Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well beyond my lifetime

[risa] These are pussy willow twigs, or something very like that, from a tree we found growing by the creek when we got here sixteen years ago; the species seems to grow to be about forty feet tall, with a sort of slim profile like a Lombardy poplar, and then after twenty to thirty vigorous years, the main stem begins dying. The growth of side shoots or suckers at the base is quite aggressive, and so we have used these shoots as beanpoles when they reach about the thickness of a broom handle.

Each year, some of the beanpoles sprout leaves and roots, and we've taken to planting them around the place. Those that make it become new trees. A lot of them do survive.

I've cut and firewooded the main stem of the parent tree, this winter, and, not being willing to toss the live twigs that were left over, I gathered them up, pruned each one to a single stem, and set them in a bucket of water. With rain coming, this seemed the ideal weekend for this activity.

With a medium-sized mattock, I paced around the grounds, stopping every twelve feet or so, and hacked away about a saucer-sized bit of sod, then reversed the mattock and sank the pick up to the handle in the center of the scalped area. This creates a narrow hole, ten inches deep, into which to insert a twig, or sprig, which should be packed tight so that wet soil, not drying air, cozies up to the stem all the way round. The sod can then be piled upside down on the south side of the stem to provide a little cooling shade at ground level; later, when the grass begins to grow again, I'll put down a grass-clippings mulch for each sprig as well.

Each sprig got a little bit of orange flag, near the bottom rather than the top, so that the flags won't contribute to wind problems (much). Over the summer I will watch for leaves, and if there are a lot of them I'll remove most, to give the little sprigs -- hopefully trees -- a better root-to-shoot ratio. They will need to be watered; I'll try once a week. With any luck this will make a little woodlot that can be coppiced for fuel and beanpoles for the next few decades -- well beyond my lifetime, but that's the thing with trees.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Little fuss and less waste

[a blog reader] "And this is?"

[risa] "It's a steamer . ... of sorts."


"Well, that's a six-inch Revereware pot, with whole wheat spaghetti in it, on a low boil, and nested in the pot is a colander with shredded or diced leaves -- chard, kale, broccoli, elephant garlic, and lots of beet leaves. The bowl holds in the steam for a bit, before it goes out the colander holes. Some of it condenses and seeps back through the leaves onto the spaghetti, adding back some nutrition."

"You have a nice steamer and a steamer basket, too, so why did you bother to do this?"

"Ever do anything for fun?"


"Good; so humor me ... I specialize in one-burner cuisine. Here I've made the spaghetti; now I turn over the colander, dumping the greens into the bowl; hold the colander over the greywater bucket, turn the spaghetti out of the pot into the colander, drain the colander, then dump the spaghetti over the greens. Oh, and if you rinse right away there's no work to speak of when washing up."

"But you could save the spaghetti water for bread or soup."

"I already have some. First rule of blogging; not everything not said is proof of ignorance. Not saying I'm not ignorant, my dear; it's the human condition."

"Oh. So, what's that on top, here, in the second picture?"

"There's some spinach/pumpkin soup, or puree, whatever you'd like it to be, also homemade, and the red bit in the middle there is plain old storebought picante."

"Doesn't sound all that appetizing."

"T'isn't. All it does is go down fairly easy, and then keep soul and body together, with little fuss and less waste. Want some?"

