Menu Speak, by Jen Doll


Yep, this is something different. I’ve been thinking about how to step up the frequency of my posts and my interactions with you, dear reader, perhaps by folding in news and/or commentary that interests me. This post, printed verbatim from The Atlantic, is such an experiment.

3d_hc_savethedate_mergedI have known and admired Jen Doll for many years, starting back in the aughts when we were members of writing group known as the Jane Street Workshop, led by the phenomenal Alexandra Shelley. (Among our illustrious alumni is Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, and I can attest that both she and Jen are as smart and kind and important as you would imagine.) imagesJen writes for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and other with-in pubs, and in May 2014, published her first book, the hilarious and moving, Save The Date, The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.

The following piece caught my eye in a recent issue of The Atlantic, which of course I now read cover to cover. Because my daughter. It reminded me of the fatigue that overcomes me in a pretentious restaurant or grocery store like, say, Whole Foods — and of the glorious meals my husband and I ate at a teeny tiny restaurant called Fuji, on a narrow back street in East Osaka, Japan, where  all it took to get the seven-course meal of the day (for approximately $4.50) was to nod with the politeness of a foreigner with limited language skills, hold up two fingers, and say, “futatsu kudasai,” which means, “two, please.” Thank you, Jen!

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In 1919 the Hotel Pennsylvania, in New York, opened its first restaurant, with offerings notable for their descriptive simplicity: “lamb,” “potatoes: boiled,” and so on. Nearly 100 years later, the Statler Grill, one of the hotel’s current restaurants, offers updated takes, from a “lollipop Colorado lamb chop” to “buttered mashed potatoes (Idaho potatoes with butter & a touch of cream, whipped to perfection).”

You needn’t be a linguist to note changes in the language of menus, but Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky has written a book doing just that. In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Jurafsky describes how he and some colleagues analyzed a database of 6,500 restaurant menus describing 650,000 dishes from across the U.S. Among their findings: fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf). Jurafsky writes that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.” Compared with inexpensive restaurants, the expensive ones are “three times less likely to talk about the diner’s choice” (your way, etc.) and “seven times more likely to talk about the chef’s choice.”

Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like delicious,  flaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, after all, would never use fresh—that much is taken for granted—but Subway would. Per Se does, however, engage in the trendy habit of adding provenance to descriptions of ingredients (Island Creek oysters, Frog Hollow’s peaches). According to Jurafsky, very expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants.

Not that the signature elements of a fancy menu are likely to stay exclusive. Food terms—like food trends—have a way of traveling full circle, from rarefied to mainstream to passé and back again. Take the word macaroni, which rich Americans originally borrowed from Italy. In 1900, Jurafsky explains, it was found mainly on high-end menus but “slowly became more and more common,” ending up the purview of all-night diners. Until, that is, top chefs began reclaiming mac and cheese, mixing in delicacies like truffles, or, in the case of Keller’s deconstructed version, lobster.

Already, provenance-oriented menu language is spreading outward from the finer restaurants to the Subways and Applebee’s of the world. The first franchise to take provenance seriously was Chipotle, says the food developer Barb Stuckey. (“They’ve always menued Niman Ranch pork.”) Now some McDonald’s burgers are served not on “buns” but on “artisan rolls,” and TGI Fridays boasts of “vine-ripened tomatoes.”

In turn, high-end food purveyors may head in a different direction. “As this stuff trickles down, the rich need a way to be different again,” says Jurafsky, who notes the burgeoning menu trend of extreme minimalism, seen at the Michelin-starred San Francisco spot Saison, where the set price starts at $248 and the menu comes after the meal, as a souvenir. In some ways, this is “a return to 200 years ago, when you’d say, ‘Give me dinner,’ and they’d just give you what they’d cooked,” Jurafsky says.

Imagine what this could do for the speed of the drive-through lane.

Amen to All That

photoThe Curmudgeon speaks:

I do not unequivocally love summer. Of course I enjoy the pleasure of soft, lightweight clothing, and the ability to move around without fear of slipping on a treacherous patch of ice and breaking my neck. I appreciate the pretty sandals, the birds and rhythmic chirping things, the warm, complex scent of the garden in the moonlight. And swimming, above all, in a clear photolake or better yet, the ocean, ferocious and tranquil, hot and cold at once, like a hot-fudge sundae.

