Category Archives: lists and pictures

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Connection

(on connection, immersion, being an artist regardless of medium, and salt)

“Who is the person that you call an artist? A man who is momentarily creative? To me he is not an artist. The man who merely at rare moments has this creative impulse and expresses that creativeness through perfection of technique, surely you would not call him an artist. To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behaviour; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

salt2Herbalism, to me is just another form of art. A design starts with a few general ideas and solidifies into something solid and perfect and a formula starts as the same thing. Each design, each piece of art, each product, each formula is a message, and each message starts out as a series of separate things that in combination become something different entirely. When it all fits into place, I feel a *click* and for a brief second all is right in the world, until the cycle starts again.

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Wildflowers

(on May surprise boxes, camping trips, wildflowers and friends who have the patience to key out plants)

A week ago, after what was thus far my favourite class ever, I met my friend Shana out in Joshua Tree national park for a spontaneous camping trip. Should you have the opportunity to go camping with a friend who is an veritable botany geek, I highly recommend it because you find out things like EXACT SPECIES of plants you’d never even think to identify down to specie level. You also spend an inordinate amount of time staring at said friend’s back while she’s hunched over the Jepson guide trying to determine whether the tubercles on a cholla are over or under 0.75 inches tall and you might go and wander and take photos of various cacti catching the light while she makes said determinations. Which brings me to one of my favourite truths about life: having people in your life who are dramatically different to you makes your life infinitely richer because you see things you would never have seen before.

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To the lonely seas and the sky

(on murky depths and surrender)

We watched him row out from the shore as the sun was setting. He rowed steadily, firmly, like someone who had been doing it for years. He jumped aboard his trimaran, which was moored next to our boat, and we called hello and chatted back and forth across the water. He’d built the boat himself. It was fast, with a max speed of 30 knots, and he has sailed it alone across the Atlantic seven times. When he found the cove we were anchored in, he liked it so much that he set up a mooring and stayed there. He himself looked like the archetypal image of an old sea man: white beard, tanned skin and sinew. He gazed out over the sea as we talked, as if casting stabilising lines into the deep. I thought to myself: This is a man rooted in the sea, which spends all its time moving. This is a man who has made his peace with uncertainty.

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Spring things

(changes, moisture, drought, and olfactory fireworks)

Here in LA, springtime hits like this:
As the pink jasmine starts to blossom, there is a slight pause, I imagine as the entire city takes a collective deep breath and thinks of only good things for a moment or two. Then they explode: a cacophony of white fireworks that blow up your olfactory sensors and make you giddy with the joy of it all. Tender green leaves start sprouting on the sycamores that, two weeks ago, were still twisted gnarled branches suspended against the grey sky. Peach, cherry and apple trees all bloom together; the bees are buzzing in a frenzied orgy. Its a sudden thing, this explosion. They’ll be gone in a week, replaced by the citrus blossoms that, in turn will hang heavy in the air.

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We went East

(adventures in New Mexico and thoughts on stress)

As I started to write this, the tips of my fingers were numb, and my computer keys were so cold that I dared not rest my hands on them for any length of time. Jam was upstairs sleeping in the loft bed, having decided that his prerequisite for leaving said bed was whether he could see his breath or not, and I was [thankfully] starting to feel the first of the heat reaching my way from the wood stove. I was in a rocking chair next to the window, because given a choice of warmth by the stove or watching the sun come up over the cliffs, I chose the sun, and my fingers could just deal.

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Plum and acorn custard tart

As I write this, I have my back turned on my office and kitchen, both of which have been completely devastated by my tornado-like working methods, which go something like this: ‘start one thing then another then another then another then forget what you were doing, make a snack, then decide to write a blog post and if you don’t look behind you then the mess doesn’t exist, right?’. I might not be the most efficient person in the world, but I don’t think that was ever a question.

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We went to Morocco

Drivers in Morocco aren’t quite like drivers here in California. Our driver on the 3 hour drive from Tangier to Chefchaouen drove in the middle of the road the majority of the way, swerving into the right lane at the last minute for oncoming traffic. He stopped at a Mosque to pray for 20 minutes, and pulled over again, half an hour later, to hack up a lung and spit it onto the shoulder. When the road turned steeply up into the mountains, the old diesel engine slowed to little over 15mph, and we chugged higher and higher, while cars whizzed by too close for comfort. And then the driver coughed for a minute, pointed up ahead and said, through a toothless smile, ‘Chaouen’.

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Adventures in sailing

(thoughts on fear, on adventure, on doing it regardless and tips on how to float like a jellyfish)

Jam and I raised our anchor in Ibiza and cast off at 2am, in the pitch black of a night when the moon had already set. The outline of Ibiza rock hung heavy on the horizon, outlined as black nothingness set against the backdrop of the milky way. A backdrop without disturbance, blotched with nebulae. Shooting stars shot by overhead every minute and the sea around us was dead, silky calm, save the drone of our engine. A couple of miles out, a mist arose from the warm sea, entirely covering horizon line, hanging low all around us.

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We went north.



After an especially stressful six weeks, during which Jam and I hardly saw each other, we packed up the car and drove north east, into the Sierras, to our favourite little camping spot. As we drove higher, the air got cooler and lighter. Sometimes you don’t notice that you live somewhere smoggy until you take a deep breath elsewhere and it makes your heart race and your eyes tear up for the purity and clean-ness of it all.

