29 December 2010

Welcome to my world

Hello, dear reader. If you're one of the legions that Rick Nelson sent this way from the Star Tribune, howdy. Feel free to peruse the archives. If you're looking for food-related posts, you can find them here. If you want to stalk me and find out my deepest, darkest secrets, I'm totally into that: you'll find my original blog here (this is a sequel; Hollywood demanded it). If you made a big mistake and wish you'd never stopped by, back to Angry Birds you go. But be warned, each New Year's Day I bake a kickass cake, and do you really want to miss out? I didn't think so. Stay tuned.

28 December 2010

A meteoric rise

A month ago, a friend emailed me to compliment me on my writing, noting that I seemed to be on a roll, both frequency- and content-wise. I haven't blogged since. Today another friend posted a plaintive plea to my Facebook wall, suggesting that life had lost all meaning (I paraphrase) with this blog gone dark. People simply don't understand the demands of celebrity. That's right, I'm famous. Or more accurately, was famous. Okay, not really famous so much as I bragged a lot on Facebook about an article in the paper that had my name in it. But this fame having flet, I realize I have a duty to summarize the heady days of December, if for no other reason than to make my future biographers' task that much easier.

I generally do what I'm told, so when Eric M texted me in October, telling me to "win the Star Tribune cookie contest this year," I laughed and dismissed it completely. Until later that night when I decided it would be easier just to obey. I'd been baking a bunch of my cream of tartar cookies at the time, so decided to use those as a base, creating something appropriately festive and holidayish. I also mined the index of past winners to see what kind of cookie needed to win next (W used to call this strategery, I believe). Sorry if you feel played, Mr. Nelson. After a few test rounds, reasonably happy with my concoction, and sick to death of the whole enterprise, I submitted a carefully-proofread recipe for Cream of Tartar Cookies with Pistachio Orange Filling (really trips off the tongue, doesn't it?). And then I forgot about it. Really, I did, until Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune called to inquire as to whether my recipe was flourless. All my years of freelance editing had been for nought. Yes, 2 cups flour is required. Sigh.

At least now I knew my cookies had made the baking round. A couple days later, a photo appeared online, showing my cookies with a bunch of others in contention. The Stribbers had been taste-testing. I will not pretend to have been anything but obsessed at that point, waiting for news of destiny fulfilled. Sure enough, I was to be one of the five finalists, with a feature to come in an early December edition of the paper. I professed not to care if I actually won or not (and mostly meant it), though members of my posse were convinced it would be me. I half began to believe them, but still, after a grueling day clicking Refresh until the results were posted online, I felt a rush of genuine pleasure and bamboozlement when I found out I'd actually won.

I realize this is all old (ad nauseuous) news to most of you, given the almost certain fact that my readership and Facebook friendships enjoy a 1:1 ratio. Still, the last few weeks of cookie silliness have been a fun antidote to a tough year. I have met some great people, received notes from strangers complimenting my cookies, and shared the holidays—in a small, transitory way—with a bunch of folks who decided to add a new cookie to their holiday baking tradition.

Christmas was very different for me this year, and not always easy. Now that it's past, sitting here on a day with bright sunshine and strong coffee and good company, I'm remembering not the angst of Christmas foolishness, but the simple, frivolous joy of baking a cookie and hearing people say yum.

28 November 2010

On the first day of baking . . .

. . . my true love baked for meeeee: absolutely nothing.

Taking matters into my own hands, I proceeded to make a relatively new favorite, the frosted cardamom cookie. I was surprised to find myself out of cardamom, but neighbors B & L accidentally bought four quarts of it recently, so stealing a couple tablespoons from them was no big deal. Incidentally, do you ever read the comments section on epicurious.com? So ridiculous: "The recipe called for two lamb shanks but I hate lamb so used broccoli instead. Delicious." (I embellish, slightly.) I'm sure one of those commenters, faced with a similar catastrophic lack of cardamom, would simply substitute cherry pie filling. But I digress (which, let's face it, should be the title of this blog). Also, if you're going to have a drink while you bake, and there's nothing wrong with such a time-honored tradition, make sure it isn't the Washington Chardonnay that almost ruined Thanksgiving and that I'm polishing off now. Hiddy.

For those of you who hang on my every word and action and are even now beginning to bake these at home, a couple notes:

First, most recipes by sentient beings include salt. Those that don't had better have a really good reason (a recipe for cinnamon toast, for instance, may omit the salt). This recipe does not qualify to go saltless, so either use salted butter or throw in a dash of salt with the dry ingredients. Umami.

Second, the yield is given as two dozen. Ridiculous. We're fat enough, America. If you roll them in chestnut-size balls, you'll yield more than four dozen, they'll look prettier on the buffet, and you can give more away. The only time we need to be eating giant cookies is when we're a) writing maudlin angst-filled poetry at an independently-owned, patchouli-scented coffee shop, or b) stuffing an entire package of Kowalski's iced ginger cookies down our gullet as a substitute for dinner on our way to a rehearsal. Or so I'm led to believe. If you do make these cookies smaller, reduce the baking time to 11:11, my all-time favorite oven timer setting. I usually resist putting that in writing.

Third, the frosting directions are a little weird. There is no reason not to proceed my a more standard way, alternately mixing the powdered sugar and milk in batches to the creamed butter. You'll end up with a more pleasing, even texture.

With that, and even as is, this is a great cookie. Several neighbors will be demanding theirs soon, so it's time to shut off all the lights and pretend I'm at the country house.

27 November 2010

Thanksgiving, haphazardly reviewed

We'll cut to the chase, because blogging takes away from holiday laziness opportunities. The morning dawned, as it always does, with me baking sticky buns. This year's orange pecan rolls were about the best ever. I started using the recipe for Rich Rum Sticky Buns from The New Basics Cookbook many years ago. I have modified it beyond recognition (for starters, I use no rum), and I'd guess that all dozen people who ate them this year were fairly content. Post-breakfast was then a long stretch of me doing nothing (except to eat a big bowl of white bean and kielbasa soup that I'd made a couple days earlier). I finally got the turkey in the oven about 3pm (I may have missed the hordes of people on this holiday, but I did not miss the day-long trudge through food prep). I threw some aromatics in the roasting pan, stuffed the bird loosely with the same (celery, garlic, herbs, citrus), smeared it with butter and roasted. Out by 6pm, it was moist, juicy, tender perfection. Mashed some potatoes, roasted some broccoli: done. Oh yeah, and rockin' gravy (no gizzards, no starting 19 days ahead: I'm that good). The Lebovitz apple cake was a huge disappointment (the east coast contingent of the family made it as well, and reports a similarly desultory result). Little fuss, plenty of leftovers: a great easy day.

And like magic, it's time for holiday baking. The first cookie of the season to come out of my oven this year (later tonight, if I get myself off the daybed into the kitchen) will be frosted cardamom cookies, a 2008 finalist in the Star Tribune holiday cookie contest. The Strib keeps a handy online index of all the cookies from the past seven years of the contest. The winners of this year's contest will be published Thursday; it's always fun to see what cookies make the cut, and which are worth adding to my baking lineup.

Here's hoping your holiday was similarly stress-free.

23 November 2010

'Tis winter now

With the freezing and the sleeting and the snowing and the icing, our Poet-in-Residence comes forth with an early winter offering. And just in time: reciting "Now has come, an easy time / I let it roll . . . " seems completely inappropriate as I go hunting for my wool socks. Once again, Ann has curated the perfect little poem for us to savor over the next few weeks. Let's recite it together, from memory, this Thanksgiving weekend, shall we? Thanks, Ann.

Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

—Howard Nemerov (1920-1991)

17 November 2010

Thinking about Thanksgiving, because we must. It's in about five minutes.

My youngest sister emailed asking for Thanksgiving menu advice. She doesn't really need any, because she's a very good, adventurous cook. She'll have four meat eaters (God's chosen ones), three vegetarians (who should, frankly, sit Thanksgiving out), and, "one annoying vegan who is pretty much crashing so I don’t care if I don’t have anything for her (and my other guests are more courteous than I and are willing to bring vegan items)." Have I mentioned that I love my sister?

Her menu so far: sweet potato bisque, rosemary parmesan bread, turkey using Alton Brown’s method (I don't know what that means and can only assume she'll have to do a lot of zooming camera close-ups as she cooks), saffron butternut squash risotto, and sweet potato pie. Others are bringing a vegan roast (Lord knows what this is, but it sounds revolting and inappropriate and she's not happy about it), and mac and cheese (she lives in the part of the country where that's expected, like a carafe of water, at every meal).

