Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

A Head to Call My Own

July 12th, 2011

Granddad had a disgusting straw hat, which he usually hung from a 16-penny nail inside his garden shed. It was typical of a thing that would disgust many women, including his wife, my grandmother. With a dark brown ribbon of stain from his perspiration and a similar circle on the crown, it was a how-can-you-wear-that object to some.

Of course, to complete the stereotype, many women are astonished when men continue to wear perfectly good underpants, except for those several growning holes. Even if no body parts fall out, the briefs are fine for the man, but not for the woman who sees them.

Thus, his straw hat was likewise fully functional to keep his bald head from burning and his brain from sunstroke. He had snuck away at 14 to join the AEF illegally fighting the Hun. He returned lesser in having gotten trench mouth causing him to lose his teeth, and in becoming pretty damned bald in his late teens. He somehow attributed losing his hair to the war, although looking at his sons and grandsons, genes seem to be the key players here.

Regardless, he needed a hat. He’d been wearing one in his gardening for many decades before I worked with him 4, 6 or 8 hours on summer days. His patches as he called them were one or two acre-sized farms, requiring a lot of time in a lot of sun.

His hat started out as an off-white/natural sub-fine straw piece, before its degradation. He carried handkerchiefs and wiped his brow, face and whole head, but the hat showed the effects of prolonged heat.

amoshatIn fairness, his garden hat was not the floppy, hillbilly style of the patriarch Amos in a TV show of the era, The Real McCoys. An Amos capture is to the left.  On the other hand, it was also not the finely woven Panama of the plantation owner or dandy.

While not a big clothing and furnishings customer, I thought of Granddad’s hat recently. Not only did I track down powerful glasses, but I bought a new straw.

Pretty bald myself, I have hats. I do wear baseball caps, particularly if the sedan’s roof is open. Yet, I’m no more a baseball cap guy than I am a short-sleeve button shirt one.

My other hats are largely felt, beaver and otherwise, and brown. I’d had a natural straw, but did not keep it into its ugly age. Instead, we’d been seeing the splash about the JP hat store, Salmagundi. My wife and I visited and each got a straw hat, she a cloche and I the Stetson mixed-brown Chester.

I walked in fully expecting to replicate my idea of straw hats. I’m not a boater hat guy either. I do tend to think in natural Panama fedora styles. However, the enthusiastic Salmagundi help were all over me.

I remember my childhood growing up with a mother and sister, and often being sure to bring something to read while I sat in the husband chair at a clothing or shoe shop. They’d try on this, that, and the other. I would tend to go into either type of store when I really needed something and leave quickly with exactly what I entered to buy.

notGDInstead this weekend, it must have been a dozen hats of various shades of white/tan/brown, different weaves and densities, and several styles. Much to my surprise, I had to agree with my wife and the main fitter that the Chester was the best of the bunch for me.

It’s likely to be quite awhile before I buy another straw hat. I did leave the store thinking I might have to indulge my ideal of a natural-color Panama. I suppose the occasional attention to fashion won’t turn me into a fop. On the other hand, there are those yellow glasses, which each of the clerks in the hat store praised, as have friends, waitrons and even folk on the street.

Is this fashion stuff addictive?

Our Brown, Damaged Chum

February 18th, 2011

Scattering rose petals around the base of the storm abused dogwood in the front yard will surely do nothing for the tree’s health. Yet, we are in low-level mourning.

On the first heavy snow in our series of blizzards and nor’easters, this one lost all substantial limbs on one side overnight. By the time I went out to look for newspapers never delivered due to the weather, and to shake the icy and snow off, two limbs were separated and a third twisted like a kid does to a Popsicle stick.

In a silly flair, we act a little like Andy Goldsworthy. Inspired by his documentary Rivers and Tides, certainly like thousands of others, we scatter flowers, stack rocks and otherwise make small naturalistic and temporary art. In this case, it is one way of feeling a little better about the damaged dogwood.

dogwood4 The sad front dogwood half destroyed overnight in the first heavy snow.
After two limbs cut, it still needs the third on the same side removed. That one is open and twisted. dogwood3
dogwood2 In a nod to Andy Goldsworthy, yellow rose petals offer scant solice.

