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Archive for the ‘Community Eating’ Category

I get these “green” catalogues in the mail at work, and every time I browse through one I keep thinking, wait, if people were being really environmental, wouldn’t they, I don’t know, NOT buy all the random crap in this catalogue? I mean, really, a wicker meditation chair? Are you kidding me?

I still wish we could all get back to just giving oranges and bottles of wine for Christmas. I mean, I love that my parents use Christmas as an opportunity to help me pay for things I can’t afford on my own (like my pressurized canner), but aside from that, I kind of wish I could declare a moratorium on gift giving ASIDE from small useful things. Like bottles of wine. The worst possible thing about Christmas is when people buy each other mountains of useless plastic crap that comes in even more useless plastic wrapping. With that in mind, I recently sent out the following email to the local food listserv I manage:

Looking for a few ideas for holiday gifts for the local foodie in your life? Rather than fill up their stockings with more gadgets that will get discarded after only a few months of use, why not introduce your family and friends to the joys of local foods?

· Give the gift of a CSA membership to a farm such as Colchester Farm in Galena or Homestead Farm in Millington. A year’s share offers several months of weekly vegetables.
· Give a gift subscription to St. Brigid’s Farm’s Medley of Meats program. A six month subscription will provide you with a once monthly share of grass-fed beef.
· Rather than having a box of steaks shipped from who knows where, try packing your own box with steaks from St. Brigid’s, Crow Farm, Cedar Run, or Sassafras River beef.
· Put together a gift basket of fresh produce from the farmers’ market, and add in other local favorites like honey, soaps, jams, or a fresh loaf of bread.
· Instead of a gift basket from Bath and Body Works, try assembling a basket from locally made soaps or herbal products like those from Calico Fields Lavender. You can even buy online!
· Give gift certificates to restaurants that serve local foods, such as Brooks Tavern, the Imperial Hotel, the Village Bakery, Two Tree Restaurant in Millington or the Harbor House in Worton. Or try a gift certificate to a natural food store that sells local products, such as Chestertown Natural Foods. There are many restaurants and stores carrying local products, so do your research. I wouldn’t say no to a gift certificate to the famed Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.
· For an extra special gift, consider a gift certificate to the Crow Farm B&B in Kennedyville. Stay in the beautiful, renovated historic farmhouse and take in the rural vistas while dining on fresh local foods!
· Remember to take a bottle of local wine or a six-pack of local beer to all your holiday gatherings, or give them as gifts! Bottles of specialty wines always make great gifts, especially for hostesses, and would be great paired with local cheese from Eve’s Cheese or Chapel Hill Creamery.
· Give cookbooks with a local food theme, such as the beautiful “Dishing Up Maryland” by Lucie Snodgrass. The book features profiles of many of the small family farms in Maryland, and then follows each with recipes from that farmer, using their products. Make sure you pick one up at a local book store!

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The passage of S. 510 has left me rather depressed, I will admit. Very depressed, in fact. I have been very prone thus far in my life to making lots of excuses for not doing the things I say I very much want to do, and now I have an even better one for not farming: S. 510! But let us talk no more today of that dreadful subject. I want to talk instead of the reason I will continue to make excuses for not farming and fight the good fight against encroaching government crackdown.

This past Thanksgiving, I was very thankful for raw milk. I was thankful for the thick mug of hot chocolate made with raw milk that I drank over the weekend. I love the way the cream rises to the top as the milk cools, so that there are swirls of white amid the deep brown of the cocoa. I love walking to my fridge at night and cutting off a hunk of raw milk white cheddar cheese, and standing in my kitchen, not really looking at the pile of dishes I haven’t done yet, and reveling in the salty smooth bite of a good cheese.

