The Batmobile on a Road Trip

I can’t say I ever gave too much thought to ornamenting a tire. Tires have always been purely functional for me. They turn. When they do, the heavy vehicles they carry move from Point A to Point B. You can have the fanciest engine in the world, but without tires, the vehicle’s not going anywhere.

Hubcaps are tire ornaments. They have many different circular designs, like simplified versions of the fantastical views you get inside a kaleidoscope. But the Batmobile doesn’t have a fancy hubcap. It has a tire ornament like no other tire ornament.

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If I was the Batmobile and was moved to a new place of display, I would definitely not say, “Here we go again. A bunch more fools are coming to look at me: ‘Oh, look! The Batmobile!’ they say. ‘I remember the Batmobile!’ Yeah, so what! You think I asked for this look?”

Such disdain is so unbecoming. I imagine the Batmobile instead in a rather humble strut, if this is not too much a contradiction of terms. Its look is super cool. “Oh boy, here they come,” it says gleefully to itself. “More admirers! I love admirers! Look at me, look at my tires, look at my sleekness, my gleam, my cool windshields! I don’t have to try very hard, you know, I just am this beautiful!”

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People like me say “Oh, look! The Batmobile!” because you don’t see the Batmobile every day and because somebody had a lot of fun thinking of how to ornament it!

Samuel and I didn’t plan to see it. We planned to float around downtown Roanoke, Virginia, exploring this small southern city, getting a feel for its character, its energy, its good people working hard to make it a great place to live. We strolled through the city marketplace, got a generously large “small” ice cream cone at Bayou Snowballs, ate a fabulous wagyu burger at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint (where they do not serve burgers with lettuce and tomato, btw) and watched the proprietor of La De Da make a candy dress (yes, a candy dress – I will come back to this).

But then it started raining and was only 3pm. It was a cold icky rain. The observatory at the top floor of the science museum was closed for a private event, so Samuel suggested we go to the top of the parking garage and look at the city. For this we got the umbrella from the car and went up five levels. Other than struggling with our umbrella hilariously turning inside out more than once on account of the wind (umbrellas really do this!), we got a nice view. St. Andrew’s is an especially handsome church.

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You can see how dreary the weather was, but this church! Captivating. Gorgeous. If you get the chance, go see its glorious vaulted ceilings, perfect hanging light fixtures and polished marble floors, all in pristine condition. We did. See if you don’t think it rivals European churches. We do.

But we still had time and it was still raining. The Virginia Transportation Museum had been suggested to us. Okay, sure, let’s go there. The Transportation Museum has a railyard containing many old but beautiful locomotives. This too is fantastic to see.

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Here we are just in front of the railyard. There are lots of wonderful exhibits in this museum calling attention to not only the engines themselves, but also the workforce that made the railroad industry possible, its marching band, its women’s auxiliary and the way trains changed the lives of people. All good, all very well done.

We wandered in the museum the way people wander. Wandering is good sometimes. It gets you to places you did not expect, like the car exhibit. Samuel loves cars – their design, their speed – he is enthralled, way more enthralled than I am. I have generally looked at cars as a thing that transports you quickly and conveniently. It doesn’t matter much what it looks like as long as it does its job.

Stop cringing, you car lovers! I know! How can I not appreciate the graceful lines of the body, the intricacies of the motor that enhance performance, the purr, the roar? I know. Give me time. I might get there. I might be a little closer after seeing this exhibit. I might have to appreciate cars a little more after seeing the Batmobile in person.

As we entered the car bay and saw the 20 or 30 cars lined up on display, I thought Cars, a means of transportation. Of course the Transportation Museum has a car display. I can look at cars. Note my enthusiasm.

But then a museum staff member did a wise thing. He told us, in words, out loud, that the owner of a number of famous movie cars had lent his collection to the museum for a short while, a month or so, and we might enjoy seeing them. Museums use a lot of signage, and this is good, but I don’t know it we would have ventured to the far side of this huge bay had he not spoken to us directly. It was the end of the day. We had seen the trains, marveled at the trains. Enough, right?

I soon changed my mind.

Who doesn’t love Back to the Future? Here was the DeLorean! The 1981 DeLorean DMC-12! “The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with style?”  Only 8987 of these cars were produced.


They had the ambulance from Ghostbusters.

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They had the 1950 Mercury Monterey driven by Sylvester Stallone in the 1986 movie Cobra, a muscle car if ever there was one.


I loved its license plate.

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We saw “Boss Hogg,” the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, driven by Burt Reynolds in The Dukes of Hazzard, a 2005 film also starring A.J. Foyt IV, Willie Nelson and Lynda Carter. It is one of the last automobiles driven by Reynolds in a feature film.


Check out the car handle.

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And yes, it has the horns up front!

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Who can’t smile looking at the 1974 Ford Gran Torino “Striped Tomato” from the Starsky & Hutch TV show?

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Or stare incredulously at one of the two 1970 Dodge Chargers that survived without damage from Fast and Furious?

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If I owned the Batmobile, the DeLorean and all these cars, I would send them on a road trip too. A change of scenery does us all good. Their road trip did me good! Beyond making me smile, they reminded me that humans have a creative, fun side, yet are incredibly capable of taking an idea and making it a reality. These are just cars, but what cars! Immortalized cars! (Did I really type that!?)

There’s hope yet, Samuel. Cars are cooler to me than they were two days ago.

A Theater Entrance in Question

On 3rd Street in downtown Charlottesville is the old box office that a specific group of people were required to use if they wanted to get into the Paramount Theater to see the show. Back then, they were called colored people. They had their own ticket office, their own entrance, their own staircase leading to their own balcony.

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This entrance is not as large as the main entrance, nor does it have the Paramount “blade” or the name of the current show. This is what it looked like on the East Main Street back in the day.

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Mom and I took a historical tour of the Paramount on Tuesday. We learned that it was built in 1931, showed mostly movies (sometimes Vaudeville shows) until 1974 and then was closed for more than 30 years. When a group of Charlottesville citizens decided to renovate it in 1992 and managed to raise a lot of money to do that, the theater underwent a huge, lengthy facelift.

Thankfully, some of the original fixtures had been simply covered in plywood at some point. Removing the covering revealed original woodwork, plastering and art. This wall, for instance (think what you will of the artwork) is original.

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So is this water fountain.

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So is this lighted marker for Aisle 3.


So are the decorative cast iron supports at the end of each row of seats.