Oddly, the much older, taller dogwood in the back had the same weight but lost no limbs. They have the same soil acidity and other conditions as well as experienced the same storms. The limbs on the larger one are in general bout the same diameter as well. We assume that the younger, smaller one is not as healthy and may benefit from weep-line fertilizer.

As I come to terms with the negatively transformed tree, I do switch to the pruning I learned in my master-gardener classes. Unfortunately, there is no alternative in an effort to keep the tree than removing nearly all limbs on its south side.

Bent4There will be something reminiscent of the thousands year old bristle pines or a bonsai that came in the classic way from a crypt roof.

The trees tortured by winds (as here on moors by the English Channel) have their own ghastly elegance. I have scant hopes that this will display as well.

I confess that it is animistic of me, feeling for an injured tree. Many other gardeners I have known are eager to rip out the injured, for the opportunity to bring in a newer, prettier specimen. That seems like someone trading in spouses to me.

We’ll give our brown and green-to-be flowering friend what attention we can. Perhaps it will have the beauty of asymmetry.

How Much for a Bag?

January 22nd, 2011

My mom made even chores fun or at least tolerable. That included grocery shopping.

My sister and I played along, which was to everyone’s benefit. After all, she was raising us solo, with her deadbeat ex-husband skipping out on child support. We never felt deprived and she never resorted to self-pity or male bashing. She was busy, with her work and kids.

I got into the details of shopping. I was a cook from elementary school. We spent summers and holidays with her parents, including my working many long days with my grandfather in his patches, as he called his acre-sized gardens. I knew fresh foods, beetles and worms, how to plant, weed, pick and prepare veggies within a few minutes of harvest.

During the school year, we shopped as a trio. That became regular when I was in third grade in Danville Virginia. I can still picture the wonderful view of the Cat & Fiddle grocery as we turned left off Main Street. It was long before true supermarkets and if it was still around it might seem tiny and shabby, but oh, the sign.

Jutting out above the street was a splendid and huge neon sign. A standing cat worked the bow on his fiddle. No matter which approach you took, you had no doubt where the store was or what it was called.

groceriesTo the heading here, back then it was about $5 a bag of groceries on average. I was fastidious even then and paid attention to such things, as well as the sizes and costs of what went into the cart. As I do today, she shopped with the newspaper ads. If ham was on sale at 29¢ a pound, ham it was that week. My mother was big on vegetables and fruits, but we tended to get what was on sale. I never was deprived and we always had good stuff in the fridge, on the counter and in the pantry.

Oddly enough, while she was young during the Great Depression, she did not come by her conservation and frugality as an emotional response to it. Granddad was both wise and lucky. He got and maintained a job on the B&O Railroad for his whole career, including the Depression years. He ran a tailor shop and dry cleaners next to the house and often made clothes for his wife and three kids. He sometimes sold cars on weekends (Chevy, although he didn’t care much for them and bought Ford himself). Then there were the gardens. My grandmother pressed the kids into service at the end of the summer in the great canning wars. Sometimes, Granddad would show up with so many bushels of green beans, tomatoes, limas or this and that, the neighbors would join in. For their work, they hauled away and preserved their own shares. Many afternoons under the huge maple in the backyard, we got sore thumbs snapping beans and hulling peas, while a half dozen or more old women laughed and gossiped.

Some prices stick in mind. A box of toothpicks normally was 11¢ but might be 7¢ on sale. A can of tuna was 29¢ or on sale 19¢. Chuck roast was then much cheaper in proportion to other muscle meats, at 49¢ a pound and less on sale. This was in the late 1950s.

Figuring by today’s standards, our groceries can still be reasonable, for those who shop carefully. Tuna today hovers around $1 a can. Given inflation, it is less expensive than we paid for it. Maybe there was a cover charge (bag charge?) for the neon cat.

I tend to average $10 to $11 a bag of groceries now. The bags are a bit smaller than those of yesteryear, and I do shop judiciously. I may go to three stores on the way to get the best deals.

