Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Daily Prayer

Grey wind and ginger tea. The way the sun falls off the edge of the earth every night, the light on radishes and winter squash. Standing in the driveway of the Melone House, watching winter-pink gold-rimmed clouds soar across the sky like sailboats, wondering about the mechanism of wind. Sunsets at the farm. The way a shock of nameless birds shattered across the sky this morning, a mass of small pebbles dancing. Harvesting chard alone in the back field, the voice of the hillside, the bank of clouds on the horizon, wall-solid and brick-blue. The weight of a pumpkin. The scent of apples, the early mornings, the dark tea. The light everywhere, everywhere, the way it shines through a day and changes the shapes of wind and oak and crates of spinach. The scent of fall brushing my back, the hard line of the sun sinking behind the side garden, the way it silences the farm, the way it silences my heart, the texture of wind moving through darkness, belonging to a place.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Broccoli Prayer (Wednesday, October 16, 2007)

This morning first thing we drove up north, to the field we call Greenpower, to harvest broccoli. The first miracle is that the name of the field is Greenpower. Most of our fields are simply numbered, and so our talk runs something like, “I’m going out to eight to get the beets, but I can meet you in four afterwards if you want help with the greens.” Going “up north to Greenpower” is something entirely different. It’s about a mile across town from the main farm. There’s no people up there, and from the middle of the field, you can’t see any houses. There’s just the wide sky, the circle of trees, the earth. It is always silent, in the way that the deep woods are silent: punctured with the voice of the wind, the cries of black crows, the scampering of mice and snakes trying to keep warm and avoid the gaze of hawks. Every time I pull in to Greenpower off the long dirt road, something in me settles and quiets. My breathing stills to the rhythm of the field. Places are sneaky. They can slip inside your heart unexpectedly, though you never meant to fall in love with them.

After the familiar sound of the name Greenpower in my mouth, the miracles were countless. That’s one way, I believe, to define a prayer: countless miracles. We got a frost last night and there was ice shining on the green heads of broccoli as we bent down toward them with our knives. It was so cold our hands went numb and we had to pause every few feet, banging them against our thighs to warm them up. It was a true morning up there, cold and frosted and silent. The sun was a hard golden line behind a bank of dark fall clouds, the bluest most pine-hard wall you’ve ever seen. The frost netted the broccoli like fine-veined crystal, layered in patterns of blue and silver like new lace. The ice on the bright green heads shook and quivered each time I put my warm hand on a cold stalk and cut. As the sun slowly worked its way out from behind the clouds the ice dripped and cracked away. Once the light was on the plants the whole field erupted white and brilliant. On our left was a stand of winter rye pushing its way up out of the dark, just-tilled soil, and on our right was a row of dead cornstalks Erik left when he ploughed up the field. The cornstalks were a hard, blazing brown, bent and broken, as a dead a thing as you’ve ever seen. The winter rye was still small, and standing in the field among all the brown and white and grey it looked like someone started a fire of needles in the soil. The young shoots were sharp and when the sun and wind passed over them they glistened like waves.

Harvesting at Greenpower in the early morning, I was surrounded by things scared and solid. Broccoli dazzled with ice, the sky a contrast of sharp and hard, soft and vast, the young rye that keeps the field healthy through the long winter. There were the dark clouds and then the sun breaking over everything, sending a waterfall of light over the broccoli, deepening its leaves into the brightest, smoky blue. There was the ice that sizzled into water when it met the heat of my hands, and the sound of the knife slicing through the flesh of a plant.

I am still trying to figure out what it is about farming that opens these windows in my heart. Maybe it is the sound of ice crystals sliding down the heavy green leaves of the broccoli, leaves as big as a child’s head. Maybe it’s waking up and being out in the world first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s the sky over my head all day and what that tells me about love and loneliness. Maybe it’s the way I follow the sun with the curve of my back as it crosses the sky, as it changes color from soft pink to brilliant white to the saddest gold I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it is about being out in the fields that makes me feel this way, that makes me want to keep singing and weeding until there are no more prayers to speak. I only know that it changes something in my bones and the hollow of my throat and the skin behind my knees. I only know that this work opens me and opens me and opens me. It expands my capacity for joy, it mellows me out toward tenderness.

