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Common Time

When I was in college, I took a class on the history of Jazz. I thought it would help me become the kind of person I wanted to be—brilliant and esoteric and effortlessly cool. I wanted to pepper my conversations with casual references to Thelonious Monk and Jack Kerouac, to speak in Shakespearean quotes without even realizing it and spend my nights at places like the White Horse Tavern drinking whiskey with boys who spent their weekends staying up through the night to talk about important things. Boys who were on their way to becoming men.

Also, I really, really liked listening to Miles Davis.

On the first day of the first lecture, our instructor played the Benny Goodman Trio’s Body and Soul, asking us to clap along to the beat. It was an easy one, played in common time, Krupa’s drumming clearly articulated. Some of us closed our eyes. We all moved our hands in unison. Almost. A half a beat later, there was a soft echo.

It was me.

I tried tapping my foot instead, to no avail. A friend of mine was in the class, too, and at this point, she politely suggested that maybe I should just sit still and listen since my sense of timing wasn’t quite right. Then again, she was usually late to our lectures, so it’s safe to say that her relationship with time was fairly flawed, too.

We all have our own rhythms. Once again, mine seems to be out of sync. Maybe it’s the unremitting gray of the late winter. Each day a slog to the finish, even the easy things made fraught with the ice. Everything a little slower, moving at its own pace. The past few weeks filled with a sense of time lost: A chance meeting that happened a year too late—or a few drinks too early depending on perspective. An unexpected apology for an transgression long forgotten. The disclosure of help sought, making me wonder if, perhaps, I had simply been too early.

I played clarinet in junior high school. Only it was clear early on that I would never sound like this. My sister, of course, was a natural on the flute. So each week, I suffered through private lessons. The logic, I think, was that the teacher was was already coming to our house. Listening to me practice was so painful that my parents asked me to do it in our unfinished basement, so I stopped. This would help me keep up in school.

Week after week, I would rush through the songs, hoping it would make the lesson go faster. The teacher would reach out to stop me, using a little too much force. You’re not thinking, he’d say as the mouthpiece hit against my front teeth, the odd sensation of the wooden reed on the enamel making me lose all concentration. Then he would turn the sheet music back to the beginning of the song so I could start again over and over until I got it right.

Last Sunday, I walked across town in a blizzard. The snow swirled around me, making it impossible to see. I made it home only to take a massive spill right in front of my building. I was walking too quickly and hit a patch of ice.  Someone stopped, asking it I was okay. I was already on my feet, heading inside.

Yes, I said. I just have to learn to slow down.





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From the archives

Okay, fine, this is an old piece, happened upon during the great journal read aloud of the weekend past, but it seemed particularly appropriate today. And at least I’m keeping up the trend of posting, right?


Ten degrees Fahrenheit

It’s bitter. Too cold to snow, even,
and I am drinking
far more than is advisable,

but, far less than is

It’s not as bad as all that.

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There was this thing we did when the first cold snap hit. We’d watch as the kids from the South and the West started to shiver, realizing that during this, their freshman year, they were woefully ill equipped for the New England winter ahead. We’d breathe in the Boston air, slowly, allowing it to fill our lungs. Chuckle, almost silently, telling them Just wait, this is nothing. You don’t know cold it can get. We would go on to tell them, our friends, how there would be a day in the not-so-distant future where their hair would freeze because they hadn’t fully dried it and, well, temperatures being what they are at that time of year…

It’s happened to me every year since that one. I’ve left my house thinking that I’m ready for the day only to discover otherwise. This year, it was in August. Covered in layers and less than one hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, it turns out, I didn’t how cold it can get.

It’s a learning experience, as most things are. Years ago, I was practicing sort of brinksmanship, colored by the arrogance of youth. These days? Well, things circle back on themselves.

Last year, I was talking about hurricanes and new homes. Or of rebuilding, anyway. Before that, it was new hearts.

Last week, I walked the main floor of Presbetyre in New Orleans’s Jackson Square immersed in the details of how Katrina transformed the city. Of the levees breaking and the Superdome. Of the people stranded on their roofs for days on end. I had to step away from the images in order to catch my breath. It was a year to the day that I had finally made it back to New York after being stranded in London for almost a week because of Sandy. Suddenly, I was back on the flight, suspended over Manhattan, circling the city, unsure of what I might see once I landed but desperate to see it.

Patterns emerge if you look closely enough.

It’s time for another. Four years ago today, my father received a new heart. In the years that have followed, I’ve written about it here and here), always with same request. It’s time again: register to be an organ donor.

I can’t remember where I started this thought. I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ll get back there eventually.

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Making Concessions. And soup.

This is my one concession to Thanksgiving.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited about the food as everyone else—in fact, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner just might be one of my favorite meals of the year. And, I’m sure that it will come as no surprise that I’d be happy to make whole meals for the rest of the week out of stuffing.

