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Bikefest

We have a lot of ideas per square inch in my household. I like to think about food, and so does Jack and Francis. Jack, Francis and Felix are philosophers, considering any aspect of life that shines at their attention.

For the last few years, Felix has been building a town in the yard. It is a place for him to play with his tractors and construction toys, and experiment with ideas about roads, buildings, and other infrastructure, like waste handling and energy generation.

Since he was very young he has been talking about Cuteland, a place adjacent to this one, a country were only kids live, and he can explore his understandings of our skewed world, and posit better structures and solutions.

Lately I’ve been very grateful for a few of the structures and solutions that exist in my life. Specifically, my job helping cook at Unity House, and Troy Bike Rescue. Unity House began in my neighborhood in the 70s, in a house that had been slated for destruction and was taken over by some people in the Church who wanted to help the community. That building and idea have grown into a large social service agency that covers a broad swath of needs.

More recently, another idea that began near me was Troy Bike Rescue. Wanting to salvage bicycles from the waste stream, some people started storing abandoned bikes in basements, and opening the door to share those machines with people who wanted to learn how to fix them.

That idea now has a home of its own, a building bursting at the seams with tires, frames, pumps and bike stands to put all of those things together and get these almost wasted pieces of metal in the hands of people who want to ride.

Yesterday was Bikefest, the fifth fundraiser for Troy Bike Rescue, a.k.a. TBR. I’ve steered crews of cooks through making rather spectacular burrito bars for the meal. The event is held at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, a former church that was rescued by a person who didn’t want to see it demolished. Russell Ziemba took care of the building until another idea, the Sanctuary was ready to have a home.

Now the old church hosts a slew of activities, from video production workshops to a nature laboratory, and soon, a radio station. International musicians and progressive thinkers visit the Sanctuary and help a lot of ideas come to Troy and take shape.

Last night’s dinner was fun. Seven long tables seated a bunch of people who love bikes. This crowd is such a mixture of low key, intent riders, and high intensity bike lovers. One great part of the evening is the cake auction. A beautiful frenzy erupted over the tiramisu. The auctioneer frothed the crowd into a bidding war, pitting one side of the room against the other, and getting $240 for the dessert.

After the meal, after the samba whistles and drums, the tables came down and the room was clear for dancing. A few of us loud living peeps swirled around, and the kids loved the microphone. Outside in the dark it began to rain, but people sat on the steps loving the refreshment.

I didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t a perfect night – I could see some kerfuffles between people, and I’m in the midst of fighting some serious arm pain – but it was a very good night. One that made me so happy that I live in a place where people can put their ideas into action and make structures and spaces where people can congregate and make a little magic.

Community Cooking

 

Pita bread Ellie and I made for the dinner at Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovich.

 

 

When I started this blog, it was a place to record my family’s interests in food. My husband and eldest son were very curious about gardening, and my youngest son didn’t care much for eating. I loved to cook and bake, and wonder why American habits had strayed so far from the kitchen.

I wanted to make our own food, and in these writings show that cooking is not as onerous as we’ve been led to believe. I taught a class called Industrialize Your Own Food Supply, demonstrating how to make yogurt, bread, and mixes. Jack and Francis gardened, and Jack and I canned and froze as much produce as possible.

I read about the cycles of food self-sufficiency, discovering that back to the land movements didn’t begin in the 1960s. Almost as soon as people began to leave the land for urban and factory–centered lives, notions of returning to a more self-reliant lifestyle took root.

 

More people making food for Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovitch.

More people making food for Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovitch.

I wanted to understand how we as a culture had surrendered the very intimate act of feeding ourselves and each other. Overwhelmed by our manic food pursuits, I could see why people developed machines to help grow and process food. And yet on my blog, I felt I should only write about our points of food independence. If I wrote about how many times we ate quesadillas made from block cheddar and cheap tortillas, I would be breaking some unwritten laws about DIY fortitude.

As I began to explore grains and flour, and research what would become my book, The New Bread Basket, I realized that home scale production was impractical. Perhaps a family of four could grow all their wheat on a quarter of an acre, but the many steps from seed to table are time-consuming and tool intensive. Staple crops take a lot of work.

 

I also was very enchanted by community scale processing. The farmer–miller–baker partnership I observed around Ithaca New York seemed a much better route to our daily bread then trying to go it alone at home. The days of threshing parties, where people would help each other harvest and thresh their grain are over, and I don’t know if and when this style of food handling will return.

 

Now, I’m curious about community cooking. I love that I have a big kitchen where many hands and knives can work to make volumes of food. Friday we will be using everything in the kitchen to get ready for a big burrito bar for Troy Bike Rescue, whose fundraiser is Saturday.

 

Portrait of ramps by Ellie Markovitch.

Last week my friend Ellie and I made pita breads for a dinner at the Oakwood Community Center. The meal was not just ours, but a collaboration built around donated and culled produce by a crew of volunteer cooks, servers, and dedicated cleaner-uppers.

 

Group cooking makes far more sense than figuring out ways to busily preserve every food under the sun in my own house. I have a job at Unity House steering daily meals for 100 to 200 people. Using salvaged foods and a skeleton staff, we serve breakfast and lunch every day the year. Volunteers help us incorporate as much fresh food as possible into the menu.

A full plate at Oakwood. Thanks for the picture Ellie Markovitch.

 

I would love to see more cafeteria and cooperative cooking enterprises take over the work of feeding that fast and processed foods have done. Cooking together is so much more efficient than cooking for ourselves, and eating together might help ease the social stratification that exists in our country.