Sunday, January 30, 2011

January closes

The verdict for this week...crappy.  It is still January, and try as I might, I cannot escape the dark mornings, the dark evenings, and the mostly dark days that pass in between.  I am flooded by work that seems never-ending and am finding it difficult to find some light in this tunnel.

I was at work on Thursday, just starting my shift after a quick afternoon nap that left me groggy and shooting daggers through my eyes at anything that moved.  Have you ever had that feeling?  For me, it's usually right after a nap.  Unfortunately, I'm never able to be rational right after a nap and explain to myself, Briana, you'll surely feel better in half an hour...just wait til you wake up a little bit more.  Nope.  Instead, I think the world is against me and I should go crawl in a hole. Anyway, in the midst of this storm cloud, I sat down with a cup of lemon egg soup--a classic Greek recipe called avgolemono--and let myself warm to it as its warmth settled in my mouth.  In a moment, with that soup, I felt better.

Why is it that familiar foods can change our mood so dramatically?  Why do we create emotional relationships with the things we eat?  I can't answer this, but I know that it is true.  Of course food is pleasant, fills our bellies and brings us together over the table with people we enjoy.  But it has another dimension.  Even if we're not hungry, or if another food could satisfy our hunger just as competently, there are certain foods that just hit the proverbial spot, that make us feel whole, feel comfortable, feel better.

Realizing this makes me happy.  It's one more way to make a relationship with the world, to allow certain things to enter in and add texture, color and dimension to our lives.  Why not have a relationship with food?  Let it mold and carve a place of its own...

When I have the time I love to sit and eat slowly, quietly.  Now it is winter and oranges fill the blue and white bowl on our counter.  I like to slowly peel and eat, looking at the thousand individual pockets of juice that make up each section of the orange.  Another food to make me smile, remind me of sunshine and the soft November days I used to spend at my grandparents' house in the middle of an orange grove and the gentle smell of their blossoms.

Food is so powerful because it can be the friend that always has the right things to say, that always reminds us of the best memories and comforts.  When my husband can't read my mind, when the world seems bleak and my work unsatisfying, I know there are foods that can give me space for meditation, that can bring me back to myself and then, bring me back to the world.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sometimes substance takes time

I was reading a book by a man named Rogers Brubaker this week.  On page one of his book, he begins to discuss the French Revolution and the German intellectual response.  (Yes, I know many of you are already starting to wonder where I'm going with this--I promise I'm going to make this interesting).  What struck me immediately as interesting was that Brubaker notes that "German intellectuals sought to distance themselves from the allegedly shallow rationalism and cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution..."

Whoa.  That's huge.  Contemporaries of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment considered these movements shallow?  Remember what these were...The Enlightenment sought to separate common people from dictatorial monarchs and priests and get them to think for themselves, to read the bible on their own, to make their own political systems, to be valued for their own thoughts and ideas rather than being told what to do.  I mean, it was called the Enlightenment, after all.  And the French Revolution was much of the same--separating from the yoke of an unjust monarchy that limited free thinking and the growth of new social classes.  How and why were these movements considered shallow?

It got me thinking about the things that I think of as shallow in my own day.  Many aspects of pop culture, 'cool' technologies, celebrities, marketing, blogs and the movies they help sell.  Is there any connection here?  Can I possibly compare the Enlightenment and, say, blogs about celebrities?  Let's see...

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution, as much as we might worship them today, were not all they were cracked up to be in their own day.  They changed social and political systems, but often only for white, European men.  At the same time as the French Revolution liberated the 'common man', colonial subjects across the French Empire were being pushed into forced labor, with no nod to any sort of revolution.  The Enlightenment pushed some rulers out the door, but often only so new ones could take their place.  People began to think in different ways, but it would take time before the ideas of philosophers would really take root and encourage the masses to claim political rights for themselves and truly begin to think on their own.  Perhaps in its own day, the French Revolution really did seem shallow--a few men, covetous of the power of a King, using a philosopher's words to justify an overthrow of the current system.

