Thursday, December 30, 2010
Two words. Long screws.
2 1/2 to 3 inch wood screws to be exact.
Once I figured out where my studs were (that stud finder was worth the $12.95 + tax, I paid at the general store), fitted my cordless drill with a 5/25 wood drill bit to get things started, then a standard philips head to really drive things home, I had the deep satisfaction of screwing in the screws and hanging various pieces kicking around my house for a year. Yes, you read that right. A whole year.
In 30 minutes, I hung up two huge, antique mirrors, a primitive wooden art landscape and a long needed set of coat hooks for our winter clothes that is so tightly fastened into the wall, that no matter who hangs on it, that baby is not coming out.
Yep. Long screws are good screws.
And don't think I don't know where your mind went when you first read the title.
Next up. Learning how to use toggle bolts so I can screw anything I want, anywhere I want.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Warm bodies snuggled in deep
within folds of down.
No alarm clock this morning.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
After an angst filled period of weighing the pros and cons of draping the tree with white or colored lights, we decided on the white lights because well...they still worked. I awkwardly wrapped the string around the branches, while the kids began to pull out and unwrap our ornaments - exclaiming, laughing and remembering over each treasure they found.
Each box reveals a mish-mash of ornaments, paper cut-outs and random bits - Paper chains of what should have been snowmen, cut out with safety scissors by a three year daughter; a felt picture frame bearing the picture of my son before he got glasses; the cinnamon scented baked dough, strung with red rickrack that my then preschooler brought home; knitted squares of colorful yarn; ornaments with names and dates printed, engraved or painted on; dented bells clinging to frayed green ribbons. Yes, I will admit to occasionally wishing for a more elegant tree, but as much as I have envied the gorgeously decorated balsams in store windows and magazines, our ornaments are memories of past gatherings that date back to when I was a child.
For as long as I can remember, the Gustavsons (or anyone within earshot of a Gustavson Christmas) received at least one ornament in their stocking-personalized and dated. My big, beautiful family of parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and wayward friends would gather at my grandparents' house on La Loma Rd, eat too much, talk too much and rip through the bulging stockings around the defunct fireplace. The memories of hugging relatives for their gifts, sneaking another piece of fudge, running outside in the backyard and then eventually watching my own children do the same, are vivid and fondly remembered. Now, living in Vermont, I haven't been back for a Gustavson Christmas in a long time, but the ornaments always remind me and so, I relish the ritual of pulling them out and hanging them on the tree.
Beautiful brass ornaments from the mid-seventies engraved in my grandfather's precise, engineer-trained writing hang at the top of my tree tonight and the ceramic ornaments from the eighties and nineties, where ownership was bestowed with a paint pen in my grandmother's elegant script hang just below. As we move further down the tree, into the 21st century, the tradition continues and my children find and place the ornaments bearing their own names.
Within 20 minutes, I'm alone by the tree. The children have become distracted by their books, toys and each other. The novelty of the ornaments worn away as their excitement for the familiar has been sated. I continue to unwrap and hang the last few, feeling quiet and content as I listen to shrieks of laughter and remember that the Gustavson are with me, even here on a snowy evening in New England.
|Angela (mi prima) and Me, Christmas at the La Loma house|
Friday, December 10, 2010
Outside it is cold. Not just a chill, but a deep, sub-zero freeze that has hardened the exposed ground, solidified the ponds, changed the very sound of the snow underfoot. The floorboards of my house are icy, thus I am snuggled, fully clothed for work, under my down comforter while I work up the courage to climb out from under this warmth and adorn myself with wool socks, boots, mittens, scarf and hat. Of course, once i do that, I'm pretty sure I'll need to go to work, where there is no warm woodstove or furry cats to snuggle.
It is so cold and I am so snuggly and inspired by the light, I wrote this haiku:
snow squeaks underfoot
cold, dark stillness all around
shafts of light rise east
See? I'm desperate to stay in bed, yet justify a claim of productivity. I want a cup of coffee though. And some hot oatmeal. The tip of my nose is cold.
Each sentence I type is getting harder now, because the heat is turned down to 50 degrees and my fingers are going numb because they are exposed. I've tried typing under the covers, but the typos were ridiculous.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Yoga has failed me tonight. For the first time in a long while, I cannot relax enough to sleep and no amount of downward dog or child pose seems to set my mind at ease. Now, at an ungodly hour, I am wide awake, stoking the fire in the stove, sipping tea and typing.
So, feeling nostalgic and contemplative, (and not wanting to subject anyone to the mundane anxiety of my overly stressed brain) I've decided to walk down the lane of past loves, with all of its steep climbs and switchbacks, thinking about the lessons learned and the roads not yet taken.
As Catie Curtis puts so succinctly in her song Sweet Life:"I remember my first heartache, learning all the different ways a heart could break...".
The moment I saw Ricky, I fell in love. He took this in stride, as I was just one of many in a sea of admirers. Along with a gaggle of other 5 year old girls, I would chase Ricky on the playground until he was trapped under the dome-shaped jungle gym and had to be rescued by the other less attractive, though very courageous, kindergarten boys.
