I saw "What Did You Expect?"

I saw “What Did You Expect?” off-Broadway at the Public Theater on Lafayette in NYC.


What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots, gray mid-rise straight-legged jeans, black Lilith tank, black ATM cotton blouse, black Helmut Lang loose-knit sweater, gray and lime green Marimekko scarf, eye-makeup, ponytail, a look of bewilderment.


What I did beforehand: took a MetroNorth train to Grand Central, went to the dentist for that bad news, looked at my favorite Baby Jesus at the Morgan Library, ate, walked, counted the unsmiling people on Park Avenue (57 out of 60), talked to a guy with a dog named Barry (who did not give me high-five), arrived early at the theater, discovered I’d bought two tickets, called The Graduate to try to convince him to join me. 


Who went with me: 160 white strangers.

How I got tickets: online, with a member’s discount.

Why I saw this show: it’s the second part of the Gabriels play cycle: election year in the life of one family, by Richard Nelson. Part one was “Hungry,” and my favorite play so far this year.

Where I sat: Row B seat 103, between an empty seat and a couple who knew the women behind me actors who’ve been friends since they met in a play where they were the only women in the cast, back in 1979. One of them misremembered the name of the man as “Donald,” and had to tell him twice that it was all on account of politics. 

Things that were sad: I think I expected to like this play as much as the first of the cycle. But I didn’t. It had all the same elements: the same set, the same actors, the same playwright.  It had similar moments of great poignancy. But it didn’t sock me in the jaw with its verisimilitude, as the first had. It would be almost impossible to have done. So it will have to come in second place, behind the first. And, of course, I can hardly wait for the third and last play in the cycle, to open in November. 

Things that were funny: I objected to the way one character cut onions.

Things that were not funny: there is a man running for President of the United States of America with the full backing of one of our two main political parties that is overtly and proudly xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, tax-avoiding, bankruptcy-exploiting, fat-bashing, inarticulate, unprepared, unqualified, ungrammatical, and mean-spirited. And we have to take him seriously. 

What it is: a play, lasting one hour and forty-five minutes, without intermission. It features actors cooking and kitchen-table story-telling with some well-timed cussing, covering themes of economic inequality and the quiet desperation and loneliness of modern life. It includes a master class on script-writing, props and costuming, and features a cast of actors so subtle and real and honest in their performances that they tower above almost every other cast currently performing in New York. 

Who should see it: anyone who missed “Hungry.” Anyone who should have seen “Hungry.” Aspiring playwrights. Residents of Rhinebeck, New York. 

What I saw on the way home: it was very late. I stepped off the train with a chatty woman wearing a colorful scarf who wanted to go together to our cars. We had parked in different lots, and each of us had to walk alone. 

I saw "Hungry" (Part 1)

What I saw: “Hungry (Play 1 of 3 The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family)” at the Public Theater, at 425 Lafayette St in NYC, west of the East Village, East of NYU, south of Union Square, North of Houston St

What I wore: custom black Vogel tall dress boots, safari tan full-seat Pikeur breeches, long-sleeved black polo shirt, zippered Ibex cardigan, Baker-trimmed black quilted jacket


What I did beforehand: rode a horse, drove to the city, ate a bagel, walked to the subway squinting the whole way because I left my sunglasses in the apartment, rode the wrong subway with a guy eating stinky, used the spacious and welcoming bathroom at the theater

Who went with me: my readers

How I got tickets: online, $10 off because I allow some theater companies to send me spam

Why I saw this show: family drama, politics and set in Rhinebeck? Pick me!

Where I sat: near the desk in the kitchen, front row

Things that were sad: characters in this play express their grief about a recent death  

Things that were funny: families are funny, good writing about how families talk in their kitchens is funny

Things that were not funny: many working class people today are not doing better, despite the news that economy has improved.

What it is: first of a three part play, set March 4, 2016, about the very real economic struggles of various family members in an election year, with cooking. Better than “The Humans.” Parts 2 and 3 to open in September and then November.

