Thursday, December 26, 2013

Buche de Noel

Buche de Noel and Krumkakes

Oh SmittenKitchen, I am smitten with thee.  I used your chocolate roll cake recipe for this year's Buche de Noel.  It was divine. Served with a dear friend's Krumkakes, it was the perfect end to an epic christmas meal of roasted duck.  I do believe that a Buche de Noel on Christmas Day just may become a new tradition on the Homestead.

**"Noel" is written in lingonberries I harvested :-)

(if you use the recipe, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT SHE SAYS ABOUT USING WAX PAPER WHEN YOU UNROLL THE CAKE.  it will make a world of difference, and save many expletives.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Minced Moose Heart : Homestead Eating

Maple went moose hunting in Minto Flats last week...  which means, of course that a moose heart appeared in my refrigerator the other day.  (I castigated him soundly for leaving the liver to feed the ravens and wolves.  Next time!  Ha!  I'm such a gracious and grateful friend who not only gets wild meat that I did not have to hunt, but who also goes on to complain about the bits she did not get!  Oh my.  My astrologer though, says I should be eating moose/game liver two or three times a year.  Let me know if you happen to come into any.)  THANK YOU MAPLE!!!!

Heart.  I've written about heart before.  Heart is delicious.  I did not take the time to brine it this year, admittedly more due to negligence and forgetfulness than to plan.  But it still makes a great stew!  The heart its self was probably as big as my head.  Not quite.  But nearly. Cutting into it, I was as always, full of awe over organ and muscle and tissue.  Ventricle, chamber, heartstrings.

The husky enjoyed her wolf-food of heart trimmings, as did the not-so-little kitten: they were pretty cute begging in the kitchen together. The lady cat preferred to nap thank-you-very-much.

The human heart is a third or more neuro-cells (vs. muscle cells), and holds its own intelligence.  The heart is also an endocrine gland in itself, generating the hormones to regulate the system, not just responding to those released by the thymus.  Amazing. In the same way that eating fish head soup is good for hypo-thyroidism, and eating brains is good for growing infants and children, eating of this intelligence and beauty and pure awe I imagine is likewise good for heart and mind and hormones.  Not to mention that its chock full of nutrition.

Anyhow, last nights dinner (and tomorrow's too, no doubt) was a stew of minced minto moose heart, with Snowbasin chicken stock and zuccini, cauliflower and peas from the summer's CSA.  This is what eating is meant to be.  I used half the heart in this meal, and froze the rest for another crockpot later this winter.

For those interested in the brass tacks:

Saute onion and lots of garlic in a VERY GENEROUS pool of olive oil.
Add chopped carrots, bay, paprika, basil, marjoram, savory, oregano, parsley and saute a few minutes.
Add flour, like you're making a roux.
Then stir in homemade bone broth/chicken stock.
Pour in some balsamic vinagre and add a rind of parmesean cheese.
Add some water to preferred volume.
Put in frozen zuccini, frozen cauliflower and chopped heart.
Simmer for 40 + minutes.
Add peas.
Top with grated parmesean and add salt/pepper to taste.

Enjoy in front of the fire.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Midwinter tidings

Midwinter holy days have a special place in my heart.  Here in Alaska, the months of December and January roll into one another, days so short and nights so long. 
Celebrating this time of sun return is so important to me and to
This (sub) arctic land we live in. 
Growing up I was always appalled at the crazy blatant commercialism surrounding Christmas (and even Hannukah). The idea of Christmas season starting directly after thanksgiving appalled me. I still think that the simultaneous Halloween and Christmas displays are a bit appalling. 
But anymore, living so far north, when we see twenty below at Halloween, I yearn for the tree as soon as thankful feasting is done. 

The dark and the cold is so very long in duration, and the celebration of interior and internal warmth, light and live is so very necessary at this time of year, that I find myself becoming "that person" who decorates their heart out in the first few days of December. And I enjoy it. It nourishes me. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day of giving Thanks

Thanksgiving day. 

A day for counting blessings. 

For loving family, both near and far. 

A day to celebrate food. And life.

Every year a day of feasting. Quintessential tastes. 

I am thankful for gamay  grapes, for husky love, for time spent in the kitchen. For tastes of memories past and futures yet to come. For my grandmother's silver and great grandmother's tablecloth. For the warmth of wood fires and of love. For the earth and all her bounty. I am grateful to a bird, to rice and celery and carrots and brussel sprouts, potatoes, grapes and walnuts. I'm thankful for ginger and sage and clove and cinnamon, marjoram, thyme, salt and pepper. For pumpkin and apple. For cranberries, oranges, wine. For vintners and farmers, for cows. For artisans, weavers, craftsmen. For truckers and planes and long dead  lifeforms' carbon. I'm grateful for the harvest. For abundance. For summer past and winter present. I'm grateful for joy and opportunities, for sorrow and experience. I'm grateful for abundance. 
I'm grateful for the presence of love, touching the lives of some of those closest to me. I'm grateful for health. Thank you earth, thank you sky. Thank you cosmic void, womb of beginnings. Thank you North. Thank you East. Thank you South. Thank you West. 

Thank you hot tub!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Tea

It was a dear friend's birthday earlier this week.  She's been sick, so I brought her quarts of chicken stock for the making of healing soups, and a birthday gift of tea.  I blended red raspberry leaves with arctic chamomile, red clover and calendula (all harvested this summer) for a soothing mix.  Making herbal teas is like distilling summer sunshine into a cup of steaming winter warmth.

I found these awesome diy tea bags at the Co-op for a welcome reasonable price.  They're sealed on three sides, and you simply fill them with your own blend of herbs or teas.  I sometimes feel that brewing a whole pot of loose leaf tea is prohibitively onerous (at other times its precisely what I want) and so its nice to be able to go to the comfort and convenience of these little pouches.

Then you heat seal the open end.  A hair iron worked wonders.

And voila!
A perfect little pouch of comfort and warmth and healing energies.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kitchen Living: Its alive!!!

