Thursday, April 16, 2015

Using the Wealth

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obliterating some tomatoes into a soup

Y'know, growing and processing and storing your garden produce doesn't make a lick of sense if you don't use it! Why did I buy a jalapeno pepper last week? I have a bag of much much tastier frozen peppers in my freezer. ??? Because shopping for peppers from the freezer is not yet a habit.

We're usually pretty good about remembering what we have buried in the kitchen, but sometimes a new recipe bypasses my memory. We also still have a couple small bags of frozen tomatoes, several quart jars of dried greens (chard and boc choi; kale, the most versatile, is gone), plenty of dried parsley and hot peppers, a handful of dried PYO strawberries, and a tiny amount of frozen sweet peppers. Basil's gone. The little Russian cherry tomatoes we froze smelled funky and I fed them to the hens. We're only growing four hot pepper plants this summer, we have so much dried pepper left still and space is precious. Last year we grew maybe ten.

I had wanted to take lots of photographs over the winter of dishes in which we used our own produce while the snow was deep. But in the daily marathon that is cooking supper and dodging my young assistant, that didn't happen. We ate it nonetheless. Some day I'll take proper records of how much we grow and store, how much gets used, and fine-tune our processing.

But not today.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Gardening as Superpower

While at the same time that more people seem to be having and sharing their own processes of remembering, and these revelations more widely discussed and embraced, I'm still having to cross off building lot after building lot from our potential-homestead list because of nonsense like "You cannot legally build a home less than 2200 square feet huge on this land because the developers want to attract a certain class of buyers" and "You cannot have any useful animals on your property anywhere in this big rural town because this is bucolic rural not working rural." There's a lot of work to do yet.

Meanwhile we're just here, waiting.

If there's a silver lining to being here another summer, it's having the garden to work in. Starting over is very probably going to require the building up of the soil itself from woodland. No quick, easy task. We're gonna need a lot of sheep pooping around the place to get very far.

The week was cold and rain and dark. Yesterday's high was in the 30's. Now that the garden's clear and waiting, I really want to get into it. In another life, I'd just forge ahead with it all, but a life in which I have an ever-present assistant with his own thoughts about freezing rain and thick coats means a lot less gardening-in-miserable-weather. I mentioned we made it out there on Monday. That was it for the week. I've also been preparing for a flood of houseguests, but the weather's been the real obstacle.

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Instead, we've been inside reading piles of books like The Tiny Seed and Growing Vegetable Soup and Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. Many of Apple's books are packed with images of huge tractors and their myriad implements and of spraying and monocultures... they're part of the iconography of childhood, to say nothing of Americana. You don't tell a two-year-old who lives for tractors that you find them loud and stinky. You find the good in them, you go to parades to see them, you appreciate the enormity of their positive impact on the lives of so many people. You group-read books about their history, you learn a lot, you have perspective.

You make sure that also told are the new stories. The remembering stories that step off the unsustainable thousand-acre corn field.

The opening pages of the children's book about Will Allen struck me as echoing those of John Henry, one of Apple's very favorite stories. Here's a big man of great power and love who can change the world with his strength and determination. I wonder if the folk tale type language was intentional. We sure could use some new folk heroes. Mr. Allen didn't pick up hammer, he picked up a shovel. We've dug through the mountains; now it's time to turn to the ground at our feet.

Apple and his family have shovels, too, and some ground. We planted peas. We have superpowers too.

Maybe it's cuz we're witches.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mayonnaise

Right now part of our ever-shifting dietary choices includes eschewing most types of vegetable oil. Which puts all the commercial mayonnaise in our area right out.

So I made mayonnaise.

How bout that.

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An egg from my chicken Beefy. Some olive oil from Greece via a locally run bulk oil program at my co-op. Some salt from... let's just guess the ocean. Lemon juice from Florida, where the lemon trees are. And the trusty stick blender from my Grandma.

