Home & Design

Green Acre #399: The Monster Mash

Giant monstera leaves set amid elephant ears and other greens. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

A YEAR AGO, Baby gave me an offshoot of one of her philodendrons, a fine Monstera with several glossy leaves and a tangle of roots just beginning at its base.

I stuck it in a tall, vividly colored Chinese vase and set it on the drum table in a corner of the living room, figuring at some point I’d pot it up, but other things, I don’t recall what, were more urgent. 

There it sat, happy in the vase, a handsome thing and, fortuitously, one of few that do not leak. Soon, a new leaf appeared, and then another. The roots grew thicker. Sometimes I’d add a branch of something from my greenhouse, an elephant ear or palm frond, or I’d splurge on a bunch of flowers to shove among the leaves to add a little extra oomph. The philodendron forms a fine base for such floral flourishes. The only effort required was to change the water every week or so (the cut stems begin to rot, and the stink is a handy reminder to do so). 

In late spring, the sago palm, a cold-averse tropical, moved from its pedestal on the hall chest to a grander pedestal on the front porch, and the vase took its place in the hal, the plant still thriving in water. Summer flowers from the garden looked charming tucked among the greens: sweet-smelling mock orange with its tiny white flowers, caladium leaves with their dramatic sunset streaks.

The vase looks good in the hallway, brightening the dark green walls. I was going for something Sherlockian, deep and velvety, but slightly missed. It looks more like a British police station on some BBC crime show; Vera, Endeavor, or Lewis. Flowers help. Anyway, repainting would distract My Prince from the already lengthy list of Honey Do projects lined up. 

Specifically, that would be replacing my second-floor greenhouse, which he tore down in a burst of energy last April, with a master plan in hand for expansion and . . . and . . . so I have a helluva crowd of cold-fearing plants to deal with this fall and nowhere to put them. That’s an aside. 

Anyway, it’s getting to be time to move the sago palm back to the hallway from its porch perch, which means the philodendron, still in its vase, will return to the drum table in the living room. Why mess with success, even if it’s inadvertent. 

I’m thinking that an explosion of orange berries and sunflowers stuffed among the leaves would be quite nice amid the exotica cluttering the tabletop.

But that’s another story. 

Non-Essential vs Most Essential

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

By Valerie Monroe

A FEW CURIOUS readers had questions and comments about my last post, so I’m answering them here. Keep the questions and comments coming, folks!

First, you, please, slipping your Visa card back into your wallet.

Q: That vitamin C serum you recommended? It was very expensive! What gives?

A: I should have warned you that a serum is often more expensive than other kinds of facial products. Why? It’s supposed to be more concentrated with active ingredients. Also, vitamin C serum requires special packaging (a dark bottle to keep out light) in order to stabilize its ingredients; you don’t want to buy an inexpensive product that’s packaged poorly. I also failed to mention why I personally don’t use a serum: I don’t spend a lot of money on non-prescription skincare. As I said, vitamin C serum has been shown to help reduce oxidative damage—but how much help for how much damage on your actual face? It’s one of those things I’ve decided I can do without. With the money I save, I might choose an in-office treatment instead. But if you like what a serum seems to be doing for your complexion—and if it makes you feel more secure about skin protection and you can afford it—why not? If you can’t afford it, don’t worry; just get a great sunscreen. Which leads me to . . .

You! Taking up three seats with a protective parasol, a straw bag, and wearing a straw hat (over that cute bucket hat), a UPF 50+ shirt, and . . . hey, wait a minute! Those leopard slides look familiar. Are you the same person who asked about age spots? I’m glad you’re taking sun protection seriously. Oh, and I love the cheerful sunglasses. Your question, please?

Q: Seriously, what’s the best sunscreen? Chemical, physical, mineral, vegetable? Is my SPF 30 moisturizer enough? What about sensitive skin? Can I use last year’s tube? Help!

A: As you may have guessed, there’s no such thing as a vegetable sunscreen (I googled it). So I’ll tackle chemical sunscreens first. Those have active ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone that the skin absorbs and that convert ultraviolet light from the sun into heat, which (somehow) keeps UV rays from penetrating. If you want a fuller explanation, and other more detailed information about how sunscreen works, go here.

Mineral (or physical) sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sit on the skin’s surface and deflect UV rays. I think of this process as doing the exact opposite of what the aluminum reflector I used to hold under my chin was meant for, when, as an idiot teen, I purposefully soaked up damaging rays in my backyard.

So, which to choose, chemical or mineral? Facial plastic surgeon Michelle Yagoda, MD, believes chemical sunscreen is not a good option for those with sensitive skin, topical allergies, or for children under six months because the chemical reaction activated by the sun can cause irritation. She prefers mineral (physical) sunscreen; it causes less inflammation and gives better coverage with fewer ingredients. Mineral sunscreens tend to be more expensive (usually, the higher a formula’s zinc concentration, the higher the price; a minimum of 7% zinc is recommended) but Yagoda believes they’re worth it. Here’s a good one.

As for your SPF 30 moisturizer, it is enough for a non-beach day . . . until you need to reapply after a few hours. Who likes reapplying moisturizer every few hours? Not me. That’s why I love these brush-on sunscreens. Even though one of my life goals is to carry as little as is humanly possible, I always have one of these on me in warmer months. They’re easy to apply, non-drippy, and compact—so terrific for traveling (whatever that is).

What else? Oh, expiration dates. Sunscreens are required by the FDA to retain their original strength for three years. There should be an expiration date on the product—but because you’re using sunscreen daily (and of course you are), that marking will probably wear off. Unsure about how old the product is? Toss it and buy another. Keep the new one away from excessive heat (not in your car’s glove compartment, for example) and, along with your face, out of the sun.

I don’t expect you need further encouragement to wear sunscreen. Still, three more things worth sharing. One, this startling statistic from the Skin Cancer Foundation: Photo aging accounts for 90% of visible skin aging. I take that to mean that if you never exposed yourself to the sun, your complexion would look something like the skin on your butt. (I encourage you to check out the skin on your bottom; you will likely realize a profoundly missed opportunity.)

Two: A few years ago, I discovered a small study that found daily use of broad-spectrum sun protection may also visibly reverse existing sun damage, including rough texture, lack of clarity, and hyperpigmentation. Cool, right?

Finally, if you care to read about my experience with basal cell skin cancer—and to see a photo several people advised me not to show in O, The Oprah Magazine—head here. It’s a cautionary tale.


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Kitchen Detail: Winning Horses Doovers


Drum Roll Please For Our Horses Doover (hors d’oeuvres) Winners

We had no idea that the 2018 Winter Edition of our favorite Horses Doover (hors d’oeuvre) would be read so frequently and that the follow-up Summer Edition would have its recipes downloaded by so many readers. Thus was hatched the idea to have a contest on just little things to eat with an aperitivo or a mocktail. (There are already enough contests on your favorite riff on pizza or dessert.) All the children in the KD households love their cocktail hour and nibbling new horses doovers almost as much as the ex-children do. So after shopping for, tasting and photographing all the recipes, we had a meal of Horses Doover (hors d’oeuvres) finalists with our favorite cocktail of this summer, the KD version of an Aperol Spritz. And surprisingly, the KD panel was unanimous in the awards for first, second, and third place out of the finalist recipes.

First Prize: Ricotta & Acacia Honey On Toasted Baguette Slices

homemade ricotta & honey or bottarga on baguette Horses Doover (hors d'oeuvres) Contest Winner for 2019Carol Fisch wins first place with her double recipe for homemade ricotta, which she suggests should be topped with acacia honey on a toasted slice of baguette. She advised us to save the whey, the liquid by-product of cheesemaking, from the ricotta and make crêpes. One of our panelists thought that it would be too sweet for her, and we were surprised that she loved this startling combination so much that she awarded it first place. For myself, the making of this form of ricotta (normally it is made with whey, occasionally adding some milk along with the acid and salt) was a new, nervous adventure for me. It is gorgeous, smooth, rich, and subtle in texture. The whey can be used in cakes, but the suggested crêpes we made with it for for a post horses doover dessert were much more lacy and delicate than usual. It took me about 3 crêpes to get it right for an 8-inch pan, using a ¼ cup measure of batter. You’ll see that we alternated the acacia honey with some of the bottarga (sliced tuna roe) I picked up in Marzamemi. (Bottarga can also come from mullet and amberjack.)

Ricotta on Toast

Serves 10
Not your normal store-bought ricotta. Smooth and rich, it makes a great layer for crostini and bruschetta.
Recipe by Carol Fisch.
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog.

  1. 3 cups (¾L) whole milk
  2. 1 cup (¼L) heavy cream
  3. ½ teaspoon (3gr) fine sea salt
  4. 3 tablespoons (45gr) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  5. Acacia honey for garnish (or a slice of bottarga of tuna, amberjack, or mullet)
  1. Pour milk, cream, and salt into a 3-quart (2.8L) saucepan. Heat until liquid reaches 190F (88C), stirring occasionally to keep liquid from scorching.
  2. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes.
  3. Line a colander or strainer with a clean dishtowel or a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a container to catch the whey (the liquid). Reserve the whey.
  4. Alllow to sit for an hour or two and the cheese will firm up as it cools.
  5. Slide the ricotta from the cloth into a bowl and use right away, or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
  6. Toast the number of baguette slices you want, then spread each slice with the ricotta and top with some acacia honey (or bottarga)
  7. Save the whey for the next recipe.
  1. Acacia honey has a slightly sandy texture and a unique flavor. It is worth getting it for this recipe.
  2. For a completely different taste effect, shave some bottarga onto the ricotta.

Bonus Crêpes From Ricotta Whey

These are softer and more lacy than traditional crêpes and are best used for a sweet ending to a meal.
Recipe by Carol Fisch.
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog.
    1.  3 large eggs
    2.  1 cup (80gr) all-purpose flour
    3.  2 tablespoons (28.5gr) melted butter
    4.  1½ cups (1.3 L) whey (reserved from ricotta recipe)
    5. 1 tablespoon (12.5gr) sugar


  1. Beat the eggs in bowl or blender.
  2. Gradually add the flour, melted butter, whey, and sugar until thoroughly blended and smooth.
  3. You may have to run the batter through a strainer if you do not use a blender or processor.
  4. Chill the batter, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to two days.
  5. Have a crêpe or omelet pan ready, and use a teaspoon of butter in the bottom of the pan for each crêpe.
  6. The heat should be at a medium-high temperature.
  7. For an 8-inch to 9-inch (20-23cm) you will need about ¼ cup (60ml) ladle or measure for each crêpe.
  8. Tilt the pan as you pour the batter and it should form a circle, which will turn dry-looking and lacy.
  9. With an offset spatula flip the crêpe over to cook the other side. This process takes less than 2 minutes.
  10. Stack onto a warm plate for immediate use, or separate each crepe with wax paper and freeze in a zip-bag for later use.
  1. You should have about 2 2/3 cups (2/3L) of whey when you make the ricotta recipe. Save and freeze the rest of the whey, or use the rest for a cake, as the whey will give you a more tender crumb.
  2. You can fill the crêpes with sweetened ricotta and berries, then roll them and serve.

