Monthly Archives: January 2015


The snow has started.

It’s not going to stop any time soon, either.  We’re in for a serious winter storm.  We’ve had barely any measurable snow so far this winter, so I guess we were due. Not much chance it will fall only on the green parts of the world. We’re expecting somewhere between a foot and a ridiculous amount of snow, and hoping that the electricity stays on.

We both came home from work prudently early, while trains were still running and roads were clear enough for safe passage. Since then, I puttered in the kitchen and stocked the woodpile; she did what she does: she’s been writing email copy for a message that will be sent from her work account tomorrow. She helps raise money to shelter, feed, and support homeless children.  What better time to send such a message as to be read by people who’ve already hunkered down, warm and safe in their homes?

The fireplace is set.  The flashlights have batteries, and candles are at the ready. There’s plenty of cat food and litter-box filler. Prescriptions have been refilled. We have blankets and warm clothes.

And, of course, food.

A batch of pulled pork came out of the slow cooker.  She made chili. We’ve got cold cuts for sandwiches. She baked cranberry bread last night, and I have a loaf of No-Knead about to go into the oven, now that a batch of granola has come out. There are baked potatoes. Greens. Eggs–some hard-boiled, many ready for omelets or scrambling. There’s a cast-iron pot and skillet in case we need to press coals into service for cooking.

We probably ought to remind ourselves that there are only two of us, and that we live on an emergency route.

For reasons probably related to the barometer the bread dough was a sticky mess, but at last it’s in the oven and I’m not banging about. Tapping of laptop keys, the furnace blowing warm air, the cats’ fountain keeping their water fresh.  Outside, a plow truck scrapes by occasionally, sounding a little like a low-passing aircraft.  Beyond that, the world is still and silent. When the sun rises we’ll see what’s become of the world, but for now there’s the eerie calm-during-the-storm, the held breath of the pretty well prepared, and the waiting.

Long before the storm

Just a Sip

We are neither of us tee-totalers; we just don’t drink very much. She hasn’t yet found a wine she’s enthusiastic about. I like a humble glass of red with dinner once in a while, but I’m often just as happy without. I found a recipe for a grapefruit soda-and-gin cocktail that became all the rage at her mom’s surprise birthday party last June, but as the summer wore on I usually drank mine without the gin, and eventually I switched to grapefruit juice and seltzer: less sugar, almost as flavorful, and I could drive after drinking one.

She’ll have a Manhattan once in a while–she, not her mom.  (Her mom might like them, too, but that’s another matter.) Because she likes sweet beverages, I’ve learned to make a Manhattan so untraditionally fruit-filled that it’s nearly a new drink–maybe it should be called the Suburban. And I have learned to make it small: I usually make a single drink and split between us. Even then our glasses usually end up half-full, and not merely because we are optimists.

And so I giggled when I opened a Christmas gift that arrived from some old friends: the Teeny Weeny Martini Set: thimble-sized glasses, a miniature cocktail shaker, and an ice tray that makes positively Lilliputian cubes. I’m sure they thought they were being silly–or maybe they recall that I’m not much of a drinker.

We stayed in Friday night–no theatre, no movies, no restaurants, no takeout, just us–and as the chicken marinated for the recipe we planned, it seemed like the perfect time to try our new barware.  I mixed a few drops of dry vermouth with a half-a-jigger of gin, chilled it with an ice-fragment, shook-not-stirred-even-though-that-meant-a-slightly-watery-cocktail-the-way-Bond-likes-it, and poured the result into our micro-glasses.

As for garnish: just a drop of pickle brine in each. I would have tried a twist of lemon peel, but we were out.

She took a sip, and made a face. It was nowhere near sweet enough for her liking. Fortunately, a sip is all there was. As for me, I had twoTwo whole martinis. Well, G. I. Joe-sized ones. I might even do it again sometime. Maybe with a different garnish.  Wonder where I can find a very small olive…

Just right for Cocktail Minute

Just right for Cocktail Minute

Not Until Today

We ate a lot of pancakes before we started dating. We’ve eaten quite a few since, too, but in the years when we were just friends, frequently meeting for theatre dates (or non-dates, to be more precise), we often grabbed a bite to eat at a diner before the show. Whatever else a diner may be good at, pancakes are usually a safe bet.

