At Last

spring1 spring2 spring3 spring4I’m in another of those hamster-on-a-wheel days, or juggling plates mode, choose your metaphor. Sunday was occupied with reading through journals, some dating back a couple of months. I couldn’t follow it with getting outside today to enjoy the first 70-degree day since last October or maybe September. But I did manage to photograph  these first happy harbingers of great weather.


Pimiento Cheese Sandwiches


Dear Kai Ryssdal,

You waxed eloquent on Marketplace in your disbelief about pimiento cheese sandwiches. It is clear from your derisive remarks that you had a deprived childhood, you poor dear. For sure you didn’t grow up in the South or know anyone who did. You must be one of about three people who has never heard of this quick, filling, unpretentious, and very inexpensive choice for lunch or afternoon snack.

Courtesy of the Food Network, here’s the recipe with my additions and suggestions in parenthesis.

Grate two cups of extra sharp cheddar cheese (the recipe calls for yellow, but it really doesn’t matter except for color). Add a half-cup of mayo, three tablespoons of chopped pimientos, two tablespoons of grated onion, a teaspoon of yellow mustard, an eighth-teaspoon of cayenne pepper (I’d double that amount). Salt and pepper to taste. Spread on white bread (traditionally with crusts removed.) (Tomatoes and lettuce are not traditional but don’t hurt.) That’s the basic.

Additions include bacon (also Food Network), Worcestershire sauce (Southern Living), a splash of  brine from the pimientos and garlic (Saveur). SL recommends grilling the finished product, but I’ve never tried that.

May I recommend you ask one of your colleagues from below the Mason-Dixon line to change your opinion by making your one of these great southern classics?

More Reading


Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write came to me through the usual mysterious paths. I had thought to present it to the veterans’ writing group and may still, even though it assumes that fiction and poetry are the preferred genres.

Nevertheless, Ueland offers a great many valuable insights, and she does so with the insights of a visual artist and a musician. She excoriates people who feel they must constantly be in motion, constantly “acting.” I’ll give just one example. The would-be writer, having sat down to write, encounters no useful thoughts:

No logical thought comes in the first minute or two… A sort of paralysis follows, a conviction of your mental limitations, and you disconsolately go downstairs to do something menial and easy like washing the dishes, while doing so (though not knowing it) having some wonderful, fascinating, extraordinary, original, illuminating thoughts. Not knowing that they are thoughts at all, or “thinking,” you have no respect for them and do not put them down on paper—which you are to do from now on! That is, you are always to act and express what goes through you.

[Her emphasis]

That this gem of a book first appeared in 1938 with a second edition appearing in 1982 and yet another in 2010, is a testament to the universal truths it presents in a way that puts English 101 texts to shame. Though Ms. Ueland drew her experience from teaching a great many women who were housewives or servant “girls,” their writing through her guidance endures.

I will recommend the veterans add it to their reading list.

Reading Next


The first book in the list is done. Next up: Gateway to Freedom, which has been recommended by at least three people, plus the professional reviewers.

Eric Foner writes in a way to make others jealous: prolific, respected, and ferociously creative. The introduction, which describes the departure of Frederick Bailey, later known as Frederick Douglass, offers a more vivid portrait than Narrative of the Life …, which I have read.

Review to follow.

What I’m Reading Now


Another in an occasional series. Actually what I finished this morning at 2 a.m. Katharine Grant should have called her novel Seduction rather than Sedition. There’s far more of the former than of rebellion against George III, unless one counts depredations against “Herr Bach,” who probably should count as a statesman.

This work serves as yet another example of a well-plotted tale filled with engaging if sometimes despicable characters in which the denouement leaves the reader saying, “Is that all there is?”See commentary on The Story of Land and Sea and before that The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow. These are not the Jane Austen conclusions in which it is clear that not much more of interest will happen to Lizzie Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. This does Annie a disservice because we never have a chance to see her in a new life. Sequel?

The story opens as wealthy fathers with names out of Dickens – Drigg, Frogmorton, Sawneyford, Brass – determine to find suitable husbands for their daughters. Suitable in this case means titled. They engage a music teacher who will prepare the girls to display their charms by playing a concert. Teacher Claude Belladroit (great wordplay) comes along with new-fangled pianofortes, which are beginning to encroach on the harpsichord. The piano maker and his daughter round out the lead characters. The stars are Alathea, the daughter of the widowed Sawneyford, and the hair-lipped Annie, daughter of the temperamental piano maker Vittorio Cantabile, who is burdened with a mortally ill wife.

Though Grant describes the other daughters with their varying temperaments and styles, they all run together until the outrageously funny concert, when their costumes distinguish them more than their character and performances.

Grant displays a genius for weaving a deep knowledge of “Herr Bach” and music theory into a portrait of a Britain that has just lost its biggest colony and is watching its neighbor across the channel implode to the thump of the guillotine. In one of the most vivid vignettes, a blithely insensitive girl displays blood-stained shoes, probably last worn by a noblewoman or bourgeoise on her walk to her death.

With lots of sex, much violence (the hangman appears in the opening scene), and a riotous display of colorful dress, Sedition fairly howls “movie.” I’ll leave it to others to decide who will play the lead roles.

‘Coleman Curse’


When I posted this entry in March 2010, the temps had been in the 70s and the weather otherwise glorious. This year, we hit 60 for the first time since last fall, and patches of snow lurk in the shady places. The result is that Coleman Bros. carnival was a week-plus late when it opened.

Here’s what I posted five years ago.

It is tradition that no matter how gorgeous the weather before the carnival, a turn for the nasty occurs when the show comes to town. Locals believe that we will have rain or occasionally snow for the duration. A brief search of archives shows that the prediction is accurate more often than not.

