"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great, Now I'm Terrified

On a total whim, I entered one of my cheeses (the seedy dill and caraway) into the national Good Food Awards contest (Good Food Awards). This is a "first annual" event - just like my swap meet, ha ha ha - meant to honor producers of local, artisanal food in several categories, which include cheese, beer, pickles, preserves, and charcuterie.

Obviously, most if not all of the entrants are businesses. I knew that - after all, the big prize is not money or an all-expenses-paid vacation but the "Good Food Seal of Approval" to slap on your product. I was totally honest in my application: I said I am NOT a business, NOT a licensed dairy, and NOT allowed to sell my product at all. I said I make something under 100 pounds of cheese a year for home consumption. I said that my cheese was made from raw goat's milk, aged considerably less than 60 days, and most likely I would be breaking several state laws just by mailing it in. I said they taste at their own (legal) risk.

Frankly, I was totally shocked and surprised to hear that I was chosen as one of 400 entrants to submit their product for a blind taste test. I am to mail my cheese to California, sufficiently wrapped and packaged, to arrive by October 7th at the latest. This is a very very big deal - the event has been written up in the New York Times, the Village Voice, the San Fransisco Chronicle, etc etc. Among the tasters are Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl (who just happens to be my food hero, being the person who brought a soul and a social conscience to Gourmet Magazine.).

Here's the problem - they want five pounds of cheese. Since I never expected to actually send in any cheese, we ate most of the seedy cheese (damn, it's really really good). There's barely any left. I am making more tonight, but it will be

1) extremely green, and

2) only about 2 pounds.

The fresh cheese is good - some people prefer it quite fresh, but it isn't really representative of the product, which I think is best at about two months old (well, ok, yes - that's as old as it's ever gotten, because we eat it that fast. So I guess in fact, my judgement is that it gets better and better as it ages.). Fresh, the cheese is slightly sour and has a bouncy, squeaky feeling between the teeth. It's good, but it's not what I decided to submit.

The other problem is more difficult. I can send in immature cheese but I can't send in five pounds of it if I only have two. I'm thinking that I am simply going to make up the difference in other cheeses (like Smokin' Goat Chilpotle Cheddar) and include a note explaining why.

Here's a first draft:


I am most incredibly flattered and excited to have been asked to send y'all some of my cheese. As you know, this is not a commercial product, but a sample of the cheese I make for myself and my family. That being the case, I regretfully inform you that I do not have a full five pounds of Seedy Cheese. Please accept this "Smokin' Goat Chilpotle" in lieu of half the Seedy Cheese. I hope you will enjoy it equally.

This year, I have only three does, and every bit of cheese I made (as well as yogurt and cajeta) is made from their milk. Iris, Django, and Flopsy together provide us with about 350 gallons of milk a year (while still feeding their own kids), from which I make somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of cheese.

My goats browse freely on my five acres, eating whatever they like. They like blackberries, thistles, fruit trees, and dandelions! In the winter, they eat local hay. I take care of them entirely: I breed them, I deliver the kids, I trim their hooves and give them medicine when they are sick. I milk them myself, and I even trained my dog to help me herd them around the property. It has been my lifelong dream to have goats and learn to make cheese, and now it is the opportunity of a lifetime to offer some of it to you.

I offer you this not because I think it is the best cheese around - it isn't. My cheese is delicious, if I say so myself, but I have a lot to learn and a long way to go before I reach the level of the professional cheesemaker. I offer you this cheese because it is something lamentably rare, something that ought to be more common - a true farmstead product; the product of a single place, a single season, and a single person. This cheese is an example of what can be achieved by an ordinary city girl who has followed her dream for only a few years. This cheese is the product of one woman determined to feed her family on the best food she can produce. I am pretty damn proud of it, even though it will most likely fall short of the very high standard you have solicited. Please enjoy with my compliments, and I hope you like it as much as I do.


p.s. please please don't eat it if you are pregnant.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spinal Progress Report ("I Am Not a Weenie")

Five days after I fell out of the hayloft and broke three vertebrae, I am actually doing okay. Much better than I would have guessed, if anyone had asked me, as I lay moaning and weeping on a gurney in the emergency room thursday night, to make a prediction.

