September 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
Stepping out of the house this morning and seeing the street sheathed in white fog was like, for a moment, stepping back home, stepping into a different city, a different time. Walking down the street towards one of the few cafes in the area I thought both took credit cards and provided free internet (as it turns out, it had only one of the two) to do some writing was like stepping back half a year, to writing my thesis in Small World, my thesis that now sits on my desk, bound, and untouched. It’s the first weekend I’ve had to myself in a long time, and I’m using it to find my voice writing again, which is much harder than I thought it would be. Call me crazy, but I miss my thesis, I miss having work that was mine only, I miss the life that was my research, I miss the farms, the mountains, but mostly meeting new people every day. I don’t miss them individually, but as a whole, as people who pushed back on the comfortable lifestyle many enjoy (myself included), as people who nonetheless welcomed the intruder (me) with open arms. But I also miss the vast openness of the farms, and the routes we often drove to the farms, the kind of openness that makes you and your problems feel so, so small.
I had a moment like that the other day, sitting at a picnic table on our farm in Lincoln, preparing for an interview with our head farmer. One of our other farmers had given me a ride down to the farm, and then excitedly shown me a ripe green-stripped tomato in the children’s garden and wandered off into the fields for a walk around — she emerged toward the end of my interview with a bouquet of flowers. So I sat for a few minutes before the interview, looking out over the fields, which ran into forest, trees whose tops are already turning red, under a cloudy, gray sky. And for a moment, as cliché as it is, I felt at peace, like the world wasn’t about to close in around me, but as open as the fields before me.
And now I’m sitting in a café in Davis Square, listening to a young woman rant about her brother at the table next to me, having to do the dishes, and listen to his phone messages, while watching the toddler across from me struggle to eat a cranberry roll by shoving it in his mouth. It’s funny how that vast openness can break down into such minuscule moments, pithy complaints, and dissatisfactions. I have small plans for today, just a bit of writing for work, harnessing the rutabaga and daikon radish from my CSA share into red curry, and maybe a batch of cookies. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking lately, but have lost of rhythm of photographing and writing about it. It’s starting to become routine — a batch of coffeecake muffins on Sunday for the week’s breakfast, an acorn squash galette with caramelized onions and pecorino, served with greens and raspberries, a couple of pizzas topped with whatever vegetables are hanging around — and that’s an interesting discovery for someone who is used to writing about being in the kitchen as an event, as something that is blog-worthy. I made a batch of pumpkin-cranberry granola yesterday after my 14-miler with the team, and was pleased that it came out in crisp, sweet clumps rather than as loose, toasted oats, as my granolas sometimes do. I’ll post some of the dishes I’ve been more proud of soon, but for now I’m just working on rediscovering that I know how to put a sentence together.
July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m in the process of booking a whirl-wind of complicated flight-train combo trips, overnight stops in random hostels, and 12+ hour-long days of travel. As much, my last day in Barcelona is being spent in the hotel lobby, having already walked to a food market this morning (which was, of course, closed), walked to a donut shop (which was, of course, closing in ten minutes, but I just managed to squeeze in), and locked myself out of my hotel room. So while I pull together a real post on Barcelona, I thought I’d leave you with a couple of snippets of travels that have previously gone unmentioned.
After my research in Maroilles went sort of awry, ending in a rather fruitless trip, we switched from the dingy, grimy motel room in the equally gray Maubeuge, to a small agritourisme in the area. While the rooms were huge, including both bath and shower, and refreshingly decorated, the highlight for me was the cute breakfast setup — all white napkins, crusty bread, flakey croissants, and several types of jam, served in little white ceramic pots. The tiny butter-dish even had a top, with equally tiny handle!
Later on, at a more upscale agritourismo outside of Modena, where the pool dropped off into the vineyards and hours could be spent dining on the patio overlooking the hills and valleys of the northern Italian countryside, we enjoyed tortelloni stuffed with spinach and local ricotta, an interesting pasta made with breadcrumbs and drenched with parmesan fondu before being topped with assertive black truffled shavings, stuffed omelettes and eggy, baked flan, and to finish, multiple rifts on vanilla-cream gelato, eaten with spoons of the house basalmico and tiny cups of espresso.
So there you go, some of the more beautiful moments of a trip that has often involved trudging through cow stalls, taking pictures of baby black pigs, and waking up at 6 a.m. in order to observe the entire cheese-making process (and that’s still hours later than the cheesemaker wakes up!). Ciao until next time!
