Monday, February 27, 2012

Welcome Grandpa!

We have a new member of the family.  New for us, anyway!  This poor old man was being ridden by a 4 year old, who pulled his tail when he ate or drank and generally made life hell for him.  Luckily, her mother finally had the sense to attempt to rehome him, but not until he was a dehydrated bag of ancient (18 years old) cat bones.  He has a quiet place to sleep away his geriatric hours now, with plenty of wet food and gentle touches that make him purr.

How forgiving our animals are of our cruelty, and how loving they are; they forget the pain and beg for affection.  This poor boy was born in a basement in Manhattan, where he was found, half starved, eating cardboard after being locked in there alone.  He was rescued and sent to an animal control facility, where some kind soul took him in; they named him "Roach" because of the way he skittered along the walls, hiding from them (we chose a name that rhymes, sort-of.  I hate the name they gave him.)  The poor guy spent several years as an apartment cat in the city, then moved here to Allentown, where he spent his adulthood with his lady and her grown children; not such a bad gig.  A second marriage brought a second family and the aforementioned 4 year old; unfortunately, in his frail state, I'm sure he found it difficult to escape her. He's our second Freecycle cat; Hobie, who came to us several years ago, still lives with us, as does his adopted brother, Gris-Gris (SPCA).  They look like a couple of Sumo wrestlers next to Grandpa, who only weighs 6 pounds. 


After a checkup with our family vet and a can of wet food, Grandpa is sleeping soundly upstairs in our sunroom, where we'll keep him safe from harm.  He can dream his days away, for as long as he has them; this poor old man has found his safe haven at the Eckert-Bourdelle house of geriatric cats.  He deserves a break, and we're seeing to it that he gets one. He reminds me so much of my old girl Buppy, who lived to the ripe old age of 21.  In peace.  I sure do miss her.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Installation #4: Independence (Fri) Day

I've been busy.  In a good way. And Peter will be home for another week!  Bonus!

Plant something:

            This week, I took the time to start a few small pots of pea seeds.  I’ve been lusting after pea sprouts lately, as I often do this time of year, and decided to get a head start on the season.  The pots I planted them in were made from recycled newspaper tubes; there are lots of online tutorials, so I combined a few of them to achieve the results I wanted.  Basically, my tubes went like this:

1.      Tear a single side of newspaper in half.

2.      Fold it in half.

3.      Wrap the folded sheet around a piece of 2”pvc pipe with the raw edges extending below the opening of the pipe.

4.      Tuck the raw ends up into the pipe, then wiggle the opt off of the PVC pipe.

5.      Staple the top edge of the pot together

6.      Tamp down the bottom of the pot with something flat.

Peas, etc.
Harvest something:

            You know, it’s pretty tough to actually harvest from an urban yard in the winter (though I hope to harvest those pea sprouts soon!).  I have a garden plot at Flint Hill Farm, but that’s not available to me in cold weather, and my home garden is about the size of a Volkswagen.  I did harvest a gallon of yummy kombucha tea, and I made a new quart of elderberry tonic (which I’ll harvest in 6 weeks).  Otherwise, apart from the good vegetables I’ve been using from my freezer all week, and the good herbs I have dried and stored in my kitchen, it’s been more of a time of consuming than harvesting.  To everything, there is a season, right?
Preserve something:

            I’m still working on preserving my sanity.  Seriously.

 Waste not:

            Since Peter’s home, I‘ve had the help I needed to move some heavy pieces of furniture to the second floor in preparation for my mom’s arrival.  This has had the usual cascade effect; we’ve ended up with a rather large pile of homeless items.  Among those items were several things made of metal (a grill, a lamp, a few wire shelf sections).  I’m a member of our local Freecycle group, a Yahoo list serve that recycles usable objects among its members.  It’s a great idea; if you have something extra, you can give it away.  If you need something, you can request it. Some of the members recycle metal for money, so I posted the metal objects, and they were taken. YAY!

