I am tired.

I am tired. I could have told you that when I was at college, reading until it felt my eyes would bleed. At the end of the night, with every book they would let me take, I stood in front of the elevator on the sixth floor of Bobst Library, waiting. The hour before midnight, was a popular hour for the elevator. I am sure they had a fire code in the 80’s. There must have been stairs, but I didn’t know about them. If it took a while, I sat. The floor was carpeted, with a liner underneath. It was the kind you could easily lie down on; the kind that if you were sent to someone’s house to sleep and there weren’t enough beds, you would say to yourself, “these people have great carpet.” And so I would lie down. Security would find me sleeping with my stack of books and my bags and with no luck shouting down to me, shake me gently, saying, “you can’t sleep here. you can’t do that.”

I could have easily told you I was tired when I was pregnant and couldn’t eat. Or pregnant and could eat, with an unborn baby the size of a spaceship eating everything I could get my hands on before I could get to it.

Or when he was 18 months, in black and white houndstooth shorts and a white onesie, and found the word, “no” and stuck to it with the same magnetic force that keeps the earth swinging around the sun. Or when he was 2 and started walking, and we had moved down into the village of Mercatale, where all doors open onto a main road.

Or when he was 3 and discovered he could climb heights not meant for men, at the speed of the supernatural. If your child is fast, you have to be faster.

If your child is clever, you better be more than one chapter ahead, because a child will finish that book in the night, without every laying an eye on pages.

I was sure I would be less tired when he got older.

I waited for 5th grade. I waited for 7th grade. I waited for high school. I waited for college.

Sleep isn’t something I expect or try to achieve anymore. My mother’s words float and settle into my mind in the tiny hours of the the night, when it is as still as the world permits. “Don’t worry about sleep. Think about breathing instead. What a luxury,” she would say, “to lie in the bed, without having to do anything at all but breathe.”

If your greens start to fade before you have decided what to do with them, make them into soup. A soup can take more greens than you would ever believe possible. And think how good that is going to make you feel. Clean two or three leeks by shaving off the dark green ends as if you were carving a twig for a marshmallow stick. Cut them right down the middle from top to bottom, and then into three inch pieces. Leave them to soak in a bowl of cold water until they have released their sand. Lift them from the water with your hands, and set them onto an absorbent tea towel. Get a good sized saute pan going over medium heat with a few tablespoons of butter and a spill of olive oil. Drop the leeks in. Season them with salt and just a little freshly ground pepper. Add a few stalks of the tired celery, finely chopped. (If it is finely chopped, it won’t get stuck in your immersion blender, later). Add two whole cloves of smashed garlic, that you smash to release their skins, a few sprigs of parsley, a sprig of thyme, and a bay leaf. Let that go for about 5 minutes. Peel one potato and chop into small pieces. Add that, with a little more salt. Wait for the potato to grab the pan, and then pour in water, just to cover the potato. Simmer, with the lid ajar, until the potatoes are tender. Taste for salt. Add all the greens you want, at least 12 ounces, and up to a pound. Simmer for another five minutes. Puree with your immersion blender until smooth. Add a tablespoon of butter, or a pour of best olive oil and taste again for salt and pepper. This is good with or without shards of Roman or Umbrian pecorino, or an earthy chèvre from the Loire.

Get it right

I carry lumps of nutmeg in my change purse. I stand motionless in front of croissants, studying the paper layers and reading the smell of butter. I ask too much of the butcher. But at the moment, no kitchen belongs to me. I have a hot plate next to a tiny sink over a fridge behind a cabinet door. I have a box of chocolates in a drawer that opens almost all the way, along with a serving spoon and scotch tape. I have travel containers of baking powder, cornstarch, salt and saffron, under my books, next to plates.

There are kitchens near by that I slip into like those girls who buy a pair of pants to wear and return when the party is over, hoping that everything happens but not too much so that anybody would notice when they bring them back.

