31 May 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

I do love a parade. I hope there's a good one in your town too.

28 May 2010

What Was For Dinner?

I'm not usually given to taking pictures of my dinner before I eat it, but this was such a beautiful plate that it cried out for documentation: pork chop (grilled with a sort of teriyaki marinade), asparagus (with lemon and butter) and a salad of quinoa, beets and grapefruit.

If I may say so myself, the salad was excellent. I cooked up a half a cup of quinoa, let it cool, and added diced cooked beets, snipped chives, and the flesh of a grapefruit. It's a pain in the ass to segment the grapefruit, but it's worth it. Do it over a bowl so you save all the juice, then use the juice and some olive oil (and salt and pepper) to dress the salad. I liked it so much, I made it twice last week.

27 May 2010

Lighter Than Air

In the pantheon of cookbook writers, everyone talks about Julia Child and everyone talks about Irma Rombauer (though she usually just gets called "Joy"). Your personal pantheon probably includes others - the utilitarian Mark Bittman, the idiosyncratic Tessa Kiros, the scholarly Elizabeth David. For me, one of the books that has permanent shelf space is Craig Claiborne, also known as the New York Times Cookbook. It's less frou-frou than Julia, more elegant than Joy. My copy falls open to page 488 because that's our go-to waffle recipe. When I want to make a gingerbread house, I add some extra flour to the recipe for gingerbread men that's on page 579. And Craig, not Julia, taught me how to make a souffle. Well, my mother probably helped, but it's Craig's recipe that I turn to when I need to make a cheese souffle.

And you know what? It's easy and delicious and you probably have all of the ingredients you need. Because I have a family of three people and a smallish souffle dish, I scaled the recipe down to fit my dish, and because I'm nice, I'm giving you both sets of measurements. Make one. Serve it up with a salad. You can make it on a school night, and your six year old will probably even eat it - because really? It's not much more than fancy eggs.

For a 2 quart dish For a 1 1/2 quart dish
4 T. butter (1/2 stick) 3 T. butter
1/4 cup flour 3 T. flour
1 1/2 cups milk 1 1/8 cups milk (9 ounces)
Salt Salt
Worcestershire sauce Worcestershire sauce
Cayenne pepper Cayenne pepper
1/2 pound grated cheddar* 3/8 pound grated cheddar*
4 eggs, separated 3 eggs, separated

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Make a white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk until blended. Meanwhile, warm the milk**, then add it all at once to the flour/butter mix, stirring vigorously. Season to taste with salt, Worcestershire and cayenne.
3. Take pan off heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time and cool.
4. Beat the egg whites until they stand in peaks. Cut and fold the egg whites into the cheese sauce (you can do this in the saucepan). Put your nice light fluffy stuff into the souffle dish you chose at the beginning and bake for 30-45 minutes. You don't have to grease the dish, but I like to butter it and then sprinkle it with grated parmesan.

*You have no cheddar? Use swiss, or gouda, or pepper jack, or whatever you have. Or a mix. I'm easy. But I think you might want to avoid Velveeta.

**Or don't. Instructions for a white sauce or a béchamel usually tell you to scald or heat or warm the milk. I tend towards the lazy, so I don't always bother and it's not been a problem.

25 May 2010

A Grand

It is, this post, my thousandth.

To celebrate, I'm going to give away two things:

1) A copy of the best book I've read in years: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's so good that I want to share - it's social and medical history all intertwined with racism, poverty, philosophy, morality and family, in a book that reads like a thriller. All you have to do is leave a comment by the end of the day on Friday 5/28; I used a random number generator to pick Stimey who will get a brand-spanking-new copy. And hey, if I don't didn't pick you, I love you anyway and go find a copy at your library or bookstore.

2) One thousand dimes (because I'm not flush enough to give away one thousand dollars) - allocated amongst the following charities. You get to vote and it's not winner gets all - each charity will get the dollar equivalent of the percentage of votes so 17% of the votes gets $17.

