Saturday, April 18, 2015

Simple Wisdom From A Very Dear Friend ...

I may live to be 90. But probably not. And so I am reasonably sure that I have crested the hill that is this lifetime and I am on the downward slope. Which is fine. Preferable in some ways, even. I always hated roller coasters, not for the speed but for the initial climb. I hated the feeling of leaning backward and the potential to fall. For the same reason, I am no fan of driving in San Francisco. Being stopped at a light in a car at a weird pitch makes me nervous. I am glad that I live somewhere flat.

Being on the downward slope, though, involves gravity of the preferable sort: the effort isn't in climbing upward but in slowing the descent, leaning backward – but only slightly and of my own accord to keep myself upright – watching my steps, stepping deliberately, noticing.

And so here, at what is very literally middle age for me – or so I hope; one never really knows – I'm beginning to reap the benefits of that "with age comes wisdom" that I heard all through the beginning part of my life, and fitting some pieces together, placing the edges, as it were, to define the parameters of this life and then to set about filling in the middle, watching the picture emerge, without the benefit of having the picture supplied on the front of a box.

Friends, I've discovered, are also teachers. And teachers have become friends. But one friend's words have returned to me like a very solemn offering and I so, so desperately wish that he were still here so that I could thank him in person for his wisdom that was so profound, but I didn't know it at the time.

I met Jeff when I was a teenager. He was only ten years older. But ten years is a long time.

And when we spoke that on particular day, however many years ago it was, he was offering an observation from a place that I had not yet arrived. I was dismissive then. I am not now.

We were talking about me and work, as we often did, but mostly about my inability to find what I thought was the answer to it all.

"You're a good person," he said. "Maybe that's enough."

At the time, it seemed glib. "Being a good person won't pay my mortgage, Jeff."

Today, I appreciate his words for the gift that they were.

Because I've come to appreciate that my "good person"-ness underlies everything I do. And in a practical way, yes, it leads me to form relationships that lead me to opportunities and work.

But more importantly, in the ways that really matter, it is all that really matters.

At his funeral, people spoke of Jeff's professional accomplishments, sure, because there were many. He was a talented and prolific man. But the essence of what was said about him was that he was a good person, that he loved his family and his friends, that he was intrigued by strangers and took an interest in everyone he met. He saw people. In his interest, he let them know they mattered.

And so, while I still have plenty to figure out, more of the picture to form as I work toward the middle and prepare to place the final piece – whenever that may be – I've started to learn to let go of the need to know, to define, and to instead trust myself and let it unfold. To not waste time trying to discern meaning from a fragment, but to be mindful of the moment – which is all we have – and be grateful when the next moment arrives. And along the way, I try to be kind. And helpful. And trust that it'll all work out. Because it always does. Even if, sometimes, that takes some time to know.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Realization ...

Yesterday, it dawned on me, the "fatal" flaw in my ebook(let) sales "plan":

I suspect that most people don't want to know how to bake (package, gift, and ship) a better cookie.

I suspect that most would prefer for me to bake for them.

I often forget that the wider world is not as cookie-obsessed as I am.

Hmm. Maybe the bakery will have to happen one of these days after all ... .

Sunday, April 05, 2015

I'll Bake A Cake For You! ...

Though I bake often, I am not an accomplished cake baker. Still, if gay pals would like 'em for their weddings, I'd be thrilled to bake for their special days. As cakes go, they may be somewhat humble, but I can guarantee that they'd be baked with love.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Makes Beth Happy, March 27 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

No explanation needed, right?

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipes of the Day are:

Pine Nut and Feta Cheese Ball
Oh, hello! Pine nuts and feta?! I'll skip the fennel seeds, thankyouverymuch, but otherwise, I'm in!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Once upon a time, I only liked sweet potato fries or chips, but I've since become a convert to all things sweet potato, and these look delightful. I want to add ham and cheese.

Walnut Galette with Bourbon-Vanilla Custard Sauce
Come on, now. Warm, sticky, walnutty, vanilla, bourbon-y, custard-y goodness?!

I couldn't pick just one recipe this time. Happily, they stack up as an appetizer, a main-course accompaniment (or a main course, if you use them for sandwiches), and a dessert!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Wood + Brass Lounge Box
This would make a handsome spot to stash remotes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spumoni! ...

This morning, on Pinterest, I spied a pin for spumoni pound cake!

I clicked through to the recipe and turned my nose up at the first two ingredients: two boxes of yellow cake mix and a box of instant vanilla pudding mix.

Yes, I am a baking snob. I own that. But pound cake is a lovely, simple dessert. It deserves better than the bastardization of cake mix and instant vanilla pudding.

So my brain moved on from the cakeification of spumoni but my love of spumoni remains.

I love the word. It makes me happy. Spumoni!

In the States, National Spumoni Day is August 21. But in Canada – which is basically the United States with better health care – National Spumoni Day is November 13.

Which is my birthday. I really should have been having spumoni every year after dinner. Birthday dinner is always lasagna, because my mom makes the best lasagna on the planet. This past year, we added layered salad to the menu along with tiramisu, for an all-layered dinner. But spumoni could slot in for tiramisu. It's a layered dessert, too. In its traditional form, at least. Or, hell, I could have spumoni and tiramisu.

Ooh, yes, please!

Though I don't need it to be neatly layered and cut into slices. I'm perfectly happy with it scooped out of a cardboard bucket and plopped in a little metal dish, the way it appears in divey Italian joints.

Oh, spumoni ... . If only it were warmer today ... .

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Am My Mother's Daughter ...

I laughed out loud when I saw this image* on one of the blogs to which I subscribe.

My mom has taught me many, many things over the years. But one of the most frequent refrains that I hear her say in my head is "Who wants to dust all that?"

