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Hurricane Recovery

November 8, 2012

Tonight we are having a blizzard. A “Nor’easter,” they call it. It’s a cold wet storm, but I have everything I need: heat, hot water, electricity, food, and people to share it with. Not so for many of the people still flattened by last week’s Hurricane Sandy.

My New York City of 2012 is not Broadway and the Met: we live deep in Brooklyn, and it’s preschool and pizza and park and playdates. I spend most of my time being a mom, and we take a lot from the different communities around us out here, and many of them were hit very, very hard. Both the diversions I’m about to describe, but more importantly, the people (and animals) who live there.

When my son remembers his early childhood, I imagine that he may mention the dinosaur museum on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but he will definitely mention the amusement parks of Coney Island, along with the aquarium there.

He’ll cite the big beach we go to — Jacob Riis Park — in the Rockaways, in Queens.

What will probably come first, though, is our favorite grocery store on earth: Fairway in Red Hook, where we can (could) shop for pretty much anything I want, but also stop at the outdoor cafe-mid shop for a snack and a chance to play outside, exploring an ancient cable car, watching police boats, barges, tug boats, the Statue of Liberty, birds, all while breathing in fresh air and a bunch of nature’s blue — sky, water — and having a pretty good ham & cheese croissant, or lobster roll, or pastrami sandwich on Fairway-baked rye, with a side of fruit, coffee, chocolate milk.

It might be weird to admit that you live in the cultural capital of the world and that your favorite part is the cafe at your grocery store, but interview me or my 3 year old, and there you have it.

But what do these areas have in common, other than our love and loyalty, other than being waterfront, other than being destroyed by a Hurricane last week?

Lots and lots of NYCHA housing. That’s New York City Housing Authority. Forty five percent of NYCHA housing, in fact, is in low-lying hurricane evacuation zones. And it is full, on the best of days, of people without a lot of money, or resources, or hope.

We watched from afar, in horror, as  Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and seemed to leave the poor behind.  Now, it is happening here, too. Some people chose to live in those areas, and for the losses and hardship they will endure for their homes, I am terribly sorry. Many others have no choice but to live in those areas. And people without youth or money are less able and likely than say, I am, to be able to prepare for a storm, whether that means evacuation, or getting the sorts of things ready that are necessary for long-term indoor camping. (I had to quietly hide from my husband the quantity of shelf-stabilized milk I bought in anticipation of Sandy. It’s just that I can’t breathe when I think about not having enough for my children. Don’t worry,  it’s been redistributed; lately, I can’t breathe when I think about other people not having enough for their children.)

Last night, 60,000 homes and businesses that had just had power restored lost it again, and thousands and thousands of others did not yet have it restored. Things are bad. Things are bad. Things are bad. It is cold, it is wet, there is no food or light, I don’t know what else to say. I am going to link to a first-hand account of trying to help in Coney Island by a friend and neighbor. Meanwhile, there are tons of charitable efforts happening across the region — and Long Island and New Jersey have been similarly affected. People need warm clothes, food, and materials to clean up.

This link has ways to help, if you can find it in your heart or wallet or busy day to do so. In particular, Occupy Sandy and the Red Hook Initiative are supposed to be doing wonderful things. I can attest that they have both been working tirelessly for more than a week.

Or you could help the animals at the New York City Aquarium.

Thank you for reading.


As Ever

November 5, 2012

The sun is going down and I am remembering the same sun going down two years ago today on a fall afternoon, when we said goodbye to my sister Beth for the final time.

Our complex, funny, frustrating, and ultimately loving relationship is very much the reason I wanted a sibling for Henry. They shape you, right? Additionally, you get a partner in rolling your eyes at your parents. I want to equip my children well for such things.

So, today brings a lot of nice things for me: a wide-eyed baby scarfing buttery waffle chunks, and a small boy in tiny spider pajamas sitting rapt on the couch, listening closely to identify the animals in “Peter and the Wolf” for the very first time.

Still, a renewed sense of confusion and loss when I consider that it’s not just me who can be happy and sad at the same time, it’s all of the adults. Who isn’t sad or confused about something serious? Cancer, a drowned house, a relationship that’s run its course. My memories of this time two years ago are sad but they have an admittedly little warm rug of memories underlaying them. It’s like the thing I always forget to buy for the rug. The rug pad. The rug pad of memories is so functional. The rug pad of memories is better than a magic carpet.

The reason getting older is supposed to be easier is that you learn to embrace things all at the same time. Is this an advantage, or it is numbness? It’s like food — lots of things make you gag when you are a child: they are impossible to swallow, just as a lot of things emotionally flatten you. Then as you get older, you can handle more sadnesses with aplomb, and you stop picking the interesting flecks out of your food. Is maturing the same as deadening? Is it giving up?