There is a mushroom soup that is not at all complicated but takes a full stove of burners. Canned stock is not an option. Chicken bones, celery, onion, leek, just enough carrot, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and a garlic clove with a spill of olive oil and a measured amount of sea salt are at the back. Some of the mushrooms are steeped from dried in a bowl of hot, but not quite boiling water that becomes a finishing tisane. Their fresh cousins are seared and sautéed, not too quickly, with a tiny dice of shallot and sprigs of thyme. To take it over the top, the cream simmers on its own with a clove of garlic that gets pushed through a sieve at the end. The steam from each pot rises with the pot next to it, like voices around the table. There is no party if people aren’t talking in and around and on top of each other. Do what you have to do.

Make a chicken stock. Season only to help you taste it–not enough salt to take it to the end. Steep dried porcini or shiitake in scalded water that just covers them. Lift them out after 5 minutes and drain on a tea towel. Reserve the liquid. Remember to pour carefully when you need it so that you leave the sediment behind. Finely chop 2 medium size shallots and saute in butter with a drop of olive oil until completely tender. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Cut nearly a pound of fresh, fat, wild mushrooms into chunks. You should be able to get a few at a time on a soup spoon. You never want to make anyone feel embarrassed when they eat, by giving them pieces to deal with that are unwieldy. Add to the shallot and saute over medium heat with a smashed garlic clove, a parsley sprig and a few sprigs of thyme, until cooked through. Chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add them to the pan. Give them another minute. Reduce a few tablespoons of dry white wine into the mushrooms. Don’t allow the pan to become dry. Remove the garlic and herb. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer 1/2 cup of heavy cream with a bay leaf and a clove of garlic until slightly reduced, and the clove of garlic is soft. Push the garlic through a sieve and whisk into the cream. Remove the bay leaf.

Add 4 cups of your stock to the mushroom mixture. Reduce until it tastes right. It should taste full, but not heavy. Whisk in enough of the mushroom liquid, which might be all of it so that you get the hint of it. Same with the cream. It is not a cream soup, it just wants cream to bind the flavor of the mushroom to the liquid. Taste the whole thing for salt and pepper. It is critical to get it right. Grate whatever hard cheese you truly love, to dust the bottom of each bowl. Toast a wildly thin piece of baguette and spread with butter to place on top of the cheese. Poach the yolk of a quail until just beginning to create a skin, and set one on each of the croutons. Set the croutons in the bowls, on top of the cheese. Gently pour the hot soup right around the crouton, covering it. Be sure each bowl has plenty of mushrooms. This is adapted from Jose Andres, whom I carry with me always and everywhere. He adapted it from the renowned, Lluis Cruanyes of El Dorado Petit.

Al buio

My bathroom is not big enough for a sink. It is the exact size of a phone booth. It is not that no one can hear me if I make a phone call from the bathroom, but if I whisper and speak in Italian, chances are they will be bored.

When I woke up yesterday it wasn’t yet five, so I waited. If you don’t have to go to work, getting up before 5 feels illegal. I listened to Italian radio. They are wide awake in Italy at that hour. For them, it is almost lunch. They talked about Bruce Springsteen getting pulled over by the police for drinking 2 tequilas in the space of twenty minutes, and then saddling up his motorcycle. Everybody had an opinion. They called in to talk about it. The dj’s played a song not quite to the end. Then they asked listeners to call in again and in 30 seconds or less, let the rest of us know what irritated them. “What irritates you?”, they said, “thirty seconds or less.” In America, you would probably be thinking, “Jesus, can I do it? Can I do it in 30 seconds?” Because they would be serious. You could be weeping, and at the 29 mark they would be like “Faye calling from her toilet; bad day at the office. Not gonna be a bad day for the rest of us though! 400 dollars down and no interest for 6 months in Newark! Who doesn’t need a new car? Jim! How is it in Newark?” Cut to Jim. And Jim has to talk fast.

In Italy, 30 seconds to talk about being irritated is:

someone you haven’t seen for 30 years, and is the mother of your best friend from the 8th grade, who was Bruce Springsteen, just invited you to have a quick cup of coffee.

That is not going to be quick. Nobody wants that to be quick. You want to make a movie about it. You want to break out the table cloth and start rolling the pasta. It is understood.