This table would give her hives. Or angina. Or both.

Thank you for teaching me practicality, Mom. Sorry the weekly housecleaning habit didn't stick.

* Click on the image to see a larger view. Note the absence of a glass top on that table. Honestly, can you imagine anyone trying to clean that thing?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Farewell ...

Once upon a time – coming up on three years ago – I wrote "Farewell, Son Of Woobie about my second-most beloved green sweatshirt.

Today, I am writing about my third.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day – not that I'm much of an observer – I decided to don my hooded sage-green sweatshirt over my olive-green long-sleeve T-shirt (whew, hyphens!) and double up on green.

And as I put my left arm through the left sleeve, I put my left arm through my left sleeve. At a point at which my arm should not have appeared.


I looked in the mirror and told myself that perhaps I would keep him, for his hood, which I put up when I shovel snow because I don't own a hat.

But no. Instead, I shall buy another hooded sweatshirt before the need for a hood once again arises. This guy has given me many, many, many years of comfort. I bought him at an Orvis store in Vermont on a trip so long ago, I can't even remember the year.

Thank you, green hooded sweatshirt. May you find Woobie and his son.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enduring Love Affair ...

As the day wore on Friday, I pondered dinner.

I was 99 percent sure that I wanted carbonara. I had a package of bacon in the freezer. I had a hunk of Parmesan in the cheese drawer. And I had some number of eggs.

What I did not have was pasta.

And any desire to go to the store.

I pondered pastaless carbonara but thought the better of a bowlful of bacon coated in eggy cheese, as I don't have a cardiologist programmed into speed dial.

The procrastination continued, long enough for me to realize that I could already be eating carbonara if I'd gone to the store when the thought first came into my mind.

And that was a sad, sad realization. So I grabbed my wallet and my keys and headed off to the store.

Back home, I put water on to boil. I popped the package of bacon into the microwave to bring it to a sliceable state. And I grated Parmesan cheese.

And then I took a picture of it, because the sheer ridiculousness of the volume made me laugh.

And then I wrote a tweet and posted the picture, because of course I did:

I sliced the bacon, meaty and gorgeous, and plopped it into a big frying pan on the stove into which I had added a splash of water. It took me decades to learn to fry bacon in a bit of water, but oh, what a revelation! It never seizes into carbonized Chiclets. It remains perfectly chewy. Not even chewy, really. Just perfect.

And I cooked the pasta – I went with linguine because I like the heft and texture of it – and I cracked eggs one by one into a dish and then added them one by one into a large bowl and then I tossed in two absurdly large handfuls of grated Parmesan and zipped it all together with a fork. And then I added more Parmesan because of course I did.

And then I drained the bacon on some paper towels and drained the pasta in two batches with a sieve because I was too lazy to grab a colander which I wouldn't feel like washing later and I dumped the bacon and the pasta into the bowl of eggs and cheese and tossed it all together and heaped a serving onto a plate and hit the top of it with more cheese and then a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper for good measure.

And then I ate it.

And thought of this:


I Gave The Post Office Another Chance ...

... and it delivered a Priority 2-Day package in ...


Yay, post office! I knew you could do it!

This time, I used an official Priority box from the post office. I wonder if that makes a difference. It shouldn't, but if that's what it takes to get 'em to provide the selected and purchased service, so be it. I can make gift decisions based on what will fit in the available boxes.

As I was shipping said package, I mentioned my previous problems to the clerk. She was a bit defensive initially but softened as I explained all that had gone wrong. By the end of our transaction, she apologized for the delay. Which was nice of her, given that she probably wasn't responsible for mucking up the previous works, but as an agent of the post office, it was nice of her.

So, my relationship with the post office is back on slightly more stable ground.

For now.

Then again, I don't have anything to ship in the near future.

I may or may not want to take the gamble the next time.

Perhaps a shipment with UPS is still in order, to see how well that goes. Or not, as the case may be.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ten Years Ago Today ...

... I wrote this:

Jeff Phillips ( -- brilliant photography, check it out) is the reason I am here. I've batted around the idea of a blog for a couple of years, but never got off my ass (or, as I am sitting at my desk typing this, gotten *on* my ass) to do anything about it. Until this very moment. But I believe that everything happens in its time, so for whatever cosmic reason, today is the day that I lend my voice to the millions of others in this parallel universe.
I can't wait to see what happens.
Here we go ...

Jeff's site is now

Everything else has changed.

But of course it has. Doesn't everything? By definition, this second is not like the second that came just before it. In this second, everything has already changed again. Time is funny that way.

The tag line I drafted for this blog is "As a writer and singer, I am finding my way through words."

That remains true. In addition to prattling on for 10 years in this space – some days and weeks and months and years were more prattle-filled than others – I've written articles for clients, web copy for clients, myriad other projects for clients, and an ebook for myself.

It was quite a revelation, silly as revelations go. But never before had I created something (with help from a lovely designer friend; thanks again, Marcus!) and launched it into the world.

And people bought it!

Not a ton of people, mind you. But it is out there, in the world, in perpetuity, so that others may.

(And I have a little plan brewing on that front, too. I am hopeful that my next royalty payment from Amazon is heftier.)



As for singing, well, my engineer friend Brian and I never did complete his plan to record an album's worth of songs, but we got close. And I've found a new studio nearby where I hope to get back to recording in the very near future.

But on the singing front, I've also taken voice classes and – GASP! – performed ... IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.

My voice teacher, Gwen, passed away recently. She was too young and the story is very sad and I shall miss taking a class with her again (I was looking into doing just when I came across the news that she had passed away) but she helped me establish a good foundation. It was in her living room that I first sang into a mic for the first time. She was plainly frustrated with me on many occasions but she stuck with me, helped to coax me out of myself. And for that, I am very grateful.