But a day at the beach, no thank you. Because I’m a white lady of a certain age with the English-Irish skin that goes pink in minutes and (if you’re an idiotic twenty-something at the shore in the baby oil-and-iodine era) blisters well into the second degree before you can say “pass the G&T.” Now I have what the TV calls those horrid age spots and don’t walk out the door without sunblock, a wide-brimmed hat, and long, Victorian sleeves. Also, I wilt in the heat, and not in a nice, rose-like way.photo 5

Summer food, on the other hand.

Can I get an Amen for gazpacho with basil hummus? For salads, morning, noon, and night: baby soft lettuces, bedazzled with herbs and flowers, tossed with upstart asparagus, Easter egg potatoes, a friend’s overflow tomatoes, radishes, shaved corn, grilled garlic scapes. photo 1

photo 8Only summer can deliver unto us the juicy globes of tomatoes, peaches, and melon. The watermelons of childhood memory, the sticky chins, the fruit-dyed fingers, ankles itchy from picking berries in a hay-mulched field.

My husband says that God put seeds in raspberries to mitigate their perfection; otherwise they would be so sublime that we would die of pleasure. And elderberries? Now we’re talking seeds, but after a bit of thrashing about with the food mill the other day, I was pleased to render a cup of elderberry syrup, which I strew on a coconut panna cotta.photo 1 (1)

Amen also to the squash blossom, neither sweet nor juicy, a by-product of the zucchini crop, for sale only by the rarest of vendors one suspects of fetching them after midnight. It was the squash blossom that gave me the idea for this post because in their evanescence they most perfectly represent the summer table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI harvest mine, with permission, from my next-door neighbors’ backyard vegetable patch. There were fewer this year, for they learned the hard way that squash plants go a long way, but enough for two or three meals. (Certain trolls inside my computer have hidden all my blossom pix, so I’m borrowing this from the darling Darling Farm.) First, I check for bees. They like to loiter inside the yellow folds and do not take kindly to disturbances in their field. Forgoing the ricotta filling, I dip those lovely blossoms into a tempura batter, as light as can be, sauté them in a flash, and serve to those who are worthy.

IMG_6019The vegan police will have noticed the inclusion of soft-boiled eggs in the nicoise above. I apologize for nothing. I continue to practice a plant-based diet because I like it and so does my body, but I do not let it get in the way of living. When I found myself rather hysterically hungry at a Detroit Tigers’ game in July, there was nothing for it but a Polish sausage with the works. And if the ice cream truck were to drive by, playing it’s little ding-dong jingle, I’d be there.

IMG_5766I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. Having trotted out my sad story at the weekend block party, I know better. I’ll just sit here by myself with my Albeeats-inspired beet-banana-molasses mousse, weeping into my fair-trade organic coffee, mourning the loss of my kitchen comrade, my fellow menu-planner and grocery shopper, my inspiration.

coverBut first, congratulations: my daughter Alexandra got a terrific job in New York at The Atlantic. Fantastic! Millennial kid leaves the nest, lands on feet in the big city. Woo hoo!! This is what my husband and I have worked toward all these years, assiduously raising and educating our children to take flight under their own power, to enter the so-called adult world with courage, integrity, ambition, humor, and enough skills to get in the front door. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Of course I’m proud. She’s earned this. She is a smart, beautiful and creative young woman, working in her chosen city for an organization she can respect with colleagues she can learn from. This is how her story begins. This is also the good news I can impart to friends and neighbors who want to catch up on the kids.photo7M4HQR5I

Mazeltov,” they say, “you must be so happy!”

Of course I’m happy. I’m happy for her, for her new roommates, for the lucky folk who get to work with her, and for me and my husband who can enjoy a bit more elbow room on the home front. (I also won’t mind her new employer picking up the tab for health insurance or delivering the paycheck with which she can buy her own groceries.)

