What do you do when you start the week with a birthday?
I'll tell you what you do, have the best time. ever.
The festivities were girly and giggly and pink.

And just a bit spicy.

So what were the big plans for a Birthday night? Yeah. I know that drill well ~  Girl, I remember that one year when I turned 21, we went out on my birthday and got hammered happy on blue lemonade with maraschino cherries? AHHHHH!!! Yes!!! Oh man, that was a crazy night. We ate screaming eagle nachos until it gave us beer bellies and then I got up on the bar and sang sappy country western songs until they dragged me down, kicking and screaming. I was all, “Your the reason God made Oaklaaahooma and I'm sure missss~ing yoou!” and they were all “Get your ass down, dude. This isn't the time.”

Good times. Good times.

Because it was my birthday (and if that isn't a good excuse to eat crap, I don't know what is) I decided to shelf any health-conscious food choices for a couple of days. Okay maybe it was four days. Ease up.

 I had been looking forward to a big scoop of salsa with chips, and sweet potato tacos from my favorite Mexican restaurant for months but it paled in comparison to the Shrimp po' boys for lunch, roasted veggie risotto for dinner and flower covered birthday cake that paraded into my life. Using my new-found-carefree-63-year-old sense of abandonment, I happily drove a fork into each one of them.

It was Heaven. It was gluttonous. It was the rumspringa of birthday happiness.


Now it's Friday. The glow has worn off and all I want is an Alkaseltzer and a buffet of raw veggies. Can you say salad bar.

Meanwhile, I continue to dog-ear travel brochures galore, marking places I mustmustmust go. Beginning plans I  hope to complete. Making bucket lists for dwindling days. The lists read more like fiction than non. But even fiction has one foot in possibility.

speaking of which...

sixty three is the new forty three.

sixty three is not the new forty three. sixty three is not even the new fifty three. sixty three is the new sixty three. because, sixty three is sixty three. sixty three is good, sixty three is great, sixty three  doesn't need to pretend to be anything it isn't.

I did not always feel this way. I mean, I opened my arms to fifty. or, said I was going to or something like that. I said I was ready, I said I wanted it. but I didn't mean it, I didn't want it, not even for a second. Then, I stood at sixty's door and just stared through it, hopelessly. and that cool woman I thought for sure I would be, the one who would embrace every wrinkle, every grey hair, every bit of sag and droop, the unashamed, unapologetic one who'd wear every imperfection like the aging champion she would surely be, that woman was nowhere to be found. truth be told, that woman was probably someone my twenty-something self foolishly invented. and so I began to see myself in photographs and think, is that what I really look like? and then: omg am I actually that woman? who sees herself in photographs and says things like that?

and then vanity became the least of my worries. things fell apart. my Dad got sick and I watched him die. heartbreakingly. some other sad things happened and I got tired. I blamed sixty. if this is what it means to be sixty, count me out. if turning sixty means things only get harder, that the hill before me tilts impossibly upward, no thank you. if it means I will care (more than I'd like to admit) about what kinds of clothes I should or should not wear, what shade of lipstick is age appropriate, where that one wrinkle came from or why I look so tired all the time (even when I'm not), if this is what sixty means, I don't want it. if it means wallowing in a tepid pool of nostalgia for the rest of my days, then you can have it. and more importantly, if it means watching the people I love die then I DON'T WANT IT, OKAY. I DON'T WANT YOU, SIXTY, I REJECT YOU.

