Monday, June 30, 2008


These are my father's hands. I drove to Wisconsin to visit him this weekend.

On the way, I stopped at the roadside Carr Valley cheese shop. They have great baby Swisses and aged cheddars. The cheese mouse (above) looks out over the access road that leads from the interstate straight to the shop.

Lavender spiderwort carpeted the median and the shoulder of the interstate the entire trip--all 275 miles of it.

Traffic is steady all the way. The interstate at Portage (above) was flooded the weekend of my birthday, which is why I had to postpone the visit to my father's house until this weekend. The area smells bad now, and fields in low-lying areas are still swamped. They look like lakes.

When I arrived, my father and I went out for Friday night fish fry--a Wisconsin institution--at the popular Avenue Bar. We each had deep-fried cod, cottage fries, cole slaw, and pint-sized beers. After dinner, we played 20 Questions and stumped each other with "maps" and "digital television converter box." We go to bed looking forward to Saturday.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


While waiting for SJG to help our aged friend Marion through the checkout line at the supermarket the other day, I idly picked up the store’s glossy food magazine, which focused in that particular edition on summer cooking. In it, I found a wonderfully simple and delicious recipe for curried carrot soup. The name doesn’t have much romance, so I prefer the Frenchified “carrot velouté,” which, even if you don’t speak a word of French, sounds like the velvety smoothness that any cream soup offers.

The soup takes less than an hour to make and is beautiful when served. Pair it with a cold couscous salad and a piece of pocket bread for a light yet filling summer meal.

Carrot Velouté
• 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
• 3 cups veggie or chicken broth
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 2-4 cloves garlic, paper removed and chopped
• 1-2 teaspoons peeled, chopped fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon curry powder (use the mildest, sweetest variety you can find so
as not to overwhelm the carrot flavor)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup milk (or 2 cups for a milkier, milder, thinner soup)
• ½ cup plain yogurt (I like thick Greek-style yogurt, and you can use way
more than ½ cup, depending on your tastes)
• ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1) In a large saucepan, combine the carrots, broth, onion, garlic, ginger,
curry powder, cumin, and salt.
2) Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low to medium heat about 15-20
minutes, until the carrots are soft.
3) Using a ladle, transfer the soup (solids and liquids) into a blender. Puree
a little bit at a time until very smooth. (Don’t use a food processor for
this. It won’t puree the soup to the desired smoothness.)
4) For a hot soup, transfer the pureed velouté to the original saucepan and
stir in the milk and yogurt. Heat slowly, to avoid curdling the yogurt.
5) For a cold soup, transfer the pureed velouté into a bowl and stir in the
milk and yogurt. Cover and refrigerate for a couple hours before serving.

*To serve, choose bowls in a contrasting color (green or yellow are lovely). For extra panache, serve the velouté in low-ball glasses. Either way, top each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Since all was akimbo for my birthday this year, I made a pineapple upside-down cake (above) as this year's birthday cake. SJG thought it quite odd to stray from my favorites: white cake with coconut frosting or an almond cream cake, with its luscious whipping cream base. But I wasn't in the mood for the traditional thing, and since I hadn't made this cake for years and years, it seemed fun to do.

As these things go, we didn't even eat the cake on my birthday. Our neighbor and friend, Peter, announced Plan C shortly after I posted the Plan B blog entry below. Feeling sorry that my birthday plans had gone amuck, Peter treated SJG and me to birthday burger and beer at a trendy neighborhood eatery. There, for dessert, they served us an on-the-house slice of red velvet chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting--complete with a sparkler candle. After that, too full for even one more bite, we waited until the next evening to eat the upside-down cake, which my cake-baking friend in Chicago reports is included in his latest favorite cookbook, Birthday Cakes, by Kathryn Kleinman and Carolyn Miller. This gorgeous cookbook (published in 2004) is devoted entirely to birthday cakes and pulls recipes from great chefs such as Julia Child, James Beard, Alice Waters, Patricia Wells, and others. Who knew I was among such good company?

