In an Evergreen State

Photo montage: Evergreen 1Visiting the region of my birthplace is a grace and a privilege in many ways. This past July’s visit was typically so; being around the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington, whose nickname is The Evergreen State (and despite the unusually dry year, still an entirely fitting name in more ways that one) renews and refreshes my spirits. Its seemingly limitless variety of tones, shades, and hues of green never fails to bring about a sort of awakening response in my heart, a deeper sense of belonging and of potentiality, something almost inevitable and just-about-to-happen, that makes me quietly giddy. Being enveloped in the green liveliness that is a northwest forest, ankle-deep in slopes of bursting greenery spangled with wildflowers, and looking over the green-tinged waterfalls and shallows of the mountain and coastal waters there are an elixir, a potion that surpasses the most wild and sprightly of sparkling wines and tinged with a faint zing of adrenaline.Photo montage: Evergreen 2

So when I go Home I am remade into a newer, shinier version of myself. This happens in other, similarly intensely green places, as I’ve learned, other places where by virtue of this quixotic and quintessentially pure life’s-blood of mine I find myself at home in the verdant glories: Scandinavia, the British Isles. While the turf from which I sprang will always be beloved in a unique way, home remains portable as well, so long as I’m immersed in the loves of person and place that shape and color its vital character.Photo montage: Evergreen 3

All the same, every one of these photos is from this summer’s visit to Washington. The Evergreen State that always puts me in an evergreen state of my own.Photo montage: Evergreen 4

Fast Times at Edgemont Jr. High

My post yesterday was just a little introduction to the automotive fantasyland of the past weekend’s car show here in town. Though I wasn’t, and am not, car-crazy, I have always had my own bit of admiration for the beauties of slick automotive design when I see it. I do love design, period. Cars are a clear, clean, highly visible example of the good, bad, and ugly in design. They take practical and ergonomic problems and solve them with both structural/mechanical and visual design choices, and the results present a tremendously varied array of marvels for every taste. Or none, in some cases, if you ask me.Photo montage: Car Show

The little ol’ suburbs where I grew up were not flashy, nor was I. So it’s just as well I had no particular need for speed or passion for fashion, when it came to cars. From when I was old enough to take Driver’s Ed, I was more obsessive about wishing I could avoid the class and the test and what to me were the stresses, rather than pleasures, of driving than about any urge to own and drive snazzy cars. At the same time, from my early teens I can recall having a growing appreciation for what made particular cars special. My first skills at determining the probable vintage of cars came from being able to internally populate and visualize them in use by their original owners, who would in my mental movie be dressed in period styles and occupied with period activities, and so they became entwined with the whole of characteristic designs of each era with which they were so associated. I never saw any of the movies American Graffiti, The Transporter, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High until well after their release dates, but I could see the sorts of cars that were on the screen in any of them and guess a fairly close year of the stories in each case, real or imagined.

No matter, that. What really intrigues me about vehicles, as with so many objects that capture my interest, is the stories that they themselves seem to contain. It’s the cachet of the combined looks and capabilities of the automotive machinery, yes, but far more, it’s the history of every scratch, dent, smudge, crack, and well-worn tire (or perhaps back seat upholstery) that makes me look, and think, twice.

I’ll leave you with a few more images to ponder, and just let you drive them around for a while and see where they take you.Photo montage: Denton Car Show 2015

Foodie Tuesday: Trifling with Truffles

I may have once or twice in years past read and followed an actual recipe for making the little dessert dainties known as truffles. Knowing my propensity for changing recipes even before giving the originals a test run, I doubt it. But since there are some basic qualities and characteristics to these wondrous tidbits that can be imitated and incorporated into any number of experimental forms, I’ve seldom been disappointed with the pretenders I managed to create in my laboratory of a kitchen.

Lately, I’ve had an urge to have some small munch-able snacks that wouldn’t be terribly non-compliant with my new-and-improved-since-summer-overkill style of dining. So it was a logical occasion to put together a few healthier nuts, dried fruits, fats, and flavorings to create some truffle-esque combinations to enjoy. In moderation. Of course.

