Archive for October 22nd, 2012

Worming My Way to My Inner Fish

Summer 2012 on one of the many nearby lakes

I can’t explain it, but I just know I am going to catch a fish today.  The lake is big but something draws me to a particular spot.  It’s as though a bas kol (heavenly voice) is calling down to me:  “Here, right here!  This is the spot!”

Fishing is a mixed blessing, a combination of patience and anticipation; horror and joy; morbidity and sustenance.

I still don’t enjoy picking up a squirming worm.  And despite those who say worms don’t have feelings, I know that cannot be so because I have felt its initial flinch and stab of pain with the first prick and then impalement onto the fishing hook.  And then I must continue threading it on the hook, jabbing the poor worm again and again.  Meanwhile as  I’m perpetuating this cruelty, I am surrounded by clear blue waters – – so clear I can see 15′ – 20′ beneath my boat – – a deep blue sky with the puffiest, cotton-white clouds, and verdant mountains ringing a lake so private that I’m its only human visitor on this day.  Disgust mixed with profound beauty.

And then, while paddling silently, gliding along the glassy water with only the slightest breeze, my fishing rod stuck in its holder just behind the kayak seat, the line let out several tens of feet – – there is a small nearly imperceptible shudder and the rod begins to arc.  I know it’s not because I’ve picked up some lake weeds or am stuck on a buried rock outcropping, because the line grows taut and then slack and then taut again with a staccato-like rhythm, and as I lift the rod and grab the reel and begin to wind, I feel the give-and-take, give-and-take, subtle at first, of the fish’s nibble.  If I reel it in too quickly or too slowly, the fish will not catch properly on the hook, and he’ll swim away (and sometimes sneakily grab a few bites of the worm in the process).  No, we have to do this dance of life and death, struggle and exhaustion, triumph and defeat.

When I catch the fish and pull him out of the water, I see he is tired – he has fought hard both for the worm and from the hook and death.  His gills flex in and out, as though he is panting, struggling to breathe.  He lays very still in my net, but no, he has a second, and then a third wind, and fights the net, my hands, and evades my grasp as I try to remove the hook.  Some of his fins prove to be painfully sharp – his only body armor of defense.

He seems robust in girth but not in length.  Alas, he measures approximately 12″ – not bad, but according to fishing regulations he must be at least 14″ if I want to enjoy him for dinner.  Removing the hook, I let him float in the net that I’ve placed back in the water, allowing him to slowly recover from the stress of imminent death.  I open the net and at first I wonder if I’ve waited too long – he seems too still.  But no:  he is suddenly re-energized and dashes back into the lake’s depths and freedom.

“I will come back for you next year,” I tell him, “when you are yet bigger.  And then we’ll see.”  I feel sorry that I couldn’t eat him, because I don’t like the concept of “catch and release” for the sake of “sport” – it stresses and plays with an animal for “fun.”  I want to experience the entire process of catching, killing, cleaning and eating the fish, because I want to appreciate life, death, and sacrifice.  I want to know if I have it in me to kill.  I am not sure that I do.  I know I feel conflicted with regret and relief as he is released.  Do we really appreciate the profundity of a fish’s sacrifice (“so that we may live”) and, for that matter, God’s gift of sustenance, if we buy a plastic-wrapped fish in the market, so far removed from its source?

I continue paddling, and once again feel a nibble.  Not as strong – I figure it’s the same dumb fish but he’s simply more tired – – but when I reel it in I see it’s an even smaller fish, only 9″ long, and I throw him back immediately.  Fishing is kind of like gambling, I decide.  It’s somewhat distasteful yet exciting.  The odds are against you.  But when you win . . .

There’s always the anticipation of a win, no matter how unrealistic.  Nature, in this case, is the House, and as we all know, the House always (well mostly always) wins.  But not enough to stop me from trying to beat the odds.

I set out again. And again.  Only the coming dark has the power to make me call it a day.

I’ve since caught land-locked salmon, perch, brown trout and bass.  None were “keepers” – legally  large enough to become dinner.  It appears the only fish I will be eating anytime soon will be coming from a can.

It’s funny, this late in my life, to see how fishing has suddenly cast its spell upon me.  When a brown trout succeeds in sneakily nibbling the worm off my hook without getting caught, I see there are two ways of looking at it:  I’m not going to let some stupid fish outsmart me!  Or, maybe I don’t know everything and I have a lot more to learn . . . even from a small fish.  It’s humbling.  Thank you, G-d.

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Farm Stands

The farm stand at Silver Fox Farm on Corn Shop Road on the ME-NH border

When you live in a rural place and the nearest supermarket is 35 – 45 minutes away, you tend to have a lot of emergency rations stored in mouse-proof containers.  You make a marketing list with a week’s worth of food garnered from a week’s worth of menus that  have been thoughtfully planned.  Although this may sound daunting (I seem to go nearly every day to my supermarket in my hometown, since I’m much less organized and it’s just around the corner), when you realize that it costs $10 in gas every time you make the trip, it quickly motivates you to become more sensible.

