the outfit that wasn't meant to be

I wanted to look casual but coordinated, but not like I'd fallen into the hands of a stylist who'd untucked my shirt and done up my sleeves like the Flying Nun's coif. And of course I didn't want to look studied. I wanted to look as though I had many better things to do than fuss about getting dressed, and and I wanted to look as if my air of offhand sophistication was purely accidental.

First I ordered the sweaters - sizes appeared and disappeared from a few stores I ran past, and finally there was a 30% off promo on a day when I had returned so much other stuff - mainly chair cushions for the dining room in Flintstone Manor, where seat cushions tend to be short lived - anyway with all these returns credited back, I felt flush, and decided to take a flyer and order shell and cardigan. I thought the colors, mainly a brownish green or greenish brown, would work with some pants from last winter or the winter before. The name of the pants eludes me, but I'm pretty sure the name of their color included the word "elm."

I also thought perhaps a skirt, to be worn with those sweaters and navy tights? I had in mind a particular skirt, which had also been coming and going and disappearing from the merchant's website and then reappeared dramatically in a full run of sizes for one day. I bought it. Thenext day I had the price adjusted. The fabric looked to be a plaid with lines of black (navy?) and wine on a lighter shade of "breen." Packages arrived. Somehow the Merchant Prince had shipped two shells from two different stores and no cardigan. I ordered a cardigan again.

The skirt arrived the next day. For something that has been selling out like crazy, I gotta tell youse, this is some fugly skirt. If you ignore the fussy niceties of sizing, the skirt was nicely made, it was lined, it had an invisible zipper, it had a hem and a waistband. But the fabric. Heavy. Hairy. Shaggy. The itch factor came through the lining. Trying not to scratch the back of one's thighs isn't a good look for me. Fabric colors - total misrepresentation. The line of "blue" was in fact a funny light gray. I had hoped the presence of some light blue might encourage the skirt to coordinate with a "French Blue" cashmere tee from last spring, but no. That sweater had matched up with some full-legged linen pants and its work in my closet was done. The "breen" of the skirt clashed with the breen of the shell. The navy and wine-colored lines were almost indistinguishable from one another. Standing outside on the terrace (sun! For five whole minutes!) made the colors a little more distinguishable, but to no good end.

What could be the purpose of that fabric? It was suitable for wear with heavy corduroy trousers by a distinguished British public figure impersonating a colorblind poet-in-residence. It was miscast as a skirt. Time to waste a morning returning things.

Of course the next morning the cardigan arrived. In a flash of desperate hope, I held it up to navy wool pants. Beyond depressing. Lugubrious. And so I have re-named the color of the sweaters. They are and shall be henceforth -- Mournful Elm.

a most estimable potato gratin

I posted a picture of these babies on my IG, and got a few requests for the recipe. This is how to do it

First, as to gratin dishes. You don't want to make one large potato pie, you want a small-ish dish for each person. I started making these in small dishes when people complained that others were getting all the brown crusty edges and it was not fair. So when there was a sale at Crate &Barrel, I picked up one small ceramic baking dish per person and one for the house. The important thing is the dishes must be able to go in the oven, and they need to be about 1 inch to 1 1/16 inches deep. Mine are about 6 inches by 7 inches.

Next, as to potatoes. I've had the best luck with Idaho Russets, and I recommend them.
Lastly, the liquid. I use a mixture of 2 parts half&half to one part heavy cream, so I recommend this.

Turn the oven on to 400^. Put the empty gratin dishes onto a baking sheet, put a slice of butter in each dish, and put into the oven to let the butter melt.

Peel the potatoes, rinse and dry. For 4 gratin dishes, I used 2 medium-large Idahos.

Heat the cream and half&half in a heatproof pitcher or a little pot that pours easily. I used a cup of half&half and a generous half-cup of heavy cream. Heat it until it's very hot but not boiling.

Remove the baking sheet and dishes from the oven, and swish the melted butter around each baking dish and up the sides.

Now, one at a time, cut a potato in half the long way, and cut each half in half the short way. I slice mine in a Cuisinart food processor using the 2 mm blade. I've also used a sharp knife. Either way, you'll wind up with a few stacks of half-moon-shaped potato slices. Pick up a stack, put it into one of the baking dishes, straight cut side down.Give the stack a little push to spread it out around the edge of the dish, using additional stacks as needed to fill the dish. Fill each dish with potato slices, peeling and slicing more potatoes as necessary. You'll be working from the outside in, and if there's an empty space in the middle of a dish, fill it with small pieces of potato. This would be a good time to grate a little Parmesan or Swiss cheese over the potatoes, if you like. Not mandatory.

Now pour the cream mixture into the dishes, trying to keep things even, and using the baking sheet, put the whole assembly into the oven.

Baking time will vary because potatoes may have different moisture/starch content at depending on time of year, how they were stored, etc. Start checking after 30 minutes, mine usually take about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary, too.


staying in, drinking coffee and brooding

I usually don't converse with my coffee mug. Its job is to hold my coffee and not leak. My job is to make the coffee, pour it into the mug, and drink it without dribbling. Both jobs require full attention. I usually use a plain white "skinny" mug made by a company called RepeatRepeat. The diameter is smaller than that of most mugs, so less coffee is exposed to the air and the coffee stays hot longer.

