31 May 2021

Punch Line: Absence

An old family friend died today. They lived around the corner from us, and when we moved around the block, they lived down the street. 

My father first met Wally when he came around a corner and discovered a guy with a beat up Land Rover and a trailer ... and a boat that had fallen off the trailer into the street. They became fast friends - and remained friends for the next 50 years. 

 Wally was a musician, a raconteur, a delight. He loved to fish; here he is in the Deschutes, with his first steelhead, wearing an inimitable hat.
And he was an inveterate joke teller. Here's one: 

 A guy went to the doctor and said, Doctor, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but every time I fart, it sounds like the word honda. 
That’s interesting. I've never heard of anything like that before. Do you think you could fart for me? says the doctor. 
The guy said okay and sure enough, the doctor heard honda
After several attempts to figure out what was wrong with the guy, the doctor ran out of ideas, so he sent him to all sorts of specialists, but none of them could figure out why the guy's farts sounded like honda. Finally, as a last resort, someone suggested that the guy see a dentist. 
After explaining the problem to the dentist, the dentist opened the guy's mouth and examined his teeth. The dentist said Aha! You have an abscessed tooth
The guy said Okay, but what has that got to do with my farts?
Don't you see? said the dentist, Abscess Makes The Fart Go Honda.

Wally, I hope you are telling your jokes to the angels.

29 January 2021

On saints and plumbing parts

"Why," asked my husband, "do you have a reducer on your desk?"

Well, it's not really my *desk* - it's really our dining room table, but I have been working from home for ten and a half months and it's not like we're throwing dinner parties, and yes, I had been rummaging around in the bin of spare plumbing bits in the cellar, because I needed something to act as a candlestick. As one does. 

Over time, I've accumulated many many candles - mostly tapers, some pillars, a few in jars or tins. Some I've bought, some were gifts, a couple of dozen were a score from our local Buy Nothing page (a super useful iteration of Facebook). And yes, some of the candle stash came home with me when we cleaned out our mother's house. Since about mid-December, because it's dark and cold out, we've been lighting candles on the mantle almost every night. I have, as a result, been working through the candle drawer. 

Stuffed way in the back was a plastic bag, clear plastic, the long narrow kind the newspaper comes in. (My mother was the queen of reusing every single plastic bag, even the ones that had had newsprint in them and probably shouldn't have had celery stored in them later.) Inside, wrapped in tattered newsprint, I could feel several candles. My fingers knew that they were bigger wider taller than standard tapers, so I've ignored them for years, thinking they were some kind of utility candle. But the other day, I pulled them out and unwrapped them. Huh. Two tapers, and one half taper. The half taper had been sawed cleanly across - so the wick was merely visible in cross section, no little loose bit of string emerged. More mysteriously, all three were stamped STA. ISABEL down towards the bottom. 

And because they were bigger than normal, they weren't going to fit in any candlestick I own. Happily, the reducer worked PERFECTLY.

Many questions remain, though. Where did my mother come by three clearly ecclesiastical candles? Who was Saint Isabel? Why did someone saw the third candle in half? And how did it take me so long to surface these mysteries? 

02 January 2021

Book Log 2020

It is a perennial conundrum that I used to rail about the child's "required" book logs, back when she was in elementary school, and yet I delight in recording the books I've read via my Goodreads account. I *think* I read 68 books in 2020.

Last year, I started tagging books as male/female authors, and fiction/non-fiction. 

It took a little data manipulation to figure out what I'd read, but I can report that I made a conscious effort to read books by women and in fact, did so: I read 46 books by women, and 21 by male authors. (One book was an anthology, hence 46 + 21 does not equal 68.) 

Other stats: I read 19 library books, 7 mysteries, 2 books of poetry, and 2 cookbooks. 11 books were non-fiction, 6 were re-reads, and I abandoned 6. 

