The Wren's Nest

A space for inspiration, creativity, & discovery

The Very Thought of You

Tonight I baked a stone fruit crumble with sweet ripe peaches from the twilight farmer’s market while listening to Billie Holiday sing The Very Thought of You.  The music and the baking suited my mood tonight.  Crumbles are relatively quick and easy to bake, so I was truly able to succumb to the beauty of the moment.  The soft pink and yellow flesh of the peaches and apricots offered their muted glow to the otherwise dark kitchen, and Lady Day’s voice trailed lazily throughout the house as I slowly whipped a bit of maple syrup into coconut cream.  We enjoyed our dessert well enough, though sometimes I find the process more fulfilling than the meal itself – here was one such time.  The recipe was adapted from Heidi Swanson’s original.  I used a bit of vanilla sugar that I had on hand (you can tuck a leftover vanilla bean into some sugar to make your own, as I did), a squeeze of orange juice rather than orange blossom water, and thick coconut milk and coconut oil rather than yogurt and butter.  Now I have had my sweet fix for a good while, and enjoyed every second of it, too.

Sky Dance

I had a funny feeling while recording Will the other evening.  We were filming some videos for his new YouTube account, when I began to feel as though we were living out a scene in some imagined indie movie.  Will carted all of his equipment out in front of Liberty, his VW bus.  The sun was setting, but we still turned the amp on to play outside for a short time.  I set the camera on our old bar stool from the Salvation Army and pressed record.  It was the evening of Mother’s Day and I felt I was attending my own personal concert.  The whole situation felt so intimate and romantic, and yet we were outside in the suburbs probably about to violate some sound ordinance (hence the quirky indie romance movie feeling).  Will has been working so hard on his music lately; he has a gig coming up, a new website that will be going live soon, and plans for a future album, too!  Please check out his very first video, an original classical piece titled Sky Dance, and let us know what you think.

Goodnight,

Wren

Pleasures

I am happy taking slow walks around the neighborhood with Piper, always the same route lately.  In the morning, we often see neighbors watering plants in their front yards, or cracking their front doors demurely, still in pajamas, to let their dogs out for a quick break.  We pass the same house for sale each day – an inviting home made of brick and wood.  Eventually, we meet up with Daisy, the neighborhood cat who comes running to meet us as soon as she catches our scent.  We scratch behind her ears and stroke her back, and are on our way again.  I round my favorite bend, where potted plants filled with flowers that seem forever in bloom line the sidewalk.  Vines creep down an iron gate to hide a pool that lies on the other side.  The windows glint and shimmer as the sun hits the deep antique-blue glasses that line their ledges.  A statue of St. Francis stands peacefully in a shaded corner, while a sign a bit further off reads:  “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

Sometimes Piper likes me to tip the stroller backwards so that she can look into the trees for birds and nests.  Today we saw such a large hawk that I quickened my pace home, remembering the night a neighborhood owl attacked Will for getting too close.  We return feeling as though we had been on some journey – indeed most days Piper will tell me as she senses the last few minutes of our walk approaching, “No mommy, I don’t want to go home yet!”  The fresh air works some magic on us, and it is good to enjoy it together.

More and more lately we eat our dinners outside, around our little round folding table.  Yesterday I spent a good bit of the afternoon in the kitchen, juggling pots and pans to put a meal together that felt memorable and worthwhile the minute we started plating the food.  For about a week or so I had an urge to cook the Yorkshire puddings featured in Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat.  This was a funny sort of urge, seeing as how I have never eaten a Yorkshire pudding in my life, but then I guess I cannot resist foods with a sense of history and place—I’ve been known to spend a day making Persian Barbari bread for the same reason.  The toasted poppy and sesame seed speckled batter sat alluringly in a jug on the countertop, awaiting the moment where I would pour it into smoking hot muffin cups and slide it into the oven where it would go through what only Nigella Lawson could so eloquently call a sort of “kitchen alchemy” and become the tall, puffed pudding towers so commonly eaten abroad.  We ate them with lots of horseradish spiked olive oil, rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes, and broccoli and green beans in tahini sauce with crumbled seed brittle on top.  All of the recipes can be found in A Modern Way to Eat.  Other memorable meals lately have been a tangled bowl of fettuccine in a grounding, earthy mushroom sauce (Anna Del Conte’s Tagliatelle col Sugo di Funghi) and for lunch one day, a Turkish inspired white bean salad and slices of grilled eggplant.  I also mustn’t forget to mention the amazing chocolate chip blondies I baked last week (thanks again to Anna Jones).  I brought them around to a couple of our friends, two older women who I like to visit especially when my mom or mother-in-law seem extra far away.  They enjoyed them so much, and I know them as a bit hard to impress.  Nonna Cathy told me that I had outdone myself this time, and when I had stepped away for a moment I heard her voice trailing, “Her loss is our gain!” and when I returned, found the two were happily eating another couple of sweets.  It feels so good to feed people, though I do very little of it outside of my immediate family.  I’d like to be brave, and cook without inhibitions, and share genuinely, too.

