Category Archives: Cooking

Historical Pork

I brought the porker totem home to a curious canine, though Oliver didn’t seem to feel the swine deserved an aggressive posture.


And though I debated on the drive back, porker clunking in the trunk, what Gil’s reaction would be – would he object to the creature because of its cost or size or general mien – he too was delighted by it. One of his favorite song lyrics, he said, was Dylan’s “I’m no pig without a wig/I hope you treat me kind.” Hard to hold anything against a grotesquerie that cost 24 dollars.

whole pig

We decided the painted plaster pig with the voluptuous nose must have at one time enticed customers in a store or eatery. The woman in the antiques shop felt sure he had a former life as a piggy bank, but no piggy bank is thigh high. I snapped him up quickly, before anyone else could. If anyone else would.

pig eye

My eye for art is my own. I’m the one who finds things at estate sales after all the “good stuff” has been bought, after everyone else goes home. In our storage locker the other day I went through our collection of two-dimensional pieces, some by friends, that the Cabin walls can’t accommodate. Space is extremely limited and 250-year-old logs hard to pound nails into.

I did hang a Currier & Ives print, an antique spoof showing a nineteenth century woman with a braid dangling to her knees, a cigarette and a riding crop. “The Girl of the Period” reads the legend on the only slightly stained image. The friends who gave me this know me well.


I do like things that are a bit stained, worn, faded or torn. Things that have the spirit of the vernacular in them. That show the human hand. It’s not outsider art when it comes from your own relative. One vintage artwork in my house was the creation of my great-grandmother Lockie Hillis, three landscape postcards she collected on a trip to the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, which she mounted in a wood-burned frame (she herself burned the wood).


I greatly appreciate handmade signs, but I’ll only collect them for free. Our best sign, hanging outside on the porch wall, we collected off a telephone pole next to a cornfield on a midwestern two-lane.


The one above the fireplace makes an ironic comment on Oliver and the other beloved dogs that have lived with us.

no dogs

Another perhaps more frightening comment, the mask hanging above the wooden sign. Leather of some kind, it comes from Mexico, and has dropped a few eyelashes since I picked it up 30 years ago. Gil has been known to put it on for Halloween and terrify small children.


The Cabin makes a perfect backdrop for a painted work like the one my artist friend Sandra bequeathed, titled “Cairo in the Garden,” named for a beloved tabby we owned with seven toes on each paw.


We don’t frame it because it doesn’t need a frame to show off its fresco-like charms.

Back to the pig without a wig. Where to exhibit his bulbous corpus? I think he needs to stand by the door, sticking out his tongue in welcoming us. Or by the hearth, though I wouldn’t want his fat to singe. Perhaps the kitchen would be the most logical, given the amount of bacon this household consumes. In a corner, where we can observe him observing us.

While I consider it I’m going to give my attention to a National Audobon Society “miniature chart” showing Twigs of Common Trees.

Twigged Out

Here we have 62 ink-drawings of buds, bark, leaf scars and pith. The total effect is exquisite and I’d like to do the impossible: find it wall space. I fished Twigs out of storage and Gil said, You want that? Yes, as a matter of fact I do.

pig nose

What this jolly pig reminds me of most of all is old-fashioned signage, when shops had a giant shoe or pair of eyeglasses out front, bespeaking loud and clear what they had to offer. That’s a history dating back to the middle ages, but you still find pigs today decorating barbecue joints. That might be this one’s origin. Oink.


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Pumpkin Pie Women

Coming home from the supermarket, laden with cans of pumpkin and condensed milk, listening to the cheekily wonderful tune, Thou Swell, Thou Witty, Thou Grand, which Rodgers and Hart collaborated on in 1927.

The girls are coming to my kitchen – the women, the college women, to spend an afternoon producing pumpkin pies. It’s golden and smoky around the cabin,  warm and cozy inside.

golden cabin

We’re trying to raise money for a trip to Senegal in May, Maud tells me, cutting the butter into the flour, cracking a dozen eggs. BuildOn, the organization chapter she runs at Columbia, travels to other countries to build schools.

maud w eggs

It’s this times three, right, says Jess, her school buddy, intent on the recipe.


We’re baking six pies for Maud’s campus bake sale tomorrow, to be sold by the slice. Lots of cinnamon, lots of ginger, lots and lots of canned pumpkin.

You are so graceful, goes the lyrics of Thou Swell: Have you wings?/You have a face full of nice things.

Pumpkin is the simplest pie, the easiest to please. Like pudding, nice and sweet. Almost as sweet as these two at the kitchen table.

maud and jess

Each person has to raise $2,000, says Maud. We have $275 so far. That’s okay, she’s easy. At Fall Fest a bunch of other organizations will get together and raise money for her group. They do that, help each other out.

We’re also collecting dresses on campus and giving them to a consignment shop – we get sixty percent of the profit, says Maud.


So we need six teaspoons, says Jess. People die from overdosing on cinnamon.

Jess is a fan of buildOn, though her own time is spent as the treasurer of a new group called Scientista, which promotes women in, you guessed it, the sciences.

