Covid Days- The Second Chicken

I have always defined the quality of my life in terms of my choices. Can’t take your car? Call an Uber. Hitch a ride with a friend. Take the bus. Walk. Ride a bike. Heck, roller-skate if you feel like it. These are all possible choices. But what if you don’t have a friend? Or a bike. Or money for the bus. Or working legs.

A few days ago I went to the store to get a cabbage. Sounds like the start to a pretty boring story, right? It is. There was no cabbage. And no Napa cabbage. No radicchio. No escarole. No romaine, bok choy or endive. Nothing that resembled a cabbage. Neither was there lettuce, nor carrots, nor vegetables of any kind. As I stood looking at the empty racks, I realized that I had to change my plans for dinner. I had no choice but to make something else.

No choice. This was the first Covid-19 blow to my life.

I consider my life to be rich, because I have many choices. I can choose how I spend my time, for the most part. We can choose where we want to live, within our means. I can choose my work, which doctor I go to, which stores I shop at, who I vote for, and a million other choices that make my life seem rich and easy compared to some. When it comes to food, I might even have too many choices. If I get an idea about what I want to cook, there is no stopping me. Forget about what’s in the cabinet; I’ll drive to the Asian market forty minutes away to get fresh turmeric, if the recipe calls for it. That’s beyond living richly. Than’s just spoiled.

I was unhappy with no cabbage, but I recovered. I chose my dinner, a chicken, took it to the check out, and waited behind a woman and her partner, both in masks and gloves. Together they rang up 3 carts and more than 700.00 in groceries. Including 3 cabbages. I watched as they proceeded to pack them all into their fancy car with out of state plates.

Will a Land Rover full of groceries save them from the Corona virus?

I admit I was a little miffed. Interestingly, my first thought wasn’t to tell them off, it was to go get another chicken. But a chicken instead of a cabbage is not a hard choice. After a minute, I decided that a chicken was a lovely dinner, and I was grateful that it was available to me.

I think I am well prepared for food shortages, although there has been no evidence that I’ll need to be. I am able to grow much of my own food, and it is almost the growing season here in the Northeast. Our family hunts, and I have food reserves from previous harvests. What I am not prepared for is the idea of hardship. As was evidenced by my irritation (ok, anger) at not being able to buy a cabbage. I am unaccustomed to having limited choices.

My out of state grocery shoppers chose to hoard food. Their plan was to save themselves by buying all the food they could carry and going into isolation. They hope that the virus will pass them by. Nothing wrong with that. Good luck to them. I hope for their sake that when they come out of isolation in a few weeks to get more food, they get a pass again. And that there is still food to be had.

In the end I chose to pass on the second chicken. If this is the apocalypse, a second chicken probably isn’t going to save me. A second chicken is only going to guarantee that someone else isn’t going to have a chicken when they want one for dinner. I’ll have two, but they’ll have none. I decided to pull on my Corona pants, tighten my emotional belt, and not only accept, but welcome this limiting of my choices. I’m going to chose to be more frugal, in lifestyle and in material things. I am choosing to welcome a smaller life.

It doesn’t seem like the corona virus is giving any of us much of a choice. No matter how rich your life seems, no amount of wealth, or food seems to prevent it (although I hear it can get you a test). But that doesn’t mean we don’t have choices. We can chose to be people who support our neighbors. We can chose to be kind, helpful and compassionate. We can chose to consider those who have fewer choices than us. We can chose to leave the second chicken.

Not a bad dinner!

Now is the perfect time.

The world is a nutty place to be right now. From people hoarding toilet paper as if Covid-19 was an intestinal disease to our fearless leader acting as if nothing is the matter at all, my world, at least, is a little shaken up. The school where I work is closed, as is almost every school I know. I’ve got bored teenagers draped around the furniture, moaning at their loss of friends and freedom, and a fridge bulging with extra groceries, not because I believe there will be a supply breakdown, but because my neighbors are hoarding, and I don’t want to get left with the last jar of, say, hearts of palm, for dinner.

Truthfully, I’d be perfectly content if I stopped going to the grocery store. Perhaps now is the perfect time to really delve into what I preach. I can reach out to my local network of growers and farmers for eggs, milk, flour and meat. My favorite family farm stand still has onions, garlic, potatoes and squash. I can (and will!) have spring greens in my greenhouse in a matter of weeks. I can look for spring vegetables in the woods. I bet I could harvest cattail roots today. See my post about eating cattails from April 2013 https://eattheseason.com/2013/04/15/cattails-yum/

Spring greens

I’ve always been an advocate of slow living. I try to adhere to the principles of slow food, for example. No, that’s not like eating snails. Slow food is the practice of planting, tending, harvesting, cooking and serving food. It takes time. Alternately it is buying healthy local food that reflects your understanding and thankfulness for the process of how food comes to us. It is built on a reverence for the natural world. It centers around community. It fosters patience, flexibility and gratitude.

