Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pysanky Easter

Caribou Harvest Egg on Left, Traditional Ukranian
Windmills design on right

Friday night, I spent a few hours happily sitting at the table, and drawing in wax on raw eggs.  This traditional wax resist dye method was used for centuries in Eastern Europe, both pre and post Chrisitanity, to celebrate this time of year.  Some of the traditional designs are very Easter specific, referencing the life of Christ, and some of the designs are more universal, representing hopes for happiness, good weather, and abundant harvests.  The one on the right above is a traditional design.  The one on the left, I designed using traditional motifs.  There are two variations on sun motifs on the top and bottom of the egg.

Set up: candle, kistky, wax, dye
My caribou harvest egg
This one uses a traditional 'deer' design that I decided was actually a caribou, a crossed branches motif, and a duck's foot motif.  I made it out of deep respect for the cycles of life in this northern land where we still have feet of un-melted snow.  It is in honor of the continuity of the seasons, and my hopes for a hunt in the coming year.

Ram, sun, seed sprouting, apple tree


This was the final egg I dyed.  It is divided into eight sections, and each holds a symbol representing my hopes for this homestead and this life we are beginning to build.  There is a red ram for vigor and fertility, a rooster for abundance, sunshine, sheaves of wheat, and an apple tree! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for friendship.

I am thankful for the brilliance of aurora overhead, with a caribou skin below me and a friend beside. 

I am thankful for a simply breathtaking skyfull of dancing energy, with my man's arms around me.

I am thankful for the patience and unwavering love of a husky and a hound - because that alliterates better than 'a husky and a spaniel'

I am thankful for teachers, new and old.

I am thankful for pathways to walk.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Seeds

As I was driving into town today, the car's thermometer read twenty-two degrees below zero.  That's a pretty normal temp hereabouts, but even here it is a bit TOO cold for the end of March!  It amazes me sometimes, the optimism that it takes in order to build fires against -22 degrees while at the same time planning for putting seeds into the ground to grow in a mere two month's time.

On Sunday, I went to a seed swapping bruch at Maple and Me's.  You can admire my valiant restraint as you notice that I only came home with 7 packets of seeds!  I should have expected such a thing.  Faced with a table full of so many varieties of unprouted plant live, so many different beautifully manifesting hopes for the future, my "I'm not going to plant anything this year except perrenials" somehow evaporated...  You see, this summer season is about the deep preparation that will support the next few decades on our land: pigs, pastures, perrenials, prep.... and now peas!  Peas give fix nitrogen into poor soils and can be direct-seeded even this far north.  And they're yummy.  And fairly simple to grow as I recall.  So that justifies two of these seed packets.

Another three are flower seeds from a dear friend's garden in Junea (she just happen's to Maple & Me's mother): primroses, day lillies, and blue poppies.

The other two packets I managed to come home with are some beets from Pingo Farm, a local farm that has been breeding vegetable strains from Russian seed stock to do well in our Zone 1 climate.  They have sweet peppers and cantelope and watermelon and tomatoes too!!!!  Next year.  Next year.  Not this year. 

And I also brought home 9 summer squash seeds.  Assuming a 100% germination rate, that's perfect for three mounds, which can be placed away from the pig pen/garden to be, and only require hauling in a pickup truck full of topsoil and/or manure - I'll use the rest to get going on the flower bed by the house.  These ones I will start in the house just as soon as I remember to stop by a gardening shop for some good soil.  Squash plants in the 4-5 inch range transplanted in late may do well, I'm told.  We have one more year's subscription to Calypso's CSA veggie share for this summer - thanks mom! But I find that we never get enough summer squash for the mounded dinner plate full I crave once or twice a summer.  Besides which, the freeze well and are great in winter soups.

So that's the story of why I broke down and brought home seeds.  That, and despite my place-my-energy-into-prep-work-it-will-pay-off-down-the -road intentions, I really can't quite imagine a summer without something growing which means that I'll likely pick up parsley and calendula and cilantro seeds along with that soil.

