Have a Lip Smacking Valentine’s Day!


Happy Valentine’s Day — whether that means chocolate, candy hearts, champagne or a bah humbug attitude toward this “Hallmark holiday,” as my ex dismissed it.

For me, the best part of the day is that it is the birthday of my two kitties, Jackson and Lizzie, now (unbelievably!!!) three years old. We’ll celebrate with fresh shrimp for their dinner tonight.

As my Valentine’s Day gift to you, I give you adorable kitten pics of my two fur babies:

IMG_0132IMG_0133You’re welcome!

Grammy Fashion for the Grammyish Set

I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to watching the red carpet at the awards shows. I love fashion and live vicariously through these telecasts, knowing that I won’t ever be invited to an event requiring a designer gown and being way past my prom dress days. But I have to say that I am just a little bit bored by all the cleavage that seems to be so in vogue this season.

madonna-bum-flash-grammy-awards-2015-1423478898-view-0And I am more than a  little bit horrified by the ways some older women who should know better persist in thinking that anyone wants to see their derrieres (I’m looking, or rather not looking at you, Madonna). Yes, many of us over fifties work out, hope to have a great yoga butt and strong thighs, blah blah blah… but really? It just strikes me as a bit pathetic to feel that this is necessary/acceptable/interesting/whatever.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that “mature” attendees need to dress in “mother of the bride dresses.” Jane Fonda certainly showed off her toned body in this amazing grammys-2015-jane-fondagreen jumpsuit.  (I’m pretty sure she’s had some work done, and I’m not crazy about the helmet hair, but props to the queen of workout videos for keeping it classy).

But after all, especially at the music award shows, it is often about sexy and edgy rather than Met gala or society wedding. Nonetheless, in my book, the coolest, sexiest lady of them all this year was Annie Lennox, who gave an incredible performance, first on the red carpet when she eschewed the hype and then … in her characteristic style… when she let her talent rather than her boobs or butt do the talking on stage. At age 60 she is one hot tamale! Let her “put a spell on you”:

photo 2

Dev: Weeks Two and Three

It’s been three weeks since Mr. D and I picked up Dev in Wisconsin and I think he brought the Midwestern winter weather with him as it has been awfully cold and windy here, making those early morning and late night potty walks a real production.  Luckily, he hasn’t yet had an accident waiting for me to get on my hat, gloves, Uggs, down jacket and scarf!

A number of milestones have been marked, but thankfully the furniture has not been.  One morning playing fetch with the tennis ball I noticed blood on it and found a baby tooth on the kitchen floor. The tooth fairy obligingly got him a bone to chew on as a reward.

He made friends with his new vet after sniffing out the exam room photo 5and didn’t make so much as a whimper as he got two more inoculations and had every part of his little body examined. Next he was taken back to the vet techs to be made a fuss over and to get his nails trimmed. Naturally, everyone was won over by his friendly, sweet personality. Dev and Addie are the only Aussies in the practice and they, like Sydney used to, give the breed a good name by being so well behaved.

Unfortunately, we had to visit the vet again just a few days later, this time for Addie to get some help. It turns out that like the rest of us “senior citizens” shphoto 1e failed to recognize her limits while rough housing and playing with Dev. She awoke the next morning stiff as a board and clearly in pain. Rimadyl, muscle relaxants and lots of cuddles on the couch have worked their magic and she is fine now, but clearly aware that being twelve is not the same as being five months old. Dev is sad and a bit puzzled at having lost his playmate, at least for another week or so.

Last Sunday we went to our first puppy class. It was soooo exciting to meet three other puppies ranging in size from five pounds (a Jack Russell / chihuaha mix) to a fifteen pound labradoodle to a thirty pound yellow lab. But the best part for Dev was that one of the families had a toddler who he fell in love with, and she with him! He was so sweet and gentle with her that everyone melted, even the trainer.

