Last year, we didn’t talk about the Eat Local Challenge. I made an executive decision. In one short year, though, the Kindergartener has doubled his awareness, and so I thought a conversation was in order this time.
I sat him down in front of a bowl full of Goldfish crackers and explained that for one month, we would eat only the things grown by the farms we know. He was all, yeah I know, that’s what we always do. And I was all, oh yeah? Who’s the Cheerios farmer then? What’s his name? Does he live anywhere near the Frozen French Fry farmer who, rumor has it, has been known to hop the fence now and then for the Heinz Ketchup farmer?
To give him an idea of what he’d be up against, I ran through a short list of the things we’d be going without. Bananas. Orange juice. Chex. Hot dogs. The latter really made an impression:
Him: You mean, we’re not eating hot dogs ever again?
Me: Good Lord, no! Just in October. Then we’ll return to our weekly hot dog schedule.
Him: Oh. But I like juice.
Me: You can have apple cider for breakfast instead.
Him: Apple cider? I like apple cider.
Me: I know.
Him: …But, what about Halloween?
Uh-oh. The kid brings up a good point. Halloween is in October.
Me: Don’t worry, child of mine, there’s no way in hell we’re giving that up. Not on my watch.
I mean, everybody has their limits.
To recap for any newcomers, the goal of the challenge is to eat only food grown and/or produced in a 250-mile radius of our home for an entire month. For me, that's all of New England, with preference given to Massachusetts. The purpose is to enjoy regional flavors, support the local economy, and conserve fuel. It’s the same thing the whole family did last September, which was featured on the CBS Evening News.
In addition to listing my sources in my posts, I will be making an effort to keep track of money this time to see if eating locally is really as elitist as it’s sometimes portrayed. I don’t know if it comes through on this blog, but we’re not exactly rolling in dough. Unless you count pie dough. Also, I’m borrowing a free bike from a neighbor (thanks, Sarah!) so I can do most of my shopping by bicycle, thereby saving even more on gas. I’m very, very curious to see how long I can keep that up.
I will be claiming some exemptions from the 250-mile rule, but fewer than last year. They are: coffee, yeast, spices, and cooking oil. The last three lack a local source and are used in small enough quantities that I’m not sweating it. Coffee, on the other hand, is drunk in LARGE quantities by Husband, but both of us will tell you that living without his sweet, sweet drug of choice is not an option. He has his coffee, I have my farmer, and everybody’s happy. Also, I reserve the right to buy stuff made by small, local businesses even if all the ingredients aren’t local because I value their craft (you know which place I’m talking about, but there may end up being more).
Last but not least, I’m going to try really hard not to make my ELC posts as boring as last year’s, but my family’s survival comes before your entertainment, just so you know. I make no promises.
Last weekend, there was a CSA potluck dinner at my farm. I cursed myself for already having plans. After all, that might have been the only chance I’m ever offered to see the Farmer in a purely social setting (deep breath), with his hat off (gasp!), eating something that he himself prepared (hyperventilating).
I thought about standing up our friends at our own house, as I’m known to do when something better comes along (or when nothing better comes along). But then my conscience got in the way. I mean, what were the odds that I’d get to have the Farmer all to myself at a romantic table for two that I would have set up in the spot with the best view with candlelight and lots of booze?
Not good, I thought. Might as well keep my plans intact.
The esteemed harrison3 brought his family over, and we had burgers with homemade pickles, coleslaw, and watermelon. Apparently I was trying to fool myself into thinking it was still summertime. I know that menu looks like I totally phoned it in, but did I mention that the pickles were homemade? Homemade and amazing. I made the hamburgers and coleslaw, too (half-hearted applause). Oh, and apple raspberry crisp, the only clue that we were, as we continue to be, firmly entrenched in fall.
I’m not sure which was better, the pickles or the crisp (the pickles?), but the photo of the crisp came out better, so that’s the recipe you’re going to get!
Apple Raspberry Crisp
You don’t need too many raspberries for this. A handful or two will do you just fine. Who can make it all the way home with a full pint anyway?
¾ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds
6-8 apples, peeled, cored, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
½ cup raspberries
Juice from ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°F.
For the topping, combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and butter in food processor. Pulse until crumbly, with butter pieces the size of small peas. Stir in the almonds by hand to keep them whole.
