Committing to Spring


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in between

Neither of us likes to be the one to put the winter equipment away. Shovels, winter boots, and even snow shoes remain at the ready for weeks after the first day of spring. The ice cleats were left curled up and forgotten on the car floor for so long that I stopped seeing them.

It’s not laziness, it’s superstition based on hard experience. If we put away winter’s tools too hastily, it will return — and with a vengeance. Anyone who has witnessed a snowstorm in April knows exactly what I mean.

English daisies

Having literally just killed a mosquito while typing that last sentence a few days ago, I plunged a stake in the ground and committed to spring. It seemed like the right thing to do. The spring peepers had been loudly announcing the new season for a couple of weeks, the air had softened, and our pillowcases — recently dried outside on the clothesline — filled the bedroom with the smell of fresh, sun-soaked air.

Without hesitation I dispatched my winter boots to the closet, and moved the snow shoes and shovels into the garage. I left the ice cleats in the car as an insurance policy.

Last Saturday confirmed the wisdom of my commitment. It was the kind of spring day that sets a high bar for the rest of the season: warm sun, cool air, the bluest of skies. On Monday, Paul and I posed for a photographer by the Boston waterfront, no jackets required.


And then, this morning,

Rhodi in ice

April 16_2014

April 16, 2014.

“We’ll have to bundle up today,” Paul said as he looked out the window.

“Do you think we’ll need the ice cleats?” I joked.

“I took them out of the car yesterday,” he replied.

At least we know who to blame.

Through Words and Cake, a Writer Lives On


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My friend Jane, who blogs at Food & Fiction, is one of my most helpful kitchen advisors. Although we share meals several times a year in real life, our time together at the stove has always been virtual. Many of Jane’s recipes have become my go-to source when I want to put something delicious, healthy, and not-too-complicated on the table.

So it makes sense that Jane shared this New York Times article about Laurie Colwin on her Facebook feed, because it suggests that Laurie’s non-fussy recipes and conversational style were a precursor to food bloggers like herself.

Like Jane, Laurie’s friendly, matter-of-fact voice is also in my ear from time to time when I’m working in the kitchen. Her recipe for a simple chocolate cake (pictured above) is my hands-down favorite.

I wrote about Laurie and her chocolate cake a few years ago on my blog at Open Salon. My literary tastes have changed over time, and her novels may no longer hold my interest the way they did when I read them 20 years ago under extreme circumstances, but I’ve never lost my taste for that cake. The recipe is included in my original post, reprinted below.

Through Words and Cake, a Writer Lives On

 October 23, 2010

“You don’t feed me enough,” I joked to my husband last night as my stomach loudly and persistently announced itself. Apparently, the dinner of homemade soup and bread I’d made wasn’t enough. We needed dessert.

“Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake” from, More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin is my go-to recipe when I want something quick and chocolatey.

According to Colwin,

“It is hard to encapsulate the virtuosities of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel – the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days.”

I became a Laurie Colwin fan almost 20 years ago while undergoing chemotherapy. My hair was falling out and I was nauseous and exhausted. For the first time ever, it was difficult to find solace in reading — I couldn’t focus.

Then my friend Julia gave me one of Colwin’s books. Her books held my attention. I cared deeply about her characters, and her tales about family life, which I, too, was engaged in, were happy ones. I needed upbeat stories — sadness and angst were for real life.

When I reported all of this to Julia, she responded, “Unfortunately, Laurie’s life wasn’t so happy. She died suddenly at a young age.” Not only that, she had left a young daughter behind.

All these years later, my story is the happy one. My children, who were aged eight and ten when I was diagnosed, are now adults living on their own.  My husband and I are both active and healthy, and we still share a special spark.

So now when I bite into that buttermilk cocoa cake, I silently raise a glass to Laurie Colwin. Her life wasn’t nearly long enough, but I am grateful for the gifts she left behind.

Here is the recipe as it appears in More Home Cooking.

Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and butter and flour a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.

2. Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. To these ingredients add 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix.

4. Turn the batter into the pan, bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean, and let it cool for 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan.


Winter Nap


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Winter Nap

Last weekend we came out of hibernation long enough to drive down to New York City. Our efforts were rewarded by some actual, real-live spring weather. The sun was warm, and there was no snow or ice.


