Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad

Fresh tomatoes and squash sit side by side on the kitchen counter this time of year – bounty that encourages cooking after a summer of flagging interest.

Our CSA arrived with beautiful tomatoes and a recipe for using them. And tomatoes padded in my carry-on, I headed north to Anchorage earlier this month.

And very glad I was to see Lady Baby! We did all our usual things – playgrounds and much, much reading – she knows many books by heart, but is quick to point to text and request “say these words” when she doesn’t.

I attended her music class, and observed with her and her mom at a preschool. We met the bunnies, Lefty and Righty (named for their cage alignment), watched children raking patterns in fallen leaves, sliding, running, digging potatoes, and pulling carrots and washing them to make soup (feeding the tops to the bunnies). It looked like great fun for next fall.

Before I arrived, Mr. Carson had cooked lentils, and a batch of Deborah Madison’s “White Bean Soup with Pasta.” (The soup provided dinner, warming lunch many days, and a reminder that soup matters in autumn. The trick to that soup is to cook for a long time.)

If you haven’t lentils already prepared, the recipe for “Blistered Tomato and Lentil Salad,” adapted from honestcooking.com, says to soak half a cup of rinsed brown lentils in three cups of water (for at least three hours to shorten cooking time), then rinse and cook with dash of salt and three cups of water for about 15 minutes.

Blister a cup of halved or roughly chopped tomatoes by cooking on high heat with a garlic clove, tablespoon of olive oil, and salt in a sauté pan (about five to seven minutes).

Combine the cooked and drained lentils with the tomato mixture in a large bowl. Add a cup of thinly sliced kale (I’ve used all kinds in this) and quarter cup of chopped red onion.

Dressing puts the zing in the lentils and kale. Combine one tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and white rice vinegar, half tablespoon of tahini, two tablespoons of olive oil, and half teaspoon of cumin powder. Whisk. Dress the salad and serve right away or refrigerate.

I got almost this far, salad ready to dress, Hassleback potatoes in the oven, when Mrs. Hughes came home and took over while I read more books with Lady Baby. (Such a treat to have help with cooking from the other staff at Downtown Abbey.)

Mrs. Hughes sautéed zucchini (a Lady Baby favorite), roasted cut-up purple carrots with olive oil and salt, and in the perfect finishing touch to the lentil salad – fried an egg to top each serving.

Hearty autumn meal (and great leftovers the next day). I’m inspired to cook again!

Fried egg - paper

The Garden at Monk’s House

For ten years Caroline Zoob and her husband lived as caretakers and tenants at the miniature (by modern standards) Monk’s House in Sussex, longtime home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Responsible for maintaining the garden and the house and keeping them open to the public on set days, their brief from The National Trust suggested they garden “in the spirit of Bloomsbury,” “using bright colors in a painterly style.”

And now Zoob has made a beautiful book in the spirit of Bloomsbury – “Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of The Garden at Monk’s House.” Along with Zoob’s text, photographs from the Woolfs’ time, and lavish contemporary photos by Caroline Arber, the book contains Zoob’s truly delightful, embroidered garden maps – a unique touch in a garden book. Zoob’s narrative of Virginia’s life serves as a good refresher or introduction, and the book also stands as a gardening book with planting recommendations based on experiences in the Monk’s House garden and descriptions of its garden rooms.

Zoob often uses Virginia’s own words to describe the garden and her pleasure in the seasons there: “The snow came down on Saturday, thick white cake sugar all over the garden…,” “the nights are long and warm, the roses flowering; and the garden full of lust and bees, mingling in the asparagus beds” – a gardening book with Virginia Wolf’s observations!

In the mid-90s I visited Monk’s House (before Zoob’s time and most of the plants quiet for the season), and was among those Zoob would call “visitors on a pilgrimage.” Thrilled to walk where Virginia walked and see the views she saw, I watched a woman pick an apple from one of Leonard’s apple trees and bite into it. Startled, I felt both dismay – should she do that? – and complete understanding of why she would want to.

The house remains much as it was a hundred years ago, and only a limited part of it is open to the public. You envy Zoob living day in and day out as the Woolfs did, with her black-and-white cats, Handlebars and Boy, at home in their garden, and morning sunshine coming down the steps into the kitchen. You also shudder at the trials – water pouring down the same steps into the kitchen when it rained, a clawed bathtub on a tilt. Both couples endured bitterly cold winters – the Woolfs with no central heating, and the modern couple a long stretch with a broken boiler.

