aurelia’s fruitcake

Aurelia’s Homemade Fruitcake

There’s magic in making a recipe that you haven’t tasted in more than 40 years, from a beloved baker who hasn’t been around to guide you through a recipe for a quarter century. It’s like finding seeds in an archeological dig and testing to see if they’ll grow.

That’s how it was making my Mom’s fruitcake this year during the COVID-19 holiday lockdown. Mom passed away in 1995, and this was the first time I’d tried making it myself. The recipe came by way of my sisters, with measurements like “a package of” that I had to guess at just how big a package Mom had used. I adjusted the recipe below with the way I measured the ingredients.

Growing up, I never knew that people didn’t like fruitcake, because I loved my mom’s. Aurelia Kempster made this moist, spicy cake with juicy fruit and nuts throughout. It always made the house smell of great holiday spices, and was a favorite dessert for me and my siblings.

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my new york manifesto

I wrote the following comment on a friend’s LinkedIn post earlier this morning and then spent the rest of the day on the streets of my City:

I came to New York in 1989, met my husband within two weeks of both of us arriving for art school, and have called this amazing City home ever since — to the point that I cannot imagine living anywhere other than this tiny cluster of islands. The brief time we lived away from the City confirmed that, and we got ourselves right back here as quickly as we could.

I’ve watched the City change so much over the past 31 years, sometimes for the good, sometimes not. Lived here through 9/11, hurricanes and nor’easters, blackouts, financial slumps, service strikes, and now a pandemic, and watched a resilient community return time and again.

The real estate developers will tell you glass towers and shopping malls full of franchised boutiques are what make NYC better and better. But, to me those are what dumb it down, homogenize it, and make it too much like everywhere else in our strip-mall-paved world. And those glass towers and malls are most failing to do anything for the City through this pandemic.

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pronounsOn June 26, 2015, that historic day when the Supreme Court decided that same-sex marriage would be legal in all fifty of the United States, I sat on a bus stop bench near Macy’s on 34th Street waiting for Bob to come out of Sketchers. We had just finished meeting with the lawyer who was preparing closing documents for the sale of our apartment and Bob wanted to look at tennis shoes.

The mundane character of how we received the news was poignant. I was now granted the unfathomable freedom to marry the love of my life who was shoe shopping as I sat on a bench among the unaware Midtown tourists only a half a mile (but a world away) from the epicenter of the impromptu celebrations popping up outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Continue reading “normalizing”

back to school

school picture, 1964

I have spent nearly my whole life either enrolled in a school or working for one.

So, August is always the beginning of a new year for me—the hours of anticipation, the new space full of new supplies, the fresh start, the fear of failing, the return to routine and assignments and work.

I’m resurfacing three of my essays that live in that back-to-school world and the anxieties of beginning again:


IMG_1195antique lace
skirts garden steps
the train of a gown
still brightly bleached
and pressed
despite palpable dust
on fingertips
and faint fragrance
of ancient talcum

on swayed branches
catching my eye
each year
an unassuming
mid-May surprise
halfway between
the giddy parade of
spring’s confetti blossoms
and summer’s sizzling
thick green canopy
marking the memorial
of my first breath Continue reading “bridalwreath”

nyc recommendations

img_9871I was asked recently on Instagram for my NYC recommendations. They aren’t what you’d expect:

Hey jimkempster! Are you based in the NYC?? 🙂 I’m heading there to make Facebook videos and was wondering if you have any recommendations?! Thanks!

@whatsup.tony Recommendations?

Explore every minute you’re here. Eat whatever smells good. Attend anything hosted by artists or groups of artists.

Come up with the most idiosyncratic list of unique, bizarre, exotic, uncharted, beloved things you’re interested in and then Google them with “NYC” attached, and you’ll have 100 days worth of things to do.

It’s all here. Continue reading “nyc recommendations”



city dawn sq

It starts with a soft hiss
in the dark
that percolates into a jangle
like chains
being pulled through pipes
which, in turn,
of growing pains
with loud clanks and bangs
as they learn
to radiate heat.

The sheets
and the dog are warm.
The bathroom tiles will take
a little longer to comply.
I lie awake and watch
the dark blue silhouetted peeks
wink open
as windows light
to the rhythm
of my radiator