05 May 2023

Annals of Gardening: 5 May 2019

Hmm. The folder of draft posts coughed up this picture of a list from 5 May 2019 - yes, four years ago. What was I thinking?

  • I believe I moved the nine bark, and it died where I put it. 
  • The leucothoe is happy in its new home; it has more light than it used to, and a stone wall to droop over. It is not the best of shrubs, but I keep it because I dug it up at my mother's house rather a while ago. 
  • I planted a ton of Carex pensylvanica, and none of it is still around. 
  • The "lawn" is a perpetual disaster and there is a shady sloped area that just will not grow a goddamned thing. I'm ready to pebble it over. (It needs to be a walking path or I could fill it in with things that would be happy.) 
  • Dumping/deploying pots happens every year. 

What's on your garden list for today?

26 March 2023

Library books and ephemera

Need I tell you of the wonders of library books? Of course not, but I will. They are free (well, but for the modest sums folded into our taxes)! You don't need to give them house room when you are done! Sometimes other people have written bits in the margins (though they aren't supposed to). And sometimes people leave ephemera - a book mark, a ticket stub, a scrap of newspaer, or the checkout receipt if your library system is barcoded and computerized up to the hilt.

I can't remember why, but I recently took Amy Krouse Rosenthal's “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” out of my public library. It's lovely and heartbreaking and inspirational and funny. And its form - an encyclopedia, galloping alphabetically from entry to entry - is charmingly idiosyncratic.

Why heartbreaking? This book was published in 2005, and Rosenthal died in 2017 (at 51). In other words, she *had* died by the time I read this, but she didn't know how soon she was going to die, and how early.


I recognize that everything I do, from my work to going to the movies to raising children to vacuuming, might also be viewed as just one big distraction- Hey, look over here! And now, over here!-from belaboring the real issue at hand: One day I'm going to die. 

It's one thing to say "I'm going to die" - it's another to up and do it.

How funny? Nuns. Or maybe blue jeans. Or even conversations with strangers.

NUN (p. 149)

A friend sat next to a nun on a plane. He asked her what she missed most. "Wearing blue jeans," she replied.

Halfway through my reading, a prior borrower's checkout receipt fell out. It felt like the kind of random synchronicity that Rosenthal would have appreciated.

My curiosity was, of course, piqued. Usually the slips that fall out of library books are just for that single only solitary book - but here was a receipt with FOUR items on it. I looked them all up.

Besides the Rosenthal, the other items were:

I have a soft spot for murder mysteries (even if this one is about space), I recently finished one Geraldine Brooks book, a second of hers is on the to-be-read pile next to my bed, I am quite fond of Little Women, and while I am unlikely to watch a documentary on cave painting, I deeply appreciated the catholic range of the other borrower's library haul of November 2021. And I think Rosenthal would have liked this list as well.

27 February 2023

In Which Some Oatmeal Cookies Lead To A Rabbit Hole

Every few weeks, I bake a batch of cookies and mail them off to the college kid. This morning, I was looking for a gingersnap/molasses cookie recipe in my mother's black book, but I got sidetracked by Lady Harlech's oatmeal cookies.

So I made them, with shortening even. After the dough was made, I realized that there is no salt in the recipe. So instead of squishing the cookies with a sugar-dipped glass, I seasoned the sugar with a bit of salt and cinnamon. The cookies were definitely too sweet, and sort of boring. If I try them again, I will use salted butter, and a half teaspoon of salt, and only a half a cup of white sugar. And then they won't be Lady Harlech's, they'll be mine.

Cookies aside though, I started wondering about Lady Harlech. The recipe was photocopied from somewhere, but I don't know where. Google turned up NOTHING tying Lady Harlech to any oatmeal cookies.

I detoured into ChatGPT for my own amusement, and it produced a semi-plausible bio:

Except that said bio doesn't actually track with other information I found about her - like: 

  •  She married Lord Harlech in 1969. 
  • I don't know where the Guiness bit came from, because her maiden name was Pamela Colin. 
  • I think she was born in 1934.
  • While she worked for Vogue, it was as a food editor. 
  • And I think she's not dead.

The Wikipedia entry on her husband seems a whole lot more sound.

Eventually, I figured out that she published two cookbooks as Pamela Harlech. Both cookbooks (Feast Without Fuss and Practical Guide to Cooking, Entertaining, and Household Management) had been scanned into the Internet Archive, and while one contains an oatmeal cooky recipe, it's not this one.


26 February 2023

Who Sits On Boards?

An article in the Times about a handful of states that are trying to legislate against ESG investing included this aside:

Keeping an eye on how climate change may affect a stock holding (or the place for a retirement home), or whether a board is made up mainly of white men from fancy colleges, is part of what anyone should consider when picking stocks.