As I soaked my sore feet after a day of tramping around on the dry sidewalks, I realized this was the first time in months I’d worn a pair of real shoes. 

We ate pie for breakfast two mornings in a row in an old building in Brooklyn, where the walls were lined with tin.


Across the bridge, in Manhattan, I sat outside on a bench drinking a fancy tea latte, admiring the symmetry and color of a building across the street, while a woman paced back and forth during what turned into a very long phone call.

Guerin Bronze

A few blocks away, we peered into a cemetery hidden away behind stone walls and a locked gate.

Spanish Cemetary



I was reminded of this cemetery a few days later, when my friend Heather Robinson wrote a post about the results of municipal elections in France, where the Front National—an extreme right party, founded by known anti-Semitic and Holocaust denier, Jean-Marie LePen—is gaining ground.

That what happens in France matters to us all was brought home today, when I saw this post by another friend, Lori Alper. Lori, who lives one town away from me, writes about anti-Semitic incidents involving some of the youngest students at her son’s elementary school.

While hibernation is a fine strategy for staying warm during an endlessly frigid winter, it is not a good way to live. We may wish that prejudice and hate are hidden and locked away like the dead in that cemetery, but in truth they are more like tenacious weeds growing under those dry, New York City sidewalks. They claw their way into the light through the tiniest of cracks.


“Full of Winter”



“Full of Winter.” My friend Heather used that sentence in her post today about her lunch in a village that was quiet, empty, yet “Full of Winter.”

We are full of winter here, too. Full up, filled up, fed up.


Our walks have been white and cold — frigid, in fact. Too frosty to expose already numb fingers to the icy air and snap a photo.

And yet, on a snowy day like today, when the dog has been walked and I have nowhere to go, I have the luxury to sit quietly on my indoor perch and watch the flakes slip from the sky.

I am warm, safe, grateful: “Full of Winter,” Full of Peace. 

A Recipe for Love from the Men in My Life


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Shakshuka photo


It has taken me half my life to associate food with love. For many years, especially when I was a young, single, working woman, food was fuel consumed with a large dash of guilt, and I closely monitored my intake.

But recently, I’ve realized that morsels of edible love have been coming my way for a long time—most of them prepared by the men in my life.

It started with my dad, who would cut my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into four precise pieces. “Triangles or squares?” he would ask.

My relationship with my father was a rocky one and I often found him difficult to be around. But whenever I envision those tender triangles of grape jelly and creamy peanut butter layered between two slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread, the negative feelings fade away, and I feel cossetted and adored.

Once I became the mother of two young boys, the “food as love” concept was delivered more forcefully through a traditional Mother’s Day breakfast in bed.  One year, “fortune” muffins were on the menu. A soggy slip of paper baked inside one of them announced in a penciled scrawl that I was “The Best Mother in the World.”

These days, that message of love, folded into a heaping cup of caring, is delivered with more subtlety via elaborate meals cooked by those same boys, now fully launched adults. Shakshuka—a spicy mélange of vegetables, feta cheese, and eggs—and crusty homemade pizza are among their specialties.

They absorbed this technique from my husband, who has also delivered a steady stream of edible love notes throughout our long marriage. There have been more pots of chicken soup to cure a cold than I can count, and for much of our time together — especially after the boys arrived — he has taken on what I once viewed as the daily drudgery of putting a meal on the table.

At first, cooking was a novelty. A rich minestrone soup or homemade brownies were a way to impress boyfriends, and, I naively thought, get them to take me seriously. But once I’d hooked my man via quiche and a curried mushroom soup, the novelty wore off when we became ensconced in family life. It was no longer fun to deal with food through the nausea of pregnancy and later through the film of fatigue and time pressure that came with combining work and kids.

But lately, there’s been a shift. I no longer get defensive if I don’t have an answer when asked, “What’s for dinner?” (What kind of wife/mother was I that I didn’t have a week of menus at the ready?) Now that we both work from home and it’s usually just the two of us, I look forward to the discussion — and even manage to plan a few meals in advance.

Homemade pizza and shakshuka are on regular rotation. They are my favorite meals, because when my husband and I are kneading dough, or chopping herbs and feta, it’s as though our sons are here too. I’m surrounded by my men, cossetted and adored all over again.