I like variety: fruit, nuts, what have you. Offering a flight of syrups? Let’s try them all in turn. Chocolate chips are most decidedly not ruined by their being tucked into batter, nor the other way around. Additional flavors can cover a multitude of sins. Usually, she’s a pancake purist: no add-ins; maybe a little peanut butter on top, but usually only butter.

She got up early this morning and started puttering in the office.  I rose a little later and joined her for a vigorous round of putting-things-in-their-proper-place. I brewed coffee and tea, and remembered that bacon had been a mid-week special at the market.  I set some to roast in the oven while the tidying continued.  Eventually the timer chimed and I announced that it was time for breakfast. We decided on pancakes to accompany the bacon.

She saw me segmenting an orange next to the griddle where banana-filled pancakes cooked beside her unadulterated ones.  She looked at me quizzically. “The orange is for both of us. Vitamin C.” (She’s been fighting a cold, and I’m trying to stay ahead of it.) “Bananas in the pancakes, maybe a little applesauce on top. And, yes, maybe a little syrup.” She raised an eyebrow. “Hey, at least I’m not putting strawberries in, too.”

We sat to eat. The bacon was a little crisper than I’d meant it to be, but she didn’t mind; it wasn’t burned. “Maybe next time you should put the bacon in the pancakes,” she said.

I thought about that for a moment. She did, too, apparently. “Chocolate chip, banana, and bacon pancakes?”

“There’s more batter,” I said.

She put aside a strip of bacon.  I did, too, and returned to the kitchen. I sliced a banana and chopped some bits off a block of good dark chocolate. The griddle was still hot.

She took a bite. Her eyes softened. I took a bite and nodded.  She was right.

Ever willing to experiment, I tried a bite with maple syrup. It didn’t improve anything. “One thing too many?” she said, then she tried a bite with peanut butter.  “Same with peanut butter.”

All those years, all those plates of pancakes, yet we hadn’t encountered this combination until today.

“Apparently chocolate chip, banana, and bacon pancakes are a thing.”

They are now. Maybe not an everyday thing, but very much a thing.

Pancake, not for traditionalists.

Pancake, not for traditionalists.

In Transit

The first commuting days of the new year were long and frigid. Catching up on projects after a two week vacation translates to 10 or 12 hour days more often than not. Leaving and returning in the dark coupled with the “arctic air” temperatures in the single digits – plus whatever windchill factor is in effect on a given day – means that I spent the evenings of my first week back at work crawling out of the car and crawling straight into bed at night.

Trying to avoid a repeat of that during week two, we opted to have dinner in the city on Monday and Wednesday — the days when we are both on the evening train home from NYC. But being more interested in good food enjoyed at our leisure than in being served restaurant dinners, we’ve packed picnics rather than made reservations.

On Monday, two covered dishes of scalloped potatoes and spiral ham were packed into the bottom of my work bag, along with a ziplock of washed and trimmed green beans. He brought extra cutlery and a beverage later in the day, and took a subway to my office after class.

At home, the ham and potatoes might have been rough-chopped, tossed in a skillet to warm and crisp, then topped with some panko bread crumbs and served alongside the steamed beans. In the office, with only a microwave to work with, the items were mixed into servings, covered with damp towels, and steam heated to comfortable eating temperatures. We ate heartily while sharing details of our days, enjoyed a leisurely walk to the 8:03 train (with a pause to admire the Christmas tree still lit in Bryant Park), and arrived home free of the hangry-grumps with enough energy to make dessert sundaes from chocolate cake and raspberry sorbet.

Our Wednesday route is a little less neat. Grand Central makes a triangle with my office and his school, and he has the long side; if I secure seats for us both and he runs on a diagonal through Central Park, we can just make the 6:53 before the “All aboard” call. We did just that last night, slipping comfortably into our seats as the train made its way north, and he dropped our dinner bag into my lap.

Leftover pot roast had been chopped and mixed with a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce, than placed between slices of his homemade bread, slathered with a mayo-mustard concoction to keep the moisture inside each sandwich, then tightly wrapped to create a press. Small containers of cherry tomatoes, garlic cornichons, and corn chips were packed as accompaniments, and we fell to our aboard-train repast with enthusiasm.

Neither meal was gourmet, neither was served on either cheerful fiestaware or good china, and neither was actually eaten in the country house. But our life together is better for both.

