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As I look at my stack of current to-be-finished books, I consider the recent proclamation of the death of the book, so called by some bloggers and news outlets. This isn’t really what was declared. But Seth Godin, marketing guru, announced that he would no longer publish (e-books included) the traditional way. He didn’t announce the death of reading. Though some might interpret it that way. Consider this exchange in the comments section from a blog post yesterday that elicited 2500 tweets.

Charity FootballClub: I’m SO OVER reading…it’s why i stick with twitter cos it’s quick , short and sharp. Linchpin the hard copy book is the last I bought and it’s taken a while but I’m getting to the end! as for eBooks! nah…click , close file …game over!

Then Thefriendraiser suggested that reading would help gain comprehension and critical thinking skills. To which this commenter suggested:

I disagree Thefriendraiser. I think Charity FootballClub should stop reading so he/she does not gain anymore comprehension and critical thinking skills. That way there will be one less person i have to compete with for a job!

Well said.

A story like this is a good example of how we apply our own spin, based on our fears or desires. Would-be slackers (above) see it as permission to not read, because they’re already looking for an excuse. Would-be writers fear there will be no use for the book buried inside them. The tech-obsessed feed like vultures on stories like this as proof of the e-medium’s superiority over all other mediums.

Here are two good pieces on the publishing industry. This New Yorker piece “Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?”, despite being about the battle between e-readers, nonetheless does a good job of explaining the traditional book publishing business and its impact on authors. This NY Times article on self-publishing offers some statistics on the trend.

There are three parts to this dialog: reading, books and publishing. They are independent of each other in a sense. Reading (of the deep and focused kind) is under threat from all sorts of distractions. Books (actual books of the dog-eared, margin-scrawled kind) are under threat, if you can call it that, from the electronic variety. I say “if you can call it that” because an author’s work is still being read, a book purchased. (The delicious visual pleasure of good book design might slowly disappear. But find hope in AIGA’s 50 Books 50 Covers for award-winning book design. Alive and kicking.) And well, it appears that the world is calling on traditional book publishing to change, and maybe that’s a good thing, from a democracy standpoint.

Ventures like Good Bookery, that I’m involved in, along with co-creators of the collaborative book Portland Bottom Line on small business sustainable practices, offer the potential for a much more rich, multi-faceted experience than traditional publishing—the social book, as Peter Korchnak calls it. Our Portland Story is another example that takes the tangible artifact that is book and puts a new spin on it. Collaborations are not new, but creative people, who happen to love books, are figuring out ways to make books…differently.

What I really came here for, though, was to praise books.

I will always want to smell and touch a book, to scribble notes in the margin, to dog ear pages that hold special meaning. Loaning and borrowing books are acts of love and connection. When I have to wait for weeks or months for a book from the library, I can’t help feeling connected to the hundreds of people who wanted or needed that book as much as I did. I have a hard time imagining a world where we won’t gather with strangers in a store like Powell’s Books saying “excuse me, pardon me” as we squeeze past each other in the aisles. A book satisfies like a long, deep conversation or a several-hour meal. In a book, you can fall in love, fight a war, solve a crime, cross a sea. Yes, you can do all those things online, but not in the same way. Why? Because staring at black words on a white page is like staring at a blank canvas. You can spill your mental pictures onto it, heightening the experience.

I’ll leave you with this:

The Death of Reading

By Jeffery Deaver

I’ve got what I think is the very best job.
I have no commute; I can dress like a slob.
I get paid to make up things–isn’t that neat?
Just like at the White House and 10 Downing Street.

Only in my case there’s no dereliction.
In fact, lying’s expected when you’re writing fiction.
So imagine my horror, imagine my fear
When I read in the press that the end was near.

But not Armageddon or crazed terrorists.
No, the death of reading was the article’s gist.
Teachers and parents and critics all share it:
That like Monty Python’s proverbial parrot

Reading is dead, deceased, pushing up daisies.
People are growing increasingly lazy,
lured by the siren of electronic toys
That fill up their lives with meaningless noise.

PlayStations, Facebook, big-screen TVs
And mobile phones smarter than I’ll ever be.
We pray at the altar of our brand-new God,
Who’s powerful and wise and whose name is iPod.