I rarely give star ratings to the books I log on Goodreads, and my "reviews" are really just notes to self - they aren't intended to be comprehensive reviews. That said, I did give four stars to these good books: 

And five stars to these: 

The Mendelsohn reminds me - I read Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey, as well as Maria Dahvana Headley's translation of Beowulf. And I was amused to find myself shelving the Headley RIGHT NEXT TO the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf. How convenient to have the translator's names so similar, so as to make the filing of Beowulf so satisfying. (It is entirely possible that we have at least another Beowulf, but I did not check.) Reading An Odyssey shortly after The Odyssey was good - it gave me a lot of insight into the book. Similarly, I read Headley's The Mere Wife before I read her Beowulf; The Mere Wife is a modern day novel riffing on the Beowulf tale, and helped me figure out some of the bones of the poem. [It occurs to me that I tagged neither Beowulf nor The Odyssey as poetry...perhaps I should have!] 

Possibly the oddest book I read was one on fungi. Funguses.  Merlin Sheldrake's book is called Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures - and it is FASCINATING, so much so that I gave two copies away to friends. If you don't want to read a book about fungi, check out Sheldrake's Instagram post, where he eats his book. There's a fungus among us. 

The last book I finished in 2020 was one I got for Christmas: The Year of Knots. It's kind of a "how to" book - but it's both how to tie (some knots) and how to be more creative in your life. I've now learned to tie three new decorative flat knots, and I've even memorized one of them. I'm not sure that I'll be taking up macrame in 2021, but stranger things have happened. 

30 December 2020

Technical Challenge

Has 2020 been anything but a technical challenge? It's certainly not been a signature bake, and if it's a showstopper, it's the kind that falls down and uses salt in place of sugar.

Our Christmas was a technical challenge. My husband woke up in the middle of the night and discovered that our power was out, due to a crazy tropical storm. Con Ed promised restoration by 3pm, so we sent the kid to Starbucks for coffee and breakfast snacks, opened our presents 'round the unlit tree, read books and played Gin Rummy, and ate shelf-stable soup for lunch. In mid-afternoon, Con Ed revised the restoration estimate to 11am the next day, so we pulled out the portable generator, started her up (yay!), and began running extension cords. And ... POWER. But by then it was about 4:30, so we ordered Chinese food for dinner.

On Boxing Day, we made popovers for breakfast, and roasted the (insanely large for three people) roast for dinner - all the Christmas day meals, delayed a day.

(Yes, we are still eating leftover pork.)

So, it was somewhat fitting that my birthday present from my daughter - yes, my birthday is four days after Christmas - was a technical challenge.

She measured out most of the ingredients, and gave me an untitled recipe (the full recipe, not a GBBS sketch).

I elected to make it as a "regular" Victoria sandwich, without the layer of buttercream. And it was delicious - even if it meant that I had to make my own birthday cake.

Technical challenge, WON.

25 November 2020

The Punch-fueled Post-pandemic Pot-luck Party that I am Planning

When I got married, one of my cousins put together a recipe book, of family recipes from my paternal grandparents side of the family. The recipes had originally been written out by our grandfather's mother, and given to our grandmother Marion back in 1931.
To Marion, from Anna
It wasn't a wedding present; my grandparents had already been married for several years. Truth be told, I've never made anything out of that recipe book. It's mostly baked goods and sweets: cakes and cookies and brownies and icings and rice puddings. But I pulled it out because I was casting about for a Christmas gift for my father, and came across an Etsy seller who prints your scanned recipes on tea towels. I chose the New Year punch for him, as it seemed holiday-ish.
New Year Punch
It's a perfectly ordinary sounding punch: red wine, white wine, strong tea, oranges & lemons, sugar, and dark rum. If one were in the habit of serving punch, and one weren't in the middle of a pandemic, it's probably a great recipe.

I am, however, oddly intrigued and disgusted by the War Cake.
War Cake
Boil up some lard, raisins and coffee. Add flour, baking soda, and spices. Bake for an hour. There's no sugar, except what comes from the raisins. There aren't any eggs. There's very little fat. Maybe I'll make it for the next punch-fueled post-pandemic pot-luck party.  

27 October 2020


I am heartbroken today. My priest died early this morning.

If you know me, you know that I’m a dyed in the wool atheist. But once upon a time, I worked at a non-profit organization that was housed in an Episcopal church. Lewis arrived one day as the assistant rector, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Lewis’s sister asked that we send our “favorite Lewis memories out into the universe to do good and to ease his passage as he becomes one with cosmos”. Lewis, this one’s for you.

