Monthly Archives: May 2010

It’s Time for a Little Hanky-Panky

The cats showing up for dinner at five on the dot. My rage at the fools who’ve highjacked the term for a convivial late afternoon party, and made it a symbol for boorish ignorance. The sun rising in the east — you get the idea. Things I can count on.

Here’s a fourth: Ian Moss McArthur, whether he’s wearing his gardening jeans or his tux, has a folded handkerchief in his pocket. In fact, he keeps one in his pajama pants. I know this because he’s my father, and I’ve been around for a big chunk of his eighty-three years. They’re good quality, surprisingly pricey, and he irons them every time he pulls a load of whites from the dryer.(He’s a master with an iron — I can press a mean dress shirt, but his virtuosity with the Sunbeam makes me look like a lousy laundress. The engineer thing, I guess.)

Somehow, that classic item in the top drawer of every lady and gentlemen’s chest of drawers has disappeared, I suspect from the yuck factor. My brother, Ian Leyland McArthur, dubbed them “Dad’s snot rags” when he was a waggish six year old. Sure, Daddy would sneeze into it, blow his nose occasionally, but we always had boxes of tissues around for hard-core colds and grippe. Somehow, handkerchiefs have gone the way of cloth diapers; a tiny niche market.

I own hankies, pretty ones, but mostly they get tucked into an evening minaudiere once a year for a wedding or restaurant outing that demands that attention must be paid, wardrobe-wise.

My Mother, being  my mother, not only owned hankies, but owned a specialized, adorable fabric accordion file hanky-holder.  It’s mine now.

When I pull out one of her handkerchiefs, I’m overcome with Joy. Mummy didn’t mess around with lavender water.

I think it’s time to bring back the handkerchief, not just the delicate embroidered hankies, but the full-sized men’s version. Here are a random three from my top drawer: two little lovelies fit to drop at the feet of a likely young player, and a big beauty that my daughter bought at Moji when she was at the US Open last August. It’s smaller than a tea towel, but bigger than a handkerchief.

It features a map of Manhattan. A detailed map.

Here are my Top Ten reasons for buying a three-pack or two of men’s handkerchiefs and having one always-handy in your pocket or purse.

  1. Well, let’s get the dull environmental thing out of the way. You get it.
  2. This is the easiest laundry you’ve ever done. Throw them in with your whites and your washer won’t even know they’re there.
  3. You don’t have to put them in the dryer. Take them out damp, and iron them. It’s easy and fun.
  4. If you are, like me, a lady, who, um, glows,in hot weather, dabbing at your face with a handkerchief is a more dignified solution than my habitual move — pulling up my shirt to mop my face.
  5. I’m told Japanese women use them in Ladies’s Room situations — do you really want to waste your time with that damned hand blower when there’s no paper towel on offer?
  6. If a skunk has sprayed your sunflowers, or you’re dealing with smog in Saigon, it’s a handy mask.
  7. If you’re sobbing in a cab when you’ve realized your lover is a louse, one hanky takes care of a whole little package of purse-sized Kleenex.
  8. If you’re picking up seashells or pebbles, you can knot the ends to make a tidy package.
  9. If you’re transporting a croissant back from the bistro fabric works better than a paper napkin.
  10. OK, you’ve seen him across that crowded room. Drop it. He’ll pick it up, and he’ll see that you’re the realization of a dream.
  11. This just in: my husband is anti-hanky, but he did bring up one excellent use: cleaning your glasses.


Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Needlework

Dover Books

I can’t remember when I first discovered Dover Books, but it was way back when they published mainly facsimile editions of  books whose copyright had lapsed. That’s still true, but it’s just one part of the dazzling Dover catalogue. I’m writing this from my living room — one of five rooms with bookshelves — and lessee… This is what I gathered:

  1. 79 Decorative Alphabets for Designers and Craftspeople
  2. Italian Drawings from the 15th to the 19th Century
  3. Filet Crochet
  4. Drawings of Mucha
  5. Fun Faces — 15 Punch Out Masks
  6. 24 Outline Display Fonts  CD ROM and Book
  7. Alexander Scriabin:The Complete Preludes and Etudes for Pianoforte Solo
  8. Franz Liszt: Complete Hungarian Rhapsodies for Solo Piano.( Yes, we have a piano.)
  9. Full-Color Celtic Decorative Letters CD-ROM and book.
  10. Favorite Songs of the Nineties (The “After the Ball” “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” 90s)
  11. My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music — William Byrd
  12. Domenico Scarlatti:  Great Keyboard Sonatas Series II
  13. Antique French Jumping Jacks: 11 Easy to Assemble Toys That Move

My sister Julia and my daughter Honor in 1990, wearing those cool cardboard punch-out Victorian masks, from a book I can’t find any more.

Here’s the wiki on Dover:

Jeez, where to start? Well, maybe with the catalog: What a wonderworld! I had no idea of the scope of the science writing. I can get a copy of “The Principle of Relativity” for 6.97? Linus Pauling’s “General Chemistry” for 9.98? “Catastrophe Theory for Scientists and Engineers” — 26.95 . If I were castaway on a desert island with only this book to read, I guess I’d give it a stab — may the sailing gods help me: “The Finite Element Method:Linear Static and Dynamic Finite Element Analysis.”

