Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Spirit of Giving

One of Jeff's co-workers has started raising his own chickens, and whenever he has a surplus, he
generously gives out six-packs of eggs to other people in the office. There is now such a demand for these eggs that I had begun to despair of Jeff ever being able to bring some home. Apparently you have to get on ‘the list’ or at least be in the office at the right time in order to beat the clamoring hordes. But this past Friday, oh joy of joys, Jeff walked in the door carrying that tell-tale half carton and I knew we were in.

If you have ever had the pleasure of eating an egg that wasn’t squeezed out of a factory, that was produced by a chicken that had free reign to roam and munch as its own avian nature dictates, you can understand my excitement. To those of you that haven’t, let me assure you, there is no comparison. The shells are of such a deep opaque color that grocery store eggs appear almost ghostlike next to them. The yolks are a rich yellow-sometimes almost orange, and the taste when cooked is far more complex. Its easy to see why, when you imagine the varied diets that such unfettered chickens have been enjoying: seeds, grass, insects, etc, as opposed to the monotonous soy-based slurry that factory chickens are kept alive on.

Boston in winter, is probably one of the most difficult places/times to find real farm eggs. You can trek out to Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge and find a half dozen for about $5, you can wait for the farmer’s markets to start up again in June….or you can rely on the kindness of friends. I usually choose the latter, though it means long dry spells in between sightings. At Christmas we had a real bonanza, Jeff’s childhood neighbors in CT raise chickens and gave us three dozen eggs at once! They were happy to get rid of them and probably found our excitement amusing. We used those eggs in everything-we fried them, hardboiled them and marinated them in soy sauce to eat with rice, and baked them into numerous desserts. I even dried and saved the shells (try it-next time you make coffee add some crushed egg shells. It cuts down the acidity and adds a nice dose of calcium to your drink). Then our source dried up, and I have been buying eggs at Whole Foods again for the past three months….until now!

Its extremely annoying to not have a constant flow of any food that you enjoy, and its not something that you can ever rely on or expect, but sporadic gifts of homegrown or homemade food from friends are a delightful surprise. And when you are able to pay back in kind, suddenly the big city you live in seems to shrink to the size of a country village, where people still barter and exchange and you know exactly where your food came from because you saw your neighbor growing it.

Last summer I had a surfeit of eggplants and, becoming weary of eggplant parmesan, eggplant salad, and all of this veggie’s other permutations, I gave a couple glossy beauties to my next door neighbor. The next day she brought over four sun gold tomato seedlings that she had started herself. Yesterday, Jeff’s father came to visit us and brought a huge loaf of homemade bread. That evening, I stuffed him with strawberry rhubarb pie that I had made the day before. These exchanges are miraculous to me, not only are we caring for others in the most basic sense possible-literally feeding them, but we are knitting our communities more tightly together.

I have a crazy dream, that as more and more people respond to the current recession by growing their own veggies, cooking from scratch, and experimenting with DIY projects, just about everyone in a neighborhood or community of friends will eventually establish their own cottage industry. Someone will be brewing beer, someone will be making soap, someone will be raising chickens, and we will all create a system for exchanging these goods amongst ourselves, with no money needed. Im not talking about complete utopian living off the grid self-sustainability here, Im already accused far too often of having my head in the clouds, but what’s so crazy about the idea of each urban community at least having their own internal farmer’s market? What’s so crazy about all of us being producers as well as consumers? Maybe it will happen someday…and until then I’ll keep working at establishing my own lines of trade. I wonder if the egg guy will keep me on ‘the list’ if I pay him back with homemade bagels….

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