Tuesday, October 8, 2013

food can be ugly

Nicholas had a friend over a few months ago and as they ate their sandwiches, Nicholas' friend asked me what I was doing.  I was stirring a steaming pot, and there was the definitive smell of vinegar mixed with something tart in the air.

Making pickles...I paused, deciding whether I should give the whole story...rhubarb pickles....There, I said it.  Rip off the bandaid.

That's my mom for ya, said Nicholas.  Charmingly smiling at his friend, and then at me...ever the diplomat.  In one fell swoop, chiding me and staying cool with his friend, and telling me he would be diving into the jar of pickles as soon as his friend headed out, with his eyes.

Am I putting my kids in the nerds and freaks clique at school with all of this homemade nonsense?  Does their homemade yoghurt in Ball jars and sandwich bread in a non-traditional loaf shape that is unfamiliar to lunch table neighbors somehow consign my children to the swings...alone...during recess?  Do their teachers notice that their reused Ball jar lids sometimes say things like Late Season Spicy Cilantro Arugula Pesto 2012 on it?


Is local eating best kept to the privacy of our home?  Should I send plastic wrapped yogurt tubes and pleasantly shaped sandwich bread to school and save this delicious, but sometimes hard to look at, food for here?

These people are doing it.  Serving up the perfect antidote to the fast food everyone craves and sourcing all of their ingredients from local providers.  And doing it in the hip and trendy part of town.  Plated beautifully.

I would like to point out that, to my credit, we have been serving this dinner in our house for a couple of years now, our burgers also from Pineland, the french fries from our garden, the milkshakes made with ice cream we make ourselves using milk from Smiling Hill Farm, just down the road from us.  Calling it Farmers' Diner Dinner, our own local version of the meal we had here, years ago.  After reading about it in Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal Vegetable Mineral.    See?  Total food nerd, since I really didn't have to tell you that.

I could tell you that our food always looks beautiful, like this.

That our children are being raised on gorgeous, better than you can purchase at the farmers market, colors of the rainbow, never a soft spot, squish, or hitchiking insect visible.

But there is more to the story.  There are dirty dishes next to this lovely pile of broccoli.  And probably a worm or two in the broccoli itself somewhere.

Almost as if she sensed my self-consciousness, the other night, Julia came home from school and asked if we could play the Local Food Game Show which she had played that day at school during her Local Food Study, a game accessible through her school's website.  And in a way that only a family of nerdy homegrown food lovers could, we played that game show like some families tackle elite soccer team games.  It was awesome...and I totally won in the last round, the score all tied up, with the question:

The xylem and phloem are located in what part of the plant?


During the course of dinner and the game, my children were able to identify parsley by sight.  Knew that potatoes grow in the ground.  Knew that rhubarb, the large ones we bought from Elliott's teacher's farm? They come up every year.  They knew that Maine was one of the top 5 broccoli growing states.  Well.  That explains my crop this year.

But really?  Who am I kidding.  My garden does not look at all like the lovely pictures of unidentified vegetables on the game.  Nor does any of it look like the items sold at the farmers market.  And my gardening equipment, our backyard homestead?  These things would be a bit out of place here.  But oh how I wish they did fit in...

I am working my way through harvesting and preserving the garden.  We eat meals from it each night, and I try to do a bit of preserving that works with what we are eating.  A pasta dinner with fresh pesto, and 12 other jars of pesto frozen that same night.  Pizza with fresh tomato sauce, and 10 other jars of tomato sauces frozen later that night.  Sort of a game of: a little bit for me, a lot a bit for the lady of the barn...

And it's good that the food we will eat all winter looks like this when we take it out of the freezer to thaw.  Because maybe by then we will have forgotten what it looked like when we harvested it.  The faint of heart may want to look away now.

I could try to sugar coat it by focusing on the cosmos nearby...

But, honestly?  The tomatoes look like this.

I know!  The horror.

Want to see some of them close up?

Not pretty.  Not farmers market ready.  But...still edible, some of them.  Right?

Sure, there are some pretty ones to photograph out there.  But most of these are zombie compost tomatoes.  Back from the dead of our compost, growing in unusual places.  Like outside the garden, for example.

I am just in from the garden.  And I collected a whole bunch of tomatoes to freeze.  I dropped the too rotten ones to the ground as I picked them, knowing that soon the chickens will have access to the garden, and they can pick their way through these castoffs and help work them into the soil to compost where they lie.  I intentionally ignored that the plants have fallen over due to a complete fail using a new system of staking them this year, and that the plants are turning brown and dying. And brought in tomatoes that were...mostly...not rotten.  I will cut off the unmentionable parts and compost them.  And use the rest.

I will need to do this when the children are not looking, because I am not sure they will not eat the tomatoes if they know what they looked like when the saucing began.

We have been pretty successful growing our own food and the children feel proud of how we grow and eat here.  It has worked its way into Nicholas' Family Culture Project for school, Julia and I will be doing a presentation about backyard beekeeping to her class in a few weeks, and Elliott already shared about our garden and bees at school.

But what may be a problem is my food's presentation.  It's shape, ugliness, and unusual packaging.  I think my kids might still not recognize a tomato in a picture, despite their exposure to food and where it comes from, because they are used to tomatoes that may have been left outside in a frost, or gotten a bit bruised, or they only recognize one if it has a mist of fruit flies around it...

The other night, without even giving it a second thought, after washing the kale, I was dicing it up to make into kale salad.  And I removed a snail from the leaf attached to my knife.  I was about to drop the kale and its friend into the bowl, before I spied it.  Instead, I dropped the snail into the empty Ball jar next to me.  And called to Elliott.  He took the snail to share at school the next day.

So, my suggestion for a question to add to the Local Food Game Show?  It's this: Is a kale salad, that may include a side of snail...a dinner?  Or is it a show and tell item?

My kids get out of the car each day with a bit of straw stuck to their bottoms and backs of their legs.  In a moment of poor decision making, perhaps due to the fact that there was an older gentleman standing next to me holding a 50 pound sack of chicken feed over one shoulder and a bale of straw in his other hand while I puzzled through where he should put it, because the back of my Subaru was filled with an assortment of new Ball jars, I had him throw the bale of straw in the backseat.  And there is no time to vacuum the back seat, because I am making pesto.

It's what you focus on, whether you need your life to be clean and pretty.  Whether I show my flock of chickens free ranging in the backyard with the camera pointed toward the pretty ones.

Or whether I allow Captain Feather Pants (yes, this is her name) to photo bomb the idyllic scene.  Currently, she is molting.  And her pants?  Are a bit...revealing.  She lacks her usual fluff and attitude.  But she is still a part of our flock.

I think she is a bit embarrassed.

And, once her feathers grow back in and she is laying again, we will happily eat her eggs.

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