Dorian Webb

The Nature of Friendships

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It was New Year's Eve, and the Bay Area was just beginning its blanket of rainy days when my friend first shared the news with us. "I've taken a new job... in London" she told us, carefully avoiding eye contact as we stood chatting in her kitchen surrounded by potluck plates and dishes.

Dumbfounded, we peppered her with questions, alternately congratulating her on her new position that enabled her to use her vast skill set, and asking variations of "How will you make this work?" Warming to the topic, she reassured us that not a lot would change- she would work from her home office for two weeks out of the month, and work in London for the remaining two weeks.

We took it all in, striving to support her as she has supported us during difficult periods of transition-the dissolution of relationships, health issues, and the deaths of loved ones that comprise life after a certain age. We toasted her and her good fortune with champagne, and I tossed the thought of a close friend no longer being physically present with all the other ones that are difficult to grasp: in the back of my garage-like mind where her absence remained relevant and overlooked on a daily basis.

And for a while nothing seemed to change. My husband, Keith and I still regularly hosted dinner parties where she and her husband, who were the first people I met in the Bay Area when I first moved here 9 years ago, would join us until the wee hours as the dining table morphed into a card table, and we traded stories, passionately held opinions and much trash talk. Montclair being the village that it is, we ran into them frequently and unexpectedly at the supermarket, farmers market, dry cleaners, out walking, at restaurants, and once at a wedding in Napa. 

Keith and I have never been the type of people to travel with other couples. Our reluctance is rooted in fear. We worry that in the intimacy of travel, all our idiosyncrasies will emerge, to our detriment. With these two, whom we consider to be like family (but with less yelling) we happily went on our fourth international trip together in March.

And then as months of late winter rain gave life to wayward green grass and to well fed flowers, everything changed. Gently, my friend's husband reminded us that since his company had moved their headquarters from the Bay Area to Colorado, they would be moving to Boulder this summer. While I struggled to process this disheartening information that I had also tossed into my mental storage almost a year ago, and apparently buried under “One of my closest friends is taking a job in London” box, Keith digested it like a pro. A few days later, Mr. Roll-With-Anything texted our friends, asking if they would be in Colorado the following week because he had to go to Denver on business, and would love to see their new spot and catch up. "What? No.” they responded, "We don’t leave until August. We still live here."

And now, after those last few months have dissipated like the morning fog, the time has come. After rounds of goodbye parties- 5 or 6 at last count, our friends have packed up their belongings, plied us with parting gifts and have softened the pain of their leaving with "Love Yous". I still haven't truly registered their departure, and maybe never will. The beautiful thing about true friendships is how much they continue grow, no matter where you (or your friends) are.

The Dividing Line

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I used to think that the dividing line between youth and advanced age was taste in music. Now, as I scoot my cart down the aisles of the local supermarket, atonally singing along with my favorite songs (“Where do they find such great hits?”), I think that a new dividing line may have emerged.


Not too long ago, it seems, I was a member of wedding parties and an active participant in all the preparation and excitement that the special day entailed. The first one that I had any real role in occurred a year after college graduation, when I was the maid of honor for a friend. From a few states away, I helped to plan a bachelorette party for the bride’s closest friends. The day of the reception, I sourced and purchased disposable cameras for each white linen-bedecked table. During the ceremony, I held the bride’s bouquet, and was greatly relieved when the bride’s sister-in-law-to be was able to locate the wedding bands that I had inadvertently left in the dressing room moments before the critical “I do’s” were said. 

The next time my services were called upon was a few years later, after the guilt had (mostly) faded, and I was asked by my college roommate to be a bridesmaid. A chance for redemption! Attending menu and cake tastings, I found my raison d’etre. The day of the wedding, overcome by emotion, I ugly cried throughout the entire ceremony. Bouncing back somewhat, my tablemates and I had so much fun during the wedding dinner that not only were we in 60% of the wedding photos, but we also hit the dance floor before the bride and groom. The feelings of good will continued as the evening waned, and while munching on the top layer of the wedding cake I was entrusted with, I led an enthusiastic group of wedding attendees to the bridal suite, where we continued the festivities until the wee hours. 

