Some people cannot stand to know how a story ends until they experience it for themselves. I am that way with movies, books, and dinner parties. This is the learning-by-doing side of me that fuels this blog and the cooking that goes with it. (Yes there is pedagogy in all my projects, it seems, but we wont let that ruin all the fun.) Along the way, it is useful to engage the other more refined side of me– the planning backwards “school marm” control-driven side. The side that is currently starting an argument with my other side about cleaning out the refrigerator this morning and doing a complete kitchen inventory before shopping for our Thanksgiving meal– instead of just walking every aisle of the store. I think the school marm is winning– but not until after I write this post.

Being partnered with someone who reads the spoilers on purpose, rereads and rewatches the same movies and books over and over with immense satisfaction, and generally has a plan for almost everything (even if it is kept secret)– makes me more aware than ever of my own style and idiosyncracies. (It is good to be around those who do things differently, though we often forget this at the holidays.) I think learning by doing is essential, but the irony is that those who facilitate it have to plan plan plan, and that is hard work. Cooking is a nice escape from planning for instruction, though a little planning improves the cooking.

Cooking is about improvisation, but also skill and techniques, mimicry and mastery. It is so important to copy others, and then find your own way. Yet many people are intimidated by food, and how easy it may seem to fail. I think this is what fuels the food entertainment industry– why are we tuning in to watch mostly male chefs compete for silly titles in grueling and unfair competitions? This is pleasure? Or is it a new macho version of the competitive and insecure housewife of another era trying to out-do the other wives with her perfect food and kitchen, only to be underappreciated and sometimes left “empty” so to speak? But, even those of us who do not like this sort of food-as-a-weapon entertainment do understand the central point here: food makes a statement.

Preparing and sharing food has meaning! This is why nutrition education is mostly a failure– it is often done as a psuedo scientitific lesson on self control and individual mandates that ignore cultural and family traditions– we attempt to replace a powerful narrative with a simplistic math problem. Food is an opportunity to tell a collective story about where we might go, and how we got to this place of sickness in relation to the land and the body, through a broader discussion of systemic problems ranging from racism to advertising, gender roles to soil erosion. A narrative in which (hopefully) we can be active participants. That is what I think about during this holiday, and it makes me value how food centered it is, without valuing the legacy of over eating, colonization, and shopping.

Saturday was my 35th birthday, and I spent it alone, enjoying a meal, and taking pictures. There is nothing better than an old wooden booth in which to eat, except perhaps one with 33 acres of astoundingly beautiful gardens just outside.

And one in which you are served toasted brioche with strawberry butter (!) and ancho smoked beef eggs benedict– with perfectly lemony hollandaise to go with perfectly tangy and tender thinly sliced smoked beef. Not to mention perfectly season roasted potatoes and a cup of fruit. I recommend a walk after eating this– one that covers about 33 acres.

I must say, after living in the wild green spaces of urban Portland, Oregon for eight years, this garden blows all other urban gardens away. It is paradise. A sensory experience well worth the cost of a movie.

I took about 100 pictures, so please check out the gallery here. My favorite place to start is the Garden for the Blind– a garden planted waiste-high with herbs and plants that like to be touched, smelled, and even tasted.

There is also a series of “rooms” (like really large terraced green houses) in a sort of “biosphere” compound (remember the Biosphere, my readers from Arizona?), including a bromyliad room, a fern room (both make me feel like I am in the Dark Crystal), a desert room,

and what I like to call the “dessert” room– the tropical room with vanilla vines, chocolate plants, coffee trees, coconut palms, cinnamon plants, allspice bushes, all for us to smell.

The grounds have a system of acequias running water down from the highest point, where you can see the whole city, to a lake surrounded by East Texas piney woods.

That is right, we have piney woods. We have desert plains, we have subtropics, we have semi-arid, we have hill country. They have recreated every type of landscape, and you follow the trails through each one until you reach a log cabin or two made of hand hewn wood (and decide you could just stay until after closing and live there quite happily), and descend into Texas hill country. Oh, and rose gardens, crazy sculptures, old and fabulously sinewy live oak trees, a Japanese garden, and banana trees. In the back, behind the biosphere is a children’s vegetable garden.

On wednesday I will post a lesson on how to make apple pie, which will be a real actual lesson with my friend who is having thirty people for dinner this Thursday and will bake her first from-scratch pie. Holiday dinner at my house will be on Friday this year, in honor of another holiday usurped by Mayflower-cruising Jesus freak corn rustlers. (Charlie Brown explains.) I will be sharing some recipes I promise you will want to try out. In the meantime, what will you be making? Or eating? Or learning to make?

(A chairy tree.)

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