Hahahahahaha! I almost fooled myself with that part. But I’m trying to improved on that front as well as the content-specific one, since this past summer taught me well and truly that I don’t like how I feel when I eat absolutely everything I feel like eating, whenever I feel like eating it. And, in reducing my intake while greatly improving the quality of it nutritionally speaking, I am discovering that it’s genuinely worth the trouble. So these little trifles I’m calling truffles, however loosely I use the term, are aimed at being one or two at a time snacks to add sweetness or crunch or simply to vary what is the main part of my diet, rather than to substitute for or double [triple, quadruple] the caloric content thereof.

I even made a variety of them to allow myself a change of tastes when I want it. But I was, I hope, wiser than in the past, putting most of them in the freezer so that I will be careful in doling them out rather than, say, looking at them as something to clear off of the counter or out of the fridge quickly. Merely for neatness’ sake, naturally. They are candies, after all, no matter what I want to tell myself about the goodness and healthful characteristics of their ingredients! See, I can learn.

They’re all made simply by buzzing their ingredients together in my food processor until they reach a texture that suits me, then refrigerated in flattened slabs, cut into pieces, and, if I like, coated with something to keep them from sticking together too much while being served. The Nutella-flavored ones I left uncoated.Photo: Apple-Almond Truffles

1: Apples & Almonds
2 cups/1 pt whole-apple cider with 6T plain gelatin bloomed in it                                       4 scoops of vanilla [vegan] protein powder
1 lb raw almonds
1 tsp salt
1 T vanilla
1 tsp almond essence
1/2 cup coconut oil

Coating: 1 T granulated xylitol (sugar alcohol) + 1 T cinnamon + 1/2 tsp salt, ground together in a mortar until roughly blended.Photo: Nutellicious Truffles

2: Nutellicious
1 cup coconut oil
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
1 cup candied ginger slices
2 cups hazelnuts (raw, skin-on)
3/4 cup dates (whole)
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup dark cocoa (Hershey’s Special Dark)
1/2 cup unrefined coconut sugarPhoto: Walnut-Mandarin Truffles

3: Imperial Black Walnut-Mandarin
1/2 cup black walnuts
3 cups walnuts
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1 mandarins (whole, fresh, with peel—remove any seeds!)
1/2 tsp pure black walnut essence
1 tsp pure maple essence

Coating: 1 T xylitol (see above) + 1 T freeze-dried diced orange peel + 1/2 tsp salt, whizzed together in my spice grinder to a powder.

The Return of the Hometown Girl

Photomontage: Seattle Area IconsThis past summer’s middle expedition of the three trips took us Home. A visit to Seattle and environs to reconnect with family, since two of my three sisters, my parents, and my spouse’s parents all live within about 40 minutes’ drive of each other in the same lovely neck of the woods where both he and I spent most of our growing-up years. His one brother and my third sister were both coming out to the Pacific Northwest with their respective spouses this summer as well, so while we hardly felt we got to more than say Hello and Goodbye to everyone in the short stretch of two weeks, it was a rare thing to get to even see them all in the same year, let alone in the same part of the world. A gift, on a grand scale, that, and one we knew we must relish to the full.

A side-benefit of this little jaunt was returning to our roots. My husband had lived other places than the Seattle area for slightly more time than I had by the time we moved to our present north Texas digs, but that region was, remains, and ever shall be our rooted home in many ways. So it was a pleasurable plus for us that our family out there took to the idea of playing Tourist in our own familiar places so nicely. It’s struck me more than once that it’s a bit of a pity that so few of us take advantage of the most famous and characteristic places and activities, sights and signs of the places where we spend the majority of our time, at least unless we have visitors who request such things. So my sisters, his brother, and our parents all indulged this homesick wish on our part to revisit those things that had colored our youth and shaped our loves over so many years.
Photomontage: Hometown Girl

We took a boat tour with my parents and siblings that I’m sure had more out-of-state visitors than locals on it, just to see Seattle and its environs from the Puget Sound side and to cruise leisurely through the Ballard Locks, where the salmon were due, imminently, to make their own annual sojourn up the ladder to their ‘roots,’ to spawn and renew. We wandered the Alki neighborhood and beach, where my grandparents’ apartment was in years long gone a wonderful place to visit not only them but the sun, the sand, and the “ice cream cone lady,” a miniature of the Statue of Liberty that still stands on the beach right across the street from where they lived then. We ate fresh local fish and chips and/or Dungeness crab at every turn. We went up to the trails at Paradise on Mt. Rainier for a sunny afternoon with Mom and Dad Sparks. My sisters and brothers-in-law and I went on the Seattle Underground Tour, a trip through the history of Seattle’s original incarnation before the whole town was demolished by fire in the nineteenth century and rebuilt on top of its own ashes, phoenix-like.

