About Cynthe & Marc… and our beloved Bri.

Cynthe Brush & Marc Brownlow, June 2009

Cynthe Brush & Marc Brownlow, June 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.

*   *   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *   *

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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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

maureen July 1, 2009 at 3:11 am

Dear Mark & Cynthe, I came across Bri’s blog by accident whilst looking for recipes for cooking summer squashes. I felt so sad to read of Bri’s passing, and I think that what you are doing by carrying on her blog is wonderful and a great memorial to her.

It’s a great blog, I have yet to read Lot’s more when I have time. I have put the link onto my blog in a post today and asked people to visit as I am sure they will find it inspirational.

My very best wishes and prayers are with you all.

Cynthe July 2, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Maureen ~ Thanks for ‘finding’ us, for your appreciation of Bri’s marvelous blog she’s left behind for us to remember her by…and to inspire creative cookery.

Also, thanks for your kind encouragement about our efforts to keep it going. Must say that Marc & I are still struggling to do any cooking at all. So our posts are few and far between.

Cooking’s still too poignant, especially for Marc. And I’m dealing with lethargy, part of the impact of grief. Each of us is taking baby-steps in our own way through the process. We’re healing. But it’s slow.

Kella July 7, 2009 at 5:25 am

Found the blog through Maureen’s link and would also like to pass on my well wishes, I’m vegan so its nice to find a site full of recipes I can use straight or modify only slightly.

Wishing you all lots of love, Kella.

Cynthe July 8, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for coming our way, Kella.

My hubby eats vegan most of the time as he has dairy sensitivities, which make him ‘stuffy.’ I’ve considered being vegan, but can’t quite give up dairy, yet. I’m such a foodie…and there are SO many other things I don’t eat or have never tasted, having been vegetarian since I was 20 (going on 60, now!).

Appreciate your kind wishes & love, too. Come again and let us know which of the recipes you like best.

Sallie August 8, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I found this blog through Helene at Tartelette. Your tribute to Bri is a real testament to your love for her. The effort to keep it up is admirable. Thank you for sharing. May each day bring you all some solace knowing that there are cookers and bloggers who are still enjoying all these great recipes.

farmerpam September 11, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Found your blog through Jen/Use Real Butter. So touching to read, love the recipes, i’ll be back. Peace to you and warm thoughts.

Cynthe October 3, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Thanks for coming our way Pam.

We’re all doing better. Sadness still comes in waves at times. Having some fun getting cooking again, though a bit off-and-on. There’s no way any of us could match Bri’s boundless enthusiasm in this arena though.

Cynthe October 3, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Sallie ~ Just spotted your comment here. Apologies for our delayed reply.

Thanks for taking a look and offering us encouragement to keep at it. There was just no way I could bear to take FWB down. Too much goodness to share. And such a lovely way to remember our sweet Bri, enjoying what an enthusiast she was in her own words.

Kirstin October 9, 2009 at 8:13 am

Thank you Bri, for sharing your love of marzipan. I will be making the truffles for Xmas and send a prayer to your family.

Nia Richards October 10, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Thanks for sharing your information about pomelo! I’ve just bought one and I’ve no idea what it looks like! So, I’ll probably have it for breakfast tomorrow!

Love & light


spice November 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Dear Mark & Cynthe,

Found your blog while looking for eggless uside down pineapple cake….kind of hooked to this blog….Sorry for your loss,will surely read more of this blog in some free time.

nimi November 19, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Hello Cynthe , I had visited here last year when I came to know about Bri from a blog named malluspice.blogspot.com , and had prayed a lot for Bri and had dedicated a post on her with a yellow flower.
Then I came to know about her demise. I am sorry for that. But her energy is so strong and she must have been such a good soul that it was difficult for me to forget her, I used to remember her often.
I was away from blogging for a year now and thought about Bri and visited this site and I see how beautifully you have carried this over. I am very glad to see your work!
The energy of Bri’s love & passion for life will remain forever….

Cynthe November 21, 2009 at 12:28 am

Kirstin ~ Do let us know ‘what’ Christmas treats you make with the marzipan, we’d enjoy it. Have to admit the smell of marzipan will forever remind me of sweet Bri. She’s definitely watching over this blog and everyone who visits…inspiring each of us in so many ways.

Cynthe November 21, 2009 at 12:29 am

So…Nia ~ What did you think of the pomelo? Did you manage to pick out a sweet one? Bri always ate them and other grapefruits with honey.

Cynthe November 21, 2009 at 12:34 am

Hi Spice ~ Glad you came to visit. Will come visit your blog as well soon. I enjoy all the ideas being shared….and the stories we have connected with the foods we prepare.

Cynthe November 21, 2009 at 12:41 am

Nimi ~ Thanks! Truly appreciate your encouragement. Yes, Bri’s love & passion for life WILL remain forever just as you say. Though sadness still comes up for us, when I write for FWB and reply to comments like yours I’m usually smiling and feeling such love for this opportunity to connect. Will come visit your blog, too. Appreciate you keeping Bri and us in mind…and for coming back to see how we are doing.

