Sunday, September 8, 2013


I have an image that keeps popping back, of an honour guard of tall blooming hostas, marching down either side of a front walk in the village of Middleburgh. I passed them Friday as I was nearing the end of the long drive from Toronto to a farm near Rensellaarville, at the edge of the Catskills. By then I was tired and impatient to be out in the air rather than driving. But somehow, as happens occasionally, I noticed them clearly and then the snapshot memory of them stuck in my head. They made me smile in their vigour.

All it takes is some upbeat or light-hearted nudge sometimes, to take us from flatness or tiredness and remind us to stay alert and engaged. And on Friday the hostas did the trick.

Soon, after a stop at a rural junction to ask directions of two guys in a truck, and another directions-seeking chat with some guys outside a bar five miles further, I reached the red-barned farm where Molly O’Neil’s Longhouse Food Revival was about to start. What a pleasure to step out of the car onto green grass, see the wood-fired oven burning and young people working hard making last minute preparations for the weekend, and catch sight of other early arrivals and dive into conversations.

Now it’s Sunday morning. The big day is done, with its public performances and discussions and its many smaller conversations in the interstices; and with its feasting. Whew! Thanks to all the chefs and cooks who managed to feed a cast of hundreds with such grace and imagination and deliciousness. We had slow-roasted goat (the goats came from the Berry farm up the road); an Ethiopian cabbage and carrot dish with a side of berbere, a helping of (the Indonesian) rojak, Persian jewelled rice, and much more (including Sorel, a spiced hibiscus liquor now made in Brooklyn), then saffron ice cream, and other sweets… That was just dinner.

But even if we’d had only simple bread and cheese and raw vegetables I would have been very happy, for it was the conversations I had with friends old and new that juiced the day. Thanks, everyone! I think many people caught sight of new ideas or perspectives, or were encouraged to pursue the projects they were already embarked on (there were a lot of young people, and not-so-youngs here, all involved in some way in writing about and working with food, food journalism, food research and ideas, etc, in every kind of medium). That’s the best thing about coming together with others. It’s not so much direct learning, but informal contacts and the sparking of new thoughts, in unexpected ways.

I’ll put on music on my way home, to keep me company in the car, but my real company will be the conversations that I play back to myself, and the ideas they may lead me to as I reflect on them.

On another note, I was reminded again this morning, by Ariel Dorfman's piece in today’s New York Times, that this year, on September 11, it will be forty years since the coup that ousted Salvador Allende and killed and maimed so many in Chile and beyond… 

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