It has for several years been a source of mild frustration to me that I cannot find a reliable recipe for preserves. I have all kinds of recipes for chutneys and conserves and marmalades, and for jams with honey and low-sugar jellies and for special preserves made from this or that sort of (where I live) unattainable stone fruit. What I want is simply strawberry preserves, peach preserves, blackberry preserves, and there, so far as I can tell, are no well-tested recipes to be had in books.

For basic jams and jellies, of course, the folded sheet in the box of pectin gives me instructions, but the point of preserves is not to use boxed pectin. Preserves is fruit with just enough sugar to literally preserve it, and perhaps a touch of fresh lemon juice if even that much sugar seems too sweet; it is stirred and tended while it cooks down; it is soft on the spoon and in the mouth, not molded like a school-lunch dessert. To make true preserves is to capture the essence of fresh summer fruit and hoard it away in a cupboard for the horrible soggy February morning when you simply cannot face another day of winter, and you open it up and spoon dollops onto buttered toast and feel that perhaps you can live another day.

Cake. Pinups. Cherry.

In Plymouth, a little town off the Albemarle Sound, I stopped for coffee. This is how old Plymouth is: It is so old that the streets leading from the highway downtown to Water Street are named for presidents. Washington Street was blocked off for roadwork, so I took Adams downtown and Jefferson back out. On Water Street I found the Plymouth Bakery, where one table was occupied by two men and a woman, probably in their seventies. One of the men was hitting on the waitress, who was maybe sixty. Her name was Cherry. She asked if they had saved room for a piece of cake.

Pretend men tell no tales

The Monkey hands me a beanbag.

“Um, thanks.”

“It’s a flyer,” she said, and bounces off to the living room, where she has arranged a dozen of her stuffed animals on chairs and the couch. She places a beanbag in front of each animal.

“I’m passing out flyers to all my animal friends,” she explains, in case I hadn’t figured this out on my own.

“That’s great, honey,” I say, wondering where my daughter got the idea to pass out flyers, hoping that she is playing political activist and not Jehovah’s Witness or guerilla marketer. “What do the flyers say?”

She stops and looks at me with as much disdain as a three year-old can muster. “Pretend things don’t say anything, Dad.”

Fair enough.

We like to dance real slow

The Monkey likes to watch basketball with me, or rather she likes to be in the same room while I’m watching basketball. Or football. She is only vaguely aware of who is playing, unless it’s the Philadelphia Eagles or Carolina basketball—though during the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament I can’t claim much better for myself; I frequently have to Google a set of initials before remembering which university it stands for. On Friday I asked her whether we should root for Memphis or North Texas; she considered the matter briefly before saying, as if pronouncing judgment on a fine wine, “North Texas, I think.” Then she returned her full attention to her Leapster, which binged its approval and cheerfully inquired whether a sea turtle might be larger than an orca.

The point isn’t the particular sport, or which teams are playing or who happens to be winning; it’s the experience of watching together. It would be male bonding if she were male, but hey, it’s the twenty-first century, and we could just as easily be watching women’s sports.

five spice duck canape

Five spice duck confit

five spice duck canape

For Chinese New Year, a bit of fusion cuisine. Every year we have a party for the lunar new year, and I try to make some kind of highly impressive centerpiece dish. One year I made a Szechuan duck that is similar to Peking duck, but like all Chinese duck recipes it requires last-minute preparation — in this case deep-frying — and I’d rather not spend all my time in the kitchen after our guests have arrived. So for the year of the horse (2002) I invented this as an equally tasty duck preparation that can be made a day ahead and requires only gentle warming before serving.

Radish and watercress sandwiches

My grandmother taught me to eat radishes. Or, I should say, I learned the habit from her; I don’t think she had any grand plan to indoctrinate me. She served radishes and scallions with breakfast, accompanied by individual dishes of salt for dipping. My cousin and I, aged about five, theorized implausibly about why the salt improved the flavor of the radish. We could agree only that without salt, the radish tasted impossibly harsh; with it, like heaven. (I may not have been a typical five year old.)