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.”


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.

For dinner: have eaten illegal amounts of popcorn.


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.

wanna go to Italy?

and take a cooking class with me?

it is your lucky epoch, as Giovanni would say. I have tried to tell him that we don’t say it like that. We say era, but that is the beauty of Giovanni.

I teach a menu from my kitchen inspired by a village that Giovanni wanders us through. I push my face into the computer screen so that I can make sure you are all right with rolling the pasta or simmering the cream for panna cotta. Giovanni can never believe it when I start to cry at the smell of a good piece of parmigiana reggiano or the site of a man making a ceramic pot in the same tradition that has been used for a thousand years. It happens.

Come with us.

Blue? Quotes from Ferd.

When Ferd was 4, he said to me:

“Hare you go, Pirate Pete..this should make you feel better.”

He offered me his treasure chest. 

I thought I was the fairy princess. I ended up Pirate Pete.

Either way, I love panna cotta.

Panna cotta

Bring 2 cups of heavy cream to the simmer with 1/2 a vanilla bean.  Add 1/4 cup sugar, and combine.  Stir until the sugar melts.  Don’t let the cream come to a boil.  In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 teaspoons of gelatin powder with 3 Tablespoons of cold water.  Make it this way first. If you would like it to be looser next time, try using 1 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin instead. Stir to dissolve.  Combine the gelatin mixture with the cream.  Pour into 4 to 6 slightly greased custard cups and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Serve with pan roasted figs and honey.

I know it’s not cherry season

I like to buy what I need.

I was in the fruit aisle 

and the only thing that moved me

they didn’t move me really,

they just didn’t make me want to puke

were the cherries.

Because I am where I was again.

So I asked the guy

Is it okay if I buy like 3 or 4 cherries

He didn’t even look up

He said, go back to bed.

and so

when I woke up this morning I didn’t say a word until I saw the sun come up from behind the broken wall at the back of the garden behind the fig tree that after a long dry spell has begun to bear fruit. One fruit. Enough. Enough to show there is something in there.

I put the music on.

I said, “C’mon everybody, (that’s me) let’s clap.” My signal to move.

To get up.

I thought about hake with clams from the Spanish-French border. My sister wrote to tell me she had her DNA done. Cells from this border are apparently swimming in my blood stream.

Rinse your clams.

Rinse the bones and head of a hake body and bring it to a simmer with a bay leaf, a parsley sprig, and a spill of olive oil. Keep it going for about a half hour. In a heavy frying pan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter and add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 3 small cloves of finely minced garlic and 1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley and quietly give the garlic a hint of color. Add 1 level tablespoon of flour and whisk until the flour tastes like freshly baked shortbread. Pour in half a cup of a good sharp white wine. Simmer. Add a few ladlefuls of skimmed fish broth. Reduce for 2 minutes. Add 4 hake filets and very gently simmer, almost like the pan is holding its breath, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the fillets. Add the clams, tiny as you can find them, and cover without every leaving what is happening until the clams pop. Serve with the best bread you can get your hands on.


don’t bother looking for me

I have filled in the cracks

you might see an ear or an eyeball

that looks familiar

a look that you remember

but that is not me

It is a look alike.

I gave her the script.

leftover yogurt
an Italian plum
old cake
boiled egg