“You have to be just this side of crazy to do what we do for a living.” I have to agree with my business partner and co-conspirator of 15+ years. Standing in weather of all sorts to convince strangers that your food is not only better for them, but benefits the world, is a daunting task. I have loved running my own kitchen business for 11 years, but I could do without the ever-present, low grade fever of panic on Fridays, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“Is everything packed? Should I have sprayed the tent with more water-proofing stuff? Long underwear or no long underwear? Is it Jazz Fest again? Will people want pot pie or tacos to celebrate the game? Why don’t these gluten/sugar/soy/nightshade—free folks just eat something, damn it!?”
Last Sunday we tumbled abruptly into winter from a week of summer and fall. After shivering all day at the corner of Q and 20th, I brow beat an older woman at market into buying my pasta. After a 10 minute conversation, she had been excited about the browned butter sage sauce she would serve with sweet potato ravioli. Then, when she asked, I informed her that the dough wrapping the delicious filling was a 60-20-20 split of semolina, organic whole oat and organic winter wheat with the germ added back in.
“Oh, I don’t want that. I don’t think I’ll be taking these. Thank you.”
I had had enough. “It’s the best pasta you’ll ever eat. It’s not like any other whole grain pasta you have ever tried. My parents are from Italy. My mother taught me how to make this pasta. I guarantee that you will like it.”
She looked amused and alarmed. “What will you do if I don’t like it?”
“I will give you your money back next week.”
“Well, with that endorsement, I have to take them now.” And she did.
“Where did you say your mother was from?”
“Vicenza, and my father was from Sardegna.”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Nancy,” and she told me hers as she shook my hand to say she’d see me next Sunday.
I was little ashamed afterward. What on earth made me so belligerent about my pasta? I had watched plenty of other Dupont Upper, and not so Upper Crust, pass by my stand before. The clock had shifted the night before, so I should have gotten a full, blissful 8 hours of sleep. But I hadn’t. I went to an art opening. The very same one I had been a part of a year ago.
The Dairy Barn Gallery is an old cow barn converted into a rural, elegant and spare art space. Located in the heart of Virginia’s Hunt Country, it should be a draw for adventurous DC urbanites itching to test their AWD vehicle or their zip-car subscription. There were certainly more people at the show than last year. I was happy for my friends who exhibited this year. Julie Miles had some lovely “pod” pieces that were Kahlo/O’Keeffe inspired precious on gold. Winslow McCagg had his larger than life, candy-land and sprocket fantasy-scapes, as well as new drawings on paper. I discovered an intriguing new artist based in Austin named Becca. Her Pop-Nouveau paintings on butcher paper mounted on wood panels appealed to me. It was like looking at a teen-age Morton’s Salt girl in her bed room, a few years after fame struck. The Jewelry of the Gods sculpture series was fascinating.
After 35 minutes I was ready to go home. I was blue. It wasn’t just the un-appreciated lecture I had to give to my 9 year-old on not fencing with sharp sticks in the moonlight with strangers; or that my loved ones had more fuel for the argument, “Don’t quit your day job.” I was a little jealous and mad at myself.
I can paint, probably better than I can cook. Why had I taken an 8 month sabbatical from the stuff that “feeds my soul”? Why wasn’t I in the Dairy Barn Show again? I stand on street corners every weekend to watch hundreds of people silently say, “Mmmm, I don’t think I need Smith Meadows today.” Why can’t I have as tough a skin when it comes to painting?
As an introvert forced into extroversion to pedal my sustainably produced edibles for a living, I simply can’t turn on a smile for art. I don’t like the part where I stand there with a glass of wine in my hand wondering if anyone will get what I made. If I take the awkward part out of the equation, it’s a lot more fun. When I post a painting online, I am happy. Strangers in Europe, Asia or the Pacific Northwest are probably my biggest fans— by accident. In my stats it’s always interesting to see the most popular search terms: nude, nude woman, paper for weeds, sexy lady. How the heck do these people find me in the middle of so many naughty photos? But then there is the occasional person who encourages me. They actually pay attention to the sets/albums I use to organize my work. They make note of when I am feeling like a rabbit or when something more powerful stirs me. They like it when I post nerdy art history tid-bits under their work. I like the internet. It makes living on a farm much less lonely.
My friend who went with me to the art show was happy to be there with me. We didn’t know much, but we knew what we liked. When I saw her again this week, she told me, “You could have been in the show you know. Your work is great.” She’s right, but all I care about now is finding the time to paint. If I worry about the awkward part, I might force myself into another unproductive sabbatical. The house will be messy, my kid will play mine craft a little more often, and dinners will be a little less exciting for a while. So here are the most recent works from this year. Yes, a few are not technically paintings. They made me happy, however, and so they are included.
I am not too worried about seeing the customer I brow beat last Sunday again this week. It will be ok. Even if I have to give her her money back, at least it wasn’t for one of my paintings. Perhaps I will adopt a new totem animal in the near future: a chicken.