Sep 30, 2007

When The Skies Weep With You

A lot of my titles come to me the way poetry used to. In fact, I think that instead of writing poetry now, I channel all those disconnected sentences that might begin or end a poem and I just put them at the top. Sometimes it's the titles that I put on a post that direct the flow of thoughts. If I don't know where to start, it gives me a place. I was thinking I might someday sit down with my headphones on, and a list of all my post titles, and just see if I can't continue all those floating threads into more developed poems.

The truth is, if the sky is weeping, it weeps without me today. I looked out my bedroom window and felt so calm and happy to see the maple tree bending with the force of wind and rain. I was planning on making a wet trip to Bernards farm to pick some tomatoes to make a huge batch of roasted tomato soup. Isn't this the perfect day for it? Instead I realized that today is the deadline for applying to be included in the Crafty Wonderland Holiday Craft Show. Since no mail runs on Sunday, and even if it did, it surly wouldn't get there today anyway, a trip to Portland is called for. I am going to take my application to the address given and hope to god there's a mailbox I can slip my application into. It's worth a shot, anyway.

We get to drop Max off at Lisa E.'s house so he can play with his friend Rex who he's been missing quite a bit lately. Lisa K. has decided to just stay home today and read. So Philip and I will go out to lunch together in Portland without our child (a very rare event) and pick up some tomatoes at the farmer's market which we hear is open both Saturday and Sunday today and then make tomato soup at Lisa E.'s house. It really sounds like a great day to me.

My original plan was to simply make food here at home. Lay low. Enjoy the rainy view. But sometimes a day shapes up how it wants to regardless of your original thoughts. That's fine with me. A rainy adventure sounds great. I finished the apron that was ordered and will be able to ship out four orders on Monday. That will feel good. Why not run off for some fun?

Sep 29, 2007

Winter Comes Swiftly

We now have no where to eat. I guess it's time to clean out the new big pantry space in the garage.

I love the way a sea of jars looks.

These pears are one of the best things we made last year. I'm relieved to have made more of them this year.

Anyone recognize these babies? Bread and Butter Pickles, which so many of you love. Lisa E. wanted to make some to try so I decided it was high time I see what you are all squawkin' about. I admit they sure are pretty.

I produced 33 quarts of canned pears, 242 fruit flies, and two pillow fights with Max in the last two days. Today promises to be productive as well. I have an apron to make and send by Monday, two Etsy fabric orders to ship out, and applesauce to make. I keep telling myself to put away the canner and be done with preserving for the year. It really isn't that easy. The thing people mention most with regards to preserving food is the "work" that goes into it. All that "work" must be daunting...why do so much "work"? I am putting "work" into quotations because I think that word has a negative connotation and for me, doesn't apply.

My friend Lisa K. totally respects the fact that preserving food is hard work. She kept mentioning how much work I've done to stock my "pantry"* with jam. While I love that she gives my endeavors the respect I think they deserve, I had to question her about her idea of "work". I told her that while it certainly took a lot of time and effort to do what I've done, I so much enjoy doing it I'm having a hard time making myself stop. I asked her how much she enjoys doing her work, which is waiting tables, and although she doesn't hate her job, she admitted that she doesn't love it either. I don't actually think about canning as being so much work as I think about it being one of the most satisfying activities I do. The more you love the work you're doing the less you think of it as "work".

On a less food related topic, I thought I'd mention here that Max has now gotten two bloody noses in his other nostril. What's that about? He never gets them from that side. Does his body want to bleed so bad that it will find whatever outlet it can? They weren't bad ones though, I'm thankful to say.

Thursday his school had its fund-raising "jog-a-thon". I hate school functions. I especially hate school functions meant to raise funds. I just do. I'm a grumpy old man and I feel intensely out of place amongst a huge crowd of people all having tons of fun doing something that I hate doing. Plus, crowds of people inevitably make me choke up. It's a reflex I can't control and it embarrasses me.

Being at big school gatherings gives me plenty of opportunity to observe my short comings as a parent. I watch other moms and dads light up and just absolutely relish running around with huge herds of little people. They beam with pride and they all volunteer themselves to help out and there I am, wishing I was hiding away in my little haven of quietude, frowning because I'm obligated to "jog" under the still-hot canopy of fall sunshine. I don't jog, of course, because of my hip. I did my bit though, no way am I going to let Max down by not showing up. But someday he's going to notice just how uncomfortable I am at these events.

Maybe he won't care. When I asked him how come he doesn't want to join the soccer team he tells me it's because he doesn't really like being around a bunch of people he doesn't know well, and continues to tell me how he doesn't like crowds of people either. Like I've mentioned before, my little apple fell right at the trunk of our genetic tree. Poor kid.

More rambling... I thought some people might be interested to know that I haven't bought myself a gossip rag for over a month. I'm not on a campaign to clean up my sorry magazine loving gossip enjoying ass, it's because it's an expense that I feel could better be used for other things. Last night Philip surprised me with a new copy of In-Touch. Does my man know me well or what? I haven't read it yet, but it's so delicious to have a copy waiting for me.

The weather is turning. Colder and edging towards rain. I love this time of year. LOVE IT. I love wet weather. I love the cold. I love fog, mist, frost, snow, and giant storms that whip at your hair and takes your voice away, carrying it off through the bare trees to eerie corners of neighbor's yards. The trees are beginning to change color. I feel my blood coming alive. I feel the wild weather stirring my spirit. It makes me want to go and play.

I think it's time to bring in my winter squash. Before it gets too wet.

This weather also makes me realize that I have a quilt I need to make that I started. I want to have a full size quilt to wrap up in this winter. I'd really like to have a closet full of hand made quilts. To be a real homesteader you can't have other responsibilities such as a job a JoAnne's Fabrics. I have a ton of house projects I would like to work on. Especially now that fall is truly under way. It makes me want to dig my hands into fabrics. I can almost see putting the canning pot away if it's to be replaced by yards and yards of fabric projects. I've been looking at what many of my blog friends are working on and I feel a little envious. So much craft productivity and I have my head buried in eggplants and pears.

There are so many fun projects to do here at home, in the domestic sphere, I really don't see why so many people choose (I mean when they don't strictly have to) to work elsewhere. Modern women often think of staying home as a boredom inducing life. HUH?! I do understand that not everyone loves doing what I do, and I respect that. Some women have brilliant gifts to offer the world that would be wasted if they cooped themselves up in a life of domestic pursuits. But the idea that staying home could be boring is totally an alien concept to me. I'm never more satisfyingly busy than when I stay home. When I stay home and don't have to make a living at it.

My happiest life ever was being a housewife and stay-at-home-mom before I tried making a business of the things I love to do. A business seemed a natural way to share what I love with other women, but in the end, this blog has proved a much better way to share it. Maybe some day I will get to do it again, keep house without having to also worry about how I can contribute actual money to the coffers. For now I'll do what I can and be thankful for all the support that comes my way through my web-store and my Etsy shop.

I hope all of you out there are doing things you enjoy today. Engaging in activities that help you look forward to playing in the cooling air or that will help you keep cozy inside while the winds blow against your winter windows.

*Pantry is in quotations because right now my main pantry is my dining room since my actual pantry is already full. My big pantry is not ready yet. To be ready I will have to empty it of the rest of it's contents first and then clean it.

