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I'm still working on the book.  Various friends who've walked this path before me have referred to this point in the process as "the black hole of despair," "why crystal meth was invented," and "the point at which you lay in bed at night wondering if you should just give back the money."  All of those characterizations seem about right.

Writing a book is hard.  Really, really hard.  Don't let anyone tell you differently.

On the upside, I've been writing and thinking a lot these days about how I came to be a cook, and what I learned in my first years in the kitchen, and I thought of this courtyard.

I was on my junior year abroad, living in London, the first time I went to Italy.  Everyone told me I had to go to Florence, so I managed to get there and stay in a hostel for a couple of nights. I was totally stunned by the beauty of the town.  Just up the road from my hostel was this stunning courtyard, behind a cast iron gate, and each time I passed by I imagined the kinds of people who must live in a place like that, in a town like Florence, in a country like Italy.  I was about twenty years old, and had never imagined that life could be lived in a place where beauty like that was so quotidian.

I remember hoping that perhaps one day I could live in a place as beautiful as the building locked behind that gate.

A few years later, I returned to Florence, to apprentice myself to Benedetta Vitali at Trattoria Zibibbo.  For the first couple of months, she put me up in a convent in the hills above Florence, from which I could walk to work.  I ate my meals with nuns, stumbling through conversations with them in my pidgin Italian, washed my clothes on a washboard in the courtyard, and slept beneath a giant crucifix in my sterile dorm room.  It was amazing, but secluded and lonely.

Eventually, Benedetta moved me into town, onto Via dei Serragli, which is still one of my favorite streets in the world.  I packed up my bags, was dropped off in front of the apartment and handed a key.  I was so excited to be moving into the center of town, near museums and bookstores and cafes and non-nun-people that I hardly noticed where I was being moved into.  It took a couple of days of exploration before I realized that my new apartment was in the exact same building I'd spent all of that time day-dreaming about when I'd first come to Italy.  "Perhaps one day" had come a lot sooner than I'd ever imagined.

There's been a lot of this kind of serendipity in my life, and it helps to remember that.  Especially when I'm deep in the black hole of despair.

For Posterity

Just want to remember that this is the view from my commute every single day. 

And that, as much as I like to complain about it, I sort of love the ritual of heating up my studio in the Headlands, and the wool booties and socks, the hot water bottle, the down vest and comforter, the endless cups of tea, and the space heaters I need to keep warm and stay alive out here.  

And, as stressed out and paralyzed with doubt, and in my head, and anti-social as I feel right now, there is this sort of luxurious level of self-indulgence involved in making a creative work on this scale and that soon, when I am done, I will actually miss this.  A friend said I'm in a love affair with this book.  It's sort of like that, I think, a torturous, highest-highs, lowest-lows kind of love affair.  

I just want to say, for the record, that every single day, I still can't believe I get to write a book.  That my job is coming out to this National Recreation Area, sitting down at my desk with a view of Bolinas, and writing down every story I have ever wanted to tell about cooking, and life, and beauty and pain. That I get to walk down to the beach in the afternoon, fiery light bleeding through the iceplant down the hillside, to collect tiny, perfect sand dollars and watch dolphins pups play with their mamas on their way to warmer waters.  And that I get to collaborate with some of the most excellent people I have ever met in the making of this thing.  

I haven't lost sight of that.  

Van Morrison, Into the Mystic
James Vincent McMorrow, Higher Love
Bonnie Raitt, Bluebird
Joni Mitchell, Blue

How this happened.

photo by coral von zumwait for O Magazine
I first heard of Michael Pollan before The Botany of Desire came out in 2002.  Someone at Chez Panisse had an advance copy of it and it got passed around from cook to cook, and eventually to me.  I devoured it, and started avidly following his career.  Next came Power Steer, the story that changed the meat-purchasing policies at the restaurant and far beyond, and of course The Omnivore's Dilemma.

This guy was saying things I could get behind.  I, along with pretty much everyone else in my corner of the food world, was thrilled to finally have someone on the national stage speaking so eloquently about the things I spent my days and nights pondering.  For the first time since Wendell Berry, we had a calm, studied representative out there drawing people's awareness to the issues we'd devoted our lives to.

