30 May 2008

Weeds, Weeds, Glorious Weeds

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

I really don’t know how this happened. One moment, I’m skimming through the local on-line newspaper, shortly thereafter, I’m thinking about eating weeds.

The local paper has a gardening column, which was about garlic mustard this week. Garlic mustard is a common weed – you may well have some lurking about in your yard. It makes a tallish, tapering plant with white flowers, and it comes up pretty easily – not like that scoundrel goutweed.

Well. It turns out that the Brooklyn Botanical Garden says that garlic mustard is edible, and offers up a recipe for pesto. I don’t really think I’m going to be making that anytime soon, but one thing led to another, and I discovered that the heinous goutweed is also edible. Who knew? In short order, I found a recipe for goutweed soup, and a whole section of Wildman Steve Brill’s book includes recipes using goutweed (though they’re a little suspect, like garlic “butter” with no butter in sight and “hollandaise” made with tofu and lecithin). I’m not even touching on the “medicinal” uses for goutweed, but do note that the name includes “gout”.

So tell me, those of you overrun with goutweed and/or garlic mustard, would you eat it?

29 May 2008

Butter and Sugar and Fruit, Oh My

One of the best flavors going is that butterscotchy melding of butter and brown sugar. I love butterscotch, I love caramel, I love toffee. And I love what happens when you add fruit to the mix. A tarte tatin is basically apples in butter/brown sugar, baked under a pastry crust. And upside-down cakes are fruit in butter/brown sugar, baked under a blanket of cake. In either case, you flip the thing over and end up with delectable gooey fruit on top of baked perfection.

It's rhubarb season; I made a rhubarb upside down cake last weekend. It's an easy cake, and adaptable. The recipe came from epicurious - I fiddled with it, changing the spices, using yogurt in place of buttermilk. [Small buttermilk rant: why does it only come in quarts? I only ever want a half cup at a time, and then all the rest goes bad. Hence, the use of yogurt herein.] And I had the time to make a fussy basketweave pattern with the cut rhubarb, but it would have been fine in a tight single messy layer instead.

Ice cream or whipped cream would be nice, but not necessary. And if there are leftovers, it makes a perfect breakfast.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

½ stick (¼ cup) butter
¾ cup brown sugar
3 cups rhubarb, cut in 1” pieces

½ teaspoon cinnamon and/or ground ginger
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 stick (½ cup) butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ t. vanilla
2 large eggs
½ cup yogurt
¼ cup milk

Topping: Melt butter in a well-seasoned 9 or 10” cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over bottom of skillet and heat, undisturbed, 3 minutes. Don’t worry if it’s not all melted. Remove skillet from heat. Arrange rhubarb (rounded sides down) in one layer over brown sugar. A basketweave pattern is pretty.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cake: Mix cinnamon/ginger, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Stir milk into yogurt to thin it out. Beat butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs and beat well. With mixer on low speed add flour mixture alternately in batches with yogurt/milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating until just combined (do not overbeat). Spoon batter over rhubarb in skillet, spreading as well as you can without disturbing the rhubarb, and bake until golden, about 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Cool cake in skillet on a rack 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet and invert a plate over skillet. Keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully remove skillet and serve warm or at room temperature.

28 May 2008

Plant Rustling

Further evidence that I have lost my mind:

It's not enough that I can't visit my mother without nabbing some of her plants. On Sunday, I was on my way up the street from her house to get a piece of a peony in a friend's yard - a wonderful peony that looks like fried eggs, with single white petals surrounding a yellow center - when I spotted an iris blooming across the street in the house sold out from under the elderly neighbor last fall. The house has been vacant since the tag sale, and there's been no sign of any activity save the clear-cutting of every tree on the property. Every single tree. They left one shrub down near the sidewalk.

The iris was blooming in the back of the house, but off to the side so it was visible from out front. I grabbed the garden cart, along with some plastic pots and newspapers and a shovel, and I hightailed it over to rescue that poor iris. And, because I couldn't help myself, I dug up a clump of hosta, a bunch of lily of the valley, a whole mess of stachys (lamb's ears), and one allium that had escaped from civilization into what little remained of a lawn. It turned out that there were a lot of irises - two different varieties, mostly purple, neither beautiful - they both came home with me.

I could have spent all afternoon there.

Part of me wants to write a letter to the minister's wife and tell her that I've rescued some of her plants, along with two charming terra cotta pots. But part of me thinks that it'll break her heart.

27 May 2008

Six Things and Some Other Stuff

Libby wants to know six things about me. There are rules, but I can't deal with rules. Tag yourself if you want to.

