Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

Thinly sliced potatoes with tarragon and leeks

This morning on the way to school, Isaac asked, “Mom, what’s a hobo?” I told him my understanding of the word. He thought about it a bit, and asked a few questions about riding the rails. And then he said that when he grows up, he’s going to have one train with boxcars, and his kids can ride around and make a fort in it, and anybody else that wants to ride it is welcome. It will go around his giant yard with the tall grass, and then on to points unknown. I love the generosity of this plan, and the fact that my Isaac, who is a man who would stay warm and cozy in his pajamas all day long if possible, has devised a way to combine the life of a hobo with safety and certainty. And of course I’ve been thinking about hobos the rest of the day. I’ve always been fascinated by hobos, probably because I would would make such a bad one. I don’t like being cold and dirty, I don’t like uncertainty, I’m easily overwhelmed by darkness and loneliness and vast unknown spaces. But I love songs about hobos and ramblers, and films about them. Like Preston Sturges’ beautiful Sullivan’s Travels, or John Davis moving documentary Hobo. I saw this one in a theater in Edinburgh, alone and far from home, and it made me weepy. Very honest, very powerful, with a wonderful soundtrack. I’ve been reading up on hobos, to be sure I gave Isaac the right information. Here are some things I’ve learned today. A hobo wanders and works, a tramp wanders and dreams, and a bum neither wanders or works (that’s me.) Hobos have a shared language, and it reminds me of Slim Gaillard’s Vout. I imagine that it changes constantly and varies from place to place. Hobos also have a shared sign language or code. They leave marks for each other in coal or charcoal, to share information about mean cops, barking dogs, kind ladies. I love language and I love drawings, so I think this is a beautiful idea. It’s a network of connection between people I think of as fundamentally lonely. It’s a way to look out for one another and to say “I was here,” to mark your route and write your history. It seems fitting that it lacks the permanence of most graffiti, just as the life of a hobo lacks constancy. The fact that the language is shared gives it a history and a future, but the mark itself is transient and vulnerable to all the shocks of time and weather.
And “An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 during its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. This code was voted upon as a concrete set of laws to govern the Nation-wide Hobo Body; it reads this way:

Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.
When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!”

Good advice for all of us! For any man or saint among us. Now if you need me, I’ll be on a freight train headed west. Until Isaac decides it’s time to turn the train around and come home, that is.

Here’s Hobo Blues by Peg Leg Howell.

And here’s a recipe for late summer or early autumn, or this cusp we’re currently riding, exactly between the two. Almost everything was from the farm…potatoes, tomatoes, leeks, and they’re all layered with olives and smoked gouda to make a rich, tart, smoky, comforting, bright dish.
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Potatoes with meyer lemons and castelvetrano olives

potatoes and meyer lemons

potatoes and meyer lemons

Here at The Ordinary, we have a rigorous exercise routine. It consists of charging up and down the towpath at breakneck speed with Clio for, oh, half a mile (and stopping to say hello to every single dog we meet.) This is followed by a session of jumping up and down with a can of beans in each hand whilst watching dopey TV on the computer. Every once in a while we run up and down the stairs, being careful not to fall. It’s high-impact, low tech, low-stress, and no monthly fees. And there’s nobody there to see but the dog, who lies on the couch watching with her bright eyes, compiling material for her book Humans do the Dumbest Things! We’ve collected all of this into a kit for each of you at home! For a low low price, you can have two cans of beans (or chickpeas!), a video tutorial on how to turn your computer on and find dopey television, a guide to all the dogs you’ll meet on the towpath, by name and temperament, and detailed diagrams on how to execute the complicated jumping up followed by the jumping down. And repeat. To be honest, this is my routine, and being a routinized person, I’m quite addicted to it. This morning I decided to do something different. After a dash on the towpath with Clio, I gathered Malcolm and we set off to shoot some baskets. The morning is icy cold, but the sun was struggling to warm the world. It hadn’t reached the basketball court, but it glowed in pale golden pools in the silvery branches of the sycamores around the court. The moon hung low in the sky, half-full, ghostly and fading. Wispy clouds stretched across as if trying to hold the moon in a box. The spirit of the night lingered in the day, and Malcolm said it felt like summer in winter, even though he was wearing pajamas under his pants, and had a hat on his head and a hat in his hand. Malcolm’s face was rosy and bright, and light collected in his huge luminous eyes. I felt alive! I felt vivid! The sun finally broke through the trees above the basket, and with each shot made sunspots in my vision that cast the whole world in a flash of rosy gold, like an old snapshot, or a polaroid, reminding me that this was a morning that I wanted to capture and keep. It’s good to break out of your routine, sometimes!

So we have meyer lemons and castelvetrano olives, and, as I warned, I intend to use them in every single thing I make until they’re gone. Olive brownies! I like this dish because, like the morning, it’s comforting and wintery, but very bright, too. I peeled the lemons in long slices, and put the rind and some rosemary sprigs under the potatoes. Their flavor spread upward as the potatoes cooked. I liked to eat the cooked lemon peel, which got a little crispy. Others didn’t so we just served the potatoes on top. And that’s how it goes!

Here’s Early One Morning by Elmore James.

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