Thursday, November 29, 2012


Wednesday, February 8, 2012
This is the original Bob Bell. He’s 93, he dresses like a cool guy in his twenties, and he’s taken up frying recently. He lights a Yankee Candle when you arrive, offers you a breakfast beer, and tells you about his recent egg supply from his lazy chickens. Goats bleat in the backyard, Abby the blind dog bumps into your knees, smacks into the legs of the table. He’s a welder and bought a new snow plow last year, installing it without aid on his truck. He also just bought a brand new red car. Last week he mailed me a twenty dollar bill.

Nesting and Cooking

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I’ve been holing up a bit since settling in Brooklyn. Not only because I spent all of my money in Europe in the last few months, but because it’s winter. It’s grey. And today, it’s even raining. I spend so much of my time working in the restaurant that in my time off, I’m so tired that my bones hurt. This results in those down days being spent wearing loose knits while tinkering in the kitchen.
Last week, for the first time, I made lamb chops. I’ve never much been a fan of lamb, or rather, it’s never excited me the way I see some people fawn over it. I figure, if it incites such love in some people, I’d better let them have it. However, I had a crazy experience a few years back where as my dinner partner finished their lamb chops, I was overwhelmed by a need to suck on the lamb bones. I know that sounds like an inappropriate share, but it must’ve been a deficiency of some sort in my own diet that caused it, and last week, I wanted those lamb bones again. I seared the chops with Herbs de Provence, fresh thyme, and grey sea salt. Paired with roasted purple carrots, beet greens, and fingerlings that I seasoned with whole garlic cloves still in their wraps, a bit of rosemary, olive oil and more sea salt, it was simple, comforting and delicious.

This morning I broke down the chicken I baked on Sunday, saving the bones and au jus to make a stock. It’s simmering now with carrots, onions, rosemary, thyme and celery, making a wonderful perfume for the apartment.

I’m working for a new website, writing about food and artisans. It seems promising. I’ll be researching artisanal sodas this week, made in my Brooklyn backyard, by people likely to be as excited as I am to be cooking and tinkering, making your life and career out of what makes you happiest.

Made on a Mac

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Other writing for other people.

I've realized that I haven't told anyone about the work I do for other people. I write for CHIVE Sustainable Event Design + Caterers, doing their bios and copy for their Sustainable Sunday Suppers. Below, I've linked a few of their pages to show the work done. Hope you like them!

And for an award given to Julia, her bio for Suffolk University's Ten Under Ten honorees:

     Julia J. Frost, BSBA’08
A 2007 graduate of the Suffolk University Sawyer Business School, Julia first began her professional career as a travel coordinator for Global Learning Company’s international seminars. It was here that she honed her skills as an enthusiastic and passionate recruiter and realized both her personal worldly travel ambitions and her appreciation of the factors that influence how business is conducted in different regions. As President of Women In Business, a Sawyer Business School student-run organization, Julia’s strengths of organization, persistence and heart helped her to create valuable speakers series, fundraisers, and educational forums to not only increase membership and participation between faculty, students and staff, but increased engagement in the local community outside of the University. It was here that she learned the value of community and connections, and through her experiences there she gained a confidence that eventually led to the inception of her own business.
CHIVE- Sustainable Event Design & Catering, LLC, a zero-waste, seasonal, local farm- and fishery-to-table business, was the brainchild of Julia, her design-focused sister, and their chef friend. By bringing together their distinctive strengths, CHIVE is now in the throes of their fourth year—having doubled both the number of events and revenue of each fiscal year—for they’ve created a niche market in Boston’s events and food industry. Renowned for its support of the Boston area’s small businesses and educational community, CHIVE focuses first on their own North Shore community and more widely in New England in general through its relationships with local farmers, artisans and fellow, small businesses. Julia finds that CHIVE has married all of her interests: she meets new people daily, creating a network by linking the community; she supports non-profit, educational and environmental organizations through fundraising dinners and celebrations; and continually educates about issues that align with the core values of CHIVE’s—and her community’s—hearts. Suffolk offered her the opportunity to use her strengths to create the professional atmosphere she desired, Global Learning Company offered her the opportunity to lead fearlessly, and CHIVE has allowed her to flourish in the Boston and North Shore communities as a leader in the sustainable business model.    

Next, CHIVE and I are working on their anniversary dinner celebration coming in late May. We'll be concentrating on gathering community and creating a more delicious, sustainable, and supportive life around our food. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012 it possible?