The future of

Rob at Transition Culture pulls out a list of occupations necessary to run a post-oil society (by looking at those found in a pre-oil society) :
Coppicer, hurdle maker, rake maker, fork maker, besom maker, handle maker, hoop maker, ladder maker, crib maker, broach and peg maker, clog sole cutter, bodger, charcoal burner, oak basket maker, trug maker, stick and staff maker, field gate maker, willow basket maker, net maker, stone mason, joiner, roofer, floor layer, waller, thatcher, slater, lime burner, paint maker, glass blower, glazier, stained glass artist, mud brick maker, tile maker, chimney sweep, plumber, decorator, bridge builder, French polisher, sign writer hedge layer, dry stone waller, stile maker, well digger, peat cutter, gardener, horticulturist, vintner, arborist, tree surgeon, forester, farmer, shepherd, shearer, bee keeper, miller, fisherman, orchardist, veterinarian,chair maker, iron founder, blacksmith, wheelwright, cooper, coppersmith, tinsmith, wood turner, coach builder, boat builder, sail maker, rope maker, wainwright, block maker, leather tanner, harness maker, saddler, horse collar maker, boot and shoe maker, cobbler, clog maker, knife maker, cutter, millstone dresser, potter, printer, typographer, calligrapher, bookbinder, paper maker, furniture maker, jeweller, mechanic, boiler maker, boilerman, soap maker, gunsmith, sword smith, brush maker, candle maker, artist, sculptor, firework maker, cycle builder, bone carver, musical instrument maker, clay pipe maker, tool maker. Spinner, weaver, dyer, silk grower, tailor, seamstress, milliner, hatter, lace maker, button maker, mat and rug maker, crochet worker, tatting and macramé worker, knitter, quilter, smock worker, embroiderer, leather worker, felt maker. Fish smoker, bacon curer, butter maker, cheese maker, brewer, cider maker, wine maker, distiller, herbalist, ice cream maker, butcher, fishmonger, pie maker, pickle maker, baker, barrister and coffee roaster, homeopath, reflexologist, osteopath, naturopath, storyteller, teacher naturalist, historian, jester, actor, administrator, philosopher, labourer, poet, writer, midwife, publican, bookseller, librarian.
 [reposted from the red mullet]

[risa] ... not that I think we'll get to such a future from here without a hideous triage, which I don't personally expect to survive. There, it's out in the open, I'm a doomer. But one who has always had, and paradoxically perhaps still has, a certain optimism as the ground of my being. And I think my lifestyle changes are good for me even if I am proved wrong by events.

So, on to my idea of fun:

Though I see myself in many of the occupations listed above, I've taken increased interest in coppicing, which I see as part of small farming (I'm also a letterpress printer, a chandler, a carpenter, and so on. Beloved is a flock-keeper and small farmer as well, and also a locally appreciated storyteller-folksinger-puppet theater artist, with an emphasis on participatory work with children and teaching multiculturalism. And we are both low-tech homemakers).

Coppicing is an ancient trade, which was much in demand for wattle-and-daub constuction, woven fences, and basketry until relatively recently. Tree species that re-sprout from the stump quickly, grow quickly, and are native are a sound basis for a good coppice. The fuelwood you can get from these burns with a little less heat and is a little less convenient to stack and handle than large chunks of Douglas fir, but it's markedly easier to cut! I have a small electric chainsaw, which larger trees tend to intimidate, and I like figuring out how to do things around here without gasoline.

You can get wood out of your coppice with a bow-saw if necessary, and very little splitting is required. A bundle of sticks or even twigs can do much toward keeping a small, well insulated home warm and a meal cooked, as anyone in Bolivia or Senegal could tell you; and coppice wood can provide 6" diameter firelogs on a very short rotation with the right species.

I've been experimenting, for several years, with hazelnut wood, Oregon ash, and pussy willows. I'm told hawthorn is good, but haven't seen any around here, or maybe I just don't recognize it. Ideas? Or occupations to add to Rob's list?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It was not enough to see

It was not enough -- to see, in colorful maga-
zines and costly books, the country homes
and garden walks that men and women build

who have only ready money and a few ideas.
We too wished to sit sometimes drink-
ing tea by firelight, admiring our own beams

and plaster, our own hanging fruit and herbs,
good books liberally strewn, a sleeping cat (or two).
To which end we labored without cash, days

and even nights with saw and chisel, scraper,
hammer, knife, and plane, using such wood,
such paint, and even such nails as came our way.

Friends and friends of friends remembered us
when their surplus had to go, and we went forth
with pry bars in our hands, gathering decks

and fences long past keeping for those without
the patience to rebuild. I have learned
to watch for stones of certain weight and shape;

to lay a course of ninety-year-old brick,
to scrap a window sash to get the glass
for cutting, and fill the oddly angled wall

with joint compound. House renewed, or almost,
we turned to the acre of ground, and forked and spaded,
laying out long beds, piling them with straw,

covering paths with leaves of oak, maple
and ash. Seeds bought last year at sale,
ten cents a pack, were sown with trembling hand.

