19 October 2016

In On The Action

Not to be outdone by the Republican candidate's toupée, Rainbow got into the action this afternoon.

Her toupée is purely decorative, not covering any bald spot. Further, it is not made of cat hair, but rather rabbit fur. Although I'm not sure what that has to do with anything.

18 October 2016

Cat. House.

The cats have some kind of death wish. They perch atop the newel post, and then they walk along the banister rail.

If you look closely, you'll see scratching on the part of the banister in the foreground. Yes, one fell off once.

But that's not why I took this picture.

The cat, Rainbow, seems to be mimicking the painting of a house on the wall behind her.

I made that, back in, oh 1967? It's tempura on now yellowy-brown newsprint, framed by my mother behind glass in a nice oak frame. For about 40 years, it hung in the back bathroom of my mother's house, on walls patch-worked with framed treasures from the elementary school careers of all of her children. This particular one? Somehow it went home with my sister when we sold the house. She, in turn, wrapped it up and gave it to me for Christmas.

And now, my cat is imitating it.

Life is weird.

Or maybe I am.

16 October 2016

A Year, Sped Up Towards The End And Yet Static

Most books, you just pick up and read, more or less straight through. At least I do, unless I put the long complicated novel aside for a little detour through a fast mystery. But then there are the books that have a year as an organizing principle. And because I have some deep seated necessity to make order of things, I cannot read that sort of book in one go. Instead, I read the January chapter in January, the May chapter in May, taking a full year to read it. If it's a cookbook, like Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, I might find myself puttering around in front of the stove, making something with rhubarb when the rhubarb is freshly sending up its pink stalks. A gardening book, like Henry Mitchell's One Man's Garden, has me making lists of bulbs for fall planting in April and contemplating the location of a plot for spring peas, to be prepared and dug in November for March planting.

Last year for Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a book of Verlyn Klinkenborg's little essays, called The Rural Life. For a time, he had an irregular column on the editorial page of the New York Times, where he waxed rhapsodic about so many things, like snow in January:

By nightfall the snow in the fields was fox-deep.

And spending in March:

Living in the country you learn to spend money in the meanest ways, and you also learn the most extravagant parsimony.

Reading September in September, I was dumbstruck last month, when on September 11 I came across his passage about September 11.

On the first Friday after that sudden Tuesday, I took an afternoon train back homeward out of Manhattan and into the country. Do you remember the day? [snip] Life is bearing witness. In some superficial sense the morning of September 11 sifted us all into difference circles of witnessing. Some people narrowly escaped the collapsing towers. Others watched in terrified safety from windows and rooftops further uptown, Many, like me, saw it live on television from midtown, while an incalculable number of people around the county and the world watched as the tapes were replayed into the night and the coming days. But we're all witnesses, no matter what we saw or how we saw it. Our burden is very different from the burden the victims bore and their families still bear, but it's no less real. Witnessing is a matter of knowledge and of conscience. We know what we saw, and yet we watch the televised tapes play over and over again because we disbelieve what we know.

I've gone back and read that passage several times over, thinking on so many disasters, natural and otherwise, and how we do witness, disbelieving what we're seeing. This election year is a good example.

Yesterday, I found myself on the train to New York without the newspaper (I'd forgotten it) and with a pitiful charge on my more-than-three-years-old-phone (the only problem with which is the pitiful battery). Happily I had the Klinkenborg, but I had to break the rule of read November in November and read December in December, because what was I going to do? Be rigid, or read? I read.

He is a lovely writer and manages to make even a horrible destructive heavy wet December snow sound beautiful:

The snow that fell at home this past weekend was a predatory snow, heavy, wet and punishing. It fell hastily, clumsily, and by the time the storm ended, there was as much precipitation stacked overhead in the tangled woods, waiting to precipitate, as there was on the ground.

Precipitation waiting to precipitate.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fall is that time when trees change from green to gold and scarlet, the hosta looks decidedly rough around the edges, the tomato plants are mere skeletons though yet with fruit.

And on October 16th, my patient impatiens are still blooming their little hearts out. The suburban life, it is confounding.

10 October 2016

In Which The Good Grey Lady Drops All Decorum

I know that this happened on Saturday, but the hard copy of the printed paper has been sitting on my kitchen table since then, and I want to record this for posterity.

If you embiggen that so that you can read it, you will see that the lead story on the front page of the New York Times on Saturday, October 8, 2016 prints the words bitch, pussy, fuck and tits.

This is two of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words and newspaper journalists of a certain age have collapsed into puddles of ectoplasm and/or rolled over in their graves.

We may have actually reached the end of Western civilization as we have known it.

If you haven't figured it out, I'm With Her, and the orange man must never become President.