Now, if people are no longer going to read,
Then writers are something that nobody needs.
This made my heart tremble and made my hands shake
And I considered what other jobs I might take.

But looking for work to find something new,
I decided that I all I could possibly do
Involved making lattes and learning to say,
“Let me tell you about our specials today.”

But before heading off to my overpriced shrink,
I decided it might be best to rethink
these terrible rumors that we’ve all heard
About the demise of the written word.

Now, if truly readers are dying off fast,
That suggests there were masses of them in the past,
But I can hardly imagine when that might have been.
Who had, after all, any time to read when

You were fighting off lions with your bare hands
And wandering nomadic across desert sands.
True, reading wasn’t past everyone’s reach,
But stone tablets weren’t popular reads at the beach.

In ancient Rome, yes, people read more,
But not mass-market scrolls from their local drug store.
And Latin, oh, please . . . once your lessons were done
Your life span was over, and your neighbors were Huns.

In medieval times, there was always the hope
That you might learn to read—if you worked for the Pope,
Or you were a royal or other elite,
Which left most of Europe up illiterate creek

Then Gutenberg invented movable letters,
Making access to books a little bit better.
Though another small problem existed, of course,
That the smallest of books cost more than your horse.

Victoria’s queen; tuppence novels arrive.
And everywhere interest in reading thrives.
But despite what the doomsayers might be wishing,
The data show Dickens sold far less than Grisham.

Well, if the past hardly proves what the critics say,
Then how ’bout the state of reading today?
To find out if no one reads anymore
I went to–where else?—my local book store,

Which I couldn’t help notice was jammed to the gills,
And virtually every shelf was filled
With books on more subjects than I knew existed
And dozens of posters on which were listed

Upcoming visits by writers galore,
Who’d read to their fans right there in the store:
Lit’rature, poems, true crimes about killers
And self-help and travel, and—oh, yeah—thrillers.

And if crowded stores turn you into a grouch,
You don’t even need to get off your couch.
Click on Amazon’s site and browse online
For ten million titles, all day long, any time.

A few years ago when I was downtown,
Doing some shopping, just strolling around
I nearly died in a massive stampede
Of children, no less, in desperate need

To purchase their latest heart’s desire,
No batteries required, no software, no wires,
A book’s what they sought and they’d waiting all day.
Who’s this Harry Potter guy, anyway?

We love reading so much that the books we now see
Are changing from what they used to be.
Originally written in clay and on leaves,
Books are now “printed” on digital screens.

Why, I got on an airplane the other day
And I heard this announcement on the PA:
“Welcome aboard, we’ll soon be underway.
Please put telephones, e-books and Kindles away.”

So forgive me, the ghosts of Lake Windermere,
And all other poets that we hold so dear,
Not to mention the late and the great Dr. Suess,
For my rhyming transgressions and rhythmic abuse,

But I simply couldn’t sit back and ignore
This lie that nobody reads anymore.
And I’ll share some more proof that there’s nothing to fear:
Why, just look around at our gathering here.

We’ve traveled for thousands and thousands of miles
from the Mideast, from Europe, the Pacific Rim isles.
We’ve managed to get here, whatever it took.
For something immortal . . . our passion for books.

© 2006 Jeffery W. Deaver

(In the spirit of celebrating authors, if you copy this poem, please include the copyright and link to his website.)

What one book has left the biggest impression on you? Why?

A friend emailed with a problem. Her gardening club loved her tales of digging in the dirt and her near-obsessive, homesteader-like canning and preserving activities that they asked her to write an article for their newsletter.

Then panic set in, so she asked me how write an article, which is funny for two reasons. One, that she asked me; I feel like I fumble through this. And two, her emails are already full of article-ready descriptions of her fruits and her labor, like this one:

I’ve been hanging out my bathroom window picking fresh figs. I’ve got a jar of figs in vodka. Will be doing another in bourbon later. Fig jam and chutney are on the list for this weekend. I guess there are worse problems to have.

But her question made me realize that we often want to know what steps to take for a specific endeavor. There is no lack of information out there but there is often too much and not the right information…for what we need. My brother, who is a great cook, once called to ask me how to fry an egg. See what I mean?

