Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's Spring!

peep house

Bees!

Sprouting Brocolli

Garlic


Signs

Lilac and camillia

Back Alley

Rhubarb

Blueberries in bloom

Bay Tree blooming

Front garden bed

Macintosh tree, with bottles


Sat morning....
















A Wednesday in Spring Dinner:

 Chop and saute asparagus-- three or four just picked stalks in enough-- in the cast iron frying pan. Add some morels if you have them.

Add three beaten eggs and two cloves of garlic, chopped fine, salt and pepper. Finish cooking.

Eat with a new salad greens and fresh Anadama bread....

We're not eating fancy these days, but we are eating tasty.

Anadama Bread using the five minutes a day basic recipe:

1.5 T yeast
3 cups of water

2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup of cornmeal
3.5 cups of white flour

.25 cups of brown sugar
.25 cups of molasses
1.5 T salt

Mix, let rise for two hours. Put in the fridge overnight and back in rounds the next day-- 450 oven on a baking stone.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Two Tramps in Mud Time

Two Tramps in Mud Time
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Robert Frost (1934)
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Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.



I fell in love with this poem as a ninth grader, when I first began creating my Poetry Notebooks—collections of poems that spoke to me. They were heavy on Robert Frost, who had taught at my high school, and rhyming nineteenth century poets.  I was a conservative reader.  It was the third stanza, which describes April weather, especially in New Hampshire, that rang true with me then. That sudden shift from warm to cold and back again that ran across my back as I sat reading on the shed roof—I knew that weather. I understood, too, the metaphorical cold that lurks beneath the surface of the poem, ready to reach out and pull us under. And that was poetry.

            As I grew older and wrestled with the big questions—What Am I supposed to Do with My Life?—it was the last stanza that haunted me. Work as play for mortal stakes. I used that as the measuring stick for my various occupations. Was sorting the papers of Arthur Dehon Hill, buried in the back corners of the Portsmouth Athenaeum seriously fun? Yes, it was. Was baking bread and cookies for people I knew play for moral stakes? Yes. Being a baker in a town that took food and art seriously was play for mortal stakes. Does weeding leeks and garbanzo beans play bring together love and need? Yes. Teaching English to a bunch of restless ninth grade boys? It is certainly work. But then, when they soar with an idea, it is the best fun I’ve ever had. When I can no longer answer “yes” to Frost’s vital question, it is time to move on.

            The poem came back to me again yesterday as I walked down a trail, far ahead of the botanizing pack of Native Plant Society members.  This time, it was the lines on movement that struck me—the “grip of earth on outstretched feet…the muscles rocking smooth and moist in vernal heat.” He was chopping wood, but the same smooth movement of muscle pushing against the earth happens when you walk along a trail, using not your knees, but your hips for propulsion. A gentle bounce gets into your walk and identifies you, weeks later, as someone comfortable walking on a rough surface, carrying weight upon your back. And when the weight is gone, and there is nothing to hold you down, you bound lightly down the street, feeling the earth beneath the concrete. Frost’s poem is like that, too. Earth beneath my feet, emerging again and again (like the two tramps?) in my life.


Chickpeas and Masses of Chard


Inspired by Deborah Madision’s Chickpeas and Shells with Masses of Spinach….

2 cups of cooked chickpeas. Ours come from Sunbow Farm, usually.
2 cups of cooked rice
1 HUGE bunch of chard, chapped. The chard, this time of year, is also from Sunbow. The leaves are as big as my head and it is still tender.
2-3 heads of chopped garlic

Sautee the chard and garlic in the large cast iron frying pan. Add some salt and pepper, a couple of shakes of tamari.

Add the chickpeas and rice. Heat through.

