Gourmet Gwen blog

Shipping Pre-Orders NOW

13428487_1299118510117324_4791759611880271328_nBe the first to get your hands on a copy of Follow That Arrow, my adventure travel memoir with yummy recipes included. All you need to do to get a copy shipped to you NOW is contribute to my IndieGoGo campaign. 

If you would rather wait, regular orders will be available via Amazon real soon.

In the meantime, why not like Follow That Arrow on Facebook? Or, better yet, mention your excitement to read the book on Twitter (@gourmet_gwen) or Instagram (@gourmetgwen) by using #FollowThatArrow.

Thanks friends!

 

 

Hey Mom

 

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I’m sitting on the couch with a baby who is twelve days old. It’s been raining all week and in between feedings we nap together, or listen to soft music, or watch a movie while she sleeps. The rain splashes against the windows and we are very cozy with our blankets and our hot tea and dad in the kitchen making dinner. Her tiny baby head fits in my hand. She’ll never be this small again, she is growing fast.

She is growing so fast that we will probably forget the way her shiny glass eyes peer out from a squishy face. We will forget how cute and soft her little noises are, her wide yawn, her impossibly tiny fingernails. She will grow and grow and very quickly her hair will turn from down to soft curls to textured locks. Her mouth will go from soft pink to full of teeth to crooked smile. I will forget what it felt like to carry her in my belly, the pain of birth, the anticipation of seeing her face for the first time.

This time will pass, like all things do, beautiful and tragic. We will never again have a tiny infant Ella to croon over while she sleeps, weeks of rain to keep us indoors, hours and hours just to hold her and rock her and admire her ears and eyebrows and toes. So that leaves nothing else to do but just savor this day, this entry into Motherhood. To take some time to be thankful for answered prayers that were so precious, they were never spoken aloud.

I never thought that it would feel this way, being a mom. It feels the same as standing on a mountain top, having walked for weeks and weeks. It feels the same as customers filling the coffee shop I started from scratch. It feels the same as locking the door to my Hawaiian home for the last time and not looking back. That glorious sense of free fall when you take a chance on something your heart is pulling you toward. That realization that this is the song of your heart. That moment of knowing, I was made for this.

And now I get to share all my heart songs with her, my little Ella Seraphim, as my mom did with me and your mom did with you. Not many of us get to experience this thing called being a mother, but all of us have been mothered, and so we are all in the fold.

For all the mom’s who have come before us, and all that will come after, we are in this together. For all those that have been held by a mother, fed by a mother, loved by someone who might as well be your mother, well we are all together, too.

So let’s use this time called Mother’s Day to appreciate just right where we are. Whether you are a new mom, a grandma, whether you have a great mom to celebrate or a mom to remember, let’s be thankful that someone fed us, cuddled us and kept us alive. Thanks mom.

Pre-Order Follow That Arrow

Friends, followers and foodies,

The time has finally come to pre-order my book Follow That Arrow. Release date will be sometime this month, please stand-by for details. The link below is to the crowd-funding campaign I created in case some of you are able to chip in a little extra to help out with publishing costs. If you are not able to do so, I will be offering the books for sale via my website very soon ($14.95 plus shipping).

Click to support the launch of my very first book!

Thanks in advance for your support,

Gwen

PS: I am still donating 10% of sales to the Hays’ family, simply mention “Hays’ Family” in the shipping/check-out notes.

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You Know Him

 

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The thing about sunrises, if you can catch a good one, is they just get better and better until they turn into the beginning of a day. This day, the only one like it that ever was and ever will be, is born before your eyes. And so if you want to get up early, you have the chance to witness a miracle every day of your life. Life happens somewhere between that particular pain of accepting that your life is not what you’d expected it to be and the unbounded joy that it is actually more than you could have ever dreamed.

The truly brave among us are those that can look at this day and all the things we have been given in it and say, this is enough for me. To those that say, this is my life and I accept it exactly how it is, those are the heroes we never consider, that live beside us silently enjoying their serenity.

