The Wren's Nest

A space for inspiration, creativity, & discovery

What stand up paddle boarding has taught me.

Saturday afternoon, while hundreds of festivalgoers attended Tampa Bay’s sixth annual VegFest at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, we noticed one man stand out from the crowd.  He was, in fact, stand-up paddle boarding along the Hillsborough River, with his stout black dog along for the ride.  I will always remember this sight.  All at once I thought, “I want to try that by the time I’m 30,” and “What if he falls off, and there are alligators in the water?  Do you think alligators live in rivers?  I heard a man got eaten by an alligator recently, the first attack in FL in the past 7 years.”  I could not take my eyes away from this stranger, who appeared to have achieved a blissful sense of balance that allowed him to move effortlessly along the water, his salty dog firmly and quite happily rooted to the front of the board like a bizarre figurehead.

While I cannot truly know this stranger’s state of being — whether he is actually as happy, free, and centered as I imagined him to be in the moment — perhaps my first impressions can show me a bit about my own sense of well being, fulfillment, and balance.  I am just beginning to come out stronger and healthier after a couple of hard weeks spent feeling sick (with tummy trouble) and fatigued.  I began to feel sorry for myself, because I could actually see and feel myself living, to quote our old friend Ralph, “on the sidelines.”  Yet, I know deep down that I needed to take that time to heal, to regain my strength and energy.  I’d like to shed the layers of unnecessary concern or worry, impatience, frustration, resentment and ego that I (and we as people) have learned to wear for whatever reason, and be left with a sense of discernment that can see through to opportunity, beauty, forgiveness and compassion in every wonderful, ever-unfolding moment that life presents.  It’s not easy to write about this, and I bet I can expect a call from my mother after publishing — “Are you OK? You should take this down.”  The truth is, I am better than OK–I am back from a really hard time, and I’ve gained perspective.

So thank you, stranger, for reminding me that I’d like to live life like I’m gliding down the Hillsborough River, with my trusty companions (kisses for you, Will, and for Piper–my big girl) along for the journey.  To stay balanced is to stay afloat — or, in other words, to stay healthy, energized.  To stay balanced is to trust one’s own instinct, to live authentically, and to be willing to surrender to the unknown (are there alligators? will I fall?  I will if I don’t get out of my own head.).

Signing off for now — Will is back from lessons and I smell something truly intoxicating wafting from the kitchen.  Thanks for reading!

Oh, and I’d also like…

I’m at the dinner table flipping through cookbooks with a tummy that is beginning to groan with yearning.  I’m jotting down some ideas for meals and snacks this week, though I find myself drooling over the most decadent and decidedly complicated recipes, dreaming about how I can maybe convince Will or my parents to cook something like Anna Jones’s Goodwill rainbow pie with mashed sweet potatoes, roasted veg, and sauteed greens all enveloped in golden brown pastry crust.  Or maybe her Sweet and salty tahini crunch greens, which involve a type of maple brittle with different seeds and nuts, to be broken over top seasonal greens and dressed in an unctuous tahini dressing.  Maybe her banana, toffee and coconut cream pie for my birthday?  A brown sugar tart?  Double chocolate cloud cake?  Salted caramel brownies?  See where this is going?

I’m a recovering midnight snacker.  Will is too.  Just today he asked me if I wanted a little bowl of spicy tortilla chips, and I told him I did not even know we had any chips in the house.  He hides them, and not because I discourage him from eating them–rather, he wants to discourage me from doing the same with his beloved stash!  I grew wise to some of his hiding places.  He’s six feet tall and can reach places like the top of the cabinets quite easily.  I’m 5’3” and eat what I can reach — usually.  I guess I eventually saw a shiny parcel above the cabinets one day, realizing it to be a chip bag and in a moment of desperation brought out a chair and grabbed the forbidden goods.  And, friends, literally as I am writing this entry, Will has come home from work and let me know that he is hungry.  He wants to know if there is any hummus in the house.  Scrap that, now he wants popcorn–and wants to know if I will eat, too!  Oh, I love him!  Our appetites are more alike than he would like to admit (I’ve got a reputation).

