Friday, January 29, 2010

The Kitchen Diaries

For my birthday, a friend gave me a book called The Kitchen Diaries: A year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. The book is what its title suggests--a day by day account of what Slater cooked and ate and needed. I kind of love it. I pick it up at odd times, when I'm in between books or articles or out of sorts (like last night when I finished A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, a beautiful and disturbing piece of nonfiction by Peter Handke) and it's very soothing. It's not only full of great recipes but it reminds me of the rhythms of the kitchen and, of course, the days. At any particular moment I might feel stuck, but here's what I could eat today, or tomorrow, or in May. I haven't made anything from it, but cooking from it feels almost beside the point. Except for the Lime Tart that Slater made at the end of January the year he wrote the book. That might be exactly on point for dinner tonight for us. Along with roast chicken (not from the farm market since the meat farmer wasn't there yesterday), roasted brussel sprouts and a challah. Definitely on point that lime tart.

Fighting a Cold

Oh, the colds of January. They come in scratchy throats, they're inflamed by sleepless nights, they don't always dissolve into a flurry of sneezes but instead hang around in annoying low-gradedness, fuzzing the mind, interrupting the plans, making one unable to focus and complete a task. This is the kind of cold I have along with three half- finished posts. Everyone, go drink some water! It'll help you fight this cold.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meet Me

You might know that I wrote a book with Melissa Clark called The Skinny: How to fit into your little black dress forever. Some people really, really like that book. (The recipes are terrific!) The fabulous Melissa Castro over at Pastries & Bacon really, really likes it and she sent me an interview for her wed site. I answered the questions myself, but I was almost too embarrassed to read the posted interview and kept editing it in my head. (you'll see where, I'm sure.) Anyway, Melissa Castro very kindly posted the interview on her blog, and here it is. Thanks, Melissa!

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

So, I missed the State of the Union last night. My husband said it was great, but me? I fell asleep with my daughter and just couldn't get up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Figure Skating

OK, I may not miss the State of the Union tonight, but I did miss the US Figure Skating Championships, something I would never have done in an Olympic year before I had children. Now, of course, I'm just hoping to see a little of the Olympics so I can catch up on my knitting, and if I miss the skating, the Fug Girls are always there to fill me in. Enjoy!

The State of the Chin Music

I am dreading, dreading, tonight's State of the Union address. Even with our last President I would always watch it, feeling it to be part of my civic duty along with voting and complaining about Republicans. But this year, I just don't know if I can watch. First, there's the chin music that will follow -- the President did this well, the President should have done that, when will the President do the other thing -- not to mention the Republican response. Then there's this headline on the New York Times web site: "In Speech, Obama to Admit Missteps in First Year." Granted, I've yet to read the article, but why do Democrats always have to say we're sorry? Seriously, all the Republicans have to do after eight years of disaster is say, "No! No! No! No! NO!" like a psychotic two-year-old and Democrats have to be all, "Oooh, right, Sorry." Frustrating.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Staggering Toward Monday

Wee little stomach bug over the weekend. Not the worst I've had, but, still, there is nothing redeeming about a stomach bug....except that it gave me the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep, and I got to lie in bad and finish The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Sue over at A Life Divided recommended the mystery as a tonic to Byatt, and she was exactly right. It was! I don't read a lot of mysteries, but it was a good, fun read. Thanks, Sue!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Over the weekend I learned to play an excellent game called Bananagrams.
The game requires picking tiles and assembling all of them into words, crossword style. The first person to use up all the letters announces, "Peel!" Then you have to take another tile. The thing of it is, you can assemble a truly gorgeous board -- I had one with vixen and women and another with quotient and quince -- and still not use up all your letter tiles. When that happens, a player has to do two things: (1) look for the small words, because as with so many things in life, the little things can make all the difference; and (2) a player has to be willing to take the whole thing apart and start over. You'd be surprised how hard that is, how quickly you can get attached to words you've just arranged before you, but the willingness to take it all apart is the key to the game. And maybe some other stuff, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Hair is Not On Fire

I'm not reading much about the Massachusetts Senate race. But I'd like to point out that there is still a Democratic majority in the Senate and this is not the end of the world.
Here are two links from yesterday on Andrew Sullivan's Blog.
This one is about the Angry White Male vote and this one is about the general state of the electorate and affairs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Donations and Disasters

Here's an interesting take on giving after a disaster.

