all tucked in

winter, farmDecember is the sweetest.

We are all tucked in.  Cozy, warm.  Together.

Harvests are on hiatus.  We have a minimum of morning chores to tend to.  Feed and water the hens and the growing pigs.  Feed and water–and play–with the small chicks in the greenhouse.

Mostly, we sit by the fire and play games and read stories.  In this down time, we reweave the strings that hold us together that we inevitably stretch thin in the hay days of summer, all of us throwing ourselves outward, even as we are always all here, on this farm and in these days, with each other.  Because summer is its own wild beast of living.

And so winter.

We take this time and use it to tend to each other in our winter ways, and the whole, wonderful cycle works, for us.

This winter we have been simultaneously blessed and cursed with clear skies and cold temps.  Without our covering of grey skies and Pacific Northwest rain, we are getting full on that metallic tasting winter air that so many others hold on their tongues always through this season.  I love it.  I hate it.  I can step outside and feel like I am, for a moment, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado or out in the wide open countryside or quiet plains town of Nebraska.  This kind of winter feels like home to me, as much as I am ultimately a part of this lush, temperate valley now.

It was single digit cold here last night.  That is more cold than we are used to.  We all are weathering this fine, although we have used more wood than ever for this time of year and the water to our house is frozen.

No matter the temperature, though, these cold, slow days are so full of time, there is the feeling one could get so much done.    I could get a lot of things done.  Things that would make me happy, things I have been waiting all summer to get to.  On top of that, there is all the extra things one could do, to celebrate.  But instead, in December, I sit.  I wait.

I have learned so much about letting go, it is ridiculous.  Every day, we must wake up in the morning and remember what matters, and so much of it, doesn’t.

I have learned that the sweetness of this month isn’t in the doing, that it is in the waiting.  In the quiet and the stillness.

In our home, there are all the inevitable squabbles of four children inside so much, the eruption of bodies needing to move more that turns our small home into a wrestling ring or race track every evening before bedtime.   The frequent sighs of boredom, the excited as well as impatient expectancy of Christmastime.

But there is a softer side to all of this too.  There is more skin time, more snuggles on the couch.  There are news ways of playing, discovered.  There are knitting needles in my lap, slowly working again towards the only gift worth giving my dear husband, my heart poured into some thing to keep him warm while he works.

I do get itchy, who doesn’t?  I want the new year to start, all fresh and full of promise.  As always, as everyone, I have big plans.

But this last beautiful month on the calender is for the waiting.  Expectantly, hopefully.  Equal parts joy at the dusting of snow and ice to play on as well as trembling and fear, the desperate desire for the return of the sun.

All the work of December is done on the inside.  There is only the barest perception that it’s there, but it is some of the most important work we do of the year.

Fueling our lights for the new. 

All tucked in.  Warm, cozy.

Together.

finding balance: wild cultivations

backberries, hemlock, weeds, farmthistle blooms, weeds, farm, thistlesamaranth, weeds, farmbindweed, morning glory, weeds, farmdock, weeds, farmlamb's quarter, weeds, edible weeds, farmThis week, in the back of my mushy brain, hot from long hours in warm weather weeding, weeding, weeding, this was my recurring thought, “why not go into the edible/medicinal weed business????”

I mean, seriously, these plants GROW! They clearly are the top in their class and need no help from us to flourish.

And not only are they really the best at growing vigorously, they are the best at harnessing nutrients and making them available to us. That whole thing about the narrowing of our food system to those forty or so vegetables you will find at our market booth or at the supermarket brings with it a two-fold problem, the first being this limited variety of foods we now eat.  But the other, more serious problem is that in the process of really cultivating these certain crops from spindly, wild, weeds into the nice, big, tasty vegetables we eat today, we lost, in comparison, the amount of nutrition we get from doing the right thing and eating all of our veggies.

