12 October 2018

Because I am a completist...

And because Phryne Fisher is just the escapist ticket these days.

No, I didn't read them in order. (I'm not that compulsive.) It doesn't really matter, but there is some character development from book to book.

The TV show is great too.

08 October 2018

36 hours

The shadow
flying over there
is the plane
I am on.
We converge
with a shudder
and the rumble of
wheels on the ground.
Together again.

The girl and I just went to North Carolina for 36 hours, just like the New York Times travel section columns! We were there for a family wedding - but carved out enough time to go shopping, eat barbecue, have breakfast with old blogging friends, and tour the Governor's Mansion.

And today, I have spent the day moving papers from here to there, tying a little baby quilt, making weird seedy hardtack, and in the pile of papers, I found this little ridiculous poem that I'd jotted down once upon a time - on a trip to Detroit, in point of fact.

Flying is weird, and requires magical thinking, but I'd never have gone to North Carolina for 36 hours otherwise.

21 September 2018

The Annual #FuckCancer/Happy Birthday Post

83, she would’ve been, today. I think of her every day. I think she would’ve been delighted that we went to visit the island from which her father‘s family had come, off the coast of Germany (and I can’t believe she never went there). I think she’d be horrified and dismayed by the revelations of bad behavior at the New York City Ballet. I know she would be angry and sad at the political state of this country right now. She would love my beautiful daughter, with her big heart and burning desire to succeed and her grandmother’s love of riding - which skipped a generation. (I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on a horse, and one of those was a mule.) She’d be tickled that I planted a New Dawn rose that scrambles up my back deck, and wholly supportive of my repair & recycle sewing projects.

[Remember the external fixator?]

I miss her.


If you are inclined to remember Moky, perhaps you’d support my walk-a-thon effort. My sister - who also has lung cancer - has again put together a team for a Lungevity event next month. Join us IRL (!), or by making a contribution. Lungevity does good work funding scientific research, educating on early detection, and providing patient support to help "people live better with lung cancer and dramatically improve on the current 18% five-year survival rate". And, they have a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator.

Click the Donate button below, or use this link to Lungevity.

Thank you.

09 September 2018

A Four Penny Dreadful

As you will remember, from time to time I rail about charitable solicitations that have annoyed me - especially when there are live stamps or actual dimes involved.

Yesterday brought a new iteration of the live stamp mishegoss.

Yes. The organization glued four penny stamps onto a business reply mail envelope. In other words, the organization just wasted four cents on that mailing because if the BRM comes back, the post office is going to charge them whatever they charge for a BRM (first class postage plus a surcharge which varies depending on how many pieces come back), and if the envelope doesn’t come back, the four cents is gone like the wind. And, since the return rate on charitable solicitations is generally low (like in the single digits low), nearly 95% of those penny stamps are going in the garbage.

You may say “but I’ll add my own stamp so the charity doesn’t have to pay”. Whatcha gonna do, use a Forever stamp that you have sitting around, or rustle up 46¢ worth of stamps? You’re unlikely to do the latter, so it’s a waste of 4¢. Plus, in my experience, even though some postage paid BRM envelopes say something like “use your own stamp and help us more”, like this one does, the post office does not always recognize that. You put your stamp on, the post office may well charge the charity the BRM rate anyway. (I have seen this happen; it’s one of the reasons we’ve given up on BRM mail in my office.)

End result?

International Rescue Committee is off of my list.

Cautionary tale for you?

Don’t put a stamp on a Business Reply Mail envelope.

04 September 2018

Tabbouleh, variant

My mother's stock in trade dish for the annual Labor Day potluck was always tabbouleh. Bulgur, mint, parsley, olive oil and lots of lemon juice.

