28 August 2008

Letter to the Editor

Remember my sign? It arrived last Thursday, we installed it Thursday night.

Saturday morning, when I went out to get the paper, it was gone.


We wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper - an on-line only "paper". They're "printing" the letter tomorrow. I can't post the complete text of the letter because there are far too many references to our town and its people and redacting the distinguishing marks would vitiate the power of the letter.

But here's one paragraph:

We would like to think that someone took it because they were so enamored of the wit and sentiment of the sign that they wanted it for themselves. We fear, however, that someone was offended by its hardly immoderate language and didn’t think a second before snatching it from our property. Didn’t think a second about how their intolerant and immoderate censorship is precisely what the First Amendment exists to protect us from.

I was going to install the second one at my mother's house. Instead, I think we'll rig a pole up in a tree, out of reach of the bastards. They'll probably throw eggs, and we'll probably have to write another letter to the editor.

But, damn it, I will not have my right to free speech abrogated in this day and age.

25 August 2008


I made ratatouille from our CSA vegetables, while the child watched Ratatouille in the other room. It made a perfect side dish to some lamb we found in the freezer, and the next night, the leftovers turned into a great pasta sauce through the addition of fresh mozzarella and basil.

We went joy-riding in the pickup truck and fed carrots to the valley horse.

We picked so many wild blackberries that I had to make a cobbler.

And we found that there were plums on the neglected plum tree, so I made blackberry-plum jam.

The child, erratic at best in the foods she eats, ate about a pint of the seedy astringent wild blackberries, her happy face streaked with berry juice.

She threw rocks in the stream, and made dams, fell down and got up again wet.

I made a peach-apple pie with CSA fruit, and tossed in a handful of blueberries from the bush outside the kitchen door.

And because none of us had to be anywhere on Monday, we stayed an extra night.

A serendipitous mini-vacation, all because the cable guy didn't show up when he was supposed to.

23 August 2008

The Bad Man and His New Car

There's a man who lives on our street, a few blocks away from us. We pass his house nearly every day. He drives a late model car, with MD plates on it, and he's clearly a rabid anti-abortion crusader. The car is bumper-stickered to a fare-thee-well, with additional signs taped inside the back window, and graphic literature living on the dashboard. Despite the fact that it's nearly four years on from the last election, his car still says "Kerry is a baby killer". Somewhere along the line, he added "Clinton" to that sentence, presumably meaning Hillary since she was then actively running for President.

A couple of months ago, he got a new car. He carefully transferred each and every sign and sticker to the new car, including the Kerry sign. That seems like beating a dead horse, but hey, it's not my car. Interestingly though, he has added neither an anti-Obama sign, nor a pro-McCain sign. Maybe he's just waiting for the official nominations out of the conventions?

Quite awhile ago, we started referring to him as "the bad man". Mind you, we've never met him, but he's a pinched and mean looking sort, and oh, it just seemed to fit.

Well, the problem is that the kid's picked it up (surprise). We drive by, she says "that's the bad man's house". "Let's go to the bad man's house and throw water on him" (so he melts, like the Wicked Witch of the West). Or she says "his house is poopy" (because he did recently have the house re-painted in a dead shade of baby shit brown). Sometimes she just sticks her tongue out at his house.

I'm feeling guilty - he could be a perfectly lovely, intelligent, kind soul who just happens to have a different position on abortion and bad taste in house paint. I shouldn't be encouraging Miss M. - a generally self-confident, compassionate and friendly child - to have negative knee-jerk reactions to people (though I do curse at idiot drivers when they behave badly).

What to do, what to do?

I decided to talk to her about the bad man the other day on the way to our vegetable pickup. "You know", I said, "we don't know that he's bad. We don't really know him." "Okay, Mommy. Let's call him the good man. And can we go visit him?"

She's so malleable. It's frightening, how much power we as parents have in molding our children's thoughts and behaviors.

22 August 2008

Thirty Eight Years Ago

I found a picture one day recently, and it unleashed a flood of memories - the mothball smell of the bunkhouse, sand in my bathing suit, the sound of priming the water pump, making hand-cranked icecream, slipping through the sharp grass on the way down to the beach.

