August 12, 2010

Your Inner Hoover

I’m thirty-four weeks pregnant.  Those thirty-four weeks have spanned Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, my wedding, my husband’s birthday, my brother’s birthday, my father’s birthday, my nephew’s birthday, Easter dinner, baby shower brunch, wedding shower brunch and countless dinners with family and friends.  These events are important in our family.  We like to eat and we like to cook and for birthdays we like to serve our favorite things- a flourless chocolate mousse cake for my birthday, grandma’s macaroni and cheese for comfort any winter night, shrimp scampi for my father, carrot cake for my husband, venison for my brother and the list goes on.  But there are dietary restrictions that go along with being pregnant.  Some of these restrictions are ones your body imposes. Some women cannot stomach much of anything during pregnancy.  My body wanted nothing to do with fresh vegetables in the first trimester.  Then there are the suggested restrictions made by the pregnancy experts… deli meats, caffeine, soft cheeses and, of course, alcohol.  Smoked foods, blackened foods, tap water, honey, chocolate, the list can get as extensive as you let it.  It could almost leave one wondering, what can I eat while pregnant?  The key word here is ‘suggested’.  Everything is suggested.  Advised, urged, counseled, recommended.

I can handle most of these restrictions, save for cheese.  I have eaten cheese at almost every meal of my life.  I’m not kidding. My promiscuity regarding cheese was well known among my friends since I would eat almost any cheese with equal voracity. My close friends preferred to call me ‘Cheese Hoover’ as my inability to even attempt portion control is something to behold. I’m okay with this, of course. But you might imagine my infinite dismay to read at the outset of this pregnancy that soft cheeses were off the table.  It was as I read more about it that I saw there was wiggle room. Cheeses made with pasteurized milk were acceptable.  Raw or unpasteurized milk were unacceptable and had the potential to carry bacteria that can be harmful to both mother and baby and were thus considered a risk.  This past week, at thirty-four weeks pregnant, I was presented with an opportunity to taste a new cheese made with ingredients of which I was unsure.

The cheese was from Lazy Lady Farm, a local Vermont farm. I had heard about this cheese maker from friends who were excited to find it on a cheese plate while out to dinner in New York and constantly looked for it when in Vermont but reported it was sometimes difficult to find.   While at a farm stand this past week I saw the label in a cooler and knew I had to buy it.  But I hesitated.  I picked the cheese out of the cooler and inspected the information on the label.  It did not say specifically whether it was made with pasteurized or unpasteurized goat’s milk.  As I stood in indecision, the cheese hoover within got the best of me and I decided to feign innocence… it didn’t actually specify whether it was raw or not so surely I was fine, right? I mean, if unpasteurized milk is a danger than surely they would have noted it?

That night my husband and I devoured the cheese with a fresh locally made baguette.   The cheese was called “La Petite Tomme”, a mild brie made from goat’s milk.  I tried very hard to temper myself so that my husband got just as much chance to enjoy it but every bite seemed to dissolve on my tongue before I had a chance to fully experience it, forcing me to prepare another mouthful.  My husband just laughed.  Its creamy goodness spilled from the wrinkled white rind in such a way that compelled me to wipe the cutting board with the baguette just to get the last remnants. What is it about the flavor of soft cheeses? The smell is unappealing, the rind is unappealing but it still makes my mouth water and I wonder who is consuming whom, as I am beholden to it and not satisfied until it is all gone. And sometimes not even then. 

Such is the life of a cheese hoover.  Even a pregnant cheese hoover. But this cheese hoover was not without a conscience and that evening, bothered by the question of raw versus pasteurized milk and on the verge of anxiously manufacturing symptoms of an infection that I imagined unpasteurized bacteria might cause, I looked up the cheese on the farm’s website only to find that it was made from pasteurized milk and everything would be fine.  But the nagging question was there, later that night, as I lay in my bed, ever wakeful to my constant bladder, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to be a selfish mother who would choose her own interests over those of her children.  Certainly, my friends who were pregnant were more careful about these things, some changing their diet almost completely while pregnant.  Would there be mothers like this whom I would meet later at kindergarten registration and find myself woefully inadequate to their mothering abilities? Their children would be perfect in every way, already know how to read chapter books, spend afternoons writing thoughtful letters in cursive to their mothers thanking them for their recent excursions to sophisticated museums where they had begun to understand the histories of obscure civilizations that I had never heard of and the like? They would be able to accurately distinguish the difference between Bach, Mozart and Chopin by ear, recognize elements from the Periodic table.  These mothers would look at me and mine, note our insufficiencies, their eyes narrowing, understanding intuitively that I was given to my own vices before the vices of my children, that I was ‘that’ kind of mother, that I would give in to raw milk cheeses, if tempted.

But me, I would be safe in the knowledge that my children knew who I was, that I had interests and likes and things I could not and would not live without and that I was passionate about cheese and that everything is okay and that it is especially okay to give in a little, every now and then, to your inner hoover.  

