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Monthly Archives: March 2014

On Urban Homesteading

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My cooking habits make absolutely no sense for someone who lives in New York.  Or any major city.

It started with the jam. I’d stumbled upon a cookbook of “making food gifts for friends,” with suggestions for making your own liqueurs, baking mixes, mustards, and jams; I still worked in theater then, and often needed to round up a lot of small token gifts for cast members, so I made a batch of a ginger-peach for my next show. And then a few other batches just for me. It was simple enough, and things weren’t exploding or going rotten, so I was probably doing something right.

Then there was the taste. Homemade tasted way better than the supermarket stuff; I used a little less sugar, so there was a depth of flavor that wasn’t in the supermarket jams. I could also throw in spices if I felt like it. And other people’s reviews started coming in – when I gave out the ginger-peach jam, I had cast members coming up to me all through that run raving about it when they’d each tried it. One woman simply walked up to me when she got to the theater, grabbed me by the shoulders, and fervently said, “your JAM.”  Then gave my shoulders a squeeze and walked away.  I….think it was good.

Next came tomatoes. I started canning them seven years ago, when I discovered my local farmers’ market had a “canner’s special” every summer; 20 pounds for $15. It was the same technique to can the jam, and it gave me about ten or eleven cans – just enough to tide me over for a year. After a couple years at it, it suddenly hit me that I hadn’t bought canned tomatoes from a supermarket in that same time; I hadn’t needed to. And they tasted better.

And that touched off a craze. At this  moment, I know how to make canned pie filling, applesauce, apple butter, pickles (both fermented and with a vinegar brine), pickled beets, yogurt, ricotta, granola, hot sauce, and pesto. I regularly stock my freezer with precooked meatballs and prepped-up fruit turnovers. I can make my own pizza and ice cream. Today I’m seriously considering a supermarket run for some ground pork to make two different kinds of sausage meat.

This actually isn’t all that odd for Brooklyn, though. Every third person you meet here these days is either raising chickens on their balcony or has started an artisinal chocolate sauce company out of their kitchen. There are so many food products coming out of Brooklyn now that the city is debating a “Made In Brooklyn” branding stamp. There are even farms here – three rooftop farms, in the Navy Yard, in Williamsburg, and Greenpoint – which do brisk business with a lot of local restaurants. For much of its history, too, Brooklyn was a borough of farms and farmers, selling to the rest of the city as well as producing for themselves.

I’ve considered starting a food business, and realized I simply don’t want to.  I don’t want to make money off food, I just want to treat me and the friends I feed. I want to get more into the process of cooking than the buy-and-heat approach we’re all encouraged to take these days. I want food that tastes like food – the stuff I make myself is invariably better.

I actually wish I could do more. I was never one of those kids who turned up her nose at vegetables, and I’m convinced it was because we got a lot of our vegetables out of a garden we started with a neighbor when I was about eight. My brother and I also sometimes snuck out to our grandfather’s vegetable garden and wiped out entire pea crops by picking them off the vine and eating them right away. (We only ever got a couple of mild lectures – I think my mother realized she shouldn’t be too mad about her children voluntarily eating vegetables.) I’ve tried having container gardens here in Brooklyn – I have a lot of really deep windowsills that get a lot of light – but except for a very vigorous and unruly rosemary bush and a spindly tomato plant that produced one tomato the size of a Superball before dying, I’ve not had much luck.

I’ve been wishing more and more that I had more light, or a yard, so I could start a proper kitchen garden. A small plot, with just a few rows each of a bunch of different vegetables; just enough for me and a few friends. I want to be able to run out to the yard and pick things right before I cook them. I want to taste the sweetness of a just-picked tomato, instead of a picked-and-trucked-in-to-the-farmstand one.

I want to remind myself that I’m part of the planet and its cycles of winter and summer, growth and harvest.

Unless I can figure out how to get more light to my windows, or get roof access, that isn’t happening, though. So I make due with the making-of-breakfast-sausage and the making-of-jam, and make do.

The Other Reason This Is Called “WadsWords”

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So, I mentioned that the title of this blog is a pun on my name.  And that is exactly why I almost didn’t use that title.

