Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm secretly a mermaid

 If you're reading my blog but you don't like reading, just look at the pictures today because they summarize very well.

Probably the highlight of Sunday was the 3D coral reef IMAX movie I saw at the aquarium with John and James (a couple of Robbies who live downstairs). It was spectacular and got me all inspired to do marine conservation work in Australia next summer. Or maybe I'll do that when I study abroad next fall. I don't know how likely it is that I actually will, but I would love that so so much. I'm picturing myself researching in a lab in the mornings and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef in the afternoons. Like so:

Another highlight of my visit to the aquarium was Parakeet Pointe, which made me want to go out and buy Paulie Jr. (especially after the depressing fail of my fish-rearing attempts here in NOLA).

And the seahorse exhibit, because seahorses are one of my favorite animals, my favorite fish by far. That's probably because male seahorses are the ones that have to get pregnant and carry and deliver the young. How cool is that? I also like that seahorses are monogamous and have a super cool courtship ritual dance where they intertwine tails and sometimes change color.

So obviously I loved the aquarium. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening at a cookout hosted by my coworker Kelly, where Tati and I spontaneously made a plan to drive to the beach the next day. Sure enough I spent the better part of my day yesterday on the shore of Bay St. Louis.

Later I made a stupendous dinner out of a whole-wheat tortilla, homemade pesto from the market, garlic chrevre from the market, and cherry tomatoes from the market. I was extremely proud of myself, so I instagrammed it:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Discover you CAN!

Wednesday was fun because I was busy in the office. I was in charge of this week's newsletter (subscribe at http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/index.php?page=subscribe!) so I spent all morning working on that. We took the afternoon to practice canning blueberries for a special demonstration at the Saturday market. Kelly's parents graciously allowed us to use their kitchen and the four of us (Kelly, Elisa, Tatiana, and me) had a lot of fun making blueberry preserves on office time.

Wednesday was Joyce's birthday, so I gave her the cake (she loved it! success!) (and I know she wasn't just pretending to be nice because she ate four pieces that night). All of us Robertsons walked to a nearby Indian restaurant to celebrate.

Thursday I worked the market from 1:45 to 7:30pm. I actually used some self-discipline and got up early enough to go running before it got hot, and then headed out to find a pool. There's a public pool in Audubon Park that Krissi said was pretty nice, so I drove out there to check it out. I got there at 11:30am and was walking in when the lifeguard sitting at the front told me the pool closes from 12 to 1pm for lunch. He said they ask people to leave at 11:45 so it might not be worth my while to get in the water now.

So I drove to a different public pool a few minutes away, and they told me the same thing. Apparently every New Orleans public pool closes from 12 to 1pm for lunch. Since when must every lifeguard in one city eat lunch at the same time? I was pretty indignant about this discovery because it means if I want to go to the pool on any Thursday before work, I have to get there well before noon. First-world problems, right?

Friday was a pretty nice office day, really relaxed because my boss is out of town for the weekend. Tati and I spent a lot of time preparing for the canning demonstration that we did at the Saturday market. Which was incredibly fun! It made the market fly by, because we ran through the demo every 45 minutes with very little turnaround time in between sessions. But I love being busy, and I really enjoyed teaching the new skill I had just learned and being knowledgeable enough to answer questions for people. 

I felt like we were in a rush all day partly because we got off to a late start. When I arrived at the market parking lot at 6am, everyone was standing around watching a dramatic scene unfold. I arrived just a few minutes after a group of four people who looked about my age. They were standing outside a fancy car, looking angry. One girl was crying. I quickly found out that the car had been broken into while these people had been out partying, and a girl's purse was stolen— including her cash, credit cards, ID, and social security card. So everyone had to wait while they calmed down enough to move the car, and then I spent a good amount of time sweeping the shattered glass out of the lot. Meanwhile, the group had parked inside the garage. The girl whose purse was stolen got sick right outside the storage room door, so we had to step around a pool of vomit every time we went in and out unloading the tents and tables to set up the market.