so, I rejected sixty, I refused it. as you know, it does not work this way. as it turns out, this is not exactly possible. and when things finally quieted down, so did the crazy talk. I cannot tell you when things changed for me but they did. somewhere along the way, I softened. there was no aha moment, no woo-woo life altering experience. I just gradually found myself in that place, that good place you sometimes hear people talk about, that place you've earned simply because you have lived. and you love the way you look but you don't love the way you look and somehow, those feelings now co-exist in a way you never thought possible. you lose people you love and the heartbreak changes you so profoundly you cannot help but see your time in the world with new eyes, you cannot help but live with just a little bit of a lump in your throat every single minute. thing is, this is what makes the living good. better, even. the fragile, teetering part, the knowing part, the one that finally acknowledges that time is not infinite and you are not actually immortal. and when you see things with these eyes, the world around you changes. when you see sixty three with these eyes, 63 is beautiful. because you are alive and you know what that means, what that really, really means. you are both flawed and flawless, broken but completely intact, imperfectly perfect. you are in your own skin, your own God given skin. finally. and it feels good, even if it is changing, it feels right.

which is when you realize sixty three is the new sixty three. calling it anything else would be an insult to the decade you've worked so hard to find your way into. pretending it's anything else means you've missed the point entirely. sixty three is amazing and what you know in your creeky bones is that you wouldn't have it any other way.

just sayin'.

my favorite lemon layer cake

This dessert has three elements: cakes, lemon curd, and whipped cream.  I made and assembled it, start to finish, in a three-hour afternoon. That said, the lemon curd can be prepared and refrigerated up to five days in advance, and the cakes, baked and wrapped, a day or two prior.  The entire kit-and-caboodle can be made, decorated, and refrigerated 24 hours in advance of serving.

My favorite lemon curd
 Just double it, then set aside to cool, as you proceed...

Lemon curd freezes beautifully, oddly enough.  Moreover, it stays pliable, meaning you can get a little fix immediately, as needed.  If you want to use it in a dessert, defrost it a few hours in the fridge, then stir to smooth over.  I always make a double batch. 
I once read lemons are sprayed 7 times, on average, before they come to market.  Since curd relies so heavily on the zest, conventional lemons make me queasy, here. more money, organic lemons, but worth it in this one. Please note, you'll need a fine-mesh strainer (or regular strainer, plus cheesecloth).  Pull out your microplane and stick blender if you've got them.  Fine holes of a box grater and/or a standard blender make fine substitutes.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
1/4 cup freshly grated lemon zest, from organic lemons (2-3 lemons)
pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened, cut into pieces

Wash and dry lemons.  Zest lemons, measure out 1/4 cup of the zest, and set aside.
Juice lemons, and measure 1/2 cup.  If you have a stick blender, add lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar directly to a medium, heavy pot, and blitz 30 seconds or so, until mixture is smooth and no clumps of egg remain.  (If using a standing blender, blitz juice, sugar and eggs on high for 30 seconds, then pour into pan.)  After blending, add lemon zest and salt to mixture, then place pan on medium heat.  Heat mixture for 8-12 minutes, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens noticeably and coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat, then whisk in butter, one piece at a time.  Set a fine-mesh sieve (or cheesecloth-lined strainer) over a large, heat-proof bowl, and pour in hot curd.  Strain curd (to remove zest), nudging as needed with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.  Remember to scrape free the nice slick of curd on the underside of the strainer with a spatula. cool. 

lemon cake
 2 large, plump lemons, organic if possible
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, softened, sliced
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups full-fat buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cut parchment circles to line two 9" cake pans, then butter or spray pans, and line with the paper circles.
Zest both lemons, and set aside.  Juice one of the lemons, or enough to yield 1/4 cup of fresh juice.  Measure buttermilk, then add lemon juice to the buttermilk.  Set aside.
In a medium bowl, measure flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Whisk to combine and aerate, and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, place butter, sugar and lemon zest.  Fit mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat butter on medium speed until very pale and fluffy, scraping sides occasionally, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping sides between additions.  (Mixture may curdle, but soldier on—it will come together).  Turn mixer to low, and alternating between wet and dry, add buttermilk and flour mixtures in three batches (1/3 buttermilk, 1/3 flour, repeat twice), mixing briefly between each addition.  Scrape sides, return to medium speed for 15 seconds, then turn off mixer.  
Divide batter evenly between both cake pans, and smooth tops.  Bake 30-40 minutes, until edges are golden, center is no longer wobbly or shiny, and a knife or wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert gently onto cooling rack.  Peel parchment from bottom, then cool completely, about 1 hour. 