Yesterday, I needed a side salad to go with some pork chops. I had a little bit of bulgur, a half a can of chickpeas, and a cucumber, so I whacked together a tabbouleh variant. I posted a picture on Instagram, because it was cheerful, and someone asked for the recipe. There wasn't one. So:

Tabbouleh with Chick Peas

  • 1/3 cup of dried bulgur
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 can of rinsed chickpeas
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 a cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 a sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • handful of mint, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2-3 T. olive oil
  • 2-3 T. white wine vinegar

Put bulgur in a bowl, add boiling water and cover. Let stand for 10-15 minutes. Drain if necessary, and return to bowl. Add all other ingredients, and mix. Taste and season as necessary. If you want to be fancy, chop the onion and soak it in the vinegar while the bulgur is steeping. That'll take some of the bite out of the onion. This is enough for four people as a side dish.

03 September 2018

Reflections On Traveling in Northern Europe In August 2018

There are wind farms everywhere.

There are many solar panels deployed.

Nearly every single toilet is dual flush.

We stayed in six hotels. In five of them, you had to put your key card in a slot inside the door in order to "turn on" the electricity in the room. No card, no lights. No card, no iPhone charging.

Hotel hallway lights were on motion sensors. Open the door, and the lights go on. Walk down the hall, and the lights go on in segments ahead of you.

In five of the six hotels, there were no amenities of the sort you find in all American hotels - just a wall mounted soap dispenser near the sink, and one in the shower. No conditioner, no lotion, (no souvenirs). In a couple of hotels, the product was the same at both the sink and the shower. In others, it was hand soap by the sink, and shampoo/body wash in the shower. When it comes down to it, is there a difference?

In five of the six hotels, the queen/king bed came with Two. Separate. Duvets. One for each of us. In all seriousness? This is genius. No stealing of covers possible. I may have to institute this at home.

Walking is everything.

There are nearly no overhead wires. Occasionally in the countryside, you see distribution lines. But all of the general electricity and telecommunications is delivered via buried lines. In the city, overhead lighting is suspended from cables.

Traffic is frequently calmed via chicanes - a little zig-zag just to slow you down. I think some chicanes would be useful in my town.

Roundabouts are everywhere.

Denmark is nearly cashless - although I had some cash, I didn't need it and could have gotten away with having none.

Translated signage will never not make me laugh.

03 August 2018

Cluny Brown

There's a periodic book column in the New York Times, called "The Enthusiast", described as "an occasional column dedicated to the books we love to read and reread." Several months ago, the column's subject was Margery Sharp - an author heretofore unknown to me (despite a whole mess of children's books that seem like books I should know). Charmed by the description of "Cluny Brown", I put it on hold at the library. And waited. And read some other books. And finally, a couple of weeks ago, "Cluny Brown" was mine to borrow.

I picked it up and was irrationally pleased to find that it was in that increasingly rare library binding: indestructible buckram. The cover is brown on beige, in a sort of feathered marble pattern.

The title is stamped on the spine in no-nonsense capitals.

And best, because it's a book that's been in circulation since about 1972, it's got a due date card pocket inside the back cover. Which, in my considered opinion, is the best place to store your bookmark.

So much pleasure from the merely physical aspects of the book. And! But! Happily, it is a wonderful book. Cluny is an idiosyncratic character of the highest order, and moves through life in a rather different plane than those around her. A plumber's niece, she has the temerity to take herself to tea at the Ritz "all on her own, to see what it was like."

At the end of Chapter 4, a foreign visitor has arrived at the Devon country house at which Cluny is now in service as a parlormaid.

Thus layer by layer, without any conscious effort, the oyster that was Friars Carmel smoothed and overlaid its grain of sand, producing, like a pearl, a distinguished Professor, met at a British Embassy, recovering from an operation, and fond of horses.

No such process, naturally, was applied to the new parlormaid.

Indeed, her entrance, at the beginning of Chapter 5, is spectacular and distinctly unparlourmaidlike:

Cluny Brown arrived at Friars Carmel in a Rolls-Royce.

Cluny simply doesn't act in the ways in which people expect a plumber's niece parlourmaid to act. She's delightful, and so is the book.

01 August 2018

Yes. Yes I have.