Second Prize: Roquefort Cheese Mold

roquefort cheese appetizer for Horses Doover (hors d'oeuvres) contest 2nd Place Winner 2019Maria Pallas wins second place with her retro Roquefort and cream mold flavored with parsley and paprika. I don’t usually use powdered gelatin as I had a couple of disasters with it, but it worked like a charm in this recipe. Her molded presentation reminded me of something that Lee Miller might have served at Farleys House. This, like the ricotta, keeps well for a few days in the fridge. Maria serves it with melba rounds, crackers, or party rye, but it is lovely as filling for endive leaves too. Our panel thought the presentation was very elegant and also delightfully retro.

Elysian Cheese Mold

Serves 8
Start this the night before and slip the mold in a container of hot water for a few seconds and it will unmold beautifully on a platter.
Recipe by Maria Pallas.
Adapted from Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper by Marion Burros.
Prep time
20 minutes
  1. 6 ounces (170gr) softened cream cheese
  2. ½ cup (118ml) Roquefort or other good-quality French blue cheese
  3. 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  4. ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  5. 1 teaspoon paprika (can be smoked)
  6. ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  7. 1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin
  8. 1/8 cup cold water
  9. ½ cup boiling water
  10. 1 cup heavy cream, whipped until soft peaks are achieved
  1. Combine the cream cheese and Roquefort cheese with a mixer (hand-held is fine) until smooth.
  2. Add the Worcestershire sauce, salt, parsley, and paprika of your choice.
  3. When those are mixed in, soften the gelatin in the 1/8 cup cold water and then add the boiling water to the softened gelatin.
  4. Stir the gelatin mixture until the gelatin is dissolved and allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Add the cheese mixture to the gelatin mixture and stir thoroughly.
  6. Allow the combined mixture to chill in the refrigerator until it reaches a jelly-like consistency and then fold in the 1 cup of whipped heavy cream.
  7. Spoon into an oiled mold and refrigerate, covered, until firm.
  8. Dip the mold into hot water for a few seconds to unmold onto your platter.
  9. Decorate with fresh herbs or flowers.
  10. Serve with crackers, melba toasts or party rye.
  1. We decorated the platter with curry plant branches and slices of toasted baguette. Heavenly eye and taste appeal.

Third Prize: Grilled Shrimp in Butter

Butter barbecued shrimp appetizer for Horses Doover (hors d'oeuvres) contest 3rd Place winnerThird-place winner is Kathy Whittenberger. She grills her shrimp (and says it is great way to present frozen shrimp languishing in your freezer) in a pan on the grill. I have found out that heating a cast-iron pan until it is white hot gives you the same barbecue-y result. We bought fresh large wild shrimp at as there is someone in this house who is weird about frozen or farmed seafood. It really takes less than 10 minutes once the shrimp are cleaned. Kathy leaves the shells on so it will slow the guests down, which gives her a chance to have some, too. A major hit with all panelists and our two half-panelists.

Butter Grilled Shrimp

This dish can be made on an outdoor grill or stovetop, in a white-hot cast-iron pan.
Recipe by Kathleen Whittenberger.

Prep time
10 minutes
  1. ¼ pound (113gr) butter
  2. Crushed red pepper to taste
  3. 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped or squeezed through a press
  4. Juice of 1 lemon
  5. 2 pounds (907gr) cleaned shrimp, fresh or thawed (peeling shells is optional)
  6. Lemon slices for the platter (they can be grilled too)
  1. Melt the butter with the crushed pepper, mined garlic, and lemon juice.
  2. If cooking on stovetop, heat a cast-iron pan over high heat, until it is white hot.
  3. Pour the butter mixture over the shrimp and place the shrimp across the pan so that they are not touching.
  4. Add some additional sauce, which will “grill” along with the shrimp.
  5. Once shrimp are cooked on one side, flip and cook on the second side.
  6. As soon as they are pink and opaque, they are done; put them on a platter.
  7. You may have to do batches as you want the shrimp to really have room to grill rather than steam.
  8. On a grill, use an appropriate pan and follow the same procedure.

Enjoy trying all three of our winners and let us know what you think! And if you are sampling any of the winners, here is the cocktail we have been tastefully drinking (always in moderation and never before driving!) while we tested all the Horses Doovers.


Even though the term “spritz” is a leftoveAperol glass designed by Luca Trazzir bit of  cocktail vocabulary when the Veneto area was ruled by the Austo-Vintage Aperol posterHungarian Hapsburgs, this drink is All Italian. Aperol itself was created in Padua by two brothers, Luigi and Silvio Barbierie in 1919 ( the Hapsburgs had left this area of Italy) for a lifestyle fair. Aperol gets its bright color from gentian, a slightly bitter taste from rhubarb and secret herbs and spices. In the period after World War II, aperitivi in the late afternoon became a trend. Aperol’s cleverly designed posters were aimed at both sports-loving men watching TV in bars and women enjoying a libation. The Art Nouveau–inspired posters were used in newspapers, magazines, and of course TV. The combination of Aperol and Prosecco as part of a Veneto “spritz” probably occurred in the 1980s. I personally love the glasses that Luca Trazzi designed for the Aperol Spritz (above) which are sort of a homage to the original Aperol bottle of 1919.

You can see it is pretty simple to make—no crushed ice or big ice cubes are essential—but the Resident Wine Maniac did some serious research into this delightful low-alcohol spritz and found that if blood orange soda is added, you get a more robustly flavored drink. Not stronger, not sweeter, it just has that added je-ne-sais-quoi. Our favorite blood orange soda for this drink is from Effervé.

Kitchen Detail Aperol Spritz

Serves 1
This version of one of the most popular Italian summer cocktails has more “oomph” to it.
Recipe by Robert Pollard.
  1. 2 parts Prosecco
  2. 2 parts Aperol bitter apéritif
  3. 1 part blood orange soda
  4. Orange slice for garnish.
  1. Fill each glass with ice cubes.
  2. Pour in 1½ ounces Prosecco first, followed by 1½ ounces Aperol,  and top with ¾ ounce blood orange soda.
  3. Garnish with an orange slice.

Green Acre #398: Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

Jacques and Jill, a mix of mauve-pink and orange tulips put together and sold as a combo by Colorblends. It’s a genius way to look as though you’re the brilliant gardener.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

I’M HOBBLING around Costco, a few days before the official advent of fall, with a stone in my sandal looking for signs of spring. Specifically, tulip bulbs.

Halfway through the giant store, I am assaulted by Christmas. Giant Santas, reindeer, lights! Wrapping paper and ribbons. Out of the corner of my eye I spy Halloween, a rack of costumes. Princesses and Spiderpersons—they don’t categorize by sex (or presumed sex) anymore. Anyone can be a princess!

There are bushels of candy. Snickers and Mars Bars, Mounds and Blow Pops. No Tootsie Roll Pops, which have become a bit of an addiction. Very hard to find, these. 

No sign at all of Thanksgiving. 

At last, I find a meager half rack of bulbs, the leavings. Daffs, fritillaria, allium, hyacinth, and tulips, lots of tulips. They’ve been stocked since August, but I just couldn’t look at them so early. It’s like trying on bathing suits in January, even though I know the pickings will be lean (unlike my girth) when Memorial Day comes around. 

One bag stops me in a dormant hot flash. Hottest of hot pink flowers softly brushed up the sides with a blush of purple. Mystic Van Eijk, they’re called. Fifty bulbs for $14.99. 

I cannot pass them by. 

Another bag, a mix of Purple Lady Triumph Tulips and a fat and frilly double tulip called Foxtrot. The purple is a shade too funereal, even for me, but the pinks? Mmmm. $14.99 for 50. Sold.  

They’re all midspring bloomers too, which is what I look for (on the bag). Opening in early April, just as the Kwanzan cherry bursts into pink blossom; add some butterflies and dancing mice and it’s a Disney cartoon. Timing is critical. I want them done by the end of the month to make way for summer blooms and tropical foliage. 

This visit was supposed to be purely for investigative reporting (and some ribs), not a bulb-buying trip, but who could resist such prices? Lady Astor in Laura Ashley, skipping about in the morning dew gathering a bouquet for the library, I ain’t.

There are many fine growers out there, the catalogues began arriving in July, when I have absolutely no interest in looking at them. Van Engelen, John Scheepers, White Flower Farm. They’ve been gathering dust on the hall table.  The years flick past fast enough; I have no desire to rush the seasons. Others don’t seem to mind: Plenty of bulbs are already sold out. 

For the last few years I’ve been getting bulbs from Colorblends, a justifiably praised company that stocks a well-priced selection of single-colored flowers and unexpected combinations, such as Jacques and Jill, which combines mauve-pink and orange tulips in a riotous blast. Pick a collection and Colorblends does all the work for you, except planting. 

The result? You look genius. Like you know your way around bulbs, which is nice, particularly when you write a gardening column that often features examples of your own bad judgment and minor disasters.

Tulips are the only bulbs I’m buying this year. Allium, which I adore, are a perpetual flop. The scent of hyacinth makes me sneeze. And daffodils? Like mums, in this semi-tropical climate they’re five-day wonders (if that). 

But tulips? Having the taste of a 7-year-old, as long as mine are some shade of pink and purple, I’m happy. 

Though I keep thinking of those orange fritillaria at Costco, how they’d toss a little acid into all that sweetness . . . hmmmm. 


(Un)Likely Stories


Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

By Valerie Monroe

ORDER, ORDER! But first, chaos.

I started this post thinking I’d tell you, in a straightforward way, the order in which you should apply your face products. Then I wondered what products you might be using. And then I tripped on questions of why you might be using them and what you might expect from them before I finally tumbled down a dark and deep rabbit hole from which I was sore afraid for a hellish 72 hours I would never return.

I spent that time researching over-the-counter skincare ingredients, poring over old interviews with skincare pros, watching videos of panels of experts, and speaking with Michelle Yagoda, MD, a highly knowledgeable facial plastic surgeon and skincare and supplement co-creator and patentee. I took notes. I developed a twitch in my eye and a bad feeling (dread). Finally, I passed out and had a nightmare. And when I awoke, I had an epiphany: I am confused. I was so confused that even when I staggered into the bathroom to look into my own eyes, I wasn’t sure who I was looking at.

I thought, What’s wrong with me that I can’t figure out what basic products you absolutely need and what they will do for you? There must be someone out there who can give me the perfect solution: a cream, a lotion, a gel that gives you the most bang for your buck. I had a second epiphany: No, there isn’t such a person. This confusion, this yearning, is exactly what the beauty industry wants me to feel. And I imagine you, at one time or another, have felt the same way.

Which inevitably leads to one or two conclusions. You spend money on products that may or may not perform as well as you expect, if they do anything at all. You might rightly think of this as a waste of money. But there’s a steeper price you pay, because you are led to expect results that may not happen. This can inspire a feedback loop of rightly thinking you’ve made a mistake: in choosing the wrong product, in not using it properly, in not educating yourself, or worse, in being beyond repair—which leaves you feeling not only disappointed, but also something like a failure. There are so many choices and you haven’t yet made the right one—but you just know there’s something better you haven’t tried.

