Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Foodies: 2 of 4 (Community)

My son has turned into an egg snob.

Trust me, this throws a new and ugly wrinkle into life here at the 47 for two reasons:

1) our primary egg source has informed me that chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter, meaning that it can take a while for her to bring us a dozen eggs, and

2) our secondary source, one of the local farmer's market denizens who provides us with eggs and jams in flavors ranging from plum conserve to winterberry to lemon-jalapeno (and she makes pickles, too), has traditionally closed down in the winter.

Let me back up and say that I never intended for him to become an egg snob. He's 8, loves Pop Tarts and would rather go hungry than eat broccoli unless it is smothered in this nastiness called "Wholly Queso: the Official Queso of the Yankees." Even then it is roundly denounced.

A few weeks back, I had to all but bribe and then frog-march him to the market. I've described it before, so I won't revisit that right now. What matters is that the boy who had to be coerced into going didn't want to leave. He wanted to know about the different vegetables, and how they made the maple syrup, and if he could talk to all of the dogs, and why the woman was selling papyrus plants and if we could buy a fresh chili ristra to replace the dried one I currently have and was I absolutely certain we have enough garlic to get through the winter and oh yeah, how the Amish people baked the bread and cookies they were selling, since they don't have electricity.

The best part, of course, is that I didn't have to answer most of those questions. The answers, the source of the answers, marks the difference between going to the grocery store and the farmer's market; between simply living somewhere and becoming part of a community. Farmer's market denizens love to talk about their products, and will patiently explain how the tree sap gets cooked down, or the garlic is braided, or why Aloe is also called "Burn Plant." The dogs don't say quite as much, but their steady presences lend a weigh to the proceedings.

While we were there I picked up a dozen eggs, not thinking beyond "we need eggs. Oh look, here are some eggs."

The next morning, I made them for breakfast, my son watching dubiously as I broke them into a bowl. He was puzzled by the variety of colors, the misshapenness, the lack of size uniformity in the pack. They weren't the eggs he has grown up with, and in being different from both the norm and from one another, were instantly suspect.

The yolks, unsurprisingly for those who are familiar with small-farmed eggs, were a brilliant, almost glowing orangey-gold and bigger than the typical factory-farmed egg yolk. I scrambled yolk and white together, toasted the Amish bread and we sat down to eat.

The kiddo stared at them for a long time, still unsure. Until finally, slowly, he tried the tiniest of bites and declared them the best ever. Because let's face it, they're different. And now, he refuses to eat eggs from the grocery store because they're not as good. And really? I can't blame him for that.

Our regular market is now closed until next June. Harvest season is largely over except for the last few cabbages, and the first flurries have come and gone. I've been lamenting what we are going to do do for eggs and meat this winter, but I shouldn't have worried.

We're a community here. A rag-tag one, to be sure, but a community nonetheless and I should've remembered this. Our egg-and-jam lady, and the meat people, and our maple syrup source have, along with others, joined together to hold a wintermarket twice monthly in front of a new coffee shop here in town. Sure, they do this because this is commerce. But they also do it because it they are a community of people who, recognizing that none can do this alone, came together because that's how we get things done around here.

Since I started writing this, Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" has happened. What was said there reminded me of what is true here--"we work together every damn day" to make things happen, to get things done. Wintermarket, for me, is a simple, beautiful reminder of this--we can't do it alone; we have to do it together. And as I mentioned when I started this series, nothing brings us together the way food does. It defines our communities, often, makes us social and brings us together if only for a minute. Those minutes are precious, if brief. They are the ones that remind us of what we are: a community.

And now, I need to go find some eggs for my little locavore's breakfast.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Foodies, Part 1

The New York Times Magazine was devoted to food this week. I admit it; I'm an information age Luddite and I look forward to my daily newspaper. I find that reading it in its non-digitized form means that I spend more time reflecting on what I've read. And the headlines catch my attention in a way they don't when I'm reading online. I like paper; I've come to terms with this.

What I found intriguing about the Magazine this week was that it hit upon some things that have been bothering me lately. In particular, the way we've come to think about food.

Allow me to preface what comes next by admitting that the whole "foodie" movement smacks of an elitism that annoys me. This annoyance has many roots--memory, expectation, an innate disdain for most forms of snobbism. I'm no kind of social scientist, but what occurs to me as I'm considering this idea of snobbism is that unlike the $8million apartment in Manhattan, foodie-ness is potentially classless. With CSAs sprouting up not only here in farm country, but also in places like Detroit (where there are no major supermarket chains), there is the potential for all of us, no matter what our social status, to rethink how we think about food.

I adore the Food Network, I do. I love watching chefs compete on Chopped or The Next Food Network Star; I giggle when watching Guy Fieri barge into a Drive-In, Diner or Dive, and I steal ideas from Rachael Ray (but never Paula Deen who's Southern treacle makes me grind my teeth. I know Southern cooks. They make PD look like a mess cook. Confession: I have PD kitchen knives, but only because I needed a set of knives for the apartment last year and they were on clearance for $20 at a place I will not name).

But as much as I adore Food Network, I also watch it with a sense of real guilt. I suppose that's why they call it a guilty pleasure. My guilt comes from watching people desperate for stardom, or cash, or notoriety furiously plying their trades in hopes of impressing a food snob for whom, oftentimes, failure to garnish is a criminal act. The real criminality, of course, is the waste that is a result of our intrepid wanna-bes' attempts to serve only the best and in this attempt carve the four choicest bits out of the meat and leave the rest behind. (Perhaps the crew is allowed to feast on the scraps. I don't know--it wouldn't make for good television.)

I'm not planning to turn this into another foodie blog. Honest. But I'm fascinated by, and at times a willing participant in, our growing elitism about what we consume. What intrigues me more, and the heart of my thinking that was later explored by the NYT Magazine, is the idea of community. I'm also coming to understand that living in farm country brings, almost by default, changes in the ways that I think about food.

Since I've clearly opted to go down this cursed path, the least I can do is set out with a plan. I'm allowing myself a total of four entries on the subject, including this one. The remaining entries will cover (in no particular order): community; memory; cooking. Chances are good that no new territory will be covered. Still, sometimes the compulsion demands following. See you at the Farmer's Market.

Promises, promises

I keep forgetting to take the time to sit down and write.

So, promise to myself: I will write 300 words, 4 times a week. And I will do this even if those 300 words are about nothing.