As I told the ER nurse, I am not a pain weenie. Yes, those were in fact my actual words: "Just so you know," I said, "I had my babies at home without drugs. I am not a pain weenie. If I'm crying, it's because it hurts worse than labor."

"I believe you," said the nurse. "Thanks for telling me."

Then they loaded me up with Dilaudid and Atavan. As they warned me would be the case, these medications did very little to reduce the pain I felt when I moved, but they did reduce my "at rest" pain to something close to zero. After looking at my X-rays, the doctor told me I had broken three spinous processes, and that there was nothing they could do for me surgically. Somewhat like broken ribs, they would heal on their own (or they wouldn't, was the unspoken subtext). He said that whether I went home or stayed in the hospital overnight was a matter of my pain level; if I could move around well enough to go to the bathroom then I could go home, but if my pain were so severe that I was immobile, they would keep me overnight just so that they could continue to give me intravenous pain meds.

With the maximum dose of Dilaudid on board, I made it down the hall and peed, so they sent me home. There are a lot of questions that I wish I had asked (Which three vertebrae are broken? Are the spinous processes broken all the way OFF or are they just lightly cracked? How long can I expect my recovery to be? What activities are safe and what should I avoid?) but under the influence of the drugs all I could remember to ask was "how much is the Dilaudid helping right now? Am I going to be in a lot more pain later tonight?" The answer to those questions was "A lot" and "Yes."

The next couple of days was pretty bad. They sent me home with 15 Percocet, but I avoided taking them, thinking that that was a fairly small number of pills and I'd better save them for serious pain situations. I made do with Ibuprofen. I started taking one Percocet at bedtime because I found that my back ached terribly in the middle of the night, waking me up. It still does, but if I take a Percocet I can at least get four hours of sleep before the pain wakes me. I have limited my activity to the minimum a farmwife can get away with, which means I DO

1) stand at the sink and do dishes
2) cook
3) go shopping
4) milk goats

but I do NOT:

1) pick up a 50 pound sack of dog food while I am shopping
2) cook a 20 pound turkey
3) wrestle goats
4) muck out the barn.

I would say that I am - now, five days out - running at about 60% capacity. I can sweep the floor. I can vacuum. I can get in the van (it ain't fun) and take the kids to school and pick them up. I haven't tried, but I bet I can lead the horses around to the smaller pasture. I haven't tried, but I am about to see if I can let the goats out to browse and run herd on them. I can do laundry, although it hurts pretty bad.

A few years ago, we took my Dad (who is hemiplegic post-stroke) to Oaxaca to attend our daughter's baptism. At the party, he got drunk and fell down, whacking the back of his head hard enough to crack his skull and wrenching his back badly. He spent a few days in the hospital. I remember asking the neurologist if he could still go on expeditions - could we take him to Monte Alban? Was it safe for him to ride the bus to the coast? This might be, I told the doctor, his very last trip abroad - could we still take him out to see the sights? It might be his last chance.

In true Mexican fatalistic fashion, the doctor seemed a little confused by the question. If he wants to go, let him go, he said. Take him, if you want to take him. Who am I, he seemed to be asking, to tell your father that he should or shouldn't go see Monte Alban? That's not a medical decision - that's a personal decision.

That's kind of the feeling I get from my injury. What I decide to do or not to do is up to me: it's all a matter of how much pain I am willing to endure. I will go and see a regular doctor to follow up, and I will ask the questions I was too doped to ask at the ER. But I don't doubt that the answer will be some variation of: Do what you feel is right. It's your back. It's your pain. It's your farm. It's your work. It's your kids. It's your life.

That's right.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Aftermath (Tomato-ology)


Green Tomatoes

So my swap meet was kind of a flop. It certainly didn't help that I broke my back two days before, but I think it would have flopped even so. I didn't promote it heavily, because - cool poster notwithstanding - I couldn't decide if I wanted a large community-wide event or a basic get together with friends and family that happened to include a few trade goods.

I got the latter. My mom, my sister, my cousin, and a few friends came with stuff to swap. A couple of people from church dropped by for a minute. Because I hadn't specified a time, some people were leaving as others arrived. We mostly spent the day hanging out on the lawn and waiting for folks to show up - which never happened. But hey, at least it was an absolutely gorgeous day, probably the last sunny, 70 degree day of the year. There were a lot of children present, and they had a grand old time running around and being crazy.