I, for one, don’t get too hung up on this.  The fact is, we are where we are in history, and we can’t go back, we can only go forward.  That is what we try to do here on the farm.  And I also know from our own experience that not all of the wild edibles we have played around with eating can qualify as much more than survival food.  They just aren’t that exciting.  Still, I appreciate the wisdom of “weeds”, and have come to love and use many of them for both their taste and their nutritive/healing properties.  That strong, earthy taste you get from nettles and lamb’s quarters (bottom photo) is the taste, literally, of earth.  Those plants are just made of minerals.

And much like the vegetables we grow, which I see as both the best tasting foods for our plates and as important elements of our heath and well-being (hello my delicious daily vitamins!), some weeds are like this times one hundred.

Take the weeds I put in a jar of vinegar many weeks ago, to have on hand as a potent calcium supplement.  Most of these things I was weeding out of my landscape beds already, like yellow dock, plantain, red clover, dandelion, and burdock.  Others were from my herb garden, all of them planted last fall, so just itching to be put to use–Japanese mugwort, comfrey, wormwood.  I threw in some raspberry leaf.  I was given the idea by a friend, and it seemed like such a good use for these plentiful plants.

What ended up as a surprise, though, was that this vinegar, which I made to use medicinally ended up tasting amazing.  It is absolutely delicious.   We use it to make all of our salad dressings now.  Who knew, right?!

So as I weeded the seemingly monstrous invasion of some kind of amaranth in a section of one our fields this week, my joke was that the weed business was, truly, the business to be in.  And joke, though it was, we are almost ready to harvest one of the only other wild edibles besides nettles that we bring to market next week, its relative, lamb’s quarters.  It is, right now, a love/hate relationship.

Still, this subject has always fascinated me.  One of our goals on this farm is to nourish our land so that it can produce the most nourishing food possible.  But that the wild edible plants–the weeds–will always have be more nourishing fascinates me.  It also, thankfully, gives me a chance to pause and appreciate that in this somewhat constant glitch in of our system, the weeds, I can see the amazing beauty and design that is the natural world.  It reminds me that we, as land stewards and sustainable farmers, can utilize and mimic it, even if it is something we can’t fully recreate.

Because, in the end, we weeded like crazy this week.  We have our own agenda, and as pretty as those bindweed flowers are, that we have let them bloom is not great.  That they are climbing up our sweet, modern apple trees is not great.  They are not welcome here, on this farm.  At least in our fields.

And the agricultural mind has to feel this way, has to do this, even if we, on this farm, aim more for balance than anything.   The shifting and shaping of things towards our will is a part of farming.  We are amplifying what we what from any given piece of land, in terms of yield, by a lot.  We are doing the dictating.

So, some weeds, yes, we will take and use.  This is an area that I really do want to learn as much as I can about.  But, good lord, some of these weeds, though I appreciate them for their tenacity, their demise is the first thing I think about when I wake up.  There is much weeding to be done, always, at this time of year.  We have to work more than it seems like we have time to right now to get where we need to be.

But soon, the tiny plants we’ve put in the ground will be the vigorously growing ones, blooming.  And then, producing, wildly!  That they need a little help from us now is just part of the bargain we’ve struck with them.  The agreement of cultivation.  Of growing food.  And this has its own sense of beauty and design, even if its one best kept to by some really hard work on our part.  We keep our end of the bargain sewed to the seams of our dirty pants, our well worn, tired, and exhausted bodies, and our scratched and soar hands.  It evens out in the end, and I think this approach is a good balance for our times.  It’s our kind of growing wild.

farm lunch: spring confetti

 

french breakfast radish, carrots, chard, kale, farm lunchToday’s lunch.

I have been calling this mixture here–french breakfast radishes, spring carrots, rainbow chard and kale (three varieties today–purple and green lacinato, plus red russian), plus the beets before we ate them all–my confetti vegetables.  They are the bulk of what we are harvesting, besides lettuces, and so it is this combo cooked with loads of coconut oil, green garlic, and green onions, and served with a little something–poached eggs and pork today–for one of our meals, then a hearty salad, with a little meat, for the other.

