Ride Along To Another Shore

Are you stepping on my cape?

Tata: As you may have surmised, the weekly excursions to the farmers market are not just a shopping trip. I am scheming!
Lupe: Ok, I’m going to have to puzzle over this one. . . UNLESS! Unless, you’d like to give me a little hint? Is it to add peace and harmony to the office environment?
Tata: It is! Our supertaster Cindy tastes fruit, Mathilde shops without fear of overspending, Beth eats something calorie-rich, Annette discovers agriculture doesn’t necessarily blow, Tina tries out veggies she’s never cooked before, Evan gets to see his friend Martin, Tabby gets to see greener living in action, Chuan eats actual vegetables and you get some sunlight. Everyone gets a little exercise and fresh air, and we all do something together without any strife. The farmers are happy. Also: I get to see Pete and the little red wagon and have fresh vegetables It’s totally win-win. I am scheming! By next year, I shall have you all composting! MWAH HAH HAH! Did I reveal too much of my plot? Should I leave details until Act 2?

I heard her laugh from across the room.

Lupe: Hopefully you heard me laugh from across the room. . . you are totally on the money. I think it’s great – I noticed that Mathilde was more talkative than I have ever seen her, and frankly, Cindy has really cut herself off from everyone recently, so I was more than pleasantly surprised to see her going! Everyday the kids and I sit at the dinner table and say what was the favorite or best part of our day. Today – hands down – was the trip to
the market!

Sure, Cindy had never been to a farmers market before, thought we were going to a muddy pick-your-own exravaganza and wore sandals anyway, and Beth doesn’t actually go to the market if she has errands to run so we bring her back loaves of pepperoni bread, and Tabby fights me about eco-anything. So I’m holding off talking about sustainable food philosophy for another month, when I will call them locavores and everyone will run for the dictionary. Just think of the cardio benefits! Anyway, despite the vocabulary quiz, I have a lot to learn, and via Monkeyfister I’m getting a high-impact brain workout. Sharon Astyk offers a series of principles designed to change the way we live in radical and radically familiar ways.

1. Plant something – I doubt this one needs a lot of explanation. Obviously, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are doing a lot of this right now, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” – most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds. So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something – some people are full swing here, but even if you just picked the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or saved it. Don’t forget to include food you forage – whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something – this starts around now for me, as asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up. Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July. Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else. And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it. But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door.

4. Reduce waste – This category covers both the old “Reduce Waste” and “Manage Reserves” group. Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it. In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage – everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft. BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy – stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy.

5. Preparation and Storage – This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food. That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path. Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away? Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful? Tell us!

6. Build Community Food Systems – Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home. But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important. Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school? Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard? Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in? Donate to your food pantry? Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt? Offer to teach a canning class? Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild? Talk about your food storage or gardening plans? Share a plant division or seeds?

7. Eat the Food – Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them. Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know – farmers can’t necessarily lead the way – they have to sell what eaters want. So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system. This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale.

The more I thought about this the more I knew I didn’t know enough to support myself this way. And there’s more. The Park Your Car Report is a good sweat all on its own.

Pete and I and several of our friend turned last winter to the unnamed university’s agricultural extension for gardening classes. The first was canceled when the instructor accidentally woke up in New Orleans, which is not at all commuting distance from New Brunswick. The container gardening class was useless in that what we learned was we couldn’t compose decorative containers without the deep knowledge brought to bear by the instructor. In September, I’ve signed up for a cold frame gardening class, which probably should have been held in March. I’m at the end of my rope with those folks, and it’s a long way down.

Two Steps On the Water

Is one born a glamorpuss or does one have being a glamorpuss thrust upon her? Who can say? Certainly, I cannot. For all my homemade, handmade, DIY desires, I love exotic and beautiful design. Dad brought back Marimekko treasures from his trips to Europe in the early seventies, and each seemed like it had come from another planet. Lacquered metal cocoa cups seemed outrageous in colors no one was using in America at the time, investing in them some magic that permits me to remember them decades later.

For crying out loud. They were cups.

Perhaps that’s why the object holding my hair in a giant, messy knot right now is essentially a resin chopstick bejeweled with rhinestones, which is only a little bit at war with the earthy ensemble I bicycled to work in.

She Was Before the Years Flew By

My grandparents Edith and Andy in their restaurant the Towne Spa, South River, NJ.

The roadwork on Routes 18 and 27 was supposed to wrap up in April, then July, and now I have no idea. Despite the grave danger to my delicate person, I’ve been bicycling to and from the library this week. Cars career around corners and trucks rumble ominously, but I am brave, with my helmet and little bell. Out of my way, pedestrians! Plainly, I am important enough to wear sunglasses to hide my identity or prevent sunglare from causing me to pedal into a bus. Either way, I am so interesting! What could my interesting story be? Why is that grandma riding that bicycle at this stupid hour?

Dad in front of the restaurant, possibly modeling resentment; if not, trying resentment on for size. And jodhpurs.

Recently, we had a visiting Californian house guest, who was horrified by the excesses of New Jerseyians. For one thing, when you live in a desert it’s hard to adjust to monsoon season just off the Turnpike. It’s rained for about two months. Backyard butternut squashes died of root rot. Our guest was positively aghast when I accepted a plastic bag at the grocery store so I could clean the cat box, which was when I pictured cleaning the cat box with a kitchen spider and an open window. As your carbon nag, I truly enjoyed being lectured about quirky Al Gore, especially after our third glass of wine, when it’s probable I will learn very little. My brain felt like it was full of soda and fuck all that noise was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t say it. Instead, I found another pillow, poured another round and reminded myself that I can always live greener.

When You Build Your House I’ll Come By

Just after 3 this morning, a party next door spilled out the front door and into the yard. After some protracted I love you, mans and You’re my besht friends, Pete grumbled, padded down the stairs and outside, where he said, “Guys, guys, you can’t do this. Go the hell home.” So we inadvertently contributed to the number of drunk drivers on the road before sunup, because almost as soon as those people left and Pete climbed back into bed another wave of grad students up past their bedtimes stumbled off the porch. This went on for about an hour before the house was empty or everyone assumed crash positions, and we fell asleep. When the alarm went off, we groaned and complained, because not only were we tired but we were also pissed we literally could not get those kids off our lawn.

I may need a muumuu.