I’m not saying there aren’t over-the-counter ingredients that can improve the quality of your skin; retinols (vitamin A derivatives) and glycolics (acids), among a few others, can minimize the appearance of fine lines and even-out tone and texture.

There’s a refrain among beauty publicists that the skincare product consumer is more educated than ever. But educated by whom? Magazines (or what’s left of them), newspapers, and most of social media are still beholden, to one degree or another, to advertisers. As Naomi Wolf wrote in her seminal book The Beauty Myth, media has to project the idea that aging looks bad because hundreds of millions of ad revenue dollars come from people who would be out of business if they proclaimed that visible age looked good. So how can you trust anything you read? You can’t. “Consumer advocacy studies ‘hire’ participants to give positive subjective reviews. They’re biased and worthless,” says Yagoda. “Most beauty copy cites these studies. ‘Peer reviewed studies’ are also meaningless and less common. The only valuable studies are those using placebo versus control, double-blind methods conducted by independent physicians. Studies by paid physician consultants obviously cause a conflict of interest and prey upon consumers—traditionally women.”

The one thing you can be sure the beauty industry produces most successfully? Hype.

For a thousand years I told my mother and my friends that uber-expensive moisturizers weren’t worth the money. They believed me. But they believed me only when I was standing in front of them staring intently into their eyes. Because again and again they would later ask me, “Does fill-in-the-blank $$$ moisturizer eliminate wrinkles and sagging?” And I’d answer with an exasperated, “No, you’re mostly paying for expensive packaging and the very marketing techniques that got you back here asking a question you already know the answer to.”

Formulation chemist Jen Novakovich confirms that effective moisturizers aren’t wildly expensive to produce. She says she priced out the formula of a 100 ml container of hyaluronic acid serum selling for $800 and discovered production cost was only around $3.00/100ml. She didn’t say if the container was lined in gold.

She also confirms you can find a perfectly good moisturizer for much, much less. As long as it contains moisturizing ingredients, occlusives (like oils or silicones), humectants (like hyaluronic acid or glycerin), and/or emollients (like butters), and your skin seems to like it, you’ll get good transient results. I say transient because the product isn’t changing your skin except for temporarily plumping it, which diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

You can also make a very good drugstore moisturizer feel extravagant. Just steal a bit of the expensive marketing that keeps hooking you and use it in your own bathroom. Instead of slapping on your cream or lotion, pump a little into your palm. (Or use a tiny spatula to scoop it out of the jar.) Warm it up between your hands and then pat it gently onto your cheeks, chin, forehead, and nose. Lightly drum your fingertips across your cheeks. Take a deep breath. Look into your eyes. Your skin is thoroughly moisturized and you just saved a few hundred dollars. Doesn’t that feel good?

I think I also have to tell you that if it makes you happy to spend $800 on a moisturizer, go right ahead. You like the smell, the texture, the story, the bottle? All yours!

But back to addressing the original question. Here’s the order in which, according to Yagoda, you should apply products.

Basically, go from lightest to heaviest. If you use a serum in the morning, apply that first after cleansing. Why use a serum? According to many dermatologists, there’s compelling evidence that vitamin C serum helps reduce oxidative cell damage (caused by sunlight and other environmental factors). Novakovich believes another vitamin called niacinamide has better stability than vitamin C and better clinical evidence about combating free-radicals. But she says doctors seem to like vitamin C more. I’m not sure why; my guess is that vitamin C is easier to sell than niacina-what? Anyway, a serum’s light formula allows its active ingredients to be rapidly absorbed. I don’t use a serum but this one has a cult following, and Yagoda likes this one.

At night, you’ll apply a serum or treatment product (like a prescription retinoid) after cleansing. (I use a trifecta of the ingredients tretinoin, azelaic acid, and niacinamide in a prescription formula I get from Curology. Full disclosure, I was on its VIP list for many years, meaning I haven’t paid for it. But that’s not why I use it; I use it because the company’s formulas contain actives with proven results.)

Next comes moisturizer, which forms a kind of barrier to seal in hydration and to keep out dirt and grime. A $30-40 moisturizer will do this as well as any. Both this optionand this option are frequently recommended by dermatologists. At night I wait a few minutes before applying moisturizer over my treatment lotion because I like giving the lotion time to absorb. It dries almost instantly and I’ve never found any proof that a treatment lotion is more effective if you wait before applying a moisturizer, but I do it anyway because…beauty magic.

Finally, in the morning, apply sunscreen last. It’s the most important product you can put on your face—the first line of defense against environmental irritants and the sun’s damaging UV rays. (What does damaging mean? Destruction of collagen and elastin, causing wrinkles and sagging, and proliferation of dark spots. Also, skin cancer.) Wearing a sunscreen like this or this is one of the most effective ways to ensure a healthy—and therefore healthy-looking—complexion. It isn’t magic. It’s common sense.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Kitchen Detail: A Wedding Tiramisu


By Nancy Pollard

THERE ARE probably more recipes for this Italian dessert on the Internet than there are  photos of cats, but for good reason. Tiramisu can be made a day or two ahead of the event, it will feed a crowd, it is so easy to put together, and it is sensationally delicious. Too many food writers make this too complicated: There is no cream, you can’t use diet cream cheese, and sponge cake or soft ladyfingers make abysmal substitutes. In Italy, there normally is not a wedding cake, but a series of “spoon desserts.” This one was served at my daughter’s wedding outside of Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche.

Wedding Tiramisu

Serves 10
A faithful adaptation of the tiramisu served at my daughter’s wedding in Ascoli Piceno, in Italy’s Marche region. It was one of several “spoon desserts.” It is made in a baking dish or a shallow casserole that holds 2 to 2½ quarts (2.25 liters).
  1. 5 large eggs, separated
  2. ¾ cup (150gr) caster sugar
  3. 1½ cups mascarpone, a soft Italian cream cheese (340gr)
  4. 8 ounces (237ml) espresso coffee
  5. 1/3 cup (79ml) high-quality brandy or Marsala
  6. 36 to 42 Savoiardi* (do not use cake or soft ladyfingers)
  7. 3 ozunces (85gr) grated dark chocolate or dutched (alkalized) cocoa
  1. In a mixer bowl beat egg yolks with sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. Add mascarpone and beat until smooth.
  2. In another non-plastic bowl (copper is preferable) whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into mascarpone mixture.
  3. Combine espresso and brandy in a shallow bowl.
  4. Dip both ends of the Savoiardi into the coffee mixture for a couple of seconds and arrange enough of them in the casserole to create a compact bottom layer. (It is important not to let the coffee soak too much into the Savoiardi.)
  5. Spread half the mascarpone mixture over this layer.
  6. Top with another layer of coffee-dipped Savoiardi.
  7. Spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the top and smooth it.
  8. Dust with the cocoa powder or grated chocolate (I combine the two).
  9. Chill for several hours before serving..
  1. * Savoiardi are crisp Italian sponge cookies, not soft ladyfingers, and are available at specialty grocers and online.
  2. I combine half grated chocolate and half cocoa to top my version of this dessert.
  3. It will keep for several days in the fridge.
  4. Sometimes I have generously sprinkled cocoa and grated chocolate on the first layer of the tiramisu as well.

Green Acre #397: Of Toes and the Tropics

Just a typical busy day on Juno Beach, seen from sister Jeanie’s terrace. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

I’M SITTING on the back porch, staring at the garden, struggling with what to write about this week while being distracted by my toes. 

We were in Florida over the Labor Day weekend, celebrating my sister Jeanie’s 90th birthday (she’s old enough to be my mother, in case you’re wondering). The whole family was there: My Prince, my baby sister Bonnie, her daughter and son and grandchildren, my Baby, her toddler Wesley, and her Personal Prince Pete.

There was a big bash with another 20 or so guests in the pool house of Jeanie’s oceanfront condo. Easy stuff, just hot dogs, burgers, piles of sides. Cake. Balloons, many balloons. Jeanie likes balloons. Sinatra on the boom box. Lots of wine and chocolate—what else do you give a 90-year-old who lives in Paradise? 

Baby and I were headed back to the apartment to get something or other, maybe pickles. We followed the serpentine path   to the side door, meandering through clusters of palms and beds of tropical flowers. The colors here are unreal, like an early Technicolor movie. 

I yanked open the heavy, hurricane-proofed door, dragging it right over my left foot, scraping the skin off my middle toe. Ouch. 

Blood poured into my Birkenstock Gizeh sandals, which have a previously unappreciated raised rim—which, it turns out, is perfect for pooling blood, keeping it from dripping onto white carpeting. I squished to the elevator, and in the bathroom, Baby gently bathed my toe in the tub, wrapping it in gauze and surgical tape so it was roughly the size of my thumb. 

This was very dramatic-looking, though no one at the party noticed, much as I tried for attention. Seems, at the very moment I was being crippled by a door, My Prince’s hand was being bitten by a dog he’d attempted to pet, and he had repaired to the pool terrace in a Shakespearean slump, wearing more swaddling than I was. He took this attack very personally. “I’m a dog person,” he has said, and said. Not that we have one. 

I didn’t notice until later that the nail of my fourth toe over, the one between the middle toe and pinkie, was vertically split from tip to cuticle. Baby should have bandaged the whole foot, or maybe not bandaged it so well that there wasn’t just a little seepage—maybe that would have been noted. 

Anyway. I’m sitting out here, thinking about gardens and what to write about them. Anderson Cooper, my white parakeet, is sitting beside me, having a loud conversation with one of the little birds that flit about the yard all day. Yes, I know why the caged bird sings. This is more distracting than my toe. Can it, Cooper. 

The garden does look nice, I will say that. There was no rain at all in Florida, which usually has a mini-monsoon every afternoon at about 4, often followed by a rainbow over the ocean. This time every day was blindingly sunny and hot, unbearable if you weren’t in the pool or the ocean. We alternated between them then broke for cocktails.   

And here we were prepared for a hurricane—sister would have her birthday in the midst of hurricane season. Because of this, we’ve been through several, including Andrew. Now, that was a ballbuster. 

Meanwhile, back home, the clouds burst daily, we were told, so everything is lush; the elephant ears and philodendrons have reached prehistoric size, the hibiscus are covered with new buds, as are the jasmines. It’s as if the garden doesn’t realize that fall will be here shortly. 

That summer is almost past. Next week, if I live, we’ll tackle early-onset fall. 


What Do We Want? Radiance! When Do We Want It? Now!


Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

By Valerie Monroe

I WAS THINKING about how to write about inner beauty, and it made me feel like a steakhouse waiter pushing the kale salad. It’s fresh! It’s good for your colon! I thought, If Patti Smith can write engagingly about cigarette butts and dirty socks, why can’t I find a way to write about inner beauty?

But I think I’ve got it—because generating your inner glow and your outer glow (which I’m pretty sure you’re interested in) relies on the same principle: exfoliation.

You know the facial exercise I keep inviting you to try? The one where you stare into your eyes in a mirror until you begin to de-objectify the face you’ve come to know as yours? That’s a kind of exfoliation—a peeling away of your defenses and protective layers in order to expose vulnerability, compassion, and love.

