We had our turkey with my mother-in-law in Utica and then came back down to Jersey with the carcass. I boiled it down to make stock and used that for a turkey soup. The wishbone has been drying on our sill since last Saturday.

Tonight, I let the children break it, explaining the principle of the wishbone to them. They wanted to know if they had to make a wish before or after breaking. Before, I said.

“I can make a quick wish!” boasts Izzy (4½). “I make the princess wish, the pony, and the unicorn. And that’s it. That’s three wishes. I can do ‘em quick.”

And off she scampers to brush her teeth.

Still holding the wishbone, I am joined by Livie (nearly 8). “Can I tell you my wish? That everything goes all right with moving in to our house and that I have a nice birthday. ‘Cause I don’t really need anything, right?”

And in comes the little one, teeth brushed. They grab the bone and pull.

To everyone’s surprise, the big girl won.

More on that cheese

We were gone for seven weeks. Six of them we spent, as we have come to do, down the road from my mother-in-law about six miles outside Clayton, New York. It’s incredibly beautiful there, but the gourmet/organic/locavore culture has yet to arrive.

In the middle of our time, we dropped down to Amherst, MA for a week.

The Farmer’s Market there could make you weep for joy: artfully displayed berries, lettuces, sunflowers. Every booth staffed by a thin, tanned New Englander, some liberal arts graduate turned farmer.

I bought a little container of goat cheese for us to take on a picnic. The label said “Healing the earth through organic farming.” That took it a bit too far even for me and I had to laugh. I mean, I know we were in the Happy Valley—I love the happy valley—but the outrageous navel-gazing arrogance of suggesting that a tiny little goat cheese operation was “healing the earth”!

Then, two days later, we pulled out of town and headed back up to Clayton.  On the way to the highway, we passed farmstand after farmstand. We planned to get some corn to bring back for dinner but, with a long drive ahead, it seemed better to wait until we got closer to the River.

It was too late before we remembered that Central New York just doesn’t have that farmstand culture. We had missed our shot at corn. There would certainly be no more organic goat cheese until our next visit to the Happy Valley (or the Union Square Greenmarket). Suddenly, the farm’s slogan didn’t seem so inflated. We laughed at ourselves, wishing a few more people upstate were interested in healing the earth.

Tallying Summer

After seven weeks away, seven hours from home, six of them spent in our customary little rented cottage just four doors down from my mother-in-law’s, on the shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River, I am surprised by what I missed and what I did not miss about city living:

I did not miss:
  • podcasts
  • NPR
  • television
  • the news in any form
  • running errands
  • calculating the commute time
  • a feeling of constant hurry and competition 

I missed
  • really good cheese
  • fresh produce (up there, it’s a private culture: people have gardens, not farmer’s markets, and the tomatoes were only just arriving as we left)
  • music at dinnertime (somehow, not a habit of my mother-in-law’s at the River, though she listens to it in her home in winter)
  • seeing people on the street who look interesting, look like people I’d like to meet

I am fond of traffic, of street noise, of the subway. I am fond of waking at 4 AM to the sound of an owl, of the sound of waves hitting the shore. I like going for a run and checking on the osprey nest. I like going on a run and smiling at the nervous tourists in line for the Statue of Liberty Cruise. I have beloved friends and family in both spots and, in both spots, I am delighted to run into them. I feel profoundly at home in both places.

How I love Mark Bittman

My father always says that there is nothing that is not better with a little peanut butter. To prove it, he would, when we were little, accept our challenges to add peanut butter to everything from vegetables to burgers. He was always right: peanut butter makes life better. I used to sit on the counter next to him with a couple spoons, a jar of Adams Natural Extra Crunchy and a jar of Best Food’s Mayonnaise. Dig in! So this, from Mark Bittman’s grilling piece in the Times this week made me laugh out loud:
20. Grill pineapple (or anything, really, from pork to tofu to eggplant). Make a sauce of half-cup peanut butter, a tablespoon (or more) soy sauce, a dash (or more) sriracha chili sauce, a handful of basil or mint and enough warm water to thin. (I’m tempted to say, “Throw away the pineapple and eat the sauce,” but the combination is sensational.)
If you don’t have his Kitchen Express yet, it’s a great cookbook for anyone who already knows how to cook: full of easy and creative ideas for throwing dinner together in a snap, all along the lines of this Times grilling piece: healthy and hearty, big flavors, not too much work. It’s the only cookbook I brought with me to the River this summer and I’ve loved everything I’ve made so far.

P.S. So far includes:

  1. grilled shrimp & watermelon skewers
  2. chicken paillards, grilled radicchio and endive & grilled lemons
  3. sauteed zucchini and tomatoe with chorizo (or, if your market is really awful, spicy breakfast sausage...)
P.P.S. In spite of the heat, the abundant vegetables, and my devoted adherence to 5 days/week of exercise, I have lost no weight. Hmm... 

How I miss Gourmet

We are up on the St. Lawrence River for our annual month, catching Canadian cell phone lines and French radio, looking out on the rainy water and recharging from a year in the big city.