But these made me smile.

I found these mugs at Nylon.

While they're the wrong size for me generally, this morning (post the first 2016 presidential election debate) it occurred to me that more than one of them expressed how I was feeling during/ immedicately / the morning after the debate. Woosh, did I need a giant cup of hi-test this morning!

Informal poll - none of that software that tallies things up and loses the winner's email address - this is not a contest.

But tell me - would any of these cups have been the one you grabbed this morning?

Of course you may have more than one-- no rationing. Yet.


Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; 
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; 
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

I will not live in fear.
I will greet hate with love.
I will find cheer in despondence.
I will find joy in the sunrise, peace and courage in my heart,
and I will seek always to cherish my country with honor.

welcome! hope you brought helmet or hard hat, pads, compass, gps app, tinder, magnifying glass....

At some point in 2011, the State of New York allowed people who were renewing their driver's licenses to do the renewal by mail or online, with no eye test. A driver's license is good for ten years, but the possibility that one's eyes might have changes within 10 years seems to have eluded those chosen to govern us. This is why we so often see cars starting to cross an intersection come to a squealing juddering stop - someone else was coming straight at them and clearly didn't see them.

Actually the last time I had an eye test at our Department of Motor Vehicles, the tester waved her arm at the wall behind her. "You see that chart? with all the letters?" I allowed as how I saw the chart. "OK," said the tester, and she initialed my form and sent me forth to wreak terror on innocent pedestrians and fellow drivers, although only on the days when I forget my glasses.

I find two more recent developments even scarier. The "local geography" section of the exam to get a taxi driver's license has been omitted. I believe this was done on the grounds that when a passenger who wants to get to, say, 86th Street and Madison Avenue notices that the cab is getting on line for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and is at a point where there's no turning back, the passenger's anger and dismay will communicate an error message to the driver. Live and learn.

I recently got in a cab to go to Kennedy Airport from Manhattan, and the driver asked me if that was the same as JFK Airport. Then he asked if I knew how to get there.

After a brief discussion of roadways he'd never heard of,  he told me I should turn on my phone, download Google Maps and have it play the directions to himHe said he had the app on his phone, but the words were too small.
the road to LaGuardia Airport
And the latest - English is no longer required. The  NewYork City taxi driver license test is to be given in your choice of 7 languages. Although since the test won't require you to know where places are, or what is uptown, does it matter what language you don't know things in?
In terms of communication with passengers, I think it's great to have multilingual drivers. People come here from all over the world. N bèlantre! But what about reading street signs? What about understanding the instructions from the passenger? What about asking for help when lost? What about reading Google Maps? In Paris, in Berlin, cab drivers tell me they're required to pass an English test.

Anyway I would suggest that if you're planning to visit NewYork, and I hope you will, you need to take some sensible precautions. The title of this post exaggerates a little. However, in addition to the usual don't accept drinks from strangers, don't shop at a "going out of business" store, keep your purse tightly closed, I suggest that if you're nervous about getting into a vehicle under the control of a possibly vision-impaired non-English-speaking driver who has no idea where to take you, you might get to know our bus system. It's easy. And the bus drivers know where they're going. (ok, don't take a bus to our airports, that way lies madness. Don't fly in or out of LaGuardia, and grit your teeth and take a cab or a car service to Kennedy).

By the way, the reason for the recent loosening of requirements was to make becoming a cab driver more competitive with becoming an Uber driver. They don't have any exam at all.

Ellie: lessons in gallantry

Eleanor O'Connell Decret

Many of you will have heard that Ellie has lost her last battle with ALS.

Ellie was tough, wily, manipulative, opinionated, difficult to please, enthusiastic, hopeful, capricious, fey, and utterly charming.

Ellie didn't flinch. Ellie held on.

While I was fussing about the placement of a shoulder seam, Ellie's feeding tube detached.

I was annoyed that "my" perfume was discontinued and then brought back "updated" with synthetics and smelling like drugstore hairspray. Ellie breathed through a respirator and prayed to get through every night without a power outage.

I was sad that my last pair of real Joan and David shoes were beyond repair. Ellie got around in a wheelchair or was carried.

I bitched about airport lines. Ellie dealt with slow-moving ambulances.

Ellie was born into a quirky and apparently at one time monied family in Texas, raised on the Southern California coast, was the mother of a beautiful daughter, prayed when frightened as we all do, argued with God as many of us do, moved to New York, moved to France, divorced a man who stopped loving her, married a man she never stopped loving, cherished (and fought with) her friends, loved (and fought with) her family,  and was at all times fierce and loyal and true.

you can learn more about Ellie at her blog, which is still up as I write this,

on fixer-uppers and fix-ups

this post isn't about construction and renovation. It's about what might or might not happen when some algorhythm or some person introduces you to someone they think might be perfect for you, with maybe a little help. Or not.

