Friday, October 17, 2008


Sitting on the ground peeling garlic in my Carhartt overalls, an October sun casting surprisingly warm evening light over the farm and surrounding Oregon hills, I listened intently as James described his favorite way to butcher a lamb. He used fancy terms like "loin roast", "riblets" and "square cut shoulder", and told us about working in New York with some of the most famous charcutiers and salumists (people who view meat as not only a food source, but as an art, a passion, a religion and a way of life) in the world. He described to us a culinary "school" he attended in Greenwich Village in the 80s where they would concoct a huge feast and sit down for 4 hours with about 20 bottles of wine, 2 whole cooked animals-of-choice, and lots of story telling. Will you blame me if I drop out now? 

I popped a raw clove of garlic in my mouth. 

When I asked James why he stopped being a chef (after working in New York City, San Francisco, Portland, and other culinary hot-spots), he responded that his music career took over. 
"What kind of music do you make?" Asked Betsy, also in Carhartts, also peeling garlic.

"Oh, electronic dance music..." Replied James. I laughed.

So here he is: an electronic-dance-music-making-charcutier-chef-professor-of-soil-sciences-at-Oregon-State-University who happens to be the head of the Organic Growers Club here on campus. And I've only known him for two weeks! What a guy. What a polymath. He's the kind of guy who makes you want to sink your hands into piles of hot, rotting mulch and dig through vole-holes and rotting tomatoes and squirming bugs to plant a single clove of garlic, with the hopes that next summer we'll have beds overflowing with garlic ready to be harvested. Given how the farm seems to be going, they'll have giant, tangled beds of more garlic than they know what to do with. 
Here we have an average Thursday work party at the Organic Growers Club - a very eclectic group of passionate Corvallis people who get together every week and talk about almost anything you could imagine. Last week our discussions surrounded abnormally shaped winter squash, the smell of October, and the multitude of ways in which vegans miss out on most good things in life. (So really our conversations pertain to any and all hippy topics. Fine. Whatever. It's the Organic Growers Club. Give me a goddamned break.) 
But could this really be? Could I have actually found people that I have interests in common with here in the clod-hoppin town of Corn Valley, Oregun? Could there really exist here people who understand me when I talk about lose-leaf tea, my romantic obsession with edible plants and animals, and valuing my health above most other things in life? Surely it can't be true...

I'm still skeptical. As for now I'm listening to a particularly good Ted TV talk on the 6 ways mycelium fungus is going to save the world. 

Dream in a pragmatic way,

Monday, October 6, 2008

Gathering Leaves

First item of business: to all who may be reading my blog, I apologize. A few days ago I read back upon my previous entry and just about fell asleep halfway through the seemingly endless applesauce rant. Again, I'm sorry. I hope you can understand that given the limited amount of person-to-person contact I have in my every day life here on campus, I sometimes forget about what is and isn't appropriate to whine about (of course my mother would say that nothing in the world is appropriate to whine about, even when I'm bleeding my eyes out and am in excruciating pain. Gotta love her.)
So, on to far more important things. As you can tell, I've finally (after only a year of using this site) figured out how to post photos onto my page, so I hope to start doing that on a regular basis. Please excuse me if they are pretty much all food from here on out, because that's mostly what I think about these days. The picture to the right is my desking area, where I do my desking things like sit and look at the photos on my wall and surf the Ted TV site for new and exciting things to occupy my time with. It really is a fantastic site by the way.
So life here on campus isn't much different than it was a week ago surprisingly. My classes are fine, easy enough right now, though after not being in school for....uh....16 months...heh...I'm definitely getting back into it. Knowing that I'm actually expected to do things and do them well is a change from the past year "off", but a welcome one. One thing I'm gathering very quickly about college (or this one at least) and the curricula here is that you are very much responsible for your own education, and that the text books are ultimately the real teachers. I'm not used to this. In all my previous places of education, the teacher is the expert and the textbook is a prop with an occasionally helpful table or two, but if we don't talk about it in class then it doesn't really pertain to the subject and we won't be tested on it. That's not the case here. Here I am expected to read a chapter a night in my math, chemistry and music books, and expected to learn just from that. Classes are just kind of, clarification and review of the books. Now this is probably because most of my classes are so large, but I still find it kind of silly that I (or the omnipresent bank account in my life that takes care of me...) pay 8,000 dollars a year to read some great textbooks and ask a question or two of a teacher if need be. I can essentially not show up to class except for the mid-term and final, because my entire math, chemistry and music courses are on-line. Worksheets, homework problems and answers, resources, quizzes, study-guides. I really think it's bizarre. But I do like the fact that in such a massive pool of students (most of which appear to have absolutely no idea where they're going or why) I have to take full responsibility for my education, and I truly believe that's one of the most valuable lessons a person can learn, and one that can't be taught. So I really do have to stay on top of my shit, and keep myself in check. Damn. I'm sure going to miss having someone to blame my poor education on. I guess parents are always good for that.
It was great to get home for the weekend, and remember that there is in fact life outside of Corvallis, and that it is a life that I fit nicely into and one in which I have people I relate to and care to spend time with. I'm sure those people are here, I just have yet to find them. Though attending the Organic Growers Club meeting last Thursday was a step in the right (or left as it may be) direction for sure. Maybe even tipping a little far on the hippy scale, but it's great to know there are in fact people who I can talk about the presidential debate with and say "gluten-free" and they actually understand that gluten is not a relative of the Russian prime minister (not that many people on campus know who he is either...). Plus I got to wear my rain boots, get my hands muddy and talk about pickles and why acorn squash is the perfect fall food, so I felt very energized afterward. 
Sunday morning found me sitting in an adirondack chair on my porch with Hanna, eating a veggie scramble, watching that characteristic Portland pre-fall drizzle soak everything including my hands. It was really surprisingly refreshing. I felt a lot of resistance to cold weather at the end of summer, but I had only forgotten how amazing the Northwest fall really is. Austin has been talking about the Vermont fall and how beautiful it is over there, and I can only imagine the colors and smells that must take over that area come October, but I think my fall is perfect for me. It's like when you eat an apple out of the fridge. I've been doing this lately, and it's so enjoyable. There's nothing like a cold apple, especially if it's been in the fridge long enough so that it's still cold when you get to the core. Mmm. Tastes like a Northwest fall. Lordy lordy. I'm just so excited for all the wonderful fall things. Chestnuts, leaves, mushrooms, crafts, squash, bathtubs, fires. Fires have got to be one of my favorite things also. Jeez. Fall is just amazing. If I could cook a season, this would be it. Too bad my kitchen is a shit-hole 65 stories below me. Man, my life is so rough. 
I feel like the fall is coming at a perfect time for me this year. Lots of things have changed over the past month or so, and some pretty significant things have come and gone from my life. I need a good medium for change; for my own personal change, and here it is right outside my window. Adjusting to life without a companion is hard (especially for someone like me who tends to get caught up in the past), and I think the fall will be the perfect thing to help me out. I think this fall and I are going to get along really well. 

And here's a little snippet for you! It's a few lines from the Robert Frost poem "Gathering Leaves" and I like it indeed:
But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.