Sunday, August 25, 2013

You shouldn't read about French cooking when you're hungry

I finished My Life in France, by Julia Child, today.

I'm extremely satisfied and a little sad. I've carried that book with me to the beach, twice, to Utah, twice and to Georgia.

I usually devour a book within a week or two, but not this one. It was to be savored.

The way she speaks, the way she describes her surroundings, her friends, her food and her cooking.

I would read a page or two and daydream about the experience, or imagine the taste of food.

I can almost taste her first meal in France:
It had arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with sprinkling of chopped parsley on top. The waiter carefully placed the platter in front of us, stepped back, and said: "Bon appetit!" 
I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. I then lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.
Of her country cottage, "La Peetch" in France, she says:
Bumping up the rutted driveway, we were struck, by...the shockingly fresh and inspirational jolt we got from our lovely hideaway. It was the cool, early-morning layers of fog in the valleys; Esterel's volcanic mountains jutting up out of the glittering sea; the warming Provencal sun and the bright-blue sky; the odor of earth and cow dung and burning grapevine prunings; the colorful violets and irises and mimosas; the olives blackening; the sound of little owls talking back and forth; the sea-bottom taste of Belon oysters; the noisy fun of the marketplace, the deeply quiet, sparkling nights with a crescent moon hanging overhead like a lamp. What a place! (p. 340)
I love that she was optimistic. In moving nine times from country to country she would first set up her kitchen, then take time to learn the language well enough to shop in the markets, and then build friendships through her dinner parties. She made friends with the market vendors, and got to know the local restauranteurs as well as ventured into the countryside.

She and her husband, Paul, valued their friendships. At a particularly busy time in their lives, she recalls:
"I just don't know if we have the time for a trip to France right now,"I sighed. Paul nodded. 
But then we looked at each other and repeated a favorite phrase from our diplomatic days: "Remember, 'No one's more important than people'!" In other words, friendship is the most important thing—not career or housework, or one's fatigue—and it needs to be tended and nurtured. So we packed up our bags and off we went. And thank heaven we did! (p. 329) [It was on that trip they decided to build a small house in France for a getaway.]
I love that she loved her work and threw herself into it, to a good old age.
As always, my work gave my life form, forced me to be productive, and helped me keep a good balance. (p. 406)
I love how thorough she was in her research of ingredients and the testing of recipes.
I knew my slow, careful approach drove my intuitive co-author crazy, but it was the only way I knew how to work. I was basically writing these recipes for myself. And I was the type of person who wanted to know everything about a dish—what worked or didn't, why, and how to make it better—so that there would be no unsolved questions in our master recipe. (p. 341)
The ingredients for bread were always the same: flour, yeast, water, and salt. But the difficulty was that there were ten thousand ways of combining these simple elements. Every little detail was important, we learned: the freshness of the yeast, the type of flour, the time of rising, the way one kneaded the dough, the amount of heat and moisture in the oven, even the weather. (p. 344)
I love that one of her proudest achievements was perfecting the French bread recipe. It ranks #2 on her list of 100 favorite recipes.

She thought good cooking should take time and care. She truly believed that good French food was an art.
But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor and a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience. (p. 413)
I loved how real she was. She knew it sometimes didn't turn out. And she kept a sense of humor.
One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed. (p. 327)
Hat tip to Carrie for suggesting I borrow her book to read. It's a little more dog-eared, sorry. It made me happy for a long time.

So hungry now for good, real French food.


Videos of Julia cooking

The French Chef - French bread
So informative. (I think I learned to make this in my 7th grade Foods class with Mrs. Fisher. Who knew.) Love the bit with the professional baker in France. "As soon as it thumps, you think that it's done. But it ain't. Turn the oven off and let it sit for 5 more minutes...It's just a matter of practice!"

