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Lavender Tea and ‘Season To Taste’

[On the way to work, July 2011.]

Good morning from glorious San Francisco where the sun is shining and it’s actually, can I say it?, kind of hot. I snapped that photo above as I left the house — sweet, sweet sun! — and just had a long and languorous coffee and a chat with my friend Lesli (note to Jackson Square inhabitants: the cafe closes at 1p today so if you’re like me you’ll be sure to load up on the iced coffee early), in which we sipped our beverages and marveled at the weather and discussed lunch plans. I’m all packed for a weekend out of town. I can actually walk today without being in excruciating pain (!). My guy returned last night from the East Coast and all is right with the world. My clothes are clean. I might even get in a swim sometime during the next few days. There will be a barbecue on Monday.

[Coffee, July 2011.]

But that’s all pretty everyday stuff, though lovely in its own right. Really I’m here to document that brilliant sun (in San Francisco, especially in July, we do not take such things for granted) and to tell you about my ‘friend’ Molly Birnbaum‘s book, Season to Taste, which I’ve just finished and am contemplating reading again immediately because it’s so good.

Molly and I connected … a few years ago? Longer? … through the rabbit-hole effects of the Internet. I don’t remember how in particular I came across her blog, My Madeline, but when I did I was immediately struck by her words. She’s a terrific writer, with that elusive ability to help the reader really see the stories she’s writing about, and has a beautiful economy of language I admire (and wish I could better emulate; see above for my tendency to, as my man Robert Plant has said, ramble on.). And the story she tells in her book is a doozy — months before embarking on a course of study at the Culinary Institute of America she was hit by a car. Not only was she off her feet for weeks due to a knee injury, she soon discovered she’d lost her sense of smell, and, even more frustrating, her ability to taste.

Can you imagine? A cook who can’t taste or smell? These basic abilities we take for granted — gone, in a sudden flash. I can’t fathom it, really, although she does a fantastic job of communicating just how difficult it was. Her entire life plan was altered; she had to start anew in more ways than one. Smells slowly crept back — chocolate, coffee, skunk — but they were fleeting and inconsistent. Once confident in the kitchen, she was hesitant and nervous, unable to trust herself. And yet — she forged on. She eventually started cooking again, even if she couldn’t taste what she produced, and even if it wasn’t perfect. How incredibly hard this must have been. It’s far too easy to fall down into the depths of despair and stay there, but to be able climb back up and re- fashion a life and to grow and learn from the experience is a gift. To the reader following her journey, it’s incredibly inspiring.

Molly and I haven’t quite managed to connect in person just yet (note: book tour to SF? Oh please say you will!), hence that ‘friend’, but if and when we do I have a feeling we’ll get along just great — and not only because she’s baked a wedding cake, is a careful and meticulous writer of journalism and essay alike, runs half-marathons, and cooks like crazy. It for sure will be because of all of those things, but I think it will also be because once, for a brief stretch, she lived in Point Reyes and wrote for the Light (pssst — me, too, but only for a little bit), and has a fondness for that place that as you know is my beloved place, the one that has a particular hold on my heart. People who get the West Marin thing are definitely my people.

Well also … Let’s be honest. I want to meet her to talk small newspapers and writing and running but also, um, I’d like her to cook for me. Is that wrong? I hope not. This is what I’d choose: tomato soup to start, then butternut squash macaroni and cheese, the roasted cauliflower (of course) she mentions in the book, finished off with a slice or two of plum cake. I’ll provide the ice cream and the lavender tea. And the wine. A fair trade?

So cheers to you, Molly, my to-be in-person-friend! Your book is marvelous and I am so glad for you! And I’m glad for me, too, because I hope the chorus of praise you’re getting all ’round means you’ll be writing another book very soon. We’ll all be the better for it.

I’ve chosen to share a recipe for lavender-infused tea in a small tribute to Season To Taste because it somehow feels just right. Lavender is probably my favorite herb — I wrote about this in depth a few years ago for NPR — and rarely a day goes by that I don’t incorporate it in some way into my life. I adore its scent: earthy, slightly sweet, pungent and delicate at the same time. Yet, it’s true, for all my love I also take it for granted — what would I do if I lacked the ability to smell it? With that thought in mind, I vow to slow down a bit. I shall take a moment to deeply inhale. I will drink lots of cool tea this weekend and send a silent prayer of thankfulness for this life, and all the little things.

Lavender Tea

1 teaspoon of tea, loose leaf Earl Grey, or a mild black or white tea
3 teaspoons of dried lavender flowers or 2 tablespoons of fresh flowers
4 cups water

Bring the water to a boil.

Place your tea and the lavender flowers in a tea pot or a regular pot (you’ll want one that’s good for steeping). Pour the water over the top. Steep 4 to 5 minutes and serve, or let cool and refrigerate for warm days like today, when you want something cool.


  1. this is so lovely and well written and fun and ‘Nicole’ that maybe, just maybe, i mean, would it be WRONG if I, as an already in-person friend, was a tad, um, jealous? just asking… :)

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