They all did well: the new shelves groan
with harvest. This all has come late to us. Now
we do sit in chimney-corner like English cottage-

keepers, tea in hand and cat in lap,
ready to peruse an act of Winter's Tale
or book of Faerie Queene, only to find

our eyes no longer focus on ten-point type
for an act or a book at a time. We call the youngest
child, and she reads to us from Sendak, or

our mutual favorite, Potter, haltingly,
but with a will, improving as she goes.
As she sounds out words, I watch a knot

of fir collapse into the coals, and fall
to long, light sleep, with not unpleasant dreams.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blissfully lazy hours

Garlic emmer bread by you.

[risa] I had jokingly said, on Facebook, that I would either cut trees, work on the attic, or read and eat candy this weekend. So far, I've mostly read and eaten candy.

The day started well. I got up, built a fire to push back the cold the night's frozen fog had imposed on the house, and made potato-delicata-duck egg lattkes with some kale in them.

Went out.

It was cold out.

Came in.

Went so far as to bring in the ladder, and dress up for the fiberglass.

Daughter has given me a headlamp for this very job (it being not really an attic but a tiny crawl space, the headlamp was a brilliant gift. It's like spelunking up there).

Then went over to the couch and fell asleep.

Not that it had been a hard week -- but us fifty-nine-year-old ladies have gotta pace ourselves, y'know?

So when I came to, it was getting late and to redeem some of the day I went out and picked some beets, chard, more kale, leeks, and more elephant garlic, washed everything, and put it all away for the week. We prefer fresh, but the weather and darkness tend to put a damper on our foraging.

I went to wash up my grandmother's 1890-vintage pancake pitcher, and, looking in at what was left of the greenish batter, decided to run some water in it, swish it around, pour it into the blender, run the blender to get even more of the last ingredients, poured off the liquid into a bowl on the woodstove, and let it warm for a bit. Added some sugar and yeast, set it aside, minced up some elephant garlic, put this in the mixing bowl, added the warm, yeasty pot liquor, a dollop of olive oil, a short palmful of salt, and several small bowls full of emmer and whole wheat and rolled oats, got out the wooden stirring spatula, and stirred until I was kneading, and kneaded until I had a batch of dough, which I covered with a large pan lid and set it on the dining room table, nearest corner to the stove.

Then climbed into bed and read a mystery story --a good one -- and finished off the holiday fudge, just as I'd said I might, for several blissfully lazy hours.

Bread, in winter, in a wood-heated house, rises slowly sometimes, so the sun set, the poultry were shut away in the barn, the cat was let out, the cat was let in, Beloved came home from work, we chatted, and she rose and stretched and ultimately went to bed, and still the bread -- now in Pyrex pans -- slowly rose.

The pans got into the oven at eight, set at 350 degrees F, with a cookie sheet underneath the breadpans to keep the bottoms of the loaves from burning. Fifty-five minutes later they were out; I tipped out the loaves and thumped their bottoms to be sure they were done, took their portraits on the drying rack, and then cut a heel, steaming hot, and ate it on the spot.

Not bad.

Better than the fudge.

Maybe tomorrow I will work in the attic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All from home when possible, and the rest local pretty much

[risa] A foodie post -- I don't do a lot of these because so many people are better than I am at kitchens -- and because when I go into detail I often seem to step on toes -- some vegan toes, some carnivore, and some are like -- "is that plastic I see you using" -- ad infinitum. But this is in response to a request, so, pretty please, don't shoot the messenger.

We try for Something From Home in every meal, All From Home When Possible, and the rest Local Pretty Much.

First, here is what we had tonight -- Beloved was first in so she built a fire, put the chickens, away, washed eggs, practice her guitar program, and showed me, when I came in, half a frying pan of peas (we grew and froze them) and tofu (local-ten miles).

