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Season of Change (+ Popovers)

[Misty morning, Inverness, October 2012.]

Sunday morning, cool and damp, awake before 7:30 to fog and tea. I laced up my running shoes (only slightly battered) and drove out to Bear Valley. I’d promised myself I’d be on the trail by 8:30 and I was.

I ‘got into’ trail running this summer and man, what a great thing that is. Mostly I run in the city, through Golden Gate Park (and the streets that feed into the Panhandle) and sometimes along the coast – and it does me just fine. But on an early Sunday morning when there is hardly anyone about, the trail still damp from the night’s mist, only the trees and assorted wildlife (spotted: a tiny bobcat, a huge, antlered elk, a rabbit, many birds, and a coyote trotting along the seashore road like it was no big deal) to keep you company … well, it’s hard to ever want to run on roads after that.

I’ve been quietly training for a marathon during the past few months – as I wrote to my friend Lisa, it’s a sort of ‘marathon training lite’, because I haven’t gone totally nuts on running myself (har har) into the ground as I may or may not have done in previous years. I’ve logged some long runs, sure (for the record: 2 16 milers, 2 19-milers, a 20, a 22, and a lot of 6-8-12-14-milers sprinkled in there – I hope it will be enough) but I really only ran about 3 times a week (sometimes 4, sometimes – gasp – just 2) and mixed it up with yoga classes and a weekly mile in the pool. It’s been … pretty good. At this point I do not feel totally exhausted, nor did I get injured, which really was the goal.

Suddenly the marathon is this Sunday, as in two days from now, while I am not sure what expect exactly – AND I seem to have come down with a wee cold, of all the luck – I’ve run the course before (it’s a gorgeous one). I’m crossing my fingers the forecast will hold and it will be sunny and in the 60s all day. I’m also already planning my immediate post-marathon fortification (quinoa + veggies, chocolate cake, gatorade) and the thought of Little Star for dinner no doubt will get me through (the promise of that first cup of coffee, too). I’m going to load up on pasta tonight and Saturday, and will fill the fridge with minestrone soup and lots of cheese and chocolate milk. Also potato chips. I will soak my feet in the Pacific at Ocean Beach after I cross the finish line and try not to think about how very long 26.2 miles actually is. I am excited and nervous but mostly excited; this is a farewell to San Francisco of sorts, and so I hope to do it well.

[Tomales Bay, October 2012.]

It’s no secret I love California. I love it for its wind-swept peaks, its golden hills, its gorgeous coastline stretching on for miles, its impossibly tall redwood trees and the smell of the forest. I love it for its people, its coffee, its local cheeses and delicious butter, its crazily abundant growing season (and cheap avocados). And of course I love it for what it means to me – home.

When I lived on the East Coast I pined for the Bay Area – truly, my friends got sick of me, I think, and my mooning on about it. In California it’s not humid, I’d wail through another stickily hot summer in Washington. In California you can drive to the beach in 25 minutes. In California there’s really good coffee. In California … I’d come back every chance I got, and leaving to go back ‘home’ caused a physical ache. When I got laid off in 2005, giving me the impetus to finally pack up all the stuff I’d accumulated during the nine years of living in Maryland and DC, I – and my pals – breathed a sigh of relief. I moved to San Francisco and have never looked back. I’ve visited, sure, and I miss my far-flung friends, but there has never been a shred of doubt that this is where I belong.

So to think of leaving it again is hard. To think of living elsewhere seems ludicrous like – what? That is not the way its supposed to be. And yet: I am leaving. I am going to be living elsewhere. And it’s not an ‘elsewhere’ like back to Washington or New York or Maine or even the Southwest, places with which I am familiar and while not-California are also not-so-bad. No — I (we) are moving farther than that, out of state, out of country, out of continent, to Morocco. In July.

I am thrilled and terrified at the same time. I have no idea what to expect. I have no idea how long it will take for my rusty French to coming crawling back to me, if I will be able to learn enough Moroccan Arabic to get by, if there are any places to buy tofu or if I’ll have to make my own (priorities), what our house will look like (will it have a big kitchen? Update: it does!), what the light will be like for taking photos (update 2: I think I will be happily pleased), will I finally be able to have a garden and a puppy (!), if I will have a job, etc. etc. etc.

It’s all a little crazy. We will live there for four years and while currently that seems an eternity the reality is that it’s not. We will come home a lot and the long-term plan is the Bay Area; we are locals after all, and our hearts belong to the Pacific coast (though we won’t be living near the Mediterranean in North Africa it won’t be terribly far and the Atlantic will be in sight – thank goodness for that) and that red bridge. It will be an adventure of the grandest and yet the most mundane — dinner still must be cooked every night; there will be a lot of baking — sort. I hope I will be able to write about it all, and often.

There is other stuff, too – big stuff, involving cookbooking and transitioning into freelance writing full-time, but today I think marathons and Morocco is enough. Also, popovers.

Last fall I dreamed in blackberry jam. I went crazy for it and canned more jars than I could reasonably count for my wedding and wedding cake (or I’ve blocked out the exact number on purpose because it was a lot). This year was less frenzied but we still did our bit and managed to pick enough berries in Sebastopol to turn into jam to fill a dozen plus jars, tuck into muffins, spoon atop popovers, and incorporate into cakes. I remembered again how blackberry picking is both painful (the thorns, the bees) and soothing (you talk of all and nothing and sometimes nothing at all). We fell into a routine of sleep in (’til 8:30!), drink coffee at Hardcore Espresso, breakfast in town, a swim at Ives, then picking for an hour or so. Hometown delights.

