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Posts Tagged ‘mussels’

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High-tide line, Atlantic Ocean.

red light green light

the feeling of almost,/the door between worlds ajar, now,/as two lights dim and fade to black/shape shifting within square one/scary, illuminating, boundless/the taste of chocolate/warm possibilities/second, and third, and more, chances,/as many as I want/swirling in circles like the leaves/this night between two days/slowly slowly letting its cloak fall

*

I wrote the above almost five years ago, just before I was about to move out on my own for the second time in my life. It’s striking how often life requires this of us, whether it’s literally moving (across town, across the country, or across oceans) or figuratively moving (away from old thinking into new). The only thing we can safely predict while we’re on this big blue ball is that nothing stays the same.

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A box turtle, weighing his options on my street in 2010.

When I was moving out in 2010, I held in my mind a statement I’d seen recently (funny how you see and hear what you need when you need it, right?) that said the human default reaction to change tends to be fear, but why can’t it be excitement? Why can’t we choose to see change as an adventure? This perspective helped me a lot during that Matterhorn of a year. I kept reminding myself that being in square one meant being in the unique position of being a shape-shifter. We can do, go, be, feel anything in square one.

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Women chilling at the beach at sunset.

Here’s another one: I was crap at bio, but I remember this tidbit from one of my classes: it’s at the edges—where the water meets the sand, where the grass meets the wood, where one ecosystem abuts another—that the greatest diversity and activity are present.

Think of harbor cities, and how they tend to be filled with people, languages, and foods from everywhere. Think of the wet sand just at the high-tide line, where mussels, clams, and other bivalves lie atop the sand, with sand crabs and more below. Everything on the dry end is bumping up against everything that just came in. Think of inland, where backyards and mini-malls bump up against property lines, where the tidied and civilized meets the wild and unspoiled—those are the places you’ll find an abundance of wildlife.

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Beach plums, which the deer like as much as I do.

It’s at the edges, of sand and land, where children love to play and dream most. As soon as they’re old enough, beach kids are at the high tide line, running, digging, splashing. I saw some tween girls at the beach one evening not long ago, creeping around the jetty rocks which hold back the ocean. I asked what they were doing and they said, ‘Just looking around.’ ‘For a class or just for fun?’ ‘Just for fun.’* Grownups are at the water’s edge, too—fishing, harvesting mussels, walking, thinking. Much activity.

Go to a barbecue at a house that edges a little bit of tangled brush, and that’s where the kids are tramping around, their parents squalling across the yard to be careful of poison ivy. There are acres and acres of beautiful grass in my hometown’s ball field…and we kids ambled right across it to poke around in the narrow strip of wood at its edge. That was where the late-spring honeysuckle grew, perfect for a sweet hit on our tongues, and where we learned orange flowers taste sweeter than white. It’s where the fern-like plant, the one that closed up when you touched it, lived.** There was not a whole lot to discover in the flat, level grass.

It’s at the water’s edge and at the grass’s edge where I’m happiest, for the same reason the kids are. I never outgrew that. And bonus: it’s inevitably where the foraging is best. At the edges of sidewalks I find purslane. At the edges of my town I find wild crab apples, hibiscus, and mint. At the edges of park lands and fancy shopping plazas I find elderflowers. At the edges of the lake I find mulberry trees. At the Sandy Hook peninsula, jutting out into the Atlantic, I find prickly pear and beach plums. And every year, along the edge of some beach or some property line, I discover something new.

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The end of my road, overlooking the lagoon.

I live at the beach, at the very edge of a continent. With the exception of six years away at school—boarding and then college—I have never lived anywhere else, and I’d really rather not. College especially was an uncomfortable shock: I learned what ‘land-locked’ meant. Who would think a person could feel claustrophobic with miles and miles of open space around her? Who would imagine the sense of relaxation and reassurance that could come from being at a definite boundary? Last winter I spent many an evening on the jetty of my beach, wanting to stand as closely as I safely could to the ocean, just to feel that reassurance. It’s like the maps they have at the mall, the ones that show an X, a you-are-here, don’t-worry-you’re-good identifier. There is peace in that X.

We are all at the edge of a equinoctial change now, too. Here in the northern hemisphere, Fall is imminent. Halloween is derived from the Wiccan feast of Samhain, which marks the beginning of winter. It’s believed this time is a liminal one, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinner and can be traversed by spirits. Some cultures leave food, light candles, and more to appease the spirits and keep them from haunting homes.

