Fourth of July

My parents' house in Pennsylvania is close to the road, maybe thirty feet between the front door an old road named after a soldier who died in some war or another.  Between the stretch of patchy grass that's dotted with limestone and silica lies a flagpole.  Its verdigris mixed with mud thats been caked on from Mid-Atlantic summer rains and bird shit, the pole within buzzing distance to a nearby bird feeder.  

The flagpole was made from a swingset that was never cemented into our backyard.  It had come with the house and if we pumped our legs too hard, it would tilt precariously forward and backward.  One time it toppled to the ground, my sister landing on her knees as she jumped away from it.  My parents had it melted down and three weeks later, it was erected in our front yard as a flagpole.  I remember being embarrassed of it; how, within that 30 foot stretch of yard where my mother tried to make some semblance of a garden, we would waste the precious land on a show of patriotism.  I was eight, but I was confused.

The garden never grew, the roses always came out deformed, small.  My dad said it was from car exhaust, I think my mother just wasn't good at gardening.  We once buried a mouse that had died underneath the flagpole.  We once buried a blind finch who had fell from its nest there, too.  The flagpole was sort of a tombstone then, small burials took place for the pets I had made throughout the years.  One small duckling, a butterfly whose wing I had ripped in a net.  I figured that's what the flag represented, all those red stripes for blood, punctuating the white of innocence.

The flagpole was also the landmark for our back country road.  If you followed the loops of the countryside, you'd come across the lone flag that billowed in the pre-thunderstorm silence of a humid summer.  Sometimes it would hang at half-mast, but always it was visible as a midway point between the small towns of Imler and New Paris.  Small towns with foreign names to anyone outside of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

I wonder how many people are driving by that old country house with its flag in the front yard today.  How many children are sitting backseat with their water wings on in anticipation of some aunt and uncle's swimming pool.  How the creek is so filled with glass bottles, no one can swim in it anymore.  I wonder how many years I spent resenting any appreciation for patriotism and family, I stayed in doors and read.

But I did celebrate, I remember the year I left for California I spent the Fourth of July tie-dying shirts with my mother and catching lightning bugs in a jar.  I remember that night I snuck out to smoke the last cigarette in a pack and found my dad on the porch with a beer.  I tucked the cigarette into the waistband of my underwear and sat with him in silence.  He handed me a beer.  I was 19 then, but I tipped the can to him and sipped it while the stars turned dark as the clouds rolled in.   One year, I sat on that same porch and started a fire with matches and nail polish remover.  One year, I dangled my feet off my friend's boat and ate hummus out of a red solo cup. I found ways to keep up the tradition I didn't even know I was a part of.  I kept my sunglasses on and drank deeply from the cups that were proffered to me.

And I will do the same this year.  Thursday, I bought a six-pack of beer and more hot dog buns from 7-Eleven.  It will be just the two of us this year, relaxing, boring, quiet as that may be.  The grill is hot and the dogs will sit anxiously at my feet.  I'm going to look back on today and think it's been the best Fourth of July of them all.  No artifice, no conversation, just the steady stream of languid stretching and a movie in playing in the background.  I'll enjoy it all with a plateful of hot dogs, potato chips, an open beer, and a side of homemade mustard.

Homemade Spicy Beer Mustard

Adapted from Molly's recipe on Food52.  Yields 1 1/2 cups, ish


  • 1/4 cup mixture of brown and yellow mustard seed, ground with mortar and pestle 
  • 3/4 cup mustard powder
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup clover honey
  • 1/3 cup beer, pref amber ale (Fat Tire)
  • pinch of salt
  • Pinch of sugar


  1. In a small saucepan, add all ingredients and stir to combine
  2. Heat on medium for 5-7 minutes until thickens
  3. Allow to cool before storing in airtight container
  4. For a milder flavor, let stand for a few hours on counter 

Avoiding the Red Cliche

Most things come easily to me, things you wouldn't expect from a boy with no discernible talent.  Things like baseball, calculus, forgiveness never came easy to me, but love did.  Love in the carnal sense, love in the fictional sense.  Love in the sense of letting go, love in the sense of finding yourself.  Love in the sense of that ever-present gnaw at the pit of your stomach that registers in the mind as I am responsible for someone else's happiness. Love has come easily to me since birth.  I love my mother in an almost manic sense, an almost Oedipal obsession with my desire to make her smile.  In kindergarten, I kissed a girl named Alex's hand when she reached out to grab a colored pencil, I thought I was gentlemanly and adult of me.  Years of expansive love bloomed in me as I began to daydream of boyfriends and how exotic the word fiancé sounded, with it's accented e and promise of a future with someone else.  With each boyfriend, there was a breakup, and with each breakup, there was some promise of next time, next time, next time.  I found Nolan during one of those next times.  During my return to Italy, when we were both a little bruised, both a little cut up and the vinegar kisses of a stranger felt like when soap gets in a hangnail.  But, underneath all of that, once we stripped down and opened up, there was love.

