Best Moments of 2015

I did this last year, and had such a good time doing it, I thought I’d do it again. So voila: the best moment of 2015 (in no particular order). With apologies for everything I forgot. It was an eventful year!

  1. The moment I booked my flight to Nicaragua. (That was a Monday. I left three days later.)
  2. The many moments I spent speaking Spanish to my masseuse/nail tech in Nicaragua–a mere two days after I started learning the language.
  3. Every moment I spent speaking Spanish in Spain–on my first Camino I promised myself the next time I walk the Camino, I’m going to know Spanish so I can talk to the locals. Mission accomplished.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

    I waved, he stopped the tractor, got out, and (from what I could gather with my limited Spanish) invited me to come back later for a glass of wine. I declined.

  4. Every moment I conversed in French on the Camino. Especially the night I stayed in San Anton–when everyone else staying there could speak English except one man. He only spoke French. I conversed with him the whole afternoon, and translated the dinner conversation for him that night. Which brings me to:
  5. The moment someone at the dinner table in San Anton thanked me for playing translator, and asked me to, “tell him I’ve seen him many times on the Camino and am happy to finally know some things about him.”

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn't just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi--"The King") left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

    Thanks to my French teachers (Ms. Calenti and Mrs. Gold) I didn’t just watch this guy go by. I got his story. He and his donkey (Le Roi–“The King”) left their home in France on June 29. They got to Santiago and then TURNED AROUND and were headed home when Lois and I met them on Sept 6, 2015.

  6. Every moment a fellow Camino pilgrim shared their story with me.
  7. The moment I saw Lois’ face when we got to Muxia–having walked over 500 miles together over the previous 47 days.

     Age: 73 Miles: 500+

    Age: 73. Miles: 500+.

  8. The moment I saw Michael again, after having been separated from him for three months (due to aforementioned Camino.)

    Together again:)

    Together again:)

  9. Every moment Lois’ daughter, other family, and friends thanked me for accompanying her on her Camino.
  10. Every moment Lois thanked me for accompanying her on the Camino. Sometimes she thanked me with words, sometimes by paying for things, sometimes simply with a smile.
  11. Every moment Lois and I strolled into a town and found our new friends Lisa and Michael seated at a table, drinks in one hand, cigarettes in the other, and big welcomes for us.

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

    Michael was also great at making sandwiches:)

  12. Every moment spent on a ride in Disneyland with Michael. I can’t remember the last time I went on roller coasters. I’ll need more of that in 2016.
  13. The moment I finished the last stitch on the mermaid blankets for my nieces–three days before Christmas. I’ve never finished that early. IMG_4097
  14. The moment my nieces opened their aforementioned Christmas gifts. IMG_4096
  15. Every moment spent watching Michael play his trumpet at open mic nights at Witherbee’s in Schroon Lake.
  16. Every moment I learned one of my students did well on a test or final exam.
  17. The moments Michael spent telling me about the houses he was scoping out for us in Asheville (while I was in Spain).
  18. The moments Lois and I spent laughing over the videos Michael sent of the aforementioned places. (The places weren’t funny–but Michael’s commentary was.)
  19. Every moment I saw someone comment on a Camino picture I posted on Facebook.
  20. The moment I read Lois’ e-mail that said she was taking me up on my offer to accompany her on a Camino. And that, as a thank you, she’d gift me $1000. And not only that– that she preferred sheets and towels to sleeping bags and microtowels, so anytime we could get a private room (as opposed to a hostel), she’d pay for it.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino--VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

    I rarely saw a bunk bed on this Camino–VERY different from my first, when I slept on a top bunk almost every night.

  21. Every moment Lois pulled out her credit card to pay for aforementioned rooms. It was like she was saying, “Thank you,” all over again, and a great reminder to me to accept the generosity of others.
  22. Every moment Lois and I opened the door to our private room, unsure if this one would be worse or better than the last.
  23. The moments Lois and I spent laughing about our bright orange room with a double bed pushed into one side and barely enough room to walk or put our packs down. “It will make us appreciate the good rooms that much more,” said Lois. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that room!)
  24. Every moment on the Camino when I fretted over something not going well and Lois said, “This is what makes it a good story.”
  25. Every moment I slid my tiny daypack onto my shoulders. Everyone should walk the Camino at least one day without their pack. Just for the joy.IMG_0962
  26. The moment a woman walked up to me on the Camino and said, “You’re Rebecca!” How’d she know? She read all my blogs about my first Camino, and knew I was doing it again. Why was she there? In part because of me. Apparently she e-mailed me a couple years ago and asked how to know when she’d be ready to walk the Camino. I told her to just book the darn ticket. And there she was:)

    Because who wouldn't want to walk across the Pyrenees?

