It’s that time of year where all the bugs are at their most visibly industrious. Spiders weave vast and complicated webs every night outside, and fill the undusted corners of the house (so, all the corners) with messy spun-sugar looking masses. Hummingbirds fattening up for migration vie for the feeders with European hornets as large as they are. Crickets, some kind of little black beetle, ladybugs, and ALL the stink bugs suddenly want to come in to the house. I want to open all the windows to the glorious fall weather, but that means I am also opening them to the bugs to find all the gaps in the screens and the windowframes. I don’t love sharing my house with bugs, but most of all I don’t love sharing my bed with them – or my clothes. Stink bugs seem to be the only bugs who think that’s a good idea and as usual at this time of year I am puzzled as to why.
The bugs, if they are paying attention to me, may be equally puzzled by the purpose of my version of autumnal industry. I’m having an organizing spree, so far split between the basement (where I work, and therefore where the dogs and I spend most of our days), and two outbuildings which have both partially housed horse equipment, garden tools, and hay, and which I am converting to one single-purpose tack barn and one single-purpose hay barn. I guess that makes three outbuildings, as I am also moving the gardening tools and anything else that doesn’t belong in any of these three catagories to the horse barn, which has not housed horses since we put in the run-in sheds a dozen or more years ago.
Though I am making dump runs in all of this – it’s amazing how often we seem to decide we aren’t going to use something any more and instead of getting rid of it we put it on a shelf – but I’m trying to moderate my default organizing method which I call “throw it all away.” This means that, to the inconvenience of the spiders and stink bugs and crickets, and to the bemusement of the dogs, I am taking things off shelves, cleaning the shelves, moving the shelves to another place, and then putting things back on the shelves. Not always the same shelves, or the same things, as I move items from one space to another, but I imagine the finer points are lost on the bugs. As far as the dogs are concerned, the main benefit to this is that I may occasionally unearth a lacrosse ball or other forgotten toy.
I’m also trying to moderate getting lost in the minutiae of what I’m organizing. I’m throwing away obvious trash, but not otherwise going through things in a lot of detail, because if I start that I know I’ll just wind up sitting on the floor looking at old photographs and notes from when the kids were little, and the basement will continue to look like the aftermath of a fairly gentle earthquake. And I will not – NOT – start cleaning tack in the tack barn. Yet.
Occasionally I find something that is useful and that I know we will no longer use, and then I put it up for sale online. Sometimes (as with a meat grinder I just sold), this involves digging for parts in multiple cabinets, and also looking for owner’s manuals. Last night I was looking for a manual before listing another item. We have a very orderly drawer with file folders for each appliance, up to a point. We also have a cabinet in the kitchen with a pile of stuff in it, and sometimes this is where the manuals for kitchen appliances end up. In my search last night, I did not find the manual I was looking for, though when I put the appliance in question back in its cabinet after photographing it for the add, I saw that the manual was there already. What I did find was the manual for my old LG flip phone, which I used from roughly 2005-2011, a book on deck-building, a recipe for Amish cinnamon bread from my youngest child’s elementary school (she just turned 31), three versions of the recipe for my mother’s truffles (one in my writing and two in hers), a recipe also in my mother’s writing for Truly Awful Cake (I’ve been making this cake for over thirty years and only just discovered it’s supposed to be made in a bundt tin), and what will have to be the lead recipe for my food blog, Mystery Recipes. This recipe reads in its entirety:
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. cocoa
1 t b powder
1/2 t salt
1 c water
3/4 c oil
1 t vanilla
2 T coffee
15 min (or less)
There’s no title, and no reference to a pan or a shape or a number. It can’t be brownies, because that’s way too much flour, and it can’t be cake, because of the baking time. It doesn’t say anything about forming cookies, though that’s my current best guess. I figure for my food blog I can just post the recipes as I wrote them, and then see how many different food products can be made from the ingredients and method (such as it is). Prizes for the most edible result.
Prior to this mystery recipe I had thought my version of the truffle recipe, jotted down in a conversation with my mother 20 or 30 years ago, was my most cryptic. This one at least says “truffles” at the top, and if the method is abbreviated (and it is – it consists of the following two lines:
“choc, butter – double boiler
add etc – wisk – cool – toss”)
at least I have made them enough that *I* know what I am talking about (even if I apparently don’t know how to spell “whisk”). More puzzling to me is how I wound up with two versions of the recipe in my mother’s handwriting. One of them is probably the original. It is covered with chocolate – one’s hands get very chocolatey while shaping the truffles and coating them in cocoa, and it has notes in three different pens. “Florence’s truffles” is squinched in at the tops as an afterthought in a green felt tip ink. We all think of these as my mother’s truffles, but the recipe came from a friend from her job at the Renwick. The recipe is, in the main, written in blue ball point, and abbreviated (though not as abbreviated as my version). Clarifying notes (“about a teaspoon” next to “rum brandy or vanilla,” and “with cocoa in bag” next to “toss”) are in black felt tip. I can see the exact pens in my mind – my father was forever bring home bags of pens from which finding one that worked was like a much less deadly but more annoying form of Russian roulette – and I recognize each of these inks and the pens they came from. The other one is written on a post card of Bolinas Bay, which doesn’t really give me any clues about the time frame. This one contains the instruction “leave in icebox overnight” and now I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I heard someone call a fridge an icebox, and if it was something my parents stopped saying at some point. For some reason it makes me a little sad to think they did.
The strangest thing about my mother’s two Florence’s Truffles recipes and her Truly Awful Cake recipe is that I have no idea how they got into my cabinet of random papers. I’m quite sure she didn’t give them to me, so they must have been something I chose to keep from her things after she died. Or possibly even after my father died seven years after her: maybe they were in her desk, for some odd reason, or maybe they were still in the kitchen. I have no recollection of finding them or choosing them. Indeed, as far as I can recall, last night was the first time I saw any of them.
I have never had a dream about my mother since she died, and aside from sensing her strongly when I have gone to Wolf Trap, I don’t feel her presence very often. Still, she shows up in ways that are very her. One of the few things I do remember keeping from her things is a t-shirt from the National Zoo for their Boo in the Zoo Halloween event. Eight years after she died, I grabbed it one night to wear as a night shirt, and found after turning off the light that it glows in the dark. These recipes of hers seem like another of her little surprises. It’s not quite truffle season yet – they are a thing we make at Christmas time, though they are not at all Christmasy. Just a tradition, of which we had precious few as a family. I like having her company while I continue my organizing. And I appreciate the reminder that some things I will never get rid of.