I've been with my Mom this entire month -- cooking, cleaning, taking her to her doctor for the last time, starting hospice care, creating time for her friends and family to say goodbye, making a sacred space of her home, spending time in the gardens and fields she loves, sharing early mornings and late nights with my Dad in the quiet of her exhaustion and heavy sleep. My 3 Things reflects the work of living and the work of dying I am doing right now -- with and for my Mom and my family.
1. MAKING: Ice cream
I've been wanting to make ice cream since my days in Cambridge. Back then, any afternoon or evening I wanted, I could take a leisurely stroll and end up at a fantastic, inventive spot like Toscanini's or Christina's, or ranging farther afield, Emack & Bolio's or JP Licks.
This summer it was finally time for me to get in the game. My Mom loves ice cream, too. Carpe Ice-em.
I'm unfussy about most things. I'm the guitar player who only owns two guitars, one of each kind -- an acoustic and an electric. In late June, I went to William Sonoma and bought their cheapest, lowest tech ice cream maker.
Since then I have made 11 batches of ice cream: fresh peach x 3, lobster (true), fresh mint chocolate chip x 2, banana's foster x 2, real vanilla, real vanilla chocolate chip, and fresh mint.
Ice cream is "all about that base." It's your gessoed canvas, your blank page. I've made almost every kind of ice cream base there is to make -- custard, raw egg yolk, milk and cream, buttermilk, etc. My go-to is Melissa Clark's from her comprehensive article The Master Ice Cream Recipe. Start there or stop there (if you're the kind that likes a blank page). The rest is up to you.
2. COOKING: Cheese soufflé
I'd had it. My Mom and her sisters were once again waxing rhapsodic about the cheese souffé they used to have for lunch. Why were we not having cheese soufflé NOW? Today? This summer? With a side of corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes? No one but me had an answer.
Done. Took two tries. The first was hockey puck-ish. I nailed it on the second try with the recipe from my grandmother's masking-taped, dog-eared copy of The Joy of Cooking (aka "The Joy" in our family's lexicon). The Joy's description of a soufflé is worth reading even if you never intend to make one: "The soufflé is considered the prima donna of the culinary world ..."
People hear the word soufflé and immediately think "no way." Yes way. It isn't THAT hard. Two tries is nothing. Ice cream is way harder. I dare you to use Gruyeré instead of cheddar. If you got it, flaunt it.
3. BAKING: Challah
A friend of mine bakes a loaf of challah every Friday. Her "recipe" is actually pure improvisation; she's a master. Her loaf is virtuosic. Heady and ripe, it gets stuck in your brain. I don't experience synesthesia usually, but her challah does it: when I think of it, I smell it. I swear. And when we've finished a meal and she seals the challah up in a double zip ziploc, I can still smell it from across the room. She laughs but it's true. It's the smell of a big handful of peat: wonderful, rich, and wild.
My Mom loves challah. My Mom's in hospice with a month or two left to live. Homemade ice cream in the freezer. A soufflé on the table every week. Why not a loaf of challah?
I asked for my friend's recipe and she gave me it to me. Or something like it. You can use this one; it'll do. Substitute honey for the sugar and add a little more salt than you think is wise. I go for a honey that's edgy and weird (surprise, surprise) like this heather honey with whisky.
My Mom loved my challah. She ate it that evening; she ate it the next morning. I joined her with butter and a little of the homemade concord grape jam we made last week. By noon, all that was left was the honeyed, salty-sweet memories of two nourishing meals filled with moments of awe, laughter, and love.
I knew it was going to be a late night, so I ate dinner and took a nap. There was too much time to kill between dinner and going out. Napping was the best strategy. After all, I’m not a night owl by any stretch of the imagination. As most of you know, I get up around 4 a.m. most days, meaning I go to bed at an undisclosed early hour (let’s just say I go to bed earlier than my nine-year-old nephew).
1. LISTENING: "Somebody to Anybody" by Margaret Glaspy
I love this little demo. It's a sly song that gets under your skin. More people should know about Margaret; I'm doing my part. Enjoy!
