30 April 2009

Ramps And Asparagus

It being spring now in full fettle, the Greenmarket is starting to hop and it's the fleeting season of ramps. Ramps, sometimes called wild leeks, are a member of the onion family, skinny white at the bottom (like scallions) and with two or three broad green leaves above (sort of like a leek). They are potent and delicious, and are only available for a couple of weeks.

The asparagus is starting to come in too, so yesterday I grabbed a bunch of each and coerced W. into making pasta with ramps and asparagus for dinner.

He blanched the asparagus in the water that the pasta was going to go in, chopped the ramps and sauteed them in olive oil, added the chopped asparagus, tossed in some fresh lemon juice, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and served it with shaved parmesan.

Heaven in a bowl.

29 April 2009

Read, Listen, Care

My dog is not dead.

But I suppose I have only myself to blame for the email I got yesterday from someone who wanted to buy ad space on my blog:

Hey, my name is Lisa with XXXXXX. I recently came across your blog. I really appreciated your post after your dog died. We had to put my cat down yesterday, and it was sad to see him go after 18 years. Thanks for your posts! On another note…I thought you might be willing to help us. We’re trying to improve our search rankings with...

Clearly, Lisa didn’t get past my admittedly misleading post title Mourning Dogs – she leapt to the conclusion that I was mourning a dog, when in fact I was mourning my mother. I've never even owned a dog!

Once upon a time, I worked at a big theater. The subscription manager there – who had to deal with the public all the time – had a frequently iterated saying: "They don’t read, they don’t listen and they don’t care."

At least weekly, I think of her, and that line of hers. Because it's true. They don't read, they don't listen and they don't care.

28 April 2009

Tutti Frutti, yet again

Really, there's nothing like an old cookbook. I was kind of on a roll, what with the eggs in hiding and the tangerines, and then Harriet M. Welsch turned me onto an 1887 collaborative cookbook full of fabulous recipes and lovely hints, like "A cup of strong coffee will remove the odor of onions from the breath" (though it fails to mention what to do about the subsequent coffee breath).

There's a recipe for French Toast on page 14, that calls for gravy and no eggs. The missing eggs turn up on page 75, in a concoction called Egg Lemonade - lemon, water, sugar and an egg, all shook up in a mason jar - not something that I really want to drink (and neither do I want to drink "Farmer's Lemonade" which isn't in the Kirmess cookbook but which the guy behind the counter at City Bakery told me was lemonade topped off with half and half, but I digress).

Tutti Frutti A stone jar with cover Awaits the libation Of arrac poured over One bottle its ration Of fruit in its season Pineapple raspberry The peach with its bloom on As well as the cherry And strawberries rosy One pound you will take And in kitchen so cosy This rich compound make But of sugar three quarters In weight will be best And one of your daughters Will stir this with zest For a day or two after Each fruit is immersed With cheer and with laughter This may be rehearsed Eat this fruit by itself Better still with ice cream In a dish of old delf 'T is a poem a dreamWhat really made my day was the recipe for Brandied Fruits in the form of a poem. A poem!

If you didn't make brandied fruits last summer, plan to do it this year. It's really that good.

Use a big jar - three quarts or a gallon. Start with a bottle of brandy. Add summer fruit as it comes into season. For every 10 ounces of fruit you add to the jar, add seven ounces of sugar. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Use up to 10 pounds of fruit all together. Include raspberries, strawberries, peaches, plums, grapes. I found that blueberries were weird - their skins got tough. You could use some pineapple if you don't care about using only local fruit. Come summer's end, put it aside until December. Then, bottle it up and give most of it away as Christmas presents. Save some for yourself. Eat over vanilla ice-cream.


Antique cookbooks are good for something.

27 April 2009

Repeat Re-Piet

One of the things about this blogging business is that I've found a whole mess of people - spread hither and yon across the country, the globe even - who are kindred spirits, members of my tribe.  

One of them is Niobe - a complicated, provocative and erudite woman - who I've only met once but who I feel like I know.

The other day, Niobe posted a link to a website that digests a bit of personal information about you and generates you in the form of a mock Mondrian.  Being susceptible, and having a long-standing affection for Mondrian anyway, born of an early exposure to Broadway Boogie-Woogie, I clicked.  Here I am, rendered in the style of Mondrian. I suppose if the site had allowed the choice of more than one hair color, one of which could have been blue, it would have come out differently, but since the blue is artifice, this will have to do.

Now, go click over to Niobe's post to look at her Mondrian, and then come back.

I ask you, are we not of the same tribe?

26 April 2009

Graces #8 to 12 - Spring

The smell of the flowers on the pachysandra - before yesterday, I never knew that pachysandra in bloom had such a lovely, sweet fragrance.

Free compost from the town dump - I love the dump, I love that they take leaves and other garden waste, and turn it into rich, beautiful compost for the taking. We made three trips, and top-dressed all of the perennial beds.

