still life

The morning dawn light coming through the window is startling, highlighting the edge of an unfinished quilt that drapes across a chair in the next room.

P1140615

The light seems to be inhabiting the white bits of fabric in a dramatic way, captured by curves, calling the eye to look and enter the scene. Animated this way, it is as if the quilt is alive, moving in its stillness, inviting participation with the bits of color and cloth that are arranged just so, and in relation to what it touches by its presence.  Significantly this exact same scene called out to me just two nights ago too, as the day moved into twilight, the last light of the day vs. the first light of the day making a still life of this scene right now…

After almost four years of sharing images here in this blog space I consider the rather massive photo library that now lives on my computer. Quickly scrolling through the hundreds of photos in my archive, I find myself clicking on just a few of the images of boldly distinguished objects with highlighted shape and color as revealed in a clear source of light….

P1130773

These are not necessarily the beautiful light filled landscapes that might literally change as the camera clicks, or the bubbling contents cooking in a pan or bowl to be consumed at any moment. They are human constructions first, most often in the kitchen, whether by intent or by accident, that maintain the illusion of stillness. And more often than not, untouched, they will be, or could be, there in the same form the next day, changed only by the quality of light reflected and what is revealed by that reflection. I think of the generations of artists who have made a career of capturing such scenes on canvas, interpretations of what these objects are in relation to where they are in a day of light moving across and around and through. Even the still life of assembled food items on a cutting board falls into this category when considering how even moisture can reflect light…

P1140564

Random sightings of jars on the counter, sometimes sitting just so, never moving for weeks on end, become a still life that can capture attention when I am ready to see it.

image

I see the objects. I see the light reflected on the objects. Is there meaning in noticing objectively just what I see? Or is the meaning in what I want to see? Because I am quite certain, what I WANT to see is beauty…

Imagine how this desire might influence how everything is seen and experienced!

What if I close my eyes and let myself watch how the light inside can illuminate certain places inside of me at certain times too. How do I see the beauty here too?

Which raises the question, is a portrait a form of still life?

To this, I am captivated by the notion of the ‘selfie’. We watch ourselves in the lens of the camera, the object and the subject, snapping to capture something we think is there. And my experience is that what materializes is always something unexpected. Waiting for the moment I think I see beauty, what is there is simply just another aspect of the still life of my features I am always part of.

I am famous for saying I don’t like pictures of me. So with the selfie, I have a chance to keep snapping and keep evaluating.  Sometimes I am part of the scene and not all there…

portrait 2

or the image becomes more a commentary on reflection…

portrait 3

Even with a selfie, I can try to capture what I see, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can control what will be there, like the interesting reflections within reflections that signal infinite views of what is really there.

Seeing beauty in an image of me is difficult in the end. And an interesting exercise for watching how an object of beauty in still life is so very subjective after all…

The image that finally resonates is one that also gives me pause.  It is not a portrait I might compose as an artist. Like most beauty, it is found and realized.   I see a composition of features that are reflecting light in a revealing, and pleasing way.  I see the full depth of my age in the folds of skin around eyes and neck, and choose to see this as the beauty of experience and growth. I see an expression that reminds me of my mother’s smile, and choose to see this as the beauty of the lineage of wise women I am a part of.  And if I look really hard, I even see where love has softened all the edges of a tumultuous journey, and choose to see this as the hallmark of a not so still, life….

portrai 1

solstice

8:00 a.m….this morning following summer solstice is quintessential summer. Clear air.  Gentle breeze making music in the trees.  Really bright. Awake early, practices and coffee are followed by a loud calling to get out into the woods and down to the brook NOW. There have been glimmers of this urge the past few weeks to venture down in the early morning light, but never honored. Venturing now into the hush of bright filtered sun, sharing the spotlight with the daylilies and trees and boulders and rushing water and ferns is a seamless experience of walking through diamond studded landscape.

P1140596

P1140597

P1140599

P1140602

Like a million little stonehenges, each surface illuminated by the sun this morning feels like a bell ringing. The shift into summer is complete….