Given that M and I intend to hide from the world that day, reading in front of the fire and watching a Lost Season 3 marathon, this all seems very ambitious. I've cooked approximately four thousand Thanksgiving dinners in my life, because I am old, so I admire her youth and pluck. She wants another dessert, asking if tiramisu would be too weird [YES], or perhaps something apple but not pie. She also needs something green, and an appetizer.


If I had to make an apple dessert today (and only being stuck at the office until 9pm prevents me from doing so), this French apple cake of Dorie Greenspan by way of David Lebovitz is the one I would try; easy and pretty, and a nice antidote to pie.

Completely inappropriate for the vegetarians in the group, and therefore delicious, this ramekin of queso fundido seems like a perfect and unexpected appetizer (the others in the article look good, too). I'd make it for sure, and not just to piss off the vegan; that's just bonus. I would also source my chorizo carefully because horrifyingly gross animal parts end up in it. Seriously. Do NOT read the label on pre-packaged chorizo at your neighborhood mercado.

As for vegetables, the boyfriend and I can't seem to stop roasting broccoli this fall. It's super easy, takes no time, and is completely addicting. Just toss a bunch of broccoli florets with some olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and a few red pepper flakes. Put it in the oven at whatever temperature you've got going on and check/toss the pan every few minutes. It doesn't take too long: you want to get a little caramelization without charring them (though I eat them charred, too). When the broccoli is as done as you want it you can eat as is, or toss a variety of good stuff with it: toasted pine nuts, golden raisins, some grated hard cheese, a splash of balsamic vinegar. People think you've done something, and you really haven't. We eat it at least once a week. You can do the same thing with cauliflower, and if you add a little anchovy paste to the olive oil all the better.

I think I've just talked myself into cooking on Thanksgiving.

15 November 2010

The Efficient Baker

The assignment: a first-birthday cake for forty guests, suitable for adults but still smashable by the guest of honor, using Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar as inspiration. Piece of cake (I crack myself up).

Spice cake with caramel frosting appealed to the mom, because she's cool like that. A Saturday afternoon party? The efficient baker knows the smart thing to do is complete the shopping Friday afternoon and bake the layers Friday evening, giving them plenty of time to chill (makes frosting that much easier). You know what else is nice on a Friday evening? Hanging out at Leaning Tower of Pizza with your boyfriend. Two margaritas later, those who know Going40 know that two margaritas = alcohol poisoning. No shopping, certainly no baking. No problem; we've pulled off tighter schedules than this.

So, Saturday morning means an early wake-up call, to the store post-haste, cake in the oven by 8am. But such pretty snow! Much better to sleep in and take a blustery walk down to the coffee shop, reading in the cozy warm window seat. By 9:30am, definitely time to head to the store.

Spice cakes are easy: let the milk and vinegar make sweet 'n sour love for a few minutes while you mix the rest of the ingredients together. Mix everything on high speed using your still-working handheld mixer (foreshadowing) because your stand mixer broke during The Time of Calamity last winter. Two 12-inch pans require a double batch, for those of you playing at home.

While the layers are baking, make the caramel frosting. Caramel frosting should win the Nobel peace prize. Seriously. Spread it around a battle field; soldiers will drop their weapons and start licking the ground. Place a bowl between a warring couple in divorce mediation; five minutes later they're smearing it all over each other, their petty troubles forgotten. Want a lazy coworker to finish a project? Set some caramel frosting just out of reach: job done right, and fast.

The layers have popped out of the pan beautifully, because that's how we roll. While they cool, it's time to make the beautiful cake decidedly more kid-friendly. Out come less elevated ingredients for decorative icing (NEVER eat the colored frosting).

Colors not found in nature. Even more insidiously, the trusty handheld workhorse of a hand-mixer breaks in the last seconds of whipping the frosting. I am now a prolific home bake with no. mixer. of. any. kind. I may as well live in Australia (inside joke for an Aussie-living cook who doesn't understand they sell appliances there, and that at this point in her nascent lovelife that boyfriend will buy her a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g.). On the upside, it's only noon. NOON! Easy. Except that it's time to drive in the wint'ry grossness to Roseville for a music gig. Super fun. But all goes well, and home by 2:30. Plenty of time to somehow stack and frost a big cake and pipe it in a pleasing manner (even though there's no real plan formed in Going40's brain for that). The party's not until 4.

And somehow, for the eight millionth time in my life, I deliver a cake to its intended with minutes to spare. The best moment is handing it over to the friends who are, without exception, grateful, complimentary, and relieved that it doesn't look like total crap. I am always sweating bullets: will the frosting slide? Is the cake dry? Why didn't I add _______ to the filling? And so on. But I'm also neurotic.

Time to enjoy the day! This part I missed, because instead of cleaning up the disaster of a kitchen (one of my cake-baking specialities) and heading to the party, I have a boyfriend who a) owns a house with lots of sidewalks; b) broke his arm, an affliction rendering him useless in many key ways; and c) I totally forgot to break up with before the first big snowstorm of the season. Off I go to shovel. In the meantime, the kid ate a lot of cake. Whenever I bring another child to sugar addiction, an angel earns its wings.

Happy first birthday, Anna. Here's to many more delicious (it totally was) cakes in your future.

10 November 2010

And also?

If I had to be a 55-year-old woman, I would want it to be like this.

Families moving forward redux, or, I don't end my day going down the hall to an institutional bathroom

I wrote about Families Moving Forward last spring, so you can read that post to catch up. My workplace is again hosting several families, and it's my turn to be overnight host. This is not a tough gig: I finished my rehearsals, grabbed some barbecued chips knelt in prayer, and hauled an air mattress into my office. Now I'll stay up too late reading people.com The Economist online, and wake up early to start my work day early so I can go home early and resume my regular good, full, rich life. I need to be reminded more than twice a year about how much I have, especially when I am too often focused, the other 363, on what I don't.

08 November 2010

Going forward, exhaustedly

So the concert was a smashing success, judged by the following subjective criteria:

~ The programs were beautiful, professionally printed, with original art on the cover painted for the occasion. I like things to be just so.
~ The church looked amazing, with big white streamers hanging from the rafters, votives flickering from the organ casework, and late-afternoon sun streaming in through the stained-glass windows.
~ Standing in front of 75 talented, well-prepared musicians, singing gorgeous music, in a superb acoustic, is so. fun. I wish everyone could have a turn on the podium, baton in hand, to experience what it feels like (but then again, I'm not likely to cede that spot). Alas, it's also terrifying. There are moments when I look down at the score and see all the cues I have to give and think, wow, they should really get an adult up here to do this.
~ There were shaky moments but those don't stick in my mind, so they can't have been all that bad. Rather, I remember the perfectly blended voices of my choir singing William Beckstrand's setting of the prayer of St. Francis (Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace . . .), with the sweet solo voices of Matt and Hannah joining in from the balcony. Or the massed choir nailing entrances and cutoffs that had been an earlier source of, um, concern. Or my dear friend Jen Sylvester, she of the impossibly perfect soprano, singing the Pie Jesu better than I've ever heard it anywhere. Or six violas making a rich, gorgeous sound right where I wanted it, and the four cellists responding in kind, not to mention the superb organist, solo violin and pitch-perfect horns. Or the sustained applause from a grateful audience. Or the many friends who said so many nice things afterwards.
~ The bars at the reception were plentiful, varied, and delicious. And even better, because there were many left over, I have brought a selection up to my office and am tasting each one, so that I can be knowledgable before thanking the bakers for their contributions. I am a selfless giver.
~ This was also the weekend of Meet the Parents, and M's mom and dad are sweet, friendly people, and I was reminded over and over again why I love their son. I was glad to have them at the concert and even more glad to join them and M and M's Foster Parent Equivalents (though so far he's avoided the group home experience) at Loring Pasta Bar for brandy sidecars (and food) after it was all over.

And now I'm back in the office, writing thank you notes, cleaning up from the hectic weekend, and reflecting on non-stop music-making, realizing how much I have to practice for trio rehearsal tonight, and two quickly-approaching accompanying gigs. It doesn't stop, does it? I will begin by tasting another bar.