I met Evan Hays several years ago at Konawaena Middle School, both of us teachers. I was in my very first year and terrified. Evan is the kind of person who made it a point to come to my classroom to see how I was doing, checking on me a couple times a week. He told me it was ok to cry in your first year of teaching, that even he had done it.

Through mutual friends we became closer, and I spent many sunset evenings on the beach with he and his wife Roz and a group of good friends. He now runs an inn in South Dakota with his wife and two children. He works hard, he plays hard, but all you ever see is easy. Evan is the guy that’s easy to be with, to talk to, about anything.

He doesn’t raise the Jesus flag, ask you about your religious ideals, or even suggest that you go to church. He simply lives his life in peaceful serenity, unquestionably surrounded by grace. His ordinary yet stunningly extraordinary faith bleeds out and onto everyone he comes in contact with. He does not need to tell you what he believes, because he lives it.

Very few of you know that in the last couple years, since leaving Hawaii, I have experienced some powerful religious moments that can safely be called spiritual growth. People like Evan Hays have stood quietly in the background, cheering me on, nudging me forward. He likely has no idea the impact his faith has had on my life.

God has placed these type of people in my life because I needed to see real people who were not weirdos, living a faith-based life. I had given up on being a Christian long ago because it seemed so abstract, untrue and manipulative. It is people like Evan who have shown me that my faith is what I make of it, that God is just love and that love is accessible to each of us at all times.

Last week Evan found himself in the ICU after a rock climbing accident in Colorado. His brain was injured to an extent we do not yet know. He is up and talking, but it will be a long road to recovery.

You might not know Evan personally, but you know him in other ways. He is the person who helps out without being asked, who enjoys each day to the last drop, who accepts people for who they are. He lives with a fire in his belly and joy in his heart. He is the guy with that intangible calm we all wish we had, some call it serenity, some call it faith, some call it humility. Whatever it is, the world needs more of it.

When I showed up at the Hays’ doorstep a couple years ago while crossing the country, they welcomed me without question. I was running away from home, wild and without direction. Evan talked with me about this, in his own way. I never felt judged or pried open, he just wanted me to know that I would be ok. That a higher power was taking care of everything I needed.

And so it is now that I reciprocate the gesture. A higher power is taking care of Evan and his family and everything they need. They will be ok. You know Evan, you know him. He is the man of quiet faith that never questions, just knows and believes and settles into placing his life into God’s hands in a brave and rare way.

Last November I wrote the very first words of my very first book (to be launched in less than a month!) in their cabin in South Dakota. Deep in the magical Black Hills, surrounded by snow and wood heat, I found inspiration. And I finally found God. You see I had been looking for him, all across the country and even over the plains in Spain. I found grace, also known as magical healing, through the family and friends of the Hays’.

Thank you Evan, for showing and guiding me by simply living your life.

It’s not uncommon to see a crowd funding campaign these days for hospital bills. I see them all the time in my Facebook feed or my email inbox. More often than not, I don’t know the person who needs help. More often than not, it is difficult to have a heart connection with someone you don’t know.

Please considering donating to cover the medical costs for Evan’s accident. Because while you might know Evan personally, trust me, you know him. And trust me twice, we need more people like him.

I will also be giving 10% of book sales of Follow That Arrow to Evan’s family for those that mention his name when pre-ordering the book. Which you can do now by emailing me at gwen@gourmetgwen.com. Simply mention Evan’s name in the subject or body of the email, payment will accept via Paypal for now, I will reply with details to your emails.

 

 

 

The Final Push

 

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I’m practicing butt in chair. Which is the technical term for what many writers advocate, the forced sitting in front of an empty page until said page is filled, a timer goes off or whatever terms you and your inner artist have agreed to. I currently have four minutes left. I also am currently self-publishing a memoir and it is one the most frightening experiences of my life.

