All Wet: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.

Recent photo of the lighthouse at the north end of Roosevelt Island. While running I was contemplating how the light from this must have reached across the island and even into Gracie Mansion, the home of the Mayor.

I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)

Where I run in the morning along the East River, with the FDR Drive on the other side.

I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.

Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.

We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.

From a recent trip to Sea Bright, New Jersey.

While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)

Sun rising over the bay near Sandy Hook on a ferry trip back to Manhattan last year.

Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.

Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.

Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.

Mom’s current house back on Memorial Day weekend.

Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.

Recent sunrise photo from our apartment in Yorkville.

All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)

Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.

Blackie and Cookie on my home desk area.

Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.

As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.

Sears House advertisement for a cottage approximately like ours.

Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.

As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.

Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Planting

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother has always had a garden. Perhaps it speaks to her largely Italian roots where there was a grape arbor in the backyard, cherry and other fruit trees and a kitchen garden for vegetables. (Posts about my grandmother’s house and that yard can be found here, here and here.) It was fertile soil (Jersey is, after all, the Garden State) and responsive to care and planting.

The Cittadino family yard at the turn of the century.

Mom also majored in zoology and botany in college which was as close as she (she a mere woman at a girl’s college) could come to a pre-med course. Much of that work in botany would come out over time, making up the fascinating accumulation and source of information my mother is. (Although of course I suppose that’s what mother’s are!)

In the first house I have clear memories of residing at, there was an impressive rock garden planted by the previous owners. It climbed up the sloping backyard and in my child’s memory was enormous – probably much smaller than I remember. One of my earliest memories is being about 3 and sitting with my mom as she worked in that garden. I think she was weeding and I picked up a handful of tiny frog as I ‘helped’ her. He jumped, we all jumped and I screamed in terror as my mom tried to explain the nature of the frog to me.

I believe that this more formal sort of garden was not really mom’s taste which was clearly a bit more natural, wild even. However, presented with this beautiful garden she certainly did tend it lovingly.

In the cottage on the river where we lived until I was about 11 the soil was sandy and salty from the water. Betty dug her heels in and really did battle to make anything grow there. Through considerable grit she achieved a smattering of rose bushes and something that served as a lawn, although may have been largely well-trimmed weeds in reality. No matter, lawn was never a passion of hers.

Magnolia tree near mom’s which inspired the purchase of one for her yard.

In summer she coaxed a bay of giant sunflowers in a side yard that was otherwise a fairly no-nonsense vegetable garden. It was there that I learned the joy of bountiful homegrown tomatoes and a surfeit of zucchini, and the occasional eggplant. It was tough going though and I also remember the failure of corn and all the evergreen trees that died too. (She had had a plan to buy live trees for Christmas and plant them. As one after another died she realized that this plan would not work and bought an artificial tree instead. The practice of cutting trees for Christmas really bothers her.)

The yard was all mom’s. Dad traveled constantly for work and his schedule only allowed for occasional involvement where he worked under mom’s direction. His background as a city kid did not allow for much gardening expertise or interest.

We moved several blocks away when I was about 12 and there my parents stayed until a few years ago. Although still on the water it was less likely to flood and the soil, while not that of her youth, was definitely several notches better.

Here she planted numerous trees, which we had the pleasure of seeing mature over those decades. Because the water table was still very high, it was the willows that thrived, although there were nice oaks and maple trees too, a weeping cherry. There were some lovely old trees on the property, one outside my bedroom window housed a screech owl, foxes made a home of a dead one in the backyard. She had her tree failures – a beloved copper beech that never really thrived as I remember.

Irises in mom’s yard, but not the ones she brought from the other house.

She was serious about tree care and people came at least annually to examine, prune and make suggestions. Living in a hurricane zone it was necessary to know that your trees were fit to withstand those high winds. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the loss of trees in the yard and the neighborhood left it sad and denuded. These were old friends that were gone now.

In this yard mom combined flowers and vegetables. There was a grapevine and strawberries – the wildlife got far more of these than we ever did however. The tiny delicious strawberries seemed somewhat miraculous to me. Tomatoes still reigned, but herbs were what I remember most. She planted them in the ground, but also in containers. It was lovely to hop outside and snip some fresh herbs for whatever I was making for dinner.

Mom’s house when we first purchased it.

There were glorious rose bushes in a variety of colors and some stunning irises that a friend had made a gift of and which he had brought from his home in New Orleans. There were azaleas and a glorious butterfly bush. In later years, with no family to feed, mom focused her planting on flowers and plants that would attract and feed the birds, insects and wild life of the area. The result was a cacophony of birds, buzzing bees and often a half dozen bunnies in view at any time. Deer found their way there and fox. Hawks and even vultures stopped by looking for prey. The yard was a wild kingdom of sorts in later years.

Mom’s house earlier this spring.

When mom moved into her current house she had a blank slate as the previous owners had only done basic maintenance. Mom is housebound now, but has a trusted gardener known only as Mike to me. Between them they have transformed the small yard, front and back. Mom is entirely focused on flowers which she enjoys from a windowed room at the back of the house. The irises were rescued and transplanted here and she can tell you about other plants and bulbs shared by friends and acquaintances, some rescued from Mike’s other jobs when they no longer suited the owners.

I have contributed some peonies (which have come into their own this year), a hummingbird feeder and a weeping cherry and a magnolia tree are on their way to her presently as belated Mother’s Day gifts. I took a tour of the yard when I was there last weekend and it was nice to see how it has grown in. After this long year spent in our Manhattan studio apartment walking around her little paradise is better than ever.

