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The days are twice as long

This time last week, I was in a wood stove-heated cottage with no Internet, no telephone, and no television, reading my sixth New Yorker of the day. I am fully caught up with The New Yorker. (!) (!!)  Those words may never again be assembled in that order by me, or by anyone, ever.

Actually, I should already switch tenses: I was caught up with The New Yorker. Briefly. Past tense.

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending two nights at Hedgebrook, a nonprofit retreat for women writers, located on Whidbey Island. It’s an incredible place: just six one-room cabins, a cottage, a farmhouse, a garden, and a couple of woodsheds on 48 acres, dedicated solely giving women the time, space, and quiet to write, free of charge. (!) (!!) At the end of each day, at 5:30 pm, the six or seven writers in residence gather in the farmhouse kitchen to share a meal cooked for them by one of Hedgebrook’s chefs, with ingredients largely harvested from the garden. And afterward, they each take their flashlight and a basket of breakfast makings and lunch and walk back to their cabins in the trees, and no one disturbs them, or comes looking for them, or asks anything of them, and definitely, definitely no one there needs a diaper change or wakes up crying in the middle of the night, and this superlative quiet continues until 5:30 pm the next day, when the writers meet for dinner again, walk home with their baskets again, etc. etc. etc. (!!!)  I try not to use the word magic too often, not unless the topic is actual magic, magical magic. But Hedgebrook has it.

This fall, Hedgebrook is celebrating its 25th birthday, and it has also just released a cookbook of recipes served at the farmhouse table, and because of that, I was offered a stay there, to experience it. I don’t usually do PR stuff; it’s not what I like to write about. But I had heard about Hedgebrook years ago from a photographer friend of my mom’s, and I had thought about applying to be a writer in residence someday, but I was too intimidated to do it. So boarding the ferry for Whidbey Island, I was giddy, electric. It took a full day for my insides to stop vibrating.

I stayed in a cottage called Meadowhouse, which is apparently the same place where Gloria Steinem stays when she goes to Hedgebrook. (!!!!)  Most writers stay at Hedgebrook for two to six weeks. I was there for 48 hours. The time seemed so short that it almost hurt to look at the clock. I spent the first day resisting the urge to make a to-do list and launch into it at breakneck speed. (Shower in the same shower that Gloria Steinem showered in: CHECK! Pee in the same toilet that Gloria Steinem peed in: CHECK! Prod log in wood stove with same wrought iron poker thing that Gloria Steinem prodded log with: CHECK!) But having nothing to do but take care of myself and do my work - whatever that meant, because no one would be keeping score - the hours felt slow, expansive, extra, as though I had gone through a portal and come out in a universe where the days are twice as long.

I learned how to build a fire in my wood stove, and how to keep it burning. I read eight New Yorkers and started Madame Bovary. I took a walk in the woods on the property and another down to the beach. I listened to an owl. I ate two slices of butter cake filled with raspberries. I had two dinners and easy conversation with six other women writers. I slept in. I took pictures. I was temporarily blinded by euphoria and a ray of sunlight and walked into a blackberry bush. I went out to the woodshed and brought in more firewood. I thought about what I might write next, whenever I feel ready to write another book.

Every year, to mark Delancey’s birthday, we donate the evening’s sales to a cause we believe in, and next year, I announced to Brandon, we’re going to give them to Hedgebrook. There aren’t many (any?) other places where a woman can go to be nurtured this way, given food and shelter and supportive peers and space to do creative work, without an exchange of money and regardless of her means. I hope Hedgebrook is still around in another 25 years, and for a long time after that.

Denise’s Fruit-Filled Butter Cake
Adapted from Hedgebrook Cookbook

Denise Barr, one of the cooks at Hedgebrook, served this cake at the first dinner of my stay.  She used fresh raspberries from the garden, and it was so good - simple, buttery, with a damp, nubbly, almost muffin-like crumb - that I dog-eared the recipe later that night. The cookbook calls it a Rhubarb Cake, but you could probably make it with any soft fruit, and when I tasted it, before I saw the recipe in the cookbook, it struck me first as a wonderful butter cake. I hope Denise won’t mind that I tweaked the name. When I made it at home, I thawed out a batch of rhubarb compote that I made last summer and spooned it into the batter, and it was terrific.