For several years after graduating college, every spring I considered applying--or applied--to graduate school.  I'd always assumed I'd be an academic, and nearly enrolled in graduate school twice.  I wasn't really picky about what I wanted to study.  It was more about just returning to school so I could put off having to face real life.  At various points in time I considered an MFA in poetry, a PhD in English, an MSc in Biodiversity and an MA in journalism.  Like I said, I wasn't picky.

Eventually, I reached a point where I realized it might not happen for me, mostly for financial reasons.  So I asked Michael if I could simply audit his class called Following the Food Chain at the Graduate School of Journalism at Cal.

He said no.

Practical professor that he is, he said I was the lowest priority person on his list, after all of the paying GSJ students who wanted to take the tiny seminar, all of the grad students in other programs at UC Berkeley, and the undergraduates.  Community members like me were basically at the bottom of the barrel.  But as a consolation prize, I could come to the first day of the class.  In the unlikely event that a bunch of enrolled students dropped out of the class and no one else showed up to fill the spots, I could then audit.

No dice.  Over 200 people showed up, all thinking the same thing as me.  Michael tried to manage the chaos by asking us all to write on an index card why we wanted to take the class.  I have no idea what I wrote on there, but I filled it out, stayed for the class, and left knowing there was no hope for me to get in.

A couple of days later, I recounted the whole story to my friend Sarah, then a grad student in Architectural History at Cal.  It was obvious how bummed out I was.  She looked at me, totally confused, and asked, "What the heck is wrong with you, Samin?  Don't know know anything about academics?  You have to show him how badly you want this and point out to him all of the ways in which he would be a fool to NOT let you in.  This class is about your LIFE'S WORK!  Write him a letter and tell him everything you'd bring to the class precisely because you're NOT a grad student, but a COOK deeply involved in everything he's teaching about."

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I did exactly that.  And it worked.  He shrugged and said, "Okay, you're in."

Taking that class was one of the two or three best things I have ever done for myself.  It was tiny--I think there were twelve of us in there--and I forged relationships with many of the writers and journalists who comprise my tightly-knit group of literary friends here in the Bay Area through that class.  Most of my officemates, beach buddies, dear friends, and colleagues in this writerly part of my life came to me as a result of that class.  And then, there's also Michael.

Michael, who allowed me to browbeat him into letting me into that class, into forcing us to take a field trip to Cannard Farm, into turning my turn to make the weekly snack into a three course meal, has been a teacher, guide, mentor, willing guinea pig, and friend to me for the last seven years.

When in 2009 Michael came to me and said "I'm going to write a book that looks at cooking from all angles, and I'll need a guide.  Would you like to be it?"  I was ready with a big, fat YES.

We started cooking together on Sundays, sometimes shopping together at the farmer's market on Saturdays, sometimes using leftovers or vegetables from the garden or mushrooms he'd foraged, and always naturally drawing the rest of the family into the kitchen.  Each of us quickly found his or her place in the order of things--Michael as the eager student, me as the mess-making teacher, Judith as the keeper of order, and Isaac as the quality-control-know-it-all.  After a long afternoon of cooking together, we'd sit down to a lovingly prepared meal.  One of my favorite dishes from the whole experience was something we cooked that first time with porcini mushrooms Michael had found in Bolinas the day before--we simmered the trimmings in chicken stock and made a really tasty soup that we ladled over spinach, and then floated duck fat croutons piled with sautéed porcini on top.

We quickly realized cooking for half a day yielded way too much food for just the four of us, and soon Sundays became an excuse for dinner parties with people who, more times than not, ended up joining us and lending a hand in the kitchen.

I did my best to build our lessons around concrete themes, from browning to layering flavors, to specific chemical reactions, to various cuisines of the world, to seasonal ingredients available to us for fleeting moments throughout the year.  We cooked paella in the fire pit, roasted whole pork shoulders (and a couple whole hogs!), we cooked grains and meats and all manner of vegetables and fruits, we made mistakes and fixed them, and we had lots and lots of fun.  We cooked everything we could dream up and shared it all with wonderful people.  I couldn't have imagined a better job.