Gardens rarely outlast their creators, so I loved this book describing its ongoing life. I think Virginia would be pleased with things, including this treasure of a book.

A little painting Arber photo

 

Totally Tudor

Thomas Cromwell grew rich while he ruthlessly tortured and beheaded countless people, and manipulated a king of England. Thomas Cromwell adored his wife and children, took in orphans, fed the poor at his gate, and encouraged the Protestant Reformation. Thomas Cromwell, a large, orange-striped cat, lives peacefully with Wolsey and two canines at Downtown Abbey.

So many Cromwells to fill the mind!

While I painted “Friends for Frances,” I listened to my husband’s Great Courses class: “The History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts” – entertaining lectures presented by Robert Bucholz, a modern historian with a sense of humor, passion and curiosity about the lives of common people, as well as royals.

And then we succumbed to evenings with “The Tudors,” long-form television complete with historical inaccuracies and startling accuracies – brutality (blanket-over-my-eyes scenes), bad medicine, and head lice, buffered by fine costumes of velvet and ermine, jewels and poufy hats.

My Tudor immersion worsened. Having watched “The White Queen” (gateway drug) before “The Tudors”, I grew curious about Philippa Gregory’s many historical novels. Soon in the car a plummy English voice narrated the (romantic) story of “The Other Boleyn Girl.” And I returned to Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell (so appealing he is), and read again “Wolf Hall.”

We have a lot of fun here talking about the characters and events in this period of history, so drenched in both significance and soap opera, as we ponder which Tudor version might be right (assuming there is a right).

What were Anne and Mary Boleyn really like? How annoying was Thomas More? Did Henry inspire love in his queens, or were they solely pawns manipulated by families and nations for power? Some characters transcend all the iterations – Queen Catherine, unfailingly gracious and devout (sometimes attractive and other times not), Henry, petulant, childish, and corpulent (history), but studly (television). Not to mention the elusive Cromwell.

The television “Tudors” engages the imagination and skill of so many people – actors and the creator Michael Hirst, of course, and people to manage the horses and the digital effects, to keep the bosoms heaving, and the king’s behavior in line. People to check the historical settings – getting the curtseys and the miladys and the food and the dances correct. Cameramen and sound guys, stylists with hair extensions – a zillion people making video magic.

And then there is Mantel, (described in Larissa MacFarquhar’s excellent 2012 New Yorker profile ) alone, and thoughtful in her workspace: “I don’t think one ever quite learns to trust the process,” she says. “I feel, what if I wake up tomorrow and I can’t do it anymore? I know I’ll always be able to write, in the sense of having a robust style that’s sufficient to the occasion, and I know that books can be got onto the page by craft, but the thing that makes a phrase that fizzes on the paper — you always fear that may not be there any longer, because, after all, you did nothing to deserve it. You did nothing to contrive it. It’s just there. You don’t understand it, it’s out of your control, and it could desert you.”

And still she does it, page after page.

Now I’m rereading “Bring Up the Bodies,” second in Mantel’s Tudor trilogy (much pleasure resides in revisiting excellent things in this age of constant new). But eagerly await the third book (“The Mirror and The Light”), though I will be sad to see the end of Mantel’s Cromwell.

Aah, but also – another version of the whole story will appear in 2015, when the BBC presents “Wolf Hall” in a six episode series!

a Tudor rose-1

 

Painting the Town

Much as I like the little town of Winslow, action central on Bainbridge Island, it becomes a pass-through place for us, a quick stop for bread or soup at Blackbird Bakery on the way to or from the Seattle ferry.

The first-ever “Paint Out Winslow” event last August, sponsored by Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, sounded like a good idea. Many real “plein air” painters participated, balancing brushes, palettes, and oil paints at their stations around town. And I meandered, making little watercolor drawings about my day.

Winslow 1

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Winslow 5

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Winslow 7

 

Winslow 8

Most Mysterious

Evolution designed high privacy settings for our minds, with all our thoughts potentially secret. I keep thinking that’s really true for Lady Baby – my most mysterious person.

