Coming home tonight
the sun sunk, moon rose, cars sat.
One egret flew south.
I've come up with a new party trick. Well, it's not new, actually quite old and probably thought of as a chore in it's day but I like it. We pull butter from a bottle of cream.
What could be easier? I pour a bottle of cream into a bowl, grab the whisk, hand it all to the person nearest the kitchen and ask them to whisk. The bowl gets passed around.
One friend told a story of making mayonnaise in Africa while she whisked. Which led to someone else's stories of collecting mushrooms in Germany and someone else's memories of mushrooms in Vermont. And then there's the person, this could easily be me, but this time it was the Takeout Queen, who had never seen butter being made.
"Don't you have to add something?" she asked.
That person has the most fun. Because the transition of cream to butter is a small miracle. It's the fuzzy caterpillar to a butterfly metamorphosis. Mothy white cream turns in the blink of an eye, once the turning actually happens, to the color of a yellow daisy, the color of breakfast, the color of all that is good in the world; it turns butter yellow at the same time it leaves behind it's milky beginnings. Butter. Meltingly sweet fresh butter from cream.
I've yet to see someone not smile at the turning, at the lump of gold found in a returnable bottle. And then I serve the bread. Even the most delicate among us takes up the butter knife and with a singular purpose, not one at a time, everyone reaches knives and elbows into the butter balancing huge nuggets back to their bread.
It's there in the breaking of bread, of bread and new butter, the reaching and full mouths that no one feels like a guest any more; it simply feels like everyone is at home. That's my favorite part.
The first time I heard anyone talk about industrial pig factories it was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. What he described was so unfathomable I reasoned it must not be true or he was exaggerating. Or something. The speech was likely made at the same time the author of Righteous Porkchop, Nicolette Hahn Niman, worked for Kennedy at Waterkeeper Alliance as a staff attorney and head of a national campaign to combat pig factories.
Maybe I haven't been paying attention between the time of that speech half a dozen years ago and two weeks ago when I picked up Righteous Porkchop. I thought the pork industry had cleaned up its, please excuse me, cleaned up its shit for all I heard about it.
Righteous Pork may change that. NHN spends the first half of the book describing her work with the pig factories and the people and communities who worked alongside her. Which is why I didn't want to put the book down. It's not all pretty reading but the people and communities affected by the factories are.
In some ways the story is an unfolding drama. I found myself more than once, okay, a lot, routing for the local communities but NHN also shows the corner the factory owners have gotten themselves into and I couldn't help but route for them too; that they can find a way out. No one is having a good time.
There's a little bit of spying; quite a few bad politicians. There's a guy hired by the pork industry to tail NHN to community meetings. Eventually someone does have a good time and there's romance too.
The later part of the book visits industrial chicken and fish, factory dairies and beef. Did you know that it's a widespread practice to feed factory hens red dye to make the yolks of their eggs yellow? I had no idea. I also learned the correct terminology for the animals on a dairy. They are not all cows.
There's a lot to learn from Righteous Porkchop. It's a smart book with history.
My only criticism is Niman Ranch beef comes across too precious in Niman's telling. In one example she praises a retailer for carrying Niman beef, overlooking the foreign imports in their produce department. That would have been fine but she goes on to knock the produce department of another retailer that doesn't carry Niman beef.
And I loved this book. It's an important read revealing the truth that corporate meat producers don't want us to know. It's to their benefit to keep us ignorant. Righteous Porkchop changes that though, one knowledgeable page at a time.
I love the city. I really do. But when I take a few days off I want to hit the country. Which is how the cute guy and I spent a long weekend. We headed north. To apple country.
We drove through Sebastopol to Graton, up to Cloverdale and over to Booneville. And each time we passed apple farms, there were two near our camp, I remembered picking apples with Mom.
I remembered her pulling on to the side of the road, two wheels in the field. It was before there were fences, orchards as far as Christmas. "Come on," she'd say. "Let's get apples." And I'd pick as many from the ground as I could carry. "They're Gravensteins," she'd sing, which meant nothing to me except Gravensteins made her happy.
Yesterday Gravenstein apples were the main headline in the Sunday paper. I recognized the farmer in the front page picture. We've laughed together. I've taken more than one slice of apple from his hand.
The article explained that the apple growers aren't picking the fallen apples traditionally used for juice. There's no where to take them. The US apple juice market is sustained by China. It's cheaper.
I didn't read further but I did come home with cotton bags of apples. Picked from a growers wooden boxes at the farm. A farm with a black dog carrying a yellow ball. A farm with a big rabbit and three red hens.
I read the names of the apples; Northern Spy, Sierra Beauty. There were more varieties than there are holidays. I could see them in the field, on the trees and the ground. I could happily smell them but couldn't help wondering, will the apple fields be there the next time? Or will we need to go to China to buy them off the farm?
The cute guy and I visit the humane society regularly. We flirt with cats and cruise the dogs. And then we go home. To the worms.
