01 April 2024

April 1st

Of course yes, it's April Fool's Day. It's also the birthday of Gil Scott-Heron (b. 1949), and the anniversary of the day that Singapore became a British crown colony (in 1867), and the date that then-President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law (in 1970), and when Google launched gmail (2004). And in 2009, my mother died. Fifteen years ago.

She sits beside me - in the books on my shelves, the objects hanging on the dining room walls, the roll top desk in the next room. Her plants are in my garden, a bottle of her perfume is on my dresser.

Last fall, my husband and I visited our daughter in the south of France. Shortly before our trip, my sister unearthed a small spiral bound notebook, with the notes my mother had taken when she took my siblings to the same general area in 1985. I scanned the whole thing and took it with us. It's a gem, and we are still quoting aloud from it. Taking that notebook with us was like having her along.

Cavaillon - the Hempstead of France

Here she is, hiding behind an urn, in 1985:

Moky as Gorey character

I miss her. But I am glad to have her around in the ways that I do.

02 March 2024

In Which We Attempt That Baked Icing

I'm not going to lie: the spice cake with the baked icing intrigued me, because "baked icing". I had never heard of such a thing. But I am a person that owns two copies of The Joy of Cooking, 1953 and 1975, so I pulled them out and sure enough, both editions had a baked icing recipe.

The Joy of Cooking, 1953

The Joy of Cooking, 1975

How about that language change around the addition of cocoa? In 1953, cocoa varies the flavor, but in 1975 it provides an exciting new taste!

I made Mrs. Wright's recipe more or less as written, and while it was okay, I don't think I'll do it again - mostly because it's hella sweet. The icing is interesting though - it's essentially a baked meringue topping, spread thinly and baked long enough that it's brittle. Also - it's fragile and a little tricky to get out of the pan - it would probably be best baked in a loose bottomed pan.

If you want to try it, here's a slightly tweaked version of Mrs. Wright's recipe. (I used butter and yogurt in place of shortening and soured milk, added ginger, and left off the nuts.)


  • 1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick) 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk 
  • 1 1/2 cups flour 
  • 1/4 t. salt 
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon 
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger 
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves 
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (not greek)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and egg yolk; beat well. In a separate bowl, stir together all dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg, alternately with the yogurt.

Spread into a greased & floured pan (1 8" square, or two loaf pans). Use a parchment sling, or a loose bottomed pan, if you want to be able to get the cake out of the pan in one piece.

  • 1 egg white 
  • pinch of salt 
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Beat egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Mix in the salt and brown sugar. Gently spread this meringue on top of the batter. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, and then gently move the cake to a serving plate.

29 February 2024

Time For Dessert (part 3 of 3)

The last two of Mrs. Wright's recipe cards are for desserts that are a little off the beaten path. When was the last time you had a dessert with concord grades, or a baked icing? Indeed, when have you even heard of a baked icing?

If you've been around my blog for a while, you may remember a concord grape pie courtesy of a different neighbor, Ruth. Marian's Concord Grape Crunch isn't a pie - it's got an crust of oatmeal/butter/sugar pressed into a pan, spread with concord grape "filling", and topped with crumbles of the rest of the oatmeal/butter/sugar mix. Of course, true to form, there is no recipe for the filling - once agin, as in so many of Marian's recipes, one is just expected to know how to make a [fill in the blank]. This card's in someone else's handwriting, but I'm pretty sure it's not the next door neighbor Ruth's hand.

I confess that the part of this next and last recipe that attracted me was the "baked" icing. Reading the card, it's a pretty basic spice cake, but the last step before it goes in the oven is to make an egg white & brown sugar meringue, and spread that on top of the raw cake batter. I'm a little intrigued.

I also love the addendum with the instructions on how to sour milk.

I think March will be "make all the things" month.

28 February 2024

Time For Dessert (part 2 of 3)

The next two desserts are both familiar and not particularly exotic: Pecan Tassies and a Lemon Loaf Cake. It is possible that I kept the card for the pecan tassies because of another neighbor who always made them (and who, together with her husband and 215 other people died in the crash of EgyptAir 990), but I don't know that Marian got this particular recipe from Sharon. Maybe, maybe not. If you've never had pecan tassies, they are a bit like tiny pecan pies, with a hint towards rugelach since they're made with a cream cheese dough.

