23 January 2016

In a Nutshell

I'm Fran. This is a blog that I kept from 2009-2014. It began as a travelogue during a semester abroad in Wellington, New Zealand, and later evolved into a creative space where I could write about the things I cooked and ate, and the people I shared those foods with. It also steadily became a way for me to capture my experiences in writing. To me, this feels like the essence of "sense of place."

This is what the blog was all about when I wrote regularly here:

"Growing up, I was always told that 'food is love,' and thus that is my view on eating. I believe that healthy, whole foods are best for your body, but what is even better for your soul is to share those foods with the ones you love the most. For me, food is something that is inclusive and not exclusive." 

After I stopped writing here, I took this blog out of the public sphere of the internet. However, I held onto it privately because of the memories (and the recipes). Over time, various friends reached out to me and told me that they missed Fran, Over Medium Heat. And so, I put it back. It will stay here (for now) because I want people to have access to the recipes if they feel like it. I reference the recipes periodically - after all, I make the same two pies (here and here) and cookies (here) every Thanksgiving with my family and this is the only place where I have the recipes written down.

This blog was alive for about five years, a time in which I evolved quite a bit personally. The blog evolved right along with me. If you're curious about this, the posts I've handpicked below illustrate the trajectory of this project (and they are my favorite posts).
  1. When I realized (in New Zealand) that this was quickly becoming a food blog
  2. When I noted that "in order to love what lies ahead, you must love what has come before"
  3. When, after a lot of change, I started to actively reflect for the first time
  4. When I started capturing my experiences accurately in photographs
  5. When I felt I could truly connect with others through food
  6. When I reflected again, not realizing that I still had a long way to go in terms of how to truly embrace myself and my own path
  7. When I subtly began to lean into change
  8. When I made peace with my native home, and therefore myself
  9. When I did something important for beloved friends, and learned something in the process
  10. And finally, my favorite post ever: when I realized that expressing gratitude in everything that you do is what makes you the most whole. 
The last time that I wrote here was in September of 2014; the posts pick up and go backwards at that exact point right after this one. At the time I last wrote, it was my last semester as a graduate student in Historic Preservation. I was living in Montpelier, Vermont. At the time, I felt really terrified about what would happen in 2015. The fear was for good reason, although I had no idea why. 2015, truthfully, was one of the most tumultuous years I've ever had. It was a year filled with extreme personal triumph and accomplishment, and also some of the deepest sadness I've ever known. It was the year where I realized that all of that jumbled together is what actually leads to the most positive changes and personal growth. We have to carry what we've been given as we move forward, but the passing of time truly does lighten the load. 

My life is very different now than it was when I kept this blog (in a good way). Yet, this was a large part of who I was during those years...and so I can't forget or ignore that. At the moment (January, 2016) I have something else up my sleeve. A lot of things are up my sleeves, actually. We'll see where that goes. 

So, if you've wound up here, then I invite you to use the recipe index (at the top of this page) in good health, because I'll be doing the same. 

29 September 2014

waiting for october

measuring things

Some weeks ago, Greg and I found ourselves in the middle of a National Wildlife Refuge up in the northeastern part of Vermont with friends. We had camped overnight in a lean-to after hiding from the pouring rain all day long, and when the sun finally came out the next morning we fought off the "Sunday doom" feeling and avoided going home to the capital for just a few more hours.

As we walked along a trail through the Refuge, stepping over knotted tree roots and soft dirt, I looked at him and said "Sometimes I wish I had chosen to study biology instead." And it's true--sometimes I do think about what my life would have been like if I went that route. I wonder what I'd be up to now if I had time to fully wrap my brain around how the intricate system of a river works, or what all the plants in the park behind my house are called. I wonder what it would be like if I worked in a lab, or spent time outside every autumn documenting patterns of bird migration--is that person more settled than I am now? Or less? What place belongs to her? What place does she belong to?

reflection bowl feet

Greg's response to my statement was pretty perfect, now that I reflect on it. He said, "I know you like science and nature. But you really like things built with hands." I realize that we share a home yet operate independently of one another a fair amount, but sometimes when he says things like that I feel the weight of our partnership around me like a thick security blanket. Like he just gets me. I looked right back at him and said "I know. I do like things built with hands." Things like buildings, pots, parks and communities.