For reasons of my own, I changed my diet a couple of months ago. Mind you, I am not dieting, I am not on a diet. If I were on a diet, I wouldn’t be having that glass of Sauvignon Blanc with Rachel Maddow every night, now would I?

No, I changed my diet to address a health situation. I’ve done this before - I went on a strict low-fat diet when I was pregnant because my gall bladder up and rebelled and a low-fat diet is what held surgery at bay, because like any sane person I was trying to avoid a gall bladder removal while enceinte. It’s one of those things that’s doable, but better to avoid, IYKWIM.

The inadvertent side effect of the change in diet is that I’ve lost weight. I don’t know really know how much, because I don’t own a scale, but several pairs of jeans are now sporting Frankensteinian alterations. (Let’s put it this way: I can’t go out in public with my shirt tucked in, unless I’m wearing a cardigan, if I’m wearing those jeans.) And people - friends, co-workers, acquaintances - have commented. “Have you lost weight?” “You’ve lost weight.” “Hey, skinny!” “You look great!”

And here’s what makes me decidedly uncomfortable. Every time I hear that “you’ve lost weight”, I also hear an unstated condemnation. “You needed to lose weight.” “You were too fat.” Telling me I look great means I didn’t look great before?

It is unsettling.

Mind you, I’m not unhappy about the weight loss. It’s not because of a “bad” “condition” like cachexia - it’s because of the food choices I’ve been making. I’m down to something like how much I was when I got pregnant 15 years ago, and I’ve been higher than my delivery weight for a few years now.

But, like friend on Facebook said recently, “The assumption that any weight loss is chosen freely and a cause for celebration is a big cultural enshrinement of fatphobia and I'm so done with it.”

Not too long ago, I came across a blog post that talked about this very issue: weight loss is not always desired, not always healthy, not always good. Thinner is not necessarily better. Kim Bongiorno says “Why feel shame about our beautiful bodies? Each is different, and it’s wonderful”.

She says it a lot better than I can, and I urge you to read her post.

Or read Roxane Gay. She curated a series on Medium, called Unruly Bodies, exploring all of this stuff.

If you’d rather, read Gay’s book Hunger. She writes beautifully about so many things: race, privilege, body image, personhood, education, intelligence. But how she talks about being fat - really fat - is powerful stuff, especially at the intersection of public opinion and internal struggle.

p. 120 (chapter 31) - "When you're overweight, your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects"...[people make comments]..."They forget you are a person. You are your body, nothing more, and your body should damn well become less."

p. 137 - "What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?"

p. 175 (chapter 51) - "I have two wardrobes." "...every day...These are the clothes I feel safe in." "My other wardrobe, the one that dominates most of my closet, is full of the clothes I don't have the courage to wear." "When I slide back into my uniform, that cloak of safety returns."

p. 205 - "This is no way to live but this is how I live."

Our bodies are ours. Think twice before you say something about weight loss or weight gain. Do you really want to mention the dark circles under someone's eyes? Like my niece said once, “Commentary on my looks or anyone's is not welcome banter.”

Although, I’ll not be unhappy if you notice that my hair is a little bit purple, because that - dying my hair an eccentric color - amuses the hell out of me.

30 July 2018

Crazy Trip™

I have a friend who is wont to fly off to an exotic (or domestic) locale, for merely a long weekend. She calls those Crazy Trips™. This weekend, we emulated her.

The child is attending a two week summer camp, in upstate New York, roughly midway between Buffalo and Rochester. She needed to be dropped off yesterday, a Sunday, so I came up with the glorious idea of driving to Niagara Falls on Saturday, and staying overnight. Because, in all my born days, I had never been to Niagara Falls.

So off we went, early in the morning. We dropped our stuff at our overpriced mediocre hotel and headed straight for Canada. The falls are indeed spectacular, and indeed better seen from Canada.

Horseshoe Falls, from Canada

Note red navigation buoy near falls. If you're navigating near there, I think you're toast.

After a side trip driveby of scenic Niagara on the Lake, we retreated to our depressing hotel, where the TV set defaulted to Fox News.

