about bliss

Saturday, May 27, 2006

hallelujah milkshakes

I knew I was in an emergency situation when I segued from Coldplay to Jeff Buckley last night. Whenever I slip *Grace* into the CD player and forward to “Hallelujah,” incidentally, track no. 6 (seemingly a poignant and important track position, as many of my fave songs are, oddly enough, located in that self-same spot), I know that I will need some kind of mood intervention or the evening will be lost in brooding and I may start pulling Victorian novels off of my bookshelves and losing myself out on some misty moor. Tonight’s antidote: Plum Sykes’ frothy novel, *The Debutante Divorcees,* and a liqueur laced milkshake concoction. Sykes’ novel reads quickly, and abounds with names and over-the-top excess (I was pleased to see my new fave jeans, paper denim and cloth, mentioned in the book as “rock star-ish”), and the milkshake made me positively giggly with less than one shot total of bailey’s, starbucks coffee liqueur, and kahlua kicking up the splash of organic milk and two scoops of Haagen-Dazs light coffee ice cream (the commercial ice cream with the least “stuff” in it). Yumm, delish. No moors any more, rather sunny beaches and endless holiday weekends...

Monday, May 22, 2006

my daily bread

On a whim, I signed up for a bread class yesterday afternoon, and headed out to Zingy’s bakehouse to learn the secrets of their artisan breads. I stepped into the bakery, and was engulfed with the heat and the yeasty fragrance of a huge room dedicated to bread. A small group of us tied on aprons, stuck on name tags, and poured giant glasses of water before lining up at a wood-topped work table to begin our first lesson on shaping the bread.

I have made bread at home a handful of times, and do make pizza dough regularly, but I’ve never seen bread dough so alive, so gassy, so pliable as the dough we worked with. We learned how to move the bread, how to feel its springiness, how to keep from tearing the bread or not sealing the bottoms.

In between our hands-on dough work, we learned about the history of the bakery and saw the various tools they use to aid in the bread making process, most of which is done by hand, which helps give the breads their artisan qualities.

After a second shaping and proofing, we placed the rounded loaves on the “conveyer,” slashed the tops, and slid them into the giant French ovens. As our loaves rose and baked into golden-crusted goodness, we tasted other varieties of breads, from Potato Dill to Sesame Semolina.

And finally, the piece de resistance: we were invited to select a variety of loaves to take home. Since our class was so small, each of us went home with two huge brown-paper bags filled with bread...around 20 loaves in all! I was giddy with Christmas morning excitement. The beautiful baguettes and free-form loaves were mine to enjoy! I loaded them into my car, and drove off with the scent of fresh baked bread saturating the air I breathed.

I decided to stop at Zingy’s deli to buy some cheese to enjoy with my breads--a chunk of 5 year aged Vermont cheddar, and a round of fresh mozzarella. I bought a Vanilla Latte (with authentic Mexican vanilla!) and a dangerously hedonistic sugar crisp muffin, aka “donut muffin” to enjoy on my drive home...

Once home, I selected the French baguette as my bread du jour, as it doesn’t keep as well as the other multifarious loaves. I sliced the baguette, toasted the rounds, rubbed them with garlic. I sauteed farmer’s market spinach with balsamic vinegar, roasted red peppers, whirled together a white bean pate, sliced my mozarella, and cooked a quick tomato, garlic, basil topping. I poured a generous glass of Pinot Noir, and enjoyed a plate of small bites, placing them together in endless combinations. Delicious!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

post-prandial ponderings

I’m quite fond of the post-prandial stroll, both as a phrase--doesn’t it have an exquisite sound?--and as an activity. I recently read that walking after dinner can aid digestion, which is an added bonus. I find it a nice respite from cleaning up the kitchen immediately, and as a lovely way to enjoy the day as it slips softly into night. Last night the sidewalk was filled with a skateboarder; a teenaged girl alternately reading a book and chatting on her cellphone, all while walking in a straight, if slow path; and a woman pushing a bay in a doublewide pram, the baby’s white-blond hair floating up in the breeze, his face displaying a smile of pure joy.

