Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Rituals-- moving towards the long, dark time

1. Storm Windows are up.

2. Tomato plants are pulled and in the slow compost circle.

3. Pumpkins are carved, the seeds roasted.

4. My shoes are sitting by the fire, waterproofed.

5. Another blanket is on the bed.

6. The pantry is full and tidy—canned food, wheat, onions, oatmeal, beans…

7. The food dehydrator has been washed and put away.

8. We skate around the house in slippers.

9. No more tomato and basil dinners; we are moving towards baked beans, muffins, squash.

10. Leaves are going on the garden beds.

11. There is a candle on the kitchen table for dinner.

12. Green grass, grey skies.

13. Damp raincoats and wooly hats.

14. Laundry barrel is drained and shoved under the counter.

15. The horizon is gone to clouds.

New England Baked Beans

I use my round, brown bean pot, but you can use a crockpot or a casserole dish.

3-4 cups of white beans, cooked, with some of the bean water
Onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 T of dried mustard
3-4 T of brown sugar
1T of salt
2-3 T of molassess.

Mix thoroughly, smell for balance of sweet and sharp, and pour into the bean pot. Bake in a 350 degree oven for two hours, until it is all lovely and brown and bubbly. Eat with new bread and some steamed veg.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homesteading, defined

` I call our home an Urban Homestead to evoke the days when people traveled west, settled on a piece of land, and went to work to improve it, turning it into farmland. Was this always the best decision for the land? Probably not. Did they all remain on the land?—not at all. They moved to town, diversified their skills, became a community. So, Homesteading is not about self-sufficiency; it never really has been. It is about site repair, rooting in place, developing community. I like to think of our homestead as the center of a series on concentric rings, the permaculture concept of zones, where things most often used are the center, things less often needed further out.

Right here, at the center, is our home. Recipe box, fireplace, purring cats, reading nook, stove, each other—the things we use all day, every day. Around us are the herbs and greens for dinner, potatoes and onions, canned and dried fruit for breakfast, tools, bicycles, chickens, bees, and rabbit—daily interactions that may, in the middle of winter, require boots to reach. It is a densely planted, intensely worked1/10 of an acre, but that is not large enough for us to become self-sufficient, even if we wanted to. We cannot grow the wheat and beans, corn and barley, sunflower seeds and milk that we need for our daily calories—never mind the occasional orange, hunk of parmesan cheese, chocolate, and tea.

When we move out, we become part of the greater community. We just came back from the Fill Your Pantry event, where we bought wheat berries and oatmeal, four types of dried beans, flax seed and sweet onions to store in the basement. Combined with vegetables from our back yard, the CSA box, Sunbow farm, and the winter farmer’s market, Tillamook cheese, and milk from Monroe, they will form the backbone of our winter diet. We need to move outward for many other things as well. Someone else fixes my bike and our lawnmower; I buy my clothes from downtown stores; we eat dinner at local restaurants more often than we should, some weeks. My cat is known up and down the street for accosting people for patting. Others come in, as well. Homesteading is about having a tall orchard ladder that a friend borrows for apple picking and returns with a gallon of just pressed cider. It is the sound of someone else picking our figs into a large paper bag.

We reach out to others for community support; knowing that Sandy down the street is going to call in the party at the townhouses on Thursday night gives me a feeling of safety and connection. When we go to a lecture or concert, Mark scans the crowd and reports on the people he knows. I am always running into someone’s mother—although they don’t always admit it right away. As winter comes on, this ring pulls in closer through potlucks and craft nights, rituals and long winter walks in the damp woods.

Homesteading is also about protecting your place, not just by farming carefully, but also against outside forces. We do this when we testify to City Council and work on committees, listen to others outside of our own neighborhoods to gain perspective, form groups to defend our town from outside development. You can’t close the door on a small homestead; what happens around you hits too close to home (literally, sometimes).

We are also deeply rooted in this place, this greater bio-region known as the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, it has become home for us—Mark comes from Tennessee, I am from New Hampshire. We have learned the wildflowers; we know where to find

Fawn Lilies in the spring and plump blackberries in September. We hike in the mountains and along the coast. We understand the patterns of the weather. This is all part of homesteading—the Cascades are part of our outermost circle, even though Mary’s Peak, our local mountain, tells me when to plant my beans every spring (not before the snow has melted!).

So, we are homesteading. We have planted ourselves, literally and metaphorically, in this place that we have, in Adrienne Rich’s words “come to love.” And I think that is the real nature of homesteading— loving your place.

XVII (from ”Twenty-One Love Poems”)

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.

The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,

they happen in our lives like car crashes,

books that change us, neighborhoods

we move into and come to love.

Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,

women at least should know the difference

between love and death. No poison cup,

no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder

should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder

not merely played but should have listened to us,

and could instruct those after us:

this we were, this is how we tried to love,

and these are the forces they had ranged against us,

and these are the forces we had ranged within us,

within us and against us, against us and within us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall rains

The rains have begun. They started yesterday, while I was at Breitenbush, an old hot springs “resort” in the Cascades. The clouds moved in during the morning; the light faded and shifted into the leaves of the vine maples and poplar trees, which glow under cloudy skies. Slowly, the patches of blue sky against dark green mountains disappeared. Then, one, two, ten raindrops, and the rains began.