Sep 28, 2007

Pickled Eggplant
(aka: Rebel Food)

These jars of pickled eggplant just may be the prettiest items in my pantry. You should know right off the bat that this recipe is by a British author named Nora Carey from her book called "Perfect Preserves". I love this book. I love Nora. I think she'd be startled to know that. There are interesting preserves, the most inspiring kitchen garden pictures, and recipes that call for the preserves in the book so that you know what the hell to do with them once you've made them all. It is my favorite preserving book. However, the methods used in it are distinctly British in that jams are not zapped into flavorless anonymity by over-processing. In fact, most jams aren't processed at all.

It's not just distinctly British to stick to traditional methods of canning and preserving, it's very European to not ditch Grandma's pickled eggplant because a government agency is worried about lawsuits. What I'm trying to tell you is that this recipe for pickled eggplant is


I made it anyway. The USDA is extremely skittish about preserving anything in olive oil. For the last few years the stance was "YOU WILL DIE IF YOU PRESERVE ANYTHING IN OLIVE OIL" They are now slightly backing down from that rather dire stance. Now they are allowing that maybe, maybe it's not so dangerous to store sun dried tomatoes in olive oil at room temperature provided there aren't any fresh herbs in it.

I have done a lot of reading about the reasons for different canning methods, about the science that backs up our belief that it isn't safe to preserve eggplant. I've read the USDA book of canning, I've called the canning hot-lines, and I've listened to some very heated discourse on the subject on a canning forum. It isn't easy to get at the science of it all because only the food scientists really know and they don't think us lay people can use that information safely. I think that's a form of oppression. Personally, I think that our fear of food-borne illness is threatening our rich and diverse catalog of family canning and preserving traditions.

Do I want to die of botulism? Of course not. However, I will use my brain in this matter, not a government agency, to make my own decisions. I have found at least three recipes for pickled eggplant, all of them calling for some form of vinegaring and spicing and then storing at room temperature in olive oil. All of those recipes were either European or Middle Eastern. These are traditional recipes. Here's something I've never heard about: lots of European and Middle Eastern home canners dying of botulism. Oh wait, I haven't heard of many American home canners dying of botulism either.

I am tired of food paranoia. This recipe seems pretty safe to me. First you cut the eggplant in 1/2" slices, toss them in a bowl with a lot of course sea salt (I think "tossing" is not really a good word here. Half inch slices of eggplant don't really "toss" easily.), and then layer them on either paper towels or kitchen towels and weight them with something heavy. I used a big wooden cutting board held down by a 24 lb box of apples. You let them sweat for at least an hour.

After that you brush them off and cook them for 5 minutes in white vinegar. What happens is that the vinegar then replaces any moisture in the slices making them less susceptible to rot or botulism, which doesn't happen to like vinegar. You pat them dry and then after letting them cool down you layer them in sterilized jars that you put a half inch of olive oil in before filling, and once your eggplant has reached the top, you cover completely with more olive oil and add a teaspoon of corriander seeds.

When you're processing anything in a boiling water bath canner for at least ten minutes it's not actually necessary to pre-sterilize your jars. The processing will kill off anything that might be on them or in them. For this recipe, however, it's vital to sterilize the jars for ten minutes in boiling water because they won't be processed further.

This is my one slice of eggplant that didn't make the cut. When the vinegar saturates the slices they turn slightly translucent. This piece was too thick for the vinegar to penetrate. So I tossed it out. It's beautiful though, isn't it?

I do take other people's safety in my kitchen pretty seriously and I don't plan to feed these to anyone without making them sign a waiver to sue me if anything happens. Because I'm American and that's the kind of thing we do. Jesus.

Max has just informed me that these jars look like cans of throw up and poop.

I really want to make some more of these. I'm afraid that the coriander seeds I bought are very old and not all that aromatic. One of the recipes that Nora includes for using these pickled eggplants is to put the slices on a home made pizza. Oh boy, that sounds so good. I'm excited by the combination of the earthiness of eggplant with the added zing of vinegar, and the richness of the oil. Not a diet food, of course. Nicole Montesano, a food writer for our local newspaper and another canning spaz like me (it must be said that like Lisa E., she is elegantly quiet in her spazziness), gave me a recipe she found for pickled eggplant that I may need to try as well. Now I'm not sure where I've put it, but while the eggplant is cheap at my favorite farm (Bernards), it seems a shame not to make some more.

On a side note, I left some tomatoes in a bucket for much too long and missed the fact that two of them were rotting and hatching a cloud of fruit flies. Fruit flies are a fixture in my kitchen during canning season. An unpleasant fact of life. It's what happens when large quantities of fruits continuously make their juicy way through my house. However, usually there's just a few and aren't much of a nuisance. Oy. I have about a hundred of them in my kitchen. So if anyone knows of any great traps for them, let me know. I have put out some fly paper, and while it's caught some of the slower more stupid ones, the others seem to know what it is and are not getting fooled. I still have a ton of fruit to process so it's not like I can just rid my kitchen of all fruit fly food right now.

So, in closing, I would like to say that if for some unfortunate reason my brave rebellion of the USDA's oppression turns sour on me and I die of botulism from eating my beautiful eggplants, this is what I want on my tombstone:

"Although she ordered the exact same meal at the Hotel Oregon EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WENT, she was brave enough to eat pickled eggplant. Let it be duly noted: Angelina was not a total food coward"

Maybe that's too expensive. That's a lot of words and we don't have a lot of money. Maybe the community can collect some donations?

Fruit fly update: Between using Karmyn's method and standing patiently like a zen master in order to strike like lightening and kill them with the smack of bare hands I have reduced the fruit fly population almost to nothing. I've still got about five of them that I can't seem to get at. But five, I think you'll all agree, is so much less disturbing than over 100 of them.

Sep 27, 2007

The Seasonal/Local Challenge

(still setting the parameters)

I interviewed the produce manager at my local health food store to find out when the seasonal local vegetables trickle down to nothing. It's grim, folks. Basically, all local sources for produce dry up within the next two weeks. Then there may still be something available from within the state for another couple of weeks, then it's pretty much all from California and Washington. I have to say that I have been counting on being able to get at least some local swiss chard through out the winter. Swiss chard can be put in a great many dishes to add an impressive array of nutrients.

So I now need to make some choices, before it's too late. I think I'll need to plant my own large bed of swiss chard. I don't think it's too late for that. I would need to build a kind of cold frame to protect it from the snow and the more serious frost. Chard is pretty winter hardy, but it still will probably require some protection. I'm now wishing I had planted my fall garden as I had hoped to do, with leeks, spinach, fava beans, garlic (not too late for garlic, but it wouldn't be ready for harvest until next summer anyway), and lettuce. Lettuce there should still be time for, but it would definitely need a cold frame.

The main question is: should I shift some of my few staples to my non-local list? Carrots won't be available here once the farmer's market is over in two weeks. Same with beets. Celery is never local anyway. Is this a cop out though? See, I think it's not all that crazy to get through the winter with potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, chard, celery, and beets. You can do a lot with those items. There's plenty of nutrients available to stay healthy and not get scurvy*. Especially when eaten with plenty of winter squash which is generally available from local sources all winter due to it's storability. But if I nix all those things I actually don't know what I would do.

I plan to go to the farm that Vespabelle mentioned and see about buying a bunch of potatoes and onions and storing them in my pantry. That means I can still stick with local sources for those, especially if I can buy a bunch in bulk and find out how to store them for a couple of months. Good. But what about the other items? Opinions, please.

