Fried Rice With Vegetables

When the sweet bride made fried rice with kale, it was delicious! “Oh sure, I will send you my recipe,” she said. Sounded simple.

Sauté minced garlic with olive oil in a pre-heated wok or skillet on medium high heat. After the garlic is golden brown, add diced carrots, and stir for five to six minutes until the carrots are soft. Add one or two diced tomatoes. Stir. Cook for a few minutes more, then add cooked rice and combine.

Make a hole by pushing the mixture to the sides of the pan, add two or three eggs, let them stand for a few minutes and stir as you would scrambled eggs. Then finish by mixing the eggs into the rice. (Add the kale at this point.)

There are pitfalls for the inexperienced: the threat of gooey rice, the risk of eggs not mixing in well. One voice of caution suggested that in the hands of a non-expert, things might get mushy.

Some cooks suggest beginning with cold (even frozen leftover rice). And Frugal Feeding recently posted (here) about cooking the eggs separately as a little omelette, then rolling it up and cutting it into pieces before adding. Foolproof he says, and the bites of egg stay separate and taste great.

I also happened on Post Punk Kitchen’s recipe for “Brussels Sprout Fried Rice” (here). She cooks the sprouts (trimmed and quartered) with the carrots (and outlines some other possibilities).

I asked the sweet bride if she thought that would work – “Of course,” she said, “that would be delicious!”


“The Antidote”

“Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” is the subtitle of Oliver Burkeman’s new book “The Antidote.” In part it’s a critique of various (there are so many) self-help books and programs requiring that one’s outlook be relentlessly upbeat. Burkeman questions if such methods work, exploring the dark side, as it were. The surprising short answer is no.

While some bits might help temporarily, the constant maintenance required to reassure that everything will be OK exhausts. In the long run the fairy dust wears off, and research indicates that desperately seeking to suppress, rather than acknowledge, negative thoughts defeats the exercise. Alternatives are provided!

Burkeman discovers that “Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle,” but surprisingly, “negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.” He attends a motivational seminar, a meditation retreat, and engages in an exercise to invite embarrassment (as part of exploring how our fears are often worse than what we fear).

Along his journey (which is much fun to read), he interviews modern researchers and philosophers, and reads the Stoics. They argue wisely that the only thing we can truly control is what “we believe about our circumstances,” and that’s all we need to control because “tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones.” Sounds so simple.

I loved Burkeman’s encounter with the work of Saras Sarasvathy, and what Sarasvathy calls “causally minded” people. These people are “effectualists,” they take action based on what is readily available: “what you are, what you know and who you know.” Then they “see what happens.” This means not waiting till all the heavens align on some perfect day, but do now, with what you have.

He also talks about the important distinction made by working authors and artists who know it’s not about “getting motivated” or “feeling inspired,” but rather about the power of employing specific routines and “rituals which provide a structure to work in.” Close to home: get out the paints, open a drawer or box of stamps and “see what happens.”

Burkeman, a features writer for The Guardian newspaper, describes himself as a “skinny, pale Englishman” in the midst of his search for Santa Muerte in the Mexico City suburb of Tepito. In the chapter titled “Momento Mori,” he details a culture more comfortable with death than ours.

The chapter ends with Burkeman inviting the reader to do a specific exercise, which aims to help us achieve “mortality awareness.” It’s not complicated. Simply imagine yourself as 80 (or older if you are 80) and complete these sentences: “I wish I’d spent more time on…” and “I wish I’d spent less time on….


Daffodils - bluebird again

Ottolenghi’s Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt

The sweet bride chose this recipe from Ottolenghi’s cookbook “Plenty,” and typically of what she cooks, it’s full of surprising flavors.

Ottolenghi’s recipe (here) calls for chard, but the sweet bride, using available greens, substituted kale with good results. Home cooked chickpeas might taste chewier and better, but using canned chickpeas makes this a quick, pretty much pull-out-of-the-cupboard recipe.

Pull the leaves from stems of the greens, and blanch (stems for five minutes, leaves for two), then chop both into half-inch dice.

Next, sauté diced carrots (maybe two carrots or what’s needed to balance your chickpeas and greens) with a teaspoon of caraway seeds for five minutes. Add the chickpeas and the chard or kale.

Sauté this mixture for about six minutes, then add a crushed garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon each of fresh mint and coriander, salt and pepper. Let cool a little.

As a topping, Ottolenghi mixes a tablespoon of olive oil with a cup of Greek yogurt (he recommends the higher fat kind for taste). The sweet bride added pepper to the yogurt mix, and served rice alongside.

Tasty! A feast for happy diners – coriander, mint, lemon – a Mediterranean treat on a winter night – with hints of the warm months ahead!


Maira Kalman Magic

Lady Baby and I recently spent a lot of time reading Maira Kalman’s “13 Words” (with words by Lemony Snicket), sympathizing with the despondent blue bird, rejoicing to encounter Pete the dog, and disagreeing a little about whether the illustrated goat (my take) who drives a convertible is a “puppy” (Lady Baby take).

