Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The New Domesticity

This weekend I was submerged in domestic bliss over a hot stove boiling cherries to prepare for pie and jam. I’ve just returned home from the northeast visiting my friend who I teased about “selling out to suburbia.” She had always been a city girl, living in a small apartment, commuting by subways and scraping by just to makes ends meet. Now she owns a charming bungalo home in the suburbs, commutes into the city (sometimes by car), has a full size stove (as opposed to her apartment sized appliance), a backyard with bird feeders and a driveway. She noted that since moving in, she has the urge to bake and cook more. We compared recipes. We talked about food. I realized in my hazing of her transition, I was hazing myself. I love the kitchen!

If this were the 1940’s, I would likely not be working outside the home. I would be tending to offspring and keeping house. I would prepare at least three meals a day. For some, this may sound horrible but I love the kitchen. I love preparing meals and cooking from scratch. When I read about contaminated food or chemically engineered foods, I squirm. I immediately think of something homemade.

When I set out to make jam and pie this weekend, it was labor intensive. The crust had to chill before I could roll it out. I had to pit the cherries by hand, sterilize the jars and wait for everything to congeal or bake. Yes, it took time but in the end, I had a delicious selection of homemade goods. I could identify where everything came from and how it was prepared.

4lbs of hand pitted cherries.
No one taught me how to do these things. As a young child, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother in the kitchen. She cooked everything from scratch, even ketchup (it was delicious). She did not write many of her recipes down. That is a loss of mine but I learned from her science mastery to just try things. Some things work out, others do not. When she cooked from scratch, It took more time and no, she never worked outside the home.

Boiling cherries soaking pectin bath
My mom told me this weekend that my grandmother would be proud to know I love the kitchen. Even my own mother refuses to bake or cook things from scratch. She hates the kitchen heat and labor. It is a choice she makes. She laughed, while sampling my cherry pie, at my excitement over blueberries but shrilled when I mentioned peaches (her favorite fruit).
Finished product, pie and jam
The feminist movement was more about equality. Certainly, some women wanted to escape the grasp of domestic duties. I try to balance my career and home life. It is easier said than done. We do have meals in a paper bag at times. I am not as happy on those nights as I am in the kitchen making homemade sweet and sour chicken or burgers. It’s a choice. I choose to spend the time and effort. I do not need to burn my bra or escape from the confines of “the man.” I have an apron and I’m proud of it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reunions, Families and One Bathroom

Much earlier this year, JC and I made plans for a summer vacation. His family is quite accustom to visiting Maine every year. I was thrilled at the opportunity to visit someplace new and add to my long list of visited areas. When we discussed these plans, it was cold and dreary outside. It felt like July was years away. Yet, before I knew it, I was sitting in an airport leaving for vacation, my first real vacation in four years.

My first stop before reaching Maine, was an overnight stay in New York City to see one of my dearest friends, Annie. Since the fourth day of our freshman year of high school, we have been close. After high school, she moved to the big city. I have been flying up to see her for over fifteen years.  My comfort level with NYC is quite high. I know the trains, the avoidance of tourist traps, and places to get really good foods cheap. Having only a day in the New York area, I did not have time to wander Fifth Avenue for trinkets. Instead, I stopped to have a picnic on Seventh Ave while waiting for a train. It was so pleasant to watch all the people hurrying to their destinations with cell phones, bags, and I heart NYC tee's (they still sell those). I enjoyed a muffin and water while waiting in the infamous Penn Station to travel to New Jersey where Annie now lives. She defected from the city for suburban living nearly a year ago. Now, I can add Maplewood, NJ to my list of places visited.

One of the interesting places you'll see in Manhattan

Train station outside Maplewood
 I have not seen Annie in a couple of years. As I was waiting at the train station in the charming neighborhood of  Maplewood, I became overwhelmed with nervous energy but within moments, I was able to hug and laugh with her as if time never stopped. For the next several hours, we sat in her new home sipping a pitcher of gin and tonics, talking, laughing, and nearly forgetting I had to leave the next morning. We grilled out with her boyfriend dining alfresco and laughed at a never ending backyard battle between the squirrels and birds. I wanted to cry the next morning when I boarded the train heading back into the city to reach the airport where I would land in Maine before the morning was over.
The bottomless gin and tonic garnished with cucumber. Delicious!