The other option is to stick with the plan as I laid it out and do a shit-load more of preserving for the next two weeks. I can pickle cauliflower. I can do some pressure canning of carrots, beans, corn, and maybe even celery. I could make a bunch of meals ahead of time to cover a couple of months worth of no local produce. I think the first asparagus really doesn't show up until March or April though. That's a long time. That really makes it a four month stretch of all canned and frozen goods.

There is another option, which is to allow myself to buy canned or frozen produce that's made within my state. What this essentially means is that I will still be sticking to my local and seasonal goals, but I just won't have been the sole provider of my preserved goods. This perhaps makes the most sense. I have to admit though, that I really love preserving food and there's pride in filling your freezer and your pantry with your own hard work and to buy from a company what you can make better for yourself feels a little annoying.

I am thinking out loud as I go here. I did just think of a way to not buy celery for four months. I primarily use it in soups. I am counting on making two soups a week for the four months of winter, if I made a soup base (not a stock) where I cooked onions and celery together with just a small amount of stock I could freeze it in portions. I would only need sixteen portions. That's not too bad. I could include carrots in the base too, bought locally, that would at least account for quite a lot of my carrot use. I almost never makes soups without carrots.

What would you do if you were going to take on a challenge like this? How best to maintain the integrity of the challenge while accommodating the need to eat a nutritionally sound diet? The main thing is to find out what it's like to eat locally and seasonally for a year. That is obviously going to impose a more limited diet. The point is that I'm not going to have very many options, and I know that. Yet, even within the parameters I've already set out there are so many minute decisions to be made.

By the way, in case any one still doesn't know it, I'm a vegetarian. (Not a vegan.) I don't eat fish, chicken, or any kind of flesh. I do eat dairy and eggs. There are all kinds of fancy words for different kinds of vegetarians now, but growing up as a vegetarian there was really only one. If you were a vegetarian you didn't eat flesh. I don't eat flesh.

My version of a flank steak is a great big baked potato with butter and cheddar cheese. Or an omelet. I could live off of potatoes. Oh, wait, I actually did for quite a while when Philip and I were first married. It's not a bad life, actually. I'm lucky there's so much dairy here. No problem getting butter and cheese from Oregon. I can always live off of baked potatoes I suppose. Which would be so wonderful...I don't let myself eat them very often anymore because of the whole fattening issue.

I want to hear from you all. Remember: the spirit of the challenge is to eat as locally and seasonally as possible for one year. The biggest challenge being to get through the winter without scurvy. What concessions can I make without defeating the experiment? Speak up, I need help here designing my plan. Whatever you do, don't make suggestions based on how to prevent me from having to work too hard, if you think I should do a bunch more preserving, say so. I'll decide for myself if I can do it or not. Don't be shy, I need your help!

*What every American is secretly worried about, right? That's why every one's eating at McDonald's.

Sep 26, 2007

Throwing Punches

Everyone throws punches from time to time. Everyone. Whether it's metaphorical or literal. Something I realized about myself just a few months ago is that I go to great lengths to throw all the first punches at myself. Punches I see coming, imagine are coming, or should be coming. I started noticing that I don't give criticisms to others usually unless I first say something negative about myself. If I perceive, for a second, that someone has noticed that I'm not perfect (which I'm obviously not) I don't wait for them to point it out. I make sure that others know that I know that I am flawed and I try to anticipate what flaws they might notice and always notice them first.

It's an elaborate tangle of self protection. I've been doing it for a very long time. I always thought it was about me being so balanced and being humble enough to not worry about not being always smart, pretty, fast, or likable. That's not the truth though. Talk about throwing a personal punch. It was like a cartoon lightening bolt streaking across the poor Coyote's animated desert; realizing that my method of self protection was ignoble, cheating others of their right to occasionally get their own words in, to tell me what I've done to upset them, or tell me how I might improve myself.

It's not surprising that this habit of cheating others comes to me through the rubble of early life. Between the verbal and the physical blows, I'd have to say that the verbal ones were the most corrosive. There were words thrown at my head most carelessly and repeatedly that ate away at my spirit and weighted me down with a thousand doubts and fears. But most of all, they just hurt my feelings. Again and again. The crushing was constant. It didn't occur to me to feel sorry for myself then just as I don't feel sorry for myself now. Instead I learned that if I threw the punch at myself first I could remove the sting of other people's blows. I could take the poison out of them before they reached me. It doesn't hurt half as much to take a hit you know is coming, and whose loving hand it's coming from, than to be caught unawares by others.

There was no control over anything growing up. I know most people think of childhood as a time for magic and joy and laughter. To me childhood was an interminable powerless existence.

The worst thing is to believe you are good at something, or to think you have some great personal quality, and to let that smooth out the rough bits, and then have someone inform you that what you thought was a good quality is actually a source of annoyance to others, or hurtful to them, or completely stupid.

It plays out like this: I could dress up again the best I can, wear make-up, jewels, and celebrate life everyday in my own small ways. But I can't bear for anyone out in the world to think I don't know how fat I am. I can't bear for anyone out there to think I look ridiculous all dressed up when I should be shamefully frumping out. I don't want anyone to think I don't know what I really look like. I don't want to hear anyone make fun of me, or to imagine people are making fun of me, I'd so much rather make fun of myself first. Takes the wind out of other people's sails.

I am kinder to myself than anyone knows. I'm going to tell you something you might not believe: protecting myself by hurting myself before others can is an incredible expression of self love. But I'm also a coward.

There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already thrown at myself. It bothers me that I do this. Maybe that's why I had to go and make myself villainous in my writing so that someone could tear through my defense and make me a normal vulnerable human once again. It was raw and I'm still not over it.

I have spent years trying to write out why I cut myself as a teen. It's very hard for others, who haven't been in the same place, to understand what could make a person do that to themselves. Having this revelation opened up the waterway of truth. I can't speak for other cutters because I'm not sure we all have had the same motivation, I don't know how we hang together as a group seeing as there aren't clubs and games for people like us. It's a very solitary self torture, I didn't really live in a society of them. The one or two others I knew who did it didn't sit around with me having cutting parties. It's a very very quiet manifestation of mental illness.

I could only ever explain it in a string of emotionally charged sentences that were reaching for what it felt like to do it, where my head was at in the moment I pulled a blade across my arm. I couldn't ever get at the why of it. I know now. It was a form of taking control away from others and into myself. My body had been hurt, other people I loved had been hurt too, and then my spirit had been pushed against the blackest wall for much too long. Cutting myself was a way that I could be the first in line to hurt myself. If I could hurt myself more than anyone else then no one would have more power over me than I had over myself. If I open myself up, if I trash my body and torture my mind, nothing that comes after can be quite as bad. It's not a healthy way of taking control, but I couldn't see any other way.

What I have also had trouble explaining is that I couldn't feel the pain. Literally. I have many scars on my flesh from cutting into it pretty deeply. I can barely stand to get a paper cut now and it amazes me. That's a real testament to how much healthier I have become over the years. I feel all the pain now. But when I was sixteen I could saw at my arm with a dull steak knife and not feel it. You have to retreat pretty far into yourself and your self protective gear to not feel that. I used to think that that was the best way to explain it all, that by cutting myself I was trying to prove I was still alive, because if you're bleeding, you're still alive. I felt dead inside a lot of the time.