When I was a senior in college, we practiced interviewing for jobs in our weekly capstone class. Our advisor asked us all the awkward questions and gave us a heads up on how to tell someone what your biggest weakness is and still make it seem like a strength. On the cusp of my graduation, I thought a lot about why I chose Art History. When I was in high school it seemed like it would fit, and I guess I felt lucky that it did. The real reason why I studied Art History, however, was because I wanted to explore how we (humans) express ourselves by responding to our environments. That's how I ended up in New Zealand, thinking about Maori carvings and what the organic-looking symbols mean. I guess that's also how I ended up in one of America's greatest folk art museums, or in a National Historical Park.

And then, all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks: that's what Historic Preservation means to me. In my eyes, it's the same exact thing as my "previous life" but there's a bigger pronunciation drawing a line between the built world and the natural world--it's the cultural landscape. Right now, it's totally normal for me to spend my days analyzing the condition of historic windows and then stick my nose deep into the Eastern Trees field guide to learn what the species in my neighborhood are. I'm not that good at plant identification yet but like gardening and pottery, I could spend the rest of my life getting better at that.

herbs | boy

To be perfectly honest, I woke up this morning feeling not that awesome. Lately I don't have the same "let's GET it" spirit that I did when I last wrote. My disappointment weighs me down, and then my realization that I'm wallowing in my disappointment instead of inhaling my entire world gets me down even more. I work independently more often than not, and I find it quite easy to get stuck in my head--even when I'm doing menial things like hauling weeks worth of recycling to the dump or waiting for my toast to pop. I took a brisk walk all the way up the hill in town today and I surveyed 122 windows for two hours. I got used to the curves of the building and compared my drawings to reality, realizing suddenly that my perception is pretty spot-on sometimes. It was humid and warm and yet when I rolled back up to our front door with a paper bag full of spices in my left hand, some orange leaves blew inside the house with me. Autumn is a time for turning inward, for winding down, and for holding on to all the available light you can.

cake | cream cheese | butter

So, instead of memorizing the bark of trees like Honeylocusts or American Basswoods, I baked a cake. This recipe I'm not ready to share yet because today's go-around was a test. I don't usually test recipes, but this one is an important test because in two weeks I will turn it into a wedding cake. I haven't baked in awhile and I forgot about how there's something so soothing in measuring flour, sugar and oil into a large bowl and mixing until just before your arm starts to cramp. In my tastebuds, the spices in this one are perfect--it's anything but bland, and the house is warm and cozy as a result. It tastes like orange leaves at your feet after you shut the door behind you.

Happy marriage, James & Alexandra.

01 September 2014

a conscious pesto


Generally, I'm incapable of just being. And yet, when it finally happens, I feel my cells collectively letting go and this sense of surprise rushes into my body's negative space. It's as if my subconsious pokes me in the arms and says, "AHA! Just relaxing DOES feel good sometimes!" It's funny to me that I'd be saying this now, as my last semester of graduate school begins to get fully underway...but I feel like things are truly different now. I have a lot of work to do, sure--but there's no reason for me to be overwhelmed about it because that's all I have to throw myself into for the next three months. And then it's over. Forever. In the meantime, there's a text from my mom buried somewhere in my phone that says "Be happy wherever you are." That's solid gold-type advice, Mama. Today I feel like I can definitely do that, and tomorrow I will feel that way too.


Don't get me wrong--I love what I'm doing right now (school)--but I love what happens after that even more, despite that being the most terrifying thing. I'm learning that I have to embrace what scares me the most because that's what consistently enables me to rise to the challenge. It's one of the many reasons why I decided to go to graduate school in the first place...preservation is a challenging field that deserves professionals who aren't afraid of it. Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, the day feels like it'll be difficult--but then I lug myself out of bed and over to the coffee pot and I remember that I'm always my best self in the morning. And also that I'm ready for whatever you will throw my way this year, Universe. I will not be discouraged, beaten down or overshadowed because I'm strong and I can handle it. That's why I'm a slow hiker; I think very carefully about where to put my feet with each step.


At the same time, now it's my turn to get used to the creaks and moans of this apartment. It's quirky, sure, but I also think it's comfortable--we made it that way, after all. I'm also cooking again, which is a sure sign that I'm acting like myself. It'll take me awhile to get back into the regular habit of snapping nice pictures as I grow accustomed to how the light makes its way into where I live now, but that'll come. I don't know how much longer I'll get to be here, in this tiny city that I've admired from afar for the past three years, but that's okay because I'm here right this minute. I'm practicing consciousness and "being" the way that yogis practice breathing. It's fine. So is my homework:

"In reminding us of the world we did not make, wilderness can teach profound feelings of humility and respect as we confront our fellow beings and the earth itself. Feelings like these argue for the importance of self-awareness and self-criticism as we exercise our own ability to transform the world around us, helping us to set limits to human mastery--which without such limits too easily becomes human hubris." --William Cronon, "The Trouble With Wilderness" 


Lately our fridge is filled with delicious leftovers of several days-in-a-row worth of home-cooked meals, but today, Labor Day, we ate freshly made pizza late in the evening. We use pizza as a staple meal when we're together, and it never requires a recipe--just dough slapped on a hot stone with some oil and a bit of cornmeal, and toppings of choice. The usual "constants" are fresh garlic and a blend of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses...Greg generally doesn't budge on those (and for good reason).