As the day drew to a close, we lit a big fire and barbecued ribs and chicken. We had baked potatoes and coleslaw. And plenty of beer. A few people stayed well into the night, drinking and talking around the fire, until it began to rain and drove us all indoors. Then we ate fabulous coconut cake that my cousin brought.

I did do some swapping- from my friend Deb I got some great clothes and shoes, and my cousin brought me a whole bunch of produce from her garden. My sister brought a breadmaker and my mom brought toys and books. I had cheese, of course, and pear sauce and ketchup.

One of the things I gained last night was a ten pound sack of green tomatoes. I know people eat green tomatoes, but I have only done so a couple of times. The only thing I know to do with them is batter them and fry them. That's good, but I don't think we could eat ten pounds of fried green tomatoes. Probably not a good idea. I've heard of green tomato chutney, but never tasted it.

Some people confuse green tomatoes with tomatillos (see above photos) which they are not. Tomatillos are a completely different genus of plant. I DO know what to do with tomatillos (Remote Post: Salsa Verde With My Bro). I wonder if green tomatoes can be used like tomatillos in salsa verde? Briefly boiled and then pureed?

Guess there's only one way to find out.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Fell out of the hayloft yesterday. Emergency room. Three broken vertebrae (not bad, just the sticky out parts, doc says they will heal on their own). Now pretty much laid up with a fistful of pain pills.

Hope the swap meet can go on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making Trade Goods (Gratuitous Canning Advice)

Please note: the above picture is not a picture of my kitchen. I'm not saying my kitchen has never looked like that: I'm just saying it doesn't look like that right now. The above picture is one I pulled off the internet to illustrate the process of making ketchup, which is what I am doing right now. MY kitchen is spotless and I am wearing pearls, heels, and a clean apron and singing a little ditty as I waltz about with a wooden spoon. There's a bluebird over my head right now, in fact, and a fuzzy-wuzzy little rabbit gallivanting around my feet. I'd post a picture, but the dwarves took the camera with them to diamond mine.

I got a good deal on a twenty pound box of roma tomatoes. I've made homemade ketchup before and in my opinion it kicks Heinz all to heck. My children are not so sure, but that's only because they are dinky little twits with immature little tastebuds. They also think boxed cake mix is superior to my homemade pear pie and that cafeteria lunches are better than homemade. You try and you try as a parent, but you can't compete with Madison avenue. Or even with the other six-year old idiots at elementary school.

Anyhoo. My twenty pounds of tomatoes looks like it's going to make about ten cups of ketchup. I'm canning it in jelly jars. I was all out of empty jelly jars, so I raided the pantry. There were a dozen full jelly jars in there - full of three year old ginger-rhubarb sauce. Here's a little piece of advice for you, absolutely free of charge: Never can rhubarb. It's a total waste of time and effort. Nobody will ever ever eat it. You will find yourself three years later, agonizing over opening the jars and pouring the sauce down the sink. On the one hand - it was the first stuff you ever canned as an adult, ever! On the other hand, what the bloody blue hell are you gonna do with it?

I tipped it down the sink. I KNOW what to do with ketchup.

Actually, this ketchup is earmarked for the swap meet (Swap Meet Preparations (Where Does It All Come From?)). I've been trying to produce and gather together enough stuff to trade at the swap meet. So far I have -

- about twelve pounds of assorted cheese. I am still making cheese as fast as I can. Today, I am making a batch of Smokin' Goat Chilpotle Cheddar.

- ten quarts pear sauce, some with blackberry and some without

- nine garbage bags full of raw alpaca fleece (that's another story)

- and soon, ten cups of lovely, delicious ketchup. Speaking of which, I have to go stir.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Demon of Bad Smell (the Plumber as Hero)

We live in an old farmhouse.

People who live in an old farmhouse, can I get an "awwright?"

People who live in an old farmhouse built before 1950, can I get an "oooooh kay.....?"

People who live in an old, owner-built farmhouse from before the era of modern building codes, can I get an "I feel your pain?"

And lastly, people who live in an all-of-the-above in a damp, moldy part of the Pacific Northwest, can I get an "I know a really good handyman?"


