New England Track & Field Championships: When Life Hands You Lemons

Pole Vault 20 A

It’s track and field season here in New England; maybe in other parts of the world, too, not sure—this is well outside my life experience bubble. ‘Tis also the season when Handsome Chef Boyfriend morphs from pastry chef by day to pole vaulting coach by afternoon and the occasional weekend, true story: he coaches invincible young folk who run like crazy with a long, bendy pole, then jam it into the ground and somehow try to heft themselves many feet up, up, up into the air, and then twist around, and clear a horizontal pole without knocking it off. Sometimes they actually make it. 

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships , Isaiah

For about a decade H(PVC)B has been coaching high school pole vaulters; this year he was asked to work privately with an individual student, a talented freshman at Southern Vermont College. There he is, the boy in the yellow jacket, young Isaiah. On Saturday Isaiah and one other SVC student competed in the New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, accompanied by a gaggle of coaches and some well-wishing teammates who did not make the cut for this event which in turn was a qualitfying event for a bigger meet next weekend: the Eastern College Atheltic Conference Divsion III Track & Field Championships.

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's track event

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's track event

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's pole vaulting

Being the consummate ballerina, I tend to notice bodies and there were some pretty, sinewy, lean ones in Massachusetts at Springfield College for Saturday’s meet. Being there among them made me wish I’d discovered the joy of running much sooner than I did in my late thirties, like maybe when I was a young college student. But even then I am almost certain nobody could have convinced me to pole vault.

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's pole vaulting

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's pole vaulting

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's pole vaulting

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, women's pole vaulting

Yeah, not so much.

But I digress. Saturday was cold, gray, rainy, generally unpleasant. There was a lot of standing around and waiting for things to happen, which I have learned to expect at these kinds of things. I parented a figure skating kid and was spared much waiting around at athletic venues, except for one weekend a year at the local ice rink; hat tip to parents who routinely tolerate it.

After an eternity the men finally had the so-called runway and “pit” at their disposal for practice vaulting ahead of the actual competition. And for the record, it is not really a pit; it’s a bunch of really big, squishy mats, and there are not enough of them in my humble opinion.

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, men's pole vaulting

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, men's pole vaulting

Isaiah had a couple of iffy practice vaults, and took a bad spill off the mats after one of them, injuring his shoulder. The track felt slippery to me (I can’t say whether it was actually slippery, but I did hear some grumbling about it from some of the athletes). And the ballerina in me wanted to put warm clothing on these kids while they stood in the long queue awaiting their turn. Some of Isaiah’s competitors walked in front of me when I was attempting to capture one of his practice vaults, and so I only caught a couple of awkward shots:

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Isaiah

New England Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Isaiah

Pole vaulting is nothing if not awkward, though. And it was just one of those kind of days. Kids were falling all over the place—Isaiah was hardly alone.

When I could no longer feel my fingers I finally took my leave of the track meet and headed to the student union across the street for coffee. And as fate would have it, I missed Isaiah’s moment, the one we had been waiting for (not to worry: Coach Chef was there). Turns out on his third and final vault Isaiah not only cleared the horizontal crossbar, but cleared it by a mile, only to inadvertently knock it loose with his foot on his way down. He narrowly missed qualifying for next weekend’s big event.

It was a bitter pill for young Isaiah to swallow. And so it goes—we’ve all been there. It is another little chink of mortar to add to the bricks that compose us and make us interesting, small consolation when we’re in the moment. Chin up, Isaiah, it is but a blip on your timeline. At least, that is what my mom used to tell me when my lower lip was scraping the ground: life goes on and you do your best to make lemonade of lemons.

A long-awaited visit to Berkshire Mountain Bakery finished our Saturday. This interesting little place took the spotlight in one of four episodes in food writer Michael Pollan’s wonderful documentary series called Cooked. I think it is fair to say I am a Michael Pollan afficionado, even if I do not practice his food philosophy completely and earnestly all the time. But I appreciate his comprehensive knowledge of food history and love that his message about healthy eating is rational, never shrill.

The thing to distinguish the bread at this particular bakery is the absence of leavening—baker Richard Bourdon uses fermentation and ancient baking practices to create a product that is ostensibly good for the gut, even for folks with gluten intolerance. (You can watch the series on Netflix, and I enthusiastically recommend it—even if you have no interest in the underlying healthy food ethic, the documentary is thoroughly entertaining, as is Pollan’s narrative.)

Turns out the outlet in Pittsfield, where we had dinner, was just that—an outlet. It was not a bakery as we expected. So the atmosphere left much to be desired. But the product was every bit what we hoped for and more.

Berkshire Mountain Bakery Michael Pollan Cooked

We left loaded down with a bunch of bread, thinking we’d make it last. We will not. And so it seems routine visits down to Pittsfield, Massachusetts will be part of our still-evolving landscape.

That’s some pretty dang good lemonade.

 

Nourishment

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Fall term has been up and running for two weeks now at ballet school; that means that I have been sneezed and coughed upon by little people (and a few medium ones, too) for about as long. In years gone by I have been good for a solid head cold once a year but lately find myself unable to dodge the bullet three or four times a year. I am speculating that stress and general upheaval may be the culprits. Be that as it may, I am under the weather at the start of the year (sigh), almost right on the heels of a summer cold in late July. Don’t interpret this as whining, please; in general I’m not a huge fan of complaining publicly about ailments and illness. It just annoys me that at the moment I apparently lack the constitution to fight it off.

