Monday, April 26, 2010

Pancake Monday

My whole life people have asked me the question, "What is your favorite food?". This question is just about as awful for me as factoring quadratic equations. My favorite could I possibly choose???? This weekend though I realized that there is and has always been an obvious choice. Pancakes.

My father makes the perfect pancake. Daddy-cakes (or Basil-cakes as close friends call them) are by far the only way to start a Saturday morning off right. Perfectly fluffy and soft they taste like grilled butter with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. For years since I left the nest, I have tried to replicate this absolutely perfect pancake. I've gotten close, but never 100% there...always floundering with the right amount of yogurt and milk, baking soda vs. baking powder, or how much butter I need to melt into the batter. One day I will make him sit down with me for a whole day, making this perfect pancake batter over and over again until I have it right. And then we will eat them all, savoring each delicious bite drizzled with Vermont maple syrup.

Monday was rough for me today, maybe it was because I had a pancake kind of weekend. And of course, as I am blog patrolling during work I run across these...

... Whole Wheat Cornmeal Pancakes with Rhubarb Syurp found here. Now, this is far away from my father's recipe of perfection. But, I think we should still try them out this weekend. "For professional reasons only", as my father would say.

After all, pancakes are officially my favorite food.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thunderstorms and screen porches

Ever since I moved to the south, I have found a love for screened in porches. They creek with the wind, they protect you from the bugs, and they allow you to sit quietly and listen to the rain as it hits the pavement and dirt around you.

Tonight I want to sleep on my screened in porch. Thunderstorms are expected all night long, and I want to roll out my sleeping bag and place myself into the elements of the spring Tennessee night. Too bad my neighbors cats love the screened porch just as much as me. Maybe, I should build myself a cat free one on the back of my house... just big enough for my bed and a little table so I can turn on a lamp if I get scared.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Me and me...and a birthday celebration

Tonight I did something big. I went to the ballet...alone. It was genius really. No chit chat during intermission, no "what did you think about the costumes?" conversation while exiting the theater, and perhaps the best part was that I was late...and it didn't even matter. Some times I really like these things during a performance, but tonight the silence seemed so right.

I don't know why this is a surprise for me. I love seeing movies alone (even though I rarely do it). Eating alone at a sushi bar is wonderful (even though I've only done it once). And one of my goals in life is to go on a backpacking trip all by myself, over night, just a tent and me (needless to say, never done it). What I'm getting at here, is that I am really working on being better at hanging out with just me. No matter how romantic it seems second hand, I rarely want to do something by myself and I just about never seek it out.

This is a journey I've been working on for just about a year an a half now- enjoying being alone. Don't get me wrong, I love the people in my life and I want more of them. But, just before my 25th birthday I realized that the idea of solitude petrified me. I didn't know what to do with it or how to approach it. It was like this really cute boy I wanted to talk to, but couldn't open my mouth because he was so handsome. But, it was me that I was afraid of. Now really, how silly is that?

So, I changed my life. I moved to Nashville knowing no one. I decided to live by myself rather than with roommates. And, I started going on long walks everyday with no ipod or cellphone, just me...walking. All of the above have been big. The ballet tonight was big. But I still am a long ways away from my solo adventure with my tent. Actually, I don't even own my own tent. Hmmm...maybe that should be step one?

And anyways, I kind of cheated tonight. I wasn't REALLY alone. The ballet was A Midsummer's Night Dream and tonight was Shakespeare birthday. So really, we were celebrating.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Picture this...Chicago, a cubs game, 12 sixth graders wearing little blue polo shirts monogrammed with the letters HH, twenty-something women wearing Cubs jerseys that are the same size as said polo shirts, and a lot of beer all crammed onto the L on a Wednesday afternoon at rush hour. I believe the quote was "Ms. Cox, why does that soda smell funny?"

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I took a trek with 48 sixth grade girls to Chicago, IL. Needless to say this trip was a different kind of experience for me. I love visiting cities. Although I am not a city girl, and will forever strive to live on acres of land with chickens and multiple dogs running around my big front yard/garden, I have always loved visiting the eccentric hustle and bustle of the metropolis. The museums, the food, and the tattooed people always give me a little burst of enlightened energy that I cannot get anywhere else.

For all of these reasons, I said an enthusiastic "YES!" when asked to chaperon the 6th grade class trip this year. Having not been to Chicago since I was 18, I was eager to explore the city as an adult, and even more eager to expose my sheltered, all girls private school students to public transportation and sky scrapers. Little did I know the exhaustion that comes along with carting 48 twelve year old girls around an enormous city. I have never really understood how annoying the question "Are we there yet?" is until this week.