Several years ago, trying to untie the inner beauty knot for a story in O, The Oprah Magazine, I spoke to Matthieu Ricard, a former genetic researcher and now Buddhist monk and author. He told me: When we see what we think of as inner beauty, we’re responding to empathy, compassion, an openness to others. We see it on someone’s face when she feels in harmony with our deepest nature as human beings, which is basically peaceful and loving. That harmony manifests physically through subtle expressions which we pick up both consciously and unconsciously. Hundreds of almost imperceptible muscular movements are constantly communicating our feelings. Love and engagement transform a face; we identify with that look and it evokes in us a yearning to love and be loving, reminding us of the best we can be. And so inspired, we wind up looking out at the world with more loving eyes ourselves. 

Unlike physical beauty, which grabs the spotlight for itself, inner beauty shines on everyone, holding them in its embrace and making them more beautiful, too. If that sounds too theoretical, think of it this way: What you’re aiming to locate during the mirror meditation’s compassionate self-exchange? That’s inner beauty. And if you can see yourself as I hope you do, you know you already have it.

Now for the more . . . fleshly kind of exfoliation, the kind that gives you a physical glow. I prefer the word radiance, though, because glow sounds a bit subatomic to me. Also, if anyone says you look radiant (when you’re not actually pregnant), isn’t it the loveliest compliment imaginable?

First, why you want it. I’ve previously mentioned studies that show when light bounces evenly off a complexion, it’s perceived as healthier, more genetically robust, and, therefore, more attractive. Additionally, judgment of women’s facial skin age is influenced not only by the frequency of lines and wrinkles, but also by unevenness, discoloration, and a decrease in light reflection. As we age, skin cells turn over more slowly, which can result in a layer of dead cells on the skin’s surface. The result: Our skin tone becomes more uneven and our complexion’s light-bounciness diminishes. (Weird note: I often wear black, and in the past few years, I’ve noticed what looks like a lot of dust on the inside of my clothes when I’m undressing. I assume what I’m seeing is dead skin cells—and there doesn’t seem to be enough moisturizer in the world to prevent the situation. I sometimes wonder if this is how I’ll leave the earth, by being slowly rubbed away by my pants.)

But back to your face and the joys of exfoliation. To reveal smoother, more even-toned, and light-bouncy skin, you can goose the halting exfoliation process in a few ways. The easiest, and best if you have sensitive skin, is with a washcloth, which you can saturate with your cleanser and use to gently swab your face. Feeling a bit bolder? Invest in a scrub, which I think of as an old-timey way to exfoliate. But scrubs have been improved since we learned about the evils of microbeads in the environment.

When you want to get serious, try an alpha-hydroxy acid or beta-hydroxy acid peel pad. Of all the products beckoning as you spin deliriously around the beauty aisles, exfoliating acids are the real deal and can make a noticeable difference in your complexion. These acids remove the top layer of skin cells, revealing more clarity. My preference has always been glycolic acid pads, which I googled and found what must be a thousand different kinds. I’m just going to share the two brands I’ve used and like, and then direct you to my friends at Allure, who I trust to give you a wider range. The two I like are Cane + Austin and (for an option that’s a little less expensive) Peter Thomas Roth, with a combination of salicylic and glycolic acids. These treatments can be strong; anything more than a slight, brief sting is too intense for me. Here’s a manageable list of other brands to choose from.

If you find acids are a bridge too far, or if you don’t but you’re the impatient sort, you can always fake it till you make it. I recently faked out myself, when I commented on a friend’s remarkably smooth, almost luminescent complexion. We were ambling, as we often do, in Central Park.

“Your skin!” I said. We stopped walking for a minute. “What are you using?”

“What you told me,” she said, lowering her Covid mask. “In the morning I mix a drop of Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer with my Olay Regenerist.”

I’d forgotten I’d mentioned that little trick. I told her she looked radiant and we resumed our stroll, both rightly pleased with ourselves.


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Kitchen Detail: An Apple a Day

As American as Apple Pie

Ralls Genet apple, apple recipesActually, the apple is, like so many of our forebears, an immigrant. It is not a fruit native to the US or Canada but rather to the mountainous area of Kazakhstan, thousands of years before Sacha Baron Cohen made that country into a comedic byword. Through centuries of Eurasian migration, apples were then grown throughout Europe, and different varieties were propagated. The colonists in Jamestown brought some cuttings and planted them in their new stakehold in 1607. And the first record of a commercial apple orchard is in 1697, in Boston. But these apples were bitter and used for hard cider, as they were in England and France. As fermented cider was viewed as a preventative against pathogens, colonists and their children drank it with meals (watered down for the younger set). Thomas Jefferson was gifted some apple cuttings from a prominent French botanist. He grew the apple known as the Ralls Genet. The Ralls Genet was grafted by Japanese botanists in 1939 to the American Red Delicious apple. It is known to you and me as the Fuji.

Pie Crust Possibilities

Lutece book cover, apple recipesStill, it is hard to find a “crisp apple” that has that ethereal appley taste and hard crunchy bite. So I find myself making more cooked apple dishes than just having one a day to keep the doctor away. This is where essences from Grasse, France, are so helpful. We sold thousands of these essences in the shop to bakers, chocolate makers, both commercial and homestyle, and they were also a secret ingredient for mixologists in their signature drinks and priced accordingly. And now the torch has been passed to Simply Gourmand. The Green Apple Essence will give your pie, cake, or sorbet that missing appley-ness (without additional sugar and Kitchen Detail (KD) riff on apple pop tarts from Flour Bakery cookbook, apple recipescinnamon, which is used to cover up the fact that the apple usually has very little taste). And you need just a fraction of one of these essences. I normally start with about 1/8 teaspoon.

My favorite version of the creamy apple tart from Alsace is from The Lutèce Cookbook, which has a very wordy introduction written by my favorite restaurant reviewer, Seymour Britchky. I wish we could have gone to André Soltner’s restaurant. The book has lots of recipes that are Haute Difficile but lots of simple ones too. And this is one of them. Soltner is a bit short on directions, so after several versions in my kitchen, I am here to help you out. You can use any crust you feel comfortable with, as long as it can be unmolded. Personally, as a late bloomer in food processor ownership, I have converted to Cathy Barrow’s All Butter Crust, which is in all her cookbooks and on her website. As she advises, I make two of them, freeze one and roll out the other. It is the delicious Energizer Bunny of crusts. You can save the scraps, freeze and use them to make the KD riff on Joanne Chang’s Apple Pop Tarts (below). The double version of  Cathy Barrow’s crust is given below.

All Butter Crust (Double Version)

Yields 2 pie crusts
Easy, indestructible, and delicious. What more could you ask for? This is the food processor version; Cathy Barrow has instructions for mixer version and also doing this crust by hand on her website: www.cathybarrow.com.
Recipe by Cathy Barrow
Adapted from When Pies Fly
Prep time 25 minutes
  1. 3 cups 320gr) all purpose flour
  2. 8 oz (226gr) unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 20 minutes
  3. 2 pinches fine sea salt or kosher salt
  4. 1/2 cup (120ml) ice water
  1. Place your processor bowl on a scale set to zero and weigh in the flour. Cathy Barrow uses bleached flour, as it does not turn grayish when stored in the fridge.
  2. Weigh in the cubes of frozen butter. (I cut my butter frozen and then add.)
  3. Add the salt and insert the metal blade, cover, and pulse 15 times.
  4. Add the water all at once, process until the dough comes together in a rough ball.
  5. Cathy advises to lay down two sheets of plastic wrap to form an X, flour it lightly and dump your dough onto it, scraping up any extra pieces from your work bowl.
  6. With a scraper, form your dough into a ball. (I weigh out 2 halves, about 332gr each.)
  7. Roll each into a 4-inch diisk or a 3½-inch square and wrap.
  8. Once wrapped, roll each “package” of dough briefly and gently on each side.
  9. Put one wrapped dough ball in the freezer if you are not using it for baking now, but label the date. The one you’re going to use now needs to rest in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.


Alsatian Apple Tart

Serves 6
Easy to set up, delicious by itself, you can add vanilla or spice ice cream as they did at Lutèce.
Recipe by André Soltner (with some revisions)
Adapted from The Lutèce Cookbook
  1. 1 prepared tart crust about 10 inches (25cm) across (see recipe above)
  2. 3 or 4 small Golden Delicious apples
  3. Juice of ½ lemon
  4. ½ cup (115gr) white granulated sugar (I prefer India Tree Caster Sugar)
  5. ½ cup (120ml) heavy cream
  6. 1 egg
  7. 1 teaspoon Kirsch or, my preference, 1/8 teaspoon French Green Apple essence and 1 teaspoon Calvados
  1. Preheat oven to 375F and blind-bake* the crust in a short-sided metal tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. Peel and core the apples and cut them into 8 slices each.
  3. Moisten the apple slices with the lemon juice and arrange them in a circular pattern in your pre-baked shell, still in the tart pan.
  4. Bake the tart for 20 minutes.
  5. While it is baking, mix the sugar, cream, egg and flavorings.
  6. When you have removed the tart from the oven, strain this mixture through a fine sieve over the tart.
  7. Return the tart to the oven and bake for an additional 25 to 35 minutes. The apples should be soft and the cream lightly set.
  8. Serve at room temperature.
  1. *Blind baking is baking a pie crust without the filling. To keep the crust from puffing up, place parchment paper across it and weigh the paper down with dried beans or pie weights.
  2. The tart keeps 2 days covered at room temperature. It will keep a couple of days longer in the refrigerator, but it should be reheated slightly for serving.

An American Icon Revisited

first Flour Bakery cookbook cover, apple recipesAs an adolescent, I whined incessantly to my mother to buy me the American toaster wonder, Pop Tarts. I mean, they Ateco adjustable cutter in use for Kitchen Detail, apple recipeshad to be as good as Mounds Bars or Hostess Cupcakes! Reluctantly, she bought a pack. I popped them in our toaster with their no-melt icing (that should have been a warning),  and the disappointing taste was my first lesson, but certainly not my last, in false marketing. You can use the All Butter Crust (above) and create this oh-so-superior version of Pop Tarts from Joanne Chang’s first book, Flour. She makes hers the size of a small index card; I make mine smaller. You can re-roll the scraps of this crust to eke out a few more. I find my pasta cutting tool (see photo, right) from August Thomsen invaluable for this and other precision cuts. Freeze the dough squares flat on a tray and then pop the pieces into a sealable freezer bag. Bake them frozen (you’ll have to add a few minutes to the baking time) and then frost them when they have cooled. I keep them covered at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.


