It's November! The harvest is upon us!
To be fair, the harvest is always upon us in the lucrative Mediterranean climate of the central coast of California, but this time of year brings some extra special seasonal treats. Here in Santa Cruz, the persimmons have begun to glow orange from their treetops while pineapple guavas drop to the sidewalk in tropically-scented gusts of autumn air. Salads and roasts are decorated with crimson pops of pomegranate seeds, and the first mandarins of citrus season are making their way to the market.
A November bounty might look quite different depending on what part of the country you’re setting your table this year, but I reckon it’s a seasonally appropriate time anywhere in which to debut a story central to the idea of the almighty Kitchen Table—whatever yours may look like. I’m excited to take a moment to share a bit more about this project and what it means to me, as I prepare to release my children's story, “Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table.”
It’s no secret to folks who hang around with me that this gal (me, Abbey) loves to set up a lovely-lookin’ table. It’s no secret that I spend an embarrassingly large portion of my free time out collecting, foraging, gleaning, gardening, marketeering, and finding other ways to “come into” various amounts of seasonal treasures growing nearby. And if you’ve ever shared or been near a kitchen with me, you know how much I delight in—perhaps somewhat to your irritation—the act of piling, stacking, jarring, and otherwise displaying such treasures for all to admire. Oh, the grand décor of that table!
“Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table” is an illustrated book project that aims to take a closer look at an ordinary object most of us have somewhere in our life (whether or not you use it as an ingredient gallery the way I do!). And as much as I love the beautiful produce that I choose to adorn my home table with, the central idea around the kitchen table in this story is not so much what precisely we should have on that table—not even really about the food at all—but how to observe its extraordinary potential to bring the rest of our world’s qualities to light. To me, the table is just one example of a setting from which we might be reminded to notice the bounty we already have around us.
Although kitchen tables and al fresco dinners and special ingredients have all been important parts of my lifestyle for a goodly while, the motivation for this book struck me just a couple of years ago when I started to really evaluate the realm of new technologies and fast forward movement. Working as a caterer in Silicon Valley, I’d been exposed to the buzz around the latest innovations aiming to exponentially address our global challenges. I was (and am) particularly struck by the future food movement, which incorporates things like 3-D printed meals, lab-grown hamburgers, and eggs that aren’t made of eggs but rather processed mung bean protein (packaged neatly for transport in a plastic bottle!), in an attempt to mitigate the effects of all that has gone awry in our agricultural and meat industries.
It makes sense that folks are in a hurry to tactically fix our previous mistakes as the future creeps up on us quickly, and that we are looking to technological tools to expedite the solution. But are these tools really helping us return to happier, healthier selves/planets/ communities in the meanwhile? Do they give us an occasion to sit down, reflect, and celebrate over a table, around food we recognize with the passing of a season? I found myself observing, as a glorified lunch lady in Silicon Valley, how the fast-forward mindset seemed to create great distance from noticing and partaking in what we actually STILL have now, at this very moment, and our tactile taste bud connection with it.
Of course I recognize I’ve got my own biases just like the rest of us and I can’t assume that any attempt at fixing our future is inherently good or bad (practicing my “Yes, AND!” approach). Either way, the observations I made in this setting gave me the resolve to spend a portion of my creative energy promoting a different perspective—a connection to our surroundings in the present. A celebration!
And as for this book? It’s a much simpler story than this convoluted blog post might indicate! It has no political agenda, refrains from addressing my personal observations of technology solutions, and does not aim to solve any of our looming global problems. Its only mission, at a time when many of us are feeling the effects of a divided society, and feeling perhaps a bit glum about our future, is to encourage us also to take a closer look at
what’s STILL AWESOME! We’ve got some pretty good stuff out there, even within sight of that ever-present kitchen table. This book is a simple reminder to not only notice the loveliness around us, but to actively partake in it. The narrator points out that “nothing really happens,” but we can see as the reader that perhaps it’s all in the eye (and intentions!) of the beholder. We can take the initiative to make anything special.
