Storm Alert: The Rhode Island Bread and Milk Report

When a snowflake threatens to dangle in the air, Rhode Islanders go out in full force. Today, was no exception. Every single last Stewie and Vincenzo went out for bread and milk. Because it might never be available again…

I didn’t intend to go into the grocery store. I was at the craft store nearby, and my husband instructed me to get a Christmas turkey if I found one on sale. Being as though there weren’t any Christmas turkeys at the craft store and a good woman always obeys her husband, I went into the grocery store even though I knew that it was a very bad idea. In less than twenty-four hours the snow would be falling. A flake or two landed on my glasses in confirmation. Rhode Islanders would mob the scene at any moment.

I found the turkeys. I bought two. As a vegetarian wife, I go above and beyond. I know sometime this year, he’ll want another turkey, and off season they’re expensive. So expensive that I consider running over just one of the turkeys that play chicken with me during my morning commute. I’ll target the one who stares me down and laughs.

Rhode Islanders were out in full force–buying loaves of bread, gallons of milk and case upon case of water like they couldn’t pour it from their sink into a bucket in preparation for the power outage we are probably not going to have. I picked up some cranberries. I might make cranberry orange muffins for breakfast. What’s better than the smell of muffins in the morning? Besides, nobody is crowding the produce aisle before the snow. Bread and milk are more critical to long-term survival than broccoli and lettuce I guess.

The more I can’t find things, the more I realize I’ve spent a lot of time at farms, canning, growing things this past year and a half. I no longer know my way around the regular grocery store. I get in everyone’s way looking for the bacon, and for the life of me I can’t find the cream cheese. I’ll deal with that next week. I can make some cheese in the mean time if I need it, because I already have enough milk. I’ll get the Philadelphia for the Christmas cheesecake later, because I don’t want to mess with tradition.

The store gets more crowded. I notice a kid get nearly decapitated because he is curled up laying under the carriage, head occasionally protruding like a turtle from a shell. Rhode Islanders, whizzing around trying to get the last carton of eggs nearly slice his head clean off like Robespierre. Twice. His responsible party tells him twice to get up. He negotiates, “Only after you pay.” Sounds like my six-year old, who can out negotiate the G8. I check to make sure I’ve left him at home. Phew. I have.

I get in line. I reach for the store coupon card. I can’t find it because I never use it. Eventually, I locate the card which will tell the marketing team I’m the only moron who was in the broccoli aisle instead of buying bread, milk, and cases of water in advance of six inches of snow. They’ll know I’m native to Connecticut, not Rhode Island.

It’s New England. It’s winter.  It snows. I escape the grocery store with my life. I got two turkeys and didn’t even have to run one over.

But if you want bread or milk, you’d better get out there…fast.

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The Science of Dog Biscuits

My kid eats dog biscuits. I don’t encourage this. I’ve given up.

“It’s the only meat I eat, Mom, it’s good for me.” I can’t control it. He gets out of bed or sneaks around when I’m not looking, stealing them from the cookie jar like they were chocolate chip cookies.

The dog sighs. She doesn’t challenge him. She knows she’s going to snag the roast off the table anyway the moment I turn my head. I’m fighting on two fronts. I suppose Milk-Bones are healthy for boys if they’re good for dogs. Declan tells me they are.

dog biscuit

Look carefully. You are seeing a dog biscuit fragment sailing high above Kung Fu Panda.

Two things my boy loves–dog biscuits and science. On Thanksgiving, he managed to integrate the two. His goal was to determine the size a dog biscuit would have to be in order to float on a mylar balloon. My job was to tie and secure the slipknots around the biscuit, cheer if it flew and look disappointed if it did not.

First, we tried a full Milk-Bone, which securely anchored the balloon to the ground. Declan’s face scrunched, finger to his cheek.

“I guess it’s too big,” he said.

“Not necessarily too big, Buddy,” I hinted, “Too heavy.”

“I gotta fix it.” He broke the Milk-Bone in half. I started to tie the knot. He switched the halves, giving me the small piece. He knew it would weigh less. I put the slipknot around the smaller piece. Meanwhile, he ate the bigger one.

