Personification of Vegetables

Cilantro swaggers into the room and starts telling offensive jokes, either to everyone’s dismay or delight. He never apologizes, and even if he did, no one would be able to tell if he were serious. Every once in a while, he cleans himself up, wears a button-up shirt, and holds a door open for a lady.

Fennel shows up to dinner still smelling like sawdust, hair clinging to his forehead, ever a Calvin Klein model. He has the muscles of a man who works with his hands and the manners of a business man.

Celeriac covers his track marks with tattoos, and covers his tattoos with layers of t-shirts and thermals and sweatshirts. His wild days will never be over. He is too smart for that. Indeed, he is as quick with his tongue as he ever was.

Kohl rabi has an odd laugh and an even odder last name. In school, she spent recesses alone on the swing set, and she frequently came home in tears from being teased. Yet she became more exotic-looking as she aged, even pretty some would say. She was growing into her uneven eyes and round cheeks and pout of a mouth. She taught herself how to wear eye liner and short dresses. Most importantly, she learned how to please herself, a gift that freed her.

Leek has always been striking without even trying. She could start a conversation with anyone in a bar, or a celebrity, or the president. She did not hold back. She would call her friends out on their missteps, and she would throw down generous amounts of money if she thought the investment was worth it.

Arugula acquired a reputation as a boyfriend stealer, but she always swore that she did not make the first move. Otherwise content men were smitten with her, she more furry and beautiful than anyone else. She did not know what to do with her appeal. As a teenager, she climbed from one back seat to the next. Once in her twenties, she wanted to nest. She needed security more than admiration.

Mizuna spent her Friday nights as a wing woman. Others complimented her on her personality, on all that she could add to trivia night or a heated debate. Yet she never knew life as the star. She seemed even more potent in her anonymity.

Watercress never should have lived as long as she did. She received diagnosis after diagnosis, death ever eminent. Yet the doctors did not appreciate that she developed roots vigorously and often. She would not let go of life, would not stop baking or bicycling or telling the universe exactly what she thought.

Rutabaga blows his nose so hard that it sounds like a trumpet in dark theaters. In fact, he has played the trumpet since the age of ten, experimenting with every genre from jazz to polka. Rutabaga cannot sit through boredom. He needs to add something stronger to the mix, something that cannot otherwise be replicated.

Beet lives in a house surrounded by things that comfort her and things that comfort her friends. She stashes away an assortment of tea and fingernail polish for times of need, for heartbreak and frustration and disappointment. She always seems to be nursing a kitten and tending a wood stove. Hers is a couch visitors can sink into; her arms never let go of a hug until the other is ready.

Parsley retains the accent of an outsider but slips into a local crowd. Her mother always told her, “Do you know what we all have in common? Our humanity.” Parsley spent her career in social work, catering to every socioeconomic class, laughing at their jokes, being offered gifts of fudge or well-worn clothing. People tended to like the look of her, she secretly beautiful even though her mother always told her she was average. They trusted her, and opened up to her, and asked her for help, and that is what made her glow.

Trying to Shove Veggies into Her Body Any Way She Can…

She watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” on Hulu, and she wanted to drink more green juice. She had no excuse. She received 50% off drinks from the juice bar, so she could be guzzling a kale, celery, cuke, apple, lemon, and ginger concoction twice a day. Yet she did not think she could live on juice alone.

“I do not want to exclusively juice but I do want to shove vegetables into my body any way I can,” she told her friend, provoking a teehee response that somehow she would conquer the world carrot in hand. She needed to mix it up. She could not live on salad alone, though she adored designing salad. She was still eating her pate, and guzzling her V8 juice. She ate some lacto-fermented curry kraut after dinner that evening, and she felt like the flavor made her feel satisfied.

It came down to her own vanity. Double chin and all, she did not think she looked like the most ideal representation of a produce salesgirl at the moment. She wanted her skin to glow, she wanted to look and feel strong, all the same things she ever wanted but now she thought she would sell vegetables better at a healthier size…

The Case For Not Waiting Until January 1.

At 29, she knew the rhythms of her body as well as she knew what would wither first in the garden and what would continue to produce after the first few frosts.  She knew that her strength tended to peak in August, that she always considered herself at her leanest then.  With the dwindling daylight of autumn, she craved starch and sugar.  One November morning, she woke up craving fingerling potatoes and she turned on the oven and roasted root vegetables until daybreak.  Yet now, after Thanksgiving and a run-in with a mince fruit pie, she looked in the mirror and she could not carry around the fluff again.  She needed her pants to fit more comfortably again, she needed more definition in her face, and she needed to set the steps into motion for all that to happen sooner rather than later.

