Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dinner Prep Chatter

Big Little Sister is making dinner tonight. Her specialty is Dragon's Breath Pizza, which she makes, totally, from scratch, including the crust. It includes hot peppers as one of the ingredients*.

I'm sitting in my office, tapping away at some transcription I'm doing, and I hear from the kitchen, "Can you get me a hot pepper?"

Little Fire Faery goes out in the yard to the container that has Hungarian peppers and harvests one for her.

Can I just say how much I LOVE having a garden?

*She's making a gluten-free entrée with some corn pasta, local vegetables and left over steak for Deus Ex Machina and me, because we don't do pizza crust. She's a pretty talented chef. Maybe she's started on a career path ... ;).

Security versus Resiliency.

I'm working on my wrap-up for August's Eat Local Challenge, but ... you know ... stuff.

Anyway, I didn't want to leave everyone hanging (like I've been doing too much of, lately), and so I thought, instead of a real post, I'd post a couple of links.

I think, when we look back on these times, the word we will use to describe this time period will be "resiliency." We all seem to be striving for just that, and today, I read a really great article by Nick, husband of the amazingly talented and wicked smaht, Erica from Northwest Edible Life. It's about having Income Resilience, which he calls an Income Quilt, using the phrase coined by my friend, Lisa Kivrist.

It's a great article.

I also wanted to link to an old article I wrote about resiliency. The focus of my article is on the kind of resiliency that comes from making one's living arrangement more self-sufficient (i.e. growing one's own food, collecting rainwater, having a secure shelter).

Nick and Erica are producing a great deal of their own food, as well, and when I spoke with Erica last week for an upcoming podcast, she said that having their food stores has been essential for their peace of mind as they transition to this more resilient, but less "secure" lifestyle.

Of course, the idea that being employed by someone else makes us more secure than the kind of entrepreneurial (and resilient) lifestyle that Nick and Erica have really is an illusion, isn't it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Five Mile Diet ... Mostly

We have tried to stay within the five mile parameters, although we probably made it too easy on ourselves by exempting drinks. Coffee and tea are exempted, which means I still, also, get to enjoy sugar and cream.

With a couple of exceptions this week, we did stay within the five miles every day. One day last week, we had a particularly busy day, and while I should have just buckled down and cooked dinner (my friend, Melonie, would ask, What Would Ma Engles Do, and she definitely would NOT have gone for Thai take-out, just because the day was busy and late). Anything would have been better - not necessarily better tasting, but certainly better than succumbing to the temptation. I was weak.

Saturday ended up being another one of those kinds of days, with our girls involved in dance/community service events, and we just decided to take the easy way out.

Otherwise, however, we did manage to eat close to home.

My consolation is that there were more successful days than not. My favorite meal has been to brown ground beef, season it like I would for tacos, and then add zucchini, squash, tomatoes, green beans ... whatever vegetables I have. The first time I made it, Deus Ex Machina kept commenting on how good it was, and so it has been a repeat. The bonus is that it has proven a good way to get everyone to eat things like zucchini, summer squash and green beans. We've also had chicken for a couple of meals. Usually our chicken is stretched two or three meals. This week, we had it roasted on Day 1 and in a casserole in Day 2. Deus Ex Machina took chicken to lunch on a couple of days.

Breakfast is still hash browned potatoes and an egg.

I've stopped snacking as much as I used to, but for whatever reason, I think I'm actually gaining weight instead of losing. I joke that Deus Ex Machina is losing weight ... I'm finding it. Maybe I'm just drinking more sweet, creamy coffee or sweet tea.

We're still eating only foraged foods on Sunday, and this Sunday was actually an incredible day. We had braised groundhog (we saved the legs from last week's road kill), which was really, really good! And with it we had applesauce from the apples foraged in our neighborhood. The funny part is that, not only have we eaten every Sunday since we started foraged only Sundays, but we have enough extra stuff left from the last few Sundays to make another meal - some apples, a few milkweed pods and some mushrooms.

We're on the last week of the challenge, and I don't know whether to say it's been a success or a failure. We haven't been completely faithful to the five miles on a couple of occasions, but mostly, we have eaten only what is available locally. We could have been more creative, and there are a lot of resources that we didn't even tap into that we could have made use of.