I wasn't dead. I was hiding. Now I see it so much more clearly. I am curious to know why other people have done the same thing. I first realized that lots of other people were doing the same thing and were being dubbed "cutters" by the media through Maury Povich, for whom I have almost no respect, but who had a show about it. I couldn't believe there was a word for people like me. That I belonged to a group like that. It actually made me feel like a very marginal person. It made me feel like a total creep of a human being, a kind of sick sub-group. Like a specimen. I have been tempted to read about the others. However, I am also reluctant to spend too much time back in that space. I wouldn't be back there now if it weren't for the fresh understanding. Cartoon flashes of lightening are compelling.

I haven't cut myself since I was almost eighteen years old, but I still constantly manage my vulnerability by throwing the first emotional blows. You can 't hurt me by saying I'm fat, because I already know it. You can't hurt me by saying I'm judgmental, because I already said it for you. You can't get to me by saying I'm not a good enough mom because I'm already a step ahead of you. You can't hurt me. You can't hurt me. You can't hurt me.

What would happen if I just let others say their worst? Would I implode? Is realizing that I do this the ultimate in the game of throwing punches? Is it just a bid to be the first to notice?

I can't bear for other people to not like me. I really hate being imperfect. I am haunted by all the missteps I can and will make in life, because I'm so damn scared of retaliation. Like a crouching frightened six year old. 1976 is just about the year I started my journey of deep undercover self protection. Six years old and so fucking scared of the potential others had to hurt me. Scared because I'd already been on the receiving end of what others were capable of doing to me.

There's another level to this too. Another nuance I'm noticing as I write this all out. Shame. The shame in being imperfect is worse than the imperfection itself. Believing that I'm supposed to be what I can never be is difficult, what I felt the most growing up was shame. Shame that I could never be the person people wanted me to be. Or expected me to be. Shame is a very dirty feeling. Shame is greasy and leaves a sheen on the skin of those who've worn it. It lingers for long after it's appropriate to bed with it.

I've got to be honest here, even writing about it makes me want to run. Shut down. Reverse the charges. But you can't do that. In life, one thing I've learned is that you can only move forward. There is only one answer to everything: move forward. It's the only place where wrongs can be righted, where damage can be reversed, and where strength can be recovered. Forward. Forward thinking. Marching forward. Moving ever forward towards the next moment, the next present, where new choices can be made.

Don't look for rationality in this discourse. There is precious little of it here. If I was acting rationally for all this time, I would have let the defenses down. Not everything can be broken down into rational bites. Especially when you're diving into the naked blind waters of the mentally ill. Things move to a different rhythm in here. The gravitational pull of the moon doesn't reach this place.

When I deeply and insensitively insulted someone several months ago I took the blow of shame head on. For the first time in a long time. I apologized but then let her speak her peace. I let her list my crimes. I didn't dilute the blow by telling her what my crime was. I stood there and took it like a woman who knows I'm gonna keep on standing after the arrow spills my blood. I let myself feel the shame of having been a person I don't much like and don't really expect anyone else to. I didn't list excuses for my behavior or offer up self lashings. In some ways I think that may be the first time in my life since I was a small child that I let the blows come at me naturally and without doing anything to divert the pain or the deserved shame. I took it. And I'm still feeling it. The shame of having hurt another person so carelessly. The shame for not being the person I expect myself to be.

You know what? It's alright. It's alright to feel that sometimes. It does honor to the people we share our lives with, whether in our close circles or peripherally, I think we owe it to each other to sometimes stand there and take blows for not being perfect, for hurting others. How different would I have been if all those who hurt me had stood there and taken it in as I have done? If all the people who imposed their own brand of pain on me had had to stand there and hear me accuse them of their social transgressions? Would I have healed faster? Would they have hurt others less? The earth keeps spinning and we have the chance to be humble, to renew our efforts at self improvement.

I don't know if the shame ever completely goes away or if it gets pocketed in the corners of our emotional closet, a constant reminder of the pitfalls to avoid in life. I expect the more out of practice you are at dealing with it, the longer it takes to process it and move on.

I know one thing, I want to learn to live my life with some measure of grace. I want to walk without armor sometimes. I want to develop a flexibility of spirit. I want to be able to shine something worthy on those still wading in blind waters. I want to always remember to look at people with eyes of empathy. I want to wear the truth without shielding myself from it's sharp edges. I want to walk in the gardens of the earth with a spirit free enough to run ahead of me into the liquid light of the grass and the sky. I did what I needed to do to survive to adulthood. I'm here now. It's time to remove the metal from my chest.

Sep 25, 2007

Saying Goodbye To Many Miles Of Road
The guidelines for my year of eating both locally and seasonally.

Over the past few days I have been looking at labels of origin and compiling lists of things that might not fit into my local/seasonal challenge. I have also been considering which list of things will still be acceptable in spite of being made far away. Some things aren't that hard to say goodbye to for a year. Other things, however, feel more painful. One of those things is yogurt. I love yogurt, but only one kind: "Nancy's" which I was sure was made in California. I hate yogurt that has a congealed texture, or that is too loose, or that is too rich. Nancy's is the perfect yogurt. I love that it's tart and firm. (Oh dear, that sounded a little different than I meant it to). Last night I checked the label and guess what?

It's made in Eugene Oregon!!!!

I never thought I would feel such joy and excitement over such a small detail. I actually plan to make some of my own yogurt using a very cool early 1970's yogurt maker that Lisa B. has lent me, but the culture I plan to borrow is from Nancy's. It's also such a relief to know that if I don't like my home made results or if I am unable to make it at times, I can buy Nancy's and be within my challenge limits. Ahhh....the simple pleasures.

On the other hand, here are a few things I will no longer allow myself to buy as of October 1st:

  • Sierra Nevada beer (although Oregon makes many fine beers, Sierra is my all time favorite and it's hard to imagine not drinking it for a whole year.)
  • Feta cheese. I will have to learn to make it for myself (I've been wanting to anyway). All the feta cheese that's affordable (such as that found at Trader Joe's) is not local. All the local feta is too expensive to eat considering my capacious appetite for this, my favorite cheese on earth.
  • Parmesan. Same with this staple in my diet. I don't think there's a single local source for it. This will be hard. When I'm trying to lose weight, Parmesan digs me out of the no-cheese blues. It can spruce up any meal without adding unbearable mountains of calories to it. So much flavor in one tablespoon of it. I don't believe they make any in Oregon. If they do, I suppose this may end up being one of those spendy splurges.

  • Kalamata olives. My diet is heavy in these but as I'm already allowing myself to continue to buy imported olive oil from Trader Joe's, I felt that these should not be allowed.

  • Coconut milk. I don't cook a lot of Asian style food, but there is one winter squash soup I love to make that calls for it and I'll have to come up with a satisfying alternative.

  • Dried pasta. This could be tricky. Finding local sources for pasta. One of my favorite types of pasta is angel hair and I've never seen an artisan angel hair pasta. I can, however, make my own ravioli, spaghetti, and fettuccine. I have a great pasta attachment for my Kitchenaide mixer and I've used it a lot. So I'll just have to rely on myself more for this.

  • Pine nuts. Well, this sucks. I've really come to enjoy them, not only in pesto (yes, I know you can substitute walnuts for the pine nuts, but I don't prefer to) but I also love them in salad and there's a great casserole that calls for them. I will look for local sources, but I have a feeling Oregon doesn't produce them.

