Monday, November 16, 2009

Practical Magic: The How of Eating Locally

In my last post, I wrote about why I eat locally: the deep connections it fosters between me and the land where I live.  In this one, I want to talk about how you can bring more local food -- and through it, local magic -- into your life.

Produce is usually the easiest thing to find locally.  If you live in a more rural area, you may already know about roadside produce stands or local farms.  In more urban areas, you can often access local produce and more through a farmer's market.  Picking your own fruits and vegetables can be a fun afternoon and save you a few bucks in the process.  And in many areas, you can participate in farm shares, also called community-supported agriculture (CSA).  In this model, you pay for a season up front, and then receive a box of produce every week.  You may go to the farm to pick it up, or you may be able to get it at a drop-off location.  You'll get a variety of produce that's fresh and in season, and the farmer will get a measure of income security.  If you're afraid this would be too much, consider finding a friend to split a share with you.  Local Harvest is a great resource for locating farmer's markets, CSAs, and farms near you.  (Best part: it will find not only CSA farms near you, but also far-away farms that have drop-off points in your neighborhood!)

You may also be able to find some other products that are made near where you live: meat, milk, eggs, and honey are all becoming more common.  If you can locate a farmer's market near you, see if you can visit or check out their vendor list, which will give you good ideas of where to find these things.  The Eat Local Challenge asks people to try to eat only local food for one month a year; if you can locate a participant in your area, their blog is likely to be a goldmine of resources.

Because most of the local food you'll find is fresh and unprocessed, you may need to brush up on your kitchen skills to make the most of it.  When a vegetable I don't usually cook appears in my CSA box, I usually go first to a standard reference cookbook (I like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything).  I also use online resources -- which come handily equipped with a search function for when I really need to know what to do with four bunches of kale -- a great deal.  I like food blogs because their authors tend to have distinctive food styles: once I find one that I really like, I often want to make most of the recipes they offer. Two of my favorite blogs are 101 Cookbooks (featuring simple and tasty vegetarian recipes heavy on the produce and whole grains) and Smitten Kitchen (which mixes up delicious seasonal dishes with mouthwatering baked goods).  Finally, my fallback when-all-else-fails recipe site is Epicurious, which sports an amazing array of recipes as well as user reviews to help you know which ones are worth trying. 

A last word: don't let things like the Eat Local Challenge scare you.  You don't have to do it all!  If the ritual that helps you feel connected ot the land and seasons where you live is to pick strawberries every summer, start there.  If you want to grow basil in your kitchen window, do it.  Conversely, if the idea of getting ten random vegetables a week gives you shivers, don't buy a CSA: go to the market and pick things you know you or your family will enjoy.  Build your connections one bite at a time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pondering the magic of containers

by Mark Girard

So I have an overwhelming attraction to two things: striking things to see what sound they make and pondering the magic of containers. Now discovering the percussive qualities of solid objects is an exciting topic, but it is the latter that I wish to discuss.

See, everything is a container of some form or another. I am a container of thoughts, blood, and air; the Sun contains heat, light, and thermonuclear reactions; the Earth contains all of our shared experiences; and the Universe is a container of infinite possibility. It is the label that defines them that is of interest to me. I can say 'sphere' and ponder the inherent qualities of sphere-ness, but if I label that sphere a planet it invites a wonderful thought experiment. How big? Is it a gas giant or terrestrial? Does it have life? Do those life forms play drums? It is the strength and shortcoming of our brain that we need labels to identify the objects and experiences in our lives if we are to retain and share them with others. I have no way other than language to express my ideas to you the reader. And the words I choose to construct this essay are in themselves a factor in the challenge of constructing descriptive containers. Even if we share the same language our differing experiences flavor the event in a way where mere words fall short. Even when we are in agreement about the meaning of a word, each of us carries a meta-meaning.

So let us limit our thought experiment to a single object: fire. Aside from its mundane functionality of heat and light, it has been ascribed values that are less quantifiable; properties that are alchemical in nature. If we focus on the property of transformation, we find that the metaphysical concept of change eschews containment. Our differing experiences illustrate the challenge in ascribing descriptive language to magical experiences. Even when we partake in a similar event, say being present around a fire, what happens to me may not be what happens for you. You may have a deeply profound moment of perfect bliss, I may just get bit by a mosquito. Even though we share a moment in time--that of being around the fire--the events that transpire within that container are vastly different. It is precisely the difference of the shared moment that makes it both powerful and meaningful. My connection to that fire is as uniquely singular to me as your experience is to you but it is no more or less valid.

So why is it then that we sometimes choose to diminish another's spiritual experience as less rich, less potent? Are we elevating our own path as the one with a deeper truth? Are we afraid that we may be unsure of our own connection to that which we consider divine? Could it be that the container that we often create that holds the mysteries of the universe no longer serves but we still cling to what we know rather than face the uncontainable unknown? I don't have an answer, nor do I wish to find one; for I am a fool on the fools journey and that is a rich enough container for me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Samhain Blessings

by Moira Ashleigh

As we move into the last harvest - the harvest of spirit. I think of the shadow and how it dances around me directed by my movement, the light and sometimes a will of its own. The shadow which dares to be where I cannot. And I wonder at the shadow's flexibility, gracefulness and subtleties. I see these as a call to find the ways of the dark in creating change, rather than the head on clashes of the light. Things unseen or unnoticed that dance so freely, as I am bound to this form weighted by gravity. My shadow as an extension of myself, not something to fear or reject. When I get there I am amazed by the beauty of the dark.