Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leaving the Island

{Farewell, Islesford}

As the last of the lupines dropped their blossoms and the haze of Queen Anne's lace began its slow and lovely tatting across the island meadows, we said goodbye to Islesford. Sheets were washed, folded. Walks were long, savored. We drew out the goodbyeing as long as possible.

The house was cleaned. Summer treasures stowed away in pine cupboards or given back to the sea. Into the cupboard with the jar of sea glass. Over the seawall with the collection of beach stones, mussel shells, periwinkles. Over the seawall with the waning arrangements of wildflowers with animal names: oxeye daisy, foxglove, harebell, hawkweed, toadflax.

One last lobster roll. One last swim in the frigid harbor. One last dark and stormy, trimmed with a jaunty sprig of mint from the garden.

Then onto the boat with the dogs, the tattered L.L. Bean bags stuffed with boots and fleeces, the tan legs, the bellies full of popovers from Jordan Pond.  Away from the island and the island perfume of rosa rugosa, woodsmoke and balsam. Back to the mainland, to prepare for our next chapter. Farewell, Maine. Farewell, little island community we love so well. Until next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


{Good Coffee, and Other Scenes from the Kitchen}

Back when P. and I were living in Joshua Tree we made frequent trips into Los Angeles to see friends, take a break from the desert and -when we could spare the cash- make good on a chance to load up on coffee beans at Intelligentsia. So when our buddies from LA showed up in Maine this week with two telltale orange bags I clapped my hands with glee like a demented addict and cheered P. on as he ground the beans in an antique hand-crank grinder we found in a cupboard (an electric grinder was purchased that afternoon). And man is good coffee good; after drinking mostly mediocre coffee in India (albeit indulged with scalded water buffalo milk and golden Indian cane sugar) I'd almost forgotten how legitimately delicious just-roasted, just-ground, just-brewed coffee can be. Sipping the tangy, mellow brew (the Flecha Roja from Costa Rica was the consensus favorite) was one of the most vivid moments of bliss I've had since we've been back from Rajasthan. Shazam, people.

So all you coffeehounds, hip urbanites and global tastemongers, what's your favorite coffee roaster? Please weigh in. I'm betting on some Intelligentsia vs. Stumptown vs. Blue Bottle debates here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

{Or, What to Feed Angelenos for Breakfast in Maine}

The tiny, jewel-like wild blueberries are just starting to ripen up here in northern coastal Maine, which means two things: 1. we're smack in the middle of summer and 2. we're eating blueberries, Blueberries For Sal-style, just as fast as we can pop them in our mouths. And so what better way to see off our friends who have been visiting from Los Angeles than with a batch of early morning blueberry cornmeal muffins? As the honeyed scent from the oven wafted upstairs a horde of hungry dogs and men appeared in the kitchen, lips smacking in Pavlovian, species-nonspecific anticipation. Sweet and slightly tart blueberries plus the satisfying crunch of cornmeal is an A+ in my book, and, judging from the speed with which the muffins disappeared, the fellas liked them too.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins
Recipe, plus a few tweaks, from Martha Stewart (I know, I know, but all interweb arrows kept pointing me to this particular recipe). Makes a dozen muffins. Absolutely off-the-charts delicious the next day, cut in half and "toasted" in butter in a cast-iron skillet. 

1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
3 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (would be curious to sub with buttermilk)
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or as you like)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place softened butter, 3/4 cup sugar, and honey in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs; beat 1 minute more.

2. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; add to butter mixture in mixer bowl. Beat until combined. Slowly pour in milk, beating on low, until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries. Divide dough among greased or no-stick molds (do not pack too firmly). Brush tops with cold water; sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over each.

3. Bake until tops are browned, centers are set, and a cake tester inserted in center of muffin comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool in pans 5 minutes while beating away the crowd suddenly gathered in the kitchen. Serve at once. If there are any muffins left (doubtful) store in airtight container for two days. YUM.

Monday, July 18, 2011


{Island Life}

-refining my syllabus for a class I'm teaching at NYU this fall
-catching up on old projects put on hold while we were in India
-making new paintings for a solo show in January

-refining a recipe for perfect one-pot Maine haddock chowder (enter the bacon fat, sherry)
-catching up with friends over extended cocktail hours, collaborative dinners, Bananagrams
-making use of a capacious hot water tank via a century-old claw-footed bathtub

P. and I are up north on that wee island in Maine with his extended family, where we're hosting a revolving door of close friends we haven't seen since pre-India, cooking up a storm, and (I speak for myself here) pursuing some harmless neighborhood wildflower pilfering under the guise of "dog-walking." We've got a heck of a fall ahead of us so we're milking this summer of (productive?) vagabondage for all it's worth.