This is by no means comprehensive or in order of importance. But this is what I told her, and it’s a good place to start:

Trust your voice. Voice is important and one already exists in your emails to me. It’s too easy to sound stiff and awkwardly academic just because you have to write for publication. Don’t let that happen.

Read similar articles. Reread articles in your cooking magazines but with a new eye. Notice how they’re constructed and what devices are used. I just read one on butter, for example, and the author started with personal anecdotes and then went into history a few paragraphs in.

Write all the way through. Then go back and edit. Don’t rethink or fuss with the words as you go. It’ll stop ideas from coming. Really, DON’T.

Make it make sense. Hint at what you plan to cover in the first paragraph. If it’s a longer piece, add subheads. I find that adding subheads forces me to create a logical structure. Ideally, there should be an overall point; and not just be a rambling essay on your thoughts about growing and preserving food, mainly because there’s too much to say on that topic in one short article.

Add a quote or cite a reference. This adds credibility and texture to an article. (I looked back in one of her emails and she was one step ahead of me as she quoted Thomas Jefferson: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” Note the brilliant metaphor!)

Be descriptive. As they say “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t just say fig. Instead, describe its texture and color, its squishiness. Like, “You’ll know a fig is ripe if it feels a bit like a woman’s breast.” Maybe not that, but you get the idea.

Think like the reader. What do you want when you read about the same subject? What makes you like an article? What tips do you find useful? It doesn’t hurt to ask the editor what their readership looks for.

I forgot to tell her two things. (Are you reading Eileen?)

Walk away. Then come back a day or two later. The same holds true for any creative endeavor (we’re both designers by vocation; picklers by avocation). You have to put aside your efforts and let the ideas marinate—not unlike figs in bourbon. Active thought, followed by incubation, followed by ah-ha moment…or so we hope on that last one.

Have fun.

I was reminded recently of a trip gone afoul back in September by someone who read a review I wrote of a cooking school I attended. Not that the experience was easy to forget; I still wince when I think of where else $3000 could have gone. Then again, that money might have disappeared like ashes strewn in the wind on nothing significant.

I won’t go into the gory details. Because in the end details don’t matter as much as we think they do. When we focus on the details, we miss what really matters. And sometimes we use the details to avoid looking at what really matters.

But a couple details for context. I’d been dumped via email when I got to Italy, which I guess is better than being dumped via a post-it. I was far better off without the relationship, but it was still lame and cowardly. I was alone thousands of miles away and watching randy Italians nuzzling each other on every street corner. They do that…a lot…everywhere.

I set my sights on the cooking adventure I was about to embark on. But because of sloppy handling of details on the cooking school owner’s part (enough to justify a refund I was too chicken to ask for), and a rather morose personality to boot, I found myself in place that should have otherwise been pretty blissful. In light of my recent cyber dumping, exhaustion from travel, speaking in my non-native tongue, and a nasty cold coming on, I was in a pretty fragile state.

Here I was doing something I love—cooking—and seeing the joy sucked out of it. And I was pissed off that I was letting someone suck my joy.

Is there anything good in this story, you might be wondering right about now?

Well, yes, I did enjoy a lot of good food and wine. It all sounds pretty privileged to have this opportunity, which was one reason I had to get hold of myself. I reminded myself that travel isn’t supposed to be all fun. I thought about how it would sound when I returned home. Friends and family would want to hear about my amazing week cooking in southern Italy. And how much of an ungrateful jerk I’d sound like if I told them I’d been pretty miserable.

Jonah Lehrer talks about the cognitive benefits of travel, which you can read here. In it, he says “…if we want to experience the creative benefits of travel, then we have to re-think its raison d’ètre. Most people, after all, escape to Paris so they don’t have to think about those troubles they left behind. But here’s the ironic twist: our mind is most likely to solve our stubbornest problems while sitting in a swank Left Bank café.”

We travel, I decided, to go up to and beyond the edges of our comfort zones. We don’t envision missed trains, hotel rooms that smell funny or someone stealing our credit card information to charge $777 worth of WalMart goods. (There went my never-shopped-at-WallMart streak.) We want not to bawl on a sidewalk at 6:00 in the morning in a town in the middle of nowhere because we’re exhausted, confused and missed the only bus of the day. But bawl we do (or at least I do). But then angels with packages of tissue swoop down from above and you have no choice but to embrace your sloppy mess of humanity right then and there.

