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Monthly Archives: September 2016


It’s been a quiet week here at Lake Wobegon…

Kidding. But it has been a quiet weekend (during which I have also been listening to Public Radio a lot). My nesting instincts tend to come out stronger when the outside world gets really chaotic, and I hole up, doing domestic tasks and not talking to people for a few days.  I tend to take on cleaning projects as massive endeavors, and usually temporarily make bigger messes as I go – I don’t just tidy the pantry, I take everything out and put it on the counter and analyze it.  I don’t just vacuum, I drag furniture away from walls and get behind them.  It’s a kind of all-or-nothing approach that it feels weird doing when anyone else is around.  But A is out of the country for the next three weeks, and between that and my roller-coaster of a vacation, I’ve been diving in at home.

So far this weekend I have:

* Super-mopped the living room floor. I discovered by accident that Oxi-clean can be used in mop water, to great effect; and based on the amount of yuck that came off the floor I think it was lifting dirt that hadn’t even come into the apartment yet.  My living room floor is visibly a different color now.

* Made three quarts of soup stock out of aging produce in the fridge, and the trimmings of overthrowing herb plants.

* Immediately used one quart of soup stock in a soup that used up yet more produce. (Sweet corn, yellow summer squash, carrots and sweet potatoes; extremely bright yellow and delicious.)

* Made a batch of sausage-and-egg sandwiches which will be stuffed into the freezer for quick breakfasting.

* Stocked up on random paper products, cleaners, and such that we always seem to run out of.

* Stocked up on beverages, which I always seem to forget exist.

* Made an apple-and-pear compote which has also been stuffed into the fridge for quick breakfasting of a different sort.

Today I have three things I’m going to bake, and maybe I’ll mop the rest of the apartment, clean the bathroom and tidy my bedroom more.  Now that the weather has finally started to cool it’s also the perfect opportunity to have a pot of chili going on the stove throughout the afternoon as well.

The thing is – this is all so that as it starts to fade towards dusk, I can stop, take a deep breath, light a candle and read something while listening to something soothing.  The album Astral Weeks, maybe.  I will have beaten back the chaos around me for a while and created a space of deep peace where I can rest a while before leaping back into the world.  And that’s why I do this – not to have the super-clean apartment or the well-stocked fridge, but to create space for breathing.

There’s a sort-of-meme that was circulated a lot in the 80’s called “Grandma’s Wash Day”.  I actually think I saw it in a collection of 70’s feminist poetry, but it has been since attributed to a Kansas grandmother who was giving her new-bride granddaughter instructions for how to do laundry. Most of it is written in a faux-illiterate vocabulary – “warsh” instead of “wash”, “rench” instead of “rinse” – and lays out the labor-intensive steps taken for washday for someone who didn’t have a washing machine – building the fire under the wash tubs, how hard to rub the stains on the washboard, etc.  But the thing that always struck me was the very end – the last step in the task is to “put on a clean dress, brew cup of tea and set on the porch a while and rest and rock and count your blessings”.


So, uh. I was going to keep up with this blog last week (and it would have been great because I was in Yosemite National Park), but life intervened.

And by “life” I mean “some jackass smashing in the window of my rental car while I was parked outside a McDonald’s and stealing all my luggage”.

The story is still sort of unfolding. I am back safe in New York and the scheduled trip has ended, but there are some things that were found that I’m trying to recover and some things that are officially gone that I’m still replacing and in conclusion may the people who stole my stuff eat a bag of poo.

More later.

On Mattress Sales and Memory

Today, the Internet is abuzz over a cheesy commercial produced by a Texas mattress store – the kind that lots of family-owned businesses produce prior to a national holiday, where some employees are pressed into playing George Washington and saying “I cannot tell a lie about chopping down our prices” or some such. But this time, the “holiday” which inspired the ad was the upcoming 15th anniversary of the September 11th Twin Towers attacks.