Who should see it: everyone

What I saw on the way home: a guy on the subway with a bag of chihuahuas

Looking For The Joy of RageCooking

Cookbook Shelfie

Lately I’ve been dreaming about cooking. Last night, I dreamed I made little chicken and pesto pizzas, the size of dessert plates; this is something I’ve never done. The night before, it was mashed potatoes. I was using a potato ricer, and a whisk. It was so mundane, so plausible. I know how to make mashed potatoes, but I only do it when my husband isn’t around to mash the potatoes. I “don’t know how” to grill meat or mash potatoes. I “will never learn” to grill meat or mash potatoes. A few days before, I dreamed I was making bread, and I watched my hands doing the specific real steps I follow. Methodical. When did my dreams get so boring?

I woke each time irritated by such dreams. I often resent cooking. Thoughts about dinner interrupt my afternoon. I feel like a hundred stories have gone unwritten, and ten novels unstarted because I was running to the store for green beans. When we lived in Seattle, I didn’t feel it was necessary to cook every day. There was always pizza to order (and it was good pizza). Or Thai food. Or Indian. Or sushi.  Too bad I wasn’t writing much then.  

The first year in New York, I was way out in North Dreadful, where the pizza we could get delivered was only so-so, and there was nothing else. I got online recipes and learned to make easy new things like Brussels sprouts, and hummus, and rack of lamb, and how to turn Sunday’s roast chicken into Monday’s salad, Tuesdays tacos, Wednesday’s soup. I started writing more.

Then the next year we were in the city, where cooking was a rare but important production, with a lot of planning, like a single night run of an off-off Broadway play. I did a whole Thanksgiving with turkey and stuffing and sides in a loft apartment kitchen, and I wrote every day. It was better than a village’s dragon; it was like a quest to face the biggest dragon in the kingdom. I wrote about my mother, who hated cooking and had a limited repertoire of dishes, including creamed chipped beef on English Muffins, and lasagna. I wrote a young person’s novel about a girl in New York, and she ate a lot of take-out, too.

As an antidote to the ravages of city living, we rented a house in the country, and while I was supposed to be working on a second draft, I started ragecooking. I’d signed up for a CSA, and found myself chopping a lot of vegetables I did not normally eat and wondering why I’d signed up for a CSA. I mean, kohlrabi? Turnips? Kale and more kale?
I celebrated my annoyance with the hashtag #ragecook. I cussed and took pictures and tweeted.

People liked the #ragecook tweets better than my normal tweets. Especially when something burned, or was nasty, like an ostrich egg. Ragecooking means that the lentils that turned to mush have immediate value. I can lose it washing sandy leeks or peeling uncooperative turnips, or scouring burnt tomato sauce off a French enamel pan, tweet about it, and move on.

I am probably a better cook now than I was before I moved. I am still disappointed when the mushroom soup is good but not amazing, or the bread is crusty but still better toasted.  Writing remains hard, especially revising. I think I need writing appointment with the gravity of dinnertime. At this time every day, I will sit down and write. Just like dinnertime.

Now we own a house and are unpacking for real. I opened the last box of books a couple of weeks ago, and proved to myself that my collection of cookbooks is gone. It felt like a disaster; I’d been waiting to see them for 4 ½ years, making do with a growing pile of Internet recipes I’d printed out. Maybe I gave the cookbooks away when I was giving books to the Seattle Public Library used book sale. I gave away more than 30 boxes of books. It could have happened. Maybe I meant to give them all away, reasoning that I barely used cookbooks anymore. I was so excited for our great adventure, moving to New York. It could have happened. Maybe the cookbooks are packed in another, mislabeled box, not a book box, but a bigger box, mixed in with the as yet missing fireplace tools and missing speakers and subwoofer. Maybe they were in one of the boxes that disappeared from storage in Connecticut.

In the very last box of books I opened, I did find one and only one cookbook, the Joy of Cooking, 7thEdition, which is pretty much not the worst cookbook to have as your one and only. But I was missing my older, original Joy of Cooking, the 6th edition, published in the late 70s; it had a recipes for making aspic and cooking the paw of a bear. It was the cookbook I learned to cook from, and it has gravy splashed on the turkey-roasting page. And I was missing The Silver Palate cookbook, and that Julia Child book, the white one with the red letters, what was it called?

