This week a dream of mine came true. I didn’t go skydiving or meet the Dalai Lama or get better at hacky sack. No- I’ve spent the entire week in Putney, Vermont learning to weave.
It was all Katrina’s idea; Katrina, of course, is my DFFFF (Dear Friend and Fellow Fiber Freak.) Consequently, she and I have been on the campus of a private boarding school, living a college-like existence: dorm rooms, communal bathrooms, dining hall meals. Once-upon-a-time a decade or two ago I recall being vaguely impatient with such circumstances, longing for my own first apartment, my own private bathroom, my very own kitchen to cook in. This week however, I’m older and wiser, and I’m definitely not complaining.
Here, instead of being “mom,” I’m the one being cooked and cleaned for, the one being asked “What would you like to do?” and “Would this be fun?” People give me emergency cell phone numbers to call in case I need anything. (!) All day long the choices I make aren’t which errands are the most life-threateningly in need of getting done, or which rooms of the house are so dirty that we should just shut the doors to them and pretend they don’t exist anymore, or whether putting in another video for the kids so I can write will mean I will win the Bad Mom Award. Instead I wonder: should I read?… Or go back to the weaving studio? Then again, maybe I should knit.
I’m feeling very luxurious and pampered here in my dorm room (in which nothing is overflowing, lost, or mouldering), with my communal bathroom (that I don’t have to clean) and the dining hall that provides balanced meals three times per day like clockwork and requires no clean up on my part! Now this is a vacation.
But wait, there’s more! The food? It’s good. You might already know this since I’ve been enthusiastically tweeting about it all week. Turns out Putney School food is not only exceptionally good for what is- essentially- a high school cafeteria, but is remarkably easy for No-Added-Sugar-me to eat. And the reason why is simple: they make virtually everything here.
They get milk from cows on the campus. They have an imposing brick oven for baking wonderful homemade bread and foccacia. They make all their own salad dressings. They make their own rolls and sauces and desserts… all the danger zones one encounters in other public eating situations in which the people who work there have no idea what is in the food.
Let’s stop and think about that for a moment because I think this very bizarre concept bears repeating: many, if not most restaurants, cafeterias, delis, snack bars and diners have no idea what is in the food. I know because I’ve been asking all year long. The reason they don’t know is because much of the food you’re getting in these establishments is being bought from someone else in huge quantities, in bulk packaging, with dozens of ingredients in them. You can bet sugar, in it’s myriad forms, is in there in all kinds of places we wouldn’t expect, as well as a lot of other crap we’d rather not think about.
Not here. Elsewhere, my sugar questions are often met with strange looks, and my hopes of eating a particular item are usually dashed when they do check on it in the kitchen. Here, the chef’s assistant inevitably laughs good-naturedly at me.
“The cream sauce? Sugar? Naw! Here’s what’s in it…” And he then proceeds to rattle off five or six ingredients, all of which are actual, normal food items you’d actually recognize.
Want more? Okay, one day they offered an alternative dessert: plain yogurt with blueberries. Wait- a dessert, not at home, that I can eat? Shut up! Really? Yes, it’s true. Remember how we saw this same dessert offered repeatedly in Northern Italy? Then I was in awe of the Italians. Now I am in awe of the Putney KDU. (Short for Kitchen and Dining Unit, of course.)
So needless to say, I’ve had fun, lots of it. And when I haven’t been enjoying the free time, independence and good, homemade meals, I actually did learn to weave too. But I’m happy to report that food can still be a simple, delicious, straightforward matter of fresh ingredients prepared well. Even in a high school cafeteria. Really.