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10.31.2011

October 22

I sat down to write this post last night at a kitchen table in Edinburgh. My friend Gemma was making barley soup, and Christophe was at the sink behind me, doing the last dishes from breakfast. If you had told me three weeks ago that I would be in their kitchen last night, I would have looked at you like you’d grown a second head. For once, I like being wrong.

We’ve been talking about a feeling that sometimes comes with plane or train travel, and maybe the best name for it is Bonus Time. You’re in the plane or the train, and you can see the world outside the window, and you’re hurtling through it, but it’s very far away, impossible to reach. Inside, your movements are limited, but time feels oddly expansive, as though you’re getting an extra minute for every three. You’ve escaped from normal time, and your reward is a chance to just sit and relax, or read, or listen to music, or sleep. Or maybe you’ll have to do some work, but it moves along with less friction than usual, because you’re in Bonus Time, and it’s roomy in there. That’s mostly what the past couple of weeks have felt like.

When I got here on Friday, Christophe handed me a copy of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, and I keep coming back to this bit on page nine:

If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest - in all its ardour and paradoxes - than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival.

That about nails it. I go home tomorrow.




Thank you to Anne for suggesting Négatif Plus, and to Xavier for the help and the beer! I now have photos from Paris. These were taken on October 22.






















More soon, from Seattle.

P.S. Happy Halloween.

10.24.2011

October 16, 17

I love the mistakes that come with using film.




Often, I like the mistakes more than the shots that turn out. That’s part of why I started shooting film. For the surprises.




Whenever I pick up a roll at the lab, it’s like Christmas morning. Of course, it’s sometimes a sad Christmas, like the year when I found two sweatshirts in the box that I was sure contained a Cocker Spaniel puppy. But I’m learning to take what I can get.




My friend Gemma has the most beautiful hands. I will never have hands like that.




And while we’re on the topic of beauty, two words: bacon and sandwich.






I hope your week is off to a very good start, friends.

10.21.2011

October 15

Hi, friends.

I’m in Paris now.

I know I just typed that as though it were nothing, but what I meant was: I’M IN PARIS NOW! That sentence should always be written in all caps, with an exclamation point.




I took the train down from London on Wednesday, and I’ve been staying with a friend. From where I’m sitting on the pullout sofa in her living room, I can hear a moped in the square outside and Night Moves on the stereo in the kitchen. She and her husband are sitting in there, at the counter. He’s doing a crossword puzzle, tapping his fingers in time. They’ve been good to me.




I shot a whole roll of film in twenty minutes yesterday morning! I’m an animal. Who knows what today holds.




These shots, however, are from London. Apologies for any confusion. I still have a lot to show you from London. I don’t know when or where I’ll be able to get my Paris rolls developed, or any of the rolls I shoot from here on out. I guess we’ll stay in London for now.




This was October 15, a Saturday. We began at St. John Bakery, under the railway arches on Druid Street. I guess it’s part of the market that has sprung up along Maltby Street, but it’s technically on the Druid Street side, under arch #72. If you go, do as Brian taught me: get the custard doughnut. (That’s what you see in the second photo, above.) Then go around the corner to Monmouth, get a filter coffee, and if it’s not raining, sit on a folding chair outside to eat. Don’t forget a napkin. These are messy doughnuts. More to the point: sexy doughnuts. I wanted to get a room with mine.

(Brian had a doughnut filled with blackberry jam. I didn’t taste it, but he said it was great. Still, get the custard.)






Later, an afternoon at the Drapers Arms.




I had a Camden Hells and my first pickled egg and crisps.




My friend Christophe showed me how to do it. He opened a bag of salt-and-vinegar crisps (known to us Americans as chips), dropped the egg inside, and shook the bag. The egg was now covered in crumbs and vinegary salt. Not bad. Not bad at all.




I feel glad for good friends today.




Happy weekend to all.

10.18.2011

October 14

When I was eighteen, I took my first big trip without my parents, and before I left, my mother suggested that I pack a nice notebook to use as a journal. In my normal life, I’ve never been a journal-keeper, but I took her advice, and for roughly fifteen years now, every time I’ve taken a substantial trip, I’ve kept a record of my days. Sometimes I’m a real champ, and I’ll write down every detail: what I overheard in line at the museum, how much I paid for such-and-such, which subway station I was leaving when that handsome man smiled at me and my heinous pink-and-white polka dot umbrella, or, tragically, which subway line I was on when I forgot my heinous pink-and-white polka dot umbrella under the seat. Sometimes I’m less of a champ, and I’ll only write down what I ate. Sometimes I don’t write much at all, and instead I take pictures. I’m not sure how my mother feels, but I think that counts. I take a lot of pictures.