In the morning, we walked down to the Niagara Falls State Park (proximity being the only saving grace of the mediocre hotel), and got on line for the Maid of the Mist because I am a sucker for a good tourist attraction, and the Maid of the Mist is, as my friend Yale said to me on Facebook, "the shit". I grinned like a fool for the entire little trip into the waterfall.

Horseshoe Falls from Maid of the Mist

American Falls in the foreground, as seen from the cantilevered viewing platform at the top of the elevator down to the boats

Then we hit the road.

My demand for the weekend had been Niagara Falls; my husband's was an exploration of the Erie Canal. Lockport was the location of a double set of five locks when the canal was originally built; later, a modern two step set was built alongside. The old locks are partly extant, and on weekends, a team of volunteers demonstrate the workings of the hand-moved wooden gates. Happily we got to Lockport at just the right moment - a paddlewheeler and two kayakers were coming through the 100 year old "modern" lock, and the volunteers were putting the adjacent antique gates through their paces.

Antique canal lock gate, at Lockport

One of my favorite bits was the pair of men in t-shirts labeled STAFF. On closer inspection, they turned out to be staff of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, some two hundred miles to the east. I asked one, "busman's holiday?" He grinned and copped as such.

Even though we'd seen Lake Ontario from Niagara on the Lake, we decided to detour north before heading for camp. We ended up in Olcott, a tiny adorable town with a 25 cent carousel and a Wurlitzer Band Organ. Why yes, I did have to stop and make a video.

Because it was awesome, and it was right there.

Boxes of Wurlitzer Band Organ rolls

Finally, we walked over to the shores of Lake Ontario. I wasn't prepared to go swimming, but I did have waterproof sandals on, so in I went. It's the first time I've been in a Great Lake.

Lake Ontario

To the child's great happiness, we concluded our sightseeing and headed straight to camp.

Signed, sealed, delivered, a whirlwind 24 hours.

10 July 2018

Summer Kitchen

For, I dunno, the past 10 years, I've been saying to my husband that I want an electric oven installed in the garage. You see, I love to bake and I especially like to bake in the summer when there are summer fruits like rhubarb and peaches and other things that demand to be made into cobblers and galettes and pies and crisps. And, in my mind, it's totally logical to have an oven in the garage, because the garage door opens into the kitchen, and the last time the kitchen was renovated (before us), all the cabinets were recycled into a work area in the garage (and another in the cellar).

And the reason that I don't bake so much in the summer is that the house is only very lightly air-conditioned, specifically window units in the two upstairs bedrooms and nothing on the first floor, and who wants to turn on the oven in the summer heat?

Finally, over the weekend, I had a brainstorm. Since it didn't seem like I was getting a real oven in the garage anytime soon because running a 220V line was going to be complicated and expensive, I thought hey, they make big fancy toaster ovens, that'll do.

A modicum of internet research and an online order later, I am now the proud owner of a toaster oven big enough for 9 slices of toast, a whole chicken, or a 13" pizza.

Let the baking commence!

23 June 2018


I engaged in some gonzo gardening today. The quince had grown up and over on one side, and the privet and a burning bush had grown up and over on the other, and the little path of grass down the side of the yard to the lower terrace had become a tunnel. Besides the fact that the grass didn't much like all the shade, the tunnel wasn't quite head high, so it was an ordeal to transverse.

Out came the loppers. Chop, chop, chop and I had a pile of branches to haul down the hill. As I came back up, my heart stopped: there was a bird's nest in the grass, wrenched out of the quince.

I didn't find any evidence of eggs, so I am hoping that it was an unused or vacated nest.

But when I picked it up, my heart sobbed again. Besides grasses and twigs, one of the building materials for the nest was the cellophane wrapper from a pack of cigarettes.

Shall I be glad that the bird was so cleverly thrifty? Or sad that the cigarette wrapper was there for the taking?

The glass, she is half full and she is half empty.