I did make both cheese and yogurt (skills I'd already learned). Both are delicious, and we've enjoyed having them.

The real test will be September, to see how much and/or how quickly we slide back into not always paying attention.

We're having a portion of our house rebuilt, starting today, and when they were doing the demo, they found a lot of rot and some ants. We've been trying to get this work started since March, and truth be told, we've been sketching and planning this sort of work for almost a decade. It was finally started today, and we realized that we really did wait too long. Mold, rot, and an ant infestation might make the job a lot more involved than it would have been if we had gotten to things earlier. Guess we'll see if there is a price for procrastination. Either way, we're in this house for the long-haul, and we're very hopeful that this renovation will make our house work better for us.

P.S. Zucchini pickles fermented with whey. Yes!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Road Kill - It's What's For Dinner

Every year, Deus Ex Machina gets his hunting license, but as a bow hunter, the act of hunting is a bit more of a challenge than those who use guns will experience. First, he has to be much closer to his quarry, and second, he has to be very sure of his shot. Maybe he shoots the animal, but if he doesn't do it right, the animal will run, perhaps bleed to death, and there's a very good possibility that he won't find it.

The worst thing in the world for a hunter is to believe that he's injured the animal that will die a very slow, very painful death, and that death will be for naught ... well, except maybe to feed an opportunistic coyote.

He teases me about hunting groundhog, and while I have no particular love of ground hog, or squirrel, or wild rabbit, most of those animals are only one meal - unlike a deer would be. We raise meat rabbits in the back yard, and to me, to kill a wild animal to eat when we have an equivalent already is borderline unscrupulous. It would be different if we were actually starving and needed that animal, but to consciously choose to kill a groundhog just so that we could eat, when we have no real need of that meat ... well, just say that I have strongly discouraged the idea, and Deus Ex Machina has always acquiesced to my resistance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should also say that my resistance has nothing to do with not wanting to eat groundhog, as I have no qualms, whatsoever, about consuming the meat. I am a meat eater, and I'll try most things - once. I do have my limits, which include most carnivores (the thought of eating something that kill me for food is a little unsettling, and I haven't been able to get beyond it - so any canine or feline is pretty much off my food list, at least for the time being), but I have eaten some small, wild animals, including squirrel and beaver, and the meat was palatable.

Sunday is Foraging Sundays, which means that Deus Ex Machina and I have challenged ourselves to eat only foraged foods for the day. It's been quite an experience, and there have been a few Sundays when our meals were thin soup with a few greens that I was able to forage from the yard.

We've also enjoyed wild caught fish from friends and family who've gifted them to us, but we've always known we couldn't depend on others to fill our bellies. One week we had periwinkles. Yes, I, now, know without a doubt, that I can, easily, eat escargot, and I would completely enjoy the experience! If nothing else, this challenge has taught me to be absolutely not squeamish about my food choices.

Sunday was an incredibly bountiful day. Big Little Sister, Little Fire Faery, and Precious picked several pounds of apples on Saturday from a feral apple tree in our neighborhood. So, for breakfast, we had applesauce. Ignore the worm trails in the apples. Protein, right?

Deus Ex Machina cut the apples into pieces, and then, using the awesome food mill that my very good friend from Florida (Hi, Judy - waving enthusiastically!) sent to us many years ago, he sifted out the skins and cores. It was a lot smoother than we usually make our applesauce, but delicious! Oh, yes!

Big Little Sister and Little Fire Faery had planned to work at the yard sale their dance school is having, and so Deus Ex Machina drove them out there while I worked. In addition, he had a few other local errands to run, and while he was out on the road, he figured he might stop a couple of places we know where the foraging might be good.

On his way to the dance school, he called.

"So, how would you feel if I brought home whistle pig?" He asked, after I'd picked up the phone.

I paused.

"How fresh is it?" I asked.

When I was a kid, I lived in this wonderful suburb that was truly on the fringes of a newly expanding city. The closest shops were, at least, two miles away, and the subdivision was built just beyond, but not connected to, a country club. We lived four miles or so from the by-pass. We were a fifteen minute drive from the schools and a half hour drive from the military base where my father worked.

