Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Is it wrong, on a day when I publish an NYT Motherlode piece about what a badass Birdy is, to point out that she looks like a Monchichi?

"Wow," Ben just said, looking over my shoulder. "That really is kind of uncanny."
There's something a little bit off about the piece, and I can't figure it out. Maybe it's that it doesn't adequately convey the fact that Birdy is actually a really nice kid (due perhaps to the fact that I say she's not). It's a particular type of pleasing that she doesn't do, but I'm not sure I quite capture it. Either way: Love that kid.

p.s. Tis the season for purslane quesadillas! You know, in case you'd forgotten.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Amazing Necktie Shirt!

Ben's hair is not getting any shorter, I can't help noticing. But he is rocking the necktie shirt, no?
Thank you for indulging me in my immodest blog-post titles. I know it's all "The Single Best Thing You Ever Ate!" and "What, Are You Kidding Me? If You Don't Make This Spelt, You're a-Gonna Die!" and "Read This Book or Drown in a Spreading Puddle of Your Own Regret!" And now this. But seriously? This is one amazing necktie shirt--not like those lame necktie shirts you've resigned yourself to! And anyway, it wasn't even my idea. We saw one years ago at a craft fair, and I copied it for Ben.
The Original Necktie Shirt
I've been planning to post a little how-to ever since. And now seems like the perfect time. It can be the Amazing Back-to-School Endless Summer Necktie Shirt!

You'll start with a simple trip to your closet or thrift shop, where you'll pick out a slightly oversized polo-style shirt and a silk necktie. It does not absolutely need to be silk--but the silk gets so soft and faded and lovely in the laundry that you'll be glad you bothered! Have your child put on the polo shirt, and knot the tie loosely around the collar. Make sure that your child will be able to remove the shirt and tie once it's sewn on! (Amazing as the shirt is, wearing it forever could still be kind of a drag.)
Why don't we just keep the shirt and tie separate? you are wondering. And I am suddenly not entirely sure. But I will say that Ben wears his necktie shirt all the time, and never once has worn a different polo shirt and tie combo. So.
The next step is to imagine an attractively stiff breeze. Pin the tie at a jaunty angle, like so.

Why don't we just leave the tie kind of more normal? Look, do you want to make this Amazing Necktie Shirt or not?
It's not showing up as well as I'd like, but can you see how the thick part of the tie is kind of folded up near the top? I find this to be an oddly crucial detail, aesthetics-wise. You don't need to go crazy pinning, unless you're meticulous. I am not meticulous.

Now you're going to sew it. It's not a lot of sewing, so you could totally do it by hand. And if you're doing it by machine, you already know what you're doing. (If you don't, I'm probably not the person to help you. But my friend Nicole is!)

Speaking of Nicole, she made me this pin cushion for my birthday, like, a hundred years ago.
I find it easiest to start at the bottom of the point and sew up one side of the tie, then stop near the knot, do a little back-stitching to secure, and then start again at the bottom to sew up the other side. Sew, I sew the 2 tie tails in 4 separate events, if you see what I'm saying.

My main goal here is not to get the shirt bunched up into the sewing machine so that I end up sewing the whole thing together, front to back, screaming the word fuck such that every time Ben puts on the shirt he has a vague, uncomfortable feeling that he can't place. I sewed this one uneventfully and did not curse once.
Three or four years ago, I posted a wanted ad on Craigslist that said, "I am looking for a sewing machine that is old and very heavy but not vintage. I'd like it to do as few things as possible and to have been made in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, or the United States. I can spend up to $200." It's been a mad love affair ever since.
Stop sewing an inch or so from the knot. And just kind of sew around the jauntily folded part so that the fold stays intact, like so.

This is not a very clarifying photograph.
Next, secure the back of the tie with two little rows of stitches, just so it doesn't slide around.
I'm not convinced that this step is entirely necessary. I think the tie on Ben's old tie shirt was inclined to ride up over the collar in the back, which was why I originally added this bit of security.          

That's it. The entire project, not including rummaging around for the shirt and tie, will take you about half an hour.
If you make one, will you please, please, please send me a photograph?


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cool as a Cucumber (Tzatziki recipe!)

Is there something about pita chips that make people feel like they're kind of healthy? Because they're really not at all. They're like wide, flat white-bread croutons, and, honestly, you'd do better to eat straight junk food. (Our friend Ava used to refer to them as her boyfriend.) That said, they're so good with tzatziki.
What's it been like where you are? Did you want to hear about the heat here? About how our oven spontaneously stopped working, as if in protest, and the spring-fed pond where we went swimming was actually about as cool and refreshing as a tropical swamp? About the salads and smoothies we've been having for dinner? It's like that. Tonight we are joining friends for ftour, which is the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast, and I am bringing this. Cool, cucumbery, refreshing.

When Michael saw me with my camera, he said, "Are you kidding? Have your really never posted your tzatziki recipe?" And it is so strange, but it seems to be true. It's like, "What? Kerri Strug? You're a vaulter?" At various times of my life, this is the recipe I've been most locally famous for. Which means, I think, that my friends Becky and Kathleen maybe once asked for it. But still. I have made it probably 50 or 60 million times, and every time I think of Vasili's Greek restaurant in Santa Cruz. Sigh. It's creamy and crunchy, herby and garlicky and cool, and you'll love it.

We are heading out to camp on the Cape for a week. See you in line at the clam shack! Take care, lovelies.


