Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes What Looks Like a Clam is *Not* a Clam

I saw a quote the other day. Someone said, When it comes to doing and writing, if I have to choose, "doing" will win over writing every time. I like to think I've discovered the balance, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be entirely true. Sometimes doing wins ... sometimes writing wins.

In the recent weeks, Deus Ex Machina and I have been doing a lot, but I haven't been writing so much about what we're doing. In fact, this past weekend, we had a definite "first" experience. It was a blast.

Deus Ex Machina wrote all about it on his blog, and I didn't think I could do a better job of describing our Adventures in Barehanded Clamming.

So, without further ado, I'll let him tell the story.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Scoping out the Buffet

Lately, wherever I go, I like to take a look around and see what's growing.

Such was the case this past week, when I was with my daughters at a National Dance Competition. I spent most of three straight days inside an auditorium or elsewhere in the building helping with costumes, etc, and finally, after too much time inside, I needed to take a walk.

I'm always impressed with the biodiversity I find in most places I go. Most people - and I am certainly guilty - look across a green meadow and see green. The individual plants tend to blend into one another, and most of us simply don't know or care to pick out the individuals in the group.

I don't know a lot of plants, but I do know enough that, if I'd had to, I could have scrounged a small meal. Among the options that I noticed right away were dandelion greens. At this point in the season, the greens are too bitter for most people to eat raw, but they can be added to other dishes, like thin-sliced and added to stir-fry, dried and added to soups or made into a delicious pesto.

I also found curly dock and cattail. The cattail flowers were already brown - too late to harvest the flowers and the stalks, but it's good to keep an eye on things as the season progressed. In the fall, we could harvest the rhizomes, or, if we found a less mature stand now, we could probably still get some edible stalks.

There were also lots of not-quite-ripe rose hips and some thistle sticking up in the tall grass.

I followed a trail back into the woods, and I found fully ripe choke cherries. The best was finding the green blackberries. I say it was the best, because if the berries are green there, the berries in my neglected neighborhood forage areas are probably green too, which means, unlike many of the plants I wanted to get to know this year, I haven't missed them.

I didn't bring home any foraged food on my short walk, and really it was just about recharging my batteries, which were feeling a bit drained after three days of sitting in an air-conditioned auditorium, but it was good to get out and look around and see how the season was progressing.

If the goal is to forage for food as a rule rather than an exception, it's important to always keep an eye out for what's available.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What's on Your Plate?

With Deus Ex Machina and the girls off on their separate adventures, I was on my own for lunch today. I'm not into the whole gotta-eat-at-noon kind of thing, and in fact, I often miss lunch, because I'm busy doing other things. Sometimes I'll miss breakfast, too, except for the requisite wake-me-up cup of tea.

I'd spent the morning in the garden pulling the rest of the garlic, and there was this crazy milkweed stalk leaning over across the path. The path is already narrow and being invaded by the sunchokes. So, I, unceremoniously, chopped the milkweed plant (in my defense, I'd already tried, several times, to encourage it to grow in the other direction, off the path), and then, I realized that there were several pods on the plant.

So, I picked the pods ... and then, I decided I'd have them for my lunch with an egg from my chickens.

It's true, boiled milkweed pod does taste a bit like green beans, which I love, and it makes me wonder why I've been struggling all of these years to grow beans in my very limited space, when I have milkweed just volunteering all over my yard, but also growing unassisted all over my community. I could have all of the "green bean" I want, free for the taking.

Hmm ....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Here, Chickie, Chickie

While we have raised meat birds for the past four years in a row, and have, therefore, had baby chicks pretty much from April to August every year, we haven't had any new laying hens for a couple of years. While the ladies outside are still giving us a couple of eggs per day, production has really sloughed off, and during the winter, especially, we had a couple of months where we were lucky to get 30 eggs for the whole month.

Right now, in the middle of the peak egg-production season, we're averaging three a day from our seven egg layers (which includes the two ducks, of which only one is laying).

So, we figured it was time to get a few more hens. They came in today, and we stopped by the feed store to pick them up. I'd forgotten how adorably different from the meat birds the laying hens are.

We ordered five new hens this year, and we were very careful about the breeds we ordered. Three of the five are winter layers and all of them are very cold hardy.

We're going to have all colors of eggs - although most of them are some shade of brown.

And they are the cutest, most adorable creatures on earth.

I love my chickens, and I'm incredibly thankful that I don't have to break the law to keep them. Life is so much more interesting with them in the backyard.

The laying hens are named.

The Delaware is Martha Washington Crossed the Delaware.
The Jersey Giant is Lillith.
The Australorp is the Amazing Egg Machine.
The Easter Egger is Echo.
And the Silver Laced Wyandotte is Missy.