So many doubts surface on the regular: you’re not old enough to write a memoir, you should try to get it traditionally published, you are wasting your money, no one wants to read your crazy town words. The only way out of this constant negative bombardment is to just keep going. I have no idea if I’m doing the right thing anymore, I’m so lost in the fabric of doing it.

Not to mention that there is a very large and squiggly human child eagerly anticipating her arrival into this world. She currently resides in my belly. And her realness is so real and scary and exciting at this point that it feels like I am genuinely losing my mind.

All of these layers of giving birth to a book baby and the impending task of motherhood are about to be peeled, leaving an already extremely vulnerable artist and woman absolutely naked in front of everyone who knows her. As my body succumbs to the stretching and growing necessary to harbor new life, I have had to accept my current physical limitations and turn to look at this experience as a very precious gift. At first I felt limited, but now I feel grateful for the perspective this vulnerability has brought. Strangers help and look out for me all the time now and I have been privy to some of the sweetest and most heart shattering motherhood stories imaginable.

Placing my book out there in the world feels self-centered and awkward. It also feels risky and brutally, painfully honest. For what it’s worth, I want to tell you this particular story. I have no idea if you’ll be inspired or interested, engaged or satisfied. But I do believe that honestly telling our stories means something. I believe that my voice joins lots of other voices and that together we express something important about life. In other words, I hope you’ll read my book.

That all being said, I want to thank all of you for being patient during this period of radio silence. I am deep in editing mode, and even deeper in the final phase of this pilgrimage toward becoming a mother. Both events are expected around the first of May. You will be the first to know.

Until then, look for your chance to pre-order Follow That Arrow in the coming weeks.

 

On Magic Wands

 

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There are so many things to count, so many adventures had. There have been mornings waking up on Hawaiian beaches with only waves and seabirds. There have been gardens planted with asparagus and tomatoes and arugula to spare. There have been motorcycles and bicycles and businesses and houses. And let’s not forget sailing, hiking, flying, surfing, sprinting, leaping. But don’t be mistaken friends, things and adventures are just that. Things and adventures.

A podcast came my way the other evening as I revived chicken leftovers for dinner. A pair of millenials discussed the myth of wanderlust, the false idea that travel or living abroad or packing your life in a backpack and trekking around the world, will ultimately lead you to finding your life’s purpose. I completely agree with them, no amount of backpacking will solve your life’s problems. Because that would indicate that someday, somehow, we could possibly get our figurative shit together. Sigh. I don’t know about you, but together my shit is not.

When the homemade sausages have all been eaten, we can make some more. When the pilgrimage comes to an end on a hot summer evening, we can plan to go back to Spain and do it again. When the car is on its last leg and the money has all run out, we can stay in one place and get jobs and save up. When you’ve left all your friends and your pets and your comforts in search of adventure, you can start a new life, and then leave that one, too. Some of us roam, wander, seek, seek, seek. Some of us put our heads down and achieve, achieve, achieve. Some of us stay curled tightly in a ball, waiting it all out. But in the end, we’re all doing the same thing. That thing is called living. And it doesn’t end until we’re dead. I think.

What do you want to do? Do that thing. But don’t expect to have it all solved, to be able to rest, to come to a place of, “oh now I get it.” There is no formula. There is no magic wand. I have traveled yes, I have run away, too. I have accomplished many, many “if only’s…” at the end of which there is never a rainbow, just another wish. At the end of the journeys and the road trips and the pilgrimages, I have found myself back living life just like you and Joe and Angie and everyone else. Life is unexpected and unforgiving and difficult. Nothing we can do will stop the clock from ticking or make being a human any less hard. We don’t get to sit back on our laurels and polish an award. But we do get to press on, to be better, to do more. At least for now, we get to live.

Run and run. Sit and sit. You are you even at the top of Haleakala or laying at home on the couch. And you are worthy and capable and deserving. Life happens to us whether we run away or hide. So don’t believe for a tiny second that you can do anything to mess it up. It’s in the messing up that life gets really beautiful.

