Mandelbrot is just part of the story

Mandelbrot - cooling

A recipe is a list.
A recipe is a blueprint.
A recipe is a map.

The thing about an old family recipe is how it can help you reconstruct a memory and make it present. How just reading it is like reading a memoir of your own childhood, written as you lived the moment.

A recipe is an artifact.
A recipe is a thumbprint.
A recipe is a photograph.

An old family recipe is a thing. A scrap of paper, an index card, a notebook page. It was scratched out on the back of a paper bag, or on the top sheet of the pad that sat by the telephone. It was ripped out of a magazine. It bears the evidence of being handled. It’s splattered, creased, greased. It preserves your mother’s handwriting, and your grandmother’s annotation: “From Shirl.”

A recipe is a whistle.
A recipe is a signal.
A recipe is a telephone.

The recipe is a practical thing. It directs and points. If it’s a good recipe, it stands by your shoulder and tells you just how much to stir that batter, just how dark to bake that bread, just what shape those cookies should be. Have always been. It tells you when you can trust your own judgement and when you must be exact.

A recipe is a thread.
A recipe is a story.
A recipe is circle.

The old recipe is a connection between the you that was and the you that is, between the people you loved and who loved you enough to cook for you, even when they are no longer here. If you’re lucky, it draws a thread from you back to a person so distant in your past that you never knew her. But she cooked this recipe for her little girl, who maybe grew up to be your grandmother.

An old family recipe is one tale in the long manuscript of things that made you you. It’s a story you recite as you follow it. It’s a story you put into the hands of your own children and tell them, “Eat this. Taste this. Remember this. Tell this.”

My sister and I are working on a project this year. We’re collecting our favorite family recipes, along with those of our extended family, to create a bound memory of tastes. Some of these recipes (like the one on this page) are childhood favorites, and some are ones that we’ve developed as we’ve lived on our own, feeding ourselves, our friends, and our families. If you’re reading this and you’re related to us, you’ll probably be hearing from you; we want your recipe memories, too!

In the meantime, let’s start with our grandmother Martha’s Mandelbrot (also called mandel bread). Mandelbrot is Yiddish for almond bread. It’s a twice-baked cookie, pretty much the Jewish version of biscotti. It’s nutty. Not too sweet. Something you’d make to serve with coffee when the “girls” came over for mahjong. Or something you’d hand a teething toddler. Or something you, if you were me, would bake on one of your wistful days when you could have used a hug from your grandmother.

Mandelbrot - chilled overnight

Mandelbrot - after first bake

Mandelbrot - sliced after first bake

Mandelbrot - ready for second bake

Mandelbrot - cooling


In process

Martha’s Mandelbrot


1 cup whole almonds
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Toast the almonds in your oven or in a dry skillet.* (If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry; it’s not hard. Read how to do it here.)
  2. When the almonds are cool, grind them in a food processor to the texture you like. I like small crumbs, not powdered but not big chunks. I like to see flecks of nut in the mandelbrot.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ground almonds.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla.
  5. Combine the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix gently until all of the flour is absorbed. This should form a pretty stiff dough. You need it to be stiff so that you can form logs with it. If it’s too wet, add more flour. If it’s so dry that it won’t hold together, add a bit of water.
  6. Divide the dough into three equal portions.
  7. Form each portion into a log about 6 inches long and and about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter (you don’t have to be a stickler here; use whatever length and diameter sounds good to you!).
  8. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and put on a cookie sheet or sheet pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight.
  9. 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  10. Unwrap the logs, place them on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet (spaced at least 3 inches apart), and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the pan from the oven and slice the loaves while they are still warm. Slice to whatever thickness you like. I sliced mine about 1/2 inch thick.
  12. Return the slices to the cookie sheet, either on their sides or edges, for a final bake. The mandelbrot won’t rise during this second bake, so you can kind of crowd them together on the sheet, as long as they aren’t touching.
  13. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until they’ve turned the shade of light golden brown you like.
  14. Remove from the sheet and let cool on a cooling rack.

The mandelbrot will easily stay fresh in a cookie tin for a week. They also freeze beautifully.

* Martha’s recipe makes no mention of toasting the almonds; this is how old recipes change as they travel time, I suppose.

January hymn


Against all odds, after nearly half a century, I’ve come around to understanding January.

I know, some of you are thinking it took me long enough.

Now that the deepest and darkest of the winter has passed (though the coldest certainly hasn’t), and the observances, rituals and remembrances that must be paid have been paid, my pockets are empty and the land everywhere is draped in white, a table set in quiet anticipation of a celebration to come.

I don’t yet have a mind of winter, but I’ve stopped railing against it (at least this week) and am seeing it for what it is: a pause, an inhale, a still point.

I’m sure I’ve come to this place before, and will again, but today it seems fresh to me, this peace with January. This appreciation of the way the snow sparkles when sunlight strikes the crystals. This feeling that I’m allowed to waste a day reading or thinking or putting words into lines and no one but the animals will expect me to be responsible. This knowledge that the green ground is quietly waiting beneath the snow and ice, that spring is there, truly a coil, that will burst up given half a chance. If only I can be patient.