04 November 2010

Too many notes

Am I working as a church musician, or do I manage a small civic concert hall? I can't really tell this week. The building is so overbooked with concerts and rehearsals; it's fun to walk down the hall and hear the university men's chorus warming up in one room, a pianist in another, and an orchestra tuning up in the sanctuary (or main concert hall, as it were). Another choral group in town rehearses at our church weekly, I have my usual grab bag of rehearsals during the week, and all these people have needs. Lots of them. But this week if you need a musical fix, head to Dinkytown. Big university concert Friday night, a Bach Society cantata workshop all day Saturday, and our very own concert Sunday. Which you should probably go to. I'll be conducting Gabriel Fauré's Requiem with a chorus made up of the two university-area Lutheran church choirs, chamber orchestra, organ and soloists. Sunday, November 7, 4:00pm at University Lutheran Church of Hope, 601 13th Ave SE, Minneapolis, 55414. There will be bars.

02 November 2010

Kitchen essentials redux

Back in the day, when I was writing the blog that made me a household name (it only takes one household, folks), we discussed kitchen tools we simply couldn't live without. I was rereading that post a few days ago, mostly because I seemed to remember a whole lot of useful, funny comments. I remembered correctly. I also got to thinking about cooking now, in a new era. Had bachelorhood changed me (how I loathe that word bachelor; I can't make myself fit any of its definitions or stereotypes. Besides, I only managed to remain unencumbered for about five minutes. I envy real, honest-to-goodness bachelors; I even know one. So insouciantly sexy. [See, that's why I could never be called a bachelor—I say insouciant.])?

The fact is, once I left the group home (where cooking involved eating, gratefully, whatever Foster Dad put in front of me [we won't speak of the straight-line vomiting of DQ milkshakes during The Recovery from the Unpleasantness {but don't you wonder whatever happened to Dr. MacDreamy? I do.}]), I cooked quite a bit. Cooking has changed; for one thing, I don't have all the gadgets I used to (not worth another post, but things I really miss: a KitchenAid stand mixer [which, really, given the amount I bake, seems a bit like a dentist without a drill, or a stripper without a pole], a digital kitchen scale, and the big Epicurean cutting board. And really, those three things are all I miss. Not too bad.). Because M and I both cook, a lot and well (until he decided to take a graceful dive off a ladder in either a foolhardy show of manly bravado or super pathetic attempt to depart this world), I have come to realize even more that a good working kitchen is much more about efficient space, a few basic, high-quality tools, and a whole lot of common sense.

Today, I consider these my five kitchen essentials:

Lodge 12-inch skillet   More and more, I'm leaving the Calphalon and even Le Creuset behind in favor of humble, solid, easy-to-clean (and cheap!) cast iron. How often do I use it? Its storage spot is the stovetop. That's right, I never. put it away. And I pretty much put away everything.

Melamine bowls   They're light-weight, nestable, come in a variety of useful sizes, they're from friends I love and miss, and most importantly, they're pretty.

Ginger   Whole, powdered, crystallized, aled, and liqueured up. One spice, many forms, as useful in a savory curry as in a buttery baked good. And the GinGin is a most satisfying cocktail.

Oxo bottle opener   Let's be real; it's been a rough year.

M   I can only describe his knife skills as savant-like. When the big orange bent-arm cast comes off, I expect him in the kitchen chopping onions for a solid week. Or else.

Now. Yours?

01 November 2010

When the day bites. Or, girls in white dresses can take their blue satin sashes and . . .

So, it's Monday and you've had a bad day? Yeah, me too. It doesn't matter why really, and that's not the point. The point is, when theworldisshittyandbadthingshappenandyourcuteboyfriendhasplansfortheeveningandyourpianostudenthasnotpracticedinaboutthreeyearsandyourexstopsbyandnothatisnoteventheshittythingsoquittryingtofigureitout,
so anyway, when that happens, you need good coping mechanisms, right? While I would love to hear yours, you have to read about mine first, because of the neediness. And it's my blog. Herewith, how I made sour watery lemonade out of this major lemon of a day:
  • After 3 (three!) scary days of fiction misfires (Andrew Solomon, your little novel started out with promise until I realized you were the same guy who had an unabashedly tacky gay wedding featured in the Times. There is forgivenes, and then there is shame for one's people), I jumped on the bandwagon of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Heavens to Murgatroyd the man can write (and be all evocative about place; it almost makes you like St. Paul). I will see you all in two weeks when I'm finished.
  • Luckily I made a batch of the nuns' good chocolate chip cookies. After panicking at the thought of eating five dozen cookies myself, I gave many away. Even more luckily, I was not so stupid as to give them all away. I had a little Rickie Lake moment about 3pm.

  • White beans, rosemary, and greens. Enough cooking to feel virtuous, but not so much that I had to work for it. Thank you, cookbook project.
  • Hard cider. No photo necessary.
  • If you never sign out of your foster parents' Netflix account, you're always signed in. Season 4 of 30 Rock, you so funny.
  • I totally thought about going for a run.
  • I'm totally thinking about going for a walk. To Jackson's for black chocolate gelato. Because Liberty Custard is too far away. Dang, now I'm sad again . . . 

27 October 2010

What is it you can't face?

As the weather gets colder, as fall rehearsals get more intense, as life gets busier, I find myself with fewer evenings free. I hate it. So given the choice between doing something fun, even with people I really like, I'd rather be at home, reading, playing the piano (or banjo), talking with M, decompressing. The introvert in me demands a lot of attention, and doesn't always get it. I'm in the midst of a stretch of meetings, rehearsals, and events that spans 12 out of 14 evenings, and I'm ready for it to be over.

Last night, however, was a worthy exception. I didn't get to stay in. No, off I went (to the suburbs, no less!) for pure Americanish fun: the Sound of Music Sing-Along extravaganza. The movie has been digitally restored, and the print is beautiful, really lovely to look at. I realized that I've been watching a grainy television version of this movie for so many years I didn't realize what stunning cinematography it has. And singing in a theater, with permission, is way too much fun. The twelve (!) in our party had a great time, and I'm quite sure we were the finest choral section in the theater. Thanks to these two, we were also the most holy. Almost.

20 October 2010

Cooking with gas

News flash: I like food. Yawn. Slow news day. You all know that cooking and eating good (and sometimes completely, deliciously bad) food occupy a fair amount of my existence. Always has been, for better or worse. It's how I like to spend my time, interact with others. I've thought even more about food and cooking since meeting M.

Ours is not a relationship based on going out to dinner, as seems to be the case so often when one starts dating. No, almost from the beginning, we cooked. Or more precisely, we canned. Because someone thinks there is no limit to the number of tomatoes that can be planted on a city lot (it could be either of us I live in a condo), and because we met as summer gardens were exploding, we had a LOT of produce to process. Seventeen quarts of tomato sauce, pickles, beets, sauerkraut, on and on and on. A lot of work, but over those hours in the kitchen we learned so much about each other: how we work and think, what food meant to us growing up, how traditions have shaped who we are. And we learned that we're both intuitive cooks, that we can dance around the kitchen without being in each other's way, that we can anticipate what the other needs. Even better, we agreed that sitting down together to eat at the end of our busy days is non-negotiable. That time to cook with and for each other, to reflect on the day, and to plan for the week ahead: we're not trading that time for TV or a meal on the run. It's not always fancy, but it is homemade and creative and usually fairly healthy.

We both have meals we can whip up on the fly, but like you, are always looking to expand weeknight options (besides, we like to experiment with new ingredients). You can't swing a dead organic responsibly-harpooned fish without finding an attractive food blog. My friend Erin now blogs from Australia (and here's hoping she omits her new recipes for braised marsupial), and my young newlywed friends Hannah and Matt are putting their wedding registry to good use in their tiny grad-school kitchen. Even my favorite personal finance blogger wrote about food last week. America is hungry. And obese, but that's another post.

With so many blogs, cooking sites, and food resources at our disposal, I fear the days of sitting and flipping through a cookbook and developing a repertoire may be behind us (my mom and dad are great cooks, and everything they cooked when I was growing up came from the index card recipe file or a half-dozen well-worn books). Friends E & B have found a great solution to culinary ADHD: they're cooking their way through the Moosewood cookbook (yay alfalfa sprouts!). Because imitation is the sincerest form of laziness, M and I are doing something similar. We've started working our way through The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. So satisfying to cook simply but in a new way on a Monday evening. We're not giving ourselves a deadline for finishing the book, and we're not going through it in order (I'm way too laidback for that sort of thing). We're simply picking it up when we can't decide what to eat, and choosing something that looks good. I can only hope that every recipe is as delicious as the warm white bean salad that we tried first.

