There's something about citrus in wintertime.  And for me, there's something about lavender allthetime.

Combining the two felt like a natural step.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp dried lavender flowers
1/8 tsp salt

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 heaping tbsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  To prepare crust: in a bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and lavender flowers; mix well.

Then, slowly work in chunks of room-temperature butter.  I like to use my hands for this.  It will be crumbly, but that's OK.

Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish and pour in the crumbles.  Smush them evenly with fingertips into the bottom of the pan, forming one solid flat mass.  Pop in the oven and bake until just golden, about 13-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Whisk eggs in a bowl, then slowly add in the sugar, flour, and cornstarch.  Whisk thoroughly, as the flour and cornstarch may try to get clumpy.

Last, stir in the lemon juice

and lemon zest.

Look at all the spent lemons!

When the crust has finished its first round of baking, remove from oven and press lightly with a spatula to flatten any air bubbles.  Then you can pour your lemon mixture over the crust, and bake for another 15-17 minutes.

When the bars are finished, pull the pan out of the oven and allow to cool.  Dust with powdered sugar and a few lavender flowers if you like.

The finished product is a tart kick-in-the-pants, gooey, with a soft floral finish!  Perfect with a cup of hot tea.

Eat one, and you'll swear spring is already here.



"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."

-Harriet Van Horne, columnist



Achtung, ladies!  Chins up, hands folded, ankles crossed!

It's time for a visit from Auntie Manners herself:

Yep, you may have guessed her:  the one, the only, the formidable Amy Vanderbilt.

Now...how many of you girls have ever caught yourself, mid-afternoon, daydreaming of another time?  With yourself (the heroine, the empress!) at the helm of the ship, guiding your thoughts to false memories of the lives you never actually lived?  Perhaps some of you picture yourselves toga-draped and trident-wielding, goddesses of violent Hellenic seas; or perhaps some of you envision Elizabethan courtyards, where you sit counting jewels to pass the time.  And perhaps yet another small percentage of you gals have imagined yourselves queens of the roaring '20s, Charleston-ing your way from jazz club to cocktail lounge to Gatsby soiree in some low slung Deco gown...oh, Daisy!

My point:  wouldn't we all love to go back in time, if just momentarily, to experience a slice of life?  How grand.  In our minds we can even place ourselves in different eras without all the icky real-life details that muddled things up back in the old days (famine, plague, lack of toothpaste...you get the idea).  Our minds have the ability to make history appear quite, quite quaint.

Reading Amy Vanderbilt's famous treatise on proper etiquette, which was completed in 1952 and written for a dying class of gentlewomen, does just that for me.  Icky realities aside, it extends a delicate gloved hand and guides me to images of red lips and powdered noses, tea-length dinner dresses, gorgeous home suppers laid out on family wedding china...the whole dream just reeks of pot roast and Shalimar. I can see myself front and center, coiffed and polished, gleaming, with a souffle on one arm and a baby on the other:  Hostess.

(And all that minus the boredom, disappointment, and social oppression of the 1950s housewife, of course!  Pish.  Posh.  My, how sumptuous is life without gritty details!)

Did we burn our bras only to later dream of the days when we still had to wear them, PLUS girdles?  Ha.  Well...yeah:  as young women in 2011, we're now so far removed from that lifestyle that it's been lumped into our general consciousness almost as a sort of story, or scene from "Mona Lisa Smile", filed under pretend-games like boys might do with Cowboys and Indians.  Call it Homemaker and Hostess, whatever you like.  Obviously I don't say this to offend women who actually lived pre-women's lib, or to trivialize their struggles.  But for a twenty-something who was born when ladies had long been wearing sweat pants to the grocery store, visions of Amy Vanderbilt and her time of decorum--kindly romanticized by the mind--are right up there with Guinevere and Helen and Juliet and Cleopatra.  For me at least.  All characters.  

So here is an ode to the mid-afternoon daydreams of lives never lived, of rosy-colored scenes from days gone by, the pretty glossed ones that only ever existed in our minds.  Off we go to polished silver, off we go to steak tartare.  And please, as you read, for the love of doilies don't think about the fact that Amy was not actually a direct descendant of the Cornelius Vanderbilt bloodline; worse, don't you even PONDER the fact that our Queen of Manners threw herself from her apartment window to an early death at the age of sixty-six...now that would just ruin the whole facade!  Duh.

Below are a few choice lines, most noted by me with a nod to their laughable obsolescence, from Ms. Vanderbilt's writings regarding food and the table.  Enjoy.

  • Who needs a book of etiquette?  Everyone does.
  • A man or woman may take on a superficial patina of breeding, but it is very difficult to overcome slipshod table manners.