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Hurrah! Add some salmon (Alaska), some celery (??), some local onions and eggs, and a dash of salt and paprika... what even is paprika? I think it's dried smoked peppers? Maybe? Well it's from somewhere- and now I don't have to give up salmon salad to avoid soybean and canola oil. 

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And as a not insignificant bonus, no mayo jar and lid to offload. The olive oil is bought in bulk in the same bottle over and over. Salt is available in bulk at my co-op, too. (Yay, co-op!) And the only packaging involved with Beefy's egg gets washed, left to dry out, then crushed and fed back to her.* So fresh, delicious, packaging-less, competence-building mayo. That's some pretty awesome condiment. 

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* Ah, I forgot about the lemon juice! While lemon juice does come in lemons, and thus I could buy packaging-free, this lemon juice did come from a glass jar because it's way cheaper that way. So, mayo not entirely waste-free. But close. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Remineralizing the K-T Garden

You are deficient in many of the minerals your body needs to really function well. I don't know who you are, but that doesn't matter. It's still true, and if isn't true, you know it. It's true because the food we eat which powers and becomes our bodies is deficient in these minerals. The food is so because the soil from which all our food originates is so. The soil came to be that way due to unbalanced farming practices: the use of artificial fertilizers and chemical poisons and sending the soil's processed outputs- as "waste"- to the landfills to be trapped uselessly there as dangerous refuse rather than returning it, minerals and all, to the soil. The cycle has been broken. The arrow does not loop.

Good morning!

This is something that over the past year and a half or so has slowly been rising to my attention. At the naturopath's office, reading my blood work. At the annual food co-operative meeting last spring at which the speaker was Dan Kittredge, a soil remineralization advocate. In the personal experience of people whose remembering process I respect.

So the answer lies in not burying our planet's precious organic matter in toxic dumps, in not supporting the use of artificial fertilizers and chemical poisons (and the corporations responsible), in restoring the integrity of our food and our soil.

Sometimes that looks like 39 pounds of weirdo stuff* in your basement.

We hadn't planned on amending this garden. We hadn't planned on harvesting this garden this year. We had planned on finding a building lot over the fall/winter and selling this garden this spring.

That hasn't worked out.

So:

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Once again, my beloved and I find ourselves with a vision, clutching a book and stepping into unfamiliar territory. This time we're armed not with a baby's bottom and a mixing bowl but with a thirty-nine pounds of unfamiliar substances and a metal bucket.

Following some basic guidelines in Steve Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener, we determined (with a spreadsheet, of course) that a mixture of the following stuff would be the best broad-spectrum soil amendment for our vegetable garden. We weren't going to bother testing this soil, so we needed a general purpose band-aid.

  • 3.5 lb blood meal 
  • 9 lb bone meal
  • 3 lb azomite
  • 5 lb agricultural limestone (calcium carbonate)
  • 5 lb gypsum
  • 0.5 lb potash
  • 3 tsp borax 

We'll add an additional 3.5 lb of blood meal in a couple months. It burns too hot, I guess, to put in the full amount at once. A seed-oil or feather meal would have been preferable but they weren't available locally. As it was, we purchased everything we needed, except the azomite and the ag-lime, at local nursery/feed stores. The two they didn't carry, we bought at the Mega Online Store of Ill-Repute. The borax we already had. We spent about $80.

To mix them, we carefully dumped everything into the big metal bucket we use in the winter to store our firebox ashes. We put the lid on tightly and rolled it around. A couple of the ingredients were pelletized which was inconvenient, but it worked well enough.

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Then we sprinkled the mixture over our freshly-raked garden beds and worked it in a little. The forecast was for rain a few hours later, which was perfect. And also rain much of the following week, which has come to pass.

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All worked in:

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Apple has spent the days since pretending to fertilize the living room rug. I mean his "garden beds." His version involves a lot more tractors than ours did.

