September 05, 2009

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Tea With The Ladies posted by Leann Sweeney I have had the opportunity to speak at various places over the last five years. Book stores, country clubs, a hotel where a charitable event was being held, and at book clubs. One book club even made all the food that my characters enjoy in my first book. That was fun since I didn't even recall all the food I put in that book. I mean, they even brought in the Subway sandwiches. But until this week, I'd never spoken at a church. The last Sunday in August, the ladies at the Spring Branch Presbyterian Church have a tea to kick off their season of giving. They made sandwiches--cucumber, pimento cheese, lovely little roast beef with a dollop of horseradish mayo and several kind s of scones. And if that wasn't enough there were the cookies and the brownies and the cakes. The water was served out of crystal pitchers with lemon slices and the hot tea? Well, only real silver will do. I was greeted with more kindness and warmth than I can ever recall at a signing. Special table, fresh flowers, in fact everything a harried writer with a fast approaching deadline could want. But the ladies were the most special of all. There is something so great about an audience where the average age is about sixty. These are smart women with years of experience and they are all avid readers. I talked for awhile about inspiration, my joy at being able to have a second career, about my books and where I get my ideas. Women like these are not afraid to ask questions and there were plenty. What seemed to resonate most with them, unlike when I talk to younger crowds or aspiring writers, was the part about how it took me fifteen years to get published. I don't think anyone has ever asked me before what made me keep trying to get published. My answer? Stubborn. I don't like hearing no for an answer. Never did, even when I was five. I sold a lot of books last Sunday and had a relaxing fun afternoon with a room full of smart women. They were all dressed for tea, took that part as serious as those cucumber sandwiches. They even wore hats and many chose pink. This is a crowd that knows way too much about breast cancer, things a doctor could never quite understand. And when I left, one of the women on clean up duty put a small present wrapped in pretty napkin inside my bag. I unwrapped it when I got home. A beautiful china tea cup to remind me of a day I would never have forgotten anyway.
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BLAST FROM THE PAST Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah enjoys the results) In the course of my dangerous and challenging research fo r the Orchard Mystery series, I have been forced to investigate the dark depths of...farmers markets. My garden this year has been less than bounteous (look! three tomatoes! twelve beans! and the slugs ate all the zucchini!), but others have fared better, and it is a real treat to go exploring. But I have found a time warp: in Plymouth (yes, that Plymouth). Plymouth's farmers market is something else. It occupies an unbeatable site, literally on the shores of Plymouth Harbor, complete with bobbing boats and drifts of seaweed and sweeping views. It would be worth visiting just for that. More important, it is an almost totally organic market. And there are a number of bonuses–local seafood, including affordable lobster; goat cheese; grass-fed meat; homebaked breads; dips and salads. All local products, trucked no more than a few miles. Foodie heaven. But that's still not all. I must admit that I was a child of the sixties, and although I didn't inhale (well, not much), I knew my share of mildly counter-culture types. I even had friends that belonged to (gasp) a food co-op (although the one memory of their produce that sticks in my mind was helping one of them to pick the pebbles out of the bulk beans). So walking into the Plymouth market is like taking a step back in time. I have found that organic farmers take their mission very seriously (heck, I even wrote about it in Rotten to the Core). Not that I can argue with them: their goal is to produce food that is both healthy for you and tastes good. And it is a joy to wander from booth to booth at the market, admiring the fingerling potatoes and the many-colored carrots and beets. One week I came home with four different kinds of eggplant, and that didn't even exhaust the choices. The goat stall offers not only cheese, but goat milk, goat butter, goat yoghurt, and goat ice cream (I'm working my way up to that last one). This past week they even brought a goat along–a six-week-old charmer named Aster. Aster was a big hit among the children who were there. And that's another aspect: the market as entertainment. The vendors want to bring families in, so they offer story time and music (this week there was an earnest group singing about saving our trees, and in the past they've had a wonderful Celtic harpist), and animals you can pet (look, Mommy, I touched a chicken!). (And toilet facilities, complete with a changing table for infants.) I can only imagine how exciting it must be to a child to see the colorful wealth of food they can choose from. (To be fair, I knew what fresh vegetables looked like when I was growing up; my mother exposed me to such exotic things as avocados and asparagus and endive, flying in the face of that wonder-food of the fifties, frozen vegetables.) There's also a component of the market as education. Beyond the wild and wonderful array of vegetables, there are usually booths dispensing information. One week it may be about principles of organic farming. This past week is was about midwives. When was the last (or first?) time you saw that? So, as I said, venturing into the Plymouth Farmers Market is like stepping back into another time and place, into a tight-knit community that cares about food and wants others to share their enthusiasm. And it is good food, as I can attest. It even comes with honest dirt attached. Hey, folks, potatoes come out of the ground! That's soil! Somebody like Michael Pollan or Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out somewhere (please, it's a holiday–don't make me go find the source.) that when when talking to groups of city children, they hear questions like, "how do you put the carrots into the ground?" Too many children have lost the connection between growing and eating, and that is sad. Food does not grow in styrofoam packages with shrink-wrap, but will the current generation ever know that? There is one big obstacle to eating organic produce: cost. It's one of those chicken-and-egg things (tongue firmly wedged in cheek). Most organic farmers run fairly limited operations. They don't use chemicals, so their produce may be smaller and gnarlier than the giant glowing examples we're used to seeing in our markets. They don't receive government subsidies for their crops (and don't get me started on the evils of corporate agriculture–just go see Food, Inc.). And they can't produce a crop year-round, so they have to make all their profits during their growing/harvest season. All of this drives up the prices they have to charge. Understandably, consumers don't want to pay more than they have to, so they go to their supermarkets and buy apples from New Zealand and broccoli from Mexico, and they're happy to have them all year round, whenever they want. Which has nothing to do with the agricultural world. So organic farmers face an uphill battle to educate consumers and convince them that clean, locally-grown food tastes better and is ecologically responsible. If they can convince enough people, then the price may come down. That's how the market works. I'm convinced. And in an age when speed and convenience seems to be the driving factor in food consumption, it's nice to step back and really take a look at what we're eating and how we're preparing it. We have taken so much of the pleasure out of food, and we need to recapture that. We'll all be the better for it. These are my own tomatoes. Unfortunately they are the total of my tomato crop this year. So far.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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