Bainbridge Day

March 31, 2014

I don’t really know where to begin. So I suppose I’ll just start writing and figure it out later. It’s quite pretty out right now, in the low 70s today and henceforth all through the week. This weather makes me want to go camping, to sit outside and read a book, to eat fatuoush salad and cilantro green beans, to see friends who have been gone all winter that I miss dearly. I can hardly put into words how badly I want to get in the car and take a road trip. To drive and drive and drive, through mountains, down secondary highways, along an ocean would be nice. To camp wherever we feel like, to get up in the morning with no agenda, no plan, other than to hop in the car and see where we end up. *

Years ago, when we lived in Seattle for a few months, we started what has since become known as Bainbridge Day. We woke up one morning, it was a Wednesday I remember and the sky was the brightest of blues after days of rain, and rather than do our usual of looking for jobs and trying to figure out what we were doing with our life, we decided to get the hell out of town. I had a deadline that day for an article I was writing, but as is a requirement of Bainbridge Day, I shirked my responsibilities, sent an email saying I’d have it done tomorrow and turned my phone off for the rest of the day. Then Drew and I packed a backpack, walked down to the ferry, headed out to Bainbridge Island where we walked around aimlessly for miles, sat by the water, ate mussels, talked for hours over beers, and then as it got dark we got back on the ferry, slowly moving toward the skyline all lit up like Christmas lights.

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The one requirement of the day was that we weren’t allowed to talk about anything that stressed us out; money, jobs, perceived family expectations, not feeling creative enough, and so on. All the things that we talked about everyday, all the time, whether out loud or in our heads. We also allowed ourselves to spend money without feeling guilty, two things that for me, usually went hand in hand. The whole day felt so liberating, so wildly exciting to do something so nice for ourselves, to have such carefree fun together even in the midst of so much uncertainty.*

Since then we’ve had a Bainbridge Day at least once a year, if not more. They’re always unplanned, on a weekday so you have to shirk some of your responsibilities and expectations of yourself, usually decided by that gut feeling you have sometime in between waking up and walking out the door to go to work. The perfect day to be a tourist in your town. Or to hit the road.

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This post is for my dear friend Georgia who is moving to Maine this week and whom I will miss oh so very much. I hope you have yourself some lovely Bainbridge Days in your new town. I can’t wait to be pen pals.

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Memorable Meals of 2013

January 2, 2014

At the beginning of the year I started writing down our Awesome Dinners/Lunches/Breakfasts of 2013 in a small notebook. I had tried a year or two before to write down every single dinner we ate but then I got bored and stopped after about 6 months. I didn’t really care about the nights we ate leftovers or didn’t feel like going to the store and made something from whatever was in the pantry, or if that was even too much work, the dinners of popcorn and beer. I’m only really interested in the highlight reel.

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In June my grandfather passed away and while my mom, aunt and I were cleaning out his closet I found this unused notebook of his from  back in the day, back when they used the term currency and people wrote letters. So I transferred all the meals I had written in the other notebook, not too many as it turns out since I was in quite the cooking slump the first half of the year, and now I keep it in my purse as my awesome meal journal. I think he would’ve liked that.

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I’d have to say 2013 was the year of Brothy Asian Noodle Soups, made most of the time by Drew. I crave it just writing that sentence. He has a great, simple recipe where you make a broth of ginger, garlic, star anise, soy sauce and fish sauce and then you add whatever you feel like to it. My personal favorites are bean sprouts, kimchi, peanuts, cilantro, lime and really good ramen noodles from the asian market. Over Thanksgiving weekend we ate this three days in a row.

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I also ate a lot of tacos this year, one of my favorite food vehicles. For a few months this summer, every other week I’d help my friend sling tacos at the farmers market using whatever was in season, straight from the farmers. One of the most memorable was when we topped the tacos with a quick pickle of radishes, every color of carrots and green onions. They were so beautiful and vibrant.

In September we went to Nashville for the weekend and while playing scrabble one night with our friends, according to my notebook we ate a dinner of snacks that consisted of brie, bread, triscuits, hummus, grapes, baby carrots, gin and tonics, reeses peanut butter cups and chips and salsa. Quite the medley.