The Recipes (Shakshuka and New York Pizza)

The first time I ate shakshuka was in my older son’s Brooklyn apartment. He moved around his compact kitchen with ease, chopping and tossing ingredients into the pan like a pro. Watching him do all the work was incredibly relaxing. It was the best breakfast I’d had in a long time. Later, he sent me the recipe, which came from the New York Times.

Younger son is a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, where all baking takes place over a gas flame inside a blue box. Oven temperature is gauged by eye. Pizza is not readily available there, and he often makes it when other Peace Corps volunteers arrive at his door. Recently, he sent us this recipe for New York Style pizza. The dough is best, he says, when it’s left to rise in the refrigerator for three days.

The Pizza King, photo courtesy of Kitty O'Riordan

The Pizza King, photo courtesy of Kitty O’Riordan

This post is part of a series on Food and Love over at Daily Plate of Crazy.

That Rose …


It was saucer-sized, its plush, velvety petals curled over the rim of a small vase. It had been plucked from the bush that morning. The color: mauve? brownish pink? The exact shade is hard to remember, let alone describe — a color I’d never seen before.

It was a lover’s rose, placed on our neighbor’s kitchen counter to welcome her home.

“Ivy,” she breathed.

“Ivy,” also known as Ivan Massar, was a photographer, neighbor, and a friend, beloved by all. He passed away over the weekend. He was 89.

I feel lucky to have known him, and regret not knowing him better.

He left many important and beautiful images behind. Please take a look.

Our California Dream


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Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay © Judith A. Ross

Yesterday, we returned from a week in Northern California. While real life continued all around us, we were wrapped in a drought-spun cocoon of warm, sunny weather as we traveled through a green, blue and often sere landscape populated by amazing creatures.

Birches ©Judith A. Ross

Birches ©Judith A. Ross

Camel Rock

Don’t know if this has a name, I call it “Camel Rock.” ©Judith A. Ross


California coastline ©Judith A. Ross


Cyprus trees ©Judith A. Ross

Knots ©Judith A. Ross

Knots ©Judith A. Ross

We observed these elephant seals from a distance. They moaned and squealed and flipped sand on their backs to stay cool. You could tell who had been sunning the longest by the pile of sand on their back.

Elephant seals

We got a bit closer to the Tule elk.. . 

Menfolk ©Judith A. Ross

Menfolk ©Judith A. Ross

Mama's got her eye on you

Mama’s got her eye on you! ©Judith A. Ross

… and I was lucky to catch a shot of two youngsters at play.

Sibling rivalry ©Judith A. Ross

Sibling rivalry ©Judith A. Ross

There were wildflowers and mysteries.

Wildflowers ©Judith A. Ross

Wildflowers ©Judith A. Ross

Remains ©Judith A. Ross

Remains ©Judith A. Ross


Now that we have returned to the reality of the Massachusetts winter, our trip already feels like a long ago dream. But it is also our future dream. Will we live there some day? Only time will tell.

Footprints ©Judith A. Ross

Footprints ©Judith A. Ross

Grounded Clouds


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Foggy field

When the weather goes from cold and snowy to warm and rainy, the air becomes thick with moisture as though the clouds have dropped to the ground.

Walking through the mysterious murk, we heard voices before we could see their source. Dogs popped in and out of the grounded clouds.

cloudy walk 1

cloudy walk 2

Last January, I claimed the word “focus” as my New Year’s vow, and some things are sharper today than they were back then. Yet I’m viewing the year ahead through a soft-focus lens. The changes and events to come are as foggy as these woods. I’m okay with that uncertainty.

Broken Branch

Red Berries

If I learned anything from my year of increased focus, it was that the best, most memorable experiences came when I just let them, when I stayed in the moment and swayed with the wind of life rather than fighting it. My trip to Morocco is but one example.

Of all the New Year posts and articles I’ve read these past weeks, it is Dominique Browning’s words that I keep repeating over and over in my mind. She was recounting her year, “It was a big year. But every year is a big year,” she wrote. And then she said,

 Every day is a big day. That is what we realize when we are older. That we are lucky enough—and that is all it is, plain dumb luck—to be here makes it a big day, a big year.

