Thursday, October 30, 2014
Posted by Aimee at 1:26 PM
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Last year, we had good luck with turkeys. We never intended to raise turkeys, but a trade came our way (Turkey Trade) and we acquired four half-grown turkeys in exchange for one goat. We ate one, sold two, and donated one to the food bank. I decided pastured turkeys were a great return on investment - and also extremely delicious - so this past spring we upped our investment by 50% and bought six Standard Bronze poults.
All went well until just a few weeks ago - the turkeys all grew quickly and turned into handsome animals of about fifteen or eighteen pounds. I think they were all hens, although I wouldn't swear to that on a stack of bibles. Through Craigslist and Facebook, I had already sold four of them. But then one of them disappeared. There was no sign of "fowl play" (ha ha) - no feathers or blood. There was simply one less turkey.
My Facebook Farmer's group informed me that turkeys are known to wander. In fact, our turkeys had wandered over to the neighbor's a couple of times and had to be retrieved. But they had wandered as a group. Turkeys, at least mine, tend to stay in a pretty tight formation, and I thought it was unlikely that a single turkey had decided to strike out on his/her own.
Then, two weeks later, boom - another disappearance. Same modus operendi - simple vanishing, without a trace of violence. Once again, I went back to my Facebook Farmers. I suggested a coyote, as being the only local predator I knew of capable of carrying off a twenty-pound animal. Plenty of people responded, but with varying opinions - some people agreed that coyotes were a likely culprit, but others said that they would leave a big mess of feathers and blood. Somebody suggested bald eagles, which I discounted not because I think an eagle incapable, but because the turkeys disappeared at night. Again I heard that turkeys wander and I ought to check with the neighbors. And, as always, several people voiced the opinion that humans were stealing my turkeys.
Every time that someone in the group posts that anything has gone missing - apples off a tree, baby chicks, tame rabbits, pumpkins off a porch - the assertion surfaces that it was stolen by people. Personally, I find the idea that hordes of my neighbors are prowling through the dark looking for vulnerable apple trees or sneaking into unsecured barns to steal chickens patently absurd. It's been my experience that my neighbors are far more likely to bring me produce or game meat than they are to take it away. As a matter of fact, in my entire lifetime, I think I have been the victim of burglary twice or maybe three times, whereas I have been the recipient of totally unsolicited generosity hundreds of times.
So, I've learned a couple of things about my Facebook Farmer's group. Although a valuable resource for those who are willing to sift and verify, there is a lot of suspicion and ignorance. I could learn a lot more about the telltale signs of various predators from five minutes on the internet ( http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/18670/poultry-predator-identification, http://www.avianaquamiser.com/posts/What_killed_my_chicken__63__/) than by asking for advice form a random collection of farmers. Some of them are probably well-informed and right, but how could I tell which ones?
As it turns out, my initial suspicion about coyotes was almost certainly correct. Not only does my google search confirm that coyotes and foxes often carry off birds and leave little trace behind, returning again and again to the same place as long as birds remain vulnerable, but my neighbor (he of the hotel-sized-house, or the HSH) called me night before last to tell me that he had seen two big coyotes in my field, and has shot at them, but missed. Furthermore, when I decided, yesterday, to walk the pasture in a grid pattern looking for evidence, I found one fresh, well shredded leg bone and a small neat pile of guts.
Clearly, my flock is not well protected. I never know exactly how many chickens I have at any given time, but today I made a point of counting, and there are fewer than there ought to be. And the ones that remain are looking thin and harassed. I think I have a pack of coyotes who have decided that my farm is their snack bar.
Normally, the poultry is locked in a coop at night, but lately I have been leaving them to roost in the open main barn instead. This is because the weather has been unrelentingly awful, raining like mad for a couple of weeks on end. The chicken coop, which is just the space between my two barns fenced off and roofed, has terrible drainage and right now it is just a sea of liquid mud. The chickens would be utterly miserable in there. There is not even any land dry enough to feed them on. They have roosts, of course, but they can't stay on them all day. In this weather it would be inhumane to keep them in the coop. Ducks, maybe.