Welcome to Chez Brown, ladies ;).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's Berry Season

We may not have the kind of diversity of fruits growing in Maine that other places have. There are no oranges or bananas, and I hope I don't live to see a mango tree growing wild and unassisted here.

But we do have one thing, in abundance, nearly everywhere one looks (if one is looking), and that's berries.

I've planted raspberries - both black and red - in my yard, but we've found them growing wild all over the place, along with their cousin, the blackberry.

The other berry we have in proliferation is the blueberry, and I had a nice lesson the other day with regard to blueberries.

We have a patch of low bush blueberries near our house. From my experience with them, the low bush varieties usually have very small berries. They're difficult to harvest, because they're low to the ground, and the berries are usually tiny, and so it takes a very long time to get any in quantity. To store any for winter, we want it in quantity.

A few years ago, we went to a PYO high bush blueberry farm. The "bushes" were trees - some taller than I am (who knew a blueberry "bush" could grow so tall?!?) - and the berries were as big as dimes. It was incredible. We spent a half hour and picked 14 lbs.

The problem is that PYO farms are owned by someone and that someone needs to make some money on their berries, and while I'm doing all of the work of picking, they're doing all of the work of keeping those trees happy so that they produce.

Or, as I'm coming to find out, they own the rights to that land, and nature has been very good to them. Seems, once the bushes are in the ground, there's not much else to do, but, maybe, mow around them so that the customers don't have to bushwhack to get to the berries.

The other day, Deus Ex Machina was taking a stroll near where he works. There's a road, with a side walk, running through a fairly wooded area, and he was just strolling down the side walk, when he looked left and saw these bushes - full to bursting with dime-sized blueberries. The bushes were in a tangle of other undergrowth, and it was pretty obvious that, either no one knew there were there, or no one cared that they were there.

Lucky for us.

We went back later that night, after he got off work, and picked a couple of pounds before it got too dark.

It was amazing and reminded us of how nature truly does take care of us, if we just open our eyes to what's out there. Here were these blueberry bushes, several of them in a row, full with huge, ripe berries, the kind I we pay more than $4/lb for at the grocery store or farm stand.

I learned that high bush blueberries are not, strictly, a cultivated variety, and that we can forage berries that are just like the ones we paid for at the PYO place.

But that's not the real lesson. The real lesson lies in the lyrics of a song that was recorded by the late, great Janis Joplin, who says get it while you can.

With any luck, we'll be going back ...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Who Says Chickens Have No Personality

It's quite possible that I'm just easily amused.

Today, when I went out to tend to the animals, this chicken decided he was going to drink from the garden hose.

It was so funny, I had to get a picture.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Interpreting the Headlines

The headline reads US Wholesale Prices Increase Slightly in June, Evidence that Inflation is largely in Check.

My first thought was "Oh, goodie ... but what about deflation", which is actually a greater concern among most of the non-economists who have been writing and speaking on this topic.

The article, though, had some interesting information. The price of both food and pick-up trucks has increased.

Well, damn. I guess that means I have to decide if I'm going to feed my family or buy that Chevy 4X4.

Decisions ... decisions.

If I pick the pick-up, I could have a pool or a mobile garden.

I like how the article spins the mild inflation in a positive light. "Modest wholesale inflation reduces pressure on manufacturers and retailers to raise prices. That helps keep consumer prices stable, which boosts buying power and drives economic growth. Mild inflation gives the Federal Reserve room to take other steps to boost the economy."

Apparently a little inflation is good for the economy, because then, the government and manufacturers have a little more room to manipulate the system. And we all know how well those manipulative measures work.

Of course, I'm still wrestling with the notion that inflation keeps manufacturers and retailers from raising their prices, because we all know if their costs increase as a result of inflation, they will, most assuredly, pass those costs onto the consumer.

What I loved was this statement: Consumer spending drives roughly 70 per cent of economic activity.

It was preceded by this one: Lower prices have yet to inspire consumers to spend more freely. In May, Americans didn't increase the rate at which they spent.

It should have been followed by, but it's likely the article's author or editor thought we'd forget about Point A (that people aren't spending more) by the time we got to Point B (that the economy is, for the most part, dependent on consumer spending).

So, what most people will take from that article is: don't worry. Things aren't so bad.

What I take is that we're in a very bad place, and in spite of (or perhaps because of) continued manipulation by the government and the pseudo-government entities, like the Federal Reserve, the economy is not improving (in fact the article points out that experts believe the economy is weakening, but it's almost just a passing observation in the article - just one sentence, thrown in there because of the need for accuracy, but with the hope that most people will skim over it, and go straight to the last sentence which claims: Inflation is good, because people will spend more money ... before it loses it's value.

