Tag

food

Food, U.S.

A Picnic Revolution

I’m starting a picnic revolution! Here’s how it came about:

Yesterday, my friends invited me to an outdoor concert at Lincoln Peak Vineyard (about 3 miles north of Middlebury, VT). After a busy day at work, this seemed like the perfect way to spend my evening.

Sunlight dripped like honey into the Adirondacks on the horizon, and its warmth melted away the constant action of the past few days of work. Vibrations lifted from violin strings. Blades of grass sprouted between my toes while Bluegrass music washed over my nose. For the first time in some days, I felt totally at peace. (I’m realizing that I need to step back from work, ‘other work’ and other ‘other work’ far more often.)

Due to my new-found engagement with social media, I snapped photos of my friends, lively grape vines, and, of course, our new picnic innovation and the subject of this post…

Naturally, Lincoln Peak Vineyard offers glasses of wine for sale during their outdoor summer concerts. Now, my parents, and probably many others, own special wine stakes meant to hold your wineglass in place while you use your hands for other things, like eating your beautiful picnic food. These stakes are somewhat unruly, however, and regardless, I don’t have any.

Feet, I discovered yesterday evening, are equally, if not more, effective, and you never run the risk of leaving them at home! How had it taken me so long to stumble upon such a simple solution? In no time, all four of us were holding our glasses up with our toes while we feasted on tomato basil and feta salad, millet bread muffins, chicken, cherries, and chocolate.

I suggested that this idea could revolutionize picnics, and I was only sort of kidding. Rise up with me against the tyranny of wineglasses over our picnic fun! Join my picnic revolution and take back your two-handed freedom! But seriously, give this a try and you may never picnic the same way again!

~

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Food, Nature, U.S.

Waiting for the Invisible

I expect this garden will teach me many things this summer. Though garden is perhaps too tame a word to describe it– too civilized. No tidy rows or neat squares here. On all sides of my house the land extends outward and upward in near vertical lines, and the eye loses track of the boundaries between the cultivated and the wild. Pockets of arable soil dot the landscape, reclaimed from the hill by sheer determination. Vines tangle with maples and violets fraternize with garlic chives and clover. Beans that were planted in one patch willfully assert themselves in the neighboring one– “volunteers,” as my friend Rae calls them.

Nine days now have passed since I planted what remained of these plots. (The owner had already planted beans and peas, chives and thyme some weeks prior.) I contributed squash and zucchini, cucumbers and collard greens, turnips, parsley and arugula. Nine days later and I begin to lose patience. Where are they?

The herbs and tomatoes I bought as starters stand strong in their pots by the driveway. Turnip shoots emerge from the earth in droves; the zucchini begin to display a few shy leaves; and the rest… the rest remain hidden, continuing along a mysterious, underground journey that I can only guess at. Well, thanks to high school Biology I can do more than guess, but even so, where are all the rest? I ask, exasperated. I don’t even like turnips!

Calm down, I remind myself. Breath. In and out. These are seeds, not magic beans, and they don’t in fact grow overnight. When I ‘woofed’ (worked on an organic farm) in Sicily, I arrived in June, at the start of a lengthy harvest season. Zucchini already a foot long and figs falling off the trees. There was no waiting; I enjoyed an instant gratification of food production matched only by… supermarkets. And fairy tales.

But in the real world of dirt and seeds and seasons and cycles, there is a germination period: 4-12 days for cucumbers, 7-14 for squash. That’s a lot of days. Nine days in, and I have to remind myself to have patience; to quiet the pessimistic, doubtful voice in my head whispering, they’re never coming.

Where are those darn plants? They’re coming. Are we there yet? No, but we’re on our way.

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Asia, Culture

Existential Apple Juice

A section from my soon-to-be-turned-in research paper. A little slice of life in Kagbeni and some more thoughts on authenticity.  Next post will be on a new theme, I promise.