28 April 2018

It Takes Three To Land A Steelhead

Back in 1998, I went on a fishing/camping trip with my father, my husband, three other family members, three guides and a baggage barge guy who set up camp every night. We were on the Deschutes, in Oregon - a beautiful river that flows north from Bend to the Columbia. We traveled downstream in boats, but stopped to fish; fishing is only allowed from the bank.

I'd been skeptical about spending four days on the water, and three nights in tents, but it turned out to be the perfect vacation - there were no decisions to be made except whether to change your underwear. And that was a serious consideration, because it was cold enough that your wet boot laces were iced up every morning.

At one point, we had a hella exciting run with a fish, which my father wrote up for some fishing oriented magazine - but they never published it. Because he was writing for publication, he left out a key detail: at some point we scrabbled into the boat and chased that fish downstream.

A couple of weeks ago, he mailed me a copy of what he'd written, followed by the photos. Since it never did get published, I'm sharing it now.

Here's what he wrote, nearly twenty years ago.

While steelhead fishing on the great Deschutes River in Oregon this past October, my daughter, Maggie, and I had a singular experience with a beautiful, wild, male steelhead. Maggie was fishing upstream of me with Dan Bastian of Rising Trout Guides and Outfitters in Bend, Oregon. We were near Kaskela, about 18 miles downriver from Warm Springs, at the foot of the Mutton Mountains. She was working a brown stonefly nymph with a trailing small green rock worm, tied by Bill Sheppard, who was also guiding with Dan on the trip. The green rock worm was tied on a #2457 Tiemco hook, size 12, with a rainbow crystal bead behind the eye, a light green vinyl body and a grey ostrich herl behind the bead.

Maggie was having some success with the nymphing rig and Dan took the rod to demonstrate how she could cover more water by making longer casts and mending the line. On his second cast there was a terrific slashing strike; immediately, the fish made a heroic, acrobatic leap. Dan clearly saw the green rock worm in the mouth of a beautiful, very colorful, steelhead.

The fish hit the water and took off downstream like an express train. I heard the commotion behind me and looked back to see Maggie and Dan in the river. I heard Dan ask Maggie "are you ready?" and saw him hand her the charged rod. The rod, a four-piece six-weight Sage with a #2 Ross Gunnerson reel, was pointing straight downstream. The reel sang as I watched the line and backing disappearing after the steelhead.

I headed upstream for the camera and as I pulled abreast of Maggie I shouted "raise your rod tip!" She tried but could not. I dropped my rod, vest and wading staff and joined her in the river. Try as she might, Maggie could not lift the rod; she calmly turned to me and said "Pop, the line is all gone." She showed me the reel; the backing was down to the spindle. I took the rod and ran.

I was struck by the fact that the hook, the leader, the line and the backing all held; there was a straight pull between me and the fish. I stumbled downstream and finally began to gain backing. I was able to get out of the river and make better progress on dry land.

At one point, as I ran on, the fish slipped into an eddy downstream and seemed to stop. In a blink the rod shot straight up, the backing twisted around the rod near the tip top and the rod came apart at the top section. In a word - a "mess." Trying to stay calm, I untangled the backing and reassembled the rod; I took up the strain and felt that the fish was still on. Off I went.

As I rounded a bend in the river, Maggie, Dan and his McKenzie River boat caught up to me and the fish moved into a wide, shallow area of calm water. Both the fish and I were out of gas.

Dan got out of the boat, Maggie got the camera and together we landed, photographed and released a very beautiful, wild Deschutes River steelhead.

On examination, we found that the green rock worm was impaled in the pectoral fin of the fish, the tippet on the rock worm was broken and the stonefly nymph was in the fish's tail. We surmised that when the steelhead first jumped, it hit the leader with its tail and broke off the rock worm, only to hook itself on the stonefly nymph. The fish's hectic, powerful rush downriver was explained by it being foul-hooked in the tail. We carefully removed the hooks, rested the steelhead and sent him on his way. We all agreed that it was fortunate that the gear held and we were able to free the fish of the hooks and line.

I hope that this fish will reproduce and put his determination and indomitable will into future generations so that the Deschutes River will continue to be an exciting, as well as beautiful, place to fish in the years ahead.

