Monday, June 12, 2017
The world is cool and cloudy, balancing on the edge of summer. We dream of hot sun, mountain lakes, corn growing several inches in a day, but we are not there yet. At school, there is still a pile of papers to grade, a room to clean, final projects to complete. The seniors are gone; the school feels smaller without them, but we are not done yet. We love the cool clouds because they keep us all in the mind of Spring, not Summer, focused, still working, not quite done for the year. In the garden, the same waiting takes place, Everything is planted, sprouted, slowly growing, drinking in the moisture of the frequent showers. The woods are lush and green and leafy, tunnels of new growth over the back roads. When the sun comes out, it will explode. But not yet. We wait for the sun, the longest day of the year. We wait for summer.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Last Saturday morning, I was walking downtown around nine thirty in the morning, heading for the library and Government Corner, one of my favorite council duties. It was cool and cloudy, very still, and voices carried. I could hear Dave expounding on the uses of a native plant while riding his bike downtown at least a block away. We waved as he passed. I love where I live, I thought. I am so rooted to this spot.
I passed the Mexican chain restaurant and wondered if one of my students was working there that morning. He’s a cook, moving up from prep a few months ago. When we read together, we talk about the tricks that cooks play on each other and the front end people, like turning off the walk-in lights when a friend goes in or hiding the knives. He’s practicing his English. We make jokes, too, about how lettuce and letters can sound alike, but you would not want to mix them up in conversation. Its’ a good sign, making little jokes in a new language. We enjoy our chats before we start reading.
My student came to the United States a few years ago. He was not safe in his village and his brother was already here. He has told me about crossing the border in Texas; his sister was caught and he had to make many phone calls to have her released and allowed into the country. He told me, too, about how his mother remembers the soldiers coming to their mountain village in the 1980’s looking for young men for the army and how they hid people. He came, too, because he wants to learn and he knew that, if he stayed in his country, he would have to work in the fields all of his life. His father did not like it when he went to school. He is here, now, in school, but he will not graduate. He came just at the worst time for an education—the beginning of high school. He had to learn a new language—his third—before he could learn the subjects, because, even if the numbers are the same in English and Spanish, the language of mathematics is not. He could not pass an English class, or Global Studies, or even Foods. He had PE and ELD classes. Now he is 18. He needs to work to support his mom and sisters; he wants to leave the restaurant and work during the day so that he can see his family and friends. He only speaks English in school.
It is hard living in a college town some days, like last Saturday. I’d been kept up by bellowing yahoos who were drunk and walking in herds down our street at midnight. So many of the herd seem to take an education for granted—there was never any doubt that they were heading for college and that they were not paying for it by working the Midnight to Eight shift for minimum wage on Friday night. It seems wrong that one young man, who crossed the border, risked his life, and works hard will not be in college next year—even if he could pass the math portion of the GED in Spanish—because he needs to take care of his family, while others appear to squander their chances on parties and beer pong. It is even harder to hear people complaining about immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, because they don’t know my student. If they did, they just might change their minds.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
When I was little, Memorial Day was still celebrated on May 31st, not as a long weekend. The best parade in the area was in Newton Junction, which consisted of a school, a few houses, a railroad line, and a small general store. My grandparents lived across from the school. The parade started at four in the afternoon. After school, my aunt piled her three kids into the back of the station wagon, picked up my mom and me, and drove the windy, bumpy, tree lined roads to my grandmother’s house for the parade.
It was a traditional parade. School bands, veterans from several wars, a few floats pulled by old trucks, some dogs and kids on bikes. It marched down the main “street” and the watchers curved into the parade as it passed, so it grew longer every few feet. My cousins and I fell cheerfully into line behind the bands—a stairstep family of four, if anyone was looking. I blended in perfectly; my cousin Steven and I had the same hair, smile, freckles. Twins. The marching band led the way to the cemetery, where things grew more serious.
The cemetery was small, green, a bit overgrown, but spruced up for the ceremony. There must have been a monument or two for World War Two, World War One, and Korea. There must have been flags. The Vietnam War was just about to escalate. Everyone there had sons who had served—my family enlisted in the air force. My uncle was stationed in Japan. The adults all remembered wars. What struck me, then, though, was the silence. The entire town gathered in this small, still, green space, and stood in silence.