But is it too much to ask that a mother’s feelings be recognized as slightly more complex? I’m going to miss her like crazy. Her yearlong stay after college graduation was a rare and unexpected gift, for she took pains to be the world’s best roommate — happy to accompany me on my suburban rounds, happy to fetch the odd bunch of cilantro forgotten at the market, happy to teach me (and write down the instructions) how to use Netflix on the TV. She led the household on a bold adventure into plant-based eating that has transformed my relationship to food, sharing with us the imaginative recipes and gorgeous plating she has parlayed into Instagram fame. Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 2.53.15 PM
She has been less successful in convincing my husband that every leftover, however small or unshapely, should be decanted from its serving bowl into an appropriately sized Tupperware — he would prefer to slap a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and call it a day — but she has his undying gratitude for setting up the DVR to capture every single Perry Mason episode ever aired. She enhanced our lives and never once made us feel like a pair of early-to-bed old farts. You bet I’m going to miss her.

photo 2photo 1Every Sunday, we used to plan the week’s menu, hunkering down with cookbooks and foodgawker, pulling up new recipes to try, weaving in the bounty of the season and our mid-week CSA delivery, and accommodating Bill’s lingering fondness for meat and dairy. We were thrown for a bit of a loop by the week-long visit of my Australian cousin who dines exclusively on beef, butter and beer, but that’s another story. All this planning was new to me, and I confess I did not take to it without a certain amount of griping about loss of spontaneity, but the result was a significant reduction in daily stress (e.g., fewer futile skirmishes with the family, hoping for ideas and ending up back at square one: “What would you like for dinner?” “Oh, anything you make is fine.”), fewer trips to the grocery store, and lower food costs. Here’s the Asian veg & peanut noodle salad we had on May 21, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, page 71.


Of course I’m going to miss her, but the loss is of more than my daughter. With her magnificent emergence into adulthood, I lose the illusion of still being in the juicy middle of my life. I see the circle of life wheeling around — the little kids sugaring up on block party cupcakes, the pre-teens off-site on a neighbor’s trampoline, the grown-up graduates and earnest new families, the vigorous seniors who are such reliable volunteers, and the wispy-haired elders — and have to acknowledge that I’m moving along the downward slope. I don’t mean moribund; I know I’m wise and vital, with a good long stretch ahead of me, god willing. But it is a transition, the ramifications of which aren’t quite covered by a congratulatory slap on the back.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.16.50 PM

What to do? The best approach is not, I suspect, what I took the other night at a graduation party for Alexandra’s BFF Caroline Reese. I found myself speaking with one of Caroline’s friends from Princeton, an entrepreneurial senior who is marketing a line of “party proof” clothing and wanted to deliver a sample skirt to my daughter. I could try on the skirt myself, suggested the darling girl. “Maybe not,” I said. “I’m finding that certain things aren’t appropriate any more.” Fair enough, but I barreled on, blurting “Growing older is the weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened to me” and very likely traumatizing this young woman whose only crime was being young.

photoBetter to put on my cowboy boots and get that pizza I built into this week’s menu underway. Yesterday’s tacos were pretty swell. I put chicken, cheese, and Greek yogurt out for Bill and Jadah, and everyone was happy. Including me.

Here’s to you, my beloved girl, my muse, my Alexandra Jane.

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The Antichrist

I am depressed about Soylent. Maybe it’s the future, in which case I’d like to check out right now. I know it’s not a joke because the New Yorker just gave it 6,000 words, about ten times more than the average parody, and because to my kids, with their ears ever tuned to the media, it’s old news. It is old news, another meal-in-a-bottle, another miracle powder offering a shortcut to longevity, but this time with traction.

In case you haven’t heard, Soylent is a powdered blend purported to contain all the nutrients needed to sustain human life, and it tastes, when mixed with water, like a cross between Cream of Wheat and Metamucil. To quote the website Soylent.me (“Free Your Body”):140512_r25001_p233

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

People are buying and drinking the stuff as we speak. The New Yorker calls it The End of Food, and that’s what really has me in a tailspin. In the beginning, writes Lizzie Widdicombe, three young men were living in a small San Francisco apartment, working on a technology startup that wasn’t going well.

They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs, and Costco frozen quesadillas — supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy — but the grocery bills were still adding up. Rob Rhinehart, one of the entrepreneurs, began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. “Food was such a large burden.” 

imgresRight off the bat, I’m deep in cognitive dissonance. I understand anxiety about the cost of food, and the tiredness at the end of the day that leaves no room for meal prep. Not everyone enjoys tearing cilantro leaves off the stem one at a time, but resentment that one has to eat at all speaks of an alienation from all I hold sacred.

