Harvest Time and Blackberry Port Jam

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I grew up dreaming of rural life. I read Little House on the Prairie and dreamed about making hay and picking apples.

IMG_2227I studied agriculture, farmed for a couple years, and picked a lot of prickly pears one September in Arizona. But in the end, I decided I was not a farmer, and maybe I had better stick to the kitchen. Which is still mostly where I consider my domain. But, I have to say, the last month has rekindled my love of all things homestead-oriented.

IMG_2154You see, in the Dordogne, it rains all the time. And things just grow. Apples and grapes and peaches and blackberries and even hazelnuts and sunflower seeds and mushrooms that cost twenty bucks a pound at home if you’re lucky enough to find ’em. Cêpes and chanterelles and amanitas de cesar, if you’re wondering what all is the in the fruit crate up there. Magic, in other words. Edible magic.

IMG_2118All I have to do is go outside with a bucket or a basket or a brown paper bag. Bounty, my friends. It sets my head spinning. In the best way. And I get to feel agricultural without doing all the hard work of planting things and picking weeds and such. It’s a good deal.

IMG_1989This blackberry jam is my go-to grown-up preserve. You can eat it on toast with butter, but it is divine for more adventurous culinary uses. Excellent in salad dressing for a hearty green, sandwiched between two halves of a linzer cookie, or, my personal favorite, an almond butter, bacon, and jam sandwich on grilled ciabatta. Don’t even ask questions. Just do it.

Recipe follows…

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Everything in the Rain, Plus Dried Peaches and Cardamom Coffee

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Things to do in the rain:

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Dry the kilos of peaches coming off the tree in the garden. Drink spiced coffee by the French press-ful. Take pictures of everything.

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Because everything looks different in the rain.

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I have spent twenty of my twenty-four years in arid climes.  Here in the land of precipitation, I am discovering a new world.

IMG_2129It is very green.

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And replete with minute, suspended universes.

IMG_2093Take it all in. Inside. While you drink your coffee and stare through the window as the sky changes from indigo to violet to gray with coming of day from dawn.

Outside. As you record infinite new marvels while the peaches in the oven shift from soft sugar juice to caramelly tart leather.

Recipes for coffee and peaches follow…

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Autumn Comes Early, With Steamed Veggies and Hazelnut Mustard Pesto

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Yesterday morning, we all sloshed into the community room for breakfast under grey skies that reached right down to the ground in sheets of rain. Nybou declared, “Well, the Dordogne’s eight months of winter begin.” I may have paled a little. It’s not even autumn yet, and the weather here resembles deepest winter in Santa Barbara. Okay, so I kid a little. I’m well aware that there’s no such thing as winter in Santa Barbara, by general weather standards. And I’ve lived through proper winters in New York and Massachusetts.

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This will be a new kind of winter though. It’s in the woods for one thing, and it’s sort of…medium cold. As our dear Nybou elaborated, ever encouraging, “Don’t think you’re going to have a beautiful white winter. Oh no. On occasion, you’ll get two days of snow. Ohlala! And then four days of ice. Followed by ten days of mud. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and every September, I think, ‘wait, really?’ Don’t worry, you won’t get used to it.”

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Ha. Perhaps I won’t get used to it. But after years of ever-temperate winters and sunny Decembers, I welcome a change. I always wanted an excuse to hunker in the winter. To hole up with innumerable cups of tea and chapters of books and crocheted hats. To become soft and quiet and reflective. To build a slow cache of ideas and energy and ponderings in preparation for the bursting open and flowering of spring and summer.

IMG_1893And to nourish. Cold, wet, gray winter is a time to eat warm, rich foods. To crowd around tables bathed in yellow light, steam up windows with familial warmth, and revel in the goodness of food and friends as the ground grows chilled.

Recipe follows…

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The Best And The Worst And Cinnamon Walnut Meringues

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Recently, I have been spending my life in the kitchen. There has been lemon meringue pie, cheesecake, blackberry jam, peach galette, and these, the best of the bunch by far: cinnamon walnut meringues, with a hint of molasses. I generally think of meringues as sophisticated, highbrow food. Absurd yet adorable meringue mushrooms on Yule log cakes or dainty piped florettes in pastel colors. But these, these are homey in a deep way. The warmth of cinnamon and molasses, the earthiness of walnuts…yes. I think there’s something deeply nostalgic about molasses and cinnamon for Americans. I sink into wordless bliss when I bite into one of these.

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To me, that’s the best thing about food. That it can nourish our hearts, as well as our bodies, that it can tie us together and bring us back to ourselves when we wander astray. I put a basket of these guys in the community room and when I came back later, there was a note, rhapsodizing the joy this little meringue brought to some one’s afternoon, at just the moment when she really needed the culinary equivalent of a hug.

This is why I bake. This is why I cook. This is why I spend hours of my life reading and plotting and experimenting around food.

But it’s not the only reason. I wish it were the only reason.

The other reason is because often I can’t not. Because thinking about food is so natural and so much simpler than so many other things in life that it’s actually a problem sometimes. Let me explain.

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It goes like this: Important project in the back of my mind that should probably be accomplished sooner rather than later? But there’s blackberries that need to be harvested and turned into jam or they’ll go to waste! Painting stuck in a tough spot waiting to be resolved? Those egg whites have been sitting in the fridge for more than a week–it’s now or never. Anything at all remotely distressing or uncertain? Time to bake a cake, feel productive, be commended by lots of happy people eating that cake, and leave any worries for another day.