Michael quickly picked up on my obsession with Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat and I told him of the book I'd dreamt of writing at the ripe old age of twenty.  He encouraged me to write a four-part curriculum for cooking classes and start teaching.  So I did, and eventually, he encouraged me to turn it into a book proposal.  So I did.  And now I get to share what I shared with Michael with the whole rest of the world.

When Michael wanted to learn about bread, I took him to meet Chad Robertson.  When we went in to observe the bakers at Tartine, I was so inspired by them I asked if we could collaborate sometime and Tartine Afterhours was born.  This experience has given me so much.  It's insane.  Some might even call it MAGIC.

I can't even begin to explain how wonderfully surreal it is to be captured in print by my mentor, teacher, and friend, who also happens to be a bestselling author and international authority on the subject to which I have devoted my life.  But what I can do is share with you one of my favorite bits of the WATER chapter, where I am the main character, teaching him about cooking in pots.  If you have ever met me--and even if you haven't--it'll be immediately apparent that Michael managed to get the exact right balance of my intensity, silliness, mischievousness and enthusiasm down on the page:
As usual, Samin had a white apron tied around her waist, and the thicket of her black hair raked partway back.  Samin is tall and sturdily built, with strong features, slashing black eyebrows and warm olivey-brown skin.  If you had to pick one word to describe her, "avid" would have to be it; Samin is on excellent terms with the exclamation point.  Words tumble from her mouth; laughter, too; and her deep, expressive brown eyes are always up to something.

As honored and excited as I am to be one of the main characters of this book, my favorite parts--the ones that make me cry--have nothing to do with me.  The introduction (which you can read or listen to here) and the conclusion include some of the most articulate, timely, and sensitive arguments for cooking and eating together that I have ever read.  Just as when I first discovered Michael's writing, I feel an ineffable joy at the fact that there is someone brilliant out there advocating my values, arguing for all of the things in which I so deeply believe.  The only difference is that now, that someone is practically family.  

Today is the publishing date for Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Michael's seventh book.

You can buy it from any of these fine retailers, or, better yet, your local bookstore.  Read it and let me know what you think!
Barnes & Noble
Books Inc.

Here's MP on the Colbert Report last night.  Hilarious.
Here's a great interview with him and Adam Platt in New York Magazine.
Here's another great interview about how Wendell Berry has inspired his work.
Here's a super informative Cooking FAQ and list of resources on Michael's website.
And here's a list of his book events across the country and beyond.

In case you are interested, I put together a list of cooking resources and will continue to add to it as time goes on.  And I also updated my store (full disclosure, if you buy anything after clicking on an link I post, I make a small commission on that purchase) with all sorts of basic, useful, and luxury kitchen items and books.  

only in my dreams

i have dreamed of writing a book since i was a little girl and my aunt, who i looked up to more than pretty much anyone, worked in the university library.  i couldn't have been more than six or seven years old when she taught me how to use the microfiche and the card catalog and i'd spend hours upon hours wandering through the stacks.  right then and there, i fell in love with books and wanted to create one of my own one day.

i've wanted to write a book since tom dorman, my high school cross country coach and eleventh grade honors english teacher, introduced me to a magazine called the new yorker, gave me great novel after great novel to devour, read me poetry on a daily basis, and passed on his addiction to keeping a journal.  to him, there was no other life than a literary life, and so the same became true for me.  because of him, i knew i'd enter college as an english major, with ambitions to start writing new york times best sellers immediately upon graduation.

when my uncle got sick and my family went crazy trying to cure him, a family friend came from halfway across the world.  he was a healer, and brought with him his toothless, weathered, hindu guru. it was one of the most emotionally wrought times in my life--there was so much anger, so many tears.  the guru took me gently by hand to a quiet corner and asked to read my palm.  so much good news flowed out from his lips that i assumed he was a total quack.  he told me that the dreams of all of the books i'd write, of having a family and children, of being healthy and wealthy and living a long life would all come true.  i didn't know whether or not to believe him, so i just wrote it all down.