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My notebook also says that on Monday, July 1st we cooked two dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook for dinner that night. Swiss chard with tahini, yogurt and buttered pine nuts which I made a note that it was super delicious!, and turkey zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin.

A few days later our friends came to visit for the Fourth of July and it seems that I went all out and made two more recipes from Jerusalem; pasta with yogurt, peas and chile (this is one of my favorite recipes) and a baby spinach salad with apricots, almonds, toasted pita and sumac. Then for dessert, banana cake with chocolate chips and crystalized ginger.

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I already miss tomato and peach season, there are so many recipes I never got around to making since for the most part this summer I ate tomatoes raw on top of open faced sandwiches, I made tomato basil risotto from the New York Times three times one week, gazpacho pretty much every week for as long as tomato season held out, and other than eating peaches dripping over the sink, I made peach jam twice with the idea that we’d save it for a gloomy winter day like today, but it was just too delicious for that kind of patience. Maybe next year.

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I also ate a lot of pretty spectacular meals while camping this year, since everything tastes better outside. In August Drew and I spent a couple nights in South Carolina where we made fried rice with bacon, kale, carrots, green onion, eggs, garlic, ginger and homemade cilantro mint herb salt. I remember that trip because we bought a whole bunch of peaches at a roadside stand on our way back and made peach jam for the first time that afternoon.

In October we camped with our friends in West Virginia and on the very first night we made a dinner of steak cooked over the fire inside of corn tortillas with sautéed zucchini and onions. Even though we never really plan it that way, every time we camp with them we always seem to eat steak cooked over the fire. It is one of my most favorite camping meals. The absolute best was when we carved sticks into sharp points and skewered super thin slices of steak onto them and cooked it that way over the fire. Like meat marshmallows.

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The one thing I know with absolute certainty that I will make again this year is my mom’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread, the same recipe she’d make every year on Saint Patrick’s Day. I haven’t yet tackled the corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes part of the tradition, and maybe 2014 will be my year for that, but I just love knowing that every year on March 17th I can make this bread and it will taste exactly as I remembered.

So here’s to another year of delicious meals, epic feasts with friends and more time spent cooking outside. Happy 2014 everyone!

Manney Irish Soda Bread

Mix together:

3 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

Add:

2 eggs

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup oil

1 cup raisins

Grease bread pan and dust with flour. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

Kimchi Fried Rice

November 18, 2013

I’m not sure where it started with me and nature. Growing up my family was not all that outdoorsy. Sure, we’d go canoeing down the Huron River a few times each summer, there was a bit of dabbling in camping once or twice, my dad or brother would take me fishing sometimes at Argo Park. We never took it to the next level or anything, like with gear or synthetic shirts or hiking boots. But who knows, maybe that was all it took, maybe that was just enough to give me the itch for more.

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In high school I adorned my walls with pictures I cut out of magazines like Outside, Backpacker and Powder. I imagined myself scaling huge cliffs, whitewater rafting, backcountry skiing, writing for National Geographic, going on extreme adventures. When I was 22 years old Drew and I moved out west to Boulder, Colorado where we hiked and camped all the time for four years. It was there that I started to realize I’m not so much of an extreme sport sort of person. I barely even like waterskiing. I would much rather snowshoe or cross-country ski than downhill. The thought of scaling huge rock walls with hundreds of feet of nothing below scares the shit out of me. What I like most of all about being in nature is the stillness, the quiet. That when I camp all I have with me is a good book, stuff to cook with, and a camera.

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Last month we met our friends Kim and Ryan at Bluestone State Park in West Virginia to camp for a couple nights. We’d never been to this campground before and when we got there the cool, rustic tent camping area was closed and the vast, nearly treeless, someone’s-playing-a-radio-a-few-sites-over RV campground was the only place open. So after setting aside our disappointment and our vision for a secluded, backwoods getaway, we sucked it up and found the best spot we could from our limited options. We cooked food, drank wine, caught up on life and then the next day, right around lunchtime, the whole campground cleared out and we had the place to ourselves. Suddenly it became the best place ever.