Makes 2-3 cups

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, whole or 2%
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons delicious olive oil + more for drizzling
1/3 cup finely chopped mix of mint and dill
1 English cucumber, seeded and finely diced

Mix together everything but the cucumber until well blended, then stir in the cucumber and taste for seasoning. Scoop into a pretty plate, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish prettily with herbs. Serve with pita chips, bread, veggies, or on a composed salad plate with pickled beets, tabouli, hummus, and pita wedges. (I just made up that last part, but it sounds great, right?
I know you're busy ogling my olive oil. Which is from Marshall's! I know. That's how fancy I am. Why buy discounted underpants, when you could buy real imported olive oil that maybe has something wrong with it?
Cucumber, edited. I know it seems picky, but trust me. The seeds will make your tsatsiki watery and gross.
Cucumber, diced.
Herbs. You could use even more. I added a nice feathery dill head because I didn't have enough fronds, and it actually tasted lovely.
Yum. If you use whole milk yogurt, it's even better. Although this is really good.
I think it's not technically supposed to be this chunky, but I like it like this--like a cross between dip, salad and salad.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Good Reading, Good Listening, and Flying

I will tell you the truth. I read this, in Janet Maslin's New York Times review, and, even though I lurve Kate Atkinson, I thought, "No thanks."

Ursula is the main character in “Life After Life,” but she appears in different, contradictory versions of similar events. She also seems to die at many different times during the book, only to reappear unscathed, as if mortal danger were only a trick of the mind. 
"No thanks," as in Wake me when the ginourmous postmodern novel has arrived at its mystifyingly opaque lack of closure. But I was very, very wrong. If you read it, and you should, Life After Life will be the best book experience you have all summer and, most likely, all year. It's so magical and odd and wonderful and devastatingly un-put-down-able that I don't even want to say more. Except this: it is, strangely, a more linear narrative than it sounds like it would be. And also this: if you're not going to stagger with it to the beach this summer, and you should, then at least put yourself on the wait list at your library and forget about it until they email you a year from now to say it's yours for two weeks.

Another recommendation: my recent advice to listen to Mary Roach's Packing for Mars led to Tabatha's advice back to listen to Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, which we did, in our gazillion-hour car trip to Maine (we paused only long enough to eat lobster rolls at the Kennebunkport Clam Shack and to taste 14 trillion kinds of jam at the Stonewall Kitchen). As long as stories about poop and catastrophic constipation and poop transplants and pooping and chocolate-covered bananas shaped like turds constitute good listening in your family, as they do in mine, I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough. Plus, it gave us a lot to think about, as we experienced those 14 trillion jam-smeared crackers making their merry way through us.

Finally: the unassuming little game Anomia has been cracking us up completely. It's tiny, which makes it a great travel game, and it's very silly, which makes it a great all-ages game. Plus, your children will maintain the sober evening high ground when you face off over the category "vegetable," and they say "zucchini," while you laugh and laugh beerily after blurting only, lamely and illegitimately, "vegetable."

Meanwhile, the summer is flying by. I downloaded photos from our little old camera, and came upon literally dozens that the kids had taken of each other, all of which look like this:

They'd been chasing each other around the house, apparently, even thought they look more like specters in flight.

Birdy finally settled down in a hut we hiked to in Maine. More on that another time!
Happy travels, or relaxation, or, even, working with the AC on. I am sending you all a million kisses and imaginary dinner invitations.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Ideals Gone Awry (+ perfect rhubarb pickles)

Birdy laughs and says, "I was picturing something different, somehow." She stares into her juice glass. "It didn't help that the whipped cream ran out," she says. "And also that it's floating. It looks kind of like a. . . " She shrugs. "White turd."

"That's funny," I say. "I've never had the experience of something not looking exactly the way I pictured it!" Oh, wait. I don't say that.
Exhibit A.

Exhibit "Have you seen the scrap of New Yorker blow-in card I wrote that funny thing on?"

Exhibit B.

Exhibit "Please don't audit us."

Exhibit C.

Exhibit "Perhaps Leksvik is Swedish for 'abject chaos.'" (Also, what kind of people let their children read The Onion?)

What I need is a poster to represent every mess in our house in a contained and attractive way.
Platonic shoe clutter. . .

+ real shoe clutter = cool, artsy commentary. (Right?)
Just because every piece of paper in the house is damp and wilted, every surface spanning the spectrum between moist and slick, every human red-cheeked and fractious is no reason to suddenly storm around with a garbage bag throwing everything out.

Is it?

Meanwhile, these really are pretty perfect.

So suggestible am I that when a friend posted a Facebook description of his lunch that included the words "rhubarb pickles," my jaw cramped in anticipation of making them 30 seconds later. Which I did. Are you wondering what, exactly, you would do with rhubarb pickles? I understand. Eat them, for one. Put them in a ham sandwich for two. And, for three, like I did yesterday, chop them up and stir them into tuna salad with a whisper of mayo. They are tender and sour, just barely sweet and bursting with flavor, and they would probably be great in some kind of hiply peculiar Rhubarb Pickletini cocktail, if that's your thing. Or, mmmm, with a roast chicken, which is my thing. Or duck! Not that I've ever even once made duck.

Rhubarb Pickles
I adapted a recipe from the very inspiring preserving guide Put 'em Up. Since I only made a single jar, I didn't bother canning them properly. Start to finish, I think these take 5 minutes to make.

3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
5 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Enough rhubarb, sliced 1/2-inch thick, to fill a pint jar (I used 1 fat stalk and 1 skinny one)

Bring everything but the rhubarb to a boil in a small pot over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the rhubarb and bring it just back to a boil. Scoop out the rhubarb and put it in a scrupulously clean pint jar, then pour the hot liquid over it. Eat, share, store in the fridge.