Hope you had a great weekend. On repeat around here: Leaving Home by Yo La Tengo.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kinfolk, Live

{Light Reading for the Weekend}

Thanks for all the rockin book recommendations. You guys are a wealth of literary knowledge and inspiration and I can't wait to head to the bookstore with my shopping list. For some light reading over coffee this weekend check out the online issue of Kinfolk Magazine, which just launched this morning (full disclosure: I slept with my laptop on my bedside table so that P. and I could read it first thing this morning before getting out of bed). I couldn't be more excited to be a part of this project, and I can't wait to get my hands on a hard copy. Hope you enjoy it, and see you Monday.

Read Kinfolk online here (and view it in full-screen mode for maximum photographic punch). 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dog v. Goon Squad

{Biscuit & The Hound of Love on This Year's Pulitzer Prize Winner}

Zipped through Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad and devoured every morsel, but slightly surprised that it was, in fact, a medley of morsels and not an epic tome through which to slog. I might be old-fashioned but it seems a Pulitzer Prize should require a bit of perspiration on the part of the reader; perhaps the award panel had the Twitter set in mind this year. (Poor Jon Franzen and his very long books.) Loved Goon Squad nonetheless and definitely recommend it. It's biting, self-aware, and beautifully written- an acerbic merry-go-round of American mores. And there are just enough trashy sex scenes to make it an entertaining summer vacation book (turns out "Pulitzer Prize" and "Beach Read" are not mutually exclusive).

While we're at it, a brief list of the best books I've read in the past six months, with a slightly Indian inflection:
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Just Kids, Patti Smith
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

What should I add to the list? Would love your recommendations.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Windmill World of Vollis Simpson

{Chewing the Fat with a Folk Art Legend}

When P. and I were down in North Carolina recently we made a pilgrimage with our friends deep into the eastern byways in search of folk art legend Vollis Simpson, who has been welding and building whirligigs and windmills for the better part of his 93 years. The trip was a wild lark; we didn't expect to find his compound let alone meet the man behind the magic. So we were giddy when we spotted a thirty-foot sky blue windmill contraption poking into the horizon and floored to find Vollis Simpson himself tinkering away under the sagging overhang of his dilapidated workshop just around the corner. Amid a sprawling smorgasbord of steel pipes, sheet metal, bicycle parts and the bones of rusted farm equipment, Mr. Simpson welcomed us to sit with him in the shade and take a load off. Charming chaps that they are, P. and Billy had Vollis in stitches and telling his story in no time.

One of twelve children, Vollis grew up learning how to use winches and drive mule trains from his father, who had a house-moving business. He built his first windmill to power a washing machine when was stationed in Saipan during WWII. After the war he started his own house-moving company, replacing the mules with an old army truck, and built the occasional windmill to power various gadgets on the family farm. Later he opened a farm equipment repair shop and used old tractor parts and his well-honed house-moving skills to build and install larger, more whimsical windmills, many of which look like elaborate junkyard transmitters to another world. He's been building them ever since. Haven't missed ten days of work in ten years, he beamed.

We must have stayed close to two hours; the boys sat in the shade and chewed the fat with Vollis while Ash and I explored the staggering windmills scattered around his rambling farm (watch out fer the dogs down the road, them's an unfriendly lot) and steered clear of Vollis' booby-traps (I caughta sumbitch's shoe just three days ago; them sneaky bastards gunna come'n steal equipmunt from an ole feller like me, Ima beat the fool outta'm). Vollis is sharp as a tack and full of zingers; when Billy asked what the government gave him in return for his service in WWII, Vollis didn't skip a beat: Wha'd they give me? They gave me hell, is what! 

After the PBS documentary and New York Times article about him,Vollis has emerged as somewhat of a folk art celebrity, which bemuses him to no end. (I don't git what all the fuss is about, he told us). Finally, after we'd stayed our welcome and Vollis had to get back to work painting a thirty foot pole before his wife finished her card game, we each shook his hand and said goodbye. I enjoyed ya'll, he said as he slopped on the paint. We left reluctantly, all of us in smiling silence as we drove out of the cool pine shadows of Simpson's Crossroads. When we finally turned on the radio somewhere in the sunny patchwork of east Carolina cotton fields and suburban sprawl, the world of Vollis Simpson already seemed a world away.

For more interviews, observations and photo essays on folk art and outsider art on bigBANG: click here for a post on Leonard Knight's magnificent Salvation Mountain in the California desert; here for Charlie Russell's spectacular East Jesus, an off-the-grid art installation and one-man despotism in Slab City, California (sad side note: beloved Charlie died this spring); here for Noah Purifoy's assemblage masterpiece in my old stomping grounds in Joshua Tree, California; here for Nek Chand's Fantasy Rock Garden, the awe-inspiring junkyard kingdom in Chandigarh, Punjab, India.