This blog has been a chronicle of a lot of my life, which I know baffles at least one fried of mine (because she has told me), but writing is my therapy. And many are the instances I have had when I have read something online and said "YES!" in relief that someone else has thought a similar thought or felt a similar fear and I find great comfort in that.

So I share. If passersby glean a bit of commiseration or validation or some other -tion from something I've written, then my efforts are even more worthwhile than they are simply to me.

I've written about my very dear friend Dave in the immediate aftermath of learning of his death and that post was used as one of the eulogies at his memorial service, which was was of the honors of my life.

I've written about my very dear friend Charles who also died far too soon and that post has connected with many people who knew him. One of his daughters has become a friend and she once told me that she's probably read that post 100 times. Someone posted this comment:

I was with Charles on that fateful vacation. I still think of him often as well. Thus, the search of his name on Google and finding this blog.

Your writing brought him back.

"Your writing brought him back."

That is one of the most breathtaking sentences I have ever read.

That sentence would make 10 years of blogging worth it if I found it worthwhile for no other reason.

But of course, that is not the case.

I have connected with amazing people through this blog. Some have become dear friends.

And what better outcome than that could there be?

Blogging has never been a living for me. I've never included ads. I've never sought sponsors.

This has always simply been a place to share.

My posts have become less frequent but I like knowing that this page is here, that I can return to it whenever inspiration strikes.

Odds are good that I will not write a "Twenty Years Ago Today ..." post, but then again, who knows?

I never thought I'd end up writing about 10.

Let's see what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Donna Day 2015 ...

This image of Donna sits on my desk. I see her every day. The words "Choose hope" appear below her.

And that is what this post is about.

Donna died on October 19, 2009. She was four.

She may no longer be present but she is still very much with us.

So, so many of us.

I never met Donna, as Sheila (Donna's mama) and I – friends in high school – reconnected just a month before Donna died.

But she was a pebble dropped in a still, endless pond, and the ripples continue to radiate, year after year after year.

Her extraordinary parents, Sheila and Jeremy, parent her now by sharing her story. Sheila wrote Donna's Cancer Story and touched the world. Sheila and Jeremy tell Donna's story and help raise funds for Lurie Children's Hospital each year as part of the Eric & Kathy Radiothon.

And every year, they host a St. Baldrick's event, too.

As of this moment, the total funds raised for Donna's Good Things, the organization created by her parents, stands at $290,634.

After this year's event, on March 28, that total should swell well beyond $300,000.

Especially if folks like you contribute.

Bafflingly, childhood cancer research is woefully underfunded. Frankly, it's infuriatingly underfunded.

Consider these statistics:

Kids deserve far, far, far better research and care.

I encourage you to read Donna's Cancer Story. Meet Donna. Marvel at her intelligence and humor and truly indomitable spirit. She will inspire you as she's inspired so many of us.

Read about childhood cancer and the important work St. Baldrick's performs.

And then, please, contribute to this extraordinary cause.

Choose hope. Every day.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farewell, Flannel! ...

Cotton sheets! Cotton floral sheets! Bedding appropriate for waking Sunday and realizing I forgot to change the clocks!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Dear Post Office: It's Not Me, It's You ...

I wasn't going to write this post. And then, this morning, I received an email from the USPS and spied that it was "signed" thusly:

"Your friends at the United States Postal Service"

Oh. Well. Let me rethink my plan.

OK, "friends," we need to talk.

First off, let me reiterate that I really, really, really want you to succeed. I think all the bullshit that Congress is putting you through is just that: bullshit. If you could break up with Congress, I'd totally support you. We could curl up on the couch together, each with a pint of Ben & Jerry's, and I'd reassure you that Congress is being an asshole and that you deserve better.

But, as is often the case in relationships, both parties could stand to do better, be better. And as your "friend," let me tell you what I see that you could improve.

Simply put, you need to keep your promises. You need to provide the service I pay for. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Here's what happened:

On Wednesday, February 25, I shipped a package. I chose Priority (Ostensibly) 2-Day because I wanted the package to arrive on Friday, February 27. The timing of the arrival of the package was key.

In an effort to demonstrate improvement, you started including tracking on all such packages. Good on you.

So, when I got home, I went to the site, keyed in the tracking number, and clicked the radio button for future email alerts. I received an email that the package was accepted at the post office. Yup, I was there. Good. And then I received another email that the package departed the post office. OK. Good.

And then I received nothing.

For two days.

I thought perhaps there was some technological glitch. Perhaps the computer wasn't generating emails? So I went to the site and pasted the tracking number and there was no new information.

So I searched for the number for my local post office. I like the people who work there. I figured they'd be helpful.

Instead, I discovered that I now have to call a 1-800 number. Ah, yes, because nothing says "customer service" like "call a number and speak to a person who will have no idea about your problem."

But I called. And, of course, a computer answered. And I spoke my (very lengthy) tracking number and the computer told me what I already knew, which wasn't what I wanted to hear. So I pressed "0" to speak to someone.

I won't relay all that I went through on that phone call, but suffice it to say that it involved yelling into my phone. To a computer.

Because I was never allowed to speak to a person. Nothing I did or said – or yelled – would connect me to a person.

That, my "friend," was really maddening.

The night of the 27th, I received an email that my package had arrived at the next facility in the process. Which isn't terribly far from my house. Suffice it to say, if I had driven the package to that facility myself, it wouldn't have taken two days. It might have taken an hour.

When I shipped the package on the 25th, the clerk at the post office handed me my receipt and pointed out that there was a survey I could fill out online.