And, there folks, we have it. The bottom line: our money is losing value, and we'd be best off spending it while we can.

Hey, Deus Ex Machina ... maybe it's time to withdrawal the savings ... and buy a pick-up truck :).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mother Earth News Fair - September 2012

Deus Ex Machina and I have been invited to do a presentation at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsyvania at the end of September.

If you have any interest in going, Mother Earth News will be doing a ticket promo July 14 through July 16. This would be a wonderful opportunity to get some discounted tickets.

Check it out ... and if you go, be sure to stop by and say hi to me and Deus Ex Machina!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Solar Dehydrator

The temperature inside reached 175°.

I preground the garlic scapes in the (electric) food processer, and we put them on trays in the dehydrator. When they were completely dry, Deus Ex Machina ran them through the manual food mill and made a powder.

Garlic scape powder doesn't have quite the bite of garlic powder, but it will still be a wonderful seasoning, adding some mild garlic flavor to our winter dishes.

And the best part is we've preserved a part of the plant that we have never really, fully, used.

Actually, the best part is this very awesome solar dehydrator, which will be much used, I'm sure ;).

Or, I take that back, the best part is the guy who built it ;).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Target Practice

"Dad, can we go shoot three?"

That's my teenaged daughter asking to go outside for some target practice with bow and arrow.

And she's actually pretty good.

We went to a local sporting goods store the other day. Deus Ex Machina thinks Big Little Sister is ready for a bow with a heavier draw, and she's been pestering him to go hunting for a couple of years(don't ask me. I don't know where that came from), but Maine law requires a minimum of a 35 lbs draw when bowhunting. Her bow isn't quite that hefty, and we needed to see where she was with regard to how much weight she can pull.

The guy at the archery range started fitting her for the bow. He made a lot of assumptions, like that she would want the trigger, perhaps because she's a very slender girl, he thought that she hadn't shot a bow before ... or maybe it's just that that's how most people do it. When he finally looked at her, he realized that he wasn't looking at a child.

And, then, I think she impressed him, a little, when she asked if she could just use her fingers, because the trigger-thing was confusing and awkward for her, seeing as how she'd been shooting for a number of years without it.

I think she really impressed him when she hit the black dot, dead center - not with all three arrows, but she was shooting an unfamiliar weapon with a much heavier draw than she's used to, using equipment (the glove) that she'd never used before and she got a Bull's Eye.

Anyway, even if the guy wasn't impressed, I am. I think she's the coolest teenager in the world, and I wish I'd had half her amazingness when I was her age.

We didn't get Big Little Sister a new bow, yet, but we did fully outfit her two, younger sisters with slingshots ... and they've been practicing, too.

Friday, July 6, 2012

While the Rolling Stones May Not, I Can Get Satisfaction

There's something immensely comforting about getting low on something we enjoy eating and knowing that I only have to go right outside my door to replace it.

Both Deus Ex Machina and I enjoy a nice cup of peppermint tea. The commercial tea bags are kind of hit-or-miss when it comes to flavor, and so it's nice that we aren't dependent on commercial growers for this particular tea. I just need to go outside, snip a few plants and pop them into the dehydrater.

There's also something very satisfying about the first, big, harvest of the year, which in my case, is garlic scapes.

What's more satisfying is that the garlic was planted last fall, overwintered in the ground, and then, sprouted this spring. I harvested 2 lbs of garlic scapes - from a 4'x 4' raised bed. These will be ground and dried for garlic powder - of which I use about a ton during the winter.

There's just something immensely satisfying ... and comforting ... about knowing that there are some things we can do, and grow, and make for ourselves.

At very least, it makes reading the headlines a bit less terrifying.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Celebrating the "Right" to Good Food

There's a lot of talk recently about the health care reform act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. That I was (and am) against the new law is no secret. It's not that I don't think everyone should have access to medical care when they are sick, it's that I don't think this law will do that. I don't think this law guarantees access to affordable care. What it does is ensure that everyone, regardless of health, have access to insurance, but having health insurance does not guarantee access to medical care, and many people - MANY, MANY, MANY - who have health insurance still find themselves bankrupted by medical expenses.

There's so much evidence these days that point to a very distinct link between what are catastrophic diseases in our culture and a poor diet. I guess I just think that if people paid more attention to their diets that the whole issue of health insurance would be moot. We wouldn't need fancy drugs just so we could get through the day, and if we weren't taking all these fancy drugs, then we wouldn't need to be under the constant supervision of a doctor.