But something needs to be done, clearly. If I do nothing, the coyotes will likely eat my entire flock this winter. As far as the turkeys go, I think I will probably just butcher them immediately - they are full sized - and keep them in the freezer instead of the barnyard. But I need to finger out how to secure the coop and make it habitable before I lose the rest of my chickens.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Last weekend we went to the annual wild mushroom show, hosted by the Northwest Mushroomers Association (click the link https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northwest-Mushroomers-Association/189323751142082 for their Facebook page). The last time I went to this show was back in 2008 ( Mud and Mushrooms). It's really a wonderful event. In addition to beautiful displays set up on long tables around the room, they also have areas for more in depth investigation. There is a "touch and smell" table:
|Paloma at the touch and smell table|
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The weather changed about two weeks ago from warm and sunny to warm and wet. Well, of course it has cooled off - enough so that I have broken out the winter blankets - but it is still pretty warm. T-shirt weather for me when I go let the goats out to graze. I'm still drinking my coffee iced; I haven't switched to Americanos yet. There has of yet been no sign of a frost.
Two weeks of rain has turned the barnyard into poo-soup, and when I go out to do the chores in the morning I definitely have to put on galoshes. The dog comes with me, and is banished from the house until her paws dry off. The sky has been low, grey, and glowering, which has an effect on my mood. It hasn't been very pleasant, weather-wise, but neither has it been cold. Today, a friend posted a link to a weather blogon her Facebook page, and it was very enlightening. So far, Pacific Northwest Weather this year HAS been unseasonably warm - record-breakingly warm, in fact. But the record - highest average low temperatures - is not one that people generally pay much attention to. The following is chart heavy, but I found it very interesting.
A note: as much I am unsettled by weird weather, tending to real out and imagine catastrophic climate change on a human time scale, I am nonetheless grateful for this year's odd warmth. We will not be able to use our furnace until all the work is done in the crawlspace. and that isn't projected to be completed until mid-November. So as far as I'm concerned, let the frost stay wherever it is now!
Reposting from Cliff Mass Weather Blog (link below)
****UPDATE****** I don't know why the cut-and-paste job below is cut off on the right margin. I can't seem to adjust it in my editing platform. However, if you click on any of the graphics, they will show up whole and legible in a new window.
Here are the temperatures at Seattle-Tacoma Airport during the past 4 weeks, with the average high (red) and lows (blue) shown. Only ONE day in that entire period has seen the temperature dropping to the average low. For most days, our minimum temperatures have been 5-10 degrees above normal. Our minimum temperatures last night were close to the average maximum for the date!
And this is not Seattle alone, here is the same trace for Bellingham. Same thing. Bellingham cooled to 59F last night!
Now why is this happening? This is an important question because one can expect some folks in the media and advocacy groups to start saying this is a "sign" or "consistent with" global warming due to mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases. There is no reason to think that is true.
There are two main reasons for the warmth and they are both associated with the anomalous atmospheric circulations we are having.
Reason #1: a persistent area of low pressure over the eastern Pacific. The figure below shows the sea level pressure anomaly (difference from normal) for the past month. There is an area west of us with pressures well below normal. Such anomalous low pressure is associated with stronger than normal southerly and southwesterly winds over us that blow in warmer than normal air.
This is probably the major cause. Then there is something else, something I have talked about in previous blog: the warm water BLOB off the coast.
Below is the sea surface temperature anomaly map for the past week. You see the orange and red colors off the coast that indicate temperatures 2-4F above normal? The BLOB still lives. So air passing over the eastern Pacific is exposed to warmer than normal water. Me like BLOB, BLOB is good.
As I noted earlier, the BLOB has little to do with global warming but was produced by anomalous high pressure over the Pacific last winter and year.
So our ridiculously warm temperatures this fall are being produced by an unusual combination of high pressure a year ago that produced the blob and low pressure this fall that is bringing up warm air from the south.
There is no reason to think that these circulation anomalies are caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. And remember that the eastern U.S. has been colder than normal.