    Because who wouldn’t want to walk across the Pyrenees?

  27. The moment not one, but two other women told me they’d also read my blog posts in preparation for their Camino.
  28. The moment Lois and I touched down in Ireland and said to each other, “Oh thank God! We’re back in a country where everyone speaks English!”
  29. The moment I got my first taste of real Irish butter. OMG. Butter will never be the same. I will never be the same.
  30. Every moment I bit into yet another delicious piece of Spanish bread. What I wouldn’t give for an American bakery that could produce bread like the Europeans.
  31. The moment I walked into the home Michael found for us–it was perfect. And I didn’t have to do a stitch of searching, calling, setting up appointments, or walk-throughs.
  32. The moment the neighbor girl opened her door, saw my bloodied palms, and took me in. (I had scraped the skin off both palms trying to keep Meg’s dog from chasing some wildlife. Note to self: when a dog starts running, let go of the leash.)
  33. The moment my sister Liz answered my call and said yes, she would stop what she was doing to take me to the doctor. (I couldn’t drive because of aforementioned missing skin.)

    He's cute--but strong enough to pull me over.

    He’s cute–but strong enough to pull me over.

  34. Every moment I stopped in to Mary Jane’s and saw my youngest sister Meg there–in her element: A busy but proud new business owner.
  35. Every moment spent eating the delicious veggie burgers at Mary Jane’s. (Their first ingredient is mushrooms. Need I say more?)
  36. Every moment spent making brownies for Meg’s new business.
  37. Every moment spent helping Meg move (out of her condo, temporarily into my parent’s house, then into her new home.)
  38. Every moment the former owners of Mary Jane’s  said how impressed they were with how everyone in the family showed up to help Meg. Yeah. We Gallo’s are good like that.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of whom live within 15 miles of each other.

    These are my first cousins. And some of their kids. And some of my aunts and uncles. And my siblings and nieces. 95% of these people live within 15 miles of each other. If you’re in Dutchess County and need a Gallo, there’s probably one in shouting distance.

  39. The moment I learned I was accepted to a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop.
  40. Every moment spent on our writing retreat in Franklin. Writing. Drinking good wine and eating good food with wonderful friends. All while being completely snowed in.
  41. The moment the guy showed up to drive me up the mountain to the writing retreat (which was preceded by moments spent crying wondering how I would climb up the snow-covered mile-long driveway with all my stuff, as it was clear my VW Bug wasn’t going to get me up there.).
  42. Every moment my parents helped to make our new house into a home. (Dear Mom and Dad: Sorry I was so stressed out and snarky during all that. Note to self: No more than two big box stores in one day. Note to self: Remember to down a glass of wine before getting in a car driven by Dad.)
  43. The look on Dad’s face the moment Michael sent him off to pick up a craigslist kitchen island saying, “Oh–the woman has a retired police dog. And he’s not friendly. So don’t get out of the car until you call her, so she can bring him in.”
  44. The moment I met two Irishmen on the road outside the ruins at San Anton. When they told me their 85-year-old father was behind them with another brother we all waited for them. When they arrived, I asked the father to stop in for a glass of water. He hesitated until I added, “with a pretty young woman.” It worked.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

    This inspirational 85-year-old man walks 100 km (60 miles) on the Camino each year. Was happy he chose to spend some moments with Lois and I at San Anton.

  45. Every time I booked a flight with frequent flyer miles –most of which I earned while on the ground. (My flights to Nicaragua, to my writing retreat, to California–twice, and flights for Mom, Dad, and Meg to Miami.)
  46. Every moment I told Lois something about the Camino and she said, “Now how would I know that if you weren’t here? It’s a good think you’re with me!”
  47. The moment I heard my brother and sister-in-law were headed to Paris to celebrate their first anniversary. And the moment, after booking their first AirBnB place, Jeffrey said to me, “I thought it would be a lot more expensive to spend a week in Paris.” I wanted to scream, “Duh!?! What have I been saying for years??!” but instead I said, “Yep.” And was thrilled when they said, “Maybe we should spend every anniversary in Europe.”

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, "Louvre and Love." Aren't they so darn cute?