I’ll leave those and the hundreds of other science titles to those who love or need them. You know my frippery ways: check out the paper dolls!

  1. Chanel
  2. Classic TV Moms: Peg Bundy, Laura Petrie ,Claire Huxtable,, June Cleaver,Carol Brady.
  3. The Obama Family (and every other First Family
  4. The Dalai  Lama and Family (!)
  5. Marie Antoinette
  6. — and all the rest, from Country Stars through Gothic costume

Harry Houdini will teach me magic. Boris Spassky will teach me chess. I don’t own a copy of “Leaves of Grass,” but for three bucks I can –a facsimile of the 1855 edition, — through the Thrift Line. Here’s my wish list after fifteen minutes of browsing: “Rufus Estes’ “Good Eats”The First African-American Cookbook,” “The Art of Perfume CD-ROM and Book,” “The First Jewish-American Cookbook,” “Write it Right:a Little Blacklist of Literary Faults,” by Ambrose Bierce.

Dear old Dover!


Filed under Art, How Cool is That?, Library Card, Music, Ten bucks or fewer, Yarn

Fake Food II: Bacon and Eggs

I love real food so much that I love fake food too. I described this phenomenon back here: My origami fetish is well-documented. Five years ago I wrote about the bliss of Sunday bacon and eggs for The Daily Gullet:

How’s this for paper and egg Kismet?

This is a model from Peter Engel’s 10-Fold Origami — he occasionally cheats a bit on the fold count by inserting steps A and B. This was fun folding, involving some judgement from the reader. Next time I’ll fiddle about to make the yolk bigger.

This plate was my surrogate Sunday breakfast today. I mean, when you have a bowl of risen brioche dough in the refrigerator and clean oil in the fryer, why not fry up tiny brioche fritters? Right? Drowned in powdered sugar and served with  raspberry jam they were one cheerful, light, cholesterol and sugar bomb.



Filed under Food, Incredible Edible Egg, Less than 50 cents, Origami, Paper

Machines that Changed my Life Part I: The Printer

I can’t remember what I paid for my Lexmark  X3350 printer five years ago, but I think that even back then it was less than a hundred bucks. The sheet feeder is starting to fail so I know that pretty soon I’m going to replace it with something even cheaper with more features.

But I’m still amazed at how many tasks this cheapo inkjet can perform right there on my windowsill– tasks that even twenty years ago would been have  unimaginable.

The odd thing is that I rarely use it to print anything from the internet: I think we’ve all become more sophisticated about bookmarking and opening tabs and using search engines. I remember that when my Mother got her first PC she printed out every email I sent her, pulled out her three hole punch and filed them in a binder. If she were alive today I’m sure she’d move them to an email file called Family, as I do.

But, the joy of not having to feed dimes into the machine at the library to make copies of our tax returns! The convenience of being able to scan Lou’s time sheet, save it, and email it to his boss! Most of the banners on this blog are pieces of (cheep and cheerful) origami paper I’ve scanned and downloaded. Just a few minutes ago I copied a ninth grade photo of “Little D’s’ ninth grade picture, stuck it to a card and stamped the background with little “d”s. (I’ve known Dale Simpson Jr. since he was four. He turns 32 tonight.)

It’s also a fax, but we don’t have the telecom hardware to set it up. Hmmm. Are there fax machines that can use a wireless connection?

But here’s the fun fabric/paper geek application that I doubt I invented which gave me a  mini-Martha eureka! moment. If you press a piece of your favourite fabric on the platen, pop down the lid, and press COLOR COPY you get: a piece of paper that looks like your fabric!

I love color, print and design, which is one reason I work  mostly with printed fabric. I mean, I like solid colors and all — I even wear them — but the pretty pictures grab me every time. Liberty prints, Toile de Jouy with all those shepherdesses and French towns, calicoes, Marimekko, Hello Kitty, ikat …

And now I can transfer them to an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of paper!

I can hear some of you whispering “Um. Why?”Well,  let me tell you it’s a cheap source of cool origami paper, especially if you use a smallish print:

And it could be gift wrap for a small knife for a macho cook friend:

If the fabric was kinda wrinkly when it was copied, it could still be the inside of an envelope. (Yes I’m the kind of freak who likes making envelopes.)

Or maybe I could  make the copy, find the three hole punch, and store it in a binder, as a sort of design library/inspiration book and a record of all those pretty prints long since cut, stitched,pressed,worn, tossed or given away.



Filed under A yard of fabric, Art, Free, Home, Machines, Origami, Paper, Scent

A Series of Series

My buddy Lloyd left me something besides Copper River smoked salmon, Seattle coffee and great memories – he left me three new friends: Mary Russell, Armand Gamache and  Guido Brunetti. They’re all brilliant, tough, kind and they’ve introduced me to their families and friends, their colleagues and their cafes and tea tables. Thank you, Lloyd.