Well, time for me to go out to my garden to harvest some more red tomatoes.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
THE FOOD SYSTEM
PLAYING YOUR PART1. Is it organic?
2. Does this product come from an animal?
3. Has it been processed?
4. How far has it traveled to get here?
5. What sort of package does it come in?
Thursday, October 9, 2014
To make matters worse, the pears that hadn't yet been attacked were - although full sized - just as hard and green as they were a month ago. At that time, I picked a few pears and set them on the table to ripen, but they never did. They just sat there, stubbornly green. Homero, bizarrely, eats them like this, and so I didn't know if they would have eventually ripened or what, but I figured it couldn't hurt to just leave them until they started to fall on their own.
Above you see all the pears I could find which are solid - there are twenty-six of them. A few of them have bird strikes, but none have been invaded by insects yet. But how to ripen them? I thought I remembered treading that some varieties of pears need to be chilled before they will ripen - and so a quick google search seems to confirm. Supposedly, I should gold the pears at 32-35 degrees Farenehit for at least a week and up four months, and then bring them to room temperature for 7 - 10 days. How exactly I am supposed to do that I haven't the foggiest clue. I could refrigerate them, but I don't have room in my fridge for 26 pears. And my fridge isn't that cold, anyway. Nights this time of year average 55 degrees, so leaving them outside isn't likely to help.
That's probably the best I can do, though. As I said, we have already enjoyed a large and delicious crop of pears this year, so it isn't a tragedy if we don't make full use of this last harvest. Alternatively, my husband can eat them all green, the way he likes them.
Link: an extremely comprehensive guide to European Pear varieties, with photos and information about siting, disease tolerance, and uses. Great site. http://www.usapears.com/~/media/Files/Research%20Website%20Docs/Pear%20Encyclopedia/Pear%20Encyclopedia%2003-2011.ashx
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
|tepache in the garage|
We are having a pretty simple supper tonight: pan fried trout, baked potatoes, and braised red cabbage. It smells wonderful in my kitchen right now (even though I haven't fried the trout yet) and I thought I'd put up the recipe for the red cabbage. But when I started to compose it in my mind, I realized that this recipe - and those for the other components of dinner -is actually very involved, and interesting, if I describe it correctly.
It's apple season. I love apples, and I love apple season, but we still, after seven years here, do not have our own apples. I have a beautiful old cider press and every year I go in search of apples to feed it. Two weeks ago, a lovely older couple from church told me they would be happy - nay, grateful - if I would go to their house and pick apples from their six trees. Every year the apples fall all over the yard and they are getting rather elderly and stiff to be picking them all up. My sister and I went together and picked something like three bushels of apples, and spent a few minutes picking up windfalls as a thank-you.
Then I pressed cider with a neighbor, who also brought a few bushels of apples. Fresh cider is wonderful, and we drank as much as we could as fast as we could, but even so, there was a three gallon carboy leftover that fermented gently in the garage. A week after the pressing, the cider in the carboy was fizzy and delicious, lightly alcoholic (probably one-and-a-half percent, so weak that I let the children drink it), and beautiful over ice on a warm September afternoon. Now, two weeks after that, it is edging into apple cider vinegar territory.
It isn't quite vinegar yet. But neither is it cider anymore; what I have now is a couple gallons of tepache. Unless you are Mexican, and a rural Mexican at that, you probably don't know what tepache is. Tepache, along with pulque, is a quintessential rural Mexican beverage served at festivals and rodeos and birthday parties back in the hill country, and out of clay jugs on market days in small towns. It can be made from apples, or peaches, or plums, or various Mexican fruits that don't grow around here, such as ciruelas and tunas. Basically, it is a weak fruit beer. It's impossible to get drunk on tepache, but if you quaff enough of it on a hot Mexican day while watching a parade, you can get a small but pleasant buzz. The tepache in my garage is fairly far over onto the vinegar side of the spectrum. It's still tasty, but I wouldn't want to drink a pint of it. There is still a gallon and half of it, however, and I have to do something with it, fairly quickly.
