31 January 2012


You know how, when the moon is near to the horizon, you can actually see it moving in relationship to mountains, buildings or other earth-bound landmarks? The sun's movement can also be easily perceived as you observe the slant of a shadow shifting before your eyes. It doesn't take very long to notice small changes like these. But what about the transformation of a bud into a flower?

You may have had your fill of daffodils in my last post (I know I thought I had), but it turns out they've had more to say since. In the process of salvaging the last few flowers to put in vases, I discovered several new buds, so instead of discarding the bulbs I pruned the floppiest leaves and returned the plant to its place near the window. It wasn't long before the remaining foliage & stems reverted to their former perky selves, and I wondered if the latent buds would bloom now that the plant had been given a new life.

* * * * *

The next day, as I'm sitting at the studio table, I glance at the plant and notice that one of the buds (which had basically been a long, flat extension of the stem just minutes before) is beginning to swell. Soon, the papery 'sac' starts to split, ever so slightly, and the bud grows curved and plump over the next quarter hour. Hooked by this transformation happening right in front of me, I set the plant on the sill, and position my stool to face it.

I begin this daytime 'vigil' shortly before one. As I try to concentrate on the bud, my mind can't help but wander to other things...namely how I'm going to get through the long line of projects if I don't tear myself away from the daffodil. Even with other tasks enticing me, I can't seem to resist the allure of an unknown path...you never know where it will lead. Sometimes to a dead end. But other times you find yourself waiting for the birth of a flower.

Every few minutes I take a new series of photos in an attempt to document the bud's transformation. The sun half blinds me, and sun spots creep into the images, but I'm trying to maintain the same position and not disturb the flower (as much as I would like to explore it with my fingers). The flower stems are camouflaged so well that I keep finding other buds among the leaves―it does not escape me that these daffodils have led to more discoveries than I could have imagined since I first brought the bulbs home (hoping they just might be paperwhites). Even though they were not my first choice, after living with them for the past few weeks, I find I have grown fond of their company.

I think one reason this botanical minutia especially intrigues me at the moment is because of the sestina I have been writing for my latest artist's book; it's inspired by a favorite quote of mine, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." As I work in the studio I often glance up at these words of Robert Louis Stevenson's; they remind me that the results of each day’s work aren’t always immediately apparent, helping me to stay focused on the process. I have been wanting to delve deeper into the realm of poetry, and the form of the sestina in particular appeals to me: it is structured around six words that repeat in a specific pattern throughout the course of six stanzas of six lines each (+ a three-line envoi). Who knows, there might even be a sestina hidden in this six-petaled daffodil...

The papery sac (called a 'spathe'―this new-found interest in daffodils has taught me a thing or two) continues to split like a seam, revealing the outer petals. Slowly, the bud changes its direction, away from the sun, giving me a new perspective. When my daughter arrives home from school, she finds me at the studio window instead of in the kitchen making lunch. Perplexed by my intention to stay with the emerging flower―but used to such unexpected twists in our days―she agrees to make lunch. We eat in the studio, keeping an eye on the emerging bud while she tells me about her day.

Around three o'clock the tips of the petals begin separating slightly, though they are still curved closely in the cupped form of a bud. The plant is in constant motion from the slight breeze that causes the stalks to sway, which makes it even harder to photograph the delicate bud perched at the tip of its stem. As the petals gradually differentiate from one another, their greenish cast fades, and the yellow becomes more pronounced. Still, the petals huddle close, and once the sun dips behind the buildings across from ours I figure the flower will only resume opening when the light returns tomorrow.

But it surprises me. By the time I check again after an hour or so, one petal has fully released itself, and then, in the space of four minutes, a second one follows suit. The corona that lies at the center of the outer petals is now visible, and it's clear that (after three-and-a-half hours), the bud has finally distinguished itself as a flower...

 * * * * *

I didn't have a chance to go through the photos and my notes until now, so this entry is appearing one week after the 'event'. Incidentally, within twenty-four hours of first noticing the bud beginning to emerge from the spathe, all of the outer petals had fully released. Other daffodils have emerged in the meanwhileand I even noticed another potential flower hiding in a second pot of bulbs that I believed was truly spent.
But I promise: no more talk of daffodils from this corner of the blogosphere...

Backlit by the sun as one of the petals begins to separate; the spathe can be seen on the right.

The bud photographed through my magnifying glass.

The unruly foliage grows paler over time, resembling lengths of narrow ribbon with a shimmer not unlike the green spool awaiting its part in a current project.

* * * * *

For a website with some super close-up/microscopic views of daffodils, please follow this link.

