Monday, January 31, 2011

Glacier Warning

I've seen Deer Crossing warnings, even Moose warnings, but never a Glacier warning. Apparently they do exist. Thanks to blogger Frugal Kiwi, we have a photo. Beware of falling glacier whilst swimming. Frugal Kiwi is one of nine blogs up for a Homie as the Best Green Home Blog of 2011.

A Way To Garden, written by corporate dropout, Margaret Roach, is another. Margaret was a major editorial and publishing player at Martha Stewart Omnimedia when she decided to leave behind a successful career to garden. Her memoir about the experience, "And I Shall Have Some Peace Here," is releasing in a couple of weeks. Check out her blog and the others at the Homie link to see who you'll vote for.

Of special mention: Margaret's January 30th post is a call to action for people to write the White House about the new USDA decision to rubber stamp genetically engineered alfalfa. She even provides links and phone numbers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over

I bake all my own bread. Have for years. Enjoy it immensely. Usually I use yeast, but occasionally I switch over to leaven, until I can't take it anymore. I don't know about anyone else, but I find maintaining a starter to be exhausting. Last night I fed my sour dough starter and left it on a sideboard. This morning a huge pool of starter spread across the wood. Totally my fault. Too small a bowl. I couldn't be bothered to clean out the larger bowl that had the remains of another starter in it. It's a real mother of a thing keeping a starter. (Bakers will get that joke. And doubtless, it's been told a million times.)

The bread made from leaven is so much tastier than that made from yeast in my opinion. So when you feel like getting your hands into some baking for a while, this is the way to go. Or, if you need to bake bread everyday for your large crowd.

Here is the result of a loaf made with this starter. It's Chad Robertson's Country Bread recipe from his book, Tartine Bread, a book I got for Christmas this year. The way the recipe is written, it is clear that Robertson's purpose is to train bakers to think about baking using ratios. It's not the easiest thing to follow. I find myself rereading the paragraphs over and over looking for where I left off, and where to pick up the next step. The cause may be the book design itself. Nonetheless, if you persevere, you will get an exceptional loaf well worth the effort.

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I know I'm late to blog about this, but I was dug into the writing garret, so, having emerged finally... New Year's Resolutions. I made a ton this year, and I look forward to every single one. Here's six of mine. I hope you all made resolutions that included fun, not just punishments aimed at being a better you.

  • Eat only farm fresh eggs purchased directly from a farm I know. (A weekly drive to the country, hooray!)
  • Make cheese... again. Branch out to include hard cheeses this time. (A challenge I look forward to.)
  • Tap a Sugar Maple and make syrup. (I can't wait for this one.)
  • Cross country ski... again.  (It's been decades. But Sara Polley's film Away From Her reminded me of how ethereal the experience was. Shush, shush, chirp, chirp.)
  • Build a cob oven. (I hope I can summon the forces with muscles to join me.)
  • Ice skate... again. (Also decades, and I've already tried it. Treacherous. But... check.)

I'm Against Plastic

Everyone who knows me is aware that I have been in a war against plastics for decades. I don't like to wear it, store my food in it, and especially consume it. Yet it is a war that I will never win as a consumer. That's why I have been researching ways to raise fiber crops and am trying to learn how to spin fiber, weave and knit. It's a way to take charge of what I wear and live with.

My mother's knitting needles await

Currently all my rugs, linens and clothes are wool, cotton or silk, but it is getting increasingly hard to find. Especially now that manufacturers are making synthetic cottons and passing them off as natural.

Everything, including jeans, has plastic in it these days. Those "stretch jeans" are full of plastic. If we can put nicotine and birth control patches on our skin and absorb the medicinal compounds therein, what makes us think we are not absorbing the contaminants in plastic garments as well? I'm just saying.

Offgassing. This is a word I hadn't even heard of years ago. Now it is a normal part of my everyday speech.

We now run water through PVC piping. Kettles and coffee makers are plastic. Our rain barrels and composters are plastic. I regret using plastic sheeting for my hoop houses. (I intend to construct a glass greenhouse as soon as possible. But glass is difficult to find in the ubiquitous consumer grade greenhouse kits.) Everything is poly-something or other. I'll likely have to have a conservatory built.

Screenwriter Buck Henry's prophetic word "plastics," which he predicted as the industry of the future, in the 1967 film The Graduate, meant perhaps more than even he dreamed. From the cars we drive to the computer I am typing on now, plastics have wound their way into every aspect of our lives... including the food chain. Chewing gum for instance. Tell your kids not to swallow it!  Synthetics like polyvinyl acetate are used today for gum base; a component used in wood glue. Gum base is also made from polyethylene, the plastic used in shopping bags; and butadiene-styrene rubber, which is used in car tires.