For several years in the early seventies, my family rented a friend's house out in Montauk. It was the perfect summer house - no phone, no electricity, isolated at the end of a mile and a half long dirt driveway, and right on an isolated stretch of beach. It had the basic comforts, all powered by propane - hot and cold running water, stove, refrigerator, and lights. No TV, just books and board games.

There were three little buildings on the property - a main house with the kitchen, bath and pot-bellied stove, and two bunkhouses. There were enough beds (bunkbeds, cots, pull-outs) to sleep 10-12 people. The bunkhouse we kids slept in had a whole wall of screens, facing the ocean; it was almost like sleeping outside.

We'd arrive for a week or two, with foot lockers strapped to the roof of the station wagon, and return home brown as berries, with sun-bleached hair, and sand everywhere. Heaven.

We spent all day, every day, on the beach. My father would fish in the surf; once he caught a sting ray. We'd gather seaweed and wear it as wigs. We picked wild blueberries and beach plums, and dug for steamers in a nearby brackish pond. Once each summer, we'd get dressed up and go to dinner at Gosman's. But most of the time, we ran around naked or nearly so.

And my mother? Three children and a huge abdominal scar didn't stop her from wearing a bikini. That's her and my four year old sister in that picture.

I'd love to go back there. But it's never to be. The property, even then, was surrounded by state park land, and one day the State took it back, by eminent domain. The State owns the land, but the memories remain mine.

21 August 2008

Give A Shit

I did it - I ordered two yard signs:

I can't decide whether to keep them both, in case one gets stolen, or to plant one at my mother's house.

20 August 2008


Just for you, just because I know you needed this, I finally got around to taking pictures of the two rooms that we nearly filled with books.
The sunroom is now the "library". There are bookshelves on two walls (and casement windows on the other two). We're still waiting for two cabinet doors; one of the missing ones is visible (to the right of the door with the grey/blue panel). And look! Empty shelves! Room to grow.
The vertical run of shelves visible here in the dining room is nothing but books on food and cooking. Well, except for a speaker and a toy car.
And remember the Shakespeare bookshelf/sculpture? It's finally hanging, in the dining room.
That is all.

19 August 2008

Memes, Books, and Star Trivia

Thanks to Cactus Petunia, here are four things you should know about me before you invite me to your house:

1. I don't eat fish, because I don't like it. It would probably be easier to say that I'm allergic, but I'm not. I will, however, eat mussels.

2. I'd rather be outside in the fresh air than inside in the air-conditioning.

3. I much prefer wine to beer.

4. I like to bake, so I'll bring dessert.

No tags, you're it if you want to be.

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

I've got another book to give away: an old hardcover copy of P.G. Wodehouse's Spring Fever. Tell me in the comments; if more than one person wants it, I'll do a random giveaway.

Also, if you need more books and have too many, try Paperback Swap - you set up an account, list the books that you want to get rid of, mail them off when people request them, and ask for other's books that you're interested in. You pay the postage to ship yours out, but you pay nothing to receive a book. It's clever. Click the logo to join.

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

And, because I know you were wondering, the dog days of summer are over. The dog days are the weeks when Sirius (the dog star) rises in tandem with the sun. The ancients figured the two stars rising together caused the heat and torpor, hence the name.

18 August 2008

Julia Child and the Sub-Recipes

If you've ever cooked anything out of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, you know that Julia Child was fond of sub-recipes. Instead of just writing out the instructions for a single finished dish, she refers you to other recipes. You'll have to go dig up the recipe for the this and/or the recipe for the that.

One day, years ago, I was sitting around chewing the fat with my boss. Out of the blue, he asked me "do you have any cookbooks?" I owned up to the fact that we've got rather a lot of cookbooks, and he told me he wanted to learn to make beef bourguignon. In a moment of pedantic evil, I brought in my Julia Child and xeroxed the recipe for the boeuf à la bourguignonne along with the sub-recipe for the brown-braised onions. But, not intentionally, I forgot to copy the sub-recipe for the mushrooms, and of course, I got a call at about 9 that night: What do I do with the mushrooms???