By Hand

Every so often I hear someone suggest that children shouldn't be taught handwriting anymore and my heart seizes just a little. Could computers really become so ubiquitous? Here's an article by Anne Trubek (via Light Reading) on the history of handwriting. Of it she writes:

"Handwriting slowly became a form of self-expression when it ceased to be the primary mode of written communication. When a new writing technology develops, we tend to romanticize the older one. The supplanted technology is vaunted as more authentic because it is no longer ubiquitous or official. Thus for monks, print was capricious and script reliable. So too today: Conventional wisdom holds that computers are devoid of emotion and personality, and handwriting is the province of intimacy, originality and authenticity."

The Columnist and The President

Sometimes when I read David Brooks' column, I feel like I'm reading a personal message between him and Obama. Brooks clearly loves Obama, but he's also always ready to diagnose the problem, as he did in today's New York Times. There he wrote:

"Driven by circumstances and self-confidence, the president has made himself the star performer in the national drama."

By taking the lead, Brooks argues, Obama has sparked the distrust of the American people. Of course, over the summer all we heard was that Obama wasn't out front enough on health care, he wasn't using his star power to make the sell. Brooks is probably right about the current state of presidential appeal, but, clearly, for Obama it's damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The Chicken

This weekend we had a chicken I bought from the chicken's farmer at our local farm market. I bought lamb from her the week before, a pound of stew meat. It was delicious. David and I have that we'll try to buy most of our meet from Sonia, the farmer. This means paying more for meat and eating less of it when we do have it, which is fine. At four pounds, though, this chicken was bigger than most chickens I've bought. And it was...different. We ate it with a friend who noted, "What's remarkable about the chicken is how much it looks like a living creature." It's wings looked like they'd flapped. The largest pieces were the legs and thighs, which were huge, relative to supermarket chickens. Just looking at them, you could tell this chicken really had some free range. And the breast? Tasty but scrawny. It cooked beautifully, tasted good and made the best chicken stock I've ever cooked, and I felt like i had to make stock with it out of respect. I didn't want any of its meat to go to waste. Still, the backyard bird felt like a fairly big commitment. We've been trying to eat less chicken, and if we stick to the farmer's birds, we will.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Green Acres!

We've been invited to the country for the long weekend! And so, I'm bringing the chicken I bought at the farm market back to its home territory for a holiday weekend local feast. Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Gardeners Dig In

Corby Kummer has a long response to Caitlin Flanagan's anti-school garden article. As part of his research, he spoke with Tony Recasner who heads a green school in New Orlenas. Kummer writes:

"Yes, test scores have improved since the program started," Recasner said. But "we didn't go after this to prove causation," he added. "What we know about gardens is that it opens experiential pathways for kids to learn," he said. "Different learning experiences correlate highly with improved test scores. This gives kids a stronger background knowledge in the kinds of subjects that are likely to appear on standardized tests. They'll see the kinds of ideas, people, concepts, and different languages they're exposed to with the Edible Schoolyard appear on tests. It's very helpful."

I believe that children learn through doing things. I'm a big fan of the Waldorf approach for just that reason. But I also don't think that all kids are equally well served by a single educational philosophy or strategy. The success or failure of students in a school with a garden probably has more to do with the quality of the instruction and the commitment of the teachers and leadership than it does with the fact of a garden on site.

I am, as I've written, highly sympathetic to the gardener's position. I want gardens to work. And yet I think Flanagan's provocative article is not without some corrective value.

