Tag Archives: lifestyle

Sunshine in winter cooking

Over the last nine months I’ve been working for Schenectady Greenmarket. In that time, my life has changed quite a bit. One main area of change is my kitchen. Sure, I have always been a pretty ardent home-cook, rarely eating out, rarely purchasing prepared foods – but I haven’t the kind of person that eats truly seasonally. All that has changed since now most of my grocery shopping is done on Sundays as I run around the market.

Among the celeriac, beets and kohlrabi, there has been one humble reawakening – carrots. This cooked carrot salad is now a staple of my weekly dinners and lunches. It brings sunshine and warmth to my day regardless if it is actually sunny outside (and -12) or snowing.

Spicy Cooked Carrot Salad
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 lb. carrots – diced
1 garlic clove, minced
salt
2 t. sweet paprika
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 T. fresh lemon juice
3 T. olive oil
2 T. chopped parsley
1/3 c. crumbled feta cheese

1. Boil the carrots in salted water until tender but not soft (about 3 minutes).

2. In a large bowl, smash the garlic with a pinch of salt. Stir in the paprika, hot pepper flakes and lemon juice. Whisk in the oil.

3. Add the carrots and half the feta cheese. Toss until fully combined. Sprinkle the remaining feta on top and serve.

This salad is wonderful on its own for lunch, perfect wrapped up in a pita with falafel or grilled chicken and amazing served for dinner next to some freshly grilled chorizo.

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Things kind of happen

So, it started out as a small break. I was switching jobs and needed to take the time to really focus on all my new roles and responsibilities. And it was summer, so ‘what-the-heck?’ And then July came and I put an offer in on a house back in Montgomery County and ‘holy crap!’ My brain was filled with the anxiety not only of a new job but a new house and all the layers of emotion, fear and joy and confusion that go along with both those things. September came and I finally closed on the house, moving into my sweet little cottage along the Mohawk River just up the street from an actual fort. And with it came new responsibilities like buying a lawn mower and painting the sun-porch and taking out the trash every Thursday night.

And writing somehow never came into the picture. I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot, but things just kind of happened and I didn’t.

So now it’s October and there really aren’t any more excuses. I’m settled into my job and my home and the pattern of my day and I have a gorgeous view of the river from my sunny office window. I can’t complain and I can’t procrastinate anymore. It’s time to write about the things that happen and not get swept away by them.

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True north? Maybe not…

As soon as the sun begins to shine and the snow stops falling, my job requires that I am on the road visiting farmers. I love this part of the year…and I loath it. There are two fundamental truths I have discovered over the last few weeks:

  1. I live in an amazingly beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful area of the country.
  2. Despite printing up and following directions, I will get lost.

I told this to the Lemon Drop yesterday afternoon as I asked him to talk me out of the maze of back roads I was on in Rensselaer County. He just laughed and laughed. What makes the entire experience even more funny is that I have a master’s degree in geography.

It isn’t my fault though…

Sure, I have no sense of direction and I second guess any kind of instructions no matter how simple or exact. No, the problem is not on my end, it is with the directions themselves.

Why take me down six back roads when I could easily take a main route the entire way and then a left onto the desired street? Why aren’t roads marked? Or signs twisted so you think you are on the correct road only to realize 3.7 miles later you actually aren’t?

The only thing going for me is that I am not required to find my way around at night. I once had a 1.9 mile night-time journey take me an hour and a half because I missed the one and only left turn I had to make. Yes, a GPS would make my life simpler and my bitching wane, but I don’t think about it until I’m in the middle of nowhere on mile 4.2 when I was supposed to find Barton Road at the 1.6 mile mark. And I’ll forget about everything by the time I hit the road again on Friday.

My faults are many, I’ll admit. I have a problem with any kind of authority (shocker, I know). And I don’t like having to hand control over to anyone or anything (even directions) – I’ll do it, but grudgingly and I am always poised to snatch that control back at the slightest moment of weakness (huh, maybe that’s my issue with men?).

Is that why I keep getting lost? I don’t know and I’m not convinced. I still think Google Maps has it out for me.

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Rhythm of the season

Spring has finally (kind of) made an appearance in Upstate New York. The Winter was cold and bitter and even snowy…but it was also long. Why is it that we spend all year complaining about the season we’re in? Winter is too cold (or too warm); Spring is too short, too rainy, too cold or non-existent all together; Summer is too hot, too wet, too dry; Fall is too short, too warm, too stormy. I’m just as guilty as the rest, I complain right along with everyone else.

To me, Spring is always about transformation and transformation is never easy or smooth. Transformation, instead, is about stormy emotions, destruction of the old, birth of the new. Muddy paths and windy nights; turmoil and chaos – that is what Spring brings. It is an unsettling of routines, souls and perspectives. It is scary and beautiful all in the same breath. It is about surrender and acceptance.

Spring in Upstate is also the time when fields are plowed and planted. It is the time when farmers emerge from their workshops rested and repaired with a curse on their lips and a prayer in their hearts, prepared for the marathon that is about to begin.

Farmers are always in a tussle with Mother Nature. Last year it was a record warm Spring and a devastating Summer drought. This year, it is the continued cold snap and flooding. We need to get seed in the ground so that it can mature in time and be ready for harvest but we also need the ground warm and dry enough to get into the fields.

For many of us who have a supporting role on farms or in farmers’ lives, planting means saying “goodbye” for a solid six (or more) weeks. I had my goodbye chat last night, planting hasn’t started, but it will in the next few days. There may be a quick call from a tractor cab here and there, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope. After seven years in the country, I’ve gotten used to the rhythm and the calendar that farm men live by. I’m not saying that I like it, I’m just used to it now.