However, despite my exhaustion, sore feet, and constant counting to make sure all children were accounted for... I really did see this city for the first time. It is said that you see things different as an adult. I know this to be true through literature...Catcher in Rye or The Great Gatsby were an entirely different books for me at age 22 versus 14. Well, I guess it is obvious but turns out travel is the same. I saw more to this city than I ever saw in my half dozen teenage visits. It's amazing how life experiences makes us open our eyes to see what is right in front of us.

Needless to say, I was amazed. The weather helped, 80 degrees in middle of April was out of sorts for the "windy city", as did the multiple stops for an Americano. But through the winning, the chaos, and the lack of sleep...I really did love Chicago.

I just hope each of those girls return at age 26 and think about how differently they may see it from when they were 12.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Power of Breakfast

I love breakfast. By far it is my favorite meal of the day.

Every morning I make sure that I sit down, drink at least one cup of black coffee, and eat something delicious to gear me up for the chaos that teaching entails. Today was strawberry yogurt with chopped up mango. If you haven't tried Liberte yogurt, you have is amazing. Whole Foods has it, so next time you go there for your bulk foods grab one.

If you didn't notice my link on the right to the blog simply breakfast you have to check it out.


This woman is captures my favorite meal in the most simple and beautiful way. The colors of her photos, the wood of her table, and even her napkins are everything that I want in a breakfast. Not to mention her food choices, yum.

So check it out, I dare you not to drool. And if you aren't a believer in the power of breakfast, she will convert you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Birds Singing

At about 5am they start. Little squeaks and squawk. Twitter and twirling. Whistling and wooing. There is very little silent meditation up in those trees. Just a lot of talking and singing and whispering. My nickname is Bird. And now, the fact that I have hard time staying silent suddenly makes sense. Birds hate being quiet...there is just too much to say.

Really these birds, that live in the tree outside my bedroom window, are the chorus that sing the soundtrack to spring. And of course, Mary Oliver has a poem that puts it all together...

Such Singing in the Wild Branches (2003)

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that's when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky— all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

for more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finding a Prairie Home Companion

I feel like a lot of my posts recently have been reminiscent of my childhood. Baked goods, flowers, long life fears...these are the topics that blogs are made for! Well, to round off my week of thinking about growing up my parents came to visit this weekend. The drive is long, 9 hours from Pittsburgh to Nashville, but they made it in their big Honda Pilot with their spaniel Stargell as copilot.

The best part about road trips with the Cox Family is the music. We do these car trips a lot. The most common route when I was younger, was Pittsburgh to Portland, ME to take the ferry over to Nova Scotia each summer. When I was nine, my Dad had a Ford Taurus station wagon, silver with gray fabric seats. To this day, I can never hear a Traveling Wilbury's album without thinking of that drive through New England sitting in the backseat, thinking about who Tweeter and the Monkey-man really were...and why did they sound so cool?

Another staple to these drives, and really any weekend excursion, was NPR's weekly broadcast of a Prairie Home Companion. Wistful bluegrass songs, beautiful harmonies, perplexing stories of Guy Noir, and tongue and cheek radio drama was always a soundtrack to our Saturday evenings. There was just something so old fashioned and wonderful about sitting around a radio on a weekend night. Listening, laughing, and sometimes even rolling around in tears because it was just so funny.

Now that I am an adult PHC enthusiast, I realize how lucky I was to be exposed to this radio storytelling at such a young age. Thanks Mom and did good. In fact they did so good, that this trip to Nashville also included a live Prairie Home Companion broadcast at the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman is probably the most beautiful venue I have ever been to see music. It is if you will, the Carnegie Hall for folk music. And, perhaps it is because you sit in old wooden church pews but each time I go I feel like I am going to church, a church that praises music.

Needless to say Garrison Keeler and PHC was everything I wanted it to be. A mishmash of old time bluegrass with the new, we got to see a man who calls himself "Cowboy Jack" and then one of my favorite local legends The Dave Rawlings Machine (with Gillian Welsh and Ketch Secor). And, as the little "On Air" sign glowed on the stage left I thought of all the little girls and their families sitting around the kitchen table, or driving back from a friends house in the car, listening and laughing along.

As I watched my parents drive away today, I couldn't help but wonder what music they might listen to on the drive back to the 'burgh. Probably some Gospel, my Mom loves that on a Sunday, maybe some Old Crow Medicine Show to honor the kind of music they spent the weekend with, and maybe a little PHC too if a local NPR station is playing it. Because in the end, as good as it is live... there is just something so good about hearing it on the car radio.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sleeping with the enemy

I slept with a wasp last night. Tucked behind the light fixture on the celling I could see it's wings fold up and expand as it dreamed. It turned in earlier than me, the moment the clock struck 10pm it stopped buzzing around my room to fine a spot to rest.

