Friday, December 31, 2010

Warm New Year Wishes

It's been a wildly creative and heart-expanding year.

I wish for next year to be just as warm and wonderful, so yesterday I made an excursion to our local quilting shop to pick out fabrics for a quilt. I choose fifteen different patterns, all in red, many of which remind me of friendships that have grown this year. I'll cut hearts from the fabrics and scatter-stitch them on a cover, to be lined with fleece from the farm's alpacas. The quilt will serve as insurance against the cold for me and my friends for years to come.

A Warm and Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wandering Muse Charms

Frosty Owl Fairy Charm
Last night as I was lying in Corpse Pose, at the end of my bedtime yoga routine, I was struck with Creative Inspiration. I've learned to act on such inspiration, so I climbed into bed with my jewelry box and pliers. Less than an hour later, I was enchanted with my new creation--this Frosty Owl Fairy Charm. Having happily tinkered with charms and chains all year, I've decided to open my own little Wandering Muse shop on Etsy, the online handmade marketplace. Starting in January, I'll be selling some of my favorite magical tinkerings: Fairy Charms, Chakra Charms, and Karma Charms.

In the meantime, watch for a Jewelry Salon sometime soon...

Frosty Owl in the warm sun

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Luminaries

To celebrate the solstice today, a group of us Island Folk showed up at K-Jo Farm this morning with the aim of lining miles of road with glowing luminaries by nightfall.

The mastermind behind this Magical Plan: Karen Biondo, Diva of Feast and Farm, who has been illuminating our island for over a decade now. And while this year's glow may have been a little damper than in years past, it was definitely a day well spent.

We got off to a rollicking start...

...and by noon we had hundreds of bags of sand loaded onto the trucks. 

We made quick work of folding down the tops of the bags... 

...and dropping them into place. 

Nearly finished!

Long before dark we began lighting candles...

...but at dusk, just as the bags were beginning to glow, it started to rain.

We spent a few dark, wet hours relighting candle after candle...

then gave in and gathered around the one light the rain couldn't dampen--

the solstice bonfire!

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Spawning Blogs!

Today I gave birth to Parla! No, she's not a kitten; she's a monthly blog for Multilingual Books, the online language bookstore created by my friend the Beautiful Genius.

Check it out here and take the 100-word language-learning challenge.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Chai Diary

I’ve always thought that caffeine doesn’t affect me. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life. I don’t drink colas. And I prefer green tea to black. But chai--ahhh, sweet, fragrant chai—who can resist?

Not I. Not yesterday. I had chai with lunch; I had chai with second lunch; I had chai with dinner. Driving home last night, I made a scientific discovery: ten cups of chai is exactly enough to make your heart race so fast that you can actually hear it.

At bedtime, it was still dancing to a techno beat. I did some Work work, chopped firewood, conjugated Italian verbs, baked granola--even a heavy dose of Dickens couldn't slow me down. It was 3 a.m., and I was still wide awake.

So I dug in to my fresh stack of library books to learn about the demon that was keeping me from my dreams—specifically, how to have my chai and sleep too. Here’s what I learned.

First, a useful aside. Each tea has its own recommended brewing temperature. Black teas should brew in very hot water (200 degrees), and green teas in cooler water (160 degrees). Despite what your English friends will tell you, you’ll have the perfect water for black tea if you bring the water to a boil and then allow it to sit for a minute or two before adding it to the tea. Let the water rest a few more minutes for green teas. Then steep the tea as long as you please.

Now for the (un)kicker. Caffeine is highly soluble in hot water, most of it being released within the first minute of brewing. So, to make a naturally decaffeinated tea from my favorite dark leaves, all I have to do is let the tea steep for thirty to sixty seconds, pour off the caffeinated water, and then steep the tea in fresh water.

With that happy piece of information tucked under my pillow, I settled in for a short (but sweet) winter’s night, and this morning I tamed my favorite chai recipe. I hope you like it.

A calm cuppa and a bowl of chai-powered granola

Sweet Dreams Chai

Bring six cups of water to a boil. Pour off three cups of the water and steep 2 bags of orange pekoe tea for one minute. Discard the steeped water and add the tea bags to the fresh water.

Add 10 cardamom pods, 7-8 cloves, and ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds. Cook on low heat, uncovered, for about ten minutes, or until liquid is reduced by one cup. Discard the tea bags.

Add 4 cups of milk and ¼ cup of sugar or honey and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain before serving. Serves 4.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Viva Vanilla!

