Art in the Meantime

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Little low on words tonight. But, it’s all good because

1) I’m heading off for four days of retreat–meditation with a small slice of art–tomorrow. No necessito las palabras. Just the cushion and the paintbrush.

2) I got sumthin’ neat to show you.

image_2This is a woodworking shop.

I went to visit an old friend from high school today. Haven’t spoken in, oh I dunno, eight years. Turns out he’s running a super rad business here in town. Brothers of Industry–check it out! Even the name is cool.

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They make furniture that’s like art. They also like art. They also have a store where they like to show art with their furniture.

They’re interdisciplinary. Can you tell?

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Don’t these guys remind you of the Pixar lamp? It’s a whole family of adorable handmade table lamps.

image_3In addition to adorable lamps and arty furniture, Brothers of Industry have also started producing handmade vintage-inspired skateboards. To kick their interdisciplinary-ness up a notch, The Bros are inviting local artists to paint one-of-a-kind skateboards for an exhibition at their store.

Guess who’s got a sweet-as, raw-wood, handmade board waiting for an image?

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Yup. This girl. That’s mine on top; it’s almost too pretty to paint. But don’t worry, I’ll find a way. See you on the other side, with pictures.

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We Are Simple and Fragile

image_2I went to the beach today. Unknown dewdrop blobs marked the tideline in glistening polka dots. They looked like some kind of jellyfish relative: translucent, but lacking tentacles, lacking lightness. It seems they met their end strewn along the sand. Some accident of the tides led them astray, to parts unknown and untenable.

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Today I had my first physical in five years. I learned that I may have a magnesium deficiency, that depressive tendencies often worsen with age, and that rubbing leaves between your fingers helps. Sartre would beg to differ, but I’ve done okay so far. (I’m reading Nausea, in which the main character steadily loses his sense of reality. Early on, he describes a fascination with picking up frozen leaves in the park. Little fragments of tree, “pilonnés, broyés, maculés.” Bombarded, crushed, stained. The words taste like harmonies in minor chords.)

I met this shrimp in the sand. Iridescent, unbothered, no longer than a section of a finger. I talked with my sister about the wedding she will one day have, and realized that at some point I gave up planning my own. I told my grandmother, each of the six times she asked, that it was better not to lock the garage door because Mom comes home that way. The seventh time she forgot, she said, “I locked the garage door. I hope that’s okay.”

simage_1I found out that my visa application was accepted. My passport came in the mail with a shiny, stamped sticker and a picture of me staring expressionless ahead. I’m tempted to say that that’s me, staring into the open future. But no. I’m staring down all my dreams and suppositions, the lives I have invented, the unknown truth that will unfold before me.

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I don’t know what’s coming. I know what I want, a bit. I know what I am afraid of, a bit. I know to fold my knees beneath me, drink a coconut water for magnesium, rub a leaf between my fingers for sadness, and pray for all beings who pouf in and out of this world, making marks in the sand erased by the waves.

Hazelnut Lavender Bites and Representing “Real Life”

IMG_0508I’m having stylistic questions. For instance, I just started this post with a conversational, self-referential statement. It’s friendly and easy and lots of days I feel like that. The ability to just start talking makes showing up here simple and manageable. And yet, some days I feel like I start to sound a little redundant. Blogging is a form of writing that has developed its own style, and friendly conversation is generally part of it. However, sometimes it makes jotting off an idea quick and dirty, instead of allowing or forcing the space to reflect and refine both my thoughts and my words a bit more.

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Lately, I have been discovering more writers who use the web as a place for deep reflection, storytelling, literature even. They inspire me. They also shed light on my own yearning for something…I dunno, more elaborate? More crafted and researched. Thus, I wonder, “What else or how else might I want to write?” and, “Is that writing a natural evolution of this blog space, or is it a new project that will happen somewhere else?”

IMG_0510Another big question that’s been coming up: what is the gap between real life and what gets represented here? This is a topic that many others have broached–recently and eloquently: Joy, Sarah, and Ashley. Related questions include…Am I interested in trying to close that gap? What would it even look like to try to represent “real life?”

