A poem a day

April 16th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

When April comes around, two things are for sure: poetry and taxes (I’m advocating for this order of the universe).  We find ourselves inundated with poets we’ve never heard of, poems we might or might not like, and more readings than we can manage to attend in one day.  Just last week, here at the Collection, we hosted two talks on the same day!  We had a noon reading by Betsy Sholl from her wonderful new book Otherwise Unseeable followed by a generous discussion of poetry and Betsy’s poetic practice.  At 6pm, we hosted Dr. Alexandra Socarides, who wrote a book on Emily Dickinson’s poetic process entitled Dickinson Unbound.  If you know much about Dickinson, you will appreciate how hard it is to write something fresh–that’s just how smart a scholar Alexandra Socarides is.  Her talk on the research she conducted here in the summer of 2012 blew us away.  She discussed 19th century American women’s poetry and poetic conventions and how her work in our small archives led her to explore larger hypotheses about women’s poetry of that time.  Her newest book is one I will be very excited to read when it comes out.

Of course, swimming in poetic language these last few weeks has me thinking about the poets in our collection.  I have been tweeting lines from poems every day I can (follow me on twitter for a sampler of poems: @MEWomenWriters), which has had me dipping into books I have never before read.  Our book collection contains a wide range of poetic voices from the ordinary to the downright stunning, and represents the many types of writing that women have done over the past several centuries in Maine.  I started to wonder about common threads in Maine women’s writing and considered the question of place.  While no convention is applicable across the board, it does feel like place gets into our bodies and weaves itself into images and sounds in the poems we make.  I spent some time examining poems that speak from this place and capture a specific moment in time, and I thought I would share a sampling with you.

from Riverstones by Patricia White
(Seemed fitting for today, when we woke up to find snow on the ground after a lovely weekend.)
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from Prayers, Poems, and Pathways by Ssipsis
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from Where the Deer Were  by Kate Barnes
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from Hibernaculum & other North-Natured Poems by Patricia Smith Ranzoni
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from Four Corners of the Circle by Jean Webster
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from Corn Dance by Jeri Theriault
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Cooking with Maine Women Writers: cake…and more cake!

April 9th, 2014 by Laura Taylor

The arrival of a new issue of Baker’s Notes, published by Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland, is always a cause for a little celebration at my desk. It doesn’t happen often, being only a bi-annual publication, but I always look forward to it. I love to see what recipes they’ve decided to share this time and pore over all the beautiful photographs of beautiful baked goods. (I can’t be the only one who enjoys looking at and reading about food nearly as much as eating it?)

My daughter turned 4 this past Sunday and when I thought about what cake I was going to make, using a recipe from Baker’s Notes and then blogging it here seemed a logical choice. (I do love to multi-task!) I actually ended up using three recipes from the same issue of Baker’s Notes – their everyday yellow cake (transformed into cake pops) and their one bowl chocolate cake (made into cupcakes) with ring ding-a-ling filling, which I used to frost the cupcakes. Every last bite was delicious. (If you’ve never had one of their ring ding-a-lings, I highly recommend them!)

We went for a spring theme – bee cake pops buzzing amongst the flowers and sheep cupcakes grazing on a field of gluten-free grass cupcakes. They were all super easy and a huge hit with all the party guests, young and old. Most importantly, the birthday girl loved them!


The recipes came from Issue No. 2: Sweet, published in 2011/2012. (I’m sharing the yellow cake recipe below – I’d recommend finding a copy of Issue 2 yourself and making the chocolate cake and ring ding-a-ling filling as well!)

Note: you will need a kitchen scale for this recipe.

every day YELLOW CAKE

INGREDIENTS

  • 7 ounces (0.44 pounds) cake flour
  • 7 ounces (0.44 pounds) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks (room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

TECHNIQUE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have a well greased 9-inch round high-sided cake pan ready. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir on low for 30 seconds to combine dry ingredients and aerate them. Add the soft butter cubes and mix on low until all of the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like wet sand. Add 1/2 cup milk and increase mixer to medium speed. Mix for 90 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Whisk yolks, 3 tablespoons milk, and vanilla together and add to batter. Scrape down sides of bowl then mix one minute more. The batter should be very silky with no lumps. Pour into the cake pan and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.

My notes: I do not have a high-sided round cake pan, so I baked this in an 8×8 square pan and it turned out beautifully. (Although, since the final goal, in my case, was cake pops it didn’t really matter how my cake looked – it all got crumbled in the end!)

Private thoughts made public

March 24th, 2014 by Sophie Glidden-Lyon

For the past few months, I’ve been pouring over the diaries of Vinalhaven native Lucy C. Williams. She filled daily journals during the bulk of the 1980′s and 90′s, faithfully recording weather, chores, the state of her garden and the health of her neighbors. Her grandson Bill makes many appearances – helping her with the house, struggling to find work or dealing with the various family dramas that would be familiar to anyone with siblings and in-laws. Her life is quiet and full of routine, but it is exactly that kind of ordinary, day-to-day chronicling that I find so interesting. Journals are the chance to glimpse into a person’s internal world, unique in their honesty. I don’t mean honesty in the sense that they lack bias, but more the idea that these were words written by one person and for one person only. I think it is safe to assume that Lucy never thought these journals would be read by anyone but her, and once I was able to reconcile myself to the fact that she may have found this intrusive, it led me down a very interesting path.

