Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blueberry Butter

This is lovely, rich, sweet, and ever so faintly tart with a hint of lemon. Even with such a large batch, I simply did not make enough. It's lovely on toast, waffles, and pancakes, of course, but is also amazing on ice cream, stirred into oatmeal, and spooned between layers of muffin batter and baked.

16 cups frozen blueberries

½ cup lemon Juice

3 cups Maple syrup

2 tsp Cinnamon

Run the still frozen blueberries through food processor, and grind them into chunks, but don't puree them.

Pour just the blueberries into a large crock pot, and cook on high, covered, until hot. It should steam slightly, but not bubble; about 150 degrees F.

Uncover, and continue to cook the blueberries on high until they thicken, and the butter reduces by one quarter to one third.

Add all of the other ingredients, bring back to temp, and cook down until desired consistency is achieved.

Sterilize 16 quarter pint jars, bands, and lids.

Spoon the hot blueberry butter into the jars, place on lids and tighten the bands to fingertip tight.

Process in hot water bath canner for 10 minutes (15 for high altitude), then remove the canner lid and let jars cool in the canner for 5 more minutes.

Remove the jars, and set on a wire rack to cool.

Leave them undisturbed for 12 hours. Check all of the seals before storing. 
As always, can at your own risk.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Banana Butter

This is a long-awaited and much-promised recipe. This stuff is amazing. I wanted to show you a beautiful full jar, but, well, I just can't seem to keep it in the house long enough to photograph it. This was as close as I could get. When spread over the top of buttered toast, it tastes like a cross between banana bread and cinnamon rolls. It is, by far, the most favorite recipe in the house. It's also perfect for using up those few leftover mushy bananas. You can throw them, unpeeled, into the freezer, and just thaw and peel them when you have enough. This recipe is easily multiplied, but as bananas don't really have a season here in the Northeast, I honestly don't bother.

1 ½ cups Mashed Ultra-ripe Banana (about 4 whole bananas)
3 Tbsp Maple Syrup
¾ tsp Lemon Juice
1/8 tsp Vanilla Extract
¾ tsp Cinnamon
1/16 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Salt

Pour mashed banana into crock pot, and cook on low, with lid off, stirring about every half hour to an hour, until banana is slightly drier than desired finished product. About 8-10 hours. The idea is to slowly caramelize the banana, before adding any other ingredients.
Add remaining ingredients, and stir thoroughly.
Adjust consistency if necessary by cooking down or adding water. Cook on high, covered, until banana butter is steaming.

Sterilize one 8 ounce jar and lid.
Pack banana butter into the hot jar, leaving ¼ inch head space. Cover with lid, screw band to fingertip tight, and let it cool completely on the counter. This is not shelf stable, so just place it in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Make Do and Mend

I went through my yarn stash yesterday. Decades of accumulation, a wealth of fiber, honestly more wool than you can shake a stick at. I've been piling it up for, um, mumble years, and then there's all the yarn I inherited from my grandmother. Holy cow. Boxes and bins, and bags of the stuff. It was time. I had reached the point where I wanted to work in the studio, and I couldn't even walk in there. So, I took a day and did it. It took me 7 hours just to pull out all the yarn, decide whether or not to keep it, then sort what I wanted by fiber content and weight. All the little leftover balls have one home now, and all of my sock yarn is in one big plastic bin. Within an hour, all the discarded yarn was boxed up and waiting to be sent out to friends who will put it to good use. Not a single skein is left in limbo. Bliss.

All of the old half-finished projects have been sorted, and I've decided to keep ONE. It was a scarf I started twelve years ago, and yesterday I finished it, and hung it around my husband's neck. The rest of the projects will be ripped out and re-skeined, destined for other purposes. That was a hard, but necessary decision. In order to work, I really need to be organized.

I also need to be realistic about my past and future fiber purchases. Because let me tell you, for the last year, I've sort of been out of control with the fiber purchases. And though I've just cut down the amount of yarn I own by about half, there is still so much that I know it's going to take me a good while to get through. Maybe years. I'm counting the fiber waiting to be spun by the sheep, now. Seriously, you can measure my waiting stash in pounds, forget ounces. And though I have every intention of getting through it all at some point, by spinning fine I get through about two ounces a day if I'm lucky, and do nothing else. Go ahead and do the math, I'll be crying in the corner. A good friend of mine said, “You're going to have to start seriously weaving.” And I thought to myself, “She's right, because I'll never get through it all by knitting.”

And that was when I came to some hard realizations. I was buying fiber FAR faster than I could use it. By leaps and bounds, in fact. The other realization I had was that I have everything I need to do any project I want. Seriously, I have a bin for lace yarn, and I've never knit lace in my life. I have books for it too, and all of that filed under the category of “someday”. Trust me when I tell you that that is the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg. I mean, what on earth am I doing?!?

It's time for a moratorium on fiber purchases. Whatever is in my stash is what I get to work with until it gets down to a manageable size, because this is just not healthy for me. Over the course of going through the yarn I found stuff I didn't even know I had, stuff I had bought more of, because I didn't know it was in there. No, just no, I refuse to live like this, stacking stuff in the basement long past the point of usefulness.

But it's not easy. I have just fallen in love with a line of hand dyed commercial top, a blend of merino, cashmere and silk that spins and knits up like kitten fur. Every person in the house has been petting it, no joke, and I've promised various articles to nearly everyone. So, maybe I'll just get some of that. I can make an exception, just one, right? Woah, did you see what I almost did there? No. Danger Will Robinson.

Do you hear that whining sound? Yeah. This is hard. But... how do you justify buying more, when you already have plenty? Is this in keeping with the way I want to live my life? It's time to put my big-girl panties on and admit the truth. No, no it's not. Not even remotely. I got caught up in plain old consumerism, and that's the truth. It jumped right out and mugged me.

It's time to take an old phrase out and use it. One of my favorites. Make do and mend. The truth is that all of the yarn I kept is beautiful, and all of the fiber waiting to be spun is lovely and will make beautiful things, from mittens and scarves to rugs. These are all projects that have been waiting in the wings, and there is no reason in the world why I can't do them instead of buying new fiber to do something else. And if a project occurs to me that I don't have the yarn for? Well, it could happen. I only have maybe two sweaters-worth of matching yarn, my projects run higher to socks. But it's not even a hardship to work around at this point. I can either spin what I need, or the project can just plain wait. As for the perpetual dearth of wool socks in the house, well, I have a whole bin full of yarn for those, and everyone is just going to have to live with the colors I have, instead of new and different ones. This goes for Christmas presents as well.