Eat with grated parmesan cheese or peach chutney or perhaps some salsa, depending upon your mood.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stump the Cook


   
        “Are you playing Stump the Cook?” Mark asked as I stared into the fridge this afternoon. We had come home from a weekend camping trip to southern Oregon. When we left on Friday, cheerfully abandoning a huge pile of laundry, I felt like we were playing hooky. Now, I was facing the consequences. In the refrigerator:  a scrap of cabbage, the heart of an old head of lettuce, some beets with wilted greens, some ancient chard, hummus and yogurt from the weekend, and a cup of extra rice. In the garden—sprouting broccoli, which we had just eaten the night before. It was ugly. And we had eaten breakfast out, so the old Breakfast for Dinner stand-by of eggs and beans or perhaps French toast or pancakes was out.
            I took out the cabbage, trimmed off the brown edges, and cut it finely into the purple bowl. The lettuce was next. I now had a bowl of “salad” sitting on the counter. It’s a start, I thought. After digging in the Tassahara cookbook, I discovered a recipe for beets and chard—the author must have had a similar combination in his walk-in one afternoon. Sautee an onion, add beets, salt and pepper, followed by the greens and some lemon juice…no lemon. But, there was some apple cider vinegar….We had a hot vegetable. We still needed protein, especially as I had skipped lunch because of the large breakfast. Mark brought up a jar of Sweet Creek tuna from our basement stores and I added it to the “salad” with a bit of vinaigrette. “Is it time to eat?” Mark asked as he passed through the kitchen to hang up the third load of laundry. And it was. Rounded off with a bit of chocolate and a slice of new bread, and we were pretty happy.
            Now, I just have to order vegetables for the week, because there is NOTHING left in the fridge.




Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bees and Chicks


     
Peeps!
      It’s rough being male on the Urban Homestead. Mark went from being outnumbered six to one—one human, a rabbit, two hens, and two cats—to 10,010 to one this weekend. We have acquired four chicks and 10,000 bees.

            Saturday was Chick Day in Dallas, Oregon. Old Mill Feed and Grain takes orders for seven or eight varieties of chicks, guarantees females, and distributes them all in one long “Chickens All Day” festival in early April. There is chicken themed music, a large dancing chicken, chicken hats, and chicks, as well as feeders and feed. The line begins at 7:15 AM. We—myself and three other teachers who have chickens—leave Corvallis around 7:30, armed with our carrier boxes, warm chocolate raspberry scones, coffee, and the Chicken Hat and T shirt.  This year, we were inside the building by the time the rain began—people outside, natives all, just pulled their hoods over their hats and got wet. It’s a lively line, full of families, women who raise chickens for meet and eggs, and a few backyard pouters. This is not a fancy crowd—sweatshirts and boots, pick-up trucks and cheap coffee dominate the scene. We chat while we wait. When the time comes, we move into the chick room, bend over the bins, and pick out the chicks. It’s not always easy; I have a tendency to go for the loudest animals, seeing that as a sign of health and intelligence, and it has backfired on me, leaving me with several high maintenance pets over the years. This year, I resist the chick running over the backs of everyone else and go for size. We are herded out, pick up our free Chick Day mugs—Karin has five or six now—buy our chick feed and peepers, and head home. The car sounds like a jungle of peeps as we all hold two, balanced over old towels that Karin remembers to bring each year. We are all settled in by 10:30 AM, chicks asleep under the heat lamp, me with a second cup of tea.
Lucy checks out the peep installation

         
Queen
   The next day was “Bee Package Day”, put on by Nectar Bee Supply. Usually, we have to head for Eugene for our bees, but, this year, a local apiary organized a delivery next door to the co-op. Go shopping and pick up bees in one fell swoop. We were thrilled. I studied the clouds all morning and we headed out right after a major downpour. I picked up the bee package, came home, looked at the clouds, and decided we had time to install them before the next deluge. Mark put on his new bee jacket with veil attached and acted as photographer while I sprayed down the box with sugar water. The queen box was plugged with the sugar plug quickly. (I lost her once and had to scoop her back into her cage.) I sprayed the bees again, knocked them down, and upended the box over the hive. Bees poured out. Quickly, I placed some of the bars around behind the box so bees would not swarm up, then tipped the box and knocked more bees down into the hive. Bees flew all around. One more knock and 95 percent of the bees were in the hive. I replaced all of the bars, set the bee feeder, which is a chicken watering bottle filled with syrup, with rocks in the bottom so that the bees don’t drown, on top of the bars, placed another box on top, and replaced the lid. A few bees began a casual investigation of their surroundings while I placed the package box next to the hive and covered it with an old langstrom hive cover. The whole process took about fifteen minutes.
           
