For Dave's 50th birthday, we went to see Mary Roach, a science writer and humorist who has written such books as Stiff, Bonk, and most recently, Gulp, speak as part of the City Arts & Lecture series at the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco. It was an entertaining evening, and Roach is a great storyteller as she recounted funny anecdotes from her research. The Q & A portion was surprisingly interesting and absent were the typical gooey praise for the speaker. Through Roach's answers of a few different questions, she spoke about her own insecurities, self-criticism and general worry that her writing won't be good enough, clear enough, funny enough. But what struck me is how her insecurities became motivators. What makes one person's low self-esteem productive, and for another person, their low self-esteem creates paralysis? It seems like at the root of both people is fear—fear of being insignificant, fear of failure, fear of being judged. Roach commented that she only shares the drafts of her book with her trusted editor, because anyone else's feedback might cause her to abandon the whole project. That sounds like a lot of self-doubt for a best-selling author, and I don't believe that she was just being self-effacing. So how do her fears manifest in book after book, while for me and others I know, that fear results in not pursuing our goals?

One possibility may be that success could be a defensive posture to counter shame and lack of self-worth. But why does the insecure productive person's desire override their fear? Does their need for attention trump their worry about judgement? For others, those feelings of worthlessness compound on top of each other and create nothing but regret. 
What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who has found success and the insecure person who is stuck?
On television, reality show and celebrity interview after interview, low self-esteem and narcissism rear their ugly heads time and time again. I understand that fame attracts those qualities—the need for attention from your director or your audience offers reassurance and belonging—I realize that this is a gross overstatement, but for argument's sake, is that need for affirmation so great that it suppresses the fear of rejection? Shouldn't that kind of lack of confidence cause these stars to crawl up into a ball and hide, instead of pursuing their goals with such dedication? This is such a mystery to me. It's something that I need to unlock. I want to perform. I want to have the resiliency to go to auditions, to network and to slough off rejection, all the while building skills to help me get cast the next time. But it feels all too much for me, at least at this point in time. My love of performing does not trump these feelings of doubt. And the very fact that they don't, makes me question myself even more.

I've always thought that content people are the individuals who have healthy self-esteem, who feel uncertainty but move through those uncomfortable stages until they travel to the other side and complete their tasks. But listening to Mary Roach last week made me realize that many of these seemingly successful people are filled with more than just a little healthy self-doubt. How does she manage her apprehension to keep working, researching and writing? 
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Birthday boy with his girls at Smitten in SF.
How does one person's youth filled with lack of stability, financial insecurity and unloving relationships motivate them to become competent and wealthy, while for another, it just reemphasizes scarcity and keeps them down?

How does one person have enough belief in themselves to see their ideas through, while another lets the world pass them by?

How does one person decide they are an authority on a subject and become a professor, a mechanic, a surgeon?

At the heart of the situation, I think that we attempt to raise our children, to teach our students, to help our friends, our family, ourselves, to listen to our feelings (whether they are filled with fear, joy or something in between) and to have the emotional tools to act upon our needs. We try to not judge others and to not judge ourselves. We strive for empathy and to open ourselves to experience. And hopefully that is an easier thing to learn when you are a young person who has not lived through damaging relationships and disappointments. Maybe our children will be more resilient to those harmful situations and will gain strength from them instead of having their spirits crushed. But what of the folks who have been deflated. How do they aspire to their potential?

My real question is: What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who is productive and the insecure person who is stuck? I feel that this is fertile ground for exploration and some answers could open a new path of inquiry for me to follow in my own efforts to release my uncertainty and embrace my aspirations. I know that not many folks read this blog (as I've been too shy to widely publicize my nascent writing) but if you have thoughts on this subject or know someone who might, please make comments below, pass the question along, or drop me a line!
 
