On Saturday, we had two sets of very good friends—Beth and John Clark and Dawna and Jim Leavitt—over for a barbecue on the patio in our backyard. The weather was hot and humid, but by the time they came, around 5:30, the backyard was in shade, which made it pleasant to sit on the patio.
As usual, as hostess, I was too busy to take pictures, but here is what we ate: For appetizers, grilled bread dipped in olive oil, cherries, rice crackers, and an artichoke spread (thank you, Kate, for the link to this Smitten Kitchen recipe). For the main meal, hamburgers made with ground beef from Wholesome Holmstead, chickpea patties, a big green salad with homemade dressings (thank you, Dawna, for bringing these things); and a carrot, blueberry, and sunflower seed salad. For dessert, Beth’s delectable blueberry cake, of which I never can get enough. Whenever Beth asks me what she might bring to a dinner, my prompt reply is, “Blueberry cake.” It’s a Margery Standish recipe, and Beth has a special touch with this cake.
Sitting on the patio on an August evening was a fine thing. Hummingbirds whirred among the bee balm. In the woods, a thrush sang, its ethereal song adding such beauty to our meal, and the crickets’ high-pitched arias blended with the song of the thrush. The woods at the edge of our lawn became darker and darker, and although they stayed well out of sight, I could imagine the night animals coming out from the places where they sleep—the bats, the owls, foxes, and coyotes. All on the hunt.
Clif and I have known the Clarks and the Leavitts for many, many years. We have watched their children grow and get married, just as they have watched ours do the same. There is a comfort that comes from knowing friends for such a long time, and conversation settled as easily among us as night settled over the backyard.
As we are all good liberals, the talk inevitably turned to politics and world events, such as the famine in Somalia. I mentioned how on the Diane Rehm show, I had heard that drought, brought on by climate change, was partially to blame for the famine, but that bad governing was also responsible. All of Somalia is suffering from the drought, but only in southern Somalia are people dying from starvation. Apparently, Somalia is governed by regions, and southern Somalia, unfortunately, is in the grip of Al Shabib, a militant Islamist group that has mounted a formidable insurgency against Somalia’s transitional government. (For more about Al Shabib, read this article in the New York Times.) Basically, southern Somalia is run by thugs who want to ban music, TV, and bras, and they keep people in line by chopping off their hands. Not only has Al Shabib stopped starving people from leaving the country, but they have also forced out many Western aid organizations. In short, Al Shabib has made a bad situation much, much worse. Truly, a cautionary tale for the planet as the population continues to grow and water becomes ever scarcer.
From there, the conversation turned to peak oil and the rising price of food and gas in this country. Then came the question, how much is enough? How much do people need to have a good life? There was a general agreement that even though we three families are not rich by American standards, we all have too much stuff.
“But people do need some kind of surplus,” I said. “If they don’t, then an emergency can sink them.”
John replied, “In Hartland [where he lives] too many people, especially young adults, don’t have a surplus at all.”
So how much is enough? Naturally, we didn’t resolve this question, but Beth spoke about how freeing it was to go on vacation, rent a little cabin, and live very simply.
“Within a half hour,” she said, “everything was tidy and clean, and the rest of the day was ours to do with as we pleased.”
But could she live that way indefinitely? Would “stuff” start creeping in?
Beth shrugged. Who knows?
As the evening came to a close, and the Clarks and the Leavitts were getting ready to leave, Dawna said, “I’m so full! Next time, let’s just have the grilled bread, a salad, and maybe a couple of other appetizers. That would be enough.”
A very appropriate remark, especially in light of the conversations we had been having.
Would such a meal be enough? It probably would. I hope that before the season ends, we will host a meal with grilled bread and appetizers and find out.