When I was young I went through a phase when I was profoundly obsessed with food and healthy eating. I had a subscription to a magazine called Prevention, I shopped in health food stores, back when we still called them health food stores, and I wanted to go to Cornell to study nutrition. Until I got wind of the notion that the only thing one could do with a degree in nutrition, in 1987, was work in a hospital or some other institution. That killed that small dream, but my love of food and everything culinary has only intensified over the years. I am mad for all of it: eating, cookbooks, gardening and beekeeping and foodie films. I have devoured books by M.F.K. Fisher and Ruth Reichl, Gabrielle Hamilton and Amanda Hesser. I once made it my life's ambition to eat at Alice Waters' restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley. That has been checked off the list, replaced now by a gnawing desire to experience the food at Noma in Copenhagen. Not going to happen any time soon, but a girl should never be caught without at least one juicy dream in her back pocket.
Leave it to Helen Cooper Hood Eyre to decide that hers was to compete on a cooking show on television.
I have learned that when Coco Eyre places something in the crosshairs of her 12-year-old life, she will, indeed, hit her target. She possesses a tenacity and a drive with which I am wholly unfamiliar. Also, she is fiercely competitive, another quality lacking in my character make-up. Who she is, I'm not really sure, but it's an awful lot of fun to watch her flow through this life.
So Coco got this fantastic food bee in her bonnet and then a wonderful thing happened that I can only call a Vermont thing. I don't mean, of course, to discount the 49 other states and the ways people live in those places, but it does seem to me that we have something peculiar and special in this tiny state. In no time at all a pit crew formed around Coco and her dream, made-up of all of our foodie friends: Amy Chamberlain at the Perfect Wife restaurant in Manchester and Julianne Murat at Vergennes Laundry. Thad Buck, who used to chef at Verde in Stratton and now runs the show at the Ekwanok. Our beloved Ben Niese, who blesses the kids at Skidmore with his culinary prowess, and Rick Benson at the Little Garden Market in Charlotte. Bob Herbert, who owns Bob's Diner in Manchester and Stacey Fraser, who runs the test kitchen at Eating Well Magazine. Margaret McChesney, who owns the Barn Restaurant here in Pawlet—all of these people stepped forward and offered some version of the same thing: if Coco wants to practice...let me know. Every single one of them asked how they could help, how they could support Coco and her dream. Amy invited her to be the first kid ever on her cooking show; Thad loaned her his leather knife satchel; Stacy invited a bunch of kids to cook in the Eating Well kitchen on a Friday night and Margaret. My god, Margaret spent hours and hours with Coco, in the kitchen, cooking and cooking and talking and dreaming and cooking.
Think about that.
I already knew that we possess an embarrassment of riches when it comes to friends, but I don't think that I had taken the time to realize just how many people we know who are foodies. And I mean deeply, genuinely in love with and devoted to all things food. How many people we know who are cooking and growing and raising food. I think it's easy to forget, when one lives in Vermont for any stretch of time, just how amazing the food situation is here. To wit: there are two year-round honor system food shops with five miles of our home. One run by the wonderful folks at Someday Farm, in Dorset, and the other at Smokey House, in Danby. At either of those places, I can pick up milk, eggs, coffee, maple syrup, locally-raised meat and any number of vegetables, depending on the season. Our friend, Hadley, and her family, are raising pigs in West Pawlet and their bacon is unreal. Jed, at Dorset Rising, bakes the bread we so love. Lauren's chickens lay the most beautiful eggs, and, too, Lauren makes pies that make you cry, they are perfection. Annie O'Brien is in with that crew; my mom has never made a pie I didn't love. I stopped in to visit Beverly and Leo at their food truck in Dorset the other evening, and I saw there so much more than the ingredients for the meals they are making. I saw a passion and a devotion and I recognized it because I feel the same way about writing: I can't not do it. Leo can't not make food for us. And because Beverly loves Leo, she loves, too, what he loves. They are making food, but they are also making, for us to consume, love. Believe me when I tell you, it makes their pizza delicious.
In the yard of the house where we live, there are apple trees and blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes. And in the spring I will plant the garden of which I dream during these bone-chilling winter days: eggplant and tomatoes, carrots and onions, peppers, lettuce, radishes, pumpkins, and the herbs. From tiny seeds many meals are born. It's magic! The sap has been running already and the late-winter talk is turning to maple syrup here. I made a decision at the new year that I wanted to learn how to butcher. I feel, as a meat-consumer, that I have an obligation to understand better the process by which a living animal becomes my meal.
I think, quite frankly, that this is how we're supposed to live. That this should not be considered a privilege, to live close to the source of one's food.
The ways we relate to food say a lot about who we are. We eat and our food becomes our flesh and our flesh is our very life. It is impossible to pull these things apart. Thirty-five years ago I pasted a quote by M.F.K. Fisher into a book I started keeping, of recipes and sketches and thoughts having to do with food: "It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled...we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So that when I am writing about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one."