I want to thank you for your comments last week. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, or what the heck, it probably will, but: you made me feel so taken care of. Thank you for that. I’ve been thinking about what you wrote, and I’ve decided that I am going to Edinburgh. With a day trip into the Scottish countryside, too, unless the weather puts up a fight. But before that, I’m taking the train to Paris for a few days, because I had my heart set on it. And then, if I can work out the details, I’ll go visit my dad’s best friend Michael and his wife Becky, who now live in France. I only get to see them every few years, and I think of them all the time. When I was fourteen, or maybe I was sixteen, Michael gave me Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck, and it was the first book of poetry that I ever really loved. I wonder what he’ll introduce me to next. We’re overdue for a visit.




It hasn’t always come naturally to me, but I’m getting used to this seat-of-the-pants thing.




I’m very glad I came.




October 14 was my first full day in London, and I took the pictures in this post that day.




That morning, I walked along the Regent’s Canal, and in the sun, it was almost hot. I stopped for a ginger beer at Towpath, and not long after, I saw a barge called The Spirit of Marmalade, which made my year.




My friends who live in Edinburgh had booked tickets to come to London for the weekend, and they arrived in the early afternoon. We got lunch at Song Que and shared some spicy squid, and then, that night, we went for a celebratory dinner at St. John Bread and Wine.




I have a piece of advice to pass on: order a dozen madeleines.




My friend Brian has a stack of records leaning against the wall of his living room, and today, the one on top is called LONDON IS THE PLACE FOR ME. I don’t know what it sounds like, but I like it.

10.14.2011

You're lucky, she told me.

Hi, friends.

This is not the post I had expected to write next. In my head, there were going to be cheers, an obscene number of exclamation points, and maybe a picture of the evening street outside our apartment in Paris. But due to sad and unforeseen circumstances, our Paris Diary project has been postponed. I don't know how I even managed to type that sentence, because I hardly believe what it says. Your support for this project blew me away, and I can’t tell you how sad I am.




I was due to fly out of Seattle this past Wednesday, go to London to see my friend Brian, and then take the train down to Paris on Sunday. Because I had already paid for the plane ticket and cleared my schedule, and because I have forty rolls of film waiting to be used, I went ahead and boarded my flight. I arrived in London yesterday. Now I have to decide what to do next.




There was an older woman sitting next to me on the flight, and we started talking when I helped her find the switch for her reading light. She never introduced herself, but I saw on her landing card that her name was Pauline. Pauline wore frosted taupe nail polish and had a snore like a lawnmower, though when she asked me if she'd snored, I assured her that I hadn't heard a thing. Her parents were British missionaries, she told me, and she was born in Calcutta. She lived in Bangalore until she was seven, and then she lived in Australia, then in England, and then moved to the US in 1969. But she still has relatives in England, and she comes back to visit them every year. You're lucky, she told me. Traveling is so much easier now than it used to be! Her mother died in India years ago, and with the way things worked then, Pauline couldn't get there in time for the funeral. We were silent for a while. As we came down out of the clouds and flew toward London, she stared out the window, and then she turned to me and smiled. I love the English countryside, she said, the way they divide up the fields with those pretty hedges.




I found myself thinking about Pauline this morning, when I woke up too early from the jet lag. Maybe I'll go see the English countryside, for her. I like that idea. Maybe I'll go to Scotland, too. I've never been. Brandon went there as a teenager, and he's always told me how beautiful it is. I have a couple of friends who live in Edinburgh, so I think I might take the train up. This may not be the trip I planned, but I'm going to make something of it. I've got my two favorite cameras, and wherever I go, I want to share this trip with you. I think that'll make us both feel better.

I'll see you back here in a few days.

10.09.2011

Paris Diary

I first met my friend Maria in 2005. She had a blog then called port2port - maybe you remember it? - and I can’t remember who found who, but at some point, we started reading each other’s sites. She lives in Portland, Maine, but that fall, she came to Seattle to visit a friend, and we went out for doughnuts and had a drink at the Alibi Room, my favorite bar back then. I was nervous to meet her, because I admired her: her photography, her style, the quiet way she writes, the details she notices in her daily life. I remember feeling amazed by how creative she was, by the fact that she made a living through creative work. I thought Maria was so cool. (Over in Portland, she’s now rolling her eyes in my direction.) I have only a blurry memory of what that afternoon and evening were like, but I remember coming away from it feeling that we were friends, and that meant a lot to me.