Now I seek a bit of bitter in my food, and when it’s there, I appreciate it more. And while I don’t look for bitter in my life—or I like to think that I don’t—I do realize that it is part and parcel and that all experiences can furnish a bit of enrichment and enlightenment. I want to distill these things from whatever is offered to me. Sadness is part of living a whole life. It’s just true.

I’m still mad, though.

I love you, as ever, my sister.

A Current Favorite Dessert: Gelato; Sour Cream; Salt

October 22, 2012

There is a brand of gelato called Talenti. It comes in a fancy-looking clear container that one might mistake for a glass jar before they dropped it and it did not shatter. I normally do not buy it; we are a Haagen Dazs family. (Our affiliation is likely because we do not plan to eat ice cream, we just realize that we need it late at night when we are walking by the deli down the block. And at the deli, it’s Haagen Dazs, which I am not complaining about)

But one day I shopped at the food co-op, which is expensive and annoying but of course, has a great selection of organics and new-fangled ice creams in aesthetically pleasing containers. And I came upon a Talenti’s Belgian Milk Chocolate gelato, which I thought my husband would really love. (I tend to go for French roast, dark chocolate, peppery juicy zinfandel, but he really appreciates medium-body coffees and chocolates and wines and cheeses and I’ve developed more of a taste for the subtle goodnesses, too. Also, gelato makes me crazy; I love it.)

I bought a container of Belgian milk chocolate so we could have it during the debate. I have been cooking real dinners to eat together during the debates, because 1. solace from dystopian thoughts about the future (present?) 2. it’s a fun way to spend with Matthew, who gets home from work at about the time they start, but which is unfortunately just about my hour of expiration for civility and good conversation and 3. our teething baby automatically will not sleep if there is a debate on, and if I am watching politics with a screaming, wiggly zero year old—albeit a lovely, lively, adorable one—I need a double dose of solace.

I thought that having a good dessert might help.

The dessert is indeed good; Matthew and another friend with an excellent palate tried it and gave it the thumbs up.  It’s really smooth and chocolatey though not too rich. It’s a great base but by itself, it’s a little one-note for me. In my ice cream as in my life, I like to have a lot going on. For dinner I’d made little personalized vegetarian enchilada casseroles (butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli) , and that meant that there was a bit of sour cream in the condiment bar I’d set up on the coffee table.

So I added a bit of sour cream on the top of the gelato to get a little acid in there, right where you might put a tiny bit of whipped cream, which I’ve honestly never understood as a condiment for ice cream. (“Hmm, I am having a cold slippery sweet thing. Perhaps I should top it with a . . . cold slippery sweet thing?”)  But the sour cream added a tiny bit of contrast in mouth feel and taste. And then I added some Maldon salt flakes.*

And suddenly, I had the best ice cream thing ever. The sour cream freezes into a little slidey glacial sour chunk that offsets the complete smooth of the flavor and the salt, well, see the asterisk down there.

This is a good thing to eat during the debate. Ice cream, a bit of sour cream, Maldon sea salt, and you may as well get a blindfold, because the debates are sort of scary. Perhaps some earplugs to drown out the baby.

Oh, and Mitt Romney’s lies.

Try some tonight!

*If you have not had this salt, and you are seeking a cheap and cheerful way to immediately escalate your quality of life, try it. Even the 3 year old licked a finger and put it into a little bowl of Maldon the other day and said “Mommy, this is REALLY GOOD SALT.” And he was absolutely correct; all salt was not born equal; no, no it was not.

An Unfinished List of Things We Did Not Name the Baby

October 17, 2012

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It took us four days to narrow down our list of names to find what was right for our baby girl.

Here is a list of things that were not on the list, but that might have been apt.

1. Elflily

2. Creamtop

3. Ed Kochalike

4. Sir Napsalot

5. Plum Chunk

6. Peekytoe Crab

7. Peekytoe (Regular)

8. Butternut

9. Screamtooth

The Eye of the Sparrow

October 10, 2012

So, you’re going to need to watch this.

(These guys, the Bad Lip Readers, have their own channel on YouTube with more things like this.)

Fruit Pie Series: Key Lime

August 15, 2012

In my last (pie-related) post, I referenced a desire to look out over beautiful gardens.

To be fair, I do. Our apartment, on a raised first floor, overlooks the common gardens of our co-op building, and they are largely the reason we bought our apartment.

The blooming beds and pots spilling tendrils onto artfully arranged tables and the park benches rescued and painted orange and marbles catching light and furniture painted purple and stained glass windows propped about were and are ideated and executed and scavenged and when necessary, funded every year by one obsessive, energy-filled tenant.

It bears mentioning that his leg is currently broken.

Still, this gardener guy guy cannot rest, and he’s pruning and rearranging and watering, limping around in his strappy boot after a roller blading incident I didn’t ask too much about. He talks 100 miles an hour. I love this guy and I don’t know what we will do if he ever moves out, aside, of course, from try in vain to keep up his efforts, and lament when we fail.