It's good to think long and hard about why one wants to do certain things and if the thing one wants to do -- build a school garden -- has as much value during school hours to those who would learn there as it would to you, the funder of the garden. It's like what we have to do as parents: when we make a choice, we (or I) have to tease out what's about the grown up parent and what's about the child.

What's too bad is now the question of school gardens is set up as an either or (at least among Atlantic readers), instead of being a potential area for a school to explore. A principal or teachers or parents could ask if a garden would work in a particular school right now. How might it work, whom would it help, and why? Like so much in education, and food, the best answers are local. Top down imports just can't be the way to go.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I feel a little funny blogging about gardens and chicken with the heartbreak of Haiti, but there it is. Melissa Clark had a big piece in today's New York Times with three recipes for boneless breast of chicken, all of which I want to make.

The recipes reminted me that when we were working on The Skinny, Melissa sent over a recipe for "Roasted Chicken Breasts with Rosemary Apples." For some reason, I wanted to cut it. She insisted it was delicious. I tried it. She was right. It's fast, it's easy, it's even elegant. Here it is. (You can also make it with salmon.)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 garlic clove
1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt
1 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp white wine or water
1 large sprig of rosemary

1) Preheat oven to 400. Rub each chicken breast with garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until juices run clear, about 20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, make the apples. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat melt the butter. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

3) add the apples, wine or water, and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occassionally, until the apples are tender and have broken down slightly, about 15 minutes. (It the pan juices dry out before the apples are soft, add another tablespoon or two of water and keep cooking.) Remove the rosemary sprig and season the sauce with salt and a generous amount of pepper.

4. Arrange the chicken on individual serving plates and spoon the apples on top. Serve hot.

The Garden at the Back of the School

In the January/February issue of The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan let's it fly. Her target? The Edible Schoolyard program created and sanctified by Alice Waters.

Two things I need to say up front:
1) Alice Waters works my nerves. Here's why (besides the hat): A long time ago I worked at a food web site and we had a live chat with Ms. Waters. This was in the mid-90s when seasonal cooking was just catching on. She said, "Everyone should buy organic produce. I'm willing to pay more for organic seasonal produce." I asked: "What if you can't afford more." At the time I could barely afford my trips to the Farmer's Market. Silence. Then Waters repeated that she herself was willing to pay more for organic food. Thanks! (That said, I love her book The Art of Simple Cooking.)

2) I'm a sucker for the promise of a school garden.

Every time I read an urban garden story, it's like I've been cleansed. My cheeks feel ruddy. I think about children learning to eat seasonally and I hope the earth might be saved. I might even yearn to shout: Yes we can! Even if just for old times' sake.

It seems to me, after reading Flanagan, that school gardens trade on our desperately earnest wish to get food right. It could be seen as part of a long upper middle brow tradition of fetishizing physical labor and DIYism. From Levin in Anna Karenina with his peasants and farms to any number of Sunday Times Magazine spreads about city folks who gave it all up to work the land, organically, there's a soft spot in our educated upper middle class hearts for people who not only grow food but by doing so teach us what's really important in life.

The school garden movement also taps into a very specific preciousness that has evolved around the cultural imperatives of a certain class in buying and making food. After all, we want to eat well. We want to eat right. We want to feel ourselves to be part of the food chain, the life cycle, the good protein. This is all good-and my tongue is nowhere near my cheek as I write this. But, if I want to get food right, do I believe gardens in schools will teach children how to be a part of the food chain and they'll grow up to be discerning eaters who respect the earth too much to be seduced by tomatoes in January?

I am very much a part of this line of thought, and Flanagan knows it. She does not flatter her reader as Nick Paumgarten tried to do in his New Yorker profile of the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey. Instead, Flanagan says what's so: In California, low income Hispanic and African American kids don't need to garden. They need to learn to read and write and do math. They need to pass state exams. They may garden after school, but during school an hour and a half a week in the garden followed by a gardening curriculum in English, Math and Science is too much. If it weren't, the test results of Hispanic and African American kids at schools with a garden would be better.