17 August 2008

Got house, like books

I keep seeing them, but Mayberry Mom pushed me over the edge. Here's my Wordle:

I took all the words from all the posts in July, and I love how what jumps out is Got house, like books. Or is it Got one house, like little baby books? I suppose it could be Got one little baby, like good house books?

What's your Wordle like?

15 August 2008

Can We Talk About Pie Crust?

Julia Child's birthday is today - August 15. It would have been her 96th birthday. A year ago, I wrote a little paean to her and included her pie crust recipe, the recipe that I use nearly every time I make a pastry crust. Julia's been on my mind recently; I've been fondling her cookbooks in their new home, and Champaign Taste had announced the third annual Julia Child birthday extravaganza (which you should go check out).


I first learned to make Julia's pie crust using my mother's hardcover copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The ingredients in that book are listed as follows:

Proportions for 1 cup flour

1 cup flour
1 T. sugar (optional, depending on the filling)
1/8 t. salt
4 T. butter
1 1/2 T. shortening
2 1/2-3 T cold water

And she tells you that for an 8-9" shell, you'll need proportions for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and for a 10-11" shell, you'll need proportions for 2 cups of flour. (Yes, you have to do some math.)

Okay then. Some number of years ago, when I was a semi-grownup with my own kitchen, my mother gave me a paperback set of both volumes of Mastering, complete with slipcase. Here's the curious thing: in that edition of Mastering, the pie crust recipe is given with all the same measures of ingredients - except the flour! The flour is given as 2/3 of a cup. So all of the notes about "proportions for one cup of flour" make no sense. Furthermore, to my taste anyway, that means far too much fat for the amount of flour. I marked up that copy of the book, which my sister now has, because I found the two volumes in hardcover at a used bookstore and needed to have them. (But they're not a matched set; one's taller than the other. Go figure.)

It's my standard crust recipe. Rarely do I try something else, because why tinker with what works. These days, I almost always use lard in place of shortening, and I usually make the two cup variant - it's just the right amount for a double-crust or lattice-top pie. If I'm only doing a quiche or other single crust dish, I use the remaining dough to line a 7" tart shell. That goes into the freezer in a ziploc bag, to be resurrected when whim strikes. (If you do that, remember to mark whether or not there's sugar in the crust - without sugar can be used for anything, with sugar really only works for dessert.)

One of those little tart shells was in the freezer a couple of days ago, screaming "Eat me!". There were nectarines from the CSA begging to be used. So I made Julia's peach tart. Or, more accurately, I adapted Julia's peach tart.

Nectarine Tart (adapted from Julia Child)
1 7" tart shell, partially baked
3-4 nectarines
1/2 cup demerara sugar
2 T. butter

Scald the nectarines in boiling water for 10-15 seconds (this helps the peels slip right off). Peel and slice. Sprinkle about 3 T. of sugar in the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the fruit in the shell. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar over the top, and dot with pea-sized lumps of butter. Bake at 375° F for 30-40 minutes, until juices are syrupy and fruit is slightly browned.

The demerara sugar gives a slight brown sugar flavor to the tart. Next time, though, I might add a bit of flour or cornstarch to help the juices coagulate. The tart was delectable, but runny.

Note: The reason for that whole digression into the fat/flour ratio is because I googled for the tart recipe, so I wouldn't have to retype it, and found both flour measures given in different places. If your copy of Mastering has 2/3 of a cup of flour on page 633, use 1 cup instead.

14 August 2008

A Random Assortment of Thursday


I'm pleased that the marriage post got picked up as a July "Just Post" - go visit Jen and Mad and Su to find some other Just Posts. The Just Posts rock.

Tangentially related to the notion that anyone who so desires should be allowed to marry, there was a hair-raising front page article in the Times the other day about the intersection of health insurance and marriage. People are marrying for insurance, staying married for insurance, divorcing for insurance. If you're a same sex couple, extension of health insurance benefits to your partner may not be possible - it all depends on where you live and what kind of health insurance you have. But more to the point - why is health insurance tied to spouses and employers? Why is there no single-payer universal health insurance coverage in this country? Why isn't health insurance just provided to the individual? Why???