  • Edna Hospital - a maternity hospital providing reproductive health care and fistula repair in Somaliland.
  • Partners In Health - a Boston-based medical organization "partnering with poor communities to combat disease and poverty"; they've been on the ground in Haiti for years.
  • Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen - they feed 1200 people a day, no questions asked, in Manhattan.
  • Nothing But Nets - a UN Foundation program to provide bed nets to combat malaria.
A thousand thanks to all of you, for being here, for reading, for indulging, and for enriching my life.

Tell Me How To Allocate My Dimes:

24 May 2010

Weekend Update

Somehow, we managed to have a most peripatetic weekend without really going too far from home.

Saturday, we went to Randall's Island for free hotdogs, thanks to Hebrew National. I didn't ride the mechanical bull, I had no idea Cheryl Hines was there, but we ate our share of hotdogs with bloggers and marveled at Randall's Island. Really - it's kind of astonishing. I've driven over the Triborough Bridge thousands of times, and never ever descended down. There are a hundred ball fields, in the shadow of the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges, sharing the island with a psychiatric hospital, a fire department training center, and a wastewater treatment plant. The park was packed with people, and you could only smell the sewage when the wind blew in the wrong direction. Oh, that's not fair - it's a terrific public amenity and I'm happy to have been there.

Sunday, we traipsed in the other direction, because I wanted to see Margaret Roach's garden and it was on the Open Days tour. It's lovely, by the way, with a human quality to it - we walked away thinking "I can do that", which may or may not be true. The girlie was thoroughly entranced by the frogs in the frog pond, though I think she liked the flowers too. I was amused that she was able to identify some things - "that's a bleeding heart, mama, and we have some of those [alliums]". Afterwards, one thing led to another and instead of heading south (and home), we headed northeast to Great Barrington (yeah, Massachusetts). With the help of Yelp (and their really good iPhone app), we found an great pizza shop on the main drag, followed it up with some excellent ice cream, and - finally - headed home.

We probably put more miles on the car than we really needed to, but it was fun.

20 May 2010

The Etiquette of Lying

Oh, the drama.

The six year old was invited to a birthday party last week, so Saturday morning, we traipsed off to Target to buy a present. We ended up getting a Harumika – it’s a doll-sized dress form with fabric bits that get poked into a slot in the back so you can design your own fashions over and over, kind of like a three-dimensional paper doll. I thought it was sort of cool, and my daughter approved, so we wrapped it up and went off to the party.

Well. Monday afternoon, she came home from school and burst into tears. She’d asked the other child if she liked the present, and the kid said "no, not really" and she wailed "can I ask her to give it back to me?" and I felt shitty about the whole thing.

On the one hand, you’re not supposed to ask "did you like my present?" – but on the other hand, you’re not supposed to say "I didn’t like your present". Then again, you're not supposed to lie - but sometimes a little white evasion is a valid response in a social situation. The protective bear in me wanted to call up the other kid’s mother and tell her that her kid had hurt my child’s feelings; but instead I let my rational side try to explain the etiquette of present giving and receiving without getting into the art of prevarication.

It's awfully complicated, this raising of children.

19 May 2010

Wordless Wednesday: My Garden

Okay, shut up, there's nothing "wordless" about this post, even though I sort of thought it would be when I took all the pictures after I was asked for them in the comments on Monday's post. Whatever.

Allium, in a bed with hosta and rudbeckia and astilbe, and a variegated Kerria japonica behind (which might be 'Picta' and is nearly done flowering). The kerria came with the house, the allium came by mail, the rudbeckia came from my mother, and the astilbe came from her or maybe from her neighbor Mary. There's lots of plain big leafed hosta that came from my mother's house, and lots of a smaller shiny leafed hosta that was here when we moved in.

Fancier hosta in the front yard, with azaleas behind - a small flowered lavender one which kind of hangs over a wall and a lovely pink one. Most of that hosta is divisions from other people's houses, and it's tucked into a bed that was once just patchy with pachysandra - I'm letting them fight it out.  The azaleas came with the house, though the pink one has been moved more than once.