Most of all, we breathed in that familiar blend of resinous tree exhalations, saltwater spray, rich volcanic soil, wildly prolific blooms, and strangely electric, ozonated quiet that makes my heart skip like a young kid in tall grass. And we did so in the company of those we have loved the longest, those who love us for no apparent reason other than that we are family. Home and family are what we make of them, yes; they’re also the things that make us who we are, when we remember to let them. It’s good to revisit that, once in a while.Photo: Space Needle in Sun

Shore Enough

I did say, a number of posts ago, that I’d share some more shots here from my summer gallivants, eventually. How ’bout now? The unchanging sunny heat in the tag-end doldrums of summer break in north Texas are almost inevitably a time when my heart turns toward the shoreline beauties of any coastal places I’ve lived or visited. It’s no different now, unless you count that I’ve been gradually going through and editing more of the vast collection of photos I took on our various trips, including many shots of said seaside spots. So, without further ado, some views of this summer’s watery shiny-object admiration.Photomontage: From the Coasts

I’m an Excellent Driver

Yeah, No. I’m no more an excellent driver than I am a fabulous navigator (said Miss-lexia!), let alone than the character in the movie Rain Man who made the claim.

But for the moment, my spouse is stuck with me as his chauffeur. It’s a rather novel experience for us both, having me do all the driving, as in addition to my complete lack of any sense of direction, I am not especially fond of driving, and am generally delighted to be spoiled by his driving our one car 99% of the time. He rather likes driving, and is more skillful at it than I—and more tolerant of my passenger-seat critiques than I am of his—so our usual arrangement of him driving me everywhere generally works just fine.

But he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week and until the swelling is completely healed and his knee more flexible again, it’s my turn to do him the favor for a bit. He’s certainly earned the privilege of being shuttled around awhile. And it has occurred to me that as the perpetual passenger I get to enjoy much of the local scenery and sights in ways that he rarely has the chance to see, when he’s constantly focused on getting us safely from Point A to Point B. It made me glad there was a pretty sunset this evening while we were coming home from points south around dusk.

And I did get us here safely, so I suppose excellence in driving is something of a relative thing, after all.Photo: On the Road

Foodie Tuesday: Fine Cafeteria Dining

Photo: Don't Get All Fancy on Me

Doesn’t get simpler than that. Dill pickles and olives, sweet tomatoes, apples, and roasted almond butter to spread on the apples or just eat by the spoonful. Voila! Lunch.

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it: Fine Cafeteria Dining. Most of us, at least, associate the word Cafeteria, like Buffet, with awful school-served food and cheap dives that serve a facsimile of prison or, only marginally better, high school or farm animal, slop, perhaps with just a dollop more of stale grease and a whole mess o’ chaos added. Of course, we’ve all seen (I hope) exemplars that defy such mean images; my favorite in recent times was the cafeteria or buffet at the fabulous indoor/outdoor art museum Artipelag just outside Stockholm. If you can get there, go.

Even if you think you hate art and are bored by it, go. If you have any affinity with nature, the grounds are spectacular and wind with marvelous boardwalks and trails, and the main building is topped by a superb roof garden where much of the produce used ‘downstairs’ is grown. If you enjoy clever and serene modern architecture, the building that houses the cafeteria, a slightly more upscale cafe, and the art galleries is a delight, bathed in natural light, full of large glass walls that frame views as magnificent as any artwork, and clean-lined yet full of attention to detail, to the degree that the public restrooms are worth a visit on their own merit, feeling like magical caves and so peaceful you’ll want to install a bunk and just stay there. If you are attracted to art and design and craft, you’ll find both objects in the permanent collection and the changing exhibitions rich and highly characteristic of the wealth of brilliant visual influences Sweden, Scandinavia, and other centers of great art and design and craft (whose treasures are highlighted here) have had on world culture.

