Monday, October 29, 2007

Shop! Eat! Feel Self-Righteous!

Dear People Who Are Not From Rhode Island,

Sorry. This one's not so interesting.


Dear Rhode Islanders,

I know we just had a frost last night and it seems like everything'll soon be dead and stay that way for ever. Well, it's only partly true. There's a way to preserve at least the illusion that life goes on, even into February and March. I just found out that Farm Fresh Rhode Island is running a winter farmers' market. Just what the lazy eco-geek in me has been pining for! An easy year-round way to eat more locally, with no canning, no weeding, no starting seeds, no wrapping each potato in newspaper! So we can buy eggs, meat, produce (greenhoused or coldframed or stored), and the obligatory locally produced arts and craps, I mean crafts (hey, I'm allowed).

Here's the lowdown:

Saturdays 12-3 pm
115 Empire St


PS I'm usually more circumspect about my anonymity, but I figure the chance to browbeat my local readership into some sustainable eating makes outing myself as a citizen of Rhode Island worth it. Just don't expect any embarrassing videos. There's only so much I'm willing to do for the environment.

Book Report; Pepper Pucks

This summer, I read Barbara Kingsolver's engaging and hilarious Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm all fired up about local food. If in the future you want to convince me of something, I suggest you have a strategy meeting with Ms. Kingsolver first. Future persuaders, joke about turkey sex. Be both humble and eloquent. Somehow, she makes it look easy.

So, persuaded, I* got almost all our vegetables and a good amount of meat from a CSA at the farmers' market this summer. But since I live in the North, this week is the end of all that, and we expect the tundra to freeze by Wednesday. So, in anticipation of this wholly predictable event, have I spent the last month canning and freezing and drying and pickling? I have not. I have spent the last month traveling, enjoying some unexpected professional upheaval, reading, and messing around on the internet (hello, internet!). I also cleaned the bathroom sink once. I've just been so... busy!

Really, I'm just too lazy to can things this fall, I don't think I'll ever be convinced to buy a dehydrator, and my freezer is already full of... oh, who knows. But I can check off Preserved The Harvest For Winter thanks to this token effort:

Pepper Pucks

12 jalapenos (de-seeded and un-ribified if they're spicier than you want)
2 heads garlic, peeled
3 T oil

Put the peppers and garlic in the food processor and demolish them. Add oil. Drop the resulting paste onto a wax-papered cookie sheet by generous tablespoons-full. Freeze until solid, and then huck them into a freezer bag. It'll make something in the neighborhood of 12 generous tablespoons, so each wad will have one jalapeno and a couple cloves of garlic in it.

If you cook or shop differently than I do, I bet you could tweak these ingredients with good results. I settled on the garlic/jalapeno combination because it'll be flexible (thai, mexican or indian) and because I had local organic garlic and my dad's jalapenos, which are neither local nor organic, but the farmer sharing half your DNA trumps all that. Blood is thicker than petroleum. Or something.

Since this isn't a Real Recipe from a Real Book, I have not yet tested my theory and used one of these pucks, but I figure you can just throw one into a warm pan where it will thaw quickly, and you can proceed with your curry or chili or stir fry from there. If anything dramatic happens, you know I won't be able to resist writing about it here.

*Actually, my dear Vegetable Procurement Agent got all the vegetables and meat, because he needs the car on Tuesdays anyway.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Soup is enough.

These days it feels like I have a front-row seat at The Grief and Pain Show. I've watched friends lose loved ones, have loved ones all tubed-up in the ICU, and stand by and watch as loved ones suffer. For now, I'm observing from my inside my bubble of good fortune, surrounded by gifts and lucky coincidences and what seems like the heavens just smiling down benevolently all the time. It makes me feel like I'm being taunted with my friends' pain. Providence (or fate or luck or whatever you might call it) is telling me, "See? One slip of the knife and all this is gone. See what can happen to the kind, good people all around you? Don't get too comfortable, sweetheart." Providence can be a real bitch.

And as an accompaniment to all this life and death, I'm re-reading one of my favorite books, More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. I haven't read it in fifteen years, and I hadn't realized until now how influential her essays were when I was learning to cook. Her best recipes get the maximum amount of love and joy into a meal with the least tedium and busywork possible. It feels like I'm reading what I myself would write given more skill, more experience, and a New York Jewish background. But as I re-read and re-discover her book, my enjoyment is colored, knowing that she died suddenly while she was working on it. She was 48, she had a young daughter, and she had a massive heart attack. Another elbow to the ribs from Providence: "See? Any moment."

I am not a proponent of the "everything happens for a reason" and " you get what you give" schools of thought, because when you get right down to it, that says to someone in pain one of two offensive things, maybe both. "You must somehow deserve this" or, "Your pain will bring someone else joy, and it's worth it." I know that I don't deserve my good fortune any more than my friends deserve their pain. Bad things happen to good people. All we can do about it is care for our friends when they get the short end, and let ourselves be cared for when it's us. In the meantime, you can choose every day whether or not to be a jerk, and while choosing not to be a jerk doesn't get you a get-out-of-pain-free card, or a seat at the Eternal Table, it makes your life nicer. It makes everyone's lives nicer. That's all we have, and it's more than enough.

So my strategy is to plant grass, make soup, work hard, and let my close-by grieving friends tell jokes about death and misery. And I'll laugh at their jokes and invite them to take a break from saintly stoicism to be selfish and petty for a bit and then I'll encourage them to order the grilled cheese. For the far-off friends, all I can do is send a note, think of them, wear the bracelet, and know it'll be my turn in the dark soon enough.

So, if you have a moment, reflect on my friends and their loved ones who either are in pain, or have been released from pain. And then go about your day and do your best to avoid being a jerk. It's easier some days than others.

Ann's sister
Ethel's husband
Ann's niece
Lesley's husband
Maggie's child
Pat's husband
Bev's son
Carter's mother