Annie and Melinda friends since 1992
 On my second flight in as many days to Portland, Maine, I was surrounded by small, screaming children. The flight is only an hour from NYC but it felt like an eternity with toddlers melting down with tiny sticky fingers grabbing at my belongings (thank God for i-pods!). Once my feet were securely on the ground and no small child was within my reach, I met up with JC outside the airport. I was in Maine. I was on his home turf now. The first thing I noticed about Maine was the air. It is fresh, crisp and seasoned by the ocean. We began making our way to his families cabin out on the coast on an island an hour away from Portland.

JC's Family Cabin
JC's family has a multi generational history of vacationing in Maine, specifically in the Five Islands Region. The family cabin has a small but adequate ocean view (you can see water!!). The island is cut off from many modern amenities including grocery shopping (30-minute drive), pizza delivery, cable or internet. However, you do not need much to enjoy yourself there. On the sun porch you can watch lobster boats, kayaks, and various sized sailing vessels coming and going from the nearby harbor all day long. The cabin is an old structure spanning many years of various remodel. If I was looking for a vacation with bell hops, a spa or inground pool, I needed to move my body to another place and spend an obscene amount of cash in this area of the country. This family domicile is an affordable DIY option. The house has a lot of history and I liked that. It is a very important part of JC's life. Once I was settled in, it was time to explore the island.
View from sun porch.
Anytime, I visit someplace new, I just want to soak it all in. I want to see everything and by everything, I do not mean the tourist stuff. I want to see the everyday things. I always ask myself "what do people do around here all day?" The few places of employment on the island involve tourism or fishing. Most places shut down in the winter. People come to the island for many reasons but one of them is the view. Although, we were plagued by mosquitoes that seemed immune to any bug spray, I could not get enough time near the ocean. The water was frigid at times but it offered just enough of a reprieve from the sunbathing rock I was perched on. While basking in the sun, the  birds, woodland creatures and even house cats made appearances throughout the days. There is no shortage of things to look at on this island. When not watching birds, I was lost in the various sail boats that skirted along the waters. Within hours of arriving, I wanted a water craft of my own. I was not there to yacht, however.
One of the many sail boats.
While it was a time of relaxation, it was extremely important that I go to meet the closest of JC's family. All eight of us (2 sets of paternal aunts and uncles, JC's sister, JC's dad, JC and myself) lived in the tiny cabin for five days with one bathroom. Oddly, it seemed to work. I got over being nervous around them because the cabin forced you to be together. They were so nice and welcoming. Without television or or other entertainment, we had conversation and enjoyed the radio. Most nights we were in bed by ten. We negotiated bathroom time simply by asking. JC and I enjoyed an outdoor shower in the evening with piping hot water right under the big dipper.

JC and I on a cloudy day.
The few times we ventured into town, it was for necessities like groceries or sandwiches from a small italian eatery that's been around forever. After a dinner in, we would stroll down to the pier for ice cream and watch the tourists flow in and out of the small place, their plates piled high with seafood and onion rings. Of course there was lobster but neither JC nor myself love lobster. It's okay. I eat it sparingly and he does not like it at all. I'm happier with clams, shrimp, or the cheesesteak sandwich (JC endorses this sandwich). We enjoyed watching others eat it
Of course I wanted to ride my bike. JC drove them up, so how could we not ride? However, I melted down on both rides. The small road leading on and off the island is no joke for cyclists. With no shoulder, poor road maintenance and an unfamiliar terrain, my nerves were racked by close passing cars and never ending bumps, slumps, and dangerous cracks. We completed (2), twenty or so mile rides. It wasn't that motorists were non cycling friendly, there was not enough space for all of us. Once you turned off the "death road", it was perfect rolling hills with scenic views of the ocean or amazing homes that we will never be able to afford. Meltdowns are rare for me on the bike but the meltdowns were worth the scenery. I want to ride my bike there again but we will drive our bikes to a safer starting and ending point.

Jc and I out on a coastal ride.
 Waiting four years for a vacation has been well worth it. I came home already thinking about the next trip to Maine. Next year, JC and I will likely be able to drive. We can take our time going up the coast, take our dog, and sip our coffee on the sun porch. It has been a tradition in his family for five generations and it looks like we will continue the tradition.