But, the thing is….


How to say this?

Ok, out with it then.

My family’s Thanksgiving meal is traditionally in a restaurant. Or, at least it has been for the past several years.

There are lots of reasons for this, but mainly, it’s simply that it works for us. We’re all coming from different places and have different dietary restrictions. And, this way we can all sit and relax. Which is really, I think, the point of the holiday.

The problem, of course, is that I really don’t have a stable of recipes. I do, however, have an address book filled with suggestions for Prix Fixe dinners.

And, that said, my immediate family typically does have a smaller version of the meal at some point over the weekend—after all there’s something to be said about having the left overs for days on end. So, in some ways, I get the best of both worlds. And, I’m not constrained by the traditions when I cook.

With that in mind, and following the longest introduction ever, I present you the pumpkin soup that I’ve been eating as of late. This version isn’t for you purists—frankly, I’m a little bored with the classic combinations and find things like pumpkin and maple syrup or brown sugar or apples or you name it a little too sweet for a soup. This one’s got kick. Lots of onions, lots of chili. I’m enjoying it so much, I’m planning the left overs already.

Until the next time, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

1 2-pound sugar pumpkin
3 TBS olive oil, divided
6-8 cups vegetable stock (recipe follows)
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
2 tsps ancho chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape the center, setting the seeds aside. Brush the pumpkin with 1 TBS oil and sprinkle with 1 tsp paprika and salt. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour until the pumpkin is soft and can easily be scraped from the skin.

Once the pumpkin seeds are dry, sprinkle 1 TBS of oil on them and season with salt. Roast for approximately 30 minutes, until they are golden brown.

While the pumpkin is roasting, make the vegetable stock (recipe follows).

When the pumpkin is roasted, allow it to cool and scoop out the roasted flesh. Set it aside.

In a large dutch oven, heat 1 TBS of olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic and shallot for approximately 10 minutes on a low heat, until they start to brown. Add the pumpkin, ancho chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and a dash of salt. Cover with the vegetable broth and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste, adding salt if necessary.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. If the soup is too thick, add more water.

Garnish with pumpkin seeds.

Serves 6 as an appetizer

Vegetable Stock
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
8 cups cold water
1 TBS lemon juice

In a large stock pot, saute the vegetables, onion, and garlic for approximately 5 minutes on a low heat until everything starts to brown. Add in the red pepper flakes and saute for another minute. Then, add in the water, peppercorns, bay leaf and add salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. Strain out the vegetables, add in the lemon juice and season with salt.

Set aside.

Makes 8 cups

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It remains a mystery to me

I still haven’t told you about the bread making class.

When I finally signed up, the most frequent question I got centered around sourdough bread. How was it made? Was I going to get to? How do you start starter?

The answers:

  1. With starter

  2. I [had] no idea. But I hoped so.

  3. I still have no idea. But, thanks to a great instructor, I now have my own.

About that third point: it’s entirely possible to make sourdough starter yourself, and in fact, Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen goes into the specific details and how to’s.

It’s a multi-day process.

Twenty-one, to be exact.

There’s something amazing about it. The two most basic things, flour and water, when combined right and left to their own devices become the building block for bread. Impressive, I’d say.

But, twenty-one days? I’ve done so pretty absurd things in the kitchen, and I’m not sure that I could keep it up. So, feeding the starter that I was given has become all the more important. And, because I’m neurotic (at least I admit it, right?), there’s all sorts of pressure. What if I kill it? Or, don’t do it right and am condemned to loaf after loaf of bad sourdough now that I’m not making them under the guidance of an expert. Should I gift it to my friends when I’m not sure that I can keep it alive myself? These are serious issues.

And, the starter itself? I’m beginning to think that it’s a bit like having a goldfish. It requires just enough effort to make you feel as if you’re doing something. But, just that much. Until you go on vacation, in which case, it’s entirely possible that by the time you get home, it’ll be dead. I’m really making this process sound enjoyable, I know.

In terms of the process, I’m not quite there, yet. To date, my loaves have been a little flat. I’ve been rushing it, when really the thing to do it take a step back and let the muscle memory develop. So, this may become one of those on going projects, much like the Year of the French Macaron, which I’ve taken a break from but plan on resuming. Expect reports on both counts.

For now, I’m including the method for sourdough below. If you ask really nicely, I’ll give you some of my starter, assuming that I haven’t killed it, yet.

Sourdough Bread
Technique (and, in my case, starter) courtesy of Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

To create leaven:
12 grams sourdough starter*
68 grams filtered water
134 grams flour (this can be a mix of whole wheat and all purpose)

Mix all of the ingredients until well combined and allow to sit 8-12 hours at room temperature. When your leaven is ready to use, it will float in warm water.

