Sunday, December 4, 2011

I want to be Tasha Tudor

I want a goat cart and a shadowy barn, soft with hay and the gentle breathing of animals, and big enough to hold a Halloween party, or maybe a barn dance. And I want candles in the windows, and hand-knit mittens to wear when the winter is cold, and beds of flowers surrounding my front door.  I want to be Tasha Tudor when I grow up.

It’s not that I am not content with who I am but rather that I long for a slower and quieter time, a farm in the country where the house is shaded with maples and the pastures beyond the barn and down to the stream are green and soft with new timothy. I want an old fashioned fair, with hand-squeezed lemonade and burly Clydesdales putting their shoulders into hauling a sledge laden with granite. I want Christmas that begins with the onset of Advent, late November, early December, and not in October, as soon as the half-priced candy corn has been sold. I want to live purposefully, meeting most of my needs from within the borders of our farm, or at least within a few miles, so that I am not dashing off every day chasing the dollar, but instead I sit at home in my office and pursue my craft, just like Tasha Tudor did.

We discovered Miss Tudor and her glorious art and wonderful books at Pickity Place ( in Mason, New Hampshire what seems like a hundred years ago, and it remains a place we love to visit. Kasey was small then, and roaming the fragrant gardens, the Little Red Riding Hood House, and the shop are some of our favorite memories. It was also the place that  encouraged my love of herbs and herb gardening.

Pickity Place was always sanctuary and celebration. Amy and I went there one fall, with Anthony, still a very small boy then, in tow, and whenever we had guests, we took them to Pickity Place for an afternoon. But what I loved the most about it was that was where we found Tasha Tudor and her magically wonderful books that Kasey and I spent hours pouring over the beautifully detailed illustrations and reading the wonderful stories she told.   There are few books that I say every little girl should read, but Tasha Tudor’s are among them, if for nothing more than the beautiful artwork and magical worlds she created on every page of every book. Who could not fall in love with the Corgiville Fair or her lovely book of seasons, where in fall there is a barn dance, complete with a farmer swinging a pretty girl on his arm, and at Christmas, the tree gets decorated and presents appear beneath it, one page at a time.

I’m not unrealistic enough to think that such a life is easy; I know it is not. Even with our small approximation of self-sufficiency, we work long hours, year round. But there is something satisfying in those pictures, a sense that what is portrayed there is the result of the sweat of one’s own brow, evidenced in sore muscles and dreamless sleep. It is work for the product of the work and not a sterile paycheck that comes in a white envelope or perhaps even worse, never comes but shows up magically in the bank account. Such things were not possible in Tudor’s day, nor do I think she would have been a big fan of them. Instead, she had a connection to everything in her life. The wood that heated the house against winter cold was felled and twitched from the lot, dragged to the barnyard and split and stacked. Pantry and root cellar shelves are lined with jewel-like jars of pickles, preserves, jams and jellies, butters and compote all made from the provender of the garden, orchard and berry patches. Hay is carefully watched and tended for it means the difference between healthy livestock – good milkers and good layers – and those that aren’t. In short, every activity, every motion has a direct connection to survival and health of the farm and family.

We’ve lost much of that ethic today. We prefer instead fast food, fast cars, fast computers, and in our haste, we pass life much too quickly, taking no time to sit and consider all that is around us, and how much more there is to life than always running. I too get caught up in the frenetic pace, but every so often, I have a day like today when even in the midst of my busy preparations, I am forced to slow down.

I had planned ten dozen cookies, but Silas had other ideas. We waded into the batch of chocolate chip cookies with real zeal. He read the ingredients list whilst I collected everything we needed. He stumbled on some of the words, took a step back and pushed on through. Then together we creamed butter and brown sugar, eggs and vanilla, adding in baking soda and salt, a cup and a half of flour and letting the mixer do its thing until all was blended well. Then we turned it off, and Silas began his job of official taste tester by licking the beaters. We added in the cup of chocolate chips, stirred them round and round with a spoon until blended, and then moved to the table. He measured the cookie size and I plunked the onto the cookie sheets. Batch one went in and filled the house with its buttery chocolate richness, and then they were out and cooling on the rack, and Silas barely containing himself. He wanted a cookie!

And so it went through batch two and three, and even four, with chewy crisp cookies lining the wire racks. Silas was a diligent tester: one cookie per batch, with milk please! And then we were done with a sink full of bowls and pans and spatulas and measuring spoons, and he was done.

“I don’t think I want to do anymore,” he said, glancing quickly to see if I was angry.

“One more batch of peanut butter?” I suggested. He shook his head.

“Okay, go on with you then,” I said, so he slid on his shoes and raced through the chilled garage to his great grandmother’s house, and I began making peanut butter blossom cookies.

That’s what Tasha Tudor would have done.

(All illustrations by Tasha Tudor)

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