Guess who filled out the survey?

But I presumed that my survey rant would fall on deaf ears, so to speak, so I also went online and filled out a complaint.

On the morning of the 28th (aka the day after the package should have already been delivered), I received an email that the package had left the facility at which it had arrived the day before.

It was ultimately delivered just before 5 p.m. on Monday, March 2.

That morning, I had received an email from "eCustomerCare National" informing me that I had not included my tracking number, and could I please provide that.

Whoops, yes, my oversight. I replied immediately with the tracking number and thanked "whomever" for their assistance.

Two days later, on March 4, I received this:

An email had been sent requesting the tracking information so that it could be pulled up in the system. We have not heard back with any of that information, so we are not able to look the package up at this time. Any questions please let us know.

I forwarded my reply from March 2 and mentioned that the package had been delivered that day.

And then I received today's "Your feedback about the United States Postal Service is requested" email.

"Your feedback is very important to us as we strive to improve your customer experience."

Uh huh.

So I filled out the survey – you did not fare well, post office – and I thought I'd let that be the end of it, until I saw the "Your friends ..." bit, and then I decided to write this.

Also, it gave me an excuse to mock up the graphic at the top of this post.

So, to sum up: I paid nearly $30 to ship a package Priority 2-Day. I shipped that package on a Wednesday. The expected delivery date was Friday. And it showed up late in the day the following Monday, which is about when it would have showed up if I had paid for First Class postage instead.

I wasn't expecting miracles, post office. I was simply expecting to receive the service for which I paid.

The weather wasn't a factor. We did get a bit of snow that Wednesday, but nothing that should have ground operations to a halt.

Like I wrote, I really, really, really want you to succeed, post office.

But this is not the first time this has happened.

In fact, when packages I ship show up on time, those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I deserve better. We all deserve better.

Next time, I'll try UPS.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Really, Jayson? Really? One-Off Edition ...

I haven't whipped up a Jayson post in more than a year. I think I thought I was beating a dead horse. But then, today, I spied a Jayson pillow on Pinterest and I clicked through to see if maybe – just maybe – Jayson had adopted a slightly more sane policy when it comes to pricing.

Nope. The pillow's $295. And maybe that's a "normal" price for some folks to pay for a dec pillow, but I am not one of those people.

Anyhoo, I had to check out the Flea section, as long as I was on the site.

And I spied this:

Vintage Metal Atom Model – $4,795

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adventures In Food Coloring ...

I had this idea, see?

Given my grown-up disgust yet nostalgia for conversation hearts – I loved them as a kid, but now I'm convinced they're dried bits of toothpaste – I thought I'd put together a batch of shortbread dough, divide it, color each portion with just enough food coloring to be pleasant, not garish, and be pleased with myself for my minimal yet edible homage to the toothpaste bits. (OK, maybe they're antacids.)

I rummaged through the drawer through which I rarely rummage, in search of my heart cookie cutters. Found them.

Then I spun my spice-rack carousel until I arrived at the box of food coloring. Checked them. Still liquid. Good. (I have no idea when I last bought food coloring. I know it hasn't been recently.)

I made the dough.

I cut it into fourths.

I plopped one quarter in a Ziploc sandwich bag and added two drops of red. (I figured it would be better to knead the dough in plastic than get red dye all over my hands that I might then transfer to other blobs of dough intended to be other colors.)

I knew I wanted pink hearts. Two drops seemed like the right amount. Really, I could have stopped at one. Those are the pink hearts, above. Is it me or do they look a bit like tongue? But I was going to mix other colors, a drop each, so I figured I should use two drops per blob.

I also knew that I wanted to purple hearts, so another blob went into another bag and drop of blue and drop of red and smoosh.

Uh oh.

The blue didn't look much like blue. It looked like, um, black.

Had the blue gotten bluer over time? Does blue food coloring eventually turn black?

I guess so. But then I thought, "Maybe I just need to distribute the color." So I set about kneading it through the dough.

Now, admittedly, the light in my kitchen wasn't ideal at the moment and it has been a very grey day, but I wasn't seeing purple. I wasn't seeing lavender. I was seeing, um, grey. Purplish grey. But not so much with the purple.

At which point, I thought this (and then tweeted it):

The more I looked at the dough, the more the purple seemed to recede. Yeah, it was pretty damn grey. Which was not really part of my cute-cookie plan. (Though, come to think of it, I think Necco makes a grey wafer that's licorice-flavored. But I digress.)

I looked at the remaining quarters of dough. Should I leave them alone? Should I just let them be shortbread in hue?

Nope. Drop, drop. Green.

Wow. Green does not degrade. Green stays green.

Briefly, I pondered a shamrock, but I don't have a shamrock cutter.

And so I patted out the colored blobs of dough on parchment and cut out hearts and rolled the extra bits of dough that I flattened into cute rounded buttons.

And I put the baking sheet into the oven.

And I was pleased that the Tim Burton hearts purpled up a bit while they baked. They came out looking much less bleak than when they went in.

But the combination of tongue pink and nearly shamrock green and ashen-Grimace purple wasn't the most photogenic gang.

So I opted to just shoot the pink.

I'm not really the food-coloring type. I'll stick to my usual cookie palette of white, off-white, and browns.

Unless Tim Burton calls.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder ...

I miss this place. I've gotten away from blogging but I shall be getting back to it directly.

In the meantime, yesterday, I was putting away dishes and as I nested some mixing bowls, I thought, "Huh. That'd make an interesting photo."

So this morning, I snapped a few.

I like the colors.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Could Have Been The World's Shortest E-Book ...

The day I published How to Bake a Better Cookie, a review appeared that ended with this: "Now I need one for breads!"