August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was sitting on the ground the other day, in the dirt between the rows of the vegetable patch, picking green beans and yellow peas, and talking to a guy from Australia, who is now studying in Sweden, just outside of Copenhagen, which is one of my favorite cities. As we dug underneath the leaves of the plants, searching for our small treasures, we talked about how this was this third attempt at an undergraduate degree, having started his studies twice in Sydney and consequently dropping out. The first time, he said, he was the middle of an economy lecture when he realized he didn’t want to be doing what he was doing and decided to leave the room. And so now we found ourselves all scratched up from moving wood and trimming vines and sitting in the dirt of a farm in Piemonte.
If you told me a year ago I would be spending the last two weeks of my summer on an Italian farm, waking up at 5 a.m. with the crowing of the rooster, running at the sunrise to the next town over — where you might find another corner store and bar — and tossing and turning in bed in the scorching heat of midday before the evening shift of work started, I would have laughed in your face. As I type, I am sitting in the back of a rickety old caravan, driving up the twisting roads into the mountains, on our way to tomorrow’s market. This morning, I was setting out jams and honeys at another market in Alba, going around to the other stalls to taste pungent organic goat cheeses, slurping out the middles of stringy green figs from sticky hands while walking down the alleys of Alba, white truffle country. My forefingers are red, cut and bloody from hours of cutting out the rotting spots of apples, fallen before they could be picked, and my legs are covered in long red stripes from where blackberry branches have been ripped across them. But there are four containers fill of tiny, sweet blackberries to sell at the market, and a blackberry clafoutis sitting in the kitchen cupboard leftover from dinner last night.
Maybe it doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time. Maybe it’s not really mine either. But there are moments when, covered in sweat, you feel like it might be worth the effort; brief, small moments when it seems like the world has turned itself right side up again. Sitting in the back of a tractor, after three long hours of moving chopped wood close to the house in preparation for the winter, with the wind in my face, my body jumping with every dip in the dirt and gravel road, just might make it worth it. The bite of half a purple fig, the very first one off of the tree, handed to me by the grandmother of my new “Italian family” while berry picking at noon and a spoon of hazelnut goat milk yogurt while sitting on the hammock after driving home from the market. The minute you walk into the one bar in town, a twenty minute uphill walk from the farm, and grab a beer from the fridge, imported from Germany, and ignore the strange looks from men who have spent their entire lives on a stool in that bar. Dipping your hands in the washing basin next to the grocery store, where you can pick up the bare necessities (many types of sausages, milk, and chocolate hazelnut cream filled cookies to name a few) and watching the German and Swiss motor bikers cruise by, the bikes practically parallel to the ground as they round the curves in the road. Scavenging for wild blackberries on the walk home from town, hoping they really are wild, or that at least the neighbors won’t notice us. The red sun rising and falling and collapsing into bed at 10 p.m., exhausted and drunk from the two liters of wine plunked down on the table at dinner. Or maybe it was the spoonful of hazelnut gelato, made from fresh cream and hazelnut cream, the specialty of the area for which there is an entire festival next weekend, from a small teacup at the end of a drawn-out dinner, that seemed to emerge from the storeroom out of nowhere, that really got to me.
The farm makes you crazy, crazy from the heat and the exhaustion, and the never-ending lists of tasks to be completed, and the feeling that you could never shower enough times in one day, or ever escape the sounds of the roosters and the dogs barking and jumping on you and licking your sweat, crazy from the need to get out. It might be the hardest thing this city girl has ever done, committing to two weeks in the middle of fucking nowhere. And strangely, it’s not the work that’s getting to me, not the long hours spent weeding in the sun and the repetition of tossing large branches, some covered in thorns, into the back of the tractor. It’s not the fact that this house is filled with strange smells — most not all that enticing — or that I have been turned off of apple butter forever after seeing the state of the apples that are used to make it, let’s say the cast-offs of better times. Rather the hardest part of this place is feeling like I have been thrown into the work without being welcomed into the home, that they smile and say you are part of the family and then get angry when you don’t understand vague instructions given in halting French, or worse, instructions in Italian to which you can only stare back blankly. The hardest part is hearing the woman tear into her husband after every little thing that goes wrong (and even just when he is slow on the uptake) and having to choke back a second piece of the blackberry clafoutis, which is, after all that, far too cloyingly sweet and made with even the hardest, dried-up berries, because she couldn’t bear to sacrifice any.
So yes, I had an alternate ending to this story, and this post. I had a couple of paragraphs written about not quitting despite being far out of my element. I had paragraphs written about the golden sun setting as I sat in the back of the caravan and about the universal language of the kitchen. But the people and the shouting and the snapping got to me. It’s a beautiful region, filled with mountains and valleys and cresses and rows of grape vines that stretch as far as the eye can see, but I’m leaving. Sometimes you just have to pick up and leave.