May 13th, 2013 §
Typing these words hurts me, and I’m not speaking in metaphors or about my feelings. The tips of my fingers, with every letter pressed, hurt. Ow. Hurt. Ow. I could go on, but that’d be masochism.
One winter day of my unforgiving childhood, I was asked to help my mother bring in wood for the wood stove. We lived in a climate and an era where snow was unexpected, so when a few inches were on the ground, we didn’t know how to navigate through them. So, we slid on whatever excuse we had for boots at the time, and grabbed the red wagon we always used for wood-hauling, filled it up, and on the way back to the house, my mother pulled from the front while I pushed from behind.
Little red wagons of the 1980s (yes, I’m old. Piss off.) weren’t the best tools for this job even for wagons and roads of great condition, so our well-battered box on a snowy trail was a chore, and I was really leaning on it, feeling it in the pancreas, when I looked up to see my mother’s hands bloodied from her own effort. Two revelations struck at that moment: one, she was willing to go through what at the time seemed tremendous pain to keep her clan warm. And two, I was not going to meet the same fate. I would study and perform well and become well-educated and Gatsby the fuck away from that future.
So I did. I moved to the center of the universe and attended a reputable university and got a well-paying job in a respectable industry until, at some point decided that wage slavery was worse than scratched-up hands, so I slowly began to pedal away from it until I met the Native, who convinced me to shit in a hole with him in the snowy woods.
I moved a year’s worth of firewood today, because it had been sitting upon a space I want excavated into a terrace for a new garden. And tomorrow begins the biennial excavator rental, which will hopefully catalyze many fine projects that lead to a resurgence of fodder for this inconsistent bit of bloggerel, and as much as I had been hoping for an alternate outcome, the wood pile did not, elas, move itself.
And so I have so many splinters in my hands at the moment that, if extracted, could probably start a woodstove fire of their own. Ow.
On the other hand, if I’m anything but steel-solid biceptually after this, I’m going back to desk jockeying.
(I’d have shared a photo of the pile, but this millipede found within is much cuter.)
January 3rd, 2013 §
Two days before closing camp for our big winter trip, I was bestowed an early Christmas gift in the form of a quart of whey, leftover from a cheese-making adventure. My friend said it was tasty when drunk straight-up with a little maple syrup, and I don’t know about you, but the mere thought of downing a quart of whey in two days, no matter how sugared, was met with the gastronomic equivalent of yelling fire in a theatre. Figuratively, anyway.
But the thought of wasting food is even worse, so I phoned my local resource for turning festering muck into products of some culinary merit, who pulled out the nearest reference book.
“Whey lemonade?” she suggested.
Lemonade? Lemonade? I prefer limes to lemon, and don’t know of any recipe for whey tequila. I had her read on.
“There is a whey cheese that seems easy enough. Gee jee toast? I’ve never heard if it.”
Gjetost. Gjetost! Do you know this stuff? We call it Candy Cheese around these parts, softish and a cool brown color and priced roughly at $750 an ounce, give or take a few hundred bucks. Gjetost? Suddenly the whey is a Christmas miracle.
I asked my favorite cheese maker, Google, for more information, and came across a few recipes that looked promising. With the gist of things in mind, I dumped the whey in a sauce pot and got started, and with a nice puck of the good stuff in front of me, I present
The Mostly Unabridged Guide to Gjetost-Making, or, What To Do With All This Whey
1. Dump the whey in a saucepan and get it boiling.
2. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Leave uncovered. Or, cover it, then uncover it when it boiled out all over the place, if you need an excuse to clean your stove.
3. Nurse your baby Squirrel, wash the dishes, make raspberries at your Squirrel, do the crossword, and cut your fingernails, all the while stirring your whey every half hour or so. My one quart took about 6 hours to really caramelize.
4. When it starts to thicken up, grab a whisk and give it hell. This is where other recipes call for food processors and warn of crystallization, but I just kept it steadily whisking, and all was okay. Plus, a whisk is easier to lick and clean than your food processor.
5. People eat the stuff at many viscosities, from that of a pasta sauce to that of a hard cheese. So do what you will. I whisked mine until it took 10 seconds or more for the whisk’s trails to disappear, which, when cool, hardened to the semi-hard (think Swiss cheese) consistency I find in stores.
6. Cool it quickly! Really. Stop reading and cool it. You should have read this in advance anyway– you had hours! I poured mine into a mold then plunged in an icy water bath, and it set up perfectly. But I’ve read horror stories suggesting that things get tricky if you move too slowly here.
