Paris etc. (+ a Blueberry Cake)

Beautiful Paris. What else is there to say? We slipped over the Atlantic for just a few days and while the security line at Orly the morning we left was almost enough to make us question our judgment it was beyond worth it. On Saturday we walked all down the Champs Elysees, stopping to warm up with coffees every so often, and then spent Sunday in Montmartre just looking around and sitting in a lovely, quiet park that was so nice we got pastries and and yet another coffee and went back at the end of the day. Being there even if briefly rehydrated me: to walk for hours, to be able to drop into a cafe for a coffee whenever we pleased, to have a long lunch outside, to be able to wear a necklace without fear of it being ripped off of your neck, to have drivers actually stop their cars when you wait to cross the street — it’s the little things, no? I felt like myself, or at least the self I used to be in San Francisco.

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Keeping it Easy (+ Turnip Soup)

[Casablanca, December 2013.]

Since the new year: more runs along the ocean, beaucoup de spinach and sweet potatoes (the excitement I experienced upon having acess to these two relied-upon vegetables cannot be understated), hauling out the ‘big camera’, marinating on some possible story ideas, countless cups of coffee (can’t be helped it seems), some regular 8-hour stretches of sleep, pretty cold temperatures at night, a small party. Also: vegetable quiches and the hankering to make another pot of turnip soup.

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Tea and Such

For fun, I’m running some posts from a few years back because, err, life is a wee bit busy at the moment (also, I’m feeling nostalgic, as I typically tend to in fall). This piece was first published on Nov. 8, 2011.

[Tea, October 2011.]

How I love coffee; I sincerely could count the ways: 1. I love it for its little zing of caffeine that, once it enters my bloodstream, delivers a hit of euphoria that can’t be beat; 2. I love it because I usually procure it elsewhere, meaning that I don’t make it myself (I’m lazy about it, and frankly I don’t make the best cup of coffee. I’m OK with that.) and thus must make a special effort to go get a cup, thus making it a bit of an event, which is fun; 3. I love it for its flavor; 4. I love it because c’mon, it’s coffee

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On Enduring Love — for California, for Baked Beans

For fun, I’m running some posts from a few years back because, err, life is a wee bit busy at the moment (also, I’m feeling nostalgic, as I typically tend to in fall).This piece was first published on Nov. 13, 2009.

[Pacific Ocean, Drake’s, March 2009.]

The other day I ran 10 miles down through the park — with a mile along the ocean tucked in for good measure — and then sat for a bit on the sea wall at Ocean Beach to watch a tanker ship sail slowly away out to sea, bound perhaps for Asia or who-knows-where. I imagined it packed carefully with things like perfect apples from Sonoma County or beautiful Brussels sprouts grown in the Salinas Valley, but in truth it was probably full of oil barrels, or computers. (I like my imaginings much better, however.)

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This Light

[Abbotts Lagoon, January 2013.]

Northern California this week is making the hard sell for me to stay – at least that’s what it seems like. Sun all the day long and clear nights and it’s cold, sure, but I don’t mind since I’m apparently baking all the time and the oven warms up my apartment and the sun comes in anyhow and I wrap a blanket around my shoulders as I edit recipes and wear wool socks when I’m not out running and it works alright.

Stay, California is telling me. You know you want to.

And I do. I do I do I do I do want to. It shouldn’t be a surprise. I love this place: the Pacific is the only ocean I care about – though the Mediterranean is a close second of clear water and schools of silvery fish – the Sierras the only mountains I wish to press my face against, the back roads the only ones I wish to run, the trails near the coast the only ones I want to plant my feet upon, the coffee roasted here the only coffee I want to drink.

[Looking north, January 2013.]

How do you feel about moving? I get asked a lot. The simple answer is: I am getting excited! I am a little nervous but it will be OK! I am enjoying this time now but will enjoy when we go! (Honestly, I should just stick with this response. It’s quite easy and doesn’t allow for a lot of introspection (which believe me, I got in spades, dude.)) Last weekend I went for a walk out at Abbotts Lagoon with Randy and Logan and we chatted about this and that as we are wont to do and I shared a bit of my anxiety about leaving; as we walked back down the beach to the path, Randy put his arm around me and cheered me along: It will be a great adventure! he said. It will be hard, but you will learn a lot. We will visit! And you will come back. (I’m paraphrasing, clearly, but) I appreciated that bit of kindness because I know he knows I am not super psyched to move and I am grateful I can be real about it all and not feel like I must put on a good face.

