Archive for August, 2010

A Nice Problem to Have

August 27, 2010
Scott's still life of figs, diamonds and leaf

Scott Robinson's still life of figs, diamonds, sink drain and leaf -- very artistic!

One thing that most of my friends already know about me (and who else, really, is reading this blog) is that I’m an industrious cook.  I’m not sure where the desire to cook originated, maybe from my mother’s refusal to cook anything interesting when I was a child or maybe it’s a past life memory.   My urge to try new recipes, almost to the point of physical exhaustion, my love of and access to seasonal, local produce, and a borderline-neurotic refusal to throw any edible produce away usually combine to produce at least one if not more dishes on a daily basis from my teeny, tiny kitchen.  On average, I prepare three times the amount of food I can consume, and have been known to give a portion of whatever I’ve made away to friends regularly.

My cooking picks up speed in the summer months as I work to catch up with the fruits and vegetables I’m so lucky to receive, whether through my friend Rob Brown, through the bounty of Monticello’s gardens and orchards or through my own foraging and picking.  This year began with a surprise harvest of black mulberries, fat from the wet winter.  I’ve worked through harvests of black currants, sweet and sour cherries, rhubarb, and not enough raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.   Now it’s peaches, figs, apples and plums.  Some of the fruit I’ve used for baking, some I’ve frozen (the blackberries will make the autumn’s apple pies taste terrific, and I have enough sour cherries for one more pie), some I’ve soaked in alcohol (there’s just not enough of my cherry vodka cordial to go around), some I’ve dried in my friend Rachel’s dehydrator (the white peaches turned out fabulously), and some I’ve used to make jams, jellies, and preserves.  And that’s just the fruit.  The vegetables I can’t turn into lunch or dinner I’ve frozen or pickled (cucumbers and caponata), made romesco and tomato sauce and even tomato jam.

This week’s challenge has been how to use the 10 pounds of plums I received from Monticello.  So far I’ve made a plum chutney, an upside-down plum cake, and a plum-apple-jalapeno jelly.  Tonight I will force myself to use the rest of the plums by making a simple plum jam.  This will be a different recipe than the one I made about a month ago with rhubarb, tart enough to send my Scandanavian grandmother for her 91st birthday.  I can’t make it earlier in the day because I need to buy more canning jars.  Somehow I’ve managed to go through every single one.

something worth striving toward

August 26, 2010

Because mankind can circumvent evolutionary law, it is incumbent upon him, say evolutionary biologists, to develop another law to abide by if he wishes to survive, to not outstrip his food base.  He must learn restraint.  He must devise some other, wiser way of behaving toward the land.  He must be more attentive to the biological imperatives of the system of sun-driven protoplasm upon which he, too, is still dependent.  Not because he must, because he lacks inventiveness, but because herein is the accomplishment of the wisdom that for centuries he has aspired to.  Having taken on his own destiny, he must now think with critical intelligence about where to defer.                  from Arctic Dreams

To trace back to my initial encounter with Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams would place me wandering among the library shelves and selecting a collection of his short stories Light Action in the Caribbean from the fiction area.  This has been one of my tactics for choosing books to read since I was a girl, starting at some letter of the alphabet and moving across the offerings until something – an author’s name, a title – clicked.  Intrigued enough by their blending of Carver minimalism and Borges cosmopolitan cleverness, I searched out another two of his books, not having any idea what I would encounter.  Reading about the Arctic’s elaborate ecosystem during some of the hottest days of a very hot summer was the perfect activity and was one of those serendipitous encounters that a library makes possible.

I came across the above quotation early in the book and before I turned the book in on its due date, I made of point of writing it down since it encapsulates exactly how I see our obligation as humans at this point in our species’ history and in light of the world’s dilemmas, most of which have been caused by humans.  It reminds me of another quotation by George Sand:

Simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve in this world:  it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.

I think one could replace the word “simplicity” with “restraint” and feel the full import of both quotations.  We must learn restraint because it is the most difficult thing to achieve and because we are fully capable of achieving it.  Restraint is also simplicity.  It is not a new carbon capturing device.  It is not new technologies that squeeze oil and natural gas from shale.  It is crafting, through self-knowledge, through discipline, a life that accepts with humility Nature’s preeminence and our limitations, eating, for instance, within the cycle of the harvest not through airshipped fruit from Chile.  Rather than seeing our lives as impoverished when we can’t buy the latest fashions, we should understand that true luxury exists in having clean water to drink, a bountiful and beautiful planet to inhabit and, as a species, the mental fortitude to weather what lies ahead.

a reason to celebrate

August 19, 2010

I never would have had the courage to wear this beautiful vintage bathing suit at my dinner/ birthday party if my friends Andy, Rachel, and Uma hadn’t egged me on.  Thus more evidence to strengthen my hypothesis that my friends make me smarter, funnier, stronger, braver, and more beautiful than I would otherwise be.

Life on earth is confusing, to say the least.  I am thankful to have a few intrepid souls who help me sort out a few of the more perplexing issues.  Not all of them could be at my birthday party in person, but all of them were present in spirit.  I carry their love and wisdom with me everyday.

As for the year to come, onward and upward!  The odds are that things have got to get better.