We used to walk up to the country club during the summer to use the pool, which after having been originally a private club for the well-to-do set, suffered financially during the 1970s economic collapse and oil crisis, and finally opened to the public. It was mile from my house, and I spent, at least, two entire summers there as a 'tween.

The walk to the pool was along a road that was bookended by woods on either side. It was still a fairly "country" area, and the road dead-ended at our subdivision. There wasn't a lot of traffic, and indeed, there weren't even any lines painted on the road to delineate lanes.

Once, as we walked along, we smelled this sickly sweet odor, and then, we saw this bloated carcass, teeming with little white larvae. The smell and the maggots made me gag, and while my friends wanted to explore the dead thing, I just wanted to get out of there. One of my friends threw a rock into it and it burst, and I almost emptied my lunch right there on the tarred road.

When someone says "road kill" to me, that's what I usually think.

But Michael Douglas, the owner and head instructor of the Maine Primitive Skills School explained during his appearance on the Doomsday Prepper television program a few years ago, that roadkill can be perfectly safe, and the fact is that Deus Ex Machina and I have enjoyed a road kill in the past. Our son-in-law witnessed a deer being hit, and the driver of the car who hit the deer did not want it, and so our son-in-law took it and brought it to us. It was about 60 lbs of free venison, and we enjoyed every morsel.

This seemed a bit different, however, as Deus Ex Machina neither hit the ground hog himself, nor witnessed it being hit.

"I don't know, but wasn't here yesterday when we passed, and it's here today. So, it's been less than twenty-four hours?" He said.

According to Michael Douglas, to test for freshness when encountering road kill, one must pull the hairs on the back of the animal's neck. If they come loose, it's not fresh.

"Smell it," I advised him, after I told him the freshness test.

He assured me he would.

"I'm telling you that you need to really smell it, because if it smells the least bit bad, I won't eat it." I emphasized.

An hour or so later, he was home and butchering it on the picnic table in the yard. He brought it in when it was cleaned, and I took a sniff. It smelled fine.

He cut off the considerable fat stores, which I rendered, giving the cracklins to the dogs and cats, and pouring the fat into a jelly jar to use later.

He cut off the legs, which we stored in a plastic baggy in the freezer for another day.

The rest of the carcass, I boiled - half went into soup, which we ate for dinner. The other half was shredded and put into a pint jar in the refrigerator. We're planning to make it into a chipped-beef kind of gravy to go over mashed potatoes, which we can't have for foraged Sundays, but we can have as a part of our eating from the homestead challenge.

When we started this challenge, I told Deus Ex Machina that I didn't want him to go hunting for a whistle pig, which are always "in season" here in Maine. It just seemed a little unconscionable to kill an animal - like that - just so that we could have meat on Sunday - when we have rabbits in the backyard. I wouldn't want him to kill a crow or a seagull or a turkey, either, just for this challenge (although he did shoot a turkey a few years ago, which we ate for Thanksgiving, but it's not turkey season right now, and we couldn't have a turkey - now - even if we wanted one).

I guess it felt different than fishing, which he and Big Little Sister have been doing - mostly because he already knows how to hunt, and the fishing has been an attempt to learn a new skill. It felt different, also, because we don't raise fish - yet.

But when he called to let me know that he had a road kill ground hog, I figured, we could try it, as long as it was fresh.

I know that a lot of people can relate to my story above of when I encountered road kill for the first time I can remember, and most people probably think of that - a bloated, wriggly carcass that smells sickly sweet and a little stomach-turning. That's not what we had.

But I'll probably be a little careful about where, in my real life, I share the story of our road kill supper.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Eating from the Homestead Week 2: Eat Local Challenge 2014

The thing about challenges is that they are ... challenging, and I have, actually, been surprised at how much of a challenge this challenge has been. It's not that we don't have enough food to eat, even limiting ourselves the way we have, but rather that, in our culture, we have access to so much food, so much of which is not local, and constantly having to remind myself of what is okay to eat and what is verboten has been rather taxing.

Unfortunately, last weekend, we decided not to follow our Foraged Sunday rules, because Deus Ex Machina was not able to forage, but we did keep it local with dinner consisting of chicken and local vegetables. The Nurse Practitioner told Deus Ex Machina to stay home for a few days, which he (reluctantly) did, and we had soup for dinner on Monday night, with lots of garlic (from our garden) to help him build his immune system while his body fought off the allergic reaction to the poison sumac.