How was I to recreate that shelf of cookbooks that got packed up 4 ½ years ago? Which ones did I actually use anyway? Did that matter? I used Thriftbooks.com to find that Julia Child book, and The Silver Palate, and one or two others, as my memory was tickled.

Thriftbooks had some copies of the Joy, but not, it seemed, the edition I was looking for. I wanted the one I learned to cook from. It’s the 6th edition. I got it in the early 80s. It had a recipe for cleaning and preparing the paw of a bear. I will never clean or cook the paw of a bear, but I want that book. I want all the post-its that saved my place. I want the shopping lists and the stains. I want my sarcastic comments about the biscuit recipe in the margins. Somewhere out there is my old Joy of Cooking with the recipe for the bear paw. I can’t get it back. But I can look for the same edition. I went to Ebay.

Funny thing about Ebay. I was an early convert to Internet shopping, way back on Amazon in their first years of operation, in the late 90s, where I bought music and hard to find classic children’s books. But I never found a reason to buy anything from Ebay, so I never did.

But I was determined to set aside the sadness I was feeling about my missing cookbooks, and found on Ebay what looked like a very decent copy of the 6th edition Joy of Cooking. I babysat my bid. By the end of the day I had the thing, and for less than my maximum. Hooray for winning! A couple of weeks later I had my book, packaged in a nest of broken chunks of styrofoam in a surprisingly long and odd box.  The first thing I did was look for the recipe for the bear paw and it was not there. It was the wrong edition after all. Though on Ebay it was clearly marked with the publication date of 1979, the book I bought was the 7th, from 1997.

I will pass it along as a gift to my middle child at Xmas, but I’m disappointed. Not exactly angry, just a little sad.

Fucked Up Chocolate Cheesecake

One Thanksgiving, when I was just a kid, I heard the oven timer go off, and I turned off the oven. That’s what you did, I reasoned. You hear it ring, and turn it off. It was still early in the day. I’m not sure why I stepped in like that, and turned off the oven, but by and by my mother realized the oven timer hadn’t been ringing and she hadn’t been basting. She found the raw, pale turkey in a cold, cold oven, and she was pretty fucking pissed. I don’t think I told her I did it; I think I let her think she forgot to turn on the oven. Dinner was delayed, I guess. I don’t remember what else happened.
My favorite, all-time cooking fuck-up story was the chocolate cheesecake. My parents belonged to a dinner group that got together monthly or quarterly or something, with rotating hosts, and some discussion and planning amongst the wives about the menu each time. These were my dad’s rich friends from high school, now all grown up with wives and children. These friends drank and smoked cigars at dinner group parties. I got my first glimpse of caviar. C—— smoked a pipe! N—– walked into our screen door and took the skin off the end of her nose but was so drunk it didn’t hurt.
It was our turn to host. My mother made chocolate cheesecake but somehow before she got it in the oven to bake she threw the whole thing into the fridge, where it set up quite nicely.
When it came time to serve it, my mother cut a couple of pieces and I picked up two plates of that rich brown chocolate cheesecake and walked out of the kitchen backwards through the swinging door into the dining room and served the first two female guests, as I had been taught, and in the moment of the door swinging shut and me passing back into the kitchen for more, my mother let out a gasp: a big, “Oh, fuck!” kind of gasp.
But this was my mother, and she was clever and quick. The only thing to do was serve the unbaked chocolate cheesecake anyway.

The cream cheese needs to soften

Not Fucked Up Chocolate Cheesecake
Step one is, you have to let 3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese soften on the counter without any helpful people putting them in the fridge; I suggest a threatening sticky note.