She felt embarrassed to talk about it again, because she talked about it every year.  It is New England, she reassured herself.  It is a problem for all of us just like clearing the driveway.  She had faced this particular weight problem enough times that she knew what she had to do: visiting the gym on a daily basis, logging onto MyFitnessPal, drinking water, eating more vegetables.

That day, she did not run 10 miles outside or start a diet that she knew she could not sustain.  She did buy a new water bottle (48 ounces!) and lemons and V-8 juice and greens.  She turned one of her Thanksgiving salads into the most delicious beet-celeriac-pear-greens pate.  She worked out enough to feel sweaty and winded and like she still had some fire in her.

She planned to celebrate the baby steps, as she did every year, because that seemed to lead to the greatest success…

In Search of Her Mother’s Mittens

“Have u seen my fleece-lined mittens? They are my favorite.” The first time her mother asked about the mittens, she played deaf and hoped her mother would forget about them. The next time, she looked blankly at her and said, “Oh no, I have no idea.”

Yet she did have an idea. She knew exactly to whom she lent the mittens: her father, her mother’s ex-husband. He had returned to Maine to vote in the election, in hopes of booting a politician out of office. He rented a car and drove up on November 2nd, the first snow storm of the year.

Incidentally, her mother was out of town, so she and her father were going to shovel her mother’s driveway. That was when she opened the chest of cold weather gear and offered the only pair that looked liked they would fit him. He ended up paying a plow truck to take care of the drive way, and she never asked for them back, not until nearly a month later after her father had flown to India.

She frantically emailed her father. “What happened to those mittens I lent you? They are my mother’s favorite.”

“Don’t worry, they are right here in my suitcase.” Of course, he did not throw them away. He and her mother share an aversion to tossing things, even when they are flying to a foreign country with weight restrictions.

“Can you mail them back, please?”

“I will reimburse you for a new pair. I leave to go on my camel trek tomorrow.”

“This is not a joke, Dad. Take the money out of my inheritance. She needs that pair. It is not Thanksgiving there, all the mail services should be open.”

He finally did it. He told her that it costs 1200 rupees, roughly 20 dollars, and the package would arrive in 8-10 days.

The strangest part of this episode is that her father predicted this scenario twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, her father started writing but never finished a book for her sister and her entitled “In Search of P.B.”. P.B. was the affectionate name of her sister’s baby blanket, which she called her blanket as well. The book told of the sisters losing their P.B.s, and they travelled around the world trying to recover them. Her father blended together National Geographic photos and family photographs to create the book.

Yet he never had to address what would happen if the P.B.s were found and needed to be returned urgently. Now the family knows that for 1200 rupees, everything can be fixed.


A Produce Girl’s Contributions to Thanksgiving

Thankfully, she did not have to cook a turkey. Her friend would handle that ordeal, even though the only other turkey she had cooked was roadkill long ago. She did not plan to attempt traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. She thought that however she mashed butternut squash or prepared green bean casserole, it would not be as good as her company’s grandmother’s. She would rather create something original.

In fact, she made three original salads. She felt so non-traditional that she would not even be touching an oven. As always, ingredients inspired her more than recipes, and seasonal combinations trumped anything generic.

Salad #1
MDI-grown Golden beets
MDI-grown Celeriac
Bartlett Pears
Maine-grown Baby Spinach
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Ginger Spread

Salad #2
Maine-grown Fennel
Cape Cod cranberries
Satsuma Mandarins
Sunflower seeds
Sesame Oil
Mango Tango Juice

Salad #3
Boston lettuce
Maine-Grown Watermelon Daikon Radishes
Heirloom tomatoes

The Season of Warmth and Migration

She had known November to be a time for creatures to either migrate to a warmer place or secure stable shelter for the winter. She had always felt the pressing weight of uncertainty around that time of year when she worked seasonally. Now she knew she had a source of income in the winter, but she found herself moving again, pond-hopping from Long Pond to Somes Pond.

She had answered a newspaper ad for the highly-coveted ideal: year-round and affordable. Once she saw the space, a sunny garage studio apartment complete with wood stove and sleeping loft, she wanted it to be her new home. She had not been able to unpack her books or hang posters for over a year. At this new place, she thought she would have a chance to nest in a way that she had not been able to since she left Beech Hill Pond.