If you think you dislike all of that but are hungry, go anyhow. The cafeteria is stellar. Every dish, condiment, and drink is—unlike typical cafeteria or buffet food, beautifully made and dazzlingly fresh. It’s not fussy, but it’s full of the best sorts of traditional and contemporary flavors and textures and ingredients that rightly make Sweden and its chefs such stars of this era’s culinary scene. I hardly dared to look up Artipelag to put the link above for you, for fear of how homesick it makes me for Stockholm and how fearsomely hungry I get!

And it’s a reminder, in a more cheering sense, that I neither have to labor terribly hard nor be massively more skillful and clever in the kitchen than I am (not that either would be a bad thing) to produce something that can please hungry people, and each in his or her preferred way. All I have to do, really, is adopt and adapt the best parts of cafeteria food. I’ve talked about this before, but having more time and inclination to cook and prep meals at home in the last couple of weeks has brought this to the fore yet again. My simple cues: choose or make many small and simple things that go together reasonably well, and let the diners choose what parts they prefer and how they like to combine them or separate them. Cafeterias, for all of their myriad sins, may have gotten one thing more right than many high-end chefs and restaurants often do, in recognizing that divided food dishes can help lead to better portion control but, by coincidence, they also give succor to the huge number of people who like to keep the parts of their meals separate. I know it sounds a little infantile to people who enjoy the intermingling of foods with affinities or who think only kids have this preference, but I’d bet you a large chunk of change that there are far more “grownups” who like food better this way, too, than will necessarily admit to it in public.

Using a divided plate or a series of small dishes can serve several purposes beyond this purist drive, anyhow. If you want to be able to experience each item or preparation alone, to savor its unique merits, how better than to keep it isolated from wandering sauces or bits of other foods? If you like to mix things together to your own proportional likes, why not? If you like to keep crispy food crispy and let the slurpy food melt away, nothing makes it easier than physical separation.

Photo: Same Parts, Different Arrangement

Want a little more? Add some sugar snap peas, cantaloupe sprinkled with cardamom, and boiled eggs. Ready, set, dinner.

There are reasons we find tasting menus, tapas dinners, hors-d’oeuvres parties, and yes, even buffets appealing when they’re well done. The joy of discovering each small taste individually before deciding whether to let them join company anywhere besides in our innards is a privilege that is worth cultivating often. It lets everyone in the room play chef a bit. And it pretty much guarantees that no one will leave hungry. And isn’t that the point?

Industrial Strength

Most people, when they travel, keep their eyes open for famous sites and sights, or at least, spend their attentions on pretty and unusual things. Me, I love that stuff too, but I’m also intrigued by how other people in other places treat the things that are ordinary, plain, familiar, commonplace. Industrial zones are a great place to see such commonalities in abundance. Since I’m intrigued, as well, by decay and rusticity and quirky, strange shapes and conglomerations, the regions of manufacture and shipping and blue-collar labor are also a great treasure trove of images, both visual and imagined.

Herewith, a few of the photos I shot this summer while wandering in that particular mode.

Photo: Industrial Strength 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Foodie Tuesday: My Choice of Chowders

Photo: Clam Chowder 1

Lots of flour thickener = a chowder too glutinous for my taste. Good for installing wallpaper, but not light enough to show off the glam of its clams.

This summer’s travels in the American northeast offered perfect opportunities for me to revisit a dish that is a longtime favorite, be reminded of how much flexibility lies within its simple framework, and how much beauty comes from keeping it relatively uncomplicated in the first place.

Photo: Chowdah 2

Better broth still doesn’t win the day if the clams are hiding under so much greenery I think I’m being served a bowl of lawn trimmings. Herbs are great, but too *many* fresh herbs can still overpower those dainty little fellas.

Not that I have anything at all against varying and playing with food. If it’s a great item, why, it’ll withstand any number of fiddling fools in the kitchen. Sometimes one even invents yet another reason to love the dish. There’s room at the table for as many delicious versions of goodness as there are diners.

For my own taste, I’ve had great Manhattan-style (red broth based) chowders and many fantastic variants of clam, fish, and mixed seafood stews and soups and chowders, a top favorite among them my brother-in-law’s salmon-rich bouillabaisse. Lacking immediate access to that, though, I may be fondest of all of a bisque or a light, creamy New England-style chowder. There are few things I like less than dense, floury heaviness in chowder, but that can easily be avoided by thickening the soup with little or no wheat flour and not using one of the other popular approaches (also wheat-based), that of thickening the chowder with saltines or oyster crackers. I see no reason to include any in it, because another traditional ingredient I do love, potato, adds enough starch itself to keep the chowder from being too thin. If I want mine thicker, I wouldn’t hesitate to mash a bit of the cooked potato into the broth, or simply add a tiny amount of potato flour.

