Many hands, light work.

many hands

many handsToday’s show-off TV chefs would never have survived the Thanksgiving kitchens of my youth. The roasting turkey, oyster dressing, scalloped potatoes, tender rolls and sweet potato pie were all in well-practiced hands, so my Southern matriarch predecessors would have sent Bobby Flay packing – gracefully, I’ll add. At a minimum they would would have dispatched him to water glass duty without his ever realizing he’d been dismissed.

Whether we were Country Mouse-ing with my mother’s family or City Mouse-ing with my father’s, the kitchen was the heart of the house and Thanksgiving was its Valentine’s Day. On this special day the coven of family women ran a well-rehearsed but unscripted program, a show in which everyone played a part, and no one dared upstage the collective.

There was no room for upstaging, anyway. The kitchen in any of my extended family homes couldn’t have been more than 200 square feet, probably less. There were no fancy ranges, no farmhouse sinks, no double Subzero refrigerators. Instead picture tin foil and Pyrex, aprons and sweating windows, every icon of a “before” picture in a kitchen renovation article. And good cooks. Really, really good cooks.

Now fix that image in your mind; we’ll return in a minute.

My father was an only child, but his aunt and uncle and their four children lived only 100 yards away in the house next door. All the children ran around together and were more like siblings than cousins. Daddy was older and taller than the others, but they called him “Little Kenny” because his father was Big Kenny, and that’s just how things work in the South.

Big Kenny, Papa to me, was a lawyer who grew up with his brother and two sisters in the bootheel of Missouri and eventually relocated to Memphis. In the mid 1920s Papa was saving money to go to law school. He invested the whole wad in the stock market in the summer of 1929 and then, as you might guess, had to work as a night janitor to pay for the remainder of his schooling.

In those early years of the Depression, Papa and his siblings lived with their parents, Nana and Grandad, in a clapboard house on Echles in the Normal Station neighborhood. When they were finally able to afford houses of their own in the mid-1930s, Papa and his sister Julia built next door to one another, their houses connected by a garden path. Since Papa and Julia were closest in proximity, holiday gatherings – meals for 20 or more people – flip-flopped between their two homes for decades until my grandmother had a stroke and Julia took the helm.

Now back to that tiny kitchen, hopefully still fixed in your mind.

Every fourth Thursday in November, the women in my father’s family (and it was identical in my mother’s) pulled off something just short of a Thanksgiving miracle, delivering from confined kitchen chaos an opulent buffet of delicious food that was magically all the right temperature for serving. Somehow or another we assembled around the circular dining room table at the precise moment the final dish was placed, one of the men offered a blessing, another man carved the bird, and we were off to fill our plates and head to our tables.

We weren’t a gimmicky family; there were no party favors or games, only food and family fellowship. After eating the men retired to the bar, the children went outside (or to a play room), and the women held an invitation-only group therapy dish washing session. It was an all-day affair, and it was like this every year of my life, into my college years.

I used to think all Thanksgiving gatherings were forever like this, the same way I naïvely thought all mothers were Junior League committee chairs and all fathers were kind. But my family scattered, in both spirit and geography, and our big Thanksgiving dwindled to a table for four, often my mother, me, and a couple of orphaned friends.

My plan, once Bernard, our children and I settled in at the Money Pit, was to reclaim the Great Thanksgiving of yore. I was a cook, and I knew how to throw a party, having been well-schooled by family experts. I knew how to set a table, how to arrange a buffet, how to set a bar in the corner – accessible but out of the way. I had Big Julia’s dressing recipe, and Peggy’s roll recipe and my grandmother’s chess pie recipe. And I’d been reading Martha Stewart Living for an eternity. I had everything I needed, but I learned very quickly, nine years ago in front of a table full of guests, that I didn’t know a damn thing about hosting Thanksgiving.

For starters,  I was being such a prima donna with my sautéed Brussels sprouts dish that I neglected to proof the yeast for the rolls (yeast that was easily three years out of date), and the rolls came out like hockey pucks (ask Bernard; it’s one of his favorite tales to tell on me).

Then family guests arrived, early of course, with food; but I wasn’t prepared to keep any of it warm because it never occurred to me that warming other people’s food was part of the program. So I lined the buffet with cold scalloped potatoes and cold butternut squash casserole and cold stuffing, none of which I recommend.

Oh, and I shrieked at my young son, the child so excited to be having a party and wanting to be like everyone else he loved, when he reached for a real china plate. He looked at me in horror, took his outsider’s melamine and sat alone on the sofa sulking while I crumbled inside and tried to soldier on. I was an idiot. It was a horrible Thanksgiving.

In a flash all that carefully reconstituted family vanished and the next year we were alone, just the four of us, in our kitchen. The idea of grand celebration was a fading and distant memory, until a neighbor saved us.

If you follow along here regularly, then you know that we live on a block with other families marked by kind fathers and working mothers (even the ones who don’t collect actual paychecks). None of us has much extended family close by, so over the years we’ve become a kind of family for each other, especially at holiday times. It started with a spontaneous Easter potluck and grew organically from there. Over the years, thanks to life’s never-ending ups and downs, we (I) have had to shake our Martha Stewart tendencies, roll up our sleeves and help each other pull off something just short of a miracle, house to house, kitchen to kitchen.

It isn’t always the same group, and it’s definitely never the exact same menu. Sometimes there’s a picture-perfect moment when we’re all gathered around a table precisely when the last dish is placed. Sometimes there isn’t. But there are always many hands to make the work light, the lesson that was there for me the whole time.

Happy week, and a very happy Thanksgiving.


Food | Week of November 24, 2014

True Vine BeetsI love summer produce and the vibrant summer market displays, but in some ways I love fall harvest even more. I have a particular affection for Brussels sprouts (one of Bernard’s favorite vegetables), beets, parsnips, and all types of winter squash. Whatever your Thanksgiving gathering (or hosting) plans, this week’s menu should give you some ideas for enjoying what’s in season while keeping your people well fed and happy the other six days of this week.

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad | Chicken

I may have shaken many of my Martha Stewart tendencies, but she still has, IMHO, the best array of recipes for Brussels sprouts if Brussels sprouts are your thing. Two particular favorites are the Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad, topped with roast chicken, and the Crisp Brussels Sprouts Leaves, served with plain grilled chicken (or pork tenderloin).

Roasted Winter Vegetables | Spinach SaladLarge turnips

This recipe for roasting winter vegetables is one of my all time favorites. If you hear the word “parsnip” and think “ewww,” then give this a try – might change your thinking forever. (And yes, I let my children put ranch dressing on the plate for dipping. One day they’ll learn… I hope.) Serve with this seasonal spinach salad (which would also be good for your Thanksgiving buffet), and you’ve offset at least one piece of carrot cake or bourbon cocktail.

Waffles with Turkey Hash

Ok, there is no recipe for turkey hash that I can share, but you should give it a try anyway. It’s one of those Southern Thanksgiving leftover traditions that you just have to figure out as you go, as this article in Gourmet explains so well (and it has tips for cooking). For waffles I use the Joy of Cooking basic recipe, but this one from Martha Stewart is also good and reliable.

Baked Eggs | Winter Fruit Salad

Continuing the breakfast for dinner theme, baked eggs make an easy main course. Serve with a light and tangy fruit salad, and everyone will feel good as new in no time.

Tuscan Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon DressingKale

I know, I know. Last year I made a big fuss over the icky-ness of kale. But a local restaurant (Local) serves the most delicious salad, and its main ingredient is that dreaded kale. Think of it as balance for that extra piece of pie. Or think of it as a continued food fest, and top with grilled chorizo or andouille sausage. I’ve been looking for a recipe that is close to the restaurant’s creation, and this one from Williams Sonoma is the closest I’ve gotten, although the restaurant version does not have bread or tomatoes. If you’ve got a better one, please share.