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Downstairs on the walls of the hallway are the names and autographs of many of the famous acts to perform here since the theater re-opened in 2004, including Kenny Rogers,

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Lily Tomlin,

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The Oak Ridge Boys.

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I love going to the Paramount for shows and concerts. Clearly a lot of work, time and thought went into its renovation. But as our guide suggested, the question of the 3rd Street entrance remains. Some people think it should be taken away because it brings back bad memories of a time when certain people were thought less of, indeed relegated to a lesser entrance, unallowed to mix, unallowed to be equal, much as the law said “separate but equal.” Other people think it’s a good reminder, a way to remember that this entrance is no longer used, that we have indeed made progress, imperfect and incomplete as it is.

What I want to know is: What do you think? Should this entrance remain part of the structure, part of the tour, part of the concrete evidence of a past we wish were different in so many ways? Or should it go away? How much of what we choose to keep, how much of what reminds us of the past, however painful, is good and necessary? And how are such things to be displayed and presented in our communities?


Brilliant Sheepdogs, Clueless Sheep

The next time you think you are up against an impossible task, compare it to getting three sheep to move through a series of obstacles on a 25-acre hillside. Sheep are not the brightest animals (clueless is the word that comes to mind), but the border collies that guide them through this competitive course are brilliant, fast and oh so determined to be successful.

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It isn’t every day you get an “open” trial of the US Border Collie Handler’s Association practically in your backyard. When you do, you go see this amazing spectacle. Tracy and I drove about ten miles to Edgeworth Farm, knowing almost nothing about sheepdog trials except that it involves sheep, dogs, a person giving commands (whistle and voice), a great big open space and some sort of timed challenge.

It’s a challenge all right. We stood looking out on a huge field that is roughly triangular in shape, in the middle of one flat edge (at the bottom of this drawing)  looking toward the far point that was more than 400 yards away. That’s where the sheep start (the xxx at the top). I am not going to get a prize for drawing, and there are surely inaccuracies in this, but the obstacles and the route the dog has to take looks about like this.


The dog starts with the handler at the dot near the bottom, opposite the three sheep (the three xxx’s at the far opposite end of the field), a spot called the outrun. The dog has to run around to the left toward the outrun, approach the sheep from behind, “lift” them (get them moving in the right direction), then make them go through the middle “fetch” panels that are seven yards apart, veer around and then up through the “drive” panels, go across the field through the “cross drive” panels, go toward and then through the “Maltese cross” from one specific entry point all the way through (they are not allowed to go out the sides of the cross), then into the pen. The dog does not have to close the door of the pen; the handler does that and also can help guide the sheep through the cross.

The sheep do not want to do any of this. Therefore please also note: My lines are relatively straight, but the sheep zig-zag all over the place, and the dog zig-zags behind and around them constantly. The sheep clearly have absolutely no idea what’s going on. They just want to go home, back to the barn, back to the food, back to the safety of their many other comrades who, unknown to them, are also three by three having to go through this same inane exercise.

Oh and by the way, this whole course is 12 minutes!

A very nice man named John stood next to us, also watching. His wife is a handler so he goes to these competitions all the time. The way he explained it, there are two main things to know about sheep. 1. Sheep assume safety in numbers so they stick together. But that doesn’t mean one of them might not “squirt” (his word) and separate from the rest randomly. 2. Whichever way the sheep’s head is facing, that’s the direction they are likely to move, so the dog has to get them facing the right way.

In this trial, the dog had to keep all three sheep together throughout the course. Sometimes, in other competitions, one or more sheep will be marked with a bandana or something, and the dog has to purposely separate that one or two from the rest and then get the unmarked group to go through the panels or into the pen.

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The photo above shows the dog and the sheep approaching the fetch (middle) panels and gives you an idea of how huge the field is. (I am not using a zoom lens.) You could barely see the sheep up near the trees when the dog was first released from the handler at the beginning of the trial. That black and white blob above the right-hand panel is the dog and the white blob in the middle is the three sheep, all clustered together, surely wondering what on earth they are doing running down this field and why this annoying creature is pestering them to do it!

John said the sheep are constantly deciding which is worse: the annoying dog always behind them that won’t leave them alone (so they continually try to get away from it) or the scary obstacle (gate, pen, etc) that the annoying creature is trying to make them approach and go through or into.

Next time you have to choose the lesser of two evils, remember these sheep! You can see them eyeing the “Maltese cross” with great skepticism (below), but that bothersome dog is still behind them. Why won’t it just go away??

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The dog has to sometimes coax, sometimes drive, sometimes wait. The handler whistles or shouts voice commands but can’t do that too much. Until the dog gets to the cross with the sheep, the handler stays at the starting post issuing commands from there. The whole thing is not only timed, but point-based. Each obstacle is worth a set number of points. Getting the sheep through the fetch panels – from the starting point (the outrun) through the first (middle) set of panels is worth 20, for example. It is not only getting them through that matters, it’s how the dog gets them through.

Didn’t your mother always say: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it! or, It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!

The rules are specific, though with a good bit of subjective judging required. Regarding that first part of the course, the USBCHA rules for international competition read as follows:

5.2.3 Lift

  1. At the end of the Outrun, the dog will either come to a full stop or merely slow down.
  2. The dog’s approach should be smooth, cautious and steady.
  3. The dog will take control in a firm and quiet manner.
  4. The dog should not rush in and startle the sheep nor should it lie back and require numerous commands before getting its sheep on the move.
  5. The lift should be smooth and balanced where the sheep move away in a direct line to the first obstacle.
  6. Judges should use their personal knowledge of sheep and sheep dogs to determine whether a lift has disturbed the sheep unduly and mark accordingly.
  7. Judges will deduct points for excessive commands, slowness, etc., at this point of the trial.

Several things strike me while reading through this. First, you try getting sheep to move in a direct line!! C’mon, sheep, you know you don’t want to just stand there. See that nice set of panels? God only knows what’s on the other side of them, but you know you want to go straight toward them and then right on through! Sheep have no idea whatsoever what a direct line is.

Second, “…whether a lift has disturbed the sheep unduly…“ – trust me, the sheep look very disturbed! Why is that infuriating dog behind us all the time??

Tracy and I watched eight or ten dogs try to do this course. Two or three got the sheep through the first (fetch) panels. One of those got the sheep through all three sets of panels (fetch plus drive plus cross drive). ONE! (This shows the “drive.”)