As for the second part, mend, I'm going to have to make some time for that. During the yarn purge I found lots of socks that had been stuck downstairs in my studio because they had blown a hole or two. What an excellent opportunity to get some more socks into circulation. After all, my grandmother considered darning an even more essential skill than knitting itself. I stuck all the socks with gaping holes, their matching balls of leftovers, and my darning egg into a basket, and took them upstairs to mend. With the little leftover balls all in one spot in the studio, I think it'll be far easier to get motivated about darning the hand made socks.

So this morning I sat in my chair, drank tea, and darned my socks. The first pair had one hole, two balding spots, and had already been mended once. Sheesh. I hadn't even knit them myself, they were a gift from my Auntie, and all the more precious for it. (Yes Vicki, another hole. I know, I know, I really need to take the sandpaper out of my shoes.) I felt centered again, and in balance. And I realized that not only did it never occur to my family to throw away those holey socks instead of fixing them, but that I was using my grandmother's venerated darning needle to do it. So maybe I'm going to be ok after all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Last Harvest

The first frost came in the small hours of the morning. When we woke, there were the tell-tale signs along the edges of the yard. The color seemed a little brighter, and the ferns were all brown and black, instead of the orangey gold of the day before. The basil gave its last, alone and unseen, some time in the night. All that remained were some black stalks, and a few withered leaves, the edges curled.

If I sound a bit melancholy, well, that's because I am. I went out this morning and picked every last tomato, green and ripe alike. I'll be honest, picking those heirloom yellow pear tomatoes, still green, almost brought a tear to my eye. I'd like to say that I have mixed feelings on the subject, that the pain of no more tomatoes was balanced by not having to weed, but it just wouldn't be true. The carrots were all gone a week ago, the green beans almost a month, and I felt the same way. The fact that the first frost is two to three weeks late this year just seems no compensation at all.

The season is changing, and the house and yard smell of fall. The whiff of wood smoke, the dry rotting smell of fallen leaves, the sharp and faintly spicy smell of freshly dug onions, and underneath it, the sweet smell of apples, ripening in their bushel boxes in the kitchen. I came in after puttering and picking to the rich smell of pork and beans in the crock pot, loaded with maple syrup and onions. The sweet fatty taste was exactly what my body craved after working outside on a crisp morning. It was made all the more seasonal with a glass of cold apple cider.

So now what to do with the last of the garden riches? Well, none of the winter squash
were what one could call prize winning. It fact, I do believe they are the smallest specimens I've ever seen. It caused Shawn and I to smile nearly every time we checked on them this summer. The two tiny butternut squashes are definitely destined for soup, probably this weekend. The tiny mystery pumpkin (I swear, we didn't plant one!) will likely meet the same fate. As for the others? Only time will tell. Until then, they will keep nicely in the basement. The tomatoes will be sorted. Those which have started to ripen will be left on a sunny counter to do so, then be sliced and dried. The rest will be made into green tomato relish.

This feels almost like the reading of a will. What is left at the end must be taken stock of, and disposed of to its proper place and use. In my defense, I am aware that I am being extraordinarily sentimental. But I have so deeply enjoyed having a garden again this summer that it feels like I'd like it to go on forever. Nothing does, however, for if it did, how would we ever appreciate it? But still... the soul sighs for sweet, fresh tomatoes, the sharp bite of basil, warm breezy days, and the drone of crickets.

I do enjoy the things of fall, just as much as those of summer. I love sitting and knitting by the fire, and wrapping myself up in wool and cashmere, long walks with the dog in the crisp air, not to mention all of the glorious color. And there are the apples still, coming in to the house from a local orchard at regular enough intervals to make me feel like a little momma squirrel. They are waiting in their boxes to be made into apple sauce, apple butter, fruit leather with cinnamon, and dried apple rings. But today I need to put up relish with the last of the green tomatoes. So I'll take a deep breath, and step out of the last of summer.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homemaking as a Political Statement

I know that I should probably stick to recipes, and stories about my family, but as our Federal Government has spent the last two weeks partially shutdown, I find I just cannot resist speaking up about something. I promise, this is actually completely non-partisan in nature.

I've spent the last couple of weeks talking to some very worried folks. The government shut down has affected a lot of families, and has made even more families uncertain about their long-term security. Even though I fully expect that by the time this is published everything will be back on track, a lot of damage has already been done to the economy, and even more damage has been done to people's faith in the continuation of our economic system. The way it works is that the Federal government borrows money, and then lends it to banks, who in turn lend it to businesses large and small. For most people, that means that their ability to put food on the table relies on a grocery store, and that grocery store relies on the Federal government being able to borrow money, and lend it cheaply. I have no intention of discussing how we got here, and I'm equally uninterested in pointing fingers. But folks, this is the reality for most of us.

The thing is, I am a homemaker, and my job is to keep my family safe and warm, loved and fed. Because that is my only job, I have what is often seen as the luxury of time and energy to pursue it. My occupation is seen as a bonus, a boon to my family, an appreciated, yet essentially unnecessary vocation. But what if it isn't?

I have a house full of food. I also have an entire winter's heat stacked neatly in my basement. These two things represent an entire summer and fall of hard work. Work so hard, in fact, that I haven't been writing, or even checking my email much. I have gobs of new recipes and techniques to share, not to mention a new knitting pattern, and I will get to that soon now that the season is winding down, but today I really want to talk about homemaking and economics. And I want to do so by committing an enormous faux pas. I'm going to talk about money and politics. Not on a National scale, mind you, but on a very personal one.

Let me preface this by saying that it is a gross generalization, and I make no judgments or recommendations for how other folks run their households. With a second income in my household, some things would be easier, it's true. But that money is more likely than not to be used. Very few couples or families end up putting the whole of one person's income into savings. It's the nature of money, it gets spent. But what if a second person's efforts can be almost entirely converted into savings, by their very nature? In my family, my husband provides a monetary income, and I provide for a share of the necessary household outlay, such as tending a garden and a few livestock animals. This puts food on the table, and reduces the grocery expenses, both by providing free food, and by avoiding the cost of convenience food. Now, that doesn't take up all of my time, and neither does it exhaust the produce we get out of the garden or from local farmers (it's much cheaper to buy in bulk, and in season). So when I preserve food, and store it away for the coming year, it converts the rest of my efforts into direct savings. Those things represent wealth more concrete than money in the bank, as it is food that we don't have to buy later, and gathered and stored at a much lower price. At the same time, my job requires no expenses for child care, travel expenses, or a second wardrobe of work appropriate clothing. In addition to that, I handle all of the bookkeeping for the household and farm, and ensure that we aren't caught short, and that our monetary income is used to its best effect. My income, in real terms, without any nonsense claims of having to hire a bookkeeper, gardener, chauffeur, cook, or house keeper, is something in the neighborhood of $30,000 per year. That's how much money it would cost my family for me to get a job, which means that I would have to earn that in take-home income, AND still do laundry, household bookkeeping, cooking, cleaning, mending, home maintenance, errand running, research, and any hiring of contractors that still has to be done – just to break even.

