Spinning Syntactic Sugar

I have spent the past three weeks reveling in gifts.

Before flying to Denver last Sunday, I went to Cheesetique, pointed excitedly, and rushed back to the house to open burrata, the Italian cheese with a cult following.


At room temperature, the cut burrata oozes its creamy center like the complicated mozzarella it is. Hard to find, burrata will not keep—so I lingered over it, scooping out liquid buffalo mozzarella around the edges before metroing to the airport.

In the cyclical way of traveling, I was leaving and some of my friends have just returned—my friend Will from China, bringing me back a fanciful paper wallet, which may last longer than the burrata did. Looking at the sturdy folded cardboard I’m struck by how much a material changes an object—in this case, into an objet d’art.

paper wallet

And my friend zZalgern0n has also just returned, bringing me an Icelandic rock that I carry in my purse, a sort of talisman from a quirky place that routes roads around spots where elves might live.

icelandic rock

Beyond quirky to random, my new colleague Laura received a can of champagne at the recent D.C. Heel Race upon assuring someone he would not fall off his friend’s shoulders and lose his view of drag queens racing down 17th Street.

champagne in a can

Morgan, Cameron, Laura, Andrew, and I appreciated the scene and the canned champagne, nodded approvingly at the Spice Girls, and decided that M’Dawg was what we wanted / what we really, really wanted.

at heel race

dc heel race

Cameron had two M’Dawgs, and Andrew and Morgan were lost in the “Lil Macs” (genius amalgamations of macaroni and cheese spheres coated in bread crumbs), so we all almost missed the crayon wandering in to order an M’Dawg and wander back out.

cameron mdawg

crayon mdawg

We only saw Magenta that night, but his friends Yellow, Orange, and Pink have appeared at farmers’ markets lately.

Not only in portable music devices, rainbows of chard and raspberries have beautified market stalls in recent weeks.

rainbow chard

rainbow raspberries

Rainbows are always in season, of course, but mums and chocolate festivals signal late fall.


chocolate fest cville

I stumbled upon the Charlottesville Chocolate Festival after the market a few Saturdays ago, and I was pleased to see the First United Methodist Church upholding my caffeinator of choice.

let there be

I like real chocolate, though, so I was perplexed by this faux food booth (how blessed can faux food be?), wandered a bit, and bolted; happily, Dana invited me over for an excellent, and entirely real, vegetable lasagna with Ben and Scott a few hours later.

faux food

The next day, Dana and I drove to Ash Lawn-Highland, the historic residence of James Monroe, and talked about halloween costumes and finding inspiration in trees.


As I applied silver shadow above my cheekbones the following weekend, I remembered the light on the tree branches, and as I lined my eyes, I thought about the branch-like patterns on pumpkins at market.

pumpkin etched

Meeting Dana and Severine at a very decorated house, I asked them to pose in front of the “beer graveyard” as their characters,

severine dana

but by our second of three parties that night, Jane had already discovered that there was no Dana, only Zuul.

jane and dana

(I had hoped taking Jane to see Jessica working at Barnes & Noble, who showed her where her books are shelved, would alleviate Jane’s anxiety; instead, Jane nursed her annoyance at the derivative author works placed nearby hers all night. I, meanwhile, generally alarmed the store customers, particularly as I was not in costume as a literary figure.)

jessica smith

ziggy at bookstore

At the second party I found Zorro, we began looking very hard for our friend Waldo. Can you see him?


Can you find Waldo?

where's waldo

Giving up (Ziggy/Jareth tires of these sorts of games), Dana/Zuul and I floated on through a third party and two bars to join forces with Cleo (who never did locate her asps).

bowie dana cleo

The wonderful thing about Halloween this year was its duration, spanning two weekends of costuming, a day to wear costumes to work in the middle of the week, and a finish with Day of the Deceased celebrations.

Ben and I sent a hasty invitation on that Friday, made the table into an altar, baked pan de muerto, and readied to dance with the lively skeletons in the closet.

Dana donned a spooky long wig, Michael, Stewart, Severine, and Helen arrived, and Jordan brought a mask, a candle in the shape of a hand, and a picture of Biggie for the altar as well as a thoroughly fun disc of “Songs in the Key of Death.”

Día de los Difuntos

Pouring out a little liquor for our homies as we drank margaritas and ate guacamole, I attempted death by chocolate on our guests with a bittersweet ganache, raspberry sauce, and caramel webs (Ben did almost choke on a particularly large section of caramel).

death by chocolate

The next morning I prepared a variation of eggs and toast, warming up the heel of the baguette and scrambling pork belly and chives into fresh local eggs.

eggs toast

Thinking about what I had grieved and let go, I looked at the rest of the caramel webs. I had less than twelve hours before my friend Lauren’s birthday party, an event which called for each guest to share a special talent or evidence of said talent.

caramel webs

I had dribbled caramel into flexible webbed patterns, but birthdays call for incredible lightness of being. And what more appropriate birthday dessert than one that looks like eggs and is made from eggs? Resolved, I made a grocery list…

That night, Jake introduced and transitioned those of us sharing skills, pieces, and music;

jake explain

Andrew followed the Whiskey Dixies’ set with a paper airplane tutorial,

andrew airplane

Sarah read from the book she published at age eleven,

sarah book

Chris demonstrated one rise of bread,

chris bread

Teddy read a poem about her Catholic school upbringing,

teddy poem

Patrick solved a Rubik’s cube in under three minutes,

rubik's cube

and, after many other impressive talents (truly, alchemy was called for at this point), I spun sugar to top an île flottante for Lauren.

spun sugar

An île flottante may be my favorite dessert, with a soft egg-shaped meringue on top of crème anglaise crowned with delicate strands of caramel. Like burrata, the caramel goodness fades within hours—the ephemeral strands disappear, as do birthdays and ganache and champagne; luckily, I managed to capture much of the celebration in a video.

(Watch all the way to the end for a special bonus track from the Whiskey Dixies.)

And, since they are fleeting, I arise and channel Ziggy,


gather pearly sunchokes as orbs to light the way,


and I am off to San Francisco to chase new rainbows for a day…


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