My thoughts today revolve around a book I read some time ago and just picked up again today by Anne Scott entitled Serving Fire about rituals and rhythms of the hearth. Now, rituals and rhythms are both subjects near and dear to me, as is my kitchen, which I view as the hearth of our home and often the center of, not just our family, but a community life. In the space of our kitchens we create. Not only meals, but memories. It is there that we spend so much time and energy together. It seems important that there we can also craft ritual to feed our souls, as well as our bodies.
Our lives are so often devoid of nourishing ritual. It is easy to loose our focus, to not pay attention. Listening to jarring music, talking on the telephone, watching television, thinking of tomorrow while we chop and stir in the kitchen are all habits that can get in the way of the deeper practice of cooking. Bringing some ritual into the kitchen is actually a way of coming back to the center of you. And the food you then offer becomes richer nourishment for those to whom we offer it.
Before I prepare a meal, I like to pause and remember where the food comes from, to appreciate the sun and rain, the soil, the farmer who grew the seeds, and my farm team, including my children, who helped to till, plant and nurture the seedlings, my daughter who so often is the one preparing marvelous food for us. Usually we have a bunch of herbs on the counter to bring fragrance, or a small vase of flowers for a visual feast. All this helps to focus and calm us, often in the midst of the chaos that is our full lives.
We need to remember that the “practical” things, like housework and cooking, need not be separate from the “impractical” things like creativity and meditation. We can dig deeper and find the nourishment for our souls in the mundane. When I hang laundry on the line in the sun and trade winds, I see items of clothing from my children and can hold them in my heart while hanging that tee shirt. I can be thankful for the guests who have enjoyed our farm while staying in our cottages when I hang the freshly washed sheets. I can remember a refreshing swim at the beach while putting up a towel I laid on in the sun that afternoon. With that same reverent attitude we can prepare the family meals and bring all who eat those offerings toward wholeness.
As Anne Scott says in her lovely book which I’m mulling over, “Learning to nourish, learning to be nourished, takes place at the hearth. When we tend the hearth, we open ourselves to receiving nourishment that feeds us—body and soul.”
Blessings on your families, your homes, your kitchens, and your meals.
I never imagined years ago that my oldest son, Sky, would ever take any interest in farming. Sure, he liked to work alongside us on the land, but mostly because he wanted to be with us and feel useful, but only when he felt like it. Now, he is an integral part of North Country Farms, having become inspired by sustainability and our part in that movement. Sky is an idealist and an intellectual. Those attributes, coupled with some damn hard work, have brought him to a point where his contribution to our farm has taken us to a whole new level of production. I am grateful every day for his impeccable research on so many topics that have elevated our awareness and our output. I find myself smiling to see him on the tractor that has been on the farm since its inception 23 years ago (and has been working hard since 1957!) I am sure that his sensitive nature and sustainable nurturing will always serve him, our farm and our world well.
As I gazed upon the garden this Monday morning and took in all the beauty and abundance there—the vast shades of green, interspersed with the reds and the deep brown earth—I felt proud of my work and the work of the dear ones who help me to create such a bucolic scene of bounty. With the scent and rush of Spring just here, the lingering days and the burst of the full moon we are experiencing, all is in seeming synchronicity here—making a garden in a full-on state of grace. Then I remembered the times when nature takes a turn in just the flutter of a thrush’s wing—humbling us in the wake of its’ wind, rain, intense sun or insect devastation. Just as I can take no credit for the events which set us back some, I can take no credit for the orchestration of elements which conspired to bring the splendor of this morning’s garden. I can only offer my hands, my hard work and my unceasing gratitude.
“There’s little risk in becoming overly proud of one’s garden because gardening by its very nature is humbling. It has a way of keeping you on your knees.”…Joanne R. Barwick, in Readers Digest (1993)
A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.”…Mary Sarton, At Seventy (1984)
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the green heron feeds
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.
by Wendell Berry
There surely is that notion of despair that can, in the blink of an eye, overwhelm us. Cause us to loose our center. Find us forgetting about all the fine people and things happening in this world. And just as surely, there is nature in splendor available to soothe our troubled minds and souls. Take a walk. Take a deep breath. Take a swim. Watch the rain fall. Feel the sun shine. Weed your garden. Get outside and feast on the grace of the world, for there is plenty of it.