There are a million recipes for lemon loaf cakes - and yet, this one spoke to me. Maybe because it's typed? With a pencil direction "For Mrs. Wright"? Maybe because it's got BUTTER (instead of the margarine in other of Marian's recipes - like the pecan tassies)? Maybe because of the precision of the recipe with its admonition to "not beat the eggs". Although, the oven temperature is merely given as "moderate", and when do you add the grated rind of one lemon which "furnishes the flavoring"? I might make this.

25 February 2024

Time For Dessert (part 1 of 3)

In all the time that I knew Mrs. Wright, what I knew her for - kitchen-wise - was dessert. It is, therefore, no surprise to me that I kept six recipes for sweets (seven if you include the "dessert" in the jello post).

Today's installment of Mrs. Wright's recipes includes two. The first one confuses me, and I kind of want to send it to B. Dylan Hollis for his take. It includes cooked mashed potatoes, and peanut butter, but after you make a dough with the mashed potates, and smear the peanut butter on, and roll it up, what then? Is it done? Does it need further baking, chilling, anything? Peculiar.

Also it's on a larger than usual index card, which had to be folded to fit in the standard 3" x 5" box, and it's in someone else's handwriting. Where did it come from?

Mrs. Wright was terrific at pizzele. She and my mother would compare notes and my mother's were never as good as Marian's. This is another example of a recipe for someone who knows how to cook. No instructions whatsoever - just a list of ingredients. If you want to be picky, there are two verbs: melt and add. But the proof of pizzele is in the baking. (And I wonder what happened to my mother's pizzele iron...and Marian's for that matter.)

23 February 2024

Never Olive Oil

Next up in the cavalcade of index cards: Dressings and Condiments.

Mrs. Wright's raw cranberry relish is much like my mother's - that is, raw cranberries and a whole orange, with some sugar - but it has the addition of a ground up apple or two. I might try that one day.

I think I kept the poppy seed dressing recipe solely for the admonition - in a different hand! - that the salad oil should never be olive oil. It sounds terribly sweet, what with twice as much sugar as vinegar. What would you dress with this? [Nothing. I can't imagine making this.]

And I know I kept the Tomato Conserve card because of the handwriting. Such a beautiful old hand, with the title leaning to the left, and the body copy leaning to the right. Also, this is a recipe meant to be canned, and sealed with hot paraffin. My grandmother, and several of the neighbors, used to can with paraffin, and I remember that satisfying pop when you gently rocked the paraffin off the top of the jam. And of course, you washed off the paraffin disk so it could be remelted and reused. Thrift! The Tomato Conserve, though. It sounds rather like a chutney - tomatoes, lemon, raisins, walnuts - but it lacks any seasoning, and might be kind of boring.

21 February 2024

Mrs. Wright's Main Courses

As promised, here are some more of Mrs. Wright's recipe cards. I kept only a tiny handful that fall into the category of main courses - a pot roast, some meatballs, a chicken dish, and a thoroughly gross sounding recipe for tuna on biscuits.

Pot roast might be my favorite. This is clearly the recipe of someone who knows how to cook, and just needs an outline. There is no cooking time, there are no instructions. It's really just fling a piece of meat in the crockpot with a package of onion soup mix and bob's your uncle.

Buzzy's meatballs are similarly vague - do you sauté the meatballs, or cook them in the gravy? I guess you sauté them, because the gravy calls for "fat from the meat". And what makes them Swedish anyway? It's not like they've got lingonberry jam on the side. Like the pot roast recipe, this one's gonna be useless to anyone doesn't know how to cook. (And who is Buzzy??)

I would guess that the Chicken Oahu is Hawaiian in that it has pineapple. Interestingly, though, it's the sauce that's called "Oahu sauce" - and the pineapple isn't in the sauce. In short - you brown some chicken, cook it in the crockpot on a bed of stuffing cubes and pineapple, and then spoon an odd sauce over the top. The sauce is celery, onion and green pepper, simmered in a bit of water, and enriched with sour cream and cream of mushroom soup, and seasoned with a bit of soy sauce. To be honest, the whole thing sounds nasty.

But Tuna on Biscuits takes the cake for nasty. Hot tuna, in a milky sauce, with hard boiled eggs. Poor biscuits. What did they do to deserve that?