Aside from my work in the ballet world and as a freelance writer, I also serve as assistant to the founder of a groovy Vermont startup; I’ve been at it for a little over a year now. Most days of the week I report to work there in the early part of the day. Then I’m in my tiara for the afternoon and into the evening. (Not really, but I do actually own one.) Wearing different hats in a single day is part and parcel of who I am right now. As part of an ongoing marketing campaign recently the owner of the company at job #1 (who is the creative thinker behind some pretty dang delicious sweet potato-based salsas) has used social media to pose this question: What will feed and nourish you for the (fill in the blank) ahead?

Late Friday evening and into the night that question posed itself again and again to me on the longish drive down to Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s place for a weekend visit. What will feed and nourish you for the weekend ahead, I wondered? I willed the answer: homemade chicken soup. My throat was sore and I was worn out. And I happened to know he had just baked a whole chicken only a few days before. I had sent a message to him via mental telepathy to make stock, and then of course soup. I walked into his place around 9:30 and the unmistakable savory wall of homemade chicken soup steam smacked me in the noggin; you can see the finished product in that photo at the top, which I made just before we lunched on leftovers a while ago. (Yes, I know how incredibly lucky I am.)

Yesterday we wandered over to Saratoga Springs, NY to shop at a particular big box store of which we have none in Vermont. I am torn about this because in general I am against feeding the establishment that profits from the very cheap labor of people in countries without basic human rights. It is really hard to live by that ethic and there were some essentials I have needed for a while now that I knew I would find there. We made a day of it, delicious in just about every possible way (except for the human rights violation part); my only regret is that I did not press HCB to stop the car on several occasions so that I could snap photos of the breathtaking early fall landscape in upstate New York, and the vernacular architecture I can’t get enough of. I was a bit out of it and decided to just enjoy the ride. On the way back, though, we made an important stop, for ice cream.

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The Ice Cream Man has a cult-like following; it’s on New York Highway 29. I whined a little the first time we drove past, and then on the way back was finally assuaged. All of the ice cream there is homemade. A small cone has FOUR scoops (I kid you not); we opted for the kiddie size, which has only two. And as happens all the time, I could not help thinking about the American obesity epidemic, and about Michael Pollan’s food writing. But I also recalled something he observed about cultural differences in thinking about cuisine, and a project where Americans and French subjects were shown photos of the same chocolate cake and asked to choose an adjective to describe it. Americans overwhelmingly chose the word guilt, and the French, celebration. Dark roast coffee ice cream (moi) and Almond Joy ice cream (HCB) fed and nourished us as we celebrated our beautiful drive home. Works for me.

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We wrapped up our day on the sofa with a movie and a bowl of penne noodles and homemade meatballs. (There were possibly some pecan bar trimmings from a particular bakery thrown in for good measure.) Yep, fed and nourished. Not guilty, but celebrating good times in the company of an amazing man, at the end of a tiring work week. We’ll wake up tomorrow morning and do it all over again.

Clear Brook Farm, 180 Degrees

IMG_20140720_115217We are spoiled in Vermont during the summer growing season with an abundance of gorgeous produce to be had in local Saturday farmers’ markets and elsewhere. (I am okay with being spoiled, or spoilt as a Southern friend likes to say; the flip side of that is Vermont winter.) I have observed before that the farmers’ markets here are a bit different than the ones I frequented in the South–the food is maybe a little fresher, more abundant, and the selection of plant species is better. I think this is owing in large part to Vermont’s agrarian economy, and also the strength of its dairy industry.

The other local outlet for all that produce is the farmstand. When I think of this the way I did in the South, I imagine a guy selling a couple of items off the back of his pickup (or crudely constructed lean-to, if we are being generous) on the side of a suburban highway. The produce–peaches, watermelon, strawberries, et al.–can be amazing. But his farm is usually somewhere far away.

Here the farmstand is more of an institution that is built (literally) right on the farm, and significantly, most of the food on its shelves is grown right there. Once in a while I find myself driving past this one, which I love and patronize when I can.

Lately I have been reading Michael Pollan’s writing about food, about how disconnected we have come from the farm, how processing has had an impact on American obesity, and about moderation. I hope to write more about this in the near future. One thing is certain about buying from local farms (which Mr. Pollan advocates): it is expensive. Being on a tight budget demands balancing quality with frugality. This can be a huge challenge. I find myself always looking for new ways to live small, but well. I think Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I do a fair-to-middlin’ job of this, as we say down South.

Yesterday we visited the Clearbrook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont. We found the first peaches of the season (imported from Georgia, not yet ripe enough to eat), along with some beautiful corn on the cob, tomatoes, and lettuce, which formed the bulk of our dinner last night. I did not do the math, so I don’t know exactly how the cost of our beautiful summer dinner would stack up against something made with ingredients purchased exclusively from the supermarket (but far less than dinner out, to be sure). And what we ate was supplemented by ingredients HCB had on hand already. I still like the idea of shopping for a meal, buying local, eating well, and feeling good. Much more to come.

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