On the way back from Vancouver last week, having spent a weekend under the spell of poet David Whyte, enjoyed a fabulous three-hour French Dinner (at the tapas parlour Bin 941) with my French Boyfriend (a fabulously gorgeous Canadian woman), and frozen my fingers and toes from walking miles and miles through a city blanketed in fresh snow, I found myself in a car with two brave new friends--who had consented to let me share the three-hour ride home with them after knowing me for all of two minutes, one of those minutes having been spent crying (we were in the presence of a poet, for heaven's sake!)--taking a shortcut through customs via the duty-free shop. (A sentence worthy of Henry James!) Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I picked up a $20 liter of vodka with one thought in mind: vanilla extract.

The first time I made vanilla extract, I used the only vanilla beans I could find locally: the Madagascar beans at Whole Foods. Having since read that using a variety of beans makes a richer extract, this time I splurged and ordered eight different kinds of beans from Beanilla, and this afternoon they arrived: vanilla beans from Mexico, India, Tonga, Indonesia, and Tahiti, as well as the standard bourbon beans (made from the Madagascar vanilla orchid).

Once I'd torn open the package and sniffed all of the varieties, the next step was deciding how to mix and match them. Taking cues from Beanilla's descriptions, but mostly just following my nose, I concocted the following three blends:

Floral and Fruity: Tahitian, Madagascar, Beanilla Blend

Rich and Spicy: Indian, Mexican, and Bourbon

Strong and Woody: Tongan, Indonesian, Bourbon has a great extract tutorial, as well as a spice gallery. I follow their advice and use eight beans (one ounce) per cup of alcohol. 

After a little snipping and scraping, I now have three bottles of vanilla extract. The last part is my favorite--shaking and sniffing the bottles each day as the contents become darker and richer.

Want to join me for the next vanilla extract fest? Let me know.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Adventures in Dyeing

After days of solid gray rain, I woke up this morning to a warm sun teasing its way through the golden hazelnut leaves outside my window. A perfect day for mushrooming.

Some kind of Russula, I believe
After breakfast, I biked to my favorite pond, where there were a few dozen varieties of funghi popping up. I was looking for a big patch, enough for a batch of dye for basket reeds. I had brought a guide book that a friend had given me as a thank-you present for lending her my cabin while I was traveling (The Rainbow Beneath My Feet, by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alan E. Bessette), but I couldn't find any of the species mentioned in the book. So instead I harvested two large patches of unidentified mushrooms, as well as some salal berries and huckleberries.

The white-hot reed in the center is undyed
Back at home, I fired up Di's dyeing pot and tossed in the first batch of mushrooms. Once they'd stewed for an hour, I added some reeds. What emerged an hour later was a beautiful tangle of warm pinkish-brown, a true "mushroom" color.

The second batch of reeds just came out. They're still wet, and I can't yet tell what color they'll be, but I can already feel a creativity salon coming on...

Potato basket woven from mushroom-dyed reeds

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adventure Under Pressure

It's easy to find adventure when you're in a foreign land. When you travel, adventure finds you. The forest trail passes beside beautiful forgotten ruins. A handsome Spanish stranger offers to share a cab. An unfamiliar city traps you in her maze of one-way streets for over an hour as a  parade marches through, cutting off your every attempt to get where you are going and making you start to long for the familiarity of home--when suddenly you find a free parking space and, instantly happy again, set out in search of lunch. (The reason for the parade? "It's Saturday!")

But once you're back at Comfortable Old Home, slippers on feet and cat in lap, Real Adventure seems a little harder to come by. Which is why, when my friend Di offered to lend me her pressure cooker this weekend, frightened though I was at the thought of the thing exploding all over my kitchen and lashing me with hot broth and pot shrapnel, I jumped at the chance. To get what you want, you have to take risks. And I wanted boeuf bourguinnon.

I had a special roast I'd been saving for just such an occasion (I say "special" because, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, I've stopped eating factory farmed meats, and this roast was a gift from my friend the Master Craftsman, who got it from a small farm in Oregon). At the thought of creating (and then enjoying) one of my favorite French dishes, I gleefully browned the meat, tossed in some vegetables and herbs, added water, and turned on my computer. Di guided me through the process via e-mail:

Me: "I've just locked the lid into place, and now I'm supposed to bring the cooker to high pressure and maintain that pressure for an hour. How can I tell when it's at high pressure?"
Di: "When it starts spitting steam madly."
Me: "Excellent! That'll be exciting."

And it was. The cooker sputtered merrily (and surprisingly nonthreateningly) for an hour while I sat down with my friend Glass of Merlot to plunk away at my first post of the month....