Slow food’s opposite is, of course, fast food, where the focus is on expediency instead of quality, economy instead of value. It is harmful to us psychologically as much as it is physically. Just so fast clothing, wherein the Costco leggins that you picked up for 7.99 don’t advertise on the label that they were made by children in sweatshops in Bangladesh, out of cotton picked in El Salvador by workers who are paid pennies to be sprayed with chemical pesticides. I prefer homemade, handmade, and local-made. Slow living is living out social justice.

My “Covid” sweater

So is this Corona virus the apocalypse or what?

I say no. I say now, this crazy time, can be the perfect time. The perfect time for what, you might ask? To which I reply, the perfect time for anything you want. It could be the perfect time to fix your grill. Or the perfect time to start walking outdoors again. The perfect time to learn to cook. The perfect time to think about planning for the future, or to try some new software, or to learn to knit, or plant a garden. Read to your children. Write a letter to an old friend. We have endless opportunities in this moment in time to do community in a small way. It is the perfect time to slow down, finally, and really experience your life. How many times have you said to someone “I’d love to do it, but I’m just too busy”. Guess what? You are no longer busy! You have some time. Some perfect time.

In this perfect time, I’m mending jeans with fabric from https://www.saraparkertextiles.com/

What will you do with your perfect time? If you find yourself working from home, have been laid off, or simply have extra time due to this unexpected pandemic, write a comment below and let me know what you are doing to make this time the perfect time. Be safe my friends.

Panic, Peas and Pistou

Hi Friends

Welcome to springtime in the New England! It is 70 degrees today on March 8th in Northwest Connecticut, and in order to mitigate my rising alarm at the wicked respiratory cold they call Covid-19 racing across the globe, I’ve decided to take a break from the news. It’s time to pull on my gloves (the dirt protection kind, not the medical grade germ protection kind) and venture into the garden. Since cold season clearly isn’t over, and the best thing for a bad cold is a bowl of hot soup, I have my favorite spring soup in mind.

Pistou is a Provencal pesto of sorts, made with basil, garlic and oil. It is used primarily in a northern Italian dish called Soupe au Pistou. When I think Pistou, I don’t think of basil as much as I think of fresh peas, which is one of the necessary ingredients for this light, bright, healthy Mediterranean soup made with pasta, beans and spring vegetables. For Pistou later, I need to plan now. Click on the link under the photo for one of my favorite French versions from The French Barn.

St. Patrick’s day has always been my rule of thumb for the time to plant peas. In this region it is generally the time when the soil can first be worked, and in the past I’d wait for a sunny day soon afterwards. But the times they are a changin’, as they say. Climate change has done away with the regular patterns, and we have to adapt. For my purposes today, the sooner the ground is thawed, the better.

Different pea types to plant

When I chose my peas from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in January, I was, as always, enchanted by the color glossy pictures and delicious descriptions of the vegetables. As always, I couldn’t decide on which varietals to choose, so I chose several. I may be sad when the weather warms and there is no room left in my garden for the tomatoes and eggplant!

Peas are very easy to plant. They love cool weather, they can handle a light frost, and they don’t mind soils in the 30’s. This makes them the perfect spring vegetable for our inclement Northeast weather. Once your soil is loose and has been amended with compost, simply poke them in the ground with your finger to a depth of about 1 inch. Space them 3″ apart in rows at least 24″ apart.

A type of netting for pea trellis

Most peas grow in vines, and need something to cling to as they grow. A trellis of some sort, either a net attached to stakes, such as I use, or a mesh fence or a woven panel will help them grow tall and make harvesting easy. It should be at least 5 feet tall, or higher, depending on the variety. Some peas can grow 10 feet tall! New this year for me is a bush type varietal called Kelvedon Wonder. Topping out at 18″, it needs no staking, and therefore even less work than usual.

Bush type peas varietal

A word of warning: New pea shoots and leaves are a favorite of some songbirds, and if found, they will peck at the leaves until there isn’t much green left for the new plant to photosynthesize. If you find your tiny new leaves are getting eaten, it’s wise to cover them with row cover for protection until they are strong enough to withstand a bit of abuse. A cover is also in order if a heavy snow is expected.

Deliciousness!

When I think of those first fat pods of sugar snaps dripping off the vines, and then lightly sauteed snow peas in butter, and finally thumb-sized shelling peas bursting with flavor to store for the winter, I’m ready to get them started. It’s easy to sit inside and panic, to worry and watch the numbers and listen to the talking heads squawk fear and discord, anger and accusations. Panic is antithetical to the gardener. If a gardener falls into the mindset that the world is ending and all is lost, he/she/they will no longer garden; hence they cease to be a gardener. Without a future, there is no point in a garden. The act of gardening is an act of hope. In fact, gardening is the natural response to fear and panic. It provides stability, a plan, future security and a firm foundation in a hope for better things. Let’s focus on what is important. Try to stay home. Try to stay healthy. Eat soup. Plant peas. Sow hope. Go put some seeds in the ground and see if you don’t feel better about your world. I dare you.