But, this one has pesto on it. You can throw virtually anything into a food processor and call it a pesto, as I've done many times before...but this one is classic pesto by the seat of my pants. I bought the basil with the intention of pulverizing it into a spread and this is what happened. What have you been eating lately?

14 July 2014

give (a flying)

Disclaimer: if you know me personally, then you might know that I have my occasional bouts of talking like a truck driver. (Mom, I'm really sorry.) However, that's not usually a characteristic of my writing style...except for today. If profanity bothers you, then go ahead and don't read this. I'm not offended. 

Untitled Well, I'm keenly aware that it's been another long pause in posting something here. I'm about to present what might seem like a series of excuses, but they're not. I'll tell you right now: I'm NOT sorry for NOT writing. My long pauses of late are completely unintended, but in truth, the more time that stretches in between each blog entry I make here generally equates to a bigger roadblock in my head.

Untitled It's not like I don't write, or think, or cook--I write quite a bit, actually. Sometimes, it's in a leather bound green journal that Sydney sent me in the mail over the winter. I might be sitting on my favorite wrought iron bench outside the greenhouse when I do it. Sometimes, the writing happens on the corner of a page inside my work notebook (the one that lives in the space between my desk and the back seat of my car). I think a lot. I cook far less than I think. Lately, it's hazy and humid. The atmosphere feels physically heavy. I don't have much of an appetite (I blame the weather) and so the recipes don't flow through my fingertips so easily. It's one thing to cook and eat something when you're really hungry--it's another thing entirely to cook something, photograph it and THEN eat it when you're really hungry. Or maybe only partially hungry. The spoiler alert in this scenario? It's kind of a big drag.

Untitled I'm back in familiar (read: native) territory now, and I actually have been for almost two months. It feels crazy to me how the space between my days evaporates. Other days, it feels like the afternoons are made of eternity. I move around a lot, from the office to the house and elsewhere and back to the office. I like my job a lot. I don't like to sit still a lot. So, it's obvious that not much has changed. In the beginning of the summer, it was strange to come home to NO homework, or to NO dinner waiting to be cooked inside the tiniest of kitchens. I found myself overly emotional at the thought sometimes. And now, it's grown on me. My occupational hobbies haven't really PRODUCED anything tangible, like art projects or countless baked goods--and so what? I even read for FUN sometimes!

UntitledI spend two nights a week in the pottery studio up the road and it's funny to me how I can consistently get my fingers to churn out the most impressive things I've ever made when I sit down at the wheel and I, Frances Mary, quite literally don't give a flying fuck. That's the best mental floss I can use right now: the tools that teach me precisely how NOT to give a flying fuck. That other stuff takes too much energy away from the best parts of my soul.

Untitled Right now, I'm at this point where I feel I have two authentic homes. It's weird and wonderful all at once. I believe I need a lot of energy in order to appropriately straddle the two homes, and so not giving a flying fuck is pretty imperative at the moment. I have trouble separating physical places from my personal feeling and association with them--I always have. Am I starting to sound like the regulatory jargon buried in the NHPA yet? I practically keep the Secretary of the Interior's Standards in my nightstand (along with a pair of pliers) and on various days I wear a park ranger hat along with my green and gray. I would think that all preservationists start to contemplate their "place" after some time--maybe a bit more intensely than your average mate. We're trained to think that way, after all.

20 May 2014

a whirlwind, a long time, a compote

Untitled Untitled Untitled And then all of a sudden, I opened my eyes one morning to find no chill in my bones and the sun already up. The buds on the trees are bursting and there's been a bird outside our bedroom window that wakes me up every day with a springtime shriek. I love it and can't stand it at the same time. I'm finished with one year of school (that's two out of three semesters total) and right now it feels like I blinked and it happened. I'm proud and happy--the photos above are from my favorite project I worked on over the winter/early spring that encompassed themes of land conservation and built structure preservation, which equals something I call "Whole Place Preservation." I loved it so much I'll probably write more on that in the future.