            In academic discourse on tourism and authenticity, we often mistakenly assume that either tourists or local peoples can authoritatively define what is authentic.  In reality, authenticity, of experience as much as objects, is a transient and ever-changing concept, different for everyone.  True authenticity depends on one’s state of mind and openness to experience.  It can be contained in a single apple, a single moment, or a single-minded willingness to engage authentically.
            Less than a week into my stay at the Red House Lodge, I already had a Nepali name (Kalpana), a host of familiar faces in town, and essentially a Nepali family.  One morning, upon returning “home” from a walk, Tenzin’s daughter and employees called to me from the picnic table on the flat roof where they were shredding apples to make juice.  Kalpana! Bosnus, Kalpana.” They made space for me and I sat down on the edge of the table, trying to avoid the sticky bits of apple scattered about.  I insisted on helping, as by then they must have expected, picking up a hand-held metal grater (the kind I had only used to grate cheese), and joined my effort to theirs. 
For more than an hour we worked in semi-silence, speaking to ask for more apples (apple, dinnus) or pass a bowl of browning mush to Ammis, who would squeeze it in handfuls to separate liquid from solid.  The only other sounds came from the rasping of small, green apples against metal, the occasional cry of hawks circling the crumbling medieval fort across the alley, and the drip drip drip of fresh-squeezed apple juice trickling into a plastic bucket.  It being an unusually still morning, the prayer flags adorning nearly every rooftop remained quiet and the strong Mustangi sun heated the air.  I changed into a T-shirt, the first and last time that my arms would see the sun in Mustang.  We paused sometimes to sample from the abundance of produce spilling from the deep wicker basket next to us, punctuating the music of shredding apples with the crunch of teeth on fruit.
Apples of every variety grow well in the region around Kagbeni.  Marpha (elevation 2670 meters), a four hour walk south of Kagbeni, boasts the moniker “apple capital of Mustang,” but I preferred the tart crispness of the apples heaped around the picnic table that morning, harvested from Tenzin’s orchard in Pangling, just across the Kali Gandaki River less than an hour from the Red House Lodge.  Though the climate and altitude of Lower Mustang are ideal for the cultivation of apples, it is only in the last few decades that an apple economy has developed there.  Landowners have converted much of their farmland or unused property into orchards, and nearly every restaurant and guest house carries out its own small-scale apple juice-, cider-, and brandy-making operations.  Small bags of dried apples and bottles of apple brandy satisfy the demand of Nepali and foreign tourists alike for edible souvenirs.
My skin warm and my hands coated with sticky brown apple remains, I smiled contentedly at the easy companionship of that moment, which transcended linguistic and cultural barriers.  Shoulder-to-shoulder with my Nepali didi (sister), I grated apple after apple, as quickly and as diligently as the rest, working towards the simple common goal of juice.  Moments like these cannot be manufactured, I remember thinking.  In their beauty, simplicity and spontaneity, such instances of connection and, yes, authenticity, are precious in their inimitability.  Isn’t that the conundrum of the tourism industry, which makes its millions by selling “real” experiences. 
Some research on tourism today is employing the Heideggerian concept of existential authenticity to solve that riddle.  According to Heidegger’s philosophy, inherent meaning and connection exist, and it is these qualities that make experience possible.  In terms of tourism, when one approaches the world with “existential authenticity […], a state of Being in which one is true to oneself,” a unique experience of the world, understood from an individual perspective, becomes possible, and the tourist may experience that inherent meaning.  In these terms, authenticity is not a fixed, objective quality, but rather a state of mind, rendering it nearly impossible to package and market.  Taking the Maori’s staged cultural demonstrations as an example (which emerged as a response to non-Maoris producing cultural shows for tourists), “staging pseudo-events for tourists can, in fact, be expressions of host authenticity in deciding how to present themselves to others.”[1]  Whether a tourist witnessing this show finds it authentic is not the question here; the tourist who is attuned to his or her “existential self” will experience it authentically regardless.
At six o’clock, the night before apple juice-making day, I ate dinner with the group of Ukranian trekkers in the rooftop dining room.  Candlelight cast faces and food into a dynamic interplay of shadow and warm glow, and we lingered over glasses of Tenzin’s mother’s homemade cider.  My dinner companions struck me at first as naïve and impressionable— every monastery, every person they met, and every interaction with local people awed or inspired them, it seemed.  They attempted to quiz their Nepali guide about himself through several layers of translation (from Russian to English to Nepali and back), saying, “we have been in Nepal trekking two weeks, but we don’t know any real Nepalis.”  Predictably, the attempt at conversation faltered, yet the more I reflect on this group of trekkers, the more I appreciate their unusual and sustained efforts at making connections.  Revisiting that evening through a Heideggerian lens, I wonder if their willingness to engage with everyone and everything they encountered and the sincerity of their desire to experience Nepal, uninformed and naïve though it may have been, might not have resulted in a truly authentic experience.
The philosophy behind existential authenticity may appear hopelessly complex, but its implications for tourism study and marketing are straightforward yet rich in possibility.  If we admit that there is no objective authentic culture, that neither outsiders nor locals can make such a judgment, and we focus instead on individual authentic experience, existing mainstays of tourism marketing may prove misguided.  The shopkeeper who insists that, “this bracelet is really Tibetan. Really” might realize that her neighbor who converses and connects with customers does more business.  The tour guide offering to show his group the “real Mustang,” and its most meaningful cultural treasures, might lose out to the one who allows visitors to determine for themselves what is meaningful and seek for themselves authentic engagement with a foreign culture.
Apple juice perhaps can be bottled, mass-marketed, and sold at a profit (though I believe it tastes best in small batches), but the existential authenticity contained in a moment of shredding apples at a warm picnic table cannot.  Experiences like those are invaluable, fleeting and individual; at best, a guide or tour might provide support for those tourists who wish to attain them.