I love going to the farmers’ market, so much so that I will smile for the entire day, and so much so that I will go even when there is nothing I need to buy. This past Saturday, there was a Christmas parade, and over night the Christmas decorations had gone up in town, and there were wreaths and ribbons on all the lampposts, and one of the farmers was selling evergreen boughs. I bought a gallon of cider and a loaf of bread and later pulled off pieces of bread to enjoy with my cheese. I love that I can’t just “run” to the farmers’ market, as it takes me a good twenty minutes to say hi to everyone I know, and another twenty if I stop to talk to anyone. I love that I can walk up to someone and introduce myself and name several mutual acquaintances and within minutes we’re fast friends. I love that all those people are willing to stand out in the bitter cold for hours so I can buy some brussel sprouts. And that they love it too, and know what I bought last week, and will probably want this week, and ask after things they know are happening in my life.

I am so overjoyed that our local baker, who has until recently been selling his bread at the farmers’ market only, has finally opened his own bakery. When it opened, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I rushed down the block to go in and buy a loaf of bread, and was nearly in tears because I was so happy for him (and for me, now I can have croissants whenever I want). I loved the smell of bread baking. I was so in love with the loaf of bread I bought I almost didn’t want to cut it up for stuffing (but I’m still loving the stuffing leftovers, so all is well).

I loved making stuffing for Thanksgiving, because I loved all the ingredients so much. Bread from someone I hesitate to call an acquaintance, as I hesitate to call all the people I know in town acquaintances, because I care so deeply for them, even if I only see them for a few minutes a week at the farmers’ market. Apples and scallions from other farmers I know. And chicken broth made from a chicken I got from yet another farmer who I chat with every week, whose farm I have visited several times, who, even if I don’t always agree with him, I trust to give me a good chicken. And after I baked the chicken and fed it to my friends, the bones went in a pot with the fat and some other bits, and boiled and filled the whole house with the glorious smell of chicken, and I poured the liquid into a jar and froze it and pulled it back out for Thanksgiving and poured it over the stuffing knowing that the nutrients inherent in homemade chicken stock would nourish my family, as would the raw butter I put on top of the whole thing.

I loved that I was able to serve squash that a farmer had given me, just because they had too much. I loved that my cousin, who had until the day before Thanksgiving been farming in New York for the summer, brought home squash from the farm, carried it on the bus in fact, and made mashed squash with garam masala for dinner. He also brought me several enormous garlic bulbs, tied together with twine, looking almost too good to eat, and I almost cried over that too, because I missed him so much while he was gone over the summer and also because the garlic looked so gorgeous (and delicious), but mostly because I was so happy that he had spent the whole summer farming with people that he seemed to really get on with and that he looked so happy, finally.

I loved spending the entire day in the kitchen with another cousin, while we chatted and chopped and mixed and kneaded and our fourth and final cousin’s voice played on the stereo and we sang along in perfect(ish) harmony and we both missed her so much we could barely stand it, but with her voice playing it was almost like she was there, and I was so proud to have a cousin who is more like a sister with a voice that could make my heart break that it nearly did. And another cousin who is just like a sister who would spend the whole day with me in the kitchen talking about the best way to knead rolls, and why some fats are better than others, and how she showed her seventh grade class Food Inc. and talked to them about how whole foods are better than processed foods and I thought I would nearly pass out with the happiness that I have been so blessed with this amazing family.

And when we sat down to dinner, laughing and teasing and exclaiming over all the dishes, and we clinked glasses and toasted to another year of being together, and gave thanks to everyone who helped cook (almost everyone at the table), I looked down at all the foods on my plate, almost none of which had come from a store, and most especially had not come from a box or a can but from ingredients we had assembled and mixed and baked and served, and those foods would be so filling we’d all end up on the floor for a good hour after dinner, trying to recuperate, and gave thanks to all of the farmers who had provided the meal. All of the farmers who I could name, and see in my mind’s eye, and picture their farms as well, and feel each of their handshakes the first time we met, and the grins of their kids or their dogs or whoever made up their family, all of whom I knew as well, and who had spent the entire year out in the sun and rain and heat and cold to produce this food that graced our tables, and then had stood at the farmers’ market in the cold to sell it to me (or give it to me, in some cases). Because they wanted me and my family to be well fed, and that mattered enough to face all the obstacles.

