21 May 2011

Liza's Tart Cockaigne

When a child at our house does something they are inordinately proud of, like standing up for the first time or getting into college or drawing a cool picture or attending the world premiere of a new composition, we call the look on their face "prouding girlish." Kind of dumb, but that's the name of that look and there's no changing it.

So here's me, not the best baker in the world, holding a triumph deluxe, the Joy of Cooking's Tart Cockaigne/Meringue Cream Tart. This birthday gem is a cake and a meringue all in one--two layers each of cake and meringue filled and topped with pastry cream, whipped cream and strawberries.

I flavored the pastry and whipped creams with a few drops of Grand Marnier, and also macerated the berries in a few drops of said licquer. This cake is a great blank slate for a lot of cool flavors--I've had it with lemon curd, and had intended to fill it with mangoes for Liza's birthday, but couldn't find any nice ones. Lavender? Violets? Cherries?

And then there's my niece deluxe, Liza, turning twenty. Poet, activist, musician, smarty-pants and totally hilarious with some of the best hair on earth.

30 March 2011

Don't Forget Apple Galette

I don't even remember when I made this, but it was around a year ago, and I just ran into the photo in Andi's facebook photo album. I completely forgot that I was obsessed with Apple Galette for several months, and its rich, crumbly, salty-sweet goodness.

It's a bad time to be posting this, it being spring and not apple season at all, but I knew I would forget later, and you could consider filling it with asparagus or caramelized onions (both?) instead. I would If I were you.

Here's Jacques Pepin's recipe, which is definitely the best, and one of the only recipes I've ever truly followed. (Because when Jacques says jump, you say, "How high?")

Makes 8 servings

1/2 recipe pate brisée (see recipe)
5 large apples
1/4-cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon Calvados or Cognac (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1. Make pâte brisée. Roll out the dough 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick, in a shape that fits roughly on a cookie sheet—approximately 16 X 14 inches. (The best cookie sheets are made of heavy aluminum that is not too shiny.) If the dough is not thin enough after you lay it on the cookie sheet, roll it some more, directly on the sheet.

2. Peel and cut the apples in half, core them, and slice each half into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside the large center slices of the same size and chop the end slices coarsely. Sprinkle the chopped apple over the dough.

3. Arrange the large slices on the dough beginning at the outside, approximately 1 1/2 inches from the edge. Stagger and overlap the slices to imitate the petals of a flower. Cover the dough completely with a single layer of apples, except for the border. Place smaller slices in the center to resemble the heart of a flower.

4. Bring up the border of the dough | and fold it over the apples.

5. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and pieces of butter, and bake in a 400-degree oven for 65 to 75 minutes, until the galette is really well browned and crusty. Do not remove the galette from the oven too soon; it should be very well cooked. It should be very crusty, thin, and soft inside. Do not worry about the discoloration of the apples after you peel and arrange them on the dough. The discoloration will not be apparent after cooking.

6. Slide it onto a board. Dilute the apricot preserves with the alcohol (or use 1 tablespoon of water if the jam is thick and you prefer not to use spirits) and spread it on top of the apples with the back of a spoon. Some can also be spread on the top edge of the crust. Follow the design so that you do not disturb the little pieces of apple.

Serve the galette lukewarm, cut into wedges.

Pate Brisee
Recipe From: Jacques Pepin
“Everyday Cooking”

Makes Enough for 2 Galettes

3 cups all-purpose flour (dip the measuring cup
into the flour, fill it, and level it with your hand)

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, cold, and cut with a knife into thin slices or shavings

1/2 teaspoon salt

Approximately 3/4 cup very cold water

“In a well-made pâte brisée the pieces of butter are visible throughout the dough. If the pieces of butter get completely blended with the flour so that they melt during cooking, the pastry will be tough. The flour and butter must be worked and the water added as fast as possible to obtain a flaky pastry. If you work the dough too much after adding the water, it will be elastic and chewy. If you use too much butter and not enough water, it will resemble sweet pastry dough and will be hard to roll thin and pick up from the table; it will be very brittle before and after cooking, sandy, and with no flakiness.