The ground's finally clear of ice and snow and soft enough to work. Apple and I got peas and some lettuce in the dirt on Monday. Hopefully planting so soon after amending doesn't wreck them, but we'll take the chance.

The promise of more nutritious vegetables and thus more functional bodies and thus more resistance to colds and poisoned spinach and Lyme infections and cancer and antibiotic-resistant everything; taking a step in that direction was worth $80 of weirdo stuff. Plus we got to make a spreadsheet.

In our most wildly optimistic schemes, we'd someday be successful enough at providing our own food that our goal will turn to reducing inputs- things like seed and poultry feed- to the extent practical and sustainable for us. But rock dust we will import without reserve as we fix our soil, and import it in bulk so we'll hopefully spend much less per square foot. We plan to be doing quite a lot of ground. Because what's in this egg?


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Whatever my chicken ate. What'd she eat? Stuff out of a bag. Is stuff out of a bag the best diet for you? 

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It's not terribly exciting, either. We do feed the hens a lot of kitchen scraps, but it's not the main of the diet. Though being down to a measly two chickens now, it's probably not insubstantial. Especially with a 2-year-old regularly contributing quite a lot of his supper to the chickensnacks bucket.

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So that's what's in my egg.

What would be in the egg if my hen were passing her time on grasses growing in soils that had been amended, chomping down on grasshoppers nibbling those same grasses? (Electric fencing will also be enthusiastically imported, without reserve.)

Same goes for your milk.

And, unless you have the resources and inclination to provide for large flocks of geriatric hens, cranky roosters, and a herd of stinky unproductive goat bucks, your meat, too.

And once our soils were minerally healed, our compost- full of the wastes from kitchen and animal (and if I got my way, the results of a composting toilet)- would be full of goodness too.

The arrow would loop.

Anyways. We bought some stuff and sprinkled it on the ground in the belief it will protect us from harm.

We may or may not be witches.

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* Which I mean in the most affectionate way possible. Its weirdness is a reflection of my ignorance, not a judgement on the materials themselves. Don't want to offend the substances that are going to nourish my honored little 25'-square patch of ground.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What it Took to Finally Get Me to Make Pasta

$10 noodles, is what.

We're continuing to cut back on our grains here in CT, particularly wheat. But when you need something to put your stroganov on, and commercial rice noodles just ain't cutting it, and the lovely organic tagliatelle made with pastured eggs is $5.59 for 8.8 ounces, you can decide, standing there in the aisle, that if you're gonna eat noodles, you'll just make some noodles, by gum.

And so you do.

Two dollars' worth total of organic commercial wheat and local eggs will get you a lovely pile of pillowy noodles totally unlike any pasta I'd eaten before. They were chewy and satisfying and very filling in away that a half-pound-ish of boughten noodles could never be.

Try it, seriously:

2 c all-purpose white flour (~0.6 lb; $1 in bulk at my co-op)
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Beat the eggs, then add to the flour. Combine thoroughly with your hands, then knead the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball to a disk ~1" thick, cover and rest for an hour or more. Roll the dough out to just thinner than you want your noodles, since they fluff when you cook em. Fold/cut your dough in whatever manner you like. Boil them for a couple minutes. Serve right away. Mmmm.

If your noodles are gonna sit for a while before you boil them, I recommend laying them out somewhere, not in a pile of folded up packets, or they will try to become a dough ball again. I guess if they were well-coated in flour, they might resist the call of the dough ball. In any case, they'll cook and eat just fine.

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ingredients: flour, salt, eggs. that's it.

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Soon-to-be-three-year-old rolling out dough after it's rested two hours.

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slicing the folded dough strips into ribbons.

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noodle

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in the bowl with you, noodle

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noodles cooking

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not real pretty, but they were called to dough-ball-ness,
and were made by 3 amateurs, one of whom is still 2 years old.
they were pleasant little pillows, actually.

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a noodle-loving, noodle-loving cherub who was so overwhelmed
with love for his homemade noodles, he forgot to use his fork.