    Bethany and Jeff. She titled this one, “Louvre and Love.” Aren’t they so darn cute?

  48. Every moment Michael made me laugh.
  49. The moment my sister Jess got offered a new job. (Not that she didn’t like the old one. But change is good. I should know.)
  50. The moment I told Dad I was going to walk the Camino again, and he said, “Why?” and I didn’t take any offense. (When I said, “Lois is paying for our rooms and giving me $1000,” he was a bit more understanding.)
  51. The moment I ran the idea by Michael of me leaving him for a couple months (again) to go walk the Camino with Lois and he didn’t hesitate–told me to go for it.
  52. The moment, a few days later, when I felt bad for leaving Michael (again) and e-mailed him as much, and he wrote back, “…but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”
  53. The moment Lois and I walked into Viana, Spain to find the Camino route completed closed off by fences, and the people sitting on top of those fences told us, “You’ll be able to get through in a few minutes–after the running of the bulls.” 12003239_10205262244818506_2797637238139038418_n
  54. The moment the hotel owner told us (in Spanish!) that we were the only guests that night because it was festival time, and they were too busy in the restaurant below to take any more guests. (“We are SO not in the U.S.” Lois and I said to each other.) “And the bulls run again tonight at 7,” he told us. Right past our hotel.

    This is as close as I got:)

    This is as close as I got:)

  55. Every moment I stopped to take a picture–knowing that, as far as Lois was concerned, I could take as much time as I wanted. Because a) it would give her time to catch up to me and/or b) it would give her time to take her own pictures. 11216845_10205193558501391_5678843200262570507_n
  56. Every moment I was able to secure another document I need for my Italian citizenship application.

I could go on. But it’s midnight. And I’ve been working on this post for quite a while. Special thanks to Lois Bertram, Michael Weston, and Jessica Gallo for some of these photos. And FYI: as much as I loved the traveling of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to nesting in 2016:)

And one more thing: writing this post reminds me, once again, how lucky I am to have such great friends, such a great family, such a great boyfriend, and such a great life. My only hope is that everyone else is blessed in this way in 2016.

Chopped: Rebecca Style

With five weeks left before our departure, I have become just a wee bit obsessed with using up things. Why? Because I don’t want to pack them away for three months and have to deal with them upon my return. Travel-size bottles of lotions swiped from hotels sit upside down on my bathroom shelf. The goal: have none of them left before I go. As I brush my teeth each morning and evening, I silently curse the friend who left a full size tube of toothpaste at my house. I pride myself on being able to live off a travel size one for months at a time. (As I said earlier, just a wee bit obsessed. And perhaps a wee bit crazy.)

But it’s figuring out how to use up the food that brings me the most challenge–and the most fun.

I feel like I’m in my own episode of Chopped–the TV show where three people open up mystery baskets to reveal a seemingly unrelated group of food items they must use to prepare an appetizer, entree, or dessert. One of the best parts of the show is the look contestants give when they see some of the ingredients.

That same look crossed my face when I was handed corn grits as part of my winter CSA share. Having not grown up in the South, I had not the slightest idea what to do with them. I had tried grits a few times in my travels, and found only when combined with goat cheese did I like them. (And that’s not saying much. You can combine anything with goat cheese and I’ll like it.) So this past weekend’s mission was to find something to do with them. With no goat cheese on hand, I thought, How about polenta?

The only time I’ve ever seen polenta made, let alone eaten it, was at a retreat center in Rhode Island where I served as sous-chef under an Italian woman. I remember being quite impressed at how good polenta was, but apparently not impressed enough to try it since then.

I wasn’t even sure corn grits were what one used to make polenta. After entirely too much time on the internet, I learned there is great debate on the merits of using corn grits versus corn meal. Not much debate for me though: all I had were the grits, so I decided to give it a shot.

Making polenta is a bit like making risotto: once you pour the grits into the water, you have to keep stirring. And stirring. For a half-hour my recipe said. “Until you can swipe a spatula through it, and the polenta doesn’t fill back in.” Which actually took fifty minutes.

I pulled the pile of mush off the burner, my arms exhausted. It didn’t look very appetizing, but I wasn’t going to eat it like that anyway. The Italian woman had baked it and then doled out slices of it. So I poured my grainy cake-batter-like substance into a loaf pan, covered it with some Parmesan, and tossed it in the oven.

The recipe warned that it was best to eat it right after it came out of the oven, and not to even think about eating it the next day unless you were going to fry it up in some oil, in which case they said it made one of the best breakfasts you’ll ever have.

