We had the smallest bit of rain overnight, followed by grey skies all day yesterday, and it felt like such a relief! I know it’s not enough to end the official drought conditions, but the cooler air and smell of wet earth is comforting, even if only for a minute.
Sunday recipe: Blackberry focaccia
When I still lived in East Vancouver I came across the cookbook Ripe by Nigel Slater in the little free library near my old house. It’s a book of recipes centered around fruits, and though though I barely look at it for most of the year, it gets a lot of use in the summer months. Last year I tried this recipe for the first time, and I’ve thought of it all year long. Since August is the month of blackberries, it seems the perfect time to share it.
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 package quick rise yeast (2 tsp)
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp berry sugar (regular sugar works as well), divided
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 3/4 cups blackberries
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine flour, yeast and sea salt in a large bowl - then add the 1 tbsp of the sugar and the warm water. Mix with a wooden spoon and then turn dough out onto a generously floured board and knead lightly for five minutes (or knead in your bread mixer if you have one, but not too long).
Once the dough is elastic, put into a floured bowl and cover - leaving it somewhere warm to rise. Once it has doubled in size (approximately an hour), punch it down and spread in a shallow baking pan about 12 inches in diameter. Gently knead half the blackberries into the dough, scattering the remaining ones on top. (Note - it will look odd at this point and seem like a mistake - keep going!) Cover the dough again and return to a warm place to rise.
Preheat the oven to 425F. Once the dough has doubled, drizzle over the olive oil and scatter the remaining sugar on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes until well risen, golden brown and crisp on top.
Let cool only a little, and then cut into wedges and eat while it is still warm.
Book notes: Second Place
“Why do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?”
I loved the Outline trilogy so much that when I discovered Rachel Cusk had a new novel out this spring I ordered it right away. Second Place is her most recent work of fiction, and it did not disappoint.
A strange little novel, Second Place is set against the vivid backdrop of an isolated marsh acreage in an unknown country, after some sort of cataclysm and global lockdown (“the events of that winter are familiar to everyone, and so I needn’t go over them”). It unspools over the course of one summer, during which our narrator “M” and her laconic husband Tony have invited the famous painter “L” to come and stay on their second property next door in a kind of impromptu artist residency. M had first stumbled across the work of L in a Paris gallery about fifteen years prior to the central events of this story, and in some pivotal way his work had been a key to her own self-becoming in the years that followed.
L arrives at this out-of-the-way property with his sparky young girlfriend Brett (who we discover is not overly devoted to L, and mostly just looking for something to do). This is the first wrench in M’s fantasy about how the summer will be spent living alongside one another. Not long after their arrival, it becomes apparent that L holds much of the world in contempt, including his hosts (and especially M who he openly despises for being middle-aged and sexless in appearance), and this too casts a pall on the invitation. Not only does L feel hard done by the decline in his popularity as a painter, but he takes a perverse pleasure in attempts to debase M with his hostility and indifference. I say attempts because, as it turns out, his behaviour only serves to solidify M’s own commitment to herself, her partner and her daughter - though not without lots of drama and painful introspection on her part.
Second Place is told as a single 137-page letter to “Jeffers” who M seems to have enough intimacy with to share her inmost thoughts about art, writing, and the privileges denied women of a certain age, not to mention the hurts and passions of her marriage. Jeffers is as much of a mystery as the global emergency and the location of the story, as Cusk cloaks much context in order to focus the reader on M’s internal journey. It has a similarity to the interior monologue of main character in the Outline Trilogy through whom we catch only glimpses of the context she travels through. The internal lives of Cusk’s female characters - writers who self-doubt, mothers who love their children but are ambivalent about motherhood, women who struggle for the affirmations of male partners all the while shoring themselves up for a life alone - feel very authentic to me, moreso than almost any other female character I have encountered in fiction. I expect that is part of what makes her work so compelling to me.
At the end of the novel Cusk writes that she “owes a debt to Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir of the time D. H. Lawrence came to stay with her in Taos, New Mexico.” Like the L of Second Place, Lawrence arrived with his wife in tow unexpectedly, was a strain on his host, and carried a deep misogyny within him that he wasn’t afraid to express. I look forward to reading Luhan’s work as a companion to this novel.
Hearing the rain on the roof
I vow with all beings
To shrug off my layers
And take a dip in the infinite pool
I am still looking for folks to fill out the The Comfort for the Apocalypse survey on Typeform. It can be anonymous, but if you do include your email address, you will be entered into a draw to win some weaving! I have so far received some very helpful comments which will help inform the direction of my newsletter in the future. Thanks so much for those of you who have taken the time so far.