27 March 2015

On Whales and Submarines

Sometimes it's the simple things.

I was seated on the subway this morning, gazing between the standees, and what to my wondering eyes did I spy but a whale?

And the little wheels in my head turned, and I thought "it reminds me of the Peter Sis whale that I have".

And it was! Well, it's Peter Sis, not a whale, it's a submarine, but it has a familial resonance.

The MTA has this program, Arts for Transit, where they do installations in subway stations, and commission posters that get slapped up in unsold ad spaces.

I don't know about you, but I'd far rather look at art and read poetry than have to stare into Dr. Zizmor's rainbow wrapped eyes.

And Peter Sis? In the case of the whale, which debuted in 2001, I liked the art so much that I bought the poster and had it framed - long before I'd heard of him as an author and illustrator.

Sometimes it's the little things that get the day off to a good start.

04 March 2015


After a period of quiescence, the 11 year old has rediscovered her American Girl dolls. She has been hell bent on building furniture for them, and making bedding, and slavishly following instructions found on YouTube for the creation of eerily realistic doll-sized chocolate chip cookies, and chattering incessantly about wanting a fourth doll.

I, thinking three of them was already too many, said no, absolutely not, I will not buy you a fourth doll.

She, drawing on some hardwired capitalistic tendencies, I know not from where, decided that she wanted to sell two of the dolls. We talked about eBay, and about a local Facebook "garage sale", and she decided to take her chances on eBay - even after I explained about Paypal fees and postage. She took all of the necessary pictures, and wrote most of the copy. I fluffed up her copy (smoke free household!) and posted the two dolls for sale. She watched the auctions like a hawk and was thrilled with the results. I, frankly, was dumbfounded that one doll went for twice what we had paid in 2011, and the other went for about the original price. [One was a "girl of the year", the other was a now retired historical doll.]

Armed, therefore, with a chunk of money in the bank of mom, we headed into NYC the other day, with a friend of hers, to get that new doll.

First, though, we took the subway downtown and went to Economy Candy. I told her and and the friend that they could have $20 and 20 minutes; they were done in 15.

Then we walked up to Katz's Deli, where we didn't send any salamis, but we did have selzer and pastrami and an indulgent waiter who didn't mind when the girls dumped all the candy out onto the table to fondle it.

After lunch, we walked back to the subway, past the end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where there was a big sculpture made out of rubber mats. Dryly, my child remarked If I did that, no one would call it art.

Riding uptown on the subway, the two girls worked hard on staying standing without holding on. This is a life skill, people, and children from the suburbs don't get enough practice.

Finally, we got to the American Girl Doll store, where the two girls perversely decided that they weren't buying anything for themselves, it was for their "cousins". Weirdos.

Of course, on the train home, all of the purchases came out of their packages.

The moral of the story? Capitalism is good, especially when it reduces the number of dolls in your house.

27 February 2015

Photo Caption

Standing on
the platform
on a fiercely
cold and brilliantly
sunny February day
with his back to the
track, not watching
for the next train,
the commuter
tilts his chin up
to the sky, eyes
closed, dreaming of
the summer
that will come,

26 February 2015

In Which California Avocados Meet Moroccan Clementines

In two of the excellent meals we had in San Francisco last week, I ordered an avocado/citrus salad.

At Gialina, it was "blood orange & avocado salad with farro, fennel & goat gouda". [Gialina is low key and serves phenomenally fabulous pizza with a magical perfect crust.] A few days later, it was "california avocado salad with fennel, celery, citrus vinaigrette", at the Presidio Social Club. [PSC is a nostalgic throwback, like an upscale yacht club with great food and a daily Manhattan.] I loved both salads. The avocado provided lushness, the citrus made them sparkle.

Then, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz, we found a guy selling fruit out of the back of a truck in a bug out overlooking the ocean. He had boxes of tiny, jewel-toned avocados, each about the size of a kiwi and five for a dollar. Twenty cents for an avocado! I bought five even though I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, and we were flying back to New York at the crack of dawn the next day.

Yes, reader, those avocados came home with me. A few days on the kitchen counter and they ripened up to a nice black. And I diced them, and added celery and clementines (alas, from Morocco, not California), and a splash of oil and vinegar, and yes. It's a great salad.

Avocado, Celery, Clementine salad

1 stalk of celery
2 clementines
1 ripe Haas avocado
1 T. olive oil
1 T. mild vinegar (I like the Unió Riesling vinegar, but you could use a champagne vinegar or a cider vinegar)
salt & pepper to taste

Finely slice the celery, less than 1/8" thick. (I know: fussy knife work.) Place in bowl. Peel the clementines. Working over the bowl, do your best to filet them - remove all of the flesh from each segment and drop the flesh in the bowl. (Yes: more fussy knife work. You could just cut each segment in half, if you must.) Peel and pit the avocado, and dice into 1/2" chunks. Add to celery and clementine. Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and toss gently with a big spoon. Serve immediately.

Serves two.

22 February 2015

The non-ski, non-beach February break vacation

We just spent the winter break in San Francisco. My sister-in-law lives there, and we hadn't been to visit in a long time - and the girl child had never been. Between the three of us, we took about 1500 pictures - though that includes about 300 that my husband took accidentally while standing still with the shutter going off at his hip, like some kind of weird performance art. Here are the highlights - I think it's 22 photos.

We had lunch at Bacon Bacon. They have a mechanical ride-on pig. Everything has bacon in or on it.

The child went in the sea. Air temperature was great; ocean only good for crazy people and 11 year olds.

We had ice cream for breakfast, Secret Breakfast from Humphry Slocombe, because duh, cornflakes.

