Making pesto with the lawnmower

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I watch the grass-expelling chute on the lawnmower anxiously as I mow. For one reason or another, the lawnmower often stops expelling grass out the chute, and then I must pause, not letting the engine stop, to poke and prod with a stick into the chute until clumps of sodden grass comes shooting out. Only then can I resume mowing. This happened more and more frequently yesterday until I was doing more poking and prying while trying not to let go of the throttle with my left hand, than mowing. Finally, the poking and prodding yielded no expelled result, so I had to bite the bullet and let the engine die. The problem with letting the mower stop, is that it cannot be started again for about 20 minutes. I am sure that any small engine mechanic reading this would be able to explain why this is so, but it is baffling to me. Anyway, with the engine off, I turned the mower on it’s side to examine it’s underbelly. Lo and behold, there was a pesto-like mass affixed to the roof of the underbelly, the blade, and of course wedged into the chute. I pried it out by scraping with my stick, but my mind definitely thought of retrieving a rubber spatula from the kitchen to scrape the green aromatic mixture off the mower parts.
When the mower predictably did not start, I gave up and went in to take a shower. Maybe tomorrow.
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Great Art:Tony Feher

"Just So" by Feher

“Just So” by Feher

The Bronx Museum has mounted two exhibitions, both of them positive affirmations of the continued power of art to be moving and relevant to people’s lives. One comes first upon a large gallery displaying memorabilia and documentation of Paul Bruscky’s work. Bruscky is a Brazilian artist who began making art in the 60s about political repression that he and his fellow countrymen were subject to. His work exhibits a Fluxus sensiblity, with text and documentation of live events including his own funeral procession though he was not dead.

In the next gallery space, was a survey of work made over the last 20 years by Tony Feher. I walked into the space and first felt my excitement mount as I perused the white wall facing the gallery entrance. It had a line of tiny colored shapes affixed to it in an orderly row. I walked closer. I could not believe it. It was a display of printer’s registration marks that are printed onto the edges of commercial print jobs, so for example if you flatten out a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes, you will find one of these colorful grids showing the basic printing colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each one on that wall was slightly different just as they are in real life. It may be because I worked for many years in packaging and design, but these little pragmatic grids spoke to me. They were now separated from their utility, and dependent solely on their ability to measure up as mini artworks. Poignant and hilarious. When I walked into the next room and saw “Mountain Home”, my happiness began to swell. It was a carefully and perfectly stacked pyramid of those green plastic baskets that hold berries. I felt a mixture of incredible relief that someone had thought of something really nice to make with these. Stacked like that, they made a crisp geometric assertive shape; delicate and ephemeral, yet resiliant if knocked apart as one could easily imagine stacking them the same way again. I felt the relief, because I am the kind of person to whom people give their used egg cartons (I keep chickens) and their cleaned out maple syrup bottles and honey bottles (husband keeps bees, I tap trees) and sometimes, people even try to hand me other disposables that I really do not know what to do with. Like most people, I want to reuse and recycle, but you should see what the room behind my kitchen looks like. I could supply Tony with some great raw materials with which to create.FEHER1-articleLarge
I walked around, slowly taking in the amazing casual ease with which Feher had utilized the most mundane and not particularly aesthetic items from our lives. Glass jars, lids from glass jars, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and bits of junk arranged by type…like circles with holes in them arranged in a circle. And then I walked through a door in the back wall of the gallery space and stopped in front of an elliptical shape on the wall made by small ripped off pieces of blue painter’s tape stuck rhythmically, yet randomly, one next to another, each curling up off the wall and lit so as to each display a beautiful shadow. The resulting blue ellipse was delicate, hand made, simple, and elaborate at the same time. And yes, anyone could have made that. That is I think, what is really inspiring about Feher’s work. He makes it look so easy. Is it just the gallery lighting that gives those pieces of tape their casual beauty? His practice is one of isolating mundane mass produced items from the use and clutter of daily life. He identifies something as an art material with an intuitive sensitivity to it’s materiality and structural potential. If a piece of tape is best used to stick to something, then that is how the art work will be made. He has a brash confidence in the innate materiality of the objects he uses. He is delighted with cheap plastic and crumpled mylar and curling baling twine.
I turned around from looking at the blue tape ellipse and encountered the friend who had accompanied me to the show. She had suggested visiting the museum as she lives in the Bronx. I smiled at her and realized that a smile didn’t quite do it. She was making a silent “OMG” expression, and so I walked right up to her and gave her a huge hug saying, “Isn’t this amazing??!” It was.
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IF you are anywhere near the Bronx in the next month, it is well worth the effort to park the car or walk the extra blocks to see these shows that are up until April 12 and Feb 16 respectively.

