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Durham, NC 27701
USA

Writing Workshops & Retreats - France, Italy, North Carolina

Blogaways

Scouting for a Santa Fe Writeaway

Mimi Herman

We thought we were heading to Santa Fe for our very own personal writing retreat, a chance to catch up on our own fiction and poetry. But as soon as we saw the back porch of our cottage after a snowfall, we started considering how soon we could hold a Writeaway here.

Tempting, very tempting.

Our friendly neighborhood bartender, at the Tesuque Village Market, with his version of the Chimayo Cocktail:

  • 2 ounces Jimador Tequila
  • 1.5 ounces fresh squeezed apple juice
  • 1 ounce creme de cassis
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shaken, not stirred. Cinnamon sugar rim and apple slice garnish

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Our friendly neighbors,

who left their laundry on the line.

Our former neighbors from the Tsankawi Village were artists, so we felt right at home, though they moved out about 600 years ago.

We climbed to the top of the mesa,

where we found this view and the remains of the Tsankawi Village,

much like this village nearby (though not reconstructed like this one, in accordance of the wishes of the descendants of the villagers).

Can you tell we're in love with New Mexico?

 If you can't find us, try looking here.

 

Or, better yet, join us.

First Writeaway by the River

Mimi Herman

Break out the champagne--or at least the chilled peach champagne soup- for the latest in the Writeaways line-up. From September 2nd-11th, we wrote, workshopped, paddled the Pasquotank, and wined (but never whined) and dined on fabulous food at our brand new Writeaway by the River at the Whitehall. With a fabulous sun parlor for our workshops, comfortable nooks throughout the house,  and the river in our backyard, we had plenty of room for writing, reading and chatting with our fellow writers.

We also launched a new format: the Weekend Workshop by the River followed by the weeklong Writing Retreat by the River. Six fabulous writers joined us for the workshop, and most of them stayed into the week, using the inspiration from the weekend and the freedom of the retreat to take their writing to the next level. Two other writers, both beginning new projects, joined us during the retreat.

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Dinners ran the gamut from the aforementioned chilled peach champagne soup with artichoke lemon risotto, salad and pot de creme for dessert to burgers on the grill and corn on the cob for our Labor Day cookout. With homemade apple pie for dessert, of course. And to work off that fabulous food, we took to the water, wandering the open water, the creeks and the canals of the Pasquotank in brightly colored kayaks.

We'll be back this spring: April 21-23 for the workshop and April 23-30 for the retreat. If there's enough interest, we might even consider two workshops that week, one the first weekend and one the second!

A Day in Paris

Mimi Herman

In Paris, we celebrated the wonderful Writeaway week we'd enjoyed at Chateau du Pin with our friends Ginny, Joyce, Judy and Tobias.

The rest of the city might have been celebrating with us, though they were also experiencing an extraordinary phenomenon: 

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a day without cars in central Paris. Everyone was on foot or on bikes, with the rare tour bus trying to find a way through the two-wheeled traffic.

We wandered the mostly automobile-free streets of Paris for hours, finding a brass band busking on the Seine, playing a familiar song.

We passed delightful shop windows,

and eerie streets,

until we ended up at Harry's New York Bar, birthplace of the Bloody Mary and the Sidecar, and hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, George Gershwin, Coco Chanel, James Bond, the Duke of Windsor and now...

John Yewell and Mimi Herman. We drank Kir Royales to celebrate our wonderful week with our friends at Chateau du Pin, and began looking forward to next year, then ambled home along the Seine,

with the Eiffel Tower in one direction...

and the full moon, on the eve of the lunar eclipse, in the other.

A Toast to the Writers of Chateau du Pin

Mimi Herman

Our final evening at the chateau began with champagne. 

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A toast from Tobias heralded the delights to come: a reading of everyone's creative work by the fire.

We gathered by the fire to begin.

Then we held our collective breath as Tobias read the new beginning he'd created for his fantasy novel: a scene filled with drama and decision, as a newly captured slave prepared for another escape attempt.

In Joyce's carefully crafted poem, we contemplated why perfection might not be ideal.

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Ginny took us on a romp from France to Texas with the indomitable Manfred the Mouse, in her newly completed children's book.

And Judy captivated us with invented scripture of an invented faith, and a look inside the mind of a young girl.

We sipped and read, read and listened, listened and applauded, until the time came to climb the stone stairs of the chateau, to dream of the great poetry and prose we'd write next.

à Table

Mimi Herman

We're hard at work on the scratch-and-sniff technology, because we want you to experience the food at Chateau du Pin the way we do, by walking down the spiral stone steps to the scent of chef Anne Villedey's boeuf bourguignon or the delicate taste of her beurre blanc (which took her 30 days to master) over filet de sandre, a fish found only in a small section of the Loire River. In the meantime, the pictures below will have to suffice.

Each morning, we begin with coffee, French yogurt in pale blue pots, fruits and juices and of course, fresh croissants.