So on a sunny but cold March afternoon, I delighted to spend a joyful time with Maira Kalman – thanks to Julie Danielson’s treasure trove blog about illustrated books “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast” (“7imps” for short).

Danielson, who describes herself as an “illustration junkie,” has archived an amazing series of interviews she conducted with the makers of illustrated books. To interview Kalman, Danielson teamed up with the author and blogger Jama Kim Rattigan.

In addition to Kalman’s colorful, slightly wacky and always perfect-for-their-place paintings, she is an articulate artist. She never leaves me despondent.

In the interview (here) she responded to a question about nurturing creative life: “There is a lot of hope involved. And hoping for the best. And you just plain do your work. I can’t emphasize that enough. Just sitting there and doing it – persevering. Being patient – and seeing the long view.”

In a little video attached to the interview, Kalman speaks of the fluidity between the “narrative word and narrative picture.” She seems to take such joy in the myriad characters and absurdities of life, and makes her work, her “meaningful distraction,” from observing them. But Kalman also regards our mortality (she looks in no way close to death, but Kalman’s a realist). She asks what’s really important, and answers her question: “it’s love and it’s work.”

Love and work – yes. Thanks for the reminder “7imps” and Maira Kalman!


The Spring March

Everyone, everywhere seems to be glad to see the last of February this year – moving happily on to the promise of March!

And the booksellers Vamp and Tramp just leapfrogged over spring and feature my foldbooks “Summer Into Fall” with their offerings this month. (It’s a privilege to be included and always a pleasure to look at the artists’ books on their site (here).

Seeing those images reminds me of that best time of year here – hot days and harvest food. But, though chilly weather will linger before real warmth arrives in July, I am also grateful for the long Washington spring, with bare soft earth and emerging plants.

And light! Unlike a winter day when the lamp on my desk stays on, now, on a good day, sun shines into my little workroom from early to late. Outdoors, buds triggered by lengthening daylight begin to change the view.

And the soundtrack changes, too. In winter months only the muffled scuffle of boots on fallen cedar fronds and fir needles, and raindrops through the canopy break the morning silence on the woods walk. Now faint notes of the spring morning chorus begin – little bird twitterings and the haunting songs of winter wrens.

Winter blossoms – snowdrops, crocus, and hellebore bloom in the garden. But daffodils hold the most promise. Their beginnings lead the parade of flowers to come. Nosing through the compost in early February, March finds them six inches up and stretching, green buds brushed yellow.

I’m ready to begin “spring into summer!”

Daffodils in Millbrook vase

“The Signature of All Things”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book,  “The Signature of All Things,” takes readers on a grand journey. It’s long and sprawling like a 19th Century novel, but modern in its treatment of much that was hidden in that earlier century. Because I loved “Eat, Pray Love “ and “Committed,” (Gilbert’s memoir about marriage), and always watch her TED talk (here) when needing inspiration, I rooted for her with this novel. And kept thinking as I read, “she’s knocked it out of the park.”

At first it looked to be a swashbuckling story of the self-made plantsman Henry Whittaker, but his daughter Alma is the central figure in the book and a singular heroine. Flawed, vulnerable, heroic – Alma is very smart and a scholar, not so pretty and often a fool.

She seeks always to get to the bottom of things, to understand the natural world and to live “in humanity’s most recent moment, at the cusp of invention and progress,” but she often misreads others. And the plot comes to revolve around a huge misunderstanding, a tragic failure to comprehend a beloved person.

Gilbert writes other vivid characters – Alma’s father and strict Dutch mother, her mother’s companion Hanneke (a lifelong voice of stolid wisdom), her fair of face adopted sister Prudence, and the other worldly Ambrose – and takes us from London’s Kew Gardens to Philadelphia to Tahiti and to Holland. She describes hardships on sailing vessels and the comforts of food and libraries and a well-arranged workroom, while filling the book with the beauties and curiosities of plants.

In many ways the book is about work, about satisfying, lifelong work – Alma studies mosses the way Darwin studied finches and barnacles. Alma finds pleasure and solace in her work, as Gilbert must.

Early on, in a magical scene, an astronomer attends a ball in his honor at Alma’s father’s mansion. On this hot summer night the party has gravitated outdoors under the stars. The astronomer recreates a model of the universe, using guests as heavenly bodies – planets and constellations – and sets them in motion. The child Alma wants to be part of the scene, so her father (who adores her) declares her a meteor, and she darts amongst the planets and stars. And that’s the book really – people circling in their fixed orbits occasionally encountering one another, with Gilbert’s Alma seeking and searching.

It’s such a pleasure to read Gilbert’s voice rollicking through the science and adventure of plant hunters, botanical artists, and scientists, as she leads Alma all the way to an imaginative speculation, which posits the possibilities of the signature of all things.

I read that Gilbert’s research comprised more than three years of reading and note taking (a single fact on each of thousands of index cards), showing up and doing her work. But when she began to write, her muse clearly came to sit so she might access her wonderful imagination to make this amazing book.

Olé to you Elizabeth Gilbert – olé!