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This is the worst thing about food. That I use it as a distraction from addressing uncertainties, when I actually feel better if I just face up to them. And often, in the stress that goes along with ignoring important business, I wind up consuming a lot more of all such baked goods than I would if I were willing to listen and pay attention to my own needs and questions. You can’t blot out the natural changes of life or the inquietude that goes with those, even the good changes, but you can give yourself an awful stomach ache trying. Take my word for it.

A fortunate fact about meringues is that they’re mostly air, so even if you panic eat six or seven, you mostly end up with a sugar head ache and a renewed conviction to approach both the baking cupboard and your worries more mindfully.

Recipe follows…

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To Stay And To Go

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It is morning. I am sitting next to Lama at the Lama House. He is slurping tea with godspeed…and now he’s out the door. Presumable to the temple, to practice. Amen.

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I am sitting at the Lama House by myself, listening to music written by a friend across the world (this makes me cry–listen!), and thinking about movement. In slightly variable ways. For instance: As humans, we go places. Three weeks ago, my guitarist friend was sitting next to me with his own bowl of French muesli. Now he’s in LA, maybe eating Pop Tarts while waiting for a visa to India. It is bizarre how we can traverse the Earth these days. It is also natural to move with changing times and seasons and necessities. Weather moves. Animals move. We move.

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Also, though, we sometimes decide not to go places. Sometimes, staying put is a new form of movement.

I am the closest I have ever been the Venice Biennale, one of the largest and easily the most esteemed curated art fair in the world. And I’m not going. I thought a lot about it, and talked it over with friends and teachers to double check my decision making.

I used to daydream about the Biennale. When I was a teenager, Ed Ruscha covered an entire room in chocolate wallpaper for his exposition. The decadence! The cultural commentary! The rush of creation and dialogue! I wanted in. Not to mention the canals and cappuccinos and cobblestoned streets under autumn skies.

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Those things still interest me. They still seem lovely and rich. But actually, they seem like luxuries. And lately, my heart wants home and simple and stability. Luxury sounds…like something that would be pleasant to save for another day. I used to chase adventure and newness and things outside to shift what is inside of me. Today, it seems right stay put and let what’s inside shift in its own time.

Specters and Fresh Starts

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Yesterday, I took down what remained of this summer’s art installation. It wasn’t much. The paintings had been sold during the few days of the inauguration, so they were gone. The sculptures had apparently started to wilt in the humidity of the Dordogne, so they were gone. I found them clustered together behind the structure like a group of bewildered veterans. Halfway through July, there was a course held that needed to use part of the space, so the fundraising team opened up the installation space by removing half of the paper enclosure. Suffice to say, that was gone.

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I apologize if I sound a bit hard. I don’t mind that art gets old and changes. Yes, there is something bewildering in the fact that a once-dynamic, giving creation can become a pile of rubble. But that’s impermanence for you. And the experiences that people had while the space was complete, and that which the paintings still bring to those who have them now…that goes on for a while.

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Art is about communication, about sharing and creating space for all types of experience and perception. One thing I have left from the exhibition is a beautiful, fat stack of wishes and positive aspirations written by strangers and friends who passed through and felt moved to share.

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I think what’s strange, what gives me pause, is looking at a work of art that, it seems to me, no longer functions. As I was popping the last, tangled paper boxes off their fishing wires, some one came by to ask what I thought of the space opened up. It’s still beautiful, he said. I suppose he’s right. But to me it looks like a ghost. I’d rather it be gone, than lingering half-made. Incomplete work bothers me. Maybe because it reminds of what I could and feel I should be completing. Expired art says, “And what now?”

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Maybe something like this now.

Every Day a New Year, with Honey Apple Pudding to Celebrate

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Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as the Jewish New Year. It is one of three New Years I celebrate each year, along with the Western January 1st and Tibetan Losar, in February. The more cultures you belong to, the more fresh starts you get, I suppose. It’s kind of nice having multiple opportunities to reflect on the state of my life and eat corresponding celebratory food.

The state of life right now seems to be settling in. I live in France. Okay then. Today I woke up with thunder shaking the woods. It felt grounding. The rains come; the seasons change. I eat granola and drink rooibos tea, bake bread, and write e-mails. I meditate, joke with Lama, reflect on the year to come for and in and with this community.

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We answer questionnaires, plan budgets, clarify responsibilities. We get ready for the “réunions d’automne.” Three days of presentations and five days of meetings about what it is we do here and how we plan to do it for the next twelve months. We muse over public relations and gluten-free ingredients. We talk finances and management and teamwork, and then we go out for dinner because it’s been four hours and it’s just that time.

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I discover more about this fascinating phenomenon called “being an adult,” where people trust you with organization and autonomy and directing others. I take phone calls about last minute lunch guests and plan menus on the fly. I walk quora around the stupa to make wishes to be more patient and less impulsive, a better listener and less headstrong, to trust change and bring goodness.  I make apple honey pudding to nourish all these near-and-oh-so-dear and make manifest the wish that the year to come will be sweet. Go team. Happy (this particular) New Year!

If you’re wondering, apples and honey are a traditional Rosh Hashanah combo, for the healing/nourishing/wish-making properties stated above. Usually, a direct apple slice, honey dunk method is applied, but sometimes you just have to reinvent tradition. In this case, super worth it. This is like the Jewish cousin of sticky toffee pudding. Soft and sticky and melt-in-your mouth. Sweet and earthy with the tiniest bit of tang from the apples. New Year’s food worth celebrating.

Recipe follows…

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