About Cynthe & Marc… and our beloved Bri.

Cynthe Brush & Marc Brownlow, June 2009
Cynthe Brush & Marc Brownlow, June 2009

OCTOBER 2009

Cynthe’s Bio: Though naturally a VERY communicative person, I never planned on or even thought of becoming a food blogger.  Life presents circumstances and opportunities for us to pursue…or not. FigsWithBri is that for me. Read more here.

I’ve had an interest in cooking for 50 years!!! Ever since I was a child working with our patient cook Manu, in Lahore, (West) Pakistan.

My first attempt at cooking was to make a “soup” from the water Manu had boiled some spinach in. Gosh, have cooking techniques changed since 1960! Who would even consider BOILING! tender spinach greens now, when all they need are a few brief minutes of steaming in nothing, but the wash water clinging to their leaves? Needless to say, that rather anemic spinach soup wasn’t much, since all I recall doing was adding a bit of salt before drinking it. BUT my fledgling cooking instincts were right, sensing that the real spinach nutrition had been boiled into the greenish water.

Undaunted, my second attempt at cooking was a real DISASTER, although by appearances looked much more appealing. I decided to make chocolate sauce for a cake my mom had made for dessert. I followed the recipe exactly. And was terribly proud of the silky smooth, fragrantly enticing, chocolate sauce I had concocted.

At dinner that evening with bated breath and bursting with pride, I watched as Mom took the first bite. Her face crumpled into a dismayed grimace. She somehow managed to recover her composure and with non-judgmental, but disappointed, kindness informed me I had used salt, instead of sugar!!! In those days of cooking with finely granulated white sugar and white salt, I learned two very important lessons: LABEL your ingredients containers clearly and TASTE your culinary creations for “seasonings” as you cook!

Don’t recall any more independent cooking projects until my gourmet culinary forays  as a teen-ager, which exhibited maturing skills. Offered to cook entrees for our family meals, relieving my full-time working mother from having to do “everything,” after putting in a full day at her job. Then I branched out to desserts, which I had a real knack for…and still do.

Enjoyed a 1966 summer of French cuisine, creating elegant weekend dinners with a Berkeley High School & AAU swim team buddy Steve Patteson, inspired by Julia Child’s famous cookbook: Mastering The Art of French Cooking. It was always an entire weekend sort of production. We would plan the meal together. Then Steve set a beautiful table-for-two using his mother’s fine china, silverware, and linens (with her permission, of course). After cooking the meal together, we would dress suitably for the “occasion.” We were innocent, naive teenagers. Despite the romantic “potential,” our adventurous culinary weekends remained entirely platonic.

At 20, after purchasing an encyclopedia on how to make sophisticated wine pairings with foods, I chose a tee-totaling lacto-vegetarian lifestyle, eliminating meats, eggs, and alcoholic beverages from my diet. This was during the dark ages of vegetarianism in the United States! Health food stores with bulk food bins were a brand new grocery store concept. Local farm markets didn’t exist in California as far as I knew. And I hadn’t heard the terms ‘organic,’ ‘artisan foods’, etc. Most Americans didn’t even know what a vegetarian WAS. Almost everything I had learned about meal planning and baking had to be discarded, along with favorite family recipes from my Mom.

But I managed, after a year or two of learning to cook differently, to become an accomplished bread baker, egg-free dessert maker, and a hearty vegetarian meals cook.

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OCTOBER 2008

I am so sorry to say that my beautiful and talented wife Bri died October 27th, 2008 here at home with my mother holding her hand. (Read my complete tribute.)

Bri started this blog after she had gone through one bout of cancer treatment and was in remission. It was a labor of love for her. For the first time she felt like she had found her calling. Writing and cooking and connecting with people who shared her passion. Joy is always better shared, and this blog allowed her to share it with countless people around the world.

Throughout both struggles with cancer, Bri maintained her cheery optimistic attitude and won over everyone that came in contact with her. Kindness and generosity were reflected back to her in many surprising and delightful ways.

Bri would want her FigsWithBri blog to be continued and to be a source of inspiration to all her loyal and new readers. So, the three of us: myself, my Mom -Cynthe, and my stepfather – Bill (if we need technical troubleshooting) will continue to make posts and maintain the blog as we can.

Be patient. It’s taking time to process our grief, to adjust to such an unspeakable loss… Bri, our irrepressible optimist would want us to rediscover our joy and enthusiasm for life. And for her, and for ourselves, we will.

~ Marc & Cynthe

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Briana Brownlow 1976-2008

My name is Bri (pronounced like the cheese, short for Briana) and I love good vegetarian food. If it’s local, and organic…I’m in heaven! I shop for food the way other people shop for shoes.

I live and cook for my husband and in-laws in Santa Rosa, CA in Sonoma County (wine country) just north of San Francisco. And boy! Do we have good food here. I’ve been experimenting with great local organic ingredients for about 10 years. I am passionate about farmer’s markets and make it a weekly routine to chat with the growers at our local Santa Rosa & Sebastopol Farmers Markets and like to try out unusual varieties of old standbys.

I regularly cook for extended family and potlucks to stretch the boundaries of good simple food. When Marc and I lived in southern California, we had regular “let’s cook dinner for our bachelor friends nights,” which were a resounding success! I’m also available for personal chefing in the Santa Rosa/Petaluma/Sebastopol area, and may go as far as Marin. The best part is sharing in a great meal of lovingly produced and prepared foods with friends and family. Thanks for reading Figs with Bri, getting to know me, and hopefully trying out some of the recipes and restaurants I talk about.

My husband, Marc Brownlow designed the look and color scheme of the site and spends many hours taking and doctoring photos, and doing illustrations for this blog. He also acts as editor, and gives me (much appreciated, even if I get snarky) feedback on articles. I couldn’t do this without him. Please check out his two blogs and feel free to contact him if you have any design or illustration needs. As you can see, he’s very talented.

Feel free to comment on articles as you are compelled. Just think of it as friends chatting over a good meal. Come again!

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