Thanks, Pop.

16 April 2018

Doulas, Mortality and Racism

Did you read the cover story in yesterday's New York Times magazine? It's titled "Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis" and it is a compelling, and heartbreaking, and horrifically shocking tale of infant and maternal mortality in the US, in particular in black women and babies. Read it. Read it and get fired up. This is wrong. Here are a few excerpts:

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States…Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C.
The reasons for the black-white divide in both infant and maternal mortality have been debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades. But recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.

I don't know about you, but I am appalled. Part of me wants to quit my my job and become a doula, or an advocate for women's health, or a midwife, or something. Since none of that seems all that practical, I searched up the organizations mentioned in the Times article as working in this sphere. I'll make some donations; maybe you want to too. Because I like doing my due diligence, the link to the 990s for the non-profits is included.


BirthWaves provides families with doula services after the loss of their pregnancy or infant. Services will be provided by unbiased, nonjudgmental and caring individuals who are trained to offer bereavement support. BirthWaves does not discriminate based on race, religion, income or any other social or economic status.

Physicians for Reproductive Health

Physicians for Reproductive Health unites the medical community and concerned supporters. Together, we work to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, especially to meet the health care needs of economically disadvantaged patients.

Sisters Keeper (Mother Health International)

Mother Health International (MHI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to respond and provide relief to pregnant women and children in areas of disaster, war and extreme economic poverty. We are committed to reducing maternal, infant and child mortality rates by creating culturally competent and sustainable birth centers using the midwifery model of care. We currently work with midwives in areas where the burden of perinatal mortality is extremely high. In each country we have clinics staffed by traditional midwives who work side by side with local nurse midwives and visiting ‘resident’ midwives from around the world.

Sistersong (Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective)

Sistersong’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

The last organization isn't actually a non-profit; it's a collective. They do ask for donations, though, and they are the organization that helped Simone Landrum birth her last child, her third child and fourth pregnancy.

Birthmark Doulas

Birthmark Doula Collective is a birth justice organization dedicated to supporting, informing and advocating for pregnant and parenting people and their families in New Orleans.

Pregnant woman need appropriate health care, babies need to be born alive, and endemic racism has to stop.

21 March 2018

Abstemious Oatmeal

Sometimes you need a bowl of oatmeal. The addition of a bit of flaked coconut bulks it up without adding much in the way carbohydrates. It doesn't taste especially of coconut, and there's an appealing chewiness to the finished porridge.

Coconut Blueberry Oatmeal

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 T. coconut flakes, unsweetened
pinch of salt
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
2 T. 2% milk

Boil water in a little pot. Add oats, coconut, salt. Reduce heat and simmer for about 4 minutes. Add blueberries and cook for another minute or so; you want the berries warmed through and starting to pop. Serve with milk.

17 March 2018

How To Stave Off Ennui

Last weekend, I had the great joy of a weekend away with my sister and her wife and my brother's wife, at a fancy schmancy spa. We spent our time laughing and eating and dancing and lounging. We hydrated the connective tissue of our spines; we practiced NIA; we took an African drumming class. Some of us did athletic things like Tabata and kick boxing; one of us went outside and went snowshoeing. We were buffed and rubbed and oiled and wrapped; we luxoriated in the dry sauna and inhaled in the steam room and soaked in the hot tubs, naked because we've finally shed our modesty as more cumbersome than necessary. We tried water aerobics with a side of in-pool yoga, we tried restorative yoga complete with Tibetan singing bowls vibrating against our hips. And when we weren't spa-ing, we sat in the room with the view and fireplace and read books and did crosswords and drank strong black coffee and fruity herbal tea.

The day we arrived, there was a jigsaw puzzle on a green felt table near the fireplace, complete. My sister and I looked at it, and looked at one another, and looked at it again, and took it apart. Surely it was time to for us to (re)start the puzzle. And what a puzzle it was. No ordinary cardboard puzzle this, it was made from meticulously cut plywood, about a half centimeter thick. The pieces slipped together with precision, it wasn't a rectangle, and the whole puzzle was embued with a sense of wit.