For some reason, I was thinking about english muffins the other day. I was thinking that Thomas' English Muffins are really the only ones to buy, to eat, to savor. One thing led to another, and I was making a list in my head of commercial food products that are without equal, things I love to eat, stuff that's just perfect. Mind you, we don't subsist on a lot of prepared food. For the most part, we buy milk and eggs and meat and fruit and vegetables and we cook. But there are some great things that aren't reproducible.

Herewith and without further ado, six wonderful things from the grocery store, for which no substitutes exist:

  1. Trader Joe's peanut butter filled pretzels - I had some of these in a little bowl on the counter and W. came along and grabbed one, tossed it in his mouth, and spit it out. I was hysterical. He didn't know there was peanut butter inside, and thought he'd got a pretzel with a worm or something inside, not expecting that soft center.
  2. Coca-cola - with caffeine and sugar, in a can - nectar of the gods, oft just called "nectar" in these parts. I don't like it in a glass, I don't like it in a bottle, I don't like it from a dispenser. Just straight from the can, ice-cold, thanks.
  3. Walker's shortbread - yeah, you can make your own shortbread, but this stuff is just perfect.
  4. Crown Pilots - Nabisco keeps trying to put these in the dustbin, and in fact maybe they've done it again because they don't appear on the Nabisco website and they're out of stock at the Vermont Country Store. As it happens, I bought a box a few weeks ago, and they were just as I remembered.
  5. Plochman's Mustard - This is the perfect mustard - so perfect that you can practically eat it out of the jar.
  6. Thomas' English Muffins
    - perfection.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

The inimitable Nutmeg gave me an E for Excellent a couple of weeks back. I'd like to pass it along to Queen Mediocretia, someone I found when I googled blogs looking for someone dealing with a hospice situation. I hit pay dirt with her. She's funny, and she just buried her mother.

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

Which Alltop badge should I choose?
Alltop, confirmation that I kick ass
Alltop. Seriously?! I got in?

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

And last but not least - does anyone need a paperback copy of Charlotte's Web? Somehow we ended up with two. Leave a comment and I'll make a random pick on Friday.

24 May 2008

Celery Seeds and Salt Water Pools

I grew up swimming in salt water. Not only did we go to the ocean every Sunday in the summertime, we belonged to a yacht club with a salt water swimming pool. To this day, I find fresh water weird to swim in. Your buoyancy is better in salt water, and salt water feels nicer in your eyes - after all, your eyes are filled with salt water.

Pretty much every day, all summer long, we went to the club. My mother camped out in one of the adirondack chairs, drinking iced tea from the tea lady. And we plopped in and out of the pool, seared our bellies on the hot slates, ate frozen Milky Ways from the snack bar, and hated every minute of "adult swim".

One day, I swam to the edge and tipped my head to slick my hair back, but I caught my chin on the concrete lip and ended up in the emergency room with six stitches. Two days later, my little sister, who was little enough to be swimming with a bubble, jumped into the pool backwards and split her chin open. Another trip to the ER, another six stitches. Hers were black; mine were blue. And a couple of days after that, my father did a cannonball into the not deep enough midsection of the pool, and sprained his ankle on the bottom. QED: bad things happen in threes.

Yesterday, I was poking through a box of family photos and found an envelope of old postcards of the town I grew up in, including two of the club. The photo of the clubhouse was taken before 1929 - because that building was replaced by a stodgy columned brick edifice. And I don't know when the photo of the pool was taken - but the pool looked nearly the same when I was a kid. In fact, I think some of the pictured chairs and benches were still around, thickly painted with white paint, though the wood framed diving boards had been replaced by a pair of springy modern diving boards (low and high) with metal frames.

It was nice growing up with that pool. We lived close enough that eventually we kids could walk down there alone. It became a home away from home, and a reason to never have to go to sleepaway camp.

And despite its echt WASP trappings, it was full of eccentrics. The local superintendent of schools hung out at the pool, drinking beer on ice in a skimpy black bathing suit. How could we take him seriously, knowing what he did on his weekends? A boy my brother's age wore the same Speedo that Mark Spitz had worn when he scored the seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. That boy wore that suit every single day, and at the end of the summer, his buttocks were tanned with stars and stripes where the sun had snuck through the white in the pattern. Somewhere in there, my parents got divorced - but we still kept using the club. To keep everything copacetic, and to facilitate my father paying the bills for his kids' activities, the club set up a special account for us: Z226. Everyone else had an account number that started with the first letter of their last name; we had Z226. It was kind of dramatic and liberating, though it could have been like a scarlet letter.