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One of them (a different one) got the sheep to go through the cross (in the right entry point and without squirting out the sides). One of them (yet another) got the sheep in the pen at the end. This is hard!!! The sheep don’t want to go in the pen! Damn dog! Make it go away!


These dogs — and the people who train them — are remarkable. It struck me as its own world, a community of people and dogs who love this challenge, who work tirelessly to outwit and overcome the small-brained decisions of a bunch of sheep. It was highly entertaining and I’m sure is very hard work. The dog tries so hard! The sheep are so dumb! And when it works, when the smart, fast, skillful dog causes the dumb, jittery, unpredictable sheep to go where they are supposed to go, it’s so exciting, you cheer! Well, you quietly cheer because you are in such awe. You wouldn’t want to disturb the dog’s concentration or add any random noises that might add confusion. It’s hard enough!

The Artist in the Grocer

Some people are artists. Some aren’t. But this is not a black and white distinction. Somewhere along the spectrum between Artist Extraordinaire and Person with No Sense Whatsoever for Color, Form and Design is the place where I suspect most of us reside. We may marvel at the artist’s skill – how can human hands can produce something that amazing – yet have a modicum of understanding (a little, anyway? a teeny bit?) as to why the rest of the world marvels with us.

Part of the reason we marvel is that we ourselves (all right, let me speak for myself), I myself, would have all to do to draw a shape vaguely resembling an apple (through it might look more like a pumpkin or a tomato) and color it red (to hopefully distinguish it from the pumpkin at least) and put little green leaves at the top of a brown stem (to hopefully distinguish it from the tomato). In my wildest dreams I couldn’t come up with something like this. I’m not sure I could even imagine this composition, let alone put color to canvas and create it.


But William Rickerby Miller did. This oil on canvas “Study of Apples” that he painted in 1862, hanging in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, falls into the category of art known as trompe l’oeil. Do you see how the leaf at the edge of the table seems to be coming off of the canvas, almost three-dimensional? Do you see how the apples shine, as if someone just polished them because they wanted a bite? How does he do that??

Trompe l’oeil is a genre of art that is a trick, a trick of the eye, a very deliberate attempt to make you think the objects on the two-dimensional canvas are real, when you know (because you are looking at a painted drawing in a frame) and the artist knows (because of having painted that drawing) that they are not. In theory, this trick reminds you that all art is an illusion, so do not be mistaken: What you are looking at is an image of the thing, and not the thing itself. In turn we can take the broader lesson to be careful in this world: All is not what it seems to be!

These oranges have the same effect on me. Also a still life, also oil on canvas, it is called “Oranges in Tissue Paper,” painted in 1980 by William Joseph McCloskey. The oranges look so real, even more real than a photograph could render them. The orange color is bright, almost plastic, with a dark background setting them off even more. The tissue paper practically sounds crinkley, the sections of fruit look juicy. I want to eat them! No wonder this painting is part of a group the museum calls “10 Works of Art to Avoid if You’re Hungry.”

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I grant mega-credit to these artists and all great artists. I stand in awe at what they do with tools and color, with hands and minds, with time and effort. But I return to the spectrum – those who cannot be considered in the master class, but nonetheless have an admirable eye for Color, Form and Design and some skill with the same. I present the unnamed person behind the fruit display at a grocer called Farm Fresh to You, one of the extraordinary little businesses at the Embarcadero’s Ferry Building Marketplace.

It takes no small skill to arrange the display I observed there. At first glance, and to most passersby, it’s fruit for sale. Indeed it is, but if that’s all it is, why the spattering and alternating of color? Why the angled baskets leading up to the top-most level? Why the bananas all together as almost a backdrop of the familiar but the black mission figs (that look purple to me) alternated among its fellows in sixteen different spots, setting off the yellow-greens, green-greens and oranges of the fruits and veggies around them?

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Why green apples on one side of the raised, middle carton and large orange/pinkish/reddish tomatoes on the other? Why some small, orangy, cherry tomatoes below some others just like it but in line with the ones above? Why the peppers below the purple figs and multi-colored small tomatoes below some other orangy ones? Why not purple figs here in this one spot, orangy cherry tomatoes there in another spot, big fat tomatoes all together in one basket?

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Because whoever put this display together has an eye for Color, Form and Design. Whoever did this made multiple decisions to put this here and that there, to vary the colors and shapes, to let some look random and some intentional – for good reason! Just like the trompe l’oeil above or any other type of art, it catches your eye, draws you in, gives you pause, and in this case, hopefully causes you to buy something!

Why don’t we see such elaborate displays more often? Because they take time and effort and no small amount of skill. Because the owner of the shop has to pay the person who does it, and that adds to the cost, which some markets cannot bear (but evidently this one can). Because people who can do this don’t come along every day. Because the artist had fun!

Granted, the colors of the natural fruits and vegetables negate the artist having to duplicate them with oil or acrylic on canvas, their natural shapes are 3-D to begin with, and the continually changing nature of the display – the gaps here and there reveal that someone recently bought multi-colored tomatoes, purple figs and green peppers – makes it a continual work in progress for this artist. I do not place this art on par with the paintings above. But whoever does this work (probably all the time) gets new material every day and every season, can rearrange at will and elicits admiration, I venture to say, on a daily basis. I was not the only one taking a picture of it.

I also venture that there is great pleasure in work well done, in creating something both functional and pleasing to the eye, in knowing that some people – just a few maybe, but still some – see the artist in the grocer, the art in the display,  and smile. I did.

Having Eyes, and Seeing Beauty

In downtown Boise (Idaho) is a lovely rose garden. I explored a small part of it today with my daughter and her two little darlings, and I learned something about myself: I’ve changed. There was a time when I would have said Those are pretty flowers, and left it at that. I did not “have time” for such things. I had other things to do. I had seen pretty flowers before.

No more. I could have spent all afternoon admiring the blooms. There were so many! They were every color imaginable. They were so perfect.

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Clearly someone (or probably a team) spends a lot of time tending them and does it very well. As we approached on this picture-perfect day, I realized this was no ordinary rose garden. There are over 2000 rose bushes in this special place named after Julia Davis, Boise’s “city mother.”

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You can’t rush through a rose garden because roses are such extraordinary flowers up close. In my case, however, you also can’t take too much time when you have a three-year-old with you and another who’s almost one because the zoo is right next to the rose garden, and that is the actual destination – and guess where they would rather go! Roses do not compete with giraffes when you are three, especially since they have a baby giraffe!