Yesterday, I was standing in front of the whiteboard in my office, jotting ideas for upcoming projects. I jotted: "Bread e-book? Do I have enough to say?"

Nope, I really don't.

I don't bake a lot of varieties of bread. (My one atttempt at rye was memorably leaden.)

I don't use starters.

I don't use a baking stone.

I don't mist my oven to encourage the crust.

I've made Greek bread in the past with reasonable success because Greek bread is really just white bread, pulled into a wreath shape and smothered with sesame seeds.

Mostly – almost exclusively – I make the bread you see at the top of this post. The Serbs in my family call it pogacha. It's a basic white bread but it only raises once, so it's slightly more dense than typical white bread. (The recipe's here.)

And it makes spectacular toast. I mean, it's good as bread, but it's sublime as toast.

A lot of people are scared to attempt bread, but it's not as daunting as people make it out to be.

Just before Christmas, one of my cousins mentioned that they tried making pogacha and it didn't rise. He presumed his yeast was bad.

Nope, probably not, I said.

And that brings me to the first – and possibly – only rule you need to know about baking bread:

Don't kill the yeast.

That's it. So long as you don't kill the yeast, odds are that you and your oven will produce something fairly edible.

See what I mean? It would have been a really short e-book. Even 99 cents would have been too much to charge.

If you proof your yeast in warm water, make sure it's warm. Not hot. Warm. Years ago, my Aunt Chick said, "Think of a baby's bath water."

The water needs to be warm enough to encourage the yeast but not so warm that it dies.

So hold the inside of your wrist under warm water and when it feels plesantly warm but not hot, you're good to go.

Likewise, if you're adding the yeast to an existing hot liquid, let it cool down to a pleasantly warm temperature first.

Don't be impatient. Swirl the bowl around to expose the mixture to more air to hasten the cooling process.

Or, as I often do, stick the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two or three.

Too-cool liquid will always be preferable to too-hot liquid.

Also, you can add a smidgen of sugar to your yeast to give it some food and make it happy from the get-go.

There you have it: the one piece of advice you need to get you started on your bread-baking way.

Baking bread is enormously gratifying.

And your family and friends will think you a genius.

Don't kill the yeast.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How Can I Help You Express Yourself? ...

I formally kicked off a book-coaching project with a new client yesterday. She's been working on a book for a long while. She's collaborated with a friend. She's shared a lot of material with me to review, including a table of contents so extensive, it's really an outline. She's rewritten the first chapter multiple times. And she's felt stuck.

So yesterday, with the hectic holidays behind us and a whole new year to explore, she was ready to get to work and figure out a new plan. She called at 8:30 a.m.

By 9:30 a.m., we had discovered that:

1. She's really writing two books.


2. The second book should probably happen first.

Book coaching, like all other coaching, looks different for every client.

For some, what I offer is really writing coaching, helping them to hone their writing skills.

For others, like my latest client, I join their projects already in process but early enough that I can help them shape their initial content, help them work through obstacles, or help them refine their approach to uncover what they truly want to say.

For yet others, I take on more of an editing role when they're further along in the process. Where I can offer insights, though, I do.

And for yet another segment of authors, I come on board at a point when they're almost ready to publish but seek one more set of eyes to review their work and I function as an editor's editor, if you will. In some cases, all that's really called for is proofreading. But, in some instances, I've been able to make suggestions that add another layer of polish to a project that the author didn't know was available.

For this latest project, our plan is to proceed session by session, as she's able to write. Our initial conversation yielded some good insights, but a creative process is just that, and she's open to letting this book – or these books – evolve.

But for the moment, she has a renewed sense of momentum. And I look forward to helping her see where it goes. My favorite part of our call yesterday was her pause after I made a suggestion, then the sound of her voice when she said, "Oh, I like that idea!"

Sometimes a project needs a fresh perspective and a bit of collaboration. Do you have a project you'd like to work on in the new year? Perhaps I can help you with that.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Holiday Giving ...

Pretty much everyone I know is in the process of shedding stuff. It is a delightful feeling, as I know from firsthand experience, having recently donated bags and bags and bags of books and an entire car and trunk full of stuff that, for years, I told myself I would sell at a garage sale.

After about 10 years of telling myself that story – and losing plenty of stuff to a flooded basement some years ago – I decided that it wasn't true. I could make it true, but not until spring, which, 'round these parts, doesn't often show up until June.

And I didn't want the clutter in the house any longer. I didn't want to walk past my guest bedroom and think, "I really have to deal with that."

So I dealt with it. Done.

Just in time for the arrival of the mac daddy of gift-giving holidays.

I already had a couple of gifts on hand that I knew were the right things but the balance of my list loomed.

On Thanksgiving, my father had announced that he had pored over all the sales papers and had found nothing he needed.

"The holidays aren't just about need," I reminded him. "Sometimes they're about want, too."

"Well, there's nothing I want, either."

All righty, then.

Dad got cookies and scratch-off lottery tickets. Seriously. He was delighted.

I talked with my oldest brother about gift ideas for the parents. He asked what I wanted. "Nothing," I said, and I meant it. "You pick up the tab all year when we go out for pizza and movies. That's more than enough. What would you like?"

"Nothing," he said. And I knew he meant it. He's spent the past couple years getting rid of stuff – the man is The craigslist Whisperer – and organizing the rest.

But I also know that he loves the white chocolate macadamia cookies at Subway, so I bought Ghirardelli white chips and half a pound of raw macadamia nuts, figuring I could do better than a fast-food chain.

He wrote the other day to let me know he had recovered from his cold and therefore could taste things again so he broke into the cookies at last. "They're great!" Take that, Subway!

