“I need a break from this writing project,” I text a friend in the North Woods. “I’m hijacking your kitchen to test out a pie recipe.”
After a two-hour road trip, I arrive for the kitchen takeover. We discuss our favorite cookbook (Betty Crocker). I crush Oreos with a juice glass for the piecrust. We debate supper choices (the winner: sausage and onion pizza from Carmel Village Market). The hand mixer whirs as it whips heavy cream into snowy peaks. We research local apple orchards. Twenty-four hours, a breakfast of hot cider, donuts and a couple of Macouns later, I return to the island in the dusky twilight of mid-October, past lawns littered with glow-in-the-dark skeletons and maple leaves.
I’m in Maine again, on a 10-day writing retreat, but this one’s different than my usual summer-long island getaway. This time there’s no easing in. Summer sunbeams have yielded to autumn’s shadows. The kayak hibernates in the boathouse.
This is work. This is my job. This is the business of writing.
Day 3: Dropped off my grandfather’s and mother’s art for the Great State of Illustration in Maine exhibit. Later, a reading with writers Brandon Taylor and Lily King, surrounded by the smell of new books. Crashed the $150 author reception in search of an author-friend, her red lipstick imprint lingering on my cheek. Snuck in a few melt-in-your-mouth crab puffs.
Day 5: Mic checks, mic drops. The bustle of Monument Square on a Saturday. Kids and dogs and cars. Frenzied squeaks of dueling Sharpies at the LitFest Draw Off. Caressing the smooth bookcovers at the Bookfair, cobblestones beneath my feet. Meetups with publishers and small presses, and everything feeling vast and confining all at once—like, this is work. A lot of work.
The drive home, my path lit by pumpkin-tinged moon, head and heart full of words and energy.
Day 7: Hours of research and a scavenger hunt through 30-odd years of my mother’s old, non-digitized cooking newsletters. Immersing myself in the isolation of her upstairs writing studio. Feeling her words. Touching her words. Reconstructing our lives, her writing filling so many gaps in both our histories.
Day 10: Dark coffee and a cranberry-oatmeal breakfast cookie with a long-time friend at the local bakery, where it’s sweltering enough for hot yoga and he’s sharing the recipe for his signature oyster appetizers. At this point, everything is source material.
Day 11: A country road strewn with flaming ruby foliage. Air tinged with smoke from a nearby woodstove and I arrive at the art studio where I’ll spend the next seven hours learning and writing about food. The artist-host sweeping the walkway into the old house, gold leaves and a smile, broom as old and battered as the one on my back porch. Eight of us in a loft, wicker furniture, sage-green tapestry love seats and rough beams. In the kitchen, soup simmers—a preview of the upcoming lunch.
I introduce myself as a food writer. The new title rolls off my tongue as smoothly as a sip of white tea, but it feels like a lot. And I am a lot. So it should be a good fit.
The Peanut Butter Pie was wicked good, by the way.