"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Old Christmas Trees, Old Christmas Trees...

Here is a terrible picture of my four goats and the cow attacking a christmas tree. Most people don't think about ruminants eating evergreens, but they do. Just try to plant one in their pasture and you'll see! This time of year, they are subsisting solely on hay, except for every once in a while when the sun comes out I can bring the goats out for a nibble of whatever they can find around the yard. I'm sure this tree was a nice change of pace for them, something fresh and interesting.

It's not my Christmas tree, though. As always, we bought a live tree and it is still up, covered with decorations, in our living room. It's high time to get it outside, but I probably won't get around to that for another few days. Our property is still severely lacking in trees, despite the four Christmas trees and dozen or so fruit trees we have planted. I have a master plan to create a mini-forest of ex-Christmas trees over by my husband's shop, but that will take a good many Christmases yet.

No, this tree is the result of a post I put on my Facebook Farmer's group saying I would happily pick up your Christmas tree if it were outside and not too big to fit in a Eurovan. I got two trees yesterday and I will probably pick up a few more this week. I'm thinking that after the goats turn them into skeletons, I may stuff them into the chicken coop to provide some natural roosting areas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 2014 (Musings and Menus)

Preparations for Christmas this year are just about done. The presents are all bought and wrapped, the tree is lit, the house is decorated and plans are firmly in place for who we are visiting when. I've enjoyed the run-up to Christmas this year. The girls helped me decorate and seemed to enjoy it - I wonder how many years I have left of making snowflakes and decorating cookies with them? We staged a small Christmas piano recital for family and friends, and we went to Vancouver to go see the lights in Stanley Park. 

2014 Christmas Altar

Because we finally sold the property we have been trying for many years to sell, we have a little extra money this year. Which is a good thing, because my husband LOVES to shop for and buy Christmas presents, and often we have some friction around much we ought to spend vs. how much we (ahem: he) actually end up spending. This year I was able to mostly relax around it and let him go to town. 

I can't help, however, contrasting Christmas in the U.S. with Christmas in Oaxaca. Sure, people here go to parties during Christmas season, and many of us go to church, but if we are honest we have to admit that Christmas, for Americans, mostly revolves around buying gifts and exchanging them. That is not the case in Oaxaca, where we have spent more than a couple of Christmases, most recently in 2012.
Christmas 2012 in Abuelita's house

Christmas in Oaxaca begins on December 16th. For the nine days leading up to Christmas, there are Posadas, a celebration, a reenactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph before Christ's birth that moves from house to house and involves pinatas, singing, and food. Although parish-based, Posadas truly are open to everyone, including random tourists who are brave enough to accept a waved invitation. 

Aside from the posadas, there is a nearly endless string of parties and visits. Everyone wants to entertain at Christmastime, and pretty much everyone does. On Christmas eve, the neighborhood Posada finishes its nine-day journey at the local church; there is a big street festival and mass is spoken, and then everyone heads home for a big, late dinner. And then that's it; that's Christmas. Christmas morning is for nursing hangovers and - eventually - cleaning up. Gifts are reserved for Epiphany, on January 6th, and are pretty much just tokens.

In many ways, Christmas in Oaxaca is a lot less stressful, not to mention expensive. The holiday is much more about events - parties, mass, going downtown to look at the decorations, visiting family - and much less about spending money and gifts. Of course, it is still expensive and stressful to entertain visiting family. The average American family might be totally aghast at the thought of hosting three or four different families, sequentially or simultaneously, and feeding them all and being gracious for weeks on end. Or at the thought of throwing six to eight parties during the Christmas season instead of one. Personally I'm thankful to not be hosting any parties at all.

I am, though, doing Christmas eve dinner. Just here at home, and the only invited guest is P., Rowan's ex-boyfriend, who is leaving Christmas day on a greyhound to go back to the mid-west from whence he came. We love P. and will miss him, and are glad to have him with us. So I'm only cooking for six, which is fewer than the number of people  cooked for every single day last year, when P. and the cousins Alehida and Shidezi were living with us. But of course it has to be special.

I asked Homero what he wanted for Christmas eve dinner, and he said "Roast chicken, but not like you make it. I want it like my grandma makes it. And also the noodles she makes. And the potato salad."

If there's one thing I think all us wives can agree we don't like to hear about our cooking, it's that "it's not like Grandma used to make." Especially if Grandma happens to come from an entirely different country with different, unavailable ingredients. At least I have the advantage of having eaten Grandma's Christmas eve roast chicken. It is, indeed, delicious. I think I can come up with a pretty good approximation. Also it is true that Grandma herself showed me how to make her guajillo salsa, which is, as Homero says, "good enough to make you eat the tablecloth where it spilled."