This is deceptively simple dough. You may get excellent results one time and an ordinary pastry the next. Try it a few times to get a feel for it. Wrapped properly, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days, or it can be frozen.”

1. Mix the flour, butter, and salt together very lightly, so that the pieces of butter remain visible throughout the flour.

2. Add the ice-cold water and mix very fast with your hand just enough that the dough coheres.

3. Cut the dough in half. The pieces of butter should still be visible. Refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours or use it right away. If you use it right away, the butter will be a bit soft, so you may need a little extra flour in the rolling process to absorb it.

For one galette, roll half the dough between 1/8 and 1/16 of an inch thick, using flour underneath and on top so that it doesn't stick to the table or the rolling pin. When the dough is the desired shape and thickness, roll it onto the rolling pin and unroll it on the pie plate, tart form, or cookie sheet that you plan to use. Repeat with the other half or reserve for later use. Bake according to the instructions for the particular recipe.

27 March 2011

Strawberry Shotcrop

If you know Christian's mom Pat, you'll know she likes word-play a lot in it's many forms. So that's how the dessert known as Strawberry Shortcake came to be called Strawberry Shotcrop at our house.

And here's the story of today's dessert: several weeks ago I started getting obsessed with the pastry chef at Communal, Joseph McCrae's, biscuits. Every time I've made them, they've been pretty damn good, but have fallen short of the tall, fluted rounds he serves at breakfast downtown next to cute little ramekins of soft butter and homemade strawberry preserves. I guess there's a reason some people are pastry chefs while others are mere home cooks. My biscuits are always light, fragrant and tender, but I crave the tall layers of feuilles-like buttery crumbs and the delicate toothsome bite in the real deal. Maybe some time Joseph will invite me over and show me how it's done? Hi, Joseph!

Anyway, this week's discovery involves adding two extra tablespoons of sugar to his recipe, sanding the top of the biscuit with raw sugar, splitting them in half, and then filling them with mounds of strawberries and cream. I made them for my students last week, and Karl said it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. He may have been exaggerating, but not much.

One last note about these biscuits: working with the dough is like holding a pound of freshly bathed baby flesh in your hands. It's almost unbearably fun to touch. You might get addicted.

12 February 2011

my book is writing itself

Sometimes it seems my whole life has been a struggle between two poles:  the North Pole, where I'm dominating space, in charge, on a high, in control, and the South Pole, where I can't even put one foot in front of the other, and all I can think about is how I slipped down past the equator to this gloomy, horrible failed place.

I'm on a quest to be okay with not being in charge, because I'm really not, none of us are really in charge, right?  That's an illusion.  I fall in and out of being at peace with this.  This morning, we chanted sa ni pa ma.  I think that's what the syllables were.  The teacher said it meant birth life death rebirth and then sa nom which she translated as true identity. I hope this year I will know what my vocation is, what my true identity is, what my authentic life is, but if not, that I'll be okay with it.

Look at those children walking up the mountain.  Are they mine?  My body made them, but their spirits proceed ahead of mine, away from mine, and I can't claim them.  There is both comfort and fear in that knowledge.  

When I reclined into savasana, complete surrender the teacher said, I had trouble surrendering. You can't be writing your book right now came into my mind.  Then:  your book is writing itself.  

My book is writing itself.

I closed my eyes and let darkness cover me with it's blanket.  

How will it read?

What will it say?

I'm trying to have patience to discover the answers.

06 February 2011

Small Daily Practice

How did your first month of New Year's Resolutions go?  Mine were spotty, which was expected, and some of them I know will be works-in-progress.  I don't know about you, but I have some resolves that I've made for ten, twenty, thirty years in a row and they're still ongoing.

Here's one I'd love some inspiration for: the small daily artistic practice.  One time, for several months, I read Emily Dickinson every day and made a list of cool words from her poems.  The next day I would write a poem using those words that had been swirling around in my head for twenty-four hours.  The process was fast and I didn't allow myself to edit, scrutinize or critique; many of the poems were not great.  I'm still revising and culling from that manuscript of poems, but it gave me a lot of material and it was very calming to have a discrete task I knew I could finish every day.  And then that practice ran it's course and I couldn't do it any more.  

