I stood at my bedroom window, and gazed in wonder at the nighttime sky above. The sweet sound of summertime crickets and late evening breezes made a perfect backdrop to my imagining, and I think made things feel even more magical. I folded up the pieces of paper that I had stacked neatly in front on me, on my windowsill. One after another I let them fly; twirling and twisting … up a bit .. and then gracefully down to the ground below they went, these little airplanes of mine. This was going to work, I just knew it.
“Of all the delectable islands, the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and tablecloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very nearly real. That is why there are night-lights. ” J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
My favorite story, when I was a little girl, was the one about Peter Pan. The notion of a friendly, boy who could fly whisking his friends off to a land far away, past all the clouds and blue skies and stars was positively fascinating to me – the stuff my dreams were made of. Literally, I dreamed about this happening to me, never really sure if my dreams were real or, well, just dreams. Night after night, I would sit up in my bed with a start, checking out the window to see if anyone was there. Is that you, Peter? I could’ve sworn I saw his shadow … Hmmm maybe tomorrow night. I don’t really consider myself the jealous type, but my jealousy of Peter Pan’s Wendy was a fierce affliction with which I struggled on a regular basis. Battling pirates, swimming in a mermaid lagoon, running barefoot through the forest with Tiger Lilly, sleeping in the treetops with the lost boys … for the life of me, I couldn’t dream of a more perfectly perfect existence. Still can’t, come to think of it.
At one point in time, during the height of my love affair with Peter Pan, I wrote a letter in an attempt to contact him, in the hopes that maybe I could steer his attention from Wendy just once – to get him to come to MY bedroom window, and whisk me away to Neverland with him:
Dear Santa Claus,
Do you know God? If so, could you please tell him to send Peter Pan to my house?
Scrawled in red crayon on wide-ruled paper, it felt like a reasonable request. Or maybe it was a prayer, disguised as a casual request? Up for debate I suppose. Anyway, I was so certain my wish would be granted that I told my brother about it and we both did our very best to prepare for Mr. Pan’s impending arrival. We dressed for the occasion of course, my brother securing an old towel to his shoulders with two clothespins in an attempt to fashion the most noble of capes, and I took great care to select the perfect dress; one that was pretty enough to impress the lost boys, but also sensible enough to make the flight. If only I put this much thought into my wardrobe choices today.
We played music and danced and belted out every Disney song we knew, hollering the words out my second-story bedroom window, completely oblivious to any and all innocent bystanders outside. When bedtime finally rolled around, I said goodnight to my little brother and promised him that I would wake him up just as soon as Peter Pan arrived. Crossed my heart.
He never came, though. Peter Pan never arrived at my bedroom window, not on that night or any other for that matter. But I’m sure you already knew how that part of the story would go. Or maybe you didn’t. Depends on your age I would guess. If I were reading this to my daughter right now, she’d have been absolutely certain that Peter Pan was going to show up. Believing in magic is part of the magic of childhood, after all.
“I don’t know if you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting. But catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it … and these are probably roads in the island; for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.” J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
I wallowed in my sorrow over Peter Pan’s no-show status, finding solace only in the fact that I had a companion in all of it. My brother was also working through his disappointment, and I felt silly for having promised him magic. But still, we had each other.
There was a brief period of time though, before I’d totally gotten over my sadness and right after the harshness of the initial let down, where I went into a sort of denial-filled damage control mode. Hmmm … I must not have wished hard enough … must not have taken the right steps to get Peter to choose me this time. I wrote more notes to God, by way of Santa Claus, and some to the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and even one to Mrs. Claus, in case Santa was busy. Covered all of my bases.
I wrote these notes on the backs of some index cards that I found as I was rummaging around in drawers and places that were really not meant for me or my rummaging. Some of the index cards were recipe cards that I’d found in the kitchen, in a little green box my Mom had kept around for forever and that I now keep in my own kitchen. I never told her about that, probably because I felt pretty guilty about it. I’d snagged a few of these cards because I thought they were extra special, and it didn’t hurt that they were the perfect folding size. They contained recipes of my Grandmother’s that I just knew Peter Pan would like. She was the best cook, my Grandmother. I folded the recipe cards into little makeshift airplanes and sent them flying out my window, one after another. He would definitely appreciate the gesture. I was sure of it this time.
I remember thinking this as I sat on the corner of my bed, staring up at the stars in the sky … the second one to the right, to be exact.