They’re so busy, these women. They dig in to everything. If you’re the first person to contribute fifty dollars or more to buildOn this season, you’ll get a free copy of Walk in Their Shoes, by Jim Ziolkowski, the president of buildOn, which tells the story of founding the outfit. Maud’s staying home this year but she’s still raising money.

Both thine eyes are cute too;

What they do to me.

Hear me holler I choose a Sweet lollapaloosa in thee.

How do they manage it all? Jess: You’re doing something wrong if you’re not rushing around doing xyz.

This is a vat, says Maud, stirring.


There’s some swooning over old Gavin deGraw, Chariot, and amazement at the tale of a friend he plucked off the concert floor.

Some bemoaning of chipped nail polish.

Crimping uncooperative pie dough isn’t in the customary lesson plan, but they make do pretty well.


People have different love languages, Maud says, quoting some psychologist.

Six pies go in the oven.

oven pies 1

I’m going to bake a pumpkin pie when I go home next, says Jess, My mom’s going to freak out.

Thou swell, thou witty, thou grand.


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I Like Your Steamed Buns

There might be better places to get soup dumplings in New York City, but Joe’s Shanghai is irresistably close to LaGuardia if you’re carting people in from the airport around lunchtime.


We had Gil’s sister and her husband coming in from the Midwest for Gil’s birthday. Time for some steamed buns.

We went to the Queens Chinatown, to a quiet street off Northern Boulevard.

street scene

Joe’s Shanghai hasn’t changed in years. The only difference is they have a flat-screen on the wall now.

green neon

No big crab for us today, egg or no egg.


The xiaolongbao is a type of steamed bun from Shanghai and neighboring regions of China. It is traditionally steamed in a bamboo basket, hence the name (xiaolong is literally small steaming basket), and served atop shreds of napa cabbage. Xiaolongbao are often referred to as soup dumplings in English, but they are actually not considered dumplings in China. They are buns, pinched at the top before steaming, creating a dough cascade of ripples around the crown.

one dumpling

There is a science to eating them. You place one on a spoon with a pair of tongs, then bite a tiny hole in the dough to let out some of the heat. Slurp carefully and when you can stand it no longer pop the whole thing in your greedy mouth.


“They remind me of testicles,” said Rick. “There is a sexual quality about them that is definitely appealing.” He’d recommend the pork rather than the crab, if you have to make a decision between the two.

Or choose the crispy salt and pepper shrimp, amazing in the shell but not so much with the heads on. That’s okay, Gil pulled them off.

shrimp heads

But how does the boiling hot soup get into the little parcels? You can probably guess. The cook puts gelled aspic inside the bun along with a little pork or pork/crab mixture, and it melts deliciously as it steams. A dish of vinegar with ginger slivers is served alongside, but we ripped into the buns too fast to pay any attention to them.





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What a Wonderful House

The walls can talk in Satchmo’s house. Literally. Standing in Louis Armstrong’s den in his longtime residence in Corona, New York, we heard his perfect rumbling tones describing his inspiration for What a Wonderful World – the children of his neighborhood in Queens. The docent had pressed a button. The effect was magic.

Louis kids

We were visiting the Louis Armstrong House Museum, where the atmosphere created by Pops and his wife Lucille has been impeccably preserved. It was the house’s tenth anniversary as a public destination. A celebration was underway. A group called The Hot Sardines had a throwback style and even a peppy tap dancer, dressed in the current men’s fashion of skinny, tight suits.

tap dancer

There was a powerful trumpet player who might have felt a bit under Armstrong’s shadow.

trumpet player

The singer called herself Miz Elizabeth and the dancer was Fast Eddy. Basin Street Blues and Ain’t Nobody’s Business mingled nicely with the jingle of the Mister Softee truck making its way through the neighborhood.

Waiters came around bearing paper bowls of gumbo — “based on Louis’s own recipe” according to the museum — prepared by The Cooking Channel’s Tamara Reynolds and her company, Van Alst Kitchen.

gumbo queen

The cornbread squares were properly crumbly-chewy. We went back for thirds on the gumbo.

“There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell them,” Armstrong said. Anyone that couldn’t feel the swing in the air of this little Japanese-inflected garden in Queens would have to be unconscious.

After Miz Elizabeth delivered a soulful rendition of Sophie Tucker’s great signature tune, One of These Days, we ventured inside.

living room

A time capsule. Everything was exactly as it had always been, down to the knick knacks and the vacuum cleaner.


Lucille, a Cotton Club dancer, made this a showplace,  a glitzy but cozy habitat. She had found the house while Armstrong was out touring, she bought it, fixed it up, and gave him the address, so when he came back from the airport in a taxi he drove up and didn’t believe it – That’s not my house! he said. Or so a docent told us.

Everything is from another age. The kitchen has glossy turquoise cabinets.

Louis kitchen

And a stove to which a personalized nameplate was affixed.

Louis stove

You could see the Armstrongs’ recipe box.