We live in an old, owner-built farmhouse (circa 1942) in one of the rainiest, greyest, coldest, windiest parts of the country. We get about 60 inches of rain annually, and howling, 70 mile an hour winds four months of the year. When we had this house inspected prior to buying it, the inspector (a good ol' boy from right here) said "you know, you get an awful lot of weather up on this ridge." So sue me, but I didn't recognize this as a straightforward warning not to buy.

After he inspected the house, he said, "I'm not gonna lie to you...."

That's a really really bad sign, when the person telling you he's not going to lie is the brother-in-law of the person selling the house.

But we bought the place anyway. Why? Well, ok, that's a fair question. We bought it because it's the most beautiful piece of property we'd seen in over two years of looking. We bought it because back when we were first looking, we used to drive this road every weekend, and right about as we passed this spot, we would turn to each other and say, "Man, I wish we could afford something here on this hill." We bought it because we were flat-out blown away by the beauty of the five acres the house sat on. Check out the sidebar if you want photographic proof.

And also because my mom said, "the only thing you can't change about a piece of real estate is the location. You can fix anything else." She's right of course - if you have an unlimited supply of money. But we don't. We kind of spent most of our money on the land. Then we spent a lot of the rest before we moved in on:

1) the roof ("should have been replaced five years ago" said the good ol' boy. "Maybe ten.")

2) plumbing issues (ditto)

3) rot issues ("I don't even know where to begin...." said the carpenter. "I'll do the best I can.")

We dropped about twenty thousand dollars just making the place habitable. Or SO WE THOUGHT (cue dramatic organ music). Ever since we moved in, we have been plagued by a mysterious bad smell. It's a gaseous, nasty, sewery kind of smell. It comes and goes - it might leave us alone for as long as two or three months, and then come roaring back with strength enough to make us all want to puke for a week.

It's an insidious smell - it roams around the house. You might be washing dishes in the kitchen, or you might be unloading the washing machine, or just walking down the hall, easy as you please, when suddenly you are overcome by the disgusting miasma.

As you can imagine, this has put a serious crimp in our social life. Most of the time, the smell is either gone entirely or so faint that we don't notice it. But then we have house-guests over and the strained look on their faces lets us know without a doubt that in fact we have become accustomed and the smell is insupportable to normal people.

That's a pretty embarrassing situation. So after this happened most recently (sorry, Sarah), I called a reputable plumbing company. Don't get me wrong - we have, in fact, called several plumbers before. At least three licensed and bonded plumbers have, at various times, been called upon to address the situation. And all of them have failed to find the problem. We got tired of paying people to say "I dunno." This time, I decided to call a large company, and also to negotiate before I hired them. I explained what had been going on, and I said that while I was prepared to spend whatever it took to fix the problem, I was flat-out done spending money on NOT figuring out the problem. Give me a guarantee, bitches.

Shout out to Sullivan Plumbing of Bellingham, Washington. Special shout out to Josh. If you have a tough plumbing problem, call Sullivan and ask for Josh. Josh was professional, on-time, dedicated, and took our problems seriously (he is also extremely handsome, but that's neither here nor there.). He listened closely and he put some hard core thought into the problem. In short, Josh is exactly what we needed: a forensic plumber.

Also, he was willing to crawl through nine different circles of stinky, wet hell to fix shit. As it turned out, we had more than one issue going on, but the most serious was that a drain pipe from our kitchen sink had broken. For some unknown length of time, the sink had been draining directly into the crawl space. Not only had the drainage been causing a nasty smell (as my sister pointed out, cheese season canNOT have been beneficial), but the break in the drain pipe had been allowing sewer gas to bubble up and escape from the septic tank. A vast and unimaginably horrid lake of sludge had formed under the house.

Josh valiantly braved the lake to fix the broken pipe (something that was clearly above and beyond the call of duty - normally plumbers will not venture into such a quagmire) and so my sink was immediately rendered functional. However, Josh informed us that the cleanup of said rancid subterranean pond was not in his job description and offered us the name of a different company that could handle the situation.

That company, when contacted, said they were pretty freakin' busy (what the owner actually said was "It's pretty hard to find people - kids don't want to go into this business these days." I thought but didn't say "Hire Mexicans, dumbass!") So we are currently on the waiting list. I'm not sure what the prescription is, but I think this company will pump out the evil stinking morass; remove the old contaminated vapor barrier; lay down a buttload of lime; and install a new vapor barrier. Hopefully at that point the problem will be truly and for all time corrected.