Sleeping under the stars (nothing beats falling asleep looking up at trees and stars!), cooking over fire (why does fire make everything taste so much better?), lots of lounging around in hammocks reading, and lots of wandering off into the wilderness, and napping on blankets as the cool mountain breeze blows through the aspens and spray from a nearby waterfall moistens the air. Jam slept for about 15 hours a day (restorative rest!), and I woke up at first light too excited to sleep any longer because there was so much to look at. We made wild teas over the fire; all the currants were in bloom. We washed in the river and found secret, sacred spots that looked more like something from a Miyazaki film than real life. A much-needed disconnect from everything life-related, during which I plagued my husband questions and statements like:

“How do you fall asleep at night if there’s still stuff to do?” and “How can you be up here when you know there’s work to be done?” and “Sometimes I work until 1am because I have to finish my to-do list and then I can barely move from exhaustion the next day.” and then he said, very wisely “You can never get everything done; nobody can. You just have to switch that part of your brain off and start it back up when you get back to work.”

I have brain-segmenting homework to do. In the meantime, here are some pictures…

 

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A few more things

(in which I dish out a recipe for the best rice in the world, talk about teaching, and hawk my herb blend)

As I write this, a big pot of elderflower champagne is fermenting away in the corner. Its bubbling noises permeate the quiet of my living room. Its a familiar kind of thing, comfortable, like having an old friend snoring in a chair. Tomorrow I’ll put it in a carboy and let it ferment for a bit longer, and then I’ll bottle it in champagne bottles and painstakingly wait. More about this process soon, most likely nest week. In the meantime, lots of things are happening. That class that I was so nervous about? It went well. Spiffingly well. Heart-soaringly well. Jump-up-and-down squealing kind of well. I think that public speaking terror can be overcome entirely by making sure one is speaking on a topic that one is well and truly infatuated with. In this case, I was talking about elderflowers, in an outdoor fort created by a big willow tree. And there’s another class this coming weekend, at the Roots of Healing Herb Fest. If you’re in Los Angeles, please come– it’ll be a wonderful day chock a block full of interesting classes. Mine? Mine is on five local plants that I use in my practice, with a little intro about why I think its so important to use local flavours. You know, stuff I could talk about for hours…

And speaking of local flavours, I’ve been playing around with a few things lately:

  1. Herbes De Californie is being re-stocked as we speak (as I type?). A frantic spring of gathering white sage, black sage, rose petals, bay leaves, and sagebrush. This is my stronghold, my go-to-best-friend of a spice mix. The thing that makes it onto every roast and every pizza and every side. Because of this, I’m usually out by November, and needless to say, the finishing of it usually results in minor tears. I am so happy to have it back.
  2. California sweet everlasting, one of my all time favourite smells, is working its way into an experimental mead. Am excited and nervous to see how this one goes. Wish me luck?
  3. Currants. Its such a simple little thing, but when I was leafing through Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I realised that one of the staples of Middle Eastern cooking is dried fruit. All of these cuisines that have such rich, exotic and frankly delicious histories utilise a combination of flavours, and I like that dried fruit provide the sweetness or the tang in the Middle East. A couple of days later I was out wandering in the wilderness as I’m often prone to do and stumbled upon this season’s first wild currants. Usually I bake with them because, well, I’m me, and I like anything sweet, but with the dried fruit thing in mind, I brought them home and set them out in the sun to dry. Once they were dry I put them in a jar and labelled them, and they sat there next to my gathered pine nuts and gathered acorns and store bought dates and apricots. I know that drying fruit is not remotely a novel concept, but  to me, in that moment, it was a revelation. After said revelation I promptly cooked them all into my favourite rice dish. Rice, saffron, mixed herbs, sun dried berries, its perfect, and pretty simple to make.

I’ve been eating this rice in a multitude of different ways. My favourite is with chicken, hot off the barbecue, its flesh infused with that hot charcoal smoke flavour, drizzled with a yogurt and garlic sauce. My second favourite is on its own, with more of that yogurt sauce, and a handful of whatever fresh vegetables I can find in the fridge– usually right now its a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes. Its also perfect with lamb, and flank steaks with a grape leaf chimichurri sauce.

Ottolenghi’s book has some steps that I’ve eliminated because I just didn’t notice such a dramatic difference as to warrant, say, mixing in the saffron at the end into half the rice, so that its a pretty blend of white and yellow. I happen to like the colour yellow and so I mix it in at the beginning, where I can forget about it. Other than that, its pretty similar. No foraged currants that you painstakingly sundried on your own? The original recipe calls for barberries, which I have stocked in the pantry at all timof es anyway. You can get them at a Persian market or online at Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also use dried oregon grape berries which I have done and found delicious. And if you have none of these and desperately need to make this now, use dried currants, though I do warn you that they won’t be as tangy, wild tasting or exotic.

 

Herbed saffron rice with sun dried local currants.
Adapted loosely from Jerusalem

2 tb butter
2 cups basmati rice
2 1/3 cups boiling water
1 tsp saffron soaked in 3 tbsp boiling water for about 30 mins
1/4 cup dried currants or barberries
small handfuls of herbs: bee balm, tarragon, cilantro, parsley– about a cup total, all chopped finely.
salt and pepper
1/2 cup crushed pistachios (optional– I’ve both used and not-used them and both ways are good)

Melt the butter, in a saucepan and throw in the rice. Stir to make sure they’re all coated with butter, then add the saffron water, and about 15 seconds later, the rest of the water. Add salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each), cover tightly and reduce the heat to a very slow simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes then remove from the heat, stir in the currants or barberries, and cover with a towel and then the lid again. Leave off the heat, like this, steaming for another ten minutes, then take off the lid and stir in the chopped herbs. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as need be. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with pistachios. Serve either hot or at room temperature.