Louis recipe

Duke Ellington called Armstrong “an American original.” Pops liked all types of music, not just jazz, and kept a well-used reel-to-reel tape deck with a collection of 750 tapes. He once made a country album and among his first recordings was a duet with Jimmie Rodgers.

Louis phone

His den was his sanctuary, the only place in the house he could smoke weed. Pot, he said, insulated him from racism.

What about that 14-carat-gold-plated bathroom? High style for Corona, Queens.

gold bathroom

A young woman with cat eye glasses was giving a guided tour to her boyfriend as we passed through the upstairs rooms. She had been there many times before. Look at the wallpaper, she said. I just love the decor, she told me, it has so much of them.

So many things change. This hasn’t. The telephone number for the museum is the original for the Armstrongs’ house.


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A Recipe for Meatballs and Longevity

I told Gil I’d make him meatballs for his birthday. His 60th.  I assembled the beef, the pork, the eggs, the breadcrumbs. Plenty of cheese.


I was making the same meatballs I always make, from the delectable recipe served at Patsy’s restaurant on 56th Street in Manhattan. Frank Sinatra’s favorite joint.


That was a man who knew how to age gracefully. (Maybe eating Patsy’s meatballs helped?)

So does Gil. He said he’d take part in the meatballs’ production, though he had other things he could have been doing this afternoon. I showed him how you roll the meat in a pile of breadcrumbs. Good breadcrumbs. The better the quality, the better anything you make with them.


I asked Gil how it felt to be almost 60.  “Quoting Danny Aiello in Once Around,” he said, “just when you feel like putting a gun in your mouth everybody wants to come over and celebrate.”

Mortality on your mind? I went on scooping meat. An ice cream scoop cures a myriad of cooking ills. The right size works for cookies and meatballs alike.


“No,” he said, “I don’t really feel like putting a gun in my mouth. But I do feel like quoting Danny Aiello.”

The meatballs sizzled in hot oil. We split a few open and almost burnt our mouths stealing a savory bite.


“How does it really feel,” I persisted.

“It feels great,” he said. “Everyone’s telling me I look 50.”

Gil’s had a habit, ever since I’ve known him (that’s about 20 hundred years now) of doing kitchen work with a towel slung over his shoulder. “No woman ever shot a man who was doing dishes,” Gil says. Now he’s of a certain age, he could give husband-ing lessons to the younger generation. Love and marriage, love and marriage…


We play Ry Cooder’s One Meatball — he couldn’t afford but one meatball — and toast the perfect specimen with cider.


Gil’s someday epitaph: He chopped the onions for his own birthday meatballs.

Patsy’s Meatballs Recipe

Combine ¾ c. breadcrumbs and 6 T. whole milk in a small bowl.

Heat 2 T. oil in a skillet; fry 2 medium onions chopped fine and 6 cloves garlic chopped fine.

In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ lb. ground beef, 1 ½ lb. ground pork, 3 large eggs and 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten, 3 T. chopped parsley, 3 T. chopped oregano, 1 ½ c. grated Parmesan. Salt and pepper. Combine well.

[Now, Patsy’s recipe entails an elaborate method of rolling out the meat mixture, cutting it, rolling it, etc., which I find too burdensome. I take a simpler route, which gets the meatballs to the finish line faster.]

Roll small balls of meat mixture in bread crumbs and fry them well in oil. Invite all your friends over, as this makes around six dozen meatballs.


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Braised Pork in Milk Hazan-Style

We used to laugh at something an acquaintance told us about a past spouse, long-since divorced: “she was the best wife-cook of her generation.” But that phrase comes to mind today as I think about Marcella Hazan, who was America’s foremost Italian chef, cookbook author, cooking instructor – the best chef-cooking teacher of her generation. She died at the age of 89, a chain-smoking, opinionated former biology scholar who arrived in the U.S. in 1955 as a newlywed. She did not speak English. She gradually learned the language — and the language of cooking, the latter in order to cook for her husband (he reciprocated by translating all of her cookbooks).

hazan 1

Lidia Bastianich called her “the first mother of Italian cooking in America.” Marcella Hazan’s recipes are simple and precise above all, totally reliable and always scrumptious.

Marcella Hazan

Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is probably the prime staple of my kitchen library, the collection from which I draw recipes again and again, so often that the spine naturally cracks open to some stained pages. Pesto the Marcella Hazan way is the way I make pesto, and the less I diverge in some temporary madness of less olive oil or more cheese the better it is. Her recipe for Minestrone soup is nothing short of perfect. Serve her Osso Bucco and your guests will faint at table. We eat her Risotto often, plain with just cheese or with peas and sausage or with pancetta or zucchini any other good thing we have on hand.

hazan book

I’d like to share a Marcella Hazan recipe from the same book that sounds a little weird, one that is nonetheless spectacular. Gil suggested to me recently that my three major food groups are coffee, chocolate and milk. There is truth to that. Perhaps my fondness for milk is what drew me to Pork Loin Braised in Milk, Bolognese Style. I also love practically any form of roast pork, especially pernil, the garlic infused, succulent joint you find in humble Latin eateries. I remember as a kid out of college, throwing parties with roasted picnic hams that set off the smoke detector.