The French Chef - Boeuf Bourguignon (black and white)
"I find these wooden spatulas awfully useful." "These wire whips are awfully useful." I think this is one of her very first episodes. The lighting has weird shadows, the camera angles are off, and there's a washer and dryer in the background. The studio scheduled for the taping burned to the ground beforehand, so the Boston Gas Company loaned them their demonstration kitchen to shoot those first shows. She had to work on an electric stove, which she detested.

The French Chef, the Lobster show (in color)
How to cook it and how to eat it. They must be lively because they go off so easily. (Holding a lobster flapping his tail) "He's a kinda a boy worth buying." About the lobster's's called the lady because it looks like a little lady. Someone told us about it and sent one to us in an envelope.

The French Chef, Omelet
Use the right pan, 20 seconds, 2-3 eggs, a bit of water, hot pan. Swirl, jerking till it turns over on itself. "If no one is watching you can take you hands and push the edges together if it's not well formed." (Someone laughs in the the background.)

A&E Biography
"Groundbreaking for cooking shows." "She's a national icon.""She was incredibly optimistic. That goes a long way. You can get a lot done." "Incredible energy. That's her secret." ...BUTTER!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

When you find what you love, follow it with passion

First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films

Bill Cunningham's "On the Street" NY Times column, highlights fashion that he snaps with his camera from his bike on the streets of New York City. Down through the years (nearly 50!) he has chronicled the New York fashion scene as demonstrated by ordinary New Yorkers (and some extraordinary) every day.

He begins by letting the street talk to him. When an idea emerges, he begins collecting. Sometimes he'll get an idea and start looking. He could be looking for 20 trends at once!

Joy Sewing, "Even if you shrug off fashion as a frivolous indulgence,
Bill Cunningham’s energy and dedication is infectious. He makes you care. "

I recently watched the Bill Cunningham New York documentary on Netflix. I give it a two thumbs up, and more thumbs if I had them. It's a must-watch! Watch the trailer below.

Really, stop reading this post and go watch it NOW.

He's a fascinating man, getting on in years and still spending his days on the streets of New York and at charity and social gatherings in the city. He wears his signature blue smock (to protect the few clothes he does own from the camera equipment). He is on his 29th bike because the 28 before have been stolen. He has never "eaten in", in his small apartment over Carnegie Hall. He never goes to the movies and has never owned a TV. He has never been in a romantic relationship. He loves his work instead.

He tells a story about...
...this woman I had been photographing on the street. She wore a nutria coat, and I thought: "Look at the cut of that shoulder. It's so beautiful." And it was a plain coat, too. You'd look at it and think: "Oh, are you crazy? It's nothing." 
Anyway, I was taking her picture, and I saw people turn around, looking at her. She crossed the street, and I thought, Is that? Sure enough, it was Greta Garbo. All I had noticed was the coat, and the shoulder. "I never bothered with celebrities unless they were wearing something interesting."

Fashion icon Isabella Blow is photographed on March 20, 1999.

He lives an unencumbered life and has done much of his work for free, after hours. He says that if you never take money for your work, you can do as you please.
"Money is the cheapest thing," he says. "Liberty is the most expensive." Blithely, he conducts his life with an absence of material possessions.
His studio/apartment over Carnegie Hall is filled only with filing cabinets of his work.

He's modest about his work and his talent. "It's not photography. I'm just documenting what I see. I let the street speak to me."

Bill at Fashion Week, Wikipedia

And he does tell it as he sees it in the New York Times, in this recent video, for example. (There is a library of videos there, that you really ought watch. His personality is wonderfully evident.)

"Hello from the baked's 100 degrees and fashion holds its own
....all in black and they're not going to give it up even in the heat."

And the street speaks back:
Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue:
I don't know how many times he has taken my photograph, but we all dress for Bill. You feel he's the only one who notices or cares how you dress. I wonder if Bill will like this. And it's always a flattering picture he chooses.

He honestly says of himself:
I'm a hack...I'm not really a photographer...most of my pictures are never published. I just document things I think are important. ...I do everything, really, for myself.

