Friday, December 31, 2010

Hay House

New Year's Eve feels like a fitting time to look back on the year's accomplishments.  I think one of our successes this year will pay dividends for years to come.
(Click on the photos to see them larger.)
 The old hay barn on top of the hill was not going to make it through another winter.  We had to either kiss it goodbye, or save it. 
 Phoebe's great uncle and his family had lived in the building at one time, so it had value as more than a barn.
 It was still standing this summer because of one 2X4 Phoebe had jammed into a corner last winter. There were no posts or beams used in the construction; the roof rested on the walls.  And there was not much wall left.
 We did not have a lot of disposable cash at the time, but we could not let it go.  So we undertook, not a restoration, but maybe a rehabilitation.
 With the help of our friend and carpenter,

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ahhh Moka Pots

 In this dreary weather I think it would be a great time to share my love of the Moka Pot.

Living here on the Homestead has it's limitations. We are staying in a 24 foot travel trailer. We have a makeshift kitchen in an outbuilding but the only real hospitable space is the trailer.

With this in mind let me tell you that there is precious little room for luxuries like an espresso machine, but there is room for a Moka Pot!

I met my first Moka Pot in an Italian hardware store. I had no idea what I was looking at but the clerk finally got across to me, with his hand waving and gestures, that it was for making "cafe", coffee.
That week I saw them everywhere, in windows of houses, in shops, hanging from the door of a cooking store. I had no idea how they might work and I didn't speak Italian well enough to get a full explanation.

I would have bought one to bring home then, but they all seemed to be made of aluminum and I had quit cooking in aluminum years before. I also found later that the aluminum ones make terrible coffee. I find it's best to stay away from aluminum when it comes to cooking anything acid.

State-side I forgot about them until one fateful day I ran across a stainless steel Moka Pot in my favorite thrift store. I snatched it up and that action has sealed my long and happy relationship with my Moka Pot and a love for the genius who invented it.

Since so few people I meet have even seen, let alone used, a Moka Pot, I made this little video highlighting the crucial moments in the process. Cheers!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gimpy Gets the Christmas Spirit

Gimpy would like to help chop. Gimpy wants to know why we chop. Gimpy wants to know what it's like to be chopped.

Of course we are not surprised by Gimpy's strange interest in things he should avoid.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Peaches in Winter

Every year we can and preserve several things. Jams and syrups of all sorts. Pizza and spaghetti sauce. I don't get carried away with any one thing because I've found that everyone gets tired of eating most things after the 15th jar, so I do mostly small batches of lots of different things for more variety. But peaches are a different story. We can't seem to can enough of them.

We can 50 to 75 pounds of peaches every other year. It's a lot of work for every year and we have found that if we do it every other year it stays fun and we have just enough jars to last, if we are careful.

My dad thinks I'm crazy.

"You can buy cans of peaches 4 for a $1.00 on sale!" He says, as I hand him a bucket of peaches to cut up. He is exaggerating of course, it's more like 4 cans for $3, but his point is that it's cheaper to buy canned peaches than it is to can peaches.

But this biannual pronouncement never slowed

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pictures of Garbage

Here are two half rotten tomatoes, basil leaves that had fallen to the ground in my garden from the cold and two packages of slightly moldy cheese. Cut out the bad spots, add one lump of homemade pizza dough and we are on our way to good eats!

Our entire project here at the Homestead has hinged on one basic tenant: How can we do it with what we've got?
I will be the first to admit that a great deal of the time we are talking about the Almighty $, but just as much of the time we are trying to use, use, reuse, recycle, repair and reinvent what we have. Garbage is a last resort.

We have consciously cultivated the reuse lifestyle over the years, partly because money was very tight and partly because it felt right. We wanted to be lower on the food (waste) chain. Our friends and family are mindful too but then the other day I read an article titled "From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can" in the New York Times. According to this article

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Great Morning

I had a great morning today. The sun came out and everything seemed magical in the golden glow of the low winter sun. I loved my tea cup even more than usual.

My banana bread turned out better than I had hoped. (I had forgotten to add the soda and didn't remember until I put it in the oven, Doh!)

I went out to check on the Women's Honey Cooperative and they were feeling very happy about the magical sunshine also. I took the roof off and refilled their syrup jar. They were glad to see that too.

