Cortney Burns

Morning Rituals explores the intimate thoughts, routines and habits of creative people around the world. Written in the form of diary entries, each writer is paired with an artist to bring their rituals to life.  

Ritual 001 Lovely words by Cortney Burns, chef/owner of Duna restaurant in San Francisco, currently working on a new project in Massachusetts. Stunning art by LA based artist, Jessica Rather. A donation to World Central Kitchen was made on behalf of Jessica's kind art contribution. 


Morning One

5:45 am

My first alarm goes off — a soft, gentle melody set to wake me at the top of my sleep cycle.  My cat Jade is flat against my back seeking warmth, front paws are over my head, back paws outstretched to about my knees. It’s registering 43 degrees outside this morning. I’m living in New England, not San Francisco anymore...the weather’s quite different here.


The cat stirs, the second alarm goes off and Willow, Jade’s sister, drops her toy atop the comforter signaling her readiness for play. I throw on a few more layers than I’m used to since the weather has suddenly snapped into a chill, and head down the winding stairs after brushing my teeth and throwing my hair up into a disheveled bun. I feed the cats while boiling water in my white enamel tea kettle from Japan.  The cats eat better than I do - salmon, sardines, lamb liver, chicken hearts & beef.  They get a mix twice a day and a sprinkling of sprouted things on top.  I wonder if I added in some fermented veggies if they’d live to 180.


I’m a creature of habit and I like routine.  Since closing Bar Tartine and moving to North Adams, MA to work on this new project, I’ve had to create a new rhythm.  First thing is matcha making; it’s my morning ritual.  The blend I make is not the most classic type. I add a form of MCT oil, a healthy fat, and a bit of grassfed cultured butter, cinnamon, vanilla powder, and a touch of stevia.  I mix about 24 ounces to sip throughout the morning.  To this, I add 6g of powdered matcha tea, which is quite a bit, but I like it this way because I can really taste the grassy notes.  After mixing the ingredients together, I pour myself a cup, into a tumbler I made myself (clay is one of my other mediums). I slowly pour the rest of it into a green Stanley mug, carefully without  spilling any of my tea.  I have a blue one too, but that one’s for keeping coffee warm.


I have a yoga room in my house. Since leaving SF and the yoga community of Asta yoga, I find I’m happiest in self practice at home rather than in the studios.  Haven’t quite found the right match.  But I have a practice and today it’s Rocket 1.  I sit, having a small cup of my tea, to write my gratitude list — just three things to get going and whatever else is on my mind.  Today I am grateful for the healthy strong body I reside in, the time and space to create something new and the bountiful harvest that my garden provides me with.


I come back from savassanah to the present.   Handstands were strong today.  I love being upside down. Most mornings I don’t eat.  I like to stay alert and wait for true hunger to hit me before I feed myself.  However today, I make a little super food mix.  I take some chilled coffee from yesterday and add powders of pine pollen, ashwaganda, anadamide, bee pollen, tocos rice bran and macadamia nut milk.  I gently warm this all together and take a sip... This makes my body sing.


It’s Monday, so I’m plotting the week. Autumn has arrived here, so I’m in processing mode stocking the larder.  I have two big deliveries coming this week from local farms and I’m laying out the plans.  I’m also planning for a pickling demo next month at the North Adams farmer’s market.


I head out to a place called the Spruces about a quarter mile from my house.  It’s the site of an old mobile home park in Williamstown, MA.  I’ve donned my Carhartt overalls, snipper scissors in one side pocket, tote bags over both shoulders.  I’m off to forage Queen Anne’s lace and Golden Rod.  There may be some good sumac still on the trees too, but I think what I got last week was almost the last of the good stuff.The goal of the foraging session today is tinctures.  I’ll infuse it all in a neutral base spirit to extract its flavors, colors and medicinal properties.  Some of the sumac will get infused too, but most of the dried cones have been dried for the actual spice, which is tart and gently tannic.  I love the way it bumps up a dish, helps to layer in flavors and also adds a lovely hue to dishes.


Back from cutting with full bags in tow. I pop them into spirits and the golden rod takes a warm bath for 1 hour at 60 degree celcius while the rest wait their turn. I grab a small bucket and head out over the river by my house to the train tracks to check the ripeness of the autumn olives. These are destined for fruit leather. A couple friends have offered to help me pick, so I am where the best bushes are. Ill taste each bush. The unique thing about these berries is that tree to tree they taste different, but a whole bush will taste the same.