He hasn’t been able to work the same magic on the cats … yet. Jackson is as big as Dev (but not for long!). He has Dev crawling on his tummy in submission, tail wagging, begging for some attention. So far Jackson hasn’t decided to play keep away with the offered toy, but he is obsessed with Dev, to the point of watching him out the window when he is outside. Lizzie, on the other hand, is still exiling herself to our bedroom most of the time.

Dev is  good about being crated when both he and Addie are sequestered, but he hasn’t yet learned to have a quiet time out by himself when I need him to, as I prepare dinner for example. We’re working on not sounding like torture is taking place when he is confined when I am at home. (He obviously feels it is time to call in the Humane Society). Dev does sleep quietly in his crate overnight in our bedroom, thankfully.

The pup and Addie and Mr. D and I love to walk by the river, and Dev’s first glimpse of the Great Falls of the Potomac clearly mesmerized him, as it always does me. There is nothing that makes me happier than the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world, especially when enjoyed with a loyal canine companion. I look forward to many happy trails ahead!

photo 2


Dev: Week One

We are one week in with our new best friend, Dev, the Australian Terrier.

IMG_1167The transition has gone much more smoothly than I had dared to hope. Mr. D and I flew to Milwaukee to meet Dev and his Temora Australian Terrier family of at least three generations of pooches and their human mom Julie. All of the dogs were super excited to see us, and little Dev seemed to know that this was his big moment. (he’s the one with the green collar).

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The flight home went more smoothly than we feared, with a breeze through security and a half-full flight, enabling us to spread out over three seats. Dev had to stay in his bag on the floor, but we did let him sneak his head out for a peek around.

By the time we arrived back at the house we were all a bit overtired, over-stimulated and hungry. Addie took things in stride, greeting Dev calmly if not particularly enthusiastically. Both cats hightailed it under our bed.

It only took Dev one day to figure out that the inside of the house was not a pet relief area, and after one week I can reliably say that he is mostly housebroken, assuming that he is given the appropriate chance to be a good boy. Unfortunately this involves me getting up at 5am each morning. At least I get to see this:

The kitties are slowly realizing that he does not have a prey drive (at least toward them). They seem to view him as an endlessly fascinating object of observation. He is not yet in the friend zone, but the distance is diminishing.

As for Mr. D and me, smitten might be too mild a characterization. Dev barely ever leaves my side, and when he does I follow him to make sure that potty mistakes or untoward inter-species encounters are not sabotaging the progress we have made.

All house projects are on hold, and I am so brain dead from getting up every morning at 5am that my writing is also on hold. I will give it one more week, and then I will feel secure enough to just let what happens happen.

It’s a new year, and a new love, and a new challenge. May 2015 continue to be as rich and full as it feels right now!

pic by Julie at Temora.net

Our Newest Family Member

Now that that the holidays are over and the tree is down, the ornaments are put away, the parties are fond memories and the first snow of the winter has arrived — it’s time to settle into the New Year.

Mr. D and I celebrated the start of 2015 by arranging to get a new family member, a five-month-old pup named Devil on Horseback, “Dev” for short.


pic by Julie at Temora.net

Like my beloved Sydney (who passed away at a ripe old age in March) and his younger admirer Addie (who is now a senior citizen herself) Dev is an Australian terrier. Known for their indefatigability, intelligence and large personality in a small body, Aussies aren’t that common in the U.S. In fact, we are going to Wisconsin to pick him up next week, which in many ways is absolutely crazy!

Sometimes, when contemplating the logistics –and the cost– of acquiring Dev, I ask myself why we didn’t just adopt a shelter dog in need of a good home. We did try. Despite being smitten every time I checked my Facebook feed and saw an adorable face begging for a second chance, I remained faithful to a few criteria:

1) We knew we wanted a terrier, on the small side, to insure portability,  to prevent exuberant and potentially damaging body slams, as we are “fit but over fifty” dog parents, and to be good companions for our “grandpuppies,” both of whom are under 20 lbs.

2) We have two cats, which we do not desire to become prey.

3) We didn’t want to deal with a dog with aggression issues toward other dogs, strangers or small children, whether from insecurity, former abuse/neglect or lack of training.