Having a “net presence” as a woman leads you straight onto the double-standard tightrope.  Especially if you have work you want people to see – you want your name out there, you want them to know it’s you who did it, you want them to find you.  But if they can find you by name….sometimes they can find you for real.  And you don’t always want to know what will happen if they find you.

And sometimes it’s all too easy for someone to find you.  About a year ago, I got a call one Saturday morning from a man I’d never met, who first apologized for the interruption, but…he’d seen my online dating profile, and wanted to ask me out directly. I’m sure he thought it was a sweet and charming romantic-comedy thing, but I was more alarmed – how had he gotten my home phone number?  Turns out what he’d done was:

  1.        He took note of the handle I used on an online personals site, and Googled that handle.
  2.        He read whatever he could find about me under that handle, looking for a place where I maybe slipped up and used my real name.  He found one, in a fanfiction site where I didn’t know my real name was visible.
  3.        He paid a public-records lookup service to get my home phone number and address.

…And he didn’t understand why this was a totally creepy thing for a man to do to a woman whom he’d never met before in his life, especially since there was a way to contact me directly through the damn personals site.  I told him – at length – exactly why this was a profoundly misguided thing for him to do, and after we hung up I spent the rest of the day consulting with techie friends about how to stop further such searches.  (It’s possible, fortunately – it just involves a lot of strongly-worded letters to a lot of nebulous companies.)

I’ve mentioned this in a lot of other discussions online about gender where people don’t always get why I was so alarmed and think I should have cut the guy some slack. He was just trying to ask me out, they say. Okay, maybe he was awkward about it, but not everyone has been properly socialized, and couldn’t I have just been nice instead of reading him a riot act? Or hell, maybe gone out on one date with him?  What would it have killed me?  And so what if my name’s out there?

And that’s when I tell the other story.

About six years ago, I got another call one early evening when I was home alone. A calm male voice recited my name and asked if that was me. Caught off guard, I said yes. He recited my address and asked to confirm that was correct. I did – if he had my name and full address, this must be legitimate, right?

“Okay,” he then said, in the same calm voice, “I need you to answer the following questions or else I am going to come over and rape and mutilate you.  Do you understand?”

Okay, not so legitimate.

When I hesitated, he called me “bitch” and threatened to rape me if I didn’t comply.  “Okay, yes, I will,” I said quickly.

Fortunately, working in theater for ten years has given me a really good instinct for coping in a crisis; it switched on full, and took over. It kept me calm – the whole time he was asking me questions about things like my hair color, my bra cup size, and my sexual preferences, the tone of voice I used was “mildly impatient,” as if he were a Gallup pollster who’d interrupted me in the middle of dinner.  It also reminded me that giving fake answers may be wise. It also made me text my then-boyfriend, telling him “COME OVER I AM IN TROUBLE”, and then walk through the entire apartment, checking that all the doors and windows were securely locked.  So by the time he finally asked the question “tell me how you think it would go if I were to come over and try to rape you right now,” I had the courage to say “well, I think if you did you’d find me and my boyfriend and my roommate waiting for you with her samurai sword that’s sharp enough to cut a dick off”, and then hang up and dial 911.

The only reason I am comfortable telling that story publically is because the police investigated and confirmed that the guy was calling from eight states away, and it is unlikely he would drive all that way just to come after me. I also still have the name of the detective assigned to my case – as soon as they heard he threatened me, Brooklyn’s SVU got really interested – and I stay on top of the public records search sites to get my address and phone number secured. (I just found a new site with my data on it, in fact, and have just Fedexed them the form asking them to cut that crap out.)

This is the kind of thing that makes a girl reluctant to use her real name online.  And the hell of it is, I’m not the only one, and that isn’t even the worse story. Some women no doubt have been raped and mutilated by strangers.  Others just get a constant stream of sexist abuse heaped upon them; some of it threats far worse than my phone friend issued against me.

