Archive for June, 2013

R & R in the North Country

June 29, 2013

Stand on the summits of Mooselauke or the peaks on Franconia Ridge, or take the tram up Cannon Mt. and behold the response of people as they arrive at these summits. The sound most often heard is “Oh….” followed by a pause as people totally exhale, relax, and take in sacred space.

At the Cannon Tram station, a huge blackboard invites visitors to sign in their state or country: Holland, China, India, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Indiana, and so many more, in addition to New England residents. The world is well represented on the board.

Here in NH, we have the option to hike through spell binding trails that take us up along powerful waterfalls like the miles that make up Beaver Brook’s spectacular efforts or Falling Waters or Arethusa Falls. It’s a relief to reach high viewing spots and look off at the sea of mountains and small patches of nestled towns. Our state, especially the North country, continues to be a mecca for people to visit from all over the world. In addition to providing sustenance for our tourism industry, it amply renews those who journey here.

Before returning to NH to live, I spent many weekends coming to the mountains from CT and MA to be re-energized after a work week in the metropolitan areas where I lived. As our country and the rest of the world becomes compacted by sheer numbers of people crammed in to its towns and cities, it becomes crucial for us to recognize how essential it is for us to care for the sacred spaces we have to share with the world.

Quebec has essentially allowed its sacred space to be violated and destroyed by Hydro Quebec. It’s free flowing rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife habitat have been forever altered by dikes, dams and reservoirs, despite protests from its citizens. Now Hydro Quebec looks to move in on NH. Last week, they asked the state about crossing the protected Connecticut Lakes Headwaters, underground, so they could connect the $40 million they’ve spent lining up property on either side of the Headwaters. They hope to put in high towers over that forest land they can then connect through the Headwaters. This week, they’ve come up with a plan to bury 8 miles of the lines on public right of ways.

Hydro Quebec has refused to consider burying the WHOLE line down through existing public rights of way, which would mean that the state of NH would collect the rent money, not PSNH. That is the real bottom line.

One way to protect our sacred forest space in NH is to contact Governor Hassan’s office (271-2121) and thank her for her efforts to protect the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters, including no buried lines in the Headwaters that would allow Hydro Quebec to start destroying NH the same way they have destroyed their own province.

Cooked Food: Our Ancestor’s Legacy of Transformation

June 7, 2013

Michael Pollan obviously had fun writing his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Pollan takes us through his hilarious travels to discover the essence of how the use of fire, water, air and the earth rendered humans a dominant species. He’s concerned about our growing distance from direct, physical engagement in transforming raw stuff into cooked food and the nourishment such food provides as opposed to opening a package that has been processed elsewhere.

Discovery of fire and an inadvertently cooked carcass drew early humans in with its pleasant aroma and eventual preferred taste and started this whole business of cooked food. Most animals and birds spend their entire day chewing in order to survive. But, cooked food is more tender and easily digested, so it cuts down chewing time and frees humans to dream up other things to do with their time. Squirrels have to bury their nuts and wait to season them and make them digestible. Bunches of tree seedlings we find in the spring attest to a forgotten stash. Fermentation is practiced by many species, including food that sits in the craw of birds, readying it for digestion.

Pollan goes to North Carolina to learn the fine art of pig roasting by apprenticing himself to the experts. Whether you ever decide to roast a pig yourself, you’ll learn a lot about the value of different wood, and the transformative power of carefully controlled fire in the smoke of “ritual sacrifice that shadow us, however faintly, whenever we cook a piece of meat over a fire.”

Next, he hired a gourmet cook to teach him how to make pot dishes as he walks us through the water element via French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Greek and more variations, adding vegetables, seaweeds, mushrooms, spices, and sauces. Guaranteed, you’ll want to try some new variations yourself.

He did the same with bread making (air element), apprenticed himself to fine bakers and takes us through the art of making starter, a sponge, and all the shenanigans in between. When we bake with whole grains, we reduce the risk of chronic diseases, weigh less, and live longer than those who don’t.

Finally, Pollan takes us through the earth element, the microbes that render food more digestible, and release valuable nutrients, vitamins, minerals. He has a whole saga for making sauerkraut and other fermented foods, including beer.

As we move into summer, we have the opportunity to celebrate with outdoor picnics, favorite dishes, and ritual gatherings, mindful of  how we honor and use the elements of fire, water, air and earth in the foods we prepare to share with others. Farmer’s Markets and  roadside produce stands provide us with new and familiar choices to continue our exciting, and often hilarious, human evolution. Here’s to celebrating our evolving art!