But there is a standard set of ingredients that make bisques and New England style clam chowder the beloved icons that they are, and these give them more clear identity than any technique tends to do. Seafood, obviously, is central, and should be tender and fresh and sweet. Many who make chowder boost the ocean-fresh flavor by adding bottled clam juice, and while I think it tasty, I don’t think it absolutely necessary. If I don’t have any of that, I’m happy to boost the broth with whatever reasonably subtle umami-buzzing jolt I might have handy.

You already know I am far from a purist about practically anything food-related. And while I try to be rigorously appropriate about avoiding the offending blends or ingredients when feeding friends with kosher, vegan, halal, allergic, or other dietary concerns, if none of these are present I am not averse to mixing seafood or dairy ingredients with meats, and so on. First choice for seafood chowder liquid? Uh, is there any question? Seafood broth. If I happen to have seafood parts handy, the shells, skins, and/or bones of assorted fish and shellfish make a marvelous addition and the perfect flavoring agent for the broth.

Lacking that but wanting the flavor to be a bit more complex, I’d still look around my kitchen for inspiration. So if I have it and want to use it, I wouldn’t be afraid to enhance clam chowder’s broth flavor by adding some of my homemade chicken broth to it. Meatless vegetable broth, especially roasted veg broth, might be better, though, mightn’t it. I’ve found that roasting meat bones for my non-vegetarian broth is generally an unnecessary step, since the ingredients tend to rise and caramelize over the long, slow cooking time, so they get browned enough to intensify the flavor if I just give a good stir to redistribute the less-cooked ingredients every once in a while. But vegetables, requiring less simmering time than meaty ingredients, don’t necessarily get quite as well browned this way, so it can be better to go ahead and roast or sauté them.

Imagine the depth of flavor possible when you use the liquid made from simmering a pot full of fragrant, chopped and slow-roasted celery, onions, and carrots, perhaps some shallots or garlic cloves; possibly even sweet corn, red capsicums, and/or mushrooms, along with bay leaves, thyme, perhaps a little dill, and a toss of black peppercorns, then straining it. I prefer to roast veg with a bit of good fat, too, of course, being who I am. If I want to keep the soup meat-free, I’d keep it very mild in flavor, choosing something like avocado or palm oil for the fat. But if I want the intensity of it, this is the one spot where I’d likely cast my vote with those who find bacon an acceptable or even desirable addition to clam chowder.

See, I don’t like the texture of bacon itself when it’s been cooked into wet foods. Might as well be raisins. The latter are, to me, too often bloated and slimy when cooked or even baked. I know, I’m a jerk, hating on poor, defenseless raisins. The flabby and listless look and bite (or lack thereof) of bacon cooked and left in wet food like a chowder doesn’t thrill me, either. But that flavor can be a great complement to chowder, if you’re a bacon fan. So roasting vegetables for veg broth is a perfect way to take advantage of the flavor without the texture, simply by giving the veggies a goodly slick of bacon grease before their roasting. If the broth is being used strictly for seafood chowder, you could even add bottled clam broth to the vegetables right along with the water for the later slow simmer into soup base.

All of this is a kind of long way of saying that what I really crave, when I’m in the mood for chowder, is seafood in a creamy soup base. Not much else. So: broth. Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, celery, and carrots that have been diced fairly small (about 1/2 inch pieces) and oven roasted or sautéed until crisp-tenderly caramelized in butter, then thrown into the strained broth to bubble into toothsome tenderness throughout. Seafood added, just long enough to cook through (or if precooked, to warm through). Cream or half-and-half added and warmed. For those who don’t mind alcohol, a tot of sherry or brandy is fabulous added now, at the last, or even served at table as a condiment, along with the mill for grinding out fresh black pepper.

Saltines and oyster crackers bore me a little and just get in the way of good chowder. If I want an accompaniment, I’d rather have a nice crispy Parmesan tuile or two, or some straight-from-the fryer homemade potato chips alongside. And a big spoon, so I can sit and inhale tantalizing steam while I wait just until the chowder’s cooled enough to eat.