7. Never again wonder what to do when someone plies you with such a lovely gift.
8. Try not to get too fat.
Mine didn’t get too dark in color– maybe because it was cow’s milk, or a couple of days old? The flavor was exactly right, and I don’t get hung up on looks.
November 16th, 2012 §
Last year at this time, when we were just getting used to the idea of having a Squirrel of our own, I was cleaning up the garden and saw a little kale that I hadn’t remembered planting, just starting to take off. I decided to leave it there, or more accurately, I forgot all about it, instead adopting the pregnancy diet of milkshakes and girlscout cookies, neither of which was a successful crop last year.
This spring, with Squirrel approximately eighty months in utero, the rampant kale returned just long enough to sprout millions (give or take) of little seed pods. I left this, too, to see what would happen. Or, again, in the name of accuracy, I neglected it to go eat cookies and milk and eagerly anticipate the eighty-first month.
And guess what’s there now? Thousands (give or take a few) of perfect and delicate little wild kale plants, looking gestationally ready-to-eat. Which makes me wonder why I don’t try harder to be negligent.
I remember watching these Ruth Stout videos and thinking she had the right approach. Now, looking at this kale, I think I might have to garden naked and care-free for the rest of my days. I will never, though, not ever, smash a saloon.
September 28th, 2012 §
Despite the fact that this year’s garden looked like its boyfriend just broke up with it and it got a bad haircut the day after it failed the chemistry midterm, and despite the fact that it suffered further abuse at the hands of the chainsaw for the sake of our firewood, and despite even the fact that all my actions these days are either performed one-handed or with a 12-pound squirrel attached to my chest, there was still a modicum of a harvest.
Putting the word “hands” so close to “chainsaw” feels like tempting the gods, somehow. Please, users of chainsaws the world over, mind your bodyparts.
As for the blackberries and ferns that have taken over the rest of it, it’s the blowtorch for you. Good thing you’re not literate; there’s no one to warn you. Suckers.
You’d think that as someone concerned with the visual internetted proximity of the linguistic symbols representing human appendages and tools capable of cutting them off, I’d be less-than-willing to entertain the idea of blowtorching-while-babywearing. Internet Child Protective Services Agents, take note. It’s a metaphor! I think. We’ll just use gasoline and a match. She doesn’t have much hair yet, anyway.
August 15th, 2012 §
I guess this takes care of my garden neglect guilt.
August 6th, 2012 §
Imagine you’re eleventy months pregnant when planting the year’s garden. If you can’t imagine yourself at such an unimaginable gestational length of time, I’ll disclose that gardening in such a condition entails rolling between rows on your own girth, or a general butt-scooting amid the feeling that one’s entire viscera are about to bow down to gravity. The resulting plot of fecundity is admittedly just a tad disjointed, with a few random sprigs of dill in your potato patch and a singular as-yet-unidentified member of the squash family claiming squatter’s rights in your spinach. If nothing else, the place isn’t lacking in character.
Then imagine that it’s a couple of months later, and after having successfully survived both the state of being eleventy months pregnant and the inevitable harvesting and immediate aftermath of your own overripe fruit, you suddenly remember your big neglected project. I was half-expecting to walk into some neat secret-garden-world. Instead, with tomatoes vining on the ground and peas drying on the vines, the place looks like a decoy crop for an amateur marijuana farmer long taken over by cinematic woodland trolls from the nineteen eighties.
But the place has not devolved into total disrepair. We recently welcomed our first out-of-town guests with the de-luxe accommodations of a tent platform almost as big as our cabin and probably, at this point, on more level ground:
Should you have the desire to visit, now’s the time, so long as you don’t mind performing a little requisite garden restoration and baby-cooing. A visit here is sure to include a head full of staples (me) and marveling of the local wildlife (our seven-year-old friend, whose curious mind, pre leech-plucking, inspired the title of today’s post). It’s the cheapest holiday you’ll take, with free flesh-stapling and bloodletting to boot!
April 2nd, 2012 §
What you are looking at are the season’s first sprouts of the fanciest and crispest fancy lettuce mix, the evening before they were set outside to soak up some sun.
Did you know that, if left outside to soak up some sun, fancy lettuce tends to disappear, all in one day, replaced only with dirt, and with a series of squirrel-sized tracks traversing the pot?
Did you know that vegetarians can still blast squirrels without a challenge to their sense of ethical rectitude, especially lettuce-thieving squirrels, and make a nice squirrel-skinned cap out of them, or at least a pair of earmuffs? It’s part of the Vermin Exception.