Now all of those economic benefits of homemaking have been touched on before, and by those much wiser than myself. The cost benefit analysis of staying home has been done to death, and I do believe I've been clear about my situation and feelings on the matter. What I really want to talk about it this. My income is not dependent on the Federal government. The savings generated by my labors are not subject to the stability of the banking system. As a matter of fact, in the case of a poorly performing or even failing economy, my labors, stacked neatly away in gleaming jars and vacuum sealed bags, carefully tucked into the freezer and nestled into bushel baskets, can only increase in value. Even in a booming economy, my savings do not actually lose value. Everyone needs to eat.

When you add to that the fact that I simply cannot lose my job, cannot be fired, furloughed, laid off, or downsized, it adds yet another layer of economic stability to my family. And that's really the heart of it. Stability. I can talk about money, and income, and cost benefit until I'm blue in the face. But the truth of the matter is that even if the Federal government shuts down again in January or defaults in February (which it seems no one can rule out at this point), we will still have months of food and heat stored in the house. My family doesn't have to worry as much about the price of food, because our food is not as dependent upon Federal politics nor world economics. How do you put a price on that? How do you measure that kind of stability as part of the GDP?

You don't. As a matter of fact, I am a scum-sucking drain on the GDP, and everything I do makes it worse. That's really something that bears discussing. Instead of acting like a momma squirrel, and working my tail off, I could borrow all or part of that $30,000 per year, drive my family into debt, and wreck the family finances. I would then be growing the GDP, and making the economy “better”.

Woah. When did that happen? When did what is financially best for the country become a disaster for American families? When did doing what is financially best for our families become bad for the American economy? And more importantly, how do we fix that? I don't really know the answers to these questions. I am neither an economist, nor an historian. But I do know that these are things that we should be talking about. I also know that I am going to continue to do what I believe is best for my family and my local community, even if that means not doing my part for the economy as a whole, or at least not in a way that can currently be measured. I will continue to design my life with the goal that no one will be able to make a stand or a point with my family's economic security. Does that make me a radical? Yeah, maybe. A radical homemaker.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Peaches and Cardamom Preserves

So, about that case of peaches. I have made a discovery. I'm sure it's not totally new, I'm sure that I'm re-inventing the wheel here, but peaches... were MADE for cardamom. I'm in love with this jam. It started on a whim. I made a nice big batch of peaches and honey preserves, nothing special, just the recipe inside the Pomona Pectin box. Really nice and sweet. But my canner only holds 12 jam jars at a time, so while I was processing the first batch of filled jars, I decided to throw a bit of cardamom in the pot of left-overs. I had a jar rattling around in the spice cabinet, bought for gluten free pepparkakor cookie experimentation (which I still haven't gotten quite right). Why not, right? It smelled nice together, and I really do love cardamom.

Holy cow. Yum. Like, galactic yum. I'm eating this stuff out of the pot with a spoon. I'm going to have to develop a decent gluten free shortbread cookie recipe JUST to showcase this jam. I think you get the drift here, I'm a fan. And to top it all off, it's easy to make.

I blanch my (very ripe) peaches in hot water, until the skins just started to flake, then dump them into cold water in the sink. At that point, you can just rub the skins right off. Easy peezy. I remove the pit, chop them into large chunks, put them all into a large bowl, and just give them a few squashes with a potato masher. My mom likes her peach preserves with nice-sized chunks in it, so that's what I make. If you like it smooth, run it through the food processor or use an immersion blender. Just make sure that you measure it after you mash it.

Peaches and Cardamom Preserves

3 cups Lightly Mashed Peaches (peeled and pitted)
¾ cup Honey
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Calcium Water
3/4 Tbsp Pomona Pectin
3/8 tsp Cardamom

Sterilize 4 half pint jars, lids and bands.
Mix honey and pectin thoroughly in a bowl.
Bring peaches, lemon juice, cardamom, and calcium water to a boil in a large pot.
Mix honey-pectin into peaches, and stir to dissolve pectin.
Bring mixture back to a boil, then remove from heat.
Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch head space.
Cover each jar as filled, and tighten bands.
Process jars in hot water bath canner with the lid on for 10 minutes (15 for high altitude).
Remove canner lid, and let jars sit in open canner for 5 minutes.
Remove jars and place on cooling rack.
Let sit undisturbed for 12 hours. Check seals before storing.
Remember, can at your own risk.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I had plans for yesterday. They involved the 20 pound case of peaches which is, at this moment, still sitting on the kitchen floor. They were beautiful plans, involving jam, and maybe some more fruit leather. Maybe canned sliced peaches. And then, life happened.

Today is my eldest daughter's 9th birthday, and there is no one here but the four of us and my mother. And there will be no one else for a couple of weeks. Why? We have grade-school-plague. Yup, you got it. Lice. Lice that I discovered at about 10 o'clock yesterday morning. I know where we got them from, but I'm naming no names, because it happens to almost everyone at some point.

If my house didn't look like a bomb had gone off before, it certainly does now. My couch is covered in clean sheets, my laundry room is knee deep in bedding, clothes, and stuffed animals, and the steam washer and steam drier have been running non-stop. Between my mother and I, we have vacuumed at least five times. After that, every hard surface in the house got a coating of diatomaceous earth. I know this is overkill. I know. But my whole body just itches, even though I was given a clean head of health, as it were. None the less, I sat covered in rubbing alcohol and topped with a disposable shower cap just like the rest of the family. Why take chances? And then there were the phone calls to nearly everyone we know. “Hi, I'm just calling to tell you we may have given you parasites.” Yeah. That was fun. Luckily, the infection seems to be limited to us.

And the more I vacuumed, shoveled laundry into the wash, and installed dust, the crankier I got. I had plans darn it, and my peaches were in heaven only knows what condition. I hadn't even managed to open the box and check them after Shawn got them home from the farmer's market. The crankier I got, the more miserable I got, all the while thinking to myself, “Wow, that's a lot of fuss over some peaches.” Only, you know, it wasn't about the peaches at all. My baby is turning 9. WAY too fast. And I know it's cliché, but I just can't cope. My time with her is half way over today. And after watching my mother try to cope with my brother moving half way across the country to attend a PhD program this week, I have a rather vivid idea of what is coming my way. It's a good thing for your children to go off and fly into the world. I know this. I have every reason to be proud of my daughter's independence. Just like I have every reason to be proud of my little brother. But it just stinks. There's nothing about it that doesn't stink for me. This is why people get dogs. And yes, I'm still feeling cranky about it. And raw.