During another period of time, I submitted poems to two journals a day.  I did get a lot of publications from that period, but got very little writing done.  Although the submission process didn't take long, I only have a sliver of time to write every day, so anything that takes away from actual writing needs to be really important.  The jury is still out on how important publication is to me.  Journal submission is a practice I'll probably revive soon, but I don't want to do it when I'm not writing much because it feels like I'm focusing on a poetry career, which is a ludicrous and disheartening endeavor, rather than focusing on writing poems, which is a ludicrous but heartening endeavor.  

I'd love to hear about people's daily practices.  I feel the need to change mine regularly because I get bored and distracted easily.  I'm still working towards doing those ten sun salutations each day.  What works for you?

So here's how the other resolves went:

1) Be more aware and observant.  Be present with people and don't let what you think should be happening get in the way of what is.  I don't know why this is so hard for me.  I had some great moments during January trying to do this, especially during family dinner time, but overall, my tendency to drift away from the moment prevailed.  Any tricks for this?

2) Go for a walk once a week. Yes, for three of the first five weeks. The most memorable walk was through the marshland by Utah lake with C. and my sister Hilary on a beautiful, sunny, bright white Sunday afternoon.

3) Formally express gratitude once a week. Did this once.

4) Read the New Testament. Sort of started. . . .

5) Finish libretto started in 2010.   Nope.

6) Limit screen time.  Yes!  This has been fantastic, though some screen time has been creeping back in for "homework."  I've been making the rule that the kids can't watch t.v. or play on the computer during the week, and they've been much happier, more imaginative, and much more fun to be around.  I need to deal with the "homework" thing.  Sometimes they do need to do work online for school, and then the creep towards "educational games" sets in, and pretty soon they're playing Webkinz.  Any suggestions?

7) In order to read more family novels. Momo and Cecy and I have almost finished The Tale of Despereaux and are about to start The Magician's Elephant.  Thanks for that suggestion, Mark.  I'll be working through the suggestions that other readers posted as well.

8) Go to Salt Lake once a month. The spirit and the letter of this law has been fulfilled. The letter because we took the kids to Hogle Zoo the last weekend of January.  Hogle Zoo is in Salt Lake. So check off the "Go to SLC" goal. 

It was freezing, so we were mostly in the extremely smelly indoor exhibits, but we saw so many active animals.  It was one of the best zoo days ever in terms of animal sightings, especially the breathtaking tigers.  The spirit of this law, however, was not to go to the zoo with the kids, but to get more challenging and inspiring artistic and cultural experiences in my life, as opposed to weekend after weekend of movies at the multiplex.  On that front, we saw two screenings at the Sundance Film Festival, How to Die in Oregon and Kinyarwanda , and two screenings at International Cinema, Fados and Yi Yi.  I especially loved Fados--the picture at the top of this post is a still from the film. So those film screenings were not actually in Salt Lake, but rather of Salt Lake, so I'm going to count Resolution Number 8 as one of the biggest successes of the year so far.

9) Work on duo with Christian.  He's been mixing and editing our live Sonarchy show and it's sounding really good.  We've been talking about new stuff to do, but talk is cheap.  Need more doing. Fados gave me some ideas.

10) Small daily artistic practice.  See above.

The yogis always say if a pose isn't working, change something small.  I'm going to try to make little adjustments to my life throughout 2011 and see what happens.  

Some of the most profound changes come from the suggestions and examples of the people around me, so in a formal expression of gratitude, thank you people who read this blog and who spend time with me in real life for your excellent spirits, lives, and work.

24 January 2011

Lara's List of Lady Writers

I'm jumping into the list craze here and starting a list of 100 great books by Ladies.  I know, it's possible that I'm only contributing to the ghettoization of Lady Writers, and so I'm interested to know what you all think of the categorization of literature by gender and race.  Segregation or separation?  Necessary or not? 