I'm starting a project. I'd like your help.

I've been thinking, endlessly, for about 25 years now, about the perfect life. Is it primarily a successful, loving, supportive, and passionate relationship? Is it professional rewards: living wage, emotional fulfillment, intellectual challenge? Is it family? The right neighborhood that offers community, interests, good food? Seeing the world? Learning about other cultures? Staying in bed all day on a Tuesday? What if you have all of these things and still don't feel it? How do you even identify it?

I have no answers. I'd like to hear yours. Where have you found fulfillment? Partial or full? Routes to get there?

I would love to blame this on a tough job market, a generation of indecisive kids, a lack of creativity, but none of those are it. Please email me your ideas.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Favorite Recipes

I've been asked to contribute to a cookbook for a friend's upcoming wedding. She shall not be named, but come August Miss Lil will have a few more tricks up her sleeve. I got to sit all morning, thinking about my favorite meals, and best ways to impress a crowd, or a loved one, or myself (the hardest one to impress, of course). I broke out my recipes from my last year as a pastry chef, my old standbys torn from newspapers aged to an amber color, and the best cookbooks I own. These recipes bring back memories- a trip to Big Sur where the onion soup was nearly as memorable as the view, my first attempt at confit-ing something, my trusted pie dough, ever present in the fridge. I don't love my kitchen right now, and have no extra cash for buying expensive things like duck, but live vicariously through the memories of these foods, and by the promise of their return to my daily life.

Wanted to share. Recipes below. Credit given where the ideas were not my own.

Lavender (or orange or lemon or chocolate or Rose water) Butter Cookies Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere

for 4 1/2 dozen small cookies

1c room temperature unsalted butter
3/4 c sugar
1 egg yolk
1t vanilla extract, or 1/2 t grated orange peel plus 1/4 t orange flower water, or 1/2 t grated lemon peel (add 1/4 t rosewater if you like), or 1oz sweetened chocolate, or (my favorite!) 1T dried lavender (good with lemon zest too)
2 c flour
1/8 t kosher salt

(if you use salted butter, omit salt from recipe)

1. cream the butter until it is light and fluffy
2. add the sugar and cream to light and fluffiness again (to cream something means to whip the shit out of it with a whisk or Kitchen Aid)
3. Add the egg yolk and beat to light and fluffy yet again
4. If you are using chocolate, melt it over hot water (metal bowl with chocolate over boiling water) and then let it cool briefly.
5. Beat the chocolate, or whatever flavoring you are using, into the egg/butter mixture.
6. Work ing ht flour, and the salt if you need it, until just evenly mixed. The dough should be soft, but manageable if you handle it lightly.
7. Shape the cookie dough into a roll of whatever diameter you want- I normally end up with a long, squared, giant tootsie roll about 1.5-2" in diameter.
8. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for twenty to thirty minutes.
9. Unwrap and slice into preferred cookie width.
10. Lay out on parchment lined baking sheet, leave an inch around each cookie for spreading.
11. Bake at 350* for 10-12 minutes, until becoming golden around the edges. Store in an airtight container.

Fresh Peach Ice Cream Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere

makes one generous quart

1.5 c whipping cream
3/4 c sugar
3 egg yolks
1 lb very ripe, good-flavored and nicely colored peaches
Vanilla extract to taste

Make the custard the day ahead so it can chill.

1. Warm the cream and 1/2 c of the sugar in a non-corroding saucepan until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.
2. Whisk the egg yolks just enough to mix them and stir in some of the hot cream mixture to heat them.
3. Return to the pan and cook until the custard coats the spoon.
4. Strain into a container and chill.
5. When you are ready to freeze the ice cream, peel and pit the peaches and cut into thin slices into a bowl. Toss them with the remaining 1/4 c of sugar and let stand for about an hour, until the sugar is dissolved.
6. Crush the peaches with a potato masher (or your hands, as I would do) until they are small pieces. You don't want large chunks, which will freeze like rocks in your ice cream, but you do want tiny pieces, not a puree.
7. You should have about 1.5 c of peach and juice. Mix with the custard and add a few drops of vanilla to taste. Freeze according to directions on your machine.
8. Serve with lavender butter cookies!!

My pie dough adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2.5 c AP flour
1 c super cold butter, cut into chunks (cut first, then chill)
1 t each of sugar and salt
ice cold water

You can make this recipe by hand, with a dough cutter, with a Kitchen Aid (paddle attachment) or with a Cuisinart food processor.