4) With one dog already, we couldn’t adopt a bonded pair or a dog who needed to be an “only.”

A friend suggested fostering, and Mr. D and I thought about it, but decided that the potential stress on our cats Jackson and Lizzie was not acceptable.

These restrictions really narrowed the field. After finding and inquiring about three good prospects only to find them quickly snapped up, we realized that the kind of dogs we could provide a good home for were the least likely to need us.

I wish I could be the new mom for a pit bull mix or an anxious older poodle, but I’m just not the right fit at this point in my life. Despite my guilt each time I think about buying a purebred dog instead of rescuing a mutt, I have to be honest about my circumstances and my priorities.

So, it’s off to Muskego, Wisconsin we go to pick up our boy from our wonderful breeder Julie at Temora Australian Terriers. We’ve been like new parents picking out the right travel bag for the only direct flight, which happens to be on Southwest Airlines (we settled on the large Sturdibag after research on this wonderful site).

No doubt there will be many more pictures to follow as Mr. D and I train this pup together! Wish us luck, and Happy New Year to all of you, dog lovers or not!


Holiday Greetings

Happy Winter Solstice to all! No matter your faith or lack thereof, the official start of winter (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) brings a chance to regroup and become grounded in preparation for a burst of new growth as the hours of daylight increase day by day.

With Christmas only three days away, I know many of you are becoming

IMG_1094and instead of feeling like IMG_1089
you are feeling like

IMG_1088because you have been decorating the tree

IMG_1092cleaning up the yard in preparation for lights, camera and Santa action

IMG_1086Wrapping presents

IMG_1090and baking lots of goodies.

2013-06-16 20.42.05But take a deep breath, and remember, that the greatest holiday gift of all is



To my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah and to all of my readers, I wish you health, happiness and peace in the New Year.



First World Problems

Living in a 100 year old farmhouse has its challenges. Something is always breaking, or threatening to. This morning it’s a plumbing problem (again). We joke that our plumber Adam should really have the spare bedroom as his very own. Part of the problem stems from the way that over time plumbing solutions were oddly cobbled together, sometimes due to expediency and sometimes due to ignorance. Part of the problem stems from having a neutralizer to counteract the acidity of our well water, which occasionally goes berserk in its flushing cycle. Pinhole leaks in our copper pipes have become the bane of my existence. And then there is just the craziness of an old house deciding it needs attention, preferably around the holidays when I am least inclined to be patient with water shut offs, propane tank valve malfunctions or boiler breakdowns. At least, since we installed a backup generator in the summer of 2012, we haven’t had to do without electricity.

IMG_1073I know, first world problems. I’m not facing eviction or shivering in a cardboard box under a bridge. The minor inconvenience of using (compostable) paper products until I can run the dishwasher or properly wash up after meals pales in comparison to the inconvenience suffered by millions worldwide who have only sporadic access to potable water. A trip to the Safeway for bottled H2O and more hand sanitizer until Adam rescues me is a small price to pay for the surety that within hours I will be able to resume my daily routine. A hot shower at the gym yesterday after a ten-minute drive pales in comparison to walking miles with jerry jugs of river water on my head.

Instead of whining, I think I will make a donation to one of the seven water organizations listed here that help ordinary people deal with real water emergencies. In this holiday season, I encourage all of you to do the same!

A nod to my Kentucky mother

The Joy of Cooking

Before Thanksgiving I had my twenty-three year old Ikea kitchen cabinets professionally painted. That required emptying drawers and cupboards and getting rid of many things that no longer served me, designating them for either Goodwill or the trash. Inspired by the resultant lack of kitchen clutter, I’ve tackled my 1840s Irish hutch, the home of all of my cookbooks, kitchen utensil instruction manuals, food clippings and miscellaneous things once held by random magnets on the refrigerator. This trip down a decades’ long memory lane became a recipe for smiles, a tear or two and a lot of reflection.