Well, I’m off to spend some time with my other half.  So ends my indulgent list of longings.  A girl can dream.

Window birding

Some of my favorite times of day are when I catch a glimpse of a few birds that have found their way to our feeding area that we have made for them.  We filled an old clay planter with some birdseed, including oily black sunflower seeds, and hung a pretty little glass birdbath from a limb near our bedroom window.  We set the planter on the short wall bordering our house, being sure to sprinkle extra seeds all around it as well.  This morning alone, Piper and I sat curled up by the window peering out as a pair of cardinals enjoyed a snack.  I’ve been seeing them for a few days–but what was new this morning was the mockingbird, many palm warblers, and blue jay that all seemed to arrive at the same time.  To be sure, when Mr. Jay came not many birds were interested in sticking around–but I was surprised earlier to see the warblers and cardinals stay put with a mockingbird in the tree at the same time!  To my knowledge, they can become domineering–but that’s just what I have heard from Will–he was almost attacked by a mama mockingbird once.  Though, now that I think of it, he was also attacked by an owl when we first moved here (he’s okay!).  I was so delighted to see the mockingbird take a little drink and splash in the birdbath.  Now I’m confident that it has been accepted and perhaps we’ll catch a few more birds in it soon.  I think the birds are truly making themselves comfortable around our house now that they know they can find food nearby.  Just the other day, I saw a female cardinal cutely watching her reflection (did she think she found another bird?) on our windshield.  I’ve also seem them hopping along the top of Will’s bus.  I think that many of them may have already been around, since their presence must have preempted my desire to go out and buy the bird food, but I just see (and hear!) them so much more these days.  Just wanted to share our delight with you all!  Wishing you a wonder filled weekend — Wren.


Adventures in Apple Tarts and the Art of Simple Food

Last night I set to work on poaching a quince, peeling and slicing eight Granny Smith apples, delicately rolling out pastry dough, and reducing quince poaching liquid to a stickily delicious glaze for an apple tart.  Piper sat at my heels playing with her baby doll, little wooden people, a playground set and two big plastic Halloween candy bowls.  Will busied himself in the kitchen with dinner — a delicious vegan classic: TLT, or tempeh, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

Quince.  I seem to remember naively eating one raw before, and disregarding the astringent fruit completely until now.  I started to simmer a mixture of water and sugar for a simple syrup in which to poach the quince, as suggested in The Art of Simple Food.  I peeled the fruit, then thought I would be able to get through the tough core with an apple corer only to find out the center was indeed much larger and firmer than that of an apple.  With some effort I worked the core out with my small paring knife, and quickly placed the pieces in the hot pot of liquid before they began to brown.  Next, Waters suggests adding some aromatics to enhance and flavor the fruit poaching liquid.  I added the zest and juice of a lemon, half of a vanilla bean (and saved the other half to make vanilla sugar),  and a cinnamon stick.  The spices lent a warm and soothing fragrance that wafted from the pot throughout the kitchen while I went about my other prep work.  A side note: the quince never turned that pretty pink I’ve read about once it was cooked, do they always?

Rolling out the pastry dough was much easier this time.  I love the little trick of rolling the dough around the pin and then unrolling it back over my parchment lined baking sheet.  I hold my breath just a bit each time, though I feel much better about doing this little circus trick than folding it all up into squares and then unfolding it.  It just seems like my dough might stick if I did that.