A dog, a rat, and Thanksgiving.

The Jackal

Perhaps to keep us from falling into the abyss that is pre-Christmas commercial madness, here is a story about Thanksgiving that includes a dog, a rat and the frivolity of Starbucks. You should know up front that the dog dies and the rat escapes, but it’s really not a sad story, I promise.

In my family, Thanksgiving was always a big deal: formal meal, Sunday dress, fancy manners, lots of dishes that had to be washed by hand. When my parents divorced Thanksgiving became a double big deal, one meal with each parent, which became rather exhausting and more than a little stressful.

So the Thanksgiving after our son was born, Bernard and I decided to play the “new baby” card and claim a pass. Our plan was to spend the day at home in our pajamas. We would drink coffee with Baileys, watch the parade, eat grilled cheese (maybe with turkey), take naps, and relax. It’s the only reason we were home that day, there to receive our unexpected guest.

Our two Lab-ish dogs announced his arrival. They jumped onto the red front window seat cushion and began the tail-thumping, tongue-wagging happy dance that dogs do when they’re excited. This behavior was reserved for friendly visitors, so naturally we thought a family member had dropped by with treats. We looked out to find instead a small, mange-covered black and white puppy, sitting in the driveway, mirroring the wagging tails and happy dog smile.

As it was Thanksgiving morning and the shelter was closed, there was nothing to do but put him a kennel in the garage (with food and water, of course, and a blanket, or two, in case it got chilly). The next day we took him to our vet who confirmed the mange (“very contagious; you’ll have to keep him quarantined”) and offered a deep discount on neutering so he would be easier to place with a forever family. A family other than our family, that was the plan. We had two dogs and a baby, and we were just settling into a gentle family rhythm.

Tidbit 1I could tell you all the ins and outs of how Tidbit (a “tidbit” of a snack for our 120 lb. yellow Lab, Bernard said) became a member of our family. But most of the details are uninteresting and, in the end, unimportant. He allowed our infant son to crawl on his back and tug on his ears, and the other two dogs enjoyed him. Those were the things that mattered. And he was exceedingly clever – exponentially smarter than the incumbents.

One night after Tidbit graduated from quarantine, he made a show of understanding that dogs were not allowed in the kitchen. He was lying down properly, front paws touching the edge of the threshold between the dining room and the kitchen, nose between his paws, eyes alert. Whatever I was cooking that night required frequent trips to the refrigerator, and I saw him every time I walked by the open door. What a good dog he’ll be for someone, I thought.

Then, in a flash, on my fourth or fifth trip, he pounced. The leftover roast chicken was whisked away to the living room, plate clattering to the floor. He’d been plotting, timing my every door opening. As I said, he was exceedingly clever, even if he wasn’t well-mannered.

He was also exceedingly loud, at least when company arrived. While the Lab-ish dogs greeted guests with wags and slobber, Tidbit charged the door with a bark similar to hyena howls. He’d found his place, and he wasn’t about to let anyone threaten it. As a result we went from being the Sunday night cooking and gathering house to the one that required earplugs and protective gear.

The howling came in handy on morning runs, however. One day when we were out before sunrise Tidbit took off for the treeline, a jackal on the hunt. He emerged a few minutes later chasing a man who was desperately trying to pull up his pants while also trying to avoid the ferocious dog.

The Jackal

But the episode that really set Tidbit’s legacy was this:

One early morning, not long after we moved from our tiny farmhouse into the Money Pit, I heard Tidbit making an odd sound downstairs.

“I think there’s someone in our house,” I whispered to a happily snoring and oblivious Bernard. “Bernard! Wake up, dammit! There’s somebody downstairs, and I think Tidbit has him cornered.”

Reluctantly Bernard dragged himself out of bed, reached for the Mag-Lite, and padded down the stairs. He was back minutes later, hands held in front about 12 inches apart.

“What is it? What’s happening?!” I asked. In response he said nothing but emphasized the 12 inch spread of his hands.

“No. Tell me it’s not a rat. We do not have a rat in this house.”

Yes, we did have a rat. In our house. A 12 inch rat, tip to tail. And Tidbit had that damn rat cornered under the radiator in the den, no way to escape. He’d been there for a good while, long enough for a substantial puddle of drool to accumulate from all the excited panting. It was a rich tableau: Tidbit and the rat, eye to eye, still as statues.

In our pre-dawn haze we decided on a plan that, in hindsight, was clearly flawed. Bernard and Tidbit would hold the rat in situ. I would go to Walgreens and buy every kind of trap available – glue trap, snap trap, whatever. We would set the traps around the exposed perimeter of the radiator, drag Tidbit away, and let the traps do the rest. Honestly, at 4:30 in the morning it sounded reasonable.

I pulled a pair of fleece pants over my nightgown, threw on a jacket, headed to Walgreens, and bought every trap in the store. It was 4:59 a.m.

Since it was very cold and very early, and since we were surely not going to get back to bed, and since people are as distractible as dogs, I noticed that Starbucks next door had just turned on its lights. Coffee! I thought, as an otherwise heeling dog might think, Squirrel!

5 minutes too late, that’s what I was. I arrived home, bags and coffee in hand to hear Tidbit lapping water in the bathroom. “He made it as long as he could,” Bernard said, “but he needed water, and as soon as he moved the rat took off for the basement door. He’s g-o-n-e gone. What took you so long, anyway?”

Poor Tidbit, deprived of his prize, his one lifetime trophy, because of the addictive lure of Starbucks.

Clever and protective, wild and smelly, he never stopped earning his keep, fearing his welcome was only short term. In fact we really did keep trying to find him a home, in denial that his home was already found. We were his, and he was ours.Tidbit 2

Osteosarcoma, in case you’re wondering, that’s what claimed Tidbit, my rat-deterring, flasher-chasing jackal. He did outlive the incumbent Lab-ish friends, but only by a few months. It was relatively quick, and he spent his last days happily doped up on Tramadol until one night when the pain broke through and I slept with my whimpering friend in the bottom bunk of my son’s bed, stroking his rough muzzle and promising a final trip to the vet first thing in the morning.  A dignified protector deserved no less.

To this day, a decade after that 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and five years after Tidbit loped off to the Rainbow Bridge, we’ve never seen a rat inside our house. The warning tale that one explorer told must have carried through generations.

If you follow along here regularly then you know we now have other dogs. We made it two weeks after Tidbit died before a pair of chocolate Labs lured me on PetFinder. This time around we were going to hold firm on a two dog rule. Our house would be calmer, happier with only two.

The Wolfman Yoda danceFour months after the two Labs settled in, a scrappy, smelly, unneutered mutt showed up in our front yard, his wagging tail met with equal wags on the front porch, just in time for Thanksgiving. His name is Wolfman Yoda. May the rats beware.

Happy week.


Food | Week of November 17, 2014

Short food note, because a couple of friends have asked: I am compiling an index of all the recipes I’ve shared, and I plan to have the page up by year-end. My plan is to sort by main ingredient, but if you have a better idea then please share. Someone also asked why I often stick to such traditional recipe sites like Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart. Well-used sites like these that draw from magazines and high profile chefs typically have a solid vetting process, both for the recipes and for the authenticity. If you’re looking for something a little funkier, try using the main ingredient of the recipes I’ve listed to do a search of your own – use it as a starting or focal point.

This week we’re having a couple of meals that have store-bought options, along with a couple that require some real cooking. And then there’s the homemade pizza, always a bit hit around here. Enjoy.

