30 August 2011


We were supposed to go to a pig roast on Saturday. I’d taken Friday off of work, and in the middle of the day, after carrying in the outdoor furniture and shuffling the potted plants, we headed north, to the Catskills. In retrospect, it was kind of crazy.

On the way up, we stopped at the butcher to buy a steak for dinner, and ran into the pig roast crew buying the pig. Once we got to where we were going, the seven year old went “swimming” in the stream, if you can call paddling around in knee-deep water “swimming”, and then soaked in the hot tub. Later, we visited the scene of the impending pig roast, and helped them stoke the fire in the pit, and had a lovely summer grilled-steak-and-buttered-corn dinner with my father. And the next morning, we decided that we’d be better off (meaning, more adult) riding out the hurricane at our own house, and so left my father’s place and his whole house generator. No pig for us; it was still buried in its pit in the ground.

It rained on and off all the way home, where we finished our hurricane prep with a quick trip to the supermarket - the shelves were stripped of bread and Cheez Doodles. Just in case, we ground some coffee beans and filled the French press – knowing we’d be able to boil water if need be. Saturday evening, we hunkered down and played Monopoly, the girl and I ganging up on Daddy, a bit anyway, complete with dramatic crocodile tears every time she had to pay rent and demented cackling when her hotels bore fruit. Eventually, the girl and I, together with the cats, went to bed, and fell asleep to the heavy spatter of raindrops on the metal cover of the air conditioner. Daddy stayed downstairs, glued to the TV where Irene was making her way north.

At five, we woke up. Crash. Power out. Boil water. Make coffee in the French press – yes, I win at hurricane prep! Pull the generator out of the cellar. Rig up a blue tarp under the deck to keep the rain off the genny, which decides not to start. Cursing and moaning, my husband field strips its carburetor – there’s a reason to keep him, huh? Finally gets it started, and we run some extension cords – to the two fridges, to a light in the kitchen, to the computer router - yes, wifi!

After awhile, we ventured out. Trees down across our street, taking the power line with them. Trees down up the street. We checked on various neighbors – one’s house had a huge elm down and draped over the roof, and them not even on the East Coast. We invited people to a shipwreck party – wine at four. Later, chainsaws. Again, a scouting expedition – it turned out to be not an official crew, but a ragtag batch of good samaritans bearing handsaws and chainsaws and rakes and shovels – clearing away enough to let cars through, smartly avoiding the downed wires.

My husband suggests we feed everyone bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. That seems complicatedly messy to me so I propose a BLT panzanella, like a chopped BLT. He fries the bacon, chops the tomatoes, tears up some basil and makes the bread into croutons, fried in the bacon fat. I make a potato salad, a cucumber salad, a green salad. We feed the neighbors red wine and salads, and it’s well after dark when they all go home.

Monday dawns bright and pretty – and all in all, things near home are fine – we’re safe, no one’s hurt, life’s more or less back to normal on Tuesday.

But upstate? They didn’t fare so well in the Catskills. The pig was delicious; the aftermath, not so much. Roads out, bridges out, mudslides, rock slides. One friend broke her ankle in two places – and they couldn’t get her to the hospital; she was finally helicoptered out on Monday. The friends who had the pig roast weren’t able to leave until today. Rumor is that the power may not be restored for a month – my father’s generator will be out of fuel long before then. If someone tells you Irene was a poor excuse for a hurricane, direct them to Greene County – devastated.

25 August 2011

Suger and Tomatos

Someone sent me a slightly treacly set of questions with answers from alleged second graders. I put the questions to my kid, and she stabbed me in the heart.

But have it be known that I am made of sugar and tomatoes!

24 August 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cat Scan

As soon as humanly possible after my sister sent me a link to a Tumblr of cat scans, I scanned the cat.

Cat Scan

You're welcome.

23 August 2011


Back in June, when the girl was trying to raise money for an American Girl doll, I told her I'd pay her $10 if she learned the times tables over the summer. You know, good old rote memorization. Forget this new math stuff.

To help her, I cobbled together some flashcards. Of course, I didn't print them out until this week, so she's really only got the zeroes, ones, twos and tens down, but there's another couple of weeks before summer's over - a month if we're counting to the autumnal equinox.

In case you're interested, I put the pdf up on Scribd. Download it and print out your own old-fashioned math tools.