It seems like Maria is always dreaming up new projects, and I feel lucky to have been involved in a couple of them over the past six years. She invited me to be one of the featured artists in Lines & Shapes, a series of books that she and Lena Corwin curated, and she also gave me a spot in the beautiful Sundays Are for Lovers. She also gave me the chance to have my photographs in a show(!) for the first time, back in 2009. Working with Maria, even from across the country, has made me think differently about what matters to me, both in my work and my every day. Maria believes that everyday living is art, and though a lot of what I write about here is everyday-life stuff, I had never really understood exactly what I was doing, what it was that motivated me, until I started following her work. She helps me to see possibilities everywhere. In short, she inspires the heck out of me. (...Annnnd now she’s going to stop reading this and go die of embarrassment. Sorry, MAV.)

I love writing, and I can’t imagine ever choosing to do something else. But those of us who write mostly do our work alone. Collaboration isn’t usually part of it. I like to collaborate, and that’s one reason why I’ve loved doing Spilled Milk. (That, and the fact that it gives me a legitimate reason to drink four milkshakes in one day.) So when Maria and I starting kicking around the idea, back in the summer of 2010, of traveling somewhere together and doing a project around our travels, my immediate answer was YES! Actually, I think it was HELL YES! No need to mince words.




It’s taken us more than a year to get our plan / budget / selves together, but later this week, we’re finally acting on our idea. We’re traveling together to Paris(!!!). I’ve been thinking about typing that sentence for nearly fifteen months, and still, I can’t believe it. We’ll be there from October 16 to November 6, sharing an apartment, pooling our cameras, and no doubt doing a lot of walking and writing and shooting. Over the past year, we’ve kicked around a bunch of ideas about what we want to make from this experience: a blog? A small book? With photography? Writing? Maybe drawings? In the end, we decided to do all of it. We have a lot of work to do.




Because we love and believe in books, the main focus of our trip will be to make a book. We’re calling it Paris Diary. It feels scary to hazard a description of a book that hasn’t been made yet, and whose contents are currently just ideas in a notebook, so that is all I will say about that. Give me a few weeks.

But we also wanted to find a way to record the experience, the everyday parts, in the short term. To that end, we’re creating a website. While we’re in Paris, we’ll be posting updates five days a week: videos, photographs, bits of our days. What you currently see on the site is just a placeholder; the actual site will go up on October 16, a week from today - or on the 17th, at the latest. In any case, shortly after we get to Paris.

(!!!) I still can’t believe it.




When we were first brainstorming last summer, I remember worrying about our choice of city, worrying that everything in Paris had already been seen and done a thousand times, if not a million. Maybe that’s true. But I like the challenge of trying to see something differently - learning, really, to see it differently. Especially right now, in the middle of the process of writing my own book, in the middle of that cave. I could use a new set of eyes, and I’m going to go find them.

I’ll see you over there.

10.06.2011

Out on this limb

I was planning to start this post with something about food, because that’s the way these things usually work. But I can’t seem to start much of anything, because this is sitting next to my chair.




This is Alice. As of last Friday, she has turned our family of three into a family of four. She is nine months old and weighs about 35 pounds, and though we have no idea what breed she is, we’re guessing some kind of pointer mixed with something else. Possibly a Muppet. Our friend Sam named her Peter Falk, which we changed to Mrs. Peter Falk before eventually settling on Alice, which was the name of Peter Falk’s first wife (though we changed the spelling). Our Alice was born on the border between Arizona and Mexico and picked up by a rescue group as a very young stray, and she’d been living with a family just outside Seattle until recently. For the past six days, I have spent most of my waking, non-work hours trying 1) to tire her out, and 2) to take a decent, non-iPhone photograph of her ridiculous, mop-like face. I have failed on both counts.




However, in the few moments when I was not following Alice around, I did manage to make two batches of salted peanut butter cookies, and I think they are - I am not afraid to go out on this limb - some of the best cookies I will ever eat.




Actually, that strikes me now as a somewhat depressing thing to say, because it seems so final, as though it were all downhill from here and I might as well hang up my apron, say goodnight, climb into a coffin, and close the lid behind me. All I meant was: I have found the peanut butter cookie recipe for me. I have found the only one I will ever need. I have an entire lifetime of outstanding peanut butter cookies ahead of me, and I find that a comforting thought.