So, last night, mom and I got tipsy and played cribbage. My ideas about a good time may seem a little pedestrian, I know, but it had been a long darned day. Besides, math, brain damage, and alcohol are a pretty entertaining combination, never mind shuffling the cards. Being able to laugh at yourself can be a balm to the soul.

I find myself so pulled in so many different directions. I can't wait until my children are grown and gone, my house quiet. I'm also dreading it more than death. The same struggle is taking place on a smaller time scale as well. I can't wait until they go back to school, and I can get a few hours of peace and quiet. And I really really want them to stop growing up so fast. I want the days to slow down some. Here it is, stone fruit season already, and those peaches sit in my kitchen like an armed bomb, reminding me how fast the summer has gone by. In just over 3 weeks Jason will get on a bus, and I won't see him for almost 8 hours. It's a new chapter in our life. I'm just not ready for that. And I can't wait.

But no matter how I feel about it, life marches on. This morning we had a much quieter celebration than usual. Tonight we'll have Susan's favorite dessert, peanut butter cookies, and in the meantime my kids are spending a quiet day playing with legos. In a few moments I will get up and start in on my peaches. And I will try to process this tangle inside me, to restore my emotional balance so that I can once more do the most important job on earth. To wit, teaching another human being to fly into their own life, while living my own.

Monday, July 29, 2013


My house is a lot cleaner in the winter time. I came downstairs this morning, and it looked like a bomb had gone off. Now, that's not an unusual occurrence in a house with small children and lots of cats, but the difference this morning was that it was my stuff. How did that happen? I am usually quite a neat person, confining my detritus to the end table near my favorite chair, and never more stuff of mine hanging about than it takes a minute or so to straighten up. This morning there were cookbooks of many sorts strewn about on top of the ottoman and couch, cascading onto the floor, heaped in piles, pages sprawled in most undignified fashion. Really, did I do this? I should be arrested for book abuse. There are magazines and catalogs I haven't read yet, notebooks and legal pads filled with my hasty scrawl, scraps of paper that make me say, “Oooh, THAT'S important, gotta hang onto that!” and a two month old wedding invitation I haven't RSVP-ed yet (oops). That is to say nothing of the piles of laundry hanging about hither and yon, everything from a pair of dirt covered work jeans to a pile of berry-stained towels. Oh my goodness, who is responsible for all of this???? Oh... right... ahem.

Summer is frantic. Last summer we were running around like crazy people trying to get all the necessary repairs done to the house before winter. I didn't even think about food. This summer, my job seems entirely analogous to that of a little mommy squirrel. While Shawn spends all his extra time running around making all the repairs (who knew that a duck could get itself stuck INSIDE the walls of the duck house?), I am chained, CHAINED I tell you, to the kitchen. And it's only berry season. I've started making a list of what I want canned, dried, or frozen before the fall is over. It caused a hysterical giggle to escape me, I won't lie. And it's nowhere near as much as we'll actually eat over the winter.

Then there's the explaining, trying to convince children that they may not eat what I've just canned into jam and dried into fruit leather, nor may they have dried whole blueberries on their cereal in the morning. They must eat fresh while fresh is to be had. It is still amazing to me how quickly, over the course of human history, we have lost the knack of eating seasonally. That includes NOT eating preserved when you can eat fresh. Just a couple of weeks of being the only one preserving for a family of four has turned me into a jam hoarder. “This stuff is for the winter time. Go get a handful of blueberries out of the fridge if you want something sweet.” It totally baffles my children. The food is there, why can't they just eat it now? We can just buy jam at the store if we run out later, right?

Nope. If I'm going to be serious about growing or locally sourcing as much of my own food as possible, then I have to draw the line somewhere. And I'm not so foolish as to try and go all-in the first year. So this year it's jam. This one small luxury item I will provide for myself or go without. But even as little as that causes chaos in my house. How much jam do we go through in a year? We don't actually know, but we estimate it at something like 150 to 240 ounces. That works out to something like 19 to 30 half pint jars. Totally doable, right? So I made that first batch of jam-turned-syrup... and we went through an entire jar in a single sitting. Woah. That's when jam rationing began, because I'm really not sure that I can keep up with a jar of jam a week. Besides, that much sugar can't be good for us, no matter that there's no refined white sugar in the recipe. Between the blueberries and maple syrup, there's definitely quite a bit in there. The problem seems to be that no one anticipated how much better home made jam would taste. Even me, and I definitely grew up in the presence of real jam. The things you forget.

So, all of these revelations have sparked a furor of recipe reading. After all, who wants to eat nothing but blueberry jam for an entire year? No matter how yummy it is, it's bound to grow tiresome after a few months. So I'm thinking about peaches, pears, and apples, dreaming about pumpkin butter, and wondering if I can get plums locally. I even promised my husband that I would try my hand at some banana butter (I know, no such thing as local bananas, but they're his favorite), though I can't promise anything like success. All of this is in addition to the regular canning we had already discussed, tomatoes, relish, pickles, various stocks and soups. Almost none of which do I have recipes for which don't require modification. And that's to say nothing of the dehydrating, which I've never done before this year.

I will say this again, it's only berry season, and my season is only just over two weeks old. I have made a gallon and a half of syrup, 128 servings of fruit leather, half a gallon of whole dried berries, and a gallon and a quarter of juice that will be part of a nice batch of blueberry mead. I have three gallons of jam worth of berries in the freezer (much better texture that way) that are slated for today. I have washed, sorted, frozen, chopped, juiced, picked, and pickled my way through over 50 pounds of berries, and 10 pounds of cucumbers (which are just getting started). That's to say nothing of all the things we've eaten fresh with nothing left over to preserve, like the peas, zucchini, and green beans. And all of these things require tending, weeding, watering and feeding, quite a few of them by me.

And some folks have a hard time adjusting to why I'm just not available. It's a hard thing to explain why you can't go to a party, or come for a visit because you're stuck in the kitchen. After all, if you have the money, why not just buy what you need? Why all this work? And I miss out. I'm at home when I'd much rather be off playing. I would much rather knit socks and watch TV than stand over the stove and stir hot jam, especially when it pops and I get burned. Sometimes principles are tough, but they're important, and they're mine. Even if they do leave little time for leisure, or even my regular chores. Knitting, weaving, spinning, ha! Laundry, ha! I'm lucky if we're scrounging clean unfolded laundry out of baskets in the bedroom. About the only thing staying clean is the kitchen.