Spaghetti Frittata

Bernard has been itching to make a spaghetti frittata, for reasons I cannot begin to explain. He got the idea in his head, and it’s still there. I started with this simple recipe from Armandino Batali (Mario’s dad). I liked it, but it was too plain for Bernard’s taste; so his plan is to modify with Italian sausage and lots of fresh parsley. Note: I did not have leftover pasta or sauce, so I cooked, drained and cooled to room temp all in the same night. Worked fine.

fall greens 2014Crab Cakes | Green Salad

I was in New Orleans last week for a meeting and was treated to a marvelous dinner at Arnaud’s. I’ve been craving crab ever since (not that I’ll be able to match theirs), so crab cakes seem in order, and here’s the recipe I’m using. If I run out of time – if my idea is bigger than my calendar, then I’ll buy prepared crab cakes from Fresh Market. For the salad, here’s a recipe for simple lemon vinaigrette that will complement the crab.

Bourbon Salmon | Green Beans | Rice

My people aren’t crazy about salmon, but they’ll usually eat it if its well-marinated and has a sweet edge to it. In a time crunch, the bourbon marinated salmon from Fresh Market is a go-to dinner; cook at home or buy it already cooked. If you want to experiment with flavor and have time, here’s a simple recipe to try at home. Serve with jasmine rice and steamed green beans.

Butternut Squash | Spinach Cake | Herb Saladeggs april 2014

Michelle at Gourmandistan and I share a love of butternut squash. A few weeks ago she sent me a link to this wonderful recipe, one I’ve made several times since. I peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, cut it into big chunks, remove the seeds and then chop in the Cuisinart. It isn’t as pretty as a hand-cut dice, but it’s much faster. Note that the garlic intensifies over the long cooking period, so I suppose you should use sparingly if garlic isn’t your thing (never a problem in our house). Serve with an equally hearty vegetable dish like Dave T’s Spinach Cake, and you’ll feel warm and full.

Pizza Margherita

Homemade pizza on a weeknight is not as impossible as you think, provided you use a good dough recipe. This one from the Splendid Table comes together quickly, reheats well and is easy to customize. Makes for a fun family activity if family dinner is in order.

100 years of solitude.

merry go round

I saw my 29 year old self this week, standing underneath the replica of Sue, the dinosaur, in the United Airlines Customer Service line, Terminal 1, O’Hare.

She, young me, was explaining to the customer service agent, nicely at first, that she’d missed her connection and really needed to get home. Wasn’t there any way to make that happen quickly, please, maybe on some other airline? Nicely at first, as I said, then slowly more forceful. She thought she was losing because she hadn’t been strong enough in the beginning. Hard to blame her really; she’s still new at this. She doesn’t know that, no matter how many times she calls Johan by his name, the first answer he gave – that she’ll have to wait – is the only answer she’ll get. She’ll learn.

Next she’s on her cell phone, explaining that she might not make it home, that it might be “another banner night in the United Club lounge – such a damn nightmare!” She’s very cosmopolitan and worldly, this J. Crew-clad frequent traveler. Oh, and would someone please let her dog out at 10:00, in case she’s not home until morning?

Now she’s at the restaurant, trying to look busy and productive all by herself. She has her laptop out, and if she could just get connected to the damn Internet (could the waitress please check on that?) then maybe she could get something done, get ahead of the game, sitting there at a tiny table, wedged between a father-daughter reunion and another single women like herself only entirely different.

The father and his college daughter are headed, we all overhear, for an adventure that he’s buying with his million Marriott points. He’s the kind of traveler no one wants to piss off, he boasts to the girl, who is pretending her father impresses her. On the other side, at the table to the left, the very different 30-something woman is quietly reading a book and drinking a glass red wine. When she leaves two boisterous young men take her table and quickly start debating the merits of Irish whiskey chased with beer.

29 year old me stays oblivious and busy, ordering a kale salad but wanting ravioli, you can tell, because some small comfort sure would be nice. And a glass of Ferrari Carano, the fumé blanc please, and on a separate bill, if possible (expense review, you know). Honestly, it’s been a very long day, a dull thudding kind of long day at the end of the same kind of week.

Not one of them is paying the least attention to present me, updating an old-fashioned paper calendar, sorting receipts, eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations. Maybe one of them will have The Answer. Meanwhile, I am having the ravioli.

She doesn’t recognize it yet, young me, but eating underneath her surface is a constant irritation from things she thinks she enjoys, the things that seem important: conquering office politics and laughing at the salesmen’s jokes. And underneath that there is a general unrest from something bigger, deeper, more troubling. There it was, just days ago, right there in clear, hard numbers: the same people who want the government out of their damn healthcare want it very much in women’s reproductive rights, and seeing that just made everything feel wrong.

It’s going to be this way, I want to tell her, this weird dichotomy will always be here. It was here in 1994 – right here in this terminal at O’Hare, I remember. It was probably here in 1974, too, and it’s still here now. It’s an illogical human contradiction that will never, ever make sense to us, and it will always, incomprehensibly, be here.

But still be glad you voted, I want to add. Voting is a very great privilege. Just being here is a great privilege, actually. You’ll see. Don’t quit.

Finally we’re at our gates, she and I, hours later, about to board our flights. Please God, don’t let me be seated next to a smelly, chatty, overly large person, that’s what she’s thinking. I know it’s what she’s thinking because she still thinks that, even now, even after all these years.

They call her boarding group, the frequent traveling group, and she marches off, heading home with a sense of purpose, even at 10 p.m.

Minutes later I, too, am on the jetway, stopping briefly while an older woman gate-checks her bag. She’s silver-haired and comfortably dressed but with a definite style. She hasn’t succumbed to jogging suits or baggy jeans with printed sweatshirts like the rest of the 70-somethings on the flight. Come to think of it, she was in the restaurant, too, and the customer service line earlier, but I didn’t give her much notice until now.

“It will be there when I get there? You’re sure?” the woman is asking the man in black. She is friendly but direct, making him look her in the eye. “Yes, ma’am, we’ll bring it to you when you get off the plane in Memphis,” he assures her.

“I’m sorry I’m holding you up,” future me turns and says. “I do love visiting my grandchildren, but,” (in a whisper) “I just hate it when they lose my luggage.”

Happy week.


Food | Week of November 10, 2014

Christians Bistro Plover WisconsinOne of my Chicago-area destinations last week was Plover, Wisconsin, a city (town?) I expect you’re unlikely ever to visit. The clerk at the Hampton Inn recommended a restaurant not 50 yards from the hotel and promised us it was good, and local.  Christian’s Bistro delivered on her promise, and in a surprising way.

“There’s andouille sausage gumbo on here – in Wisconsin,” the guy from Shreveport remarked. I’d missed that because I went straight to the pulled pork sliders with Wickles. Strange, right? And the amberjack was served with sweet potatoes and collard greens.

So we enjoy our dinners, and a taste of rich, delicious crème brûlée that we shared around the table, and as we’re leaving we notice the fleur de lis magnet on the kitchen hood and the Commander’s Palace cookbook in one of the bar’s cookbook stacks.

Turns out the chef was sous chef at NOLA for 16 years (I remember dragging a sales team to NOLA in the early 90s, and how everyone marveled over it – swear to God). No, I don’t know how Christian got from NOLA to Plover, but it sure was a bright spot – and it inspired this week’s line-up at our house.