The landlord was installing new flooring, so she would not move in for a month. She began to daydream about her life there and all she would want to enhance it. For the first winter she could remember, she could afford to buy a cord of wood and that thrilled her. She had recently envied a friend’s collection of cast iron cookware, and planned to ask for some pieces for Christmas. She wanted to have so many layers of blankets on the bed that she felt like she was sleeping under one of those blankets one wears while having an X-ray.

Her landlord said it was a happy space, and she wanted to keep it that way, she wanted to make it even more so…

A Produce Department of Her Own

During the three years that she worked in the produce department at the grocery store, she would dash across the street to the natural food store on her lunches. In the winter, she would help herself to soup and tea, and she would sit at the counter in the window, hands nestled around liquid warmth. In the summer, she would opt for coconut water and kale salad. Either way, she had always felt magically transported back to Burlington, Vermont, and back to a less stressed version of herself.

She had always hoped to work there some day, but she never had the courage to apply until she endured three summers at the grocery store. There, she cared too much. She ran around the department as if she were paid on commission, always writing a new list on a piece of scrap cardboard, breaking out a sweat to break down freight or stock the shelves. For as much as she tried, she could only do so much in her position, especially considering the corporate rules. She had started to cry every meal break and at the end of every shift.

In a moment of desperation, she called someone she knew who worked at the natural foods store and asked if they were hiring. “Stocking, freight, anything?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, full-time produce I think. I think she is still hiring for that, you should bring your résumé in tomorrow.”

She had to borrow a computer to re type her résumé. When she brought it home, she realized she just wrote “service leader” as her job title. She wrote “produce” in the margins, and hoped that would not look too silly.

When she interviewed, she was offered the job on the spot. “I am not going to find anyone more qualified,” the store owner told her. She immediately accepted it, and gave her two weeks notice.

She started in the middle of October, when lettuce and tomatoes and broccoli and cabbage and spinach were still available from local farms. On her first day, she felt compelled to buy a bunch of the most robust spinach she had ever seen and then she ate half of it on the ride home.

She would soon learn the specialities of every farmer, and she felt like the case was missing something when the Brussels sprouts or leeks were sold out. When farmers called, she could genuinely answer the phone and say, “I
am so happy you called. I was just thinking about your fingerling potatoes”, or celeriac, or cauliflower. Because she held the buying power, she felt like a VIP when farmers left her free samples of carrots or kale.

She like that the case was a dynamic organism, that it offered constants like lettuce mix and kale, and irregulars like fennel and asparagus. She thought that the possibility of irregulars kept the job interesting.

One day, she found herself trying to fit a third variety of blue potato in the bottom bays underneath the banana table. She kept shuffling around the brown paper sacks of potatoes, doubling up varieties that were almost sold out. She finally gave up, and decided to fit it in later. She laughed to herself. She would rather have produce problems than any other sort of problems in the world…..

Imagining Her Lover’s Soulmate

She felt jealous of the woman who would grow old with him. She felt jealous of the woman who would bear his children, and be among the first to hold his grandchildren, and die surrounded by the family they had created and with him by her side. She envied the woman who would have what she wanted, the simple repetition of waking up and falling asleep next to him, the nightly asking of “how was your day?” that never seemed to get old. This woman, whom she imagined to be stunning and brilliant and interesting, would have the thrill of planning, collaborating, and laughing over meals with him, she ever trying to challenge his palate, ever trying to impress and please him. This woman would bring him home to her parents, she would be proud to have him sit at the table and add to the discussion.

She wanted him to be happy, more than she wanted anything else in the world. She had always hoped that she would be the one to share that with him. If it was not going to be her, she wanted it to be someone who knew that she was lucky….

In anticipation of the first snow…

All she wants, on the morning of the first snow, is to wake up next to a smart, handsome man who adores her and whom she adores just as much.

She is not wistfully hoping it happens ten years from now. For once, she is not daydreaming about someone who may not exist. She knows it will happen tomorrow.

She always treats the first snow like a religious holiday where one is allowed to be joyful. It does not matter how much or how little snow. She checks every closet in the house, and finds her snow pants and Muck boots and mittens and hat and every possible accessory. Then she heads out for a walk, and ooohs and ahhhs about the neighborhood that looks pretty in a new way.

Tomorrow she will not have her snow pants, but she does not care. She came to Bangor to go to the Bangor and Orono farmers’ markets for the first time, and did not plan to stay. Having been invited for a sleepover, she could not leave…