As we got older, things got more serious. On my seventh birthday, Ricky gave me my first kiss, right after I blew the candles out on my cake. But it wasn't meant to last. At age 9, in spite of having no idea that I existed, Ricky broke my heart when he fell for a willowy blond.
Lesson: Be wary of a boy that gets chased by a lot of girls. And willowy blondes.
FIRST BOYFRIEND (sort of)
At 12 years old, I was flat chested and awkward. Paul, the preacher's son, had brown feathered hair and made me laugh.
Although I was terribly shy, I managed to express my interest via a note given to my sister, which she gave to her best friend Stephanie, who then passed the note to another Sunday school friend Patricia, who passed it to her brother Guy, who was Paul's best friend and who promptly stuffed the note into his shoe when an unexpected game of kickball was called after that morning's sermon.
Fortunately, Guy found the note a few days later and managed to get it to Paul, who, it turns out, returned my interest. Paul held my hand while we sat on a bench under the porch light at his parents' home. Three days later I let him give me my second kiss. One day later, he left me for a tall, busty blond who could kick a home run barefoot and run all the bases in a tight tank top.
Lesson: Don't forget to stuff socks in both cups and don't let the blondes out of your sight. They are tricky.
FIRST BOYFRIEND (for real this time)
I was a sophomore in a new high school. Older, gorgeous Mike was a popular senior who sang like a bird and had an arrogant charm that won him many admirers.
Mike showed me how to climb the chain-link fence without getting my fingers caught and we ditched class to kiss under the pepper tree on the corner. He told me I would be prettier if I put on make-up and cut my hair short. So I lined my eyes with kohl and cut my hair into short, spiky tufts, dying the ends orange. Turns out, that wasn't what he had in mind.
A month later, he left me for a tall, busty brunette with perfectly feathered, shoulder-length hair.
Lesson: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also, sometimes leaving things open to interpretation can give unexpected results. For example, I looked awesome with short, spiky, orange hair.
FIRST TRUE LOVE
When I was sixteen, my lab partner, asked if he could walk with me the 20 minutes between our school and my house. An hour later, sitting on the curb outside my rose filled yard, we sipped a soda and munched on licorice. Laughing over shared stories, I noticed the color of Chad's eyes for the first time and I was smitten.Turns out, he liked me too and our adventure lasted into our 2nd year of college.
To this very day, a pack of Red Vines and a Pepsi brings me right back to that hot concrete curb, the heavy perfume of my mother's tea roses, belly aching laughter and his bright blue eyes.
Lesson: Don't let past hurts keep you from grabbing at love. Life is an adventure that should be embraced with open arms and experienced with gusto.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
- Wake up early (before the kids) for a run
- Wash, dry, sort, fold and put away five loads of laundry
- Stack wood on the porch
- Clean the basement of webs
- Pick up the house
- Put in the storm doors and prep the storm windows
- Rake the perennial beds and put away the garden hoses
- Woke up late and practiced yoga with the girls. The boy participated too, but his version incorporated the military stances of imaginary aliens and then pretending to kung-fu fight us girls while we stood in tree pose. What can I say? He's imaginative.
- Washed, dried and sorted TWO loads of laundry. Forget folding and putting them away...totally overrated. The brown chair does a great job of corralling loose articles of clothing.
- Eyeballed the wood to be stacked. Eyeballed the porch where said wood was to be stacked. Became distracted by something else entirely.
- I have a basement?
- Began to straighten up house until the boy fell to the ground in utter despair after I "wrecked" a Lego spaceship by plopping it his Lego box. The girls fared no better when I ruined their "Beauty Spa" by grabbing an oddly placed bowl in the living room and dumping the green-colored contents into the toilet. I fixed the Lego ship and made up a new batch of "Beauty Spa". That was the end of picking up the house as I figured I better stop while I was ahead. Fixed a cup of tea and read a magazine instead.
- Storm windows and doors are in the basement. See #4 above.
- Spent the afternoon on a glorious walk around a lake-like pond. Enjoyed the crunch of leaves, the quiet of the water, the chatter of children and the conversation of a friend. Watched the sun set in a jaw-dropping show. Decided the garden, and everything else on the list, could wait one more day.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Every year, as the leaves drop from the trees and the tamaracks glow yellow, melancholy memories filter through my mind like a disjointed slide-show: friends lost to slow, cancer-eating death; relationships permanently marred by thoughtless, angry words; moving from a secure future for one that is unknown and fraught with the fear of possibility; the unexpected exit of a beloved family member. I feel bereft of words to express myself.
Bordering on desperation, my mind continues to seek connections, looking for a story among the randomness of life, even as I try to rationalize the symbolism of a season that seems pockmarked by regular journeys toward death.
Yet, I am unable to share these memories with a man and his children, thousands of miles away who so desperately need comfort. My memories are meant only as a conduit for empathy, but I cannot find the words to truthfully express that emotion. It paralyzes me. I decide to write the following:
It's not enough, but it will do.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The words heave dread into my belly even as my eldest excitedly jumps around, waving a piece of green paper pulled from the bottom of her backpack and explaining how she signed up to make apple pie. Surely, that can't be good.