1. Blend the flour, salt, sugar, and butter until it resembles rough cornmeal. Breaking the butter down into gravel like pieces. Keep it super cold (I chill the flour, the bowl, the butter, and will stop the process halfway if it gets too warm while mixing).
2. Once at desired roughness, add the ice cold water a few teaspoons at a time, you want the dough to hold together but not get wet looking. You'll probably need 6-8T or thereabouts. I usually just get a small glass of water with ice cubes in it, pouring in a bit at a time. I don't really measure.
3. Form two discs with the dough (you've made enough for a two base only pies or one top and bottom pie). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Well-wrapped pie dough can be unused in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and can be frozen.
4. Take dough out twenty minutes before use (ten minutes at least), roll out into rounds large enough to fit over the plate and fill accordingly.
5. If using a top shell, I like to paint with milk or water and dust with sugar (sweet pies) or salt  for savory.

One of my favorite things to do with pie dough is to make savory galettes-

Vegetable and cheese galette my own creation

a galette is just a free form pie- no dish!
1. On a parchment lined cookie sheet, lay out dough and layer the center with sweet potato slices, red onions, purple grapes, blue cheese, sautéed kale or fresh spinach, and lots of thyme or herbs de provence. Switch up vegetables or ingredients as you like.
2. Fold edges of dough over contents, leaving the center open. Paint galette edge with water or olive oil and dust with kosher or sea salt.
3. Bake at 350* or until the dough edges are golden.

Duck Confit from NY Times' Melissa Clark

1.5 t kosher salt
1t freshly ground black pepper
.5 t thyme, fresh or dried
1 bay leaf
8 moulard duck legs (about four pounds total), rinsed and patted dry but not trimmed

1. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, thyme and broken bay leaf. Sprinkle over duck generously. Place legs in pan in one layer, cover tightly with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. The next day, heat oven to 325*. Place duck legs, fat side down, in a large, ovenproof skillet, with legs fitting snugly in a single layer (you may have to cook in batches or use two skillets). Heat over medium-high heat until fat starts to render. When there is about 1/4" of fat in the pan, about 20 minutes, flip the legs, cover with foil, and place in oven. If you have used two pans, transfer duck and fat to a roasting pan, cover with foil, and place in oven.
3. Roast legs for about an hour, then remove foil and continue roasting until duck is golden brown, about one hour more. Adjust time and temperature depending on your oven, this recipe is a little hot and a little long. Remove duck from fat, reserve fat and gelee for other uses (see next recipe!).
4. Serve duck warm with herb roasted potatoes or in a salad of bitter greens. Or eat with your fingers standing over the stove top like I do.

Onion Soup with Tomato and A Poached Egg from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers

for four servings:

1/4 c duck fat or olive oil
1 lb sliced yellow onions (about four cups)
Kosher salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, slivered
a sprig of fresh thyme
4 c chicken stock, warmed
1 T salty confit gelee, if you have it. otherwise, omit.
1 very ripe tomato, about 6 oz, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 oz slice of peasant style bread (levain (Acme/Iggy's) is my favorite)
4 oz soaked salt cod torn into thumbnail size bits (you can buy this at Whole Foods and at Formaggio Kitchen, among other specialty markets)- but this is optional.
4 eggs
freshly cracked pepper

1. Warm 3T of duck fat or olive oil in a 3 qt sauté pan over low to medium heat.
2. Add sliced onions, few pinches of salt, the garlic, and thyme.
3. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are translucent and have collapsed onto themselves, about 15 minutes. Don't let them color or get mushy- onions should be sweet and tender.
4. Add the warm stock and the gelee if using. Bring to a simmer and stir in the chopped tomato.
5. Return to a gentle simmer and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Taste for salt.
6. Fish out the thyme, let it cool slightly, and then pull off the thyme leaves and replace into soup. Throw out the stem.
7. Meanwhile, tear or cut the bread into 4 pieces and brush with remaining duck fat or olive oil. Spread onto baking sheet and toast until golden, about 6 minutes.
8. Crack each egg into a saucer or small, shallow bowl. Tipping each dish just above the surface of the simmering broth, slide in the eggs, aiming to keep them separate. The fresher the egg, the better the form. But older eggs just make the soup look more rustic, so no worries.
9. Cook the eggs to the desired doneness- usually 3 to 4 minutes.
10. Set a warm crouton in each of four warm bowls. Spoon an egg, along with a tangle of onions and a bit of tomato into each bowl and fill with the broth. Top with freshly ground pepper.