As I understand it, it aired somewhere in Texas, once, and half of Texas had a collective fit, complete with angry phone calls and Yelp reviews, uploadings of cell phone-recorded videos to Youtube with “omigod can you believe this” captions and the ensuing re-tweeting and facebook sharing everywhere. The owner of the store was quick to apologize, followed by pulling the ad – and then after a couple more hours of backlash, he announced he was closing the business entirely. So by now, the only thing left is the fact that at one time this existed, and the uneasy knowledge that yes, we have just now reached a “jumped the shark” moment on 9/11.

Those who know me, know that I was here in New York on September 11th of 2001. And yes, I was indeed initially offended when I heard about this ad. But that initial shock gave way to a sort of…resigned shrug.  Because, to be honest, “people exploiting 9/11” is something I’ve been getting used to seeing for years now.

In the fifteen years since 2001, I have seen people use 9/11 to sell commemorative coins, t-shirts, ties, calendars and other tchochkes.  There were vendors hawking shirts and bumper stickers from carts around Ground Zero within a year or two. There was commemorative wine in 2011.  There was a sushi place in Arizona that featured a “Remembrance Roll“. When the 9/11 Museum opened two years ago, it drew flak for having a gift store; and to be fair, there was some demand for things like NYPD t-shirts to commemorate first responders. But people were less pleased with the commemorative cheese plate on offer (the museum quietly pulled that a week after the museum opened). People have been making a buck off of 9/11 from the beginning.

But, that exploitation I can actually swallow.  There is another kind, which has been going on just as long, which I’ve found harder to forgive – the kind practiced by politicians, or even other citizens.

Every year, in the few days leading up to September 11th I start seeing an uptick in flags on people’s Twitter and Facebook pages. On the day itself Facebook is usually covered by flags, pictures of the Towers, and people posting the words “Never Forget” again and again and again and again and again. I once lost my temper at a snide comment the friend of a friend made about how it seemed like so “few” people remembered the day that year – why, she had gotten her kids up early and dressed them up in red, white, and blue and brought them to church, she hadn’t forgotten, unlike some people….I responded that I had been close enough to hear the impact of each plane as it hit the Towers, I saw the missing-persons flyers covering my neighborhood for a months, and for a solid two weeks I had to go about my business with a huge pillar of smoke looming to the south; and that trying to forget some of that was the only way I had been able to stay sane, thank you very much.  …I think that is partly why my own Facebook feed is free of commemorative messages.

But I wasn’t spared from George W. Bush’s flag-bedecked ads during his 2004 re-election campaign, ads which actually used footage of a New York firefighter’s funeral.  Or from his press rep retorting, when hearing criticism of the ads, that  “I can understand why some Democrats not might want the American people to remember the great leadership and strength the president and First Lady Laura Bush brought to our country in the aftermath.”   I also get a lot from Rudy Giuliani, whom a lot of New Yorkers were already sick of in the years before September 11th – since then, we’ve all been suffering with an extra fifteen years of him, talking about it so much that during his 2007 bid for the presidency, Joe Biden quipped that “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11.”  This year, Trump and Clinton have both mentioned their first-hand memories of the day – Trump as a New York mogul, and Clinton as a junior Senator.

But even here, I could swallow it if all that was happening were just “9/11 happened and we should be sad” mentions amid a sea of other political blather. But that’s usually not the case. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen in the past fifteen years:

  • A Florida state senator posting billboards with a photo of the burning Twin Towers, with the slogan “Please Don’t Vote Democrat”.
  • George W. Bush invoking 9/11 to defend a bill calling for oil drilling in the Arctic.
  • A US Senate challenger from Ohio plastering his campaign ad with a picture of the burning Twin Towers, that was later found to have been photoshopped for maxiumum impact.
  • George W. Bush invoking 9/11 to defend tax cuts to businesses.
  • Trump claiming before a rally in Alabama that in the hours after the attacks, he saw “thousands of people” gleefully “dancing” over the collapse of the Towers.
  • Congress using 9/11 to support the Patriot Act.
  • Pamela Geller, a conservative political activist, blanketing New York’s public transit with anti-Islamic ads, all of them prominently featuring a picture of the Twin Towers aflame.
  • Congressmen like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham all tweeting about the “brave first responders” to the Twin Tower attacks, but then trying to block the Zadroga Act, which would provide health care to those same first responders suffering from chronic illnesses caused by exposure to pollutants at the Ground Zero site.
  • George Bush invoking 9/11 to send us to war with Iraq.