Morning Two


Alarm wakes me from my dreams and I can’t quite recount them at the moment.Create a gratitude list: grateful for the opportunity to make food today, grateful for the fear of not being enough which keeps pushing me, grateful for the strength of my relationship which allows my wings to soar. I do a quick set of sun salutations and a few kettlebell swings to prime my body to become awake and alert.


Matcha time. Today I make a bit extra and make a pot of coffee filling both of my thermos. I also mix an adaptogenic herb blend into water with marine collagen, pour it over ice and into a ball jar.  I pack some seed bread and butter, two soft boiled eggs, a few nuts and pack it all into a bag.  I’m headed about 13 miles from home to Square Root Farm to help process 183 chickens today.  I’ve made a buckwheat, peach and sorrel tart for us to share after lunch on the lawn, with green hills off in every direction and cows dotting the landscape.  It’s a lovely place and a way for me to stay connected to my food.


I head out and my first stop is my make-shift processing kitchen where I need to find a secure hiding place for the key.  A farm delivery is showing up this afternoon and I won’t be on site to receive it.  I’ve ordered:

60# tomatoes for a fermented paste

40# green peppers for a fermented chili paste

40# green beans to dice small and ferment to be used like capers

20# cauliflower to brine ferment with local turmeric and ginger

20# purple daikon to brine ferment

25# rainbow carrots to brine ferment

45# edamame for miso

10# padron peppers to sun dry

1 flat strawberries to half dry

12 ears corn for corn spirit

24 bunches red shiso for salting

1 dozen eggs for me to eat


I leave the key, agitate the vinegars a bit, taste the infusions, unlock the refrigerators for the vegetables and head out. The fog sinks low over the hills into a day full of deep connection to the land, to the farm, to the producers and to the cycle of life.


I pause silently to thank these animals for their lives, for the food they provide.  We are fortunate that we can have meat when we want it...I connect by honoring the animals with my words and prayers as they pass on to another realm.  Let us take what we need, but never more than it. First chicken in the cone-182 to go.


Morning Three

5:40am  The days are noticeably shorter and it’s now dark when I get up.  I write my gratitude list:

    -grateful for the seasonal shifts

    -grateful for another day, another chance to be better

    -grateful for my unending curiosity


Cats get fed, water goes on for tea and Keith Jarrett goes on the phono player.  I spend some time practicing my tai chi form. My fall intermediate tai chi chuan class started up again last night and I definitely have some brushing up to do.  Then five minutes of jump rope, 20 kettlebell swings and a few handstands to prime me for the day.  Then I chase the cats around the house for about 10 minutes and they chase the bee on a string that I carry along with me.  We go up and down the stairs, through the window to the enclosed cat-patio.  They could do this all day.


I’m making a to-do list for the day: emails to send, processing to be done, orders to be made, items to pick up at the grocery store….Jade is biting my pen as I try to write. I have a tendency to over order produce. It’s a specialty of mine, so as a kitchen of one right now I’m a bit in the weeds. And I only have myself to blame for it.  I’ll organize the projects focusing on the most perishable items first and go from there. I’ll get the strawberries in the dehydrator today covered with lemon juice, shuck the edamame and call the farm in Vermont that produces rice to order some for the koji. I’ll blacken the corn and toast the cobs for a corn spirit, salt the red shiso, and maybe juice the apples and pears I picked from local trees for more vinegar.  We’ll see what times allots for today. Before I get going on this though, I need to make a run to the hardware store to pick up some food grade buckets I ordered for fermenting in and a ⅝ drill bit to make airlocks holes for their lids.


I am looking over the email from my book agent. We’re working on a proposal for another book and I’m finding it most challenging.  I’m researching the history of where I am in Western Massachusetts, the immigration patterns here —who first settled this land and what foods did they bring with them? What were they eating, how were cuisines melding together?  How can I modernize it, allowing it to be my muse?


I’m jumping on an all partner meeting now with Tourists.  We have a set meeting once a week to go over hotel and restaurant build/development progress.


Meeting is over and I am walking over to the mill on property to look over the spaces available to use as a processing kitchen during the winter months, as we will be tearing down the space where it is currently housed to make way for our new restaurant.


Morning Four


Alarm sounds but I can’t seem to wake up.  Jade is sleeping on my head searching for warmth on another chilly morning.  I was dreaming about some fantastical other land but I can’t seem to recount specifics right now.