Since so much was made in 2010 and early 2011 about the paucity of women writers who a) win major prizes, b) get reviewed in major places by major reviewers and get praised and Great Writers and c) get big stories in highbrow magazines, so I thought I'd at least take a stab and encouraging more thought and action in this area.  I do think that lists have their place in consciousness raising and in helping us to examine our assumptions and actions.  I know I get thoughtless and lazy pretty quickly after I resolve to change and be more aware, and I use lists to help me set intentions and to focus my attention on Important Things.  And while many bloggers are discussing this same issue currently, I'd love to hear what the readers and writers I commune with think, and what books they recommend as well.

(Also, in my New Year's spirit of reformation and retrenchment, I'm trying to broaden my reading to include some novels that aren't detective novels, reading I use to soothe myself and relax at the end of the day, lazy reading I've been trapped in since I haven't been writing papers or studying for exams.  I only read Literature lately when I'm teaching it.  Detective novels have their beautiful place in my life.  But I'm trying to Reform a bit, and Improve.  So help.  Please.)

This is an off-the-top-of-my-head stab at ten books that I think are important to read, written by Ladies.  A lot of the texts, but not all, chosen this week explore mother/daughter themes, domesticity, and reproduction, and these themes seem especially prone to being labelled and dismissed as "women's writing".  This list is also comprised of many texts that were on the bandwagon of works that treated these subjects seriously, literarily, and as such, are pretty well known.  

Each week I'd like to look at some different themes/areas of Women's Lit (again, your suggestions are greatly appreciated!) and add ten more titles to the list, using your suggestions.  I think I will do a separate poetry list, unless you have a better idea.

1)  Beloved by Toni Morrison
2)  The Book of Margery Kempe  by Margery Kempe
3)  Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
4)  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
5)  The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
6)  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
7)  The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Gertrude Stein
8)  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
9)  Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys
10) Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen

20 January 2011

Pink Dresses

There is always a day in each season when I think I will never want it to be summer ever again. Ever. And then there is always a polar opposite day when I think Summer is the most glorious season of all, and I can't wait for it to come. It puts me in mind of Left Handed Son of Old Man Hat who tells the story of how, when he was little, he thought summer and winter were locations rather than times--summer was up in the mountains where the sheep grazed when the heat came, and winter was down in the valley where the sheep were moved when the snows came. The Son of Old Man Hat recalled always wishing he was in the winter place when he was in the summer place and the summer place when he was in the winter place.

The day when I hate winter hasn't come yet, however. Today I was still in love with the soul moving crests, shadows, contours, and declivities on Timp when she's covered in snow and tinged with pink from the sunrise, and wrapping a rabbit-fur stole of clouds around her shoulders.

Though I had some tiny stirrings of longing for spring when I looked at spring dresses on the Nordstrom's website (their dress ads always suck me in), and I saw this picture of the girls at Easter in 2003. Just for a minute I thought I wish I was in Arizona sitting on the back porch with my family, smelling orange blossoms.

Then I pulled myself back to the present and realized I am still enjoying my leftover Christmas decorations, hearty stews, and long, cozy nights at home with kids, dinner, homework, and stories.

Today I 'm grateful for enjoyment. A year ago I was depressed, and today, for now, I'm not. How things always, always change!

P.S.--I'm also grateful for a warm home. One time the director of Food and Care Coalition told my students about a client who froze to death in his car outside their facilities one winter night. Please take a minute to vote to give them funding to expand their shelter--see the widget on the right side of my blog.

06 January 2011


I've been explaining these resolutions to myself in my head for several weeks now. I think I have them sort of worked out, even though my very first resolution was against resolve:

1) Be more aware and observant. Be present with people and don't let goals and what you think should be happening get in the way of what is. So all of the things on this list are subject to number one, and I have to be ready and willing to let them go if they interfere with number one. Number one is my guiding principle for 2011. Unless observation tells me to get rid of number one. Or something like that.

2) Go for a walk once a week. This seems modest and attainable, and perhaps shocking to you folks who love the outdoors. Christian has dubbed me the indoors-y type, and he couldn't be more right. I'm so happy in a small, cozy hole, like Mrs. Tittlemouse. But I think I'll be happier if I get more sunlight, look around more.

3) Formally express gratitude once a week.