Look in the middle for the almond croissant, so soft with almond paste that you have to eat it with both hands. You won't see any pain au chocolate in this picture, because we couldn't wait to eat them.

Each evening, Anne calls us to dinner with the phrase that makes us swoon: "à table."

We may begin with a tarte aux champignons

   

or a salad with fresh salmon, smoked duck and Anne's homemade fois gras.

   

Our second course might be the boeuf bourguignon

or tender broccoli and mushrooms with noodles for the vegetarians among us, with flavors that would tempt even those of us who never finished our vegetables.

I could tell you how good the sandre with beurre blanc tastes -

or I could just show you.

Even after all this, who can resist the cheese course, with three or four astounding cheeses each evening?

It's a good thing we have a separate dessert stomach, so we have room for mousse au chocolate with crème Anglaise

or Anne's perfectly blended tiramisu, which she mastered while working in Italy,

or her tarte au poivre, which is, as she says, a nice change from the usual apples.

Look soon for a video of Anne caramelizing her crème brûlée, but in the meantime, look below for Anne herself, with John and Mimi.

Photos by Tobias and Mimi.  

For more about our week, visit Tobias at www.toby-tobiascnow.blogspot.com.

An Ordinary Day in Champtocé-sur-Loire

Mimi Herman

We wake each morning in our chateau. Of course, some days the sky isn't quite this blue, but when it's raining, we hear the gurgle of water through the gargoyles.

Of course, we're writing.

often in our grand salon,

but there's still time to explore the boulangeries,

and visit the vineyards,

where we're often mistaken for French supermodels,

and begged by the paparazzi to pose again,

and again,

and again,

before relaxing at home,

amid a bevy of cyclamen beauties.

 

Photos courtesy of Tobias, John and Mimi. 

For more on our week at Chateau du Pin, visit Tobias at www.toby-tobiascnow.blogspot.com.

Writeaways goes to Market

Mimi Herman

A morning at the French market of Chalonnes, near Chateau du Pin:

John in his new beret with his new friend, the hat purveyor

John in his new beret with his new friend, the hat purveyor.

With so many cheeses, how do you choose?

Our fresh-faced Tobias with the freshest of veg.

Joyce (in her chapeau nouveau) and Ginny, chicken paparazzi.

Bouquets of bonbons.

Judy and John, separated at birth, reunited in France.

Les fleurs.

The Loire.

Hidden Treasures in Angers, France

Mimi Herman

From camels tucked behind the big top of the "sublime" Amar Circus...

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to an impromptu vocal concert in Latin at the Cathédrale St. Maurice...

to 200 years of the history of bronze casting, pottery, painting, electrical manufacturing and invention at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts et Métiers...

to a street fair featuring historic cars...

what a a day of discovering the treasures hidden in the city of Angers!

 

Writeaways Takes to the High Sierra

Mimi Herman

In an unofficial Writeaway trip, John and Mimi took to the mountains with writer friend Michael Beadle, each of us carrying 50-60 pound backpacks over 58 miles of rocky terrain, alpine meadows and five 12,000 foot mountain passes through four and a half days of sunshine and one afternoon of hail.  

Anyone up for a Sierra Writeaway?

Yosemite December

Mimi Herman

An idyllic weekend in Yosemite - the view from Inspiration Point, an evening by the wood stove in a fairy tale cabin, a doe and her fawns (We named the one on the right Grumpy. You'll see why), a four-hour hike to the snow line at Clark Point and back to the valley, and Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel (oysters! blintzes! prime rib! omelettes to order! chocolate mousse! gallons of coffee and the New York Times!).  

Anyone up for a Writeaway in Yosemite?

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John at Clark Point-December 2014.jpg



A Day in Certaldo

Mimi Herman

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Rainy cobbled streets, an almost-saint, a mysterious fresco, terra cotta books hanging in a doorway, and a passionate art historian digging up basements in search of Etruscan artifacts,

Allison writes - "Ugly Dinner Never Tasted So Good"

Mimi Herman

Ugly Dinner Never Tasted So Good

Allison B.

Listening to Manul singing from the kitchen, I realize the distinct difference between when she is doing what she loves and when she is teaching what she loves. The low melody strikes a peaceful chord. I don't know if she is baking dessert or preparing dinner for later, but the sounds she makes come from deep within her body and, I have no doubt, fill the food she prepares.

 

Manul seems to float about the kitchen when teaching. Her assistant deftly keeps track of oven temperatures, dirty utensils, and needed ingredients. Without a word, Manul converses with the food and her assistant. We are merely there to glean a bit of Manul's theory on food and actual cooking style. Her explanation of where the recipes come from adds intrigue to the experience and balance to the menu in front of us. We have only the ingredients listed, with space for us to interpret the steps for creating the final dish.