Abandon

Lately I’m eating hummus and sprout sandwiches, vegetable soup with kale and strips of Nori, chunks of organic watermelon for breakfast, and raw almond butter slathered onto perfectly ripened bananas, all the while pining over reruns of Nigella Bites, which are awfully delicious tributes to full fat cream, Bearnaise, puddings, Crème fraiche, and—forgive me—rare steaks, tiger prawns, bacon and anchovies.  I love Nigella’s unapologetic attitude towards food, as well as her style and overall sense of humor:  she doesn’t take herself—or life—too seriously, and as a result, she exudes a sense of strength and endurance that I truly admire.  Here’s a woman that, rather than feel overcome with guilt or disgust at the sight of meat, can cut into it and say wryly (and quite hilariously), “I love a bit of dismemberment in the morning.”  While we are still very much vegetarian and don’t eat eggs all that often (and milk not at all), what I take away from these old episodes of Nigella Bites is a reminder to enjoy life—and yes, food—but especially life.  As I worry about what is healthy or unhealthy, or “good” and “bad” to eat, I feel (personally) that my attitude toward food becomes somehow disordered, and that the focus is so much on eating that, really, by the time the whole process is over I’m still hungry and not quite satisfied because maybe I did not actually eat what it was I wanted—or needed.  Of course ethics and philosophy are an important part of the discourse, and I feel strongly that we should seek out humane and conscious sources for the food that we eat.  However, the words of our adoptive Italian Nonna, Cathy, echo in the forefront of my mind:  she often says, with a smile, “Everything in moderation—even moderation.”  The truth is, I dream of pavlovas, trifles, custards, and meringue.  Greek yogurt, rhubarb jelly.  Steamed couscous, fat Italian sausages over Puy lentils, and pink salmon over chickpeas.  Spaghetti carbonara, chocolate pots de crème, shepherds’ pie.  A little abandon.

What do you crave?  What’s your guilty pleasure?

Simple pleasures

Yesterday I watched this clip of Nigella Lawson cooking Elvis sandwiches—you know, mashed banana and peanut butter slathered between two slices of bread and then toasted in a buttery pan until crisp and golden brown on the outside, and all warm and gooey on the inside.  Well, I made them this morning and they are a total panacea for the early morning, bleary eyed blues.  The sky rumbled and rain fell while Piper and I sat together at her little table, coloring Care Bears pages from her book and indulging in our warm breakfast.

Later, when it stopped raining, we took a walk and breathed in the most healing of fresh air—that slightly damp kind that lingers after a storm.  Piper jumped in all of the puddles on the way to the park.  I love how the puddles on this one street in our neighborhood always cast magnificent green reflections back up at us, because the street is lined on either side by Camphor trees that have grown to form a little canopy.  The water takes on an otherworldly quality then, as though it is a portal to a similar but alternate universe—one where everything is upside down, maybe.