 
Today is Franny and Jordan's 14th birthday. We started the morning off with candy-in-their-shoes. Franny requested Fran's Chocolates salted caramels, dark chocolate truffles from Chocolatier Blue, See's Candies scotchmallows, Smarties, and I threw in a small bar of Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Choolate from Chocolove, and See's Candies peppermint twists. Jordan requested lemon drops (the good kind, i.e. not from the drugstore. I made a special trip to Sweet Dreams on College avenue in the Elmwood district of Berkeley, and while I was there, I picked up a bag of my fave, swedish fish! Jordan's right; the quality of bulk candy from a real candy store is so much tastier). Other requests were See's Candies dark almond clusters, scotchmallows, loads of Smarties, and I added Chocolove's Raspberries in Dark Chocolate, a flavor combo that Jordan really enjoys.
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Franny looks divine in this retro style dress. My bad photo doesn't capture the color well.
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Jordan looks splendid in this colorful harlequin pattern, but the dress is just too big on the top. Back it goes.
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That's one happy girl wearing a wrapping paper hat and wielding an axe—an item from her wish list!
Franny asked me to make the Rich Chocolate Tart from the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated for their birthday cake. It's proving to be completely challenging! I'm writing as I go because the recipe calls for many breaks where you refrigerate the dough before it's rolled, after it's rolled, and on and on. I think it's highly unlikely that this thing is going to come out anything like it looks in the the photo. Even after watching the free video on the Cook's Illustrated website, my dough did not come together like expected. Although the recipe did not specify, I think ice cold butter is needed. One can see that if I were writing a professional cooking blog, I'd make a recipe dozens of time before trying to document with photos and tips! Alas, it's my small kitchen, below par instruments and my inexperience bringing this recipe to you. But that's also the point of my blog, to help me remember details of a recipe, to test if it's too complicated and not worth the effort to make again, and just fun for me to do. So here goes. It's a good way to spend my Saturday since Franny and Jordan are at school in rehearsal all day anyway!
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The dough didn't come together as a ball after adding the egg mixture to the dry ingredients. My guess is the butter got too warm.
ARGH! I hate recipes that require so many special pieces of equipment. Not having a tart pan with a removable bottom is proving to be a real problem. What I have is a pastry ring (a metal ring w/ no bottom) so the ring and dough are sitting directly on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray (another ARGH! I realized that I accidentally bought Pam Baking which includes flour in the spray. I was wondering why the spray function was so damn hard to press and then sprayed with such force). The recipe calls to freeze the tart shell for 25 minutes right before baking. I threw the whole sheet pan in the freezer since the sheet pan is functioning as the bottom of my crust, but then afterwards realized that the sheet pan is now ice cold and the temperature in my pre-heated oven will drop considerably. I basically said, "screw it!" and it's baking now and I have no idea how much more time may be required for it to cook, nor if I will lose the nice golden brown color due to my pan mishaps. I suppose I should have used aluminum foil as a liner for the pastry ring...doh! So I'm scrapping the photos, the details, the equipment list, etc. The recipe should be up on the Cook's Illustrated site for a few months before they make it inaccessible for non-subscribers. Send me a comment or an email if you really want the recipe and I'll see what I can do. Here's the link: Rich Chocolate Tart, from Cooks Illustrated, November & December 2013 issue

Another ARGH! butter is oozing out beneath the pastry ring while it's baking in the oven, and I don't have it on a rimmed sheet pan so hopefully it's not going to gush all over the oven! This is actually getting to be pretty hilarious. Now I'm off to make the filling...
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Given all the hardships that proceeded this step, this looks pretty good. Now to cool, three hours to set in the refrigerator, and then glaze.
Making the filling proved to be simple—thank goodness—but I had so much leftover. The recipe calls for an 11" tart pan, and I was forced to use a 9" pastry ring, but unexpectedly, I didn't have any left-over dough. Obviously I did not roll the dough thin enough. I saved the filling and if it's delicious, I'll try the tart shell recipe again tomorrow (if I dare!) or maybe will make a pie crust using Dave's recipe.
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Franny with the final product.
We're too full to try the tart now, but I'm not waiting to post. Happy birthday to my babies! 
 
 
I'm off to Palau, a chain of islands in Micronesia, east of the Philippines and northeast of Indonesia. The time difference is 16 hours from California, and it will take me about a day to travel there. I leave on Saturday and will be gone fourteen days from my family. For weeks, I've felt tinges of, "What was I thinking?!" and pangs of homesickness, before I've even left, for the cozy comforts that I share with Franny and Jordan and the joy I feel when I hear their lovely voices chattering away. At this point in my life, I'm used to traveling with the girls and Dave. They are my home away from home, and they make being on the road just like bringing your nest along with you. When Dave and I used to travel together before the girls were born, we would think of ourselves as a snail, carrying our home on our backs. Marilyn, my mother-in-law, has a saying that, "No matter where you are, there you are." I think she means that there is always that one familiar thing—yourself—to rely on among all the unknown.

