Lipstick on your collar

I love lipstick. On those rare occasions when I leave the house without it, people ask if I’m okay because they think I look “a little pale.” That’s a pretty clear message.

And yet… I’m a behind-the-scenes, producer type. While I have the ability to work just about any kind of crowd, do a TV stand-up, or speak off-the-cuff to a giant audience, I still prefer to be backstage, making things happen. For this reason, I regretfully eschew red lipstick.

Some women—like Adriana Trigiani, one of my favorite writers, and “the other Angela,” my hair stylist—wear red exclusively and always look fabulous. It was Adriana’s recent Facebook live, as a matter of fact, that reminded me how much I love red lipstick—on other people. Whenever I try it—which I often do, hoping against hope—I feel as if my lips, like overdone gold jewelry, are walking into the room five minutes before I do.

Perhaps you’re too young to know that lipstick, until the 1960s, was always red. Revlon was responsible for two of the most smashing and popular reds of all time, “Fire and Ice,” “Love That Red,” and “Cherries in the Snow.” Make no mistake: this is the lipstick that Connie Francis sang about. Note in the photo that these shades are still available, more than half a century later.

“Cherries in the Snow,” a cool blue-red, has always been my personal favorite among the Revlon reds, all of which fairly scream glamour. My mother wore “Cherries in the Snow” for years, with the matching nail polish, until dusty rose took over the mainstream adult market in the mid-60s. (We kids, I’m sorry to say, were over-influenced first by the British Invasion, which gave us ghostly Julie Christie lips, and later by the Haight-Ashbury crowd, which gave us nude ones.)

I search incessantly for the perfect lip color. I can easily waste an hour in Ulta, going from deep pinks to peachy-keen to fuchsias, from crayons to glosses to matte, in a perennial frenzy of indecision. But part of me just longs to be that “lady in red” from the 50s, when things, including lipstick, didn’t seem quite so complicated.

Aside: One of my ongoing fantasies is to be The One Who Names The Lipstick, which is kind of like being The One Who Names the Crayola Colors, or the Sherwin-Williams paint swatches. Who are these geniuses, the objects of my eternal admiration? Who first said, “Cherries in the Snow”? This inquiring mind wants to know.



In the footsteps of the stonecutters…

We make frequent trips to New England, partly because we love it so, partly because we have both roots and family there. Our visits often begin and end at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home in Vermont. On one such visit, we took a fascinating field trip to, of all places, a cemetery.

But not just any cemetery.  I had a specific reason for wanting to see Hope Cemetery in Barre, VT,  where the Italian immigrant stonecutters crafted magnificent monuments for themselves, their loved ones, their co-workers, with staggering Old World skill. Vermont, it turns out, isn’t just about the magnificent Green Mountains, but also about what lies beneath. Vermont calls itself the “granite capital of the world,” and Danby Quarry in Vermont is billed as “the largest marble quarry in the world.”

Apart from seeing the legendary sculptures that mark Hope Cemetery’s graves,  I knew that at least one of my great or great-great uncles, immigrants from the village of Centrache in Calabria, had worked in a marble or granite quarry in Vermont. I wondered if perhaps he’d been buried in Hope Cemetery.

I plodded through one website after another, trying to find a family name among the available records of  quarry workers  and cemetery maps. Although the on-line search came up dry, and I never found a headstone with a familiar name, I still felt  a satisfying sense of lineage walking through the cemetery.


It won’t be long…

Bedecked, festooned, adorned. Pick your favorite over-the-top adjective. Come summer,   there are flowers everywhere you turn in Québec city. And, just as I’ve often observed in Maine, the perennials seem more vivid, more lush. Perhaps because they know they’re appreciated more when summer starts late and ends too soon???




As we hover between the last gasp of winter and the earliest days of spring, take a moment to visit Roussillon with me.

Roussillon rises out of the Vaucluse like a Provençal Brigadoon. The ochre-laden earth  gives it a sunny luminescence even on the grayest day. Roussillon is one of the villages perchés of Provence—the perched villages that grew up on summits as a protection from invaders—in the Luberon region, much of which is protected as a national park. This is the Provence of story, straight out of Marcel Pagnol*. If you are lucky enough to visit at an off time, when the village is not over-ridden by tourists, you are guaranteed to find magic there. But even in the height of tourist season, Roussillon is worth the effort.