I also understand that feeding the world’s population is a whopping big problem we’re far from solving. One in six Americans are “food insecure” — millions of hard-working people, children and seniors who can’t always make ends meet and have to choose to go without food. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, upwards of 850 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic hunger. But let’s face it — 850 million people are not going to pony up $70/month for 21 pouches of unpronounceable ingredients.

Meanwhile, the methods we use to produce food on a large scale are ruinous. We spray pesticides on our fruits and vegetables like there’s no tomorrow, and now, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, rising carbon dioxide emissions are making staple food crops less nutritious. As for meat, “the present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable,” understates Robert Martin, Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, “and presents an unprecedented level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.”

Big, big problems, but Soylent?Soylent_green

The product is not, the company hastens to explain, ha ha, made of ground up humans as in the dystopian 1973 film. Scanning for additional word associations, I come up with soy, the tarnished workhorse of vegetable proteins, soil, about which enough said in an eating context, and lent — when Christians give things up. None of this is compelling.

Everybody suggested changing the name, Rhinehart told Widdicome. “Investors, media people, my mom.” But he liked the self-deprecating nature of the name, and the way it poked fun at foodie sensibilities:

“The general ethos of natural, fresh, organic, bright—this is the opposite.”

I’m not the only one in distress. Return of Kings blogger Pill Scout thinks that Rob Rhinehart is An Idiot — “a beta nerd and software developer with a clear bent for transhumanism and science fantasy. Nobody should be eating what he calls food.” Here, precisely, is what he calls food:




Soylent, argues Rhinehart, is quick, cheap, nutritious, environmentally friendly (huh?) and “easier than food.” Because, as VICE blogger Monica Heisey explains,

0d778175af2eb31dadaff639b02cab84_vice_670You know what’s a complete waste of time, money, and effort? Eating. I mean, wouldn’t you rather just ingest a tasteless form of sustenance for the rest of your life and never have to go through that tedious rigmarole of opening and eating a premade sandwich or feasting on a pile of fried delicacies ever again?


Seriously. I mean, we could probably fit a couple of 27-inch iMacs in the space currently occupied by the dining room table, not to mention the kitchen. We could rent that sucker out. Sex is free, but, good grief, what a lot of time gets wasted getting down to business! Rhinehart tips his hand on that score.

Soylent is definitely a permanent part of my diet. Right now I only eat one or two conventional meals a week, but if I had any money or a girlfriend, I would probably eat out more often. 

In other words, if he had a life. Can you imagine Thanksgiving with no feast? Birthdays with no cake? Celebrations with no clinking of glasses filled with tasty spirits? What about give us this day our daily bread, even if it is gluten free? What about joy? Delight? Satisfaction?

No, I say. No to Soylent, yes to life.

We are most likely not, those of us within range of this post, suffering from chronic hunger. Due to the accident of our birth, we are among the luckiest people on the planet insofar as we have a roof over our head and enough to eat, so please — because we can — give us this day our crunchy toast, slathered with thick fig jam. Give us our basil, snipped from the potted plant on the windowsill, and the weird-ass durian we hacked open in the driveway for fear of the stench. Give us the harissa-spiced chickpeas with olives and raisins we prepared for the graduation party and the sweet, fresh pear whose juices still drip down our chin in a memory of childhood in Detroit.

Please? And thank you.IMG_5537

Food to Think About

My husband keeps a little notebook in the kitchen drawer in which he records the abundant malapropisms we hear in the course of our days. “It’s a mute point,” for example, “sleep depravity,” and “best to nip it in the butt,” which strikes me as the right thing to do with sleep depravity. My favorite — and the title of this long overdue post — comes from an engineer at Bill’s work who, startled by an unexpected suggestion, furrowed his young brow, clicked his automatic pencil a couple of times and said, “Hmm, that’s food to think about.”photo 3

I’ve been thinking about food more than usual for the past several months, thanks especially to my daughter Alexandra. She is my inspiration in the kitchen and on the interwebs, and will be yours too if you check out her stuff on Instagram and Tumblrphoto 4