When Will came home from work we enjoyed our dinner outside.  I have been cooking from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Eat.  Anna has this really cool way of conceptualizing recipes into parts of a story, or parts of an equation.  Soups, for example, always have a base, herbs, spices, a hero vegetable (often something hearty like pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes) , and a backup vegetable that supports the hero (kale, spinach, peas, etc.).  Similarly, the most satisfying and memorable salads often have, in addition to the greens, the following elements:  interest (in the form of roasted vegetables or substantial raw ones such as avocados, radishes, tomatoes, etc.), texture (nuts, seeds, croutons, and sprouts), herbs, and hearty add-ins (lentils, grains, eggs, cheese).  This information is golden for most people who would like to improvise in the kitchen while still being able to turn out a reliably tasty and nourishing meal.  Tonight we ate pan-fried soba noodles tossed in a maple and soy dressing and served with quick pickled purple cabbage, crispy strips of tofu, and peas (Anna originally calls for sprouting broccoli)—this recipe, along with so many other quick and wholesome ones, can be found in her book.

At night, when I’m not too tired, I’ll read in bed until I fall asleep.  I’ve been on a Paulo Coelho kick lately, finally reading The Alchemist and after that, Brida.  I haven’t been back to the library yet, so I have been left to scour our bookshelves at home for something I’m in the mood for at night.  I cracked open my old Beowulf, and of course the first passage I came to described that infamously terrifying Grendel who comes in the night, and knew I had better choose a different book.  Instead, I brought The Old Man and the Sea and The Catcher in the Rye to bed, torn between which to read.  In fact, I started reading both for a few moments until I finally decided on Salinger, and fell asleep a few pages later with the books face down on the pillow next to me (Will stays up a bit later than I do).  I set them there on purpose, because they comfort me and give me wonderful and adventurous dreams.

Speaking of dreams, I’m feeling tired already and will end my little ramble here.  Goodnight, all!

Spring eats

Thoughts on Full Moon Feast

Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection has both moved and surprised me.  On a quest for a true feeling of nourishment, Prentice explores traditional foodways and discovers across cultures a deep connection and reverence for the Earth that many of us today are out of touch with.  She connects every chapter to a corresponding moon; every full moon marks the beginning or end of a season and carries with it great significance and symbolism.  Her book follows the natural progression of a year, beginning with a chapter on The Hunger Moon and later exploring such fascinating traditional seasons as The Egg Moon, The Sap Moon, The Moon of Making Fat, and The Moon When Salmon Return to the Earth.  Every passage is ripe with meaning, and I often found myself having to read entire chapters aloud to Will.  Prentice believes we will become truly nourished when we can once again honor the Earth as our ancestors did; she believes in eating as seasonally and locally as possible.  In doing so, we will come to appreciate every season’s bounty.  Whether we are enjoying a goose egg in spring, or a bowl of creamy turnip soup in the winter, we will be fostering a more genuine and sustainable connection to nature.  She urges us to shift our focus toward a smaller, community centered food system, where we grow a lot of our own produce, or purchase the bulk of it from local farmers’ markets.  Prentice discusses the concept of a gift society, whereby everyone is mutually indebted to one another in a way that ends up fostering a sense of community.  These are just a few of the main themes in the completely thought provoking Full Moon Feast.

As a strict vegetarian, I admit to being fascinated by all of the chapters on meat: how to render lard, how to clarify butter, how to boil bones to make a mineral rich heal-all broth.   Prentice discusses the topic with honesty and respect.  In her chapter about salmon, she mourns the plight of this majestic fish that used to start its life in shadowy hideaways along freshwater rivers, later moving to salty waters only to return by some preternatural knowledge to the same home base to spawn (a magical event in itself) and eventually die.  Now, Prentice explains, so much of salmon is farmed that there is no “Moon When Salmon Return to the Earth.”  Additionally, conditions on the farms are so crowded and unnatural that the salmon’s flesh becomes grey and must later be dyed to give the fish its characteristic healthy pink blush.  In contrast, she shares a story of a culture that would catch only as much salmon that could feed its people for a particular season, share the rest with a neighboring people, and release the rest.  The bones of the fish would be cast out to sea in the thought that they would then reassemble, and the fish would become human and return to its home.  If the salmon were somehow offended, it was feared that the fish would not return the next season.  Still, Prentice advocates eating meat, fish, and dairy as part of a diet that she sees as completely nourishing, traditional, and healthy.  While that is clearly up for debate, I still appreciate her reverence for animals and can even begin to understand her thoughts on vegetarianism.  Prentice had been a vegetarian herself for 10 years and had come to develop several health problems, which appeared to go away after adopting an omnivorous lifestyle.  She supports her choices practically and spiritually, stating that ahimsa (non-harming to all living beings) is meant to be interpreted more figuratively than literally, as she believes it impossible to live without even accidentally causing harm to something.  She also takes her argument a step further, suggesting that vegans specifically may be out of touch with the cycle of life, explaining that they may be afraid to face their own death in seeing death on their plates before them.  She also states that animals are killed quite often even in organic farming—land must be cleared for crops, and pests must be dealt with somehow.  She may be a bit misguided here, in that she seems to view all vegans as dogmatic in their approach to their lifestyle.  Most vegetarians and vegans I know will willingly admit that they are not aiming for spiritual perfectionism or purity, but rather expressing their love for animals and the environment the best way they know how.  She does bring up thoughtful points, though.

