Category Archives: Cooking

Crushes on Crutches

At the movies I saw a woman on crutches. A young, pretty woman in a color-block sundress. As I watched, she hopped around the serve-yourself beverage kiosk, assembling her ice, her soda and her straw, putting the whole drink together before her boyfriend politely carried it away for her.

I saw her next swinging her way into the ladies’ room. Into a regular stall! Not the one with the wheelchair icon I was struggling to enter with my kneeling scooter The Bloke. I washed my hands, she washed her hands, the difference being that she was cool as a cuke, graceful and weightless, not perspiring and puffing like me. Probably about 24 years old.

At the film line she was waiting, as was I, to go in. We shared war stories. A motorcyle accident, she said.


A little piece of the bike flew off into her ankle. The doctor had her in her cast for six weeks. It was a little difficult, she told me, because she lives up four floors and the laundry’s in the basement. But she’s making do okay. Her bike? Came out of the accident perfectly fine. She couldn’t wait to get back on it.

By the next morning my conversation with motorcycle girl had begun to percolate. I had been proud of myself for managing The Bloke so well. But now I had crutches envy. How do you make the best of this particular situation, a bum foot, and do it with some measure of equanimity and grace? It helps if you are an athletically gifted person of 24, of course. I wondered, how do you take your lumps and move forward, albeit with a cast on your foot that feels like a stiff leather ice skate with no sock? A little sand drizzled in for good measure.

Recently I asked my brother Peter for blog ideas since I knew I’d be less able than usual to go on gallivants and cover eclectic cultural happenings like I usually do. Why don’t you just catalogue all the stuff in your house, he suggested.

I feel, though, that I have already catalogued some of the things I like best. My vintage cookbook-pamphlet collection, for example.

salad book

The heirloom lace created by my foremothers.

lace cu 2

I don’t know that I’ve ever indexed the bones that have surfaced from the marsh in front of the Cabin, mainly carried helpfully to us in Oliver’s mouth. We joke that he is trying to assemble to assemble a full deer skeleton.


Or the skins that have been sloughed off by so many snakes just to the south of the house.


But, like motorcycle girl, probably I do get to a few things every day, even now, move my constrained life ahead bit by bit. Take some action, even if I’m not swinging effortlessly on my axilla mobility aids. Thus, a catalogue of 10 actions taken today.

1. A shower bath, my leg encased in a plastic bag, with streaming hot water and a worn-down bar of soap a revelation.

2. A knitted row of  angora, hopefully without a slipped stitch.


3. Perused some passages in Travels in North America, a volume published by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in the 1760s. In it he expounds on such scientific matters as the way bears kill livestock in Philadelphia: by biting a hole in a cow’s hide and inflating it until it dies.


4. Stumbled upon a recipe for Warm, Cheesy Swiss Chard and Roasted Garlic Dip. As soon as I’m up and around the kitchen again!

5. Checked out the Thanksgiving episode of Orange Is the New Black.


How many programs have a cast that is 99 percent female, let along with a heavy lesbian slant? Mindblowing.

6. Pushed The Bloke to the sushi bar at the back of a Japanese restaurant and had the treat of watching the chef halve a bright pink, yard-long salmon with finesse, season it with rock salt and layer it in a tub with its perfect filet brothers.

7. Scootered through a supermarket I usually despise as being too plastic but which today looked cheerily kaleidoscopic after two weeks of grocery deprivation.


8. Brought home the beer in The Bloke’s handy basket.


9. Visited my garden for the first time since the surgery. The collards were begging for a simmer with a pork hock.


10. Visited with Oliver on his turf, the front yard, for a change, rather than him visiting with me on the couch.

oliver rolling

I’m getting back onto that couch now and elevating my aching foot. Ahhhh. But… I wonder what motorcycle girl is up to. On her anime-sparkle-titanium-neon crutches. Rocking the lead vocals with her hip hop crew? Bottle-feeding a new litter of rottweiler-lab pups? Baking a dozen loaves of vegan meatloaf for her closest friends? Or just getting ready to fly down those four flights and go out to the movies again? Because she can do just about anything she wants. As can I.


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Film, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Music, Writers, Writing

Escape From the Small Screen

Out of a doze, into a tavern. Burgers, seafood, beer. Prop up the cast on a chair, so much more comfortable that way. Cold beer, even nonalcoholic never tasted so good. After a dozen Breaking Bad reruns, the real world looks sharp, magnificent .

What’s that on your face, said my father to my husband.


It’s my project beard, said Gil. I’ll cut it when I finish my book.

Christmas isn’t for four months, said my dad, suggesting Gil could get a job as a mall Santa. He went back to calculating the check.


Just a touch more coffee, said my mother to the waitress. No, that’s too much.

Just drink what you want, said my father.

I’ll finish my cold, cold beer. Crunch a last potato chip. Swing my way home to the couch.

Jean on crutches

Did you know it rained today? Like sheets of rock candy, or maybe that’s from Breaking Bad.



Filed under Cooking, Culture, Film, Home, Jean Zimmerman

An ARC and a Boost

There’s type and then there’s type.


After another day of slogging off and onto the couch, I opened the mail. In among the junk, two gems, two volumes I’ve been waiting for. Two Advance Reading Copies of Savage Girl. Two ARCs. The novel will be out in March 2014. But it’s alive and breathing in its beautiful jacket even as we speak. This is the copy that will go out to early commenters and reviewers, bloggers and big mouths, so we want for it to be gorgeous.

arc cover

And that type. That’s what pops. The image of the girl and the mansion resonate, but the type’s what brings it to life. The title announces itself in a virginal white whose lines also embody the savagery of the title, and the two words are embossed, smooth under your fingertips  as I didn’t know they would be when I simply saw the cover proof. Now its typography renders the package dazzling.

Crack it open and you get the prologue, the first outlines of the mystery the narrator Hugo unfolds.

SG first page

The type popped. Now I’m going to have some pizzazz, too. Gil and I picked up a scooter I’d reserved for rental at the drug store. It waited patiently at the Greek restaurant we like while we downed our sandwiches and skordalia.