Our favorite Roussillon experience, bar none, was wandering into Galérie Porte-Heureuse,  where we discovered the paintings of André Deymonaz and first got to know the wonderful Deymonaz family. Don’t miss it if you visit the village.

Roussillon is the fictitiously named village in sociologist Laurence William Wylie’s Village in the Vaucluse, the result of his in-residence account of rural village French life in 1950-51, with a later look back at the inevitable erosion of a culture and lifestyle clinging to its roots while still traumatized by the war and its aftermath. During one of our trips, I happened to meet a delightful woman who had grown up in Roussillon at the time of Wylie’s stay. She told me that her family had befriended the Wylies, and that a number of the villagers were very upset when the book was published, as they felt it far too personal and critical. Having read the book, I can understand that; I found some of his perceptions cold and distant, but an academic would argue that one with me, of course. Nonetheless, if you are a francophile and/or a 20th Century history buff, you may want to try it.

*Movies to see: Jean de Florette, Manon of the Spring, My Father’s Glory, My Mother’s Castle.

Note: I’ve added a number of links to this post so that, if you are so inclined, you can easily learn more.


Old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks

UPDATE: Notice the goof in paragraph 2, where I wrote “spring” instead of “string.” Wishful thinking if not a Freudian slip, so I’m going to leave it as is!

I launched my blog with the New Year after months of tossing the idea, well seeded by my daughter,  around in my head. Finally, around Christmas time, I plowed headfirst into WordPress to see if I could figure it out on my own. Some aspects were fairly intuitive; others, virtually inscrutable. I’m no techno-dummy, but at times I felt completely intimidated by all the techno-speak.

I plodded along, going back again and again to try to unravel what seemed like that gigantic ball of spring that sits along a roadside in Kansas. With each small victory, my confidence grew. Sometimes, it took four or five tries. Sometimes, I hit a brick wall and needed professional help (probably in more ways than one). My son pitched in when he could. One of my new younger friends, whom I like to call my techno-angel, has been very gracious and helpful. Little by little, it’s coming together. I try very hard not to get discouraged—after all, this is supposed to be fun—but there are moments when I long for a resident 10-year-old. LOL.

Happily, I’m making progress with each passing week. Now, thanks to the wise counsel and assistance of my techno-angel, I even have a Gravitar… a “globally recognizable avatar” that shows up online whenever I do, in my #HashTagRetired persona. As my irrepressible Uncle Sam used to say, “Who’da thunk it?”

I’m determined that this blog will always be not only informative and entertaining but also lovely to look at. I know a striking, user-friendly website when I see one, but it was a revelation to learn, thanks to my kids and my techno-angel, that my initial notion of a beautiful look wasn’t necessarily the most effective for a blog.

It had never crossed my mind, for example, that I should be more concerned about how format and photos look on a cell phone than on my laptop screen. That was an Aha! moment for sure. I write on my laptop every morning, but I use the phone all day long to check email, the sites I follow, the weather, yadda, yadda, yadda. Most of us do. And even though I agree that we’re overly dependent on our electronic devices, if you resist keeping up with technology, you risk losing your social context. And just like sitting in front of the TV in a recliner, being out of context can make you feel old and out of touch long before your time.

You may have noticed that I started out with #retired and then migrated to #HashTagRetired, which, if you’re techno-savvy, you probably think is redundant. I’m not 100% sure where that will land. If you’ve followed the blog from the start, thanks for your patience with the changes thus far. There will be more; there’s no room for complacency in the faster-than-Superman online universe. Tweets, Instagram, maybe even Pinterest—they’re all on the horizon. A blog, I’ve discovered, needs to be just as organic as the thought process that produces it.

Photo: Miss Puppy Clouseau visits her friends at the solar farm.


But it doesn’t taste like my mother’s…

Author Laura Schenone went to Italy in search of her ancestral ravioli recipe. Hold that thought while I digress a bit.

Ravioli is my favorite food in the world. Not the fancy kind, stuffed with lobster or  “kiwi infused pork” (no kidding!). Plain old cheese ravioli. Peasant food—la cucina povera— at its finest. It was my family’s signature dish for Christmas and Easter. Other special occasions might feature gnocchi or lasagna or “homemades,” but ravioli was always my mother’s pièce de résistance.