A couple of times each summer, we'd have dinner on the terrace, standing in silence while they shot off the cannon and took the flags down at sunset. The house salad was always garnished with slivered red cabbage and dressed with a vinaigrette laced with celery seed. Every time I toss a little celery seed in my salad dressing, I remember that salad from the club.

I kind of miss it. The club that is. I can make a fine salad anytime.

[Inspired by Parent Bloggers and their Little Swimmers blog blast.]

23 May 2008

A Poor Shoe

The thing about Memorial Day weekend is that the traffic sucks. It usually takes me an hour to get from my house to my mother's house; today it took two. The child and I discussed matters of national importance, like where is that airplane going? and what's 2 plus 2 plus 2? Then she fell asleep and I listened to k.d. lang as loudly as I thought prudent (pretty loud; she sleeps soundly). And then, sitting on an off-ramp, I spotted a shoe. I sat there for so long that I had time to take a picture of it.

It's not that it was a particularly nice shoe or anything, though it looked pretty good considering that it was full of leaves and cigarette butts and had probably been sitting there for awhile. But, why was it there? Where was the other shoe? How do you lose one shoe when you're driving? Whose shoe was it? What happened to her?

Remember cassette tapes? They seem to have gone the way of the dodo. But until not so long ago, I'd see unspooled tape fluttering alongside highways, tangled in gutters, snagged on guard rails. And every single time I'd see a bit of that omnipresent tape I wondered what was on it and how it came to be there. Was it just a dud cassette, a broken tape, flung out the car window in a littering rage? Or was it more tragic - the precipitous disposal of a reminder of a past love, "our song" out the window? Or perhaps it was nefarious - shades of Richard Nixon and Rose Mary Woods, but tossing the tape in lieu of erasing it.

I never see CDs along the side of the road. But today I saw a shoe.

When my sister was in elementary school, she wrote a poem, in large, careful pencil letters on lined paper. My mother framed it and it remains hanging in the downstairs back bathroom gallery of childhood (and if I were really energetic I could go down there and take a picture of the poem, but I won't because I'm in bed). The poem reads, in its entirety:

My poor shoe
My poor shoe
My poor shoe
Is stuck in dog doo.

Have a lovely weekend. May your car audio devices work flawlessly and your shoes remain in your possession.

22 May 2008

Wishes Desires Needs

I want my daughter...

  1. To be kind.
  2. And generous.
  3. To question authority,
  4. to respect others.
  5. To know that people and institutions are not infallible.
  6. To understand that people believe and don't believe in different things,
  7. to tolerate those who think otherly than she does.
  8. To be able to forgive.
  9. To be a force for positive change.
  10. To push the limits of her intellect,
  11. to be creative.
  12. To take care of her father and me when we grow old.
  13. And to be herself.

21 May 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Still Life With Apples

Niobe tipped me off to this ages ago; for some reason I needed to feel painterly this morning.

20 May 2008

Bird Musing

An eagle soared in the sky-blue sky.

I was standing on the platform, waiting in the morning sun for my southbound train. In the sky, a red-tailed hawk made lazy circles, looking for prey. After a moment, a smaller bird joined in, riding a current, scurrying to catch up, diving at the bigger bird. And then they were gone.

There were a dozen or so people waiting with me, but only one other noticed the birds. Everyone else had their heads in the paper, or their noses to their blackberries, missing the beautiful morning, missing the bird dance above us. I tapped the other watcher on the shoulder.

Did you see that? What was going on?

I don’t know. I thought perhaps it was a fledgling, learning to fly.

Hmm, maybe, because the bigger bird didn’t seem at all upset by the smaller bird.

We talked about the birds for a moment, and then the train came.

Later, I mentioned it to W. – he said Oh, it’s a sparrow-hawk. Anyway, it’s too early for fledglings.

Somehow, this landed me smack dab in the middle of the Audubon Society website, where the whole text of Audubon’s Birds of America is reproduced. Oh, the language!

…the little hunter rises in the air, describes a few circles, moves on directly, balances itself steadily by a tremulous motion of its wings, darts towards the earth, but, as if disappointed, cheeks its course, reascends and proceeds. Some unlucky Finch crosses the field beneath it. The Hawk has marked it, and, anxious to secure its prize, sweeps after it; the chase is soon ended, for the poor affrighted and panting bird becomes the prey of the ruthless pursuer, who, unconscious of wrong, carries it off to some elevated branch of a tall tree, plucks it neatly, tears the flesh asunder, and having eaten all that it can pick, allows the skeleton and wings to fall to the ground, where they may apprise the traveller that a murder has been committed.

