Inspiration: What’s in your shopping basket?

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I was unloading my shopping bags onto the counter and loved the pile with all the shades of greens, reds, and orange. I had just grabbed a lot of produce that looked good at Essex Street Market in the LES putting together a loose meal plan in my mind as I went along. I got okra, Persian cucumbers, poblanos, cilantro, radishes, limes, nopal cactus paddles, red chiles, and sour oranges. It looked like a summer still life, and it makes being (mostly) vegetarian exciting when one has beautiful fruits and vegetables to cook with.

So far, we’ve had cilantro, citrus, and chiles in ceviche, crisp radish and cucumber snacks, and I’m working on nopal and poblano tacos. I’ll probably roast the okra with chipotle and do some vegetable chiles rellenos.

It got my thinking: how do most people shop and where do you get your inspiration? Do you plan ahead and then shop or look for what’s good and plan your meals from there? Do you research before you buy a new strange vegetable or do you buy and then look for what to do with it?

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On Inspiration and being a fan

Last night, I met one of my very favorite writers, Calvin Trillin, at a reading of several pieces to celebrate the publication of Cornbread Nation 6 , an anthology of Southern food writing put together by Southern Foodways Alliance. The event was at KGB Bar in the East Village, not the kind of bar that one happens into accidentally; I found it up two flights of stairs in a blank- faced building, a dim room with Soviet era pictures and flags on the walls.

A couple of the writers included in the book were there to read, Jane Black and Francis Lam, plus its editor Brett Anderson to MC as well as Mr. Trillin. It felt like most of the people there either knew each other or were there with friends, chatting about book fairs in Italy they had just attended or mutual talented fabulous author/publisher friends. I sat gawkily alone on my bar stool trying to figure out who was who based on my looking up their Twitter profile pictures (“the Asian guy in the gingham blazer must be Francis Lam….”).

But when the readings began, particularly Mr. Trillin’s, I remembered why I was there. Hearing words crafted to so invoke a place, a person’s nature, an ethos, as to bring a pang of recollection or recognition is what inspires me to write. And it reminded me of the importance of inspiration. Reading the work of excellent writers (or experiencing excellent art or music) has the two-fold benefit of keeping me appropriately humble- no, I’m not the greatest thing since sliced bread- while also giving me something great to which to aspire- don’t be self-satisfied, always try to be better.

Calvin Trillin is one of those writers that can write about a ham sandwich and make it interesting, funny, and meaningful. It will make you really want to go to the place where he describes enjoying this sandwich immediately and have one yourself. His stories about making the Saturday morning food rounds in Manhattan were part of what helped quell my terror at moving here- he made it seem so neighborhoody and unpretentiously delicious. And speaking of unpretentious, he writes sparely, no frills, but still genially, like your uncle telling you about his latest trip. He talks about his wife and daughters a lot, but kindly and respectfully.

I’m not sure why, but I’m very reticent to approach or acknowledge people that I think are “famous”. I guess I feel like they mostly just want their privacy like anyone else, and saying “I really admire your work” doesn’t exactly trip off my tongue. I feel awkward as a fan. But as people began to trickle out at the end of the evening, I made my way out past the table where the writers were sitting and said “IenjoyedthissomuchthankyouMrTrillinI’velovedyourwritingforalongtime” before scurrying out the door.

But in the spirit of the verse that says “if you have a word of encouragement, say it!”, here is what I wish I had had the presence if mind to say:
Your work has made me laugh for many years. I’ve recommended your Tummy Trilogy many times. Your stories about food and travel are so true and funny and lovely that I almost despair to write myself because you’ve already done it so well. Thank you for inspiring me to try to write well.

Happy Pi Day!

To celebrate, I’m going to share a delicious painting (or three) by one of my favorite Southern artists.

Gladys Always Put A Rabbit’s Foot In Her Apron Pocket When She Made A Meringue

by Oxford, Mississippi artist Amy Cameron Evans

Amy is the Oral Historian for Southern Foodways Alliance where she gathers and documents the stories that make up the rich and varied food culture in the Southern U.S.

Camille’s Grandmother Loved Duke’s Mayonnaise and Costume Jewelry

It’s this embrace of the gorgeously eccentric personalities of the South, while still embracing and celebrating its traditions (like Dukes’ Mayonnaise and dill pickle chips) that I love about her work.

Velma Had A Secret

I also love the visual storytelling. Storytelling, yarn-spinning, layered, complex, absurd, hilarious, colorful, evocative, is to me a defining characteristic of “Southerness.”  And Velma Had A Secret is about as loaded a four-words-and-a-painting short story as it gets.

To see more of her artwork, follow these links:


http://amycevans.com/

or

KoelshGallery.com

Love to the power of 3

Yes, yes, a Painting of Books about Cooking.

Sort of a distillation of my “Happy Place” trifecta in handy 14×18 size.

 

I got home from our Thanksgiving holiday road trip with some sort of cold, sore throat, stomach-and general-achey-like funk going on, so I’ve been wallowing in bed taking medicine and drinking lots of water in hopes of preventing It from getting worse, catching up on email, perusing some blogs, generally engaging in some dazed and uncomfortable lethargy.

This painting was in a post on Design*Sponge, a really beautiful design blog I’ve followed for a while. The artist, Holly Farrell,  has a pale, cool palette and an amazing ability to exalt the mundane that is, in part, what I love about the beautiful domestic scenes by Jan Vermeer like The Milkmaid or Mother’s Duty. I love art that reminds me of the beauty and dignity of the everyday life we’re all so blessed to enjoy.

 

Kitchen art

 

 

 

These watercolors make me happy.

From Lucile’s Kitchen:

Autumn Fruits

 

I stumbled upon this artist’s Etsy shop on Kitchenisms, and would love to have every single one of her pictures on my walls. They evoke the ever so slightly cluttered sunny serenity of a homey kitchen in which I would love to spend hours and hours.

 

The illustrated recipes remind me of a couple of cookbooks I loved looking through when I was little, simple but fascinating.

 

La Soupe au Pistou

 

 

 

I’ve always loved watercolors, especially if they don’t take themselves too seriously.

These are sweet, but with a wink that prevents their

sweetness from becoming saccherine

 

Cupcakes collection No.2

I’ve only posted a few of the many paintings and prints in the shop. Have a look around. She has some lovely stuff in there.