I want you to not be afraid. I want you to not be ashamed. I want you to do what you do and trust that  you are right where you need to be. Let’s look at today, this day right here. There’s two feet of snow outside the front door, and the sun is shining. It’s a perfect day for (careful) sledding and hot chocolates and for laughing at the dog leaping through the drifts. Let’s do what feels good today and let time pass the way it does, whether we have a tight grip on it or not.

Beauty is Pain

Baltimore row house

I’m sitting at a little writing desk, next to a sleeping puppy, inside a row house, surrounded by the city of Baltimore. Landing here is random, so random, I know. But embracing the unknown sometimes sends you to unexpected places.

And so here I sit, just down the block from an ancient, and excellent, donut shop that sells out of marshmallow fluff filled dough, and up the block from a convenience store whose owner was shot and killed just a few months ago. Baltimore is like that, a place of extremes. You might know this place for blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning, or Freddie Gray and Serial. You might not know this place for pretty brick row houses, a deep culture of the arts, friendly people, or really good Italian food.

I work in a vastly white neighborhood, among hipster record stores, a vegan bakery, and restaurants that serve only small, shared plates. On the bus ride home, I am usually the only white person among polite teens and old ladies who shout “have a blessed day,” before exiting at their stop.

Prostitutes roam the busy street a block away from my house in the late and early hours, while art galleries have openings on Fridays just across the street. Flower pots bloom right along with the rats nests and the methadone clinic surges with clients near the independent book store. More garbage floats down the sidewalk in a light wind than leaves, and every other block sports a creepy, bullet proof glass enclosed convenience store. The busiest place in the neighborhood is a little Latino bakery and rowdy kids skateboard in the elementary school parking lot after hours. Entire blocks of homes sit abandoned and crumbling a mile away from the newest brunch hotspot. Packages left on the stoop won’t stay there for long, and neighbors are happy to stop for a chat on their way inside.

Baltimore, as far as I can tell, is a tortured, starving artist. Full of promise and ideas, talent and genius. But that talent often comes from a dark, depressed place. There’s something about survival and suffering that fosters great art. About loneliness, obscurity and hanging on by your fingernails that forces beauty to the surface. So while a very real chunk of this city starves, suffers, and caves in, life beats on behind front doors, between library shelves, in basement bars, on a canvas, under headphones.

It’s sunny again today. I will pass the same liquor store with the same guy sipping away on something covered with a black plastic bag on my way to the park. He will say, “how are you today ma’am?” and I will wave. I will admire the gold-domed church visible from the other side of the park and stop to buy bread at the Italian deli. There are no gurgling creeks or perfect drifts of snow, no perfectly silent mornings or owl sightings. But there is a pulse here, there is a warm light behind closed blinds, there is a challenge to be more.

Obligatory New Year Wrap-Up

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Everything changes and nothing does. We live, we die, we make life, we make food. We make memories, then forget them. We take risks, and dash them. Sometimes we have the guts to dream and sometimes we have the guts to face reality. We get lost, we are found.

There’s been a bit of radio silence on my end because I’ve been finishing the first draft of my book, Follow That Arrow, and there have been several new developments in my personal, work, and entire life in general. Now that the first draft is done, I’ll be back to blogging more regularly. I miss you.

Let’s start back in January. Yellow Arrow Coffee opened and I was lucky, very lucky, to spend most of the year in Breckenridge. Fumbling my way through running a business, experiencing real winter and meeting the most incredible and interesting people. And I’m not just saying that to be nice. In the short time I spent in Breckenridge, I befriended an author, a potter, a couple who have walked all over the world, a journalist, an Episcopal reverend, a scientist and many others who helped me by supporting the coffee shop, coming to chat with me on slow days, or even bringing me snow boots.

As the year unfolded, it became more and more clear that Breckenridge would not be my permanent home. I soaked up long days of hiking, the stunning scenery, river rafting and as much time I could squeeze in with my best friend/spirit animal who lives in Denver.