  • If the nose must be blown at the table, it is done as quietly as possible, without excuse to draw attention to the fact.
  • Conversation and laughter should always be modified at table.  Loud guffaws are disturbing at any time but worse from a dinner partner.
  •  It is rude to the point of insult to refuse to drink a toast to anyone.  If you can't drink wine, you pretend to do so.  A toast with water is no toast at all.
  • Grapes:  Cut a bunch or section of bunch from bunches in bowl with knife or scissors (never absent-mindedly pull off grapes from centerpiece or arrangement of fruit).

  • Birds, Frogs' Legs: The impression of gnawing the bone must be avoided.  It is no shame, by the way, for a lady confronted with a squab or half a broiled chicken to ask assistance from the gentleman with her in dissecting it...this is better than running the risk of having the meat land in her lap or, on the other hand, going hungry, if she is really inept.

    • Very few homes in the land these days can accommodate the traditional thirty-four guests at one dinner table--or even half that many--in comfort.  Who indeed has the space to store all the silver, glassware, and china for such dinner parties...?

    • Pretension is so very uncomfortable.

    • Afternoon tea as a gentle means of relaxation should be encouraged in this country.  Surely it is a pleasant, and incidentally inexpensive, way to repay small social obligations...

    •  A hostess should never try too hard to get her party going.

    The end.  Bless your poor, privileged heart Amy Vanderbilt.  Now could someone pass the martini tray, damnit?



    How are the New Year's resolutions working out for everyone?  Still hitting the gym six days a week like you said you would?  Eh, well, I'm not...so kudos to you if you are.

    What about those of you who are trying to eat healthier?  If you're looking to incorporate more whole grains and delicious greens into your diet, have a look at the recipe below.  I felt creative the other night and decided to browse my kitchen cabinets for inspiration; I ended up finding a long-neglected box of kasha, which I popped open for this recipe.  Kasha has a robust, earthy flavor that may not suit all palates, but paired with this familiar combination of vegetables it may become a bit more approachable if you've never tasted it before.

    Oh, and that's kasha, not Ke$ha.  (Although both entities apparently have origins in Eastern Europe.)

    Kasha with Wilted Chard and Pan Fried Mushrooms

    1/2 cup kasha
    large bunch Swiss chard
    5 or so large cherry tomatoes
    3 small shallots
    3 cloves garlic
    5 or so extra large white mushrooms, thickly sliced
    olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste
    cornmeal, for dusting mushrooms

    First: in a medium pot, bring 2 1/2 cups water to boil.  Add the kasha, along with a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil.  Let it all boil for about a minute, then reduce heat and cover.  Stir occasionally until the kasha is cooked and soft, then remove from heat and set aside.  Some people eat it grainy like rice, and some people enjoy it more like a porridge--I usually cook mine the porridge-y way, so feel free to add a little more water if it gets too dry.

    Next, chop your pretty little shallots into quarters, and throw them with some olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) into a frying pan or skillet at medium heat.  Let them sizzle for about 2 minutes.

    Then grab your tomatoes and garlic.

    Chop the tomatoes coarsely, the garlic finely, and throw those in with the shallots.  Stir them up, and cook for another two minutes or so, until the tomatoes start making a thin sauce.

    Then you're ready to add the chard.  Be sure you've cleaned it well beforehand, and chopped the leaves into large manageable pieces.

    Sautee the mixture until the chard is just wilted, but still bright.  Don't let it get mushy!

    When the vegetables are done, scoop them into a bowl and set aside.  Add a bit more olive oil to the same skillet, and place the sliced mushrooms flat onto the hot surface to cook.

    Let them sizzle until crispy on high heat, about 3-4 minutes on each side.  Sprinkle with a bit of cornmeal for extra crunch and flavor.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Spoon the cooked kasha onto a dish, and top with your chard mixture.  Dress with those beautiful mushrooms and it's ready to serve.

    Cheers, to health!



    The beach is empty
    They covered the pools
    The patio umbrellas come down
    Oh God, my God...

    Sorry, I had to go there.  Grey Gardens, Coney Island...opposite ends of Long Island, sure, but equal amounts of wacky.

    I kinda feel sorry for Coney Island, the same sorriness I felt for Little Edie I suppose.  I just want to shout, SOMEBODY THROW A NEW DRESS ON THAT GAL AND CHEER HER UP!  We all know what happened to Edie in the end, but the saga of Coney Island is still playing itself out every single day; and what a fascinating saga it is.