See those 6 vessels?  Yep.  Six.  Count 'em.  Each is home to a thriving colony of micro-organisms destined for my intestines.  As the daughter of a microbiologist, recent studies showing that the human contains more microbial cells than human cells excites me to no end.  As a yoga teacher and healer, the idea of gut health influencing brain chemistry via the seratonin highway of the vegas nerve does likewise.  And as a whole/natural foods lover and advocate, the whole make-things-more-digestable-by-preparing-them-the-way-humans-have-been-for-thousands-of-years co-evolution of digestion and food processing theories make lots of sense.

So, we've gotten on the fermenting train.  By which I mean that I started fermenting things, after some epic failures, and my Darlin'Man has taken beautiful ownership of the whole process.  He eats alot, does my man who works outdoors all day even in the depths of 40 below winters.  And I feel so much better about it if he's eating a quart of lacto-fermented pickles everyday than a box of cereal every day!  So I've been encouraging his love of kraut.

What you see up there is (from left to right) : kombucha jar, crock of ginger carrots, giant kombucha crock, kefir quart, buttermilk quart, Saurkraut crock.
The buttermilk is a new experiment: I bought a pint of it to use in a chocolate cake recipe (delicious by the by), and decided to try to keep a culture going off of the store-bought.  We shall see.  If it works, I forsee many and many buttermilk biscuits.
I'm quite proud of the GIANT kombucha glass vessel - I found it at freds.  I think it was intended to be a cookie jar.

At any rate, I happened to start the carrots going yesterday, but otherwise, this is a piece of kitchen living that my Darlin'Man tends.  Its a bit like a garden: once its set up and going, there's the constant occasional tending : once a day kefir; once a week kombucha; somewhere in between for kraut.  And you get to harvest your fill!  It makes my heart sing, seeing him puttering in the kitchen, tending things.  Taking ownership is the best term I can come up with.  I might do a batch now and then, but they're still his.  I've always been a bit of a kitchen queen, and as we slowly learn to cook together, as he takes projects in the kitchen, I love the sense of partnership that continues to develop.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Snowy Hallows

The silence in this space has come from stillness in my life, but rather from the over-abundance of doing-ness.  I feel rather like I'm coming up on the homestretch of  a long distance endurance race, to be quite honest.

Its been a weird fall.  There's no other word for it.  Hints of snow, and then weather in the 50's through October.  Yesterday it finally snowed.  Big puffy flakes that coat the ground.  I feel so much more settled.  Calmer.  With winter truly under way.  We shall see what it brings.  I always envision winters spent near a fire: knitting, weaving, baking, reading, writing, hibernating.  But I look at my calendar and I see workshops and classes, with so little space between them and the office job.  So we shall see.

But tonight, I celebrate the Hallows.  I burn a fire of spruce roots, and send blessings to those who have passed through the veil between this life and what we call death.

Happy Samhain.  Blessing to all souls and all saints.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Equinox marked Michaelmas - the traditional (medieval england) festival that marked the end of the farmer's year.  The end of the cycle of husbandry.  I feel at times that the rest of the world - away from the arctic circle and with their long seasons and mild winters - is out of joint with season change I recognize.  Its nice to know that in Europe in  the little ice age, the active seasons of growth ended at the same time mine does.  That culture produced traditions and folklore that resonate in other ways too :-)  Michaelmas was when the harvests were in, the plows were put away, and the people began to work with linen and wool.  The long slow beauty of spinning and weaving.  Feeding a fire to keep warm and making manifest. 

I've been feeling the inward turning of energy for a while now.  So much time working on developing workshop, teaching class.  Needing and wanting to balance that with internal nurture.  Deep exploration.  Art.  Meditation.  Fires and tea.  I pushed myself to harvest the last of the garden, pick berries in the woods (both activities and rituals I love and that feed me!), but found my heart anticipating the winter dark.  I love the long dark winters, hard as they sometimes are.  I love the time to turn inward, turn to my loom, my mat, a book, the fire.  Warm myself.  Hold myself.  Nourish.  It is required by the cold and the cold and the dark.  Pratyahara.  Inward-turning.  Cultivation of energy.  A time for inner growth and exploration. 

I let Michaelmas mark that shift for me this year.  Despite this last week or two of nice weather, of golden leaves.  I allow myself to shift my energy.  Not for one last hurrah, but for the long deep exhale.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cutting Calendula.

I believe I counted 96 calendula seedlings planted this summer?  A couple of them are still blooming, under two snows, in the garden.  Many of them are valiantly surviving the cold in their pots on the porch steps.  I was afraid I would loose them all at the first sign of frost.  I didn’t'.

Most of the ones from the garden I pulled up last week, and out of time, let sit on the kitchen counter – a giant pile of plants.  Between the freeze and the undignified heap they sat in for a few days, I lost a bunch of the leaves...  but I still managed to dry a quart Ziploc bagful from them.  I grow calendula for the flowers, because they are beautiful and because they are healing.  Bonus: they attract aphids away from other things you are growing.  But I also harvest the leaves.  They're edible, did you know?  Calendula is the classic "potherb."  My leaves though, are dried and sent with instructions on poulticing and plastering to my father – he with the varicose veins the size of golf balls in his legs.  They're good for that, the leaves.  I hope he actually uses them.

I think I must have a love affiare going on with my herbs.  Affaires are mutual things, you see.  I love them.  And I think that efficacious herbs, the healing ones, must have a truly deep love for humanity.  They could have evolved in so many other ways.  The amount of phyto-chemicals and trace nutrients and good energy that healing herbs put into their herbal parts is astounding.  When you think that all of that energy could have evolved to have been directed towards something else... or towards the same plant parts, without creating the effective herbal medicines...  There is so much love right there.  Calendula has been giving me flowers ALL SUMMER LONG.  Now she gives me her leaves.  And in exchange, I save her seeds.  I've got some collected already, from seedheads accidentally collected before their time.  From some recent seed heads, fully mature.  The seed head its self will appear dried and ready to harvest long before it really is.  It is not until the vital energy has withdrawn from the stem, leaving it brittle and brown, rather than strong and lush and green, that the seeds have absorbed all the procreative energy they can hold. 