So after it finished baking, I cut myself a slice. I wasn’t impressed. I should have known better. If that Italian woman was anything like my own Italian grandmother, she threw in some other things when I wasn’t looking. Darn. I hoped frying a slice in oil the next morning would improve things.

But it didn’t.

So what did I do? What all Italians do with food they don’t necessarily want to eat as is, but don’t want to waste: I dipped a slice in egg, then breadcrumbs, and then fried it up.

Ah, now I was getting somewhere. But I forgot to flavor the breadcrumbs, so there was room for improvement. (Yes, I know one can purchase already-flavored breadcrumbs. And I do. But Grandma Gallo taught me they’re never flavored enough, so we add to it.)

The next day, I cut another slice off the loaf. I added basil, parsley, fresh ground pepper, and a little garlic to the breadcrumbs, and voila. Divinity. A wee bit of polenta covered in fried deliciousness. And Rebecca remains the Chopped champion of her own kitchen.

Grandma’s Cafeteria

(Note: This story holds a special place in my heart — not just for its subject, but also because it was one of the first stories I wrote during my first-ever writing class in 2008. I came across it the other day, and felt it had to be shared.)

“This is not a cafeteria.” That was my mother’s curt reply to any complaints about what was for dinner that night.

In many households, if you didn’t like what was for dinner, you didn’t eat.  We weren’t so lucky. 

If we didn’t like what was for dinner, we had to take what Mom called a “no-thank-you-please helping.”  Don’t like brussel sprouts?  You would ask for a “no-thank-you-please helping” and she would plop two brussel sprouts on your plate.  Didn’t like peas?  Your “no-thank-you-please helping” consisted of five of them.  As the lazy susan spun around, the helpings were doled out, and we looked at each others plates to make sure that our “no-thank-you-please helping” contained the same number of brussel sprouts that our sibling’s did.

At Grandma’s house, however, it was a completely different story.  Lucky for us, Grandma’s house was actually an apartment over the garage which could be easily accessed through a magical door on the first floor of our house next to my parents’ office.  The door to Grandma’s place was never locked.

Grandma and Mom must have had some sort of agreement that Grandma wouldn’t mess with the meals when Mom was in town.  But on those glorious weekends when Mom and Dad would escape the havoc of our home, Grandma was in charge.  And the cafeteria was open for business.

Prior to my parents’ departure, Grandma would ask all five of us what we wanted to eat while Mom and Dad were away.  She was a very smart woman and would only ask us when we weren’t in our parents’ presence.  She would then make sure to have all of those ingredients on hand.

And then, the day came.  Mom and Dad said their goodbyes.  And I don’t know who was happier –- Mom and Dad thrilled to be without kids for two whole days or us kids who knew that for the next two days we would have the privilege of eating only what we wanted.

A popular request was BLT’s for breakfast.  To many, a BLT consists of bacon, lettuce, and tomato between two pieces of bread with mayo.  But for the five Gallo children, BLT’s were a bit more complicated.  Each of us had our own preference when it came to BLT’s.  I didn’t like mayo.  Liz had hers without tomatoes.  Jeffrey didn’t care much for fruits and vegetables at all, so he just had a bacon sandwich.  Grandma knew how each of us liked them, and diligently prepared them for us.

Most dinners with Grandma were accompanied by salad.  Of course, this wasn’t your typical lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes tossed in a bowl.  We actually had our own little buffet when it came to salad.  Grandma would, with great precision, cut the tomatoes in perfect matching sized chunks.  Every cucumber slice would be the same thickness.  And each item was then placed in its own bowl so we could make our salads only with the foods we liked.  Liz avoided the tomatoes.  I piled on the onions.  Jeffrey ate his without dressing.

And, of course, there was candy.  Grandma, without ever saying so, demanded respect.  Though she would never turn down our requests for candy, we knew we could never just go into her cabinet to the left of the sink and take it.  We always asked first.  My favorite were Circle Things.  They were small, round circles of sugar in pastel colors, wrapped in striped cellophane.  Years later, when I learned to read, I was astounded to see that, on the package, they were called “Smarties” and not Circle Things.

Eventually, Mom and Dad would return.  And though we were happy to see them again, we eagerly anticipated their next trip when, once again, the cafeteria would be open.