  • Goulden's Mustard. I don't eat a lot of mustard, but ever since I stopped buying bottled salad dressing and started making my own a few years ago I have come to love the zing that this mustard adds to it. I'm addicted. It's the perfect mustard. I don't care for Dijon types because they have a horse-radishy essence that I don't care for. So, what to do? Make my own? Seems like I just might have to. I've been wanting to make mustard for a while now, this offers the perfect excuse.

  • Avocados. I could eat two avocados a day. I love them that much. My mother always said about them that they are one of nature's most perfect foods. Most Americans only know them as one of the most fattening luxury foods. But they are packed with potassium, protein, healthy oils for the skin, and other nutrients. I haven't eaten them in a couple of months just because they have been expensive and then I stopped shopping at Safeway, the only place to get an occasional deal on them. It's hurt me to be without them. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night.

  • Bananas. The other perfect food. I love bananas too. All my life I have consumed large quantities of bananas. I haven't been eating as many of them as usual lately, but I think this may prove challenging, to go an entire year without this fine life sustaining fruit.

There are others, obviously, but after these items it becomes much harder to spot the long miles in my pantry that I'm going to miss.

Here is my official list of exceptions to the local rule:

1. Oils: olive and canola

2. Coffee

3. Spices

4. chocolate

5. baking soda/powder

6. vinegar

Here is a list of acceptable out of season produce that I will buy whenever needed due to their status as prime candidates for a root cellar which is still in keeping with a more environmentally sound way of eating:







However, all of these things must be procured locally. That may be more challenging. My year of eating locally and seasonally will begin October 1st. So some things I need to find out are whether anyone around here sells local onions and garlic, and if so, how long into the season are they available? I know there are potatoes grown locally, but they aren't organic. With potatoes being such a staple in my diet (I make very few soups without them, for example) I am going to have to make a tough choice. Do I drop my dedication to only buying organic potatoes, or do I not buy any for a year if I can't find local organic sources? If Harvest Fresh carries local garlic but only for a finite period of time, I need to buy a ton of it, chop it up, mix it with olive oil, and freeze it in cubes so that I can use it throughout the year.

Perhaps many of you are thinking that this is an extreme experiment and don't know why anyone need go to so much trouble. I think it's important that you all know that I'm excited to do this. I love a good bit of experimentation, provided it isn't sexual in nature (I'm so conventional like disappointing, I know). I love to get in the mix and find things out for myself. I don't think the parameters I've set for myself are particularly strict either. I am defining local as being made or grown within my state (Oregon). That's still quite a bit of scope and road for my food to travel.

The reason I'm doing this is to go through a deep learning experience with food, to find out what eating locally and seasonally really means to me personally, what it feels like, and to flush out all the foods that I indulge in without giving any thought to where they come from, how far they've traveled and how old they must be. The purpose is to make myself aware of absolutely everything I put in my mouth for a year. It's like a corporate and crude-oil dependent food detox. The point will be to educate myself, to learn to make much more conscious decisions about what I put on my table. I seriously doubt I could commit to a lifetime of no avocados or kalamata olives, and that's not the point. I don't think any of us need to strictly dedicate ourselves to local and seasonal foods.

However, if we all made more conscious choices, I think we'd find ourselves naturally choosing fresher food with less road burn.

Doing this isn't meant to make anyone else feel defensive about their own habits. This is about my own personal choices and how they might be shaped if I set my food dials a little differently. This is all about how I am a serious food geek and I want to know for myself how it would feel to have these limitations imposed on me. In some measure it will teach me how it used to feel to set the table when you didn't have a million international food choices available to you. It will give me (I believe) a greater understanding of how my forbears ate and shopped. I love connecting with the past that way. It gives the present so much more heft and meaningful context.

Now, for a couple of off topic bits...It's now been 11 days since Max's second nose cauterization and I'm happy to say that he still has not had a nose bleed. This is definitely cause for celebration! Last night he displayed some serious temper in which he engaged in his favorite trick of tensing his whole body up to show us how mad he is, it makes all the blood rush to his face, which in the past often resulted in a very dramatic bloody nose. This time he just reminded me of the Ben Stiller character in the movie "The Mystery Men". The guy whose super power is to get really mad.

On a final note: I finally cracked open one of my jars of Silvan Berry jam and I have got to report that it is SO GOOD I MIGHT NOT SHARE ANY. No, I will. But one thing I know for sure, if I can't find any sources for them next year (this year's source was selling off the Silvan Berry acres and planning to ditch the berries) then I am going to have to find a way to purchase some canes for my own yard. I will need more of these wonderful berries. Oh yes. I'd give you a piece of toast generously slathered in it if I could. Oh boy, that's what I'm going to go eat right now.

*Again, this is an exception. Both not seasonal and not local, I really don't see how I can cook a season of winter soups without it.

Sep 24, 2007

The Hood River "Fruit Loop" Reprised
(In search of gorgeous pears)

I always have the urge to lie down in the middle of tall grasses or corn mazes and just look up at the sky through the canopy of green. Then I remember that I'm 37 years old and the world is populated by other people. What I want is to make everything more simple. I want time to stop. Right here in this moment. I want to look up and watch the clouds and be able to forget everything else. Can you see how cold and bright the air was near Mt. Hood? Can you smell the winter coming? Wouldn't this be a great spot to curl up in to hibernate?

Exactly 364 days previously I stood in this precise spot wearing different socks and shoes.

Never were we happier to see this very old (but working) gasoline pump. As you shall hear.

Finding this pub only one block from the gas station made a great finish to a dubious adventure.

I really don't know what it is about the Hood River "Fruit Loop", but I can't apparently visit it without having a very long unexpected day of it. My mom called me this week and told me about a "Pear Party" the Oregonian mentioned that was taking place at Rasmussen Farms and she thought it sounded like fun and would I like to go? It just so happens that I've been wondering where I am going to find some really good pears to preserve to finish off my canning season. It also just so happens that I had been wishing to somehow find my way back to Rasmussen Farms where there are huge bins of gorgeous pears and apples. So we decided to go, dragging my friend Lisa K. who is visiting us from North Carolina.

Last year's adventure to Rasmussen Farms with Lisa E. and three children was extremely stressful but I figured that was just because all the children hadn't been sedated properly with narcotics. I didn't realize that there is a nefarious hex spread over the Hood River region.

Visiting the farm itself was really nice. It was a gorgeous day and without the clamor of bickering children it was quite peaceful. We tasted some really awful Oregon wines and ports which repeated on me later...(how is that possible, anyway?)...and I bought 85 pounds of red Bartlet pears and a smallish box of apples. When we'd gotten our fill of fruit bins and farm dust, we headed down highway 35 and decided to take it all the way around the mountain as Lisa and I did last year. You really get to see some spectacular scenery.

It was portentous I think that earlier in the day we were discussing all the stupid decisions people make when visiting wild unfamiliar territory that leads them to die, or leads their friends to die and have to be eaten, or to them just being lost forever and ever. Mountains and snow have a tendency to swallow up unprepared people. I boldly stated that that's why I am not a wilderness babe. I also, somewhat unwisely, declared myself to be one of those people that tend to provision myself against calamity.

My mom, apparently, is not one of those people, and forgot to fill up her gas tank before embarking on this rather long day trip out of the known urban territory of Portland. I think that it's easy for Prius owners to get a little cocky about filling up their tanks because of the great gas mileage their cars get. So far, however, no one's been able to build a car that runs on air. Such a pity, don't you think?

