about bliss

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

daily bliss: NaBloPoMo, finis

image from Jim Nugent

I keep writing sentences to begin this blog entry, but they're all cliches, so away they go with a few strokes of my delete key...

I want to say that the month of June simultaneously flew and expanded, if that's even possible...

And it's partially chronicled here in my 33 June entries for NaBloPoMo, a wonderful exercise in mindfulness and discipline. An exercise that will likely spill over into the coming months as I've become accustomed to writing in this little text box at some point every day...

Whether brief entries written in under 10 minutes, posts co-written, or those longer, carefully crafted pieces that took more than two hours to write on quiet evenings and afternoons, I'm proud of them all.

In a moment of uncharacteristic scientificness, I catalogued said posts to catch the core of my blog. Some posts were difficult to categorize, and some categories clearly overlap:

Experience 12
Food 8
Reflection 6
Observation 2
Poetry 2
Miscellaneous 3

I like to think that all entries provide food for thought, a little window looking both inward and outward, and a brief moment of connection between writer, reader, and content. I (rhetor) thank you (audience) for helping me find and create meaning (purpose) on this little corner of the interwebs. Merci!

twd: perfect party cake, fresh berry variation

first attempt: june 2008

I first made this cake last year. And was absolutely smitten. My friends and I made quick work of the four layer nine inch cake, and I dreamed about the light layers, silky frosting, and layered berryness through a long, endless winter.

Imagine my delight when I read that Carol, of mix, mix...stir, stir selected the cake for our TWD baking group right at the beginning of local berry season. Positively providential, I say.

Berry bliss. Cake elation.

This time around, I made a full recipe, but divided the batter into two six inch layers and 8 or 9 cupcakes for two reasons:
1. Dessert control: berry season means shortcake and tarts and cakes and ice cream, and I kinda need to *not* eat such rich goodies more than once a day.

2. The great Dorie vs. Martha showdown: simple white cupcakes by each baking guru. Which are simplest to make *and* the most delicious to eat? I stowed Dorie's cupcakes in the freezer until the day in the future when I make Martha's version.

With a bevy of berries at my disposal, I planned to make the fresh berry version, which involves jam *and* a layer of fresh, sliced berries sandwiched between cake and frosting.

My baking began on Monday evening, when I made the cake layers, wrapped them tightly, and placed them in the freezer. On Wednesday night I made the jam, a quick berry and sugar jumble cooked until just thickened and then brightened with a splash of lemon juice. I was pleased with my forethought.

Late Thursday afternoon I removed the layers from the freezer and set about making the frosting. As I skimmed the recipe numbers jumped out at me, and I slowly remembered the time this frosting takes to prepare--a good 20 minutes. I glanced at the clock. I still needed to make and eat dinner, tidy up myself and my house, all before heading out to my colleagues' softball game. Not to mention assembling the entire cake. It was going to be tight. And then my brother L called after a week's silence and we chatted and my time window narrowed...

naked cake

Before we left for the game, I opened up the fridge so G could gaze upon the cake and (hopefully) declare it impressive and/or cute. (he did).

how cute am i?!?

And then, after watching my colleagues soar to softball victory on a balmy, perfect summer night, we set about eating the cake, to celebrate birthdays and Summers of Fun. Well, after the photo shoot, that is.

before we can eat cake, i must first make a photo (or two or five)

This baking/blogging business has a habit of both delaying the pleasure of eating and putting people on the spot.

"What do you think? How would you describe this cake?" I quizzed G.

"It's really very nice and good."

And, days later, when asked for a follow-up comment, "It was so strawberry-y."

And, truth be told, this cake is very berry. Deceptively light, with just the right level of sweetness. The silky frosting wants to melt in your mouth, and the lemon scented cake floats away on a cloud of creme fraiche filling. But above it all is that definite strawberry-y-ness. The sweetness. The berry goodness.

The cake is gone, only a memory, but a delicious, happy, sweet one at that.

Monday, June 29, 2009

daily bliss: summer fashion

Summer is my favorite time of year for clothing:

Floaty dresses. Mini-skirts. Super soft knit tees and tanks. White linen pants. Beachy hair. Hats. Straw handbags. Sandals. Flip-flops. Bright pink toenails. Sunscreen. Lip gloss.

As a sometimes follower of fashion trends, I noticed--with horror--that Summer fashions were skewing towards maxi dresses and skirts. Tiered prairie skirts. Voluminous shirts (read: looks like maternity wear even if the wearer is most decidedly not preggers). Gladiator sandals. To quote G (out of context), "ACK! GAH!"

A trip to TJMaxx with B last week revealed ever more fashion abominations, namely a strapless polyester jumpsuit, complete with a matching poly fringe trimmed belt. (which could, the tag proudly proclaimed, be converted into pants.)

(in the interest of "research," i tried on the aforementioned monstrosity...B and I laughed so hard we could no longer hear the strains of Miley Cyrus filtering into the dressing room.)

This past weekend I set out to chronicle the up-to-the-minute real life fashions of everyday people attending Summerfest in Milwaukee. I saw many a maxi dress and skirt, some so long they trailed on the dirty pavement. I saw many gladiator sandals. I saw quite a few dresses worn over capri leggings. These trend-followers, a minority, were scattered throughout crowds of eclectic sartorial display.

Among the delights:
* An older man sporting a bright purple mesh tank top (non-ironically)
* A youngish woman wearing a micro bejangled and bespangled belly dancing skirt
* Several elementary school aged kids with faces painted for the KISS concert ("Daddy, why are you painting my face? It isn't Halloween!")
* A young woman wearing white patent leather go-go boots, black and white horizontal striped tights, a tiny shiny white mini skirt, and a black pleather vest

Above all, the most popular item of clothing was the quippy-phrase-tee-shirt:
* Pain is weakness leaving the body
* Real Women Drink Miller Lite
* You can't drink beer all day...if you don't start drinking in the morning
* Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happy Hour
* I like Beer
* Beer is Good
* Made in Wisconsin

(and, yes, i did keep my little notebook and pen handy to write down such sayings, with the help of my companions:)

And as for me? I may not have been the trendiest or best-dressed Summerfest attendee, but for the two days I wore summer clothes that made me happy:

Floaty dress. Sandals. Shorts. Layered tank and dressy tee. Straw bag. Pink toenails. Sunscreen. Lip gloss. Blissful smile.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

daily bliss: summerfest

bands beers books and bliss
summerfest in Milwaukee
let's stay one more day

(co-written with ggg)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

daily bliss: summer scrapes

There was always that moment during childhood summers when my bike would tumble sideways, spilling me on to the bumpy road, gravel digging into my knees. I'd ride the rest of the way home, with the ache and sting of the burn and scrape accelerating my pace.

This morning on the return one mile walk from my one mile jog, I gazed out at the lake, watching the sea gulls dip to the water for fish. Suddenly my foot twisted, as I stepped on the elevated ledge where the paved trail meets grass. I somehow wound up on the asphalt trail facing the opposite direction, having performed some crazy contortions to protect myself from the fall. I sat there for a moment, dazed. I glanced at my knees--scraped. Palms--slightly gravel burned, with a tiny bruise already forming. I rolled my ankles--no damage from the twist.

I stood up, turned around, smiled at the other walker who stopped to see if I was okay, and felt a little like a kid again, with the summer scars to prove a life lived fully, a life spent outdoors engaging with the real world. I walked home, my palms stinging, my knee bleeding, the sun still shining.

