On the loss of Anthony Bourdain


Twice this week, the New York Times app notification on my phone popped up to tell me terrible, sad news that I truly hate to hear.  First, that the world lost Kate Spade to suicide Tuesday morning, and today, the anguishing thing I heard very first things this morning is that suicide has claimed Anthony Bourdain too.

Out of the grungy, baggy flanneled, maroon colored 1990s, Kate Spade made pops of bright color, pert design, polka dots and classic styles legitimate choices again, but in a fresh new way.  Thank you, Kate for making it okay to be preppy again, and for designing my current tea kettle. Though I don’t know much about her personally, I am extremely sad to imagine her 13 year old daughter enduring this crushing, unspeakable loss.  It just astounds me to try to grasp this horror that is major depression, that it can drown out all of the “whys” that drive us forward through the sunniest days and darkest pits of despair.

The news of Anthony Bourdain death has wrecked me today.  He let us into mind to the point that while I’m perfectly aware that he’s a stranger, he feels like a friend–A very cool, feisty, funny, eloquent, sassy, smart-talking, take-no-shit, adventurous, real, brutally honest and frighteningly fun friend.  I can say with assuredness, that his singular approach to showing us the world, the whole world and its multitudes of cultures, experiences and flavors has shaped my adult life.  By coming into my home and showing me what it is to truly experience another culture with openness, without fear and judgment and pretension, I became compelled to put travel at the forefront of how I will spend my money and precious time on earth to the extent possible.  After watching the Granada episode of Parts Unknown, I said to Bjorn “we should go to Granada” and we proceeded to re-watch the show, take notes, and then follow his every footstep through that haunting, magical, majestic and delicious city.   Granada, Spain, remains one of the best trips of our lives.

As a person who loves writing, and aspires to write, and who deeply enjoys food and sharing it with others, Bourdain’s writing especially grabbed me.  I often think about how Anthony Bourdain ground out his first books in the early morning, before going to work a long and brutal day as a chef working in the trenches.   Anthony Bourdain’s ability to have an experience, to connect meaning to it, and to turn around and convey to us with such clarity and stark, surprising eloquence—that is to be a good storyteller, to be sure.

To be a person informed by his own gritty experiences, to be so down to earth that you can dine with paupers and presidents, and to pull no punches in showing us to leave presumption at the door, sit on the floor and truly to be with people–Those are doors that Anthony Bourdain opened in this world for so many of us.  The encouragement to accept the invitation to both the finest restaurant tables, and the humblest of homes and food stalls, in both far away places, and our own American back yard have given so many people the courage to say yes, and to seek and enjoy experiences, textures and flavors many would not have known existed.  Anthony Bourdain taught us that lesson, over and over by example, and by blunt admonishment.  I am so glad he did.

I did ask Anthony Bourdain a question once, from the audience during the question and answer period at one of his speaking engagements in Minneapolis.  It was something to do with the band Jon Spencer Blues Explosion being the music in the opening credits of No Reservations.  I thought it was a brilliant connection to make with him, since he’s also expressed a particular fondness for certain music, and Blues Explosion is one we have in common.   Maybe the question fell flat, or maybe I caught him off guard by bringing up music in a room full of foodies, but I remember not being entirely thrilled with his unsubstantial response.  You’ve been more than forgiven for that one, Tony.

I am terribly sad that the pain or darkness behind the scenes became insurmountable for you, Anthony Bourdain.  I don’t know what you were going through, and I don’t know how we could have saved you, but I know there are literally millions of people’s lives whom you’ve touched who wish like heck they could have tried.  It is terrible to me to know that you aren’t out there exploring, that there will be no more words from this gifted man.  I cannot imagine how your daughter, girlfriend and her children, and all of your other friends and loved ones are feeling today.  It has to be so dreadful.  My heart goes out to those who grieve today.

I know when you are in a deep, dark place, and there seems no way out, asking for help might be impossible.  This is a scary, hopeless place to be.  For us to beat the suicide epidemic, we have to face it together, and talk about it.  We need to reach out to people in the depths of despair.  For my friends and strangers who struggle with depression and other issues, please just stick out your hand.  There are people who will talk, listen be there in it with you.  There are people all around who want to walk with you through despair, profound sadness, anger and misery and to see you emerge on the other side.  You may not be able to see it when the darkness holds you, but there is a reason to go on.  You matter so so much.  Just hang on.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Element Pizza in Northeast Minneapolis — A Solid Neapolitan Pizza

