Archive for August 2007

Sowing the Seeds of Success

August 29, 2007

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“Oh my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…”  NOT!  The next 24 hours promise to be fairly hair raising, and so this will be my last post from home.  Home as we know it, home in America.  When next we speak, our French life will have begun and we will be in our new home.  Goddesses willing, the DSL will get hooked up expeditiously and I’ll be back with you in almost a flash.  It will probably seem like a flash to you because you won’t be crammed into a jet flying unnaturally close to the sun.  To me, it’ll be long, long, long but hopefully worth it.

I remember vividly that day, a shockingly short four months ago, when we merrily said “hey, why don’t we go live in France for a while?”  That moment planted the seed, and I’m hoping the fruit will be as sweet as we’ve been imagining.  The process of our move has been absolutely like gardening, where you pore over the seed catalogues in a pastoral rapture, rake up the topsoil, sprinkle the seeds with hopes and dreams, then weed and water the hell out of it all until you’re dripping with sweat, scratched and bruised, aching with exertion, and never want to see another radish as long as you live.  That’s where we are today.  Radish overload.

The sweaters are vacuum packed down to the size of a brick and still don’t fit in the suitcase.  A bag that would fly for free at 50 lbs and may weigh 70 lbs if we’re willing to pay for it currently weighs 57 lbs.   That’s a misery, since we’ll be paying as if it were 70 lbs, and so we’d damn well better cram in another 13 lbs, but how?

Our dear Sushi cat, unhealthy during almost all of her short four years of life, refused to move to France and chose to become sick unto death instead, leaving the planet this morning.  Beppo,  never having been an Only Cat, is bewildered.  We’re trying to teach him French, telling him “on ne te laissera jamais, petit minou” and it’s true, we’d never leave that little kitty, now our only furry companion.

Soon, almost unbearably soon, we’ll be setting off on what promises to be our greatest adventure yet.  Please stay tuned and I’ll be back with you right after we tackle a message from the sponsor of all great adventures: hard work and inspiration.

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Let’s Go, Let’s Go!

August 28, 2007

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Pack up the bags and let’s go, let’s go

Clean out the house and let’s go, let’s go

Water the plants and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go

Get cats their shots and let’s go, let’s go

Run to the bank and let’s go, let’s go

Empty the fridge and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go

Spend sleepless nights and let’s go, let’s go

Finish our wills and let’s go, let’s go

Kiss friends goodbye and let’s go, let’s go

Take a deep breath and let go, let go

In the Frying Pan AND In the Fire

August 27, 2007

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This is us.  We’ve got a whole heap of ingredients in the pot, and the fire’s getting hotter every minute.  In actual fact this iron pan cracked from the intense heat, but we won’t.  At least, we hope that we won’t end up any more cracked than we are already, which isn’t saying a lot these days.

I need to cook something soothing.  Something that feels like home yet doesn’t anchor us too firmly.  We already have more luggage than any two people can manage, so it has to be a dish that won’t slow us down, will give us strength, and won’t produce leftovers unless they can fit in a 3 oz. bottle in a clear 1 quart ziplock bag.  It needs to be a calm food, an optimistic blend of ingredients with no clash of flavors or cultures.

What should it be?  What’s the recipe for a new life?

The Taste of the Northwest

August 26, 2007

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Everything about this place is beautiful enough to eat.  Going out to get the paper this morning I taste salt water in the cool morning air, and I pop a few salal berries into my mouth on the way back up the walk.  Eating salal berries always reminds me of the native people who depended on them before blueberries and raspberries were staples of the Pacific Northwest diet, and although their flavor is subtle, it’s easy to imagine how delicious they must have tasted when they were the sweetest food one could gather.

For the past few weeks the lavender has been full of bees, grooming each petal in their quest to preserve summer’s aromas, and I watch them and think about the honey I won’t be here to taste.  Then in another week or so the annual spider time will begin and the lavender will be spun with webs, waiting to ensnare the delicious lavender-fed bees who fly right into the spiders’ dinner plates.  I won’t be here to see that either, which is okay with me since it’s always a little sad to see the tightly wrapped bees, wings stilled.

But for now I sit in the morning-warmed garden with an iconic cup of coffee, watching the blackberry brambles run rampant, and taste the fir perfume from the trees towering over my bench along with the bracing dark roast.  The bench is right next to a hardy fuschia, which serves as a sort of supermarket for cats, attracting nectar-loving birds.  This morning Beppo brought a small dark bird into the house, and for once I was able to set it free before he got to sample its feathery flavor.  The bird streaked off like a shot, in utter silence, and Beppo growled.

It’s all in the timing, eating and being eaten.  It’s all about eating and flying away.  Five more days.

Holding On, Letting Go

August 25, 2007

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After last night’s going away extravaganza, which featured such delectables as bacon-wrapped bacon, vegetables with an addictive bacon dip, mini BLTs, and bacon baklava, I’m ready to let go of bacon for quite some time.  Embrace salad, that’s going to be my motto for today.