I have teensy bits of money invested in a handful of places, and from time to time, I get proxy notices and an opportunity to vote for directors. I - without researching them - vote only for the women. It could be that I'm voting for horrible people with abhorrent opinions, but I also know that my vote is essentially meaningless and so I persist. Because boards shouldn't be only white men from fancy colleges.

03 February 2023


My day, two days ago, my Wednesday, was bookended by cracks.

Wednesday, 8:30 am

I am fascinated by the marking paint that touches nearly every bit of the train platform. It’s neon orange, pink, green, and it traces out the hairline cracks that snake hither and yon across the concrete. Presumably someone has a crack filling plan, but to my eye it looks like they should rip up the whole platform and start over.

Wednesday, 6:30pm

I missed my train and had 20+ minutes to kill so I went sightseeing through a bit of the new LIRR terminal at GCT. It’s very clean (still!) and doesn’t (yet!) have that Penn Station aroma of glazed donuts overlaid with beer. It also has some nice huge mosaics. This is a small section of Kiki Smith’s River Light.

At the north end of my train commute, the platform is in high disrepair. At the south end, new construction is enlivened with mosaics.

Cracks, undesired.

Cracks, desired.

There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.

17 April 2022

Magpie on Magpies

Sometimes the universe conspires and magpies come at you from all sides. All three of these magpies came to me this past week.(Click the pix for more information.)

A friend sent a link to a podcast about a Japanese boy in an internment camp who befriended a magpie - or the magpie befriended him:

Another friend snapped a picture of a painting in a museum in Philadelphia, of a magpie eating cake:

Magpie eating cake-rubens peale

And the New York Times had an article about very very clever magpies in Australia, helping other magpies:

I do like magpies. They are smart and charismatic and nicely graphic.

26 February 2022

I Have Solved the Buttermilk Problem

You know how you buy a QUART of buttermilk because a recipe needs a little bit, and then the quart sits there in the fridge until it's over the hill and you throw it out, thereby wasting most of the quart? (And then you feel terrible because food waste is actually an enormous problem - the USDA estimates that more than 30% of the food supply gets wasted.)

I have figured it out, or - to be specific - I have found a way to buy one quart of buttermilk and use it all up in two recipes: Whole Grain Pancakes for breakfast, and Buttermilk Brined Chicken for dinner.

The recipe for the pancakes is something I adapted from the New York Times site; I changed up the flours a bit to reduce the carbohydrate load. They are very tender, and complexly flavored. We make up the whole batch and then I freeze what we don't eat for breakfast. They reheat well, in the toaster. In lieu of syrup, I usually blitz a handful of frozen strawberries in the microwave; they kind of fall apart and become a good syrup analog. Feel free to use maple syrup, if that's how you roll.

WHOLE GRAIN PANCAKES (makes about 14 good sized pancakes)
1 cup spelt (or whole wheat flour) 
3/4 cup almond meal 
1/2 cup cornmeal 
1/4 cup rolled oats 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
2 1/4 cups buttermilk 
3 eggs 
1/4 cup melted butter

 In a large bowl, mix together spelt, almond meal, cornmeal, oats, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a medium bowl, mix together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir gently until smooth. 

Heat up a griddle over medium heat. Add a little butter to the pan and let it melt. Using a 1/3 cup measure, pour batter onto griddle - make as many as you can at a time. Leave space for pancakes to spread. 

Cook until bubbles form and start to burst, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate as they finish, and serve immediately with butter and maple syrup or melted strawberries. 

Repeat with the remaining batter, until done. 

If you are going to freeze the excess, cool them on a baking rack. When cool, separate with waxed paper or parchment, and stack them into an airtight freezer container.

Once you've finished breakfast, you're going to want to brine the chicken. Back up. You've been roasting chicken for years. You shove a lemon or some herbs in the cavity, fling the bird in a cast iron skillet in a hot oven, and bob's your uncle. Roast chicken gets A LOT of ink, but it's not hard; it's just roast chicken. But. Brining your chicken in buttermilk? It's kind of magic. You think there's nothing new under the sun, and then you decide to make the quart of buttermilk come out even, and yeah. Do it.

Here's the thing: Samin Nosrat tells you to use 2 cups of buttermilk for one chicken in a gallon ziplock bag. BUT 1 3/4 cups is fine too, and 1 3/4 cups is what you have left after you're done making pancakes. Nosrat's recipe is divine and it's on her website. But you should get her book - Salt Fat Acid Heat - because it's good and useful and informative.

And there you have it. Two recipes, one quart of buttermilk, no science experiments with the leftover lurking in the back of the refrigerator.