of fire and form

Years ago, my brother did something I’m still thinking about today.

I don’t talk about him much on this site, because he’s a private person, but my brother is one of my dearest friends in the world. Endlessly thoughtful, incisive, and a touch sardonic, my brother looks at the world with a critical eye. And a kind heart. He’s 3 1/2 years younger than me, so I’ve always looked after him. Now, however, people always assume he’s the older sibling. Where I’m goofy giddy joy most of the time, he’s the one holding back, waiting for further judgment. If that makes him sound too serious, you should know that only three people in the world make me laugh so hard my belly hurts: my husband, my best friend Sharon, and my brother.

(After Waiting for Guffman came out, my brother called me immediately after seeing it and said, “If you do not like this movie, I’m going to have you de-registered as my sister.” Have I told you that Waiting for Guffman is one of the most important movies of my life? I used to use it as a litmus test when dating. If a guy didn’t like it, forget about it. Luckily, Danny loves it too.)

With the exception of when I lived in New York and London for four years, my brother and I have always lived within an hour of each other. These days, we live five minutes away from each other on Vashon Island. His wife is one of my favorite people in the world. His son, my much-beloved nephew, is Lucy’s favorite person, aside from her mama and daddy. I feel extraordinarily lucky.

But all this is by way of explanation for this small story.

Back in something like 1998, I came back to visit Seattle for Christmas. I was living in New York at the time, walking around the Upper West Side in black clothes and a joyful determination to experience everything of life I could. I’m pretty sure my brother was pissed at me for years for moving away but he never said it out loud. He didn’t need to say it. I missed him too. That winter I stayed in the Pacific Northwest for a few weeks, mostly with my brother at his Seattle apartment. When I walked in for the first time, I took it all in. The bay window. The old wooden floors. The tiny, creaky kitchen. And the sketches of candles all over the walls.

Wait, what?

I asked him about the quick sketches, some realistic, some quick bursts of color, some somber, some dancing. The edges of the large sheets of paper were frayed from being torn quickly from the sketch pad. It was a wild scene of fire and form, oddly meditative and calming.

I asked him about it, of course. He told me that he had decided to start a new habit. (My brother still continues this. He’s fascinated by tiny changes he can make to correct his course.) Instead of berating himself that he wasn’t painting regularly or creating great art, he decided to wake up each morning and draw a candle. Just pay attention to what was before him and sketch it, quickly, without too much thought. Just make something on the page. Every day.

I’m sure he doesn’t do this anymore. His banjo playing is more his meditation now. But the image of those candles on the wall, and the thought behind the practice, has stayed with me ever since.

Danny and I have been talking about this site together for the past few weeks. We feel liberated, in some weird way. We had become too bound by our perceptions of what this place should be. When I wrote this post, I didn’t know entirely what I was doing. I just wrote out of an urgency that demanded fingers on the keyboard. But with a little time off from writing here, and a lot of conversation, Danny and I figured out what it is we really want to do.

We want to play.

When I first began writing this site, I wrote every day, in a rush of gorgeous excitement at the space before me and my new health. No one was reading. I didn’t think about hit counts or major holidays arriving soon or what I thought I should do. I just wrote. That’s what led to everything that has happened. Danny just likes to put his hands in the food, figure out something every time he cooks. Standing in front of the stove is his meditation. We want to play together.

So we’re going to be here often, as often as the food we are making and the stories that arise inspire us. We won’t have recipes every time there’s a new post. Sometimes I might write three lines about our lunch. There will still be baked goods at times — I’m madly in love with the Bouchon Bakery book — but there will plenty more roasted carrots, buckwheat flatbreads, quinoa salads, and salmon.

We eat a lot of salmon in our house. You wouldn’t know that from our recipes because we have spent years trying to make something new, all the time. But we adore salmon. When we visited Cordova, Alaska last year, we were amazed that everyone who worked with Copper River salmon ate salmon every day. And they never grew tired of it. Never. I never tire of it either. We sear salmon, cure it, bake it, and make it into salmon candy. In the past, I might have thought, “We can’t do another salmon recipe on the site!” Now, you might be seeing a lot of salmon here.

I’ve been thinking often about this piece I read in Bon Appetit about Rene Redzepi from Noma, who cooks from a deep familiarity with vegetables and a curious desire to know more. I love this quote: “Redzepi isn’t the tradition-bound type who pushes rules about what goes best with what or how finely you should be dicing your mirepoix. What he wants to confer on me is a kind of functional familiarity with my produce. Mistakes will be made on the way to figuring out what you like, but the key is to take a vegetable and just start cooking with it: ‘Think about what you can do with it. I can boil it, sauté it, roast it. Then you add an oil, a broth, or a condiment.'”

Instead of re-creating familiar baked goods without gluten, or responding to the perceived desires of Easter or the Fourth of July, instead of responding to comments demanding certain recipes, Danny and I both want to spend some time understanding lemons. And apricots. And the taste of salmon when you combine the two.

There’s something wonderful about keeping things simple. I mean, really simple. Like the photographs we’ve been making lately. We found a spot in the room off our garage that is slowly becoming my office. The light in there is clear and soft. A friend of ours left her big-white-door-turned-into-desk and I’ve been putting plates down on it. We bought 4 tiles of marble at Home Depot, because we don’t have a kitchen with marble countertops. Not yet. Mostly, though, that has become our studio space. We put food on a white plate and put it down on that spot, in that light, to see what happens.

That’s what we’re doing here now.

We’re just drawing a candle every day.

 

PRESERVED LEMON RELISH FOR SALMON

This is a salty, briny, slightly sweet relish for salmon we had never tasted before.

(And if you want to know how we made the salmon, see this.)

5 slices preserved lemon, minced
1/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, minced
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons liquid from preserved lemons
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or basil)

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can use this immediately but it sure tastes better after a few hours in the refrigerator or a few days there.

Spoon over seared salmon.

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