about bliss

Friday, June 29, 2007

retro photo dharmagirl

As you can see from the camera I'm using in this photo, I'm still old school. Retro. Non-digital. Hence the text-only blogging thus far. I love the food, flower, and place photos in other blogs, so I'm--gasp--researching digital cameras. To purchase. Sometimes, even the best text cannot convey the visceral emotion of a photo.

caprese and affogato

A perfect salad consists of a balance of flavors and textures, a sense of proportion, and a delight of architectural aesthetics. I can name only a handful of salads that have come close to achieving my Platonic Ideal of salad:

1. A summer salad of bibb lettuce, fresh cherries, and some other ingredients I can't quite now recall, since I ate the salad last year. What I most remember about this salad is how perfectly it was dressed--the vinaigrette clung to the leaves and none pooled on the plate. That takes talent. Place: Trattoria Stella in Traverse City, MI. A slow food restaurant located in an old mental hospital...

2. Caprese salad of baby greens, grape tomatoes, mini fresh mozzarella balls (I know there's an Italian word for these but it escapes my mind this morning...), roasted red peppers, pesto, balsamic glaze, and parmesan frico. Not your classic caprese, and with such an array of ingredients the salad could devolve into confusion. But. The flavors were perfectly balanced. What a lovely treat. Place: Courthouse Pub in Manitowoc, WI.A super restaurant where the Chef walks around and checks on diners. A Wine Spectator Award of Excellence recipient. I had a glass of Crios Torrontes, a wonderful fresh, floral, complex, refreshing springy wine I bought for Easter dinner this year from Ed, the dreamy wine guy from Simply Wine in Birmingham, MI.

Last night I enjoyed my first Affogato ("drowned"), in this case vanilla ice cream drowned with espresso. Good espresso--creamy, smooth, rich, and complex. None of those sharp, jangly edges that can come from poorly prepared espresso. Imagine the possibilities--cinnamon ice milk with espresso. Or coffee ice cream with espresso for a jolt of pure energy...as it was, the caffeine kept me awake on my drive home from Ann Arbor. Fireflies flitted over the expressway and congregated in the ditches to share their joissance...ahhh, summer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

field to fork

One of the most exciting finds from my Wisconsin trip is a restaurant/gourmet shop/foodie gem in downtown Sheboygan. After a day filled with frustration, tears, annoying calls from a quasi-stalker potential landlord, and a decision on a cute apartment a few blocks from Lake Michigan (not owned by aforementioned landlord), Mom and I drove down the coast to Sheboygan for lunch. I had seen an ad for Field to Fork in a brochure at a local coffee shop (more on that crazy place later), and hoped that the food, ambience, and grocery would be as wonderful as I imagined.

High expectations can be dangerous, and many, many a time this tendency of mine towards grand visions has ended in serious disappointment. I am, therefore, elated to report that Field to Fork exceeded my expectations. The restaurant has wide, old, knotty wood floors, an open grill, a handful of tables on the ground floor and an open loft with more seating. Our waiter was bubbly and kind, and the food! The food was delicious and well/ethically sourced. The philosophy of the place is to use local, sustainable foods where possible, but not to exclude other delectable gems from around the world (like the San marzano tomatoes in my Ceci bean soup). The grilled cheese feature Wisconsin cheeses, of course, and was a real treat grilled in butter (unlike the more healthful olive oil I use at home).

