Monday, January 31, 2011


Four Elements: Earth. Joachim Beuckelaer
Yet another Flemish genre painting this week.  And it's Joachim Beuckelaer again -- the guy who blends religious sentiment with cabbage.  Lots and lots of cabbage.  This painting celebrates the fecundity of the earth, and in the background we can see Joseph leading a donkey bearing the pregnant Mary towards Bethlehem.  Symbolism is left as an exercise for the reader.  Meanwhile a man sitting by a well is apparently sad because no matter how many times he lowers the bucket, all he draws up is vegetables.  At least, that's the way it looks to me.  Possibly because I'm feverish. 

Yes, I am sick again.  I even stayed home from school in the hope that a break and sleep will mean that I arise tomorrow ready to take on the world.  I'm still hopeful, but the headache and fever routine are old.   And I'm trying to do homework anyway, so I don't get totally behind.  It's really hard to think straight when you have a fever.

I know most of you are nodding and saying, "Yeah, Sarah, duh."  But really, really hard, and then you start thinking about enchanted wells the only yield cabbage and discussing what passes for high fashion* this season with totally uninterested male friends who happen to be online in the wrong place at the wrong time.**

So all that being said have a couple of links that are vaguely food related, and I'll go take more advil before attempting to think more about logo design.

1) When I'm well enough to be trusted with experimental cooking again, rather than merely heating things up, I am making GINGER ALE.

2) Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap Reviews of strange premade food.  Mostly things that I would never buy, but frequently funny enough to keep me working on school projects despite the variants on lousy my body keeps devising.

With that, I'm off to take the aforementioned advil, because it's eighty degrees in here and I'm cold. 
 *Booooooring.  I suspect that articles about the "new refinement" and the "new romanticism" are just around the corner, and that they will be approximately the same articles that they wrote in 2002.   Except with maxidresses and eighties shoulder pads.  I live in one of the cooler enclaves on the West Coast, and everyone always looks amazing here, and almost nothing like anything in the rag I was reading.  Also, Michael Kors, I know it's a runway show, but not even that can explain slouchy hiking socks with platform sandals. Actually it can, but it's still hideous. 

**But not in anyway that actually makes sense (I'd been perusing a recent issue of Harper's Bazaar for research purposes).  me: Conclusion on fashion magazines-- high fashion models exist to provide a scaffold to turn fancy clothes into interesting planar geometric propositions. The Tall Guy: like, 2-dimensionality is important?
 me: Apparently clothes look better that way. It certainly does nothing for the models, who look terrible.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cake -- having it, eating it, analyzing it

Today is the birthday of one of the horde of knee high redheads that make up the current baby boom in my family.  I am probably doomed to come down with the horrible ick the birthday boy has, because germ avoidance would have meant not letting him sit in my lap while I read to him (besides which I'd been playing with him earlier in the week).  Easy choice. 

Now I have successfully managed to drag my adorable baby cousins into my blog.  It's only respect for my family's privacy that keeps me from making the blog wall to wall cousin pictures.  I think they're pretty great, as evidenced by my willingness to risk terrible diseases by playing with them.

I have also proved that I am the sort of person who will look at a perfectly awesome cake -- Viking Cousin's* coconut cake involves a bit more than a pound and a half of butter** -- and start trying to figure out how to make it better.  Or at least different.  I'm thinking fresh raspberries.  And a birthday boy who isn't feverish.

*He's taller than I am, speaks Norwegian, and has a red beard.  Nicknaming him anything else for purposes of blogging is unthinkable. 

** As someone who once described a failed recipe with the damning phrase, "needs more fat" I NEED THIS RECIPE.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oh, So Not Pretty

I have no idea why I thought, "black beans, feta, and peaches would be interesting together" while I was walking to school in the sleet.  I assume other people have discursive thoughts about their hobbies while they are doing normal people things.   I thought about it for a few days and I eventually made it to the grocery store and came home with the necessary ingredients.

I would do a few things differently if I ever do a repeat performance -- most of them have to do with pan size.  The final product was excellently tasty, but as the title indicates it was not pretty.  I think there is something about black beans that dooms them to be forever unlovely and slightly buglike.  I probably should not have written that last bit.

Anyway, this casserole (its consistency is really more stewlike, but it's baked in a casserole dish) exists at the intersection of spicy, sweet, and savory, which is one of my favorite intersections in the world of cuisine.   The canned peaches could probably be replaced with a half a sweet potato chopped fine -- they bring sweetness and a bit of texture, but mostly are there in the ingredients because it was such a strange idea that I had to try it. 