Worms are the best pets. They don't leave hair on the couch or need to go on walks. There's no barking, no grooming. And their poop is succinctly contained. It's even good for the garden I've read.
Not that I've put worm poop on the garden. I used the liquid run off last year. In the beginning it was a green revolution. I saturated the lawn with my version of worm tea. And then the roses began to turn yellow, drop leaves. The pepper plants began to perish. Which I thought meant everything needed more of the undiluted, unaerated worm bin runoff I called tea. (Yes, I should have read something first. Anything. But I was excited.) The yard is still recovering and the liquid from the bin now goes down the drain.
But the worms, the worms are flourishing. I've done nothing but feed them our produce skins and trimmings since they arrived a year and a half ago. This summer they ate everything from the kitchen plus the back yard bad apples.
When I need an animal or farm fix I dig in the worm bin. Not long ago I was in a recurring I want a plot of land funk and lazily raking through carrot tops in the bin. With the headlamp turned on high I flipped the shell of half a melon and nearly peed my pants. I was Faye Ray in the hands of King Kong. There were hundreds, it seemed like thousands, of worms knotted together beneath the rind. I had no idea.
Did I say they were big? They were really big.
I snapped the lid back on the bin; checked it twice. And gave getting a cat some more consideration.
The cute guy suggested a second worm bin. I'm liking his idea.
I saw Novella Carpentar do a reading this week from her book, Farm City. She's our current household hero. The cute guy and I loved the book and the urban farm on squatted land but mostly she's our hero for her generous heart that came through in the story. And again tonight at the reading.
Novella's reading and the book I'm currently reading, Righteous Porkchop, have me thinking about farming, past and present. My Grandparents and Great Grandparents on both sides were farmers. Ranch farmers. Between them they had cows, sheep, turkey and chickens. I grew up thinking every one's grandparents came from one ranch or another, had animals and grew food.
One Grandfather could grow anything. Even from his wheel chair he grew prize tomatoes in barrels and baked apple pies. The other collected bags of day old bread from the bakery in town. He fed it to the cows, the dogs. We ate some too.
Dad still gets day old bread from a bakery down the road and feeds it to his doghouse chickens and a pair of crows that recognize his truck. They meet him at the old ranch and start in on the bread in the back of the truck. And then a mile as the crow flies they beat him home where they finish cleaning up the crumbs. "Crazy crows," he says.
The last time I saw him he gave me two loaves of old bread. "It's still good," he said. It felt soft, there was no mold. It was in plastic with a tie and I remembered liking the brand when I ate packaged bread. "Thanks, Dad," I said and put the loaves in the car.
If I had chickens or a dog I suppose I would have fed them some, it's in my blood, but there's just the two of us, the cute guy and I; we had toast. And I have to admit, Dad was right, the bread was good.
Not as good as Farm City or Righteous Porkchop but almost. A little homemade strawberry jam and they'd be equal.
Have you ever had one of those experiences, I'm sure you have, when you think you're doing one thing and then realize there's something else going on? And yet whatever you were doing had to be done before your eyes could adjust to the next thing. I've had a few of those experiences, this week.
The first was with the camera. I carry it every where and act like I know something. Until I realized this week the camera is the one that knows what's going on. It's teaching me how to see, as slowly and repeatedly as if I were relearning the alphabet. I point it, shoot and look to see what's there. It's like finding a ship in a bottle each time. And the camera gets it all; the light and the reflections of the light; the shadows and the threads. It gets the tiny black bugs and dust and patterns and vastness of everything. And I find beauty I'd overlooked and wonder, where have I been?
Which is how I feel about the next two small awakenings - where have I been? First, it's been a couple of years since we produced more than a tortilla chip bag, occasionally a big tortilla chip bag, of trash a week. This week though I realized the meat I buy is vacuumed packed in plastic. It's beautiful grass fed, organic, happy animal meat. That was all I could see. I never saw the plastic. That's the piece that gets me - I couldn't see the plastic.
The second eye opener had me cancel the Sunday paper delivery. To say I love the Sunday paper is an understatement. I make it last all week and can't wait to get on the bus for the hour commute to read it. But it's delivered in plastic. A blue plastic sleeve that I must admit makes me smile in anticipation. So much so that I've kept a blind eye to the plastic part. But you know what, I can walk or ride my bike to the store on Sunday to buy a copy. I can stop at the store on the way home from the farmers' market and buy a copy. A copy that doesn't come in plastic.
Although maybe I'll keep the last blue plastic bag and each Sunday put the store bought copy in it for the anticipation factor. I doubt it. The anticipation will change as will old habits of buying meat in plastic. I hope the camera never stops teaching me how to see though. I don't want to miss anything.
Little Gems Lettuce
Northern Spy Apples
Sierra Beauty Apples
Back Deck Harvest
Black Cherry Tomatoes
Gleaned and Gifted
(From Someone Else's Yard)
Slow Roasted Tomatoes