Then it came home with us – and boy, do cars stop for pedestrians when they see a scooter.

It’s somewhat easier to get around than crutches and I’ll be freer to exit my couch and have adventures. I think I’ll call it the Bloke. Right now the Bloke is in the back of the Suburu, waiting for me.


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Feets Too Big

All the places I won’t walk.

I said I’m sorry to an earthworm. Out loud.


It was cut in half, lying on the asphalt. Commiserating with a worm is not something I would ordinarily do, but I could in some ways relate to the creature. I’ll be able to move, but slowly, on crutches, after my foot surgery in three days. My right foot is eventually going to be good as new.

baby feet

My left foot will have to wait to get its imperfections mended. I didn’t know that a tailor’s bunion, the aberrant bump on the outside of the foot — the one that will no longer allow me to get into anything besides flip flops — was named for the way tailors traditionally sat. Cross-legged.


I guess it cramped the style of their little toe. Too bad they didn’t have Dr. Voellmicke,  my orthopedic surgeon, to fix them up. I’ll be in a hard cast for six weeks. That little bone that leads up to your toe, the one you never think about, is virtually marrowless, which means it has very little of the good stuff inside it needs to heal properly. Then, while Dr. Voellmicke is at it, he’s going to fix the golf ball size knot of a bone spur that has decided it likes to surf my big toe knuckle. (That’s a mix of about five metaphors, if you’re counting.)

No real walking, no driving, a lot of hurry up and wait. “You can rent one of those little scooters at the drug store,” said the nurse. I don’t think so.

Today, Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun popped into my mind. Maybe because my friend Jennifer and I were talking about the dark novels we read when we were adolescents that were probably too old for us, not to mention already a bit dated — Margerie Morningstar and The Group among them. Johnny, which Trumbo published in 1939, told the story of a soldier who has lost all his limbs in a war as well as all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue).


I remember how incredibly disturbing was the point of view of the novel, from inside the cave of this tortured guy’s mind. He wasn’t a lump, as he appeared to those around him. Trumbo went on to become one of Hollywood’s best-paid screenwriters, and won two Oscars under pseudonyms even while being blacklisted. I never knew about any of that when I was growing up, just that Johnny Got His Gun was a great tour de force. (And that I was a little bit cool to be reading it.)

But as for me, feel sorry for my self as I might, I will hardly be a lump after Friday.  I’ll just be a tiny bit inconvenienced, incommoded, and rendered relatively adventureless, by an elective surgery that’s going to fix a minor imperfection so I will be able to go hiking in the woods again, or dawdling down the street in New York City, or swimming in my cardio class… I should be thinking not of Trumbo but humming to Your Feet’s Too Big by Fats Waller.

Say up in Harlem at a table for two
There were four of us
Me, your big feet and you
From your ankles up, I’d say you sure are sweet
From there down; there’s just too much feet
Yes, your feets too big
Don’t want ya, ’cause ya feets too big
Can’t use ya, ’cause ya feets too big
I really hate ya, ’cause ya feets too big

What I am doing, aside from humming, until the day of my surgery… simple things. The things you don’t ordinarily think about. Simple pleasures. Ones I need two feet for.

Pogo-ing. Check.

Fixing up a coffee station in my new living room/bedroom — no stairs for me anytime soon.

Harvesting the garden.

ripe tomatoes

Weeding the garden, with help from Maud.

Walking down the stairs to the kitchen, the steps  I usually complain about, to make herbal iced tea with chamomile, mint and lavender from my garden.

herb tea

Going to Jones Beach tomorrow, getting some sand between my soon to be fiber-glassed toes.


Hopefully Maud and I will relish it as Gil and I did last year.

Nails, both fingers and toes. Gossip included, with my good friend Betsy.

Make a reading list. Reread the Trumbo? A movie list. A music playlist. Seriously think about a knitting project.

Drive. I so take it for granted ordinarily. But when we walk by the Hudson at dusk, then drive with the windows down through the warm dark night, Bruce on the radio — It’s midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute, it’s a mad dog’s promenade — an ice cream dripping, I already feel nostalgic about having two feet in hand.


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

Stop Your Sobbing

How do you cope with the prospect of failure?  Not failure itself, that’s pretty easy. You cry, brush yourself off, move on.

But the likelihood of screwing up. Ah, that’s another thing.

I’m talking about my vegetable garden, which turns out to be both a success and a bomb.

My weeds! They have taken over. Excuses: Heat. Rain. Humidity. Social distractions. And I’ve got to work, after all.

I have tomatoes, so how can I whine? A rainbow of heirlooms.

mixed tomatoes

Basil bushes that could make topiary pesto.

Squash, huge, far too much too eat.


Does anyone actually like stuffed zucchini boats?

My herbs were are great before they crushed by toppling mint. The lavender and tarragon have exploded. Next to them, the pinks I planted as companions have bloomed constantly. My raspberry volunteers produced berries that accent vanilla ice cream perfectly.


And here’s the point. Everything is sprouting, bushy, overgrown. The weeds sprawl. But the plants I expected to do well – the pole beans, say, masses of vines and leaves – have produced no beans.


Some cuke plants have thrived, but others flatlined. Peppers, yes, eggplant, nada. Cosmos making a brave go of it.


The beautiful crinkled leaves of the rainbow chard? Gourmet rabbit lunches, long gone.

The journey is the goal. To quote Gil, quoting some Oriental sage.

Oh. So it was all about the planting of those wrinkly little potato sections in May, watching the green plants thrive in June, finally the digging of the hard red tubers out of the earth, greeting the earthworms that were their bosom companions. Getting the good dirt under my nails.

potatoes soil

Having a perfectly manicured kitchen garden where every crop prospers isn’t the point even if it was possible. I’ve had that experience, in the past, on a sunny slope with plenty of chicken manure and it was pretty great. But then I didn’t share a marsh with turtles and snakes and red-tailed hawks. I didn’t live in the shady, ethereal woods.

I could use a hand with the weeding. In the meantime, let’s listen as Jonathan Richman sings the Kinks’ Stop Your Sobbing.