when i was 20 years old, interning in the kitchen at chez panisse and still entertaining dreams of graduating college only to start writing best-selling chapbooks of poetry, i remember being so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that cooks were required to know that i would go home each evening with a headache.  on top of all of the techniques, the fact that the menu changes daily according to the seasons meant that i might be assigned a task one day and not repeat it for weeks, months, or even a year.  the maze of information seemed impenetrable and i felt like i'd never learn everything i needed to know to become a good cook.

but then, one day i began to see the forest through the trees.  i realized that everything we cooked in that kitchen had a few basic things in common: attention was always paid to salt, fat, acid and heat.  it didn't matter where the roots of the dishes we cooked lay.  salt, fat, acid and heat were always the most important elements to attend to.  i decided then and there i'd write a book elucidating these four magical variables for other novices; why didn't anyone ever tell home cooks that understanding how to use salt, fat, acid and heat was enough to get you 90% of the way to deliciousness?  my book would be short--twelve pages at most--and clear.  after reading it, everyone would be a better, more confident cook.

then i remembered i was twenty and that no one would buy my book.  so i shelved that idea.  that was thirteen years ago.

in 2009, i started teaching michael pollan cooking lessons as part of the background research for his forthcoming book, Cooked.  that's its own whole story, and i'll write about that eventually, but michael quickly picked up on my obsession with these four elements and asked me about it.  i explained to him the way i think about them every time i set out to cook, and he encouraged me to turn my philosophy into a four part series of classes, and then a book.

since october of 2011, i have been working on my book proposal.  it's been through not one, but four iterations.  in that time, i have been to china and cuba, torn my meniscus, been doored on my bike, had knee surgery, cried sixty four days in a row, spent months eating mostly dried beans in an effort to save money, and alternately tried to be michael pollan, tamar adler and john mcphee to no avail.  i also drove myself insane trying to find the "perfect" agent.  

i also started stalking, with great intensity, the inimitable wendy macnaughton, and begged her to consider illustrating my book.  i've been a fan of hers for a few years, and just knew in my heart that we could make an AMAZING book together one day.  

and then a series of extraordinary events led me first to the legendary binky urban, who gave me loads of invaluable advice, and then to kari stuart, my magical, brilliant agent from heaven.  i met with her in november (more than a year after i'd started writing) and showed her what i had, what at the time seemed to me to be a complete and utter mess that would never come together in any sort of meaningful way.  kari, like one of those crazy rubik's cube masters, sat down with me at city bakery and drew a few lines on a piece of paper that somehow turned a pile of a hundred pages of blathering into a structured outline and proposal.  she sent me on my way to put on a few finishing touches and continue stalking wendy, and i left with a goal to finish by the end of january.  

so after cuba, i came home, hid underground, and wrote my heart out.  and i continued stalking wendy. finally, she gave in and agreed to illustrate the book.  i'd imagined that an illustrated book about food would be a tough sell, so i really wanted to have the proposal illustrated to give the publishers the same experience i hope to give my readers.  so wendy and i collaborated on a few charts and illustrations, she hand-lettered all of the titles and headings, and my angel-friend sarah adelman (née pulver) designed it all into an amazingly gorgeous document.

three weeks ago today, kari sent it out to the world.  the very same day, we started getting enthusiastic YESes back from publishers asking to meet.  so i used a kajillion points to buy a ticket to nyc for a super secret whirlwind trip, and i got there two monday mornings ago on the red eye.  i went straight to my friends' house, took a shower, and rushed to meet kari at haven's kitchen.  we jumped around for a minute about the fact that there was SO MUCH INTEREST in my book, and then we were off, to meeting after meeting after meeting.  