The other day I was playing hide-and-go-seek with Elle, her hands-down favorite of all the games we play. She’d gotten her fill of seeking, so now it was my turn to find her (under the pillows on my bed, every time). I assumed my usual counting spot, placing my nose against the large window on the front of our house (her rule). She asked me to count to 73, but we compromised at thirty.
No peeking, Mom!
Okay! I told her, and in a most dramatic fashion, I covered my eyes with my hands and proceeded to count.
Ready or not here I … Oh! Oh no.
Standing in front of me, on the other side of the window, was the mailman. With a big smile on his face, he gave me a wave and pointed down to the package he was holding in his hand. I could feel my face reddening by the second at this point, imagining how weird I must’ve looked standing there with my nose against the glass, eyes closed and just counting away. Yikes. He gave a another friendly wave and I heard Elle giggle from behind me. She’d been watching him for a few seconds and seemed delighted by his presence there.
Mom! Look it’s Peter Pan! He’s here to see us!
The mailman was wearing a greenish collared shirt and a hat, and with his red hair I could sort of see how she came to the Peter Pan comparison … not too much of a stretch, really. She thanked “Peter” for the special delivery and he was very kind to play along. She spent the rest of the night pretending that she was on a pirate ship, sword fighting with Captain Hook, and looking for her friend Tinkerbell. It reminded me of when I was a little girl, wrapped up in the same sort of magic. Some things never change.
“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.” – J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
The recipe cards to which I referred above were recently gifted to me by my Mom, who was visiting last week. I love having them in my kitchen – love seeing that vintage green box on my counter – and I have thoroughly enjoyed thumbing through the stack of cards, finding “old-but-new-to-me” recipes to try. The card that stands out the most, though, is the one with my Grandma’s pie crust recipe. She and I made many a pie together so I’m thrilled to have that simple but special recipe in my possession. I gave it a try when my Mom was here, in an attempt to re-create her favorite sweet treat – my Grandmother’s fresh raspberry “rolls” topped with a simple berry and nutmeg sauce. I tried my best, but didn’t nail it. They tasted great, but apparently not much like my Grandma’s. There isn’t a card with the actual recipe for the rolls, just the pastry itself, and I’m starting to think that maybe it was written on one of the cards that I sent flying out the window … my little love letters to Peter Pan. But alas, I will try again and probably again until I get it. Sometimes half the fun is in the trying.
Root Vegetable and Wild Mushroom Cobbler with a White Cheddar and Chive Biscuit Crust
adapted from Bon Appetit, Jan. 2001
This is my idea of the perfect meal for a cold Winter’s day. I made this savory vegetable cobbler for my Mom when she was visiting, and we enjoyed it alongside the berry rolls. It has quickly become one of my favorites and I’m excited to share it here. For my money, comfort food just doesn’t get much better than this. The filling is loaded with flavor and a faux-meaty heartiness thanks to the mushrooms. A nod to those addictive biscuits that you get at a certain chain seafood joint, the biscuit topping on this cobbler adds an addictive quality to the dish that, truth be told, made it very difficult for me to back away from the pan after I removed it from the oven. Perhaps I will share a recipe for the raspberry rolls someday too, but I’m not there yet … don’t have it just right.
for the filling:
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 large onion, chopped
10 white-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces (a few cups worth)
1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces (should be about the same size as the potato pieces, to cook evenly)
Handful of shredded carrots
1/2-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms (available at most supermarkets and Italian markets)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
14.5-ounce can of vegetable broth
2 cups half and half
8 ounces of fresh wild mushrooms, stemmed (I used a package that had a mixture of shiitake, oyster, and cremini, but whatever you can find will work just fine)
1 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat (note: you can prepare the filling in a pan and then transfer it to a baking dish if you prefer). Add the onion and sauté for five minutes. Add the potatoes, turnip, shredded carrots, porcinis, oregano, thyme, and pepper to the pan. Cook and stir for one minute. Add the broth and the half and half; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender (stir occasionally).
Stir in the wild mushrooms, peas, and chives. Season to taste with salt. Bring mixture to a simmer.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining tablespoon of butter with the tablespoon of flour (easiest if the butter is softened slightly; mix with a fork). Stir this into the vegetable mixture; simmer until the mixture thickens slightly (five minutes should do it). Top with dollops of the biscuit mixture (recipe below), and spread out into an even layer (alternatively, you could leave the spoonfuls of dough whole, to give it a very cobbled effect). Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the biscuit topping is lightly browned, flaky and cooked through.
for the biscuit dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 .5 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1 cup freshly shredded white cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir in the chives and cheddar. Add the butter and work it into the dough with your fingers until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add the eggs and the milk and stir until you have a soft, moist dough.