One of the peonies I gave mom, blooming this month.

This multi-colored honey suckle reminded me of the masses of it we had growing wild in our yard growing up. Dad showed me how to extract a single drop of nectar from each – amazing! When I remarked on it mom told me it is one of her favorites and that she had asked for it. A fact I never knew.

Multi-color honeysuckle.

In order to better survey her kingdom mom has a friend who records mini tours on video. Larry does a great job and I am enjoying these too.

Having lived in a Manhattan apartment my whole adult life I don’t know if I inherited mom’s green thumb or not. Kim, with his green thumb, tends our mass of African violets and single aloe plant. I miss those fresh tomatoes each summer!

Inuit

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write this I am back on the ferry, in stormy weather, heading back to NYC. Rough seas this morning and I am reminded that you have to have a good inner ear for ferry travel in this kind of weather.

We are bouncing around a bit. I am reminded of my father telling me that you never know when sea sickness will catch up with you. This before I took a trip through the Patagonia passage where I was bounced out of bed one morning with waves over the bow. I gratefully chewed up the Dramamine he insisted I bring! Yay Dad!

Meanwhile, I am going to challenge my technical expertise and see if I can post this from my phone. (Incidentally, if you were wondering no WiFi on the ferry, but I never lose a signal.) I cannot say it is a beautiful holiday weekend at the Jersey shore! Bear with me if this is a tad sloppy!

Out the ferry window as we prepare to leave Highlands, NJ.

*****

I think most people had some equivalent of the curio case that lives in my memory from childhood, and which housed these beloved objects, first at my grandparent’s house and then our own when I was growing up.

These were nearly given away when a friend rescued them for me (confusion around a great deal of stuff being sold and given away at one point in the multiple moves of my parents) and I almost cried when I saw them again. They now reside in a different bookcase, upstairs at my mom’s house.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This small collection of Inuit objects were collected by my father – I believe he purchased them when in the Arctic with the army in the 1950’s, where he was reluctantly serving during the Korean War. He didn’t talk a lot about this mandatory hitch with Uncle Sam except it was when he discovered his vocation as a cameraman; he was trained to film maneuvers in the Arctic and used the GI Bill later to study film at Boston University after he returned.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

There were two stories he told in connection with his time in the army. One was that he was lowered onto ice flows to film and the only way to return to the ship was to climb up the rigging, heavy camera equipment clinging to his back. The other was that they ran food experiments on them, dying their food all sorts of odds colors to see if they would eat more or less – green bread not so attractive. When he was in the hospital at the end of his life he made some references to it. I think the hospital and being trapped in his body and at the nursing facility at the end reminded him of that time.

As for me, I have longed to touch and examine these objects since I was a small child. Obviously there is much to delight a child about these precious objects which remained in a locked cabinet and of course which we were forbidden to ever enter. I think it is probably safe to say that until I unpacked them most recently I had never actually touched any of these items.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Some were evidently taken a number of years ago, but I cannot remember what those objects were. My father always had a very good eye for art and always purchased interesting things in his worldwide travels later as a cameraman for ABC news.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

These statues are familiar to me, but also new as I pick them up and examine them carefully. I have not had the chance to do more than unpack them and look them over as I put them into a cabinet here where I decided they would be safe.

I apologize for the ad hoc photos. They deserve better and perhaps I will spend some time drilling down on each object in the future. They are beautiful objects, but most beloved because of their history and what they meant to my father. As I bounce along the bay today I am thinking of him and how he would have liked this note as well as my perch on the ferry today, despite inclement weather.

Family Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I get to combine my love of early photos with family. While I was visiting mom in New Jersey last week, my cousin Patti took out a huge basket of photos we went through together. Some folks remained unidentified, but a core group appeared throughout. (I wrote about this side of my family back in a post around a photo of a very early family wedding celebration. It can be found here.)

These are entirely my mother’s side of the family, the Italian immigrants who settled on the Jersey shore and ran a series of restaurants and food stands in what was a popular beach community. I apologize for the reproduction quality – I was just taking pictures of these photos on my phone.

As far as I can tell the genesis of these food enterprises was my great, great grandfather – last name Cittadino, first name not known to me. He is shown below in two photos, with car and bike.

Pams-Pictorama.com
Pams-Pictorama.com

I especially like the one of him with a bike. Regretfully no one knew who the two hotsy totsy looking, well dressed young women were. They showed up in some other photos. None of these photos were marked and had largely at one point been in an album, but we realized what everyone does when looking at family photos which is there are a lot of people who were friends or folks they worked with who were like family, but sadly no one remembers now.

The Deli, shown below, seems to have been the first restaurant incarnation of the family. I only recently learned of this earlier version of the family food establishments. As per an email from my mom below, I gather it was a place to eat as well as the take out sale of food. Sorry to say, these two fellows in the photo remain unidentified.

