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The Great Escape

29.September 2010

“And arm in arm they went along the hall, and their husbands would not have known them their faces were so young with eagerness, and together they stood at the open window…”

“The stars winked and trembled. The mountains were misty blue outlines, with little clusters of lights shining through from little clusters of homes. In the garden the plants stood quite still, straight and unstirred by the smallest ruffle of air. Through the glass doors the dining-room, with its candle-lit table and brilliant flowers–nasturtiums and marigolds that night–glowed like some magic cave of colour, and […] it looked strangely animated […] seen from the silence, the huge cool calm of outside.”

-Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April

Early morning sounds woke me each day; dishes clanking, coffee grinding, water running.  We took turns waking up early and making breakfast for the rest, but like everything else in those few idyllic days, we didn’t need to discuss it.  Everything simply happened for the best without deliberation.

Planning the trip had also been effortless.  Somehow we all had free time during the same single week before Liz bundled off back to school after her triumphant return from France, I was free before jetting off to the South for a beautiful wedding, Kelly made the trek up from Philly for our reunion, and Kristen’s gallery was on their annual August hiatus.  We started by saying “wouldn’t it be nice” and ended all sitting around a fire at The Barn – a house which deserves an altogether more elegant, but not fussier, name.

The days were filled with things that I almost never do and that the other girls don’t do frequently, so there was excitement in the air in the mornings and we ended each day bone tired, but content.  When the sun went down each night we sat around a fire outside or around the table inside and solved the problems of the world, got things off our chests that had gone too long without a girlfriend’s listening ear.  When we weren’t talking ourselves, we watched the sky and listened to the woods.  The sounds of little skittering creatures punctuated the dark quiet as we watched meteors blazing across the sky.  The dog kept watch for bears and moose.

We maybe haven’t always been the most effusive friends, but there is a calm, quiet, but intense comfort between us.  This Fall we’ve known each other for ten years – no longer half our lives, but certainly the most formative years: our families have grown and shrunk with all the attendant stress, relationships have come and gone and come again, we’ve moved around and settled in our own corners of the world.  Now here we are, coming into our own at last, careers taking shape, two marriages and one engagement among the four of us, starting our own lives, separate from each other now, but occasionally still coinciding.  Maybe it’s like orbits or the phases of the moon or solar eclipses.  Most of the time we follow our own independent paths, but sometimes we see our paths coming together and we collide for a moment.

I went through those too-few days almost afraid to say how happy I was, fearing that to voice that depth of feeling would somehow spoil it.

It was a reminder that we can all be exactly ourselves in the company of people who have known us for a long time and who don’t judge us for moments of silliness and fantasy and the occasional expression of a wish to escape daily life.  We started acting again like the slightly silly, giggly, but creative and energetic girls we were ten years ago at the beginning of college.  It was as if we threw aside all the stressful things, all the worries that weighed us down, and as if we were suddenly – not young again, since we’re all still young – but maybe as if we were lighter, somehow.  Liz giggled and galloped about, Kelly talked in that way that was always a little abstract, but always funny and relevant, Kristen let out silly little sighs and laughed very freely and with abandon.  It was a wholly unencumbered, uninhibited time.  Maybe we’re all still like that separately – I don’t know.  But it felt like we all unbuttoned a little and remembered (or at least I did) what it is like to be around friends who come without the drama that family sometimes does, but who know us as well and love us just as much.

You might be wondering why I’m just writing about this today, almost two months late.  To be honest, I’ve found it very difficult to write about – how do you capture a perfect week in necessarily inadequate words?  Nothing I write will really do justice to the renewal I felt after this short trip or to the love I feel for my Girls or to the beauty of the place itself or the flood of creative energy I felt while I was there.  But today, you see, is Mountain Day.  While I’m not frolicking in the great outdoors today and although I’m not with my Girls today, I think it’s safe to say we all wish we were back at The Barn or that we were cruising along Route 116 toward Atkins Farms or leaning over the railing at the top of Mt. Holyoke, drinking in the Valley view below and reveling in each other’s glorious silliness and deeply felt friendship.  Hopefully these reminiscences and a few photos of us enjoying the great outdoors will suffice.  Happy Mountain Day, my Smithies!