I want you to know what it was like this morning at Greenpower harvesting broccoli. I want you to know every detail. The white frost, the hard curtain of the sky, the angle of my back bent toward the earth, the weight of my full buckets as I carried them back down the bed, the one-armed movement I used to swing them up into the truck and how good it felt, how good it felt to use my muscles first thing in the morning. I want you to know these details because they are the only way I know how to love, the only way I know how to forgive, the only way I know how to be grateful. I want you to know what happened in my gut as I watched the fall sun slide out from behind the clouds, releasing the field into a circle of light. I want you to know how it felt to watch that light spread across the leaves of two hundred feet of broccoli plants. I want you to know how big a space that can open in a heart. I want you to feel the way my muscles softened under the sunlight, the way the whole world in that moment seemed to enter me.

I need you to know these things. I need you to know about the endless poems written in the way the dead cornstalks and the young winter rye moved against the sky. I need you to know that I fell in love again this morning. I fell in love with the movement of my body, with the ability of my legs to walk through the cold frosted rows and the ability of my arms to hold buckets and the ability of my heart to let these things touch it, to be changed by colors and seasons. I fell in love again this morning with the blessed dance of life and death that happens every day in farming, with the endless blessings in the colors blue and green and white. I fell in love with morning again, the kind of cold hard morning that dazzles your eyes and sharpens your heart, that stands up and announces that it’s another day in the world and you’d better notice all the blessings because each one of us has a finite number of days. I need you to know these things. I need you to know how small the ice crystals were, how every time they slid off the plants they made a sound like rain. I need you to know about the black cut of a crow as he flew crying over the clouds. I need you to know about the burning in my hands and the frigid footprints my boots made as I walked and harvested and wondered. I need you to know these things because it is the only way I know how to give away wonder.

This morning was cold and bitter. Harvesting broccoli, I loved the frost, the sky, the death of the corn. I need you to know how that love widened inside me, how I’ve been holding it in my muscles all day, how it inhabits my mouth and my fingers. I want that love to change you too. I want you to feel it on your eyelashes and in the breath that leaves your mouth. This is all I have to offer the world: frost on broccoli and sunlight on winter rye and the way a morning can speak a prayer that fills a body to overflowing.


At the end of the season the contrasts I love about the day-to-day work of farming are more defined. They’re sharper and harder, like the wind and the sunsets that grace our days in fall. There is always life and death in one day on a farm. But at the end of the season the dance is faster and brighter. I spent one golden afternoon this week laying row-cover over a field of tender greens to keep them warm as the sun wanes and the days get colder. I hooped and covered seven longs beds of baby spinach, mustard greens, kale, and arugula. When the wind blows through those tunnels of fabric it dances like a rodent running. In the fall we work hard to save what we can. We’re tender toward the crops. We cover the basil every night, the way a mother puts her child to sleep. Someone goes out there at sunset after we’ve closed the stand and puts the white blanket back over the long green stand of that fragrant herb. We’ll harvest what’s left of it and then till it in at the end of the week, but until then, we cover it up each night before we turn away to our own beds.

The other half of our work in the fall is destruction. Yesterday we spent all afternoon taking down the tomatoes. First we cut the twine away from the stakes. As soon as the support is gone, the dead vines fall into the earth. Then we pull out each neat row of stakes, one by one, until the field is left desolate and without order. I love taking down tomatoes. I seeded those in the greenhouse one late morning in the spring when the sunshine was just starting to warm my blood and my muscles were aching for the blessing of long days outside. I planted them in the hot sun of early summer. I weeded them more than once. I staked them and tied them. I spent hours harvesting them on countless afternoons and endless mornings. All summer I put the work of my hands and my heart into those tomatoes. I ate them raw in the field and simmered them down into a mess of red and golden sauce that tasted like soil and rain, like the sweet fragrance of morning and the warmth of home. All summer those vines have been producing their red and green and orange fruit. It is the middle of October. This morning there was ice draped over the broccoli. The tomatoes are done. We’ve got a few trays of mostly green ones back at the stand. Customers look at them and say, “This is the end of the tomatoes, isn’t it? It’s so sad, I just don’t know what I’m going to do!” They pout at me like I’ve broken their heart and I don’t have any sympathy. I know how they feel. It’s the end of the season and I’m sad too. I hate the day when I have to go back to the grocery store to buy kale and beets. But it’s the middle of October. This is what happens in the world. There’s life and there’s death. I’ve been eating those juicy red orbs for more than three months. Summer ends, and plants die. That’s the way it goes. Daylight fades into night and the moon waxes and wanes and waxes again. Tomatoes need heat but broccoli loves the cold. I’ve been eating tomatoes for three months. I’ll go almost nine without them. Yes, I’m sad, but this is what happens every year. It’s the middle of October and I’ve earned the right to tear town that tomato twine and yank those stakes out of the ground.

