Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weekend Warmth and Fermenting Failure(s)

This past memorial day weekend was a mix of lazy and productive around the homestead.  Leaf out happened, turning the woods around us a bright vibrant shade of spring green.  The Darlin'Man watched a woodpecker (of a species we hadn't seen before) find a hole in a tree for a nest, toss out the previous occupant's living arrangements, and start making its own nest.  He got the truck stuck in muddy muskeg quicksand goop, twice, while hauling wood and cleared a bunch of brush out from where we hope to pasture two pigs this year and plant lots and lots of veggies next year.   The wood pile grows every few days, it is such a comforting sight.  Also an overwhelming one, when I think about splitting it all.  We sorted through accumulated bits of useful, and not-so-useful, wood and pipe and random things.  We got rid of a lot of them, and stacked the others so we'll know where they are.  We found that we've already collected enough assorted strong lengths of metal for probably half of said pig fence.  Scrapping homestead building supplies is so very much the way to go!

Sunday and monday were in the 80's, such bliss and so unreal considering we had snow, what?  A week ago?  The mosquitos were out with a vengeance though, and my arms are now covered in little bites.

I planted flowers on the porch, read the last half of Game of Thrones 3 and the first three quarters of Game of Thrones 4, and decided where the rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberry beds will go. 

In cleaning off the porch, we found one wine making plastic keg and one beer making 5 gallon bucket with the over-wintered remains of the last two of our last springs' alcohol-fermenting attempts.  The Guit Ale became vinegar, and we gave up on the Birch ale and Birch wine and left them out over winter.  The Ale smells wretched and not at all like ale.  The wine, though, actually smelled alcoholic!  Had we succeeded?  Our two intrepid homesteaders each dippered out a sip of the wine, grimaced, and pronounced it drinkable.  Certainly not to go to waste after all the effort.  And so the next night they each dippered out a cupful to drink as a with-dinner libation, and after a dutiful sip or two unanimously decided that while a sucess in that the yeasts had created alcohol, the wine was better off composted than drunk.  My most recent batch of saurkraut molded on the counter.  I think the wine and beer making equipment may get stored on a shelf in the back room for the indefinite future.  I don't know what it is in me that does not jive with the fermentation process.  I love the results, and I love the idea of it.  But I guess I don't quite *grok it yet.   I'm not giving up though, I'm trying a batch of beet kvass now.  Results will be in in the next few days.

In a way, I'm sure that this kitchen failure of mine is good perspective.  I grew up cooking and baking, and I occasionally have those moments where I read a fellow making-a-homemade/diy-life blogger's story of learning their way around the kitchen and I'm like "pie crust isn't tricky.  I'm sure it'd be even better with rendered local organic leaf lard, but I manhandle and mistreat my pie dough all the time and get great crusts."  Or I'm like, what do you mean, you've never braised swiss chard?!?!  Easiest thing EVAR!!!  I start to sound really superior/elitist inside my own head.  Fermentation humbles me.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thankful Thursdays

Thank you sun!

Thank you warmth!

Thank you students, thank you practice, thank you authenticity.

Thank you thawing earth, thank you fallen trees!

Thank you husband, thank you mother, thank you sister, thank you friends.

Thank you Dad for bags of delightful green tea and fresh fresh cinnamon!

Thank you universe, for manifesting.  Thank you light for dancing.  Thank you life for living.

*Thankful Thursdays are my weekly gratitude practice, always cross-posted to my yoga blog.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HomeStead Eating: Braised Caribou Roast, two ways

We've had braised caribou roast twice in the last fortnight.  The best part about these meals?  I didn't thaw the roasts beforehand, and the cooking time was still pretty reasonable!

The first time, I braised the roast in watered red wine with onions and garlic and herbs: parsley, thyme, basil, bay.  I cooked it our enameled cast iron cook pot, and the liquid was probably halfway up the sides of the roast.  I think it was too much liquid.  It leached out some of the juices of the roast I think, and there was lots of liquid left over at the end.  But though a little dry, the flavor was delightful, and we enjoyed it thoroughly with mounds of brussel sprouts.  They were on sale at Fred's and it is distinctly possible that I came home with almost 5 pounds of them.  I like brussel sprouts.  A lot.