The balloon sank to the ground. Even the smaller part of the biscuit was too heavy.

“Can’t we just use pencils or crayons or something? I can weigh them on my bread scale. This is disgusting.” I try to be a good Mom.

“Nope.” His word was final. He took a bite off of the small biscuit piece and handed the remaining fragment to me. I tied the string around the slime. It sunk to the ground. But bounced once on the way up. 

“Look, we almost did it!” Science. It’s exciting when science goes right.

He looked at the biscuit. He poked it a bit. The biscuit very much wanted to soar free like the bird it once may have been. I’m not sure what “meat byproduct” actually means. It all tastes like chicken, I’m told.

He picked up the piece, nibbled a bit off of each end, held it back, examined it, and nodded his approval. Not only did he intuitively recognize the relationship between size and weight, he knew about balance, too. The string had to be centered.

He had also figured out a bit about efficiency by simply biting off the ends instead of untying and retying the string around the biscuit. Efficiency is big in science these days. It makes money in business, too, I’m told. Entrepreneurs read and write books about it, must be important.

He released the string and biscuit. It flew. It flew around the living room. The dog considered reclaiming it, but she was in her post “I begged for turkey” slumber. Every dog knows half a turkey is better than a Milk-Bone.

photo 1One Milk-Bone gone, several principles of science learned. Today, he is measuring things and making comparisons. He usually writes these things in his field journal, a spiral notebook filled with pictures of animals, dinos, and bugs. It’s the holiday weekend. He’s taking it easy.

But if I ask him about school, he says, “Boring.” Already. Despite his fantastic teacher who is the definition of awesome. So maybe it’s not about school but about the methods of inquiry and intrinsic learning. He wants to learn about dinos and write them in a field journal. And measure things. And learn about photo 2balance points, gravity’s relationship with dog biscuits. And entrepreneurship–because I had to pay a lollipop, again, to secure the rights to these photos.

I think school could be fun. Kids have the ability to knock things out of the park. We just have to let them.

Then someone has to let us do just that.

What Do Vegetarian (Freaks) Eat for Thanksgiving?

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.23.05 PMIt’s the number one question I get. Never mind that I never eat dead animals, but, “What do you eat for Thanksgiving?” Being a vegetarian that one day is nearly sacrilege. I’ll break it gently–I eat the same types of things that I eat every other day of the year.

“How do you not eat turkey?” 

Simple. The pilgrims didn’t center their meal around Butterball, either. Sure, they might have had wild turkey on the table–they were tough to catch and not yet genetically modified for tenderness and extra white meat–but they were more likely to have other fowl, such as duck, goose, and pheasant. They also had five deer. There was no pumpkin pie (sugar was for rich people and the Wampanoags failed to use their corn to produce corn syrup) so they subbed in an amazing prune tart with rosemary for dessert. Sounds like a paleo cookbook.

They ate shellfish, notably muscles and lobster. Lobster was considered poor man’s food, not something you’d get for someone you wanted to impress. I wouldn’t be impressed by lobster. Something about the poor creature staring at me before it died–even if I ate meat you wouldn’t get points with me for that. It’s my Dad’s doing. I was five. He got two lobsters. We played with them and raced them. I was very happy. I thought he got them for me as pets. And then…

Needless to say I never ate lobster again. So, if I were a Pilgrim, I wouldn’t have enjoyed lobster. Even if Squanto did the executions.

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 9.31.34 PMToday, Thanksgiving has plenty of options for vegetarians. We have a world of ingredients that don’t include dead things, and since I can cook a ton of stuff from scratch, the sky’s the limit. I was thinking of a curry, but that’s not allowed. Last year I was told, “You will not make whatever smells like that near my turkey again.” I thought it smelled awesome. I figured Ethiopian food might get the same reaction. So, this year, I’m going Dominican.

You might say, “But there’s no Spanish food that’s vegetarian!” You’d be right. One year, I had one single Dominican student (ever) who was a vegetarian, and he had a host of dishes that were recreated without dead things. Tasty. He taught me some. So, I’m making something I can’t really translate correctly that’s supposed to have pork in it. I substituted chick peas. Fair trade.