Everybody called and everybody was listened to for as long as they had something to say. Most of it had to do with traffic.

When the clock hit five, I put my clothes and mask on in the dark and walked to the cafe. I ran the water through the machine a few times and and ground the coffee. I take more than what comes out automatically for a single shot, so I tapped it two more times. I pulled the coffee and steamed milk. I packed a croissant into a paper bag, locked the door behind me, and walked back home.

Then I called Italy and cried.

It will be all right. I will get back there. One day, I will be listening to Italian radio in my car before the sun comes up Italian time, on my way to the bar before work to drink coffee with the farmers who are on their second cup.

Make pasta tonight. You need a pile of sifted flour on a big wooden board with a well in the middle. Pour in some room temperature water. Slowly push the flour into the water, and make a dough. Knead it for a few minutes, until it is smooth. Let it rest under a clean towel. Ten to fifteen minutes is plenty. Roll it out with a wine bottle, from the center to the outer edges until it is a thin as a tortilla (or piadina.). Cut it into 1/2 inch strips. Lift a strip, twist the top, and pinch it off, about two inches in. Repeat until all the pasta is shaped. Boil in salted water and serve with a parmesan/pecorino/butter sauce or ragu. Drink it with a rough red wine in a short glass.

rich man, poor man, baker, thief

My mother played scrabble with my grandmother everyday at noon, and made her pour her own cup of coffee and push her own toast down in the toaster. There was a painted cardboard calendar on the wall next to the breakfast table, and every morning my grandmother was meant to turn its cardboard wheels that adjusted the date. Everyday, when she turned it, she would say, “Is that what day it is. How about that.” I think she lost very little of her mind, to tell you the truth. It would just occasionally get murky, like someone had stirred up the bottom of the lake. Sometimes she would say, “where am I going? I have no idea. Nobody tells me.”

She was a snappy dresser, and before she moved in with my mother, my cousin had gifted her a few button down velour jackets with matching slacks. One was a deep, deep purple and the other was aqua marine blue. She had on the purple set. “These feel like pajamas,” she said. She let it go for a few minutes and then said, “If they send me home from church, it is not my fault. That is on you.”

She took a sip of her coffee and looked down at the buttons as if someone had just stolen them and sewn them on to her jacket for safe keeping. She moved her fingers along the buttons and said, “rich man, poor man, baker, thief.” Another sip of coffee. Then back to the buttons, and one by one, “rich man, poor man, baker, thief.” Except there were five buttons, so she went back to the beginning and ended with “RICH MAN. That is who I am going to marry. A rich man.” And I asked her, “Are you sure, Gram?”

“Of course, I am sure.”

“Do you want to get married, Gram?”

“Heck, no.”

Yesterday, I made Bkeila. My grandmother would have loved the name, but vegetables weren’t her thing. She went for a little sliced, raw tomato with plenty of salt. Or, string beans, cooked past holding their shape. I find that in this pandemic, vegetables are keeping me from losing a little bit of my mind. They feel alive when I buy them. Their color and shape and vibrancy, pulse. Vegetable dishes I am not quite familiar with rewrite my script, repaper my walls, and change the language.

I found Bkeila in Ottolenghi’s new book, Flavor. The recipe comes from Tunisian Jews. Tunisia is in North Africa and sits next to Algeria, just south across the water below Italy, and not far from Spain. I read the recipe for a few days. I thought about how warm it was there. I wondered what kind of bread is popular in Tunisia (a lovely flat, folded, rectangular, rougag for one.) I thought about the idea of spinach and cilantro as a feature. I read about cilantro. Cilantro (what we call the leaves of the coriander plant) is related to carrots, celery, and parsnip. It can help reduce blood sugar, lower inflammation, boost brain health, fight infections, and improve digestion. Spinach is high in Vitamin K, C, folic acid, and iron, so if you can get enough of each in the same dish, it is a medicine cabinet. Bkeila.

