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
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What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

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The End of the Garden

I pulled up the tomatoes this afternoon. All day it looked like it was going to snow, and there I was out there in the backyard in a sweater and my down vest. I figure, if you've got a down vest on, it's time to harvest all those green tomatoes. (Plus, I have to go to San Jose for business next week, and my brother was afraid he'd kill them all and I'd be mad.) As I was working out there, the weather got even worse, and I had to go put on my gore-tex shell for the first time since spring. I feel a hard frost in our near future.

So, I pruned away at the tomatoes, cutting off long lanky vines, trimming the leaves away in preparation for hanging bundles of vines, with green tomatoes, in my basement (I grew mostly cherry tomatoes). It was kind of fun since I hadn't pruned them -- I was just so happy that they finally grew like weeds that I let them. The Galina and Jeaunne Flamme were all entwined, while the Romas, Gold Nuggets, and Auroras, being determinite vines, were all compact and tidy.

I also harvested the Aci Sviri turkish peppers (from High Altitude Gardens) and hung them with the tomatoes in the basement to ripen. Next year, I have to remember not to plant the peppers among the tomatoes because they didn't get enough sunshine and didn't really ripen.

So now I have tomato vines hanging on the basement clotheslines. It's kind of festive ...

posted by Charlotte at 9/12/2003 04:02:00 PM

Johnny's gone home to June

Oh -- Johnny Cash is dead -- it feels like a loss that should be met with wailing, with rending of garments, with church bells tolling.

While I'm happy for him, because he seemed so bereft without June, I am so so sad for the rest of us. That voice, that gravity, that deep sense that absolute ruin was just a moment away. I think that's what I loved most about Cash, his music doesn't just acknowledge that we can all fuck up our lives beyond repair, but that we are always just a few short steps from that terrible fate. And that it's usually just the grace of God and the love of our families that keeps us from ruin.

I discovered Johnny Cash the winter I lived in Taiwan with my best friend from college. She had just married her husband, who is now a huge Chinese pop sta and we lived in a welter of Chinese pop music. After a few weeks all that tinkling upbeat cheer got to me and I bought a Johnny Cash tape in one of the street markets. After that, the soundtrack of Taipei was Johnny Cash -- he kept me grounded, reminded me what I love about America, gave me courage when I was on the wrong bus and no one spoke English and all the signs were in Chinese.

I have a hunch it's going to be all Cash, all day here in the casa. Rest in peace big man.

posted by Charlotte at 9/12/2003 06:54:00 AM


Ordering a Lamb

Well, I ordered a lamb yesterday. It "won't be ready" for a couple of more weeks, which means it's still out there at the Schilling's ranch, eating and growing and being a lamb. Which not only doesn't bother me, it reassures me. It's a happy lamb. It lives in my neighborhood. It's being raised by responsible ranchers. And it's a meat animal -- that's its purpose, so I'm not sad it's going to die. I'm just relieved to know how it lived.

When it's big enough, about 60 pounds, it'll go off to Big Timber to the slaughterhouse, and then over here to Matt's meats, my local guy to be butchered. Part of what I'm interested in about buying a whole lamb is that I can have some input into how it's butchered. The general practice is to take any scrappy pieces and turn them into ground meat. I don't cook a lot with ground meat -- whether it's hamburger or lamb or pork. But I do love stews, so I'm going to ask Matt to give me as much stew meat as possible. I'm also kind of hoping Matt will let me watch -- I think butchering is really interesting.

And like learning to cook what grows in my garden, I'm looking forward to learning to cook cuts I might not have otherwise. We'll see -- another food adventure.

posted by Charlotte at 9/11/2003 06:48:00 AM


Box of Fish

Yesterday I bought 25 pounds of salmon from a guy on the other side of town. He fished for it himself, in Alaska, and then had it processed, boxed, and shipped home where he sells it out of his house.

I love buying food from the person who actually produced it. I paid six bucks a pound, which seems like a bargain to have one of your neighbors go to Alaska and catch wild salmon.

So in my basement freezer is now enough fish for a year. Clean, wild, sustainably harvested salmon -- salmon that never lived in a pen, didn't eat horrible fishfood pellets filled with antiboitics, salmon that was never turned into a semi-domestic industrial product. Just wild salmon, caught by a guy with a boat.

Next I'm waiting to hear from the people who raise lambs. I'm either buying a lamb, or a 30-pound box of local, grass-fed beef. Then I won't have to go to the grocery store -- I can just shop the basement!

posted by Charlotte at 9/09/2003 07:58:00 AM


Summer is really over

I finally spent some time on the Yellowstone River this weekend --- went boating both days, actually. Unfortunately, summer is most definitely over -- We got rained on both days. Saturday was just sort of gloomy weather, with little sprinkles, and Sunday was gorgeous until the thunderstorm blew up. Oh well -- next year I'll have to try a little harder to get on the river in that short season between the time the floodwaters recede and the weather turns cold.

Saturday my friend Wendy-the-Buddhist, who has just returned from a year's exile in California (they needed to make some money) and I took out her canoe. It was great fun and I got to dust off some very rusty whitewater skills-- which was interesting. I spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties in canoes, and even spent one season guiding rafts in North Carolina -- but compared to that group of whitewater experts, I was definitely in the baby pool. So I tend to think of myself as someone who isn't particularly skilled -- but the skills I do have came back to me, and I was thrilled to remember how much I really love canoeing. Old muscle memories returned, and I managed to keep us out of the snags, upright through a couple of swirly spots with little haystacks, and without scaring either of us to death. It was a wonderful chance to catch up with an old friend, and we saw Sandhill cranes, osprey, kingfishers, red-tailed hawks, a couple of bald eagles, and a bunch of mergansers. All morning Wendy just kept looking a the glorious Absarokas rising above the Paradise Valley and saying "I'm SO glad to be back. I'm so glad to be back."

Sunday Nina and I rented a two-person "ducky," a small inflatable canoe-shaped raft, packed a few beverages and snacks, and did a much quieter section of the river. It was her mom's-day-off present from her husband, who spent a month at Yaddo this summer and left Nina with their two adorable, but high-energy kids. Unlike Saturday, Sunday was a true float -- I think we only paddled a couple of times, mostly just drifted down the river, talking in that way one does with a new friend -- testing one another's judgements about people and situations, sharing things about your life, and just chatting. So we spent a lovely afternoon talking and watching the birds and the mountains float by. And then the thunderstorm came up. The river is peppered with public fishing access sites, some of which are also campgrounds. We'd planned to go all the way to Mallard's Rest, which is where we'd left Nina's car, but when the storm blew up we had only made it as far as Loch Levin. So we pulled over, pulled up the raft, and wound up taking shelter in the outhouse where we called Nina's husband to come rescue us. Which was a funny end to a good day.

This morning is grey and dark, and I'm relieved to discover that my pink office *is* going to be as warm and inviting all winter as I'd hoped it would be. It would be nice to get some rain today for the garden (it rained down valley yesterday, but not here in town), and although I'm a little sad that the garden is coming to an end for this year, I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to get back to my novel, which has been sadly neglected these past few weeks. It's hard to have a full-time job, a garden, new friends *and* get any writing done -- but since for the first time in years I actually have a social life, and a solid group of friends -- a community if you will -- I'm trying not to beat myself up over the book. But it *is* time to get back to work.

And there's a lovely tribute this morning in the Telluride paper to Brother Al. A good man who did God's work in the truest sense. May he watch over us all.

posted by Charlotte at 9/08/2003 07:12:00 AM


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