Go to your own bookshelf, pick a cookbook, and decide for yourself how to cook your way through it. And let us all know what you've chosen. Between the 14 of us, we'll all enjoy a better answer to the question: what's for supper?

05 October 2010

In celebration of autumn

Our summer poetry project was a resounding success, yes? How do I measure success, you ask? Simple: I enjoyed. That poem also led me down a path of reading William Stafford's work, and it has become a tertiary mission of this blog to keep his work in front of you. With that, I think another poem is in order. This poem, slightly longer than our summer one (because we have time to sit in front of the fire and read) comments on the seasons changing around us, and as an added bonus mentions Montana, the ultimate imprimatur of good poetry. Memorize so that you know the secret Going40 code for autumn (and how cool to have two Stafford poems at your disposal. You'll be a hit at odd parties.).

Over in Montana

Winter stops by for a visit each year.
Dead leaves cluster around. They know what is
coming. They listen to some silent song.

At a bend in the Missouri, up where

it's clear, teal and mallards lower
their wings and come gliding in.

A cottonwood grove gets ready. Limbs

reach out. They touch and shiver.
These nights are going to get cold.

Stars will sharpen and glitter. They make

their strange signs in a rigid pattern
above hollow trees and burrows and houses--

The great story weaves closer and closer, millions of

touches, wide spaces lying out in the open,
huddles of brush and grass, all the little lives.

from Who Are You Really, Wanderer? (1993)

30 September 2010

Home is where

I would be angry with Thomas Beller, except I admire him too much. He's gone and written an essay about home and our relationship to stuff (literally; I'm not just writing sloppily) that I wish I'd written, but he's done it better than I could have. And he's working on a book about the meaning of home. Dammit, I hate it when all the good jobs are taken. I take small comfort that in the span of the piece he describes his own angst about writing, finding himself in a favorite bookstore and feeling overwhelmed by "books I feel I should have written but had been too lazy and now someone else has gone ahead and done it." I so know the feeling, but from a lazier, even less productive perspective.

In "Home Is Where Your Stuff Is," Beller writes about returning to his New Orleans home after a summer away, and experiencing a kind of self-consciousness about his stuff (a word he describes, spot-on, as "that casual, almost derogatory term for those objects in your life you have invested with meaning"). Objects full of memory and collected fondly seem bothersome, even twee. When the über-familiar is rendered un-, we second-guess our choices, our priorities, even—gasp—our taste. Home may be where our stuff is, but where are we when recoil at our own detritus?

I'm experiencing a bit of this myself. As M and I negotiate how and where we spend our time, home—both the idea of it and its bricks-and-mortarness—feels a bit transigent (which I'd really like to be a word, fan as I am of intransigent, but that doesn't really make it so). Most of you know the drill: Do I have all the necessary toiletries at the other place? Did I leave my running shoes over there? Dang, I wish I had brought that book/music/work with me; is it worth driving back to get it? Where do you keep the colander/detergent/gin? Why does your bathroom smell funny?

These are high-class problems. And the chaotic fun of it all isn't something I'd trade. But. I had a couple days at my home earlier this week, just me. When I came through the door Monday afternoon, I felt a bit like I was entering a hotel room. The air was stale, all was quiet, the shades drawn. I had left everything just so, as is my way, and rather than feeling homey and comfortable my house felt like a stage set, someone else's idea of what life might be like on Bryant Avenue. As I opened the windows and watered the plants and emptied the trash, my home and I came slowly back to life, like when you rub your eyes after a brief nap, not sure where you are until familiar views comes back into focus. I reveled in the smooth gray tranquility of the walls, flopped onto the daybed to read (for ten minutes, until that nap won out), set out some wine and cheese on the patio table for a neighbor's visit. I learned very quickly how to make the space mine again, to enjoy it on my own, even while missing the one who is more frequently sharing it with me. I love where I live, the way it looks and feels, the stuff I fill it with, the people who stop by.

After three long days of work and life apart from M, I got on the train last night, the Wednesday grind of rehearsals behind me, and walked the few blocks from the Midtown station to his place. It was a beautiful evening, hours past sundown but with enough living rooms still lit to make my way pleasant and easy. I approached the back door and saw M through the window, making dinner, moving rhythmically to the Alanis Morissette tune I had heard from down the alley. I walked into a warm, good-smelling kitchen, and a bright smile and a big hug. And I was awfully glad to be home.

28 September 2010

Book report

I just finished To Kill A Mockingbird, and feel a bit like I'm unfashionably late to a party. You've all been standing there enjoying your cocktails and witty banter, and I show up having missed most of the evening. But my outfit is so cute I don't feel shame. I just slip into place and join the conversation, laughing a bit self-consciously to fit in.

I still don't understand how 42 years came and went without this most iconic of books crossing my path. Mom always said I was the most well-read kid she knew, and I had a fantastic American lit teacher in high school. But what a thrill to read it now, eyes wide open, reveling in the language and the story. To close the book a half hour ago, and stare at it, not moving, for several minutes, happy tears streaming down my face. We love to read for just those moments. I'm still surprised each time a book knocks the wind out of me, convinced it can't happen yet again. It does, randomly, not very often, but often enough to keep reading. What book will do it next? Over to the color-coded shelves I go.

Random bits:

Something particularly satisfying about reading from a borrowed hard-bound copy circa 1961. Thanks, Jerry and Judy. Just think, that's what was on the New in Hardcover table at the bookstore in days of yore. So nice to have seasoned neighbors.

People wonder why Harper Lee hasn't written anything else. My God, why would she?

I'm grateful that Westminster Town Hall Forum has scheduled this event for me. Anyone else want to go?

In conclusion, I love Scout. And Atticus and Jem and Dill and Boo and Tom and Maudie and several other minor characters. The End.

27 September 2010

Social networks

The book is Never Eat Alone. I must learn to network.
The bookseller doesn't have it around, but offers a slim volume of William Stafford's poems.
[A slim volume is what we call it when the book we like doesn't have many pages. Lazy is what we call the same book when we think it's crap.]
Because there are books I will always be poor. I need to network.

Mr. Stafford and I have lunch together. The conversation—at first—seems stilted.
He says So thin a life I have, scribbling dust / when I turn, trailing as if to follow / something inside the earth, something beyond / this place. If I accept what comes, / another sky is there. My serious face / bends to the ground, the dust, the lowered wings.
I say Cool.

I nibble some cheese. Mr. Stafford stares back at me.
We agree on a borrowed phrase, and lapse into companionable silence.

On baking

The cakes I bake are better than the ones you buy in stores.
And M says,
This cookie tastes like horse shit compared to one of yours.
I agree.

17 September 2010

A useful (yes, they exist; just not here) blog

Look, kids, we're all going to learn to draw! The New York Times and James McMullen give us Line by Line, a blog with perhaps the most specific intent I've ever come across: "to rekindle the love of drawing for those readers who left it behind in the 4th grade."  Since I'm—developmentally speaking—not that much further out than 4th grade, I'm buying a sketch pad. I'll add it to the pile next to the daybed (to be completed today! Yay! Look, shiny!), and it can be one more thing I dabble at not at all well. Sketchpad down, banjo up, oh look, there's my knitting. Bye.

15 September 2010

What would a [more] betterer life look like?

Meesa restless. Kind of a "What next?" feeling I'm having, a result of two contributing factors (handy that I can narrow things down so concisely; I don't do messy well). First, a recent small freelance project made me realize how much I love writing, but not just writing: playing with words and ideas, bouncing them off others, refining them, and making it (the job, the assignment, the project) work. The project was also perfect because it involved only those skills in my set that I love (and there are plenty of skills that I carry around begrudgingly). I have always been able to temper my ambition with a healthy portion of self-doubt and inertia, but the writing portfolio I have designed in my head is really good.

Second, being settled at home, with no pressing life issues, I'm actually finding time and energy to be creative. My nascent chamber music experience is so exciting. In real life, the music I make and manage and oversee is also fulfilling, but in a much different way. Working with volunteers (talented, lovely ones), I am producing music for their consumption and use (the church), and doing so at a level that works for them. The experience is often artistically fulfilling, but there can be a certain music-factory edge to it. In my trio, though, the three of us work and play and rehearse for each other, and expend our energy to a very common purpose, at a very equal level. [I need to spin this thread, to explain what that means to me, and I will, another time.] Suffice it to say that I find it very satisfying. The difficulty is making time and space for it in a life that also has me creating Orff ostinatos for 10-year-olds.