            There was a box of decorative items and pillows too.  I took that to the local VIA thrift store, where it will be sold inexpensively and the proceeds will benefit children with disabilities.  Win/win!  I buy lots of my clothes there as well.

Want Not:

            I think this is the best place to comment on the now-slightly dwindling supply of frozen natural goodies that I put aside last fall. I have had a successful winter of wholesome food, thanks to my garden and my foraging in warmer times, which truly floats my boat.  I can literally “shop the freezer”, and create a gourmet meal with just a few added pantry items.  It’s an awesome feeling.  As the frozen vegetables are getting used, I’m replacing them with local, humanely raised meats and individually portioned meals for my school lunches.  I sense the beginning of a seasonal rhythm, which is a great feeling to me.
          I did manage a quick look at a few of my old-faithful oyster mushroom trees during the past few days, but the nights have been too cold to promote growth. In a week or two, if we're lucky, they'll be bursting with sumptuous spring oysters. Yum!

Eat the Food:

            A day or two before Peter returned home from his cross-country trek (he was returning to Pennsylvania from Los Angeles, CA), I thawed out a chicken that had been deep in the freezer.  I had a nice, comforting roast chicken dinner in mind.  Circumstances being what they were, that dinner never happened, though I did roast the bird in order to preserve the now-thawed meat.  From it, we had chicken breast with ginger and scallion dipping sauce, chicken noodle soup with local veggies, hot open-faced chicken and mushroom sandwiches with cranberry sauce, and chicken salad (still to be made).  That’s a lot of mileage for one little chicken!


Build community food systems:

            I’ll be attending a board meeting at Flint Hill Farm tomorrow evening, where we will discuss fund-raisers to support the farm.  As a non-profit organization, fundraising is a never-ending process.  I thoroughly believe in the mission of the place as both an agricultural education center and a working artisanal dairy.  The goats are nearly ready to kid (I’ll be on call to help with the deliveries, which should be starting in March), and we’ll be in milk again soon.  In the past, I was a regular milker, though I’m not sure that I’m up to that anymore, since my hand surgery last November, but I’m sure there will be plenty of work for me once the kids arrive.  Last year, we had four bottle babies in my living room at one point; it was WONDERFUL!


Skill up:  

            I’ve been on the lookout for the lightly colored, skeletal  remains of wild asparagus plants, which I explored online during the week.    I’ve been adding lots of wild things to my foraging arsenal in the last year or two.  Some wild foods have been a part of my repertoire since I was a child, but others are new finds that I’ve made thanks to the resources on the web.  How did we ever survive without it!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Independence Day Update #3

I wrote this a few days ago, and forgot about it.  That's how my life is going these days.  An update will follow...

Plant something:
   I did it, and I'm loving the tiny green nodules of life: mesclun,carrots (two varieties), and green onions, all perking their tiny nodding heads above the soil that was still a week ago.  And once again, as always in February, I'm inspired to put seed to earth and get 'er growing, far before it's feasable.
   How incongruous it is, that life goes on...

Harvest something:
    White pine for tea and balsamic vinegar.  You absolutely must explore the benefits of pine needles.  I never knew how rich they are in vitamin C...everyhting we need is in our environment, if only we'd listen.

Preserve something:
     I'm working on preserving my sanity this week.  That's all I've got.  Peter's traveling cross country, mom's moving in, my room's being changed at school. and an old friend has resurfaced and needs me.  That's plenty.  Besides, my freezer is full, and spring is on the way, I'm fatter than I've ever been, and food isn't as important as other aspects of life right now.  Really.  I'm lucky, I know. But I still need my sanity.

Waste not:
      I'm having trouble with this one this week.  I have been taking my school-day meals from the freezer: leftovers in lunch-sized portions, breakfast stratas from stale bread and frozen treasures.  Those things do utilize the great organic foods I have preserved in my freezer...essentially for free, since many are foraged.  But  here's the main issue: my personal green-shabby-chic, wabi-sabi aesthetic has been dissed by my one and only, all psychically powerful mother.  I'm 54, and still filled with adolescent angst.  I want to make her happy, so the things I've chosen will have to go...and that's ok.  What to do with my sweet, colorful, gyspy furniture?