Jenn thinks I'm kick ass! Since Alltop does too, should I take up kick-boxing or something? Better watch out, I might kick something. Then again, I might just go inside and read a book.

I'm going to turn around and award the kick ass award to Deb at i obsess. Not only does she have her own blog, she writes for Momocrats, and just started the most cunning group blog, Did you buy that New?, a "marauding band of vintage avengers" out to show off awesome thrify-crafty-vintage stuff. And until last month, when I met her at BlogHer, I'd never heard of her. She's totally kick ass.


On the subject of books, I'm working my way through the little stack of duplicate books that emerged in the unpacking, and I have these three to give away today:

Richard Russo - The Whore's Child
Calvin Trillin - Alice, Let's Eat
Charles Dickens - Great Expectations

If you'd like one, leave a note in the comments. If more than one person asks for the same book, I'll make a random pick. **UPDATE - They're all spoken for!!**


Yesterday at school, the kids had "cola straw" with lunch. Turned out to have been "cole slaw".

13 August 2008

These boots were made for walking...

The Times had a little piece the other day about a website that determines how "walkable" a given address is - that is, do you really need a car? It's a google mash-up - plug in your address, and it plots nearby schools, restaurants, stores, and services, and determines the "walk score".

My house came up 86 out of 100 - or "very walkable".

Interestingly, the distance to public transportation, i.e. the commuter train, wasn't factored in. For me, walking distance to the train was one of our immutable needs when we were looking for a hosue.

Also, their algorithm plots things "as the crow flies" - which isn't always a possible way of getting from point A to point B. The site claims that my public library is .3 miles from my house - but that .3 would mean scrambling down a steep hill, climbing a chain link fence, wending my way through the woods, and fording a small stream. I stick to the road - that way, it's .5 mile.

But still - the site is fun.

What's your walk score?

12 August 2008

Aimless Archeology

It is impossible to unpack 30 boxes of books without rifling through many of them. A college-vintage picture of W. fell out of one. Fading, decaying newspaper clippings stuck out of others. Odd bookmarks abound. Tucked into my Don Quixote was the printout of an email from a neighbor/scholar telling me what drear parts I could skip (in fact, I think I never finished it).

Deciding what should go with what is sometimes easy, sometimes impossible. The fiction is in alphabetical order, as is the poetry. All scores and books on music are together. Cookbooks and food writing are, fittingly, in the dining room. The reference books occupy their own space, with Follett's Modern American Usage snuggled up next to Fowler's Modern English Usage.

The bugaboo was the general non-fiction - it started as "Lit Crit", and gradually other things crept in. John McPhee? Wendell Berry? Is autobiography non-fiction or history? What about biography? Why do we have two copies of Means of Ascent (Volume 2 of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson)?*

At one point I idly suggested using the Library of Congress classification system to determine what should live where - I was shot down. Just as well, as it would have added days (or weeks) to the project.

I think I know where to find everything.

*Would you like one? Tell me in the comments and I'll send the spare to someone. And I'll be giving other books away in the next few weeks.

10 August 2008

Dining Out with Small Fry

In our town, midway between our house and the kid's daycare, there's a restaurant. It's one of those tavern-type places with adequate food and a low-key atmosphere, and you can always get a hamburger if nothing else appeals. It's not a chain, it's nothing special, and kids eat free on Monday nights.

We avail ourselves of the Monday night special from time to time. I order a chopped salad with a side of mashed potatoes, W. gets a burger, Miss M. gets gloppy kid-friendly "mac & cheese", and everyone is happy. Almost every time we go there, we run into other people we know - like daycare compadres, or neighbors en masse with all kids accounted for.

One night, we went in and ran into another daycare kid, with her mom and baby sister. Miss M. and her friend were in pig heaven and we ended up switching seats so the kids were at one table and the grown-ups were at the adjacent table. The kids were under the table, across the room, and generally carrying on, but in a really happy way - there were no tears, there wasn't any whining, they were just having fun.

Well. Some couple across the room got completely bent out of shape about these two charming four year olds having the time of their little lives - at a restaurant, together, not at school! They seemed to think these kids should be wearing white gloves and sitting with their hands folded neatly in their laps. I think, if you go out to dinner at 6:00 on a Monday at a restaurant where kids eat free on Monday nights, you should expect there to be high-spirited kids, being kids. Next time, eat out on Tuesday.

