“Archives” here is best treated somewhat ironically, as meaning “piles, boxes, and drawers of minimally differentiated papers.”  No neat conservationally-correct folders, no finding aids.  I recently picked up several bags of papers from my mother’s apartment-building-basement storage space and brought them to my small apartment, already clogged and afflicted with increasingly ill-controlled ephemera.*   Anyway, this particular batch of stuff seems mostly to date from my grad school period, late 80s and early 90s, and includes photocopied readings, research materials, and paper drafts as well as letters and theater tickets and old calendars and god knows what.
Photo on 2014-12-03 at 14.20
So since this period is on top, mostly, I’ll be starting with it.  I’m going to post excerpts, taken in no particular order, with more or less commentary as it suits me in the moment. Maybe they will amuse you; maybe they will teach me something.  Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

*I keep it because it proves I existed, acted, thought, and was valued in the past; I leave it in a state of disorder because I fear — something.  What I will find, perhaps? Or something else.

Cold butter.

I made some tasty scones, or sconelike things, for the singers yesterday.  I hunted over Tastespotting and looked at a bunch of recipes, finally keeping three open and relying most on Tartelette‘s for structure (as I had yogurt, not cream or buttermilk) and My Lovely Kitchen‘s for the apricot-rosemary idea.  I used a total of about two cups of flour, including a quarter-cup or so of corn flour, and reduced other quantities in an imprecise sort of proportion — four Tbs of butter, for instance, whirred rapidly with the flour in the food processor.  A couple of dried apricots, chopped, and a tablespoon of currants, all soaked in a bit of tea, got thrown in, and a little sprinkle of turbinado sugar on top sparked against the not-very-sweet (but quite moist) substance. I liked them, as did my friend T and the singing gang.

Luck of the.

I wanted to contribute to dinner at Camille’s for Movie Night, but I know by now that C has usually got the main categories well covered, so I offered to bake and bring a moderately-timely Irish (or Irish-ish) soda bread.  I looked at at least a dozen recipes and had these four open when I was baking.  In the end I relied most on the King Arthur Flour Irish brown bread, but changed pretty much everything.  (Considering (a) how varied the recipes were and (b) soda bread’s something made by rustic grandmas, stringent accuracy seemed not required.) I decided I needed only a three-cup bread, so I used two cups of all-purpose and a cup of mixed whole wheat and oat flakes, a tablespoon of sugar, approximate 3/4 amounts of salt, baking soda, and baking powder, a tablespoon or so of melted butter, a little over a cup of yogurt blended with almond milk, a touch of vinegar to make sure there was enough acid, and a third-cup or so of soaked currants and raisins.  Aside from sticking to the ungreased (dumb!) cast iron skillet I baked it in, it came out handsomely brown and craggy and tasted very good, not so dry or so plain as “real” soda bread but not so ornamented as to approximate cake.  It was eaten with glee by the Movie Night gang and, the leftovers, by me for breakfast.  I wish I had a picture.

I made another yeast bread on the more-or-less Bittman method, this one almost white with a little chickpea flour and some oats.  I let it over-rise on the first rise, but it still worked out nicely. And another batch of the super ranger cookies.

Haruspex Day 2015

The Ides of March roll round again. And once again, lousy haruspex as I am, I have no predictions for you, except the eternal and obvious (the snowdrops and crocuses will appear and give way to the daffodils and tulips, et cetera).  So this year’s link is to this note on the apotropaic function of Caesar’s reported words to his killers: And the same to you!

Pans and parchment.

C’est à dire, more baking.  That lemon-almond cake came out tasty but a bit dry, though it had both a dose of syrup and a layer of icing.

As for yeasty things, I’ve shifted for the last three loaves for a variation on Mark Bittman’s food-processor, brief-knead, slightly extended-rise recipe (in HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING, though using a warm liquid as suggested by the Fleishmann’s site (a mix of water and almond milk) and continuing to vary my flour mix with rye, buckwheat, whole wheat, and oat flour, flakes, and bran, alongside all-purpose.   I kind of miss the kneading, so I may move back to that, though it’ll mean keeping the mix a little drier than I have made the last couple of batches.  The crazy thing is that they all come out pretty similar in terms of texture, soft and with a fairly tight sandwich-bread crumb.

Today I made these chocolate gingerbread bars.  I don’t have “pumpkin pie spice” so I used a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter-teaspoon or so each of clove, allspice, and nutmeg along with the ground ginger, I used lowfat yogurt instead of sour cream, and I put the melted butter in with the wet ingredients (no instruction is given for it).  They are actually delicious, or so I think.  Let’s see what the Sacred Harp gang thinks tonight at Midweek singing. And I’m all out of brown sugar.


Breakfast life musings.

I woke up on this bright morning, came into the kitchen, and was delighted to see that (unusually) I’d done all the dishes last night and my sink was clean and empty.  I made pancakes and sat down with them, coffee, and the Internet.