My few readers know me well enough by now to know that obviously food had to play a role of some sort in a week that was so monumental to me and of course it did.  We all did a lot of cooking that week.  Our menu included:

  • Spaghetti with corn pesto
  • Blueberry pancakes
  • Blueberry bread
  • Grilled sausages and fingerling potatoes
  • Apricot galette
  • Cherry and Almond clafoutis
  • Homemade veggie pizza
  • Monkey Bread
  • Braided Chocolate Bread
  • Picnics of sandwiches and chocolate dipped pretzels and berries picked on Squam Lake from a kayak
  • S’mores, obviously

And the one recipe I’m going to share with you is obviously a throwback to Summer at this point (I am markedly NOT yet writing the “Hello, Fall” post that everyone else is posting this week), but hopefully those of you in warmer climes still have zucchini coming out your ears.

To make this, I bought the world’s largest zucchini and yellow squash at the Center Sandwich Farmer’s Market.  Add some pie crust leftover from the Apricot galette I made the night before, salt, pepper and parmesan, and you have a most delicious snack for four hungry girls post-paddling and swimming and rock-jumping and waterfall wading and sunbathing.

Perfect Summer Zucchini Tart

for my girls

  • 2 ¼ c flour
  • 2 sticks butter (cold, cut into small chunks)
  • ½ t salt
  • 2 T sugar (you can omit this if you’re only going to use the pie crust for savory purposes, or if you just don’t feel like adding sugar)
  • A dribble of ice water (Maybe 1 T? It depends.)
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • salt & pepper
  • ¼ c grated parmesan
  1. Make the pie crust: dump the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse to combine.
  2. Drop the butter in a couple of chunks at a time and process until the mixture resembles wet sand.
  3. Drizzle in ice water VERY SLOWLY until the dough starts to make one big lump.  Stop before it’s totally cohesive.
  4. Divide dough and chill for 15 minutes or so.
  5. Meanwhile, grate your cheese and slice the zucchini and yellow squash as thinly as you can.
  6. On parchment paper or aluminum foil, roll the dough out into a rough circle about ¼ inch thick.  The edges do NOT need to be tidy.  This is a rustic tart.
  7. Lay zucchini and squash slices in a circular pattern over most of the crust, leaving about 2 inches of dough exposed around the edges.  Salt and pepper liberally (i.e. to taste) and sprinkle cheese over the top.
  8. Carefully fold edges over the outermost zucchini slices.
  9. Transfer parchment or foil onto a baking sheet and bake the tart at 400° for about a half hour (I think?) or until the crust is golden and flaky and the cheese has begun to brown.

Slice and enjoy, preferably with a glass of BBC Steel Rail Pale Ale and a side of fresh mountain air.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 29.September 2010 16:24

    Awwww… *sniff* beautiful, Em, just beautiful.

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      29.September 2010 16:29

      Thanks, Liz! And thanks especially for providing the venue for this amazing trip!

  2. 29.September 2010 17:06


    i did not think it possible to adequately articulate how i feel about those few days in the mountains, but you have done so with such soulful eloquence. this is the most incredible summation of a moment in my life that i will always cherish. thank you. i am so grateful for you and the girls, especially on this gorgeous mountain day. if only life did not interfere with our wishes to spend more time together telling stories, revealing secrets, remembering who we are with humor and humility, and extending apologies to the woodland silence.

    with love always,

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      29.September 2010 17:35

      K! I’m so happy you thought it was adequate. This is by far the hardest I’ve ever worked on a post – the week was just too too good to not get it right. Can’t wait to do this again very soon.


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