Friday, June 26, 2009

daily bliss: fireflies

A soft summer night...

Working in the garden as the sun settles behind the trees, out over the river. Fixing big salads with fresh garden greens, slicing local cheese and bakery bread. Pouring glasses of wine and beer. Listening to eight year old V's silly, smart stories, and feeling flattered that she wants to sit next to me. Eating and chatting and laughing into the darkness. Cutting slices of cake. Watching sphinx moths and the first firefly of the season flit around the table, searching for something. Turning the highbeams on as I drive home in the inky night, under the panoply of stars. Sipping green tea before I fall asleep, preparing for another day of fabulous summer fun...

daily bliss: my very first blog award

My friend and fellow blogger Revisionista so kindly awarded me the "one lovely blog award" two weeks ago and I haven't posted the award or the requisite six things that made me happy today list that accompanies the award...because I couldn't figure out how to transfer the award image to my blog. Yesterday I managed to work a little magic, and here it is--the image--and here they are--my six happy makers (from yesterday:)

1. A good night's sleep, finally. Central air really helps, as does a dark, dark bedroom and freshly laundered sheets.

2. A productive morning: 4 sun salutations, 2 morning pages, 1 blog entry, a 7 mile bike ride, a few emails and tweets and DMs, and some novel-writing thinking, all before noon.

3. Wearing my new super soft tank from the Target boutique ($8.99 brings so, so much happiness).

4. Eating strawberry shortcake for breakfast and Perfect Party Cake for a late night snack.

5. Listening to the new Regina Spektor album, which I downloaded from itunes after listening to her interview on NPR this morning.

6. Spending time (f2f, online, etc.) with all the good, kind, swell people in my life.

Thanks again, Revisionista, for this special award. Your blog is one of the loveliest on the interwebs:) Here are a few other blogs that I think are just lovely (pretty, funny, reflective, and delicious):

Wishokie of Midwest Magnolia
Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs
Cathy of The Tortefeasor
Wendy of PinkStripes
MacDuff of Lonely Sidecar
Teanna of Spork or Foon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

daily bliss: strawberry shortcake

A classy tart of buttery crisp pastry, thick jam, and fresh sliced berries topped with whipped cream.

A light lemon scented white cake layered with jam and buttercream and whipped cream.

Fancy-ish. Special occasion-ish. (even if said special occasion is a warm Friday afternoon in June, with your favorite song playing in the background, and a few friends hanging around).

Strawberry shortcake is rustic in comparison, at least the way my Mom and I make it. A quick, simple biscuit-like cake, topped with sugar-laced sliced berries, and a soft mound of whipped cream. It's a treat fit for a late night snack in bed or an early morning breakfast on the deck. Or both.

Strawberry Shortcake
1 cup all purpose white unbleached flour
1 cup white whole wheat or whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold, and cut into small pieces
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan.

Mix together dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Blend in butter using a pastry cutter or your fingers (my method of choice), until the mixture resembles course meal (like pastry). Add the milk and stir until just blended. Pat the dough into the prepared pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden on the top.

Cool slightly, cut into wedges, split, cover with berries and whipped cream.

Slice fresh, local strawberries and cover with sugar to bring out their juices and add to their sweetness. Add a hint of citrus juice if you'd like to brighten the flavors. Ideally, allow the berries to chill for 20 minutes or so.

whipped cream:
heavy cream (i prefer organic)
vanilla extract to taste
sugar to taste
a spoonful of greek yogurt

Pour cream into a bowl, add vanilla and sugar, mix with a hand mixer until the cream sets up to your desired texture. Fold in the yogurt for a creme fraiche-esque tang.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

daily bliss: summer time

"That's how summer is: no past or future but all present tense, long twilights like vandals, breaking into new days. Yet it's the briefest of seasons, and what time there is in summer is carried forward by wind, by Boreas, god of the north wind, who, it's said, can blow out of two or more cheeks at once." Gretel Ehrlich, "Summer"

I'm a young girl, about ten or eleven. It's summer, the days stretching on forever, the soft, warm evenings casting an enchanting spell, and it seems the moment will never end. I'm helping my Dad plant many, many pine trees behind our house. We're sticking them into the beach sand, blown the two mile distance from Lake Michigan shores over ages, a glacial pace that only the land remembers.

These nights, and my afternoons outdoors, are a tonic to my fiction consumed self--I would read all day if I was allowed to, but my Mom, in her infinite wisdom, insists I leave the books and the interior world indoors. I head outdoors, twirling a baton, riding my bike up and down our driveway, and turning cartwheel after cartwheel, imagining an adoring audience, still spinning narratives in my head.

Some evenings we head to Lake Michigan, where we brave the cool water for the pure pleasure found in undulating waves. I lift my hands and jump through the surf, or my Dad pulls me over the waves in an inflatable boat as my Mom and baby brother wait on shore, dripping muddy sand castles.

When the sun finally sets and I head to bed, exhausted and sun drenched, sleep comes quickly and untroubled.

"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace." Kate Chopin, The Awakening

I'm in high school, and then college, and Lake Michigan keeps pulling me towards the sandy shores, whether at our local beach or far away up North at H's parents' place. Early mornings, bright daytime, or twilight, I follow the contours where water ebbs, picking a path that flirts with the cool water, testing one toe, one foot at a time. I feel rocks slick under my feet. I feel worries dissolve. I feel answers and possibilities beckoning just beyond my sight. I know, somehow, though I haven't yet encountered the quote by Lao Tzu, that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

"The present is the wave that explodes over my head, flinging the air with particles at the height of its breathless unroll; it is the live water and light that bears from undisclosed sources the freshest news, renewed and renewing world without end." Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

During late June, in the days surrounding the solstice, time stretches, as the daylight shimmers seemingly endlessly. Each day seems full of boundless possibility, and once again, I debate how to spend the unfurling moments. I could read an entire novel in one lazy afternoon: reclined on my couch, a cool glass of iced tea by my side, classical music lilting from the stereo, and an exquisite view of Lake Michigan sparkling a few blocks away. Then again, I could spend it in the kitchen, cooking batch after batch of strawberry jam I'll enjoy on the short days of the long, far away winter to come.

More often than not, though, I head outside, a glint of sunshine and a gentle breeze luring me to the deck, where I might read, write, or simply daydream the afternoon away.

On rare days, with the right company, I lose all sense of time and space, caught in the present: following the thread(s) of a meandering conversation set against the soundtrack of waves crashing against the shore, sea gulls cawing, and intermittent laughter; absorbing the sun's insistent rays, mindless of the spreading pinkness across my arms and legs and nose; forgetting to eat dinner, as I watch the color and light slowly fade from the sky, as day turns into night, and the horizon between lake and sky disappears.

"One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea." Anne Morrow Lindberg, Gift From the Sea

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

daily bliss: strawberries

Strawberries are my favorite fruit, and I eagerly await the short season every year. Supermarket berries simply cannot compare to luscious, local fruits, and I eschew fresh berries the rest of the year in anticipation of the goodness of a ripe berry just plucked from the fields.

When I was in Michigan visiting family last weekend, Mom and I took a trip over to the DeLange red berry farm to buy some berries. I also bought a pint of organic berries at the farmers' market. Laden with 2 quarts and 1 pint of berries, I returned home to Wisconsin with visions of berry wonders dancing in my head...

