November 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
MN – WI – MN – KS – MO – WI – MN.
Each dash a move. Each move a transition. Change. Lots of it.
I’m in the midst right now of the last dash. Big changes afoot. M and I are doing something we’ve been talking about for a while. We’re living downtown. Getting rid of a car.
The seed was planted for this change many moons ago, planted deeper and stronger with each trip abroad. Cities hold my attention. There is always something new to learn, something new to see, something unexpected. That’s it right there. The unexpected. Wonder. What is the point of anything without a dash of wonder?
The latest trip was Budapest and Amsterdam. Amsterdam – wow. Have you been? If not, you might associate it with free-wheeling, pot-smoking, red-lighting wonderland. It’s so much, much more. Art, food and the coziest city streets – blocks of intimate four story buildings adorned with windows and just enough variability to catch your eye. A city built for people – a scale and design not existing anywhere in the U.S. We walked everywhere and we didn’t miss the car at all. How can we make this our life, we thought? So much freedom.
There is freedom in movement. The movement where you choose when, how and where. The movement that’s not dictated by the price or availability of a resource.
I think a lot about architecture. About the enclosing of space and what it means. I also think about pinball machines. The ball anchored along a line by gravity but changing course with each blockage. Is blockage the right word? We assign meaning to words but we also assign words.
Moving downtown, the changes that are afoot, are us choosing an architecture – of our days and of our life. Not blockages (although I’m sure there will be some!) but pathways for movement and freedom. I get on kicks with certain words. Enable is one I’m holding tight to right now. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of architecture. How do we build places that enable us to live the way we want to live? How do we build our lives to enable us to live how we want to live? And how insanely lucky am I to even be able to entertain these questions? Salman Rushdie suggests that the way to reconcile the vast opportunities and blessings we have in comparison to most around the world is to be grateful for them.
So here I am, as I have been so many times before, on the vast abyss of change – grateful, excited, full of wonder.
June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
It was in Budapest, Hungary where I ate my first sandwich for breakfast. It was not a breakfast sandwich, which is an important distinction. It consisted of ham, cheese and these deliciously sweet white peppers on a fresh bun. At the time I remember it being a paradigm shift. A sandwich for breakfast?! Brilliant! And yet when I returned stateside I carried on with my bowl-of-cereal-ways.
Culture is a beautiful thing. It’s especially beautiful when you can look at and experience many – holding them up side-by-side with that of your own examining the differences and similarities. How better to see your own culture than to look at it within the family of cultures on this earth?
How better to learn the questions you need to ask. Why am I not eating sandwiches for breakfast? Why am I doing all of the things “successful people” do and still feel miserable?
See the thing is that cultures have signposts. Some are innocent. Some wreak havoc. If not checked against personal well-being they have the power to hinder. At twelve years old eating my first sandwich for breakfast in Hungary I didn’t realize I was learning an extremely important lesson – I live in a constructed reality that can be challenged. I can question everything. And from those questions I can build a life that is wholly mine.
I’ve never heard anyone describe it as eloquently as Maria Popova did in her interview with Krista Tippett:
“We orient ourselves in the darkness of the unknown by grasping kind of blindly for familiar points of reference. And we seek to construct out of them a kind of compass, out of similarities and contrasts relative to our familiar world and our existing knowledge. And I think it’s especially true about such nebulous subjects as art or philosophy or really how to think where there is no true north. So we seek tangibles like the market to orient ourselves in this maze of merit and meaning. And it takes something, but I really believe most people, all people have that capacity in them to do what he says, basically — to not orient ourselves to what’s been done, what’s been thought, to the market, to the familiar, and try ever so gently to expand our private locus of the possible.”
Expand the private locus of the possible. I love that. In my own life I’ve found this to be true – whether it’s questioning the space I want to live in and how I want to decorate it, to the clothes I want to wear, to the things I want to read or talk about. I’ve also found that the locus of the possible is an elixir. Each taste of what is possible – a way of life or a choice I make that brings me joy but goes against habit or rule book – keeps me going back for more. To keep seeing what else is possible beyond the familiar sign posts. It’s almost like finding new worlds.
