Monday, October 12, 2015

Summer to Fall: It's Harvest Time

A sun-kissed peach at Demarest Farm in Hillsdale, New Jersey. In my opinion, more satisfying than the latest version of any iPhone.

Canned peaches were a marvel to homesteader Mary Bee Cuddy in the Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones film, The Homesman, portraying the harsh, isolating life on the Nebraska frontier in the 1800s.  A peach pie was a taste of home back in the East, something a potential husband Mary Bee was trying to attract might find pleasing. In Isabel Allende's California gold rush novel, Daughter of Fortune, she wrote of the fortune seekers, "They would pay any price for the apple pie that gave them a moment's respite from homesickness."

Whether it's the latter half of the 19th century or 2015, there's something so nourishing to the soul like a piece of pie, especially made at home or from a farm. I feasted on a fresh blueberry pie this Columbus Day weekend purchased at Old Hook Farm in Emerson, New Jersey, which my sister described as very "Little House on the Prairie." I could see this on Caroline Ingalls' windowsill for cooling at Plum Creek. This is been made into another "sale" weekend, yet another excuse to go shopping and consume. Home Depot's advertisement had a banner "Take on Fall" and below it "Let's Get Upgraded." When I hear upgraded I always think, buy things you don't truly need. I'd take a piece of pie at the farm any day over time at the shopping mall. This is my take on fall.

August was our first time peach picking, which we did at Demarest Farm.

I ate more peach melba than I ever did in my life this summer. I adored too peaches for snacking and my husband Steve's peach crisp.
I love the "Come back to the country" t-shirt worn by the driver of the tractor. I think as a nation we all need that, to turn away from our addiction to technology and come back to something more tangible. I keep thinking with the bombardment of pumpkin products each fall that seems to increase each year, do we really like pumpkin that much, or is it something pumpkin represents that we're longing for?

In the BBC adaption of Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford, Laura Timmins describes, "The last few days of summer were a time of headiness and plenty....while the Lark Rise men brought home the harvest." Most of us in modern life have no part in harvesting. That can be a good and/or bad thing depending on your perspective. We're lucky and grateful to have farmers in our lives supplying the good and plenty. We loved the variety of our CSA with Abma's Farm in Wyckoff, New Jersey, produce plus add-ons of eggs, dessert bread and Tomasello wine. Here's an update of what we received. For 20 weeks, we paid, $440 for the produce, $40 for half a dozen eggs weekly, just under $300 for the wine and the bread, which I signed up for the third week, was a big splurge at $7.25 a loaf. So the weekly photos represented about $45 worth of food. Considering all the meals we got out of it, we considered it worth the cost. We could spend that much going out for one meal, which we rarely do anymore, save for farm lunches maybe once a week. We may just do produce and eggs next year, possibly bread. I really enjoyed trying the wines but am not a big drinker.

Week 12: Swiss chard, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, beets, leek, lettuce, cherry peppers, cherry tomato pints, with eggs, cornbread and chardonnay. I always took a mix of brown and white eggs and think of one of my favorite episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Country Girls, when Harriet Oleson tells Caroline that brown eggs are 4 cents less a dozen, which Caroline victoriously refutes.

Week 13: Cubanelle peppers, carrots, corn, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, lettuce, leek, with eggs, apple banana fusion bread (I swapped the offered zucchini bread to try a new one), and riesling. 

Week 14: Bok choy, kohlrabi, lettuce, corn, garlic, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, with eggs, Morning Glory bread (with carrots, coconut and raisins) and Rkatsiteli white wine.

Week 15: Leek, Swiss chard, lettuce, bok choy, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, with eggs, pumpkin bread and Autumn Leaf red wine.

Week 16: Tomatoes, leek, corn, lettuce, bell peppers, and a watermelon from a Sussex County farmer, with eggs, apple cinnamon bread and pinot noir.

