Cornmeal peach scones and something of a manifesto
August 1, 2012 § 45 Comments
Ok guys, hold onto your hats because this one came out a little unbidden. In trying to talk about our big plans for what we’re doing next (soon!), I couldn’t help but go into some of the background thinking behind these plans, and it turned into something of a manifesto. Now, I may be a philosophizer and a wax eloquenter, but I’m not usually one to write a manifesto. A manifesto will nearly always rub at least someone the wrong way, and I have in general lived my life bending over backwards to try never to rub anyone the wrong way, to please everyone, to be safe.
But I’m finally, finally starting to realize that it’s not worth it. Not if it means you sacrifice the truth. The tag line of this blog is “fitting real food into real life,” and, well, it wouldn’t be real life if I didn’t speak about my truths. So, it may have turned out to be a bit manifesto-y, but hey! there’s a really good scone recipe waiting for you at the end (Seriously. Really good. Moist and tender on the inside with those perfectly crunchy golden edges that are the best part of a scone.). Next time I’ll be back with a more normal, chirpy blog post, but for now, deep breath, here we go…
I brought these scones to a goodbye brunch at my office a few days ago. We were celebrating and sending off three of our colleagues who are on to new things. All three of them did great work and will truly be missed. Though I wasn’t included in the goodbyes, it felt like the time for me to say goodbye to everyone as well. We’re leaving. We’re moving!
I’m not done with my dissertation yet. Ha. Quite the opposite. What was once a wade through data up to my knees has become thrashing in data up over my head. I’m doing a little egg beater kicking, a little elementary backstroke, working on finding the best way for me to swim through it. But, it won’t be happening here. Joel and I have decided we’re moving to Minnesota. In less than a month. Yikes!
We’ve been thinking and talking about it for a while now, and finally things conspired to remind us that these are our lives, and we need to live them in a way that is honest and real for us. Now, I don’t mean anything against Boston at all. It’s a really great city. A great place. But, it’s not our place. And, in staying here, no matter how hard we try not to, neither of us can escape our programmed slide into the speedy rails of achievement orientation.
Both of us have little devils on our shoulders telling us that in order to be worthwhile, in order to do anything that’s worthwhile, we have to be impressive. I’ve tried to tell off this devil for years and years, tried to argue with it and assert that I’d rather do good work and be me than be great. But it argues back that in order to do good work I have to be renowned in some way or that I can’t make a contribution if I’m not the best. And being in an achievement oriented city feeds it and gives it too much strength for me to fight back adequately.
So, we’re consciously choosing to opt out. We want to focus on doing good, meaningful work knowing that perhaps we will never be known for it, but that it really is important nonetheless. For us, part of this means working on concrete things, not just in our heads. As, I said a while back, we want to make things. So, we’re working to make that come true.
We’re going forward with the distillery plan! Perhaps it’s insane, and we may fail, but we’re going for it. Joel will work on getting the distillery started while I finish my dissertation. At the same time, I’m going to be trying to connect with any and all local, real food action happening in the area we’re moving to. Then (um, well, if we can navigate zoning laws effectively) we want to bring it all together into a wild, innovative, place-based, community oriented distillery-cafe-experimental-food-and-culture-center that will also support and add to the local, sustainable agriculture in the area.
Through the platform of the distillery, and in connection with other organizations, we want to work both to preserve the local watershed and toward making the community energy and food sustainable. We want to model an engaged way of doing business that sees people and the planet as integral to the bottom line because I truly believe that the idea of the profit motive and that we can have such a thing as unlimited growth are going to turn out to have been the great myths of our time. Harmful myths at that.
Our plan also hooks into our concerns about climate change. It’s something that’s worried me for as long as I can remember, but in a vague way that was assuaged by biking to work and eating local food. But lately the concern has become palpable. Ever since my hometown was drowned by floods even as farmers nearby lost their entire crops to heat, and the area around where Joel grew up was hit with deadly storms, it’s become something I think about every day. And, it’s frustrating that almost nobody is talking about these things in terms of climate change.
Joel overturned a rock in our yard, and it said this on the other side. Not a bad find!