It may be that Flanagan puts too much stock in test results, even though in the neighborhood of Berkeley she's talking about the Hispanic and African American kids at a charter school without a garden have better test results than those at the school with Waters' very first edible schoolyard. State-wide tests are, after all, a limited and flawed measure of education. But in California, as elsewhere, they seem to matter. I don't think a school needs to drop everything in service of a test, but it might be that the children who are most at risk of dropping through the cracks of a public school system may not be so well served by the dreams of those who think of graduating from high school as an almost completely natural event that happens as spontaneously as learning to walk or, say, read.

It just may be that what I really need to clarify the whole school garden thing is a Christopher Guest documentary about the good folks starting one in a farming community in Iowa. That might be just the ticket. In fact, I'd buy mine opening weekend.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holocaust Lit 101

When I was a child, I read about the holocaust all the time. I mean all the time. Of course I wasn't the only one. For her latest column in Tablet, Marjorie Ingall has collected some memories from those of us who just had to read all about it. Mine is included.

Roasted Potatoes

I rarely roast potatoes. Not only do I think of a white potato as a luxury I can easily forgo in favor of a glass of wine or some cookies without feeling any regret, but, perhaps more to the point, I've never successfully roasted a batch of potatoes at home. I think of this as an off-shoot of my hit-or-miss record when it comes to roasting chicken. (I'm always so nervous it will be overdone so I tend to take it out too soon.) I did have terrific roasted potatoes at a friend's house over Christmas, but I couldn't replicate it when I tried a week later. For all these reasons, I was glad to read this over at Chocolate and Zucchini. I have this vague hope that my kids might try to eat a roasted potato, and even though I know I'm kidding myself, with this recipe, I just might try.

Swinging Elizabeth

It's never a shock when one media version of a media persona is undone by "facts" that emerge from people "behind the scenes." Was I surprised that Tiger Woods slept around? No. Was I surprised that other people were surprised? You betcha. Am I surprised that Elizabeth Edwards maybe isn't someone I'd want to have lunch with? Not really. But is is tiresome to see the pendulum swing the other way in the new book Game Changer? Yes, it is. Sadie on Jezebel does a good job of saying why.

Taking the Long Way

Back when I was seventeen, I worked for my parents after school in their jewelry manufacturing concern. (Providence, RI, where I grew up, once was the costume jewelry capitol of the world.) If you don't have a big factory, making jewelry involves collecting a lot of different parts from a lot of different people. Once I got my driver's license, I was the collector. I'd drive in and around Providence getting clasps and beads and whatever else had to be gotten. Once I was sent someplace I'd never been before in southern RI. It was farther than I usually went, but RI being small, not all that far from home. I managed to make my way there -- I got the stuff I was supposed to -- but then I started driving back. Nothing looked familiar. The radio started to cut out. Then I saw the sign: Welcome to Connecticut!

I was reminded of this errand today when I went running around the reservoir in Central Park. It was my first time going around the reservoir and I felt like "Aha! After twenty years (give or take) in New York, I'm finally a New Yorker!" The thing is, my husband, who was born and raised here in New York, had advised me to cut to the right somewhere so I could pick up another drive and loop back around to my starting point instead of going all the way around the reservoir and back up the big hill I had to run down to get there in the first place. This would make a run of a reasonable length, he assured me. So I gave it a shot. And you know what happened: I missed the right, and forty-odd minutes into my run, I was lumbering back up the damn hill that was way more fun to run down.