It was raw and passionate, it left me heady in the perfumed 10x8 dorm room where the heat was on and a blizzard blew through Pittsburgh one night in January.

It was lazy, falling asleep with a bucket of chicken during XLV.

It was chaotic in the sense of never having an ending, never knowing the dates of anything important, throwing shoes and his grandmother's dishes when I got too angry and forgot to say, "I'm sorry."

But I was never sorry, never sorry for loving someone so ferociously and tender.  I'd lick the wounds I had created and then blame the rust-taste in my wolf mouth on his laziness, his determination to let our love fade away.  It was raw and passionate, it was lazy and chaotic.  And somehow love became this little succulent, never needing watered, collecting dust on the windowsill, timid in its approach to life.  Our love had a geophyte approach to sustainability, fatty and tuberous, holding onto any love that existed when life got barren and dry. When it got hard to come by, when it couldn't be found in the moonlight nor with a dowsing rod, broken off from a backyard apple tree when the Santa Anas made us unbearable to one another.

Since I left for Texas, we fell in love again--hard and fast, when the bones were most brittle.  An apologetic love where conversations often ended in "How did it get like this?"  We are finding our way back to the frenzied love of when I was 19, and slowly those sour wounds heal when they're exposed to air.  I wanted to celebrate this love for Valentine's Day and forget all the other four years and the bullshit we put one another through. I wanted to celebrate this love in boxes, small tins of love that overpowered Nolan for Valentine's Day.  I wanted to remind him what home could feel like.  I wanted to remind him what love could feel like, because our house in San Diego was big by San Diego standards, and it could creak too loud when you're lonely.  I made him dinner, cakes and bread, and shipped it to him to have for Valentine's Day with a movie, so it felt like a date tonight.

I love you.

The menu for Nolan's Valentine's dinner



Pasta out to dry




Chocolate Cake with a Marzipan Heart

A chocolate cake with a marzipan heart

Bacon Salt and Popcorn


homemade candy bars

Homemade Candy Bars

Homemade candy bars

Homemade Candy Bars

“He shall never know I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made out of, his and mine are the same.”


Roasted Beet Pasta


  • 2 large-sized beets
  • 3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
  • 6+ cups flour


  1. Preheat oven to 450
  2. While oven is preheating, peel beets and wrap in foil, place on baking tray.  When oven is ready, roast for 40 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, unwrapping so steam can release
  4. Cut into large chunks.
  5. In a large food processor (6 cups or more), throw in beets, eggs and yolk, olive oil, and salt (and optional zest).  Puree until smooth
  6. In a stand mixer, combine puree and three cups of flour using the paddle attachment.  When dough begins to form, switch to dough hook and continue to mix, adding in last three cups of flour, one at a time, until a proper dough forms
  7. Remove from bowl onto a floured work surface (i prefer marble for pasta-making) and knead for 7 minutes or until is elastic
  8. Keeping dough floured, cut into eighths and lay plastic wrap on sections you are not going to use.
  9. Use your pasta machine's directions for thick noodles, and dry.
  10. Enjoy with a vinaigrette and parmesan!

Bacon Salt


  • 5-6 strips of bacon
  • 1/2 cup sea salt (preferably a larger crystal)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Fry bacon on a skillet until extra-crispy
  2. Put on a plate lined with paper towels and allow to cool, blotting excess grease
  3. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until combined.  Do not over-pulse, as it can result in fats in bacon to liquify.
  4. Enjoy over popcorn, with potatoes, or be creative!

Handcrafted Candy Bars

There is no real recipe for a basic candy bar.  I used some of my mother's recipes, which use more specialized chocolate and techniques, but the instructions I have below can be practiced even with chocolate chips. From here, you can personalize them and make them your own, even including honeys, spices, herbs, salts, and even homemade nut butters!  But, I would start here for an intro into confectionery.