Whipped Cream Frosting
5-8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on low speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until combined.  Turn mixer to medium, and beat 30 seconds, until fluffy.  Drizzle in a quarter-cup (eyeball it) of the cream, and whip until it begins to fluff up and stiffen, around 30 seconds.  Continue to drizzle and whip, waiting until new cream is incorporated and begins to hold its shape before adding more, scraping sides occasionally, until all the cream is incorporated and the frosting holds light, fluffy peaks, 3-4 minutes total.
To Assemble:
When cake is completely cool, level tops with a long, serrated knife (such as a bread knife).  To do this, simply position the knife horizontally to the lowest point on the cake's surface, and gently saw sideways, across the cake's top.  It need not be perfect; frosting covers a multitude of crooked.
Place one layer on cake stand (or whatever your ultimate serving surface), and spoon over a liberal amount of lemon curd, up to half the batch.  Spread gently near (but not quite to) the edges, then top with the second cake.  I like to invert the second cake, such that the cake's bottom becomes the top—the bottom providing a smoother, less crumb-y surface for frosting.
Next, apply the first coat of frosting.  The first coat, a crumb coat, is simply a thin, preliminary layer of frosting, so-called because it gathers all the unsightly crumbs a cake inevitably generates.  Think of it as the frosting's first draft.  Using an icing knife if you've got one, a long table knife if you don't, apply a thin layer (1/4-1/2") of frosting to the top and sides of the cake, chinking also the gap between the two layers.
Next, spoon the balance of the lemon curd on the top, or as much as you think you might enjoy.  Using the back of a spoon, gently spread the curd toward the edges, again stopping 1/2-1" short of the rim.
Rinse your icing knife (to remove crumbs) and dry, and continue on to the second, final frosting layer. I used a pastry bag with a small circle tip for the polka dots, and a medium star tip for the flowers, around the top.  Fast, easy, fun.  Flowers could be applied all around, or dots, or other shapes, keeping in mind only that this is a big-picture frosting, not up to the minute detail of a swiss buttercream.  Think rustic.
Alternatively, apply the balance of the frosting thickly and evenly to the sides, then give a few gentle swooshes of the knife, for a lovely billowy sort of look.  Or, rinsing your knife in warm water between efforts, position the warm, clean knife parallel to the cake, and smooth the sides for a sleek, modern effect.  Or... you get the picture.  It's whipped cream.  It's guaranteed lovely.
Refrigerate cake, if not serving the same day, up to 24 hours in advance.  Remove 1-2 hours before serving, to return to room temperature.  Cake is best served within 24 hours of assembly, and tastes magnificent still, three days out.

please eat responsibly.


pizza at midnight.

Well hello there, strangers.

I haven't been around in, oh, about two weeks.
But I have my reasons.

I just spent a few days with my peeps, and I learned some things while I was gone, things like I never want to grow old, and I straight up love my friends. I just do, it can't be helped.

Give me a little space, an extra glup of oxygen and fresh air, and I end up figuring out what I believe in. I believe in not opening my laptop for 3 days straight. I believe in crazy wallpaper. I believe (always) that floral is a neutral.

I believe in living in the moment.

I believe I landed the best friends on the planet.

I believe there's a thread of solidarity and humanity stitched between every one of us. I believe our differences make us stronger. I believe in telling the truth.

I believe in lime La Croix. I believe my family loves me enough to draw me in and settle me down, every single time, no matter what.

I believe the best way to keep writing is to sometimes stop for a while.

I believe in affirming each other and laughing. a lot.

If I have one regret from my time away it's that I didn't properly prioritize my snack consumption at the barn. I just can't shake the guilt.

Which may explain why the first thing I did after not eating dinner at our reunion dinner was to order up one of my favorite meals in the history of always. pizza. At midnight.