So there are those who are exploiting memories of 9/11 to make a quick buck.  But then there are also those who are exploiting what was the worst day of my life to wrest power for themselves, and in doing so, have made the nation sicker, meaner, and poorer.

I know which I think is worse.

August Break 31 – August was…


Oh God look at this lemon verbena; it’s a hot mess.

It got way overgrown over August – the heat sending it spinning out of control, sprawling everywhere all shaggy and droopy.  Only just a month and a half ago this was about one-fifth the size, purchased at the side of the road somewhere upstate; but sitting in my bedroom window all summer made it grow completely wild.

And the latter end of August really kind of got out of control too; or at least I got lax. I let some of the entries in this slip, I made stupid mistakes at work, I did a lot of coming home from work and collapsing.  The heat was a big part of it – it’s hard to try to motivate yourself to exercise control when it’s actually a tropical climate during the day, when you’re not expecting it – but it can’t have been all about that.

I tend to wait way too long to prune my herbs, mostly because I always feel like I should have something in mind to do with the cuttings. I should be baking or cooking something, making something out of them.  But I can’t cook fast enough to use the backog I get mired in. But not exercising some kind of control just makes it look all sprawly and weird like this, and it’s also not that great or the plant.

I grew a lot this month too.  Doing the August Break got me writing in this blog way more, and that was a needed kick in the pants.  But coming home and collapsing for the last few days let that effort start fizzling, and I need to take some kind of control back and keep that end of things growing.

I’m finally about to head to Yosemite tomorrow (the same trip I packed for a couple weeks ago) and am looking forward to a solid week alone – doing exactly what I want, waking up when I choose, and for much of the week, seeing absolutely no other person.  I’ll have my computer and camera with me, and will try to keep up with blogging – to keep the momentum going, think about what new growth and new branches I want to keep growing, and think if there’s anything I need to cut away.

August Break (Catchup) 30 – Evening Light


Okay, this is cheating because I’m interpreting “evening light” as “the bar up the street from me lit up for the evening.” But it lets me tell a story about why I swear allegiance to this place.

Not that I’m that much of a barfly, honestly.  I think the most “regular” I ever got was once a week, when I was recovering from a broken foot and I marked off the weeks until I was healed by hobbling there for a glass of wine during Happy Hour.  (I also broke my foot in here, but that was my fault – all I will say is, if you’re ever at a party and someone starts a kick line to the song  Come On Eileendon’t join in.)

But it’s only one block up the street from me, and has good food and a lively staff, and the owners known me and it is thus good for spontaneous jaunts out of the house and brunches.

And also for nasty shocks.

…So, like most people, I have an ex-boyfriend who is kind of “the one who got away”. We actually met in this neighborhood – at another bar nearby, which has since closed – and we were well and truly head over heels for each other. Most of the time.  But after nearly a year – for reasons only he will ever know for sure – he cut things off with me. Soon afterward he met someone else and moved out of state with her.

I tried to stay friends on Facebook with him, and it took me a few years to catch on to the fact that this probably wasn’t great for me. But after a couple years I was pretty much over him, so I thought it was okay and I could handle it.  It still came as a shock, though, when I got home from work after an utterly lousy day, got online to lose myself in mindless websurfing, and saw my ex’s Facebook status that he was in New York City – so he could get married, that day, in a courthouse in Queens.

I read that status a couple times, turned my computer off and grabbed my wallet and proceeded immediately to Putnam’s.

The bar was about half-full at that point, and I got a seat on one of the empty stools.  When the smiling bartender asked what I wanted, I told her everything, and then asked “what would you recommend for someone in my condition?”  She clucked in sympathy and made me a Manhattan, in a big glass.

