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life in balance


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On the Road: Kinfolk and Chattanooga

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I’m just back from my latest round of travelling – our annual Austin trip and a stop in Chattanooga by myself for a Kinfolk gathering on herbal infusions. I had been wanting to see Chattanooga since I started reading Local Milk back in July, before I had given notice. Beth’s writing about place, moody and atmospheric and gothic, created this vivid picture of Chattanooga in my mind and I was eager to see the city for myself. The time was never quite right to add the trip to the schedule after I gave notice, but then the Kinfolk gathering cropped up in just the perfect place for me to swing by on the way down to Texas. As y’all know, I’ve been interested in herbal infusions for a while, and I thought it would be fun to explore the idea from a culinary perspective, with a host who also believes in the medicinal properties of herbs. So I rerouted my trip to Austin (about which more next time) to include a brief stop in Chattanooga for the workshop and a little exploration of the city.

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I flew into Chattanooga on Friday night and had some time to explore just a little before and after the event. I didn’t rent a car, which was kind of a strange decision in retrospect. Chattanooga’s more of a car city than many of the places I’ve been lately. I actually felt like it was more eccentric taking a taxi there than it was in the Shetland Islands. But the good thing about seeing a city on foot is that you really see everything. Over these past few months I’ve been travelling, it’s been my challenge to send deep roots down as quickly as I can, then rip them up violently and move onto the next place. It’s an exercise in loving and knowing a place, not just seeing it, and I find it’s easier to sink in on your feet than it is behind the wheel of a car.

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I stayed at the Crash Pad, a hostel that’s been designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Some of you will know that staying in a hostel was a wild departure for me, miss four-star hotel, but I loved it. The design is really thought-provoking and the location was great. On Saturday I had coffee and some writing time at Mean Mug Coffee nearby. Great atmosphere, and they brew and sell Velo coffee, which I was eager to try. The new single-origin blend from Velo has a strong chocolate note to my taste buds, so I’m going to brew it for my Christmas morning white chocolate coffee from Home Made Winter. Possibly in the jadeite coffee mugs I got at the Knitting Mill. I had been going back and forth about whether the weekend was long enough to justify going over to the north shore, but I went for it and I’m glad I did. I could have stayed in there a lot longer than I did; it’s a really fun antique store to browse and the place is huge. I also swung by Fredonia, a women’s clothing and accessories shop. Okay, perhaps I swung by Fredonia several times. Perhaps I fell in love with Fredonia and went in three times in two days. Yes, that happened. Couldn’t help myself. They carry a lot of really unusual pieces and everything is so well-priced. Plus I had an awesome conversation with the woman behind the counter about polaroid film photography. Before I went to Chattanooga I picked up a box of six possibly broken land cameras from a Methodist preacher, so the subject was on my mind while I was photographing the shop, though I was neither thorough nor particularly focused in what I had to say about it.

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And after the workshop, on my way out of town, I made one last stop – The Farmer’s Daughter for a latte from Copacetic Coffee and a breakfast – delicious granola and yogurt and my very first sorghum experience. Sorghum, where have you been all my life? The Farmer’s Daughter places a lot of importance on fresh, sustainably produced ingredients from local farmers and producers and it shows in the food. Easily the best restaurant I ate at while in Chattanooga. Copacetic also brews Velo in addition to beans from other roasters such as Crema in Nashville. From what I gather, the partnership between the Farmer’s Daughter and Copacetic was engineered so that people in search of good coffee could also have good food, and people in search of good food wouldn’t have to settle for mediocre run-of-the-mill coffee. The idea made reality is basically the perfect place to have breakfast; left me wishing I wasn’t screwing around with taxi shenanigans so I could fully relax. Next time with a rental car! I could not get over how friendly and welcoming everyone in Chattanooga was. I love where I live, but we’ve got a little more ‘mind yo bizness’ in the water up here and a lot less ‘Oh, you want to go to the Knitting Mill? Honey, let me tell you exactly what you need to do….’. I loved every minute of it.

