Dec 28, 2014

Nigella Seeds

A balmy Boston Christmas this year tricked the trees into blossoming and the daffodils into pushing their way up through the dirt. Not their moment to shine, but still I had to pause and study their strange beauty.

Dec 12, 2014

New plans afoot


Greetings from snowy Somerville! I have been quiet here on the Aromatum front lately due to a current project I'm excited to tell you about. Since returning from Asia this past summer, I've been working on creating a business. A spice business to be more precise, set to launch next summer in 2015. The mission of the business is to source sustainably grown and fairly traded spices to offer an alternative to the majority of commodity spices on the market today.

Nov 19, 2014

Sweet Fenugreek


Lately I've been excited about spices that seem extraterrestrial. Unearthly flavors so strange and wonderful that they must have descended from outer space or attached themselves to the feet of the ESA space probe from the dark shadowy shores of a comet. ("Comet dust" as new culinary ingredient has not yet reached FDA approval.)

Oct 27, 2014

On Sunlight & Spices

I bought a daylight lamp for the first time. I bask in it's artificial light every morning, still in my groggy, grumpy state when it's best if I don't interact with humans. I've been using it for two weeks now and I have to say, it's making me feel a little better about heading into the dark tunnel of New England winter. Weirdly, I feel more like a species of plant than a person under the light—I feel it entering through the pores of my skin (even though it acts functionally through the eyes) creating some kind of useful sugar that feeds my heart.

 from an airplane over Pennsylvania last week

I remember interviewing a famous photographer when I was in high school for a school newspaper. His name was Galen Rowell and he died tragically in 2002 (the same year I graduated high school) so the fact that I got to meet and talk with him sits even more crystalline in my mind. When I asked him what was most important to him in his photography, he paused and just said:
"Everything is light."

Sep 30, 2014

The Pickled Apple


Mark & I found this sign while apple picking in Connecticut yesterday. I think it was meant to encourage pickers to explore more of the orchard, but I saw it as a quiet, more figurative reminder.

Sep 18, 2014

Home & Away

Home.

On Monday I went foraging with a friend. We picked these berries, called autumn olives, which are tart and sweet. They come from a plant called Elaeagnus umbellata. We picked them from a tree in a parking lot in a suburb of Boston.


Away.

I find it tricky to be in the moment, to be totally present. My mind is caught on a dream about the future, or about some past event, how it's effected me. I could be anywhere, just not here.

Aug 28, 2014

Thyme & Peach Tart

If there were a song for thyme, I think it'd be this one; a comforting, familiar tune. And if it were a color, I think it'd be the soft green of where the sky's blues meet sunset's yellows, a watercolor-like mixture of light that is surprising and subtle, sometimes hard to see. Just so, I find thyme's flavor hard to pull out when it's blended with other ingredients; it's there and then gone, not delicate so much as just laying low, maybe sitting in the corner ready to tell you a great joke if you just lean a little closer.

Aug 19, 2014

This Summer Clove

The end of summer has a piercing quality to it—a nip in the air in the morning, a pang of wistfulness for all the long days and porch evenings now dwindling quickly down a spiral staircase towards New England's base season: winter.


I could say I suffer from this malaise, but I actually favor autumn and winter to summer here in Boston, and besides, most spices are best featured in the warming foods popular to these seasons.

BUT.

Jul 31, 2014

Smoked

Deeply familiar, as though residing in the very DNA of what makes us human, this flavor: smoke.

The flavor of early cooking, of that ancient process. Maybe it was an animal over a fire, dripping blood that makes the fire spark and sputter, and the smoke channeling upwards into the dark and staining the air with its scent. The cooks do not speak, for it's not the language of spoken words that's necessary, or even sight, but scent - an animal language. The flavor goes as far back as the myth of our imaginations will allow but is now infused into so many of our foods it's as though we need this flavor to survive.

Jul 16, 2014

That Vegetal Feeling

In Boston this morning it was raining hard. A beautiful, heavy rain that was musical, like a whole bunch of pianos being hit softly and randomly by nine year olds. Morning thunder and the lights flickering a little and a cup of coffee and some dehydrated kale.

Jun 28, 2014

Roses for Survival


Sometimes I think it's necessary to listen to Jim Croce. This song, in particular. 


His voice is so comforting, kind of lazy and flannel-like, that when my shoulders are tense and I feel crazy, like I've just woken up from a dream yelling "Not again!" because escaped prisoners are throwing cabbages at me (again), the sound of a voice that is grounding and sweet and nostalgic, like Croce's, is all I need. That and maybe some strawberry rose-petal jam on toast.

Jun 16, 2014

Simmer Down

It is odd to be thinking about soup stock as we celebrate the start of summer. The days glow with green and sun and even the rain is warm and offers the chance of rainbows. I think of this poem, The Fish, by Elizabeth Bishop, because of the simple but complex moments of beauty that catch us sometimes in the summer, whether fishing or not. I feel at once like the fisherman and the fish—wanting to hold on, wanting to be let go. Stay still, think, be present, savor. Run, leap, dive deep, release.