Along the way with my mother, I learned to work the coupons as well as ads. Before requirements for labeling unit prices (like a pound of coffee or ounce of dish detergent), I calculated the best deal by size. Even then, the king-size cereal or such might cost more per unit than a smaller one. I loved that stuff and delighted locating the best deal between brands and by size. That may be a mild sickness, but I pretend it helped make me a good project manager.

My late mother-in-law, in contrast, was one of many who clearly didn’t grow up that way. She found such grocery-shelf comparisons confusing, even though she worked in a bank and dealt with numbers all day long. She had long ago given up on coupons, finding them far too much work to locate the precise item in brand and size to qualify. She seemed astonished that I not only used coupons, but reveled in saving $20 or more a week on things we’d buy regardless.

The few times I have seen parts of The Price is Right, I figured I could have aced the grocery items they use. I pay attention and know for my area what milk, laundry soap and such cost.

Now that I do the cooking nearly all the time, the other benefit of grocery shopping, and in my case hitting the Haymarket every week, is planning the week’s menu by what’s fresh, what catches my nose and eye, and what’s reasonably priced. By the time I head home, I have a bunch of meals in the works. I also know what’ll be in the fridge and pantry for winging it then or in a month.

Honestly, I enjoy grocery shopping.

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Artist and Geek Rumble

January 3rd, 2011

herbsOur visiting artist, Savannah, a.k.a. Marion Etheredge, figuratively slapped me upside my head quite a few times this weekend. It was about creating videos, newish to me and new to her.

Like speaking another language while in a foreign town, being made to see through the eyes and in the brain of a real artist is broadening. I flashed on the British cryptic puzzles of which I am so fond and such a habitué. My wife claims they are impossibly illogical, while I contend that one must first shift mental gears to be open to the ambiguity of the clues.

Savannah has recently begun expanding from the still camera in her smart phone to its video. If you don’t make video, that may seem trivial, but I’ve been attending Boston Media Makers for quite awhile and learned that many of the hotshot video makers and vbloggers started with the low-level functionality in inexpensive digital cameras and phones. Longest journeys and first steps, and like that.

She’s been visiting from South Carolina. That included a Sunday session of BMM. She also was deeply curious about the equipment and hardware I’ve been using. She knows that I am doing a series of short videos for a food website that’s about to go live.

So, she sat with me while I combined a group of clips on how to dry fresh herbs from my garden. She wanted to know how I planned it and particularly how I edited the mess into a 3 or so minute clip for the web.

She’s a Mac sort and as it turns out, I recently discovered the marvelous free online video editing site JayCut. That was the right thing to show her, even though I am new to it. JayCut is much more similar to the Apple built-in video software iMovie than the clunkier Microsoft variation MovieMaker.

Not the least advantage in JayCut is conversion from QuickTime. My video camera saves in QT and MovieMaker doesn’t do Apple. I’ve been having to use QT Pro or other conversion utilities before playing with clips in MovieMaker. Then even with my high-powered desktop, MovieMaker grunts and grinds to save edited files. JayCut does its work on its own servers, faster and without complaining about QT files.

jccut

On the downside, JayCut is very Apple-like in doing a terrible job in explaining itself. It arrogantly assumes that its icons are so intuitive and simple that it doesn’t need to explain anything. For a couple of examples, consider the cutting process, involving the scissors icon. In many audio and other editing programs, deleting a segment means clicking something like this, dragging it to the end of the section to delete, releasing the mouse button and hitting a delete key. Through trial and several errors, we discovered that this tool in this package takes clicking the scissors, picking a starting point, releasing the button, clicking the icon again, clicking an end point and releasing the button to create a standalone segment. Then clicking the arrow icon and dragging the segment to the upper bar deletes it.

jcdragNext to close up the generated space in the file, you can mouse over the arrow embedded at a segment beginning. Popup text tells you go grab the arrow and change the beginning of the segment. In JayCut reality, if you want to close the gap, you need to select the arrow icon above, move the cursor to the middle of the segment and drag and drop it from there. Moving the beginning arrow invariably goofs up the segment, possibly re-inserting deleted material.