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But Marie graciously gave me some time to use my eyes and see the beauty of the roses. It’s impossible to decide which is the prettiest color. I have always loved the yellow ones.

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This one decided to be both pink and yellow.

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Coincidentally, one of the books I brought along to read on this trip is the engaging story of a little girl growing up in pre-WWII Japan (Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a longstanding bestseller describing the early school days of a woman who went on to become one of Japan’s most popular television personalities).

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Beginning when she is about five – having been expelled from her previous school because her intense curiosity was disruptive to other students – Totto-chan attends an extraordinary school led by a schoolmaster who becomes a hero to her. This man listens carefully, allows for individual differences, advocates for the unsung, celebrates a fresh look on almost anything and creates an environment intent on giving every child the best way to grow, to learn, to shine. How ironic that I come to an extraordinary rose garden the very day after reading these words:

“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

I did have eyes and I did see beauty, and for the beauty I saw I am very grateful. But I did not see only beautiful roses in the rose garden. In the middle of the path leading to the gazebo sits this fountain. I don’t like the blue water because it looks artificial to me, but I soon saw past that. Look carefully around the edge and you will see imbedded plaques.


The etched words were mostly in memory of loved ones, such as this one.

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But this is the one that moved me nearly to tears:

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At first I thought maybe Linda’s Uncle Fred was one of the gardeners, and maybe he was. But it could also be that they strolled this garden together and it was all the better for having done it together. In the end, for these two people, together was best. And I thought: Would the zoo today have been as wonderful if I had not been able to listen to Ellie’s gasp when she saw the lion?

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Would I have enjoyed watching the anteater look for his own lunch in the dirt if we had not been together on benches next to him eating ours?


Being together today, I stood next to my daughter holding her daughter who’s feeding the llama – most definitely a sight more beautiful than any rose – and the roses are very beautiful! I am so blessed to have eyes to see it all, to enjoy their sweet company, to spend this week together.

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“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

Best Onion Soup Ever

I never planted onions before, but this year I went big: one hundred sets each of white, yellow and red. I never planted rosemary with success before, or thyme at all. But these essential ingredients for the best onion soup ever all grew well this year. I know this isn’t the fullest rosemary bush in the world, but for me, it’s phenomenal.


The thyme might look like a weed, but those perfect little leaves strike joy in my heart.


Onions, well, onions sit in the dirt. They are a mess when you bring them in and put them in the sink to clean them.

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But what’s inside the mess is glorious. They glisten like jewels.

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I learned how to make onion soup when I was 16. That year, I wanted to make a trip to Germany to meet Claudia. She and I had been pen-pals since we were 12, having met through my great aunt Lina, who was her father’s cousin and my mother’s aunt by marriage. Claudia used to say that she and I were related “around nine corners.”

Here we are during that trip, posing with two other (closer) relatives between us on top of a mountain we hiked in what I think was the foothills of the Alps. (Claudia, help me here, what mountain was that?) I didn’t plan this Onion Soup post to fall on this date, but I’m so glad to be able to say: Happy Birthday, Claudia!!

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This ties to my onion soup because I needed money to pay for my trip. For the nine months before my trip, throughout my senior year of high school, I held a weekend job at a French restaurant called Picot’s Place. It was there that I observed the chef making onion soup week after week. I have since made it myself countless times the same way he did. I LOVE onion soup, and I have never been disappointed in how mine turns out. Somewhere, I got the right kind of crocks long ago, and have always made it with the bread and melted cheese on top, the way it is often served in restaurants.

Nothing wrong with that. Well, except for how difficult it can be to eat it with the cheese adhering to the bowl the way it does, on and under the rim. And sometimes, when you get it in a restaurant, they put too much bread in there which soaks up all the broth, or sometimes too much cheese so that you are eating just gobs of melted cheese before you can get to the soup.

This past weekend, at the Inn at Mount Vernon, I had onion soup that was BETTER than mine. Not only was it better, it was better in a way that I thought I could duplicate, so I did, thinking there might be some onion soup fans out there. How was it better?

  1. The onions were cut up smaller than you often get it, meaning we did not deal with trying to get long floppy pieces of onion onto our spoons.
  2. It had been thickened! Never had onion soup except with a clear broth before, and this change was amazing.
  3. The bread-cheese on top was cheesy croutons – bread cubes on which cheese had been melted prior to simply putting them on top of the bowl of creamy, rich soup.

I promise that the fact of it being a nasty, rainy day this past Sunday at Mt. Vernon and our being finally inside, out of the weather, and into the warmth of the dining room had nothing to do with how good the soup was. On any day, this soup would be judged (by me, anyway) as outstanding.

For my version, I started with that bowl of onions above, minus the red ones, which turned out to be 5 full cups of chopped onions. Chop them as fine as you want. I asked Samuel to cut them up, which was rather a pain because they are so small and therefore it took a long time. All I said regarding what size to chop them was “not insanely fine,” which he interpreted as meaning the size could fall anywhere in the huge range of possibilities between no-longer-whole and minced. I realized my communication error, my inexactitude, when he asked me to confirm that he had judged “not insanely fine” correctly, which he realized he hadn’t when I simply stared at his pile and did not verbally approve in a glance.

All to say, cut them as big or as small as you want. Just don’t leave them whole.

Put the five cups of chopped onions in a large pot (my Dutch oven came in handy again) along with a stick (1/2 cup, or 113 grams) butter. Turn this on low and let it cook for about 45 minutes, stirring now and then. It will look like this in half an hour or so, but leave it a little longer, about 15 minutes longer, on real low for those onions to get super soft and transparent. They are like gold to me.


Next I veered from onion soup tradition and added half a cup of flour, and stirred it in, making a pasty roux. Making a paste like this is the basic way to thicken something without ending up with lumps. Stir that flour in (a whisk works well) till the paste is smooth, then add four cups of chicken broth/stock and stir it up again. Then add four cups of  beef broth/stock and stir again.

That’s 8 cups of liquid total, and I split mine between chicken and beef broth because that’s how I was taught. You can use all chicken stock, homemade or purchased, or vegetable stock, or all beef stock or whatever combination you want. You can use 8 cups of water plus 8 bouillon cubes (4 chicken, 4 beef) if push comes to shove and that’s all you’ve got.

