“Not a Station, but a Place”–Gare de Lyon and Le Train Bleu, Paris [Part 1]

Soon after we moved to Paris I sought out this “Place” M.F.K. Fisher [1908-1992] wrote eloquently about as being more than simply a train depot for entering or exiting the city. She was referring to the Gare de Lyon in the 12th Arrondissement. I wanted to know why it was so special…

Fisher’s experience on French trains began in 1929 when she moved from California to Dijon. She described herself in the early years as “…always one more ant scuttling for a certain track.” Then, in 1937, while waiting for guests to arrive, she sat under the enormous glass roof in a trackside café with marble tables and green trees planted in boxes. With a brandy and water in hand, absorbing her surroundings, she was suddenly overcome by a feeling that she “was not in a station, but in a Place”. From then on, she made it a habit to arrive early–with time to wait.

In the 1960s and early ‘70s, after children and husbands and lovers were long gone, she was often sent to Provence on writing assignments. Her publishers encouraged her to fly south from Paris. Memories honed decades earlier meant she preferred the “Mistral” train from Gare de Lyon to Marseille or Aix-en-Provence.

She developed the habit of arriving at least two hours before departure. This allowed time to ascend the wide stone staircase to the second floor restaurant–Le Train Bleu. When you spin through the revolving wood and glass door, then as now, it is like walking into a time capsule from La Belle Époque [1871-1914]. You instinctively stand a little taller and try to walk a little more gracefully to your table.

In 1900, Paris was hosting a second world’s fair. As part of the preparation, a new train station, Gare de Lyon, was designed to highlight the railway lines of the PLM [Paris-Lyon-Marseille] Company from Paris to destinations in Provence and the Côte d’Azur on the Mediterranean. The company also wanted a prestigious and elegant restaurant to symbolize travel, luxury and comfort.


gare de lyon today

In 1901, Buffet de la Gare de Lyon first opened its’ doors amid sumptuous art nouveau décor. Ornate carvings, moldings, gilding, and imposing chandeliers highlighted frescoes and murals of cities and scenery viewed from PLM trains as they headed south and east. The restaurant offered tranquility, character, and a place for travelers to spend a refined break. In Fisher’s words, it was “all that was opulently cheerful, generously vulgar and delightful about la Belle Époque.”

In 1963, the restaurant was renamed Le Train Bleu in reference to the French Riviera destinations.

Fisher’s early arrival gave her the luxury of time for a leisurely breakfast or lunch. In the 1960s, she believed that the fresh bread served in Le Train Bleu was the best she had tasted since before WWII. For petit déjeuner she always had “bread and butter, Parma ham, and a half-bottle of brut champagne…”, which she thought a bit expensive, but enjoyed all the same.

If lunchtime, she started off with a Kir and wine cocktail, followed by some kind of soufflé and fresh berries for dessert. Oh–and a half bottle of white wine–Grand-Cru Chablis. She liked her grown up drinks, having adapted easily to the French way…

Interestingly, Fisher played a role in the longevity and preservation of Le Train Bleu. By the early 1970s, the paintings were filthy with soot and pollution, gold leaf was flaking from the ceiling, the lace curtains hung in tatters and, underfoot, the flooring creaked and sagged. She was told by a group of worried waiters that the restaurant’s survival seemed doomed. She relayed all this to an American friend, Janet Flanner, who was also her neighbor. Flanner, a longtime journalist and Paris correspondent for the New Yorker magazine, went directly to the French Minister of Culture at the time. Le Train Bleu was designated an historic monument in 1972.

Since that time there have been many renovations, the most recent in 2014. Parquet floors were insulated and shored up, paintings re-cleaned, carved moldings refinished or repainted, brass coat and luggage racks polished and leather banquettes refurbished. The name over the door was updated from neon lights to a chic metal plate.


neon sign pre 2014 renovation


and after renovation

The antique Big Ben Bar from 1901 is used today as a decoration piece and stands imposingly by the swinging glass doors to the kitchen. The original cash register is there too.

There is not one corner or wall, ceiling or chandelier, archway or window in this special Place that doesn’t grab your attention or overwhelm your senses. Every time.

These days, the menu is priced for upper-crust travellers, tourists or well-heeled Parisians. But because it is such a Place, truly unlike any other, it’s always worth it.

Recently, I went for lunch by myself. Timed perfectly, I arrived near the end of the service, around 2:00 PM. On this particularly cool, autumn day I decided to try the made-in-house foie gras served with rhubarb chutney and grainy toast, green salad and a glass of Montrachet white wine–from Burgundy.

When I dine alone, the pleasure is subtle and personal. I know not everyone feels this way. But, over time, I have fine-tuned the ability to “disappear” in public and enjoy everything around me as if I were invisibly dropped into the scene. It is an example of cultural learning from which I have benefitted greatly.

Fisher sometimes spoke of moving like “a ghost” in her travels, seemingly invisible to others, often because she was wrapped up in one of personal trials. I understand what she meant, but in a different way. For me, invisibility is a feeling of being completely content with my own company. And, at the same time, not taking anything [within the experience I am having] for granted. I observe and wonder discreetly, without being the center of anyone else’s observations.


view toward kitchen and big ben bar

On this particular day, directly in front of me was an opulent antique buffet with perfectly arranged wine glasses and the PLM [Paris-Lyon-Marseille] logo carved on the top piece. Above that, reaching up to the very high ceiling, was a colorful painting of Marseille.

