I had at one time a very particular image in my mind of how my life would look; and it recently returned to me - sitting around the lunch table today talking about wealthy New Yorkers, their history, their extravagant homes, their gardening hobbies with their orchid rooms and glass greenhouses. I definitely wanted to be rich. In this fantasy I have a home with a grand spiral staircase. And I nonchalantly descend it, in some robe-like gown as if being called for dinner. Perhaps I am holding a martini. This image, burned in my brain and cataloged in the files which contains specific images related to 'making it.'
Other images found in these files;
1. the Saipua corporate jet and this image needs to be somewhere sort of remote - like Ibiza or Capri or fine maybe Martha's Vineyard and it's suddenly hailing on the tarmac and there are lights flashing and the SAIPUA logo emblazoned on the side of the jet sort of flashes in these runway lights between sheets of rain as my crew and I run to board to our next florists saves the day episode.
2. having a milking cow with fresh cream in my coffee every morning
3. having full time farm apprentices who milk that cow
How do I start to sum up a year that has had so much in it?
We moved to a new studio in 2016. The walk-in cooler/storage room is about the same size as our former place. It's so big I started calling it the saipua castle. It has a kitchen. In the kitchen is a giant wooden bowl that we make staff lunch in everyday. I joke that before I ever finish the SAIPUA coffee table-fold-out-oragami-how-to-flower-world-expose-personal-memoirs book I will write a simple cookbook about our vegetarian lunches at Saipua. There will inevitably be a lot of kale, goat butter and ezekiel bread in this book.
Our studio also has a giant fireplace. And a welding area where Dan makes things like firewood racks an planter boxes for rooftop garden projects which we started taking on this year. I often think thank god Dan is still here ... and Taryne is back full time assisting me with big creative vision stuff and all of our garden projects.
2016 saw a lot of staff changes. We gained what the flower market guys refer to as the 'international contingent.' Bryony is from Australia; and she is head of sales here. Most of what she works on is our large weddings. She loves love and isn't shy about telling clients that. It's incredible that someone so soft and loving can also be so acutely organized and able to stand up to pushy clients or clients that are inappropriately bargaining. Even after ten years, we're still always changing our rules, trying to make the planning and administrative part of flowers easier and smoother and less confusing for clients. Bryony has this sort of uncanny ability to perfectly balance business and emotion. She has become invaluable here and it should be said she has an excellent sense of color with flowers.
The other half of the tea-drinking (I've had some major adjustments this year) international contingent is Jessie who came on board right at the end of 2015 but who really flourished this year; handling all of our weekly flower orders, deliveries and small events. Jessie is completely 100% no nonsense but also incredibly sensitive. She watches everyone closely and responds with a rare ego-less kindness. I look around and think how did I get all these well adjusted kids??? Jessie also has a weird, fresh-to-death style that I envy. Only she can pair gold chains, calvin klein sports bras and fishermans overalls.
And then of course we hired Jennell this year to be our full time flower farmer at Worlds End. She came to live with us for the growing season (March-October). Gone finally are the frantic days where I ran back and forth and do both jobs... Jennell, with her patience and perseverance is better suited to run the field along side Eric. They make a good team and it's hard to imagine who else could fold right into our home for seven months of the year better than Jennell. Jennell loves natural dying...she's currently planning our dye garden for 2017 along with a lot of brown lisianthus and foxgloves.
Deanna and Genevieve both took flight this year; moved on out of the nest. Deanna to pursue her life dream of working in film (and arguably being NYC's best floral freelancer?) and Genevieve to spend a large part of the year traveling and her own creative projects. I feel lucky and honored to consider them a part of our saipua community and life long friends. But I sure miss seeing these faces everyday...
This year we built a ceramic studio in the new castle and set up Julie from Object and Totem as our resident ceramicist. She makes all of our dream vases back there behind a set of floating shelves built by Jacob Perkins. Pictured here is Michael who we were lucky enough to have on staff this year. At the moment of this photo he was speaking Cantonese to some contractors who installed a more than complicated heating/cooling system in our new space. Michael taught me a lot about planning and empathy and how to listen better.
I learned a lot about ceramics, kilns, and economy of shelf space from Julie this year. After about 7 months I feel we're finally hitting our stride as collaborators and it's so exciting. The new work coming out of the studio for us is so unusual and good and I can't wait to offer to you in 2017...