Dutch Baby/ German Pancake from NY Times' Amanda Hesser

This can be breakfast or dessert, and is best made in a cast iron skillet about 10-12" wide.

2 eggs
.5 c flour
.5 c milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 T butter
2 T confectioners' sugar
juice of half a lemon/jam/maple syrup/honey…etc. any topping you like

1. Preheat oven to 425*
2. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeat and lightly beat until blended but still lumpy.
3. Melt the butter in a 12" skillet with heatproof handle over medium-high heat on the stove. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter.
4. Move to the oven and bake until the edges billow and begin to turn a golden brown, about 15 minutes.
5. Working quickly, remove pan from oven, sprinkle the sugar through a sieve, and return to oven for 1-2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve with whatever topping you prefer. Serves 2-4.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Finding your kin

I had the good fortune last week to receive an invitation to the Kinfolk Social, a celebration of community, food, and craft, at The Green Building in Brooklyn. I went solo, hoping that like-minded nice people interested in meeting others would allow me entry to their conversations. They did.

The Green Building, a long, lofted barn-like space was lit by three golden chandeliers and enough candles to warm the place. Eucalyptus leaves were strewn from the rafters above, creating a canopy over the long communal table. After enjoying a family-style vegetarian meal, the group welcomed a larger crowd, doubling the size of the Kinfolk fans, the local crafters and artisans, and the writers and photographers who spend their time in the support of these artists.

Kinfolk, possibly the most beautiful quarterly magazine to hit limited shelving in recent years, celebrates this coming together. It inspires a slower pace, an appreciation of tastes, smells, decor, and place. Above all, it wants to create community. And that Sunday night supper in Brooklyn helped do just that. There were Brooklyn-made cheeses, chocolates, specialty beers and cocktails, slate serving platters, ceramic mugs and teapots... a true celebration of the talent our neighborhood possesses.

This was great timing, for the Times had run a quick story in the Sunday magazine the week previous, highlighting the artisans that are moving beyond pickles and knitted caps and becoming specialists in more specific manufacturing. The author, Adam Davidson, argued that this was true capitalism, as Adam Smith wrote it could be, for maximum efficiency there must be specialization. I make the cheese, you the bread, he’ll make the oven. Together, we all have grilled cheeses. If we each make our own parts to the grilled cheese puzzle, the process is slowed. This is ironic, isn’t it? This craft movement occurred in the first place because we wanted to get off the high-speed, high-pressure life style that thrives on quickness, access, and expediency. We focus on slowing sufficiently to focus on one thing, one thing we feel a connection to, and in doing so, we hasten the efficiency of the whole, as long as enough people slow to focus on their specialties too. There are holes in this argument, sure, but in a general manner, Davidson is right to point out the true expanse of this movement and its effect on our economy. We are moving in a direction of specialization by choice, we are making the crafts that we want to, not working in an assembly line of gadgets. We are, in becoming more passionate economic participants, creating a healthier, happier economy. Slowly, sure, but doing so nonetheless. This makes me so excited. I love to think that if we all gather together with our special talents, that we recreate this marketplace with our ideals and expectations in the proper place.

On that note, read this blog:
Sure, it’s a love letter to a husband on an anniversary, but it’s the point behind it that rings true to me- we can find a way to support one another (in craft, business, and love) and keep a bit of old-fashioned charm alive.

Winter Comforts

I’ve been holing up a bit since settling in Brooklyn. Not only because I spent all of my money in Europe in the last few months, but because it’s winter. It’s grey. And today, it’s even raining. I spend so much of my time working in the restaurant that in my time off, I’m so tired that my bones hurt. This results in those few down days being spent wearing loose knits while tinkering in the kitchen.

Last week, for the first time, I made lamb chops. I’ve never much been a fan of lamb, or rather, it’s never excited me the way I see some people fawn over it. I figure, if it incites such love in some people, I’d better let them have it. However, I had a crazy experience a few years back where as my dinner partner finished their lamb chops, I was overwhelmed by a need to suck on the lamb bones. I know that sounds like an inappropriate share, but it must’ve been a deficiency of some sort in my own diet that caused it, and last week, I wanted those lamb bones again. I seared the chops with Herbs de Provence, fresh thyme, and grey sea salt. Paired with roasted purple carrots, beet greens, and fingerlings that I seasoned with whole garlic cloves still in their wraps, a bit of rosemary, olive oil and more sea salt, it was simple, comforting and delicious.