I didn't realize that wasps slept, dreaming of screen porches, leftover food, and other wasp delicacies. To me they are my worst nightmare...swarming your food, or flying toward your forehead for an attack during a warm spring day. But last night I breathed deeply and told him that he could stay...

as long as he left in the morning.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Butter makes everything better

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."
— Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

A bad day aches. It creeps into your body and follows you with each movement of your big toe, each twist of your wrist, or every blink of the eyes. It is impossible to get away from once it is confirmed and in my case can only be helped by sobbing my eyes out. Even if it is something that would make a normal person scream, I without a doubt, always cry.

Needless to say, today was a bad day. I won't go into detail, mostly because it will just upset me again. But, here is the short of the very long: health insurance totally blows even if you have it, 5th graders do not do well with "open-ended" assignments in art class, coaching middle school tennis when you aren't a good tennis player is a bad idea, and even though spring time is totally lovely in Nashville, TN, a pollen count of 111 makes me sneeze...a lot.

Being the predictable 26 year old that I am I got in my car this afternoon and cried, all the way home. It is easy to feel defeated on days like this. Self deprecating thoughts came to mind and it was very hard to turn off the Lifetime Network on the TV. But then, as if Julia Child was a little angel whispering in my ear, I thought of butter.

I don't think of butter often. I didn't grow up putting butter on my bread, my pancakes, or even my baked potatoes. "Too many calories," my mother would say. "We don't need it on top of everything we eat!" This credo has followed me so much that as an adult I put vegan Earth Balance on my bran muffins rather than butter. For me, butter was taught to be more sacred than a toast topper...

There are couple of staples in my life that I was taught to cook with a very special secret ingredient, not just butter but a lot of it. Scrambled eggs, pancake batter, roasted chicken, and of course pasta (without tomato sauce) concoctions. Butter is the secret to success in these dishes and these dishes are the secret to saving me from my unstoppable tears on days like today.

So, after my dose of the Lifetime network I scavenged my brain and to find a dinner dish of inspiration. The only qualifications were cheap and of course made with butter. Some shallots, zucchini, peas, white wine, and of course parmesan cheese later, I created the perfect buttery pasta spring dish. Exactly what I needed to get rid of my no good very bad day.

"Delicious," I said, when asked how my dinner tasted. "Want to know what is in it?" Butter.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My history of flowers

For those of you that have been to it, you know that my father's garden is spectacular. The word passionate can barely start to describe the way my dad, whose name happens to be Basil (pronounced baa-sil not bay-sil), feels about the various plots of green space that exist around our home in Pittsburgh, PA. Living in a city doesn't give him too much land to work with but man oh man does he do his land well. Think of all the flowers you love...roses, hydrangea, zinnias, bleeding hearts, tulips, lilies. Well, if they grow in Western Pennsylvania, my dad has 'em.

I remember once asking him once why he doesn't grow veggies, like tomatoes, lettuce, or chard. Having left the nest, I have realized that there are few things I love less than growing my own food. His response..."If there was enough space to grow all the flowers I love, I'd do it. But there isn't and honestly, I keep falling in love with more flowers."

Really, who can deny the power of love?

AND...for those of you that have been inside my parents house you also know, that as good as my father is at growing those flowers, my mom is just as good, if not better, at arranging them. We always said that if she ever found her self out of work she could make millions arranging flowers at the florist and wrapping Christmas presents at Macy's. If it was December, I'd be talking about different shades and pattern of ribbon, but today I choose the flowers.

So, on this Easter Sunday...away from my parents incredible talents, the beautiful garden that bursting in all of its spring time glory, and my home that is wafting fresh aromas of gardenias and lilies in every room- I propose a toast. To bring the cut flowers into our bedrooms, just as we bring our tomatoes into our salads. And savor ever sniff...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Prettiest when still brown...

I went back today to trim my 13 and add some handles. This is what I came up with...

A Potter's Dozen

Today I did something big. Something that I haven't done since I was living on Elm Street in Dover, NH during my first year out of college. Today I sat down in front of a wheel, and I threw 13 pots, a potter's dozen if you will.

Now, for some of you this might seem strange that this is an anomaly for me. "Nell, you're a potter", you might say. "This is what you do- throw pots". But the difference with today is that I had no plan. I had no person in my mind that I was creating something for, no sketches in my sketch book, I didn't even weigh out the balls of clay to see if they were all the same size or not. I sat down with a big block of clay in front of me and one by one I just played.