The sparse help function shows next to nothing and illustrated neither of these. Having worked in software companies for many years, I’m sure the attitude of developers there is that if customers are too stupid to figure these out, they have no reason to use the program and service. In this case, I did figure the quirks out, and of course, with the free service, I lost no money, just some time and patience. In my Windows world as well, the speed benefits of JayCut, plus the ability to save the result in many different formats made it well worth my while to solve these little puzzles.

So to the artist, she thinks differently about video, like, well, a painter and sculptor. I come in as a journalist, general writer, and technical communicator.

The biggest difference was that aural and visual details were huge to her. To me, content is king, queen and court.

My inclination has gotten lots of reinforcement from the many BMM meetings I’ve attended. I strongly recommend them to anyone in new media. Attendants love nothing more than helping others solve or even better avoid problems with hardware, software, techniques and more.

recursivesg.jpgI came in very humble with this group of experienced film and video heads. Starting with founder Steve Garfield, they really know their stuff. As a blogger and podcaster, and not a video person, I was and remain awed by their experience and expertise. I gleaned tips on the right camera to begin with (Kodak Zi8 in my case), and such obvious to them but new to me basics as you need to grab the viewer in the first 15 seconds of a clip and you damned well better have great stuff if you intend to go more than two and one-half minutes.

Wowsers to that, but then it is pretty similar to what I learned in journalism school and practiced for years in newspapers and magazines. There, the short lead paragraph had to be compelling enough or the readers would be on the next article. Likewise,  you had better assume that nearly no one would read the whole piece — hence the inverted pyramid style of writing with the best stuff up front.

Chair to chair, Savannah’s concerns and style were markedly different from mine. For one example, she was appalled to hear the rustle of my feet on dry leaves as I moved for two or so seconds to the perennial herb bed. Likewise, she thought I should enlist my wife or someone else to hold and direct the camera, which I had on a tripod, so that my hands tying the herb stems would be the absolute center of the screen instead of the lower area.

Editing the clips with her, I felt the values were solid and those details OK improvements but nonessential. The audio and visual were clear and understandable. The procedure was accurate. The sound was at a good level. Someone seeing and hearing this little clip would know what to do and how. Content was solid.

I suspect she would be much happier with the output if the production values and appearance were prettier and artsy perfect, even if the message and steps were not quite accurate or were hard to follow. Yet, she is a remarkable artist with a keen eye. I can keep her attitude handy for future shoots. In fact, my wife has agreed to be pressed into service making sure the focal point of a clip appears central in the frame.

In the end of our session, I had debugged the editing steps and she left with confidence that she could follow my procedure from rough storyboarding through shooting a series of clips in the right order to stripping out the unnecessary and distracting (like popping into the scene).

We are crafts folk each in our own way, but she and I learned from the process. That was a fine and useful way to pass a couple of hours. The artist and the geek rubbed elbows and each come away better for it.

Tags: harrumphharrumphervideoBoston Media MakersJayCutiMovieMovieMakerartistSavannahediting

Ghostly Artifacts

September 1st, 2010

wanda1Small things as place holders and then worse than useless mementos of the beloved dead require decisions. I finally have come to terms with the last of my mother’s Scottish shortbread.

In the new-to-us house as well as the previous one, small sets of artifacts were a comforting hidden altar. I buried my grandfather in the backyard gardens. That is, a set of a photo and trinkets related to him became a nexus. Knowing that symbols were there gave me a focus for thoughts that needed consideration.

He played the father role for me all summers, vacations and on the telephone in my school years. I still want to share the bad and good and puzzling with him…and do.

When the objects are rancid, it’s another matter. My mother’s splendid shortbreads — rich, not too sweet floret cookies — were a primal communication and display of affection. She shipped us her homemade treats before Christmas every year and the tin of shortbread always came with a hand-written label MICHAEL on the top.

Six years on from the last batch, I still have a few of the last batch. What to do with remnants of my mother’s effort?

I can’t pretend that they are actually part of her. Yet, she made them for me and I had decades in college and adulthood getting them every year. It seemed as important to her to show that affection as for me to enjoy it.