We didn't discover this minor problem until we had left all humanity behind and were on the ribbony road that travels between the great steep densely treed hills in the Mt. Hood National Forrest. Right after we passed civilization. When the gas light went on and beeped itself against the happy chatter in the warm car, my mom pulled over in a panic. Realizing that she hadn't filled the tank was a bad moment. Lisa and I both thought we could travel a little distance after the gas light goes on since it's usually a warning to get yourself to a gas station. My mom wasn't convinced.

So we tried to think whether it would be better to go forward or to head back in the direction we had come from. I think I wasn't really scared, but when we stepped out of the warmth of the car into the early evening air I did think how ironic it was that we had no provisions against a cold night, even though I supposedly am a prepared person. It was flipping FRIGID outside!!

I don't personally own a cell phone, something many people find annoying, and I did think how fortunate it was that I was traveling with two cell phone users. I was thinking how there really are situations when a person is truly glad to have a cell phone. This was obviously a great time to have one.

Except that when you leave civilization behind you also often leave behind all cell phone signal power. That is when I felt a real frisson of fear. We flagged down vehicles and one lady promised to call the police or roadside assistance just as soon as she could get a signal on her phone. Her Great Dane was not fond of us.

We finally flagged down a guy in a dubious looking van who (luckily) didn't turn out to be a mass murderer and suggested that we head back in the direction from which we came because it was all down hill which would use less gas, and furthermore, he was sure we could travel a certain number of miles before the tank was completely empty. Smart guy, as it turns out.

My mom managed to drive the car on neutral most of the way back to civilization. After stopping someone else to ask about the nearest gas station we found we'd just passed the turn off to one. So we headed ourselves and our evaporating tank towards Parkdale. This is a charming tiny town that will have a spectacular view of Mt. Hood erupting should it ever blow. The most beautiful thing about Parkdale is that it has a very old gas station that pumps very fresh gasoline.

When we all sat for a moment and let out the tension, now replaced by some pretty satisfying relief, we were all able to notice how hungry we had become. Danger is a hungry business, in case you didn't know it. How lucky is a town that has, not only a gas station, but also a pub that brews it's own beer? The "Elliot Glacier Public House" has a great pale ale called "Parkdale Pale Ale" that they brew on site, really good simple food, and a really happy cozy atmosphere. It was so good that I know I'm going to have to come back with Philip and Max.

But the next time I come to the Hood River region I'm bringing the following provisions:

1. A gas can full of gas.

2. Water jugs full of water.

3. Food provisions.

4. Matches.

5. Blankets.

6. Flashlight.

7. Ham radio.

8. My most recent will.

9. A six pack of beer.

10. A bear trap.

11. A rifle.

12. A nail file.

13. A spare car battery.

14. Toilet paper.

15. Snowshoes.

16. A knife.

17. Roller skates. (you never know.)

18. Gum.

19. My Vespa.

20. Paper and a pen and a pin so I can pin a farewell note to my body before I die.

Sep 23, 2007

Slow Oven Roasted Tomatoes

This method of slow roasting tomatoes comes to me from my good friend Lisa E.. The point isn't to completely dry them, just to concentrate the flavors to take complete advantage of the tomato's flavor potential. Later in the week I'll be posting a recipe that uses these tomatoes so you can ask yourself how you've lived so long without them. You need to try it soon because in-season tomatoes will be done in the next month. You can make extra batches of these and freeze them.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil to catch all the drippings. Then place a drying rack on top of it. This lets the oven air circulate around the tomatoes for better drying out. If you don't have one, you can still make these, just put the tomatoes directly on the foil. They won't dry out as well but you'll still get the deepened flavor. A great alternative is to use paste tomatoes which don't drip as much.

Slice tomatoes thickly (between 3/8" and 1/2" thick). They are going to shrink quite a bit.

Lay them out on the rack closely together. (So you can fit as many as possible on one baking sheet). Incidentally, I always do two trays at a time. I do this because I can't make small batches of things. I like to make as much as possible. Some people call this "greed", but I prefer to call it SMART.

Brush all top sides of the tomatoes with either olive oil or other cooking oil. This will help develop a rich texture. Everything roasts better with oil.

Sprinkle with salt.

NOT SALT. This is the secret weapon.

Sprinkle with SUGAR. Lisa says this is VERY important. If you have used a slicing tomato then turn them all over and brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and sugar. You won't have to do this if you use paste tomatoes.

Put them in the oven and cook for several hours. Yes, I know, it isn't a quick recipe, but it is so easy I think you won't mind the hours they tie up your oven racks. If you do two trays of them at once, I suggest switching the trays between the top and bottom rack every hour or so so that they all bake evenly.

They're done when they are dried out a bit, are half their original size, darken in color, and smell richly of tomato. There's no exact baking time. you will have to just wait until they look like the above picture.

Now what to do with them? Are you serious? You can chop them up and add them to pasta (that's a recipe I will post later in the week) or on sandwiches, or on pizza, or...

I have just done a couple of batches of slow oven roasted paste tomatoes and I think those are my favorites, but using the slicing ones make them perfect for sandwiches.

Hey, should I have some clever way of signing off? Don't all recipe people have some cute thing they say as they raise their glass to you at the end of a recipe, such as "bon apetite"? Or "good eats" or "Invite me to dinner"?

Sep 22, 2007

A Seasonal Year

I'm kind of sad to be winding down with the canning. My back will be happy. I have a hard time winding down because my squirrel instincts say to bury nuts as long as there are nuts to bury. There's still tomatoes out there. Some late season corn, some green beans, zucchini, and more peppers. I should keep going...keep picking...keep storing things in my cheeks... Eventually you must pack up the picking bags, the canning salt, the ever present canner, and move on to other endeavors.

One of the things I'm going to be doing is looking for a local e-bay consignment facility to liquidate all my store stock that isn't stuff I made. I'm paring back and simplifying Dustpan Alley. This is going to take some time and tedious sorting. The great thing is that I am quite clear now on what I need to be doing, what I ought to have been doing all along. Once I've revamped my website and blog (they will be combined in the near future so that they are in one location) I will probably have to still go get work. Part time hopefully. Whatever Dustpan Alley is able to become, it will take time. So the goal is to clean it up, and also clean up my own house so that I can manage both much more easily even if I have to work outside the home. I'm taking the pressure off of my business to help us out of our dark financial times.

In the meantime, I'll be learning to do cool homestead-y things like using the tomato liquids from my canning to cook beans in. Isn't that totally depression era style thinking? I'm ridiculously proud of having done this. I have another big bowl of watery tomato juice today so the beans I made yesterday will go in my FREEZER! (See how useful my freezer is?) I will make another batch today. It worked very well.

The beans cooked up into a rich smelling thick plain stew. I never use a crock pot to cook meals in because I have had nothing but poor results from them. Lisa B. mentioned using a crock pot to cook beans in though and I've been wanting to try it for a few months. I got rid of my crock pot years ago but Philip bought this one so we could serve hot cider in the store, but his ulterior motive was to then make real gesso in it using rabbit skin powder. Isn't that disgusting? I think he will have to get himself another crock pot for that purpose. This one is for cooking beans in now.