Abuelita's Guajillo Salsa

20 or so guajillo chiles (dried California or New Mexico chiles are good substitutes)
3 cloves garlic
large pinch whole cumin seed
tsp. white vinegar

Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle. Also heat a kettle of water to boiling. Wipe with an oiled napkin, but do not let any oil remain. Tear open chiles and shake out seeds. Toast, turning often, until they become highly fragrant and begin to emit fumes - about 1 minute. 
Put toasted chiles into a blender canister and cover with boiling water. In the same hot skillet, put the peeled garlic and turn until blackened in spots. Also roast the cumin seed until toasty-scented - about 30 seconds. Add to blender canister, along with vinegar. Allow to sit and soften 1 hour. Blend on high for a few FULL MINUTES, until as smoothly pureed as it will ever be. 
Pour into a small saucepan and simmer to reduce. When finished, the salsa ought to coat the back of a spoon. Serve with roasted chicken and potato salad. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Windstorm '14 (Repairs)

Last week there was a major windstorm. They were building it up in the media for a week ahead of time - "likely the biggest windstorm since the great storm of '06," that kind of thing. The Pacific Northwest in general is not known for it's extreme weather - quite the opposite, in fact. Steady, gentle rain is pretty much our speed. We seldom have thunderstorms, and whenever there's more than three inches of snow everybody gets all in a dither. Major storms are relatively rare events.

However, we, here on our little ridge above the water, do get quite a bit of strong wind. It's quite ordinary for us to get steady strong wind for days at a time, and gusts that feel close to violent are commonplace all through the winter. We've been approached by a local wind energy group about putting a major tower on our property, one that would power fifty to eighty homes. That ought to give you some idea of the kind of wind we reliably experience (that won't happen, by the way. We were seriously considering it, but then our shortsighted county slapped a moratorium on all windmills larger than those required to power a single home).

Since we have lived here, there have been - oh, I'm going to say three major windstorms. One of them, back in '07, picked up our heavy duty trampoline - Rainbow's finest model, probably weighs 250 pounds - and threw it against our roof, knocking a fair sized dent in it. Another windstorm picked up our calf hutch and sent it sailing over the state highway and into our neighbor's field. Since then there's been only minor damage to shingles on the barn.

Last week's windstorm shredded the extra-thick corrugated plastic roof of the field shelter and chicken coop. I'm not sure if you know what this stuff is - it looks like corrugated tin that shacks are roofed with in Oaxaca and Hoovervilles in Depression-era musicals and other poverty-stricken areas, but it's made of clear plastic. It's quite thick and strong, and expensive, too, at about $20 per 4'x16' sheet.  We screwed it down onto the rafters of the field shelter and chicken coop, and it works pretty well. Until there's a major windstorm.

The wind just peeled it off in little pieces. There's still a strip of it screwed down to each rafter, but the rest of the sheets are torn into tiny particles which are strewn all over hell and gone. Not only do we have to re-roof the sheds, but we have to hike all over the property and roadside picking up seven hundred little pieces of plastic. If I can find any, I'm going to reroof with corrugated tin. What the hell, we already look like a third world country around here.


Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's.....

A flying calf hutch!

We knew the windstorm was coming. We took precautions. As usual, we parked a car next to the trampoline and chained them together (this is since the trampoline hit the roof year before last). We brought in the kiddie pool (which we have fetched from the neighbor's field once already), loose tarps, anything like that.

But it just never occurred to me to tie down the calf hutch. For those city folks among you, a calf hutch is about nine feet in diameter and maybe four feet high. Weighs perhaps 100 pounds. Looks like a UFO as it is gliding silently over three fences and across a state highway.

It's back. And tied down. There's another windstorm predicted tonight.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smoked Salmon for Christmas (I finally Did It!)

When I was a child, there were a few special packages we always waited for at Christmastime. Several of my relatives sent good gifts every year, but the packages I remember best are the ones from my stepsisters' grandma and the one from my mother's friend April. When they arrived, we would all gather around to unpack them reverently.

Grandma sent canned goods from her own garden and kitchen. What I remember best are her dilly beans, spicy and garlicky and beautiful in the tall quilted-glass jar. They always had a place on the Christmas table. April sent canned goods, too - beautiful jewel-toned jams and - most wonderful of all - tiny bottles of fruit flavored liqueurs from her raspberry and blackberry patches. Mom used to let us taste the liqueurs by pouring a little into a teaspoon. We thought they were magically delicious.