What I didn't eat went into my lunch for tomorrow, with some pickled beets (we grew, I steamed lightly and pickled.) They are Detroit Dark Reds, picked about two days ago out front. I'll zap my lunch (not being a purist) for 99 seconds in the staff lounge atom-smasher.

Now for tomorrow's dinner.

These are the homegrown ingredients: delicata, Yukon Gold, torpedo onion all from storage, winter elephant garlic from the garden, about a week in refrigerator (I'd go get a fresh one and a leek but it's dark out there and muddy, so there). Fresh rosemary and parsley and sun dried basil. You can throw in one large or two small apples from the cold room, but I forgot this time. Maybe 'cuz I ate six today.

I found a good sprout on the potato and cut about a fifth of the spud off, with the sprout on it, and added it to a supply of these slips that I keep in a brown bag in the cold room, for early planting.

Local ingredient: butter (from Tillamook; it's been about a hundred miles, so, just barely).

I'd show vegetable stock but there is none on hand, so we'll use water.

Cut up the roots and squash (and apple); scoop squash seeds and dispose of them (meaning, for us, feed to the chickens. Your other options are, depending on how closely they were planted to other squash varieties: wash, oil, and roast them, or wash and dry them and save seed).

Save the seed? Yes, we avoid PVP varieties whenever possible.

Set your Little Miss Sunbeam (the rice steamer) going for 20 to 30 minutes depending on quantities (measurements? What are measurements?), and put in the potatoes right way. In five minutes, add the delicatas (I have quartered them here). With about eight minutes to go (YMMV) thrown in the cut-up onion or leek, and the garlic, then in a few more minutes the cut-up greens from those if you have them (ours have sprouted, as you can see). I'm also throwing in the rosemary and basil at this point. Reserve the parsley. In fact, don't harvest any until just before serving; I just wanted it in the pictures.

Ding! Take the steamer basket and rinse cold. Catch the water from doing this and use some of it in the blender, unless you have vegetable stock or vegetable juice from a juicer. I've shifted from the plastic basket to a steel colander here, partly to minimize leaching bad stuff into the water and partly 'cuz I don't have a catchment bowl the right size and shape for the steamer basket.

Peel the delicatas as soon as cool if you don't want the skin, and give it to the chickens or the compost.

Whiz it all in the blender with a stout pat of the butter and enough stock, juice, rinse water, or water to blend well.

Optional non-local ingredients go in while blending: shown here are cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt (to taste).

You can dish up right now (snip up the parsley and put some in the middle of each serving, for cute).

Or stash away in the frig for tomorrow. You can crock pot it, sauce pan it, zap it, or serve cold. I refrigerate in a serving bowl with a plate turned over it, to save on plastic wrap.

That's it. Zuppa!

Oh, and! I like to take what's left of the veg-rinse water and pour it in the blender and whiz up a refreshing drink with whatever didn't make it from blender to bowl -- makes washing up that much easier. 'K?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

That'll do, Pig

Tools in the potting shed

"It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon ...." -- truth be told, I have been fighting depression, which might be related to darkness -- it's dark when I go to work, dark when I get home, and only on weekends, when everyone else wants to have meetings, do I get a chance to work on the place. And I tend to get, well ... heavy ... in the winter, because the darkness leaves me wanting to just sit and read ... and eat .. and read. But then my eyes are too tired for reading, so I go to bed early to get away from the food, and then next thing I know, I'm up early ... say, 5 a.m., not early to a dairy operator, I know, but then I have never been a dairy operator. And you can only drink so much morning coffee with all that darkness staring in at you from the the windows.

The weekend has been pretty, though; the big storm that shut down the freeway went well north of us, and all the snow and ice it has dumped is well east of us, so we have had shirtsleeve weather.

Granddaughter stayed the night, so she has been collecting eggs, and making biscuits, and trading storytellings with us, and helped me plant eleven three-year-old Douglas firs. These trees I pulled up from very loose soil in an abandoned place a few days ago, and they had very long roots. So we put them in a bucket and Granddaughter watered them by pumping the new pitcher pump into the bucket, and we took the bucket and a tree-planting shovel and a pair of scissors and walked the perimeter of Stony run, choosing likely spots and digging.

