WHEN A DEAR FRIEND DIES — for Alan

Christmas Fog Brig Tasha Alan 2015

Alan MacIlroy and Tasha O’Neill birding foggy Brigantine on Christmas 2015

The news we always knew, but never believed, slashes out of morning, startling and impossible as thunder snow.

Although creativity is the heart of the matter in the home Alan MacIlroy has left for our true home, — neither words nor images come to my summons, as mourning descends upon me.

My dearest Tasha is widowed anew.  Alan’s ruddy car sits in their driveway with its subtle license reminding us of his priority:  TH JRNY.   Now he has embarked on the universal journey.

Over more years than I can tally, Tasha and Alan and I have shared priceless rituals, from fireside lobster in Maine to Christmas picnics at Brigantine Wildlife Refuge.

The day of our foggy Christmas feast, a peregrine falcon had stationed itself upon a speed limit sign — “15 mph” — just beyond the Brig’s northeast corner turn.  My camera does not do justice to this monarch holding court for a rosary of reverent automobiles immobilized upon the dike road.  Alan, Tasha and I quietly slid out of his Christmasy car to stand in silence, worshiping.

After a significant interval, Alan announced, “Let’s not go over to Scott’s Landing for our Christmas dinner.  How could we leave the peregrine?”

Only as I type this, do I realize, the word peregrine means wanderer.

Alan is the consummate mentor.  “Mr. Fix-It.”  Every problem solved, especially in advance, especially for his cherished Kingston church, and local businessmen and women.  Each wooded trail at their Maine home maintained.  Every lobster boat observed upon stormy or tranquil bay.  Each wood fire, kindled on a cooling summer’s night.  His dazzling, impeccable TR 4, shining on the driveway, ready for a jaunt.  He is each woodworking project magnificently accomplished, including caning two chairs for me, burnishing the Provencal olive wood cutting board that had dimmed since I lived there.  Grace, gentleness, generosity.   Smiles and that quiet voice we will no longer hear.  Alan was the essence of tranquility.  Alan is love.

His quietly merry  spirit will be with us on every future excursion. Yet the glow of that luminous man has become memory.

Mary Elizabeth’s crystalline phrases echo as I find myself bereft of words.  May her inspiration be with NJWILDBEAUTY readers  — in this dire era, –in which too many days begin with yet another cancer call:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.

 

I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;

 

I am not there. I did not die.

***

 

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha Prepares our 2015 Christmas Feast

***

“How can we leave the peregrine?”     Now, our wanderer has left us…

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

“Friendship… blendship…” Hunterdon County Farm Supper at Summer’s End

Rawlyk Farm and Pond View at Evening by Jeanette Hobban

Rawlyk Farm and Pond View at Evening

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that one of the key joys of my life now is the intensity of friendship, especially among people with whom I have (1) helped save the planet, particularly wild New Jersey; and (2) birded!  Especially birded under trying conditions and won through.

Towering Joe Pye Weed, Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Towering Joe Pye Weed, Rawlyk Farm

You’ve read about “The Intrepids” in these ‘pages’, especially in the teeth of that Nor’easter a year ago in Island Beach – (you can search for Island Beach in Archives and re-read that adventure.) This is a night when no one needed to be intrepid — a time of exquisite fellowship, merriment — a treasured reunion, in a place significantly restored for Nature’s purposes.

Restored Outbuilding, Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Restored Outbuilding, Rawlyk Farm

Recently, Bill Rawlyk created a nearly impromptu farm supper on his (he is third generation) Hunterdon County farm.

Tiger Swallowtail in Heaven, Restored Rawlyk Farm, Hunterdon County

Tiger Swallowtail in Heaven, Restored Rawlyk Farm, Hunterdon County

Scott Sheldon, who had invented the role of Director of Development at D&R Greenway some years back, was in town for a rare visit.  Jeanette Hooban, my cherished ex-office mate at the same establishment, drove me out there immediately after work on a weeknight.  Unbeknownst to us, dear Mary Penney, now head of Bucks County Audubon at Honey Hollow, and her delightful, hail-fellow, well-met husband Geoff, came over after their workdays to surprise us.  Edith Rawlyk, (Bill’s very sweet mom (who used to create home-made pies, especially from blueberries of the farm, and send them in with Bill, Edith, who worked often at my side on complex logistical matters) was sitting in a wooden rocker on the porch as we arrived, smiling that smile we all cherish.  Bill’s at Open Space Institute now, merely saving the Delaware River Valley.  Jeanette brilliantly manages events for Princeton’s Senior Resource Center.