Today was a gorgeous day, sunny and warm. The garden has been neglected lately, and it was past time to get out there and pick what was left to pick, dig the potatoes (which was a chore, since the plants died back ages ago and the weeds grew over), and do general cleanup. There's not a whole lot left, but I picked a quart of cherry tomatoes and dug a few pounds of potatoes. There are six red cabbage and I picked two, leaving the other four in the ground for later. I ate the last of the overbearing golden raspberries as I worked. The hubbard squashes, which did not do well, have died back already and I brought in the two small blue squash. My chiles dried on the plants ion the greenhouse and I picked them all as well. I am by no means done putting the garden to bed, but at least I made some progress.
Carrying in my potatoes and cabbage, the outlines of dinner came to me. Several weeks ago, my daughter Hope's best friend came over to spend the night, bearing a dozen beautiful little trout she had caught with her grandfather, already cleaned and frozen. I took the trout out to defrost and sliced the potatoes to roast in a shallow pan with olive oil and salt. I wanted to give the cabbage a German/Eastern European treatment, braised with bacon and spices. I looked up a few recipes, and all of them called for apple cider vinegar. Well, of course I have some apple cider vinegar in the house, but I thought tepache would serve beautifully.
Except for the spices, everything we are eating tonight came from either our own garden or a neighbor. Everything is local to within a few miles. Everything was procured with our own labor and knowledge, or our friend's labor and knowledge, and grown in our own dirt.
Once, years ago, when I wrote a post about the importance of being able to produce my own food, my brother told me he didn't see the difference between producing your own food with your own labor, or using your labor to make money and buy your food. It was kind of an "if you have to ask, you'll never know" moment, but I just thought of an analogy he might get. What's the difference between writing a piano concerto yourself and playing it on a piano yourself, or paying somebody to write and preform a concerto for you?
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Today is the Equinox. As I sit here, writing this, the day is fading. It is almost six o'clock; since school started, I wake up at six o'clock, and the sun is just rising. The heavens have balanced themselves for another turn of the earth.
Cool weather arrived last week and yesterday it began to rain. A soft, gentle rain that you can walk around in for a while without really getting wet. Good, northwest rain, at the expected time. After the summer we had, which was dry and surprisingly hot week after week, the ordinariness of late September rain feels like sweet relief. A week and a half ago, I took the kids to the lake to go swimming, and exchanged the same words with half a dozen people:
"Can you believe this, swimming this late in the fall?"
"It's amazing. I love it."
Sunburns in September. But today it is reassuringly grey. The sky has assumed it's customary autumn wet-rag appearance, and the blackberries, although still plump and glossy to the eye, lose all cohesion if you try to pick them. There are mushrooms on the lawn. I saw several leopard slugs in the playroom. I picked the last of the garden tomatoes. Any late-ripeners will just have to fall off and send up volunteers next spring. The final plums have fallen, and the second crop of pears is just about ripe.
We still have a few weeks before the first frost, probably, and I need to take advantage of them. We have been remiss in the hay department, and there are only about thirty-five bales in the barn. That is not nearly enough hay to get us through the winter - we usually go through double that number, and in past years we didn't have a cow. We will have to get another load of hay, but in the meantime, I can supplement the supply by taking the goats out to browse every day. As long the frost holds off, the front yard provides plenty of roughage in the form of blackberries, alder and beech leaves, and thistles. After the frost, the greenery loses most of its nutrient value and hay becomes the staple fodder.
Most of the work that has to get done before winter is done - the hole Poppy kicked in the barn is repaired. The freezer is full of beef and salmon, cider and berries. The goats still need to be bred, but I have a plan in place for that. The propane tank needs to be filled, but that's just a phone call. I feel fairly well prepared and provisioned.
This takes no account, of course, of the major work that needs to be done in the crawlspace. We have not yet decided if we are going to try to get it done this fall, before the worst of winter, or if we will wait until next dry season. If we do it as soon as possible, there will certainly be a few weeks of cold weather during which we cannot use the furnace. We'll have to buy a couple of space heaters and crowd in one bedroom together. If we wait until next year, we can save more money towards the job (inshallah) and theoretically the damage done by one more winter is strictly incremental....
