26 November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your turkeys be wild and your cranberries be juicy!

(Isn't that a nice image? Thank the British Library, and remember, if the Pilgrims hadn't run away from England, we wouldn't have Thanksgiving.)

22 November 2015

Sunday Evening Core Dump

For our anniversary back in June, my sister-in-law gave us a pain de mie pan - loaf pan with a lid to make a soft-crusted sandwich bread that cuts up into perfectly square slices. I have been working on the bread ever since, with varying degrees of success. I didn't like the first recipe I tried. One day, the bread didn't quite rise into the corners, so the square slices weren't square. Once it was pretty close to perfect.

Today the bread failed spectacularly. The recipe calls for baking for 25 minutes with the lid on; you then remove the lid for another 5-10 minutes. The timer went off, I opened the oven, and discovered that the bread had forced the lid off the pan and knocked the whole thing on its side. Alas, I failed to get a picture of that carnage, being so stunned that I just closed the oven because I didn't have to take off the lid.

That bread was fierce! The only thing I can think that caused the break out is that I used bread flour instead of the specified all-purpose. You can be sure I will try it again; I am bound and determined to tame that recipe. And don't get me wrong - despite it being what my sister-in-law dubbed "a new and spectacular standard for ugly", a piece off the crusty end went nicely with my dinner soup.

There is something delightful about listening - on a chilly November day - to a song shot through with crickets.

In my spare moments I have been working on a unified theory of dessert. One of the people who is coming for Thanksgiving dinner said she would bring a French silk pie. Okay. Then another guest said she would bring a pumpkin pie. I sighed, not so much because I don't like pumpkin pie, but because it meant that we would have two desserts that were essentially the same - a pie crust filled with a brown custard. This is wrong, in the unified theory of dessert. One brown custard pie is fine. If there is a second dessert, it must be different. Gingerbread? Nantucket cranberry pie (which is really a cake)? Something other than a brown custard. But then the New York Times came out with a whole mess of ideas for Thanksgiving - including a cranberry curd tart.

Aha! In the unified theory of dessert, three open custard filled tarts, of different colors, is okay. So the hazelnut crust is in the freezer, and we will have pale brown French silk pie, a burnt sienna pumpkin pie, and a ruby red cranberry curd tart. And maybe I'll make a gingerbread, just for the hell of it.

30 October 2015


The problem with used book sales is the sieve of a brain that completely forgets that one already owns that book.

Case in point:

I, buying the book for the cover, picked up a pristine paperback copy of Margaret of the Imperfections not so long ago. When I got home, it went in the stack of books to be read. It was duly read. [It was okay - a couple of the stories were excellent, one needs to be turned into a play, and the rest were unmemorable.] I took it downstairs to shelve it, in alphabetical order with all* of the other fiction in the house, and discovered that I ALREADY OWNED A COPY. Clearly I am imperfect, or my memory is.

Figuring that, given a choice, one should always keep the hardcover in lieu of the paperback**, I plucked the hardcover off the shelf just to see if it rang any bells. I certainly hadn't remembered reading it ever before, but opening it up, I found an inscription on the flyleaf.


I bought the book for my mother, for Christmas, in 1991. When we packed out her house, I took it home and shelved it. I wonder if she ever read it. Probably, it would have been unlike her not to, but I can't know anymore. But our books tell the stories that we've forgotten.

* Well, most. There are books in other rooms.
** And now that I have the hardcover, who wants the paperback? Raise your hand. I'm mailing the paperback to a friend named Margaret.

27 October 2015

Matters of the Heart

Despite the fact that I have been known to rail about the lunacy of book logs for elementary school children, because they turn reading into a chore, into busy work, I have a deep and abiding love of keeping track of my own reading via GoodReads.

I mention this because I am 1) on a re-reading kick and 2) in a fallen-off-the-blog-wagon lull. In part, I make up for the lack of blog posts by micro posts on Facebook, and in tiny little "reviews" on GoodReads. Calling them reviews is a stretch of the imagination - it's more like a sentence or three to help me remember what I loved or liked or hated about a particular book.

Today, though, I finished a book and what I wanted to say was too weird and wide-ranging for GoodReads. And so, with that as preamble, let me tell you about the book I just re-read.

On Election Day in 2003, November 4th to be precise, an off year for elections, I moseyed over to the public school at which we voted. I know it was an off year, no presidents or senators to elect, but who was running and for what offices I have no idea. I can conjure up the horizontal beige tiles on the walls of the school stairway in my mind's eye, and I remember that the school's PTA was having their annual election day bake and book sale. Because I am incapable of walking past a pile of used books, I perused the stacks and came away with at least one book. Perhaps there were others; I can only remember the one. I am sure that I skipped the bake sale; as much as I like a cookie now and again, bake sales give me the heebie-jeebies: too many brownies made from box mixes.

On Election Day in 2003, I was almost 37 weeks pregnant.

On Election Day in 2003, the used book I bought at the election day sale was Walk On Water, by Michael Ruhlman. I bought it because I'd read other books by Ruhlman, about food and chefs, and I knew him to be a good writer. And the subtitle was intriguing: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit. There I was, pregnant as all get out - sure, a book about pediatric surgeons was just the right thing to be reading.


It terrified me. It's about pediatric CARDIAC surgeons - the doctors who do repairs of congenital heart defects, open heart surgery on tiny little children who have been born with holes between the ventricles, or transposed vessels, or hypoplastic left heart syndrome. I read it compulsively, thinking about the little tiny baby still residing in my belly, hoping everything was fine with her, that her heart was perfectly intact.

