Little cracks

Inauguration on CNN.com

I stood up.

Oh, yes I did. With the dog as my witness, I solemnly swear that I put my tea down, wiped tears from my face, and stood right there in front of my computer screen when Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the US.

I’ve been crying on and off all day, it seems. (I hear I’m not the only one.)

Actually, it started yesterday. I was driving to Food Lifeline with my sister. (We spent the morning packing 12,000 pounds of apples for distribution to low-income families.) There, on the corner of 80th and Greenwood, a spot I pass almost daily, was a little family: Mom, Dad, Junior. The little guy was two, maybe three years old. They all had gardening gloves on. Dad and Junior were holding a big plastic bag full of trash, and Mom was scurrying across the street during the last few flashes of the “Don’t Walk” sign with an extra fistful of debris. No neighborhood clean-up t-shirts. No organization urging them to take action. Just two people, teaching their child that it’s his job to help keep his neighborhood clean. I breathed in deep to keep the tears from actually falling down.

Thierry Rautureau at Food Lifeline

At Food Lifeline, I held them back, too. We walked into a gigantic food warehouse exclusively devoted to the distribution of food to people who need it. I’m not intent on spending my whole life focusing on world hunger, but jeez, a few hours in that place is a great way to remind myself to say thanks each and every time I unload a bag of groceries.

We’ll be back, my sister and I. To pack apples again, or stuff envelopes, or assemble boxes of pad Thai, or whatever else they need. It’s amazing how much 130 people can do in 2 hours if someone’s there to tell you where to put your collective energy.

We’ll be back. Yes, we will.

At least, that’s what we told the TV guys who interviewed us. (I hear we were on television. But I think that would be much more exciting news if I had one to watch.)

I believe it, though. I believe in change.

Maybe that’s why I watched the inauguration, on my computer, for the first time… ever. Maybe that’s why I cried when Aretha Franklin came on stage, and when Obama spoke, and when Cheney was wheeled to his limo in a chair. (Wait. That might have been a laugh.)

I don’t suppose John Williams composed that inauguration piece just for me, either. But I heard the Appalachian Spring in there. I heard it because it was a song we played during our wedding ceremony—then, as today, full of promise and newness and birth and life, and the messy scatterings of a beginning whose ends we can’t foresee. (You know. Inauguration.)

I’m stuck, though. I’m stuck again with the challenge of figuring out what my contribution should be. What am I beginning? What is my role?

For the first time, I want one.

It’s easy to pinpoint the work cut out for someone else—for Obama, or my friend in the Foreign Service, or someone who works on energy policy for a living. They spend each day looking for change.

In my day-to-day work, change just means whole wheat flour. Watching the new president outline the tasks ahead, it’s hard not to feel like I could be doing more. But it’s unrealistic to expect I’ll spend 4 hours a week at Food Lifeline, or any other place where I can feel like I’m making a difference. Every month? Maybe. Hopefully.

The thing Obama missed—or rather, the thing I have to reiterate to myself, slowly, because I love the idea of jumping on a fast-moving bandwagon with both feet and nothing to hold onto—is that the things we do, for change, don’t have to be that big. We just have to fill the cracks.

So I’m a food writer. I don’t participate in peace negotiations or initiate AIDS fundraising campaigns for a living, I convince people to eat for a living. (As if Americans need convincing.) But it is what it is, and I love doing it.

And even I can find spaces to fill. Fissures, and seams, and holes to plug.

Winter Minestrone 2

In my world, change means buying food grown here, in Washington, or at least in America. Change means not choosing cherries from Chile, because even though they’re fat and ripe and round and singing out loud for me to test their sweetness, their transport burned a microscopic hole in the world’s oil reserves, and I, personally, don’t really need a cherry before June, when an apple will do. Change means a soup, here, for you, that you can make almost entirely with ingredients from the farmers’ market. (Yes, you—are you the one who gave up on the market in October, when the last of the stone fruit sold out? Go back this weekend. I dare you.)

I can’t single-handedly lift up the state’s economy, rev the farmers’ markets back to life, fix the havoc wreaked by Mother Nature, and secure farmers’ incomes for months to come. Oh, no. Not even close. Heck, I’m having trouble tying my own shoes these days. (Don’t get me started on the grocery cart’s bottom shelf.)

But maybe I can convince you to buy carrots that don’t come pre-packaged in plastic, and to try kale, which in many places, actually grows this time of year without artificial fertilizers. Or to buy sausage from a local purveyor, instead of from a giant national brand whose farmers trash the land, torture their animals, and bring us meat that’s not really all that safe for us to eat. (Even if it’s a dollar more.) Or to eat just a little healthier—not perfectly, but better—so that on a large scale, we, as a country, put just a little less stress on our nation’s health care system.

Yes, I can.

These are little things. The very, very little things. But these are some of my changes, the ones I can make by myself. I’ll be looking for more.

Unfortunately, no administration will be prepared to give millions of us each the individual tasks that take advantage of our personal strengths in light of a larger goal. That we must do for ourselves. And for each other.

Where are the little cracks you can fill? What will you do?

Winter Minestrone close

Winter Minestrone with Sausage and Kale (PDF)

When my husband wants soup, he doesn’t usually demand a certain kind. He says something vague, like, “I’m envisioning something bubbling for hours on the back of the stove.” Me? I don’t much care for simmering things on the back burner. (Nobody puts baby in a corner.) No, I like my soups up front, where they’re easy to reach, and their scents have a shorter direct path to the ol’ smeller.