I ate a few bites of my soup (ceci beans--like garbanzo?, tomatoes, rosemary pesto) and felt the jangly edges of new beginnings and uncried tears soothed by the comfort of good food. I envisioned Saturday mornings spent driving down to Sheboygan for yoga classes, a delicious lunch at F2F, a quick shopping trip from their gracious cases (they have milk in glass bottles! and Italian pastas! and San marzano tomatoes!), and then meandering back up the lakeshore to settle in with a stack of student papers...okay, there is where my dreamy fantasy breaks down when faced with prosaic reality.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

hot child in the city, er, country

I'm sitting in the air conditioned comfort of the Herrick Public Library in Holland, while outside hazy skies and escalating temperatures reign. Lake Michigan beckons with the promise of refreshing waves (well, since there's little breeze, the waves might be a bit hyperbolic, but a girl can hope)...which is why I'm still hanging out with my family and not boiling away in my limited AC apartment. I purposely left my laptop at home so I WOULDN'T hang out here, but you can see how well that strategy worked. And now I'm experiencing blogging and emailing withdrawal...with SO many stories from my Wisconsin journey to chronicle, and so many cliff hangers on other blogs, limited computer access is a serious inconvenience. So I'll give you a little preview, a little tease for entries to come (forgive my lapse from parallel structure--my free internet time is about expired): **list has been edited because the lack of parallel structure ruins the list, or so saith dharmagirl now that she's reunited with her trusty iBook**

1. My new home is cozy, charming, and located blocks from Lake Michigan
2. My new colleagues are wonderful--funny, kind, smart, and sociable
3. The drive through Chicago is helacious
4. The ubiquity of football helmet bars (Badgers and Packers) in my new town is humorous and frightening
5. The outlet shopping possibilities between MI and WI are amazing...and amazingly dangerous:)
6. The great foodie mecca Field to Fork in Sheboygan promises many a fine degustation
7. Good coffee and wine abound in my corner of WI
8. My new office is posh and non-institutional (a crucial distinction from the office I've recently vacated)
9. Phantom Deer cause much consternation and jubilation at 1:00am in Berrien County, MI
10.My Lady of Leisure Days are drawing to a close as packing, partying, and preparing shape my next four weeks

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

berried bliss

... a recipe to celebrate the eve of the summer solstice...

WASH and pat dry fresh, local strawberries at the height of ripeness...
MELT, in a small saucepan, over low heat, chocolate (any combination will do. I used a handful of ghiradelli dark chocolate chips and a smidgen of an *insane* 99% michel cluizel bar)...
POUR melted chocolate in a small bowl...
DIP berries into chocolate and savor while looking out the window at the fireflies cavorting in the blue-black night, which will likely cause the chocolate to drip all over the place, but pay no attention...
FORAGE other tasty morsels, like whole raw almonds or organic pretzel sticks to twirl in the cooling chocolate when strawberries are gone...
SMILE. FORGET that you're supposed to be reading Pierre Bourdieu, and instead rest up for the longest day of the year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Happy Birthday to my Dad! I listened to Rascal Flatts' "My Wish" in his honor (he gave my brother and me the CD last fall because that song made him think of us, so sweet). It's an apt song for a time of transition...

Thanks to Laura's encouraging words and a long walk today when all I could write was page after page of dialogue (do these people never shut up?!?), I have developed a narrative structure to allow for the characters' place-based po-mo fluidity. Scarily enough, it involves drawing on some po-mo theory of identity/subjectivity/narrative...which will work wonderfully with a *surprise* meta-narrative device that fell into the story last week. And, Lily's (heroine) Mom happens to be a professor, so this structure can work into the existing character pool and plot...now, if I can only correctly remember the aforementioned po-mo theory from my grad school days when it was de rigueur...

Last night I cooked my first meal of the season using exclusively local produce! Well, not local by locavore standards, but from the greater Holland area where I bought my fruits and veggies at the outstanding farmer's market. I'm reading *The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter* by Peter Singer and Jim Mason and thinking about the many implications, personal and political (which are inseperable, yes?), of what we choose to consume. I'll have a whole post on that soon enough. Anyway, the book is as transformative a read as Michael Pollan's *The Omnivore's Dilemma* was last year. Whereas Pollan made me more emotionally connected, Singer and Mason engage a much more complex, analytical perspective. They resist simple platitudes, like the "local, sustainable, organic" mantra, by exploring the multi-faceted ethical quandries such decisions pose.

