Wednesday, September 30, 2009

To everything, turn.

I have a hook on the closet door in my entry.  In the summer, I come in from my p-patch and hang my sun hat on that hook.  When I reach up, little bits of garden dirt fall down to the floor.

Yesterday, I came in from work and removed the hat from the hook and replaced it with my raincoat. I raised it up and droplets of water splashed onto the bits of dirt still there from the weekend.

...this is a ritual moment, when water mixes with earth and signifies the end of a beautiful summer...

I stood there for a while, holding the hat in my hands, as reverently as a prayer book.

One sigh, one smile, one silent acknowledgment of a good summer in Seattle. begins the great silence...

But this year, let there be soup.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Triple Chocolate Truffle Cookies with Candied Ginger

It's good enough to have a sunny Sunday afternoon in late September in Seattle (it sounds like I'm hissing, if you read that out loud.  Trust me, I'm not).  But such a day high on a 26th-floor downtown patio overlooking the city, with a far view of the Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, Lake Union, and Mt. Baker, surrounded by new friends, beautiful and lovingly prepared nibblies, libations, and laughter?  Friends, that's an embarrassment of riches.  Thanks to @bonnevivante for her hospitality.

Here's the recipe for my own lovingly prepared nibbly.  Fair warning: they're rich, they're seductive, they'll have their way with you.

Triple Chocolate Truffle Cookies with Candied Ginger

6 T. unsalted butter
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate**
2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips**
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. flour
2 T. cocoa powder**
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. chopped candied ginger*

Melt butter, unsweetened chocolate, and 1 c. of the chocolate chips together in a double boiler or at low power in a microwave. Stir and set aside to cool.

Beat eggs and sugar until absolutely smooth and add vanilla.

Sift together dry ingredients.

While beating egg mixture at low speed (stand mixer is easiest), add cooled chocolate mixture. When fully incorporated, turn to absolute lowest speed and add dry mixture slowly until just incorporated. Scrape down sides, then stir in remaining chocolate chips and ginger. The mixture will be the consistency of very thick cake batter or ganache.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Next day: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll mixture (which is now quite hard) into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets (tip: when your hands start getting chocolatey, wash them. Otherwise, they stick to the dough and the cookies will have a rough exterior). Bake approximately 12-15 minutes, or until puffed and cracked on the surface. The cookies will be soft on the inside, so go by an exterior that is dry to the touch and doesn't yield to very slight pressure. Cool on racks.

*I have always made these cookies without this addition. Just tried it today and was hooked. You could use other dried or candied fruit (orange peel, dried cherries, etc.), but it's crucial that it be dried--liquid would screw up the recipe.

**Get the highest quality you can find.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Crushes

1.  The Container Store.  I don't go there to fulfill a practical need to contain something.  I go there to innoculate myself against chaos, to pick up vessels and binders and then visualize (yeah, just like in yoga or weight loss) a clean desk and spice jars all the same size and matching hangers.  I baptize myself in the waters of order and emerge cleansed of my sins of procrastination and not-putting-things-away. 

2.  Levenger.  It's not that I need pens and paper.  I could visit the supply closet at my office for serviceable writing paraphernalia.  No, it's that I need the vision of myself with the time to feel the weight of a good pen in my hand, to brush my fingers over luscious paper, to hear the sound of the nib as I write letters (with beautiful, measured penmanship) to each of my friends in far-flung places. Who, in a few days, will receive them and think of me.  They will shuffle to their respective desks and sit down with their own beautiful paper and pens, and they will sip tea as they craft a message back to me in the late afternoon sunlight.

3.  Sur la Table.  I don't really lack one thing in my kitchen, but in Sur la Table I can throw the most gracious, lovely dinner parties.  When I'm there, my mind is spacious enough to seat everyone I admire, and I make them the most savory, delightful nibblies.  We sit and muse and murmur and linger and smile and love each other and sip wine and tell stories and time stops and the candles never burn all the way down and tomorrow never comes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bright Star. A Review and a Review of a Review.

I started out in Women's Film Studies back in the day when we essentialized.  Women were this way and that way and it was different from men, and so were the films they made.  And then I lived through the realization that there were all sorts of other variables besides biology: women also had race and class and lived experiences and sexualities and nationalities, all of which were as foundational as sex and gender for shaping the stories they told. And recently I've been having discussions about women's voices and men's voices in the craft of film, and, let's face it, I'm annoyed at my (boy) neighbor's incessant viewing of loud, crashing (boy) action films.