In creating this story, I drew from (and literally drew!) the settings I’ve experienced in my somewhat unconventional life as a semi-nomadic character. I was excited for the chance to get to pay artistic homage to the many beautiful and remote pockets of the country I’ve been lucky to call home for a bit—long enough to sit down at a table or two! Almost all of the 38 pages of illustrations include flora, fauna, and foods I’ve admired in the varied places I’ve lived, symbols of things that have delighted me while noticing and partaking in my surrounds. I hope they delight you, too!
These illustrations represent a brand new style I’ve been tinkering with and really digging—a departure from colored pencil and a return to line drawings in pen. I’m beginning to employ color washes in my work, in part simply because my friend Shirley randomly handed me a tiny travel-sized watercolor set she discovered whilst doing some spring cleaning, around the same time I was starting this project. Thanks, Shirley! I love the happenstance of it all.
I finished the artwork during my residency at Elsewhere Studios (there’s a blog post for that…) this past summer, and have been spending the past couple of months in the thick of InDesign—formatting, arranging, resizing, and agonizing over the decision to let go of my favorite font, “Hobo,” in order to select something more properly readable (in case you’re wondering, I went with a font called “Pollen” for the interior text...but Hobo still proudly announces my cover and title page!). Now the book is finally ready for its first print. There’s more I’d like to do with it, but I’ve learned a lot, and am so excited to share this first edition with y’all.
Not everyone can relate to a particularly bucolic experience around a table in past or present. We’re a long way from that quintessential 1950s kitchen table set with a pot roast, a jell-o salad, and a polite family of four. And although my own pleasant childhood was not too far from this idyllic scene, my experience around a table these days, as a single gal renting a shared house, is a bit of a departure from the traditional. Sometimes I make a lovely feast with friends and housemates, diving into those picturesque piles of produce—and often, I dine alone. From time to time I eat leftovers out of a bag while standing in front of the open refrigerator. Reality check! For many, there simply is no time to do anything with that table other than stack the junk mail and occasionally brush off the rogue Cheerios from last week. I get it, life happens!
I like to think this book offers another approach to the many ways that a table can reach beyond some pictured tradition, and provide useful space for each of us to partake in our personal bounty. Let’s take our table into our own hands! Reclaim it, anew! There are endless ways to set a table (or the abstract idea of what a table could represent to YOU), so many ways to bring joy, community, appreciation and self-reflection to our setting, no matter where and how we live, what our table looks like, and who we have (or don’t have) in our life.
Ok, getting too preachy with the table gospel? One last thought…
A friend once asked me why I bothered to put things in bowls or tidy stacks on the table if I was just going to cut them up and cook them eventually, anyway. What does it matter? Yes, I know, it’s perhaps an unnecessary step. But the truth is, this “cornucopia effect,” as I like to call it (really, just strewing food in an organized fashion across the table) makes me feel downright RICH! It’s my way of collecting and accumulating “stuff” as we humans so enjoy, but without having to hoard it and hold onto it forever. Counting my shekels, with a shelf life. The opportunity to gaze upon my beautiful mounds of fresh foods gives me a sense of great wealth, and for a person who is constantly questioning her lack-of-so-called-career-path and tendency to follow-the-heart-and-not-the-benefits-package, not-that-I’d-know-how-to-turn-my-weird-skillset-into-a-fancy-job-anyway, I take great pride in moments where I feel like I’ve cheated the system and tapped straight into what REAL wealth feels like—moments when I can leave behind all that distracting, doubting brain chatter cluttering up the occasion.
At this moment, my real wealth feels like a pile of perfectly ripe persimmons that I scored from a neighbor’s free box. I don’t have a 401K and will probably never own a home, but a table stacked with rare, seasonal fruit glory proves to me that I’m not just merely scraping by—I’m actually living in the lap of luxury. I’m filthy, stinking RICH!
Maybe they’re just a handful of persimmons that came from a box under a tree. Maybe I'm just a gal sitting at a kitchen table. And maybe, as rumor has it, nothing really happens at the kitchen table.
On the other hand...
Maybe I’m a Persimmonillionaire!
(And you can be one, too.)
To order your copy of "Nothing Really Happens at the Kitchen Table", visit Ye Olde Shoppe