Step two is, preheat the oven to 325F.
Step three is crushing chocolate cookies with a hammer or spoon or whatever until you have about 1 ½ cups of coarse crumbs. You can use what my mother used, the Famous Chocolate Wafers. Me? I had to buy the ingredients at a small NYC natural foods store, so I’m using chocolate animal graham crackers. I left them in the sealed bag and smashed them for a while. Or you can use about 18 Oreos, either with or without the white stuff scraped off. When you think your crumbs are fine enough, add 4 T melted butter and mix. Press this into the bottom of a 9” springform pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Don’t burn the chocolate

While this bakes, melt 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate; I used the microwave. Many recipes have warnings about not burning chocolate when you melt it. I know I did it once, and it was terrible, because it smells funny and separates and shit. Don’t burn your chocolate, people. Melt it, and allow it to cool.
Next, beat your 3 8 oz. packages of softened cream cheese, 1 c sugar and 1 t vanilla (unless you, like me, refuse to actually measure vanilla and just pour some in). Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. If you have a mixer, do it on low and don’t over beat it. If you’re in a tiny NYC apartment and are doing it by hand, pretend it’s your arms day. Yesterday I couldn’t bear to go to the gym in the building and be around all the sweaty youngsters so I walked the stairs. High rise workout, bitches. Mix in the chocolate.
When your concoction is smooth, pour it over the cooled cookie crust bottom thing.
Use a sharp knife to cut it

Step whatever: bake 45 minutes or until the center is almost set. Even though my mother served it refrigerated and unbaked, that’s a lotta raw eggs, and you don’t wanna make people sick. Bake your damned cheesecake. Leave in pan and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Fuck topping it with strawberries.
My mother’s favorite part of the story was the part where M—– called the next day to ask for the recipe. She debated whether to say the part about baking it.

Truth and Barbecue Sauce

I am still of two minds about many things, like requiringvaccinations, or eating dogs, or the Westboro Baptist Church, but I’m not undecided about the Internet right now. Right now, I am still thinking the Internet is awesome. The Internet makes communities for people who would otherwise have none, and that’s great.

Of course, Facebook is on my shit list at this moment, but one thing I’m liking is Laura Olin’s Everything Changes newsletter. It appears in my email a couple of days a week. It is usually short. It is often different. The past two days she has asked simply what I’m thinking about. Not just me, of course, but me and everyone else who subscribes and responds. She will collect the data in a few more days, I think, and present it back to us, her readers.
The day before yesterday when I opened it I had just looked at a picture of a jar of homemade barbecue sauce and I was still thinking about barbecue sauce. So that was my reply, “barbecue sauce.”
Yesterday, I was closing Twitter, and glanced at a picture of that state senator who compared women to inferior cuts of meat, and someone had made a graphic with him and a rack of ribs smothered in barbecue sauce so when I glanced at my email again and was asked the same question, my honest reply was, again, “barbecue sauce.”

The thing is, I don’t even really like barbecue sauce very much. I mean it’s ok. It has its place. I certainly do use it when I eat ribs. But I don’t keep it around to put on fries or sandwiches or anything. If I have some in my fridge, it’s leftover from the last time I made ribs.
But now I’m dwelling on barbecue sauce, so my mind leaps to the staple of my teenage years: barbecued chicken.
My mother did not enjoy cooking. Really, my mother resented cooking. She had a book called the “I hate to cook cookbook.” She served Spaghettios for dinner without apology. We regularly had creamed chipped beef on toast. She cut the Carl Buddig processed meat with scissors to make it. We ate canned peas.
We had a gas grill, built in, next to the house, out near the patio. It was surrounded by ivy on the ground and climbing the walls of the house and a walkway to the side porch. Somewhere I have a picture of my mother holding the tongs and a bottle of barbecue sauce, standing next to the grill. I took this picture. She is tilting her head and giving me a cheesy grin. Someday I might find that picture again.
The grilling of the chicken was a regular event. It was the one thing she seemed to resent less than chicken piccata (hammered thin with fury and served over brown rice), or spaghetti (in a red sauce that had slices of carrots but no garlic), but I’m pretty sure flank steak was still easier. Nothing really justifies how much barbecue chicken she made. Maybe she was just trying to get outside.
One time, the cylindrical base of the gas grill rusted through suddenly, right at the bottom, while she was barbecuing. She opened the lid to turn the chicken and the weight of the lid sent the whole grill groaning backwards. My mother said that the chicken all fell into the soot-blackened lid, and burning gas flames shot twenty feet into the sky. I can see it all vividly: the blackened, half-cooked chicken breasts, Mom snatching them with tongs and putting them in a Pyrex dish. I can still summon the scorched ivy on the side of the house.
The truth is, I’m not sure I was there to see any of it. Why do we remember things that happened as if we were there?

