A few people have commented on my new CSA pick-up look — the old green Roslyn Café* apron that I’ve been wearing to protect my nice “town” clothes while I pack bags at the storefront on Thursdays. (* shout out to my Washington peeps and Northern Exposure fans!)
I’ve worn aprons in various context for years. When I was growing up, my mom almost always wore an apron while cooking. This image of her is somewhat incongruous with everything else I knew about her. My dad started medical school when I was one, and my mom worked in banking the whole time he was in school and residency. This is the career she started as a teller in college and continued until she was a VP of lending of a small bank in the Seattle area. I have many memories of hanging out in the banks on the weekends or listening while she mentored her younger colleagues after work — especially other women. They’d discuss the ups and downs of being professionals in a world that wasn’t always easy to be in.
Suffice to say, it was a man’s world, and my mom worked hard to prove her place in it. Carving out her own space often meant adopting signifiers of masculinity, and my mom (like many second-wave feminists) reinvented what it meant to be a woman in the second half of the 20th century. She went by the short gender-neutral version of her name (“Kris” rather than “Kristine”), stood tall in her professional suits, sometimes even smoked cigars, and kept our apartment free of anything “frilly.” I was raised wearing gender neutral colors and given “boy” toys along with dolls. She always wanted me to to be free of the confines of societal expectations of traditional femininity.
And yet, I also remember the weekends when she and I would be home alone, and we’d both don our aprons, pull out the Silver Palate cookbook, put Joan Baez or Kate Bush on the stereo, and bake the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Even when she was stretched thin by balancing her own demanding career while parenting me and supporting my dad’s big career change, she’d make time to cook real food because she loved good food and she loved sharing it with us.
Later, when my dad was finally in practice doctor and she slowly let go of her own career so our family life could be more relaxed, that cooking took on bigger and bigger proportions. She experimented with different kinds of cooking traditions, diving deep into the Scandinavian foods from her family’s background but also learning more about the diverse cultural traditions that co-existed in the Puget Sound region. One summer, she and I took cooking classes together at Uwajimaya, learning how to steam homemade hum bao dumplings in bamboo trays on our stovetop. Midweek meals would often be more simple, but still prepared with love and always with that important apron in place to protect her clothes.
My mom and I also later expanded our interests by taking black and white photography classes together at the local community college. Again, we wore our aprons, now protecting our clothing from the staining chemicals we used to develop our photos in the darkroom. I actually went on to major in photography in college — I think I may be one of the last generations of photography students who studied darkroom photography because that was still the best we had! Digital photography quickly caught up in quality soon after I graduated, but I spent many hours and days in the red light with my apron on, gently agitating water bath trays.
During and after college, I had the joy of working in the large, joyful, always busy kitchen at Holden Village, a remote retreat center in the North Cascade mountains. There, every shift in the kitchen started the same — the donning of a clean apron from the apron drawer (all of which were sewn by volunteers with the most bright, colorful patterns they could find). With five to ten people all scurrying around to prepare three meals a day for upwards of 400 people, we were a lively aproned crew — chopping vegetables, kneading bread, stirring literal cauldrons of soup, and often singing along to music while we did it all. Those were very good times. If fun is a nutrient, our food must have been deeply nourishing.
So, aprons are a positive thing to me. I don’t see a lot of my peers wearing aprons today — it seems so old fashioned and weird, I guess? Or, maybe people were just never introduced to the utility of it. It feels so normal and comfortable to me, but I’ve definitely had friends raise eyebrows or make surprised comments when they see me cooking with an apron on. How could something modeled by my awesome mom not still be awesome and relevant today? In my friends’ presence though, I have felt like I might as well be wearing a bonnet or corset!
But, old fashioned or not, I still wear an apron every time I cook at home — an old authentic Kingdome vendor apron (another shout out to my fellow Washingtonians!) that I found free in the “give away” shelf of our college apartment building. Here’s the deal with wearing an apron — I feel like I can cook (or work in the darkroom) more freely. I don’t even have to think about splattering my clothes, and I guess I’m kind of a messy cook! (I also really relish when I get to wear stain-free clothes after all the years of babies and toddlers wiping their noses and hands all over me.)