For me, it started when Alexandra urged me to watch the documentary film, Forks Over Knives, which “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.” I never have eaten much processed food, but I do like my Loch Duart salmon and brown butter double chocolate chip cookies. I like going out to nice restaurants and over to friends’ houses for dinner, and Thanksgiving feasts with the extended family, and cupcake parties with the neighborhood girls. Also — having lived through (if not subscribed to) the macrobiotic 1960s, the Stillman 1970s, the Scarsdale 1980s, the Atkins 1990s, and the Rachel Rays, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chefs, Paleos, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives of the oughts and beyond — I feel as if 1) I’ve seen it all, 2) most is nonsense, and 3) life is way to short to be doctrinaire.


photo 4That said, I’m a happy convert to a plant-based diet. It may be no more sound than the latest eyewear trend in hippest Brooklyn, but I don’t think so. There’s solid science behind it, including the massive China Study, plus Michael Pollan’s wise counsel to “eat [real] food, mostly plants, not too much.” I prefer the term “plant-based” to “vegan,” though it amounts to the same thing: fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, no meat or dairy. It spares me direct complicity in the horrors of concentrated animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs), helps me save on groceries, dramatically improves my digestion, and makes me feel good.

Here’s what breakfast looks like:

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Overnight oats with chocolate, chia and berries, fresh fruit and carrot juice

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Beet-banana smoothie with 4-5 frozen bananas, a good chunk of roasted beet, fresh ginger, blackstrap molasses and water













Veggie sushi, veggie bowl

Spicy sweet potato soup with cashew cream










Tacos with black rice, white beans, salsa, purple cabbage and cilantro with caramelized plantains


Mushroom ragu over polenta






Now tell me that doesn’t look fabulous. There’s a lot more I want to share with you, but as you may have noticed I’ve had some trouble being reliable about blogging. That’s another new leaf to turn over, along with the kale: to write more often. Are you with me?

Home cooking


The best thing my mother made was fried chicken. She would plug in her Sunbeam electric skillet — square with rounded corners, a black plastic beaver tail handle, and a domed lid made of thinner gauge aluminum that rattled tinnily when seated — and in it melt, I swear, four sticks of butter. She’d put flour, salt, and pepper into a brown paper bag, and my job was to drop the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks in the bag and, holding it closed in one fist, shake the bag like a tambourine until the pieces were thoroughly coated. Into the pan the chicken would go, its powdered white surfaces almost instantly overcome by noisy waves of swirling golden foam. I have no idea how long it cooked, or whether she covered the pan (it strikes me now that a lid would generate unwanted steam, certainly more than could escape from its  little pie slice vent), but the results were glorious.

il_fullxfull.297962321The other dishes in her repertoire, not so much. Hamburgers she would brown for just a minute or two in the Revere ware frying pan and then clap on the lid so they puffed up and steamed to death. Halibut entered the oven as a frozen rectangular brick and exited warm but still white and in much the same shape. For exotic, Mom made chop suey, with lots of celery.

The miracle is two-fold: one, that she cooked at all, and two, that she managed, in spite of a few lapses and America’s post-war love affair with TV dinners, to introduce me to real food — fresh vegetables, honest cheeses, and balanced, unprocessed meals — and to instill in me a welcoming curiosity about what bounty the world might provide.images

It can’t have been easy. Divorced at the age of 45 with a preschooler to feed and nothing in her disposition that might suit her to nursing or secretarial work, the other two choices, she became a teacher, earning $4,800/year. Our first apartment after the divorce was the second floor of a house in Birmingham, Michigan, that was covered in Spanish moss and owned by Mrs. Rogers, who smelled sour and had dark red horsehair couches in the room I’m sure she called a parlor. We had no kitchen, just a galley with a hotplate. Water came from the bathroom sink, and for refrigeration there was a porch. I remember milk, and watermelon, but Mom must have been depressed out of her mind, and the whole period is shrouded like the house in gray, coiling mystery.