Why Preserve Grasslands, by Jeanette Hooban

Why Preserve Grasslands

As I’ve written before, we’ve all been in the trenches together.  Any moments we can snatch in these complex 21st-Century lives are beyond price.  That night with Bill and his Mom on the farm was simply magical.

Friendship Among the Grasses, by Jeanette Hooban

Friendship Among the Grasses

Summer was at peak.  Bill manages for grassland birds, not only towering flowers, but also ponds, vernal and otherwise.  Once a chicken farm, now it’s a sanctuary, for humans in our experience, as well as for the four-legged, the winged and o, what do the Indians call the snakes and the turtles?

Queen Anne's Lace Reigns at Rawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Queen Anne’s Lace Reigns at Rawlyk Farm, Punctuated by Buttonbush at the Pond

You all know my own enthusiasm for food (stretching back to having been Director of the Test Kitchen at Tested Recipe Institute, at 500 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, in my twenties).  And that my friends, including The Intrepids, share this enthusiasm.  It will give you some idea of the magnitude of these friendships, that the food, though perfection, was secondary.

Sitting on the rhododendron-surrounded bluestone terrace, catching up, while Bill grilled everything from salmon to hot dogs, sipping Scott’s wine or Geoff’s and Mary’s beer, as sun lowered and the breeze rose, was perfection.

The privilege of eating in a farm kitchen in this day age can neither be described nor measured.  Shrimp appeared and disappeared.  As did various exotic cheeses which had come from far from Hunterdon County.  Tomatoes were sliced and festooed with lively basil.  Bill has the farmer’s perfection touch with corn.  Once out there, he took something to the cornfield, which boiled the water as we picked and husked the corn.  This wasn’t quite that rural, but the foods were divine.

There was laughter.  There was rue.  There were hopes for the future, and plans for birding jaunts — it’s time to celebrate Jeanette’s autumn birthday again.

Our impromptu farm supper couldn’t have been better, and we are the richer for it, forever.

Tiger Swallowtail Where and When it Belongs, Restored Fawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Tiger Swallowtail Where and When it Belongs, Restored Fawlyk Farm, by Jeanette Hooban

Truly Wild, Rawlyk Restored Flowerland

Truly Wild, Rawlyk Restored Flowerland

Wild Beauty, Pre-Supper Walk, Rawlyk Farm

Wild Beauty, Pre-Supper Walk, Rawlyk Farm

Genesis: Aioli Feast for Confrerie Assemblage, June 2015

Le Grand Aioli Assemblage, June 7, 2015

Le Grand Aioli Assemblage, June 7, 2015

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I have adventuresome friends.  Some we’ve begun to refer to as “The Intrepids,” as you know from the blog post about our daring a wild autumnal Nor’easter at the easternmost point of Island Beach.  Others have dared arrive to eat and bring aspects of Le Choucroute Garnie of Alsace, and Le Cassoulet de Toulouse.  At this March feast, we planned Le Grand Aioli for June.

The guests change somewhat, depending on travels and even surgery.  However, each fully earns the Intrepid title, never more than last weekend.

I salute their courage because, with all three feasts, there’s no way I can know or really alter the outcome.  All involve long, traditional processes.  Each process is transformative — the whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Creating aioli gave me the chance to be my Provencal self again, when I lived in a villa high above Cannes from October 1987 through August 1988.

Guy Gedda, whose book I read daily in Provence, and very often ever since

Guy Gedda, whose book I read daily in Provence, and very often ever since

Every guest becomes amazingly caught up in these quests, going to great extremes of research and search for authentic ingredients for each part of the meal.  They find recipes on line for me (who prefers cookbooks, but can never read too much about food.)  They go with me on the wine quests.   They’re amazing!

Jeanette Hooban and Bill Rawlyk, formed the Original Intrepids of Island Beach. My co-author of the Stuart Country Day School book, Carolyn Yoder, became an Intrepid, as you’ve seen on the Williamstown trail trip; Valerie Meluskey, whose wilingness to travel, especially to France, and also to eat just about anything, has been my friend since the 70’s.  Everyone knows the gastronomic courage of Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian, food writers and critics par excellence.  So we were seven.