Apple Pop Tarts

Yield varies according to size of each tart
The best way to have an apple for a snack. Bet you won’t eat just one. I make mine about 3 inches square.
Recipe by Joanne Chang (with some modifications)

½ recipe of the All Butter Pie Crust, above

1 egg lightly beaten with a pinch of salt

For the filling
3 tablespoons (43gr) unsalted butter
2 apples peeled, cored, and sliced thin (Chang uses Granny Smith, I use Golden Delicious)
½ cup (110gr) Light Muscovado sugar (I use India Tree)
½ cup (70gr) white all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus another for an egg wash
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (Vietnamese cinnamon offers a more pungent flavor than others)
Pinch fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon Green Apple Essence

For the glaze
1 cup (120gr) confectioner’s sugar (I use India Tree)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Calvados or apple cider
Bare 1/8 teaspoon Green Apple Essence from Grasse


Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the apple slices. Lower the heat and cook the apples in the butter, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant spatula for 2 to 3 minutes (the apples should be just soft). Add the sugar and continue to toss and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes (the sugar should be dissolved, and the apples should start to fall apart).

Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to a small bowl and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

When cool, add the flour first and mix thoroughly. Then add the beaten egg, cinnamon, salt, and essence, if using. Make sure that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. The mixture should have a jammy consistency and it must be cool when you start filling your pastry.

Roll out your pastry into rough rectangles or squares in the size you want. (I use an adjustable pasta/pastry cutter; see photo above.)  Save the scraps from the edges as the scraps can be rerolled to make at least one or two more pastries.

Brush the pastry squares (or rectangles) with an egg wash (I have omitted this step occasionally, but it just ensures a seal, especially if you freeze the pastries). In the middle of  half of the squares/rectangles, put about 1½ or 2 tablespoons of filling. If you have made rectangles, make the mound a bit longer than wide so that it follows the shape of the cut pastry.

Top each filled pastry piece with one of the plain pieces and crimp all four edges with a fork. Press the fork down firmly, especially on the corners.

Bake on a parchment or Silpat liner sheet for about 40 minutes. Crusts should be a light gold color.

Allow to cool completely on a rack before brushing on the glaze.

For the glaze

Mix the confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon with the Calvados or cider. Add the essence to taste.

Apply the glaze with an icing spatula or, if getting fancy, drizzle through a pastry bag with a small tip.

The tarts keep nicely at room temperature for 2 to 3 days if covered.

Glaze and filling can be kept covered in the refrigerator for a week. You can make the tarts ahead of time and freeze them without baking them or frosting them: Pop them into the oven and glaze when cooled.

Jane Fonda, My Aging Hero

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda come to terms with their new lives in "Grace and Frankie," a new Netflix series.

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda come to terms with their new lives in “Grace and Frankie,” a new Netflix series.

Jane Fonda is in our thoughts this week following her announcement that she has begun chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Here’s a story we wrote about her in June of 2015.

By Nancy McKeon

WHEN DID I FALL IN LOVE with Jane Fonda? Was it years ago when I stumbled upon her, chattering away in French on the long-time French literary talk show “Apostrophes”? Was it when she swooped chicly into the boardroom in HBO’s “The Newsroom” as the powerful owner of the news operation’s TV station?  Was it when she acknowledged having work done on her face in “Prime Time,” the aging-bravely book she brought out in 2011? (See page 12.)

Whenever it was, my awe of her (as the woman who did all the things I didn’t have to courage or tenacity to do) is cemented with her new role, as Grace in “Grace and Frankie,” with a delightful Lily Tomlin playing Frankie. The TV series was released a few weeks ago by Netflix, where all episodes of Season 1 have been posted.

There’s a moment in one episode when Fonda sits on her bed in a negligee, holds one arm out and, with a whaddya-gonna-do? look on her face, bats the flesh on her upper arm, sending it into a pendulum swing, demonstrating that you don’t have to be Jewish to have a “Hadassah muscle,” or what some of us call batwings.

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in a lighter moment in "Grace and Frankie," a new Netflix series.

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in a lighter moment in “Grace and Frankie,” a new Netflix series.

“Grace and Frankie” is full of such moments. Some critics have chided the show for not getting beyond the clichés of aging and of older women being left by their husbands (who are leaving the women for each other, in this case) and playing scenes for shallow laughs. But the moments of self-recognition are compensation enough.

Here’s an idea of how the Fonda character plays to women–at least to me. The two husbands and wives have had their disastrous dinner, the women learning that the men are outta there. Now Fonda is home, sitting at her dressing table, staring at herself as she dismantles her public face. First she pulls off one strip of false eyelashes, followed by the other. Then she reaches up to the back of her head with both hands, and I’m cringing, thinking she’s going to remove a wig. But no, it’s just a small hairpiece that fluffs up the crown of her ‘do.

But now she’s traveling up and behind her head again. Her fingers work at something, and soon two strings? elastic bands? are hanging down. A couple of friends thought these were her hearing aids. But no: They’re elastic bands that loop around the head to pull up a sagging jawline.* Fonda sits there, forlorn, surveying what should be the wreckage of beauty, but of course in her case is no wreck at all (how on earth could Martin Sheen, as Robert, her husband and a man with too much money for such lousy, oversize dentures, want to leave her? Although, yes, she is a bit chilly).

I watched the dressing-table sequence a couple of times to be sure, but unhooking the elastic “temporary facelift” has no effect at all on Fonda’s surgically ensured jawline. (And good for her, I say: I had a whole array of chins surgically removed a couple of years ago and have been deliriously happy with the result every since. Honk if you believe in plastic surgery!)

Fonda’s Grace is a well-heeled, up-tight businesswoman who created a beauty empire, with her face and honey-color hair selling boxes of hair dye (or some beauty product). Her daughter is in charge now, but that doesn’t stop Fonda from coming up with ideas, even if they come by way of the hippie-dippy Frankie, not Grace’s favorite person, who has concocted a vaginal lubricant from yams. Uh-huh. Daughter/CEO of the beauty company of course wants nothing to do with it, wants to aim for a younger audience. And that’s the point at which Fonda cites the adult female demographic: Do you know that 84 percent of post-menopausal women find sex painful? And the cri de coeur of our generation: “You are missing out on a HUGE market!”

I’m part of that, and it’s emblematic of the invisibility of the “older woman.” Also, it’s a tonic that the show is aiming above the level of the “Golden Girls” (in interior style and fashion taste and disposable income) to add muscle and bone to what is really an attractive, affluent demographic.

Okay, the show was created by Marta Kauffman, who co-created “Friends,” so maybe there’s not a lot of digging under the skin. But early on, a less-than-sensitive Robert–he’s a divorce lawyer, after all–says he didn’t think Grace would mind the breakup very much, he didn’t think she was that happy in their marriage.

To which a wounded Grace hesitates then responds, in a spirit most of us can identify with, “I was happy enough!”


* There are “face lift tapes” or elastic bands all over the Internet. Not sure what was used in “Grace and Frankie.” And of course, in the case of Jane Fonda, it didn’t have to work.

The bands vary from brand to brand–Secret Lift and Bring It Up are two brands I’ve found–but they basically involve a clear piece of tape you paste to your temples or behind your ears (or both). The elastic band attached to each tape gets pulled up and back, locking together with its mate somewhere where you can hide it under your hair (bangs are recommended to hide the tape, and some fluff at the crown of the head can conceal the elastic). Now if they could just come up with such a thing for the Hadassah muscle.

Kitchen Detail: A Tasty ‘Mayo Clinic’



By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.


Travel Perils and Rewards

MS.S. Rotterda from the Holland America Liney mother was a fervent believer in the inevitability of airplane crashes — to such a degree that when my parents went on vacations to Europe, my father took a plane and my mother reserved a very nice stateroom on a ship. Her belief prevailed when I went to study German in a Goethe Institut program.  I was deposited in a windowless cabin (some might have called it steerage) that slept four people on a Holland America Line passenger ship, the SS Rotterdam. One of the few pleasures I remember was the food served in a crowded but formal dining room. One evening the waiter served our first course, which was a salad of hard-boiled eggs garnished with a white sauce. I pushed it around my plate and then tasted it. It was delicious. I asked the waiter, who was trained not to appear too friendly to passengers, what it was. “That, Modom, is mayonnaise,” was his response. There were some notable outcomes to that period. I surprisingly aced the final oral and written exams in German; my mother finally joined my father on transcontinental flights after her ship had a terrible accident in the Bremerhaven harbor, and I learned how to make mayonnaise after researching several mayo recipes.

North and South

I occasionally read in social and traditional media about the competition between Hellmann’s and Duke’s. Since I am not a fan of either, I was curious about the perceived differences. To start with, one is from the North and the other from the South. One is the brainchild of a man, the other of a woman. Actually, their histories and the ongoing rivalry between their respective fans are rather sweet.

Richard Helllman of Hellman's MayonnaiseRichard Hellmann, a Prussian immigrant, landed in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century and married into a delicatessen-owning family. He soon opened his own deli on Columbus Avenue, where he developed his mayonnaise to be given out to clients. It became so popular that he tinkered with the recipe so that it would be less perishable. And then he sold it in bulk to other stores. The bulk sales were so profitable that with the sale of his delicatessen,  he could afford to build a small factory, and the consumer-size bottle of Richard Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon (his marketing design) Mayonnaise was born. The bottles were reusable, and a purchaser could get an additional gasket for a penny. Hellman tried to market other products, but nothing had the staying power of his mayonnaise. He dropped all other products and focused on expanding its sales. In the ensuing years, a California brand of  mayonnaise, Best Foods, become a competitor. Its parent company, Postum Foods,  bought Richard Hellmann’s company when he wanted to retire. Today, the same mayonnaise is marketed under the Best Foods brand west of the Rocky Mountains, and virtually the same recipe is marketed under the Hellmann’s name east of the Rockies. Today, after being part of several acquisitions, the two brands are owned by Unilever. Tasters quibble over the differences between the two—there is supposedly a bit more vinegar in the Best Foods version. Both labels list a combination of primarily soybean oil, water, whole eggs, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, with scorbic acid, and assorted “natural flavors.”

Duke’s Mayonnaise was born in Greenville, South Carolina, over a century ago. Its success is even more remarkable in that it was driven by a woman at a time and place when a female-run enterprise was almost unheard of. Eugenia Duke started by selling sandwichesEugenia Duke from Duke's Mayonnaise website to soldiers stationed nearby. She distributed her sandwiches (pimento cheese, chicken, or egg salad), which were spread with lots of her homemade mayonnaise, near a military camp. The soldiers bought thousands of them. After the  end of World War I, she began distributing sandwiches through drugstores, and she even maintained a tearoom in a prominent Greenville hotel. Assessing the ever-growing  number of queries about the spread that made her sandwiches such a financial success, Eugenia’s top salesman encouraged her to focus on the spread instead of the sandwiches. She did and sold her sandwich business, which still operates in Greenville today. Duke’s homegrown mayonnaise continued to amass huge sales, and Eugenia was advised by the same salesman to sell her mayonnaise enterprise to C. F. Sauer, a larger corporation that produced spices. Eugenia became the spokeswoman for the mayonnaise, and C.F. Sauer promoted it successfully in grocery stores throughout the US, but primarily in the South. Even when she “retired” to California to be with her daughter, the ever-resourceful  Eugenia Duke opened a new sandwich business called the Duchess Sandwich Company, successfully selling sandwiches to drugstores and cafes. Duke’s mayonnaise has additional egg yolks in its whole-egg formula, and no sugar (actually a necessity when it was made on a larger scale amid sugar rationing) and a bit of paprika with the vinegar base. One of the classic mayo recipes.