In a large bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and almond extract. Gently fold in raspberries. Dump into an 8x8-inch baking dish, spreading evenly. Pour topping over the fruit. Bake 50-55 minutes, until apples are tender and bubbling and top is golden brown (use the broiler if you must). Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. That is not a suggestion.
I won’t drink your beer, but I will spread the word of your advertising genius.
Well. I had planned to share with you a very special and virtually-unheard-of family recipe for spiced tomato jam, but apparently tomato jam is all the rage this year, what with both Mark Bittman and Amanda Hesser beating me to the punch. And with a lineup like that, you have to wonder what in the world I could bring to the table that they couldn’t.
Mistakes, that’s what. Mistakes and I will always have each other.
My mom’s recipe was simple enough. Not something you could easily screw up. So although I hadn’t ever made it before or even tasted it since childhood, I laughed, hahahahaha, as I wandered down the baking aisle and grabbed a box of that powdered gel stuff the recipe called for. And when I got home, I snickered about all the crazy shit I’d have to make up for this post since nothing remotely interesting was going to happen. Hooohooohooo, slapping at my knee as I dumped the powdered gel stuff into the pot of simmering tomatoes.
Hmmmm. Why is it clumping up like that? Gross. It looks like I tried to cook a jellyfish. It’s almost like what happens if you dump gelatin into hot liquid without dissolving it first…
The English writing on the box confirmed my worst fears. I had used gelatin instead of pectin. What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, pectin isn’t made from crushed-up, boiled-down animal bones, for one. Pectin is plant-based and not quite so…gelatiny? It’s a kinder, gentler jelling agent. Anyway, I don’t know what happened. My hand automatically goes straight for the animal product. I can’t control it.
The “jam” ended up tasting great, just like what I remember, but the texture is creepy. It’s way too firm to spread, which kind of defeats the purpose of a jelly. It’s even too dense to qualify as a Jell-O mold (thank god), so here’s what I decided. Get yourself some Manchego cheese and slice it into thick pieces. Scoop out a big glob of this tomato concoction, slice it (yes, you can totally slice it), and place atop cheese. Voila. It reminds me of the quince paste the Spaniards like to eat on their Manchego for dessert, except with autumn spices. And less quince. It was truly delicious, much less creepy in this format, and I’m looking forward to trying it with other cheeses, too.
Or, here’s another idea. Make it correctly.
Spiced Tomato Jam
Sure-Jell is pectin. Sure-Jell is not gelatin. Double-check your work.
2¼ lb. tomatoes
1½ tsp. grated lemon rind
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 box Sure-Jell
4½ cups sugar
Into a pot of boiling water, gently place 3 pint jars and their lids for 5 minutes to sterilize them. Let dry on a dishtowel.
Scald tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and then dunk them in a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel and discard skins. Chop tomatoes roughly (no need to remove the seeds). In a large pot, simmer tomatoes for 10 minutes. You should have about 3 cups of cooked tomatoes. Add lemon rind, lemon juice, spices, and pectin. Cook over high heat until mixture comes to a hard boil. Immediately add sugar and bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down). Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Mixture will threaten to overflow the pot’s edges, which is why you need a large pot. If you’re freaking out, grab oven mitts and, while stirring, remove the pot from the heat to let the foam subside a bit, but keep it boiling as hard as you can for that minute.
Remove from heat, skim off foam with a metal spoon. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving ¼-inch space at the top. Seal jars and place them in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Let cool on rack. After half an hour, shake to prevent fruit from floating to the top. Store in a cool place.
After wrangling winter squash for several hours last weekend, I got to finish my workout by cooling down in the greenhouse trimming onions. Meanwhile, some Spaniards were passing through on a visit. I pounced on them as soon as I heard their accent.
They turned out to be from Madrid by way of Galicia, the lush, green province in the northwest corner of Spain. We got to chatting as I had traveled through that area in college years ago, visiting Santiago de Compostela, La Coruña, and Pontevedra. The latter had a really beautiful plaza and we were lucky to catch it with all the roses in perfect bloom. At least I think they were roses. Do roses grow on trees?
Anyway, botany aside, it’s one of my most vivid memories of my time abroad.
I won’t lie—I made off with a couple of onions from the greenhouse. I couldn’t help myself—the Spanish tortilla that was coming together in my mind was all but made, save the onions I was out of. And wouldn’t you know it, two onions just happened to roll right off the table and straight into my bag on the floor below. On the third try. I smiled as I thought of my evening plans, which involved flipping through my photo albums and shedding salty tears of nostalgia while frying golden slices of potato and stolen onions.
