American Farmers

Back in 1978, I heard Paul Harvey present this ode to the American farmer on his radio broadcast:

“And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer. “ Harvey then went on to enumerate challenges farmers face each day:
American Farmer

 “(And God said) . . . I need some who, during planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” . . . “I need a farmer who will plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant . . . and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.”

Before moving to Caswell County 20 years ago, my idyllic, romanticized notions of farm life were informed by stories past and present: the biblical Garden of Eden, the poetry of Robert Frost, the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Elliot Coleman, and Wendell Berry.

It wasn’t until I met R.L. (Bob) Watlington and worked with local farmers at the restaurant that I realized that farming is both a precarious and complex occupation.

Although I plant in order to have veggies and herbs for my culinary classes (and for the joy of playing in the soil), there has been one additional unexpected development—the realization that recreational gardening and farming for a living are not the same thing.

Now, at the farmer’s market, when I see tomatoes marked at $2 a pound, I don’t balk. Growing tomatoes is an act fraught with hazards.

These were my thoughts this morning, as I mowed, weeded, and harvested vegetables and herbs. I glanced over at my grandson’s raised bed to see that the deer had eaten his pole beans and rabbits consumed most of his sungold tomatoes. Continue reading

Greens

kale saladLast week I visited the new Caswell Farmer’s Market in Semora. There, on the side of the road, in blessed shade, were ten vendors, ranging from Catbriar Farm, which was in business long before I moved to Caswell County, to a more recent addition, Open Door Farm.

I arrived with grocery totes and a mission—to purchase and prepare late spring greens. With that end in mind, I bought Swiss chard and kale from Sara Broadwell, as well as pea shoots and fennel from Open Door Farm.

The recipes I developed during the week were simple ones. My goal wasn’t to cover up the flavors of the produce but to showcase the fresh, clean flavor of the greens. Here are the results:

Kale Salad. After rinsing the kale and spinning it dry, I removed the large stems, sliced the leaves into thin strips, and then placed them into a bowl. Next, I added a small box of raisins, halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and thin wedges of red onion. Before serving, I tossed the salad with vinaigrette and topped with boiled egg quarters.

Dressing for Kale Salad. In the food processor, combine 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, juice of 1 lemon, 2 TB. combination of fresh basil, parsley, oregano (or 1 TB. dried), 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp. lemon pepper, ½ tsp. salt (optional), and 1 tsp. minced garlic. Pulse to mix. With processor running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup canola or safflower oil and 3/4 cup olive oil until emulsified. Store in tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Swiss Chard with Poached Egg. SWISS CHARD BOILED EGGHaving worked with the kale, the next day I turned to the Swiss Chard. My objective was to create a hearty breakfast dish loaded with iron. If you wish to replicate the dish I made, season chopped Swiss chard and sauté it with some minced shallots and a little garlic. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, remove from heat, and gently stir in a few quartered cherry tomatoes. Arrange chard mixture in a bowl, making a slight indention in the center for a poached egg. Garnish the entire dish with a few pea shoots.

Although poached eggs can be tricky, they are worth the effort. The result is velvety and creamy . . . I hesitate to call it an egg. It is so much more than that. Continue reading

Baseball Redux

Allen, Livingston High School, 1965

Allen, Livingston High School, 1965

Last week, I received several responses to last week’s column: “America’s Favorite Pastime.” One was from my brother (see photo at right . . . a bit dated) about whom I wrote:

Allen wrote: “Growing up in an East Texas town of 2,000 souls, there were precious few store-bought activities to occupy our days and even fewer clues as to what the future might hold for an eight-year old boy…, so we played baseball, from ‘kin to kaint’.”

“Our dad was from Missouri so I was a rabid Cardinal fan, although the O’s eventually became my American League fave. We watched Ol’ Diz and Pee Wee on the Game of the Week, peddling Falstaff between innings, and dreaming of emulating the likes of The Splendid Splinter, Stan the Man, The Say Hey Kid, Mick, Yogi, and Whitey, dreaming of authoring the heroic moments of Bobby Thompson and Don Larsen.”

“Baseball presented me with many wonderful moments of reflection, such as pitching against an older Nolan Ryan in the Texas high school playoffs (we lost 2 – 0). This was before he had achieved ultimate fame, though he was known for ‘bringing a high, hard one’ even at that time in school.”