I sauted a medium size onion with 3 cloves of whole garlic in a olive oil and butter. I let it go for a while. I gave it a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. More was called for, but I had never used cinnamon with spinach. Nutmeg isn’t far off, and it is common with spinach in Italy and France, but cinnamon isn’t nutmeg.

I added a few fennel seeds and cumin seeds, crushed with a stone. I added salt. I peeled a potato and cubed it into half inch pieces. A little more salt. I hand chopped about 3/4 pound of spinach and a large bunch of cilantro, and added it to the pan. This would be less than half of what Ottolenghi called for, but I love a different proportion of onion and garlic with long cooked vegetable. I am 57, so what I love has equal battle rights with directions. I moved the greens around until they were completely wilted. I had no beans, but I had frozen some homemade stock with a few random cannellini in it, so I added that. I let the whole thing simmer covered, until it was what I imagined a grandma with borrowed teeth would be happy with. I tasted it. I added the teeniest bit more toasted cumin and gave it another nugget of butter and a squeeze of fresh lime. I let it sit undisturbed for a few hours to grow into itself, and then had it for dinner. So good. I suppose I would be the thief, but who isn’t.

Coq au vin

with all the fixings

It is always a good idea to get somebody ready for your food, with a little food. Thin slices of eggplant, rolled around a soft goat cheese from the Loire, takes someone for a wander through an open market with aubergine (give it to me now, aubergine is much prettier than eggplant) piled high with purple skins so tight, they sparkle. And before that, I might even serve a tender wedge of duck liver mousse with a tear of baguette. You can get the best duck liver mousse, I have ever known, from a little village called Montsoreau on the banks of the Loire. You can’t get there now, but that day will come.

Eggplant rollatini with goat cheese tomato and green olive

Slice very firm eggplants into 1/4 inch slices.  Roast in a single layer on a sheet pan, drizzled pretty darn well with olive oil.  Season with salt.  Cook until

most of the white is gone and they taste good to eat.  Cool.  At the bottom edge, add a bit of goat cheese.  Roll up.  Continue with all the slices.  Halve a head of

garlic and color the cut side a bit in sauce pan with olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme and parsley.  Add just the tomatoes, crushed in your hand from a can of 

whole tomatoes.  (leave the sauce in the can for something else.)  Simmer to heat through for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Add the rolls of eggplant and simmer 

very gently, just to warm through.  Serve on a platter with picholine or nicoise olives and parsley sprigs scattered over. 

And for the main attraction:

Coq au vin

Marinate a whole chicken, cut into parts with 1 chopped onion, 1/2 a carrot, clove of garlic, one stalk chopped celery, some thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs and a few bay leaves and a few peppercorns with half a bottle or more of dry red wine and a little drizzle of olive oil, for at least two hours and up to six.  Strain the marinade.  Saute the vegetables in butter with a spill of olive oil and a sprinkle of flour to coat, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add chopped, smoked lardons (or not) and fry just until cooked through, not fully browned.  Wipe the grease from the pan and remove all the bits from the pan but do not clean the pan.  Season chicken with salt on all sides and brown well.  Give it a grind of pepper.  Remove from the pan.  Wipe the grease from the pan without lifting anything stuck to the pan.  Pour wine from marinade into pan and bring to a simmer.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan, so that all the bits go into the liquid.  Add the chicken, a cup of homemade chicken stock, the vegetables, a half a leek tied with thyme, parsley and the lardon.  Cover with a piece of parchment.  Braise at 350 degrees until the chicken is completely cooked through and easily comes away from the bone. Remove the chicken and all the bits from the pan.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce until saucy looking.  Off the heat, stir in a knob of butter.  Serve with the chicken.  Make buttery little croutons and pearl onions and sautéed mushrooms (all separately) to serve on the side if you really want to knock yourself out.

To make chicken stock:  a pound of raw bones, half a carrot, two stalks of celery, one onion, a leek, three pepper corns, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, half a tomato, parsley sprigs and plenty of water to cover.  Add pinch of salt.  simmer for at least an hour or two.  

Potato Gratin

very thinly slice about 7-8 medium yukon gold potatoes.  Gently simmer them in whole milk with splash of cream, pinch of salt and grind of pepper until nearly tender.

