Sunday, March 20, 2011

Believing It

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, by Lucille Clifton. Illustrations by Brinton Turkle
There’s a children’s book that was a favorite with my daughters and that I have now started reading to my granddaughter, called The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring. A little boy in, I’m guessing, Brooklyn named King Shabazz gets irritated with  the grownups’ talk about nesting birds and flowers and crops, things he has never seen, until he and his best friend Tony Polito take an unauthorized walk on their own to the next block. There they find a vacant lot with a fabulous-to-five-year-olds dead car….and some flowering weeds (“Crops!”) and a birds nest.  Tony’s big brother finds them out of bounds and they’re in lots of trouble, but they don’t care. Spring is here. 

I thought about King Shabazz and Tony yesterday while spreading compost and gathering the first “new growth” garden salad of the year: corn salad, kale tips, and tiny bits of lettuce and radicchio from two plants that mysteriously survived the hard freezes and torrents of the last couple of months, while my artichokes, rosemary, and even some of the leeks bit the dust  February-sown spinach is up outside, along with the first few chards and lettuce sprouts, and leeks and artichoke starts are thriving on my glassed in front porch. Granddaughter Hailey and I planted peas in a raised bed in the alley, her main job being to walk over the row to tamp it down. Parker the dog took a nap in a patch of sunlight. Although it will be a couple of months before I can figure to get most of my salads from my own yard, all this cheers me up. I admit to being tired of roots, and greens at the store are both expensive and travel weary, a dreary combination. 

Besides their existential pleasure, these “crops” make me feel self-reliant and sustainable, and that’s where reality threatens to intrude. Mostly I subscribe to the “every little bit helps” school of response to uncertain times. A Post-Carbon Future looms? I’ve got my peas, artichokes, and 50 heads of garlic on the way, and I can walk to the grocery store. Western Washington is overdue for an earthquake and tsunami that could rival the tragedy in Japan? I’ve got a windup radio under my bed and rain barrels full of water—I’m ready. Commuting solo in my car contributes to global warming –at least it’s a Prius, and I bought it used.  I recognize the magical thinking involved in these responses, but since I can’t personally create the societal and economic retooling it would take to meet a global challenge, I take some small steps, and teach people how to cook with local vegetables. Like most everyone else I know, at least people of my age, I do want a comfortable life as well as a useful one. I want to be, as I recently read in a beautiful eulogy that showed up on my Facebook, “worthy of rest” when my time comes. Plus I want to eat good food, get good haircuts, and go dancing a lot while I still can. 

Do small steps matter? In any revolution, and a drastic change in climate and fuel supply is likely to resemble (if not create) one, there comes a time when moderation gets swept away, for good or ill. Years ago my friend Marilyn memorably described the kind of 1970s style academic Marxist who was all for the revolution, unless it would interfere with tenure. I cringe a bit at being the kind of environmentalist who is all for sustainability unless it would interfere, for example, with my plans to jet off to our next international tour with the Kulshan Chorus.  Some of the wildly varying estimates for the carbon footprint of passenger jet travel put it at twice the use per mile of single occupant car travel, even allowing for hundreds of passengers on a flight. (One factor complicating the estimates I’m seeing debated on science blogs is that emissions produced at higher elevations have a stronger greenhouse effect.) Add that to the longer distances of most air travel and one would have to make a whole lot, a lifetime’s worth, of bike rides to the post office to offset one trip to Europe, let alone reduce  energy use. For people who don’t accept Peak Oil scenarios, that’s irrelevant as long as they can afford a ticket. For people like me, for whom the end of the carbon age seems plausible, and quite likely preferable to the alternative of stripping oil out of every fragile ecosystem under which it hides, it creates a dilemma. As long as I’m burning jet fuel at 30,000 feet to sing about peace, justice, and human understanding, does that make it ok? 

Presumably, the right thing to do is to start living a post-carbon life in advance of dire necessity. If this is what awaits our children and grandchildren, aren’t we more likely to get it right if we practice? And if I believe that living in tune with what the planet actually can provide its own rich satisfactions, I shouldn’t feel that staying home is a sacrifice.

It’s easy to way overthink the simplest things. The obsessively examined life, or diet, or political philosophy, can be a great big preachy bore, and most people won’t live a preachy bore of a life unless they have no choice. 