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Exquisite Corpse

The Surrealists enjoyed messy accidents. And collaborating. They enjoyed both so much, in fact, that they would often gather to cause messy collaborative accidents that we now call parlor games.

One of the most famous of these is the Exquisite Corpse, in which each player writes part of a sentence on a sheet of paper, folds it to conceal the writing, and then passes it to the next player for his or her contribution. The game was named for the subject of its first playing: 

"Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau" 
(The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine).

At the Harvest Moon Tea Party salon last week, we kicked off the evening with a couple of rounds of the classic version of the game:

 “Seven hiccoughing bushbabies are dancing bright rockstars.”

“The super alpaca spanked pleasingly the strumpets.”

“We slow robotic droids escaped radiantly into the banana.”

Then moved to a round of questions and answers (the question being hidden from its answerer):

Q: “Where does the sleepy traveler go when no one is watching?”
A: “With reckless abandon and honesty.”

Q: “How many years does a pig live?”
A: “Glad you asked that. I was anticipating this question. The answer is yes! Especially on Tuesdays.”

Q: “What does it all mean?”
A: “Because there isn’t any.”

Q: “If you came across a very friendly alien, what would you say?”
A: “Corn on the cob. Or possibly rhubarb.”

Q: “What is the meaning of bubbles?”
A: “15 miles and a small golden trout.”

And, finally, the favorite--the artists' version of the Exquisite Corpse (some of our drawings are seen here).

See some of the original Surrealists’ drawings at

The Surrealists in 1930: Tristan Tzara, Paul Éluard, André Breton, Hans Arp, Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, René Crevel, Man Ray

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thunderbolt Sow

I recently received an e-mail from my worm-loving friend M (for "Mischief") suggesting that I might be the doppelgänger of the Thunderbolt Sow mentioned in this post from The Writer's Almanac (from October 24, 2010):

"It's the birthday of writer and explorer Alexandra David-Néel, born in Saint-Mandé, France, in 1868. She had an unhappy childhood, the only child of bitter parents who fought all the time. She tried running away over and over, starting when she was two years old. As a teenager, she traveled by herself through European countries, including a bike trip across Spain. When she was 21, she inherited money from her parents, and she used it all to go to Sri Lanka. She worked as an opera singer for a while to finance her travels. She was especially interested in Buddhism.

"She disguised herself as a Tibetan woman and managed to get into the city of Lhasa, which at that time was off-limits to foreigners. She became fluent in Tibetan, met the Dalai Lama, practiced meditation and yoga, and trekked through the Himalayas, where she survived by eating the leather off her boots and once saved herself in a snowstorm with a meditation that increases body temperature. The locals thought she might be the incarnation of Thunderbolt Sow, a female Buddhist deity. She became a Tantric lama in Tibet when she was 52 years old.

"And she wrote about it all. Her most famous book is Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1929), in which she wrote: 'Then it was springtime in the cloudy Himalayas. Nine hundred feet below my cave rhododendrons blossomed. I climbed barren mountain-tops. Long tramps led me to desolate valleys studded with translucent lake.... Solitude, solitude!... Mind and senses develop their sensibility in this contemplative life made up of continual observations and reflections. Does one become a visionary or, rather, is it not that one has been blind until then?'

"She died in 1969, at the age of 101, a few months after renewing her passport. She was a big influence on the Beat writers, especially Allen Ginsberg, who converted to Buddhism after reading some of her teachings."

Friday, October 22, 2010

The World Was Made to Be Free In

Whenever I'm a little lost, I find it helpful to have a poet by my side. Right now it's David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you. 
              --David Whyte

I'm looking forward to see David Whyte in Vancouver next month, where he'll share his secrets in a workshop called What to Remember When Waking.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forest Gold

I'm the richest girl in the Emerald City this week. Why? Look what I've got:

I returned home from my travels to a deck covered in red leaves, a week of crisp, sunny days, and woods bursting with mushrooms. I honed in on my favorites--chanterelles. Their flavor memory has been teasing me all year long.

This pile of fragrant treasure is now a creamy soup, made from a recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbooka gift from my dad years ago. Since I’ve never bought chanterelles, I don’t know how many make two pounds; I just pile mushrooms into the pot until it seems like there are way too many.

Wild Mushroom Soup

 Melt 8 T. of butter in a soup pot. Add 2 c. of finely chopped yellow onions and cook, covered, over low heat until they are tender and lightly colored, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Trim the stems from 2 lbs. of fresh wild mushrooms. Wipe the caps with a damp cloth and slice thin. Add caps to the soup pot, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook over low heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

Add 4 c. vegetable stock and ¾ c. Madeira wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a blender, add a cup of the broth, and purée until smooth.

