Among the non-family members in his past, the one now called Liz

As Cassia delves into her father’s photo negatives in my novel What’s Left, she’s bound to come up with a slew of Liz, who became his first lover.

Somewhere there’s also the experimental short movie he made, the one that made the rounds of avant-garde showings. The one featuring Liz’s shimmering breast.

Cassia’s aunt Nita had been Liz’ dorm roommate when the whole thing began. She’d tell her niece plenty, should the kid ask. She’s also a central figure in Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

~*~

Romantic love is only one of the options when it comes to emotional spiraling.

Could you tell about telling me of some event that knocked the floor out from under your feet?

~*~

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this Orthodox icon of Saint Agatha. Via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

We’re still questing for a most elusive sauvignon blanc

A few more years ago than I’d like to admit, we were enjoying a special dinner in Portland, Maine, where our waitperson recommended a bottle of wine to accompany our dishes. We trusted her enthusiasm and agreed to go a few dollars higher than our usual ceiling.

It was well worth it and, as we learned later, the restaurant was pricing the bottle at retail rather than the usual three- or four-times any store tag. More points.

We took one sip and knew this was like no other white wine we’d had before – or, for that matter, since, not even from the same winery. It must have been a superfine vintage. It had an edge we could only describe as stony – something crisp, clear, sharp. And it did, indeed, enhance our five-star experience.

Trying to find that edge again has become something of an ongoing challenge. We’ve had some fine sauvignon blanc bottles since, but the holy grail remains a quest.

 

Ten things to do in Dover

The city where I live is basically a family-friendly kind of place. We don’t have much of what tourists might expect as a big-time destination. Still, there are times when my wife and I are having breakfast or lunch or an early repast downtown when we realize people travel halfway across the country for a taste of this – tranquil New England.

Here are ten things to see and do if you visit the seventh-oldest permanent settlement in the U.S.

  1. Cocheco Falls. Whether the flow’s near flood stage or merely a trickle, I can spend hours watching the river cascade to the tide right in the center of downtown. The stream exits through an impressive arch in the mill. In season, you can dine or enjoy cocktails a deck beside the water. I think that’s pretty impressive.
  2. The historic textiles mills. In the 19th century, Dover was famed for its calico, and two of its big riverside mills have survived. Today they serve as incubators for new enterprises, including some adventurous cuisine, plus displays, boutiques, artists’ studios and galleries, apartments, a function hall, and even a church or two, should you choose to explore. Of special note are Noggin’s toy store, with its special events, Lickees and Chewies candies and ice cream chamber and gathering space, and the Smuttynose brewpub. Need I say more?
  3. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and its Adventure Playground. Nestled amid the old mills, this small but imaginative and active museum attracts nearly 100,000 visitors a year for good reason. It’s gained a loyal following from all over the country.,
  4. Woodman Museum. Just up the street, this old-fashioned and unabashedly eclectic “cabinet of curiosities” collection reflects the range of Dover history, natural history, and arts. The centerpiece is its 1675 William Damm garrison house, now under protective cover. The rough-hewn structure survived the 1684 massacre when Indians attacked the frontier settlement in retaliation for atrocities committed by Major Walderne (or Waldron). Its most popular attraction, though, is the two-headed snake, now badly deteriorating, or maybe the four-legged chicken. And then there are the dolls.
  5. Garrison Hill observation tower. Tucked away on a small hill just north of downtown, this green metal lookout has fantastic views of the classic downtown and the forests and mountains around us. Supposedly you can see the Atlantic, but for me, that scene always blends into the eastern horizon. The short hike from our house, up through a small forest, always impresses our guests.
  6. Strolling. It’s a pedestrian-friendly town. Around the downtown, the old neighborhoods, with their blend of architectural styles and history, are fun to wander. Add to that the community trail, with one leg following an old railroad line through backyards and over the river, where there’s an impressively redesigned bridge, and another leg leading up to Watkins Falls through scenes that could easily be in the White Mountains further north. Can’t complain about getting exercise when it’s like this.
  7. Pub crawl. I’ve already mentioned Smuttynose, named for a variety of mottle-faced seals that lend their moniker to one of the Isles of Shoals, but with Dover’s large proportion of University of New Hampshire students also living in town, our small city does have a lively bar scene. Key stops to hit are the Brickhouse and Cara Irish Pub, for live music, and Sonny’s, for a Brooklyn kind of buzz. Fury’s Publick House, Thompson Tavern, the Farm (with a lovely deck overlooking the river), 603 (named for our telephone area code), and Thirsty Moose Taphouse (for sports fans or a wide array of draughts on tap). Chapel and Main also brews its own, while presenting some fine cuisine. The Garrison City Beerworks, a sampling house for brews they’ll happily can for you to take home, is open on a more limited afternoon schedule, and it’s often crowded, meaning you can easily join in on some animated conversations.
  8. Dining. Food is always part of travel, and I just mentioned some fine dining options. Now let’s add Dos Amigos, for good inexpensive Mexican; Kaophums, for amazing Thai; and Embers and Blue Latitudes, both on the upscale side, all in a close orb around downtown. For breakfast or lunch, Two Home Cooks is awesome.
  9. Tendercrop Farm. Until recently, this was Tuttles, America’s oldest family-owned farm and locally known as Tuttle’s Red Barn, a prompt for the title of this blog. In addition to the store in the barn, the farm has expanded into something of a destination, with animal exhibits, picnic areas, trails, and special events. The fresh corn on the cob and eggs are the focus of our regular visits.
  10. Red’s Shoe Barn. It’s not really a barn, but the exterior is painted bright red – another local prompt for the name of this blog. The place has more footwear options than all the stores at the mall put together and is a back-to-school tradition for many families in much of New England. It’s just around the corner from our place.