[1]Steiner, Carol J. and Reisinger, Yvette. “Understanding Existential Authenticity.” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 33, No. 2. Pp. 299-318.
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Asia, Culture, Food

I Drank Yak Blood


 I drank yak blood. Really. Yesterday, after eight years of not eating red meat. The flavor had a quality surprisingly similar to raw milk, a bit salty and, of course, metallic.  It was still warm. I won’t go into details about the chewy bit that I couldn’t finish. 
I stood at the top of a stone wall with two other Americans and a small crowd of children to watch the slaughter of three yaks from above.  The kids, none older than eight or nine, passed around fruit candies, shouted at us in shrill voices (the general belief being that if they spoke louder we would understand) and clambered onto rooftops and ledges to acquire prime seats for the show.  A woman sat behind us scraping creamy cheese off a flat stone, occasionally whacking me with a stick for blocking her sun.
I had decided that watching this event, commonplace to life in Mustang but wholly absent from my prior experience, was something I should do.  The longer I sat above the courtyard, watching the men turn bodies into carcasses, their hands turning from brown to deep red, the more comfortable I became.  Maybe desensitized is a better word.  I have long rejected the part of my own nature that is programmed to hunt, kill and eat meat.  Now, as before, I have no desire to order a steak, but I found it valuable to acknowledge that side of myself, and humanity at large, in such a manner.
When Tenzin, the owner of the Red House Lodge, beckoned to me, I made my way down the stairs on autopilot, having already committed myself several nights ago to trying yak blood.  “It will make you strong,” he had insisted, just as raksi(local alcohol), buckwheat, and nearly every other local product are said to do.  “You will try it, I think so.” And in the bravado of a moment I agreed.  I wasn’t about to back out later, and besides, what better way to go back to eating meat? 
I passed through the doorway into the arena.  Tenzin’s mother and another woman were already at work in the corner turning intestines and other innards into sausages.  Someone handed me a mug with rivulets of brilliant red liquid running down the sides. I drank, but could not finish.  On my way down to the river to wash out the remainder, I slipped on the muddy steps and almost fell.  The men in the courtyard laughed and joked that I was drunk from the blood.  I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the shot of nutrients, but I did feel jittery for quite some time after.
That night before dinner, over cups of raksi, Tenzin and his friend lamented that they had not taken any pictures (sorry to disappoint) of me with blood smeared on my nose and teased me about falling down.  I felt I had proved my mettle to them and joined some secret boys’ club, at least temporarily.  There is nothing savage or bizarre about the process I witnessed.  Animals are butchered every day, everywhere; that is a part of life.  There is nothing disgusting or barbaric about the tradition I took part in; it made sense in its place, surrounded by others doing the same thing, with gusto.  Still, having proved myself to both the locals and to myself, it is unlikely I will choose to repeat the experience.  I am, however, glad that I did it.
~

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