There is something about traveling to the opposite side of the Earth and the remoteness of Palau that makes this two week trip feel so much further and more daunting (and likely will make the experience so much richer once I'm there). Luckily, I will be with two friends, who I met on a trip years ago, as well as Ron, the group's trip leader, who is also a friend. When I arrive, Ron will be there to meet me, and I will stay a few nights with his family, and sleep in his son's room which I imagine to have the familiar feel of toys and more toys. All of these people will add to my enjoyment and keep my tendency to feel lonely at bay.

The flying portion of any of my trips combines a pleasant amount of anonymity that can be liberating but can also be a source for melancholy. When I was young, my parents and I hardly went anywhere, and so when I was older and began to travel more, I loved the feeling of airports. People were going places, there was adventure and romance, and I was one of many who were participating in this global arena. Now, the sheen has worn away and the plane ride is just tiresome, and I get a bit squirrelly and claustrophobic. Oh, how I long to have access to a portkey or some floo powder!

With a journey, there is more self-sufficiency, a simpler life where everything you need is in one perfectly packed bag. It's a design challenge to find and fit all the essentials, an opportunity for perfectionism overkill, for analyzing and predicting numerous possible scenarios. But what of the spontaneity and surrender to the unknown adventure? Maybe that heightened state can only be achieved once you have brought your luggage and all its contents into sublime balance prior to your trip. One would think that were true, given that I had nearly finished packing a week early, and have had a running list for about a month now! Seriously though, there is a liberation in not being weighed down by your possessions, the clutter of your daily life. Each time Dave and I return from a trip to Europe, we attempt to extend the Scandinavian design sensibility into our home, all clean lines and open space, or the carefree Mediterranean style of good food and long conversation. It's a way of life that we aspire to but can be difficult to maintain within the drudgery of daily America, with its longer work hours for less time off, and the emphasis on ownership and individualism rather than community and experience.

Traveling holds so much allure for me, and as my trip nears, I am getting excited. There are new adventures, new friends, new tastes and smells, tangible experiences that are multi-faceted and sear into your memory like nothing else. Travel holds the mystique of reinvention, an opportunity to be at your brightest, the chance to leave behind your mundane or neurotic routine and instead to be open and ready to savor. A foreign place can be tiring and taxing and can often push us nearly beyond our limits. But while we explore—while we embrace our wanderlust—we are more flexible, more able to squeeze and stretch. It's partially due to the newness of the situation, but mostly about attitude. While on a trip, there are
 instances when we are scared, exhausted, disappointed, ill, confused—all manner of emotional conditions that we normally try to avoid—and yet, when we are able to push through these hardships, to prevail, it is in those moments that we grow. It is here in this space where our minds and hearts expand. It is here where you realize that you are you, no matter where you are. It was not this better self that exists only while traveling, but it is you, your essence, and we can tap that source of energy even at home. So travel is practice; an opportunity to dip into that well of strength and hope and to rekindle within ourselves that breadth and depth that is within us.
 
 
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Fake food of my fake food, needle felted by Jordan
Today is my birthday. Coincidentally it is also my Free Friday so I'm enjoying a very lovely leisurely day. We began with candy in my shoes, fresh-baked muffins and presents. I received the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts—and so many! An artfully designed wiFi speaker from soundfreaq. The girls and I are listening to Yo-Yo Ma while I write. The new Cooks Illustrated compendium, The Science of Good Cooking, to further my culinary explorations; a gorgeous newly release boxed set of The Complete Sherlock Holmes—stunning cover art and wood block prints throughout—which Jordan has all ready dived into; and the most charming and delightful handcrafted gifts from the girls. 

I am so impressed with the girls ability to do things, to make things, to conceive and execute. Franny knitted a scarf—oh, how I love the colors and stripes!—using two new stitches that she learned while watching YouTube videos. She has a fantastic spatial sense and an ability to self-teach and tackle new concepts. Franny also made me a darling beanie, with a peaked top that resembles the stem of an acorn, that she knit using circular needles, alternating normal and vertical stitches, and all made without a pattern. 
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Fresh blueberry muffins baked by Franny
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Needle felted gnome that we named Toady. He's adorabubble which is beyond adorable.
Jordan ripened her needle felting skills by making a gnome (so tubby & cute!) and fake food fruit. She led me out to the dining room with eyes closed for a surprise reveal of handmade green apples, yellow pears, orange and twin cherries arranged to match the cover art of my blog. It amazes me that she can sit with a blob of wool, to then transform it into the very thing she imagined.