The fall hardens something in me. There is sadness in the falling leaves and the early darkness, but there is also relief. It’s been a long season and farming is hard work. We take longer breaks in the morning and the sunset forces us away from the farm at six. The house is warm. I’ve been eating a lot of soup. I love covering up the young mustards and spinach with row-cover to keep them warm. I love the way it feels walking back from the far field, the sun a bleeding golden line behind heavy clouds that might mean rain in the summer but in the fall merely mean, heaviness, knowing that the basil is tucked snug into the white fabric, knowing that the frost that is sure to come with the cold, clear night will only nip the few plants peeking out from under that net of safety.

I also love watching the dead tomato vines fall helpless to the spent field. I love the way the row of dead cornstalks up at Greenpower speaks its own language of sadness and necessity. I love the feeling of working a weathered tomato stake out of the ground, of the coarse wood grating on my hands and the movement of the wind along my arms as I toss it onto the growing pile of stakes atop the mess of rotting tomatoes and blackened plants. We live in a world where things live and die. It is not comfortable. I do not know what to do with death. I don’t want to leave the sunlight and the way my breath goes out of my body in the morning and takes its own shape against the cold air. I don’t want to leave the voices of the people I love and the movement of my legs and my shoulders as I walk down a bed, shoveling compost. But I love this world anyway, death and all. Tomato plants have lives, and so do the hornworms that eat them, and so do people.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the colors that define the cycles of seasons, about the openings and closings and cuttings of sorrow and joy that define the way we move through our lives, about how far we’ve cut ourselves off from the truth of how things grow and go back into the ground. I don’t want to love anything in pieces anymore. If you want to be a farmer you have to learn to walk with death. There is a silence that grows in me with the fall, a silence made of the toppled tomato plants and the young mustards struggling to live despite the dark days and the cold mornings. Broccoli loves the cold and frost makes carrots sweeter. Everything on this earth is stitched together with miracle. There are birds that overwinter in New England so small they have to move and eat constantly in order to stay alive. The tomatoes are gone now, but I have harvested Brussels sprouts on days so cold they burned our hands through our thick gloves and frosted our exposed eyebrows. Everything on this earth is stitched together with miracle. Everything we plant in the spring on the hard back of promise eventually dries up, hardens, dies. This is the world we live in. It isn’t comfortable. But I don’t want to love anything in pieces anymore. There isn’t space or time for broken love in this aching, tired world.

I only want to love what is whole, and things that are whole are born, and live, and die. Things that are whole have faces and tell stories. Things that are whole can weather storms, they’re built to last. I love red onions and broccoli made brighter by the ice crystals that shone on my hands as I harvested it in the cold morning. I love wet ink that dries on the page and spells out poems. I love the space between my two shoulder blades as I toss a shovelful of compost onto the field, compost stitched together with death. All day as I go about my work I toss things onto the compost pile: wilted carrot tops, rotten tomatoes, cornhusks. Those things decompose. The carrot tops and the flimsy eggplants break down, fall apart, become one. This morning we moved down the field tossing that rich, dark blessing onto the bed where we’re planting garlic. I don’t want to love things in pieces anymore. The hope in planting is obvious. Putting a seed into the ground is the ultimate act of faith. But that hope begins long before I bend over in the field and drop that garlic clove into the earth. It’s the death of something else that nurtures that seed and makes it grow. I loved the smell of the compost we shoveled onto the beds this morning, and the texture of it, dark and crumbling and of the earth. It was warm under the sun and my muscles were working fast, and later, alone under the blue arc of the sky, I bent down and planted pink-edged cloves of garlic into that dark, nutritious earth.

