Monday, June 6, 2011

let's talk about helene

Writers are like runners. 

Some do marathons or enjoy lone, long distance runs.  They would be novelists.  Joggers produce short stories.  Others seek the thrill of a race; copywriters, maybe? 

And then there are sprinters.  That would be me and my blog. 


Helene Hanff was a sprinter.  She wrote succinct, honest, entertaining stories.  She wrote about what she knew. 

Reading 84 Charing Cross Road, I wished to visit the sparse apartment, wrapped up myself in a moth-eaten sweater, helping Hanff "houseclean" her books.  It wouldn't take long with two of us and when we finished, we'd enjoy a very cold martini. 

By page thirty-seven of Letter From New York, I'd have bought a plane ticket if I thought I could sit on the stoop with Hanff and her friends on warm Sunday nights, Helene having explained to me why, unlike her neighbors, she turns down invitations to spend Sundays at Jones Beach. 

"They crawl out of the cab, hot, tired, sunburnt, rumpled from the train ride, lugging suitcases and tennis rackets and golf clubs.  And as they stumble bleary-eyed and exhausted toward the front door, one of us will say brightly: 'Didja have a good time?'

They just grunt." 

Choosing a favorite of Hanff's books is like asking my dad which was his favorite pizza.  "Whichever one I'm eating," he'd say.  (I think Hanff would have gotten a kick out of him.  Once, rushing to the airport, my dad made our NY city cab driver, pull over to the curb and wait while he jumped out to eat a final slice on the corner.) 


Whether you are sprinting or going the distance, you know what they say; write about what you know. 

Easy as pie. 

Just put one foot in front of the other... 

But for the unconditioned, out-of-shape writer, it seems what you know can't possibly be of much interest.  So what, you made a cherry clafouti yesterday and today you're wondering if the wren will return next month to the same planter on the patio wall. 

Hanff though, can mesmerize with tales of the mundane.  She makes it seem so easy.  There's much to learn from her as she talks about what fills her days. 

So, I'm going to rub a little Mineral Ice on my sorry muscles tonight and tomorrow I'll warm up with some stretches, then hit the pavement running. 

Just putting one foot in front of the other... 

Cherry Clafouti

1 1/2 cup milk
1 vanilla bean
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cognac
1 pound fresh cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon sugar
(powdered sugar for serving)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan.  Slit the vanilla bean open and run a knife down the length of it to remove the pulp.  Add the pulp to the saucepan of milk and place it over low heat, whisking to break it up.  Reduce the heat and keep warm.

In a medium size bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, salt, and flour until combined.  Add the cognac and stir.

Butter any ovenproof dish about the size of a cake pan. 

Toss the cherries with one tablespoon of sugar and distribute them in the pan.  Pour the custard mixture over the cherries, allowing it to settle before putting the pan in the oven.

Bake for an hour or until lightly browned. 
Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar if desired.

In the spirit of Helene Hanff's letters to Frank Doel,
I must be honest and exclaim,

No comments:

Post a Comment