 

Manul shares her techniques along the way, but you can tell, her hope is that we will take away from the lesson an appreciation for creating a meal from within, not just using our hands to hold knives and our eyes to test size and our noses to calculate freshness.

 

Aside from Manul as chef, she shared brief insight into her personal philosophy on time and what we do in our time. She fascinates me, not only because she has a pure heart and pure understanding for food, but also because her way of being is calming and something I find attracted to in an existential way - I want to learn more about how life can be simple and choices intentional. Having met her and worked in her kitchen, dined at her table, slept in her house, the seed is planted and my mind will explore more after I leave. With full faith in Manul's relationship with food, I chopped and prepared foods I'd never encountered before. The gnocchi, I thought would be pasta wrapped around a filling, looked quite earthy and unedible, but tasted sweet and delightful and was NOT even close to being pasta wrapped around filling... uh, that's raviolli!

 

Fennel salad? Who'da thunk I'd actually like it. And, the true icing on the cake, the puffy egg and sugar and hazelnut goodies for dessert, the perfect end to a lovely experience. I left dinner satisfied that I may not be able to make what we did, but I appreciate it and the experience and will certainly take it with me in my steps outside this peaceful retreat.

Candace writes - "Lost in Tuscany" and "Poem and Gnocchi"

Mimi Herman

Preface to a Food Poem: 

Lost in Tuscany

Why didn’t I realize that Tuscany isn’t flat, that it’s a series of ridges and valleys, I mean I’d read about it, and seen pictures, and watched movies, but no, the sharp hills were a surprise, and so going for a walk and not sticking to the country road was dumb because I got lost in an olive grove and panicked when I realized I had no phone, no ID, and no Italian apart from some coffee and food terms and unhelpful words such as chiaroscuro and fiasco although maybe fiasco would come in handy and no one knew where  I was except that the previous day when I’d gone for a walk I’d met a guy picking mushrooms and we had a long chat in Italian which only he knew, of course, and my friends were amazed that I got in his car but doing that made sense to me as it was raining but today I had seen no one except a black cat in the olive grove and he was beautiful but no help and what the hell is the Italian word for help, and I started imagining search parties and maybe missing the special apple dessert but mostly I was worried about not having enough time to write my poem or story about the cooking lesson  and how northern food is all mixed together and southern food is in chunks so that you get a different taste with each bite and how your feelings are important when you are cooking and I was glad I was not cooking at the moment as I felt kind of bad and mostly silly, but I realized if I were cooking I’d be in the kitchen and not lost,  so I said to myself, just breathe, and I did and that helped and I kept walking around the edge of the olive grove until I found a place where the bank was shallow enough for me to slide down a bank onto a little road and I followed it for a while thinking it had to go someplace  and it went right by an abandoned farmhouse I remembered, so I was heading towards my home, my temporary home, and by the time I got there I had an idea for a poem and the world was calm again. 

Candace F.

Poem and Gnocchi

 

To make a poem

 

take words

and space

maybe punctuation

maybe not

 

each word--flower,

each letter--petal

each space--air

 

arrange the words and space

with passion

 

balance is critical

the poem must breathe

 

To make gnocchi

 

take squash

and egg

and flour

and space

maybe spice

maybe not

 

squash--for colour

egg and flour--for texture

space--for taste

 

arrange the food and space

with passion

 

the gnocchi must breathe

 

And the poet says

make gnocchi first

to feed the poem

 

Candace F.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany

Mimi Herman

A great cooking adventure in Manul's kitchen - from brutti e buoni ("ugly and good" cookies) to pumpkin gnocchi with sage, to Sicilian chicken with balsamic vinegar, to Tuscan salad with local pecorino, raisins soaked in vin santo and EVOO. A tavolo!

The makings for brutti e buoni

The makings for brutti e buoni

Alli prepares a tray of brutti e buoni to bake

Alli prepares a tray of brutti e buoni to bake

Candy purées the pumpkin for gnocchi, while Alli and Manul admire her style

Candy purées the pumpkin for gnocchi, while Alli and Manul admire her style

Tuscan salad with pecorino and vin santo-soaked raisins

Tuscan salad with pecorino and vin santo-soaked raisins

Looking back and moving forward

Mimi Herman

The River Arno at dusk

The River Arno at dusk

 
Mimi, Candy and Alli at Stazione Pisa Centrale

Mimi, Candy and Alli at Stazione Pisa Centrale

A few retrospective views of our train travels from France to Italy, our arrival in Pisa and our day in Volterra.

Mimi musing on the train

Mimi musing on the train

 
Alli gazing...

Alli gazing...

at the rooftops of Volterra

at the rooftops of Volterra

Paolo evokes Volterra's  history 

Paolo evokes Volterra's  history 

Alli and Candy in Volterra

Alli and Candy in Volterra

Franco carving alabaster

Franco carving alabaster

Paolo and our (very) friendly neighborhood mushroom hunter

Paolo and our (very) friendly neighborhood mushroom hunter

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