So Long, Summer

We had a great summer, full of fun camps and new friends for Wyatt, and room for creativity with less driving for me. We closed summer out with a truly wonderful family vacation. Then, back to school arrived with a clattering crash. We're all still adjusting.

When Wyatt was a toddler, I remember complaining bitterly about how hard transitions were. Getting from one place to another, literally and figuratively, when he was a preschooler, was daunting. And you know what? I was too hard on him. Transitions suck for everyone, including me.  I mean, surely you noticed there was no blog post last week. Oh, you didn't? I'm sure you're in good company. I was too deeply in mourning over the end of summer and too busy trying to finish a knitting project to write anything.

Wyatt has been back in school for 7 days; today, he is home sick. Such is the magic of back-to-school. Usually, sick days are pretty boring, but this morning we were treated to a naked guy doing a high-step-saunter past our house. My neighbor called to tell me about him, and to suggest we not go outside just then. Such a good neighbor.

Of course I'll take naked-sauntering-guy (or just boring) over the storms and floods so many people are dealing with right now. Climate change is real, and the effects are intense.


Last week, in recognition of the end of summer and library due dates, I returned the final third of our summer reading list. All the books were, once again, terrific. In reading to Wyatt, I learned about music and musicians I knew little about (I And I, Esquivel! Space Age Sound Artist, Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow), and Wyatt began to understand about boycotts (Joelito's Big Decision). Wyatt said his favorite book of this group was I And I. He isn't sure why, but I can guess it's because the poetry and illustrations were so beautiful, and because the prose explanations were so clear. We're still reading Rad Women Worldwide, so we renewed that one.

Lest anyone think I only read picture books this summer, I let me assure you that's not true. I joined Audible a few months ago and have recently finished listening to the audio version of the novel, Homegoing, and the podcast, The Butterfly Effect. They're totally different types of work (obviously), but I found both totally engrossing. I also listened to The Sympathizer (it was fine), and Between the World and Me (an absolute must-read-or-listen). Also, I enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo with my eyes instead of my ears, but I understand the audio recording is remarkable.


I just started reading The Cooking Gene. I had the pleasure of hearing the author, Michael Twitty, speak at Omnivore Books recently. He was so engaging in person, I wondered how his written word would compare. I'm so delighted that his writing is equally captivating. As one reviewer put it,

Should there ever be a competition to determine the most interesting man in the world, Michael W. Twitty would have to be considered a serious contender. Twitty, a self-taught independent culinary historian who lives in Rockville, Md., is partial to dressing in the period attire of antebellum slaves, picking tobacco to get a sense of how his African American ancestors once lived and cooking using ancient methods so fiery that he singes the hair off his arms and eyebrows. He is a man of substantial girth — and proud of it. He has described himself as “four time blessed” — 'large of body, gay, African American and Jewish.'"

There's a fascinating interview with Mr. Twitty on Civil Eats here. And you can buy a copy of the Cooking Gene (signed even!) from Omnivore Books, or wherever you like to buy your books.


Speaking of food, well-meaning friends suggested that after a week of vacation in a hotel, where I couldn't cook, I'd be so happy to get back to it when we got home. Guess what? They were wrong. I didn't miss it even once, and getting back to it has been kind of annoying. I have, however, made one new dish, thanks to my aunt's urging. You all know I am no fan of substitute foods (zuchhini as noodles, for example), but this Spice Merchant Cauliflower Couscous is terrific.  I doubt it tastes like couscous, but it looks a little like it, and is a delicious way to prepare cauliflower. Against my better judgment, I even included the golden raisins, and they were actually good. I know. This recipe is breaking all my rules. I'm going to make it again this week.



Hapa Zome (The Beauty of Hitting Flowers with Hammers)

In June 2015, I attended a workshop by Plants People at West Coast Craft. The workshop was on one of those Sundays when there couldn't have been more traffic or less parking around Fort Mason. It was so bad that, looking back, it is remarkable that my friend Margaret, her friend Aisling, and I all managed to make it to the class, never mind create beautiful flower prints. But we did.

"Hapa Zome" is the name that India Flint gave the natural dyeing process of placing flowers on fabric, folding the fabric, and then hitting the fabric firmly and repeatedly with a hammer (or mallet) to transfer the flower pigments to the cloth. The color transfer and prints you get are incredible. Even when you think you've totally messed it up, the petals move, and you don't achieve even remotely what you had imagined, the result is lovely. And there's no better craft than this one if you're feeling impatient, frustrated or you just want to hit stuff. 

Ever since the workshop, Margaret and I have been saying how much we wanted to do the project again.  We finally got around to it a few weekends ago. Margaret (whose many talents include floral design) picked up the flowers from the Flower Mart and bought the alum, Maja got the silk scarves, and I brought spray bottles, mallets, and towels.

We sprayed our scarves with a solution of water and alum, and then got to hammering, spraying more of the alum solution as needed. (Alum is the mordant we used, and mordant is what helps color stay on fabric rather than just disappear).

We put cardboard on the table under the towels, but three strong women hammering is no joke. By the time we were done, one of the bolts holding Margaret's table together had worked its way off a screw and onto the floor. My point is, choose your hammering surface carefully and look for loose bolts when you're done. You might opt for no towels, as well, if you want a crisper imprint of the flowers. Try it and see what happens. We mixed our alum and water solution without any regard for science or dyeing authority. If you want to do it "right," you can consult natural dye resources for ratios of the amount of mordant to use for a given amount of fabric and prepare the fabric accordingly. You can also choose flowers that are commonly used for natural dyeing in order to get a more lasting result. The wonderful thing about this process (or disappointing thing, depending on how much you love your initial result) is that over time, the colors of the flower imprints shift, fade, and change. As that happens, or as you find other flowers you like, you can add more prints to your piece.

Wyatt was more than just a little bit jealous that I spent the afternoon with Margaret (she was his teacher before she became my friend), and he refused to accept that he wouldn't be hammering flowers himself. So he and I did another scarf the next day.

He loved the whole process. I mean, who wouldn't? Swinging a heavy mallet also tired him out, so there's that, too.

So, definitely try flower hammering.

Also! I have a new soup recipe to share: Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup. No photos, but it's orange like the sweet potatoes in it, and it's great. Don't let the list of ingredients scare you off--most of them are for the spiced chickpeas/garbanzo beans (which I haven't yet made because we had some leftover from Nopalito). The soup is so great, in fact, that Wyatt brought it for lunch a couple of times last week, and the teachers asked for tastes and then asked me for the recipe. My adjustments to the recipe as are: a pinch or two of cayenne (instead of 1/4 tsp, because one of us doesn't like things too spicy), 1 tablespoon of curry powder (instead of 2 tablespoons), and a sprinkle of coconut vinegar or sherry vinegar to finish the soup just before serving. The recipe also doubles very well, and when I added a cup of water that one time I was short on coconut milk, the soup was still just as good.

Last but not least, I hope your Halloween was as good as this little panda's was.