Franny and Jordan are an inspiration to me. They can be shy to talk to a sales clerk at a store, but they are fearless when it comes to devoting their energy to a project. Verbal acuity will happen as they mature; their curiosity and enthusiasm seem innate. The mission will be to foster that passion and creativity throughout their lives.
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With my Bear, and wearing the hand-knitted scarf she made me
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The celebrations started yesterday at work with a beautifully moist layer cake baked by Carole.
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Gorgeous bouquet!
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Tin Cup Serenade at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden's Redwood Grove Thursday Summer Concert Series, with the girls and Caryn
My past birthdays have been fun, melancholic, hectic, full of expectation, but always a time of contemplation. As the start of my new year begins, I find myself in an unusual (but getting more common) sweet spot of laid back reflection. It's been a tough year due to relationship problems that Dave and I face, but it is has also been a year filled with good growing pains. I've stretched these past months in ways that I've wanted to for the longest time. My blog currently offers a creative play space that is easier to attain than juggling schedules for rehearsals or expensive glass blowing classes. I've enjoyed my attempts to try new recipes. My blogging serves as a jumping off point for remembering the past, the preservation of new experiences, and therapeutic as I develop as a parent, partner and individual. 

What are my goals for the new year? Should I have specific objectives? Maybe the golden ticket would be to not set forth a series of intentions but to let each day unfold. But I think that's a bit far-reaching, after all, I called my sweet spot, "laid back reflection." I will always like to plan, I will always enjoy puzzling over meaning. Dave shared with me a beautiful essay,What's on Your Mind? by Joyce Dyer. Dyer speaks to her jumbled thinking patterns and how it feeds her imagination. 
For too long, I’ve mistrusted this mind of mine. I let conventional organization rush in too soon, and I chased away the reflection and associative chaos particular to the way I think — traits I’ve begun to honor now. 

-Joyce Dyer, What's on Your Mind?
I do believe that the act of self-acceptance, albeit difficult for some of us, does cultivate creativity. It's our individual approaches, our zebra stripes if you will, that make our voices unique. So why not acknowledge those quirks instead of trying to eradicate them. Possibly by embracing that my mind likes to mull things over, I might be able to continue my beneficial contemplativeness while letting go of the more debilitating aspects of scrutiny and rumination. Would that allow me to sense more intuitively, to be more in the moment? By accepting the way my mind works, could I lose the exhaustive commentary of self-judgement, and allow life to unfold with a balance of awareness and joy? Self-acceptance also fosters connection; a kindness towards yourself engenders a reciprocal loop of generosity and receptivity to the larger world. So let's start the year not with an agenda, but trust ourselves to know what we feel, to act upon those sensations and to allow our lives to be enriched with love.
 
 
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Homemade fleur de sel caramels
Early in our relationship, Dave practiced what he believed to be a Danish tradition where on your birthday, you received candy in your shoes. I loved this idea and reciprocated on his birthday. Dave believed this was part of his Danish heritage, a vague memory from his youth, but we later learned from his mom that no such practice existed. In actuality, Danes just eat a lot of chocolate, and his memory was of his German neighbor's family receiving whole nuts (not chocolates) which were rolled down the hallway by, I think, Santa on Christmas eve. No shoes in sight. This multicultural mash-up has become a wonderful and totally unique-to-our family custom where you receive candy in your shoes on the morning of your birthday. The night before, you place your shoes (or fuzzy slippers) near your bedside, and after you fall asleep, your family fills them with candy. When you wake up, before presents or breakfast, you dive in and eat decadent and fancily packaged chocolates, old standby's like See's Candies, and drugstore favorites like Smarties or Swedish Fish. More recently, the tradition also includes salted caramels. Each year we try new artisanal interpretations, but I always come back to my favorites: the dark chocolate, gray salt caramels from Fran's Chocolates, based in Seattle, WA. 

On my last Free Friday, Franny and I gave Barefoot Contessa's Fleur de Sel Caramels a try. These were easier to make than I expected. My attempt a couple of month's ago to make caramel sauce was a total flop so I was unsure how these would go. These are delicious—maybe a bit too sweet for me, but next time, I think I can remedy that by browning the caramel longer before adding the cream. Also, these are considerably less sticky sweet when eaten straight from the refrigerator. 

