Sunday, May 31, 2009


Because we have already asked much of the space in our little store, the products on the shelves have gotten pretty comfortable having unlikely neighbors. They protested for a while, but then I think they realized they had more in common than they originally thought, given the proper context. Take, for instance, our fishing worms, which are now nestled cozily next to the wine tools and the picnic baskets.

Worms and wine seem like an odd juxtaposition at first. But add to that mix a pole and a spot next to the river, and suddenly they're all part of a relaxing afternoon picnic.

Of course, it took a good while to coax those worms into feeling at home with their new lofty status, as they had previously lived atop the trash can. The change took some getting used to, to be sure.

This week, our kitchen adjusted to change as we made rearrangements to accommodate our newest piece of equipment--a seven-feet-long freezer for dispensing hand-dipped ice cream.

A few weeks ago, Homeland Creamery (a local dairy in Julian, NC--just past Liberty) offered us the use of a giant ice cream freezer so we could bring hand-dipped cones to our community in time for summer. You might think this addition would be fairly simple, but in a gas station-grocery-wine store-cafe, it's a fair challenge to become an ice cream shop to boot. We got to work rearranging our ovens, moving our bakery, squishing our cigarettes even closer to the window, and amputating our counter to fit the eighteen-bin freezer into our already cramped quarters. Our friend Dobbs (the guy who put the five stars on our gas station window) built a cabinet, chopped off our counter, and excavated our safe to prepare room for the new freezer. Sherry, our baker, graciously found new places for muffins and scones when she came in to bake at 3 a.m. and noticed a gaping hole where the bakery counter had been only hours before.

Yesterday, the guys from Homeland hauled in the hulking freezer, and we delighted in getting it cool enough to host the big vats of fresh ice cream that were on their way. But some of the items in the kitchen were a bit ruffled by the move. The bread case lost its home and has been temporarily relegated to a second-class status behind the counter, taking the cookies with it. The to-go containers have been made refugees after the loss of their storage shelves during the counter removal. And the pizza boxes are currently teetering precariously atop the cooling rack, constantly risking calamity. That's to say nothing of the garbanzo beans, the saran wrap, or the measuring cups.

But we're adjusting, and I'm keeping the worms in mind as we figure out how to operate efficiently in our changed space. When we lose an old context for what we do every day--even if we just rearrange things a bit--we sometimes feel out of sorts until we can create comfy grooves in our new spaces. Today, after a lot of finding other spots for old stuff, I found my new context. The brownies have found a home directly above the vanilla ice cream in the freezer, and the bowls now sit nearby.

Add to that mix a spoon and a spot on the patio next to Carter's fountain, and suddenly they're all part of a delicious afternoon snack.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Local economy as investment

Greetings Friends,

I was lucky enough to have a couple of conversations with folks in the store this week that brought questions for me about the nature of a healthy economic system. We, the store's staff, have been delightedly surprised by the number of folks who are willing to participate with us as we build the store into a robust center for our village here in Saxy. For instance, just today I got to have a carrot cake discussion with some of our store friends (we're working on the perfect recipe, so feel free to weigh in if you like). We often receive helpful ideas from customers. Sometimes folks even grab the plates coming out of the kitchen and deliver them to fellow diners.

One friend of the store, Cheryl, recently relayed an experience she had here of an afternoon. She'd stepped outside to look at the bulletin board, and she noticed the wind had strewn some of the notices about the sidewalk. She placed them carefully on the bale of straw that hosts our lettuce plants and secured them neatly with a brick. A moment after she stepped away, Judith walked over (she hadn't seen Cheryl), looked at the flyers, and arranged the ones from the straw on the board, pinning them into place. We learned later that Shannon arrived a little later and tidied the flyers again, making sure all were visible and secure. All had participated in that function of the store--each to a higher degree of detail, none having to do too much lifting.

Cheryl also shared with me how she has come to view the store here as something for which she feels ownership--thus participating in its care feels natural. I realized her feeling is literally accurate, in a way. As I have shared before, this place has grown so far out of the desires and needs the community has expressed, so the people who show here do own it, in spirit. That’s where the questions arose for me. In a culture where we often doubt the intentions of the companies with whom we do business, what does it look like to participate in businesses we frequent? To what extent can our real needs be met by economic entities--including the need to contribute to community? How can we reconnect with our actual needs in an era of hyper-exposure to advertisement? And what are the roles of those employed by businesses--both in serving customer needs and in facilitating healthy participation by the community? I’m learning there are all sorts of ways people invest in businesses, only some of which are monetary. Their returns vary based on the kinds of investments they’ve made.

Thanks to Cheryl and others for bringing these questions to me to work with this summer, as Saturdays at Saxapahaw brings new life to our place.

Jeff and company have been finishing dinner--they'll be serving special eats Thursday and Friday, and offering picnic fare Saturday nights through the summer. I should also let you know that they've recently dubbed Sunday night "Casserole Night;" so be on the lookout for stick-to-your-ribs comfort food to cap off the weekends.

Here's tonight's menu (tomorrow will be similar, with minor variations):

Whole Fish! (B-liner's the sort--a member of the snapper family) roasted, with fried green tomatoes and mashers
Lamb Shank over whilte bean ragout with saute of spinach
Pork Country-style ribs with duck fat fried potatoes and spinach
Sea Scallops with asparagus and fried green tomatoes
Cane Creek Pork Chops with duck stock mushroom gravy, mashers and Brussels sprouts
Pan-seared salmon salad
Beef short rib with mashers and spinach
Vegetable lasagna with local mixed greens salad

Carrot cupcakes with orange cream icing
Lemon-vanilla cupcakes with lemon icing

This week's sandwich winner is John Nowicki. John, please stop in sometime soon for a meal worth up to 8 bucks--on us!

Thank you for your support. I will look forward to seeing you again soon.

With care,