Then add half a cup of cooking sherry. I was running low and had only a quarter cup of cooking sherry so I added another quarter cup of this fine port, which is possibly why it turned out to be the best onion soup ever. I cannot be sure.


If you happen to have a bit of leftover pork gravy from a roast you recently made, or beef or chicken gravy, feel free to put that in. I had about half a cup of pork gravy. Whether this contributed to it being the best onion soup ever, I also cannot be sure. But I think maybe.

Then add your herbs. My handful for this pot of soup looked like this. I picked the parsley because it looked so pretty, thinking I might use it in the soup, but I have never put parsley in onion soup, so in the end I used only the rosemary and thyme. (The parsley came into play later with chicken piccata.)


Quantities of herbs: If using fresh, use the leaves of five 6”-long sprigs of rosemary, plus the leaves of five 5”-long sprigs of thyme. (I am trying to be exact here. A little more or less will be fine.) If using dried, use 1 ½ tsp each of rosemary and thyme. In my pot after adding the herbs, it looked like this.

herbs in pot.jpg

Let all of this cook for about an hour on a low simmer. That means the heat is high enough for there to be some bubbling along the edges of the pot but not a full boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

While all those flavors are working their magic in the pot and the soup is becoming delicious, you can make the croutons. Choose bread you think would make good croutons. A small baguette or a firm white loaf will work. I would avoid anything with seeds. I happened to have this lovely darker bread in my freezer, which might have had some rye flour in it, but I don’t know because I didn’t make it. It was small, only about 5 inches across.


I let it thaw, then cubed it like this,

bread cut up.jpg

then put the cubes on a cookie sheet, buttered them with a little melted butter (with a brush as you would butter corn on the cob), then sprinkled parmesan cheese on them. The butter is both for flavor and to help the cheese stick. You could probably use a different cheese like cheddar or swiss, as long as it’s finely grated.

bread with butter and cheese.jpg

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and baked the croutons for 20 minutes. Then I turned the oven off and left them in there. Leaving them in as the oven cools draws more of the moisture out of them and makes them crispier without being darker. Finished they looked like this.

bread toasted with cheese.jpg

They are marvelous and would be marvelous on almost any soup, but on/in the onion soup, oh my!

soup in bowl.jpg

We were all in heaven. Samuel used four verys to describe how good it was, as in “very, very, very, very good.” I told him I’m not sure he ever used four verys before about anything I’ve made, and he said something to the effect that he was too overwhelmed with how good the soup was to bother with finding better descriptors.

The superlative soup found yet another use this morning. When making myself some scrambled eggs, I used a slotted spoon and took up some of the onion/herb part of the refrigerated soup and heated it up in a skillet. Then I added a handful of spinach chopped up a bit. Let that cook a couple minutes till the spinach got soft. Then added my two beat-up, positively orange-yolked eggs. How many verys? I’ll let you guess.

Being Not Wishy, But Washy

Not many people have heard of Washy Custis. His full name was George Washington Parke Custis. I did not expect to meet him, but there he was. You may remember that George Washington (yes, that George Washington) married a widow named Martha Custis, whose late husband was a man named John Parke Custis. Martha’s grandson was Washy, and he grew up at Mt. Vernon.

guide Wash (3).jpg

(It is, by the way, historically accurate for him to be carrying an umbrella, which we all needed to do on this rainy Sunday. When I asked about that, I was told that the Egyptians had umbrellas. “A palm frond on a stick is not rocket science,” I was told.)

Washy guided us through the historic property, pointed out the “necessary” (the privy) but discreetly saying very little about it; gentlemen don’t need to talk about such things. He described the winding paths that led to the house, each flanking the “bowling green” – which was not for bowling but for bocce balls (which, if you haven’t played it recently, is a really fun game on a flat lawn). The paths were designed to look like they meandered naturally but were in fact quite specifically planned that way.

He explained about the cupola, affixed to the roof of the house not to ornament it, but to provide a much-needed escape for the hot air of the summertime. You opened the first-floor windows and the cupola windows, and the hot air went up and out (some of it, anyway, let’s hope most of it).

front of house

He took us to the greenhouse, where Washington’s tropical plants, such as this key lime tree, live during the winter. Washington’s only trip outside the continent was to Barbados when his brother was ill; it was there he developed a fondness for things tropical.

key lime reflecting Washington's interest in tropical plants.jpg

The formal gardens, seen behind the tree and in the next photo, are comprised of boxwoods carefully shaped into fleur de lis (to honor the French and their help during the Revolutionary War), the freemason’s symbol (General Washington joined this elite organization at the age of 20) and something that resembles a dog bone but does not represent dogs, even though Washington had several. Funny how you sometimes remember what a thing isn’t, but not what it is!

Hats off to the gardening staff at Mt. Vernon!

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(Did I mention it was raining? Our feet were soaking, our umbrellas were dripping through. The view through the window of the boat, this boat,

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during the river cruise we took that had nothing at all to do with Washy (to whom we shall return) looked like this. Not the nicest day for a tour.

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When I worked at Smuggler’s Notch ski resort in Vermont one winter and the wind chill factor one day made the temperature feel like 50 below, and people were getting on the lift to go up to the top of the mountain to go skiing, I remember thinking Fools! No, actually I realized even then that, well, this is their vacation, this is their day. If they don’t go today, they don’t go. I used to think I would have stayed by the fireplace, but there I was today out in the rain with all the others – all the other fools! It was my day!)

We followed elegant, amazing Washy all over the place, into the stable courtyard, through muddy paths, across soaking wet grass. He cut a dashing figure, bow in the hair and all. His jacket in the back is joined with buttons at the sides, which of course he could undo when it came time to get on a horse.

back of Wash (2).jpg

Washy, what a name. He was a trip, continually referring to what his grandpapa would have thought or said or done. At the smokehouse, a squirrel interrupted his spiel, walked right through the eight or ten of us carrying its baby into the (unused for smoking hams anymore) smokehouse.

Coming through, folks. Baby duty. ‘Scuse me, to your left. Coming through…

“Never share the stage with babies or animals,” he said. “They one-up you every time.”

Great Neighbors and The Power of a Tractor

“Have you got a square shovel?” Joe asked.

“I have a snow shovel,” I said.

“As long as it’s not plastic,” he said.