The buttery cookies have long gone bad, to the point that I don’t open the tin. They aren’t moldy, but they not inviting even as ritual food.

Yet, I don’t want to place them in the trash. There’s at least that much emotion remaining in the former food.

I’m setting a couple out today to see what the various wild visitors do with them. We have many kinds of birds, including crows that are grossly fond of roadkill, as well as the night shift of rabbits, raccoons and such.If they devour the shortbread, I’ll sacrifice a few at a time until they are gone.

Had you known Wanda (above in early middle age), you would also know she would appreciate the sharing decision. She was a child in the Great Depression. While her father’s full-time job, massive gardening and tailoring protected the family from the stereotypical deprivation, she grew up in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia, where waste is a sin.

Perhaps our two and four-legged visitors will help me here.

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Herbs in the ‘burbs

August 15th, 2010

I smell of some sweet and some sharp herb leaves. My hands bring to mind Shannon Curfman’s mildly suggestive lyricsI smell you on my fingertips. I can taste you on my lips.

My new perennial herb garden has been overflowing green and figuratively begging for harvest. I’ve cooked with my annual and perennial herbs all season. Today, I clipped two bunches of three of my eight herbal citizens — one trio as offerings to tonight’s dinner hosts and one to dry in the garage before being sealed for fall and winter use.

fairmountherbs
Click to get closer


My heavily scented greens may not be as showy as floral offerings, but the friends we’ll visit are foodies and I suspect will share my sensual joy here.

This harvest is, clockwise from 9, lemon balm, oregano and sage.

The drying process is easy enough, much easier than setting fruits or vegetables by. It means:

  1. Cutting a fist full of herbs at the lowest leaves
  2. Those leaves are generally discolored and have lost flavor, so picking them off provides a good stem section for the next step
  3. Tying the bunch with string (rubber bands would tend to loosen more and perhaps drop stems)
  4. If you doubt your memory or nose, labeling each bunch with a tape or tag on each string bearing the name
  5. Hanging them to dry out of weather
  6. Later, packaging in jars or plastic bags you can seal (zipper ones are most practical for access)

Short of the oregano and thyme, the dried herbs will not have as full a flavor, but pretty close if consumed in the coming months. I find fresher dried herbs plenty rich to the nose and mouth though. The emotional factor of knowing that they’re mine surely comes into play.

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Lewd, Rude and Colorful

June 8th, 2010

stinkhorn clusterStriking in appearance, but otherwise unwelcome, the stinkhorns have visited under some of our rhodys. This trio popped up, spent the week smelling a bit, and withered.

They’ll be back. Short of putting non-acid loving plants in the spot and replacing all mulch and top soil, nothing gets rid of this colorful, fetid fungus.

Also known, for obvious reasons, as a penis plant, these visitors don’t serve much use except for a little color. One expert at the University of Wisconsin writes that maybe because of their shape, they are treated as aphrodisiacs in China. Then again, it’s difficult to find plants and animal parts that are not.

This is not the worst variety though. Some literally stink up the neighborhood. These are just mildly unpleasant close up, with a whiff of an animal carcass. However, by the time you see and smell them, the fungus part at the base has already reproduced. The phallus part is really the flower.

I think this is a live-and-let-live situation.

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Gardening Ghosts

May 21st, 2010

petunia1The outdoors in the new-to-us house makes me realize I’ve been Mabelized. My maternal grandmother, Mabel, is visiting me again from the inside out.

Twice this afternoon, I was aware. First, I had in hand watering cans with sprinkling heads. Then came the grass clippers. It was into the WABAC machine to Romney of my youth.

Mabel was very bright and often funny. She was also a martinet. My sister and I spent our summers with her and our grandfather, her husband, from shortly after we returned from the occupation army in Japan. I think with good reason, she resented taking care of her divorced daughter’s kids. So, she had us earn our keep, not in the Cinderella way, but more 19th century.

For example, weekly we dusted the stair uprigthts from newel to newel. She’d inspect each baluster’s turned bulbs and angles before approving, or not. We regularly did an unfavorite task of window cleaning too. That wasn’t traditional washing. Rather we used crumbled Cumberland Times and Hampshire Review pages with ammonia. It meant hours of tearing, coughing and red skin.