A two and a half-year old offers tantalizing hints of her thoughts, has language enough to make it known she thinks a lot, but isn’t always inclined to explain herself. (I suppose I will never know why the polar bear had to wait for its baby.)

A while back her mom sent a playground photo of Lady Baby posed between two hanging poles that wiggle unreliably, one foot on each. The text of Lady Baby’s comment read: “Baby Boy [a favorite doll] taught me to do this, and I said Baby Boy thank you for teaching your mama this cool trick.”

Clearly, I could have chosen Baby Boy as the most mysterious person I know. In a FaceTime conversation, I learned more about Baby Boy and his father Nick (who is himself a teeny tiny baby). Nick drives a jeep. He and Baby Boy have a house on Sesame Street and a cabin in Prudhoe Bay. Baby Boy doesn’t go to the cabin “much,” and when he stays home, Lady Baby takes care of him (she is his mama you remember). They have a dog named Quesadilla, and when I inquired if Quesadilla were boy or girl, Lady Baby told me twice, “Quesadilla is a grown-up dog!”

Lady Baby is such a rapidly changing comet. This month she’s this, but by next month she will know more cool tricks and be able to talk about them even better, should she choose to.

On a Labor Day visit, I learned that Nick had left his huge motorcycle parked on Water Street in Port Townsend, so he could go shopping, and that he also drove the ferryboat and made announcements on board, “on the microphone.”

Does the question about mysterious also imply there is a solution? Solving the mystery of a child might be the very definition of raising a child. Figuring them out. Watching them figure themselves out.

Maybe it’s the mystery of how all this development of imagination and language happens so quickly that astounds me – two years ago she was a “teeny, tiny baby” and so limited. Now she is such a person with relationships, likes, dislikes, and passions for pickup trucks and baby dolls.

And maybe the grandparent role makes me think about time, about how I won’t know how her story comes out. If I can’t know the end, the story stays mysterious.

LB collage

 

 

 

Do You Know About Skillshare?

On its website Skillshare offers series of project-based video classes about design, business, technology and more, presented by experts in their field. You may buy some courses outright for $19 or buy a monthly subscription for $9.95, and take as many classes as you want. Skillshare provides some classes focusing on creativity and innovation for free, and often offers a free trial month.

Skillshare knows that we learn best by doing. This year I’ve been working through classes in InDesign and Photoshop. I made the little booklet I posted last week for The Workroom as my project in Anne Ditmeyer’s InDesign class. Each time I look at her videos I learn something, and in the last month Ditmeyer has been offering helpful critiques of class projects.

Some classes lend themselves to just watching, like Jack Zerby’s “Fundamentals of Design: How to Think Like a Designer.” Zerby whips through a cogent, concise overview of design principles in videos that total less than two hours, lighting on concepts like visual hierarchy, type, and color. By revealing a touch of designer fairy dust, he makes one look anew at the designed world around us.

But best of all, a few weeks ago, a Skillshare email offered “Creative Non-fiction: Write Truth With Style” by Susan Orlean. Wow. If you are interested in writing, any kind of writing, this is a gem.

In 14 short video lessons, each so well-crafted and organized, Orlean traces her process, using as example a piece she wrote some 20 years ago: “The American Male at Age 10.” She’s funny and engaging – and so generous with the details of how she works. (More here about Orlean and the class from the Skillshare blog: http://blog.skillshare.com/eight-things-we-learned-about-susan-orlean/)

For the class project, Orlean suggested a 750-word piece about “the most mysterious person you know.” I thought about it all the time I watched the videos (I rationed myself to one a day while I worked on Frances’s adventures, though I often relistened while painting).

I’m a long-time fan of Orlean, from her New Yorker articles to “The Orchid Thief” – and I was thrilled to discover this class. And her prompt does make you consider your cohort.

Who is the most mysterious person you know?

 

Mysterious Hat

 

The Workroom – A New Session

The Workroom – a sure sign of autumn – the dates are: begin 8 September and end 17 October. Below is a little “booklet” describing The Workroom, and more information, including testimonials from past participants, is available on my website http://www.katygilmore.com. The cost is $60 for the six weeks.

Questions or to sign up, please email me at herspiritsrose@gmail.com.

Having made the blog a sort of Workroom with the Frances project, I’m even more convinced that it works to be accountable. I’d love to see you there!

The Workroom Project ID fourth iteration

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