How do these homemade caramels compare to Fran's Chocolates? They aren't quite as good—I enjoy the addition of the dark chocolate and the smoother consistency of Fran's—but they are really quite delicious, and I think if I keep practicing, these sea salt caramels will make a great holiday gift.
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Line an 8" x 8" pan with parchment paper that drapes over the edge of two sides to aid in the removal of the cooled caramel. Brush paper with a thin coating of vegetable oil, which helps too.
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Franny uses the mortar & pestle to break the salt into finer crystals.
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Combine water, light corn syrup and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
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Keep swirling (not stirring) the sugar mixture.
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After about five minutes, the sugar mixture is turning light brown. It's important to watch the sugar carefully, as it can go from perfect to burnt easily.
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This gorgeous tawny color was achieved after about 10 minutes. I added the cream at this point, but next time, I'm waiting longer for a darker caramel color resulting in, hopefully, even more depth of flavor.
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Add the cream mixture slowly to avoid the sugar mixture from bubbling out of the pot.
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Stir with a wooden spoon and insert a candy thermometer. Remove from heat when the temperature reaches 248 degrees. The mixture will continue to get darker.
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Poor into prepared pan and chill for about an hour in the refrigerator.
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Franny after a successful removal of the slab of caramel from the pan.
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Cut the square in half, then roll each half length-wise.
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Sprinkle generously with fleur de sel. For same size pieces, cut log in half, then by repeated halves to desired size. Brush the blade of your knife with vegetable oil to prevent the caramel from sticking.
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Pre-cut parchment paper and wrap individual pieces. Twist the ends in opposite directions to form an old-fashioned wrapper. Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate. I think they taste best when served cold.
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These pieces are each 1/8 of a log. I think they could easily be cut smaller as the caramels are very rich.
Fleur de Sel Caramels, from Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?
Yield:  About 16 large, or 32 bite-size caramels

Equipment
8" square baking pan
heavy & deep saucepan (I used my 2-1/2 quart, 6" wide by 4" deep Calphalon saucepan)*
small saucepan
parchment paper
pastry brush
wooden spoon
kitchen knife
candy thermometer
cutting board
*sauce pan size is important. Using too big of a pot will cause the sugar to cook too quickly and makes the consistency gritty.

Ingredients
vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5T unsalted butter
1 tsp fleur de sel (French sea salt), plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Procedure
1. Line the square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving the paper longer on two sides so it drapes over the edge. This aids in the removal of the sticky caramel from the pan.
2. Brush the paper lightly with vegetable oil
3. In the deep saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water, sugar & corn syrup and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Do not stir, but instead swirl the pan. Keep an eye on the mixture as it can burn easily.
4. In the small saucepan, bring the cream, butter and 1 tsp of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Once combined, set aside.
5. When the sugar mixture has a dark amber color (see photos above, approx. 10-12 minutes), remove from heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. It will bubble up (violently if you pour the cream mixture too fast) so be careful not to burn yourself, but it is fun potion-making-like to see it froth up.
6. Add vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Insert the candy thermometer and monitor regularly. It will continue to darken.
7. When the mixture reaches 248 degrees (candy thermometers call this "firm ball"), very gently pour this VERY hot mixture into the prepared pan.
8. Refrigerate for about an hour or until firm.
9. Cut parchment paper into 4" x 5" squares to use for individual caramel wrappers. Set aside.
10. Once caramel is cold (it will be easier to remove from pan in one piece), use the parchment paper handles to lift the caramel (you might need to pry a little) onto the cutting board.
11. Cut the square of caramel in half with a sharp knife.
12. Start with one of the sheets of caramel and roll lengthwise into a tight 8-inch-long log. If the caramel is not malleable enough, wait a minute for it to soften at room temperature. 
13. Repeat with second piece.
14. Sprinkle both logs with fleur de sel.
15. Trim the ends (and sample!). If it's too sticky, brush vegetable oil on the knife for easier cutting.
16. Cut each log into 8 pieces. The easiest way to do this is to cut the log in half, then in half again, then each smaller segment in half once more. Repeat with second log. If you want smaller pieces, cut log once in half, and then approximate smaller, equal slices.
17. To wrap each caramel, place in a piece of parchment, fold to cover, and twist the ends.
18. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container and serve the caramels chilled.