May 31, 2014

Ephemeral

I remember learning the spring ephemerals in college - trout lily,  quaker lady, Virginia bluebell, violet. We'd wander through the woods behind some housing development with a notebook, crouching to study the flowers, hoping the latin would stick.

May 19, 2014

Sky, Dirt, Basil

My final week of traveling before I headed home to Boston was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I really learned how to use a mortar and pestle. You can't be a wimp about it, especially when you're working with hard, dried spices and woody ginger and lemongrass. You have to be strong. And patient. Even zen.

Apr 30, 2014

The Art of Capture

Sitting in Laurent Severac's kitchen in Hanoi, Vietnam while he and his assistant sorted through a pile of rose geranium leaves, I wondered about scent and its ability to locate us in a time and place. Smelling the green, rosy fragrance of the geranium leaves brought me instantly back to last spring, when I concocted a drink at the café where I used to work, made of pureed cucumber, lemon and rose geranium syrup. It was refreshing and aromatic; perfumed but not cloying. I used the same recipe as a base for a punch at my brother's wedding. Suddenly this plant was connected to a whole host of memories.


Apr 7, 2014

Vietnam Amuse-Bouche

I ate so much in Vietnam I feel like I'm still full, still digesting every flavor. I traveled from the south (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) to the cool mountainous city known as Dalat, then further north to Hanoi.  I only had a ten day slice of a country that was so packed with flavor it would take a lifetime to explore them all.

Mar 17, 2014

Ceylon Cinnamon, Part 2

While traveling around the tear-drop island of Sri Lanka, I ate an incredible variety of fruit - mangoes and bananas, coconut, durian, mangosteen, watermelon, guava, pineapple. They filled in the hungry gaps, they brought bright spots of color to the landscape and the markets, and most of all they inspired me to hurry home and start cooking.

Mar 9, 2014

Ceylon Cinnamon, Part 1

You will be known among strangers / as the cinnamon peeler's wife. - Michael Ondaatje

I have never felt so focused with a knife. As I sat in a large concrete shed beside a Sri Lankan cinnamon peeler I learned to put the tip of a knife beneath the inner bark of a tree and gently glide it along the length of the branch. It was hard not to tear the delicate bark, like the skin of an animal almost, but he seemed to do it so easily, with a gentle grace. I blinked my eyes; I was completely drenched in sweat, both from the humidity but also from my intent focus.

Feb 19, 2014

Kampot Pepper

On my last day in Cambodia I arrived at the airport a few hours before my departing flight to Bangkok. Hungry, I headed towards a cluster of restaurants to find some lunch. My choices were as follows: Dairy Queen, Burger King, or a chain called "BBQ Chicken." After traveling throughout the country and enjoying an incredible bunch of meals flavored with spices like lemongrass, wild ginger, kaffir lime leaves, fresh green pepper or the delicate black Kampot pepper (my reason for traveling to Cambodia) I chose the only restaurant whose name I didn't recognize: "BBQ Chicken," which looked to be a sort of Cambodian-style fast food joint. My hope was that despite the name, I could avoid the dreaded monoculture of tastes that accompany a fast food establishment dependent on industrialized processed food products and factory farms (DQ & BK). But despite the promising look of chili sauce bottles adorning plastic tables, I was out of luck.

Feb 7, 2014

Khmer Flavors

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA    
As a fairly frequent traveler, I'm wary of scams: tuk tuks offering to take you on a "tour" only to veer off in the direction of gem shops, cute children selling souvenirs on the streets, strange powders masquerading as true spices. I was prepared to ignore the people who were simply begging; I was prepared to contribute in some other way. I was, I thought, wary and savvy and in control. Traveling alone requires you to repeat these self-assertions before heading into the fray. But I wasn't prepared for the woman with an infant on her hip who approached me and said,
          "Madame, I don't need money I need milk."


Jan 25, 2014

Fresh Pepper Flourish

WAYANAD, INDIA    As I walked through the Kuppamudi coffee and spice plantation one late afternoon this January, I listened to the chattering of monkeys, the call of birds, and the distant sounds of people working on nearby estates - trees being cut, a car crawling up a dirt road, a dog barking. There was both a stillness and an activity in the air. The dimness of manmade sound and the clarity of rich natural sounds was soothing; I felt lulled by these sounds, having just travelled from the harrowing city streets of Mysore and Delhi. As I walked down the path I noticed pepper plants, i.e. Piper nigrum, growing up the long, straight poles of betel nut trees.

Jan 16, 2014

Kerala, Ginger & da Gama

It seems fitting that, after two weeks travelling around India and feeling a bit rickshaw-sick and travel weary, I decided I needed some ginger in my life. Some fiery, soothing, delicious ginger.


I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand this past Sunday night, nursing a bout of travel sickness after my departure from Kochi, India. I arrived on the eve of anti-government protests that have threatened to shutdown the city of Bangkok. Indeed on day 4 of the protests, there doesn't seem to be any sign of letting up. Check out The Guardian for the latest news on the situation here. Thank you to my brother Colin and his family for being such welcoming and wonderful hosts!