Want Not:
      I gave away the last of my awesome home remedy, elderberry tonic.  My friend was in need.  I hope she actually used it, as it's gold to me (those elderberries were scarce last year). At any rate, I pulled my last bag of them from the freezer and added some elderberry flower, honey, and gin to the mix, for a new batch of tonic.  That'll have to hold me until I can harvest again, in the summer.  I hope we have a better year.

Eat the Food:
    My stockpile of frozen and dried wild mushrooms is neverending this year.  If you're local, let me know.  I have enough for everyone.

Build community food systems:
    I was a slacker here this week.  I did share a home made ham, cabbage and noodle dinner with friends last weekend, but I've been so busy and insulated lately that I haven't really interacted with people much this week.  I bought seeds for my community garden plot, though.  Does that count? 

Skill up:
     Hmmm...does intergenerational communication remediation work here?  If so, I'm golden...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

He's in Oklahoma...

And homeward bound.  Happy Valentines Day / Happy Anniversary, Pierre!
Safe journey home!

(Valentines borrowed from AngelBaby Shelby, on Facebook.  Thanks, AB!)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Just a Quick Update

Over the past few months, things have changed a bit on the home front.

Starting in late August, Peter began traveling for work.  In this economy, it's almost impossible for an older person to find full time professional work; even with a practical career like his (he's a mechanical engineer with a biomedical focus), Peter was striking out until he decided to begin looking at the short-term, remote jobs his head-hunters were sending him.  This style of work agrees with him; he enjoys the variety and the travel. To date, his jobs have taken him to Dallas, LA, and now Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I've seen him a few times since then, but his brief stays at home aren't the same as our previous team approach used to be.  It's an adjustment for us both.  I'm expecting him home in a day or two (hurray!) before he begins the Michigan job. I look forward to curling up around him, and falling asleep feeling his warmth again.  There's nothing more comforting to me. Except foot rubs.  Love those foot rubs.

It's been an awakening, in many ways.  While I'm perfectly capable of living a solitary life, I'm reminded of why I searched for him in the first place.  It's awfully nice to have someone to share things with on a daily basis (both the good and bad).  Someone like him.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had a much needed joint replacement in the base of my right thumb.  This rendered me left-handed (not my usual dominant hand) for a few months.  It was impossible to lift heavy objects, do buttons, put on certain clothes items, open cans; you get the drift.  And teaching art was interesting; I believe it made me more sensitive to the challenges faced by beginning artists.  Using my left hand instead of my right to draw, paint, and sculpt put us all on a level playing field in terms of skills.  It was good for me to feel that again.  I managed to get through those months, and have emerged one small bone lighter, and immensely more comfortable than I was just a few months ago.  My thumb joint was so deteriorated that it had been giving me constant pain.  That's gone now, and I'm ready for spring kidding season at the farm.  Just in the nick of time, as the does are scheduled to drop their kids in about 2 weeks. I LOVE this time of year!

My mother, who is 85, has accepted my invitation to come and live with us.  To make our little home more functional for her, I had a full bathroom built on the first floor.  The construction took about two weeks, which happened right at the end of the first semester, and into the first day or two of the second semester.  Life was chaos for awhile, but it paid off: the bathroom is beautiful.  I want to live in it.  Just around that time, my administrator let me know that I'll be moving to a different classroom next year, which means boxing and moving17 years worth of art materials and examples.  It also means losing a grant I won to develop the outdoor area by my current classroom.  We have lost one art position because of retirement; I won't go on about all of this, as it contradicts my self-imposed ban of blogging about school, but you can imagine the consternation this is causing me when compounded by the disturbances on the home front. (Just these few sentences have made my heart pound).  I've actually considered seeking a counselor to get me over this bump.

Goats make good counselors. They're good listeners.