The thing is, if you want public acknowledgement of your work, your name kind of has to be attached to it. And I’ve wondered if my reluctance to have my name out there has held me back. For a time, it was indeed wise, and understandable how uncomfortable I was given my past. But there’s something to be said for feeling that fear and getting my name out there anyway. Shortly after the obscene phone call, my then-boyfriend took a bit of a tough-love approach – he came to stay with me that night, but not the following one. He thought trying to reclaim my own strength was the best approach, and he was right; I may have been freaked out at first (“uh, did you miss where the guy said he wanted to rape me?”), but taking back control of my phone, my presence, and my apartment made the impact of that attack on me a lot less lasting.

So I can’t be afraid. I can take steps to protect myself, but I can’t – I shouldn’t – be too afraid to use my own name.

And that name is Wadsworth. And so I went ahead and named this WadsWords.

It Begins (Again)

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I wrote a lot when I was a kid.

It started with reading.  Sometime around second grade, I had a youngish hippie-Montessori-esque teacher who gave us the tasks we needed to do each day but then leaving us to pace ourselves, letting us decide moment to moment – sort of – what we were going to do.  I usually read – but instead of reading storybooks, I would often pull down a couple random volumes of the class encyclopedia and flip through them, staggered by the sheer volume of stuff there was in the world.  The writing came in any time I came across something so completely mind-blowing that I needed to think it through in greater depth; and so I’d write a little story about me encountering whatever strange thing I’d discovered, imagining what it’d be like – developing Arctic polar snow blindness in my back yard, hunting for chupacabras in the playground, holding a sandwich contest with Julia Child…I rarely showed my work to anyone.   They were just for me; they were mental processing.

I added a bit more non-fiction in junior high. I never had the conventional “diary” – but I always wrote, especially when I was bored; usually free-association braindumps which helped me process some increasingly complex thoughts and worries.  I still wrote stories, though – my two best friends and I kept a round-robin novel going through freshman year, the three of us writing about three other girls who were three very thinly disguised versions of us.  We talked about things in The Book which we didn’t talk about out loud – fears about tests, how to cope with dating, how to cope with not dating, the pointlessness of our gym class.  It was in The Book that one of my friends first confessed to us that she didn’t really want to be a marine biologist, the way she’d been telling us all since she was ten, and it was in The Book that I took pity on myself and gave myself the First Kiss From A Boy that I was actually too shy to lure in real life.

The Book was still a way of trying on real life, experimenting with other selves.  The sort of stream-of-consciousness nonfiction I did was different…it wasn’t a diary, it wasn’t a bunch of essays.  It was just…writing.  I didn’t know what to call it.  That is, I didn’t know what to call it until the late 90’s, well after graduating high school – it was blogging.  Even so, I came to blogging late – I tried a fictionalized version in the mid-90’s, continuing my character’s life into her 20’s in New York (imagine a much tamer and nerdier version of Girls); then a non-fiction blog in my 30’s.

Things fizzled out for a few years as just plain life got in the way, as I lost a couple jobs and got caught up in a freelance writing gig and had a run of bad personal luck.  I made half-hearted stabs at writing, but so much of my energy was going to just keeping my wits together that the inner voice I’d had for so long had just stopped.

And I missed it.

I’ve tried starting and re-starting a blog a few times now in the past couple years, trying to bring it back. I thought maybe if I had a point to my blog, that’d help – ah, that’s it, I will write a food blog.  ….Okay, maybe one about being a New England girl in New York.  ….Okay, maybe something about gelato?  Wait, even that didn’t work?….

In fact, this was going to be a travel blog.  Except I was having trouble naming it, and mentioned to a friend that maybe my dithering about finding a title was what was keeping me from starting the damn thing.  He thought for literally only about ten seconds before coming up with a delicious pun on my name: “How about ‘WadsWords’?”

“…That’s so good I have to use it,” I said.

Except it’s not a travel blog title as such.  But maybe this isn’t supposed to be a travel blog anyway.  Or a gelato blog or a food blog or whatever the hell else I’d been trying to think of.  This is just my blog, just like the notebooks I wrote in all through junior high or the stories about desert sandstorms I wrote about in second grade.   This is just…my words.  That’s all it has to be.