2. READING & THINKING ABOUT: The found material of (song) writing -- an interview with author Lydia Davis in the Paris Review
Most of my songs include a piece of "found material" -- phrases I overhear when I am walking down the street, words I read in a book, bits of found poetry I snatch from a sign or a conversation with a friend. Lydia Davis, a master of the shortest short stories, speaks to the nature of found material in a wide-ranging interview in the Paris Review. Here is a short excerpt from the article:
INTERVIEWER: More and more you seem to use found materials in your stories.
DAVIS: Back in the early eighties, I realized that you could write a story that was really just a narration of something that had happened to you, and change it slightly, without having really to fictionalize it. In a way, that’s found material. I think it’s hard to draw the line and say that something isn’t found material. Because if a friend of mine tells me a story or a dream, I guess that’s found material. If I get an e-mail that lends itself to a good story, that’s found material. But then if I notice the cornmeal making little condensations, is that found material? It’s my own, I’m not using text, but I am using a situation that exists. I’m not making it up. I find what happens in reality very interesting and I don’t find a great need to make up things, but I do like retelling stories that are told to me.
3. SEEING -- Ada/Ava in NYC
Someone who knows me very, very well took me to see the shadow puppet/live-music/overhead projector project called Ada/Ava one evening in late June in NYC. All I have to say is: Run! Don't walk to see it if you are anywhere near NYC between now and July 26th (when it closes).
What is it? It is a heart wrenching and mysterious tale about two identical twin sisters, septuagenarians, who live in a lighthouse. It is also about death and mourning, self and other, losing and finding equilibrium.
This ghost-story-ish tale is told -- without words -- through the use of overheard projectors, silhouettes, shadows, actors, live music and live sound effects. Instead of hiding all the mechanics of the storytelling and image-making, everything is on display. Ben Brantley of the NYT describes it perfectly in his review of the show: "This involves, among other things, arranging pieces of paper and transparencies on the projectors, and stepping in front of a white curtain to cast shadows, which are then incorporated into a fluidly cinematic mise-en-scène. This materializes on a screen above the very visible work space, and you can only marvel as you witness this continuing, simultaneous transformation from technical fact to narrative fiction."
In short, it is magic. It is simple and beautiful and fantastical. I've sent four people to see it so far. It's your turn. Go.
Tom Filepp is one brave soul.
That's what I thought the first time I saw him perform. All alone on a stark, blank stage in New Hampshire (or was it Maine?), musical gadgets and gizmos blinking and syncing all around him.
Me? I can barely get my guitar in tune and my amp to work, much less fiddle around with different pedals or stompboxes. That's why I don't use 'em. I keep things simple and concentrate on my touch. But I'm just a guitar slinger.
What does Tom sling?
1. Listening: Something in the Way She Moves by James Taylor
Oh James! Thank you for this. It's such a classic. The definitive tribute to the restorative presence and power of a woman.
2. Listening: Crazy Love by Van Morrison (live version 1970)
"She got a fine sense of humor when I'm feeling lowdown ..."
3. Listening: And She Was by Talking Heads
"And she was looking at herself / And things were looking like a movie / She had a pleasant elevation / She's moving out in all directions ..."
4. Reading: Hold Still by Sally Mann
I blazed through it in two days. The themes of her work -- landscape, family, death -- speak to me, always have. I woke up the morning after I finished the book and gave myself a fierce talking to. It went something like: protect your time, protect your artistic vision, get back to the land, death and time and aging are yours even now so keep 'em close, get back to and lost in the work.
From Hold Still: "Certain moments in the creative process, moments when I am really seeing, are weirdly expansive, and I develop a hyperattuned visual awareness, like the aura-ringed optical field before a migraine. Radiance coalesces about the landscape, rich in possibility, supercharged with something electric, insistent. Time slows down, becomes ecstatic" (212).
This month's second song didn't happen. Well, actually it did happen quite a lot. I slaved and slaved. But it's just not ready for the cold light of day ... yet. So yeah. Chalk it up to perfectionism. Chalk it up being there for my Mom. Chalk it up life and death and everything in between. Some songs take their own sweet time.
Here's the one song I hammered out this month. It's called "Yes She Is" and you're gonna want to sing it to someone you know of these days.
As for the recording ... It's the same as it ever as: a work tape. No going back, no overdubs. From my heart to your heart, to his heart to her heart.