As the tables to the left and right gradually emptied, I gazed openly through the window to my left onto the tracks and boarding passengers one floor below. I wondered where they were going, how long they would stay. Was it travel for business, pleasure, something mysterious or even sad?


view toward the station tracks

To the right, down a long banquette of tables reset for another meal, sat two diners leaning in towards one another. They were silhouetted against the window overlooking the square at the entrance. Why were they lingering? What was their conversation about? When you are invisible, all possibilities are imagined…


Meal over, espresso finished, with no train to catch, I made my way home. Musing on the metro, my thoughts drifted to a getaway my husband and I took to Avignon last spring. A trip that began in a place, not a station…


Judith S. Clancy drawing, exterior façades, 1979

To be continued in Part 2…very soon.

Shrooming in Latvia


photo by olga gorbacova

In June 2015, our son, Adam, married his bride, Anna, next to a lake in the Latvian countryside. The partying went on for two days and was partially described in a previous story, “Letting Go in Latvia”.



the site, june 12, 2015

The women in our daughter-in-law’s family–mother, aunt, grandmother–invited me to return to Riga for mushroom hunting season in September. Foraging the forest for edible fungi is an anticipated annual event for the extended Russian family.

The lack of language on both sides [no Russian-me; basically no English-them] was slightly daunting. But then I realized it would be crazy to pass up an adventure like this. Think of the advantages: I would forge a new Russian/American alliance. I would participate in an ancient survival skill involving tools and hunting. And I would learn to avoid poisonous fungi that could upset international family relations.


architecture in the historic part of riga

Arriving in Riga, I was hosted to a private tour of the old city and it’s history. My guide, a young Latvian woman, spoke fluent English. Anna’s mother, Tania, who speaks a little English but not confidently, acted as my personal photographer. She texted many photos of me around city landmarks and sites to her daughter.

Like many small Eastern European countries, Latvia has a complicated history. In the beginning it was purely Pagan. Then Germanic people arrived bringing Christianity to the old world mix. They set up shops and churches and a new form of civilization. There were also influxes of settlements of Poles, Finns, and Russians.


on the tour with tania

After WWI, from 1918-1940, Latvia had a brief, twenty-two year period of complete independence. The Russians returned in 1940. Then, the Germans replaced the Russians until WWII ended. In 1945, the Russians ran the Germans out for the last time. The Soviet Period lasted until 1991. Finally, Latvia underwent its’ second independence with the breakup of the USSR. The post-Soviet years began.

In 1991, a new law stated that in order for citizens of Russian heritage to receive Latvian passports they must learn both the language and history of the country. Many chose not to, as they were past school age, raising families or trying to get by working their everyday jobs. Anna’s maternal grandmother, Vera Gorbacova, is one example. She was born on the eastern edge of Latvia near the current border with Russia. She raised two daughters with her husband and worked in a factory. She never learned to speak Latvian. The family’s mother tongue is purely Russian.


vera aka “babushka”

Mushroom hunters in Latvia are a devoted cult. The day of the hunt has its’ own rituals. As foragers, the women have favorite forest landscapes where they return many times each season. Mushrooms are best harvested in cool, rainy weather where fungi grow plentifully in mossy groundcover, under trees, rocks, and leaves.


Early fall of 2015 was unseasonably warm and sunny . I didn’t need to dress traditionally in rubber boots or even wear a coat. We left Riga mid-morning and drove 45 minutes outside the city to the secret woods. My guides, Tania, her sister Olga and their friend Edita, my translator, needed to do some serious sleuthing to find forest treasures that day.

I was given my own set of tools–a basket holding a knife for harvesting and a purple plum for energy. I was shown how to cut mushrooms close to the ground with the special blade. Off we went, fanning out to cover maximum territory.

The woods were not particularly dense, but if I wandered out of visual range I would hear a plaintive “Wennndeeeeey, where are you?” These women were not about to lose an American in a Latvian forest. I tried to stay within their comfort range.


serene beauty in a secret forest

Olga is particularly gifted in guiding the hunt. She would search an area alone and then call me over to do the actual picking. Or cutting. But I really liked finding some little nest of mushrooms on my own. However, when I showed them off proudly, Olga threw most of them back on the ground because they were too small. Or they were­, well-poisonous.


olga scouting for me

One of the great parts of the day was when we returned to the car for lunch. A tailgating party! From the open trunk came a delicious little feast you could hold in one hand. No plates or napkins necessary. Silvery smoked fish covered squares of sliced black bread, a hardboiled egg, and a freshly sliced wedge of red tomato. Hot black tea was passed around to drink. Lunch looked like a beautiful still life painting–in my hand.


olga and edita

Lunch was followed by two more hours of hunting and then a shower before meeting at Tania’s to cook dinner. My translator extraordinaire from that point on was the vivacious Julia, married to the very patient Juris who would not take a drink of alcohol during our time together because he was responsible for the safety and chauffeuring of “precious cargo”. You have to love a man like that!


cleaning ‘shrooms with julia


the harvest pre-cleaning

Tania was cleaning mushrooms when we arrived, and her technique is meticulous. They must be completely peeled–head to stem. [Thus, the bigger, the better means less overall work for more result.] If the inside of the stem was not perfectly white when you looked at it from the bottom it meant that worms had invaded. These were immediately discarded as unacceptable. After peeling, mushrooms are rinsed and drained in a colander.