I went to the shed and got the metal snow shovel and brought it to where we were moving the smooth river rock into the bucket of the tractor. The river rock was sitting within an open wooden framework flanking the brick pathway leading to the front porch steps. A square shovel makes it easier to shovel from the inner edge of the frame…

flat shovel.jpg

…while a pointed tip is not so wide and would leave a lot behind.

pointed shovel.jpg

We wanted to move the river rock in order to save it for use some other time. The excavation work soon to happen in this area will erase all traces of river rock, so if you want the rock, move it while you can.

As I walked back to the work site I thought about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her own “Little House in the Big Woods” was vastly different from mine. Her setting, Wisconsin in the 1870s, was largely unpopulated. Families needed enormous measures of gumption, skill, courage and strength, a portion of luck and at least a few good tools.

I wondered: Did they have a square shovel? I am sure, between building a house in the woods, making their own butter and cheese, harvesting crops, raising, hunting and butchering animals, and fending off a variety of threats to their admirable homestead, they did not have need to move decorative river rock out of preexisting wooden frameworks. But I’ll bet a square shovel would have been handy for some aspect of their operation. More than that, think how different their experience would have been with a good tractor.

Having the right tools helps so much. It sure helped yesterday. And I don’t mean the snow shovel for the river rock. I mean this Kuboda LA525.


Tracy, my very generous neighbor, gave me two hours of her time along with the use of this beast of hers. Joe, her very capable dad, masterfully orchestrated the relocation of my two planter boxes, each of which has to weigh at least 500 pounds.


Together with the help of the beast, these great neighbors did in two hours what would have taken us the whole weekend.

I did the prelim work last week, putting the cinder blocks in place. That’s when it looked like this.

cinderblocks1 (2).jpg

But after that my hands were tied. Earth weighs approximately 100 pounds per cubic foot. These planter boxes are five feet long by about two feet wide and about 18″ high. Granted, the lower half is filled with some empty cans and Styrofoam peanuts just to take up space (coleus, even gigantic ones like mine, don’t need that much dirt). Still, the 100 pounds per cubic foot is just the dirt. The total weight of the boxes also includes the rainwater that soaked that dirt two days ago, the wood itself that the planter box is made of and even the relatively minor weight of the plants themselves.

I don’t own a tractor and had spent a good bit of time considering how we were going to solve the problem of moving these huge and heavy boxes. We might dig the plants and most of the dirt out of them, then drag each box or walk it one angled step at a time, a few inches at a time, to the concrete blocks. Or use a furniture dolly. Sooner or later we would have moved them. But oh, the joy of a machine with this kind of power!

Watch what it can do. With just that strap around the middle, Joe at the wheel, and Samuel and Sandy to keep it from tipping one way or the other, the box went off the ground. They pivoted it,


Joe backed up,

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they kept her steady,

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they moved toward the landing pad,

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and he lowered her into position.


The second box was just as simple except for my landing pad not being as level as I thought it was. (Least said about that, the better!)

boxes moved3.jpg

It’s an amazing machine, but more important to me, it was a great team effort, the kind of thing you wonder about sometimes: Is it real? Do neighbors help each other like that?

They did yesterday! They do!

This is community, people coming together to make a hard thing easier. This is the way it’s supposed to be – not to say it always is, but it should be. In the 1870s in the big woods of Wisconsin, pioneers pooled their strengths and resources as well. Wilder’s book includes heartwarming examples of her father trading labor with their neighbors. Yesterday my own heart was warmed as I witnessed amazing labor on Labor Day.

Everyone can do their bit – any day of the year – to perpetuate good, to lend a hand, to make their own corner of the world a better place than it might otherwise be. The best vitamin for making friends is B1, right? Same applies to having good neighbors, I’m sure.

My Racoon Skin

(For my followers, this is today’s post. The one you received half an hour ago had a problem — half of one of the paragraphs was missing.)

Recently while scrounging around in the basement for felt, stuffing and anything that might be useful for making fake fruit, I came across the racoon skin from our homeschooling days. The ringed tail came off long ago, but for years I used it on the flat surface of my hutch and put pretty things on it, like a glass bowl or a decorative candle. Unadorned, it looks like this. You have to imagine the tail.

racoon skin.jpg

I realize that not many people would have and/or use a racoon skin. I just like it.  I found it as soft and luxurious as it was thirty years ago, though it was not originally intended to be part of the décor. Originally it was part of a lesson about Daniel Boone, pioneer days and self-sufficiency.

We didn’t kill the racoon. The kids were young then, early elementary, and we don’t kill things anyway. But we were reading about and talking about what people had to do back in the day when you were immersed in the natural world around you and relied on it to provide for a good portion of your needs, back when you cut down the trees to make a path through the woods, when you built a house with those logs, when you killed the predators that were killing your livestock, when you milked your own cow and churned your own butter. If Daniel Boone needed a hat, he couldn’t just go buy one because he was out there in the wilderness somewhere and there were no stores with hats.

I was never one for only reading and talking about a thing – I want to do it. (I know this is a surprise to some of you, but really it’s true!) Coincidentally, we left home one day to go who knows where and what did we see along the side of the road? Roadkill, that’s what. A road-killed racoon. And what does any self-respecting homeschool mom who is trying to make a point about Daniel Boone’s self-sufficiency do with that? She stops, checks to see if it’s: a. freshly killed – no smelly or decomposing carcasses for me, thank you, b. undamaged, other than being dead of course, and c. (seemingly at least) unclaimed – I would not want to take someone else’s roadkill.

I grant that for some people the idea of skinning a racoon is off-putting to say the least. We are all a product of our experience to a point though, and my experience included three years of being the anatomy lab assistant at Douglass College (Rutgers U.). In anatomy lab you study anatomy, hands-on. I mean hands on the real thing, not looking at pictures or plastic models of the muscles, tendons and bones. Sure, you can talk about how the transversus  abdominus of a cat inserts into the linea alba, and you can read about how the masseter is covered by a tough, shining fascia lying ventral to the zygomatic arch, but there is nothing like taking a sharp blade in your hand and carefully dissecting the animal.

There is no room for squeamishness in this process. I became familiar with it, comfortable. So the road kill racoon didn’t faze me. We brought it home and pretended to be Daniel Boone. I’m not saying it was a pleasant experience, but the real world is messy sometimes. It is complex and hard and utterly fascinating. I think I can safely say that the inside of a racoon is unlike anything you have ever seen.