I’m re-reading Edith Wharton’s novel *The Glimpses of the Moon* in preparation for writing an article about this often overlooked and undervalued book. Some critics (mostly those writing several decades ago) only mention the novel as a poor imitation of *The House of Mirth,* as evidence to Wharton’s slipping literary gift. However, the novel strikes me as an attempt by Wharton to write a love story--one in which the lovers are actually together at the end of the book, something she denies most couples in other novels. So I’m mulling ideas in my head, and enjoying the second reading of the novel, which is filled with curious, and what I like to call flirtatious punctuation (lots of suggestive ellipses, for example). Today’s primary task is to finish the re-read and make some more notes, to decide if I’m going to pair the novel with something else...Fitzgerald, perhaps? So many questions and possibilities at this moment!

Tried to post this repeatedly throughout the day, but alas, the blogger system was super slow.

Tonight I took a post-vino stroll. I met my friend K. at a local foodie joint for a glass of wine and an appetizer, and I ordered two taste sizes of wine...except that the kind bartender emptied the bottle and basically gave me a full glass on my second taste. And, as those of you who know me well know, I can't hold more than one glass of wine without becoming silly or sentimental or some other adjective that begins with the letter "s." When K. left I decided to walk to the grocery store to purchase eggs to make banana muffins (my bananas can't wait another day) and delicate cupcakes for mother's day. It's a lovely evening, warm-ish and a bit overcast, and I loved the idea of being able to walk to the store...

I've been thinking a lot about sustainable food choices since I read Michael Pollan's blog in the NYT yesterday, and feeling strongly about "voting with our forks," as it were. That is, making our food decisions count politically. And somehow, in my current red-wine laced state of mind (very much different than a red-state state of mind:), walking to the grocery store fits into this as well...moreso as I just read an article in Sierra magazing about how much fossil fuel is hidden in our meals--not in the food itself, but in the growth and transportation involved to move the food from farm to table. So walking to the store seems a small step in changing my consumption patterns, at least.

I'm afraid I may get a bit self-righteous about this issue if I'm not careful...

On a lighter note, while K. was using the restroom at the restaurant, I was thumbing through a magazine on the bar, which showcases various local food stars, including the pioneer of a local preserve company, who has created quite a little empire out of some delicious and simple treats. I met this man's son last year and literally fell into some kind of foodie infatuation that still lurks in the back of my mind today. We had a lovely chat about chocolate. Ahhh.....maybe we'll meet again at another fancy food event...

Monday, May 08, 2006

literary leisure

I’m adjusting to the changing pace of “summer mode,” one of the glories of being an educator...Many outside of academe tease us of our leisurely days, especially our summers, and I suppose there’s some truth to that luxury of leisure. I like to think of this leisure as an exchange for the higher salaries of those in the 9-5 (or, in the case of corporate aspirants, much longer) workaday world. Given the choice, I think I would remain here, with less material wealth but more time to live the lifestyle that best suits me.

My ideal mornings involve a healthy breakfast of oatmeal, with cinnamon, pecans, and brown sugar to refuel my body, paired with perhaps a slice of buttered whole wheat toast and orange juice (Tropicana pure premium). Then it’s time to transition into writing, accompanied by a mug of strong coffee laced with a hint of sugar and cream.

My goal is to write in the mornings--to write in my journal as always, but also to keep this blog updated regularly. And then to work on my novel and/or my scholarly article, followed by a run, yoga program, or a trip to the gym. Slowly, my mind will work its way towards lunch, and the afternoon, ready to fill with more quiet literary work...and the day unfolds as such.