The joy of the child as she ran through the sprinkler, dug in the dirt, mixed up mud, "saved" worms, and helped me to plant seeds.

How nicely my rhubarb is thriving - my neighbor gave me a piece in full leaf at the end of last summer, while they were packing up to move, and I was worried that it wouldn't take.

The gorgeous salmon pink of the flowering quince in full bloom - I don't care that Dirr finds it "over-rated", in its moment of glory it is a beautiful thing (and the deer and the bunnies don't eat it).

25 April 2009

Mourning Dogs

The morning after Moky died, I made a single phone call to a neighbor - a woman about my age whose family has been close to ours for a long long time. In what seemed like an instant, there were four women in the kitchen with my sister and me, drinking coffee, laughing, eating bagels, sniffling - someone called it "sitting shiksa".

The day after the memorial party, my brother and my sister and four of the grandchildren and I went for a walk down to the water, where the little people turned over rocks looking for crabs.

We're not Jewish. We don't sit shiva. But somehow, our walk to the bay was like what Jews do at the end of the shiva, a walk around the block to signify a return to daily living.

On the way back, we saw a lost dog sign plastered to a telephone pole. Moky would have liked the sign, and I believe she'd have assumed that the dog ran away because his owner is grammatically and punctuationally challenged:

Missing dog
Dogs name is jack
Problem is he is afraid of
people, so if you see him
call me at...

Or maybe his owner's a poet.

24 April 2009

Doritos and Wine and Sunshine

All in all, that party we had for our mother went off well.

It was a beautiful day - nice enough to put tables and chairs out on the porch, nice enough that the various children could run around on the lawn.

There were any number of touching moments - like when Jack got out of his car with a dozen baguettes, and armful of flowers, and two bags of Doritos.  Jack's an old friend of my brother's, an old friend of everyone's, and he knew her back when she had a serious Dorito addiction - like a bag a night. She'd make one of us get in the car with her, and she'd drive to the deli, where she'd wait at the curb while we'd run in with $2.39 for her chip fix.

Lewis brought a shovel, because I told him to, and dug up bits of her plants to take to his new garden.  

People came that we didn't expect, some that we didn't invite. There were people I went to high school with, ladies from the League of Women Voters, neighbors near and far. There were women from Moky's class in college, and relatives of all of Moky's children-in-law (including some Canadians). There were dogs and babies and old people with canes.

And we didn't run out of wine.

If she taught us anything, she taught us how to throw a good party.

22 April 2009

Catherine Wants...

That child of mine? Oy.

She's in an afterschool program, and one of the teachers there is the aide in her kindergarten classroom. This is a good thing, because when I pick her up at afterschool, I get to chat with the aide and find out how things are going - I talk with the aide a lot more than I talk with the actual teacher.

Well, the other day, I went in to get her and the aide told me that they had had a substitute teacher in the kindergarten classroom that day. And at some point, the aide was out of the room for a bit, and when she came back in, the sub said "Catherine has a question". The aide said to the sub, "We don't have a Catherine". The sub gestures over to - yes - my child, who has introduced herself to the kindergarten substitute teacher as CATHERINE, which, granted, is her middle name, but is not something anyone ever calls her except me sometimes when I'm trying to make a point by using her first and middle names for emphasis.

Yeah.  I thought they learned that "confuse the sub" thing when they were a bit older.

When I expressed to my sister my concern about having a teenager one day, she indicated that she thought perhaps I already had a teenager, and that maybe therefore the actual teenage years will be a piece of cake.

I hope so.

21 April 2009


One of the cookbooks I picked up when I was looking for a recipe for pickled eggs was the 1941 Escoffier Cook Book - the American edition of Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire.

It is a daunting tome: all of the recipes are given in synopsis and assume that the cook has an extensive and practical ability to get by in the kitchen. After failing to locate anything as pedestrian as a pickled egg, the book fell open to a recipe for tangerines:

2687 – Almina Tangerines
Cut a slice of the peel from the stem-end of the tangerines by means of a round, even cutter, one inch in diameter. Then empty them, and fill the peels with a preparation of Bavarian cream with violets, combined with crumbled lady-fingers, sprinkled with Maraschino. Close the tangerines with the slice cut off at the start; let them set in a cool place, and, at the last moment, lay them on a dish covered with a folded napkin.

Besides the absolute poetry in the spare instructions of the recipe, I do so love that this recipe for tangerines uses no part of the tangerine but the peel. What does one do with the flesh?

20 April 2009


For months, I've been idly considering dying my hair blue. Or a bit of it. But just the right shade. And I didn't really think I'd have the gumption.

But the other day, while we were out food shopping for Moky's party, I detoured into the CVS next to the Trader Joe's and bought a box of Blue Envy. Later in the afternoon, my sister-in-law, who is no stranger to hair dye, did the dirty work.

