No matter how good things get, there will still always be days that require this.
As I woke up to the radio this morning I heard the first news item about the British Petroleum oil spill that I did not need to hear again to understand. The cap on the oil well is secure but something – they aren’t sure what – is coming up through the ocean floor nearby. It might be pressure building up as a result of the cap, but then again it might not; such seepages can occur naturally. Thus, BP is reluctant top loosen the cap because that will result in more fines for them, but apparently they can’t be held legally responsible for the rupture in the ocean floor.
Despite the 24/7 spill cam documenting the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the valiant efforts of Anderson Cooper, it’s still difficult for me to get a handle on both the science and magnitude of the spill and how it came to this. As I type at my computer in my air-conditioned home atop a two car garage I know that I am complicit in the energy dependence that drives companies like BP to do something that is inherently dangerous to the global ecosystem. I’ve pored over the graphics illustrating how deep water drilling works, how relief wells will help, how natural gas and oil are mined but not necessarily collected at the same time and how bacteria that feast on the oil are depriving the rest of the ocean of the oxygen they need to survive. The only news item I won’t read is Kevin Coster’s solution to some or all of this – you won’t be getting a hyper link to that one from me.
At some point someone suggested that the President or Secretary of Energy provide the public with strategies for responding to the crisis – and in ways more practical than planning a vacation to the Gulf. If people can start carrying reusable bags to the grocery store like more people are doing nowadays the possibilities really are endless, days and in these days of PowerPoint I am really shicked that no one has issued a bulleted list of things people can do to cut energy dependence – of if they have why they haven’t shown up on milk cartons and paper bags.
Speaking of which, my own personal ray of hope has been the flourishing of the farmer’s markets near our house. When we moved here 17 years ago there were three tiny, tired farm stands that we counted on for corn, strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes and potatoes each year. Now, we have a Friday farmer’s market near the center of town and those three old farm stands – all within sight of one another – have each constructed new buildings and are offering local milk, eggs, meat, bread and cheese. This year, for the first time, it’s possible to skip the supermarket entirely for weeks at a time. We are saving gas on trips to Costco and we are helping the local economy as we develop a taste for grilled vegetables. It is the Michael Pollanization of America, and it’s great.
Still, my thoughts keep drifting to the basket under my kitchen sink. For years I have been slowly replacing the Dow chemicals under it with more environmentally friendly cleaners – more white vinegar and less unpronounceable stuff. But my favorite bottle in the basket is Goo Gone. It’s a miraculous citrus-based grease and adhesive remover and it makes all of my worst petroleum-based household problems go away and smell lovely. I have to admit that I don’t know that all of it products are all natural. But I harbor fantasies of giant tankers of Goo Gone dispatched to the Gulf of Mexico where the waters and sands will be restored to an orange-scented bliss. And if that was Kevin Costner’s idea, I don’t want to know about it.
Photos: Vineyard Sound, July 2009; Spring Brook Farm, July 2009; Summer Produce, July 2009.
Whatever damage we sustained from overindulgence in red food coloring back in the 70s before it was yanked form the market for being carcinogenic seems to have subsided enough to allow for a resurgence in popularity of Red Velvet Cake. Red M&Ms reappeared a while back and now the cake, with recipes that call for less of the now safer red dye (but still a whole bottle nonetheless). Our mother’s birthday was on July 3, and she made red cake each year to take to the party up on the Cedar River on the 4th. Because this cake tastes especially good cold (it’s the cream cheese frosting), and the colors are right, it is really a great summer cake. And, as it turns out, nice for Christmas. I had misplaced the recipe that Mom used and recently found it in a recipe book put together by the Cook’s magazine folks. I will post the recipe itself on Parsenip later this week.
The thing I most wanted to see when we visited the Smithsonian last summer (besides Lincoln’s top hat) was Julia Child’s kitchen so that I could get a look at what she had on her bookshelf – and I love that, in addition to all of her own cookbooks and some notable others, she had one on Greek Mythology, Barlett’s Familiar Quotations, a dictionary, and How to Clean Everything. Proof that she did pretty much everything in her kitchen. There was a whole shelf of phonebooks and Yellow Pages, too – remember those?
I know it’s getting to me when. . .
- I look at my calendar and try to think of reasons to get out of every appointment on it.
- I tell everyone on Facebook to put out their flags for Veteran’s Day and promptly forget to do it myself.