Meanwhile, bring two cups of heavy cream to the simmer with four or five cloves of garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme.  Add a pinch of salt.  When the garlic is soft, strain

the cream, pushing the garlic through the sieve and into the cream. Taste for salt and pepper.  Layer the potatoes, tasting for salt, with the cream into a gratin dish.  Bake,

covered with parchment and then foil with a few holes poked through until potatoes are completely tender.  Remove cover and if you like you can add a little gruyere grated on top.

Make sure oven is at about 400 so that the top browns.  

Haricot vert

Braise beans in water with salt and sprig of parsley til tender.  Drain.  Melt butter in the pan with snipped chive.  Toss beans through and add salt and pepper to taste.

And for the finale:

Chocolate souffle

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop 125 grams of your best bittersweet chocolate. You can add a little rum or gran marnier at this point.

Gently heat 1/4 cup cream and stir chocolate in.  If chocolate does not melt completely, microwave for 10 seconds.  Stir again.  

Beat 3 yolks with 1/3 cup sugar minus 2 tablespoons until thick and lemony colored.  Use those 2 tablespoons of sugar to add to the whites, once they have soft peaks.

Beat whites til glossy.  Add a little egg yolk mix and mix together with your hand.  Add the rest in two more parts.  Gently fold in egg whites.  Grease souffle dishes and fill two thirds of the way up.  Set the dish or dishes into a lasagna pan and add hot water to fill by about an inch, surrounding the dishes.  Cook until set across the top, but still wiggly.

And the winner is..

Mr. Berry!!

I love Mr. Berry. And so 10 months into this pandemic, I still go. 10 months after I began my first seven weeks of lockdown when I would venture out with a flannel shoe bag looped over my ears and a swatch of plaid Scottish wool tied around my head before the sun came up or after it had set, while the rest of the world was most likely sleeping. Across the Polaski bridge from Queens to Brooklyn, down the first staircase on the other side of the river, up Box Street and a left on Manhattan, towards the church.

My friend Mary was worried that the virus might have more of a chance at me with such a long walk. It was the beginning of March; I had been exposed, and we weren’t sure yet how the virus worked. Mary thought it was important that I stay in top form, but we did not agree about what that meant. Mary’s mode is to avoid the cold and weather to build yourself up. I am a believer in throwing yourself into it. She would have preferred I shop at E&I on the corner, or forgo shopping all together and get it delivered. I preferred walking in the full on wind until I might have to borrow another pair of legs.

At Mr. Berry you never know what you are going to find. Yesterday, I bought big, fat chestnuts and chubby little persimmons the color of a 1970’s satin pant suit. I got nearly perfect raspberries in the middle of November. I got super seeded gluten free crackers, yogurt from Bulgaria, bananas ready to eat this minute, a tiny champagne mango for 50 cents, a tiny bunch of spinach for 50 cents, a pack of organic hamburger and top shelf coffee. Two blocks away: Peter Pan Donuts. There is no time like pandemic time, for donuts. Across the street: Nassau Meat Market which is the best kielbasa you have ever had in your life, smoked in the back and its cousin, slab bacon.

All of these stores are the size of a master bedroom. Not always possible to keep 6 feet, but everyone wears their mask over nose and mouth, and the in and out is never longer than 15 minutes.

Plus, it is a goal that you have to prepare for. It is a long walk. You have to eat before you go. You have to add a few layers to whatever your loungewear is underneath. You have to think about what you might cook that night since you are shopping. And then there is the walk. There is something about the act of moving forward, even it is just to Brooklyn, that makes you feel like life is not sinking. I choose the stairs involved to get over the Newtown Creek, which encourage deep breathing.

There are people. You might only see eyes, but they are the eyes of the living.

