Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Cook a Wolf

Me, my big sister Eilleen, Lorraine Vopnfjord

"There's a whining at the threshold,
There's a scratching at the floor.
To work! To work! In Heaven's name!
The wolf is at the door!"
- C.P. Gilman

Me, Marilyn Holland and Len Vopnfjord in the backyard waiting for the wolf to cook.

I've been reading and writing about writing and trying to improve my own style. The other day, I was reading one of the best food writers ever, M.F.K. Fisher. Thumbing through the pages of "How to Cook a Wolf", I looked at the frontispiece and was surprised and delighted to see this inscription below. I thought I was handling my own copy of the book, but this one belonged to my mother, Jill. Lorraine was our neighbor, daughter of Axel, my mother's long-term boyfriend and father of Len, my childhood pal. 

Occasionally, Len as a young boy ate dinner with us. My mother used to tell fondly the story of Len's reply to her inquiry on one occasion of what he'd like to eat. "Wolf," he replied. We should have known then that Len would go on to make a big impact whatever he said and did.

When he wasn't eating wolf, Len sang whenever he could. One year, I car pooled to the university with Len and two other boys on our street. We sang on our way to school and often on our way home.One of the two other boys in the car pool was Ross Maddin whose little brother Guy went on to become one of Canada's most celebrated film makers and artists. I didn't know Guy but Len told me about his I film, "My Winnipeg" which won high critical acclaim. It's very unusual and very good. The scene below of horses frozen in the river will give you an idea of the quirkiness of the film.

When Len met Karen his wife, they communicated by song and have spent their lives singing together and to each other. I don't think I've ever known a couple so in love and for so long. Both of their sons had or have musical careers.
Len and Karen 

Son Lindy currently on tour
Lindy Vopnfjord
Len, Karen, Lindy singing together at the Icelandic Festival. True Vikings. 

My mother Jill, Axel - Lorraine and Len's father

The wolf in Fisher's book is a metaphor for the scarcities during the depression and World War II. Her book is about living as decently as possible with the miseries of war. Who knew when it was going to end? Prophetically, she states, "The case for peace is feeble." 

She goes on, "War is a beastly business, it is true, but one proof that we are human is our ability to learn, even from it, how better to exist." She wrote a revised edition in 1951 by which time we were in the grips of the Cold war. She says "We need not worry, temporarily at least, about basic cupboards for blackouts...while at the same time we try not to think, even superficially, about what and when and how and where to nourish survivors of the next kind of bomb." By the time she wrote this, we were in 4th grade, ducking under our seats during air raid drills. My Dad was the neighborhood Air Raid warden...he had a helmet, an arm band and miscellaneous other materials in a box in the basement. I'd go through it from time to time looking at the scary stuff. 
The shortages were at their worst in 1942, the year I was born. I remember the coffee rationing and my mother putting the glass percolator in the center of the dining room table. We sat around looking at it and everyone got a small portion - my sister and I had a tablespoon in our milk. Later that year, sugar,butter and other dairy products were in short supply followed by rationing of gasoline, clothing, alcohol and even maple syrup.

My mother cut our 1/4 pound per week butter allotment into smaller pieces which she doled out - I guess if she hadn't controlled us, we would have eaten it all at once and then complained mightily about the loss. She always controlled my Dad's whiskey bottles. He got the agreed upon ration each night, no more and no less. There was a lesson in restraint learned from all the rationing. She was a great saver of food, money and time; a model of self-control. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:41 PM

    A lovely entry, Helen. I sent it on to Len and Karen, and they sent it to Kris and Lindy and their families. So good for me to see those old pics of Lorraine, I have seen them before, and probably even have copies.

    I have M. F. K. Fisher's book The Art of Eating, which contains "How to Cook a Wolf." I enjoy reading any part of it, even when she is talking about stuff I am not particularly interested in. She is a joy to read. W. H. Auden said she wrote better prose than any other American, and I certainly have no reason to suggest anyone who might be better.

    Seattle has a restaurateur named Ethan Stowell, who has several well-regarded restaurants. I have not eaten at all of them, and the ones I have not tried include one called "How To Cook a Wolf." This is an inexcusable lapse on my part, particularly because it is within one block of my friend Janet's house on Queen Anne Hill. I predict we will eat there soon, and will let you know what we think of it--hope they have wolf on the menu!

    Are you aware that Mary Prough's son-in-law Scott Staples owns three good Seattle restaurants? I let her know of your blog entry with the pictures of Lorraine and all the Vopnfjords.

    Janet and I have a trip to Paris scheduled in September, but nothing else in view. We haven't been to southern Cal for several years, so we may be down that way next winter.

    All my best.