Yesterday was my first real “summer mode” day and I was quiet pleased with my quiet accomplishments. I also ate a few delicious meals, using my farmer’s market bounty as well as some bold new ideas. I made a roasted garlic parm risotto for dinner, accompanied with roasted asparagus, sauteed spinach, and a simple salad of baby lettuces, balsamic vinaigrette, and croutons made from Zingy’s paesano bread. A glass of Sancerre rounded out the meal. For dessert, I finished off the vanilla ice milk I made for L’s graduation celebration last week. I “roasted” some fresh pineapple, coated with brown sugar that just began to caramelize, and toasted coconut flakes. I placed both on the ice milk and then sprinkled the dish with a bit of Maker’s Mark bourbon. Definitely something to share with friends at some meal in the future. A bit tropical /exotic, a lot tasty, somewhat healthful, and simply delicious.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

spring, moths, and zen

I stare outside the window of my study to witness a world dressed in my favorite colors: pink and green. An errant breeze sends up clouds of pine pollen and causes pink petals to dance through the air, landing at the foot of the crab apple tree from whence they came. Spring has arrived!

Yesterday was the first farmer’s market day of the 2006 season, and what a joy to see everyone familiar, back in their places, with gorgeous greens and plants and asparagus (it’s still early for anything more ambitious to be locally grown). I bought a bag of spinach, a bag of mixed lettuces, a bundle of asparagus, and a small bag of edible violets to grace birthday cupcakes. I may try my hand at sugaring the rest--a time consuming task made possible by the end of the spring semester and a temporary reprieve from reading student essays, hoorah! For tonight, I plan a feast of parm regg risotto, roasted asparagus, sauteed spinach, and a simple green salad. A glass of Sancerre...but back to the market...

My eyes filled with tears as I drove home, so happy to begin the season of fresh produce and letting my culinary forays be driven by what I find at the market. I feel on the verge of the best of Michigan--the gorgeous and temperate spring and summer months.

I then met best friends S and H at Zingy’s for breakfast, where I also stocked up on coffee (their house blend this time), parm regg, and the treat of fresh mozzarella (which I just enjoyed on a homemade rustic pizza). Then S and I journeyed on to Birmingham, where I whiled away the afternoon reading and writing while S was at a party. We hit Trader Joe’s on the way home and I picked up a dark chocolate Toblerone (yummmmmm), a bottle of $6 Bordeaux (eat your heart out, Robert Parker!), San Pellegrino, and some French Sea Salt for the bargain price of $3.99 for 15 oz.!

Today I went running at the park, and was transfixed by the transformation. The last time I ran there was at least a month ago, and though the swamps were alive with frog song, the park was still garbed in late winter. Today, the forest was awash with green plants and small wild violets, and the path was alive with all manner of moths and gnats, which danced in front of me. I was transported back in time by the profusion of periwinkle moths--dainty little things that sat on the path, swirling up as I ran by...

And suddenly I was back at 12 Mile Creek, sitting on a boulder in the middle of a stream, for one of the few times in my life alive to the particular moment: the gurgle of water as it passed over rocks, the quiet presence of my friends reading and writing whilst perched on their rocks up and downstream from me. That day we hiked around a quiet forest on the edge of the Smoky Mountains, and everywhere, huge clouds of these same moths would fly up and flit around us as we wound our way down trails and across streams...

And today I called back that moment and felt that sense of bittersweetness for a moment so preserved in memory and yet lost in time, and I was also wondering why, try as I might, it’s difficult to remain in the moment as it evolves, to not see a periwinkle moth and be back somewhere in the North Carolina woods. I though of Proust (who I’ve never actually read) and his famous madelaines, about the power of sensation to evoke memory. Perhaps there’s something to being a writer that makes it difficult to stay in the now, I thought, when suddenly one of these moths flew into my mouth!

And suddenly, I was in the moment, coughing and swallowing that poor moth...

Zen...for a moment....

Until I started thinking about how I’m a vegetarian (albeit one who flirts with pork) and moths are definitely not vegetable...And suddenly the Jains, with their masks in front of their mouths and noses make even more sense...