(Okay, I’m not so sure about this last bit. But this will not stop me from doing my worst with the culprit, and should he or she be literate and following this blogh, this should be considered a sobering warning. You’ve enjoyed your last of my greens.)
Time to replace/reinforce the cover on the cold frame.
October 17th, 2011 §
When it comes to the planting and growing of stuff, I harbor a little bit of a spooky lifey anti-choice fundamentalist nut. (Not that I’d disclose anything about my political positions…)
But I spend so much time preparing and starting seeds for the weaker and spindlier seedlings to be chucked in the compost bin. Then I had what I thought a glorious idea.
I see all over the place these hanging tomato and pepper plants for sale, and agree with a lot of the logic of it: one should let vines be vines, rather than obsessively working to defy gravity. If they’re off the ground, they’re less susceptible to succumbing to frost and blight. This all makes sense. But I don’t like doing things the easy way, so I spent a week chugging soda, then after recovering from the resulting birth of twenty pounds of intestinal bile, I whipped up the mighty ghetto creations you see in the photo above.
The single Hungarian wax pepper you see here is this year’s only product of this experiment, which probably has something to do with the notion that I am, after all, populating them with the weakest, barely fit for survival seedlings. It might also have something to do with the fact that these get planted long after the rest of the garden goes down. And there’s the issue of water, and while we get plenty of water hanging out in the ground, these guys actually need care. But still, it was a mighty pepper, living the American dream, making something even though its opportunities are limited.
On the theme of limited opportunities, yesterday marked pig-slaughter day, a day of great Neanderthaloid pleasure, from my vantage. While I hadn’t expected anything resembling solemnity, a modicum of respect for the animals whose flesh they were taking, or the local vegetarian who took part in raising them, might’ve been appreciated. Later, after the day turned to party, because such days should always turn to parties, the butcher was asked to have a turn shooting skeet– because such parties are more fun with recreational bangery. “I already got to shoot today!” boasted the butcher with mouth swollen into the expression of pure joy. Now, were I a fighting type, there would’ve been fists, but it’s a good thing I’m not, because that does not add much fun to most parties. And so I’m seething at you, dearest internet, because while it’s rare and great to enjoy one’s work, the part of the work involving taking a rifle to the head of an animal really needs to be treated for what it is. Otherwise, the pigs might as well have been factory-farmed, and the dishonored rednecked knuckle-dragging discredits your entire operation. I’ll have no part in this next year, and expect My Native to be able to butcher his own meat (Hi, baby.).
Finally! A righteous and angrily rantish blog post. I knew I could do it!
September 21st, 2011 §
I first tried to grow melons while still in the moving truck on the way up here. Living as we do does not allow for many impractical hobbies, but the successful growing of melons (an impractical, inefficient addition to the garden) has blossomed into a full-on obsession, full of much hand-wringing and not without tears.
The first year in this climate – when we paced about in a civilized dwelling, with running water and a bedroom that wasn’t also our kitchen – I didn’t get a garden down until the middle of June. Which meant that by the first frost a few months later, the melons I’d planted had just started to flower. Last year, I was marginally better at timing, but didn’t pay close enough attention to variety and ended up with something that was more suited to the tropics. By the time the season was over, I had a handful of little nuggets the size of golf balls. Cute, except I don’t golf.
This year, I was determined to get serious. I bought six (6!) seed packets of various species that all promised to deliver fruit within a short growing season, and all of which I validated with Master Gardener Google by typing in the name of the species plus the name of my state, and reading the resulting bloggers joyous yarns of success. Because we all know that people who write about their gardens on the Internet are never prone to hyperbole or bullshit.
So I had my six varieties of melon, but this wasn’t enough. In March, I started various seeds in peat pods – the largest pods I could find, so as not to disturb the roots. Somewhere else on the Internet I read that the seeds sprout healthier seedlings if soaked in milk, so I tried that with a handful. I think I even spat on a few. Gently. I will be eternally grateful that I never chanced upon the website insisting that melons grow well when packed into unforgiving bodily apertures. For the love of everything juicy, I’d have put them there.
Of course, by the time they were ready to go into the ground, I’d killed half the seedlings by leaving them out on too cold a day. I lost several more to the basic stupidity of starting plants from seed when you live in a place so small that the kitchen is your bedroom. The milk was a bust, or maybe I just let them soak long enough for it all to curdle; who can remember this many hours later? And the last few, well beyond recognition from my futile attempt at labeling, made it safely into the ground on one of the last few days of May. Because there were only a few left, I sowed the remaining seeds directly and forgot about them.