It doesn’t traveling to force us to embrace the uncomfortable. But when we travel, we’re not at the top of our game like we are when we know our surroundings. We take this familiarity for granted. Familiarity is great. But it doesn’t push us.

We’re more alive when we’ve gone to, and beyond, our edges even if what’s happening sucks by most travel standards. We look back months or years later and forget the mishaps. That’s all well and good. But there’s gold in these mishaps. Mining it in the moment, instead of looking back much later on the good stuff, makes us learn more about ourselves and what we’re made of. Those necessary evils of deciphering train schedules, avoiding cultural gaffes, and calculating tips in a foreign currency are when the brain synapses really get going. This is the gold.

The same gold is found in other discomfort zones when we learn to paint, swing a racquet, utter foreign words, play the guitar—and stink at it. We’re too eager to make the uncomfortable part to go away. Embracing our fumbling is what they mean by Beginner’s Mind.

One night at the cooking school, we had dinner guests. A kind, soft-spoken man named Alessandro sat next to me. A writer and an olive oil producer, he and I talked in half English-half Italian most of the evening. I sensed he was a kindred spirit, and when we were alone I asked how I could travel halfway around the world to find myself in a kitchen with this guy (reliving experiences with my father). He told me three things. As soon as he said them, I knew I had gold. I was thankful for the presence of mind to know I had gold despite my pounding head and stuffy nose. (He was the second angel.)

One of them was this: “Perhaps you had to travel all this way to figure out something important. And you must write about it.”

I’m not sure yet what I figured out. But I do know it’s perfectly normal to come back from a vacation feeling like you’d wandered into a war zone.

Got a travel-weary story and a lesson learned? Share it!

I bought tomatoes today.

This is not earth-shattering news. But they were the first fresh tomatoes I’ve bought in months except for some romas for a friend’s Mexican-themed dinner party. This didn’t take a heroic feat of delaying gratification. But that’s what is so interesting about seasonal eating. It can come on slowly and naturally to the point where it’s just comfortable and sensible.

Aside from the obvious benefits of seasonal eating—health, taste and supporting local agriculture—there are several no-less-important aspects to it.

The joy of novelty.

There is a certain kind of joy when we experience newness. This is why the anticipation of a first kiss is so good. The desire for the taste of basil or sweet corn never dies. But the wait makes the getting so much better. What comes with nearly always getting what we want when we want it, is often an unsatisfying gratification. The forced slowing down and waiting till the tomato seed germinates, flowers and then bears fruit makes tomatoes taste much better than if you’d been eaten them all year—whether it’s you or someone else doing the growing.

Cupping the velvety warm tomato gave me a little jolt of excitement. It was just waiting for a drizzle of good olive oil and some basil that finally decided to produce some leaves. A mouthful of summer.

Simplicity and creativity.

The tyranny of too many choices can suck the potential joy out of any endeavor, leaving you spending more time deciding than enjoying. Within the limited parameters of eating with the seasons, you’re free to be more creative. Without limits, there’s more chaos.

Take asparagus, for example. If you ate asparagus only during the weeks it was in season near you, you’d be more likely to make soup once, try a risotto next time, toss it on the grill after that, add it to a salad one day, throw it in a pasta another day. Frankly, till you’re sick of it! This simplicity of choice forces culinary creativity. If you ate asparagus whenever it appeared in the grocery store, you’d prepare it the same way you always do.

The clarity of seasonal.

There is no doubt that you become more sensitive and aware of what grows when, how it grows, what it pairs well with, how weather impacts a harvest and what is involved in getting it to you, when you eat with the seasons. In other words, the whole picture becomes clear, and with that clarity comes knowledge, intelligence and respect.

Once, heavy rains prevented the artichoke farmer from showing up at the market, which meant nixing my dinner party centerpiece of grandma’s stuffed artichokes. I could picture and appreciate mud-caked wheels and freeing a tractor stuck in the earth.