Sister Schubert Sliders with Wickles & Sweet Potato Fries

I’m going to start the week with something all my people will enjoy, because I’m going to test them as the week goes on. I use the Sister Schubert rolls that come in a tray – the original rolls, not the goofy bag of Sister Schubert-branded dinner rolls. The original rolls are tender, but they’re also small, so the burger patties (beef or turkey, you choose) have to be equally small, and you have to plan that each person will probably eat four. Dress with a dab of Duke’s mayonnaise and a Wickles pickle, the best pickles ever. Serve with oven fries – sweet potato ones if you’re feeling fancy.

Quick Jambalaya

Many people are partial to Emeril’s recipe, but for everyday cooking I prefer this one from Martha Stewart. It’s easy, and it pleases a wide variety of eaters if you provide extras like hot sauce. Crusty bread and a simple green salad on the side, if you must.

Delta Sol 53014Beet Salad with Grilled Shrimp

This beet salad recipe from Ina Garten is a favorite because it’s easy and always good (provided you like beets and arugula). If you don’t like those things, then there’s a salad recipe included in this one for Grilled Shrimp – just make both, and everyone will be happy.

Rancho Gordo Flageolet Beans | Black Rice | Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Yep, I’m making yet another push for Rancho Gordo beans, which you can usually find at Whole Foods. One day you’re going to believe me. This week, however, I’m not making too hard a sell because the beans are really just a vehicle for the pumpkin seed pesto that I’ve got a hankering for. The pesto would go just as well with grilled fish or chicken. And if black pearl rice seems too adventuresome for you, then just use plain jasmine or basmati rice.

Piri-Piri Chicken | Couscous | Cilantro Salad

This piri-piri recipe calls for a whole chicken, but you can use breasts and thighs if you don’t feel like messing with a whole bird. You do have to let it marinate for at least four hours, though, so plan this one in advance. Serve with plain couscous and a bright cilantro salad. Some yogurt sauce on the side might be nice, too, so here’s a recipe for that.

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

day of the dead 2014

Before we begin, I just have to say: I wanted the Royals to win. Next year, Royals, next year.

halloween 2014Today, if you follow a Catholic or Anglican liturgical calendar, is All Saints’ Day. Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day. Yesterday was the Eve of All Hallows, the night before All Saints’ Day.

Today celebrates good people for their good faith and good works. Tomorrow, if you’re into such things, is a day to pray for all the souls in purgatory who did good works but haven’t yet ascended to heaven. But if you’re into such things and heading to church tomorrow, just know in advance that you’ll be celebrating All Saints’ Day because it will be All Saints’ Sunday, and that’s just how it works.

Yesterday was also the 497th anniversary of the day (or close to it) when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, inadvertently starting the Reformation. Luther intended to initiate public debate around the selling of indulgences to get souls out of purgatory and into heaven – to move them from the All Souls’ Day list to the All Saints’ Day list. His posting went a little bit further than civil debate; that’s the power of words.

And now that we’re all on the same calendar page, I’d like to talk about Pope Francis.

The first non-European pontiff in 1272 years has, to put it mildly, created quite a stir. Many people, even non-Catholics, love him. Many, even non-Catholics, do not. I’m in the former camp, but I’m guessing you knew that already.

What I love most about Pope Francis is his not-so-gentle suggestion that the Church has been putting, as my mother would have said, the em-FA-sis on the wrong sy-LA-ble. Love your neighbor, care for the needy, tend to the sick – these are the things, Pope Francis says, that matter. He’s the most catholic of Catholics, the Everyman of Popes, which has somehow landed him in a tight spot.

After 30 years of conservative leadership, the papal slipper, as The Guardian’s Andrew Brown put it, is now on the other foot. The media have been feeding the “radical Pope” frenzy, suggesting that everything he says is positively revolutionary. Take, for example, response to the Pope’s recent address about evolution, the big bang heard ’round the world. The Catholic Church has long supported the theory of evolution, but when Pope Francis says, “God is no magician,” it somehow sounds like breaking news.

If you need proof that the world’s gone completely bonkers, just take five minutes and surf the news:

Mexican drug lords are, literally, burning children to death; but what captured the attention and passion of almost 400,000 protesting petition-signers last month was Spain’s decision to euthanize Excaliber, the dog who belonged to the Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola.

20% of U.S. children live in poverty; but the buzz running through social media app NextDoor yesterday was what to do about the carpetbaggers invading upscale neighborhoods to trick or treat.

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, all right. Today I miss the saints departed because I could really use their help dealing with this mess. But even though I believe what the physicists say, that the dearly-departeds’ energy is still right here with me, for all practical purposes they’re gone, and I’m not.

I’m here with you, we few, we happy few. And while we’re here we have some work to do, because God is not a magician. Even the Pope says so.

Happy week.


Food | Week of November 3, 2014

winter squashWhat?! It’s November? Where the heck did this year go?

Yep, it’s November: farmers markets closed until spring, Christmas displays exploding everywhere. Best load up on some winter squash – for decoration, if nothing else, because it’s time to gather for warm, savory dinners.

Coq au Vin | Green salad

Coq au van (chicken in wine) is one of those things, like soufflé, that just sounds harder than it is to make. This recipe from the New York Times is both straightforward and tasty. Serve with crusty French bread. A green leaf lettuce salad is a good complement.

Patty Melts | Oven Fries

Patty melts are good comfort food, although not always on the comfort food radar. This recipe (and story) from David Lebovitz is a good place to start, if you’ve never made patty melts at home. I’ll serve with Alexa sea salt oven fries, which are our family favorite.

basil 2014Black Beans & Rice with Sweet Potatoes

The online version of this recipe differs slightly from the one that appeared in Gourmet magazine and cookbook, but it’s close and it’s share-able. And it’s good – that’s the most important part.

Thai Beef with Chiles, Basil and Coconut Rice

This simple recipe from Martha Stewart is very popular in our house – universally liked every time I’ve made it. If you’re having a meat overload, make a batch of stir-fry peppers and onions to substitute – you won’t miss the meat.

Buckwheat Galettes | Mache Salad

So this is really unfair: I’m making the buckwheat galettes with ham and cheese, paired with a mache salad, from the David Tanis book the heart of the artichoke. The unfair bit is that I can’t share a link because Tanis’s recipes aren’t available online. The book is a good one to dig out, if it’s gathering dust on your shelf, or to add to your collection. A suitable alternative might be a Croque Monsieur with this version of a mache salad.


The solace of a Southern kitchen.

Butlers PantrySophie Coors, the Southern folk-style artist, taught my sister to blow spit bubbles. They were at some fancy seated luncheon, the kind with strict expectations for behavior – a wedding or graduation party or New Year’s formal event that required Margaret’s attendance, participation and compliance.

Margaret was not the compliant type, especially not at that age of four or five. She was deemed hyperactive by her teachers until my mother, and then the teachers, realized Margaret was just bored.

Sophie wasn’t really the compliant type either. Smart, talented, funny, and wildly bohemian, she was one of the few women my parents referred to as a woman, not a girl or lady. She had all the training and credentials for both Memphis society and fine art painting, and she balanced her overlapping worlds by looking fabulous in iconic 70s style while telling terribly dirty jokes.

That day at the luncheon Sophie apparently looked at little Margaret, recognized a sheep of her own bored flock, and decided spit bubbles were just the thing to get them both out of a pinch.

At least that’s the story that made its way back to our house. I wasn’t at the party but could imagine the scene, my imagination aided by Margaret’s exuberant re-enactment. She was so pleased with herself, my mischief-making genius sister who was probably, even at that age, calculating the tensile strength of saliva.

The spit bubble re-enactment was met with our mother’s firm but gentle disapproval as we sat around the kitchen table, forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, napkins in our laps. But the correction was more gentle than disapproving, because in our house of family theatrics the kitchen was merely the green room, a place for getting the ya-yas out and rehearsing our parts, preparing for holidays and other special events on the main stage.