This, folks, is me, practicing the fine art of letting go, because there are only so many hours in the day, and there is only one of me. So here I am, learning my own seasonal rhythms, learning to prioritize, to accept help, and delegating chores to my children. Not to mention learning to be ok with my own creative chaos. After all, everything is new to us this summer, eventually I will have standard go-to recipes, and experimentation will be reserved for just a few batches per year. I will not always be a book abuser. In the meantime, maybe I'll spend five minutes, and clean this stuff up.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blueberry Syrup

This was an unintentional discovery. It started as an experiment in no-pectin jam, but morphed into something far better. Thin enough to spread on its own, but thick enough to stay on a piece of toast, my family went through an entire 8 oz jar over waffles in one morning. It was a universal hit. Pre-freeze even fresh seasonal berries for better texture.

16 generous cups frozen blueberries
5 cups Maple Syrup
½ cup Lemon Juice
2 tsp Cinnamon

Sterilize 12 half pint jars and lids.
Combine all ingredients in a stock pot over medium high heat.
Stir constantly until berries break down, leaving only a few chunks.
Once syrup sticks to the back of the spoon, it is ready to go into jars.
Fill jars, leaving ¼ inch head space, wipe rims, put lids on, and finger tighten bands.
Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes, turn off heat, and let sit in the canner for 5 more minutes.
Remove from bath, and set on wire rack to cool.
Leave undisturbed for at least 12 hours.
Check seals before storage, and before opening stored jars.
Remember, preserve at your own risk.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blueberry Season

The smell of dehydrating blueberries is something magical and hard to describe. It's rich, and sweet, and tantalizing; the kind of thing that wafts through the house, and makes children and guests stop what they're doing and ask, “Are you cooking something?” and “What is that amazing smell?”

It started with a case of blueberries from the farmer's market. You see, though we definitely grow lots of our own, they usually get eaten fresh, gobbled by big juicy handfuls while my back is turned, leaving only a purple smear on an all too innocent face. And then there's the kids. So this year, I decided that if I wanted jam, I was just going to have to supplement. It's not a hardship. Our friends Jess and David Ripley over at MapleCorner Farm grow plenty every year, and their family has been farming that same rich patch of earth for 200 years. It's just down the road a ways. If you're going to have to buy berries, in my opinion, that's the way to go. They're also responsible for every drop of maple syrup we use, and I've never tasted finer.

I sent Shawn to the market to buy me at least 10 pounds of blueberries. That plus what we picked off our own bushes, I figured, would be plenty to last me the whole year. A batch of jam, and a little fruit leather. Perfect. He returned with an entire case of blueberries. 12 pounds of sweet, thin-skinned, floral-smelling, juicy delectableness, like a hoard of edible treasure. And let me tell you, I was like a mother dragon guarding those little purple gems. “No, you may NOT have any of these blueberries. Have some of THOSE blueberries we picked this morning. THESE are for jam and fruit leather.”

So I started what was to be a surprisingly long adventure. I filled the sink with cold water, and poured a good healthy slug of white vinegar in it (to remove mold spores and any residues), stirred, and in went 12 beautiful pounds of blueberries. A few minutes to soak, a couple of gentle swirls of the hand, and they were ready to pick through. Do you know how many berries there are in 12 pounds? Thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. I know it sure seemed like it, because I picked over every one of them. It took hours, and when I started to flag, Shawn jumped in and started to sort with me. We filled 3 bowls; one for the best berries, one for those that had to be used today, and one for duck food. Normally, most of what went into the duck food bowl could have been used for jam, but because of my mold allergies, I have to be a bit more careful. Anything with broken skin goes to the birds, but it's not a waste, because we just eat them as eggs. After everything was washed and sorted, all the berries were rinsed, and the best berries were spread out on towels to dry before being frozen for jam. They took up every square inch of counter space in the kitchen.

The second quality blueberries, once rinsed, went straight into the food processor, along with some maple syrup, lemon juice, and a little cinnamon. Then I spread them out on non-stick sheets, and put them in the dehydrator. Oh my goodness, the smell. That fruit leather slow roasted under my bedroom window all night. I'm pretty sure I drooled on my pillow. When I got up in the morning, my trusty dehydrator had worked its magic, and there were 4 sheets of finished leather, waiting to be cut up and put away. 784 square inches of oh-my-goodness. And I can say right now, the grocery store has nothing like this. Sweet, intense blueberry with a hint of lemon, the smoky backnote of the maple syrup, and the delightful tiny crunch of the blueberry seeds. Yum. I have to admit it, it set off a kind of blueberry mania in my house. And I wasn't immune.

Unfortunately, like much of the Northeast, we had a heatwave last week, and so my lovely blueberries languished for six more days in the freezer, waiting for more humane jam-making conditions. I swear, I was twitching, and that twitching fed the mania building within me. The following Saturday, I sent Shawn back to the farmer's market with instructions to buy two more cases of blueberries, despite the fact that I still hadn't managed to make jam.

Now, I'm no stranger to jam making. I grew up picking wild raspberries in Northern Maine with my aunt every year, and coming home to transmute them into pies, jam, and anything else we could think of. But you see, that was traditional jam, made with cane sugar and traditional pectin. The kids and I are allergic to cane sugar and all of its derivatives, so honey and maple syrup are the order of the day. The problem is, traditional pectin requires a lot of sugar in order to jell. A LOT. Traditional jams can often be 85% sugar, which is just ridiculous even to contemplate with honey or maple syrup. So I was going to have to use Pomona Pectin, or do without. Ever a fan of simplicity, I decided to try my hand at a low sugar, no-pectin jam.

Sunday dawned, cool and clear. Jam day. And the fiasco began. The kitchen was naturally a bit of a mess. The canner was in the basement, the berries still in the freezer, and there seemed to be three times as many kids underfoot as I had given birth to. It was 10 o'clock before I even got started. My waterbath canner had been used by persons who will remain nameless to dye leather, so I hauled my enormous aluminum pressure canner up onto the stove, filled it with water, and started the jars to sterilize. I poured the frozen berries, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cinnamon into a heavy bottomed pan (are you sensing a flavor theme here?), and set it on the stove to cook. And cook. And cook. And cook. Using a liquid sweetener significantly extends the time it takes jam to cook down as it turns out, and by 11 o'clock my kitchen was a fabulous smelling steam oven, and I was working hard not to drip into the pot as I stirred. When the jam finally stuck to the back of the spoon, I did a little dance of joy right there in the kitchen, spoon in hand. Out came the jars, one by one, to be filled with beautiful dark purple... jam? Because you see, it didn't really jam. I know that no-pectin jams are soft, but this, well, this was more like really thick syrup. Syrup with chunks. I shrugged my shoulders, and thought, “Ok, fine, it's not like we won't enjoy syrup just as much as jam.” So I filled the jars, measuring head space, and wiping rims, carefully putting the lid and band on each jar. Then I put them back into the canner, put the lid on, and started bringing it to a boil. Almost done.