Perhaps it is for the best that I find myself now in the very different role of “friend of the parents of the groom.” In that capacity, my husband and I attended a wedding at a Napa vineyard last month. Slipping into the back row of chairs moments before the ceremony began, our presence visibly surprised some of our neighborhood friends, a couple who were clearly disconcerted to see us there. They shouldn't have been... While some ethnic groups may be connected by "six degrees of separation", the ties that link Bay Area African Americans together hover closer to 2.5 degrees. Case in point: This female friend (who works with my husband) was the college roommate of the mother of the groom, and my husband golfs frequently (although not as frequently as he would like) with the father of the groom. I held my tears in as the bride descended flowering vine-lined stone steps to the altar but mopped them up with my husband’s handkerchief once the betrothed read the beautifully expressed wedding vows that they had written to one another. 

Later in the evening, after we had carefully pasted our Polaroided likenesses into the guest book, we found our table, tucked next to the parents’ in the back of the wine cellar. After dinner, each time we heard a song that we thought we knew, we creaked to our feet, “raced” to the dance floor, and within moments were left stranded when the song snippet morphed into an unfamiliar one. Resting at the table between one of these jaunts, we were joined by the college roommate of the groom’s father, who stopped by to say hello to our friends. There was something oddly familiar about him. Our friends introduced us. My mind continued to whir. Twenty-five years plus 60 pounds equals… I called him by his nickname. His eyes widened. 


Bingo! It was him – a guy I had dated when I was closer to my college years than to retirement. And, not to put too fine a point on it, a man who DIDN’T RECOGNIZE ME EITHER.

Yep. The dividing line has now officially been crossed. 

Ghana: Year of the Return, Homeward Bound

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For me, any successful travel incorporates some element of education. Some of it occurs in the days and weeks before leaving, gleaning bits of information about the intended destination – highlights of its history and relevance as well as the best place for a “traditional meal”. Other nuggets of knowledge are transferred in the new, unfamiliar location from the sights seen, the experiences had and the people met.

Having not prepared perhaps quite as much as we should have for our first trip to Ghana for the Year of the Return, which marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the African slave trade, my husband Keith and I were particularly receptive to immersive learning in the home of our ancestors. We were schooled early on as we were fleeced by a group of men who gave us unasked for, personalized trinkets and demanded payment for them when we exited pensive and quiet from the heart wrenching and haunting Elmina, the departure point for slaves being shipped to the Americas.


On a lighter note, we (re)discovered our love of live music, as we spent many evenings under the stars, slathered with mosquito repellant, listening to old favorites and new, beautifully rendered songs with universal messages of shared struggles, hope and love. We were also reminded that the glory days of staying up past midnight may be behind us when, after doing so for two nights in a row, we slept through our noon departure for a visit to a girls’ STEM school in Accra, where a friend of ours was giving an inspirational talk. Sigh…

Determined to not miss a second major outing in one day, in cocktail attire we loitered in the hotel lobby for three hours before our van was scheduled to depart for our dinner with the British High Commissioner (the equivalent of an Ambassador for current and former British commonwealths). As expected, it was a memorable evening filled with laughter and lively conversation. We admired the expertise involved in crafting a smoothly executed dinner party where the evening began with a champagne reception held on the patio; dinner tempted us to come inside to gather; and the promise of a photo with the High Commissioner, his wife, and a famous British comedian lured us outside to another area where the door was gently closed behind us and the sound of the van’s idling engine was heard, signaling: Time to go.

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I think, however, that my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the owner of the shared home that we stayed in for the remainder of our time in Ghana. An artist and designer, and also the daughter of diplomats, our host, Nana, wowed us with her artistic talent and hospitality. Her home was our space of refuge and inspiration in Accra. Nestled behind high walls, with every manner of flora and fauna coexisting to create a lush, private oasis, her bungalow (which she designed herself) radiated with her personality and charm.