Very similar are threshold myths: In ancient times it was believed doorways were another kind of edge, another liminal place. Like the two ecosystems butting up against each other, there is potential for significant, and in this case possibly dangerous, activity; anything can happen in this divider between worlds. Spirits, some potentially harmful, were believed to loiter in doorways. This is why grooms carry brides over thresholds—to prevent them from being snatched away.

Edges are powerful places.

This Fall (and whenever we’re up against an edge), I hope we own the chance to be shape-shifters, and are able to chase away fear and own that power.

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*So much for attesting that kids can’t look up from their phones, huh? 🙂

**We never learned its name, but thinking back, it must have been carnivorous. How cool is that?

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In every story worth telling there comes a point when the narrative plateaus, and in order to advance the story to a new place a Something needs to happen. Sometimes the Something shows up as a whisper, sometimes as a Steinway to the head. Either way, it’s guaranteed to move things along; and with any luck, bring the story to a right and happy conclusion.

Narrative #1.

Last summer Matt, an awesome pastry chef I’ve worked with, told me he picks wild raspberries in a park nearby. And he was kind of nonchalant about it, like it wasn’t a big deal. I said something along the lines of ‘cool,’ and didn’t exactly rush out there. I figured he cleaned out the couple of raspberry canes he found, and either way, how would I find them in a 787-acre park? I didn’t know how he found them. At their thorny wrath, maybe.

Yesterday while parking my car I noticed the wineberry canes (a cousin to raspberries) I found last summer, and was reminded of the conversation I’d had with Matt about raspberries. I drove out to the park, thinking if I found them, I found them.

You might say I found them. 787 acres though there may be, 785 of them were prickly with raspberry canes. I’m serious—pretty much everything that wasn’t trees or skunk cabbage was a raspberry cane. I’ve never seen anything like it. Along the road. Deep into the woods along a scrabbly trail*. Even organized over a trellis. That’s why Matt was so casual about it. All of Monmouth County could pick them and have enough to sprinkle on their Frosted Mini-Wheats for a week. But this is one of those times when I’m glad John Q. Public tends toward the clueless, because I have big plans for when the fruit shows up this summer.

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See you in July.

As a bonus, I also came across four very old apple trees in blossom. Can’t wait to see what kind they are. I’ll be back for those in October.

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With four baskets.

Next narrative, and again it starts in the summer—many summers ago, actually.

I grew up at the beach, and the lagoon at the northernmost end of our beach was my favorite spot. It was sort of like a sunken living room, encircled with enormous rocks and containing powder-fine grey sand. My sister and I and our friends would play and hang out and dig for sand crabs there. People harvested mussels there, too, piling them up in pickle buckets to take home. It was a soothing and generous sanctuary.

Last summer it was announced that the lagoon would be filled in with sand as part of a massive beach replenishment project. Its intent was to hold back the ocean a few hundred feet and reduce the stress of the people who owned oceanfront property.

I cried the way I would for a death, because it was, as well as a 40-million-dollar waste. It’s sand, people. It moves. Filling in the lagoon destroyed ecosystems and ruined surfing along this part of the shore, and for what? It’s all going to wash back out to sea anyway.

Which is why I stopped crying, but it doesn’t mean I’m ready to go see the what the bulldozers have wrought. They filled in the lagoon a week ago, and since then I’ve taken my walks in the opposite direction, to the lake. Our public works guys cut back a lot of the overgrowth along the banks and I was hoping they didn’t take out the wild mint. They did, but no worries—it did what mint does: grow. Here it is, all new and tender and dark green.

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And coming soon to a tabbouleh near you.

That cheered me up a lot, seeing it so healthy and happy. Nature always wins.

So there we have it, a wineberry whisper and a lagoon Steinway, two Somethings that advanced my story and brought me straight to raspberries and mint (and hey—apples, too!). I’m stoked.

And I’m posting a shot of the lagoon—not as it is now, but the way it was, and the way it will be again. I can wait. And I’m not worried.

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*I cannot resist a scrabbly trail. The kind four white-tailed deer know about and no one else. Once I almost got lost in a Polynesian jungle because of this weirdo idiosyncrasy of mine. And brother, if you think everything looked alike in the park I’m talking about above, go hiking in the heart of Mo’orea sometime. Everything—trees, plants, the trail itself—is the same otherworldly green. And the deeper you go into the jungle, the darker it gets.