Just add it to the tab I’ll have to work off for the Farmer somehow.
It’s like a really dense frittata with potatoes and onions. Iberian comfort food. Chorizo never hurts, but we can’t always be so lucky.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, plus 1 Tbsp.
6 small potatoes, peeled, sliced ¼-inch thick (or 3 medium)
2 small onions, sliced thinly
1 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and potato slices, stirring often to separate them and seasoning with half of the salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are tender and starting to brown, 20-25 minutes.
In the meantime, whisk the eggs and remaining salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add cooked potato mixture and blend well, separating any potatoes that are stuck together. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in pan. Add egg mixture, spreading evenly, and turn heat to medium-low. Cover and cook until middle is almost set, careful not to let the bottom burn. This can take about 15 minutes depending on your burner.
Now, you can either set it under the broiler to finish off the top, or you can do what Spanish home cooks do, which is the following. First, loosen the bottom with a spatula. Then invert a plate over the top of the frying pan and flip the whole thing so that the tortilla is now upside-down on the plate. Wearing oven mitts is a good idea because sometimes there’s some hot oil bouncing around. Return the pan to the heat and slide the tortilla back into the pan to cook the bottom, another 5-10 minutes. Loosen with a spatula and slide onto a serving plate. Can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.
Note: If you do opt for chorizo, I like to cube it and sauté it first so you can use the rendered fat as part of your cooking oil, which infuses the whole thing with spicy deliciousness. But that’s just me.
And while we’re on the theme, here are some of my other favorite Spanish recipes:
We got to pick autumn raspberries at our CSA and my, my, my, my, my, were they good. Especially the golden ones. We completely lost track of time.
Go find some and pick them.
Last weekend saw me back at the farm trying to complete my farmwork hours as slowly as humanly possible. We volunteers meandered our way to the field in question, which turned out to be the winter squash patch. My smile immediately disappeared. That was the last thing I wanted to help harvest. I already have a small pile of winter squash and no plans for them whatsoever.
The tasks were assigned to two groups: the Lucky and the Unlucky. The Lucky got to locate the squash and then clip their stems. The Unlucky got to pack them into crates and carry them halfway across the field to the pickup truck. Can you guess which group I was in?
Man, those bins were heavy. After the first few trips, I tried to fill them up only halfway to make it easier on myself, but then one of the other helpful volunteers would helpfully stick a few more in there to fill the headspace. Thanks, I said. Thanks on behalf of my imminent groin pull.
It was made all the more difficult by the hundreds of twiny squash vines that were conspiring to trip me in retaliation for all the bad press last winter. Squash are vindictive. Still, I wasn’t about to look like a wuss in front of the Farmer. I tried to summon one of the more encouraging voices in my head to spur me along. She was sleeping on the job, as usual:
Me: Run away.
Me: I can’t. Everyone will see.
Me: You’re going to hurt yourself.
Me: Pipe down. These are the sacrifices you have to make for love.
Me: At least lift with your legs.
Me: I am lifting with my legs.
Me: No, you’re lifting with your back.
Me: My knees are bent, see?
Me: But you’re still bending at the waist.
Me: How the fuck am I supposed to pick up the crate if I don’t bend at the waist a little?
See? So encouraging.
At some point I lost all feeling in my arms, so I just started promising sexual favors to anyone who would carry the crates I had just filled over to the truck. Armless sexual favors, I guess. You know the kind. The takers were not who I had hoped for.
The Kindergartener has been adjusting very well to his new school environment. I was worried he would be completely overwhelmed. There’s a big difference between two days of preschool per week and five days in a row of full-day kindergarten, but he’s handling it like a champ. He loves riding the school bus and seeing his friends, four of which ended up in his class. He loves art and music and recess. No word yet on how freaked out the teacher is about his college-level reading skills, but with 23 kids to one teacher, she probably won’t notice until February.
Still, the Kindergartener’s happy when the weekend arrives. Everything returns to normal. The bickering between the children resumes. I return to my cranky self. Husband antagonizes me. It’s a familiar and comforting routine. Like this past Saturday when the kids were eating their lunch and I was standing by the refrigerator filling my cup with filtered water, which drips out at a rate of approximately one molecule per second. Husband snuck up behind me and licked the whole side of my face. (Normally, I keep these kinds of things to myself, but it’s important to the story.)