My grandfather had a deli and related food sale place in Long Branch on the Main Street Broadway. Every morning he walked to the bank for day cash on the way passed the owner of the bar getting to the bank. They struck up a conversation the fellow told him he was tired and wanted out. My grandfather then struck a deal walked on to the bank and got the loan went back and gave him the cash and that was it. He walked back to the deli told my grandmother and the customers eating there at the time and agreed all would help move down the street and that is how he moved down to the building with friends and customers helping shortly after when they did.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Norwood was the name of a street in Long Branch, in fact the street where my grandmother and the extended family had a home. (I wrote about that house in a post that can be found here). As per my mother’s email, the deli and the bar that followed, were actually on Broadway, the long main drag of what was once the thriving downtown which I believe ends at the ocean where the Boardwalk once thrived. The family home was within walking distance of the Deli and Bar, I think probably 15 or twenty minute walk, of it.

The family also seems to have two food concessions on the Long Branch Boardwalk as well, one I had always heard about, owned by my Aunt Ro. However, another turned up in these photos and I am not sure who owned this stand, but the general consensus was that this was not Ro’s but another. Not sure who is pictured here either, although he resembles my great uncle Frankie, but is too long ago to be him. Perhaps the Al mentioned on the awning boasting a Quick Lunch.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The family’s bar is what is remembered best by my mom, run by her grandparents, her mom and aunts. Mom would go to their apartment above the bar after school as a small child. Although much of the family worked there – not Mom’s father, Frank, who was an engineer for Bendix. While it is always referred to by family as The Bar, it served a lot of food as well. In addition to the daily fare special Sunday dinners were offered to steady customers, all prepared by the women of the extended family. Mom remembers them cooking non-stop between the restaurant and family.

The photo below is the aforementioned Frankie, father of my cousin Patti who stays with my mom these days and found these photos cleaning out her house. I believe this shot was at the bar although I would have voted for it being one of the beach concessions. (I wrote about my sectioned blue Willoware plates which were the Blue Plate Special plates at the bar and are our everyday dishes. You can find that post here.) My mom and uncle were too young to work there, although my mother used her restaurant background to waitress her way through college later in life.

Hot dog concession with Frankie manning the flatop and Great Grandpa Cittadino behind him. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The establishment remains today, at 591 Broadway in Long Branch – currently Johnny Piancone’s, ironically also an Italian bar restaurant. I have never been – although once my father and I had pizza in the place next door which I gathered from him had been there as long as he has known my mother.

My uncle ate at the restaurant several years back and they allowed him to visit the apartment upstairs which he also remembered vividly from afternoons there as a child. I have shown the bar today below which I found on the FB page. The bar pictured may be the originally one, although I believe my uncle said it had been cut down. The restaurant appears to have survived the pandemic with outdoor dining in a backyard and I would think doing take out. It’s nice to know that it is still there, still going in its own way.

Treading Gently

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It seems safe to say spring is finally on the rise here in NYC and this month marks six months in my experiment with running so I thought I might give a bit of an update today. February threw down some serious snow which brought me to a complete halt for awhile, however after several weeks in captivity I forced myself to head back out (with some trepidation) to see how much ground I had lost. Much to my amazement I pretty much picked back up where I left off.

For those of you who missed my earlier post (it can be found here) I started jogging because otherwise during our long pandemic period, I found myself not moving from my home desk (Deitch Studio is also a studio apartment and our single room leaves little room even for pacing), and watching as many hours melted rapidly into days. I don’t have much time and I wasn’t able to get much walking done in the hour or so I can devote to it so in a bid for efficiency I began running.

I came to exercise late in life, but pre-pandemic was a happy gym rat, cramming it into early mornings, evenings and weekends. (I have written generally about my workout and that post can be found here.) However, I have always been a reluctant runner. I dislike treadmills (I don’t really imagine that will have changed when I get back to them) and running was sort of a final frontier of exercise I had not embraced.

Dramatic signs that spring is unfurling earlier this week.

My mother ran and was in fact a high school track and field star whose records there were only broken decades later. (I believe it was the long jump she excelled at.) She ran for a brief period when I was a kid, but she had largely given it up as an adult. My sister, Loren, ran. Loren was a bundle of hyper energy that needed to be released daily in large dollops or she was impossible to live with. Therefore it wasn’t unusual for her to run and bike, swim or play tennis together in combinations daily. She ran cross country, was on the track team in high school and generally distinguished herself as she did in most things. (Loren’s college rugby career in is mentioned in a post here.)

It can only be said that I did not inherit my mother’s genes in this area and it must be my more sedentary father I take after. I frankly cannot imagine my father running – it isn’t an image I can conjure if I did indeed ever witnessed it. He was a tall man, 6’5″ and skinny in his youth, but he filled out as an adult, muscled from his work carrying camera equipment for his job daily. Still, other than a daily work out of reluctant stretches for a bad back, executed on the floor of the bedroom, there are no memories of dad and exercise.

Frankly, I run badly and I am relieved that it is very unlikely I will actually ever see myself run. I run slowly – there may be people who walk faster than I jog. My strides are short and plodding. I seem to be a different animal than many of the folks around me, boasting their shirts from the marathons they have run, bouncing, gliding and zooming along. Young, old, women and men of all ages generally make a better job of it. It is only thanks to my long time trainer, Harris Cowan (@livestrongernyc) that I have managed to ease my unwilling body into running.

Area I start my warm up in each time. Often there are others working out, walking dogs or on their phones. These trees have been late breaking into bloom.

However, doing something with determination even if badly, is a good foil for the narrowness of our current cooped up state I think. I remind myself to be grateful to my body for what does achieve, not critical for its failure to do it better. It’s been good to put myself up against something hard that is concrete and which can be chipped away at. Running makes me use another part of my brain and gives a rest to the thorny problems of work and what needs to be done, or what has risen to the top of my agenda for fretting. Releasing the problems for a time allows me to better work through them later I think.

