low light

Let’s call this a companion piece to ‘dark & light,’ which I published a couple of weeks ago. The sunlight is fading, but instead of feeling loss, I can’t help but notice what a lovely richness it adds to almost everything.

The natural stuff is what I like to shoot best. It’s kind of like the fruit and flowers understand that light comes and goes, but that it’s okay, it’s good, it’s not worrisome. It’s as it should be. Were it otherwise, they would not gain such an extraordinary beauty in low light. They accept it and shine.

Sometimes I dial back the exposure in my shots in post-production; I like to drink in the beauty left over when there’s little light. Take some sips along with me.


Golden raspberries. I shot this on an overcast day at my favorite organic farm, with grey clouds low and thick. There was no one around, and it was perfectly peaceful.


Cherry turnovers. Shot in bright late afternoon light. I like how the sugar crystals glitter like snow crust.


The cherries before they were tucked into the turnovers. Luscious and organic, and I eat them by the pound in late June.

Meyers 2

Meyer lemons. They really are that orange, and the low light toys with us: inside, they’re bright and sweet. My favorite kind of lemon.


And a late-season hydrangea, just for fun. These grow in dense, shaggy hedges along the edge of my town’s borough hall, which is housed in a beautiful old English Tudor. The light may be low, but they’re lush and lovely nonetheless.

easy as


There comes a time in every woman’s life when she feels utterly compelled to make a pie. Okay, sweeping generalization, but it is the case for me.

Whenever life gets overwhelming—as it recently has been for me—I don’t say things to myself like, ‘I need a drink’ or ‘I need an escape to the Maldives.’* No, in the midst of the whirling chaos on the outside and on the inside, I say to myself, ‘I really need to make a pie.’ Sometimes I say it to myself a few times. Who can explain these things? Hopefully me.

This past week, I winged an apple custard pie.


Making a pie is soothing. Presetting all of the components, chopping the apples, stirring the custard—it’s a personal choreography that I can fall into without a thought. I can let the pattern and rhythm carry me for a while. I could do it in my sleep…and when I can’t sleep, it’s the next best thing.

Making a pie is a concrete accomplishment. How many times in our lives do we feel as though we’re just pushing paper, spending the day (or weeks, or months, or, God help us, years) feeling like a hamster on a wheel? If you sat down and really assessed what you did today, from soup to nuts, would it be a head scratcher?

Pie-making has a clear beginning, middle, and end. And when you get to the end, and take it out of the oven smelling like all of the layers of heaven plus whatever corner of Eden stayed intact after the Fall, you can say to yourself (probably quite as God is reputed to have said), ‘This is done. This is good. I can be proud of this.’

Eating a pie you made….well, this goes without saying.


Vanilla custard topped with local, organic apples, sauteed in cardamom and Saigon cinnamon. Breakfast, lunch, whenever.

*Not that a Baileys on the rocks doesn’t go down mighty smooth. And if someone offered me plane tickets to those islands, I wouldn’t fight him off with a big stick.

dark & light


Votive during Hurricane Sandy, on the first night with no power.

Contrasts that work together seamlessly—this is one of the love affairs I have with the world.

The darkness makes the light beautiful.


Incandescent bulbs glow at Days in Ocean Grove, NJ. They have been serving ice cream in a dreamy and romantic setting since 1876.


Tide pool reflecting sunset, Loch Arbour, NJ.


Eggs in light and shadow.


Clipped maple branches in a winter shaft of light. Emily Dickinson would approve.


Maple leaf and grass, just after sunrise.


Sourdough toast and melting butter, late afternoon.

It’s when the sun heads to the other side of the globe and darkness takes the wheel—that’s when the light really pops. We don’t get to see this when the summer sun floods our vision. Compare summer’s ubiquitous light to the drama of a late-fall afternoon—thick, gunpowder-grey clouds balancing on the tops of the trees, when POW a slant of sunlight gleams through…I kind of live for that beauty.


When I was a kid in art class, I loved when the teacher had us draw a picture in crayon, using only the brightest colors, and then paint right on top of it in solid black tempera paint, all the way to the edges of the paper. Once the paint was dry, we were given toothpicks to use to scratch away the paint in any design we liked. And we watched the colors beneath our swirls and scribbles emerge, psychedelic. (It was the ’70s; we had a standard to uphold.)