That is how the sparrow-hawk hunts.

And the poor red-tailed hawk that dares to capture an unlucky chicken? Here is how the farmer enacts revenge:

(The hawk) falls upon and seizes an old fowl, the dying screams of which are heard by the farmer at the plough, who swears vengeance against the robber. He remembers that he has observed the Hawk's nest in the woods, and full of anger at the recollection of the depredations which the plunderer has already committed, and at the anticipation of its many visits during the winter, leaves his work and his horses, strides to his house, and with an axe and a rifle in his hands proceeds towards the tree, where the hopes of the Red-tailed Hawk are snugly nestled among the tall branches. The farmer arrives, eyes the gigantic tree, thinks for a moment of the labour which will be required for felling it, but resolves that he shall not be overreached by a Hawk. He throws aside his hat, rolls up his sleeves, and applies himself to the work. His brawny arms give such an impulse to the axe, that at every stroke large chips are seen to fall off on all sides. The poor mother-bird, well aware of the result, sails sorrowfully over and around. She would fain beg for mercy towards her young. She alights on the edge of the nest, and would urge her offspring to take flight. But the farmer has watched her motions. The axe is left sticking in the core of the tree, his rifle is raised to his shoulder in an instant, and the next moment the whizzing ball has pierced the heart of the Red-tailed Hawk, which falls unheeded to the earth. The farmer renews his work, and now changes sides. A whole hour has been spent in the application of ceaseless blows. He begins to look upwards, to judge which way the giant of the forest will fall, and having ascertained this, he redoubles his blows. The huge oak begins to tremble. Were it permitted to speak, it might ask why it should suffer for the deeds of another; but it is now seen slowly to incline, and soon after with an awful rustling produced by all its broad arms, its branches, twigs and leaves, passing like lightning through the air, the noble tree falls to the earth, and almost causes it to shake. The work of revenge is now accomplished: the farmer seizes the younglings, and carries them home, to be tormented by his children, until death terminates their brief career.

Such violence at nature’s intersection with man. Hawk eats man’s chicken, man takes hawk’s young for his own children to torture, and kills tree in process. Whoa. I need to think that today’s farmer wouldn’t destroy the hawk’s nest and young, but would protect his chickens instead. Then again, the hawk’s habitat likely will instead be destroyed for another swath of McMansions.

See what happens? I've wended my way from minding my business on the train platform, and suddenly the world has come to an end. It's a wonder I manage to get up in the morning.

19 May 2008


Once upon a time, my parents were driving through their town and spotted a rolled up oriental on the curb. They jumped out and tossed in the station wagon, took it home and unrolled it. It turned out to be COMPLETELY stained saturated sullied by dog excrement. They rolled it back up and put it on their curb. It disappeared within a hour. For all we know, that rug is still making the rounds.

I spent the weekend at my mother's house. I dug up some more plants in the garden, because I can't help myself. And I puttered around in her miraculous sewing room. It's full of fabric, for quilting and clothes and upholstery, sorted by color, weight, fiber. There's a veritable rainbow of thread, and any size, type or color button you might want. There are snaps and grommets and hooks and eyes. There's ribbon galore, and drawers full of yarn. There are bits of that and pieces of this. And it's organized to a fare-thee-well.

Out of scraps of madras and calico, I made doll clothes - two dresses for the one who only had the frou-frou ermine and velvet dress she came in and a skirt and halter top for one of the Groovy Girls. And I pieced a swath of bias-cut plaid onto a pair of pants that had become too short for Miss M. And I thought about the luxury of stuff.

Because, in someone else's hands, those buttons wouldn't have been rescued from a worn out shirt, those torn madras shorts wouldn't have been saved to later adorn a doll. I marvel at that resourcefulness, and I know how deeply it's ingrained in me. I too collect bits of this and pieces of that - both tangible and ephemeral - and I love to recycle the detritus I pick up. Slices off a Christmas card become gift tags or package decorations. A length of cord from a drawstring Apple shopping bag turns into a button closure on a hand-made bag. A torn sheet is remade into a pillowcase. Odd short pieces of yarn are incorporated into a hat for a premature baby.

But that I had more time.

On the other hand, sometimes trash is just trash, like the oriental rug, and sometimes it's head-scratchingly amusing. My sister found a copy of How to Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed in my mother's underwear drawer. Huh? Trash or treasure?

It's a fine line.