Because I believe a sausage and mushroom pizza is the perfect re-entry plan.

So, I am back from my high school reunion.  Back from the time machine set to 1969. Back from the friends I haven't seen in forty years, or more.  Back from the friends that I've reconnected with, all of my beautiful friends I have missed. Back from Friday night fish fry, Saturday afternoon barn parties and dinner with yearbooks and faded photos. Back from memory lane.

Back from the security of people I never have to tell my back story to.
I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately.  Maybe it's because we just celebrated our forty fifth reunion. maybe it's just all that midlife reevaluation stuff starts deciding that the field seats weren't that great and it begins pushing and shoving it's way down front next to the stage.

I've been thinking lately that my friendships are a passion. I love having a passion.  It's when something is a "labor of love".  Like a red bull and vodka, (which you should never drink) it's that glorious mixture of opposites that gives you that unexplainable high but without the vomiting at the end.

I want to be even more passionate about my friendships.

I certainly want to be better than I have in the past.  I haven't always been a good friend.

Yikes.  What?  Don't those just come naturally and easily?  Nope.  Not for me.

I know what you're thinking, "she seemed nice enough when I met her".  Yeah, I can do initial meetings pretty well.  But a true friendship requires discipline and hard work on my part.

Now to be exact, I'm not talking about acquaintances or people in your social circle that you meet several times a year. I can do that in my sleep.  I'm not a psychopath for heaven's sake.

What I'm talking about is down deep I'm there for you day or night, walls down, here's my insanity, oh crap that's yours?, you're pushing my buttons, sorry I snapped, you're driving me crazy, I'll talk you off that ledge... again, thick and thin, are those my jeans?, diet and bloating, I'm truly happy for you, hold you while you sob, love you back, call you again tomorrow friendships.

I know what I've done wrong in the past.  I've glorified the path of least resistance. As soon as things get dicey, out comes the "I'm too old for this sh*t" or "I don't have time for this crap'.  But I'm not too old and I most certainly do have time. 

The thing is, sometimes friendships do get dicey and crazy and stubborn and prideful and snotty and jealous and insecure... and that's just my side of it.

Sometimes they hurt and sometimes we want to run away.  Sometimes we feel rejected and like a bad grade school memory, we stuff down the urge to scream SO WHAT I'M NOT YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE ANYWAY STUPID HEAD!.

Sometimes it will look like that.

But if we endure, if we are committed to working it through, we get love and understanding and nurture and support.  We get "no you're not crazy" and "I have your back no matter what" and "you're more beautiful than Cinderella, you smell like a field of wild flowers and your face is like sunshine."

and... pizza at midnight.
Isn't that the stuff?

This year I am determined to be passionate about my small group of friends who love me for who I am, ornery and all.  I have committed to loving them back with all my heart, no matter what the ride looks like, because they have quietly and without fuss made the same commitment to me.

Nothing but love for y'all.

just sayin'.

  Margherita Pizza
2 12-inch round or 9×13 rectangular pizza doughs (pizza dough recipe below)
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Pinch of sugar, if desired
8 ounces aged mozzarella (sold in plastic, not water) (use more if you like your pizza with extra cheese)
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
Two glugs of olive oil
Few leaves of fresh basil, torn or sliced

Place tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and give the tomatoes a little squeeze so they release any trapped juices. Let them drain for 30 minutes, if you can spare it.

Meanwhile, heat oven, if you have not already, to its top temperature, usually 500 to 550 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza stone, place this in the oven so that it heats too.
Add salt, garlic, red pepper flakes and sugar (if the tomatoes taste overly acidic to you), to the tomatoes and blend in a blender or with an immersion blender until they reach your desired sauce texture. (I like it smooth, personally.) This will make more sauce than you need; you can save the remainder in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for longer.