I showed her the way the hole should be a narrow slit, ten inches deep, with the shovel blade turned around toward you, the d-ring resting against your shoulder, pulling the dirt toward you, and the tree, its roots pruned to ten inches by the scissors, is slipped down the back of the blade until its root collar is even with the ground, then the hole packed tight and free of air pockets by shoving in the shovel again a few inches away and wedging it toward the tree.

We gave each tree a little tug to make sure it wasn't loose in the ground. "I used to do seven or eight hundred trees a day that way," I remarked.

Oh, sure, said her eyes.

I had removed a branch from her climbing tree when I fenced through in front of the house, so we retrieved a beat-up aluminum stepladder from our salvage pile and tied it to the next available branch up. She skinnied up into the dark green shadows like a bird.

I unrolled another length of deer fence along the east pasture boundary, pulled it tight with the come-along and wire puller, and set the fence up along the eight-foot posts that had been pounded in last week. It's by no means tall enough for deer, in spite of the labeling, but I'd also bought a quarter-mile reel of seventeen-gauge galvanized wire, and strung two lengths of this along the entire fence, or a little over three hundred feet, down by the driveway and back. The instructions say you should hang flagging on this to warn the deer, but they already know the fence is here, and we're hoping that by the time the garden gets interesting, they won't be tempted to jump the wires.

A new fence that you have done yourself is a satisfactory thing to behold, even it it is a bit bulgy in spots (I'm far from equipped, in gear or strength, to do this perfectly, but, as Beloved says when she inspects, "That'll do, Pig. That'll do").


Beloved took Granddaughter back to connect with her parents who had come to town to attend a weekend event. I came into the house in the late afternoon and rooted around in the kitchen. She'd baked a butternut squash two days ago, but we'd done nothing with it, so I bethought me to make a squash soup.

I steamed some potatoes, apples slices, elephant garlic and leeks diced very small, and peeled the squash, and ran the whole business through the blender with a duck egg that had been pecked, some salt, butter, Italian spice mix, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and enough water to make the whole thing blend. Then poured it into a crock pot and let it simmer on low, while I put in a last shift pruning the big plum tree that had been mislabeled as a dwarf plum (dwarf sequoia tree, maybe).

Then back to enjoy the soup, while thinking about a long hot bath.

That'll do, Pig. That'll do.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What it was the cold ground said


this is what you'll come to, picking about
in earth, pulling morning glory roots
like long white worms and heaping them
beside you of a morning: you will become
distant and glum, and as your wrists dry up,
caked in clay, you'll look around you, and
not your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your oak and ash,
your three brave maples rattling in the breeze,
your small house bracketed in lilacs, breathing smoke,
your woodshed stacked roof-high,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,
your geese, your ducks, your pear trees in bright bloom
will rid you of the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.
Assuming the sun will come out, which now
it does, things won't seem quite that bad,
and yet you will walk stooped, with furrowed
brow, into the house for a late cold lunch
without words, for there are no words
to share what it was the cold ground
said to your hands just now.

or, sometimes

you'll come to this, lovingly rooting
in earth, gently setting to one side
fat worms, watching them
sink from sight with shrugs of their nonexistent
shoulders. As your wrists dry up, caked
in clay, you'll look around you, and
your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your ash and oak,
your three unfurling maples whispering in the breeze,
your white house bracketed in lilacs, breathing
smoke, your woodshed stacked with fir,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,
your pears and apples, your geese in their bright plumes
will bring to you the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.
Assuming that the clouds will come, which now
they do, you will take things as they are,
and so you simply walk, with even-tempered
gaze, toward the house for a late cold lunch:
one without words, for there are no words
to share what it was your hands
said to the green earth even now.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Visions of steamed veggies

Gardening Angel please use your powers
To guard and protect my plants and flowers

[risa] Beloved works in town on Saturdays and has days off during the week. I work during the week and pretty generally have Saturday as a "farm" day.

