Wednesday, 18 March 2015 | 44 comments

Nigella sativa

You’re lying on your back on the hard floor of an empty house. The ancient furnace in the basement rumbles to life. It’s an unfamiliar noise, and the sound reverberating off the walls is disconcerting. Kind of like the basement is about to explode. Before you know it, it’ll be comforting, Ben told you. Right.

Yesterday, you signed papers to make the house yours. Yours, second person plural. Well, yours in trust of the bank. Yours, asterisked with a very large debt that is meant to be paid off over a span of time longer than the years you have actually lived on the green earth.

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Monday, 15 December 2014 | 10 comments

Java + Bali

After a few weeks of work in Indonesia last month, I was lucky enough to have Ben join me. (Ever tried getting someone who grows perennials for a living to come on vacation? It takes some prodding.)

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Saturday, 8 November 2014 | 44 comments

Bonfire night

“Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death.”
—Thomas Hardy

It’s difficult to explain about the bonfires. It started five years ago, right about the time I returned from living in Tanzania, just a few months before I created this site. Most people know about Guy Fawkes Day from the movie V for Vendetta. If this is your only acquaintance with the day, you probably picture eerie masks and explosions.

If you don’t know anything about Guy Fawkes Day, here’s your primer: on November 5th, 1605, a group of Catholic extremists in England tried to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I. They were thwarted, and a man named Guy Fawkes was arrested. People lit a bunch of bonfires to celebrate and hated on Catholics. Like everything in England from Henry VIII on, it was about Catholics versus Protestants. Bonfire Night (a.k.a. “Gunpowder Treason Night”) caught on.

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Sunday, 21 September 2014 | 12 comments

Postcard from Tabora

Hello. I’m posting this from the first place I’ve had web access in a week. A lot of people write to me asking me to post more photos of my work. I hold off because I don’t really want to be a poverty monger; nor do I wish to be latest in your social media stream of white girls holding African kids. Moreover: work is work, and at least half of my time is spent sitting at a desk, and I worry it will be boring.

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Monday, 8 September 2014 | 23 comments

Chickpea & barley salad with toasted spice vinaigrette. Also, the Internet.

In the wide world of the Internet, it’s easy to get cynical about how rapidly and easily ideas are repackaged, reposted, and reshared, ad infinitum. You could say this about serious subjects, like news coverage, or about less serious subjects, like celebrity gossip. You could also say it about food-related content. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of what I call the “wedding salad” (because nearly every catered salad you’re served at a wedding is a variation on this). It consists of spinach/arugula, goat cheese/feta, dried cherries/cranberries, nuts (sometimes candied), and a vinaigrette. The wedding salad is omnipresent, and for good reason: it is delicious and time-tested. It’s hard to mess up. But the public does not need four million recipes for this salad. Moreover, I worry that all the recipes detailing minor variations on this wedding salad esotericize* something that should be simple. In other words, maybe the recipe should really be: Here is how you make a salad. A nice template for a salad is a tender green + a soft cheese + something sweet + something crunchy + something acidic.

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