There isn’t any other prayer I know how to pray. I only want to love things that are whole. Everything in the world breaks down, crumbles, gets so small it wants to curl inside itself and disappear. Nothing in the world lasts unhinged and untarnished. Being whole is not the same as being brand new and never broken. Farming is just one big, complicated mess. Whole, dark, fragrant compost is only the broken ribs and seeds of dead vegetables. There is death everywhere in the fields these days, and there is also the sweetest, tenderest push for life. There cover crops that overwinter blue and shining, that sing their plant song all winter to the snow and the lonely wind. When the trees lose their leaves their nakedness opens up the forest into shapes you never knew where there. Everything that is whole is stitched together with the broken bits of something else.

I don’t want to love things in pieces anymore. The fall hardens my heartbones, opens my face, sets my hands singing. It’s the middle of October and I’ve earned the right to love the simple pleasure of watching those tomatoes topple as I slash through their support with a sharp knife. The season is curling up, tightening, getting smaller. I’m loving the tender mustard greens with all my muscle. I’m loving them whole and young. I’m loving the frost on the broccoli and the way the sunlight blasts over the fields just before it disappears at dusk. I’m loving these things with my whole and chipped-off body, with the nicks in my fingers from the harvest knife and the scars on my heart and the palms of my hands. I’m loving the kale and the butternut squash and the death that sits heavy and whole in their dark centers. Everything in this world is stitched together with miracle and death. I’m loving the blazing red leaves and the decaying tomatoes and the brown cornstalks strung like signposts to winter against the hard blue sky. I’m loving these things with my whole, broken body and the weight of it is an ache to too deep and too blue and too stained with the stories of bone and muscle to write down in ink.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Meditations on Winter

Winter is coming and what we have to be grateful for is warmth and fire. What we have to be grateful for is that we live in a place where the darkness reminds us that light is a blessing. The sun sets at six o’clock these days. It’s dusky as I throw burlap over the peppers and tomatoes and lock the stand. Winter is coming, and what we have to be grateful for is the sharp line of gold on the horizon and the pale mark of the moon in the sky. We live in a place where the light changes from day to day and the shape of the days change with each season. This is no small thing. The place where two seasons come together is a sacred place. The edges of things are what make them whole. It is hard for me to remember this. I want to be close to everything. I want to reach out into the world, touch the water, touch the maple and the beech, touch the dirt and the sunlight. I want to watch my hands disappear into the hearts of the things I love. I write and farm because I am always trying to get closer to the earth. The separation between me and the waves and the movement of the clouds at sunset and the life of a beet is an ache in my gut.

But winter is coming, and I am grateful for edges. The edge of the sky in the morning when I wake up and watch the light ink its way across the sky. The edges of my fingers where they touch the skins of potatoes and pumpkins. The dark edges of Walden Pond, the coastline where the waves bless the sand. The edges of my house, which keep the darkness outside for a little while, which draw a line of warmth and light and scent that spells home. The place where two seasons touch is a sacred place. I am starting to realize, as the wind blows heavier and the air swells with the wings of migrating geese, that the edges of things as important as their hearts. Winter is coming, and what we have to be grateful for is the cold that teaches us that warmth is a blessing. What we have to be grateful for, as the darkness approaches and the night comes earlier and colder, is what the darkness reminds us of: that the earth is always turning, that even though we are small our lives matter.

It was a long, grey week, and at the end of it, the clouds blew off and fall came in on a cold, dark wind. Johanna and I canned tomatoes, and halfway through I walked out of the kitchen into the driveway. The night was silent and absolute. I could feel the darkness on my skin and the way the wind had cleared the air and sharpened the stars. Fall was everywhere, the scent of it bringing memories of snow and fire. Night is lonely at this time of year, and even standing in the driveway twenty feet from the house, I could feel the immensity of the night.

Winter is coming, and what we have to be grateful for are the edges that remind us of how much it means to have a home, to belong to a place. Walking back into the house on Friday night, the scent of the kitchen slammed against the night like lightning. There was the darkness, and then there was the scent of tomatoes and basil simmering on the stove, the steam rising off the pots, the table laden with mason jars, the kitchen smelling of garlic and parsley, the heat and the light and the solid walls that keep us whole through the night.