Our kitchen looked clearly not ready for prime time: mustard yellow linoleum floors, painted aluminum cabinets, mismatched furniture. Signalling a next-generation move to open plans and great rooms, it had a double window sized opening to the adjacent den. There were wooden shutters to seal the two rooms in privacy, but we never closed them.

The dining room, in contrast, featured a long table of deep green marble atop a Knoll base, French chairs covered in ruby velvet, imported gold leaf wallpaper, and twin buffet nooks painted bright coral and lined with mirrors. It was everything the kitchen was not: sophisticated, precise and adult. The swinging door between the two rooms might as well have been a transport device.

While we were in the sticky finger stage, Margaret and I were rarely allowed to eat in the dining room. And since we ate dinner as a family every night, every night we ate in the kitchen. We would clear the table of homework or Candyland, set it properly (with a bit of coaching), say ‘goddess great’ (really, I was 10 or 12 before I realized those weren’t the words), and enjoy whatever my mother had prepared, often chicken, seldom Brussels sprouts.

If all this sounds a bit too Norman Rockwell, know that I’ve left out the bits about how Margaret once poured a full glass of milk over my head and the million times we played the “see food” game. I’ve left out that we made up our own silly nonsensical language, intentionally excluding our parents. Whatever things we said to each other in that special code, we often laughed hard enough to snort, an unpleasant development if dinner included green peas.

I don’t remember being taught to sear meat, make a reduction or prepare Béchamel for a soufflé. These were just things my mother did while preparing dinner, and I learned by passive observation and occasional active participation. My mother wasn’t fussy about her cooking and even less so about her teaching. If something burned, she threw it out. If something turned out well, she tried to remember and write it down.

Her pots were all Revere Ware, a set given as a wedding gift. Once when she was making crepes the skillet handle got too close to the next burner, and it melted and then cracked to pieces when it cooled. Instead of replacing it, Mama just used a pot holder when cooking, saying it did the job just fine, just like the rest of the kitchen, the place where I learned to cook, to sort sets and subsets, to answer the phone, and, of course, to use good table manners.

Until very recently if you’d asked me what happened to our kitchen life, what knocked us loose from our moorings, I’d have told you it was solely and entirely my parents’ divorce. Just before I learned to drive, my parents separated and we moved, my mother sister and I, into an apartment without much of a kitchen or dining room either. It was only temporary, but even when we settled into another real house we couldn’t regain our old kitchen rhythm. Perhaps it was a floor plan fault, but honestly we were all a bit Humpty Dumpty by then, no matter how we arranged the furniture.

What I couldn’t see, not until lately, were the dozens of other factors conspiring to keep us adrift: the evolution from Shake ‘n Bake to Dean & Deluca, Sealtest to Hagen-Daz, from linoleum to granite. It wasn’t just our kitchen that disappeared, it was a polar shift from ordinary to glamorous that happened all around us, green rooms replaced by show rooms.

When I moved into a family house of my own, I wanted the kitchen to be its heart, the way my growing up kitchen had been. I was determined to regain purchase, to establish my own family equilibrium. I would make it better, stronger, faster than what I had known growing up.

But the chasm between adolescence and adulthood had distorted my vision. Instead of the familiar wobbly chairs and gate-legged table, I wanted what glossy magazines said Living should look like. I watched HGTV and Food Network. I clipped pages from Veranda and studied IKEA hacks for having the perfect life. Pendant lights and seasonal ice buckets and one cleverly placed upholstered chair, that’s what our kitchen needed. Perhaps some matching melamine plates for choreographed outdoor soirées.

Fortunately for me I have neither compliant children nor a conformist husband. I have spit-bubble-blowing pea shooters and mischief makers who, early on, plastered Incredibles and smiley-face stickers across the top of my pristine, whitewashed pine table. I have dogs that leave behind a constant dusting of fur and dirt. I have piles of homework papers and junk mail, and an Orbeez display that never seems to leave the windowsill no matter how many times I ask that it be put away. Despite my fervent Pottery Barn longings, I have mismatched pots, mismatched chairs and chipped dishes.

Until recently, if you’d asked me what I dreamed of I’d have shown you that picture perfect frame of a picture perfect family, seated around an artfully rustic kitchen table. Then one afternoon not too long ago, on no particularly special day, I shoved the stack of papers aside, begged for a short break in the sibling bickering, set chili on the table, and realized I was home.

Happy week.


Food | Week of October 27, 2014

So, yes, if you’ve been following along and paying attention, then you know you just got an excerpt from a draft of the book I’ve been working on. And yes, it will also have recipes and photographs – at least that’s how it’s coming together in my mind. It may come together only in my mind, but it’s fun for me nevertheless.

Writing recipes for others to prepare is more daunting than I might have thought. Cooking has always come naturally to me, so I find I’m quick to leave out important details and instructions. Work in progress, that’s what it is. While I’m still working those things out, I’ll keep sharing proven recipes in my weekly line-up. As always, if you find something you like, please let me know.

fall carrotsGrit Cakes | Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad

Grit cakes are the Southern equivalent of fried polenta squares – same basic ingredients and process. They are a nice substitution for meat in a dinner, especially good with a hearty helping of vegetables like Ina Garten’s Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad and maybe some fresh fall carrots.

Spiced Lamb in Pita | Mediterranean Platter

These lamb pita pockets are easy to make and well-liked by my children. Serve with some stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers and an assortment of olives, all of which should be available at your local grocer or specialty market.

Slow-cooked Greens | Cornbread

Use collard or turnip greens, or a mix from the farmers market (most farmers have a cooler full of mixed cooking greens this time of year). The cooking liquid and ham hock are what give the greens their good flavor, of course. If you need a recipe, this one from Tyler Florence is good and easy to follow. Serve with cornbread, made from scratch or from the Jiffy box. It’s summer, no judging.

True Vine celerySimple Green Salad | Grilled Chicken | Crepes with Berries & Cream

Salad and dessert, you may recall, was one of my mother’s favorite dinner combinations. A simple green salad (lettuce, celery, cucumber, maybe some red onion) with a basic vinaigrette and some simple grilled chicken breasts is plenty for dinner if dessert is the star. We froze berries early in the summer and are now starting to use them so there’s no danger of freezer burn. I like to serve the crepes alone with fruit and whipped cream on the side; the option is to roll the fruit inside the crepe and top with cream (or ice cream).

Cheese soufflé

It just wouldn’t be right to write about my growing-up kitchen and not include my mother’s cheese soufflé recipe (again).  There are plenty of recipes online if you want more specifics, but I make it the way my mother did and it works every time: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a soufflé dish and coat with grated cheese (Parmesan works well). Make a white sauce: 3 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons of flour (melt butter; stir in flour to make a roux), 1 1/2 cups hot milk (whisk hot milk into roux to make sauce). Remove sauce from heat and stir in 6 ounces cheese, grated or cubed (Gruyere is the standard; I use whatever we have, which is often just cheddar). Separate 5 eggs. Stir a couple of spoonfuls of the cheese sauce into the yolks to warm them up, then add warmed yolks into saucepan and whisk well. Season with salt, and a bit of cayenne pepper. Beat eggs whites until stiff. Add half of the whites to the cheese base and mix well. Fold in the other half of the whites (you’ll see egg white showing), then transfer to souffle dish. Put it in the oven and reduce heat to 375/380 degrees. Cook for about 30 minutes.

