Nov. 14, 2009

Cranberry-Orange Relish

by John Engels

A pound of ripe cranberries, for two days
macerate in a dark rum, then do not
treat them gently, but bruise,
mash, pulp, squash
with a wooden pestle
to an abundance of juices, in fact
until the juices seem on the verge

of overswelling the bowl, then drop in
two fistsful, maybe three, of fine-
chopped orange with rind, two golden
blobs of it, and crush
it in, and then add sugar, no thin
sprinkling, but a cupful dumped
and awakened with a wooden spoon

to a thick suffusion, drench of sourness, bite of color,
then for two days let conjoin
the lonely taste of cranberry,
the joyous orange, the rum, in some
warm corner of the kitchen, until
the bowl faintly becomes
audible, a scarce wash of sound, a tiny
bubbling, and then
in a glass bowl set it out
and let it be eaten last, to offset
gravied breast and thigh
of the heavy fowl, liverish
stuffing, the effete
potato, lethargy of pumpkins

gone leaden in their crusts, let it be eaten
so that our hearts may be together overrun
with comparable sweetnesses,
tart gratitudes, until finally,
dawdling and groaning, we bear them
to the various hungerings
of our beds, lightened
of their desolations.

"Cranberry-Orange Relish" by John Engels, from Sinking Creek. © The Lyons Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1851 that Herman Melville's (books by this author) novel Moby-Dick was published, and it was a total flop. He had poured his heart and soul into the novel and he thought it was his masterpiece, but neither the critics nor readers agreed with him. His readers wanted a swashbuckling adventure story, like Melville's earlier novels, so Moby-Dick was too heavy and allegorical for most people. Only about 2,300 copies sold in the year and a half after it was published, and in the next 40 years after that, only about 1,000 more copies were sold. It wasn't until the 20th century that reviewers dug it up and started to take it seriously.

It's the birthday of cartoonist and children's author William Steig, (books by this author) born on this day in New York City in 1907. His dad painted houses and his mom was a seamstress, both of them were socialist immigrants from Eastern Europe, and they thought it was great that he loved to draw and encouraged him from the beginning. He graduated from high school, then went to three separate colleges and dropped out of each of them. In 1930, when he was 23 years old, he wanted to help out his family who were having a tough time during the Depression, so he sold a cartoon to Harold Ross, the founder and editor of The New Yorker. Ross liked his style so much that he hired him as a staff cartoonist, and William Steig kept drawing cartoons and covers for The New Yorker until 2003, when he died at age 95, which made him the longest-running contributor that The New Yorker has ever had. He drew 1,600 drawings and 117 covers for the magazine.

And his work changed many times throughout those years. When he started, he chronicled everyday scenes of young kids fighting or playing or getting in trouble. For a while, he drew heavily symbolic cartoons of strange figures meant to represent the human condition, and then he went through a period of lions and dragons and mythical creatures. And then, in 1990, he wrote a book called Shrek!, and 11 years later, that book was made into an incredibly popular movie.

He said, "I enjoyed my childhood. I think I like kids more than the average man does. I can relax with them, more than I can among adults. … I think I feel a little differently than other people do. For some reason I've never felt grown up."

And, "I often ask myself, 'What would be an ideal life?' I think an ideal life would be just drawing."

It's the birthday of children's novelist Astrid Lindgren, (books by this author) born in Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She grew up on a farm in southern Sweden, playing with her brothers and sisters and listening to her family tell stories. Eventually she got married, had a daughter, and gave up working at age 24 in order to stay home and take care of her kids. One day, her daughter, Karin, was sick in bed, so Astrid started telling her stories of a spunky, strong, independent girl who mocks adults and manages to get by just fine without a family, caution, education, or the opposite sex. And that girl was Pippi Longstocking, with magical powers, a pet monkey, freckles, and bright red pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. The book was published as Pippi Långstrump (1945) in Sweden, Pippi Longstocking in English, and it became one of the most beloved children's books of all time. She described Pippi: "Her hair, the color of a carrot, was braided in two tight braids that stuck straight out. Her nose was the shape of a very small potato and was dotted all over with freckles."

Astrid Lindgren went on to write more than 80 books, and died at age 94.

It's the birthday of journalist P.J. O'Rourke, (books by this author) born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1947. He's the author of Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (1991), Give War a Chance (1992), and most recently, Driving Like Crazy (2009).

He said: "The source of the word 'humorist' is one who regards human beings in terms of their humors — you know, whether they're sanguine or full of yellow bile, or whatever the four classical humors are. You stand back from people and regard them as types. And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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