Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My way or the Hemingway: A Moveable Feast

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever
you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

- Ernest Hemingway, to a friend, in 1950

This quotation on the title page immediately drew me in, and I happily settled down to read my first ever Hemingway book, The Moveable Feast (1964, posthumously.) When Woody Allen's movie, Midnight in Paris, came out last year, I was a little surprised to realize I'd never read any of the classic Hemingway novels. Both the movie setting --Paris in the 1920s-- and the eccentricity of the Ernest Hemingway character sparked my interest, so when I found The Moveable Feast on the bookshelf here in my temporary "home away from home" in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I picked it up and started tagging along on Hemingway's amusing adventures in 1920s Paris.

The Moveable Feast. The title strikes me as a metaphor for many periods in my own life, and specifically for life at the moment. Farmer John and I just left behind our now-pruned-and-dormant grapevines to take a winter break, a ski sojourn. We are now nearly a week into our 6 week ski/stay in Steamboat, staying in a beautiful, modern log cabin-style home, just west of town, via a home exchange. Our "exchange-partners in crime," Frank and Carol, are at our place in Sonoma Valley minding the KFV homestead and animals as they escape their cold, snowy winter for a while.

The plan for 30+ days of skiing as the core of outdoor enjoyment is how we select our locale. But one of the main reasons we love doing home exchanges for these extended trips is that we can really make ourselves comfortably "at home" somewhere. For us, home is less about the specific place, and more about indulging ourselves in our favorite "normal" indoor activities, including reading, writing, eating and drinking, watching televised sports, and last but not least, cooking for and with friends. Home is one of our favorite places to hang out. So finding and temporarily transporting our lives to someone else's well-loved, and beautifully-maintained home that quickly becomes "home" for us is a perfect choice.

As I feasted on the early chapters of The Moveable Feast, John was in the kitchen transforming dough into his famous pizza crust. He had started making the dough 36 hours earlier, just as he does at home. And he used his natural yeast, sourdough starter that he's been keeping alive and growing for more than 6 years, brought with us from home. And he mixed it with his 525 watt KitchenAid mixer that he brought from home. The pizza baking stone and peel, also brought from home. And the inspiration for the pie? Yup, from home! The night before the long drive to Colorado, we had dinner at our local favorite, Pizzeria Rosso, and tried for the first time their "Goomba" pie, a pizza lightly topped with spaghetti and meatballs. Seriously! I was skeptical, but quickly won over by the light touch and the incredible melding of the topping with the crust.

Assembling the toppings on the "Goomba 'Za"

In our refrigerator here in Steamboat was a little leftover spaghetti and sausage from dinner a few days prior. I roasted a red pepper, sliced a little fresh mozzarella, and we had our pizza toppings. Salad was radicchio and lettuce from our Sonoma garden, tossed with some Biale olive oil and lemon juice. And though I rarely do so, I chose the wine to go with the Goomba pie: our friend Michael Muscardini's 2009 Sangiovese from the Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma Valley.

Lots of S-es: Sonoma-Style Saturday Supper Surfaced
in Steamboat Springs; Served with Sangiovese.

With only the tiniest bit of a buzz on, I realized that what we had here was our own version of a moveable feast! To borrow from and expand on Hemingway's quote, Home is a Moveable Feast! Not just the food and wine, but also the way of living and loving life. My way or the Hemingway... who knew they'd be so similar?! And who knew that this Hemingway newbie would discover this connection so immediately and intimately... and feel compelled to write about it? Hemingway suggested that as a writer, he would write what he saw as being true, and that in doing so, he would be well on the way to writing something that is good. Mmhmm. Indeed.

Papa Hemingway and Kitty

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not just a Farmer; I'm now a Rural Chick!

I've always thought of myself as a city gal. I love the buzz of urban activity, the way people hurry from here to there, the feel of concrete under my feet, the fabulous restaurants and shop-window displays to savor. The array of sights and sounds has always had a way of energizing me, from D.C. to Boston to New York to San Francisco.

As a gag, Sara sent me her high-school-vintage Lee overalls to me
when I still lived in SF, but was getting ready to move to the vineyard.