Before you begin, use a ratio of 3 oz per candy bar, so you have some room for leeway with sticking to the bowl, the mold, and your spatula.  From here, you can cut and halve, mix chocolates together and multiply easily.  I particularly like mixing white chocolate and a milkier, lighter chocolate.  When you have decided how you would like to flavor your chocolate, measure out how much you will need.  Then, take away about 30% of that amount and set aside (this will be your "seed chocolate", a step for this pseudo-tempering.  It is necessary so your chocolate doesn't turn grey when cooled).

Prepare any mold you may be using.  I always use a light olive oil cooking spray and then wipe off the excess with a paper towel.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine your remaining chocolates and microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds.  Take out and stir.  Put back in for another 20 seconds and repeat this process until all chocolate is silky smooth and easy to stir.

Add remaining chocolate and continue to stir.  The heat from the melted chocolate should melt remaining chocolate.

Add any add-ins and pour into mold and smooth out with a rubber spatula.  Allow to cool for at least half an hour in the fridge before unmolding.  Package however you want (I went a little far with homemade packaging I designed and printed on special paper, but basic foil will do). Store in a cool place, or the fridge.

Other recipes used: For the cake (marzipan inspiration here)/  For the hot chocolate mix /  For the marshmallows / For the bread.

Christmas Eve.

Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie The anticipation used to kill me, trick me, tease me.  Christmas break would start on a day before Christmas Eve and last all the way through to January 3rd.  I would cry when I didn't get what I wanted, I would cry when I had to go back to school.  I would eat turkey and ham and lasagna and seven different types of fish with my family.  We would play cards, pretend to like each other.  It was tradition and now I realize how ephemeral it really was.  How days moved like molasses, and then quick like warmed syrup.  From a small flurry to a blizzard, we wrapped ourselves in fleece blankets and wondered how the cold got into our old, old house and made our bones feel just as old.

That's what I remember about Christmas and I used to envy how others described it as magical, mystical, something worth looking forward to.  All those years, it seemed like a chore and how greedy I was to ask for more, to count the dollar value or my gifts compared to my siblings'.  How sad it all seemed the next day, anticlimactic and messy.  I always wanted more, but I could never articulate what I wanted the most.  I think all I wanted was to feel loved, held, a part of a larger family than the small nucleus that was mom, dad, brother, sister.

Lately I've been feeling nostalgic and hungry, grateful and like I lost something and can't remember where I put it.  These feelings don't often hit me in such full force.  Going home last week to Pennsylvania (more on that later) brought something out of me that I didn't know was in me:  the power to create magic.  The ability to create peaceful, loving memories with my mother.  Instead of remaining bitter, remembering how a week before Christmas in 2010 I got tested for HIV and then threw a fit when I didn't get the new iPhone, I could laugh with my mom and hug my dad tight.  I was invited to spend the night at my sister's first place, I called my brother and congratulated him on his new house.  I was creating, making, forging, and shaping a future with my small nucleus to last longer than the one day a year we forced upon ourselves for tradition's sake.  And that's what Christmas is about, that is what my parents wanted all along.  And I want to return that favor to all of you.  Bake this cake, forge those memories, make someone smile and discover that all you needed was there all along.  It's one part Christmas and two parts mountain dessert, Appalachian baking.  A moon pie, a whoopee pie.  Whatever you call it, it's a survivalist attempt at decadence.  It's delicious and light, moist and dense.  A mile-high contradiction where you can splurge a little, if it helps you remember your care-and-calorie-free childhood a little easier.

I received a lot of presents this year -- marble and ceramics, wood and paper -- but the best gift I could receive was knowing that I'm loved by someone, and I can return that love to anyone who will let me.

moon pie 2

Peppermint and Eggnog Whoopie Pie


  • 1 2/3 cup eggnog, divided
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (mix it up with smoked salt)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso mix
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cups cocoa powder
  • 4 oz butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin, bloomed in cold water
  • 2 candy canes


