Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Early Season CSA

It's the third week of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) season, and I am reminded just how delightful it is to go to the pickup site, open the bin, and be surprised by the week's vegetables. Throughout the winter and early spring, I find myself aimlessly wandering Sunflower's aisles, trying to decide what is truly seasonal and where does it originate, usually determining that I should just buy what I want to eat. I end up only buying a few vegetables each week, instead relying on them as an accompaniment to a protein; they are not the star of the meal.

But when Wednesday arrives and it's pickup time, I am in veggie heaven, inspired to create and determined to use everything. So, for several weeks it has been rhubarb aplenty. With the unseasonal high 90s/low 100 temperatures of late, I did not want to create a baked delight, so instead decided to make a rhubarb simple syrup with some mint from the garden. In the end, it has a pale pink consistency, almost grapefruit colored, yet a slight sweetness with mouthfuls of rhubarb and mint. I usually add some sparkling water and a fresh lime to help cool the hot weather.

The Spinach has also been consistent each week, and I am reminded, just how sweet a freshly picked leaf falls on my tongue. Most of the time, I opt for simple with so much spinach, either steaming it or sautéing heaps of garlic and spinach in olive oil, sometimes adding fresh lemon, red chili pepper, and/or butter. It's a deliciousness that I can consistently taste.

And this season, for the first time since I subscribed four-five years ago, I am getting plenty of fresh garlic. Also, for the first time early in the season, I am picking up a huge bag of heirloom beans weekly. I prefer fresh beans, and in the spirit of Mark Bitman, like to cook up a pot of beans on the weekend and then have beans handy all week to add to salads, rice, and currently, spinach. These little things make me happy.

And in the end, though, it is the beet that I fall back in love with at the start of the season. Simply roasting it in the oven (despite the high temperatures but worthy of the aid of the air conditioner) and then taking that first bite slightly warm, reminds me of their sweet and delicate nature, almost a dessert-like treat at times. Last weekend, despite hot temperatures, I walked to the local farmer's market just to pick up some of my favorite goat cheese from Mini Moos in Canon City, treating myself to salads with diced beets, goat cheese, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, and avocado (the only non-CSA item besides the goat cheese), knowing that the only thing missing--a fresh tomato--was almost ready to be picked from the patio pot.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Getting Started Again and Again

When the semester ended in May, I had an image of endless time to sit back and read, innumerable hours to reflect, and plenty of space to sit down and work on essay revisions and drafts of new pieces. But when the semester ended, I found myself entwined in some campus issues, still trying to rediscover the psychic space of a carefree summer. For several weeks, I declared that the detritus of the semester still needed time to shed; I needed space to rest and recover. For the past 16 weeks or so, I rode an automatic pilot work machine, not only doing my regular semester duties of teaching and leading faculty (and chasing other people's responsibilities), but also continuing to work on revisions (and what also felt like a lot of drafting at times) of the textbook with Liz and taking two back-to-back eight week personal essay workshops at The Lighthouse Writers. It took me weeks to realize how tired I was, and during those weeks, the space to realize how much I had produced in sixteen weeks and how much the diligence had allowed me to progress in terms of craft. Yet, I kept stressing since once I polished off a collaborative narrative piece on teaching and writing with a fellow writer to submit to a journal, I stopped writing.

But I never truly stop writing; I simply haven't met the lofty expectations I have set for my writing. When I take stock of the past month since school ended, the writing coffers hold several longish blog entries, a draft of a micro essay, a start of a flash fiction story, and scribbled notes for revision of an essay. And while it is not the work I imagined I would accomplish in a month (full drafts of new pieces, solid revisions of some essays I want to send out at some point), I am still writing.

Summer leaves me weeks of unscheduled time often, but in reality that is a fantasy that doesn't usually transpire. I look at my calendar, and it's rare for me to even find a whole day that is blank. For when summer comes, I find myself wanting to see friends I have neglected during the summer when I had to keep a social free calendar in order to accomplish the writing alongside my job. When summer comes, I have opportunities to travel, and it is that travel that often jumpstarts ideas, immersing me in newfound characters and settings, allowing me emotional distance from my perceptions of previous writing so that I can return anew.

Yet, with the space and distance from a routine schedule, I start to panic, wondering if each day I don't write and only think about writing means that I will never start again. And while I know that such a statement is ridiculous, I do think that a day away means the possibility of never writing. It's almost as if I am testing my commitment at times, trying to see if I have truly internalized writing as a being, a force that will kick through my skin screaming for its voice.