I'm leaving the seed heads on the plant, on the porch, out in the cold, even after harvesting another giant basket of leaves.  I want to see if next years plants will remember the cold.  Will they grow more fiercely in the early season?  More vibrantly?  Be even less susceptible to frost in the fall?  How does evolution happen anyway?  There is an intelligence in seeds.  In plants.  I feel we all too often vastly underrate that intelligence.  If I contemplate the possibility that our human DNA carries with it some load of karma from our ancestors, why should I not entertain the possibility that the prana (life force) at work in seeds can remember the cold, and tell next year's plant to prepare for it?  How else do we get cold-hardy varietals??

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chilly Mornings

I do love me a husky-ball

A Crockpot Simmers : Weekday Kitchen Living.

When I teach yoga after work, or take a class – which of late is almost every night of the week, we do not get home till 8 o clock or later.  To be able to come home to dinner already made, is gift, a blessing, a revolution. 

Anyone without a garage plugs in their car overnight in winter in Fairbanks.  The energy-thrifty among us buy this lovely little mechanical timer which functions similarly to an egg timer (rather than a complex digital system) and is the conduit between plug and socket.  This allows you to choose the hours the socket, and its electricity, is active.  I recently came to the brilliant notion of using this with our crockpot.  Long slow cooking is the name of the game of course, but not every vegetable stew needs upwards of 12 hours of cooking.  4 or 6 usually suffices.  It is marvelous.  

Today we came home to potato leek soup – the leeks courtesy of the CSA, the potatoes happened to be courtesy of our own garden, though we are overrun with potatoes from the CSA as well.  A couple of long-frozen (a year or more of languishing in the freezer) pork chops had been marinating in the freezer and were quickly braised in cast iron.  With red wine and an episode of a trashy historical tv series?  Delightful Monday night.

Tomorrow, we have dal for dinner.  The same crockpot holds more of this weekend's chicken stock, red lentils, brown rice, carrots and leeks.  Seasoned with curry, garam masala, cumin, coriander and a hint of basil and oregano, I expect it to warm our bellies after class tomorrow night.

It takes a bit of discipline, thinking a day – or two – ahead this way.  But the reward of arriving home to an evocative aroma and a warm filling meal, make the somewhat exhausted late-the-night-before stew prep so very very much worth it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gratitude: A living practice

Today is Thursday, so I'm writing this post today.  But gratitude and I have been very intimate this week.

I am astoundingly grateful right now.  Earlier this week, in the middle of my work day at the office, I went into the bathroom for a bit, just to cry and laugh, and thank divinity and experience the uprushing of excitement mixed with humility that is the sensation of gratitude.  There are 12 people registered for my workshop series, and more who are interested.  On the one hand I'm grateful for the abundance that will bring me in the form of a happy bank account, and I'm grateful to be in a place where I really feel that my teaching is worth that.  On the other hand, I am so profoundly grateful to be able to share the practice, to share the healing that is available through the practice.  To share this with others who need it, with others who themselves work for healing.  We can only truly serve others when our own wells are full. 

I'm grateful for snow melt that will allow me to spend time on the forest floor, picking berries before winter.

I am grateful for last harvest from the garden, for flowers that withstand frost and snow. 

I am grateful for love.

I am grateful for the full moon tonight, for the inner harvest reaping it brings.

I am grateful for fish and moose and veggies in the freezer to feed me through the coming cold.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Snow means Stitching!

This morning I stepped out onto my porch to see giant fluffy crystals of snow softly falling from the sky.  The snow is harsher in town.

It is sad to see the warm days gone.  And sadder still to know that the glorious days of golden gold color on the trees are likely not going to last.  The husky is already growing in a thick winter coat.  But we have a second woodstove now (we just need to install it) and stacks and stacks of cordwood.

With winter coming, it means that my heart and my mind turn towards my studio.  Towards art.

How fortuitous that I found the Great Big Stitched Postcard Swap announcement sitting unread in my backlog of emails this morning!

The swap is so much fun!

I did this last year, and just signed up for this year.  Deadline to sign up is September 25th.  The wonderful ladies who organize it all, give us each a partner from somewhere in the world, and by October 16th we all mail each other a stitched postcard.  Postcard-sized, using any medium, incorporating stitch.

The theme this year is CELEBRATION.

Would you like to join me?

If you live near, we can spend a Saturday in my full-to-overflowing-with-fabric-and-paper-and-yarn-stash studio and create together!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

THankful on a Thursday

Today I am grateful for a gift of time.  For the dropped-in-my-lap chance to take my own teachings to heart.

I am grateful for a husband who will let my over-tired, under-rested, rather anxious self lecture him ad infinitum about tropes and character types in historical romance novels ... and still look me in the eye and tell me I'm amazing and he loves me.

I am grateful for the best sort of friends...  both far and near.

I'm so grateful.  so overwhelmingly, full-of-awe, grateful for the manifesting of a vision I've been holding for a long time. 

I'm grateful for dreams.

Kitchen Living: Stock Scraps

I'm writing this in front of the first fire of the season.  We had an anniversary bonfire the other night.  But the parts for the woodstove arrived : a new cast-iron top to replace the one that cracked last winter, a new baffle – interestingly made of some sort of pearlite crazy wonderfulness-, and a new layer of internal insulation.  So we have our first fire in the woodstove, and my back basks in the gorgeous heat.  We've had a  frost that killed the squash, but the calendula and peas are still strong, the potatoes thriving despite frost-bitten upper leaves.  This fire feels like the harbinger of the inward-turning time of the year.  The time of the year that is about pulling out of the freezer and pantry, rather than manically filling them.  The time of year when warmth, and the fire that makes it, becomes the most important thing, that which life revolves around.  We are considering replaceing the propane with a wood cookstove – one which as a hot water reservoir in addition to an oven. 

Which brings me to the kitchen.  And my love for themed blog post "series."  As the CSA winds down, so will CSA Cooking.  Homestead Eating will likely come back, but I find myself drawn to a new one as well.  I notice, increasingly that this blog is primarily about food, interspersed with life and occasionally art.  (Speaking of which!  My loom is dressed again!)  In this reflection, i realize just how much of my life is lived in the kitchen.  And so I give you, Kitchen Living.

