18 January 2016

We Shall Overcome

Me, heathen atheist, I only set foot in churches for weddings, funerals, and sightseeing. Yesterday morning, though, found me in pew 12 on the far left aisle, trying to be inconspicuous. The girl joined a youth choir earlier in the year, and it rehearses at a nearby Presbyterian church, and as a "thank you" the choir sings at a service once in a while. So I went, as designated driver and good sport.

Anyway, as I told the girl, part of knowing how to be a human is learning things about what other people do, like worship, especially if you yourself are not a worshipper. Going to church is a chance to experience the physicality of standing and sitting (and maybe kneeling), and to hear the susurrus of the "trespass against us", and to think about the call & response so often embedded in services. I secretly love singing hymns - it's a chance to exercise my sight singing chops. And yesterday there was a Ghanaian folk song included - so I got to think about the subtly non-Western rhythm and melody of that particular hymn.

But mostly what I was thinking about, in pew 12 on the left aisle, was Christianity. The people in that church yesterday were good, right-minded people, people with a social conscience, working on homeless outreach, looking for a new leader of the LGBT committee, praising the Iranian accord and that it resulted from diplomacy, not war. The sermon was given by a visitor, a white man who spoke well on white privilege, and on the slippery slope from complaisance to complicity. I was genuinely interested in what he had to say. And it made me wonder about the general state of American Christians. Is that church I was in yesterday something far on the lefty fringe? Because to me, we'd be a lot better off if there were more church-goers of that ilk. But what I hear about, the Christians who are making waves, are the bible thumping haters, the abortion foes, the Muslim demonizers and the refugee rejectors, Kim Davis and Jerry Falwell and their fellow close-minded mean-spirited right-wing-nuts.

I can't begin to unpack this. But like I told my kid, the more you know, the better able you are to understand where someone else is coming from. Right? So I googled "christians in america" and ended up reading an interesting piece called "Are We Finally Witnessing The Death Of Christianity In America?".

The state of America is dismaying. But even so, the glass-half-full part of me wants to think that sanity will prevail and that we shall overcome.



Let's work together, let's have peace one day.

15 January 2016

People Watching, N.Y.C.

​Big props to the young man getting off the subway with The Power Broker tucked under his arm. Excellent book. Ought to be required reading for anyone who lives in New York.


To the guy on a bike in the white helmet in the rain in the dark: I'm sorry. I didn't look. It was my fault. Thank you for not yelling at me when you bumped into me because it really was my fault. I'm glad neither of us got hurt, but if you'd yelled at me I probably would have burst into tears.


I want to apologize to the mother with a baby strapped to her chest. She was crossing the street, at a crosswalk, with the light, and my cabdriver yelled at her, complete with unnecessary profanity. I gave him a 28¢ tip, intending 20¢ but my finger missed the zero on the key pad. I also gave him a piece of my mind.


Morning commuter train to NYC. Pin-striped suit, snappy tie, braided leather suspenders ... and an unzipped fly. Yes, I told him. It was ruining his look.


Dude! I have to salute the guy with no elbows (or forearms or hands) and no knees (or lower legs or feet) riding a skateboard down Broadway, propelling himself with one leg and talking on a cellphone held to his ear with an arm.

I love that her scarf *almost* matches her laptop.

A photo posted by @magpiemusing on



Good looking guy with salt & pepper hair and beard, on the train in black sneakers, skinny black jeans, a black hoodie, and a snappy black motorcycle jacket. But the myriad zippered pockets weren't all zipped and they gapped unappealingly otherwise, ruining his look.


I'm waiting for the cross town bus on a blustery cold day and a guy arcs around the corner upright on a straight handlebarred bike, hands jammed in his jacket pockets. I wonder if it's the same guy I saw last spring.

11 January 2016

The Bachelor

You know the Toast, right? The Toast is funny. The Toast has Mallory Ortberg writing things about refrigerators (yogurt never goes bad at her parent's house) and refrigerators (the only thing that belongs in there is mindfulness).

Not so long ago, she posted a list: Code Words For Spinster Throughout History. Oh that Katie Cloisterneck, she's a porch witch (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

And I remembered my grandmother.