22 August 2011

The Eggplant Fainted

A couple of years ago, I got a copy of that Simon Hopkinson book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, because everyone was going on and on about it. And though I've tried to understand the fuss, I just don't get it. There's no magic in the writing for me, and there's a certain superciliousness that doesn't belong in the kitchen. I like my cookbook writers to be people I want to just hang out with, like Julia Child and Nigel Slater and Deb Perelman. (Someday I'm going to run into Deb at the Union Square Market, and then I'll be all tongue-tied or something, but I really like her cooking sensibilities. And Nigel Slater? She Curmugeon and I are planning to stalk him together. Julia? Nothing needs be said.)

Anyway, I pick up the Roast Chicken book from time to time, hoping for clarity, and finally, I've found one thing in it that maybe makes it all worth it: an eggplant salad - a spiced eggplant stew-like salad to be precise. Hopkinson says it's from Elizabeth David, but I can't find it in any of the eight (8!) Elizabeth David cookbooks I have. (I know, what's the matter with me? Five are in a Penguin boxed set that I got at the library book sale because I just couldn't resist. And of those five I already had two, so would you like a copy of Italian Food or French Country Cooking? Tell me in the comments, and I'll send 'em out.)

The closest thing I found in Elizabeth David is her version of imam bayaldi - the seasonings and ingredients are almost the same, but she stuffs the eggplant and bakes it, unlike Hopkinson's rendition where the vegetables are all cooked on the stovetop. I liked the Hopkinson version enormously. It reminds me a bit of caponata, with an exotic hit from cumin and allspice. Eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow with a blob of thick Greek yogurt on the side. Oh, and save the cilantro for sprinkling on at the table if you have one of those "cilantro tastes like soap" people in your household.

Spiced Eggplant Salad, adapted from Simon Hopkinson, who got it from Elizabeth David

  • 1 large eggplant
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3-4 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. ground allspice
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 T. currants
  • 2 T. chopped fresh mint
  • 2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes; place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 t.salt. Mix together with your hands and leave to drain (in the sink or on a towel) for 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions until golden. Add the tomatoes and spices. Stew for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir in the garlic and take off the heat. Stir in the currants.
  3. Shake the colander to release some of the moisture from the eggplant, and then dump the eggplant onto a clean dishtowel and blot it dry. Heat up the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a big frying pan - to smoking hot - and stir-fry the eggplant until it's golden on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Add the eggplant to the tomato mixture, and add the fresh herbs. Transfer it to a bowl, and set aside to cool. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

19 August 2011

Moky Ephemera

Every time I set foot in my mother's house, to clean up and clean out, we find things.

1) A fragile yellow ceramic bowl, up on a shelf, with an index card tucked inside:

Do Not
Use. Please.

2) The first time we ever went on an airplane was a trip to Bermuda, sometime after my parents had gotten divorced. How this card survived the past 35 years, I don't know. Why there was outdoor carpeting, I also do not know.

3) The label on a file cabinet in the cellar:
Metal Junk

4) She was exceedingly fond of ripping bits out of the newspaper, especially when there were good typos involved.

17 August 2011

16 August 2011

BlogHer, Fragmented

I've been feeling like I should write about BlogHer, but I had a hard time knowing where to begin. It's more than a little overwhelming, it's lots of fun, it's full of people I'm really happy to see, and yet? I don't know. Will I go back? I don't know. Was it worth the time and the airfare and the hotel room and the conference fee? I don't know.

I took hardly any pictures, almost no notes, and not much swag at all. The expo hall was good for outfitting my sightseeing family with snacks, I missed the flash mob, and I didn't even see the unicorn cake.

But did I see lots of people, including (but not limited to!) Bon, Kate, Stacey, Catherine, Monica, Cecily, Neil, Julie, Varda, Donna, Stephanie, Janet, Angela, Darryle, Briar, Dresden (OMG, her name isn't really Calliope) and Jessica. I took a picture of Aurelia and Anissa, at the very excellent Aiming Low party, but I'm not allowed to post it. Oh, and I saw Aunt Becky at that same party, who was, um, holding court with a large, firm, crocheted penis. And I saw Liz and Mel and Schmutzie - each of whom wrote a good BlogHer recap post, if you want other perspectives (and some great photos).