Adventures in Cooking: The Black Bean

I became a vegetarian just over a year ago and one unexpected benefit is a renewed interest in trying new recipes. A month ago I bought dried black beans. I had no idea what the difference was between the canned version I usually bought versus soaking and cooking them myself, but I thought it time to give it a try. 


A few days ago I did an internet search to find out what the process was.  As usual, there were hundreds of people who wanted to tell me how go from dried bean to deliciousness. Step 1: Sort the beans. The instructions acted like I knew what this meant.  Sort them into what? Piles of ten? I closed out of that page and opened someone else’s instructions. “Remove any stones, twigs, malformed or discolored beans.” Stones? Twigs? How on earth does one harvest beans such that there are stones and twigs among them? I had no idea, but I knew if I used Google to find that answer I would never get to the task at hand. Back to the beans it was.

I dumped a half-cup of beans into a bowl and sifted through them. I pulled out maybe fifteen things I thought shouldn’t be in there. If I had poured my beans onto a tray I could have pushed to one side all the good ones, but I wasn’t interested in going to all that trouble.  Besides, I wasn’t going to serve them to anyone else, so if a stone slipped in it was only my tooth that would be damaged.

Next I added an equal amount of water.  It didn’t seem like enough. But I followed the instructions. “Let them soak for six hours.” Six hours?! It was six p.m. So much for having black beans and rice for dinner. “Overnight is fine.” Well, overnight it was going to be then, as I was not about to get up a midnight to care for my beans.  I like to cook, but I like a good night’s sleep just as much, if not more.

I pushed the bowl of beans aside and opened my fridge to see what else I could have for dinner.

After dinner, I peeked into the bowl. Those beans were taking up more space and had soaked up most of the water. I made an executive decision to add more water.

The next day they were looking pretty good. If overnight was fine, I figured 24-hours wouldn’t hurt. I could eat them that night. But I forgot about them until the next morning when I padded into the kitchen and smelled something funny. It took me a minute to remember my beans. Thirty-six hours was a little too much for them apparently.

Round 2

This time I only did 1/4 cup of beans.  No need to waste anymore of them if this didn’t turn out well.

Who screws up soaking black beans? Me. Ha. Who knew how difficult  I could make throwing beans and water into a bowl.

I pulled up a third set of instructions. I zoomed past sorting. After telling me to add water, this one mentioned that “in hot-weather kitchens, it is best to put the beans in the refrigerator to prevent fermentation.” Ah. I knew what fermentation was. It’s a stinky process that can happen when a woman leaves a bowl of black beans and water sitting on the counter in an un-air-conditioned cabin.

This time I started the process at 9 a.m. on a  cool and cloudy Saturday. I could soak these guys and have them for dinner tonight.

By afternoon the clouds cleared and I was off to meet friends at the pool. Upon my return, I read my next steps. Note to self: read instructions fully before embarking on cooking adventures. I know this, but really how much could there be to soaking some beans? Well, there could be an additional 45 minutes of simmering. Really? I was hungry. So I put the beans on to simmer, and made myself a frittata for dinner.

Finally, after I was sufficiently satiated and the dinner dishes were done, I deemed my beans done as well.  I drained the water, poured them into a Pyrex, and put them in the fridge. Tonight, my friend Courtney and I will eat them mixed with quinoa, salsa, and cilantro. I hope she doesn’t break a tooth.

Learning New Things

They literally stopped me on my morning walk – the yellow daffodil blooms vibrant against a deep green hillside.  I pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket to take a picture.  I’ve wanted to take a photography class but haven’t made it a priority yet.  In the meantime, I’ve been playing with the settings on my phone.  Changing the “Exposure Level,” I’ve learned, changes the amount of light – though I don’t know what setting this would be on my actual camera.  Today, I learned I have both black-and-white and sepia options.  Playing around, I got some shots I’m actually quite proud of!

I came home and decided to tackle the leftover roasted chicken in the fridge.  The book I just finished (Kitchen Counter Cooking School) inspired me to make my own chicken stock for the first time in my life.  It’s very simple, and a whole lot cheaper than buying chicken broth (much less sodium, too!).  I yanked the leg to separate it from the rest of the chicken and stopped cold – look at that knee joint!  Glistening cartilage at the end of the femur, the ACL I just tore staring me right in the face.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being fascinated by anatomy.  Anyway, my stock now cools on the front porch and smells delicious.

