We spent Thursday tulip spotting in the Dutch countryside. There are many tulip fields between our house and the ocean, so we started on the North Sea.
It looked like this.
It’s been raining and cool forever, so the sunshine was tremendous. Also tremendous was the cafe on the beach where we stopped for a snack after the dog ran herself ragged. We hadn’t sat in a cafe since before last Thanksgiving, so it was a bit of moment.
Then we wended our way home through tulip country.
We passed field after field of color, and I realized that this is the Dutch equivalent of New England leaf peeking when you drive around looking at fall foliage. They may not have flaming swamp maples here for Halloween, but they certainly have fields of tulips as far as the eye can see each spring. And they also have lots of people out appreciating them.
In the end, I had to get out of the car and immerse myself. The air was sweet and thick with drunken bees, and the warmth of the sun seemed to radiate back up from the ground. Up to your knees in endless tulips feels a bit like standing in the ocean-or perhaps, like hanging out with the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. I guess it depends on how fanciful you are.
Every so often, Cape Codders think about declaring an independent state. It’s a fine idea. The place is unique enough to warrant statehood, but it hasn’t flown yet.
As Labor Day weekend winds down, I’m wondering from an off-Cape vantage if instead of statehood, the Cape shouldn’t have its own calendar.
Cape Codders know fall does not start locally with the equinox on the astronomical first day of fall, which occurs this year on September 22. Instead, it begins on Labor Day weekend when summer people depart, and locals get the place back again.
It’s a magical moment of sudden quiet at the end of a long, hot, busy summer.
It’s also the moment dogs are allowed back on the beach, and there is nothing finer than beachcombing with a good dog. You can never be sure what you’ll find.
My black pointer lab mix Daisy loved the ocean, and I think her best find ever was a large quahog she dug out of the low tide flats. When she trotted back to me with this treasure, I opened it with a rock, and she savored every bite of the delicate meat inside. She loved seafood.
I have found all kinds of things on the beach over the years, and the best find is always a horseshoe crab because they are so rare now. The worst is litter. Some of it’s useful, such as the new life jacket I found wedged by the tide into a breakwater. Some of it’s tragic, like the dead seal that washed up occasioning a visit from the environmental police, and some of it’s just plain sad, like the garbage.
Most of the time Cape beaches are beautiful and pristine. You find the odd bit of plastic and pick it up, problem solved. But once, a few falls ago after Labor Day, we were out walking the beach on an incoming moon tide driven by a strong northeast wind, and I found more trash than we could carry. It was a stark reminder of two things: the oncoming winter and what is floating around out there that shouldn’t be.
So I wrote a poem about it.
Moon Tide tells Cape Cod stories and is available on Amazon.
The clan gathers for a summer family reunion. It’s a beautiful beach day, and my grandfather’s second wife is treating us to lunch at the Black Pearl, Newport Rhode Island’s classic seaside dining spot.
The Black Pearl puts poetry in the chowder and fries fish to write home about. But our host is rich as Croesus, and also stingy, so everyone is ordering hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.
When asked what I want, I say the bouillabaisse. I am six years old.
Bouillabaisse is associated with the southern French town of Marseille but may have even earlier origins in ancient Greece. The classic fish stew was how fishermen fed themselves by utilizing the shellfish and boney fish they couldn’t sell to restaurants by boiling it in garlic and fennel to make a savory stew at the end of a long day’s fishing.
In time, as Marseille became rich with tourists, the simple fisher-fare made its way to resort tables with the addition of saffron and tomatoes.
On the French Rivera, the seaside town of Frejus launches fireworks every night. Imagine Van Gogh’s sunflower phase, and you’re pretty much in Frejus. The colors, the sea, and the tastes! At the end of another sunny summer day, my husband and I found our way to a tiny restaurant in Frejus under a train track famous for serving only bouillabaisse.
We weren’t sure what we getting into, but the trains turned out to be few and far between, and the bouillabaisse to die for. It was served by an ancient lady in separate courses, first the broth, and then the fish. Redolent with saffron and filled with cockles I had never eaten before, it was food for the gods. The ancient lady serves us until we can eat no more.
It is my 28th birthday.
I learned to make bouillabaisse on Cape Cod in an effort to recreate the one we loved so much in Frejus. It turns out Cape Cod has its own recipe made to suit the local fish. This is one of the few recipes I have the patience to follow, and I do it so I don’t muddle the flavor and waste pounds of seafood and many threads of precious saffron.
I was pretty much able to recreate the French bouillabaisse we ate so many years ago in Frejus with the help of the recipe and the addition of fresh New England fish.
Instead of the strange cockles in the French use, Cape Codders add Littleneck clams. We also add shrimp, but only the carefully deveined tails. We have ample summer tomatoes, and garlic and fennel, and sometimes, when I’m feeling a little wild, I’ve been known to add sweet summer corn to my Bouillabaisse, because why not?