This morning I broke down the chicken I baked on Sunday, saving the bones and au jus to make a stock. It’s simmering now with carrots, onions, rosemary, thyme and celery, making a wonderful perfume for the apartment.

I’m working for a new website, writing about food and artisans. It seems promising. I’ll be researching artisanal sodas this week, made in my Brooklyn backyard, by people likely to be as excited as I am to be cooking and tinkering, making one's life and career out of what makes you happiest.

Opportunities that come, and what to do about them...

I have twice visited a heavenly farm and world-renowned restaurant in the past two weeks. I watched heritage breed geese settle in to their new home, piglets with long curly tails fighting for their lunch. There were cows scratching their hides against trees while others lingered in a free-flowing brook. The cleanest and most beautiful chicken coop I have ever seen was the home to a hundred or so laying hens. Irrigation drip lines fed into drinking dishes for these hens, and they squabbled around, chatting and napping in the fresh hay. I have wanted to come here for years. The farm is among the best in the nation, the educational and sustainability driven non-profit is one I’ve always admired.

The restaurant runs on these fields, serving their pork and carrots. It is recognized as one of the best, it is a Chez Panisse, it is a French Laundry. I am honored to be offered a position.

The trouble is, it’s a position in a field from which I’m trying to be released. You know, when you’ve stayed too long in a position that comes naturally and easily, but isn’t necessarily using your full potential and passion (that’s right, bartenders and waiters, I’m looking at you!)? I’m hoping to just be a writer one day, a writer that focuses on food security, responsible agriculture, healthful eating, food systems and food rituals around the world. I do not want to be a waiter/writer forever. Every time I take a new opportunity in a restaurant, I’m one step further from being only a writer. These are adult decisions; hard to make and definitely hard to know if you’ve made the right one.

I don’t think I’ll take the position offered though. It is not a guarantee that this one will feed into the one I’d hope to have on the farm and in the office. And it’s too risky to add more of my writing time to my waiting time; I’ve waited long enough.

Baia Nicchia Farm starts Artisanal Seed Company

I used to spend hours picking peppers, tomatoes and squash for Fred Hempel. His greyhounds would run around the fields, startling the chickens and causing us to pause our harvesting to watch their speed and grace. We’d get there early in the morning, dew and frost making leaves shimmer above the crackable ice on puddles not yet burned away by the sun. I wear farm clothes: old t-shirts, ratty corduroys, sweatshirts with hoods, fingerless gloves, a hat and Wellies. By the time I’ve picked my first crate of tomatoes, the hat, gloves and sweatshirt have been thrown aside.

Fred owns Baia Nicchia, or Bay Niche, an organic farm that supplies to CSA subscribers (private purchasers of a weekly box of whatever is in season) and Bay Area restaurants. He sells at farmer’s markets and caters dinners on the farm. The farm, located in Sunol Agricultural Park, lies to the far end of a long driveway lined with persimmon trees I still dream about. There’s a brook behind the farm and the water temple anchoring the far end of the road. The temple was built in 1910 to honor the Bay Area’s connection to its watershed in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This land is leased from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and is used by farmers and government officials both. Fred cultivates a large portion of the land, growing and breeding plants that perform especially well in the East Bay microclimate.

As a biologist, Fred uses his expertise in genetics to choose seeds with characteristics that ensure high yields, disease and pest resistance, delicious flavor, and attractiveness. He does all of this by watching the plant grow, eating lots of the fruit it produces, and saving seeds. Ok, maybe there’s a little bit more to it, but observation is the primary key. By choosing wisely, Fred is able to tailor seeds to the Bay Area grower.

Herein lies Fred’s latest project; he’s starting a seed business called Artisan Seeds. His project is being funded through generous donors (yours truly included) on the website Kickstarter. His first seeds for sale will be six of his striped tomato varieties, two mustards, and three peppers, the mustards and peppers being Ethiopian varieties. Through collaborating with a local Ethiopian pepper seller, Fred has found these plants to be ideal in flavor and well-suited for growth in the region. Through Artisan Seeds, Fred is offering the following Ethiopian varities: Highland Kale seeds, Highland Mustards, Mareko Fana peppers (the backbone of Berbere spice), Mareko Fana Red peppers, and Mitmita peppers. Fred is bringing even more biodiversity to his fields, and in doing so, he’s expanding the palates of pepper eaters far and wide.

