Heard an NPR piece the other day on the use of the word chick as a verb, in the passive voice, as it appears on this here t-shirt. The context is athletics, where a woman outdoes a man in a sporting event: Dude, you just got chicked. As HCB’s sister recently quipped, references to the female persuasion as a barometer for less-than-desirable athletic performance (e.g., You throw like a girl) are demeaning. Maybe here at last is a bit of redemption, although I know some would argue that this sentiment only serves to underscore the same superiority expressed in the “throw like a girl” statement. Philosophers: knock yourselves out.
I have never chicked a guy in an athletic event, ever. But I am hijacking this expression to use elsewhere. Because, you know, I have TOTALLY chicked plenty of dudes in my day, and I feel certain there are plenty more I shall chick in the future, in the active voice. (And yes, I throw like a girl; HCB will back me up on that one.)
The last time I raced I injured myself badly. Waiting at the starting line I felt growing irritation for a pack of college kids who had clearly decided to run that day as an afterthought; I gathered from their jawing that they were not runners, and also that they had been at a kegger ’til the wee hours of that crisp spring morning. I was pissed for no good reason–good for them for doing something constructive on an early Saturday morning. That is how I should have felt. (It is moments like this when it is so easy for me to despise myself.)
I was in my early forties, and not a serious runner, at least not like the sinewy track club runners who show up ahead of time and run the entire course in their bootie shorts and racing shoes just for a warmup, and then push like crazy during the actual race. I was not one of them, but running for me had emerged as a way to deal with anger, to feel better, to help me face my days and weeks and months with a difficult child and family. This particular race course happened also to be my maintenance run: I was familiar with every inch of it, every variation in the pavement, every twist, turn, and subtle change in elevation. Foolhardy though it was I decided to put these kids in their place. And while I knew they would run like the wind for the first mile or so, I had gauged about where I thought I might pass them, which is precisely what happened. And then, feeling fleet of foot and far younger than fortysomething, I pushed hard for the last three miles to the finish line. I had never run like that before and it felt so, so good.
Until a little while later at home, when I swooped down to snag a slippery bar of soap from the shower floor. At that moment I felt a small piece of soft tissue in my right knee move in a very unpleasant way, and then stubbornly refuse to go back where it belonged. In the end I found myself consulting an orthopedic surgeon who happens also to treat the University of Tennessee’s football team. I knew I was in good hands, but I did not enjoy his message, which was this: You are getting too old to behave like an idiot when you run. Change your ways, or suffer the consequences.
Seems those kids had effectively put me in my place. I tucked my tail between my legs and swore off racing the day I left my orthopedist’s office, because evidently I am incapable of turning off the competitive twitch fiber, and I wanted desperately to preserve my ability to continue running.
During the intervening years running has occupied a huge place in my life. I have reflected on why I am driven to run and the answer to that question is muddy. Some motives are good, not least of which the ever growing and beautiful bond with my German Shepherd. Running gives us happy outside time together, gives him the exercise he needs. I am also aware there are less constructive reasons I run. It is risky business for me. I have a chronic foot injury that has never fully healed because I have never given it the chance. I teach ballet for a living and more than once have barely made it into class because this injury is exacerbated by an activity I should probably step away from for a while. I can quit any time I want? Not so much. The universe is evidently watching, because I may have to abandon running until particular circumstances in my life change–a story for another day.
So it was with some reservation that I bravely suggested this particular local weekend race to Handsome Chef Boyfriend, who is a consummate runner, but also a healthier and more intelligent runner than I by a long shot. He made me promise a few things if we were to do this, chiefly that I would undertake this race not to compete with the runners around me, but to enjoy the day. I wanted to test myself, to see whether I could do this thing without worrying about being better than somebody else.
This last week fits squarely into the ten worst of my life thus far. The week ahead will be better, but there are big tests staring me down, and they will continue to unfold over weeks and months. HCB and I ran well. His younger sister came to root for us; a steel drum band belted out cheerful versions of familiar tunes for the runners as we sprinted across the finish line–ironic, I thought, that happy people in floral shirts should be playing this music at this moment in Vermont. There was no swagger, just a strong farming community of people out enjoying summer’s last day. Chilly morning clouds at last gave way to abundant sunshine, and things felt right with the world, at least for a while.
There was no exclamation point at the end of the day, but a nice, unassuming period, which is fine by me. And the gift of beautiful, locally grown mesclun greens from the race sponsor. Plucky little greens. Squaring my shoulders for big tests, hoping to bring some pluck.