Others who find him inspirational too, sum it up...
Designers present their work the way they have envisioned it, but it is the way we incorporate it into our own wardrobe that creates style. Bill Cunningham has been documenting the streets of New York for over 30 years. Although many would say he is simply riding around on a bicycle taking photos of street walkers, there is a true art behind the work he creates. Unlike many people who take a glance every now and then as people pass us by, Bill sees something different. He sees the trends that men and women have taken from the runways, or the photo spreads in Vogue. What truly fascinates him, however, is how each person interprets the trend differently to match their own personal style.

He lives his life with a single focus and a passion for his work. 

At Fashion Week (The Sartorialist)

He just plain loves women's fashion.

There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.  ~ Nelson Mandela~

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Can haz puzzle

Oh hai ther. Im in ur box.

Every once in a while I get into a jigsaw puzzle mood. This winter I did four puzzles. I like overall complex designs rather than scenes. I like that they are challenging to my "seeing" skills and "strategerizing" skills. I like that they are slow and do not involve technology.

I can haz all the credit?

Puzzles are a great way to relax and while away the stormy winter hours.

Puzzles give my brain a rest, and yet sometimes that's where I get unusual insights.
A relaxed state of mind allows us to look inward toward the stream of remote associations in our right brain...insights come in the shower, when we are in a positive mood, when we are not looking for an insight. (Imagine, Lehrer, p. 31-33)
Sometimes I put on a favorite movie or TV series, or album, and listen while I work.

When it seems that all I focus on is important life stuff, I can stop and do something unimportant, with no deadline, no worries, no making a difference in the world, no demands. Kinda nice once in a while.

My cat thinks I should be paying attention to him, though. I mean what could possibly be more important than feline felicity?! But, he knows how to creatively encroach on my work and get my attention.

I will stay here, I promise. Well maybe just polite perching. 
Oh, oh, I have a cramp and need to stretch. Ah heck, it's nap time anyway.

Why do people do jigsaw puzzles? What's the draw?

You know, its just plain frugal entertainment. Puzzles are inexpensive, good for all ages and abilities, and can involve social interaction. Family members of all ages can participate in some way. Real-life, in-person conversation (remember that?) can happen.

Every Christmas break, when it's slow in the office, a coworker brings in a large challenging puzzle. I've learned so much from and about colleagues I've worked with for years, in just those few (many!) minutes of working on the puzzle together.

I learn about their families, their likes and dislikes, and even their hopes, dreams and fears. I see their way of seeing—"I need a piece with a little green and blue stripe on it", or "I'm looking for a piece with a small foot and a sharp right shoulder." I learn how they solve problems, with singular concentration or chatty collaboration. Some take it seriously, even competitively. But there's no schedule, no budget, no quality assurance, no revenue lost or gained, just a conversation and a needed break from the routine.

This is the hardest one I've done...every piece just little strokes of blue, yellow or brown.

It's good for your brain

My favorite reason for doing a jigsaw puzzle is that it's good for your brain.
Puzzles are an excellent activity for keeping your brain sharp. They challenge your dexterity, spatial reasoning, and logic. Even better, they work both sides of your brain simultaneously, something few other activities do. The creative side works to see the finished product, while the logical side works to fit the pieces.
I like that. A workout for both sides of your brain that results in a fun piece of art.

It can make you feel good, improve your memory, and create a memory with a loved one.
Each success with the puzzle—placement of the pieces as well as completing the puzzle—encourages the production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood and affects people’s concentration and motivation. Dopamine plays a large part in the pleasure/reward pathway, memory and motor control. (The Intentional Caregiver)
 Bring on the dopamine!

I can haz table now?

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  ~ Deepak Chopra

11 Reasons to Do a Jigsaw Puzzle
Jigsaw Puzzles Benefit the Brain
A Thousand Pieces of Greatness
BBC: Delay dementia
American Jigsaw Puzzle Society

Why do you love jigsaw puzzles? Shout out your answers in the comments.


Friday, May 17, 2013

I love attending conferences

In February I attended An Event Apart in Atlanta Georgia. Since I love learning (hence the blog title), I love conferences. I learn from the whole experience.