Baia Nicchia is trying to raise money in increments of $3,000, enough to put another variety to market. Pledging any amount gives you a packet of kale seeds, but the incentive to donate more to the cause is great. The more you donate, the greater the prizes: other varieties of seeds and more of them, tins of organic, grey dog tea (grown on the farm and named for the dogs I remember so fondly), an invitation to a dinner catered on the farm, and the end-all reward, naming a new breed of tomato.  

Donate to Fred now, help bring obscure and delicious vegetables to the masses.

photo credit Fred Hempel

The Superbowl of My Future

I’ve just relocated to Brooklyn, the next step in my search for a sense of place and home. I am forever searching, my romantic comedy mind convinced that there’s some place that will ground me and cement me to a community forever. Haven’t found my heart’s home yet, but haven’t given up hope.

The irony of my endless search culminated in the unlikely combination of Superbowl teams this year. We knew the Raiders wouldn’t make it, Oakland having been my home of many, many years, but when San Francisco lost to New York in the playoffs, I knew my California days were really over. Let me note at this point, that I don’t give a hoot about football, but the teams listed all over the news and internet over past weeks have been the teams of my homes. I couldn’t ignore that I thought they were fighting for my future. And California had just lost me in this race.

So, the true test was between New England, the place of my birth and my home for the last 1.5 years, and New York, my newest home and maybe where I will spend the future.

It was a good game, wasn’t it? I really felt like both teams wanted to win, to win for me, obviously. With such a tight score throughout, I watched, rapt in the dual unfolding in front of me. Clearly, whoever won this game was going to reveal where my true home lies. There was a lot on the line.

While Tom Brady threw many a pass at my destiny, New England didn’t hold on tightly enough. New York won. In my life, and in football, New York came out on top. I had already known the outcome, I guess, since I left New England behind last month, and should have wagered accordingly. It was the only time I’ve ever known how a bet would turn out. A missed opportunity there, sure, but maybe it’s better that way. The Cosmos can still send me their messages about the future, however ridiculous the medium. 

We made the largest BLT I’ve ever seen, with crispy strips of bacon, herbed, garlic aioli and the freshest tomatoes you can find in NYC in the winter (they were still not good enough). My friend Liza came with individual jars of three-meat chili, Jenna and Mitch made football shaped deviled eggs and french onion dip, because Superbowl is really just an excuse to eat chips and dip for dinner. That, and apparently, a contest that decides my fate. Go Giants?

The French Heart

Monday morning I woke up to a phone call from my mother. Pepère died last night...

I packed up the cat, emailed my boss, attempted to pack clothes (5 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters and 1 will that work?), and hopped in the car. Pepère had had a successful hip replacement followed by an equally successful heart attack. It’s unfair to go in to relieve a pain, succeed in relieving it, then be blindsided by your broken heart.

He’s here with my Memère in this picture, just after they were married, 67 years ago. At dinner on Monday, she whispered to my mother, “I keep wondering why he’s not coming to dinner. Why isn’t he sitting down to eat?” She only has moments of lucidity, and that, surprisingly, was her way of saying that this would be an adjustment, that she will wonder where he is for a long time.

Their last name is Francoeur, loosely translated to French Heart, and it was his French heart that took him away.

Filling Bellies

Comfort Food

I have been sequestered in the kitchen in recent days. As the family descends to say goodbye to our grandfather, Pepère, I aim to feed the masses, to make it so no one has to think about what to make, what to eat. It’s an attempt to make my mother’s time easier, for she’s normally the one to organize each meal, to execute each plate and to exhaust herself in the meantime. Judging by her thin frame, this hasn’t been her priority in the last few weeks. While she cares for my grandmother, Memère, I bake a chicken with French herbed butter, I make pâte brisee and file it all into a casserole dish for a chicken pot pie (kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, tarragon). I make salads: tortellini (tomatoes and sunflower seeds), tuna (with balsamic and dill) and egg (aioli and a bit of dijon) for lunches during these busy days, brownies with walnuts for dessert, lentils and barley. I make breakfast rice- jasmine rice with cinnamon, golden raisins, milk and vanilla. I follow up with chicken stock simmering for hours on the stove, pizza with homemade dough and sauce, rocket salad with shaved pecorino. We drink a bit of wine; we soothe our frazzled edges. Tomorrow, Turkish coffee and a coffee grounds reading; my mother and I will awaken to the future in more ways than one.