To make the bread:

200 grams leaven
700 grams water, plus an additional 50 grams, set aside
200 grams salt (dissolved in the 50 grams water that you’ve set aside)
1000 grams flour (at least 200 grams of this should be whole wheat)

Combine 700 grams of water and the leaven. Mix to combine, kneading to get out any dry bits. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for 30 minutes. It should be shaggy.

Once the dough has rested, add the salted water to it and mix. Begin turning the dough (this is a more passive method of kneading). Let the dough sit at room temperature and turn it every half hour for 2-3 hours. It should double in size. Cut it in half when it’s ready.

Flour and flip each of the halves and shape it. Allow the dough to rest for another half hour, covered with a towel. During this time, the dough will flatten out slightly.

When the dough is almost ready to bake, stretch and fold it and place it in a flour lined bowl to proof. Proof for two hours. In the last hour, begin preheating your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. You should place a lidded cast iron pot in the oven as it is preheating.

Bake the bread in the lidded cast iron post at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. The internal temperature of it should be 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Makes 2 loaves

*Note that if you are not ready to use the starter, you should feed it, by discarding half and combining a half cup of water with a full cup of flour. Mix everything together well.

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Once more, with feeling.

Hard to believe, but it’s been two years.

If you’re new to the site, then, you might have missed my original post.

The gist is this: become an organ donor. Someone you know, may be waiting for that phone call, the chance for a healthy life. A life in general. Their family’s waiting, too. Two years later, and it’s still no easier to talk about, but it’s essential.

Find out more here.


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Getting Right to the Point

Last week, my friend Peggy and I were talking about blogging—the reasons we do it, the challenges it poses, sometimes (often in my case), in the form of keeping up.

Naturally, what follows will be an excuse. A reason why not, I suppose.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

And, so: I’m trying to keep up, really, I am. Thankfully these days, the cooking and baking isn’t the problem. It’s the posting—I mean, how many posts that start with and apology and a statement of how busy it’s been will you read before you stop following me?

That question, by the way, is not strictly rhetorical.

Seriously, how many will more free passes do I get? I’ve got a few good recipes still in need of introductions.

And, I’m done. I’m going to take to heart something that Peggy said; instead of qualifying our actions, we should simply do. The best results come from action rather than explanation. What’s important here is the process.

So, with Peggy’s admonitions in mind, I’ll leave you with this recipe for bread, and a promise to post more soon. And, likewise, in the spirit of doing, did I mention that I’m taking three days off of work to take a bread making class? Well, I am, and I couldn’t be more excited.

I think that my baking has officially transcended the label of “hobby”.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan by way of Katy Elliot and Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Before you get started: I didn’t line my baking pans with parchment, thinking that buttering would be enough. Had I not stretched my dough thin to get two smaller loaves, that would have been fine. But, I did, so some of the filling leaked out, causing the bread to stick. Next time I make this, I plan on lining my pans with greased parchment paper and suggest that you do to the same.

For The Bread:
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 ¼ cups just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of grated nutmeg
4 cups all-purpose flour

For The Swirl:
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grounded cinnamon
2 TBS water

Make sure that the milk is at room temperature, and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkling the yeast over it. Add the flour, butter, sugar, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt. Using a dough hook, mix on the lowest speed until all of the ingredients have combined. Once that has happened, add the raisins into the mixture. Increase the speed to medium low, mixing the dough until it is uniformly smooth and it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl. This will take about 3 more minutes.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled blow, and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down and then allow it to rise again until it has doubled in size, approximately 40 minutes to an hour.

Scrape the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and divide it into two even pieces. Wrap them and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes or firm enough to be rolled easily.

While the dough is resting, butter two 9-x-5-inch loaf pans and make the filling by whisking together the cinnamon, sugar, and water so that it forms a paste. Set aside until you are ready to roll the dough..

Put once piece of the the dough on a large work surface lightly dusted with flour, and roll the dough into a rectangle that is slightly shorter than the length of your baking pan. Sprinkle half of your filling on top of the dough. With the short end of the dough rectangle facing you, fold in both long sides of the dough, about an inch. This will form a wall to hold in your filling. Once this step is completed, roll the filled dough toward you, gently pressing as you go, to form a tight log. Then roll it back and forth to seal the seam. Place the loaf in your pan, seam side down.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Cover the pans loosely with the wax paper and set in a warm place; let the dough rise until it comes just a little above the edge of the pan, about 30-45 minutes.

As the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the loafs have risen, bake them for 45 minutes, rotating halfway through. You want the tops to be golden brown, so if they are browning too fast, tent the tops with aluminum foil.

Cool to room temperature before serving.

Makes two loaves


Filed under Bread, Brunch, Uncategorized