It all started with beer, as so many of my best stories do. This day, I wasn’t drinking beer (I swear, I did not even have one sip!), rather I was selling it as a volunteer for Slow Food Bluegrass at The Forecastle Festival, an annual music festival in Louisville. That’s where I was formally introduced to Christine Brinkmann, the president of Slow Food Bluegrass, who I’d recognized as a farmers market customer. I had a good time at the festival so offered to volunteer at other Slow Food events. When Christine told me Deborah Madison, author of 11 cookbooks and an authority on vegetarian cooking in the U.S., was coming to Louisville to do an event with Slow Food Bluegrass, I told her I wanted to be involved.
Deborah was the food columnist during my time as editor of Urban Farm magazine. She and I had emailed countless times and talked on the phone probably only once, but I’d never gotten to meet her. When I offered to help out, I was thinking I’d be asked to set up chairs or something useful but behind-the-scenes. When Christine told me she’d like me to interview Deborah at her book-signing and discussion—definitely different than setting up chairs—I squealed. Literally. It was very teenage-girl-meets-Justin-Bieber, and it was a little embarrassing, but at that point, it was too late for Christine to withdraw the ask. I was clearly excited.
A few weeks later, there I was sitting across from Deborah Madison at her Vegetable Literacy book signing and discussion at Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Market. There were probably 30 people there, including at least two chefs who were participating in the Slow Food Bluegrass School Garden Grant fundraiser with Deborah the following night. I was also tickled to recognize many of them as customers of the farm—such a food-savvy bunch of customers my farm has!
Deborah was genuine and down to earth. Maybe this surprised me a little in that I have met and worked with other rather famous food writers who are, let’s say, less so. I was immediately at ease with her, and I think we had a great interview. I’d reviewed a few of her recent interviews about the new Vegetable Literacy book beforehand and thought they all sounded pretty similar, covering her favorite recipe, favorite vegetable or vegetable family, et cetera. I have trouble following the crowd, you know, and wanted to allow the audience to get to know more about Deborah’s writing, gardening and cooking from other angles. We talked about her writing and recipe-development processes and how they’ve changed, her involvement in the international Slow Food movement, her interest in biodiversity (including a beautiful Marina di Chioggia squash she and Christine purchased at the Phoenix Hill Farmers Market the night before), and the life of a “beginning gardener,” as Deborah calls herself.
People asked good questions after the discussion, and everyone had books for Deborah to sign, including some that were purchased from Carmichael’s Bookstore’s table that night. I brought along my copy of Vegetable Literacy, of course, and also The Savory Way, Deborah’s 1990 cookbook, and was glad I did. It turns out The Savory Way is out of print! And now I have a signed copy. One woman in attendance brought eight of Deborah’s books to be signed, each one flagged with notes and page markers, clearly lovingly used. I thought that was adorable.
Possibly my favorite part of the night was post-book signing: dinner. Leave it to me to be most excited about the part that involved food. I was invited to join Deborah and folks from Slow Food Bluegrass and Rainbow Blossom Market for a late meal. I considered stealing my fork as a souvenir. (I’m kidding—but only because I hadn’t thought of that before just now.) The whole group passed around food from our plates, which was fun and inclusive and made me want to spend more time with these people who I’d just met. I love sharing food, and I love people who share food! Forget etiquette–I want to try what you’re eating!
By the time the night was through, I’d met new people doing wonderful things surrounding sustainable food in Kentucky and got a hug from Deborah. Deborah Madison. I’ll never wash that shirt. (Kidding again—I’d dropped the glorious Maple-Vanilla Pot de Crème dessert down the front of it, so I have to wash it.) Really, though, how many people get to drive a tractor all morning, harvest pumpkins all afternoon, interview a renowned food writer and real-food advocate in front of a small group, and then sit next to said writer—who also happens to be a genuinely interesting person—at dinner? For this week, at least, that’s an honor that belonged to me, and I’ll happily claim it.