When we first arrived, Nana and I chatted for hours, sharing our backgrounds and perspectives. Thereafter, whenever our paths would cross, surrounded by her vibrant artworks on multi-toned walls, we’d continue our discussion about design trends we love, our frustration with social media, the best place to find sushi. In short, the meandering conversations you have with good friends.

As Nana said, paraphrasing Maya Angelou (with a touch of surprise), when within a few days of meeting, I had offered to arrange for an art show of her work in my home, “We’re more alike than we are different.” And maybe that, too, is the treasure of travel: being gently reminded of our undeniable connection to others no matter how different you may at first imagine them to be.

As happy as I am to be home, I can’t help but begin to think of the next trip, and what revelations it too, will contain.

Year of the Return, Part 2

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After a succession of long, uneventful flights, my husband, Keith and I finally arrived in Accra, Ghana just before midnight. Having held our expectations at bay, we rushed to embrace the new world that lay before us. First stop: exchanging money on the black market aka conducting a monetary transaction with a man seated on an orange plastic chair along a busy thoroughfare, watched over by a woman selling beaded jewelry and what looked like breath mints. Emboldened by the 520 cedis in our pocket ($100 at our optimal rate of exchange) we took ourselves out to eat at a nearby restaurant, and were given slices of birthday cake by a neighboring table of Lebanese celebrants. An auspicious start!

The following days brought blistering hot weather (the coolest months are July and August- our spring is their “summer”); great food (yucca fries are our new go to); some of the best live music we have heard in years (actually, the only live music we have heard in years); and a renewed admiration for entrepreneurial tenacity (salespeople detecting a brief glance at their wares, bundling up shoes, sunglasses, carved wooden statues or paintings in blankets, and following us for blocks, surrounding us when we paused,  and boldly unfurling their mobile stores on a competitor’s patch of ground in the hopes of selling us a trinket).


The next day, while Keith spent time with his daughter who was studying at the University of Accra, I hopped in a van with friends old (a Montclair couple that  arrived the night before) and new (an assortment of people from England  that included my friend’s coworker, the founder of a girls  STEM school in Accra, and a famous British comedian) to visit Elmina Castle, the first European slave-trading post in sub-saharan Africa.  Corrugated metal huts, soft green rolling hills, lively conversation and the passing of the snack bag that Keith had thoughtful provided, were constants on the meandering 3+ hour drive along the coast.

At Elmina, we were met by a group of men who seemed to pair with each of us, welcoming us home, calling us brothers and sisters, shaking our hands, asking our names. I felt a flash of embarrassment that I was reluctant to share my name with my persistent escort. Realizing that my travel diet of girl scout cookies was making me edgy, that my years in NYC were sometimes a detriment to my interpersonal skills, and that there was little he could do with that information, I shared my first name. As he carefully wrote it on a piece of paper, I moved on.

It’s hard to describe the visceral impact of that picture-perfect castle, an impressive white fortress that reveals a pleasantly scaled piazza, dotted with potted plants, within its walls. Flanking this cobblestoned courtyard, that would have been at home in the most quaint of European cities, is a series of equally considered rooms, lined with black shutters, each thoughtfully designed for its purpose. I think I am still processing how, for hundreds of years, a structure so graceful could have housed such atrocious acts.


After a somber tour of the castle, and a quick stop at the gift shop, our group quietly trudged outside.  Once outside, our “greeters” leapt up from lounging on stone walls, and raced to find the people they had spoken to earlier. I heard my name, and saw my “gift”, a shell with a personalized message written in black and blue sharpie, complete with email address in case I wanted to stay in touch with the charlatan who was now shaking me down for $50 for the fist sized memento. Giving him 5 cedis instead, I climbed into the van to join my fellow travelers who each now resignedly held a marked mollusk or a woven name bracelet. Welcome home, indeed…


Year of the Return, Part 1

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On a scale of 1 to 10, my interest in visiting Accra, Ghana was about 3. This had nothing to do with the country itself; in my mind it just seemed less foreign, and more staid, than Francophone Africa. 