18 May 2008

Tutti-Frutti Brandied Fruits

When I was poking around on the Times website the other day, looking for the tutti-frutti ice cream recipe that turned out to be fruit ice cream, I found something else called tutti-frutti. And the funny thing? I recognized the "clipping". My mother has that clipping, from the original paper, not an electronic pdf clipping. And it's something she used to make. But we never called it tutti-frutti - we just called it brandied fruits.
The gist of it is that you start in June with a bottle of brandy, and a bunch of strawberries (and sugar). As the summer goes on, add fruit in season (and sugar). At summer's end, put it away until Christmas. It turns into an unsightly brown sludge, but it tastes awesome. You then put some in jars and give it away as presents, and eat the rest over vanilla ice cream.

I think I'll try some this year.

The Times recipe (#2 in the clipping) calls for 1 750 ml bottle of brandy, 10 pounds of fruit, 7 pounds of sugar, and a 3 gallon crock. Start with the brandy, and add fruit and sugar. For each pound of fruit, use 3/4 pound of sugar. Use soft fruits, like berries, grapes, peaches and plums. Don't use bananas or citrus or apples. Pears would probably be good; the printed recipe calls for pineapple. Keep the fruit submerged with a weighted plate. Eat it when it's ready.

And if I haven't sated your desire for tutti-frutti yet, someone's making scratch & sniff wallpaper called Tutti Frutti and of course, Little Richard sang it.

17 May 2008

Holly Lou Year

We got into the car the other day, and the music started up in the middle of a song. From the back seat I heard "That's Holly Lou Year, right, Mommy?"

16 May 2008

I'm off to a good start with the Kindergarten powers that be

Well. I certainly got exercised when I opened the mail yesterday.

We registered the kid for kindergarten last month. Yesterday we got a form in the mail, to verify all of the data on file for her. I was flabbergasted to see that - because her last name is the same as mine and not the same as my husband/her father's - they made the assumption that W. was her stepfather (and not even her legal guardian, to boot). The nerve.

So I shot off the following letter (redacted, as needed). Making friends, don't you think? I hope she appreciates the trail that I'm blazing for her.

15 May 2008

Dr. Xxx Xxxx
XXX Elementary School
## XXX Street
XXX, NY #####

Dear Dr. Xxxx,

Enclosed please find the student verification form for Miss M., who will be entering kindergarten in the fall.

I was startled to find that the form was pre-filled with “stepfather” next to Miss M.'s father’s name. W. is my husband and her biological father (and also her legal guardian). Yes, we are married. Yes, I kept my birth name. Yes, our daughter has my last name as her last name.

When we filled out the registration forms, we did not indicate “stepfather” anywhere – W. was listed as Miss M.'s father, period. Someone in your office made an incorrect assumption, and I find it somewhat disconcerting and inconsiderate.

I hope that you won’t make such assumptions in the future, whether in connection with our family, or any other families with non-traditional naming rubrics.



15 May 2008

Hardwood in Burma

Today's Times had a front page story about the cyclone in Myanmar - a story that ran without a by-line because the reporter was in the country undercover. It included the following passage:

It will not take much to get villagers back on their feet in these areas because they had so little to begin with. Being wealthy in the delta means having some furniture and a house made of concrete or hardwood instead of bamboo.

Farmers till their fields with buffaloes pulling a plow. Now they lack both buffaloes and rice seed. During this reporter’s time in the delta, several times as many buffaloes could be seen floating dead on the water as were grazing on land. The villages often have dedicated ponds and large ceramic jars to store drinking water. Many of those jars have broken and the pond water has been blackened from the hay and foliage rotting in it.

I don't know about you, but I think the statement "it won't take much to get villagers back on their feet" smacks of first world arrogance. A house is a house, whether it's made of reeds or bricks. A buffalo is a buffalo, a jar is a jar. Where's that buffalo going to come from? Where's the water bottle going to come from? This is a country that is completely controlled by a military dictatorship, and is hiding the breadth of this natural disaster from the rest of the world. It's going to take a hell of a lot to get those villagers back on their feet.

14 May 2008

More Frozen Wonderfulness

At least once a summer when I was growing up, we dug out the old-fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker. My mother would assemble the base, and the kids would take turns crushing ice and sprinkling rock salt and cranking cranking cranking. When it was done, some lucky soul got to lick the dasher, and then the whole caboodle got wrapped up in a wool army blanket to wait until dinner was over.

Sometimes we'd make peach ice cream, but more often than not, we made tutti-frutti. It wasn't actually called tutti-frutti in the original recipe - the Times called it "fruit ice cream" - but we always called it tutti-frutti. It's a mutt, a mix of lemon, orange, pineapple and banana. It tastes a little like bubblegum, but in a good way, and if you offer a taste to someone and ask them to identify the ingredients, they often can't - it's one of those things where the mix takes on a life of its own.