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It was one of those long, lingering afternoons where it feels like it should be 5 o’clock but instead it’s barely one. It was early October, the afternoon was windy and sunny after a foggy morning, the leaves just starting to turn, wisps of burnt red and orange. We sat at the picnic table for hours, played Euchre, drank coffee, went on a long hike, took pictures, Drew and I made kimchi fried rice for dinner, Kim and Ryan built a fire. Then the next day, sometime in the early afternoon, after a breakfast of potatoes and eggs, we went our separate ways, Kim and Ryan back up to Thomas, West Virginia and us, home to Asheville. It had poured down rain in the middle of the night and as we drove through the Virginias and Tennessee, you could see the changes in the trees, the leaves getting closer to their peak.

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Somehow I need more of that in my life, and I’m on a quest to find a way to make it happen. There is nothing that calms me to the core like being outside away from everything. When I was 19 years old I spent nearly three months working at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin and on the long drive home back to Michigan, after weeks of sleeping in a cabin, waking up at sunrise to swim or sit alone on the dock and read, watching the sunset every evening, I cried, feeling homesick for what I was leaving behind. I’ve always been conflicted, wondering if I’m a city girl or a country girl, since I feel at home in both and fear isolation, in both. But for now, with the colder nights, shorter days and holidays approaching, I’ll have to let my ideas simmer and embrace the city girl in me a bit more. With a good book to read, a camera and stuff to cook with.

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Kimchi Fried Rice

Serves 4

I love making this recipe at home or camping. It takes hardly any time at all, uses barely any ingredients and is so very, very satisfying. Unless of course, you hate kimchi, in which case I don’t think you’ll like this at all.

 

A few tablespoons of canola oil

About 2 cups of kimchi

About 4 cups of leftover cooked rice

4 fried eggs, or poached would be super delicious too if you’re feeling ambitious

 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kimchi and sauté for about 5 minutes or so, until a little bit crispy. Add the rice, cook until heated through. Divide onto plates and top with a fried egg. Enjoy every bite.

 

A Thorn in My Side

August 1, 2013

Well, where to begin. I guess I’ll start with the fact that I just finished putting together my photography website. This project has been a thorn in my side for years, years I tell you, and really to no one’s fault but my own. Back in the day I made a site using iWeb which, frankly, looked a little chintzy but it did the job. Then there was another version that I can’t remember, then I started a blog so I just put my photos there,  a few years back I traded wedding photography for a perfectly lovely site my friend made in WordPress but I was stuck in a rut and daunted by the idea of going through all my photos and narrowing them down to my favorite seventy-five out of a billion. I will say though, this is one of them.

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It can be the tiniest bit scary committing to something you love, and other than Drew, my next true love is photography. I’ve tried to escape the hold it has on me many times over the last twenty years. I used to only shoot buildings, like for two solid years I don’t think I took a picture of a single living, breathing person or animal. Not even a leaf on a tree. Or a stalk of corn. Only buildings. And the occasional alleyway. Everything else seemed like too much.

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But then one day a friend of mine needed a second shooter for a wedding so all of a sudden I went from taking photos of doorknobs and windows and street signs to capturing perhaps the most intimate day two people can have. As well as every living family member and friend. And it turns out I liked it. I liked the challenge of human beings. And weddings are crazy and fun and I always leave with great stories.

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Like the time I shot a wedding for a couple who was super duper organized to the max, everything had to be just so. But lucky for them the only glitch of the evening was the dinner that was supposed to be served at 7pm but the caterers didn’t show up with the food until 10pm. The teensiest little hiccup. And it’s not like the reception was in downtown Minneapolis or something where you could just skip out and at least order a bunch of pizzas to tie everyone over. Nope, we were out in the middle of no where Wisconsin on some random county fairgrounds, the next closest town nearly an hour away. So needless to say, for three hours the chocolate fountain and an open bar were all anyone had to keep their hunger at bay. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how that turned out.