Many wince at the cost of raspberries. But there’s no better way to appreciate their high cost than to squat next to a raspberry bush, scratched arms and all, gingerly plucking the succulent jewels off the vine. You can only get this kind of clarity when the fruit is in season.

The conviviality of local.

By definition, seasonal eating is local eating. It is said that shoppers at farmers markets have 10 times the number of interactions than at a typical grocery store. The visual appeal of markets and farms puts people in a more open and engaging frame of mind. Recipes, stories and information shared among shoppers and farmers fosters a sense of community. This lively exchange is not happening in the cereal aisle at Safeway.

…………

I often remind myself that I live in a bubble here in the Pacific Northwest. There are many food wastelands in this country. In the middle of the heartland in Peoria, Illinois, for example, where my mother lives, fresh, seasonal food is nearly nonexistent. This, despite the ocean of corn (for animal feed, sweeteners and additives) spreading out for miles and miles. I am under no illusion that access—not to mention a 10-month growing season here—makes seasonal eating much easier.

This is just [good] food for thought. Do you have a seasonal eating tale? Is it easy to do where you live? Do you grow your own food? Share your thoughts.

…………

There are many great sources on seasonal eating. Here are just a few:

• Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

• Epicurious: An Interactive Seasonal Ingredient Map, including other goodies on that page like interviews with Alice Waters and Michael Pollan.

A New Way to Think About Eating, review by Jason Epstein on Michael Pollan.

Here it is July 2nd already. June required several new drawings as more and more produce is becoming available. The color palette is opening up, which, in addition to beautiful meals, also means a larger variety of vitamins and minerals. An Eat the Rainbow post is soon to come that explores the range of antioxidants in the many colors of foods, and their benefits.

If you’re new here, visit April and May produce logs for an introduction to my yearlong project to track my fresh produce dollars. You can download each one as a PDF. Here is June.

Even those of us who cook often find ourselves stymied by what to do with our market or garden loot. The pressure to be creative or break out of eating ruts can conspire to overcomplicate what can be simple. Most foods that grow in the same season go well together. Foods that are fresh and seasonal don’t need much fussing. Instead, let the real taste of the fruit or vegetable sing. Two great sites I refer to often are Culinate, which posts wonderful food stories and seasonal recipes, and Epicurious, which is my go-to recipe source. Instead of trying to figure out what to cook for the week, I simply buy what looks good and is in season. Then I plug in what I’ve got into the search field and modify recipes if I don’t have an ingredient the recipe calls for.

How did I eat this month’s produce?

Artichoke: I lamented to chef Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans of The Farmers Feast that I preferred the versatility of baby artichokes and had lost my interest in basic steaming of large artichokes. She suggested tucking chopped fresh herbs like basil, mint and parsley and chopped garlic into the leaves. For a dipping sauce, I melted a little butter and added slivered garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Wonderful! But I await the baby artichokes to make one of my favorite dishes, a Roman stew called la vigniarola, with fava beans, pancetta and peas. See my artichoke piece in last year’s farmer’s market newsletter.

Kohlrabi: Veggie Borg, I like to call it. A truly bizarre looking vegetable. Kohlrabi has a nutty, fresh flavor and is wonderful shaved onto salads or cut into sticks and used for dip. It reminds one of jicama.

Cabbage: The reason for all this cabbage? Homemade sauerkraut, which is brewing in the kitchen. It smells, like, well, sauerkraut…in a good way.

Zucchini: Though many say baby zucchini are tastier than large ones, they can be expensive. I’d rather get more bang for my food buck. Summer squash is great grilled or slow sauteed in a skillet till they caramelize. Just add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh herbs and crumbled feta. See my piece on summer squash in last year’s farmer’s market newsletter. I’m also making refrigerator zucchini pickles. Here’s a recipe from the Zuni Cafe, but I’m cutting down on the sugar and may add other herbs. You don’t need to do special canning. They’ll keep in a jar in the fridge. Pictured is Deborah Madison’s recipe for zucchini circles. Saute on low heat for a long time till zucchini starts to brown and the sugars caramelize. Squeeze some lemon, sprinkle crumbled feta and chopped herbs like basil, parsley or mint…or all three.