 I decided to get to work on some seeds I have been drying in the outbuilding. These Amish Cranberry Beans are just a treasure to hold and behold. I played with them for a long time, like a kid with a button collection.

 Fennel seed

Then I finished mulching the garden. It's a nice feeling to know I won't have too many weeds next spring.

Any list of good things will include my daily cappuccino. Everyone came to join me on my coffee break, including the bees.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Boy and His Chicken

Or rather, a boy and his CHICKEN!!!  The boy in question, who we'll call Mr. B., is a Very Good Dog.  And he loves his CHICKEN!!!
Phoebe found the first of these chickens almost a year ago.  Mr. B. fell in love instantly, and the CHICKEN!!! became a constant companion.  No walk is complete without the CHICKEN!!! in his mouth.  No job is more important than throwing the CHICKEN!!!.  No work is properly executed without Mr. B. standing over the CHICKEN!!!, staring at us, staring, staring, pleading with his eyes...THROW THE CHICKEN!!!
The CHICKEN!!! has a friend, the Monkey.  Not being made of water-and-dirt-repelling plastic, the Monkey does not look her best in the winter.  However, for the other dog, the Monkey is still the toy of choice.  Neither dog cares much for the other's toy.
We just celebrated our 9th year with Mr. B..  Our other house is on the edge of town, next to a large field.  Mr. B. was dumped there just before Thanksgiving.  He was very reluctant

Monday, November 29, 2010

Trees That Raised Me

 "God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying,"Ah!"
Joseph Campbell

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trees that raised me. Now that they have lost their leaves I can see how they have grown or how they are dying, and it is bittersweet. Most will live on long after I am gone and some had lived two or three hundred years before I ever met them. Of course I was not thinking about that when I was using their mossy north sides to wipe my hands many years ago, but I am now.

I slept in them, under them and near them. I climbed them, hacked at them, swung from their blistered pitchy limbs every single day. They were my constant companions. I would fill many days, sopping t-shirt muggy, raining hail frigid, trudging from one tree to the next. Eating a sandwich here, picking an apple there, climbing to the top, falling down from the top and digging for treasure at their roots. I  wallowed in the trees. Often my mother, who was a bit of a free spirit herself, would let me pack my dinner and my old plaid sleeping bag and sleep in the woods as I pleased. She knew where I was, safe with my favorite trees.

Over the years I've given each tree a name, some poetic, some practical, and they each have a place as rightful, in my childhood mind, as my grandfathers house (which is made from the trees here).

Let's go on a little walk around the homestead and I will introduce you to some of my childhood friends.

This is Littleoaktree. Littleoaktree was too small to bother climbing when I was a child, therefore he barely qualified in my mind as a tree, but it was a great meeting spot so Littleoaktree got a name anyway. I am now very fond of Littleoaktree because he is not so little anymore. Unlike all the giant trees who seem to be the same size as they were back in my childhood Littleoaktree is visibly much larger and I see my history in his growth. He now shelters my Top Bar bee hive.

This is Treehousetree, nice and close to the real house so essential supplies packed in feed buckets hung on baling twine ropes could be frequently hoisted high into the limbs. I think Treehousetree bears me no ill will, even though I pounded nails into a few limbs.

This is Octopustree or Umbrellatree, depending on my mood or the weather. She is a very old Vine Maple. Being under her when she had all her leaves, years ago, was like hiding in a shimmery green tent. She's in too much shade now. It's the other trees' turn.

This is Cherrytree.  She is not doing so good. She has one small limb left. I know that she was planted before my grandfather bought the property, so she is a little old. I used to sit in her limbs and look down on the horses. It was very shady and cool under Cherrytree so all the horses would always hang out there, kicking and shaking their heads "No" to the flies.

This is Homesteadertree. She is the tree under which the family who filed the original settlers claim on the property built their house. We used to dig in the dirt under her and find bits of china and old melted glass. I lost my Afro Barbie under Homesteadertree one summer. My brother found her three years later with lichen growing on her long-lashed face.

This, last but not least, is Mothertree. Mothertree is an ancient Madrone. Everyone in the family knows where Mothertree is. My dad slept under her when he was a kid and I did too and then my son and then my daughter after that. Bruiser is posing at the bottom of Mothertree so you can get an idea of how old she is.