If I were running for local office, I would promise a chicken in every pot and a wood-fired Neapolitan Pizza shop in every ‘hood.  It would be an easy promise to keep, because we’ve got ’em:  Punch Neapolitan PizzaPizzeria Lola, Pizza Nea, Element, Black Sheep Pizza* all come to mind–all well-known, well-loved and everyone has their favorite.  Also, almost everyone has a Neapolitan pizza shop a stone’s throw from their house, if they happen to live in the metro.Element Pizza on ourwaytoeat.comWe were in Northeast Minne and hungry last Sunday, so we stopped by Element for lunch.  Over time, I’ve managed to make the rounds to many of the establishments in the Twin Cities Neapolitan pizza scene.  Element is a tiny, triangular-shaped space filled with glossy and grainy woodwork, limited seating and sparse decor.  We headed straight to the to counter place our order and spied the wood-fire pizza oven right in the front of the kitchen which is overseen by just a few cheerful employees.  The menu on the wall lists 15 pizzas named for the 5 elements and other local references, a special and a long list of toppings for creating your own combination of toppings.  Each pizza begins as either Napoli, seasoned with oregano; Margarita, seasoned with basil, or Bianco, topped with olive oil, mozzarella and no sauce.  Having fallen for Neapolitan Pizzas at Punch, seeing Napoli and Margarita serve as the base of a thin-crust pizza topped with artisan ingredients, I am in familiar territory and I expect to taste a Neapolitan pizza I have come to know and love.  The Nordeast at Element PizzaWe ordered a small Aegean salad to share, which was a generous portion of lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, olives with a house made vinaigrette served with several slices of tasty rosemary flatbread.  Bjorn ordered a Nordeast topped with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and oregano.  For a meat-eater, this combination of ingredients would be hard to pass up.  Napoli with Mushroom and Olive at Element PizzaI ordered a Napoli topped my way, with mushrooms and olives.  As much as I know that trusting the Pizzaioli’s carefully curated pie toppings is the hip thing to do, I am a control freak and I like being able to select pizza toppings myself.  I enjoyed the amply topped, chewy and slightly sweet, fire-kissed crust and found it filling enough to allow me to take home a few slices.  The crust was more substantial than the very-thin, Punch crust that almost melts under its sweet, light yet earthy San Marzano sauce.  In all, there were several similarities between Element and Punch’s approach to Neapolitan pizza–the Napoli and Margarita base, similar side offerings, such as the Aegean salad, which is nearly identical to the Greco at Punch, and is also served with Rosemary flatbread.  I haven’t been to Naples, but I expect we’d find their influences there.  Element veered away from the extremely minimalist approach to topping pizzas characteristic of all of the other pizzerias I’ve ranked in their cohort.  While interesting topping combinations were available, Element avoided the extreme in topping one-of-a-kind juxtapositions achieved by Lola and Black Sheep.  This straightforward unfussiness is probably why I liked it.  Element, like Punch is a solid provisor of Neapolitan Pizza standards, with the option of flexible and ample and predictable toppings to satisfy the desires of my thrifty, picky Midwestern heart.

*At Black Sheep, pies are coal-fired which hearkens back to coal-fired pizzas in New York.  In other words, this shop doesn’t qualify as Neapolitan, but their pizzas have a crispy-crust, minimally-topped with an assembly of curated toppings so I’m ranking them among the Neapolitan shops despite their intentional departures.

Cucumber Days

Take two, I had a few issues with my first post made from my Ipad, so I’ll try that again… 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3 years into gardening, this is the first year we’ve had any success with cucumbers. This year, we are enjoying them regularly in salads, on tacos and most commonly sliced thin, perhaps peeled, and tossed into a bowl with cracked pepper, sliced purple or white onions, snipped fresh herbs, such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, or dill all soaked in white vinegar and a splash of water. This is a taste from childhood that I learned to love at my Grandma’s house, fresh from her garden. We are harvesting spicy Serrano and hot, citrusy Lemon Drop peppers every day.  I have been chopping these and tossing them into the vinegar-water mixture. It mellows their bite enough to make them a perfect, punchy but palatable addition to the mix.  I consider this sliced cucumber, onion, hot pepper and herb mixture a perfect summer side dish, snack, condiment and salad.

There are two schools of thought on the ubiquitous sliced cucumber side dish, one vinegary, like mine, and the other, a creamy version made with sour cream. Check out this recipe for the creamy version of sliced cukes on Deucecities Henhouse, a favorite Twin Cities based blog haunt of mine.

