Perfect Christmas

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Who would have thought we’d be missing snow after last Winter? But alas, it is Christmas Eve and raining pretty steady. I tell the kids, if it were just a bit colder, it would be snow…
But I don’t mind. Christmas is in the heart, not contingent on any “just right” setting. Snow is nice, perfect decorations are fun to look at, a beautifully set table a joy to behold, but none if it necessary. We forget, our Holiday traditions are an amalgamation of countless Christmases past, not something that happened at any one place at any one time!
So relax: If you don’t get all the lights up this year, or the figgy pudding goes flat, or you never did quite get all 7 varieties of cookies baked, it’s ok. Something to aim for next year. Who wants a Holiday celebration to be identical every year?
Keep the focus on family, on Love, and Hope. Laugh at yourself, and enjoy others. Take pictures of the mishaps, as well as the “perfect” moments. You may find, in the coming years, that you enjoy those memories more, memories filed with laughter rather than stress.
If you find yourself thinking you “can’t wait for it to be over,” then you are living someone else’s Holiday. Take back ahold of it and make it yours. What do you want to be doing? Do it. Better to feel the Spirit and have fun!
Love and Blessings to all, and many Hopes for the New Year! ūüôā

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Artisans are Crafting Cultural Identity

Artisanal And Authentic, The Flavors Of The New Year

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/01/144442022/artisanal-and-authentic-the-flavors-of-the-new-year

This NPR story highlights the upsurge in popularity of locally made and crafted items, foods and other items such as fiber and baked-goods that are procured and created fresh from local farms.

We have seen this rise in popularity here in our own community, with groups such as the Southern Tier Farm Artisans, a group formed of local artisans and crafts people exhibiting their products and demonstrating their tools and techniques at local events.  These events are well-attended by the public, with many interested patrons eager to learn about crafts that are fast disappearing from our society.

The term “Artisan” has an interesting connotation. ¬†To me it calls to mind uniquely hand-crafted items, the very opposite if the mass-produced, look-alike items one finds at the shopping mall. ¬†Artisan items are not one-size-fits-all. ¬†They are not all exactly the same size, shape and hue. ¬†They are not predictable. ¬†They come from time-tested methods of production, family secrets passed down for generations, some closely guarded. ¬†They are made from what’s available in the landscape of their particular area, what is at hand at the time, from what this particular season will offer. ¬†Artisans items tell a story, have a history behind them, and carry the Energy of the person or people who worked so hard to bring them to fruition.

In the past, the many towns, villages, and regions peppering the countryside used to take great pride in being different from one another. ¬†Many of the cheeses of Europe were named after the town from which they came, and the authenticity was a cherished part of their culture. ¬†Stilton, Cheddar, and Emmenthal were well-known, along with a multitude of lesser-know but much-loved varieties each as unique a town’s own zip code. ¬†Friendly rivalries between regions were part of yearly celebrations. ¬†Quality wines also shared this distinction, each named after the region of their birth, and¬†appellation¬†is strictly controlled. ¬†The same goes for honey, maple syrup, and seasonal jams. ¬†Each jar tells the story of the landscape from which they were produced.

The outside observer might find the multitude of choices overwhelming, not quite the “Big Three” we’re used to today. ¬†But one key reason for this variety is the very basic fact that each treasured creation is not meant to be liked by everybody. ¬†¬†They are not exactly what everybody likes.¬†Particularity is welcome. ¬†You can pick your favorite. ¬†Or your favorite today. ¬†We have become accustomed to our choices being significantly narrowed by what the mainstream market wants to sell us, and along with this, we are whitewashed as a culture to the point where we are all supposed to like (or be seen consuming) all the same things. ¬†The Joneses set the tone, we are all supposed to “keep up”. ¬†What used to be a glorious rainbow of individual tastes and preferences had been blended and re-blended until we are left with the very predictable shade of purple-puce that results from mixing all your paint colors. This rekindled interest in the unique and¬†discernible¬†is a backlash against all this muddling.

So keep in mind when you visit the farmers market or your local bakery or micro-brewery that what they are going to offer you will not¬†¬†be what you’re used to. ¬†That’s why you are there. ¬†Artisan bread is very far from Wonder bread. ¬†Or even the “Artisan” breads offered at your local grocery. ¬†A good micro-brewed Stout will not taste like Beck’s Dark. ¬†A good artisan-crafted jar of fruit jam is nothing ¬†like Smucker’s. ¬†They will be singularly sensual experiences, taking us back to the true roots and meaning of the foods we have carried with us through all these generations. ¬†You may even encounter something that does not suit your taste. ¬†But your neighbor will like it, you can agree to disagree and that is¬†OK. ¬†And together you keep your favorite crafters in business.