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For a while I thought that to be legit I had to focus on one aspect of photography only. But I can’t help myself, I love it all. I’m definitely most drawn to food, music and weddings, I’d be lying if I didn’t say one of my dreams is to shoot a cookbook, or follow a band around on tour. But lately, and maybe it has something to do with how unbelievably gorgeous North Carolina is, my eye has been drawn to capturing that sort of beauty. In the same way that the list of cities I want to visit keeps growing longer, that desire to document the way I see a new place, to be my version of a tourist.

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So, if you have a few spare minutes, please take a look at carolynmanney.com. It feels good to finally have a website, to close this chapter and begin another. To stop over thinking and just go with it. It makes me think of a quote I used to have on my fridge from a card my friend gave me a while back. “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strong pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

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Moon Pies & RC Cola

July 16, 2013

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I am finally getting caught up on developing my backlog of film. I think I have something like seven rolls from the last few years that have just been sitting there, waiting patiently in my camera bag for me to get my act together and develop them already! What can I say, I procrastinate, a trait I am not necessarily proud of but have learned to embrace about myself as I get older. Although two years is nothing compared to the roll I developed last year. Thinking it was one of mine I brought it into the camera shop only to discover that it was from nearly 15 years ago when Drew and a couple friends went on a road trip through the West. That was a nice surprise, the kind that is unique to film.

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Truth be told, it has been somewhat of a pain in the ass trying to get my film developed. It is not 1995 anymore, that’s for sure. In Nashville there was nowhere to get true black and white film developed, so the two rolls I took on a trip to Minnesota got shoved into the depths of my camera bag. Soon after I found myself uninspired and in a bit of a photography slump, and all the online processing stuff seemed annoying at the time. I then moved to Asheville where there was one place to get slide film developed, but their machine broke and they decided not to fix it so I was out of luck for my two rolls of Provia. And then I had a job where I got paid to take lots of photos, I thought it was even my dream job, whatever that means, but it was an unhappy place and then I became unhappy and if you looked really close, you could even tell that my photos were unhappy. The result: another photography slump, or better known as a what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life phase. There’ve been a few of those (ahem! understatement) throughout the years.

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I’m happy to say though that I’m finally getting my act together. A week or two ago I liberated my rolls of film and placed them on the mantel of our non-existent fireplace so that I had to look at them every time I walked by. Guilt can be very motivating if used wisely. Then I had a birthday last week and I thought there is no way I’m going into my thirty fours with this film baggage hanging over me. It was time to tie up loose ends. So I found a place online, it’s called The Darkroom by the way and I highly recommend it, and just as if it was the nineties, I put a check for $34, an order form and three rolls of film into a padded envelope and sent it off. Less than a week later the discs arrived at my doorstep. So simple. And the bonus of the whole thing is that it reminded me that getting mail rules. I hope one day there’s a resurgence of care packages, like the kind I’d get from my mom in college with granola, cashews, gummy worms and spearmint leaves.

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These photos were taken last summer when Drew and I skipped town one day needing to clear our heads in the way that only a road trip, no matter how short, can do, and ended up a little over an hour from Nashville in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. It’s the kind of town that’s so adorably cute you just want to pinch it on the cheek. And then you find yourself bored after an hour. Bell Buckle was getting ready for the big annual RC Cola & Moon Pie festival that was happening the next weekend, if you couldn’t tell from the photos. At first I thought the town was just completely obsessed with these two snacks, you never know, but then I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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I’ve decided it’s high time I learn how to cook. What that means exactly, I’m not quite sure. I haven’t gotten that far yet. A few weeks ago I finished reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it is a truly riveting read. I had no idea that the vast world of sourdough starters could be so engrossing. Or that reading about chopping mountains of onions and making a nice braise could literally have me on the edge of my seat, impatiently waiting to turn the next page. I am a bit of a nerd, I admit, as is Michael Pollan I’m pretty sure.