Black Bean and Peach Stew

1 onion quartered
1 pasilla chili quartered seeds and membranes removed
1 jalapeƱo likewise
2 cloves of garlic with their skin on
2 cans of black beans, drain one of them
1/2 cup cider
1/4 cup rice
2 canned peach halves diced (canned in juice, not syrup) or an equivalent amount of sliced
1 sliced spicy chicken sausages (optional)
3/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
Enough feta

Preheat the oven 350.  Oil a pan suitable for roasting vegetables -- a small baking pan etc.  Place the quartered onions and chilis, as well as the garlic cloves on the sheet.  Bake for an hour.

While you're waiting for the veggies to roast, combine the other ingredients, except the feta in a casserole dish of suitable size.  I did not use a casserole dish of suitable size, because I don't have one here.  This is actually a substantial amount of food, plan accordingly. If that seems like a lot of spice, use less.  I have a wild passion for cumin and coriander and occasionally it gets out of hand for normal people. 

When the veggies come out of the oven, chop everything that can be chopped, and peel and smash the garlic, mix those in to the evolving stew.

Crumble enough feta to cover the top of the stew.  Feta generously for feta is a gracious thing.  Cover the dish, and pop it into the oven, cook it for an hour and fifteen minutes covered.  Uncover for the last twenty or until the feta is toasty and the rice is not crunchy.  (Part of the cooking time reflects the fact that I use brown rice, which takes time.)

I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

Edit to add:  The leftovers reach the height of sublimity when dumped over tater tots.  This is acutely embarrassing, but delicious.  

Strange Beliefs

 Things I have come to believe:

1) Rice pudding is basically good for you.
2)If you put enough cottage cheese on something it turns into an acceptable meal.

This explains why I had a bowl of rice pudding, cottage cheese, and canned peaches for lunch.  Doesn't it?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Severely Miscellaneous

Franz Kine, Painting Number 2
 This appears to be the sort of blog post where I end up quoting dead white guys and philosophizing.  You probably ought to practice your omelet making technique instead. 

It has not been a week wherein I felt like writing about food.  I do need to write up and post the banana upside down cake recipe.  I think I need to tweak a couple of things first though.   Unfortunately I'm short on excuses to make a banana cake at the moment.  So, by way of apology, have a link to a recipe for a plum upside down cake.  I have never made it (and if I did, I would probably make one cake rather than individual ramekin cakes), but it looks delicious.  I'm mad for upside down cakes and have been for years.  Last year I started experimenting with not-pineapple cakes and so far my favorite is rhubarb -- although wild blueberry comes a close second.  Which reminds me that I have seen new rhubarb shoots coming up in gardens around Cap Hill.  This climate!  I live in the tropics!

I spent most of last week in a sleep deprived fog, because the occult operations of my hind brain decreed it to be a week of not sleeping.  That meant a lot of things out of boxes for meals (including a moment of weakness that saddled me with a box of breaded fish filets: a trial served to prove that growing up in Alaska has probably ruined Van De Camps for me for life*).  There was one problematic exception, a pot of squash soup.  I left it out on the counter overnight.  I blame the bad sleep brain fog.

Unfortunately I love squash soup the way many people love chocolate -- not wisely, but too well.    I find it irresistible, especially when made with homemade chicken stock (which this is).  So after some internal struggle, I decided not to pitch it.  Tonight I heated it to a rolling boil for twenty minutes and am now eating it.  Hopefully I won't wake up puking tonight.  If I do, it's all because of love.** 

None of this was really what I was thinking about when I began this post.  Perhaps you're wondering about that spare painting that heads off this blog entry.  I am too.  Franz Kline always resisted the comparison of his work to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, but I find the parallel hard to resist.  To some degree, a work of art exists between the intention of its creator and the understanding of its viewer.  Despite Kline's protests, I cannot help seeing his austere black and white compositions as the calligraphy of his soul.  Of course, it is in a language I don't speak. Do we remain largely unintelligible to each other?  If the calligraphy of my soul were written, it would have more colors and maybe some gold and silver leaf, but the meanings would be equally obscure.