I went to something during almost every single session slot. I loved the Voices of the Year Community Keynote - if you click through to that link, you can read them all. If you don't have time for that, start with Eden Riley's post called Every Little Thing - about hanging art on the walls in a hospital and helping to remember a person who'd died of cancer - it's sad and wonderful and subversive. I thought the closing keynote with Ricki Lake and Fatemeh Fakhraie and Carol Jenkins was fascinating. And though I'm really not a fan of packaged foods, and I definitely prefer Coke (in a can, with sugar and caffeine, thanks), Indra Nooyi talks a good talk, and is pretty inspirational as a female role model. One good quote from her: "Capitalism without a conscience is dangerous".

Jenn drove me and my husband and my daughter over to La Jolla for dinner, and I have a picture of the two of us together (Jenn & I, that is), which Jenn forbid me to post because she thinks it makes her "look like a mentally ill chipmunk with very white teeth".

I ran into a vaguely familiar looking woman on the airplane out; she was on her way to the conference AND she lives in my town - but we'd never actually met before. I finally met Holly and Dagmar, two other bloggers who live not far from me. Crazy to have to fly to the West Coast to meet people from your own backyard, but there you have it.

And one of the most serendipitous things was meeting a semiotic anthropologist - who totally understood me when I told her I had a master's in ethnomusicology.

At the so-called end of the day, what BlogHer and blogging is all about - for me, anyway - is the community of people I've met and whom I now have the good fortune to know.

Maybe I should go ahead buy my ticket for next year.

14 August 2011

BlogHer in Swag

Right, I still haven't written the BlogHer post, but I did finally unpack the stuff that came home from San Diego.

Here's the thing: BlogHer depends on corporate sponsors. It's what keeps the conference price down, and when you think about what the conference price entitles you to, it's kind of staggering. $199 gets you two days of keynotes and sessions, two days of lunch and breakfast, three nights of parties (including 10 free drink tickets), access to the Expo hall, free wi-fi in all the public areas, and a conference tote full of swag.

The sponsors run the gamut from the huge (Pepsi) to the tiny (Dolphin Organics), and cover all manner of products (sex toys, office supplies, yogurt, pharmaceuticals, financial services). Because I'm feeling charitable, and not inclined to bite the hand that feeds me, I'm going to restrain myself from dissing the sponsors who got it all wrong, or who sell products that I find abhorrent - and believe me, there's some in both of those categories. Instead, here's a few that made some sort of favorable impression on me. There were others, but either I've eaten the evidence (hello, Dove) or plum forgot.

  • Dolphin Organics is a brand-new company making organic baby care products - which I'm not in the market for - but I was charmed by the fact that their booth was staffed by the husband/wife team who started the company. If you're looking for organic baby shampoo and conditioner, they've got a coupon code up right now: use code news0811 for 50% off a bottle of the aloe-based shampoo when you buy conditioner.
  • Bill My Parents is a credit card company, with a product geared towards teenagers. The schtick is that the parent can set it up so that the parent gets text messages every time the kid uses the card, and can lock and unlock the card at whim. My seven year old doesn't need a credit card (though she's asked!), but I'd consider something like this when she's older.
  • Eden Fantasys was handing out sex toys. Yeah, there's a joke there about vibrators and a conference for women ... but I was particularly happy to send my husband off to Sea World with a branded package of their all purpse wet wipes - knowing he was going to need to destickify the child at some point. I also liked my very non-PC disposal of the condoms, which I think I'll keep to myself, lest someone get furious with me. However, I was nonplussed when my seven year old found the purple vibrator in my suitcase, but that was my own damned fault.
  • 3M was there handing out all manner of Post-Its. The Flag+ pen/highlighter is going to live next to my bed; I'm always wanting to stick notes in books and scribble on the end papers.
  • At breakfast one day, after the conference but before we'd left San Diego, we were scarfing down some very excellent fresh pineapple. The waitress said yeah, one day the Dole ship comes in full of pineapple, the next day it's full of bananas. This explained the quality of the pineapple - it's never so good on the East coast. Coincidentally, Dole was at the conference, handing out oodles of coupons for free Dole product - processed fruit, not fresh. Kudos to them; coupons are a much saner way of providing samples to conference goers because who wants to get on a plane with a suitcase full of canned fruit?
  • Proctor & Gamble did a similarly friendly thing - they weren't handing out any samples at the conference, but if you signed up at their booth, they promised to mail a box of products to your home. I haven't seen any such box yet, but I appreciate the idea behind it - and hey, it meant less stuff for them to ship to the conference.
  • HTC sponsored the Voices of The Year Community Keynote, and smartly handed out tissues in the party favor bags - because you know that keynote is all about the weepy.
  • Hallmark was there with a novel offer - they had greeting cards on hand, and would mail them for you. So, a conference all about blogging and on-line and social media, and there they were promoting old-school snail mail cards. Yes, I sent two.

