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.)

29 March 2020

In Which We Join The Army

The other day, my kid said to me "can you help me change my bed? There's a hole in my sheet." So I duly climbed the stairs to help her find the clean sheets and take apart the bed - whereupon I discovered that the hole was, um, big enough for a large grown-up to climb through. This was not some tiny little tear.

But, because I am my mother's daughter, and because there's been this surge of folks sewing up face masks for themselves and local hospitals, I took that dead bottom sheet and threw it in the wash. When it was out, I cut off the elastic edge, harvested the elastic, repurposed the edge into (un)bias tape, and cut up the good parts of the sheet into 6"x9" rectangles.

I then scrounged through the box of t-shirts for projects (remember, I am my mother's daughter), and cut a few of them up into more 6"x9" rectangles.

And I pulled out my sewing machine, which, providentially, I had had overhauled in January because the bobbin winder wasn't winding bobbins.

Some hours and some experimentation later, I'd produced 16 masks - using a simple pattern that's been all over the internet.

I am keeping a couple, sending two to my father and his girlfriend, and sending another two to my sister and her wife. And the rest are going to a local hospital.

Random observations:

  • My sewing machine is a weird prima donna wannabe: it demands fancy thread in the bobbin, but it doesn't care about the top thread. Happily, I have a stash of silk thread from who knows where - it's old but perfect.
  • [Old cotton thread rots; if you can break it easily, throw it out.]
  • No one cares that the lime green polyester top thread doesn't match the pale celadon silk bobbin thread. We're talking life safety here.
  • Making the pleats is a pain in the ass if the t-shirt fabric is too butch.
  • The cut off neck of a turtleneck makes an admirable and oddly comfortable mask - with NO sewing.
  • Proper bias tape is cut on the bias.

I'll make more masks soon.

15 March 2020

Teensters and Circles of Unloveliness

The girl and I have been working our way through The Office - we are up to season 9 / episode 11, which means that it's coming to an end.

Last night, we watched "Suit Warehouse", in which some of the folks are out of the office and the remaining Dunder Mifflinites drink ALL THE COFFEE. And start sweating.

Of course, my reaction was "oh, circles of unloveliness!"

The kid was all "huh?"

So I had to explain that this is what you call visibly damp armpits, and that it was a phrase used frequently in my family - like while watching ice skating championships: "OMG she's got circles of unloveliness!"

The kid didn't believe me. So I googled it, as one does.

There was precisely ONE hit for the phrase "circles of unloveliness," ONE.

All hail Archive.org.

In 1948, someone published a pamphlet for teenagers called "The Stork Didn't Bring You [The facts of life for teenagers]".

A chapter called "Oh, Woe Is You" contains this rich paragraph:

Excessive perspiration is another distressing teenster
problem. It ruins clothing and good times with equal fa-
tality. And it crops out in all the worst places the palms
of your hands, making them exempt from holding; the
soles of your feet, making sox smelly; around your hair-
line, undoing curls; and mostly underarms, leaving deep
dark circles of unloveliness.

In 1948, my mother turned 13. Clearly, my mother read said pamphlet, retained said phrase, and passed it along to her children.

Could we PLEASE get "circles of unloveliness" into common parlance?

17 February 2020

This Is Not A Knitting Blog

This is not a knitting blog. I am not much of a knitter.

I can, however, make a hat - and I made two as Christmas presents and just finished one for my husband, using random yarn I had in the cellar. The Christmas present hats were very scrappy - mostly navy blue worsted, with dribs and drabs of other yarn striped in (hello needlepoint wool from 1972). The hat I just finished is more refined - only two yarns, in alternating stripes of navy worsted and black cotton.

Every time I decide to make a hat, though, I agonize about the pattern - and especially about how to do the decreasing to shape the top. I have finally settled on a pattern that works, so - even though I am not much of a knitter and this is not a knitting blog - here goes:

Worsted Weight Adult Sized Rolled Brim Hat - Knit in the Round

You'll need to know how to cast on, how to knit, and how to knit two stitches together (to decrease). You don't need to know how to purl or increase. As far as the porcupine business with the double pointed needles, do it when no one will interrupt you, in a good spot with great light, and have patience.

120 yards of worsted weight yarn (or, you know, a good sized ball or two)
Circular needle - size 9 US, 16" long
Set of double pointed needles - size 9 US
Gauge? We don't need no stinkin' gauge - just go ahead and make the hat.

Cast 80 stitches onto the circular needle. Place a marker and join, being careful not to spiral the whole thing around the circular needle. Knit for about 6”, ending at the marker.

Begin decreasing on the next round, as follows:

1. (Knit 6, k2tog) repeat to end. You'll now have 70 stitches left.
2. Knit.
3. (Knit 5, k2tog) repeat to end. 60 stitches remain.
4. Knit.
5. (Knit 4, k2tog) repeat to end. 50 stitches remain.
6. Knit.
7. (Knit 3, k2tog) repeat to end. 40 stitches remain.
8. Knit.

Switch to double pointed needles.

9. (Knit 2, k2tog) repeat to end. 30 stitches remain.
10. Knit.
11. (Knit 1, k2tog) repeat to end. 20 stitches remain.
12. Knit.
13. (k2tog) repeat to end.

Cut the yarn leaving a 12" tail. Thread it through the remaining 10 stitches, draw up tightly and secure. Weave in ends.

If your intended recipient has a bigger head than usual, make the hat bigger by 1) casting on 90 stitches, and 2) beginning the decrease with a row of knit 7, k2tog followed by a row of straight knitting - and then continue as above.

03 February 2020

The Reluctant Envoy

I turned the page in the paper today, and learned that Peter Serkin had died. He was a good one, and straddled a line between new and old - playing the old stuff, and championing the new. According to his obituary, in 1973 he got Grammy Award nominations for two records - one of several of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, and another of the 20 piano solos that comprise Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus”. He was also described as “the counterculture’s reluctant envoy to the straight concert world” - per Donal Henahan.

Once upon a time, I worked at a small arts organization. And once, before my time, Serkin had played there, as a benefit for the organization. Lou Reed had also played there, and the organization convinced Serkin and Reed to sign a fundraising letter. Hey you, we're cool musicians, we both played at this cool place, send money - that kind of fundraising letter. Well, one of the letters came back, stuffed into the postage paid return envelope. On top, someone had scrawled "Peter Serkin is a bum". I mean, what? (No, there was no money enclosed.)

I'm sorry someone thought you were a bum, Peter. And I hope Mozart and Messiaen have embraced you. R.I.P.