One of the hardest things is nice people saying that it will be good for me live away from California – as if I haven’t done so before, as if they have forgotten I did (or maybe they didn’t know in the first place), or it doesn’t matter that I have a pretty awesome life here right now that I have fashioned for myself and that I am so loathe to leave. (I am leaving new babies and sweet dogs and my mom and dad and good friends and Bodega Bay and Arch Rock and good Clover butter and milk and Ron the egg man and Richard from Firme Farms and Kareem at Green Earth (though actually they are pretty excited DW is going to get to speak Arabic every day) and proximity to the airport and oh yeah, my childhood home, and and and) if that gives you any idea.) Like: being away will make me appreciate Northern California more and such. There is a point in that; you don’t always fully appreciate a place until you leave. But – I did leave. I left for nine years. I traveled a lot and I lived a busy and full life and I have no regrets that I lived Away. But. I missed California every day. I missed my family and my home. I was deeply homesick even as I had such a great life in DC. Every time I came home something tugged at me. It ached to go back there. I appreciated. Oh yes. I did. Once a Californian always a Californian is what I say. I think it is bred into the blood and bones and sinew of us and can never be extricated.

[Up the road, Inverness, January 2013.]

And yet. I am leaving/must leave/will leave. This is where my path is taking me and I must gin up my courage and my pluck and take a deep breath and get on with it. I still have seven months or so but already am waxing nostalgic. Another fault of mine: I tend to romanticize things before they are finished. Case in point: my lovely, large, sunny apartment – oh, my home! How hard to pry myself out of it! And yet I must remember: it’s freezing; the oven is the tiniest; the bathroom sink has been draining super slow for months; there are two washers/dryers for the whole building; the paint is peeling; the kitchen is so small. So yeah. It would behoove me to be a bit more pragmatic.

Still – I will probably be a bit morose/melancholic from time to time and I hope, friends, that you will allow it. Dang it, it’s my silly blog and if not here, where?!

[Abbotts Lagoon, January 2013.]

The signs are there: I’m listening to Kate Rusby a lot. I’m running as much as possible. Drinking countless cups of tea. Plotting trips up to Sebastopol. Grabbing as much friend time as possible. Thinking about trips East to see friends and family ‘before’. Mentally discarding things from our apartment and dreading the inevitable packing. Wondering if I could just move in to my parents’ back room and sort of ‘forget’ to make the plane this summer. Oh, woe.

I wrote this almost 10 (!) years ago about California when I lived in DC and nothing really has changed: when i’m here, i feel different than i do in my adopted city. that life feels so removed and far away. sometimes i think i could close up my little apartment and leave it and that life, to walk off into the sun shining off the sea, the cliffs, the trees, and let it do what it may. there is little i would miss, except people, and that closeness is determined not by geography, but by perserverance. and i am dogged in my loves. i do not relinquish them easily. And one of the things i miss most about home is the way the air smells. some mornings you can catch the salt-scent drifting through the fog. other afternoons it is grass and rich earth. in other spots, it is bay leaves and river water, redwood bark pulled from the trees. the air is fresh and cool, quickening in early evening, when the blue night comes down. fall is lovely there. the maple turns yellow and the hills are still golden and the dust is not as hot as in july, and snow begins to accumlate on the distant mountains.

So you see I am not fooling around about this stuff. I am serious. I donwanna. I want to plant my feet and dig in.

[From the Estero Trail, December 2012.]

And so now I guess I will swing it around and remind myself that I will not relinquish here. This good earth and the trees that have grown for a hundred years or more and this grey-green sea will pulse on until I can come home to see them again. Oh life, let you be long that I can go off for a bit and still have this to come back to. It is my greatest wish today. After all, it’s not like I am going alone. I am going with my love who is a Californian like me; it is always the plan we will live here again for always. It’s just for a bit. (I have decided to be like Shirley, Anne Shirley-Blythe’s son, who, when he had to go off to WWI looked at it with a cool detached air of dealing with dirty work that must be attended to – even though I am probably at heart more like Walter with his white-hot emotion about it all, I will strive to be more businesslike and try to not be too terribly self-indulgent. After all: I will learn to surf the Atlantic. I will probably have a dog and hopefully also a kid. My mom and dad will visit. I will finally learn and speak French and hopefully a bit of Arabic too. So.)