While the cleaning is tedious, the cooking is easy. Slice and chop stems and heads into random sized pieces. Sauté a diced onion in olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook on medium/high heat. Keep the water that is released and stir it around to steam them.


Then, drain the water. Add some butter. Add two big spoonfuls of solid cream [like crème fraîche]. Add salt. Serve immediately. [I would add a generous grind of fresh pepper or even some red pepper flakes. Not Russian at all.]

While Tania was preparing our meal of roast duck, fried potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes, Julia was introducing me to the finer points of drinking vodka, Russian style. It should be consumed in shots and always with traditional food pairings.


fish, onion, tomato on black bread, icy cold shot on the side

First the vodka is frozen. Pour into a shot glass. Drink the shot. Immediately eat a tiny piece of black bread covered by oily fish, onion, and tomato. Or, take a shot, followed by a pinch of warm fried potatoes and some pickled cabbage. Either way–completely satisfying. No side effects.

It was a forever memory to be in the midst of these fun, generous, loving women [and Juris as our protector]. We ate and talked and laughed while Julia entertained us with her hilarious antics.

A cultural turning point unexpectedly occurred at evening’s end. For dessert we had eaten sweet watermelon chunks with our fingers. This reminded me of a story Anna told me from her childhood. So I shared it with the others.

When Tania and Sergei would go out on summer evenings leaving her at home, Anna would slip out of the apartment and go to the market with saved coins. She would pick out a big ripe watermelon and lug it home. Managing to cut it in two pieces, she ate one whole half, by herself, with a spoon, on the sofa, watching TV, down to the rind. Seeds and all!

As I finished telling the story, everyone glanced down at their dessert plates. On every other plate there were two, maybe three watermelon seeds, idly dropped. On my plate, there was a black and white mountain of seeds because I had carefully picked them out. Every one of them.

I quietly covered my plate with a napkin. But it was too late. The women watched, and then–they erupted, in unison, in uproarious, mirthful laughter. And so did I.

As it turned out, Glasnost prevails. Around this cross cultural table of Anglo/Russian women we laughed long and hard–and saw each other clearly.




my favourite tania and julia photo, june 2015


Berry Best Summer Sangria

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken.” –James Dent

“Hey! It’s summer! Be free and happy and danceful and uninhibited and now-y!” –Terri Guillemets

“Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” –Henry James

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My husband has sometimes referred to me as a “late adopter”. I admit this has been true of certain forms of technology. I’m not the first one sprinting out of the blocks to run with the latest tech innovation when it is hurled into popular culture. But, when I do decide to jump in, it’s with both feet. I’m consumed with learning all there is to know. Afterward, it’s impossible to remember life as it was before…

This summer I surprised myself with a totally different type of “late adaptation”. It happened to be with a beverage I had never ever tried, even once.

On the American Independence Day holiday weekend [July 4th] with Dietician Daughter, her husband and his Kansas family, she served me a berry and fresh fruit topped drink in a tall glass with a straw. It was deep burgundy in color. The icy glass, sweating beads of humidity, was garnished with succulent fruit. It was her version of Sangria.


On a sultry summer afternoon, around a backyard table with good people, this new drink captured, and held, my attention. First, there was the thirst-quenching coolness. Then, there was a sophisticated lushness of summer berries in red wine. I loved it immediately and drank another glass. I had to know everything about it…


Sangria has been around for 2000+ years. When the Roman Empire reached the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal and began mixing wine into the water to sanitize it, the beginnings of Sangria were probably born. Long a common informal drink on the European continent, Sangria was not widely consumed in the U.S. until it was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

I have been to the Iberian Peninsula in western Spain twice in the past two years, hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, but I was not offered Sangria there. We drank delicious Galician wines in the evenings, after a day of hilly hiking, as an accompaniment to the excellent regional food. It was poured straight from the bottle and never mixed with anything.


trail marker; camino de santiago

Sangria comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word “sangre” meaning blood, because of its’ usual dark red color. It is traditionally made with Spanish red wine, fruit, brandy, some kind of sweetener and ice. Carbonated water may or may not be added for fizz. This is not a necessity.

That’s all there is to it. This is also where Sangria becomes much more interesting. With a rudimentary knowledge of ingredients, the end result is in the hands of the maker. Nutritionist Daughter caught my imagination with her “berry” form of creativity. Now I find I can’t drink it any other way.

I really tried. For the rest of the summer, since that hot July weekend, I began ordering Sangria in bars and restaurants. Some were made with white wine, some with red. At the very most they might have one or two pieces of shredded, mangy looking citrus fruit in the bottom of the glass. Tasteful pizzazz and eye candy beauty were seriously lacking. Not one was memorable. Not one reminded me of friends and family sharing stories and playing games around an outside table on a late summer afternoon. Not one begged to be repeated.