When my sister and I were little, we played endlessly with a set of wooden blocks, a handful of matchbox cars, and a collection of cheap plastic animals. One of our favorite, recurring games was to build a village for the animals from the blocks. Small houses, neat yards. Horses, cows, sheep, tigers, kittens, an alligator, Indian and African elephants. They all lived in this village. The town plan changed every time we built, but there was always one constant: a “church” with a steeple and an archway for a door. After we’d spent the afternoon building and arranging it all, we’d put the animals in their proper homes, put a lit flashlight in the church and turn off the overhead lights.

There it was. The town sleeping in the glow of the church. All that afternoon of building came to this: nightfall, quiet, and a soft glow.

March through December is raucous. Things are busy sprouting, then growing, then dying, then being cleared away. Plans are made and enacted. And then comes the night and the cold and everything is quiet and suffused by the glow we can’t even see, until January brings it back to us, minute by minute.

Today we have snow and ice, frost and fog. The people who plow our driveway have been by with the sander so we can escape the house if we want, but today (and today only) I have no want. I have everything I need. Everything I (or Dorothy Gale) ever desired is right here now.

Blueberry branches


Edge of the first field

Heading home




In flight

Who we met at the cat show


Last weekend we went up to Burlington to visit the annual cat show they put on there, something we’ve been meaning to do for years for H’s sake. It’s silly how long it can take us to get around to something we all agree we want to do. Imagine how long it takes us to do the things we must (but don’t want) to do.

The cat show took place in a large meeting room in a hotel. There were rows of benches (tables) with various sizes of cat carriers and cages. On one end of the room were the “rings,” which were u-shaped areas bordered by cages with a judge’s table in front.

Cat owners ferried their charges from the bench cages to the ring cages as their numbers were called for each judging class. Then judges took each cat in turn out of its cage, put it on the table, handled it, watched it move, put it back in its cage, and wrote the cat’s score in a notebook. After the judge had handled each cat in the class, ribbons were bestowed and owners returned their cats to the benches.

So, no agility stunts or running the cats around the rings with leashes like at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, but if you got a seat up front you could get a good look at some beautiful cats, and you could wander the benches and talk to the owners, who were all exceedingly enthusiastic about their breeds of choice.

Some highlights of our day:

Seeing with our own eyes that our Abyssinian is not the only one who likes to act up.


Getting a chance to see just how large and gorgeous Norwegian Forest Cats are.

Norwegian Forest Cat

Norwegian Forest Cat

Seeing cats of all spots, stripes, colors, fur lengths, and body shapes.







And meeting Zelda, a beautiful young cousin of our very own Singapura, Oyster.


All you gotta do to join…

I’ve heard from many of you dear people since I first posted about the Reading Challenge–and it looks like we have an Organization* (if not a Movement).

We’re so excited you’re joining us!

Here’s a brief recap of the plan:

  • We’ll pick a new book category on the 9th of each month (for example, January 9).
  • You read any book you want, as long as it falls somehow into the category. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, an essay, children’s literature, something a friend wrote, whatever you fancy.
  • On the 9th of the next month (for example, February 9), I’ll post here to tell you what M and H and I read. In that same post, we’ll announce the next month’s category. Feel free to comment on that post to tell us what you read. You can include a link to your own blog post, just give us a title, write a review, link to a photo of the cover, or do nothing at all. It’s all up to you!

To help us keep track of our progress, I’ll update the checklist every month. Green indicates the currently selected category. You can find the checklist anytime you want by clicking the “Reading Challenge” link in the menu bar above.

See you on February 9!


*Surely you know “Alice’s Restaurant.”

What are you doing for the next few years?


We’re reading.

Well, yeah, we’re always reading, but H told me about this 2015 Reading Challenge and it looked like fun, except I didn’t really want the pressure of reading an assigned book a week (even a self-assigned one) since I already have a big pile of books I want to read. The last thing I want to do is add more pressure to my life, or anyone else’s.

So, instead, we’re going to take it nice and slow, and read one book a month. By my reckoning, we’ll be finishing this challenge in 2019. H will be in college.


Maybe I shouldn’t have done the math.

Anyway. This particular challenge is by category, not specific title. For instance, it asks you to read a book a friend recommended, or a memoir, or a book based on a true story. This gives you a lot of leeway in choosing a book — you can read anything that strikes your fancy as long as it fits somehow into the category.

(Notice how I slipped the word “you” into that last sentence?)

Want to join us?

Here’s how it’s going to work:

We’ll pick a new category on the 9th of every month. Why? Because. That’s why. (Also, I didn’t get my act together until today, so today’s as good a day to start as any.)

For the first month, I’ll choose the category (the challenge is a checklist, not a numbered list, so we’re going to attack in the order that pleases us). Then we all select a book that fits in that category and read it.