Gratitude list:

    -grateful for another day on this side of the dirt

    -grateful for the power to shift my perspective

    -grateful for all the teachers I have in my life


I’m ready now to get out of bed after writing my gratitude list.  I feel a bit groggier than normal today.  Perhaps it was the heavy powerlifting session last night. Since I have nights free without a restaurant to oversee, I can use my nights for self care.  Monday/Wednesday/Friday I powerlift. Tuesday nights I do taichi and then box.  Thursdays I have ceramics and then I box again. Saturday and Sunday I usually just hang at home, reading or making art.  I head out into the garden to check on the sorrel which looks like it was eaten a bit by the deer last night.  The dill flower heads are destined for a pickle this week, the flowering coriander and its roots will be infused into everclear, the giant green heart radishes and their greens will be brine fermented, the mustard flowers and tomato leaves will be made into oils and the celtuce will get overwintered. I look over at the mouse melons and I’m doubtful they will ripen before the frost.


Water is boiling. I failed to hear it whistling from the raised beds.  Today I make my matcha with pine pollen, ashwaganda, mucuna puriens.  It’s super delicious and makes my body sing.  Weather says it’s going to rain today. There’s an eight mile loop I love to run near wild flower fields and miles and miles of oversized corn.  I’m hoping to get this in before the rain comes.  I drink one cup of tea, pour the rest into my thermos and suit up. Running clears my head.  I plan my day while in motion.  It calms me and prepares me for whatever lies ahead, quelling the stagnancy that massive rainstorms provoke.


I returned home a while ago, the air on my run was quite still.  I can feel the storm coking.  The golden rod still appeared bright yellow against the greying sky.  The top of Mt. Greylock is obscured by a thick cloud hiding the peak from my view.  I forgot to go to the kitchen while out on my run so I head out now. The peppers that have been sun drying need to come inside and since the sky hasn’t opened yet, I set up outside on one of the picnic tables to finish shucking the soybeans.


Morning Five


I’m a creature of habit.  Wake early, write a gratitude list, feed the cats and make some tea.  From here my mornings shift.  Today I pull out a bunch of books about the food history of New England.  I sip my tea and leaf through the pages. So many Italian immigrants, Lebanese, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Chinese came here in search of something new.  Farms were established, restaurants were built, mills were populated.  I find a lot of information about the ingredients that were brought from afar and many that were here from long ago.  I read a book about the wild edibles of new England.  My mind races with new ideas.  How can I modernize old dishes from all the immigrants that lived upon this land?


I decide to head outside to my deck to jump rope for a bit and get the blood pumping.  The leaves are beginning to fall.  It smells like my childhood.  I notice the marigold and chrysanthemum flowers are ready to pick.  With a bucket in tow I snip the blossoms to dry and then move on to the winter squash.  Their necks have dried and it’s time to harvest them and allow them to cure.


I am craving steamed Kabocha squash now.  I am going to make a dense chicken broth from the chicken feet I brought home the other day.  I’ll infuse it with chrysanthemum greens and katsuo bushi.  I will steam the squash over the broth, cook wood ear mushrooms in chicken fat, wilt kale and dress it with sesame seeds and fresh grated ginger.  I’ll gently poach the thighs of the chickens I brought home from the farm in the broth and serve this all together for dinner tonight.


I ponder the notion of complete satiation.  Now that I am cooking for myself more directly, not pulling mise en place from quart containers into a stainless steel bowl to be eaten squatting down in the hallway before service or on a milk crate out back, I begin to gain more insight into what my body wants.  What it needs and how the two points are interconnected.  It’s the truest pleasure to crave something, make it and satisfy the deep longing for a flavor or texture.  How though can I do this for others without knowing what they crave.  If I cook that which I crave will it nourish others in the way it soothes me?  


I head to the kitchen to peel beets and turnips to ferment.  While peeling them I put the feet into a large pot and add in cold filtered water.  I’ll simmer the stock for a while adding aromatics and kombu near the end.  I splash a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in to extract more nutrients from the bones.  I wait for the room to smell warm with the aroma of chicken fat.  I skim some to cook the mushrooms in later.  I check the drying flowers, taste the vinegars, char peppers for chili paste. Peel garlic to pickle too. My life is a series of days strung together by the requirement of nourishing myself and the honor of thinking about how best to nourish others.  Cooking for people is one of the deepest most connected ways I know how to show love.  As I plot and plan how to do that best in my new home out East, I contemplate my reverse migration to an older land with a different history.  I am a student, a teacher, a cook, a wanderer, a partner, a daughter, an explorer, a flavor seeker and a rainbow hunter.

Emily MillerDuna, San Francisco