as someone who has been devoted to books my entire life, the experience of going to all of those meetings at publishing houses was pretty much the most life-affirming thing i have ever done.  for three and a half days, i met with people who love, make, and understand books better than anyone else.  i sat in rooms filled floor to ceiling with books.  i was given stacks and stacks of books as gifts.  and most amazingly, i was addressed by people i have respected my entire career as a person who has many books in me.  they told me i have a way with words, and my heart almost exploded from joy.  they saw me as a WRITER, and i started to believe that it could really be true.  more than once in meetings i teared up from the joy of being seen as what i have wanted to be my entire life.

and as if that wasn't enough, they all loved the proposal.  they all got it.  i'd shown up ready to have to defend many of my unorthodox choices, but never really had to.  not once.  they all got my vision.  for the first time, my ambition wasn't something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be proud of.  it was incredible.  there was just so. much. praise.  if this had happened at another time in my life, i might not have been strong enough to take all of the praise.  one editor emailed my agent to say, "i might die if i don't get the chance to publish this book."  take that and multiply that times 1,000.  that's what was going on for an entire week.

selling a book is like the most insane game of poker you could ever imagine.  there is so much secrecy and strategy.  i could never be in that business for a living, but kari is brilliant at it.  she looks so unassuming, a lovely midwesterner at heart with the best new york style.  she looks so sweet.  but really, she is an evil genius.  offers started to come in, and she was just stone-faced.  i was having meltdowns multiple times a day, and she never faltered.  the whole thing, meetings and all, lasted a week.  my auction was last monday, and luckily i was working 24/7 from the minute i got back to california on thursday night, because otherwise i would have gone insane waiting things out.

i was also lucky to have connected emotionally with so many great editors, but there was one in particular i couldn't stop thinking about.  mike szczerban at simon & schuster.  he's young, hungry, and so very intelligent and thoughtful. i left his meeting feeling like he was the kind of person i'd be stoked to talk about books with for the rest of my life.  i knew we had an amazing intellectual connection, and that we could make a really beautiful book (and more!) together.  all weekend long, i was rife with nerves hoping he'd come back and fight for me.

on saturday, i saw michael p. and he told me to be smart, to not get swept away in all of the amazing stuff they were all telling me they'd do for me, and to make the decision of which editor to go with based on what would benefit me most in the long run.  he also said, somewhat quixotically, that once all of the bids were in, the best choice would become clear.  sunday night, i had an incredible chat with my friend laurel braitman and she gave me similar advice: choose who you can see yourself making the best book with.  the pr, the money, all of that other stuff is secondary.

my whole life, i have made decisions based on who i want to work with and what kind of work i want to do.  i've turned down a lot of six-figure jobs because i knew i'd be unhappy doing the work they involved.  i've consciously entered times of financial struggle in order to do the work i want to do most. neither writing or cooking are financially lucrative, but in both i have careers that fulfill me and bring me into the company of people who inspire me on a daily basis.  and so, i knew that i could never make the decision of which publisher to go with based on money or praise or promised fame.

i went to bed knowing that i'd choose mike. and on monday morning, that's exactly what i did.

i called wendy and we melted with laughter and disbelief.

i had breakfast with alex and she read aloud the four-page letter mike had sent with his offer while i sat in the garden crying.

i went to work and jumped up and down with my writer ladies.

then i went and had a massage.  when i got out, kari said i could finally call mike.

so i called him and we squealed together for ten minutes.  we traded stories of how anxious we'd been over the weekend, and just celebrated that we get to work together.  now, i get to write the book that has been in me for thirteen years.  now, i get to do the thing i have wanted to do more than anything else my entire life.  I GET TO WRITE A BOOK!  and i get to do it with a team of people i couldn't love or respect any more--kari, mike, meg, marie and of course wendy.

i have never been so happy.  i'd thought that this kind of thing would happen only in my dreams.  it turns out, my life has become the very best kind of dream.

a new kind of practice

picking mulberries

i've been writing.  a little bit, each day.

it's an attempt to get through the seemingly never-ending cycle of angst in which i find myself each time i begin a new story, application, or essay.

maybe practice will get me through it.

maybe, with practice, i'll be able to work through the crippling fear i have that i'll never be able to capture the tiny bits of beauty that make me love this life, the bits for which i live, and which i want to share with all of you.