I try to turn my thoughts to the spring when I'm feeling helpless.  I've purchased several packets of seeds, and hope to start some carrots and lettuces today.  There's nothing like a tender, newly growing vegetable to give you hope for the future; that is, nothing except a tender, newly born goat kid!  And they'll be coming soon. I'm holding on to that thought.

Lettuce give thanks for Spring.
And so, we move on.  Some things change, and some stay the same.  It's a dance, this life I'm living.  The tempo has changed slightly, but I'll pick up the beat.  It's just a matter of time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Independence Days #2 (February 9th, 2012)

Please head on over to The Chatelaine's Keys to see a full description of this project! 

Here's my weekly update!
Plant something:
      Well, I didn't ACTUALLY plant anything, but I did buy some carrot seeds and seed starter.  I've been fighting a cold this week, and although I didn't miss any work days, I slept a great deal more than usual because that's what my body needed.  I'm learning to listen to those subtle internal signals more clearly these days, and I believe my health is benefitting from it.
She Carrot

Harvest something:
      I have a non-gardening harvest story for this week.  Here goes:

      Do you remember your first steps?  The strong hands helping you, and the clumsy placement of your soft little feet in those big, clumsy shoes; first lift, then lurch forward, plant the foot and find your balance. Arms up, your hand firmly planted in a bigger, stronger one.  Always safe in your mother’s care, the first few steps were a celebration!  An occasion!  Smile inducing, worthy of kisses!

Cute Pictures
       I thought about those steps yesterday as I helped my mother down the porch stairs; place a foot, hold on tight, move the other foot and release the knee, take a breath and drop…all while holding on tight, safe in her daughter’s care.
       We plant hope, and harvest compassion.  As young children, we have no understanding of the eventual peak and inevitable decline of our physical abilities; just hope and joy, one of the many gifts our mothers give us.  I’m grateful for that gift, and grateful I can begin to balance those scales right now, late in my mother’s life; perhaps one day, my daughter will do the same for me. 

“We are a circle within a circle, with no beginning, and never ending.”
                                                                                               -Rick Hamouris
Preserve something:
      Four weeks ago, I harvested a vinegar mother from a bottle of apple cider vinegar that I bought from a health food store.  I was able to buy a gallon of flash pasteurized apple cider from Frecon's Orchard in Boyertown; this method still allows the cider to ferment; I used similarly pasteurized cider for my hard cider last fall.  This time, I added the mother, and let it turn to a lovely, mild vinegar over the course of the month.  The vinegar mother, a mixture of cellulose and beneficial bacteria, digests the natural sugars first, then the resulting alcohol, creating that nice, astringent vinegar flavor; this mother is very similar to the SCOBY used to make my kombucha.  I removed the vinegar mother then pasteurized this new, live vinegar myself (140-160 degrees).  It's waiting for me to cook with it now!  I put the mother into a jar of old red wine; not sure if it will work to make red wine vinegar, but I'm willing to experiment!

Waste not:
      My fridge is a nightmare.  I occasionally have an attack of conscience and try to catch up with the many culinary experiments festering in there.  It's not pretty.  With this weekly blog entry as incentive, I took a brave look, and found some still-viable organic yogurt, some home made beef broth, a shriveled but edible stalk of celery and the remnants of last week's mushroom bounty.  What to do?
Yogurt Cheese and Vegetable Beef Soup
     I hung the yogurt in a cheesecloth for yogurt-cheese (very tasty, with a consistency like cream cheese), made a strata from the mushrooms and celery (along with a quarter loaf of stale multi-grain bread, a sauteed onion, 4 fresh eggs, raw milk and some shredded cheese) which will be my breakfast this week, and made soup from the beef broth.  I added a handfull of sliced brussel sprouts, some frozen local corn, some dehydrated maitake mushrooms and some herbs.  Yum.  Good bye, convenience food!  Momma's got a healthier (and more frugal) plan!
Mushroom Strata
 Want Not:
     Last summer I inoculated two areas of my tiny yard with winecap mushroom spawn. I was able to harvest a few mushrooms from the sites last year, but I'm looking forward to a better harvest this spring.  In anticipation, I covered one of the areas with straw.  And I had too there's straw all over my teensy urban garden.  This week, I started cycling bunches of straw into my well-packed composter to diversify the organic load.  Perfect.