I don't even remember when I met the Good Lovelies, Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough, and Sue Passmore. It was definitely when I was living and making music in Canada, but where exactly in that great north country did I meet them? Was it in the Royal City of Guelph? Was it that circus-like February weekend in Montreal at Folk Alliance (when I also met Lori Cullen, Duane Andrews, Kurt Swinghammer, and Pat Boyle)? Was it at the always-killer Hillside Festival? The mist of time is thick and I am disoriented, pleasantly so.
No matter. Allow me to introduce you to the sweet sound of the Good Lovelies (one of Canada's premier folk bands) and to one third of that power trio, Caroline Brooks.
My 3 Things FAQ here.
1. Listening: "Obiero" by Ayub Ogada
Wait until it is dusk or even the dark of night. Then, light a candle or turn the lights down low. Press play and do nothing. Just listen. You will hear the mystery, the awe, the radiance.
2. MAKING: Shallot and lemon confit
I had a surfeit of shallots. What to do? Searching through a 2005 Food and Wine cookbook I found this recipe: Shallot and Lemon Confit by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I had four lemons on hand. Game on. He's a superchef. I'm not. I didn't have fresh thyme or fresh parsley, so I left those out. I also spilled WAY more than 12 coriander seeds (!) into the pan when I was measuring. Sweet. The whole thing turned out amazing. I served it with sauteed greens and scooped it on top of asian sloppy joes. Superchef who?
2a. My Cooking playlist on SpotifY: Touch
I call this playlist "Touch" because the music is breathtaking in its touch and feel. Each of these musicians is a master at shade, shadow, suggestion. This music is subtle. It's about the sleight of hand, the ghost note, the grace note, the space between. You'll hear the guitarist Antonio Forcione, the bassist Charlie Haden, the saxophonist Ben Webster, and more.
3. REREADING: "Middlemarch" by George Eliot
This will be the third year in a row I have read Middlemarch. I first picked it up about a decade ago. (And, yes I am aware of Rebecca Mead's book about reading and rereading Middlemarch.) Why so many re-reads? To know George Eliot better. To marvel at her language and masterful turns-of-phrase. To study her descriptions of people and moods and feelings and to imprint those descriptions on my soul, to maybe have them appear in a song someday. In short, to return to this incredible novel as a way of returning to myself, learning myself.
What are you listing to, making, and/or rereading these days?
Here they are! This month's songs! In all their one-take, work-tape glory. No overdubs, no going back. Straight from my heart to yours.
"Shake Me" = A blues number. Gritty and oh-so-sexy.
"I Shouted" = Short and bittersweet.
What is the 2 Song A Month Club? Find out here.
My 3 Things is my monthly jam about ... you guessed it ... 3 things that I am up to. It's a collection of songs, ideas, books, etc., that totally light me up.
Usually the 3 things include (but are not limited to):
- Something I'm listening to
- Something that's rocking my world
- Something I'm thinking about
They could also be:
- Something I'm reading
- Something I saw
- Someplace I went
It's ever changing -- My 3 Things. That's why it behooves you to be on the My 3 Things list. Sign up below by scrolling to the very bottom of the page.
Pretty simple. Pretty sweet.
1: Listening: “We Belong Together” by Rickie Lee Jones
Lie on your floor and crank this song real loud. That’s what I did. I lost my self and soul for a few minutes. Been years since I’d heard those iconic piano chords that open the song, and that incredible first line, "Say this was no game of chicken you were aiming your best friend. That you wear like a switchblade on a chain around your neck I think you picked this up in Mexico from your dad.” Quintessential Rickie — the mood, the strange lyrics, the drama. When the song finished, I got up, walked over to my guitar, picked it up, hit the re-play button on YouTube, and played along to this song, over and over.
It is a very tricky thing to introduce you to Gregory Pepper. In fact, it was so intimidating that for awhile I put it off. Finally, I stopped being such a baby and decided to ship this interview with Pepper because by now he's probably thinking: "WTF, Schutt?! What ever happened to that interview you asked me to do??"
Here goes ...
Who is Gregory Pepper?
He is a man of many nicknames: Peps, Pep Pep, Pepper, GP.
He is a man of many bands and band names: Gregory Pepper and His Problems, Common Grackle, Big Huge Truck (to name only a few).
He comes from the Royal City of Guelph, Ontario. Guelph (pronounced "gwelf") is the best little gem of an Ontario town. I lived there for seven years. I call it the "Austin, Texas of Canada."