Saturday, September 29, 2007

Travel Journals "On Tour" on YouTube

On YouTube, some journal writers who create visual art and travel journals present them in video form without the chatter, simply showing pages of homemade creations through words and images. This reminds me of the old computer game Myst, which showed pages turning before your eyes in a strange, swimming fashion.

An art journal might contain words and pictures that connect ones thoughts and experiences, while a travel journal which also includes art will chart a trip in a memorable, visual fashion using words to fortify the mix. Actually, both YouTube examples I provided links for exemplify art journaling as well as travel journaling.

Can anyone recommend more YouTube videos on art journals or travel journals? If anyone has a special way of incorporating art, maps or photos with words in a journal, I'd like to hear from you. ◦

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stone Soup Meals at the Poetry Farm

Dinner meals were a collective, creative effort at the Poetry Farm, a writer's colony and organic fruit and vegetable farm in Orfordville, Wis, at which I was a resident for two weeks.

Both residents and full-time farmer Henry would trade off cooking, assisting and clean-up duties. It almost became a game to try to come up with elegant meals using mostly what was on hand, fresh from the farm.

In one version of the children's story Stone Soup, a traveler came to a woman's door with a stone and added it to a pot of water she placed on the hearth. He kept telling the woman the soup was good just as is but if she just added a bit of carrot, then butter, turnip and one thing after the other, it would taste so much better. In the end, it was a full, delicious soup.

Being mid-September, pears and many vegetables were in profusion, and the hens had reached a stage of maturity to begin laying eggs on a regular basis.

Resident Ariana (pictured above) created a simple, though luscious fresh pear salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and gorgonzola cheese. Henry graced us twice with a gratin, one vegetarian, one not, using home-grown onions, garlic, carrots, Russian kale, tomatoes and red pepper over penne pasta. I tried whipping up a tomato egg curry from the Moosewood Cookbook, handily available on the kitchen shelf. It included fresh tomatoes, red pepper, garlic and eggs from the farm, with a curry sauce made from a combination of pantry items and served over brown rice.

A taco buffet included many fresh chopped vegetables and a stone soup contained no stone, but used chicken broth as a base continuously heaped with whatever available items we could chop and throw into the pot, including carrots, bell peppers, fresh thyme and basil, onion, garlic, small cut potatoes, shucked corn, a can of black beans and the secret seasonings of white wine, olive oil and butter.

It was particularly fun to make stuffed bell peppers, to find the largest ones from the gardens, clean and blanche them in boiling water for a minute, then see how many layers of ingredients could fit in before each overflowed. I managed to place a small slice of tomato on the floor of each pepper and then continue with sections devoted to brown rice, grated parmesan cheese, and ground beef loaded with chopped onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary and basil. On the larger peppers, I tried to slip a peeled soft-cooked egg in the midst of the beef without breaking.

On the last night, Henry also churned up some homemade ice cream, flavoring with grape syrup made from vineyard grapes which had been previously boiled down and cooled. I never had grape ice cream before. The wine of ice creams!

Although I had brought along an assortment of snacks from home -- goji berries, almonds and cherry pie Larabars -- in case I was hungry, I rarely ate them since the meals were so hearty and satisfying, even when doing four hours of farm work everyday. ◦

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hoeing My Row at the Poetry Farm

Fall is probably my favorite time to write and has turned out to be my annual favorite time to get away from Chicago to do so. I was fortunate enough to spend two productive and rewarding, if not unusual, weeks at a writers' retreat that is beyond comparison with any other. It is the Poetry Farm in Ordfordville, Wis.

Poets Lisa Fishman and Rick Meier, and full-time farmer Henry Morren are your hosts on the 12-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm, set on a rolling hill. I had decided on the Poetry Farm for a number of reasons. I found out about it through a link on the Poetry Foundation website, it is only a 100-mile drive from Chicago, and I wanted to learn more about organic farming and the plants themselves for a manuscript of poems about food which I'm currently working on.

During my stay, I worked four hours each morning alongside Henry and another two-week resident like myself, Ariana Kelly, from Seattle. If we weren't hoeing strawberry rows in preparation for next spring, we were clearing weeds from underneath each apple tree and de-grubbing the lower trunks. And if we weren't hoeing vineyards, I was helping Henry place a new, higher wire along a two-block stretch of one, and training and tying vines onto it. The four-hour Monday through Saturday stints are in exchange for cabin accommodations and includes all meals, if not wine and occasional homemade ice cream.

My "pod" was the cabin in the photo, a type of modular space featured in magazines such as Dwell and one that homeowners might put in their backyards or decks as a studio or office space. Henry and Rick wisely placed four open and close screened windows and a screen door on the "pod," correcting a design flaw on typical models that feature one picture window sheet of glass or plexi in front, which offers a seamless view, but one that could likely roast the occupant on a warm, sunny day. The cabin is furnished with a duvet-covered futon (with extra blankets, comforter and pillows), a large finished wood desk and chair and a small cabinet where I stored candles and snacks.

On a typical day after morning farm duty, I grabbed lunch and a shower in the farm house and made my way back up the hill to an afternoon of writing in the pod. There is neither electricity nor running water in the pod, nor in the "coop" on the other side of the farm or the "loft" in a small barn-like structure behind the farm house. With complete southern exposure, the pod offers tremendous natural light to read and write. With my laptop charged the night before in the farmhouse, I was able to also use that when I was ready to capture or tweak previously handwritten poems.

Nights were more tricky. While one small "nightlight" type lantern is provided, the combination of three candles and a wind-up lantern I brought along with me was sufficient for evening reads. The September air often took on a chill after 9 p.m., so I layered my clothes until it was time to retire. On the more mild nights, I would climb under sheets and a lightweight sleeping bag I opened up as a comforter. On the colder nights, and frost hit on September 15, I zipped up an alternate sleeping bag, my trusty old arctic goosedown mummy, which kept me utterly warm and comfortable. ◦