Someone spoke a few words. Someone else laid a wreath on the graves, maybe a flag. There was a six gun salute, which scared all of us every year. The sound hurt our ears, reminded us of the violence of war. Then someone played Taps, the clear notes rising through the evening air. Day is Done. This day was done for us, four small kids. The larger day was done for all of the men who had served our country. We knew this.
When the ceremony was over, we all wandered back home for dinner. I suspect we stayed at my grandparent’s house and they chased us outside while they cooked hamburgers and set the table. We ran around, shouting, arguing, slipping across the street to climb on the monkey bars. Life went on—but we remembered, deep down, the silence of the cemetery.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Last year, I planted a Three Sisters bed of Cranberry beans, Painted Mountain corn, and Winter Luxury pumpkins. I’ve hesitated to grow corn because of our short season but I had traded a wool hat for some metal hoops for a cold frame. Five hoops on a ten foot bed created a solid little greenhouse, which I arranged over the just planted corn and bean seed. It was up in a week, but I left it covered to discourage birds and increase growth. By late June, the corn and pumpkins were growing several inches a day (I measured) and tossing leaves in the breeze. We harvested three large pumpkins, a quart and a half of beans, and three quarts of corn, which I ground in the wheat mill for cornbread and polenta. And it was a beautiful bed. This year, I have planted the same combination in the last bed, so that the corn will provide a screen from the alley. We shall see. The seeds are up.
The two potato beds are all bushy and green. I planted them out several weeks ago when we had a break in the rains for several days. Because the organic matter is so high in the old beds, they had drained and warmed faster than I expected. Planting went quickly. They were up in a week and I laid the hoses down and mulched the plants with straw this weekend. They should be set for the summer—if the hoses don’t explode or develop leaks. Blue, Butte, Desiree, and Yukon Gold.
The tomatoes went out a week or so ago as well. They were growing in the greenhouse in gallon pots. Usually, I bump all of my tomatoes up into the four inch pots, but, this year, I put ours into gallons. This made it clear which plants were ours as I gave away the others. It also gave us more flexibility for planting, which we needed. Because they had plenty of room to grow, the starts were not at all stunted by being held inside for several weeks longer than usual. They were sun scalded for the first few days of being outside, partly because the south wall reflects light back onto the plants, but quickly adjusted to being outside and put on rich new growth.
The polenta ratio is one third grain to two thirds liquid. Therefore, half a cup of ground cornmeal can be poured slowly into a cup of water or milk (or combo, depending on what is in your fridge) and cooked slowly until thick. I like to add some salt, butter, and a wee bit of sugar to the mix. Basil and cheese can be nice. Tomatoes, olives....
Friday, May 5, 2017
A few days ago, I was wandering home from a meeting, dreaming about flatbread cooked in the cast iron skillet. So easy. So yummy. And we could have it with that jar of dal that I had seen this morning… and maybe the salad greens from Sunbow….I had a plan. I made the flatbread dough, went outside to trim out a garden bed, came in to heat up the dal only to discover that we had eaten it already. The jar was some rhubarb compote I had made a few days ago. Tasty, but not dinner. I headed to the basement to recover a jar of Sweetcreek tuna, which we added to the plate of salad greens. Fresh salad, tuna, flatbread, with rhubarb cake for desert—a save, Mark observed. A spring feast.
This evening, I made a pan of cornbread using the corn we had grown in the backyard last summer. It was red and gold, so the cornbread is rather pink, but so lovely and fresh corn tasting. I had dumped a couple of cups of Hutterite soup beans from Sunbow into the crockpot with three bay leaves and a local onion right after lunch, and they were soft and rich. I Filled a bowl with salad from the backyard—kale, mustard, lettuce, sorrel, arugula, peppermint, garlic chives—and placed it in the middle of the table. We spread home made apple butter on the second chunks of cornbread and sighed. We are so spoiled, I observed.
And it is true. We eat what is in season in abundance for a few weeks or months and, just when we grow tired of it, it fades out of the rotation and something else takes its place. Right now it is tender salad greens. Soon, it will be zucchini and tomatoes right off the vine.