After refrigerating, the fleur de sel crystals may dissolve or become transparent, but they still taste great. You can always re-sprinkle with a bit more fleur de sel after plating on a serving dish. Serve chilled for best flavor.
 
 
There is something extremely satisfying about yard work. The sense of accomplishment is so straight-forward. There were weeds; now there aren't (at least no more visible ones). I spent a couple of hours cutting back overgrown ivy along the side of our house. Its tentacles threading their way under landscaping fabric and popping up on the other side of the path. Tendrils of sticky, fuzzy vines gripping and choking nearby decorative olive trees. My arm aches from all the yanking, but it was impossible to stop. How could I discontinue the frenzied cutting, pulling and digging when my adversary was obviously not abiding by the length of wood trim that demarcates no man's land from pathway? Chaos reigns. Nature overrides all attempts to create control. 

Satisfaction from seeing my pile of discarded ivy cheered me forward. One tree free of the strangulating ivy, now two, only two more to go. I know my body will pay for this tomorrow. I know, that as in everything, I should set boundaries, but compulsion prevails. And why not? Where else in life do you see the proof of your hard work in such tangible evidence? 

There is also the meditative, quiet space of yard work. There's time to analyze, to daydream, to ruminate, and all occur under the protective spell of physical labor that reminds me that I am not wasting my time. At the end of the hour, there will be visible transformation. My labors will be evident. I will feel vindicated that I have done something. I will have earned my extra long shower, I will have earned my slovenly behavior on the couch. 

I wish that my mind weren't such a whirling dervish of activity. I wish that it were easier for me to just sit and watch t.v. or read my book. Why do I have to "earn" my relaxation time, in order to shut off the self-judgement? Isn't the five days at work enough to garner an actual weekend? This task master behavior has been a long-time companion but has improved over the past year. I have allowed myself more creativity and down time. There is a certain ease to my day that I had never experienced before, or at least had not experienced since I was pregnant. It's hard to remember what it was like pre-babies. I struggled with a post back in June—about pregnancy, lonesomeness and loss—that I just couldn't publish. It caused a drought of writing these past many weeks and consequently I missed my goal of three posts a month. In fact, there was not a single post in June. I guess the feelings weren't ready to be out there. I think writing and re-writing the entry did help me to process some lingering pain, though I wonder if actually sharing via a post may have been even more cathartic. For now, I will leave it as a private journal entry and may try again later. For today, I will sit with my achy shoulder and be glad that I conquered some ivy and then wrote.
 
 
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Sunnyside up!
Was just out for a lunchtime walk when I came upon this flower. I think it's a variety of poppy. A bush filled with sunnyside up eggs--that makes me giggle!
 
 
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Jordan bought these salt and pepper shakers for Franny for Christmas last year. Jordan is the pea pod with her eyes closed, Franny is the one with her eyes open.
Having twins is like having a set of peas. The girls certainly are as close as two peas in a pod. It is the most amazing thing to have twins. When I was little growing up as the only child in the house (my brother and sister are much older), I played all sorts of imaginary games by myself. I was often lonely and always wished I had a sibling my age. When I see the girls engaged in each other's play, mirroring and matching each other's enthusiasm at every turn, I feel so happy that their youth is so opposite of my own. I'm amazed at the closeness of their bond, and just a bit envious, too. 

Most of us spend much of our adult lives searching for someone to be our companion, and in many ways, Franny and Jordan have all ready experienced that kind of affinity. They will surely have many friends in their lifetime, many boyfriends and—dare I say—lovers, and hopefully life partners who will cherish and respect them and who will be the fathers of their children. But from the beginning, they've had not only an ideal collaborator in play but a sister who is intimately familiar with their rhythms, preferences and needs. They have someone to rely on, to cheer them on, to learn from and occasionally to feel in opposition to. Although it does seem likely that my Jane Austen-loving, Victorian dress-obsessed girls will want to get married, it is my hope that their early closeness with each other will aid in their independence from the men in their lives. I hope they might be free from the longing and angst that many of us are familiar with when it comes to relationships. Maybe that craving for connection is not as great when you've experienced a deep attachment from the very beginning? I wish for Franny and Jordan—and all young girls—the courage to follow their ambitions with joy and openness, to engage in meaningful relationships, and to revel in their own unique strength, creativity and intelligence.
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Pea pod serving tray with three pea bowls.
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One of my favorite magnets that's been around since before the girls were born.
 