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake. La Pallette's Strawberry tart. Old fashioned shortcake.

I made the layers for the cake, and then promptly followed another kind of bliss to a day at the beach, leaving it unfinished.

I bought whipped cream for the tart and the shortcake...and may make them tomorrow...after I finish the cake.

What ever will I do with all these berry and butter and sugar and cream concoctions?!?

Eat them! Share them! Love them!

Strawberry season is fleeting, the berries at peak ripeness and flavor for such a brief moment of the year, that I eat them with abandon.

This morning, I ate a berry breakfast of yogurt with raw sugar and sliced berries, and a toasted english muffin with last summer's jam and local butter. Delicious.

To begin and end a day with strawberries...in June...this is happiness.

Monday, June 22, 2009

daily bliss: peonies

In spring, when lilacs bloom, I think of being in high school, all dreamy and interior in the way that some bookish, quiet girls are...I cut armfuls of lilacs from the bushes lining my parents' driveway and filled my room with vases of the graceful, fragrant blooms. As I fell asleep, I imagined being in a bower of flowers (such flights of fancy spurred on by obsessive reading and re-reading of L. M. Montgomery's Anne and Emily series). In the morning, the cloying scent of lilacs made it hard to breathe.

Lilacs still capture my attention, but these days peonies enchant my heart and imagination. I love the transformation from a tight, round ball to a full, overblown blossom. I love their scent--more nuanced than lilacs, with a top note of sweetness and a base note altogether more sultry and spicy. I love how they bend to the ground--like so many fallen angels--after a summer rain. I love their combination of delicacy and strength, of showiness and privacy.

I especially love the pink peonies--whether whisper soft pink or barbie-doll pink--so cheerful and happy.

And I love a $6 bouquet of peonies from the farmers' market when grandma's flowers are all disheveled after a *heavy* rain.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

daily bliss: solstice

"we live in an old chaos of the sun..."

so writes Wallace Stevens in my favorite poem, "Sunday Morning."

and today is the day to celebrate all things sunny, and summer-ey, and magical.

if pagan celebrations at stonehenge are out of the question, you can consider celebrating as i have/plan to today:

awake to the sweet, sultry scent of peonies ever blossoming forth in a vase next to your bed...

decide to make the most of a quiet morning at your parents' home while they're away, visiting a friend in the hospital...

eat yogurt with honey and fresh, local strawberries outside, in your pajamas...

drive your mom's car to town, listening to the coffeehouse (acoustic singer songwriter, my *favorite* genre) and lithium (old school Seattle styled grunge)stations on her xm radio, with the sunroof open...

buy a bargain copy of Michael Perry's memoir Truck and Ralph Keyes The Courage to Write at Barnes and Noble...

order a medium skim cafe au lait and chocolate chip scone at your favorite local coffeeshop, and sit in the hot sun drinking, eating, and reading said Keyes book...

fill several journal pages with random musings, to-do-lists, and a little novel prose, after feeling inspired by Keyes to have courage to overcome (so many) fears...

walk along the muddy, swollen river, admiring a town that embraces wealthy Chicagolanders, gays, and Harley-ers equally and unconditionally...

browse artist galleries and think of color and flowers and dear, cherished landscapes...

finally write a blog entry you feel (mostly) happy to have written...

practice a few sun salutations on the shaded porch, until the mosquitos swarm...

don a bathing suit and head for the beach to walk, read, and sun...

wish your father and grandfathers a happy, happy father's day...

share a delicious meal and decadent dessert with your parents...

watch the sun slip over the horizon, over lake michigan, all the way to wisconsin, as the longest day of the year fades away...

gather your things, pack your bags, make a boat reservation, and prepare to leave one home for another...

listen to a few special songs, marvel at the cheery call of the whipporwill, drink in the fragrance of peonies, and drift off into sleep, dreaming of future goodness and more happy days to come...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

daily bliss: summer saturdays

Summer Saturdays celebrate farm freshness...each day begins with a trip to the farmers' market, a cup of coffee, and a little socializing. When I'm visiting my parents, this means a trip to the Holland market, a cafe au lait from Lemonjello's, and spending the morning with my mom and running into my grandma, while we shop for the season's finest, freshest fruits and veggies. This morning was no exception. I bought a pint of organic strawberries, a pint of sugar snap peas, a box of potatoes, a bunch of Tuscan kale, and two zucchini to take back home with me. Later this afternoon we drove to a favorite berry farm and I bought two quarts of non-organic but tasty berries...

I'm dreaming of all my favorite berry goodness: shortcake, la palette tart, and, of course, Dorie's fabulous Perfect Party Cake, the fresh berry variation. Tomorrow I'll cook up a little jam, and on Monday when I'm back home I'll make the rest of the cake...

Today stretched out into endless sunshine, as I visited with aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins at my cousin N's graduation party...

And, tonight, after a dinner of grilled lemon pepper tofu, asparagus, sugar snap peas, and new potatoes with sour cream, mom, dad, and I headed out to the beach for a sunset stroll. The air was soft and humid, the sunset washed in pastels, the sand cool, and the lake Michigan waves gentle and steady. I walked, danced, jogged, and cartwheeled my way down the shore, happy in the moment...

Friday, June 19, 2009

daily bliss: summer storms

As we sit on the edge of the summer solstice (one of my favorite days of the year), thunderstorms rage across West Michigan...

Loud cracks of thunder, brilliant flashes of lightening, and intermittent downpours wash the world in vibrant green, contrasting with charcoal skies...

Inside, we celebrate my Dad's birthday with leggy wine, delicious dinner, and decadent chocolate chocolate cake...

People keep asking me what I'm doing this summer since I'm now officially *not* teaching a summer class (yay, yay, YAY!!!), and I say, "learning French. planning fall classes. writing two articles. working on my novel."

(it *sounds* a little better than what I'm *really* doing, which is hanging out, drinking wine, daydreaming, and being lazy. and loving every single, blessed, fleeting moment:).

Next week I'll attempt to bridge the public impressive line and the private guilty truth, but for now, I'm fixin' to listen to the storm rage outside and settle in for a little more relaxation, another glass of wine, and a few more words dabbled here and there...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

daily bliss: by land and by sea

This past week has been filled with travels...

An epic journey to Iowa and back...

Miles disappear as laughter fills the car, and rolling hills dotted with silos provide a picturesque backdrop as Wisconsin merges into Iowa and back again...

A sail across mighty Lake Michigan...

"We're in the middle of a whiteout!" an excited, bearded, ponytailed man shouts to his family as the ship horn blows at regular intervals.

Down in the movie lounge, while animated vegetable men, mice, and princesses enact monomyth tales on the TV screen, I flit in and out of sleep...

H and I make a trip upstairs to peer out the window at a gauzy white world, the boat gliding in the middle of the sweet-water sea.

"Should we be worried?" I ask H.

"We're the biggest fish out here," H says.

We return to the darkened room where S is soundly sleeping, and watch as the animated film gives way to ESPN...

I try to remember seafaring tales and favorite moments from Moby Dick. I think about the camaraderie that arises on a floating home, how my inner balance constantly adjusts to the steady undulation of waves beneath my feet. I wait, increasingly impatiently, to feel terra firma, to spot the sandy dunes of Michigan rising above the water, and then, to see the smiling faces of my parents greeting my friends and me, welcoming me home.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

daily bliss: looking at life through rosé filled glasses...