For many of us, doing what we love versus doing what we must is an occasional (or, constant) battle. My goal over the near-term is more love, less must. Less muss, too. And, unfortunately for my readers, a lot more fuss(-ing).

10 September 2010

Seat of the chair

"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." —Dorothy Parker

The editor at one of my freelance gigs loves this quote, and has a not-so-subtle way of sending it to me when I'm not meeting a deadline. I envy Parker's trove of quippy quotes ("I hate writing, I love having written" and "Writing well is the best revenge"), but like so many oft-repeated lines, they make me nervous. Partly because they're true, but ultimately because no one wants to become a cliche. At least I don't (and to the few of you are chuckling and saying, Oh but Scott, you already are: I know who you are, and I think you're mean, and I'm proud to know you).

I'm sitting on this chair, which was just completed yesterday, my father having sent me the beautiful slipcovers made to my specifications (my specifications: please, please, please make me some slipcovers). As I sit here, I look around at where I live, and realize not just how much I love it, but how I've set it up simply to have different places to perch, to read and write and think shallow thoughts. I've got the corner with this newly redone chair and a great reading lamp. In the bedroom there's a little walnut desk perfect for sitting at the computer. The round dining room table is perfect for spreading out a project, and it looks out on the porch, my ultimate favorite place to sit. And by next week my daybed will be complete, where I plan to spend hours curled up reading, ignoring deadlines and responsibilities. Of course, with all these perfect spots, you'd think I'd get more done, wouldn't you? But the piano is over there in that corner, demanding to be practiced (and my trio partners demand the same thing). The kitchen is in the opposite corner, and its demands of late have been unrelenting (Confidential to Mother Nature: Enough with the produce already. No one cares.). Then, out beyond the porch, the trails to the lake want to be run, often it seems. There are the shut-ins at the former group home to think about (that's not a mercy visit, by they way. They have a TV). And the boyfriend is around, and his little dog, too. And then there's the job; oh bother.

On the other hand, I just sat, pants in chair as required, and wrote this. Not the great American novel, but that's been done: time to roll up the shades, let the sun in, and open To Kill a Mockingbird.

01 September 2010

For art's sake

Well, kiddles, it's September, and because it's so (and it's weirdly cooler today, too; I don't know how they do that), it's time for some lurnin'. Today's subject: the 20th-century artist Leonard Baskin. Baskin (1922-2000) was a prolific American artist, a painter, sculptor, and print-maker whose work appears in the collections of important museums and galleries. Prints he made from his etchings, lithography, and woodcuts. One of those etchings, of William Blake (1963), now hangs in my home.

Because people like me, that's why. Though it's not an easy piece to look at, is it? I first wanted to hang it in the dining room, but reason intervened: the soup course might not go down so well with that face staring back at you. And yet, I love it, and was immediately reminded of Blake's poem, Mad Song:
The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs enfold! . . .
But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling beds of dawn
The earth do scorn.
Lo! to the vault
Of pavèd heaven,
With sorrow fraught,
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of Night,
Make weak the eyes of Day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with the tempests play,
Like a fiend in a cloud,
With howling woe
After night I do crowd
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east
From whence comforts have increased;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.
Perfect, then, to hang it over the daybed anchoring my little reading nook, where I expect to spend much time as the weather turns cooler, nestled among quilts and books and Blake's fiendish visage reminding me to get some actual work done, or else.

Thank you, HB, for the privilege of hanging Baskin's work in my home. I'll aim to be a good steward of it.

30 August 2010


The late summer bounty of vegetables results in many good meals—fresh tomato soup, tzatziki, gazpacho, pickled beets—filling up the refrigerator. LIKE
The refrigerator, full and evidently unhappy about it, begins an ominous ticking at 8pm last night. DISLIKE
Roy with Sears Appliance Repair is fast, courteous, and good at his job. LIKE
Replacing the control board costs just under $500. DISLIKE (duh)
A weekend of dinners, parties, and errand-running makes for a full couple of days. LIKE
The exhaustion from said outings results in a meltdown at Target. DISLIKED by all those around me
My boyfriend is smart, funny, cute, and capable of withstanding my subtle-as-a-hurricane personality. LIKE
The boyfriend witnesses the meltdown at Target (Me, repeatedly, out loud: I want a cookie. M, thought bubble above his head, silently: You're effing crazy). DISLIKE (or SHAME if you prefer)
Speaking of the boyfriend (we'll still just call him M): the world is better when we find someone so good. LIKE
We have been called lesbians for the speed at which this has developed. DIS. LIKE.
Discovering To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time (don't ask me how I missed it the first 42 years of my life; I don't know) is an unexpected pleasure. LIKE
Realizing the stack of summer reading hasn't diminished, thanks to that controlling Stieg Larsson (and yes, I gave up halfway through book three; I just quit caring), means that I've read less this summer than any other of my life. DISLIKE
Looking back on a crazy, adventure-filled summer: LOVE

27 August 2010

Woman of Substance

As you can imagine, the Going40 stamp of approval is a coveted imprimatur, and one not easily gained. So it is with a grand sense of occasion that I commend to you a new blog, written by a dear and very smart friend (The kind of smart that actually knows stuff, not just rattles on like he does. I'm frighteningly self-aware.) Where's My Trust Fund? is a personal finance blog that will be filled with provocative ideas and concrete solutions to help all of us live well, and within our means. Its writer has the experience, compassion, and common sense to make this quite a worthwhile project. Read it, bookmark it, share it, and join the Where's My Trust Fund? movement.

23 August 2010

Helping those who can't help themselves

So I have this friend who blogs, too (but not as well, so I don't feel threatened; and yes, I had her approve this before I added that bit). Her blog is pretty, and has nice pictures. Let's say it's about shuffleboard. Every time she sees a new shuffleboard, um, complex, she posts about it. Or if she learns a new set of shuffleboard rules, she writes something about those. She's developed quite a following, and it's a great way for her to be creative and to share her narrow expertise with others. And maybe she's not a she anyway. Maybe she's a guy. I digress, but confidentiality is very important to my work here. She's now faced with a dilemma: her blog is quite subject-specific (shuffleboard, remember?) but in the meantime her life is going in a dramatically different direction. For instance, let's say she has discovered that a mutant Barbie doll has been growing out of her pelvis for some time and it is now showing, so she's going to live in Transylvania for the foreseeable future, making a living selling soap (and frankly, that's not that far off the mark). Anyhoo. Her (and really, she kind of looks like a guy) question to me this weekend: can she just keep blogging about shuffleboard, not saying anything about the Barbie/Transylvania angle, or will her readers know something's up by the tone of her posts? And if she does acknowledge this major life change, how does she do so artfully and gracefully in a blog that has only been about shuffleboard (post after relentless post)? I thought, since my readers are way smarter than her readers (who are, I assume, octogenarians and their fetishists in Naples), we could offer up some advice as she faces this new chapter. Dear Readers, droplets of wisdom from your collective sweaty brow?

20 August 2010

An ordered existence

Don't judge me. Or do, makes no nevermind. As I unpacked books on to my beautifully rebuilt shelves, I realized a couple things. First, someone has my copy of David Rhodes' Driftless, and it is driving me crazy. The best book I've read in five years can't simply be gone. Give it back. I need to make M read it. As a test. Second, I realize how many books I love I simply don't own. I have utilized the library too damn much. But my third, greatest finding is this: it makes complete sense to me to arrange books by color. Before you all go running for your copy of The Care and Feeding of Books: Rules and Regulations for an Uptight World, hear me out. I have spent a lot of time with books over my 42 years (31 years if you go by my brother's aging algorithms); I have spent years working with them professionally, designing, editing and proofreading them. And I know this: I remember books by what they look like. I know that the cover of America America (Ethan Canin) is as pastoral as its title suggests (and completely anachronistic, given the sordid story contained therein). I remember that the swirling water on Swimming in a Monsoon Sea (Shyam Selvadurai) helped me overcome my revulsion of teal, and that the crisp white volume of We Regret to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Children (Philip Gourevitch) is a devastatingly effective setup for the genocidal horrors found within its pages.