Since this list aims at year-’round options, I’ve neglected special events like the Labor Day weekend Greek Festival (opa!) coming up or the big Apple Harvest Day the first Saturday in October or all the things happening at the University of New Hampshire one town over.

What’s something special to do where you live?

 

Considering bang for the buck in restaurants

We don’t dine out all that often, but when we do, we want to get our money’s worth. It’s not that we’re afraid of the bill, but rather that we eat well at home and expect something that can at least match that standard.

On one hand, we’ve come to admire inexpensive menu items done precisely right. French fries or cole slaw can be especially telling, as can an amazing vanilla, as in ice cream or gelato. Freshness also is crucial, and attentive service is always a plus. That sort of thing.

Steak or lobster aren’t hard to cook, so we don’t expect to be impressed there. Scallops, on the other hand, can be tricky. And then we get to selections that require technique. That’s where we really pay attention.

What does irk us is pretentious, pricy dishes that seriously miss the mark. The stories we can tell!

Our biggest test is what we call the Oh Wow factor. You know, one bite and you’re amazed. It’s not always at the fanciest restaurants, either, so it’s not a matter of cost. Some of our favorite examples have come in storefront operations in the sleaziest parts of a town – the kind where you want to keep an eye on your car at lunchtime. Some have even been takeout only or a food truck.

I have to admit we’re more critical as the menu price escalates, but if they deliver with mastery and attention to detail, we pay gladly – and then some. Best of all, in our positive experiences, the great cooks in my family come away inspired, and I look forward to all that will follow.

What delights you the most when dining out?

I’m elated to have my novels now more orderly and interconnected

I’m still surprised by how much literary writing I accomplished in my spare time during all those years I was employed elsewhere. Much of it, admittedly, was in a shotgun fashion, or as I’ve also said, along the lines of graffiti, while hoping for the big break that would give me the space for a more concentrated approach.

Still, it led to a rich stream of material. In that regard, Jack Kerouac was a huge inspiration.

Releasing Hippie Drum as an ebook at Smashwords.com in 2013 was an indispensable defining moment for me. I was no longer bashing my hopes against a brick wall of commercial publishing, which was ever more resistant to experimental fiction. Six more novels followed at Smashwords, plus the fiction available at my own Thistle Finch online imprint.

As I’ve already noted on this blog, my novel What’s Left led me to rethink and rework almost all of those earlier novels. For one thing, as I now see, it was drafted and revised entirely after my retirement from the newsroom.