(guest bloggers tonight include: B, H, S, and H)

two best college friends visiting...

road trip...

wine club...

three pink mustaches..

m-town friends/colleagues...

garnache rosado, cinsault, and syrah...

kick off and end the night with saracco moscato d'asti...

happy, happy times in the Summer of Fun!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

perfect scoop: coffee frozen yogurt

**no TWD this week, as I've been busy and traveling**

Last week out at the farm, T showed me how to make yogurt. Using some fresh, local raw milk, we concocted a huge pot of tangy, thick yogurt.

What to do with this bounty but make a little frozen yogurt? I opted for the coffee variation as a pleasant counterpoint to all the chocolate and vanilla ice creams hanging out in my freezer.

David Lebovitz's recipe is utter simplicity. I made a few tweaks here and there, and will include the recipe with my changes.

Coffee Frozen Yogurt
adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe in The Perfect Scoop

1 c. plain skim homemade yogurt
3/4 c. raw sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. brewed espresso (a lesser amount than Lebovitz calls for because of massive freezer spillage as I tried to rush the cooling process. bad idea, but the coffee flavor was still pronounced and good.)
1/4 tsp. espresso powder

Brew the espresso using a lovely little stove top espresso maker. Cool.

Combine yogurt, sugar, salt, cream, and espresso powder. Stir in cooled espresso. Allow to chill in refrigerator, then freeze in the ice cream machine.

Enjoy plain, with chocolate chip cookies, or fudge ripple sauce left over from previous experiments:)

**less than stellar photo quality because i waited until dark**

Monday, June 15, 2009

daily bliss: old friends and road trips

Late August, 1991. My stomach is trembling, my heart leaping, my eyes tearing, as my family drives the two and one half hours across verdant farm land towards my new home, A College, tucked in the middle of corn fields and more corn fields.

I walk down the hallway with the big dinosaur painted on the wall, an institutional key in my hand, and look of panic assuredly on my face, when a chipper girl wearing a striped shirt stops me.

"Hi! I'm H. Are you on this hallway? I live just down there! Welcome to A College! Can I help you with anything?"

Later on that week, the rest of the upperclassmen filter back, including E, who lives with F down the hall. I notice that she loves the color red.

April, 1992. A lazy afternoon during Spring Term, a halcyon semester of taking a single class (Musical Theater, the Gilbert and Sullivan show Patience. I'm the gopher girl and manager of sorts.)

"Wanna go play tennis? I bet Mr. Swanky and Mr. Suave are out there," my roommate N asks. "I invited S to come along--she's in the musical too."

We walk over to the courts and meet S, who is fun and funny, with a contagious zest for life.

Eighteen years later, and these ladies are among my best friends. While some of our group faded away into the shadows, and some of our pairings are stronger than others, S, H, E, and I have maintained solid, sustaining friendships.

There's vast comfort to be found in friends who were there for the heartbreaking homesickness of college. Who shared the BIG bottle of Piesporter on Halloween (when, in a lapse of judgment you all dressed up as sexy nuns). Who made regrettable fashion, hairstyle, and romantic choices alongside of you. Who grew up with you.

Who said goodbye as you moved 900 miles away to pursue an academic dream, and who came to visit during the balmy Alabama springs.

Who calmed your nerves before a job interview at yet another MLA conference.

Who offered up their home, and their parents' tranquil home on Lake Michigan, year after year, as places of respite and relaxation.

Who are your loudest cheerleaders and dearest friends.

Late last night, S and H arrived from Michigan on the ferry, spent the night at my home, and today we'll pile in the G6 for a trip across the rolling Dairyland, crossing the Mississippi River, and landing in Iowa, to visit E for a few days. None of us have seen where she and husband S live, and I've never even been to Iowa before. I can't wait for the miles to roll under the tires, and our conversation to ebb and flow across the highways.

I made a soundtrack for our trip, a mix CD of songs with memories (Bust a Move, some early 90s grunge) and summer songs of fun and happiness.

The greatest soundtrack of all is the distinctive sounds of my friends' laughter filling my car, as we wind our way to a reunion.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

daily bliss: sibling silliness

Summers during college were stressful. Gone were the days of ultimate flexibility and freedom, of constant friend availability, of endless ice cream and lucky charm dinners.

And then, my little brother and his friends would hide around corners, poised with nerf guns, waiting to shoot me.

It was all a bit too much for my angsty-self-absorbed college student self to take.


Before the Milwaukee Brewers ball game yesterday, L and I meandered through the parking lot, looking for his college buddies who were tailgating. Random fans of both team persuasions smiled and laughed as we walked past, and the moment we found L's friends, we were welcomed with hand shakes and cold beers. Between playing washers and sharing drinks, they chatted with L, and I listened as they teased him about his *advanced* age of 26. I leaned over to L and whispered, "If anyone asks, I'm 28, 'kay?" He grinned and nodded.

Overheard snatches of conversation on the way to the ball park involved beer, food, baseball, driving. Besides the ubiquitous Brewers and Sox shirts, I saw one tee with a line drawing of Illinois and the text "Wisconsin: Illinois is beneath us."


We watched the game and the people around us, while soaking up the last bits of sunshine before our section descended into shade. I asked L about his time playing baseball in High School, about his buddies I'd just met. I drank about 3 inches of my giant beer before passing it on to L. I ate half a tub of salty, slightly singed popcorn.


By the top of the eighth inning, it was clear the Brewers were *not* going to pull off a win, so we headed out to beat the traffic of emptying parking lots.

As I stood in line in the bathroom, I noticed a young, very drunk girl, cutting in line in front of me, firmly clutching her bottle of beer, swaying and looking like she might not make it to the bathroom. I let her go.

Walking back to the car, overheard conversations were sharper edged, people a little less kind, as hours in the sun and hops kicked in.

We stepped over broken glass and smashed food remains, and L magically found my car.

As we slowly drove through the parking lot, we were attacked by a group of Abercrombie wearing college boys playing nerf football, deliberately throwing the ball and themselves in front of my car. As we pulled away from them, L and I let loose a stream of vitriol, and he confessed that he *almost* yelled out the car window or jumped out because he was so mad at this rude ambush of nerfdom. I smiled, glad that he didn't engage them (there were about 12 of them and two of us) *and* that he was outraged on my behalf.


We road tested my new road trip mix CD in between stints of classic rock, and car danced and air guitared and drummed the hour and a half back to my house.


L left this morning and I was sad to see him go. The house seemed quiet and lonely, and I felt, for a moment, a little less myself. There's something so comforting about really being yourself with other people, and my brother's one of those people who sees the dorky, silly, anxious me in all her glory. We've come a long way from sibling rivalry and nerf attacks, and settled into a sustaining friendship.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

daily bliss: small town + city saturday

My brother L is in town this weekend to take in the Brewers vs. White Sox game at Miller Park this afternoon, and we started our Day of Fun with a trip downtown for coffee at M Coffee, a visit to the farmers' market, and a walk through the garden show.

Sipping lattes and mochas, we made the rounds of the market, and I introduced L to my vendor friends, and random community people I've met along the way.