For dessert, I’m wondering if I can feign historical accuracy by bringing back the prune tart without anyone noticing. Not really sure…

In case you are wondering, I will eat on Thanksgiving. Probably better than people sucking down wings in front of a football game. If you want some vegetarian food, I can save you a sampler plate–some of which I even grew myself, and none of which was killed by me. That makes it a tasty, good karma Thanksgiving, where the turkeys who taunt me in my road get to live just a little bit longer, and I like my food just fine.

[image: vegsouce.com and The Happy Raw Kitchen

Never Waste Good Cheese on Children–Feed them Processed Food

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 5.48.14 AM“Mommy!” Declan stood in front of me with a Lindt truffle. “Please don’t put these in my lunchbox anymore. They’re yucky.”

I’ve been sick, and I haven’t been fun. I feel guilty. So, I put some extra treats in the lunchbox. The Halloween candy went missing, so I put a single milk chocolate truffle in his box. The kind that I save for adults and dignitaries. Sharing that’s a big deal. I was being extra nice…like when I give up my seat for an old person or lay out the best spread for company.

“They’re yucky. They’re caramel.”

“They’re not caramel, they’re truffles. Really good chocolate. They melt in your mouth and make you happy.”

“Well, I’m not happy. They’re yucky.” I remembered a lesson my brother taught me. You don’t waste good food on children. I went downstairs and found the bag of Halloween candy so I can chuck in a little Kit Kat tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 5.44.06 AM

Cato Corner Farm, where Elizabeth MacAlister and her son, Mark Gillman have been making some of the world’s best cheese since 1997.

Kids don’t appreciate good food, so they haven’t earned the right to get any. Nothing that costs over three dollars a pound should be given to kids in the single digits. Cheese comes to mind. My brother,  has worked with some pretty impressive foods and chefs. One day he taught me this lesson I hold dear to this day, “Never waste good cheese on children.” I buy Declan cheap American cheese. In this way, I am able to afford the best cheeses for myself, and not feel like I am breaking the bank. I can get the best chèvre, Manchego, brie, Stilton, camembert, Roquefort, and even try something new whenever I want. I love cheese, but it’s not cheap. Turns out, one of the nation’s renown cheesemaking operations has popped up in my hometown of Colchester, Connecticut, in a little farm called Cato Corner Farm. I’m proud to have some awesome cheese near where I grew up, but when it’s $10-$30 a pound, nothing would strike terror in my heart more than, “Mommy, can I have another hunk of that Drunken Hooligan?” It’s an amazing cheese even at $30/pound. I’m surely not going to waste so much as a sniff on Declan. He can sniff the cows while I sample the cheeses.

Declan hates the cheese aisle, too. He tries to escape by saying, “Uncle Dan said you should never waste good cheese on children. Get away from here!” It’s amazing that the boy can overhear a conversation three rooms away but can’t follow a simple direction when I’m staring right in his face.

Along these lines, I’ve started keeping a few inferior ingredients in the house. The emergency box of mac and cheese for lowbrow kid company, and a couple burgers in the freezer. I hate that Thomas Jefferson’s beloved mac and cheese has been bastardized and put in a yellow and blue boxes. I make it from scratch every time.

The last straw was brownie mix. Declan had his first boxed brownie at an event.

“Mommy, can you get boxed brownies?” My heart died a little bit. I make brownies from the highest quality fair-trade cocoa or melted chocolate with farm-fresh eggs from down the street and local butter. Mea culpa. It’s time to stop wasting good ingredients on children. He’s in school now, he sees the tasty processed food everyone eats. He feels left out. He needs to feel like an all-American boy. So, instead of making cheese pizza by hand with homemade dough, sauce and home-grown basil, he can have school lunch cheese pizza today. He’ll be happy as a clam, and I’ll save money for things that really matter–getting good food for the adults around here who appreciate it.

Maybe, just maybe, he can taste my brownies and the Drunken Hooligan in a decade or two. For now, I’ll keep my grocery bill down.

 

[images: catocornerfarm.com and rainbow.reisan.tumblr.com]

 

Not Dead Yet. But Decaf Is Close

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 2.53.48 PM“I have a confession to make,” I said. “I’m drinking decaf coffee.  And it $%^% sucks.” 