I wasn't planning on blogging about running again today. I'd planned to write about this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. (It's maybe overly cynical, but in many ways spot on.) After that run, though, my longest yet, I just couldn't because sometimes you've just got to take the road you find yourself on just to find out where it leads.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Books Gone Bad

You know when you start a book and it's terrific and you're so excited because it's long and you think you're in good hands and you just keep reading and reading but then something terrible happens in the middle? Something like an experienced author must have resisted any and all attempts at editing and decided instead and three home produced plays are of course reasonable to describe and it's fine to go on and on about god knows what for who knows how long and throw in a million characters. So what that the reader doesn't really know enough about any of them (well, one of them who is the saddest of all) but that's OK since they mostly turn out to be placeholders anyway. In other words, you're reading along and all of the sudden, four hundred pages in you realize you just don't care about any of it and you're so mad all the time but you're two thirds of the way through so you finish the damn book anyway when, really, you shouldn't have. This is what happened to me with The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. I started it and it was like I had a mad crush on it and then, all of the sudden, it was just all wrong and I kept reading anyway and fuming about how upset I was about reading it. Bad idea. So it goes.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Where'd That Come From

So I went for a run today. Outside. It was cold. I don't know why I did it other than my husband and I have taken to badgering each other (I mean supporting each other) in our efforts to exercise regularly. Usually I run in Riverside park but because of the wind, David suggested a new route for me, this one through Central Park. I took it, I enjoyed it. There's something liberating about running when it's too cold to run. At the end, I ran up the big hill from Central Park to our apartment. It felt pretty good. There was on problem, though, one teeny tiny little issue. The song in my head as I was running up the hill? I can't even believe I'm going to admit this. The song in my head as I was running up the hill was.....oh god.....Eye of the Tiger. Eye of the freaking Tiger. Thrill of the %#$@^ fight. It's the eeeeeeyyyyyyyeeeee. Damn it.

The Last Word

Last Sunday, on a freezing cold day with the wind whipping around, my son wanted to go to a cemetery. He'd seen one on the train ride from Providence to New York, and he wanted to walk around one for himself and see some skeletons. That's what are in graveyards, you know, skeletons and ghosts. And so my husband found us a graveyard and off we went to Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum.

When you're going to a cemetery just for fun, so to speak, it's a sobering but curious experience. Trinity is a historic graveyard, many of the stones have been scrubbed clean and thin by time and weather. Many more of the originals, though, are still legible: A fourteen-year-old girl who died in 1918. A woman who lived from 1835-1925. Graves marked "Mother" and "Father." There was one for "Our beloved Charlie" who was just three years old when he died in the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Then, in a corner on a hill overlooking the cross-street stood a gravestone for Ed Koch, three term mayor of New York, who is still very much alive. This being a church cemetery, Koch's stone is nonetheless clearly marked as Jewish. There's a Star of David at the top and the famous quote from Daniel Pearl, the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter, stating he is a Jew. But the incongruity of a Jewish grave in a cemetery where the first stone you see upon entering is the large Celtic cross marking John Audobon's grave is the least of it, until Koch actually dies, that is. (Jews are supposed to wait eleven months after burial before putting a gravestone on a grave. Details, details.)

I suppose it's a way to confront mortality, putting up a gravestone for yourself. Maybe it's comforting to know what everyone else will see when you're not around to see it. And if you attend to the stone yourself, you know no one's going to argue about what should be on the stone when you're not around to say what should be there yourself. You, or Koch, gets the last word. I'm not sure why that can't be done on paper or that that's the last word I'd want, but if there's one thing I'm not in this life, it's Ed Koch.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Serviceable and its Enemies

In this week's New Yorker, Hendrick Hertzberg makes the point that the health care bill under consideration now is not great, but it's much better than nothing, and Democrats should stop whinging and start making it work.

Here's his penultimate and ultimate kicker:

On May 20, 1962, at Madison Square Garden, John F. Kennedy spoke to some twenty thousand people at a rally in support of a bill to provide hospital care for the aged, one of forty-five such rallies around the country. In his speech, President Kennedy acknowledged that his bill would fall short of meeting every need. “We’ve got great unfinished business in this country,” he said, “and while this bill does not solve our problems in this area, I do not believe it is a valid argument to say, ‘This bill isn’t going to do the job.’ It will not, but it will do part of it.”