It's 7:30pm on a Sunday night and the children are checking their bags and gear while I watch and occasionally question the crumpled bits of paper, no wait...homework, pulled out of pockets or comment on the half eaten sandwiches. I'm completely taken off guard by the sudden enthusiasm and squealing coming from my 10 year old.
As G gives me a rapid fire account about pies, food drives and contests, I peruse the wordy document that is essentially telling me that this concoction is due two days from now. There are some complicated rules about the massive dessert being homemade with no parental help and points being awarded, but I ignore this. G has never made a pie, so obviously I am going to need to help. At this point, I can only focus on two things: the kitchen calendar that has the next four days blocked out solid with hastily scribbled shorthand and the realization that I may not have time for a shower let alone make a pie or figure out how to bake it in an oven that is as moody and temperamental as my well meaning, but overbooked "tween".
Are you feeling my stress yet?
So, doing what I do best, I begin the process of shutting it all down. I carefully, quietly, but without any hesitation begin to list the reasons why I do not have time to make the pie. G becomes very quiet herself. Trouble is brewing, but still being very new to having a 10 year old (she was just 9 a few months ago!) who has taken the Kelly Clarkson song "Little Miss Independent" more literally than I would wish, I miss the subtle signs.
I keep talking, reiterating how busy we are this week with my heavy work load and their heavy school/soccer load. I can hear myself talking more quickly, more loudly, even a bit hysterically as I begin to psych myself out in front my three kids who are shuffling their feet and wondering why I keep babbling about dirty laundry, tours, grants and yoga. G takes a step toward me, with a look of barely contained exasperation.
"Mom. Mom! Can you just stop talking for a minute? I've got to tell you something."
I don't hear her because I am still muttering, but this time about schedules and showering and my youth slipping by.
"Mom. Did you read the rules? I HAVE to make the pie by myself. You CAN'T help me."
That caught my attention.
"What do you mean, I CAN'T help you? You've never made a pie before and believe it or not, turning ten years old does not make you suddenly able to snap a pie out."
I can feel her infamous stink eye burning a hole in my back as I stomp into the kitchen to see whether I have the apples we'll need to turn out the pie. I ignore the feeling of guilt because frankly, I won't have time to stop in the store if I won't have time for a shower. Frankly, it will be a miracle if I can find the time to dress myself in the morning or eat a meal, so frankly, we better have the apples if there is any hope of getting this pie made in time.
"Mom," G has followed me into the kitchen. "I can scramble my own eggs, make pancakes, cut anything with your big knife and I always clean up after myself. I think I can turn out a pie." Now it's G's turn to stomp off.
Damn. I blew it. I'm pretty sure I heard a quaver in her voice and with that I realize what an ass I'm being. I pull in a deep breath, mentally kick myself for my reaction and seek her out in the back room where she has pulled out a book by the fire while the youngest two have dutifully started brushing their teeth during my previous rant.
I try to hug her stiff, resentful body, squelching the sad feeling I get when she puts me off like that and gamely, apologetically, ask her if we can break the pie making up into two nights: prepping crust the first night, cutting apples and baking the second. The task feels more do-able like that, but I still dread finding the time and energy to push what will surely be a cranky, tired kid with the best of intentions but with only so much reserve. G immediately softens, hugs me back and bounces into the kitchen to look up a recipe. I follow, shoo her back into the bathroom because no matter what, it is bedtime and promise that we'll find the perfect recipe tomorrow.
I head back into the kitchen then, picking up dishes as I scoot my slippered feet toward the sink and all at once, I realize it's going to be OK. I need to let it go, get it done and get the hell out of my head. I feel a weight drop and my neck relax. I prep a cup of tea.
Although I don't know it yet, it turns out that I will find the time to get to the store to pick up a bag of apples. I will find that the enthusiasm of my well intentioned (and tired!) child really can carry her through two pie making sessions in spite of her very long, very full days. I will find that I have to let go of my idea of pie and let her create her own, even when I feel like she is overworking the dough. I will find that the same child can not only make a beautiful crust and learn to peel an apple, but then inspire her younger siblings to do the same. I will find that in spite of being too hard on myself and on my daughter, she'll not only forgive me and love me, she will not let it deter her from her own inspirations.
I also find that I have time not just for one shower, but two.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Tonight, the youngest is tossing and turning, a good two hours after she should have been asleep. From the room below, I can hear the springs in her mattress and the deep sighs, occasional yawns and the thump of feet hitting the wall where her bed is.The house is dark, except for the lamp by my desk and the glow of the wood stove. I'm tapping away on the computer when I hear a voice through the grate in the ceiling, where my two youngest share a room.
"Mama! Can I have a glass of water?"
"Okay Mama. I will." She takes two teeney, tiny sips and hands the mug back. I don't think she can see the stink eye I give her in the dark. Nightlights cast only so much light.
I tuck her back in. Find a few stray stuffed animals or stuffies as the kids call them, and tuck them in with her. Giving her a kiss, I head back down to my spot by the fire.
A few minutes later, I hear a thump followed by a voice. "Mama? I have to go potty."
Why am I surprised? "Fine. Go potty and go to bed."
