Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On editing

Often I think—this mistake. I won't make it again.

But somehow or another that mistake takes a new form, as a road, seemingly flat, has an unexpected dip, and I swerve.

My speed slows. I may even lose a tire. I think, how could I have missed that?

But, the voice says, turn around. See how far you've come.

The bumps transform your road, they make it your own. The bumps are the character of your life.

The bumps keep you awake.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

World wide words

I work a desk job. For the majority of my week, I sit for hours in front of a backlit screen, squinting to see the breadth of pixels that make up words.

And words there are. Skinny words, fat words, long words, short words, whole wide worlds of words.

Then there are images. Thousands of visual puzzles, most of which are privy to a split second in my bean before dissipating like a half-dream.

This world wide web entrances me. It's a wonder that work gets done.

Yet this web has transformed me. Because of its accessibility, I've acquired jobs, made connections, moved to a city, back again, traveled miles, collected recipes. The world, friends, is literally at our fingertips.

What a powerful notion. Remember this while you clack away, and use these myriad connections to your advantage—which, ultimately, is to the advantage of everyone.

Still, my computer needs recharge and so do I. I close my book and I close my eyes. Rest prompts recovery, and recovery leads to clarity. Clarity leads to connection, strings of words linked together to evoke feeling, and ultimately action.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

30 for 30

They say that 30 is big. ("I wanna be BIG." —Josh, in the movie Big)

What is this emphasis on 30? I haven't looked it up yet. Haven't looked up its history or evolution as the ostensible marker of adulthood. 21 is big, yes. So is 25 (quarter-life crisis). 60, 62, 65 . . . But somehow 30 beats all.

30. It's strange how a number can alter one's psychology. Suddenly I see more freckles, moles, lines. Senility—or more of it.

It's also fun. Fun to give weight to this age, a significant if not honorable feeling of transformation. Passage.

Thus, in honor of 30—and in the spirit of my love of lists (tip of the cap to you, Kat White)—I present 30 for 30. Thirty goals for my year at 30. (Here's hoping they impact 31.)

- Follow through.
- Purchase local art. Purchase a few more chairs so that standing is an option.
- Kayak.
- Rock climb. A real rock.
- Boxing circuit training at Y.
- Travel to another continent, a new country.
- Change the routine.
- Ask more questions. Embrace your limitations and go from there. It's okay to be vulnerable.
- Buy a bike. Bike to work.
- Focus. Energy is everywhere, but harnessed energy is powerful. And it changes lives. Focus your energy.
- Read opinions different from your own.
- Turn the computer off at 10.
- Honesty. Upfront. I think that's called being straightforward.
- Host a dinner party. or two. or three.
- Keep work at work. Keep home for yourself.
- Respect others while respecting yourself.
- Own up. Own it.
- Watch season one of Mad Men . . .
- Watch Luis Bunuel's classic, The Exterminating Angel (per Woody Allen).
- Buy more plants.
- Can't find that class you're looking for? Start your own.
- Say yes to that experience, even if it's scary. There's a difference between danger and fear. Again, vulnerability is key.
- Meet an admired artist/communicator.
- Write letters. With a pen.
- Sleep more—8 hours is good. You have time.
- Make a complicated recipe. or two. or three.
- If you've thought about it 5 times, chances are you need to act.
- Go to the doctor.
- Have your palm read.
- Embrace the culture where you are. So much going on around you. Notice it.
- Reach out.

Okay, so that's 31. One to grow on.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mind of the beholder

I've determined I have an obsessive mind. (Granted, we all probably share this to differing degrees. I believe I'm slightly left of center, left being liberally obsessive.) Though I think we put a negative spin on obsession, it doesn't have to be bad: scholars, editors, those with good hygiene, and music lovers are generally obsessive people.

Or is the latter the result of one-who-has-good-hygiene's obsessive bent?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing live one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Brandi Carlile. As I continue to root myself in this little-town city, I am continually amazed by its charm and distinct plusses: near to the mountains, near to the coast, with one of the best parks in America, two hours from ATL, Charlotte, one from Asheville, home to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, a gluttony of farmer's markets, area farms, artists, and, soon, Anthropologie. But, aside from this, and the excellent people I'm blessed to call friends, I experienced a seminal moment that will forever mark Greenville as a life-moving place: sharing, with a small crowd, the sheer beauty, energy, and immense talent of one of my current favorite performers.

Why is music so moving?

The answer is one we sense but can't necessarily explain. We simply understand our intrinsic inclination, a desire to listen and to respond to rhythm, notes, words. We share an interest in music, as we share our basic needs: breathing, eating, walking, mating, and vacuuming.

And, as we know, collective experience (energy multiplied) is like amping your listening room from clock radio to surround sound. Concerts, especially in small venues, where you're standing shoulder to shoulder, beer to beer, with sweaty, music-loving people, screaming the words, awestruck as you sing in real time with your favorite singer, are moving experiences—the difference between seeing the Grand Canyon in pictures and sleeping in its air. Unmatched. Inexplicable. Simply awe-some. Collective soul? Absolutely.

Though there is weight behind all expression—literary, visual, theatrical, dance, etc.—music (symphonic, operatic, and—perhaps most especially—rhythmic, lyrical, and personal) pierces to the core. It is visceral. And it is collective. In no other art can you participate so presently/simultaneously/cathartically with the artist. So, Brandi and I, though we arrived from different places, were expressing ourselves at once. I was singing her words, with her, of different experiences, but with a shared understanding. I was screaming her words with her, and that was amazingly powerful.

We are moved by art, by artists, by lives and work we consider valuable. To share this experience just makes me smile.