Meantime, spring is coming whether or not my carbon conscience is clean, and thank goodness for that. When I was a teenager, my dad was diagnosed with a cancer that was generally terminal. The next spring when he walked out to the “Druid’s grove” of trilliums in the woods behind our house, he promised himself he would see them the following year as well. Thirty-five years and many health scares later when he was finally too ill to make that short walk, I knew for sure that he wouldn’t be with us long; he died a few months later. Since I left home, everywhere I’ve had a patch of dirt I’ve planted trilliums from that grove. Once they get established they go on and on, so I assume they are fulfilling their own vows of renewal in the hills of Sonoma County, on the end of E. Yesler Way in Seattle, and on the border in Sumas, just as they were in my yard yesterday, when I pulled back some mulch and saw them unfolding. Like King and Tony, I may be in trouble but I believe in spring. 

For a much crisper take on some of these issues, written a couple of years back by someone younger, more energetic and with a stronger scientific background, here’s the “friendly neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix of Doom,” Sharon Astyk:

And for general inspiration about doing what we can where we are, Wendell Berry:
The question which must be addressed… is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious and exciting way different from all the others.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Onward and ForeWord with Winter Harvest

My good news of the morning: 
ForeWord Reviews is pleased to announce the 2010 Book of the Year Awards list of finalists. Representing more than 350 publishers, the finalists were selected from 1400 entries in 56 categories. These books are examples of independent publishing at its finest.
The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers selected from our readership. Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, as well as Editor’s Choice Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced at a special program at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans this June.
Keeping in mind the standard used by booksellers and librarians for purchases/acquisitions, judges will take note of the following:
  • Editorial excellence
  • Intent of book met by author
  • Originality of subject matter
  • Accuracy
  • Author credentials
  • Professional packaging
I’m getting the impression this is sort of like Sundance for independent publishers, except -–as we would have to expect of a contest run by librarians--without the designer dresses, tabloid coverage, big money, and Robert Redford (though I’m sure Redford has the greatest respect for librarians).

Anyway, I’m thrilled that Winter Harvest is a finalist in the cooking category, and that gives me another chance to thank New Society Publishers and to say that Celeste Enriquez is the surely the world’s best illustrator of gnarly root vegetables. She can make celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes both recognizable and glamorous, and that is no easy feat.

Here's the list:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grow Northwest Magazine

The new issues has lots of good stuff, including a Winter Harvest review focusing on the earliest spring produce. Wonderful photos, CSA lists, chef and restaurant profiles, how to build a raised bed, and lots more.  Check it out:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New growth in the garden, holdovers in the kitchen

On Sunday, once the temperature reached the low 30s F, instead of the 11 degrees of a few days before, we got busy with the new potato barrels. Andrew cut 55-gallon food grade barrels from the fish processing plant in half and drilled holes in the bottom. Now I have four planters ready  for the fingerlings I'll be planting soon and the sweet potato slips that I intend to try one more time, come June. 

 Another happy sight, maybe not beautiful but a pleasure to see, is the garlic sprouting. Both the fall-planted cloves and the more recent plantings are charging forward. Thanks to my friend Bill Bowes, I have several new varieties to try although as usual I have faltered in my plans to keep close track of which type is which. Fortunately he also gave me a cheat sheet illustrating the subtle differences in leaf shape and growing habit, so all may not be lost.

Snowdrops and marsh marigolds are unfazed by the weather. So were the collards and kale, but they are not quite as photogenic.

 In the kitchen, I was looking at the final little kabocha squash from last year's garden. I also have some cabbage in the refrigerator and collards in the garden, plus a couple links of  frozen chicken sausage. So we'll have soup. The base recipe is in Winter Harvest, reprinted below. This version is going to get some potatoes too, since I have some that won't last much longer.

Basque Soup

Heat lard or olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan or soup pot. Add onion and brown. Add pumpkin, cabbage, beans, and garlic and cook briefly, stirring to coat the vegetables with oil. Add stock or water, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook gently, covered, until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Adjust seasoning before serving.

1/4 cup lard or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 medium cabbage, sliced
1/2 pound dried haricot beans or navy
beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 quarts stock or water
salt and pepper

This is adapted from Elizabeth David’s book of Mediterranean food, a great sourcebook of traditional recipes (with traditionally vague measurements). You may substitute olive oil for the lard; it won’t taste the same, but it will be good. This soup has a robust flavor, as you’d expect, and with good bread and a salad, it makes a complete meal. Serves 6.