 
Last Saturday, our family had the pleasure of seeing Les 7 Doights de la Main, a nouveau circus performance collaborative from Montreal, perform their piece PSY. The company name translates to "the seven fingers of the hand" (evoking the French idiom of the five fingers of the hand working together toward a unified goal) and refers to the seven founding members and their unique creative backgrounds that fit together to accomplish a larger artistic collaboration. The result was a thrilling performance of quirky, innovative and high energy talent that combined circus arts, theatre and dance. 

The larger narrative of PSY is therapy, individual neurosis and the psyche as creative juice for life. Each performer engaged in acts of physical feat that represented the torment that their characters felt internally. As I watched awed by each performer's kinesthetic prowess, I meditated on the comfortable predictability of gravity, contrasted with the seemingly outright defiance of its force by the amazing performers. The juggler's pin is tossed and then rhythmically caught over and over, our mind's eye tracing its path through the air. There is a thrill in watching the juggler because we instantly become familiar with the sequential pattern of the tumbling pins, while simultaneously fearing that a pin will not be caught and our fascinated trance broken. The arc that the aerialist makes while pumping her swinging trapeze soothes like a pendulum and makes your heart race as the apex reaches dizzyingly heights. The greatest delight was watching a couple seemingly flout the laws of physics by clinging to an apparatus, the Chinese pole—basically a fireman's pole that stretched skyward two stories above the stage floor. Their feet would scamper up the bar as if it were a notched tree trunk, then at ridiculous heights their limbs would wind and spin around the pole, stopping to elongate their bodies away from this center line. As the couple spoons as if in bed, but stacked one body atop the other, we are lulled into thinking this is easy, when they suddenly loosen their grip and drop from two stories high to inches from the floor. It is spellbinding to see these performers surrender to gravity's pull. How can one be so brave as to let themselves plummet towards the earth? 

PSY was about psychology and the mind's yield to forces beyond us. As I watched, I wondered about the lure of falling. We, as humans, may fear the descent but ultimately we want to fall, to feel. We seek out thrill rides where we are protected by metal enclosures so we can safely replicate this sensation without any daring. When we dream in our sleep that we are losing our balance, toppling down, our minds awaken to catch us before we hit. We jolt awake stunned by our instinctive muscles contracting. We feel tense, but initially the fall felt weightless and a little intoxicating. If we didn't think we would crash, would we have become so panicked? 

We crave falling in love, drawn to another who reciprocates our feelings, and for that brief time we feel so accepted that we can be giddy and silly and uncaring of the outcome, simply drunk with life. I wonder if what we aren't yearning for is that sensation of abandon. These performers embraced this desire, yielding to gravity and confident that their bodies would catch them right side up. We enjoy watching this physical and metaphorical spectacle of arcing ebbs and flows because it tantalizes that wonder in our soul. We want to fall. We want to be that open; we want to no longer care about being judged, by ourselves, by others, or by perceived limitations. We want to skip for joy and to hell with constraints and pessimism. We want to savor whole-heartedness. It is up to us as individuals to perch at the highest heights, leap off believing that we can enjoy the tumult, sometimes cascading, sometimes falling faster than we like, but trusting that our landings will offer enough momentum to arc us back to the summit for another breathless dance.
 
 
Oh my gosh! This was so delicious! The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen's Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast. It was everything I love: fast, healthy, full of texture and breakfast-for-dinner! Thank you Smitten Kitchen!

Every time I go out for breakfast, I have poached eggs. I love the delicate white texture contrasted with the warm, gooey yolk, but I find poaching eggs at home to be troublesome. These five minute boiled eggs capture that delightful texture with no hassle! 