I’m deeply grateful to an insight from Smashwords founder Mark Coker that one of the advantages of ebook publishing over printed paper is that revised editions are much easier to accomplish, and more economical, too. That – and my own ability now to create my own covers, rather than hire a designer – encouraged me to drastically recast those earlier volumes.

There’ no way to express the elation I feel in now having most of those novels stand in two distinct, orderly cycles – Freakin’ Free Spirits and Living Dharma – each with a continuity of events and central cast of characters.

There’s the relief, too, of having finally been faithful to this material and its inspiration. I can now move on. It belongs to the world, the way a parent feels about grown-up children.

Continue reading “I’m elated to have my novels now more orderly and interconnected”

All under Cassia’s spell

I keep thinking of What’s Left as “my latest novel” or “my newest,” even though other works are appearing after its publication.

I don’t mean to be creating confusion, but here’s my take.

One way or another, my earlier novels addressed the hippie era, which I still believe remains misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s too important for that. And, yes, it’s still hard to define.

What’s Left started out to put those stories in a broader perspective but, revision by revision, the book moved in a much different direction. Quite simply, Cassia and her generation took over.

It became the most difficult writing project I’ve ever undertaken and forced me to completely rethink my approach to fiction. Remember, my career was in “just the facts, ma’am,” journalism topped by Beat-era literature.

Unlike the earlier works, in drafting this one, I had a structural model I wanted to pursue – one that remained intact.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how much the focus would shift.

Many of my favorite parts were created in the final revisions, especially as other members of her generation became fully fleshed out characters, as did the Goth side of her mourning through her adolescent years.

That also meant ripping out a lot of other material, which either became background for my own understanding or was vastly condensed by the final version. The Red Barn’s been quoting heavily from those discards, just to add to your own understanding of the project’s scope.

Whew!

Unanticipated? The paranormal fourteenth chapter is one of my favorites, even though I’d never done a ghost story before. By they way, they wrote it, not me. I simply recorded the dialogue.

Continue reading “All under Cassia’s spell”

Also on our big plate

In my novel, What’s Left, having her family own a restaurant opens another dimension to the story – the changing food tastes of the American public.

If Carmichael’s continued solely as a burger-and-fries joint, we’d have a much different type of story, one based on the day-to-day interactions of line cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and a slew of customers. One of my daughters has already drafted an exciting and entertaining story based on her own experiences in the trade – now, if she’ll only get it published! Realistically, a restaurant like that would likely wind up in bankruptcy halfway through the novel – or maybe even the victim of arson, if not accidental fire.

So having Carmichael’s expand, as I do, shifts the focus to a revolution in the awareness of food itself. We have plenty to play with that way.

Continue reading “Also on our big plate”

DON’T OVERLOOK THE BUNS AND ROLLS

My wife and I have listened to some restaurant pros relate their perspective on reviewing the ideas bantered about hopefuls – folks who have no idea how to clean an oven or pass health inspection regulations.

It’s enough to make me quiver.

Quite simply, the seasoned pros say you don’t begin with a set of menus. You have to think about pricing, for one thing. Fair enough.

My new novel, What’s Left, includes a family-owned restaurant that’s facing big shifts in public tastes and consciousness.

One of the basics they look at closely is bread. And buns and rolls. Especially as these relate to hamburgers. The right answer, of course, could improve everything. But, as they realize:

Where would we find them at an affordable price?

~*~

As I’ve already posted, I believe a great baguette alone would have assured France an honored place in the culinary hall of fame. But these aren’t especially cheap, and they demand bakers who are committed to long hours and hard work – something, so we hear, that’s shamefully harder and harder to find even in Paris.

A stop in Warren, Maine, where we found what might be the perfect Reuben, thickens the plot. It wasn’t just the delightful sauerkraut, which might have come from Morse’s a few towns over, but rather the way the bread was toasted without being overdone or soggy – such a fine line! And let’s not slight the Swiss, either.

Well, a sandwich is such a basic of American cuisine, from baloney to hamburgers to ham itself and on down the line to wieners.

As far as you’re concerned, what’s makes the world’s best sandwich? And just what kind would that be? Anybody want to argue for wraps or flatbreads?

~*~

A white frame church next to the family home becomes their playhouse in my new novel. It might look something like this one in Manchester, New Hampshire.