Finally, my excitement grows for my scouting trip to WI this weekend. Serendipitously, my future colleagues are having a party so I'll have a chance to meet everyone again, this time without the pressure of an 11 hour interview. Yes, 11 hours. (I hope to convince my PhD Friends to blog with me about the insane rigors of The Academic Job Search, in which the full story of that day might be revealed, but I'm afraid our potential blogging will get bogged down in the act of naming. I'm fond of MLAgirl, but know that would only engender a discussion of girl v. woman v. womyn v. grrrl. I miss such debates!)

Monday, June 18, 2007

50 K

No, this isn't some insanely long race I'm training for, but rather the phenomenal news that I've *finally* crossed the 50,000 word count on my RN! Hoorah! I'm fully aware that it's rather arbitrary, and a mark of quantity rather than quality, but I'm pleased just the same.

The weekend was full of family--graduation party for 2 cousins and father's day celebrations. I'll miss my family dearly when I move across the Lake, a move that's becoming more real with every passing day and every packed box. I rented my moving truck today...and will (hopefully) find a new home when I visit WI this weekend.

Strawberries continue to feature prominently in my daily cuisine. Now I can add cherries, sugar peas, and summer squashes to the list of available local foods! Hoorah again! I know I'll be tired of the squashes in a month, but for now, they're a lovely new addition to my meals.

Friday, June 15, 2007

post-modern romance hero?

Thanks to Laura for her kind post to my "Lady of Leisure" musings. I read her book *Blame It on Paris* (loved it--I highly recommend it. The scene with her French beau and her brother shooting in the Georgia woods is hilarious, as is the scene with her friend "sampling" chocolates in a Paris chocolate boutique...I could go on, but I'll let you discover the book for yourself). Then, I wanted to find out more info on book and author, found her blog, and here we are. I love how this technology expands the words on the page into another world where writers and readers can connect and find a community of kindred spirits:)

I've been working on my RN, and I'm almost to that elusive 50,000 word count. Now, the story has all kinds of problems, mainly that it's episodic and the plot elements need real attention. Maybe this is my narrative style: create interesting characters, place them in geographical locations I love and know, allow them endless witty repartee, include minute details of desserts and clothing, throw in a little "yadda yadda yadda," and repeat...

Recently I read about the value of "flow"--that is, losing oneself in an enjoyable activity. And it had been a long time since I experienced writing "flow," but I did the other night when I decided it was time to take Lily, the RN heroine, to Alabama, where Sam, the hero, is originally from...I conjured up some of my favorite places, tried to remember the name of roads, and thought about a Yankee's first impression of the Deep South, which took me back ten years ago (!) to the hot September when I moved to Alabama.

An interesting thing happened to my characters, especially Sam. He changed into such a different person, because of the place and because of his family, it was rather uncanny. I want to keep this mulit-faceted aspect of his character, but how to make it ring true and not inconsistent?

And the academic side of me starts wondering how to write characters who represent post-modern fluidity in the romance genre, which hearkens back to more sentimental models of writing in which characters have a stable core...blah blah blah. If I somehow manage to pull this off I will be very proud:)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

home is where the food is

The strawberry tart....mmmmm. Crispy, buttery, crumbly crust. Sweet, thick jam. Lush berries. Tangy creme fraiche. What's not to love?

I'm working on a scholarly article on Amanda Hesser's *Cooking for Mr. Latte* and did a little googling last night to see what a range of readers had to say about the book. People can be really mean! I found a forum on Chowhound that summarily dismissed the column and book because of unnecessary romantic details. Now, I never read the column, but the book clearly states in the full title (Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes) that this is going to be a tale of courtship. How could one have a courtship story w/o love details? And then some of the romance readers diss the book's emphasis on food, which they think detracts from the love story. I throw up my hands in frustration for Hesser...but for my argument (that the book is creating a new hybrid genre), these vehement reactions work beautifully.