Being backstage during a performance means being in very little light. There’s some ambient light from the stage, but the only steady light is the blue glow from one or two clip lights and from the monitor with a live feed of the conductor (for the actors to watch for tempo). I cast the light from my Mag down at an actor’s shoe as he’s trying to tie it and dash on within two measures, and cast it up again to affix mic tape to the side of another actor’s face, and see the relief on her face when we attach it in time. Backstage is dangerous with moving people and parts, we techs navigating 300-lb. units through narrow spaces and with split-second accuracy, but that little bit of light against all of that darkness and danger is especially beautiful. Strange, right? Or maybe I just love the work.


In the house where I grew up there were windows on either side of the balcony. I never paid attention to them until Christmastime. We had small floodlights positioned on the side lawn, focused on the Christmas tree, and some of that chilly yellow-white light was cast sideways through the windows. I remember how otherworldly it looked in the black night, in a snowfall.


How many new stories are, and were, told now? How many ideas are brewed, theories proven, recipes tested and tasted, moments of enlightenment reached, during the dark months? Up against firelight, stove light, lamplight, candlelight? I’m thinking quite a few, and I’m thinking it’s because now we have the right stark physical backdrop to throw the ideas up against, and to test their merit. Bright light diffuses the edges of things.┬áIt’s against darkness that we can see dimension and shape.


There might be a point to the turn of the year beyond the science of the seasons; it might be the universe giving us the opportunity to see things with a new perspective, and gain a new understanding of them. Maybe this time is not about darkness and cold and loss. Maybe it’s a shot at a different brand of wisdom.

the fall kitchen

I’m one of those irritating tree-huggers who loves every season (at least at the beginning), but Fall and I go way back. Birthday and all. Piles of apples and squash at the farm. There will be cooking, my friends. Lots of it. This is how I get ready.


On the wall rack:

Saigon cinnamon (there is no other), allspice, nutmeg (the whole little guys), cloves, ground ginger, hot red pepper flakes, cardamom, almond extract.


I posted this last year on Facebook with a caption: ‘My pumpkin is going under the knife today. Please keep it in your prayers at this difficult time.’ For all of you who did, thank you. It was delicious.

In the fridge:

Local apples, grains, all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flours, Grade B pure maple syrup, almonds, walnuts, crab apple schnapps, bottle of vodka containing vanilla beans at mid-steep (in a couple of months it will be a killer, and far less expensive, extract than the teeny Foodtown bottles).


Long-cooking tomato sauce from local, organic plum tomatoes. You can see it has cooked down by an inch—getting richer than Scrooge McDuck.

In the freezer:

Bread, whatever I baked for breakfast this week, preserves (right now mulberry, on the horizon crab apple), chicken stock, butter, tomato sauce, quince syrup, yeast, bread crumb bag (all of the crusts I don’t eat, blitzed for toppings), Parmigiano-Reggiano.


Red quinoa, drying at the farm.

On top of the fridge:

Sugars (granulated, confectioner’s, dark brown).


Quinces from a super-secret tree I found last year.

In the bottom of the armoire that I keep in my kitchen because doesn’t everyone:

Onions, garlic, potatoes. I keep them in a three-divided wooden unit that I found at the antiques shop downtown.



In the closet I call ‘the garage’:

This is the coolest spot in my place. It houses winter squash. All kinds. Cheese, Luna, butternut, Cinderella. I line them up on the floor.


Cinderella and cheese pumpkins, fantastic for pie.

Equinox, I’m ready.


Hi everybody,

I was drafting this weekend’s new post when I accidentally hit ‘publish’ instead of ‘save draft,’ which is something you can do when writing out of sync (on a weekday, in street clothes, versus late on a weekend in jammies). I deleted it, but if it didn’t take on your end, feel free to go ahead and do the same. It’ll be more of a post next time you see it.