Then comes the mystery of the concentric circles.  Waters suggests placing the apples into tight concentric circles, end to end around the pastry.  I thought I knew what it meant, instinctively, until Will came around and turned my apples around.  We placed them end to end, beginning our circle clockwise, and then the same way for the next set only starting out circle reverse clockwise.  It seemed to make an aesthetic difference, though I’m not sure how?  When the apples are placed vertically I think I can understand it better, but horizontally I think I was able to fit more apples (and quince, whose slices I tucked in wherever I could).  With the fruit I had leftover I froze for another use.  I’m just now remembering that I’ve left them on their plates in the freezer and forgotten to transfer the pieces to a freezer bag…

I reduced the poaching liquid, adding a bit more sugar to the mix to help it along.  After 45 minutes, I took the tart (or pizza, as Piper called it) out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.  We had some fun taking pictures of it on the cutting board once it cooled a bit, and then had even more fun glazing it with the quince reduction.  All in all I’m tired.  The tart tasted good, though I thought the Granny Smiths were a bit tart combined with the lemon juice in the reduction and the fact that I kept them in lemon water to prevent browning.  Will enjoyed it, Piper took a bite.  Waters did suggest using Granny Smiths, so maybe the dessert is not intended to be intensely sweet.  Though, when I told Will I thought it could be sweeter he looked at me with a raised eyebrow, as if to say “Really?”  I think maybe my taste buds had checked out for the night by then.

Now I’m up early, or it was early when I started this blog post.  Will’s off at work and Piper is sleeping in.  We had this wonderful walk yesterday, and later in the day we painted popsicle stick Jack-o-lanterns.  Oops–she’s up now!  Wishing you all an exciting day, with a slice of sweetness on the side.

Our trip to Anna Maria Island, and an Onion Tart.

Two days after a rejuvenating trip to Anna Maria Island, I’m sitting at my little writing desk listening to She & Him on the record player feeling blissful with a bit of sea salt at home in my hair.  On Sunday we woke up and decided to drive out to the beach.  Neither of us had ever been to Anna Maria Island before, so the ride there was filled with even more excitement and anticipation than our usual on these kinds of adventures.  We drove into the first beach outlet on the island, the one with a children’s playground, swings, and pastel wooden changing rooms with swinging doors set just high enough to catch a glimpse of sandy feet and toes.  The sky was fighting rain, but the air was balmy and warm.  We walked into the ocean and let the cool, clear water envelop us.  We swam and I floated on my back with my eyes closed, letting the waves gently rock me back and forth.  Near the water’s edge, though, the waves broke hard and Will spotted a few mini rip curls.  We walked along the shore, built sandcastles for a plastic tiger, and let the sun kiss our skin golden.  On our way home we finally came into some rainy weather, though a sign for Bradenton’s Riverwalk along the Manatee River enticed us to wait it out over some iced smoothies and sorbet.  Piper was excited to don her raincoat and hold her new owl umbrella.  The walk itself is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  Boats lined the docks and proved a striking backdrop.  A busy bridge in the distance made us glad to be taking our casual walk below, which was lined with interactive art and eventually led to an amphitheater and a playground and splash pad that Piper relished.

I’ve come home contented and inspired.  Late last night, I prepped pastry dough for the onion tart recipe found in Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food.  As many of you know, any type of pie or tart baking is new to me and I’ve been very intimidated by it up until now.  I decided to just have a go (slowly), and enjoy the process.  Since we do not eat dairy, I used Earth Balance vegan butter for the crust, and I’m happy with the results.  I took care to measure the butter and even freeze it for a few minutes before incorporating it into the flour, otherwise I imagine it would spread too quickly.  Early this morning I cooked down the onions (6, thinly sliced) with some dried thyme, as I did not have any fresh.  Just as we were settling into the afternoon, I gently rolled out one disc of dough and took extra care to follow Waters’ technique.  She suggests rolling out from the center of your dough, rather than rocking the pin back and forth across the entire disc.  Of course it helps to be forgiving and patient with yourself, and fortunately today turned out to be a good day for such a project.  The edges are folded over and brushed with some egg wash, and the tart is baked on the lower rack of a 375 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom.  Would you believe that we ate almost the entire thing between the two of us?  Lunch paired well with a couple of glasses of red wine.  The savory-sweet onions, the crisp, buttery crust, and my love next to me to share it all with has certainly made my day today.  I’ve still got one disc of dough in the fridge for tomorrow.  I’m going to try making a sweet apple tart, incorporating the quince I’ve got lying around the house.  I’m sure Piper will be more inclined to eat a slice of that. I haven’t met many 3 year old children who jump at a plate of sauteed onions, but we’ll turn her yet!!  Teasing, of course.