    I traveled down there this weekend with my friend Ali (actress, mother to a pit mix named Ruby, and all-around lover of life).  There's just something about the cheap glitz, the grotesque glamour.  The palpable desperation for What Once Was.  Plus eerie remnants of the sideshow culture that once indulged the basest of a paying customer's curiosities.  Coney Island is infested with the ghosts of itself. 

    And that's just in the summertime, when cheerful beachgoers swarm the streets in flip flops and sunburns.  So to visit this place in winter, when the boardwalk is quiet and the surf is cigarette-free, it feels so haunted you'd swear you hear the delighted century-old screams of some Luna Park visitor of yore still wheezing through the air.

    And as it is now the middle of January, it will be a long time before anybody will line up for an Italian ice here.

    Months before the shops will open their doors to sell sand pails and tacky hats.

    Weeks and weeks and weeks before any kids will mow their mom down on an overzealous dash to the water.

    The signs of life will return, but not for awhile.  What is a midwinter visitor to do?


    Well thank God the hot dog place is still open.

    Nathan's Famous, folks.  Opened in 1916 and still selling bazillions of its signature product today.

    As a vegetarian, I did not partake of the meatier items on the menu...but these onion rings sure hit the spot.

    Supposedly the hot dog itself was invented right there in Coney Island.  I guess Nathan just did it better than everybody else.  And here's proof:  look at all that hot dog trash!  Yummy.

    So, there you have it.  The Island in winter.  Some might say she's nothing more than a classless breath of her former glory.

    But--you want to know something?

    Truth be told...

    I don't wanna know a Coney Island that isn't classless.

    And I'll toast an onion ring to that any day.  See you when the snow melts, Coney.



    I don't have any pretty pictures for this post.

    I'm writing it in a huff.

    Allow me to explain.

    Yesterday I visited the Union Square Greenmarket.  Don't get me wrong, I really love the place...with its pretty produce and its fresh pies and its strapping, ruddy-cheeked farm men sent straight from some idyllic pasture in Vermont.  It's great.  It's refreshing.  It's really great and refreshing.

    The Greenmarket is obviously a little sparse this time of year, so the few farm folks who actually show up to do business are selling items of winter, like root vegetables and hardy greens.  Plus there are stalls with the occasional selection of cheeses, jams, and dried grains.  My last stop yesterday was at a stall with said dried grains.

    I perused their offerings, which included tidy little sacks of wheat berries, oats, rye, and a special table with larger bags of cornmeal and polenta.  I was glancing over this special table, which happened to be near the register, when I looked up and caught the eye of a lonely cashier.  I attempted friendship.

    "You guys have lots of interesting stuff here.  I'm surprised there aren't any grits!"

    Ok...I mentioned grits because a) they're a "rare" food item in New York, and since it was obvious that the little booth prided itself on its "rare" grains I truly was surprised that they weren't offered, and b) I'm from the south and I know what I'm talking about.  But I wasn't looking for a fight.

    "We do have grits," she said.  Snobby-like.  Reeeeeal snobby-like.

    "They're right here."  And with that she snatched up a big package and dangled it with two fingers near her face.  I thought, Oh, am I mistaken?  Her blatant assuredness sure tells me I am!  Is there really a bag of grits that I had somehow missed?  My bad INDEED!  I'll have to buy this little bag, this little bag of grits!!  Then I blinked, looked down at the label, and read:


    Oh no.  Oh, no no nooooo.  No she didn't.  This woman had no idea what she was talking about.  Not. A. Clue.  Summoning etiquette, I threw her a bone of social grace and didn't call her out right away.  I pretended to think she was making a joke.

    "Ohhh, haha," I chuckled.  "Oh that's what you use for cornbread, though, right?" (The irritation in me was mounting, but I played dumb.)  She looked at me with a patronizing smirk.

    "Well yeah, of course you can make cornbread with it, but I always make grits with this.  These make, like, real grits," she declared.  This human, this brazen creature, then raises her eyebrows and adds, "Definitely not the instant kind you're probably making in the microwave."

    The kind I'm making in the microwave, huh?  The nerve!  I was so insulted I could not speak.  She not only questioned my food knowledge, but my very integrity as a home cook!  What, did I look like the kind of woman who COOKS IN THE MICROWAVE??  Not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose, but come on...why would she say such things to a complete stranger like myself?  I would've forgiven her little food faux pas if she had nixed the condescension, but after that last remark I was left with no option but to smile and walk away.  I could have told her that her lipstick looked cheap.  But I didn't.

    In the end, though, the joke's on her.  Anyone worth their salt, and certainly anyone working behind the counter at a chichi organic grain booth in Union Square, should know that there is a difference between corn meal and grits.  Of course it's all corn; but there's still a difference, be it ever so slight.  I ultimately decided not to publicly embarrass her with the truth...turns out, a knowledge of grits is not the only thing that defines a person as Southern.  It's also a knowledge of good manners.

