Saturday, July 30, 2011
A women's retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, specifically at a place called Mountain Air, near a quaint little town called Burnsville can simply be described as breathtaking. It truly is "a community that embodies the soaring spirit of the mountain beneath its feet and the divine beauty of the forests that surround it." Not only were the surroundings humbling, but the 25+ year history shared with an abundantly brilliant group of women who through college, illness, Transatlantic moves, relationships, recipes, sorority bonds, marriage, births, social networks, life reorganization, adult beverages, divorce, career beginnings and endings, food, death and even laughter brought a lifetime of learning to a reality point. That is, a point where we recognize that reality is a by-product of the constant layering of experiences in one's life. Thus, we scan for recipes that "layer" to fit this analogy of life that at the same time embodies the cooler climates of a mountain top region. Digressing from the simplicity of a Caprese and flanking on the decidedly different we'll deliver the Cucumber, Buffalo Mozzarella and Farro Salad. Farro is the oldest grain there is and it is believed that all grains derive from it. Visiting a mountain top, enjoying the cooler temps and contributing to a collective experience only emphasizes the point...that layering through and to others is the real beauty of what we call life.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Background noise. It may be a favorite iTunes playlist, the topical stimulus of a cable television show, the rotations of an oscillating fan in constant motion, the purr of a kitten or slumbering cat, the home fountain mimicking a trickling brook or a cascading water fall, the hum or sizzle of a restaurant hive on a busy night, the air pressure stream of a CPAP machine, or maybe even the giggles of children playing in their room over a baby monitor . No matter the source we each have a tendency to fill air space with noise either on an intermittent basis or for an extended period of time. I happen to apply it when I write, cook, or drive. Don't get me wrong, silence cut by mother nature's hiccups (birds singing, insects clicking, frogs chirping, wind whipping, tidal lapping, rain falling) is also all right by me. A specific scallop dish from a 2003 edition of Dana Carpender's 15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes: Instant recipes for dinners, desserts & more comes to mind when I think about background noise as a simple ingredient lending to the creative process. That dish, Jalapeno Lime Scallops is described by Dana Carpender as "A sterling example of how a few perfect ingredients can combine to make something greater than the sum of the parts." I think about the act of "creating" in very much the same way, whether it's cooking in the kitchen or composing at my desk...my insertion of background noise is a necessary ingredient to designing and delivering the perfect moment, intermittently or long term.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Planning a writers conference in one's back yard is like embracing a large bunch of mint in your hands and taking a deep breath inward to allow your mind to bask in the invigorating essence of bliss. (I bought fresh mint at the farmer's market yesterday just for this purpose). As I read the bios of the individuals possibly slated to attend the event next year I'm in awe of the great number of people who write for a living, edit for a living, and/or represent writing for a living. Actually I do not have to look beyond my back yard to find contemporaries living here in the Lowcountry...there's Margaret Shinn Evans editor at the Lowcountry Weekly, there's Teresa Bruce an author/screenwriter, and then there's Kami Kinard a young adult novelist (not to mention some nationally known authors like Pat Conroy, Cassandra King who enjoy the salt marsh as much as the rest of us). Up until last year writing was simply something I did well and it always was connected to my occupation. Now it is what I must breathe to live a literary life. I found a recipe in a 1988 edition of Martha Stewart's Quick Cook Menu: 52 meals you can make in under an hour to align the literary journey with the kitchen...Coconut Madeleines & Persimmons with Tequila and Mint. (Scroll through the link I've provided to page 221 for the recipe...love it when cookbooks are online for the blog). There's a caption to a photo of this dish in Martha's text indicating that Madeleines have literary glory and cites that they play a memorable role in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. "But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection." Indeed, life through taste and smell serves to recollect, but it also creates.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
While some families traverse to the beach the same week every single summer, our family had an annual menu of meals that were produced on specific days of the week during our week at the beach (whatever week we happened to land on the beach, some years it was early in the season, other years late in the season). My mother was not an expansive cook. In fact, she seriously only mastered about nine main courses during her lifetime, two of which were made in a crock pot. Of the nine, there was one dish that my mother reserved for the beach experience and only for the beach experience. That dish was Shrimp Jambalaya and it was always served on Day #2 at the beach. I honestly haven't made this dish since my mother's death in 2001, but somehow the universe for all her glorious works seems to know how to kick something back into mainstream life without too much fanfare (and much to my delight). This year, when the reconstituted version of my family gathered at the beach, my pseudo sister Linda (a family dynamic too complicated to explain here)and I each brought recipes from our personal collections to have and prepare on demand. Thus, it was more than fitting this year that Linda brings a recipe for a one pan dish she calls Savannah Shrimp (pictured here). The dish is simply, fresh from the dock sauteed shrimp seasoned with Old Bay accompanied by sauteed Vidalia onion, chopped and cooked creamer potatoes, newly picked field peas, fresh corn off the cob and diced vine ripe tomatoes. Like clockwork this simple dish brought back a treasured favorite albeit a revision of my mother's shrimp dish, but all the same it was served on Day #2 at the beach and will be from this point forward fittingly. Life's better at the beach with shrimp back on the menu.