 

feet and pancakes

An unlikely pairing has been showing itself to me the past few days. It must truly be one of the more bizarre connections I think, to dwell on and consider the connection between these two experiences of ‘feet’ and ‘pancakes’. Normally, I would have let it go by now, but it keeps appearing, this pairing. So I have been keeping it on the back burner, simmering slowly, waiting for a sign of a kind of auspiciousness, that flicker in the belly that comes with inspiration. The typical inspiration to write still has not arrived…impatience wins…here goes anyway…

Pancakes have always been something ‘special’ offered for breakfast. After all, they are cakes. Just pan cooked instead of in an oven. Cake carries with it a deep felt honoring that comes with celebration, of a birthday, of an end of a meal with dear family and friends, for congratulations, and gratitude. Pancake could be considered a celebration of the start of another glorious day. I mean, you really have to be in this mood to eat pancakes, don’t you think? Curiously, for all my typical morning enthusiasm, you would think I’d be eating them every day. But it wasn’t until the recent imminent arrival of an old friend who loves pancakes, that I determined to make these morning delights for the first time in a very long time.

There are endless variations possible. They can be simple bisquick style or more lavishly appointed with exotic ingredients. But pancakes are all essentially the same ordinary thing. Some ground grain with egg, a small amount of fat, and a liquid, cooked on a very hot pan for a short period of time.

I pull out my jar of locally grown ground buckwheat, a bag of whole wheat pastry flour, the beautiful farm eggs, my homemade mother’s milk, and butter. Mentally note the heavy creme and maple syrup in the refrigerator. Google quickly locates a recipe for me to easily adapt with these ingredients.*. The batter is prepared and waiting for the griddle before my friend arrives bearing fresh raspberries. The berries are promptly rinsed and added to the batter.

P1140389

These pancakes are simply, amazing. No talking while we eat. Just little moans of pleasure…

P1140394

These pancakes are so good that I’ve made them twice since, just for myself!  And anticipated I would be making them during an upcoming weekend with dear women friends visiting soon. Eating sumptuous meals is always a part of our time together, and this would be no exception…

The weekend with these friends was very special. It was their first time visiting my new magical home and we were looking forward to finding ritual to share with each other here. We call each other ‘sister’, our bonds deep and sacred. We’ve been in each other’s lives for about ten years now, sharing the training and life transforming work of energy medicine.  Walking the land with these friends and witnessing their reverence and childlike enthusiasm did my heart good. When we found the place at the brook that called for us to commune together, it didn’t take long to shed shoes and socks and get feet into the water. I had already captured this gesture from a walk earlier in the day in a photo of one pair of sister feet.

P1140500

These are feet that have found pleasure in resonance with both the solid and fluid ground beneath her. Naked and exposed and integral to the beauty of the body to which they are attached, they relax and joyously meld with partner Earth.

Later, looking at all four of us with feet dangling into the brook in the woods behind my house, I honor the beautiful painted toes of another who has endured painful foot surgery over the years and is more conscious than most of the tenuous relationship to Earth while moving on her feet.

P1140512

Then I look at my own feet.

P1140513

I will always choose barefoot over wearing shoes if I can. I like the feel of steady and balanced I feel on my feet, and for this, realize I more often than not take my feet, and their relationship with Earth, for granted. Too often they are just considered ordinary and just a part of the human skeleton after all, but here, aren’t they grand in their ability to transmit the love and light of mother Earth into the human body?

The image of baby discovering his/her own toes and deftly getting them into mouth, comes to mind.  Then an image of the innocent child discovering for the first time the pure joy of immersing bare feet in the water. Then the image of a young woman, wanting those pancakes but thinking they are too fattening or should only be eaten on special occasions, and how all too soon, the joy gets contained, maybe even strangled, in so many ways, in shoes, in routine, in shoulds and should nots.

Pancake breakfast morning arrives.  We eat with gusto in anticipation of the ‘despacho’ ceremony we are about to create together.  The intent to engage in this ancient Peruvian ritual gives us a way to offer gratitude for the magical land I now share my life with.  One sister trained in shamanic healing practices leads the way. We each came prepared with many offerings, everything from dried beans and corn, candy, sparkles and flowers to wine, colored rainbow yarn, fresh herbs and brightly colored beads. After breakfast we lay out the paper onto which we create and then wrap the despacho.  We silently offer prayers while simultaneously placing our material offerings.  It doesn’t take long before a most beautiful assemblage forms.

P1140523

Reminiscent of the Tibetan practice of creating intricate sand mandalas to be experienced for just a moment before the beauty is erased, we know this beauty too will be present in this form just temporarily…

P1140525

In the space following completion we rattle and drum and sing our gratitude into the despacho.  Then simply fold and wrap the whole thing up, reverently walk it into the woods, and bury it.