Here’s a soup that capitalizes on winter produce. In Seattle, you can buy almost all the ingredients—including the beans, sausage, and chicken broth—from local farmers’ markets. For a truly local soup, skip the tomatoes and add a splash of vinegar for acid.

Serve the soup with grated Parmesan cheese and good, crusty bread.

TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 8 servings

1 pound sweet (or hot) Italian sausage, casings removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound carrots (3 large), cut into 1” pieces
1/2 pound parsnips (2 large), cut into 1” half moons
3 celery sticks, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 cup red wine, such as Sangiovese
8 cups chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried cranberry or cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or 2 cans), drained
1 (1/2 pound) bunch kale, rinsed and cut into 1” pieces

In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, cook the sausage on medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the pot, then the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots, parsnips, and celery, and cook and stir for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, season again with salt and pepper, and cook for about a minute. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the wine has almost evaporated. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and reserved sausage, bring to a boil, then simmer at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours, partially covered. Add kale, and cook 30 minutes more.

Season to taste, and serve hot.

Winter Minestrone NYT mag

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12 Comments

Filed under farmer's market, gluten-free, Italian, Lunch, soup, vegetables

12 responses to “Little cracks

  1. Not to be a humbug, but the farmers market options locally at this time of year are pretty much limited to the U District and West Seattle. That’s quite a drive for some of us.

    If you use 20,000 gallons of fuel to transport 1,000 tons of cherries from Chile to local supermarkets, you’re using 1.28 ounces of fuel per pound of cherries. If your farmers market is 11 miles farther away than the supermarket and your car gets 22 mpg city, you need to buy around 100 pounds of produce per trip to get the same fuel to weight ratio for the extra gas you’re using to go to the farmers market instead of the supermarket.

    There are plenty of reasons to eat local, but it’s also worthwhile to occasionally bug the management of your local supermarket about sourcing more produce and meat locally. They wouldn’t have an “organic” section if they didn’t know that people will pay a premium for getting food that’s grown in a way that matters to them. IMO, convincing the supermarkets that “locally grown” is as big an incentive to buy as “organically grown” is the thing we need to do.

    P.S.: Nice recipe.

  2. I stood up too, on my broken ankle and cried alongside my mother and co-workers when he was sworn in. This hope and belief for our country and government is something very new to me. I believed in community before, now I believe that community is global.
    (Hi, I’m unlurking or is it delurking)
    I will continue working at my local co-op. I will continue to buy organic and chose local. I will show people how winter in Wisconsin doesnt have to be bleak if you do those things. I will continue to play roller derby (when i heal) and support local charities.
    I think, we all stood up together and exhaled for the first time in eight years. So thank you for this post and all the rest. I love it here.

  3. You’re right, Greg – the market options are limited if you’re not right in Seattle, and cherries, alone, are not a good example. But taken in a larger context–focusing on *more* local foods and fewer from afar–I think the example holds true.

    Talking to supermarkets about growing their local foods sections is a great idea!

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  5. mel

    I’m here via “on my tiptoes” and just had to say thanks. Thank you. I’ve been telling myself all week that my own little changes are a contribution of sorts. And this was very affirming. Filling the cracks – surely the tiniest in my case. But still, a contribution – and maybe with improvement, time and energy to do more. Thanks so much for the post, inspiration, and delicious sounding recipe!

  6. allison

    If I hadn’t have been driving at the time, I would have stood up, too. But when Justice Roberts announced President Obama, I applauded and cried and cheered all by myself in my car, and saw others on the freeway doing the same thing. Such a wonderful day.

  7. ts

    Do you know about Community Food Security Coalition and the National Farms to Cafeteria Conference? It’s a great group based on my limited exposure to them in 1995-96. Might be something of interest to foodies, especially those with school aged kids or one day to be.

    http://www.foodsecurity.org/

    (and I know where the baby in the corner quote came from!)

  8. Thanks, TS! I didn’t know about either of those two programs.

  9. I got weepy too, a Canadian and all! This recipe sounds too perfect for these chilly foggy days.

  10. ito

    yes, we here in canada were watching, and cheering, too – believe me.
    for once, a politician who inspires change, instead of instilling fear.
    keep up the positive blogging!

  11. How wonderful to read your words about the inauguration day and all that has blossomed from it. I’m still compelled to read everything I can find about it (and look at pictures and stare off into space sometimes). I love your idea of filling in some cracks—that I can do, that I can do. We were lucky enough to go up to Washington DC and stand with 2 million of our new best friends, and with all the good folks at home and in malls and bars and Sears electronics departments and classrooms, all around the whole wide world, to see the world change for the better, to see appealing to our goodness and generosity and common cause work, while fear-mongering just plum- ran out of gas. My local (filling-them-cracks) coffee roaster Joe Van Gogh made an Inauguration Blend (beans from Kenya and Hawaii) which is most tasty and helps me start my day with grateful grin. I love how the hope and inspiration and change moves people to up and do things. All good wishes in growing that baby, and keep your delicious words and recipes flowing.

  12. made the soup last night and it was amazing! wonderful recipe and I got everything right down the street at my local farmers market (don’t worry, I walked). Ahh the beauties of living in California..

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