"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

doubled and re-doubled. . .


He was the King of Hearts

I don’t know why I am remembering so much about my Dad these days. This is one anecdote that I am posting because it’s so typical of him and how he behaved.

When I was in high school, I was pretty much a wallflower, a nerd, a geek. In fact one of my best friends in school whom I knew from the 6th grade nicknamed me “braintube”. He still calls me that and I call him “Jimmie” to this day in our emails even though we are both grandparents.

Anyhow, it was the 60’s and my high school friends and I played bridge pretty seriously. At our parties on Friday nights during junior high school, a bunch of us would get together to play bridge. Our parents also played. My best friend, Martha, used to invite me over for sleepovers and her parents would play cribbage or gin rummy by themselves, and bridge when the two of us made a foursome. Sometimes Martha’s brother Joel would spell one of us off. Her parents chain-smoked like chimneys while we played.

My brother, D., is eight years younger than I am, so when I was a junior in college, he was still in junior high. But he played bridge too. One weekend, my parents invited some friends over for dinner. While we were waiting to eat, my Dad asked if anyone wanted to play a couple of hands of bridge with him and one of the guests. My brother and I were partners as we sat down opposite my Dad and his partner. That my father barely deigned to play with me and my brother was pretty obvious. But as the play went on, my brother and I were dealt a lucky hand of cards. We bid a small slam. My father looked at us as if we didn’t know what we were talking about. I saw two tricks that we could lose, one sure one, and one depending on who had the high card for a finesse.

Dad doubled the contract. My brother, who is no slouch at being strong-willed either, redoubled. For those of you who don’t play bridge, what that doubling and redoubling meant was that: a) my father basically challenged us that we did not have a prayer of making the small slam contract; and b) my brother’s redoubling was like saying, “oh yeah, just watch us.” If my father won his double and we lost the contract, his side would have gotten 50 more penalty points. If we did make the contract redoubled, then we would get 100 more points than we would have without all this macho challenging stuff going on.

You know what happened, right, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. My kid brother and I won the small slam contract. The crucial finesse worked to our advantage so we only lost one trick. We got the redoubled score. And my Dad, bless his heart, never played bridge with us again.


scallion pancake recipe. . .


1.  Mix 2 1/2 cups flour with 1 cup warm water. Mix well and knead gently. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. Knead gently until smooth; cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest 15-20 minutes.

2.  Wash and chop up a small bunch of young green scallions–slice them lengthwise, then chop and mix white with green parts; set aside.

3.  Take a fresh package of lard (manteca) and heat about 1/4 cup of it in the microwave until it is soft and spreadable but not liquified. Add in 2 tsp. of sesame oil and mix well; set aside. This should be the consistency of sour cream.

4.  Flour a board; divide the dough into 3 parts; roll out one part to about 6-7 inches–spread with lard/sesame oil mixture–not too thin, not too thick.

5.  Sprinkle the surface with coarse sea salt or kosher salt.

6.  Divide onions into three parts and sprinkle one onto the first pancake. Roll up securely and then, taking one end, curl it into a snail on itself. Pinch together, pat and roll this snail out into almost the same size as before.

7. Use a clean skillet and heat up some canola oil or Wesson oil–when the oil is warm, slip in the pancake and cook it gently (mildly sizzling but do not burn.) When it is golden brown, turn it over and cook the other side.

8.  Drain onto paper towels and cover with clean towel; wipe out the skillet each time, add fresh oil and cook the 2nd and 3rd pancakes.

9.  Drain each one separately on paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

10. When all 3 are cooked, put them on top of each other and cut in half with a cleaver, then crosswise, then in wedges.

11. If you want a dipping sauce, make one with lite soy, rice or Chinese black vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and a little water–grate some fresh ginger root into it if you want.