So many of the illnesses we suffer in our culture are directly related to diet, and I submit that if we improved our diets, we would improve our health.

Our Constitution does not guarantee a right to health insurance or health care, but we should have the right to eat good, wholesome, toxin-free food, and we should have the right to grow that food ... or to find that food growing in wild places.

I'm fortunate that I have both - a place to grow good food and the ability to forage wild food.

July 4th is the day that has been designated as "Independence Day" for my country. It's the day that we celebrate our freedom as a nation. In observance of the day, my family had a "Red, White and Blue" feast consisting of some foraged, some home-grown, and some bought food.

Red was steak and lobster, both purchased from local sources.

Blue was blueberry pancakes, made with the blueberries we foraged.

White was rice mixed with our eggs and onions and peas from our garden, and a bit of soy sauce (which is the reason the rice is brown instead of white ;).

We also had a Flower Works Salad, in rememberance of battles that were fought to win our independence. It was a combination of foraged and homegrown greens with some of Little Fire Faery's nasturiums (as the fireworks).

It was a delicious meal for which we are very thankful.

One of the signers of the document that ultimately led to this country's independence was attributed with having said, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If our leaders are to do anything for us, as citizens of this country, it seems a better use of their time would be to help us prevent illness, by ensuring that we have the right to grow or find healthy, healthful food - rather than trying to fix the damage once it's done.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sweet, Sweet Blue

I know there are times when our girls wish that Deus Ex Machina and I were the kind of parents for whom "fun" means FunTown/Splashtown or a day at the beach, and not to say that those things aren't fun, but those aren't the sorts of activities that we typically enjoy doing.

Vacation, for us, often means an opportunity to do things we don't always make time or have time to do in our day-to-day lives. Recently, it was picking blueberries.

The best part was not bringing home 3lbs of free food. The best part was listening to my girls, who never, not once, not even when they were sweating or being bitten by the hordes of hungry mosquitoes, complained.

Instead, they chatted, about the noise they heard in the woods, about the dog who was complaining ... as only a dog can do, and about the picking.

"Did you notice that every time there's a clump of four blueberries one of them is green?"

"Yeah! It is!"

And they talked about eating blueberries, and blueberry cobbler, and blueberry pancakes ....

So, maybe we didn't spend the holiday playing at the park or burning on the beach, but it was a fun day - one that my girls will remember fondly in December, when they're eating the fruits of their labor.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Being Prepared Gives Us a Bigger Comfort Zone

While power outages are not an every day occurence here, they do seem to be happening with greater frequency (and it's not just my imgaination, apparently). In fact, any sort of inclement weather can create anxiety ... or if you're my children, anticipation ... about power outages.

We had some pretty significant thunderstorms speed through my area recently, and those fears (or delights) were realized. The electricity blipped off. What's funny is that it took us a good five minutes to realize that we did not have any electricity, and, then, it was like, "Huh. The power is out."

Then, we had an awesome moment when we realized that not having grid power was just not a big deal, and one reason is that even without our whole house electrified with grid power, we have the comfort of knowing that we can produce a little of our own - if we have to.

The coolest moment of the evening was when Precious hopped on the bike generator, after she was given a first-hand lesson in how well it worked to meet her desires (i.e. that she could still watch a movie on the computer using the bike generator as a power source ;).

Here at Chez Brown, not having grid power has never been a hardship. It's always been an adventure, and as bizarre as it sounds, it's something my kids often look forward to happening.

The power didn't stay off very long, and we were all a bit disappointed when we returned home from an errand, and it was back on, but hey, the weather forecast is calling for more unsettled weather passing through in the next little while ... there's always tomorrow.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pale Face Does Not Equal Couch Potato

I have very pale skin. I always have. I don't tan easily, but neither do I burn easily - unless I do something silly, like go hang out at the beach all day without protective clothing or shade.

My children have my skin type. They don't burn easily, but neither do they tan easily, and so, even though they spend a couple of hours outside every day - especially during the summer - they don't have much of a tan. Their time outside works out roughly as: an hour or so in the morning caring for the animals and puttering around the garden; sporadic time in and out throughout the day; and a couple of hours in the evening, before or after dinner, just playing and/or riding bikes.

In fact, they're so pale that, the other day, when we were at the grocery store, the cashier quipped that they needed to get out more. He suggested a day camp, like those offered through most municipal recreation departments.

Today, my daughters devised their own solution for tempting them outside. They won't get more sun, necessarily, but at least they're not indoors, playing video games - which is what the cashier assumed they were doing rather than being outside. The idea that they might be outside riding their bikes down our shady road never entered his mind ;).