I had high hopes for the garden show--I need a terra cotta pot or two for some small herb plants--but was disappointed at the array of embroidered sweatshirts, garden "art," and strange stone animals. L and I stood aside, joking about a small, disturbing, rock covered bunny, when L pointed out the slightly less disturbing frog. Ever the thoughtful sister, I offered to buy him one for his yard.

"Buy *12* frogs, what the hell!" a passerby said to us, as his wife shook her head in affirmation.

We laughed as we headed back to the car.

In a little while we're headed to She-town for lunch at Il Ritrovo (my brother's suggestion--he voted for food over beer tours!) and then down to Milwaukee to find his buddies for a little pre-game tailgating, and then the game itself.

It's going to be a fun-filled day!

Friday, June 12, 2009

daily bliss: poetic moments

Inspired by the Kathryn Gahl poetry reading last night, I share with you five, no, six, of my (many) favorite poems...

1. "Sunday Morning," Wallace Stevens. my most favorite poem. lush word use. stunning message. deep. dense. a poem that makes the reader work a little.

2. "Buddhist Barbie," Denise Duhamel. sassy. silly.

3. "Homer-Erotic," Chuck Rybak. hi-larious. witty.

4. "For the Eighth-Grade Girl Writing Love Lyrics," Kathryn Gahl. not my absolute favorite poem of hers, but my favorite of those online:) i like the message, the gift of "wisdom" shared.

5. "I Dwell in Possibility," Emily Dickinson. one of my most favorite Emily poems, so expansive and happy (which is so often not the case in her poetry:)

6. "Among the Things He Does Not Deserve," Dan Albergotti. a wonderfully image-studded list poem.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

daily bliss: fabulous firsts

celebrate June, Wisconsin Dairy Month!

Every time I work at T and J's farm I learn something new, eat something amazing, and/or meet new people.

Today, I showed up around 9:30 a.m., under a blue-ish sky pricked through with pale sunshine, ready to plant tomatoes. While we waited for H and J to show up, I planted a row of lemon basil (so fragrant and citrusey!) and a row of thai basil (so licorishey and pretty!).

When H and J, good friends of mine and work colleagues, showed up, we piled our garden gear into T's car and headed out to the overflow farm at one of his friend's houses.

"Have you ever been to the Pine River Dairy?" T asked.

We all shook our heads no, and T delighted in driving us there straightaway, winding through the small industrial park, out past the home improvement mega stores, and into the hilly, verdant farmland outside the city. As we pulled up to the unassuming building, T announced that in honor of Wisconsin Dairy Month, the dairy was giving away *free* ice cream cones.

"Free?" I asked, as my stomach rumbled, and I had yet to do any actual farm work.

"Well, usually they're 25 cents, but they're free all month!"

I practically skipped into the shop, so excited to have ice cream before lunch. This was setting up to be a fabulous day.

T greeted all the women working in the dairy, who informed him that the ice cream was gone, snatched up by hordes of townies who drove out to the dairy *only* for the free ice cream. I shook my head, disappointed.

But only for a moment.

The dairy advertises that they sell 250 cheeses, and I was skeptical. As I wandered from case to case, bypassing the brightly colored, cow besplattered Wisconsin tee-shirts, and various foam cheese heads, coasters, and hats, my skepticism melted like all that ice cream on a much hotter day than today.

The cheese selection includes a number of local favorites and treats from around the world. I peered through a glass door to watch a woman working with a gigantic pile of butter. T opened the door and introduced us to the women working in the dairy.

I gathered up a few gems for next week's wine club fiesta: an aged white cheddar, port salut, Wisconsin parmesan reserve (a gold medal winning cheese!), and a chipotle cheddar (that one's to share with my brother L, who is coming to visit tomorrow).

I bought a glass bottle of milk, and two pounds of butter, one salted, one not, for $1.54 a pound.

At some point in all this dairy goodness, I jumped up and down and grinned at my friend H, as we reveled in the fromage possibilities heretofore hidden from us.

We all checked out, headed back to the car, and set off to the farm, snacking on fresh cheese curds that squeaked in our mouths and seemed just as cheery as our spirits.

Working together, we made fast work of planting 32 tomato plants--San Marzano, Cherokee Purple, Moon Glow, Venus. In a few months, they'll be bursting with sunshine and sweetness.

Satisfied with our work, we drove back to T and J's house, where T treated us to rhubarb pie he had baked that morning--another fabulous first. Ever since I baked a mini loaf of rhubarb bread for my parents in Kindergarten class (why, I wonder), I've steered clear of this strange fruit that looks like celery and needs a good dose of sugar to make it palatable.

Around these parts, saying you don't eat rhubarb is tantamount to craziness. As we settled onto the picnic table on their back porch, with a sweeping view of the river, I looked at the happy, pink and green tinged piece of pie T set down in front of me. With a crumb topping and a generous dollop of whipped cream, the dessert looked scrumptious. I took a tiny bite as I gazed out across the river, framed by lush green and softness, and I sighed into the sweet tartness of the pie.

So much goodness, so much deliciousness, and so much wonder, flowing around us, carving out new waterways and possibilities in every moment.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

daily bliss: southernisms

All day long I cast about for good blog topics...hmmmm...flying metaphors? Sea glass hunting? Trademobile? A list of things that annoy me when I'm at the gym? I send out a S.O.S tweet, and one of G's ideas sounds intriguing: explain the use of "might could" for non-Southerners. Truth be told, other than knowing that the grammatically correct name for this usage is the Double Modal, I don't really know much about it.

Still, the writing gods are not smiling on me. I read a little Michael Perry, his latest memoir, Coop, and am paralyzed instead of inspired by his complex easy-goingness infused with sentiment. Damn him!

I decide to run some errands. After all, 4:00 is as good of time as any to change out of yoga pants and declare it a *real* day...

The first stop: my favorite local liquor store, TL. I'm in search of a particular wine, and think I remember seeing it on their crowded shelves.

I browse the aisles and hear, "Are you looking for something specific?"

I turn, and gape/grin at an older man with bleach blond hair, dripping in jewelry, and wearing the brightest, boldest tie-dyed shirt I've seen since I was in grad school and surrounded by Grateful Dead fans.

"Layer Cake Shiraz."

"Ooh, I don't think we have it, but let's go check."

I follow him back to the corner rack, and he points to the spot where it used to be. "Nope. Can I help you find something else?"

"Thanks, but I kinda have my heart set on that wine."

"Are you looking for a red?"

(yes! the wine you don't have! duh!)


"Do you like Pinot Noir?"

"It's my favorite," I perk up, thinking he had some undiscovered gem to share.

"Come on, I have a wine for you, Hon..."

(hon? did he just call me hon? are we still North of the Mason-Dixon line?!?)

"Here. This one's real popular with our customers. One guy even bought a case."

He shows me a wine I've seen before, and I flip over the bottle to read the prose. Hmmm. Gentle aging in oak barrels. Nope.

I thank him, wander to the back of the store, pick up some beers, and head to the check out counter. He's amused that I've switched alcohol categories entirely.

As I turn to leave, a multi-generational group of women approaches the counter with a huge jug of wine. "Do you sell gift certificates?"

"Yes we do!"

I sprint out the door. I can't help but giggle as I drive to the Super Discount Liquor Store to look for my lush, jammy Layer Cake Shiraz...

...and, yes, they have it. Hallelujah.

Mr. Neon's endearment/aside stuck in my head, and I started to think more about Southern American English, and the words and phrases that have integrated themselves in my speaking and writing.