Kohlrabi and More Praise for the Farmer’s Market

“What’s that?” asked my Little Sister.  We were standing under a tent at my local farmer’s market, surrounded on three sides  by fresh produce.  “I have no idea,” I said as we stood in line waiting to make our purchases.  “But he’s got a price list – let’s see what’s on there that we’ve never heard of.”  And that’s how we figured out the strange looking thing in front of us was kohlrabi.

It took some time to reach the front of the line, but I didn’t mind because there was so much to take in just standing there.  The guy in front of me was buying fresh corn meal.  This was the second time in a month that I have met someone who grinds local corn into cornmeal.  The farmer was explaining what it could be used for and how to store it.  And I knew when my turn came the farmer would patiently answer all my questions, too.  I got to the front of the line and asked “What’s that?” as I pointed to what I suspected was Kohlrabi.  “That’s a thing called Kohlrabi,” he said.  We were right!

The next question I asked is the reason I love Farmer’s Markets: What do you do with it?  He explained how to bake it, or that I could roast it, or eat it raw, or put it in salads.  I asked what it tasted like, how long it would take to cook, and then said, “I’ll take one.”  It was only fifty-five cents.  For that much, it was worth the adventure of trying something new.

I moved on to the guy who sells pork and beef.  My Little Sister is a vegetarian – or at the stage where she’s trying on the idea.  I raved about this guy’s stuff anyway, and when the farmer offered us a taste test of some grilled pork she took some, too.  He apologized for not calling me in the spring for tutoring for his son.  He explained that his other daughter had been able to help instead.  “No problem,” I said.  “I’m just glad he got the help he needed.”  I then explained to my Little Sister that I had bought meat from this guy over the winter.  I went to his house to pick it up as he doesn’t sell at winter farm markets.  And during that conversation he found out I tutored math and took my number.

“Now these are wonderful,” he said as he pulled some frozen ham hocks out.  “For soups, you mean?” I asked.  “Well, you could use them for that, but I just put them in a crock pot, cover them with water, and they just melt off the bone when they’re done.”  I’d never bought let alone cooked with ham hocks before.  I was in.  “All right – I’ll take them.  And some of your sweet sausage.”  I explained to my little sister, “This is the best sausage ever,” recalling the first time I ever bought meat from him was the day he was offerings tastes of his sausage.

I ran into one of my former high school teachers there, and his wife who is in my crochet group.  I introduced my Little Sister and after a chat with them she said, “You know everyone here!”  I laughed as we made our way to the bakery tent where I introduced her to the delights of Hello Dolly bars.

And then I realized her comment was just another reason I love farmers markets.  Yes, you may run into someone you know at the grocery store.  But how often do you meet the people who grow your food?  Probably never, because most of them live in California or Florida or Kansas.  I first started coming to Farmer’s Markets in an effort to buy local and reduce my environmental impact.  Then the additional perks just kept piling up: the food tastes better, there is much more variety, I can look at something and, instead of wondering what it is, I can simply ask and then learn how to make it.  I don’t have to wait on long lines being tempted by candy bars on either side of me.  I may wait on a line, but everyone on it wants shares similar values to me and wants to chat.  A lot of them even have cute dogs with them.  And I get to build relationships with local people.  People who are doing something they love and want to share it with others.  How can you beat that?

Talking to Strangers: On Trains

As I walked down the aisle trying to decide which seat to take on the train, I walked by two young guys speaking a foreign language.  I took the seat behind them, convinced they had a good story.  Though I’m convinced everyone has a good story…

I could not tell what language they were speaking but soon one of them pulled out a video camera and pointed it himself saying, “This is day two of our trip….” in perfect English – no hint of an accent.  Day two of a trip?  Oh how jealous I was!   Where were they going?  What was the occasion?  Where were they from?  I tried to read the book I had brought with me, but couldn’t concentrate as I was trying to catch anything from them that might answer my questions.

After a couple of stops, I scooted from my window seat, across the empty middle seat, sat in the aisle seat and peeked my head in between them.  “Excuse me,” I said, “but where are you two from?”  They looked startled for a minute, but then said the Netherlands.  I then asked what brought them here and about their trip.  One had just finished a year in the states, the other just a few months.  They decided to take this trip last year in math class when one proposed a trip around the US and the other said, “Sure!”  Why didn’t I have friends like this in high school?

They were going to the city, then to Niagara Falls, then out to Boston.  I said I lived in Boston for six years and they asked where they should go besides the Freedom Trail.  I gave them some advice, then got the sense they thought it a little odd that I was so excited about their trip, so I told them to have a good time as I scooted back to my seat.