North Dreadful

The next day

Thursday afternoon we went for a dog walk, and while we were out it got even hotter and more humid. When we arrived home, we jumped in the pool. I put my iPhone well away from the water because we all know that iPhones are easily ruined and had to get out of the pool to answer my phone when it rang.
There is a certain style of customer service which is employed for especially valuable customers, either to handle a high profile person or to remedy a past problem. I received the call and immediately heard the urgency in her voice and went inside to take notes.
In her eagerness to help me, “Deb” kept accidentally calling me by my first name, then hurriedly correcting herself and calling me “Mrs….” As it turns out, we are just high profile enough, and had just enough of a problem to fall into both categories, so “Deb” was giving it her all and going to fix everything.
At the same time I started getting texts from my husband, the Medium Cheese (he is why we warrant the special treatment). I had to juggle the phone, continuing with “Deb” and letting the Medium Cheese know that he was making my iPhone buzz in my ear during my phone call. My texts to him say, “Getting smothered right now…like a Persian cat rubbing your legs right after you slathered them in lotion.”
By the time our conversation was finished, I was shivering and took a hot shower. We even had plans to go out to dinner. I got out of the shower to find the house was fully engulfed in a violent storm, with thunder, high winds and driving rain. In the midst of texting the Medium Cheese (who was on his way home on a Metro North Train) about the storm, the power went out.
I next wrote, “The long conversation with the Persian cat means my phone is almost dead.”
The Medium Cheese’s train then stopped. “We will have to sit in Chappaqua ’for a few minutes,’” he wrote. “Which means they don’t know.”
The source of the delay was a tree on the tracks, and I was advised to fetch the Medium Cheese from the train station in Chappaqua.
Turning right out of our driveway we encountered the first downed tree across the road almost immediately, at the top of our next-door neighbor’s driveway. Reversing, we discovered another mess of downed trees tangled in power lines about a quarter mile in the other direction. There was another way out, and we took it, but our way was blocked by another large tree which had pulled down the power lines. We reversed again, and made our way on the last possible route. This final attempt ended when we found the road blocked by a very large tree, about two miles from the red barn where we live. The Medium Cheese had to find his own way back. We were trapped.
The only way back was to re-trace our route, and when we got there we got busy lighting candles and deciding what we would eat, given that the dinner plan had been to eat out so we had nothing on deck. We ate the potstickers from the freezer and as much ice cream as we could. 
The Medium Cheese never made it home. His train was over an hour late, but he couldn’t get past the downed trees from the other direction, either. He went and found a hotel.
I checked the NYSEG web site before bed (having mostly recharged my phone in the car), and saw their estimate that the power on my road would be restored by 3:00 pm the next day. This gave our minor emergency an ending, in the near future, and made the situation seem like a non-event.
We woke to a stuffy, quiet house. I was quite awake before six, and walked a dog, and checked on the status of the fallen trees. Overnight road crews had removed the obstacles and our daily newspaper had been delivered. We cooked up all the bacon and fried some eggs, hard-boiling the rest of the dozen. I checked the NYSEG web site and it had changed the status of our repair to the next day, in the afternoon. The non-event felt like a minor emergency again.
In the afternoon I drove to the airport to pick up our oldest son and he had more friends with him than I had anticipated, so we drove home to our hot, dark house with an over-full car. I gave the houseguests a lesson in flushing toilets with a bucket of water from the swimming pool, and we all had a specific disappointment: there would be no hot showers despite a many-hour plane ride from Europe. Not long after this disappointment, I checked the NYSEG web site and found that the status of our road’s power outage repair had changed from the next day to a blank. I called NYSEG at this point, and spent 25 minutes on hold. I was told that the time was not posted because they no longer knew when power would be restored. We ate out.
That night, I woke at 1:57 am, very hot. I thrashed around for quite a bit, and then my phone rang at 2:25 am. I made motions to answer it, but saw it was a “425” number and decided it was a wrong number. I have had this number for almost two years, but I still get wrong number calls for the old owner of it. I imagine that someday each of us will have one number for our whole lives, but for now, I will still get calls for “Brian.”
I checked the NYSEG site then, and it was still blank.
I managed to get back to sleep.
For breakfast there was coffee (using a French press and bottled water and lighting the gas stove with a match to boil water) and cereal with less-than-ice-cold milk from the cooler. After a few hours of lying around we rallied and went to the grocery store.
On the way we had to detour around the first work crew, addressing the downed trees and power lines closest to our house. A NYSEG crew had commenced work despite the lack of a planned time of completion. We met the second NYSEG crew at work on the other mess of trees and power lines, and we were told by the only guy who didn’t look busy (the grumpily scowling guy standing in the road with no gear, no uniform, no helmet and no sign), “Road closed. You gotta go the other way.” 
I told them to hurry.