Week 17: Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, collard greens, lettuce, arugula, and peaches from a fellow farmer, with eggs, cranberry bread and sangiovese, which went so well with baked ziti on chilly, rainy night.

Week 18: Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, Swiss chard, a head of lettuce, arugula, radishes, apples from Sunshine Orchards in Milton, New York, with eggs, banana chocolate chip bread and a cabernet reserve.

Week 19: Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, eggplant, a head of lettuce, arugula, apples and butternut squash. We had a choice of spaghetti, butternut or acorn squash. With eggs, zucchini walnut bread, and a vintage port.

I cannot wait for butternut squash soup. I know pumpkin products get all the glory these days, but I love other fall fruits and vegetables equally: squashes, cranberries, pomegranates, apples and such.

Week 20: Kale, arugula, radishes, a leek, green beans, acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, apples, with eggs and pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and a Broomstick Brew wine. Everyone got to pick out a mum: yellow, purple or orange. It was so sad picking this up for the last time!

I celebrated the autumn equinox at Demarest Farm my mom and daughter Grace with an army of people who came for apple picking.

We just came for lunch, sharing cheese lasagna, sweet potatoes and spinach, with pumpkin cheesecake and hazelnut coffee.

"Autumn was her happiest season. There was an expectancy about its sounds and shapes: the distant thunk pomp of leather and young bodies on the practice field near her house made her think of bands and cold Coca-Colas, parched peanuts and the sight of people's breath in the air. There was even something to look forward to when school started - renewals of old feuds and friendships, weeks of learning again what one half forgot in the long summer. Fall was hot-supper time with everything to eat one missed in the morning when too sleepy to enjoy it.” - Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman

There's a television ad for Campbell's with a young couple in the kitchen both glued to their handheld devices while eating dinner. The woman's foot softly touches his, and the announcer says, "Nothing like a good quick meal to bring two people together" and their meals are for "real, real life." So have we have all been reduced to not human beings but consumers, so mindlessly looking at our gadgets?
While there's so many wonderful things about technology, I think these devices play too heavy a hand in our world, and they've become an actual extension of our body: arm, hand, iPhone. How can we appreciate our food while looking at a device?
Nearby our lunch table was a group of teenage girls, each one with a phone in their hand that they were looking at the entire time we were there. I told my mother of my concern of raising our daughter amidst this mob mentality of phone dependency. I think of an exchange between characters on Lark Rise to Candleford, with Alf resistant to the machines that would soon change his world.

"It takes courage to move with the times, Alf. " - Gabriel
"What I've been taught, sir, is sometimes it takes courage to stand still." - Alf

I think we need to put the devices down and get back to savoring our food, interacting with one another, looking not down but at this beautiful world around us, and letting our minds run free instead of being distracted.  What's happening now, especially a generation taken over by companies selling these devices and contracts, doesn't feel like progress in the least.

When I completed the four seasons of Lark Rise to Candleford following the closely knit agricultural community in England in the late 1800s, I felt a longing for more, since it was a world I craved. I loved simple things about it, like all the tea times and meals on Dorcas Lane's fine green and white china. No one ignoring each other looking at their phones here. John Dagleish, who plays Alf Arless, said that now "Everything is kind of sound bites and newsflash and flashplay. Everything sort of bombards you. It was a much slower pace of life. People take their time over their thoughts, over their words. It's definitely a lost kind of innocence that they had. We're bombarded with so much information now that we've sort of lost a bit of our imagination maybe and that magic of living off the land and supporting each other."

I think farms get so mobbed during the autumn because as a people we long to reconnect with the magic of living off the land, if at least for a little while. I always savor a slower pace of life when I lunch at the Abram Demaree farm stand in Closter, New Jersey. I always call this a bit of a secret farm, a hidden gem that serves up comfort food.

I was craving the simplicity of grilled cheese with tomato.

Fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. I've seen shows where they are trying to sell houses and they bake these at open houses to invoke the feeling of home. HGTV says "the intoxicating scent brings back childhood memories for many." For all the materialism in our society, isn't it so that things like simple gifts from our kitchens really pull at our heartstrings?