Filed under Cooking, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Photography, Writing

Portals Into Other Worlds

I’m thinking about how you can visit other times and places on the web, peeking through portals the way you peer through a cutout in the plywood surrounding a construction site. Here are fifteen visits I’ve made lately that I’d recommend.

It was a mistake for Rolling Stone to make a rock star out of a creep.


That doesn’t mean the article that goes with the picture is not good journalism. And don’t we want to know, don’t we have to know, what makes terrorists tick, in order to know how to combat the evil they do? If you don’t feel like patronizing Rolling Stone at the moment to read the piece, if you’re interested in long-form reportage on all kinds of subjects, from a history of the famous indie rock club Maxwell’s to a star 16-year-old pitcher in Japan, go to, which reprints new and classic nonfiction from around the web.


Admit it, you want to know the inside story of the Kindle. What brainiacs came up with this gizmo that might mean the end of books as we know and love them? (I actually have a Kindle Fire and don’t find it hasn’t stifled my desire to read print on paper, just saying.)

It sounds almost banal, but I guarantee that when you hook into The Evolution of Love Songs (1904-2007) you will not be able to quit. I’m waiting for part 2, 2008-2013.

Up my alley, and I hope yours, a view of how the lives of American women changed over the 19th century through the art of the time.  In particular, life on the farm, complete with Winslow Homerian milkmaids.

Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) The Milk Maid


There are so many food blogs. I like npr’s the salt.

A view into a different world would include the minds of people who make Lego their personal idiom. They do things like make plastic sushi and other amazing Lego food creations. 

Lego sushi

I’m interested in the alternate lives of feral children, especially since my next novel Savage Girl  describes all the trouble one can get into in Gilded Age New York. Like how do you participate in a refined dinner party when you’re accustomed to tearing meat apart with your fingers? Every now and then a contemporary wild child surfaces with an interesting story. You can read about Marina Chapman, a British housewife who claims she was raised by monkeys in Colombia.

 marina chapman

Want to know about neolithic cooking? The Rambling Epicure tells you, and it starts with “one bucket wild spinach leaves.” The excellent food site gives you a recipe from Jane Le Besque’s cookbook, Un Soufflé de Pollen: Livre de Cuisine et de Peinture. A painter, Le Besque lives in the Pays de Gex in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and this is her “artistic vision” of primitive cuisine.

See how other people connect — passionately — with the past. Reenactors get their due with 36 photos from around the world.


Here, actors and actresses from Iere Theatre Productions play the roles of indentured East Indian laborers and British constabulary police during a reenactment of the first arrival of East Indians to Trinidad and Tobago, on Nelson Island in the Gulf of Paria off the west coast of Trinidad.

It’s not all about Gettsyburg, clearly.

reenactors 2

These children are taking part in a mock military parade at an amusement park in Pyongyang to mark International Children’s Day, in this photo taken on June 1, 2013.

Okay, the squeamish should not tune in to7 Bio-Artists Who Are Transforming the Fabric of Life Itself” at the site io9.


It’s about how some provocative artists today deal with biotechnology. Working with scientists and engineers, these geniuses transform living tissue and even their own bodies into works of art. For example, Brazilian-American “transgenic artist” Eduardo Kac took a rabbit and implanted it with a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) found in jellyfish. When placed under a blue light, the rabbit glows an otherworldly hue.

On the lighter side, see the longest domino chain in the world made of books: 2,131 of them.

 My dog is named a very modern Oliver. He looks exactly like his name.

oliver about to copy has a well-researched piece on ancient pet names, such as dogs called Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy, Jakke, Bo and Terri, and a cat in England named Gyb – the short form of of Gilbert –  or one named Mite, who prowled around Beaulieu Abbey in the 13th century, or Belaud, a grey cat belonging to Joachim du Bellay in the 16th century. Isabella d’Este owned a cat named Martino. I bet nobody died their animals green.

Buzzfeed has 16 noble photos of women writers at work, including a great one of Anne Sexton immersed in her craft.

anne sexton

From, the story of an artist whose work was discovered in the trash 50 years after his death.

Charles Dellschau

This grouchy butcher by trade, an immigrant named Charles Dellschau, had secretly been busy assembling thousands of intricate drawings of flying machines, sewn together in homemade notebooks with shoelaces.

And for anyone who didn’t catch this when it went big on the web, Dustin Hoffman showed us his softer side in reminiscing about Tootsie and what playing a woman meant to him. The interview is a window into the psyche of someone whose brilliant work opened a window into a psyche we were lucky to see.



Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

A Manhattan Birthday Boat

Today was my birthday. I decided to take the two adventurers closest to me and go on the high seas. An oceanographic architectural tour of Manhattan launches most days from Pier 62, on the island’s west side, and the fact that it was the hottest day of the year made a liquid frolic all the more appealing.

Pier 62, part of the Chelsea Piers sports complex, has some offerings for while you’re waiting for your boat to launch. You can watch hundreds of elementary-age gymnasts and soccer buffs perform in the air-conditioned splendor of a huge indoor gym. Watch deckhands spiff up the many yachts tied to the dock. Check out the picturesque marine ropes stashed at the end of the pier.

ship rope

Wonder about a Marcel du Champs-style composition of dining fork and some kind of bulbous ship hitch.

ship thing

Note the gallery of oversize photographs celebrating Chelsea Piers, including one of the Lusitania sailing out on its final, doomed voyage, with horse carriages stacked up watching it depart.


Our boat was Manhattan, built in 2006 to resemble a 1920s riverboat, all light and gleaming wood panelling.

the manhattan

The cruise traveled south on the Hudson River to the Upper Bay, curtseyed to the Statue of Liberty, continued down around the Battery, up the East River, then retraced its steps, west again, all the way up to 125th Street, where it circled back to the starting point.

Austin, the captain, introduced the incredibly savvy architects Arthur Platt and Scott Cook, who would be narrating our journey. We wouldn’t be able to tour the very top of the island, said Austin, because of the heat: the steel of the swing bridge at Spuyten Duyvil had reached 95 degrees. If they swung it open, its expansion would make it impossible to close. On a brighter note, Hannah and Heather would be manning the bar, serving up ice-cold beverages for the next three hours, even champagne.