So now I want to make an unapologetic, full-circle move back to brazen essentializing.  Because I just saw a "woman's film" and read a "man's review" of it.

Oh, Jane Campion, thank you.  Thank you for "Bright Star" and its lingering, sanctifying extreme close-ups of needles being threaded, of scissors cutting ribbons, of embroidered pillow slips.  Of fabrics and jams and teacups and interiors--the holy mise-en-scene of domestic spheres.

Thank you for the breath-catching scenes of fingers tracing a beloved's forbidden hand, the knocks on walls that served as telegraphic connection in the night, the suspense that you created as letters with red wax stamps and florid script were awaited one day, and another, and another.

Thank you for showing the hand-me-down social roles being learned and displayed in the young sister's blush, for the patient camera, the painterly nature scenes.

Thank you for framing the narrative with sewing at the beginning--the binding--and with cutting at the end--the severing.

Thank you for poetry and sonorous voice-overs.

To be fair, the New York Times (boy) reviewer A. O. Scott loved the film as much as I did.  And while I agree with him that this is a film about poetry, social morĂ©s, social hypocrisy, and the power of chaste ardor, I can't help but marvel that I found the cinematically reverential approach to domestic detail so central to a film when A. O. Scott misses it.

I'm eager to discuss this film with girls and boys alike.

In the meantime, I'm dusting off my college poetry collections and leaving you, fair readers, with this pleasure:

When I Have Fears

by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Toad Suck and Twitter Synchronicity

I was sitting outside at Joe Bar today with @ChefReinvented (and Bubba, 'natch), scheming about an idea. 

After the scheming, we meandered on a conversational path that went from the food scene in Seattle to A Very Fun Business Idea Which Is Still Top Secret to how to manage worlds crashing together on Facebook to German cinema to why Berlin is a cool city with a textured identity to the fact that I'm from...

wait for it...


It's an improbable origin, true.  Even more improbable is that my very own father, also a schemer, schemed and dreamed up the now cultishly attended Toad Suck Daze festival.  Yep, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and I am the daughter of the original Head of the Toad Council.  The Head Toad.  Which makes me a Tadpole, I guess, but never mind that.

So @ChefReinvented and I had a good laugh over that and other things, and went our separate ways.  I went back to work, and then home, and then to the gym, and then back home to have a bowl of soup and catch up on what twitterlicious Friday night banter might be happening.

Up pops this tweet from @Herbguy: Proud to say I've been to TOAD SUCK, ARKANSAS. Anyone else been there?

I blink hard and look again.  Still there.  Toad.Suck.Arkansas. Now it's a small world, so I figure, OK, so maybe @ChefReinvented said something, or there was an earlier tweet that I missed while I was at the gym.

But no!  I check, and no.  Nothing was said.  This was out of the blue and @Herbguy is now suspected of being some sort of mindreader or being otherwise omniscient.

Or, it's like one of my co-workers says: "Twitter gets in your head, man."

Behold the fine cuisine of Toad Suck, NOT available on Twitter, in spite of its skillz:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers, Rest in Peace

Mary Travers died. 

"And when I'm gone, and when I'm dead, dead, and gone, there'll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on."

Laura Nyro wrote this when she was 17.  Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it in 1966. I listened to it in 2009 when I read of Mary's passing.

I can't explain why I sobbed.

Maybe because Peter, Paul and Mary were playing all the time when I was a child and I can sing all the parts to all the songs from some deep place of utterly embodied memory. 

Maybe because Mary sang for a better world, and her death makes me marvel at all that has been accomplished since she lifted her voice so many years ago, thanks in part to her.

Maybe because so much distance is yet to be covered, and her deep, resonant voice won't accompany our journey.

I'm listening to these songs over and over now on iTunes, singing along, and remembering the LPs and 10 Windsor Drive and my mom at the piano and my dad on sax and the harmonies that have sustained us all.

Mary, thank you for being one of the first voices I wanted to emulate, as a singer, and as a citizen of a scattered world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

3 seeds.

My friend Chris came into my office in late July with a bag of "Sarzana" squash seeds from Italy. She asked if I wanted a few, since they produced lovely, delicately flavored courgettes and were compact, plant-wise--meaning they didn't vine and trail off over everything in a 15-foot radius.

I loved the package: so very not "American seed packet" in format, with planting instructions in Italian.

I held out my hand and she tipped 1,2,3,4,5,6 seeds into it, which I placed in an envelope labeled "Sarzana" and put in my purse. A few days later, three of those seeds were in a mound of dirt in the front of my plot, and a few days ago, I harvested my first squash.