An example. At a wedding, the best man - one of those guys who's not a relative but a version of that guy who seems to turn up at every family gathering - introduced me to the dashing older brother of one of the groomsmen. We talked, we danced, we nibbled, I watched in awe as he smoothly traded place cards so he could sit with me. He was witty and charming and didn't enumerate his early decision college acceptances - this last having been the lengthy and only topic of a match someone had made for my friend Bernadette a week earlier.

Time came to stand around a decorated car and shriek and throw confetti, and my father started muttering about beating the traffic. When Pop was thinking about beating traffic, you could pick up the vibes from across a crowded room. Or stadium. Or arena. Or a mid-sized state or country. I got up to leave and my new crush walked with me to my parents, where he shook hands with them and otherwise demonstrated manners. Pop did not believe in asking personal questions at casual meetings - "it gives them false hopes." Of what? "That they might think someone finds them interesting."  So as the young man helped me on with my coat (yes, that long ago) he asked for my phone number, then oh so romantically scribbled it on his palm, and asked where we lived. I told him. He frowned at me as if he was thinking hard, and then shrugged. "That's too far," he murmured. I froze and while I blinked he disappeared.

Of course I reported this peculiar event to my parents, and Pop surveyed the field and was soon seen holding a frightened and no-longer-quite-so smooth young guy by the upper arm. As we headed for our car, Pop announced that there was only one reason that anyone couldn't travel miles to see his daughter, and therefore Pop had told him that if he showed up anywhere near me he would regret it. I steadied my voice. "What reason would that be?" "He's on parole," said Pop. "And now point out the jerk who introduced you."

Fix-up stories, misbegotten introductions - everybody's got 'em. Jess got a call from a woman she had never met, who said she was a second cousin of Jess' mother's and had a cousin on the other side of the family who was perfect for Jess. Whom she had never met, people!. - the urge to fix-up has no boundaries. The guy was a doctor, a widower, a doctor, tall, a doctor, not yet bald, kids but they were over 21 and lived kind and productive lives out of town,  enjoyed sports and travel... of course there's always a "but--" most people wouldn't consider this a problem, BUT I thought I'd mention it -- both his first two wives were institutionalized ..." Jess thanked the cousin and kept her distance.

Linda is a realtor. She made a date with a guy she met on line, and at the last minute decided that no matter how good the guy sounded, she just couldn't do this. Just not ready. Before she canceled, she asked her colleague Amanda if Amanda wanted to go. Amanda - same height, hair & eye color, works in same office - thought, well, why not? If things click, it'll be a funny story. If things don't, well, still a funny story. Well, the girls are still laughing. The guy was the janitor in the building the girls worked in. So everything he said about his job ("real estate"), his interests ("collecting antiques"), his personality ("clean-cut") .... was sorta true, only not true enough.

And Rosie. Graduated with highest honors, came to the big city, good job, good prospects. Her mother warned her that the nephew of one of their neighbors was going to call her, and she should feel free to ignore the fix-up attempt because mom's instincts told her that if this guy was as wonderful as his aunt said, at age 30 he wouldn't need his aunt's help. Rosie found that she actually liked chatting with him, enjoyed meeting him after work, liked going places with him. One evening she actually went to his apartment with him. The apartment was a small studio on the second floor front of a large building on a major crosstown street - this is NYese for you can't open the windows, noise, dust, car & bus pollution. The apartment was furnished with a futon, milk crates, motel towels, frat house beer mugs.

Rosie wondered, "Am I that shallow that I'm contemplating dropping this guy because I hate his apartment and if I spend one more minute here, I'll scream?" While she was thinking this, he explained without having been asked that he was aggressively saving for a down payment on a condo, which would only appreciate in value and then bla bla bla  cornerstone of fortune in real estate. Rosie never heard the rest of the great financial plan, she was on her way out the front door. She decided that if she couldn't experiment with shallow at age 23, when would there be a good time?

So ultimately Rosie got married and had a lovely family and a darling husband who adored her as much as she adored him, and a house that they fixed up the way they liked it, and she worked part-time as a well-paid consultant for her old firm and the kids actually got college scholarships, one an academic fellowship, one for soccer.

And then her darling husband got a terrible disease and died. Oh, let's skip the details, of course they're awful. You've probably guessed that her phone started ringing - as she said - before the ink was dry on the check to the undertaker - this was an old-fashioned expression of Rosie's mom's, Rosie had of course charged the whole funeral and related expenses to get the miles. Rosie hung up on the fix-up calls, deleted the fix-up emails.

A year or so later, she ran into the guy she'd fled when she was 23. They had a nice lunch, splitting the bill. They agreed they'd both grown up and wouldn't even mention that last evening. Etc., etc., etc., and one night he asked her to dinner at his place. Of course, you guessed it - he was still in the same grim studio, with the same grim "home accessories."

"Oh, my," says Rosie, "love what you've done with the place..." and heads for the staircase because the elevator's out of order. After all, being shallow had led her to a wonderful life with a wonderful guy, for a while at least, and obviously this evening was a sign that she could now have a wonderful life on her own. For a while, at least.