Sunday, April 29, 2007

Plenary indulgence

Still camera-free here; please make do with a month-old photo of some lacinato kale

Labels. We all have them, most of us 'fess up to them, and sometimes we go beyond them. So I was thinking today about what *we* (Tom and I) are now. I know that personally I am, well, at least post-Catholic; my college certainly cured me of that, and any, religion (to my mom's horror). And now we are no longer yuppies, as we're neither young, nor urban, and only I, on a good day, can be considered "professional." I will say that on some things those old labels have some residual pull. So I lean some ways thanks to the Church's teaching, er, indoctrination of my wee brain over the 16 years in its schools. And I also have some yuppie buying habits. But now those buying habits have a twist.

I am compiling items for our new kitchen. Now that my eyes have been opened to global warming/peak oil issues, I have looked into other ways to cook my food. So I am considering an induction cooktop. Our electricity here is NooKeeLar as our esteemed president calls it; it's a zero or near-nuff for carbon emissions, and is certainly cheap, despite its other faults. And induction is a lot more efficient than either electric or gas for stovetop use. I would have to sacrifice my ancient aluminum pancake griddle, as it literally isn't conducive, but so it goes. And then there's the oven. How about this one? It's a woodburner AND it's a bread oven. And it's cute.

Yes, I can hear all of you sigh now. There is something rather stupid about having to buy my way into a lifestyle, albeit a slow one, especially by consuming NEW products like these when, in reality, the dumb electric stove/range I already possess works well and IS efficient in its own (dumb) way. And it is self-delusional to think that I am going to fire up a woodstove in the warm months if I want a loaf of bread. But I am a post-Yuppie, and these things die slowly, if at all. I somehow WANT. And (thankfully) it's not from an ad on tv, or from something my neighbor has: I just think it's cooool, that hot stove, that induction cooktop.

It's all something to consider. Being post-Catholic, I still think about some kind of balance sheet of the have-dones versus the haven't-dones: I am hoping it all evens out. My profession (construction) means I stand atop a massive pile of landfill waste, and I won't even go into the amount of carbon burned up to make any of my buildings, green or no. So I think. A lot. And I still hate my kitchen, especially considering how much time I spend in it, so something needs to change.

I'm just wondering who I need to pay off, you know?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A good day to be young

The plum tree is blooming. All is right in this world.

It was a big day for the babies of this household yesterday. The baby chicks, who are now rather young pullets, are now in with the big girls in their coop at night. I think they had an okay night, though the little ones can't quite fly up to the top roost yet. And I looked at the forecast and found that overnight lows for the foreseeable future would be in the mid-40s, so I started hardening off all those seedling babies. As they had lived in the unheated front porch for the majority of their existence, this new chilliness would not be too hard on them. All that light, rain, and wind, though, will be a bit of a shock. I will still be dragging the peppers/eggplants (one flat) and the cardoons, artichokes, sea kale and angelica in for the nights. Those tomatoes, though, need to get used to it. Tough love!

I plan on doing some planting this weekend, mainly of more salad stuff and a second round of peas/favas. And POTATOES. How could I forget.

Oh, and the other baby was in pig heaven yesterday when she got home from school. The whole field on the side of our house was filled with's the only time of year I think they're pretty, frankly. There were grape hyacinths that had naturalized too. So I have a very large very complementary vaseful in front of me today.

Eat Local stuff

Our camera is broken. These are last year's garlic scapes.

There's been lots of hoo-ha about going green, Eat Local, Locavores, 100-mile Diets and so on in the news lately, as well as a challenge to eat local for one week: the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge from April 23rd-29th. I freely wish to confess here that my recent vacation was also a vacation from my computer so had I known earlier, I would actively be participating in this challenge. But if you really wish to learn more about it, please read the above links and also please read this post by the esteemed Liz at Pocket Farm. I echo her sentiments exactly.

So, being behind the times as I was, I thought I'd make up for it by sharing the meal we ate last night here at Old Vines. All three of us are sick: me, continuously for a month or so, Tom, who's just succumbed, and the kid, who's on Week Two. SO! How about some green garlic with your Tuscan Beans?