After one hundred days of dry weather, we are ready. The ground is hard. The plants are dusty. The grass is dormant. It’s been a good fall. Tomatoes and figs have ripened, there are fields of pumpkins waiting to Halloween, we’ve had several long hikes more than we expected. It’s even been warm enough to shower outside well into September. The cats and I have basked in the late season, late afternoon sunshine on the front doorstep, classroom sets of papers abandoned to the sunshine. We can’t complain. We need the rain.

When I came home last night, Mark and the cats were sitting in the cool damp twilight. They were glad to see me. We started the first fire of the season, closed all of the windows, cooked a few s’mores after dinner. When we went to bed, Kayli was sleeping on the back of the chair, nose tucked under paw. The rains are here.

Homestead Flan-- we started making this when we first had chickens and more eggs than we could eat for dinner.

2 eggs from the back yard
pinch of salt
1.5 cups of milk
6 tablespoons of honey from the backyard

Mix together.

Put a tablespoon of homemade jam on the bottom of four small glass ramikins and put the ramikins in a glass pan, surronded by water to thier waists. Pour the gg mixture in and move gently and slowly into a 350 degree oven. Cook until set, about 35 minutes.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I’ve been considering two principles of permaculture this week: Distribute the surplus and The Problem is the Solution. The first is easy—the second, not so much so.

Distribute The Surplus happens, formally, twice a year. In the spring, we send off the extra tomato starts into the world. I’ll start eight to twelve seeds for each variety, which means, in a good year, we have about 80 extra plants. They leave home in April. People now wait for the announcement. In fact, Nancy starts asking several weeks in advance. The other event happens in the fall, when the fig tree comes ripe. The branches bend down almost to the ground, heavy with fruit, in late September. It ripens over the course of several weeks, coming to a halt only when the fall rains turn figs into fig bombs. It has been dry a long while this year, so we have an extended harvest. I’ve made fig jam and dried about five quarts, so I am about to pound the sign into the ground. “Yes,” it reads, “You can pick the figs. But be respectful of the garden plants.” Strangers and friends will be harvesting our fruit all week long. Distribute the surplus. It is good karma.

The problem is the solution has puzzled me for a long time. It sounds good—a change in perspective, in thinking, can resolve the problem. But how does that play out? This Saturday, I think I figured it out. It was a home football game and the Beavers have been winning, which means more “Go Beaving” in our neighborhood. We are not fans of the Beaver Bellow so we left town. We climbed up to the top of Rooster Rock, with a lovely view of the Cascades as far as The Sisters in the smoke hazy distance. We spent the afternoon reading and writing on the mountain top, listening to the wind in the firs and the quiet buzz of a few flies. It was lovely. It solved two problems for us as well—we never leave town in Fall because we are too busy and we don’t like the Beaver Bellow. The problem is the solution. Two problems solved. We came home to a potluck supper with friends.

Applesauce Cake from the mid-seventies (can also be made with figs)

2.5 cups of flour (half whole wheat is nice)
1.5 cups sugar
1.5 t baking soda
.25 t baking powder
.75 t cinnamon
.5 t cloves and allspice

1.5 cups of applesauce (or squashed figs)
.5 cup of oil
2 eggs
handful of raisins and walnuts

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet together, add wet to dry. Pour into tube pan or a 13 by 9 inch pan.

350 oven until done

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


My Father and the Figtree

By Naomi Shihab Nye

For other fruits, my father was indifferent.

He’d point at the cherry trees and say,

“See those? I wish they were figs.”

In the evening he sat by my beds

weaving folktales like vivid little scarves.

They always involved a figtree.

Even when it didn’t fit, he’d stick it in.

Once Joha was walking down the road

and he saw a fig tree.

Or, he tied his camel to a fig tree and went to sleep.

Or, later when they caught and arrested him,

his pockets were full of figs.

At age six I ate a dried fig and shrugged.

“That’s not what I’m talking about! he said,

“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth—

gift of Allah!—on a branch so heavy

it touches the ground.

I’m talking about picking the largest, fattest, sweetest fig

in the world and putting it in my mouth.”

(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Years passed, we lived in many houses,

none had figtrees.

We had lima beans, zucchini, parsley, beets.

“Plant one!” my mother said.

but my father never did.

He tended garden half-heartedly, forgot to water,

let the okra get too big.

“What a dreamer he is. Look how many

things he starts and doesn’t finish.”

The last time he moved, I got a phone call,

My father, in Arabic, chanting a song

I’d never heard. “What’s that?”

He took me out back to the new yard.

There, in the middle of Dallas, Texas,

a tree with the largest, fattest,

sweetest fig in the world.

“It’s a fig tree song!” he said,

plucking his fruits like ripe tokens,

emblems, assurance

of a world that was always his own.

Fig Jam   1/3 cup red wine vingear 1T red wine 1/4 cup honey 1/3 cup raisins 2t ginger, fresh or candied   Simmer until syrupy   Add 2 cups chopped fresh figs 1/2 t mustard seeds 3 cloves 1t Balsamic vingear   cook until soft.   Can-- 10 minutes in steam canner or boiling water bath   Eat with cheese on bread all winter