I love finding a good farmers’ market. Today we strolled through the streets of downtown Boise, Idaho and sampled an amazing assortment of fresh grown foods.
Our morning started out with a coffee at a local shop that reputedly had the best coffee in town. That’s a phrase you hear a lot, but I have to admit that it was at least the best coffee I’ve had in Boise so far…
We then met up with family and began our urban market exploration…
There were fresh vegetables and fruit of course, but also cheese, honey, bread, wine, crepes and flowers of all sorts.
It reminded me of the markets in France.
It was getting warm out, and pretty crowded, so we made our final purchases and worked our way back to our little guest house a few blocks away…
Seriously, when you are able to find porcini mushrooms in Boise, Idaho I think we are finally able to enjoy the kinds of markets that little villages in France and Italy have had for generations.
A few years ago I had an extended amount of time off work, which would have been lovely had I actually wanted an extended period of unemployment. I like to keep busy. After about 3 weeks at home I begin to loose my mind and I start looking for things to keep me entertained. Since I am a naturally curious person the objects of my focus can be rather random.
This particular time it was bread.
Our bread machine had died and it occurred to me that it might actually be possible to make bread without a big plastic machine. My wife was skeptical. I was fairly sure it could be done, and if something can be done at all my theory is that it can be done by me given a decent set of instructions and enough practice.
I didn’t grow up with good bread. Bread was something to spread peanut butter and jelly on. At its best it could be used to contain a slice of lunch meat, cheese and artificial mayonnaise. My life view on bread changed dramatically after our trips to Europe.
Bread in France and Italy is an art form. Gluten free does not exist. Lines form at 7am to buy the best bread. At the bakery (boulangerie) in our village of Bedoin you have to sign up on a list the day before to be guaranteed a baguette the next morning.
I wanted to bake bread that people will line up for.
My initial research indicated that great bread is baked in a wood-fired bread oven, not a plastic machine. I bought plans to build one.
When I priced out the plans and estimated the construction time I calculated that I could build this oven for about $5,000 and that it would take the rest of my life to complete. Unless my wife killed me before I was done.
So I did some more research, which is when I found a critical piece of information:
Your home oven can be used to bake really good bread for the cost of a pizza stone and a water spray bottle! Wow, that’s SO much easier!
The next critical component to bread is the hungry little critter that makes it rise. Yeast. Sure, you can get little packets of super-fast-rising-instant-dry-yeast, but I don’t think the French bakers get their yeast that way. And I wanted to make crusty chewy bread that wouldn’t go stale after a day. I needed…
There are processes to grow yeast au natural, but I was too much of a beginner and way too impatient to delve into that black magic. Instead, I found a local bakery that made yummy sourdough bread and asked if they would give me some starter (sure, I bought some bread before hitting them up for a freebie).
Did you know you have to feed sourdough starter every other day at least? Sourdough starter is a living organism and you feed it flour and water to keep it alive.
It was like having another child!
…. coming next, the continuing adventures of the unemployed baker.
It seems cliche to say that I love to travel. Who doesn’t, right? I suppose there are people who are not inclined to venture far from home. Maybe they are afraid to fly, worried about how they will fare in a place where they can’t speak the language or don’t like the unusual food. And international travel by air is dang expensive. Hmmm…I don’t use the word dang very often. Dang.
I didn’t leave the United States until I was in my 30s. Well, not entirely true if you count the border crossings for cheap booze in Mexico during my college days. Buying tequila 5 minutes from San Diego doesn’t qualify as travel. It’s not that I didn’t want to travel–I was just always broke. I also was not raised in a family where international travel was part of what we did. We went to Yosemite. Strangely, now that I am a family man myself, although we have been to half a dozen countries I never taken my kids to Yosemite.
My first real trip abroad was to Italy. My wife and I, and our daughter of 14 months spent 21 days lugging stroller, car seat, diaper bags and all manner of dang baby accessories through train stations and across cobble stone piazzas. We were no Rick Steves travelers, but it was a blast and we were hooked.
France came next, with a three week stay in Provence. This time we waited until our daughter was out of diapers to travel.
It was a magical trip and we fell in love with the French countryside. The people in Provence are gracious and down to earth. Forget the stereotypes about “the French.” These French bent over backwards to be warn, helpful and welcoming. We were invited into the homes of complete strangers for meals. One Frenchman spent an hour helping us get our car unstuck from a muddy field.
Don’t ask why I drove our rental car across a muddy field. I like to explore.
Count these Americans amongst those who love the French. Did I mention that the food in France is pretty dang good? Unbelievably good. It’s no secret that the French love their meals, but you really have to experience it to understand how important the meal is in France. It is a passion.
Food is their Thing. Certainement.
And what food! Fresh, bought from daily markets and prepared with care. Slow food.
The other thing that strikes me about France is the history you find at every turn in the road. The French live inside their history. It surrounds them and becomes a part of their everyday life. And they value it. Old buildings are not torn down to make room for shiny glass offices. And in villages where the local population relies heavily on tourist dollars historical integrity is paramount. Special permits are required before any construction can be undertaken to insure that the results are aesthetically in tune with the surrounding architecture.
A year after our trip to France we bought a little house in a small village in Provence. We named it La Maison Rose for its rose colored walls. It is a tiny house, barely big enough to sleep our family. But it is on a quiet street steps from the village center and you can smell the bread baking from the village boulangerie in the morning.
It was a totally unrealistic purchase. Our busy schedules make it difficult to visit our house, and renting it out as a vacation rental pays for some of the costs, but not nearly enough. The logistics of managing a house in another country are also not for the feint of heart! French taxes mean French accountants, French bank accounts and lots of French paperwork.