She was born less than a week later, and yes, her heart was fine. Still is, as far as I know.

I pulled Walk on Water off my bookshelf the other day, though, because one of my blogging friends - someone I actually met a whole lot of years ago at a BlogHer conference - has a baby who was born with a ventricular septal defect, and her baby was having open heart surgery last week. [The baby is fine, the surgery was successful.]

Walk on Water holds up on re-reading. It's really good. A lot of it is technical, but it's written with a layman's flair, like when he describes sewing tiny arteries together as like sewing Kleenex, with needle holders, without the tissue moving. Really, though, it's about people - what parents think about, what drives the surgeons and the OR nurses. In part, it's about health care - pointing out that procedures like repairing a tetralogy of Fallot - which happens in 3.9 births out of 10,000 - are best done by surgeons who do many of them, in hospitals who do lots of pediatric cardiology, and therefore it would make more sense for Ohio to have one pediatric heart center instead of five. In short, it's an excellent read. But you might want to skip it if you're pregnant.

10 September 2015

A Short Story in Annoyance

I was going to write about ocean beaches and tides.

I was going to write about taking my daughter bra shopping.

Instead, I'm perplexed by something. Maybe I shouldn't be.

Even though some people might think I do, since I watch hardly any television and prefer the print edition of the New York Times, I don't actually live under a rock, and so recently I did see that the Pioneer Woman now has a line of housewares at Walmart. A picture flitted across my screen the other day and I was all like "what?". Because included in her pots and cups and lemonade dispensers and gaudy flowered plates were some glasses. Pretty embossed glass footed water goblets.

Pioneer Woman's glasses, at Walmart.

But the thing about these glasses? THEY AREN'T NEW! I've had a pair of exactly those water glasses for a few years - they're *my* wine glasses. Look here, I posted a picture of one of them on Instagram on July 10th:

A photo posted by @magpiemusing on

Is this what happens? Joe Schmo says "I want a line of housewares" for Walmart and they just go out and pick and choose already existing shite? Damn.

I tell you, I have nothing against Ree and Walmart making a buck, but man, I'm never looking at those glasses of mine the same way again.

17 August 2015

Four Score

When I turn 80, throw me a party. Invite my friends, invite my family. Invite the neighbors from down the street, invite the painter and the real estate agent. Invite my step-daughter, and convince her to fly in from California for the weekend. Invite my secretary and tell the theater director that it's fine to bring the playwright along.

Hire a square dance caller, get a band. Don't be surprised when the fiddle player knows some of the guests. Convince everyone that they really can do the Virginia reel, even if they don't know left from right.

Find a BBQ joint that caters, but make extra salads for the vegetarians and for the people who want something other than baked beans. Put up a tent in the field, and fly bandanna prayer flags all around.

And don't be shy about asking people to help: she loves to bake, and she loves to order people around, and she's a whiz with a tomato salad in the heat of August. And she'll deliver a box of pimiento cheese sandwiches the day before, which you'll need, because you'll have forgotten to eat lunch.

Order me a birthday cake, but don't try and put 80 candles on it. And have some grab and go brownies (for the people who like chocolate) and lemon cake squares (for the ones who prefer something a little lighter). And late at night, after most of the guests have gone home, you'll move all of the candles to one table, and you'll sit there eating the homemade chocolate chip cookies that one of the guests brought, while you kill all the open bottles of wine.

Remember to take some pictures, but if you forget, other people will.

It'll be a blast.

Lemon Cake Squares (from Moky's Black Book)

  • 6 T. butter (3/4 stick or 3 ounces)
  • 1 c. + 2/3 c. sugar (divided)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
  2. Cream butter and 1 c. sugar. Stir in eggs. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir into creamed mixture. Add milk and lemon rind and mix until well combined.
  3. Pour into a greased and floured 9" x 13" x 2" pan (or better yet, line the pan with a parchment sling). Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and remaining 2/3 c. sugar. Spoon over hot cake, and return to to the 350F oven for another 5 minutes. Cut into 1" or 2" squares while still warm.

15 August 2015

Pie, Pie!

What you're going to say is that you don't bake. Or you don't know how to make pie crust. But it's easy! It just needs force of will. You want it, you make it.

The plums and the raspberries cried out "Pie, pie" this weekend at the farmer's market. We bought a bunch of little yellow and little red plums and a half pint of raspberries, and I came home and made some pie crust. Instead of a pie pie, it seemed to me that a galette would be better. And, it's easier! And it doesn't need a pie pan.

Just do it. Use the recipe I posted on this day in 2008. Use 2 cups of flour; you'll have extra dough which you will roll out, cut in strips, douse with cinnamon sugar, and eat like cookies as soon as they're out of the oven and cool enough to handle.

For the galette, roll out a rough 12" disk on a sheet of parchment - there's no need to worry about the edges, but try to make it more or less round. Transfer it to a baking sheet and trim back the parchment. Whack up some fruit into a bowl and toss it with a little sugar and some pie filling enhancer (a fabulous product from King Arthur). Dump the fruit into the middle of of your sheet of pastry and spread it out, leaving 2" clear at the edge. Fold the edge over and pleat it as needed to fit neatly into a rough circle. Dot the exposed fruit with butter and slam that baby in the oven. 40 minutes or so at 400°.

How hard was that?