Strangely and unexpectedly I have started listening to classical music, largely orchestral, while running. I run along the east side esplanade, along the water (my brother Edward reminded me in my prior post that our East River is actually an estuary) which tends to be glorious with the sun rising over it in the early mornings. I will never tire of the various moods of the water – choppy with current one day and still the next. It reminds me of the river which was always in our backyard growing up.

View of Roosevelt Island with water sparkling during a run earlier this week.

However, not to be too romantic about it, on the other side of me each day is the FDR drive and a noisy endless bevy of cars, fighting their way to their early morning destinations. Therefore, it is not the glorious sounds of nature I would enjoy if I wasn’t plugged into my phone. Audio books were always my go to when exercising and I have listened to some wonderful things. Yet I was finding increasingly that they weren’t right for running, distracting but not in a good way.

The park during a more wintery run.

I switched to a music mix I had used occasionally for workouts which ran I admit with some embarrassment heavily to Bruce Springsteen (can’t take the Jersey out of the girl I guess) which did the job but was a bit repetitive. However, one day it started with a curiosity about Beethoven’s 7th symphony and the feeling I had never really listened to it. I downloaded it and decided I would listen to it while running – which I did many times over several weeks. After that I wandered over to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which has long been a favorite, but I hadn’t heard in a long time. I welcomed spring with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. (Admittedly, I have pretty routine taste and I suppose if I want another challenge I could actually start learning about classical music.)

A fairly calm morning on the FDR.

I listened to a Beethoven violin concerto and realized that after years of it making me sad after my sister died, more than a decade later now I love listening to the violin. Staying with Beethoven I was listening to a piano concerto yesterday and realized I have rarely listened to much piano at all and what an amazing instrument – one-stop shopping for a full orchestra in a single instrument. The education of my ear which I had been receiving with live music via jazz on the job in recent years, has taken a turn with classical music.

The long incline at about 80th Street on a cold morning.

My experiment with running began with a combination of walking and running. Running as long as I could, followed by periods of walking which became shorter over time. I achieved a milestone the other day and did virtually the full run without a break. (There is a steep incline at a land bridge which I have yet to tackle at even a slow run.) I had dragged myself out that day which it turned out was a gentle spring morning not to be missed and was rewarded. For those who have followed my running via my IG stories, I am taking fewer photos now that I am walking less!

Little guy found a cache of nuts and was happily porking down the other morning while I stretched at the end of my workout the other day.

Frankly most mornings it is still sheer will that gets me into my sweats and out the door. (I wrote last time that I was doing the post simply to keep me from quitting the whole venture.) It is hard and drinking coffee at my desk or even lifting weights in the comfort of the apartment is more appealing. However, once I am out it is good for me and I am seeing spring unfold in the park where I start and end my jaunts. Earlier this week a hawk swooped right past me at eye level while I warmed up with a few moving stretches pre-run. (He was a big fella and I was glad not to be a small mammal or bird. Yikes!) Plants are beginning their persistent and riotous emergence and squirrels and birds are suddenly everywhere, feasting and frolicking. When I look back on this time I think it will be these mornings I remember best.

Sour Cherries, Quince and Tomato Water

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The day before Thanksgiving a bag showed up with my doorman and tucked inside were two delightful little jars of jam and a mason jar of tomato water. These were sent by Liz, a colleague, friend and chef who lives in my neighborhood and has so kindly sent along such care packages periodically during the long, shutdown time. Her bag of goodies not only improved our breakfast repast, but set loose a wonderful torrent of memories shared with my mother, mostly of the yard I knew as my grandmother’s, where my mother spent most of her childhood. Today’s post is devoted to those memories.

The jar of tomato water which I am rapidly consuming.

To start, for those of you who have not experienced it, tomato water is the water you drain out of tomatoes. This is sometimes done before canning or cooking tomatoes down in recipes. The result, assuming you like tomatoes, is drink that is like a wonderful burst of summer in your mouth. Liz introduced me to this delight, made me a fan and always includes a mason jar of it. This one is yellow – and tastes of those different tomatoes. Still very yummy and a real treasured reminder of summer as we head into a darker, gloomier season.

Quince tree at The Cloisters

One jam is quince. It is my introduction to it and I like it very much. The only quince trees I ever made the acquaintance of were up at The Cloister’s garden in Fort Tryon Park. There are lovely ancient looking gnarled examples in that garden and a quick read shows that some types can live, with care, longer than a human life span, and that getting them to produce an agreeable fruit isn’t easy. Back in 2012, the New York Times was inspired to devote an article to quince trees, In Praise of the Misunderstood Quince, specifically launching the discussion around those venerable examples of the trees at The Cloisters.

The other jar was plum and sour cherry jam. This one opened a Pandora’s box of taste memory because I have not had sour cherry jam or preserves since childhood. My grandmother used to make it each year – children and their spouses and the grandchildren were all tasked with a morning of picking the sour cherries off of an enormous tree in her yard. As I was a small child I assume my memory of it as being an enormous tree may be a bit exaggerated, but I do believe it was a mature and large specimen.

The yellow ones are similar to the cherries I remember gathering.

