Category Archives: Photos

Partitioning

The weirdest thing, thus far, about this project I’ve embarked upon with the Real Life Rock book has been my desire to return to it every day. If only other habits I’ve tried to develop fared so well.

But…what better distraction from early February? What better misdirection from my middle-age frets and our unpredictable weather and Illinois’ budget impasse and that feeling of… spinning, like the beach ball, as we wait to find out which schools Lilly’s been accepted to, plus the decisions yet to come down from Mt. FAFSA?

None better. It’s the perfect casual late winter project for me; this revisiting my own unique experience – as a very impressionable and rather dumb young person – of music and cultural discovery has been an excellent time so far, if a little navel-gazey.

But – the music! Each morning I read the next list (the lists were published weekly, but in my current universe one 1986 week = one 2016 day), then search for the songs on that list; if I can find them in Spotify, I add them to a playlist. If Spotify searches bear no fruit, sometimes can I find songs on YouTube and listen. Here are some random thoughts I’ve had while performing this exercise:

Man, I remember those Sin Alley compilations when re-pressings came in to Cargo.

I’m amazed at how quickly I am returned to my freshman year at Macalester upon hearing any track from Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate.

I did not know who the Mekons were until 1990.

It is completely obvious that Steve Perry (from Journey) taught himself how to sing by listening to Sam Cooke.

80s Bryan Ferry!

I should be done with 1986 in a week, give or take a day. Then the playlist breathes for another week or so while I try to watch a few of the films referenced in the lists, or maybe track down a couple of the books/articles/magazines Marcus talks about. I’m not going to bother looking for Godzilla (2/18/86), but I’m definitely on the hunt to borrow a copy of Forced Exposure #10 (9/9/86). Anyone?

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Decisions have been made:

  1. I’m joining the local Audubon Society.
  2. No plants will be started indoors for the 2016 gardening season.
  3. Basic vegetable garden will still be planted, but…
  4. … there will be way (WAY!) more flowers…

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It’s going to be cold again, we’re probably going to get snow again, and there is still plenty of winter left, but something happens when the sun gets back up to a certain height in the sky and daylight starts winning out.

It gives the house the scent of spring.

On This Last Day of January

On this last day in January:

The youngest’s college applications are finished.

The eldest is home for the weekend.

We went thrifting.

The week’s grocery shopping is now complete.

We’re in the middle of laundry.

I haven’t read enough.

I didn’t get back to the library for the Les Blank set my friend Ian told me about, and I feel like it’s important.

It was 61°. And so we began.

 

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Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

The new Greil Marcus book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I love it.

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I love its boldly-colored, comic book-style cover illustration of Marcus, its hefty 586 pages, its exhaustive, nerdalicious index, its endless lists.

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[It’s a compilation of Marcus’ “Real Life Top Ten” lists, which he began posting, as somewhat-but-not-entirely Zeitgeisty missives, in February 1986 in the Village Voice, which is where I first found it in college in the late 80sThe column continues to this day in the Barnes & Noble Review, but the book ends at September 2014. While much of his listy focus is on music (not necessarily current, either), Marcus’ RLRTTs also encompass film, books/articles, toys – whatever was bouncing around on Planet Greil at the time.]

Having a book such as this – so appealing to me! In so many ways! – arrive during the work day made for a confusing tug-of-war. It was in my mailbox when I arrived at my office in the morning. I tore open the box, flung the cardboard aside, held the book in both hands, and sighed. (I’m not kidding.) It was 8:30 AM. I had a lot to do. I put the book down.

Greil’s face stared me down from the cover. I decided to allow myself to savor one list: the first list in the book, dated February 18, 1986. By the time I got to #2, (Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”), I realized I could probably make a streaming playlist of at least the songs on the list (and additional playlists for all the subsequent lists) and listen to that while I worked. 6 of the 7 songs on the list were available; the other 3 items on the list included a toy (Godzilla), an article (about Little Richard), and a book (about Bascom Lamar Lunsford).

