Friday, September 16, 2011

Pollinating the brain, with mashed potatoes on the side

Jane, the ever-efficient scheduler of garden volunteers, is down here with me getting ready, adding pollinator worksheets into the kids’ folders before class starts. I notice she is getting about twice as many done as I am. “You are so efficient,” I say, admiring. “In this moment,” she answers, and then proceeds to tell me about some research she has been reading about brain function and how there is just so much more going on in our brains than we are conscious of. “So,” she adds, “this is one aspect: efficiency. I also have a totally inefficient aspect which wins out at times. Our brains have more going on than we can imagine.” As we continue our task of opening the folders, unfolding the metal strips, and adding the “choose a flower and draw it, with the pollinator who visits it most often while you are drawing” sheets, Jane illustrates her explanation of the brain’s vast range with a story from last week. She was with two girls, one of whom was afraid of bees, the other of whom was completely unafraid and pointing them out avidly, much to the distress of her frightened friend. Jane is trying, in some enlightened-adult way, to manage this dynamic and make the bees seem less scary, and in the course of doing so she says, “look, they are really all around us,” only to discover that her brain has suddenly allowed a shift in perception: in that instant she becomes aware of a swell of buzzing vibration around her and the air fills with bees, not newly arrived, but newly noticed. And she stands with the girls, allowing them all to feel the wonder of how our very lives depend on these tiny flying insects, and how they are ever-present, physically, here and now, and how we do not always see them even though they are beside us. Did I ever mention that there is magic in a school garden?

And the kids arrive, and draw their flowers, and dig out the potatoes they planted just before school let out for the summer, and peel gigantic sweet cloves of heirloom garlic, and stay past the start of recess as the potatoes took too long to cook, and they want their garlic-mashed potatoes. And we are all nourished.

Garlic-mashed potatoes

Dig up potatoes, all different varieties jumbled together like only a second-grader would plant them. Wash, peel, rinse, and chop into chunks. Carefully place potato chunks into boiling salted water. Meanwhile, peel and slice garlic. Sauté in a generous portion of olive oil and melted soy butter (vegan-sensitive class) until oil is fragrant (that’s when the kids start saying “Wow, that smells GOOD!”) and garlic is browned. When potatoes are cooked soft enough to mash, drain them, put them back into the pot, add sea salt and the oil/soy butter/garlic, and mash all together. Serve large portions and expect many to plead for seconds. Promise to give them the recipe.

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