As a genre, food blogging and lifestyle blogging tend to be about creating and expressing a life that is beautiful and satisfying. The light is always soft, the rooms are always neat, and everything looks delicious. While we all know that life (our own life, at least) isn’t this way, there is something comforting and inspiring about this kind of beauty. And, let’s face it, unless you’re cracking up on Cakewrecks, hideous, badly-lit pictures of life, food especially, are not that engaging. There’s a certain aesthetic minimum that goes along with blogging; pictures help to draw people in and keep them invested.

IMG_0545And yet, there’s something engaging about chaos and struggle, too. It’s not that I have a macabre fascination with suffering. It’s just that rough times do happen. Emotions get hairy. Sometimes, the kitchen is a mess and it makes me cry. Sometimes, the kitchen being a mess is the least of my problems. I am not interested in miring myself in pain and making more of it. I am interested in expressing a life that leaves space for frustration and hardship to arise with as little judgment as possible.

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IMG_0529Does putting artistic pictures of the madness that is my cupboards and the unfortunate consequences of that madness (Rule #3 of Jacqui’s kitchen: everything falls. Watch out.) achieve this? I dunno. It is, at least, a start to considering the question.

Maybe all that’s needed is are minor, nearly imperceptible shifts. I could choose this:

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That’s at least a slightly more complete vision of my dining room table and my life. Not lacking in objects I shove aside to photograph cookies or thoughts and things to do that I brush away, at least for a moment, to focus on prettier, more presentable aspects.

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At the same time, there’s something terribly sweet and fun about taking cute pictures of my beribboned hazelnut lavender bites and then taking them to friends. There is amusement, affection, and offering. And ribbon, ribbon is important! This is part of life too. I am trying to strike a balance, both in my life and in this space that I share, between striving to create joy and remembering to be patient with what is less than joy, when it arises.

Recipe after the jump…

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Plum Poppyseed Cake and Friendship Thoughts

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Lately I have been thinking about friendship. I made this cake for my friend Joy’s birthday party yesterday. Joy’s kind of a bad ass. She wears a lot of lace but also rides a motorcycle, is a blacksmith, and has agreed to come whisky tasting with me. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been getting in touch with all of my friends in the States, and I keep being struck by how awesome they are.

My one friend is part of an art show put on by the Getty in LA. Another is planning a trip to Sweden to do cutting edge soil chemistry research (okay, I think this is rad; if you don’t, you can just go kick rocks). Somebody’s helping open a new farm-to-table restaurant here in town. Somebody else is a fleet captain in the Caribbean, teaching kids to sail and study ecology. It’s super wonderful, but it’s also kind of alarming.

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Too many awesome people; not nearly enough time! I am trying to cram in as many morning coffees, baking parties, and yoga dates as I can in the next six weeks. I’m not doing badly, but at the same time, if I’m lucky, I’ll see most people once or twice. Which is hard for me.

So much of friendship is small, simple things over time; the accumulation of coffees drunk, goodies bakes, asanas posed and then later discussed. Little pieces of good times and also bummer times that weave our lives together and let us know and be part of each other’s stories.

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But as I get older–live more places, meet more people—so many friendships become a single coffee, a long phone call, a periodic e-mail. There’s part of me that wants to rail against it. I want to spend a whole lifetime watching foreign films, traversing mountain trails, dusting off my dancing shoes—doing whatever we do together–with every person I know.

But of course, I don’t get a whole lifetime with each of you fabulous folks.  If I’m lucky, and I have been, I get a few months or a few years in proximity to build shared memories, rack up inside jokes, learn everything I need to know to blackmail you, should ever the occasion arise. And then. And then I hear your voice or see your face for a couple hours or a couple days every few months or every few years. And I miss you and I think of you and I hope that you feel the joy and love that I feel for you even when we aren’t sharing it or making it in the same time or place.

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If you want to feel some love, or share some love, this cake is a good place to start. It is homey and grounding and a little surprising; like a good friend, perhaps. It also happens to be gluten-free, not because I combined a bunch of random things to make it that way, but just because it’s an awesome cake that’s not made out of wheat. Poppyseed and buckwheat give the cake its fragrance and earthiness. Honey and plums add sweetness and tang. We eat a lot of poppy seeds in France. I dunno if that’s a regional thing or just ‘cuz Chef likes them, but it got me thinking.

They’re a little floral and a little herby and I happen to love them. They don’t get a lot of play, but I’m out to change that. This recipe was adapted from a cake that mixed buckwheat with almonds, but I’m swapped out the almond meal for ground poppy seeds. It’s a win. More experiments to come!