Little ones, big ones, round ones, straight ones. I just kept going, letting the clay do the talking with my hands and giving my brain a long needed rest. Some fell flat, a few were really beautiful...and rest were single opportunities to look at something I have done for so long, and do it a little differently. Needless to say, this hour and a half was bliss.

Why do we forget these things in life that make us so happy? Or better yet, I should say why do I? As I move around and explore, I slowly add onto my pallet of what makes me smile from the inside out. These new things are exciting and therefore always thrusted into the front of the line when I need a fix of instant joy. Since I've moved to Nashville I've picked up some new colors as the leaders of my pallet (forgive the metaphors, I'm obviously feeling very artsy today). Practicing my fiddle tune of the week, going on solo hikes, painting every kind of bird I can think of, and running have been the most prominent. And the entire time, my beautiful and beloved potter's wheel has been sitting in the corner of my dinning room; just like a book of poems that I adore, but can't seem to approach without too much weight from the past.

So today, I conquered it and yet again with a perfectly odd and lucky number. 13 beautiful little pots sit in my studio. Drying and solidifying the life they will live, the coffee they may hold, and the hands that they will warm. I tried to take a picture but my camera battery was dead. No worries though, photos to come. After all, they have made it to the front of the line... on my trek into spring.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It is a GOOD friday

I have to give Nashville credit. She really does spring time right. I mean, there have been plenty of moments over my past 8 months here when I have struggled with my new city. Not because it is a bad place, but just different and seemingly incomparable to my most recent "home" and pacific northwest heart of Portland. There are no mountains, the public transportation is nearly non-existent, biking involves taking your life into your own hands (not that I bike but I really plan on starting soon), and the momentary decision of driving to the coast for the weekend is a seven hour venture.

However, today Nashville won me. Nearly 75 degrees and stunning I feel like a different woman. My mind has exploded with ideas, things I want to paint, create, build, and learn. People are outside everywhere; eating lunches on their front porches, planning garden parties, and buying flowers for every room of their house. Having lived in New England and then Portland I feel like I haven't had a real spring season since I was a high schooler in Pittsburgh. I'm going to take advantage. Thank you Nashville...I promise I won't waste it.

Since it is technically not just a good friday but THE "Good Friday" I feel compelled to share with you a long standing family tradition of mine. Hot. Crossed. Buns. Yes, we all know the song but when is the last time you actually ate one? Every Good Friday growing up, my mom would give my dad and I a freshly baked Hot Cross Bun from the best bakery in all of Pittsburgh- Prantels. I am embarrassed to say that I don't know the exact tradition behind this delicious roll, but I have always believed it is simply good luck to eat one on the Friday before Easter.

SO, every Good Friday that I have been away from home, I have searched bakeries far and low for a Hot Cross Bun to bring me luck. Turns out, most people don't have this tradition. They are not a regular on most families Easter lists in New Hampshire and Portland and therefore are very hard to find. Sometimes I'd make them myself but yeast rolls embedded with soft currents and raisins have never been my forte in the kitchen. But this year, yet again Nashville and the Bread and Company Bakery came through for me. That's two points for Nashville...

This morning I bought 7. Why? I am a firm believer in odd numbers having something to do with luck, I wanted to spread the wealth, and I have a lot of years of eating Hot Cross Buns to catch up on. If I'm not going to see you today you should keep an eye out. What better excuse to find the "best" bakery in your part of the world. Even if they don't have the buns, you'll at least walk away with a damn good cookie.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The beginning

April 1...what better day to begin a blogging adventure! However, I don't want to jinx myself with the obvious April Fools Day connotation. I'd like to think that I'm not "fooling" myself into thinking this is something I can do. I mean really, let's be honest- I am the queen of starting things and not always following through.

Past endeavors have included: swimming, singing, playing the guitar, competitive sailing (granted to continue this one must need a boat), speaking Spanish, planting a vegetable garden, silent meditation...needless to say the list goes on.

Current endeavors(not yet given up on) include: playing the fiddle, yoga, running, painting, teaching, reading (one book a month), and now blogging! Let's review this list again in 6 months and see where I am. If any of you know me well, I bet you know how this will turn out.

But seriously...this little platform of talking to no one (yet everyone) could work out quite well.

I'd love to take credit for the name of this venture but I have to give it all to my dearest friend B. She found this after talking with me about how I wanted to talk about they change, evolve, show expression, show movement in one's life. Leave is to Shakespeare to put it in words so perfectly;


A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

SO Happy Birthday Blog! Eat as much cake as you like.