For me the kitchen is a living space.  It is about more than the (ever-expanding) corner of the kitchen holding various crocks and jars of fermenting kraut, pickles, kefir and kombucha.  It is about the way that meal flows to meal, the way that habits support habits, and the way that food is rarely wasted.  It means tailoring meals to what happens to be in the fridge (massive amounts of cheese?  I'm all about it!).

Today I was chopping up the parsley from the CSA for tomorrow's tabouleh making, while the bulgur simmered on the stove.  I took the parsley stems –something others might toss – and tucked them into a very special gallon Ziploc in the freezer.  There it met celery leaves, carrot ends, and other herb stems.  And the next time I make stock, I'll empty the bag on top of my chicken carcass.  This way, stock is something that truly evolves out of the daily doings in the kitchen.  It is flavored with the memory of meals past.  And none of the precious vitamin and nutrient wealth of the scraps goes to waste.  It is a habit that takes barely any longer than it would to toss the scraps.  All it requires is the mindfulness.  The appreciation.  The love.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Brie and Potatoes? I call it dinner.

Its been a while since I've spent time here, but loyal readers will be pleased to know that thoughts are once more swirling in my head...

Its been a crazy couple of weeks, and I'm just now beginning to feel landed again, after a whirlwind week of hosting an all-out romance novel themed Bridalette party (the bunting!  the tea! the cookies!), writing a wedding ceremony, officiating at said ceremony, and crafting decorations and event-managing the potluck reception.  So much joy.  So much love.  I'll post about it all in the not-too-very-distant future.

In the meanwhile, the late-season shares keep rolling in from the CSA, and I keep cooking soups, vegetable sautés, and freezing as much as I can manage to blanch.  This week we got carrots, getting sweeter with the falling temperatures. a cauliflower twice the size of my head, braising greens, zucchini, turnips, portugese kale, onions, parsley and the first potatoes of the season.

I've dug maybe a third of my potatoes already, and eaten them in borschts.  Today for dinner we had boiled potatoes (quicker than baking and just as tender!) with butter – a little-, brie – a lot -, and salt and pepper.  And the portugese kale, also sweet with the coming frosts, in balsamic.  The brie demanded a bit of red wine to go with it, and then there was Silver Gulch root beer for dessert. 

Brie and potatoes.  Brie baked potatoes?  Potato gratin with brie?  I say yes.  The combination is divine.  And when you have an abundance of brie, left over from festivities, that demands to be eaten...  well, one must eat it!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wedded Tree

The Wedded Tree

Four years ago today, I married the love of my life.  A day or two later, we came home to find a little twinned birch sapling on our driveway.  A gift from a dear friend.  Our wedded tree.  We planted the wedded tree, two young sapling trunks twining around one another, in the clay-y silt above the alternately soupy and frozen ground that once was permafrost in the muskeg at the cabin.  Despite the odds, despite the cold cold roots, despite the lack of soil, the tree survived, and even grew.  Doubled?

A few years passed, and we moved onto the homestead.  We dug up the now-very-large sapling, drove it 20 miles, the upper branches brushing against telephone wires, and planted it on the lower slope at the homestead.

 As more years pass, with learning and growing and loving and so much joy, these two trunks will grow ever more entwined, coming to share one circumference.  

Here's to four more years, and then to forty, to four and forty, and then four more.  I love you, Darlin'Man.

twinned birch sapling

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gratitude. Or, thankful on a Thursday

I am grateful. so grateful.  I just am.

I'm grateful for the man, patiently waiting for me.

I'm grateful for love.  For the many paths and ways the universe opens for me to share, support, hold, cherish, nourish, cultivate and experience love.

I'm grateful for rainy cool days.  I'm grateful for a summer of sun.

I'm grateful for the art of others.

I'm grateful for my own, sadly neglected, art.

I'm grateful for teaching.  So so grateful for teaching.  Grateful to be able to give the world what is sitting in my heart and longing to be shared.

Friday, August 16, 2013

CSA Cooking: Peasant Food

Sometimes, when I'm cooking, I can taste the food through my fingertips.  I know precisely how many peppercorns to add to a stock, how many pinches of dry basil to a sauce, to make it *just right.  It feels like magic, these times.  Kitchen magic.  It is born of now 27 years in a kitchen, 16 years of cooking meals.  I was eleven when I made my first multi-dish dinner that was timed right, with each dish's different cooking times juggled against one another.  I remember how proud I was.  I still take great joy (and pride, it must be admitted) in cooking elegant, multi-course, multi-dish meals; the sort you have to have a dinner party for, just to ensure the food all gets eaten.  But most nights, we eat what I've come to call peasant food.

Simple meals, made from the food on hand.  Most of mine are inspired by traditional peasant foods from different regions.  Meals made by hard working people out of the food they have on hand. 
Summertime, and the CSA share, is perfect for peasant food.  Whatever comes home in that canvas bag from the market pick-up is what will make its way into our bellies that week.  Along with whole grains and organic or wild protein, from pantry and from freezer.  When we get home at 9 or 10 at night, hungry after teaching class or after the darlin'man's band practice, these simple, wholesome, quick meals are what I go to.

I'd like to share three recent meals with you.

Con Ouvo

Regular readers will recognize this meal.  It is nothing more, nor less, than a variation on the tried and true – pasta + veggie + egg.  Put an egg on it.  It makes everything so much better.
The other night, I started with the beginning of any self-respecting Italianate meal: garlic and onion sautéed in olive oil.  I chopped up the rest of the carrots and added them to the pan.  I pulled out the kale and a zucchini.  Halfway through chopping the zucchini, I realized that kale was not the way to go.  It joined the bok choy back in the crisper.  Carrots, zucchini, salt, pepper, basil, thyme.  It was cooking slowly, so I added a bit of stock from the fridge.  Braising vegetables is frequently faster than a sauté if you're going for tender over crunchy.  Something was still missing, and as I pulled out a the bag of snap peas to make the next day's lunch salad, I realized what it was.  In went a dozen or two peapods. 
I pulled the pasta out of the pan with a pasta spoon (you know the ones that are like an upside down claw?  Yeah those ones.) and then poached two eggs in the stil simmering pasta water.  I just learned to poach eggs and its lovely.  I'll have to look up the research again, to regale your oh-so-fascinated ears with; but apparently, when one fries an egg, the heating process and the way the oil interacts with the cooking destroys some of the really beneficial amino-acids found in eggs.  Whereas, soft boiling or poaching keeps these perfectly balanced omega-3's and omega-6's intact and ready to nourish your body.  Poaching.  Super cool and super easy. 
And the yolk stays nice and gooey so that when you break it with your fork it mixes with the stock residue and the parmesean cheese you've grated over your plate for a delicious, nutritious, and protein rich sauce for your garden veggies.