However even as I was thinking these isolated thoughts,  I was walking home carrying a rather large and heavy care package from Alaska.  This tangible burden of love did not feel like the product of a careful truce and years of fraught translation even if there were occasional moments of incomprehension in the friendship.  I walked on.  I considered turning the mute calligraphic image of the soul into poetry to send off to another friend, one more email in a friendship that has been almost entirely conducted by email for six years.***  This friendship ought to feel more tenuous than it does.  Thousands of words arguing about books and critiquing each other's writing creates a density and heft to a relationship that inspires confidence.   If my soul's calligraphy could be translated, those two friends (with the help of a few others) have a better than average chance of producing a useful lexicon.  Likewise, I flatter myself that I could contribute a word or two to their own dictionaries.  It's both comforting and discomfiting to be so well known. -- decidedly more the former than the latter.  Although at times more privacy to dissemble seems a luxury,  these friends who read me so well can do so because they love me.  There is an alarming sort of safety in that. 

Maddeningly John Donne appears to have got here before me in Meditation XVII from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.****  Or at least he anticipated my conceit of the soul as a book in some strange language. 
...all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
Or possibly, because it's an image I love, I subconsciously remembered it when confronted with Kline's expressive yet unspeaking austerity.  John Donne's measured words incorporated into the calligraphy of my soul (if I am going to insist on the metaphor). 

Meanwhile, although I am not throwing up, there is some internal unrest that suggests that the best course of action is pitching out the rest of the soup and fetching some ginger ale.  Alas.  (With the caveat that boiling the soup resulted in some significant scorching, rendering it less delightsome than it might otherwise be.) 

*What's even weirder?  I claim not to like fish with some very carefully circumscribed exceptions (which mostly involve smoked salmon† or fried rock fish).  I have no idea why the frozen fish fillets suddenly seemed like a good idea, except that it was on sale and I'm temporarily sick of eggs as my primary protein source. 

**A survey of world literature clearly demonstrates that love is at the bottom of many a plot complication.  

***What wouldn't I give to have all the people who matter within fifty miles of me?

**** Despite various misinformed web based idiocies this is neither a poem nor in Old English††.  It's definitely prose, and the language while archaic is distinctly Modern English (Early Modern English if you want to nitpick).  I'm even using a text with regularized and modernized spelling.

†I get alarmingly enthusiastic about homemade smoked salmon, especially if belly meat is involved. 

†† Entirely unintelligible to modern English speakers. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last Saturday was a friend's birthday, and just saying that tells me that I need to come up with more epithets for my friends and relatives.  Oh well.  For now the subject of the birthday party, and the names of the guests can remain discreetly obscure. Suffice to say that I felt that it was incumbent on me to bring food. 

I ended up thinking about my usual easily portable recipes and feeling rather ambivalent about all of them.  Yes, dear readers, I confess I was feeling a bit jaded, and a bit thwarted by circumstance.  Some food items are just awkward if one is going to walk to a party with them.  Some should be served warm, and I'd never been to the abode of this particular friend before, and so did not feel equal to commandeering the kitchen upon arrival.  So, I did what any sensible woman in my position would do.  I baked cookies -- coconut macaroons to be precise.  I used the recipe in The Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition.  I commend it to your attention.  It's easy.  It's quick.  The bit of the recipe that takes the longest is scooping the dough onto the well greased cookie sheets (preferably lined with parchment paper) and baking them.  However the recipe calls for one egg white.  Yolk's on me, etc.

The obvious thing to do, rather than waste the yolk, was bake a cake.  Well, I thought it was the obvious thing to do anyway.  I had some old bananas that wanted using up.  A little research, and I'd written out a recipe for a Banana Upside Down Cake.  It smelled delicious.

However, I was back at food items that are inconvenient to carry, though less impossibly so than a pot of spaghetti sauce.  Unfortunately I couldn't leave the cake home, because I was going to spend the rest of the long weekend out of town, and how on earth could I manage to eat the entire thing by myself?  Actually I knew how I would manage to eat the entire thing: enthusiastically, but at the expense of eating things with more actual nutritive value.  So the cake had to be shared. 

Which was how I found myself walking down the hill under a sky that would have been starry, had the city lights not drowned it out, while carrying a cake, and a shopping bag with a container of macaroons.  It was delightful, partly because of the absurdity of walking more than a block while carrying a cake.  I got to the party, and discovered that everyone had had similar ideas about what to bring.  I think I may have come home with more dessert than I arrived with.

Now I need to figure out what to make for this weekend's round of feasting.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shark Fins and Sichuan Peppercorns

I just finished Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper:  A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.  Fascinating book, which doesn't really say much about it.  Let me try again.