Abimbola Akanwo November 21, 2009 at 8:02 am

Marc and Cynthe
I just found your blog…

I am so sorry to read that Bri died in 2008…. her legacy lives on in this blog…

Thank you for making the decision to keep the blog going, despite your heartache at losing Bri…

Bri’s vibrant words gave me a picture of a lively, bubbly, generous and kind person (an inadequate description…). May she rest in peace.

Arlene Dijamco February 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Hello, I found this site from Kathy Reid’s inactive blog while searching for Plant Spirit Medicine. I am an integrative pediatrician in Massachusetts. Amazing photos and mmmm can’t wait to try out the recipes. What a heartwarming story. Thank You.

Deborah Gelson March 13, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Hello Cynthe and Marc,
I was googling for recipes using the ricotta cheese in my refrigerator when I came across your recipe for the Italian ricotta cookies with the preserved lemon slices. What a beautiful blog you are creating for us and a sad but courageous story of how you are carrying it on for your angel Briana. You are doing a wonderful job; I love the writing and the look of your website (photos and design) is gorgeous. Thank you for your hard work.
Debbie Gelson, Los Angeles, CA

Jean March 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Cynthe and Marc, I’m not sure how I found your blog, but I’m glad I did. How wonderful that you are keeping it going despite your sad loss. I’m sure it is difficult at times but also very comforting. I look forward to visiting it again. My sympathy and good wishes to you both and to all who loved your Bri.

Cynthe March 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Thanks Jean ~ We’re doing okay. Still suffer gaps in our cooking enthusiasm from time-to-time, but love having a way to remember Bri & her passion for good food and dedication to nurturing those she loved.

Cynthe March 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Deborah ~ You’re very kind. Love your enthusiasm….and sorry I’ve been slow in replying. Haven’t done ANY blog-worthy cooking in weeks now. But it’s Meyer Lemon season. Have some in my kitchen and on our potted trees begging to be used… and give those Italian ricotta cheese cookies a go – SO worth it!

Catherine Hughes July 2, 2010 at 11:20 pm


What a treat to meet you at the Marin County Fair tonight!!! I still can’t believe I won Best in Show for all Confections!!! and congratualtions on your Best in Show win as well.

I look forward to receiving the photos and let me know what you think of my new “sweet venture” – Toffee Talk-Little Pieces of Conversation. Besides the Almond I have 3 additional flavors: Pecan, Peanut and Red Walnut.

Look forward to hearing from you.


aka Chief Toffee Talker

Cynthe July 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Catherine ~ It was totally fun meeting you & Ellin, too….AND celebrating our “BEST of SHOW” awards at the 2010 Marin County fair together. Yours for your toffee and mine for the Honey Rose Petal Jam. What a surprise! BIG smiles for sure.

Stacey Bruno Migale July 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

I am intersted to learn if you wholesale your Meyer Lemon & Honey Jam (or any of your other products). They all sound wonderful. I am hosting a specialty foods corner in a seasonal gift-shop/barn at a pumpkin patch in Petaluma. I am seek to find local/hard to find products for this very busy venue. Please contact me if you’re interested. Thank you.

Cynthe July 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Stacey ~ Thanks for stopping by FWB. Glad you’re enjoying the preserve recipes! I totally LOVE hand-crafting jams, jellies, conserves and marmalades. Especially like experimenting with interesting flavor combinations of fruits, reviving old-style recipes in forgotten cookbooks, showcasing fruits like the produce jewels they are. Looking forward to talking with you this week.

Laura L. Thatcher October 24, 2012 at 1:53 am

What a lovely blog. I was referred to this site by http://www.brit.co for the ingenious chocolate walnut truffle skulls. This about page is so moving, I simply had to comment. What a lovely tribute!

Cynthe October 24, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thanks! Laura ~ For stopping by to comment. Halloween season marks the anniversary of Briana’s death…and it’s really perfect since she adored children. Our family: my hubby and myself, Marc & Bri always looked forward to this fun & festive community holiday here in the States. Briana died October 27, 2008…four days before the holiday. We celebrate it always, so despite our profound sorrow that year, we still gave out treats and toys to the delightful kids that came by. Life continues on here and on ‘the other side’ as well. Bri shared that with us, one of numerous gifts she left us to treasure.

Kendermom September 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

I was looking at the candy walnut skulls and realize that
a) I love the look a lot
b) with three 2 special needs kids and a very active little in the house I have no business trying to make a mold of any kind
and c) I do not have the sculpting skills to make the source item…

I’d be more than willing to buy a set of the 3d skull molds for candy/chocolate if you’re willing to make them again. Please let me know?

Dan September 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I happened upon this site through a link from Homestead Survival email. It was for the 3D skull truffle candy. Then, I realized that article is four years old. No chance you guys decided to start selling these at all? If so, please email me as I would be interested in getting a few tins. Also, I read the about us and what the site is. Was sad to read of Bri’s passing and such a young age. My condolences albeit quite late, I think it’s nice that you guys keep the blog going.

