TAFN – 29 September, 2022

This week’s share: Kale, Leeks, Onions, Pears, Peppers, Poblano peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Rosemary, Acorn squash, Tomatoes, Zucchini


In sweep rowing (as opposed to sculling) you hold one oar with both hands, and it sticks out of the boat either to your left or your right. For me, it always (by which I mean since 1980) sticks out to the right, which makes me a port side rower. As a port, I swing my body out over the right side of the boat when I put the oar in the water, use my right hand on the thick part of the grip to turn the shaft back and forth ninety degrees from feather to square position, and pull predominantly with my left hand on the thin grip at the end of the oar. Starboard rowers just swing in the other direction and switch what their hands do. Otherwise, it’s precisely the same motion. Or at least you hope it’s precisely the same motion.

The other night I filled in for someone in a boat, and the coach put on starboard. Fortunately, I was in the back of the boat so none of the other rowers could see what I was doing. Unfortunately, we did a relatively long race piece at a high tempo in near dark and the coxswains instructions and encouragement were inaudible at my end of the boat. I realized afterwards that I had been rowing blind, deaf and dumb.

I didn’t think of that while rowing because I was concentrating on making my hands behave and had no time for silly jokes. I have been rowing long enough that my hands pretty well know what to do in a crew shell. If I am on the proper side, that is. Switch me to starboard, and I have to fight my muscle memory in order to row. My left hand spent the entire practice sending me increasingly unhappy messages about the size of the object I was asking it to hang onto, while my right hand had to be reminded repeatedly to stop trying to turn the oar. As fatigue set in, coordination diminished. I don’t know exactly what I was doing by the end of the piece, but I am fairly certain it wasn’t rowing.

They say it is good to get out of your comfort zone. And I understand that you shouldn’t shy away from anything new just because it is new. The familiar can be a trap. But there’s a lot to be said for learning to do something competently and then doing it competently.

Not that competence is anything like perfection. You should not be smug about your competence. You shouldn’t think that when you do something well enough there are no other ways to do it. There almost certainly are, and some of them might be—probably are—more efficient or effective or pleasing to the eye. And maybe you should try switching to a different way, even if it just means having your hands swap tasks.

But you should keep in mind the effort you made getting to competence, and how deeply imbedded it is. Even the smallest changes could unsettle you profoundly. You might find yourself struggling to do a task you used to do automatically, and with no guarantee either that you will master the new way or that, having mastered it, it will turn out to be any better than what you gave up on.

I know that I could change almost anything about the way I farm, from what I grow to how I hold a stirrup hoe. I actually spend a lot of time while farming thinking about other ways of farming, and some of that musing is even vaguely serious rather than imagining having the largest kohlrabi farm east of the Mississippi or training the deer to stick to a diet of weeds. Occasionally, we do make small changes, and some of them stick. Mostly, though, I just try to get a little more competent at what I already do. There’s plenty of room for improvement without going outside my comfort zone, and I am getting a bit old to switch things up much. My hands know what they should do, and I don’t necessarily feel like arguing with them, especially since there’s a good chance I will lose the argument and end up flailing about in the dark.


Vegetable notes: I do not know what variety these pears are (I lost track years ago). If I figured it out I would plant another tree or two.  Fortunately, the one we have is prolific. That’s also good because the pears are tiny. These weren’t dwarfed by the dry spell this summer. This is as big as the get. You could put some in a kale salad with grilled leeks and goat cheese, or puree them with acorn squash, or dice them and add them to a spicy pork filling for your Poblanos. Or just eat them.

Rosemary is one of those herbs that can wreck a dish if you add too much. It can make almost anything taste like a cleaning product. But a little rosemary is excellent in sautéed peppers and onions, or with roasted potatoes, or in tomato soup, or a bourbon cocktail.