In my relatively brief tenure as a Vermonter, I have come to think of one product in particular as this state’s culinary identifier: cheese. I know, I know: maple syrup, right? Syrup, schmyrup. It’s everywhere in New England and everybody claims it as their own quintessential product. But who can resist the cheerful sight of the folk art-style Holstein on local dairy farm signage? Or on the label of some delicious concoction in jars sitting atop the local co-op’s shelves? Better still, who can resist sampling the dizzying array of artisanal cheeses in shops all over the place here? Er, not moi.
Not long ago I mentioned to Handsome Chef Boyfriend that grocery shopping with him was second only to dining out as my absolute favorit-est thing in the ever growing pantheon of Fun Stuff We Do Together. (He is after all a chef.) I marvel at the inspection—the squeezing, sniffing, poking, prodding, rolling around in the hands, pondering, and otherwise examining under a microscope—to which he will subject a common grocery store item. Frequently I find myself thinking he is right there behind me, only to discover he has evaporated and I am talking to myself. I have learned to backtrack one aisle, and there he will be, black reading glasses on the end of his nose, poring over the label on some product or other. Hmph, he will say; I could make this stuff, no problem.
It can take us a while to get out of the store.
Eating out with him evokes similar reactions, but most of the time I can at least keep track of him better in a restaurant setting. Again, nothing escapes scrutiny, from the smallest serving detail to the most egregious issues with menus. It does not bother me one jot; I find it enlightening on the whole, and more often than not entertaining, not unlike discovering all the groovy behind-the-scenes stuff you learned about The Wizard of Oz once you outgrew your early childhood enchantment with it. The incredibly real-looking tornado was not real; Margaret Hamilton injured herself falling from the lift in the notorious melting scene near the end; and the aluminum-based makeup that was used for the Tin Man caused a horrible allergic reaction in Buddy Ebsen, who was subsequently replaced by Jack Haley in that role because of it. Call me a dork, but I love that kind of stuff. Ditto professional chef and kitchen trivia.
So yesterday HCB and I struck out without much of a plan after early and midday flea marketing, ultimately finding ourselves in the middle of more mac and cheese than you could stir with a stick at Windsor’s Harpoon Brewery. Twenty restaurateurs made their own version of the darling of American comfort food with Vermont Farmstead cheeses, to be washed down with Harpoon’s delicious microbrews (pairings suggested, of course). For a modest admission price the event organizers slapped an orange band on patrons’ wrists and turned us all loose with forks in hand. Each competitor handed out small plastic cups of their creations, proudly announcing special ingredients that would ostensibly set theirs apart from the rest; tasters were given a page to make notes about each entry. Professional judges announced prize winners; patrons voted for their own.
HCB never tells anybody that he is a chef, ever, when we are in public. So when the various chefs and their staff at this event started laying on the foodie talk thick, I could not wait to hear (and watch) his reaction the second we turned around from the tables. By and large we were in agreement about whose creations were exceptional (only a couple), whose were horrible—and there were some—and whose were plain old pedestrian (why bother?).
The Harpoon was delicious. I am only an occasional beer drinker, ditto HCB; yesterday we had our beer for the year, sitting in comfy Adirondack chairs around an outdoor fire pit, listening to a band play classic rock-n-roll, watching mac and cheese revelers. Not a bad way to spend a cool, overcast early fall afternoon. I will say this: twenty tiny cups of the gooey stuff add up in no time flat. As HCB so artfully observed, you feel like you’ve got a lead pipe in your gut after you eat all that. Which is precisely how we felt as we lumbered back to the car.
To my Tennessee friends: Vermont has us beat in bringing freshness to the table. No, really. I have observed two reasons for this: Vermont is rural, and—significantly—most everyone I know drives right through that rural farm country on their daily commute to and from work. It’s pretty much unavoidable, unless you live and work in one of the smallish towns here, and even then there is a good chance the local co-op’s shelves are stocked with a fair amount of locally grown and manufactured food. Local farms operate beautiful farm stands during the growing and harvesting seasons; there is a particular one I’ve frequented during the relatively short summer here, and I am already anticipating how much I will miss its gorgeous bounty after it closes next month. There is fresh, and then there’s fresh. You just have to be careful about the potential for all this freshness to wreck your waistline. Ahem.
So now I’m adding tastings to the favorites list. And maybe a Holstein in my backyard.
Just off the highway that leads home I run the gauntlet between these beauties every day in my car. They swish back and forth and make a satisfying thwack-thwack-thwack in protest as I drive through them, often leaving delicate yellow petals on my car windshield and hood.
If I pause on the tiny wooden bridge leading onto the property and look to the south this is what I see.
Where the drive makes a hairpin turn it crosses another rapid stream
and continues. And just when I begin to wonder whether I will at last arrive,