I love being in a new place.

Looking up...

looking down...

looking outside...

looking inside,

 and seeing art everywhere, even on the ceiling.

I love eating in new places... 

meeting new people...

...and thinking new thoughts.

And, if I'm lucky, experiencing some great art. 

[High Museum of Art...amazing and varied collection]

I especially like thinking new thoughts...

gaining new insights about my work...

...and myself.

It's so good to "get out of the house", to clear my head and re-energize. The unmeasurable conference "effect" for me is a certain clarity the comes about issues not even related to the conference topics or events.

Does that happen for you too?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Synesthesia is a colorful way of life

Do you see numbers or letters in color?

You're not crazy. It's rather common.

It's called Grapheme synethesia.

I never knew that what I see had a name. So often people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I see numbers in color. I stopped telling others.

I thought it was cool. I liked that it helped me memorize things in school, and do math in my head.

So I dug around to learn more. Here's a little bit of what I've found so far.

Synesthesia definition

The short of it...Hank on SciShow.

The longer Wikipedia bit...
Synesthesia from the ancient Greek, "together," and "sensation," is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities. In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space, or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map.

Synesthetes often report that they were unaware their experiences were unusual until they realized other people did not have them, while others report feeling as if they had been keeping a secret their entire lives, as has been documented in interviews with synesthetes on how they discovered synesthesia in their childhood.

Facts (so far)

  • Over 60 types of synesthesia.
  • Runs in families.
  • Eight times more common among artists, writers, poets and other creative types.
  • Once thought to be uncommon, but exists in about 1 in 25 people, 4% of the population.
  • Known for hundreds of years, science just now studying it.

Some fascinating videos

V.S. Ranachandrum at Beyond Belief 2.0, From Molecules to Metaphors
One thought about how it happens...crazy? memory from early childhood? just metaphorical? No, it's a concrete sensory phenomenon. See what happens in the brain. Watch part 2 and 3 too.

Synesthesia: A film by Jonathan Fowler
Another theory, by David Eagleman, involves excitation and inhibition of certain parts of the brain. The experience can wax and wane, or be affected by alcohol or antidepressants so it has more to do with giving off or receiving certain signals in certain parts of the brain. But it's not the same as a hallucination.

Seeing Life in Colors: Crosswired Senses
An ABC news report. One sense—taste, sight, hearing, touch or smell—gets jumbled with another, creating what Dr. Richard Cytowic, a neurologist, describes as a blending of the senses.

Big Think: David Eagleman
An inroad to how different brains see the world differently.

Extrordinary people—synesthetes
One woman who has several forms of synesthesia—unusual.

2012 MAPS film school
Love that one young man composes music using his synesthesia. For example, listen to his piece that exhibits all the colors from "Where the Wild Things Are" children's book.

Entertaining visualization

Michal Levy creates delightfully designed animations based on the involuntary sensations she gets from jazz music. Love this.

Here's what I see

The numbers are definitely colors, some letters too but not all, and the days of the week and months of the year are colorful. Working my way through the year is definitely a 3D pathway, as are simple math calculations.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  0 or 0

So what does it all mean?

Here's what I take away from this new-found knowledge.

For the most part, it doesn't really matter. We are all unique in our own ways and we should celebrate that in ourselves and in others.  (At what age do we stop clapping for all the marvelous things our children do. Never, I say.)

But to that person it does matter. It helps them interpret the world and their experiences in it. It feels like a gift to some, a leg up, but not in a superior way, to others—just how it is to be them. Let's be curious and supportive.

For me it's a happy discovery. I'm thrilled to learn this new thing about myself (at my age!) and I want to explore and create and augment any talent I can find. Maybe it could help me be a better artist. Maybe it's why I love metaphor or see meaning in everything. Could be the start of another career or hobby, who knows.

Hope you discover something new about yourself, at any age. It's never too late.

And, by the way, it's a great conversation starter. Let me know, in the comments, if you have some form of synesthesia.