I need help with something I have on my mind. I am thinking about challenging myself to eat seasonally for one year. Coming up with the parameters for such a challenge is not so easy though. You can't rely on grocery stores to guide you in what's seasonal because even health food stores are importing things from around the world; what isn't seasonal for us right here right now is in season somewhere else. I want to eat more locally too, but I think to restrict myself to only truly local as well as seasonal might be too much to do all at once. On the other hand, why not? How about I define local as within my own state? That's still fairly broad. Can you help me devise a plan?

Here's what I have so far:

  • I was thinking that I would not buy any commercially canned goods for a year. That's my starting point. When we put things by ourselves it's very nearly always from local sources or from things you've grown yourself.

  • I was also thinking I would not buy any commercially frozen vegetables for a year. Though I will say that I hardly ever buy frozen vegetables anyway.

  • Anything Max eats is not a part of this challenge because he eats so few things anyway, I'm not messing with him. The challenge is for me and Philip who has agreed to participate.

  • We will only eat seasonal produce. But this is hard to figure out, as I said. I haven't had a fall garden here yet so how do I know when to stop buying cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower?

  • During the winter I will include the following staples on my list because most of them I could have conceivably grown myself and stored in a root cellar for most of the winter. If I had a farm, that is. So I will allow myself: potatoes, celery*, onions, garlic, beets, winter squash, and carrots.

  • I think I'm going to scramble my bahookie into gear and get a bed of lettuce, spinach, and chard growing in my own garden. At some point, probably right around Christmas, I think the only thing that will be "in season" are hardy winter greens like kale and chard. Greens that can withstand some frost.

I would like this to be a local challenge as well. One year. The idea is to find out what it feels like to eat in such a way that is more connected to the natural cycles of the earth, that uses a lot less energy to create (less oil to transport being one way in which eating locally saves energy) and in accordance with the spirit of urban homesteading, which to me is living life in as self sustaining a way as possible in a more urban or suburban context. We don't all have farms but we can use the local farms to supplement our food stores, we can grow some things in our own gardens, we can do a lot for ourselves, even in a concrete jungle, than most people push themselves to do.

Obviously I need to stop re-watching Firefly episodes and start reading more books for inspiration such as Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle".

What will I be missing out on in such a challenge? Imported foods for one. No kalamata olives for a year? What about Parmesan? How far do I take it? No bananas for the rest of my life? No avocados? Should there be a short list of acceptable foreign products? I think that would spoil the spirit of the whole thing.

If I did the local challenge that means I'll have to make my own feta cheese because although there are some amazing cheese artisans around here, I won't be able to afford to eat their products. We are lucky though that Oregon has so much produce, dairy, and other agricultural products available. One of my favorite flour mills is less than fifty miles from here. Most or all of the bulk beans I bought were grown less than fifty miles from here too.

Spices will have to be excluded though. There is no way I'm going to find salt made here in Oregon. Though I can get (and have been using) a salt that is made in Utah which is a state over from us. That's not too bad. (That's the really expensive salt that i love because it's kind of pinkish in color.)

I don't want to do this to torture myself or make my modern life more complicated, in some ways I think it will simplify things. I very much doubt I can face a lifetime of no avocados or kalamata olives, but one year seems doable. A year in which to shift the way I shop, preserve, garden, and cook. A year in which to really appreciate what life was like before trucking took over. Before cargo planes made it possible to ship produce.

Perhaps I could talk to the produce manager at Harvest Fresh to find out what local produce is available at different times of the fall and winter and when those sources dry up. They do try to buy local produce all year round. So I might get a clearer picture from that.

Oh yes, and I am not going to throw out any foods in my pantry that don't match this challenge, that would be a total waste and I can't afford to do it. I have a few jars of kalamatas for example, which I intend to eat. But I won't buy any more of them.

Well, it's eleven am and I have a bunch of food to finish up processing. I'm not even out of my jammies yet. Off I go....

*celery being the one that isn't storable for the winter. But I'm not sure I can cook without it. Maybe I should take it off the list and just learn? It's certainly a cool weather vegetable. But when does it stop being in season?

Sep 21, 2007

No Rich Man's Fat Horse Can Catch Me

I keep pushing the limits of my scooter as a pack mule. Yesterday I brought home over one hundred pounds of vegetables on it. You'll notice the really classy packing job I did using plastic bags? I tied those bags of peppers and tomatoes to the back of my seat using more plastic bags tied together. It felt a little Mad Max-y.

I wore the only diamond earrings I own, (ones my mom gave to me this spring), to go picking in. I don't wear them often because I only own one other piece of diamond jewelry: my mother in law's diamond wedding ring, and I guess I'm just scared to lose them. I don't wear the ring ever now for two compelling reasons: sadly-it no longer fits me now that I am so much bigger than I used to be, and the other reason is because it doubles as a lethal weapon (being equipped with four very sharp points on which I have gouged my leg a few times). In case anyone out there doesn't know it, I love diamonds, pearls, and platinum. (I don't own any platinum). I don't care for stones with color.

It amused me quite a bit to wear diamonds for a field of tomatoes while listening to the last song on the Wilco album of Woody Guthrie covers called "The Unwelcome Guest"which is all about a horse named Black Bess on which a man who steals from the rich rides away from the noose. It's hypnotic in the classic folk song way. All about not stealing from the working man. There aren't very many song writers in any genre of music who can tell stories the way Woodie, Arlo, and Bob used to. What I love about traditional folk music is that it isn't always about true love, or broken love, or fake love, or sex. A lot of it isn't about love at all but about death, and poverty, and war, and politics, and the working man's life.

It's been hardwired into me to relate to the working man's story. I've lived it. I come from it. I don't descend from kings and princesses, or generals, or scientists. I descend from a long line of farmers, fur trappers, and in the last generation, middle class diplomats and teachers. I know that many people have a hope buried in their chests that somewhere in their family tree there is royalty, or VIPs to be proud of. I don't believe I've ever wished that or secretly believed it to be true. First of all, royalty has some serious issues with in-breeding. I'm not saying that no other communities are prone to this challenge, only that it is much more obvious and a KNOWN FACT that royal families have struggled with this. And also perpetrated it.

I have a kind of reverse snobbery and I know it isn't always an attractive thing. I try to put it in it's place. I have often wondered how much of our heritage steers who we are. I do believe environment can play a heavy role in a person's forming, but I also know that although none of my parents are farmers there is a very strong connection to earthiness and growing things in my family. My mom has planted an edible garden everywhere she's lived. I grew up eating a lot of home grown food. She didn't have to teach me the value of that. She didn't have to preach about it, and didn't. She just did it. When I grew up I became URBAN CHICK. I thought I was so different than my herb and vegetable growing hippie mom. I listened to Laibach and loved the hardness of the city landscape.

Yet, I ended up learning to bake bread, make shampoo, and without knowing it was connecting with the same roots my mom connects with, the ones we share. The second I had my own garden to play in it became the most natural thing on earth to concentrate heavily on growing food, herbs, and flowers. I discovered that I may love visiting cities, but sitting in the dirt with a trowel and the promise of abundance to come feeds something much more basic and necessary in my spirit. When I'm outside in my garden or chatting with my hens, I feel a sense of continuity, of time slowing down or perhaps it's just the edges of time blurring so that there isn't all that much difference between myself and the French farmers I am descended from.