A Family Feud

I think my older daughter, who went to school briefly in North Carolina, like her father preferred Duke’s, but as Hellmann’s was the favorite of both her grandmothers, we had both jars in the house. Logo for L'Association Pour La Sauvegarde des Oeufs MayonnaiseDaughter and Dad even had taste tests (if one could call them that) involving peanut butter, mayonnaise, and banana sandwiches. I had to leave the room when this bit of family bonding took place. (It should be noted that geography is not destiny. The father has grown to prefer Hellmann’s on his world-famous BLTs.) Me, if I want mayonnaise, I make my own, and take solace that there exists a society for the preservation of Oeufs Mayonnaise in France, l’Association pour la Sauvegarde de l’Oeuf Mayonnaise, or l’ASOM. If there is an annual competition for the best Oeufs Winner Oeufs Mayo 2019 Bouillon Pigalle for L'ASOMMayonnaise, there has to be some hope for the world. The 2019 winner was the Paris bistro Bouillon Pigalle, and they charge only €2.40 for it. Stateside, you can make your own prize-winning Oeufs Mayonnaise with one of the recipes below.

I think David Tanis says it best in his book Market Cooking. “Why would you not make your own mayonnaise? It’s completely baffling to me since it is so easy to make and so divine.” I basically use the procedure he outlines. I use grapeseed oil or sunflower-seed oil and will add some olive oil or nut oil, depending on what the mayonnaise is being served with. I do it by hand in a bowl with a whisk, or sometimes in a mortar and pestle, particularly if it has some added tuna or roasted peppers. Doing it in a blender or food processor actually takes more time, if you consider the setup and cleanup afterward. This is truly one of the best mayo recipes to try.


Yields 1½ to 2 cups
So easy, so divine. I don’t understand the other stuff. I have made some personal adjustments to his recipe.
Recipe by David Tanis
Adapted from Market Cooking
  1. 2 large egg yolks
  2. 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dijon mustard
  3. 2 cups oil (473ml) (Tanis uses all olive oil; I use mostly grapeseed or sunflower-seed oil with some olive or nut oil for additional flavor, and I frequently use less than two cups)
  4. Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (I prefer white pepper: It’s milder and looks better in the emulsion)
  5. 1 teaspoon lemon juice, red or white vinegar, plus more to taste, if necessary
  1. Put the yolks and mustard in a medium-size metal, glass, or ceramic bowl.
  2. Whisk the yolks until they thicken slightly.
  3. While whisking, add some oil in a drizzle, whisking in a circular motion.
  4. As you see it thicken, continue to add the oil of your choice either by spoonsful or in a small drizzle.
  5. Taste and see what type of emulsion you want and season accordingly.
  6. At this point, add your lemon juice or vinegar to suit your taste. and whisk again. You may want to add a bit more oil of your choice.
  7. Your finished texture should be similar to that of softly whipped cream.
  8. This takes a few minutes by hand, but it can be done in a hand mixer, a stand mixer, a blender, or a food processor.
  9. It keeps about a week in the refrigerator, unless it is flavored with herbs or garlic, which lose their effect over time.
  1. I prefer Fallot Dijon mustard to other brands.
  2. I don’t use the mustard with seeds when I make mayonnaise.

Fat Book Cover - contains great mayo recipesAs a final note, I feel I would be remiss if I did not share with you a Market Cooking David Tanis has great mayo recipesmayonnaise I made from Jennifer McLagan’ s dear-to-my-heart cookbook Fat. Of all mayo recipes, this version is the soul sister to a BLT as it is made from room-temperature bacon grease instead of oil. This is one case where it is better to create your emulsion in a small blender or food processor (again, a small container) rather than do it by hand. You may not use all of the liquid bacon grease, depending on the size of the yolk. When the emulsion gets to the spreadable consistency and flavor you like, don’t add more grease. This mayo  congeals in the refrigerator, so you have to bring it back to room temperature and remix a bit. Just have your  sandwich fixin’s ready. McLagan suggests that it is good on any egg sandwich, grilled vegetables, cooked shrimp or lobster as well as potato salad. I have made it a few times, not just for BLTs but also for a very different Oeufs Mayonnaise. Maybe even prize-winning Oeufs!

Bacon Mayonnaise

Yields ½ cup to ¾ cup (depending on amount of fat used)
It’s weird, but it works and is so much more interesting than Duke’s or Hellmann’s
  1. 1 egg yolk
  2. 3/4 teaspoon (3ml) Dijon mustard
  3. 1 teaspoon (5ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  4. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  5. ½ cup (125ml) liquid bacon grease
  6. A small amount of boiling water to thin mayonnaise if necessary
  1. Combine the egg yolk, mustard, and lemon juice in the small bowl of a food processor or in a blender.
  2. Process until thoroughly blended.
  3. With the machine running, add some of the bacon fat until the mixture starts to stiffen and emulsify. This should take about 2 minutes.
  4. Once the mixture starts to emulsify, you can add more of the fat until you get the texture and thickness you want.
  5. If the mayonnaise is too thick, blend in one teaspoon of boiling water.
  6. Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste.


Green Acre #396: Spread Gently, Sweet Clematis

Over the past 30 years, this abundant Sweet Autumn Clematis has voluntarily swept across the Cavanaugh alley fence, affording fall flowers and privacy in a tight neighborhood. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THE SWEET Autumn Clematis that has spent the summer sending its green tentacles rambling along the top of our  9-foot-tall alley fence, has popped into bloom.

A volunteer, this plant. Appearing maybe 30 years ago in a far corner, lofting into the wisteria that straddles the garage roof, streaking a white blizzard across the green, lasting several gorgeous weeks and—poof!—gone. 


It’s said not to mind some shade, but this one is in that rare position (for us) where it enjoys a southeast exposure, basking in the sun most of the day. It’s said that it can grow 30 feet in a season. That is correct. It blooms when other varieties of clematis don’t, from late August into September. That is correct. It’s also said to have a sweet smell (hence the name), but unless you stick a branch in a paper bag, insert your head to condense the fragrance, and inhale, there’s not much of that to carry on about. 

Where our clematis came from I don’t know. I see the vines here and there in the neighborhood, muffling chainlink, climbing porch pillars, but none grow near enough to make a leap, or creep, into our garden. Seeds must have been stowaways in a long-ago-purchased pot of something. 

For some reason, willful thing that it is, several years ago it began to grow in the opposite direction, away from the garage (cunningly disguised as a cottage) and toward the house. It begins somewhere behind the purple Rose of Sharon, and scrambles along the fence line to the porch, climbing up the drainpipe for a pretty frill—like a peek at the hem of a lacy petticoat. 

One might think this was by design. As if it’s doing what I might intend it to do, for once. I do not pat myself on the back. It does what it does.

As it happens, the neighbors across the alley from time to time relax on their upper porch, giving them an unwelcome view of our private space. My Prince installed an elaborate screen, made up of lattice and screens, blocking the view. The clematis has stretched to tangle in the fencing, a wall of white flowers appearing each year around now. A pretty sight for them, privacy for us. 

Such serendipity.   


MyLittleBird often includes links to products we write about. Our editorial choices are made independently; nonetheless, a purchase made through such a link can sometimes result in MyLittleBird receiving a commission on the sale, whether through a retailer, an online store or Amazon.com

Firm Believers

She probably doesn’t need any tightening cream. / iStock photo.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face atvaleriemonroe.substack.com.

WADING INTO the old “Ask Val” archives, I was flooded with affection for a well-known Someone I once worked with who consistently saw the world through rose-colored glasses. Without further ado:

“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.

Yes, you, in that gorgeous Hervé Léger bandage dress?

Q: How do firming body lotions work?

A: The aforementioned beloved former colleague claimed she was sure she got a tighter bottom when she applied firming body lotion. One of the reasons I’m fond of her is that, among her many other lovely qualities, she’s a terrific optimist. If you think your bottom looks better and that makes you happy (and why wouldn’t it?), I say more power to you.

But in the sometimes dark and often skeptical world of “Ask Val,” firming lotions are good for one thing only: moisturizing. Because moisturizing has a plumping effect, it improves the skin’s appearance temporarily. And by “improves,” I mean if you were to position your face so close to another person’s moisturized bottom that both of you were extremely uncomfortable, you might notice a slight difference in skin quality. The antioxidants added to some formulas may help reduce collagen breakdown but won’t appreciably stimulate new collagen and skin thickening, which is what you would need for a more permanent visible change in texture.

So: There’s no evidence that the ingredients in firming lotions produce long-term effects. Save your hard-earned lucre.

I want to offer a little good news along with the less-good news since I know you all like product recommendations, with which I tend to be fairly stingy. (So much of what you can buy is ineffective.) But here’s some fun with an undereye “miracle” cream from Peter Thomas Roth. In case you haven’t yet seen the viral TikTok video about how it works, this is it.  I haven’t tried this product, though I did try a prototype for a similar one years ago and was fairly pleased with the results.

Though the effect looks miraculous, it’s not a miracle; the FIRMx formula contains clay-like ingredients called silicates that tighten the skin the way a clay mask does. Which means that when you wash off the product, you also wash off the effect. Peter Thomas Roth sells a similar product for the whole face because . . . of course. It has mixed reviews, though, mostly due to some difficulty with applying it and issues with chalky residue. Also available is a range of products in the FIRMx collection, which essentially look like pricey moisturizers banking on a clever name (and your hopefulness).

Which brings me back to the rose-colored glasses. (By the way, I like these and these.)

I’ve written about the positive aspects of denial and the benefits of gathering ye confidence where ye may, whether it’s by learning to see your face with loving awareness, or by tinkering with a doctor’s bag of tricks, or both.

Slipping on a pair of rose-colored glasses—choosing to see the best possible outcome—can help increase your resilience, your success in relationships, and even make you more disposed toward better health. Research shows that optimistic people tend to live longer.

But I’d keep those glasses in my pocket when perusing the beauty aisle. There, you’re far better off with a prescription that sharpens your perspective.

MyLittleBird often includes links to products we write about. Our editorial choices are made independently; nonetheless, a purchase made through such a link can sometimes result in MyLittleBird receiving a commission on the sale, whether through a retailer, an online store or Amazon.com

Kitchen Detail: Zucchini Relief



By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.

Just Trying To Help (with a Zucchini Recipe)

No, don’t thank me for rescuing that pile of unwanted zucchini squash from your counter or front porch. I am only doing my neighborly part and suggesting a delicious zucchini dessert recipe. August has become synonymous with  bloated zucchini humor; this veg even has its own nationally recognized day (August 8), complete with seasonally appropriate T-shirts. Despite an obvious abundance of zucchini plants, it’s a mystery to me why gardeners rarely takePinterest image of dog with zucchino advantage of the blossoms, which are delicious fried, steamed or marinated in salads. There are even rice dishes dedicated to zucchini blossoms. If more of us took advantage of the floral phase, it would act like zucchini birth control. That would mean fewer overgrown squash, and possibly an end to such desperate measures as using an oversized zucchino in your toilet tank as a water saver. Or making it a summer snack for your dog.