Being your straight-laced suburban mother with a full-time office job, who never wears make-up and doesn't hide the grey, I've been getting a lot of double-takes.

I think my mother would have been equal parts horrified and titillated. And really, I did it for her.

But I'm enormously pleased with it.

[It's just a little hank that got dyed, and when I tuck my hair behind my ear, you can hardly tell see the blue.]

18 April 2009


Later today, we're having a memorial party for my mother. We've laid in rather a lot of wine, some spirits, much cheese and many crackers. The house is already full of people, and countless more will arrive in dribs and drabs all afternoon. We're expecting that many of them will want to walk through the house, the house that was my mother's life work in a way, a house she restored and decorated and filled with all manner of antiques and whimsy and spare parts. So we've fluffed and tidied, and my sister is outside cutting forsythia, which is in full bloom right this very minute.

It rather breaks my heart that Moky retired at 65, only to be diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer at 69, and to die of that cancer at 73. She had so much more to do - more things to knit and sew, more pictures to frame, more shrubbery to prune, more books to read, more places to visit. Instead, slowly, inexorably, her light went out.

Relay For LifeIn a couple of months, my sister will again walk in the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life. It's her way of honoring our mother, and her father-in-law, both of whom recently died of cancer.

If you have a reason to do so - and who doesn't - won't you support Relay For Life? Clicking on the luminaria will take you to my sister's page. I'll thank you, and she will, and maybe your donation will help kick cancer's ass.

17 April 2009

Eggs In Hiding

Growing up, we always had a spare fridge in the cellar. It was kept stocked with beer and soda, no-name soda and Schaefer long necks – the refillable kind. My parents would order two cases of beer from the beer store, they’d be delivered to the back stoop and the empties would be taken away.

Every year at Easter, we’d dye six dozen hard-boiled eggs. After the requisite "hide them in the garden and hope you find them all", some of the eggs would get turned into egg salad, or tucked into school lunches, but most of them got pickled, and stashed in the downstairs fridge alongside the beer and soda.

The eggs were packed into quart sized mason jars, and took on an off-putting shade of grey green – from what spice, I’ve no idea. Despite the fact that they were a household staple, I don’t think I ever ate one.

Feeling nostalgic the other day, I thumbed through a bunch of cookbooks looking for some pickled eggs. I only found them in one cookbook, The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook. As befits an encyclopedia, it is comprehensive – running to nearly a thousand pages, and including at least 20 recipes for hard-cooked eggs.

The pickled eggs recipe is pretty straightforward (boil 2 T. sugar, 1 t. salt and 1 t. mixed spices in 2 cups of cider vinegar – pour it over a dozen hard-boiled eggs in a mason jar – let stand for a couple of days before using), but another recipe demanded to be shared.


1 T. butter
1 can condensed tomato soup
½ pound American cheese, diced
6 hard-cooked eggs
1 cup cereal flakes, crushed

Heat butter and soup in top of double boiler. Add cheese and cook until melted, stirring constantly. Arrange halves of hard-cooked eggs (cut lengthwise) in buttered baking dish. Pour cheese mixture over eggs. Sprinkle with cereal flakes. Brown under broiler. Serves 6.

If you are brave enough to make this, and post a picture on your blog, I will send you a kitchen implement. Start peeling those eggs! And no, I can’t tell you what kind of cereal to use, but I think you should serve it on toast points.

This post instigated in part by the Parent Bloggers Network on behalf of the incredible egg, and I approved this message.

15 April 2009

Wardrobe Wednesday: Easter Sunday

Pink shirt over hot pink dress, blue patterned vest, blue patterned tights, yellow rainboots, yellow egg!

14 April 2009

Bouncing Baby Coconut

When last we saw the coconut, it had arrived at my husband's office, via the United States Postal Service, bedecked in a fetching red hat, just in time for the Christmas holiday.

I asked for suggestions as to the coconut's next incarnation, and to my great delight, the lovely and talented Very Mary* volunteered: "Do you trust me enough to send the coconut here and allow me to have a crack at it? I'd be honored to decorate it and then send it on for you..." I tell you, I swooned when she left that comment.

We emailed back and forth, I mailed the coconut off to her, and she discovered the inner infant in the well-traveled nut.

Last week, Very Mary gently wrapped the new baby and mailed it off to my new nephew, confounding his parents and thrilling his aunts.

A big welcome to the little baby, and a huge round of applause for Very Mary!

* She has a blog and not one, but two etsy shops!

13 April 2009

Kant and Corollary

There's a subway poster up these days, quoting Kant: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing entirely straight can be built." The Times riffed on that the other day, declaring that it was descriptive of present-day dysfunctional Albany.

But I wonder, is the corollary true?

Out of the straight timber of humanity, nothing crooked can be built.
So Utopian, no?