As the boy, from six I had boy duties. That included lugging out the galvanized cans of trash or slag from the coal furnace. Then there was digging out the proliferative dandelions. I also mowed the lawns, which brought with it hand clipping around the trees, steps, sidewalk and bushes. For reasons I can’t quite understand now, my least favored was watering the damned petunias.

The front porch offered grand views of two mountains up from Romney’s plateau. Apple and peach orchards made fabulous variegated green embroidery of the entire slopes. We could sit in rockers or a swing to watch the curtains of rain slowly advance west to east down the orchards toward us.

For me, the downside of the porch was those damned petunias. Mabel loved her petunias, which became mine for each summer. Three sides of the porch had low walls of white planters the width and the depth. Every inch had a petunia plant by roots or flower.

One of my jobs was to take one, two, three…maybe six or even eight sprinkling watering cans filled and to drown the petunias every single day, even rainy days. I also mowed the little lawns front and back, which took longer than watering those damned petunias, but for some reason, I didn’t mind the mowing. Perhaps it was using my whole body and feeling puerilely manly. Perhaps it was simply the stunning aroma of the cut grass.

So today, I was out again with the watering cans. It’s not petunias, but my containers of tomatoes, those of peppers and the railing boxes of annual herbs. Then I either hook up the hose or take cans to douse the three-by-six-foot raised bed of perennial herbs.

I honestly have to chuckle as I do. I remember the petunias.

I also hit the borders around the raised bed, the compost container and next to the stairs, bushes and trees with clippers. As in Romney, I clip after the mowing. Unlike in Romney, two sons alternate weeks mowing.

I can’t say I don’t know how to water or clip. I have experience.

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Hyde Park Hides

January 11th, 2010

hojo.jpgStanding before the first-floor toilet a few minutes ago, I saw a coyote trotting down the middle of Summit Street. Having something other than a camera in hand, I’ll have to wait for another shot to record such sightings.

Even the few free dogs here are shy about being in the street. Summit there particularly makes other canines cautious because the number 24 bus runs there.

The beasty continued down the street toward the Police Academy. If the neighbors are accurate, it may have been cat hunting at 8:41 a.m.

We hear that a den of them live in the abandoned land on the Milton/HP border. That was the former site of the estate of Howard Johnson of 28-flavors fame.  On the Google map here, that would be the forested area in the lower right.

Dog walkers routinely go into the woods there — and emerge. I’m  not fond of fending off wild canines, but coyotes here allegedly want smaller, easier-to-eat game.

I do wish they’d turn their attend to squirrels. We  have too many of those, I want a garden in my first summer here, and we inherited  many heavy plastic trash cans with jagged baseball-sized holes gnawed by the ragged, rugged rodents.

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Imperfect Demanding Perfect

September 28th, 2009

strawbs.jpgBlemished fruits and vegetables separate humans philosophically. Much like admiring a pretty woman or handsome man, even the plainest of us demands more of the objects of our voyeurism than we provide.

 

I am in my 30th year of shopping at Boston’s Haymarket, 32nd if you count college days when I lived in Cambridge for a bit. I absolutely adore the rickety stalls on Blackstone Street. Also, much like my family members, I have a broad view and make allowances.

 

Not all are so forgiving.

 

I recall my late mother-in-law tsk-tsking over my Saturday harvests when she was on one of her protracted visits. For example, I’d bring back a full flat (12 pints overflowing of strawberries) and separate and clean them. A few pints would have a couple of moldy berries.

 

Sylvia would give a loud and long, “What a shame!” with great sincerity. While I paid 30¢ or perhaps 50¢ per pint, she thought I would have been better off paying $2 or $3 a pint in the supermarket. True enough, there were unlikely to be any moldy fruit in those. Then again, they would be half white and as tasteless as packing peanuts.

 

It would be the same with those tomato-like objects supermarkets stock and sell, the more or less permanent things, hard and vaguely pink, with no scent or flavor. Yet, they too would be without blemish.

