farm to table

It’s hard to get in the spirit of gardening when I look outside and see the world covered in white. Nevertheless, I have just spent the past hour pouring over a seed catalog, excited at the vision of new raised beds in a garden I haven’t touched in over seven years. It’s time. No more excuses about the poor soil or the yard full of rabbits and other interested critters, or living in a region rich with CSA’s and organic produce that I can purchase easily. I have been yearning for a prolific vegetable garden of my own for as long as I can remember and wonder at how long it has taken for me to finally make the commitment to this endeavor…

A week now since my return from St. John and I’ve just finished looking at photos from the last night dining out. We heard it was ‘farm to table’ night at a local restaurant, featuring the skills of a new local chef/cook, preparing a limited menu in limited proportions from locally grown and raised food. We arrived to find a very casual atmosphere that included the usual deli sandwich bar and an ad hoc table set up in the far corner for ordering the featured menu of the four items. One of the choices, a tuna tartare, was finished and already scratched off the menu. From the remaining three I chose a seasonal ‘soup’ accompanied by homemade bread with turmeric butter, and a fresh greens salad. I paid, left my name, and sat at the large picnic table, waiting with the group I came with after getting a crisp cold glass of pinot grigio. When my food arrived I felt the thrill of being presented with something truly authentic….

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The soup was deliciously creamy with a distinctive character of celery.  The greens featured a large dark green leaf that had the taste and texture of a crisp spinach.  What a thrill!  It wasn’t that what I had been eating out the past week was bad, just that there was a noticeable lack of fresh produce with exorbitant prices for even the simplest salad.  (The only exception at this point was the surprise of discovering unbelievably fresh papaya.  This was a lip smacking juicy wonder, not the pale bland cousin found in the markets of the northeast weary from travel…)  While eating out I sampled local specialties like jerk chicken and lovely fish sandwiches made with grilled local mahi mahi, all good. But this was the first time in the week I felt compelled to pull out my camera to remember this feeling of having a meal placed in front of me that looked, smelled, and had the energy of the real deal. I imagined fresh grated turmeric and locally made butter and cream. The greens were so lightly coated with the most fragrant dressing that I wondered if there was even oil in it.  It all suggested a skillfully prepared simple meal that utilized a minimum of anything processed in places far away from where we sat. I chewed and sipped slowly, savoring each mouthful and when finished, felt that clean clear satisfaction of having had just enough…

I followed this feeling into the next morning and couldn’t wait to cut into the second large whole papaya that was purchased at a local market and chilled overnight. This fruit was a lusciously ripe deep orange that I had never seen before and had become the perfect first food of breakfast in my tent each morning.  Without knowing the fact of the matter, my heart told me it was picked recently and from somewhere nearby…

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An acquired taste, a perfectly ripe papaya is also a creamy affair, fragrantly smooth and not too sweet…

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I scoop out the seeds for compost (though I have come to learn that the seeds are also edible, something to look forward to experimenting with the next time graced with such a perfectly ripe specimen, smile).  Cut the fruit length wise into long slices, carefully peel the skin with a sharp knife, section into large bite size pieces, fill a bowl, and eat slowly while watching the sun offer the same life affirming color to the cloudy morning sky…

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Memory now complete, I look back out to the winter white and rest in anticipation of creating my very own ‘farm to table’ each day…

pink on darkened skin

I love the look of pink on darkened skin.  With fingers outstretched in the aqua Caribbean sea, nails are shiny, rounded and translucently clean.  Just underneath is the protected pink skin that has not turned nut brown like the rest of me and the contrast is beautiful.  I can tread water here forever in this cove that is overlooked from the collection of permanently built eco tents above, with floating fingers that are stretching and searching and resting and reveling all at once.  The beaches on St. John are many and all breathtakingly beautiful.

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No matter what the configuration of sand and sun and plant and human may be, rolling and floating and treading in this sublime salty blue is the ultimate goal….

It is day five of our retreat on the lovely island of St. John.  The group participates together each morning in four hours of meditation and yoga.  The rest of the day is ours to do as we please.  My pattern has been clear each day.  Lunch is almost an afterthought before slowly and surely finding the way to the beach.  Up until now, the newness of this enticing environment has had me going with a different kind of flow in relation to food.  Today however, I find myself moving toward the little two burner stove in our tent and the bin of virtually untouched supplies we bought the first day and make a small pot of the instant brown rice in the break between our two sessions.  When I return to the tent for lunch, I feel the pull to make something familiar.  While chopping fresh garlic and ginger I realize this is simply an extension the morning’s yoga for me.  I am so present to the meditative quality of these simple movements, to the anticipation of the familiar flow that will yield a bowl of simple nourishment.  I saute the garlic and ginger in some olive oil and add a handful of fresh spinach, a cupful of the cooked rice and some coconut milk with the awareness that a little bit goes a long way.  I toast some pumpkin and sunflower seeds in another pan, and make a small omelette of a beaten egg.  Assembled in a bowl….

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with offerings of gratitude to the sea below

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I honor this place in me that is true no matter where I am…

It is this same truth that emerges in the daily circle of treading water.  I remember that the combination of salt and warmth is something I routinely create for myself in my own bathtub at home, smiling now for the sense of accomplishment felt at installing the large oval soaking tub surrounded by shimmering glass tile and deep periwinkle blue walls …

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Only now as I float in the waters of this Caribbean bay that I have fallen in love with, do I fully appreciate what I have waiting for me at home.