I was about to punch him in his tender man-parts but the kids were sitting right there. Instead, I shrieked, shoved him ineffectively, and muttered a bunch of stuff, careful to keep everything PG-rated and within the boundaries of the behavior I’m supposed to be modeling 24 hours a day.
But the Kindergartener didn’t miss a beat, and proclaimed, “Daddy’s a cock!!!”
When it comes to profanity, all the modern parenting books say the same thing. Just ignore it. Go with the flow as if he had just said “apple tree.” They’re just experimenting with language and gauging the reaction. But the Kindergartener could not have expressed more concisely exactly what was going through my mind at that very moment, and so, of course, I did the exact opposite thing you’re supposed to do, which was burst out into a constant stream of laughter until I got a cramp.
Since I had already ruined the moment and all the parenting experts were shaking their heads in unison, I dedicated myself to figuring out what he had meant to say. Believe it or not, “cock” isn’t in our everyday profanity repertoire, so I doubted he was parroting us. I wanted to blame it on public school, but I went to public school and I didn’t start saying things like that until third grade (okay, maybe the summer before).
My mind ran through all the potential meanings of cock. A male rooster? The stuff you pipe into cracks in the walls? No, it turned out that he had extrapolated it from the word “cocky.” He had deduced that someone who’s cocky must be a cock, and I think we can all agree that you’d have to be pretttty cocky to go up to somebody and lick her face like that. Therefore, I deem it to be proper and appropriate usage. Give the kid a diploma.
You may be wondering how my quest to obtain a free bicycle is going. Quite poorly, actually. It would seem that free, brand-new bikes on the sidewalk aren’t something you see everyday. So, I’ve been toying with the idea of engaging in some kind of “monetary exchange.” We don’t really have a bicycle line item in our budget, though you could argue that it would pay for itself with the gas we would save. But that assumes I would actually ride it with some kind of regularity, of which there are no guarantees.
So, for the past week, I’ve been scanning the ads on Craig’s List. I know other people who have had fantastic luck with online classifieds, but my experience has been that the sellers are often crazy or liars or both. Like the time I drove further out of my way than usual only to be shown something completely different:
Me: You do realize that this bears no resemblance to the picture in the ad?
Him: Were you looking for something with those exact features?
Me: Um, yes! That is indeed why I’m here.
(On the bright side, I didn’t end up getting bludgeoned by the crazy liar and dumped into the river, so I guess all’s well that ends well. )
Still, Craig’s List, your appeal cannot be denied. Before I knew it, I spied a very cool yellow bike that was priced to sell (though still out of my range). It beckoned me with a force that could not be ignored. Here’s how my e-mail exchange with the seller went down.
Me: Hi there. I love the bike you have for sale. It's surely worth what you’re asking, but, sadly, I don't have $[redacted] to spend. In the event that other potential buyers don't work out, please keep me in mind. My negotiations come with a homemade pie (or cookies, if you're not really a pie person). P.S. I am not a crackpot.
Her: Thanks, I’ll keep the baked goods economy in mind. I do have someone coming to look at it this evening and tomorrow a.m.…Perhaps I should warn them to wear a little apple and cinnamon cologne for the visit.
Me: They should! Although the smell of cold, hard cash is tempting, too.
Her: I’ll let you know what happens…
Me: I'll be waiting!!
After a few days, I heard back.
Her: So what price were you thinking?
Me: I might be able to scrape together $[redacted], which is probably insulting. But, don't forget the pie!!! Pies are priceless. Although all this weekend I was suffering from pie performance anxiety. Like what if I suddenly can't make a pie under pressure. I'd have to make two and taste one first just to be sure it was good (not a problem--I love pie). But if it sucked, I'd have to keep making more until I got it right. But then after the 14th try, I'd probably just give up and hand over a substandard pie, then pedal away as fast as I could yelling, "There's your sucky pie, suckers!!!"
…Hmmmmm, I guess the crazy one is me this time! (Note to Tammy: one doesn’t need to share one’s neurotic, unedited thoughts when corresponding with complete strangers.) Needless to say, I am not in possession of that bike. My negotiating skills, it would seem, could use a tune-up.