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Much can be said for everyday pantry and fridge staples, the Monday night spaghetti and meatballs, the Thursday night chicken tacos. Who hasn’t sunk gratefully—heart, soul and tummy—into a warm bowl of alphabet soup? Like old Nat King Cole standards, these mealtime standards soothe, comfort, and never let you down.

Which is great.

But there comes a time, I hope, when you’re ready to shake the dust off, to get out of the comfy chair and try something new. And by new I mean something off center. Way off center is even better.

To wit, the llama burger above.

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to the NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ) Winter Conference at Princeton University as a representative from Edible Jersey magazine. There I met some truly fascinating folks, including Linda Walker and her son, Brent. At their farm, WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton, NJ, the pair raise llamas and alpacas for fiber and meat.

…Meat? That threw me. But when Brent grinned and his eyes lit up describing the flavor, I knew I wanted in. Two pounds of ground meat was snatched up on the spot, and the next night I was in my kitchen, a hefty patty sizzling in a hot skillet, an earthy, rich smell saturating my place. It was such a mild night that I opened my back door, sending the aroma wafting over Loch Arbour and tormenting the neighbors. (Sorry, folks. The website link’s at the bottom of the page here. Order away.)

As much of a treat as the smell was, the flavor and juiciness were astonishing. Imagine the best hamburger you’ve ever had. Got it? Now imagine it made with filet mignon. That’s the best descriptor I can come up with. Since it’s fat that makes meat tender, and Brent told me it’s much leaner than beef, I can’t explain why it’s the tenderest burger I’ve ever had.  But some things are just fine left as a mystery, and this is one of them.

From Stockton to Scotland, now, for the next food adventure. A breathtakingly beautiful country, it doesn’t typically come to mind when one thinks of wonderful food. But you can eat very well in Scotland (and most anywhere on the planet, I believe) as long as you do two things, and never waver from them:

1) Eat what the locals eat. You wouldn’t order pasta bolognese in Mexico, would you? Ask a country to do what it doesn’t do, and you’re asking for disappointment.

2) Be curious. Words to live by, but especially when you have the opportunity to try something new. Go ahead and have a bias or two (I will never eat a worm, delicacy though it may be on some remote rock in the Pacific) but try to keep that mind opened.

In Scotland, I ate what Scotland does best: heaps of pub food and seafood. Not surprisingly, they were consistently stellar. I’ve never much liked shellfish, but I wanted to learn to appreciate it; the country, a peninsula, knows it intimately. Tiny mussels harvested from the waters surrounding one of the nearby islands burst with briny flavor, and now I love mussels. Salmon has always been a favorite, but the poached local salmon I had in Scotland was unlike anything I have had before or since, so whisper-soft that it almost dissolved on my tongue. It was like eating an entirely new food.

One misty day, on the road to St. Andrew’s, I stopped in Anstruther (pronounced Enster) to try fish and chips, something I’d never had before. (Heck, no, I don’t count Arthur Treacher’s.) I’d read that the locals are the best source to go to when looking for the best food, and almost as if I had dreamed him up, a stout policeman with friendly blue eyes and chubby cheeks appeared as I rounded a corner.

He blushed and smiled, jotting down the name of a tiny shop at the water’s edge. All at once he became very serious, and leaned in conspiratorially. “Don’t go to the place next door, the one with all of the signs saying it’s the best. Be sure to go to the place next to it.” The woman behind the counter handed me an order of cod, along with chips and malt vinegar. I found a bench next to the boats and tucked in. The enormous filets were delicately breaded and fried with no frills at all, and they didn’t need it. It’s full-circle beauty, sitting by the sea while tasting something from the sea.

Back to the country’s interior—Dunblane, for dinner.

Haggis (come on, you knew I was going to bring it up), a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with oatmeal, onions and spices and cooked, is loathed and feared by many outside the UK. Many, I should clarify, who might never have tried it. It’s among the humblest of peasant foods, fitting in with pasta e fagioli or the aforementioned tacos. Because of my love of peasant food, and because haggis is so well-loved in its homeland, it deserved a try.

Although the pub I visited didn’t serve it the traditional way, stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and served with turnips, it was still wonderful—almost overwhelmingly rich, but full of heady, pungent flavor. Here I am, holding a nugget of haggis the size of a tater tot, fried and dipped into garlic cream sauce.

I’ve cooked for people who have looked warily down at their dishes and I say, “Try it. Try it and hate it, for all I care, but try it.” If you in fact hate it, you’re no worse off than you were before. If you love it, your world gets bigger.

http://www.alpacasllamaswoodsedge.com/

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