Enough dream-state ‘cookery’. I’ll end this episode of food fantasizing with the magnificent real-life seafood chowder we ate over the weekend with our superb hosts on a beautiful coastal sightseeing drive from Halifax to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, and back. Our friend Catherine cooked up a truly gorgeous chowder full of Canadian Atlantic-style goodness—homemade lobster-shell-based broth with white wine and cream and full of perfectly cooked russet potato cubes, tender scallops, chunks of haddock, meat from that freshly prepared lobster, and thyme. Little else. Exquisite. Served with some more (locally produced) white wine, warm bread, and cool butter, it was a spectacular treat. No, it was better than that. It was a spectacular treat in superb company. The genuine ‘secret ingredient,’ of course, that last one. A taste of perfection.Photo: Chowdah 3: Catherine's

Travel Like a Chipmunk

Photo: Lolitas

Not the most predictable of sights in Boston. Unless you happen to have a kawaii-Lolita events calendar on your desktop, maybe. But just getting out for a meander might also find you on the heels of a trio of Lolitas. 

The idea of having ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ has appeal. It has many useful applications. A life enhanced by travel needn’t be dominated by such notions, though, or I risk being too fixed, both where I have landed and in my expectations and experiences wherever else I go.

Like most people, I suppose, I find comfort in the familiar, in anticipated pleasures and good things I expect, but—especially when I travel—there’s another sort of wonder and happiness that abounds when I can let go of these supposed needs and just allow life to happen.

From my very first major sans-parents sojourn, the privileged joy of an undergraduate “sophomore sabbatical” of untrammeled European travel with my older sister, I’ve continued to discover the enrichment and the thrilling frissons of serendipity and surprise. Hearing a great performance by a renowned orchestra in a glorious concert hall is well worth saving and planning for, of course, but even its excellence is not more fulfilling and memorable than following an unexpected tune through the byways of a foreign town to find myself joining the local crowd as they cheer on a community parade, marching bands blaring and uninhibited children dancing alongside.

Making the pilgrimage to a must-see historic site with the hundreds of other tourists is often not only worthwhile but sometimes enhanced by the very circus-like atmosphere engendered by the regimented masses. But it can barely compare with, never mind eclipse, the almost clandestine delight of having the ‘inside scoop’ from a city native who directed me to a certain narrow side street to knock on a certain undistinguished door, to borrow from the house’s owner a wonderfully heavy antique iron key that unlocked a creaky gate around yet another corner and let my sister and me into a stone-walled, fog-shrouded, hidden ancient cemetery there. That side-adventure on my first big travel expedition was every bit as gorgeous, astounding, meaningful, and artful as the historic sites on the trip, yet as far as I know, it remains unknown outside of its quiet Irish neighborhood. Making reservations and having tickets for the plan-able parts of that journey were both predictably well worth the time and effort, but a couple of hours spent wandering with my sole travel companion among the storied gravestones in that magnificently green and weedy private burial ground, and then climbing the narrow stone spiral up the tower ruin in that enclosure, peering through the mists out of its mediaeval arrow-slit to catch glimpses of the dark houses outside the walls—that was a sweet afternoon no amount of planning could have bought.

Nowadays, my favorite parts of most travels remain the random and coincidental joys of going down appealing alleys on a whim, following the sensory lures of a wafting scent here, a fugitive melody over there, a flash of color or a movement more felt than seen on my periphery, that can pull me off course in a curious second, redirecting my attentions to livelier things. That’s how I’ve found myself in a cafe kitchen helping the chef pipe his handmade ricotta filling into cannoli while ostensibly just grabbing a bite of supper before a baseball game, or watching the splashy finale of an unadvertised international fireworks competition from a perfectly positioned hotel room balcony; how I ended up discussing the virtues of tuna salad sandwiches with a television actress in an airport security line, stumbling onto and being escorted off of a missile site, standing backstage and meeting Lord Whatsis before the opera, and learning from the groundskeeper at a Victorian-style public garden how he grows weeping mulberry trees from cuttings.

Like the chipmunk that found its way into the building when I was walking up the hallway toward it just the other day, by merely rambling aimlessly in an attempt to get myself oriented in unknown surroundings I sometimes discover I’m right in the middle of a fabulous new treasure-house of wonder.Digital illo from a photo: Intrepid as a Chipmunk