The cherries were yellow with a sort of red blush – more yellow than the ones I found to show here but that is the idea. We collected them in plastic buckets – strangely I remember an aqua colored one in use specifically. My grandmother had an enormous, ancient double sink and she would be in the kitchen cleaning them as we brought them in. I don’t think I was privy to the process of cooking them down, but the end result were jars of cherries that would last us the better part of a year. This ideally to be spread on her own homemade bread which we consumed in enormous slabs.

A subsequent conversation with my mom reveals that growing up, when several generations lived in the house I knew as my grandmother’s, the property next door also belonged to them. (I have written about my grandmother’s house and yard twice before. Those posts can be found here and here.)

My grandmother’s house as it looked in 2017.

Mom tells me that her grandmother taught her that it was planted very intentionally, almost entirely with food producing plants to feed the family. (My mother points to this as being particular to the Italian immigrant side of the family which was her mother’s.) Great grandma did not approve of the decorative plants my mother liked – wasted effort and space. To my mother’s memory, in addition to the cherry tree, there was: an apricot, a walnut, a chestnut, something called a freestone peach (which evidently failed to produce much), and two pear trees. My mom remembers her father always keeping walnuts from the tree in his pocket to share with the occasional inquisitive squirrel who would come and take it from his hands.

An undated photograph of a wedding feast in what I knew as my grandmother’s yard. The grape arbor, in keeping with the food theme, was gone by the time of my childhood.

I remember the chestnuts on the ground there. (Of course I was very small and closer to the ground than the fruit bearing part of a tree after all.) The furry, prickly outside of the chestnuts always fascinated me, as did the surprise of the velvety smooth chestnut inside. I never developed a taste for chestnuts, my father was fond of them though and I believe we did toast them in our fireplace experimentally one winter. My dad would buy them on the street here in Manhattan where you can smell them roasting in winter even now. (Well, at least in the now before now – are there chestnuts roasting without tourists in midtown?) The chestnut tree was an odd survivor of a nationwide blight (not unlike that which destroyed so many American Elms), and mom says people from Rutgers came to study it and photograph it as a survivor.

Chestnuts in their furry wrappers.

I love walnuts so I am surprised I have no memory of those on the ground or of that tree specifically. The parcel of land to one side of the house was sold when I was still very small, although mom says the walnut tree was near the garage so not sold off as was one of the pear trees which sadly was cut down to build the house there.

Mom says she adored the pear trees and that she can remember eating pears right off of them. One tree was on the property that was sold and was cut down for the house to be built. The other of those two trees was destroyed by a lightening strike which split it down the middle, leaving only charred halves. Mom said it was like losing an old friend.

She shared other memories of climbing up into the apricot tree, which had a long, low lying branch, to read her library books in the summer. She and her friend Jackie had competitions to see how many books they could read in a summer – I did the same with my friends as a kid, must have been her idea. It was the beginning of my life-long voracious reading habit.

Despite being housebound these days my mother still enjoys the garden, in her recently acquired home on a small plot of land. Under her instruction, the yard has been planted by a patient and lovely man known only to me as Mike, with many flowering plants – however specifically and thoughtfully designed to feed the birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife she likes to attract and to watch from the windows. A garden that provides, but in a very different way.

A Whale of a Good Time

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The fun and jauntiness of this snapshot caught my attention, probably from the teens judging from her dress. The large fish sign she is holding proclaims, Size of the One I Lost at Michigan City. One imagines that it was a photo op you were offered as part of a fishing trip package. I never thought about it, but fishing is a long-standing, major tourist attraction for Michigan, and a quick internet search turns up a thriving charter fishing industry. It makes sense that where there are enormous bodies of water there would be fishing.

Pictorama readers know that I grew up in a fishing family and photographs of family members with particularly enormous fish dot our family albums. I myself have not spent much time fishing – I am a bit too soft-hearted, although I eat fish and I have done my time cleaning them. I take no pleasure in the act of catching them. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my grandfather repaired outboard motors and he also kept a medium-sized, wooden fishing boat which was call The Imp. In retrospect it was a surprising name for him to have christened his boat with. I must remember to ask my mother where it came from, assuming she knows. Perhaps the way it bobbed around in the water – a bit impishly?

It spent the off-season in a spot next to his workshop garage, up on a wooden frame or trailer, keepin it off the ground and make it easier to work on. (Unlike our sailboat which wintered at a nearby marina.) I remember it seemed huge and high to me as a small child. The Imp was painted gray and I have memories of the seemingly constant scraping of the bottom (barnacles were a concept that fascinated me at a young age) and re-painting, as anyone who has ever owned a wooden boat well knows. Even in the 1960’s wooden fishing boats like her were becoming a bit old fashioned.  I remember she made delightful creaking sounds when you were out on the water with her and there was a smell of the sun-warmed, painted wood which I cannot really describe.

Despite being the daughter of a fisherman, my mother is cursed with a poor inner ear and she can only be on a boat on the calmest days without being seasick. (My mother used to say it could make her seasick to watch our sailboat bob in the backyard during stormy weather and windy days.) Therefore I did not go out fishing with dad and Poppy too often, as I don’t think my mom was entirely comfortable entrusting the small children to them without her own watchful eye. When we did go we wore the bulkiest of life jackets which impeded much actual movement although we certainly would have bobbed like a cork in the water.

Dad was a city boy born and bred, but he was fascinated with fishing and sailing and would go out with my grandfather and others as often as he could. He started a documentary film on it, but for some reason it never got off the ground. (Shooting film in those days was a real expense and editing was a bulky affair.)