I feel the same way about wearing gloves when I work in the fields. I can weed with so much less hesitation when I have that layer of protection. I can weed with more vigor and speed knowing that my nails won’t jam against small rocks in the soil. I love the feeling of being properly outfitted for my task. It’s both physical and psychological. When I pull on my gloves, my sun hat, and my boots, my whole body and mind are ready for farm work. Likewise, when I put on my apron to cook dinner, my whole body and mind are ready to cook. It helps me focus, as well as helping protect my clothes from stains as I stand over a pan frying onions and butter (best smell ever!). And, at the end of the day or mealtime, when I take off my gloves or my apron, then I’m also saying: “And now I’m done.”
I have deep appreciation for these kind of physical routines and signals that help me create boundaries between tasks and keep focus. As more and more of the world’s work goes to computers — which can be used for work, recreation, socializing, and more — I think many of us experience more bleeding between different kinds of tasks and modes. Some people call this “time contamination.” Checking work emails at home, for example, blurs the line between work and home quite a lot and can make it hard for us to ever feel like we are done with work.
Of course, now so many of us are working at home … all the time. In our own household, we’ve been talking about how we can create boundaries around our work and home life even though so much of our work happens at home. The outfits we wear and the way we spend our time are a big one. I’m reminded of wonderful Mr. Rogers, who started every episode of his show by changing his clothes — in this demonstration he showed us that now it was time to be with us.
My apron is one way I do this with one household task, as well as the CSA pick-up. Gloves and work clothes are another way. For Casey, I can always tell when he’s officially done with farm work in the summer when he takes a dunk in the pallet bin we fill with cold water in the summer. That’s his way of literally cleansing off the dirt and dust and sweat of the field to be done for the day.
I’ve also observed how we have a new physical reminder and tool in our routines these days: the donning of masks to go into town and public spaces. This is a new one for me, and to begin with, it definitely felt and looked weird — I suppose a bit like when people see me wearing my apron while cooking at home. I can’t say I’m fully adjusted just yet — I still definitely notice masks when I go into town, but I have gotten accustomed to remembering to pack and wear my own. Like an apron or a pair of gloves, it’s a simple but powerful tool of protection. By wearing a cloth mask, apparently I can help prevent the spread of my germs to others. When faced with a virus that can spread even from asymptomatic, unwitting carriers, this simple bit of fabric can become a lifesaver — that’s even more important than preventing stains on my shirts or stubbed fingers!
And, much like aprons, masks offer the potential for some self-expression in their colors and shapes and patterns. I’ve chosen to wear simple, solid color masks, but Casey loves the farm-themed tractor mask a CSA member made for him. I love seeing what other people wear, and I also just love seeing masks. I mean, I don’t like that we’re in a pandemic and basic human connection has become so complicated. But I love that by wearing a mask in public, we can all visually express our care for each other. When I put on my mask, I am physically reminding myself that I love other people — that I even love strangers.
On a more pragmatic level, putting on a mask is also a reminder that I am not at home and I should be more cautious with my personal hygiene — using hand sanitizer, not touching my face, etc. While this isn’t the happiest message, it’s an important reminder to stay alert and remember that we are still living through a global pandemic.
It’s all very poignant and mixed for me. I often find my trips to town to be sad because they remind me of the people and places and routines I miss deeply. But I am grateful that my mask allows me to see people and do basic errands while keeping others safe. I put on that mask, and it feels like a kind of physical love in a time when I can’t hug my friends.
This week I invite you to do two things: first, consider how you build boundaries and routines into your life to help you focus on what you are doing (am I working? am I with my family?). For me, putting on an apron or gloves help me focus on my work; taking them off helps me relax and be with my family. What might that look like for you? Second, I also invite you to reconsider that pesky face mask and see it in a new light — as a physical reminder to be careful, but also as a physical symbol of your love for the world. Because that’s the underlying positive message of all these hard pandemic restrictions and changes — we’re all making hard sacrifices because we value people.
Apron or no apron, have fun in your kitchen this week, and enjoy this week’s vegetables too!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
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Meet this week’s vegetables: So many good summer flavors to enjoy this week. Remember to place your order by the end of Tuesday! It’s really important for us to have orders on time so that we can harvest adequate amounts of everything! Thank you!