Putting Down Roots

This morning I woke at 6:30 to feed the starters. Yes, multiple. I’m now juggling a concord grape (popularized by the brilliant Nancy Silverton), a San Francisco Earthquake, and a 1911 German Rye (both of the latter so generously gifted to me by a student). Remember when I thought I didn’t like baking?


Anyway, waking up this early to mix some flour and water together wasn’t really a necessity (though I intend to become more militant about my starter upkeep for reasons I’ll explain in the coming weeks). It was more a function of one of those restless predawn mornings, your to-do list invading your head with day’s first light. Knowing an extra hour of sleep would be impossible, I figured getting my hands dirty might help to clear my head, and folding the viscous primordial starters seemed the perfect solution.

Just a week ago, an unquiet early morning such as this might have meant making coffee or crossing Bridge Street to get the weekly paper. But today, a trip to the school kitchen was more convenient than ever. Somewhat coincidentally, as I extend my commitment to Ian, Shelley, and the school, I’ve also moved. From Shelley’s home in Lambertville (which she also shares with students) to a room on the farm directly above the school.

Yes, like a cloistered monk, actual blogger, or crazy person, I now live where I work. Hopefully like a monk, I find the centralized life meditative and productive. This long and brutal part of winter, when the bone-deep cold goes uninterrupted, our celebrations and feasts behind us ‘til spring, welcomes this sort of inward, project-oriented, turn. It helps too that, on especially blustery days, the wind unavoidable and menacing up here on Gravity Hill, my 30-second commute is entirely indoors. If nothing else, like a monk, I already have a jug of fennel wine fermenting in the corner of my room. I think it won’t be good; unless you’ve ever wanted to drink vaguely anise-y bread. Will update in a couple of months.

Fennel Wine

Fennel Wine

Occupying this space connects me more closely, too, with the farm. Both because I now spend my off-time here and because, in exchange for the room, I’m helping Malaika to maintain the high tunnel where she grows lettuces, radishes, and other greens in the winter.

To clarify, this extremely minimal role does not make me a farmer. Farmers don’t ask silly questions like, “Do the plants care more about what the temperature actually is, or what it ‘feels’ like?” Or maybe they do? Fact is, my not knowing whether the question is even valid is indicative of how little I know about plants, or soil, or the sun, or just growing things in general. Also, in my experience, our farmers tend to get dirtier than I ever could closing the high tunnel, and occasionally covering the veg in reemay and plastic, every evening. (I should note too, that another of our ‘real’ farmers, Taylor, is doing a lot of the actual maintenance, weeding and watering and such).   

At the same time, being even a small part of this process adds an entirely new dimension to my experience here. I love Malaika’s produce and watching these lettuces flourish from tiny folds of green into lush multi-colored heads gives me a whole new appreciation for the process and the food on my plate. It’s incredible the amount of work that goes into a single leaf. Whole days, maybe entire weeks, were spent this summer prepping the high tunnel so that the dummy Cooking School intern could more easily care for these greens. Day in and day out this winter, we’re adjusting their surroundings to protect them from exposure to the changing weather. All so that lettuces might be made available to the school and at our markets year round. And this is no small gift: to taste a radish or butter lettuce in mid-January is a remembrance of summer, even if only for a bite. And right now, we need all the help we can get to call to mind those greener sun-filled days.   

In any case, if we don’t have salad mix in February, you can probably blame me. At least we’ll be a bit closer to summer.

The other day Ian told me that Malaika has an affinity for the ephemeral, those crops that she can plant, nurture, and harvest within the span of a season, then plow and begin with clean-slate-fields by the next year. Obviously, I was ready to begin again when I moved here. Tabula rasa. Though I was definitely naive to how much finding what you love can change the direction of your life.

Now that I’m here I’m not so anxious for more change. Exactly how long I’ll be at the school is as yet unknown. The temporary is veering towards the permanent, or at least significantly less temporary. And it feels good not to live in limbo. To put down some roots. And maybe for more than just a season.