As I alluded to yesterday, my grandfather died suddenly and young of a heart attack. The Imp was sold shortly after, with some discussion. I think a boat is a bit like an instrument which is meant to be played – we wouldn’t have gotten her out much, even our sailboat was idle much of the time. Dad continued fishing with other folks, neighbors, on boats or surf casting on the beach. (There was a nearby draw bridge that folks fished from, but I don’t remember my father doing that. I think fishing was more tied up with being on the water or at the beach for him.) Fishing poles were piled around the garage and house, the line getting tangled and caught in everything. Even when he wasn’t fishing his buddies, or my grandfather’s, would bring fresh fish by for us.

Although blue fish does not enjoy much of a good reputation, when grilled with lemon and pepper, fresh off the boat it is a very different affair than that which has been sitting in a fish market where it tends to quickly grow oily and strong. I grew up eating it all summer, along side of Jersey corn – maybe also grilled – and tomatoes from our garden. Blues are big, toothy fish and wrestling them while cleaning them was messy work. Generally in the cleaning was done outside, fish scales sticky and flying everywhere and sticking to me. Our cats in their glory, their noses in a fury of sniffing, as smelly fish guts piled up.

There were other fish too – crabs my sister and I caught in the backyard off our dock which were boiled and tediously cleaned. Scallops in butter and lobster of course, although I think the majority of those were fished a bit north of us. The river inlet I grew up on was known as Oyster Bay because it had at one time been thick with them. Pollution eliminated them, although they re-seeded the bed to some success in later years. Because of pollution my mother steered us away from the practice of eating raw clams, and even steamers, and I didn’t eat mussels until I was an adult.

I cook fish often. As a result of growing up with it I am comfortable working with fish and never really think twice about the nuisance of cleaning a pound of shrimp, and am always surprised by folks who are stymied by it. If we were entertaining guests over this (Covid so we are not) summer my grandmother’s faux bouillabaisse might be in the offing. Well known for being better for sitting overnight, it is a favorite for guests as it then only requires heating. My French food training showed me the difference – hers is more of a thicker Mediterranean-Italian fish stew which I cheerfully favor. I will write about it and lay out the recipe one of these days.

For those of you with access to a grill this summer I urge you to throw some fresh fish and corn on and enjoy it for me. It is one of the pleasure decidedly denied to us city dwellers.

Aim

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For cat lovers I have to apologize that I am continuing my non-cat jag for now. As I am adjusting toys later to redistribute to our new shelves, I am sure I will find some items to take us back to the land of very old toy cats and photos. Today’s post meanders to more memoir than photo as you make your way into it.

This photo came as part of what I now think of as a speed-buy on Instagram. (You are quietly minding your own business drinking coffee, watching an HGTV rerun or writing a blog post when you get a notification – maybe you’d like this photo? And you are off and running for an undisclosed amount of time for a photo sale.)

We have (Kim’s job actually) adjusted the contrast on this photo a bit – I am afraid she is somewhat faded. The photo has long been affixed to this bit of gray cardboard and having been printed on thin paper to begin with, photo and cardboard are definitely merged permanently into one now.

My guess is her shooting riding regalia is her own, however clearly she is mugging for the camera. I like her get-up though – perky little cowboy hat saucily askance, neckerchief, divided skirt for riding. Who wouldn’t enjoy such a get-up? Clearly, she is heavily Annie Oakley influenced. I know absolutely nothing about guns so I cannot venture an educated guess whether she is holding it correctly or just for the camera.

In fact, what I do not know about guns is just about everything about guns. Other than the wooden faux rifle of my drill team days in high school (such a satisfying clank as we thumped them down in unison), I believe I can honestly say I have never held one in my hands. This probably comes down to the fact that there has never been the real need or desire for me to kill anything, and that’s pretty much what guns are around for. I had a nascent interest in shooting a bow and arrow and perhaps might have found target shooting, or even clay pigeon shooting, of interest given the opportunity. it is unlikely, although not impossible, that I will ever find out.

My father kept a few rifles in the house. (These were gifts to my dad from my grandfather. Poppy had hunted and fished his entire life and fed his family during the Depression that way.) Evidently Dad also had a handgun in his dresser drawer, although I have to say I only learned of it as an adult and never saw it, and I have no idea where he acquired it from.

It is only because of these rifles that I have ever even seen ammunition for one, although again, I cannot say for sure that my father ever fired them. He was in the army, during the Korean war, so he knew something about guns. These guns were a sore point between my parents. Despite having come from her own father, my mother has a real hatred of guns (she says she fought with her father since childhood about it), and lobbied for their disposal more or less from the time of acquisition. (Were I to call Mom right now, more than fifty years since the rifles were given to my Dad, and mentioned those guns she’d go off on it for a good five or more minutes.) Dad was a very quiet man and I don’t remember his rebuttals if any, but the guns stayed. They sat behind some things on the mantel of the fireplace.

Now I admit, I inherited stubborn streaks from both my parents. (Meaning that I am a virtual mule of a person when I dig my heels in, my own stubbornness, in evidence since early childhood, is a bit of family lore.) Therefore I can only say the guns were a decades long stalemate between mom and dad. As far as I know those guns were only disposed of when my parents moved about four years ago from my childhood home. I have no idea how, as it isn’t like you can just put them out with the trash.