Last night my cousin had an unfortunate plastic encounter. She was chewing gum that got caught in her throat. She ended up with a tracheotomy.  "Plastics!!!"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Locavore No More

P.E.I. oysters have been my downfall at trying to eat locally. I've been on an oyster jag lately. Buying them in bulk and secretly shucking them with wild abandonment when no one's around. (When you're alone, there's no need to share; such despicable behavior!) The only problem with shucking your own oysters is that it is virtually impossible to resist devouring them the instant they are freed from their razor-sharp shells. I shuck and wolf, shuck and wolf, shuck and wolf. Screaming with delight at each mouthful. It's gluttonous behavior.

But I swear I can smell the very air of P.E.I. with each delicious morsel. And that is half of the draw. Perhaps it's a longing for the cool spring season and sea that has brought this on. The indoor garden has not satiated this longing. (Note the potatoes finally rearing their heads in that bag of soil.)

The salty flavor of the oyster's liquor reminds me of the red roads, Cavendish Beach dunes and the white lighthouses of Prince Edward Island. A truly magical island off the east coast of Canada.

When I was just out of my teens, my brother and I drove across eight states and provinces to visit a relative who had bought a home in the tiny village of Bedeque. Once there, we signed on to pick oysters for some much-needed cash. We lasted about two hours. It was pouring rain, cold, miserable and the oyster beds in the frigid Atlantic waters had already been picked over. We were paid $7 for 2 pecks. I recall us looking at each other and wondering just how much a peck was, until a large crate was set in front us. We left with a mere $15 between us, and I stayed away from oysters for many years after that.

Until 1986, when at a reception for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards (Canada's version of the Tonys) my interest was revived. I had produced a couple of plays that were nominated and felt quite righteous in my entitlement to graze at the buffet of the catered event. William Lord, then Theatre Officer for the Ontario Arts Council, accompanied me as we shamelessly plundered the very neglected oyster bar for the better part of twenty minutes. We gorged ourselves silly. You can eat a lot of oysters in twenty minutes, believe you me, and we both kept exclaiming that this was utterly criminal behavior. Criminal, criminal, criminal! Yet no one stopped us, nor seemed at all interested in the oyster table as we continued on. I guess oysters still bring out the food-felon in me. It's hard to be a locavore.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

17 Acres and a Good Barn

I am finally resurfacing after several weeks in the writing garret. Another deadline met and now I lift my head from the page to see that the earth has continued to spin on its axis without my help, thank you very much.

I love a deadline, as most writers do. It's difficult to impose one on one's self but when it is imposed on you it is a motivational joy. I have always been fascinated by other writers' processes.  For me, it's a fairly simple one. Once you get beyond the gnashing of teeth and obsessive cooking, the cleaning phase begins. This is always the sign that the writing will soon commence. I must have a spotless environment (a clean slate so to speak) before I begin. When the household is tiptop from attic to basement with neat piles of clean laundry at the ready I can sit down, fire up Movie Magic Screenwriter, and begin.

Of course then all hell breaks loose. For weeks dishes and papers pile up. Wastebaskets go untended. Clothes accumulate everywhere (sometimes you have to kick your way into the bedroom.) Engagements are canceled, invitations declined and I become downright unsociable. I cannot interrupt the momentum for fear of threatening completion of the work. I am also unable to sleep. Tortured by storyline and the babbling characters that insist I jot down their seemingly vital dialogue at 4:15 in the morning or lose it altogether. But it's my process, and in the end, a new creation is born.

So now I take my brief postpartum break and return my attention to other issues. Like... seventeen acres and a good barn. This is what my aunt (a former farmer and farmwife) tells me I require for my hobby farm dream. If you plan on keeping animals, you need pasture. That's the long and the short of it. Seventeen acres is what she recommends for my modest vision which is beginning to grow daily, to now include sheep, milk and fiber goats, chickens, a Dexter cow or two, and the latest... teacup pigs. I must have two of those now that I've discovered that they exist. At least I haven't branched out to camels like The Inadvertent Farmer. I draw the line at camels... although... Alpaca... hm.

So I hit the MLS again today, paging through listings only to discover that what I need is a little out of reach financially. But isn't that always the way. The life you strive for always has some reach to it; else you are not stretching for greater things. John F. Kennedy said, "We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." I love that sentiment. It always inspires me to push onward.

The blogosphere continues to be an encouragement as well. There are people out there living in yurts! Happily, I might add. I do need a few more creature comforts than yurt life offers. Access to DSL for one, so I can continue on professionally, but thinking outside of the box isn't a bad thing.  Is it?

And so, it is back to cooking before I tackle the next draft. Since I strive to add a photo to every blog post here is the preparation stage for David Tanis' Saffron Carrots recipe, which I made last night.

Very tasty. Carrots and garlic from the garden. Butter, saffron threads, zest of lemon, salt and pepper and water.  Quick to make, too. I ate a full serving of cooked carrots, which is rare. I prefer my carrots raw.

Thanks David.  Page 27 of his wonderful cookbook, A Platter of Figs, which I recently bought along with his other cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke. Yup, Amazon got me with the old buy-two-for-the-discount-price thingy.  Anyway, one of the great things about his cookbooks, besides the marvelous photos, are the little stories that accompany each. Now that's a cookbook that really works for me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011