If I had known that I would be visiting during what is Ghana’s oppressively hot “summer” during our springtime, that number would have plummeted deep into the negative.  But 2019 is the Year of the Return in Ghana, a time that marks the 400th anniversary of the slave trade, and is an occasion for many African Americans return to the motherland to explore their roots and reconnect to their ancestors. It is also where my stepdaughter is spending her junior year abroad. A visit was non negotiable. Fortified with 3 different types of sunscreen (you can never be too sure about adequate sun protection), and two cupcakes (I’ve got to eat!) I was ready for the 19 hour journey to Accra.  

The trip was not off to an auspicious start. A friend who had graciously offered to take us to the airport arrived an hour early. He asked if I was ready. I was not. He loaded my husband’s four overstuffed bags- filled with clothing, a laptop, books and electronics for Ghanaian schoolchildren, and one large, dedicated “snack bag”- into his car. Returning he hovered, eyeing my small carryon bag, half filled with my husband’s clothing. I could sense his eagerness to toss my bag into the back of his car, and sweep us off to parts unknown ON TIME. To distract him from his scheme, I asked that he take my husband to buy sandwiches for the journey. Once they left, I raced to finish last minute to dos: packing, cleaning the fridge and trying to fix my laptop that had been inoperable for months. Eventually realizing the futility of the latter, I resigned myself to typing with two thumbs for a couple of weeks, gathered my purse and my carryon and went out to the curb to make good on my promise to be ready to go when they returned. Roughly a minute passed. I ate a cupcake. The other one looked so forlorn by itself in the pink box, I ate that one too.


The pastries were a distant memory when we landed at Kotoka International Airport in Accra the next evening. We congratulated ourselves on only forgetting two items in our friend’s car and added ourselves to the snaking line that led to passport control.  As we waited with our mandatory proof of yellow fever vaccination in hand, we were serenaded by a dapper man who, accompanying himself on an electric keyboard sang:

…It is Wednesday

The middle of the week


You are in Ghana

Welcome to Ghana

Akwaaba (Welcome)…

I was oddly touched by the singer’s earnest vocals and cruise ship energy. As his smooth voice and the plinking of his instrument filled the hall, even the most drowsy among us smiled and bobbed to the beat.  I looked over at my husband, who was elbow deep into his seemingly bottomless snack bag. Yes, our journey had truly begun. We were home. Akwaaba.


Spring Thoughts on Food, Friendship and Getting Fired

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I’m in need of a nourishing circle of comfort and conversation now. I was fired recently. Yes, for the second time in my life (the first occurred when I was eight and my mother fired me for “insubordination;” I told her I had actually quit the week before) I was unceremoniously let go for, among other things, asking too many questions. And yes, since I am self-employed, being fired by a marketing agency I hired is an unfortunate novelty for me. 

While I am excited by the prospect of fields of flowers that must follow the seemingly endless deluge of rain that has fallen these last few months (both literally and figuratively), the misty blanket of dreary isolation has been hard to lift. Unable (or unmotivated) to take my daily walks that help to put my world in perspective, I’ve also found that the weather has derailed more than a few plans to get together with friends and catch up on our latest doings over a bite to eat.

As anyone who knows me well can attest, my love of good food is matched only by my delight in sharing it with friends. Somehow, no matter how simple a dish, it is transformed into something extraordinary in the presence of loved ones. For this reason, this is one of my favorite times of year. Beyond reflection on faith and history, Easter and Passover bring with them a time to revel in the presence of those with whom you are closest.

Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” an Italian expression that means “Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you choose” underscores the intentional nature of the holiday that I enjoy so much. It’s a time to not only reflect, but also to actively seek out those friends whose conversation widens your perspective and challenges you. 

One of my favorite Easters was spent in Florence, Italy a few years after I had studied there in college. Having returned to Venice to work with glassblowers, I traveled down to the holiday-quiet, empty streets of Florence to meet a friend’s family. Inside their second-floor apartment, the dining room was aglow with the hum of friends and family reconnecting, and the table was laden with grilled lamb, chicken, langoustines and roasted vegetables of every sort, all prepared for our mid-afternoon feast. The hours’ long conversation ranged from pleasantries to national politics and every thought in between. I still remember the passion in my friend’s uncle’s voice as he tried to convince me that the mafia was something that the U.S. had invented and exported to southern Italy as part of a larger plan. “E’ vero!” he yelled, thumping the table with his fist to underscore his point as the plates were being cleared to make room for Columba, the traditional Easter cake.