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Perky?

I’m in the process of getting back into the groove. I was in Vegas for a conference last week and I’m now off to another conference in Syracuse tomorrow. The only thing that seems to be getting me through the daylight hours is caffeine – a lot of caffeine.

Lucky for me, I just received a “new” coffee maker. Actually, it’s an ancient relic. A glass percolator that’s 6-cup designation is more like only 2 1/2 cups. It is beautiful, all gold and black and grandma-looking. I think that it was an unopened wedding gift from the 1960’s that somehow found its way to me. I am in love with my percolator, though I’ll admit that there have been a few issues along the way. Brewing a morning cup of joe in a percolator is more of an art than a mindless act of flipping a switch.

For example, if you let the water come to a full boil then you get a mess and a cup full of grounds. Actually, no matter what I do there is a small silt layer at the bottom of the pot every morning. I think that I need to purchase a larger ground coffee than the black-dirt richness that I bought for my other love – my silver one-cup espresso maker.

But regardless, I do not care. Good, bad or silty – my ancient percolator makes me think of breakfasts of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and grapefruit served in pretty breakfast nooks full of sunshine…even when all I have time for is a rushed cup of coffee in my car on the way to work.

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The grinder, the dipper and the plaid in between

Ah, the pure joy that comes from people watching; from observing the male of the species try to win over the female…and from laughing your butt off as the entire episode unfolds. This is what an evening out at a club holds in store for the social scientist in me. Let me begin by stating that last night I went out with friends to help celebrate my brother’s birthday. We went to a club featuring country line dancing and karaoke.

Initial observations were:

  1. 80% of the room wore plaid
  2. 40% of the attendees were over the age of 55 (or at least looked it)
  3. 10% of the men wore cowboy hats
  4. 0% of the dancers smiled

Having taken in these facts, I was drawn to two distinct subjects for a further, more detailed study. The two men were clearly friends, had honed dance skills and were, by all accounts, very fine examples of the male form.

Subject A) The Grinder

Tall, fit and had the dance moves to make the ladies swoon. Add a great big black cowboy hat and The Grinder looked like he stepped right out of a romance novel. It was unclear if he’d come with a particular female, but it was apparent that he would be leaving with one. During a rare slow song about a pickup truck, a mourning brother, and a soldier’s death, The Grinder, well, ground against his female who in turn found the act appropriately respectful – for a slow, sad song about death.

Can I take a moment here? How could she keep a straight face? I would have started giggling so hard that I’d double over and likely start snorting. Nothing relays the deepest depths of despair like a good grind…

Subject B) The Dipper

The Grinder’s less able counterpart was The Dipper. The Dipper was again, fit and handsome though not to the extent of The Grinder. Whereas The Grinder honed in and devoted a large (though not exclusive) portion of his efforts on one woman, The Dipper spread a wider net – pulling women from the periphery of the dance floor. The Dipper never danced with the same woman twice and each encounter included his signature move: the dip, a thrilling and exciting maneuver that his partners apparently enjoyed though this was difficult to discern as, noted earlier, no one smiled whilst dancing.

Again, I would like to note that I would have burst out laughing. Have you ever been dipped? It’s kind of terrifying. Your body does not surrender its equilibrium easily. When you are returned to standing, you are light-headed, giddy and unnerved. Laughter is the natural reaction to such an unnatural move. Not one of The Dippers dance partners even cracked a smile.

Finally, it must be noted that both The Grinder and The Dipper clearly practice their courtship dances in the shared bachelor pad they inhabit. This deduction was derived by the Magic Mike-like performance they burst into when “Indian Outlaw” by Tim McGraw was played.

Conclusion: As ridiculous as their moves were, the entire excercise was successful. You could not help but watch and wonder…Oh, and clearly I have a hair-trigger when it comes to laughing. But really, how can you not laugh?

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Which would you choose?

Last night I had one of my best friends over for dinner. I needed to pick his brain and get some advice. His support, guidance and insight are things I treasure – even when I don’t agree – and any chance to sit around the table and chat is a good time. We might come from different backgrounds, but we share a similar passion: agriculture…or farming.

You see, we both have strong opinions on what the best term to use is. He prefers agriculture, I like the word farming. We had a “discussion” on why the other should change their mind. Neither of us won…but were were both right in a way.

My friend is a fourth generation farmer with an ag degree. He works on a large dairy and raises hay. He is a leader in the ag community. Farming, to him, conjures an outdated picture. Today’s agriculture is far removed from American Gothic. Agricultural professionals raise our food, wear suits, are involved in their community and civic organizations. They are educated, forward thinking, business leaders and (some) are even tech-savvy.

All of this is 100% true. And I agree that farmers are far from the romantic ideals so many of us hold on to. Sure, there’s likely to be a pick-up truck and a farm dog riding shot-gun, but it’s just as likely that there is a GPS in the John Deere tractor as they plant a field of corn.

I still prefer using the terms “farming” and “farmer.” As a marketer and communicator, I want to evoke the positive, warm feeling American Gothic and the like elicit. A familiar image or idea of farming is a great place to start a conversation. Got that happy picture in your head? Good, great! Now, here’s how today’s farming – big and small – hold onto the ideals, principles and culture that antiquated picture represented. Farming is still about family and community, no matter how the size of the farm. Today, the family has a degree, marketing skills, financial forecasting experience. The community in which the family farms is likely o be diverse, eclectic and contain more people living and working off the farm than on.

To me, when you use “agriculture” or “agricultural professional,” the image that comes to mind is big business and science. True or not, accurate or off-base, this isn’t the place from which I want to start a dialogue so I choose “farming.”

Which would you choose?

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