Well, before I give away the book entirely, I had better stop writing.  It seems I’ve missed dinnertime and everyone is asleep early tonight.  Let me know what you think if you do read it!  We have been on many adventures lately, which I hope to write about soon.  From sharing the beach with sun-kissed spring breakers, to a first time grilling experience at our nature reserve, to strawberry picking at an organic farm 30 minutes away, to a renaissance festival in the woods filled with jugglers and acrobats and plague doctors all in costume, my imagination is full and spinning me wonderfully colorful dreams.

A Spring Lunch

We came home with many treasures from the market today:  Sweet Gallberry honey from bees pollinating around the Green Swamp, a warm loaf of sourdough bread with a crust so crisp you can hear it crackle when you press it by your ear, fingerling potatoes (what child can resist?), a bag of dried red tea leaves, and a container of creamy butternut squash soup that would become the basis of a playful Spring lunch.

As the soup warmed, Will grabbed our bamboo bowl and we went outside to pick salad greens from the garden.  We gathered a surprising bounty of roots, shoots and leaves including arugula, mizuna, buttercrunch, romaine, kale, green onions, and cherry belle radishes.  I tossed it all in the smallest splash of olive oil, lemon juice, and sprinkling of Himalayan sea salt.  I couldn’t help but think of Jamie Oliver’s method for “tickling” salads as I lifted the leaves into the air and let them tumble away from my fingers.

We ladled the orange soup into shallow bowls and topped them with borage blossoms from the garden.  Piper nibbled on radishes, and we took our bread with honey.

On another note, I know that I have been quiet lately.  I am busy mulling over three books that I received a few weeks ago:  Rosewater and Soda  Bread by Marsha Mehran, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Goethe, and Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice.  They are all so thoughtful and different, but I hope to share some words about them with you soon.

Valentine’s Day 2015

We shared such a beautiful day together yesterday.  Will woke up early to cook the thickest, most delicious heart shaped chocolate pancakes.  Studded with chocolate chips, these rich pancakes reminded me of soft baked cookies, still warm from the oven.  We ate them with butter and a generous drizzle of pure maple syrup.  Piper and I also soon discovered a slew of Valentine’s Day goodies all wrapped up and nestled in glittering tinsel waiting on the table for us to open during breakfast.  After a morning filled with both leisure and excitement, we rushed through the house getting showered and dressed for our drive to Bee and Papa’s house.  Very generously, they watched Piper while the two of us spent a few hours in St. Pete.

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Will and I enjoyed a long lunch together at Meze 119.  Our waiter was kind and attentive.  We shared an appetizer of roasted cauliflower florets and creamy dipping sauce.  Then, Will enjoyed a super house salad, dressed lightly and tossed with green and Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes.  I sipped a spicy vegetable soup garnished with toasty strips of tortilla.  For our main, we both ordered falafel pitas stuffed with cucumber and tomato salad, shredded purple cabbage, Israeli pickles and thickly cut fries.   Oh, and several large, round, herby falafels, of course!  We ordered extra tahina to drizzle all over everything, and ate quietly and quite happily.  Our extra fries came with an awesome creamy hot sauce that sent little vinegary sparks across our tongues.  We shared a bowl of soy ice-cream for dessert, which came with crumbled sesame candy and pistachios that tasted better than the ice-cream itself.  Mmmm…

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Afterwards, we enjoyed a lovers’ stroll through the colorful streets.  A Valentine’s Day race had people trotting by in wonderfully pink and sequined garb; some wore fluffy tutus, tinsel wigs, and bedazzled running shorts that read “I’m with Cupid.”  Still others actually dressed as Cupid, or ran in as little as their red and white Speedos.  A bit further down the road we ran into an indie market, where artists sold handmade knit hats, scented candles in sand encrusted coconut shells, and lots of vintage and bohemian clothing.  I came home with a button down dress and a blue and white striped shirt from a $5 trunk, and bought Will a green shirt from Ecuador.