22 January 2012

Daffodils on the windowsill

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are one of my favorite winter flowers. I love both the simplicity of their delicate white blossoms and their fragrance. While you can find them already cut & bundled into expensive little bunches, I've had a hard time finding the bulbs themselves. So when I came across a wide array of spring bulbs recently, I chose a handful labelled 'Narciso' (despite knowing that the local florists typically refer to paperwhites as 'jonquilla'), and hoped for the best.

Within a few days, the first of the little blooms revealed that I had in fact bought yellow daffodils. While there is a world of difference between paperwhites and daffodils, they have done a wonderful job brightening up the studio for the last couple of weeks. There's something reassuring about watching the thin green blades taking off, growing about a centimeter a day...until the yellow-tipped ends are soon darting off every which way, like shooting stars.

This morning I watched as yet another long stem slowly collapsed under its own weight. In their latest incarnation of unruly foliage, I realized the pots of daffodils have a lot in common with the state of my studio these days (this is not an inaccurate representation of how my brain tends to feel too, with ideas & plans taking off in all directions). Since getting back to the studio again after the holidays, my work space has grown more chaotic with each passing day. At times like these, I find myself embracing the confusion on my desk and in my head―which may be why I can appreciate the rather disheveled daffodils. When I first brought them home, they were so sweet and so pretty as, hopefully, they reached toward the light; now those formerly straight, potent stalks are full of movement and motion, and seem to have taken on a beautiful life of their own.

With a few more orders filled and sent off this weekend, now it’s time to tidy up, file away, re-assess and begin a new phase...very fitting in light of tomorrow’s new moon. I will spend some time reorganizing the studio, rescue a few just-emerged daffodil buds I spotted among the ‘exploding’ stalks (to put in a small vase), and finally get to work on the many projects that have been quietly building momentum in the wings. At the top of the list: more artist books, an alphabet-inspired challenge, and new items for PaperSynthesis. More on these soon...

17 January 2012

Coconut & blueberries

Blueberries seem quite exotic to me these days. I don't know if they are ever grown locally, and I could probably count the number of times we've bought blueberries here on one hand. But when I was at a large grocery store on the outskirts of Florence the other day, spotting the blueberries reminded me of a recipe I'd just seen for blueberry-coconut muffins.

It was actually the coconut that caught my attention when I came across the recipe on one of the blogs I like to visit (Simply Breakfast). The blogger, Jen Causey, is a photographer who loves 'breakfast + morning light', and she regularly shares the often zen-like photographs of her breakfasts on her blog. (You'll find the link under 'Inspiration' in the right-hand column.)

Jen's muffins were inspired by a recipe in a cookbook she'd been given, and the recipe I've included below was in turn inspired by Jen's―though I don't know if the author of the cookbook would still recognize it! Anyone who has seen the recipes I've posted to my website in the past knows that I offer them more as seeds that might grow into something new and unexpected...this is also how I tend to approach recipes. Part of this is due to rarely having every ingredient listed, but it's also because sometimes I just feel like exchanging apples for pears, or cinnamon for cardamom, or milk for cream...or adding anything else that sounds good. Cooking has to be creative to keep me in the kitchen―otherwise I'd rather stay in the studio.

I'm also a big fan of using what's on hand; this is often what determines what ends up on the table for lunch or dinner. It keeps things interesting, and means everything gets used up (one way or another). In the case of the blueberry muffins, it seemed like the perfect way to use up the egg whites left over from McCormick & Schmick's sublime CHOCOLATE BRIOCHE, which I had made earlier in the week. Oatmeal took the place of the flaxseed that we were missing, and butter filled in for coconut oil (although I used much less than the original recipe, even after doubling the dry ingredients). Since we didn't have any plain yogurt, I used a nice, creamy one with bits of cherry in it, and the cranberry sauce that we finally found in stock after Thanksgiving took the place of the jam. I'm sure there are endless ways to customize the ingredients to suit your pantry's contents and your personal taste and whims.

A few notes before giving you my variation on the recipe...
  • As my daughter pointed out to me, they aren't very muffin-like; instead of being light and fluffy, they are quite dense―but in a satisfying, oatmeal-y kind of way.
  • While the already-toasted oatmeal was still in the mortar, I added the coconut to the pan and warmed it slightly, then returned the now-ground oatmeal to the pan once again, and also stirred in the sugar for the last 20 seconds. I like how the heat releases the scents and flavors.
  • If you add sugar, as I did, you may wish to omit the jam (though I didn't find the muffins to be too sweet with both―maybe because I used cranberry?).
  • Just out of the oven, the muffins were a little on the oily side (probably because of the coconut), so if you don't use liners you can probably get away with not greasing the muffin tin before filling with batter. I suggest allowing them to cool completely before eating, so they won't fall apart.


Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners.

