Tuesday, August 27, 2013

... To My Heart's Content

I love this time of year. August is just the BEST month for local foods here in Maine, and it's the month when there is the greatest variety of FRESH fruits. Early apples are starting to ripen, peaches and melons are available at the farm stands, and blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are making their final stands. Ahh! The bounty!

It's also when other vegetables are starting to ripen in the garden. The summer favorites like zucchini, tomatoes and peppers ... and sweet corn!

I'm feeling full just thinking about it.

My girls had dental appointments this morning, and we stopped at the farm stand downtown on our way home. So much food! I probably spent more than I should have (especially considering that we also have a lot of food ready to pick in the garden), but it's just so good. I stopped, because they have melons, which we just don't have the room to grow here on the nanofarm, but I always end up getting other stuff, too ... whether I need it or not ... like the bag of apples.

We came home, and I made hash-browned potatoes (from our garden) and eggs (from our chickens) with sliced tomatoes and melon wedges (from the farm stand ... what? they were cute, little tomatoes!).

In addition to the garden and farm bounty, Mother Nature is being incredibly generous this time of year. We drove to Bangor this weekend to attend the Folk Music Festival. We bought food from a vendor, and then, while looking for a place to sit so that we could eat our lunch, we found an apple tree. We sat on the grass in the shade and had apples for dessert.

I can't imagine being hungry at this time of year. There is so much food around me that sometimes it's too much.

Which, I think, makes it very important to be thankful for the bounty, and always remember, eat a little and save a little for the future.

Last night, I made chicken stew with dumplings (I really like dumplings!). With the exception of the dumplings (which were homemade by Big Little Sister), everything in the stew was from our yard and included chicken, potatoes, carrots, turnips and kale.

Little Fire Faery picked the turnips, and I had her wash the greens and put them into the dehydrator.

The goal every year is always to store more and depend less on the grocery store than we did the year before, and while we're not making very huge strides with our canning endeavors so far, we have managed to store a boatload of greens, dehydrated and waiting to be added to our winter soups and stews.

And in the meantime, we are very much enjoying the feeling of our bellies being full of fresh stuff from the bounty of our home garden and the local farmers.

Speaking of which ... I should head over to the butcher and pick up the ten frozen chickens he has waiting for us - those last few were smaller than usual, but they'll still keep us fed through what the Farmer's Almanac is saying will be a worse winter (more snow and bitter cold) than we've seen for the past few years.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Felling Trees

Today, for the first time ever, we had someone cut down a very large tree on our property.

I don't, usually, like it when people take down trees, even saplings, but I do recognize that some culling can beneficial to the surrounding trees. When the trees are growing too closely together, they don't grow as well. Given that we burn wood for heat, I also recognize that we need those trees for fuel.

I guess what bothers me about the cutting of trees is really when a whole area is razed for another building, and yes, that bothers me ... a LOT, especially considering how many empty and/or for sale homes I pass and how many empty and/or for lease store fronts I see. We don't need more buildings. We don't. And there have been plenty of old homes that have had "green" makeovers. We don't need to destroy more wild space to build something new when there are so many already developed spaces that could be renovated - or at worst, the old building torn down and something rebuilt on the same footprint.

The tree we had taken down was a dead oak, and it had been standing dead for at least a season. The arborist told us that it will be ready to burn this winter. Our neighbor had a dead maple, and with our neighbor's permission, we paid to have the arborist cut it down too. Our neighbor is giving us the wood.

I am thankful for the wood that will warm our home this winter, and down where that old oak stood is a smaller oak - its offspring, I'm sure - that may have a chance, now that it can see the sun.

And wouldn't it be grand if I'm still here to see the baby oak get as big and majestic as the one that was just felled?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Backyard Food

It wasn't so many years ago that we were participating in Eat Local Challenges. One of my favorites was the Dark Days of Winter challenge, because here in Maine, during those dark days, one can feel as if there really isn't anything to eat except what's at the grocery store ... and who knows where that stuff came from. With some planning, and careful shopping, we were able to eat local through the several months when nothing is really growing.

We've come quite a long way since that time - to the point where we find ourselves today. Nearly every meal is more than 80% local.

Every.Meal.

And a good portion of that local food is homegrown.

I love preparing a meal and sitting down to eat, and then realizing that most of what we have on our plates was grown here, on our nanofarm.