I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, so I was sipping it slowly – slowly enough that the bar filled up more, and I was still there when a man came in after getting off work himself and taking the seat next to me.  We got to chatting – I threw myself into the chat more so than usual, trying to get my mind off things – and he was witty enough that I started having a good time. Good enough, in fact, that when I finished my drink and he’d finished his cider, we each ordered another round – another cider for him, and a cranberry juice and vodka for me.  We didn’t trade numbers after, though, and two drinks were enough for each of us.  But I was still happy that I’d cheered myself up, and that I wasn’t home pouting over my ex. Quietly proud of myself, I turned to the bartender and asked for my bill.

The bartender hesitated. “Okay, here’s the thing,” she said. “Your Manhattan was on the house, and I’m gonna make this guy pay for your second drink (you cool with that, dude? Good) because in my opinion, no one who got the news you got today should have to pay for their drinks.  So…you’re set.”

And that is one of the reasons I have nicknamed this place “the best bar in the world”.

August Break 24 and 29 – Three Favorite Mugs


Okay, see, I don’t really have a single favorite mug. After ten years in theater, my only “favorite” requirement for a mug is that “it’s the one that is currently holding my coffee give it here NOW”.

But I do have three with some interesting backstories –

  • In the early 2000’s I worked on a play that had a bit of a rough go of things. The reviews were less than stellar, there was a temporary threat that we’d have our pay withheld, and there were personality conflicts. When I had rough shows, I’d try to make my own fun. There was one scene that was a triptych of three separate situations happening simultaneously, with the action jumping back and forth between them – a seduction scene, a woman interviewing her abusive mother on her deathbed, and a talk radio host reluctantly interviewing a woman whose hobby was making stuffed toy zebras and ponies. The director referred to it as “the triptych scene,” but I won the cast over by continuously referring to the scene as “Sex, Death, and Zebras”.

    Another thing I did to cheer up was to adopt some of the dishware we’d used during a breakfast scene elsewhere in the play.  The woman purchasing our props was a matronly volunteer who was really pleased with her choices, and made a point of showing them to me when she got them – a square plate in a rust color, “which I got because it was so different, you know!” and a mug with a cheerful little house painted on the side, alongside two trees that reminded me of cypresses.  I nodded, knowing full well that when the play folded that the director would offer the props to whoever wanted them, and deciding that I was going to claim them before anyone else did.  The plate broke a long time ago, but I still have the mug.

  • In 2000 I drove cross-country, staying in Moab, Utah at one point on the trip. I got up early the next morning, planning on an early breakfast at a local coffee shop followed by a bit of exploring Arches National Park. A little cafe named Eklecticafe was a couple blocks from the hotel, so I ventured there.

    I think there was a jug band on the porch when I got there, and I lingered a moment listening. And then I got inside and found big comfy chairs, fresh-baked pastries, a wall full of ceramic work for sale, and a tip jar jokingly labelled “Julie’s Therapy Fund”.  The barista warmly greeted everyone who stopped in, chatting extensively with all of the locals, and my muffin and latte were really fresh; and the ceramics were all locally-designed and beautifully decorated with patterns inspired by the petroglyphs on some of the rock faces near Moab.  When I ultimately went to purchase one, the barista praised my choice, noting that “mugs with some heft to them are the best, you know?”

    I ended up getting to Arches park about two hours later than I planned.

  • For about 16 years I had a tuxedo cat named Zach, and for a while people would buy me tuxedo-cat themed things.  This mug came from a roommate, and was one of the last tuxedo-cat gifts I got before Zach died at the distinguished age of 18.  I don’t use this much – it’s huge, so it’s more suited to lattes or mugs of soup than the morning brew – but every so often, I get to missing the little putz and I dig it out.

Cookery Calendar Challenge – August Results!

Hey there! So this weekend is going to be about a lot of catching up after a pretty solid week of exhaustion born of sleep deprivation and filling in for absent co-workers.  Whee.  But – this is a three-day weekend, which affords plenty of time for some leisurely moments and blogging.

