Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Beginnings

Saving seeds.
Today was my second day at CAC Beardsley Farm, and as completely exhausted as I am I wanted to express how excited I am to be working there. I've been a volunteer there for over a year, and very shortly after I began visiting the urban demonstration farm I became interested in working there full-time.
Today, we watered all the vegetables; harvested tomatoes and okra; cleaned up around the farm; cleared an unused community garden plot; and wound down the day by saving seeds from okra and an over-ripe zucchini. Every day, I plan to learn more about the community, gardening, and my own strengths. I am also glad to be sharing my experiences with you. Thank you for your (implicit and explicit) support.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Time's Viscid Pawprint

Jars of beans from John Coykendall's visit.
This past week I began the orientation for my new job at Beardlsey Farm. It has been some time since so much was asked from me, in terms of time; not having a steady job this summer has had its drawbacks, but I have been happy to have the time to do anything that I wanted--canning, spending time with farmers, gardening. At this point of transition, I feel uncertain, stretched a little thin. As a result, I've been uneasy, agitated. In this time of change, I want to remind myself to pay attention to the things at hand, the everyday objects, which can be good anchors. In this, I couldn't not be reminded of Robert Pinsky's chapbook First Things to Hand. I'll share this poem with you.

3. Glass

Waterlike, with a little water
Still visible swirled in the bottom:

Earth changed by fire,
Shaped by breath or pressure.

Seemingly solid, a liquid
Sagging over centuries
As in the rippled panes
Of old buildings, Time's
Viscid pawprint.

Nearly invisible.
Tumbler. Distorting,
Breakable--the splinters
Can draw blood.

Craft of the glazier.
Ancestral totem substance:
My one grandfather
Washing store windows
With squeegee and bucket,
The other serving amber
Whiskey and clear gin over the counter,
His son my father
An optician, beveling lenses
On a stone wheel. The water
Dripping to cool the wheel
Fell milky in a pale
Sludge underneath the bench
Into a galvanized bucket
It was my job to empty,
Sloshing the ponderous
Blank mud into the toilet.

Obsidian, uncrystallized silicate.

Unstainable or stained.
Mirror glass, hour glass, dust:
Delicate, durable measure.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why I can't read The Pale King right now

This story goes back a month and a half and it also goes back six years. The different time-spans will become apparent in just a moment. This story is about David Foster Wallace and his posthumously published but incomplete novel The Pale King. Kat bought me a copy of this last novel for my birthday when we were in Louisville and it has sat on my shelf since then. Had this been a completed novel, I would have begun reading it almost immediately, but there is something about attempting to read this incomplete novel that has been bothering me.
This part goes back six years when a friend of mine suggested that I read Wallace. Not knowing where to begin, I picked up a copy of Oblivion, his most recent collection of short stories at the time. The first story, "Mr. Squishy," put me off completely and I couldn't even get through the whole thing. The story includes, in part, an intensely detailed description of a focus group and the products under review. The density of detail threw me because I had not read anything like it before. I didn't realize until much later when I reread the story that the alienation I felt was purposeful -- the obsessive attention to detail in the story parallels the narrator's unhealthy obsession with retail snack-cakes and presages his eventual hostile actions. It was more than a year before I picked up Infinite Jest and I found more of the same in that novel. I found it dense beyond belief and a little knowing -- precious, in a word.
The thing rubbed me the wrong way from start to finish from its incredible depth of irony to the extensive use of end notes, but I stuck it out and read the whole thing. I was alternately bored and frustrated by it, but I kept thinking about it. In fact, I kept thinking about it for more than a year, much longer than I would expect to think about a book I thought I didn't like. Then I reread it and changed my thinking completely about it. The characters I had found so annoying the first time around became vivid and struck me as true representations of flawed individuals this time around. The timeline, built so heavily upon what I thought were dull, scatological jokes struck me as trenchant social criticisms. In short, I fell in love with the work. To this day -- after rereading the novel another half-dozen times -- Infinite Jest has become one of my favorite novels of all time.
This contributes to the trepidation I feel about reading The Pale King. Even DFW's other works, which I hadn't particularly liked, have resonated with me more since reading Infinite Jest. It is because that novel means so much that I can't read The Pale King right now. My fear is that, because it is a partial novel, it will be mediocre -- it won't live up to the other works. This, of course, would be disappointing. The greater fear I have is that it will be brilliant, even in its incomplete state. I fear reading this fragment and recognizing in it the greatness of his previous work, knowing that it will never be complete.
The last novel by David Foster Wallace will have to sit on my shelf a while longer, until I'm ready to see it. Or at least until my curiosity outweighs my trepidation. It has more value for me as a metaphor for the cut-off life of its author -- I'm content to leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Simple Summer Dinner

