Sunday, January 15, 2012

At least Betty Friedan had Friedan

That picture is so 5 minutes ago.
Owen and I are in Seattle for the long weekend and day before yesterday we drove out to the Quimper Peninsula where the writer Betty MacDonald lived for a few miserable years in the late 1920s and raised chickens. I'm sorry she suffered, but the experience did provide the material for The Egg and I, and I'm not sorry she wrote that great book. MacDonald's literary reputation is essentially nonexistent today, which is a mystery and a tragedy given her wit, talent, and enormous popularity back in the day. Is it because she was named Betty? It's hard to take a Betty seriously these days. And I don't think MacDonald helps. Nor, come to think of it, does a masterwork called The Egg and I.

MacDonald's onetime hometown of Chimacum, Washington is forlorn and depressing, at least in January. We drove the length of Egg and I* Road and somewhere along that stretch sits the farm where MacDonald was so memorably unhappy. No landmarks, but you get a strong sense of clamminess, chill, and dank houses inhabited by men with bushy gray beards. After our brief tour, we went to Port Townsend and wandered through antiques stores where I refused to buy Owen a $28 vintage Star Wars kit that he insists is a canny investment and will be worth hundreds of dollars in a few years. "When I'm an adult it will sell for $180," he said. "You just don't understand."

a meaningful sight, at least to me
At dusk, we returned to Seattle and ate dinner at Delancey. I've wanted to eat at this Ballard pizzeria ever since I watched it come to life on Orangette. It was exactly as I had expected -- studiously simple and handsome and urban-rustic. There were battered concrete floors and candles in jelly jars. Our young waitress was beautiful, soft-spoken, and tattooed; a lesbian couple with their baby sat at a nearby table. It could have been San Francisco, except that too many of the young men were dressed like lumberjacks. We felt right at home.

The salad -- radicchio, green leaves of something, blood oranges, and pistachios -- could not have been prettier. It was also very delicious, though I might have toasted the pistachios.
proof we were there
The pizza that followed was a nearly perfect rendition of the austere Neapolitan pizza so popular now.

For dessert, Owen ordered the cannoli. Looking back on it, I think the menu might have said "cannoli" not cannoli which should have tipped me off that it was going to be a playful deconstruction rather than a strict interpretation. Instead of crispy pastry tubes filled with cream, he got a few lace cookies sitting atop blobs of cream. No, no, no! That's like serving sliced ham alongside two pieces of bread and calling it a "sandwich." Or putting some raspberries on a plate next to a shortbread cookie and calling it a "tart." Bad trend, this.

Still, other than the cannoli bait-and-switch, thumbs up on Delancey.

Apparently the diet is on hold this weekend.

*can't get Blogger to accept ampersands

17 comments:

  1. I loved The Egg and I. I think it has been pushed off library shelves and regulated to garage sales because of the politically incorrect parts. Betty certainly didn't have a nice opinion of her Pacific Coast indian neighbors, but it's a very insight, honest view of her life and times. I'm with you on bait and switch desserts. When you take the cannoli, you want a cannoli.

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  2. We were just discussing Betty MacDonald in our house the other day! My daughter had found the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books and I was surprised to see no mention in the author bio that she'd done anything else. And not a single one of her books for grown-ups are available in our library system. Are they even in print?

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  3. Seattle looks cold and depressing.

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  4. I love The Egg and I! I just lent it to my mother, when she asked for something funny & "worth her time." I loved the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books as a child, and I tried to read The Plague and I but got stuck.... maybe I should pick it up again.
    Also, I got your book for Christmas and devoured it! I'm a new convert to your blog as a result :)

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  5. Me too, another Betty MacDonald lover. She wrote a wonderful memoir about living on Vashon Island with her second husband... can't think of the name offhand... A Chicken in Every Pot? Something like that. Full of food and cooking, I bet you'd really enjoy it. I also found a copy of her memoir about having TB, called "The Plague and I," in a bookstore on Charing Cross Road in London. {Of course I was on Charing Cross Road following the Helene Hanff trail...} I don't have it anymore, I've moved too many times, but I wish I did. Talk about black humor. She had a rough life, but she made a lot of lemonade with those lemons.

    I have every Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book sitting on my bookshelf and still love them as much as I did as a kid.

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  6. "The egg & I". You have to type the ampersand and follow it with "amp;" (without the quotes).

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  7. Just read the part about Owen and the $28 Star Wars toy aloud to Dolan, who then begged me to reread him the portion of your book where you sleep with the bawling goat and Owen hangs out with the Star Wars Visual Dictionary. You are bedtime reading now...

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  8. You definitely would have toasted the pistachios. And I agree about the interpretive desserts. When I was in culinary school, we had a demo weekend where one of the chef-instructors tried to show off to the potential recruits by demonstrating a savory "napoleon" made from cheeses, pate, slices of bread, and aioli. My chef-instructor (who was a hoot) called out, "Yeah, it's also called a sandwich." General uproarious laughter.

    But most importantly: How was the pizza?

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  9. The egg and i road sign is priceless!

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  10. Tipsy, Just a few general comments because I have been your biggest fan for a long time, telling everyone to read your blog. But there are so many good blogs now, and I started to lose interest over the past weeks when posts were so infrequent. I know you are so busy promoting your new book, which I have, but please don't lose your audience. Also, I'm baffled why you would let family choose books to try, especially now when so many books of the past year are featured as "best of the year." I would prefer it if you chose some of the big titles being touted and let us all know how they really are. This last stint with Best of California just isn't appealing to people who love food and books, don't you think? Again, to summarize, I LOVE your writing and hope you continue frequently!

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  11. I have been to Delancey, with two lesbians and their baby no less, and I've had that waitress! The salad and the pizza I had were delicious!!

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  12. i actually think owen is right about that star wars kit. you have to remember that george lucas is a gazzilionaire because of the action figures--NOT the actual movies.
    sigh. another opportunity at fortune down the drain...

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  13. Anonymous Betty Mac lover: I believe Tipsy has read those other books, too. Right, Tipsy?
    Re Cannoli: Even a real cannoli is never as good as you think a cannoli is going to be. Or maybe I just too often ate cannoli at North End tourist traps.
    Re Star Wars investments: Owen's now bought a few collectible Transformers items with his animal-husbandry-chores money. But he immediately takes them out of their boxes and messes with them. Bad for the investment, but good for his not having a collection of still-in-box action figures when he's 40, a la the 40-year-old Virgin.

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  14. Ever since reading The Egg and I I've wanted to visit Betty MacDonald's town and see the street sign. Thanks for inspiring me to plan a day trip! Sounds like you and Owen had a marvelous visit here together.

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  15. Cannoli are for uneducated palates and children,IMHO. Sugar and fat without any sophistication! I have never read the Egg and I; I will look for a copy. Tipsy, you can always write about diet food and your diet. I am with everyone else. I adore your writing style and your wit. I'd love to hear from you more often.

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  16. I just ordered your book because my sister in Colorado raved about it. You got out of Seattle just in time. We are in a state of emergency with snow and ice. Both of which we rarely get. I'm so happy people still read The Egg and I. A friend gave it to me when I moved here ten years ago. It's a favorite of mine. I belong to a spinning (wool) group and one of our members went to school on Vason Island with Betty's kids. They were an active bunch from what she says. Next time visit here after the fourth of July, that's when we don't get any rain and the mountains will be out.

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  17. Betty MacDonald has so many fans around the world.

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