The fish, the pond; they’re relative.

summer dawn on the lake

Before I launch into this week’s story, a couple of postscripts to my last two posts (ante-post postscripts?):

First, thanks to the WordPress team for my third Freshly Pressed nod (given for Idiometry), and welcome new followers! So glad to have you here. Second, thanks to all who have commented – here, on Facebook and to me directly, about my post on the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment. I especially appreciated the information about the current legislative bills that would eliminate the ratification deadline. Time for us all to get busy.

And now for a little reflection (followed, of course, by this week’s dinner suggestions).

camp swim testOne night in late August 1989, my mother and I celebrated my return to Memphis with dinner at El Chico followed by a movie, sex, lies & videotape, at the Malco Quartet. I had seen the movie once already, right after it was released, when I was still in Dedham, MA, 20 minutes from Boston and light years from knowing what I would do next. A fluke call had led to a job, one that required a temporary move to Memphis. Temporary. Six months, tops. That was the promise, and the promise was key because when I left for college in the fall of 1983 the only thing that was completely clear in my head was that I was never, ever going to live in Memphis again, ever.

I didn’t really have a plan, however. A month before I graduated college an acquaintance had called about a job, an internship teaching photography at Noble & Greenough School. Since I had no plan I took the train to Boston, met with the school folks, was offered the position and took it. The job was a two year stint. The first year I would intern and co-teach; the second year I would fill in for the department head while he and his wife took sabbatical to New Zealand.

Scheduled to move to Dedham in August, I had the summer to fill and needed money. So I used my mad typing skills to get a job as a temporary secretary, thinking it would be easy cash with no commitment and as good a way as any to pass a summer in Memphis.

The temp agency placed me in a telecommunications company working for the son of the CEO. The son, who had grown up in Virginia, attended a prestigious boarding school, and earned a master’s from Columbia, had been working at a hot shot ad agency in New York when his father called him into service, prompting a move to Memphis, a city he hated at first sight.

When I reported for work the first day, the other women in the secretarial pool (it was 1987) looked at me with pity and wished me luck. I quickly figured out why. My temporary boss was hot tempered and feisty. He barked orders and used expletives and smoked in his office (again, it was 1987).

Toward the end of my second week, he mentioned he was traveling to New York. I don’t remember exactly what he said, what place he referenced, but it was one familiar to me. So I said something to the effect of “I like that place,” and he said something to the effect of “you’ve been to New York?” and two minutes later, having compared our credentials, the dynamic had shifted. After that my assignments included research and writing, not merely transcribing, and the rest of the summer flew by.

Then I moved to Boston. When my two years of teaching came to an end, I was once again planless and started interviewing for jobs. One job looked pretty good, but as a matter of course I would need references for the interview. The only reference I could think of was back in Memphis.

“You don’t want that job,” my former temporary boss said. “Boston’s too expensive, and you’ll get tired of the winters. You don’t want that job, you want to come back and work for me. I’m starting a new company, and we’re moving to McLean (Virginia). Six months, tops, is all you’ll have to spend in Memphis.”

So there I was, in the lobby of the Malco Quartet movie theater, the Saturday before starting a new job in the city I thought I’d left, feeling some vague camaraderie with the handful of Memphians sophisticated enough to appreciate Steven Soderbergh’s odd humor.

As we filed toward the door we ran into some old friends, a mother and daughter we’d known my whole life. The daughter was a few years my senior, a girl I’d always admired and looked up to. She had some big, important job, this fellow girl from Memphis, a job at Westinghouse or GE, I can’t remember which. She traveled extensively and was working on her MBA.  She told us about some big, interesting project she was leading, all of which sounded a bit overwhelming to me.

“So what are you up to; are you just here for a visit?” she asked, and I told her an abbreviated version of how I landed back in Memphis, starting a new job.

“Well,” she responded, her disapproval clear, “I guess if you want to be a big fish in a little pond, you can. But I don’t know why anyone would, especially you.”

I’ve thought about that encounter many times over the last 25 years, particularly when I got the news that this friend, this girl who became a big fish in a big corporate pond, died unexpectedly a couple of years ago, the high pressure environment having taken its high toll.

I think about her still, my late great big-girl friend. I think about her choices and her advice, her hopes and dreams. And when I think of her, what I think is this:

The fish, the pond; they’re relative.

Happy week.


farmers market october 2014So sometimes the farmers market is a bust, usually when we’re in between growing seasons. And just when I’m about to give up, the fall harvest comes in and I come home with an overflowing bag of fresh goodness. Of course, maybe it’s just that I like the things that are in season in the fall: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cabbage, lettuce and basil. Since those are the goodies that came home with me, those are the goodies we’ll eat this week.

To make things easy on me, I stuck to one source for recipe inspiration, Epicurious. I love the Epicurious database, mostly because it has such an exhaustive listing of recipes from my favorite food magazine of all time, Gourmet (RIP, Gourmet).

butternut squash and sweet potatoes 2014Sweet potato & Coconut Soup | Green Salad

So, no, I do not think my people will go crazy for this dinner, sweet potato and coconut soup with a simple green salad. I’ll probably be making a few peanut butter sandwiches., but maybe I’ll be surprised. In any event, I’ll enjoy.

Butternut Squash | Pork Tenderloin

If you’ve been here before, then you know how much I like butternut squash and that I’m committed to getting my family to like it, too. I found two new recipes, and might actually try both. This recipe for Parmesan-roasted squash is simple and probably hard to screw up. This one for roasted butternut squash salad (with arugula, pancetta and hazelnuts) is a bit more complicated but looks worth the effort. I’ll serve with a pork tenderloin using my mother’s recipe that is similar to this one.

red cabbageFlank Steak with Chimichurri | Braised Red Cabbage

Flank steak with chimichurri is one of our favorite dinners. Although my children don’t like the chimichurri, I hope one day it will grow on them (and until then, ketchup it is). Braised red cabbage with vinegar ought to be a good companion dish, only because we’re vinegar people. If you want something a bit milder to offset the chimichurri, try these velvety mashed potatoes (not from Epicurious, but always delicious).

Spaghetti with Meatballs | Caesar Salad

When I’m trying to get my people to be more adventuresome in their eating, I also respect that sometimes we all just want simple, predictable comfort food. In our house, spaghetti and meatballs usually does the trick. If you don’t have time to make meatballs, you can substitute frozen. (I know, the heresy. And I so don’t care.) Ditto using prepared Caesar dressing for the salad. Make it or buy it, it’s entirely up to you. Choices and options are good things.basil 2014

Basil Tabbouleh | Roast Chicken

If you like tabbouleh in general, then this recipe for basil tabbouleh should be a nice variation. Serve with a simple roast chicken, either from the grocery or using this super-easy recipe.

Unprotected sex.

August 12, 2012


As girl children of the 1970s my sister and I were raised to believe that nothing was beyond our reach. We were told, more than shown, that we could be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, CEOs or publishers, that we could do any of those jobs just as well as any man could.

But our mother, the woman with multiple careers, a Master’s degree and a high IQ, was most decidedly not a feminist. She despised the National Organization for Women generally and Gloria Steinem in particular. Feminists, in my mother’s opinion, were women who sought victory at the expense of men. They were brash, boastful, ill-mannered women whose win-lose approach was certain to cause only future strife. Equality was fair and appropriate; feminism was neither.

When the Equal Rights Amendment passed in 1972 I was six going on seven, a child whose view of the world came largely through the eyes of her mother, the walking contradiction. Mama’s sewing group, the group that gathered in our living room to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and smock dresses while I sprawled on the floor with my dolls, talked about the E.R.A. only occasionally, if at all, and never with much enthusiasm.