But it’s not difficult for me to pop over to several nearby farm stands.  All are located on private farms; some may be little more than a lean-to and others are quaint wooden buildings complete with a wide front porch. One has to wonder how it is possible for some of them to make a profit in today’s world of large-scale agri-industry. The answer appears to be diversify, diversify, diversify, even on a small scale, and become social-media savvy.  Most have websites and Facebook pages of their own, and one farm even had a Groupon with a 50% off coupon.There are farms that have children’s activities, hay rides, and special Halloween celebrations.   Some have full-fledged kitchens that whip up artisan breads and heavenly-smelling fruit and pumpkin pies and other baked goods.  This time of year there is also fresh apple cider.  Usually the proprietor is too busy working the farm to stick around waiting for customers, so they leave a cigar box where you leave money for your purchases and you can make your own change.  Some of the farms offer a pick-you-own option for apples and pumpkins.

The cash box at Five Fields Farm

Yesterday I went to Five Fields Farm to see if they had any  “drops.”  When apples fall to the ground before they can be hand-picked, they may bruise slightly and lose market value.  The “drops” are sold for pennies on the dollar, but they make great cider, applesauce, and are perfect for drying into apple chips with the dehydrator that my younger son and daughter-in-law bought me.  (Actually I used the dehydrator for the very first time today.  I made beef jerky from some pepper steak I had brought from my home town.  It is delicious!).  Last year I bought 150 lbs. of apples and made many, many jars of unsweetened applesauce which I gave away as gifts, but this year I don’t feel quite so ambitious.

Five Fields Farm in Bridgton, Maine

When their orchards lie dormant in winter,  Five Fields Farm uses the fields for dog sledding and skijoring races as well as cross-country ski trails.

I took this picture in January 2010 when we attended some dog sled and skijoring races at Five Fields Farm. The temperature was 6 degrees F (certain things you remember!)

Today I went to Pie Tree Orchards where I bought some delicious organic Northern Spy apples.

Northern Spy Apples

This “heirloom” apple variety is extremely cold-hardy (necessary for Maine winters) and originates in Maine.  It’s rarely found outside of New England.  It’s a hard, crispy, sweet-tart apple that is packed with juicy goodness.  Pie Tree Orchards also sells many unique squashes and pumpkins, plus kale and various root vegetables picked straight from the garden.

Then I went to another local farm:  Silver Fox Farm.  It is one of the most picturesque, nestled in a valley surrounded by the White Mountains.   In addition to fresh eggs, a remarkable pumpkin patch, and the largest selection of weird and wonderful squash varieties I’ve never seen elsewhere, they also raise shire draft horses.  (By the way, all the eggs sold in Maine are brown-shelled.  When I asked why it’s so hard to find the white-shelled eggs, I was told that the variety of chicken that lays the brown-shelled eggs is much hardier and can better withstand the Maine winters than the type of chickens that lay the white-shelled eggs.  Unfortunately, it is quite common to find blood spots in fresh farm eggs, so I always have to buy double the amount I actually need since I end up discarding the ones with the blood spots for kashrus reasons.)

Adjacent to the  pumpkin patch, Angus cattle (raised for beef) were playing with and eating discarded pumpkins that were not fit for market.  They were pushing the pumpkins around on the ground with their noses, kind of like “nose soccer.”

Cattle playing “nose soccer” with discarded squash and pumpkins

Does anyone know what kind of squash this is? If so please write in. It’s salmon-colored, the same shape as spaghetti squash, but larger.

Delicata squash used to be hard to find, but due to its well-justified popularity, you might find some at your local supermarket or farm stand. If you do find it, grab it! It’s sweeter, creamier and more custard-like than butternut squash, and it will soon become your all-time favorite squash!

Then there is Sherman Farm.  This is a large farm that is renowned for its milk, vegetables, and a 12-acre corn maze that has a different theme every year.  People come from all over New England to wind their way through their famous corn maize. Perhaps you are old enough to remember when milk came in glass bottles.  Well, it still does at Sherman Farm!  I’ve done a blind “taste test” of milk from Sherman Farm and the supermarket, and not only can I tell the difference; Sherman Farm’s milk is far superior.  Sherman Farm also gives back to the community.  During harvest season, volunteers descend onto the fields and pick hundreds, and sometimes thousands of pounds of surplus produce, which is donated to local food banks.  The August 2012 harvest yielded 10,678 lbs of fresh surplus produce picked with a value of $27,910 and it served 15,617 meals!  In the summer of 2011 during Hurricane Irene, the low-lying farm was flooded and lost the majority of its crops.  The surrounding communities gave money, time, manpower and materials to help rebuild Sherman Farm.

Today’s lunch was so colorful I just had to take a picture. Clockwise from top left: 1/4 c. Trader Joe’s Wild Rice (to which I added toasted pecans, dried cranberries, rosemary and thyme); 1/4 c. mashed squash from the farm stand, with a dash of Maine maple syrup; salmon patty with a dash of wasabe sauce; and 1 1/2 c. spinach-kale salad with Israeli feta from Trader Joe’s, plus an olive oil vinagrette dressing. Yum!