Add 1/3 cup of sauce to each stretched-out dough and spread it evenly. Tear or crumble mozzarella into tiny bits and scatter it over the pizzas. Some people like their basil and parmesan or pecorino added only after the pizza comes out of the oven, some like it baked on; I tend to add half the sharp cheese before and half after. I’ll let you decide. Finally, give each assembled pizza a quick drizzle with olive oil and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating once if needed, until the top is bubbled and lightly charred and the crust is golden. (You’ll get better color on the crust if you use a baking pan without sides, or if you bake it on the back of your baking sheet.) As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven and is still blazing hot, finish with basil and parmesan or pecorino, if this is when you prefer to add it.

Slide pizza onto cutting board or serving plate and cut into squares or wedges.

pizza dough

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour (bread flour works too)
Slightly heaped 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (for Overnight, All-Day, or Part-Day Schedules respectively, see * below)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
1 1/4 cup water, plus an additional tablespoon or two if needed

In a very large bowl, mix all ingredients with a spoon. The dough will be craggy and rough; this is fine, but if it feels excessively so, add another spoonful or even two of water. Cover bowl with plastic and keep at room temperature for approximately 22 (for *Overnight schedule), 12 (for *All-Day schedule) or 6 (for *Part-Day schedule) hours, or until the dough has more than doubled. This takes longer in a chilly room and less in a very warm one, but don’t fret too much over this, as the dough is generally forgiving of a loosened schedule.

About 30 minutes before dough is ready, begin draining tomatoes for the margherita recipe below. Prepare pizza stone and paddle sprinkling it with cornmeal. You can also use any old baking sheet you have around, however, based on early commenters, the pizza tends to stick to these more, so I now recommend that you prepare it by very lightly, thinly coat it with olive oil or a nonstick cooking spray before sprinkling it with cornmeal. Heat oven to its highest temperature, usually between 500 and 550 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza stone, place it in the oven so that it heats too.

Flour your counter very well. Scrape dough out of bowl onto floured counter; in the time it has risen it should change from that craggy rough ball to something very loose, soft, sticky and stretchy. Flour the top of the dough, and divide dough in half (or more pieces, if you’re making smaller pizzas). Form them into ball-like shapes. Grab first round with floured hands and let the loose, soft dough stretch and fall away from your hands a few times before landing the dough on your prepared baking sheet/paddle. Use floured fingers to press and nudge dough into a roughly round or rectangular shape. Add desired fixings and bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating if it’s baking unevenly, until the top is blistered and the crust is golden. Repeat with remaining dough.

*Overnight Dough Schedule: Begin between 8 and 9 p.m the evening before for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 22-hour dough)
*All-Day Dough Schedule: Begin between 6 and 8 a.m that day for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 12-hour dough)
*Part-Day Dough Schedule: Begin around noon that day for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 6-hour dough)
Do ahead: Once risen and formed into ball-like shapes, the dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days. when you're ready to use a refrigerated dough, you should return it to room temperature by leaving it on a counter covered with a damp cloth for 2 to 3 hours before using it.


I can throw a gala.

I'm afraid to throw a party or even a small dinner party....

or have another couple over for dinner.

I know.

Don't get me wrong.  I really want to have people over for dinner.  cross my heart.  It's just that I get stage fright.  It's that wonky perfection side of me that won't allow me to relax.  I put unbelievable pressure on myself to make any event one people will never forget.

Like this is the only gathering they will ever attend.

My goodness dude, I know people have lives.  This night in the big scheme of things is basically inconsequential.  Cook something simple and serve a decent bottle of wine and maybe you know, don't bring up religion or politics...

that's the key to a good dinner party. right?

Instead, if you come over to my house for dinner, I'm likely to cook something new, not kitchen tested (like hey you know what I've been wanting to try and would be so memorable?  Escargot.).  Or I might have a tad too much wine while making the meal, which I've learned the hard way dulls my savory buds, and serve you a piece of meat that is akin to a salt lick.