Perhaps the pleasure experienced with feet coming into contact with the elements is the Earth’s way of offering gratitude in return…

Perhaps offering body and soul the pleasure of pancakes could be a sweet and simple way of expressing gratitude for this human experience on Earth…

 

**Buckwheat Pancakes   (for 2)

1/2 cup organic buckwheat flour

1/2 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon each baking soda and salt

1/2 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup ‘milk’ (I use combination mother’s milk (almond coconut) and heavy creme)

1/8 cup maple syrup (grade B gives a heartier flavor)

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla

1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter (or coconut oil)

 

1 cup fresh raspberries (or blueberries)

 

Melt butter, cool.

In large bowl, whisk together flour and rest of dry ingredients

In another bowl, whisk wet ingredients with egg. Then whisk in melted butter.

Pour wet into dry, stir to just mixed.

Fold in fruit.

Heat griddle, add a bit of (sunflower) oil.

Measure 1/4 cup each pancake.

Ps…do not be shy about making these you just yourself! Just cook up the rest of the batter, cool pancakes on paper towels, and load into container separated by pieces of wax paper and freeze. OR simply cover the batter and refrigerate until the next morning, smile….

P1140561

 

hummingbird

One of my neighbors told me about a destination further along one of the paths I like to hike. Excited to have a reason for extend my time in these woods that feel so good, I set out with Nora with the intention of spending the afternoon in exploration. We came to the place where we usually turn right to loop back home or turn around and backtrack. According to my neighbor, the path I wanted would continue straight ahead. But there was also the indication of a clear path to my left as well. Four clear directions from where I was standing…

We continued straight ahead. Nora sensed the change of being in new territory and kept looking back at me. The path wasn’t as prominent as I thought it would be, but discernible enough to keep going. More of the stone walls and large boulders that seem to mark this dramatically sloping landscape. Not too far along, the path finally just fizzled and I was faced with multiple directions to consider. This must not be it, I thought, while turning around to head back to the other path. And found myself facing a most open and grand space. I had just walked through it, had felt something, but motivation to reach a new destination had kept my focus one directional and I didn’t ‘see’ it. Habit had me reaching for my camera. But this wasn’t a picture-taking scene. This was being caught in the reverence of standing in the center of a cathedral and immobilized, every pore open to what was contained here. I imagine this area had been cleared at one time, boulders co-existing with man-made stone walls,

P1140462

tall trees defining edges, gentle but dramatic slopes of green converging in ground designed for rest.

I tried to capture the essence of this place but it was too big. Everything seen was a just a detail. I absorbed as much as I could in stillness and carried this big away with me.

Now I began following the other path. But the same thing happened! All of a sudden I was standing in yet another space, every direction for movement a possibility, sun filtering through the canopy of leaves above highlighting where I was standing, ground covered in a carpet of tiny green plants, interlacing branches at the forest edge circling around and forming a kind of enclosure.

P1140464

Immobilized once again, I honored the different feeling of this room by standing very still, in rest.  And waited for the inspiration to move in one direction or another.

Walking home was a meditative affair of considering what it means to actually stop and rest. To encounter a room or a space so compelling, so powerful, so seductive as to stop you in your tracks. I thought, and actually smiled, this is architecture!  And felt myself back in a sacred place in me that felt the passion as a young woman, to find this kind of space..

Early the next morning I was sitting in my office looking out the front window. A beautiful vine with the most compelling blossoms is growing there.

P1140467

Just as I was focusing on the tangled web of these vines and the blossom that nestled there, a hummingbird appeared. It hovered for a moment right in the center of my view and then to my surprise, actually rested on the vine below it. Was this an illusion? Time stopped as I considered this motionless creature, one designed to carry the vibration of joy in any direction. Like the day before, there was no capturing the fullness of this moment on camera. In the blink of an eye, the hummingbird was gone, its brief respite just a reminder now of the joy felt in stillness and potentiality of sacred space, inspiration hovering close by just around the corner…

P1140468

party

I was invited to a spontaneous dinner party held by one of my new neighbors over the weekend. I asked if I could bring anything and her immediate response was, “No, just bring yourself!” But then she paused and added, “Well, if you want to bring an appetizer….but it’s not necessary!” I said I certainly would if I got inspired…

With no plans for bringing food into the house except to gather my farm share that day, I thought I was putting the affair on the back burner. But oh, what a tease!   I soon realized everything was becoming a possibility and the prospect of making something yummy was most definitely on the front burner! One thing was for certain. Whatever I made would be with fresh and of the season. I had half of a large daikon radish in the fridge from last weeks farm share. Maybe I could grate it? A large bunch of Hadley asparagus picked the day before was sitting in water on my counter. Wrap them in something? Both being bold representatives of these precious weeks of spring, I knew they were coming to the party…

The new item at the farm this week was fresh chives. A huge pile of them, thick and green and gorgeous. I took a very large bunch. Check. Driving home the image of spring fritters now came fully into view. I barely got everything put away before I had three different cookbooks open consulting my favorite fritter recipes, one featuring artichokes, another zucchini, another leeks, comparing ingredients, noting similarities in process. I finally settled on the leek fritters recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book of gorgeous vegetable recipes called ‘Plenty’ as a base. It would have to be adapted of course. I had most of the ingredients, but not all of them.