Hoping you all are enjoying your week with some good eats and good company.



I love the simple beauty of a bowl of brown rice.  Best just warm from the stove, each tender grain is nutty, separate and slightly chewy.  The challenge in cooking such a pot of rice is easily underestimated; mainly, one must have patience.  We invited friends over Sunday night and enjoyed some short grain brown rice topped with kale, pomegranate arils, toasted Nori, edamame, avocado, black sesame seeds, and a citrus dressing.  The recipe is from Anna Jones’s cookbook A Modern Way to Eat.  The meal comes together with relatively little effort, though quality ingredients give the rather homey dish some kick and elegance.  The kale is sauteed in just a bit of toasted sesame oil.  The gem-like arils and tiny black sesame seeds look striking against the light brown rice.  Creamy slices of ripe avocado, kale, and chewy edamame also enliven the dish with their varying shades of green as well as with their varying textures.  The dressing is the true star of this meal, though.  Jones calls for the zest of half an orange, a lemon, as well as their juices and that of a pomegranate.  All is whisked together with a bit of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and honey (or agave).  The resulting sweet and tangy sauce highlights all of the flavors of the sushi bowl.

Sushi bowls are a great choice for kids and anyone else who prefers to customize their dish at the table.

Sushi bowls are a great choice for kids and anyone else who prefers to customize their dish at the table.

Also, I’m still hooked on Quinoa.  I roasted a sweet mini pumpkin yesterday for lunch, and tossed it together with a fresh batch of Quinoa, toasted chopped almonds and coconut, cilantro, and dressed it all with some Moroccan spices whisked into a bit of walnut oil and vinegar.  Will thought to add a bit of raisins, and even later I thought to add a splash of orange blossom water, and it all came together deliciously.  I reserved a bit of plain Quinoa for leftovers, which I’m happy I did because today for lunch I cooked up a batch of Heidi Swanson’s little Quinoa patties, recipe for which can be found in her cookbook Super Natural Everyday.  If Piper’s eating habits are any indication of how truly great a recipe is, then I’ll tell you now that she ate several of these morsels, slathered in avocado and even plain.  The recipe makes a lot, and yet we have none left to snack on later.  Whisk four eggs together and stir in some leftover Quinoa (the recipe calls for about 2 1/2 cups worth) with various aromatics such as finely chopped garlic, onion, green onions or chives, cheese (we just used Nutritional Yeast), and whatever else is handy, really.  I added a small amount of chopped jalapeno, even.  About a cup or so of breadcrumbs binds everything together, though go easy for moister cakes.  They cook in about 14 minutes over medium low heat, 7 minutes on each side (or until brown).

A Quinoa bowl with Moroccan flair.

A Quinoa bowl with Moroccan flair.

Leftover Quinoa:  Et Voila!  Quinoa patties.

Leftover Quinoa: Et Voila! Quinoa patties.

Last, and certainly not least, we’ve been enjoying our fair share of sweets.  Perhaps too much.  I made a batch of raw brownies the other day, also from Anna Jones’s cookbook, which calls for an almost exorbitant amount of dates and cacao.  In its defense, the recipe does make 20 little square servings (gone in 2 days, gasp!).  I have also been enjoying little bowls and, I’ll admit, secret spoonfuls of Ciao Bella’s blood orange sorbetto.  The super smooth texture and tart flavor had me cooing to Will about how much better it is than ice cream.

One of life's simple pleasures:  a bowl of Ciao Bella's blood orange sorbetto.