This meal, admittedly took a little more time.  And was actually served when friends came over for dinner.  But the beauty of soups is that after that initial investment of time, they stay good and feed you for two or three or four (depending on the size of your soup pot and your spouse's belly) meals. Borscht (whether from beets or sorrel) is a traditional Russian peasant food.  When I was a wee little one, my parents were friends with a jewish lady whose grandmother who had been born and raised in Russia.  She shared her family borscht recipe with my mother.  And now, whenever I make borscht, I say a little prayer of thanks to this Jewish Russian grandmother I never met.  I won't share her recipe per se.  But I will say this.  The beauty of borscht comes from the stock.  And from the beet greens. 

Now usually, when I make a pot of borscht, I'm lazy.  I rely on my frozen chicken stock, I throw everything into a pot, and let it boil or slow cook.  This time was a little different.  I had friends to feed, and one of them was a friend of a friend I was finally meeting in person after feeling like I've known her for years.  And she happened to be vegetarian.  Which meant my chicken stock was out the window.  I wanted this soup to shine (I'm proud my cooking, remember?).  So I dusted off my vegetable stock making skills and pulled together a really nice, balanced, complex, and supportive stock.  The nice thing about veggie stock is that compared to the 40 hours I might boil a chicken carcass to get all the goodness out of it, veggie stock is done in an hour or so.  The other extra step I took was roasting the beets.  I did this the night before, while the stock simmered, and when I turned off the oven, I just left the beets in it to be peeled when I made the soup.

It was a little extra work.  It was a little extra time.  Some days I have neither.  But Oh! was it worth it.  Roasting sweetens the beets, and deepens the flavor.  Talk to chemist and you'll hear about the molecular structure of sugar and how it behaves under heat.  Suffice it to say: delicious. 

I chopped young onions, sautéed them golden in olive oil with some basil before adding them to the soup.  I was out of potatoes.  I didn’t want to go to the store.  And I figured, this soup came from peasant folk: it was designed around the foods they had to hand. So I decided to go with it.  I've never put turnips in borscht before.  I did this time – the young turnips the size of a golf ball, chopped into bites.  They're still tender and still sweet at this size.  Chopped carrots.  Chopped, peeled, roasted beets.  And it wasn’t quite right.  So I went to the garden and I gently worked my fingers under my potato plants.  I pulled out a dozen or so, small new potatoes. A bunch of dried dill (I had none fresh). When the root veggies were tender, the chopped beet greens and half a bunch of chopped fresh parsley went in.  The heat of the soup is enough to make them wilt, but not enough to destroy the fresh vitamin content or over cooked.
Eaten alone it is divine, and even better the next day.  Eaten with whey-biscuits (because I was out of milk... but now I'm not sure I'm ever going back.  Cultured buttermilk, here I come) and fresh saurkraaut, and with sour cream stirred in: it was a meal for celebrating.


Which brings me to tonight.  We came home after class to giant bowl of taboulie waiting in the fridge. I made it last night. I've already blogged about this meal, the last time I made it.  Chewy cooked bulgur.  Lots of herbs.  Scallions.  Olive oil.  Lemon juice.  Salt and pepper.  So simple.  So good.
*Fun fact: Bulgur is high in protein.
It bears repeating because this is the ultimate peasant food.  Cooked grain (of a variety that stores well and for a long time) with the most hardy sort of vegetable: herbs.  I imagine a peasant woman in the middle east (the traditional home of this food) going out to her draught ridden garden.  The only plants still green are the hardy herbs with the pungent smells and thick skins: parsley.  maybe thyme. oregano.  She picks them, mixes them with cooked grain and feeds her family. 

There are recipes for Tabouleh.  The first many times I made it, I followed them.  I don't anymore.  I remember my mother buying red onions and tomatoes specially for making tabouleh.  And its certainly not to be denied that tomatoes in tabouleh are AMAZING.  But to me the beauty of this meal is the way it uses up those bunches of herbs from the CSA (or the garden).  The ones starting to wilt in the fridge because you haven't had a chance to string them up to dry, and you haven't used them yet.  You won't find a recipe for tabouleh that calls for tablespoons of fresh, slightly wilted thyme.  But that's precisely what I added.  and oregano.  Lots of parsley.  and onion. 

Mix into bulgur, liberally add olive oil.  Some salt and pepper (always!).  Add the rest of your nearly-empty bottle of lemon juice, or if you have a still-mostly full bottle – or lemons! – add enough to bring the tartness to where you like it.  Its good to eat immediately.  Its even better the next day.  Lunch or dinner.  And you're getting the benefit of all these amazing concentrated phyto-chemicals, trace nutrients, mega-packed chlorophyll, and other goodness from the herbs!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Second year fishing the Copper River

My Darlin' (fishin') Man
Last weekend (not this past one, but the one before that... sometimes it takes me a little while to get around to writing), we went fishing - dip netting to be precise - on the Copper River at Chitina.

View from the fishing hole
This was my second year going after salmon to fill the freezer.  This time, I knew what to expect, already knew how to fillet a fish, and was looking forward to making more use of leftovers.  There's a certain ritual quality to yearly excursions like this. The timing (early august), the stop at the gas station and the buying of wretchedly amazing cappucino, the early morning on the boat with not enough coffee, the work of hauling in fish, the long silent waiting, watching the roiling river, the exhausted gutting and driving home, the grateful sleep, and the next day spent processing.  It is a rhythm I see myself repeating indefinitely.  And stepping out into this already familiar rhythm for the second time made me so grateful to life.  This is the way to live it, each thing in its own time, work followed by rest, harvest by cold and good eating.