Eat the Food:
     Monday's meals: Mushroom strata for breakfast and fish chowder for lunch.  Both from the freezer. Home fermented and home canned sauerkraut and clean, local sausage for dinner.
     Tuesday: Strata again for breakfast; leftover kraut for lunch (the kraut is good for boosting immunity).
      Wednesday: I felt good for the first time in a week on Wednesday (was fighting a cold) so I made a nice one-woman date-night dinner. From the freezer: all local...corn, sauteed oyster mushrooms and onions, tomato confit, nasturtium pesto and half of a farm raised delmonico steak. Seasoned the steak with Cajun spices and grilled it in my Foreman grill; cubed one small potato and sauteed it with the mushrooms, tomatoes and a small red onion. Boiled some wonton noodles and tossed them with the confit, pesto, pepper and salt. And...corn. Ahhhh, yes; the pleasures of a garden, foraging, and a freezer. Thursday night is parents' night at school, so I won't be cooking.

Build community food systems:
    This is a vast diversion from my usual organic and local eating beliefs, but I gave it a try; I'm not sure if I will continue.  Our Elementary and Middle Schools use a fundraising technique known as "Market Day".  There is an online company from which you order various foods, and a portion of the proceeds go to the school needing the funds.  The food is delivered to the school, which is convenient for me, as I teach right on the campus.  While the various meats and breadings were suspect (at least to me), I did order some mini-omelets and some individual frozen lasagna rolls.  They tasted fine, and are convenient, but I'll have to research where this company sources its food before I order again.  I can't stand the idea of inhumanely treated chickens and cows.  I'll let you know what I find out.  I'm a little nervous about it.
    On the healthy side, I ordered a bin of local and organic vegetables and foods from my very favorite Buy Fresh, Buy Local food source, Pure Sprouts.  I love, love, love this service, and order from them whenever I need quality local foods that I haven't grown or foraged myself...although I do love to visit farmers' markets in fair weather!  

Skill up:
Balsamic Vinegar, Nasturtium Vinegar, Juniper "Berries"
Rosemary Vinegar and Gin-Soaked Raisins

     Susun Weed sent a nice tutorial on using white pine needles and cider vinegar to create balsamic vinegar.  Since I have an abundance of both, I'll be giving that a try.  I love balsamic vinegar!  Here's the link.  This seems to be a year of tonics and fermentations for me; new territory to explore!  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Independence (Fri) Day (a Few Hours Early)

Please head on over to The Chatelaine's Keys to see a full description of this project! 

Here are our categories: 
Plant something:
Harvest something:
Preserve something:
Waste not:
Want Not:
Eat the Food:
Build community food systems:
Skill up:  

Plant something:
         I can honestly say that the only seeds I planted this week were the seeds of curiosity in my students’ minds.  Hopefully, they’ll flourish!  Our ground is frozen one day, then muddy the next right now, though I have been considering starting a cold frame of lettuce since it has been a mild winter here in Pennsylvania.  It’s been a busy week; the end of semester one coincided with the end of my new bathroom construction; the new semester started on the last day the workmen were in my home.  I look forward to this weekend to reorganize my first floor; my classes are nicely reorganized already!  First things first!
Color Theory

Bathroom Theory
Harvest something:
         I DID harvest something!  The miracle tree in front of my farmer-friend’s house put out a nice bloom of oyster mushrooms!  I even had enough to share with a friend or two!  Yummy fresh mushrooms in late January…awesome!  I was too excited to take a picture, so I pasted in one I took during the summer.
Preserve something:  
         Last weekend, I made a batch of clean and humanely raised beef jerky.  I used a pepper flavor that I knew my husband would like (he tells a funny story about how his best experience with steak au poivre made his eardrums burn).  I also separated a new kombucha mother from my main one, and put it up in the fridge “in case”, and have set aside a smaller jar of the kombucha to grow a mini-mother.  Those gallon jars make too much for me!