Such endearments were commonplace all over the South, from grocery store checkers to fellow shoppers in the Dillard's shoe department. I miss them all. There was something so friendly about shopping in the South.

Other phrases stick, like the ubiquitous "y'all" and the intimate plural "all y'all," so useful for referring to groups of people.

Or how about "fixin' to"? As in, "I'm fixin' to write a blog entry when I get home from the store." (and, yes, in that sentence the get must stay:)

And, finally, the ever useful double modal. There are many variations, but my favorite is "might could."

Now, imagine the sentence "I might go to the store." And the sentence "I could go to the store." Both are conditional, on some level. There's a certain implied agency--i.e. I have the ability to go to the store, but whether or not I'm actually fixin' to go is another matter.

Now, mash 'em together: "I might could go to the store." Now, you have an extra level of conditionality, which gives you a lot of wiggle room for store-going. You're not really committing to any store-going in this sentence, and are maintaining a lackadaisical air.

This phrase is useful when responding to student essays, especially to students who are skittish about writing. It's like I'm giving them all the power to make the decision they want to make. For example, "You might could change some of your word choices here to make your essay sound stronger."

Now, some might think the double modal is just a linguistic form of passive-aggressiveness. I prefer to think of it as both empowering (to others ) and protective (to the self). It's handy. It's quaint. It's fun.

And I might could use some of that Layer Cake Shiraz right about now. In fact, I'm fixin' to pour a glass if all y'all want to join me:)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

twd: parisian apple tartlets

This recipe is utter simplicity: a small round of puff pastry, half of an apple or stone fruit, brown sugar, and butter. Arrange, bake, eat.

And so, I decided to complicate matters.

By making homemade puff pastry. Not the elaborate ultra laminated kind, but a quick puff pastry. Thanks to Barbara, who posted a link to Nick Malgieri's version on the TWD website, I was able to make my own butter-laden crust in no time. The recipe was simple, but I had to improvise and mix the dough by hand, as the only food processor I have is a mini-prep, which is too small for even half a recipe of pastry. C'est la Vie!

I called up my friends T and J, whose farm I'm working on this summer, and invited them over for a Sunday evening snack. I assembled the treats about an hour before they arrived, popped them in the oven, and hoped for the best.

My puff pastry, while delicious, rich, flaky, and crisp, never puffed all that much. And, because it didn't puff around the edges of the peaches, the sugar melted out into a molten, ultra-caramelized (nay, burned) river surrounding the mini tarts, and blackening their outer bottom edges.

No matter--a few scoops of my vanilla ice cream saved the day.

T and J, who are foodies and honest critics, were very impressed. T declared the crust perfectly flaky, and J said it was delicious, even though she doesn't like crust. We sipped decaf coffee and tea, and swapped stories. T and J are relatively new friends, and it's fun to hear their history and begin to form the foundation of real friendship.

Thanks to Jessica of My Baking Heart for choosing this delightful recipe.

Monday, June 08, 2009

daily bliss: skepticism and stereotypes

It's a dark and balmy night in New Orleans, as we thread our way through the crowds of tourists into Jackson Square, in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, all illuminated and imposing on an evening during Holy Week.

I gather sixty dollars and join the line of (mostly) women waiting to pay the tour guides.

I step up to a Fabio-wannabe pirate dude wearing a puffy, turquoise shirt that laces up the front and wraps around his fingers.

"Three tickets, please."

He casts a sneering gaze. "You from the Midwest?"

"Yep. Wisconsin!" I offer, all cheeriness.

"I thought so."

I turn and gesture "Whatever" to my friends as I hand them their stickers identifying them as tour participants. "That dude's totally harassing me for being from the Midwest! WTF?"

We take turns listening to our favorite songs from the Twilight soundtrack ("SuperMassive Black Hole" by Muse, and "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" by Iron & Wine) on S's iPod, sharing the ear buds, as we watch a group of drunk women make fools of themselves.

The tour guide who looks most vampy--long black trench, long ponytail of dreads, sharpened eye teeth, and dagger fingernails--divides the masses into three groups.

He motions us into the group with the drunk women AND Fabio Pirate Dude (heretofore shortened to FPD). Lucky!

We begin the tour by walking down Pirate's Alley, so picturesque during the day, home of Faulkner Books, and a cute little corner bistro. Now, the shadow that the Jesus statue kicks up on the back of the Cathedral is creepy.

We stop as FPD gestures us in closer, winding his hands around the wrought iron fence and launching his body forward in some kind of Leonardo di Caprio at the Prow of a ship move.

"Everything you know about vampires...[dramatic pause]...is WRONG."

The girls and I exchange looks. Academic skeptic looks.

"Tell me, tell me, what do you *know* about vampires?"

The drunk women laugh, come on to him, and blurt out some stereotypes involving garlic and stakes and silver.

FPD admonishes their less than decorous state, and then proceeds to debunk all said myths about vampires. He explains the New Orleans system of burial, the connection with vampires, and the rules for his tour (which are all versions of "don't upstage me.")

He sweeps his hand through his long, rakish, reddish locks for emphasis (a move he will repeat ad nauseum), and begins strutting down the street.

We walk a few blocks and pause in front of a building, setting the pattern for the remainder of the tour. Walk. Stop. Talk of gruesome and grisly events involving vampires in twentieth-century NOLA.

My academic skeptic shield is firmly in place, my protection against the gore and horror of the stories that I don't really want to hear. S, K, and I exchange raised eyebrows and silent giggles as FPD punctuates his narrative with self-inflating asides, "No one else in the tour company will share this story. I did my own research. You can ask around, but you won't hear the true story."

The drunk women and a few others disappear. (not, we hope, carried off by thirsty vamps...)

Our next stop is the infamous Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and Bar, one of the oldest bars in the United States. Ahh, another way for the tour to make money! Needing a little liquid courage to keep my skepticism in place, I order a Bombay G & T, and sip it as I stroll the streets for the rest of the tour.

As we make our way to the centerpiece of the tour, the Old Ursuline Convent, FPD stops in front of a little bakery.

"Do you see this?" sweeping of arms, fluffing of hair. "This, this, is where the locals come for their cafe au lait and their croissant...*not* Cafe du Mond."

Hmmm. I glance around at the street signs, and try to remember how to reach this corner of the Quarter.

He's still talking. "We come here after staying up all night...or, if we do go to bed, waking up in beds other than our own...[dramatic pause, pointed gaze]...I *know* how you MIDWESTERNERS are."

S, K, and I giggle.

FPD strolls us towards the convent and launches into a series of increasingly improbable tales, some of which overlap K's research interests, so we know just how outlandish they are. My G &T is gone. I'm starting to feel bored.

One more stop--another bar. As we walk in, one of the women from our tour group, wearing a black tube top, second-skin skinny jeans, and hooker boots, turns to me and gushes, "Oh, isn't FPD the *best* tour guide? This is my *third* time with him."

I'll bet.

We sit in plastic chairs in a dark, lush courtyard, and FPD takes the stage--yes, a literal stage--for this, his last, dramatic tale, meant to invoke feelings of fear and doubt in the minds of skeptics. He ends quietly, with a plug for tips. The girls and I make a break for the door. FPD gazes into our eyes and brushes our arms as we leave.

Out on the street, we burst into giggles, and begin mimicking FPD.

We're only a block or two away from the French market, but suddenly, the city seems a little more sinister.

