Tuesday, September 27, 2016


the word of the day from an alert reader is:  halcyon.  i'd heard it before, but was so happy to have to look it up, it meant i was learning something new!   it means, "a period of time in the past that was idyllic, calm, peaceful, tranquil..."

and it took me back to sprawling on the sand in the sun with the soothing white noise of the ocean, the salty air and calls of seagulls...i think that's why it is most commonly used in the phrase, "halcyon days of summer..."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

seasonal (dis)comforts

as a culture, we are well-insulated. we have in-home heating and cooling so we don't really have to experience shifts in the seasons.  we also create a lot of distance between ourselves and anything remotely uncomfortable (ranging on the continuum from a tepid latte to death) thus not only lowering our skills in dealing with the adverse but also inadvertently numbing ourselves to the ability to experience joys both large and small (a tragic consequence of selective experience).

life is change.  and, since we tend to equate change with loss, i want to propose that change can be the art of difference; contrast, and therefore beautiful.

if things were always the same, the sunshine or snow might mean less. my body knows the change in temperature before it registers with my mind (plus the phrase "barometric pressure" is hardly as poetic as "boston in the fall").  my joints want to do more yoga and i have a sudden urge to stock my pantry with ungodly amounts of nutmeg.  not only that,  i have to laugh, coming from canada, at how the pacific northwest retail world gets ready for fall:  heavy wool ponchos (it doesn't get that cold here) and all manner of suede boots (and hopefully enough waterproofing spray to go along with them?)

and then i wondered, "WWLACD?" (what would lewis and clark do?)  this is true seasonality.  what they would have given for a home depot or a wilco.  i can hear them now, "hey, lewis, there's a buy one get one free sale on carhartt jackets and there's two of us!" or "i have a coupon for as many plastic tarps as we can carry, clark!"  we don't have much room to complain in light of oh, early pioneers or arctic explorers. that's an extreme example, of course, but no one can claim they weren't in touch with their surroundings.

who doesn't want the sun on their face?  i also want to feel the wind and rain and snow on my face and to feel the seasons on my skin.  don't get me wrong, i appreciate comfort and the resources we have.  it's just that i don't want to choose comfort over experiencing life first-hand, like being cold at 3 am when i'm looking up at the milky way or the tears that come to my eyes when someone tells me about losing someone they loved.

in a numbing culture, i vastly resonate with the contrasting bulletin board i saw the other day. it shows people laughing and leaning out of a car window with the wind in their hair and reads, "i want to make memories, not just pass the time." sponsored by "be true to you".

being born wasn't designed to be comfortable or second-hand.  nor was growing.  or aging. and i wouldn't trade any of them for the wide world of joys and comforts that come along with them.  spring, summer, autumn, winter.  i want to live them all, uninsulated--literally and figuratively--in every season. 

bien fait rhymes with wait

good meals...good harvests...good clothes...all worth the time.  "bien fait" translates to well-made which, in my mind, often translates to "wait".

for example, when my friend and i dined french-style the other evening, the meal took longer to arrive at our table than americans are used to waiting.  fortunately we are not average americans and when it did arrive i noticed gratefully that there were no apologies for the chef's time in the kitchen. (why apologize for cooking your dinner from scratch!?)  we had enjoyed watching him cook and ate slowly, to savor the meal as an appreciative gesture.   it was refreshing, this slower speed.  and it was especially delicious!

have you noticed the difference between the taste of tomatoes from the grocery store in february as opposed to off the vine right now?  there is no comparison.  these taste like sunshine.  sure, i had to wait a few months for them to germinate and mature, but when i bite into one it is juicy and fresh, not contrived or mealy from being quick-ripened under artificial light.  again, better with more time.

i went back-to-school shopping and couldn't help noticing that many of the items i saw in department stores were also at the second hand and consignment shops.  i wonder if this is because the acrylic sweaters so popular at this time of year pill and lose their shape...and the artificial handbags just don't last like real leather ones do.  i remember how hard it was for me when i was little to wait for mom to finish sewing one of my dresses or for grandma to put that last knit-purl onto a sweater.  but they lasted!  and i'm hard on clothes.  these days, my garments have to be able to withstand going from henhouse to bike, kindergarten classroom to garden and back again.  i wasn't actually tempted by the foreign-made flimsy fabrics with sloppy hem strings (a far cry from the days of waiting for your personal tailor!)  i'd rather buy a few nice things that i can wear for decades than a lot of items that will wear out by this time next year.

the "maker movement" is popular right now, in everything from home canning and embroidery to leather and woodwork.  again, could this be because we've tired of cheap and fast in favor of well made and seasoned?  we've been "making" for centuries, maybe not with 3D printers and robots, but with raw materials.

everyone in the service industry it seems is trained to apologize to us for the wait.  just yesterday a young lady said, "sorry for the wait!" while bringing my coffee (which took less time to make than it did for me to decide what i wanted in the first place.)  plus i like waiting.  i have time to look around, notice things, observe people, and think.  waiting can be a privilege, time spent in anticipation of quality and of enjoying for years to come what our hands have made.