Food, love. All about coming home to oneself, to another.

Writing has become more difficult, as I'm trying to take my moving preparations more seriously. The chaos of books and bags of paper to be hauled to the recycling center are cluttering my physical and psychic space. Yesterday I finally finished paring down my foodie magazine collection--years of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food and Wine, a few scattered Martha Stewart Living, Cooking Light, and Vegetarian Times added to the mix. I flipped through the magazines, tearing out recipes that made me want to head to the kitchen, and dumping the rest of the magazine in the increasing pyramid of printed material to recycle. Eight trips up and down the stairs, my G6 is filled with food writing...and my home is a little less chaotic, if less filled with myriad food possibilities.

And then there's the mental distraction of not having a home in WI yet. I've called a few places and have a least one solid lead, but now I need to go see it in person. Next week! I'm trying to decide whether to go a bit cheaper to allow me to save more $ to buy a place of my own sooner. Somehow that seems more responsible and grown up, which is both heartening and a little scary. I've started dreaming of my ideal home, and my dreams always begin with the kitchen...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

of tarts and liquor

Today's my favorite kind of Saturday--slow, sleepy, and filled with sensual delights of food! The farmer's market was bustling with beautiful greens and herbs and berries today. I bought baby swiss chard, spinach, spring onions, lemon thyme, tarragon, asparagus, and more strawberries (My Mom brought me some berries from my fave berry farm yesterday).

I'm making a new strawberry tart...it's from my favorite baking book *Baking: From My Home to Yours* by Dorie Greenspan. It's based on a tart from La Palette, a Parisian Cafe. The tart is utterly simple and looks delicious--will let you know tomorrow! The crust is a sweet, shortbread-esque pate sucre. You bake the crust, and when ready to serve, spread with the best strawberry jam (I made a quick jam for this purpose), topped with halved and lightly sugared strawberries, touch with freshly ground black pepper (!) and creme fraiche.

Today I also completed the next step of my homemade limoncello...I added the sugar syrup, strained out the zest, and stuck it in the freezer for a month. I can't wait to check it out in the beginning of July.

My friend N. called this morning to swap strawberry recipes--which are amazingly in season both in Oregon where she lives and here in Michigan. And then my friend L. called, who I haven't talked to since before Christmas. What a lovely time to catch up and feel connected with my college friends.

Friday, June 08, 2007


It's humid here in Michigan and my old window AC unit circa 1970 just can't keep up. Yesterday I escaped to the movies and saw *Waitress.* I could quibble with some of the characters' cliched tendencies, but I loved the film. The pies are magnificent--and I loved how they became a character and a presence all of their own. The glistening chocolate, the bursting-ripe fruit...delicious. And I loved the idea that food showcases creativity, provides comfort, and functions as a barometer for others' characters...how someone reacts to a gift of home cooked dessert says something about their personality, values, passions...

As for me, I love that quiet that can descend when blissfully lost in something delicious...the unself-conscious smiles of pleasure speak more than words:)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

lady of leisure

So my friends and I like to joke about being "ladies of leisure" during the summer months when we're not teaching. Of course, I don't really feel like a lady of leisure--champagne laced luncheons with other LoL, meetings with a hunky personal trainer, and eating bonbons freely whilst wearing a peignor are not part of my days.

But. Maybe I'm just living the LoL life at a quieter level. Each day features three "hot" meals and several delicious snacks that I have the liberty of preparing at will, one or two walks a day, at least a few minutes of yoga/stretching a day, and my zingy's coffee and bits of chocolate from my secret stash.

It's restorative to have this time to explore side projects--whether the dreaded scholarly articles, fun novels, and non-fiction pieces...and to read and write with a calmer pace and with a more personal compass. I'm not constantly thinking of how everything I read and write relates to the classroom. But yet the work I do in the summer does make me a better teacher. As I struggle to write and find my voice everyday, working on such disparate projects, I can better empathize with the student who gets stuck and doesn't know where to go...I read works that I'll never teach but may be able to recommend to students seeking to expand their reading...