Every time I try to think about the crawlspace my brain rebels and starts to hum old show tunes instead. Chim-chimeree, chim-chimeree, chim-chim cheree...... my luck has run out I've a cracked chim-en-ney.... never mind. I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day.
Crawlspaces are easy places to ignore; they are underground and nobody ever goes there. They are the shadow side, the subconscious of a home. As the world turns its back on the sun and slides darkness on like a hood, it seems perfectly natural to do the same; just close my eyes and let it all hibernate the winter through. The crawlspace and its nasty issues will all still be there come spring, when hopefully my strength will rise with the sap and I will have new energy to tackle major projects.
That's not really my style, though. However tempting it may be to will it away for another year, in truth I am the kind of person who, once a problem has been identified, can't leave it alone until a course of action is decided upon and underway. So I have another phone call to make. A very expensive phone call.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
|mixing up Ukrainian refrigerator pickles|
|making dilly beans|
One of my friends was a total canning novice, and she chose dilly beans as a good place to start. I think that's a good choice - easy vinegar based pickle, delicious, pretty. I made lemon curd because I had a serious surplus of organic lemons from the Gleaner's Pantry. Lemon curd is not just yummy, but also very attractive and I'm thinking it will make a good addition to any Christmas packages I send out this year, should I get my shit together and send any.
My other friend is Ukrainian, and was making two of her mother's recipes. I was very excited about this; my mother's family also comes from Ukraine, but a few generations back, and as far as I know no family recipes have survived from that time. The three of us had a great time in the kitchen, and we decided to make it an annual event - the September canning get-together.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
We've had a streak of bad luck lately. An expensive streak. In the past two weeks:
- I broke a tooth. A particularly exciting trade had come my way - it's crab season in these parts and apparently it's been a very good year. A friend of mine traded me a couple pounds of goat cheese for three or four big fat dungeoness crabs, already cleaned and cooked. Since in my estimation, dungeoness crab gives king salmon a run for its money as the most delectable native seafood of the Salish Sea, I was understandably excited about this trade. I sat down at the kitchen table with a pair of crackers to extract the meat and have a few nibbles along the way. I spent a very happy hour or so cracking crab legs, partly with the pincers and partly with my teeth, sweet sea-flavored juice dribbling down my shirt front. But when all the crab was gone and I came out of my yummy-food-induced trance, I poked around in my mouth with my tongue and found that one of my molars was missing a big ass chunk.
The good part was that it didn't hurt. The bad part was that my brain instantly began to freak out and insist that my tongue check out the hole every 0.6 seconds for the next eighteen hours. I don't have dental insurance - I have health insurance thanks to the ACA, but not dental - and so I had to wait until the local Interfaith dental clinic opened up on monday morning and wait my turn with all the other poor snaggletooth schlubs. The dentist there told me they could fill it, but that that was only a temporary solution and I really needed a crown. Crowns, I was told by every local dentist I called, run about fifteen hundred dollars.
My husband said, when I told him, that if we didn't spend money on our teeth, what the hell were we saving it for? So I made the appointment and went in, on wednesday I think. A crown is a two appointment procedure, and this first one was the hard one. For two and a half hours I suffered in silence, and then I paid them $750 dollars and drove home with a numb, swollen jaw. When I got there I found that
- Poppy Pony had had an accident. Homero had tried to text me and tell me, but I was head down in a dentist's chair with my mouth full of cotton gauze and pain. It seems he had staked her out to eat the green grass in the front yard. The pasture is pretty brown and bald at the end of this long, dry summer. Poppy had tried to reach some greener grass nearby and had pulled the stake, a T-post, right out of the ground. It hit her in the hocks; she panicked and went charging around the property at top speed with a six foot steel bar thumping and whacking along behind her. Trying to get back into her own enclosure, she went over the top of a cattle panel and crashed into the side of the barn, actually knocking a big hole in it.
"We hath to caw the wet," I said.
