Category Archives: books

On the art front

Thomas Allen: Remedy C-print, 2008

Just to step away from farming for a minute, I thought I would update you on the art happenings here and around the country-slash-world.

As some of you know, my husband is an artist. Between his artmaking and my architecture, we’re very fortunate to be able to work from home and have this hobby farm. Tom’s book came out last fall. He will be on the cover of Harper’s Magazine in September, and has six commissioned works in August’s O Magazine (O is for Oprah). He illustrated a feature on memoirs, and had a lot of fun with it; it’s on newsstands now.

On Saturday, August 2nd, he will be in Jackson WY for his show at Oswald Gallery. I love Wyoming, but I love canning season more, so the kid and I will be home-bound.

On September 3rd he persuaded me to go to his show in Boston at Bernard Toale gallery. Bernie is handing the reins over to Joseph Carroll, and Joseph is reopening the gallery that week as Carroll and Sons; it should be a hoot. I could be persuaded to go to this because 1. Boston is a great city and 2. Boston has seafood!!

Other recent publications in which Tom’s work has been shown: New York Magazine did a spread on the precipitous fall of Governor Spitzer. Tom’s take is here. The Irish literary publication Field Day Review did a huge feature of his work in April, with a nice write-up by the novelist Seamus Deane. In Singapore, Designer magazine did a spread in Issue 16.

So. Just thought I would share. There’s been a lot of artmaking going on around here recently!

On rare and endangered foods, and vanishing food traditions

Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper greening up nicely in the greenhouse. These are great frozen.

“No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” –Lily Tomlin

For my birthday recently I received a copy of Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan and with a forward by my hero Deborah Madison. This book (as you can imagine) is right up my alley. Nabhan founded Native SeedSearch. He’s an ethnobotanist who happens to be a kooky single-minded food enthusiast. I read his Coming Home to Eat a couple of years back and truly enjoyed it: it makes the nice idea of eating locally in the verdant hills of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle look like the child’s play it is compared with local eating in the desert southwest of this country.

The premise of this book is to do what Slow Foods has done: instead of presidia, it divides North America (actually, just most of the US) up into small territories (nations) known by what Native Americans and early settlers would have cultivated, foraged and hunted. Traditional foods, in other words. My particular corner of Michigan has a foot in three such territories: the Wild Rice Nation, the Cornbread Nation and the Maple Syrup Nation. (I like that, that where I live is transitory, is between zones.) The book features once common, now rare plants and animals from each featured zone, and why it is in our best interest to preserve them. By preserving, of course, Nabhan means EATING them.

Carolina northern flying squirrel, anyone?

By teaming up with revered seed-saving institutions and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, this book gives little vignettes about disappearing flora and fauna. I think the stories behind each item are fascinating. Take the Northern Giant (McFayden) cabbage, for instance. Or the mulefoot hog. Or the Quahog clam.

Anyway, back to the cynicism of which I have in abundance. I am not one to believe capitalism is a cure to all that ails us: that we can, say, buy our way out of global warming by purchasing a solar panel or two, a hybrid car, a few canvas shopping bags. As you may know by now, I think we’re all quickly approaching the shores of an entirely different world. The index and bibliography in this book are stellar. The RAFT List of Foods at Risk in North America is a large one, 700 items and counting, listed with T (threatened), E (Endangered) or X (Functionally extinct). Currently, I do seed-save some of the threatened and endangered vegetables, and I intend to breed a few crucial animals over the next few years. My cynicism comes in (and again, it’s hard to keep up!) when everyone just HAS TO HAVE x cool endangered item. Is creating a market for them a good thing? I suppose if it brings something back from the brink of extinction, it is.

Either way, it’s nice that some people give a damn.

Another art post


Knockout, 2006

Knockout (2006: 24×20 c-print) courtesy

All you all in Dallas (or environs) on Thursday the 10th to, well, until Feb. 16th, go see my hubby’s show at Light & Sie gallery!