Hey FTC, no one paid me to write any of this stuff, though I did get some free coupons and products. My opinions are very much my own.

12 August 2011


Everyone always complains about air travel. But you know something? Sometimes it works out just fine.

Remember my tale of the nice twitter assistant at Delta? Our flight to San Diego was just swell. Sure, tight quarters because we were flying steerage, but there were TV screens on the backs of the seats which made the girlie swoon.

The day before we were to fly home, I duly checked in and got our boarding passes printed. We went to bed, setting the alarms for 5:00am because we had a 7:30-ish flight.

At 4:30am, my phone went off. I picked it up and fumbled around, thinking it was my alarm. When my husband said, but it's 4:30, I realized it had been a phone call, not the alarm at all, not that I needed an alarm anymore. My heart sank when I looked at the number and found that it was Delta calling. Without listening to the voice mail, I called them back. Cancelled. They'd cancelled our flight due to "equipment damage". The chipper person on the end of the line told me that we'd been rebooked at midday on a one-stop through someplace, and were due home at midnight. While my first thought was more time on the beach, I protested, isn't there anything else?

Yes. In fact, there was. The nice Delta person proceeded to book us onto a non-stop American Airlines flight at just about the same time the Delta flight would have left, meaning virtually no change in travel. Because she was from Delta, she couldn't do anything about seat assignments, and told us to work it out at the airport.

I stood on line to get boarding passes from a human, a very nice human who gave us three seats not together, but sent along a note to the gate and told me to talk to the gate agent. I was first in line at the gate, and sure enough, the gate agent gave us new boarding passes, three seats together in the last row, but he said I'll let you know if something changes. About 10 minutes later, he called my name - at the desk, he took my boarding passes, and handed me three new ones, three seats together in the eighth row.

It was lucky and awesome and efficient, and I'm kind of amazed it worked out as well as it did.

11 August 2011

San Diego in Fragments

The girl spent many hours boogie boarding in the surf, after having never really been in the ocean before. It was all we could do to get her out of the water. And now, her bathing suit is forever full of sand.

At a stop light, we pulled alongside a curvy red convertible, with the top down, driven by an ordinary looking guy. He was blasting his car stereo: bagpipes. Totally incongruous.

In an effort to inject a little history into the trip, we drove up to the San Diego Mission. I wondered, as we parked, why it seemed so crowded. Oops, we'd stumbled into Sunday morning mass.

We ate at a "nouvelle" Mexican restaurant, called El Agave, which doubles as a tequila museum. The food was mind-blowingly good - delicate, complicated, tasty - and nothing like the rice and beans slop you get in so many "Mexican" restaurants. Thousands of bottles of tequila surrounded us, lining all the walls and even on shelves hanging from the ceiling.

While I was at the conference, my peeps went to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. In retrospect, my husband said he'd rather have spent two days at the Zoo. The girl would like to go back and buy everything at Sea World.

The storied Hotel Del Coronado was built in 1888, and is a huge pile of wood - one of a few surviving Victorian beach resorts. The main building is a riot of shingles and balconies, and when the fire alarm went off at 6:53 in the morning, we got the hell out. It turned out to be a false alarm, but we were shocked at how few people actually did leave their rooms. They'd have been toast if it had really been a fire.

A friend from high school - elementary school actually - met us for a drink. She'd moved to San Diego in 1987 and never looked back. I understand it; the weather and the natural beauty and the contained distances make it seem like a really livable city.

I knew San Diego was a military town, but I didn't know that it had a national cemetery. Fort Rosecrans overlooks the Pacific and is ineffably lovely. If I'd been in the military, I'd want to be buried there.

10 August 2011

This or That - REVEALED!