And cooking.  And that reminds me that I need to report on my first foray into the Cookery Calendar Challenge! To recap – at the beginning of each month, I pick one of my cookbooks, and then I have to cook two things from it during the month that I’ve never tried before.  In August, I went with one of my collection’s longest residents – Sundays at Moosewood, the “international” cookbook from the Moosewood Collective.  I’ve had a copy of this since my very first post-college apartment, when I spent the summer immediately after graduation sharing a one-bedroom with two college friends (yes, you read that right – we somehow all found separate sleeping quarters) , both of whom were vegetarians. We made heavy use of the Union Square Greenmarket, which was just two blocks away, and I got all excited about vegetarian cooking as well and invested in this to expand my repertoire a bit, and actually did pretty well as a vegetarian for about six weeks before something in me snapped one morning and I shocked them both by cooking a whole feast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, AND gravy for breakfast.

But I digress.

Sundays at Moosewood covers about 18 different international or regional cuisines – some rather broadly defined (“Caribbean” covers all West Indian islands, “Southeast Asian” includes Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Phillippenes, and then there’s “Africa South Of The Sahara”), some familiar faces on the “international” scene (Italian, Chinese, Mexican, etc.) and some very, very specific regions (they don’t have “French” cuisine, but rather “Provencal”).  I thought I’d be dipping into the more exotic things like Indian or Syrian – but surprised myself by going for simpler fare, mainly because I had vegetables that really needed using up.


Like the corn bisque from the “New England” section.  For the past month, I’ve been getting an armload of fresh sweet corn from the CSA every Saturday – and firmly believe that fresh sweet corn is really only best eaten if you eat it that day. And as tempting as it is to snarf down three whole ears of corn in one day, these days I have neither the metabolism nor the appetite. But I didn’t want to let the corn sit for too long.

This was actually a nice second option – a simple corn soup, which also uses the cobs to start the stock. After cutting the kernels off the cobs, you simmer the stripped cobs in water for a little while, strained that off, and added that back to the usual carrots/celery/onion combo that 99.5% of all soups in the world start with.  Even better, the corn is cooked separately – just slightly, enough so that it’s still really sweet and a little crisp – and added to the soup last.  The cobs colored the stock a nice sunny yellow, and the whole thing was light, sweet, and summery.

…About mid-August, we had a weird – and welcome – stretch of cooler weather, and I turned to the cookbook for something a bit warming. Comforting.  …And went with something French. I was missing Paris a bit, and even though I know Provence is a ways off from Paris, I figured  I could find something close enough.


And found “Potato Cake” – something which I realized about halfway through was no more than a funky take on potatoes au gratin. But who cares – it actually reminded me of tartiflette, a dish I was introduced to in a bistro in Paris while meeting some online friends. I saw it on the menu, and asked them what it was.  “Oh, that’s a traditional thing from Lyon,” they said. “It has potatoes, cheese, and bacon, and – ”

“I’ll take it,” I said, before they even finished.

This wasn’t the fastest recipe, but it was definitely easy – two separate stretches of something sitting in the oven. First I just had to slice up some potatoes and onions, drizzle them in olive oil, and bake them in a dish with a couple bay leaves for about a half hour.

The second stretch was where the good part came in, though – repacking it into a smaller dish for a second run in the oven, this time with the added magic of cheese.


The recipe called for Swiss cheese, but I really don’t like Swiss – so I splurged on some comte from the super-elite grocer in my neighborhood instead, and just because, I spiked it with a little herbes de provence I had in the cupboard.  I may have overcooked it a tiny bit – it was a bit crispy in places, instead of being meltingly tender like the recipe implied it should be – but cheese gone a little crispy is actually good. And actually, anything involving potatoes and cheese is probably going to come out well, wouldn’t you agree?

So that was August!

This month is going to be another vegetable-heavy one – it’s the peak of the harvest, which means my CSA is going to be going nuts.  And to riff off the Provencal theme, too, I am going with Potagera seasonal-cooking cookbook with recipes geared to “things you could have grown in a little garden plot in your back yard.”  …Assuming, mind you, that your garden plot is big enough for regular plantings of potatoes, runner beans and endive, but hey – I don’t have to garden what I grow to cook it.  I even have a first recipe in mind – a dish involving sauteed greens over cheddar-cheese-infused polenta. Which I already know is going to remind me of cheese grits and Southern greens, and is likely going to send me on a Southern kick next month.

But we’ll see.