After, organized and weeded out

After, organized and weeded out

The oldest item, aside from the hutch itself, is my favorite cookbook, Joy of Cooking. The mint green cover of this 1963 edition, the last authored by its originator, Irma Rombauer — stained in places and held together with duct tape — gives evidence of not just its longevity in my collection, but of its utility. The red ribbons attached to the binding and provided as page markers are permanently embedded in the turkey roasting and pie baking pages. Which is not to suggest that others are not well thumbed.

IMG_1066Long before Google, Pinterest and Epicurious, Joy was my “go to” for questions about equivalencies, substitutions, techniques, housekeeping tips and proper entertaining etiquette.

Not that I hadn’t been properly trained at home. Whatever else she might have been, my stepmother was, by the standards of the 1950s and 1960s, an excellent home keeper and cook. Yes, meals were meat and potatoes affairs occasionally enhanced by the modern packaged foods newly available at the time, like Shake n Bake or Velveeta. But meals were always a sit down affair, with dinner at 6pm sharp every night, breakfast of eggnog and cinnamon toast ready before school and sandwiches, milk and fruit at lunchtime. My sister and I were schooled on how to cook, set the table and clean up — whether just for our family of eight or an important dinner party with white tablecloths and multiple forks and spoons at each place setting.

But it was Irma and her daughter Marion who first taught me about cuts of meat, measurements for cocktails (who knew what a “jigger was”), drying herbs, the many types of flour and sugar, even how to remove coffee stains by pouring boiling water onto them from a height of two feet! More than a cookbook, Joy was my fictive mother, grandmother and great grandmother, available at an instant to tell me how to do almost anything in the kitchen or dining room, on the porch or patio. The wonderful illustrations, common sense approach and recipes made with readily available ingredients presented in honest and family friendly combinations, made Joy not just one of the New York Public Library’s 150 most influential books of the twentieth century, but an antidote to the over the top foodie extravaganzas that hit bookstores and restaurants in the 1990s and beyond. (Influenced a bit by this, my 1997 edition of Joy rarely is used and will be replaced by the 2006 75th anniversary edition which is more faithful to the original Joy vision.)

Next came my upscaling at the hands of Craig Claiborne. Living in New York City as a young adult and then (as now) a devotee of the New York Times, I devoured his columns and tried many of the recipes in the four Times cookbooks I own: The New York Times Cookbook, The New York Times Menu Cookbook, The New York Times International Cookbook and Craig Claiborne’s Favorites from the New York Times. More gourmet than the down home cuisine in Joy, but still reproducible by the home cook without a trust fund to spend, Claiborne’s recipes ranged from regional specialties cooked simply to more elegant dishes influenced by international cuisine.

Several staples of our Thanksgiving feast — including the southern cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce — originally came from these volumes. When the Times put out The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century in 2010, after carefully checking to make sure that the stuffing recipe was included, I bought three copies, one for myself and one for each grown daughter.

And then there was Julia. Like many, I was smitten with her PBS cooking shows, which became must see TV for me. Too young to have watched The French Chef while in boarding school in the 1960s, I found her in the 1970s and immediately started working my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While I never made every recipe as did blogger Julie, I made many, and then most from the cookbooks reprising episodes of her later cooking show seasons.

For me, Julia was not just about technique, she was about being fine with less than perfect results. Watching her laugh off small goofs or even dropped chickens and hearing her signature “Bon appetit” at the conclusion of each show made me eager to try to replicate her creations, like her, with a wine glass in hand. It was she who influenced me to acquire Le Creuset cookware, which forty years later is still my “batterie de cuisine”. Living now in the D.C. outskirts, I have more than once made the pilgrimage to her kitchen at the Smithsonian. Some day I will even have a pegboard wall, perhaps in her signature green!

During the 1980s I discovered the Moosewood cookbooks, five of which I now own, with publication dates spanning from 1977 to the early 1990s. Like many, I was first cutting down on meat, eventually choosing not to eat mammals while still cooking with fowl and fish. Especially during the 1990s, the healthy, relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare dishes featured in the cookbooks and the Ithaca restaurant for which they were named became staples in my household, both out of principle and practicality; raising two daughters on a teacher’s salary required some real budget jujitsu.