Like, tonight. We had chicken fingers. We raised the chicken, and I cut off the breast meat, sliced it into strips, dipped it in a homemade batter, and fried in olive oil until the battered strips were crispy and brown. They were so delicious and tender and yummy and crispy, and way better than anything we could have bought. I'm not saying that because I cooked them. I saying it because it was that good.

I also made coleslaw using a farm stand cabbage and carrots from our garden, and we had cantaloupe from the farm stand also.

And Deus Ex Machina and I each enjoyed one of our homebrewed beers.

I ate too much, as usual ;).

For those of you who are attempting to eat local foods, what is your biggest challenge? What is your biggest success?

I watched this video today about an impoverished community that transformed their drab, dirty, and crime-ridden alleyway into a garden oasis, and I was heartened to see the possibilities. These people didn't settle for what they were given. Instead, they strove to make something different and better.

A few seeds, some containers, some dirt, a bit of water, lots of sunshine, and a bit of patience, and miracles do happen. Not only are they growing food, but they've created a cooperative community where everyone pitches in and everyone benefits.

It's amazing what can be accomplished.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: Wick Omnibus by Michael Bunker

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Doomer fiction. I'm fascinated by the possible scenarios dreamed up by these imaginative artists, and I'm usually sucked right into the story. I love supposing what I would do in the characters' situations.

Like in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, would I just opt out, like the mother, or would I struggle to find something - anything - to feed my son and myself, while hiding from other people who decide not to struggle looking for old canned goods and just take the easy way by eating the other survivors. That book gave me nightmares, because there was no solution. The Earth was destroyed and nothing was growing. We never knew what happen, but it seemed to have been man-made.

But in the end, there was hope, but things were never going to be as they were ....

In Larry Niven's and Jerry Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer the world is destroyed by a comet hitting the earth, and it's chaos. There are the usual characters: the unwilling hero; the weak, ineffectual female wholly dependent on the stronger men; the cannibals .... One group figures things out, though, and end up getting control of a nuclear power plant, and voila! The World As We Knew It redux. The end of that one saddened me, because no one learned anything. They didn't learn how to live better than we had been and didn't care to learn. They didn't want to be plunged back into the dark ages, which always seems the concern in most of the Doomer novels.

Which was what made Michael Bunker's The Wick Omnibus: The Complete Collection so very interesting ... and different. In fact, regarding the dark ages, and a potential return there to, he points out that, while Medieval cities were pretty horrible, Medieval life outside the cities, in villages where people lived unmolested (and he points out that the unmolested part is what's important), people could live just as long as people do today - even without all of our modern amenities. In short, modern life has not increased our potential for longevity, because people lived to ripe OLD ages even back when there were no flush toilets or a pill for every ailment.

The story in W1CK was engaging, as were the characters, and I found that I did care about them. I even enjoyed the omniscient narrator. The writing was wonderful, because Bunker is clearly well-read and interspersed in the action were some wonderful allusions to some fantastic writers and their works.

Additionally, throughout, the narrator would interject little factoids about our world society that pointed out how very fragile and dependent all of our systems are. It wouldn't take much for it all to simply crumble.

This book is a warning bell, a what-could-happen-if-we-don't-pay-attention. It starts out with a couple of natural disasters that really throw things into a tailspin, and while Bunker throws in an EMP attack, too, to really make things dicey, the fact is, as he points out in the beginning, a couple of natural disasters hitting too close together, could put this world in a very bad place. Our society is teetering on a very steep ledge and it wouldn't take much to plunge us into the abyss.

But if we're smart and if we're ready to live life differently, it won't be a hardship. We don't just have to survive. We can thrive.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cow Pie

"What do you want for dinner?"

"I don't know. What do you want for dinner?"

That's the pre-dinner conversation at my house nearly every.single.night. Sometimes I just want some idea of something someone else would like me to cook - that's fast and easy and doesn't require a bread dough (Big Little Sister has a stock answer to the question - pizza:). I don't ask her that question very often).

So, we're sitting around at 6:30. I haven't started anything, yet, and I've asked Deus Ex Machina ... twice ... what he wants. He's not answering and just keeps batting the question back at me, like we're playing some linguistic tennis match.

"We have hamburg and stew beef in the fridge," he offers.

I nod.

"We could have spaghetti."

"No tomato sauce," I tell him. "But we have green tomatoes in the garden I could throw in there. It's just going to take a while for those to cook down to a consistency you'd like."