Shelving It

The First Great Sorting happened in August, when our kitchens merged.  Some parts were easy: it was clear which mugs we wanted to keep, which cutlery to use, which plates and bowls. Our pots and pans were not too numerous; her small appliances and mine didn’t overlap much; our serving pieces complimented each other’s; nearly all of the bakeware had logical uses.  Still, we ended up with a too-well-stocked kitchen.  The cabinets under the counter were full-to-bursting, and the ones above were just as bad. Nearly every time we cooked, we found ourselves taking some items out in order to get to the needed one behind or underneath–like one of those shift-the-tile puzzles I was never good at.

And thus began the second Sorting. Anything that wasn’t in daily use came out of the cabinets and took up residence on the dining table–a strategy designed to make sure we wouldn’t dawdle over deciding what to do with them.  She proposed assembling a set of shelves in a closet under the stairs. They’d be out of the way but still accessible, and less apt to get dusty than they would if we built the shelves in the garage.

If we were going to put more things in that closet, though, we needed to organize the things that were currently in it.  All the Christmas decorations–most of them unused this year–came out for examination.  Keep it, probably keep it, definitely not keep it: these were our categories. Plenty went into the latter: even allowing for thrifty repurposing, how many partial rolls of ribbon and slightly-used bows can one house hold?  Kitchy decor items that were gifts from students I don’t even remember?  No, thank you. It was freeing to know that we were keeping things that are actually beautiful, actually useful, or happily memorable, and saying fond farewell to items that weren’t.

By early January, I am ready to think no more of holidays. I’m not really all that fond of the Nativity set I grew up with, but it is the one I grew up with! When there aren’t any parents left to visit, it might not be the worst thing to hold onto items that remind us of them. Hers is beautiful, and much smaller. Maybe we’ll alternate: her set in odd years, mine in even?  We can decide later, over a cup of cider. Both sets are securely packed–along with tree ornaments we love, handsome stuffed bears who carry good memories, and a modest assortment of gift-wrapping supplies. What we need, what we want, and what we love.

Also in that closet now reside a well organized set of kitchen implements.  Yes, for a while we will have to go downstairs to fetch the waffle iron when we want waffles.  The same when we want the food processor for making hummus, the 12-cup coffee maker for company, and the muffin tins. Maybe we’ll realize we want the box grater closer than a flight of stairs away; if so, something else will take its downstairs place. Perhaps one of my mom’s mixing bowls or a piece of Corningware she rescued from her mom’s kitchen. It’s a work in progress.

One thing that will definitely be absent from the kitchen at the Country House: the cursing that comes when I can’t reach the measuring cup!

3 slow cookers might seem excessive, but they're really useful when you don't want to heat up the whole kitchen in summertime. If, on the other hand, I haven't made ice cream in six months, it will not make the next cut.

3 slow cookers might seem excessive, but they’re really useful when you don’t want to heat up the whole kitchen in summertime.
If, on the other hand, I haven’t made ice cream in six months, it will not make the next cut.

My Semi-Debauched Life

It had been cold in the office on Tuesday–but my “office” in this sense is a corner of a very large multi-purpose parish center with 16-foot-high ceilings, so it’s hard to control the heating.  If I could move my desk onto a 10-foot-tall platform, I might benefit from the rising of warm air, but that seems more trouble than it would be worth, since the “desk” I use most often is a grand piano. But the “office” was quiet, and I got plenty of work done, albeit done while wearing a scarf and wishing I’d brought my fingerless gloves.

I thought about dinner on my drive home.  She’d had a ham-and-swiss sandwich with caramelized onions for lunch. I had planned to have one, too, but ended up in a lunch meeting with a collaborator–rotisserie chicken over salad greens.  The sandwich seemed like a great idea, and I’d be at home to eat it which meant I could toast the kaiser roll, heat the ham, and melt the cheese.

What would go great with that, I thought, is a nice glass of red wine. 

I arrived home, picked up the mail, found her for a kiss hello, petted the cats, and set about gathering sandwich fixings.

A nice glass of red wine.

I trimmed some green beans and tossed them in a sauté pan with a few carrot coins and a couple slices of potato from the pot roast. I toasted the roll. I set the vegetables on a plate to keep warm in the oven while I finished making the sandwich.  I went back to the fridge for a little mayo, still thinking, a nice glass of red wine would go great with this.

And then I saw a half-full bottle of Vitamin Water.

…or that would be just as good.