Return purée to the soup pot and set over medium heat. Taste, correct seasoning, and add a pint of heavy cream. Heat until steaming and serve with slices of toasted crusty bread.

Serves 6 to 8

Bon appétit!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Foodie's Guide to Barcelona, Part 2

Last week I posted pictures of the Mercat de la Boqueria as a teaser to get you daydreaming about a trip to Barcelona. If it worked, you may have already started comparing flights and checking out hotels. Well, good!

If you enjoyed that little appetizer, you may be interested in seeing a menu, a selection of Catalan taste experiences not to be missed.

Let's start with breakfast: xocolata at M. Viader. M. Viader is the oldest granja (chocolate café) in Barcelona--it dates back to 1870. And Xocolata is a thick, rich, chocolate soup served under a slab of sweet cream, with a side of melindros (ladyfingers).

Xocolata (photo by Su-Lin of Tamarind and Thyme)
Melindros (photo by Su-Lin of Tamarind and Thyme)

M. Viader (photo borrowed from this blog)
For lunch, head to the Café de l'Academia, a gem hidden in the heart of the Gothic district. Sit inside in the sophisticated-rustic dining room or outside in the small and relatively quiet plaza, order a glass of cava with your lunch, and then sit back and enjoy some of the best modern Catalan fare in Barcelona.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Invitation: Harvest Moon Tea Party

We get two Harvest Moons this year. Yes, two. The first coincided with the autumnal equinox on September 23, and was therefore christened the "Super Harvest Moon." I was far from my garden at the time. And far from the farm that keeps me in fresh produce in exchange for a few romantic chores a week (cutting flowers, digging potatoes, gathering eggs in a rustic basket). Alas! I was in France, and had to make do with the abundance of wines, cheeses, and pâtés that my fellow Musers and I had gathered that week. (What rotten luck!)

The second harvest moon is this Saturday. I am home from my travels. My tomatoes have finally ripened; my autumn greens are thriving; and the pig that I saw harvested before I left for France is now ready to be roasted. Being back among what I know and love, I'm in the mood to celebrate. A feast! An offering of favorite local foods and new French delicacies. A Harvest Moon Tea Party.

You're invited to join me as the last warm drops of summer evaporate into the crisp autumn air. The first bottle of blanquette will be popped at 5. Dinner will be served at 7. And heady conversation will be had throughout the evening. Bring your most scintillating self and join in the revelry.

The magic of L'Antic Teatre in Barcelona

Harvest Moon Tea Party 
Saturday, October 23
Vashon Island

E-mail me to RSVP or for more information. 

(As always, the overnight guest room goes to the first taker.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010


At the risk of getting my blog all sticky with sweetness, I'd like to introduce my favorite new citizens of the planet, who live with my lucky friend Kenneth (aka "Puma"):

These bemittened muppets were born just over a month ago. They're wobbly and nearly microscopic, and thus hard to photograph, but I think you can get the gist.

Their mother, Kiwi (aka "Shoebacca"), is an Amazon of Cuteness herself, as proven by her high ranking in Kittenwar ("May the cutest kitten win!"). You can see her stats (and baby pic) here. The kittens' teenage siblings--Madeleine, Pillow, and Carrottop--have had equally impressive military careers.

Check out Kenneth's blog, Chess Tip of the Day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Valentine to La Muse

Dear La Muse,

It's been only a month since we met, and nearly a week since we parted, but already I've grown fond of you and look forward to my next visit.

Kerry and John, you're perfect hosts. And amazing people. You sparkle; you soothe; you inspire. Thank you for your kindness and generosity. And for the vision, courage, and hard work that you've put into creating such a welcoming and inspiring space for artists, writers, poets, musicians, and Creative Imaginatives of all persuasions. What Muse wouldn't willingly rush to one's side in such a setting?

I'm enclosing a scrapbook of my stay, for the edification and enticement of Future Musers (you know who you are).

With gratitude and affection,


Welcome to La Muse
The grape arbor
A room of one's own
My creative space
Playing with paint
An artist in her element
The happy-hour terrace
"French Lunch"
A walk through the village... the Source
A chestnut-strewn trail
Saint Michel mushrooms (Lepiota procera)
...and more "French Lunch"
The Prat Viel cows (thanks for the milk!)
La Montagne Noire
No hiking on "Hunting Wednesdays"
Fresh walnuts (see post here)
The vinyards of Lastours
My hidden sculpture
The window is wide open...

To learn more about La Muse or to apply for a 2011 residency, click here.