August 11, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

The first one sat on my desk before I got to school. It was in a simple brown bag, folded over at the top and stapled.  There was a note on it that said, Do not open at school.  I must have unlocked my own door that Friday morning instead of sneaking in Dave’s room and through the door connecting our classrooms to where my desk was.  Dave always got to school before me, even though I woke every morning with the anxiety only a first year teacher knows- the kind that drove me to school early even when I was entirely prepped for the day. 

I stuck my head through the purple door behind my desk to Dave’s room where he was sitting at his desk, catching up on the reading he had assigned for the day. I raised my eyebrow.

“Hey, Darcie,” he put the book down. “Did you get my package?” I smiled.  “Good. Your Christmas present.  But don’t open it until you get home. Lock it in your desk, don’t tell anyone, okay?”

At my parents home that night, finally home for an extended Christmas break after a tortuous first few months at a new career, in a new town and state with very few friends and few students who cared and only a few ideas on how to reach them, I opened that brown paper bag and pulled out a small jelly jar filled with a lime-ish brown colored liquid.  I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw the small size of the jar, given the conversations about our mutual love for margaritas.  After that first one though, I understood why the small size.  The first sip was the kind of sip that you can feel all the way down to your stomach, reaching out, warming all your insides. The second made me forget my job and all the anxiety that went with it. 

And the second margarita delivery, I shared. 

Dave was like that- a strong margarita inside a brown non descript paper bag, stapled and delivered as secret contraband and waiting in the faculty refrigerator.  ‘Smoke and mirrors’ was what he called his teaching style but I knew that wasn’t true.  He may have felt he was hiding behind smoke and mirrors but after working with him for five years, I know what was behind the smoke: a teacher and friend with a passion for literature and art that can’t fool kids.  I have seen the loyalty of students that comes only as a reaction to an authentic teacher- one who is committed to kids. I have seen him spontaneously jump on a desk for his own dramatic reading of Jonathon Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, something he may have gotten more of a kick out of than the students and I have seen kids roll their eyes at him in that way that really means they’re into it.

My first year at Mascoma was his first year back from taking time off to fight prostate cancer.  He didn’t talk too much about it to me until I revealed that I too had battled cancer. That was probably when our real friendship began. Since then, I have laughed off frustrations with the education system with him, enjoyed the successes of teaching, wallowed in the defeats.  I have turned to him for advice in writing, in teaching, in love. I have read his hitchhiking stories- unsuspecting autobiographical stories that would have shocked and delighted his students. I was constantly reminded by him that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.  I have heard him talk endlessly and lovingly about his wife Julie, a woman he married seventeen years ago, his second marriage and one that showed his happiness every moment he talked about it and was evident in the way he gazed at her, spoke to her, spoke about her. The kind of happy love every young romantic hopes to have someday.

The margarita deliveries came intermittently through my five years at Mascoma and I appreciated every single one.  Sometimes I shared them, sometimes not. Sometimes they were a strict margarita, sometimes they were a Dave original, maybe with a touch of pomegranate juice or splash of orange.  My last one was the first one I actually shared with Dave. It was on a visit with friends to Dave and Julie’s new house.  It was summer and after Dave had taken off more time to fight a recurrence of the cancer. The afternoon was a beautiful, cool blue in August and Julie had made delicious barbeque chicken, pitas and humus, a feast in the backyard. And Dave made us margaritas. Patron, cointreau and a splash of lime. We talked of sunken canoes and loons and disappearing and reappearing cats and summers past and plans ahead and the new house and never mentioned cancer. 

Two years later, Dave passed away from a long and dignified battle with prostate cancer. He was courageous in his counterattack of this awful disease, searching out the newest drugs and latest clinical trials, no matter the distance from home.  He continued teaching as long as he could, created a writing group and spent as much time with Julie as possible, building a new house on a beautiful lake in the face of his terminal illness.

I will never taste another one of Dave’s margaritas and maybe that’s okay because without Dave around to deliver them, what are they anyway but just a margarita? Food is just food when it’s not connected to anything. Or maybe anyone.


August 10, 2010

Beginnings

It started at an adventure camp we all worked at in Colorado. My friend Katherine, who likes to eat, and my friend Shelly, who likes to cook, and a few other friends were sitting around the lodge one night eating dessert.  After her third helping of Shelly’s peach pie, someone called Katherine "Hoover" and the name stuck. They ribbed her awhile on it until they noticed how much cheese I consumed on a daily basis.  Before dinner, with dinner, at lunch, a morning snack.  While they chose to bring peanut butter and jelly on mountain bike rides, I chose dry bread with cheese because in the hot Rocky Mountain mid day sunshine, sometimes the cheese melted a little making something like a backcountry grilled cheese.  And so I became “Cheese Hoover”. I guess it’s the first time I noticed that food was important to me.

And that’s why I’m here.

Because I like to write and think and eat and be with my friends and family and I’m curious about the way food connects people and place and feelings and ideas. I have created this space as a place to explore those connections.