This week we are emphasizing fence work again; the south "pasture" has a very low fence: three strands of barbed wire on the neighbor's side and 3' welded wire, 2X3" mesh, on our side, which runs around the corner of the property and along the creek back to the barn. The welded wire fencing was installed sixteen years ago, and along the creek it is now buried in blackberries and Japanese knotweed. Now that the deer have, presumably, been fenced out of the garden, they are apt to try getting at it this spring by leaping the southeast corner, so it's time to re-fence in that area.

In the bright morning, after knocking ice out of the poultry's drinking buckets and blocking their access to the "south forty," I went along the east boundary cutting blackberry vines and piling them out of the way, then with the fence pliers, pulled the staples holding the three-foot fence to the rotted cedar posts. The welded wire pulled away easily enough, though I had to take some care not to disturb the pussy-willow and filbert sprigs I had put in along there last week.

It's always fun to reclaim an older fence, straightening wire and rolling up sections as neatly as possible, to install elsewhere around the place. And it's pleasing to see how well the wire has held up. I was forty-three when we hammered those staples in; I'm fifty-nine now. It looks as though our fences, in their latest configuration, will outlive us.

I rolled up about seventy feet of the welded wire and carried it down to the north end of things, near the mailbox. Here the pasture, in an "L" shape around two sides of the garden, came to an end a few months ago. Re-setting a few iron t-posts, I was able to extend the birds' domain up the driveway toward the house another thirty-five feet.

As I worked, the intrepid chickens followed me, ecstatic to explore the, to them, virgin ground along the driveway. Behind them, more cautious, came the geese, with their convoy of ducks in tow. Chicken feet stirred up the top layer of leaves and sod. Busy duck beaks plumbed the damp ground, catching grubs and slugs napping. Sylvester, the gander, stood guard over any dandelions he found, batting away away chickens and ducks alike until Sylvia had eaten all the choice bits at her leisure.

I watched awhile, then ranged around the lower garden a bit, checking frost damage. We don't usually bother to get this far from the house with our plastic sheeting, and the winter things take their chances. Some of the bok choi is okay to eat; the chard and the celery have pretty much given up for the duration. The beet tops in this area have had it but the roots are of course fine. Onions ditto; the leeks hold up better. Broccoli got through two freezes okay, but the third one got to them. The kale and red cabbages are as happy as ever.

After covering the upper winter bed for the night (a freeze is anticipated), I lifted out a leek, stripped its outer sheath to remove the mud, snapped off a leaf of bok choi and one of curly kale, pulled up a beet and a small elephant garlic bulb, and headed for the kitchen, visions of steamed veggies and whole wheat spaghetti dancing in my head. From the kitchen window, as I washed the beet and garlic, I could see the birds, as intent on their lunch as I on mine.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

The wall

[risa, reposting]

The wall her father built to muscle back
the brown flood waters of his creek still stands.
It leans away from the run and hugs the contour

of serpentine embankment, redeeming years of silt
by interlacing a thousand granite slabs,
denying tide of spring and spill of storm.

He could not bear to think of land he'd
paid for, picking up to run away downstream
ending in useless mingling with other men's dirt

all at the foot of the continental shelf
ten miles beyond the Chattahoochee's mouth.
So, he built. Each day, though worn from climbing

poles in Georgia sun for the Georgia Railroad,
he slowly removed his cotton shirt and sank
to his knees in his creek, feeling for stones

with bare toes, prying them out of bed
with a five-foot iron bar. He heaved them up,
wet and substantial, on the opposite bank,

and judged them, and carried them, staggering,
to their specific spot in the rising wall,
setting them down like Hammurabi's laws, never

to be revoked. The whole he stocked and faced
with wet cement his daughter carried to him,
breathless, in a pair of buckets

from a home-carved yoke. Wall done,
he capped it with a pointing trowel, and with
his finger wrote the girl's name and the year

nineteen fifty-five, which you will find today
if you scrape back moss. The house has had
six owners since, and of these, has none given thought

to who prevented their foundation washing out
with freely offered labor long ago? ... perhaps
they have. There's something in that wall's

being there that speaks of someone's having lived
and looked upon the land, giving shape to time
and place, taking stone in hand.