This recipe makes a huge amount - if you've got a one or two quart ice cream maker, you probably want to make a third or a half.

Tutti-Frutti Ice Cream

3 cups milk
3 cups sugar
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 13 ½ ounce can of evaporated milk
1 t. grated lemon peel
¾ cup lemon juice
2 t. grated orange peel
1 ½ cups orange juice
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 ½ cups undrained canned crushed pineapple
Ice cream maker (and ice and rock salt if it’s an old-fashioned one)
  1. Heat the milk and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the cream and evaporated milk, and chill the mixture for at least a few hours.
  2. Mix all the fruit ingredients together, and chill.
  3. Pour the milk mixture into a prepared ice-cream maker. The container shouldn't be more than three-quarters full to allow for expansion.
  4. Set the machine going (or start cranking) and freeze for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is partly frozen. Add the fruit mixture and continue to freeze until the machine slows or stops.
  5. Eat.
Makes one gallon. You’ll want to follow your own ice cream maker’s instructions as to the preparation and freezing and ice and rock salt and yada yada yada. Recipe from the New York Times, 1972.

13 May 2008

Frozen Wonderfulness

First off, you have to know that we have an ice-cream maker. We had a Donvier years ago, and used to make a terrific apricot sorbet by throwing a chilled canned apricots into the food processor and then into the Donvier. But it only made a pint of ice cream, and it was hand-cranked, and so two summers ago I bought myself a Cuisinart ice cream maker. And even though I hardly ever use it, I always keep the bowl in the freezer because you just never know when inspiration will strike. I remember making something one day last summer, and Miss M. tasted it and looked up at me, full of wonder, you made this for me, Mama?

The other night, my in-laws came over for dinner on the spur of the moment. W. ran out and got ground beef and buns, and we made a salad, but there was nothing for dessert – until a light bulb went off in my head.

Wait, I have to backtrack again. After one too many times in which a container of milk1 went bad before it expired, or worse, was bad when it came home from the supermarket, we got a milkman. It’s heaven, and I don’t even drink milk. They deliver three half gallons of 2% milk in glass bottles2 every Monday morning, along with occasional butter or eggs or yogurt. It’s there before we get downstairs in the morning, before the newspaper even shows up.

Even in heaven, nothing’s perfect, and a couple of weeks ago, they delivered the wrong kind of yogurt. I like it plain, to doctor up as I wish with unsweetened fruit, or to use as an ingredient in other stuff. But what we got that day was a quart of low-fat vanilla yogurt. It sat around while I wondered what to do with it – until Saturday night.

I remembered a recipe I’d seen at 101 Cookbooks, a recipe for vanilla frozen yogurt. Heidi uses plain yogurt and sugar and vanilla (and nothing else), but I figured I could make do with the already flavored and sweetened vanilla yogurt. So I strained it for about 20 minutes to thicken it up a bit, tossed in a random container of mascarpone that was in the fridge about to go bad, added a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a bit more vanilla, and whirled it up in the ice cream maker while we were eating the hamburgers. It made just enough pure, clean, easy deliciousness for four grown-ups and one four year old. Yum.

1. Horizon organic milk, to add insult to injury, given the price of organic dairy products.

2. Not organic, but hormone-free and pretty local.

12 May 2008

Rib Bone Temple

Do you want to take a picture of that for your blog? That was what my husband said to me after he'd finished pulling the meat off the ribs before dinner last night.

The ribs had cooked until the meat had pretty much fallen off the bone, which is why he went ahead and extracted the bones; why he laid them out like some peculiar musical instrument is beyond me. Pretty though, no? I think it looks a little like a temple, especially on that Asian-y plate.

I've not been cooking much at all recently. Not enough time, not enough motivation. But yesterday, when some ribs surfaced in the freezer, I made up a batch of barbecue sauce using a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. [It's really from the Barefoot Contessa, but Smitten's where I got it from.] It is an unassuming looking recipe - a jar of this, a jar of that, everything but the onion and garlic comes in a jar. But it is wonderful - tangy, sweet and a little spicy. Try it! The recipe makes more than you need - we've got three one-cup containers of it in the freezer, and I've got a jar to pass along to an office colleague who will appreciate it (and if I'm lucky, his girlfriend will reciprocate with tamales).

The good thing about him having pulled all the meat off the bones? We could eat the ribs with a knife and fork. The bad thing? We didn't get to lick our fingers.

