Codex Book Fair – Berkeley

Surrounded by the spirit of Berkeley, the Codex International Book Fair and Symposium is held on the Berkeley campus. I watched students protesting on Sproul Plaza in solidarity with Egyptian peers and ate dinner at Café Gratitude where entrees have names like “I am Worthy,” “I am Abundant,” and “I am Touched.”

Attended by their creators, the Book Fair features scores of beautiful letterpress, digitally produced, and one-of-a-kind books. Lectures each morning at the Berkeley Art Museum make the event even richer.

Best for me was being there with my friend, the one who paints in the woods, while she tended her table of “fold-y forests” (what the young writer calls the calendars my friend makes with her tree-filled images). They brought color, and the scent of fir and spruce to the Student Union ballroom.

For a couple of days I walked the campus and Berkeley neighborhoods in sunshine, and dipped repeatedly into Book Fair treasures.

I am inspired!

February Garden

On a weekend with warm dots of soft rain, solo winter wrens warming up in the woods, and the Washington weather guru prophesizing no more big storms – a garden writer stayed in the Buffalo. Marty Wingate, author of several Washington garden guides, spent the night before her lecture for the Master Gardeners.

At her talk she used words I haven’t said or thought for months – words like rill and moongate, Green Man and Lutyens. It almost felt a foreign language in a foreign land, being in the lecture room – revisiting that enthusiasm of gardeners – and their plant passion. I’m not a great plant luster, being fondest of things that succeed even if ordinary, but I did write down Erysimum ‘Constant Cheer’ – a long-lasting, ever blooming wallflower. (It might replace the one reaching the end of its short-lived, but important life.)

A day or so later the sun came out, chilly in the early morning but sailboats on the Strait by afternoon. A garden walkthrough produced moments both discouraging and miraculous.

Daffodil spears suddenly stick up, three inches and more, in clumps in garden beds, and in pots – though so often drowned by rain, I’m amazed to see those flourishing.

Buds swell on the ribes and cherry tree, and just begin on the potted rose. Tiny but actual leaves dot the quince’s branches. Primroses look tattered by wind, slugs, and rain, but their color flashes. I see snowdrops and tiny cyclamen – buds and blossoms – just a few but exciting. Little pink bells of a heather and sober-colored hellebores bloom in their brave way.

All seems beat up and neglected, but being outdoors encourages me to work for real – soon. Popweed rages, but the soil is damp and it’s easy to pull weeds. I’m amazed as always in Washington – it’s only February.

The last few months Frances has spent many more hours in the garden than I have – but she’s not inclined to weed, clean up downed branches and fir cones, or cut nepeta gone dry and gray. She’s done her job – door mat deposits of the occasional entire rodent carcass, or simply an internal organ or two.

I need to begin my jobs – a little work would bring spring closer!

Rutabaga Redux

Two of my usual recipe references, Bittman and Bishop, mostly ignore rutabagas. But I like rutabagas. They’re local, they store well, and with a nutty, sweet taste, seem worthy of a rehabilitated reputation.

My young friend and her mother gave me an English cookbook for Christmas: “The Vegetable Book” by Colin Spencer. Spencer gathers vegetables into botanical families, and tells a bit about each vegetable’s history and nutritive qualities.

He includes rutabagas, which he calls “swedes” (our American name is the French word for the yellow variety). Spencer says there is a “huge satisfaction to be gained from simple peasant dishes” – such as his “Swede and Kale Pie.”

Begin by removing the kale’s midrib (you can also chop the kale, but I forgot and chopped it afterwards), and cook for four or five minutes in boiling salted water. Drain, pressing out water.

To make the sauce – a roux – I turned to Deborah Madison’s roux page, since it offers an alternative with olive oil instead of butter. Add cheese (Parmesan and Gruyère) until you have a smooth thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, combine with the kale, and pour into an oven-going dish.

Then Spencer says to slice a pound of rutabaga thinly, and fry until it turns golden. Arrange over the kale, and bake for 20 minutes.

Spencer’s pie was tasty (and made good leftovers), but the next time I’d change the part where you fry the swede. I’d parboil the rutabaga (a Deborah suggestion when roasting rutabaga), and then top the kale with it and brush with a little olive oil.

Deborah’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (the family bible here – the “take to a desert island book” – along with the CSA delivery of course) has fine rutabaga possibilities like buttered with herbs, baked fries, and julienned with savory.

I like to encourage a vegetable with such sound nutrition credentials. In spite of its uninspiring outward appearance – so easy to walk past in the vegetable section – rutabagas provide Vitamin C, calcium, niacin, and more.