Bees installed
Spring and all of its new life is settling into the back yard. Sprouting broccoli and asparagus are beginning. Plants are up in the cold frames. Tomatoes are ready to be bumped up into four inch pots. More seeds need to be planted between showers. And the chores of chick and bee feeding add to the complexity of our days. But, with the addition of the bees, the backyard is alive once more—even if it is all girls.



Crockpot Beans and Greens


There’s a brief scene in the Grapes of Wrath when Tom, the main character, is walking through the government camp early in the morning and smells the “strong smell” of beans cooking on an open fire. “I wish I had a plate of them,” he says in passing. “You’d be welcome, if they was done,” the woman replies. The scene gets at one of the underlying themes of the novel—poor folks will always help out and feed poor folks—and I think of it when I come home from school to the scent of beans cooking in my crockpot.

Put four cups of beans and one large coarsely chopped onion and maybe some garlic into the crockpot. The Indian Woman beans I bought from Sunbow are really nice, but black beans or some variety of pintos also works well. Cover with about double the amount of water. Cook slowly for six to eight hours. Near the end, when the beans are all soupy and falling apart, add 4-5 cups of chopped greens, salt and pepper, maybe a can of roasted tomatoes from the basement. I like to add collards and mustards, rather than cabbage (which does not do well slow cooked!) or chard, which is soft and gentle.  Stir it all in and let the greens cook down. Serve with new bread and salad, maybe some salsa, depending upon the beans.
            

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sunday Night Suppers-- March

Sauteed Shitake Mushrooms,  polenta

Edemane, salad, whole wheat bread, cider



Potato Leek Soup, salad, Irish soda bread
 
Greens, barley and mushrooms
Bold type indicates local food-- within one hundred miles of Corvallis

Monday, April 1, 2013

Potato Planting


   


Prepped bed
        It was warm and sunny in the Willamette Valley this weekend. The garden beds were at the perfect stage, between mud ball and hard clay; the moon was just past full. The time was ripe to plant the potatoes--.  Yukon Gold. Desiree. All Blue. Ruby Crescent. Enough to last the winter, stored under the stairs. I pulled out the shoe boxes full of saved seed, opened the new bag of Bio-Fish fertilizer, called Mark, and settled in. I spread the fertilizer in rows. Mark used the old pointed hoe to dig the trenches. I cut up the tubers and settled in them in, then he followed behind covering them over. We put in  90 feet of seed potatoes—two ten foot beds, four full rows, plus the extras tucked in the middle—in about an hour.
       
cut potatoes
     While we planted, we listened to the neighborhood. The Laugher had company over and his constant guffaws dominated the back alley. Next door, Kallen was noodling around on his guitar, following a jazzy riff. The frat boys a block away were up on their roof, shouting cheerfully for a friend to crank up the Bob Marley and then come up and join the party. The chickens let us know how they felt about serious digging going on without their help (they were not pleased). The cats came by to comment and supervise. A bike rattled by. Someone carried on a conversation, loudly, over their phone. Al, who lives about a block away in the other direction, shouted out a greeting to a passer-by. Everyone was out, enjoying the sun.


planted-- blue potato sprouts stick up
Vegetable Hash—a perfect use for old potatoes and large leaves of mustard greens!

Wash, chop in chunks, and boil 4-5 potatoes, any type, although waxy is better.

While the potatoes boil, sauté a large bunch of mustard greens in the cast iron skillet. Add some garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper.

When the potatoes are done, drain and add to the skillet. Add a half pint of canned roasted tomatoes. Stir. Mash the potatoes a bit with the wooden spoon, taking the sharp edges off.  Stir, mash, and warm through. Eat with new whole wheat bread.