I made an offering to the spirits of the returning salmon, offering thanks for the lives I hoped to harvest the next day.  That felt good as well, and right, sitting on the bank of the river next to a bear paw print.

Out on the river bank the next day, we caught the limit for our two households in only a few hours.  Certainly a far cry from the day-long, didn't limit out experience last year.
We a saw a seal, a hundred miles or more from the ocean, who - like us - was hunting the bounty of the river.  She watched us with big liquid eyes, just her head above the water.  And then she turned, and her sinuous body dove up through the air and into the water once more.
We caught a number of fish whose skin showed scars or barely healed wounds from teeth of seals or other hungry creatures.

Me and Maple
We drove down with our good friend Maple (of Maple&Me), in their schmancy new red truck.  We saw really pretty views of the river:

Copper River view 
Just look at those glacial silt cliffs!  Imagine the geological time, the awe-some power first of frozen water to lay down that silt and then of flowing liquid water to cut through the banks!

Look closely.
On the island you can see
broken and abandoned fishwheels

Back home, we spent a day filleting.  We scraped each carcass for the meat clinging to ribs that the fillet missed, and ended up with a large and overflowing bowl of it.  I canned the scraps, and we got a total of 10 pints and 10 half pints of goodness.  We filled our freezers with vaccum packed fillets.  We filled bags with the carcass remnants (spine, tail and ribs) for making bone broths - for humans and huskies - and boiling down until the bones crumble in my fingers.  The bone meal will be dug into the garden.  I think next year I'll bring a set of trash bags and haul home the guts to compost.  We kept the roe of all the females we caught.  Maple cured it into caviar that I've yet to try.  And in the week since then, I've come across all manner of recipes for roe.  (The first two are from Nourishing Traditions

Roe Soup, traditional in the Nice area of France. 
Roe cakes. 
 Smoked Roe. with eggs, with brie
Roe sushi.

I figure caviar will work for some of those, if I decide I don't prefer it on toast or crackers.  In this, as with every other animal I kill to feed myself; it feels honourable, grateful, respectful, deeply good and really yummy to use as many parts of the animal as possible.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

I saw stars

Last night, late at night, past my bedtime, I went out to the car for a moment, and looking up into the mostly dark night sky I saw stars.

Stars and dark nights mean that fall is coming.  And winter.  Like those of Winterfell, the people of Fairbanks know that always, "winter is coming."

I felt joy and awe in beauty.  In connection to twinkling stars.  In the diving into self and diving into creative waters of the soul that the winter always offers, whether I take that offer or not.  And coming back inside, to a woodstove still in need of fixing, and summers flowers and herbs drying on my wall I felt also a moment of panic, of sadness and loss.

Mixed feelings.  All beautiful.  Seeing stars.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

2 Years

I like anniversaries, celebrating the passage of time and the ways in which we stay the same as well as the ways in which we change.

Two years ago today, we bought the Homestead (and incidentally, I got serious about this blog).  And in 13 more short years, it will be ours, free and clear.

Today is a great day.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homestead Eating: Dandelion Cookies!!

I suppose that for the most part, dandelion season is done.  most of the sunny-yellow-flowers-producing plants in my yard are now clouds of delicately ephemeral and amazingly tenacious parachuted seeds.

but its never too late to brag, right?

Dandelion cookies = delicious
they're even better with milk

Step 1: find dandelions that do not grow by exhaust-emitting-monsters frequented roadways nor are ever treated with pesticides and the like.  plant poison = people poison

Step 2: gather a bunch of dandelion flower heads.

Step 3: chop off the green bits, so that you have a half cup (or more!! I like more!) of fluffy yellow and white petals and petal-fuzz

Step 3: mix together the following:
really soft butter (and oil to make up the difference) - 1/2 cup
raw honey - 1/2 cup
2 eggs
1tspoon vanilla
1 cup flour (I used white)
1 cup rolled oats
your dandelion petals

Step 4: drop by spoonfulls onto a cookie sheet and cook in oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes

Step 5: Eat!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Beauty in small blooms

You know how i got things planted rather late this year?  Well, we've got blooms now!  Squash, daisies, peas, calendula, nasturtiums out the wazoo!  And more than that, I've got smiles, love, joy, mosquito bites, and long days blossoming...

What's blooming in your life?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thankful Thursdays: A Gratitude Meditation

Today I am grateful for my students, for seeing learning and listening on the faces of others.
I am grateful for sister souls who share my path.

I am grateful for ripening berries.

I am grateful for steady work and constant inspiration.

I am grateful for home and for a patient husky.
I am grateful for chanting.
I am grateful for risks.
I am grateful for love.

Thank you Beloved.

*Thankful Thursdays are my weekly gratitude practice.  They follow the gratitude meditation which ends my Thursday night Kripalu Yoga class.  A gratitude practice, positive thinking, an abundance mindset.  All of these are practices which increase vitality, invite positive transformation, and allow happiness and fulfillment to exist in the here and now rather than in the someday-when.
(Always cross-posted to my teaching blog)

A Baby orchard!

Last fall, we planted 5 baby trees - 2 pears and 3 varieties of apples - all grafted onto Siberian crabapple rootsock.  We planted late in the fall, on the reccomendation of the local orchardist, and crossed our fingers and said our prayers that the wee tree-life would make it through the winter.

We are pleased to announce that one of the pears and 2 of the apples came back healthy and happy!
The others are still growing below the graft, so we may cultivate some Siberian crabapple as well...

The pear needs a pair to cross pollinate, so this fall we will be getting at least one more baby tree.  But there's a whole area, downslope and towards the northeast of of the garden that we're considering turning into an orchard - more trees and also some berries: huckleberry, service berry, high bush blueberry.
For these kinds of plans, the sooner started the better, as the trees take 5-7 years to bear and the bushes about 5 as well.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Slaughter Day at Snowbasin: Meat birds

(* this post contains unapologetic description of the killing and the gutting of a chicken.  If this is not your cup of tea, I will not blame you for skipping this post*)

Our super high-tech setup :-)

Dealing death is a sacred undertaking.  The taking of life. We, as a culture, like to focus on only the birth and growth aspects of the circle of life, conveniently ignoring the darker truths of the waning, dying, decomposing half of that circle.  But each death presages rebirth in the symbolism of the circle.  Whether or not you believe in personal reincarnation; any physicist will tell you that the atoms and molecules that make up one life form, upon its death are re-cycled – through digestion or decomposition – into the physical structure of another life form.  Cerridwen, the keeper of the threshold, the cauldron of death and rebirth.  Kali, who dances ecstatic on the bodies of the dead, vanquishes demons and wears a necklace of skulls and a belt of bones.  Shiva, lord of fire and destruction (as well as of yoga and meditation).  All three are manifestations of this archetypal energy, which is so often ignored and demonized in our society today.