4) Read the New Testament.

5) Finish the libretto begun in 2010.

6) Limit kids' screen time to weekends only, thereby giving us more time for:

7) Family novel reading. Ingrid jolted me into this one last week when I commented about how much she and Eva used to read and loved to be read to. "Yeah," she said. "No computers." I've become lazy with the kids and don't read to them as much. They get crabby, lazy, and unimaginative when they're online or watching TV too much. Eva and Ingrid didn't have a TV a lot of the time growing up, and I want the younger kids to have the benefit of limited screen time. If you're so inclined, list your favorite read alouds for an almost six and almost eight year-old. I read Harry Potter to E and I at that age. We read Stuart Little and Little House on the Prairie last year.

8) Go to Salt Lake once a month. Now that the kids are a bit older, I need to get out of my rut of a quick dinner or movie in Provo and get back to my earlier, more adventurous ways. We used to go to so many cool events, which was easy to do when we lived in NYC, San Francisco, and Seattle. It's a little harder to do here, but necessary to maintaining a connection with what's going on artistically in the world.

9) Work on duo with Christian. In the picture above, snapped by our friend Hailey Meyer Liechty, we are performing with master percussionist Greg Campbell at our December Salon. A link to our duo can be found on the side of the blog. I really enjoy this work, and want to do it more. It feels like a perfect meshing of our particular skills and relationship. The text, the improv (it's all improvised except for the text), Christian's genius with timbre and form, etc.

10) Work in small, daily practice, like I learned to do in yoga, but with my job/career/art or whatever it is called. I don't even know what it's called or what it is. Be comfortable with that. Let it be what it is and just do little, enjoyable things with little enjoyable challenges. But don't be in charge. Don't try to control. Just live and do. (Please don't mock my mish-mash of eastern philosophy influenced thinking here. It's working for me right now.)

There is almost nothing I love more than hearing other people's New Year's Resolutions. Feel free to post many of them in comments.


Bedraggled Tree 2010

This photo of Eva and Ingrid reminds me, for some reason, of when they were little and they used to play "Lizzie and Jane" from Pride and Prejudice, which used to play constantly in the background of our lives in Seattle.

I can't bring myself to take down the now sagging and brittle lopsided Christmas tree. Is there a way to savor the days more slowly? It is so dark and cold, and we still need the suggestion of warmth from our tree lights--I'm not ready to give it up. In years past, I've been so glad to put away the decorations, so sick of holiday music and rich food and festive gatherings, but this year it seems to have barely happened. Is this what happens when you get older?

Though it passed in a blur, little highlights stand out, like Yorshire pudding, many versions of the Hallelujah chorus, Christian's homemade eggnog, pierogies, paper cranes, onion tart, old friends, cheese platters, and the kids' nativity.

This was a sweet, sweet year. Christian gave me one of the best presents of my life when he compiled all of my emails from the nineties, when he and I shared a University of Washington email account, printed out and bound. I used to write a weekly news update to my family and friends, and so it's somewhat like a journal, and I've made so many little discoveries in there, found so many things that shed light on my life and my children's lives now. I've been reading it like a suspense novel every night. And then Christian went back through old hard drives and printed out all of my poetry since 1985, that's right, 1985, when I wrote my first poem and gave it to Leslie Norris so he could tell me what a genius I was, and organized it alphabetically with different versions, etc. I know this was very time consuming, and I can't say how touched I am by this labor of love.

The day before Christmas, Ingrid rounded up all of the kids and went with her friend photographer Nate Lebaron to Rock Canyon where he took many beautiful photos of the kids, including the one above. How did she know I'd been wanting a group photo of the kids for so long? She framed these photos and had them ready by Christmas morn, although she had just barely arrived home from her first semester at college and was in an extreme state of sleep and food deprivation. Eva made a great collage and framed it--I love her art work so much--and Lula gave me a silvery gray scarf that I wear every day. Last but not least, Moses and Cecily gave me two enormous plastic cocktail rings, one in green and one in blue that they purchased and wrapped without my knowledge at Santa's Secret Workshop at school. They know my taste so well.