Friday, September 16, 2016

cannon beach cottage tour

photos from an idyllic day on the oregon coast, my 6th annual tour of cottages in my favorite beach town! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

failing well

in may i wrote about the art of staging in terms of photo essays, beauty and the spontaneous party.  i am continually drawn to environments with lots of white space (no surface abuse!) and books and magazines with minimalist, contemporary design.  and, while i love to share about successful recipes and hostessing, i realize that the social media world is appealing in one sense because we can edit ourselves toward whomever we want to appear to be to others.

i love colorful buntings and crisp blue and white linens, not to mention swooning over rugs from dash & albert, just to mention a few things...and, as i encourage my students to do, there is risk involved.  and real life.  and mess.  and with this comes the art of failure!

i would be remiss to only share the beauty and the hits without giving some time to the not-so-greats.  for example, last evening i did not consult "the flavor bible" and tried to wing a new dish on my own.  strong intuition is good, but i should have looked at the sauce pairings, because what i made was an epic fail of palate proportions.  (never, under any circumstances, mix smoked oysters with pineapple and tomatoes!)

i remember that for every fail there is a success, such as the chocolate cayenne pepper cake and the french mussels.  and the june brunch for ten...as well as the simple but hearty shared meal here with my friends from oahu. 

as for reality, right now i am covered in not only bike grease from my daily commute, but also dirt and the green of tomato vines.  a stray feather has found it's way into my nest from the chickens (of which we lost another...while i don't cry anymore, as a bonafide harbinger of country living, we did have a moment of silence in the coop for beloved rhoda.) 

the apples get holes in them.  but that doesn't stop me from a weekend of pie baking, of transforming what is into what could be...and the joy to be found along the way.

Monday, September 12, 2016

the flavor bible

i have learned so much from this book already, and i'm only on page 95 (of 380).  karen page and andrew dornenburg spent eight years creating this "essential guide to culinary creativity based on the wisdom of america's most imaginative chefs".

the basic perceptions of taste that i am not only memorizing but putting to practical use in my kitchen?  sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and umami (savoriness). 

take, for example, my lesson from page 55 that we should always seek to balance the above tastes with richness (fat vs. relief of acidity or bitterness), temperatures (the range of hot to cold), and textures (creamy vs. crunchy).  "balance taste by adding it's opposite or its complement".

the formidable portion of the book is like a food dictionary, listing for all categories of food:  season, main taste profile, weight (density), volume (flavor "loudness"), techniques, botanical relatives, and flavor affinities (as well as what to avoid pairing it with). 

i was so excited after reading that saffron has a high flavor affinitiy with corn--now in season!--that i went out and bought .020 ounces for $5.99.  stay tuned for more adventures from this self-taught chef's flavor bible...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

summer, i love you

as we transition from summer to autumn, today's wisdom is brought to you by dr. seuss,  "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened!" 

Friday, September 2, 2016

consider the fork

my latest read?  "consider the fork:  a history of how and why we eat" by bee wilson.  wilson shows an obvious passion for the science behind cooking.  if you had watched me read the book, my page turning was punctuated only by getting up to check on my own cooking tools.

in the chapter about knives, i got up to inspect the sharpness of my herb chopper and my new, smaller, red-handled slicing knife.  i realized i would like to learn how to better use my tools to julienne and dice.

instead of coveting every new kitchen tool from sur la table (which started, along with starbucks, as a booth at pike place market in seattle, circa 1970's) i came away satisfied that a few nice tools will suffice.  i do love my microplane for zesting, but can cut my own avacado without a gadget.  my silicone egg poachers make the perfect brunch, but i like to slice my own melons.

then in the chapter on cooking pots, i lined up my pans and realized i have a good combination of stainless steel and cast iron.  just for fun before returning to the book, i took time to season the latter and, satisfied, continued to read on about egg beaters.

a recipe for angel food cake written by my great grandmother nettie (for whom i'm named) says to "beat eggs until a frothy mountain" and i have no idea how she managed to do this without a mixer.  i tried with my french wire whisk, switching arms only to have a slush of egg in the bowl, nowhere near mountainous or frothy.  turns out, the history of egg beaters alone and the inventions in the name of souffles was countless indeed.

and what about "slow ovens"?  this also mystified me.  since we have removed our daily lives from cooking with open fires, except when camping, we rely on electricity or gas.  a slow oven is just a temperature between warm and broiling that has many interpretations.

somewhere in the midst of chapter ten, i realized i was hungry for warm bread and butter, so got up to make two loaves of homemade bread and finished reading the book while the dough was rising.  i thought that was a fitting conclusion to an excellent book!  meanwhile, i will be teaching myself the five sauces of classical french cooking...