Pickle swaps. Remember those?

Apple crisp, hot from the oven.

By Laura Grimes

Shhhh! Be vewy vewy qwiet! Maybe I can sneak in here when Mr. Scatter isn’t looking. Won’t he be surprised?

Won’t you?

I thought I could sneak in when Mr. Scatter was on the road, but dang if he didn’t crack the wi-fi code at the secret hangout. Then I thought I could sneak in when he was busy scraping together a paying gig, but dang if he wasn’t a prolific typerboy on the side.

So now I’m interrupting Mr. Scatter’s regularly scheduled blog fodder (what I call “the thoughty bits”) to bring you the scatter part (I’ll refrain from calling it “the ditzy bits”).

In looking through the long list of drafts, I realized all the items are mine. I wrote tons weeks ago (that’s a lie, it was longer ago than that), but I didn’t finish them because of what I can only describe as a bad case of ADD. I could make up a bunch of excuses, but I promise they would be really lame.

During my politely called hiatus, I deeply appreciated receiving well-meaning comments from friends to jump-start my muse, which, however meant, I take as tender words of encouragement. Words like:

“What’s up with the pickles?”


“We love your brain farts.”

You don’t know how much those mean to me.

And now, armed with those confidence-builders, on to (“the ditzy bits”) …

When I departed for stories about vomit and pneumonia (good times), I was in the middle of recounting all our glorious pickle swaps. The final tally: A whopping 9. I’ve told two stories so far, and because doing them in order seems to be hanging me up, I’m not going to worry about chronology (sorry to pickle-swap friends).

The swaps:

  1. Kickass ginger molasses cookies. Traded while having coffee with a former colleague I hadn’t seen in a while. Read about it here.
  2. Symphony tickets. Quasimodo meets The Mummy during negotiations. Read about it here.
  3. Basket of produce and salad dressing. Read about it here on the inspiring One Day At a Time blog.
  4. Pesto and a WillaKenzie Pinot Gris. We swapped over a wonderful dinner. More to tell.
  5. A book: The Short Stories of Henry James. Swapped over another wonderful dinner (the featured story event below).
  6. Dried hot peppers. Swapped through the mail to a long-ago friend who lives somewhere I’ve never been.
  7. Apple pie. We shared a spiked drink, stories about famous art in not-so-famous places, and the apple pie was topped with a crust that looked like a topographical map.
  8. Elk meat. Dinner again for frozen meat that was thawed for Christmas dinner when the house was full of carnivores.
  9. Sauerkraut. Drinks and nibbles for fresh kraut that went with thawed meat (see above).



No. 5: “The Short Stories of Henry James.” Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s highest paid correspondent, invited us for dinner. She would make fish stew and salad. We would bring dessert.

As I was messaging Martha about dinner and figuring out what dessert to make, I received a message out of the blue from a childhood friend.

L- you gotta good recipe for apple cobbler?

My reply:

How the hell did you know I’m making one TOMORROW? I made one last week, but I recycled the recipe. It was from a health newsletter — what was I thinking? So I’m googling just like you.

I visited this old chum (who’s married to another old chum) over the summer and at one point when the good-natured, obnoxious teasing reached a crescendo he blurted, “Shut up, Grimes!” Did that bug me? Heck no! We were 11 again and scrapping it out on our banana bikes, flying down the hill from the water tower.

We moved in just months apart on the same not-so-long street that was littered with kids all the same age. An abnormally large contingent of the Sixth Grade class at Maywood Hills Elementary was made up of kids on that street and the little veins that trailed off from it. We could make up a baseball team. And did. We could make up a football team. And did. But mostly we played basketball.

The bikes were long before his white Camaro and my hand-me-down Plymouth Valiant with the push-button transmission. Long before the basement parties.

This summer we were slinging the same old needlesome taunts. We were both grinning. I had found the right button. The party was just getting good.

He and his wife live 300 miles away, but on a now-not-so-recent day we were both baking apple crisps from this recipe and firing off notes how it was going. I picked it because it has Calvados and I don’t remember what else. (Coincidentally, Mr. Scatter and I both cooked recipes from food blogs around the same time. Perhaps not ironically, Mr. Scatter cooked from Adventures of a Food Slut and I cooked from The Dog’s Breakfast.)

In the course of note-flinging, my chum let it slip that he cooks gourmet dinners but not really desserts. I felt duty-bound to point out, “I don’t recall ever being invited to one of your gourmet dinners. Was that a social oversight?”

I sent him a note when my crisp was bubbling on the stove and cooling. I followed the recipe loosely. Cardamom seeds? Seriously? And what’s with cooking the Calvados? Isn’t that sacrilegious?

At Martha’s, just after we finished dessert (which turned out divine minus the cardamom seeds) and were getting ready to leave, I got a message from my old chum. His crisp was bubbling on the stove and cooling.

For a jar of pickles, Martha let me choose among three books by Henry James:

The Portable Henry James edited by Morton Dauwen Zabel, a paperback from Viking Portable Library, copyright 1951, 696 pages, $1.45. Written on the inside cover was Martha Ullman, January 1958.

The Portrait of a Lady, a hardback from Modern Library, Random House, copyright 1951, with an introduction by Fred B. Millett. Written on the inside cover was Frank West.

But I picked … The Short Stories of Henry James, a cloth hardback that was bought used for $1.50. It says Frank West on the inside cover. It has an introduction by legendary editor Clifton Fadiman and a hard-to-resist dedication that appears just so, much like a poem:

whose unerring judgment
is responsible for much of
whatever value the non-
Jamesian part of this book
may have

The Short Stories of Henry James, 1945, The Modern Library/Random House

No. 6: Peppers. As my apple crisp cooled on the stove and I messaged my fellow crisp baker, another message popped up.

Peppers were in the mail from another old chum I hadn’t seen in more than 30 years …