 

I thought of her again recently as a blogger acquaintance exchanged a few emails with me on the subject. One included:

Our biggest problem with Haymarket is quality.  The prices are fantastic but often we throw out more than we eat which makes us do two things: 1) question whether the low prices are truly economical and 2) feel like we are being incredibly wasteful consumers.  I would love to try the market again but am trying to find strategies that make it truly worth it.

 

I suspect I can do what he wants, but perhaps not exactly as cleanly as he wants. Among the overlapping issues there are:

  • Some vendors specialize and there are the right places to buy fresh herbs or citrus or root veggies. I can help there.
  • Some is frequency. The vendors know me by face after so many years and quite a few will warn me off something that isn’t that good on a particular weekend.  He’d have to show up and greet them as though he were French for awhile to get that.
  • Some is watching, particularly the college students as summer help. Be sure to see that they take the product they sell in plain sight. When they bend out of sight to a hidden box, that’s often trouble. Hear how the Asian-American women yell at them if they try that.
  • Accept that the cheapest is sometimes the riskiest. Most fruits and veggies and half or a quarter of supermarket prices. That written, it makes sense to scan the Thursday grocery fliers; sometimes the supers have a great loss leader like 77¢ a pound black grapes that you may not be able to top at the Haymarket. Mostly though if the green beans are 75¢ and gorgeous, don’t hold out for the 4 pounds for a dollar; you can be pretty sure the vendor dumping goods at absurd prices has stuff bad or about to go bad. Many would rather dump that, but a few will appeal to greedy shoppers.
  • If you want to get serious about a trip, walk through the front and then the back of the market. After all, it’s one long block and two perpendicular short half-blocks. See what looks good and fix the prices for your favorites on the way. Then swing back through with the bags you remembered to bring (I use a huge messenger bad for most stuff).

Back to the philosophical part, my mother-in-law did not grow veggies and fruits for subsistence. My grandfather, William B. Michael, did and had since the Depression.  Granddad taught me many realities of vegetative matter.

 

By the bye, my mother said she, her brother and sister, and their mother really didn’t know there was a Depression. That is, they were not grossly ignorant, rather Granddad had them covered. He had a full-time job (48 years on the B&O). He sold Chevrolets on the weekend. He had a part-time dry cleaner and tailor shop next to the house. Then, there were those gigantic gardens.

 

By the time my grandmother (with neighbors, children and grandchildren) canned, the shelves lining the basement floor to ceiling has Ball jars galore and the huge freezer was full of bags of Lima beans, corn and more. Snap beans, tomatoes, pickles and…it never seemed to stop.

 

My mother also told of how embarrassed she had been to wear homemade clothes from her father. Then she went away to college and bought clothes off the rack. She be damned, they didn’t fit perfectly. She had worn tailored clothes until she was 18!

 

Many summers I worked with him from weeding through harvest on several acres. He was a great respecter of people, but also of vegetables and fruit. He taught me enjoyment of what we grew as well. If it was time for asparagus, we’d walk down one of the 100-foot rows, cutting the perfectly ripe spears. Lightly steamed minutes later, they were sublime.

 

I also learned to take beautifully ripe tomatoes, redolent with that slightly acrid sweetness, and if one of the gems had a spot of blight or mold, we’s cut that and direct it to a stew or other sauce. The taste and color were great. As with today, the “bad” tomatoes were far better used that way than any permanent supermarket food.

 

So that is another philosophic angle of food. From a man who waltzed his family through the Depression, Granddad avoided waste. He also knew sapid from insipid.  I refuse to fill my mouth with bland food as a result.

 

Many Haymarket fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready. The supermarkets don’t want that, regardless of the grand tastes and aromas. They need food that will ship around for a week and sit in the store for two more without showing blemishes or mold. That’s the sturdy, Styrofoam® stuff you find behind the salad bar sneeze guard.

 

None for me, thanks. I’ll take the lush and ready-to-eat stuff. I’ll toss the occasional really bad piece and make the most of those with minor flaws. I’m not perfect and don’t demand perfect appearance of every tomato and strawberry.

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