In this recipe, the master chef Hazan tells us, “The pork acquires a delicacy of texture and flavor that lead some to mistake it for veal, and the milk disappears to be replaced by clusters of delicious, nut-brown sauce.” You do have to keep an eye on it — it cooks on top of the stove and you have to mind it a bit as it goes along. But every second you spend in the kitchen on this recipe is worth it. Thank you Marcella, you did us right.

Are you ready to drool?

Marcella Hazan’s Pork Loin Braised in Milk

Brown a 2 and a half pound, fatty pork rib roast in a heavy-bottomed pot in 2 tablespooons vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter.

Add salt and pepper and 1 cup of milk, slowly. Turn the heat way down and cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar.

Cook at a “lazy simmer” for approximately 1 hour, turning the meat from time to time, until the milk has thickened and turned nut brown. At this point add 1 more cup milk, let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then cover the pot tightly.

After 30 minutes, set the lid slightly ajar. Cook until there is no more liquid in the pot, then add another half cup of milk. Continue cooking until meat feels tender when prodded with a fork and the milk has all coagulated. Altogether the cooking time is between 2 and a half and 3 hours. Add more milk as needed.

Remove the meat to rest on a cutting board. Slice and plate.

Spoon most of the fat out of the pot, leaving behind the milk clusters. Add 2 to 3 tablespons of water and boil at a high heat while using a wooden spoon to scrape away loose cooking residues. Spoon all the juices over the meat and serve immediately.


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Melancholy and Industry

On it comes, fall, my favorite season (do I say that every season?). In yoga class today, when we did the tree posture, holding up our arms and crooking our legs, I looked in the mirror and everyone actually looked like bare-branched autumn trees. A human forest.

Things to do to jump into fall. Pull the late season carrots, whiskery and somewhat cork-like.


At the same time, admire the mess the deer have made denuding the garden. How did they pull all those bell peppers from the plants so delicately, leaving the plants intact? They left the one sunflower standing, hanging down its giant brown head.

sunflower hanging

Make plans to attend a show – we don’t do the theater too much but Romeo and Juliet is rolling onto the boards for the hundredth time, this time with movie cutie Orlando Bloom, and we’re gonna hoof it to Broadway. Maybe I’ll even be able to pull on some shoes, with a healed, streamlined foot.


What else, in fall, what are the timeworn threads of coziness you begin to weave back into your life? Put fresh sheets on the bed, the flannel ones. Shake out the comforter that’s been shoved in the closet all summer. Burrow in.

Read the first college paper of the year, if you’re lucky enough to have a student nearby. Maud’s concerns a melancholy subject she’s been attacking for her anthro major, the proliferation of descansos, roadside shrines in New Mexico. Her photos of the sites are filled with a lonely beauty.

maud shrine

The comic Louis C.K. plumbed the topic of melancholy on Conan O’Brien recently and I loved what he said about the “fall back to school depression feeling,” how he was driving in his car, listening to a Springsteen tune on the radio, getting that “forever empty” feeling, that “knowledge that it’s forever and you’re alone.” It’s a mental state I remember so well from college, and also bouncing back with insane gladness, that as Louis said “you’re lucky to have sad moments.”


Two things from college that I still resonate to all these years later, melancholy and industry.

So in fall, when it gets cold and lonely, make something. Get out the trusty sewing machine, unearth some ancient fabric, make a simple pillow cover. One that Oliver will cuddle up to.

dog pillow

Read a new book, or revisit an old one. It’s a good time to take another look at The Catcher in the Rye – sure, an old chestnut, but with a Salinger book and movie coming out a good time as any to see if the author’s a genius or a shnook. Or both. And he knows from melancholy.


Nourish yourself. I’m stewing beef with onions, those garden carrots, garden onions and beer, not wine, because that’s what I have in the house. And fall’s about what you have in the house.

pillow fabric


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography

The Halfway House Restaurant

Once again Peter Zimmerman delivers a bulletin from the road. Thanks, Pete, we live vicariously through your travels.

YESTERDAY (writes Peter) I stumbled on a great, old-timey eatery, the Halfway House Restaurant, located on Route 22A, about halfway between Bridport and Shoreham, Vermont, give or take a few yards.

Halfway exterior

It opened in 1951, has somehow survived intact, and serves up a mean hamburger, with homemade fries. The buns were handmade too.


The special of the day was poutine, the common Canadian dish, originally from Quebec, made with french fries, topped with brown gravy and cheese curds.

Halfway menu

The turtle cheesecake, with chocolate, caramel, and pecans, is to die for.


The walls are plastered with photos from days gone by, including this one of Amable and Salome Quesnel and their offspring.

Family pic

Since they were married in 1879, they never made it to the diner, but some of their 102 grandchildren, 275 great-grandchildren, and 156 great-great-grandchildren probably did.