Winter is coming what we have to be grateful for is that we get to walk through doorways out into darkness, and back through them into warmth. The loneliness of the night is sacred, and so is the companionship of putting up enough tomatoes to last us through the winter. Winter is coming, and what we have to be grateful for are the season that run through the center of our lives, forcing us to pay attention to the way time passes in the world: the soft turning over of day into night, the waning and waxing of the moon, the time of strawberries and the time of apples. Darkness and loneliness are always hard, but they remind us to pay attention to the sun. The cold stings our eyes and redraws our faces and reminds us how lucky we are to have the sensation of touch, to be awake in our lives.

Winter is coming, and what we have to be grateful for are the yellow circles of light in the windows, the feeling of hot tomato soup as it travels from our lips deep into our bellies, the darkness that carves the moon a brighter white. What we have to be grateful for are the edges of ponds and fields, the skins of butternut squash and dear friends, the way the cold that seeps into our guts makes the voices of the people we love calling our names warmer and truer. Winter is coming. Darkness gives meaning to warmth. Loneliness gives meaning to touch. We have everything to be grateful for.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Moment.

Pepper Prayer

Harvesting peppers this morning beneath fall’s grey-cloaked sky, I noticed the silver water on the green fruits and the way it pooled cold on my skin as I plucked each pepper from the vine. I noticed how the faded tones of the sky brightened the red leaves of a maple on the edge of the field. I noticed the grey everywhere, weaving itself around the day, leaving threads of mist on the sedge grass and pigweed and eggplants. It was dark and shadowed in the field this morning, and I noticed how the absence of light is an illumination of its own. The clouds brought out the red in the maple tree and the tomatoes strung along the vine, in the skins of peppers and the plaid of Erik’s shirt. Colors blossomed everywhere out of the field: the gloss of a yellow pepper, the deep orange of Johanna’s sweater, the green stripes on my boots, the brown seeds heads of foxtail millet.

This morning in the peppers I noticed the grey sky, the way it held everything so gently: the carpet of red leaves on the ground and the shape of the truck parked in the dirt, the geometrical edges of the field, the yellow peppers, the water on the ribs of the fruit, the dead tomato plants blackening the soil. This morning in the peppers the world was so grey it burnt and I wanted to keep those people and that harvest close to me, to keep moving down those beds forever, listening to my muscles bending and reaching. What I’m trying to say is that this morning in the field there was enough beauty for me for a life time.

This morning in the peppers I loved the sky that washed the fields with a shade of grey so old and whole it rubbed off on everything it touches. I loved the shape of it, and everything it held – the black wings of migrating geese and the cuts of lightning and the moisture that weeps out of it and soaks the earth and makes things grow. It was a cold, quiet morning in the peppers. We played tomato baseball and talked about everything we want to can and dry. Every time I bent over to put a pepper in my bucket I noticed the water hanging on the fruit and I thought about the way a drop of water from a hard night rain will last into morning, will sing its cold song into the hands that come near it. I loved the truck this morning, parked on a carpet of orange maple leaves, its familiar bed filled with crates of peppers and tomatoes. I loved the names of the fruits I was harvesting, and my body moving, and the way our voices carried across the field and the way the sky held it all and kept us with its infinite greyness. I loved the weight of the peppers in my hand, the deep purple of eggplants, the smoky blue of the beds of cabbages on the edges of the field. How do you describe the blue of a cabbage plant? Such a slate-hard, rocky blue. I loved those cabbages this morning, and I loved the smell of rot and dirt and rain and my hand around a weathered tomato stake as I raised my arms to blast a rotten red fruit into the air. I loved the wheels of flesh that flew into the sky like fireworks, and the way my body moved in my rain boots and my vest.

This morning harvesting peppers there was the water and the plants at the end of their lives, there were dear friends who speak the language of tractors and seeds, a language of wonder that I am slowly starting to learn, there were my hands and the muscles in my arms and the familiar body of the truck, there was a maple tree so red it made a mark on the field, there was the shape of the peppers and the scent of rain and the grey sky over everything, the feathered grey sky, old as bone, rock honest, the grey sky spreading itself over the trees and the geese and the peppers and us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recipe for Apple Pie

Apple Pie

For the crust:
2 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ sticks butter, cubed and chilled
3-4 Tbs. water

You don’t need very much to make a good crust. Crust is basic, like stone and bread. It has been with us as long as language, as long as bone. You need muscles in your arms. You need love – any kind will do. Love for the afternoon you’re cooking in, for the texture of the flour, for the shape of your hands, the warmth of the kitchen, the wind blowing in from the open window. You don’t need big love. Just enough to keep the dough from getting too sticky, enough to roll out the crust smooth and true.