My very favorite brunch spot in the world is Tartine in NYC in the West Village. I have so many fond memories of brunches there with friends. While Cate was attending massage therapy school, I would go to her rent control apartment and she would "practice" on me, both swedish and shiatsu techniques. Afterwards, we'd walk down the block for breakfast at Tartine and indulge in the very best hollandaise sauce. On the weekends, they offer Eggs Benedict (with canadian bacon, Dave's fave) or Eggs Florentine (with spinach, my fave) with dark, crusty-browned potatoes, orange juice and coffee. They do booming business with a line that snakes around the block every weekend. 
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Even better than eating outside on a sunny spring day, was being bundled up in winter, waiting in line filled with anticipation. Here's Wendy, Dave & Mike, preparing for our Tartine ritual.
I loved Cate's apartment. It was light-filled and looked down upon one of those rare-Manhattan sights, a neighbor's backyard garden. I remember one warm summer evening, Cate, our friend, Joel, and I, sat out on her fire escape and chatted about the books we were each reading. I had so much time in those days. It never felt like it though. I was always rushing from one thing to the next, but in comparison to my life now, the days were long with vasts amounts of free time. Now the hours, weeks, months tumble by, and I'm trying to learn to better savor each day. I'm attempting to worry less about how things turn out, control only what I can control (i.e. how I respond to the out of control) and to stay present (less regret about the past and less anxiety about the future). I think that's what this blog is about. An attempt to have fun, reflect, be a little creative and an opportunity to practice really tossing things out there.

Last night, the girls were out at a birthday party, so I tried SK's smashed eggs for mine and Dave's dinner, and was richly rewarded with memories of our old Manhattan days. Maybe that's a good formula. Indulging the senses with nutritious and memory-invoking food, blogging about good times with dear friends, and again, remembering to appreciate what I have.
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The ingredients!
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Does everything I love start with shallots?
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SK said to use a "small puddle of water." I'll call this about 2T.
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4 oz. of spinach. Washed but does not need to be dried.
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Just wilted and about to remove to drain in a colander.
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Melt 1-2T butter, saute minced shallots until soft, translucent and fragrant, but before they get brown.
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Add drained spinach
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Add 2T half and half, pinch of salt, a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.
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Add eggs to boiling water and cook for five minutes.
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Toasted bread thinly spread with dijon mustard.
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Peel eggs under water to remove shell. Be sure to peel away thin membrane, and pat to dry.
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Gushy goodness! Eat with a fork and knife, or just pick it up and eat with your fingers.
Smashed Egg & Spinach on Toast, from Smitten Kitchen

Equipment

small sauce pan
fry pan
fork, butter knife, serrated knife
colander
wooden spoon, measuring spoons

Ingredients
2 large eggs
4 oz fresh spinach leaves
2 slices of hearty bread. I used herb slab sliced in half
2T shallots, minced
2T butter
2T half & half*
1 tsp Dijon mustard
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper
1T crumbled cheese, such as feta or goat**

*Smitten Kitchen uses heavy cream. I always have half & half for my coffee so I substituted that instead and it tasted great!
**I skipped the crumbled cheese, and for me, it was plenty rich without the extra dairy. 

I have a hard time getting everything to come together at the same time. SK begins the process with boiling the water and then cooking the egg for 5 minutes. I find that's a lot to juggle so I waited to boil my water until after the spinach & shallots were cooked. I think that was a little late, so in the future, I plan to start the water after draining the spinach.

Procedure
1. Mince shallot into very small mince.
2. While washing spinach leaves (no need to dry. Yay!), heat 2T water in skillet over medium low heat.
3. When water bubbles, add spinach. Cook just until wilted. It should still be a bright green color. 
4. Drain spinach in colander, and press excess water out with a fork. Don't squeeze. You want the spinach to retain its shape.
5. Pat dry the pan (though I found the residual heat evaporated the left-over water from the spinach), and melt 2T butter over medium low heat.
6. While the butter melts, start boiling the water for the eggs in a small sauce pan, and slice & toast the bread.
7. Add shallots to melted butter and saute until soft, about 3 minutes or until shallots are fragrant and translucent, but not browned.
8. Add two eggs to boiling water, lower heat a bit so they don't knock around too much, but water is still boiling. Cook for five minutes for a really loose egg.
9. Add the spinach to the saute pan and incorporate. 
10. Add 2T half & half (or heavy cream) and incorporate, simmer for about a minute
11. Add two pinches of kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste. Turn burner off, but it's okay to leave in the pan on the stove to keep warm. 
12. Spread about 1/2 tsp. dijon on each slice of toast.
13. Drain eggs, peel under warm tap water. At five minutes, they are quite jiggly so gently pat dry with a paper towel.
14. Arrange spinach on toast, making a nest with an indented area for the egg to nestle.
15. Place egg in nest, smash with a fork and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, serve immediately.