Creating life from life: this is a process that our bodies do for us, every single day.  Whether we take in plant life or animal life, it is the transmission of vital energy from one life form to another that sustains us.  I eat meat.  I did not for a long time, in fact (barring one bite of hamburger fed to my unsuspecting 3 year old self by an unscrupulous uncle) I had not eaten red meat before I moved to Alaska.  I did grow up eating fish and fowl.  And then, in high school, I went vegetarian.  Now I eat, relish and savor meats of all kinds (though I believe firmly in eating local, organic, or game meats) and am likely beginning to border on fanatic about bone broths.  There are many reasons for this choice, and I'm sure that I will devote a post to the complexities of the ethical and logistical choices involved.  But this post is shaping up to be lengthy as it is, and I begin to digress. 

I spent last Saturday processing meat birds at Snowbasin.  My dear friends over at Maple&Me have taken their little hillside homestead to the raising-animals-for-food level this year (and while its not a competition, I sometimes can't help envying them the sheer determination which has found them raising livestock in a small forest clearing while I with my lush would-be pastures have yet to invite such an endeavor to fully manifest), and raised 31 Cornish cross chickens, 3 Swedish blue ducks, and 10 mallards.  Between us, our freezers now hold 31 chickens and 3 Swedish ducks.  The mallards still have some growing to do! 

Processing 34 birds is no light undertaking.  In fact, it is heavier work than the word "processing" suggests.  Though the four of us definitely got an assembly line of tasks going, there was little mechanical or superficial about it as 'processing' suggests.  Each bird in turn, we killed by slitting the jugular vein or cutting off the head. I know we each held deep gratitude in our hearts for their passing lives, and often a "thank you, chicken" was heard before the knife cut. Then we left the bird body hanging over the blood bucket, collecting the blood that drained out, until the last muscle and nerve spasms quieted.  It was awe-ing to see the basis of the proverb "like a chicken with its head cut off" in real time.  To watch the intelligence and deeply embodied life energy of the body spend itself in the moments after death, made me realize, over and over again with each bird, just how much wisdom really does reside in the body.  The neural networks, the webs of neurological communication woven into the very flesh of our bodies!  The expression of the life force, of universal energy, of god-energy that is within us!  Not only in our mind's governing direction of thought, but within the tissues: the bones, the blood, the muscles, the nerves!  When the wild flapping of wings and the smaller death twitches were quiet and the blood finished draining out through the open neck into the bucket, the chicken was dunked into nearly boiling water for 10 seconds, lifted out and dunked again for a single second.  The next step was plucking feathers, which we did with a combination of patient and tedious hand plucking, and the mechanical chicken plucker rented for the occasion. 

This is when the body would arrive to me.  For the majority of the slaughter day, I manned the gutting station.  I took my turn now and then at plucking, killing and dunking, but the vast majority of my day was spent among intestines and with my hand inside the body cavity of a bird.  I have new appreciation for the word visceral.  The viscera are the internal organs, particularly the intestines, in a word: the guts.  When we have a 'visceral' reaction to something, it is a reaction that comes from the gut.  And we also frequently have a visceral reaction to encountering the viscera.  New and fascinating research shows that the gut is home to a 'second brain,' to a whole network of neural webs that guides our mood, thoughts, and decision making alongside the brain within our skulls.  When we have a 'gut feeling' about something, it is literally the neural working of the gut, which responds and processes information and both reacts to an effects the hormonal matrix going on at any given time. The heart also has a surprising percentage of neural cells, cells we might call brain cells except for the fact they are a part of the organ we call the heart.  This sheds a whole new light on the idea of mind-body awareness, mind-body modalitites of healing, and mind-body psychotherapy.  It was truly an honor to get so intimate with the guts.  Beautiful and fascinating, if a little macabre. 

To gut a chicken, first cut off the head if it is still attached.  Then insert sharp knife into the knee joint.  Once the main knee tendon is sliced – I believe this would be the ACL in a human – the joint is easy to twist and break the foot off from the end of the drumstick.  Place feet and head in the foot-and-head-bucket for Maple's later use as bait on the trap line.  Then, at the neck end, slice into the skin to uncover the crop and the throat.  Gently detatch the crop from the surrounding fascia that anchors it to neck and trachea and skin using a combination of gentle knife work and patient fingers.  Leaving a tail to the input and the output tubes of the crop, reserve the crop for Maple to blow up into ornamental balls like so:

Clean and inflate crops and hang to dry.

Then detach the trachea from the strong fascia connecting it to the muscles of the neck.  Chicken tracheas are so very cool looking.  Maple saved and dried a few of them too, just because they're really really neat, but unfortunately we've yet to have brilliant idea for their use.

Then turn the chicken around so that it is lying on its back and the butt is facing you.  At the end of the breast bone (where the solar plexus is on a human), pull the skin away from the body gently, so that the knife has a bit of clearance so as not to puncture the guts.  Make an incision here and cut all the way down to the vent.  The vent is the all purpose excretory organ for a chicken, used both for laying eggs and for pooping.  Do chickens pee?  I don't know.  I tend to think that the near-diarrhea consistency of their poop means that they eliminate excess liquid that way instead?  Cut just to the vent, with out puncturing the gut tube that connects it to the intestines.  Then cut a circle – very carefully again to avoid punctures – around the vent.  We actually found it easiest to just cut through (and off) the whole tail – which tended to be very very dirty and lacking in much meat – instead of cutting the vent out of the tail.  Once the vent is free, you essentially have a fully connected system from input at trachea to output at vent that is only connected to the meat-body by fascia.  And so, if you are careful, the entirely of the guts will come out as one fascinating mass.  More often mine came out as two fascinating messes; there is a distinct and function layer of fascia dividing the lower and upper internal organs.  So more often than not, I would get the guts and gizzard in one handful, and then after a bit of finger work getting through the fascia, the heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, and trachea would come out. 