We walk K back to her supposedly haunted hotel and wish her a good night's sleep.

S and I walk back to our antiseptic conference hotel, glad we're not staying alone. In a haunted hotel. We sit up talking about the tour. We turn on the TV and watch purified episodes of Sex and the City to replace the theatrical, bloody images planted in our minds by FPD.

We discuss the stereotypes of Midwesterners, and decide that these supposedly staid, virtuous types, are likely those who go craziest when traipsing through the French Quarter, their Hurricane glasses never empty, their beads strung around their necks with pride.

As for this midwestern girl, I stuck to Abita beers (mmm, strawberry lager), fleur de lis, and Bombay G & T. I bought my beads. And, I wore a cardigan on Bourbon Street:)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

perfect scoop: vanilla ice cream, philadelphia style

anything but plain vanilla

Vanilla, or Banilla, as my friends' son M says, ice cream used to bore me.

Honestly, could it be any plainer?

And then I tasted *real* vanilla ice cream, with genuine flecks of vanilla bean, and a floral fragrance that permeated every.single.bite.

Rich, complex, and so very comforting.

If chocolate is a silk halter dress you wear for special EVENTS, then vanilla is a pair of snug worn-in blue jeans suitable for afternoon naps on the couch.

Still scared by custard, and still trying to create lower fat ice creams, I made a full batch of David Lebovitz's Philadelphia style vanilla ice cream this past week. I used half skim milk and half whipping cream, which makes for a less luxurious texture with a hint of iciness, and an overall fluffiness, advantages or disadvantages, depending on your perspective. I happen to like these qualities. The vanilla is layered in this ice cream, due to a full vanilla bean and a generous amount of vanilla extract.

I also attempted to make the fudge ripple to layer in the ice cream, but it never thickened as well as it was supposed to. I'm fairly certain this has something to do with my substitution of honey for the corn syrup. The other potential negative of the honey is that it's an assertive orange blossom honey, and the flavor definitely peeks through the deep chocolate. So, instead of an integrated ripple, this is a tasty topping.

silk + denim = winning combination

Saturday, June 06, 2009

daily bliss: newness

It's simple to slip into familiar patterns, always covering the same well-traveled trails of thought and activity, cooking standard meals, baking the same chocolate cake because it's reliable. And predictable. And delicious:)

At times these patterns form ruts in the psyche, making our lives seem, well, less vibrant and fully alive. Comfortable, yes, but dulled.

Taking on newness can make one anxious (and/or eager), but absolutely brightens everything with vivid vitality. And, you never know what hidden talents you might possess.

Like Bocce Ball prowess.

This simple lawn game involves rolling bigger balls towards one smaller ball, called the jack. The ball rolled closest to the jack wins the point, the jack is tossed again, and the play starts over for the next point.

Dodging raindrops and waiting for the sonic holler of the "thunder on the lakeshore" air show, I played bocce with G and his friends.

And, G and I won.

Not bad for a half-novice team.

And, after eating, we headed out into the rain to watch the aerobatic military jets zoom, swoop, and swirl through the grey sky. Impressive and majestic: my first air show.

To finish the evening, I took a little spin on nearly-four-year-old M's sit and spin. I'd like to say I was inspired by the fast, fearless, flight of the airplanes, but really I was simply enamored with the idea. And the $10.50 my friends promised if I dared set down my glass of wine and give it a whirl.

The trick is to spin just enough so you're on the edge of dizziness, without spilling over into delirium, a delicate balance between being grounded and soaring...

Friday, June 05, 2009

daily bliss: meditative

With visions of bejeweled truffles dancing in my head, I drove to Kohler yesterday morning for a noon-hour Yoga + Chocolate Meditation class.

I entered the gorgeous, warm studio (it's kept a balmy 85 degrees inside year round), rolled out my mat, and waited for others to arrive.

No one else arrived.

The teacher D brought me a meditation cushion and a Dove dark chocolate promises chocolate.

What? Where's my truffle?

We began the class with a chocolate meditation, an exercise in mindfulness. Following D's instructions, I held the wrapped chocolate in my palm. Then, I slowly unwrapped the foil, corner by corner. Next, the naked chocolate rested in my hand before I started taking small bites and letting the chocolate melt in my mouth.

D instructed me to pay attention to the various taste and texture sensations of the chocolate, and, well, being a seasoned chocolate taster, I wasn't thinking the most charitable thoughts about the chocolate. Now, give me some French chocolate and the adjectives would be flowing...taste issues aside, the velvety sumptuousness of melting chocolate never disappoints from a tactile perspective.

I took three separate, slow bites to finish the chocolate, and allowed the sensation of sweetness to wash over me and fill my mind.

Although the chocolate wasn't stellar, the experience of mindfulness meditation focused on a tiny bit of food was transformative. I've tried various kinds of meditation before, to no avail. My mind won't quiet, or my legs fall asleep, or the mantra falls apart. I envision a chocolate meditation practice working well, once I find the discipline to practice regularly.

After I washed away the last traces of chocolate with cool water, we started the yoga class, a detoxifying vinyasa style filled with twists, rigorous sun salutations, and balancing poses. Since I was the only student, D guided and spotted me as I "flipped the dog" into full wheel, a sequence I could never muster up enough courage to accomplish on my own.

I left the studio floating on a cloud of well-being and good intentions, a feeling I managed to carry throughout the rest of my day.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

spinach ricotta gnocchi

What to do with 50 quarts of spinach?

Besides blanch and freeze, start cooking up delicious dishes that require lots of this delicious, nutritious power food.

Tonight I made spinach and ricotta gnocchi baked in a simple tomato sauce. The gnocchi sound more daunting to make than they really are--they're fast and simple to craft, and require straightforward ingredients. As such, use the best ingredients you can find, say handpicked spinach and ricotta from the local Italian restaurant:)

These gnocchi are sometimes called gnudi--naked ravioli. Hee.

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi
adapted from The Bon Appéit Cookbook
(this is half of the original recipe, and it makes four servings)

12 oz. spinach
1 c. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Wilt the spinach, drain, squeeze out the excess water, and chop. Mix with remaining ingredients until a sticky dough forms.

Flour a work surface and your hands, and roll out the dough into ropes. Cut the ropes into one inch pieces, and gently roll them into ovals.

Cook small batches of pasta in boiling, salted water for four minutes. Drain.

Serve as desired.

Quick Tomato Sauce
1 TBS olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large can of whole San Marzano tomatoes
red pepper flakes to taste
Italian herb mix to taste
handful of fresh basil, chopped

Heat olive oil and garlic in medium sauce pan over medium heat until garlic is just starting to soften.

Meanwhile, process the tomatoes in a food processor until you reach desired chunkiness level. (i like mine smooth).

Add tomatoes to garlic, toss in dried herbs. Allow to come to a gentle boil over medium heat, and then lower the heat and simmer. Right before serving, add the fresh basil.

Baked Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce
Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish. Add gnocchi, top with sauce, and extra parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the sauce and cheese are bubbling and deliciousness permeates your kitchen.