I'm not so sure, though. The smell problem has been deviously tenacious. When one issue is fixed another will pop up. Send a half-gallon of white vinegar down one bathtub drain, and the washing machine will suddenly develop a mildew situation. Clean out one sink trap, and a bathroom vent will back up. On the day after I paid the plumbers, just as I was thinking that the pervasive smell was clearing out somewhat, one of the dogs developed a sudden, serious case of diarrhea and pooped all the hell over the living room.

If the plumbers can't solve it, I am just about ready to call in an exorcist. I am not even kidding.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Pears Are Upon Us!

Help! Once again, the pear tree has completely exploded with pears, and although we have been eating pears as fast as we can (and letting the goats and the chickens have their share), there are still too many pears! The kitchen table is covered with ripening pears. I have made two gallons of pear sauce, but it hasn't made a dent. The children take pears to school for lunch every day, but to no avail. Today I gave the farrier a dozen pears by way of a tip.

What more can I do with so many pears? I'm thinking of dehydrating - we all like dried pears - but my dehydrator can only hold perhaps six or eight pears sliced thinly. The oven, set to it's lowest temperature, may be able to hold another ten or so. Then I've heard that you can dehydrate fruit on the dashboard of your car if you park it in bright sunlight. I bet the broad dash of the van could hold a dozen pears.

I used to make a fantastic cake that I called (for lack of a better name) pear-walnut-sour cream cake. Maybe I should make a few of those. Maybe they freeze well - what the hell, it's worth a try.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Swap Meet Preparations (Where Does It All Come From?)

I'm planning a big party. I'm not really a party person - I like parties, and I'll go to one just about any chance I get, but I'm not so great at throwing parties. Some people - like my friend Sarah for example - just have a gift. Sarah's Easter Luaus and Christmas Cookie Parties are known far and wide and fondly regarded among her entire wide circle of friends. I envy such people.

I wouldn't say I have never thrown a good party: there have certainly been a few (I'm thinking of the adults-only pinata here). Truthfully, however, I'm never going to rival Martha Stewart, Sarah, or my own Mom as a hostess. The last party I threw was a housewarming when we moved in four years ago. It wasn't a bad party - we ordered a ton of tamales and built a big fire. I think folks had fun.

But four years is a long time, and I decided it was time for another party. Casting about for a theme - I think parties should have a theme - I came up with the idea for a swap meet. My trade network sort of fell apart this year, and I thought maybe I could kill a few birds at once by combining a late-summer full moon festival with a trade-fair (Recent Trades and a Good Idea).

I commissioned Rowan to design the flyer (great, isn't it?) and posted it at my church and the local general store. I sent it out as a JPEG to my contact list, and slipped it into the mailboxes of my nearest neighbors.

Then I realized how much work I have to do to make this place presentable. Just for starters, we haven't made a dump run in at LEAST three months. Yesterday I was out with the goats, and we were close to the compost pile. Looking at it, I suddenly realized, "this really isn't a compost pile... this is a TRASH pile." We have a tendency to use old yogurt containers and such like as "chicken buckets" in the kitchen, and then carry them out to the compost pile to dump. But the containers tend to stay there. Sometimes we use plastic bags for the same purpose, with similar results.

Looking around more carefully, I saw an incredible amount of crap that normally just slides under my field of vision. For example, that orange or blue plastic twine that comes with every bale of hay or straw - apparently not one piece of it has ever left the property. It's everywhere. Twisted up electric wire that is no longer attached to the fences - short lengths of fencing left over from previous projects - a broken up plastic tote and a couple of cracked buckets - a pile of tires - lots of odd pieces of lumber and irregular pieces of plywood in various stages of decomposition.

Clothing that has been left out through nine separate rainstorms until it is melded to the ground. Shoes that have been run over by the mower. Blocks of concrete and weird twisted hunks of unrecognizable metal that were turned up by the rototiller. Beer bottles. In the backyard, there are several trash bags full of the sodden remains of a futon that got left outside for too long. Over the front rail of the porch hangs an area rug that was long ago abandoned to the mildew. Just gathering up all the trash on the land and disposing of it would be a full day's work.