The person I have to thank for this is Autumn Martin, owner of Hot Cakes Confections. She makes these cookies, along with take-and-bake chocolate cakes, caramel sauces, truffles, and other sweets, and sells them at a number of farmers’ markets and shops around Seattle. I first tasted her cookies at Picnic, where I often grab sandwiches (housemade corned beef! On a pretzel roll!) at lunchtime. They keep her peanut butter cookies in a jar above the cold case, and it feels like lying if I don’t admit that once, I cleaned out the entire jar. (I shared them with friends. Sort of.) They’re tender, chewy, exactly the right degree of crumbly, and intensely peanutty, and every other bite, you hit a chunk of milk chocolate. I knew that Brandi was also a fan, so when she and Olaiya invited Autumn to teach a class at the Pantry, I crossed my fingers that the salted peanut butter cookies would be on the agenda.

They were. And because she is a kind and merciful woman, or because she noticed the crazed and dangerous look I get when I am near these cookies, Autumn said that I could share her recipe with you.




On the surface, the recipe follows a standard route. It begins with the creaming of butter and sugar, followed by the addition of peanut butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and then dry ingredients. What sets Autumn’s cookies apart is the details: the quality of peanut butter, the quantity of salt, and the addition of chopped milk chocolate. She uses natural peanut butter, which tends to have a truer peanut flavor and fragrance than more processed types, with their added sugar and who knows what else. Her recipe also uses what might look like a daunting amount of salt, but do not be tempted to question it. The result isn’t beat-you-over-the-head salty - just tasty - and the salt serves the valuable purpose of giving the peanut flavor a giant boost. It also heightens the flavor of the milk chocolate chunks that Autumn stirs in at the end, just before scooping and baking. Dark chocolate is my default in most situations, but the milk chocolate here brings something important. I intend this as the very highest of compliments: imagine a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and then, imagine a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup as a cookie. Yes. Goodnight.


Salted Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Autumn Martin and Hot Cakes Confections

Hot Cakes Confections uses a brand of natural peanut butter called Aunt Patty’s, but I used Adams Natural Peanut Butter, which is what I keep at home. (Note that I buy the kind that needs to be stirred well before using, not the no-stir kind. And make sure not to accidentally buy the unsalted one. Hate it when that happens.)

For the milk chocolate, Hot Cakes uses Theo milk chocolate. I also love the milk chocolate made by Scharffen Berger. I’ve also tried Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, which aren’t great, but they get the job done. Whichever you use, note that I call for a larger amount than the original recipe: it calls for about 115 grams (4 ounces) milk chocolate, but I like 170 grams (6 ounces).

For kosher salt, I use Diamond Crystal brand. Note that different brands have different flake sizes, so measuring by weight is very important! (If you use Morton’s brand, for instance, 12 grams is only 1 ¾ teaspoons by volume.)

Lastly, Autumn’s recipe was written in ounces, but I have converted it to grams and cups.

240 grams (2 cups plus 1 tsp.) pastry flour
5 grams (1 tsp.) baking soda
12 grams (1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp.) kosher salt
275 grams (2 sticks plus 3.5 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
200 grams (about 1 ¼ cup, packed) dark brown sugar
170 grams (¾ cup plus 2.5 Tbsp.) sugar
2 large eggs
400 grams (1 ½ cup) natural salted creamy peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
170 grams chopped milk chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine the pastry flour, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (You can also do this by hand, with a sturdy spoon.) Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the peanut butter and vanilla, and beat on medium-low speed to blend. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the chocolate, and beat briefly on low speed, just until evenly incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop – mine has a capacity of about ¼ cup - scoop the batter onto the prepared sheet pan, taking care to leave plenty of space between cookies. (I limit it to six cookies per pan; if you add more, they run together.) Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and pale golden around the edges, but their tops have no color. (The cookies will not look fully baked, and this is important! The chewy texture of these cookies depends on it. They’re not nearly as good when baked until golden and crisp.) Transfer the pan to a rack, and cool the cookies completely on the sheet pan. They will firm up as they cool. (Also, they taste better when fully cooled. Promise.)

Repeat with remaining dough.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. Actually, I like the texture of these cookies best when they’re baked from frozen. Scoop the dough onto a sheet pan and freeze until hard; then transfer the dough mounds to a freezer bag or other airtight container. Do not defrost before baking, and plan to add four or five minutes to the baking time.

Yield: about 20 large (4-inch) cookies