They’re rich in what we need – and when delicious – what we want!

A Valentine

Oh so American, so embarrassing, a love letter to a product! A birthday gift (from our sons and their significant others).

My birthday falls right after Thanksgiving. This year, I was already grateful just for being surrounded by people I love. When a box with a bow revealed an iPad, I was stunned. Oh I wanted one (I’d been following David Hockney’s adventures with his, including a Paris exhibit of dangling iPads – he emailed new images each day to the gallery), but I already had a phone and a computer I love.

On our recent Seattle day I determined to concentrate on learning to use the “Brushes” app. I knew I would feel silly in public, but quickly realized that what Hockney says is true. “Brushes” is finger paint in your pocket (Hockney’s suit jacket pockets, originally modified to accommodate a sketchbook, now hold the iPad).

The Seattle Art Museum on a January day is a quiet place – no blockbuster exhibits and no tourists. After checking my big bag and jacket, I encountered “Ruth Drawing Picasso, Liverpool 2009,” a six-minute video – projected on a huge screen, filling a wall – by Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra. (It’s up till April).

Middleschooler age, Ruth sits on the floor against a museum wall, wearing a school uniform, her chunky boots stretched out in front, paper pad in her lap, and pencil in her hand. We watch her drawing Picasso’s painting, “Woman Weeping.”

I hadn’t known Dijkstra’s work – this six-minute loop is simplicity itself and mesmerizing. The only sound is the skritching of the pencil as Ruth concentrates, bites her lip and looks repeatedly between painting and paper.

Every once in a while something in a museum is exactly right for where you are at that moment. Emboldened after Ruth, and a bowl of tomato soup in the museum café, and spotting the masses of color in paintings by Richard Diebenkorn and Ellsworth Kelly, I tried to go past my strong impulse to line and word with more painterly moves.

Curious museum guards asked questions while I apologized for my ineptitude (it is challenging to make lines with your finger, and I had that panicky new technology feeling). I showed them how to change colors and line width. The older guard, a musician, said he’d seen an app that’s a guitar. The younger guard said she didn’t do tech stuff really, but she wrote down Hockney and Paris to Google.

The volunteer manning the coat check also asked about the iPad, and admitted he’d got one from his wife for Christmas, but hadn’t touched it. I gave him a pep talk while showing him my pudgy “Hammering Man.”

It’s about the doing of course, no matter the medium – and it’s about love – that man’s wife, my family – giving an extravagant gift to engage wonder.

And it’s loving learning – sewing or gardening or playing the trumpet – whatever it is you love to do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Our son recently sent a photo of our daughter-in-law bent over a piece of fabric concentrating. (Fabric held down by one large orange cat, while the other large orange cat anchors the ironing board). She is learning to make things with her Christmas gift sewing machine, and a gardening friend often emails because she is at the same spot – new sewing machine, early learning stage.

I love to hear about their projects, and feel their excitement and enthusiasm. Both have plenty else in their lives, but they focus when they can on learning this skill. Beyond accomplished, our daughter-in-law can pilot a ferryboat from Homer across Katchemak Bay, try a case, or cook a lovely meal. It’s fun to watch her begin at the beginning.

The new seamstresses are doing exactly what’s needed to be creative – mastering the basics. How to thread the machine, the properties of fabrics, and the ways of seams and corners – all tools for making something of your own with fabric. Already they’ve begun – napkins, laundry bags, and pillow covers of bright colored fabrics, cheering dim days and dark nights!

When my gardener friend wrote about watching videos on mitering napkin corners, it brought back memories of my first sewing attempt. A white apron in a Home Ec class in Canada (do such classes exist anymore?). A miserable affair, the apron – all the errors showed. I couldn’t get the top stitching on the pocket, and everywhere pulled stitches and pencil smudges marred the stiff white poplin.

Thinking of the 100 napkins my clever friend and I made for the wedding, and forgetting at first that wretched apron, I’d written blithely to my friend that she needn’t necessarily miter – could just turn over the corners.

But mostly I remember my mother’s friend Betty in British Columbia, who with kindness and freedom taught me to sew when I was 14. She helped me tackle my crowning accomplishment – a red corduroy gored skirt with high waist and straps (sounds questionable now) for the first day of eighth grade. (In that learning time I swallowed a straight pin that lodged in my throat – lesson learned – I have never, ever put a straight pin in my mouth again.)

With Betty I felt that obsession and joy I see in the new sewing devotees. I saw it in the whale bone volunteers also – intent and focused with paintbrushes and fragments – lost in their tasks – learning and making.

