Monday, February 20, 2012

GITP Monday: Food Writer, Kitchen Blogger and Knee-Sock Wearer: Shannon Borg!

This is what I wear pretty much every day. I like the kissing buttons on these knee socks. Kissing buttons are buttons that are just there for show.

Introducing Shannon:

I’m a writer and fellow BYU alum of the “Clad Clan” girls. I’ve lived in Seattle for the past 12 years, but last year I moved to the woods of Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. I write about wine for Seattle Magazine, but I also have a couple of books: Corset a book of poems, 

Shannon's book of poems

and a food book, Chefs on the Farm: Recipes and Inspiration from the Quillisascut School of the Domestic Arts. 

RIght now I’m also working on a blog,, about all the kitchens I’ve lived in. I also work at a great little resort restaurant, Doe Bay CafĂ©.

What do you want to do this year?  And, are you in a tight place, and if so, what are you doing about it?

This year, I want to start a company - Orcas Farm Tours - taking people (a lot of tourists here in the summer) around to meet their farmers, oyster ranchers, and duck egg producers, (i.e, ducks). I’m pretty scared about it - not the tour part, i’m good with people, but the business part. That would be my tight place, currently, and I’m actually writing about it, but the piece I sent for you all recalls a tight place I was in last year, when I first moved here and lived in a 16-foot trailer for nine months.  

What inspires you?

What inspires me? Simplicity. After I spent too much time going crazy with too many things to do, I am trying to simplify my life. I don’t live in the trailer anymore, but it felt like a place to rebirth myself as a calmer, more centered person. Someone who can say no to things that will complicate my life. Someone who wears the same two or three favorite skirts everyday. And knee socks. They are very stylish, I feel, effective at keeping me warm, and comforting.

The Penultimate Kitchen

I’ve known many women who find solace in their kitchens. In the wake of a broken heart, a lost mother, a wayward child. A kitchen, like a nest, is a place of transformation, where a union of heart and head becomes an egg, becomes a waiting, becomes a bird, becomes a fledgling. Innately, we know this. And so we retreat there to wait out the golden gestation of pain into forgetting, idea into action.

This past summer, I changed my town, my job and my house, and lived for nine months in, literally, a tight spot. My home was a 1961 Shasta trailer - one of several employee housing options at Doe Bay Resort and Retreat. I had just taken a new job as front-of-house manager for the Doe Bay Cafe, on Orcas Island, moving from Seattle where I’d lived for 12 years, been married, owned a house and developed a close-knit community.
All that sounds like a story waiting to be told, but what really kept my attention and distracted me from all the real life drama in my life was my real life tiny kitchen. Less than 36 inches in diameter, my kitchen had most everything: a 3 burner propane stove, an oven, a sink with cold and cold running water, two cabinets, a countertop, a few drawers, and an icebox. That you had to fill with real ice.

The trailer sat in the woods up behind the resort, a gorgeous waterfront collection of old cabins, an organic garden, a top-notch seafood/vegetarian restaurant, a dry sauna and hot tubs in a wooden shelter perched on the bank of a pristine stream. A place of healing.

When I first saw it, the trailer was a dirty shell (no bathroom, of course, that was a 50-yard walk) with torn upholstery. Over the course of a weekend, I cleaned it up, literally, with a toothpick, poking the blown in dirt that had accumulated in the window sills since 1961. I took the benches on a trip with me back to Seattle, found suitable fabric, and broke them down and reupholstered them. I got some old red velvet curtains at a garage sale to separate the “room,” and culled down my possessions until everything I needed fit into my little Scion, Xena the Warrior Princess.  I wanted to think of the few years after my divorce, foundering professionally, financially, emotionally, as a learning experience, and this as a new start.

In this new place, I was overwhelmed by my new job, old wounds, new changes. But I was trying to find balance. I was taking yoga classes for the first time, writing more, trying to be kind to myself.

They say a good kitchen is in balance, too. That as a cook, you should stand in the middle of a triangle - close enough to reach the stove, fridge and sink without moving too far. Well in this kitchen, I had to merely move two inches in any direction to shift my perspective, to reach a knife, to stir a pot. It was very comforting to know I was at the center of my own triangle, able to keep sauce seasoned and flames in check.

And the miniscule kitchen saved my soul. I carried in only what I felt as  truly essential. One cast iron skillet, one pot, one chopping block, one butcher knife, one big bowl, one small, two plates, two forks, two spoons, one wooden spoon, one measuring cup, two coffee cups, two glasses. You get the drift. Each item represented how little I actually needed to survive, and each item felt important. I pondered which spoon to choose, which cup. I decided to bring my best and brightest. The good big wine glasses, my grandmother’s forks.

It all seemed to me that my mind was trying to distract me from concerns of financial instability, of professional ambition and emotional fears. My monkey mind made the kitchen into a bit of an obsession. What would my first meal be? How would I keep cream from spoiling? I realize now that our minds - complex theatres complete with foyer, scrim and green room, are always trying to keep the show going on, no matter what romantic distress the ingenue is feeling, or how many of the chorus’ checks bounced at the grocery store. I’ve come to trust my mind, that it will always try to take care of me. And those first months in a new place, on a new island with a new job, my mind wanted me to create a tiny kitchen where I could feel at home. A dollhouse version of my former life, miniature and perfect.

The night I made my first meal in the Green Flash - the name I gave my trailer for its green and silver lightning bolt on the side; also, the name for that moment the sun goes below the horizon; if you see it, you’ll have good luck -  the woods above the bay were wild with wind and rain. March wind came off the water and up into the forest, and the hundred-foot-tall pines swayed and creaked as if they would give way and crush every little cabin in the way.

But somehow I felt safe. My meal took all evening to prepare; I took it slowly. I lit candles for myself, read my recipe twice, even though I knew it was simple. Fresh linguine carbonara with island bacon and duck eggs from just down the road. I drank wine, but not too much. Grated salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, cubed the sweet-smoky bacon, cooking it - just enough  - into the hot pasta. Grated lemon peel. Chopped parsley. Cracked one golden duck egg, mixing it all together. Tasting along the way to find balance.    

P. S. Not sure how to work this in, except to say there are a lot of cool people at Doe Bay, and a lot of cool legwear, being a coldish clime and all. My friend Luca let me take a pic of the tights she wore to work on Saturday. 


  1. Awesome, Julie! It looks great! I'll post it...everywhere! Thanks for letting me do this...I enjoyed my first guest blogging adventure!

    Take care!


    1. shannon, this is glorious! i'm so fascinated by living in a tiny space, and this was a great slice of that life. also, i'll always remember doe bay as the place where ingrid saw her first nudists. i need to ask her if she remembers it. but she was quite intrigued. thank you for blogging for us. what a treat.

  2. Shannon, I loved this. I wanted to be in that trailer with you, but I fear there would have been no room. Did you ever have a guest for dinner? It's been eons since I've read you. Why did I wait so long?

  3. That sounds incredibly appealing right now, especially because I'm currently watching a 1950's melodrama about a lady choosing between her country club and the simple life.