At the next 9th, I’ll post our selections here, our thoughts on what we read (if we have any), and the category for the next month (M will choose the category for the second month, H for the third, then back to me for the fourth, and so on).

If you’re joining us, you can use the category we choose, or choose your own. You can go faster or slower than we do. You can comment here to tell us what you’re reading or what you thought of your book, or you can just be a lurker.

It’s a no pressure book club.

But I’d really love it if you’d join us. How much fun would it be to talk about books together?

C’mon. Pleeeeze?

Okay, even if you don’t want to, WE are going to, and you can read about it here.

The first category is………

A book set in a different country

Now, let’s get reading!

This day in history

January sunrise

Alfonso IV became King of Portugal (1325)

Someone fell on the ice

Someone learned to say “apple”

Jamestown, Virginia was destroyed by fire (1608)

Someone made soup

Someone forgot her keys

Galileo Galilei first observed four of Jupiter’s moons (1610)

Someone nursed a cold

Someone went bowling

The first transatlantic telephone service (New York to London) was established (1927)

Someone fell in love

Someone wrote a letter

The Polaris nuclear-armed missile was test launched (1960)

Someone drew a gun

Someone pulled a sliver out of her thumb

The St Lawrence Lime Tree was broken in two by high winds (2005)

Someone heard the phone ring

Someone said goodbye

Without saying goodbye

Time passes. Listen.

Bees' first winter

Pedants will tell me that it’s not officially winter yet, but let’s not quibble. Zero degrees F on the thermometer this morning, snow and ice solidly gripping the ground, Elliot the blueberry bush up to his neck in snow, another nor’easter roaring up the coast tomorrow.

Let’s call a winter a winter.

Today I watched the shivery sun sprint for the western horizon as if, like me, he just couldn’t wait to be in bed, under the covers, with a pile of books laid by. I swear he was behind the hill by 3 pm. And I know tomorrow I’ll see even less of him, minute by minute.

Watching the light rise and fall this time of year, a person can’t help but be obsessed a bit by the ticking by of seconds, to become a hoarder of sunlit minutes, to think of time as something solid you can put in your pocket and rub your thumb over during the day, wearing it down grain by grain.

This time of year, the night is an ocean. You can’t see the other side. But you can sail its surface. A story is like a puff of wind in your sail. This weekend, we went to our local theater to hear a story: Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood.”

I can try to describe to you how the play mesmerized me, how the chewy-lyrical language lulled the audience, then made us laugh, then cracked our hearts. I could tell you how we watched the minutes of a day in the village of “Llareggub” slide by, night to dawn to noon to dusk to night. I could tell you how we lived a day through the night, then, outside, how the moon was hidden but the poem was a light reflected in the snow.

But I can’t tell it anywhere as well Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton can tell it. So why even try?


FIRST VOICE (_Very softly_)

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night
in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat
there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock,
the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are
sleeping now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers,
the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher,
postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman,
drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot
cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft
or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux,
bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the
organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the
bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And
the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields,
and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed
yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly,
streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.
Only _your_ eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded
town fast, and slow, asleep. And you alone can hear the
invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed
stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the _Arethusa_, the
_Curlew_ and the _Skylark_, _Zanzibar_, _Rhiannon_, the _Rover_,
the _Cormorant_, and the _Star of Wales_ tilt and ride.

Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional
salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row,
it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall,
the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in
bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and
bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes,
fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a
domino; in Ocky Milkman’s lofts like a mouse with gloves;
in Dai Bread’s bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night
in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its
hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot,
text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours
done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night
neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the
Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of
Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed;
tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Come closer now.

Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the
slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you
can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats
over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth,
Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the
eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes
and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes
and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.

From where you are, you can hear their dreams.

Till it shines

General fog

On a wire

A prettiness

We got the call at 5.30 this morning: Wintry mix. Dangerous roads. Two-hour school delay. Oh heaven, back to bed.

Ever since, though, I’ve been out of sync with the day. The sun rose, but you’d never know it for the fog. I ate my breakfast at 10 and still haven’t had my lunch at 4. I keep waiting for the day to start and here it is, dusk, and there’s dinner to be figured out.

Work was frustrating in an insignificant way. The fires never felt warm enough. My progress on my holiday to-do lists is abysmal. (You weren’t expecting cards from me, were you?)

When I went out to see the goats they seem untroubled, cozy in their run-in. It smelled good-and-goaty in a good way. I hugged Willow and she closed her eyes and if you could hear a goat hum with happiness, that’s the sound I felt. Bright goat eyes all around when I fed them cookies.

Everything outside was grey, yet somehow sparkling. Drips of ice had melted to water and were clinging to branches, the snow’s pebbled surface, the electric wire on the goat fence, the rose hips. A million reflections of a reluctant sun gathered up into a shimmer.

I walked back to the house to bring in another load of firewood, singing under my breath, Take the chip off of my shoulder, smooth out all the lines. Take me out among the rustling pines, till it shines.

Everything shines