An assortment of culinary classics like the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, Jane Brody’s Good Food Cookbook, Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking, and Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking have been joined by several Mark Bittman titles. (I’m still coveting How to Cook Everything…. do you hear me Santa?).

Then there are the appliance specific cookbooks/manuals: slow cooker (the best are by Beth Hensberger), blender, food processor (my favorite is the original robot coupe 1973 cookbook which I still have, even though I gave the machine to my daughter), pressure cooker (from days owning a sailboat), ice cream maker, grill, fondue pot. I own too many vegetarian or near vegetarian cookbooks and will keep only one or two, but my two bread cookbooks from Williams Sonoma and Cindi Flahive-Sobel will still have honored shelf space.

Family recipes and those garnered from friends have been painstakingly digitized onto laminated recipe cards residing in a plastic box. Clippings have been weeded out (if I lived to be a hundred I could eat a different saved chicken recipe every day…not likely to happen). My Evernote recipe notebook, Pinterest food folder and New York Times online recipe box hold my virtual clippings.

I began by mentioning smiles and tears, and you might be wondering why. My 1963 Joy has penciled annotations in two different hands drawing me back first to a grand love from my twenties and then a failed marriage in my fifties. The New York Times cookbooks bear the black-penned name and date of my college lover and mate. Julia Child came into my life at the same time that my daughters did, and all of the books were gifts from their father.

I’ve gone through phases, trying new cuisines, new gadgets, new men, new identities. As I leaf through the books, unfold the yellowed newspaper clippings, decide what fits me now and what doesn’t, I experience a rush of joy at remembering the happy times of cooking for men I loved, children I bore, friends I cherished, relatives I wanted to nurture as they had me. Many of those I recall are no longer a part of my life, on to other kitchens, other meals, or other dimensions as in the case of my dear friends Charlie and Antonio.

Cooking is an act of love. My culinary library tells the story of my journey from young adulthood through relationships, marriages, parenting, juggling work and homemaking, empty nesting. After forty-five years, I’ve learned to cook without much use for instruction, working by instinct with whatever is at hand most of the time. But my cookbooks have become totemic, keys to who I have been, what I have aspired to, who I wish to continue to be inspired by. “Bon appetit!”

Kitchen Cabinets Are Done!

Well, the kitchen cabinets came back on Thursday, all was put back together on Friday, and here are the results (pardon the hasty, pretty terrible pics… better ones later):

The kitchen looks much brighter; everything looks refreshed and updated, even though nothing else was changed.

We’ve decided to wait on the countertops since we find our 12 X 12 grey porcelain tile with a two inch oak wood border to be very practical. Because the tiles are large there are few grout lines, and because they are matte finish porcelain they have a number of advantages: heat resistance; stain resistance, ease of clean up; great for pastry rolling; we love the color. The grout lines are a little wonky but could be redone.

If we do decide to change them we have agreed on good ole honed Carrera marble. It’s “hot” right now, which puts me off a bit, but after falling in love with it on our trip to Italy where it is EVERYWHERE, that would still probably be our choice. I heart soapstone, but Mr. D nixed that, and, it would be darker. We both hate a shiny countertop …  too much glare. Mr. D. in particular is a messy cook, so a honed marble will no doubt etch and stain, but we like patina and live in a  house that is nothing but patina. In any event, we are ready to cook turkey!

Kitchen Cabinet Refresh

Over the past six years I have replaced all of my kitchen appliances, refinished the heart pine floors, changed out the light fixtures, door knobs, faucet, cabinet pulls, exhaust fan, ceiling fan, door to the deck and man of the house. Next up: kitchen cabinet refresh.

Since even after 23 years I like the layout of my kitchen, I nixed the idea of ripping everything out and starting over. I thought about just having new wood doors custom made, but that was out of my budget. My Ikea cabinets are still structurally sound, if yellowed with age.