In what will go down as the surprise of the century, every plant I labored over died straight away, and those I seeded and left alone took right off. The harvest wasn’t especially bountiful, but it wasn’t a particularly forgiving season, with too much rain, a hailstorm, a flood, and very little of the season known as “summer.” I netted a few sugarbaby watermelons (not bad), some banana melons (a let down), and most deliciously, a couple of small-in-size-alone charentais, which are hereby known as Breasts of the Nubile Gods. By the time I was finished lapping and slurping and sucking and happily sighing, I was wishing I still smoked.
Next year I hope will be better, as I bypass all of the needless pre-season fussing (unless we find that long-lost big bag of money and build a greenhouse), get seeds down in time, and shoot anyone who tries to dump too much rain on them. But before get too far ahead of myself: I have grown melons, and eaten the melons I’ve grown, and Yea, It Was Good.
From the department of Awkward Nostalgia, allow me to present an early photo of Yours Most Truly, the very fruit of the loins of the foxy young lady to my right. I share this not to show off my incomparable capacity for adorableness, but to get to the bottom of my Melon Problem. In this photo, we’re sharing the last of a melon whose harvest from my grandparents’ garden is one of my first fond memories. You think this has anything to do with it?
August 23rd, 2011 §
I was setting up shop last Saturday to deal with the first real fruits of my ceaseless labor, and while sorting through the endless piles of cucumbers that have harvested, decided to pull out a jar of last year’s pickles to mitigate my guilt. The jar was labeled “10-10-10,” with a subtitle of “finally, the last of this year’s pickles.” But it was not the last jar of last year’s pickles. My friends, I will die drowning in a cucumbering waterbath, or suffer slowly from vinegar exposure.
Because I nearly had to check myself into a treatment center last year from all the cucumbers, I made a very big deal of putting down only 10 plants this year, and yet I’m rolling in them already, giving them away to neighbors receiving them with the enthusiasm of crack-covered candy, while feasting on endless cucumber-and-dill salads.
That said, my first day of real food preparation resulted in:
8 pints of kosher dills
5 pints of blueberry jam
2 pints of salsa verde
freshly blanched and frozen zucchini, snow peas, snap peas, beans, various hopefully freezable greens, and additional blueberries, for the purpose of pies and pancakes.
And while all this was not met without some vague feeling of Accomplishment, at the same time, I wondered if this was time I mightn’t have better spent on great intellectual and artistic pursuits. Or at least write my memoirs on the nearest treestump. I mean, I have all kinds of food made by my hand, but I’m nobody’s grandmother; what am I doing making so much jam, anyway? Has anyone, ever, in the documented history of the universe, single-handedly made his or her way through five jars of blueberry fucking jam? There are days like this, where I awaken to the realization that I’m living like a crazy person.
This ego-driven existential crisis continued for about a week, right up to the day my local barman served my weekly dose of whiskey and said: I found a cherry tree full of Chicken of the Woods, and thought of you. You should go get some.
I had never heard of such a thing, but my friends, it is a mushroom unlike any other. I’m generally as auto-didactic as it comes, especially with this rural survival beat, but when it comes to mycology, I’ve long been hoping for an old wise native to give me a tour. I love mushrooms more than most people, but for every delicious one that grows in the wild, there’s a twin waiting to turn into an axe murderer if you deign to sniff it in the wrong spot. So I’ve demurred, big pussy that I am.
Let me tell you a thing about Chicken of the Woods: it’s rabidly good. Another thing: it’s easy to identify, and unless you’re a total boob, your chances of happening upon its toxic twin are slim. They live on dying, but standing, hardwoods. They resemble oyster mushrooms, but an orange or honey color. The Evil Twin is on conifers. Get them while they’re fresh. They’re great sautéed with oregano, onion, garlic, and capers and thrown into a red sauce over pasta, in which form they’re vacuumed mouthward even by the perpetually dismissive piss-and-moaning seven-year-old part-time resident of Cooter Hollow. They’re almost as good gently roasted with lime, chili pepper and celery salt and cooked into quesadillas. I’m sure they’re equally good in ways I’ll be discovering for years, in fact.
And with that, suddenly I bounced right back from my (admittedly) uglily hubristic country-living chagrin and became again in thrall by what we’re up to. After all, anyone’s grandmother can make endless jars of jam, but when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be fending them off with spears of pickles in the eyesockets, and eating like royalty from the trees.