It’s hard to describe the gratitude I feel around having had the opportunity to create Yellow Arrow. It’s also hard to describe the confusion I went through upon deciding to leave, it was like being carried past that time in my life on a conveyor, on to the next stop. But I’ve learned enough to know when to go with the gut and trust my own instincts.

For those that don’t know, the next stop was Baltimore. I road tripped out here in September with as much as would fit in the car before heading to Spain for a month, which had it’s own good timing. I live here now with my partner and the dog, in a row house, and a baby growing steadily in my belly. You read that right. Through the confusion and madness over leaving Colorado, it all became clear upon discovering the new pilgrimage I had found myself traveling, that ancient call of motherhood. It was good to be in Spain if only to remember that while the camino for me is over, the journey never is. It’s these events, my friends, that have a way of stirring up everything only for it to eventually settle back down to the bottom.

I love life’s surprises. 2015 was jam packed with them. From sharpening my business lady teeth, to living among more snow than I’d ever seen, life has taken me places this year I never could have predicted. To Spain, on a road trip half way across the country (again), to the NorthWest for Christmas with my family, into the arms of someone I knew briefly at the age of 19, to the basement of a library, to the peaks of the Rockies, to the gritty streets of Baltimore.

So here I sit, writing and expecting, hoping for a healthy babe to kiss and love and for strength to keep following those arrows. Faith is being able to smell the ocean before you can see it. I hope the salt continues to sting my eyes.

Following an Ancient Call by Christine Valters Paintner

What if we could listen
like the great salmon
who goes about its ordinary life
when suddenly something shifts.

It does not come as a thunderous
revelation, but a quiet knowing
you have been preparing all
your life to trust.

The path lived until now no longer
satisfies but the path ahead
seems thousands of miles
long, and your womb is heavy.

There is no refusing this ancient call,
and to know ourselves as not alone,
but part of generations before us who,
like the salmon, share in this inheritance.

You now hear only the rush of energy
that comes with starting the long
return home and the pull in the
blood which cannot be ignored.

I like to imagine the salmon
swimming across the ocean
(as if that weren’t daunting enough)
and after that endless voyage

it must face the mouth of the mighty river.
Does she hesitate, even for a moment?
Does he want to turn back to less turbulent waters?
But there is something ripening in their bellies.

Perhaps your list of pressing tasks is still long.
Leave it there fluttering in the breeze,
uncrossed, undone, unfinished,
to do the only thing you can do

which is to swim,
to be carried by the waves and tide
and to know when to let the current carry you
and when to fight it with all your strength,

and to know even this yes will
demand more than you were willing
to give: your life for the new birth,
what you think you know for

the ancient call home.

Just Sit There and Eat

Beach near Camarinas, Spain

On a barely sunny Thursday, I walked down to the shore. There are piles and piles of tiny shells along the beachy estuary. Tiny, brightly painted fishing boats bob in the tide from their ropes tied to trees. No one is around. No one is ever around in rural Spain, it is easy to find peace.

I found a place to lunch, surrounded by hungry locals. A seafood stew with noodles, an entire fried fish, eyeballs and all, steamed potatoes topped with gremolata, and a cake with whipped crème between the layers. It cost me 8 euro to sit there for almost two hours, taking my time with each course, finishing with a coffee. No one cares. No one cares at all how long you sit at the table in Spain, as long as you’re out by siesta.

Most days I walk the 30 minutes into the next town, following a wooded path along the river. I’ll buy a piece of chocolate or fruit or something small from the store for something to do, browsing the shelves wondering what people do with shredded, pickled carrot, slabs of salted cod, or soft, unsalted cheese that’s packaged like yogurt. I spend an hour at my favorite coffee shop, it’s really a pastry place, choosing something different each time. I stopped ordering a pastry because each drink is served with a generous sample, this morning I got two croissants for free. I like watching the old ladies and gentlemen come in to buy their daily bread sometimes staying to chat over coffee.