There was one friend I remember, Alice Swanson, a woman my father described as “the liberated sort,” who was always egging my mother on and trying to get her to become more involved. It was inconceivable to Alice that my mother wouldn’t join the women’s movement; it was inconceivable to my mother that any woman would.

And then the whole thing sort of dissolved, at least in our house. The amendment passed; the box was checked; we moved on. We talked about what opportunities lay ahead, what things we girls could achieve. My sister and I went to college; we got jobs; we became modern women. We did not become feminists; why would we?

We are still modern women, my sister and I. We’re well-educated career women juggling work and family life, the sort of women who try to stay reasonably up to date on both current affairs and pop culture. My sister, the doctor, is in charge of reading JAMA. I, the marketer, am responsible for reading the Sunday New York Times and listening to NPR. Margaret sends me technical articles about exercise and sunscreen; I send her human interest stories and reviews of novels I know she’ll never have time to read. We both recognize Janet Yellen when we see her picture (yep, we’re in that 24%), but to be honest, given a free 30 minutes in the evening (rarity that it is) we’d rather watch Modern Family than read The Wall Street Journal.

Knowing what you now know about my background, you either will or will not understand my surprise (I was dumbstruck, actually) reading this recent Huff Post piece about the Notorious R.B.G. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) and learning that the Equal Rights Amendment, that thing I’ve taken for my entire adult life, is not law.

Yes, you read that correctly: the E.R.A. passed by Congressional vote but was not ratified by the required number of states (38) for it to stand as a Constitutional amendment. Here’s what Justice Ginsberg had to say about it to New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen:

One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women.

In the age of #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls one tiny detail seems to have escaped ongoing headline discussion: women in the U.S. do not enjoy constitutionally protected equality because only 35 of 50 states could agree that such an amendment was reasonable, and 38 state ratifications were/are required.

I read and re-read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I shared it with friends and discussed it in depth. I’ve followed college friend Lisa Belkin’s writing for years, from The Opt Out Revolution to The Gender Gap. I’ve talked with other women about issues facing women. Even though I was raised not to be a feminist per se, I’ve marched right up to the edge of F word territory on a relatively frequent basis. How did I not know that the Equal Rights Amendment has been hanging out in legal never-never-land? Am I the only ignorant one?

No, as it turns out; I’m not alone, at least not among my local peers. I took a short and very unscientific poll of my women friends, all well-educated women with jobs like teacher, doctor, scientist, etc. “Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, that it’s not law?” I asked.

“Are you sure?” one friend responded. “Are you sure that’s right?”

Yes, I’m sure. Ask your lawyer husband. We fell three states short, way back in the 70s, a fact known to only two of my friends, a lawyer and a journalist.

This is all meaningless hogwash, you say, certain that there are laws aplenty to protect women against employment discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic violence and more.

Yes, there are numerous statutes protecting women, and at this juncture the Equal Rights Amendment might be largely symbolic. Now go tell the National Rifle Association that Amendment 2 might similarly be largely symbolic, and let me know how that works out.

How is this possible? How could all those pioneering 1970s women neglect to tell their footstep followers, “Oops – Our bad!”

Actually its our bad, the would-be followers’ fault. For four decades a dwindling group of activists has been running a relay, ready to hand the baton to the next generation. But we of the next generation, so many of us anyway, have been busy running a parallel race, enjoying the easy benefits but actively shirking the more complicated responsibilities and unattractive adjectives. We’ve relished our ability to bring home the bacon and then write blogs about cooking it, but the women’s rights movement, well that’s old news, ancient history.

Except that it isn’t. It is very much today’s issue for today’s girls and women. We’ve come a long way, baby; but we staked our claim on a slippery slope.

What to do? Well, according to the ERA website, if you live in on the of nine states where ratification seems not impossible (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, or Virginia) then it’s time to get busy and figure out what’s happening in your state, particularly if you live in Illinois or Virginia where the flame seems still to be most alive. The current plan, as I understand it (even though I’m not a lawyer) is still to get three more states in the hopper. Apparently the 27th (“Madison”) Amendment was ratified more than 203 years after its passage, so the whole seven year deadline thing might not hold up. Again, not a lawyer; but the concept makes sense to me. (And, in case you’re curious, the six states not listed and apparently written off as impossible are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah.)

Live in one of the 35 states that already voted YES (Tennessee! Hurrah!)? Great; now tell your friends about the issue. Ask them if they are aware that in the United States in 2014 gun ownership has the virtually unbreakable protection of the U.S. Constitution, but women’s equality does not.

With apologies to my late mother, that should be enough to bring out the feminist in us all.

Happy week.


Food | Week of October 13, 2014

baby yukon goldsblack pearl riceorecchiette

So,yeah, I too think it’s a wee bit funny that I’m sticking to my routine and tagging a weekly family cooking plan onto the end of this particular post. It’s especially funny in light of the best article I read last week, Virginia Heffernan’s “What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?

I’m the designated cook in our family because 1) I actually enjoy it and 2) I’m usually pretty good at it. Yes, I truly, honestly enjoy cooking. It is a great creative distraction for me, something I can do to take my mind off of other things. I have always enjoyed cooking. And I have enjoyed these almost two years of ending my weekly posts with a weekly menu because planning for dinner helps me juggle that whole work/life thing that is particularly hard for women these days.

But some days I just don’t feel like it. And when I don’t feel like cooking, I don’t cook. It’s that simple. We eat leftovers, we eat cereal, we eat scrambled eggs. Sometimes- EGAD! we even eat takeout or fast food. Choices and options: these are good things.

The weekly dinner plan keeps choices and options from being overwhelming. It’s a framework, a reference guide. Having a plan keeps our weeknight evenings from unraveling into stressful chaos. This week our plan includes fish, chicken, sausage and two vegetarian meals. And, since I’m always forgetting to add this, if you try one and like it, drop a line and let me know.

Flageolets | Cornbread | Bibb Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

Yep, I’m making another push for Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, this time advocating the flageolets, which are mild and flavorful. There are cooking suggestions on the Rancho Gordo site, or you can try this Ina Garten recipe, an easy recipe to adapt if you want to make truly vegetarian – just skip the bacon and use vegetable broth. Serve with cornbread (here’s Bittman’s recipe, or you can just use Jiffy). Round it out with a Bibb lettuce salad like this, our favorite, also from Ina Garten.

Black Rice | Steamed Cod | Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas

This dinner sounds harder than it really is, mostly because the ingredients sound difficult to find. I found Lundberg’s black pearl rice at Kroger; it’s also available at Fresh Market and Whole Foods. Cook the rice according to package directions; it’s that easy. For the fish, which you can buy flash-frozen if fresh isn’t available, this Martha Stewart recipe is simple and quick. Round it out with some sauteed sugar snap peas.

Pan-Fried Weisswurst | Potato Salad with Dill & Apple

I know; you’re wondering: What the hell is weisswurst? Literally, it’s white sausage – NBD. Here’s the context: Bernard likes Boar’s Head bratwurst; no other brand will suffice. “Get the white bratwurst,” he’ll say. So I did a bit of research and learned that there are numerous varieties of bratwurst, one of which is weisswurst, a mild white sausage typically with flecks of parsley visible through the casing. The Boar’s Head bratwurst isn’t technically that, but it’s the closest match I could find, and maybe it explains why a selected this recipe pairing from Martha Stewart for pan fried weisswurst. It is simple and tasty, and the link to the accompanying potato salad is embedded in the sausage recipe.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Goat Cheese

This recipe from Saveur is relies on the flavor of broccoli rabe (rapini), a bitter green, balanced by mild and acidic goat cheese. It’s very simple and easy to prepare; in my experience, it does not keep well; so make only enough for the night.