Waste Not:            
         My picky indoor cats often leave a good portion of their expensive cat food uneaten.  I’ve been cycling this out to the poor alley cat who is very happy to clean it up for them!  He’s afraid to be petted or come too close, but I’ve made a warm straw bed for him under my glider, and he’s getting regular meals.  I’ve made some very good cat friends this way in the past.  If he gets friendly enough to handle, I'll do the cat world a favor and neuter him.  Maybe he knows that.  Maybe that's why he stays out of reach!

Want Not:
         Two days ago, I felt myself coming down with the beginnings of a nasty winter cold. My previous summer stockpiling paid off nicely. I’ve always been interested in both herbs and foraging. Last summer I teamed up with a colleague of mine who is also an herbalist, and we collected a nice supply of both elder flowers and elder berries.  SCORE!  I made a tonic using the berries and some of the flowers plus equal parts of honey and gin.  The recipe called for brandy, but juniper, a key ingredient in gin, is an anti-inflammatory which helps my achy old joints.  Well, I took a tablespoonful yesterday morning, then a tablespoonful last evening, and slept with clear sinuses and woke up refreshed after a good, comfortable night…with no sore throat!  YAY nature!  YAY elderberries and juniper!
Eat the Food:
         Those aforementioned mushrooms have graced my dinner plate three times this week, in various incarnations.  The last one was a GREAT stir-fry, paired with some local frozen chicken mushrooms and maitakes from the fall, some frozen organic veggies from my garden, and some finely sliced organic pork strips from the farmer’s market, all seasoned with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce.  Of course I made too much; the leftovers went into lunch-sized freezer containers so I could carry them to school for my mid-day meal.  Win-win!

Build community food systems:
         Since Peter has been traveling for work, and has had two long-term remote placements, my fall canning stockpile isn’t being used as quickly as I thought it might.  I recently connected with an old friend who is having some challenging times, so I sent her home with a box full of goodies, and will continue to stock her up until she’s tired of them or I run out.  She promised to save my jars for me for next year!  And she loved my pepper jerky and mushrooms, too!
            I have a new friend who supplied me with my kombucha mother a month or so ago.  I was lucky enough to find a dehydrator at a thrift store, and got it to her (she’s been looking for one), so I was able to return a foodie favor.  I also shared a bag of those nice fresh oyster mushrooms with another relatively new friend, my mushrooming buddy.  He was happy to have them, and kindly offered me a few shiitake logs in the coming spring.  SCORE!
            Have you ever noticed the cosmic law that goes something like this: The more you give, the more you’ll receive?  It’s true.  There is such abundance in our world, if only we all remembered how to pass it around.

Skill up:  
         I’m a little embarrassed to admit this one, but here goes: during the past two weeks, I had a new bathroom built on my first floor for my elderly mother, who will be coming to live with us.  Prior to the construction of the bathroom, I had absolutely no idea how the plumbing worked…I didn’t know which pipe took out the waste, or if the sink water, shower water and toilet water were sent to the same place or not.  One week before the contractor arrived, I had an emergency visit from the plumber, but not before I learned exactly where the upstairs toilet went.  Since then, I’ve seen the plumbing adapted to the new bathroom, and have figured it all out.  I can’t believe I never cared before.  It’s such a simple thing…

Independence Day Challenge

Over at The Chatelaine's Keys, Sharon has issued a weekly "Independence Day Challenge".  Check out her link, right here:

I thought this would be a great way to get back on track after my multi-month hiatus.  With spring coming and a break in my academic writing, I'm itching to share some of my escapades with you again.  Every Friday, I'll sum up my week, using Sharon's format; if I'm inspired to write during the week, those entries will be here as well.  It'll be nice to be back.