The one party I'm very proud of is the rager I threw for the hub's 50th birthday party. Yeah, you heard that right.  Unless rager is the same as a rave, which I think means there were hallucinogenics... and there weren't so I'm not actually sure what I threw.  I threw a cool party with old people.  What's that called?

I hired a band and a caterer and strung up lights.  Oh my.

I'm not sure how much skill that actually required.  That's really just coordinating everyone else to do the big stuff.  A strategy I like to call "spreading the blame" or "how could I have known?  They came so highly recommended".

I even made people requested that people bring their own booze in lieu of gifts, (stay classy darling) so that I could mark one more thing off my list.  Drinks. Check.  Hmmm, who could I get to bring streamers and ballons?

Side note: Ina Garten says always hand people a drink right when they walk through the door.  At the risk of sounding like we might all need some outside intervention, it does help to distract from  anything that might be going wrong in the kitchen.

Or you could hand them a fancy dressed up dude the hubs carrying a tray of assorted Hors d'oeuvre and Crudités while entertaining everyone with stories of days gone by.

I'm not gonna lie, it helps to have a nice guy roaming around your party engaging people in sketch comedy.

The hubs everybody. He'll be here all night.

In addition to getting people laughing, he moseyed around the party unscrewing light bulbs and lighting candles to create ambiance.  Nope, he wasn't asked to do it, that's just how he rolls.  (I probably cannot accurately stress to you how much I love that he does that sort of thing, it's so right up my alley).  He has done this at several of our dinner parties, I consider him a bonafide expert.  So whatever he says goes.

He says lighting is everything.  I don't disagree.  Good lighting and a cocktail.

Here's another party booster...

See if you can get someone in a dress and heels to lose their footing and fall backwards into the pool (true story), preferably early... around the start of the party.  Say about 7:15 p.m.?

Then they can adorn a towel while you dry their clothes.  It really does help get the party going.  I highly recommend it.

All in all that party was legendary.  We danced and ate and had the most awesome time.  So awesome that the cops shut us down at 10:30 p.m.  Shut down old people. Honestly, have you heard of such a thing?  I'm not bragging but people still talk about that party today and it was years ago.

Apparently I can throw a gala.

Last time I had family over for dinner (they can't judge me) and although I stressed a bit about the menu, I took the surefire way out and went to the butcher for a beef tenderloin, which let's face it is somewhat hard to screw up.  Unless it ends up a bit too raw rare... which...

oh well.  They just kept asking for the cuts at the end or anywhere near the end.  I also picked a variety of roasted vegetables which were the exact ones my brother in law doesn't eat.  Something was bound to happen.  It's starting to be my signature wheelhouse.

We had a fantastic time despite, and it reminded me that this really isn't so hard after all.

If you do come for dinner, just know that I'm hyperventilating happy that you're here.

Have a drink, make yourself at home.  I'm going to go check on the duck a l'orange.

 just sayin'.


1 loaf of dense bread~I used a Rosemary Tuscan Bread
olive oil
garlic salt
herbs de Provence
sea salt
2 boxes of assorted tomatoes~my favorite for this salad are red grape and yellow pear tomatoes
1/2 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonades
3 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced paper thin
2 cloves garlic, pressed
white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut dense bread into big croutons, about 1 1/2 inch square. Put on a rimmed baking sheet, single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt and herbs de Provence and toss. Bake for 20-30 minutes until dry, hard and slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool. Cut tomatoes in half and add to a large bowl.

Cut fresh basil and parsley and add to bowl. Cut cukes and onion and add to bowl. Add garlic. Toss. Salt and pepper and toss. Drizzle with 1/4 cup good olive oil and a splash of white balsamic vinegar and toss. Add croutons and toss.
  Serve immediately.
Other traditional add in are:
mozzarella cheese
bread and not croutons~ but this tends to get soggy and I don't like soggy texture.
fresh tuna
I keep my Panzanella pretty basic. I love the the fresh taste of tomatoes, basil with a good olive oil! And the crunch and flavor of homemade croutons puts this dish over the top!