Gigi, pronounced with two hard Gs, a toddler-mangling of Marie, was born in 1911. [Damn. She'd be 104 if she were still alive.] One year, my friend Peter came for Christmas. I think that might have been the year he showed up with prunes soaked in Armagnac and stuffed with foie gras. You know, a little nibble before dinner, as one does. Peter is a dear, and no one will ever take him for a straight man. So, Peter disappears into the kitchen to plate his stuffed prunes, and my grandmother leans over and says "so, he's a bachelor?"

I'd never heard it before, and I've never heard it since, but there it was: bachelor as code word for gay man.

06 January 2016

True confessions

Sometimes when I'm brushing my teeth at night, standing before the bathroom mirror, in my horizontally striped nightgown, I notice - to my chagrin and with the help of the lines - that one nipple is lower than the other.

I have a little twinge of regret every time I remember that when we packed up the hospital room when we were discharged after the girl's birth, I forgot to take the little card slotted into the clear plastic bassinet that read "baby girl" and so her files are incomplete.

My armpits never stink. That said, Trader Joe's deodorant? Does. Not. Work.

03 January 2016

because I'm feeling sappy this evening

Several years ago, a friend - one of the semi-imaginary ones, someone I've met in person a few times, but a person I mostly know on-line - sent me a link to a poem. The subject of her email read: "because I'm feeling sappy this evening" and the poem was about sisters. It's titled "I wish I Had More Sisters" (and it's by Brenda Shaughnessy, and was in the New Yorker in 2010).

Here's the thing. It is wonderful to have friends and relatives. It is wonderful to call people on the telephone and to have them over for dinner and to swap plants with your next door neighbor. It's gratifying to send silly postcards and to mail books across the country. It's terrific to hang out with my sister and my sister-in-law getting my annual pedicure. It is grounding to have friends that you have known since 1977. But I feel, really, that my life is infinitely richer as a result of the many people - mostly women - I've had the chance to know since I started blogging and hanging out on Facebook. And that's the reason I held onto that email for so long - it's been in my inbox since 10/31/2010. That poem, and my friend's sentiment in sending it out to me and others, cemented that feeling of sisterhood, togetherness, "Each of us could be all of us."

Here's to a new year - full of friendship, sisterhood, connection and joy. And to finding forgotten gems when you clean out your inbox.

02 January 2016

2015 = 79

Goodreads tells me that I read 79 books in 2015. I know that included in that total are five books that I abandoned because I just couldn't finish them. Included in that sub-list were biographies of Jerome Robbins and Bruce Springsteen, and a book of Leonard Bernstein's letters.

I also read 8 cookbooks, and if you're into the Great British Baking Show, I highly recommend Cakes (one of the River Cottage handbooks) - it's like it could be the text book. I've also been reading books about baking bread, mostly because I acquired a sour dough starter last year, and it needs to be used. I'm pretty good at maintaining the mother, but I need some handholding and inspiration to make the starter into bread. Getting there, though.


Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking has been the most useful, and is what helped me to that if-I-may-say-so-myself terrific loaf above. The Bien Cuit cookbook is GORGEOUS, inspiring and intimidating. All of the recipes require a big commitment of time, and some have a lot of weird ingredients. That said, I'll plunge in and try something. But in the meantime, I can enjoy the book as an art object - glossy black paint on the page ends makes it look almost like a lacquered box, and it has a lovely exposed binding. (I hope it holds up in the kitchen - it's almost too beautiful to handle with sticky, floury fingers.)

During the summer, I fell into a wormhole of Regency romances, by Georgette Heyer. They are delicious, and like eating peanuts, you kind of can't stop at one - I read seven:

Frederica
Sylvester
Venetia
Cotillion
Regency Buck
The Reluctant Widow
Cousin Kate


The Toll-Gate is still on my list but it's been out of the library every time I've checked.

Somehow, Georgette Heyer inspired me to re-read all of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. If you're inclined, read them in order:

Whose Body? (1923)
Clouds of Witness (1926)
Unnatural Death (1927)
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
Strong Poison (1931) *
Five Red Herrings (1931)
Have His Carcase (1932)
Murder Must Advertise (1933) *
The Nine Tailors (1934)
Gaudy Night (1935) *
Busman's Honeymoon (1937) *

If you only want to read a few, read the ones that have an asterisk next to them. I mean, they're all great, but some are more great than others.