This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Burger King Corp. I don't usually do the PBN blog blasts that require such an overtly commercial blurb, but I confess to having a soft spot for Burger King. If we must stop for fast food, I generally choose Burger King. And it's all because of a family friend. He'd grown up in the food business, and ended up owning a bunch of Burger Kings. Every time he'd stop by our house, he'd leave behind BK swag: glasses, toys, tchotchkes, and this fine backpack I unearthed recently. If you click to enlarge, you'll be able to read the fine print:
(So you other restaurants can get off my back)

He was a mensch of the highest order.

08 August 2008

On Marriage and Momocrats

I'm thoroughly pleased that my post about marriage has been cross-posted on the Momocrats site.

Because I just had to tell you about that, I thought I'd use the opportunity to clue you all in to the raffle that the Momocrats are having to raise money to go to the Democratic National Convention. It ends tonight! Buy a raffle ticket! Help get those smart opinionated women inside the convention!

MOMocrats Swag-O-Rama Raffle

Filch It Friday: What's in a Name

I filched this from Emma. The "use all the words in a sentence (or three)" was my fillip.

Answer the following using the first letter of your name:

4 Letter Word: Milk
Vehicle: Miata
Movie: Moonstruck
City: Madras
Boy Name: Matthew
Girl Name: Madeleine
Occupation: Minister
Something you wear: Mittens
Food: Macaroni
Something found in the bathroom: Moisturizer
Reason for being late: Migraine
Something you shout: Mazel Tov!

Madeleine drove off in the Miata to get milk and macaroni to assuage her migraine. After a judicious application of moisturizer, she donned mittens and headed for her wedding to Matthew, with whom she'd first bonded over Moonstruck. When the minister pronounced them husband and wife, they headed for their honeymoon in Madras, exiting the church to cries of Mazel Tov!

07 August 2008

CSA: Lists

There's been a viral thing going around, a meme-like compulsion to post a scan of your own handwriting. I've seen it in a number of places - at Flutter's and Chani's and Slouching Mom's and Kyla's - and probably others but I can't remember where. Most recently, I saw it at Thursday Drive - and she has astonishing handwriting.

Last summer, I compulsively blogged my CSA produce each and every week. This year, I've not been cataloging the haul in bits and bytes, but I do write down what we get each pick-up - it helps me to keep track of the stuff in the fridge and plan the next meal. And I like making lists, and crossing things off.

I have a lifetime supply of index cards - my mother worked in an office that used them as an interim data collection device en route to a computerized database. Once redundant, she'd bring the cards home - after all, the back side was perfectly usable. And they're so nice and sturdy for list-making...

So, those are the index cards currently residing on our fridge. Since I wrote them out, we've eaten the 8/6 corn and some of the 8/6 tomatoes - delicious all around. And I added red potatoes to the 8/6 list, because I'd completely forgotten to include them.

06 August 2008

Green Milk

I can't imagine actually nursing someone else's child, or handing mine over to another woman for suckling.

That said, there was a weekend that I was staying at my mother's house, when my child was about six weeks old, and I was pumping ALL THE TIME with a schlepped hospital grade pump. My sister was there too, but without her children, specifically her still nursing toddler.

One thing led to another, and my sister availed herself of the pump to relieve pressure. We were decidedly amused to discover that her milk was tinged with green - lord knows what she'd been eating, especially since it was the middle of the winter. Her pumped milk went into the fridge, and the next day I fed it to my child.

But, it was my sister. It would have been a waste to throw it out. And it was sort of funny, especially because it was green and all. And some day we'll get to tell my child that she drank her aunt's breastmilk and thoroughly disgust her.

Would you cross-nurse another's child?