Mix the flour and the salt. Cut in the chilled butter and use your hands to blend it with the flour. It might take a long time. Use your muscles. Squeeze the soft butter between your fingers until it crumbles into pebbles and the whole mixture resembles coarse seed, oatmeal-colored and pleasant to the touch. Notice the way the flour sticks to your hands, and changes their color. Even flour has a smell.

One tablespoon at a time, add the water, mixing constantly, until you can collect all the dough into a rough ball. This is the magic of flour and fat: they cling to each other. You are making shape out of formlessness. It is no small act. Go slowly. Collect each pebble of dough from the sides of the bowl. Take them between your hands. Bring them closer and closer until they disappear into each other.

Chill the dough before you roll it out. It doesn’t matter how long – an hour or the length of an afternoon or the amount of time it takes you to peel the apples. Do not chill it overnight. The long darkness will make it sticky and brittle.

On a smooth, lightly floured surface, flatten the dough with your hands into a smooth, round oval. Like everything else, dough needs to be touched. You have to pamper it with your flesh and blood, with the warmth of your skin. You have to let it feel the life flowing through you. Let it guide you. Follow its cracks and knit them together with the clean wood of the rolling pin. Lean into the counter with all your gentle strength. Give yourself up to it. Cooking is a love affair with flour and fruit and seeds, with conversation, with warmth, with scent. To roll out a crust you need to be bold and tender. You have to love the flour and the water and the texture of what they make together. You have to love the time it takes to put your hands into something whole, something that will sustain.

Lay the crust into a 9-inch pie pan. Patch up the sides with leftover bits of dough. It probably won’t be perfect, but if your handprints and your heart prints are there, it will be delicious.

For the filling:
7 fresh apples with hard red skins and crisp, sweet-tart flesh that tastes like fall and home. Make sure you can feel their weight against your skin when you hold them in the palm of your hand.
1 cup honey (to taste). Bees collect pollen from flowers and turn it into thick, dark honey. Bees are small and fly together in swarms during the winter to keep warm. Bees need water like everything else. It was so dry this summer they hovered over the buckets full of lettuce, clamoring with thirst. If you have been to the place where the hives are kept, if you have walked the meadows full of clover and buckthorn, think of the bees as you measure out one cup of the golden liquid.
1-2 Tbs. cinnamon. Cinnamon is the bark of a tree that grows on the other side of the world. Use it with a reverence for distance. Say a blessing for the shapes of trees that bind us together.
1 Tbs. ginger.
1-2 sp. freshly grated nutmeg. When you grate whole nutmeg, you open a small brown star in the middle of the seed and the scent of explodes outward from its dark skin, staining your hands and your breath.

Peel and core the apples and slice them thinly. While you’re slicing them, notice the sound the knife makes as you ease it through the flesh. Notice the way you have to first pierce the skin, the way a little water seeps out onto the counter every time you make a cut. Apple seeds are like humans; every seed is unique. There as many kinds of apples as there are seeds. Notice the way they feel in your hands. Notice the movement of your muscles as you peel the skin away. It is important to use your muscles. It is important to be slow, to love each gesture of your hands. Pies have a memory. More goes into them that fruit and spices. To make a good pie, you have to mix in a little of the day – the sunlight or the cold rain, the murmur of the sparrows or the shadow of a hawk that cut across the sky as you grated nutmeg. Pies are small enough to fit in an oven but you can fill them endlessly with details.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the honey, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a little flour. Toss them with the miracle that flavors blend together, with a prayer for fire, with the smell of decaying leaves and the whisper of the first frost on the evening wind. Mix well with a long-handled wooden spoon. You can put anything you want in a pie, but you have to mean it. Forgiveness is sweet and love burns. Sadness adds a dark and bitter aftertaste. Never pour anything untrue into your pie. Whatever honesty is yours in the hour that you make it is enough.

Pour the apples into the rolled out crust. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes at 425°. While the pie bakes, open your windows so the scent of it wafts into the street. Wash the dishes slowly, with hot water. Sit at the kitchen table and drink a cup of tea. Cooking is the most basic act, the most forgiving act, the most generous act. To make a pie is to offer sustenance to the world.

