Thursday, August 14, 2014


I haven’t managed to settle down to write here since the end of July and I’m feeling a little guilty about the long gap between posts.

My explanation/excuse is that I have been making real headway on my Persian World book work, both recipe testing and writing. It's been engrossing and satisfying. Once in the groove I don’t like to interrupt it and strain away from it. On top of the book work there’s also been the prep leading up to the Grain Gathering this month.

The conference (the renamed Kneading Conference West) is August 21 to 23 this year, at the agricultural research station in Mt Vernon, Washington. As in the last two years, I am working with Dawn-the-baker (aka Dawn Woodward of Evelyn’s Crackers) to give three different workshops. But this year I am also giving one of the keynotes, the opening one.

Each time I have the honour and pleasure of giving a thematic talk, I find myself turning around and around, as I try to figure out what path to take: What do I REALLY want to communicate? What useful ideas can I contribute? How best to do that? Should I show images? and so on.

It seems to me that other people must be more efficient about all this than I am. I the process of feeling my way into a talk seems to take a long time, always. Some of the problem comes because l try to express fresh ideas each time I give a talk. It’s a little like cooking: my favourite thing is to improvise with what I have on hand, rather than following a recipe or repeating a previously successful dish or meal exactly. Variety and unpredictability, and the little adrenalin that kicks in as I struggle to find a new path, a new idea, a different way of expressing a familiar idea: these are pleasures.

I’m happy to report that I’ve come out the other end of this particular labyrinth of decision-intersections. I have images picked and I know where I want to head in my talk and what I’m hoping to communicate. It feels great. And now I get to go out to that lovely part of the west coast (the Skagit Valley in northern Washington), see people who have become dear friends, learn and work and eat, and do some baking too.

In the meantime though I want to try to write here about tools and keeping things, whether it’s my bicycle or my body or my head, in good repair. Thoughts and reminders about the subject have been accumulating recently. Some people stay on top of maintenance, but I am a bit of an avoider: When something in the house breaks, a small thing like a lightbulb burning out or the caulking round the sink shredding etc, I work around it for awhile until finally it drives me a little crazy - or perhaps it’s embarrassment that pushes me - and I tend to it. The same goes for clothing that needs repair or attention of some kind.

And my bicycle? I am ashamed to say that recently I was pedalling, for a good three weeks I think, on a back tire that was very soft, stupidly soft. Of course it takes way more energy to pedal on a tire that’s not fully pumped. There’s so much more friction. I started to wonder if I was getting way out of shape, for my usual quick pedal up the hill was feeling more onerous.

Yes, what I’m saying is that I entirely failed to notice that my tire was low.

It took a good friend telling me to make me realise. On the one hand it was a relief: oh good, bike riding has been feeling like hard work because my tire is almost flat, and not because I am terribly out of shape. But on the other hand, especially once I’d stopped at a gas station and filled the tire, I was appalled. Suddenly riding was an easy dream. And how could I have been so inattentive to it? Why had I wasted the chance to have smooth pleasurable rides?

Maintenance of our tools, whether it’s keeping knives sharp (I am NOT good on this front either, I confess) or maintaining a bicycle or a car or a laptop, is a responsibility we should enjoy. After all, not only did we pay good money for them, but, more importantly I think, we owe it to ourselves to not disable ourselves through inattentiveness.

I’ve come to think that not keeping out tools and toys and environment at their best is like walking around wearing heavy dark glasses or hobbled with leg-irons. It keeps us from tuning in to our environment and from making the most of our days.

Another form of maintenance is care of our bodies. And here too I have learned that I’ve been negligent recently, stupidly ignoring good practice. I’ve had strange aches and pains in my heels (plantar-fasciitis-like but not exactly) and aching knees for a couple of weeks, a very unusual thing for me. I went to see Xiaolan, my friend who is a remarkable TCM practitioner. She and her staff tut-tutted and basically told me it was all my fault for letting my feet get cold. You should wear shoes or slippers in the house, they said. The cold (it’s the tile floor in my kitchen, where I stand in bare feet cooking, sometimes for hours in this period of recipe testing etc) is making your muscles tight and that’s why you have pain.

I then remembered that once before, about 25 years ago when my first kid was a baby, I’d had pain in my heels and another TCM practitioner had told me to keep my feet warm (again it was summertime, and the problem was cold tiles on unprotected feet). Duh!

A lot of acupuncture needles later, and with warm slippers on my feet, and presto! I have no aches, no pain. But how much better it would have been to have tuned in earlier!

So, attentiveness is vital, and then…maintenance. It sure is an uninteresting-sounding concept, maintenance/repair. But I’ve come to see that it’s part of having respect for ourselves and for what we’re lucky to have in the way of health and ability.

Waste not, want not, as they say.

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