A couple stops later a guy sat down in the aisle seat at the end of my row.  I got the smile and hello that invited conversation and dove in.  This guy has been working in the city for six years at an advertising company.  I found this odd as he was in jeans and sweatshirt, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about work, so we went on to other topics.  He made a comment about the guys in front of us and I proceeded to tell him their story.  At the part where I said I lived in Boston for six years he said he did too.  I said something about the Farmers Market and it turns out he’s a vegetarian and has been for 25 years.  We talked about cooking and got into fish – something I don’t know much about cooking but would like to learn.  He told me a couple places I could get fish, told me the best ones to start out preparing, and when asked gave me a couple ways to prepare them.  “You cover the chunks in a little milk, then you put together some corn meal, flour, salt and pepper.  Put them in that, then bake them.  That’s what they call ‘oven-fried.'”  Oven-fried?  I’d heard of that, I said, but had no idea what it was.  Hmph.  Who knew.

I got off the train to meet a friend for lunch.  We decided to head to one of the historic sites that had a cafe as well.  We got our admission ticket and headed for a tour of the manor house.  Then we were encouraged to tour the mill house.  Guess what they were milling?  Corn.  Guess what they were selling?  Corn meal.  Guess who bought some?  🙂   Not sure I’ll make some oven-fried fish, but some corn meal biscuits do sound good.

Watermelon Radishes

“Just sign in over there and I’ll start putting your share together,” said the young woman behind the table.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at the local college picking up my winter farm share.  Yes, it’s winter.  No, not much grows around here in winter.  But the local farms got together and saved some of their earlier harvests – either by freezing or putting in root cellars – and then sold “shares” to the public.  So once a month from Dec – March, I go pick up my goodies.

As I filled up my green reusable shopping bag, she said,”And be sure to check out what our other vendors are selling – especially the watermelon radishes.”

“Watermelon radishes?” I asked.  “What are those?”

“Oh – they’re delicious!  You can go try them at the table over there.”  I looked over to see a heavily bearded man in flannel standing behind a table.  Lined up on the table in front of him were open plastic containers, the contents of which I couldn’t see from where I was standing.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll take a look.”

The guy looked like he belonged in Vermont, not one hundred miles north of New York City.  “Hello,” I said cheerfully.  He nodded in reply, looking a little shy.  I recognized the name of his farm as the one where this months carrots came from.  “Oh – so you’re the one who grew the carrots I just got,” I said, trying to make conversation.  “No,” he said.  “I didn’t grow them.  They just stored them in my root cellar.”  “Oh,” I said.  “Is this your root cellar here?”   I pointed to an open magazine facing me on the table.  The picture showed what looked like a basement with a dirt floor and raised sandboxes all over the room.  “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m the only one locally with a commercial root cellar.  We store the carrots in the sand you see there.”  Now I was talking his language.  He proceeded to tell me about the other vegetables he stored in the root cellar.

“And what are these?” I asked, pointing to white orbs the size of beets sitting in a square plastic container on the table.  “Watermelon radishes,” he replied.  “You can try a slice if you’d like.”  My childhood fear of foreign foods reared its ugly head.  Stalling, I asked, “Why do they call them watermelon radishes?” hoping he’d say they tasted like watermelons.  “Because they’re red on the inside and have a whitish/green rind on the outside.”

Remembering I’m now an adult who should try new things, I took a slice and popped it in my mouth.  Wow.  “They’ve got a little kick!” I said.  He shrugged.  “They’re a little peppery people say,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?” I asked.  “I just grate them and eat them like a salad.”  “Do you peel them first?”  “No – just wash ’em and shred ’em.”  I noticed his lunch of wild grains and figured he wasn’t one to doctor with his food too much.  “Ok.  I’ll take some.”

It was only as I was driving home that I realized I didn’t own a grater.  Having moved ten times in ten years, it had gotten lost along the way.  I knew not to fear.  While at mom and dad’s house in the coming week, I mentioned my lack of this kitchen utensil that, in the past year, I’d never needed.  “Oh – I’m sure I’ve got an extra one,” my mother said. I was sure she did.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’d found success in checking with mom and dad before running out to a store.

At home with my new acquisition – a plastic green tupperware shredder circa 1975 – I googled “watermelon radishes.”  It was just like he said – people pretty much just shred them up.  But I did find a dijon vinaigrette recipe for a dressing.  I had all the ingredients, and so put it together and poured some over my shredded radishes.  It was delicious!