  1. Stick shift - Driving's so much more fun when you have something to do with your left foot.
  2. Books - I'm really indifferent to movies; sitting in one place for two hours seems like such a waste of time and I love losing myself in a book.
  3. Broccoli - I'll eat squash, if I have to, but I'd much rather eat a cruciferous vegetable.
  4. Butter - like it's a question?
  5. Cast iron - neither of them can go in the dishwasher, but cast iron is cheap and lasts forever and is enormously versatile.
  6. Cats - dogs smell when they get wet, and they jump on you and stick their noses in your crotch, and they have to be walked.
  7. Eau D'hadrien - hello, citrus!
  8. Cheez Doodles - preferably in a blue bowl.
  9. Lemon - I will always choose the fruit dessert over the chocolate one, and lemon trumps 'em all.
  10. Danny Meyer - I haven't read the Twilight books but I've eaten in Danny Meyer's restaurants and my favorite recipe for Brussels sprouts is from the Union Square Cafe cookbook.
  11. Elvis Costello, a/k/a Declan Patrick Aloysius Macmanus - again, was it really a question?
  12. Spring - it's so full of hope.
  13. Salt water - I grew up swimming in the ocean, and in a salt water pool, and to this day I think fresh water is weird.
  14. Gin - why drink something with no taste?
  15. Miracles of modern technology - a) I'm an atheist, b) IVF brought me my daughter
  16. Shell steak - grilled over charcoal, with a tomato salad and corn on the cob. Lobster does nothing for me.
  17. Mets - National League. End of story.
  18. The Four Temperaments - just a perfect ballet to a fabulous piece of music.

04 August 2011

This or That?


I'm on a plane (unless I'm not and we're still on the tarmac at Idlewild in which case I'm sehr cranky) and through the magic of scheduled posts, this post is posted (unless it's not because Blogger is down or the internet has imploded or, oh, something).

So, while I'm gone, let's play a game. Tell me how well you know me by identifying what I prefer. (Please put your score in the comments.)

Discursive answers on my return.

03 August 2011

Yellow Hair, Yellowed Paper

My mother's house is finally on the market, and my siblings and I have been slowly trying to make some headway with the contents. There is an enormous amount of stuff: furniture, tchotckes, toys, pots, buttons, towels, and endless stacks of paper.

Moky kept files on all manner of things - local history, friends, nuts and cranks. The files are full of letters, ephemera, gritty xeroxes, clippings, and photos.

Later today, I'm having lunch with an old friend of my mother's, the kind of friend who had her own folder. They'd actually gone to college together, but hadn't really known one another until years later when, by coincidence, they ended up living in the same town, and my mother's friend's daughter was my elementary school (and junior high and high school) classmate. After a time, the friend moved away, to California, and they kept up by writing letters back and forth, often with clippings involved.

When I see her, I'm handing over her folder, but I skimmed through it first, I had to. It's full of letters and birthday cards and newspaper clippings about the friend's husband, but it's the letters that fascinate me - for how they reflect upon events in my mother's life, and necessarily mine. In one letter, there's a whole Yeats poem about blonde women typed out, with this comment:

I always think of that poem in pondering Pinky and Magpie and their beautiful flaxen hair, and of course yours too-- when I first knew you, yours was just like theirs.

There's some delicious semi-catty chatter about the guests at my wedding in another letter, but my favorite bit might be this tantalizing post script:

P S 2 A___ tells me that M___ T___ has broken up with the fabled panty-hose woman. She wanted to have a baby so he decided enough was enough. We had a mimeographed account from him of the fabled lawsuit, but no personal word in a long time.

Is that not the makings of a short story?

02 August 2011

No, No, No

Rehab came on in the car the other day, shortly after Amy Winehouse had died.

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'...

The girlie was in the back seat, so I paused the song and took a moment to talk to her about drugs and rehab and what it all meant.

A few days later, it popped up again, Rehab, that is. This time, the girlie said to me "Grandma says she did go to rehab". So we talked about that, and that sometimes rehab doesn't work, and you have to do it again. I probably should have said something about how song lyrics are a kind of story-telling, but I didn't think of it at the time.

All the while, though, I was feeling a little befuddled at the idea of my 7 year old girl having a conversation with her 80 year old grandmother about Amy Winehouse and rehabilitation. Only quite some time later it occurred to me that perhaps they hadn't been talking about Amy Winehouse and drugs, but that maybe Grandma had said that she, Grandma, had gone to rehab after her hip replacement, or her knee replacement, or her back surgery...

01 August 2011

Why, yes I am a bleeding heart liberal...

In little chocolate truffle bites, I've been reading the totally charming letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. It's a perfect bedtime book - easy to put down when it's time to turn out the light.

But I stopped in my tracks the other night, at a quote that just seemed so completely, what, contemporary?

Except that I cannot regard the Republicans as people, somehow, only as monsters, foils, beasts and foul excrement.

I guess some things never change.