In 2016 we made leaps and bounds in shepherding our Icelandic Sheep. We began to sort out the fiber program. My mother and I learned to spin yarn and got pretty good at it...albeit slightly competitive.
I milked a sheep for the first time, and although I don't particularly like sheep's milk in my coffee - I will say that it makes a fine ricotta. We fed this ricotta one summer night at the farm to a group of employees and friends and it felt quietly momentous to me.
The ewe was desperately in need of emptying (having lost a twin) and to relieve her and avoid mastitis, three of us held her tight as I milked her out after watching several youTube videos on my phone and a lot of cursing. About then I realized just how much effort is involved in setting up a milking/cheesemaking operation.
The art of cheesemaking can occupy my 50's...
I met and became friends with Owyn Ruck (founder of the Textile Art Center) and together we talked a lot about the intersection of craft and art.
She helped put together a fiber class at Worlds End; a weekend aimed at giving people a place to be creative with texture and color. Students learned to spin wool with Heather Love. They ate well and swam in the pond.
We cut flowers and foraged wild plants to bundle dye silk with Cara Marie Piazza..
And we started selling skeins of our sheep's wool....you can now knit with Worlds End Icelandic wool! That just feels like such a crazy accomplishment to me; when I remember all the wild sheep chases or tough nights in the lambing barn. We managed to turn all that into a real product...
We had amazing apprentices in 2016 -- it has continually been apprentices who feed the saipua fires with their new ideas, fresh spirits and willingness to work on lots of rather menial tasks such as modeling wedding dresses at a class Nicolette and I taught to professional florists in May...
After almost 7 years of teaching with Nicolette I suddenly felt the need to take a rest from classes in 2016. And allow for some time to restore my own creative practice and focus on saipua which was in need of so much attention as we transversed this year of growing pains.
Nicolette has continued to teach without me at Little Flower School (keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming Dutch Masters Class - not to be missed..)
At our new studio, small classes are on offer as part of our new educational initiative -- Deanna has been teaching them. These classes encourage therapeutic play with flowers. And hopefully demystify flower arranging in the process...
We also started holding soap-making workshops with my mom Susan who continues to make all of the soap at Saipua. A teacher for 30 years, Susan has a great way of explaining, and it's been a real joy to watch her teach her passion for cold process soap here.
On the farm, we taught the dogs how to fetch cucumbers...
And we grew a lot of food; mostly tomatoes, eggplants, swiss chard, kale, a smattering of cruciferous vegetables, too many hot peppers. . .
Vogue magazine came to shoot a big fashion story over two days. I got to drive a famous vogue editor around in the back of my pickup truck. I have never met a woman so elegant or with such great jewelry. She had multiple assistants who carried cigarettes around for her which is now a life goal of mine. In the photo below they mixed models with our own staff for authenticity. What you can't see is how authentically I am corralling the chickens with strawberry ends just off the right of the frame. When the piece came out in October, it included a story about our farm and what we're trying to build there.
It was one of my proudest moments this year... I think I get deeply buried into trying to make the farm work, frustrated when I can only sell 2 spots in a wild nettle harvesting workshop. Or when I have difficulty explaining the value of our farm flowers to a client. Then you leave Vogue flipped open to the pictures of the farm and it ... helps. The apprentices prepared the lunch for the models and crew everyday, drawing heavily from our garden. We had to harvest lettuce three times; they kept asking for more and more salad ... they said they had never had salad right from the garden before. To be able to give them that simple experience? That's what we're aiming for at the farm...
We grew a lot of flowers. Lots of flowers for our weddings. Some for other florists weddings. Some for the wholesale market.
Having our own flowers from the farm in the studio every week this summer was an overwhelming experience; and it's hard for me to find words to describe it. It is as if I could eat the flowers, like I wanted to be alone and ceremoniously stuff them in my mouth or spread them all out on the floor, arrange them all there and then lay down in them. Working with the farm flowers is a strange sensual and heightened experience; they are plugged in. They turn me into a sensitive mess! The girls in the studio got spoiled this summer and I loved watching them - their eyes grow when the van was unloaded.
We cooked a lot of dinners in 2016.
In August we made a big 10 year anniversary dinner; steaks and vegetables and ate it right off the table in the back of the castle. My mother made her famous coconut cake, a cake that makes people crazy. It's my favorite.