I’m currently reading “The Third Plate” by Dan Barber. In it he says: “In the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity.” I’ve written about this before. Nutrition is pandora’s box. Throughout time, over and over again we’ve been told to eat and not eat the same exact thing – i.e. eggs. In our uncomfortability with uncertainty and complexity we’ve taken marketed panaceas to our health problems as gospel like certain vitamins or foods. We’ve looked at food (and nature in general) as commodities. Left unquestioned, we miss the world between the signposts. We miss the intricate web, the connections, the causes and effects.
We miss the mystery. And even though we are all wired to love certainty I can’t help but think we would feel lost in a world without mystery.
In the spirit of sandwiches for breakfast, how about some crepes for dinner? These spinach crepes are delicious and filling, not to mention beautiful. They’re a great way to mix up a week of vegetarian meals that all start to look the same.
Spinach Crepes with Herbed Ricotta Filling, adapted from Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison
For the crepes:
1 bunch of spinach well washed
1 1/2 cups of milk
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1 tablespoon of tarragon
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the ricotta filling:
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
For the tomato sauce:
1 whole onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/2 cup of water
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of coriander
splash of fish sauce
red pepper flakes
- Sautee the spinach for a couple of minutes. Add cooked spinach to blender along with the milk, eggs, and butter and pulse a few times. Add the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt and puree until smooth. Set aside while you make the ricotta mixture and tomato sauce.
- Mix all of the ingredients for the ricotta filling together and season to taste with salt.
- Sautee onions in butter for two minutes and add the balance of the sauce ingredients. Sautee for another 8-10 minutes. Salt to taste.
- Heat a little butter in an 8-inch skillet pan. Give the batter a stir and then pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup and swirl it around the pan Cook over medium heat until set and golden on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Pry up the edges, turn the crepe over with your fingers, and briefly cook the other side until it becomes dry enough to slide in the pan, about 30 seconds.
- Fill crepes with ricotta filling and top with tomato sauce and enjoy.
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
I noticed it right away. The scent. The thinness of it. It’s my favorite part of the transition from travel to arrival. The first gulp of air in a new place. A piece of this new place in you, flowing.
The Asheville air became a thing this past weekend. An item. It was the Asheville air or maybe it was the mountain air, either way it was crisp, fragrant, invigorating. In the morning I would slowly open my eyes and gulp it down. Take my coffee and sit outside where the trees felt primordial, like ancient giants that passed the wind to each other in whispers.
We had conversations with our friends about it as we rolled through the Blue Ridge Parkway to the soundtrack of Hozier. We talked about how this thing felt like it was cleansing us. About how we wanted to bottle it up and take it home. All the while it painted the vast mountain range in the distance blue.
The second to last night we pulled into a dirt parking lot. We were at a brewery but by the looks of it we had just pulled up to a long-forgotten industrial building. As we walked closer to the entrance it was apparent we were at an Asheville brewery – all the token landmarks were there: open garage doors, picnic tables, cornhole, and some of the most relaxed, makeup-less people I’ve seen in a while – (coincidence?). We settled into a spot on the grass that was dappled in sun. Slowly, it transitioned to shade as the bluegrass music filled the mountain air. An outdoor bluegrass music festival at a mountain brewery. Even just writing those words conjures a generic nostalgia in me that has nothing to do with my actual experience. Some combinations of words just do that to me. But I was careful leading up to this trip to not imagine what this place was, what pictures I would get, what things I would see and do and eat.
I’ve learned through much trial and error that sometimes the idea of something is better than the actual thing (and vice versa). Imagination is a beautiful thing. A wild thing. It gets away from us sometimes.
It seems things, too, have taken on new dimensions and definitions for me. Can air be a thing? Surely it can. It felt as real as the bubbling cider I held in my hand on that mountain brewery. A commodity, the cider is. Something that gets made and acquired. And then consumed. “Commodity” sounds weird applied to air and “resource” sounds bureaucratic. But it’s a thing. Real. Wild. Nothing for the imagination to improve upon. I feel myself drawn to these invisible, indelible things more and more.
We left Asheville early in the morning. It was so early our hour-long drive to the airport was the same shade of black. Despite the darkness I knew that the mountains were out there in the distance, I knew the trees were swaying, and I knew we were all breathing in our last gulps of mountain air. But we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk at all.