Two months later, Kennedy’s bill was defeated in the Senate. It took his assassination, a huge Democratic victory in 1964, and the legislative talents of President Lyndon Johnson to get Medicare enacted. The health-care bill now being kicked and prodded and bribed toward passage will not “do the job,” either—only part of it. Are Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress doing enough? No. But they are doing what’s possible. That may be pathetic, but it’s no fallacy.

Read more:

Driven to Distraction

The NY Times seems to be in the middle of a long series on all the life-threatening things people do while they drive, texting and talking on the phone being highest on the list. Yesterday the newspaper featured a story about car companies building computer screens into car dashboards. There's so much that stupid about this I can't even start to get my head around it, but maybe the stupidest design trick of all is this:

"The technology and car companies say that safety remains a priority. They note that they are building in or working on technology like voice commands and screens that can simultaneously show a map to the driver and a movie to a front-seat passenger, as in the new Jaguar XJ."

I love that the first sentence of that paragraph states that the car companies say safety is a priority. It must be some kind of weird double speak because if you ask me, it would be a helluva lot safer for the map to show up on the passenger side of the screen while the driver's side stays blank. Can you imagine trying to read a map on a dashboard while driving? I tell you, if we were on a family trip and my husband tried to do that, it would not be pretty. Not pretty at all.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Blogging Boundaries

More often than I care to admit these days, my kids say something to me ("Of course Optimus Prime is a real person.") or to each other ("No, Elliot, sometimes a man and a woman get married, sometimes a man and a man get married and sometimes a woman and a woman get married.") and I want to blog about it. But then I think I shouldn't blog too much about my kids directly. Instead, I blog about my life which includes my kids, which feels better and less potentially, you know, twee. But then, sometimes, that leads me at a loss for blogging material, because I'm a little behind in everything and, like some others, I'm trying to get a handle on the whole new year thing. So here I am, getting going and sort of drawing the line.

But note: When Helen explained all the variations on marriage to Elliot, I just sighed happily and thought, "It's only a matter of time. I wish things could go faster, but these kids will look back on this fight and think it was just so weird."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Avatar: Full left jacket

Apparently, the Right has their panties all up in a bunch over Avatar. I haven't seen the movie my son did get an Avatar toy in a Happy Meal, making me question the depth of the environmental passion driving James Cameron's movie (if he really didn't want those little plastic toys distributed, I bet they wouldn't be), but that's a different post. Reading Andrew Leonard's blog post in Salon (link above) about right wing hand wringing over the movie, and the presumption of leftie-Hollywoodness (I wish the people behind 24 were a little leftier), is just so, so, annoying. When will any of these people grow up? As Leonard writes:

Anti-Americanism sells -- everywhere. Maybe instead of ripping their hair out at the tragedy of the mass enthusiasm for this "'Death Wish' for leftists" -- conservatives should be trying to figure out just how such a thing came to pass.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Death Penalty: They got it wrong.

Today on the NY Times web site I read a short piece about the American Law Institute, a group which apparently was formed to support and gave intellectual credibility to the death penalty. Apparently, the group has decided the death penalty has been a failure and last fall they gave it up -- I suppose as a field of research and support. Theoretically, I guess you could say that's "interesting." In practice, it's devastating.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcome Back!

I was a little amazed to hear from my husband that Obama had handled "the terrorism thing" badly. I read in Politico that people followed the story closely. But the story broke during my kids' vacation and who has time to read the paper during vacation? And after reading David Brooks' column yesterday, I'm glad I missed the whole episode. He wrote:

In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways.

All the news, all the bickering, it's all so, so, over. Reading the paper or blogs, watching the political shows, being even a little bit tuned in to how current events are being talked about is a little like being stuck in small cabin with a couple on the brink of divorce. No swipe is too low, no comment unworthy of not just muttering but repeating at the top of the lungs. You say tom-ay-to and I say tom-ah-to, let's call the whole thing off!