Ever since I moved up here and began learning to can and tending a garden, I have entertained fantasies of sending out packages at Christmas, packages that my friends and family would exclaim over. For seven years in a row, I have failed to do so. Not because I don't have canned goods - I usually do, though it is true that there are never as many jars in the cabinet come December as you imagine there will be, when you are bent over a hot stove in August. I am already out of salsa, if you can believe that. No, I have not sent out my packages out of sheer laziness and disorganization. Good intentions, it turns out, won't get you to the post office.

This year I was determined to overcome my natural sloth and fully intended to send out canned goods. I set aside little jars of cajeta (New To Farm Life: Cajeta is Love), lemon curd, and dilly beans. The beans were pilfered by my daughter Hope, who has a passion for all things pickled, and there are none left. The cajeta didn't turn out well; for some reason it turned out not like caramel sauce but sort of like milk-fudge. It's not bad in coffee, but it's not of a quality that I would give as a gift. That left lemon curd, but only three half-pint jars, and I have six people on my package list.

Luckily, we had an abundance of salmon this year. Not only did I buy a few fish, as I always do, but just recently a customer of Homero's who works at some sort of fishery gave him a tip consisting of two gigantic sides of Alaskan King. We ate some fresh, and it was the best salmon I've had in ages - rich and buttery and deliciously fat. I told Homero "whatever you do, keep that guy happy!"

I started smoking the salmon just as a way to preserve it. A couple years ago I canned some king salmon, with the help of friends who loaned me their pressure canner, and it was good, but not as good as smoked salmon. It occurred to me that smoked salmon is not only a universally appreciated gift, but also considerably less bulky and expensive to send than food in glass jars. Not to mention that, as much as we all enjoy smoked salmon, we are unlikely to eat ten pounds of it in a year.

My "little chief" smoker is missing a rack, so it took me three sessions to smoke all the fish. Two sides, cut into generous filets, made twelve good sized packages. Last week I got myself together, hunted down addresses (in some cases calling and asking) and sent out five bubble-wrap lined manila envelopes with salmon inside. I'm so proud of myself. I finally did it. I know my friends and family were happy because they all called to tell me so. No promises, but I think I may make smoked salmon my signature gift. It's hard to let go of the image of multiple, tiny, jewel-toned jars, but salmon is easier.

Since I don't have a vacuum sealer (I should probably get one if I plan to make this a yearly tradition), I borrowed one from a neighbor and gave her a package of salmon in trade. That leaves six packages in my fridge. I'm sure a few of those will be taken as hostess gifts to parties and gatherings this year, and I know my sister is getting one under her tree (sorry, Jen, for ruining the surprise), but that still leaves us with plenty of delicious smoked salmon to keep us going until next summer.

Aimee's Smoked Salmon

Cut a filet of king or sockeye salmon into approximately 1 lb pieces. Salmon will lose a lot of weight in the smoker and smaller pieces will just seem measly. In a large non-reactive pot or bowl, combine a gallon of water, 1/3 c. sea salt, 1 c. white sugar, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1/3 c. soy sauce, several slices fresh ginger root, and 1 tablespoon (or to taste) sriracha. Make sure there is enough brine to completely cover salmon pieces. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning, prepare smoker according to directions (I use soaked alder wood chips). Smoke salmon to desired doneness but at least 6 hours. You will need to dump ashes and add chips at least four times. I smoked mine for almost 9 hours because I like a fairly hard smoke. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hunger a the Holidays (Repost from The Frugal Girl)

Today I am reposting this excellent post from www.theFrugalgirl.com on childhood hunger in America. As often as I feel I don't have enough money for all my wants, I have always had enough to feed my children. And I am lucky enough, as the frugal girl points out, to have grown up in a household that ate together and taught me how to cook. I have knowledge of nutrition and knowledge of how to cook, and access to healthy food, and all of those things are privileges and blessings.

The Frugal Girl has some wonderful suggestions below for how to talk to your kids about hunger and also some ideas about what to do about it when your children inevitable want to help. This season, I am giving thanks for all my blessings and for my ability to assist my community. Best wishes to you and yours now and in 2015!