Also the next day

How cold and bright and startling is the American supermarket after a few days of no electricity! We replenished the drinking water supply and planned to barbecue. It had come time to buy plastic forks and paper plates as well, since we had run through the dish supply.
I think it was at this point, after the grocery store run but before the power came back that I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. Back when I was teaching at my last teaching job, I used to hear the sounds that high school girls make when they drop their mobile phones in the toilet. My classroom was across the hall from a bathroom, and while they were never supposed to take out their phones except during lunch, they often took advantage of the privacy of a closed bathroom stall. As for me, I did not scream.
As we re-stocked the food shelves and re-organized the coolers, a scheme was devised whereby the overflowing sink full of dishes would be washed by hand using pool water. All of the big pots were filled and set on the stove to boil. The sink was about half full of hot water when the light in the kitchen changed. The hood above the range had come on, for power had finally been restored.
My husband, the Medium Cheese, is also a Relentless Troubleshooter, and by the time we got down to making that dinner, my calls had been forwarded to another phone, and my profile fully installed. It feels almost like magic when technology works, and your pictures and contacts and apps are all there in the new handset. It reminds me that the iPhone is, for me, a nearly perfect device, with exactly three flaws: the battery life is too short, it is not waterproof, and it is made by workers who work under conditions so dire they must be prevented by nets from throwing themselves from their dormitory windows.

Storm victim found in road


The Bissell House

The Bissell House Restaurant
Last Tuesday night we headed over to Vox, one of the two other restaurants in North Dreadful, only to find it closed. We forget that in this sleepy little town the only way small business owners can have lives is to do things like be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Undeterred, we continued along Route 116 which crosses into Connecticut. I get haircuts and pet food in Connecticut and the Ridgefield area reminds me of parts of suburban St. Louis, where I grew up. I was pretty sure that on the main street in Ridgefield we would find an open restaurant.
Hand Stretched
House Made
and Tomato Salad
The Bissell House offers outdoor seating and a busy little platoon of young wait staff. I believe that during our meal we were helped by no less than seven different servers, all of them trim, young, forgettable and slightly confused.  The server who took our order had not yet mastered the art of making a subtle expression of comprehension when taking the order, and I found myself reading her the entire name of the dish and pointing at the menu at the same time. I actually said, while pointing, “I’ll have the ‘Hand Stretched House Made Mozzarella and Tomato Salad,’ please.” I also had a fish dish off the sheet of specials: Arctic Char wrapped in something served over rice and broccoli and a bed of stir-fry veggies which turned out to be a mix of 20% I-don’t-know-maybe-squash and 80% julienned red bell pepper.
Ah, the bell pepper.
Bell peppers are so beautiful and colorful and this time of year they are plentiful. From home cooks to fancy restaurants people put bell peppers in salads and all sorts of dishes without bothering to mention that they are there. It only takes a little bit of raw or cooked bell pepper to make me quite sick to my stomach, beginning with tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by heartburn (and worse), and sometimes it lasts for a few days. It took me years of mysterious stomach aches to finally realize the cause. As long as they have not been pulverized, I can usually pick out the peppers, but I never order anything that features them as a main ingredient.
Arctic char tastes just like salmon
I must admit that I have been known to say I am “allergic to Connecticut,” and I sometimes go out of my way not to go there. This “allergy” is based on no specific event (like fifteen years of mysterious stomach pain), and I can say emphatically that I have met a lot of very nice and interesting people who live or work in Connecticut. I can say that in Connecticut drivers come to a complete stop at the end of the ramp to get onto the freeway, and all by itself this is a reason for folks who drive in the other 49 United States might want to avoid it.  
I will let you know if I manage to tease out what specific ingredient of Connecticut brings on the crushing malaise. It is certainly not unrelated to the fact that parts of it look like parts of where I grew up. Meanwhile, I have signed a lease on a New York City apartment and will be moving about half of our possessions into it on Monday.
The good news at the Bissell House was that I had room for dessert, even after a salad and a large piece of fish. We shared three flavors of chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches. I think they were ok.