In a medium bowl, stir together:
1⅓ cups coconut (I used farina di cocco, 'flour' of coconut, which is already ground quite finely);
½ cup rolled oatmeal (toasted over the stove top for a few minutes, then roughly-ground with a mortar & pestle);
¼ cup demerara sugar;
2 tsps baking powder;
½ tsp salt;
until all ingredients are integrated.

In a small bowl, whisk:
½ cup egg whites + 1 whole egg;
then add & continue whisking:
1 Tbsp jam/similar condiment of your choice;
1 Tbsp yogurt (plain or a fruit flavor that goes well with blueberries/coconut);
then make a well at the center of the dry ingredients, pour in and stir with a wooden spoon.

In a small microwave-proof bowl or a heavy-bottomed pot over the stove, melt:
6 Tbsp butter;
then mix it in with the other ingredients. Let the batter sit for about ten minutes.

Divide the mixture among the compartments of a muffin tin; there should be enough batter to fill about ten. Sprinkle on:
10-12 blueberries per muffin;
then partially press them into the batter.

Bake for about twenty minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean). Let muffins cool completely before removing from the tin. Enjoy! (We found the taste and texture seemed to improve each day...)

12 January 2012


Red things: pomegranate gems & a cherry juice cube floating in a glass of cranberry juice

Begin. That's my word for the month. There are so many ways in which I could apply this word to my life. One of my biggest challenges seems to be sending work into the world, even if it's something as simple as a blog entry. With the 'original' Arzigogolare I would return to each entry day after day, for hours at a time―not only to edit, but to continue developing―'growing'―whatever topic I had chosen. There would be new research and more thoughts to weave in, which then necessitated a restructuring of what would inevitably begin to approach 2000 words...more than anyone really has time to read online! At one point I redesigned the layout of my monthly entries and started included more images, recipes, links and other extras. The new layout made the process more interesting for me (and my readers, I hope), but even more time consuming. So I suppose one of the things I wish for this reinvented version of Arzigogolare is to be less precious with my words, and to simply share.

Today I'd like to share a few thoughts on pomegranates. Not only do I love the shape, the color and the delicious jewel-like seeds, but I also appreciate what a pomegranate represents for me: serenity. Removing the seeds takes time and a certain amount of concentration, and I still remember a winter when I was literally too busy with deadlines to take advantage of pomegranate season. Now I've come to view the process of releasing the seeds to be a meditation of sorts...a way of centering my mind.

As I prepared a tray for this morning's seed extraction session, the colors of the pomegranate, the cranberry-cherry juice concoction and the cloth enticed me to photograph the tray first... Which brings me to one of the projects on my list for this year. I love trays―and own many of them―and I always enjoy the process of composing items on a tray, whether it's for breakfast in my studio, afternoon tea with a friend, a study session for my daughter or a movie night on the sofa. Sometimes I use them to arrange fruits and vegetables, or papers or beads or books―anything that might benefit from a some togetherness or organization. The tray in today's photo is one of my favorites...you will likely come to know it quite well in the next several months, as I share other tray-themed 'still lifes'.

* * * * *

I would love to know if you have a word for the month (or for the year). Please share if you're inclined...

{To read some of my past writings about pomegranates, please click HERE & HERE.}

10 January 2012

Arzigogolare: let your mind wander

My favorite olive tree at Florence's Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden), the perfect place to 'arzigogolare'.

Welcome to the new 'Arzigogolare', a collection of writings that began three years ago as a followup to The Piazzas of Florence, a book inspired by my adopted city.

In the initial entry, I explained how I came to chose the word 'arzigogolare' for my blog:
"I am still trying to grasp the exact meaning of ‘arzigogolare’, a word I came across when I was first learning Italian. My textbook translated the verb as ‘to let one’s mind wander’, though it’s also linked to other, more negative meanings (to quibble, to build castles in the air). I was fascinated by the word’s zing, by the connotations of daydreaming, and while I have since discovered that not everyone considers ‘letting your mind wander’ to be a worthy pursuit, I do believe it’s essential for a creative life.
So enamored was I of the unusual verb that the opening chapter of the book that would later become The Piazza of Florence was originally entitled ‘Arzigogolare’. The name seemed to reflect the receptive state of mind needed for recording one’s travels, which had been the focus of the first chapter. As the book changed and evolved, however, the word no longer seemed to have a place; it retreated to the back of my mind, waiting for the right time."

The time seemed right when I chose 'Arzigogolare' as the place to collect 'everyday reflections inspired by the city of Florence'. In the years since The Piazzas of Florence was published, my focus has shifted back into the studio after a long period spent mainly writing, but the concept of 'arzigogolare' still very much applies to how I work and how I create. I have many exciting projects planned for 2012, and look forward to sharing them in this space. It may take some time to get my bearings in this new 'environment', but I am excited to see how Arzigogolare will evolve.

To see the original Arzigogolare entry, please click HERE.

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