March 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have a tendency to ask people what they think of the places they visit. I like to ask myself what I think of cities I visit. We tend to keep it brief – we like it or we don’t like it. It’s interesting or it’s not interesting. It beautiful or it’s not beautiful.
We got robbed in Cajamarca, Peru. It was two days before my sister’s wedding on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. It was at her home where we were staying. Where we were playing cards when we heard the dog barking furiously outside. The men were masked and strong and demanded money by the tips of their machetes. Physical shocks of fear, as real and debilitating as a punch in the gut, rushed through my body and continued after the robbers left and through the rest of the night. Sleep was as distant as the sun I prayed to come up because the nightmare was real for as long as it was dark. They would come back, I was convinced. I shivered in my bed, my dad standing watch at the window. It wasn’t until the first peak of light made its way through the window that my adrenaline subsided. But never again could I sleep in that house.
I still shudder when I hear dogs bark loudly at night.
What is it to know a city? Is it to know its history? Does it happen when you visit every street in the city or go inside every building? Is it a certain amount of time spent there? Is it who we are with or is it when we are alone?
During a trip to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago Mike and I took a jog one morning. We didn’t want to stray too far from where we were staying so we opted to run laps around the nearby hotel/casino. It was morning and the thermal blanket of the Puerto Rican sun was already in full effect. The hotel workers and cab drivers sitting around playing dominos looked at us like we were crazy. Hell, the lizards scattering across the sidewalk to get into shade, were very likely questioning our intelligence. I didn’t make it long. I’ve never done well in the heat and after three laps it felt like a dentist had suctioned out all liquid from my mouth and I was inside an oven. Mike and I found some shade and I collapsed into the lukewarm grass. Not a minute later a hotel worker, in a long sleeve shirt and pants, walked over and gave me his unopened bottle of water. He must have thought we were crazy for running in that heat without water but it didn’t matter. A man I didn’t know in a place I didn’t know reached out and I still think about it to this day.
A dreadful moment. An transcendent moment. But neither can define those places.
Made it south by the sea. I had a five hour drive today. I am sitting in a restaurant by the sea with jazz music waiting for my fish and chips. My phone is almost out of battery. Will write more when I get back to the airbnb. That was the email I received this summer from my dad who was traveling around Europe. I saved it and re-read it from time to time. I’m not exactly sure why. I wonder if it’s the amount of beauty in the brevity. A still moment hanging there without judgment – like a picture infused with mystery and expanse.
I think about all of the places I’ve visited and the words I’ve used to describe them and the memories and feelings that have stuck with me from those places – and still I wonder can we ever really know a city? Will our descriptions always fall short? Or are our descriptions simply describing us – an amalgam of our tastes and fears during that time of our life?
Maybe simple, physical descriptions are all that we have to know a place, and the rest, well that’s on us.
March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Words don’t come so easily these days. It seems when I put my focus on something else besides writing that part of my brain shuts down. Alas, I am not as capable a multi-tasker as I thought. Or maybe it’s just a reading season. A season where I take in words instead of spew them out. That is surely fine with me. I will surrender to this season gladly, albeit somewhat deluged because of the sheer amount of things I want to read. But I must quiet the cacophony of choices and focus on that page in front me. Just pick. And read. Turn the page and read some more. It’s the only way to get through a book, an endless list of books, the minutes of these racing days. Ya know, the thought just occurred to me that I’m writing about non-writing. How silly is that? Probably about as silly as being stressed out by the length of the list of books I want to read. If you’re looking for some extra reading these days:
- A favorite New Yorker piece on Extreme Caving
- This ridiculously good longform piece about a friendship that began with a mutual love for birding between two boys who lived on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, and has turned into a mutual effort to turn the former Iron Curtain into a greenbelt. That the boys began a friendship through the birds that flew freely between their two drastically different worlds just gets me right in the gut. Poetry at its finest.
- Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes because poems like this:
I pick myself up ignoring
whoever I was slowly
noticing for the first time my body’s stench
I made a list in my head
of all the names who could help me
and then meticulously I scratched each one
they won’t hear me burning
inside of myself
my used skin glistened
my first diamond
- The other Sunday during an especially indecisive cooking mood I read this recipe for white chicken chili and all indecisiveness skirted away. I bought two boneless chicken breasts for the soup and slathered them in butter with a decent showering of salt and pepper and baked them in a 400 degree over for 30 minutes. Once the chicken cooled a bit I shredded it into the soup. I also purchased lots of flavorful toppings – jalapenos, green onions, cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, cilantro. This was a definite favorite recipe this winter and is being filed away in my soup recipe arsenal for all time.
February 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’m thinking about my future self today. My summer self. The self that doesn’t exist yet but I want her to so that she can gather up the bundle of emotions I’m feeling today, that I’ve felt the last two months, like stacks of weathered and frayed textiles. I want her to fold them up and tuck them away and unravel them when the sun is coaxing sweat beads out of her pores. The dark, musty hues will wave in the sun-drenched air and the needle on the spectrum of happiness will sputter towards the most. Like opposing magnetic poles she will be able to see more and feel more because of the propulsion from what was. Or rather, what is, right there in front of her.
February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
“I bought a loaf of bread because I didn’t think your bread would be done in time,” Mike said last Tuesday night. It was the first time we’d had this conversation.
It’s not that we never talked about bread. We probably talk about bread more than the average bear couple. This convo has never happened because I’ve never attempted to make bread on a weeknight.
Bread, it turns out, can be made on a Tuesday night, or any weeknight for that matter, but it wasn’t until I starter baking with my sourdough starter did this click.
Sourdough bread is not necessarily more work. Once you get your starter up and bubbling it’s similar to conventional bread except it has a much longer rise time. For my sourdough loaves I start mixing the dough the night before I want to bake. It can involve careful planning and rejiggering of the social life on weekends. For a month straight I made sourdough every weekend. I got into a rhythm and expected to wait a whole day to eat the bread I was mixing up. So when the hankering for sandwiches presented itself on a Tuesday I realized how possible it was to make a loaf of bread in time for a late dinner: Home by five, mix by 5:15, rise by 6:15, second rise by 7:00, cooked by 7:40, ready to eat by 8. This realization would have, hopefully, come to me even if I hadn’t made a month of sourdough loaves (I mean the name of this loaf is Everyday Oatmeal Bread). But it was the ease in which I realized it was possible. It was if I had been blowing up twelve balloons each weekend and now I only had to blow up one.
It’s so easy to say just change your expectations – I’ll spare you in preaching that. But I can’t help but think that changing expectations happens in the doing. In the hours where you wait just a bit longer, or you work just a bit harder, or you share just a little bit more.
Five years ago the word bread conjured up a wish to someday make my own bread – combined with ambient feelings of incompetency – and hunger. Three months ago it conjured up feelings of competency and hunger. Now it conjures up a normal weeknight activity and hunger. Each loaf of bread has stretched and imbued the word bread with meaning and nuance – altering my relationship with it and the expectations I assign to it. I oftentimes wonder what other words or phrases can I stretch and examine?
It’s really crazy to think about, isn’t it? That we are all walking around with different clouds of meaning around words and that those meanings morph and change with new experiences. It’s also really beautiful. We are all just one experience away from understanding ourselves and each other just a little bit more.
Everyday Oatmeal Bread, from Simply in Season (an absolute favorite cookbook)
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup molasses
3 Tbs butter
2 tsp salt
2 cups water, lukewarm
1 Tbs active dry yeast
6 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour
- Combine the boiling water and oats, and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Stir the molasses, butter, and salt into oatmeal.
- Mix the water and yeast in a large bowl until the yeast is dissolved, then add the oatmeal mixture.
- Work the flours in to make a medium-soft dough. Add more flour as needed. Turn onto floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes until smooth. Place in greased bowl and turn to grease both sides. Cover with damp cloth and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down. Divide into 2 loaves. Place in greased 9×5 loaf pans. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 45 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 400F for 5 minutes, then lower heat to 350F and bake until loaves sound hollow when tapped, 35-40 minutes.
Yield: 2 loaves
*Speaking of expectations, have you guys listened to Invisibilia’s episode on expectations? It’s so worth the time.