Two Noodles Diverged in a Yellow Cheese Sauce

This morning I had not yet hiked to the road to get the paper so I was looking over an interesting Chirpstory from @dvnix.   This link summarizes a Twitter exchange between the writer Jeremy Duns and the journalist Glenn Greenwald about whether the journalist’s coverage of Julian Assange was truly impartial anymore, and I had what seemed like an important thought about it, but I was interrupted by my finishing my coffee and actually needing  to get going.  Most of the time, my ideas fly away like dry leaves in a gust of sudden wind, but this one flew back to me this evening while I was making macaroni and cheese.
First of all, I would like to say that Jeremy Duns makes some pretty strong points, and Glenn Greenwald, a busy journalist, initially tries to give him a perfunctory brush-off. It is difficult to take pointed criticism, every professional knows, and I sympathize with Greenwald in so far as he is obviously trying to just do his job.  Second of all, I would like to say that I think Julian Assange’s refusal to return to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault is dishonorable and disgusting. Hero of free speech or no, no man should be above the law. Thirdly, I would like to say that watching two smart, opinionated people argue on Twitter is pretty entertaining.
But all of these are beside the point, which is this: when someone takes the time to offer you thoughtful, but pointed criticism, they are doing you a favor. I am not saying that I personally enjoy being called out, because I do not. What I am saying is that careful readers who drill into the details you offer and reach different conclusions and then tell you about it are helping you do your job better as a journalist. Even if you do not agree with the criticism, what does it tell you that you are doing wrong? You failed to meet someone’s expectations. Why?
This question blows the dry leaves of my ideas back to homemade macaroni and cheese.
The last time I made macaroni and cheese I made it the same way I have made it every time since I was about 20, which was a very long time ago. I had grown up watching my mother make it, and I needed neither to measure nor to wonder about the process. The last time I made it, I was vaguely dissatisfied with the results. It just seemed too cheesy, and yet a bit too dry. Today, I consulted a recipe, and followed it, and even measured all the ingredients. The result was much better.  The recipe appears below. If you have improvements to suggest, I would love to hear them. 
Improvable Macaroni and Cheese
Preheat oven to 400F. Boil salted water in a large pot.
When water boils, add 1 pound pasta (elbows, shells, rigatoni, or ziti). Cook for approximately 2 minutes fewer than the instructions on package. Drain pasta, and return to pot.
While pasta is cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan.   Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon dry mustard to saucepan. Cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 quart whole milk. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to low, simmering until sauce is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove sauce from heat. Whisk in 3 cups grated cheese (I used Cabot sharp cheddar and Kerrygold Dubliner); add 1 teaspoon Worcestershire, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir cheese sauce into pasta, and transfer to a buttered 9”-by-13” baking dish.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and stir into about 2 cups of breadcrumbs. Scatter crumb mixture over pasta in baking dish. Follow with a sprinkling of paprika.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.
My mother liked to tell the story of a dinner guest who got a whole chunk of unmixed dry mustard in his mouth when he ate her mac and cheese at our house; he was too polite to say anything, but she could tell her mistake by the look on his face.