1 cup of water
1 t of yeast
1 t sugar
1T olive oil
¾ t salt
2 ¼ cups flour (1 ww)
Proof the yeast in water with the sugar. Add the flour, salt, and oil, and stir. Knead a few times on the counter if needed. Let rest for an hour or so in the bowl, then divide into 8 pieces, roll out in circles, and cook, quickly, on a cast iron skillet. I use high heat and watch them closely. The dough can sit in the fridge for a few days if you only use half of it. Serve warm with olive oil, zatar, and salt.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Earth Day presentations at high school are fraught with issues; the usual recommendations are to change your lightbulbs and buy solar panels, with not much in between. This year, they added “Don’t eat meat.” “Will you tell the whole school why you don’t eat meat?” they asked. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s not a simple answer.” After all, it goes back to a rainy college summer….
It was my last summer at home. I was to be a senior, graduating in June, and no longer able—or willing—to move back home after graduation. It was not the best summer. First, everyone else was doing something cool, an internship, traveling, anything but living with their moms in Hampstead, New Hampshire. I was lonely. Second, my boyfriend broke up with me via letter as soon as I unpacked my stuff. Then, it rained every Monday all summer long; I know, I checked the records. It was damp and cool and nothing grew. And, I was a meat wrapper.
Meat wrapping is a job that has gone out of fashion, but, at one time, all beef and pork arrived in slabs, like a quarter of a cow, to be cut to specifications in the grocery store. It was the half way point between a real butcher and pre-packaged meat. If you wanted, say, a thick London Broil, you could ask for it and the butcher would carve you off a section. They also de-boned chicken and thin sliced other cuts of meat. It was a good, blue-collar job. Men were butchers, women meat wrappers. My job was to take the Styrofoam trays of beef, pork, and chicken, toss a plastic wrap over them, and then price and display the food. I worked with two men—one older, one my age—and an older woman. The younger guy was prone to flirting with young women at the deli counter and saying things like “I have Male Intermission. I know when it’s time for lunch.” It was a trial. On Monday mornings, I arrived an hour early, (walking down the road in the rain at six thirty am), wash out the meat case, and set it up for the week. Honestly, it was a good job. It was within walking distance of home, paid a little over minimum wage, forty hours a week, and good working conditions (if you don’t mind being in a 45 degree room all day) and generous co-workers. However, by the time the summer was over, I was sick of the sight of meat.
That fall, I lived by myself in a tiny two room apartment with the bathroom down the hall. It was cheap. It was cozy. It was on the bus line. My food budget was fifteen dollars a week. I made my own bread, muffins, and soup, baked beans, experimented with crepes—and realized that meat was taking a huge chunk out of my food budget every week. This is crazy, I thought. I don’t even really like pork chops! Slowly, I cut them out of my diet. Chops, bacon, sausage—no sacrifice. They went in September. By October, I was no longer buying beef or chicken. I felt great! And my food money went a lot further, even with an occasional Dunkin Donuts from the shop down the street.
Worried about protein, I bought a copy of Diet for a Small Planet and read about combining beans and grains, dairy and nuts. I grew more intentional about my meals. I read about the efficiency of a plant based diet, how it used far fewer resources to eat beans rather than meat, wheat rather than dairy. I was convinced. Meat was bad for the planet. I would no longer eat it. My mother was horrified.
Even in my most extreme vegetarian days, I was never perfect. I have always eaten pepperoni pizza—pepperoni is not meat. If I was served meat, I ate it. Now, I feel less determined to be pure. I no longer like the taste of beef or pork, so they are easy to not consume. I will eat an occasional piece of chicken or fish, usually when I am very tired and stressed. I am no longer convinced that grass fed beef, raised humanely and eaten in small quantities, is a bad thing for the planet. In fact, it might be good. My partner eats meat—it makes him feel better. We have, after all, become adults. All things in moderation.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
A friend lost a dear friend this week to cancer—I knew her, too, years ago, and she glowed with life and love. Even 3000 miles away, I have thought of Donne’s words that “no man is an island” and one death can diminish us all. After she died, there was a whole series of photos of their friendship, starting twenty five years ago. It was beautiful. And I realized—I don’t take pictures of my people. Plants, dinner, trails, my van… but not my friends. So, today, at the Hot Cross Buns celebrate, we gathered in front of the camellia tree for a group photo. The last one was when Isaac was two and a half feet tall. It was time. Because if I do not, who will?