To roast chestnuts: choose chestnuts that are robust and have weight to them. Forget the price tag. Buy less, but buy heavy. With focus, make a slice with a small sharp paring knife across the flat side of each chestnut. Roast on an unprepared sheet pan in a 350 degree oven or in a cast iron frying pan, with a lid. You are looking for the chestnuts to split their skins and for the nutmeat to soften. Eat them as is, as part of a charcuterie or cheese board, or puree into a Monte Bianco. Think about the tiny hilltop of Preggio that typically has a chestnut festival and invites everyone into the cantinas for their own family’s chestnut speciality with a glass of Novello. and break them into a ribollita as a substitute for the bread .

My baby

My baby is a long limbed 6’4”. I am not sure how much he weighs. Somewhere around 170. Not much. Which in my book makes it 100% acceptable–necessary even–to tell someone on school staff at the university, that his height/weight ratio is nearly on the brink of:

Am I Going to Have to Park a Food Truck on Campus.

You might be thinking, “oh, come on.”

And to that I say, “Listen.”

And then I have to take a pause, because whenever the mother of a boy she has kept alive for 18 years hears “oh, come on” a tsunami follows that takes a minute to drain.

So anyway, “Listen.” And that is another thing I am sick and tired of. People telling me they don’t want to hear the justification. You know what? There is a self serving, disease dripping, drooling, belligerent in Office that more than a few people are reconsidering with no more justification than it takes me to eat cake. It is high time to spell out the justification.

So, “Listen.” When I was growing up, I was allowed to eat just enough food. It wasn’t that my mother didn’t have the money to buy the food, she just didn’t like the idea of spending more than what she thought was necessary. There is that. I am afraid there is not enough to eat unless I know the food is next to me, and I own it. I babysat for a dollar an hour and to eat. “Have whatever you want,” they would say, looking at my bony body thinking it was safe to leave me with the refrigerator.

To go along with that, Ferdinand didn’t eat when he went to school and they blamed.. Do you think they called Jonathan to tell them they were worried that I didn’t pack enough food for my five year old? Of course not. I have told you this story already, but I will remind you. From the First Day, Ferdinand was sent to school with enough in his lunch box to feed the man he is in this minute. It looked like I was sending him to represent me as the cook with the goods for a small wedding. And every single day I unpacked that lunchbox when he got home and threw away everything in it. Box to Bin. The problem was, he didn’t want food that was cold and he thought a thermos would ruin his reputation. From the moment he woke up, I fed him hot food until he left me and the minute we got back in the afternoon, I started cooking. Ms. Can’t-remember-her-name said to me, “all he gets is baguette and a juice box. He says he is a vegan.”

omg

I wasn’t aware that he knew that there was such a word as vegan. I had to go over in my mind what vegan meant. “He is not a vegan. He is not even a vegetarian.”

“Why don’t you try giving him a little more food, something with substance? It is important for growing bones to have protein. You could pack a yogurt or a little fruit cup.” I nodded my head or shook my head, I can’t remember. The weight/height ratio was taped to my pillow and was the pin code for my bank account. Sometimes at a party, I would quiz people if they knew how much their child should weigh according to their height. Trick question. I knew.

The doctor was amazed at how fast Ferdinand was growing, and even though he was never below the 50% mark for weight, he was always above the 95% mark for height. “You know,” she would say, you should feed him. She told me how to fatten up a soup with sour cream. She suggested fatty meat.

So when Ferdinand told me that he didn’t feel right taking more food than what they gave them in the single serving cardboard tray, I started getting nervous. He is in the sticks. There is no deli on the corner. “Mom,” he said, “don’t worry, they have sushi.” You and I both know, serious sushi costs serious money. They are not serving that. I know they are not serving that. “How about if I send you something,” I said. I thought about what he could do with his micro wave and micro fridge. And yes, I did come back to the food truck and I talked to him about it. I asked him how he would feel about it, you know, his mother outside the dorm serving hot food and hot soup and hot cocoa. He thought that was funny.

I am sure. I am nervous, and my socks are too loose.

When I was a freshman in college, the RA called me into her office to have a private talk. I asked the RA what it was about. “Your stomach.”, she said.

I had been eating an awful lot of ice cream sandwiches in the dining hall. Maybe someone had noticed and had decided it was time somebody should say something.

The RA asked me if I wanted a cup of tea.