    Ha.  Have fun with that cornbread batter you're eating, sweetie. 



    Finishing up The Grapes of Wrath today, and was struck, profoundly so, by these certain passages in Chapter Twenty-Five.

    Although there is still much food waste to be concerned about in our country today, I am thankful that we can at least go to the grocery store and come away with reasonably-priced goods that will feed our families and ourselves.  We now spend around 10 percent of our disposable income on what we eat; in the 1930s, Americans spent almost one quarter or more of their take-home pay on food.  Of course there are many complicated reasons as to why we can spend so much less these days--and yet eat so much more--but that's another discussion for another time. The American food system is a strange and wondrous thing.

    On a very basic level, I am just grateful I've never had to wake up and stand in a bread line.  Never had to wonder if my future children will grow up malnourished.  Never had to see a friend starve, and never had to sleep on an empty stomach.  I fully recognize that we take these things for granted now, and that even mentioning them feels silly or redundant or gluttonous in this time of plenty that we were born into and consider normal.  But I'm thankful anyhow.

         "The spring is beautiful in California...
         ...And first the cherries ripen.  Cent and a half a pound.  Hell, we can't pick 'em for that.  Black cherries and red cherries, full and sweet, and the birds eat half of each cherry and the yellowjackets buzz into the holes the birds made.  And on the ground the seeds drop and dry with black shreds hanging from them.
          The purple prunes soften and sweeten.  My God, we can't pick them and dry and sulphur them.  We can't pay wages, no matter what wages.  And the purple prunes carpet the ground.  And first the skins wrinkle a little and swarms of flies come to feast, and the valley is filled with the odor of sweet decay.  The meat turns dark and the crop shrivels on the ground.

         And the pears grow yellow and soft.  Five dollars a ton.  Five dollars for forty fifty-pound boxes; trees pruned and sprayed, orchards cultivated--pick the fruit, put it in boxes, load the trucks, deliver the fruit to the cannery--forty boxes for five dollars.  We can't do it.  And the yellow fruit falls heavily to the ground and splashes on the ground.  The yellowjackets dig into the soft meat, and there is a smell of ferment and rot.
         Then the grapes--we can't make good wine.  People can't buy good wine.  Rip the grapes from the vines, good grapes, rotten grapes, wasp-stung grapes.  Press stem, press dirt and rot...

         ...The little farmers watched debt creep up on them like the tide.  They sprayed the trees and sold no crop, they pruned and grafted and could not pick the crop...
         ...This little orchard will be part of a great holding next year, for the debt will have choked the owner.  This vineyard will belong to the bank.  Only the great owners can survive, for they own the canneries too.  And four pears peeled and cut in half, cooked and canned, still cost fifteen cents.  And the canned pears do not spoil.  They will last for years.  
          The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land.  Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce.  Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten...

         ...The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all.  Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground.  The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be.  How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up?  And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit.  A million people hungry, needing the fruit--and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.
         And the smell of rot fills the country.
         Burn coffee for fuel in the ships.  Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire.  Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out.  Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

         There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation.  There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize.  There is a failure here that topples all our success.  The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit.  And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange.  And coroners must fill in the certificates--died of malnutrition--because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
         The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed.  And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.  In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."



    How quickly the post-holiday doldrums of winter set in...it's only January 10th and I'm already dreaming of opening my windows to warm spring breezes.  Ho, hum...

    Here's to the memory of a beautiful June day I spent picking peaches, pounds and pounds of peaches, with my mom last summer.  It was one of those bright-white early summer afternoons in Georgia, where the heat was so direct and penetrating that the big plush peaches were warm to the touch when we plucked them from the trees.

    In the days that followed, I had so much fruit to use that I barely knew what to do with myself.  Peach cobbler, peach pie, three varieties of peach salsa, and a batch of finicky peach chutney that went nicely with goat cheese on toasted baguette rounds.  Peaches comin' out my ears...ahh, the surpluses of summertime.

    From Blossoms
    by Li-Young Lee

    From blossoms comes
    this brown paper bag of peaches
    we bought from the boy
    at the bend in the road where we turned toward
    signs painted Peaches.

    From laden boughs, from hands,
    from sweet fellowship in the bins,
    comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
    peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
    comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

    O, to take what we love inside,
    to carry within us an orchard, to eat
    not only the skin, but the shade,
    not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
    the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
    the round jubilance of peach.

    There are days we live
    as if death were nowhere
    in the background; from joy
    to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
    from blossom to blossom to
    impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


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