“We caught the Red Birds vs the Rangers with Albert Pujols launching three round trippers in Game 3 of the 2011 Series in Arlington, Texas tying Reggie Jackson’s record. GW Bush and Nolan Ryan were behind home plate; Judy and I sat 3 rows behind the Cards dugout and dodged several foul balls.”

“Last September,” Allen writes, “my bride and childhood sweetheart, Judy, who saw most of the games I pitched, joined me at Fenway Park to watch the Orioles play the Red Sox in a slugfest that saw the O’s 9-run lead evaporate only to come back in the 9th to triumph. It just doesn’t get better than that!”

“For me, baseball has always been a metaphor for life: the ups, the downs, the comebacks, the inexplicable losses. Players giving their all with a rawness and total lack of a safety net, other than the TEAM.”

“Lesser players having shining moments–Mighty Casey striking out. And, then, as Lucindy noted, there is the hope of spring and a new season and then, it ends….as the days grow shorter, just as they do in life….with either victory for a few or ‘wait till next year’ for most. Baseball is a requisite part of the human experience….not to be missed.”

Here is another great story:

Don recalled a tale that has become a permanent part of his family’s history:

“Your article,” Don writes, “reminds me of Pop’s recollection, in his ninety-fourth year, about the first big league baseball game he saw. My memory is that it was 1935 and with $5 in hand, he took the train from Georgetown, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio to see a double header between the Reds and the St Louis Cards. Dizzy Dean pitched the first game and his brother, Daffy, pitched the second.”

“At the age of 94, Pop could still recall who played most positions. He had a ham sandwich and a beer and came home with a couple of dollars in his pocket. His salary as a farm laborer was 50 cents a day, supplemented by a meager amount from the tenant crop of burley tobacco. It wasn’t until 1954 that he could afford a trip with the whole family.”

“When the memory of him comes floating through, it is most often of a summer Sunday afternoon, heat lightening crackling on an AM radio with El Capitan being played and ‘Waite Hoyt bringing you baseball with Burger Beer bringing you the Cincinnati Reds!’”

What great reminiscences, perfectly told. Reading these stories you feel the pride of a small town boy who pitched against a young Nolan Ryan; you experience the joy of sharing one’s passion for the game. In Don’s telling, I could even taste the slab of ham on Wonder bread and the refreshingly cold beer. The power of memories.

Consider this column a wake-up call. Record those memories NOW. Keep them alive for future generations. As for younger folks, visit your older relatives and record their stories NOW. I sorely regret not asking my mother about her life in Germany or her modeling stint in Dallas. Why didn’t I ask Daddy JE for details of his brother’s death in WWII? These stories, rather than real estate, furniture, and money, are our true inheritance and help connect families from generation to generation.

America’s Favorite Pastime

This past week, I attended six of the nine games in which my two grandsons—Austin and John—took part. This baseball immersion has allowed me to locate the best snow cones (Altamahaw Ossipee Park, Burlington) and the best climbing trees and playgrounds for granddaughter Brenley Isabella (Caswell Parks and Recreation), as well as the ball fields where the direct sun beats unmercifully down on your head no matter where you sit (McCrae Park).

The immersion experience takes me back almost sixty years to the earliest memories of my older brother, Allen, playing little league, junior league, and high school ball.  Between March and August, the entire family;s life revolved around the sport. Allen kept a beaded dirt-ring around his neck and slept with his glove.  Nearly sixty years later, it pleases me to know that both grandson’s share their uncle’s obsession. They travel with gloves and play catch outside with only the lightning bugs for lamination until the darkness drives them indoors.Austin, Caswell Parks and Recreation, 2014

never a real “player,” I had passion for the game. In 1966, I skipped school to watch my beloved Baltimore Orioles (Frank and Brooks Robinson), beat the defending champions–Los Angeles Dodgers (with Sandy Koufax)–in the World Series.

When Earl Weaver came on board as Oriole manager 2 years later, my joy was complete. Although he was ejected from 91 games, kicked dirt at the umpire, and had the foulest mouth in baseball, he had panache and a wicked sense of humor.

During one altercation, Weaver headed toward the dugout screaming, “I’m going to check the rule-book on that.” When the umpire taunted, “Here, use mine.” Weaver yelled back, “That’s no good – I can’t read Braille.” (I wish I had had that line during one particularly egregious call last week.) Continue reading