Halfway interior

p.s. Anyone lost a glove?


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A Catskill Idyll

I really ought to get out more. Even if out means going from a cabin to a cottage with an adjacent bungalow as I did this weekend.

It was the gray, cool weather of late summer, more like fall. The Catskill Mountains. The cottage had a quaint disposition, the pet decorating project of antiquarian friends of friends. Charm bloomed in corners. On side tables, one of which held a seal enraptured with a ball.

seal lamp

Windowsills offered various small collections.

small nest

Dramatically tarnished old mirrors lined the walls.

tarnished mirrors

We brought zinnias, butterscotch bars.


Neil, the host, grilled chicken over wood. There was sweet aged bourbon for some. For me,  mango lemonade. A funny kind of tea, milky oat tops. Was it restorative in some way or just cut up grass in bags? Hard to say but worth gently debating. What music should we listen to? Everything sounded good.

milky oat

A fire glowing in the stove, a healthy stack of wood.


Conversation about our kids growing up, finding their feet. About ourselves,  still finding our feet. Will we ever find them? Monopoly and pet play.

dog play

The shaggy, gloomy, romantic Catskills offered up their forests and creeks.


Girdled, Neil the arborist says is the term for roots that entwine themselves like this. What about those trees, though, that entwine themselves as though in love? No special name, they just are.

entwined trees

Mushrooms gleamed against the mulch.

white mushroom cu

When the woods were so delightful we couldn’t stand any more, we took a drive through the weathered local community, Livingston Manor. An ancient graveyard, simply marked, appeared on Creamery Road.

st aloysius

Plain, as was the cemetery’s groundskeeping shed.


Something else simple appeared out of nowhere — a staunch old wood covered bridge dating to the late 1800s.

covered bridge

Sometime in the long afternoon I saw my friend Suzanne sitting by the fire, taking a pensive break from all the charm, the activity, the pets and children. The yap of conversation.

suzanne pensive

I thought of one of my favorite poems, perfect any day but especially for this place, the person, the moment: When You Are Old, by W.B. Yeats.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;


How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;


And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


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Pop Up Rules of the Game

I wore my jacket for so many years the buttons started to blow. There was only one thing for it: pay a visit to Tender Buttons, just around the corner from Bloomingdale’s on New York’s Upper East Side.

tender buttons

I collect buttons myself, the kind you happen upon at tag sales. None suited my jacket. Tender Buttons, named after an obscure volume by Gertrude Stein, stocks fancy buttons – something of an oxymoron, wouldn’t you say?

architectural swirl

You may browse as long as you like.

pink buttons

Until you are bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

yellow buttons

There are too many choices. You may be tempted to take some of the children’s beauties home even if you don’t have a child.

child buttons

Bone, horn, leather, plastic, wood. Maud and I tried to take it all in. What is the fanciest button you sell? I asked. That would be the Swarovski crystal, said the sales clerk a little primly.

store interior

I loved the scrimshaw, carved scenes on aged walrus tusk. Price point out of range for me however. And who wouldn’t like the limited-edition artist-painted scenes from Alice in Wonderland, one to a button. You’d be telling a fantastic story as you walked down the street.

I settled on the finest buttons in the store, fortunately less fancy than some but French, crafted of glass.

jean buttons

We had fortified ourselves for this venture, Maud and I, with a stop at Serendipity 3 just down the street, which was serving up frozen hot chocolate in giant goblets. Worthy of many photos.

serendipity picture

We shared the over-the-top, whipped cream crowned confection over laughs and confidences.

Then stole away for a treat, lipstick from the people who know how to make lipstick, carefully chosen with our particular lips in mind by a greenly eye-shadowed Bloomingdale’s salesperson.


A woman needs a French lipstick in her arsenal. Maud’s made her look more mature, mine made me look less mature. Perfect.

Dinner was a celebration at a pop up steak restaurant that had been relocated while its premises were renovated.

redfarm blackboard

To a laundromat downstairs.


Gil has a new project, a collaboration. So we toasted him with hot crunchy egg rolls stuffed with pastrami from Katz’s. Chicken-fried chicken stuffed with shrimp. Baby shitake mushrooms, nude and slathered in a slick garlic cream sauce. And a blazing red shellfish casserole roasted in a banana leaf tureen.

banana leaf

I don’t eat crawfish.


So there was plenty for Gil and Maud

gil maud redfarm

And perfect steak, of course, all served around a farm table with dish towel napkins that were quite well used by the end of the meal. If the place reverts to a laundry they’ll have their hands full.


We had cooked up a plan to go try “spaghetti ice cream” at a place down the street – ice cream forced through a culinary fun factory, with ice cream  meatballs.

enhanced-buzz-16071-1378422061-10But a downpour hit as we stepped out the door at Redfarm. We quickstepped by the illumination of lightning flashes to the car. Oh my aching foot.

Later, sunk on the couch at home with my leg up, I watched Renoir’s Rules of the Game, the story of rich Parisian twits and their foibles in a country house one fateful fall weekend, putting on amateur theatricals, falling in and out of love, shooting rabbits as well as each other.