On the way home, we picked up the blueberry pie and apple cider at Old Hook Farm, where I admired the fall decorations. Isn't autumn the most cheerful, cozy time? I think like Scout, now called Jean Louise in her adult life in Got Set a Watchman, for many of us it's our best season.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Spring and Summer 2015 Storytellers: Two Seasons of Books

"When I was your age I used to ask myself, "What is a story?" Well, ain't it like a magic spell taking us away someplace else. And where do stories come from and why do we tell them to each other...
Don't we tell stories because they help us to understand each other?" - Emma Timmins, from the BBC adaption of Flora Thompson's trilogy, Lark Rise to Candleford.

I've been lost in the dreamy English countryside in the end of the 19th century, a breath of fresh air from turning on the television today and being bombarded with the tabloid feel of the presidential campaign and the dumbed down Kardashian-dominated news. Lark Rise to Candleford  called to me from the library DVD shelf, four glorious seasons like the four seasons of the year. It is a literary lover's gem. Works of great poets and authors are often weaved into the storylines: a public reading of Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, a passage from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, a gift of a Thomas Hardy novel, characters soul searching after reading Samuel Smile's Self-Help and David Hume's A Treatise on Human Nature. I consider if a series set in modern times would involve so many storytellers, what books of our day would they include now?

I'm so curious and drawn to what's on people's bookshelves. In Lark Rise, George Ellison visiting Dorcas Lane, peruses her home library and remarks on Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and a well thumbed copy of Lord Byron's Don Juan, which young Laura borrows. "I read a great many things," Dorcas says.

I love to read a great many things too, and feel my spirits lifted and mentally stimulated with a book in my life. These were my storytellers for the spring and summer of 2015, a quote from each to remember their beauty and wisdom. I find myself often drawn to passages on nature.

"Ask nature questions, and you will get answers." - Frightful's Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, from Better World Books, $2.50.

Nature is so healing to both the mind, body and spirit. A Navajo medicine basket photographed during my Southwest travels.

"He wished he knew how to make tea, wished he even had some to try with. That was what Miss June-bug wanted when she was feeling low, a good cup of tea, and it always seemed to brace her right."  - Springwater, by Linda Lae Miller, from the library.

A cuppa at New York City's Tea and Sympathy. It's a comforting thought that no matter how fast-moving and changing the world is, there is something so timeless and universal about the simple pleasures like tea, gardens and books. Tea braces me up right just as it did June-bug in the Montana frontier romance story.
 "If you can live well and be happy without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn't you?" - Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day by Gene Baur with Gene Stone, from the library. The book includes 100 plant-based recipes.

At the Farm Sanctuary shelter in Watkins Glen, New York, where farm animals are friends, not food.

"Miss Maudie hated her house: time spent indoors was time wasted. She was a widow, a chameleon lady who worked in her flower beds in an old straw hat and men's coveralls, but after her five o'clock bath she would appear on the porch and reign over the street in magisterial beauty.
She loved everything that grew on God's earth, even the weeds." - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, from the library.

I spend less time in the garden worrying about the weeds, and admiring more of the beauty, including my cherished geraniums.

"Family was very important to us. It was one of the only things we had, and what kept up grounded. Some of the best times we had were the times when we were all together. It didn't matter what we were doing. During the holidays or just on a weekend afternoon, the whole point was just being together. There doesn't seem to be as much of that going on today. People are so busy. But family is everything." - Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression by Clara Cannucciari, from the library. Visit her Great Depression Cooking channel on YouTube.

A family fondue night on a chilly day with sparkling apple cider. With all the ways to keep in touch - e-mail, calls, text and social media, I think of how "busy" we consider ourselves in modern life with little time for breaking bread. I love cozy, simple meals like a fondue. The weather is just about right for it. Clara's cookbook is nearly a vegetarian cookbook since there was little meat during the depression, and she's said they are better off for it. Clara is sadly no longer with us, but we have her book and videos with their wisdom of eating wholesome, hearty foods and living frugally.

