I have a great friend, Betsy. We grew up together in our small town in Vermont, Brattleboro. We became friends in high school but later found out that we were friends in the first grade when we drove by her old house and I said that when I was little, I had a friend that lived there and it turned out that friend was her! In high school, Betsy and I managed to create our own little womb of a social life. We did most everything together even when we had boyfriends; we still made time for each other, which is a hard thing now that I have teenagers and see the drama that plays out among friends. We got each other summer jobs for most of high school - in the local pizza place - Mama Peduzzi’s - and we worked as chamber maids in a local motel (that was a short-lived job) or as waitresses, it was an ongoing list. We often took trips to beaches in Maine or New Hampshire., sometimes overnight, other times just to tan our skin and then head home. After high school, Betsy went to Middlebury College and then, after graduating Magna cum Laude, to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City; she was and still is, an amazing poet and writer. In fact, she stayed on in Iowa practising her craft with the University and also her talents as a jazz singer. I went North to McGill and then never left Canada, over time becoming a “legal Alien” it was then called.
"Betsy teaches me new things all the time about life, about patience and being present in a world that is busy and sometimes overwhelming."
Over the years, there were periods when we didn’t speak or see each other very often as we both meandered through life finding our place and our passions. She came to Canada sometimes on her way to visit her Mom back in Brattleboro, and I ventured to Iowa. My first visit there I fell in love with the land. Wide open spaces, lots and lots of corn fields and then a town then more fields. People are equally wide open in their personalities, friendly and comfortable. Shawn and I went to Betsy’s wedding a few years ago - unlike her Canadian friend, it was her first, and she had waited until she found the man she could be at home with for the rest of her life. It was such a pleasure to see her happy and at ease in her romance. I offered to prepare her flowers where she was getting married in a beautiful old church converted into a hall. (I was not involved in any way with weddings then). It was a lot of fun and I loved doing it.
After a long and hard winter in many respects this year, I yearned for a visit with her. After months, even years, of not speaking, wed pick up where we were, old familiarities ever present. Betsy teaches me new things all the time about life, about patience and being present in a world that is busy and sometimes overwhelming. I can let experiences escape me with the craziness of it all. We agreed to meet up in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, close to her, not so difficult for me to get to. It was a hot early spring day, unusually warm. We gathered supplies for a picnic in a lilac park which was in full bloom. [Could mention that amazing lilac grove that happened to be in full bloom for your visit!] I loved seeing this town with wide streets and literally, you could see the fields at either end of the main street. The Slow Food Movement is ever present in Iowa. The local magazines and papers were filled with interesting articles about farm to table suppers at local farms, cool shops filled with local products were everywhere, despite the huge presence of Monsanto and other large Ag businesses that dominate the corporate landscape. It all seems to work in harmony, though. Farmers, local businesses committed to small-scale farming are thriving, and as a tourist, it was a pleasure to be a part of.
"Who knows. Maybe this will be a beginning of something new. A spot where people can enjoy something delicious and impromptu."
I came home inspired on many levels. To take things a little more in stride, to make time to feel the gratitude of my life every day and to appreciate all that I have, and to make time for friendship. I was also inspired by food. Inspired to make grilled sandwiches in the stone oven after trying Torta’s at a tiny shop packed to the rafters with breads, fillings and toppings. I decided to offer grilled sandwiches very Wednesday of the summer with a variety of condiments to whoever stopped in at 12. Who knows. Maybe this will be a beginning of something new. A spot where people can enjoy something delicious and impromptu, while I get to experiment with homemade bread, toppings and a variety of jams and chutneys’ that I love to make. I came home with new energy and inspiration that often comes from spending time away removed from my day to day and being part of someone else’s world. It is deep and wonderful friendship that we have and I am grateful for it.
South Pond Grilled Bread Sandwiches
If you don’t have your own outdoor wood burning oven, you can make these in a regular oven or in an iron skillet on top of the stove.
Two pieces of ideally homemade bread normally sliced.
Brush each side with garlic olive oil
Lay bread on a cookie sheet and put your favourite toppings: ham, cheese, homemade chutney, peppers and a few onion slices.