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!