We, of course, rode the cable cars and hung off the sides.

I spotted a pair of large beige underpants in a window.

We went to the top of the Coit Tower, where you could see for miles. And the sky was blue.

The citrus available at the farmers markets was astonishingly good and varied.

This little angel lived at the entrance to a Sausalito houseboat.

This pig decorated another Sausalito houseboat. One of the houseboats was for sale, for a mere $799K.

Fort Cronkhite. Another place where we went to the beach. In February in Northern California.

I do like a ruin. This is part of a gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands.

Mandatory photo of iconic International Orange bridge, which we crossed a number of times.

The National Cemetery is - as they all are - moving. At the gates to the rear entrance is engraved Archibald MacLeish's poem The Young Dead Soldiers.

In Golden Gate Park, there are casting pools. And an angler's lodge - complete with a stained glass fly. An elegant older man told us all about the casting pools - and then climbed in and demonstrated, beautifully.

There were flowers blooming every where. In February.

We stumbled upon this astonishing building. It was a warehouse, supplying goods like mops and toilet paper to ships departing the Kaiser Shipyards for WWII.

We took the ferry to Alcatraz, where we took many many pictures of rusted metal, crazed paint, and crumbling cement.

And we got to see (most of) the Ai Weiwei exhibit.

Ai Weiwei rendered Edward Snowden (and 175 other prisoners) in LEGO bricks.

The Exploratorium is amazing. This picture sort of looks like a roiling wine glass - but it's about three feet in diameter and demonstrates fluid dynamics. I took almost no pictures there because we were having way too much fun.

One day, we rented a convertible to drive down to just south of Santa Cruz, to visit one of my aunts. We took the Pacific Coast Highway down, and Skyline Ridge back. It was a glorious day.

And we ate really well, because San Francisco is a great restaurant & farmers market town. The high point was a lovely meal in the cafe at Chez Panisse, with a formerly imaginary friend and her husband. And no, I didn't steal one of the water glasses.

It was an awesomely fun week in the sun.

02 February 2015

Monday Amusements

The (young) woman next to me on the train is putting on make up and watching "I Love Lucy".

Meanwhile, I am reading the New York Times, cover to cover, as I am wont to do. Actually that's not quite true; the sports section rarely makes it past the recycling bin on the way into the house.

I love reading Margalit Fox's obituaries in the Times. A couple of days ago brought a lovely one for cruciverbalist Bernice Gordon. It was illustrated by a delicious photo of Mrs. Gordon, in front of a sea of colorful dictionaries, wearing a red shirt, vermilion nail polish, and fuchsia lipstick. Best might be the reveal that Gordon once did a set of commissioned puzzles for Xaviera Hollander, blue clues and all. Today's gem: Fox calls "Harry The Dirty Dog" a "cautionary ablutionary tale".

Elsewhere in the Times, I gasped at a heretofore new to me plural of a compound noun: culs-de-sac. That was in an article about merchandising tie-ins for the coming movie release of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was not one of "the female readers who passed the book around their suburban culs-de-sac" but I did read the article, bemused at the idea of Target selling vibrating love rings. Where would you look for such a thing? Next to the book? Near the condoms? Alongside the toothpaste?

Back to that plural: is culs-de-sac really the right plural? Cul-de-sac translates as bottom of the sack - which is the more important part? When you make a whole bunch of that certain summery drink, you make gins and tonic - gin being the important substance. In a group of Attorneys General, they are lawyers first, "generals" second. Isn't the sack the more important part, the head? After all, the "sack" is the whole of the dead-end road, and the "bottom" is the end where you have to turn around. I dunno. I was intrigued to find it in the first place.

It's been a rich full day, and it's not even noon.

23 January 2015

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Most of time, I riff in the kitchen. I read cookbooks in bed, and I’m all over the Times food section, and I love Smitten Kitchen, but when it comes right down to it, I rarely make a recipe as printed.

Not long ago, a friend posted something on Facebook, wondering if she could substitute farro for barley in a hamburger soup that she was making. I looked at her recipe and thought, eh, not hamburger, how about sausage? But other than using less of a different meat, and adding a piece of parmesan rind, I pretty much followed the recipe, and wow – it was really good. That little bit of barley gives the soup a certain unctuousness. There’s so little meat in it that the meat becomes more like a condiment, but the little chunks you pick up are delicious. And, parmesan rinds are a wee bit of magic – turning trash into goodness. Keep them in a bag in the freezer, and throw one into a soup. Like this one:

Sausage and Barley Soup

½ pound sweet Italian sausage, out of its casing (if it was in links to begin with)
A glug of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 big red skinned potato, raw & unpeeled, in ½” cubes.
1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
1-2 cups shredded cabbage
½ of a 28oz can of whole plum tomatoes
Piece of parmesan rind (optional)
28oz of water
1 bay leaf
½ t. dried thyme
½ t. dried basil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup barley

In a nice soup pot (I think mine is 6 quarts), sauté the sausage and onions in the olive oil until the sausage looks cooked through and the onions are translucent. Add the potato, carrots, and celery. Add the tomatoes, squeezing the whole ones through your fingers as you add them to the pot. Fill the tomato can with water and add the tomato tinged water to the pot. If you have a parm rind in the freezer, add it. It’ll add a certain funkiness to the soup. Add bay leaf, thyme and basil, and salt & pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, then cover & simmer for a ½ hour. Check the liquid level and add more water if you think it needs it. Add the barley and simmer, covered, for another ½ hour or so.

When it’s done, fish out the parmesan rind, and chill the soup overnight. Like so many things, it’ll be better tomorrow. Serve hot, and bring the leftovers to work.