How do you record events when you are never intending to share those records with anyone? When it comes to familial struggles or pain, Lucy often skips over details entirely. After all, she knows the details already and does not need to explain anything. For me, the reader, it means I have to put puzzle pieces together, and I’m often guessing when it comes to who did what to who. What Lucy does record is how badly these fights and dramas are wearing her down, in a way that suggests she doesn’t share how she feels with her children or grandchildren. There is a lot more emotional truth in her writing than there is clear recording of events. This is part of what has been so rewarding for me while reading these journals. There is so much insight into a person’s life to be found here. The authors are, essentially, talking to themselves, engaging with their own thoughts in a way that can’t be achieved in quite the same way through oral histories, or even letters.

As I continue through her journals, I’m sure more and more will become clear concerning her grandsons and the dysfunction that keeps popping up between them, but more than that, I’m excited to learn more about how journals open up whole new worlds for historians and archivists. I’m excited to tackle emerging questions – how does a person’s journaling voice differ from how they might have spoken or written with other people? Are there things they might keep off the page entirely, censoring themselves even in their private thoughts? And what does that say about the author? These are things I’ve already asked myself about Lucy, but the beauty of journals is that any answers to those questions would likely be completely different with a different person. It brings a deep sense of the personal, and of individuality, to archival work, for which I’m very grateful.

The Ant Girls

March 17th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

My day began on Friday with the pleasure of looking, following the lines and textures of ant-marks, and listening to stories of making.  Rebecca Goodale (one of the Ant Girls) brought tiny books, pamphlet and coptic-bound books, books that came tumbling out of their boxes, books with wings and pieces of leaves, books that spoke of the collaboration created by their colony of four.


The books and all of the other components of this two-year work-in-progress are on their way to the USM Atrium Gallery in Lewiston for the show “Ant Farm: At the Nexus of Art and Science” opening April 11.  The “Ant Girls” (Rebecca Goodale, Colleen Kinsella, Vivien Russe and Dorothy Schwartz) have been working as a group, passing paper and books between them, all members making marks on every piece of work.  The collaboration formed a strong bond among the four women, making the recent passing of Dorothy Schwartz all the more poignant as they prepared for the opening of their show and worked to finish pieces.  You can follow their process on their blog “Ant Girls”.

I am looking forward to the show on April 11, and am especially excited to see the installations of fungus farms and nuptial swarms.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to see fresh work that is still filled with the energy of the creators.  I enjoy hearing the stories of creation, too–the conceptualization of an idea that finds its fruition in something we can hold or look at close up.  It is a deep thrill for me, and an honor, to witness the creative process and its products.  I look forward to housing some of these beautiful creations in our collection to educate and excite students, researchers, and others interested in the intersection between art and science.

Cooking with Maine Women Writers: butternut squash ravioli

March 4th, 2014 by Laura Taylor

ravioli

This time of year, it can be hard to eat local. More squash? Potatoes? Again? Sigh.

We’re starting to reach the end of our winter stores and might be quite tired of root vegetables, squash and the like. (Personally, I love root vegetables and I adore winter squash but not everyone in my house shares this devotion.)

I decided to try my hand at homemade ravioli to see if I could get the rest of the family to appreciate the wonders of the butternut squash. The recipe comes from a beautiful cookbook here in our collection called Portland, Maine Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Casco Bay. I’ve mentioned it before in my post about my semi-successful adventure in gelato-making.

This ravioli recipe is from Local Sprouts. I’ve never had their version, so I can’t say how my homemade one compares – but I will say that it was quite tasty! It was my first time making homemade pasta and while it wasn’t exactly difficult (very easy, in fact) mine turned out a little thicker and tougher than I wished. I guess I need practice!

ravioli

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter
(Serves 4-6)

  • 9 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 1 cup roasted butternut squash puree
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 ounces plus 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 recipe pasta dough*, rolled out into wide ribbons about 1/8-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and saute for 1 minute. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of the cheese and nutmeg to taste. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cool completely.

Cut the pasta ribbons into 3-inch squares. You will have approximately 40 pieces of dough. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each pasta square. Bring one corner of the square to the opposite corner, forming a triangle, and pinch the two open sides to seal the filled pasta completely.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 2-3 minutes or until the pasta floats and is pale in color.

Remove the pasta from the water and drain well.

Season with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from heat.

To serve: Divide the ravioli between the serving plates. Spoon the brown butter over the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining 2 ounces of grated cheese over the plates and garnish with parsley.

*The intro states: For the Butternut Squash Ravioli…use your favorite pasta dough, or try East Ender’s recipe (see below).

For the pasta:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • Splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of milk

To make the pasta: Sift flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add egg yolks, egg, oil, and milk. Using your fingers, slowly mix in flour from the edges, kneading to make a stiff dough. Lightly flour a smooth work surface and turn out the dough, pushing it and kneading with the heels of your hands for 15 minutes. The dough will become silky and elastic as you knead. Gather into a ball and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Take out of the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap, and use a rolling pin, pasta roller, or wine bottle to roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness.

My notes: I could not get my pasta thin enough, and thus didn’t have nearly 40 squares for filling. I had about half that, which left me with leftover filling. (Yum.) Since I didn’t have as many raviolis, I only used half the butter for the brown butter with sage. I managed to win over one person in the house to the joys of butternut squash, but the two littlest members of the family remain unconvinced.