My intention had been to write about these plum and sweet ricotta tarts. And they were tasty, don’t get me wrong, but everything is relative. The reality is that they were nothing compared to what I used the remaining pie dough for.
If I had known this savory tomato tart would taste this good, I would have prettied it up a bit. Maybe chopped up the parsley and marjoram instead of just piling up the leaves like so many discarded yard clippings. But I was merely using it as an excuse to use up some dairy products in the fridge that were all set to expire at the same time. Most of a container of crème fraiche, a third of a container of ricotta, a block of Smith’s Farmstead extra-sharp cheddar that was waaaaay too sharp for the kids to enjoy, with some 1% milk thrown in there so I wouldn’t give myself a heart attack (too late!). Oh, and a bunch of eggs. Plus the stick of butter in the crust.
Um, wow. Maybe I should have just gone to McDonald’s instead.
I think you’re supposed to eat something like this with a light salad on the side to balance things out a bit. That would be something the French would do. I, however, am only a tiny bit French (French-Canadian, at that, which is barely French. Acadian if you really want to get technical about it). No, I ate my slice of tart with a side of more tart. That’s the difference between Americans and the French.
Sally over at Tip of the Iceberg recently asked if the kids really eat what I make. As I started responding to her comment, I realized that it was long enough to be a post and so maybe I should do that instead. And that’s when the trouble began.
After writing about 10 pages on the subject, I started to wonder what happened to my ability to summarize things. It’s a yes or no question, Tammy. Do the kids eat your food or not? Well….um…you see…HOLY CRAP, what’s that thing over there? That thing that flew behind the other thing?
It’s been three weeks and I have yet to write a coherent post about it, and certainly not an entertaining one. But the subject of feeding young children keeps coming up, so I might as well come clean lest you think that the kids, in their freshly pressed knickers, arrive in the kitchen proclaiming, “Eggplant again, Mother? Why, I’d be delighted!”
My mealtime philosophy is a mix of tough love, common sense, bribery, and, most importantly, stubbornness. My own. For if you have stubborn children, there’s a 50% chance they got it from you, and now’s your chance to show them how it’s really done.
Our Dinnertime Rules are as follows:
*If you think I’ve never broken down and thrown frozen French fries and Gorton's delicious fish tenders (regular batter) into the toaster oven, then you’re crazy. I have. More than once. I’m not a robot. But by and large, we eat the same stuff.
**“All your dinner” sometimes morphs into “most of your dinner” which then seems to morph into “only two bites” after a while. I don’t know how this happens, but I suspect Husband is involved.
***Seriously, though, why would you eat your squash if you know you can have a bowl of your favorite cereal right before bed instead? (Mmmmm, GoLean Crunch!!!)
**** Ask yourself what your threshold is for torture before you attempt this. Your kids will make you pay. Luckily, I’m a glutton for punishment.
Did you notice how I didn’t answer the original question? I’ll be writing several more exciting posts on the topic this month, plus an honest update on how it’s all been working out. If you have any specific questions, leave them in the comment section and I’ll try to address them. Please keep in mind that I’m not a nutritionist or any kind of expert on anything really. This all falls under the realm of “opinion.” Still, I have some pretty strong opinions about it because I love food and I want my kids to love food, too. YOU WILL LOVE FOOD, DAMNIT.
It's been a while, so let's recap. So far, Michael Pollan has advocated unlimited unprotected sex, bombing the shit out of as many countries as possible, bringing back the pre-Prohibition days of public drunkenness, and reinstituting enforced busing into our white, white, cowless suburbs. Now I can understand why he’s earned his reputation as a radical.
After all this, and on our seventh date, the last place I expected him to take me was McDonald's. But okay, Michael Pollan, if you're buying. A large fries, please. Oh, and a strawberry shake.
In the last chapter of the corn section, Pollan drives home the point that corn is in everything we eat (remember the two-bit ho?). From the meat that has been fattened on corn, to the corn syrup used as a sweetener, to the cornstarch and corn flour used to bind and bulk, to the fat used to fry. Whether you're buying a prepackaged meal at the grocery store or grabbing a quick bite at a fast food joint, you can count on about 60% of the calories, on average, to come from corn.
Still, even Michael Pollan admits he isn't immune to corn's cunning charms:
"I ate a lot of McDonald's as a kid.... I loved everything about fast food: the individual portions all wrapped up like presents...; the familiar meaty perfume of the French fries filling the car; and the pleasingly sequenced bite into a burger—the soft, sweet roll, the crunchy pickle, the savory moistness of the meat."