Honestly, I hesitate to bring it up as well because it feels so political, and I don’t want this to be a politicized space. But, as Joel pointed out, the weather and the climate actually aren’t political. They are what they are, and what they are is becoming more and more extreme. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer or Suzy Doomsday (she’s Debbie’s older sister, in case you were wondering), but this is the future we’re talking about, and we’re all in it together.
But, it’s hard to truly consider the truth of the future we’re headed toward without distracting oneself with either denial or total despair. I’ve done plenty of both. But, when I finally stopped taking it personally, stopped wringing my hands or clenching them in rage, I decided to sit down, take an honest look at what my greatest strengths and passions are and how I could use them productively toward change (and Joel did the same), and this plan is basically what we came up with. It may wind up being a drop in the bucket, but with the memory of a flood still fresh in my mind, I say, don’t underestimate the power of a drop when you add a bunch together.
I’m definitely not an expert on climate change, but I’ve been working in the field of obesity for long enough to know a systems problem when I see one! And the thing with changing a system is that it requires cranking on leverage points in many different places on many different levels. Sweeping changes need to be made on the policy level, the community level, the organizational level, the individual level. No one is exempt. Massive policy change and global coordination needs to happen, but individuals also need to step up and say, yes, we’re willing to have these policies and shift to new ways of life, and communities can coordinate to become sustainable as neighbors work together and offer helping hands.
I saw this note on Kate’s blog a bit back and it resonated.
I’m not saying everyone should take the approach we’re taking. Goodness no. We each have our own path. But, I do think everyone should care, and care enough to fully consider what this means to them and then creatively problem solve how they can make change in their own lives. Now I may seem delusional, but I really think that we have the ability to tap into boundless creativity and innovation, no matter who we are, if we let go of our narrow definitions of ourselves and how we work. There is so much potential for true hope if we start by admitting that we can’t change what is, but we all the have the capacity to change some of what will be.
For ourselves, we’re upending our lives and moving to try to live, to co-opt Tamar Adler’s phrase, with economy and grace. I’m scared, and excited. Time will tell how it goes. Our physical space will be changing, and so will some of our work, but as long as I have stories to tell or ideas for how to eat real food, I’ll still be in this space (if you’ll still have me with all my ramblings!) because I truly believe that real food, and cooking, and sharing meals matters.
Who’d have thought it, but this actually brings me back around to talking about my dissertation (it all connects!). Though our main study is about working with new immigrants to connect them with the tools and help them come up with strategies to access and eat healthy food (speaking of creative problem solving, if you get them in discussion and truly listen, all the women we’re working with have just brilliant ideas), one of the principle things I’m learning about personally is what it takes for diverse people to work together and create solutions to difficult problems.
What it takes is trust, transparency, acknowledging your own desires and agenda and then being able to set them aside for a greater goal if need be, having a broader understanding of your role, really listening, telling your stories and being completely open to others. And, it’s remarkable, truly remarkable, how much of this can sometimes be aided by sharing meals and meeting at the table.
Cornmeal Peach Scones (makes about 14) These are inspired by the cornmeal cherry scones from the Cheese Board in Berkeley, via Sweet Amandine (a new favorite read), and adapted to use what I had on hand. They turned out marvelously.
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 Tbs. baking powder
- 1/2 t. salt
- 2/3 cup sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 cup medium-grind or finely ground yellow cornmeal (medium grind gives a more nubbly texture, fine grind gives a lighter texture)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup diced fresh peach (no need to remove the peel)
- 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. cold buttermilk
- Preheat your oven to 375F. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and powder, sugar, and cornmeal.
- Working quickly, rub the cold pieces of butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it has a sandy texture with butter chunks about the size of peas. Stir in the peach pieces.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the cream and buttermilk (you could also use all cream or all buttermilk, but I happened to have a little leftover of each and really loved the flavor and texture each contributed), and stir up the batter until all of the ingredients just come together. There may be some flour left at the bottom of the bowl that you can’t get mixed in. If this is the case, push the batter to the side and add just a little extra splash of buttermilk/cream to the flour to moisten it, then press it up into the rest of the batter.
- Drop the batter in large spoonfuls (approximately 1/4 cup each) onto a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even browning, until golden and crisped on the edges, about 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Share with friends, or neighbors, or new connections.