alexandra alger


Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Cobble Hill, in Snow

IMG_2512I took this Saturday night, around 8:30 pm, on the corner of Clinton and Congress streets. The sidewalks were barely passable, so everyone out was walking in the streets. It was a funny thrill, walking smack in the middle of Clinton, without a car in sight, and without any of the usual street noise, except for the roar of snow plows. The magic was over by the morning; the snow plows had done their work. The cars had taken their roads back.

Anyone know a good character plumber?

The Canadian writer Sheila Heti wrote recently in New York magazine about an ah-ha moment she had about writing many years ago. She was in her early 20s, writing a short story that would become the wonderfully titled The Princess and the Plumber. At one point a frog is giving love advice to the plumber. She remembered feeling “an inner obligation” to continue the conversation between the two, even though she didn’t know what else they had to say to each another. “Then I suddenly realized that there was nobody looking over my shoulder, and that nobody had any greater authority over what should happen next than I did.” The conversation ended; the plumber turned and walked away.

Don’t you love the idea of a frog giving love advice to a plumber? I can’t wait to find this short story! (It’s in a collection of Heti’s called The Middle Stories, published in 2002 and reprinted, with additional stories, in 2012.)

I know many writers who feel their characters take charge and all they as authors can do is follow along. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” one friend told me not long ago. “And then the doorbell rang!”
I like to think I have ultimate authority over my characters. If only they weren’t such an independent bunch—sometimes terse and inscrutable. I have to coax thoughts and feelings out of them, burrow into their furtive minds. Every writer has to be a plumber of sorts, an un-clogger of minds and hearts.

Instead of Hay, Make Gravlax

Here we are, in the second week of January, and even as I have now cleared out the tree, put away the decorations, chunked the left-over chocolate roll and candy-canes, I’m still stuck in holiday mode. All I can think about are recipes and online shopping. I’ve now scanned resort wear on the Bergdorf Goodman site at least twice. This is a disturbing trend for someone who doesn’t ordinarily like to shop. I’ve also bought things that are easy to put off, because they’re boring and no one really cares about them.Wash clothes, for instance. I found time to buy two white wash clothes (on sale!). And a pillow, for my side of the bed, because my current one’s been deflating for a while.

I know what I’m really doing. You do, too, I’m sure. Procrastinating. Putting off getting back to finishing the first draft of my new MG book. (Only first draft, and I’m deep into second- and third-draft-quality procrastination.)

By now I’m getting so annoyed with myself that I know I will (soon, very) get back to work. After I make gravlax.

Homemade gravlax. The preparing of it is a sort of antidote to procrastination; your energy goes into looking forward, into anticipation, because gravlax needs three days to cure in the fridge. I made it for Christmas lunch; couldn’t believe how easy and utterly delicious it was.


I made this batch from a recipe in the December issue of Food and Wine: Pink Peppercorn and Fennel Gravlax (I’d type it out here if it weren’t readily available on

Whoa, Nelly—my eyes did a double take. Pink Peppercorns? Well, doesn’t that sound pretty, I thought. I know, I’m showing my less-than-foodie-level knowledge of spices. I also needed fennel pollen. In the pre-internet days, I would’ve had to search far and wide for such exotic items, but no longer. Within two days, thanks to amazon, I had them.

The basics: You buy a nice piece of salmon fillet, envelope it in spices, salt, sugar and sprigs of dill, wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap, and let it cure in the fridge, weighted down, for three days. There a few other steps, tiny ones; and that’s it. Those Scandinavians are brilliant! And you will be, too. Find the recipe, if you can get all the ingredients together by Wednesday, you can be gorging on gravlax this weekend. Let me know if you are anything but delighted by the results.

Oil & Vinegar, Anyone?

IMG_2487.JPGMy twenty-year-old son Davison gave this clever oil-and-vinegar vessel to me for Christmas.

I told him about two books he could get me; I wanted to make things easy for him, and I really do always love a book. But he went off and found me something that I didn’t even know I wanted! I’ll be eating more salad now, for sure, which I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while. It’s one of those vague New Year’s resolutions that barely survives the first week of January. But guess what, I’ve had two salads already this week, and it’s only Wednesday! Thank you, dear Davison, for thinking about my pleasure and my health!

Here he is, wearing my reading glasses and a new scarf. He’s affecting the Brooklyn writer look. (He writes well but is not, in fact, interested in writing. He likes problem sets. Multi-variable calculus. Statistical analysis. There’s more but I don’t know how to describe it. Literally, I don’t understand it enough to describe it.)


It’s interesting how some people are naturally good at finding gifts that please those who receive them. I say “naturally,” because I do think it’s a trait that one is born with. I remember when Davison was in sixth grade and had to find a Secret-Santa present for girl in his class, but nothing that cost more than ten bucks. I went with him to a local shop, and he picked out a set of dangly earrings on sale for exactly ten dollars. They were cute! I thought he’d nailed this Secret Santa thing; this girl was going to be totally wowed. It didn’t sound like she was, in the end—I don’t know why, I only heard part of the story—but the point is, he showed early promise in the gift-giving department.

( All right, yes, I’m still a bit irked at the girl for not being wild about the earrings, even after all these years. The Secret Santa tradition, it seems to me, promotes more ill will more good will. Parents get drawn into finding a present for a kid who may well not like it; their own child may be just as disappointed; and the whole notion of giving as a gesture of the holiday spirit goes by the wayside. I thought maybe Secret Santa had been junked, but I just came across a posting by someone who goes by Crappy Christmas Letter on Be Like Water Production’s blog, whose daughter just had a bad S.S. experience. Crappy Christmas (interesting name there) wrote about having a fun time picking out a pretty box and necklace and chocolates with her fifth-grade daughter, Elizabeth. Surprise, surprise: The recipient didn’t like her offering and had no trouble telling Elizabeth as much. By the end of the post Crappy Xmas was plotting some kind of public humiliation for the girl.)

Back to Davison. He’s going to be put to the test in the next few months: He’s confronting, in quick succession, his girlfriend Sidney’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and the one-year anniversary of being with Sidney. What a terrible trifecta! I never had to face that kind of pressure. Good thing, because I’m not sure I could’ve handled it. I would’ve ended up buying, I don’t know… what might have I gotten one of those guys I dated in college? I’m straining to think of an idea, but I’m blank; completely blank. Ah, well, that was a long time ago. But Davison’s go this thing in hand, he has assured me. Of course he does. He’s a natural. He’s just going to get better and better at giving presents. I can’t wait to see what he gets me next Christmas.

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