Here's my recipe for upside-down cake. It comes from my mother's recipe box and is written out on a yellow index file card in her handwriting and mine, complete with cake batter stains. Feel free to substitute other fruit toppings if you don't like pineapple. Halved plums, apricots, or figs work well, for example.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, + 2 tablespoons butter
2 separated eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
1 can sliced pineapple (about 8 rings)

1. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
2. In a separate big bowl, cream together the white sugar and the stick of butter.
3. Separate the eggs, putting the yolks directly into the creamed butter
mixture. Put the whites in a separate bowl to whip later.
4. Measure the milk and add the vanilla to it.
5. Add the milk and flour alternately to the creamed butter mixture.
6. Beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Fold gently into the cake batter.
7. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a lightweight, oven-worthy frying pan. (I use
a Farberware skillet.) Add the brown sugar and spread it out as evenly as
possible over the bottom of the pan.
8. Drain the pineapple rings and place them in a circular pattern, as pictured above,
on top of the brown sugar.
9. Spoon the cake batter on top of the pineapple.

Bake the cake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees until the cake is nicely browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

When done, immediately turn the cake onto a large, round plate or platter. (To do so, place the plate over the top of the skillet and, using hot pads, quickly flip the skillet and the plate together so that the plate ends up on the bottom and the cake can drop out of the skillet.) Don't remove the skillet for a few minutes, so as to allow the cake to slide out smoothly on its own.

This cake is best served the same day when still slightly warm.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Today is my birthday. SJG and I were supposed to be in southeastern Wisconsin, celebrating with my father and his cats. But we can't get there. Major sections of the two big interstates that connect us to where he lives are closed indefinitely in Wisconsin because of the flooding that is devastating parts of that state, much of Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, northern Illinois, and likely Missouri. It's a catastrophe, with thousands of people evacuated and homeless. And the rain just keeps coming, day after day after day.

I'm grateful that my father is safe, that my family and friends are safe, and that SJG and I are safe. I can only imagine the shock and grief of the people in flood-stricken areas across the Midwest. But I'm also just plain old sad for me because I'm not with my father on my birthday, as has become tradition in my middle age.

My father and I are talking a lot on the phone this weekend. He called once yesterday; I called twice after that. And then we talked again this morning, and I'll call tomorrow for father's day. When he asked how SJG and I were going to mark my birthday today, I said, "There is no Plan B," and we laughed. But actually, there is a Plan B: I mowed our lawn this afternoon with the push mower (pictured above).

SJG and I used to have a lawn service, but they kept killing the grass with too much this and that, and they mowed the grass so short last year that it died during the hot summer days of July and August. So we decided to do the job ourselves this year, and I'm hooked on the mowing. I love the whir of the blades and the slight resistance of the grass--especially when it's long and thick--as I push the mower across the lawn. I love the green smell, the methodical back and forth of the effort, and the delicate covering of clippings when I'm done. I like having Buddy with me, too, enjoying his rubber balls, his bones, and the sun. And today, I thrilled to the sight of my peonies (below), which opened just as they always do every year. On my birthday.

Friday, June 06, 2008


California's going to make an honest woman out of me. This week, the California supreme court refused all appeals to the court's recent decision legalizing gay marriage in that state. This means that gay men and lesbians can begin legally marrying in California at 5:01 P.M. on Monday June 16. With this news, I ran straight to Tiffany's to look at the wedding bands I'd picked out from the Tiffany website last week.

A very nice young sales associate, let's call her JN, helped me. She did what all good sales associates do: she listened to what I was saying. As often happens with online shopping, the rings that looked perfect onscreen weren't exactly what I was hoping for. I want something big. Something bold. Something distinctive. Yet something simple. So JN said, "How 'bout this one?" She showed me the ring above. It's perfect. I love it. Even if it costs more than you might imagine.

Since I was by myself, JN wondered if the ring was for a wedding, my wedding. And you know what? I hedged. I fudged. I obfuscated. I thought of the days within my own lifetime when it wasn't safe to be the least bit out. But then I remembered the polling statistics my father's been telling me about recently that show that the younger a person is, the more likely that person is to (a) know someone who's gay, and (b) support gay marriage. So I decided to put those statistics to the test. I told JN the whole story about going to California with SJG to get married, and a big smile spread across her face.

"Congratulations!" she said. "That's so exciting! One of my colleagues is going to do the same thing." I almost wrote out the check on the spot.