One of life’s simple pleasures: a bowl of Ciao Bella’s blood orange sorbetto.

Happy eats! Wren.

On making time for Baingan Bharta and Quinoa salad.

I’m sitting here on our couch in the living room, looking out our two front windows and thinking about how quickly the week has passed.  That it is Friday already, and I can begin to feel the first breath of cool autumn air whenever we are out in the late afternoon.  Today was a busy sort of day, complete with broken glass and a visit from the maintenance man (both unrelated, thankfully).  We did, however, find time for a short walk to a lending library in the neighborhood — the kind that’s just a little cabinet outside with a few odd books to share and borrow.  We ate noodle soup for lunch.  We’ve had days this week that have been especially wonderful.  Yesterday, Will and I celebrated our fourth anniversary together.  We took Piper to eat with us, and afterwards walked along Lake Hollingsworth.  Still on other days, we found time to sit down to a formidable lunch together at home.  I stirred a simmering pan of Baingan Bharta while the electrician fixed some wiring in our kitchen light on his ladder behind me.  Piper and Will sat in the dining room with their guitars and serenaded him.  I just have to laugh, it was all so hilarious and sweet at the same time.

A spicy meal of roasted eggplant, sauteed with a bit of fresh tomatoes, curry, coconut milk, hot peppers and fresh cilantro.

A spicy meal of roasted eggplant, sauteed with a bit of fresh tomatoes, curry, coconut milk, hot peppers and fresh cilantro.

Another afternoon, and I think it actually might have been yesterday, I came home from running some errands so famished that I couldn’t get lunch on the table soon enough.  Fortunately, we had some Quinoa and a can of black beans on hand, as well as some odds and ends like a red onion and a wrinkly jalapeno pepper lying around in the recesses of the fridge, and I was able to quickly put together a version of my favorite cumin spiced black bean and Quinoa salad.  I can’t believe how much of that salad I ate in one sitting.  We had previously been eating a lot of red Quinoa, which I think tastes a lot stronger than white, so when I tucked into that bowl of beautiful delicate white curlicues, I couldn’t stop myself.

A quick Quinoa salad with black beans, cumin, tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno pepper and a citrus dressing.

A quick Quinoa salad with black beans, cumin, tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno pepper and a citrus dressing.

Now Piper is napping and I’ve got to wake Will up, too, for one of his afternoon lessons.  Hoping that all of your weeks are equally memorable.  Let me know of any tasty or unusual meals that you have shared, lately!

Until the next time–W.

For a good (and sweet) New Year.

Yesterday we packed Piper, a loaf of Challah, and a pan of Tzimmes in the car and headed out to my parents house to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown fond of New Year’s traditions, both those ubiquitously celebrated and those observed on a smaller scale.  I love all of the possibility, renewal, and reflection that exists on the cusp of a new year.   Perhaps the realization that there are so many celebrations occurring at different times of the year is a testament to the idea that, surely, in every unfolding moment there also exists the potential for the same qualities that I have come to love and explore in a more focused manner a few times a year.  Growing up with a Jewish father, I do have personal ties to Rosh Hashanah.  It brings me joy to continue this tradition with my family.  During Rosh Hashanah, and during many other new year’s celebrations around the world, the food that we eat is symbolic.  Most of the year, Challah is baked into a straight, braided loaf.  For Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to bake a round loaf representational of the cyclical nature of life and another year to come.  We eat apples dipped in honey in hopes of a sweet year to come.

Wishing those observing L’Shana Tova, and to all of you a day filled with possibility, renewal, and reflection.

Tzimmes for the whole family: carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, and prunes slowly cooked in freshly squeezed orange juice.

Tzimmes for the whole family: carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, and prunes slowly cooked in freshly squeezed orange juice.

Our first round Challah, shaped with Will's help.

Our first round Challah, shaped with Will’s help.