But other than that, the morning was really fun. It was a pretty hectic market day, so Kelly, Tati and I went out to lunch afterwards to unwind. I'm immensely grateful that I enjoy my coworkers so much, because it makes work fun and I get to hang out with them outside of work too.

I took a nap when I got back to the condo. I've learned that even though I might have energy on Saturday afternoons, I crash by 10pm if I don't take a nap during the day. So basically I have to choose between sleeping in the afternoon and going out at night, or doing something fun in the afternoon and going to bed early.

I was glad I napped because I had a late night. Krissi, her friend Shannon and I went to dinner downtown. Then we went to a bar called Jax (where Krissi knows one of the bouncers) and hung out there for a bit before walking to Bourbon Street. It was pretty crazy, of course, but I enjoy watching other people be crazy because it's usually really funny. We met a couple of really nice Australian boys whom we introduced to Cafe du Monde. Later we went back to Jax, which also happens to be a club, and met up with more people from our group. A very New Orleans night!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kids and Cake

At Tuesday's market, we had groups of kids from summer camp coming through again. There were a lot more children than last week, partly because only half of them made it to the market last week. The second group was on its way to the market when a child had a seizure on the bus. He was okay in the end but the teacher cancelled the trip in order to rush him to the hospital. So those kids are coming next week instead.

Tati and I were in charge of running the kids' program, so the day flew by with back-to-back groups of kids coming through. If anyone is interested, ask me about tomatoes next time I see you and I can give you my ten-minute spiel about why they're awesome.

I spent the afternoon baking a birthday cake for my friend Joyce, another Robertson here in New Orleans this summer. It was an unnecessarily challenging undertaking. I made the cake part from a box, which was easy enough. But I forgot I had bought chocolate chips to add to the cake mix. By the time I remembered, the cake had been in the oven for several minutes. After accidentally dumping the chocolate chips into a heap in the pan, I tried to stir them in to distribute them evenly, but they were melting and the cake was half-baked already so it was pretty much a gooey mess. But I thought whatever, it'll be a chocolate swirl yellow cake, and stuck it back in the oven.

Then I set about making icing from scratch. Originally I was going to follow a recipe I found online. But it called for 9 cups of powdered sugar, and the powdered sugar came in a 7-cup bag, and what was I going to do with so much leftover powdered sugar? So I figured I'd just reduce the ingredients to seven-ninths of everything. But I'm really bad at simple computation so I ended up just eyeballing everything. (What's 78% of a three sticks of butter? Don't ask me...)

It was going okay, but turns out the recipe I originally was using made 34 servings (who needs 34 servings of icing??) so even though I happened to reduce it some, I still found myself with a massive pot full of chocolate icing. It was really dark too (as opposed to being milk chocolate), but I didn't know how to fix that because I didn't have any extra ingredients except milk which I knew would only make it runny. I like dark chocolate, so I just hoped Joyce did too.
During this domestic adventure I also spilled the entire bottle of vanilla extract on the counter, sprayed myself with the sink, and ended up with chocolate all over my arms and t-shirt. I should definitely run my own cooking show.

While I was waiting for the cake to bake, I decided to try cooking the kale I got from the farm the day before. I sauteed it with a bunch of other vegetables and some olive oil, and it turned out okay. Kind of bland but not bad. I realized as I was dropping the last few pieces of kale in the pan that I had forgotten to wash it. (My clue- dirt clods rolling off the leaves.) I was about to be grossed out before I remembered that I have eaten much less sanitary food (backpacking with strict rations can make one somewhat desperate). If I was going to get sick it wasn't going to be from farm dirt. So I ate it anyway, with the serving spoon out of the pan. Cooking for myself is fun if only because I'm the only one who has to suffer the consequences of poor hygiene.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Day at the Farm

On Monday I earned my farmer's tan the most authentic way possible. I got up at 4:56am in order to drive the 40 minutes to the Perilloux farm by 6am, which is when they start working every morning. I spent the next six hours helping harvest their crops for the Tuesday market. We picked okra, bell peppers, snap beans, tomatoes, kale, eggplants, cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons, and more. It was really cool learning what to look for with each crop, like size and color and firmness.

