We have been absent from the blog for a few months as we have wound down the school year and plunged into our cooking and growing season…
It’s always a bit difficult transitioning each summer from living and working at a suburban boarding school to our very different life operating our small restaurant and raising vegetables in the countryside. Both ways of life are wonderful, but radically different. With the former, we are right in the middle of everything: students and colleagues bustling around, day and evening; grounds immaculately kept with no effort on our part; markets and stores within walking distance. With the latter, by contrast, we have privacy and quiet for our family; a never ending list of chores and work to do; stores and fellowship always a drive away.
It’s a culture shock to say the least, and not always in a pleasant way. But after a brief period of withdrawal, we settle into our new life. We begin to cook again (no more quick meals in the dining hall), we open our restaurant, we romp around the farm and delight in wildlife with our two boys. We enjoy the dark and quiet at night. We see the stars. And the change constantly forces us to reflect on the two radically different ways of life: the cosmopolitan and the rural. We’ve given up trying to come to any permanent conclusion about which is a better way to seek “the good life”. Both offer their virtues and vices. A monk can worship God in a metropolis while a fashion designer can ply her trade in a remote village. Still, each place tends to lead us in certain directions.
Here in the country we’re reminded of work. Of how hard work can be, but also of how important work can be. Nature, lovely as it is, is always trying to reassert itself and reclaim the farm. The grass must be mown, the garden weeded. Flowers must be planted, beds mulched. The house always needs some repair or attention, many of which we don’t know how to do. Constant cleaning. Still, this work reconnects us to something. Using our hands in addition to our heads somehow completes us.
Living here we are also reminded to rest. Just stepping outside is a reminder of the lilies of the field, and the way that contact with nature can soothe us out of our desire to be constantly productive. Although our life is extremely busy (too busy, to be sure), living in the country reminds us to slow down and enlivens our senses. Victor Hazan once wrote of how hard it is to appreciate the aromas of wine when cut off from the myriad smells of the countryside. (Does the wine taste of freshly mown hay or dried hay?) The air out in the fields feels heavy with hundreds of botanicals. Living here, closer to the natural world, brings us a richer world which requires us to pay attention to and be alert for the treasures it offers.
Being surrounded by this rich background gives our cooking its special character and reason for being. Cooking from the garden completes a circle for us. Growing a tomato and then harvesting and lovingly preparing a tomato in the kitchen has proven to be a much more satisfying act than buying a tomato in the supermarket and preparing it. Whatever intangible quality people are so drawn to in our cooking is directly a result of the approach to cooking living here makes possible. Whenever we think of moving or opening a restaurant full time in a city somewhere, we realize that we can only do it the way we want to here on this farm, surrounded by the rich experiences it offers and the grace it affords us.