A Mouthwatering Work of Culinary Genius

So between my birthday (last month) and Tim’s (yesterday) and the book contract, we had the opportunity to do some serious celebrating.

Not far from us is one of the very finest restaurants on the East End. We’ve eaten there twice before (well, three times if you count the time we went only for dessert) but only during ‘Restaurant Week,’ during which they feature a different menu with smaller portions.

Each time was nonetheless thrilling–to put it in the form of an analogy:

GREAT HOME COOKING : NORTH FORK TABLE’S FOOD ::

is as:

is to:

The food at the North Fork Table is kind of in a different category from other food. There are a lot of reasons why that’s so, but all I can say for sure is that when I eat it, I’m thinking, “this is so good that it can hardly be for real.”

And this time–with the fuller menu–it was, if possible, even better. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how enjoyable this is because I think our culture doesn’t allow us to speak lyrically about food without branding us ‘foodies’ or ‘snobs.’ Improbable though it may seem, the atmosphere and presentation is unfussy. It’s just really good food.

And without further ado:

the atmosphere is beautiful...the champagne is beautiful...even the menu is beautiful!

tuna tartare for tim
house-cured charcuterie for a between-course treat
a second course of squab on butternut squash for tim
and a second course of locally caught striped bass atop brussells sprouts and parsnip puree for me
long island duck for tim
and humanely raised veal for me
I forgot to take a picture of the dessert before I decimated it...
and they sent us home with house-made mallomars.

One of the things I love about going there is how serious, yet joyful, everyone is about their work. They’re artists, and creating things of beauty–even if those things are edible and consumable and fleeting–consumes them. I love that. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the bounty of where we live.

I’m grateful to the Giver of All Things.

The Newest Fad Diet VS. The Vegetable Volunteers

Well, WOW. I would not have guessed that yesterday’s post about a wacky fad diet would’ve garnered so many page views. But it did, and I can’t help but wonder why. I rather hope it is because people are looking for a reason not to follow the latest “should & ought” from the newest guru. Nearly every day, it seems, someone tells me of some new approach to eating or not-eating or exercising or not-exercising and all I can say is this:

If I were still in the grip of disordered thinking and behavior surrounding food and body, the Internet would be a living hell. HCG diet! “The Plan”! “Paleo”! The Primal Urge Diet! HELP!

And yet? And yet–there is this:

My compost pile. An occasionally smelly, sometimes-ugly, always buggy home to the biggest, juiciest worms on the North Fork. The place where the scraps from our table become the food for next year’s food. Nothing goes to waste here. It takes care of two big problems:

What to do with trash?

and

How to fertilize the garden?

in one easy move. In this pile go the eggshells, coffee grounds, burned slices of toast, and forgotten leftovers. Here’s where I put the custard that didn’t come together quite right, the bread that went stale, and the yogurt that got moldy.

Here, everything, even the most putrid, vile stuff, is reborn into something new: dark, rich soil that feeds the garden and brings forth new life. And so it goes on.

And sometimes, there are unexpected graces:

This pretty little butternut squash grew from a forgotten seed discarded in the compost pile last autumn. There that little seed rested all winter until, come spring, it grew into a plant that bore another beautiful fruit.

In this ugly, forgotten corner of the garden (where the compost pile was located previously) a number of vegetables “volunteered”–they sprang forth from scattered seeds and persevered to bring something beautiful and edible and life-giving.

Oh, these little events–“random” butternut squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes growing from compost piles–don’t get much press, I know. But to me, they point beyond themselves to a story that’s much, much greater: it’s the story of beauty from ashes, a promise that somehow, the crazy, smelly, wasted and mixed-up bits and pieces of this world can be transformed, redeemed, into something that’s at once totally different from and organically connected to what’s come before.

Yes, indeed. There are glimpses of grace within and among and emerging from the confusing bits and pieces of this life, and they are worth holding onto.

Second Generation, Part Two

While I’m away, I’ve been posting essays, reviews, and articles that have either appeared elsewhere on the Web or else have never before been seen! This one originally appeared in Catapult, but was written more than three years ago…still, the story’s worth telling, I think…

{Part Two}

A recently-published book that presents itself as a guide to raising a “green” baby seems to suggest that “green” parenting is all about purchasing the right products: the organic sleepers, the low-VOC nursery paints and the petrochemical-free baby wash. Though consumption of these products probably has a place, I want to think that we can do more for our children than simply teach them which products to buy. Certainly, I don’t want to use a toxic baby shampoo on my newborn. And, on balance, I do think that diapering with cloth is better for his health and for that of the planet. But if I am concerned about the future — of the earth and of my sons as they make their way upon it — I need a vision of sustainable parenting that goes beyond yet another consumer choice.

I think sustainable parenting should begin with the Creation narrative — that God created the world and declared it “good” should call us to affirm its goodness with respect and thanksgiving.  As we teach our children about God, we should not neglect teaching them about God’s Creation.  From there, it’s important, I think, to combat what Richard Louv has called “nature deficit disorder.” Even if you live in the city, it’s possible to help your children enjoy the outdoors: take them to the park or playground and point out plants, flowers, and birds. They may surprise you with what they can learn and remember.  My toddler can distinguish several species of bird, for example, and knows the names of a few flowers. Providing books with quality illustrations of animals and landscapes can also help instill a sense of wonder, as can carefully selected nature documentaries, such as the BBC’s Planet Earth series. If we want our children to care for and protect God’s creation, we must teach them both about God and his creation. They won’t be able to love either without first knowing something about each.