In cheerful Thursday cluelessness,




High-tide line, Atlantic Ocean.

red light green light

the feeling of almost,/the door between worlds ajar, now,/as two lights dim and fade to black/shape shifting within square one/scary, illuminating, boundless/the taste of chocolate/warm possibilities/second, and third, and more, chances,/as many as I want/swirling in circles like the leaves/this night between two days/slowly slowly letting its cloak fall


I wrote the above almost five years ago, just before I was about to move out on my own for the second time in my life. It’s striking how often life requires this of us, whether it’s literally moving (across town, across the country, or across oceans) or figuratively moving (away from old thinking into new). The only thing we can safely predict while we’re on this big blue ball is that nothing stays the same.


A box turtle, weighing his options on my street in 2010.

When I was moving out in 2010, I held in my mind a statement I’d seen recently (funny how you see and hear what you need when you need it, right?) that said the human default reaction to change tends to be fear, but why can’t it be excitement? Why can’t we choose to see change as an adventure? This perspective helped me a lot during that Matterhorn of a year. I kept reminding myself that being in square one meant being in the unique position of being a shape-shifter. We can do, go, be, feel anything in square one.


Women chilling at the beach at sunset.

Here’s another one: I was crap at bio, but I remember this tidbit from one of my classes: it’s at the edges—where the water meets the sand, where the grass meets the wood, where one ecosystem abuts another—that the greatest diversity and activity are present.

Think of harbor cities, and how they tend to be filled with people, languages, and foods from everywhere. Think of the wet sand just at the high-tide line, where mussels, clams, and other bivalves lie atop the sand, with sand crabs and more below. Everything on the dry end is bumping up against everything that just came in. Think of inland, where backyards and mini-malls bump up against property lines, where the tidied and civilized meets the wild and unspoiled—those are the places you’ll find an abundance of wildlife.


Beach plums, which the deer like as much as I do.

It’s at the edges, of sand and land, where children love to play and dream most. As soon as they’re old enough, beach kids are at the high tide line, running, digging, splashing. I saw some tween girls at the beach one evening not long ago, creeping around the jetty rocks which hold back the ocean. I asked what they were doing and they said, ‘Just looking around.’ ‘For a class or just for fun?’ ‘Just for fun.’* Grownups are at the water’s edge, too—fishing, harvesting mussels, walking, thinking. Much activity.

Go to a barbecue at a house that edges a little bit of tangled brush, and that’s where the kids are tramping around, their parents squalling across the yard to be careful of poison ivy. There are acres and acres of beautiful grass in my hometown’s ball field…and we kids ambled right across it to poke around in the narrow strip of wood at its edge. That was where the late-spring honeysuckle grew, perfect for a sweet hit on our tongues, and where we learned orange flowers taste sweeter than white. It’s where the fern-like plant, the one that closed up when you touched it, lived.** There was not a whole lot to discover in the flat, level grass.

It’s at the water’s edge and at the grass’s edge where I’m happiest, for the same reason the kids are. I never outgrew that. And bonus: it’s inevitably where the foraging is best. At the edges of sidewalks I find purslane. At the edges of my town I find wild crab apples, hibiscus, and mint. At the edges of park lands and fancy shopping plazas I find elderflowers. At the edges of the lake I find mulberry trees. At the Sandy Hook peninsula, jutting out into the Atlantic, I find prickly pear and beach plums. And every year, along the edge of some beach or some property line, I discover something new.


The end of my road, overlooking the lagoon.

I live at the beach, at the very edge of a continent. With the exception of six years away at school—boarding and then college—I have never lived anywhere else, and I’d really rather not. College especially was an uncomfortable shock: I learned what ‘land-locked’ meant. Who would think a person could feel claustrophobic with miles and miles of open space around her? Who would imagine the sense of relaxation and reassurance that could come from being at a definite boundary? Last winter I spent many an evening on the jetty of my beach, wanting to stand as closely as I safely could to the ocean, just to feel that reassurance. It’s like the maps they have at the mall, the ones that show an X, a you-are-here, don’t-worry-you’re-good identifier. There is peace in that X.

We are all at the edge of a equinoctial change now, too. Here in the northern hemisphere, Fall is imminent. Halloween is derived from the Wiccan feast of Samhain, which marks the beginning of winter. It’s believed this time is a liminal one, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinner and can be traversed by spirits. Some cultures leave food, light candles, and more to appease the spirits and keep them from haunting homes.

