The Inspiration Board (aka My Palpable Pinterest)

Airport magazine stores are like brightly-lit rabbit holes. While in my normal daily life I can usually steer away from the gossip columns and red carpet reviews, in these said holes I seem unable to resist the temptation of the gloss. Maybe it's the anonymity of air travel - no one I know witnesses my severe and stable focus on the hair stylings of Rooney Mara. Except for Eric and he's accepted this. Oh and I suppose I'm now writing it on the internet sooo...  Right.

Anyhow, on one recent indulgence I bought Vanity Fair - Rooney Mara was front and center. Within the glossy gem, one of the features included this behind-the-scenes photo of the fashion photographer's Inspiration Board. A cluttered wall full of photos he was looking to be inspired by. And I say to myself, " Self.... That's what you've been craving! An Inspiration Board!"

It's a palpable Pinterest. But instead of being an endlessly overwhelming time-waster, it's like a collage of calm. It somehow shall bring order to the chaos of this food-scattered brain. I'm just sure of it.

In the short-term, it's the things I have at my fingertips that actually need to be in front of my eyeballs.
In the long-term, it's the loveable art, the likeable font, the photo that inspires, the person who motivates. Maybe a list of the women I want to interview... next week.

So I thought I'd give a sneak peek at the beginning of my board. I'd love to know what's on yours!

An audacious, optimism-inspiring print made by the talented folks at Enormous Champion, a gift from my artist sister, Sarah... I love them for their desire to comfort the masses in gold cursive. Consider me comforted Champions...

My dear friend Leah Stuckey, an artist and pastry chef based in Chicago (you'll meet her soon!), recently had hearts on the brain. Her series of drawings were immediately posted on the growing board...

A excerpt from an article in Gastronomica by Allen Weiss on Authenticity...

From the Food Photo Pioneers: Saveur on Mugua Ji
From Edible Vineyard: Nancy Luce and her beloved chicken

From Ohori's cafe: A greeting card so vibrant that to hide it within the folds of some undeserving envelope seemed wholly shameful. I wish I could say the same of their Italian Roast. Doh!

What do you pin?!


I. Need. Borscht.

As we know, there is an ebb and flow in all things. Like the moon. Or my interest in knitting. 

Cooking is certainly no exception to this rule - One miraculous day in the kitchen that left you feeling heady and dangerously creative turns into that legendary evening when someone actually lost a filling during the desert course of the dinner party because your caramel was too hard. Except they didn't tell you till a year later so as to delay your guilt.  
Yes, that actually happened… To a friend of mine I mean. Ahem.

A blog is no exception either - having its own set of ebbs and flows - periods of heightened imagination followed by awkward phases of transition and confused identity. I hate to say it, but we’ve been in a phase of the latter. 
You were thinking it too… Don’t lie.

Because you see a blog is certainly its own creative beast - it is has an identity, a character, an essence. With all these - ebbs and flows. Being the creator of the beast any phase of mine is, strangely enough, a phase of hers. An odd vulnerability. 
(Yes, I’ve found the blog is decidedly feminine).

Today my beast and I feel a need to re-identify ourselves. 
Re-cap, re-view
Re-orient to what its is we’re all following. So in an effort to do just that - here's my summary of the identity, the aim, the essence of this here beast of a blog. 

- This is a blog following the writing of a cookbook. A Mennonite cookbook to be exact. We started it with this.  Let’s not lose sight.
- That’s to say… this is a finite blog. Not one of those sorted soap operas, endlessly dragging out the drama of fava beans and pork belly.  When the book is done, the blog shall be done. Period. (Here's to hoping this won’t end in some Shakespearean tragedy where all inspiration lays bloodied by its own author, missing all its fillings.)
- Of course, there’s recipes along the way – the ones being tested for the book and then just the ones I really like, cause you get to do that when you're a blog/beast creator.
- Like any (potentially good) story this one has its characters: the women I glean wisdom from, a teacherartists, the state of Kansas, friends, family, you dear readers, and there’s me. 
(Psstt… Stay tuned! A new and exciting character shall emerge quite soon!)
- The book’s aim is to be one of collaboration – with Mennonite artists – the visual kind, the savory and sweet kind, the pen and paper kind. 
- YOU, dear readers, are the intended audience and hopefully collaborators – so do speak up!… What do you want to know, learn, taste, smell? What do you want in your cookbook?

Now that we know where we all stand, I think it’s time to move forward out of this godforsaken ebb. 

However, let’s not deny the basic facts:
Today is an ebb.
Today is cold. And melancholy.
I am now 30.
And I. Need. Borscht.