But the truth is I have not stopped. I might not have finished pieces yet. I might not have the pile of work I want to send to da coach. I might not have the rhythm and regularity I ordained for these months off. I do, though, have the constant nagging inner voice that says get me out, get me on paper. I do have the pistons firing ideas, stirring up the juices, waking me from sleep. And today, I use my blog as a jumpstart, flexing my fingers in a workout, energized to finally sit and do some of the hard work of writing that has been patiently waiting for me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kentucky Food Tales

I am in the wilds of Kentucky obsessing about food. Now, this is not really a stretch for me, since I often obsess about food--wondering hours ahead of a meal about what I am intending to eat, studying menus prior to dining out, and doing everything I can to ensure that I have options for decent dining when traveling. So, prior to taking off to what I had deemed non-culinary Kentucky and West Virginia, I made sure to pack small packages of almonds and whole meal bars, just in case emergency hit and starvation lingered a stomach growl away. I don't honestly believe I will be foodless when traveling, but I draw the line at the ubiquitous fast food palaces dotting highways, refusing to eat fries from McDonalds, even when I pretend to remember them as delicious.

On our inaugural drive from the Louisville airport to our first destination, Morehead, Kentucky, Nan had scouted out a potential find--Erma's Diner in Owingsville. When we detoured off the interstate to scenic, windy Highway 60, alleged home of Erma's, we passed nothing. At one point, when we passed a small white house that seemed very closed, Nan remarked that it looked similar to the photos she had seen posted online. And so, we continued on the road, rather hungry, resigning ourselves to the possibility that dinner might be obtained from the local travel plaza or our stash of meal bars.

But, as we turned south onto 801 toward our cabin accommodations, I shrieked with glee, waving wildly, telling Nan to look in my pointed direction. She believed danger was near, perhaps an animal in the road, but when she turned, she realized I had spotted a real live eating place--Pop's BBQ. Pulled pork and baked beans hours later, I smiled, happily fed my first night in the wilds of Kentucky. When I went to sleep that evening, I did not not know that it would be my last delicious meal near Morehead.

Our cabin contained a small refrigerator and a microwave oven, limiting the possibilities for breakfast. Since we knew that breakfast places were not in the immediate vicinity, we headed to the local market, Dollar General, assured by the host of the cabins that they would have lots of choices for us. When we entered, I immediately went to the refrigerator section, dreaming that greek yogurt might appear on the shelf, even if it contained fruit. Not only was greek yogurt missing, but any type of yogurt or any fresh fruit (not even overripe bananas) was not to be procured. Instead, I had rows of tasty cake options, mystery meat in cans, and sugary cereal. Fortunately, I am an expert at hotel room breakfast cooking, and found a package of instant oatmeal and raisins, resigning myself to a couple of days of microwaved grub.

Fortified with a bland breakfast the next morning, we took off to Flemingsburg, Kentucky, wandering back roads in search of covered bridges and parcels of land owned by Nan's ancestors. As afternoon hit, the oatmeal had become a distant stomach memory, and I began to obsess about lunch. While we wandered a cemetery, the lawn mower man and keeper of cemetery knowledge stopped and asked us if he could be of assistance. After Nan inquired a bit about family history, I asked my most urgent question: "Where can we get something to eat around here?" When he answered McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, I asked, "Is there something locally owned?" He offered us up the Stockyard Restaurant, which he had not eaten at in years, but we had passed it on the road and were intrigued. When do you get a chance to eat where the cows, pigs, chicken, and other potential slaughter are hanging out? Of course I did not think this as I entered the doors, or I certainly would have turned to the whole meal bars.

When we entered the small dining area, we were greeted with the unfamiliar mix of cigarette smoke and diners. We saw the small buffet with its choice of lasagne, beef tips, or fried chicken along with a choice of sides (macaroni and cheese, very cooked green beans, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes) and desserts, and bellied up to the trays. I chose fried chicken, assuming I'd get a heaping pile with my sides, a grease delight waiting. Instead, I got a tiny piece of fried chicken while Nan got a heaping pile of beef tips. Scarred by being dissed, certain I was discriminated against because of my short spiky butchy hair, I sat picking at my miniscule piece of dried chicken, only able to recover slightly from the bruise with bites of a tart lemon meringue pie slice. We both quickly fled the Stockyard Restaurant, swearing that we would never eat in such a place again, even if it offered cultural fodder.

Did I starve? No. I didn't even have to dig into my meal bars. And the only fast food I ate in Kentucky was a pork bbq with slaw sandwich atop a biscuit (and I did get an odd look for ordering it that way rather than on the traditional bun) at Tudor's Biscuit World.

Oh Morehead Kentucky--I like your lakes, your hills, and your uber cool coffee shop Fuzzy Duck. And if I return, I'll take all my meals at Pop's.