One poster called it the “Coleman Curse” and claimed that it has rained on the carnie for the past sixty years. I’ve been able to document that rain fell in 2005 and 2006, with snow in 2007.

“The curse,” if that’s what it is, follows Coleman. The show extended its stay in the neighboring town of New Britain three years ago because of cold and rain, according to the Herald.

Coleman’s owner told Amusement Business in 1998 that it was “awful wet” in Connecticut that year.

As far back as 1978, entertainers and entertained slogged through mud and other ick in Groton according to The Day.

Of course all this could just be mythology. After all it is April, and it is New England. If you don’t like the weather … wait minute, it’ll change. Regardless, I’m packing my umbrella until the show moves on.

Books, Books, Books


In an effort to reduce the amount of paper in my office, which was threatening to fall over and annihilate me, I went through a folder labeled “Books.” It consisted mostly of little pieces of paper with title, author, and publisher of things I want to read. Those pieces of paper added up to a list of 150 and didn’t include whole essays and separate pieces of paper of other lists that I had made earlier. If it had more than three titles, I stapled it to the master list.

The bits of paper have been accumulating since about 2008, though some larger clippings came from files my mother kept. They may at one time have been in chronological order, but the folder produced them in total disorganization.

Topics include writing (of course), cooking with a little gardening thrown in for the herbs, lots of Jane Austen biographies and analysis, several works on typefaces and graphic design, history with an emphasis on African American contributions, two celeb autobios (Nimoy and Swayze), and an entire publishing company.

Fiction ranges the landscape: Ellison’s Three Days Before the Shooting…, Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke, and the first on the list for no apparent reason, Sedition, a historical novel by Katharine Grant. Without knowing anything about it, I read a summary and thought, here’s Jane Austen with sex and maybe some violence. The fly-leaf provides confirmation of the J.A. connection with the classic “… a truth universally acknowledged…” Review to follow.

Fool Overkill


Because of a workload that seemed to multiply with each passing hour, I was  mercifully free of most April Fool shenanigans. That was until this afternoon, when I went to the Wesleyan University café. There I encountered the 4/1 edition of the Wesleyan Argus. The masthead screamed “JOKE.’ A glance at the 19th century reference above the mast cemented things. As I was hoping to have to parse out what was serious, I realized that the entire edition formed one big Fool. The best:

  • Headline: “Philosophy Dept. to Teach Mansplaining”
  • Byline: “[Redacted] Witness Protection Beneficiary” under the headline: “Entire Baseball Team Offered Internship They Can’t Refuse”
  • Best overall: A three-way tie among Martin Benjamin (’57)’s letter to “Dear Michael” a/k/a President Roth, which printed an entire page of the Latin dummy type that designers use to fill space in advance of the actual copy; the filler ad “Got an opinion? Wanna write a Wespeak? Don’t. Nobody cares about your feelings.”; the one article that could very well be true: “Students Attempt to Boycott Indiana, Fail for Logistical Reasons.” The nut-graf: “… [the group] had trouble executing any sort of a boycott, because no one in it had any previous affiliations with the state of Indiana.” How Onion of the Argle!

‘Tea Tuesdays’


NPR has a fabulous series. I assume the name arose because of the alliteration, but dedicating one day of the week to the beverage is fabulous. Here’s my contribution for this week.

I stopped by a friend’s this afternoon, and she served a Tanzanian selection. I’m not sure if the photo is exactly the same. It tasted heavenly, less astringent than rooibos but offering the identical soothing quality. Her son buys it in NYC, so there’s hope that I can procure some.

This past Sunday’s NYTimes Travel section’s lead story featured Sri Lanka. Search for “Deep Into the Hills of Sri Lanka.” The descriptions sounded magical, if still heavy with the touch of the raj. The expert took the old themes to new stratospheres: four cups of tea a day “could indemnify … against indigestion, heart disease and general dysfunction.” That’s about what my mother drank, and she suffered from none of them until the very end of her life, so maybe I should up it from two. He also said optimal brewing time is six minutes, which is the longest I’ve ever seen. Most range from 45 seconds (Jeju) to five minutes (black teas). After reading again about the predations of the Tamil Tigers, I realized why I’ve seen no Ceylon Breakfast in the past few years. Will check with my friend Peggi when next I visit Tea Roses Tea Room.

As for the NPR “Tea Tuesdays,” I’m mentioning yerba mate even though it’s not tea because I included the Tanzanian version, which is also an herbal beverage, not made from camellia sinensis. With jaguars and moon maidens (and Pope Francis), mate offers the best tale of the series. And it has the most important part of tea: the ceremony of the preparation.

If you want some larceny with your afternoon (or morning, or evening beverage), here’s a link to the Scot who ripped off Chinese tea.

To conclude on a family note, which is where tea should always be shared, here’s is TT’s version of brewing the perfect cup English style, with commentary about the way I learned from my mother, whose training in chemistry helped her brew tea and coffee that kept guests coming back for more.

Her process never used anything other than black tea and NEVER in a tea bag. She heated the pot before putting in the leaves and adding the water, which the article neglects to mention.

Favorites, depending on her mood, were the heavy smoky Lapsang Souchong or light and feathery Darjeeling. Guests almost always received the bergamot-laden Earl Grey.

Cups were always bone china. I remember a friend I’d brought to the house to help move some furniture said he was afraid to pick up the cup and when he did, he discovered he could see through it. I gave those cups (there were many, many of them) to some of her dear friends but still enjoy that ethereal thrill when I visit Tea Roses. Mother always checked on the brewing process about three minutes in and poured at five, decanting the remaining tea into another heated pot.

She always added milk, after pouring the tea, but thought lemon suited just as well.

And those tea leaves went into the azalea bed at the back door, along with the coffee grounds. We not only had satisfying afternoon teas but beautiful flowers to go along with them.