1 ½ cup (210 grams) all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
½ cup (120 ml) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
3 large eggs
2 ½ cups diced rhubarb, blueberries, or raspberries, or 1 batch Dana Cree’s rhubarb compote
2 tablespoons instant tapioca (if using fresh rhubarb or berries)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square cake pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour the milk into a measuring cup or small bowl, and add the vanilla extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and the milk mixture in three doses each, alternating dry and wet. Mix until just combined; then use the rubber spatula to give the batter a brief final mix, to make sure the flour is absorbed.

If you’re using fresh rhubarb or berries, stir the fruit with the tapioca in a small bowl.

Scoop about half of the batter into the prepared cake pan, and spread it across the bottom. Scatter the fruit evenly over the batter – or, if you’re using rhubarb compote, dollop spoonfuls of it evenly over the batter. Do not press the fruit down. Top with the rest of the batter. Don’t worry if the batter doesn’t fully cover the fruit: it will puff and move a bit as it bakes.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before slicing into squares and serving.

Note: This cake is best on the day that it’s made, but wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature, it should be fine for at least a couple of days.


Anonymous Spencer said...

This sounds like heaven. So many days I wish I could pack my yarn and needles and lock myself away to work on my patterns free from the distractions of my life. Sound splendid and recharging

12:53 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger AuntieAllyn said...

I hate to steal your word, but Hedgebrook sounds and looks like a magical place! It's nice to know that place like that exist . . . must see if there's something similar on the East Coast. Can't wait to try the butter cake!

3:27 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger beck said...

What a wonderful sounding place! I'm not a writer, but as a mother of two I still spent a wistful few minutes imagining 48 whole hours (let alone weeks!) all to myself - very Virginia Woolf :)
The berry cake also sounds lovely and we're even in the right season for spring berries on this side of the globe...

4:34 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy crap this sounds amazing. Funny enough I was just reading about the Djerassi Residence program (which you should also check out) which also covers all costs but is set in these huge, beautiful California hills and is for all types of artists and both sexes. I had no idea these kinds of programs existed! How wonderful.

5:02 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Abby said...

This sounds idyllic. There's something so peaceful and invigorating about being in the woods, far away from internet and phones and real life distractions.

5:04 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gorgeous photos! Sounds like a truly wonderful (and well deserved) mini-getaway. Your storytelling is why I keep coming back to Orangette. Although, the recipes are great too. As always, thank you for sharing your life with us Molly.

5:05 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Magda said...

Amazing place!

5:59 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, what do you think of Madame Bovary? I've read it too many times to count. Perfect - and perfectly depressing.

6:16 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous olga said...

that sounds incredibly idyllic, molly! what an amazing few days. glad you were able to take it in and tell us about it.

6:23 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Valerie said...

It always seems to be New Yorkers that people feel guilty about not having read. Why is that? I currently have about six unread issues staring at me from my coffee table. I feel guilty that I haven't read them. I know I will enjoy them when I finally do. But even when I had a cabin stay recently, I was too busy focusing on the canoe and the food and the wine. Oh well.

6:50 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Gemma said...

This place does sound magical, Molly. I can imagine the calm of those quiet days and how special they must feel to the people who stay there - I'm so happy to hear that places like that exist and to know that people like you support them.

7:36 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Roberta said...

It sounds like you walked into a dream. A magical dream.

7:47 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger violinista said...


7:48 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Shivani said...

This sounds like such an incredible experience! You don't happen to know of any similar organizations on the east coast, do you?

8:13 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger jolie said...

Usually I leave your blog desperate to work with food I probably wouldn't otherwise (you talked me into chickpeas as a main course once...) Today I want to buy a plane ticket. Interruption free writing AND food? Beautiful.

9:02 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Shireen McCleary said...

I feel relaxed just reading this post. *sigh* How lovely for you to experience this!

9:31 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Kristin Nicole said...

I have never heard about this place, but I am so intrigued by your experience that I have to take a look into it. I don't know that I can go with no TV or anything for 48 hours let alone a few weeks, but who knows, it definitely sounds like an experience to remember. Thank you for posting this, as I know you normally don't PR places (like you said) but this was a great article to put out there. THANK YOU THANK YOU
kristin nicole

10:04 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous ilke said...

Sounds like a wonderful spot (and a cake!)
There is one such place in the state of Georgia, my cousin who is a painter went there several years ago, spent two weeks just painting. The concept seems similar, no interaction if you do not want to, just hang out in your cabin away from everyone. She said she feels so refreshed. I can imagine it would be a much needed break for creativity.