It's now been nearly seven years since our move from Silicon Valley and San Francisco up to Sonoma County, where my front "yard" is a few acres of hillside grapevines, a large vegetable garden, and a steep, wooded hill. My backyard reveals oak tree after oak tree, a west-facing view across the valley, and the summer pasture where the sheep (and dog and hen and barn cats) graze, nap, and chew the cud. I can't see my nearest neighbor, and the most prevalent sounds are crickets and frogs chirping and croaking, neighboring donkeys braying, and hawks screeching. Unless I leave the farm, and there are many days when I do not, the only people I might see besides Farmer John are the vineyard workers across the deer fencing on the adjacent property, the UPS driver, the propane delivery guy, and well, that's about it.

To be clear, while our home setting is decidedly rural, our property is just barely east of the city limits of Santa Rosa, a city with a population of 160,000. It takes only15 minutes to get to the freeway and about an hour to get over the Golden Gate into San Francisco. Easy access and egress were desirable characteristics upon purchasing our property and later quitting our "day jobs" to move up here and farm. I wanted to feel like I could easily go to and from the city to play or just to get "out of Dodge" for a spell.

But I've found myself gravitating to a different state of mind over the last 6 months or so, and I'm pondering and marveling at a new moniker: Rural Chick. It started late in the summer when Sally added me to an unlisted and private Facebook group called Rural Women Rock. Within about two weeks, there were 500 women in the group, all of whom were invited by some other rockin' rural woman. There was a flurry of conversation threads from women of all ages, all over the country, centered around rural life and our places therein. One post that I got a huge kick out of was by an Indiana woman in her mid-20s who was preparing for a "combine date," and was seeking suggestions about what she might prepare and pack into a dinner picnic basket. If you're wondering, as I did in a comment on the post, exactly what a combine date is, here's the response from a more "experienced" cattle ranching woman from Iowa: it's when your date consists of riding in the buddy seat of the combine (tractor) with your "friend." 

There were many conversations about blogging and social networking; it's where I finally realized that I had some things to say, and that's how my blog started! I was introduced to an eclectic collection of women's blogs, and really learned a lot about other people's agricultural interests and ways of life. We  talked as a community about the business of raising animals for food, canning fruits and vegetables, rural and farmer fashions, rural parenting, what we liked to drink after a long day of work, and just shared mutual admiration and support for a lifestyle in rural American communities. I was fascinated with the group, and enjoyed chiming in with comments. Alas, two months after its inception, the group imploded when an "outside" rockin' rural woman happened to buy the Rural Women Rock name, URL, and Twitter handle. Some of the inside women decided that they wanted no part of a group with a name that someone else had bought the usage rights for and would -- GASP! -- try to make a profit from. 

All activity in the group ceased, and another new "page" was formed, but the community aspect, where anyone could start a conversation, was kaput. I still follow some of the blogs, but found myself missing the camaraderie of the community, even though it had been with people I didn't even know! About a month later, I received a very cool invitation from, Deborah, my Sheep School and Lamb Camp partner, and it reignited my interest in communing with rural women -- in person! --  right in my own area.

How could I resist?! It was right up my alley.

Rural Chicks doing the Rounds of local Roadhouses! And they invited me! Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I would both identify with AND be identified by others as a Rural Chick! Can you tell I'm energized by this? Woohoo! The first meetup was in December, when 5 of us convened in western Sonoma County for "dishin', cussin', bitchin', and heehawin' " The only thing missin' in the list was drinkin', and we did that too. 

Other than all being women who live and work in an area that is somewhat rural, though proximate to population centers, we are all passionate about and somehow work in agriculture. After that first night out, I was excited to have some new friends, and we saved the date for a January outing. That follow-up outing was last week, and 13 Rural Chicks came a-Round for a date at a fancy local Roadhouse, Barndiva, in Healdsburg. [Full disclosure: it was actually not a roadhouse this time, but we had a great time sharing our work and interests, and vowed that the Roundups would continue, with an emphasis on real roadhouses (read, casual and cheap!) where we could be loud and linger without bothering anyone.]

Of the 13 "chicks," nearly all of us write blogs and/or a website about our lives and work in a rural, agricultural community. As a group, we farm winegrapes, olives, milk, fruit and vegetables, and pigs and chickens. We have sheep, goats, alpacas, cows and horses, livestock guardian dogs and an assortment of ducks, geese, and hens. We all love good food, advocate for local agriculture that connects our farmers with residents and restaurateurs, and we teach people how to get involved in agriculture themselves. I am so looking forward to developing friendships and new ideas together with this group of Rural Chicks. Who knew?!