A close-up of that pink azalea - a nice strong pink, not too too fuchsia.

An iris, from my mother's house, in front of astilbe and a buddleia, and one of only a few patches of bare dirt left in the back bed. I have lots of astilbe - pink, white, and red - all pass-along plants.

Pulsatilla (done flowering) and alchemilla (about to flower) - I love the foliage on each. I bought the pulsatilla by mail, and I can't remember where the alchemilla is from. It's happy though - it's self-seeding like crazy.

17 May 2010

My Garden

In mid-summer, we'll have lived in our house for six years, and I'm finally feeling like the garden is coming into its own.

I spent yesterday morning happily puttering around, rearranging the shrubbery, as it were. I was tired of looking at bare dirt under the blueberries, so I dug up some woodruff from under a boxwood, and tucked it in under my blueberries. I then hacked up a couple of clumps of liriope, and edged the berry bed with it.

From one small pot of white forget-me-not, I've now got a hillside - forget-me-not living up to its name - so I moved a clump into a pot and gave it to my mother-in-law. I also gave her an alchemilla that had self-seeded in a crack in the corner of the stone steps. The alchemilla might not make it, but I couldn't just pull it out and toss it in the compost. In turn, she gave me a baby spirea with pink flowers and yellowish foliage that she'd found under her big one. I don't know what variety it is, but I think I'll stick it in the privet hedge that borders the neighbor's driveway. I hate that hedge, and I am desperately trying to turn into a mixed hedgerow because the privet is both boring and labor-intensive. I have, thankfully, trained the neighbor to not clip the privet with the help of strings staked alongside; the ensuing straight lines made me twitchy.

There's a bed in the front of the house that got planted out a few weeks ago, mostly with stuff I bought by mail order. I'm a sucker for Bluestone Perennials; they sell tiny perennials in cheap three packs and even though I lose a fair share of them, I keep going back for more. Since I planted that front bed, and drew a little picture to remember what's what, I keep adding and moving. The poor little things are like pawns on a chessboard getting shoved hither and yon, and my little drawing is increasingly hard to read.

I'm also trying to beautify the wooded lot across the street - it's owned by the town, and completely unmaintained. So, every time I dig out more wild tawny daylilies or the gooseneck loosestrife that's meandering over from the other neighbor's house, I tuck it in across the way and hope it takes off. Since they both tend towards the invasive, I'm hoping for a riot of flowers uphill.

And, because I like to cook too, I like that the garden provides bits for the kitchen. Over the weekend, I made a rhubarb pie-cake (it was called a cake, but it was more like a pie, and while it was fine, I don't think I'd make it again), and two rhubarb upside-down cakes to give away. And snips from the chives and the Egyptian onions found their way into a beet-quinoa-grapefruit salad.

What's growing in your garden?

14 May 2010

Visiting Popsicornia

Remember when my child dressed herself up in onion goggles and announced that she was a Popsicornian? Hold onto that thought.

A couple of weeks ago, she and I were in the public library, picking up a DVD that we'd reserved. [I love my public library. I love that I can put things on hold via the internet from my bed. I love that they send an email when things are ready for pick-up. I love that they remind me by email when things are due back. I wish they had something like a Netflix queue for books I want to read, but I digress.] While there, we wandered into the children's room where she spotted a large blue and yellow striped papier-mâché dragon up atop the stacks. "Oh", said she, "it's my father's dragon". It turned out that her first grade teacher had read the whole series of Gannett's books to the class, but the girl wanted me to read it to her, so we tracked down the librarian, who led us to the right shelf and we borrowed a copy of My Father's Dragon.