10:11 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Mallory Frayn said...

Wow that sounds like such an unreal experience. I would have to take a break from real life just to be one with nature and write.

10:47 AM, October 17, 2013  
OpenID tashamillergriffith.com said...

That sounds . . . amazing!

11:05 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger tigerlille said...

What a wonderful experience, Molly. I followed up on the cookbook link, and "looked inside" the book on Amazon and was very impressed. The recipes are very well written, and the labor is streamlined. The sort of basic recipes you want to make again and again. I'm definately getting the book! So glad to have learned about Hedgebrook.

11:36 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Jillian@TheHumbleGourmet said...

Wow, what an incredible experience and what an incredible place to exist! I love the idea of female writers having a sanctuary in which to create, away from the distractions of life. How wonderful.

11:58 AM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Kristin Nicole said...

I was wondering how you applied, I went to their website and they offer workshops which cost a bit of money. I am so interested in this, I would love to find out more.

Thank you in advance
kristin nicole

11:59 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

This sounds awesome! Thank you for sharing--I will have to keep Hedgebrook in mind and perhaps someday I too will work up the nerve to apply for a residency there (or someplace similar).

11:59 AM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Victoria said...

This is breathtaking.

"A Room of Her Own."

12:10 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Ruthy Kirwan said...

Wow. I have never heard of a place so wonderful- you are blessed to have been asked to go for such a blissful weekend away! What a brilliant idea for women- and am I reading that right, that it's FREE? The fact that places like this exist in the world makes me a little happier to be living in it.

12:29 PM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous HandfulOfShadows said...

The concept of that place is so beautiful it made me a bit weepy. The fact that the place itself is so beautiful is almost a second thought, and that's saying something. It's basically A Room of One's Own, given to women for free. Virginia would approve.

2:57 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I want to go to there.

5:47 PM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Jocelyn said...


6:27 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger colonial days said...

What a lovely way to fill your soul.

6:55 PM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous wanderingeducators said...

we need more places like this. and i think the recipe might just take us there, for a few moments. thank you!

6:57 PM, October 17, 2013  
Anonymous Liz said...

OH, I would like to go there. But I shall settle for making the cake.

7:36 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Victoria said...

WOW. You've brought me to tears. It's a happy/or unfortunate coincidence that today I'm at home considering first world problems, wondering about purpose, the little things! Reading this, I'm so happy for you Molly, so thrilled at the choices you've made, the delights that writing has brought you and the amazing things it's brought into your life. Following your heart, wow. There's a teensy bit of envy there, but the best kind. x

8:52 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Linda said...

I read a murder mystery once about writers in just such a retreat. Wish I could remember the name of it as I would read it again. Sounds like an intriging place.

11:19 PM, October 17, 2013  
Blogger Rocky Mountain Woman said...

What a nice break - I do the same thing once in a while at Sundance Resort which is only a few miles from my house and it isn't free! But somehow when I stay there I'm inspired. I read and rest and write and eat....

It's the perfect break for me....

8:22 AM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Katy said...

I can't believe you got caught up with the New Yorker! I haven't been caught up since before graduate school...in 2005. Awesome!

10:34 AM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Stacy said...

This place looks glorious! What a lovely gift for women writers. I'm so glad you could enjoy it. And this cake! It looks right up my alley.

11:40 AM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Sherri L. SMith said...

I got chills the minute I saw the first photo and thought, "SHE WENT TO HEDGEBROOK!!!" As an author whose been there, and an emeritus member of the Hedgebrook Alumnae Leadership Council, I invite all of you writing ladies to apply to Hedgebrook. The application season runs from July to September each year (it's closed for the 2014 season, but mark your calendars). Residencies are from February to November of the following year. Molly, thank you for visiting, and thank you for spreading the word. In 2008 I applied, after ten years of feeling unworthy. Listen to me: You are all worthy. Spread the word, apply. Residencies are full-funded, but they also offer Master Classes for a fee that goes to support Hedgebrook and gives you a week studying at the feet of a master (mistress?) in her area of writing. Either way you experience Hedgebrook, it is awesome. I hope more of you will join us at the table. Read more at www.hedgebrook.org

12:00 PM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Clara said...

This sounds amazing. Definitely my idea of a way to recharge or take stock of where I am in life and to see if I am on the path I want to on.

12:34 PM, October 18, 2013  
Blogger yp said...