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I came away with two important discoveries after reading Cooked. The first one was that I am utterly fascinated by food. I knew this already on some level, I mean, I love cooking magazines, I love photographing food and everything that goes into it, I love cooking if the finished product turns out to be as amazing as I imagine it in my mind (insert many disappointing experiences here), and I enjoy reading cookbooks cover to cover. This book not only spoke to my interest, an interest I didn’t yet know I had, in the non-glamorous side of things, the bacteria and microbes and all the weird, science-y stuff that goes on under the radar, but it also helped me feel ready to get out of my comfort zone, to try things that have in the past petrified me (ahem, baking), and even more than that, it allowed me to let myself fail in the kitchen.

Which brings me to my second important discovery: that learning how to cook is so very important. Not just because as a result you get to eat way better, meaning, all the foods you like whenever you like, but having a few good recipes up your sleeve can do wonders for your self-reliance. But the dark side of discovering this new found confidence, is that you must let yourself be okay with failing along the way. Because how else are you supposed to figure out what you like to cook, what strikes your particular fancy, if you don’t discover that to you, green peppers are the absolute worst of all the peppers?

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Now this notion of failing is not something I am normally very comfortable with. In fact, when I was an accidental carpenter for a year, it took me the entire 12 months, right up until five days before we closed up shop and moved to Asheville, to be comfortable with the idea that there was a lifetime worth of knowledge that I would probably never know and that I could simply be proud of myself for all the skills I had acquired along the way. It was humbling, while simultaneously being annoying. But it also helped me realize that when I was perfectly honest, the only things I truly liked to make were cutting boards. They are simple, beautiful and functional, and they look like a big glued up mess right until the very end, something that could be said of most carpentry projects, which is what I find endearing about it. It’s like getting a prize at the finish line.

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When it comes to cooking, I am currently in that stage where I haven’t yet found my tribe, I can’t quite figure out what I like exactly, where my tastebuds fit in. I feel awkward, like I’m fumbling around, trying this and that, never having all the ingredients, always feeling the slightest bit disappointed. I want that feeling I had when I discovered my love of cutting boards, that all of a sudden it didn’t matter that gluing together cabinet boxes made me want to stab my eyes out, I had found a piece of it that I was genuinely interested in. But it took a lot of trying other things out to get there. A lot of things that sucked.

So in an attempt to become the cook I think I’d like to be, to stop over thinking everything, to gain confidence, have fun, and to enjoy the process rather than just the outcome, I have decided to be nicer to myself. And to make things easier. For instance, by cooking dishes that sound amazing and exciting and delicious, from one cookbook at a time. I get overwhelmed by options pretty easily, and despite the fact that I only have six cookbooks to my name, that’s still like 800 recipes or something. Eight hundred.

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So here were are on the first of July, my birthday month, which seems as good a time as any to start a new project. I am not putting time limits or rules on things, none of my old shenanigans that make me crack the whip on myself, I am simply going to cook out of the Jerusalem cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, for maybe a month, perhaps shorter, perhaps longer, we’ll just see how it goes. I absolutely love Middle Eastern food and this cookbook is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I want to get comfortable with a cuisine, with having different staples in my pantry and I want to use my cookbooks for what they’re meant for, cooking. So perhaps next month, or in a few weeks or whenever I’m ready for a new challenge, I’ll move on to the next one on my shelf. I think it’ll be fun and I’m excited to see what I learn, and to eat really well along the way. So here it goes.

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Detroit

July 24, 2012

I have a soft spot in my heart for Detroit. My parents used to take us there somewhat often as kids, to Tigers games, The Detroit Institute of Art, plays at the Hilberry Theater at Wayne State. As I got older I’d go there with friends to see concerts, to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in Hart Plaza. I saw Les Miserables at the Fox Theater with my sister where I fell into its mesmerizing musical trap, convincing me to buy the CD and play it on repeat learning nearly every word to every song. Still to this day I could sing you a tune or two, I wish I had that kind of memory for stuff I learned in college.

I also learned how to take photographs in Detroit in my late teens, early twenties. It’s where I fell in love with architecture. The buildings, crisscrossing lines, grandeur bumped right up next to decay, it was a feast for my eyes, and still is. I hadn’t roamed around Detroit with a camera in quite a while but a couple weeks ago Drew and I were back in Ann Arbor for a few days, and on the morning of my birthday, after breakfast at a diner, we did just that. And here’s a little bit of what I saw.