And, though I thought I was before, I am officially obsessed with Brandi Carlile. It's stated, here in writing. Hopefully I am putting it to good use.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Build to last

Alrighty. The blog. The blog I've neglected like a second home. The yard's a mess. Weeds everywhere. It's musty inside, windows to open. Stoically it's remained, with its potential, abandoned and waiting.

Hard to believe, but I haven't wanted to vacation here. I'm not moved to write—I have found other spots to hang, places to communicate. Other areas for meditation, recharge, and inspiration.

This little place that I've called my very own, well, I've outgrown it. Or, at least, I've turned left at the fork. And food, while it was my main squeeze (mmm, squeeze . . . mustard, ketchup, mayo . . . ), is now a side dish. Still on the table, mind you, but there are other plates in front of me, flavors I want to explore . . . depth that I want to taste and try to describe. Food, as you loyal readers have gathered, was a main topic here, but also a means to delve into philosophical or social issues. And let's be clear: There may be no better spot to broach universal study than at the table (my favorite, the breakfast table).

So. This acknowledged and now expressed, I shall commence with remodeling. Clean up the yard, maybe add a raised bed. No contractors, no middle(wo)men. Just me, my tools. My curiosity, my ideas. The home will stay but the space will change. Hopefully you'll find a room of your own here. Or—at least—you'll find inspiration for yours. There will be a big table out back . . . and I invite you again to join me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Coffee and then some

Coffee is much more than a morning buzz or a dunk for doughnuts. Consider its uncanny ability to bring folks together into artsy spaces, complete with overstuffed couches, free Wi-Fi, sun-dappled countertops, and alternative soundtracks.

Beyond this, a fresh cup of locally roasted bean is an anytime pleasure.

That's what's on tap at Spartanburg's Little River Coffee Bar, showcasing the java-good stylings of its eponymous Little River Roasting Company minutes away.

The shop shares a prime downtown spot inside the Masonic Temple building alongside Hub City Bookshop and Cakehead Bakeshop, which generously supplies muffins, scones, biscuits, quiche, and other yummies for conspicuous consumption. (Pause. Books, coffee, and cinnamon buns? Yes, yes, and yes.)

Coffee lovers will revel in the bean selection, comprised of a rotating roster from about 25 varieties, and a roasting spectrum (displayed on a nifty "Roast-o-meter") from light to dark, with light-medium and medium-dark in between. I can vouch that the medium Little River Blend is a balanced sip (just enough acidity) with a hint of chocolate.

But for those who prefer more milk than coffee, the friendly baristas will cater to your wishesand you can rest (or recharge) assured, tasting the local difference in each frothy sip.

Check out this spot morning, afternoon, or night (live acoustic performances on Fridays and Saturdays)and you'll likely discover more than a fresh cup.

Little River Coffee Bar, 188-A W Main St, Spartanburg, littleriverroasting.com

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kitchen riffing

I've certain parameters for myself this January. Discipline. A black coffee.

You see, I have attention-deficit disorder. Self-diagnosed. I continue to accumulate recipe after another. I'm overwhelmed by my Bon Appetit collection, not to mention all 524 recipes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Stay tuned for "Julie & Julia...& Blair," in which I will master each recipe from finish to start, then translate my blog into French.) But in the spirit of focusing and saving some dough, I've decided to cook with what I have on hand. Chopped-style.

Instead of eel, durian, and ketchup, luckily I had sweet potatoes, yellow lentils, garlic, onions, and vegetable broth. A soup was born. I must say this was a pleasing winter meal, perfect for lunch, dinner, breakfast!, or an afternoon snack. Cardamom lends a subtle sweetness, accenting the sweet potatoes, and curry powder/red pepper offer balance and kick.

Cure what ails you with this soupor, better yet, riff on what you've got.

Sweet Potato and Yellow Lentil Soup
Serves 4

2 sweet potatoes (keep the skins!), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup dry yellow lentils (or substitute red lentils)
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock

Mix curry powder, cardamom, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Set aside. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium flame/temperature. Add garlic, then onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add spice mixture and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in about 1 cup of stock; add sweet potatoes. Stir. Pour in remaining stock; stir. Add lentils and bay leaf. Stir. Bring to boil, then turn heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook until potatoes and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

You can gently mash potatoes and lentils to give liquid extra heft/texture/bite. I prefer a textural variety of whole, mashed, and liquid elements.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy! This soup, like most otherslike most of lifegets better with time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Winter song

It's a beautiful world. Sorry to wax lyrical at first line, but I'm at Spill the Beans, downtown Greenville, staring out wide windows. Bare branches delicately entwined with white twinkle lights.

This, I have determined, is my favorite time of year. Fall/winter. Perhaps I should add "in South Carolina," though I remember loving this time in New York. I love the light on brick and asphalt. A sense that the world sort of retracts and cocoons itself. Donning my heavy coat and bevy of scarves. For whatever reason, I'm a cold-weather person and perhaps a cold-weather cook. Soups and stews and curries, oh my!

One-pot meals, or what I call "dinner parties," are great for entertaining because the recipes make ladlefuls. Add a smart salad, chocolate dessert, $10 wine (try Mouton Cadet White Bordeaux, a tasty blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, and Muscadet, or a slightly more expensive Oregon Pinot if you're serving Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon), and bada bing! You're set.

Of course the holidays offered ample opportunities to break out the Dutch oven (or huge pot, in my case). For example, last week I whipped up one of my favorite ethnic stews, Ethiopian chickpea, all six servings of which were neatly consumed by my guest and me. Well, mostly by my guest.

I see this trend continuing. Winter's here for a while. I say, grab the lotion and go outside! Chill out. See the light. And dig in.