Maud, please, will you have some champagne for my birthday, I implored my daughter, since I myself refrain from alcohol and someone should raise a toast.

No, Mom, she said, the breeze ruffling her hair as we pulled out past Battered Bull of Georgetown, motoring into the channel. Water, she said. I want water.

Good thought. You could sit inside on this trip, in the climate-controlled saloon, and see the sights through glass. Or you could sit at the bow, on a bench outside in the red-hot sun, the New York harbor wind whipping your face. Where do you think we sat?

I learned. I learned so much. And then I forgot so much. The architects knew everything in the world about New York. And something about New Jersey too.

Like that the Erie Lackawanna rail terminal in Hoboken, for example, was built in 1909, and its dull brown color represents the hue of copper before it oxidizes – like the color of the Statue of Liberty originally. I never knew that.

That was a refrain that ran through my sunburned skull all day: I never knew that.


Or the fact that Ellis Island sits on the site of one of the harbor’s four original “oyster islands,” barely visible at high tide, and that Ellis Island, where so many American immigrants were “processed” was built first of wood and burned in 1897.


That the Statue of Liberty’s skin is two pennies thin, and the torch is covered in 24 carat gold. Her sandals are upturned because Liberty is “always on the move.”


I never knew that either.

Or the following interesting things, absorbed between cooling draughts of water.

On Governor’s Island – we talked a lot about the future of New York, not only the past — the biggest demolition project ever planned in New York, of old Coast Guard buildings, will create hills eighty feet high from which to view the Statue and Manhattan.

On the Brooklyn Waterfront, the site of Wallabout Bay, you can now take a bike tour of the Navy Yard.

We passed Williamsburg, Greenpoint – it’s “your last opportunity to look at this industrial waterfront,” said the architectural commentary. Brooklyn is developing so fast. “Bloomberg’s administration has upzoned more acreage in the history of New York than any other.” But even Bloomberg might be stymied by what was described as the “black mayonnaise” sediment of the oil-contaminated Newtown Creek.


On Roosevelt Island stands a monument, a shrine to FDR, designed by the architect Louis Kahn, who passed away in Pennsylvania Station and  “it took a while to identify him.” I certainly never knew that about Louis Kahn. In fact, I could barely believe it.

In Harlem you find the concept of “the tower in the park”, when public housing units stand solo, without a connection to the larger community.

It was 1790 when Archibald Gracie built a house in what was then the countryside outside of New York City, never dreaming that his domicile would one day be the home of mayors (current mayor excluded, as he already has eleven homes).


And it was at this point that I put aside some of my adventuring spirit and stumbled inside to an air-conditioned seat. I was having fun — yet I wondered if the seasickness that has plagued me throughout my life had come back to haunt me. Then the music of fact revived me. That and the fizz of a diet Coke.

In 1909 the Metropolitan Life building with its elegant cupola was the highest in the world.


One difference between public and private high rises is that the private ones have balconies.

The Woolworth Building is just now having its centennial.

Gulp. Water. Is this boat rocking or is it me?

There is a very famous, ultra-cool architectural firm called SHoP. Never knew it.

One of the newer fancy buildings, of the many, many fancy buildings in New York, features an indoor dog walking court and built in nanny-cams.

Goldman Sachs employees take a private ferry every day from Manhattan to the firm’s offices in Jersey City.

The “exploded Malibu Barbie house” of artist Julian Schnabel was built on top of a stable.


Fireboat 343, docked at Pier 40, was named for the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11.


Maybe if I were to go outside, get a breeze? Another Coke? Would my queasiness subside?

Frank Gehry’s sumptuous IAC building of smoky glass was made by “cold warping” the panels on site.


There is now such a thing as a permanent window washing crane stationed atop several skyscrapers. It’s controversial, if that matters to you.

We passed a trio of kayakers at Pier 76, bobbing, no doubt very hot, but feeling very chill there in the waters of Manhattan.

And finally what the architect Scott called his favorite structure – his favorite, after all these hundreds? – the Lehigh Building. The “architects held back vertical elements at the façade,” he said, praising its “no nonsense” lines, its wraparound windows.

favorite bldg

We stumbled off the gangplank, our brains sunstruck, saturated and several pounds heavier. We collapsed.

gr after

Even youth faded in the heat.

mr after

But we revived with some time in a restaurant in an old boat called the Frying Pan.

frying pan

And taking the place of birthday cake, an ice cream sandwich with red velvet wafers and cream cheese ice cream.

red velvet

Home to dry land and cool, fragrant birthday flowers, from Maud.

birthday flowers


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

Something to Cry Over

I like to go adventuring. Small adventures or large, I’m happy if I see something new and arresting. If I have a frisson of … something… delight, wonder, whatever you want to call it. With a companion, adventuring’s the best.

So today I was a little down. Finished my work for the day, marking up an ancient, earnest screed of colonial history with a dull Sharpie, no adventure in sight. No companion either, with Gil bearing down on his writing, Maud gallivanting with a friend, other people at jobs or vacations. Only me and Oliver, and I’m not customarily invited on his adventures.

There were always the onions. I had already withdrawn to my cool underground kitchen lair to make a batch of pesto for dinner.


But now, no adventures to the fore, the onions presented themselves as a project.

onion basket

I’d never grown onions before. This summer, they grew incredibly fast. I put them out to harden on a plastic tarp under the brutal sun because I thought that’s what you do with them.

drying onions

Now to pickle them.

I had a recipe, from The Savory Way by veggie-genius Deborah Madison, that I’d made before, calling for red onions, but mine are white and from my taste test much tarter and tangier than the recipe’s onions, which turn a delicate ballet-worthy shade of pink.

Much more of a crying-over onion.

I trimmed them up, brushed the dirt from their whiskered bottoms. Sliced them in crisp rounds. Listened to Alejandro Escovado’s Castanets on the radio, a song so good it could make you cry.

The recipe calls for boiling water splashed over the onions in a colander, after which you pack the rings  in jars and douse them in a vinegar solution.


Who is not filled with a sense of well being upon viewing a fresh gallon jug of Heinz white vinegar?