Ms. Dunlop writes eloquently about her experiences taking in Chinese culture(s) as food.  It's a book both humorous and elegiac as she describes her experiences in the shifting landscape of Chinese culture in over the last fifteen or so years.  She arrives as a student who was determined to eat everything served to her.  She ends up making a career out of writing about Chinese food.  She begins with the thing that Westerners "know" about Chinese food -- namely that the Chinese will eat anything, much of it disgusting.  Dog, chicken feet, sea cucumber, bird's nests, shark fins, insects, and bear paws all show up in the typical Western list of the horrors of Chinese cuisine, and they all show up in the book.  Ms. Dunlop does, in fact, succeed in eating everything, and thinking critically about it.

She holds up these exempla of the cultural divide between East and West, and succeeds in explaining some of their cultural significance.  That was what I hoped for, and expected since my friend JVW had handed me the book.*  I did not expect that I would spend most of the book ravenously hungry.  Discussion of deep fried rabbit heads do not usually do this too me, but Ms. Dunlop's descriptions of her enjoyment and her growing understanding of a culture that sees them as a delicacy left me staring into my fridge in the middle of the night.  I settled for a quesadilla, but found it vaguely unsatisfying as a solution.

Owing to a soy allergy, Chinese food is largely a closed book for me, so the author's achievement was even more notable.  Food that would make me very sick if I were to eat it filled me with longing.  It was this glimpse of something so alien that gave Shark Fins and Sichuan Pepper its power over my imagination.  Something so alien made comprehensible.

*JVW's understanding of my taste in books is exemplary.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Foodie? Some Words About Nomenclature

Danse Macabre: The Foodie copyright 2010, 2011 Dylan Meconis
I love food.  I pretty much love all food barring some finicks about texture, and the odd histamine reaction.  I unapologeticly love pot pies from the freezer section, and I love the fads of trendy cuisine. One of the best moments when I was home in Alaska came while having lunch with some friends at a favorite restaurant.*  Kinley's is one of those trendy places where your side salad comes with goat cheese, and your fried chicken sandwich comes slathered in the house sour cherry preserves.**  JVW had ordered the bacon wrapped date appetizer. This is the apotheosis of dates -- dates should always be paired up with something savory, lest their sweetness take over whatever one is eating.  It is a favorite.  I bit into one.  The meld of smokey, sweet, and salt with a lemon and garlic in the background to cut through all the richness was perfection. 

For all that, my tastes are not all that abstruse, or so I like to think.  Until, I find myself saying things like, "You know, that would be really good with some goat cheese," when a classmate is talking about making macaroni and cheese. Such a totally trendoid thing to suggest.  My classmate asked me, "Are you one of those foodies?"  Yes, but hopefully without the sour faced snobbery that shows up in the illustration above (which I find hilarious, but that might be the art history classes talking), and in some contemporary food writing.

However in the playful spirit of the best contemporary food, I offer one of my favorite fusion dessert recipes. 

Garam Masala Pumpkin Brownies

Intensely rich, serve in bite size pieces.  These brownies would be absolutely divine with dulce de leche, and bananas on top.  And creme fraiche or chevre.  And pecans.  Maybe bacon too.  You know, trendy things.

3/4 cup butter
2 c brown sugar
1 1/4 c Dutched cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 T vanilla extract 
3 eggs
1 15 oz can pumpkin
1 1/2 c flour
1 c chocolate chips
1 1/2 coconut
1 tsp cinnamon (I used the Vietnamese)
1/2 tsp garam masala (but check the ingredients, garam masala sometimes includes mustard, which I have yet to like when paired with chocolate.  One could alternatively experiment with pinches of cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon, fenugreek, and nutmeg or mace -- when the blend tastes right, use 1/2 tsp of the blend.  But for this application, I use the Spice Islands Garam Masala blend.  It's pretty wimpy otherwise, so I only use it for desserts.)
1/2 tsp cayenne, or to taste, or use something milder, or a splash of Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp ginger

Preheat 350 grease a 13"x9" pan.

Melt butter over low heat (or nuke it, but I never do) and stir in sugar. Return to heat, stirring until the mixture appears smooth and shiny. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Stir in cocoa, salt, baking powder, and spices
Blend together eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla. Add to cocoa mixture, beating 'til smooth.

Add flour, chips, and coconut, stirring 'til well combined.

Spoon batter into prepped pan and smooth over. Bake 35 minutes or so, or until a toothpick or fork inserted in the center comes out with only a couple of crumbs clinging to it.