That, that very moment, is when disaster struck. Sparks shot out of the stove from beneath my fully loaded canner. I'll admit it, I jumped and squealed. Shawn ran to the basement and shut off the breaker, as I tried not to cry, as I stared at my canner, loaded with syrup and hot water, now too heavy to move by myself. Syrup that there was now no room for in the freezer, that had taken me hours to wash, sort, and boil down. Shawn came upstairs and helped me move the canner to the other side of the stove. We checked the burner and decided, under the circumstances, to risk turning the breaker back on. No sparks. So I finished processing my syrup jars on the other burner, and turned off the stove. I pulled each jar out of the hot water, and set them gently on a cooling rack on the island. I had done it. 12 whole jars of yumminess. Three quarters of a gallon, in all.

But why was my kitchen still so hot? I started to move the canner off the stove and realized – the scary burner was hot, despite not being turned on. I panicked, just a little, and very quietly. Shawn ran back down to the basement, and turned off the breaker. Further investigation revealed that one of the hot leads in my electric coil burner was fused on, and the other was arcing to ground. And it wasn't tripping the breaker. I had to sit down for a few minutes. The worst of it is that this was the second time this burner had fused and shot sparks. We had repaired it the first time, but this time I decided I was just done. I wasn't willing to risk a third try. We would just have to get a new stove. After all, I knew what I wanted, we had just been trying to keep this one limping along for one more year. It was not to be.

So Monday morning, bright and early, I called up my appliance guy and ordered my new stove. Induction cooktop, double oven (one of them convection) that can be set anywhere from 85 to 550 degrees, and more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at, including a setting to proof bread. Score. I'm psyched. But wait, I've got that big aluminum pressure canner, right? No big, I'll just order one of those steel interface disk things, and be just fine. Only, as it turns out, reviewers were complaining that the disks got so hot the stove shut itself off, and a few folks said that it cracked their cooktop. Ouch! After my recent adventures, I want nothing to do with an unreliable and possibly damaged stove. But what's a girl to do? There's no such thing as an induction ready pressure canner, and I have to have a way to can soup, stock, and veggies. Eek! This realization set off another panic, this time full-blown. I've just ordered and paid thousands of dollars for a stove that I can't can with... and I've still got 24 pounds of fresh blueberries sitting neatly in their pints on the counter. Precious little room in the freezer too. Now I'm sick to my stomach. What have I done? Shawn to the rescue once more. He found a 30,000 BTU single burner propane camp stove at L.L.Bean. Not only can I still can, I can can OUTSIDE. Brilliant. However, naturally it is backordered, and not due to ship out until Thursday at the very earliest. Sigh.

So, here I am, 24 pounds of fresh berries, no stove until Thursday, and once it gets here, no way to can the jam I can then cook. In the meantime, my schedule for Monday was already shot. I was supposed to wash, sort, and store the blueberries, make a batch of baked beans (which had been soaking quietly on the counter for WAY too long), get a batch of cucumbers in the pickle crock (which would involve cleaning out the fridge), and get a batch of blueberry leather into the dehydrator. I also had the regular farm chores of picking, weeding, and tending the flock, and I had to clean the house and do laundry to get ready for our regular Tuesday playdate. Queue circus music.

Time to reassess. The berries and the beans wouldn't wait. Every day the berries didn't get washed, there would be more spoilage, and the beans were already starting to bubble. So I rinsed and picked through the beans, the sink was filled again, and the berries went in to soak. The beans went into the crockpot, and I went to get my bean recipe out of my cookbook. The recipe was nowhere to be found. “Well, ok,” I thought, “I'll just check my typed copy, it's probably in there.” I will skip the now predictable complexity involved in getting to the electronic copy of my recipe book, because my laptop is dead (which is why there are no pictures). Suffice it to say it took me almost an hour to realize that I had never written my baked bean recipe down, and had to now start over from scratch. Ugh. So I made my best guess, and threw it in the crockpot.

Then we started in on the berries. And I mean WE. I had a short heart to heart with my eldest, which involved phrases like, “Do you intend to eat any of these berries this winter?” because after the first case, I realized that this simply has to be a family venture. It is otherwise entirely too time consuming. So over the course of the day, all of us at one point or another sat down at the table to sort berries, with me as the constant participant. It took all day, and by the end of it, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, I looked at my husband and I said, “I never want to see another blueberry as long as I live.” But we sorted them into bowls for drying whole, fruit leather, and measured baggies for jam. The jam berries were shoe-horned into the freezer, the bags for fruit leather went into the fridge, and on Tuesday morning the whole berries went into the dehydrator. Where they still are. On Wednesday. Yeah, I just want to say, 135 degrees for 8-10 hours my Great Aunt Fanny. We're at more than 24 hours, and some of those little suckers are still squishier than raisins. But still, it makes the house smell divine, and I'm going to have something on the order of 3 quarts of dried whole blueberries for my cereal this winter. It felt really really good to fill that first quart jar, I imagine much the way a squirrel does about nuts in the fall.

So the two cases bought last Saturday have been dealt with to the best of my current ability. Though I cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief until the blueberry leather is in the dehydrator. The first of the blackberries started coming in yesterday, and I started to mentally switch gears and think about how I wanted to use them. And then my husband (curse the man) asked, “So how many of these blueberries are you saving for blueberry mead?” and my head just about exploded. Of course, how could I forget to make blueberry mead??? Well, I thought, I wouldn't really have to pick through them, just wash them and pull out any that were really bad. Then I could just run them through the juicer and throw them in the carboy with honey, water, and yeast. Maybe we'll get just one more case...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Judgment and Catharsis

I spent this evening looking through old High School year books. The why doesn't really matter, but suffice it to say it was not my own curiosity that prompted this trip down memory lane. And I realized something. Not something new, not a revelation, but a piece of information that I had before took up new understanding in my gut this evening.

High School was something I survived.

Now I know that a lot of people say that, but I looked back at pages and pages of smiling faces, of children spreading their wings, and trying on personae. Pages and pages of the perennial teenage search for identity, and there was one glaring thing that struck me. I was nowhere. Not one of those shining hopeful faces in my senior year book was my own, and when it came to those cute little boxes with pictures and words that a child used to tell the world who they were... I had not one word to say for myself. Nothing but the required school portrait to mark my passing.