Two of my nephews and my niece received afghans from their great-grandmother. I had two stashed in the guest-room closet, never used. They're navy and cream, rugby-stripe-ish, very graphic, rather nautical, and very cool. Each of the boys got one. And my niece received the afghan my grandmother had made for me when I was a baby. I included a pair of fluffy socks for her. The afghan is not big.

My grandmother was not a warm and fuzzy woman. But I was pleased to share her yarn talents with the kids. You can never have too many afghans.

I don't exchange gifts with their mom and dad, my brother and sister-in-law, other than stocking-stuffer treats. My brother always receives his favorite gummi bears from me. This year, my sister-in-law received a Toblerone. "I've never had one of these before," she said. "They're good!"

Of course they're good. A Toblerone played a supporting role in an episode of "Friends." It was cited in an episode of "Gilmore Girls." Toblerone rock.

My other nephew received a stash of cookies and a note that he shall begin receiving cookies as part of his college care packages.

It was a rather homemade Christmas, most of all for my mom.

She, too, got fluffy socks, which I did not make.

But her main gift was a wreath for her front door, which I did.

I was at their house one day, waiting for her to get home, lacking my keys for their house so I couldn't let myself in. I stood on the front porch considering the front door, knowing she was tired of the wreath she had, pondering what might work better instead, both based on her aesthetic and the style of the house.

My brain said, "Leather!"

Leather lacing would have been too fine though, the wrong scale, too busy.

"Old belts!" said my brain.

Yes, old belts!

And so I headed out to Goodwill a couple of days later to find old belts. Or new belts. Or any belts that would work with my vision.

And then I went to a second Goodwill store because I needed a larger stash.

And then I deconstructed the belts, removing most of the hardware. (I kept one belt intact to use at the top, as the "bow," as it were.)

And then I set out to find a wreath form.

Why in the hell are pieces of Styrofoam so expensive relative to what they are?!

That concern was moot, however, as the craft store I was in lacked the size I wanted. So I wandered the floral department. Surely something else would work. Maybe I could cannibalize a holiday wreath.

Or maybe I could use the straw wreath form staring me in the face.

Why, yes. Yes, I could.

I came home and wrapped that sucker in electrical tape to create a black base for any instances where the wreath form might peek through behind the belts.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then, once again, I attempted to complete my project.

I finally finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, seriously just under the wire.

But I was pleased with the final result. Although, as I wrote to Angelo, who knew that this was in the works:


It was way more effort than I expected.

I shall not be getting into the bespoke leather-belt wreath business. One of these is all I feel the need to make in my lifetime and this is that one.

But we hung it up yesterday and Mom is very pleased.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year That Was (And Is, For Five More Hours) ...

This year, by every metric I can conceive, was better than last year.

And that's saying a lot.

Surely 2013 was the nadir. Or the realization of the pendulum swinging as far as possible into bleakness. Not that I'm trying to tempt fate to prove me wrong, mind you. I just mean to say that 2013 sucked. Really, truly, awfully, painfully sucked.

So 2014 was bound to be better.

And it was.

I took on some wonderful clients. (I am so pleased to be a part of Michele Woodward's team.) And I took on – and then dropped – and then took on again – and then dropped again a not-so-wonderful client. The people were nice. The work did not suit me. But the on-again, off-again process taught me to trust my instincts the first time around. You know: for the next time.

I helped a lovely doctor with the best name in the world – Starla Fitch – bring her book into the world. What began as a technical exercise morphed into much, much more. I appreciated her faith in me as we tackled some new ground for both of us. I may not know everything from the get go, but I'm a quick study. And my goal was only ever to make her look good, and on that front, we succeeded. Editors are very anonymous that way: If we do our jobs well, no one can tell that we're doing our jobs.

At long, long, long, long last, I met the delightful and charming David Leite. We snuck in brunch at Dillman's right before Brendan Sodikoff shuttered the joint to turn it into Cocello. Happily, though, in recent days the news has surfaced that Dillman's will be back in 2015. Finally, a place to get good deli. Good deli is ridiculously hard to find.

And speaking of Cocello, I was pleased to have dinner there with the only person in my life who may like octopus as much as me. Or maybe I like it as much as him. In any event, it's good to have an octopus friend.

I hatched a plan this summer to publish a wee e-book – a weeebook – or an ebook(let) – of cookie tips. I've been baking for so many years, it seemed like a good idea to gather all the bits of information in my head and commit them to virtual paper. And, remarkably, I actually published it, earlier this month. As I've mentioned to friends, it is the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before mustering up the courage to drift into the deep end and feel the floor disappear underneath me. In real life, though, I've always been a fan of the deep end. It'll be good to return to it in the coming year, metaphorically speaking.

Because now that I've published my ebook(let), I'm more inclined to write and publish again. For as much as I rail against e-readers, though, I really rather like electronic publishing. It suits my impatience.

The aforementioned David sold his memoir this year, which I am very eager to read, as David is a spectacular writer. It's scheduled to be published in 2016 or 2017. I marvel at that. I'm glad to be able to maintain interest in a project for a week. I don't know if I have the constitution to marshal a book through a process that takes years.

Working for myself suits me. And while I'm still getting the knack of the hustle required to find new projects and keep things humming, I am enormously grateful for the freedom this life affords me. Sometimes, it takes me a while to get a message, but I finally have. (Thanks for not hiring me, Mark. Truly. It was absolutely the right decision for both of us. I just didn't realize it at the time.)

I've had some clients return to me and recommend me to others, which is both lovely reinforcement and endorsement. I look forward to building on that foundation and planting new seeds in the coming year (to mix metaphors).