Farro Salad with Roasted Beets and Peas: I roasted chioggia beets, and cut them into cubes for a farro (substitute any grain like wheat berry or quinoa) salad. Fresh shelling peas were added along with spring onions, a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette and fresh dill and chives from the garden. Stay tuned for a post about grains and how to incorporate them more into your diet.

Farro (or Quinoa) Salad with Zucchini and Peas: Another great grain salad, but rather than use zucchini raw, grill or saute it till browned for extra flavor, then chop and add it to the grains. A can of chick peas makes this a complete protein—great for your vegetarian friends. Add the herbs, lemon/olive oil vinaigrette and crumbled feta or goat cheese. You can use shelled fresh peas or cut sugar snap peas.

Please share! More to come. Happy 4th!

…is as futile as waiting for Godot. I’d give a synopsis of the play except that a cursory view of the play as explained on Wikipedia makes it clear there is little consensus on what it meant. Having seen the play (as I have) does not help, at least in my case. My analogy about permission, then, is apt for this reason: nothing really happens in the play and the wait for Godot, is, well, pretty agonizing for its nothingness.

The same holds true in life as far as Waiting for Permission goes. Because while you wait, life goes by and nothing much happens. I’m not talking about those lucky few who grab what’s theirs (and then some)—the ones first in line when Entitlement was passed out. I’m talking about the rest of us waiting for Permission to show up at the door in a cute brown outfit.

Here’s an irony: We think we’re not clever enough to (fill in the blank), but we’re infinitely clever when it comes to constructing a wall of reasons blocking our way. Why is that? Sure, you might want a medical degree before slicing someone open. But you don’t need a degree to slice bread for that sandwich business you always wanted to start.

Here’s another irony: From my unscientific observation, the more clever, talented, kind, resourceful and generous a person is, the more they question their “right” to create or succeed. This is not to say that those who do create and succeed lack those qualities. But none of these people have to worry about egos, just yet anyway.

For years, I’ve wanted to write a self help book. Funny, you seem to have a lot of issues, someone might say. But as the saying goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” What has stopped me is that I kept picturing the bio in the back of the book below the photo of me with my hand on my chin. It seemed ridiculous to say “Jane is a graphic designer in Portland, Oregon living with a cat that doesn’t belong to her.” Who would buy that book? I did start writing that book but only because I finally stopped attaching the need for special qualifications to the process of writing. I also stopped attaching publication and sales to the process of writing. All along, I forgot to realize that no one has to buy that book if they don’t want to.

A friend embarked on a food business after years of thinking she was unqualified. Every so often she sheepishly corrects people who dare to call her a chef, humble as she is about her lack of “official” training. I suspect she and I are a lot alike in our respect for the focus, dedication and sacrifice that official training can require. So we err on the side of caution. Too much caution.

Are you Waiting for Permission?

Question your inner naysayer. If it’s not unsafe, illegal or immoral, then pick up the guitar, the knife (good knife skills please), the paintbrush, the microphone, the pen, the soldering iron (again, safe operation please) and stop using excuses like talent, education or expertise. Your inner naysayer is really good at asking what the point is of this activity if the painting will never see the light of a gallery, the song an audience, the soup a customer. Your inner naysayer is a clever S.o.B., but so are you, so come up with some good comebacks.

Have appropriate humility. Too much humility stops us from exploring our interests. Too little and you forget there are masters out there whose talent, education and expertise is what makes them great. If wanting to be great is stopping you, then stop needing to be great before you even begin. That being said, know enough to know what is at stake so you can behave responsibly. If you’re selling services or products where quality is an issue, be careful what promises you make, spoken or implied. Many people ask if a degree is necessary before becoming a designer. The bigger issue is whether you’re confident that what you’re selling is understood by the buyer. Confidence is great. False claims are not.