11 May 2008

Dreams for Our Children

I'm not big on Mother's Day. Or Father's Day. Or Easter, for that matter. I love Christmas, and I find Halloween and Valentine's Day charming. And there's a certain majesty about Memorial Day, especially if there's a parade.

But Mother's Day? It feels both fraught, and insincere. It took too long for us to become parents, and so there were all those years when I wasn't someone's mother. And it seems so much like a Hallmark holiday - a construct foisted on us by card companies and florists and local garden centers.

But I know, I do know, that Mother's Day wasn't actually invented by Hallmark. In fact, Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870 as a pacifist reaction to the Civil War. So really, Mother's Day ought to be about something more than breakfast in bed and last minute gifts - though I did quite like the marigold seedlings in a handpainted pot that came home from daycare.

Leave it to the MOMocrats - they're writing about their dreams, dreams for a better tomorrow, and encouraging others as well.

My own mother is dying of lung cancer. She's not going to get to watch my child grow up. My step-sister just died of ovarian cancer. She doesn't get to grow old or know grandchildren. WhyMommy is cancer-free, but still beat from treatment. I hope, I dream, that in my lifetime, we find better ways to eradicate cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation are barbaric therapies - blanket poisoning of the body in hopes of killing the tumor cells.

My sister will participate in her third Relay for Life next month - raising money for the American Cancer Society. I will support her effort; won't you join me and help her to meet (or beat) her $1500 goal? She's halfway there - click here or on the button to get to her Relay page.

And maybe, just maybe, it'll be better in the future. I hope.

10 May 2008


Wow. Just wow.

I got an email from a friend the other day, with this as the subject:

It won't stop. It's hypnotic. I can't leave this page.
I tell you, it's performance art. Go see here. And let me know what you think!

09 May 2008

Beautiful Rocky Hills

Last weekend, on a beautiful sunny day, we went to visit a nearby private garden that was open as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program. It was glorious. There were lilacs just beginning to bloom and hellebores still hanging on. There were ponds connected by a little stream. There were paths through the shrubbery, and wooden benches deployed in apposite locations. And there were forget-me-nots everywhere, blindingly blue.

Yesterday, I was on the train home when I spotted a woman sitting a few rows away, facing me. I thought she looked familiar, but it wasn't until we both stood up to get off at the same stop that I was sure. It was the nonagenarian owner of the property that we'd visited, and she was wearing the same huge and distinctive earrings that she'd worn on Sunday. I asked "Are you Mrs. S___?" and when she said she was, I introduced myself and told her that I'd seen her wonderful garden earlier in the week. We chatted, and as we were crossing the overpass, I asked if she had a ride home. As it turned out, she didn't and I offered her a ride back to her house. I sort of don't know what came over me - usually I don't talk to strangers - but somehow it just seemed like the right thing to do.

The thing is, she's made plans so that her garden will become a public garden, owned by the county, with a conservation easement so that it can't be developed. And that's a selfless act, giving that beautiful garden to the public. I figured the least I could do was drive her home.

08 May 2008


Lest you think the child is bright, let me assure you that she has her blonde moments.

An egg is a kind of vegetable, right, Daddy?

Mommy, I had a dream while I was napping!!

What did you dream?

That my shoe was on my bed!

Scene: The school playground. Miss M. is on the slide, holding a bucket in her right hand. Buckets are not allowed on the slide - they are considered to be too dangerous.

Her teacher says: Hey, what's in your hand?

Miss M. transfers the bucket from her right hand to her left, and holds up her right hand. Nothing.

07 May 2008

Bleeding Heart

Yes, I am a bleeding heart liberal. But this is the dicentra spectabilis in my backyard.

06 May 2008

The Impeccable Logic of the Pre-Schooler

I sent the child upstairs this morning to get dressed, with the instruction "Wear pants. You're going on a field trip."

She came back down in a skirt with tights (and an undershirt OVER a long-sleeved shirt, but that's another tale).

I said "I told you to wear pants". "But" said she, "tights are like pants with socks attached."


The funny thing is, I remember having a similar argument with my brother, back when we were both in elementary school. We were waiting at the bus stop - me in tights, him in pants. And my argument was that tights were warmer than pants because they were continuous, that there was no gap where the cold air could sneak up to your shins. Of course I was wrong, but that's neither here nor there.

I'm glad to see that my child is honing her debating skills.

03 May 2008

The Beauty of Graphs

There is something about using an idiosyncratic data set to generate an illustration that appeals to my sense of whimsy. I found this link at the Hotfessional - I think it makes a remarkably pretty picture of my blog, turning it into a constellation.

