Gardeners are optimists, sowing seeds while visualizing the harvest to come.
And those who cultivate edibles are imagining tasty, life-giving meals on the table for their families and friends.
This is the third spring planting of the current White House garden, set in motion by Michelle Obama. It comes at a time of particular upheaval in the world, both nature and person-made, doesn't it?
Another massive earthquake and resulting tsunami, the one that hit Lisbon in 1755, resulting in the deaths of over 70,000 people, inspired Voltaire to write his epic satire, "Candide." ( There were those who proclaimed that the sins of the hapless citizens of Lisbon had resulted in their demise...) Voltaire's hero returns home from his calamity-strewn travels and famously states that one must cultivate one's garden--as in, the world is a mess, fraught with hypocrites, tyrants, and natural disasters, but at least we can grow something, close to home.
So why did my zucchini plants collapse? (Pallid and thin, in a bin?) Can we blame Florida?
Beginning in the 8th c in Mecca, many of the faithful have celebrated the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, by sharing food with the poor. But Islamic scholars do not seem to agree on A--whether to celebrate the Prophet's birthday at all; B--whether to feast or fast.
Centuries of learned discussion still have not pinned down the appropriateness of any birthday party, if you will. The Prophet is said NOT to have celebrated anyone's birthday. ( Jesus of Nazareth likely had little hoopla around his own birthday, right? At the time...)
So, the day, this year February 15, is a not entirely approved Islamic celebratory entity. Apparently Sunnis adopted what was a Shi'ite festival as their own, in the 12th century, and that may have opened a continuing messy theological can of chickpeas...
What to do? Fasting has its place, but is not the least bit celebratory. Parades, typical of the celebrations in many Muslim countries, make one hungry. The solution likely is to share bits of sweets, possibly nibbling one or two, and lie low.
Curiously, the biggest celebrations--festivals, feasting-- of the Prophet's birthday are among the Hindus of northern India.
A good cookie, however, knows no religious boundaries. I found the following recipe for Asbusa ( Egyptian Cookies,) at a website called Cooking with The Bible, a choice that seems utterly correct for this post.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Bring all ingredients to room temperature. In a large bowl, mix the sugar and cream of wheat. Add butter; mix by hand, rubbing the butter, sugar, and cream of wheat between your palms for 10 minutes or more until the mixture is very well blended.
Fold the yogurt into the dough and knead by hand until the dough feels smooth. (If it feels dry, add water 1 Tbsp. at a time so when you hold it in your hands it feels like pie dough.)
Butter a 13″ x 9″ pan and pat the dough into the pan with your hand. With a sharp knife slice the dough in 2″ squares or into diamond shapes. Press one almond half onto the surface of each piece. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until golden brown.
Yield: 12–16 servings
Renaissance woman and author of the above is Nichola Fletcher, whose 2005 tome published by St Martin's Press introduces us to the global feasting table. I just pounced on this at the libe, so have read little in it. The opening quote, however, must be shared at once.
"However far back you go in time, the gastronomical value of food always outweighs its alimentary value, and it is in joy, not in pain, that man has found his spirit." ---Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher ( 1884-1962,) about whom I know nothing.
Yes, thin-o-scenti and diet-o-maniacs, I insist that we are here to enjoy, in modest daily dollops, and occasional feast-y amounts, the provender of this planet, in company with those not fretting over every little bite....
Ms Fletcher's newest book is "Caviar: A Global History." She is doubtless one of the non-fretter-ers.
Big ideas---Stacked greenhouse food-growing, with recycled water, passive and active solar, and use of aeroponics and hydroponics, soil-free.
Excellent graphics, fine use of sub-heads, clear language, loads of white space.
But---Despommier refers to "nutrients" that will both nurture the plants, and provide the consumer with what she/he needs for health, but there is no definition of these. What are they and from what are they derived? Are they or are they not "chemicals?"
Purloined ( and slightly rewritten) from Garrison Keillor's joke page:
These two cannibals are walking through the jungle when they happen upon a clown. So they tie him up, haul him back to their village, and cook him. Later the two are sitting around the fire and after a couple of bites, one cannibal looks at the other and says: "Does this taste funny to you?"
If you delight in letters--remember them?-- as well as food, American history, and familial fondness, read this book. It's called Slick as a Mitten, by Dennis M. Larsen, it's published by Washington State University Press , and it's about a character named Ezra Meeker.
The book, rich with old photos, is based on Meeker's letters, mostly to his wife, Eliza Jane. She and Ezra came west on
Unimaginable in this era of Bank of America et al? The mid to late 1890's were a time of bank closings and financial downturn in the US.
Once gold was discovered in the Klondike area in 1897, the race was on. But, unsurprisingly, so many masses of people arriving in an inhospitable area did not find enough to eat. People suggested that there was more money to be made in supplying miners than in engaging in mining itself. "There are no fresh vegetables of any kind here," said one.
Meeker took note of this and decided to supply both fresh and dried veg, as well as reconstitutable eggs to the populations springing up in Yukon tent cities. He specialized in granulated and sliced potatoes, dried cabbage, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, pop corn, and fresh oysters from the east, hauling everything first by steamer, then along icy trails with "teamsters," and floating produce down the Yukon River.
He was 67 when he started. In three years he had made possible the movement of almost 100 tons of food. And throughout those years, he wrote regularly to Wife, back home in Washington, signing himself Husband. It was Eliza Jane who supervised the dehydration of the eggs, and the preparation and packing of the veggies.
As for the phrase slick as a mitten, Ezra lost his assets that way, he said, swiftly. I picture a thick leather mitten, coated with ice.
ps Meeker planned the town of Puyallup, and named it. The name honored the native people there, known as the "generous people," but whether their generosity extended to the deeding of their lands to white settlers for hop growing I do not know. ..
Noting the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, I remember well where I was when I heard the news. I was eating dinner, chicken Kiev with green beans, in the garden of a restaurant in Iran, in Kermanshah, having just been reunited with my fiance, a Peace Corps volunteer whom I had not seen for over a year.
The waiter came out and gestured at the moon, clearly visible from our table. "Your Americans are walking around up there," he said. We looked more closely at the moon, symbol to lovers, object of poetic fancy, and felt both exhilarated and vaguely depressed.
"People are tromping around on the moon, " I said. Apollo Eleven carried a particularly unpoetic fellow up there to the land of green cheese, who read aloud a corny line as he stepped from the lunar landing module ladder onto the dusty moon surface.
Much chatter ensued later among the literati, as to the need for a writer, a poet, to visit the moon and report back with a bit more descriptive precision.
Thus far, this has not occurred.
( Moon pot roast from Apollo 17, 1972. )
Yesterday, within hours of each other,
two individuals in charge showed their stuff. Captain Chesley B.
Sullenberger, III, drawing on years of training and experience, made
a swift decision to land his crippled US Airways plane in the Hudson
River, three minutes after takeoff from La Guardia. His astonishing
skill, and his presumed calm, confident leadership, preserved the
lives of everyone on board. And insured the safety of untold New
Yorkers as he guided the huge plane into a slim ribbon of water in
The other individual in charge? Incompetent, disingenuous, and pathetic.
People recognize what is palpable, genuine and substantive. We say goodbye and good riddance to a fear-full era of flabby, faux leadership. We embrace "the real stuff."
We welcome cooperation and self-lessness--witness the efforts of New York's ferry pilots, tugboat captains, random boaters, emergency personnel of all stripes, working together. We salute guts and discipline--witness the way the downed plane's crew and passengers reached safety.
We revel in the best that human beings can be.