03 October 2016

This Is Just To Say...

There are plum cakes other than the plum cake.

Yes, the New York Times published ... yet again ... the plum torte recipe. It's divine. If you haven't ever made it, it's spectacularly easy and absolutely perfect. Tender, buttery, sweetly spicy, laced with tart plum bombs.

But right around the time that plums were coming in, my friend Erika posted a peach/blackberry cake on Instagram:

Bet you can't bake just one. Roden's Plum Tart w/peaches and blackberries instead. #baking

A photo posted by emdbarrie (@emdbarrie) on

I was intrigued by the reference to Plum Tart and Roden, so I asked and sure enough, it's a Claudia Roden recipe for a plum tart, even though Erika used peaches and blackberries.

At first glance, the recipes seem similar - a dough with some fruit on top. But the Roden version was different enough that I needed to try it - and it turns out to be more like cookie/pastry/cake under the plums, not sweet tender airy cake.

It is delightful! And even if you are committed to THE plum torte, it's worth trying this one.

Besides, who doesn't love a recipe header that says "It is very simple and easy to make, with pure fresh flavors and a marvelous biscuity base. You must try it. We all love it."

Swetschkenkuchen / Plum Tart
Adapted from Claudia Roden's The Book Of Jewish Food


2/3 cup (125 g) sugar (divided)
1 1/4 cups (175 g) flour
1/2 t. baking powder
3 oz (75 g) cold butter
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Mirabelle eau de vie (or brandy)
1 1/2 pounds (750 g) Italian prune plums, halved and pitted


Preheat oven to 375° F.
Mix half of the sugar with the flour and baking powder.
Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub into the flour and sugar mixture.
Stir in the egg and Mirabelle and mix with your hands until it forms a dough.
If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour.
Press the dough into the bottom of a round 9" tart pan - and up the sides a bit - make a 1/4" lip if you can (you don't need to go all the way to the top).
Arrange the fruit, cut side up and tightly packed, on top of the pastry. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup sugar over the plums.
Bake at 375° F for about 50 minutes or until crust turns golden brown and the plums are soft and juicy.
Serve hot or warm or cold, sprinkled with confectioners sugar. Whipped cream would not be amiss.

30 September 2016

Glass Ceilings

Last weekend, there was a book festival in my town. It's a great event - lots and LOTS of authors, each at a smallish table with a big pile of books, chatting and signing, signing and chatting. There were food trucks doling out wood fired pizzas and artisanal grilled cheese, and portable mini-golf for toddlers, and lots of friends hauling boxes and running cash registers and ferrying cups of tea to parched chatty authors.

I bought a bunch of books: a September head start on my Christmas shopping, and a baby present for Flutter's baby. There is something wonderful about buying a goofy pull-tab book and getting it signed "Dear Baby Rob" by Matthew van Fleet himself.

The authors cover a wide spectrum - one lives in our town and has written one book, others have been writing tons of books over years and years. I had a copy of Vicki Cobb's Science Experiments You Can Eat when I was in middle school; Vicki Cobb was there with it and lots of other books.

Jane Yolen was there too. She's written a pile of books, all over the map. I'm kind of fond of Bad Girls, because I have a subversive streak and I am working hard on teaching my twelve year old to stand up for herself, to recognize sexist behavior, to be no shrinking violet.

But the sweetest part of the day? Jane Yolen gave a copy of a poem to the force-of-nature organizer of the event, who happens to be the number one rabble rouser in support of Hillary Clinton in our town, and asked that the poem get to Secretary Clinton. It's a terrific little poem:

HC: A Modern Ode

She stands there,
hammer in hand
staring at the ceiling,
measuring with her careful eye,
finding just the right spot
to ding it down.
No wasted effort,
no casual boast,
the eye not the I.
A flick of the wrist,
a perfect strike.
The suffragettes smile
in their iron cradles.
Shards of glass
fall around us
like the Perseid stars.

–©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I've given a copy to my little unshrinking violet, because glass ceiling? Here we come.

21 September 2016

In Which My Mother Eats An Apple

Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday. Would have been.

Since she's no longer here to celebrate with nine times nine candles, I have to remember her here, eating an apple, sometime in the 1950s, when she was in college.

I've always liked this picture - the red in the foliage, the red apple, the red red lips, the red fingernails. The grey of the wood fence / rock wall matching the grey sweater. The oh so turned up jeans. Jeans! The dorky socks. The bottle of wine, clutched in her hand, the open brown bag it came from.

Who took the picture? Is it the photographer's shadow at the lower right? What kind of shoes is she wearing? Where are they?

Happy birthday, Moky. I'm sorry you can't tell me the answers to all of these questions.