Green garlic is something I kind of let happen around here. All those little cloves that sprout? I tend not to pitch them into the compost; I simply stick them back into the garden. They sprout, then the next year they divide themselves, then you have a handy patch of garlic for chives, scapes and green (immature) heads. The beans are Henderson's Bush Limas, a first around here last year; they did very well. I hung a couple of rows to dry in the shed last fall and only recently got around to stomping on the shells and cleaning them. I put them on a quick boil when making breakfast, then let them soak in the fridge the rest of the day. I drained them, chopped the garlic "heads" and most of the greens, added lots of fresh sage and some sprigs of thyme and sauteed them in some butter. Then I added the beans and let them cook. I salted to taste, added some snips of the Italian parsley seedlings, and served the family. I also made some whole-wheat buttermilk drop biscuits with frozen leftover buttermilk from my milk share of last fall. Flour from here, local honey on top. Butter, sadly, from Wisconsin, so not local, but technically within 100 miles. But yum. I would bet this meal costs about a dollar per person.

I would like to hear from any Midwesterners who'd like to participate in the One Local Summer challenge. Liz had rounded everyone up from around the country last year; she did a fabulous job as usual but I thought I would lend a hand and take on my local Eat Locals. So please email me if you are interested, or post to the comments. I have a feeling things will still be kind of loose this summer. You needn't eat every meal from locally produced ingredients; the objective last year was to eat one meal per week for twelve weeks. I will then make links to you. It's kind of a roundup/recipe swap/drop by and maybe get inspired kind of thing. And it is supposed to be FUN.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We're back.

A promise, or a tease? Frost-hit plum blossoms

Going away is hard, especially in the spring when there's so much change afoot in the outdoor world. Our vacation was great. We really miss our friends, and especially miss their children (two-legged and four-), as friends don't change nearly as much as kids do. Tom's show was a lot of fun.

Our chickens were left in the able, egg-loving hands of our next-door neighbor. He just thinks our girls are "so neat," especially when they run out to greet him. The plant seedlings were left in the equally capable plant-loving hands of my mother-in-law, who also looked after the kitties. The plants are huge! Yikes.

The highlight for me came when we visited my friend Catharine's farm. She and I assembled a piece of her wood-fired bread oven (I can't get away from construction for too long you see) and then later she and I stuck our hands in her old compost heap and took deep sniffs of big handfuls. Yes. Only gardeners do that.

It's just great to be home. But our chore list is now REALLY long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


We're going on a trip to be at the opening for Tom's next show. (His work is also on view here. One of his pieces is also in this month's Harper's Magazine.) We haven't hit the old stomping grounds of Minneapolis since we moved from there a bit over two years ago, strange, but true. It should be fun. I am, however, faced with the typical farmgirl dilemma:

how can I leave my babies?

By babies I don't mean the one I gave birth to, as she of course will be with us. Nor do I mean those baby chicks, the big chickens, the sheep, the kitties or the hyperneurotic superbonded dog. I mean, of course, my seedlings!!!

I think there is absolutely NO good time to go away from the farm, except maybe the icy throes of mid-January when it's too early to seed-start, too late to garden.

I guess it's a good thing I love to be home. We'll see you in a week!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I guess we'll have to wait a little longer

Asparagus, frost-flattened

Hubris is the word I use to describe my recent crowing. Nothing smites the gardener's expectations better than a two-week-long early-spring frost.

Ah, but at least the favas are up.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Garden supper

Lovelies for supper: Lancelot leeks, Harris Model parsnips

It sure was a starch fest for dinner last night: the last(?) of the spuds with two of the last of the leeks for that lovely potato/leek soup (butter, water, salt and pepper are the rest of it; can't be simpler). And those overwintered parsnips! Sweeeeet heaven. I caramelized them in some clarified butter. And then there was this guy's bread. Yep. The bread everyone's been making. I confess something: he's a client. I confess something else: we have this bread weekly if not more often. And the whole damned loaf usually "gets et" at the table between the three of us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Slippery slope time

As the ground is still frozen and I am housebound, I thought I would ask you all a question that's tangentially farm-related.

