Passion Portrait: Life is an Open Book

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

Desk Globe

I’ve never known my loving father to be without a book in hand. Or at least with a book close by. In particular, he’s always been passionate about reading history and biographies. These stories that make up the fabric of our human community; our collective story. His interest in the genre was first piqued early in high school, when from his grandfather’s vast library, he found an original account of the sinking of the Titanic. The details, descriptions and sheer drama of the event in its retelling had him hooked. That led to borrowing more of his grandfather’s books – on Teddy Roosevelt, European history, English history, geography, anything. And when he joined the service a few years later, he made it a habit of buying any books he could find, wherever he was. History, of course, but classic literature, too. He’d steal away in the little free-time military life lent him so that he could devour them.


This passion developed into a profession – after graduate school, he taught high school history and government for over 30 years…and is still teaching now in retirement. Today, I’m sharing his passion portrait, and three things he’s taught me about the importance of inspecting history – and why it holds such power for him.

1. Our history will never be complete. And that’s why you must keep reading.

History is innately incomplete and rarely objective. Of course, it may be penned by the victors, which can be obvious in its slant. It can also be written by the most careful of researchers decades or centuries later, and yet important subtleties and complexities will have been lost to the sands of time. But instead of being frustrated by possible inaccuracies and omissions, we should lean into them. Because only when we read as much as possible can we get the full view. It’s like a kind of game – how much of the puzzle can you fill in? As my dad says, “Nothing is represented as it happened. It’s fuzzy and messy. But the more you read, the more the picture comes into focus.”

glasses and book

2. Surprises await the curious mind.

So history will never be complete. But at the same time, more stories are coming to light all the time. Which can bring fascinating surprises if you have an open mind and know where to look. Recently, my dad told me a story about a book he read on Zebulon Pike and westward expansion. It had provided a much more nuanced account of the relations of trappers, traders and Native American tribes along the Mississippi River in post-Revolutionary America. Challenging the typical narrative of the time, this book showed that these parties changed alliances multiple times, so much so that there were no real “sides”. The speed and audacity with which agreements were broken was surprising. It seemed their behavior was based more on an individual’s business needs than anything else. It is a small, but surprising insight about how humanity is often driven by what’s good for someone right now. And when you learn a surprising nugget about our past, it makes you to wonder…what else don’t we know?

3. Be in the moment.

How can history teach you to be in the moment? Again, my dad –

“One thing you discover is that in every instance, multiple people had to make decisions. And those decisions always have consequences – some expected,  some unintended. So studying history makes you very aware of the cause-effect relationship. You take that awareness and can’t help but apply it to life. To examine the moment you are in. To be in it. And when you understand where you’re at, you yield to a certain openness.”

Reading hobby

I love that. To be open and truly alive in the moment. That is the way I hope to live. And Cider & Black is my way of working toward it. I’m so grateful for your life lessons and to share your passion, dad. And I’m so happy to give both to the world.

xoxo Jen

Kenmare in the Ring of Kerry

Travel Journal: Ireland

The present moment is where all signs, parallel worlds and miracles are to be found.

-Paulo Coehlo.

I love this quote because I believe miracles and magic truly are only found in the present. And that is why I strive to capture everyday moments with my camera. To celebrate the now. By doing so, it forces me to live in the moment, and not get too caught up in what’s next. And nothing forces you to live in the moment quite so much as travel.

Last summer I traveled to Ireland with my husband and his brother and wife. We planned a few things, but mostly, left large chunks of the day to explore and be spontaneous. Here are a few things I learned by truly turning myself over to the present while in the Emerald Isle.

1. Find beauty in the details

…because beauty is everywhere.

Ceiling detail inside Dublin Castle

Ceiling detail inside Dublin Castle

Flowers in Kinsale

Flowers in Kinsale

Bike and door at Trinity College

Bike and door at Trinity College

2. Eating local is always better

…no matter where you happen to be.

