Home and place

Thoughts on Earth day, finding hope and cooking with loved ones.

Our only true capital is clean air, clean water, and clean soil. Photo by Susan Safford

April 22 was Earth Day. Fittingly, more than 170 countries went to New York to sign the Paris climate agreement, a record-breaking number of first-day signatures for an international treaty: Stand up for what you stand on!

And yet: March 2016 hottest recorded; climbing CO2 atmospheric content; relentless sea level encroachment on low-lying lands; unpredictable weather … but once again we receive platitudes — yawn — concerning Earth Day, a calendar “day” like Teacher Appreciation or Father’s Day, but somewhere lower down the scale than Easter or Halloween. Media remind us to observe it, yet without any solemn commitment or plausible concern.

To me home is where one lives, not a commodity, not a place to leverage into cash. Many friends and acquaintances have a variety of opinions and emotions regarding land and our planet, Earth, and some do not question its reduction to commodity status. But just as some see human birth as paramount in terms of life’s sanctity, I see our treatment of our home planet as paramount regarding that same sanctity; and fracking or mountaintop removal, for example, as equivalent to abortion. These are all affronts to the sanctity of life.

Whether your only home is the Vineyard, or whether your only home is Planet Earth, our connection to our home is anything but incidental: It is everything.

Conveying this relationship far better than I could, Wendell Berry, the author, poet, and a Kentucky farmer, wrote this poem, and kindly gave me permission to use it. Every time I read it, it wrenches my heart.

“A Poem on Hope,” Wendell Berry

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,

for hope must not depend on feeling good

and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.

You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality

of the future, which surely will surprise us,

and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction

anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.

The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?

Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

“Because we have not made our lives to fit

our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,

the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope

then to belong to your place by your own knowledge

of what it is that no other place is, and by

your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this

knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.

It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask

for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land

and your work.  Be still and listen to the voices that belong

to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.

“Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.

Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.

The world is no better than its places. Its places at last

are no better than their people while their people

continue in them. When the people make

dark the light within them, the world darkens.”

Being at home: ‘Home Cooked’

On the subject of hope: “Today, having your child choose a career in farming has become almost prestigious, as America’s interest in food has reached new heights.” —Anya Fernald, from her introduction to “Home Cooked.”

A typical American moves an average of 11.7 times in life, according to 2007 calculations of the Census Bureau (census.gov), and the internalized decree to seek one’s fortune — “Go west, young man” — may reduce our notion of home and place to something narrow and tedious.

However, home and culture are inextricably linked. When we constantly move — or even worse, are homeless — the threads that constitute the fabric of culture weaken. Perhaps the current resurgence of gardening, food growing, and eating well reflects a refreshing reaction and response to cultural uprooting.

The recently released “Home Cooked: Essential Recipes for a New Way to Cook,” by Anya Fernald with Jessica Battilana (Ten Speed Press), is a beautifully produced retort: a story about cooking, eating, and enjoying living, in a home-based way that makes one wish to cook with and for those one loves.

(Disclosure: Anya Fernald’s parents befriended me years ago. They were interesting, intensely attuned to the aesthetics and possibilities of life, and appear to have similarly endowed their daughter.)

“Home Cooked” emphasizes the basic skills of stockpiling a repertoire of flavorful preparations ahead of time to use later in complete meals, beginning with “building blocks” such as bone broth, rendering animal fats, soup and sauce basics, and canning fruits and vegetables. This may once have been commonplace home economics, but the info and know-how has now gone missing; Fernald’s hip and timely style restores their luster.

The recipes are good, many revealing Italy’s great culinary influence, and are accompanied by well-written, interesting vignettes on life and travel, the recipe background and its variations, and menu and storage suggestions. Many feature underutilized cuts and ingredients.

Wondering how to use up those lamb hearts? Try Seared Lamb Heart Crudo. Transforming the pork back fat from Island-raised pigs into something useful, yet tasty and extraordinary? Whipped Lardo (the spread of people who work hard all day long!). Want delicious crackers without the hyperprocessed ingredients? Olive Oil Crackers will underline those yummy spreads, dips, and cheeses “Home Cooked” also showcases.

The treatment of vegetables and pastas is thorough and innovative, as well. Bitter Greens with Buttermilk Dressing, for instance, is a recipe that many Island gardeners will be able to produce just about year-round from their own gardens and buttermilk (Fernald encourages making that too, as well as butter).