Only a couple of times did I puncture intestinal walls, leading to charming shit oozing out.  They took the birds off food 24 hours in advance, but we're thinking next year 36 or even 48 would be better.  The couple of birds whose entrails were actually empty were a much easier gutting experience logistically.  But we'll see, because we found that the birds, denied of food, started to fill their crops, gizzards, and intestines with dirt instead!

We kept aside a bunch of the livers and a bunch of the hearts:  I plan on making pate with the one, and something fabulous with the other.  The gall bladder is attached to the liver and a BRIGHT GREEN in color.  So crazy cool.  From my recent delving into the organ-meridian theory of traditional Chinese medicine, I know that the gall bladder aids in processing and detoxifying anything the liver is not equipped to deal with – specifically, the bile that the spleen produces allows the body to break down and assimilate fats.  (if I'm remembering correctly.  Probably I should re-do my homework on all of this before i post it on the interwebs where anyone will be able to see it forever)  I carefully removed this from the livers before setting the liver aside for pate. 

The rest of the guts went into the gut bucket, which very quickly became heaven for the zillions of large black flies that apparated when gut bucket appeared.  It was really pretty gross.  The flies and the smell from that bucket round abouts hour 9. 

But for the most part I was totally entranced by the insides of these birds.  I'll admit that by the last two, I was so tired and on that kind of autopilot that just wants the job at hand to be done and over with, that I did not maintain pure awe for them.  Until then however, I marveled.  I found lymph nodes and figured out what they were.  I gained this entirely new appreciation for fascia in general, for the beauty and economy and streamlined brilliant grace of our organs.  Lungs are fascinating.  When deflated in death, they are these squishy pinkish white blobs, and so small, they easily get lost among everything else.  Because of course, the lungs' job is to expand, to hold air, and to transmogrify the gas into a form in which it can enter the bloodstream without causing immediate aneurisms. 
I got this whole new appreciation for what my yoga anatomy teacher means when she says that in shoulderstand, we are giving our internal organs this massage and this rich experience of gravity in new ways.  Inversions yo.  Hips over head.  Bad ass. 

And it is all wrapped in fascia.  All of it.  And then that is wrapped in fascia and its all wrapped together in fascia.  I've been on a fascia kick recently, both in my teaching, my studying, and my practicing of the body.  And holy of holies, getting so supremely hands on with it was amazing.  Elucidating.  Enlightening even.  That same yoga anatomy teacher had the opportunity to work on human cadavers and spoke in awe of what she learned ...  I begin to see exactly what she meant.  Chickens are amazing, and amazing similar – on the very insides – to us.  I gained this whole new level of appreciation why for so many centuries, the butchers were better surgeouns than the physicians.  I know I'd rather have a man who knows a knife and knows muscle, fascia, blood, and guts intimately cut me open or sew me back together than one who knows treatises by Galen, some herbcraft, and which of the four humours is ascendant in my body. 

The eviscerated carcass was then put in a bathtub to cool.

Then we cleaned up the gutting station, flipped the door-on-sawhorses that was our table over.  Bleached the clean side, washed knives and cut up the carcasses, bagging breasts, drumsticks and wings for the freezer.  Some birds we left whole to roast, and all the other rib-spine-breastbone carcasses we froze in batches to make stock.  It was amazing finally seeing the bird we'd held upside down by the feet to kill, the bird  whose brave and beautiful new frontier of guts I'd just intimately explored, become the recongnizable and comforting cuts of meat we see in plastic at the store.

Meat and bone and reserved organs go in the freezer for the coming year.  Guts and feet and heads go in the guts bucket for trap bait and burbot bait.  Crops get blown up for super bad ass Christmas decorations.  Rake up the feathers that are covering the driveway and add feathers and the content of the blood bucket to the compost.  Let it sit a season before adding to the garden.

The Darlin'Man and I came home with a cooler of homegrown meat and a bucket of blood for the compost in repayment for our days work. 

In my mind, I hear the interwebs erupting into questions about 'but wasn't it hard?' "how can you be so blithe about so much death?"

In answer:  Yes.  It was hard.  Its wasn't so much at first.  I've dissected animals before, so that much was not new to me.  And so for the first bunch of hours, for the first 19 chickens it felt actually pretty easy.  The death wasn't bothering me, the guts weren't bothering me, my feet were getting sore and that was about it.  Then we took a break, went to the store to get more freezer bags, iced coffee (it was HOT day and physically taxing work), and ice cream.  When we got back and met the overwhelming scent of warm death, it was suddenly hard.  I tried denying it.  But it wasn't until I let myself feel the weight and experience the nausea that it was ok again.  And then it really was, other than being increasingly tired.  The work of killing and gutting and cutting is hard work, physically taxing, psychically draining.  A couple of times the drain got a little overwhelming or nausea crept back in.  I found myself chanting Shiva mantras with all the gratitude I could muster until the pure awe took back over.

It feels good.  It feels clean to bear the direct karmic weight of the deaths that feed me. It is heavy, but it is the good kind of grounding heavieness, the kind that brings awareness to action, not the kind that wraps awareness in chains.  I know people who have done a slaughter day and decided that really, eating chicken is not worth it.  And I respect that to the moon and back, to the sun and the stars and back again.  I respect that with the exact same kind of honest respect that had me cooking chicken wings for dinner the very next day; eating and enjoying delicious, intimately known meat with wine and vegetables. 

So thank you chickens, thank you Snowbasin, thank you chicken breeding farmers of past and present and those yet to come.  Thank you farmers who grew the grain.  Thank you sun for shining.  Thank you water.  Thank you wire-makers and fence-makers.  Thank you trees and sawmills.  Thank you fire.  Thank you life.  Thank you death. 

**photos courtesy of Justin Maple**