I went ahead and made the playlist (including the Billy Ocean song, because obviously each list must be “consumed” as fully as possible). I wondered if I should start looking up the article and the book (as well as track down the missing song, a Bette Midler cut from the Down & Out in Beverly Hills soundtrack), and it occurred to me that dealing with this book properly could be its own full-time job. I stashed it in my bag and grudgingly started answering email.

In February 1986, I was a high school senior in Minnesota; I was a princess, an athlete, a criminal, a brain, and a basket case. I’d applied to colleges, but hadn’t heard from them yet. I devoured my friend Laura’s treasured copies of Maximum Rocknroll whenever possible, listened to KFAI late at night, and knew, with absolute certainty, that there was way more out there than what I was reading/watching/hearing/doing, and that I was going to find it. All of it.

Meanwhile, Greil Marcus was starting his compilations – his written cultural mix tapes – which would eventually be compiled into its own giant compilation: this book, which I’m going to work my way through, playlist by playlist, library search by library search.

Why? Why not? There’s so much I’ve missed.

Down to the Studs

Rows and piles of cookbooks most often elicit feelings of happiness and pleasure from me, but occasionally there is guilt and recently, there is the sudden understanding that I WILL NEVER MAKE ALL THE THINGS, no matter how many years I live. I mean, I don’t even make dinner most nights, for Pete’s sake. I’ve thought about privately cooking my way through one of these books as a personal, unblogged homage to the Julie/Julia project (remember the early 2000s, when the Internet was not yet a full contact sport and the idea of getting a book deal from a blog seemed downright ridiculous? No? I barely remember those days myself), but then I realized cooking from one book would be terribly limiting.

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Behold how I (completely unintentionally) stuck the paleo cookbook on top of the baking cookbooks. Ha.

[OT: As I write, the sparrows are “singing” (I use the term loosely) at the feeder I filled just yesterday. While I enjoy the sparrows, I’m always hoping for other birds to show up at the feeder. Unfortunately, the only other bird to show up regularly at the feeder is a bird of prey, probably a red-tailed hawk. It plunges into the giant yew bush in front of our house, which is precisely where the sparrows go to hide. Definitely a case of be careful what you wish for.]

In any event, I am (literally) facing the shelf of cookbooks and thinking about all the recipes I haven’t tried. Personal schedules, household food preferences, and especially last year’s epic pickled asparagus fail (EPAF) have taken the wind out of my sails a bit.

Oh, wait. I didn’t tell you about the EPAF of 2015? Interesting. See, it wasn’t really the end result of failure that helped take the wind out of my sails as much as it was the idea, in the back of my mind, that my inattention to detail had caused the EPAF; that I wasn’t all there, that I was engaging in this activity despite my subconscious saying to me, why all this extra work? That you don’t reeeeeally want to be doing right now? 

I mean, really, why? Because we were subsistence farming and I had to? (No.) Because there was a glut of asparagus? (Nope.) Because I love pickling? (No. I love pickles, but am not as fond of the process.) Because I would feel like I was being lazy if I didn’t? (Possibly.) Because there was a “food person” pickling contest of some kind, of which I was obligated to be a part? (Not to my knowledge.)

Oh, that last one is interesting. Hmm. There’s definitely some fierce humblebragging about food on the Internet, mainly due to social media (see above about “full contact sport”), and that engenders this feeling of competition, of the desire to one-up, of the desire to be seen and acknowledged and understood and agreed with. I have totally participated in this. I probably participated in this yesterday (it’s still early in the day today). Online life has gotten that way in general, with the humblebrag or overshare or just plain update du jour countered by the defensive parry, which is neutralized by the passive-aggressive meme, which is responded to by declarations of “taking a break”, with others just agreeing all over the place to a) show solidarity or b) keep the peace. It’s not topic-agnostic – this occurs in conversations about politics, parenting, education, health, whether or not to have a capsule wardobe – and food, of course. Anything that involves people making choices is not just up for discussion – it’s up for angry debate, shaming, ridicule, echo-chambery agreeance, etc. It’s hard to avoid if you spend any time in these so-called “spaces” (which is, I guess, more accurate than “places”). I think it’s incredibly reductive; we’re so much smarter than that…aren’t we?