Mom’s outspoken hatred of guns would probably explain why I, as the granddaughter of a man who hunted and fished his whole life, never so much as fired a gun. The fact that my grandfather died very young, in his fifties and when I was still a small child, contributes to that fact. However, my mother’s dislike of guns extended to toy guns, although I do remember a few coming my way despite her protestations – I had nifty silver toy guns I loved, with holster, that I remember from childhood. They were designed to fire caps, but I was never supplied with those. One or two toy guns may have slipped through to my younger brother, but by then (the early 70’s) it was a bit more acceptable to say you didn’t want your children to have toy guns and as I remember Mom pressed the advantage.

More than being anti-gun my mother is really anti-hunting. As mentioned above, Mom has hated it since childhood and she has dedicated much of the past several decades to actively fighting it. First getting it banned on a nearby island (stray spent ammunition would turn up in our yard which was a bit sobering indeed), but then taking it more broadly, even working on a national level in defense of our waterfowl friends. She has received death threats, by mail and phone, as a result. When I consider my mom, long bent over a walker, being called an eco-terrorist in an editorial in a local paper it kind of blows my mind.

While I have said that I have inherited a double dose of parental stubborn, I am the first to say I have never had my mother’s resolute and singleminded vision of right and wrong. My personality tends to be one of always weighing both sides and trying to see more or less down the middle, or at least acknowledge the value of the other side. I envy her certitude in her beliefs, and am in awe of her continued deep commitment, despite physical and other limitations that plague her as she gets older. Betty wields a mighty computer and telephone I always say. (I have often said that if she was more physically able I would, at best, be bailing her out of jail constantly. Born at a different time she’d be a PETA activist, taking over illegal whaling ships and the like. Without question or hesitation, she likes animals much more than humans.)

Mom can dig her heels in on other things. I can remember when we built the house I grew up in the water company denied us a hook up to the water main, and instructed us to dig a well. Because of our proximity to the river she felt well water would be easily contaminated and she took after the water company with a vengeance, at one point staging my father with his news equipment while she took them to task (the cars had big ABC News stickers on the doors in the day in case anyone was missing the point), making them think the story was of national news interest. We got the water main hook up days later and it immediately became family legend.

Needless to say, I learned early on to pick my battles with my mother, and the potential for tangling with her generally kept us three kids in line, although in all fairness she was generally pretty even tempered with us kids. In fact, I often think about her juggling the three kids, never less than two cats, a large dog, and a home on the river which flooded regularly, mostly on her own while my father traveled around the world constantly for work, and I wonder how Mom managed it with as much sanguine as she did; my own nerves would certainly have frayed I think. She did it with energy to spare – encouraging our friends to constantly traipse in and out of the the house, adopting stray animals and sometimes people too. So watch out world, because Betty’s still on the job.

 

 

Glorious Food

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have generally always had a good relationship with food. Despite a few allergies in early childhood, eventually resolved on their own – horrifyingly chocolate was briefly among them, followed by a reaction to animal fat triggered by a vaccine as a toddler. However, I was never an especially picky eater (it should be noted that I did have an odd and specific loathing of meatloaf, to my family a well-known aversion), although the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in suburban New Jersey did not exactly encourage fearless experimentation. During my college years, I eventually wandered toward eating only fish and dairy on the animal side of things.

I did grow up around good cooking (some of my posts about my ancestors, their restaurants and cooking here and here), and despite coming of age in an era of tv dinners and frozen vegetables, the local bounty of the Garden State plied us, at least seasonally, with fresh vegetables (nothing like a sun warmed Jersey tomato or corn right off the vine), and locally fished seafood right off the boat.

Even the sandy soil of our backyard, not immune to fall and winter’s hurricane flooding of salt water, still managed to provide us with a not insignificant annual bounty of tomatoes and herbs at a minimum. Strawberry vines grew wild and these were generally tiny, but sweet – however, you had to beat the bunnies and birds to them and in later years we surrendered them to that cause. Sunflowers grew even taller than my father and there was often a strange annual surplus of squash. Corn and cucumbers would not grew there, despite my periodic attempts. We Butlers were casual farmers at best however – our interest waning as the summer grew longer and hotter, however by that point everything pretty much ticked along as long as you were attentive about watering during the long hot days.

My mother reduced her efforts largely to containers in later years and even then the luxury of fresh herbs from the garden, only picking what you needed, spoiled me when I was visiting and cooking there. By that time I had already had a (albeit brief) career cooking professionally. However, despite having been around it plenty as a kid, I really learned to cook by doing it with friends who knew more about it than me – eventually fueled by a very real interest in cookbooks which at one point in my life I read on my long daily subway commute during an internship while living in London.

If I have a talent for cooking (and I would volunteer mine is modest at best really) it is that having grasped the fundamentals of a recipe I can then riff on it and make it my own with variations on a theme. (For me this is less true in baking which I approach as alchemy and a science not to be messed with – although there are people who are amazing at this, I have long recognized that I am not one of those magicians.)

My interest in cooking has long been submerged and drastically subdued over the years by long hours and travel for my job in fundraising. Without really being aware, our food needs were increasingly being met by a variety of easily made or semi-assembled meals. Kim is not a fan of eating out (and back in normal days I ate out a lot for work), and we generally limit even our take-out eating to Friday night. Until recently that was Mexican food. Taco Today, owned by a Korean family and less than a block away, was our Friday night destination after a long week. I would sometimes meet Kim there after working out at the gym, although gym after work not happening in the past year or so as my hours at work grew ever longer.