While discussions at Passover Seders shared with new friends have never reached that decibel, they too, have always provided an atmosphere of warmth and inclusion where thoughts are exchanged, curiosity is rewarded and probing questions are encouraged.

I’m thrilled the sun has returned for good, and that the holidays are upon us! If nothing else, it gives me an opportunity to share a funny story with much missed friends over a delicious meal.

Redefining Aquamarine

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Derived from the Latin words aqua marinus, meaning “water of the sea,” aquamarine is a beryl that ranges from the almost clear blue green of a raindrop to a deeper, more striated teal that resembles the depths of the sea. In its brilliant green form, we refer to this beryl as emerald. Aquamarine is the March birthstone and purported to have many beneficial properties.

Aquamarine opens the channels of clear and heartfelt communication. [Simmons, 49]

I turn fifty this month.

Aquamarine embodies all things connected to the sea, as well as the world above it, reflected on its surface. It becomes a mirror, reflecting itself indefinitely, making it possible to discover the hidden meanings of reality. (where do these quotes comes from Need to cite sources.) [Megemont, 31-32]

I started worrying about this milestone birthday when I turned forty-nine. Never a huge planner, I surprised myself with my ability to focus, with feverish intensity, all my thoughts on a date 365 days away. It wasn’t the outward signs of aging that concerned me – how the decades have shaped my perspective and my silhouette (nothing much I can do about that!), but instead the finite number of years that lie before me. Like a hamster’s wheel, my thoughts circled me endlessly:

Am I doing enough?

Am I fulfilling my potential?

How do I want to live the remainder of my life?

I felt compelled to dedicate myself to some life-defining direction but was paralyzed by the specter of roads not taken and dreams left unfulfilled. It did not make me fun at dinner parties.

Aquamarine encourages the ideal of service to the world and to the development of a humanity attuned to healing. [Melody, 129]

My mother suggested I join a venerable organization that I mentioned to her was woefully out of touch with its base and sclerotic to its core, so that I could “move up the ladder and turn it inside out with (my) vision!”

It also allows us to explore the darkest depths of our souls, face to face with ourselves, and with others. [Megemont, 31-32]

I declined.

A travel crystal, Aquamarine protects those who journey by sea, and guards those involved in any long-haul travel such as flying long distances. [Eason, 42]

I did start (mentally) planning a trip to far-off lands, however. I now understand the desire to face the spectrum of possibilities that is the future, surrounded by friends and loved ones, in a place one has only dreamed about. Confronting fears is made easier by a supportive community that knows and loves you. These gatherings not only celebrate the achievement of a date on the calendar, but also one’s ability to navigate the maze of life that led you to that moment.

Aquamarine is calming, soothing, and cleansing, and inspires truth, trust and letting go. [Simmons, 49]

Whether or not I end up celebrating my birthday in some exotic locale (see thoughts on planning above), I will embrace the days ahead, valuing them for the gift they are. I will be grateful for the choices and mistakes I have made in the past and will look forward to and make peace with making another round of them in the future. It’s a start.


[Simmons, pp.] Robert Simmons & Naisha Ahsian, The Book of Stones (Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2007).

[Megemont, pp.] Florence Megemont, The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2008).

[Melody, pp.] Melody, Love Is In The Earth (Wheat Ridge, CO: Earth-Love Publishing House, 1995).

[Eason, pp. ]Cassandra Eason, The New Crystal Bible (London: Carlton Books Ltd., 2010).


One history, of many...