Anyway, I think my mentioning the epic EPAF now is my way of leaning into the admission of originally not wanting to post about it because it was a messy, gross, expensive failure instead of a (yes) humblebrag. It’s me telling you now: I’m never gonna do that again unless I really freaking feel like it, because it wasn’t fun; I felt obligated to do it as a so-called “food person”; I had to buy asparagus to even have enough for pickling because I’d eaten so much of it and given away more to the neighbors; I made a mistake with the jars and they broke in the canning pot and it was a mess and a complete waste of food, time, and money… and I felt like a jackass for falling prey to “what would the community think?”. 

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Basically, I cropped that whole ridiculous episode out of existence, and no one ever knew. Above is the only photo I took of the EPAF before I cleaned up and sulked about the mess and, embarrassingly, the fact I couldn’t even get a decent photo of the EPAF. (eyeroll)

Here’s the positive thing: I still absolutely want to read about what people are doing around food & culture. I still want to look at photos from trips to wherever, where people ate the most fantastic things; I want to read about the trellises fashioned out of rescued rebar and thrifted Christmas lights; I love seeing jars of pickled asparagus (no, really, I do) and bread dough rising on the counter and omelets made from the eggs laid by beautiful hens in bucolic settings. And I still want to write about my success growing watermelons, of the latest composting victory, of the joys of hanging laundry on the line. Isn’t that part of the reason why people took to the internet with such alacrity back in the day? To get a window into what life was like for other people? But I think it would be interesting to start talking more about what’s happening out of the frame. Mistakes, imperfections, clouds, setbacks… and then figuring things out. Getting on with it – which, by the way, does not mean forgetting about it. Just the opposite. I’m interested in the idea of putting those things out there and carrying on, not getting caught up in the past or in the comment wars. Moving forward, building change, starting in your own house. I was laughing at myself the other day because it seems so simple, yet it’s so hard to do in 2016. It was in 2015. And 2014. Obviously, because I’ve been writing about the same things for ages.

So. Let’s begin. Here’s an uncropped shot of where I usually write.

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RELATED: I was watching a documentary about Studs Terkel and I loved the pile of books in the background contrasted with the fresh flowers, that old lamp, the aging couch.

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I’ll write more about Studs another day, but… Studs. There’ll never be another like him. He definitely put it out there, got on with it, got people to talk about themselves and to each other face-to-face, and only stopped when he passed away at the age of 96.

He probably never pickled asparagus.

Inspiracy of One

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. I rarely find it in pithy quotes or speechifying designed to “inspire” (there have been exceptions), but I do find it in the attention I choose to give to details that give me pause and then get me moving toward incorporating a little of that (whatever it is) into my own existence. I can be inspired by a technique, a color, a re-telling, something accidentally eavesdropped, a random act of something, a song, an argument, a photo… when I take the time to notice, I’m often overwhelmed by inspiration. (In that moment.) My thinking gets changed. (In that moment.) I’m spurred to a different way of seeing the world. (In that moment.) In the last few years I’ve rarely been spurred to a different long-term action or plan thereof. It’s like my ability to act on inspiration has become like my attention span while browsing the web, i.e., not very good. This disappoints me.

It’s a big world, which means inspiration often strikes from sources that are completely NOT ME… if I let them. It’s really easy in 2016 to filter out everything that isn’t “me” (see comment about attention span above), so I’m subconsciously trying to derive inspiration from not just the same sources over and over again, but any new sources seem to look suspiciously the same as me. BARF. I recently looked at the Pinterest boards I keep (several of which have done little to inspire anything in me except envy and acquisitiveness) with a fresh set of eyeballs and saw the same bloody ideas, the same way of looking at the world. This is not how I want middle age to go.

Enter Molly Crabapple.

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One of my favorite podcasts is She Does. It’s geared toward and about women who make media, but I think it’d make fascinating listening for anyone interested in the creative process. Anyway, I’m a devoted listener, and have discovered the work of some amazing women by listening every week, but I was not prepared to be so bowled over by Molly Crabapple’s episode.