But it’s a lot harder to let go of the sweet friends who put all that bacon together, along with the layered smoked salmon canapés topped with a roe mosaic, the tiny tarts with figs or raspberries nestled in creamy clouds, the warm carrot fritters with their mysterious hint of banana, the beautiful cheese and charcuterie platter, the “may I just eat this with a spoon?” warm seafood dip, the hot fudge sundaes with three ice creams and two luscious sauces, and the stunning cocktails with names like French Pearl, Lapin Agile, and my personal favorite, Wicked Kiss.  By personal favorite I mean that I had more than one of those, and let me tell you, if you’ve never had bacon-wrapped bacon with a Wicked Kiss, you have missed something special.  Have I mentioned an urgent need to embrace salad today?

As we pack and sort and sift our way through every single thing we own,  we’re forced to think all day long about holding on and letting go.  It’s hard to fathom why some things slip so easily into the bags destined for the thrift store, and others stubbornly cling to me.  A little carved Polish box that I’ve carted around from home to home for the past 35 years suddenly is easily let go.  It’s spent the past 6 years tucked into a drawer, all but forgotten, like the man who gave it to me.  The flower wreath from my wedding day hair has been dried and crisp for 13 years, something I used to find charmingly nostalgic.  Now I look at it closely and see some dried fragments of vegetable matter wrapped around wire trailing a few ivory-colored ribbons, and into the trash it goes.  I’ve held onto the husband for 13 years, the wreath’s done its job, and I let it go without a tear. 

Things matter, and then they don’t.  It’s a hard choice, how much of the past to save for the future.  Even something like letting go of the bacon is easier said than done.  I’m probably sitting on it right now, in fact, and will regret that fact when I’m scrunched into an airplane seat for umpteen hours. 

Holding on to people over time and distance is easier said than done too.  Those of you that I love, and I hope you know who you are, I’m holding you tight and taking you with me.  All the rest is just stuff.

Food Security

August 23, 2007

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Tonight I’m going through the cupboards and pantry.  Whew, I’m a terrible food pack rat.  If there’s an ingredient I might ever need at any time in the future I buy it the moment I see it.  Then, all too often, I forget I have it.  Why else would someone have two different packets of Bak Kut Teh soup seasoning?  Or worse, I forget why I got it.  What should I be doing with dried lily buds anyway?

In a stroke of brilliance I realize that tomorrow a bunch of serious food people are giving us a going away party.  We all met on the eGullet food board, and have been cooking and eating together ever since.  What better time to clean out my food supplies and bestow all my odds and ends on my unsuspecting friends?  Let’s see, who would like those lily buds, the dried Chinese chestnuts, the spekulaas kruiden, the date syrup, the jasmine essence, the candlenuts, and for that matter, the remnants of a special candle you burn inside a bowl of Thai cookies in order to perfume them lightly?

I lay out my goodies and begin to pile them up next to little stickers bearing my friends’ names.  There’s so much stuff I scarcely know how to start.  What would you think if I told you that the array above was only 20% of what I sifted through?  I’d be lying, of course, it’s only 10%.  Maybe less.

But see, here’s how I am.  I’m already calculating what will be just as good when we come back as it is today.  The Muscovado sugar will be rock hard, the vialone nano will go rancid, the Rancho Gordo beans I should take to my friends in Europe who can’t get them.  But the oak honey, the mulberry syrup, the quince preserves, the treacle and sorghum, they’ll all stand the sugary test of time.  The ochazukenori, sure, it’s sealed up tight.  And so on.  I just can’t give it all away.  My culinary security blanket turns out not to be my knives or my pots and pans, but my larder, so lovingly built, so hard to leave behind.

Actually, I am taking my knives with me, but I know you understand that.

Feeling Peeled

August 23, 2007

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Now that we have only 8 more days to get it all together we’re starting to feel stressed, snappish, snarky and sometimes sullen.  Diffident, discouraged, dusty, and down in the basement more than we’d like to be.  Also peevish, petulant, and peeled raw like the bright dried favas you see before you.  There’s something about the process of turning over every single leaf in our lives, including some that should have been put in the compost heap long ago, that leaves me with a naked, picked-over feeling.

If looking at these beans gives you a yen to make homemade falafel, there’s a wonderful recipe here, but if you can find favas that are already peeled and split, do yourself a favor and get them.  Peeling away the skin isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming and tedious.

It’s a lot like what we’re going through now as we get ready to leave, opening up one thing at a time, stripping it bare, setting it down, doing it again, looking at the pile to see whether it’s getting any smaller, picking up another one and doing it all again.  In the end, I know something delicious will be the result, but right in the thick of it all sometimes it seems that all I’m getting out of the process is a lot of crud under my fingernails.

Every day we ask each other “do you still want to go?”  The answer’s always yes, but it frequently comes only after a pause and a deep breath.  Those pauses are dangerous, since during that brief moment something else might get added to the eternal list of things to do.  I’m a bean-counter from way back, and I love to cross things off the list as soon as possible.  But this last week, because there won’t be any second chances, I’m being careful to count no bean before it’s peeled.