These trees serve me now as anchors to my past. To a little self sometimes forgotten in the overwhelming neediness of the now.

Back then they were my bridge from the earth to the sky. They could make me feel very small and safe in their great arms and at the same time vast and old. Flying, but still touching the ground.

Both then and now they are a salve for my spirit. No trouble or joy can be better shared than with a beloved tree.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Tale

Some people probably wonder "Why Reluctant Homesteaders?"  I have recently realized that it seems so petty and ungrateful if you don't know the whole story. We are fully aware that many people would give their eye teeth to be in our position. We are thankful, but we are not certain we are qualified for the job of Homesteaders.

Buck has talked about part of the reason for our reluctance. We have another small home (where my father lives now) that we love very much and had been planning to live there 'till we died. It has just enough land to have a few animals and is the original farm for the area so it is on the edge of a small town. The perfect mix.

Well, as things worked out, a few untimely and tragic deaths in the family, created a situation in which we inherited the dilapidated family farm and we had to choose, at the lowest point of the recession, whether to save it or sell it. We couldn't bring ourselves to sell it, so here we are trying to save it. We're grateful for the opportunity and the beauty of it all, but in the mix are ambivalent feelings about our ability to afford it, work it and live it.

On this Day of Thanks I bring before you the perfect illustration of why we are "Reluctant".

The Story of Gimpy McGimperson.

Once upon a time, Phoebe and Buck started thinking, in the way that people who have been trying for a while to eat local and be mindful of where their food comes from, about raising their own beef. Buck was pretty sure he could raise a cow and not become attached. Phoebe, on the other hand,  grew up on a farm and knew how hard it is to not get attached.

To test the waters Phoebe ordered five Bourbon Red turkey poults. "We will raise them and eat them for the holidays," she announced to all the family. All the while knowing, deep in her heart, it was doomed from the beginning.

It turns out that the poults need a lot of attention because, despite the insistence that heritage breeds are smart, they are not smart in the way you would like them to be. They do not feed themselves by foraging, as "free range" turkeys should. They merely wander about, thinking "What is that Shiny thing?" Then one will grab up a piece of rope or gum wrapper or tin can label that has blown out of the recycling and run as fast as it can all around the orchard with the other four in hot pursuit. When this futile attempt at foraging ends and they have burned off a few thousand calories and toned and strengthened their fine turkey glutes, they meet in a cluster and express their opinions in loud whistles and clucks.

When some agreement has been reached, they all head to the front gate where they can stare into the kitchen window, for they know (and this is where the "smart" comes in) if they cry at the gate loud enough, the Nice Man in the Plaid Coat will feed them yummy crumbles.
The Nice Man tends to them, but grows resentful. They don't seem to be getting any better at feeding themselves.  They grow taller but not fatter and they are getting bossier and more demanding.

The Wild Free Range Turkeys take to hanging at the top of the hill like a gang of teenage thugs. They whistle and cluck in a Supersonic, ear piercing language that sounds much more like aliens communicating than poultry. They invent the fun game of pecking at the small neighbor children as they stroll down our lane. They cherish the moments when they can corner the poor old farm dog and peck at her Shiny, frightened, yummy looking eyes.

About this time the pack leader, because at this point they have become a truly terrifying, marauding pack, discovers a singularly marvelous thing! If one flaps the appendages at one's sides they will, very nearly, levitate one to the hood of the Shiny car. But not quite. A bit of wild, sharp clawed scrabbling along the fenders is needed to get all the way up. All the more fun. Then one can lounge about all day long on the Throne of Shininess and pick at one's feathers and relieve oneself into the window vents.

Now a whole new world is theirs to conquer! There are roof racks to perch upon, wood sheds full of wood to cover in poop,  farm dogs who will never outrun a flying foe! All the while they sing the Supersonic cry of the Wild World Ruling Free Range Turkey!

Then one fateful day the WWRFRT's decide to explore the proverbial "other side of the fence".

They have a super good time eating every single one of Buck's raspberries, but then one WWRFRT does not make it all the way back over the fence. Phoebe does not know this. The Nice Man in the Plaid Coat does not know this. The WWRFRT's know this.