Shopping for Health Care?

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illustration by Tasha Depp

 

Why do I not feel the bubbling enthusiasm of these happy shoppers? Is it that I was hoping for healthcare rather than a shopping experience which I avoid whenever possible? Is it that I do not receive a regular paycheck of any substantial size and I cannot really envision how to afford a new monthly payment of over $400? Is it that I don’t believe that health care should be a consumer experience?

Catching wind of the buzz to “Start shopping for health care”, I spent some time this morning trying to ascertain what it means to me, a longtime uninsured parent of four (also uninsured). I am still not sure, but quite frankly, it looks worse than it did; there are more “shopping” options than ever, which does not seem positive as I hate the confusion of malls, and a tangled trail of links to click on that essentially take you to the same assorted “providers” who are all certainly eager to relieve me of my funds. I may just have to opt for “none” and wait for the secret police to come levy the fines.

Retaining Enthusiasm for String Beans

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A few weeks now into string bean season, it is important to retain enthusiasm for the vegetable. It occurred to me yesterday when I realized that I did not have any sweet potatoes on hand with which to make pakoras, that my copious quantities of string beans might suddenly come in very handy. The fried string bean pakoras were truly delicious….they melt in your mouth encased in the gently spicy chickpea batter of the pakora….I pretty much use Madhur Jaffrey for all my Indian cooking recipes….so here is the recipe. It is shockingly easy; the only real challenge would be to initially obtain the chickpea flour and cumin seeds if you are not accustomed to having that on hand. You can buy it in health food sections of better grocery stores, or better yet, at your local Indian grocers….

Batter:
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp whole ajwain seeds or whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. Add all the other spices for the batter. Very slowly and gradually, pour in 1 1/4 cups water, beating with a fork as you do so. You should have a smooth batter.

All you need now is vegetable oil for deep frying and the assortment of vegetables prepared for frying…green beans with ends removed, potatoes peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds, cauliflower florets, hot Italian peppers…etc.

Heat the oil till a drop of water sizzles in it, or temp of oil is 350-375F. Fry coated items slowly about 7 minutes on each side….When the outside is golden brown and crisp, remove fritters with slotted spoon and leave to drain on mesh rack or paper towels.

Serve with tamarind chutney, mint chutney, etc.

If this culinary idea doesn’t float your boat, try:

Greene beans with garlic and Ginger
1 lb green beans (or however many you have to use!)
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp veg oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsps tamari
1/4 cup of water
minced hot red pepper (I use dried whole cayenne peppers…)
Steam the beans for 5 minutes and then plunge into cold water. Mix the last 6 ingredients in a small cup.
heat the veg oil in a cast iron pan or other frying pan. When hot, put in garlic and ginger, stir for 30 seconds. Add beans, Stir for a minute or so. Now add the cup of liquid and mix to incorporate all ingredients with the beans. Cook for about 5-8 minutes…covering if mixture starts to dry out at all. You should have a bit of thickened brown sauce clinging to the beans in the end. This is also super delicious, but less of a fussy child pleaser.

Walking on Clouds

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The overgrown lot across the road….

My son and I went across the road to get maple tree branches for him to complete building an arbor for our garden gateway into our chicken yard. To get there, we had to navigate ¬†this field of pink fluff which actually cushioned our steps as we walked…expressions like “heaven on earth” and “walking in clouds” flitted into my mind as I walked softly. Imagine our happiness when we got to the top of the hill and discovered blackberry bushes laden with fruit that the deer had not yet found. We filled our pockets and my skirt folded up to be a pocket, cut some branches, and then returned back across the pink clouds to the kitchen where I baked a peach and blackberry tart.

Not all outdoor experiences are this idyllic, which makes one like this extra special. We were not swatting mosquitos, rushing, ignoring someone else’s problems, or sweating profusely.

The Stoics emphasized the appreciation of what is actually attainable, rather than the constant desiring and striving after things that come at too high of a price one way or another. Reading about the philosophy has led me to identify myself as a natural stoic…it is not anxiety that gives me pause when my three sons climb into the car to go play soccer in a neighboring town….it is a deep awareness of how tentative and fragile our experience is. They could be eradicated off the face of the earth in a second by an oncoming vehicle. It is the stoic in me who takes a minute to focus on the three of them with the thought of how much I love them before they set off, relatively immune to my call to them to “Drive safely!”

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One son and the arbor he made