Also my greatest wish is that you file this recipe away – as a reward for all that self-indulgent blather, a delicious dinner via the kitchn for a vegetarian shepard’s pie with sweet potatoes that is perfect for these chilly winter nights. I made it basically as-is but added about a cup of frozen peas and two generous teaspoons of marmite, if you’re into that sort of thing (thought please note: avoid if you are gluten-free and use gluten-free oats and tamari to be safe). It gives it a certain je ne sais quois and an extra depth. But I know it would be just as good without.

via thekitchn

In the meantime: good grief, it’s not like I’m the first person ever to move away from her home-place. Let’s focus rather on this light. Oh, ’tis the most beautiful. I will share it with you up until my last day here. (Please keep in touch.)

[Armstrong Woods, December 2012.]

BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task 5
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, 10
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

~ Keats


[On a run, September 2012.]

Quiet days, sunny days. Time hums along with the ordinary: running, recipe-testing, dish-washing, baking, bean-soaking, laundry, soup-making, book-reading. Last weekend we picked blackberries for two hours in shifting sun and shade and had a pint after at the fancy-ish pub in town (with sweet potato fries, perhaps one of the only decent offerings on the menu) and came home to turn them into jars and jars of jam (this year I get to keep most of them for myself).

Reading Stegner and am struck again with his insight, the great green watery prose of it. “Crossing to Safety” was the first book I finally read of his (“Angle of Repose” came later, and how very different those two are, though I love them both for equally different reasons), and it is what I am reading again. I am a creature of habit and repetition and only now, in my 30s, have I embraced that. I will hike the same trails year after year and camp in the same meadows if that appeals to me and I will not question it. I can reread a favorite book 10 times if I am so inclined (of course, I will read new-to-me ones, too). I will run the same backroads happily and swim laps in the same pool and drink tea every morning without fail. And I will make blackberry jam every September, if there is fruit enough.

[What we picked, September 2012.]

Fall is the wistful season. I think it is the best season in California, but then March slips in each year with its particular charm of its own, all wind and pale light and green hills, and I revise my belief that fall is it. But still, fall is precious: the days shrinking ever shorter and the time change looming ahead like a specter. I sit at my desk on the 12th floor and look out over downtown shining in the sun, marked here and there by wisps of clouds, the sky blue, the windows of the tall buildings all around me winking in late afternoon, and I wish myself at the beach, my feet buried in the sand. Or on a kayak on Tomales Bay, my skin turning browner the longer I am out there. Or in the high mountains again, sweat dripping in my eyes and dirt sticking to my legs and nothing else existing except the right here.

If summer is lazy and indolent, soft serve ice cream cones and late nights sipping wine at a picnic table, fall is more frantic. It is the last bit before the cold clutch of winter settles in. Everything feels important: the tomatoes, the sunshine, the dry smell of grass that hasn’t felt rain in months, and the light – oh, the light. On a run this week I saw two hawks in Golden Gate Park sitting still and silent near the sign warning all and sundry dogs of the coyotes supposedly in residence. As I ran past them and they ruffled a little but didn’t move away; I kept on ’til I reached Ocean Beach and then turned left went all the way down the Great Highway past the gleaming Pacific dotted here and there by surfers. I was kept company by pelicans and drifts of sand that blew over the path. It has been sunny here for weeks.

This Sunday morning I will hope to see those winged friends again, and will cross fingers the fog burns off very early for I plan to be out there very early. Then I will come home and bake raspberry muffins, to be eaten warm with good butter and blackberry jam and cups of coffee; then we will have homemade bread and soup and cheese and smoked salmon from the farmers market; then chocolate cake. Then tea.

Fall makes me want to cook more even than I usually do. Now that the jam has piled up I have turned my attention to bread and bread-baking. For years I heard of the ‘no-knead‘ phenomenon but never explored it myself; I am now a convert (though I will note I have no aversion to kneading dough). This is a bread that likes a slow rise, and it needs plenty of time to do so – at least 18 hours worth. Then it needs another 2 hours to rest and rise before being baked. This is a Saturday or Sunday bread, not meant for after work (unless you don’t mind eating at 8:30, which I do). Tomorrow I will start my dough in the morning before I go to the farmers’ market and let it hang out until Sunday morning before my run when I’ll set it out for the second rise. When I come back it will be ready to bake, and I’ll slip it into my dutch oven type thing and stick it in the oven. In 45 minutes: a perfect loaf. Fall, sweet.