I have many excuses for not writing here last month: end of school projects, end of work gatherings, a professional conference, moving apartments AND cities...and now here I am at home with the family for just a few days after a 5AM spill down our old concrete steps and a 6AM flight. My brother is finishing HIS Masters degree and it's time for some celebrating. This is the beginning of me hopping around from place to place until the end of this month, just when the summer will actually get underway.  It's exciting to me that I have a job for the next few months where I can pick up where I left off and continue to grow. Transitions are never the easiest but this one is just fine!
Untitled Untitled Untitled
A few weeks ago, we planted these seeds in the old apartment. Right now they're getting bigger and I'll get them into the ground at our new place as soon as I can manage. There are fiddlehead ferns and lilies that are already growing outside our front door, and even though there isn't a ton of green space, there's certainly enough for us to cultivate what we've started and I'm so glad. One of these days we're also going to stamp out the knotweed that's taking over the backyard and enjoy getting our hands dirty. Knotweed is an invasive species that grows rapidly in riverbank areas, which is where we are now. And it has a pleasant, sour taste that's a bit like rhubarb...so yes, the wheels in my head are officially turning. It's foraging season.
Untitled Untitled To me, the new place feels like a home instead of an apartment, or just a place to stay. It's got quirks beyond quirks and of course it has flaws but it feels pretty perfect to me. It's big, bright, airy and OLD! (Given my specialization, I'm constantly swooning.) It's got wooden floors and the kitchen...oh the kitchen! As I've been unpacking and beginning to decorate over the past few days I can't help but stop every once in awhile and notice 1.) how quiet and peaceful it is, and 2.) how much I just love it. I could go on and on but I won't for right now--that's for later.

At the moment I'd like to honor the tiny kitchen at Clarke, now closed, with the last thing that I cooked and photographed there: cherry rhubarb almond compote. I know I stood at the tiny gas stove next to the big window and cursed one too many times at how much I hated it, but I'd like to forget about it now. We ate many delicious things this past year that I cooked in that shoebox, and I will miss the beautiful Victorian moldings and the church steeples in the distance. (I won't, however, miss the screaming and the neighborhood's general craziness. Especially during the day.)
Untitled Untitled "Compote" or "fruit spread" is not an original creation for me, and I know that. The day after our semester closed about two weeks back, we celebrated with a Historic Preservation-heavy barbecue and I baked pies: pies that traveled around town with me by car and by foot. When I finished making the pies I had a lot of rhubarb and pitted sour cherries leftover, and this is what I came up with that is purely for Greg and I. If you have a jar of compote in the fridge you can really do anything with it: eat it straight up, cover yogurt/ice cream with it, spread it on toast or croissants, bake it into a cake...there are serious ways to use it. I tend to take a spoon to the mason jar when I need a rhubarb boost, and this one's different: it's sour and sweet (as rhubarb cherry things are) but it's also almond-flavored and it just works.
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29 March 2014

when the mood strikes

Much to everyone's dismay, it's still winter in Vermont. Funny how that's always the first thing on my mind when I start out these ramblings, but it's true. It's on everyone's minds right now. Greg and I both traveled to where he works yesterday (about 40 miles from where we live) and the journey in my tiny Volvo that I've had since high school felt like "the little car that could" all the way through the dangerously freezing rain, sleet and ice. But no matter--we're fine! My knuckles have since returned to their normal flesh color.
I haven't forgotten about my feelings of gratitude lately, but there were some parts of this week where I felt like it was hard for me to convey that positivity to others. (And I was really trying.) Forgive me for complaining, but when people come to the coffee shop and they ignore my "Good morning! How are you?" and merely start off with "Double latte to go. Raspberry chocolate scone." it. Makes. Me. Crazy. It also makes me keenly aware of how I behave toward others in similar settings. This is something I started paying attention to years ago, along with my beautiful mother--she makes a conscious effort to lighten the mood of cashiers and salespeople everywhere, and sometimes the positive vibes are contagious. You'd be very surprised at how the counter creates a huge divide between people sometimes. I'm sure it's the subject of some major sociological study somewhere.
Untitled So, here's my current plea: lighten up. This winter has been obscenely brutal weather-wise, and we need to lift the mood. Yesterday morning's snow was kind of like a sick joke, and with more forecasted for this evening we really need to work at it. Take a deep breath and pay it forward a little bit--you'll get done everything that you need to do, and everything will be fine. It already is.
Untitled Untitled I'm sure if you have anything to do with social media, you've seen this growing trend of the #100happydays challenge. If you're unfamiliar, it's an exercise you do for 100 days, literally: each day, you post a picture or a sentence or SOMETHING that you're grateful/happy for and tag it with the number of the day and the #100happydays hashtag label. I haven't embarked on my own 100 happy days challenge and I don't really intend to, but I believe in the thought. It's a more 21st century version of what I've been trying to do in my brain these past few weeks. This cake I'm about to share is a perfect example of that: I came home last Sunday from having brunch with a friend to find my apartment literally glowing in the afternoon sun. It felt warm and inviting and as if it would have been a crime not to bake and photograph something right then.
Untitled Untitled Everything I've said encompasses a series of things that I need to be reminded of, too. We've begun the search for our new "home" for the summer/next year and it stirs up horrible memories in me of last year of looking for the place we have now. You know, lots of crying on street corners, sketchy people and horribly overpriced shit dens. Last night Greg and I looked at two places--one of which we chose not to go inside at all. As we waited for a pizza at a favorite bakery and sipped on beers I felt this wave of anxiety rising up in my chest and I think he could see it, because he just held my hand and said "STOP."
Untitled Untitled Untitled Get yourself a gratefulness buddy. It's easier not to go it alone.

