Today I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Partially because I’m just coming out of a couple weeks where this project was, well, hard. My roommates were moving out, and The Kid and I were transitioning to having this old sweet house to ourselves. An exciting time, but hard to be cooking three meals a day, working 7 days per week, and pull of the massive logistical challenges required to make all our lives work. Its less hectic now, and life is opening up in so many ways its beyond what I can contain in my weird little heart.
My friend Hal used to say, “the medium is the message” and I think he’s right. The work of this reveals the point, the deep quiet truths of life in an interconnected system. Yesterday was market day, and as usual our booth was packed with not only the produce I grow, but also a large number of my friend’s crafts or farm products. Our closing math is byzantine, but we all come out okay. My friend Amanda, a farmer up Pudding Creek, comes out and helps me haul tables and sell our wares. She’s the kind of friend who will come out in the freezing cold to help me cut into the intestines of a hen that died despite my attempts to save her, to make sure it was a blockage that killed her and not a disease that might affect the rest of the flock. She’s true-blue and grows the best collards on the coast. I saw some friends from Comptche who just moved to their very own farm. They don’t have a garden going yet, but they do have a cow, and they gave me milk, and I gave them a bunch of different greens. I saw my friend Matt, a local chef and chocolate maker and gave him some mustard greens. Today he contacted me and asked me to come over and try an all-local confection he made out of chestnuts, honey and brandy. After the market I drove south to hear my lioness of a mother be interviewed on the radio about her work advocating for the human rights of survivors of child abuse. I drove home stopping to hug Sarah and meet up with an amazing man, who is determined to find ways to court me despite not being able to take me out to eat. I’m surrounded by generous, talented, beautiful people, and for every little thing I give I get showered with abundance.
The Kid is home sick today. I had a class scheduled with a group of culinary students in the garden, but its pouring rain, so we’re rescheduling. My usual volunteers for Thursday are out of town, and some wonderful people came in this morning to work, but they’re home by now. The animals are fed and have deep straw to stay warm and dry. I’m scheduled for a full day this weekend and all next week, so I’m enjoying the freedom that is seemingly paradoxically contained in my non-stop work life and taking today to hang around with The Kid, watch The Goonies, and bake. And I feel like I’m grasping in a way I never understood before how loved and cared for we are, and how many people’s hands we’re resting in to be able to take this day in the warm house while the rain falls outside.
I made custards, and found myself thanking my mom. I don’t remember being taught to make these, just watching you make them every time someone was sick, or dying. Thank you for making me carry custards to Mr. Hiller every day down the street when he was dying of cancer, teaching me by example how we care for people, and that we don’t shut our eyes to pain, we respond with steadiness and solidarity.
The Kid is in her room, wrapped in a wool blanket I wove which she calls the “don’t-die blanket.” I’m in the kitchen, the radio is on, because a sweet man carried it in with one hand, balancing yogurt (thanks Sarah) and eggs from his hens in the other so we could listen to it while we cooked. I’m cracking eggs. (thanks Jake) I’m mixing in milk.(thanks Laurel and Leu) I’m warming butter in the oven (thanks Liz) in a ramekin that’s been in my mom’s house since before I was born, to grease the custard cups. I don’t remember when I learned that you warm butter in a separate pan and then rub it on a cold cup to coat it evenly. I add a pinch of salt. (thanks Ryland) I drizzle in honey, (thanks Keith) and mix until the eggs start to froth. I add some more honey to the bottom of the buttered cups, pour in the egg and milk. Sprinkle some candycap powder over the top, (thanks Melinda) then I carefully pour boiling water around the custard cups and set them in the 350 degree oven.
I have extra egg and milk mixture, so I add half a cup of flour, (thanks Doug) and cube some kiwis, (thanks Teresa) to make clafoutis, from my grandma’s recipe book. I butter the pan and carry it to the oven, settling it next to the custards with a tea towel. (thanks Lolli and Jacob)
I feel like there’s an ocean of history here. I feel like I’m slowly, in my clumsy way, starting to get a glimpse of real connection to home, and what building that, and being able to share it, means. I’m beginning to see the fierceness inherent in domesticity. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love my hammers and anvil and shovels and mud. But this time in the kitchen has done something so deep in me, shifted some internal tectonic plate. I remember watching my great-grandma baking apple pies from apples from our tree, and understand a tiny bit more about what it meant for her. I remember pulling crab pots with my grandpa, and picking huckleberries. One day when I was about ten, (this is a story that my mom retells a lot to my new generation of nieces and nephews) we were picking huckleberries and I complained about how tiny they were, and how long it took to pick enough to do anything with, and he looked at me and said in his gruff sailor’s voice, “kid, the value of a thing is the work goes into it.”
I feel like I’m starting to understand what he meant.
For Christmas, in a symbolic gesture that, like most expression of my mom’s love, was both graceful and fiercely tribal, my mom gave The Kid her own copy of The Joy of Cooking. Taking down her old copy, which is now held together by string, and talking to The Kid about the history in the family, the old recipes about how to cook raccoon, the ways the book adapted to the Great Depression, and what there is to learn from it today. She folded The Kid into our narrative. While I sit in the warm kitchen watching the clafoutis brown and listening to Neil Young on the radio, that book is on The Kid’s shelf. Tucked into the jacket is my great-grandmother’s recipe for biscuits carefully transcribed by my mother when she was just ten years old. The blocky, carefully printed letters record our history.
These are my people. The people I feed, the people who feed me. This amazing kid who showed up in my life, and became my blood. This community that accepts what I have to give, and returns it tenfold.
I think this is what we mean when we talk about a local food system. I’m in awe of how many names there are to thank for my survival, and also in awe that I can name them all. These hands are known to me. This kitchen is full of my community.