Cynthe September 18, 2013 at 9:13 am

Thanks for taking time to make a comment Dan. Aren’t Marc’s skull truffles awesome?!! Unfortunately, they are much too labor intensive and the mold materials too pricey to make commercially. Though they’d be wildly popular.

Made at the 1-year anniversary of Bri’s death, Marc still has feelings of sadness and depression surface when he thinks about making more…life & death are like that. A process.

Keeping the blog going, even though I post erratically, has been comforting to me and a creative outlet. Enjoy your Halloween 2013!

Cynthe September 18, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hi! Kendermom ~ Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, these truffles and their molds are too labor intensive plus the materials are costly for Marc to make for others. I’ve added a notice for our readers to that effect at the bottom of the article. Hope you have a fun Halloween 2013!

Jana Braziel October 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Dear Marc and Cynthe–
Just came across your Figs with Bri blog while searching for organic Asia recipes. It was the Chinese Plum Sauce recipe that brought me to the site. I felt extremely sad, even brought to tears, by Bri’s death: obviously, she was an effervesent spirit, because even strangers like myself feel her presence–without ever having known her–through the love expressed by you on this site.
Thank you,
in humility,
Jana Braziel

Cynthe October 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Jana ~ Thanks for your kind words, tender feelings. Yes, Bri was effervescent…and such an appreciator of life! This month is the 5th anniversary of her death. I’m so glad we have kept her blog alive to remember her by and to express our enthusiasm for creative cuisine. BTW that Chinese Plum Sauce is easy and yummy! Let us know what you think about it. ~ Cynthe

heidi October 31, 2013 at 9:06 am

Love your webesite! Death, for me, is a celebration. I’m a Christian, so I know I’ll see them again. Your grief is real though! The closest person to me that has pasted is my Grandma Sally. She lived with myself and my husband for the last years of her VERY presious life. Every summer we’d make jams. Toward the end I’d get a stool and she would direct me on what to do. She was 93 at her death in 2009 and I still sometimes think I have to tell or ask her something.
My husband and I have started a small business in honor of her also, “Grandma Sally’s Kitchen” selling at farmers market.

Cynthe October 31, 2013 at 9:21 am

Hi Heidi ~ Glad you found us!

We’re deeply spiritual, too. And I’m well aware that the person who dies, when their ‘being’ crosses over, most often is ecstatic. But that isn’t necessarily their (or our) experience in the illness and dying process. It’s definitely harder on those of us left here!!! Also, it’s much MUCH different losing a grandparent, then losing someone as young as Bri was….especially since she LOVED life and had so many plans for her future that wasn’t to be. So we find we’re not only grieving for Bri, but for the loss of her plans and possibilities, and for the future my son hoped to share with her. Sunday was the fifth year anniversary of her death. October is always a poignant time for us.

Glad to hear you’re a jam maker! And how cool that you have started a farmer’s market business. Do you have a website? I’d love to have a look at some of your jam recipes, too. I have so many that I’ve made that are not on FWB. Haven’t wanted to commit to the farm market routine, but I sure LOVE making jams & jellies!

Ruth June 13, 2014 at 10:51 pm

What a beautiful website! Happened on through the lemon verbena post. Thank you for keeping your beautiful Bri’s passion alive for those of us who came along late. I can tell how wonderful she was through your loving memories.

Cynthe June 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Ruth ~ Thanks for your enthusiasm! We LOVE keeping the blog going and especially appreciate readers like you getting to discover it. Please come back.

Gan Sujia November 20, 2014 at 1:36 am

Hello Cynthe!

We chanced upon an old blog post of yours from 2009, and you mentioned that your grandmother is Celeste Amstutz? We’re from the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation, and are researching for pioneers under the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame (SWHF) programme. We understand that Celeste resided in Singapore for a period of time, if you could provide us with any information about her at all, it would be immensely helpful. You can reach us at intern@scwo.org.sg

Thank you.

Cynthe November 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

Dear Gan ~ YES! My grandmother Celeste Amstutz lived in Singapore for 40 years. My uncle Bruce Amstutz, her son, would be the one to have the information you need. I will forward your name and email address to him, copying you on it. Thanks so much for honoring my grandmother for the important work she did promoting women’s health and other issues in the region.

Fyre December 17, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Thank you for continuing this blog. I found it whilst searching for help in tempering my vegan chocolate. I was excited, then sadden, and finally truly moved to find such a great blog, learn of Bri’s passing, and learning that I found the blog because you cared enough to continue it.

Thank you.


Cynthe December 18, 2015 at 9:58 am

Frye ~ Thanks so much for your kind words. It would have been Bri’s 39th birthday a couple of days ago…and she would have been pleased to know that you’re enjoying ‘her’ blog. I, too, appreciate all the love and enthusiasm she put into it and couldn’t bear to take it down. It has been a wonderful and interesting experience to become a blogger in Bri’s memory. Hope your vegan chocolate turns out delish!

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