In other news, hiding down here at the bottom of the post where the Darlin'Man is least likely to notice it:

There are three birthdays in my family within the next month, so I've been busily contemplating all the things I will make.  And then last night I sat down and put a dent in my man's gift.  Though, I am a little concerned that I'm losing what little hipster cred I have by opting for nicely, perhaps even traditionally, sized cross stitches as opposed to the oversized one that are popular on design blogs. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Writing with Wax

The wall opposite the loom.
Shelves for cloth and also romance novels.
Saturday I stayed home all day.  I finished the taxes, and then I spent the entirety of the rest of the day in the studio with NPR.  I even made Raif cook the greens for dinner so I could keep playing.  Making.  Art-ing?  It was so so lovely, and so so necessary for me.  I spent the first portion of the afternoon cleaning, sorting and re-arranging.  The studio recently acquired a bureau that had been in the guest bedroom, and my recent clean-and-declutter of the downstairs yeilded a surprising number of things that actually belong in the studio, surprise surprise!  So I got everything re-arranged into a sort of functionality and aesthetics that I think will continue to serve me until I get the massive wall-o'-shelves built that I have planned.

And then.  I played around writing with wax on cloth.  You see, I had the brilliant realization that I could use modified batik techniques of wax resist dyeing to get text onto cloth without using either time-consuming embroidery or the super-tech scan images into computer and print onto cloth stuff that are so frequently featured in publications like Cloth, Paper, Scissors and which quite frankly intimidate me.  I decided that for my inaugural experiment I would write Jane Austen quotes because, well.  Really what else WOULD I write?  (Full Disclosure: I am actually working on a super secret project that cannot be revealed until the end of August when a certain person or two who may or may not read this blog may or may not have received their wedding gift from me.  And because I wanted to brag here about how fun it is to write with wax on cloth, I'm doing some side projects.)

"You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.
Tell me not that I am too late.
Tell me that such precious feelings are not
gone forever."
  Jane Austen fan club FAIL!
I attributed the above quote as you can see to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberly, hero of Pride and Prejudice; while in actuality it belongs to Captain Wentworth, the hero of Persuasion.
Anyway, I'll cut off the bit that attributes it to Darcy, and the quote will still be lovely.
I also wrote a few truly P&P quotes including Lady Catherine de Bourgh's masterpeice : "Heaven and Earth!  what are you thinking?  Are the shades of Pemberly to be thus polluted?"
I have plans of making a few fellow Austen-adorers very happy with cloth crafted applique etc pillows or framed art quilts featuring said quotes.  Stay tuned!  

So, how did I do this, you ask?  Simple.  Take a piece of cloth.  Heat a kiska of beeswax over a candle flame.  Write.

Pysanky tools: candle, kiska, beeswax.  Found here.
A kiska (shown above, in three writing thicknesses) is a traditional ukranian tool pretty similar to the traditional indonesian tool used for batik.  For the Easter holiday, Ukranians traditionally make Pysanky: beautifully and brightly colored eggs with traditional motifs done by wax resist over-dyeing.  I learned to do them in middle school?  I think.  Anyway, I haven't done them sine, but I may do so this year.  The kiska is basically a tiny metal funnel, and it dispenses melted beeswax the same way that a quill pen dispenses ink.  

The next step is to dye the fabric and iron off the wax, when the writing should show in muslin-colored relief against the dyed fabric.


And finally, a last gratuitous picture of the studio space, with its newly created reading nook.  There used to be really messy piles of fabric here :-)  While I think that in all reality, I am not likely to all that frequently USE this reading nook for its intended purpose, the studio being cold in winter and me intending to be pounding fence posts in summer; just looking at it and imagining a cup of tea and a romance novel makes me very very happy.  Besides, the upholstery matches the dressor.  And really, its as much for my husky as for me.  She was visiting with me yesterday and attempted to jump up into the  (different) armchair I had drug in there last weekend when my sister was over.  It is a lovely armchair, but it rocks and is on a swivel base.  Misha got up into it ok when I was holding it steady for her, and curled up for a bit.  But when she tried again without my aid, it moved and totally freaked her out.  I think long term, a small sofa for dog-curling and kids-playing (or mom-napping?) will be in order.  For now, it is the thought that counts.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Homestead Eating: Gourmet Cabbage Salad