3 Years

Our sweet girl turns three today.  We were all buzzing with energy last night, wrapping presents in leftover Christmas paper for Piper to open this morning during her party.  This morning we woke up earlier than usual; Will snagged a pavilion by the playground and set up decorations, which included a pinata and various Dora the Explorer themed goodies.  I stayed home and prepped food like mad — chocolate ganache, tea sandwiches, guacamole, and a rainbow fruit tray with little vegan marshmallow clouds.  Though outside the wind snuffed out the tiny flicker of birthday candles, and flies swarmed around the food as soon as lids were lifted to grab a nibble, nature could not hold back our joy and celebration.  It felt so good to be among family and friends, and to feel just how much love and support we three (the birthday girl, in particular) have from them.  After the party my sister came around with her four children and we played even more!  Well, they played and we drank instant coffee and put our feet up, watching the beautiful chaos that ensues when you get five cousins together.  After a late lunch, when everyone was beginning to feel a bit tuckered out, we all snuggled up in bed and read Just Say Boo! and Little Goblins Ten.  Now she’s sleeping soundly in our bed.  When she wakes up I’m sure she’ll want to look through her presents quietly, now that everyone is gone.  Plus, there are still two more cards to open… the fun continues :-)

I love you Piper.  You’re getting to be such a big girl now.  You’re developing such an independent spirit, a great sense of humor, a wonderful curiosity and thirst for knowledge and adventure.  Wishing you the happiest of birthdays, that is until the next one!


Mommy and Daddy

Remembering the tale of Vasalisa the Wise

Yesterday, while I swept the kitchen floor, I remembered an old story I studied in college.  Sometime during my junior year, a friend whom I had gotten to know through an alternative healing class and our mutual interest in yoga gifted me his copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves, a collection of “myths and stories of the wild woman archetype.”  I mentioned the title to my professor who was teaching myths and legends at the time, and I can still remember her face light up as though I had come into possession of something very special and important.  She knew the collection well, and encouraged me to study the book on my own.  I soon discovered a story which I would later present on in class, and it is this same story that came back to me the other afternoon while cleaning in the kitchen.  In short, it is the Russian and Baltic folktale of Vasalisa, a young girl whose journey takes her into the woods and brings her face to face with the old hag, Baba Yaga.  Baba Yaga gives the girl a series of impossible tasks at the stake of her life.  Vasalisa, with the help of a doll in her pocket (fashioned after the girl herself), is able to complete each task and return home all the wiser for having discovered her intuition.  Estés writes that this tale “is about infusing human women with Wild Woman’s primary instinctual power, intuition.”  Well, while I was sweeping I thought about young Vasalisa, and how Baba Yaga set her to wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food and separate the spoiled corn from the good corn.  She also orders Vasalisa to separate a mound of dirt and poppy seeds into two separate mounds, one of dirt and one of seeds.  Sometimes when I’m cleaning it begins to feel like an exercise in discernment.  I’m not sure how to explain why.  Maybe in sweeping away the dirt on the floor, I give myself over to clearing a path to see deeper within myself.

Perhaps Estés says it best:

“To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the non-superficial life but to care for its orderliness.  Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and leave its architecture all in a mess till it is taken back by the forest.  Gradually it becomes overgrown and finally becomes a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche.  The cyclical sweeping will prevent this from occurring.  When women have clear space, the wild nature can better thrive.”

Well, the story is only a few pages long but the symbolism and underlying themes warrant careful consideration.  I’ve only just touched on a few bits that resonate with me now, but if you’re at all interested I encourage you to read the story for yourself.  Also, who can resist a good spook this time of year, especially with October just around the corner?  If houses that sit atop scaly chicken legs that sometimes twirl around ecstatically are your thing, or if you’re just plain curious about a fearsome creature that flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar and rows with an oar shaped like a pestle, all the while sweeping away her tracks with a broom made of hair, this one is for you.  (Smirk)

Baba Yaga's Hut by Ivan Bilibin, courtesy

Baba Yaga’s Hut by Ivan Bilibin, courtesy


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