Thus, my short scientific study convinced me that the only Sangria worth the name and the calories is the one you make yourself. With ingredients you choose. The wine must be of a quality that you would drink on its own. The fruit, according to my now highly discriminating tastes, must be plentiful. And FRESH. Keeping the carbon footprint in mind stick with any fruit in season.


the basic best: summer fruit, wine, brandy, and a jar

So, here is the very, very best summer SANGRIA you will ever make. Or drink. It’s simple, it’s fruity, slightly dry and slightly sweet, a bit boozy, and very refreshing–like a lazy summer day. Pass the pitcher around a table in the mountains, by the sea, on the deck or patio or in the middle of the backyard. Heap more berries on top and serve with a spoon on the side!


drink sangria in the mountains of colorado


drink sangria on the côte d’azur, villefranche-sur-mer, france


or on a patio in oberursel, germany


in full summer bloom


maybe even drink sangria on the amalfi coast, italy, overlooking capri


Sit back and say “yes” to a berry good summer. Then, if possible, lie down and muse for awhile in a hammock strung between two leafy trees.

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jewelled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” –Ada Louise Huxtable


  • fresh whole berries [or pieces of other fruit] for garnish
  • ice to chill
  • 750 ml bottle of Spanish Red wine, chilled [I used Ribiera de Duero. Rioja works well too.]
  • ½ C. brandy
  • ¾ C. orange juice
  • 3-4 T. brown sugar
  • any seasonal combination of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. [Or use peaches and mangoes]
  • ½ orange, rind on, sliced thinly
  • ½ apple, skin on, chopped

In a large glass jar or pitcher, place fruit and sugar and muddle with a wooden spoon or muddler. [I love the concept of muddling as in messing things up.]


Add OJ and brandy and muddle again. Add red wine and stir.


Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. [More brandy or OJ or sugar as you wish.] Stir again. Add ice to chill and serve as is in clear glasses.

Get the fruit on. Garnish with lots of fresh berries or fruit of choice. Serve with a spoon for scooping winey fruit into your mouth between sips.


May be stored, covered, in refrigerator to steep and chill several hours, but then don’t add ice until serving.

Best drunk within 1-2 days.




Babies and Rice So Very Nice

Babies are such a nice way to start people—Don Herold


leila alisa ulfers, born may 24, 2016

It’s true what they say. Grandmother hormones materialize in much the same way maternal ones do–even 30+ years later. Babies born in one’s own family are the most miraculously perfect creations in the world. Parents [and even grandparents] check out other newborns to confirm this nuance of nature. Gradually it is understood to be a “Universal Truth”. We all simply feel this way.

The good fortune to dust off my pediatric nursing and maternal memories arrived with the birth of our first granddaughter. I reflected on the gift of “presence” my mother gave me after our son and daughter were born. It’s a gift that gives both ways.

IMG_5499 (1)


First, an [experienced] pair of hands in the early postpartum weeks gives new parents time to focus on the interplay of relationships that are suddenly right there. Baby inside, baby outside. Everything has changed. All three, mother, father and newborn, enter a timeless dance that begins with a new song.

A distinctive aura hovers over first time parents, beginning in their own relationship. Helplessly charmed by the miracle they created, they now exist inside a bubble of enhanced love and new responsibilities. At the same time, bonds between mother and baby, father and baby unfold daily, even hourly. My presence [teaching rigorous burping techniques [!], offering parental napping time, having my own cuddling and singing time] opened a bit of space for these relationships to settle and strengthen in the first month.


dressed like daddy

The second gift of being present was entirely personal. Watching my first-born baby [now a 34 year old man] tenderly hold, and croon to, his tiny, perfect daughter overwhelmed me with wonder. That “circle of life”, as clichéd as the phrase may be, sideswiped my heart with a flush of love and emotion. I’m all in now.

At night, I mulled over the randomness of dominant and recessive genes forming this beautiful baby’s eye color [murky grey to clearly blue–overnight!], the turned up button of a nose, the rosebud mouth, the one dimpled cheek, and the movable face of so many expressions [skeptical, smiling, hesitant, observant, and sometimes cross-eyed]. Even though it was too early for spontaneous social smiling, we gathered expectantly, eagerly, with each facial movement, hoping to be the first to receive that important human recognition, “I’m happy to know you.”


sweet dimpled dream

One day I had a flashback of maternal “déjà vu” when my daughter-in-law said, “I’m overwhelmed by how precious she is to me. I didn’t know I would feel this way.” None of us do. But almost every new mother is eventually overcome by the feelings of her own power to nurture and love her baby. That’s universal too…


wearing her “what’s not to love” onesie

I observed parents and babe develop their rhythms–for communicating, comforting, handling, and, of course, feeding. The dance changed by the minute, the hour, and the day. Flexibility is key with babies. But, in less than a week, my daughter-in-law blossomed from tentative new mama to an instinctively confident one. My joy was seeing this unfold.


mama/baby love

Newborn nourishment is where everything begins. Breastfeeding rituals gradually establish themselves. Then, suddenly, they fall apart with a day of feeding frenzy or a night of longer sleeping intervals. It is an ebb and flow of constant change in the early weeks.


independent girl time–hanging out with the owls

No less important is the nourishment of parents. Emotional swings as a result of sleep deprivation, new responsibilities, and sweetly swaddled newborn love leave not-so-much-time for meal preparation.


father fatigue happens

We planned and cooked together as a team. Daughter-in-law, knowledgeable of her protein needs, prepared the meat or fish. Son stepped up to roast veggies on the grill. I offered carbohydrate rich side dishes and green leafy salads.