Go where the road takes you. We are too often looking for signposts that say “go this way.” Unfortunately, life is not terribly linear, except when it comes to those pesky birthdays. Sometimes you have to take a convoluted trip to end up in a pretty cool spot you never envisioned. “Well, how in the world can I plan for that? And what if I spent time going to the wrong place.” If it’s any consolation, you probably already waste lots of time doing things that are of no benefit, like hanging out with boring people or watching TV. So don’t get hung up on wondering where the signless road will take you. You might have to take up belly dancing only to realize you really wanted to write poetry. If you have an inkling of desire to (fill in the blank), you will not be wasting time pursuing it. Why? Because you always learn something by engaging in any endeavor. Always. (See next bullet point.) You only have to pay attention. If your problem is Waiting for Permission, chances are you are not about to sink thousands of dollars and years of time into a Masters Degree. Do the small stuff first.

Be on the lookout for hidden benefits. The surest way to kill any endeavor you do embark on is to focus on the big prize, whatever that prize might be. They say people tend to drop therapy the moment they start to figure stuff out, quit golf lessons the moment they really start learning, and so on. This is because we start with confidence or a childlike attitude. We start to learn a little, then we realize how much we don’t know, we get discouraged, and so we stop. You have to have a goal, but if enjoyment or success is dependent on catching that big fish, then you will miss out on all the side benefits, which might be even better. Those unintended side benefits might hold the secret to our success. They might be the signposts on the road.

You’re welcome to sit by the tree waiting. But it might be a long wait.

In April, I posted my first month tracking fresh produce expenditures—comparing local versus non-local produce. You can download a PDF of May, which is easier to read than the image below. To paraphrase a saying, eat the colors of the rainbow and you’ll be fine. May is already looking more colorful.

Two things I’m struggling with:

Defining local: If I were to use the 100-mile radius rule, then I would have to find out if the Washington apple I buy at grocery store is from a farm within 100 miles. My very loose definition of local is Oregon and Washington. Given that a big percentage of my local produce costs are from the farmers market, I’m fine with my definition.

Including garden costs: This project isn’t about tracking garden costs. Here is an example of a couple who tracked all input costs, labor and output from their garden. This is far too ambitious for me. An excellent read is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her family existed for a year on what they grew or could buy within a 50-mile radius. I am only tracking what I harvest (visually) and the cost of seeds or starts, but not compost or fertilizer. However, I haven’t devised a strategy for tracking every sprig of thyme! I’m a big proponent of having an herb garden. Given the cost of fresh herbs and the flavor boost your cooking, herb gardening is where I would put my effort if I had very little space. See this culinary herb primer  on Culinate.com.

 

Maybe you’re wondering what I do with all this. Here are a few links or suggestions:

Radishes and Fennel went into a Radish, Fennel, Orange Salad. The watermelon radish, if you can find it, is a visual delight—white on the outside, hot pink on the inside. Radishes make my stomach burn but my mother loves them. It was Mother’s Day. What can you do? The sweetness of the fennel and orange balance the peppery radishes. Plus the salad looks kick ass.

• In an earlier post, I wrote about Rabes (Raabs), and offer up a quick way to cook broccoli rabe. You can also download a recipe for Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, a signature dish of the Puglia region in Italy.

• You can read about rhubarb and download a recipe for a Rosemary Rhubarb Galette.

• Chef in the Market, Jeremy Eckel of Bar Avignon in Portland, OR, made a wonderful farro (This has become my favorite grain. Stay tuned for another post.) salad with grilled asparagus and spring sweet onions. Add some olive oil, fresh lemon juice and zest, and chopped hazelnuts for a great Spring BBQ salad.

New Seasons market has a nice kale and carrot salad that I’ve recreated at home. It uses an Asian-inspired dressing of cumin, canola oil, fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesami oil. No need to cook the kale first; the vinegar breaks it down so make it a little ahead. I also use the Italian kale in minestrone soup. Sadly, it is still soup season in Portland!

If you have any questions and comments, let me know! Share some of your favorite seasonal recipe ideas. Cheers!

Speaking to a friend, chef and creator of Lovejoy Food, about her first day back at the OHSU farmers market, I asked her how her day went, given the tremendous downpour we’d had. “Were there a lot of people you recognized from last year?” I asked her. There were, and she said it was a bit surreal, seeing all these familiar strangers.

The term was coined by Stanley Milgram in the 1972 paper The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. He is also credited with developing the concept of six degrees of separation.