And I am very much looking forward to singing – and recording – in the coming year, too. I've been pondering a return to the voice class I've taken in the past, to get back into the swing of things, so to speak. And was very, very saddened to learn of the recent passing of the woman who taught the class. Gwen was just the teacher I needed when I embarked on taking classes and I'm so sorry that I won't have the privilege of studying with her again. But her passing has only strengthened my resolve to sing and record and maybe even – gasp! – perform. I feel like I owe it to her as well as to myself.

As this particular decade of my life speeds along, I realize every day the truth of "Life begins at 40." For 2015, I decided to choose a word as a touchstone of sorts for the year. I chose the word "become."

The process is already underway, of course. It began the day I arrived on this pale blue dot. But I am more aware of the process now and more ready than ever to steer when I can steer and to let go when I should let go and see where it all leads me.

May 2015 be all that you hope it to be(come).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cookie Tips, Past And Present ...

I've been baking through my list of holiday cookies.

I also keep adding to the list.

Which has reminded me of a very key cookie tip:

— Make a list and (try to) stick to it

This was the year I was going to bake only two varieties, but lots of them: Peppermint Sablés* and Snickerdoodles.

But then I thought, "Oh, but I should make Oatmeal Raisin for Bill. And if I take cookies to Bill, I should make Peanut Butter for Donna ... ."

And just like that, the list had doubled.

And then I thought, "But Mom really likes Russian Teacakes. And Paul really likes Toffee Squares."

And presto! The list had tripled.

And then Mom reported that my niece looked crestfallen upon learning that Chocolate Crinkles would not be baked this year.

Well, that won't do.

Chocolate Crinkle dough is in the fridge.

And then I thought of a cookie-as-gift idea for someone for whom I do not usually bake, so, for those of you keeping score at home, that brings the tally to eight varieties.

From two to eight. Just like that.

So, that should be plenty, right?

Except that I've made what I thought was a sufficient quantity of each type of cookie and then realized, no, I really should make another batch of each.

So this year's baking has spiraled slightly out of control.

But hey, butter's on sale.

Speaking of having a lot of cookies on hand, though, one of the other tips I shared on Twitter this week was:

— Enjoy a couple (or a few) with your morning coffee, pre-holidays

We deserve wee rewards for our efforts.

Others that came to mind to share:

– While warm, roll Russian teacakes in powdered sugar to create a "skim coat"; the initial coat will enable powdered sugar to cling when you roll them in more before serving

– Toast walnuts – or other nuts – before using them in cookies; grind for better distribution, chop for better texture

– Baking two sheets of cookies? Rotate them halfway through the baking time, top to bottom, front to back; also, tack 30 seconds onto the second half of baking time to accommodate your oven coming back up to temp

– A stick of butter that's softened enough for baking should bend but not be too soft or greasy

Find more tips in my ebook(let) How to Bake a Better Cookie on Amazon.

* Swap in peppermint extract for vanilla

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ohmygosh! ...

Oh! In the intro of my ebook(let), I cite the vintage edition of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book as an influence!

What a trip to see myself in the same row with it on Amazon! (This is the Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Baking > Cookies ranking.)

The modern-day reissue is No. 4, as it should be. It's a fab book.

I shall aspire to move up to that neighborhood and appear alongside the new version, but in the meantime, this picture delights me!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's A Book(let)! ...

Historically speaking, I completed this project in record time.

I had the idea in July. I started jotting down thoughts on a piece of scrap paper in my wallet in a waiting room.

And then, as with most ideas I have, I let it stall.

I noodled around with it a bit, but not in any meaningful way.

Until last week.

And then, in earnest, on Monday afternoon. And into Monday evening.

And then as soon as I got up Tuesday morning.

And by Tuesday afternoon, it was a thing.

Available on Amazon.

What a trip.

Most publishing cycles take a couple of years.

This one took about 20 hours.

It's a good first step for me, the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before heading into the deep end.

It's also terribly exciting and fun!

On to the next! Whatever that may be.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Crafty ...

Paint chips + circle punch + quilting thread = dotty garland, sample-strand edition. Should I ever make more, I think I'll swipe a black Sharpie around the back of each circle to eliminate the white edge. Fun little project, though. A good way to recycle!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Destiny ...

I had enough milk.

Whether or not I had enough milk was to determine whether or not I baked bread today.

I had enough milk. With a bit to spare.

So I made bread, the bread my Great Aunt Anne taught me to bake so many years ago. I was 8 then. Today, I am teetering on the fulcrum of my 40s.

It's second nature to me, this bread. I breeze through making it and shaping it.

The waiting truly is the hardest part.

But I waited for the dough to rise. And when it didn't look risen quite enough, I waited a little longer.

And then I fired up the oven and later, out came two lovely loaves, with more depth the the crust than the loaves I baked the other day. So I took a picture.

And then I waited for it to cool and then I cut a slice and the crust was indeed lovely. So I took a picture.

And then I set thin slices of butter on it to soften, because it was still warm. And then I smeard the butter into a mostly even layer and marveled at the chewy texture of the crust. These might be the best loaves I've ever baked.

And then I cut another slice – OK, two slices – and put them in the toaster and stood by, waiting for them to take on just the right amount of color, and then I set more thin slices of butter on them and let them mostly melt and I had already taken the two other pictures so I took a picture.

The happiest incarnation of bread is toast.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The First Bread Of The Holiday Season ...

The loaves rise separately but then kiss while baking. "Kiss While Baking" would be a good title for a fluffy novel.

Brownies ...

The secret to fab brownies: frosting, nuts, and a well-loved pan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ho ... Ho ... Holidays! ...

The reindeer mug has made its seasonal cocoa debut!

Ooh, you know what'd be really good with cocoa?


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Scones Revisited ...