When he got there, the vet gave her a sedative, a shot of antibiotics, and an injection of pain medicine. He cleaned up the numerous cuts on all four of her legs. No stitches were needed, but he had to trim off a couple of flaps of skin with scissors. She was limping, but he thought that was just bruising. He gave me anti inflammatory gel to administer for the next ten days and said no riding for three weeks. He also showed me a hideous photo on his cell phone of a horse who had gone over a barbed wire fence that same day. A big sheet of skin and muscle was hanging down off the animal's neck. He said Poppy was very lucky; she could easily have broken a leg or suffered a trauma like the one in the picture. Then he charged me three hundred dollars and drove away.
Later in the week, a man came out to inspect the crawlspace. A couple of years ago, while we were in Mexico, the sump-pump failed and the crawlspace flooded (Bad News from Home). We have only just had the money to address the issue. OR SO I THOUGHT. The man who came out, owner of a very highly regarded company that specializes in crawlspaces and nothing but, went under the house in a haz-mat suit and took about two hundred pictures. When he came back up he said "the sump pump is the least of your problems." Then he showed us the pictures.
I really don't have the heart to go into it. For the first time, I am seriously questioning whether we made the right decision in buying this house. I love this property with all my heart and I firmly believe that by moving here, we have given our children the great gift of a childhood that includes wildness and the possibility of losing themselves in nature. Over the years, I have come to love this house as well - this very 1940's owner-built ranch house, with all its eccentricities and quirks. The many issues we have addressed - the roof, the plumbing, the rot - have been expensive, but I thought we were finally getting on top of it, and even felt pride in slowly restoring an aging but unique farmhouse.
We were not getting on top of it. Underneath it all, there is a hideous story of rot, sinking cement footings, and poorly shimmed pillars. There is unstable earth. There are rats. There is a sixty year legacy of poor workmanship, deception and fraud, and amateurism. Underneath it all, at the very bottom, there is a poorly drained slope to the northeast undermining the foundation.
All of these issues can be addressed, mitigated, though not fully corrected. Even were money no object - which is certainly is - the very best that can be done cannot completely heal the house. To the contractor, after his presentation of misery, I said "for fifty years people have been slapping one cheap fix on top of another to this house. I want that to stop here, with me. I want to leave this house to my children." He nodded, but he didn't say that was a realistic plan.
The truth is, he might be the best contractor in the world, but he can't stop time. I might spend all the money at my disposal, but I can't stop the rain from beating down or the beetles from boring. I had a dream the other night, before all this. A nightmare. I dreamed I was walking with a group of people I didn't know through an office building, a skyscraper. We were all going downstairs at a deliberate pace. Each time we reached a new floor, I lost some power of movement. Suddenly I couldn't move my arms anymore. On the next floor down, I couldn't turn my head. Then I found that I couldn't stop walking, either. I wasn't unduly alarmed; it seemed pretty normal.
I am trying not to be unduly alarmed. We can only do what we can do; we cannot be immortal, nor can we safeguard our homes and properties for eternity. We will do what we can - I plan to hire the contractor and ask him to do everything within my budget to stabilize the house unto the third generation. My hope is that someday in the far future, Homero and I will be able to retire to sunny Oaxaca in good conscience, that I will leave my children a real home, not a pile of rotting wood. I will not stint, and I hope that they will not have cause to reproach me for negligence, penny-pinching, or sloth.
But maybe they will reproach me for wasting their inheritance propping up a lost cause.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Our house is old. Most of the essential features - the roof, the septic system - have been upgraded over the years (this sweeping statement covers a whole host of terrifying and - in retrospect - amusing stories, some of which can be found in these posts Mold Monster Update, A Handy Man is Good to Find...?, The Demon of Bad Smell (the Plumber as Hero)) but others have not. One such system is the plumbing, which was, like the rest of the house, originally owner installed and has some - shall we say - quirks.
Some of the issues with the plumbing, however, are entirely my own fault. Over the last several months, the kitchen sink has been chronically slow to drain, and when I do laundry the washing machine water backs up into the utility sink in the laundry room. Such is life with old pipes, we thought, and simply used the heavy-duty plunger to unclog things temporarily. A couple days ago, however, the sink was completely stopped up and plunging did no good. Homero took apart the U bend underneath and it was clear, so the problem was further along, somewhere under the house. Our thirty foot snake couldn't clear the problem, either.