Tried & True

TZucchini flowers from Erin French recipehe farm stands around the DC area abound with squash blossoms, and if you have never tried them, take a look atzucchini recipe - sformato from Kitchen Detail test kitchen this KD post for inspiration. While you are at it, make a red bell pepper sauce to accompany them—the Internet is littered with recipes (see left). The Italian sformati are another lovely format for the Z word (see right). They will also benefit from a red bell pepper sauce of your choice. I am surprised that there aren’t any bell pepper jokes, even though they topple over their baskets at all the farmers markets, and I see loads of them in a community garden I pass on my walk.

And for Dessert

kaffeehaus book coverWhile reading through Rick Rodgers’s superlative book on desserts from Austrian, Czech,  and Hungarian cafés and bakeries (Kaffeehaus), I discovered a Viennese zucchini recipe for cake (not another bread!) with an apricot glaze and chocolate ganache topping. It is a recipe from one of the owners of Cafe Dommayer in Vienna, where Johann Strauss II first played his daring waltz compositions. According to the author, Dommayer had at one time  the only organic certification from the Austrian government for its total use of organic ingredients in all of its products.

Rodgers suggests an 11×8 inch (28x20cm) glass baking dish, but not having that on hand, mine was baked in a 9×2 inchDommayer zucchini cake in KD kitchen (23x5cm) round cake pan by USA Pan. This company produces excellent bakeware. Also, it is important to use the best-quality apricot jam for your glaze. It will make such a difference in the taste, as the lightly spiced and not too moist cake, the bright acidity of the apricots, and the chocolate ganache each contribute to the cake’s success. Subtle, lush in flavor and texture, this cake deserves to be the coda of the zucchini season.


Dommayer Cafe Zucchini Cake

Serves 12
Finally a really lush dessert cake made with shredded zucchini.
Recipe by Rick Rodgers.
Adapted from Kaffeehaus.

Softened butter and bread crumbs to prepare the pan (I used almond powder)
1 1/3 cups (167gr) white all purpose flour
1/2 cup (a bit over118ml) coarsely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5ml)ground cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon)
Pinch fine sea salt
3/4 cup (170gr) white granulated sugar (I use India Tree caster sugar)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon (15ml) golden rum
1 tablespoon (15ml) wildflower or clover honey
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use walnut oil)
1/2 cup (a bit over 118ml) coarsely chopped walnuts
Scant 2 cups (473ml) shredded zucchini

For finishing:
1/2 cup (118ml) apricot glaze made from apricot preserves
2 tablespoons (30ml) golden rum
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (120ml) heavy cream
3 ounces (85gr) good-quality bittersweet chocolate (I use Valrhona Oriado disks, but you can roughly chop solid chocolate)


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F/180ºC.
Lightly butter an 11½x8-inch (29×20-cm) baking pan. (I used a 9-inch (23cm) round cake pan.) Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper or use a Silpat liner. Dust with bread crumbs, flour, or, my preference, almond flour, and tap out the excess.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the flour, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt until the nuts are very finely chopped, almost into flour. Set aside.

Whisk the sugar, eggs, rum, honey, and vanilla in a large bowl until foamy and combined. Gradually whisk in the vegetable oil or walnut oil.

Fold the flour mixture into the eggs but stop before the flour is completely absorbed. Stir in the zucchini and mix until combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. (I use a Thermapen and remove from the oven at 205F (96C).) Cool for 5 minutes on a wire cake rack.

After 5 minutes, invert and unmold the cake onto the rack, leaving the cake upside-down to cool completely.

Finishing with glaze and ganache:
Meanwhile, bring the apricot preserves to a boil over medium heat, stirring often, and cook for 1 minute, then add the rum. Strain through a wire sieve, pressing hard on the solids.

Pour the glaze onto the center of the cake.Using an offset metal spatula, thinly spread the glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Let cool until set, about 15 minutes. (You can refrigerate to speed cooling.)

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the chinks of chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted.

Place the cake on the rack on a jelly-roll pan. Pour the chocolate mixture on top of the cake. Using an offset metal spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake, letting any excess drip down the sides. Refrigerate until the chocolate glaze sets, about 20 minutes.

This cake can be made a day ahead of serving. I keep it at room temperature for 3 days in a covered cake stand. It can be  refrigerated, covered, for a longer time.

Technically, almond flour is not a flour, hence the term almond powder.

Green Acre #395: The Seeds of Knowledge


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

LAST WEEK I wrote an aside about making crackers in the midst of an article about—what was it I was writing about?  Oh yes, growing wild cyclamen. 

More than one person thought this was a strange thought to have while rhapsodizing about tiny pink ballerina flowers nestling under the new draped leaves of a willow tree. My Prince, in fact, wondered if the editor might go back and remove it. I don’t know why it disturbed him so—my mind does swoop about, and something had suggested crackers to me, though I can’t think what, now. 

What I said, more or less, was that it had never occurred to me to make crackers. They’re crunchy things that come in boxes. You put cheese or pâté, maybe a spot of fig jam, on them. Why would you bother baking them when you can just buy them? [Editor here! LittleBird Stephanie and I may not make our own crackers, but Nancy Pollard of Kitchen Detail does! Here’s a couple of cracker recs.]

Crackers, crackers, and more crackers. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

As a city girl, there’s a lot of “why bother when you can buy it?” in my past, and puzzling over things that people who grew up with gardens know from birth. 

This reminds me of my aversion to vegetable soup, a dislike I carried well into my 30s. All those bit of things, you know. Yellow bits and brown bits and green bits and those really frightening white bits—god only knows what they could be. 

Really, what could they be, I eventually asked myself. And realized, vegetables! They’re vegetables! It was a thrilling moment.

I talk a lot about pinching this and that, sticking it in soil and watching it grow. I don’t talk about seeds, with which I have a long and fraught history. In short: For me they don’t grow. This is possibly because I forget to water, forget I planted them, forget where I planted them, get too impatient and . . . get distracted (see crackers).

I’m not going to tell you how many decades it took for me to discover that avocados grow from avocado pits. These are seeds. You eat the avocado, bathe the pit, stick four toothpicks around the body of the pit, about midway down, and rest the pit on a glass of water with one end in the air. Within a fairly brief period you will have roots growing down and a green stem growing up. When the roots are nice and tangled, remove toothpicks, transplant the pit to a pot of dirt, stick it on the windowsill, and a plant will emerge. 

I used to have a windowsill lined with avocados in my New York apartment. Never did I see a fruit. 

So, a couple of years ago, I was ambling past a small garden center and asked a guy what he was watering. It was a plant that looked suspiciously like an avocado. 

An avocado, he said. 

Oh, I said, attempting to look somewhat knowledgeable and reportorial while adopting a casual, kind of chummy stance: I’ve always wondered where avocados come from. How are they grown?

He looked at the plant and looked at me and said, From an avocado tree, like this one. 

This? I said, and went home to ponder. 

Baby read my thoughts on crackers, agreeing that stoned wheat thins are best for Brie, and reminded me that until recently I didn’t realize that oranges have seeds, and limes, and cantaloupes, and apples, for mercy’s sake, and all one has to do (more or less) is plant them.  She didn’t either, I remind her.

Perhaps this is news to you too. Be fruitful and multiply.



Trying Times


Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at https://valeriemonroe.substack.com.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at valeriemonroe.substack.com.

I GOT WAYLAID this week; I started out writing in one direction and wound up, for various reasons, trying another . . . and then another. And so I started thinking about persistence. You know, “Try, try again.”

And maybe when to stop trying . . .

“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.

Yes, you, way in the back with the deeply knit brows. Confused about something?

Q: I would shell out 401(k) funds for neurotoxin injections if they worked, but the last couple of times I got them for the “elevens” (those vertical lines between the eyes), the effects lasted for two weeks—then less than two weeks, then not at all. When I talked to a dermatologist about this, she promised her injections would work . . . but they didn’t, so she gave me a free booster—and still I had deep vertical scores. I’m currently sleeping with a mouthguard and foot contraptions for plantar fasciitis, so adding strips of tape to my face would be too much. Should I keep trying neurotoxin?

A: We seem to be on a detour here at How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, diverted to a side road where the scenery is all about sticking needles between your eyes. So let’s be clear: A lifetime of neurotoxin injections to mitigate wrinkles isn’t and never was our final destination (if we have one). But sometimes the Zeitgeist, like a collective unconscious Waze, suggests an unexpected rerouting. And here we are on Botox Boulevard.

First, those strips of tape our confused reader mentions don’t work to eliminate wrinkles. I guess if you started using them when you were around 5, and wore them day and night your whole life, they might prevent your forehead muscles from contracting. On a similar note, I once tried tape that you hide under your hair to pull back the skin; you can read my thoughts on that letdown here.

Now, a humbling admission. Though I count a number of dermatologists and plastic surgeons as friends—from whom I’ve gathered a mountain of information—it would be unwise to rely solely on my advice when asking about a medical issue. Why? Because, not actually having gone to medical school, I can be wrong. Which was recently emphasized to me when I suggested to the reader above in a personal email that I thought her “elevens” were probably too deep for neurotoxin and might require filler.

When I wrote to facial plastic surgeon Michelle Yagoda to confirm my diagnosis, she quickly corrected me. “To decrease facial lines created by movement—like the ‘elevens’—they must be treated with a neurotoxin to stop the movement,” Yagoda says. “Patients who complain about persistent ‘elevens’ often haven’t been treated adequately, meaning their corrugator muscles (the two triangular facial muscles between the eyebrows) are still able to move. Additional neurotoxin is needed until the corrugators are immobilized.

“It’s common for these muscles to remain mobile after the first treatment,” says Yagoda. “When they’re fully relaxed—after a second treatment—the ‘elevens’ should disappear.” She adds, though, “As the aging process progresses, sometimes more neurotoxin—or a different type—is needed to achieve results. And in rare cases, people can become ‘immune’ to a neurotoxin.”

Keep in mind that a treatment typically takes up to to five days before it’s effective, and the time between the two treatments should be around three to five months, or when the results begin to subside (which could be as long as four to six months).

“If after two treatments resulting in full muscle relaxation the lines remain,” says Yagoda, “then a small amount of superficially placed filler can be added. BUT filler is not a good idea when there’s any mobility whatsoever in a corrugator muscle, because with muscle movement the filler can clump and cause a bulge that’s visible long after the filler disappears.”


So: Rerouted, we wind up in a cul-de-sac. One last shot (or several last shots) at reducing your “elevens” and then continuing maintenance indefinitely as the neurotoxin wears off? On a scale of one to . . . eleven, how much do the lines bother you? If you lose them, will you feel happier? Would you consider a combination of other treatments (microneedling, laser, surgery) to address the issue?

The good news is there are options. The more complicated good news: You have to choose which one, if any, is worth a try. For me, the likelihood of pursuing a particular aesthetic goal declines the more steps required to reach it. Evidently, there’s a cap on the amount of energy (and $$$) I’m willing to expend in this arena. Try again? Maybe. Try, try, and try again? I doubt it. Because sometimes letting go is the most expeditious route to happiness.

Kitchen Detail: Granita to the Rescue



By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.