The second braise, I cut way way down on the liquid.  I slathered the still frozen roast with a local mustard made with roasted peppers and pilsner from the local brewery in Fox (the one I pass every day on my way into town).  I only put less than half an inch of water in the cast iron skillet with a splash of balsamic vinegar for depth.  I covered it with a lid and let it braise while I got the rest of the meal ready.  When the mustard started to slide off of the top of the roast and into the pan, I whisked it into the liquid, and turned the meat over.  The bottom was nicely seared, and roast itself swelled to almost twice its frozen size.  Sweet potatoes baked in the oven, and collards sautéed on the stove as I made a pie crust.  The collards were sliced in thin ribbons and sautéing in olive oil with garlic and balsamic vinagre, my default preparation for both kale and collards.  I tasted them though, and noticed that they were evincing the bitterness peculiar to brassicas that have spent too many days in the refrigerator.  In a moment of pure brilliance, I decided to try countering this with a tablespoonful of the "5 pepper jelly" (made with green and red peppers, Serrano, habanero, and jalapeno) which my father-in-law had left with us when they left for Hawaii.  I stirred the jelly into the collards and mushed it against the side of the pan so that it mingled with the oil and vinagre into a saucy coating on the greens instead of hanging out in globs.  It did WONDERFUL things for the collards, both the hint of sugar to counter the bitter and the hint of pepper to pull out depth, but even more than that, the pepper flavor complemented the roasted peppers in the mustard and pulled the meal together phenomenally.  I look forward to trying the same combination with moose.  The roasted pepper mustard played off of the slight gaminess of the caribou in a way that made it deeply palatable.  Sometimes I find moose a little too gamey straight up, so I'm eager to see if this preparation pulls together a similar flavor meld with moose.  And the braised meat this time was still full of its own juices and the liquid in the pan cooked down to a lovely reduction sauce.  I topped the meat with carmelized onions, to be just a little gourmet with the meal.  The plum and cherry pie we had later did not match the flavors of the meal, but was way too delicious on its own and was made out of fruit I canned and had in the pantry.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wood Chopping

"Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice" is a quote, screen printed onto a pillow in designer fonts that is making its rounds on Pinterest.  I want to play with machine-applique to make a couch pillow of the quote in bright colors with a very diy aesthetic.  And after Saturday's adventures, I feel totally validated in sporting it on my couch. 

They are putting in a fiber optic cable along side the Elliot highway, and in clearing the path to lay the line, they took down many and many a tree.  Saturday morning I made French toast slathered in wild blueberry compote – quite possibly my new favorite meal EVER! while Raif took the little red truck to scout the cut.  He didn't get stuck, so after eating the deliciousness with coffee, we set off to get a start on the winter's woodpile.  To me, cutting firewood is a quintessential summer activity.  (Partly I'm sure due to the utter misery of one winter in the cabin when we ran out of wood, and experienced the joy of daily treks into the woods, through thigh deep snow, to find standing dead spruce.  I don't ever want to repeat that year's desperate winter wood gathering.)  So it was more than a little depressing and more than a little ironic that our tire tracks were the first marks marring a fresh light coating of snow. 

It was a cold day, never getting above the mid forties, and with a brisk wind much of the time.  Nevertheless, both the darlin'man and me found ourselves stripping off layers.  And chopping those logs will be just as warming.  My man with the great upper body strength and the deep love of repetitive physical labor will, no doubt, do most of that labor.  But maybe this year, I'll help. 

He hauled this log holding contraption on his back while I toted the chainsaw.  (I claim SUCH bragging rights on this find!  I found it at the TansferSite years ago!) See how it measures the log for you into woodstove size as you cut!

We spent a long afternoon digging trees out of the piles of stacked brush on either side of the cut, cutting them into firewood lengths, and stacking them to the side. 

Then we came through with 5 or so loads of the truck to bring them home.  Sunday, I went into town for a meeting, a shower, and grocery shopping and when I came home, Raif had almost doubled our Saturday's haul.  We guesstimate that we've got about 2 ½ cords waiting to be split and stacked.  The earlier the better on that front, so that it has as much of the summer as possible to dry.  Added to the cord or so that we have left from this winter (or will have left, if the weather ever warms up and allows us to stop making daily fires), we're just about half way to this winter's requisite woodpile.  That's a real good feeling for the middle of may. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Signs of Spring

My man is becoming an ornitholigist.  I have been informed of the presence of a yellow warbler down the road, of a yellow rumped warbler by the woodstack, that the bird Leto the panther-kitten decapitated and left on the porch was a white crowned sparrow, and that the flocks of hundreds of little birds that have taken over our yard and not-yet-pasture-or-garden are comprised of fox sparrows, Lapland longspurs, juncos, tree sparrows and more white crowned sparrows.   Driving down to Denali the other weekend we saw 6 hawks, we think they were Harringers.   And pulling on the Elliot with a load of wood this weekend, he swears he saw a falcon, he thinks it might have been a peregrine.