"The sunset was a splendid display. I wondered if it was showing off for my benefit or if it was often that spectacular. Rarely had I seen such a gorgeous scene; the riotous colors flamed out over the sky in shades that I had no words to describe. Birds sang their last songs of the day before tucking in for the night, and still the darkness hung back. Now, I thought, I understand the word "twilight." It was created for just this time - in this land." When Calls the Heart Janette Oke, from The Well Read book store in Hawthorne, New Jersey, about $15.

The sun setting on Rialto Beach in Washington state. Why is it only on times like vacations that we pause to view a sunrise or sunset?

"As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment." - Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, from a shelf of free books from the library.
Moments on my Southwest travels, like here visiting the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, seemed to linger on too more than a moment. My time here still haunts my soul.

"On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds' early service; she would have pondered over the meaninglessness of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going ungazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.
It was waiting to receive her, but she neither looked nor listened." - Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, from the library.

A cardinal on a winter's day. I want to bear witness to the silent, austere beauty born again each day.

"Awakening is about introducing a child to sensory experiences, including tastes. It doesn't always require the parent's active involvement. It can come from staring at the sky, smelling dinner as it's being prepared, or playing alone on a blanket. It's a way of sharpening the child's senses and preparing him to distinguish between different experiences. It's the first step toward teaching him to be a cultivated adult who knows how to enjoy himself. Awakening is a kind of training for children in how to profiter - to soak up the pleasure and richness of the moment." - Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting byPamela Druckerman, a gift from my sister.

Remembering the simple pleasure and richness of an apple tarte tatin at New York City's Pigalle, a haunt near my old office. I don't want my daughter Grace to be ridden with the food guilt that is part of American culture. I also want her to take in the world around her and not be glued to a device.  As a society, I believe we need to learn how to profiter.

"That's my little piece of heaven. Go ahead."
Ciro followed Remo through the open door to a small enclosed garden. Terra-cotta pots positioned along the top of the stone wall spilled over with red geraniums and orange impatiens. An elm tree with a wide trunk and deep roots filled the center of the garden. Its green leaves and thick branches reached past the roof of Remo's building, creating a canopy over the garden. There was a small white marble birdbath, gray with soot, flanked by two deep wicker armchairs.
Remo fished a cigarette out of his pocket, offering another to Ciro as both men took a seat. "This is where I come to think."
"Va bene," Ciro said as he looked up into the tree. He remembered the thousands of trees that blanketed the Alps; here on Mulberry Street, one tree with peeling gray bark and holes in its leaves was cause for celebration." - The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani, a loan from my neighbor.

Unless you are an immigrant, one cannot understand the homesickness felt in the heart and soul for a home country. My parents are both from Switzerland and even here for decades I think my father is afflicted with constant homesickness. Remo and Ciro finds a piece of Italy in a Little Italy garden in The Shoemaker's Wife.

The company I used to work for in New York City relocated a few times, and when we were right across the street from bustling Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, I used to steal away to the Saint Padre Pio Prayer garden, a secret garden of sorts. In the latest version of Disney's Cinderella, the Prince takes Cinderella to his secret garden, one no one had ever been to. I can still remember the comforting aroma from the candles in the hallway as I walked out into the garden. In Lark Rise, George Ellison struggles with religion and the church to match what he feels in nature. To me, time in nature is a spiritual experience.

"If one believed in angels one would feel that they love us best when we are asleep and cannot hurt each other; and what a mercy it is that once in every twenty-four hours we are too utterly weary to go on being unkind. The doors shut, and the lights go out, and the sharpest tongue is silent, and all of us, scolder and scolded, happy and unhappy, master and slave, judge and culprit, are children again, tired, and hushed, and helpless, and forgiven." - The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim, from Better World Books, $4.

At the Saint Padre Pio Prayer garden in New York City.