Absolutely delish.

*Anchorage is, slightly inexplicably, one of the better places to eat that I've ever been to.  It's not Rome, but what is?  I theorize that the long cold winters and the constant caloric drain to keep warm have supplied the drive to perfect the nouvelle pizza, and haute diner food.  And beer? I could weep missing the breweries of Anchorage. 
**It is fantastic.  I have wondered ever since why all fried chicken sandwiches don't come with sour cherry preserves.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Against Yogurt

I like yogurt.  I grew up eating yogurt. I wanted to buy some today.

Today found me in QFC staring with rising dismay into the dairy case as I attempted to buy a reasonable and affordable amount of vanilla yogurt, preferrably with some fat* in it and not too many extraneous weird things.

That ought to be simple, yes?  There were squillions of choices, surely one would make me happy. 

Americans seem to view yogurt as a "health" food.   Or should I say "health" "food"?  Apparently if I just bought the right brand of yogurt, I would lose weight and have well regulated bowels.  My skin would clear up.   My sex appeal would abound.  My dishes would do themselves.  Claims are made about the active lives of the yogurt's cultures which would enable this miracle.

Unfortunately, I wanted yogurt because I think it tastes good, and I wanted to experiment with packing yogurt and granola as part of my lunch.   I wanted yogurt because it will help fill me up and give me energy to do things.  In short, I wanted yogurt as food, not as a tonic or patent medicine.

Most of the yogurt in my market segment* is fat free or lite (which is like fat free only without the sugar as well).  Not infrequently it comes in unholy flavors meant to mimic dessert: one can get apple pie yogurt, strawberry cheesecake yogurt, chocolate mousse yogurt, creme caramel yogurt, or even key lime pie yogurt.    Most all of the flavors, whether or not they are intended to mimic desserts, are packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners to make up for the decrement in flavor that occurs when fat is removed.  Trading fat for sugar does not please me. Trading real sugar for something that breaks down to formaldehyde in my brain? The depths of my displeasure are as a canyon which no explorer may plumb nor any traveler cross. 

Low fat is alright, not my favorite**, but it has some flavor, less sugar, and less algae byproduct*** to create the creaminess that the fat skimmed out would otherwise impart.  Yogurt made from not-skim milk, and flavored with a moderate amount of sugar is increasingly hard to find, squeezed out of the market by the health claims of yogurt-like substances tarted up as desserts and packed with chemicals.  If Americans regarded yogurt as food rather than medication, I suspect that this would not be the case.

I had to read every single label in the case.  The Dannon All Natural line of yogurt appears promising... except that they did not have vanilla yogurt in the large container, or the small.  They had coffee yogurt, which was flavored with real coffee though.  I eventually settled for a quart of the Mountain High Vanilla, which is a known quantity****, even if it was slightly more than I wanted to pay.

I am not noticeably sexier. 

*There is fantastic yogurt on the market.  Yogurt that fills my heart with loving gluttony.  Unfortunately I cannot afford it as a regular thing.  If you want to know, my favorite brand is Greek Gods, with especial affection for the fig yogurt.

** There have probably been times in my life when my response to the world of food has not been "needs more fat"-- I'm not sure when they were.

***Carrageenan is seaweed extract, e.g. algae.  It's a common thickener, and commonly used to smooth textures that would otherwise be damaged by fat removal.  There's nothing exactly wrong with it, except when it goes bad.  Oh dear, I'm about to tell you why I don't buy fat free half-and-half.  Those of you who have already heard this story may want to roll your eyes and go back to the main essay right now.  Those of you with delicate sensibilities may wish to do likewise.

My excellent friend JVW was attempting to limit her fat intake.  To that end she had started buying fat free half-and-half.  It tasted fine.  The mouthfeel wasn't weird.  However, it was ultra-pasteurized (which I think involves gigantic lasers or something) so it had an unusually long shelf life.  JVW does not go through half-and-half particularly quickly.  One day six weeks or so later, she was pouring half-and-half into her tea, while I was nattering inconsequentially (probably, the ensuing event totally drove my thoughts from my mind).  The flow stopped, but the container still felt like it was about a third full.  This being the sort of condition that would raise questions in anyone's mind, we investigated.

Inside was a viscous, pink jelly.  Horror ensued.  Neither of us drank any more tea that night.
The carrageenan had fallen out of suspension, and begun acting like a bacterial culture.  A bright pink bacteria culture. 