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The event was held at a private home in the Loveman building in downtown Chattanooga, and the space was beautiful, filled with light and gorgeous high ceilings and a fabulous bookshelf. I hope I’m not the only one who walks into a home and immediately checks out the owner’s bookshelves. We started off the event with the workshop; our hosts supplied us with two glass amber jars and a Weck jar, and we got to choose between salt, sugar, olive oil and bourbon to infuse. There was an abundance of herbs spread out down the length of the table, including some for blending our own teas. For my jar and bottles, I chose sugar, infused with rose, hibiscus and a tiny bit of honeysuckle, olive oil, infused with chipotle chiles and rosemary, and bourbon, infused with cinnamon, nutmeg and sage. I really love the bourbon – it’s an interesting, weird-in-a-good-way flavor. I think it needs a cocktail – possibly with spiceberry bitters? We shall see. For the tea I blended meadowsweet and valerian, for anxiety, with some honeysuckle – this last being a totally intuitive decision on my part. When I took my class with Holly back at Squam, she told us that sometimes you’ll have an intuitive call to use a particular herb, and when that happens, roll with it – you never know what the plant is telling you. And so I did. I just finished my tulsi/rose tea, so this will be the next blend I drink for emotional health. Honestly, for me, I find that the most effective herbal remedy for anxiety is spritzing, either with my Lotus Wei blends or my homemade blend. My emotions just seem to be more scent-triggered than taste-triggered – but blending teas is fun for me, tea geek that I am. The workshop in general was just perfect – enough guidance to get ideas flowing, and free enough that our intuition had a place in the process.

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I confess I was nervous to be attending the event on my own. Kinfolk events can skew female, and I don’t have a whole lot of experience socializing with other women anymore. I’ve lived for my career these past seven years, and in those seven years I had one female colleague, and I only worked with her for nine months. Since I quit, it’s been very difficult for me to re-learn how to have authentic, soulful conversations with other women; I feel like I’m often saying the wrong thing, shy and awkward and bumbling. But as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The people who attended the event were incredible; openhearted and creative and brave, honest and true. Their openness called to me and made it so much easier to be open myself. Conversation felt effortless. It truly was one of those magic evenings; I don’t know about anyone else, but for me it was healing. A lot of credit goes to our hostesses, Beth, Hannah, Rebekka and Sarah, who did a great job of making sure everyone felt included in the conversation and part of the gathering. Completing the magic, we were sent home with satsuma, herbs de provence and fennel salt, saffron and lavender honey and a chai tea bag, all handmade, as well as some lovely gifts from our event sponsors – but my favorite part was the handmade goods. The salt in particular is killer – I’ve been making everyone who comes by my place try a little.

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For once, I was so invested in hanging out with everyone that I barely got my camera out of my bag. I took some shots early on and then thought, “No, I’m not feeling the camera, I want to be fully present for this.” So forgive my fuzzy cell phone shots and just know, I wasn’t there to take photos, I was just there to be. Also unusual for me! Usually I’m more the “hide behind the lens” type. And can I just say Beth’s cooking is sublime. Check that menu out up at the top of this post. Incredible. I think I need to balls up and try to make lavender creme fraiche at home; Beth gave us a little pep talk about how easy it is, and I just need to get over my fear of eating dairy that’s been set out and just. do. it. Also exciting? One of the hostesses was Rebekka Seale of the Camellia Fiber Company, a new yarn company that you all need, yes, need, to check out. She’s one of the best semi-solid indie dyers I have ever seen, especially when you factor in that she works exclusively with natural dyes. We got a chance to have some fun shop talk about the yarn business after dinner. Y’all know I never pass up a chance to talk yarn! Hopefully I’ll have more on the company for you in 2014, but for now, seriously go look at the colorways. She also dyed the napkins you see in all our place settings; I’m saving part of my December budget for a set of napkins from her shop. They are just too gorgeous.

Place setting at the Kinfolk dinner

So in short, the whole experience was just absolutely magical. Camille once told me that if you wanted to travel, you had to get out there and make it happen, and I’ve been reflecting this past week on how true that is. Last year I never would’ve gone to the trouble to re-route my travel plans for a beautiful dinner, and I would have missed out on this experience. I’m so grateful that after so many years of being tentative and saying no, I’ve finally built this life for myself where it’s okay to say yes to beauty even in small things. And as we approach the new year I’m going to focus on all the doors I can open for myself in 2014. The future is coming; everything is possible.

Final notes: I’ve come across some blog posts from other attendees and wanted to share their experiences as well. I met Marissa as I was walking into the Loveman building; she’s such a sweetheart (and makes lovely jewelry!). Emily also wrote a post about the event with some gorgeous photos. I’ve been following her on Instagram since the gathering and can I just say her self-portraiture is inspired? Magazine-worthy. There are also posts out there from our hosts and sponsors: Local Milk’s includes a shot of yours truly, which I love though I’m making a crazy face, because I’m clearly having a blast. The recipe for one of our cocktails is also up over at West Elm’s blog (they sponsored the event and provided a lot of the goods you’ll see in everyone’s photos). And Rebekka also has a post up on her blog about the event. Let me know in the comments if you have posted something I missed and I’ll add it to the round-up!

Also, very important: Same disclaimer as always when I talk about herbalism: herbal remedies are not recognized by the FDA as medicines and can’t be guaranteed to treat any particular illness or injury. The information provided here shouldn’t be substituted for consultation with a physician or other licensed medical professional.