I read it to her and I'm astonished that I'd never read it before, even though we had a copy on her bookshelf which I'd picked up on the recommendation of a friend but had completely forgotten about because apparently I have a mind like a sieve. Anyway, it's entirely charming with lovely illustrations and a vaguely subversive undercurrent, and if you don't know it you need to remedy that right now. We finished the first book and took it back and got the other two. Towards the end of Elmer and the Dragon, the dragon is flying Elmer home over the sea and says "I think I see land ahead!", to which Elmer replies "So do I, and I think it's the coast of Popsicornia!"


I was dumbfounded. Not only had she not disclosed the origins of Popsicornia, she hadn't even reported that her teacher was reading chapter books about blue and yellow dragons. What's she not going to tell me next?

(Illustration from The Dragons of Blueland)

13 May 2010

Girls and Boys

There is some deep irony in the fact that I bristle when I'm sitting in a meeting with my (male) health insurance broker and he makes reference to a "girl" at the insurance carrier - and hell yeah I corrected him - because I work in an industry where grown professional dancers are routinely called girls and boys. Apollo? It's for three girls and a boy. Antique Epigraphs? Eight girls. And it's not just in the ballet world - someone sings "How many boys, how many girls?" in A Chorus Line.

It doesn't rankle me that the dancers are girls and boys, but it's reflexive for me to get on a high horse when someone calls a grown woman a girl. Why?

12 May 2010

On Sports

Mayberry Mom wrote a post (a long time ago) about how few women were coaches for extracurricular sports. Me? I have neither the skills nor the inclination. Furthermore, I do so much vis-à-vis child care, that were there to be a need for a parent to participate in a sports activity, I’d volunteer the husband as a way of forcing his involvement in her life. Okay, that's not at all fair - he makes lunch and puts her on the bus and arranges her playdates and takes her to swimming and the after-school farm program - but still. I suspect I’m not alone in that. Plus, if you’re looking at a weekend event and a once traditional daddy works/mommy doesn’t family, lots of daddies will want to step up and volunteer...which means that in our mommy works/daddy doesn't family, I should be signing up to coach soccer. Oops. Not going to happen. Luckily, she's evidenced zero interest in sports.

11 May 2010

Maps and Tigers

The first grader has been working on maps at school, and brought home some mapping homework one day. As it happened, she went directly to her grandmother's house that afternoon, where she got to hang out with her visiting aunt. As I know I've mentioned before, my sister-in-law has a blog on creating books with children. She also has a sneaker for maps and map-making, so she dove right into supervising the homework - and then blogged about it. Click over to Bookmaking with Kids and see if you can find the tigers.

10 May 2010

Punch Line: Beige

In last week's Punch Line post, my sister left a single word comment: "beige". It's like a thrown gauntlet - I have to post the beige joke. And honestly? Once you've heard it, beige will never be the same.

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

What's the difference between the whore, the mistress and the wife?

The whore rolls over and says "that'll be $200".

The mistress finishes and says "honey, that was awesome, that was the best, you're the greatest".

The wife lies there and says "beige. I think I'll paint the ceiling beige".

07 May 2010

She's Going To Be An Interesting Teenager

On the left, Mommy and Daddy as aliens, with a small person described as her "arch enemy".

On the right, the supreme controller with the trophies that she's won.

When asked why she wanted to control her mommy and daddy, she said "because it would be fun, you would always let me eat candy, and you would never put me in time out. Also, then I could have all the playdates I want and I could sleep on your heads. Also, I would get a cat and a dog, because I love them both."

06 May 2010


If you do crossword puzzles, you know oleo. If you grew up during World War I, you know oleo. If your mother was born during the depression, she might well have bought margarine, because it was cheaper than butter. Mine did, anyway. She’d buy both butter and margarine, butter for toast and popcorn and baked potatoes, margarine for chocolate chip cookies and brownies and chicken liver pâté. In other words, she used butter as a condiment, margarine as an ingredient.

Don’t get me wrong – she loved butter. As a child, I’d catch her sneaking a knifeful of butter off the butter dish and I’d call her “butter slicker”. Later, when she was in her long decline, we’d have to push the butter dish to the other side of the table or she’d go after it with a spoon.