Monday, March 26, 2012

And Then There Were Rugs: A Shopping Adventure in Cappadocia

We wander down a curved road, past fairy chimneys and surrounded by the rugged yet smooth mountains, to the Gallery Cappadocia. Turkish rugs are on display outside, a few men chat off under a tree, having a tea and a cigarette. We say merhaba, and inquire if they are open. We are escorted through giant, carved, wooden doors and into a room that changes everything.

Before us sit eight women on low, pillowed stools. They are dressed comfortably, with stripes and patterns calling out. They all wear headscarves. Tea cups sit beside each stool, they chat and gossip amongst one another. Before each of them is a loom; wide complicated looms with vividly colored skeins of braided yarn hanging from the tops, white threads upon which the rug will be knotted hang tautly from top to bottom, numbering in the hundreds. At the base of each loom is the first steps of a Turkish, handmade rug, coming to fruition one knot at a time. We have entered through the back door, startling these women out of their daily routine, reminding them that their craft is worthy of praise and photography.

Weavers of Turkish Rugs, Julia Frost photo credit.

The owner of the shop, Sadi, meets us in the weaving room. He can tell by our gaping mouths that we were not expecting to see these women at work. While we adjust to the shock of seeing the weavers at the looms, he describes their craft. They train to weave these rugs their entire lives. They begin to learn very young, for they will weave a rug for their wedding. This rug is an investment and an asset, providing a both a financial foothold for the new couple and something to sell, should they ever need the money. This rug is also a wish list, for it offers the weaver the chance to put children, good fortune, a strong husband, and anything else in their cards. Sadi describes the difference between the yarns that are used—wool, cotton, silk— and shows us the difference it makes in a carpet’s appearance. He describes the double stitch that makes Turkish handmade rugs appreciate with age: demonstrating with a string wound around his fingers, he shows how the knot winds around the cotton base (he shows two strands with two fingers), ends coming through the center to be exposed as the color and weave in the pile of the rug. As traffic over the rug occurs over time, the knot is tightened by the friction and pull of steps over the exposed ends. The outcome is a stronger rug with more vibrant color as the years pass by. These rugs, Sadi says, will increase in worth as they age.

Rug in Process, Julia Frost photo.

Trimming after each row, Julia Frost photo.

He welcomes us further into the building, hall after hall and room after room, filled to the rafters with rolls and stacks of rugs. He shows us bags for draping over donkeys and camels, pillowcases, runners, throw rugs and tapestries. Each carpet that is unrolled is increasingly impressive. Sadi begins to have fun. He has two of his employees running from room to room collecting more intricate and worthy rugs for our viewing pleasure. We ask Sadi about his business, wondering just how big this operation is. He has 35 employees, more in the high season, and pays livable wages, thanks to subsidies from the government to support their handmade, artisanal craft. This thereby ensures that this historical and unique, creative knowledge will be passed down from each generation forward, something that we found quite telling of the Turkish government’s values.

Carpet Heaven. Julia Frost photo.

He unrolls rugs seen in movies (The King’s Speech used one just like his), and rugs whose design was destroyed after the rug was completed, ensuring that only one rug of it’s kind will ever be made. Rugs given as gifts from Turkey to other countries, rugs commissioned by royalty, rugs that are transparent when put up to the light (pure white silk is completely see-through). We see kilims, tribal rugs, Noah’s Ark inspired, geometric, and floral motifs. We see bright colors, muted colors, and the most beautiful carpets we’ve ever seen. Sadi describes the vegetable and plant dyes used to create the colors: tobacco, saffron, walnut husks, indigo, chamomile, onion skins, sumac, and beets, and even cochineal beetles for the deepest red dye.

"The most beautiful carpet you will ever see" we are told... Julia Frost photo.

Mind-blowing intricacy, Julia Frost photo.