Leftovers were used creatively for other meals. A big batch of brown rice became the base for protein breakfasts of eggs on rice*. Two eggs cooked over easy then cut up into a bowl of rice with freshly chopped tomato on top nourished mama with easy effort.

*Detailed recipe for “eggs on rice very nice” can be found in blog story Comfort Food for Cal: https://atasteofmind.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/comfort-food-for-cal/

Grilled eggplant, peppers, onions and mushrooms from the night before became a hearty side dish the next day when combined with whole-wheat penne, sautéed garlic, fresh spinach, and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan.

One night I made an old family favorite, Mujaddarah, a Lebanese lentil and rice casserole. The addition of chopped up bacon made it not purely vegetarian. Still, it was smothered with very slowly sautéed onions that made a delicious caramelized topping.


Babycakes nearing the one month mile marker

Extra lentils [the tiny green French kind] became the basis for another day’s cold salad with green onions, carrots, cucumber, parsley, and homemade vinaigrette. However, after two days of lentil eating by nursing mama, Babycake’s reddened bottom required some open airing sans diaper.

The family food tradition I used every day and wish to pass on to my granddaughter is the simple 1-2-3 of dressing a salad. Any salad, any day, any time. With ingredients found in most kitchens.

So, with arms opened wide to embrace Leila Alisa into our family’s love, care, and nurturance, here is my simple wish:

May you grow up healthy and wise and become an interesting person. And may you always make your salad dressings from scratch.


Ingredients: Amounts will vary according to how large the salad, so all are approximations. Taste testing necessary. Stick your finger in and adjust.


basic lineup of what you need, plus some options

  • Dijon mustard, if you have some [optional]
  • Good quality vinegar of choice [balsamic, wine or champagne]
  • Good quality olive oil, extra virgin
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dried basil [optional]
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed [optional]
  • Seed mixture–like sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, almond, walnut or whatever [optional]


  • Place a small amount of Dijon in the bottom of a bowl. [¼ to ½ tsp.]
  • Measure about 2-3 spoonfuls of vinegar over mustard. Add the garlic, seeds and basil, if using.
  • Sprinkle in S&P.
  • Then, very slowly, pour in a thin stream of olive oil, blending rapidly with a small spoon. There is no exact amount of oil. You simply taste with your finger and adjust proportions of vinegar to oil, as you prefer. Adjust salt.
  • Pour dressing over prepared greens and veggies. Toss together.
  • Grind of fresh pepper over all and serve.

Voilà! A lifetime of salads without bottled dressing.



Colorado supper with a glass of white


the one month director’s meeting

Spoons and Cookies

copyright 1998 k.a.shecklerwilson/www.shecklerwilson.com thanks to my friend karen wilson

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” –––William Morris*

No kitchens are really complete without a container of wooden spoons. So useful and very beautiful. In our Paris apartment, a wire basket holds an assortment of spoons, soup ladles, spatulas, salad servers and flat bladed stirrers. In our home in Colorado, an antique white stoneware pitcher and sugar bowl overflow with old and new implements. All wood.

I come about this affection genetically. My mother had a collection of well-used wooden spoons. Some were from her mother, Helen Eunice Brookley. We called her “Gram”.

Before she married my grandfather, Gram was a Home Economics teacher in the local high school. That was back in the days when “Home Ec” was taught in U.S. public schools. Several of her spoons have an asymmetrically flattened edge on the left side. Many years of right-handed stirring from my grandmother, my mother, and me.

In Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, Blood, Bones, and Butter [Random House, 2011], her French-born mother is known to wield a wooden spoon as an extension of her arm.

“She lived in our kitchen, ruled the house with an oily wooden spoon in her hand, and forced us all to eat dark, briny, wrinkled olives, small birds we would have liked as pets, and cheeses that looked like they might well bear Legionnaire’s Disease….Her burnt orange Le Creuset pots and casseroles, scuffed and blackened, were constantly at work…cooking things with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones–whatever she was stewing and braising and simmering to feed our family of seven.”

Legacy wooden spoons, like from Gabrielle’s mother and mine, are recycled pieces of history. Think about how the patina and grain are enhanced by generations of cooks stirring rich stews, thick hot chocolate, or biscuit batters.


Wooden spoons and implements are not just decorative displays. I use them all the time for cooking or baking. The difference is, I treat them like royalty compared to other kitchenware. [With the exception of knives–another story.] They never roll around and roughhouse in overstuffed kitchen drawers with metal and plastic. They aren’t abused by flopping back and forth in soapy cycles of the dishwasher. But rather are washed with a scrub brush, using minimal [or no] soap and running water.

When my spoons become noticeably dry, blotchy with scratches, and splintery around the edges, it’s time for “Kitchen Spa Day”. A sanding, smoothing, oiling, rejuvenating timeout.