Tuesday and Wednesday we tapped into our beef stash for steak and roast. I also made use of some of the frozen tomatoes from last year's garden in the pot roast. It was a rainy, chilly day - perfect for a hearty, heavy meal. Thursday, we, again had beef, and I, again, looked toward our stored foods. The field corn I've been growing, harvesting and storing for a while now, has come in really handy. This week, Precious and I ground a few cups of it, and I made a, kind of, corn tortilla.

I'm looking at recipes for making grits with some of the corn - just to see if I can.

I've never been one to eat three meals per day, anyway. I start my days slow, often not eating my first meal until almost lunch time on most days. In my attempts to eat from the homestead, brunch has been potatoes grated and fried with an egg on the side. I love this time of year, when I can add tomatoes, vine-ripened and delicious, to the meal. The only thing that would make that kind of meal more perfect is a slice of mozzarella cheese.

Alas, there isn't a creamery close enough to my house that I could use their cheese this month in my challenge, but ... the good news is that I can have cheese - if I make it, and that's exactly what I did on Saturday night.

I made ricotta, and we still have enough milk to make either a batch of mozzarella or some yogurt. And we can always head back over to the farm for more milk, if we run out. I'm looking forward to zucchini lasagna with my homemade ricotta for dinner on Monday night.

And I have a lot of whey to use. Looks like it's time to start fermenting. Zucchini pickles anyone?


Melonie at Wandering Quail Road is participating in the challenge to eat local for the month, and not only is she eating food, mostly, from her local food shed, but she's also been foraging! A woman after my own heart.

And yay for berry season!

Give Melonie a shout-out, and if you're participating in the challenge to eat, at least, one local meal per week for the month of August, leave a comment and let us know how it's going. What are your greatest challenges? How do you deal with cravings for non-local foods? What, if anything, have you learned?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Eating From the Homestead - Eat Local Challenge 2014

I had mixed feelings about actually doing this challenge. I've been contemplating it for years, but I have always been afraid that we would eat all of the food I grew and then, we wouldn't have anything stored for winter and we'd starve. I know, silly, right? But the reality is that we grow some portion of our food, but our diet is heavily (more heavily than I like to admit ... in public) subsidized by food we buy. I know this, but I like to pretend it isn't always true.

So, I procrastinated in doing the challenge.

Then, Deus Ex Machina started his Foraged Sundays challenge, and I posed the idea to him that we combine our two challenges in August and still forage on Sunday, but eat from our homestead for the rest of the week. He was game, and we started the challenge.

It hasn't been difficult, exactly. The hardest part has been realizing how much I tend to grab-and-go. That is, I realized that I eat a lot of nuts and foods like that when I'm waiting for my daughters at their various activities, and this past week, not being able to do so was actually kind of tough. One day of the challenge, when I was feeling particularly peckish, I remembered that I grew popcorn. It was still hanging in the dining room, looking more ornamental than edible.

It's completely edible and took the edge off my hunger.

It's been an interesting week, and we haven't been completely successful in keeping our food intake to within the requisite five mile radius, but there have been extenuating circumstances. This week we had to choose between being strict about adhering to our very rigid personal food standards, or being thankful that we had friends and family who cared enough to wish for our company and accept invitations for community and camaraderie. We choose the latter. It's all well and good to have personal standards (and we still opted out of anything with gluten, including the mass-market National brand beer, which I wouldn't drink - even if I weren't avoiding gluten ;)), but sometimes life is better with people we love, even if they don't agree with or fully understand why we do what we do.

So, last Saturday and this past Friday, we ended up at social gatherings filling our bellies with food that was, decidedly, not local (except the homemade pickled beets at last Friday's gathering that were grown at a local farm and canned less than 2 miles from my house - local and delicious ... and, hey, Gar, we would love more, if you have them :)).

The rest of the week, however, was spent enjoying the abundance of our local food shed. Deus Ex Machina even managed to make a lunch each day that was (mostly) from our homestead (the first couple of days of the week he said he was cleaning out the leftovers, and he may have taken some leftover rice for lunch).