This evening, I am meeting the ladies of HBB for a glass of wine and baked brie at our favorite classy local joint.  We will celebrate Faye's first official rejection letter for her novel from a publisher, talk about plans for April's Camp NaNoWriMo, giggle madly, gossip, and discuss the meaning of life.  We frequently go to Lavelle's after shows, or for an HBB heart to heart; sometimes we go on dates, and we went there to celebrate Maple and Me's elopement.  It is an expensive restaurant and the closest thing to a wine bar that Fairbanks has to offer.  It has good taste in wine, vinagrette and cheese.  I usually get salads or appetizers. 

I have taken to recreating one of their salads, a warm red cabbage with bacon in it.  I think I've had it as many times at home as at the restaurant, perhaps more.  I've made a couple of variations on it, depending on what is in the pantry, and it has been a while since I had the one that Lavelle's makes.  But the best I can remember, Lavelle's cooks dried cranberries (which soak up some juices), bacon and walnuts with the red cabbage and tops it with a dab of goat cheese.  It is super delicious. 

Tonight's version began with chopped up applewood smoked bacon cooking in the wok.  Then I added half a head of chopped red cabbage.  The bacon hadn't provided quite enough fat, so I added some olive oil with basil, thyme, salt and pepper.  A splash of merlot at the beginning of cooking and a glug of balsamic near the end added to the cabbage juices to stain the bacon purple-brown.  I didn't have any walnuts or dried berries today, so I added in a couple handfuls of frozen lingonberries.  I anticipated writing here about how the tiny ruby red berries exploded tart and sweet and wild in the mouth, a surprise among the cabbage.  But it turns out that the high heat of the cooking and the quick transition from frozen to cooked burst most of the berries in the pan, and the lingonberry juices mingled into the salad.  I liberally topped our plates with goat cheese, and we ate it with a glass of Merlot and the last episode of the first season of True Blood.  (I'm hooked.  It's kind of ridiculous.  We don't have TV, but we have a television and I occasionally watch TV shows on DVD.)  It was delicious.  And the deep purple of the salad with the crisp white of the goat cheese next to the deep red of the merlot was strangely appropriate for a vampire film. 

And one of the best parts is that – apart from the olive oil and herbs (some of them anyway), which I will import without compunction for as long as our shipping systems allow it – it all could have been produced locally.  Unfortunately, I got the cabbage, the goat cheese, and the bacon all at Fred Meyer's.  But cabbages grow beautifully up here, we intend to raise pigs, and I hear tell that over on another hillside Maple and Me will have goats before too long.  When I think about eating locally in a just barely subarctic climate, it is easy to slip into a poverty mindset: well I can't eat that or that or that or that because it doesn't grow up here.  So I find it rewarding (as it is in so many ventures in lfe) to frame my mind to abundance.  To celebrate the things are.  The foods that grow and the meals they make.  And, if that just happens to approximate, or even surpass, a gourmet restaurant meal?  Well, I'll take it with gratitude.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Homestead Eating: Fish and Game

I got desperately ill when we got back from Hawai'i.  I'm pretty sure it was influenza.  This meant that I spent days in bed and on the couch, watching Downton Abbey and reading romance novels while going through mounds of tissues and gallons of tea.  I did manage to make a big pot of chicken stock and then chicken veggie soup in my occasional moments of energy.

And then just as I was getting better, I committed to filling in for a bunch of extra yoga classes (which has been lovely) and my Darlin'Man started rehearsals for Lear Khekwaii every night. (He's Gloucester, and his Gwich'in is sounding really good!!!)  Needless to say, the maple syrup glazed salmon with maple apple cider meal has yet to grace our table.  