He looked so handsome wearing it, especially later when he rolled his pant legs up a bit and ran along Ben T. Davis Beach chasing after Piper.  When Piper fell asleep in the car, we decided to drive over to the beach and look out upon the water and listen to the waves break.  Piper soon woke up, though, which was all the better because we wanted to enjoy the beach with her, too.  We felt satisfied running back and forth along the shore and building sandcastles, but let it be written that some brave young souls in bathing suits did jump in the icy water for a nippy swim that day.

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How was your Valentine’s Day?

An encounter at the park on a quiet morning.

We took the wagon to the park this morning.  I packed two mason jars filled with homemade strawberry banana smoothies, and we set off through the neighborhood.  Today is a beautiful day; although it is windy, warm beams of sunlight would sometimes rest upon our skin when we found a particularly open area outside.  Once we truly started playing, we hardly needed our winter jackets.  The park was quiet, and for a while we were the only two there (except for the man who sometimes uses the equipment to exercise, and a few passersby).  Then suddenly, a moon-faced young boy–about six or seven years old–peered playfully over the rails atop the playground equipment.  Piper walked toward him, holding a stick she had taken interest in as some sort offering.  He came down and accepted without words, and the two began to play silently for the next several minutes.  For a while they parted, and the boy continued to play on his own.  A man walked down the path with a large orange dog.  We exchanged humble good-mornings before he addressed the boy in what sounded to my ears like fluent German.  I felt delighted inside; for one, I now knew why the boy was so quiet, and for another, we seemed to be having a very special adventure this morning, meeting by chance these friends from far away.  When I had the chance, I asked the man if he was from Germany.  To my surprise, the man emphatically told me that he was full-blooded American.  I thought for a moment I was having delusions, until he explained that the little boy was in his care this morning, and was part of his extended family.  I asked what language he was speaking earlier, and he answered, “Deutsch — German.”  I bent down a bit and looked at the boy standing patiently by his guardian and said, in quite horrible accent, “Guten tag!” and tried a “Wie geht’s?”, though the shy boy did not reply.  The man then asked me how I came to know any German, and I told him that I have some German ancestry, but I also used to work as a tutor in college, where I met many students from other countries.  We spoke as we pet the family’s large orange dog, and it gave us sloppy kisses with his long black tongue.  I was surprised to learn that the man shared my experience as a student of literature.  The little boy then showed the man a fresh cut on his knee, and they were about to go home.  I offered a quiet goodbye in German, and the little boy softly replied, “Auf wiedersehen!”  It felt like magic to form this bridge of communication, to acknowledge this child who seemed interested in us but did not know the words to say to speak with us.  The boy wanted to play a bit longer after that, so the man settled down into a park bench.  I wanted Piper to run along and play with this little boy, but just as we were about to walk over to the other playground equipment, the older man called out “So who is your favorite author?”  That question is always loaded, and I sometimes imagine people asking me, and wonder at what I will say in response.  I told him about my love for Thoreau’s Walden, and that I had recently read The Count of Monte Cristo, but admitted that I had been reading a lot of contemporary novels lately.  He mentioned that he enjoyed Robert Frost, and then said confidently, “I have a book that you should read.”  “What’s the title?” I asked, and he shouted from across the park “All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr”  “Foer?  Like Jonathan Safran Foer?”  He disregarded my rambling, and repeated again — this time gesturing toward the sky — “All the Light We Cannot See.”  Then he and the little boy left, without another goodbye.  Isn’t this all such a curious incident?  This brief encounter seems to have run deeper than a lot of interactions of a similar nature that I encounter from day to day, and so I wanted to share it.  Auf wiedersehen!

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