A piece shaped liked a hummingbird fit its beak into the yellow center of a flower.

A piece cut into a pair of cherries hides in the cherries of the puzzle image.

Other guests joined in - we’d come back past after a meal and find a few more bits snugged together. The singing bowl lady took full credit for having suggested the puzzle - “they used to have these crappy cardboard puzzles, I told them they needed an upgrade”. And there is no question that this precise and lovely wooden puzzle is an upgrade from your run-of-the-mill jigsaw. Discreetly tucked next to the puzzle was a little pile of promotional materials - from that we learned that the puzzle come from a company called Stave. And the prices? BREATHTAKING.

Honestly, there are puzzles on their website that cost as much as a small car. This is seriously crazy. The best analogy I can muster is that they are to regular puzzles what flying in a private jet is to the sardine tin ignominy of commercial coach. Both ways are going to get you to Chicago, but do you really want to spend scads of money on the luxe leather-lined jet that takes off on your schedule? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It was a fun diversion though, given that it wasn’t my dime.

10 March 2018

This is why we read the print edition.

Because seriously? You never would have spotted this on-line.

The New York Times 
Saturday, the 10th of March, 2018
Sports section, page B11

11 February 2018


You know how one thing leads to another?

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrabbling around on the internet investigating cauliflower pizza - where instead of a yeast dough made with flour and water and yeast and a drizzle of olive oil, you somehow mash cauliflower into a disk and pretend it's a crust. I landed on a recipe on the WaPo site, which was not uninteresting for a couple of reasons. 1) It turns out that you can actually buy the premade cauliflower crusts from a company called, ha ha ha, Cali'flour Foods, which is good because it is a pain-in-the-ass to make it yourself. 2) The guy tweaked his version of the cauliflower crust by riffing on a recipe from a cookbook I'd never heard of: “Eat More Greens” by Zita Steyn.

So I took the book out of the library. It's a little woo-woo, but there were enough things in it that looked interesting, so it's currently sitting on my dining room table with a handful of post-it notes flagging said interesting-looking things. Like a barley and mustard green risotto, and a cauliflower couscous, and a lentil salad with avocado and roasted tomatoes and spinach, and HOLY SHIT dukka!

Years ago, really a long time ago, I acquired both of Laurie Colwin's memoir cookbooks: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. I love them. She was a terrific writer who had a dab hand in the kitchen and some of my absolute favorite things to eat are from her. The Nantucket cranberry pie is hers. So is the Cider jelly. And for years I've been circling around her recipe for dukka, never really needing to make it, but really wanting to. After all, Colwin calls it Condiment and says "I must confess that I eat it right out of the jar". And later she offers it to her sister, who is subsequently caught eating it out of the jar with a spoon.

Finding dukka in another cookbook was all the encouragement I needed. I even had a handful of hazelnuts in the freezer. Before I started, I dug up a third version of dukka, one from Claudia Roden, which Laurie Colwin alludes to off-handedly because it seems like Colwin actually got her recipe from Jane Grigson's daughter Sophie. (Tracing recipes back is worse than genealogy.) (Besides, dukka is clearly one of those things on which every family in Egypt has their own idiosyncratic take.) Armed with three recipes, I went to work.

And, dear reader, it was GOOD.

It's good on a spoon out of the jar.

It's good sprinkled on some plain boiled farro.

It's good dressing up steamed broccoli.

It's good on a fried egg.

I haven't tried it on avocado yet, but I think that'll be my lunch tomorrow.

Colwin includes cinnamon; I skipped that. Steyn uses dried mint and nigella seeds; I skipped them. Steyn also uses ground coriander; I stuck with whole. Roden keeps it simple: hazelnuts, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, cumin seeds, salt and pepper.

I went with Roden's ingredients but made a smaller batch.