I sliced them thinly, lengthwise, dredged them in flour, and fried them up in hot olive oil until they were golden brown with some darker brown spots on each side.

QUICKLY onto a paper towel; QUICKLY a sprinkle of sea salt and a few turns of the peppermill; QUICKLY a squeeze of lemon--just a few drops--and ooooooh, a race to the table to sit down while they were still blistering hot.

That's late summer on a plate, right there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Twitter, Impressionism, and My Mind's Nose

@fourchickens Pressure cooker growing up in AR was always turnips and greens. I hear that jiggle sound, I smell greens in mind's nose.

Something about the 140 character limit on Twitter posts (like the one I sent above to @fourchickens) aligns well with the impressionistic modality of sense memories.

They, too, are fleeting and concentrated.  The actual smell of turnip greens (which I love) is not nearly as evocative as reading a brief tweet from @shibaguyz about their pressure cooker.  Which leads to calling up the sound in my mind's ear.  Which leads to a scene in my mind's eye. Which leads to the smell in my mind's nose.  Which is inseparable from the feel of steam on my mind's skin as I recall the countless times I stood just behind my mother holding vigil over a live pressure cooker.

And today: @bonnevivante posted an ode to pie crusts made with lard from an older NYT piece.  I read the word "lard" and my mind's tongue tasted and felt Mamaw's fried pies, and my fingers knew just how they had rested in my hand as a child, the grease and flour dust on my palm, wiped surreptitiously on my pants leg, when I knew I shouldn't.

Ohhhhh, is that recipe in the family cookbook, I wonder?  I haven't thought of those pies in years...the extra ones on a plate, tucked in between the Louisiana Hot Sauce bottle and salt and pepper shakers under a square cloth on the middle of the kitchen table...usually filled with the apples or peaches she had dried, but sometimes with chocolate...always gone before the next meal...

I think about what will linger about my life today.  When I'm old, what will I smell or read that will call up "Seattle, late summer 2009" and cause me to stop what I'm doing, throw my head back, and close my eyes?

What impression, what smell will bring me back to this day?  What will lead me to love the moment doubly--the then and the memory of then?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frank Bruni: "I'm not the guy for this."

Frank Bruni is on a book tour, now that his book "Born Round" is out and he's no longer the New York Times food critic.

I just returned from hearing him chat with Warren Etheredge at one of the "Words & Wine" events that Kim Ricketts puts on in Seattle.  They talked about all manner of things: "eating widely" as a reasonable credential for being a food critic; mothers as stiff competition for Christian martyrs; good and bad food experiences; the expectation people have that you MUST be a good cook if you're a good eater (FB prefers to consume, he tells us); the reality that food criticism is no longer a "local" phenomenon in the internet age, and that a review is as much about a vicarious experience as it is about gathering data on whether a restaurant is worth (or not) visiting; the difficulty of finding synonyms for "tender" without resorting to "toothsome" and other verbal contortions.

I would have been content with hearing much more about any one of those conversation strands, but it was a different topic altogether that intrigued me the most, not at all food-related.

Bruni said that he often thinks, when first being offered an opportunity like New York Times food critic, "I'm not the guy for this."

And I wondered:

How does he get out of his own way in those moments?  How does he drive down the middle between humility and ego?  How does he take his self-doubts, his admitted issues with body image (which he battles not with fad diets but with exercise, good trainers, and a short attention span--being BORED with self-loathing, turns out, is more effective for him than The Cabbage Soup Diet), and STILL step right up to the opportunity and say "Yes.  I am called to do this" and go out and trump self-doubt with self-confidence?

It's not that I'm fascinated by the "imposter complex" as a psychological phenomenon (we'll save my own Ph.D. completion stories for another blog post). 

No, what I am musing on this evening is that, while there are many models of Ego Made Flesh who combine self-aggrandizement with success, they are far less compelling to me than Frank Bruni's combination of success and humility.  The ability to move between direct and honest critique of a famed restaurant and the statement that sometimes a 1/4-pounder with cheese is what's called for; the graciousness with which he indulges audience questions; the lowered eyes and covering of his face when Warren or an audience member points out his considerable attractiveness: these are endearing.

And while I might not say "no" to tagging along with him to a destination restaurant, the truth is that I left the evening thinking I would much rather share a conversation with him among friends, over scrambled eggs.  Or lingering over some modest fare made transcendent by embracing appetite, hospitality, intellect, and spaciousness of spirit around a big table of fellow travelers.

I'm glad he thinks he's "not the guy for this" as he greets the world every day, because if he did...he wouldn't be.