a couple of weeks ago, i found myself at sunny slope orchard with two other writers, both more experienced than me.  we were on a rescue mission, picking up apricots that had to be picked in a rush in order to save them from water damage from an unexpectedly late rainfall.

so we drove up there, with a plan to make jam over the weekend.  i'd just been to sunny slope a few days earlier, and having experienced the magic of that place, did my best to prepare my friends without spoiling the surprises that i knew waited in store for them.  you see, bill spurlock is a magician, a mechanic, and an all-around genius.  and fern, well, she's made of gold.

our morning was filled with ripe royal blenheim apricots, plucked from the branches of hundred-year old trees and eaten straight away; perfect plum popsicles in a treehouse built of dreams; tastes of fruit gently dried by sunlight; and a host of ingenious contraptions constructed to make farm life just a tiny bit easier and a dose more entertaining.

we left in a daze, with a car full of apricots and a sugar-high to remember.

a few minutes into the drive home, i started to lament that one could never capture such beauty, such magic, in mere words.  no story i could ever write would ever do that place justice.  it simply could never be done.

the most experienced writer among us looked at me as if i were nuts.  he said, "of course it could be done, as long as you concede that you'll never be able to adequately describe the taste of the apricots.  but the experience was certainly rich enough to craft a compelling portrait of a farmer and his fruit."

i didn't say it, but thought, "whatever.  maybe you could do it, but not me.  it's just not possible."

later, when i recounted the story to another friend, he pointed out how crazy i sounded.  he said, "if after eating a delicious pesto that you'd made i said, 'i could never do this, never in a million years make a pesto as good as this,' you'd look at me and say, 'of course you can,' and then walk me through the steps.  you might tell me about the history of pesto, describing the different ways it's made on the various hillside towns in liguria.  you'd tell me which farmer to seek out to get just the right variety of piccolo fino basil, and how many months the parmesan and pecorino you'd used had been aged.  and of course you'd tell me where the olive oil had come from, and why that delicate gold-label oil is so crucial for a lovely pesto.  then you'd show me just how to prepare it, step-by-step, and tell me to go home and practice until i got it right myself."

i started to see that with writing, it's no different. you just break it down into manageable chunks and then you practice.  you write, and you write, and you write some more, until you get there.  it might take a really long time, but you'll never know unless you start practicing.

so now, as painful as it might be, i'm committed to doing that hard work.  practice.  i get it.

wish me luck.

i always do this thing where...

via ordinary courage

i come up with these insanely ambitious, over-complicated ideas and then psych myself out about them to the point where i don't even start working on anything and end up with a big fat nothing after days, weeks, or months of thought.

for example, i can't tell you how many blog posts i have finished, sitting right there in draft status.

(about a bajillion)

over the past year or so, i've been cooking up ideas about what my first book should and shouldn't look like.  it shouldn't be a cookbook because i don't want to be pigeon-holed as a cookbook writer.  it should be beautiful, inspirational, groundbreaking and just plain brilliant.  it shouldn't do anything less than completely encapsulate every iota of my being and entire belief system.  it should make me a bazillion dollars.

you get the point.

and you'll probably guess where i'm going with this--i've psyched myself out so much about this theoretical book that i haven't allowed myself to even start working on it.

pretty ridiculous.  yep.

so when i came up with a most excellent book idea last year, the first thing i did was to dismiss it because it didn't fit any of my criteria.  even though i can imagine this book being a total hit, i didn't allow myself to consider working on it because it didn't seem ambitious or difficult enough.

um, crazy much?

it took my off-handedly mentioning the idea to a seasoned book publishing professional and seeing her extreme reaction (wherein she essentially called me a total idiot for not getting on this train faster) to see that this actually is a good fantastic idea, one that makes total sense for me to start with, and in the words of one of my mentors, a sort of synecdoche of my larger body of work (real world sage that he is, he also warned me that no book is easy to write, no book is a sure-fire bet, and all books are intensely painful to work on).