California in fall is brilliant, burnished. This season tends to make me slightly melancholy – or perhaps ‘wistful’ is a better word: the days grow shorter, the light mellows, the sun is less intense. Leaves fall and scatter and finally there is the promise of rain after so many dry months. I wish it would last longer though I know it can’t; perhaps this is the reason for the melancholy?

This year fall is even more bittersweet because it is the last one I will experience in California for a good while. My runs have a ‘last time I will do this for years’ tinge (not, you know, to get too maudlin); I want to hold on this lovely Indian Summer for as long as possible to make it last. It feels like a true season of change: we are moving next summer to Morocco for four years and I am only now really starting to wrap my mind around what that means (mostly: that I will have to plan my summer trips home to coincide with the blackberry season because, yeah.). But then again I know the blackberries will be here upon my return, the path will still wind out to Arch Rock, waiting patiently for my eager feet to run on it in September once again, the wild turkeys will set up camp in my parents’ field. It is not the end, only a postponement.

When you make blackberry jam from wild blackberries (or any sort), you don’t want to do anything fussy with it. It’s so good as-is. Toast, English muffins, muffins, etc. But if you get tired of those, might I suggest something similar but different in the form of popovers?

The Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station, a place frequented when dog-and-chicken sitting in Inverness, serves popovers as its starter to dinner. They are quite good: hot puffs of air are contained in the thinnest, butteriest, plainest of doughs, the perfect vehicle for more butter, honey, or, if I may say so myself, homemade blackberry jam. Popover seem difficult to make but really they aren’t, and are comprised of ingredients you probably have in your fridge right now. I imagine I will hoard a few jars of this year’s blackberry jam and tuck a muffin pan into my carry-on bag for our eventual arrival in Casablanca – surely eggs, butter, flour and milk shouldn’t be too hard to locate, right?! And then I will make popovers, load them up with jam, and see what comes next.


Popovers, via the Station House Cafe

When I make popovers, I always use a muffin tin and they turn out just fine (though I will admit to a certain amount of elbow grease needed to pry them from the pan). I think the key is to really grease the heck out of whatever kind of tin you use and then to eat pretty much immediately thereafter; you want them to stay warm and fluffy before devouring. Serve with honey and jam.

Makes one dozen popovers.

2 cups milk
1-1/4 cups flour
6 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
Softened butter, for greasing the pan

optional sugar coating
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Oven to 350. Butter a muffin or popover tin.

Mix milk and flour, then add eggs & butter. Beat well with a whisk. Fill muffin pans to the top and bake for 55 minutes or until the popovers are golden on all sides.

Remove from oven, wait a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then remove from pan and set them on a cooling rack.

For coating: Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Thoroughly brush each popover all over with the 1/4 cup (60 g) of melted butter, then dredge each puff generously in the sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat them completely. Let cool on the wire rack.



  1. So many congratulations to you! I’m a bit late on wishing the best of wishes for this move and new adventure but slightly more timely on congrats for a race well run and a birthday! As I transition TO this place, it’s interesting to think of your similar-but-different transition away from it. I’m sure you’ll have such an amazing set of years away. And your attitude is perfect: “see what comes next.” I think I shall adopt this as my own mantra for my current season. :) Cheers to you and your new adventures!

  2. hi nicole,
    i’ve enjoyed reading your blog for the past several years now. i’m an american ex-pat who’s been living in bombay for the past four years (and will probably continue to live here for many more). i’m excited about your move – i think you will write about it beautifully.

  3. What a rich and beautiful post. First of all, good luck on your run! Sometimes the training is more gratifying than the race itself. Sounds like plunging your feet in the Pacific at the end will be a satisfaction all its own. Secondly, as someone who has bounced between the California and Maine all her life, I empathize so much with that push and pull feeling and that glorification of one or the other. And that sense that one of them really is ‘home’. Thirdly, SO excited to read your posts from Morocco. And all the ones you write before you go. Run like the wind!

  4. Wow, so much exciting news! Good luck on your marathon tomorrow. Blackberry jam is my favorite, and I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be with wild blackberries.

  5. oh wow! morocco, the book, freelancing full time—what amazing days lie ahead. you’ll have so much to savor and write about. perhaps you’re next book will be a memoir? as for the marathon, you’re a pro and you’ll do great. imagine yourself running the trails in the morning fog and feeling strong. the popovers, yes! I’m dusting cinnamon and sugar on all breads lately. congrats on all fronts, you can do it…

  6. I feel it with you – that extra touch to everything you see, hear, or do – this is the last time for that… or next year I won’t see this… But yes, it will all be waiting here when you come back. You are off to a great adventure in your life, but it’s nice to know it has bookends. You can frame it with time.

    I love popovers, and one of the things I love about them is the very few ingredients they use – eggs, milk, flour, and butter – it speaks of a simple food, yet it does amazing things. I haven’t made them in ages. It’s time to do it again.

  7. Goodness! How exciting! All the very best for the marathon (enjoy that after-reward!) and looking forward to the Adventures in Casablanca! (I’m dreaming of that jam, too!)

  8. What exciting news! It will be so great to follow your adventures in Morocco. Now focus on the present and soak up your beautiful bay area. Have a great race this weekend. You sound well prepared. Have a safe race. I just ran my first 50k last weekend in upstate NY. What a fun experience that was. A fun new adventure to try after the marathon distance;)

  9. yay for you! You are going to LOVE Morocco. It is insane, a little, but the people are absolutely amazing and the food, THE FOOD. The butter is weird! I liked it but it definitely tastes like… cow? More raw than ours for sure! I am so looking forward to following your continued adventures, and wish I could meet you there! Too bad my wings are clipped, for the time being.

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