So, with some exceptions (knitting books are segregated and stacked together because they're mostly ugly; cookbooks have their own shelves closer to the kitchen), my books are arranged not by author, subject matter, or genre. Black gives way to grey, and white has a shelf of its own. In the corner, red begins the march down the rainbow (which totally doesn't look gay when it's books, bytheby). I'm surprised I don't have more orange books, and I'd like to suggest that cover designers use blue only as a last resort; my shelves can't handle more indigo. My little library behind the piano looks good, and it makes me happy. But even better? I can name that title in one color, and hand it over to you to read and love. Just give it back when you're finished.

16 August 2010

Making a difference

Hullo. That's how I sound when I talk right now because I have a bad cohd. I'd also like to mention that I have two legitimate blog posts in process, but like the rest of you was demoralized beyond lethargy by the weather phenomenomenom of recent days. That is, the sucky, moist, hegemony-producing humidity of colonialism (because my geography is just sketchy enough to assume that all the Belgian and Dutch plundering happened along the equator). Still, I come by to say hullo because I realized a few minutes ago how much the world needs me: an Edina mom just interrupted her pedicure at Spalon to make her husband text me and tell me to blog already. That, my friends, is affirmation far greater than a Nobel, a Pulitzer, or a Bloggie. So hullo.

I mentioned a moment ago that I am on my deathbed. And yet, did a Door County cherry crumble just come out of the oven? It did indeed. Did I apply a coat of lemon oil to the beautiful walnut credenza in my dining room? I did that, too (Though actually, said dining room is more of a group therapy room right now. I don't have a dining room table, so the blue Eames chairs just sit staring at each other in a circle, waiting for folks to stop by and express their feelings). After a day of sniveling and gasping for breath and blowing my nose, I was revived this afternoon by a delivery of steaming hot delicious homemade chicken soup. By someone. Whose name may or may not begin with M. And who may or may not be occupying, of late, a bit some a lot of time otherwise spent blogging. So, for all of you who remember those early moments in your own lives when you cheerfully abandoned friendships for a bit while more interesting things percolated along, let me assure you Going40 is just such a friend. Let me also add that if you had bothered to memorize the summer poem from a couple weeks ago, your lives would also be good. Now has come, an easy time. I let it roll . . . . Indeed.

Yours in sickness, health, and so long as there's nothing more exciting around,


09 August 2010

News not fit to print

What's been happening with me? Nothing much at all. Which is a big lie, but a personal blog is hardly the place for self-disclosure. No, today I thought we'd catch up on the news. Reading the newspaper of record on the internets this morning,* I came across this gem. For those of you unable to make the link work (Hi, mom), I'll sum up: girls getting the breastses earlier. Like, at age seven and eight. That girls are going through puberty younger has been much discussed for years, but this new, er, development is cause for alarm. Researchers fear that increased hormone exposure from early puberty could lead to higher cancer rates. More immediately, the pscyhosocial impacts are very real: young girls are not women, even if their bodies indicate otherwise. And men are pigs.***

Fine. I leave it to all of you caring, thoughtful people to discuss the issue and its many ramifications. Out of earshot of me. The real value of this article, from my perspective, is finding new material to add to my list of words banned from the Going40 lexicon:****
  1. menstruation
  2. fat deposits
  3. budding
  4. sprouting
Parsing the news so you don't have to, I remain your humble, faithful servant.
*And, by the way, I hope you're all with me that it's really no longer necessary to touch newsprint. I know you think you're cool with the blue plastic bag outside your door on Sunday mornings, and that sitting in your Eames rocker in striped pajama pants, soy cap in hand, somehow mitigates the fact that your studied casualnesss is actually pretension and we can't see it oozing out of your loft walls. But it doesn't, and we can.**

**We're trying out footnotes instead of the usual long parenthetical (because even I sometimes lose my train of thought during the meandering, and then I have to put my finger on the screen where the sentence was interrupted so that I can find my way back to the main point. If there is one.) asides. It worked for David Foster Wallace. Until he died.

***I think you'll agree, after reading the short article, that my ability to so succinctly summarize years of complicated research may be my most enduring legacy.

****A list that, when complete, is going to make a rockin' picture dictionary.

04 August 2010

In celebration of summer

Yes, I've been away. Like great world leaders of generations past, I took to my western ranch for a working vacation. By working, I mean gin. Some time in the Montana mountains was evidently just what I needed to come back feeling lazier than ever. I did, however, make a recess appointment to the Going40 cabinet. Ann W, frequent commenter and renowned teacher of lit'rature, is our new Poetry Curator-in-Residence. I asked her to begin her term by sharing a poem that we can all memorize together, one that encapsulates this particular time of year, when summer is on the wane but we're not quite ready to think of autumn. Think of it as Going40 secret code: you're at a party; you recite a line from the poem out loud, as you're loading down your plate with macaroons. From across the room, someone you've never seen before echoes the line. You both pause and smile, and then, from down the street, you hear the stanza completed by the disembodied voice of a teenager going by on her longboard. Nirvana. So here, a poem by William Stafford:

Why I am Happy

Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens

I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
That lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.

And I know where it is.

17 July 2010

My zucchini is gay

First, the plant did produce, early and impressively. Since then? Nothing. Oh yeah, lots of show: big flowers that bloom, fall off, die. And still more blooms that never open, wither, fall off, die. Last night Farmer John explained the magic of pollination and how it ain't happening. It seems that the big showy male blooms are getting no attention, and that perhaps the female blooms are not putting out like they could. Something like that. How did I end up with the big gorgeous zucchini a couple weeks ago? Evidently a hetero worker bee stopped by earlier this summer so that there could be at least one offspring, but I would hazard a guess that it sensed the sexual ambiguity on my porch and told its friends not to bother. To sum up: there has been, lately, no sex on my porch. If I want more zucchini, I am faced with two choices, both fraught with moral and ethical tangles:

  1. Adoption (farmer's market is this Sunday, after all). But I can't know where the vegetables (because make no mistake, that is what we're talking about) came from, how they were raised, or whether they'll be any good as they get older. Sure, it mostly worked for my parents, though Steve works in Hollywood, Jennifer constantly asked strangers for gum, and Gretchen kept several full-sized, fully-dressed mannequins in her room for years. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a risky move.
  2. Artificial insemination. Again, so many unknowns. Legend has it that the turkey baster is the at-home method of choice, but doesn't that seem like wearing a prom dress to a picnic? I suppose I could go out with tweezers and grab some pollen, but let's face it: I don't know what goes where. Never have, don't need to learn now. 
It is possible—though I don't like saying it out loud—that this may be a summer with no more zucchini.

14 July 2010

Those walls won't paint themselves

That's a famous line, right? No? Anyway, here's the thing: they do. Well, kind of. Ferinstance, yesterday I get home from a grueling day at the office [hahahahahahaha] and Foster Dad has just finished rolling the wall of the living room. Big room now 40% complete! And, by the way, what do we call that room which is essentially entryhallkitchenlivingroomdiningroommusicroomreadingnook all in one? I refuse to call it a great room because I do not live in a town ending in Grove. Bedroom is easy. Master bath, got it. Half-bath (which I prefer to the ladies-who-lunch-like powder room). Laundry room, closets, porch. I have no idea why I just gave you a virtual word tour, but there you have it. The bulk of my space is unnameable.

I digress. Good friends (and good doesn't describe it: more like saintly) Muffi and Tim came over late last evening for the umpteenth time and did more of the nasty hard painting, and I did manage to get the third and final coat of paint on the Stunning Backsplash, but then I had to putter around looking useful and busy while they toiled. Seriously, I wiped the counters down about three times. I may be living in piles-of-boxes squalor, but it's c.l.e.a.n.

We are fast approaching the time when I have some critical decorating decisions to make. I will pretend to involve you and then just do what I already have planned in my head (though I will say Foster Mom made such a good suggestion last night that I have completely rethought the half-bath; you'll see the results soon in Dwell, I'm quite certain).

Onward, mostly-agnostic soldiers.

12 July 2010


Andre Previn's Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano reminds me a lot of America at the time it was written in the late twentieth century: full of opposing ideas, unsettled, unable to focus on a common goal, but lurching forward (in a beautiful, well-written way; I meant no disrespect, Mr. Previn) with a semblance of progress. Previn is particularly savvy using American idioms while maintaining his own distinct compositional voice, particularly in the jazz-inspired final movement. But in the midst of the thorny, difficult music, buried in the middle movement is this moment*: nine measures of simple, pure bliss.