****I'm ambivalent about crystalline fructose as a sweetener, but I know from experience that they don't use much. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Facts and Figures

Mom figures that she and I have used more than ten pounds of flour in the time I've been home.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

The new year supposedly takes its tone from the activity it finds you engaged in when it arrives.  Regrettably, I wasn't kissing anyone.  Fortunately, I was up to my elbows in bread dough and thinking about my Grandmother Ervine.  Kissing anyone might have distracted me from my dread purpose... persuading recalcitrant honey/olive oil bread that it wanted to roll out nicely so that I could turn it into peasant loaves.  Which was approximately what I was doing the year before.*

It's been a strange year. Stranger than I could ask, or even imagine. Some of the strangeness is so huge that I can't even look at it.  Like mountains, many of the changes in my life are too big to take in when I'm in the midst of them.**  I'm a person who roots.  I was rooted in Alaska, and then I decided for various reasons that I needed to leave, even though I spent my four years of college horrendously homesick.

I do not think of myself as a brave person.  I have been known to say in tones of outraged frustration, that I am not only not a brave person, but that I further do not appreciate being placed in situations where I have to pretend to be one.  I'm beginning to think that practiced pretense after thirty years is becoming fact. 

This year my Grandmother Ervine died.  I cannot tell you what a fine woman she was -- for now, the memory is too tender.  The readers that I visualize when I'm writing this -- close friends and my family -- either knew her or have heard the stories.***  She was a brave woman, and a kind one.  I try to be both, but I'm not as good at it as she was.  In my defense, she had a substantial head start.

Mom and I had a plan.  We would take a week and drive from Anchorage to Seattle, with some of my furniture and all of the stuff that makes civilized life so comfortable.****  It would be fun.  It would be bonding.  Forgetting the fact that neither of us is good at sitting still, and I hate driving, with a particular emphasis on hating driving in unfamiliar places --I was looking forward to it.  We were going to leave on the sixteenth of August.  Grandmother died on the sixth.  Instead of the leisurely trip I'd been looking forward to, we threw the bare basics in Rubbermaid tubs, and got on a plane three days later. 

Four days after that, I was kneeling on the grass in the Anacortes' cemetery on a blindingly sunny day, placing her ashes in a hole in the ground.  The box of ashes weighed almost nothing.  The only thing that made it at all bearable was that I was in shock.  I realize that ninety-seven is a reasonable age at which to die, and that Grandmother had been looking forward to getting clear of this mortal coil for years.  I knew it then too.  It had just never actually seemed probable that she would die.  (The sun will go out one day too, but I don't really believe in that either.)  Shock in me manifests in a sort of desperate matter of factness: She's dead.  I put her in the ground.  The grass is green.  The dirt is brown.  It's a sunny day.  She's dead. Most of us are wearing shorts.  I'm saying the Lord's Prayer now.  I am not going to start crying.  She's dead.  If I start crying, I'll never stop.  And the power and the glory forever. Amen. She's dead.   Like that over and over again, until I could believe this impossible thing.  I didn't cry, and I suspect I might have been insufferable.
I cried later.  For a lot of the fall I went around being very careful because almost anything would set me off.  Songs in church.  Songs not in church.  Books.  Museums.  Particularly pretty days in Volunteer park.  Conversations with aunts about nothing to do with my grandmother.  Only two things made it bearable.  One, I live by myself, so that if I'm going to fall apart every six minutes, I can do it in private.  Two, I could go to either relatives or friends so close that they may as well be relatives for the weekend.  I didn't do this as much as I expected, but I could and having the option made an enormous difference.

Life finds you out.  One day I looked up and realized that the quarter was nearly over, and that I had friends I was looking forward to seeing that night.   It was a good feeling the first bit of normal since that August evening when Uncle Jim called to tell us Grandmother was gone.

Good year.  Hard year.  And I'll probably spend next New Year's Eve up to my elbows in bread dough.  It seems to be a harbinger of interesting things.

*This makes me wonder if the superstition holds true, and the omen of baking bread means a year of upheaval, blessing, and terror in equal measure.  Not unlike what bread dough goes through when I'm thumping it around while kneading. 
**However, overwrought metaphors are not one of the things that has changed in my life.
***Judging from the stats that google gives me, they are aren't the only ones, but they are the ones I know about.  Maybe sometime I will tell stories about my grandmother for those people who never got to meet her. 

**** Books.  Lots and lots of books.