Recipe after the jump…

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Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Memories of Fear

IMG_0445Before I left France, I started a list of things I could send back to my homies at the center to share my America, or California, or just Home, with them. One of the first things to make the list, along with real peanut butter and microwaveable popcorn, was meyer lemon marmalade. For one thing, I had to offer something homemade to counteract all the absurdly delicious processed food I had in mind, and for another, meyer lemons mean home to me.

Santa Barbara was essentially one giant citrus grove for years; the evidence of that being the abundance of lemon and orange trees in everyone and their mother’s yard. In most places, meyer lemons are a fancy rarity you find in the specialty grocery store a few weeks out of the year. For me, they are the ever-present source of baked goods across the street.

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Funnily enough, though I’ve made nearly infinite batches of lemon curd, New York cheesecake, and brasadella with these guys, I’ve never once made marmalade. While I like the stuff, and making it from meyers always sounded like a good idea, I’m not a huge marmalade eater. In France, however, toast with jam for breakfast is part of the national identity. Scrambled eggs don’t even make the list–they’re a dinner food. Weird, right? But it does give me the perfect opportunity to develop a marmalade recipe that I know will get put to good use.

So on Monday night, I toodled over to my neighbor’s with a canvas bag and made a plentiful harvest. Then, I juiced, and sliced, and blanched, and boiled. In between the steps, while I waited for the water to heat, I filled out and organized documents for my visa. Proof of insurance, proof of financial support, proof I have somewhere to live, proof that I’m not a criminal, etc. I’m not a criminal, and I make marmalade; please let me into your country.

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On Tuesday, I drove to L.A., and on Wednesday I had my appointment at the consulate. I walked down the gravel alley. I read the multitude of signs taped to the interior of the glass door. I punched the intercom to announce my arrival. I waited to be called in. I took shallow breaths and tried not to play with my split ends. I got called in.

They took my papers. They took my picture. They fingerprinted me on an electric scanner (I managed to appreciate the coolness of this despite my anxiety). Then the lady behind the counter informed me that I would receive my passport in approximately two weeks, with a visa if I’d been approved, without a visa if not. “But you’ll get your passport back.” Oh good.

And now I wait. I hope. I fret. I remember things that scared me when I was a kid.

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Calling the wrong telephone number, keys–related to the fear of being permanently locked out of my house but translated to a general trepidation toward doors and things that keep them shut, the dark, snakes coming up through the pipes into my toilet, and ordering food at restaurants. These are the things that stick out. A mix of the usual and exceedingly arbitrary. I heard a story about some snakes and an old lady’s bum when I was little, and it stuck with me, geeze.

I haven’t worried much about toilet snakes lately, I’m pretty cool with the dark, and I consider wrong numbers an opportunity to make temporary friends. I still find keys difficult and I really am absurdly bad at opening doors, but I can deal. I’ve accepted that when ordering food at a restaurant you inevitably wind up either cutting off your waiter mid-sentence by accident while he last-minute tells you the specials or finding him staring askance at you with his pen poised expectantly over his little pad. Timing is hard. It’s fine.

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I could congratulate myself for growing up, but what I notice instead is that my fears haven’t changed. The things I used to be afraid of pretty much amount to this: fear of looking foolish, fear of being left alone, fear of things I don’t want that I can’t control.

Standing outside the visa section, straining to hear the intercom over the sound of street construction, I felt the same things. Love me, France, love me. Let me be part of your culture; let me connect with your people, people who feel like my people. Let me continue with the questions I am asking, the projects I am creating, and the places I am settling.

Fear is the fact that you don’t always get what you want, shoving its scruffy head into the palm of your hand. It’s a mangy cur. It’s an unloved stray. It needs to be taken care of. There’s nothing wrong with not getting what you want. It’s just not pleasant.

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I dunno what will happen with my visa. Probably it will be fine. Possibly I will have to do some wrangling or readjusting. Whatever happens, it is good to be reminded to take care of my fear. If I forget it, it gnaws at me. But when I remember to pat its head and scratch its tummy, it curls into  a ball and goes to sleep, at least for a little while. Hi fear; I see you; it’s cool. You do what you want. I’m just gonna label this marmalade, and send it to France, and, who knows, maybe I’ll be sending myself some time soon.

