I, Farmer David

Burpee Seeds

I have a complicated relationship with plants. Not all plants, just vegetables. And not vegetables themselves, actually, just the growing and harvesting of them.

See, I was subjected to indentured servitude on a farm in Swansea, MA, when I was 13 years old. Momma and Poppa Leite had felt the experience would be “good for you.” Besides, what else do you do with a depressed teenager who’s not only morose but terribly anxious? Considering it was the early ‘70s, my parents had two choices: hard work or hard-core meds. (Remember, this predated the age of mixologists MDs, so the drug of choice was Mother’s Little Helper: Valium. Plus, I’d gotten ahold of a copy of Valley of the Dolls that someone had left for trash, and there was no way in hell I was going to turn into Neely O’Hara—sparkle or no sparkle.)

So for three ballbusting years, I spent my summers bent over and picking peppers, green beans, zucchini, and summer squash; stringing and popping suckers off tomato plants; and slicing cabbages from their roots with perhaps the dullest, rustiest knife ever honed by man—all the while getting redneck sunburnt, scratching my ass (never relieve yourself in the middle of a poison sumac patch), and praying for rain, a tornado, hurricane, or other natural disaster. Read more »

Podcast Ep. 1: Why, Hello New Podcast

Talking With My Mouth Full

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It all began when I was about 10 years old. Whenever my parents and I visited my avó and avô (that’s Portuguese for grandmother and grandfather) and the rest of the Leite family in Somerville, MA, I’d gather my ensemble of cousins for the express purpose of staging musical spectaculars on my Aunt Irene’s back porch. I was the director, naturally, and my word was law. (Oh, how little things have changed, I can hear Renee thinking.) [Editor's Note: Yup. Precisely.] One show in particular featured an all-Beatles lineup in which I directed my distant cousin Elaine to slowly walk down the porch stairs as she sang “Let It Be.” (This was also the era of Cher, hence the many long, slow stair descents and excessive hair flipping in my directives.) I made her do this over and over again until, frustrated, I climbed to the top of the stairs and did my own descent. Never was a David Leite spectacular more spectacular.

A little later, I discovered The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. How many times did I dream that I was the seventh Brady kid (in between Greg and Peter) and had my own solo in the finale of each show? And how can I express to you just how achingly desperate I was to have one of those synthetic, powder blue jumpsuits? Read more »

Not Relaxing in Baden-Baden

  • Of course, on my first trip to Baden-Baden we shivered all week because of what turned out to be record cold temperatures. The only flowers blooming were in a mall.
  • It's weird. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but every morning at Aqua Aurelia I had a latte and a few times I even had straight-up coffee—the high-test kind. Must have been the arctic weather.
  • Baden-Baden has some of the loveliest ironwork—found everywhere, including a family's home (above), storefronts, churches—that I've seen in a long time.
  • Some people have pictures of their beloved on beaches, in front of sunsets, on the Eiffel Tower. I have hundreds of pictures of my beloved—eating. Here it's bratwurst.
  • The One gave me his tour of Baden-Baden, which started at the gorgeous Pump Room, called Trinkhalle, where visitors can sip the water that has been burbling for more than 17,000 years.
  • We spent quite a lot of time huddled against the cold, watching people as they went in and out of the Pump Room. Sadly, the fountains weren't working, so no health-giving drinks.
  • The One and I went hunting for lunch, but made a quick detour when these ravishing bites whispered our names. How can you decide? Really? How? We didn't. One of each.
  • It seems anyone will do anything for a sweet German treat. This little guy was working the crowd in a small street behind the impressive Champs-Élysées-esque Sophienstrasse.
  • Apple strudel, which is everywhere in Baden-Baden, is The One's kryptonite. This strudel was as big as a lumberjack's arm. The One ate his slice all by himself.
  • At the food store Markthalle, in the Wagener Galerie, we watched as slice after slice of salmon loveliness was shaved off. Sadly, no amount of whimpering could snag us a sample.
  • Naturally, stuffing our faces with sweets meant that at some point we had to eat some sort of veggies. We were served these perky and potent radishes with griebenschmalz, or rendered pork fat.
  • Even though The One and I don't like beer, we adored this fräulein so much, we couldn't stop snapping photos. (I think it's the gap in her teeth that makes it so charming.)
  • The One and I spent many a day looking at, lusting after, splurging on, and inhaling all kinds of marvelous Bavarian sausages. Every single one a winner.
  • Chef Jean-Luc Braun-Ohlmann of Restaurant Rebstock in Oppenau is a man with an exceptional passion for locally sourced foods. The lunch he served was splendiferous.
  • On his day off, our concierge, Michael Lettner, took me on a Black Forest romp. We had lunch at Chef Jean-Luc's restaurant. This cream of white asparagus soup was my sublime first course.
  • Michael insisted I have this dish. "It's what Germany tastes like," he said. Well, if this wild boar ragú was any indication, I now have a huge appetite for the Germanic countryside.
  • Smoked trout was Michael's starter. It was simple, light, and oh-so-well-dressed, with onion, perfectly boiled egg, tomato, Gruyère, and caper berries.
  • It was just after Easter, so lamb was on every menu. Here it was braised in a veal demi-glace sauce and accompanied by the very first white asparagus of the season.
  • I've long been suspicious of spaetzle because it can be like eating lead pellets. But Chef Jean-Luc showed me how he mixes the dough and hand cranks the noodles. I'm a convert.
  • We passed by the delightful Café Koenig and pastry shop every day, and every day I stood there, nose against the window, deciding on my daily treat.
  • Café Koenig also had a window filled with these little delightful ladybugs. It's an Easter tradition and the town was simply crawling with bugs—chocolate ones.
  • The siren call of the coconut couldn't be resisted. These remarkably lifelike chocolate-coconut chestnuts were a Confiserie Rumpelmayer special.
  • These blushing beauties, also from Confiserie Rumpelmayer, were being replaced in the glass case as quickly as customers were buying them. Read: Very quickly.

“You can’t work,” pronounced The One as he leaned on his suitcase to close it. “Plain and simple.”

That was the directive delivered to me from on high a couple weeks ago on the very eve of our trip to the legendary spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany—and it wasn’t an unreasonable one. The last time The One and I were scheduled to vacation there with our friends Matty and Janet, I had to cancel the night before. While they winged it to Germany in business class, I was mired in work at home. Besides, how many times have I left the poor guy sitting at the table, alone with his dinner, while I hunched over my computer, every once in a while shouting, “Just a few more seconds, Mon Cher! Promise…”

While I couldn’t give up work entirely cold turkey—I had to do something—I did push away from the computer far more that week than I have in years. Lest you think it was for the baths–those ancient springs that purportedly have healing and life-giving properties–think again. How could I–someone as overcranked and ADD as I–sit in those pools for hours on end, like Matty, and not go stir-crazy? (He clocked an average of six hours a day in the baths. His overly tanned, 71-year-old skin looks like Gucci crocodile loafers when he finally deigns to exit the waters.) During my first dunk, I was so fidgety, so preoccupied with mentally playing out how I could bitch slap Mark Zuckerberg right out of Facebook and make it my own, that I could have created a tsunami. Read more »

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