Summer produce continues to roll in--from the markets, from friends, from my own small garden. It occupies the refrigerator, counters, stockpots... And as much frenzy as there is to preserve the vegetables so abundant now, I like to remember to eat well in the present moment, too. 

A couple days ago, when I was canning tomatoes, I briefly reached a point where I thought it was impossible for me to fill another jar--ever. I was suddenly (and momentarily) tired of canning. I couldn't bear another moment of the canner humidifying the whole kitchen. Luckily, the moment passed once I started thinking about the (delayed) gratification of eating the things I was canning, and I was content once again. But that little frantic moment also reminded me that it's not all about the later--the putting away into jars; it's also about the now. Even a simple dinner of whole-wheat spaghetti topped with squash, tomatoes, greens, broccoli; and a side of tender green beans should have its place of respect. I remember that when I was eating this particular dinner (a couple weeks ago), I told myself that if I ever complain about the heat of summer, or any such thing, I should remember dinners such as this: fresh and vibrant with the produce so recently obtained from market. I took a picture of it to remind myself of the pleasures of the present moments, and thought I'd remind you, too. Even if you're not canning this season, take a minute to notice the great food available now--and savor it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tennessee Cherry Pepper

I've been taking the Tennessee Cherry pepper for granted. What I mean is--even though I dedicated a post to the hot sauce that we've been making with these fermented peppers, there was little discussion about the peppers themselves. I just thought everyone could visit their respective farmers markets, and get a handful or two of Tennessee Cherries. Or, surely, this was a pepper variety that was common in Tennessee, right? The more I talked with the farmer who was selling these tiny, intense peppers, the more I began to understand that he had created the peppers. One day, he explained that the bright red peppers I was purchasing that particular day weren't quite the Tennessee Cherry peppers, yet; they were what he called the "Tennessee Cherry, Jr.," or a plant that had reverted to the characteristics of the true Cherry pepper's predecessors. The Jr. pepper is a little bigger and not quite as smooth as the Tennessee Cherries I'd bought last October. Jim, the farmer, assured me that by next year, he'd have a true, open-pollinated Tennessee Cherry Pepper.
It's a little difficult to tell, but most of these peppers are smaller than a dime, and some are as small as a single elder-berry. They are very fleshy and seedy when cut, and pungent. The true Tennessee Cherry is more regularly ovoid, and the size of a pinto bean, or even a little smaller. I've never tried to eat the peppers raw, but they are quite spicy--spicier, I'd say, than a habanero; it may be even spicier than a Scotch bonnet, although I can't be sure. Jim actually grows all of those peppers, as well as the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper. 

I have used the Tennessee cherries in a salsa, and it's just about the spiciest salsa that I've ever made. As I mentioned earlier, I've also fermented the peppers to make hot sauce; the sauce is similar to the one that Jim sells at Market. He recommended that I ferment the peppers in brine made with salt and a sweet white wine (for 2 months), and blend with rice vinegar to make the final sauce. Once fermented, I blend only about a quarter cup of the peppers with 3 to 4 cups of vinegar and a pinch of salt; the resulting sauce is relatively thin, but tolerably spicy to us, and quite flavorful (we use a bottle with a pipette to apply it to our food). The flavor that comes through is a little peachy, and a little dusty, but not unpleasantly so. The fermentation and the mild vinegar give the hot sauce a nicely sour complexion without overwhelming the flavors of the peppers. 

I'm sighing a little as I write this--I think I'm a little bit in love with these fierce, tiny peppers. The flavor and intensity is one thing, but over the course of purchasing these peppers, I have developed a great respect for the farmer who grows them. I am so glad to know him, talk to him, and to be able to support his efforts in whatever small way that I can. 
A bottle of hot sauce and more peppers fermenting for the next batch.