Cabbage Borscht (w/o beets)
Adapted from my grandmother Joan Dreier from her days at Heritage Inn in Hesston, Kansas. 
I added the bone, bouquet garni, leek, and carrot. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

1 pound stew meat*
1 beef bone (optional)
1 bouquet garni**
1 carrot, cut in large chunks
1 small onion, diced
1 leek, white and pale green part only
4 small potatoes
1 small head of cabbage (preferably Savoy cabbage)
1/2 teaspoon dill

* Most butchers will have "stew meat" - beef cut in 1-2" cubes
** A bouquet garni is made with 4-5 sprigs of fresh parsley, 4 sprigs of thyme, and 1 bay leaf wrapped a stalk of celery.

1. In large pot cover stew meat with 1-2" of water. Add bone if you are using it. Add the bouquet garni and carrot, and bring to a boil. As soon as it is begins to boil, turn heat down to simmer, skimming the foam that rises to the surface. Simmer till the meat is nearly tender. This may take up to 2 hours - The longer it cooks, the more tender it will be. Once meat is done, remove and discard the bone. 
Note: I wanted a fairly clear broth so I poured the soup through a cheesecloth before adding veggies, which removed the impurities that came from the bone. 

2. Meanwhile, prepare the leek by cutting it in half lengthwise, rinsing, and slicing thinly. Heat a bit of olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the diced onion and leek. Turn heat to low, salt the veggies, and cover. Let cook till completely tender, then add them  to the soup. 

3. When meat is cooked to your desired tenderness, add the dill and diced potatoes. Simmer till potatoes are cooked through. 

4. Prepare the cabbage by quartering it, and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. Add the cabbage to the soup, and simmer till the cabbage is tender but still slightly crisp. 
Note: That sulfur smell from cabbage comes from cooking it on high heat. So simmer, simmer, simmer. 

5. And you're done!  Serve with a slice of hearty bread and for the love... chill out about the 30 thing. Also, leftovers are lovely. Enjoy!


The Other End of Change (Part 2): Here's to the Magicians

I had what I would call an incredibly enjoyable dinner last week with this woman whom I'd never met. We have a mutual friend in Portland who connected us as "women who used to live in Portland but now live in Santa Fe". It occurs to me how the categories of our identity surprisingly expand with each day. Sharing said category is most certainly a reason to have dinner with strangers. And enjoy them.

Among the twists and turns of our conversation, I saw her relax a bit - having recognized the cynic in me - and so with some degree of relief she divulged a fact about Santa Fe that had me belly laughing among my beets. "Everyone you meet here," she says, "will be one of the following:
1. Shaman
2. Practitioner of Soul Retrieval
3. Magician."
(Apparently, there's also the occasional fairy, as in a creator of fairy dust.)

I'm sorry if I've offended all you Soul Retrievers reading this, but I can be nothing if not myself. And seriously?... I don't even understand what soul retrieval means, nor could my new friend explain it. How can you have lost that in the first place? Oh Bless.

What I actually felt in the midst of all the magical talk though was... Relief and Admiration.  It occurs to me that this a place where I can, with at least some degree of confidence, announce: "I'm a writer" in the face of that dreaded question of "Sooo, what do you do?". Because after all, I'm not saying Soul Retriever and really... are the Magicians of Santa Fe shuddering in the face of that question? I think not!
Which is relieving somehow. And even a bit admirable.

See I'm about to turn 30 and I confess... it's freaking me out. Especially as I bashfully look back on the confused, maniacal state my professional life took on through my 20s. I mean I've been:
1. Medical Admin
2. Massage Therapist
3. Hint of a Public Speaker
4. Social Worker
5. Nanny

But throughout that odd list I felt a tug of heartstrings towards the kitchen and the pen, and now with some audacity I'm letting the flour and ink pull me along, facing this awkward phase in which professional questions feel just that...awkward. So I sincerely aspire to the 30s not being so friggin' maniacal. I might have to go get my soul retrieved if so.

Anyhow... What I mean to say is...
Here's to all the Santa Fean Magicians and Shamans and Soul Retrievers inspiring us Writers!
Here's to confidently stating what your heartstrings want you to state!

And I suppose I'll cheers to turning 30 soon.
Ok, Maybe. 

The writer and food enthusiast in me has taken to the details of this place (and of course the sky). A few photos for you based on that theme... 

a new driveway and old desert

of course... chiles donning the front porch greet us 

restart of a spice drawer thanks to the Santa Fe Spice Lady

supper for birds