Very similar are threshold myths: In ancient times it was believed doorways were another kind of edge, another liminal place. Like the two ecosystems butting up against each other, there is potential for significant, and in this case possibly dangerous, activity; anything can happen in this divider between worlds. Spirits, some potentially harmful, were believed to loiter in doorways. This is why grooms carry brides over thresholds—to prevent them from being snatched away.

Edges are powerful places.

This Fall (and whenever we’re up against an edge), I hope we own the chance to be shape-shifters, and are able to chase away fear and own that power.


*So much for attesting that kids can’t look up from their phones, huh? :)

**We never learned its name, but thinking back, it must have been carnivorous. How cool is that?

open fire


Like an army, if the army was attacking with cuddles and butterfly kisses.

I know a guy who is not a sweet eater, yet recently rhapsodized about these as he chatted with friends and relatives all night at a party. It was pretty entertaining watching him nurse one as if it was 100-year-old brandy instead of a s’more.

This recipe has been in my repertoire since 1998, which I can tell you for sure because I still have the Martha Stewart Living Magazine from whence it came.

I do not make it because it is easy (it is in fact a bear to make. A bear, a leopard, and a three-toed sloth on an off day, to be precise). I don’t make it because it’s quick (nope again; it takes several hours). I make it because even people who aren’t sweet eaters dig it, even people who swear by Walgreen’s marshmallows stacked on Hershey’s chocolate dig it, and everyone else as well. S’mores, like foot rubs and Maltese puppies in teacups, are one of the human race’s common denominators of happiness.

And these are especially special because the ingredients are a few boosts up from the campfire classics. Broken down:

The marshmallows: Homemade. They take a long time to cool and set, but making them isn’t hard. And the result is not even in the same hemisphere as the Walgreen’s variety—pillowy, squooshy, pully, and far lighter than store-bought.

The chocolate: It’s mixed with butter and melted, making an already rich thing richer. Go high-quality. Ghirardelli is a good jumping-off point. Gritty, off-tasting basic supermarket brands are not going to cut it.

The graham-cracker base: That’s Honey Maids (or whatever you like best), ground and mixed with butter and sugar.

A big also: Once assembled, Martha suggests putting the lot under the broiler to caramelize the marshmallow tops. But really, this recipe is a good excuse to treat yourself to a small but powerful butane torch.


Me with my weapon of destruction.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way, lifted from my pencil scribbles in the margins:

-Spread out the process over a couple of days, or give yourself the day with an early start (and if you can snag a little nap before the event, take it).

-Grind up the graham cracker mixture in a food processor.

-Brush the marshmallow pan very well with vegetable oil, add parchment, and brush that well with oil, too. Marshmallow is like a two-year-old: sweet, soft, sticky, and stubborn. It is wonderful, but it will fight you. Placate the beast ahead of time and things will go far more smoothly. Oil everything very well.

-I really like to taste the vanilla, so I use quite a bit more extract than the recipe calls for—up to twice as much. If you’re the same, I encourage you to do the same.

-Spread the powdered sugar into a rimmed cookie sheet, and use plenty of it. Then put the whole marshmallow on top. Decide whether you want large or small s’mores (I’ve done both) and cut accordingly. When you cut them, turn them on all sides into the sugar to coat and de-stickify.

-You may have marshmallows left over. This will not be a problem for any children in your household, nor for most adults. They’re delicious plain, on a sandwich with really good-quality peanut butter (yes, it certainly exists), dipped in chocolate, or—this is the best—floating on top of your hot chocolate.


My cooking class (one of many), circa 2003, hopped up on sugar. I made classic s’mores with them under a strict agreement that when I turned on the torch, they had to sit on their hands (little kids will reach for anything). They did it.

Despite the extensive list above, do make these. Then eat them slowly. They are not to be rushed.

And do spring for a butane torch. Tell the kids to sit on their hands and have at it. You will be the rave of the schoolyard (not a bad position to be in).


It’s blurry, but still conveys all the love, wonder, and tragic beauty of a dish that’s about to be devoured. This was our inaugural s’more effort, made for Thanksgiving dessert.


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