Monday, April 18, 2011

Erin's Western Adventure, Part 2: Living in Napa

I want to introduce you to some of the most influential people in my life, those whose hard work, faith in their capabilities and ideas, and sense of beauty has created a vibrant life for themselves and all they touch- my aunt and uncle, Cynthia and David.

When I was 23 and I had finished my term in Americorps, I packed everything I owned in my car, (including Lily the orange cat) and headed west. I didn't know where I would wind up, but when I got to Napa, CA, I thought I had found Eden. The landscape was so beautiful and vibrant and there was food and wine everywhere! So, my family let me set up camp in their garage for few weeks until I found my own place, and it still felt like paradise.

Cynthia and David run Rammed Earth Works, an earth build/ design/ consulting company.
"Rammed earth is a structural wall system built of natural mineral soils compacted in thin layers within sturdy formwork. The strength and durability of the wall results from the densification of a clay, sand, and gravel matrix. The mass of the wall provides superior thermal and acoustic properties."

Rammed Earth buildings and design elements are at once stunning and yet fit so naturally in their surroundings. My aunt and uncle love their work, which is another huge inspiration for my life.

Over the years, Cynthia has taught me nearly everything I know and love about food-about growing it and preparing it, but also about being flexible, generous and welcoming. She can take a walk in the garden with an open mind, and come back with the makings for a beautiful supper. On any given day they could have three or eight or a dozen people coming for dinner, and the table is always elegantly set and the food always thoughtfully prepared. That is how I hope to be- always welcoming the people I am lucky to have in my life to the table.

Fulfilling the idea of an open table doesn't have to be complicated. One night during my visit, we bought beans from Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean company in Napa and paired them with a simple polenta and tomato sauce- I think there were seven of us that night.

We also made a 'found' salad of miner's lettuce and borage flowers.
So, that is the inspiration of Napa and my family there- being soft and still slightly wild, alive with wide open arms.


  1. This makes me so happy! I love thinking of you as you had this adventure, and your writing is a lovely tribute to these people and that time.

  2. Erin, it's nice to find out where you discovered so many of your talents and joys in life.

  3. And, I LOVE Rancho Gordo beans! They are soooooo delicious.