Irish Mussels in Dublin

Irish Mussels in Dublin

Guinness pint at the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

Guinness pint at the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

Olives at the town square market in Kinsale

Olives at the town square market in Kinsale

Wild blueberries growing in the Wicklow Mountains

Wild blueberries growing in the Wicklow Mountains

3. We are all small beneath the large, unending sky

…and so the worries and troubles of today don’t really matter. They are small, too.

Valentia Island sheep

Valentia Island sheep

Charles Fort

Charles Fort

Ross Castle in Ring of Kerry

Ross Castle in Ring of Kerry

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle


I am trying to keep these things in mind every day. I find when I do, each day can have that vacation feeling, too. Sláinte!

Painting egg stencil

Easter egg stencils

I love celebrating seasons through hand crafts – painting, decoupage, paper crafts, etc. There’s not a craft I won’t try. For this Easter, I settled on a mash-up of two of my favorite crafts: snowflake-making and painting.

My little lady and I love making paper snowflakes in the winter. But who says this lacy, lovely craft can only be made in the colder months?

egg snowflake stencil

So we gave the paper snowflake a Spring makeover, starting with a simple egg shape instead of the traditional snowflake circle or square. Then, we folded the paper to cut out shapes and lines. When we were finished, we had created the perfect egg stencil. Next, we chose the Springiest colors we could find to paint the cut-out patterns onto another paper egg. The result: pastel perfection. Egg-cellent! :)


  • Solid card stock or construction paper in lighter colors or white (as many sheets as you want eggs)
  • White printer paper for stencils
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • Pastel craft paints
  • Small craft paint brushes


  • Fold colored construction paper in half lengthwise and draw a semi-circle (semi-oval). When you open it back up, this will be your egg shape. I made mine a little wider at the bottom to give it that “egg” look.
  • Cut out “egg”.
  • Fold white printer paper in half lengthwise. Fit your cut-out egg over the white paper so you can trace the same egg shape for the white paper. Then cut out your white egg.

Egg template

  • Fold white egg several times as you would to make a snowflake. Cut desired shapes into the folds of your egg. When done, unfold.

cutting egg stencil

  • Gently tape your egg snowflake stencil over your colored-paper egg. You may need to tape it down in a couple of spots to get it to stay in place.
  • Paint the openings in your stencil. Let dry.
  • Remove stencil. Display as you like!

Happy Easter!

Finished Stencil Egg

pic detail

Passion Portrait: Creative Collaboration

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.

– Marcus Aurelius Antonius

In creative arts – visual, musical, etc., there’s pivotal, transformative moment in the creative process. After you’ve built something with your technique, your perspective and your soul, you then release it out into the world. This is the moment that a conversation has started. And hopefully, a connection. One that would have been impossible otherwise.

My brother, Dave has always been outgoing. So when he turned to the guitar in his youth (about 8th grade or so) his sociable nature held true. He had sung in a few bands and was energized by that feeling- the jolt of adrenaline from creating something from nothing, collaboratively. It’s a different feeling from solo creative acts. It’s similar, but heightened. He knew he wanted to have that feeling the rest of his life, and so, he needed to learn an instrument so hopefully, he could just keep playing. Punk music was his turning point.  It seemed somehow simpler, more accessible than metal or other kinds of music. It felt possible. So he played. And played.

Amp 1

In fact, he’s never stopped playing since those middle school days. He’s been in bands for more decades than he’d like me to say, he’s traveled the world, and has made a career of playing.

Pic face

So how did an idea in the 8th grade come to be his life’s work? Dave explains, “There’s something about performing and creating with others. When everyone is playing the technical parts as they should, then add the stage, and the energy from each other, and it’s transcendent. It feels like a different state of being.”

What a perfect summary for the primary purpose of any creative art. It is to transcend our everyday. It should communicate and connect with other humans on a different level.  And everyone – the artist and the audience – should be changed for having had the experience.

Dave continues to play every day, without fail. And he now shares his passion and gifts with youths (some of them 8th graders!), inspiring them to find their own musical prowess. This is his portrait.

guitar portrait 3

Passions may start with you alone, but they can become more fully formed when shared with others. Thanks for sharing yours, Dave. Love you!

red spinach salad

Marsala: Beyond Chicken

Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness.

– Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®

Marsala Pantone

The color of the year is inspired by the satiation that can only come from a truly great meal. Similarly, I am continually inspired by the colors at play in the foods I eat (as evidenced here and here). But, I’ve never thought about inspiration traveling in the opposite direction. Could a single color inspire a new recipe?

Marsala Pattern

I was skeptical. Particularly given the subdued hue at hand. Besides the obvious chicken Marsala, the only immediate associations I was making with the restrained color were none-too-culinary, (um, chili dogs, anyone?) Further complicating the issue, this color is really hard to pin down –  is it red, brown, or really burnt sienna in disguise??

And yet, in the thick of winter, I kept finding myself drawn to its warm, inviting nature. It reminds me of a shade you might see dancing on a wooden floor in front of a freshly-lit fireplace. It’s sophisticated and easy. I suppose that’s fitting…just like its namesake, Marsala Italian wine.

And so I embraced the marsala, and found my way to three new recipes featuring ingredients which share its color value…or at least, very close variations. Each one has that same hint of sophistication and ease. In fact, each recipe can be prepared in three steps or less, which is hardly enough time to pour yourself that glass of Marsala wine. But, one can try. My skepticism has been proven wrong before. :)

Here they are. My three new, easy (but deceptively sophisticated) ways to eat marsala:

1. Paleo balls with coconut and carob chips, starring dates and dried cranberries

Ingredients (makes about 16)

  • 1 packed cup dried pitted dates
  • 1 cup nut of choice (almonds, cashews or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus more to roll in
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup carob chips


  • Process dates, almonds, coconut, honey and sea salt in a food processor. Add a tiny bit of water if mixture gets too dry. Add in cranberries and carob chips at the end for a final blend.
  • Roll into balls.
  • Keep in an airtight container. I usually keep mine in the refrigerator, but this isn’t necessary.

2. Rosemary root vegetable saute, starring beets

Ingredients (3-4 servings)

  • 1 bunch of beets (about 1 lb.) washed and cut into cubes
  • 1 yukon potato, cut into cubes
  • 1 kohlrabi, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into medium slices
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 T rosemary
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F then toss all vegetables in a large bowl with the garlic, rosemary and olive oil until coated.
  • Spread vegetables evenly on a cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 45 minute to an hour, stirring at least once midway through. Serve immediately.

red spinach salad with pomegranate seeds

3. Spinach pomegranate salad, starring red heirloom spinach

Ingredients (3-4 servings)

  • 1 bag of red heirloom spinach (I spied mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, cut into medium slices
  • Seeds from 1/2 a pomegranate
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, slightly toasted
  • Salt
  • Red balsamic vinaigrette dressing


  • Divide spinach evenly into salad bowls. Layer with onions, pomegranate seeds and walnuts. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt.
  • Serve with red balsamic vinaigrette. (Marsala red wine balsamic, if you’re fancy.)

Have any marsala or marsala-ish foods that you love? Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorites!

Parsnip Apple Table

Recipe: Roasted Apple and Parsnip Soup

Winter has quite the arsenal – snow, ice, sleet, biting wind, single-digit temperatures. It’s bitter, gray and oppressive. Its force can’t be mellowed by mere shovels and salt. If its waging a war, it certainly feels like we’re losing.

But its not raging; it’s simply being winter. And its nature can be just as lovely as it is fierce. It has quite a quiet beauty; it’s crisp and serene.

Ice storm chicken wire

But what I love best about winter is that it forces us, through its snow and ice, to slow down, and to center our lives around the home. We fortify and warm each other with our company and the meals we share. So as winter prepares to leave us this year, I wanted to share with you my sure-fire way to beat winter’s chill: roasted apple and parsnip soup.

Parsnip Apple Pattern

The original recipe comes from Chef John. We modified some of the seasoning a bit to bring a little more heat to the table. The result is creamy and soothing, but with a kick. It’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket and then getting a little static electricity jolt. Just the sort of spark you need to snap you out of the dreary winter blues!