And this morning when I woke up I remembered that S.510 had passed, and that it would probably become law, and nearly burst into tears again wondering how long it would be before all that was gone.

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I feel like I should have something exciting to say, because it’s Friday, but all I can think about is going to see Harry Potter tonight. Is that wrong? Does that contradict all my speeches about economy and small scale this and that?

So you’re getting a picture instead. Last Thursday, we played host to the podcaster extraordinaire, KMO, of the C-Realm podcast. He is on tour promoting his new book, Conversations on Collapse. And so we had a little gathering for him to speak about the book and the topics contained within. And that means… food!!

I of course forgot to take pictures while I was cooking. You can blame this on the fact that I was trying to prepare three dishes at the same time. I also forgot my camera, and had to rely on Ms. Zumba for the use of hers, as we were also gathering at her house. Because I made all fried foods (finger foods), my dishes were displayed in tupperware with paper towels. Not very attractive.

I made spring rolls for the first time:

They were quite delicious, and a lot easier than I thought they’d be. It took longer to chop up the cabbage than anything else. I used cabbage, carrots, peppers and scallions, all of which were briefly stir fried with some seasoning. I bought spring roll wrappers, which all the instructions I could find online said you should just be able to fold up, but I found I needed to brush them with a little water to soften them up first. All of my spring rolls were different sizes and kind of lumpy, but whatever. I’ll get better. And they tasted amazing.

I also made gobhi kofta, which is kind of a cauliflower dough, rolled into little logs and fried. They are usually served with a sauce, but the sauce didn’t really turn out, alas. So we just ate them as is, and they were still delicious. Kofta is an Indian dish that just means these little vegetable patty things, or logs, or sometimes they are more like balls. I’ve had them with all sorts of vegetables, and you could make them with almost anything.

Here is a picture of the whole display:

The other foods are beer battered broccoli (made by me), pumpkin (?) sushi and delicious, addictive kale chips made by Ms. Zumba. I am really going to have to try the kale chips this weekend, because I just couldn’t stop eating them. Yuuuuuuum.

So all in all a wonderful evening of eating well and talking about the collapse of civilization. Yay!

Also, I should mention that S. 510 did pass the Senate yesterday evening. I can find no indication yet of whether it passed with any of the amendments. Apparently it still has to be put to a final vote, one way or another. Both MD senators voted in favor. If you have a moment, and want to let them know your thoughts on the matter…

Update: apparently the amendment is attached to the bill, with some changes. Find out more on grist: Tester Amendment

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Sigh. It’s all well and good to read all these books on local foods, and then I get in my car and drive through the landscape and realize it’s not reality. Not yet, anyway. And maybe not in my lifetime.

The trouble of it is, this economic thing. There’s an endless conflict between what is right and what is “economical.” I want to get my chickens from someone I know. I want to trade for it with things I made. I want a personalized, local, economy. This means radically changing everything. I know this. But how do we get there? How do we get there if people don’t want to get there?

The book I’m reading talks about how entrepreneurs can make all this money by capitalizing on the wave of popularity the local foods movement is seeing. The conference I went to talked about how entrepreneurs could make all this money by capitalizing on the wave of popularity the local foods movement is seeing. I talk about this all the time. Oh yes, I’m always saying- specialty foods, value added products. Get out of commodities. But there are three main issues with this great sounding notion of transitioning people over to smaller scale, specialty agriculture. Yes, it creates jobs. Lots of them. And we need those. Yes, it helps preserve farms, and that’s another thing we need. It creates healthier foods. It connects people at least a little closer to the land. In some ways it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Sort of. But also:

