Thursday, January 15, 2009
A long-winded and rather dorky introduction
Ten years ago, I saved some money and set out on a trip across the country. Spencer’s parents bought an RV from a neighbor of theirs in rural New Hampshire, and the three of us, Spencer, Easy, and I, packed our things in the station wagon and headed up to Dublin from Boston with no set schedule, no jobs or leases to come back to, elated. On the way, Easy got spooked by something crawling over his foot in the passenger seat and we pulled over. The boys screamed manically at a walnut-sized mouse I caught between pieces of paper and dropped at the side of the road, and we cried laughing the rest of the way up. In the dirt driveway, we were giddy getting in the vehicle. Our dreams were coming true! Our destinies awaited! Spencer got in the driver’s seat while I lounged in an armchair in back. We were taking it for a test run, a trip to the insurance company in Keene to get our affairs in order. Spencer tapped the gas and the RV roared, lurching forward into a tree branch. The passenger-side window shattered and we froze—silent, solemn, uninsured.
We would not laugh about the RV episode until a year later, when Spencer and Easy moved to New York on a whim and I planned another trip across the country, this time with S., who’d bought a perfectly maintained raisin-colored 1988 Monte Carlo to make her brother jealous. Our first stop was Buffalo, where we stayed with her mother, who she hated, for five days. The weather was cold and we didn’t do much. I smoked in the driveway while S. and her mother fought. The only color I remember in Buffalo was the Indian food we ordered each night. S’s mother reached out to her by respecting her veganism and ordering accordingly, without comment or apparent judgment.
S. and me were both vegan: she had an abiding preference for animals over people; I had an adolescent desire to fit in while setting myself apart. S’s ethical convictions inspired me and I longed to be a part of a community—better still, the victim of a perceived injustice! Having recently recovered from the trauma of High School, I wasn’t fond of people, myself. (The myriad of excellent ecological and ethical reasons for eating low on the food chain was not apparent to me at the time.) I hoped to open a vegan restaurant one day.
Pulling into Bloomington, Indiana, the beautiful car sputtered to a halt and we were stranded for ten days in a house with six straight-edge boys in their late teens and Abby, a friend from Boston who’d landed there and reluctantly put us up. We sped across the rest of the country in a few days. Kansas never ended. By the time we arrived in Eugene, Oregon, S. was as tired of my wishy-washiness as I was of her brusqueness. I half-heartedly looked for work and ate a lot of vegan nachos and rice dream. By the time I broke my ankle in a bicycle accident six months later, we were barely on speaking terms. I flew back to Boston and never looked back. Six months later, I was going to college in Burlington, Vermont.
I started eating cheese within a year of my arrival in Vermont. I didn’t really know any vegans and I was happy and saw no reason to deny myself all the pleasure food could bring. But all those years of meticulously checking labels for rennet and lactic acid had left me unable to blindly consume and I mostly avoided pre-packaged foods with long lists of unrecognizable ingredients. I fell in with a lovely crowd of ethical foodies. Meghan and Gahlord had monthly potlucks for friends and acquaintances. J.B. grilled moose meat. Others brought ripe heirloom tomatoes from their gardens and fiddleheads from the farmer’s market. Everyone seemed to be thinking about where their food came from. After living briefly in New York, I returned to Burlington and began working at Smokejacks, where the food came from mushroom foragers with muddy pants and heavy accents, from rosy-cheeked farmers with bright red and gold bushels of beets. Waitstaff took written tests on local cheeses. We were proud to be a part of a food-based community. The food looked beautiful and tasted delicious.
Around the time Smokejacks closed, I took a job as AM dining room manager at The Inn at Shelburne Farms. The cows I saw from my bedroom window produced the farmhouse cheddar in the omelets. The eggs came from hens in the farmyard a mile down the road. Every day I ate salad from our market garden. Prepared with loving care, the food at Shelburne Farms was some of the best I’d ever tasted. I spent my free time walking the grounds, drinking wine, generally enjoying my spectacular surroundings and daydreaming about my next move. Living at work, I saved money in a way I hadn’t managed since living at home in Massachusetts. I had a car. I decided to take a road trip, alone.
I plan to travel down the East Coast, across the South, and up the West Coast, with detours for anywhere that sounds exciting. I’ll take my time and visit friends and eat and drink and have adventures. Now seems like the perfect time to start the food blog I’ve considered doing for years, though I’m sure there will be digressions aplenty. I’ll go to farmer’s markets and restaurants and vineyards and farms. I’ll post a lot of pictures. I’m going to leave the day after the inauguration. This year is going to be delicious.