The bread here is varied and wonderful and fresh. Some loaves are round, some long and skinny, some dark, some white, some dense and made with corn. I like to split the bread, toast it in the oven, and experiment with toppings. Mayo and thick sliced tomato gets topped with pan-fried jamon Serrano (a mortal sin in Spain, to be sure) and arugula. That salt-less soft cheese pairs nicely with honey, sautéed apple and a little salt. Stuffed with a plain omelet and gooey Galician cheese would make anyone swoon.

Sandwich madness

Everyday before noon, the bread truck comes around, honking his horn through the little village. All the old ladies with aprons pop out their front doors to make the day’s selection, baskets brimming in the back of a white van. Church bells ring at all hours. Black cats cross my path every time I take a walk. A very old ox pulls a very old cart full of corn. When the sun comes out, I sit on the bench in the churchyard and read. I make fresh lavender and mint tree, scavenged along the trailside. The neighbors take walks down the street at exactly the same time every morning, noon and night. They stay up much later than I do.

A mule lives next door. The forest is full of weird mushrooms. The coffee is roasted with sugar and tastes terrible. I haven’t spoken English (except to the cats) in 5 days. At this very moment, I don’t care much for the future, even less for the past. I’m just leaning into these quiet days. I often pray for God/Jesus/a Higher Power to let me know him/it. It occurred to me while sitting by the river sparkling with sunshine, that he’s already shown me. That we’re surrounded all the time by that presence, that knowing, that’s so hard to pin down. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are loved, you are absolutely coated in grace.

Some Good Things

Lunch on Spain: pasta with eggplant, zucchini and tomato, Galician bread, wild grapes.

It is good to open all the windows and doors. Even if there is a little chill. Let some light in, let some air swirl around. Let the new day consume the old one, stale and starchy from too much sleep. Put on a sweater, if you need to, but keep the door open.

It is good to sit down to a long lunch. Outside on the patio, inside around a candle, or at a restaurant with plastic table cloths. In Spain we start with soup or salad. Maybe a soup with potatoes and greens, or a potato salad with olives, peas and lots of mayo. Red wine and sparkling water get mixed in a tall glass if it’s warm outside. A basket of dense bread is passed around. Next is some smoked pork or meatballs in tomato sauce with lots of garlic. Hand-cut potatoes are fried and christened with heavy pinches of salt. A splash more wine is added to each glass. For dessert there might be sponge cake or yogurt with honey or a softened peach. Or maybe you’ll just have an espresso and go right to bed.

It is good to have a rest. On a day bed by the window with a thousand books to keep you company. Or with a cup of tea and a cat on your lap and the sound of the neighbor snoring. A church bell rings from across the street and you cover cold toes with a blanket. Draw a little doodle, write a short note, have a quick dream, think calm thoughts.

Gathering chestnuts

It is good to have a long walk. In the morning along a dewy path with only the birds for company. Let the wind push your feet wherever it will. Pick some flowers, snap a photo, notice a tiny frog jumping in the weeds. A little creek bubbles along with your footsteps and your adventurous, wondering, curious self finds a purple stone, a pile of chestnuts, a secret old house buried in vines. Maybe sand asks to meet your toes or an old woman offers cold water.

It is good to let the sun find your face. Let the warmth sit on your skin even if it prickles. Allow some sunlight to lighten your hair and dry your mouth and make you sleepy. Sunshine washes thoughts away, cleans the house of your mind. Let it soak into you for a minute, let it cure you and dry your head like a wet towel on the line.

It is good to share a laugh. To tell a story. To have an adventure. It is good to sit down when your legs are tired. To run when you are cooped up. To swim when the water’s cold. It is good to be quiet. To hold the tongue. To explain without words. It is good to start again, even when there is no going back. Especially when there is no going back. To cross the threshold. To venture on. To keep going.