The opening is Thursday, and Tom will be there. (Me? I’m watching the chickens.) This new gallery is really very cool, and this will be a fairly big display of his work. He’ll also be around town for a few days signing his new book.

“Something is not right!”

Can you say “depressingly gray”?

We have a bit of a Madeline book fixation here in the house. Our kid is not a girly-girl, and I think she identifies with this character because of her fearlessness (i.e., “She was not afraid of mice–she loved winter, snow and ice.”). We often have whole conversations based on lines from her books or stanzas from her songs, and Madeline is right up there: this could be, of course, because I loved them as a child.

This morning, though, when we woke up to the howling winds, I brought her to the window and asked her what was wrong, what did she see outside, as “something is not right!”. “There’s no snow, it’s all gone!” she said, astounded. And it was.

That lack of snow sure makes everything so very dark and gray. Not to worry: another front is moving through, and it’s dragging winter behind it. Gone for a little while are those 50-degree days. But I’ll be glad to see the white stuff again. I too love “winter, snow and ice.”

On seasonal food preferences

Big bowl of yum

When the days start getting shorter, I notice lots of changes in my habits. I’d like to think that moving to a farm and actually being outside for some period of time every day has tuned me in more to the tilt of the planet, but I think it’s more ingrained than that. I think it’s biological in nature. Evolutionary biology, to be exact. Bear with me here. As far as I can trace them, my forebears came from either Ireland or France (and many more from the former than the latter). Both of these places see lots less light at this time of year than my little farm does, which, latitude-wise, is as far south as Rome. I have no known biological ties to Russia, but that is where my thoughts go at this time of year.

It is usually in November that I pick up a particularly long book to read, sometimes Russian; this year it’s the Oxford imprint (Maude translation) of War and Peace. Maybe it’s the early, Doctor Zhivago-inspired visions I had of an icy dacha, but I adore the good long slog in a sledge that a Russian novel reliably provides me at this time of year. It’s colder there than here, I tell myself, and darker too. So I tend to put the child to bed and then climb into bed myself, armed with my book, quite early in the evening.

And it is this time of year that, if given the choice, I will always choose a starch over any other food form. Bread, yes, of course; but also potatoes and (xoxoxo) beets, as I love them so. So I read an article like this one with interest: perhaps starch is just something I have been adapted to crave to, uh, tide me over until spring comes again. It’s a nice rationalization, really, as I grab my third beet of the week (and these the size of grapefruit).

But think about it. What DID people eat three hundred years ago to sustain them through a long winter? (In places where winter is an issue, that is.) And the answer, reliably, is starch: starch in the forms of roots like rutabagas, turnips, and sugarbeets. And potatoes, that new world wonder.

So bring on the borscht, baby.

Another non-gardening post

Hey! Allow me a bit of spousely bragging. My husband’s book came in as book #100 of Amazon’s Best Books of 2007!

My comment: “Somebody had to be #100.”
His response: “Better than #101.”

FYI: it’s an art book, in a toddler’s board-book layout. Uh, it could be considered a bit too naughty for your average toddler, but our daughter has taken it to school at Show and Tell (and she’s pushing 4). You can see more of Tom’s work here.

Stepping away from the gardens

Hello all…

My kid and I will be away for the week, going to “pick up” her daddy in New York.

Tom’s book signing/book release party and talk will be on Tuesday night, October 16th, starting at 6:30, at Aperture’s offices in Chelsea. He will be holding a joint talk with Chip Kidd, the graphic design world’s rock star. Chip has followed Tom’s work for years, and has utilized Tom’s art on book covers for some James Ellroy rereleases and to illustrate a full edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary publication, Zoetrope: All-Story.

Personally, I am hoping that book release parties are as entertaining as art openings. This should be some serious fun. And, of course, it’s great to step off the farm every once in a while…at least for a bagel and a schmear.