I recently purchased this saltcellar, and it is causing me great worry.

It is highly unusual for me to purchase anything; I am most definitely not a shopper. I never feel bitten by that "gotta have it" bug with the exception, maybe, of things for the farm. Yes, you could say this little (and I mean little: it's less than 3" high/wide) is somewhat farm-related; we're chicken keepers, after all. It has utility, and it will be well-used, as we love our sea salt here. But I am distressed nonetheless.

And I really don't mean to offend my relations and friends and any of you by saying this, but is this the straw? That breaks my back? That makes me a purchaser of All Things Chicken? Because though I understand the desire to collect things, I really do not understand the...need? desire? to...well. To decorate for every holiday!!! I am really concerned that the purchase of this small thing will lead me to start decorating my house for every (and I mean every) holiday. My mother is at this moment probably gathering all the storage boxes labeled EASTER right now, and into them will go all the rabbits and eggs and all ephemera that she has seen and somehow said "gotta have it."

Should I be concerned?

Friday, April 13, 2007

But the calendar says...

Another frozen thing

I certainly hope that Spring plans to make at least a brief visit to Southwest Michigan this year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

McGuyver has struck again

I married a DIY kind of guy. This is good; I tend to be very hand's-on too. So most of our fights are about how to improve things. It's a kind of geeky pissing match, but in a good way.

Out in the Hinterlands, there is no curb-side recycling. (There are also no curbs. Are the two related?) We've become a lot more conscious of our trash, but more importantly, we try not to buy things to throw away to begin with. There are bottle and can returns at most grocery stores, as Michigan is one of those fee states (MI 10c!). But on occasion, stuff happens. Ergo, I have become a glass and plastics recycler, finding new-ish uses for old containers, mostly in relation to the garden.

But paper? BRING IT ON. We LOVE paper. Not really, but like most households, ours seems to accumulate lots of it. And cardboard, especially with internet shopping (another thing about the Hinterlands is getting to know the FedEx and UPS drivers by name) and with things like cereal and pasta boxes. All this cellulose bounty is destined for the garden. The big cardboard boxes get flattened and go down as a weed barrier on the paths between the raised beds in the spring; I pile wood chips, grass clippings, straw, etc. (whatever I have a lot of) on top of them as the season goes on. And the small boxes and ALL that paper go in here.

Yep. McGuyver, a.k.a. the husband, has recycled two things at once here yesterday. One is the wee paper shredder, the other is an unused (extra) garbage can. The shreddings then go to either the compost, directly into new garden beds, or in with the wrigglers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy sheep

I've been letting the sheep out onto the kids' playground while I do the morning chores. They love that nice long grass. I am so glad they aren't shorn yet: it has still been ridiculously cold. Today it was 21*, brr.

Sheeps and ships and notice that frost

These girls were my helpers today, shown here with Snowy. They're in Lower El (lower elementary: 6-9 year olds).

And this was the surprise. We have a feral black cat, and on Friday afternoon she had 4 little black kittens. Silly girl: she made her nest directly below the manger in the sheep shed. The kittens would've been squished so I made another nest in a hoof-free corner.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

To chit or not to chit, that is the question

When the weather looks like this,
one turns to interior gardening.

I received the second-to-last of my seed order: the potatoes. (The last are the sweet potatoes.) Aren't they beauties. There are 4 different kinds going from early season to late: Red Gold, Katahdin, Carola and Russets. I didn't get anything wild this time (purple, fingerling) and I selected with an eye toward longevity/storage, except for the early birds. So now I am deciding if I am going to allow them to chit (i.e., sprout) before I plant them. (Ever the optimist, I assume this snow is not going to be with us long.)