Her quick steps on the stairs, silence and then the sound of the toilet flushing tells me she is all business. I hear her head back up, the rustle of blankets, a few inaudible words, then silence. Twenty minutes later, I head to my room, hot cup of tea in hand and something new to read. Quiet at last. I settle under my down blanket, check to make sure the alarm is set and inhale the cinnamon-y scent of my tea. Then out of nowhere, a voice calls from across the hall and through my open bedroom door...
L: "Mama? Mama. Guess what? Pengi (a favorite stuffie this week) told me she likes tea. Can she have tea right now?"
Me: "Ssshhhh, honey. Everyone is sleeping and you need to sleep too."
L: "I can't sleep."
Me: "I hear you, but you need to try."
L: "Mama? Did you know that men in Scotland wear skirts? Except the guy who stands in front of the bagpipes. He wears pants. Because he's in front and doesn't want anyone looking at his legs."
Me: "Go to sleep. Now Lilli. This isn't funny."
There is a short pause. Then...
L: "You are the meanest mom in the world. You didn't even say please."
Crying ensues, for which I climb out of bed, cross the hall and halfheartedly pat her back and give her a quick kiss. I'm not happy about it, but I say again,
"Please go to sleep. Now". L, equally as frustrated: "I CAN'T!"
I take a deep breath while she quietly cries into her pillow, rub her back and stroke her forehead, something that I've done since she was a tiny babe. She quiets down, sighs deeply and her body is finally still. She's asleep.
I head back to bed, eyes heavy and stinging. I lay in bed, listening to the sounds of the cats getting into something and the snoring of my dog. My limbs are heavy.
"Mama? Mama? Maaa-maaa!"
I jump from the verge of blissful sleep. An indiscernible shape is in the doorway, but I know immediately who it is.
"Mama? Can I snuggle with you?"
Without a word, I lift up the comforter, scoot over to one side and she climbs in next to me, turns away onto her side and immediately relaxes. Before long, her quiet breathing signals her sleep.
As I lay beside her, snuggling against her warmth, memories rush back of my first winter in Vermont with a new baby in my arms and two little ones tucked under a comforter beside me. Was that really six years ago? Before long, there will be no more voices in the dark, telling me stories about penguins, tea parties and men in skirts. Before long, there will be no more late night trips of sneaking into Mama's bed for a snuggle. Before long, the children will be children no more and I'll have only my memories.
Now, laying here with my youngest, I stop to savor this singular, fleeting and sweetest of moments. Tonight, I'm going to sleep really well.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Not that kind of "local", as around here that entails several generations of living in the same town, often on the same land, with a surname that is familiar to anyone who lives here whether or not you personally know the family members. A local knows your place not by the street address, but by the family that lived there before you. A local has a harmless chuckle when I naively quote Henry Ford about chopping wood and then ask where I can get a good price on a few cords. Yes, I'm one of those transplants that came from away and bought a house in the village. I'll never be considered a local, nor will my children or my children's children...but that's okay.
I'm a "local" because I believe in putting my energy toward local matters. Local food, yes, but more than that. Local schools, local economies, local government and more. I believe that to live in a place means caring about it too. I volunteer and involve myself in my local schools. I know the teachers, staff and administration. I purchase from my local shops and know the people who run them. I know many of my local farmers, mechanics, landscapers, carpenters, plumbers and mail carriers. I know my Select Board and School Board. I know the kids and their parents. I know when Town Meeting is, and I attend, lending my voice and my vote. I've adopted my community, not just by living here, but by really LIVING here.
So why does local matter? Honestly, I'm not sure if it matters at all. I read about global warming, declining bio-diversity, stock market crashes, crushing poverty and famine. I read about wars in countries I know nothing about and the frightening economics of world powers that are not the United States. I read about a soldier, lost to war and the family that mourns him. I read about the end of days.
Yet, when I wake up in the morning, the cold light of fall filtering through my window, I am home. I hear the delivery trucks which will soon give way to snow plows. I hear the geese as they head south and the whipping of wind through the cedar and maples by my barn. I hear children talking as they walk to school. I see the hills behind my house alive with color and I watch the clouds form a myriad of shapes on the horizon, endlessly fascinating to me. I see the stand of weeds that I once had a vegetable garden in and fret about how tall the grass has become in less than a week. I smell the musty odor of my basement when I head down to rummage in the freezer and note that the rest of the wood needs to be brought in soon. I smell the coming of rain.
What else can I do but participate right here and right now? I am incapable of taking on matters that have national, let alone global consequences. I am too easily overcome with heartache when I read about the trials of the world. Yet, I can invest the power of my dollar into my community and reap the rewards. I can add my voice, whether out loud or in print, in support of my community. I can lend myself to my community by volunteering and engaging and helping out a neighbor.
In this small way, with these small victories, I find hope in humanity and in the world. In this small way, my being a "local" has larger consequences. In this small way, I am affecting change.
The last few months, I've been enjoying an amazing array of food from the Sterling College gardens as part of their first CSA.The last couple of weeks, knowing that the shares of vegetables are coming to an end soon, I've been working hard to use every last bit of food in creative and tasty ways. My meat, eggs and cheese come from local farmers/producers and pantry staples are purchased from my local grocer or general store.
Here are a few things I've done or will be doing.