Once upon a time (read: September), I found myself with a bit of inspiration to create a little something new.

Thoughts and ideas swirled around in my head, as they do, and I settled on scones, which are like a distant cousin in the family tree of baked goods. Cookies and cakes and pies and muffins get all the love but scones aren't often invited to the party. Poor scones. They're often inexcusably dry, and while, yes, they're meant to be enjoyed with tea and slathered with jam and clotted cream, why can't scones star in their own show?

Well, these little guys are worthy of attention. I started with a recipe I've made in the past, and then doctored it, which is how most new recipes come to be. I knew I'd incorporate Nutella. And then I decided to add dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips because, well, can you think of a reason not to add dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips? And then I added toasted, chopped hazelnuts, to reinforce the Nutella and add a bit of texture, and voila! Scones with a double dose of hazelnut and a double dose of chocolate. And I knew I wanted to make them cookie-size because, well, have you seen the size of some scones? They can wear out their welcome.

These aren't very sweet but the dark chocolate chips add a nice intensity. And they're also rather moist, not crumbly like some scones you may have had in the past. They'd make a nice treat for holiday guests. Or package them with some cocoa mix and marshmallows for a holiday gift.

Double Chocolate Double Hazelnut Little Cookie Scones
(Adapted from Simply Scones, St. Martin's Press, 1988)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/3 cup buttermilk*
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and distribute them evenly over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, vanilla, and Nutella. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir to partially combine. Dump in the toasted chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips and stir to combine completely. The dough will be sticky. With a cookie scoop** (or two spoons), portion dough onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake one tray at a time in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven, let cookies cool for four minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 30

* Or mix milk with a teaspoon of lemon juice and let sit for a few minutes. It'll curdle a bit.
** I use the OXO 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop which seems to hold two tablespoons. Go figure.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Knack ...

The selection of cards is an underappreciated art form. Of all the cards in the world – so, so, so many of them bad – to find just the right ones for just the right occasion requires tenacity and understanding and skill.

My friend Doreen is the mistress of this art form.

Doreen gives two cards for birthdays: one funny, one sincere.

Now, some may think she makes card selection easier on herself, that she removes the pressure to find the perfect card that conveys all intended thoughts and emotions.

But no, I say to you, no! Instead, she rises to two challenges, to find just the right sincere card and just the right funny card.

And this year is no exception.

Behold what I have dubbed the "Aw" card, with a lovely message that speaks to my ongoing journey:

And now behold what I have dubbed the "LOL" card, which truly did make me laugh out loud and also speaks to another aspect of my ongoing journey:

Thank you, Do! I love them. I love the care you put into choosing them. And I love you.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Undersink Discoveries ...

Many, many (many, many) years ago, browsing through Salvage One, I spied stacks of silver.

Ever the fan of shiny-but-worn objects, I wandered over to the shelves and discovered serving pieces that once lived on a ship.


I fell for this little guy, the bottom half of a small serving dish. If memory serves, the top and bottom were priced separately. Or maybe my memory doesn't serve and he was separated from his top.

Either way, I decided that he would make a fine soap dish. And home with me he came.

I think I paid $10.

For many, many years now, he's lived underneath my sink, the vessel into which I would plop my wet SOS pad after I'd scrubbed a pan.

And so it was today, upon finishing a frying pan (in which I'd fried the most gorgeous bacon).

And then my brain said, "Beth? Why is that under your sink? You love oval things. You love silver things. You really love silver, oval things. Put a plastic container under there for your SOS pad and bring him out."

And so I did. He was very, very tarnished and a bit rusty, but with a few applications of silver polish, I cleaned him up again, not pristinely but enough that he can now tarnish again, but more evenly.

I have no idea what I'll do with him but for now, he's pleased to be amonng his other silver friends.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Twilight ...

My first-ever blog post in the whole wide world appeared on March 13, 2005.

I've decided that blog years are like dog years and this puppy's nearing its end. Perhaps it'll make it to the 10-year mark. We shall see.

Social media is a blog killer. Or maybe the culprit is apathy. Either way, my erstwhile drive to post on a daily – then regular – then semi-regular – basis has waned.

And when you start writing posts about how you don't write as many posts as you used to, it might be time to bring the curtain down.

Then again, the holidays are coming and I really am so fond of snapping pictures of holiday cheer and snow (snow and I have agreed to pretend that that Halloween bullshit never happened) and cookies that, well, as I type that, my inner blogger has perked up again. Perhaps we'll continue into the new year. Maybe even to March and beyond.

Yes, maybe.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Pundit For A Day ...

This is what I wrote to a friend this morning who wanted my take on today:

Generally, I feel good.

But here's the "no matter what" silver lining:

In the end, we win. If we hold the Senate, gridlock remains in Washington. Republicans continue their petulant bullshit. Voters continue to get further fed up with Republicans. And they lose the White House in 2016.

OR: If we lose the Senate, Republican factions will war with each other. The Tea Party wing is going to push for impeachment. The moderates will push back, understanding the lesson of impeaching Clinton. The Tea Party wing will scream louder, as they've been telling everyone for six years how evil Obama is and that he must be impeached so how can they *not impeach him now that they have the power? Nothing substantive will get done. Obama will veto any extreme shit they try to push through, like repealing the ACA. They won't have the votes to override his veto. Dems can then point to the GOP's "legislation" and say, "See? We told you they'd try to take away your healthcare. We told you they don't want you to earn a living wage even while they give more tax breaks to the rich people. We told you they want to destroy the environment." The GOP founders even further, and they lose the White House in 2016.

And if they lose in 2016, they're gonna lose for a very, very long time to come.

So, we *may lose this battle today. Anything's possible.

But we've already won the war.