At this point, I was all for calling the roto-rooter man. That's what he's for, right? Unclogging pipes. Homero, on the other hand, will not call in a professional unless he has previously tried and failed at least six times to fix the problem, and sometimes not even then. I'm relatively certain he would rather live with, say, a non-working refrigerator forever than pay somebody else to fix it. As you might imagine, this has been a source of considerable stress for me, but a few years ago I decided I would rather live with a non-working refrigerator than with Homero's injured pride. These days, I make one gentle suggestion that it might be time to call in the pros, and after that I go take a hot bath. Assuming it isn't the hot water heater that is broken, of course.
So Homero went under the house. We have a very tight crawlspace. Two years ago the sump-pump bit the dust and the crawlspace flooded. We have yet to make repairs, so the insulation hangs down in damp curtain-like swaths, and the vapor barrier doesn't adhere tightly to the floor or walls. It's a dank, musty, scary, claustrophobic place. Oh, and the wiring went kablooey so the only light is a flashlight. I wouldn't go down there for all the tea in China. In truth, I probably wouldn't fit.
Homero asked me to stay by the trapdoor in case he needed anything. I lay on the concrete floor of the garage and peered into the dark, listening to Homero grunting softly as he wormed his way over to the space underneath the kitchen sink. He began banging softly on the pipes with a wrench to find the clog. A little later, I heard the sound of his power saw. He was cutting open the pipe. He yelled something back to me that sounds like "cheese."
"They're full of cheese!"
Homero came crawling back with a three foot section of pipe. Sure enough, it was clogged solid with a substance that bore some hellish resemblance to cheese. White, soft, crumbly, and squishy, and unbelievably revolting.
"How did that happen?" I gagged.
"It's from all the whey you pour down the drain," he said. "And the whole pipe is full of it all the way to the sewer line. I'm going to have to replace it all. Help me out of here, I'm going to Home Depot."
For the last four or five years, as long as I've been making cheese, I've been letting the cheese drain in the sink. The whey that drains off varies, but is usually clear or nearly clear, and I didn't think there was any harm in letting it go down the drain. I know that whey is actually useful for all sorts of things and if I were thriftier and less lazy, I would have caught it and used it to water my plants, or polish the silverware, or cure warts or something. Whenever we had a pig during cheese season, the pig would get the whey, but most years we didn't. I felt awful, and not just from the smell.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't know. What can I do?"
He didn't even dignify that with an answer. He just washed his face and drove away.
Later that afternoon, Homero returned with a lot of black PVC piping and some clamps and other stuff that I didn't look at too closely and couldn't identify if I did. He asked Hope to come under the house with him and hold the flashlight for him. I was a little alarmed at that - Hope is ten - but I didn't say anything. Hope was totally game. She's a brave girl. I hovered by the hole, trying to see and occasionally yelling "everything okay down there?"
About an hour later Homero sent Hope up.
"He said he doesn't need me anymore," she said.
Homero kept working for another hour or so, and finally came back up through the trapdoor, looking grim and dirty.
"All done," he said. "I'm taking a shower."
"Wouldn't it be nice if somebody paid you $900 to do that?" I asked with a smile, attempting levity.
He shook his head. "I wouldn't do it."
Later, after dinner and after the kids were in bed, Homero told me that he had sent Hope up because he had come upon a nest of pink baby rats. He has a horror of rats, a real phobia - of course, anyone would be afraid of rats in that situation, under the house in the dark, where you can't see them and you can't escape! But he didn't lose his cool, he just told Hope "Okay, that's all, thanks, you've been a big help," and then he squished the baby rats with the handle of his power saw and kept working.