I begin with the substitution for the leeks. The recipe calls for one pound of total trimmed weight of leeks. Careful to respect proportion and process, I clean and trim the asparagus and radish and pile pieces on a one pound kitchen scale to measure. There is about twice as much asparagus as radish and this seems good.

P1140436

There’s no way to really simulate cutting the leeks into ‘scant 1 inch slices’, so I just cut both vegetables up into large pea size chunks.

P1140437

Turning now to contemplate the chives,

P1140438

it becomes clear they will be the substitution for the 5 finely chopped shallots called for in the recipe.   I chop what appears to be about a cup and a half’s worth and put all three vegetables into a large sauce pan with a third cup of olive oil to slowly saute on medium heat until just soft, about 12 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Ottolenghi’s recipe is rich in spices and I enjoy this next part of measuring cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne (as replacement for red chile), turmeric, chopped fresh parsley, and a little salt & sugar, and adding all to the cooled vegetables. What an aroma!

P1140439

It already feels like a party inside the bowl, the blend of distinctive personalities already making a happy hum. And importantly, no one flavor seems more dominant than the other, just a good happy blend.

The recipe then calls for beating a single egg white into soft peaks. I do this with some concentration, enjoying the sound of the whisk caressing the edges of one of my mothers small ceramic bowls, just big enough to contain the white foam that forms and gets folded gently into the spiced vegetables. In another bowl, a batter is made with flour, baking powder, egg, milk and melted unsalted butter. Once again I have to make substitutions but keep the proportions the same, a mixture of unbleached white and garbanzo bean flour for the ‘self-rising flour’, my homemade almond coconut milk for the milk, and salted butter. The creamy batter then gets gently folded into the vegetables until just mixed.

P1140440

I use the locally made sunflower oil instead of olive oil to fry the fritters. With my 10 inch round cast iron grill, I’m able to make 7 appetizer/finger size fritters  at a time, frying 2-3 minutes each side, for a total of 21.

P1140441

I have no idea how many people will be at this party, but finished, there are enough fritters to fill a plate..!

P1140444

I have none of the ingredients for Ottolenghi’s accompanying creamy yogurt sauce recipe. So I just color completely outside the lines here and make a dipping sauce from fresh chopped ginger, tamari, fresh lemon and sunflower oil. Reminiscent of the kind of dipping sauce served with Chinese dumplings. Perfect.

P1140447

It was a wonderful party. A good mix of colorful people, generous conversation, delicious food, and gratitude. When it was time to leave, I offered the last three remaining fritters to my hostess, who eagerly put them into a bowl with some of the dipping sauce and said, “I’m going to have these for breakfast tomorrow!”

I’ll take that as a compliment…

**  Spring Party Fritters  **

1 lb. combined cleaned and trimmed daikon radish and asparagus

1-1/2  cups chopped fresh chives

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh parley chopped

1 tsp each ground coriander and cumin

1/4 tsp each ground turmeric and cinnamon

liberal dash of cayenne pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 egg white + 1 whole egg

1/2 cup unbleached white flour + 1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 Tbsp shredded coconut

1 Tbsp baking powder

2/3 cup coconut-almond milk (or any milk to suit)

4-1/2 Tbsp melted butter

Cut radish and asparagus into large pea size pieces.  Saute in olive oil with chives for about 10-12 minutes, medium heat until just soft.  Transfer to a large bowl for cool down. Add spices, sugar and parsley.  Whisk egg white to soft peaks and fold into cooled vegetables.  In another bowl, mix flours, baking powder, milk, whole egg, coconut and melted butter to make smooth batter.  Gently fold into vegetable mixture. Heat skillet and add sunflower oil to just cover surface.  Drop heaping 1/8 cups portions onto pan to form fritters.  Fry 2-3 minutes each side until golden and crisp.  Yields about 21 appetizer size fritters.  Serve with dipping sauce of choice and a cold crisp dry white wine!