They’re all in law enforcement. Mary Russell is a headstrong young Englishwoman who’s assistant to a certain violin-playing deerstalking wearing detective. Armand Gamache is head of Homicide for the Surete de Quebec, and Guido Brunetti’s beat is the canals and mists of Venice. Many of you are ahead of me here because you’ve already enjoyed your way through the crime series of Laurie R. King, Louise Penny and Donna Leon respectively. But all of you who love detective fiction know the seduction of reading the first book of a series of crime novels and realizing with gratitude that you’ve only just begun.

Of course I love a sharp plot, a clear narrative, and a tidy ending – the Agatha Christie rules. But even with an author whose plotting is better than her writing, it’s Hercule’s employing of the little grey cells and his sidekick Hastings, his idiosyncrasies that make the books memorable.

And so it is with the bachelor flat at 22B Baker Street or Nero Wolfe’s brownstone. I can forget a Rex Stout plot in a couple of years, but Theodore and Fritz and Inspector Cramer are life long friends. I’ve been in love with Archie Goodwin since I was fourteen, and I even remember the nightclub he’d take the lovely Lily to – the Flamingo. And yes, I remember that it takes an hour to make scrambled eggs up to Nero’s standards.

The best counterexamples are Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. The plotting ain’t bad, but Perry, Della, Hamilton and Paul are cardboard. Ditto Ellery Queen and The Saint. But Inspector Maigret? After all these years I can smell Madame Maigret’s pot-au-feu and remember that his assistant’s name was Lapointe.

Off the top my head: some of my other favorite series, and their protagonists:

Joan Hess’s two series: Arly Hanks as Chief of Police in Maggody, Arkansas — hilarious. I like her Claire Molloy  line – she’s a bookseller and amateur sleuth in Fayetteville.

Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series – also funny, and I’ve learned a lot about the antiques biz.

Tess Gerritsen’s freaky scary Maura Isles series.

My Chicago sistergirl V.I Warshawski.

Janet Evanovich’s numerical Stephanie Plum series.

I’m always longing to make new friends and “waste” whole days with a new series of thrillers. Suggestions?



Filed under Library Card

Cheap, Cheezy and Fried: A Supply of Suppli

A dish of leftover risotto and a chunk of mozzarella. A deep fat fryer with almost-new oil . A willingness to get hands sticky and put in the time for some labor intensive food prep, and what have you got? You’ve got Suppli al Telefono, in translation from the Italian, Telephone Wires. Crispy, gooey,fried and sporting perhaps the coolest name in recipedom — what’s not to love?

They’re Roman  snack food and kissing cugino to the iconic Sicilian treat, the arancini, “little oranges.” I like suppli better because they’re smaller, so the cheese to rice ratio is higher. I never ate them in Italy, but Lou did, and I’m eternally jealous. I took pictures of the process last night, which involved lots of hand-washing between shots.

Here’s a bowl of about two cups of leftover risotto con bisi, stirred into two whisked eggs.

Take a tablespoon of rice and insert a half inch cube of mozz.

Cover with another tablespoon of risotto and pack the ball as tight as you can.

Dredge the balls in fresh bread crumbs, arrange them on your vintage Arabia Kilta platter (yeah I’m so old that my honeymoon table service is now considered vintage) and let them chill and firm up in the fridge for half an hour.

Fry ’em up. I’m going to make a passionate product endorsement here for the Presto Kitchen Kettle.It boils water, braises, steams, deep fries and cost about twenty bucks. It goes into the dishwasher, it has safety features, and is portable. We once took it to Grand Rapids to make frites in a friend’s garage.

The money shot. See those telephone wires? I think we paid this dish the ultimate compliment — we ate them standing up in the kitchen.



Filed under About a buck, Food

Skinless, Boneless and Shameless

If there’s one entree to the world of foodiedom it’s scorn for the boneless skinless chicken breast, the cut Escoffier called Supreme de Vollaile. I know McDonalds and every fast food joint in the country has some crappy Chicken Caesar going on.I know this cut is lean and can be transformed into chicken shingles if it’s overcooked by a minute. I know it’s the protein of choice for Sex and the City wannabees, lazy home cooks and the fast food mafia.

But they’re still Supremes.

At my two blocks away independent grocer they’re on sale for 1.49 a pound. Tonight it’s just gonna be a drift through some flour, a quick sautee, a quick Marsala and mushroom sauce. Skinless boneless must be breaded or sauced. or pounded flat, stuffed and rolled. What they can’t be is scorned.

My fave part of a chicken is the drumstick. but a drumstick is a nibbling thing with bones and connective tissue. A skinless boneless is a purty piece of protien, amenable to so many sauces and treatments. It’s a tabula rasa, a blank canvas that can be , depending on the treatment, Malay, Chinese, French, Italian or Lebanese Yes, it pains me to read all that stuff about how chickens are being bred to have such big boobs that they topple over when they try to walk.

But I’m poor, and I can make a really civilized dinner for peanuts from those poor chickens. The best part of all is that the discarded drumsticks are really, really cheap.

Do you have something swell you do with the infra dig skinless boneless?



Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Food, Uncategorized