Eat the pie hot with gratitude. Bless it. Let each bite roll slowly off your fork and into your mouth. Share. Close your eyes and let the flavors of apple and ginger linger in your mouth. This is one way to say a prayer. With apples baked with cinnamon and awe in a kitchen that smells of rain and fresh warmth, with each movement of hands over flour, with the scent of something baking. This is one way to say a prayer. To slice apples and mix them with honey and loneliness, to use the muscle of your hands to shape dough into something infinite and solid, to fill a pie to the brim with wonder.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Corn and Cod Chowder

You can’t make this chowder in a rush. The trick is to do everything slowly and pay attention to all the fragrant details that go into it. It is full of subtle, wonderful flavors and varied textures. Flakey cod, tender sweet potatoes, thick cream, crunchy fresh corn, toasted cumin, bay. Start the onions cooking in the late afternoon when the light is at its most beautiful. Listen to familiar music. Move quietly about the kitchen. The soup will soak up everything you do, your movements, your laughter, the muscles you use to chop and stir. This recipe makes a big pot, so make sure to invite a lot of folks over. And remember that recipes are merely templates. I am only writing down exactly what I did, which made one of the most delicious chowders I’ve ever had. You can follow this recipe exactly and see if it works for you, but always trust your instincts.

4 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 cups chopped onions
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. paprika
1 fresh cayenne pepper
2 small to medium heads garlic, minced, plus 5 cloves, minced
3 Tbs. white flour
2 cups heavy cream, plus 2 Tbs.
4-5 cups water, plus ½ cup
2 bay leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, diced
kernels from 6 ears corn and 3 of the shaved cobs
2 large leeks, sliced
1 tsp. dried sage
1 ½ pounds fresh cod, cut in large chunks
salt and pepper to taste

1. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry skillet until they are lightly browned and releasing a wonderful aroma. Grind them in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the paprika to the ground spice and set aside.

2. In a dry skillet, char the cayenne pepper until its skin is blackened. Let cool and the peel of the skin. Mince the pepper, including the ribs and seeds, and add to the spice mixture. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards!

3. Heat 2 Tbs. butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chopped onions and the spices. Cook over medium to low heat until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook another 10-15 minutes. If the onions are sticking and burning, add some olive oil to the pan.

4. Whisk in 2 Tbs. of flour and cook for a few seconds, making sure to constantly whisk so the flour doesn’t form lumps. Add the cream, a little at a time, whisking as you pour. Then add the water, a cup at a time. How much you add depends on how thick you like the broth.

5. Add 1 bay leaf, the sweet potatoes, and the three shaved corn cobs, broken in half. Simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender.

6. While the soup is cooking, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter in a medium skillet. Add the leeks, the second bay leaf, the sage, and the remaining 5 cloves garlic. Cook 5-8 minutes until the leeks begin to soften. Add 1 Tbs. flour and 2 Tbs. cream, whisking as you go to make a thick sauce. Add ½ cup water, mix well, and cover the pan. Let the leeks steam over medium heat until tender. Add them to the soup.

7. When the sweet potatoes are just tender, add the cod and cook for ten more minutes, until the fish is tender and flakes apart in the soup. 2 minutes before the soup is done, add the corn kernels. Remove the shaved cobs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

8. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with chopped cilantro, with cheese biscuits or good bread.

The Instinct to Feed Everyone

As the nights get colder and the leaves turn, my instinct is cook for everyone I know. I want to feed people. My kitchen is small but I have a blue enamel pot that can hold the fragrance of bay and cinnamon and home. I have a cast-iron skillet seasoned with the memories of the charred skins of hot chilies, of sweet onions simmering into a golden mess, of crispy fried potatoes and bitter greens, of hot garlic broth and cornbread rising in the oven. My kitchen is small but it holds an endless amount of love. It is scented with the fragrance of summer rain misting the open windows, of eggs sizzling at sunrise, of long conversations over black tea, of pies made with hands that have known the earth.