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My parents are moving to the neighborhood! Since my husband and I first moved to Montclair, they have been enamored this quiet little enclave high in the hills of Oakland. My mom, despite having grown up in coal mining territory- Beckley, West Virginia, was at first terrified of the steep, guardrail-free drive required to arrive at our house. Not at all mollified by the gorgeous vistas of the bay, or the sparkling bridges beyond, she averted her eyes, her white knuckles grasping the back of my headrest for dear life. My dad, comfortable in most any situation, was more sanguine, happily commenting on the new environment as we snaked higher and higher into the clouds, asking a slew of pertinent questions (“So how many people live in Oakland?” What is the elevation?”) that we were ill equipped to answer.

I remember that first visit as if it were yesterday. They had come to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with us and our friends. We planned a party for about 50 of our nearest and dearest, a group that also included my dad’s best friend from childhood, whom we hadn’t yet met although he lived in Oakland, and a surprise visit from my eldest cousin who lives in Indianapolis, my dad’s hometown.

For most families, a celebration of this milestone would have been commonplace. For ours, it was extraordinary. While the institution of marriage is revered, the ceremony around it has never been all that important to any of us.  My parents, my mother’s sister, and my grandparents before them, all were married in a low key fashion at a local courthouse by the justice of the peace.(“We JP'ed it” my aunt says of the day of her union with my uncle, also 50+ years ago) I’m not sure if any photos exist of these  . I have never seen them.  

When my husband and I were planning our nuptials, he asked/ urged me to invite my parents to “our big day”. Caught up in the moment, and buoyed by his enthusiasm, I did. I regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth.  “Why?” my mother asked me in response to my invitation. I stumbled a bit at the answer, myself, “We thought you and dad might like to be a part of our special day, and, um would like to witness us…” My words drifted off over the phone lines connecting me to the house where I grew up, to the east coast where I knew my mom was cradling the phone to her ear, perched on her favorite couch in the artwork lined family room. Never short of words, she interjected, “Look, Dorian, when your father and I got married many years ago, we paid an inebriated man $20 to be our witness. Are kids not doing that nowadays?”

That was eight years ago, when my father was still able pick out suits and ties and dress himself. Now, on warm summer days, my mom will tuck him into T-shirt we gifted him from a local company that proudly proclaims Oakland's population and elevation under the outlines of a rooted oak tree, and will gently remind him that Oakland is where my husband and I live.

So finally they will return to the Bay Area. Not to Montclair exactly, “About an hour away. That is close enough. We need our privacy.” as my mom succinctly put it. And I couldn’t be happier.

A Prosperous New Year

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Expectations are high. Intentions filled with optimism have been set, and thanks to a self-imposed period of cocooning at home after Christmas, they are matched by a renewed energy level that is almost visible. Despite a track record of spotty resolution execution: 1.2 lbs. lost instead of twenty; three bestselling documentaries purchased, dutifully attempted and set aside (while any trashy novel captivates me like a shiny, irresistible object), I remain resolutely optimistic. This will be THE year. 

And it will be, for the things that matter. My life will be filled with abundance on each of its 365 days. I happily take this fact for granted, knowing that I have done my part. On January 1, 2019, I, along with countless African Americans, ensure a successful year by connecting to our ancestors and partaking in our holy trinity: black-eyed peas, pork and greens.

Black-eyed peas are said to bring luck. Whether these legumes derive their power from the belief that they were all that slaves had to eat to celebrate on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, or from the same sentiment that fostered the centuries-old tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with their consumption, black-eyed peas on the first day of the year are a must.

Pork connotes prosperity. Pork, and its “lesser” cuts – pig’s feet, ham hocks, chitterlings – are staples of the traditional African American diet. On New Year’s Day, they are symbols of abundance and progress, similar to that of roast pork and pork dumplings in other cultures. The idea of a pig signifying forward thinking due to its inability to turn its head without turning its entire body, is one that makes me smile.

Greens attract green. Perhaps the most literal of all the holiday’s iconography are leafy, late-season greens. The inclusion of greens on the table (cabbage in many cultures), portends easy access to wealth in the new year. If, unfortunately, you missed the lucky window for 2019, worry not. Even if they may no longer guarantee $1,000 earned with each mouthful eaten, greens are a wonderful treat, no matter when they are enjoyed.