I don’t regret it for one dang second.
Our little house waits patiently for us to visit when we can, and when we are not there she brings joy to guests who rent her as they discover la belle vie.
How far could following your thing take you? How about a life in one of the world’s most beautiful cities?
This week I’d like to introduce you to, Lisa McGarry.
Lisa has a thing for Italy. Specifically, she loves the city of Florence and its beautiful Piazzas (that’s piAzzas, not pizzas–though I bet she likes those too). In Lisa’s words:
“I was drawn into the stories of the multi-talented artists who had given Florence its churches and bridges, palaces and piazzas, and the graceful terra-cotta cupola that has served as a point of reference since the Renaissance. From my first walk through Florence, when those secondhand memories finally came to life, I was enchanted…” (excerpt taken from www.lisa-mcgarry.com)
After years of traveling to Florence for inspiration, Lisa decided to focus her efforts on writing a book about the Piazzas of Florence. She pitched her idea to publishers, reworked her book concept many different times, and ultimately made the decision to relocate with her family to Italy to pursue her dream full-time. After years of effort, in 2008 she was able to secure a publisher and realize her goal of being a published author.
The Piazzas of Florence by Lisa McGarry
After getting her book “The Piazzas of Florence” published, Lisa has remained in Florence, working as a painter, photographer and writer. Her most recent works of art are beautifully crafted hand made artist books. The term “books” is a bit of a misnomer–Lisa’s inspired creations range from accordion books and wooden treasure boxes to voyager’s chests. They are constructed using marbled Florentine papers and other fine materials, and showcase Lisa’s love for all things Italian. Her rich use of visual textures invites the viewer to explore on numerous levels. They elevate the concept of a book–these are collector-quality works of art.
Invitation to Florence
Between Sea & Sky
When Lisa is not writing and conjuring up amazing works of art she blogs about Florence and her creative process at arzigogolare (Italian for “to let your mind wander, to muse, to daydream.” If you like Lisa’s work (and who wouldn’t!) you can buy her prints, cards and books at her on-line store PaperSynthesis, which can also be found on her website lisa-mcgarry.com.
Where might your thing take you? France, Bali, Nepal? Don’t limit your potential. Allow your mind to wander, follow your heart and see where it leads you.
Brunelleschi's Cupola by Lisa McGarry
* All images and quotes were used with the permission of the artist, and are the property of Lisa McGarry *
Welcome! And thank you for taking some time out of your day to check out my new blog. So what is this thing all about anyway? The idea is to take you on a little journey of discovery with me. This blog is about discovering and nurturing passions. Those things in life that we spend our time on after we work 12 hours a day. Our hobbies, our fascinations, our obsessions. For some of us, it is the thing we do in our spare time, while for others it’s work, family ancestry, kids, or maybe an old car on blocks in the garage being restored.
It’s that thing that keeps you up to 2am when you know you have to wake up for work at 6am.
Now of course those things are completely different for everyone. It would be a strange world indeed if everyone spent 10 hours a day knitting socks. A warm world perhaps, but strange.
It never occurred to me that some people have no idea what they are passionate about. I just took it for granted that everyone has their thing–that spark, that “fire in the belly.” Certainly, in parts of the world there is little time to entertain anything beyond the need to survive. Food and shelter trump passion. There are desperate people who need food in their bellies, not fire, and we must never forget how fortunate we are. More on that later. For now, I’m referring to people who were never encouraged to find what moves them. You know the mantra: “Get a safe job, put food on the table, and save for a rainy day.” Then, at 60 when the kids are gone and the house feels too big, there is nothing to do but get a divorce or buy a sports car. Let’s stoke those embers sooner so there won’t be a manic need to light a bonfire later!
If you are one of those people, never fear. Your thing is out there waiting patiently to be discovered. We will find it together.
But before we go too far I should tell you what my “things” are. Here is the short list:
Cycling (preferably up very steep hills)
Travel and Foreign Cultures
Baking (the more butter the better)
Now maybe some of these you find interesting and some you find boring. I love this photo I shot of an old craftsman house in Pasadena, CA. I liked taking it and I like looking at it. Maybe you do too, or maybe you have no idea why someone would spend two hours taking a photo of an old house. That’s as it should be. They are my things, not necessarily yours.
I could expand on that list but it would start to drift into interests, not passions. And that’s not what we are here to talk about. I’m interested in dozens of things, but I don’t loose sleep thinking about them. I like a good cafe latte but I don’t read about coffee roasting in the wee hours of the night. But some of you do and that’s fantastic. Find the perfect grinder and sip the perfect espresso knowing that no one makes a better one than you.
Often our obsessions can be combined to become super-obsessions. For me, nothing beats traveling with my bike and taking photos of old houses in foreign lands. Taking a break at a great bakery completes the experience perfectly!
It’s important that we make room for our passions. Life can overwhelm us, and there are lots of things competing for our attention. Television, video games, web surfing, texting and social networking all want a little piece of us. Give in too much and before you know it time has slipped away and there is nothing left for you. It is important to remember that time is precious. Don’t waste it.
It occurs to me that this train of thought may seem very self-centric. After all, a life well-lived should not be all about one’s self, right? Right.
One of the biggest rewards in life is turning our passions outward and using that energy to help others. Giving Back, is the phrase of the moment. That is going to be a big theme here. Opportunities to make a difference are all around us; some big, some small, but all important and worthy of our attention. Combine those needs with our passions and everyone benefits. Let’s have fun, but let’s not make this all about us, okay?