I’ve got a brain full of organized posts to write, but tonight is not the night for that.  No, tonight is the night for deep breaths, headlong plunges into the fall routine, and sharing the bits and pieces of clutter that are in my brain so we can make way for other things. 

Today was cold and rainy in Rhode Island; cold and rainy enough, even, that the boys had to wear sweatshirts when we left the house in the morning, and I was able to justify making a little pot of hot cocoa for them after dinner tonight.  It’s officially fall, despite the calendar date and despite this weekend’s impending near-80-degree temperatures.  Something has shifted, not just for our family but for the rest of the families we know — schools have started again, there are new schedules and new activities, and in our household, my choral group has just begun its 40th season and the bustle of another year of musical challenges beckons.  It’s already pitch-dark outside the window as I sit typing this.  September is here with all its peaceful, settling chaos.

This time of year always has a domesticating effect on me, and I’ve been feeling particularly nest-ish in the past week or so, what with all the talk of school lunches and the unseasonable weather patterns.  I’m trying out a few things that I haven’t really done before, despite my general meal planning OCD — trying to get ahead a bit for lunches and snacks, and trying to figure out new and different ways to prepare exciting lunchbox options so I can share those tricks with you all and hopefully keep everyone’s morning routines as streamlined as possible.  Right now, there’s a slow cooker going downstairs full of something I’ll happily share tomorrow, if it goes as planned; if it turns out well, L. will be a very pleased little boy when he opens his lunchbox. 

In addition to my mysterious slow cooker experimentation, I’ve been dabbling a bit in the bake-and-freeze realm.  I confess it’s not something I usually do, even though it makes good sense from a time perspective; I just have always tended to bake things fresh and watch them disappear faster than I could freeze them, even if I wanted to.  Not to mention that, as much as I’d like to say that I have a lovely, organized freezer, it’s more accurate to say that there may be some sort of Yeti living behind the frozen peas, about which I’d never know because there’s also usually a kind of frozen-food avalanche coming at me whenever I open the door.  I possibly freeze too MUCH, but not the right kinds of things.  I’m working on it.  There may be a program for people like me.

Anyway, I have managed to clear out some room in the freezer lately, and in the midst of all the inclement weather the Northeast has seen, I’ve promptly filled it back up with whole-wheat banana-zucchini muffins (which were good, but not great; not sharing that particular recipe until I can tinker with it) and individually wrapped slices of Carrot-Apple Snack Cake.  That one IS a winner, and I baked two tins of it over the long weekend when it was pouring rain outside.  It’ll be great in the kids’ lunchboxes as a little treat, or even for the occasional desperation breakfast-on-the-go.  (J. rationalizes frequent noshes on this cake by saying, “Hey, it’s got fruit AND vegetables in it.  It’s practically a salad!”)  Somehow, I feel smugly self-satisfied and utterly WELL-PREPARED (for what, I’m not sure — frozen cake won’t help in the case of a zombie apocalypse or anything like that, but it may be a comfort in a minor stock market crisis) with all these baked goods in the freezer.  Come, busy schedules of fall, and do your worst.

In the middle of all this domestic bliss, though, is the nagging thought that I didn’t purchase most of the items I used for all these wonderful treats at my beloved farmer’s market.  I was away over the weekend and didn’t get a chance to go; which means that I still, despite some efforts on my part, don’t know exactly how the farmers here survived through Hurricane Irene.  Once I got past the point of checking in with friends and family, and the kids’ school had finally reopened, it began to dawn on me that our wonderful local growers may have been severely impacted by the storm.  Adding to my fears about the fate of the harvest — the tomatoes!  Oh, the tomatoes! — was a message from my sister, D., down in Brooklyn.  D., also an avid foodie and locavore, wrote: “80% of Greenmarket farmers in NYC reported severe damage from Irene. A fair percentage of those are reporting near total losses – 80-100% of their crops.” 

That kind of loss is devastating, not only for the farmers, but for the entire local food system.  There is a donation page set up to assist the NYC greenmarket vendors, but can it really be enough to go around, especially in such lean times?  In some ways, I hope many of those growers had sold CSA shares that will help see them through this cruel moment in what should have been a season of plenty; but on the other hand, I think of all the CSA subscribers whose hard-earned (and in many cases, scraped-together) cash was paid in advance for food they may have counted on, and now won’t receive.  There are no winners in a situation like this.  I can only hope that, since Rhode Island didn’t bear as much force from the storm as New York did, our growers are significantly better off; the only thing I know for sure at the moment is that we’ve lost about a quarter of our apples.  As to the rest, it remains to be seen.

It’s a sobering way to begin what I always think of as the harvest time, wondering what kind of harvest there might be, if at all, this year.  It surely makes me appreciate all the more the hard work that our farmers put into providing beautiful food for our tables.  I’m anxious to get back to the market this weekend and see everyone for myself, check out their wares, and reassure myself that there is still a livelihood for these people and (selfishly) produce for me and my fellow shoppers.  Until then, I don’t know that I’ll feel totally at ease.  But then again, there is cake in the freezer.  Yes, at a time like this, cake may come in handy.