Lewis was smart as hell, and foul-mouthed in a way you don’t expect from a priest. He’s the person I called when I needed to figure out if I was a heathen-atheist, or a pagan-atheist. I think we settled on heathen, but I do like the prosody of heathenpaganatheist. Lewis had a huge appetite for life, and was full of stories. Did you know that Saabs once came with two engines? I learned that from Lewis, who had one once.

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we scratched our heads about who was going to perform the ceremony. I had the whimsical idea that we could call in three of the wise men from the neighborhood: the Methodist minister from across the street, the rabbi from next door, and the Joyce scholar from down the hill – but instead I asked Lewis, with a smidgeon of trepidation because of the whole atheist business. He agreed in a heartbeat– and married us, using a secular edit of the ceremony out of the Book of Common Prayer. I had a moment of horror when he wrapped his stole around our hands, but whatever prayer he sent up, he kept to himself.

Years later, after my daughter was born, Lewis came to visit. She was tiny – a month or so old – and he brought her a huge-looking toddler-sized pair of red glitter-encrusted Mary Janes, merrily decreeing that “every little girl needs a pair of ruby slippers from an old queen!”

A few weeks after my mother died, we had a memorial celebration at her house. Lewis came, carrying a shovel because I told him to, and dug up bits of her plants to take to his new garden. I love knowing that my mother’s garden extends to a churchyard on Staten Island

Lewis, my friend, my life is richer for having known you.

05 July 2020

Cherry Cherry Cherry

The first time I ever encountered a clafoutis was in 8th grade. My friend Debbie and I made two dishes for an 8th grade French class cooking competition - an apple clafoutis, and an onion soup, both from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We made the onion soup at my house, and the clafoutis at hers - but I had to have my mother supply the rum because her house was a dry house. We also began with a spectacular fail: the pie plate exploded. The recipe called for a portion of the batter to be poured into a glass pie plate and baked in the oven for a few minutes to set it up, so the fruit wouldn't sink to the very bottom of the pan. We thought we'd be clever and set up the batter on the stovetop. Um, yeah - that pie plate got hot, shattered into pieces, and shot across the kitchen. 

 Funnily enough, I have only ever made apple clafoutis - never cherry, though cherry is allegedly the ur-clafoutis. It may be because all the cherry clafoutis recipes I ever see call for sweet cherries - and if you've ever had a cherry pie made from sweet cherries you know that they are curiously insipid baked. 

 This, right now, is sour cherry season - a fleeting moment to seize upon - and yesterday our farmer's market was open and bustling. I brought home a quart of sour cherries, thinking I'd make a pie. But something set me looking in a different direction, and happily a sour cherry clafoutis recipe popped up. Of course, I adapted it; I am pretty incapable of following a recipe to a T. The result was delightful. 

[Rabbit hole: Wander around the house wondering what happened to my copy of The Auberge Of The Flowering Hearth. Light upon the 1984 Larousse gastronomique and look up clafoutis: "a dessert from the Limousin region of France, consisting of black cherries arranged in a buttered dish and covered with fairly thick pancake batter." Dive deeper, into the 1961 first American edition of the Larousse gastronomique: "Clafouti: A homely preparation in Limousin, this is a kind of fruit pastry or thick fruit pancake, made usually with black cherries." Wonder idly why the earlier Larousse doesn't use the final S on clafoutis, but the later one does. Feel both ridiculous and smug for owning two different editions of the Larousse. Google cherry clafoutis. Find excellent discursive piece on the Guardian website: "A particular speciality of the Limousin region, where it's traditionally made with the local griottes, or sour morello cherries..." Pat self on back for thinking that sour cherries would make a good clafoutis.]

Sour Cherry Clafoutis (adapted from Beekman 1802)


1 T.  butter
1 qt. sour cherries, pitted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup spelt flour (or use regular AP flour)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Swerve (or use granulated sugar)
pinch of salt
2 T. demerara sugar
1 T. kirsch or mirabelle (cherry or plum brandy) or 1 T. vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9 or 10" pie plate.

Place the cherries in the pie plate. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add flour, milk, cream, Swerve (or sugar) and salt, and whisk together until well combined. Pour the batter over the cherries. Sprinkle the top with the demerara asugar and bake for 45 minutes, or until set. Let cool slightly on a rack and serve warm. (The clafoutis will fall as it cools.)