Last two weeks:
- Spicy Blueberry and Vegetable Chili-delicata squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, fresh toms, canned toms, spices and BLUEBERRIES! Yes folks, it was really good and I wish it had been my idea.
- Miso soup with lots of veggies-THINLY sliced delicata squash and carrots simmered in a vegetable broth with onions. Miso added after simmering is done.
- Roasted Roots, dressed with cider/garlic/oil vin., fresh herbs from the garden and sea salt/cracked pepper
- Cilantro Cabbage Root Veggie Slaw in a maple/cider vinegar dressing
- Chantilly Potatoes w/ Hardy Greens, Cream, Nutmeg and Goat Cheese
- Korean-Style Lettuce and Chicken Wraps of shredded carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, sweet peppers, herbs
- BLT with garlic aioli -I ate a lot of these.
- Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and herbs. Topped with Coomersdale cheese from Bonnieview Farm.
- Potato Leek Soup-So flippin' easy. Kids love it with a slice of toasted cheesy sourdough bread.
- Veggie Burritos -Cabbage makes a great bulk vegetable for this. Thanks Buffalo Mt. Co-op Cafe for the idea!
Sunday: Warm French Lentil Salad with Escarole and Sauteed veggies of onions, fennel & swiss chard. Topped with goat cheese rounds.
Monday: Black Beans, pickled red onions on yellow rice and served with sauteed kale and roasted pork.
Thursday: Butternut Squash Barley Risotto with caramelized leeks and blue cheese.
Friday: Roasted Chicken, roasted beets and vegetable chowder (potatoes, onions, carrots, kohlrabi, leeks, garlic, cream, fresh herbs)
Saturday: Creamy polenta with sauteed or roasted as-of-yet-unknown veggies
More Meal Ideas:
- Chocolate Beet Tea Cake-beets keep the cake oh-so-moist
- Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk-Top with cilantro, basil and mint
- Maple-glazed Pennies From Heaven-Carrot "coins" lightly steamed and glazed in maple, butter and cinnamon
- Braised Cabbage with caraway and a splash of cider vinegar
- Flash fried Escarole with caramelized leeks over creamy polenta and drizzled with a balsamic reduction
Veggie Stock- I throw the "tops" and "tails" of prepped vegetables (including head lettuce!) and herbs into a stock pot. Add enough water to cover, a generous pinch of salt and simmer for a while. Cool, bag and freeze.
Potato Bread-Throw leftover mashed potatoes into any yeast dough. Johanna Laggis (Laggis Bros. Dairy in Hardwick) gave me the idea and she makes fantastic, yummy bread. Have made pretzels and slicing bread so far. Yum!
Freeze Leeks and Onions-Chop and bag and freeze. Works great in soups.
Herb "pesto"-chop one or a combination of herbs in a processor and thin with oil. Bag and freeze.
Frozen Greens-Hardy greens like beet tops, kale, swiss chard, etc. freeze well when steamed and frozen.
Frozen Tomatoes-Whole tomatoes thrown in the freezer. To use, run under hot tap water to remove skins. Chop and add to soups, sauce or make into an easy pizza sauce by simmering chopped tomatoes with garlic, oregano, splash of red wine and salt.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Having started and managed a CSA for a local farmer a few years ago, I find the model to be a mutually beneficial relationship between consumer and farm. Yes, it has some challenges (a person can only cook/eat/store kohlrabi so many ways before being brought to tears), but it is more often an economical way to bring local food to local people while directly investing in the farming community. Beyond the practical, it also creates a valuable personal connection between consumers and farmers that industrialized farming has come close to obliterating.
Now, as I climb off my soapbox, you may be surprised to know that this is the first year I was on the consuming end of a CSA. Yes, you read that right. After leaving the farm, I grew much of my own food and was fortunate to run a small cafe before moving on to managing Sterling College's kitchen, both times bringing my farm connections with me and eating locally grown vegetables to my heart's content. Then, a year ago, I left Sterling College and began my position as the Program Director for a small agriculturally based non-profit, but it meant hanging out in an office, not a kitchen, and no longer having easy access to vegetables. I still had a garden, but now it was sorely neglected because of my inattention. Although I continued to pull food from the havoc of weeds, I heavily supplemented with regular trips to my local farmers' markets and stands.
Deciding that I just couldn't bring myself to put in another garden only to lose it to weeds by late July, I made the (almost) painful decision to forgo the garden beyond a bed of herbs. Looking to my local CSA options as a way to fill my summer produce needs, I found that Riverside Farm, Pete's Greens and a few of the smaller farms in the area gave me plenty to choose from at a range of prices. As I hemmed and hawed over my options, Corie Pierce, the garden manger for Sterling College, dropped the news. Sterling College was going do its first CSA. To say I was excited is an understatement. The idea is that the CSA would give real life farm-to-consumer experience to the summer agriculture students, but because education is the main focus, the CSA could take only 9 or 10 subscribers. As a supporter of local food, local agriculture and the education of young people in the joys of both (not to mention I have a soft spot for Sterling College), I jumped at the opportunity.