THESE were the best scallion pancakes that I have ever made.

making scallion pancakes . . .


hands down "the best EVER"

I was very good in chemistry and almost majored in it in college, at least when I was a freshman. What I mean is that I can follow experimental directions and also have an intuitive sense about mixing things together to see how they will react. In large part, that’s the process by which I approach cooking most of the time. The rest of being a cook for me is also intuitive but more free form, the reason a dish will turn out slightly differently each time even though you are following the same basic steps.

My Dad’s primo cooking dish was making scallion pancakes. He was absolutely rigid about how to make them and that his way was the only way. I watched as he chopped the green onions and put them in a bowl, made the flour dough with hot water and let it rest, shape the dough into a long snake and cut up portions, then roll each one out, spread with soft lard, sprinkle with salt, then onions, roll them up, then make a snail from the rolled up pancake, flatten the snail out again. Then cook carefully in a skillet, pile the cooked ones one on top of the next and then with a large cleaver, cut through all of them to serve them as fragrant, warm, savory wedges of salted heaven.

Recently when family was visiting, I impulsively decided to make them. But I didn’t have Dad’s exact recipe with me so I was a little dubious. I found a recipe online that sounded about right. It didn’t have a leavener like baking powder, which I distinctly remembered was Dad’s “secret ingredient.” I also remembered the last time I had included it that the pancakes were a little spongey to roll out.

I decided to follow the online proportions for flour and water and then go with my instincts. Instead of spreading lard on the surface of the pancake, I warmed a little in the microwave with a dollop of sesame oil. Then I mixed the softened but not liquid lard and sesame oil, spreading it thinly on the pancake. I used sea salt from a grinder. The green onions were washed carefully, slit down the lengths and then chopped finely, the white and the green parts. The fragrance of the raw onions filled the small galley kitchen I was working in. The dough without baking powder was easier to work after resting.

Everyone agreed as we wolfed them down that these were the best ever, Dad’s sacrosanct recipe notwithstanding. I wonder what he would have thought about such delicious scallion pancakes made from a recipe available on the internet. I also wonder if they’ll ever come out as well as this batch the next time I make them. The photo tells the whole story.

If you would like to try the recipe, I will post it next. One word of caution though: don’t try to make them if you are averse to using fresh lard (manteca at any super market) because actually, that is the true secret ingredient!  Let me know how they turn out for you.

ashes to ashes . . .

My father died at the age of 89 in February 2008. My mother died at the age of 89 in November 2008. By that time, they were no longer married. And had lived apart for quite some time before they died. Nevertheless, my mother was there when a Tibetan monk was chanting Prayers for the Dead for my Dad. He had his eyes closed towards the end. My mother walked up to his bedside and his eyes flew open. She looked at him and nodded. He seemed to nod back, closed his eyes and died.

My mother died painlessly in November the same year after being diagnosed with abdominal cancer in August. She had little to say as well. Both of them were cremated according to their wishes. That year, we had ashes from both of them that we took home. For awhile, I held onto them, not knowing where, exactly, to release them into the world. After awhile, I thought that it was not a good idea to keep them wrapped up, and that in order to release their spirits wholly, our little packets of dust needed to be dispersed in a kind fashion.

I finally decided to go to a nearby beach on the Atlantic coast of New England. It was twilight, my favorite time of day. Nobody else was there and it was low tide. I walked to the water’s edge and said goodbye as I released each packet of ashes. They swirled in the cold sea water, the dust settling as I carefully shook out the bags. I felt that it had been an okay kind of ceremony. As I turned around to walk back to my car, I took a few steps and looked down on the rocky beach. Not two minutes after I had finished releasing the ashes than there appeared two small rocks that stood out, one next to the other. One had a white straight line through it, and the other, a white circle. I felt that this symbolized my father (the straight line) and my mother (the circle.) I picked them up, feeling that it was an affirmation from them, or from the powers that be.

In about four more feet up the beach, I looked down again and saw a large flat rock with a wave indentation on it. It looked to me like an I-Ching hexagram, or a symbol of Yin and Yang. It felt to me like the Universe was giving me comfort that this release of my parents’s ashes was appropriate and well-received, in some way–or maybe it was just their way of saying a last goodbye.