Dog Tales

You can never be sure what you’ll find…

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.

It’s really just a big beach.

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.

Special Labor Day Reading of the poem Beach Debris, from Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems.

Moon Tide tells Cape Cod stories and is available on Amazon.

Dog Wise

We can embrace the beauty of the moment…

Black Dog lives entirely in the moment now

running the beach

with no thought of later and before

no what if, no regret…~ from Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems

The two things that separate us from the animals are what might teach us the most: Animals have a different sense of self, and they live entirely in the moment.

Encountering life on those terms could open up a whole new reality.

Once I knew a dog called Daisy. She was a black pointer lab mix with a white bib, and she didn’t stay with me because I made her, she stayed because she chose to.

We were friends, and she had many lessons to teach me.

Have you ever watched an animal look at its reflection in a mirror? It is unable to connect the image it sees with itself. 

Daisy knew to eat and sleep and keep herself well. But her animal self-preservation never extended beyond that to the point she made others suffer for her benefit.

Imagine people doing that.

Daisy also lived entirely in the present moment.

We can’t do that, memory and time work differently for us, but it has something to teach us.

We can embrace the beauty of the moment and not let regret for the past and fear for the future ruin it. 

Especially now, as we face unprecedented times.

…Only Black Dog beach and sky

The eternal now, now, now. ~From Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems

Read more about the Black Dog in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems. Available now.

Bouillabaisse Stories

 

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.

 

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A bowl of bouillabaisse.

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.

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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.

 

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I never share recipes, but this is an exception. From the Cape Cod Fish & Seafood Cookbook.

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.

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Venus Clams.

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.

 

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Whole Shrimp.

A firm white fish is essential. Do not add oily fish, it will ruin the dish. I was lucky to find cod on sale.

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Cut the fish into small portions.

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.

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Canned cherry tomatoes.
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Don’t skimp on the garlic.
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You need good fish stock.
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Adding the fish stock.

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.

 

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Adding olive to the rouille sauce.

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.

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Bringing the ingredients together.
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Bringing it to the table. Bouillabaisse topped with croutons and rouille.

I ate the whole thing.

 

For more Cape Cod stories check out Moon Tide!

 

Photography by Rikke Dakin Photography.

 

 

 

Go For It: Why Book Covers Matter

Do you judge a book by its cover?

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. 

Italian language books on display at Feltrinelli’s recently opened RED Store in Florence, Italy, Photo Credit Jonathan Schilling

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.

My lucky shot destined for cover fame

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. 

A great designer made my lucky shot into a beautiful book cover

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:

  1. Research your book’s target audience
  2. Brainstorm cover designs within your genre
  3. Research book cover designer’s styles
  4. Know where to find cover designers
  5. Use a strategy to select the best cover designer in your budget
  6. Begin the selection process
  7. Use a rating process to help you choose the best book cover designer
  8. 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.

And as always, be brave and keep writing.

Go For It: Find Your Inspiration

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? 

photo credit Dysprosia at English Wikipedia

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. 

Enheduanna, extract from the Disk of 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.  

She was the High Priestess of the goddess Inanna and the moon god Nanna

That’s the best part: She was a Moon Goddess!

When I wrote Moon Tide, a collection of Cape Cod poems, I was in thrall with the Moon and poetry. I guess I still am. At that point, inspiration was an open spigot.

Today I’m facing the blank page. It happens to us all, but not always.

For inspiration, try taking a walk a day in nature.

While I wrote Moon Tide, I walked the marsh and beach daily with my dog Daisy, and for every walk, Daisy somehow gave me a poem. 

Inspiration and magic usually come together. 

Daisy came from the Animal Rescue League in Brewster, on the north side of Cape Cod. If you are looking for a dog on Cape, start there.

One of my best friends went there looking for a cat but called me instead because he had inadvertently found my next dog. I drove down there the following day to check it out, and there was Daisy.

She was a pointer-lab mix, black with a white pointer stripe on her chest, and she looked like a classic Cape Cod black lab.

Logo of the Black Dog Company

Daisy and I spent three years roaming the Cape, and the poems piled up. The inspiration to write was somehow dog-induced, and somehow a gift from nature. 

It is still pouring here in the Netherlands, but I have let the hornet out and managed to write an entire blog.

“I, who am I among living creatures?” Enheduanna asked. 

Indeed.

Writing is not always easy, and hitting it right is an uncertain science.

Think of it as a combination of magic and coffee and sheer persistence. 

Inspiration is where you find it, people, and the best way to find it is to keep writing.