On Stargazer and Making Pots

Meet Stargazer.

She’s at best estimate around 5,000 years old, and from the area we currently know as Turkey. Thirty of them have been found over the years, artifacts from the Chalcolithic period, or Copper Age.

I saw her at the Cleveland Museum of Art several years ago and fell in love. It’s the way she’s looking upwards, see? Up at the stars, up at the gods. Just looking up. It’s hope and wonder all swirled together in a hand-sized figurine carved into translucent marble by someone 5,000 years ago. That I feel connected to this figure, to that artist ignites wonder and hope in me, too.

Like, maybe everything will turn out okay.

Now meet my Stargazer.

My wonderful husband knows how much this figurine resonates with me and commissioned this Stargazer from our friend Ruth, who is a potter. Ruth and I met several years ago open-water swimming across one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. Lake Watauga is situated in the upper reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the TVA plan to prevent flooding downriver. It’s a deep, clean lake with very large fish in it. And the old town of Butler at the bottom of it.

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She and I and some other intrepid women would swim a few miles across the lake and back once or twice a month when the water was warm enough to get in without a wetsuit. It’s a wild, untrammeled area. One time we had to tread water for fifteen minutes at the end of our swim waiting for the bear that was sitting on the little jetty where we’d left our towels to amble away. While there’s not much talking while swimming, you do chat before and after. At the time we met, Ruth was working in a health food store, and had set up a tiny potting area in her apartment.

That was what she wanted to do, you see. Shape clay into beautiful and useful things. Be an artist full-time. It seemed out of reach, but she opted to trust me, joined me doing Arbonne for a while and got enough financial flexibility to move to an artist colony up in Burnsville, NC. She met her husband, also a potter. Now she does what she loves. She’s happy, and those who are the beneficiaries of her work are also happy.

I love that story. It fills me with wonder and hope, all swirled together.

You can find Ruth’s beautiful pottery at: https://www.thevillagepotters.com or at https://www.RutkowskyPottery.com

On Spanakopita and Booking a Flight to Greece

I must be one of those zany optimists. I’ve forged ahead with plans to travel overseas this year. It’s a bit of a crap shoot, but I can’t bring myself to lie low and not give it a go. I have hope!

Whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I don’t want to get my hopes up…” I want to ask them, why not? Why not get your hopes up, and move in the general direction of happiness? My friend Sally challenged me years ago when I said that very phrase. She asked me, “Would you rather keep your hopes in the gutter? Where they belong?” I’ve thought differently about not keeping my hopes up ever since. That Sally, she’s good at asking the tough questions. I love having her as a friend.

And… I found a really great deal on a Finnair flight. Round trip to Crete for about $600. Yes, I’ll have a killer layover in Helsinki for twelve hours coming back, but I can manage. I’ve had a SwimTrek trip on the books to Crete for a couple of years now, and I’m marching on with the hope and expectation that it is happening in 2022. A week of swims in the Mediterranean Sea with some of my wonderful swim friends and a room with a view.

If I squint really hard, I’ll be able to see Africa from the tiny coastal village of Loutro, where we are staying. Not really, but it’s out there. And another almost-week of exploring Chania and Heraklion and the ruins of the Palace of Knossos and a swim or two in the Sea of Crete. Here is their website, they do swims all over the world, and I’ve found them easy to work with. https://www.swimtrek.com

After a bit of a break during Christmas, I’m back to learning Greek using Duolingo. It’s challenging, but fun, and I gotta figure it’s just as good as sudoku for keeping my aging brain making new synapses with the added benefit of not having to do math. My aim is to be able to read signs and menus, and perhaps have a bit of a chat with a stranger or two over coffee or gyros. I do love a chat.

In celebration of finding a great flight and taking one step closer to making my since-fourth-grade dream of treading the stones of Knossos where Ariadne spun her web and the Minotaur roared, I made Spanakopita this weekend. We’ve found a great middle eastern grocery here in Dallas, and it makes for a fun road trip getting the supplies. There are two groceries, actually, if you want to check them out. Sara’s Bakery and the brand-new Jasmine next door. https://http://sarasmarketbakery.com/

This recipe is from www.themediterraneandish.com She has great additional instructions, especially for properly thawing your frozen phyllo dough. You’ll want to buy your dough frozen, trust me. No one in their right mind would try to make phyllo from scratch. Most of us simply do not have the counter space or patience for it. I’d looked at several recipes, and my addition to this one is to use a bunch of freshly chopped dill weed rather than 2T of dried dill.

You do you on that one. This was easy, made enough to feed six hungry people, and was tasty. Or gnostimo, as we say in Greek!

Spanakopita Filling:

16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed

2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped

1 bunch of fresh dill, chopped

1 large yellow onion, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 T olive oil

4 eggs

10.5 oz good feta, crumbled

Freshly ground pepper.

Mix all of that together, and set to the side. Then open up your phyllo, and have slightly damp dish towels to keep it from drying out as you do this next step. It helps if you are in a Zen frame of mind, or listening to a good book on tape for this next bit.

You need about a cup of olive oil and a pastry brush. Brush bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking dish with olive oil.

Put down two of the phyllo sheets, letting them overlap and go up the sides of the dish a bit. Yes, they might tear. No big. Brush them with the olive oil (remain Zen, you’ll get the hang of it). Then lay down two more, brush with olive oil.

Do that with 2/3 of your phyllo sheets. This took me about fifteen minutes. Preheat your oven to 325, rack in the middle. Spread your mix onto the sheets.

Put down two phyllo sheets, brush with olive oil, and do that until you run out of sheets.

Fold over the edges and brush top with olive oil. Splash a few drops of water on the top. Score squares through just the few top layers. It makes cutting much easier later, and cooks better.

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Bake for an hour, until it’s all brown and crispy and melty cheesy. We had ours with delicious creamy tzatziki on the side. Opah!