21 December 2011

City Council and the Democracy of Competing Ideas

Much attention has been paid to language used by Councilor Kris Vohs and Mayor Mary Rossing about dysfunction and incivility on the Northfield City Council. Several of the candidates hoping to fill the seat held by Councilor Vohs referenced it, and took it as fact that such conditions exists. I disagree wholeheartedly, and think Northfield is being well served by the City Council.

Debate, the exchange and rebuttal of ideas, and careful deliberation are the means by which we assess the merits of every motion that comes to us for a vote. In our deliberations we follow Robert’s Rules of Order, the standard manual on parliamentary procedure, but one that appears rigid and obsolete at times. Robert’s Rules are actually pretty logical, and provide a clear, equitable structure, ensuring that all members are heard and that one member cannot monopolize proceedings. Robert’s Rules has plenty of safety valves, too, and if a breach of procedure occurs – whether a councilor speaks out of order or disparages someone– each member of the council has the authority and obligation to interrupt and bring the matter to the attention of the mayor. No member of the council should allow any incivility to pass by unnoticed, and every member has a responsibility to address it promptly and directly.

During a recent meeting, I said the tax levy for the Economic Development Authority (EDA) should be drastically reduced, and the reaction from the mayor was thorough dissent. The direction of economic development and the EDA has been discussed frequently and consensus has been elusive; we argued back and forth, trying to squeak toward some common ground, but our views were not reconcilable. Discussions like that are difficult and even uncomfortable; I know that if I speak I may be challenged with spirited opposition, but as an elected official I have a responsibility to state my opinion publicly and put it to the test of my fellow councilors. We are equals on the council and we share the same rights and responsibilities, whether we exercise them or not.

One-time visitors to the council chamber certainly would have witnessed vigorous debate and passionate opinions that evening, but they were also seeing a cornerstone of democracy, the free exchange of competing ideas. Those hard debates are the necessary ones, the ones that ensure that all ideas are being considered, even if we reject them.

When the mayor and I met a few days later, there were no apologies, no averting of our eyes, and no discomfort, because what we had done a few nights earlier was what we were elected to do. So, we greeted each other with friendliness, smiled, and moved on to the business at hand. And when the matter came before the council the following week, we again disagreed. But take heart, because with so many issues queued up for consideration, we’ll all have the opportunity – many times over – to agree, disagree, change our mind, listen anew, learn, and serve our city. I love it.

05 October 2011

My neglect prevailed

My neglect prevailed, but I was given this growth, these abundant plants that pushed through dirt and grew, even as I ignored the claims of spring and summer, the edict of sunshine and heat.  I forgot to care but was rewarded, by dint of throwing seed, with life-rich greens, and peas, peppers, beets, and leeks.  And now October's thinning heat and the near memory of what just was is slowly packed and preserved in bags of frozen blueberries, jars of applesauce almost made, and sauerkraut fermenting in a big stone crock.  Tradition is the memory of time, repeated.

18 September 2011

Gio Thu - Vietnamese head cheese

My wife grew up eating Gio Thu - Vietnamese head cheese, and none of my efforts to make a European-style head cheese have especially won her over.  Our friends across the street threw a big party last week and they served a roasted pig.  Luckily, some of their friends are vegetarian, and they didn't want the pig to look too pig-like, so they removed the head and gave it to me!  My wife showed me a post on The Ravenous Couple and said their Gio Thu looked like the kind she used to eat.  The recipe was certainly clear and straight forward, so I decided to give it a go.  My ingredients were slightly different, mainly because I used a whole head and no hocks.  Heads take longer for the meat to get tender, so I removed the ears when they were done and let the head simmer a little longer. I found an old coffee can and lined it with a big ziploc bag, and added enough weight on the top to press it down. 
This evening we ate it for dinner, along with rice, swiss chard, and an omelette.  I think it's the best tasting (and best looking) head cheese I've made yet. 

14 July 2011

Snap pea and rabbit risotto

My freezer still has a lot of rabbits in it, and I took out two the other day.  After they thawed I rubbed them with salt and put them back in the icebox, where they've been resting for a few days.  I'm slowly figuring out ways to prepare rabbit that keep the meat tender and tasting like rabbit. 

For the risotto last night, I cut the loins on a diagonal, very thin.  In my enameled, cast iron frying pan I added a pretty big pour of olive oil and turned the gas on.  Over high heat I fried the rabbit, adding only pepper.  The thin slices curled up and browned quickly, so I turned off the heat.  The meat was still very tender.

With our cold, rainy spring, my snap peas flourished, and now in the heat of July I'm harvesting the last of them, the tall vines disheveled and rampant.  Chard runs wild and parsley flavors everything.  At the end of the twenty-fives minutes or so of stirring the risotto I steamed the peas for just a moment, and added them to the creamy, plump rice.  The rabbit bits were saved for the top of the dish; I usually mix the meat into the body of the risotto, but I figured I'd let everyone do that as they saw fit.  Some, like my son, just ate it plain from the top, avoiding the chard.

Today I came home during lunch, turned on the oven, and quickly browned a few meaty legs in the dutch oven.  A scant cup of rabbit stock was next and then I put the lid on and put the pot in the oven.  I  changed into shorts and headed to my community garden plot and did some weeding and picked a few young zucchini.   When I got back home I showered and was soon back at work with clean clothes.   I left the meat to cook in the slowly cooling oven that I turned off as I left the house.

When I got home after work I pulled the rabbit meat from the bones it was barely hanging on to, and put it into a bowl.  I heated up the bit of stock in the pot and added a little flour to thicken it, and added a little more stock to make even more gravy.  With this evening's beautiful weather we ate outside.  I served the rabbit over rice with sauteed zucchini on the side, and a big Caesar salad from the garden.

I still have a few legs left; tomorrow it'll be something else.

29 May 2011

Spring garlic

I missed a few heads of garlic when I was harvesting them last fall, and as soon as spring came, those forgotten heads burst through the ground, green, leafy, and nearly as pretty as Siberian irises. And, they have the added benefit of being delicious.

Today I dug up one of the heads-gone-wild, and sliced all the whites and added them to a frying pan with a big glug of olive oil. After they simmered and softened I added a few eggs along with a generous portion of pepper. When the omlette-y egg covered the pan I added a heaped mound of arugula, a sprinkle of salt, and covered the pan with a lid. I flipped it once and let the arugula press into the smothering egg. A few corn tortillas with it and I had a most delicious Memorial Day weekend lunch, giving me energy and a happy belly to go back into the semi-soggy garden and plant a few more things.

22 May 2011

Right now

Last night while it rained I went outside and took pictures in my garden.  "Right now," I thought, "everything is alive."

Earlier in the evening my daughter and I watched worms dart  into the wet ground when we stomped or jumped; when I went out in the late evening damp they lay there plump and unconcerned, probably knowing all the birds were asleep.  After such a long, cold winter, and a cold, wet spring, it's easy to forget how irrepressible life is, how the push of seeds breaks soil long before we're ready to garden.  I missed a few heads of garlic last fall, and they were up and growing when the ground was half frozen.  I managed to get a few seeds into a the ground on a single sunny day in April, and I nearly forgot about them with the subsequent weather.  And now, when I'm still hoping for enough dry weather to get our garden planted, my peas are nearly a foot tall, and we ate a big bowl of arugula this evening.  If a living thing is given half a chance it grows, flourishes, thrives on air, sunshine, water, and warmth.  The wet air in the evening sometimes carries, in addition to its wet, the knock-me-over inhaled-intoxication of plum blossoms, apple blossoms, lilacs, and all things spring.  Life comes so soon, so quick, and it's here right now.