Home. I’ve been throwing the term around a lot lately, using it to describe places that conjure up different emotions in me. Upstate New York is the cradle of my childhood memories, and her hills, farms and spiderweb of long thin lakes remind me both of times and loves ones past. This month I reconnected with family and paid tribute to my family’s history in a narrow valley carved by time and the patience of wind and water, and was able to take Clover along on walking story of the town where my mother grew up, a story punctuated by cabins and cousins, frozen custard stands and a Main Street that has done very little self-editing in the twenty five or so years that I have known it. Consistency, stability, it seems, can be found in boarded up windows and small coffee shops that defy out the onslaught of change.
Home is also Asheville, where I’m building my life out of bricks made from shared ideologies, a need for sustainability and soil that might just be fertile enough to satiate my mental and spiritual needs as well as birthing the foods and herbs which find their way into my kitchen. I’ve adopted Asheville, or she has adopted me, and the family that I’m creating in the city through friends, housemates and loved ones has amazing potential for richness.
And then there’s Nyack, the town I grew up in. I was raised here, schooled here by teachers who I often run into each time I return. My parents still live in the house where I grew up, and should I venture down to the local Irish bar, I’m guaranteed face time with many of the people with whom I used to drive around after school, blaring such musical classics as “I Touch Myself” while hoisting a clothing hanger-affixed sign that read, ever so poignantly, “your mom”. Ah, the substance of high school extracurricular activities. Nyack is where I became a hungry reader, chewing my way through the Children’s Room and their yearly summer reading competition, and it’s also where I became fascinated by historical revolutions and resistance movements. It’s where I subjected my 10th, 11th and 12th grade teachers to an unnatural obsession with all things Russian; history, art, literature, current events….. I may not have been cool, but I was thorough in my devotion to the Russophile way, and just to put it on record, I’d like to offer up a little gratitude to Mr. Burns, Ms. Skidd and Dr. Smith for putting up with my arguably narrow academic interests. Thanks folks – I did outgrow most of it, and I promise that if I ever run into any of you again, there will be no Gogol. Or Bukharin. Yeltsin who? I’ll let sleeping former authoritarians and depressive-but-brilliant writers lie.
Here’s the thing about home; it’s kind of like your family, sometimes inspiring love, other times fueling sentiments a little darker. But heaven forbid someone else mess with your kin, your clan.
Or your mom (just wanted to type that twice in one post, for nostalgia). Blood runs thick, they say.
Should such a violation occur, out come the proverbial claws; our desire to protect our families is truly primal, and it doesn’t matter who or what is encroaching upon them near the berry bush – you’re gonna defend your cubs.
Mama Bear just came out of the cave.
My hometown is being developed at breakneck speed, and the trees are coming down just as fast. In the past two years, I’ve seen slope after slope clear-cut of foliage, patches of wild earth that are now host to a parasitic network of shoddily constructed houses. In addition to forsaking the pride of craftsmanship, these houses are beyond expensive, and are jacking up the cost of living for everyday people and creating a community that is less and less accessible to working classes across the demographic spectrum. I am not okay with this. I am not okay with creating even more of a wealth gap in a town that I remember as being reasonably open to the blue collar world, immigrants and historically-oppressed communities. I am not okay with declaring war on the small bastions of green wilderness that we have left in the suburbs, which are already few and far between. I am not okay with throwing away Main Street culture in the name of big box discounts, and I am certainly not okay with displacing animals from their habitats, so that they wander, semi-domesticated, into the the throes of suburbia where we talk about how to “deal” with them, as if the whole situation were their fault. Curious. I’ve yet to see a white-tailed deer operating a bulldozer. I did see this one about ten feet from my parent’s house, however:
I can’t help but recall driving through the devastation that is an old-growth clear cut. The Pacific Northwest is riddled with them, and the fields and gullies full of severed stumps, dry earth and mangled limbs that once were thriving forests made me sick to my stomach. They looked like war zones, the no-mans’ lands I’d seen pictures of in books. I guess it would be more appropriate to call them too-many-mans’ lands; this is what happens when greed and a lack of respect for the planet band together, build muscle, and use that muscle to pick up a chainsaw:
Clear cutting removes flood buffers, anihilates forest carbon sinks, kills biodiversity and by robbing the planet of her lungs, contributes to global warming. Is it possible to change our habits of resource consumption and alter our relationship with nature to stop these kinds of practices? I certainly hope so. In the mean time, I just want them to stop the wanton development in my hometown, so all ye Nyack quick-buck builders and abusers, please stop cutting down trees. We don’t need more McMansions or a third Target. Homeowners don’t like mudslides and flooding basements, and deer really don’t enjoy being hit by cars while crossing the street to a patch of scrub. Just stop.
Insert transition, so that I may go from environmental soapbox to sorbet. One of the perks to being in my parent’s house is a fully stocked, clean kitchen, which means I get time to experiment. Summer fruit and herb bounty is always plentiful, and I love combining the two; sweet fruit and spicy, pungent herbs make for terraced tasting. The flavors build on one another, enhancing and deepening the tongue’s experience, and so today I made a homemade sorbet out of two stone fruits – fresh peaches and ground cherries – with a touch of thyme. Ground cherries can be found in forests (the non-clearcut variety) throughout the Northeast, and they come in their own little “parchment” packaging.
I’m gonna use this peach, ground cherry and thyme sorbet tonight as part of a savory dish.
Peach, Ground Cherry and Thyme Sorbet
5 ripe peaches, pitted and sliced into wedges
1 cup ground cherries, with the husks and stems removed (you can substitute regular cherries for a vibrantly red and equally delicious sorbet)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, off the stem
In a small pan, combine the sugar, honey and water. Cook over a medium flame until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil for one minute – kindly refrain from stirring as it boils. Remove the pan from heat, and allow it to cool off.
Put the peaches, cherries, salt, thyme and cooled off sweet syrup into a blender, and process until smooth. If you have an ice cream maker, pour in the sorbet-to-be and freeze. If you don’t have one, fear not, for the spirit of DIY (do-it-yourself) shall lead you to an empty metal coffee canister or metal bowl. Add the mixture, cover and freeze.
It’s extra pretty if you serve it with a sprig of fresh thyme!
Blackberry and sage is another killer fruit-herb combination – I’ve made a sorbet version before, and it makes a simple pound cake quite wonderful indeed. What are some of your favorite eccentric flavor combinations?
So tonight, as an ode to my father’s Southern roots and my own adopted homeland, I’m cooking down-home style. There will be collards.
Sometimes, in life, grits (and grit) are necessary.
Has your hometown changed over the years? For better or for worse? How do you feel about development – is it a necessary or inevitable occurrence? And just where is the Lorax?