I didn't take any pictures or record what we had eaten. I ate a lot of hash browned potatoes with eggs during the day. It's actually one of my favorite fast meals. We enjoyed some steaks, hamburg, and stir-fry, compliments of Corky the cow who previously lived at the dairy farm up the road. We also had chicken, which we raised on our farm.

This week was a long lesson in doing without. The Tortilla soup (which is another of those quick, simple dishes I make frequently, especially in cool or rainy weather) wasn't nearly as satisfying without the tortilla chips, shredded cheese and the yogurt I usually add. I still haven't made yogurt or cheese, and it's still on the "to do" list, and either I'll get around to it, or we'll spend a month bemoaning all of the things we can not have.

Still, I'm not hungry, and so far, between what we grow here and what we are able to purchase at the farm stand, we've had plenty to eat.


Melonie, over at Wandering Quail Road has also decided to join the challenge, which she has combined with her own challenge "What Would Ma Ingalls Do?" She had an incredibly tasty week that included local foods from her CSA, some bounty from her own garden, and some wild caught blackberries. I'm impressed and inspired by Melonie to work harder at my own challenge, and I love her WWMID challenge. Too fun!

Be sure to check out Melonie's blog about her week of local eating.

And if you're joining the challenge, leave a comment and let me know how it's gone. I'll post a link to your local meal in my weekly Challenge Update blog post.

The most fun in doing these challenges, for me - at least early in my locavore days -, has been sharing my story with other people. It was always fun to see what other folks were eating where they were. I will always be a bit jealous of the Californians who can avocados and olives, but as I recall, there were some people who envied my meals of fresh-caught lobster. So, it all balances out, right?


In the interest of full disclosure, I should also let those of you who read my blog, but aren't on Facebook, know that Deus Ex Machina and I failed in our Foraged Foods only Sunday this week and had to fall back on just eating local (dinner was grilled chicken, corn from the farm stand, and some garden vegetables sliced and eaten raw - a real homestead meal, actually).

Last week, while cutting some vines growing near the road, Deus Ex Machina met a new neighbor. Apparently, and unbeknownst to us, we have poison sumac growing among the bittersweet vines. What started out as just a very irritating rash turned into a pretty serious case of contact dermatitis with some possible cellulitis.

We had to visit the Quick Care this weekend. The nurse practitioner was deeply surprised - almost to the point of awe - by his condition. The rash covered his entire right side (both extremities and his chest under his arm). It was bright red (like a very, very bad sunburn) with weepy pustules. He probably wouldn't have gone to the clinic for just the rash, but when his hand and foot swelled to twice their usual size, we figured he should probably get checked out, in case it was cellulitis. Unfortunately, because he could barely walk, he did not go foraging on Sunday, and so we cheated and had chicken and local vegetables instead.

He'll be fine, but it's a good lesson in building awareness, in the difficulty of balancing natural remedies and modern busyness, and in the need to balance our health concerns with our work lives.

Edible Gardens Can Also Be Pretty

It's always exciting when the Johnny Seed catalog arrives sometime in January. I take stock of the seeds I have leftover, and I decide what I think I might direct sow, whether or not I want to give the greenhouse another chance, and what I might just decide to purchase as plants from a local nursery.

This year at seed ordering time, I had plenty of vegetable seeds from years past and/or that we had saved. Instead of being distracted by all of the pretty colors and the veggie porn, I decided that I wasn't ordering any vegetable seeds (well, except for the ones for sprouts, and those are an important part of our diet - especially during the winter). Instead, I decided that I wanted color and beauty in my garden this year.

So, I ordered several varieties of edible flowers. When the seeds arrived, I was disappointed that I would have to wait to plant them, but when it finally started getting warm enough, I put the seeds in a seed starting mix and tucked them into the greenhouse. I (not) carefully (enough) watered them and nurtured them, and then ... nothing. I don't think any of them actually sprouted. I'm sure it's my lack of skill and not that the seeds were bad. Pretty sure, anyway.

I was bummed.

I was sure my hopes for a colorful, all edible (or medicinal) garden were dashed.

Fate conspired for me, this time, and I've ended up with a beautiful, bountiful garden with lots of flowers and fruits - with a special huge thanks to my friend, Brent, who talked me into giving the grape vine one more chance. Hopefully, we'll actually harvest some grapes this year.