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9" cake pans with butter and parchment paper
  2. In a mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk all wet ingredients (1 cup of the eggnog) together and set aside
  3. Sift together soda, salt, espresso, flour, and cocoa in a large mixing bowl and create a well in the middle
  4. Slowly begin combining wet and dry ingredients, mixing with a rubber spatula to scrape all sides
  5. For an added level of smoothness, pour wet ingredients through a sieve and scrape sides with spatula into a clean mixing bowl
  6. Divide batter between two cake pans
  7. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow to cool
  9. While cake is cooling, prepare the icing.
  10. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of gelatin with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside while gelatin blooms
  11. In a large mixing bowl, use a mixer to combine butter, confectioner's sugar, cream cheese, until combined.  Whip in the remaining eggnog and vanilla.  Add a pinch of salt, if desired
  12. When gelatin has stiffened, put in microwave for 15 seconds or until melted and whip into icing mixture
  13. Allow to set for 15-20 minutes
  14. When cake is completely cooled and icing is set with the gelatin, you can assemble the cake
  15. Put one cake onto the plate, then scoop and smooth icing using a wet icing spatula or butter knife.  Of course, this can be messy, so don't stress too much
  16. Top with remaining cake
  17. Pulse candy canes in a food processor until a fine dust
  18. Brush VERY lightly with water on cake to allow peppermint to stick
  19. Pour peppermint crumbs onto cake to taste's desire
  20. Enjoy with your family!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

We have brioche at dawn.

This all happened before I left for Pennsylvania, before I was reminded of the as it was.  Of the constant state of charm and chaos that exists when you visit a family home.  The kind that you can recognize the tired floorboards, the kind that are imprinted with your dad's shape on the couch.  All the good memories flood back and haunt you like a contorted zoetrope, and you're never really sure if you're dreaming or awake. I made these rolls with no intention of making these rolls, with no intention of being up until one in the morning, making sure I had turned the oven light off.  Intention wasn't the cause, but the end goal of having these with ham and jelly kept me going.  The soft pillows were enveloped in a hard crunch and I could taste them before I could smell them.  I knew they were special and simple and delicious.  I knew I wanted them to be impressive, I knew it before I ever intended on making them.

I have always felt that the grey morning light is terrifying.  One of the first poems I wrote, read out loud in the back of my parents' '98 Nissan Pathfinder, was about how I wanted to die when that grey light extended to my southward-facing bedroom window.  That was in Pennsylvania, when the whole month of December is one grey streak on virgin snow.  Out here in California, it can taunt you for two hours and be gone by the time you pull into work.  It's different here, but still frightening.

I've never been one for armor, but you can't hide from the ambient greyness.  Instead, you have to confront it.  Distract yourself from it.  Make it feel invited in a way that it can't smell the sick in you.  I distract myself from it, too.  I serve myself a beautiful breakfast when I realize how much I hate this kind of season, this kind of light.  The mild distortion of ephemera that only comes between the hours of five and seven in the morning.  And that can all be abated for a moment or two.  At the calm of the table, with the coffee pot scorching on the burner.  The small hiss of everyday life while the man you once loved and will love again sleeps in the next room, never aware that you only made the breakfast so you didn't think about your own mortality.  How you, too, could be gone by the time you pull into work.  And after that you would do the dishes, and after that you would take a shower, and after that you would get a towel and sit on the bathroom floor trying to stay warm.  The ritual of these brioche buns meant I was distracted, meant I didn't have to, for one moment, think about how suffocating mornings can be, when all you have is yourself.

Morning Brioche Buns


Ingredients: (this is for six buns, but I had doubled the recipe to share at work, as seen in photos below)

  • 8 TB milk, slightly warmed on stovetop or in microwave
  • 1/2 sachet of active dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces, room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar or honey
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked (1 tablespoon of eggs for washing), room temperature
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt (such as La Jolla Salt Co.)


  1. In a bowl, activate the yeast in the warmed milk until beginning to bloom and bubbles appear
  2. Cream butter and sugar (or honey) until light and fluffy with mixer
  3. Add eggs and continue to blend gently until combined
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt for lighter, airier dry ingredients
  5. Gradually add these to the wet mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until crumbly
  6. Pour in yeast mixture and stir until all ingredients are wet
  7. Oil or flour hands gently and turn onto a lightly-floured board.  Knead by hand until gluten and yeast begin to activate.  The dough will become springy and malleable in about 5-7 minutes
  8. Put in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel for about two hours, or until doubled in size
  9. Put back onto floured board and cut into six equal buns.  Roll and shape into rounds, place on parchment-lined baking sheet for another hour and a half to inflate again and become puffy.  During this proofing period, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. When the oven is preheated and rolls are puffy, you can either keep them on the baking sheets or place them in a skillet or other oven-proof bakeware for a visually-stunning breakfast.  Either way, they taste great.
  11. Gently brush all balls of dough with reserved tablespoon of egg and lightly salt with flaked seasalt.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden
  13. Allow to cool and serve as immediate as possible.  Put in airtight container for morning.
  14. Note:  I found that, with all brioche, these dry out really quickly.  To reconstitute them a little, place in a microwave with a damp paper towel for about 10-15 seconds.  The steam should help to soften them up a bit.
  15. Serve with jam, butter, or some honey-baked ham I'm sure we all have received in a Pepperidge Farms box from a relative or two this time of year.