Then there are the weeds. Now, sure, everybody's got weeds. You probably think someone who worries about weeds just because they are throwing a party must be some sort of anal-compulsive. In most cases you would be right. But me, I have weeds that are taller than my entire house. You can barely SEE my house from the road for all the weeds. At an outdoor party in late summer, you might expect to find such activities as frisbee on the lawn, right? Well not here, because the thistles are burly enough to stab a child right through his shoes and into his foot. We'd need a nurse on hand to administer tetanus shots.

I can mow the weeds down to a polite height, but first Homero has to fix the mower again.

My sister asked me what I had planned for musical entertainment. "What entertainment?" I said, goggle-eyed. "Well," she replied, "Your poster says 'Jamboree.' You can't call it a Jamboree if you don't have any music planned."

I don't know what I was thinking - I figured if it's a campout with a bonfire, people are going to bring guitars and drums. Right? Don't they?

Speaking of bonfires, I have to procure enough wood for a couple. Then I better plan on having enough food to cook over said bonfires, just in case people forget not only their banjos and tambourines but also their chicken wings and potato salad. I'll need a good supply of beer and more than a few bottles of wine. Maybe some moonshine and stump-liquor.

In case it rains I'll need an awning or two.

Aargh. This is where I start to think, "oh what the hell. Most likely nobody will come anyway."
This is why I am not a great hostess. I'm kind of like - Hey, people! Want to have a party? Come on over! Fire! Beer! Food!

Really, what more does anyone need? Fire! Beer! Food!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Celebrating the Season (Before It's Gone)

Last post (Turn the Page) I was whining about the change in the weather, and lamenting the fact that Autumn was upon me while I still wasn't done with Summer. I had been lazy and remiss (or, to be gentler on myself, busy and out of town) and my pantry was still bare. The altar had been neglected for an entire season.

Well, the powers that be gifted me with a few days of beautiful sunshine, and I did not let them pass by without taking advantage. I have been playing catchup on the preserving front, and actually got quite a bit done.

I canned a gallon of pear/blackberry sauce from the pears off our tree. This is in fact the second batch - the first batch got eaten up in the three days that I was out of town. This batch is safely stored away in the pantry. Hopefully it will last longer than three days.

We stopped off at the blueberry farm on our way home and picked five pounds of blueberries in about twenty minutes. Must get back there right away - the blueberries are out of control! It's so easy to pick a vast amount, and they are only $1/pound. Organic, too!

And I cleaned and decorated the altar. It's pretty simple - I just picked a few pears off the tree, found a cob of Indian corn, and clipped some wildflowers and weeds that are blooming or fruiting now. Thistles, tansy, bachelor's button, and blackberries. There is a sun medallion to plead for more sunshine, and all of it is under a drawing of Ceres (or Demeter).

I don't have a figurine or a painting of Demeter (or Ceres), so I made a quick, one-minute drawing and decorated it with star-stickers (which could also represent back-to-school, now that I think of it.) I hope the Goddess doesn't mind my crude representation - I rather like it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turn the Page

I was out of town for three days, and when I got back, it was autumn. The temperature dropped twenty degrees and a chilly, saturating rain fell for 48 hours straight. Mud, which we haven't seen in months, manifested itself and the dogs tracked it all over the house. The pears on the pear tree swelled in the sudden moisture and began to fall. When the clouds blew away and the sky reappeared, it was a cold blue that did not seem at all the same as the soft summer sky of just a week ago.

The earliest leaves (the vine maples) had just begun to turn when I left on thursday last. Now, the big leaf maples have started to look yellow and ragged. Driving to my sister's house today, I noticed that the hills south of town have - as a whole - changed color. They now have a rusty tinge and have entirely lost the fresh green of young leaves. School starts tomorrow - or it was supposed to; the teachers went out on strike.

Summer blew by so fast this year. Summer was cram-packed. We went to Mexico for 3 weeks (Remote Post, 7/4/10 (Mexican Fireworks));then Dad came to stay for 3 weeks. I took the kids to Mom's place for a long weekend (Where I've Been....) and then I went to my brother's for another long weekend. And all of a sudden, that was it. It was over. Everything is suddenly all mushrooms and slugs.
Well, I should try to remember, it's only September 6th. Around here, September is usually a very nice month. It could easily get hot again before the autumn rot sets in for good. I hope so. I am just not ready for the endless damp; for the mold and the mildew; for the dark grey days that last a mere seven hours; for the rain that never stops and the mud that could swallow a cow without leaving a trace.