Baked Parmesan Chicken | Caesar Salad

Ina Garten’s Parmesan chicken recipe is simple and reliable; I’m also fond of my friend Marjorie’s version which calls for marinating the chicken in Italian dressing for a bit before cooking and using that same dressing instead of an egg wash before coating with a mix of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I use store-bought Caesar dressing, but here’s a recipe if you’re feeling domestic.



boy on a paddle board september 2014

boy on a paddle board september 2014

Idiometry: n. the branch of language arts dealing with angles of conversation between parents and middle school children doing homework together, particularly if the homework is from 1100 Words You Need to Know.


Lesson 1: A Pig in a Poke.

“Ok, say you’re a duck hunter, and -“

“But dad won’t let me hunt because he doesn’t like guns.”

“Um, yeah. Well just pretend, ok? Pretend you’re a duck hunter, and you need a really well-trained dog – one who’ll respond to voice commands and always behave, like the Appersons’ dog. And you meet a man who says he has just the dog for you. And you pay him in advance, and then the dog he delivers to you is Charlie. That’s a pig in a poke.”

“Mom!!! I thought you loved Charlie!!!!”

“No, honey, I do love Charlie. But Charlie isn’t exactly … well, he’s Charlie. He’s definitely not a hunting dog, even though he’s a Lab. I mean -“

“Harsh, Mom. Harsh. Totally uncool. C’mon, Charlie, let’s go upstairs and finish homework on my bed. I think you’re a good dog, Charlie. I love you. Good boy, Charlie, good doggie.”


Lesson 2: Furtive

“So does furtive mean, like, telling secrets?”

“Not exactly. Furtive means sly and sneaky. Like, remember when you were in 5th grade and you were supposed to be paying attention to the math teacher but you kept sneaking glances at that girl you thought was cute, but you didn’t want the teacher or the girl to notice?”

“Mom, oh my gosh! Are you EVER going to stop with that story?! It was 5th grade, Mom. FIFTH. Get over it.”


Lesson 3: Octogenarian

“Hey, Mom, I know you’re still at work, but Dad said you could probably help me write a sentence with this word because you’re closer to it than he is.”

“Sure, honey. What’s the word?”


Lesson 4: A Flash in the Pan

“So ‘a flash in the pan’ is like the one year when we had a perfect football season but then the next year we didn’t?”

“Well, not exactly. ‘A flash in the pan’ is like… well, it’s something that’s really, really popular for a short time and then just disappears.”

“So The Beatles were a flash in the pan? Because they were like really, really popular back in the olden days and now you never hear about them.”

“Um, no. The Beatles were definitely not a flash in the pan.”

“Are you saying that because you like The Beatles? Because I gotta tell you, Mom, The Beatles… man, there’s not other way to say this, The Beatles suck. That Yellow Submarine song, man that’s like What Does the Fox Say? It’s one of those stupid songs that just sticks in your ear and bugs you all day.”

“Ok, let’s try again. A ‘flash in the pan’ is sort of like Miley Cyrus. You know? She was really popular, and everyone thought she was awesome, but now not so much.”

“So Miley Cyrus was a flash in the pan, or Hannah Montana was a flash in the pan? And wasn’t Wrecking Ball sort of popular even after kids stopped following her? Wasn’t her dad more of a flash in the pan than she was?”

“Um, let’s start over.”

Lesson 5: Solace

“Oh, ‘solace’ is one of my favorite words. It’s one of those words that feels good to say, and the way the word sounds is kind of like what it means. It’s a soothing word. Solace is a special kind of comfort. People usually talk about places or circumstances that provide solace in times of trouble. Some people find solace in quiet places like the woods; others find solace in the company of other people. I often find solace working in the kitchen. In fact, the working title of the book I’ve been writing is The Solace of a Southern Kitchen. That’s how much that word means to me; it’s really a good one. I’m so glad it was on your list. Does that help?



“Are you still there?”


Happy week.


Food | Week of October 6, 2014

KaleMy family wants you to know that last week’s sour cream chicken did not pass the acid test (an idiom I’ll get to explain in mid-February, if they stay on schedule). It’s possible that there was a tiny problem with execution on the chicken because Bernard was helping me in the kitchen and my “some lemon juice” and his “some lemon juice” apparently are not the same thing. There’s also the matter of the “sprinkling of crumbs” which translated into full breading. Anyway, this week instead of going out on a limb (that will be week 28) with new recipes, we’ll stick to old favorites with fall cooking, warm and savory, in mind.

Since this week is fall break, I’ll be home with the kids and catching up on some reading. One of the books on my list is Mark Bittman’s new How to Cook Everything Fast, which comes out on Tuesday. Bittman’s interview with Rachel Martin on NPR this past week was great. When Martin said she had trouble getting the chicken Parmesan ready in 30 minutes, Bittman was quick to ask if she had followed the directions and equally quick to call her on the carpet (week 16) when she responded, “Not exactly.” If you want the meals prepared in exactly 30 minutes, then apparently you must follow the directions precisely- to the letter. Not exactly my cup of tea (that one isn’t even IN 1100 Words – Bonus!), but I’ll give it a go and share my review in a few weeks.

Beef Bourguignongarlic on the menu board

If you’ve been following here for a while, then you know this recipe is a frequent flier. Even though the cooking time is long, the preparation is easy. I find cooking in the slow cooker works fine; just prep everything right up to the point of putting the Dutch oven in the oven and instead put everything in a slow cooker.

Roast Chicken | Pearl Couscous | Broccoli

If you are not on school holiday this week, then give yourself a break and buy a roasted chicken from the grocery (you can go conventional at Kroger, high end at Fresh Market or organic/free range at Whole Foods – your choice). A simple meal like this is more restorative than anything, particularly if your household is busy. If you are at home and have the time, then roast a bird or two yourself using this top-rated recipe from Epicurious. It’s easy and predictable, and your house will smell great. Serve with simple sides like pearl couscous (my family’s favorite), steamed broccoli (yes, that like that, too) or a simple green salad.

Refried Beans | Basmati Rice | Cilantro Sauce

I bought several varieties of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans recently, after reading all the rave reviews, and then last week a neighbor gave me a few more. If you’re not familiar with these beans, they’re worth the effort to find and try them. Any, trying to put it delicately, the Rancho Gordo beans do not have unpleasant side effects. This week I’ll be cooking pinquitos, which are similar to red beans that you’ll find in any grocery store but taste entirely different. The last time I made these, I soaked them overnight and then cooked them in the slow cooker for an entire day. I let them cool, then I used Mark Bittman’s recipe (it’s his week, I know) for refried beans (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). I served with plain basmati rice (cooked in chicken stock) and a cilantro sauce that was basically chopped cilantro, salt and lime juice.

tomato harvestWeeknight Bolognese

Yep, I’m making it again. It’s easy, and we love it. The end. But I will be using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, since this was the last week for tomatoes at the farmers market.

Celery Soup | French Bread

Yep, it’s time to hit this one again, too: Jane Grigson’s Genius Celery Soup, the only recipe I’ve saved from my Food 52 browsing days. I want to see if it’s as good as I remember, and if my people will still like it.




Participative democracy requires participation. If you live in the U.S., today’s your day to participate, and the awesome folks at WordPress put together this cool tool to help you find information you need to get out and vote:

I voted early because I’m traveling this week. If you waited until today, then you’ll have to wait in line (I hope there’s a line; really I do). So wait in line and vote.

Don’t think your candidate has a chance? Vote anyway.

Heard the election is already decided? It’s never decided until all the votes are counted; vote!

You’ll feel better about yourself, so just go do it: vote today, please.

Happy November 4.