The most fun thing to harvest was the melons. Timmy (the owner of the farm) asked me, "Can you catch?" I laughed and said, "I think so!" I was stationed on the trailer behind the tractor while Timmy's 91-year-old father (who still works in the fields) very slowly drove the tractor forward. Timmy and Dennis, a neighbor who has worked at the farm since he was ten (and the one who invited me), walked through the field alongside the tractor and searched for ripe melons. Then they' d toss them up to me and Spencer, Timmy's son. We'd catch them and set them down on the floor of the trailer (or the wagon, as they called it). I thought it was really fun. But I was glad that I wasn't the one having to pick up and throw the heavy melons (did you know watermelons are 92% water? seem they are very aptly named).

I had a blast working with these men. It was so cool to see three generations of one family working together. They joked around a lot, playfully picking on each other, but always stayed focused on getting the work done. It seemed to me their primary motivation for working quickly and efficiently was the lunch they were looking forward to. Timmy excitedly told me his wife was making fried chicken and french fries— it sounded like that was his favorite meal.

Ironic that I just wrote a post about my vegetarianism, because the very next day I ate chicken. I know this frames me as hypocritical and/or weak-willed, but I believe it was the right thing to do. I say I'm vegetarian because it's a simple way of telling people I don't eat meat, but really my eating habits are more complicated than that. Technically I'm pescatarian, which means I eat seafood but not the flesh of other animals. I just say vegetarian because I think it sounds less condescending.

But, to quote Pirates, "The code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules."

My real rule is that I’m vegetarian as long as it inconveniences only me. I always prefer not to eat meat. Usually it’s not even appetizing to me; I don’t miss it because I simply prefer other foods. But in some situations, it’s rude and can even be disrespectful to refuse to eat meat. For example, in many (most?) cultures it’s insulting to refuse food prepared for you by someone else, especially if you are a guest in their home.

I see this flexibility as acceptable, even necessary, since I’m not vegetarian on moral grounds. If it was a moral decision for me, I think I would be obligated to operate under more absolute rules. But my eating habits are shaped simply by personal preference rooted in values of physical and environmental health. Respect for others trumps personal preference.

So I ate the fried chicken Timmy's wife prepared for us. I didn't eat it because I like eating chicken or because I wanted to eat chicken. I ate it because it's more important for me to honor the generosity of others than to indulge in my preferred habits. I was happy to be able to tell Timmy and his family how much I enjoyed the meal, a compliment they wouldn't have believed had I refused to eat their food.

After lunch, we finished washing and sorting the vegetables, then loaded it all onto the back of the truck, ready to be driven to the market the next morning.

Then Dennis and I went swimming in Timmy's irrigation pond. Timmy had built a giant diving platform with a slide and a zipline into the water, all of which I had a lot of fun playing on. It was a wonderfully relaxed afternoon. I had nothing I needed to do, nothing to think about or plan or work on. Such relaxed moments like that are rare for me. I spend so much time rushing around "doing" that I fail to focus on simply "being." I loved that afternoon because I was so fully immersed in the pleasant simplicity of the moment, my mind filled with little more than the feeling of the sun and the water.

That night a big group of us walked to a Chinese restaurant for dinner then got gelato afterwards. A delicious ending to a delightful day.

farmer girl

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I have beef with beef

I spent this morning involved in an activity I never would have seen myself doing. One of the vendors got sick today—I don't even know what was wrong with him but he felt terrible, apparently—and asked for one of the interns to help him. Although my work selling drinks under the welcome booth is obviously crucial, the market staff was generous enough to spare me for a couple hours. So I found myself standing between the knife-sharpener guy and the praline guy, selling ribeyes and link sausage instead of coffee and tea. The sick vendor just happened to raise cows, pigs, and chickens for meat— something I haven't eaten in ten months and don't plan to anytime soon. I used to eat meat quite happily but today I found myself digging through coolers of frozen dead animals with mild disgust.
Dead animals
The farmer mostly sat in his truck but sometimes he sat behind his table with me. I kind of preferred him in the truck because a) I thought he could be contagious and b) he's a gruff guy anyway, but because he was sick he was extra grumpy today and grouched at anyone who addressed him. I may choose to avoid eating meat myself, but I did not appreciate that he was scaring away my customers. It's important for me to do well at whatever task is assigned me. I can't help myself— that perfectionist/overachieving tendency sometimes takes over. So I sold dead animals like I was getting paid to do it.