I am basically a happy person. Someone recently asked me how that was so. After I pondered that question for a time, I came to the conclusion that being happy is a choice. Now, I am fully aware that I am also a fortunate person, and that alone can go a long way towards contributing to one’s happiness. But, in each situation, in each day, in each moment, we make choices. And I choose to be happy. The author Gretchen Rubin has a blog that I have followed for some time. That blog has morphed into a book The Happiness Project. It is a chatty read full of her discoveries while pursuing a path of happiness. In her research she found a great piece written in 1820 by the Englishman Sydney Smith. It was a letter he wrote to an unhappy friend in an attempt to cheer her up. I find his 19 suggestions very relevant even today. Use them as you like—perhaps they will make you smile. I particularly like #17.
“1. Live as well as you dare.
2. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3. Amusing books.
4. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5. Be as busy as you can.
6. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18. Keep good blazing fires.
19. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.”
Chard and Ricotta Pie
1 large bunch of Swiss Chard ~ 1 tablespoon olive oil ~ 1 bunch of green onions, sliced ~ 1/2 teaspoon salt ~ 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper ~ 4 eggs ~ 15 oz. ricotta ~ 3/4 cup of milk ~ 1/2 cup grated parmesan ~ 2 tablespoons corn starch
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a pie pan. Separate stems and leaves of chard. Heat oil in large skillet and add stems and cook until tender. Add onions and salt and pepper and cook for a minute. Add leaves and stir them in, moving them around and cooking until tender and wilted and moisture evaporates. Whisk together eggs, ricotta, milk, parmesan and cornstarch. Stir this into the chard mixture and transfer to the pie plate. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until set. This can be made with any green. Kale is also yummy. Enjoy!
At the beach today I found myself entranced by the stunning colors of the ocean. There were blues in hues that were so subtle and so sweet it captivated me. Returning to the farm with this experience still fresh and the sun slowly lowering in the west, I remained in the color-flabbergasted frame of mind. I gazed out over my land and gardens and was awestruck by the number of shades of green before me. Gazillions of greens. And, interspersed with orchids in brilliant colors, the last of the burst of the poinsettias, the magenta of the red tis, the splashes of the citrus in the trees. The palette of my precious life was in full parade today and it blew me away.
And speaking of greens!
I know you all love the greens you get from our farm or your own market. But, we all need new ideas on preparing them. Mostly I just stir fry mine in some olive oil with garlic and onions and perhaps a splash of mirin or soy sauce. But, I like to vary it some. Try these suggestions below.
Spicy Chard with Ginger
Separate stems and leaves from a bunch of Swiss chard. Chop leaves and dice stems small. In a large skillet, heat tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chard stems, 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger and 2 sliced chili peppers. Cool until stems soften, about 3 minutes. Season with some salt and pepper. Add chard leaves, cover and cook until wilted, about another 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until tender.
Kale with Bacon
Cut up a bunch of kale. In a large skillet, cook 4 slices of bacon, chopped, over medium heat, until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Pour off all but a teaspoon of fat from skillet. Add 4 scallions, sliced, and cook until softened. Add kale and cook covered until wilted. Uncover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir bacon back in.
Asian Greens with Onion and Lemon
In a large skillet heat 1tablespoon of olive oil. Add a red onion, diced, and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion softens. Add one nice-sized head of tat sai or pac choi, chopped. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and the juice of ½ lemon.
So, it has come to this–blogging. Who knew? With the encouragement of many dear friends, here I am. I shall be in the process of putting up on this blog all the years and years and years of Food for Thought newsletters. Perhaps even more. It’s a new world, but I can see already the potential!