Thank you, unexpected minor surgery, for treating me to a summer’s afternoon on the sick bed I’ve constructed on my front porch, complete with a bulldog nurse and the best novel I’ve read all year. Literati, I recommend you dive into The Driftless Area by Tom Drury as soon as possible. It’s like Guy Noir meets Amy Tan with Holden Caulfield guest starring as the protagonist. It’s terse and yet philosophical and suspenseful. I started the book in Florida, ass planted in the sand, and there I sat still as a kelp as I devoured it whole for the first time. I’ve been combing through it again this morning, and underlining little gems like,
“Pierre had learned something in college that he always remembered, and this was that everything that succeeds creates the conditions for its own demise. A professor with a prematurely bent posture and white beard had said this about an ancient kingdom that had disappeared, and Pierre thought it was true of many things. A simple example would be a fire, which burns the fuel that feeds it and goes out. Supposedly this would happen to the sun. Or a hero, who rights some great wrong and finds that his services are no longer needed.
It was the only philosophy he had, although he was not sure it was philosophy. It meant that nothing sufficiently good or bad can last. The only things that might last are the things that make no difference.
Yet it was like Pierre to magnify simple questions into large abstractions about which nothing could be done. All he meant in thinking of this formula for dissolution was that if he and Stella moved in together, they would put an end to the living apart that made them want to live together in the first place.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I lived in the Driftless Area, while KP and I were in southeastern Minnesota. The name refers to the lack of tectonic action in the area around the Mississippi River bluffs. There the sediment from the last million years rests layered more or less neatly into one of the best geological diaries our country has kept. The book returns again and again to the notion of fate. Pierre suggests that one might think of the future as a place we have yet to visit—it already exists, like Australia already exists, we just haven’t been there yet. And according to Pierre, what is already out there cannot be drifted by the feelings we have or the choices we think we make. Ooh. Such a rich thing for an emplotted character to think, for indeed his ending was surely written before the author pulled out his quill.
If you are like me, I’m sure you have been combing through your bookshelves to assemble the Summer Reading List, thanks to the way the Sun seems to settle us in chairs fitted with beach towels and cold drinks. Do add The Driftless Area to the top of your list!
Speaking of drifting, KP and I were able to enjoy the Bayou Boogaloo festival this weekend, and set our Minnesota-made canoe out on the murky waters of St John’s Bayou. Boogaloo allows you to paddle up and downstream to visit the different concert stages. We shared the waters with many other jazz pirates and a surprising squad of turtles who must have been scandalized to wake up to a sudden infestation of boogalooers. The world has a gentle way of reminding us all of us that we are not alone, if we think we are.
Our lemon trees out back are starting to bourgeon again with plump sours. Try out these delicious fancy beverage recipes at your next grill out, hopefully the coming Memorial Day Weekend!
Roasted Lemon and Bay Leaf Hard Lemonade
3 lemons, quartered lengthwise, plus 6 wheels for garnish
3 fresh bay leaves, plus 6 more for garnish
1 cup superfine sugar
3 cups water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vodka
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons club soda
- Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small roasting pan, roast the lemon quarters with the 3 bay leaves for about 20 minutes, until the lemons are softened and browned in spots. Scrape the lemons, bay leaves and any pan juices into a large pitcher. Add the sugar, water and vodka and muddle with the lemons. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until chilled.
- Strain the lemonade through a fine sieve into 6 ice-filled glasses. Top each drink with 3 tablespoons of the club soda and garnish with a lemon wheel and bay leaf.
The strained hard lemonade can be refrigerated overnight.
Here is another perfect summer porch beverage. What is yuzu? Mystery fruit. I must have more.
Sparkling Yuzu Gimlets
Adapted from Food and Wine
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves, plus small sprigs for garnish
1 1/2 cups lightly packed basil leaves, plus small sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons yuzu juice
2 cups chilled vodka
2 1/4 cups chilled sparkling water
In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the hot water until dissolved. In a pitcher, muddle the mint and basil leaves with the sliced cucumber and the sugar syrup. Stir in the yuzu juice, vodka and sparkling water. Serve in ice-filled collins glasses garnished with small sprigs of mint and basil and a cucumber spear.