Ms. Crabapple and I are nothing alike. On the purely superficial front, she looks like and has the story of someone who would have their own awesomely complicated and fantastic fragrance named after them at BPAL. (They should really get on that.). We have completely different backstories, we’re of different generations, we work in different media, she’s plied her craft (illustration/painting/visual art) for decades. This lack of obvious commonality doesn’t matter to me now, when so often it has mattered. I love her memoir, Drawing Blood, and her work so much. I love it not because I can relate to it… but because I can’t. It forces me to look at her subject matter (protest, war, politics, burlesque, the internet, gentrification) through a completely different lens, and her artwork is beautiful, colorful, disturbing, opulent, raw.

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It’s a striking book, both in illustration and narrative; this book and Patti Smith’s M Train (which I’ve written about) have deeply affected me this fall/winter season. Ms. Smith’s book got me interested in taking more photos, embracing who I can feel myself trying to become in middle age, and immersing myself in reading NYC punk retrospectives. Ms. Crabapple’s book got me interested in the seemingly-small-but-actually-huge idea of… not traveling to France alone, though that appeals… not pitching ideas to VICE, though I’m much more interested in their work now than I was… but learning how to draw. I’ve done other types of art, but have avoided learning how to draw.

Learning how to draw feels inexplicably important and terrifying to me. If I do this thing, a thing that I have been very specifically avoiding for decades out of fear and maybe even superstition, what will happen? What could it lead to?

Exactly.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively)

I haven’t even written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet

This PDF about emotional labor (a condensation of a thread on Metafilter) has been a tough read

A friend’s open letter to Oprah… and the rest of us

Inspiration, the BPAL way

Pursuit

I want to give a shoutout to a few random things that happened during those final three moons of 2015.

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The beautiful people at Blue Moon Farm sold me a buttload of tomatoes so we could taste summer once in awhile.

 

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That’s me on the left, talking with badass Jessica Hopper during a panel we were both on at the Pygmalion Tech Festival (you can watch the entire discussion here). I can’t properly convey how hilarious and awesome this photo is to me on several levels…

…nope, I can’t. (photo by Mike Thomas)

 

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Some friends of mine who shall remain nameless gussied up this statue (“Marker”, by Peter Fagan) at Meadowbrook Park – it gets cold out there. I like random acts of yarnbombing.

 

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Lily and I roadtripped to Minneapolis-St. Paul again in October for more college visiting. We did the Airbnb thing (that’s my room in the photo), and I read most of Patti Smith’s latest memoir. I was inspired by her Polaroids from the book; actually, all of her work has taken on heightened meaning for me as my kids grow up and I move through middle age and am always asking myself THE most important question: WTF? Aside: I wrote this little piece about her influence on me for her birthday, which was a few days ago.

 

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It’s not often we get the band back together, and the dynamic will change again when Lilly makes her move this fall. I’m not ready for that just yet, so I’m going to enjoy this photo from Xmess Eve 2015 while easing my way into 2016.

Happy New Year, friends. You’ve got 2016 in the palm of your hand.

Flex

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2015 wanes. Has it really been three months since I’ve written? 3 full moons? A quarter of a calendar year? I just realized that I stopped writing at the Fall equinox and resumed just after the Winter Solstice. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m eyeing the exiting calendar year with an eyebrow raised. Our weather has been anything-but-wintry. The calendar and the culture tell me I should be packed snugly into my house, with tea and piles of books and candles everywhere, hygge-ing it up, but it feels incongruous. I’d rather prowl my garden and marvel at what’s still alive, so I do.

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Kale thriving.

 

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Chard surviving.

 

I fell asleep last night to flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder (I found this comforting, even in its weirdness; what I dislike is the water in our basement from the 2″+ of rain we’ve received in the last couple of days). As far as I’m concerned, winter is over, not just the year. (I know. January and February. I know.)