Diamonds and dirt. That's me riding Black Sally to steal from the rich until they hunt me down and hang me. When I was six I wanted to be Cinderella. I was going to say I had the classic little girl desire to be taken into the glamorous royal family, join up with a big chinned hemophiliac prince, but in Cinderella we find the common girl. Always the common girl for me. The only thing that's changed is that now I wouldn't have a prince for a spouse for all the gold in the National Mint.

Food is better than gold. I eat no sweet peppers because they repeat on me. (I love that expression, it's such a genteel way of saying something makes you BURP FOR HOURS.) I do eat some hot peppers though, for some reason they don't disagree with me very often. At the farm I've been going to (Bernards) they have a really long row of the most gorgeous jalapenos which you can pick yourself. So I picked a bunch of them.

I put them on skewers and grilled them. Then after they cooled I put them in vacuum sealed bags (about six peppers per bag), sealed 'em up and put 'em in the freezer. I also picked a pile of ancho chillies and did the same thing with them. The farm also has eggplants (four for a dollar if you pick them yourself) and this is the only time of year you can get eggplants in season, so I grilled about ten of them and sealed up stacks of rounds of them for the freezer too. Obviously I made ratatouille as well.

My plan is to finish up with these u-pick items by Sunday. I'll take a little break, then as soon as apples and pears become more abundant I will preserve a truck load of pears and a modest amount of apple sauce. That will conclude my canning season. Tomorrow another of my Lisas* is coming to visit for a few days. She's going to have to deal with the chaos of a house at the close of a very busy canning season...because today I am going back to the farm for more tomatoes, eggplants, beans, and some zucchini to shred and freeze. So there's no time to clean or pretend to be a neat and tidy person. I'll feed her really good food so she will be tricked into not noticing anything else.

Although, right there is the irony of having so much food around being everywhere and nothing to eat. No lie. When you are in the middle of processing one hundred pounds of tomatoes, cooking anything to eat is almost impossible. Partly because in a kitchen the size of mine (postage stamp) there's no room for a flea to fix a blood sandwich. The other thing is the total lack of desire to cook. I'm already cooking. I'm cooking two thousand tomatoes and by the way, I keep almost plunging my hand into boiling water to retrieve my tomatoes from their blanching. Kind of scares me. Must remind self: my hand is not a spoon. (My other burn is mostly healed now, by the way.)

My house is a wreck. But I'm not stressed about it. I have a plan. A good one. I'll tell you about it later. Right now I'm going to get myself in gear so that I can pick and get back home in good time. I hope you all are having a fantastic Friday!

*It is apparently the Universe's plan to hook me up with every Lisa on earth. Except for the Lisa I deeply offended (yes, still feeling lousy about that. Not sure that'll ever stop stinging) I seem to get along with and love all the Lisas I meet. How weird is that? I collect Lisas. I just found out that someone else who I really admire in the Internet world is also named Lisa. Of course. The next time I meet a really cool woman, I think I'll just go ahead and ask "So, is your name Lisa, by any chance?"

Sep 19, 2007

Eulogy In D Minor

I have come to see myself so differently than I used to that I forget sometimes about the magic of adornment. I forget to wear lipstick. I forget to put on jewels and bangles. I can't wear the clothes that suit me as well as my own skin because they won't fit over my skin anymore. One day several weeks ago now I received a package from Alice of Futuregirl with two wonderful bracelets she made in it. They are all at once bold and delicate, lightness in thread and yet somehow more than that. I put them where I could see them. Often. Like I do all my pretty things now. They fit as perfectly as a couture glove. Yet I felt that to put them on would somehow muddle their charge.

I'm treading carefully with words to try and tell you something that has come to me in code. Thoughts that aren't thoughts and yet stand in for them. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to stop hiding behind our own nakedness. Common wisdom is that we hide in our make up, our clothes, our adornment, as though we are never real until we strip down to what we were wearing when we arrived in this world.

I vehemently disagree.

Adornment isn't in itself a vanity. Adornment is a celebration of what we arrived in, of what we found when we got here, and what's left when we leave. Our breasts will go south, our teeth will darken, ear hairs will sprout, balls will shrivel, all of us in our wonderful skin of every color will change. At every stop there is call for celebration. For wearing your favorite fancy golf pants, or your diamonds, your Bakelite bangles, or your finest threads. I've forgotten this. Too wrapped up in wondering how people will judge me for not being what I used to be.

That is the ultimate vanity.

I am reminded of my eulogy. I have been writing my own eulogy since I was ten years old. I don't trust anyone else to write it. If I die and leave behind me silence, someone is going to fill it with tripe and I can't bear to leave in a smoky veil of lies. So I keep on writing it. As I somehow keep surviving I have to revise and make amendments to the text constantly. There are people who would consider this a morbid past time (mother), but I don't want anyone stealing the truth of my life just to appease themselves (or me) in my death. You can't ameliorate the pain of life by saying it aint so.

If for some reason this becomes the great work I leave unfinished, it's important to me that everyone I know is aware that there are some things you must not say when I die. If you say them I will poltergeist your ass.

  • You must not say I died too soon or too young. I will stick my finger in my ghosty throat and I will retch up slime all over your lies. To say this is tantamount to a sacrilege in my peculiar worship of the truth as I see it. Whenever I go, however I am relieved of this body, I can guarantee you it was the right time. People don't die at the wrong time, they don't die "too young" or "too soon". We all die exactly when we are through with this world and no one on earth can possibly know that it was too soon.

  • If anyone makes vapid generalizations such as "Everyone loved her!" I will smite the whole funeral party and make all the cubed cheese curdle in your mouths. I know for a fact that this isn't true. Erin Fry hated me. Or else she was a lesbian unable to show me how much she loved me and so tortured me with her bullying instead from third grade through sixth grade. I know there are a lot of people I've pissed off. I don't doubt there are plenty of people who I haven't yet met who won't like me.

  • If anyone suggests that I am in heaven with God I will not smite them because it would be rude since they obviously believe in the pearly gates (a very fragile type of belief relying largely on your ability to believe that people sprout wings), but I will feel disrespected. I don't want anyone talking about me and my "relationship" with god. I believe I will be evaporating, liquefying, and rising up through the prairie grasses, into the bellies of birds, and out again onto the caps of unwary tourists. I will be everywhere there is air, I will be your next breath, I will be the dirt you're collecting on your shoe. If you must imagine that I've become an angel in death, as I never was in life, then you should keep that close to your chest, quiet like.
I want to remembered for being human. Being imperfect. I want never to be raised on that familiar pedestal of the dead. I don't do that to others. I think it disrespects who we've all really been. How can we remember a person, honor them, and truly appreciate what they brought to our lives if we're too busy trying to say only nice things when they've left us with their dust?

I write letters to my dead all the time. I think I may have to write them down soon. I was full of them while I was picking the most perfect green beans I've ever seen. Out there in the light and the blustery fall air, the dead were all around me and I only spoke truths with them and my love of them is not less for it.

Mostly I want people to remember that no matter how thin or how fat I have been or will become, no matter what age I have the privilege to reach, I want people to remember that I celebrated this world by putting it's jewels on my person, keeping the ocean close, the mountains closer. I want people to remember that I eventually learned not to take myself so damn seriously.

If you want people to remember anything you have to remind them. So I am going to wear what few diamonds I own, I am going to drape myself in my pretty buttons, and I'm going to wear lipstick most days again. Not to be something I'm not, but rather, to be what I've always been.