Things aren’t too much different than they were back in February, with the exception being that the weather is warmer and I’m able to eat more fresh food. Foodie that I am, the fresh food has been a particular joy; there are very few things more satisfying to me than hopping off the back deck to pick herbs and beans or lettuce or snap peas or green onions for a meal. Only slightly less gratifying is buying large quantities of fruit or vegetables at the public market or Hurd Orchard (a local “u-pick” operation), and then preserving them in some way so that we can eat them when it’s cold and leafless in the back yard. So far we’ve made three batches of strawberry jam and frozen both blueberries and peas. We plan to go back out to Hurd this weekend for more blueberries so that I can make a couple more batches of jam, and it’s green bean season, so we’ll soon be blanching and freezing beans as well. We’ve also been drying herbs. My mint patch began to get out of hand, the oregano was thick, and the catnip was going nuts, so we did a thinning-trim, hanging all the cut stalks in paper bags on the second-floor sleeping porch. Last night, after about a week and a half, they were dried out, so we stripped and discarded the stalks (the cats loved the catnip stalks!), putting the dried, uncrumbled leaves into pint jars. Then we started another batch drying, adding in some sweet basil and thyme for good measure. Hopefully, once we get back from vacation, then sage will be ready to cut and dry as well. Now if only we could kick the curry addiction . . .
Food on the whole has begun to take up a good deal of my attention recently. I have, for a few years, been on an “eat local” kick, and this has become even more important as gas prices go up. At some point, the cost of transport is going to show up in food prices, and those year-round available California strawberries are going to be much more expensive to buy here in New York state. Of course, there are not only concerns about price (which, I must admit, is primary on a graduate student budget), but also the more holistic problems of buying commercially produced vegetable matter. Factory farms are ugly things; they use huge amounts of fertilizers and chemical soil amendments, even if they are technically “organic.” They create monocultures that can be wiped out with a single nasty infestation or plant disease. And, honestly, the food from big national producers just isn’t as good. Those foods are produced for prettiness and durability, not taste. A strawberry that can survive a two thousand mile trip just cannot to be as meltingly sweet and “strawberry”-ish as the one that gets bruised on its trip from my backyard to my lunch hour on campus. For whatever reason, the genes that do those two things just don’t appear in the same plants.
Oops. Just ranted. I apologize. Anyways, my point is that this year we’ve managed to find good local sources for a whole bunch of edibles. Yes, I occasionally, with a shameful countenance, purchase California or Florida avocados, because darnit! I love fresh guacamole! And we still haven’t figured out what to do for oil (olives just don’t grow in western New York!). But we do get inexpensive local vegetables and fruit, and we found, oh joy of joys, a local dairy (with old-fashioned glass bottles, even!). Free-range eggs are always easy to find, and for low prices as long as we remember to pick them up at the public market and not the grocery store. We’ve also tracked down a place that sells pasture-raised beef for barely more than supermarket prices, and we’ve got a locally raised pig being butchered for us in the fall. The same source will be providing our Thanksgiving turkey, which we’ve gotten to see once a week as it grows from a little peeping fluffball to a bird that actually looks like one of the big evil gobblers. About the only thing that we’re having trouble finding is affordable local, pasture-raised chicken. On our budget we just can’t afford to pay $3.50 per pound for chicken, especially when we have a cheaper option of $2.50 per pound ground beef. Compared with all the rest, however, the failure to find chicken is a rather minor thing. We don’t really eat that much meat, at any rate; the bulk of our diet comes in the form of beans, lentils, and cornmeal (which we’re trying to phase in in lieu of the far-traveling rice).
As I said, contemplation of food has become a very large part of my mental activity. It’s such a basic part of existence that it can be a bit surprising to realize how complicated it is, particularly if you’re not given to thinking about the basic elements that make your life and lifestyle possible. Once I started thinking about food, it was very hard to stop until I began to get my food habits at least somewhat in line with my larger philosophy of life, the universe and everything. Which is exactly what Ryan and I have managed to do, finally; it’s taking a bit more thought and time to do our weekly shopping than it once did, but we’re actually eating better, more deliberately, and more inexpensively than we did before.
Well. That’s enough on food, and long enough for an entry. Please forgive my rambling, and I’ll do a different update later, covering other aspects of my grand trudge through 2006.