Dorian’s Greens

3 bunches of kale or other greens

Quart (32 oz) box of unsalted chicken stock

Small yellow onion, diced

½ cup brown sugar

⅛ cup white vinegar

Red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

A 1” x 2” strip of fatback (optional)* or a dash of olive oil

Sauvignon blanc or any white wine you have on hand (optional)

Heat half the chicken stock in a large pot. Boil fatback in water until tender – approximately 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into small pieces. Rinse greens well. Separate leaves from tough center spine and cut into small pieces with kitchen scissors. Add to boiling stock. Add onion, brown sugar, vinegar and fatback. If not using fatback, add a dash of olive oil. Sprinkle red pepper over pot. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir. Greens will cook down considerably. Add half of the remaining chicken stock. Continue to cook, adding stock as necessary. If you run out of stock, add wine. Proportions should be greens with some liquid (pot liquor, the best part!) not a soup. Taste, adding salt, pepper and adjusting seasonings to taste. Greens are done when they are easily chewable, about 20 -30 minutes.

*Since fatback is not always readily available, I ask the butcher to put it aside for me a few days before I need it. It is doubtful that you will be able to find a piece that small. Fatback lasts for 3-6 months in the freezer when well wrapped.


Creating A Table full of Color, Conversation and Community

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table setting simplified.jpg

While the thrill of standard gift giving and gift getting may have peaked years (decades) ago, the comfort of community has not. For the best, I think, our newly shortened days force us to make tough choices about our time: what we spend it on, and whom we spend it with. And how. Anything else becomes irrelevant.

I choose home with family, friends and that interesting person whom I happened to strike up a conversation with in the local grocery store. As my favorite writer and poet, Elizabeth Alexander said recently, “Family is porous. Family is accepting and welcoming. Family always has space and makes room for another.”

As a designer, I think that that feeling of inclusivity should be reflected not only in actions, but also in objects that create an environment for those actions to thrive.  Growing up, we rarely decorated for the holidays, with minimal decorations dwindling over the years to nothing. I don’t know if I ever really missed it though- our house was always alive with color, conversation and community.

While many things have changed for me in the last few decades- moving to the Bay Area, getting married, taking long hikes in the middle of the workday - my love of color has not. Perhaps it has something to do with my African American heritage and the long line of people before me making something wonderful out of disparate bits and pieces, but I am most at ease surrounded by vibrant splashes of color and patterns and textures of all sorts. I am energized by the polyrhythmic layering of tones, shapes and sensations. THIS is what excites me.

I believe holiday table setting should be as stimulating as the conversation you expect to flow above it, so I spend the night before every dinner party happily preparing for my guests. Each gathering is inspired by the guests themselves, but five elements remain a constant.

1. White tablecloths are jettisoned for fabrics I have found in my travels. Sometimes a soft cotton scarf, printed with shells that I brought back from Italy acts as backdrop, other times a shimmery green, gold flecked shawl from Delhi makes an appearance.

2. Sets dishes are mixed within one place setting, piling hue upon hue and housewarming presents with travel finds. Conversation starters to be sure, but also pragmatic. In this way, I can easily accommodate additional arrivals with the same level of casual elegance and exuberance that I do for expected guests.  Family always has space…

3. Candles dot the table. They are a cityscape of soft lights that create intimacy and a flattering glow.

4. An unusual centerpiece crowns the table. Sometimes it is a small scale, overlooked sculpture rescued  from a bookshelf that is given its star turn for the night, other times it is constructed just for the evening, using a glue gun and whatever is handy.

5. In low juice glasses (to encourage cross table chatting) I gather seasonal flowers from the local farmers market, and intersperse them with fragrant sprigs of rosemary cut from our hedges, or vibrant red stalks of protea to give a sense of moment and place. These small individualized bouquets are gifts to my dinner guests, as a small memento of our time together.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with color and creativity!

The Space Between

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Happy Holidays!

I always look forward to the last week of the year with great anticipation.