And what an opportunity! The first week, as I looked at the table set up in the foyer of Dunbar Hall, heavy with the weight of greens, cucumbers, herbs, and more, I breathed a sigh of relief. The students did a phenomenal job. A blackboard leaned against the wall, listing what to take and how much. A stack that contained the beautifully written newsletter with recipe ideas and thoughtful musings, sat on a corner of the table and a student, in muck boots, sat with a tub of water, scrubbing...something...clean for what I later learned, was bound for the college's kitchen. As I chatted with the student and gathered up my share, my head was spinning with ideas for dinner that night, not to mention the rest of the week. I made a mental note to bring an extra bag for the next week and loading up the car, I headed home to cook. With joy and appreciation.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
A pond sits quiet
surrounded by autumn trees;
topped with shifting clouds.
Sure-footed and bold
until the floating dock tips,
then cautious foot steps.
Cast, then close the bale.
Spin the lure and trick the perch.
Lessons in fishing.
The woods hide treasure,
as the pond cloaks hungry fish.
Children laugh out loud.
Walking down the road
he finds stones, metal and glass.
Precious bits for home.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tonight, stretching and breathing, I coaxed my body further and deeper than past practices. I try not to push or force a pose, as I am apt to push and force in general, and just allow my muscles, bones, even my skin, to sink into the floor. This passive approach has surprised me with its effectiveness. It's good to be surprised.
I continue to work on Sun Salutations and hip openers as the potential to do them better, deeper and longer is an ever present challenge. My balance is steady, my reach is longer and my breathing is calmer.
I am looking forward to the last weeks of my yoga journey. I expect, that over the next 12 days, I will continue easing myself into what are now familiar positions. Who knows? I might even add a few new poses...
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
A vast balloon,
Till it takes off, and sinks upward
To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
So people can't sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come!
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Stare up at her petrified, while she swells
Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing
Closer and closer like the end of the world.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Cry `We are ripe, reap us!' and the rivers
Sweat from the melting hills.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
I will admit to watching the clock today.
The week has been busy and next week will prove to be even more so. Saturday and Sunday is when I can focus on the house: cleaning it up, doing laundry, small repairs. On top of that, I need to organize my notes from a flurry of meetings last week and prepare for the onslaught of next. Giving in to what feels like a luxurious passage of time, is a hard one for me to embrace.
This morning, I slept later than I planned and woke up feeling tense and rushed. Although my body was stiff from a long, uphill run yesterday, the last thing I wanted to take time for was practice. That said, I made a somewhat public commitment to do this for 30 days and here I was, one week into it, trying to talk myself out of it. Shameful.
Dutifully, I unrolled my mat, stood in Mountain Pose and crept slowly into Forward Bend.
Oh gawd. This was going to be harder than I thought.
A few rounds later, I felt better, but discouraged. Where had my progress gone? I know I was doing better than this a couple of days ago and on top of that my knees hurt, my sciatica felt achy and my jaw couldn't possibly be tighter. So, reluctantly, seeing that all of 8 minutes had passed, I kept going.
I continued rounds of Sun Salutations while I formulated the rest of practice in my head: Two more rounds of this, 4 rounds of hip openers, 2 rounds of sitting poses with twists and ending in mediation. I worked through my ad hoc plan, feeling better that I had an end in sight, but noting that I was having trouble finding joy in my practice.
Forty minutes later, as I sat with legs folded and hands resting in my lap, I drew a breath through my nose and into my belly, expelling it slowly while trying to release the tight muscles in my lower back. As I reflected on my body, seeking out the pain and allowing it to dissipate, I felt better. I did the practice, and I did it well. I found little joy in the motions, but found joy in completing it. I can accept that.
Now, where the hell is my coffee? I've got shit to do.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Needless to say, I did not get to my practice this morning.
Fifteen hours later, after a full day's work, dinner with friends, homework and bedtime with the kids, I sank into the couch, eyeballing my mat with some resentment. It leaned against the wall, ready for me, while all I wanted to do was pour myself a stiff whisky and surf the internet.
After a quick phone call to a friend and a couple of emails, I again tried to talk myself out of the practice. I was tired. I was stiff from the last practice. I was planning to get up early for a run. I really wanted that whisky.
Then, before I could think too much, I pulled on my pajama bottoms, unrolled my mat, stood gently at the edge and took a deep breath in to my belly.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Monday, September 06, 2010
Today, I began my morning with 4 rounds of Sun Salutations, a series of core yoga poses meant to be performed in a single, graceful flow, plus a series of hip openers. It's a new challenge I've given myself: To perform at least 20 minutes of yoga every day for the next 30 days. It will be relaxing and energizing, to stretch and breathe and push my body in a different way.
I love yoga.
Wait, let me re-phrase that. I love the IDEA of yoga.
The quiet serenity of breathing in and out as you twist and move your limbs into animal-like poses with fluid grace. The aesthetic of the women who look lean and feminine, while the men are strong and lithe. Welcoming the sun as it peeps over the tree tops in a back bend or ending the day with a relaxing series of poses under starlight and candles. Even the Sanskrit names are beautiful and song-like - Savasana, Bhujangasana, Balasana - you get the picture.