Elegant buttons, luscious ice creams, lobster, premium lipstick… these are all things Christine, the protagonist, would be well acquainted with as often as she pleased. Run of the mill, ho hum. For us, a one-day treat was extravagant… and enough.


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Beans and Nothingness

Clomp, clomp, clomp. Down to the garden for the first time in the cool weather with my Frankenstein boot.

What does Nature do when you turn your back? Surprise you.

Six weeks ago when I had foot surgery and disappeared into my couch I had given up on my beans. Runner beans, Blue Lake, which makes them sound more poetic than what they are – just plain old string beans. I had vines galore, yes. But no fruit.

Today… a bumper crop, scaling the brawny sunflower that’s hanging it’s heavy head down, waiting for the birds. Ready for boiling and buttering and serving alongside a pork roast on Sunday, which is just what I plan on doing.

Beans and Nothingness

Never give up. I planted those things in mid-May and it’s taken them four months to proclaim their bean-ness.

In the weeds and vines that have overtaken the ground I found other prizes. Dahlias. I planted about two dozen, having never tried before, and here were two lavender beauties with their cupped, pointed petal tips. And a jolly pint-size butternut squash, the first I’ve ever attempted to cultivate.


I asked Gil to cut all the cukes and zucchini that had waited patiently to be harvested all those weeks I was gone.

big uns

They’re monsters, of course, as big as my big boot. Good for nothing, culinarily. Only useful for proving what happens when you turn your back on something with the inherent ability to grow. Like the idea for a novel, which expands out of fertile soil when you’re busy doing something else.


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Beautiful Typologies

Though I still don’t quite understand what a typology is, the form fascinates me nonetheless. Diana Zlatonovski makes typologies fascinating. This, for example, is a collection of sunsets she amassed on Flickr, drawn from the work of Penelope Umbrico.

sunsets on Flickr:Penelope Umbrico

A curator of interesting objects and images, Zlatonovski compiles them into organized entities for our admiration/edification. She is a photographer. She photographs objects herself. And she distills other work into the essence of their parts (giving proper credit, of course, where credit is due, like these pools of Franck Bohbot).

swimming pools:photos by Franck Bohbot

Her own photos tend to the more delicate. This image she calls “Bundles,” comprised of seashells from a  museum collection, wrapped up like bon bons.


I asked Diana, who works at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, when she started working with groups of objects. “I started my typology project about a year and a half ago,” she told me. “The first series I photographed was the Wrenches.”

WrenchHer work seems to derive its inspiration from that of a famous pair of typologists, Bernhard and Hilla Becher, German artists who worked as a collaborative duo until early in this century.


They photographed mainly  industrial buildings and structures.


Diana told me she has been working a lot with collections at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. She also does some photography in her own studio and travels to collectors’ homes.  “The up side of  doing that is that I am able to spend more time with the collector and hearing the stories behind the objects and how they brought them together.”

Why are arrangements of like objects so arresting? We are invited, perhaps, to entertain the idea of their seeming permanence… these matchbooks will go on forever in whatever permutation.

vintage Boston matchbook covers from the Boston Public Library

Except when they don’t. My parents had a typology of sorts — mid-50s Tokyo matchbooks enshrined under the glass top of a dining table, and those graphics are now far, far in the tail lights. You can’t even get a matchbook in a restaurant anymore. Yet the power of once-ubiquitous objects that have been replaced by other things is also fascinating.

Duncan Yo-Yos:Smithsonian Collection

I like Diana’s work so much because the collections she documents, unlike others, are made up of seemingly not valuable items. Collections too insignificant to interest real collectors. What is worthy of keeping, of arranging, of caring about? We take pennies in a jar for granted, for example. What if they were arranged mindfully and given pride of place in a well-lit photo? This is my typology, not Diana’s.


Does the artist have collections of her own?

“It’s hard not to!  I am always finding interesting things. Luckily, I am usually most interested in small objects…much easier to store.” I love her typology of forks.

vintage forks

Which objects do you find the most fascinating or beautiful, I asked.

“It really varies,” she said. “There is always an emotional response that brings me to selecting objects, it can be aesthetic, nostalgic, or any number of things. But I definitely am drawn to the form and color of an object as well as to its story, where it came from, what it represents.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know everything about these vintage, wacky, glamorous cigarette-holders.

Cigarette-HoldersYou can find Diana’s original photographs on her web site.

Her blog, The Typologist consists mostly of artist submissions or images she has compiled from digital collections.


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Photography

The Big Melt

The ice had all melted. I had come to the group show at MOMA P.S.1 in Long Island City, “Expo1,” to see the contribution of Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist responsible for the amazing waterfalls he installed five years ago around the island of Manhattan.


This time he’d put a little bit of Arctic ice in a climate-controlled room at the former public school/art showplace. It was the closest to the Arctic I thought I’d get in the near future, so I made sure to hit the show on its final weekend.


