Friday, May 30, 2008


If the California decision to overturn the ban on gay marriages sticks, SJG and I have decided to head west to tie the knot. After almost twenty-six years together, we've shed all our fears of commitment and are ready to take the plunge. It should be clear by mid-June whether the courts will stay the decision; if they do not, we're off to the airport, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 23, 2008


The editor, Kari Cornell, of The Gardener's Bedside Reader in which my "Ashes to Ashes" essay was recently published, will be the guest on HearSay with Cathy Lewis, a live public radio call-in show out of Virginia on June 11! For live-stream listening that day (at WHRV at 11 am CST), click on the radio's website. Or to access the interview after the fact, you can go to the station's archives. I'll post a reminder again in June. Maybe my name will be mentioned on live radio...!

Friday, May 16, 2008


When I showed this torta della nonna (grandmother’s cake)--warm and beautiful and just out of the oven--to SJG one recent afternoon, she remarked dismissively, “It looks rustic.” Crushed, I retreated to the kitchen, where I grumbled privately about her lack of imagination. After all, I’d plucked the recipe for this custard-filled, polenta-based cake from a romantic account of Tuscany in Under the Tuscan Sun—a book by Frances Mayes about buying and restoring an old villa in Tuscany that was later made into one of my favorite chick flicks, starring Diane Lane.

When the cake had cooled, I cut myself a large piece, fully convinced that it would live up to Signore Martini’s assessment. “Perfetto!” he had exclaimed dreamily when Frances served him a piece of her freshly baked torta. But it was awful. I mean awful. Worse than rustic. I choked down a few bites and tossed out the rest. SJG was kind. She didn’t say “Told you so.”

This latest experience of cooking from literature reminds me of a Grapes of Wrath dinner many years ago. Convinced that the Joad family’s roadside meals of biscuits made with bacon grease, black coffee in tin cups, and crisply fried bacon sounded great, I recreated the Depression-era meal for my family when I was an impressionable teenager. After one bite, we ran to the nearest steakhouse for big, fat, juicy steaks, baked potatoes with sour cream, dressing-drenched salads, and generous pieces of pie for dessert.

SJG and I made dinner together the evening of the failed torta della nonna, and we stuck to the Italian theme: beef scallopini, roasted asparagus, and spaghetti a la puttanesca. To my eye, this particular meal doesn’t look very pleasing when served, but believe me, we licked our plates clean.

Spaghetti a la Puttanesca
Pasta a la puttanesca gets its name from the Italian word for prostitute. It’s a staple among my Sicilian relatives, who find the name delightful. Reputedly this dish was popular among ladies of the evening because it’s quick to make in between…clients, shall we say.

¾ pound spaghetti (we like whole wheat spaghetti these days)
several cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped (or try ramps, which are in season now)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil for sauteeing
3-4 tablespoons capers
1 small 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes (we like the fire-roasted variety)
small container of pitted Kalamata olives, chopped (about 1/2-¾ cups)
grated parmiggiana, romano, or pecorino (grate as much as you like)

1) Bring a kettle of water to boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
2) While the spaghetti is cooking, sautee the garlic (or ramps) in olive oil. Add the capers at the end, just to warm them and pick up a little of the garlic flavor.
3) When the spaghetti is done, drain it, saving a little of the pasta water in the kettle (maybe ¼-1/2 cup).
4) Put the warm spaghetti back in the kettle. Toss in the sautéed garlic and capers. Add the can of chopped tomatoes and chopped olives.
5) Serve with a generous topping of grated cheese.

*Makes enough for 2-4 people, depending upon appetite and whether it’s served as a side dish or as a main course. Buon appetito!

Friday, May 09, 2008


It's undeniable. My tulip garden is in full bloom, even the little anemones I interplanted last fall. The catalogue said the anemones wouldn't do well in this part of the world, and indeed only a fraction of them survived the winter, but that makes the survivors more beautiful. My rose bushes are leafing out, the cluster of merry bells in the back garden droops under the weight of its yellow blossoms, and the stalklike shoots of the peony bushes are several inches high already. Even the Russian sage, which I thought had died, shows signs of newly unfolding greenery.

I can't actually claim that the tulips in this photo are from my own garden; they're field tulips from our local upscale grocer. The gas-and-electric fellow--a towering Scandinavian named Chip--came out to the house this morning to give us an estimate for a new furnace. He stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted the vase and its beauties. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "Those are incredible!" I think he was caught by the height and size of the tulips, by how wide open they are to the light. A little vulgar almost. Enough so that we stared at them for a minute in joint admiration. I think we recognized ourselves in the blooms, eager for light and warmth and open to life. Spring is here.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I love accidental learning, the way you discover things by stumbling across them on your way to something else or by falling upon them by doing another task the "wrong" way or by coming at them from an unanticipated angle. That's how I learned to make movies on my digital camera. I hit the "wrong" setting on my camera one afternoon as I was taking what I thought would be a still photo of SJG eating our very first home-grown brandywine tomato. When we looked at the photo, it moved! it spoke! it said, "Mmmmm, this tomato is sooooooo good!" And from there, I started intentionally creating short movies of friends and family, one of which is a very recent clip of our diva kitty, Muffin.
Muff is our very first. SJG chose her because she was the only kitten available for adoption at our local humane society the day we showed up. She was tiny, and very young. She's eight now, but we still say to her "Five weeks, one pound, make sure she eats" when we remember, in a rush of feeling, our first days together. In this clip, you can see what she thinks of technology in general, and being its subject in particular. Here's looking at you, Muff!