The bird book lives on the table, right next to the cookie sheet and bread pan full of wee pots of starts.  They graduated from kitchen counter to sunny dining table earlier today when I notices little baby leaves beginning to unfurl, all white green in their newness.

I took my mat outside Saturday to practice in the chilly chilly wind and under the brightly shining sun.  The thermometer read 44 degrees, but as I lay on my mat on the no-longer-snow-covered grass for short! savasana, I could feel the radiant warmth of the sun on my bare hands and feet and face.  I did this practice next to the little spot of earth I dug up and planted as the beginning of my flower garden last year.  On hands and knees, with my face close to the earth, I could see tiny little leaves beginning to show above the ground, their size a testament to energy conservation, and the bright green –so different from the sprouts from indoors – a testament to the vitality and hardiness of plants that come back year after year, whether re-seeding annuals or cold hardy perennials.

And now, the weatherman is calling for daytime temps in the 60's and nights that don't fall below forty by the end of the week.  Bring on summer summer summertime!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thankful Thursdays

Today I am thankful for body and breath.

I am thankful for change.

I am thankful for the way life is manifesting oh-so-rightly for someone very dear to me.

I am thankful for new paths unfolding.

I am thankful for friendship, for love.

I am thankful for sunshine on frozen earth.

And as ever, I am thankful for my students, and for my teachers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

10 pm driving home

PhotoBlog : Denali "The Great One"

Last Sunday was the Birthday of my dearest friend over at Maple and Me, and also (strangely enough!) of her twin brother.  I know, they have the SAME birthday.  Crazytalk.

We caravanned a hundred plus miles down the Parks Highway to go to the 49th State Brewery in Denali Park (aka Glitter Gulch) for some amazing beer and good food.  I had the "Wee Heavy" a dark and delightful Scottish Red Ale.  There were burgers and yak and salmon and fish and chips and fried cheese curds and pork schnitzel consumed.  We had a great time.

On the way down we drove into Denali Park to the Savage River overlook and went for a snow hike.  Strangely enough, although I've lived in Fairbanks for seven years now, and although I've been to at least 15 National Parks in 7 or 8 states, I had never actually been inside of Denali Park despite having driven past it (twice!) on every trip to Anchorage.

Here's the photos I took:

The menfolk climbed to the very tip tip of this.
I was happy hanging out in the boulders looking
at Lichen.

View from the car on the park road heading towards
Savage River.
This was pure torture for a husky who wanted
to be running wild, like a wolf!, in this open land.

A husky and her boy.


The View from said boulders look down on the road.

Also, we got a lovely view of Denali itself, driving down.  Its amazing how the mountain comes and goes from view like a spirit, in and out of focus behind and above the range of mountains it crowns.  I am told that this due to certain atmospheric conditions.  But I also believe that mountains have souls.  In either case, it is awe-inspiring.  "The Great One," indeed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

One thread at a time

In the past couple of weeks, I've found little pockets of time to remember just how much I love passing threads over under over under over under.  The meditative quality.  It is an act of creation.

I've woven just under 3 inches on this peice recently.  Which means that I theoretically could finish this years-overdue gift before my sister leaves for grad school.  I'll show full pictures then... and you know, tell you what it is....

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thankful Thursdays

Today I am thankful for inspiration.  For vision - both in the sense of envisioning and as eyesight.

I am thankful for the sight of grass next to slowly melting snowbanks in town.  And I am grateful for the hope that sight lends me, the hope that the snow at our home on its northern hill will melt to make way for green growing things.

I am thankful for found and re-found communities and people.

I am thankful for my beloved man, that he follows his heart and that even when so far away in remote communities reached only by plane and dogsled, he is still so near, here in my heart.

I am thankful for my ability to catalyze healing, however incremental.

I am thankful for the return of late night platinum skies behind white birches, and for this grace of time to see them stark and subtle against each other before the trees fill the spaces between branches with leaves.

I am thankful for mud puddles!