And so I suppose this is a justification of my current status as lady of purposeful leisure...

My chocolates await:)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

afraid for the fraise and pondering the francophiles...

June begins with relentless rain...and thunderous storms. I have to be in just the right mood to enjoy a storm, and I haven't been this storm season. The roaring thunder and sharp cracks of lightening simultaneously shrink my sense of self and magnify the capaciousness of the universe. I can appreciate this from a spiritual perspective, but ahhh, such daily reminders can become too much.

And during the storm, besides thinking of my smallness in relation to everything else, all I could think about were strawberries, becoming waterlogged and floating on pools of standing water around their beds. In my defense, I was reading *Alice Waters and Chez Panisse* and so the significance of food was further magnified...if "how we eat can change the world," as Waters says, and what we most want to eat at a given moment (my Michigan strawberries) is in danger, perhaps you can sense my despair.

I skimmed a bit of Pierre Bourdieu's *Distinction* today...interesting ideas about our relationship to consumption and culture and how our notions of taste are intertwined with qualities like education and class. But then I start the same train of thought...why are literary scholars turning towards French philosophers and sociologists time and again to explain American Lit? I'm not saying this isn't a valuable theoretical enterprise BUT I do think it can become rote and meaningless. I'm not anti-theory, but I wonder why there's a need to justify literature with other disciplines...I do know many of the reasons why, but sometimes I just want to read and have my own theoretical take on a work of art, without qualifying or legitimizing my own views with those of someone else.

And this French influence connects with the Chez Panisse story too, the deep links to French cuisine and culture that inspired Waters and so many of the chefs who have cooked at CP...what is it about the French aesthetic that becomes so seductive to so many of the writers, foodies, and idealists I encounter? I think it largely is that attention to aesthetics as an important component in and of itself, not aesthetics in the service of say, capitalism, but an attention to beauty for it's own sake. Idealistic, yes. Elitist, maybe. Pragmatic, not necessarily.

And I love this aesthetic orientation to life. Even if--and perhaps because--life is suffering, as the Buddhists proclaim, why not combat and dispel this suffering with a heady does of beauty? Recognizing, of course, the fleeting nature of beauty in its material manifestions...those poor water-sodden *fraise* and my favorite peonies, bent to the ground, petals dragging in the dirt...the beauty enhanced by its very transience...

And I can't seem to escape philosophizing and qualifying today. Perhaps it's a good day to work on my scholarly article after all:)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

strawberries, peonies, and *manhunting*

Hoorah! It's strawberry and peony season! Yesterday I delighted in the first plush berries of the season. I made a "grown up" strawberry shortcake, following a recipe from the current issue of Bon Appetit, which features chocolate biscuits, strawberries touched with sugar and cointreau, and an ersatz creme fraiche topping. Wow. The rich fullness of chocolate pairs well with sweet berries and tangy cream.

And peonies, my favorite flowers, are falling over everywhere due to intermitten rain showers. I bought two stems of flowers and scattered them around my apartment. I love their lush fullness and how I can watch the progress of a blossom over an afternoon.

When I marry, it will be in early June, just to include these two lovely favorites. Of course, early June in Michigan isn't the best time for a beach wedding, but practicality be damned!

And, as for *manhunting,* I'm referring to the Jennifer Crusie novel, which I read Friday and loved. I believe it was her first novel, and it showcases classic Crusie traits--smart, snappy, quick dialog; a smart, strong heroine; and a sexy hero who tries his damndest to stay detached, but of course can't. Love it!

Now I'm avoiding Pierre Bourdieu's *Distinction* in favor of a book on Alice Waters and Chez Panisse that's making me nod vehemently with nearly every sentence.

Today I'm off to Zingy's with S and H...yumm!