Apple Parsnip Soup

Roasted Apple and Parsnip Soup with Cayenne


(makes 6)

  • 2 lbs parsnips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch sticks
  • 2 green apples, peeled, cut in thick slices
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 russet potato, peeled, cut in 8 pieces
  • 6 cups chicken broth (can combine with some water if you want)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 t. cayenne
  • garnish with rosemary crackers, walnuts or croutons, and more cayenne, if desired


  • Cut up parsnips. Discard any parsnip centers that seem too tough.
  • Peel apples, then cut into slices.
  • Place parsnips and apples on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt.
  • Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes until edges are caramelized.
  • Then place parsnips and apples into a steam pot on high with the sliced potato and chicken broth.  After the pot comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Next, use a stick blender to process apples and vegetables until smooth (or you can process in a regular blender).
  • Taste the soup for texture. If it is too fibery, you can strain it here. After that, add the cream and cayenne.
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with desired add-ins.

Food Palette: Daring and Airy – Beets and Persimmons

I’ve written before here how I’m constantly inspired by the color around me, especially food and plants. As Spring approaches, that may seem obvious! But for me, inspiration is not limited to Spring colors. Every season has its own unique palette to explore.

Lately, I’ve been quite taken with wintry beets. One root, both earthy and nearly neon, it is grounded and bold at the same time. Its color is unparalleled – a shining red bastion of the edible plant world. Is there another vegetable so forward with bold saturation?


I had some fun arranging these sassy beets into a pattern with persimmons, blueberries and pomegranates. The tableau lends itself to a warm, analogous selection of colors, with just a hint of daring. That’s thanks to the persimmons. Their light, orange airiness keep the palette from getting too dramatic. The result: a transitional, bolstering color palette, perfect for the cusp of a change in seasons.


Oscars Party

Recipe: Oscar Party Pun Food

The Oscars are a great excuse to gather with friends, gawk at gorgeous couture, and maybe win a bet or two with your predictions. For me, I’m also always struck by the sheer amount of people and types of craft it takes to make a movie. It’s an event that is such a juxtaposition – an earnest outpouring of adulation for professionals at the top of their game, and a frilly, bedazzled, sometimes strange ceremony that we basically play Bingo to. So, what to serve at this sequin-worthy occasion?

Enter, pun food. Pun-themed food based on Oscar nominees has been around for a while now, but I never tire of it. Never. With new nominees every year, the pun will never end! (See what I did there?)

So, drumroll please, here are my nominees for best appetizers for punny Oscar food for 2015…

Edamame Dip

Edamame “Dip-Lash” (Edamame dip)

In honor of Best Picture nominee, Whiplash


  • 6 ounces shelled edamame (green soybeans)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1-2 large avocados, peeled, pitted and cubed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 T chile-garlic sauce (such as Sriracha®)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Process the edamame, onion, cilantro, and olive oil into a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped.
  • Add the avocado, lemon juice, and chile-garlic sauce; pulse again.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.
  • Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. Easy!

Original recipe by AllRecipes.Com

Paleo Banana Bread Muffins

“Bird-Ban-ana Bread Bites” (Banana Bread Muffins)

In honor of Best Picture nominee, Birdman


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 275 grams almond flour (about 2 1/2 cups. This will keep muffins moist)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup walnuts
  • ¼ gluten-free chocolate chips
  • 2 T flaxseed


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease or paper a regular muffin tin.
  • Beat eggs with whisk (or stand mixer + whisk on medium-high, but I did it by hand). Do this for 203 minutes until eggs start to thicken.
  • Mash bananas gently with fork.
  • Add mashed bananas and mix until combined. Pour in honey and lemon juice and mix until combined.
  • Mix dry ingredients, including flaxseed, then add to wet ingredients in 2 additions. Mix until combined.
  • Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts, then spoon batter into muffin tin.
  • Bake for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown on the top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Original recipe by


I loved both of these recipes for their simplicity – you won’t need a whole crew of specialty craftsman to whip them together. I’d say that’s an Oscar win!

But remember, just because these snazzy snacks were served up for the Oscars this year doesn’t mean you have to wait until next year to make them. You can incorporate then into any get together that needs a shot of healthy & special. Just make sure you have your host-of-the-year speech ready. 😉