You're really speaking my language, Michael Pollan. Keep it coming.
"Well-designed fast food has a fragrance and flavor all its own...this generic fast-food flavor is one of the unerasable smells and tastes of childhood—which makes it a kind of comfort food. Like other comfort foods, it supplies (besides nostalgia) a jolt of carbohydrates and fat, which, some scientists now believe, relieve stress and bath the brain in chemicals that make it feel good."
Uh-huh, tell me more.
"...but after a few bites I'm more inclined to think they're selling something more schematic than that—something more like a signifier of comfort food. So you eat more and eat more quickly, hoping somehow to catch up to the original idea of a cheeseburger or French fry as it retreats over the horizon. And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably, full."
Well, that was downer. Note to Michael Pollan: if you're trying to sex me up, use more descriptors like "meaty perfume" and "savory moistness." Still, I know what he means. It’s like eating cheap chocolate. I can eat 25 Hershey bars and still hanker for more, but give me a single, well-made truffle and I'm good. (Congratulations, Hershey. I guess you win.)
Anyway, this concludes the Corn section, thank god. It’s only been six months. Now we can move on to the section we've all been waiting for: Grass. (Pass the French fries.)
What do I need another food dictionary for, you might ask? I already have the Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst, and she ROCKS.
She does rock. No question. But let’s see what she has to say about cannibals:
Actually, she seems to have forgotten to include an entry for cannibals. Tsk, tsk, tsk. But not Barry Foy. Let’s see his definition:
“Cannibal: A person who engages in the culinary equivalent of incest, that is, a hunter-gatherer who hunts and gathers other hunter-gatherers, usually while they are out gathering, because they tend to be less alert at that time than when they are out hunting. Cannibals often consume particular parts in hopes of magically improving their own corresponding parts. For example, a warrior might eat an admired rival’s heart so as to increase the boldness of his own heart. In a similar spirit, he might make a meal of his neighbor’s nubile and attractive wife.”
I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
Oh yeah, buying this book. If you know anyone who loves food, or hates food, or has a love/hate relationship with food, then this is the book for them.
I’ll leave you with one more to ponder:
“Love: The universal nutrient, adaptable to all human cuisines. This affordable, easy-to-use substance enhances the nutritional value of virtually any dish. Dissolved easily in water, wine, milk, oil, gravy, mayonnaise (store-bought or homemade), soy sauce, lard, ghee, or even Vegemite, it can be added either during or after food preparation and has an extremely long shelf life. Significantly, love’s beneficial effects operate without regard to the skill level of the cook; in fact, many people look back fondly on dishes—sometimes whole meals—in which love was the only appealing or even palatable ingredient. Best of all, love does not stain saucepans or kitchen countertops.”
Over the weekend, on our way to Belkin Family Lookout Farm with the kids, we drove by two nice-looking bicycles out by the street with a "free" sign on them. My first instinct was to fling open the door, roll out of the moving car, then dart across traffic on what really isn’t a very busy road at all. Free bikes!!! And they looked new.
In reality, I restrained myself. We were already late to meet our friends, and the back of the car was filled with crap, as usual. Plus Husband doesn’t enjoy these kinds of pit stops and he hadn’t had his morning coffee, yet, which meant we were bound to have a big fight about it. About stupid bikes. I had to ask myself if this was going to ruin the whole tone of the day. I agreed to let it go. If one of the bikes was still there when we got back, I reasoned, then I was meant to have it.
But, the bikes were not there when we got back. Of course, they weren’t. Who’s going to pass up free bikes? I glared at Husband. Without even realizing it, I had spent much of that morning’s drive charting my prospective bike routes around town. How I could get to Russo’s by just taking the bike path along the Charles. Ditto for DePasquale’s on the other side of the river. Then I would hitch a double-wide trailer to the back and head out on 117 to the farmshare and really piss people off on their evening commutes. I could do all my shopping by bike during the month of October, leaving a virtually untraceable carbon footprint, and then I would finally be crowned the winner of the Eat Local Challenge!
Not anymore. I can’t help but think that fate got it wrong this time. One of those bikes was supposed to be mine. Somebody, probably in my very own neighborhood, maybe even right this minute, is riding it. Smiling, no doubt. And I’m mentally thrusting a stick through the spokes of the wheels riiiiiiiight…….now.