No one who met me as an adult would believe it. At 31 years old, I am a shining, passionate, well-educated, well-spoken, thoughtful, wise, kind-hearted, honest, skilled, and logical woman. I am also humble enough to feel really really uncomfortable with that last sentence. So, where is that girl who I see smirking up at me from that page? I remember being so bitter, hostile, and depressed during those years. I remember feeling so alone, so unloved. Unlovable. I closed the book, and stowed it back on its shelf, the feelings still washing over me, my world wobbling on its axis. “Am I still that lonely, unlovable, inadequate girl?” whispered my insides, “Is this... thing... called my life just some sort of elaborate fantasy?”

I came downstairs out of the library, shaken. And as I did, something amazing happened. Just an ordinary, everyday miracle. Milo and Tiny got up off the library floor, where they had been sleeping, and followed me down the stairs. At the bottom, I was greeted with tails curling and wagging, with licks and nibbles, with the rub of fur on outstretched fingers. And I realized something profound. I am the bedrock of these lives. I am the bedrock that they build their very existence around. And I realized that that is also true for most of the animals and people who live here. My husband, children, and animals rely on those very uncomfortably listed qualities. They build the rhythms of their lives on the certainty of my strength, and they learn compassion, kindness, and patience in the face of my weaknesses.

And so I sit here and ask myself, how did that angry, confused, lonely little girl become the bedrock of some 23 other lives? I mean, wow. When you look at my life following High School, on paper, it doesn't really improve. I dropped out of college after my grandmother died. I moved hundreds of miles away from my family. There was a string of low-paid jobs, drugs, a debilitating car accident which left me unable to walk for months and did permanent damage to my back. Chronic pain, addiction, poverty. And just when I started to pull my life together, there was a miscarriage. And the amazing thing is that, though I continued to suffer from anxiety and depression, the thing I most remember about my life at that time... is being happy. Sure, I remember hating my job, and feeling miserable. I remember feeling sometimes like I just couldn't face another day. But I also remember shining moments of simple pleasure. The first time I ate a tomato so fresh it was still warm from the sun in our garden. I remember being in love so fresh, so new, so potent that I was sure it couldn't last forever. I remember the utter decadence of date night, which would cost us all of $5 for two second-run movie tickets. I remember the glowing pride of our first pumpkin, and the love and gratitude I felt when a neighbor took it into his garage to save it from an unexpected frost.

I remember other things too. Things that make me realize that the journey here was made with small steps, each one potent, each one distinct, yet utterly necessary. I remember the moment I realized I might never walk again, and I remember the feeling of my core hardening, as utter determination took the place of fear. I would walk, because no other outcome was possible. I remember that dawning moment of horror, in which I realized that I was addicted to the pain medication, no matter that it was prescribed by my doctor, who should have known better. I remember the steely will that formed inside me as I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet, and I remember my husband's enduring patience, understanding, and love as I raged, begged, shook, vomited, cried, and lifetimes later, became finally clean and whole again. To this day, he will not talk about it, but he stood by me. I remember the day I lost my daughter. I remember begging the doctors to help me, because I was having a miscarriage, and I remember them refusing to believe me. I remember taking her back to that same hospital, wrapped in tissues, and laying her in the hands of the man who had refused to help me. I remember taking my sorrow to bed, and wallowing in it for days, longer probably. I remember wanting to die, feeling like I could not live with the uncertainty of guilt. And I remember the day I sighed a deep sigh, and got out of bed, and took a shower. We named her Hope.

I remember too, the flame that was born inside me the day I found I was pregnant again. This baby I would not lose, I would protect the life within me with every fiber of my being, and no doctor was going to stand in my way. And neither would I allow my own character flaws to endanger the life perched so precariously within me. I would speak my mind, trust my instincts, and never take “no” or “just because” for an answer. 42 weeks later, I spent 64 hours struggling to bring another daughter into the world, surrounded by friends and family who loved me, completely devoid of pain killers. And I succeeded.

I have since dealt with struggle and loss, and brought my son through a very complicated and dangerous pregnancy, birthing him without pain medication, at full term. What followed included more joys and hardships, brain damage so bad I had to learn to walk yet again, illness, broken bones, heartache, and pleasures both simple and sybaritic.

Why write this? Partly catharsis, I think, but also because of this – so much has been made lately of the danger of isolated teens, of angry, depressed, struggling children. And what, in my childhood, was addressed out of a sense of compassion, now seems to take on a note of fear. There is a force moving within our culture that seems to think that struggle is to be avoided, especially for children and teens. That our early lives should be entirely free from emotional hardship. That's a fine viewpoint on the surface, no parent wants to see their child in pain, myself included. But where it begins to make me question, is this notion that unhappy teens are inherently dangerous, as though at any moment one of us will take a turn and seek violence to still the pain inside. And I find myself wondering, where does this fear come from? Looking through that book this evening, I can tell you that I wasn't the only child in there who didn't have anything to say for herself. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only child to struggle in High School, or even the only child that year. And those that struggled so hard then, that I know now as adults? Well, as it turns out, they turned into pretty amazing human beings. The bedrock of the lives in their care, every one of them.

I am an addict. I am disabled. I do not earn a monetary income. I have lived in poverty, and I have dropped out of college. By the standards of modern American culture, I am one of life's great losers. And yet, looking at me on the street today, you would never know it. I am the bedrock of 23 souls beyond my own. I am loved by my extended family and my friends, and I have roots in my community. Some of those roots are tender and new, but some are old and strong. I know who I am.

Does it take adversity to know the core of yourself? I don't know. I do know that my own struggles bring me closer to living a life of the heart every single day. Today I held someone while they sobbed, every gut-wrenching cry sounding like it was being dragged out over broken bones. I still don't know what the crying was about. I don't need to. I remember crying like that, more than once. So I knew that all I needed to do was open my heart, and hold on, rocking and making soothing noises. If I had lived a life free of pain and struggle, I would have made the grave error of trying to stop the crying. So even now, my pain and struggle are transmuted into love and kindness. My pain allows me to offer succor to my fellow being. I don't believe there is any higher calling than that.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Siren Song of Dirt


Spring. Our family chose to celebrate its coming by planting some of the seeds for our garden. We had planted a few slow growing herbs and a couple of tomatoes in traditional black plastic seed flats last month, only to have them raided and pillaged by our seven-month-old kitten (furry so-and-so). Before The Seedling Incident, I had noticed that planting mixed flats was going to be a problem, as the tomatoes quickly outgrew the herbs. So, I decided to try a new method, using the smallest paper cups I could find, and putting them into clear, locking plastic bins.