I did laugh at the irony of the situation, though. Every now and then I'd look over at this big heavy-set farmer, with his faded plaid cotton button-down, denim overalls, and heavy farm boots, his thick shock of hair and full beard. And I'd wonder what he'd think or say if he knew that the girl selling his meat was a vegetarian.

After the market, I went running then drove to a free yoga session in Audubon Park. It was incredibly pleasant, contorting my body in fancy ways under the shade of a giant oak tree. They tried to make us do this exact move:

Needless to say I fell over. But I did do a headstand! I felt super legit.
During the relaxation exercises at the end of the session (where you lay on your back and close your eyes) I fell asleep. It was a very refreshing three-minute nap.
Then I went running in the park because I had never been there before. It's a beautiful place! I'd feel silly driving somewhere specifically to run there but I think it might be worth it in order to run in that park.

Another thing that made today wonderful! My farm boy (the one who gave me corn last week) invited me to his farm! I might go pick vegetables there Monday morning (for the Tuesday market), if Kelly and Tati will come with me. I think it would be really cool to get a glimpse of that part of the farmers market system, before the produce actually makes it to the market. Even though I grew up in a rural area, there's still a lot I don't know about agricultural life, plus it varies place to place. I hope this works out!

Friday, June 15, 2012

more market pictures

my tomato salad: tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, pepper
samples for the chilluns
take-home bags of tomatoes
Elisa teaching about tomatoes
kids sampling the tomato salad
one boy's reaction to the smell of a basil leaf
completing his field guide activities
 "Draw a farmer you met today"
watermelon toenails

watermelon samples
first of the season!

 This is the baker from whom I bought cinnamon raisin bread

Once upon a time, I drank algae-y mosquito-larvae water in the wilderness. This ridiculous 
poodle only drinks bottled water.
 Pesto Paul's pesto samples
 The Mediterranean dips sold by my Turkish friend at the market

What a peachy summer!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sprinting into Life

Yesterday was a fantastic day, one of my favorites so far. It started off with a school visit on the West Bank that took all morning. We visited a different school last Friday, and both visits were short but fun breaks in office-day routine. CCFM arranges for these K-8th summer camp groups to visit the Tuesday market on a field trip, and we visit the schools a few days before to prep them. We explain how the market works, administer a three-question survey for research purposes (to see what the kids know before and what they learn), and we field their questions. Some of the questions are pretty funny, like asking if 21-year-old Tatiana is the daughter of 32-year-old Elisa, or if we ourselves are farmers. I love the kids' interest and enthusiasm.

Another part of what made the morning so great was the drive over there and back. My coworkers Elisa and Kelly are both full of personality, and when they're together they sort of feed off each other in this hilarious dialogue that makes hanging out with them really fun. 

We stopped for coffee on the way back. I bought lunch there because their special sounded so delicious: quinoa goat cheese patties with red pepper dressing, and a side of steamed veggies that included broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, kale, carrot, onion, and mushroom. SO GOOD. I actually had two lunches, because I brought a lunch too. They were both delicious. My homemade lunch was a hummus wrap with fresh green pepper, halved cherry tomatoes, thick slices of avocado, and baby spinach leaves. Most of which was from the market, of course.

I also ate a pear I had bought at the grocery store. It's weird because I never would have experienced this before this summer, but I actually felt a twinge of guilt for eating that pear. Working at a farmers market has made me more aware than ever about the importance and impact of eating local. And the ease of it, too. There is so much delicious locally grown fruit I have such easy access to. But my spoiled American sense of entitlement tells me I can eat whatever fruit I want, even if that means buying a pear shipped from Washington. That's 2,500 food miles! Instead I could eat a peach from Chilton County, Alabama— less than 200 miles away. 