I would have gone in the GIRLS entrance at P.S.1, the former First Ward Primary School of Queens, except it was only for staff.

ps 1 girls

I’ve always liked those gender-differentiated doors in schools. My own middle school had them.They bring to mind a lively picture of the dangers of mixed-sex post-recess lines — hair-pulling and other scrapping.

The show we’d come to P.S.1 to see featured environmentally-themed works by contemporary artists in a range of disciplines, from video to wall-sized paintings. “Dark optimism” is how the museum describes the show’s approach to various ecosystems.

xpo 1

We went stoked with barbeque from a joint in the neighborhood, called John Brown Smokehouse (named after the abolitionist), that loaded our plates with piles of Kansas-City-style brisket ends and pinkest pastrami.


We didn’t find our names on the freebie list next to the chalkboard menu.

eats free

Afterwards we picked up a wheelchair at P.S. 1’s coatcheck. I always wondered what it’s like to cruise through an art museum in a chair. One thing I found out: you see the lower end of the frame a lot.


That’s from a series by Agnes Denes, completed in 1982, for which she planted a field of grain in what was then undeveloped landfill and is now hugely built out Battery Park City. Her photographs show unsettling views of the World Trade Towers half hidden by amber waves in the foreground.

I sat at the perfect height to examine the trash receptacles that lined a small square room, by Klara Liden, untitled. It lends a certain poignancy to all of these works to realize that you are making your way from classroom to classroom as you go, where some of those girls from the GIRLS entrance and boys from the BOYS entrance shot spitballs and kicked each other under the desks.


I like your graffiti, said a young lady in a sundress, eyeing my cast. They appreciate fine art at P.S. 1. As it happens, I got it right across the street at 5Pointz, the graffiti mecca that is destined to be shut down shortly for luxury housing. Ed Koch used to say that the purpose of an artist is to move into a neighborhood and increase the rents by so much that artists can’t afford to live there any more. Or something like that.

The fancy museum cafe served us coffee and exquisite poppyseed-blackberry cake with lemon curd. For nineteen dollars. Now that’s some high-toned art.


But no ice, any place. The piece called “Your waste of time” was no more. The room, with its shards of ice from Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, was not intended for a deep freeze, a guard told me. “It was a real mess,” he said. The ceiling started to fall. In an exhibit about the environment,  global warming writ small. This happened about a month ago.

There were other great things at the museum though.

Steve McQueen’s disturbing, hypnotic film from the vantage point of a helecopter buzzing the Statue of Liberty.


A tiny hole in the floor that revealed a video showing the artist Pipilotti Rist drowning in lava while shouting “I am a worm and you are a flower!”

A tree reminiscient of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit from which a dog, cat, rat, frog and a few other strays were strung up, all dipped in sticky black paint. This nightmare by Mark Dion, titled “Killers Killed,” reminded me of the Uncle Remus stories. My artist-friend Gary, who came along to the museum, told me he knew the artist’s wife when she owned a dress store in Soho. Artists lead ordinary lives, no matter how bizarre their creative efforts.

There was the grotto created by Meg Webster originally in 1998 and reinstalled for this exhibit. It has some vicious looking koi swimming around. The artist herself comes in for a dip once in a while.

grotto 2

What I liked perhaps the most was a permanent piece, the gold-leaf covered boiler system in the basement, the work of Saul Melman in 2010. This is a vintage coal boiler out of Freddy Kruger, in a dank stone and brick cellar that reminded me of the basement I grew up with, penetrated by boulders. I could only see gold-gleaming bowels from the upper doorway as I could not descend the stairs, and I wish I saw the artist in action.


But the current show was the place to go if you wanted to see a projection of a parrot against Betty Boop wallpaper or a disembodied porcelain hand holding a broken porcelain egg. If you were interested, as I was, in frightening urban scenes of large old trees against barbed wire fences.

But not if you wanted ice. For that you’d have to go to the service exit.

ice machine


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, History, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography

My Gîte and a Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

The peripatetic Peter Zimmerman continues to make his way through the north country, from which he sends this illustrated bulletin. Thanks Pete!

MARGUERITE MARGO – no relation to Brigette Bardot – is a baking fool (writes Peter).


I met her after exiting the highway to take a breather and stumbling onto her boulangerie (bakery) in the small village of Saint-Gédéon, Quebec, along the river Chauvières, not far from the Maine border.

st gedeon map

In this small area of Quebec, Le Beauce, there are more than a dozen towns named after saint this and saint that, all quite obscure: St-Robert-Bellamin, St-Georges, St-Martin, St-Ludger, St-Honore, St-Sebastien, St-Hilaire-de-Dorset, St-Romain, St-Cecile-de-Whitton, and St-Samuel-Station.

“My town,” St- Gédéon, is 96% Roman Catholic, 3% Atheist (!) and 1% Protestant. St-Gédéon was the 13th bishop of Besancon, France. He served six years and died in 796. His feast day is August 8.

Here is the church of St- Gédéon.

st gedeon church

Louis Hémon wrote the first draft of Maria Chapdelaine while staying in Saint-Gédéon in 1912.

