Sunday, December 23, 2007

Howdy Friends!

When I was a sophomore at Northwestern University, I joined the college radio station. The airwaves of WNUR probably reached not much farther than the next dorm, but I still got a kick out of being in the broadcast booth and talking into the microphone.The downside was that fledgling DJ's were constrained to playing music only from the "easy listening" category. Every week before my show I would thumb hopefully through the designated shelf of LP's, (yes, I'm dating myself), only to find variations on Mitch Miller and/or the Swingle Singers (okay, I'm really dating myself!).

I would sigh, make a few selections and hand them to my engineer as I headed into the booth. Now this was a time when in the music world, the British Invasion was in full swing. In the political world, the Civil Rights movement was cresting with "Women's Lib" not far behind. Folks headed to San Francisco with flowers in their hair (got the date yet?).

I knew no one was listening to bouncy Mitch Miller sing-a-long tunes on WNUR. Yet when I spoke into the mike I pictured a friendly and interested audience tuned to my little show. I spoke personally to them with the full assumption that someone was listening. I told the weather with caring and concern; I read liner notes with enthusiasm and expression. I even staged a pseudo contest between two Mitch Miller numbers, reporting passionate responses from various callers. (Actually, no one called in except the station manager, but that's another story.)

When I write this blog, I picture the same friendly audience that tuned into my radio show -- interested in and appreciative of news from the farm, or about food and family. Maybe you're out there; maybe you aren't, but it doesn't really matter. This blog is still for you. I believe that people are basically good and like being friendly, and I write to all those good friendly people who appreciate simple stories about life, love and living lightly.

So I won't stage any fake contests to get some response to my blog. Instead I used my 2007 Holiday letter for shameless hinting to check out the Frog Log. So if that's why you're here, thanks for stopping by! I have a back log of Frog Logs in my head and will release them after the holidays.

When I returned to the dorm after my first broadcast, I went down to the dining hall and everyone sitting at my usual table stood up and cheered. I guess they were listening!

You don't have to cheer. But thanks for tuning in. And have a lovely holiday! (And, oh yes, Mitch Miller did record some classic holiday tunes. I think I have that album right here...).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Santa at the Farmers Market

Yessirree, the Farmers Market is very green in the month of December! The greens, however, as you may have guessed, are not edible. Almost the entire front section is filled with holiday wreaths, table arrangements, and decorations made from evergreens, embellished with seasonal ribbons and sparkle. It looks very colorful and festive and I saw smiling customers walking away with unique arrangements, created by an extended farming family in their "off time".

It was a biting cold Saturday and I cruised quickly along the aisles in search of apples and cider. Many farmers had constructed little 3-sided tents to hold a bit of the heat generated by their propane heaters. In the old days, the heaters were called "salamanders"; they were fueled with kerosene, which made a nasty and ominous black smoke when something was about to go awry. Yes, I speak from experience.

If you have been reading carefully, I assume you are about to ask: why would a heater be called a salamander? Well, in one of those perhaps more-often-than-we-realize correlations between the pedestrian and the mythological, salamanders have an 'illustrious' history as magical creatures related to fire. Wikipedia dispels the myth with a possible rational explanation, but also lists the extensive literary references to salamanders and fire.

But I don't think the propane heaters have a similar pedigree; they're just warm. As I rounded the corner by the Mill Pond stall, I almost bumped right into John Savanna, Mill Pond head baker and long-time friend. He said, "You look cold! Go stand over by my heater while I get you some bread!" I said, "John, you've been out here all morning; you should be by the heater!" He just grinned and starting loading loaves into a box.

And that's how I found Santa at the market. He's about a hundred pounds lighter and two feet taller than the proverbial elf; and John has a ways to go before he can sport a full white beard, but the good-natured spirit of generosity that John exudes sure makes you feel like Santa is right here!

I've written about John before (5/25/07 and 10/22/07) and he has gone through hard times to be sure. But it was a gray and frigid day; there very few customers (something to do with "gray and frigid" I believe); there was a lot of bread on the table that John was not going to sell; but there wasn't a hint of complaining in his voice. When asked if he was going to come to the market all winter, he answered an emphatic Yes! He said it was hard getting up in the morning, but once you get going and interacting with the customers, it's worth it. And every customer who takes the trouble to come down to the market on gray and frigid days makes it worthwhile for our local Farmer's Market artisans and craftsmen to get up in the morning and keep going.

John continued to happily fill a box of goodies for me as I stood by his heater. I noticed that he had cookies which he hasn't brought to market in six years. As he carefully placed two gingerbread giantesses in my box, he said, "You know, it makes the kids so happy to see cookies like these; I'm just going to keep making them." John also makes a Butter-Walnut cookie that is formed by a squeeze of his fist. Every single Butter-Walnut cookie has been created with that artful squeeze; and they are yummy! Now that is real hand labor.

The box was filled and John proceeded to carry it to the car for me. Okay, he's a good friend; we go back 35 years and help each other out a lot. But John treats everyone with a similar kindness. He is passionate about baking and loves to share the fruits of his labors. If you stop by his stall,you'll see an array of seasonal goodies baked fresh the night before and delivered with a twinkle in John's eye. If you look cold, I'll bet he'd let you stand by his heater!

Holler Fest 2016
August 26-28