Mom with jade pinIn time she renewed her capacity for delight. She loved Northern Spy apples, kumquats, young sweet corn, curries, tarragon, blueberries, trout, and caramel. Lightyears away from Brooklyn delis, she experimented with beef tongue and heart and kidneys. She steamed fresh artichokes and ate them in the kitchen, dipping each leaf into lemon butter and scraping its pale green pulp with her teeth. This was an astonishing sight to my friends in the neighborhood, at whose homes macaroni and cheese was the norm.Northern_Spy1

While there were days when I longed for mac and cheese in my own home, and for Coke  and chili dogs at the side of the road, I learned to appreciate her framework and am glad I never acquired a taste for soda or white bread. It’s not that I learned to cook from my mother: I lived on yogurt in college and was well into my 20s before I attempted to bake a potato. But she taught me to be open to taste and authenticity, and to fear no strangeness in the kitchen. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.images-1

Loose Ends

photoIt’s been a long time, I know. We haven’t spoken since Rob and Sharon got married, she with the diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Turns out my friend Karen is the “rich girl” in the song, but that’s another story. My phone is bulging with photos of food, and my mind keeps haphazard watch over an evolving list of topics — pork fennel dumplings in Toronto, our neighbor’s garden, Passover, fat flushing, sweet spinach pie, planning ahead, forks, Costco, etcetera, etcetera. People have asked, what’s with the blog? I’ll get to it, I say. I want to feel inspired. My son charitably describes me as “more of a writer than a blogger,” thus attempting to transpose my unreliability into something lofty. I’ll take it, but it’s bogus. Like eating too much being OK if you’re wearing elastic waist pants.

I hoped to burst back on the scene with a clever post — wise, witty and well documented. But I am at loose ends, so we’ll talk about that.

Being “at loose ends,” describes a vaguely unhappy sort of restlessness, an inability to dig in to things that need doing (paying bills, painting the bathroom trim) or even things that in another mood I would like to do (reading old New Yorkers, trying out a new recipe, blogging) threaded with guilt about not doing those things. Perhaps you know what I mean. It will pass, but there’s a stickiness here in the midst of it such that unpleasant sensations attach to each other like circus elephants holding trunk to tail in a long, disspiriting chain.images

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

I am at loose ends for a slew of reasons, first world problems but still. As usual, it’s a combination of intimate disconnects — feeling cut off from the people and activities that sustain me — and impotent distress about things over which I have no control, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent week of drama, the Senate’s inaction on background checks. Fill in the blanks.IMG_2899

Closer to home, my work is spotty, my freelance clients wrapping up projects or on hold or on vacation or on to another freelancer. My darling daughter (in the yellow dress) is in the throes of her last semester of college and so stressed that she had to say, “Mommy, I love your emails but will you hold them for a couple of weeks?” I send her goat cheese and gluten-free Larabars by express mail, but hold the messages. My son has decided to go to grad school in Austin, Texas, and while I’m fantastically proud and happy for him — and Bill reminds me that we’ve been working toward this since the moment he was born, gradually taking down the parental scaffolding — Austin feels like a very, very long way away.


Waaa! Nobody needs me! 

Meanwhile, a girl has to eat.

Comfort food is called for, but real comfort food requires a degree of intentionality I don’t have when I’m at loose ends. Macaroni and cheese, for example. You need the mac and the cheese and the better part of an hour to do it justice, and there I days when I have none of those on hand, so I graze on almonds and chocolate chips.photo (2)

Wiser folk, like my sister-in-law Joan, make chicken soup. She brought some over the other day in a Greek yogurt container, wrapped like a Japanese present in a beautiful embroidered tea towel from Williams Sonoma. All I had to do was heat it up in a bowl. Warmth and the bowl are key.photo

I’m feeling better now, so undertaking to tea-smoke chicken in the grill. Here’s the smoke packet: with equal proportions Russian Caravan tea (smoky, like Lapsang Souchong), uncooked rice and brown sugar, plus star anise, five-spice powder, and orange zest. We shall see. I think I’ll serve it with black rice and coconut-sesame sauce, in a bowl.


P.S. The smoking was a bit of a fail. The air smelled nice around the grill while I pulled weeds from the patio, and in the end the tea-and-spice packet was satisfyingly toasted, but the chicken, though juicy, didn’t have the slightest hint of smoke or orange or anise. So I juiced the orange into coconut milk with a splash of Siracha for a sauce and all was well. photo


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