I am not ready for Hecate to take over the world. I am not ready for Persephone to sink into the earth and become Queen of the Underworld. I am not ready for the Dark Mother to make the Earth deliquesce like a pumpkin rotting on the porch three weeks after Halloween. I never even made up the household altar for late summer harvest.

That's probably why I feel unready. I have neglected the sacred calendar this summer. Suddenly I feel a very strong urge to go clean the living room and decorate the altar with the last of the the zucchini (which I picked an hour ago) and the first of the pears (likewise). It is still only the middle of blackberry season - I should get out and pick enough for a couple of pies. Likewise blueberries. There is still plenty of time to go get a bunch more blueberries.

Also I haven't done hardly any canning this year - asparagus in April and pickles in July was about the extent of it. I need to find a cheap source of many many tomatoes and can up a shitload of sauce. No wonder I feel out of sorts and off kilter. I really AM unready, in the literal sense. My pantry is virtually bare, at the very season when it should be bursting with abundance. I haven't done the labor appropriate to the season. I am nervous and unhappy because some part of my brain is shouting at me "you are all going to starve!"

Okay, so I have my work cut out for me. Re-establish the sacred calendar. Clean and sanctify my altar. Get some fucking food in the pantry. Celebrate Demeter amply, lest she transform into the hag of famine. Placate. Placate.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Remote Post: Salsa Verde With My Bro

Greetings from the lovely city of St. Louis, which has kindly chosen to offer me beautiful weather for my vist. It's about 75, sunny with a light breeze, and not humid at all. I'm here visiting my brother, and liking it very much. No kids at all.

Bro and I went to the farmer's market this morning, and bought the ingredients to make pollo en salsa verde. He asked me to teach him make a couple of simple, authentic Mexican dishes, and this spring to mind as one of the simplest and most versatile.

1 pound tomatillos
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
2 japaleno peppers
several sprigs cilantro
pinch cumin seeds
juice of 2 limes

Remove papery husks of tomatillos, rinse, and boil briefly. Drain and dump into the canister of a blender (my brother doesn't have a blender and so we had to use a rediculously small food processor and do it in batches). Add all other ingrediants and blend well.

In an oiled skillet, sear strips of boneless skinless chicken breast, turned to sear all sides, then pour over the salsa verde and adjust heat to a fast simmer.

Let chicken and salsa simmer while you steam white rice and heat corn tortillas.

Serve with a salad of sliced radishes and cucumbers.

Salsa Verde is wonderfully versatile; you could poach firm white-fleshed fish in it, such as cod or halibut. Or shrimp and scallops! You can reheat leftover, shredded pork or beef roast in it. You can mash an avocado into it and call it guacamole!

It's a very easy way to make a light, fresh tasting Mexican meal, which can be quite elegant if served in pretty dishes, well garnished, and accompanied by a crisp white wine like, oh, say, a very dry reisling.

I'm enjoying my visit quite a bit. The neighborhood my brother lives in is very pretty, with big old oak trees and funky old brick houses. Tomorrow we are going to a baseball game.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Not Ready!

I'm not ready for apple season! Driving around the county, I see it's definitely starting to be that time of year - everywhere I look, it seems, are heavily laden apple trees. Some have already dropped their apples all over the ground. Our pear tree is covered in pears, and they are starting to fall. We already have a big box set aside to ripen.

I do love apple season. I love pressing apples, I love fresh cider (Apple Madness). I love teaming up with local homebrewers and trying to make hard cider. I love making applesauce. I love discovering new varieties. I really really like just about everything about apples.

But man, apple season is a lot of work (Apples Kicked my Ass). And I am still in the throes of cheese season, which is a lot of work, too. My heavy-work seasons are not supposed to overlap! I guess there's no law that says I have to start pressing apples the minute they become available. After all, there will still be plenty of apples around in October. I could hold off for a little while.

That sounds like a good idea - wait to start in on apples until I get the goats down to one milking a day. Meanwhile, I can post my annual craigslist ad looking for people with apple trees and for homebrewers.

Might as well go do that now....