21 March 2014

happy bread

Yesterday (the first day of spring), I woke up to a light snow on the ground outside. The sun barely came through the clouds at all throughout the rest of the day but it quickly disappeared or faded into the other layers of snow caking the ground. This afternoon as I dipped in between the pottery studio and the library I could hear birds chirping through my headphones and feel the warmth of the sun on the tip of my nose, so yes, it's happening. 
Untitled Springtime generally lightens everyone's mood--it's that sense of renewal, or shedding the stale layers of winter that makes us see things differently. I'm someone who forgets to express gratitude in my daily life and that gets harder and harder when you live in Vermont where it often feels endlessly wintry and harsh. As the light changes with the beginning of daylight savings time, I'm reminded that I should slow down and appreciate my daily routine more.
Springtime also usually marks transitions for me--at least, that's the way it's been for the past several years. Sometimes I wonder and wait for the day when I won't have to be jolted around any longer but I don't want to look back and regret my resentment for my life's current flexibility. I guess I really am an old soul. I've always known I'd get more comfortable with myself as I age and I suppose that these days I finally am starting to feel it. Being a child was hard, high school was terrible, college was OK and since then has been marked by an interesting experience with an upward trend. For the first time, I have some days on occasion where it's like, "YES. I AM ME AND THIS IS GOOD."

I wish the same for everyone.
Untitled Untitled As of late, our cooking here in the apartment is extremely simple; it has to be that way in order to be sustainable. I'm usually not home for dinner at least one or two nights a week, and on the days that I am it's all about things like quick pasta dishes, polenta with veggies, eggs and toast or homemade pizzas with humongous salads. I don't deny myself of things I want (I can't), like beer or wine or chocolate...but I genuinely love fresh, raw things and so I cram those in. It sounds like we eat a boring lifestyle, but I rarely feel that way. You'd be surprised at what a twist of lemon zest or a splash of basil blended in olive oil can do for your evening meal. My life is complicated enough these days and so my kitchen is not. Usually we're knocking elbows furiously or finding creative surfaces to put prepped items on (you know, on top of the coffee maker, in the sink...) but lately the space's inadequacies don't make me want to pull my hair out any more. It's almost endearing. Clarke is, after all, the "first" place. (The first real one, anyway.)
Untitled The one thing I wanted for this winter was to work on my bread-making. I did, and I still am. The meditative, slow process with many steps feels similar to my pottery. Some loaves (and bowls, cups, mugs, etc.) are better than others and some are cherished and savored. I keep telling myself that I don't have to be the best at everything right now. I have time for that.
Untitled Untitled My journey with this bread started with a very helpful "how-to" article from The Kitchn, which you can view here.  I tinkered with it to suit my own personal tastes (wheaty, oaty, satisfying) and so that's what I'm sharing with you. Your journey with the bread might take its own twists and turns. I don't have any fancy equipment except a mixer and an oven-safe pot that a cake pan fits nicely on top of. (That's the secret: bake it inside something, like a Dutch oven or a covered ceramic vessel.) The crust effect is therefore, magical. It has the same effect on me that traditional boule bread did as a kid when I'd go on "errands" with my nanny, Marianne. She'd open the waxy, folded white paper bakery bag and give me a torn chunk of the bread to eat on the way home from the deli in the front seat of her car. It always dried up all my tears and made the seeming weight of the world disappear from my nine-year old shoulders.