Table and Rose De Provence:  mas de gorgonnier of Les Baux, Domaine La Colombe from the Varois of France, and Cotes de Provence in Romanesche de Tourins

Table and Rose De Provence: mas de gorgonnier of Les Baux, Domaine La Colombe from the Varois of France, and Cotes de Provence in Romanesche de Tourins

The wines were roses de Provence, two from Joe Canal’s, one from Trader Joe’s, the darker the better — which is no longer chic, but quite essential for aioli.

I forgot to take pictures of the champagne hour, provided by Carolyn Yoder — Charles de Marques from Champlat, France.  That with simple very fresh nuts, especially almonds, was the only appropriate precursor to something as rich and profoundly Provencal as aioli.

Few words will follow.  Many scenes will show you the genesis of Le Grand Aioli, on a perfect late spring Sunday afternoon.

Guy Gedda's Recipe in his livre de cuisine, "La Table d'un Provencal", which I read and re read during my year in Provence and ever after

Guy Gedda’s Recipe in his livre de cuisine, “La Table d’un Provencal”, which I read and re read during my year in Provence and ever after

Of course, I should have been making this in my long-lost marble mortar, with its handsome, sturdy pestle of olive wood.  Alas…  I made two batches — four eggs each, and however much olive oil each would transform into the sublime mixture.  More than a cup and a half, but not two cups…

Commencement d'un Grand Aiioli - organic garlic, morning eggs from Brick Farm Market, Trader Joe's superb extra virgin olive oil

Commencement d’un Grand Aiioli – organic garlic, morning eggs from Brick Farm Market, Trader Joe’s superb extra virgin olive oil

Crucial Ingredients

Crucial Ingredients

First, peel the garlic

First, peel the garlic

Sea Salt of Brittany

Sea Salt of Brittany

Guy Gedda's Recette

Guy Gedda’s Recette Sublime

Voila!  Guy Gedda's Aioli

Voila! Guy Gedda’s Aioli

Salt Cod Soaked, rinsed, soaked every 8 hours for at least 24 hours

Salt Cod soaked, rinsed, soaked again, every 8 hours for at least 24 hours

Soaked Salt Cod Refrigerated overnight for Party

Soaked Salt Cod to be refrigerated overnight for Party

Vegetable Broth Lemon Court Bouillon to Poach Salt Cod at Last Minute  8 - 10 minutes

Vegetable Broth Lemon Court Bouillon to Poach Salt Cod at Last Minute 8 – 10 minutes

Faith's Surprise Octopus

Faith’s Surprise Octopus

Pat's Fresh Fennel Sticks, Rare White Asparague, Bill's Hard-boiled Eggs

Pat’s Fresh Fennel Sticks, Rare White Asparague, Bill’s Hard-boiled Farm Eggs

Valerie's Separately Roasted Mixed Baby Beets, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Scallions

Valerie’s Separately Roasted Mixed Baby Beets, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Scallions, Bill’s Farm Radishes

Pat's Baby Artichokes

Pat’s Baby Artichokes

Salt Cod a Table

Salt Cod a Table

Jeanette's Farm-Fresh Lawrenceville Strawberries, Nougat, and Calissons de Provence

Jeanette’s Farm-Fresh Lawrenceville Strawberries, Nougat, and Calissons de Provence

With each Confrerie supper, we had a paired liqueur with dessert.  With the strawberries, I wanted a Provencal delight, oft made at home:  eau de vie de prune.  This sounds ghastly – but means what the Swiss call plumliwasser, or essence of plums.

My Plan B had been Le Vieux Marc de Provence.  I could find recipes to distill this rustic cognac-like elixir at home in my Provencal kitchen.  However, not the most esoteric nor the most bountifully provisioned wine and liqueur stores here in and around Princeton could come up with Marc.

Bad picture of Armagnac awaiting dessert

Bad picture of Armagnac awaiting dessert

Trader Joe’s to the rescue with Armagnac — the French would have this, also distilled of leftovers of the grape processing. It was a curiously appropriate rose color, and full but not overpowering.

Even Carolyn Yoder’s generous champagne –(also Trader Joe’s – she took me with her to find it)– had turned out to have the faintest hint of rose.

When Pat found the white asparagus (so rare, so Europe!) at Wegman’s, no one could tell her the price.  Finally, the manager arrived with a question (as she was thinking it could be $20) —  “How about 99 cents?”  Of course, her response had been, “I’ll take it.”