1. The people who live nearest to the rural areas producing these foods can’t afford it. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, most of the people getting involved in these new forms of farming are not necessarily from the areas where they’re starting these farms. I’m not from the eastern shore. I’m not from a farming family. It’s not across the board, but it does mean there are a lot of academic ideas in this new wave of “local food” agriculture, and that means it doesn’t always address the obvious: there are people that need to be fed. People who don’t have the money to pay $5 for a loaf of bread, or $6 for a gallon of milk. I barely have the money to pay $6 for a gallon of milk, and can only manage because I don’t have kids. And I have a much better income than the majority of people living in rural (or urban, for that matter) areas.
2. People don’t necessarily want those things. Let’s admit it. I get all these exciting ideas about growing currants and making black currant wine, but who the hell wants (or needs) black currant wine except a bunch of crazy middle class foodies like me? Most people need their basic sustenance. Most people don’t want any more than that. And all of those things are currently commodities for exactly that reason- so that people can afford them. We can ramble on about value added as much as we want, but when it comes down to it we’re only targeting a very small portion of the population with all these “specialty” crops we’re all going to make so much money on.
3. If you are growing these specialty crops to differentiate yourself, and you are doing so in a place like the eastern shore, there is a certain amount of the population you are going to get to buy your stuff, and that’s it. I was talking about it this morning: someone wants to start a community supported fishery, which will be an expensive prospect for those who join, and we were saying it’s a good thing they want to start it on the part of the shore where the people have money. So what happens when all these people get into specialty farming and max out the number of people who locally want to buy their products? Well, they start selling them to the urban areas on the other side of the bay, of course. To do that they need infrastructure- processing facilities, transportation, probably some kind of broker. All of that will end up being regulated. And where is the line that divides all that growth from the system we’re already running from? From the large scale industrial ag everyone’s always ranting against? Oh yes, people will start small scale. But then they’ll realize that people in Annapolis want their fancy cheeses, and that in order to get the people in Annapolis their fancy cheeses, they have to grow, and become mechanized, and go through the same supply chains as everyone else, and then where’s the difference? This is the same thing that happened to organics, and it’s why the word has no meaning now. It’s literally owned by the government. I don’t want them to own local, as well.

It’s not that it can’t be done. It’s just that we have to THINK about these things, and so far, it doesn’t seem like too many people are thinking about it. People get all kinds of excited about local foods, without pausing to think if local people even want local foods, educated or not. And about what we’re really trying to achieve here. Are we trying to create more jobs? Ok, then we’re on the right track by getting people into smaller scale, “specialty” agriculture, and by setting up processing facilities and the rest. Are we trying to preserve land from development, and maybe help the environment, and maybe produce somewhat healthier food for the people who can afford it? Great, we’re on the right track.

But do we want great food to be affordable for everyone? Do we want local to still mean your neighbors, and not someone who just happens to be in the same general region as you? Do we want control over how our food is produced, and a direct line from the farmer to our plate, without a lot of “infrastructure” in the middle?

Well, then. That’s something different.

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While the blog posted automatically last week, I was busy eating. For once. One of my favorite people in the world, my sister-cousin Miss Clickclack herself, was staying at my house with her partner and I actually had people cooking food FOR me. It was amazing. I would get up every morning, do some work while they were still asleep, and emerge from my room to the delicious smells of something curious cooking on the stove, whether it was leftovers from the night before mixed with some new ingredients to spice them up, or some unusual combination I never would have thought of in my life. This is the thing I love most about cooking with two people who are just as into cooking as I am, and who like all the same foods. Never in my life would it have occurred to me to combine eggplant, broccoli, onions and black beans- with some kind of spice combination I couldn’t even puzzle out. But it was delicious.