02 May 2008

Filch It Friday: Shuffling the Tea Leaves

Do you know how much I love my iPod? Not only does it play music, it's a fortune teller too! Here are the tea leaves of my life, as seen through the randomness of my iPod, and as inspired by Nutmeg's Filch It Friday post last week.

The rules are simple: Hit shuffle on your iPod, then answer each question by hitting next. I cheated a little - I did use shuffle (I love shuffle!), but I assigned some of answers to the questions they best fit. Poetic license?

Q: What does next year have in store for you?
A: Y Ahora Que? (Manu Chao)

Q: What does your love life look like next year?
A: The Honeymooners (Bruce Springsteen)

Q: What do you say when life gets hard?
A: Baby Plays Around (Elvis Costello & Anne Sofie Van Otter)

Q: Song that reminds you of good times?
A: Bye Bye Love (Simon & Garfunkel)

Q: What do you think when you get up in the morning?
A: It's a Wonderful Life (The Real Tuesday Weld)

Q: What song will you dance to at your wedding (let’s change that to 25th anniversary)?
A: How Long Do I Have To Wait For You? (Sharon Jones)

Q: Song that reminds you of your first kiss?
A: Moonlight (Bob Dylan)

Q: Your favorite saying?
A: What Comes Next (Yo La Tengo)

Q: Favorite place?
A: My Eyes (Laurie Anderson)

Q: Most Missed Memory?
A: Story of You (Jimmie Dale Gilmore)

Q: What song describes your best friend?
A: She Makes Me Feel So Good (Lyle Lovett)

Q: What song describes your ex?
A: You Tore Me Down (Yo La Tengo)

Q: Where would you go on a first date?
A: Down to the River and Pray (Alison Krauss)

Q: Drug of choice?
A: God Only Knows (Luciana Souza)

Q: What song describes yourself?
A: She's So Cold (Rolling Stones)

Q: What is the thing you like doing most?
A: We Shall Overcome (SNCC Freedom Singers)

Q: The song that best describes the President?
A: Heaven Help Us All (Ray Charles & Gladys Knight)

Q: Where will you be in 10 years?
A: Wide Open Spaces (Dixie Chicks)

Q: Your love life right now?
A: Three is a Magic Number (Bob Dorough)

Q: What is your state of mind like at the moment?
A: Hey Porter (Marty Stuart)

Q: How will you die?
A: Fallen (k.d. lang)

01 May 2008

Report Disturbing Thoughts or Behavior

After some trial and error, we've found some good aides to help our mother. The first one was lovely, but my mother just wasn't ready to accept that kind of help then, saying "she just sits around watching me". The next one was sent through an agency, and she was an inept woman drenched in bad old lady perfume; my mother dubbed her the "smelly Persian". But now we've a pair of kind, strong, capable women - they know how the equipment works, they have initiative, and Trudy roasted a mean chicken last week. The only thing is, they're both quite religious. One threatened (jokingly) to whisk my sister's kids off to church when she heard they were unbaptized.

For Christmas, I'd made my mother a cross stitch. Unfortunately, she's afraid that the ladies will be offended by my handiwork, so it's spending most of the time in a drawer. I pulled it out the other day, because I needed to have a picture of it. The aides haven't quit, so I guess someone remembered to put it away again.

I've once alluded to the "family wig" - Miss M. is wearing it in this picture (along with a camisole on top of a long-sleeved shirt). Years and years ago, a single woman moved out of a house down the street, leaving behind a rich pile of garbage which the neighborhood children ransacked. There were negligees, there was a pair of brown and white patent leather platform shoes. And there was a wig. A horrible brown wig, half shag, half mullet. It has been kicking around ever since. I pulled it out the other day and plopped it on my mother's bald head, atop her headcover. Later the wig ended up on Miss M. It's a dreadful thing, that wig, but it's awfully nice to have around. You never know when it's going to come in handy.

I think my favorite moment last weekend was when the doorbell rang while I was in the laundry room collecting the bedpan. I answered the door, and found a young man selling candy. I brandished the bedpan at him and said "Not now!". He left in a hurry.

My sense of humor is peculiar, but I do believe that I've gotten to the root of it. I was looking for something in my mother's medicine cabinet, and, between a crude clay pot with failed glaze (made by me, way back when) and a bottle of Tylenol 3, I found an empty pill bottle with only one label left on it:

Report disturbing thoughts or

Really. Clearly my tendency to collect weird bits of whimsy comes from the woman who keeps that empty pill bottle in her bathroom.