What about today? I often read historical quotes or passages from what, I think, are brilliant thinkers, poets and writers.  It seems as if people in history had more valuable things to say than we do today.  Reading about World War II, for example, is illuminating--the thoughts, fears and insights that many of that age had in the midst of war don't seem to come so readily to those of us comfortably at home on our couches.  But what if I'm wrong...?  What if all these new technologies, blogs, celebrities and other things I consider shallow are really making significant changes.  For example, the foodie movement.  It seems to be a self-indulgent trend overly concerned with the enjoyment and knowledge of food.  Yet, at the same time, this movement is helping to change the face of farming and food consumption in the U.S.  It is getting people to think about what they eat, watch cooking shows, ask for organic and go visit farms.  Perhaps it is shallow.  But perhaps also the effects will be impactful on the relationship between a country and its food--no small thing.

It may not be the Enlightenment, but apparently even in its day, the Enlightenment was not everywhere celebrated.  If something as monumental as the Enlightenment can take time to grow into its full weight, perhaps the verdict is still out on the pop culture I see surround me.

A birthday stroll at Golden Gardens

My ode to Golden Gardens:

Winter makes you empty.  Even in the midst of the city, raw; and strikingly beautiful.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

the return

I've had a bit of a hiatus from this blog--since August to be exact--because, as some earlier posts had hinted at, I'd lost motivation to keep writing about food all the time.  I love blogs like Orangette that constantly try out and suggest new recipes, introduce you to new cookbooks, and generally talk about the way to weave food into life.  But, I realized that my love for food and desire to write about food is more about discovering what makes for a full, whole and healthy life.  So, rather than having food as the sole focus of my writing, I am making a shift.  Food is central and necessary to a good life, but there are so many, many other things.  And of these, many things, I will write.

It is January in Seattle.  Grey and wet, as usual; a few snowshowers, unusual; thoughts of sunnier, drier places and the kinds of life shifts necessary to discover these places, more usual than I'd like to admit.  It is in the midst of sideways rain and wind that turns my umbrella inside-out, that I begin, inevitably, to think about Provence.  This dry, mediterranean climate in the south of France is, in many ways, my shangri-la. History drips out of Provence like a saturated sponge.  Cobbled, serpentine streets, 16th century stone farmhouses, Roman aqueducts and vineyards that trace their heritage to the days before Christ.  The color pallette is a mix of burnt browns and oranges with sage and landender thrown in for good measure, and to offset the whole mix, the locals paint their shutters periwinkle blue, most likely in homage to the brilliant sky overhead.  It is a dream.  But it is a dream without good job opportunities and without affordable mortgages.  It is a dream that lingers only as long as I don't think about how difficult it is to be accepted and embraced by the French.  Regardless, it is the dream I keep coming back to.

Maybe this is only because winter is winter and requires, in fact demands, some sort of warm-weather dreaming.  Living in Seattle may be wet and dreary more months of the year than I will even dare mention (lest I get gloomy again) but it is full of incredible opportunities.  A vibrant arts community, excellent universitites, job options and an entrepreneurial spirit that supports innovative young people, affordable living and access to the outdoors.  This is an incredible mix.  Perhaps I'm actually dreaming of faraway places because I'm not taking advantage of all this place has to offer.

It is January in Seattle.  It is cold and grey.  The saturated clouds gather over and around the Olympic mountains, embracing them as only clouds are able.  As I drive up and over the many hill crests in this city, I see the rugged mountains emerge for a moment or more from the mist and I'm stunned by how large and present they can feel, even as I look on from the midst of a city street.  Usually they retreat quickly, but sunset burns the clouds off the horizon and a sunny ring circles
Puget Sound and the Olympics, just enough to see their solid, snowy bases once more.  As early darkness settles in I light the house and sit beneath a down comforter, content to read for an hour or more.  Dinner is a thick soup and buttery bread.  Some nights there is a fire.  It is January in Seattle and I am awake.