brioche1 brioche3

And one more thing...

I want to give a special shout out to La Jolla Salt Co. for their great deal on this denim apron I purchased in support of small businesses in my area.  I was lucky enough to have a little bit of their salt for this recipe and I can say it gave it the perfect amount of balance and crunch the brioche needed.  Baking gets pretty messy and I've finally graduated from using old flannel shirts to a full-blown profesh apron now!


Easter Sunday.

It was 1998 and I was seven.  We visited my grandmother's grave for the first time.  In a rippling field, in a small valley in Indiana.   Forty-five minutes from Cincinnati and silent as a lamb.  I held my mother's hand, dressed in paisley and wearing a clip-on tie from the dollar store, we watched the barley sway when we breathed and tears splashed on my hand, having slid unchecked down my mother's cheek.

It was Easter Sunday then, and we were driving past after an egg hunt and it wasn't intentional to stop, but we did.  We stopped and held our breath when we recognized the name, etched into stone.  It was nondescript, Norma's grave, and it was us who gave it any significance.  It had stood there since 1980 and was probably going to still be there for a hundred years.  That's the thing about Indiana--even the most dead things there have a more cast-iron constitution than anything living in California.  Salt of the earth, you could die from their kindness.

My pockets filled with gold foil chocolate coins, clanging with change in broken plastic eggs, meticulously counted and stashed in my breast pocket, that was the Easter I knew there was heartache.  I could read it on my mother's face.  The only thing Protestant about my mother was her work ethic, everything else was superstition to this woman.  But she was wondering, bartering, trying to make sense of it.  If Jesus came back, why hasn't she?

They're both nameless, God and Norma, and that's the only thing they have in common.  We call her "your mom" when addressing my own.  It's an alienation of propriety to call her "grandma", even if we wanted to.  Instead, my siblings and I sit and wait to hear any recollected memories of her from our mother.  We know she liked As the World Turns and her husband was a drunk, that she liked peanut butter and was poor as dirt.  But every Easter, I can't help but think of this woman, this shadow of ourselves, laying in the ground somewhere east of the Mississippi, and how she never even knew I existed.

And I thought of her this week.  I made a prayer to the sky, to God and to her in heaven.  I made a prayer to the gemstones I keep in a satchel, her body part of the ground now.  I wanted to cover all my bases.  I wanted to thank her for her work, to tell her that I like peanut butter, that I know what it's like to be dirt poor.  I wanted to relate to this woman.  And I just couldn't.

So instead I worked.  I wake up at five thirty now, to ensure greeting guests and supervising the breakfast hour.  It was busy for a holiday, which kept me there until dinner time.  I drove home on an empty road and found Nolan and the dogs outside on the patio, music playing and eyes sleepy from the sunlight.  Ham was waiting, potato salad made, eggs boiled.  It was all done, done for me, with nothing to worry about but myself.

And so we ate.  We ate and laid on the couch, lounging in akimbo postures to accommodate two dogs on our ikea Kivik couch, bought when it was just us.  It was peaceful, it was easy.  I called my parents and they had dinner at Bob Evans, dessert at a local shack that serves ice cream just up the road from my old high school.  I said I was sorry I couldn't be home for the holiday, she said she was sorry the card was going to be late.  It was easy to forget all she did do for me, but even easier to forgive a late card here or there.  My mother works as a candy maker now, so Easter entails 13 hour days for her; no apologies needed. 

But for us, in our tiny house in San Diego, we snacked on bread, took alternating naps, and wished tomorrow wouldn't come, so we wouldn't have to go back to work ever again.


These were naturally-dyed eggs made from coffee (the brown ones), paprika (yellow), and grape juice (grey-purple). I love the rusticity of their coloring and the way they feel like home.