Just reading this is calming me down and completely transporting me. The east coast needs a place like this!

2:04 PM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Jen said...

It sounds like a truly heavenly place and one I'd love to come to, if only to be one of the cooks in the kitchen. I checked out the cookbook and read GS's foreward. BEST FOREWARD EVER!

3:49 PM, October 18, 2013  
Blogger Jill said...

Wow... I'm pretty much speechless beyond that.

8:21 PM, October 18, 2013  
Anonymous Heather said...

What a beautiful retreat. Congratulations on being caught up on The New Yorker. I am simply never caught up. Never ever.

7:36 AM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Kristin said...

What a great experience! Many years ago when my children were small, I went to an annual women's music retreat outside of Portland. It was a wonderful experience, so emotionally and physically restorative!
I just bought the Hedgebrook cookbook on Amazon, and am looking forward to enjoying it. I love the pictures of Gloria Steinem in the beginning pages!

2:08 PM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Parenthetical said...

Congrats! Being caught up with the New Yorker is surely a lifetime achievement.

I am amused to read that you have started Madame Bovary, as I just started it as well, at the urging of a friend currently using it as a text in one of her courses. There must be something in the air! I am rather in love with Flaubert's incredibly rich descriptions, and struck by the modernity of emotion, nearly two hundred years on. He's rather wickedly funny, to boot.

3:08 PM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, thank you for writing about Hedgebrook. I will definitely apply during the next application period.

4:02 PM, October 19, 2013  
Blogger Jane said...

Wonderful and inspirational! This post makes me wish I wrote with the same lovely finesse that you do, as well as visit such an incredible place.

4:10 PM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Heidi - Apples Under My Bed said...

Sounds like a dream. inspiring. so inspiring, thank you. I have rhubarb & ginger compote sitting on my bench right now, just had some on top of my porridge. I shall most definitely be making this.
Heidi xo

3:21 PM, October 21, 2013  
Anonymous 6512 and growing said...

Love that for some (most) women, the most glorious vacation is silence, space and someone else doing the cooking. Lovely post.

10:51 AM, October 22, 2013  
Anonymous marcia said...

Molly... On the east coast there are YADDO in Saratoga Springs NY and the MacDOWELL COLONY in Peterborough NH . Both are for all arts, and all sexes. I had a friend who was a cook at MacDOWELL where they leave a red riding hood basket of lunch on your doorstep .
The websites will show you the lovely cottages and landscapes too
One of your favorites, Michael Chabon is now chairman of the MacDOWELL board.
Such lovely lovely retreats!!

5:55 PM, October 22, 2013  
Blogger Clara Parkes said...

Wow. I can't even…just…wow. How beautiful that you had the gift of time there. So deserved.

6:15 AM, October 24, 2013  
Blogger Sarah said...

After 50 hours of culinary school, and 25 hours of restaurant work each week, I need a Hedgebrook. So badly. I haven't had a day off since August. August! Does anyone know of a place like this for artists of any trade in the Midwest? If not, I'm going to stay at a convent. I'm not kidding.

12:01 PM, October 24, 2013  
Anonymous sara forte said...

how glorious. glad you enjoyed some quiet time. I'm so grateful places like this exist and there are people like you and brandon, and others, who want to help keep them going, in your way. hope all is well.

2:20 PM, October 24, 2013  
Blogger Shelby Edwards said...

As Sheri said, yes you are all worthy. Anyone with a story should cast her hat in the ring. As a Hedgebrook alum and a member of the cedar giving circle, thank all of you for your support. And thanks Molly for sharing some of the magic that is Hedgebrook.

2:43 PM, October 24, 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

I live on Whidbey! I'm so glad you got to enjoy Hedgebrook.

4:38 PM, October 25, 2013  
Blogger Sarah Ryhanen said...

oh Molly you deserved that.
also, I want worlds end to be something like Hegebrook one day. and you will come, but I won't leave you alone as much probably.

6:00 PM, October 25, 2013  
Blogger Renuka said...

Oh my gosh....this is bliss! I liked the way you described your experience. Lovely!

7:24 AM, October 26, 2013  
Anonymous Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Hedgebrook sounds like heaven! I adore hedgerows, indeed I do not feel at home without them (must be my English genes!), so even the name gives me a good feeling. Someday ... sigh

6:08 PM, October 27, 2013  
Blogger Ileana said...