The night of the full moon we all hike to the top of Ram’s head near our bay and watch the sun set and the moon rise from the same place.  In the interval between these two events the darkening sky becomes the most gorgeous pink I have ever seen, so smooth and creamy as to not even seem real, like a page from a paint sample book…

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I look down at the pink on darkened skin that has become such a contrast on my own sun bronzed body.  It helps me remember both the vulnerability and the beauty of that place just underneath that may be visible but still in need of some tender loving care.  It becomes the metaphor for each breathtaking moment experienced gazing into a sunrise or sunset against darkened clouds, or of the play of light filtering through obstacles framing a path, for remembering how to be present for the light with the dark in every possible way…

flow

I finally decide to experiment again with the frozen squashes in the covered basket stored in the garage. I discovered a few weeks ago that the butternut squash wasn’t so delicious cooked after being frozen and thawed. But I haven’t tried the acorn squash yet, lift the blanket and grab the one on top. With the sub zero temperatures we have been experiencing, it’s no wonder it is frozen solid…

I cut it in half while still frozen and scoop out the seeds. It actually looks and smells much like it would if it wasn’t frozen. Hmmm. Instead of letting it thaw first, I turn on the oven to 350 degrees, rub all the fleshy surfaces with some olive oil, and put it in the oven to bake. When it is almost done, I turn off the oven and leave them to wait for some sort of filling I will make. Scanning the rows of jars on my counter, I randomly pick the millet and the french green lentils, put 1/4 cup each in a bowl and cover with water. It’s only 8:00 in the morning, so they will get to soak for many hours before cooking, something I have learned helps aid in the digestion of beans and grains immensely! I feel that twinge of excitement that comes with making all these choices spontaneously and quickly, which is always accompanied with the knowing that I am taking care of myself in every way.

I’m back in the flow, after what seems like months of being stuck in a sad lonely place. Many tears were shed during this time, as keeping the source of my sadness hidden only served to block the flow I so cherish. Is it a coincidence then that just a little over 24 hours ago, a heating pipe burst in my house, covering the floor of my home office with water and raining down to the basement? I was home alone, and luckily heard the characteristic whishing sound of rushing water as I walked through the living room before going to bed. What a shock to open the door to my office and see my beautiful round oriental rung completely submerged, and the line of water moving steadily toward the door. I could see the source of the leak, the water hissing and forcefully spewing in an unrelenting fashion from a single spot. I literally froze as my tears came up again, numb, incapable of any action. In that moment I felt like I was completely isolated and without support or resources, a very dark place indeed. And then sense arrived and I called the only person I felt comfortable burdening with this problem who was close enough physically to help, my neighbor and friend across the street. Not home. I even considered calling my ex-husband, but realized he was at the movies with our daughter, phones turned off. Water now crossing the threshold of the room and in a panic, I called the town’s emergency service. Within minutes the Fire Department arrived. Valves are turned off and advice given for getting the water cleaned up. After they leave, I use just about every towel in the house to mop up what I can, survey the mess, and decide to face it again in the morning. But first I called the heating company that services my home. The technician on call who answered the emergency line heard my story, and told me that they were all flat out with burst pipes and furnace issues due to this recent cold spell. His suggestion that they might not be able to take care of it right away sent me back to tears….

I wake early and the house is really cold now since there is no heat. I build my usual morning fire and huddle in front, mind whirling with all the what-if’s of how this will complicate my life and feel myself descend rapidly to that dark lonely place. But this time I can see it and know I have to reach out in my vulnerability. More importantly, I know I can reach out and that the support I need will come from doing just that, not in the result or response. It’s 6:00 in the morning and I send a heartfelt e-mail to a dear trusted friend with whom I’ve shared this dark place with before. And as I sit warming at the fire, I actually feel the thaw that precedes the flow starting again. The phone rings and it is my friend. It is a good conversation, filled with wise reflections and thoughts I can really hear and take in, with assurance that I too am being heard. Within minutes of hanging up, I call the heating company. They hear that I don’t have a relationship with a plumber I can call right now and re-arrange their schedule to send someone right over. He arrives in a half hour, helps me move furniture and soaked rugs, and proceeds to fix the pipe within a few hours. Water flowing and heat restored! He even takes the time to show me and my daughter where all the valves are in the basement should this happen again!

So it is now the next morning and the warm oven helps cut cold in the kitchen after plummeting temperatures again overnight. I go into my newly restored office and smile at the efficiency of effort I feel after so many months of struggle. I am noticing every little moment of synchronicity again, and the ease that follows. It is a brilliant sunny day and I revel in the brightness of the light. A little before lunchtime, I saute a chopped medium onion in a small pot with olive oil and spices; today it is cumin and Bragg sea kelp delight seasoning. Add the rinsed and drained millet and lentils and stir for a minute until coated. Add about 1-1/2 cups vegetable broth I find in the fridge and a little water and bring to a boil, partially cover, and simmer until grains and beans are soft. Take the cover off and turn up heat until excess liquid is cooked off and mixture is pudding like. Add a tablespoon dry sherry and some salt. Cover and let sit to cool a bit. I divide the cooled mixture and mound into each squash half. It is so much food, more than enough for two, easy to wrap the other half and set aside for another meal. I think about my friend’s advice. To consider the possibility of consciously putting the darkness aside while focusing on the relationship to the emergency in front of me right now. I realize it is too much to negotiate my fears AND face an emergency at the same time. I can consider making a conscious choice to set one aside instead of hiding it. And I realize the flow I feel now is the magic that has resulted from a hidden block finally bursting free to make room for a different way. The fear of that lonely place is still there, it simply flows alongside now in direct relationship to the joy of the day…

I put the filled squash into a 375 degree oven to heat thoroughly, and cover with chopped fresh mint and parsley after transferring to a bowl…

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It is a wonderful meal; tasty, warm, colorful, satisfying, filling, grounding, and reminiscent of the light, serendipitous flow of the day…