“Not really,” I said. She looked like she didn’t know where to start, so I tried to help her out. “What is the problem with my stomach?” She looked at me and took a deep breath. She raised her eyebrows. Finally, she said, “it is the weight gain.”

If I could have evaporated, I would have. Instead, I said, “I have been eating a lot of ice cream.”

“That can happen when you are pregnant,” she said. That took me by surprise.

“That’s not possible,” I said. “Are you sure?” she asked me. “I would have been there,” I said.

I told my mother. She got a kick out of the “are you sure” line, and she pulled it out as a regular, for years. Whatever I answered when she asked if I wanted more spaghetti or if I wanted to go into the Theater as a career, or if I knew where my sister was, she would drag it out.

Then she got bored of that and started to say, “I am nervous and my socks are too loose.”

She would say it out of nowhere, it needed no platform or opening statement. She could be reading the paper or ordering ice cream, and she would tilt her head back and let it rip. I thought maybe it was a synapse issue or the beginnings of decay, but as I was born with too much on my plate in terms of responsibility, I chose my battles and so I never asked. It was a few years before she died and we were sitting on the Adirondack chairs on the front porch of the Surf Hotel on Block Island and she said it again. I asked her what the connection was between being nervous and her socks being loose. She laughed at that.

“They are not my socks,” she said. “Well,” I asked her, whose socks are they?”

“They belong to a man on the Ballard Bus.” My mother loved confusion and would sow it like a kitchen garden. The Ballard Bus ran between the Ballard Motel on Old Harbor and the bars and boats on New Harbor. It didn’t cost anything to ride the Ballard Bus, but you were meant to be staying at Ballard’s. When I asked my mother about that, she said they never asked her for any kind of identification and if the door was open, why not take it? “What man on the Ballard Bus? Who was the man on the Ballard Bus, Mom?”

“I don’t know who he was,’ she said. ‘He was singing.”

“He was singing, ‘I am nervous and my socks are too loose?'”

“He was.”

For a longtime after that, I imagined that man on the bus as having been too long at the beach and too long at the bar and prone to connecting words like loose pieces of laundry on the clothesline that end up together with no rhyme or reason, ripe for the likes of my mother to pick. When the truth is, that man was not just sitting there spewing fodder for my mother.

He was singing a Van Halen song.

Touche.
For dinner: have eaten illegal amounts of popcorn.

Sugar

You could easily call me Sugar Queen. I love all of it. Blowpops and MaryJanes, Milkduds, thin mints, blondies and lil debbies and skybars. I love ringdings and yoyos, babyruths, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, chunkymonkey straight from the box, applesauce walnut date cake with cream cheese frosting, apple pie, pumpkin pie. I love pumpkin pie. You could give me bittersweet or milk chocolate, jellybellys, rhubarb buckle..I would be happy. I don’t even have to eat it. I could just hold a bag of it and be happy.

And then there is that other sugar. I love that too. But that kind of sugar doesn’t always line up with what it talks about on the wrapper.

So I am off that. I am on a big fat That Other Sugar diet.

Here is the recipe for the applesauce walnut date cake. I would always ask my grandmother if she would make it for me on my birthday and she would always say, “of course I will.”

Applesauce walnut date cake

2 cups flour, 2 t soda, 1 t cinnamon, 1/2 t allspice, 1/2 t nutmeg, 1/4 t cloves. Sift the flour before measuring and don’t bang the cup. Swipe the extra flour from the top of the cup with a butter knife. Sift everything together. In a separate bowl: Beat 1 stick soft unsalted butter with 1 cup light brown sugar til smooth. Beat in 2 eggs. Combine with flour mixture. Add 1 cup hot homemade applesauce and mix. Add 1 more cup hot applesauce. Mix til combined. Add 1 cup chopped dates and 3/4 cup broken walnuts. (break them yourself.). Bake in buttered 9 inch round. Or split it between two cake pans. Frost with cream cheese frosting when cool. 1 8 ounces package cream cheese, 1 stick soft butter, nearly 1 box confectioners sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.