It is this uniqueness of our particular landscape that sets us apart from the next region and what gives us our own cultural identification. ¬†America’s mass-market culture is trying to put all the same stores and plazas in every corner of the globe, so that to a stranger driving from one community to the next, the towns all look the same from the Interstate. ¬†Only by identifying and supporting our region’s natural gifts will we solidify our own cultural individuality. ¬†And our signature “flavor” is what visitors will experience and come to expect when visiting from other regions.

So make a point in this your New Year to find your own favorite Artisan producers in your area. Get off the beaten-path a little to find those unique little shops where they are still doing it “the old-fashioned way” and not only turning out some great product but also preserving a piece of the past. ¬†And be prepared: ¬†You may encounter something that you do not like. ¬†You may, in fact, find something you absolutely love!

CNY Food Swap

My friend Karen and I have just returned from a¬†“food swap”:¬† A gathering of like-minded folks who bring whatever preserved items they have extra from their own farms or gardens to swap for items others have brought.¬† These items are preserved in various ways to be kept until needed.¬† There was canned foods, dried items, cheese, frozen meat, fresh produce items that keep well, baked-goods, preserves,¬†granola,¬†honey and vanilla sugar, even kombucha (fermented tea) starter!¬† I brought with me¬†a case of honey, something I have plenty of, and exchanged it for¬†some amazing foods, some of which I had never heard of,¬†and I am delighted!

A vareity of offerings to be swapped

We drove to Utica for this event, titled the CNY Food Swap.  It was hosted by a wonderful woman I was glad to meet named Jenn Cackett.  There were about 11-12 people, from varying distances away.  Everyone brought items of their specialty, and we were all so glad to exchange for items we had not in our own pantries.  We all were introduced to different foods, and different people.  We nibbled and sampled, ooing and ahhing over the wonderful creations.

Oh, the conversations!

But mostly, we talked.¬† It was so refreshing to be amongst people who understood food the way we do: To view the Summer’s bounty as the Winter’ store, to be constantly thinking of how to keep the choices interesting, to create new flavor combinations to accommodate the changing¬†offerings each year, and¬†to rediscover the old,¬†fading ways of not only keeping enough food to survive, but to downright flourish!¬† We are passing down the ancient treasures of foods made and¬†kept to enjoy over the festive Holidays, and the warming comfort foods¬†essential to keeping the home fires¬†bright during the dim months of Winter and early Spring.¬† Few places can¬†you engage in conversations about the bitter-sweet woes of being buried in sweet corn, or the intricate art of judging when your kimchi is finished, or of the satisfaction of knowing¬†that your children can already tell quality food from the grocerystore’s offerings, and be surrounded by people who fully understand.¬† Such a gift!¬† The Energy we brought away was amazing, and we cannot wait to gather again.¬† The food I brought¬†home was amazing, too,¬†and my kids cannot wait until I go back.¬† They want to come along.¬† Could they already be craving this sort of camaraderie, being farm children embroiled in public school?¬† They must feel equally out-of-place as we sometimes do in today’s modern world.

The variety of choices was terrific!

Splendid Cookies and Brownies!

Likely one of the best experiences to bring back from the event, is that of being surrounded by moms who are making it work.  Who are making homemade=convenient.  Who have found out that finding the time to can pays off so much more-fold all winter.  In better food.  In healthier children.  In cost and time savings.  This is what is really needed to make a change in our society, where so many moms/parents are working, transporting their children to various events and commitments, and are left with so little time for meal-planning and preparation.  Helping each other find ways to make it work, changing old habits, and discovering how much better the food can be are what these food swaps are all   about.

Karen's Jams and my Honey

Learning to eat local, gather and put up your own food, and using if effectively and with diversity and interest can be daunting to undertake all at once!¬† So don’t go it alone.¬† Find your own friend, partner, or group to work with; either someone experienced or another newcomer such as yourself.¬† You can help each other, share new recipes and¬†ideas,¬†even go to classes together.¬† ¬†Attend local food swaps, or create on yourself.¬† And definitely pair up with a friend when it’s time to do the work.¬† Often canning involves large volumes of food, and the time spent peeling and prepping these foods goes by much faster with a partner to chit chat!

My kids testing everything out. Strait A's!!

CNY Harvest Swap is planning another event in January.¬† You can “like” CNY Harvest Swap’s facebook page to be kept up-to-date, and to see pictures from the event this past Sunday.

We hope to see you at the next gathering!¬† I can’t wait to see what you bring. ūüôā

Meet the Farmer Dinner, Wed, May 11th, 2011

http://www.tomlibous.com/index.asp?Type=B_PR&SEC={9C7109B7-9774-4EF7-A267-884D40841021}&DE={FA84A9F7-340F-458B-94FC-682DFD690A15}

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