In the end we didn’t make a hat though. Once the fur is off the rest of the racoon (and the inner part discarded somehow, I forget how), the job is not done. You don’t go from dead animal to useful, clean skin that easily. The fur is soft (and would surely be warm) but other side of it (the hide) is wet, one might even say gooky. The next step is tanning, which involves trimming and scraping the hide, placing it in the shade on a flat, cool surface such as a large rock and covering it with salt.

Where Daniel Boone got salt out in the wilderness is beyond me, and we take our self-sufficiency lessons only so far. A friend of mine, who was far more self-sufficient than I, had at about the same time gotten mad at the racoons that were getting into her garden and had taken a shotgun and killed them. She was having those skins professionally tanned. I jumped on that option. A few weeks later I went to her house to pick up our beautiful racoon skin.

I think we didn’t make a hat because by the time it was ready, we had moved onto other exciting lessons – though it is hard to top skinning a roadkill racoon. Besides, and more importantly, the fur was just too beautiful to cut into. On whatever surface I put it, it served as a reminder that we had once, in a very small way, walked in Daniel Boone’s shoes. We had done a messy thing and ended up with a beautiful thing. We had done a thing ourselves that most people would have had someone else do.

I got to thinking about all this because of Oscar Wilde. In the book I just read, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, there is a story about a little girl whose cat died. She was inconsolable until a stranger came along and told her that cats have nine lives and that her cat was enjoying his next life in France. The stranger then left, but what followed were letters to the little girl from France describing the new life of this cat, how happy he was, etc. The letters turned out to have been written by Oscar Wilde himself who had visited the island briefly and then gone on to France.

Whether all this truly happened or not, I don’t know, but it made me look him up. In doing so, I discovered his involvement in the 19th century aestheticism movement, about which I had known absolutely nothing specifically. I did, however, have the vague idea that surely someone before me must have also determined that things don’t have to have a purpose other than being beautiful. “Art for art’s sake” was their bottom line, and maybe my racoon skin fits that category.

The process of skinning the racoon hopefully taught my children a thing or two about anatomy, about the realities of pioneer life, about using what nature gives you to keep yourself warm. It was time well spent in their early education. But the skin itself, once it came back from the tanner, didn’t have a purpose for me other than being nice to look at and nice to touch. That was enough. Sometimes I would just stroke the fur. I enjoyed it for many years and will probably never throw it away.

I think we all have some things like that – things that we just plain like. They are not necessary things, not useful in a functionally useful way. But we get a good feeling inside when we are near them, and that makes them very useful indeed. They make our hearts happy and help to balance out the ugly, messy, uncomfortable parts of life.

Yesterday’s fake felt fruit is not necessary either, though it will be useful for Ellie in her picnic play.

fake felt fruit.jpg

Making funky ladders for chickens is not necessary either.

cool ladder.jpg

Nor is a peony bush in the bed with the lettuce and carrots.

carrots in May.jpg

Or letting Coco lay on the sheets I’ve just pulled off a bed. I could just put them right away in a basket and take them away. But I don’t. I put them on the floor because this very predictable animal will come along and plop down and look at me like What? Something wrong?

Coco on sheets.jpg

All of these things, and many more of course, make me smile. A long time ago someone told me there’s enough craziness and heartache in this world. You should do what you can to tip the scales to the other side, even in small ways, even if it’s only to make your own heart smile. You should make or do something beautiful, something fun, something that brings cheer as much as you can. Chances are good that you are not the only one who ends up smiling and feeling better.

Crackers Revisited

Late in the afternoon yesterday I went to visit my friend Hank Browne. First thing (after hello) I said was, “I have a little something for you. These are my homemade cheese crackers,” and I handed him a little baggie full. Never having had these crackers before, he said, “Now why would you make these when you could just buy a box?” I said, “You try them and then talk to me.”

This is the photo of Hank that we used on the end flap of the jacket of his book.* I love the fact that he is actually holding a bagel in this photo but we cropped it out.

hank browne bio pic4.jpg

Sometime after I left him with my crackers, I texted him and said, “I need to know what you think of my crackers.” He said simply, “You are my cracker maker.” I think he liked them.

Last week my mom called me to ask for “the cracker recipe.” She did not have to tell me which cracker recipe because only one matters in my world at the moment. There’s a reason you stick with a recipe. It works and it’s wonderful! Imagine sharing /savoring/devouring some of your favorite cheese alongside homemade crackers – these homemade crackers.crazy 2 baked on rack.jpg

These crackers have texture, flavor and the possibility of crazy shapes if you are so inclined. They can take cheddar (Cabot if you please), parmesan, Monterey Jack or just about any hard or semi-hard cheese. I think asiago would be great. Jarlsberg even.

About two years ago I wrote about these same crackers, but at the time I thought it was enough to present the recipe and show what they looked like finished. See how much I’ve learned in two years? Lots of pictures are good! Here we go. Still, we will start with the recipe. It’s from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary cookbook. Back in the day I thought it was very cool that I got one of their first-run, limited-edition 3-ring binders.

All you need on this page is the list of ingredients, but feel free (later) to compare their instructions with mine. I don’t even look at the instructions any more. Oh, wait. Perhaps I had better check!


That’s right. They wanted you to roll out the dough on a floured surface and then transfer the crackers one by one to the baking pan. I did that for a long time. Terribly time-consuming, and as you might have guessed, I have other things to do. So a few years ago I came up with a waxed paper method I will show you, and just yesterday (lucky you!) I realized an even better way to get the rolled-out dough to the pan. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!

First, grate your cheese. Use the finest hole of the grater you have. This is mine that I got in IKEA years ago. I like it because 1. It has its own bowl that the cheese falls into and 2. it has a second top with bigger holes that I use at other times for other things. My sister Lynn has the same one and she loves hers too. But my mom never liked hers and gave it away. To each her own.


Of course if you are using parmesan or romano cheese and it came already grated, you are good to go on that point. I chose cheddar this time because Cabot was on sale this past week and I bought four of the Seriously Sharp bricks, maybe five.

Also, I tripled the recipe because I know how these disappear. If I am going to go through this process and make something that doesn’t go bad in three days (not that they will last three days even tripled!), I might as well make enough to last a while and be able to give some away. You want to share this kind of love.

Put your cheese in a large bowl and mix in the cornmeal. I happened to have yellow cornmeal but you can get white also. The one I had in the house yesterday is also a somewhat coarser texture than I have had in the past, but it doesn’t matter unless you care about them being a finer texture in the end. They are good either way.

cheese and cornmeal in bowl.jpg

Naturally your cheese is a little moist, so mixing the cornmeal into it first helps keep the cheese from clumping. We don’t want clumps.