2015 felt like the film Groundhog Day (or perhaps Edge of Tomorrow), facile as that sounds. Much happened, as it always does, but it felt like it was happening around me. I frequently felt powerless to stop the bad things from happening, and often felt like a spectator at the good things that were happening. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but something felt off. I haven’t felt this rudderless in a long time, so I’m going to hang out with myself at a cafe in the coming days and do something I haven’t done for years: Figure shit out. I have some ideas. I’m grateful for that.

 

What I’m reading:

Drawing Blood

Out on the Wire

Robert Kennedy and His Times

Listening to:

These Spotify playlists for Star Wars characters are fantastic

Joe Rogan’s podcast

She Does podcast (on hiatus for a few weeks)

You Must Remember This podcast (also on hiatus for a few weeks)

Root Simple podcast

The New Yorker Radio Hour

 

So. Hello. And not in the Adele way.

Tell It

Head space: In canning, one must leave some in order to get a good seal. In life, one must to leave some in order to gain perspective, which is basically the same as getting a good seal. I mean, you want to be able to enjoy what’s in the jar, you know?

The Autumnal Equinox approaches – it’s this Wednesday. I’ve taken the day off and am giving it over to whatever (Canning tomatoes? Power napping? Writing?). The moon should be waxing under mostly clear skies this entire week, which thrills me. The signs of the change in seasons are everywhere in central IL – leaves starting to turn, squirrels acting stupid and running out into traffic, and the last of the peaches at the farmers markets.

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There’s nothing finer than the ultra-blue skies we get this time of year. ANYTHING thrown against that sky looks awesome, even (especially?) withering walnut trees.

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When I was a kid, I loved ladybugs and yellow was my favorite color. My love for ladybugs is now more about respect, and I’m not a huge fan of the color yellow… EXCEPT this time of year. I mean, look at it.

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It’s also a really birthday-heavy time in my circle of family and friends. Jim, Lilly, and I have birthdays between mid-September and early November. Our friend Douglas had a birthday yesterday, and invited people to his workspace in Tolono (he relocated Uptown Concrete there this summer) to check it out, play parking lot games, and witness a shopping cart bonfire.

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I made a rather sloppy carrot cake, per his request. I learned that it’s really important that the cream cheese frosting act as serious mortar to the bricks that are the cake layers (this is a TERRIBLE analogy), especially if you’re transporting the cake ten miles over bumpy and twisty county roads, so more powdered sugar is critical. It didn’t matter – it was delicious and it looked pretty with candles on it.

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It has not been the easiest 6+ weeks in the world. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around has been the death of my friend and neighbor, Mel Farrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2015 and immediately started kicking its ass, but toward the end of the summer, her body tripped her up a few times, and at the beginning of this month, pneumonia claimed her life. She was a rock star in so many ways, and readers will likely be finding more about Mel later, but I’ll say this for now: Though I’d known her for about 10 years, and of her for 5 years past that, there was much I didn’t know about Mel. Since her death, I’ve come to realize that she was quietly expert at filling up any gaps in her life with more friends, more fun, more food, more… and it was the quality aspect of more, not the quantity. She was so very thoughtful and truly believed in the basic conviviality that goes missing from so much of modern life. Her laugh gave serious body to so many gatherings. And… and! She had stories. Sure, the whole legitimately-at-Woodstock thing was awesome, but I was electrified when she told me a few years ago that, when she was a kid growing up in NYC, her mother’s day job was, if I recall correctly, working for James Beard. That wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and I don’t think it was Mel’s either. No, we both loved the fact that her mom came home from working all day for Chef Beard and often had the following dinner, feet up: An onion sandwich (2 pieces of white bread slathered in butter with sliced onions in between) and a beer. I figured Mel and I had all the time in the world to eventually get some of these stories saved. We did not. I do wonder if she saved any of them herself.