- My family has to get their clean underwear (and pretty much anything else) from the huge pile of unfolded laundry in the corner of my bedroom.
- Making the bed means the bedspread is pulled up over the pillows.
- The fridge looks like my Mom’s – four cartons of half and half (two open), three half-empty bottles of ketchup, six pounds of butter, eight kinds of salad dressing, three bottles of beer that no one likes, cheese with sell by dates from last June and no milk.
- I don’t care if W. takes his stuffed Wallace & Gromit sheep to the restaurant and gets an extra seat, napkin and menu for it.
- I stop watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.
- I do all of my reading online.
- I am more interested in my Farmville Garden on Facebook than I am in my actual garden.
- Salad consists of lettuce and cucumber. Every night.
- I don’t like answering or talking on the phone.
- I give one-word answers to questions: “Okay.” “Fine” “Thanks.”
- I avoid opening any e-mail with “autism” in the subject line.
- I buy a whole pomegranate.
When Ruth Casey came to babysit, I hid under the bed. It was nothing personal, really. As the youngest in a large family, I relished being home alone with my mother when all the other children were in school, and Ruth Casey robbed me, the nursery school dropout, of those precious moments. If I stayed under the bed long enough maybe my mother would give up and stay home.
Mom was justifiably annoyed at me for my awful behavior when Mrs. Casey arrived. She was a friend of the family, a well turned out woman with nicely coiffed white hair, rimless glasses and a deep blue suit with pretty buttons down the front of the jacket. She had a throaty voice that squeaked a little when she laughed, which reminded me of the Andy Devine (he did voiceovers in cartoons). She seemed a little scary but in truth I was just reluctant to separate from my mother. I understand that better now, when my youngest scowls at me when his beloved sitter arrives, though she is more fun-loving than I remember Ruth. As I kept company with the dust bunnies beneath the bed, I recall wondering why Ruth would possibly want to look after me. She appeared and acted as though she should have a million other things she could be doing, even as she would read to me and try to coax me into playing games with her, I just couldn’t understand why she was there.
As I got older my admiration for Ruth and my embarrassment at my behavior toward her grew. Ruth Casey was widely loved and respected in Cedar Falls. Her full name was Ruth Livingston Casey, and her brother, John Livingston, was an accomplished test pilot in the early days of aviation. He was said to be the inspiration for the Richard Bach’s 1970 book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and the kitschy movie that followed.
Best and worst of all, Mrs. Casey gave us one of our most treasured family recipes, and I probably wrecked that for her, too. Her crescent rolls are present at every holiday in every household in the our family, where they are known as skunk rolls because as a tiny child I thought the curl of dough over the center of the roll looked like the tail of a sleeping skunk. They don’t deserve the stinky name – guests at the holiday table are always taken aback by it – but some names just stick whether you want them to or not. I can only imagine how my new moniker for her rolls went over with poor beleaguered Mrs. Casey.
With their buttery, yeasty aroma wafting through the house, those rolls, more than any other single thing, mean home and love and happiness to two generations of our family. It took years of watching my mother and then many failed attempts on my own to learn to make them properly (oh, the lost art of proofing yeast!), and now I am teaching my own children to make them. There is nothing quite like working with the dough, which stretches and collapses with a rhythm of its own as it is kneaded and rolled, buttered and cut, then left to rise under tea towels in a warm sunny spot. Baked and brushed with melted butter, skunk rolls are the ultimate comfort food, and they are the only food my family begs me to make that does not contain chocolate.
I suppose part of the irony is that watching my mother roll out Ruth’s rolls was one of my favorite contexts for her. She was such a mix of the traditional and the radical, someone who fought for and railed against tradition; you never knew where she would come out on something but in the end you knew she could make it all sound perfectly rational. Homemade rolls served right next to the potato buds and raspberry Jello-O with cut up banana floating in it.
I hope that, out in the heavens, Ruth Casey understands that I have come out from under the bed and am doing my best to make amends each time I turn out another batch of rolls. When my brother comes for Thanksgiving in a few weeks, the first words out of his mouth as her greets me on the front walk will be, “You DID make Skunk rolls, didn’t you?” Of course.
We had family from Homer, Alaska visit recently and the food they say they miss most from the lower 48 is fresh apples. Verlyn Klinkenborg of the Times elaborates on heirloom apples.
Photo: Acton, Massachusetts, September 2009.