How to Make French Toast

Here in New York, we have had a winter completely unlike last year’s long, lingering, snowy and cold winter.  Despite a freak heavy snowstorm at the end of October, we have had no snow, and only a handful of actually cold days. Many days, like today, it’s in the 20s when we get up, but sunny and into the 40s by early afternoon. 
My husband, in addition to being a Relentless Troubleshooter, is the household’s designated Bacon Provider, and he takes his job very seriously. Whenever I have occasion to be away and he is in charge of feeding himself and the offspring, he makes breakfast-for-dinner or spaghetti carbonara, both of which include bacon.  I have been known to call home and ask if they’ve gotten tired of eating bacon yet, and they always say, “No.”
When you live with a Bacon Provider in a season such as winter, you are often called upon to create things that are eaten with bacon. The house we are renting has a wood-fired cooking stove (in addition to two other woodstoves), and when it is brisk and cold in the morning, an early-rising Bacon Provider can fire up the Waterford and get the bacon cooking. 
There is probably a rule which says Cook Things You Like To Eat. After eggs and grits or pancakes there is of course French Toast, a breakfast staple and bacon side-kick enjoyed by many, but not by me. I do not know if I ever liked French Toast, but I doubt it. I like things like Bread Pudding that are similar in texture and ingredients to French Toast, but I do not like French Toast.  So I do not eat French Toast. But I do make French Toast, because other people like it, including the Bacon Provider and the Offspring.  Not only do I make it, but I like to make it. I don’t know how good it is. They eat it with bacon.

French Toast
Beat 4 eggs and add 1 c. milk. Stir in a dash of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and a couple of shakes of cinnamon. Cut a loaf of quality stale bread into 1 ½” thick slices. Immerse the bread in the egg mixture about three at a time.
Fry in a hot, oiled skillet. Serve with butter, maple syrup and, of course, bacon.
Feeds two adults and two teenaged boys.

Gluten-free Thanksgiving Desserts

Dessert is a pretty important part of the Thanksgiving meal, even if you are usually too full to really enjoy it.  Because our guest maintains a gluten-free diet, I made it my goal to have most of the meal be gluten-free.  Pies present a real challenge, since it is the gluten in wheat flour which makes the dough stick to itself and be able to be flaky instead of crumbly. The freezer case at our supermarket had a frozen pie shell, and it would have to do for pumpkin pie.
For a second dessert, I made a gluten-free cheesecake.  No, plain cheesecake is not necessarily a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but it is my husband’s favorite.  Since this is a rental house, we do not have access to my inventory of too many cake pans and are forced to make do with an inexpensive electric mixer and inadequate mixing bowls. We can report with conviction that it is even possible to make pies in cast-iron frying pans and they will be delicious.  
Our cheesecake cracked while it cooled.
I’m pretty sure a proper pan would have prevented it.
Gluten-Free Cheesecake
Cheesecake is pretty easy if you have an electric mixer of some kind, and the foresight to allow all ingredients to come to room temperature. While the 325°F oven preheats,  I put ½ a box of gluten-free graham crackers(about 6 oz.) in a re-sealable plastic (ok, Ziploc) bag and crushed them with a wooden spoon until I got bored. For future reference, I really should have crushed them completely.  To the crushed crackers I added 4 T melted butter and 2 T sugar.  I was supposed to also add ¼ t nutmeg, but I didn’t have any. This mess was pressed into the bottom of the cake pan. Well, ok, actually, we don’t have a cake pan right now, so we used a round 9”ceramic oven-proof dish with high sides.  I think we were supposed to refrigerate this while we made the cake filling, but we forgot to and it didn’t matter.
To make the filling, unwrap 2 lbs. softened cream cheese into a large mixing bowl (yes, Virginia, this is 4 8-oz. packages). Mix in 1 c. sugar. When combined, beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. (At this point there was cheesecake batter all over my shirt and face.)  Next, beat in 1 c. sour cream, 2 T cornstarch, and 1 t vanilla extract.
When smooth, pour into cake pan and bake for 45 minutes.
Make the sour cream topping by whisking together 1 c. sour cream, ¼ c. sugar and 1 t vanilla. At the 45 minute mark, take out the cake and gently spread as much of the topping onto it as you can.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for an additional15 minutes. Turn off oven and leave cheesecake in the oven for 1 hour before removing.

Cool completely and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.