Dana has gotten me hooked on crossword puzzles. She’s a master of the crossword — not only does she work the Sunday New York Times, but she finishes the Saturday puzzle as well. (Crossword aficionados will understand that the Saturday NYT puzzle is actually the most difficult of all.) After I’d witnessed her skill with pen and grid a few times, my interest was piqued. I began filling in the American-Statesman’s daily crosswords during lunchtime.

Those, of course, are child’s play to a seasoned crossword veteran like Dana. She knew I’d soon tire of them myself, as well, so she started bringing me the New York Times Tuesday puzzles to try. Once I’d conquered that day, she included Wednesday’s edition in her weekly gift. I became obsessed.

Now I do the Sunday New York Times puzzle too. In pen. Don’t be impressed. The only reason I use ink is because I don’t own a pencil sharpener and would probably slice off the end of my finger if I tried using a knife to whittle a nubby pencil lead to a point. Consequently, my nearly completed Sunday puzzle (rarely am I able to figure out the entire thing) isn’t a pretty sight. I scratch out wrong answers, change individual letters by writing real hard on top of them, or scribble my corrected answer outside the crossword grid altogether. Arrows are sometimes necessary to indicate where the word should go.

It’s all so darn much fun.

Definitely it gets easier with practice. You learn the idiosyncrasies of the clues, as they’re almost always purposefully vague. Straightforward definitions are few and far between. These puzzles are designed to be brain teasers more so than strict vocabulary tests, but there are a few stalwarts that pop up fairly regularly. Once you figure some of them out — the sword used in fencing is called an epee, fancy moulding is ogee, a thickening agent is agar and Stimpy’s cartoon chihuahua friend is named Ren — they serve as good kick starts.

The word “idle” comes up a lot too. Like epee, ogee, agar and Ren, it’s obviously included because those letters work well within the four perpendicular answers (always much longer words, or even a string of words that form a phrase) that intersect those letters. The clues for the word ‘idle’ range from “lack of purpose,” to “at a stoplight,” to “inactive.” Personally, I think a good clue for idle would be “doodle on a crossword puzzle,” but I don’t think they’ll ever use that one.

They’ll certainly never use “harvest day at the farm.” Picking and processing all the crops for bi-weekly farm stands is the polar opposite of idle. Pulling everything together during the two days prior to market is a challenge in itself, even without the added urgency of accomplishing the task before the afternoon sun — or worse still, a stiff wind — turns the greens of every root crop and the leaves of every salad to something resembling soggy tissue paper.

Beet harvest can be an especially harrowing experience. Dana searches for and pulls all the beets that have achieved the desired size, laying them out in the pathway between rows.

Farmer John follows behind her, loads the roots into a plastic bus tub, hurries them to the shade and calm of the salad shed and fills the tub with enough water to hold the beets while he rushes back out for more. Only after many tubs full of beets have been gathered this way can the washing and bunching begin.

In the meantime, Mary dashes toward the other farm fence equipped with two harvest baskets — one wedged against each hip — to cut as much chard as she can pack into each of them.

On a cloudy, windless day, she can load several baskets onto a cart and finish her entire harvest in one trip, but oh those days are such the exception. Usually, two baskets at a time are all she can muster before the chard she piles inside them goes limp.

The lettuces, the salad mixes, the spinach; the arugula, brussels greens, radishes, kohlrabi, kale, chard, cabbages, turnips…even the heads of broccoli require a good soak in sinks and tubs of water to reconstitute their nutritious greens before we can pack them into boxes and plastic containers for their overnight stay in the walk-in cooler.

If we were to slack off on our frantic diligence to get these fall crops out of the fields and into a happy holdover place, they wouldn’t be nearly so perky come market day.

If only Farmer John and I were equally perky after it was all said and done.

Conversely, at the end of a long day harvesting and prepping for market, Mary picks up her 8-year-old son from the bus stop, drives him home where she tends to her own garden, feeds and milks her goats, makes dinner for her family and then helps her son with his homework.

Have I mentioned she’s 25 years younger than we are? It’s an important detail, because a completed harvest day is spent way differently here. I curl up on the couch with a crossword. John does this:

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a crossword puzzle with visual clues, but if there is, I have the perfect one for “idle.”

* * *

I’m sending out the blog a few days early this week to let everybody know we’re going to be open (and not idle!) the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 23rd). We’ll be bringing LOTS of goodies that day! Here’s what we plan to have for you:

Gorgeous red butterhead lettuce; green butterhead lettuce; Romaine; broccoli; loads of spinach; lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; Purple and Golden beets; “bunching” green onions; pink and purple radishes; heads of Tendersweet cabbage and Farao cabbage; the first bunches of sweet white turnips; Brussels greens; bunches of chard; Dinosaur kale; bags of arugula; bunches of kohlrabi; and cilantro.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

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