When he broke his leg I meant to cook food for him and drop it off, of course, but this and that happened and I didn’t manage to make the food and bring it up there.

But I often chat with Gardener Guy through the window as I am cooking or stewarding projects in the kitchen in the afternoon. Recently I was making pasta and offered him a bowl. He reached his dirt-caked hands up over our window boxes (which he waters; whose plants he gave me) and grabbed the bowl and a fork.

He perched on a bench and finished off the spaghetti quickly. He handed the bowl back up and I asked whether he wanted more: someone with his metabolism can probably eat bowl after bowl after bowl of pasta. He admitted that he did want another. “We’re making a pie too,” Henry sang out, as he crunched up graham crackers in a freezer bag, using his alligator rolling pin as a bludgeon. “But it’s not ready yet and you can’t have any.” Henry adores Gardener Guy; he loves him just slightly less than he loves pie.

GG asked what kind, and then he gasped. Key Lime is his favorite sort of pie, he said, so I vowed to bring him some when it was done. My husband dropped a few slices off at his apartment the next day, and the next time they ran into each other, Gardener Guy said that he’d seen Key limes in the grocery store and bought them. Just, uh, in case. Then he became embarrassed, because it sort of seemed like he was suggesting that perhaps I should make him a pie.

All I really want in life, of course, is to have someone I like want me to make them a pie, and then be able to make it for them. Such a simple, joy-infused transaction is irresistible to someone with my personality. (I had to take a personality test at work one time and the results were that I was the sort of person who is most motivated by wanting to be loved.  And food = love and then there you go.)

So I texted him and told him to drop off the limes. The next time I came home, 2 bags of tiny round Key Limes were hanging around the handle of our door.

If you’d like the truth, I actually had been making lime pies with plain limes. Mexican ones, or Persian, or whatever. But no lime is plain, if you ask me. If you ask me, all limes are magical.

I was a bit put off by the teensiness of the special Key limes but in truth, they are far easier to juice. They fit perfectly in my little green lime-juicing tool. The difference in flavor is that the juice has a bitter component, so I did not add zest to the pie(s) I made with the Key limes.

This cold summer fruit pie is easy, it’s delicious; and it is a good project to undertake with children, though not 6 month old children; people who are 6 months old tend to suck at the sorts of projects that pretty much anyone else can do.

But this is a pie that a 3 year old can make with just a little help.

Key Lime (or Regular Lime) Pie



10 Graham crackers

2 T sugar

6 T butter


3/4 C of lime juice

3 cups sweetened condensed milk (more than one 14 oz can; less than 2)

1/2 C sour cream

Lime zest, if you desire (adds color, texture, and a dimension of bitterness)

Procedure for Crust

Put graham crackers in to a freezer bag and smush completely into crumbs. If your three year old does it (or heck, your husband, or wife, or anyone who is less than a crumb control freak than I am), you may have to do a little bit of fixing at the end.

Then add sugar and shake around to mix. Isn’t shaking stuff around in a freezer bag so much fun?

Transfer the crumbs to a mixing bowl.

Melt butter over low heat. Pour into the crumb mixture and scrunch it all around with your hands. Isn’t that fun too? I love this pie.

Press crumbs into a 9 inch pie plate. Don’t worry about how perfect it looks.

Cover with foil and chill for a few hours so the butter can regain its composure and glue everything together.

Procedure for Pie

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a mixing bowl. Taste it.

Wow! I used to be opposed to pie made with sweetened condensed milk on the basis of the fact that

  1. 1. it’s seems like cheating and
  2. 2. you can discern the telltale texture / flavor through the pie.

However, you can’t taste it so much after it’s been chilled, and the other key lime pie I used to make had gelatin in it.

I am not opposed to gelatin but if you make this version, you will be able to brag that this is a horse-free pie without crossing your fingers.

Bake for 5-8 minutes, until teeny bubbles form and pop in the top. If this doesn’t happen, you should still take it out of the oven. In my experience it is impossible to keep track of these unseeably small bubbles and their popping status while the pie is in the oven. Remove, let cool, and then cover and chill overnight.

Fast, easy, cheap, and fail-free.

Poem for Henry

August 14, 2012

One of my son Henry’s first and favorite friends is a beautiful, curly-headed, and articulate little star named Clara.

The other day I was surprised and happy to see an email from Clara’s grandmother, Jan Rider Newman. Jan is a poet and explained that last summer she’d written a poem about Henry after seeing him at the playground. She’d decided to share it with me.

I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s a perfect characterization of Henry, who loves to observe.

(And to eat, of course.)

Brooklyn Playground, June 2011
(for Henry)

Amid hot pink dresses, mint and yellow
silly string, shrills of children bent on fun,
you eat pizza from your mama’s hand,
watch sparrows by the black iron fence,
stroll the asphalt, hands behind your back—
still center in the eye of chaos.