Samin came and cooked with us a lot on the farm in 2016. She says it is her favorite place to cook. She built a big outdoor fire pit kitchen. One day, when we have a real kitchen inside it probably won't be as much fun. Our annual lamb roast was Mexican themed. We cooked a lot of lamb in 2016. And we dug a 1 acre irrigation pond.
There were dark spots this year. Amidst the intensity of it all, I intermittently thought about burning it all down. I fantasized about fires, and walking away from Saipua completely. What is that feeling where you don't know what you want but it's not what you have? That discomfort has had a life inside my body for years. In the past year I've started stalking it instead of ignoring it or covering it with distractions. As a child I thought the cure for this uncanny discomfort was orange juice. A big plastic pitcher of frozen concentrate was permanently parked in our refrigerator, and I self administered it often...
My adult remedy is to stay busy all the time. Ironically that has served me and Saipua pretty well. This year I watched that remedy start to fail. Suffice it to say - it was a very hard year for me personally. Saturn squaring natal Saturn, coming to grips with decisions of the past, struggling with obligation. In August I decided to take a trip. Captain Karl. He ferry's a boat from Deer Island Maine to a small private island in Penobscot Bay.
There, I camped out with Nea in a shack on the beach for two weeks. There is no electricity on the island, only propane tanks for cooking. I did a lot of scattered reading. I spent of lot of time being bored and watched my own anxiety in my boredom. I made and shared with Nea a lot of bacon and beans and cheese. I had a little cooler with an ice block and kept my cream for my coffee in it. I collected a lot of sea glass.
I was looking for something that I knew I would not find there. I wanted an epiphany. But I came home without one. I laughed at my expectation, I came to see the boredom and emptiness as experiences I might need.
In 2016 I rested more, and I practiced not feeling guilty about it.
That moment last spring when I wanted to blow it all to smithereens... it was a healthy thing. If I want Saipua to continue to evolve then I've got to roll the whole thing around, turn it upside down and inside out. Hang it from it's heels and shake the shit out of it.
And get all the rest I need to push it forward in a new and different way. . .
2017 started out differently than a lot of us imagined. I keep thinking about scale, big and small. What can we do with our little business and our little farm? In the past I maybe was thinking too big without focus. In the new year I want to hone it in. Cut off all the fat, focus so hard; so much that the paper catches on fire under the magnifying glass in front of me. Then we'll decide what are we going to do with that fire...
MAJESTIC COCONUT CAKE
Makes one nine-inch, three-layer cake.
Make the filling:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups whipping cream
½ cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter
2¼ cups sweetened flaked coconut
¼ cup sour cream
Stir the cornstarch, water, and vanilla in a small bowl to dissolve the cornstarch. In a heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the cream, sugar, and butter to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in coconut.
Cool the mixture completely. Mix in sour cream, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the cake:
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt
2¼ cups sugar
12 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
5 large eggs
11⁄3 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup coconut milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until blended. In a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until blended. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cream and vanilla, then the coconut milk. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Divide the batter equally among the 3 pans. Bake until a tester (such as a knife or skewer) inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool.
Make the frosting:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter to blend. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract. Fold in the toasted coconut.
Assemble the cake:
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
½ 13½-ounce can coconut milk mixed with 2 cups simple syrup
Place 1 cake round on a plate. Brush with the coconut-milk mixture, then top with half of the filling. Place a second cake layer atop the filling, brush with the coconut milk/syrup, and top with the remaining filling. Place the third cake layer atop the filling and spread frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Pat the toasted coconut on the top and sides of the cake, pressing gently so it sticks. Cover and refrigerate.
Let the cake stand 3 hours at room temperature before serving.
Garnish the plate with toasted coconut and, if desired, crème anglaise.
I want to be a chicken at Worlds End. Here's some reasons why:
1) Structure. You get let out in the morning and you go in at night, all at the same time everyday. So already there's a lot of decisions made for you.
2) No Boys. There are no boy chickens or roosters at Worlds End and I think the girls are maybe better off for it. They go about their business without obligations to male-ness or female-ness. They've never encountered a male chicken in their entire little bird-brained lifetimes. A half mile down the road, our closest neighbor has a gaggle of rough-rider roosters that go about raising hell around 3am. If our girls hear this, swaddled in their lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous white clapboard coup that Eric lovingly handcrafted them, they are likely to interpret the racket as a distant dream; a mythos of chicken creationism, not to be taken too seriously.