Recipe after the jump… Continue reading

To Start Gardens: On Mothers and Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

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The world is strange sometimes. My mother started a garden. Stranger things have happened to be sure; countries have gone bankrupt, periodically it has rained frogs in Costa Rica or some such tropical place, and we are all walking around with our heads in space and our feet stuck to a magnetic ball. But, you know, it is the small and personal things that seem the most confounding.

But why is it strange? It is strange because when I remembered the eggplants of my childhood, tucked amidst the flowers in our front yard, and asked my mother why we didn’t grow things anymore, she said, “It takes too much time. I’m not interested.” Strange because when I lived here for one-and-a-half years in the recent past, not a single thing changed in the landscaping. The backyard stayed dirt, the front yard stayed bark, and the old library card catalogue stayed pushed up against the exterior staircase, creaking and warping in the wind and rain.

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It is strange because now that there are citrus trees in the front yard, vegetables in the back yard, and the old library card catalogue has been hacked to parts and is ready for the dump, it becomes easy to believe that “everything is changing.” Everything is changing. Exchange of energy and matter–like ya do; that’s physics, kids. But change occurs at variable rates, and in some ways, everything is not changing.

The refrigerator remains a cross between the Leaning Tower of Pisa and an expertly played game of Tetris, or maybe it’s more like Jenga, because the whole thing is prone to collapse when you reach for the green beans, or anything for that matter. Our black lab still lives one one side of the house, and me on the other. We still nod hello while I try to avoid her welcome licks, and I still wind up sneezing like an old man with a moustache and losing thirty percent of my respiratory function as a result of her presence. I still don’t understand my mother. I still have no idea what it means; to “live” “with” another person. How not to interpret what she expresses as sadness. How not to embellish my own experience in relation to what I see in her. How to share dreams and hopes and fears without judgment or preconception. How to be honest without being hurtful.

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But this is what mothers are for. To surprise us. To show us where to work with ourselves. To support us. To scare us. To care for us. To start gardens. To put ourselves side-by-side, over a meal grown by one and cooked by the other. To bring all of our love and miscommunications and aspirations to the table and be real–when it is blissful; when it is dreadful; when it is strange and personal. This is the work of mothers and daughters.

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Recipe after the jump…

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Hello, Goodbye, Home

IMG_1465These are the pictures tacked to the wall of my caravan in the Dordogne. I will not see them for six weeks. It’s not a long time, but there’s something aching about departure.

IMG_1471When you leave a place you love, when you know you never get the first time a second time. When you wonder what life will be like when it’s really your life, after you’ve left and come back. And also there’s the simple ache of being elsewhere. Ailleurs. I love this word, in English and in French. It captures all of the wistfulness and the hope of displacement.

IMG_1478The week before I left, I felt blown by the wind. Listing a little in the currents that will carry me, whether I want them to or not.

IMG_1549Before they took me home, those currents carried me out of my green woods and into the mountains. The Pyrenees, where the earth beneath your feet looks paint-splattered on account of the flowers tucked into the landscape.

IMG_1631And when you look up, you lose your breath from the glory. Mountains somehow manage to feel eternal and minute all at the same time. They seem sturdy, but I know they are not. Formed by the heaving of hot minerals, worn into shape by wind and water, dressed in the ever-changing costume of ecology, of plants and critters and rocks and snow. That elements so small can create something so epic…this is the magic of life. Not that it lasts, but that it exists at all.

IMG_1660Despite all my wonder and grandiosity, I manage to feel my own personal sadness as well. To be leaving. To go elsewhere. It is strange to travel from one home to another, to feel bereft and cradled all of a piece.

I will miss the ancientness of France. The whispers of the woods, the different kind of birdsong. I will miss the language: the pause in my brain before I speak; the discovery of the world and myself through new words; the history and personality of those words.

IMG_1727And yet, it is not as though I am adrift where I am now. This is home. I know this place, and it knows me. The palm trees talk to me; the sunshine feels familiar; the smell of salt and sound of sea lions reminds me of the many lives that I have lived in this place. This is the place that I come back to, between all other lives. I suppose that’s where I am now, a bit between two lives, preparing for a future that doesn’t yet exist.

What to do but profit from the sunshine and pass time with those who love me? Oh, a few official things–the consulate will see me soon–but not much besides that, and not much complaining will be heard. 🙂