We didn’t tell anyone about the octopus, and kept it covered til everyone was a table.  It was a great hit, occasioning oo’s and ah’s  and very nearly finished.  Faith took the rest home to craft a light and elegant octopus stew, as only she and Pat could do.  Whoever heard of leftover octopus?

As you can see, a fine time was had by all.

Aioli was then shared with Tasha O’Neill, my dear photographer friend, the very next day.  The ingredients served me for a pretty meal:

Aioli Leftovers the Next Night

Aioli Leftovers the Next Night

My dear former Kingston friend, Janet Black, here all weekend for hikes this weekend, found beautiful carrots of many colors, and ‘cheddar cauliflower’, on a farm market stop in Pennington.  I peeled but did not cook the carrots.  I reheated Valerie’s magnificent roasted vegetables, which had resembled the rose window at Chartres.  And Janet and I feasted on the last of the aioli.  We tried the items also with Hollandaise — interesting contrast.  Either would do – but not both, normally.

The main point of the Confrerie dinners is always fellowhip.

The main gift is memory.

Aioli Leftovers for Houseguest Janet Black from Manhattan

Aioli Leftovers for Houseguest Janet Black from Manhattan

Aioli Leftgovers with sauces -- Aioli and Hollandaise

Aioli Leftgovers with sauces — Aioli and Hollandaise

Idyllyic Trail, the Berkshires: Hopkins Forest, Williamstown, Massachusetts

This is part of a collection of posts on our recent Williamstown, Massachusetts, hiking excursion.  Two dear friends joined me for almost a week in mountains, early in May.

Clark Trail Tiffany Effect

Clark Trail Tiffany Effect Before Hurricane Sandy, October Scene

That idyllic college town is surrounded by impressive mountains, –changing shape, color and majesty every few hours.  Rumor has it that Melville was inspired to write Moby Dick by gazing at the hulk of Mt. Greylock from his Berkshire hideaway.

Mt. Greylock from below, Williamstown, Mass.

Mt. Greylock from below, Williamstown, Mass.

As NJWILDBEAUTY readers already knows, alluring trails are everywhere — even on the grounds of the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Art, and ditto re the Bennington (VT) Museum.

"Nothin' but Blue Skies, From Now On..."

Mountains Everywhere, en route to Bennington VT – 9 miles from Williamstown

We’d spend four hours in woods alongside streams, earning ever-changing views with every few steps — then lunch, and do art museums all afternoon.  My idea of heaven!  Our attention on the Hopkins were delicate and often rare [spring flowers]  ephemerals tiptoeing into light on every side.

Clearing after Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Clearing after Autumn Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Words are not the point for this post.  Let the pictures carry you with Jeanette Hooban. Carolyn Yoder and me, on Hopkins Forest trails, my Berkshire favorite — as spring awakened in those sacred mountains.

Hopkins Parking Sign -- We are not in Kansas (i.e., New Jersey) Any More

Hopkins Parking Sign — We are not in Kansas (i.e., New Jersey) Any More

Jeanette Forging into Hopkins Forest

Jeanette Forging into Hopkins Forest

Berries of Spring in Hopkins Forest

Berries of Spring in Hopkins Forest

First Foam Flowers, Hopkins Forest

First Foam Flowers, Hopkins Forest

Still Life With Granite, Hopkins

Still Life With Granite, Hopkins

Rare Princess Pine and Canada Mayflower, May in Hopkins Forest, Williamstown

Rare Princess Pine and Canada Mayflower, May in Hopkins Forest, Williamstown

True Solomon's Seal, Hopkins Trail

True Solomon’s Seal, Hopkins Trail

Fungus Doing the Work of the Woods, Hopkins Trail

Fungus Doing the Work of the Woods, Hopkins Trail

Newborn Beech in the Beechwood, Hopkins Trail

Newborn Beech in the Beechwood, Hopkins Trail

Unfurling Fiddlehead - Spring Genesis, Hopkins Trail

Unfurling Fiddlehead – Spring Genesis, Hopkins Trail

Off They Go, Into the Hopkins Forest

Off They Go, Into the Hopkins Forest

Shy Trout Lily Peeks Out among Tree Roots, far from its usual favorite streamside habitat

Shy Trout Lily Peeks Out among Tree Roots, far from its usual favorite streamside habitat\

Hopkins Forest Signs

Hopkins Forest Signs

The Happy Wanderers, Hopkins Forest Trail, Williamstown, Mass.

The Happy Wanderers, Hopkins Forest Trail, Williamstown, Mass.