I grin. Fun, isn't it? I'm thinking. This trying to figure out what to put on the plates. It's the hardest thing I do all day long, in fact, and it's not just inventorying the kitchen for what's available. It's much more complicated than that.

"We could put the stew meat in the oven with some cut up potatoes."

"We don't have any potatoes. Although, I could see if any are ready to harvest." I'm thinking there are probably some new potatoes in the garden, but I'd like to wait just a bit longer before I disturb the buckets, as anything harvested right now wouldn't be much more than just a single meal. It seems a shame to waste a whole bucket for just one dinner.

That's it. He doesn't offer any other ideas, and in the meantime, my brain has been ticking. What do we have? Ground beef. We could have burritos or nachos. Nope. No cheese.

What's tough is that everyone (well, except me and Little Fire Faery) is pretty particular about what needs to be included ... or excluded ... from a meal. Deus Ex Machina likes every meal to have meat. It doesn't have to be a lot of meat, but the meat does need to be there. Big Little Sister needs some sort of grain-based food. Bread is her favorite, but she'll settle for pasta (but not pasta with tomato sauce or meat sauce), and she doesn't eat ground beef ... unless it's made into taco meat. She also doesn't eat pot roast or turkey or fish or eggs (unless in the form of custard or bread pudding) or most vegetables. Sometimes it's easier to figure out what she will eat than to remember the laundry list of things at which she will turn up her nose. Precious will usually try anything, but she has some things she doesn't eat. There are a few vegetables that she claims not to like, including kale and cabbage, both of which I adore, but interestingly, she'll eat a tomato like it's an apple.

I try to make something nutritious that everyone will eat at every meal, and I try to have a lot of choices, because I hate food battles, but the result is that I make things a lot more difficult for myself. This time of year is particularly difficult, because there are so many YUMMY things available, both in my garden and at the farm stand. If I had my way, tonight, I'd have sautéed some summer squash with kale and garlic butter, and maybe some herb of some kind, and called it dinner, but Little Fire Faery and I would have been the only ones who'd have enjoyed it. No meat. No bread. Kale.

We sat staring at each other in silence for several minutes. And then, I jumped up and searched the cookbook ... er, google, for a recipe for "hamburger pie." I didn't have the ingredients for most of the recipes on line, which included mashed potatoes and cheese, but what I did have was some old bread (our neighbors gave to us, because they wouldn't be able to eat it before it went bad, and they figured since there are a lot more of us here than there are of them, we'd be sure to use it up ... and we will - with a great deal of thanks!), and eggs from the chickens, and the aforementioned ground beef, and an assortment of vegetables from the garden and the farm stand.

What I made was bread pudding - for Big Little Sister, because I knew she'd eat it (yes, I realize I fed my daughter dessert for dinner, and she was happy, and it was our eggs and raw milk and organic sugar. So, it's all good).

And then, I made a hamburger pie. I browned the ground beef, and while it was cooking, I threw in an onion, a half tomato, half bell pepper and half summer squash that were leftover from another meal, and a turnip from our garden. While the meat mixture was cooking, I had my girls beat three eggs and soak three pieces of bread in the egg. I added a tablespoon of the herbs from my garden that I'd dried today. When the meat mixture was brown, I put it in a baking dish and spread the bread mixture on the top, and baked it for about a half hour in a 350° oven.

It was REALLY good. While Big Little Sister did not have any, Precious did, and she commented a couple of times one how good it was. She especially liked the cooked bell peppers. Go figure!

While we were eating, I told everyone what was in it, and when I said it was ground beef, Little Fire Faery said, "See? I knew it was cow pie."

And so this dish that was made up on the fly in my kitchen now has a name.

The bread I used on the pie was pumpernickel. I'm sure that didn't have anything to do with the name Little Fire Faery chose for it :).

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Question for Readers in the UK

This was posted on a forum over here in the US, and I was hoping I could find out if it's actually true.

The British government is warning their people of an impending solar flare, they refer to as a "solar superstorm". The government is warning their population of the possibility of a "slight" disruption in power and communications for a duration. That is a very British way of saying that the power is going to be out for "weeks, months, or maybe slightly longer". They are asking their population to consider alternative forms of power.

There hasn't been much talk of solar flares here in the US, with the exception of the occasional reporting in a science rag - which no one is taking seriously (because we might miss the important news - like which politician is soliciting sex in the bathroom or which celebrity is filing for divorce or who just won the latest reality show).

I'm just curious if the British government has really issued this kind of warning to their people - that is, the general population.

Thanks ;).