Before summer gets away from me entirely, I’d like to share a few more moments from the Northeast Organic Farming Association conference I went to a couple of weeks ago. (By the way, I referred to it as the Farmers’ Association last time, which may seem like a small difference, but is actually an important one: you need not be a farmer to be a member.)
On the first afternoon, it began to rain, and I ducked inside the Hampshire College bookstore to see if they sold umbrellas. They did, and some of them sported the Hampshire motto, Non satis sciere. Even though I was pretty sure the word for writing began with an “scr,” not “sci,” I briefly amused myself by deciding that the motto meant, “I don’t know how to write,” which would be a pretty funny motto. Eventually I discovered that it really means, “Knowing is not enough.”
That night, Bill McKibben addressed the crowd. His talk was far-ranging, but marked by seamlessness and clarity as he moved from subject to subject, as well as his wry humor. (McKibben used to write “Talk of the Town” pieces in The New Yorker, which is only ever so slightly less impressive to me than saving life on Earth as we know it.)
During his speech, McKibben talked about the fact that the environmental issues many people in attendance have worked on so hard and for so long have moved from the fringes of society to national prominence. He cited, for example, the fact that farmers’ markets are now growing at a greater rate than Wal-Mart, and said that one of the great satisfactions of his life was knowing that Wendell Berry, one of the writers and thinkers whose work McKibben has found inspirational, has lived long enough to see his ideas take hold.
The idea that material wealth is concomitant with a feeling of satisfaction with one’s life has been debunked, McKibben reported, and he also talked about the fact that we are now less connected to our friends and neighbors than ever since technology allows us to isolate ourselves. He described some of the demonstrations that took place as part of Step It Up in April, noting how effective such actions have been in influencing political decision-making: in one case, the “further research” a Vermont politician cited as necessary to her making a decision in favor of environmental action turned out to be learning the number of people who showed up at the protest in Burlington.
McKibben went on to speak of the efforts of young people who are working on climate change, praising them for their dedication and effectiveness, and to describe the very serious nature of climate change as it exists already. He described the dramatic melting of the polar ice, and the fact that while the ice, being white, had reflected sunlight, the dark, open water in its place is absorbing the heat from the sun, adding to increasing ocean temperatures.
He concluded by saying that despite the very serious situation in which we find ourselves, he is hopeful. Explaining that he is not mindlessly optimistic (“I’m the guy who wrote a book called The End of Nature, after all”), he attributed his positive outlook to having seen the kind of change that political action can create — and encouraged us all to participate in Step It Up 2, set for November.
As the crowd dispersed — some heading to a contra dance, others wandering off to relax in their tents or in the dorms — I reconnected with a friend I’ve been collaborating on political action and environmental issues with since we were in our teens. It felt good to hang out with my long-time comrade-at-arms and talk about McKibben’s ideas, and about the satisfaction of knowing that these issues, ones we’ve always felt were important and have been working on persistently — even, I might add, when people made fun of us! — are getting the attention they deserve and inspiring the action necessary to address them. It’s certainly true that, while knowing is the first step, knowing is not enough.
By then, my head was spinning and my brain was full. You know how, late at night, a picture of the American flag comes on the TV screen and there’s an announcement that says, “Our broadcasting day is now over” and then there’s nothing but test patterns until the next morning? Same deal, only without the TV set.
I decided that it was time to turn in. Back at my friend’s house, we hung out and ate carrot cake and ice cream. Here’s an ice cream recipe to celebrate the last gasp of summer in the form of fresh blueberries.
Cinnamon Blueberry Swirl Ice Cream
This recipe, the perfect way to say goodbye to summer with a sweet kiss goodbye, is from my friend Jeri Quinzio’s new book Ice Cream: The Ultimate Cold Comfort, which contains recipes for delicious ice cream, sorbet, slush, granita, frozen mousse, and sauces.
Note: The recipe requires an ice-cream maker, but not every recipe in the book does. It also requires a chilling time of at least 8 hours.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small cinnamon stick
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 pint blueberries
1/8 cup sugar
1. Combine milk, cream, vanilla, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and heat to the boiling point. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
2. Half fill a large bowl or saucepan with ice or ice water and set aside.
3. In another saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks with the 2/3 cup of sugar until they are thick and pale.
4. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk mixture and drizzle some of it into the egg mixture.
5. Gradually stir in the rest. When it is all combined, put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring gently, until it thickens enough to coat the spoon. Do not let it boil.
6. Pour the mixture into a clean bowl, then set that bowl in the one containing the ice. Be careful not to let any ice or water get into the ice cream mixture. Stir occasionally as it cools.
7. Cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface to prevent a skin forming.
8. Chill for at least 8 hours.
To prepare ice cream:
1. Purée blueberries with the 1/8 cup of sugar in a food processor or blender. Set aside.
2. Churn the ice cream mixture in your machine, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. When the ice cream is done churning, put a third in a container, add a few dollops of the blueberry purée, and swirl slightly into the ice cream. Repeat by thirds with the rest of the ice cream and the purée. Don’t mix too much or you’ll lose the look of the swirl.
4. Store tightly covered in freezer until ready to serve. Let soften a little before serving.