They may be the subject of many a horror film, but I love me an abandoned house. Put one in the middle of the Berkshires, add a barn and a neglected orchard planted in days of old, and you’ve got the perfect turf for late morning exploration and fruit foraging.
Clover and I had an interview set up at the New Economics Institute to discuss Berkshares, a local currency system in place in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Local currencies are an interesting practice that both encourages the support of local, small businesses while making sure that money stays within a community. A number of towns across the country have systems in place, some of which, like Berkshares and Ithaca’s Ithaca Hours, have printed currency (completely legal, by the way) while other projects work on a barter and service exchange model – Asheville has a LETS system, and Bellingham, WA operates the Fourth Corner Exchange. The currency and barters can be used at a wide variety of businesses and for services ranging from hiring a lawyer to getting a massage to paving your driveway, and I see the idea of local currency as being a practical way to give weight to the localization movement; spending locally encourages stronger community bonds. All of the aforementioned projects have websites, so check them out if you have a minute!
After the interview, we were driving along a back road when I spotted a decaying roof poking out from a grove of trees. I’ve always been intrigued by forgotten buildings; derelict homes, hospitals, prisons, farmsteads and even the simplest stone ruins all have stories behind them, and I can’t help but wonder what events transpired within their walls – joys, tragedies, bits and pieces of history that have long since faded into the annals of time. I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and I think that’s what initially drew me to explore these places, and from old church crypts in the English countryside to an abandoned sanatorium perched in the high desert of eastern Washington, my solitary, quasi-archaeological explorations provide me with an immediate link to the past, and also make for interesting camera fodder.
The farmhouse we stumbled upon yesterday was probably built in the mid-1800′s, and was surrounded by an orchard still bearing apples, pears, mulberries and concord grapes. We quickly set about picking apples, and I was especially excited to harvest the grapes. Concords are a favorite of mine, but the market price usually prevents them from roosting in my basket. I loved that they were thriving wildly in the middle of nowhere, with little human intervention – can’t get much more organic than that!
I was interested to learn that the first CSA program started in this region, at Indian Line Farm. I’m a big supporter of community-supported agriculture, and I’ve been heartened watching the idea chug and churn into the mainstream vernacular. Our increasing desire to build connections to our food and the folks that produce it is indicative, I think, of bigger changes taking place across our culture, as people yearn for more authenticity in their lives. From food to family to feeling a sense of true community, I’m seeing more and more individuals engaging in activities and breathing life to sentiments based on something real – real needs, real bonds, respect for the planet and for each other – and this gives me hope that we, as a species, can move beyond destruction and wanton consumption to reconnect with the soil beneath our feet and the people that surround us each and every day. Food is just a starting point, but it can be used as a tool to build relationships, build bridges and heal the land while also potentially healing parts of our hearts.
Food is certainly a tool, but it’s also fuel, and since we’re back on the road, fuel needed to happen in the form of something baked, sweet and full of chocolate. While at my parents’ place, I ransacked their cupboards (every returning child’s birthright, methinks) and gathered chocolate chips, pistachios and honey. Since veggies are often in short supply en transit, I decided to incorporate zucchini for good measure, and when I caught a glimpse of a rose bush in the garden, it was clear that this zucchini bread was going to have a Mediterranean feel to it.
Baklava-Inspired Chocolate Zucchini Bread
3/4 cup olive oil (Extra Virgin) or oil of choice
1 cup sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups flour (I used white whole wheat flour, so choose what fits your needs)
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 – 1 cup chopped pistachios (as many as you want)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Jar or bottle o’ honey (no need to measure it out quite yet)
A hearty handful of rose petals + 3/4 cup water and 1 tsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 325, and grease down two loaf pans. Make the rose syrup – combine the rose petals, water and 1 tsp of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a rolling boil. Let boil for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for ten more minutes. Strain the syrup and remove the petals, then set aside and let cool.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy, then mix in the oil, rose syrup and sugar. Add in the zucchini.
In a second bowl, combine the dry ingredients – flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pistachios. Stir well, then add the wet mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour half the batter into the loaf pans, half-way full. Drizzle a thin layer of honey all over the surface, then add the remaining batter. Drizzle additional honey over the top.
Bake at 325 for 60 – 70 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Garnish with additional pistachios, or, if you can get your hands on rose sorbet or ice cream (check Persian grocery stores), you’ll be happy indeed.
I’m off to Northampton and Amherst, then Boston and Cape Cod. Massachusetts suggestions, anyone?
Do you participate in a CSA? If not, what are some ideas on how to reconnect to our food supply that are both financially and geographically accessible to most folks?
What are your favorite recipes that include vegetables in places you might not expect to find them?