What I didn’t notice at first about the boulangerie is that it’s also a gîte (bed and breakfast).

my gite

I was tired and ended up spending two days and nights there.

Turks cap or bellingham lilies flourished in the front yard of my gîte.


Every time I came downstairs, Marguerite was bustling around the kitchen, baking something new.

marg bread

Sometimes hidden.


I bought a liter of blueberries and she is making two little blueberry pies just for moi!

pie baking

The first step is “biling” the berries.


She laid it in a crust.


Out of the oven.

pie next to plate blueberry pie cut

But where did all those baked goods go?

At the end of my visit, I found out that she sells her goodies at a nearby campground, where everything is snapped up like hotcakes, so to speak.


While she was off making her delivery, before I departed, I baked her a loaf of my whole wheat-flax bread. 😉

whole wheat flax bread

Although Marguerite knows very little English and I only know a few French words, we speak the universal language of pain.

Meme si Marguerite connait tres peu la langue Anglaise et moi quelques mots Francais. Nous parlons la langue universelle du pain.


Pete’s Whole Wheat-Flax Bread Recipe

take out 2-3 T. yeast from refrigerator and wait 15-30 minutes until room temperature

add 2 T. honey and 1 tsp. salt or to taste, then 2 T. oil, 2 T. flax meal and 1/4 cup wheat bran

mix well (but gently)

add 1/2 unbleached white flour and 1/2 whole wheat (approx. 3-4 cups of each), mix and knead

after you’ve added the flours, you need to keep adding lukewarm water a little at a time until you have the right consistency

then before you let it rise, dust the dough lightly with flour

let rise 30-60 minutes, fold into oiled bread pan

bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top

let cool on warm stovetop for 30 minutes

turn onto baking rack.

best toasted and topped with unsalted butter

for lighter bread, add 1 cup wheat bran to step 2


Filed under Cooking, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography, Writers

Maine Woods Ramblin’

My world-rambling brother Peter has sent a bulletin from the northern Maine forest, where he is catching his breath in the middle of a book project and, as always, exploring the local history. Peter published Podunk: Ramblin’ to America’s Small Places in a Delapidated Delta 88, which remains the definitive portrait of locales far off the beaten track, and a perfect reflection of his restless, questing mind.


What you can’t get enough of in Podunk are Pete’s vivid photographs, and his pictures of Moosehead Lake in Maine are definitely worth sharing. He’s been spending time around Mount Kineo.

mt kineo cliffs

Mount Kineo’s wild beauty has long been celebrated, but few know it abuts a piece of land called Misery Gore, an “untrampled” place Pete investigated for Podunk. Gores are highly unusual geographical features, Pete’s research shows, limited to Vermont and Maine, “largely forgotten anachronisms that don’t much impact most peoples’ lives in any profound way.”

He says that the source of Misery Gore’s name might be its preponderance of black flies, or it being “a miserable place to survey, log, hunt, and birdwatch,” or that it’s overgrown with briars and brambles, or that “a French-Canadian logger from Miseree once passed through this neck of the woods.” The parcel is wedge-shaped, crisscrossed with nothing but dirt roads.

It is, however, Penobscot country – the tribe has a reservation near Bangor known as Old Town — and on this trip Peter reacquainted himself with some of his Podunk contacts, three generations worth, including 50-year-old Andrew Tomer, his 12- year-old nephew and his father, Penobscot elder Francis.

Francis Tomer

Penobscot, Peter told me, means “where the stream runs by the mossy rock that is white when dry.”

Mount Kineo’s 800-foot cliffs of rhyolite were carved by the Indians into arrowheads. “Thoreau cut himself on this flint-like rock,” Peter writes, “which he called ‘hornstone.’”

arrow heads

“Some Native Americans believed that the cliffs under water were bottomless” Peter told me. He took a ferry to the Tomers’ dock. “After a dinner of well-grilled steak, corn on the cob, green beans from the garden and small spanish olives with pimentos, Francis took out a cigar box with all the arrowheads, marbles, stone tools, etc., and told me about them,” said Peter. Andrew, he reported, was very quiet. “He wanted to remember the stories for future generations.”

clay marbles

“Basket weaving by the Penobscot can be quite intricate,” says Pete.

basket 1

“First, pieces of ash are soaked in water. Then each one must be individually sanded down.”

basket 2

These baskets were made by a woman who lives in Rockwood, Maine, on the shore of Moosehead Lake. There Peter saw mushrooms. Fresh, with a garnish of smooth stones.


And fossilized.

fossil mushroom

A sculpture of some kind.

stone sculpture

A piece of the rhyolite from which arrowheads are carved.

piece of rhyolite



An ancient knife used to carve walking sticks.

old knife used tomake canes

An initialed pipe left by an early settler.


A deerskin cap.

deerskin copy

A deerskin pouch adorned with a baby snapping turtle shell that Peter plans to bring with him when he leaves.


A celebration of all that is old and new and precious in these cool, mysterious Maine Woods.


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