05 August 2008

White Bread for Julie, and for you

Julie and I had a back and forth one day about making bread - she'd said that she was good at quick breads, but had never mastered yeast bread. I promised her a recipe, and rummaging around my mother's kitchen the other day, I found the cookbook that I was looking for: the Parsons Bread Book. It's a 1974 paperback written and designed by students from the Parsons School of Design, and it includes the first bread I ever mastered: a plain white bread, perfect for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I know more than I did then, and today I make the same basic bread with butter in lieu of shortening, and some whole wheat flour in place of some of the white (maybe 25%, using a light whole wheat like the King Arthur White Whole Wheat). This recipe also calls for a lot of yeast - I might cut the yeast back, but if you're a novice baker, try the recipe as is. Knead your bread on a floured countertop, and oil the bowl. And practice. The more often you make bread, the better it'll be.

Making bread is a powerful act. The seemingly inanimate yeast springs to life, the kneading is both therapeutic and contemplative, and the kitchen fills with good smells. Yes, you can go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, but making it yourself is oh so very satisfying.

04 August 2008


The great unpacking of books has begun (and if I ever get around to it, I'll post pictures of the completed bookshelves). Many volumes are coming to light with bookmarks and post-its and tape flags sticking out of their tops or sides, and of course, I can't help but indulge in some aimless archeology. If there's something sticking out, I open the book. One such book was Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford. I know the "Patriot Act" is old hat and all that, but this passage* from one of Mitford's letters had struck me when I read it last year:

Oh yes another nice thing about F. Lawn. Among the multiplicity of final resting places (all named things like Brotherly Love, Garden of Memories, etc) is one called Patriots’ Hall. I asked the man if one had to be a citizen to finally rest there, he said oh no, not a bit necessary. (I mean the Final Resting Place salesman said all this.) So I said, Well, I should think you’d at least ask for some sort of loyalty oath, after all it’s supposed to be for Patriots? He said absolutely not, as long as you’ve got the money to pay for the site, all would be OK. Don’t you think that’s really pretty crumby? Who should we protest to?

She wrote that in 1961. Somehow, I find an eerie synchronicity between the 1961 cynicism of Forest Lawn (and Decca has her tongue squarely in her cheek, in case it's not clear) and today's post-9/11 Bush administration flagrant disregard for rules, laws, and rights (the partisan hiring at the Justice department comes to mind).

* p. 271, a passage about Forest Lawn, the California cemetery.

02 August 2008

From the backseat

There are so many trees in the world; I don't know which is the beautifullest.

I want to change my name to Chihiro.

Granny's going to go to heaven soon, right?

As you might imagine, the last one took me aback. Not so much because she understands that Granny is sick, and that Granny is going to die, but because we've never, ever talked about heaven. We're atheists. We don't go to church. Yes, we celebrate Christmas, but it's for all the pagan winter solstice trappings, not that birth of Jesus business.

I tried to find out where this notion of heaven had come from.

We learned about heaven when we learned about the planets. The planets are in heaven. How is Granny going to get there? A rocket ship?

I confess that I told her that we'd have to build a rocket ship in the basement, like Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out. But really? I don't know what to say. She's only four.

01 August 2008

A Little Verklempt

I tend towards the stoic, I tend to hide my emotions. I'm private and I don't share. For years, the many years between our marriage and my pregnancy, people would ask "so, are you going to have children?" and I'd deflect, "oh, we have cats". I never answered the question - it was way too personal and I really didn't want to share that pain of childlessness with anyone. When I finally allowed as to how we were trying, what with all the infertility treatments, people - including close family - said "we thought you didn't want any kids."

Well, I'd never said that.

This is kind of a long way around to the fact that I am a little verklempt that a couple of posts of mine have been singled out this week by different people, and I want to say "thank you". It means a lot to me, it really does.

The Hotfessional dubbed On Marriage a "perfect post", and if you'll go read her post about my post, you'll understand why.

The Original Perfect Post Awards 07.08

Julie wants to repost the same piece on Momocrats.

And someone - I don't know who - picked up Playing Round the Garden Trees for the Stirrup Queens Roundup Extravaganza. The roundup, in a nutshell: Each blogger was assigned a single blog to read from July 2007 to July 2008 and they chose a single post that spoke to them--that became their favorite. To my anonymous reader - thanks, I liked that post too, and I'll probably dig up some more little shrubs tomorrow.

All of you, you that read, you that write, you that comment, you that support - thank you.