I just can't come up with a response to that kind of bravery and determination. Nothing I could do or say feels like enough. I told him I was so proud of him, and I thanked him over and over again, and I told him he can have whatever he wants for a whole week, no holds barred. I promised to never ever make cheese in the sink again. But really, I'm just speechless. A small part of me would rather he had called a plumber and let somebody else freak out under the house, but most of me is incredibly grateful and admiring. Homero is really something else, he really is. He's macho in the very best sense of the word. No, there's a better word, from my Eastern European Yiddish speaking ancestors: he's a mensch. My husband is 100% mensch.
Friday, August 29, 2014
You may have noticed that the price of meat has risen fairly dramatically over the past couple of years. The forecast is that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, due to a number of factors including prolonged drought in many parts of the country, a new and nasty pig virus, and increasing demand for meat in China and much of the rest of Asia. Here are a few links for the skeptical, from NR and the New York Times:
Even those of you who buy meat by the half animal, as I do, have probably seen major increases. When we bought our first local half-beef, some six years ago, I think we paid $1.75/lb hanging weight. Even two and a half years ago, when we last bought beef, we paid only $2.00/lb. Granted, that was from a neighbor and a friend, who was charging us quite a bit less than the going rate, which if I remember right was about $2.50.
This year, I spent quite a bit of time searching Craigslist for decently priced grass fed beef (our neighbor and friend only raised enough for his extended family) without luck. The best price I could find was $3/lb, and that only applied if you ordered six months ahead of time and didn't include cut and wrap. Figure that in, and by the time you are done you'll be paying about $5/lb for what you actually put in the freezer. It's not that $5/lb is such an outrageous price (though it is pretty high), but that to buy a half you need to get together some $2,000 all at once.
I really hate buying supermarket meat. I hate participating in the CAFO feedlot system (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation - Wikipedia, the free ...); I hate eating animals that lived in misery eating GMO soy and corn; I hate contributing to the destruction of tropical forests and the displacement of indigenous peoples. But I love eating beef. If it came down to a choice between eating CAFO meat or no meat at all, I know what I'd choose. So, to avoid slathering my burgers with guilt sauce, I decided to look further afield for my grass fed beef.
Washington State is divided between the wet west and, on the other side of the Cascade mountains, the wide open rangeland of the drier east. On the eastside, land is cheaper, hay is cheaper, and as a result, beef is cheaper. Marginally. After searching through all the Craigslist listings for beef in all the little towns of Eastern Washington, I struck gold: USDA prime grass fed black angus beef for $2.85/lb, cut and wrap included. A half weighing a little over 500 lbs was available. Problem is, it was a five hour drive, and comparatively cheap as it was, that half would still cost more than $1,500.
Social media to the rescue: on Facebook, I invited all my friends to go in on it with me. In the end, we bought a quarter for ourselves, and the other quarter was split into two eighths for two other families. I didn't charge the other families anything extra per pound, but I did ask them to contribute something toward the price of gas and dry ice. Dry ice, although pricey, is a necessity when transporting a quarter-ton of raw meat in a hot trunk for five hours. I used google maps to find the closest supplier to our destination, and lucked out: there was one in the same town. I collected cash and coolers from my co-purchasers, and Homero and I set off on a road trip.
The ranch was a lovely place, and the beeves on view were beautiful - vast, sleek, shiny black animals, moving slowly through flank-high grass or cooling themselves in a green pond, on which I saw a blue heron standing quietly among the reeds. The ranch owner, a friendly, tall, middle aged woman, was kind: There was a misunderstanding about the weight and we hadn't brought quite enough money. With no bank within a two hour drive, she simply decided to trust me to send a check when I got home.
It may seem like an awfully long way to go, but the math is convincing. On our quarter, we saved about $300 over local prices. Our diesel Jetta gets 45 miles to the gallon, so the gas cost us only about $30. The dry ice was the biggest expense, at $40, but friends kicked in on those costs. Our share of the travel expenses was about $25, which adds only a negligible amount to the price per pound.
If there's a downside, it's that the meat included an unreasonably high percentage of hamburger. At least 2/3 of the total weight was in burger, which is higher than I am used to. It seems like a shame to grind up that much of an animal that graded out to USDA prime, the very highest category. B ut I'm not complaining. The freezer is full of guilt-free meat and I am happy.