They just can't think about it too much.
Like the riddle of the chicken and the egg.
I was off the farm mostly for the last 6 months, working in the city to get our new store and studio up and running and my life has been different. I don't want to talk about a lot of it because it's too personal or tender in a lot of ways. We could frame it broadly in a conversation about change.
The one thing in this life we know with certainty. You either watch change happen or you make it happen - but regardless of your involvement it occurs. I pause here, imagining what it would take to stop the tides. I distract myself from painful moments by reading physics or trips to the Met or Barneys. I am reading about symmetry in the universe; change without change. A circle, rotated on it's axis continually changes but also doesn't.
I drink tea now.
I am looking for the perfect black cashmere turtleneck.
I am particularly interested in the intersection of science and the spiritual realm.
Lets start with love. Somehow the feeling of love is equal to certain arrangements of sub atomic particles in the brain firing off at certain times. There is science behind feelings, it is all arguably nature and nature is ruled by physics and chemistry. Then I think, lets sort it out; lets find the love particle (except their won't be just one, there will be many -- plutonic love, romantic love, maternal love, etc. -- infinite types of love particles!) And then lets study and sequence the shit out of it -- figure out how the various bits skip through electron orbits in the carbon atoms of our brains when the feeling of love is present. Then we'll synthesize it! Mix it up in a petri dish and distribute it to people who need it. I'd diagnose myself, as head of this study and swallow a pill stamped: SELF LOVE.
Then I'd make a pill stamped EMPATHETIC LOVE and I'd slip it in the drinks of Rudy Guliani, Steve Bannon, Chris Christie, Donald Trump and the other members of the newly forming axis of evil. Then we could get on with the real work of this world...
But there is of course the other side to this. The real reason we'll never mix love up in the lab-- the spiritual realm. That which happens in between the air...where no particles or measurable physical forces are. A sentient force field. I can't always figure out how to touch it, but occasionally I do. For seconds at a time with flowers, with strangers at the grocery, with coffee alone staring out the window, with animals a lot -- and then I snap back into being a robot. The most efficient version of myself; a picture of pseudo feminist success - running my company, raising sheep, growing food and flowers but never touching laundry or children.
Lets add some philosophy to this meandering.
The Allegory of the Cave is a well known though experiment devised by Plato in which one imagines a world in which people have been trapped underground in a cave since birth. They know nothing of the world except the shadows they see on the cave wall. When they are dragged out into the 'real world' they resist and run screaming back to the cave. Maybe I'm trying to talk about freedom...
You might pass a truck of chickens stacked hundreds deep in cages on the highway. Trucked from birth, to life to death. Ultimate confinement. You might let yourself go down that road for a minute thinking about all those little chickens... it might conjure a wellspring of emotion. Imagine operating with that sort of tenderness more often. This isn't a conversation about meat birds and how they are produced. It's a conversation about compassion and how far we can get from it living our everyday lives. The sadness of our birthright; it is a gift to warm up to it. That sentient ocean that is between all the air. The symmetrical other - the spiritual half of the reality we are trained to see and know…
You know those chickens know nothing else - the ones in cages on the truck. They were born in the cave. I try to tell my chickens how lucky they are but they still just glare at me with angry, impatient chicken eyes. These girls have it so tight - they won't even touch compost scraps unless I lace it with sunflower seeds or berries. They're on a 1 month plus laying hiatus and when I bought $40 worth of layer mash the other day I considered that it's likely time for a new batch of layer hens. Over dinner Eric and I dance around the conversation of retiring the chickens. For Christ sake, we are buying eggs at the grocery.
But we keep kicking the task down the road.
On the farm there are lessons encrypted everywhere for me. Most of them come painfully slowly. In hindsight its obvious that I needed to break myself down in order to move forward. There are some pieces of myself I don't need anymore. I've been reorienting myself, getting ready for the next phase of work at Saipua which has to do more with education and offering people an opportunity to connect to nature. If you've been to Worlds End you may have seen and felt a certain sort of strange power that lies quietly in the air, on the surfaces. We have one large piece of infrastructure left to build here at the farm so that we can get more people here working and learning and experiencing.
Has every generation felt their time was critical?
I feel there is so much work to do…
I'll be over here hustling; that won't change.
And perhaps trying desperately to adjust to life outside the cave.