The finished dish was wonderful--the gnocchi delicate and tender, the flavors of spinach and ricotta clear and simple. The tomato sauce (and a glass of Italian Red) was the perfect acidic compliment to all that creaminess.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

daily bliss: harvesting

Although I long for the halcyon flip-flop and floaty dress days of July and August, I also love these June days of summer newness, when cool breezes flirt with warm sunshine, sending sublime shivers across the tiny expanses of exposed skin not ensconced in fleece.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat in a spinach patch, harvesting as many green leaves as possible before the plants are tilled under to make room for heartier summer fare. As I scooted around the plants, dodging bees and wielding a sharp garden knife to slip each leaf from the plant, my mind wandered. All that spinach in all the stores across this nation--is it all harvested like this? Certainly not with the meditative pace of this dilettante gardener, but with the same basic low-tech tools and hands-on labor.

We (should) know it's low paid work, done mostly by immigrants (legal or not). My mind whirls with political conversations and implications that are not the stuff of bliss, but are the stuff of important conversations we should be having about our food chain and the people involved along the way--every single one of us who eats is part of the system, whether we admit it or not...

I'm enjoying my time out at the farm, time when I replace my Chanel with a cloud of Deep Woods Off, time when my fingernails leave the pristine-ish white keyboard of my MacBook and dig into compost enriched dirt, time when I learn how to cultivate, nurture, and harvest growth.

Michael Perry extols the virtues of chopping wood by hand, noting that "there is the idea that primitive, meaningful work delights the mind. [...] You take that ax in hand, and it frees your mind" (Perry, Coop). And from there it's a straight line back to Gary Snyder, and his poem "Axe Handles," which concludes:

And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
(Snyder, "Axe Handles")

The axe--symbolic of rigorous, physical work--cleaves and creates, cutting through the clutter, composing culture (too much alliteration?).

Whether growing and harvesting food, chopping wood, or stringing together words, the work of creation is demanding. Rewarding. Maddening. Slow going.

Above all, essential.

I'm discovering during this Summer of Fun/Summer of Creativity that I want to take this business of floating words onto pages and screens more seriously.

To find my voice(s) and to find where they want to go.

And then to let them take me there...

spinach: picked, cleaned, and bagged by me

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

daily bliss: interconnectedness

I'm drinking hot-turning-to-tepid Zen tea this morning, listening to classical music on Wisconsin Public Radio, and smelling the heady fragrance of the lilacs I plucked from the backyard for my little desk as I search for a topic thread for this, my 400th blog post.

I'm thinking about the interconnectedness of things, as illustrated yesterday afternoon. I decided to walk to the local indie bookstore to buy Michael Perry's latest book, Coop, after reading a few pages of B's copy. On my way to the store, I ran into N, the woman who works at the coffee shop and helps out on the T's farm with me. I continued walking down the street, noticing the delicate lilies of the valley, the peony buds swollen but not yet blossoming, the gentle natural bird song (a change from the ersatz bird calls as tweets stream in on my MacBook).

At the bookstore, B told me the book was sold out but another shipment should arrive within an hour. I happily browsed the store, reading pages of random books, and enjoying the freedom to while away an afternoon amongst the pages of someone else's prose. K stopped in, and we chatted about the Urban Agriculture tour we're planning. The books arrived as I was perusing the shelves of *free* advance reader copies, and shortly thereafter, local poet K arrived with the first box of her book--a gorgeous interplay of watercolor artwork and poetry. We talked about her upcoming reading, the poetry slam I'm helping plan, and my friend C, another local poet.

I left the shop laden with five books and one poster for K's reading, walking into the increasingly chilly East wind, when I saw my colleague/friend A across the street. "I'm listening to Randall Jarrett read poetry! I left copies of my poetry CD's in your mailbox!"

I arrived home to an email from the aforementioned poet C, saying he's glad to participate in the poetry slam, and noting that several people have contacted him about his books since his reading here in April, one of them being my friend G...

And, everything is connected. And the world both shrinks and expands as you learn to pay attention to the moments, the words, the people around you. There's a glimpse of how the world really works--not in separate, discrete fragments as the modernists would have us believe, or in ironic, little narratives as the post-modernists would have it, but rather in one great interconnected web, as Buddhism, Native traditions, and Eco-feminists assert. These moments of revelation are easy to miss if you're not attuned to paying attention. As Annie Dillard writes, "The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam." (Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

And we witness something at once mysterious and sustaining.

And then what?

Then comes the rigor of capturing those moments, of following their trail somehow, as poet Gary Snyder writes:

"Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks." (Snyder, "Riprap")

twd: cinnamon squares

I was so wrapped up in my bagel bliss that I nearly forgot to bake these cinnamon squares! Late this afternoon I peered into the refrigerator to see if I had enough butter or if I would need to make a trip to the store...I decided, based on butter availability, to make half a recipe. I was sketchy about the combination of chocolate and cinnamon (although my famous chocolate cake features cinnamon buttercream...) so I checked out my never-fail other TWD bakers' insights. They reassured me that the flavors meld exceptionally well. I made the cappuccino variation, inspired by Nancy.

My house now smells warm and cinnamoney, which takes the edge off the chill of a late Spring/early Summer evening. I'm sampling a slice of unfrosted, still warm cake, and loving the coffee-cake texture and taste, bringing me back to Sunday mornings at Great Grandma's house some 20+ years ago...mmm. I'm not sure whether I'll frost this or not.

The cake tastes delicious this morning, heady with spices and just asking for a cup of coffee--I'm out of beans, so this morning I'll walk to the neighborhood cafe for my morning caffeination. It's a little chilly for an early constitutional, but the crisp air will shake off the somnolence better than anything else.

Thanks to Tracey at Tracey's Culinary Adventures for choosing this quick, easy cake. It was a nice antidote to my labor-intensive bagel making adventures.

Monday, June 01, 2009

daily bliss: NaBloPoMo

lilacs, rolling farmland, and cerulean seas in Kewaunee

Bon Jour, mes amies!

I'm unraveling the sleepiness this morning with a mug of crappy cafe au lait (old coffee beans = off flavors), a lightly toasted *homemade* cinnamon bagel (still gloating:), and a glass of orange juice. I'm shaking off the tiredness brought on by too many tiny bubbles with friends last night, and my return home at 7:30 a.m. this morning, not wanting to drive the 10 blocks home floating on aforementioned ebullience of 12:30 a.m. A good night's sleep in a comfy bed in the guest room, and delighted hugs from their nearly four year old son M this morning made for a perfect ending to a fun evening.

Despite the haziness, I'm thinking of inspiration this morning, having just checked in with Revisionista and Marelisa. I'm thinking of the freshness and possibility of a new month, just waiting to be filled with...something(s). What will be *my* recipe for June? How shall I "suck the marrow" out of life this month? Stay tuned for those answers...

My friend G inspired me to take up the challenge of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) a spin-off of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which I've attempted (and failed) before. Somehow, NaBloPoMo seems much more realistic and do-able: one blog post for each day of the month. I've nearly accomplished this posting rate when I began the daily bliss feature earlier this year. The added rigor of *declaring* my intention to blog daily during June provides just the creative structure I need.

And for now, it's time to make the most of this morning. I'm thinking of Thoreau, who writes, "The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is the least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night" (Walden). (clearly good ol' Henry never had too much sparkling wine:) And yet, his words inspire me to make this morning matter. It's time to dig my hands into the dirt and plant flowers. To drink in the cool morning air and shake the somnolence away. And then, to strive for that awakeness that allows us to "make [our] lives, even in [their] details, worthy of the contemplation of [our] most elevated and critical hour" (Thoreau, Walden).