Seriously. If you have food stories to tell – and we all do – write them down. Tell them to someone. You know what, though… don’t stop at the food stories (you don’t have to start there, either). Stories, period. Histories. Get them onto paper, or make some audio – just talk into your smartphone, if you have one. I truly fear real storytelling – the passing along of the big stories and the quotidian ones, the bare facts and the tall tales – is going the way of ultra-curated social media (which I feel sadder and sadder about with each passing day): Cropped and filtered just so for maximum effect, negative or positive, spun emptily one way or the other. We all seem to crave the unvarnished truth (witness the popularity of Storycorps), but we seem ever more reluctant to tell it.

Tell it.

Late Summer Blahs

History, via the last dozen years’ worth of journals, demonstrates that I typically don’t do well the last week of July and the first ten days of August; my current theory is that my lizard brain is already sensing that we’re losing light, not gaining it. Also? The mosquitoes have been ridiculous this summer. They love me – REALLY LOVE ME – and I find myself avoiding the garden, which thanks to Jim is far more free of weeds than in years past. Still. This grumpiness about the outdoors is a very unsatisfying and unsettling feeling for me.

Yesterday’s weather was spectacular, however – sunny and warm and lacking the oppressive humidity that was literally hanging around earlier in the week. After work, I went to Meadowbrook Park to walk, commune with nature, get over myself, and catch up on the Dear Handmade Life podcast. It was a lovely way to spend 90 minutes, and I didn’t run into a single person I knew, which was OK by me.

Here are a few things I did see.

I saw an artist atop a ladder, working in the sunshine. Sorry about the backlighting.

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I saw/smelled so much bee balm. I wanted to hug it.

 

And later, in downtown Champaign, I saw the moon rise above its friend, the lamppost.

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My goal for the next ten days is to find more of these bits and pieces out in the world and to hold them close. I plan to listen to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue whenever the mood strikes. I plan to let my daughter chauffeur me around town so she can get her license this fall. I plan to note the exact time each night when the cicadas give way to the crickets and katydids. And I plan to sleep with the windows open whenever I can.

The Teaches of Peaches (and Corn and Basil)

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Organic peaches from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, IL.

I look forward to stone fruit season the most. Every summer when I was a kid/teenager, my mother told me I ate too much stone fruit and that my habit cost too much, so I could only have 3 pieces a day. Does that mean 3 pieces a day of each kind, or…?

I still eat a lot of stone fruit and and invite my family to do the same, which they do. Straight up. With shortcake. Over ice cream. In yogurt. Whatever. It’s expensive, yes, but it takes a lot of work to grow stone fruit (some seasons there’s no crop at all, due to weather), and I’m glad we can support that. Also, the season is short – we only get to eat Illinois-grown for about 8 weeks.

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“Nirvana” sweet corn from Schottman’s in Effingham, IL.

I’m also delighted every summer by the appearance of Mark Schottman’s red pickup truck at the local farmers markets; it means there is delicious sweet corn aboard. I’ve been buying corn from him pretty much exclusively for well over a decade. Why is it the best? I don’t know. The corn is really damned good. I also just really like the guy; it’s clear he respects his customer base and enjoys seeing all of us during sweet corn’s regrettably short (8 weeks, if it’s a good year, 10 if it’s exceptional) season. He’s one of the farmers who always asks me how I’m liking my new job, even though it’s been almost 3 years since I managed the Market.

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Genovese basil from my own backyard in Urbana, IL

I love buying food from other people – people I get to choose, people I’ve become friends with, people whose places I’ve visited – but I love growing it, too. I grow way less food than I used to. But every year I grow more basil than we need. I always talk about freezing it or freezing pesto and I never get to it, so we eat a metric ton of pesto every summer. My recipe for it is simple – basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese – sometimes I go heavier on the garlic. This pesto (and, I assume, most pesto) is super-good on poached or scrambled eggs, especially if you have some fresh tomatoes just lying around, waiting.

Not pictured: The vast quantities of blackberries, beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and beans that we eat during the summer. We eat them because they’re ready NOW, in the gardens and the markets and the stores. But I also eat them to charge up for The Season Which Must Not Be Named. Food = sunlight. I’ll take it wherever I can get it – all summer long and into the fall.

Enjoy the sun, however you get it.