We become more enamored of this process. Tea is offered, we accept. My friend is the first to take her shoes off, wanting to feel these rugs more intimately beneath her socked feet. I feverishly write notes, not wanting to miss a word of Sadi’s explanations. We photograph like we’re doing a magazine spread. I have a moment, realizing that if I gave him my preferences and price range, that I may buy a rug today. But I needn’t offer that information, he is reading my mind. He puts aside the one-of-a-kinds, realizing that he has a waitress and a caterer looking at his inventory, and shows us smaller rugs. He brings out old and new, tribal and floral, and begins telling us prices. We sip our tea, squat to touch the softness of the rugs, try not to gasp as beautiful pieces change color in the light. We are unsuccessful.There are 50 rugs laying before us.

I'm getting serious, now. And taking notes. Julia Frost photo.

My friend nearly buys a rug that would live in a dining room (once she has one…) for the rest of her life. I nearly buy one that has beautiful blues, reds and a tribal motif that includes rivers, camels and staircases to heaven and hell.  But then the game changer arrives. The helper, rug in hand, enters the room smirking. I can tell the air has changed. With a slightly dramatic gesture, he unrolls and then holds up the rug for me to see. He picks up one corner, lifts it deftly with his right hand up and then flicks it to the right, sending the rug flying horizontally into the air and turning it 180*. Like the flip of the rug, I experience a flip of my belly, get the chills, and know that I’m going home with a Turkish rug. My shoes come off, I step on to the carpet, accept a second tea, and shake Sadi’s hand.

Tea, an essential part of the process. Julia Frost photo.

My friend is more conflicted than me. She wants four of the rugs and can only buy one. Her process involves a less visceral reaction and a lot more talking through it. She justifies, and then retreats, from high prices. She wants something for the dining room, but then wants it next to her bed. She loves the bright colors, but keeps going back to the muted ones. Then, Sadi calls for one more rug, and when it is unrolled for her, the others seem to wash away. Her socked feet are on it in seconds, and there is no more deliberating. We’ve just gone on an innocent walk today, happened upon a rug weaving gallery, and now, we’ve made the type of investment most people make only after much thought, research and planning.

My rug, approximately 30to 40 years old, shines vibrantly in the light. The designs on it are likely from an eighth century nomadic tribe from the Antalya region in southern, coastal Turkey. It is made with wool from only the neck hair of sheep.  The design includes symbols that speak to the priorities and beliefs of the tribe. Camels line the border, representing transportation, endurance, wealth and good fortune, eagles sit in the corners for freedom, stairs up to heaven and down to hell. Rams horns for masculinity and virility, and if read another way, the horns turn to female arms akimbo for female strength. Three leaves represent the offspring from their union, arrows for more fertility, scorpions to protect from their sting, and the famed Turkish evil eyes.

The game changer. I was done for. Julia Frost photo.

The evil eye, a glass souvenir now synonymous with travel gifts from Turkey, are among the oldest symbols in the region. My rug, which has five evil eyes repeated over and over again, was originally described to me as five prayer mats, representing the five prayers Muslim’s make each day, a description that I loved. However, these designs predate (or coincide too closely with) the birth of Islam, and the likelihood of rites and practices of a new religion making their way symbolically to nomadic rugs is nil. This proves then that my rug has evil eyes all over it, not prayer mats. The legend surrounding Evil Eyes is that they ward off naysayers and their bad mojo; my friends described it as if you are happy, beautiful or having a string of good luck, someone with a jealous disposition may comment on it, causing your luck to change. If you are protected by an Evil Eye, your good fortune is safe, if unprotected, your luck disappears. So, needless to say, with 200 evil eyes on my rug, I’ve got my luck covered.

There are four layers of the evil eye. In the very center, a tiny black dot represents the evil. Surrounding that is a turquoise circle of sincerity, then a larger ring of white for innocence, then the largest ring, the one that encompasses the whole, is a dark blue, symbolizing the divine. Religious intonations aside, I love that for centuries the Turkish people have been warding off evil by suffocating it under virtues. And to see the evil eye glass in each house, each café and restaurant, one can easily see that this is not a tourist trap, it is a true, ancient, original belief that defies the ages. Now, I too have protection and a piece of a beautiful ritual to forever remind me of this moment.

And then there were rugs. Julia Frost photo.

After signing the back of our rugs, we leave the Gallery Cappadocia, astonished at our brashness in purchasing but trusting in our decisiveness. In six to eight weeks we’ll have our rugs back in Massachusetts, but in the meantime, we sip a tea and come down from the rush of such an experience.

Gallery Cappadocia
Gaferli Mah. 50180 Göreme, Nevşehir, Türkiye.