An hour later the sink was full: two pans, two bowls, whisk, turner, and tongs, measuring cups and spoons, plate, fork, knife, spoons; and I had listened (via Twitter) to an extended conversation about moles and molecatching in the farmlands of England.

What, I ask myself, does it all mean?


I’ve been doing a good bit of baking: I have the time, it warms the kitchen, and a perhaps illusory sense of productiveness is inspired.  Well, not illusion exactly: the baked goods exist; but they’re not really to the point. Nevertheless, they are tasty. I’ve made several batches of the Ranger Cookies (with, variously, raisins and nuts, dried cranberries, chopped crystallized ginger, and chocolate chips) and a version of Nanaimo Bars with a brownie base, averting the need to buy graham crackers and adding, perhaps, extra deliciousness.  I’ve worked my way through some of the bananas in the freezer with a couple of loaves of banana bread.  I made lemon cornmeal shortbread cookies that came out really nicely and now I can’t figure out what recipe I used. I bring the results to my singing friends.

I’ve been baking bread every few days too.  Nothing artisanal, but various off-white sandwich loaves that have a little oil in them so they’ll keep.  One loaf had whole wheat, bread flour, and all-purpose; one had buckwheat, bread flour, and ap; another added some rye; some have had poppy, sesame, and (or) sunflower seeds; the latest has oat flour, a couple of tbs of oat bran, and all-purpose.  Sweeteners have included honey, sugar, and molasses. The first couple I made from the ancient Broccoli Forest book with its comic-book instructions.  Then I realized that (a) I had instant yeast, requiring different treatment, and (b) that recipe had led me to very dry doughs, especially in winter and using hygroscopic whole grains, difficult to knead and resistant to rising.  At the Fleishmann’s Yeast page I found instructions about the different kinds of yeasts — instant yeast doesn’t get proofed, but mixes in with the dry ingredients — a skeleton recipe calling for just one short rest and one in-pan rise, and more.  I’ve been trying out keeping the dough wetter, and remembering to add more salt.  The loaves are mostly pretty good, nothing to win a prize but modestly well-textured and tasty.

Today I used four lemon-almond cake recipes (mostly this one) to make a cake to take to dinner at my friends Eric and Sylvia’s. Haven’t tasted it yet, but it looks pretty.


They Also Serve: Maps to the Stars

“Maps to the Stars” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bad language, bad sex, bad vibes.

A.O. Scott on Maps to the Stars.


From the Archives, 8: A View in the West

Photo on 2015-02-10 at 17.21 #2

My mother and I interrupt the view towards the Rockies. This wallet-sized print, which appeared out of nowhere identifiable last week, obviously dates from well before graduate school, so it shouldn’t really be here.  I make the rules, I break the rules.

The Kodachrome colors are better in reality than in this rephotograph, but you can tell that I really was blonde as a little kid.  My dad had a Nikkormat camera with Nikon lenses (later mine, Sherman the Tank Camera) and loved to take a photograph of me and my mother.  I can hear the clacking of the slide carousel now.  And the smell — do you agree that the slides gave off a scent as they went past the light?

They Also Serve: BALLET 422

A long time ago I was doing a series quoting witty additions to the movie ratings in New York Times reviews.  I know there was a reason I called it “They also serve” (who merely stand and wait), but I can’t recall what it was.  Anyway, I liked this one, from A. O. Scott’s review of Ballet 422, a documentary following the choreographing of a new piece by Justin Peck for the New York City Ballet:

“Ballet 422” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Brutal treatment of toes and toenails.


From the Archives, 7: Critique

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11

Jeff’s generous letter. “There’s something uneven about the paper.”

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11 #3

Dwarf Postilion from Hell, Inigo Jones.

April 1989. I sent my big paper on theatrical perspective to my former professor, Jeff Merrick, an early-modern historian who was then at Barnard but moved the next year to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  (It’s disconcerting but not surprising to read that he’s now professor emeritus.) Jeff was good enough to read and respond to the paper.

Oh, I was all about perspective in those days, I loved writing this paper and still think about the ideas I came across then.  Just the other day in this odd little theater at the Queens Museum, where the projection “booth” takes up the whole center spine of the auditorium, so there are no central seats at all, I recalled the story of James I’s rejection of a new style of seating putting the King’s box down in the front of the hall, cited in the paper from Orgel and Strong’s book on Inigo Jones.

I used to email Jeff once a year or so, often with a mention of Baroque opera. Back in my day he headed a short-lived interdisciplinary program called History, the Arts, and Letters, and it was for the class he led on “The Baroque and the Enlightenment” that we came to New York for Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the City Opera.  That production was antiquated by the time we saw it, which I guess was just at the edge of the contemporary explosion in Baroque opera production, and we enjoyed it but laughed at the attempts at Baroque gesture.  Jeff drove us in his little red car, Robespierre.  I should drop him a note now.


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