Archive for December 2008

Of Marzipan and Memory

December 31st, 2008 — 4:14pm

I just finished re-reading Phillip Pullman’s brilliant trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. They are remarkable, mysterious books, and even after my third re-reading, I’m still trying to figure out what he means by dust, daemons and angels.  What I find most moving in his writing is his insistence on the truth and beauty of the body; that God, or Spirit, is here on earth, not in heaven (because there is no heaven); and all that is good and real and true is in what we can experience through our present, embodied lives.

This is particularly touching to me as I continue working on my own book — a food and eating memoir.  Throughout my life  I have tried to tether myself to time and place through food. Like Proust’s famed madeleines, a taste can bring universes back. Here’s a quote from Pullman from “The Amber Spyglass”, the last book of his trilogy:


“And at half past nine in the evening at that restaurant table in Portugal,” Mary continued, “someone gave me a piece of marzipan and it all came back. And I thought: am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? I thought: I want to go to China. It’s full of treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy. I thought, Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?

“And the answer came back—no. No one will. There’s no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn’t know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all. Either way I felt free and lonely and I didn’t know whether I was happy or unhappy, but something very strange had happened. And all that huge change came about as I had the marzipan in my mouth, before I’d even swallowed it. A taste—a memory—a landslide…”

Isn’t it miraculous that with just one taste, you can live an entirely new life, entering an entirely new universe?

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Lessons of the Crab

December 19th, 2008 — 5:24pm

See full size imageHere’s the wonderful thing about eating crab — it is not possible to eat it quickly.

For someone like me who tends to inhale her food, eating crab forces me to slow down. After all, who wants to swallow a claw.

Call it, the “Lessons of the Crab”.

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Of Twists, Seaweed, and Water

December 17th, 2008 — 1:43pm

It’s that time of year again, when I usually eat too much, drink too much, and don’t get enough exercise or sleep. This year, though, I’m going to try a  different tack. I’m going to try to listen to my body.

When I slow down enough and ask my body what she needs, she speaks back loud and clear. Here’s what she’s saying:

“I”m thirsty! More water now.”

“My kidney region is tight and congested. I need some twists! Get me into Ardha Matsyendrasana or Twisted Agnistambhasana pronto!”

“And make some soup, will ya? Add a piece of kombu while you’re at it. I need the minerals!”

I jest, but the deeper truth is, our bodies do talk. We just need to make the time to listen.

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Beet-Cured Gravlax Ravioli Stuffed with Avocado Mousse

December 14th, 2008 — 3:26pm

Doesn’t that sound revolting? This is the recipe that is on the back of my Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Ingredients include: horseradish, raw beets, sugar, pepper, salmon, avocadoes, lime juice, whipping cream, and, of course, Kosher salt.

Of all the recipes that could use kosher salt, and that must number in the millions, this is what they feature?


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Mandy Aftel – Of Scent and Tea

December 7th, 2008 — 5:19pm

I went to Mandy Aftel’s holiday sale today. She’s a perfumer, and I went to buy something wonderful. Her solid perfumes infused with conifer and rose drive me wild.

But I also went just to soak up the smells of her workshop. Bergamot. Civet. Currant. Lavender. Rose. Black Spruce (my absolute favorite). Frankincense. And, um, Myrrh.

She served me some Oolong tea, infused with ginger and Turkish rose. Like drinking perfume.
And what I realized is that we use our eyes to see, ears to hear, and mouth to taste, but we are losing touch with the depth and power of smell. We live in a polluted world, which is hard enough. But also, we live in one where synthetic scents reign.
Which is why smelling natural scents is so powerful, and on occasion, intoxicating.

Which is also why, on this chilly Winter Berkeley day, I’m about to pour myself a bath — and fill it with some Black Spruce absolute.

I am already purring.

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December 2nd, 2008 — 5:31pm

It took some hunting down but I found it.’s toll free number is: 800-201-7575. But think long and hard before you ever call. After dialing it today — for the first time since I began buying books on Amazon ten plus years ago —  I now know why they keep it hidden. The help on the phone was pretty much incompetent.

Nice, yes. Well intentioned. You bet. But a problem that should have taken two minutes to resolve took more than ten, and still I still didn’t have my answer. I finally got so tired of the customer service rep putting me on hold, I hung up.

I love Amazon. I’m amazed at how well their business runs from a user perspective. But next time I need help, I’ll make sure to do whatever I need to to avoid human, um, help.

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