Now that the frenzy of the holiday has passed, and the new year has yet to begin, the days unfold with a new rhythm. The pressure of quotidian life is quickly and gloriously cast OFF. Whether I treat myself to a getaway in some far flung locale, or stay at home to relax in more familiar surroundings, it is a period of interior quiet and reflection. Cocooning is quintessential.

Inside the cozy boundaries of this particular week, isolated from the onslaught of the everyday, we are all given the gift of a time to pause. It is an extraordinary gift: this vital interval nurtures our minds and fortifies our souls. What appears on the surface to be stillness is, at its best, incredibly proactive. It enables us to develop, evolve and ultimately unfurl our creative, marvelous selves.

Now is a critical time devoted to the essentials of a well lived life: Time to simply BE. Time to relax. Time to unwind. Time to breathe. Time to think. Time to remember. Time to let go. Time to accept. Time to review successes. Time to acknowledge challenges. Time to celebrate our strengths. Time to reassess our goals. Time to reconnect with friends, family and ourselves. Time to appreciate the journey we are on.

And really, life is just about the journey, that space between the moments, isn’t it?

Wishing you the luxury of exploring the beautiful space between the moments.

Fall: Bring it ON!

dorian webb
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I LOVE this time of year.

After Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer arrives, fall beckons with promise. With summer memories still fresh in mind, autumn entices with its own distinct palette of activities and colors.  Summer offers much anticipated visits to exotic locales and exciting, far flung locations. Its attraction lies in relaxation. Of mind, and of body. Casualness is its mantra. Days pass with languor.  As you bask in the warm sun, your silhouette relaxes as well. Clothing is spare or loose and flowing. Minimal effort is rewarded.

Summer has its undeniable and simple charms. And yet, it is autumn that excites me.

Autumn is interactive and communal. Its pleasures are immediate. Its beauty lies in remaining closer to home. Invitations for dinner, drinks, gallery openings, art exhibitions, business seminars and charity galas fill your inbox. Each event is an opportunity to reconnect with friends and associates. Each one provides grounds for learning, and for sharing and celebrating what has been learned. Each is a welcome challenge to step up your game, mentally and sartorially.

Fall’s discussions are stimulating, and its conversations ripe with reflection. Remembrances of travel and moments experienced flavor every discourse. Words flow meaningfully and long simmering thoughts become actionable ideas. Somehow, your perspective seems clearer and more sanguine. And maybe it is... You are more attuned to the beautiful details of everyday life that are lost in summer’s glare.

In fall fashions, visual and tactile sensations are heightened. Creamy expanses of suede dissolve into undulating layers of fringe and tassels. Denim stands at attention, darkened, and crisp.  Patent leather winks with shine and decorative perforations. At this time of year, textures and materials are also combined for maximum interest. Structured leather jackets open to reveal silky satin blouses. A cozy cashmere wrap is enlivened by the brilliant sparkle of an unexpectedly placed heirloom. The rhythmic weave of a sweater sleeve ends in the flourish of a conversation-starting cocktail ring.

Now, as the weather slowly begins to cool, summer’s bright colors give way to the more nuanced shades of autumn. The eye eagerly adjusts to the richer hues the season offers. Neutral white morphs into a blush pink, then a deep bordeaux. Sunny yellow becomes a burnished orange, mellowed with time. Blue runs the gamut from the softest cerulean to the most commanding of cobalt. Purples follow lead of the amethyst spectrum. Fuchsia surprises in quick bursts- on eye catching jewelry or the petal of a late blooming flower. Chocolate brown is overlaid with caramel, and given definition with inky indigo. Juxtaposition rules in fashion as in nature. The sculptural qualities of bronze are underscored by pops of turquoise, whether in a statement ring or in the branches of a tree, framed by the September sky. Coral makes a noted reappearance; in autumn, accented with pearl, it retains its individuality, but is polished, regal. The breadth and bounty of fall’s harvest is echoed in the ample use of berried tones and is highlighted by emerald green, teal and gilded surfaces. From its very start, fall is alive with the appreciation of life well enjoyed.

Fall? I’m ready. Bring it ON.