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View of First Avenue from inside Taco Today, waiting for our Friday night order last year.

 

Those were of course the sylvan pre-pandemic days. Taco Today closed for renovation in early March and therefore avoided the dilemma of deciding whether they could stay in business. We have stuck to our Friday night take-out and supported our local pizza place (love you Arturo’s!) and first one and now another Mexican establishment somewhat further afield. There was briefly a sandwich shop on First, just opened pre-Covid, owned by an Indian man who would occasionally slip some native Indian fare into the offerings. He closed sometime in late March, but I just noticed yesterday they seem to have re-opened.

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Arturo’s Pizza is the best and we are very grateful for their effort to remain open during the Pandemic. This fellow greets us each time at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Yorkville establishment.

 

Working from home has involved even longer hours, but well, at home. I have already written some about the beehive of activity here in this one small room we call Deitch Studio and home. (I outlined some of the details in my recent post, We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont. which can be found here.) Thankfully our kitchen renovation (which still gives me horrors, the details can be found in a few posts that start here) was completed last fall. It has been put to excellent use.

It should be noted that I have always indulged in eating copious fruit and working from home during a pandemic I have allowed an unfettered consumption of oranges, apples and berries. Meanwhile, slowly the cooking memory muscle has begun to grind back to life. First a renewed interest in how to use leftovers, then wandering over to pastas. Fish fillets now enjoy blankets of sauce and dinner rarely has fewer than two vegetables. I replaced my broken food processor. Kim’s birthday saw the production of an actual, if simple, chocolate cake (recently documented here) and suddenly the itch to bake and cook is beckoning. (And yes, for those of you who are paying attention, I really only have one size of loaf Pyrex so everything is uniformly coming out the same size and shape!) I think I feel gazpacho coming on next.

The ever present worry about health living in quarantine during a pandemic has presumably fueled this interest beyond the additional time spent at home. What greater defense has there ever been against falling ill than eating right? Concerns about dieting seem absurd when considered in the context of pandemic, people falling ill and dying all around. While I have controlled a nagging desire to let loose with a barrage of baking (visions of chocolate chip cookies lurk in the corners of my mind), I made a decision early on that if I was going to be in quarantine I was doing it with dark chocolate and good ice cream. (Other folks thought this way and for a time ice cream was hard to find here.)

Frankly, if you are going to be marooned somewhere for several months, having continued access to excellent bagels (shout out to Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue) and pizza (another huzzah for Arturo’s, also on York) goes a long way to making up for the lack of access to outdoor space and well, space in general. Yay Manhattan!

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Messy crowded counter which I did not have time to clear off when the urge to make this cheesy olive loaf yesterday. 

 

Meanwhile, this week the desire manifested itself in another recipe from The New York Times, this time for an olive cheese bread. Bread in general presents a problem for me as I have arthritis in my hands and kneading has been out of the question for decades already. I more experienced baker might be able to substitute some aspect of the Cuisinart for this activity. (If you are one of those folks and want to enlighten me, please do.) I have not figured it out. This sort of faux bread skips that step and requires only a firm hand with a spatula mixing.

I have long thought that if I had stayed in the professional cooking business I might have moved into baking and not fancy pastry, but more down to earth things like bread, muffins and loaf cakes. I have never had a significant sweet tooth really and it is those savory items I might have spent my time concocting in another life. These are more forgiving than the French pastry of my training as well and allow even my somewhat ham-handed invention and variation.

Back to the cheesy olive bread. It is very simple and it is really delightful. Somehow it reminds me of my grandmother’s somewhat cake-y loaves. Kim is not a fan of eggs so I replaced them by doubling the buttermilk (I could have done the same by using yogurt and doubling it, but I couldn’t find yogurt I liked at the market) and it worked just fine, better than expected. (Now I have half of a container of buttermilk to use – any ideas out there?) I went the route of rosemary for herbs and included the suggested fresh ground pepper.

The smell while cooking was heavenly and a bonus is that you experience it all over again if you heat your slice before consuming which I also recommend – although oddly it doesn’t seem to actually toast. Might be my lack of eggs in the recipe but not sure. Meanwhile, mmmm! I am looking forward to slicing up some tomatoes, perhaps with some fresh basil, to put atop of slabs of this.

The recipe can be found on the NYT site here or as below. Thank you Melissa Clark!

Savory Olive and Cheese Loaf by Melissa Clark

2½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour (or a combination of all-purpose and some whole-wheat or rye flour) 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil 1 cup/240 ml fermented dairy product (buttermilk or plain yogurt) 2 eggs ¾ cup/110 gr sliced pitted olives 1 cup/8 ounces grated cheese cup/8 ounces grated cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar or other hard grating cheese), divided (7 ounces & 1 ounce) 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram or rosemary OR 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan (or line it with parchment). In a large bowl, whisk together dey ingredients. In a large measuring cup, whisk together olive oil and buttermilk/yogurt. (If using thick Greek yogurt, thin it down with a little water, milk, or whey from yogurt-making.) Whisk in the eggs. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry to form a heavy, thick batter. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pitted olives and ¾ cup/7 ounces grated cheese. Finally, add the herbs and seasonings. Spread the batter in the pan and scatter the remaining ¼ cup/1 ounce grated cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is browned and the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm as soon as you can unmold it (about 30 minutes after baking).