You've all had those moments in music. Snippets of a piece, maybe even a whole song, that you want to hear over and over, that somehow transport you. I can think of dozens of them immediately, a few measures of Strauss' Morgen, the soloist's first entrance in Bach's cantata, Ich habe genug, or the climactic moment in Ravel's Sonatine. There are certainly as many such moments in jazz or pop music, too. When Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven was first released (you know, the one about his dead kid)? Couldn't stop playing it. Or even worse (I hate true confessions time): when I was in high school, I had a momentary lapse that resulted in an Amy Grant phase. I honestly don't remember the song, but know only that I played about 45 seconds of it over. and over. and over. I understand now that I was simply discovering the seductive power of suspended fourths, but still. I was smitten.

I thought of those measures in the Previn on my iPodless run early this morning (has anyone seen my earbuds, btw?), as I exited under the little bridge connecting Isles to Calhoun. If I had the little digital recorder I covet, I'd put up a sound file of them right here, and you'd be impressed with the value-added blog you're reading. But anyway, Lake Calhoun comes suddenly into view, and it's not a momentous scene, but it's calm and expansive and inviting, and it reminded me, almost viscerally, of those moments in music that hook us. I actually felt propelled around the lake by that single thought. Total peace. But I also get that my favorite measures, that inspiring moment, might do nothing for you, and that you, strangely, would be stoic and unmoved when faced with my Amy Grant fantasy. And I'd gamely listen to the minute or so of that song by Lady Gaga you love and not get it either (though not if it's Paparazzi because I totally love that). Music is cool that way, no?

*At rehearsal last night we joked that after those nine measures, which happily belong to the piano alone, the oboe and bassoon join me and we proceed to immediately ruin it. And it's true: it's almost as if Previn is embarrassed that he wrote such a simple, unadulerated lick. To rehearse the thorny stuff, we always had me start with the magic measures, just so we could indulge in them.

P.S. The Poulenc Trio's excellent recording includes the Previn, and some other great pieces my trio is also rehearsing.

10 July 2010

A good week for some favorite things

It's been awhile, no? We'll avoid the Big Favorites: family, friends, my home (I swear I'm in danger of losing my cynical chops—this simply can't continue). But, this adventure of a week has provided more than a few moments of pleasure in small, even mundane things; some old, some new, some rediscovered. And my new home is, going. to. be. awesome. You'll see, because you'll come to the housewarming party later this summer.

Anyway, this week I loved (and make your own list, and post it because then we can all copy each other and have tons of favorite things and then there can be world peace because we're all so busy loving favorite things that we'll forget that people can suck):

1. Murphy's Oil Soap
2. Black v-neck t-shirts
3. Brown rice
4. The last half of a run (conversely, the first half of most runs this week made me want to just give up and be that guy that Oprah has to cut the wall out to move on to a flatbed truck to be on the show)
5. Maple ice cream (even after all that)
6. 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets (I am a pampered gay. And a thrifty one, as they were ridiculously discounted at The Rack, so don't give me grief.)
7. Orange Marimekko
8. Model L, Serial # 376263, still and always (and because my biographers will need the information, the first hours back at my beloved piano I played Bach's second Partita, Andre Previn's Trio (because I have trio rehearsal Sunday night and yikes), and David Evan Thomas' "Heard on the Lake" from his Summer Night suite)
9. Basil still warm from the sun
10. Sherwin-Williams' Gray Clouds (in an eggshell finish, looks like hand-rubbed wax)


I'm practicing typing on an iPad. I have the original iPhone (iPhone Classic is what we prefer), and am trying to decide if I want to upgrade to the 4g iPhone or keep my museum-quality phone and get an iPad instead. I can't afford both (actually I can afford neither), but when I do decide to upgrade, it is only the comfort and convenience of you, my loyal readers, that matters most to me. Thoughts? Opinions? Preferences? Typing this only took a couple minutes. Certainly faster than on my phone, but slower than my MacBook.

06 July 2010

Domestic disturbance

It's not as though I can't cook. People generally like the food I prepare. More importantly, I feel comfortable in the kitchen: I can improvise, my technique is such that I rarely panic, I don't need to follow a recipe slavishly, and preparing good food well is enjoyable to me. Until tonight.

If you'd like to play along, prepare thusly: leave your house right now (seriously, get up and transfer to your mobile device); you can grab some clean underwear but that's about it. Next, have a toddler go into the kitchen and really mess stuff up. Switch the recipe drawer for the liquor cabinet. Put the plastic wrap where the refrigerator warranty stuff used to be, and throw out the wooden spoons altogether. Also, randomly pack up and haul away about half the kitchen equipment. Seriously: random. No rhyme nor reason to it—just get rid of some shit. If you want to simulate a few months away from cooking in your own kitchen (or at all), take a swig of liquid Vicodin. What, you don't have any? I have a big bottle left over from surgery, and I'm officially house-poor. Anyhoo.

Now you're ready to play. Let's make ice cream, shall we? We've had a hankering for frozen maple custard all day (even though we've never really heard of it and just picked it out of the ether). Besides, we got the Krups ice cream maker in the Settlement of the Unpleasantness, so best use it. Because we can't seem to remember how to operate this stove, let's just start right in. The maple syrup scorches very quickly, as we learn with about .000003 seconds to spare. We're also reminded—again in the nick of time—that when we pour the heavy cream into the syrup pan, chemistry happens. Those two are having what Foster Mom romantically calls redhotmonkeylovesex. We also note (this time too late) that we don't seem to have an oven mitt anymore, the handle of the pan is sehr hot, and the kitchen towel on the counter is Brawny.

A good step to do ahead of time would have been to whisk the eggs so that we're ready to pour the hot maple cream over them in a thin steady stream, whisking constantly. WE DON'T HAVE A WHISK??? We use a plastic fork, and get decent results. The custard is smooth and ready to pass through a strainer into a large bowl. You think we don't have a strainer? Wrong; we totally have one, and it's right there. We just don't have a large bowl. Except the one the the hot custard is already in. So we'll pour custard back in the pan and wash the one bowl we seem to have (and can I just say that I have, or have had, every piece of kitchen equipment known to humankind? I've got egg cups shaped like chickens for pete's sake). The custard is actually quite velvety and beautiful and smells like French toast.

Because we must chill the custard before freezing in the machine, we'll create an ice bath in the sink. We'd love just to fill the sink with cold water, but our sink only produces hot water (and someone else was supposed to get that fixed. Love you!). Instead we go fill a plastic tub (okay, the garbage can from the half bath) with cold water from the bathtub. We add ice, throw the bowl in, and make ourselves a gin and tonic (in that we wave the tonic bottle over the tumbler as a thurifer might cense the high altar).

All that remains is to freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Super easy, until we realize that in the past, someone else always did this step, and we have no idea how the three pieces of the ice cream maker fit onto the base. We, of course, have no idea where the manual for this machine might be, and we don't have that kind of time anyway. If nothing else, this affords us the opportunity to spill some custard on the counter and wipe it up with our tongue. Dang it's good. Really good. It's possible I can still cook, even while insane.

P.S. Am I aware that this photo is ridiculous? Yes, I am, and actually have another that's quite lovely. But how often do we get to combine halogen bulbs and carnival glass to look like some kind of dessert-oriented spaceship?

05 July 2010

Initial observations

Independent living is hard!