Of course the success of the enterprise lies largely in the containers — all preserving being an opportunity to show off your beautiful canning jars. I picked up these pint-size blue Mason beauties in Wisconsin this summer, together with their matte zinc lids.


Reviewed the recipe thus far with Oliver. Placed the onions on the brick floor, just under his snout. He has been known to sample vegetables.

onions on brick

I think impassive  is the word for his expression.

oliver 1

When I politely suggested he take another look, his reaction was subtle but firm. Ears now aloft. Are you kidding me?

oliver 2

The recipe includes accoutrements that it seems have nothing to do with flavor and everything with appearance. The perfect bay leaves.


The thyme I rescued from my garden, burning my bare feet to get there, wading through the weeds and getting dive bombed by a purple dragonfly. An adventure of sorts.

Traces of onions have been found in Bronze Age archaeological sites alongside date stones and the remains of figs. Workers who built the pyramids may have been fed radishes along with onions, a bitter repast for bitter work. Roman gladiators got onion juice rubdowns. In the Middle Ages wise men prescribed onions  to facilitate both bowel movements and erections — one stop shopping.

But I’ve got to get back to my kitchen adventure and pour the vinegar elixir over the slices.


Not the adventure I’d hoped for today, but perfect nonetheless.


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

Ramen in Harlem

Outside on this July afternoon it’s hot, hot, hot, but you feel as if you’re in a cool womb within Jin, the ramen bar on upper Broadway at 125th Street.

jin sign

This is Harlem, a Harlem of changes. Every neighborhood in New York experiences flux, of course, but this one is currently in crisis mode as Columbia University expands its holdings, spending $6.3 billion dollars to cut a gigantic swath across 17 acres of streets and buildings. It all takes place under the shadow of the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue viaduct, now over a century old.


The goal is positive: a series of buildings that will enhance the university’s offerings in science, business and the arts. Unfortunately, the development will cause the destruction of many locally owned warehouses, factories and auto repair shops. And tenements. The old buildings are getting boarded up. There were huge protests over this.

old Harlem

I’ve always liked the old-fashioned structures of the neighborhood, crumbling as they may be. Some still stand, their paint weathered, looking as though we’ve let them down. That’s why they call it New York, because nothing is allowed to grow old here, said a spectator quoted by The New York Times as he watched the demolition of the glorious old Pennsylvania Station.

Some buildings have already disappeared, even before this latest chapter, like the diner I used to go to at the terminal point of 125th Street when I was a student here.


Wedged under the West Side Highway, it was a great, funky place to look out over the Hudson and dream. It was already ancient when I drank my coffee there.

Now when you look uptown from 125th, Columbia’s mammoth cranes hover over the landscape like the skeletons of some futuristic, predatory beasts.

columbia bldg

But not to worry, Jin is here to soothe us, just short of where the redevelopment starts, at the base of the steps that lead up to the subway platform. Convenient. The train can drop you off into a puddle of steaming, flavorsome, broth.


New York has a lot of ramen parlors just at the moment. Jin is one of the finest. It’s always crowded, with students and families (babies holding soup spoons as big as their faces), young couples, singles intent upon a book and a slurp at the same time. If I were a student now, with no diner on the Hudson, I know where I’d be.

At the counter we have an up close and personal view of the process in this particular ramen kitchen.


The chef. His name is Joseph. The broth pot, the size of a small boulder. At Jin, they cook the broth to make tonkotsu ramen for hours, pork bones at a high boil, resulting in a creamy texture that’s sort of like a savory gravy. They spoon it into each bowl with a giant’s ladle, then Joseph applies the fixings. The sliced pork belly.

jin pork

Called chashu, roasted for two and a half hours, it’s smoky, fatty and succulent. They can’t leave it in the heat any longer, Joseph says, or it will fall apart. And the idea is to have intact disks of the meat in each serving. Along with a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, fresh scallion and of course the ramen itself. When you enter Jin, everyone is leaning over their bowls, chopsticks flailing, sucking in the long strands of noodle, which are firm, very thin, straight and white. They are unrisen, and are made with sodium bicarbonate water, of all things. If a diner has broth left over and is still not full they can order extra servings of noodles at a nominal cost. This has never happened to anyone as far as I know.

womb room

Now, not because I’m contrary – I don’t usually order the ramen at Jin. You see, the restaurant also offers the rice bowl known as char siu-don, which is one of the more delicious dishes I’ve tasted. It too has slices of pork belly, draped across a mound of perfectly sticky rice, along with a quivering sunny-side-up egg, shreds of bright red pickled ginger, shreds of sliced scallion, sesame seeds and cut nori. I order a side of the spicy garlic paste called mayu to slather all over everything. And then I am excluded from polite company for the next 48 hours.

rice bowl

Jin, if you ask the owners of the restaurant, means “benevolence” and finds its root in Confucianism.  The character that makes up the word consists of two elements, with the left side representing a human being and the right side symbolizing the numeral two. Jin is said to depict the way two people should treat one another.

Perhaps enough tonkatsu ramen can help heal the redevelopment wounds under Harlem’s rumbling IRT bridge.

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Blues Chicken

With every last i dotted in the proofread Savage Girl galleys, I raced to my reward, a sultry New York City where everyone, it seemed, was perambulating, doing something exciting and interesting. Gil and I would go among them, we would do something exciting and interesting, too.

Eat chicken, for one.

Questlove, the drummer and frontman for the band the Roots, has got so deep into the fried poultry business that he had some kind of a late night throwdown with Momofuko head honcho and chicken man David Chang on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Now the musician has opened a counter joint in New York’s Chelsea Market called Hybird that serves exclusively drumsticks, fried dumplings, biscuits and cupcakes. All the essentials for a balanced diet.


We got to the labyrinthine food concourse in midafternoon, ahead of the crowds, snaking through a corridor lined with dozens of teas, our stomachs rumbling.


The enormous Chelsea Market complex is located on the premises where the Oreo was developed and perfected, lending an air of sanctity to our excursion.

Chelsea Market features a lot of exciting things. Chilled, hefty lobsters.