This does not however, mean that we have not been eating local wild meats.  Because we have.  In quantity.  Partly this is due to the beauty that is a crockpot.  And partly this is due to the quick ease of cooking fish. Recently, we have eaten caribou, moose, salmon, and halibut.  

Caribou Barley Stew

The fridge was looking really low on fresh veggies.  I had cooked and krauted the last of the cabbage, and the only vegetables in the crisper bin were carrots.  So the carrots got chopped into the crockpot along with a lone sweet potato, some garlic and onions and herbs.  In went the last of the chicken stock, a cup full of barley and a wrapped up frozen brick of ground caribou courtesy of Maple and Me.  When we got home, I stirred the ground caribou to mix in with the rest of the stew, and had a warm hearty dinner.  I was impressed and surprised at the way that the stew became so very, well, stew-y.  The barley I think is responsible for the wonderful thickening, accomplished without any added fat or thickeners.  I will definitely be repeating this one, with caribou and also with moose.  And!  With the exception of the sweet potato and the spices, every thing could have been grown here in AK.  The Caribou and the carrots were.  The Barley could have been (homegrown was out when I went, so I resorted to freds) as could the chicken stock makings, the garlic, onions, and some of the herbs.

Salmon with broccoli and potatoes

We left the truck in town, so that I could drive home to the dogs after work, and the Darlin'Man could come home at 9 or 10 after his rehearsal.  Good food that was also easy was in order.   So I pulled out some frozen salmon and put it in a pan of water to thaw.  I put potatoes in the oven to bake.  Then I made a fire and rolled out my mat for a yoga practice.  An hour later, I took the potatoes out of the oven and put the salmon in a baking pan.  I sprinkled it with this lovely french vinaigrette herb mix from Penzey's (it was free sample the last time my mom ordered from them) - its a mix of herbs and garlic and mustard.  The salmon went into the oven, and I chopped broccoli and steamed it.  I ate alone, but the food was still warm when the Darlin'Man got home later.  Sometimes I forget the beauty of a simply cooked salmon with veggies in favor of a complex and gourmet preparation.  I'm grateful for the reminder.

Sesame Halibut

I picked up my then-still-on-crutches (she's mostly walking now!!!) sister from campus and we went to Mom's house to make dinner.  Halibut that Mom had caught in Kenai last summer was thawed in the fridge.  The pantry was pretty spare, but there was a part of a head of red cabbage and another of green.  We took the sweet and sour stir-fried cabbage of our childhood and ran with it.  I chopped up the halibut into big bite sized peices and put them in a bowl with lots of sesame oil, some hot pepper sesame oil, some rice vinegar, and some canola oil to marinate.  I toasted some sesame seeds.  My sister chopped cabbage and onion and garlic and began to saute them in the wok.  She used another Penzey's spice blend (I'm starting to fall in love with this idea of pre-blended spices; I should probably sit down and make my own so that I don't spend a bunch on the pre-mixed kind from nice mail order places!) Ancho 900 - a blend of peppers and cumin and cacoa and all sorts of goodness.  When the cabbage was nearly ready, I dumped the whole bowl of halibut and marinade into a cast iron skillet.  We ate it served over a mixture of wild rice and brown rice.  I was super happy with how the fish came out.  Halibut, while amazing can taste rather bland, and it totally soaked up the flavor of the sesame oil.  The 'marinade' became a beautifully thick sauce that looked and tasted like it was a whole lot more difficult than it was.  The heat of the Ancho 900 spice mix paired with the sesame flavor in a way that deepened both.  YUM!