Because I can't imagine what it must be like for those of you who must suffer on the sidelines without knowing every detail of my life, a review of Day One of the Independent Living Experiment:

The day dawned hot and humid (I'm still gunning for the Bulwer-Lytton Hall of Fame); I got up at about 5:30am, showered, loaded the car, stopped at Jackson's for coffee, and got HOME at about 7am. It was a soft landing, no outrageous emotion, and the place was clean and bright and ready (which made for a really gratifying homecoming). A friend showed up a few minutes later with McDonald's breakfast, Chicago mix popcorn (a vat of it), and 3 packs of Kowalski's iced ginger cookies (it was not a healthy eating day), and he started in washing windows because he wanted to. I mostly puttered from project to project not getting huge amounts of anything done. Another friend came over with an armful of bright orange Gerbera daisies, scrubbed the top of the kitchen cupboards (for hours, literally), changed my HVAC filter, and scrubbed down the laundry room. Yet another friend (sense a theme?) showed up with lunch, and proceeded to spend about six hours painting all the trim in both bathrooms. McDonald's Breakfast Friend (he will love his new nickname) painted two coats on the kitchen backsplash and it is so fricking stunning (you will need to come see it for yourself; I am the king of clever). I cleaned the closet really well and started organizing and unpacking it. I have so much room to put everything just so: a drawer for lightweight dress socks, a drawer for athletic socks, a drawer for wool socks. That sort of thing. When everyone left at about 6pm (which made me wonder if they were all gathering for cocktail hour offsite, to debrief and pat each other on the back for getting away from the headache that is me), it was very. quiet. I freaked out for a few minutes, not sure what to do. Dead silent. Freaky silent, actually. So I ate the dinner brought to me, and went for a nice walk around Lake of the Isles. When I got home later that evening, a good friend was sitting on my porch. We poured some champagne, and he talked and asked questions in a gentle way to get me crying a bit, and then we had a very helpful (I'm not kidding) ceremony. He had brought over sandalwood incense, and we walked around each room, smudging all the corners, and he had me state what I was grateful for, and what my intentions were, and we both recognized the complete hocus-pocus absurdity of it at the same time recognizing the very real help symbolic gestures are in mimicking the work and intent behind what we want our lives to be. It was the best hour of the week. We sat out on the porch until late, and I showered, went to bed and slept like a baby. Days 2-4 have proven to be less eventful, but productive and healthy and good. I'm glad to be home.

01 July 2010

Habitat for Humanity


Habitat = Midtown Lofts


Humanity = Me

The migration begins Friday morning, at the start of a holiday weekend, when everyone either has plans, is out of town, or blowing off their hands with firecrackers. I will be more than content to spend the weekend on my much-anticipated projects: cleaning, painting (every. square. inch), rearranging. If, in the spirit of service (and really, the spirit of America), you have an hour or two to paint a small square, wipe down a counter, or sit and talk to me while I do that, consider yourself invited. Just think, if all my loyal blog readers lent a hand, how long would it take me to paint the entire space? Yeah, a long time.

But seriously, so many of you have asked what you can do to help; here it is. If you'd like to hang out for a bit, and help with a project or three, I'd love to see you. I can promise only this: you won't have to lug boxes, and that when the place is all put together, we'll have a hell of a housewarming party. Shoot me an email (scott.rohr@gmail.com) if you'd like to come by, but know that you are welcome anytime over the coming weeks, and not just to work. I can't wait to welcome you to my home.

30 June 2010

Skills test

As you know, I have been training to live independently for several months and have learned many new skills. A few of note:

1. I have learned how to stay up way past a normal human's bedtime. In the olden days, I would turn in around 10:30, maybe read until 11:00. Child's play. Now? The foster parents have taught me that life (or their version of it) doesn't really begin until 10:00, and the day really gets going about midnight. This makes the getting up at 6:15am to go for a walk kind of tough, but I've done it, almost every day. In other words, I'm seriously behind on sleep.

2. Thanks to Foster Mom's specific and unwavering instructions, I can now make perfect tea:

a. Bring cold water to a boil. For some kinds of tea, we let it sit for a minute after boiling.
b. Add six scoopies of the good loose tea (all measurements are for the big white pot; other measurements become necessary for the blue and red pots).
c. Pour the water over the loose tea; set the timer for four minutes (five if it's the tea that looks like dried eels).
d. Remove the tea holder thingy from the pot; add four sugar cubes and a quarter cup of 2% milk.
e. Stir with a large chopstick, and pour.

3. Alternatively, I have observed that Diet Coke is an appropriate beverage for any time of day or night or activity. I have declined to participate in this rite (and, by the by, completely gave up drinking soda three months ago).

4. I am powerless in the face of Rustica bittersweet chocolate cookies. While I had always suspected this, the valupacks that enter the group home are dangerous to me. The solution seems to be storing them in the foster parents' bedroom, which I don't enter unless invited so as not to stumble upon the redhotmonkeylovesex.

5. How Was Your Day is the most important activity a family can do together, and every family needs to follow the custom. Every day, no exceptions. The rules are easy: when all the inhabitants are in soft clothes at the end of the busy day, someone asks "How was your day?" And then someone else answers, and conversation ensues.

6. If you have a dirty dish that needs to go in the dishwasher, you should just leave it on the counter, because you'll likely put it in the dishwasher incorrectly. This is a rule I've understood for many years, and am unsure how to apply to an independent living situation.

7. Canadian design shows are far superior to Lower American design shows. In particular, Sarah's House is must-see TV.

8. Friends and neighbors dropping by to chat make life civilized and meaningful. So do good foster parents, and I've had the best.

29 June 2010

A bundle of nerves

I took some time, as some of you have noted, to let my post about, and my memories of Viggo have some room to breathe. And during that time I have been grateful for your kind responses and the ways in which you have reached out to me. These past days have been less about blog as narrative arc and more about blog as community, and I am thankful for those who have surrounded me. Everyone should have that.

When we describe someone as "a bundle of nerves," we aren't being complimentary, are we? Because lordhavemercy that is me this week. My inability to sit still borders on the comical. I do some work, I play the piano, I walk, I run, I waste time on the computer, I daydream. Rinse and repeat. I am filled with equal parts excitement and dread, the upcoming move this weekend stirring in me thoughts about finality and change (thoughts that don't always manage to make sense to me, or represent any sort of cogent story). Even writing a short blog post feels like an impossible task: quick grab some random words out of the ether before they escape! Make sense of them later.


Is change always this rough? If you're a hyper-active guy with mild OCD and a fair amount of anxiety, I suppose. If you've imbued this weekend (or had it imbued for you by circumstance) by Much Portent and Meaning, then certainly. Stick with me: this too shall pass.

21 June 2010

A Remembrance

It is not a joke, or at least not a funny one, when I say that on Sunday of That Week I started a new job, on Tuesday my relationship ended, and on Thursday my dog died. But I can't help but laugh nervously when I recount it, because it's so completely absurd. I have processed (ugh, aren't we so, so, so tired of that word) a lot since then, but I have held a bit at bay. And I know I will cry the entire time I'm writing this, because I already am. It's stupid, I suppose, to force myself to do this, but it's one of the things I told myself I had to accomplish before I could move back to Midtown Lofts. I can't make a new home there until I've said goodbye to what won't be there when I return.

This is Viggo. This is our baby, we'd say. We were a typical childless, indulgent, 21st-century couple when it came to our dog. We spoiled him and talked to him, and talked about him, and took pictures of him, and bought him toys we knew he'd destroy in minutes. We went on long walks and runs with him, and let him offleash to chase bunnies on the greenway and fish at the lake (he could catch neither). He was exuberant and exasperating. He would sit by the side of the bed, his whines turning to full-fledged cries until I would kick up the duvet with my leg and he would hop onto the mattress, curl up and spend the night under the covers, his nose sticking out the foot of the bed only if it was a really warm night. He had no interest in getting up in the morning, and after we took him outside and he ate his breakfast, he was ready to go back under the covers for a couple more hours. After that he was a holy terror for the rest of the day.

Viggo was a very good dog. And he could be a very bad dog (see Indulgent Owners). He was the most beautiful Vizsla anyone had ever seen. He sat absolutely still—like a statue—on the front porch while people walked by, almost all of them commenting on his regal bearing. He howled on the first Wednesday of every month, at 1pm, as the tornado sirens were tested. Because he wasn't much of a howler, his attempts often ended in a cough, and he'd stare at me like it was my fault. Eric enjoyed tying our kitchen towels under his chin like a kerchief, and Viggo became the Polish grandmother we never had. Viggo enjoyed this not at all.

These pictures of him are the first I've looked at since he died, and seeing them is still almost more than I can bear. It will be a while before I can look at the many dozens hundreds of others I have. I can't write about the last few days and weeks of his life, except to say that he was a stunningly active, healthy six-year-old dog and he should still be here with me. His chin should be resting on my arm while I'm typing, and he should be grunting in annoyance while I play with his ears.

As much as I adored Viggo, I won't have another dog for a long time. My heart isn't big enough for another dog, because I still love Viggo so. I sometimes wonder if he knew that life was about to get very complicated, and bowed out gracefully, sparing us the one division of property that would have been impossible. That, besides making me sob uncontrollably (aren't you glad this isn't a video blog?) is also crazy-dog-person talk.

I am grateful for the years I had with my little family, and I miss it more than you can know. Hug your partner, and hug your kids, and hug your dog. There is no cynicism here, nor a clever ending. There is only love.

They shall be called my disciples.