As we meet our children’s basic physical needs — food, clothing and shelter — we can build upon their understanding of God and his creation, and teach them to recognize the effects our consumption have upon the earth. If you can take your child to the farmer’s market or to a farm, she will learn that food comes from the earth before it comes to the supermarket. Even better, grow a garden with her, even if it’s just an indoor herb garden. That’s all we have the space for right now, and my toddler gets a kick out of seeing freshly plucked leaves of basil go into his pasta sauce. Eating locally helps develops a sense of connection to and dependence upon the earth, and eating seasonally helps develop a sense for the rhythm of the year — it’s strawberry time, it’s pumpkin time, and so on. Also, it teaches our children (and us!) the virtue of patience as we wait for the strawberries and for the lettuce. In her advocacy for local and seasonal eating, Barbara Kingsolver pokes fun at the parent who insists that his child save sex for marriage yet can’t himself “wait for the right time to eat a tomato.”

When it comes to clothing and shelter and other kinds of consumption, instilling the virtue of voluntary simplicity will be easier if we ourselves have learned to be content with what we have. And although we should be careful not to burden young children with guilt, exploring together how other children around the world live — and that the planet cannot support all of us living as most Westerners do — can be a way to help curb consumptive desire. UNICEF has a beautifully illustrated book for children ages nine to 12 called A Life Like Mine that provides a positive, though sobering, perspective on children’s lives around the world. Mick Inkpen and Nick Butterworth’s Wonderful Earth! is a funny, sobering, and hopeful meditation on the wonder of God’s handiwork and the need to care for creation. Books and stories that value simplicity, creativity and thrift, like the Little House series, can also help a child to value these things over unnecessary consumption.

But again, I think our teaching must be mostly without words.  We must embody the values we wish our children to embody. But it’s equally important, I think, to enjoy the things we wish our children to embody — and the things we want them to enjoy! It’s one thing to tell a child how important it is to eat local food; it’s entirely another to explore a farmer’s market together, and then to give thanks to God for a delicious shared local meal. Let them see your genuine joy as you choose simplicity, as you seek out earth-friendly alternatives and as you reduce your consumption generally. Perhaps the best way to teach our children to care for the earth is simply to demonstrate our love for God, our love for our neighbors and our love and respect for the creation. We should love our children enough to love these things; by loving them, we will teach them. My children helped me to begin to care for God’s creation; it’s my turn to help them do likewise.

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece over three years ago, when my children were really small. As I read back over what I’ve written here, I realize how much they’ve continued to teach me. Aidan, now an inquisitive six-year-old, routinely asks me things like, “Do motorcycles make carbon dioxide?” and, “When will it be cucumber time?”  I’m so grateful to see how even some of my puniest efforts to live more lightly — sewing and repairing clothes, canning my own jam and growing a huge veggie garden — have inspired my boys to adopt a “can-do,” DIY spirit, a spirit that sends them outdoors to design imaginary gardens and rescue worms (“We need them for the soil!”) and to cardboard boxes, tape and string instead of to the toy store. I’m grateful that they have the freedom to create and delight in Creation, and I hope that in 30 years, they’ll be living in such a way so as to help bring a similar kind of freedom to the millions of children who don’t yet have it.

Apples! And watermelon! And a distended belly! (and lots of adorable pictures)

This is such a weird time of year. It’s technically autumn, but the leaves haven’t yet turned and it’s warm and muggy most days. Our watermelons finally became ripe and ready, and yet it’s apple picking time. I find myself wanting to wear wool and hoodies, yet I’m still getting mosquito bites regularly. In fact, I can hardly focus on writing this post because of the brand new bite on my left arm. I find myself mentally drafting letters like these:

“Dear Mosquito: you’re welcome to drink a bit of my blood. But why, oh why, do you have to inject poison, too? I’m happy to share, but when you hurt me in return, I feel sad because I’m needing itch-free skin. Let’s work this out. Best, Rachel”

Yesterday, my boys and I enjoyed a couple of lazy hours in the orchards of Wickham’s Fruit Farm, courtesy of our friend Amy. (Thank you, Amy!) What fun! My only regret was that we did not make it back from the orchards in time to sample the homemade donuts and hot apple cider. (The boys and I mourned this the whole 15 minute drive back home.)

Here are some pictures of the happy time:

The first apple, picked by an overjoyed Aidan.

 

we spent some time contemplating how this apple had become an ant-home. very cool.
and no outing is complete without the obligatory chase-and-tackle of Mom.
Tasting was encouraged, but Graeme took things overboard.
He lifted up his shirt to demonstrate how full his tummy was.

And we asked, “Graeme! How many apples did you eat?!” His proud reply?

“Three!”

(“The toilet is going to be aching tomorrow,” he said.)

I swear, I cannot make this stuff up.

And then, our grief over the Dearth of Donuts was assuaged by our very own watermelon:

And there you have it! A perfectly mixed-up seasonal day.

 

 

 

 

goat farm

No, they aren’t worshiping the goats. They are letting the babies nibble their hair.

Nothin’ like getting nuzzled by baby goat lips!

My guys. They love the goat dairy. I do too.

(And goat cheese! My goodness–it was delicious!)