I am excited for this new challenge and meet it with enthusiasm. The children are warm and sleeping, the sun is just about to rise. I roll out my mat, feet bare, my mind a jumble of thoughts and my muscles cold and stiff. Working with the Sun Salutation to warm up, I stand in Mountain Pose, breathing in to my belly and breathing out through my nose. I quiet my mind with a low "ohm", spoken only to myself as I bend gently backwards, arms raised, hands together and pointing. I slowly bend forward and with much stiffness into Forward Bend, holding my calves and pressing my chest into my thighs. With pops and cracks, adjusting my shirt and re-positioning my hands, I then move into Plank, lower into Cobra and back up into Downward Facing Dog. From there, I continue to move awkwardly, as I shuffle, lumber through and fall until with shaking limbs and creaking ligaments, I end my practice with a quiet grunt and a sweaty brow.
Not exactly what I had in mind when I started all this.
Yet, in spite of cursing my way through the Pigeon Pose or having a moment of panic when I am sure my legs will get "stuck that way" forever, I end my practice, feeling accomplished and proud if not yet serene and strong. I squat to roll my mat up, fold my towel and carry both to a spot behind the door. Then, feeling alert and ready for the day, I step outside to feel the cool air on my face and sip a cup of strong coffee while I listen to the village wake up to the sounds of rumbling delivery trucks and crowing roosters.
Tomorrow, I'm going to add some lunges.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
I seek the day to day balance of juggling the demands of a young brood against the demands of an exciting, challenging job. The balance of living a life of ideals in a world of reality. The balance of nourishing my soul and nourishing my body. The balance of finding laughter in sadness; sun among the clouds; wildflowers among the weeds.
These past few years, life has been a jumble of challenges. During particularly difficult times, I found it necessary to find the good within the bad - a way to balance what at times felt like overwhelming odds against my self worth, my concept of love and trust in my ability to judge and discern.
As I looked for these "silver linings", I slowly and not without some suspicion, began to touch on the concept that balance is not only ideal, but necessary. That by living a life of balance, a person can find true contentment. This is not a new concept -- as my childhood was inundated with the Taoist yin yang, deeply rooted in the Confucius ideals my mother was raised with and consequently sought to raise her children with -- but it was a concept I fought just as I fought so much my mother tried to teach me.
Yet, I found comfort during difficult times and as a result, it became my "religion", for I have been without religion for many, many years. It became a rope-hold for my children, whose father declares God to be non-existent and whose mother struggled with the vagueness of being a non-believing Christian. It was a foundation I could build on, to give body to my decisions, to comfort my wounds and to give answers to the questions that inevitably come up.
To feel true happiness, you must feel deep sadness; to appreciate a meal, you must know gnawing hunger; to care for your health, you must experience illness; to savor love, you must nurse a broken heart; to embrace life, you must mourn the dead.
So, as I seek this balance, I do so with an understanding that it is a life-long journey of paths and bridges and pauses along the way. I seek balance with the hope that I am creating a life of harmony filled with love and laughter. I seek balance to help me accept the pain of loss and sorrow. I seek balance knowing that all of this is fleeting, even temporary, so I must be present and accepting in my happiness for eventually the sadness will come and when the sadness comes, I know that it is only a matter of time before the sun shines again.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I am not turned on by complicated recipes or lots of ingredients or fancy technique. I want to be stunned, practically into silence, by taste, texture, fragrance, color.
I turn my nose at the watery, sickly looking yokes of industrial eggs. The beige pallor of cellophane-wrapped chicken breasts dispels any hunger. Yellow-orange cheddar makes me cringe and melons in January are not worth a glance.
On the other hand, give me seasonal, local food and I go out of my way to savor it. The bright orange of a "happy egg" finds me looking for that perfectly green plate to serve it on. The buttery shade and velvet body of the cream i use for my coffee makes me pause every single morning, while it swirls and blooms in dark liquid. The fragrance of slow-cooked pork from a local, family farm has me dreaming of 2nd, 3rd and 4th renditions so as to utilize every last bit.
I want my beer to bite back, my bread to be a contradiction of textures - chewy crust and tender crumb, my sweet peppers fragrant and bright, my beets bleeding dark red on my butcher block. Tomatoes should live up to their nickname "love apple" and my cheese should educate me in the mysteries of chemical change.
All of this brings me to dinner. Tonight, I made myself Toad-in-the-Hole, a dish reintroduced to me by a Sterling College student who moonlighted as a breakfast cook twice a week. My youngest daughter discovered it while eating at a great diner in Montecito, CA and asks for it often. On occasion, i find myself eating alone, but wanting to experience well prepared food with quality ingredients. Tonight is one such night.
My rendition of Toad-in-the-Hole is a bit more grown up that most, using staples i always have on hand - good bread, good eggs, good cheese and seasonal veggies.
So, without further comment or chatter, the recipe.
E's Toad-n-the-Hole with Brassicas:
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cups of hardy greens/brassicas (i used broccoli leaves, beet greens, kale, chard, adolescent spinach, broccoli blooms, etc)
1 T oil (sunflower or olive)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T of quality, unsalted butter
2 thick slices of Elmore Mt Bread, Country French
2 eggs, preferably from happy, un-confined, grazing hens (i used Pa Pa Doodles)
3 T finely grated Blythdale Farm Gruyere
2 T finely grated Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill
a medium sized frying pan and a beautiful plate
Heat the pan over medium high heat. Add oil. When oil just begins to shimmer, but before it smokes, add onion and saute until fragrant.
