had been sitting around full of water waiting for posies. I wanted to get to it before the mosquitos did. When I stuffed the flowers into the vessel, they looked little more graceful than the process that got them there. Several hours later, they had rehydrated and oriented toward each other in unexpectedly elegant relationships. I suspect the tough, dry flora will last longer in the pot than the highly cultivated bunch of lilies and dahlias I brought home from the Market to greet a welcome visitor a couple of weeks ago.

More after the jump.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Preparing the usual grocery hand* of foliage is like wading through rain-soaked brush. Last week I just trimmed the ends of the stems, rinsed off the leaves, subtracted a couple of weary patches, and stuffed the whole thing into the electronic pressure cooker along with a quarter cup of water. Twenty steamy minutes on high later, I lifted out a manageable limp mass, chopped it into bite-sized units, and stored it in a shallow glass dish with matching cover. Greens are delicious served cold and topped with hot sauce.

The cooking liquid is a refreshing drink that looks like dangerously stagnant water.

*Hand is a commercial brush-picker’s unit of measurement consisting of an arm’s length of salal or huckleberry foliage that can be held in one hand.


More after the jump.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Recently, a cousin found a gift registry in a casual family archive and handed it over. It appears to be a few pages from the back of an ordinary notebook used to record who brought which offerings to the reception of a post Pearl Harbor wedding, when ceremonies were often hastily organized under stressful conditions. 

The few minutes spent examining the list was worth a quarter’s study of design. Once I recovered from reading the names and seeing the signatures, I could consider the gifts themselves. My mother had told me that during the war, the usual domestic amenities were in very short supply and high-end artifacts unobtainable. I read the inventory as a list of materiale diverted from a vital mission. No doubt some of the silver artifacts were donated from personal collections. It is a pitiful inditement of Forties culture that a clothes iron was considered a domestic priority.

Two gifts stand out as lasting, relevant, and deeply meaningful to a child of the house. The first was the first item on the list, a pair of wooden trays. They worked every day for at least thirty years. I loved to handle them. They were birch plywood with molded rims, exquisite balance, and a graceful, unpretentious non-skid decorative inlay apparently steamed onto the handle areas. I had always perceived them as utilitarian. In retrospect I believe they were influenced by the revolutionary featherweight molded splint that was Ray and Charles Eames’ contribution to the war effort. Clearly they were the most technologically advanced domestic artifacts of my youth.

The second was a cookie jar. It was a surprise to discover that the pot of treats at the end of the daily rainbow had been a wedding gift, and a gift of a female ensign at that. I wish I’d known her. The jar was on the small side, thick tubby porcelain with a lid whose distinctive clink my mother could hear a block away, although I often thought she was deaf. My brother silenced the lid with a stout rubber band that stayed in place until I lost track of the jar.

More after the jump.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Now and then when a witty and beloved aunt came to visit, she’d come into the room bearing aloft some new artifact or cherished heirloom, describing it as one of my trophies. During the same period, I found myself at the beach with an older friend who happened to mention that her husband had been late getting up to Western Washington because he was stowing his art collection at Bekins. 

I must have hesitated, because Barbara added that the possessions that are truly meaningful will never be stolen, since they seem insignificant to others. At that point, Jeff came into the cabin displaying a substantial hunk of verdigris on the flat palm of one hand. He nearly convinced me that the piece was a precious work of Asian bronze. It probably was, but more precious to someone in an engine room than to another collector.

More after the jump.