This is amazing. Thank you for letting me know that a place like this exists.

6:47 PM, October 27, 2013  
Anonymous Magda said...

That sounds like a wonderful place and your experience there seems indeed magical. You are lucky to have experienced that.

10:16 AM, October 29, 2013  
Blogger Ms. Shypoke said...

That place sounds really cool. We have a cabin (used to be our full time home) about an hour out of town. It is nestled in the woods on 65 acres. My husband has done a lot of out of town work in the last few years (this spring I didn't see him for over 3 months). I love to spend my long weekends there.. all by myself except for the animals (cat, dogs, chickens & horses) In the evening, I could totally relax sitting on our bench on the porch while the grill was heating up to cook a small dinner. Sometimes being alone is "lonely" but sometimes it is a recharging experience where you are free to do "whatever you want" and that is so intoxicating at times. I actually sort of miss this time I used to have since he has been home full time since early July.. being able to focus on yourself without having to "worry" about another person is nice sometimes!

I would also enjoy having time to spend with other women. I work with almost all men.. and don't have many/any women friends that I regularly spend time with. This has a lot to do with my work schedule and the fact that I have moved around so much in my life.. in fact even my husband doesn't really see his old friends much any more either.. we tend to be our own social life..lol.

7:05 AM, October 31, 2013  
Blogger Fooditka said...

It sounds like paradise Molly - and really makes you appreciate the concept of free time and how much you actually can do during the day, while not having a structured "to do" list per se. Instead, you use your day to do things that fulfill you and give you a sense of peace. It's those days that stick out in your mind when you think back about something pleasant, and something nice that you've accomplished.

6:44 AM, November 03, 2013  
Blogger the chef's wife said...

This sounds so peaceful! I had an opportunity a few years back to visit a writer's retreat in Vermont that sounds somewhat similar (Vermont Studio Center). Hedgebrook sounds like a really wonderful place. Thanks for sharing your experience!

3:53 PM, November 03, 2013  
Anonymous Tuscan Olive Grove Girl said...

What a lovely blog and a lovely post. I'm very happy to have discovered you.

12:52 AM, November 12, 2013  
Blogger Ashley said...

Hello Molly, thank you for sharing about Hedgebrook - I live in Seattle and want to go there so badly! My question is - how did you get to go there for just 2 days? I looked at their website and it seems it is required to go for 2 to 6 weeks?
I want to go, but could not miss that much work, really only a few days, but even 5 days there would be incredible! The other question is - I'm assuming you must have written a lot to have a chance of being accepted? My problem is, that although I dream of writing day and night, and it is my goal, I never get the chance to actually DO it. Some days I just get so depressed that my life never lets up and lets me actually do what I yearn for - to WRITE! But going someplace like Hedgebrook would allow me to - but it seems a vicious cycle, because unless I have written, I cannot get accepted :-(. Any suggestions?? Thank you so much!!

9:57 PM, November 15, 2013  
Anonymous V Smiley said...

warms my heart to see pix of hedgebrook, the dining table especially. i moved up from CA to cook there and learn about artist residencies. those nights, when dinner was made and the cook got to sit with the writers for a moment to eat, hearing them talk about where they wandered or what they wrote that day ( like the fiction writer who at hedgebrook was suddenly writing poetry for the first time in their life) was the sweetest for me. i think i got fired because i made odd, experimental food. not what writers in retreat want to eat it turns out! there is definitely a knack to that kind of cooking and i did not have it. after meeting all dietary restrictions, it was about cooking something nurturing, familiar and inspiring. but i was too young at the time to realize how important the nurturing part is. Hope you get to go back! They have this fig tree in their garden that sometimes comes through in early September and the kitchen dries them and they are candy! i would sneak them and sneak them. so if you see them, can you grab a few extra for me?

7:05 PM, November 20, 2013  
Blogger Heather said...

WONDERFUL! Hedgebrook is such a great cause, and I love seeing writers whose work I love taking advantage of their radical hospitality. They're getting my end of year check.

3:19 PM, November 23, 2013  
Anonymous Libby said...

I haven't remembered to check in here for a while, but man, I still love your writing. You make me smile.

5:10 PM, January 06, 2014  
Blogger Emilia said...

I love that you make a donation to mark Delancey's anniversary - what a great idea! I just finished reading your second book & was so impressed to see all the heart and soul that was poured into that place. Brava!

9:18 PM, September 27, 2014  

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