Falling water.

chelsea waterfall

Food venues. Outrageously good smells swirled around us.


What it didn’t have before is this particular chicken.

chix box

What is the seasoning, I asked Sammy, the guy double dipping chicken parts in a creamy paste behind the counter, when I managed to unstuff my mouth with chicken.


It’s a secret, Sammy said. A lady from Philadelphia comes in and mixes it up for us. She brings all the spices but she doesn’t tell us what they are.

I love a secret, especially when it tastes as good as this. The biscuit too was perfectly crumbly, smeared with honey butter, and we piled on further with crunchy dumplings that oozed out their sweet-savory crab filling when bitten.

Stencilled footsteps seemed to indicate where you should stand at Hybird, and naturally Gil was outside the lines.


I saved the cupcake, whose flavor was described as “Sexual Chocolate,” for the car, a sexier environment than Chelsea Commons.

A bookstore.


Nary a copy of The Orphanmaster in sight. It happens. I fell back on my motto, handily available on a postcard.

it's always worth it

You never know who you will meet on a summer afternoon ramble around New York. In this case a young woman wearing a pair of the new Google glasses.

google glasses

Wilma told me she’d just picked them up upstairs, in the Google offices, having won them in a contest. She said she was recording a video of me as we spoke.

Sated, Gil and I continued to the World Financial Center, in Battery Park City, directly across the Hudson from Jersey City. We were looking forward to a triple bill of bluesy rockers, or rockin’ blues players, depending on your perspective, on a public terrace that sits in the shadow of the Freedom Tower.

freedom day

The sun shone so bright and hot that half the waiting crowd put up their rain umbrellas, a spectrum of colored and patterned domes across the concrete. New Yorkers are always more slovenly than they are expected to be, and serious exhibitionists. Women flaunted the briefest sundresses up to their backsides and sweat-slicked men ran shirtless through the crowd. In the harbor a stroll away, sailboats and yachts docked, and motor boats cruised in to check out the action.


Alejandro Escovedo hit the stage with his sweet blasts of melody, punk rock in its roots. His song Sensitive Boys could make you cry, or was that the sun glare in your eyes. He brought on David Hidalgo to do a searing You Are Like a Hurricane. Alejandro called it the Canadian national anthem.

We met up with friends and family at the venue. My touselled buddy Sandra the artist-environmentalist noticed that the masts of the little boats were themselves rocking, pushed by the wind, in line with the beat of the tunes.

touseled Sandra

Los Lonely Boys, the Chicano rock band out of San Angelo, Texas, were tight. A trio of brothers, they call their music Texican Rock ‘n’ Roll. How can three guys make so much noise? marveled Gil.

Los Lonely Boys

The lead singer and guitarist Henry shouted above the applause, We appreciate it! We know you can be anywhere else!

And it was true of course, on this summer night, with this breeze and the salmon streaks of sunset glowing, in this fantastic city. We could be doing anything but we chose to be here because Heaven, their hit debut single from a decade ago, was so exciting.

How far is heaven? Los Lonely Boys sang. You know it’s right here, right now, shouted Henry, in New York City!

Los Lobos followed, another American Chicano group, this one from California, with considerable chops that they took no time in putting out on the stage. They’d been around since the ‘80s, after all. The sun set, the klieg lights glowed, people wrapped their arms around each other and danced.

By the time we gathered our things, the skinny minx beside me who’d been flipping her skirt in time to the beat was sweetly reunited with her man.


Love and music in sun-stunned, summertime New York City. A treat as scrumptious as fried chicken.

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Tuber or Not Tuber

My potatoes are ready to harvest. Knuckling up from under the crumbly soil, red, firm, practically begging to be dug.

potatoes stalks

The tops of the plants have collapsed and faded, letting me know the tubers have reached their point of ripeness.

And I’m on my knees (on my gardening pad, protecting my getting-to-be-arthritic knees) thinking about things that grow under the soil.

potatoes soil

Earthworms, like the one strutting across my gloved fingers, surprised in its wanderings around the potato neighborhood. Gil tells me that earthworms are actually an invasive species and have disrupted the ecology of the forest floor.


I’ve always liked earthworms, admired their digestive capabilities, and wanted them to multiply in my garden. At the same time, being a little squeamish, I’m anxious about coming across them writhing in my path.

Here are potatoes, washed and sliced, for a summer gratin.

potatoes raw

So fresh they slice more like cukes or squash. Moist like just-picked tomatoes.


I’m thinking about anxiety, another thing that, like a potato, grows underground. You can put them aside, the things that worry you, by day. The yet-to-be-paid bills, the yet-to-be-written article, the yet-to-be-published book, the yet-to-be-proofread galleys, the yet-to-be-folded laundry. But roundabout 11pm, lying between the sheets, the air conditioner blotting out all distractions, those anxieties come back for their nightly haunting. Herbal tea, you say? Hot milk? Meds? All you can do is dig yourself out of the dirt by the next day’s sunlight.

Onions swell beneath the dirt. Onions to fry in olive oil for the gratin.

onions raw

Creativity also grows underground. Say I have an idea for a new story. An idea about the way a certain neighborhood looks in a New York of a different age. A thought about a character the other characters call simply the Turk. A whaleboat loaded with cabbages. Ideas percolate under the surface and peep up occasionally. You’d better write them down in a notebook or they’ll descend back down again.

Layer the potatoes in a casserole dish. This gratin is simple. Place the rounds, spoon the onions over and then the shredded gruyere. One, two, three layers. Extra cheese on top (no anxiety about its cost or its cholesterol!).

Give anyone deserving a shred.

oliver cheese

Take a break from proofreading your galleys. Pour a pint of cream over the layers. A pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper.


Crank the oven to 425 degrees. It’s hot in here, isn’t it? The rest of the ten pounds of  potatoes, homely and crumbly, await their cold bath. They’re dug up now, won’t ever go back. Anxiety, creativity, things to bring into the light of day. It’s their turn in the sun.

potatoes basket


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Piquant Spoonfuls of the Past

At a bric a brac shop in Wisconsin I came away with some new treasures for my recipe pamphlet collection.

macaroni magic

What is bric a brac, anyway? Something you love and nobody else gives a fig for. The phrase originated with the French in the early 1830s, and it literally means at random or without rhyme or reason.