Assembled for rejuvenation with sandpaper, steel wool and oil

After general assembly, out comes the fine grade sandpaper to exfoliate cosmetic problems. Silky smooth surfaces emerge in seconds. Rinse off sanding dust under tap water. Air-dry and then–the beautifying finishing touch.


Air dry before final beautification

No olive oil or furniture polish should condition wooden objects used in food preparation. Ok, I have used olive oil in a pinch. But better to buy a cheap bottle of pure mineral oil. Massage into the wood from head to handle. Set aside to rest.


mineral oil rubdown

Later, buff off any excess oil. Reassemble all the oiled/pampered utensils into their container.  Admire briefly while they lean companionably on each other.


an after-oil-sunbath

Then, as William Morris would agree, put them to use. Baking is always a good option. The gold standard in our household has been Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

In my teens I learned that the best homemade cookie batters are creamed, beaten, and stirred by hand–preferably with a sturdy, long handled wooden spoon. It is also a learned fact that raw cookie dough tastes better off wood than metal or plastic.

My recipe originally came from Mrs. Longhurst, the mother of a high school girlfriend. I have been making these cookies for decades–from my own adolescent sweet cravings, for a young husband in early marriage, through the children-raising years, for nieces, nephews, sisters, and countless friends overseas. The contractor and crews who built our Colorado cabin ate “Wendy’s Cookies” throughout construction. Some say it is a better-built cabin because of mixing oats, chocolate and physical labor.

Wooden spoons are like the trees from which they are honed. They are organically beautiful. They are eminently utilitarian. They can be passed through many generations of kitchens and cooks. In this way, they live…maybe forever.

*[Mantra for Lara, Anna, Rebecca, Susan] See quote.


[Ingredient amounts have been adjusted to make “big batches” that are easily frozen.]


  • 2 C. butter or margarine [I used margarine for years, but butter is considered healthier these days.]
  • 2 C. packed brown sugar
  • 2 C. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. pure vanilla extract [don’t skimp on cost, buy an expensive brand. BIG difference in taste. True for all baking!]
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 ¾ tsp. salt
  • 5 1/3 C. flour [I always use unbleached]
  • 5 1/3 C. rolled oats [whole oats, not instant]
  • 5 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips or cut up dark chocolate bars or a mixture of both [good quality chocolate makes a difference, so spend the money]

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until light and creamy. [I often melt the butter first to speed this up.] Beat eggs lightly together. Add to creamed ingredients.

Beat the whole mess with a sturdy wooden spoon. [naturally!] Stir in salt and soda. Add flour, mixing in each cup completely. Stir in oats and finally chocolate bits.


Drop by spoonfuls [small-size ice cream scoop recommended] onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 375 F, until lightly browned [8-10 min.] [For crispy cookies, bake to a darker brown. Lighter brown results in softer, chewy cookies.]

Remove immediately from baking sheet to cool. Store in tins lined with wax paper. Or in jars as my daughter does. Keep one out for noshing. Freeze the rest.


photo courtesy of nutritionist daughter


photo courtesy of nutritionist daughter


copyright 1996 k.a.shecklerwilson/www.shecklerwilson.com

Foxglove and “Oreos” on the Camino

“The Road has no beginning, and the Road has no end. The towns they run together and they run apart again. Right now is the only moment, and Time is the time to go and make yourself a pilgrim on the Road to Santiago. ¡Buen Camiño!”

David M. Gitlitz & Linda Kay Davidson, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago


starburst scallop shell marks “the way”

For more than 1000 years, the Camino de Santiago [the Way of St. James] has been a pilgrimage route from the foothills of the Pyrennes, in southwestern France and northwestern Spain, to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the Iberian Peninsula. In ancient times it was undertaken for spiritual cleansing or “losing time in Hell”.

Why is this pilgrimage so historically significant? Here’s the story:

James was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and the 4th disciple recruited by Jesus. He was assigned to the Iberian Peninsula to spread “the word of God”. He made it as far as Galicia in northwestern Spain. Upon returning to the Holy Land he was tortured. Adding insult to injury, he was beheaded. Became a martyr. His body was secreted out of Jerusalem on a boat. Across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Straits of Gibraltar, along the Iberian coast, back to the shores of Galicia. His tomb became enshrined in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.


looking towards santiago de compostela

So began the third most important Christian pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, after Rome and Jerusalem. During the Renaissance and years of religious reformation [16th century] the Camino’s importance waned. It fell even more out of favor during the Age of Enlightenment [18th century]. Yet pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela never stopped completely. Nowadays, the Camino is rocking in popularity. 262,459 certificates [Compostelas] were awarded  in 2015. Pilgrims traveled by foot, bicycle, or horseback. Some in wheelchairs.

In ancient times as well as today, travellers typically carry their provisions in a backpack, camp out, or sleep in hostels, retreating from normal life for days, weeks, or months. Usually their journey ends at the cathedral in Santiago.

There is also another “way” to experience the Camino. In May 2014, I was part of a group of  women who started where most people end–in the courtyard of the cathedral. We walked to the actual “ends of the earth” [Finisterre] on the Atlantic Ocean. We carried only a daypack with water and rain gear. Our worldly goods were transported to the next charming “casa rurales” [bed and breakfast] along the route. After hiking, we enjoyed a hot bath or shower, delicious Galician cuisine and wine, followed by restful sleep–in a bed.