Watching the cukes grow has been almost as much fun as eating them. Ours are growing in all sorts of unconventional shapes. I spend time every week tying tomato plants to chicken wire and winding twine around bamboo poles to support green beans, peppers and peas. Cucumber vines take the initiative of sending out tendrils that stretch out until they find other plants and structures nearby, then curling the tendrils tightly around so they hang tight. Cucumbers are fully capable of supporting themselves.

Mother’s Day Breakfast

Lest my readers think that I’ve quit cooking, I am taking a break from my series on our recent restaurant experiences to share a peek at our breakfast this morning.

I am one of the lucky kids who got to be with my Mom in person this weekend and because I really am one of the lucky ones, my Dad and Bjorn were there too.  My parents and I have always been a tight-knit little trio, and I’m thankful every day that Bjorn has made us into a fabulous foursome.  We get along well.  My parents drove us around town yesterday helping us finish some last-minute shopping for a big trip we depart on this Wednesday.  We enjoyed some nice meals out, good talks, some time in the yard and somehow when they left, the house was a little neater and better decorated.  I have a wonderful Mom!  Thank you!  

This is a day that we make a point of showing the precious women in our lives– our mothers, grandmothers, friends, cousins, aunts, mothers-in law and grandmas-in law — how much we love and treasure them.  I dedicate this post to all of the kids celebrating their Moms today, and to all of the Moms who I hope are feeling loved and getting treated to something special.  For my Mom, the woman who lives an inspired life and spends her time making it beautiful and going to the end of the earth for the people she loves — thank you for showing me how I want to live.  Thank you to all of the Mom’s in my life for being the true examples of love, courage, generosity, inventiveness, selflessness and of course, awesomeness!  I know some amazing Moms, and I have one!  You are all a blessing!  

Being a good daughter is easy with my parents.  Sometimes when they visit, Bjorn and I prepare a fairly elaborate repast so that they get in on our cooking adventures.  In contrast, one of the highlights of this weekend was recovering from the shopping expedition (shopping is not my forte) with beer and Cheetos and chips and salsa on the patio.  Not only do we get along, but my parents like to do pretty much the same thing we do on a Saturday afternoon.  They are easy-going which makes them good parents and good guests.

Even with a pre-trip fridge-purge going on I still managed to make breakfast.  It is Mother’s day, after all.  When I got up, I ran out to the yard and snipped some things that went to seed last year and grew up on their own:  dill, chives, lettuce and a radish.  I won’t get the veggie garden planted until after we’re back from our trip, but that hasn’t stopped it from shaping our recent meals of its own doing.  

I rinsed the garden produce and let it dry and decided to make a salad.  For the salad,  I rinsed and drained a can of chickpeas, sliced a cup of grape tomatoes, a ball of fresh mozzarella and a few bunches of baby spinach from the farmer’s market that I had washed and dried and torn into bite-sized pieces.  I tossed the veggies, cheese and chickpeas in a quick vinaigrette made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped chives and dill, a shake of Mrs. Dash, and some fresh ground black pepper.  

I made some cinnamon-raisin toast and poached eggs.  I also made bacon in the oven, which is the best food preparation idea since sliced bread.  You simply place bacon on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and place it in a cold oven.  Turn the temperature to 400 degrees farenheit and check the bacon after 12 minutes.  Between 12 and 20 minutes the bacon will be done to crispy perfection, or at least that’s what the omnivores reported.  

This afternoon I headed out to the back yard to hang out with the bright red cardinals to let the growing things be my muse.  

We aren’t sure what we are doing to attract these noble red beauties to our yard, but we love their company and their song, and we hope that we won’t scare them away.

One of the things I picked up for our trip when I was shopping this weekend was a watercolour sketchbook and a small handful of watercolour pencils.  I haven’t done anything more than doodle in a margin for ages, so hopefully I can shed some rust and relearn a few tricks from high school art classes.

Our Iris are doing well.  My iris is truly an heirloom.  The Iris were first planted in the yard in the house where my Grammie was born, they moved several times with my Dad’s family in the 1960’s and ’70’s before being planted in the back yard of the house I grew up in.  They bloomed there for about 18 years and then they moved south to my parents home on the lake in 1995.  Last summer I transplanted 20 or 30 bulbs to our back yard.  

You won’t be hearing from me much or at all for a few weeks, but when we’re back, we’ll have seen some new horizons and have stories and inspiration to share.  In the meantime, above is a sketch and an observations of our Iris.  You never know, I might manage one more post before we leave…

Here is a little peek at how things come together around here.  We live, I snap a few pictures and sometimes sketch one in watercolour and then put it all on the laptop with my words and thoughts and hit “publish”!  It is a fun and happy life.