April 2013

Leo Tolstoy —
If you want to be happy, be.
Cup 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

4.29.13 Is This It?

There's a game I play sometimes: I look at my life as it is in this moment, think of everything I possess right now, and ask myself if I would be happy if nothing ever changed. I won't deny that sometimes this leads to sadness bordering on desperation. What if I don't finish my novel? Never build that house on the lake? Fail to see Burma? Is this it?  Time and money often factor into this mental equation. Self-doubt can creep in. On those days, I question if I have fulfilled my potential, tried hard enough, risked enough. But I am not what I own, nor even what I do, and if I start to define myself by those measures, there is no satisfaction guaranteed.

Marcel Proust —
Asparagus transform my humble chamberpot into a bower of aromatic perfume.
Raw 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

4.24.13 Pale Fire

My love of white asparagus started early in life. I was 8 years old and living with my family in Madrid during my father's sabbatical year. We traveled around the country quite a bit, often staying at wonderful paradores. These are state-owned hotels in historic castles and monasteries, many in spectacular locations, and generally decked in musty brocade with full suits of armor lurking in corners.

It was quite standard for us to order three courses whenever we ate out—which was a lot—and my choice of appetizer was often a vegetable. I loved judías blancas, meaty white beans in a chorizo-flecked tomato sauce; and judías verdes, green beans cooked to within an inch of their lives in plenty of garlic and olive oil. But my very favorite was white asparagus: three or four jumbo spears, as silky and tender as can be, cloaked with a rich veil of yellow mayonnaise. (In Spain, the best white asparagus come from Navarra, and a great many of them are preserved for sale in tins and jars, which does not diminish their flavor at all.) It's a taste of childhood that has haunted me over the years, cropping up with reassuring consistency.
Pearl S. Buck —
To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.
Room 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

4.22.13 High Noon

I watched a wonderful film this weekend, Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? It's an HBO documentary made by Sebastian Junger about photojournalist Tim Hetherington who was killed on the job in Libya a couple of years ago. Junger and Hetherington collaborated on an another stunning film, Restrepo, about a group of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Hetherington was clearly an extraordinary human being. The compelling photographs he took and humanitarian work he did in war-torn countries reveal the soul of a poet and the heart of a lion. Cut down by mortar shrapnel in Libya, he bled out from a wound to his femoral artery. Junger made the film as a tribute to his friend and colleague, and also started RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues), a free intensive training in basic combat medicine for freelance journalists headed for the front line. Listen to Terry Gross' moving interview with Sebastian Junger here. In it he refers to the way in which we continually "re-traumatize" ourselves by watching the same distressing news footage over and over. It reminded me of the coverage of the tragedy in Boston this past week and the relentless replaying of the same gruesome images. I question the value of this.

And now, on to brunch. Somehow trivial in light of these terrible events, and yet necessary to celebrate any given Sunday.
Henry David Thoreau —
The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
Hole 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

4.18.13 Hive Mentality

We are officially beekeepers! Our friend Claire procured 3 pounds of highly adaptable Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligusticafor us and we picked them up this weekend. They are now ensconced on our rooftop (out of the reach of bears!) in the hive that was my Christmas present to G. He did much of the research for this project and I am now doing my reading to catch up. Bees are a big responsibility and I want to make sure we give them all the TLC they need. After all, with any luck, next year they'll be giving us some delicious honey.

Another incentive for starting a hive is the desire to support the severely challenged bee population. I'm sure you've heard of the frightening widespread colony collapse. (This is a great piece on the latest conclusions.) I find it fascinating that Rudolph Steiner, the German founder of biodynamic agriculture and a precursor of the modern organic movement, predicted in 1923 that artificial industrial techniques used to breed honey bees would lead to the species' collapse within a hundred years. The bee is yet another tragic victim of monoculture industrial agriculture and its rampant use of pesticides and GMOs.

James Beard —
I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store-bought cookies one can find.
Plate 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

4.15.13 Sweet, Salty, Spicy

It's a holy trinity. A tempting trifecta. To me there's nothing better than an exquisite balance of sweet and salty with a stealthy infusion of heat to kick it up just enough. It's why I love fresh summer fruit—mango, melon, pineapple, strawberries—macerated with jalapeño or sprinkled with chile salt. And it's the magic behind my all-time favorite caramels, made with chocolate, chile and Maldon salt. That same combination infuses a stellar treat dreamed up by baking maven Dorie Greenspan. Her new business, Beurre & Sel, run by son Josh and staffed in part by my very own sister-in-law (a talented baker in her own right), has been tantalizing tastebuds with cookies both classic and creative. My favorite are the ones that play savory elements (sesame, parmesan, rosemary, cayenne) off sweet ones. Dorie has dubbed these "cocktail cookies" because of how well they complement a drink. I've tweaked her recipe for the cocoa-cayenne cocktail cookies slightly, using gluten-free flour and incoporating the earthy crunch of cocoa nibs, but I think it still it does justice to the original.