Archives: COVID19

Library Love

When I enter a library for the first time reverence and joy washes over me. Regardless of the city, it is a homecoming. There are no strangers in libraries because they are populated by readers.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/growing-up-in-the-library

If you love libraries the above link to a New Yorker article written by Susan Orlean will delight you. It mirrors my memories of discovery and wonders experienced at each visit.

Inner-city Chicago miles from the culturally rich lakefront was not a mecca of reading. Our local public grammar school was more adept at processing children on a conveyor belt of mediocrity than instilling a love of reading. One astute teacher sent a note to my mother. Madame: Please allow your daughter to get a library card at the local branch of the Chicago Public Library. It is necessary for her to continue her studies.

She made the request to the mothers of three other students in the fourth-grade class of 42 students. She rightly guessed our mothers would grant permission because the note written on school stationery, mentioned a sanctioned city facility. Gratefully she was correct.

The Sherman Park Branch Library, named for the founder of the Chicago Stock Yards, not some far off general was added to the park in 1937. Perhaps it was built as a depression-era works project by some of the skilled immigrant artisans who populated the city and my neighborhood.

At age nine I lingered outside the imposing building afraid to go in. The librarian sat at a huge oak desk that faced the front door. She must have seen me as I paced the walk. She opened the door and I froze. The emerging woman said, “May I help you?”

I became a stutterer in the moment. Gradually, I calmed my voice and got the nerve to say, “My teacher says I have to have a library card.”

She extended her right hand toward me and said, “Welcome. My name is Lucy Ingram, and you are?”

I’d neither shaken hands nor had an adult introduce herself to me.

“Come in. Let’s see what kind of books you like.”

The generosity of the teacher who led me to a door and the librarian who opened it gave me the greatest gift of my life. Though our libraries are closed due to the Corona Virus, our tireless librarians strive to foster our communities. Zoom book club meetings, email chains, and shared resource links allow us to maintain our community, while in the background library staffs meet electronically to explore other ways to connect, develop wellness programming and seek grants for the betterment of our library experiences now and in the post lockdown future.

I hope to see you perusing the shelves soon.

  • montegufoni
  • panforte
  • Art-in-residence

Recipes and Novels: Panforte – an Italian Love Story

My friends need nothing. They’ve worked, traveled and imbibed. Holidays are a challenge. I want to remember them but refuse to add to anyone else’s clutter. Halloween is the season to comb well-loved recipes for the unique. Sundry files are combed for sweets or savories to share over the looming post trick or treat season. I sort, categorize and make gift and shopping lists. It is the only time of the year I plot an outcome. As in writing, I find outlines and lists confining concrete-like limitations. Neither allows for mood, weather or whim. My stack of 20-25 gets whittled to 8-10. Annual favorites are the Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread, Jameson laced Irish Cream, Southern Living Peanut Brittle and Worcestershire Sauce, a mélange of 16 ingredients that requires 3 full weeks of steeping. My personal favorite is Panforte first experienced in Siena, Italy. The ingredients always make the list but I don’t bake it because it’s for me not others. Stupid.

Enter COVID19. I want to bake and write. After a morning of Twitter prompt responses the pantry calls. Chocolate powdered almonds, hazelnuts, cocoa, honey and a follies like array of dried fruits line the baking shelf. Yes, I have a baking shelf.

A writing retreat attended long ago pops into my head. Three glorious weeks at the Castello Montegufoni, south of Florence, on sun-drenched patios, glorious meals, side trips, and shared writing. Mid trip I wandered the car free streets of Siena darting in and out of cave like shops. A bakery case held an unattractive disk labeled Panforte. Remember, don’t judge a book by its cover or Panforte by its dusting of flour. The clerk offered a sample of the spicy, chocolate infused fruit and nut laden cake. You’re imagining the fruit cake we use as doorstops in the States, and you’re so wrong. In the intervening twenty-five years, I’ve made it twice and savored every bite.

A quick check ensures that cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are on hand. What better way to distance a virus and self-care than with the spices of the orient mixed with human ingenuity and extended shelf life? Stories of Hannibal and Marco Polo echo. Each bite linked in memory with a favorite Italian set book – Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It’s surprising how quickly it comes together. The recipe more a concept than a formula. The currants have crystalized and smell of Moscato. I have no edible rice paper but a parchment cut out will serve. The cook time is 50 minutes but in 5 the smell of chocolate spice is redolent. If it could be bottled I’d dab it behind my ears.

From the baking shelf:

Variety of nuts

Array of dried fruits

Cocoa

Flour

Honey

Sugar

Ginger, Cinnamon & Nutmeg

Happy, baking, eating, writing and reading.

© 2020 Lee Heffner – Author