So maybe my “resolution” this year—if you want to call it that—is to celebrate my life and luck every day. I’m going to burnish my love for my family and friends until it is a beacon they will return to over and over again. I’ll make every day a big day.



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Yes, it is beautiful after the first snowfall. And so quiet you can almost hear a feather being ruffled by the wind.


And I finally got a clear shot of this hornet’s nest that I picked out through the trees last summer.

hornet's nest

But it’s cold, too. This morning when I walked into the kitchen the thermometer read 1 degree Fahrenheit. “It’s dangerously cold,” Paul said. Karina and I waited for the temperature to rise into the double digits.

When it hit 10 degrees, I began layering on the thick socks, long underwear, heavy jeans, sweater with turtleneck to pull over my nose, down coat, hat, boots, gloves — and then I took a step and felt something sticking into my foot.  Oy….

It wasn’t so bad once we got out. No wind, and our neighbors John and Marie, assisted by their big, jolly lab, Yankee, had tramped out a short loop in the woods with their snow shoes.

It’s the time of year when I look longingly ahead to striding down clear pathways in a pair of my favorite shoes instead of trudging through snow and ice in my clumsy-but-warm winter boots.

For now though, I’m taking a page from AA: One day at a time.


(Good thing, too, because when I lifted my head to look outside after hitting “publish,” more snow was starting to fall.)

An Enduring Relationship




The last time I saw my mother was the day I finished my junior year of high school.  It’s been more than 40 years since I basked in the warmth of her smile, or heard her musical laugh. And even longer since we argued, but I still remember the last time she annoyed me.

She had neglected to compliment me on my newly acquired driving skills. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” I asked before tossing the car keys towards her. They hit her thin shoulder and fell to the garage floor. She looked at me, startled, her blue eyes filled with hurt.

She was dying and that made me mad. For the rest of that spring, I put my new driver’s license to good use, shuttling back and forth between home and the hospital every day after school.

She’s missed a lot. She wasn’t there for my high school and college graduations… or my wedding. She never met my husband or her two grandsons. And yet, after all this time, our relationship lives on.

Since her death, my mother has been with me many times — especially when I do things that she couldn’t. The first time I traveled to Europe with a friend, she was there too. She had always wanted to go, but because of my travel-phobic father, she never had the chance. On that first trip, I lit candles in churches all over England for my Jewish mother.

She made it clear that I was going to college. Trapped in a difficult marriage, a college degree, more than anything else, symbolized freedom to her. She badly wanted the ability to support herself, and she didn’t want me to be stuck, dependent —like her.

Each time that I checked a new accomplishment off her list —earning that diploma, landing my first “real” job, and renting my own apartment — I could almost hear her cheering in the distance.

Because she made sure that I got the extras, like music lessons and summer camps, my sons got them too, even when the cost seemed onerous. She’d be thrilled to know that one grandson recently performed at the Kennedy Center, and that the other is living and working abroad. She may be gone, but her influence still has legs.

Shortly before my 16th birthday, on a sunny, brisk spring day, she took me to a nearby shopping center to pick out a bracelet. We left the store with a one-inch sterling silver cuff that came in a maroon flannel bag. In my mind’s eye I see us talking and laughing companionably as we stroll from store to store.

I think of us together every time I wear that bracelet. The memory of that ordinary day—so long ago that it now seems extraordinary—reminds me to treasure every small moment I can snatch with my husband and sons.

She and I didn’t have a lot of tough conversations. I was rarely in trouble, but because she was my safe place, my comfort zone, I knew it was important to provide that space for my own children. I think, I hope, they know that they can tell me anything.

Often, I imagine her in the kitchen, cooking a meal with my younger son, who shares more than a passing resemblance to her father in both looks and spirit. Or joking with my older son, who always has a good story to tell, and whose big, blue eyes match hers. When I do those things, she’s there too

If she were still alive, my mother would be 92 this month. Even though she has been absent for most of my life, memories of what she said and did guided me through early adulthood, marriage, and motherhood. I am now seven years older than she was when she died. As I move through middle age and progress toward old age, she can no longer show me the way.

And yet, as long as I am alive, and still straining to remember her voice, and hear her laugh, the relationship goes on.


This post is part of a series about mother-daughter relationships published on “Daily Plate of Crazy.” Click here to read other posts in the series. 


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