The true definition of a familiar stranger is someone who is seen regularly (like a person on your morning bus commute) and one with whom you don’t interact. Intel did a study using mobile devices to connect strangers, not necessarily to be friends but, to explore how strangers interact. The concept of familiar strangers is that they are an important link that bridges the gap between friends/family and total strangers. They play an essential role in fixing us in a community and providing us context. We wouldn’t want everyone to be a friend, and nor could we tolerate only strangers and people we know. The familiar strangers act as a buffer.

In my friend’s case, her customers aren’t true familiar strangers. But one friend has been creative with her daily commute (fodder for another post—ways to make the mundane more interesting) by documenting via her iPhone, her fellow commuters’ tattoos, pets, fashion statements and books. She has a non-judgemental, endearing way about her daily documentary. There’s a richness about it because she’s bringing strangers to life and making us look at these people closely, whom none of us know!

An interesting aspect of familiar strangers is that we have an unspoken agreement to not communicate. But we are much more likely to interact if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting, like bumping into the person you see each week at the farmers market while on vacation in Rome.

Has this happened to you? Did you introduce yourself? How long should a familiar stranger remain a stranger? Do you ever want to acknowledge your shared presence, especially if your lives seem to overlap in more than a couple places?

In a city as small as Portland, there are people you see over and over in more than one place you frequent, even if there doesn’t seem to be a significant connection among the locations. Maybe this person should be part of your social or business circle.

People give away advice, time, sex, clothing, brides, secrets, pieces of their soul, professional services, to name a few. But these aren’t all equal. Any of these given away in excess can be a problem. But so can never giving them away (except maybe a bride, in my case).

So, how do you decide when giving something away is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you give the wrong stuff away, say, sex or advice, too easily? And maybe not enough of the good stuff, like your free time or excess veggies from your garden? Does giving away stuff make you feel proud or righteous? Or does giving something away make you feel crummy?

In life, there are few right and wrongs, which guarantees that life stays interesting, if uncertain. Giving away advice is only wrong if it’s unwanted, and if you never take it yourself. But giving away excess garlic presses is nearly always a good thing. Freeing yourself of unused and unwanted items doesn’t create only physical space but psychological space as well. It leaves you with a feeling of lightness of mind that didn’t exist. That space is now a vessel that can be filled with something more nourishing than stuff. It also reminds us that we don’t need as much, not to mention that others may need them more than we do.

Motives play a big role in giving things away. Some of us give pieces of ourselves away too freely and are left resentful. We do that because we’re insecure or fearful. We viewed a gesture as kind or maybe even a sacrifice, only to not get something in return. Is it the recipient’s fault? Or is it ours for giving it away with a motive attached (a motive we may not have realized was there)? A consultant can give away their proprietary services in the hopes of paying work down the road. Is that an act of generosity, a good tactic or a strategy that can backfire because it’s motivated by fear of loss?

Giving something away seems easier when we’re feeling abundant. But spiritual wisdom suggests the reverse—that giving something away creates a feeling of abundance. This is difficult if you operate as though there is not enough love, stuff, time, food or friendship to go around.

Are there things you give away out of fear? Are there things you don’t give away out of fear?

One must embrace irony. There is a lot of it in life, after all. Consider the garden if you will. In an effort to control my food source, I found a place to live where I could (in theory) enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor by having a garden.

Instead, it is a daily practice of surrender to a host of elements out of my control. My plants are gracious hosts to a wide variety of critters from nearly invisible to purring.

No book by the Dalai Lama or Eckhart Tolle will teach an essential lesson in letting go more than having a garden. Tending a garden requires relinquishing the foolish notion that you will reap a product at the end. Each morning, coffee in hand, I make my rounds to the plants like a nurse visiting her ICU patients, inspecting limbs, peering at their wounds, unleashing a few expletives (me, not the nurse most likely).

As a woman said to her husband who complained of flea beetles, “There’s a good way to get rid of the pests. Go to the grocery store and buy eggplant.”

Where’s the fun if you can’t suffer a little? Who learns anything if you can’t experience your hard work wither away one tiny bitefull at a time? The truly strong among us are strong, not for our victories but, for our losses. The truly wise among us are wise, not for the tomato we ate at the end but, for the garden path we walked.

Though a tomato would be nice.