My kids are city kids, I think I’ve mentioned this? Most of the time I forget, but every once in a while they remind me. This was one of those occasions. I labeled each cup, and Shawn mixed up a large bowl of organic potting soil and water. He’s really good at getting the moisture content just right. We put the big bowl of dirt, the little paper cups, and some big spoons on the table, and encouraged the kids to jump on in. They expressed some skepticism. Jason was firmly convinced that the substance in the bowl was mud, and simply should not be touched. Understandably, I goggled at this piece of news, having washed his person and clothes all last summer, when he didn’t seem to have any such reservations. Susan was most concerned that she get the level of dirt in each cup exactly right. But dive in they eventually did, called by the siren song of dirt, and buoyed by their parents’ permission to spread it all over the dining room table and floor. Cups were filled, seeds were admired and carefully counted, handled gently as the precious things they are. The children’s faces filled with awe as the amazing variety of shapes and sizes, from the tiniest smooth lettuce seed to calendula, large, curled, and spiny, like some amazingly ancient fossilized sea creature. Every seed was carefully tucked into its cup, and lovingly covered with just the right amount of soil. Well, ok, some of them were vigorously covered. Each large clear box was carefully filled with cups, locked, then placed under the windows. And the children waited.

They sat under the windows for hours, absolutely convinced of the magic of this process, and waiting patiently for the seeds to spring up out of the soil. Bedtime came, and they trudged off under protest. The next day dawned, and found them sprawled on their bellies in front of the boxes once again, waiting, watching. Every day I opened the boxes for them, and every day they peered in, noses almost inside the dirt-filled cups, hoping for a sign of life. Two and a half days after the seeds were planted, the first beans obliged them. And that was it. My kids are hooked. They are absolutely seduced by the alchemy of dirt and seeds and water, the magic of growing, thriving life where there was none before. There are no more complaints about mud, and neither of them can wait to eat the fruits of their labor. Susan is particularly taken with the
Pawnee Shell Beans, which are large, plump, and speckled brown and white. It is a reality changing thing for them to understand that the peas and beans we eat are also capable of bringing new life into the world. Jason hops up and down, talking about catsup. He puts it on everything, and shows nothing but excitement about the idea of making it, rather than buying it in a store. I’m not sure this flush of excitement of his will carry him through the process of first cooking, then canning, but I know better than to take this away from him. I do not express doubt, understanding that sometimes passion is what sustains us through the harder things in life, and that pleasure and pride can be found in a hard job well done. Even for little boys. Susan is planning pickles. Bread and butter pickles, thank-you-very-much, and not half-sour. I nod, and say yes, wondering where on earth I’m going to find a bread and butter pickle recipe that doesn’t call either for cane sugar (to which three of us are allergic) or corn syrup. Somehow I’ll manage, and feed this fire that has been kindled in them, this passion for food and the magic of growing things. Every day they sit by the boxes, and every day I open them. Every day we catalog what has come up since the day before. They never get tired of it, they can sit there and look at the precious seedlings for hours, dreaming of pumpkins, beans, peas, and flowers, of hot summers, and the pleasure of eating their own watermelon. I can’t help but feel that, yet again, this is the healing of a connection broken and lost. And I know deep down that this is a world changed for them, that even if we never plant another seed, they will always feel this magic in their bones. That they will always hear it, the siren song of dirt.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Today, I feel rich. I don’t mean in money, but in things far better. My house feels stuffed to bursting with food. I washed the day’s new eggs after breakfast and discovered that even though we have been eating them every morning, and soundly indulging in the pleasure of baking with duck eggs, we have thirty-eight eggs in the house. Truly, I stopped and counted, my heart swelled with gratitude towards our girls and their untiring efforts. Every morning we are greeted by friendly inquisitive quacks and clucks. The ducks follow us around as we fill the feeders and waterers, and they look on curiously as we gather up the eggs. One of the chickens protests only slightly, puffing up her feathers and making nervous circles, but she has the good manners to refrain from pecking or calling us dirty names.

To add to the shelled gold in the refrigerator, Shawn has picked up our yearly large meat order. Somewhere on the order of 350 pounds, comprised of half a cow, and a whole young pig. We get them from a kindly old farmer we know, who treats them well, feeds them nothing but good grass (and kitchen scraps in the case of the pig), and butchers them with the help of his son. Short of raising them ourselves, we really couldn’t ask for better. This is the first year for the pig for us, and in preparation, I bought myself two new books on sausage making and one on smoke house construction. Due to food allergies, I haven’t had a piece of bacon since the recipe was changed on the last store-bought brand I could eat, well over six months ago. I consider bacon to be practically its own food group, so it was a bit of a blow. I’ve had similar problems with sausage, and I haven’t had ham in years. I cannot express the amount of enthusiasm this project has generated in me.

I would also like to say, you just can’t beat getting your meat from someone you know, for all the obvious reasons, but there are other advantages to having relationships with the people who grow and process your food. In and amongst all of the boxes stuffed with steaks, ground pork and beef, roasts, chops, salting pork, unprocessed ham and slab bacon, there was treasure to be found. Our lovely farmer had included half a banana box of meaty beef bones and scraps for Tiny, without saying a word or charging us extra. He also included the hearts and livers of the cow and pig, to be turned into fresh raw dog and cat food. So there is plenty for everyone. The silent generosity and the obvious love of this gesture brought tears to my eyes, and I am not ashamed to say it.

And before me lay all the dreams of the meals we will make with this profusion of ours. Seriously, real honest to goodness chemical-free salt pork. I can practically taste the baked beans already. The beef stock making started almost the moment the meat came through the door, which is a really good thing, as we had run out entirely. Five pounds of bones, a good slug of white vinegar, my trusty eighteen quart crock pot, and three days will yield the first of many batches of culinary gold. I can’t wait for the first batch of French onion soup. Steak pie, rich beef stew, gravy… well, you get the idea. I might even try my hand at some homemade hotdogs this year.

But in the meantime, I am practically rolling in a feeling of abundance. I realize that it’s probably a bit unseasonal, late winter not traditionally being a season of plenty. Maybe that makes this feeling even more potent. My refrigerator full of eggs, my freezer full of meat, packets of seeds waiting to be planted next weekend, and my family and animals safe, healthy, and sound. My studio is still packed full of wool and yarn, the long winter of knitting having hardly made a dent. Even my bookshelves reflect the bounty, stacked and stuffed with new things to learn. My heart is filled with contentment and gratitude. Riches.