I don’t buy margarine. I don’t want to eat it. I’d rather save money in other places. But I find that a faint current of that depression-era mentality creeps into my cooking.

Not so long ago, I ended up with most of a quart of buttermilk, because I’d needed a ½ cup for something. Not wanting to waste it, I decided to make buttermilk ice cream. The recipe called for 2 cups of buttermilk, 2 cups of heavy cream, and TWELVE EGG YOLKS. I was going to cut the recipe down by a quarter anyway, because I only had 1 ½ cups of heavy cream, but that would have meant NINE EGG YOLKS. And my objection to TWELVE, or even NINE, egg yolks isn’t that it’s a lot of yolks, but what the hell do you do with the egg whites? You see, I’m constitutionally incapable of pouring the whites down the drain – too wasteful and my mother is whispering in my ear “put them in the freezer until there are enough for an angel food cake”.

So I mucked with the ice cream recipe even more, and used only four egg yolks to make the custard, and it was just fine. Really. Perfect even. And I was only left with four egg whites.

They sat there in the fridge for a while, until I consulted The Cake Bible, where – hallelujah, and thanks to the sub-index by all yolks/all whites/no flour – I found a recipe for a spiced pound cake with, yup, four egg whites.

The cake was excellent (and devoured by the office vultures in short order), but almost better was that I made the yolks and whites come out even.

Are you cavalier about your eggs? Or do you abhor wasting even one yolk? And what do you do with 7/8 of a quart of buttermilk anyway?

05 May 2010

Wardrobe Wednesday With Tulips

Orange top, hot pink skirt, tie-dyed blue leggings, mismatched socks*, and hiking boots = a good costume for traipsing around on a Garden Conservancy Open Days tour.

*not visible in the photo but I know they're there.

04 May 2010

Highway Sights

I've seen some weird stuff on the highway recently.

Like, a car with balls. Yes, balls. As in testicles. As in, hanging from the rear bumper where a trailer hitch would be. I pointed it out to my husband; he noted that they were blue. He then pulled in behind the car while I tried to take a picture, which proved to be unnecessary, because they seem to be really easy to find on the intertubes. Who knew? I'd never seen a car with balls before. Are they more common in your neck of the woods?

Scarier, in addition to weird, was the day I was driving along on a crowded but moving parkway in the Bronx, when a pod of 12-15 bikers came up from behind, weaving through traffic, passed me and started POPPING WHEELIES. In traffic. On motorcycles. I was horrified.

I am completely unable to figure out the writerly transition from the wheelie poppers to the dead motorcyclist YouTube link that Barbara Card Atkinson posted last week, but they are related. Aren't they? Those Bronx bikers would surely like to be embalmed on their cycles when the end comes.

Seen anything weird on the highway recently?

03 May 2010

Punch Line: The Duck Won

You know how sometimes you get a joke in your head, and it's such a great joke that just hearing the punchline is all you really need to bring a smile to your face? This is one of them, which I first heard told by a Circuit Court judge from Louisiana, who had just the right drawl and pitch perfect delivery.

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

Down in a county in the bayous of Louisiana over towards Texas, the Sheriff got wind of some Saturday night cock-fighting down at an old abandoned sugar, so he sent his deputy down to investigate. When the deputy came back, he said to the sheriff, "They's cock-fightin' goin' on down theah, all right. And they seems to be three criminal elements involved: Aggies, Cajuns, and the Mafia."

"Now hold on a minute, boy," said the sheriff. "The Mafia? You better tell how you done come to this heah conclusion."

"Well," said the deputy, "You know they's Aggies for sure, on account of somebody done entered a duck in the cock-fight. And sure they's Cajuns, 'cause somebody done went and bet on the duck."

"Well, but how about the Mafia?" said the sheriff, "How kin you 'splain that?"

"Well," said the deputy, "The duck won!"

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

(Shamelessly copied from the website of The Prairie Home Companion, and yup, I'm still cleaning out my drafts folder.)