I was I had taken more pictures, but I was too busy eating and playing endless games of Carcassonne (my new addiction) to remember to take too many. There’s just this one:

Of my plate just before I started to devour it, when it suddenly occurred to me there should be some evidence of the week. I only wish I had had the brains to turn off my work email for the week, so I hadn’t spent half the time worrying over whether the students were taking care of things or not. One of the things I have always loved about hanging out with my sister-cousin was the feeling of freedom, of not worrying about much of anything, and it has since occurred to me that this is likely more to do with usually being in Germany when I hang out with her than anything else. In Germany, I can’t even access the internet regularly, and when I do I very rarely fuss with work at all. Alas! That I allowed myself to be distracted.

None the less, it was an excellent week all around. I can’t even describe to you the simple joys of saying, “is this too much garlic?” And every time being answered, “no, put in more.” Only a true member of our family could tolerate the quantity of garlic that we consider normal for a dish: usually an entire bulb. And eating it raw is certainly not out of the question. We had a discussion about our love of garlic, and how it rarely occurs to us that this might be strange to some people (for example, that they may find it strange that we constantly smell strongly of garlic, a smell that we, garlic devourers that we are, rarely even notice except as a mild pleasant aroma that says: delicious). I will have to admit that clickclack’s tendency to eat raw onions as if they were apples was a little disconcerting, but all in all I’d say she’s a lot healthier for it (as I am for eating raw garlic).

I will heretofore attempt to list the wondrous things we ate last week, if my memory will permit:
– The most delicious pumpkin soup I have ever had in my life.
– Some kind of bizarre stew that I kind of wished I hadn’t made, though I have a good excuse: I had a terrible head cold and couldn’t smell a thing.
– Pad thai.
– Many interesting things made in pans: the aforementioned broccoli/black bean combo, some kind of potato/onion/eggplant(?) combo, more mysterious stir fries involving eggplants (of which there were many in my fridge).
– Several very typical German breakfasts, or at least the sort I’m used to: good hearty bread, blocks of cheese, spreads, butter, juice, coffee. I had to laugh as we hacked off pieces of bread from the loaf and arranged slices of cheese from the blocks on top, as this is something I have only ever seen Germans do. Americans are not accustomed to bread they have to slice themselves, or cheese that comes in a big lump.
– A very spicy pepper-onion-carrot combo, served with spaghetti squash and butter, green beans, and kale.
– Noodles! Well ok that one wasn’t terribly exciting, but we dumped lots of garlic over them so it counts.
– Loads of fresh apple cider, and some intriguing drink that included vodka, ginger beer, and cucumbers.
– Popcorn! Homemade of course. With nutritional yeast, butter, and lots of sea salt.

Sigh. It was a week of many things I love, and many things I constantly lament not having in my day-to-day life: having other people to cook with, having other people to eat the things I cook, having other people to help with the dishes (thank god for that), having other people to eat with, rarely having leftovers (and when there are leftovers, not being chastised for leaving them on the stove for a day or two until they disappear), eating ridiculous amounts of garlic, sharing a loaf of bread and cheese. I love having lots of people around. I love not having to eat alone. I love sitting up nights playing games and watching movies and talking and laughing and sitting on the porch. It is such a very very very immense shame that this week things are back to “normal”, that I am back to work, and that I will be eating dinner tonight alone.

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C-Realm Podcast: Fatuous Inefficiency

Me talking about local foods! Me being snobby about tomatoes! What more can you ask for?

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I’m feeling dramatic lately, what can I say? Because I, like so many people my age, am again faced with the decision so common in this f-ed up society. Stay where I am, where unfortunately there are almost no career options, or move somewhere else where in theory there might be more than one place to get a job. No, I haven’t lost my job. It’s just decision making time in my world and, unsurprisingly, I find myself thinking about where my food comes from in the process.

Or more accurately, I should say, I find myself thinking about the people I get my food with. I never expected when I moved to this town over four years ago that I would stay at all. I’m usually terrible about making very close friends, and I tend to stay close to the places where I’ve made them. The trouble is, in this town I’ve not only made some of the closest friends of my life, I’ve found myself a member of an entire community. When my little sister was visiting last week we dashed into the market for a hunk of mozzarella, and she was terribly amused by the fact that every single person in the store knew me by name.