The Camiño de Fisterra-Muxía is the road less travelled these days, particularly in the off-season. On the fourth day we arrived at the lighthouse on Cape Finisterre overlooking the ocean. On the fifth day we walked up the coastline to Muxía where we received the Compostellana [Certificate of Accomplishment]. Meaning–we walked at least 100 km. [It was 117.]


route from santiago to muxía


compostela record


stamps acquired along the way


lighthouse at the cape

Our group came together through the joint venture of two American women, Sally and Sienna, who met in Spain while Sally was producing a documentary entitled, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago”. [www.caminodocumentary.org] In 2013 they began organizing small group trips with their company “Stars on the Camino”. [www.starsonthecamino.com]


sally on the trail

The topography of Galicia is extremely hilly. It is also very rainy which keeps the landscape lush and green. And, in May, there were fields upon fields of pink foxglove. So much future heart medication growing wild.


Digitalis purpurea, common foxglove

“Oreos” were spoken of frequently. I found out they were tiny barns of granite or shale stone built on mushroom like pedestals. Functioning as storage granaries in rural areas, they are mounted off the ground to deter rodents. Later, when I learned the Galician word was actually “hórreos”, I understood what they had in common with the name of a cookie. Absolutely nothing. But “oreos” is what I remember.

Forewarned about the hilly terrain, I brought hiking sticks, which gave me a long rhythmic stride. So I was often by myself, up ahead, looking for trail markers [the yellow scallop shell or the painted yellow line] and discovering new terrain. After the first day, I realized that hiking alone was going to be my experience on the Camino.


yellow marks the way across water too



romanesque bridge and aqueduct

Everyone goes on a journey for some reason. It’s often initiated during a moment of transition, a need to “walk through” personal issues, let go of the old, let in the new, or to simply break up routines. It might bubble up as a search for healing or forgiveness or a time to give thanks or to mark a special occasion. Perhaps the motivation is to meet new people, hear their stories, see new places, rediscover something forgotten or discover something new. Journeys can be the means for seeking creative inspiration, exercise, harmony with nature, penance, meditation, or delving into the spiritual.


My own journeys are usually discovery seeking ones. They widen my perspective, feed curiosity, and replenish me with adventure. Those quiet hours in the hills, forests, villages, foxglove fields and countryside of Galicia brought real contentment. I was part of the changes in weather–the down pouring rain, looming storm clouds and sometimes present sun. I was entwined in the topography–the out of breath up-hills, the knee jarring down-hills and the blessed stretches of flat terrain in between. I was lost in thought about the history and natural beauty of this part of the world. It was impossible not to feel connected to and wonder about others who had walked the same trail, taken the same pilgrimage, through millenniums.


Day 3, last 5k of steep downhill, long negotiation of massive boulders ahead

Evening meals were social bonding time. We were treated to delicious regional cuisine including famous Galician wines. Arroz con calamares [rice with squid], zamburiñas [scallops in shells], and, once, a giant fried prehistoric style fish, which looked ominous but melted in the mouth.


dining ambience


happy pilgrims

A uniquely Galician tradition, the queimada ceremony, was performed just for us. Queimada is made from a special Spanish liqueur distilled from grapes, flavored with spices, herbs, sugar, lemon peel and coffee beans. The ingredients are put together into a clay pot, set on fire and allowed to burn slowly. The whole concoction is stirred frequently by lifting a ladle of flaming liquid and pouring it back into the pot. When the flame burns blue, it is ready to serve in ceramic cups.

There is a recitation chanted as the queimada burns–to purify the drink and to share it with the souls of family and friends not present to enjoy it. Special powers are conferred on the queimada and to those drinking it. We didn’t experience anything supernatural, but there was a lot of infectious laughter and animated conversation after a long hiking day. Sound sleep soon followed.

Upon reaching the cliff at the end of the world on Cape Finisterre, we saw blackened remains of burned clothes and shoes on the rocks. It’s a tradition for those who venture all the way. None of us were moved to do the same. We picked up a stone to throw into the sea at journey’s end–giving it the name of something to let go of.

The odd thing was, I couldn’t bring myself to throw my stone away. I kept touching it in my pocket and wondering about the hesitation. My friend Margaret suggested that I wasn’t ready to let go. There was a reason I needed to save that energy for something else. She was perceptive. And right. Three weeks later, in June 2014, this blog was born. I discovered white markings on the stone that looked like a face. I still have it.


everybody needs a rock

Typically, all pilgrimages have a fixed end point. But they begin wherever you start.

“The going is more memorable than the getting there.”

When you are ready,

Put on your boots

And go…



[Stars on the Camino offers a new route called the Camino Portugues. It begins in Portugal and ends at Santiago’s Cathedral. I am hiking there in May 2016.]