In the department of utterly delightful, I loved My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry. It's comic, anarchic, tragic, fantastic, eccentric, and wildly imaginative with a truly compelling voice.

In the graphic novel/memoir category, I read both of Alison Bechdel's books: Fun Home and Are You My Mother? Both stabbed me in the heart repeatedly, but two bits from Are You My Mother? stood out. First, when she asks "What's the main thing you learned from your mother?" and the answer is "That boys are more important than girls". I never asked my own mother that question, but I know that she thought her mother thought that girls were less than boys, that she was respected less than her brother.


And the teddy bear. I have that teddy, that very teddy. But when, because of old age and rough handling (but not by a dog), Teddy's felt palms and soles split open revealing the tightly packed wood shavings, my mother sewed on felt patches: my teddy was fixed, by my mother, and sits next to my bed atop the pile of unread books.

In non-fiction, I loved Skyfaring. It's a lovely and lyrical book about flying, by a pilot, chock full of history and physics and geography, rendered in a poetic and accessible manner.

And in the category of books that were far better than I expected, The Royal We was a delightful roman à clef about Wills and Kate. If your guilty pleasure is Go Fug Yourself's royalty coverage, you'll like it too.

28 December 2015

Tart Shells are Round; or, The Kind of Circular Thinking In Which Nothing Is New

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, we were invited out to dinner. I offered to make a dessert, and planned to make the lemon tart from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, because every time I have made it, it's been perfect. And I love a lemon dessert. That tart calls for a pâte sablée crust, which is kind of like a sugar cookie and a great foil for the quite tart lemon custard filling. Alas, that day, the crust failed, epically. It cracked all over the place, and wouldn't even come out of the pan. I switched gears and made something else, but I still don't know why that pâte sablée didn't work.

For Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to make the cranberry curd tart that had been in the Times food section in a Thanksgiving round up. That recipe uses a hazelnut crust - a loose mix of ground hazelnuts pressed into the tart pan like you would a graham cracker crust. It was okay - the hazelnut crust was nice by itself, but we thought it competed indecorously with the cranberry filling.

Not being able to leave behind the failed pâte sablée, I did a bunch of googling. Butter in visible chunks? Butter thoroughly amalgamated with the flour? Somehow, I stumbled on a tart shell recipe on David Lebovitz's blog that blew all of that away - it was a 2009 recipe that started with a lump of butter and a splash of water and a spoonful of sugar, all dumped in a bowl and put in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Boiled butter! Then you add the flour. Intrigued, I had to try it. We'd been invited to a Boxing Day party so I thought I'd re-engineer the cranberry curd tart by putting it in Lebovitz's shell.

The crust is fascinating. It comes together almost like a roux, a wet looking ball of flour & butter, which you smush into a tart shell, gingerly because it's fiercely hot. It gets baked, while you make the curd, then both cool to room temperature. Then, you spoon the curd in the tart shell and bake it together for another 10 minutes. [Naturally, I wonder why everything has to be cooled down before that final run through the oven, but that's an experiment for another day.]


The boiled butter crust was delightful with the cranberry curd. A keeper, if you will. I decided that David Lebovitz was onto something.

Last night, I climbed into bed with a Christmas present: a copy of Food52 Genius Recipes. I wasn't reading it straight through, but jumping around looking for things that I need to make right now. You read cookbooks in bed, right? It's a compilation cookbook - 100 recipes from 100 sources - all alleged to be "the best". The reason I wanted the book is because there were enough recipes that I knew already, and knew to be good - the bar nuts from the Union Square Cafe, Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread, Kim Boyce's Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, that butter & onion tomato sauce from Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham's Raised Waffles. I figured with that kind of track record, there were probably other great recipes. I turned to page 236, curious about the "eggless lemon curd", because it sounds like a non-sequitur, eggs being pretty essential to curd, in my experience. [It uses agar, in case you're wondering.] But what to my wondering eyes turns up in the book, on page 235, as a vehicle for the lemon curd? "Brown Butter Tart Crust, from Paule Caillat" - in other words, the Lebovitz boiled butter crust. I confess to being both dumbfounded and even happier to have the cookbook in the first place.

There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?