12 April 2009

Grace #7 - Breakfast in Bed

We scarpered off this weekend, to my father's house, where there is nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Saturday morning, I was delivered breakfast in bed, by the five year old, who had made me "fire-toasted bread" - with supervision, she'd toasted a piece of rye bread in the fireplace. She was delighted with herself, and I eventually went downstairs to tell her father that this was the parenting moment I'd been waiting for.

10 April 2009

Sight Words

Years ago, I got a free sample of some Post-It "Sight Words". I tucked the package away, figuring that someday we'd be working on teaching Miss M. to read. The time has come.

We've been having fun with them - they're the super sticky Post-Its, so they don't fall off the wall. They're up near our kitchen table, and we move them around trying to make sentences. Alas, there are very few sentences that work with just the existing words, so I resorted to an index card with a modified noun.

Using the following ten words with no added nouns, how many sentences can you make?

A - Am - I - Is - Like - Me - On - The - To - We

09 April 2009

The Household Guide To Dying

Call me perverse, or maybe masochistic, but back in mid-March I signed up for a Mother Talk book tour, for a book called The Household Guide to Dying. Given that my mother was in the process of dying, and did so before I finished the book, it was a ... (read more)

08 April 2009

Wardrobe Wednesday: Oh, The Outfits

Okay, after the last time I posted a picture of Miss M. in one of her fanciful get-ups, I vowed to take her picture every day for a week, partially because I was encouraged to do so by Jessica, who also has a child with a penchant for Outfits with a Capital O.

Needless to say, I didn't manage to take a picture every day for a week, but here are nine recent mug shots.

Four Days of Mir

The "skirt" in the left most photo is actually an old nightie of my mother's. The shirt in the 2nd photo was a gift from Nonlinear Nora. The black velvet dress was mine, made by my mother, and the shoes are the red shoes of my childhood - she went to a birthday party in that outfit. The right-hand picture is her doing Wii boxing, in a thoroughly ordinary pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Another Four Days of Miranda

In this set, note that she's wearing the same skirt in #1 and 3, and the same shirt in #2 and 4. Nearly all of her tights have holes in them, as in #1. In #2, she's wearing tights under summer length capris. #3 kind of takes the cake - patterned socks, patterned leggings, a purple skirt, a pink shirt, with a denim shirt/vest over - this was her "hippie" outfit - "I look like Berger!" Then again, #4 is kind of out there. She did not actually wear that scarf to school, however.


And once again, we've got the capri pants with tights underneath - this time with blue fair-isle patterned tights under engineer striped pants.

Someday, she's going to hate me for taking these pictures.

05 April 2009

Garlic And Sapphires In The Mud

I've never really understood much poetry - I'm far too literal-minded for it. But in casting my eyes over the bookshelves in the living room as my mother lay dying, the poetry shelf beckoned to me, because it's a short form that can be read aloud without much overt comprehension. The flow of the words washes past, the prosody of the text provides its own delight. And for all my posturing about my lack of understanding, I've long had a sneaker for The Four Quartets, quite possibly solely for the "garlic and sapphires in the mud" line - which I love for its juxtaposition of the earthy and the frou-frou, the pungent and the refined.

Imagine, then, my bemusement at the poetic expressions of sympathy offered up by friends and relatives and commenters.

Herewith a couple of poems that didn't come as comments:

A friend sent this by email:


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

--Philip Larkin

And my sister-in-law (on the other side, not the one that just had a baby) put this on the private family blog:

Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard

A life should leave

deep tracks:

ruts where she

went out and back

to get the mail
or move the hose

around the yard;

where she used to

stand before the sink,

a worn-out place;

beneath her hand,

the china knobs

rubbed down to

white pastilles;

the switch she

used to feel for

in the dark

almost erased.

Her things should

keep her marks.

The passage

of a life should show;

it should abrade.

And when life stops,

a certain space

—however small—

should be left scarred

by the grand and

damaging parade.

Things shouldn’t

be so hard.

--Kay Ryan

I am deeply appreciative of the support I've received from you sturdy readers; thank you for being there.

02 April 2009

Time Present and Time Past

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

For months, we've been saying "she's waiting for the baby". And in a moment of cosmic grace, my sister-in-law delivered the baby boy on Tuesday morning at 11:16, and my mother died Wednesday morning at about 12:30. She waited for the baby, and the baby had the wherewithal to arrive about 10 days ahead of his due date.

Tuesday night was a long night, my sister and I sitting at either side of our mother's bed. I read to her, the whole of The Four Quartets. We told her the baby's name; we showed her his picture. We listened to the Tschaikovsky Violin Concerto, to Glenn Gould playing The Goldberg Variations, and finally, to the beginning of Handel's Messiah, getting as far as the first chorus, the fugal "will be revealed".

And now begins and now ends - the circle of life, writ large.