Ground Moose Spaghetti
This meal was the second (and third!) day of a crock pot pasta sauce.  The first day, I left a tomato pasta sauce to simmer in the crock pot all day while we were at work.  And then coming home, I put (pre-marinated) sliced eggplant in the oven to roast and water on to boil.  We ladled sauce out over the pasta and eggplant onto our plates, and put the crockpot insert in the fridge over night.
The next morning, I pulled it out and added in a log of partially thawed - cause I'm lazy like that! - ground moose into the middle.  This moose was packaged in the local meat store's plastic wrap and was gifted to us when the Darlin'Man struck up a conversation with a hunter who was picking up his butchered moose.  I thank that anonymous man!  And the moose.  When I got home I stirred the ground meat more thoroughly into the sauce and added a frozen package of chopped spinach which thawed and cooked while the pasta boiled.  It was delightful!  And lasted a couple of days.  And, that was using the small crockpot, too!

And tonight, I head home to marinating chopped eggplant, cauliflower and carrots waiting to be oven roasted while a fillet o' salmon cooks with herbs.  The salmon probably on the stovetop since there's so many veggies they may need both cookie trays on both racks of the oven.  And then Maple and Me are coming over for dinner and conversation.  With me at least.  The Darlin'Man will be at rehearsal still.  They do have ulterior motives for coming over on a week night.  They are going camping all weekend in the White Mountains and are dropping of a certain angelic husky to stay for a few days.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thankful Thursdays

Today I am thankful for roads that have been scraped down to pavement again.  Hard pack removal teams mean that spring is really, truly on its way!

I am thankful for the way the universe teems with opportunity and energy and love when you pursue something you truly love.

I am thankful for my students, and for everything they teach me.

I am thankful for the kindness of a stranger, who gifted my Darlin'Man with ground moose when he met him at the local meat shop.  I am oh so grateful for the moose who gave its life so that I can eat amazing pasta for dinner.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Homestead Eating: Raspberry Muffins

"I picked these raspberries on a chilly not-quite-rainy summer day."  I said as my sister handed me a glass of raspberry juice as I perched on my mother's kitchen counter on Sunday.  I took a sip, and the tart glowing sweetness of the fruit juice exploded in my mouth.  I recalled with clarity, the cool dampness of the air, the green of the leaves, and the brightness of the berries.  The vetch that was choking out parts of the far rows, and which I spent some time weeding out into mounds of the leggy vines.  I left the piles at the end of the row near the garden house/cash register.  I wonder what the farmhands thought when they found them.

She was making the raspberry muffins -with chocolate chips and walnuts - that she fed me this morning as I picked her to go to campus and the jewelry making studio.  "And now you'll be eating them warm but not quite melting march morning."

I had dug around in my mother's freezer and found a quart bag of Raspberries I had picked the summer before this last one, at the u-pick raspberry field at Basically Basil.  And oh, my.  They made amazing muffins.

Raspberry muffins
Food and Photo courtesy of From the Third Hand

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Welcome March!

Today was brilliantly sunny and warm, in the mid twenties.  The sun on the snow against the bare branches of trees on the hill and bright blue sky were my view as I drove into town today to teach.  I designed another shawl from these colors: Sun in Early March.

This is the month of the equinox, that balancing point between the light and the dark.  March 21 will see 12 hours of sunlight hereabouts.  That's a dramatic change from the 5 hours of just a couple months ago.  It is light when I go into work, and the sun doesn't set until nearly 6 o'clock!  I also now sit by a window all day at work, due to a minor rennovation we just completed, and that makes it all that much more lovely.  

This glory of warm snow, that crunches underfoot instead of squeaking, and bright sunny days are the best harginger of spring.  We've not yet entered breakup and mudseason when one is hard pressed to find beauty in the spring time world, but it is clear that summer sun is on its way.  

I was walking the fence line of the current dog yard, searching for the broken spot that has let my in-laws dog (which we have until they return from the islands) escape and run away and go visiting with kind strangers twice this week.  Misha is too big to use the spot I finally found between two bars.  She was elated to have me in the yard, playing snow soccer.  As I walked the fence line of what will become two separate yards: on for dogs and one for sheep.  It is easy, especially in the winter, to become housebound and forget the beauty and strength and inspiring potential of this patch of land we live on.  I was reminded this morning of well it will grow veggies and house sheep.  I can't wait for snow melt and ground thaw to begin pounding fenceposts...