Are there ways any of you ALWAYS do your potatoes? I am by nature a fickle experimenter, so I have chitted and not chitted, cut them up and left them whole. (Regarding the cutting: I have noticed that whole potatoes DO make bigger and fewer potatoes. But someplace in the whole deal it breaks down and everyone seems to have lots of little babies. I blame the heavy soil. But I love the little babies.)

And here is a pic of the front porch.

It has become the seedling nursery because we haven't put the greenhouse together yet. I had to turn the heater on during this spell of cold; the eggplants and peppers (who expect a bit of chilliness) were looking positively unhappy. And I had to bring the seed trays in from the garage, as a field mouse has decided it was HIS salad I had planted. So with the exception of the tomatoes and flowers under the growlights upstairs, this is the start of the season.

If the snow melts, that is.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Chick update

Gangly teenaged chicks

This cold turn in the weather has kept the chicks in their temporary coop. I had been releasing them into the chicken run with the big girls during the day and then returning them to their own warm spot for the night. Now, they're in there 24/7 with brooder lights blazing. I worry they'll get bored.

It is fairly amazing how quickly these little birds become big birds. Miss a week and you'll say holy cow. Now, the biggest of them perch at night as opposed to huddling in a chickpile. They're very adept at chicken things already, like scratching and finding bugs and green bits.

I've read that you should separate the new birds from the old because chickens are beasts with a sense of hierarchy. Frankly, I have not seen much aggression from my older girls. The chicken run is a large one, though, and they're separated at night, so I am sure the big girls are just accepting the little ones as a concession of some sort.

The evening before the temperatures fell, I let the three big chickens out of the run. I stood with them (not trusting that red-tailed hawk nor the girls' love of my perennial beds) the whole time. Time just flies by when you watch them. Bloody Beatrice was picking up worms at every step (step-bob-peck-pull-slurp, step-bob-peck-pull-slurp) and the other two were dethatching Mont Merde (our septic hill). And me, sick as I was, just stood there. It was really fun. Then I called them and they followed me back into the coop. A good evening on the farm.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Woe the snow

Out the living room window at 8 this morning

Argh. The chickens don't want to come out of their coop. All the bulb flowers are flattened. And me? I have a doctor's appointment. (I'm one of those people who sees a doctor only when I am at death's door.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Some beautiful blooming thing

I have been sick the last couple of days. It's been an overall malaise that's hit me: a kind of lingering hangover, complete with fever and body aches and a tiredness that has rendered me A Napper, something I decidedly am not on happier days. Considering I am rarely sick, I am also a crab. (I pity my relations should I really become ill.)

This is a sign of how sick I am. I cannot weed. I am too sick to weed.

Now, with the exception of brutal mid-winter days, I am an outdoorsy person. I go outside just for a passagiatta, for fresh air, for...well, for first-hand observation of The Growing Of Things. It is this time of year, the Season of Mud, whereby I am most grateful that I don't have a "real job" which would require of me regular hygiene and, mostly, mud-free clothes. Every pantcuff usually shows a splash of the gray-brown muck of our land. And I cannot help myself to the forays outside, to see IF anything has broken the soil yet. And as of yesterday I can happily say that all seeds planted, with the exception of the poky fava (broad) beans, has. I am rewarded in every walk.

But I am too sick to put on a pair of gloves and pull things from the earth. Ah, me. And April, as we North American gardeners know, is the cruelest of months. We have a prediction of snow over the next few days. SNOW! Makes me want to climb back into bed. But first, let me go put my boots back on and see what's happening out there...

Monday, April 02, 2007


It won't be long now...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy hatch day to the girls

We've been chicken owners for a year now. Boy, are they funny. I'm so glad we have them.

We just got back from a trip to the other side of the state. That zone thing must mean something, because the trees are budding out here yet life was still mostly dormant out the windscreen. Here, the magnolias are blooming. The woods all of a sudden has a dimension to it that indicates distance. The monochromacy of winter and summer don't show this distance; it's only the transition seasons of spring and fall where you can tell the short and the long. I feel hemmed in in the summer, and rather exposed in the winter because of it. Early spring feels pretty okay, though!