19 February 2024

All About Jello

For years, really, like (counts on fingers) 18 years, I have had an envelope with a little stack of recipe cards in it. I move it from time to time, not wanting to throw the cards out, but not ready to *do* something with them. You see, they were part of a dumpster-dive haul when the lady across the street from my mom got moved to assisted living, and her house was emptied and sold and torn down and replaced with a shitty McMansion. Lots of the cards are in Marian's handwriting, but some aren't and one's typed and finally today I got them scanned.

Five are for jello or jello "salads". I mean, when was the last time you had jello salad or gelatinized anything?

First up - Cucumber Jello salad. It's definitely in the "not a dessert" category, what with the onion. I'm going to guess that you have to chill it again after you stir in the sour cream and cucumber "cut in tiny chunks"?

Next, another "not a dessert" jello: Tomato jello. Raspberry jello and a can of stewed tomatoes. I mean, I think that isn't a dessert - but what the hell is it? A side dish for a roast chicken? I wonder who Louise Reiss is (or more likely, was).

Moving on, we have two things called "salad" but both skew more towards dessert for me.

Jan's Salad is black cherry jello with fruit cocktail and frozen rasperries - with the option of chopped pecans or chopped apples.

And Fruited Nectar Salad mostly kind of sounds dessert-y - with ingredients like apricot nectar, mandarin oranges, seedless grapes and chopped apple. EXCEPT she's got a note to serve it with mayonnaise...so maybe it's not dessert after all.

Finally, we have Dessert. Just that - the card is titled dessert, the name of the recipe is dessert. It sounds a little like a lemon mousse - an egg yolk custard stirred into orange jello and then folded into beaten egg whites. Honestly, it doesn't sound too terrible. If I had some orange jello in the house, I might make it.

Still to come: meat, condiments & dressings, non-jello desserts.

31 January 2024

I did it.

I am feeling reasonably chuffed because tonight I finished Adriene's 30 day FLOW journey - and the last practice was wordless. Yeah, I had to keep peeking at the screen, but yeah, I did it.*

Now, on to February.

*Cue: My Way

29 January 2024

Two Truths And A Lie, musician edition

 Jeff Buckley stroked my cheek and told me I had beautiful skin. 

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Lou Reed gave me a scented candle. (Actually his first wife did, but yeah, I worked on something with him.)

26 January 2024

26 Days Into A New Year

It’s almost the end of January, but it’s not too late to report on New Year’s Resolutions, is it? Although, maybe they aren’t really *new year* resolutions – because some are short term, and at least one began back in the summer.

1) Last summer, I started learning French in Duolingo – I have a 148 day streak. At this rate, I don’t think I’ll be fluent any time soon, but I like spending a few minutes a day working on my French.

2) A few years ago, my sister talked me into one of Adriene’s 30 day yoga journeys. I’m doing it again this year: FLOW. I missed one day a couple of weeks ago – but made it up by doing two a couple of days later. I missed another earlier this week – and I’ll make it up this weekend. Adriene’s yoga classes are on demand on YouTube, and are mostly about 20 minutes long. 20 minutes of not-difficult yoga before bed has helped me sleep better.

3) In a fit of madness, I signed up for tap dancing classes. It was a bit of synchronicity – someone in my office had spread out 57 pairs of tap shoes on the same day that someone on Facebook posted a link to a class in the town next to me at a time I could actually make. So I borrowed a pair of tap shoes, and I’m working on coordinated noise.

4) Right before the end of December, I saw a Facebook post about a slow read of War & Peace, so I’m doing that too. War & Peace is approximately 360 chapters (different editions are differently chaptered), so it’s a chapter a day for a year. There’s a guy who moderates; he provides a daily prompt for a reader chat, and a weekly sum up. And yesterday we finished book one/part one. 

Daily yoga, daily French, daily Tolstoy, weekly tap, and the daily puzzles* that I was already doing - all that adds up to a lot of regular tasks. But they are all enjoyable and maybe even rungs on a self-improvement ladder. Huh. I don't think I've ever done New Year's Resolutions before - but this year, not only have I done so, I've kept on keeping on. 

* So many puzzles:

  • New York Times Crossword (daily in pen, on the train, and usually I follow it up by checking on how Rex felt about the puzzle)
  • NYT Wordle (first thing in the morning, results texted to the kid, and occasionally shared more broadly if the grid of blocks is pleasing)
  • NYT Connections (also in the morning)
  • WAPO Keyword