Dukka (or Dukkha or Dukkah or Do'a or Duqqa) (or Condiment)

1 cup whole hazelnuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 T. coriander seeds
1 1/2 T. cumin seeds
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper

Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet. Dump them onto a kitchen towel and rub them around to get some of the skins off. Put the skinned (or semi-skinned) nuts in a food processor. Now, toast the remaining seeds until the sesame seeds are staring to color and the cumin and coriander are fragrant. Add to the food processor, along with the salt and pepper. Buzz a few times until nicely chopped, but not pureed. Eat at will.

The moral of the story? When the dukka itch gets you, scratch it.

09 February 2018

I really don't know what I was looking for

But Amazon helpfully sent me a list of books I might want "based on [my] browsing history.


Can we connect the dots?

The Pocket Pastafarian Quatrains
by Jon Smith

Did we know that there was an "epic poem of the eternal struggle for enlightenment, the Pastafarian Quatrains" much less a pocket edition? No, we did not. I do sort of need a new Flying Spaghetti Monster for the back of my car though.

The Communist Manifesto
by David Harvey

I may call myself a lefty-commie-pinko, but I haven't been buying books in support of that facile soundbite. Unless Amazon knows that I took that silly test on Facebook the other day, and was told that my "political views are Hardcore Left-Wing". But more interesting is that Amazon's email claims that The Communist Manifesto is by one David Harvey, when everyone knows that it's by Marx and Engels. What is Amazon trying to prove here?

The Selfish Gene: 40th Anniversary Edition
by Richard Dawkins

I got nothing. All of my genes are altruistic.

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
by by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg

Yes! I love vegetables! I love cookbooks! This makes perfect sense! Maybe I'll take it out of the library. Sorry, Amazon.

08 February 2018

Yogurt Eggs

I fell hard for Julia Turshen's yogurt eggs when the recipe showed up on Food52. It's delightful - more interesting than a plain fried egg, and about 30 seconds more work. This morning, I didn't have any fresh herbs, so I sprinkled the end result with a bit of smoked paprika.

Yogurt Eggs, adapted from Turshen

2 eggs
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1 T. lemon juice
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dash of smoked paprika

Mix yogurt and lemon juice in a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Smear mix onto your dinner plate. (Or skip the bowl and mix the yogurt and lemon juice right on the plate you're going to eat off of - less photogenic, but one less dish to wash.) Fry eggs in olive oil. Slip eggs onto yogurt, and if there's any oil left in the pan, drizzle it over the eggs. Garnish with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Eat, all by yourself, and feel virtuous and hedonistic all at the same time.

01 February 2018

Crunchy Granola

The granola that I grew up on was basically this Crunchy Granola, and always called Crunchy Granola, not just granola - although over time, I've edited the nuts and seeds content. In an effort to understand the nutrition profile of a homemade granola, I made a batch today, and weighed every ingredient, and ran it all through a nutrition calculator.

Crunchy Granola, 2018 edition

2 cups / 241 g oatmeal
1/2 cup / 34 g wheat germ
large pinch / 1 g salt
1/3 cup / 34 g almonds
2 T. / 18 g pepitas
2 T. / 20 g flaxseed
2 T. / 15 g sesame seeds
1/3 cup / 24 g dried coconut flakes
1/4 cup / 40 g coconut oil
1/4 cup / 53 g honey
2 T. / 12 g psyllium husk

Using the microwave, melt the coconut oil and honey together in a small pyrex cup. Stir into the dry ingredients, massage well to distribute the honey and coconut oil evenly, and bake in a roasting pan at 350ºF for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often. [Volume measurements of the coconut oil and honey are approximate - I eyeballed them.]

Makes 4 cups - or 16 1/4 cup servings.

03 January 2018

Blackberries and Fresh Milk

If you ride the subway, you know about Poetry In Motion - a public service project of the MTA wherein poetry replaces advertisements.

This morning, I was amused to find an advertisement masquerading as poetry, indeed referring to those "other subway poems.

I particularly like the fact that the sleeping man is obscuring the logo of the advertiser.

Poetry, for the win!