Decaf coffee is what doctors sentence a person to when they have no more medical hope or advice for them. “Start drinking decaf.” It means “I’ve gone to 15 extra years of medical school and I have no idea about your problem. I have nothing else to tell you.”

Instead of saying that, they look you right in the eye and say “drink decaf” with a look of conviction as clear as if Jesus Christ himself was staring you down to cure blindness. I’ve been looking for solutions for migraines forever. This past month being particularly hellish, I wound up in the walls of various medical establishments enough that they were quite sick of looking at my “yeah, but that didn’t work” face.  Modern medicine’s supposed to be able to cure anything as long as a person walks in sporting the correct copay. I’ve stumped my good docs though. I feel bad for them–they want to tell me something comforting.

I’m a fairly holistic person. I studied Eastern medicine myself for a couple of years, but never got more than a cursory foundation and deep appreciation. Eventually, though, I migrated to the Motrin and caffeine aisles, and did the best I could as a quasi-western holistic fake with a touch of Eastern poser. 

“I need you to detox,” said the doctor. Detox? Me? I looked over my shoulder thinking we had some kind of cost-saving HMO group appointment. I don’t even drink.

“Excuse me?” Maybe he forgot I’m the one who refuses all narcotics, plants my own herbs for medicinal tea, and grows half of the vegetables I eat until I overplant and the garden attacks me. 

“Detox,” he said. “You’ve been taking far too much of this stuff.” This stuff, apparently, is all the harmless OTC drugs I take to avoid the Big Guns… the things the street corner pharma guys will give me if I simply look like I might cry.  

“Well,” I said, “I found this migraine diet that you add the foods back in one by one until cured…” 

He assured me that a diet of brown rice and fresh beans would get me nowhere. “Detox.” 

So, here I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I confessed to friends that I bought a bag of decaf and now sit with a cup of decaf lotus tea. I’m certain it’s karma. How many times has a waitress asked me “Decaf or regular?” and I replied, “I’m not nearly old enough for decaf.” I’m insulted. Decaf is for people who set their white hair in rollers on the way to bingo. And take the leftover sugar from the packet holder. Do I look like a sugar-stealing roller-setting white-haired early bird special eater? Gosh!

I’m ashamed. I can’t go out to an early dinner again. I’ll have to look at Everywaitress in the eye. She’ll be thinking, “Here’s a coupon. The special ends at 4:30.” 

And in the mean time, I wonder how much time I wasted in life–taking care of myself, being healthy, exercising, growing my own organic food, avoiding drugs and alcohol. All garbage. None of it worked. I’ll need a new strategy…The most I can do is get up and have the balls to buy myself a bag of good old processed food filled with MSG and eat it every day until I cure myself. And then go to several parties drug seeking like an A-list Hollywood actor with twenty lives.

But instead, I sit here, obedient. Drinking decaf coffee and lotus tea. Waiting for my hair to turn white and someone to pass the rollers.  

Alas. It’s almost four. Time to leave for the blue plate special. 

 

[image: http://www.ineedcoffee.com/99/decaf/}

Nobody Bought the Farm

farm1“I like what you’re doing to the place,” I say to the man working at the farm stand. I’m getting a couple of onions and putting in my order for B Grade tomatoes. It’s what I do. Forage, trade, find, and pick food, and then preserve it. I ate the tomatoes I grew so I have nothing to can for the winter. I don’t like the tin-can taste of the stuff from the store.

I’ve been coming to this particular farm since I moved to Rhode Island two decades ago. I look around at the decorations. There were no decorations when I started coming here for the local fresh food. Just a shackish outbuilding with a simple old-school butcher shop and produce stand where the farmer sold pies he made that morning, made sandwiches to order, and cut you a nice steak for dinner if you weren’t a vegetarian like me.

I snap a quick picture of the artfully arranged bins of local in-season fruits and vegetables. There are now shelves of maple syrup, maple sugar, local honey, and little gift-baskety type things. This place is emerging as a New England boutique roadside farm stand. It has all the nuances of a shop that would attract locavores, GMO haters, store avoiders and foodies. There used to be time for a conversation when I came in. Now, I often have to wait in line.