Some of the photos in this story are courtesy of Nina Cooper or Teresa Goodwin.


galician coastline, iberian peninsula, spain


margaret, laurel, nina, sally, carole


nina, sally, carole, wendy, teresa, laurel

Bags of Laughter

When laughter helps without doing harm, when laughter lightens, realigns, reorders, reasserts power and strength, this is laughter that causes health. When laughter makes people glad they are alive, happy to be here, more conscious of love…lifts sadness and severs anger…when they are made bigger, made better, more generous, more sensitive, that is sacred [laughter].

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES









Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my legs. Unknown author

It is bad to suppress laughter. It goes back down to your hips. Unknown author

Laughter is part of the universal human language. Everyone speaks laughter. Laughter exercises the diaphragm, the abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles. It’s a workout! Laughter is yogic. Nothing works faster to bring the body and mind back in balance than a good laugh.


Laughter is cathartic. The good feeling from a big laugh remains, lifting your mood for hours afterwards.


I was recently weakened by a bout of tear inducing, out loud laughter.  It took over my  whole day. Bursts of laughter broke free for hours afterwards. It made me feel great.

The source was a story written by Alec, a friend with a gift for spinning a comedic phrase.  This time it was a personal to my experience of having lived in Germany as well as having made a rather specific request.

Alec knows there are things I miss from Germany, so he always offers to bring “a list” when he and his wife drive to Paris. This time I tacked on “one more thing” and felt that a detailed description was needed:

…Oh, there is one more thing you could bring. It’s very lightweight and packable, but you have to go to the Oberursel Altstadt to find it. On the main street is the One Euro Store. Not everything there is one euro, but it’s a cheap junk store you should know about anyway.

Inside, they have these little cloth shopping bags that come wrapped in a little cloth carrying case. The nameReisenthel is on the side label. They cost more than one euro, about 4.95 each. They are brilliant. I use them daily or give them away to family and friends, doing my “green best.

I only like solid benign colors. Black, blue, green, brown. No patterns or foofy florals.  6-10 bags if you find them…

I received the following email from him the day before they were to arrive:

On A Mission for Wendy

I loitered outside the dollar store in the winter cold, waiting until the store emptied before I approached the owner.

Uncertain of his level of English, I said with some hesitation, “Guten Tag. I am shopping for a woman-friend who lived here six years ago. She asked me to pick up some packable lightweight shopping bags she used to buy in your store.”

He remained silent so I continued, “They’re made by Reisenthel. She gives them away to be environmentally friendly. Do you still carry them?”

He stared at me and I wasn’t sure if he was mentally translating what I said from English to German or was wondering if I was crazy enough to think a dollar store carried the same merchandise over such a long period of time.

He gestured to a box that had packable shopping bags in a floral pattern. Apologetically I said, “Um, she doesn’t really want a floral pattern.”

Again, the stare as he said, “She wants to be environmentally friendly but doesn’t like flowers?”

He had a point, but I stood my ground. “I think she wants to be fashionably friendly to the environment.”

This time his stare lasted even longer. He scratched his head. I couldn’t tell if he was thinking about whether he had other bags in the store or if he was beginning to understand why a person like Donald Trump could be elected if Americans were all like me.

He opened a cabinet and handed me a slightly larger shopping bag-inside-a-bag, this time in basic black. The tag indicated it was manufactured by “Schneider”.

Now it was my turn to hesitate. Finally I got up the nerve to say, “Um, this is a Schneider bag, but my friend really wants a Reisenthel bag.”

I felt completely stupid. I said “Reisenthel” like it was some kind of designer brand from Bloomingdales or Saks, but the shelves lined with cheap bric-a-brac reminded me I was far from Fifth Avenue.

By the look on his face, I feared he was going to hit me with one of the dozens of snow globes within easy reach. Instead he just blinked. It was one of those blinks where the eyelids remain closed long enough that I could have slipped out of the store. Maybe he was offering me an out, but I stayed. I was on a mission for Wendy.

Finally, he opened his eyes and said, in an accent grown heavier with each exchange, “And what, may I ask, is so special about a Reisenthel bag?”

Luckily for me I came prepared with an email from my friend. I pulled it out of my pocket and quickly read aloud what she wrote. “Um, well, she says here that, ‘They are brilliant.’

He squinted at me, considering my words. Then he repeated very slowly, as if offering me a chance to take one of the small green pills prescribed by my psychiatrist, “These bags. They are brilliant?”

Rather than hold his stare, I looked back at my friend’s email and blurted out the first words that caught my eyes. “She says here they should be benign”. Then, realizing how incredibly stupid that sounded, I tried to make a joke with a forced chuckle, “But I assume all of your bags are benign, right?”

For the first time he looked at me with something other than pity or spite and said with clear relief, “So you want nine bags?”

I looked down at my shoes. It took only a moment to realize my joke had been misunderstood. I looked up and then again at my friend’s email with the very explicit directions of what she wanted.

Drawing upon an inner strength, built from more than 20 years of living overseas, battle-tested by language and cultural barriers from Asia to Europe. I looked him straight in the eye, and said…

“No. I’ll take ten…Danke.”


It doesn’t happen nearly often enough–this kind of mirthful laughter that tickles to my core, and ripples throughout the day. I laughed until I cried. Then I laughed all over again–thanks to my friend.



…and a great family laugh too…


Antics by Alec also featured here: https://atasteofmind.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/taiwan-green-marble-pesto/