I poured half the bottle into a glass, topped it with tap water, put the glass and my dinner on a tray, and carried it up to join her.

Richard Rodgers was, from many reports, a heavy drinker.  Alan Jay Lerner was addicted to amphetamines.  Stephen Sondheim smoked a lot of pot.

And for me?

A glass of watered-down Vitamin Water. Zero.  Not even the full-sugar stuff! Half a glass of nutrient-enhanced kool-aid, watered down because it’s too sweet when I drink it straight.

I’m no Rodgers.  No Lerner.  No Sondheim.  No Eugene O’Neill.  No Tennessee Williams.

I ate a sandwich with a plate of vegetables, I drank a theoretically healthy beverage. I carried the tray back to the kitchen and put the plate and glass in the dishwasher. Apparently I’m no good at the whole tortured-artist thing.

No Tonys, no Emmys, no Grammys, no Oscars.  No rehab. No cirrhosis. Such is my semi-debauched life.

I guess I can live with that.


This Sunday after New Year’s has been unseasonably warm. I’m not complaining, mind you; it’s not been t-shirt and shorts weather, just pleasant enough for a late-afternoon walk in a light jacket.  She wore gloves, too, and we enjoyed seeing that ours was not the only house in the neighborhood where Christmas lights are still shining.

The holidays were lovely, with bits that were quiet and peaceful and bits that were bubbly and full of company. Decorations were kept to a bare minimum–stockings by the fireplace, some lights outdoors, a sprig of mistletoe. We didn’t decorate a tree, but her mom brought a ceramic tea-light holder that’s sitting proudly on the mantle; it’s shaped like a tree, glows softly, and gives off a lovely evergreen scent when lit.  By the time the dust settled–literally, from the renovations–and was mopped away again, we were so happy to have the living room clean and serene that the thought of pine needles falling was just too much to bear. The candle holder is tree enough, this year.

None of the trappings of the holidays were extravagant, in fact. Decorations, gifts, travel, food–all were modest and joyful.  Especially the food: we had wonderful meals, but not banquets that took so long to prepare that we were too tired to enjoy them.

* * *

For some families, it’s not Christmas Eve unless there are seven sorts of fish on the table. For others it’s pierogi.  Or Yorkshire Pudding. Or a slice of pizza grabbed on the run between church services. We’re still working out what our traditions might become.

Many say that what one does on New Year’s Day determines how they’ll spend the rest of the year.  Others say that the state of one’s household on New Year’s Day indicates the state in which it will be for the rest of the year.  For them there is a New Year’s Eve observance called Hogmanay. We kept this custom with a flurry of activity that left the house beautiful and me a little cranky. I apologized, but probably not quite profusely enough.

We had fried rice for a late supper on New Year’s Eve with a friend we were delighted to welcome; but by this point the day had taken its toll. She was falling asleep on the sofa long before midnight, and I was not far behind. I looked at the clock and realized we’d missed the big event. I found a cat toy that lights up, and our friend made a quick video we could show her later: the New Year’s ball drop our way.

* * *

“We could have popcorn for dinner,” she said, in the early evening of January 1.  After more masses and a long afternoon run, I was in favor of a minimal-fuss supper.  Still, it didn’t seem quite right.  Although my family didn’t have any particularly strong Christmas-dinner traditions, something vague and grandmotherly said there should be pork (fat indicating prosperity?) and greens (the color of wealth, I think) on the New Year’s Day table. While the oil heated for popcorn, I sliced a little leftover pork into a skillet, then in tossed the spinach we’d forgotten to put in a lentil stew on the 29th. It was just a couple bites of each, sort of an appetizer before a bowl of terrific popcorn, but a little protein and some vegetables seemed healthful as well as honoring tradition. Making music, running, eating simple and tasty food, and spending time together: if this is what 2015 holds, it will be a wonderful year.

Today’s weather wasn’t what we might expect of early January; but, then, my cup of cocoa is a little warmer than expected, too. I may have added a pinch more cayenne pepper than I meant to.  Hers was made the same way, but she hasn’t objected. It’s just a little untraditional.

A tiny tree, some cheese and crackers, a snickerdoodle, and a mimosa by the fireside: maybe the most perfect Christmas luncheon ever.

A tiny tree, some cheese and crackers, a snickerdoodle, and a mimosa by the fireside: maybe the most perfect Christmas luncheon ever.