As ever, I have brought a couple food magazines with me, but oh, the loss of Gourmet is tough. Bon Appetit is just so ordinary and safe. Its whole attitude to its audience is vaguely condescending, like a mama trying to coax a child to just give the broccoli a taste. The July letter from the editor reassures us that “while you may notice that a few recipes call for some spicier notes, don’t be put off: The heat is often tempered with sweet.”

Ruth Reichl would never have written that. She dives right in to the calves brains and is so full of luxe enthusiasm that you consider following her.

The Clintons at the Minetta Tavern

My dad and I were utterly charmed by Frank Bruni’s review of the new Minetta Tavern. So charmed that we had the same idea: this would be the perfect spot for our Saturday night dinner in September, my birthday dinner. My parents still live in Seattle, where I grew up, so these twice-yearly visits of theirs to New York City are much anticipated on all sides. They revolve around eating and we have made it our custom to get a babysitter on Saturday and go out someplace really fancy. The Minetta Tavern would be a bit of a break from tradition--it’s a steak house in the West Village—but Bruni made it sound so fun and fabulous that it seemed worth it.

When the only reservation we could get was for 6:00, we hesitated: do we really want to settle for such an unfashionable time? After all, the city has many, many other grand restaurants. My dad and I held fast and, since this was for my birthday, I held the day.

That block of MacDougal Street is still caught in the 80s: falafel shops and beer dives, tourists eating lousy looking nachos, thinking they’re experiencing the West Village. My husband and I walked around the block to see Il Mulino, where Presidents Clinton and Obama had lunched a few weeks back. That was exciting and funny, too: on the one hand, Il Mulino is tucked away. On the other hand, it’s across the street from NYU law. Not hard for them to find, we thought. The Minetta Tavern inside leaves the falafel far behind; it is full of old world charm: just as lovely and hip as Frank Bruni promised.

We walked in at 6:00 and couldn’t be seated right away. It was packed and the energy was young and vibrant. Passing from the bar to the dining room, I overheard one waiter/manager say to another: “San Francisco chef and restaurant owner; position three.” It seemed we were in a happening spot. Little did we know. When our waitress came to take our order, the hostess and maitre d’ were opening and shutting the side door; we could see red flashing lights; our waitress was distracted.

Five minutes later, we could see why: Hillary Clinton came in with two aides.

That was exciting, but it was even more amazing when, a few minutes after that, Chelsea and her boyfriend arrived.

When, ten minutes after that we heard a familiar voice say “Sorry I’m late,” as the Big Dog himself sidled into the booth.

It was very, very exciting! And distracting. And fun. Hillary Clinton looked beautiful—really happy and rested and lovely in a pretty ivory jacket with boucle details on the lapels. Chelsea is very, very pretty, too, in a black sleeveless tank and a gorgeous necklace of gold loops.

It was hard not to gawk or ask for an autograph. We did keep track of their orders—beet salads for the Clintons to start, burger for Chelsea and fish for Bill at dinner. Not a lot of wine at all. (The four of us, on the other hand cruised through a bottle of champagne and 2 reds.) I wanted to meet Hillary Clinton especially, but once it was a family dinner any intrusion seemed cruel and wrong. We giggled that I should start mentioning my days at Wellesley and Yale really loudly, but, in the end, we let them eat in peace. So did everyone else.

That is, until Rob Reiner came in with his family. (I know!!!) Meathead, as I still love to call him, greeted the Clintons and President Clinton greeted the Reiner family while Reiner talked with Hillary.

(Turns out, there was a tiny little Streisand concert at the Village Vanguard last night…)

It is very strange to think of the Clintons as people, to see that they are real. Hillary’s charisma was palpable from the moment she entered: she was powerful, kind, beautiful, and self-posessed. Bill, in tattersall and a blue blazer, was more like charisma in retirement: stunning, but in repose. I have been thinking, this fall, that maybe I’m becoming a New Yorker (with a Jersey zip code) but this knocked me right back. I was utterly star-struck.

Gertrude Stein’s Honey Cakes

I’m reading Stein for the first time in ages. I still am not sure that I love it, but she has her moments. I’m also back on WeightWatchers and a little bit hungry. (You have to be a little bit hungry, alas, otherwise, you’re not, ahem!, losing the weight.) I’m sure that my hunger and the mental image of the wonderfully upholstered Stein made this even better, so get into your hungriest frame of mind for this, from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which made me laugh out loud:
They told Vollard that they wanted to buy a Cezanne portrait. In those days practically no big Cezanne portraits had been sold. Vollard owned almost all of them. … There were about eight to choose from and the decision was difficult. They had often to go and refresh themselves with honey cakes at Fouquet’s.
Fantastic, isn’t it? The language of need in the realm of wonderful luxury. Oh, so hard is the decision of which Cezanne to buy! Oh, so badly do I need more cake! Shall we buy the one of the man? I’m not sure, Leo, let’s go get another piece of honey cake…