My instinct is to feed people. I want to pour all my love and gratitude into simmering soup and rising bread. All day, as I bend over in the fields, harvesting and weeding and taking down trellises, I am thinking of what I will cook for dinner. We harvested the first of the cauliflower and broccoli this week. I think: curried cauliflower soup, fried rice with broccoli and soy sauce, braised cauliflower with cabbage and cumin. The stand is stocked with winter squash and pumpkins and all day as I sell them, I think: roasted kabocha with apples and onions, butternut soup with sage and chipoltes, baked acorn with maple syrup, curried pumpkin soup, walnut pumpkin bread, delicata stuffed with fennel, apples and cheddar.

I’ve always loved to cook, but recently it has become something more than the need for a good dinner after a day at work. It has become a prayer. My instinct is to cook slowly and deliberately, to notice every distinct flavor before I blend them together into something whole and unique. Everything that goes into a soup pot is its own miracle. It seems important to me to remember this, to add each ingredient the way you compose the lines of a poem, with reverence and wonder. It is important to bow to the dark, spicy scent of cumin seeds toasting in a dry skillet, to notice the texture of them, freshly ground, as I stir them into the thick broth of beans and tomatoes It is important to watch the swirls the wooden spoon makes as I glide it through the pot. My instinct is to cook slowly, to chop with precision, to listen to the sound of my knife slicing through onions, to bend my head close to the steam rising from pot and let the fragrance of bay and oregano cleanse me. There is a prayer in each thing done deliberately, in each remembered act. Food is the most basic element of our lives. My instinct is to gather all my gratitude into big pots of stew and soup, into long-rising bread and slow-roasted vegetables, to make each bite a prayer for everyone who eats at my table.

Everything on this earth is fragile, and nothing lasts. The sun is setting now, and I have been sitting outside, watching as the light changes on the leaves. I am about to go into the kitchen to make corn chowder with the last of the fresh, sweet corn. I will set the onions sizzling, shuck the corn, simmer sweet potatoes and a bay leaf with a little cinnamon and cream. I will bless the walls of my house with the fragrance of garlic and coriander. Food is the most basic, the most solid. Cooking is one of the few prayers I know how to speak. I can work with soil, harvest vegetables, and cook food that warms the tips of your fingers and the edges of your heart. Gratitude isn’t worth anything if you keep it to yourself.

Good food opens our hearts and widens our capacity for tenderness. It brings out our laugher and reaches down inside us to the dark places where we keep our tears. It eases our aches and makes us whole. This is what I have to offer the world in this season of bountiful endings: white beans with kale, potato pizza, mulled cider, cornbread with honey. The leaves are turning and the nights are lengthening and under the cold white moon and the waning winter sun, I will be in the kitchen, making of it a sacred place, saying my prayers with a wooden spoon, speaking love with the scents of bay and cardamom, singing my gratitude with chilies and tomatoes, simmering my blessings into pots of potatoes and corn, kneading my wonder into oatmeal bread, pouring my joy into pumpkin muffins, baked apples, and black bean soup.

Monday, October 1, 2007


What I want to remember at the end of each day are the moments that name themselves as blessings. There is a finite amount of work you can do in a day, but blessings are infinite and free. I don’t know how to say it any other way. I’m always stumbling over the words, because how can I possibly describe how it feels to bend down in the dirt and harvest flat leaves of deep green spinach, wrinkled and springy? I don’t know why this is so important. I only know that doing this is what I love. I don’t know what to give back to the world except for its own wonders reflected in my eyes. I don’t know what to write down except the same sentence, over and over. Sunlight on spinach and kale and mustard greens. Walden Pond. Waking up to the blue ridge of sky lightening in my window. Wind shaking the three aspen trees by the washtub at the farm. They are all the same sentence, all different names for the same thing. It’s all the same wonder, the same plea, the same prayer. I just want us to wake up every day and look around and bow to what we see that is whole and beautiful.

What I want to remember at the end of each day are the moments that name themselves as blessings. Harvesting spinach under the wide morning sky. Cold water burning my hands as I washed beets and radishes. The papery yellow leaves of soybean plants as I walked down the row at sunset, gathering dinner. The white back of the moon hanging over the field. The sound of each stem of chard as I snapped it from the plant.

Blessings are infinite and free. I only want us all to take as many as we can find, to walk into the world with our arms open, ready to collect what simple wonder we can from the world, ready to gather it up and hold it close and give it away.

A Moment.