Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
Fools Crow by James Welch
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

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Freezing the Harvest

Meg, over at Meg's Food and Wine Page blogged this week about the plethora of fresh produce she encountered on her weekend in the Hudson Valley, and how this time of year what she eats is largely dictated by what's ready to be eaten (and how rare this necessity has become in a world where we're flying apples from New Zealand for out-of-season produce) ... at any rate, her post is much better than this summary so just go read it.

But Meg's post got me thinking about my summer here with my garden -- yesterday I picked two huge baskets of chard and processed about half of it for the freezer (the other half I took to our local soup kitchen, which handily, is about a block and a half away). I also experimented with freezing some zucchini (which I have doubts about -- I think the texture might get all weird but we'll have to see). Right now, my days are dictated by the garden -- yesterday's experiment with zucchini came about because eight zucchini came ripe at the same time, and I can't eat that many. And even if the texture does get a bit mushy -- after growing my own produce I'm becoming increasingly wigged out by a zucchini that was picked somewhere in Mexico and then put on a truck and hauled all the way up here to Montana. How long has that zucchini been dead? How many people have touched it? How much fossil fuel did we expend getting it here? It just seems irresponsible to me -- and since I have both the space and the inclination to garden -- I'd like to try to eat as close to home as possible.

Which brings me to the other thought Meg's blog inspired -- the idea that what's available can determine what we eat. That is, we eat what's close, fresh, in season (or that we can preserve) instead of expecting to eat everything all the time. This isn't a new or original idea -- Alice Waters has been bludgeoning us all with this idea for years, and much of the slow food movement is also predicated on eating local, traditional fare. But for me it's led to some new foods -- chard and beet greens for example. I've discovered I like cooked greens -- and although I always sort of vaguely liked them, they weren't something I bought in the store much. But having grown them, and having encountered how prolific they are, I now understand how recipes like Italian Chard pie developed. If you grow chard, there's a lot of it, and you start thinking of creative things to do with it. Personally, I'm planning to use a lot of my greens as filling for ravioli (once the weather cools down and I can bear to make pasta). There was a terrific commercial ravioli I used to buy in the bay area that was called "Italian vegetable" -- it had chard and carrots and onions for the stuffing, with some ricotta of course. And I also see a lot of white bean soups with lovely greens happening this winter. Maybe it's because I like to cook to begin with that I find this interesting, to experiment with those things that will grow here, and see what I can make from them. (Of course, I should probably be putting that creative energy into my novel, but a girl's gotta have a hobby now, doesn't she?)

And since they delivered my new freezer this morning, I now have someplace to store the summer greens, the local meats I buy at the Farmer's market, the wild salmon we scored last winter from the brother of the guy who owns the Murray Hotel and who fishes in Alaska. Plus, I think it'll be really nice in the dead of winter, when the snow is falling on my fallow raised beds, to go downstairs to the freezer and pull out a bag of chard, or gai lan, or beet greens, to eat a little bit of the summer that's gone by.

posted by Charlotte at 8/08/2003 03:34:00 PM


Rest in Peace

James Welch has died.

I only met him once, years ago, at the very first Art of the Wild conference. He led a workshop with a participant we'd been really worried about -- he was this older man from Alaska who had, to our enormous alarm, sent us the entire manuscript of his novel, and it was typed. During the months we were planning the conference, we worried about losing the thing, since it was clear it was probably his only copy. So this gentleman appeared, and we scheduled his workshop for the end of the week with Jim because the other problem was that the book was terrible. It was a long, cliche'd story about an "Indian Princess" -- and the man was so nice, and we'd become so fond of him after a week in workshops together that none of us wanted to hurt his feelings. And Jim was amazing ... he very quietly, and with enormous dignity told this man that the book was terrible, and that he could do better than these kind of cliches. This is a really difficult thing to tell someone, and it's especially difficult to deliver this kind of news in a way that a student can hear, because, of course, one's ears fill with white noise when you hear the news you'd been repressing -- that your work is terrible. But Jim Welch pulled it off, and we all sat around that conference table watching him with awe -- he was so kind, and so respectful, and so tough with this sweet older man who had written this awful novel. It was the kind of thing that only someone with a very big heart can do.

I'd heard at a party this summer that he was very ill, that the lung cancer had really taken a lot out of him and that he was a shell of his former self. But he was still funny, cracking dark jokes about how we're all only going out of this life one way. And then this morning, in the paper, comes the news. His big heart gave out.

If you haven't read his work, go now to the library or bookstore. Fool's Crow is my favorite, and one of the most astonishing books I've ever read. He was a wonderful writer and a good guy, who will be sorely missed.

posted by Charlotte at 8/06/2003 06:41:00 AM


Lurid Soup

Beet Soup! It's so gorgeous that it is right up there with the Oxford Magazine Music Issue. It's a soup that will make you do the snoopy dance all over the room. It's absolutely fuschia (which, by the way, is soon to be the color of my office), and tastes good, and generally is just so beautiful that it will make you happy.

Now, I was a beet-a-phobe for a long time. It was those nasty pickled beet slices you'd sometimes get as a kid -- the ones that leak nasty canned pickled-beet juice onto the perfectly innocent other foods on the plate. But then I discovered the wonder of roasted beets, and started making Laurie Colwin's great beet pasta ("weird, but good"). Now I really like beets a lot, and this soup takes my beet-madness to a whole new level.

Here's the "recipe":

Take equal amounts beets and potatoes (I used about six smallish beets from my garden and one big potato cut into chunks) and put in a pot. Coarsley chop an onion and smash a few garlic cloves. Cover with chicken broth (or in my case, 1/2 chicken broth 1/2 water as my stock was pretty strong). Add some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until the root vegetables are tender. Get out the immersion blender and blend to a gorgeous, dark-raspberry puree. Taste for seasoning. Serve with a big dollop of sour cream and chopped chives (some basil is also good).

posted by Charlotte at 8/04/2003 09:53:00 AM


Some days it pays to listen to your horoscope.

Yesterday my horoscope said something to the effect that I should stop being so determined and dogged and take the day off to do nothing. Did I listen? Of course not. I had it in my head that I had to pull everything out of my office closet, build shelves in there, and paint the whole thing so that next weekend I can paint the office itself (and build more shelves and put in the new desk and lighting -- a whole trading spaces makeover). Now is there any actual schedule here? Any schedule, that is, other than the one in my head that says now is the time? Of course not.

But did that stop me? Did my total exhaustion stop me? Did I not spend the day swearing under my breath while cutting shelves from plywood, sanding them, painting them, cutting brackets from pieces of 1x2, screwing them into the closet wall, painting the horrible old-dirty-apricot interior of the closet a nice clean shiny white? Did my grumpiness, which I should know better than to ignore, because it usually means I'm not paying attention as closely as I should because I don't actually want to be doing the task in front of me, stop me? No. No no no no no.

Should I have listened to my horoscope. Yes.

Because at the end of the day, the shelves are all an inch too short. They won't work. I have to do them again.

So today I cleaned up all the construction and decided the most ambitious thing I'm doing is making some borscht (how hard is that? boil beets, potatoes, onions and a little garlic, then puree. Add sour cream. Borscht.) Oh, and I might finally read Seabiscuit because I saw the movie last night -- and despite the fact that there is far too much of the human story and not nearly enough horse, it's still pretty good if you like sappy horse movies.

posted by Charlotte at 8/03/2003 12:13:00 PM


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