IMG_1009The original European hinges and recently replaced  knobs and pulls are in great shape, so painting seemed the best option.

At first I thought I would do the painting myself — to save money.  I researched Ikea mentions to see if anyone else had done this, and decided that the project was viable because my cabinet and drawer fronts are solid MDF, not foil or laminate covered. Benjmain Moore makes a water based paint called Advance specifically for cabinets that has gotten rave reviews, and I’ve done a lot of painting over the years, (but no spraying).

On a whim I looked on Angie’s List to see if I could find a shop that specialized in this kind of thing, and low and behold Allusions, Inc. was offering a special.  I figured, what the heck, at least I can get an estimate! After Bonnie, the owner, came to the house and confirmed that this was a reasonable solution for my dingy, yellowed cabinets and the poorly painted Crate and Barrel china cabinets in the eating area, I pulled the trigger.

Chaos came to my kitchen on Thursday as a pair of cabinet refinishers disassembled all of my cupboards, and asked me to relocate the contents of sixteen drawers. I had been told that only the drawer fronts would be removed, so I wasn’t prepared and had a bit of a panic.

This is what things looked like after things were disassembled:

What is it about having junk drawers that is inherited? I so clearly remember vowing to myself that I would never, ever, have those “hold it all, stuff things in there to be dealt with later” drawers that were in my childhood home. I have to face the fact that I have at least three of them. And how many times have I culled the herd of Tupperware, throwing away orphaned lids and BPH laden containers only to again have a full bin of them ready for Goodwill? Do they just multiply in the drawers while I sleep?

This is the “after.”  I spent all day yesterday sifting through random and haphazardly erected skyscrapers of dishes and everything else that had been unceremoniously dumped in a giant pile on my kitchen table or in boxes on the floor.

This whole process has caused a bit of self reflection. I do love to cook, but how (and more importantly WHY) do I have so many spices? I try to recycle them every year, checking expiration dates and doing the sniff test to see if they have the ability to flavor anything with a taste other than musty kitchen cabinet.

And the sprinkles, cupcake papers, cookie cutters, birthday candles — do I really still need all of this? Isn’t that from a previous life, or do I really think I will be that neighborhood lady who is always arriving at the doorstep with beautiful Martha Stewart inspired home baked cookies complete with piped, monogramed icing and the appropriate seasonal sugar crystals? Really?

And what about the two drawers full of pet medicines, clippers, toys, combs, leashes, etc.etc.etc.? It’s hard to throw those things away, especially because one is not supposed to put medicines in the trash, and throwing away old rabies tags from long deceased pooches feels a little bit like sacrilege. Did I mention how carefully I moved the pretty wooden box with my dearly departed dog Sydney’s ashes in it so as not to accidentally drop it/him necessitating clandestinely vacuuming him up as happened to Ben Stiller and grandma’s urn in Meet the Parents?


Meanwhile, the remaining pets couldn’t wait to jump into the newly created playground of doorless cabinets!

I feel as if my entire life in retirement is about decluttering. Room by room, drawer by drawer, file cabinet by file cabinet, and yes, even book by book I am questioning the detritus of my life. Handling each object brings back memories, some pleasant, some not so. Husbands, children, bosses, siblings, friends all speak to me as I weigh the utility, the sentimental value or the sheer size and weight of  all of thesethings and the memories they generate. “Pick me,” each object says, like puppies greeting potential owners. “I’m downsizing and my house is already broken,” I reply.

I am so not a hoarder, and yet I have acquired a great deal of baggage in my years on this planet. I’m ready to let a great deal of it go. I don’t want to be burdened, tied down, needing to dust and reorganize my grievances or unfulfilled desires. “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free,” says the Shaker hymn. I’m going to try to apply this to my kitchen drawers, yes, but also to my aspirations, be they for the larger society, my immediate family, my yoga practice or my mindset. Perhaps a new coat of paint, a tidying up, and getting rid of half of my “stuff” is enough. We’ll see. I’ll let you know!