And that’s what I love so much about this town. We make the joke that you can never go to the farmer’s market just to get eggs: this simple task takes at least two hours. And it’s because when you go to the farmer’s market you run into everyone you know, and end up standing there chatting with them about one thing or another. I absolutely love that I know so many people. I absolutely love that I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know. I love that on any particular night, if I am feeling social, I can walk to one of five or so neighbors’ houses and be guaranteed I will be invited in for a meal or at least a drink on the porch. I am so in love with this that the thought of moving away from this town caused me to burst into tears and mope around the house all day last Monday, a reaction that completely astonished me.

It shouldn’t, really. I have always been a homebody. I used to go on in high school about how I wanted to travel, but I think that was mostly a desire to get the hell away from my death trap of a hometown. Since then I have traveled, and I have lived other places, and I hated it. I was miserable as all hell. But since moving to this town I’ve been if not consistently happy (and who is, really), than happier on a more regular basis than I’ve been in my life. It’s hard not to be happy after going to the farmer’s market on a beautiful summer morning, and coming home to a loaf of bread and hand crafted cheese and locally fresh picked berries.

And now I have a network of people I can rely on- people who, if they aren’t exactly friends, certainly fall solidly under the category of “neighbors”- people who, if I needed it, I could call up for help on one thing or another. And people here do that. They help each other out, they do what is needed to make sure those around them stay afloat. It has taken me four years to become a part of this community, and now that I’m a member, I sure as hell don’t want to give it up for my life. It IS my life. That’s a startling realization for anyone who has grown up in this culture where it is simple as can be to pick up your “life”, pack it in a box, and start over somewhere else. We haven’t been taught to value the relationships that only come with being in the same place over an extended period of time. We haven’t been taught to become interdependent with our neighbors, because, well, if we did we wouldn’t be so dependent on stores to fulfill our needs. But here I am canning tomatoes and sharing produce and talking about going in together on a freezer with my friends, and my bike is in my neighbors’ garage and there’s a regular standing offer to trade services (web skills or sewing or whatever it may be) with the rest of them. And I’m thinking about giving this up? So I can potentially make more money somewhere else?

It’s the bind that really makes this whole society so untenable. If I want to farm, I need more money. If I want more money, I have to find a job that pays me a ridiculously larger sum than I make currently. But on the other hand, if I want to farm successfully, I need a market to sell to and a community of people willing to support me. But to make the money to start a farm, I have to abandon the community I’ve become a part of, and the network of farmers who would help me get started, to go somewhere where there are more jobs (if such a place even exists). This is such a ridiculous choice it just makes me fume. I want the other choice. I want to just smash the system that would put me in such a bind (and it’s not just me that’s in a bind, I know that for damn sure. It’s everyone under the age of 40, so far as I can tell). I want the way out that will mean the community really actually getting its act together to build what it wants- which is a functional local economy that can support the people who live here, rather than all of the young people abandoning ship to try and find jobs somewhere else. If we want to keep this area rural, we HAVE to find jobs for young people- and my suggestion is to find ways to get young people into farming, and make it profitable enough that they are willing to stay. This would create so many jobs we wouldn’t even be talking about building more bedroom communities as a means of temporarily employing people.

Some people might say I’m scared to leave home and move somewhere else. But in reality I listen to my friends saying they are so excited by the adventure of moving somewhere where they don’t know anyone and I can’t help thinking to myself, what, are they insane? And by insane I mean something along the lines of emotionally impoverished, or something similar. Every fiber of my being cries out for a community, for a social network where I can have a fulfilling, meaningful role. And I have been fortunate enough to find that, here. Now it’s my job to STAY here, and build the jobs I and all the others need so it will be possible for us to stay. Without one day ending up in thousands of dollars of debt. I’d like to have a hometown that my kids won’t want to run away from.

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