The Bean Project

On the radio I heard a snippet of an expert on procrastination. She said to be specific when you talk to yourself – name the exact job and not a generality like “eat better” or “get more organized.” I wish I’d heard more, it was parking lot of the school moment, but I’m imagining “eat carrots” and “clean out the paper, plastic, and foil drawer” (what are those grits that drift to the bottom in a drawer anyway?).

Baked beans have been in my mind since Boston – and flipping through “The Winter Vegetarian,” I got specific: “Maple Baked Beans.” Goldstein says these beans are baked slowly “in the New England style.” That sounded good for a windy winter weekend, the last one in January – have dinner cooking in the oven for many hours and take down the long-serving Christmas tree.

Soak one pound (that means usually two cups) of navy or pea beans overnight in water to cover, with a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. The next day drain, cover with four cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer about 30 minutes (till nearly tender). Drain – but reserve the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 250° and transfer the beans to a three-quart casserole. Goldstein recommends an earthenware bean pot. Having no three-quart casserole of any kind, I used two smaller ones – with lids.

Mix together these ingredients: three quarters of a cup maple syrup (I love maple syrup, but this seemed a lot, I used a scant half cup), three tablespoons dark molasses, half cup of crushed tomatoes (I opened a small can – and added the whole thing), a teaspoon and a half dry mustard (didn’t have this, so used a couple squirts of yellow mustard), half teaspoon ground ginger, one and half teaspoons salt, freshly ground black pepper, and half teaspoon dried thyme. Pour over the beans.

Stir in a small chopped onion (I used shallots because we have gorgeous ones from the CSA), and tuck in two peeled garlic cloves and a bay leaf. Add enough of the reserved bean liquid to cover the beans (more if you like). Cover the pot and bake at 250° for five or six hours.

Goldstein says to add more liquid if necessary – but I didn’t need to. The beans and sauce bubbled and filled the house with a delicious smell. They came out of the oven (one casserole after only four hours because we were hungry) tender and flavorful – tomatoey but not too much. This recipe makes lots, so I froze a container full.

That’s a lesson of the bean project – how easy it is to freeze cooked beans – then enjoy real beans after a little thawing – almost as easy as a can. And these baked beans outdo canned ones for sure.

Thinking specifically – maple baked beans!

The Kitchen as Tool

The left side of our sink is too small (a design flaw). Sometimes instead of 12 extra inches on the porch I wish I had 12 inches more by the sink. Still, I work on vegetables in that space – pushing the peelings into the sink.

At Christmas the daughter of my clever friend (a personal chef for a Manhattan family) came with her parents for a Christmas Eve moment. We stood around our island eating olives and nuts, drinking, and talking – and I asked her if she cooked now in a splendid, perfectly convenient kitchen. She laughed and said, “No, it’s a tiny kitchen and I’d kill for an island like this!”

I’m thinking all kitchens have flaws – and all have strengths. I love kitchens with places to sit near the cook like the remodeled kitchen in Anchorage, the farmhouse hugeness of my old friend’s kitchen, and my clever friend’s apple green paint. Recently we visited a brand new kitchen – spacious with much storage – but no perfect working spot.

“A bad workman quarrels with his tools” is a seventeenth century adage. (I once collected old sayings as part of a show about tools – it might be fun to post some with the images here this month.) A bad cook quarrels with the kitchen I suppose, but I know the young chef prepares divine meals in her condensed space. (Once I asked about her kitchen tools – she favors simple ones.)

I thought all this as I cut onions (on the compressed paper cutting board designated for alliums and just fitting between compost bucket and sink) to make “Kale with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Vinegar” from Jack Bishop’s “Vegetables Every Day.” It’s such a simple recipe – it quickly transforms a couple of bunches of kale into the most delicious dish. (Lately we’ve been getting big bags of greens from our farmer – small leaves, sweetened by frost into perfection – they work well in this recipe.)

Wash, remove the mid-rib, and tear the kale into relatively small pieces (or use young winter greens). Add the kale to boiling water with a teaspoon of salt, cook till tender (about eight minutes) and drain.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, add two onions (halved and sliced thin) and cook till golden brown. Then sprinkle with a half teaspoon of sugar and cook till a rich brown. (Keep an eye out, and lower heat if needed.) Add the kale, and stir about till heated through. Finish with two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper.

This kale is so good served immediately with something needing a tangy-sweet taste nearby. The surprise is how delicious the onions and kale taste together out of the fridge the next day – no quarreling there!