This summer, I have found myself stuck in Amsterdam due to COVID-19. Since it’s my birthday again, and I’m turning 28 again, I spent a recent evening cooking with friends.
Right now things in the Netherlands are pretty normal, so it was no problem to haul out my favorite book of Cape Cod fish recipes and get to work.
I cook Bouillabaisse about once a summer, and it’s a big undertaking fit for a celebration. This time, I was hoping to bring the Cape Cod recipe to the Netherlands, and one step further away from France while maintaining the vital essence of the Bouillabaisse.
The Dutch do not have Littleneck clams.
This makes me sad, but I found tiny Venus clams and hoped for the best.
Shrimp come whole in the Netherlands, and since there is a local tradition of boiling and serving shrimp that way, I just chucked them in the pot, with heads and shells intact.
A firm white fish is essential. Do not add oily fish, it will ruin the dish. I was lucky to find cod on sale.
The heavy ripe field tomatoes you want for the sauce are hard to come by in this land of efficient greenhouses, so I grabbed the only can of tomatoes I saw in the store that day. The plot thickened with the sauce when I realized they were cherry tomatoes.
Have you ever seen a can of cherry tomatoes? I can tell you now they’re actually quite good.
Rouille, the classic red sauce that tops a traditional bouillabaisse, is one of the things that keeps the essence of France alive in the recipe. The other is saffron.
Rouille is basically mayonnaise with red peppers, lots of garlic, and a shot of tabasco. If bouillabaisse leaves you with a fine garlic hangover, it’s because of the rouille.
Use your Cuisinart to make the rouille to ensure you hit peak emulsification.
The rouille works with the croutons you make from french bread slices to make the dish taste very, very French.
The trickiest bit is really the timing. After you’ve made your tomato-based sauce in your biggest pot (I use my biggest, orangest Le Creuset) you add the fish according to cooking times. Beware of overcrowding the pot.
I learned the hard way that Venus clams open almost the minute they hit the heat, unlike littlenecks, which are tough as nails and will put up an impressive resistance to opening. Think about your timing as you add each fish and learn as you go.
Do you judge a book by its cover? Bookstores do, and so do potential buyers. Your book cover is your chance to make a great first impression, and since you only get that chance once, you don’t want to waste it.
Make sure your book cover is eye-catching, unique, and fantastic.
I had the cover for my latest book, Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, in mind before I had even assembled the collection of poems for the interior. It started with a lucky photograph I had taken of our local sailing fleet on a full moon low tide. I didn’t know at once how that would translate into a cover, but I was sure it would.
If you are not a designer yourself, there are designers out there for hire. If I had tried to make my cover, I’m pretty sure crayons would have been involved, so as a self-publisher/small press, the cover design was the only part of production I hired out.
It was worth it.
I found my cover designer through word of mouth. Networking with other writers, online or in person, is a great way to find resources. There is an entire community out there self-publishing, so you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
I’m going to make an important disclosure: The designer who made the cover for Moon Tide is Sybil Wilson. She is wonderful to work with and you can contact her over at PopKitty Design if you need a great cover.
The Self-publishing school Self-Publish.com lists the following steps to finding a cover designer:
Research your book’s target audience
Brainstorm cover designs within your genre
Research book cover designer’s styles
Know where to find cover designers
Use a strategy to select the best cover designer in your budget
Begin the selection process
Use a rating process to help you choose the best book cover designer
Hire your book cover designer
If a potential reader can somehow relate to your cover, and it catches their interest, if they find it beautiful, and want to go in there and check it out, you have succeeded, and hopefully, sales will follow.
Book stores are also looking for covers that look professional and entice readers in a display. First impressions count, make yours as beautiful as possible.
Is writing supposed to be this hard? Is the muse so fickle?
The blank page. It looms in the half-light of the computer, a sterile surface untouched by text, empty of emotion, quietly waiting. We’ve all faced it. Is writing supposed to be this hard? Is the muse so fickle?
It’s chilly and prone to extreme downpours right now where I am in the Netherlands. The summer started with beautiful sunny beach days, but now we are back in the ice-box.
The rain pours. A trapped hornet whines in the window. I cast around for something to blog about, and find only the blank page.
I’m thinking about inspiration and how to find it.
First, grab a cup of coffee. Then think about what grabs you. Google it.
History and poetry grab me, so I googled the earliest woman poet.
Have you heard of Enheduanna? I can’t believe I’m this many years old, and I’m only just hearing about Enheduanna.
Ancient Sumar, c. 2300 BCE. Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, is history’s earliest known poet.
“My king, something has been created that no one has created before,” she wrote. Her religious writing helped her father secure power in the south of his kingdom.
Echoes of her work resonate through history, in the verses of Homer, and the words of the Bible.