Add brassicas and quickly coat. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute until just wilted. Remove from pan and mound on beautiful plate.
Take bread slices and cut a hole in the middle with a biscuit cutter, knife, what-have-you. Set removed bread aside and lightly butter.
Using same pan from above, melt leftover butter over medium heat. Add bread slices and lightly grill for 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low. Crack eggs in the holes and sprinkle on half the cheese. Fry for another 2 minutes or until whites begin to solidify.
Gently flip egg/bread to cook the other side. In the meantime, sprinkle a pinch of cheese on the bread cutouts and grill lightly, cheese side down, sprinkling the up side with another pinch of cheese. Flip and finish grilling.
When egg is done to desired consistency (i recommend easy to easy medium), flip onto the bed of brassicas, sprinkle with more cheese and ground black pepper. Top with the cheesy bread cut outs.
Enjoy with a hoppy beer or a glass of dry white wine.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
I've been standing at the kitchen window, washing dishes and watching my neighbor, The Farmer, harrow up what was once a grassy hill behind my property. The sun is low in the sky, casting a golden light over everything. The engine of the large green tractor is drowned out by the sound of hot water running from the faucet, filling my basin with frothy foam.
In a few days, The Farmer will plant hundreds of blueberry bushes and rhubarb plants, taking advantage of the southern exposure and well drained loam. The "sticks" will settle in, letting roots feel their way through the soil, grabbing hold. Then, as the snow falls, the bare branches will poke through their blanket, reminding us that no longer can we sled the hill, yelling our war cries while we spin and swoop downward to the bottom.
In a few years, the view from behind my house will be that of blueberry bushes in full bloom, waiting for the insects to pollinate and turn the flowers into luscious berries. Then those berries will ripen, beckoning the kids and I to sneak a pail-full here and there for jam and pies or eating fresh. If we are lucky, our friend The Farmer will bring bags of berries at the end of the season for us to freeze and the sadness of losing a favorite sledding spot will give way to warm pancakes on a snowy morning, topped with warm blueberry sauce and hot maple syrup.
But for now, the sun has set and the peepers are singing as we stoke the fire. The smell of freshly turned earth and bruised grass creeps into the house and we relish the fortune of good food in a good place.
Monday, April 05, 2010
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
The result in a stunning photographic exhibit, a book and "online community".
Check it out.
The Hapa Project
Friday, March 26, 2010
“…and I’m bringing the thing that’s scarier than a tiger.”
It took me all 10 seconds to interpret my father’s email a few days before his visit.
The Korean folk tale about dried persimmons goes something like this. Once upon a time, a mother was trying to calm her crying baby. She said, “if you don’t stop crying, a tiger will take you away.” The baby, now more scared at the thought of a tiger, cried louder. The mom was frustrated and didn’t know how to stop this mad crying from her son, so she gave in and said, “ok, if you stop crying, I’ll give you a gotgam (곶감; dried persimmon).” The baby, thinking of a sweet, soft gotgam, finally stopped crying.
All this time, a tiger was eavesdropping from outside. When gotgam finally stopped the baby’s crying, the tiger said to himself, “this gotgam thing, whatever it is, must be something really scary, even scarier than me!” So the tiger ran away before the scary gotgam made its entrance.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Oh the biting cold.
The cloud cover had edged away and the sun was newly set, leaving a purple cast in the sky. One song after another filtered through my head, setting a quick rhythm. As I reached for and found the peace that washes over me after a quarter hour of hard, foot pounding work, the songs continued to fill my head--mindless, joyful noise.
Eventually, as my body and lungs requested a break, i slowed to a walk. The songs slowed down too, breaking into melancholy cries of lost love. Looking up at the now visible stars, I picked out familiar markers--the Big Dipper, Orion, the Seven Sisters--I felt my mood shift to nostalgia, memories creeping into my head like a slide show set to music.
The fresh spring air was sharp, clean and cold in my lungs. The sky was clear and sparkling. The music was sad and my mind was filled emotion. I wandered home, losing the stars under the yellow light of the village's street lamp.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Bibimbap. Comfort. Savory. Spicy. Sour.
Cold weather. Leftovers. Sticky rice. Chopsticks.
Bibimbap is the ultimate comfort food in my house. It's one of the few Korean dishes my children enjoy and look forward to. I fear their palates have been dulled by a northern Vermont diet as well as my penchant for eating seasonally and locally. It is with great relief that they welcome this dish during our snowy winters and cold spring months.
So, here is my Hapa/Vermont version:
- Steamed brown rice
- Cabbage sauteed in a bit of oil and salt, set aside in a bowl with a cover
- Spinach and onions sauteed in sesame oil and tossed with sesame seeds, set aside in bowl with cabbage
- Mushrooms sauteed in a bit of oil and a splash of tamari, set aside in bowl with cabbage and spinach
- Leftover meat sauteed in a ginger-y, onion-y, garlicky, tamari/white wine based sauce sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with chilis and sesame seeds.
- Optional: Fried egg