It's easy to commit to choosing local when I have the options of a peach from California and a peach from Alabama (this is from the perspective of someone in Louisiana, of course). But it's a little more of a sacrifice to say that I will only buy local produce. That would mean no apples in the summer. No oranges in the winter. And no bananas ever! (although CCFM is currently working on getting bananas grown in Louisiana). 

I don't know that I could do the Eat Local Challenge for more than a month. I'm so accustomed to the spectacular variety of food available to me in grocery stores, that it's hard to consciously limit myself in that way. But I do want to always keep in mind the environmental and social impacts of the food I choose to purchase and eat. Small steps really make a difference. At least for now, I'm committing to maximizing the local produce I eat, and minimizing the fruits and vegetables that are grown needlessly far away.

Here's a good summary of why eating local is so important to me: http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/index.php?page=why-buy-local

Anyway, my afternoon was nice too. I felt busy in the office, which I was really grateful for. I typed in email addresses and compiled packets like a pro. 

Later in the evening, I went running just as the sun was setting. It was one of the highlights of my day. Running is one of those things that makes me feel so ALIVE. When I'm running I feel strong and independent and so in control. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do. And it makes me so present, so connected to my body and my surroundings and my thoughts. I was pounding down those streetcar tracks, Kelly rocking out in my ears, and I actually got chills thinking about how lucky I am to be here right now. There are so many people that I could (should!) give credit to, like Julian Robertson for paying for it and Emery Van Hook for choosing to hire me and my dad for investing in me and guiding me for the past nineteen years. I usually like running long and slow but in that moment I just wanted to sprint. Like I could sprint into this city, into this job, into this summer, not just soak it in because that's too passive but grip it in my hands and sprint not through it but into it.

I had a lovely conversation with my friend Brenna, who's spending the summer in Atlanta, that made me think a little more about that. Brenna is an introvert who loves solitude, is rejuvenated by spending time alone, and we talked about the importance of finding space for that. Sometimes life is about the balance between "sprinting into life" (copyright Caroline Leland 2012) and "be still and know" (Psalm 46:10). Carpe diem doesn't always mean jumping out of bed and going out. Sometimes carpe diem is resting, slowing down, reading a book for pleasure, taking time to put thought into your blog post. I guess when I say "sprinting" I don't necessarily mean running at full speed ahead. I mean living actively, deliberately. Being aware. Knowing how you're spending your time and what values your actions are reflecting. That's carpe diem. That's what living fully means to me. That's what I seek.

And I think that ties back into my eating local thing, too. It's all about being aware, deciding what's important to you and acting on it. See, life does make sense sometimes. My stream-of-consciousness blog post narrative has a theme and I didn't even plan it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Sunday and Monday were a low-key blur of sleeping, eating, facebook chatting, skyping, emailing, and letter-writing. Nothing anyone would be interested to read about, so instead I'm going to tell stories with pictures.

the St. Charles streetcar

famous Hansen's Snowballs

 Friday Snowball outing with my fabulous co-workers! Kelly, Emery, me, Elisa, Tatiana

Getting water for the Saturday market turned out to be a real challenge. We had to fill this plastic jug from a water filter machine that had a really narrow spout designed to fill small cups rather than giant jugs. Here we were, a Yale student and a Robertson Scholar struggling to fit a very big container into a very small hole. At first I was laughing too much to be particularly helpful. Eventually we came up with a pretty inventive solution, punching a hole in the bottom of a styrofoam cup to make a funnel into the water jug.

 My Instagrammed picture of beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde on Saturday. I'm super artsy, I know.

 I made tomato salad at Tuesday's market for a summer camp field trip that came through. A group aged kindergarten through third grade came first thing in the morning, completed a market scavenger hunt (including tasks like: draw three fruits or vegetables you saw today), and listened to me talk about tomatoes. They were each offered a sample of my tomato salad, which consisted of chopped up tomatoes, olive oil, basil, pepper, and salt. Most of them didn't like it (most of them refused to try it, actually) but I didn't mind because it meant more for me!

*check back later because I'm going to add more pictures to this post