ever since then, i haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  more than that, i've even started writing.  all it took was shattering the crazy framework of expectation i'd imposed on myself to see that sometimes the path of least resistance really is the way to go.
jam update: 

i left in a huge rush this afternoon, so i won't know if the jam set until tomorrow.  but it was awfully beautiful.  

other updates:

i'll be helping out this sunday at yes we can, with one of my favorite canners of all time, le fuerst. we'll be making apricot jam, and if i'm not mistaken, there are still spots available to come can with us.  i'm gonna bring my copper jam pot and lots of gossip.  maybe some burritos. 

veller's book got reviewed in the nyt yesterday, by someone who actually got it!  the fantastic death-to-the-possum scene was even mentioned!  excellent!

i have some sneaky writing stuff up my sleeves.  as soon as i have more to share, trust me, i will share it.  but it's pretty exciting!

did you see this article on canning in the nyt last weds?  

i think i am almost done. a couple of little things in the morning when i can get my factoids in.

it's been painful to cut a story that should have been 3,000 words into 800. i am dizzy, and do not know anymore if it's any good. i'm scurred.

i'm also excited about how many people are gonna see this thing, and about doing right by my people for once.

the procrastination led me to line shelves with contact paper, unpack, hang stuff on the walls, go to the hardware store, hang a mirror, and do two loads of laundry. the panic led me to contact many friends i haven't spoken to in a long time, for moral support. so it wasn't all bad.

i'll let you know tomorrow how i feel.

i've never really liked licorice, and i can now just barely tolerate anise. but i love fennel, and wild fennel is one of my favorite things to cook with. i love going down to the train tracks and collecting it, i love that it grows everywhere, along route 37 on my way to the farm, and on the way to pt. reyes. there's a big fennel plant on the sidewalk outside our apartment building, and my landlord is obsessed with weed-whacking it. i always try to stop him, but it's not necessary. the fennel is a weed, and it grows back quickly, even stronger than before, each and every time.

i love the idea of making something from nothing. chris calls his style "cooking from weeds." one of his favorite cookbooks is patience gray's honey from a weed. it's such a sweet book, and it makes me feel like there were simpler times, once. i also love elizabeth romer's the tuscan year. i love december and january, when she talks about the norcino coming to town, and the pig slaughter.

someone sent us this book and flipping through it haphazardly several weeks ago, i saw the entry by edna lewis about her family pig slaughter each winter. as i was reading the story aloud to chris, i kept stopping to ask him if he thought it was as crazy as i did. each step of the pig slaughter from the time of year to the wandering butcher and the rendering of the lard and blowing up the bladder for the kids to play with was exactly the same as every account i'd ever heard of italian pig slaughtering traditions. it was amazing to realize that these poor southern blacks had come to have the same ways of doing this stuff as the poor rural italians. it's not such a huge mental leap, looking back at it now, but the thing is, as focused as i am on the culinary traditions of all of these other cultures, it never really occurred to me that there are true local american culinary traditions. does that make me sound dumb?

resolution updates

i just thought about what i resolved to do at the beginning of the year. it's time to check in and see where i am:

to take at least three photos a week that i am really happy with.--uh, not so much. i go through fits and spasms. plus, it didn't help that i broke my portrait lens and was a little depressed for a while after that. i replaced it a couple of weeks ago, and i'm back to taking some more photos. i also am a little obsessed with my cheapo elph's video function....

to leave california at least once.--check! i went to hawaii in may. and this week, i'm leaving again. yes!

to become familiar with the sewing machine and make something from the fabulous denyse schmidt book amber gave me we have more pressing projects to work on, but i'm still hoping we can make it up to crockett to have lex's mom give us a tutorial before winter sets in. (what do you think?)

to be more careful about what i eat. i need to eat more vegetables. --i have been soooooo much better about this. conscious produce thoughts float through my head every time i'm hungry.

to write at least two things i am proud of.--one down, one to go. and i hope to be done with the second by the first of october....

to fix the toilet paper holder.--i'm happy to say: done and done.

so i guess my record's not so bad. i've just got to pick up the camera a bit more. and the sewing machine.