Phoebe does not understand that the WWRFRT's she finds on the Forbidden Deck, Supersonic peeping into the kitchen door, are trying to TELL HER SOMETHING!!!! She shakes a tea towel at them and scares them away.

The next day the Nice Man in the plaid coat notices there is one less WWRFRT. He does not feel particularly sad and feels a little guilty about that. The WWRFRT's are more clingy than usual but he puts them off and does his chores. But then Nice Man sees him, a fallen soldier, dangling upside down from the back fence.

Instantly the Nice Man in the Plaid Coat feels sorry for ignoring their turkey pleadings. He feels ashamed for being glad a coyote had eaten the turkey. He feels appalled at the poor turkey's suffering.

The Nice Man in the Plaid Coat untangles the young turkey's leg and sees how mangled it is. The foot is black and swollen, the leg deeply cut and broken.

He carries the young turkey to the house, flanked by it's peeping and lurching comrades.

Inside, Phoebe is having her morning tea. She does not know that there has been a Turkey Tragedy. She does not know that she is about to learn what the WWRFRT's were trying to tell her.

The Nice Man in the Plaid Coat comes to her in the kitchen, bearing the turkey who will soon be named Gimpy McGimperson.

She now takes in the sad look on her father, the Nice Man's face, she flashes back to the turkey whistles on the Forbidden Deck and grimaces at the black, dangling foot of the turkey before her and, and, and.... springs into action!

She gets out the triple antibiotic ointment. She deftly fashions a splint from a piece of plastic hose and a bit of chamois. The Nice Man speaks soothingly to the pale, shocked turkey. Like a professional Turkey Surgeon, Phoebe sets the bone, applies the splint and tapes it in place.

Days pass, weeks pass and the WWRFRT's keep watch for their friend, their brother, to recover and return to them. And when that day finally arrives they are so overjoyed to see him that they MUST PECK HIS EYES OUT and he has to be put back into the safety of his dog kennel.

Now, while Gimpy McGimperson was in hospital, the WWRFRT's did spend a great deal of time on the front gate gazing into the kitchen window and running alongside of Nice Man asking a myriad of questions about Gimpy: "Is he fatter than me?"  "Will his foot fall off and make him slow?" "Are his eyes Shiny?"  They also were sure to make time to loiter in front of the Postal truck, chase the lady neighbor's Pomeranian and other important duties which cannot just be ignored with impunity.

Around the time of Gimpy's failed release, Phoebe begins to realize that there is about a thousand dollars worth of scratches on the fenders of the cars and is sick of driving around town with a couple of ice cream scoops worth of turkey poop on the hood.

The WWRFRT"S are curious when Phoebe comes to take their picture. Oh and maybe they could get to her Shiny eyes while she is bending down and distracted.

Phoebe posts their pictures on Craig's List and describes them as they were described to her, back before she knew better. "Almost grown, heritage breed turkeys. Free Range and intelligent. Will be ready for the holidays." And when Buck loads them into the Young Couple's car the next morning it is difficult to tell who is happier, the Young Couple or the Nice Man in the Plaid Coat. Phoebe knows who will stay happy and it is not the Young Couple.

Of course this is not the end of the story. There is the curious promotion of Mr. Gimpy McGimperson. Once thought to be the dumbest WWRFRT, he has now proven to have been the very smartest of them all. He has garnered the lifelong companionship of the Nice Man in the Plaid Coat and is, this very day, witnessing the celebration of his first Thanksgiving in which he is not on the table.

Mr. Gimpy McGimperson found out that to live happily ever after he did not need the President of the United States to pardon him and keep him from being eaten, no, he only needed to go live with the Reluctant Homesteaders.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hangin' Out With the Fun Guy

Why do I have a Picture of a hole? This is where I have found Oregon White Truffles, but not today.

While I trudged up and down the hill in the rain putting things away for the winter and checking out the fall colors I started noticing the shocking variety of fungi sprouting up everywhere. In huge rings, in spongy lumps, bright slimy reds and faint, almost ghostly lavenders.

I decided to start taking pictures so I could identify them later but it's hard to get a good, inclusive shot of them because they are mostly in low light and low to the ground. I haven't been able to ID very many of them yet, but I thought I would share them so you could see some of the crazy shapes and colors of these mysterious beings.

Oh, and Buck, sorry about the pun. I couldn't help myself.