Teaching kids about hunger (even when they’re not hungry)

This post is brought to you by SheKnows and Unilever Project Sunlight .
Having enough food has never been something I’ve needed to worry about. As a kid, I’m not sure it ever even really occurred to me, and even in our leanest adult years, Mr. FG and I have always had enough to eat.
IMG_5054It might not have been 5-star restaurant food (and we certainly have had stages in our life where we almost NEVER could afford to eat out), but we’ve never gone hungry, and by extension, neither have our kids.
This is a place of pretty great privilege…to have transportation to a clean, affordable, nearby grocery store and to have the time and skills necessary to prepare meals from cheap staples.
using up leftovers with salad
I don’t think this is necessarily bad for my kids (Who wants their kids to be without privileges?), but what’s important, I think, is for them (and us adults too!) to be able to SEE the privileges we have for what they are.
Usually, seeing people with fewer privileges opens our eyes a bit.
This is especially the case when we see individuals rather than an amorphous group of hungry people. When we hear people’s stories and look into their eyes, most of us will indeed be moved with compassion.
For instance, when Lisey was about 7 or 8 years old, her children’s news magazine had a story about a family in Haiti who had so little to eat, they resorted to making dirt cookies. She brought the magazine to me and said, “Mommy, if I ever went to visit those people, I would want to bring my bank and give them some money.”
(Since we loved her compassionate response but couldn’t personally bring her bank to Haiti, we helped her donate to an organization that brings livestock, seeds, and training to impoverished people in Haiti.)

Hunger Here at Home

When I watched this SheKnows video about hunger in America, I felt those same stirrings of compassion that Lisey experienced.
Hungry families aren’t just a statistic…they are real families, with stories that made me cry, and they live in neighborhoods all around us.
Though we (and I include my own family here!) tend to think mostly of hungry people who live in far-away countries, the sad truth is that 1 in 5 American kids come from homes that don’t have food security.

How do we make our kids aware?

The people over at SheKnows had a great a idea: give kids a poverty-level budget and have them go try to buy healthy groceries to last for a week. Check it out:
Seeing the small amount of food that can be purchased with $36.50 is a great object lesson for kids, who so frequently learn by seeing.
I think it’s also helpful for kids to know people who work to relieve hunger. We have a family friend who helps to feed hungry people in Nashville, and as we pray for him and give to his ministry, this helps to keep hunger on our children’s radar.
And, of course, I think there’s value in faithfully talking to our kids about food and pointing out what an enormous blessing it is to have so much food available to us. I know sometimes it seems like kids aren’t really listening, but they do absorb a generous portion of what we say.

 Room for Growth

Though we’ve made efforts to help our kids be aware of the hunger that’s around the globe, we could definitely do a better job of helping them (and ourselves!) see that child hunger exists on a more local level too.
Project Sunlight, a movement that works to build a world where everyone lives well (and sustainably) has some great suggestions about how to get involved in fighting hunger here at home.
Share A Meal  Sustainable Living  Unilever Project Sunlight USA - Mozilla Firefox 11222014 125533 PM
My favorite is the idea to partner with local organizations. I’m a big fan of localized aid because I think these organizations often have a really great feel for what the community’s needs are and how to meet those needs.
Inspired by watching the above videos, I found a food pantry/community aid organization in our local area, and I’m going to take my kids out and have them help me shop for some food to donate.
Would you consider joining me in the #ShareAMeal challenge?
The #ShareAMeal site has a food pantry location tool to help you find a food pantry in your neighborhood, or you could also take one of the other #ShareAMeal challenges.
If you feel like there’s just no room in your budget to help the hungry, could I encourage you to take a look at your food waste?
Well, the average American family throws away about $1500 worth of food every single year. Imagine what could happen if we all bought only what we needed, used it wisely, and then put our saved grocery money toward helping to feed hungry people!
To give you an idea of the possible impact, check out this picture of $1500 worth of food from One Hundred Dollars a Month. SaveitSunday-Food-Waste
If we shaved our food waste by even 25-50%, we could feed so many kids! Every little bit helps.
If you need some help getting started on food waste reduction, here are my top ten tips to stop food waste. Give ‘em a try, and share some of your savings with hungry kids in your neighborhood, city, or town.
I’d love to hear from you! How do YOU educate your children about hunger? And I’d also love to hear of ways that you help the hungry in your community.
About SheKnows’ Hatch, the Hatch Hunger Project and Unilever Project Sunlight:
SheKnows’ Hatch teamed with Unilever Project Sunlight to help families build awareness and take action around child hunger in America. The facts are startling: 16 million kids living in the United States don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That equates to one in every five children – enough to fill 18,000 school buses and 223 football stadiums. On average, those who live in food-insecure households have only $36.50 to spend on groceries every week. That means that 80 percent of children may not understand the everyday struggle their peers – many of whom could be their own friends or neighbors – confront when there’s not enough food on the table. The Hatch Hunger and Project Sunlight video and workshop aims to create empathy by showing kids what it means to shop for healthy, filling meals for an entire week on a thrifty budget. It teaches important math and teamwork skills. Finally, it is about action, empowering kids to have a positive impact on their community to Share A Meal with a family in need and donating food and canned goods to local food banks.