Next add the flour. This additionally de-clumps.

cheese flour and cornmeal in bowl.jpg

Add the rest of the dry ingredients (i.e. everything else except the eggs, oil and water). Mix in. I did not add the Dijon as suggested in the recipe, but I’m sure it’s good.

The recipe says to mix the eggs, oil and water together separately and then add it to the dry ingredients. You can do this if you want but it works just as well for me to break the eggs right in the bowl and then pour the oil and water in and stir it all up. Two things: 1. If you are worried about shells getting in your crackers (you don’t want shells), break the eggs in a separate small bowl and pour them in, and if you are going to do that, you might as well beat them up right then with the oil and water before adding to the big bowl. I did not worry about shells because my hens are making good strong shells. Your call. 2. I always use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO, as the pros call it).

mixing in eggs, oil, water.jpg

This mixture looks so yellow because of the yellow cornmeal as well as the very yellow yolks my hens are making. Yours might not look this yellow.

Here is what they dough looks like with all ingredients mixed together. You don’t want it gooky, but it should hold together. If your dough doesn’t hold together nicely or seems too dry, you can add a little water to it. But don’t make it gooky.

mixed in bowl.jpg

Now the fun part.

I did the rolling out part three ways. You can choose which way seems best to you.

  1. Between two sheets of waxed paper
  2. On one sheet of waxed paper with flour on top of the dough
  3. Between a sheet of parchment paper and a piece of waxed paper

All of these methods allow you to transfer a full pan’s worth of crackers to the pan all at once. The two-sheets method is what I discovered a few years ago. It has the advantage of being less messy than the old floured-surface method but the bottom sheet can wrinkle a bit. I’ll show you.

Take about as much dough as comfortably fits in your hands mold it to a flat ball or oval and put it on the paper.

dough on waxed paper.jpg

Put the second sheet on top and smoosh it a bit.

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Now use your rolling pin to roll it out. See, no messy floured surface. If you are careful you can re-use the paper for the next ball of dough.

dough rolled out betweem waxed paper.jpg

Keep rolling until your dough is about 1/8-inch thick. Remove the top sheet and flip the whole thing onto your silicone-mat-lined baking sheet. If you don’t have a silicone mat, grease the pan.

The first time I did this, I cut the cracker shapes first, then flipped it. You should not cut on a silicone mat. In the end I found a better way, but this way first.

I removed the top sheet and cut the shapes I wanted. The tool I have is called a Raedle, which is basically a wheel with a zig-zag edge connected to a handle. The one that says Grand.. on it was my grandma’s. It has been used a lot over the years, thus the chipped off name. The other pictured here I found in an antiques shop near me called A&W and had to decide which of my children to give it to. I settled on Samuel because he made these crackers for me some years ago when I was writing my book. Batch after batch sustained me through that project and I’ll never forget his kind service to me. This one is a beauty. If you find one at an antique shop, buy it. If you don’t have one, a pizza cutter works fine.


The dough sticks to the paper which makes the flip possible, but do you see how the paper can get a bit wrinkly? This happened as I continued to roll out the dough to the thinness I wanted. It does not affect the crackers, but maybe that bothers you.

removing paper.jpg

The bottom sheet may wrinkle less if, on top, you use flour instead of another sheet, but either way the wrinkling is not a big deal. Using waxed paper also means you have to be able to flip the paper on to the pan as I will show you. If you are shy of flipping, use the parchment. You can bake right on it. I’ll show you that later.

For now, this is the flipped waxed paper on the pan.

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Little by little I carefully peeled what is now the top paper away.

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There are always a few stragglers that don’t want to stay with their fellows. See that one at the top? Every crowd has a few renegades. Just put them where you want.


Brush water on the dough before you salt the crackers. I couldn’t find my little brush so I dipped my hands in a little bowl of water and used my fingers to wet the dough – just enough to make the salt stick. Use coarse salt.


And into a 400-degree oven they go. The original recipe says 375, but 400 works for me. You bake these until they are as dark as you like them. I love them a little darker but was in rather a hurry yesterday so these are not as dark as I would normally make them. Still good though!

baked first pan.jpg

Transfer them to a rack to cool. Try one or two. Stop if you can. Oh yum.

baked on rack.jpg

Now back to the other rolling-out methods. First, one sheet of waxed paper only. Put flour on top, rub your fingers over it to smooth out the flour a bit and then roll the dough out.

flour on top2.jpg

You might need to keep adding a bit of flour until you get to full size and desired thinness.

lternate with flour on top.jpg

This method still requires you to flip the paper onto the pan. I found that cutting the cracker shapes before flipping made it trickier, and I know you should not cut on the silicone mat for fear of damaging it but I decided to take the chance. I flipped the uncut dough, removed the paper, then used the Raedle gently. It’s easier and I managed to not damage my mat, but then I remembered parchment paper. That’s the ticket!

Cut a piece of parchment paper that will fit your pan, roll out the dough either with waxed paper on top or with flour on top. This shows waxed paper on top.


Then simply slide this paper onto your pan. No risky flipping. No pre-cutting of shapes. No worry about mat damage.

This is the parchment slid onto my pan, which you can’t see because I cut the paper too big.

parchment ready.jpg

So I trimmed the paper.

parchment cut.jpg

Brilliant. Cut shapes, brush with water, sprinkle salt, and into the oven it goes just like that. Regarding shapes, have at it – standard squares or rectangles, maybe diamonds as you see above, or a little more free form as below. It was fun to make the arc cuts, but in the end the crackers were pretty square anyway. You can use cookie cutters if you want too. Either cut them on your counter and move them (tedious but the most efficient use of the dough) or cut them on the parchment and just leave the in-between parts to eat on the side later.

You don’t have to separate the crackers after cutting but before baking. The baked crackers break apart easily.

I know it’s just as easy to buy a box. But the other night I took the last few of the last batch of these, the ones my mother made last week and gave me, to the airport when I picked up my son Samuel. He polished them off well before we got home, at which time he asked, “Do you have any more crackers?” I knew there were no more of the homemade ones and started showing him his choices, the boxes in the cabinet. He stopped me short. None other would do.

You try them and see if he’s not right.

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*Hank’s book is Vanishing History, Ruins in Virginia, published last year by my little publishing company, Paper Shoe Press. You can find it on amazon!

low res Ruins cover image Browne.jpg