           It’s Too Darn Hot

granita al pistacchio giardini naxosCole Porter was right. Why do we always forget about August in March?  Where I am, in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, it is really too hot and  humid to always grill outside. Even this spatchcocked chicken is better than standing outside waving the smoke around the burning coals. And if you have not treated yourself to granita, a hot-weather Sicilian specialty, now is the time to drag your body over to the sink, create a syrup around your flavoring, allow it to get really cold, partially freeze and then flake the slush, refreeze and flake again a few times. Or throw it into an ice cream maker, which is what I do—and that seems to be the method used in almost all the restaurants that I went to in Sicily. Granita is lighter then sorbetto, with the latter really a sweetened fruit purée that is aerated and frozen (sometimes with an egg white). And the success of a sorbet depends on the sugar density of the purée, while a granita’s triumph does not.

Colazione dei Campioni*

I have always, always hated cereal for breakfast. Pastries, fruits, or cookies, I get that. Even cold cuts and cheese with whole-grain bread, but a processedGranita Magic Book Cover grain cereal—yuk. A  Sicilian bun with granita and whipped cream, which I had read about for years and probably have waited for all my life, is my ideal summer breakfast. I think one of the nicest books you can use for inspiration is the one written by Nadia Roden titled Granita Magic. It doesn’t get a lot of traction, but I think it is a gem in introducing you to savory and sweet granita. Although I don’t have a dairy allergy, this is my go-to dessert for friends who can’t tolerate any milk product. The standard Sicilian breakfast accessory for granita is an Italian take on a French brioche (watch one of my favorite T-shirt-clad cooks on the Giallo Zafferano YouTube channel). I  sometimes skip the brioche part when I make a fruit-based granita. Instead, I make a seasonal fruit salad with a bit of Triple Sec and top it with a scoop. But if I’ve made coffee or pistachio granita, and I really want to feel like a morning champion, I top it off with whipped cream. I feel almost Sicilian.

Four Breakfast Possibilities

I keep a Bialetti Moka coffeemaker and a Frieling French Press (below) just for coffee desserts and variations of ice coffee. Of the two, the Moka will give you a more intense coffee flavor. Use an espresso roast, and I prefer one that is made with all Arabica beans. If you run it through your ice cream maker, the granita will be very fluffy, almost meringue-like in its appearance and more velvety in taste. The real discovery with this coffee version is the glorious substitution of Light Muscovado sugar for white sugar. You can add a couple of tablespoons of pure Pistachio Cream to the Pistachio recipe below to make Bronte (pistachio) flavor more pronounced. My favorite brand is Stramondo. For a garnish, crushed Amaretti crumbs fit almost all flavors.

One of the reasons I love the Granita Magic book is the wildly imaginative way Roden  combines flavors I would never think of in a granita—sour and sweet cherry, or pineapple-coconut (delicious with maple syrup on top); or fresh ginger, lime, and my windfall of blueberries. The other person in this household, who said he didn’t like granita, has changed his mind and adores her pineapple-coconut version, with the addition of the aforementioned maple syrup . . . and whipped cream.

Roden’s directions to hand-flake any granita mixture are simple: Pour it into a shallow container with a lid or cling wrap. Freeze it until the mixture has frozen around the edge—about 30 minutes to an hour. Remove it from the freezer and with a fork stir the frozen part toward the center. Repeat this process every 20 to 30 minutes until the whole mass has turned into a tray of tiny ice crystals.

Coffee Granita

Serves 4
It’s almost not a recipe, but this can be dressed up for a dessert any time and it is my classic breakfast treat.
Recipe by Nancy Pollard.


3 cups (710ml) brewed Italian espresso
¾ cup (150gr) Light Muscovado Sugar (see Notes below)
Sweetened whipped cream for garnish


Use the grind specified for espresso and use an all Arabica bean blend. For best flavor use a Bialetti stovetop coffeemaker or a french press.

Pour the hot coffee over the sugar in a container that you can put in the freezer or refrigerator to cool down.

Once cool, freeze the coffee as you would any ice cream mixture and store in a covered container.

If doing by hand, pour the coffee syrup into a shallow pan that will fit in your freezer and allow it to freeze about 1 or 2 inches around all the edges of the pan.

Take a fork, and stir the ice crystals from the edges into the center and refreeze for another 20 minutes or a bit longer and repeat the procedure. It takes about four repetitions to get the crystal-like texture.

Keep in a covered container in your freezer, and let it sit out for about 5 to 10 minutes to soften a bit before serving.


My favorite brand of Muscovado Sugar is India Tree and is usually available from Amazon.


Pistachio Granita, Sicilian-Style

Serves 4
Make this with Bronte pistachios only. It makes all the difference in the flavor.
Recipe by Nancy Pollard.


200 gr (7 ounces) peeled Bronte pistachios (see Notes below)
200 gr (7 ounces) white granulated sugar
800 ml (3 1/3 cups) water
Optional enrichment: 3 tablespoons of pure Bronte pistachio paste (my favorite is Stramondo brand).


Toast the pistachios in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat just to bring out the aroma.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil and make sure that the sugar has dissolved. Remove the resulting syrup from the heat.

Grind the pistachios in a blender or food processor until they form sort of a paste.

Add the sugar syrup to the pistachio paste and blend briefly.

Pour into a container and allow the mixture to get cold before putting it in an ice cream maker. You can also use the tray procedure (see instructions in the Coffee Granita recipe) using a fork to create crystals.


I use India Tree caster sugar as it dissolves beautifully in a syrup.

Peeled Bronte pistachios can be purchased by the pound or quarter-pound at Mercato.com.

Blueberry Granita

Serves 4
Recipe by Nadia Roden.
Adapted from
Granita Magic.


¾ cup (170gr) white granulated sugar (I use India Tree caster sugar)
2 tablespoons (10½gr) peeled and grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
1 pound (454gr) blueberries
5 tablespoons (74ml) fresh lime juice
1 cup (237ml) water


In a food processor, combine the sugar with the fresh ginger and purée to a paste.

Add the blueberries, lime juice, and water, and purée to a liquid.

Strain through a fine sieve, stirring and pressing with a spoon or rubber spoonula.**

Discard the solids, and allow the mixture to cool in the fridge. Then process in your ice cream maker or a tray in the freezer (see instructions in the Coffee Granita recipe).


I always add about ½ teaspoon or a capful of the French Blueberry Essence from Grasse, which is available from www.simplygourmand.com. It intensifies the blueberry flavor without making it overly sweet.

** A spoonula is a curved spatula, a cross between a regular spatula and a spoon.

Pineapple-Coconut Granita

Serves 4
Top your serving with some maple syrup (trust me)!
Recipe by Nadia Roden.
Adapted from
Granita Magic.


1 large pineapple
Juice and zest of 1 to 2 limes
4 to 8 (59 to 89ml) tablespoons of white granulated sugar (I use India Tree caster sugar as it dissolves so beautifully)
13 ounces (385ml) unsweetened coconut milk


Cut the crown off and halve the pineapple lengthwise. Cut away the peel and pare away any of the “eyes.” Cut each half into two lengthwise slices and cut away the core from each slice. Discard the core and cube the pineapple slices.

Place the pineapple cubes in a food processor with the lime juice and zest, sugar and coconut milk. Process this into a fine purée.

Strain the purée through a fine sieve, pressing with a spoon or spoonula. Discard the solids, and pour into a container that can stay in the refrigerator until the purée is cold.

Process in your ice cream maker or follow instructions to make it in a tray (see instructions in the Coffee Granita recipe).

*That’s “breakfast of champions” for non-Italian speakers.

Nadia Roden’s book Granita Magic has a recipe for watermelon granita, plus 54 other possibilities, sweet and savory. / iStock photo.

Green Acre #394: Upcycling Cyclamen


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

‘IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL morning. All along the river, sunlight shimmered through the willow trees, making the leaves glow a luminous green . . . wild cyclamen grew along the path in patches, like tiny pink butterflies.”*

Oh my, I said to myself, closing the book. Wild cyclamen. Tiny pink butterflies. Add glitter and you have a child’s birthday card. 

I want, I said again, just to myself. 

The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides, from which I pulled this quote, is set at Cambridge University. It can be beastly cold and wet in that part of England in winter. Surely such tender flowers wouldn’t survive. But it seems the temperatures there are similar to those in our southern states, including Florida plus Hawaii. You might feel miserable, bone-chilled, but frosts and snow are rare. Which is why, in the more southern reaches of England, geraniums perk up window boxes throughout the year. And cyclamen, it seems, blossom in springtime.

Would it be possible to naturalize wild cyclamen here? Perhaps under the massive oak in front of the house, where the sun speckles the shade in the heat of the summer months. They do prefer shade. 

This reminds me, and here I digress, so stop reading if you wish, of crackers. I recently realized that I can make crackers. Baking bread, sure. Pie, sure. Cake, of course. But crackers? They come in boxes. I happen to like stoned wheat thins, which have a bit of character but don’t fight with the Brie. It never occurred to me to bake them. I haven’t yet, but that is neither here nor there. That I can is enough.

To get back to the story at hand. The first cyclamen I ever saw was 40 or so years ago at the Washington Cathedral Greenhouse, a magical place with many little pots of this and that which I’d never seen before, probably because I never had a garden. These were perfect for my fire-escape balcony in Adams Morgan. The cyclamen were particularly enchanting; How could something so perfect exist? The colors so brilliant, the texture like velvet, all held within a corona of green leaves, like a natural bouquet. 

Though they come in pink and white and purple and shades of red, it is the deep pink, what we call fuchsia, that particularly enraptures me. (Some years later, in a mad departure from black, I bought a silk shirt that color and actually wore it once, I think; colors make me nervous. That’s an aside. Not a digression.)

I bought one, of course, and another. Each year they flowered, then withered and were tossed. With no garden or greenhouse, and given the unreality of the flowers, I assumed they were annuals, or at least too tender to survive, tropical.

Most of the cyclamen we see in florist shops and garden centers are grown as ornamentals; they are not bred to survive outdoors, where temperatures drop below freezing. But there are plenty of wild cyclamen, grown from tubers, that will do just fine in the cold, arising in late winter with the snowdrops and crocus and such. Other varieties bloom at other points throughout the year, so you could, in theory, have a constant show of blossom.

You can also plant seed, but it will take years for them to materialize. Even the tubers can take a year or so to settle in and flower. Plant deeply, in the shade, and if it is to turn brutally cold for a spell, snuggle them under a thick layer of mulch. Once they take, if they take, cyclamen have a 100-year lifespan. 

Imagine a scattering of them along a shaded path, maybe as a border for ferns, poked among the rocks surrounding a garden pool, velvet flowers unfurling as the frost melts, and disappearing into the foliage of something else as the summer heat blasts in. 

For a positively exhaustive, though totally engaging, discussion of cyclamen, including the varieties most likely to survive outdoors in your area, see “Cyclamen—Great Hardy Perennials for the Garden” on the Plant Delights Nursery site (handily, they sell them, too).


*The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, a fine rabbit hole of a read, has more to offer than cyclamen and willows. 


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