Did I mention that a certain someone starts school this week? Free school. FREE. All day, five days a week.
Yes, this is the time when the Preschooler becomes a kindergartener, the Toddler becomes a preschooler, and I curse myself for thinking up names for the kids that would change every goddamned year. (To be fair, I thought I’d quit blogging after two weeks, but haven’t I caught on by now that nothing happens like you plan?)
I was thinking of just calling the Preschooler the Kindergartener, and the Toddler the Preschooler. Creativity isn’t my strong suit, as you well know. But that nomenclature is likely to be confusing. Like, how did the Preschooler go from being a sweet and gentle boy to a noisy brute practically overnight? (Public school, that’s how. We must all lose our innocence someday.) So, if anyone has a better idea, let’s hear it.
Anyway, given the new, freeing kindergarten schedule, you may be wondering how I plan to spend my time? Rather than doing the work needed to sustain a freelance career, I think I’ll start by acting out scenes from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown instead.
Yes, that is a fantastic idea. I’ll start with gazpacho. Lots of gazpacho. Then I’ll mope around as if I’m despondent about the recent turn of events. Why does he have to go to kindergarten? Why, why, WHY? There will be much pacing and hand-wringing, not to mention checking voicemail every two minutes. Oh, and throwing things just to be dramatic. I really don’t do enough of that. I don’t want to die having never thrown anything through a plate glass window in a fit of rage. That would be a waste.
I just hope that after all of the lighting things on fire, high-speed scooter chases, gazpacho at gunpoint, and dancing half-naked in windows play out, Husband doesn’t make me go out and get a real job.
This recipe is straight from Spain and is my absolute favorite. You can thicken it up with bread soaked in water if you like. Adding garlic is also fair game. Sleeping pills are optional.
4 large tomatoes
1 bell pepper (green is traditional, but I prefer red)
¼ medium onion
6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
In a large pot of boiling water, dunk tomatoes for 20 seconds or so, then submerge in ice water until cool. The skins should slip right off. Core tomatoes, then cut in half across the equator and squeeze out the seeds. Cut into quarters and place tomatoes in blender.
Peel cucumber and cut in half lengthwise. Holding a spoon upside-down by the handle, dig a trough along the length of the cut side of the cucumber to remove the seeds. Cut into pieces and put into blender, reserving one piece to chop for garnish. Core and remove seeds from pepper. Reserve one piece to chop for garnish and add the rest to the blender. Add onion (chop some extra for garnish), olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Purée until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Refrigerate. Serve chilled topped with chopped red pepper, cucumber, and onion.
In the spirit of Labor Day weekend, I did manage to put in some hours of actual labor on the farm. Although, judging by the amount of dirt all over me and pouring out of my shoes afterwards, you would have thought that something else had gone on in those fields. No such luck. We weeded spinach, planted lettuce and basil, and that was all. I have witnesses.
Since there was nowhere to hide in the open fields, I finally had a chance to chat with the Farmer for more than five seconds. Chat and plant, plant and chat. Except chatting is something I find hard to do in combination with other things. I’m more of a one-activity-at-a-time kind of girl. Still, I think it’s important to stick your pinky finger out of your comfort zone twice, maybe three times a year.
That there was any dialogue at all was a miracle given the cacophony going on in my head:
Me: What’s he talking about?
Me: Pressure cookers, I think. Stop crushing the lettuce.
Me: I’m not. This is what he showed me.
Me: I’m quite sure he wasn’t pounding the lettuce into the ground with his fists.
Me: Shut up, I can’t hear. What’s he talking about now?
Me: How sungolds make the best pasta sauce ever.
Me: Mmmmm, I bet he’s right. I wonder if he peels them all. He couldn’t possibly. That would take freaking forever.
Me: Why don’t you ask him?
Me: No, you ask him.
Me: You better pick up the pace. If he gets too far ahead of you, he’ll start talking to that other guy.
Me: Right. I don’t think he’s talking anymore. He’s not. Crap. Say something.
Me: Comment on those weird-ass husk tomatoes you tried last week. Only make it sound like you really liked them.
Me: Okay, I just told him.
Me: What did he say?
Me: He thinks they’re gross.
I wonder what the odds are that any of my lettuce is going to survive?