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.
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.
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 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.