Well, my affection for vintage cookery pamphlets is certainly that.

ground beef

My collection of over a hundred booklets spans the 1930s to the 1980s, but these simple illustrated bound-paper time machines were already being produced in the late 19th century, when food companies began to lure women into the kitchen with recipes that delicately enticed them to use their products. As time went on, companies like Spry (a competitor of Crisco) produced fantastic, clever efforts. Home Economics institutions also stepped in to help sort out culinary complexities, particularly during the years of the second world war, when shortages affected almost all households.


300 Ways to Serve Eggs came out  in 1940 under the auspices of the Culinary Arts Institute, “One of America’s foremost organizations devoted to the science of Better Cookery.” I love the optimistic bounty of that egg basket, and the idea embodied in the introduction to the pamphlet that this humble food can change our lives.

We know now, that they carry in their golden hearts every food element the human body needs and especially vitamin D which occurs so rarely in our everyday foods. Our only problem is to eat enough of them.

Of course the kitsch of the illustrations is great, and the nostalgia of such fare as egg frizzle (incorporating chipped beef) and noodle oyster loaf with creamed eggs, served with the ubiquitous white sauce of the age. They sound dated, but I remember growing up with the simple baked eggs found in this pamphlet, and they were delicious.

Eventually all sorts of corporate types realized that recipe books made good giveaways, and so you got pamphlets like the one produced by Wisconsin Gas Company in 1969.


Now foodstuffs like wheat germ nut bread were being touted, along with the more Midwest-typical batter-dipped wieners and the promising shrimp divan supreme, which included frozen asparagus, canned shrimp, canned shrimp soup and processed American cheese. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of that dish fills me with a warm, cozy feeling.

gas 2

I couldn’t resist, so I went a little outside my collecting focus and picked up some petite cookbooks, each with its own charm. I admire the vintage men’s cookbooks that appeared at the middle of the century, like The Terrace Chef.

richard rosen

In this two by four inch self-published book, Rosen actually tells you in detail how to build a barbecue pit — this is 1952 — itemizing how many bags of portland cement and how many flagstones you will need. He gives equal time to recipes (steaks, clambakes and shaashlick) and to the principles of the good life.

From décolleté to dungarees, from double-damask to picnic plaids, from sterling to raffia wrapped stainless steel to the tune of brass and copper cooking ware. Away from stuffy formalities to refreshing camaraderie.

It’s somehow reassuring that the foodie culture of today had a precedent in this culinary gusto of an earlier age.

And health. Marye Dahnke’s Salad Book, published in 1954 and “tested in Marye Dahnke’s own Kraft kitchens,” is a compilation I might not just put away with my collection but dip into, now that I’m thinking plant-based.

salad book

Even if what stirs me most about it is the collection of technicolor illustrations, not the chicken-cauliflower salad or the lime light salad with molded Jello.

salad 2

Mrs. Ivere Nelson wrote her name in script on the cover of Dahnke’s comprehensive guide to salads. The least I can do, half a century later, is pick up the reins.

After all, ground beef still rules.

ground beef 2

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Deep Purple

No better place to be on a mild summer night in Wausau, Wisconsin.

fish fry signOne place allows you to do more than chow down on walleye.



Return a flag.

flag returnHug a military sculpture.


Make like a pinup girl in front of a valuable Air Force Corsair II that made its bones in Southeast Asia 40 years ago.


There is fellowship over fish. Sisters who trekked here for their cousin Eloise’s memorial service tomorrow.

lois:janetEloise loved purple. Some people wear purple.


The Old Fashioned cocktail is analyzed, quaffed. Don Draper’s choice. You can drink one sweet, with cherries, or sour, with mushrooms. Let’s order a round.

tom collins


Bet you can’t drink just one.






Mid-life romance, second marriage engagement bling.



A couple of accordion players who will perform Deep Purple at the church.



More sisters, more gab.



And finally the fish.

fish plate


A mellow night.



A memorable lady who is missed tonight.


If you want to stay longer, says the waitress, you can go drink in the lounge.









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Plant Based Pesto

I’ve been hearing the expression plant based ringing in my ears a lot lately.


My doc saw my “bad” cholesterol ticking up (Bad, cholesterol! Bad!) and we decided it was time for a change. Get used to quinoa, she said. I had never tried it. Cut out the red meat you love, or at least cut it down to one or two times a month. Chicken or fish, okay, once in a while. But mainly, think plant based. Salads. Beans. Rice. Greens.

Plant based.


I love vegetables. (So does the yellowjacket I caught on those collard greens.) I’m so excited that my cukes are almost ready to be harvested.


My new potatoes are such babes they cry when you pull them out of the ground.


I couldn’t be a prouder mama.

But changing my diet, all but eliminating pork ribs, beef brisket, skirt steak, this is a big change. I know it’s for the best, but I have to find savory ways to make myself eat the right way happily. (Not to mention a somewhat recalcitrant husband.)

I have always loved pesto. The recipe originated in Liguria, the region of Italy that borders France. Its mineral-rich seaside soil and climate produce exceptionally sweet, sweet basil. The name comes from the mortar and pestle that are used to delicately squeeze the tender leaves rather than coarsely crush them. A similar sauce called battuto d’aglio (beaten garlic) appeared in the 1600s in the city archives of Genoa, the region’s capital city.

I’ve never been to Liguria, and I use a blender to make my sauce (yes, crushing it coarsely), but I think my pesto is mouth-watering. Anyway, we gobble it up. And it’s plant based.

It has a plant, the basil.


Olive oil, derived from a tree.

Nuts, also harvested from trees.

A teensy bit of cheese, parmigiano reggiano, nice and salty, which I think my doctor would forgive if she knew I was foregoing the Italian sausage I used to add to this dish.


And we all know how beneficial garlic is. Lazy me, I often use chopped garlic from a jar. It only slightly diminishes the flavor. But my favorite garlic is from my sister-in-law Noreen’s farm. She gives us a string that lasts all year.

Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian cooking, has the classic recipe.


It takes 15 minutes from start to finish, during which time you can get the water boiling.

What do I do with this fresh-out-of-the-garden pesto? Throw it together with some pasta (imported, preferably).

Then use your imagination. Tonight I’m  spicing up our pasta al pesto with cut-up chicken breast, new potatoes and sweet-hot peppers from the garden. If only I had some really delicious plant-based sausage.

Plant Based Pesto

Place 2 well packed cups rinsed basil leaves, ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 T pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds), 1 T chopped garlic (more if you are a garlic fiend like me) and a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper in the blender. Blend ’til just smooth and then add a healthy ½ cup grated parmesan and blend again briefly.




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Lowdown on the High Line

New York City’s High Line park is totally overexposed. I’m going to expose it further.


I walk with three menfolk from the top to the bottom of this new icon of the Manhattan landscape, stunned by the native plantings that seem to find city soil the best fertilizer in the world.

yellow flowers

I spent a day in the country looking at wildflowers and saw no profusion like this.



purple flowers

And a planting of bamboo, which has to be tightly constrained by a metal guard to keep it happy in its place. Kind of the opposite of Jesse, who isn’t happy unless he’s on the open seas or in some other free environment.


The High Line was  built between 1929 and 1934 from Gansevoort to 34th Streets to lift dangerous freight trains above the traffic. For years, meat, produce and dairy products were shipped to town and arrived at the third floor level of plants. That might have been a little inconvenient, but the situation previous was insupportable. In the nineteenth century, people actually called Tenth Avenue “Death Avenue” because the street-level railroad caused so many accidents. Men in an outfit called the “West Side Cowboys” were hired to ride in front of trains and wave red flags to warn traffic off.


In 1980 the last train came through with a load of frozen turkeys. Then the rail bed deteriorated. Gil, who lived in the city then, says, “It was the high line, alright, everyone was getting high.” What grew there was what the High Line people now politely call a “self sown landscape.” In other words, weeds. Weeds, condoms, syringes.

Now there are trees, grasses and flowers, and I think even Larry, who lives on a farm surrounded by midwestern forest, is impressed.


The gardeners of the High Line transformed the place, beginning in 1999. It’s a classic urban place to stop and smell the roses.

climbing roses

Wild roses are fairest, said Louise May Alcott, and nature a better gardener than art. The High Line has nature, art and a third thing, a deep industrial past.

There are musicians.

asian musician



It even has its own clothing franchise, with sarongs that read “Dreams Come True on the High Line.”


Sculpture rises up along the walkway.

funny sculpture

And human sculpture, as people freeze for pictures. What the High Line should have next to the fresh fruit ice pops stand is a camera kiosk. Someone would get rich. Tourists throng — you can walk a long way down the path and not hear a word of English.

taking pictures

With the new, there’s the old – a mysterious pattern of bricks.


And a towering old painted sign: BONDED. Across it a tag reads REVS, shortened from REVLON, a famous graffitti artist. “It’s got to be on the edge, where it’s not allowed,” REV has said. There’s room on the High Line for all vintages.

old sign

The Gehry-designed IAC Building, at 555 West 18th Street, with its milky, origami exterior, has been open since 2007. Vanity Fair called it the world’s most attractive office building. It’s especially great to see it in tandem with structures of other vintages, including the old-fashioned piedmont of a lower one whose top is flush with the park.


The Standard Hotel soars above. It gained some notoriety when High Line strollers realized they could look up and see happy exhibitionists making whoopee in the floor-to-ceiling windows.

the standard

(When Chuck Barris was looking for a word to meet the network censors’ standards on the Newlywed Game, the term ultimately settled upon was whoopee.) Meat trolleys for hanging beeves still exist if you look closely. Right along the Standard, in the shadows, a rusted remnant of the  district’s sanguinary past.


But one essential thing about the High Line is the views.


In the nineteenth century, landscape architects carved out pastoral views on grand country estates, cropping trees advantageously to accentuate vistas of rivers, mountains, or other natural elements. The High Line is the 21st century equivalent, with quirky street perspectives all around, framed from this tall iron structure.


After our promenade, we descend to vintage New York cobbles. A remnant of the lost city.


We refuel at a restaurant called The Spotted Pig.


The eggs it serves are divine, with crunchy flecks of sea salt.


I am tired after our sun-blasted walk of a two miles. Jesse is wide awake, which he always is, except when he’s asleep.

jess eyes

And the french fries… well, it is hard to shovel them in fast enough.


The chef strews the shoestrings here with shreds of rosemary. Everything tastes better after the High Line. An ordinary pinapple smoothie from a new perspective.


A fantastic church frieze overhead. Had it always been there? I can’t recall. The galleries of Chelsea are closed on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean the great sidewalks of New York are closed for business.

girl graffiti

Too much graffiti has been scrubbed off in recent years. Manhattan is the new Minneapolis. Now we have clean, healthy biking all over town. In Greenpoint, Brooklyn,  where I visited a week ago, it’s a different – and more colorful – story, as it hasn’t quite shed its industrial past and makes a fine canvas for folks who do outdoor outsider art.

slut tribe

Here in the Meatpacking District we find a few worthy efforts.

boy graffitti

Two chicks etched on the sidewalk beneath our feet.

chick sidewalk art

For some reason I like these simple birds, making kissy next to their little water fountain.

The all-seeing eye. The Eye of Providence.

evil eye

On the island of Manhattan, if you let your vision wander up, you see some marvelous things. A blue horizon chockablock with architects’ freshest concoctions. Pieces of old New York, dusty red bricks that have miraculously been saved from the wrecking ball. Climbing roses, if you’re walking the High Line. From that same pathway, a glimpse of a well-to-do fanny in a chic hotel window. And there are still wooden water towers.

water tower

Just two companies, Rosenwach Tank Company and Isseks Bros., manufacture the tanks, which are unpainted and made with untreated wood. A new water tower is a leaky water tower, as it takes time for the material to become saturated and watertight. Chelsea has one, completely dry of course, that has recently been transformed into an exclusive club called Night Heron. You can see it from the High Line.

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