Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Revelations in Ms. O'Keefe's pantry, Fall Storage Thoughts and Goodness v. Greatness

Abiquiu sunset

Kitchen Mesa, Abiquiu

Just back from New Mexico where inspiration in the landscapes loomed large at every curve in the road, Beauty with a capital B reigned supreme. Long walks into canyon lands, tough hikes up red bluffs to scrubby white mesas, breaths taken away, sunsets chased, stars in the inky night sky counted, but most of all, in a beautiful place called Abiquiu, a favorite artist's house visited one morning and in so far as, in that place, I swooned. 

studio photo by Todd Webb

The Georgia O'Keefe house and studio in Abiquiu is an expertly run enterprise in a town where not much happens to the naked eye. This post isn't a travelogue but if you're asking, there are a few things to do in Abiquiu (pronounce like BBQ): you can hike through some gorgeous landscapes, you can hike or ride a horse at Ghost Ranch where Georgia first stopped when she realized she loved this place, you can read or write or set up and paint a fantastic vista, or you can shop at Bode's General Store as though you lived here, where a few wrinkly peppers and hard peaches (with a sign, "DON'T TOUCH IF YOU'RE NOT BUYING", (hell yes I touched) are the only fresh foods in sight for 50 miles... Bode's makes a great green chile cheeseburger. There are a few more things going on in Abiquiu too--a peek inside the church in the old, quiet little mud-walled pueblo, a picnic and a swim at the reservoir and probably two other things, check your "forums" (pronounced FOREARMS)for those. For a visit to Ms. O'Keefe's, which is what all the locals call her,(and which, that added sense of intimacy rooted her here for me, in this landscape and made her everything fall into place in a real way, in a way that only travel and touching that same soil will do), you have to make a reservation way ahead of time and it's not cheap, but if you love her story and her work, minimalist sensibilities and inspiring iconic houses, then you'll do it.

photo by Todd Webb

I booked our place in the tour a few days ahead, which was pretty out of character if you ask me, from a girl who booked a ticket to Albuquerque one week before, and was standing behind a (pretty fantastic) tour guide at Georgia O'Keefe's house the week after. I don't love planning but I do love efficiency. It was here, at Georgia O'Keefe's house and studio, where, on a 10:30 am tour, no photos allowed on the premises, where a bunch of kind-faced culture-loving retirees and us--we've never looked so young and ALIVE(!) felt the presence of divinity. That happened to me anyway. I lagged behind, totally illegal on this tour, and loitered, open-mouthed and ogled in her kitchen. It all came to me. 

Georgia O'Keefe's kitchen had me thinking about the strength of her character, about vast landscapes and focused projects, about delicate hearts and looking closely. Also, about storage. What? Storage! And necessity. 

And here is where I segue into thoughts on storage. And necessity.: Some people thrive on thinking about it and for others it's a really hard puzzle. I'm right in between. It's something you face, come nose to nose with when you begin a job, plan a home, think about your office or studio. Storage needs to help you, help you to keep things simple so you can tune out the clutter, the extra steps, all the unnecessary things that make work harder. My younger self thought the Container Store and Ikea were a good idea, and sometimes that's true. But my older wiser self is just thinking about jars.

Back to Georgia: her kitchen was left in the same state as it was in the mid-80's when she died and I spied with my little eyes all the tools she used/touched: Revereware! enamel colanders! Pressure cookers, Chemex coffee makers!, the grains she liked: well there are a lot of beans on offer in NM), the placement of appliances and cabinets (our stove is the same stove as hers, don't ask), and most of all, all of her GLASS JARS WITH MASKING TAPE LABELS. In the middle of nowhere, when cars moved real slow, bulk buying was de rigeur, as was canning and seed saving. Jars made the most sense I think, tight sealable storage, what you have is clear as day, right there for the using. 

Ms. O'Keefe cooks, photo by Todd Webb

These are some of my jars, not Georgia's jars

Lingering in that pantry, as the rest of the tour moved along and I was asked to kindly "keep it flowing" by the lady following along to make sure no one put anything in their pockets, I resisted having to move. I felt my own love of glass jar storage make my heart butterflies fluttery. I also loved the plywood tables with tapered saw-horse legs but let's save that for another day. I felt in that moment, that my thoughts put me within the ranks of the great minimalists of American history, a pragmatic and direct thinker. And when I came down from those delusions, I thought this: everything you need peppered with a few things you love should be visible and within reach, and will call out to you to use them, not the other way around. In your kitchen and in your workplace your materials beckon you, but when you need them, they should be staring right back from where you left them the last time. Jars, stones, skulls, feathers. Beans, dried epazote, coffee, cardamom. 

An artist's studio is no different from a kitchen. It's a place where, if creative work will flow, the potential for optimal creativity has to beckon. If your tools and materials needed to make a masterpiece or at least a pretty good piece, are there in front of you when you are looking for them, what a joy to keep working! They call you, no more secrets or time squandering, looking for what you don't have, only peering straight at what you do. 

I decided this: keeping your kitchen ingredients in clear jars is the most satisfying keeping of all. Being able to see and appreciate your ingredients makes for a really inspiring kitchen. And out of a really inspiring kitchen comes goodness, much better than greatness. 

It means getting rid of greasy baggies, crusty paper bags, and dumb cardboard boxes (the ones with the foil insert bags that never re-seal unless you use transparent tape. TRANSPARENT TAPE + FOOD = I THINK NOT, THAT'S WHAT). It means, saving all your pretty and useful jars or using uniform sizes, (we use spent jam and honey jars, sometimes mustard jars, and maybe supplementing with the very attractive and useful Weck jars--I super love these). It equals all your dried herbs that maybe you picked and dried yourself, the spices you found on your last vacation (Mexican oregano and dried chiles, Indian jaggery anyone, fresh saffron from a friend in Lebanon, etc.), nuts and seeds and edible flower petals or air dried citrus rinds, all find solace within the transparent walls of these jars and hopefully placed where the sun don't shine, in a cool, dry place, like the instructions always read, and your kitchen will beckon you with ideas. 

Also, old can instead of spoon rest=path of least resistance when your spoon and tongs are messy and needed close by(hell yes, I'm cooking pork).

Bag of Chimayo Chile from the Santa Fe farmers Market 
about to get schooled aka placed in a big Weck Jar

Did I talk about Happy Camper IPA from New Mexico in this post? 
Damn, I should have.

 These little jars are my favorites, seasoning salts extraordinary and let's face it: what doesn't need seasoning salt? 

Just a pretty fantastic kitchen we saw at the Circle A Ranch in Cuba, NM

Me and Jimmy Quazar, waxing poetic about jars in front of an adobe wall, 
somewhere in New Mexico, North America.

Everyone needs a roadmap every now and again. It's just the way it goes.