It makes me smile, to be honest. I like waiting in line because someone who deserves success has a lot of business in front of him.

“Thanks,” he says. “But in ten years, places like this won’t be here. Everyone will shop in billion dollar businesses.
“I disagree,” I reply. “I think there’s a market for this, and it’s growing. I’ve been coming here forever. Back when shopping for boxed and frozen food in the grocery store was what cool people did. People laughed at the way I got my food. But now everybody will come here because it looks so beautiful…you have such a selection. Farms are cool these days. A lot of people don’t want to shop at the billion-dollar industries where food tastes bad.”
I’m not trying to make him feel better about his hard work. I’m simply stating a fact. Food freaks like me who used to live on the periphery are nearly mainstream. I’ve just come from another farm. There were lines out the door for both.
“Well,” he says, “I hope you’re right, but let’s look at this town. When I moved here, there were four Mom & Pop pharmacies. Now, there are other none. They don’t make it illegal, but they make it so difficult that you can’t pay. You have to be networked in. You have to get your discount. Otherwise you can’t keep pace with the prices. Stores are the same. Nobody who’s not a billion-dollar industry can do this. Just look around…”
Pause.  His voice trails off.
What he says is the truth. I can’t argue. We’ve built small businesses. I’ve lived this. Between building and fire codes that change a smidgen but cost a ton for no understandable increase in safety, tax regulations that reward big business outsourcing  production to underpaid labor elsewhere while ignoring local places with eight or ten employees, and new health insurance regulations, it’s really tough out there.
Some of today's fresh offerings

Some of today’s fresh offerings

It’s tough to be the little guy, even if you have a product the community loves, the best team in the world, and a business that makes the world a better place. He’s right. I can’t argue. There are no more Mom & Pop drug stores in town.

I’ve got nothing to reply, because who wants to say, “You’re right. It’s tough to hang on to the chin-up bar, but I hope we both do,” so I nod, take the onions, and say I’ll return Wednesday for the tomatoes.
I really love going to the farm. I’m secretly glad the tomatoes aren’t ready, because I get to go back when it’s slower and have another conversation, not only about produce, but about Yankee ingenuity and life.

Drive Thru Coffee’s Slow–Make It Driveby

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 12.22.40 PMI look at the clock on the odometer.

I want to stop for coffee. The drive thru is right there, beckoning. It’ll just take a minute. It’s quicker if I run in.  I look again. I’m already three minutes past my time–I’ll have to make it up on the highway. Can I make up five or six minutes? I’ll drive efficiently.

I find myself wondering how cool it would be if someone were standing outside the coffee shop at the edge of the driveway with my coffee ready. If I could just call ahead and have it balanced on a pole like the old train mail sacks waiting for a pickup.

I pass the coffee shop. If you want a cup of coffee, leave earlier, you idiot. The voice in my head chastises me. It’s tough to leave on time lately. The boy wakes up, I try to load the dishwasher, I lose my keys… I berate myself again. If you can’t leave one simple minute early, you moron, you don’t deserve another coffee. You haven’t earned it. 

I’ve got The Junes.

It happens to every teacher–The Junes.

I find myself envious of my friends in offices who can have coffee anytime they want. Heck, they can pee any time they want, too–no small thing. Regardless of whether they are a minute early. Some even have their own baristas and get lunch shipped in. I miss those days.

I don’t need a drive thru worker to stand at the edge of the road with my coffee. I’ve already had four. And I don’t deserve five. Maybe tomorrow, if I leave early.

I race toward school with a list of things in my mind: Finish copying final exams. Finish processing teacher evaluation data. Help the kid who is supposed to come during advisory. Clean the fish tank. Clean my desk… Let’s be realistic. I don’t think I’ll clean my desk. Maybe next year.
We still have so much to do. About a million safety drills. Final exam reviews. Chasing kids down for work they owe me.
End of the year. It’s coming fast. Not fast enough. And too fast all at the same time.
I’ve got The Junes. So do the kids. They started in April, though.
There’s no cure for The Junes.
Except, maybe, July.
[image: almanac.com]