Mom didn’t use a recipe, of course—she did it all by feel. She rolled the dough and cut and filled the ravioli by hand, while the sauce was on the stove, in the last few hours before dinner. The ravioli were so tender they truly did almost melt in your mouth.

My mother eschewed shortcuts, possibly because the act of making the ravioli was so important to her. Daddy bought her one of those special rolling pins with the die-cut squares—a ravioli cutter—but she never used it. The ravioli it produced were too small, she said. When he brought home an Italian macaroni machine (that’s what we called it), she used it once, to make spaghetti as a first course for Thanksgiving, then retired it to the basement, saying it required too much flour, which made the dough tough. She never made the ravioli in advance and froze them, as many people do. Mom learned most of what she knew about cooking from her two older sisters—my grandmother had died in the flu epidemic when my mother was only eight. My guess is that Mom’s attachment to “hand made” ravioli was a way of staying connected to her earliest, and probably fondest, childhood memories.

When I was about nine, she patiently trained me to help her. I marveled at the way she whipped that dough around the long, smooth macaroni stick Daddy had made her. She didn’t fold the pasta dough in half, drop the filling at intervals, and then fold it over and cut around it—she cut out every single top and bottom and filled them one-at-a-time. I learned to make the filling—ricotta mixed with egg, fresh parsley, a bit of pecorino, and black pepper—drop a dollop onto the cut-out square of dough, top it with another, and crimp the edges together with a wet fork. And then race to get those delicate little packets into the pot of boiling water, with her chiding  me to handle them with care.

I should add that Mom was a working mother. That she didn’t start cooking till after 8:15 Mass. And that she accomplished all of this in a tiny rectangle of a 1958 kitchen, on a tiny rectangle of turquoise enamel kitchen table partly  covered with a well floured, old cotton  tablecloth I still have. It’s there, in the photo.

When my kids were old enough, Mom enlisted their help. My son, Chris, could whip that macaroni stick around like a pro when he was only eight. My daughter, Emily, picked up hand rolling as well and, inspired to a large extent by my mother, subsequently received her professional chef’s certification from the Culinary Institute of America.

These are glorious memories. One of my great regrets is that we have no photos of Mom in the kitchen, doing these ordinary-but-extraordinary things that made our lives so rich.

But back to Laura Schenone. Given my love of ravioli, how could I have passed up, on a Saturday stroll through Barnes and Noble, a book with the irresistible title, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken? Her family’s Genoese ravioli are different than our Southern Italian version—she uses a meat and cheese filling you’ll hear about in the video. Her quest to duplicate the taste and texture of her childhood, told within the context of a soul-searching memoir, is a satisfying detective story on multiple levels, beautifully told. And it’s an eye-opener for all of you who’ve said a thousand times, “It’s good, but it doesn’t taste like my mother’s.”

I’ve bought the book as a gift for friends and family maybe half a dozen times. You should read it, too. With Laura’s permission, I’m including her engaging and wonderfully instructive video; you’ll hear a short version of her story as she demonstrates how to hand roll pasta dough.

Laura Schenone’s first book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, is a James Beard Award winner and a fascinating history of women “in the kitchen.” I highly recommend it, as well. Her newest book is due out later this year.


.Video used with permission.



Pop over…

Popovers, which more or less are individual Yorkshire puddings without the beef drippings for flavor, or “toad in the hole” without the sausage, are pure magic. And, because they’re hollow inside, they’re light as the proverbial feather.

Truthfully, as lovely as they are, they’re very easy to make. You just need to allow yourself enough time, most of which is for resting and baking, and to have a free hot oven so that you can serve them the minute you call everyone to the table. They’re the perfect addition to make a simple supper elegant, amiable companions to any luncheon salad, and to die for at breakfast, with butter and honey or jam.

You can make popovers perfectly well in a muffin tin; but a few years ago, I treated myself to a popover pan on a trip to King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT—which, as you may know by now, is my happy place. You can buy the popover pan online; a box of the KAF mix is free with the pan purchase. I should tell you, however, that I eschew mixes of all sorts. What’s the fun of baking if you don’t get to use those cute little measuring spoons and spray flour all over the counter? To each his/her own, of course.

Click here for the  KAF recipe. Just remember never to open the oven door while they’re baking, and you should have no problem.