And then tonight, while looking around on the web for other local markets in my area, I happened upon a farm with a cafe that serves breads made with their own flour – they grow and mill the grains themselves!  In fact, every ingredient in every dish they serve is local.  I read an article about the place and it’s owner.  His favorite dish?  Shredded watermelon radishes with salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar.  And I can say, from personal experience, he’s right.  It’s delicious:)

How an interest grows…

I can’t recall when I first became interested in trying to reduce my environmental impact.  I was a child of the 80’s which is when I first recall learning the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  Only recently did I read something where the author mentioned we focus a lot on the “recycle” part, but not so much on the reduction and reusing parts.  How true!

As a Renaissance Soul (as described in Margaret Lobenstine’s book of the same title – see earlier posts), I’ve mentioned before how I find things nearly every day that interest me that I want to pursue – some soon, some later, some just percolate until the time is right.  This environmental consciousness is one of those that has grown over time.

On Sunday, I spent my entire morning in bed reading (an absolutely glorious way to spend a morning, in my opinion).  The book that kept my attention for five nearly continuous hours was “No Impact Man.”  Colin Beaven is a writer in NYC who attempts to live his life in such a way that he has no impact whatsoever on the environment.  He starts by going through his garbage to see what’s in there.  What does he find?  Lots of packaging – for food mostly.  So he stops buying things in packaging.  This means no take-out.  He discovers the Union Square Farmers Market, starts to carry his own glass mason jar for coffee.  I’m not doing the book justice – it’s fascinating.  He eventually shuts the circuit breaker on his apartment and goes without electricity.  Did I mention he has a wife and a toddler doing this project with him as well? (Which brings a lot of humor to the story).

I’ve done little things for a while, but am inspired to do a lot more.  I reuse plastic shopping bags as my garbage bags.  Then, I bought a reusable bag (or inherited a couple) and now my goal is not to get any plastic bags at all.  I have yet to go through the supply I have on hand, but that’s my goal – use what I have, and collect no more.  Do you know when I go to the corner store just to buy milk, they ask me if I want it in a bag?  Seriously?  To carry one half-gallon container of milk?

My bigger transition is to local food.  I haven’t gone full force yet, but I read that we could save a lot of energy if we all had just one meal a week from locally grown food.  So I’m starting there.  This would be easier if I had a garden and knew anything at all about canning, but in due time I’m sure I’ll do both.  (In fact, looking over my mothers’ shoulder the other day while she was flipping through the orange Betty Crocker cookbook, she found an entire section on canning…)

For now, from March to October I shop at the local farmers market (with my reusable bags).  I’m also a fan of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture).  That’s where you pay money up front to a farm, and each week you go there and pick up from them a share of whatever’s in season.  Forget super market organic – this is the real deal.  Most farms are not “certified” organic as the process is too long and expensive to become certified.  But if you ask, they’ll be happy to tell you their practices – which are usually just as good if not better than those with the label.  Speaking of which, when at the supermarket, where do you find that “certified organic” label?  Yup, on the plastic packaging.  Go figure.

This winter, I took advantage of a “Winter Share”.  The local farms froze some of their summer bounty, and once a month I go pick it up.  This past Saturday I got my first share: green beans, summer squash, tri-color peppers, edamame, diced tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and fresh pea shoots.  No, I had no idea what to do with pea shoots.  Thankfully, when I picked them up I was asked, “Do you know what to do with these?”  “No idea,” I said.   She explained that they’re great in salads (though I thought this funny as salad greens are not really in season right now), great on sandwiches, and you can also just cook them up in a little oil.  I pulled some out and munched – they taste just like peas (imagine that!).  And last night I experimented – did you know there’s a web site just about pea shoots?  (  I did the Italian thing – fried up some garlic in olive oil – then added an asian flare with some ginger, then tossed them in.  Not too bad.  The garlic was local, but the oil and ginger were not.  I’m working on it though.

And this is the fun of CSA’s.  You get foods that you wouldn’t normally buy because you don’t know what to do with them.  In this case, though, you have a farmer right there that has at least one if not five ideas of how to use your mysterious new produce.

I cooked up the peppers with some pork I bought from a farmer that lives just three miles from me.  Then, with the friend who had graciously accepted my dinner invitation, I savored some fresh blueberries for dessert.

Anyway, if you’re looking to start reducing your impact, I hope you’ve got some ideas:)  Check back for more….