This, plus eggs, for breakfast, everyday.  Simple stuff.

It would seem redundant, perhaps, if it weren’t so pretty.  Or if I didn’t feel like I was having a little party on my plate each day with all these colors.  Or, perhaps, if tender, fresh, spring vegetables weren’t so damn good.

We round it all out with peas and strawberries, and even early ripe raspberries, for snacks, al fresco.

Recipes come in all shapes and sizes.  This spring, each meal I cook has three main ingredients–fresh, simple, and beautiful.  It strikes just the right chord of this season.

Topped with a dash of love, each day, and we are filled.

For the love of chicory

chicory loveThis time of year we hear the same thing from most everyone we run into–the craving for fresh, green food is intense for those folks eating mostly what they grow themselves or from the farms around and about them.  There are greens to eat in the winter here if all goes well, but they are not really green, they are overwintered.  They sit through those cold, dark months of December and January, freeze and unfreeze often, and wait.  We harvest what grew before all of that, and it is usually not pretty nor tender.  They are greens that beg to be cooked.

By now, our desire for green is for fresh.  And new growth is happening, it feels like finally, after all that wait.  Fresh leaves are making there way to our plates again.  The greenhouse is fully planted and we are working arugula thinnings into our salad mix.  Before we know it, there will be lettuce again!

But while we wait for the traditional and tender lettuces to be in the mix, what is fresh in February and early March make me quite happy to eat.  More than happy…I almost don’t want to move on.  The inner leaves of sugarloaf chicory are as easy to eat as lettuce but with so much more to offer, I may love them more than anything.  And the smaller, spoon shaped inner leaves of radicchio are so sweet and bitter, royal and right. The mid -summer lettuce leaf salads really can’t compare with the mix of colors and textures of right-nows green salads, except that we love those for all the other fresh vegetables that are able to join in on the fun.

I sit down to eat this salad every day and the sight of it, its beauty, steals my heart.  And then I do bite into it and the flavor is almost too much, it is so good.  After roasted roots and meat, and cooked kale and collards, all winter, my body sings kind of like the rest of the animal kingdom outside.  The birds and the frogs and I are enlivened right now.

And I am over the moon in love with my plate.

Just as I am with one thing or another, each season,  in its turn.  Rapinis will come soon to sweep me off my feet, then peas.  Peas!  Then summer, the season that rarely offers itself monogamously, will bring so much to love it is ridiculous (and why we love it so).  Then come autumn-year after year after year–arugula will bring me to my knees.  And delicata squash, oh my!  Osaka purple mustard. Tat soi.  Even come next winter, I will sing, again, the survival instinct that cabbage and turnips inspire in me.  Then, the whole wild love-fest will begin again.

It has been seven years for us out here on this farm, that same length of time since we learned about our food allergies.  Our diet is so different now.  But it is also so simple and so good.  All the pleasure it brings feels like the same natural pleasure the earth itself takes in bringing it forth for us as it circles around the sun.

These love affairs I have, they feel so nourishing and healthful, that is how I dare say eating should be.  This is not to say I don’t have my weaknesses (coffee), and not to say that we don’t eat some things from miles away every single day of the year in bland repetition (bananas).  But the heart of all of our meals is this land.  And there is more joy in that than I think we know until we are experiencing it.

There are so many food movements, so much divergence in opinion.  There are external factors and internal ones.  I naturally shy away from dogma, I try to keep my vision clear and focas on myself…and those eating at my table each and every night.  There can be so much confusion about what to eat, guilt over what you are eating, and so much that does not nourish you to pick up on the cheap.

Whatever you choose, my hope, my own two cents on what it should do for you, is this–that it deeply feed your body and soul.  Not in any one night stand kind of way, cheap and wrong even if it seems right in the moment.  Deeply.

My argument for seasonal eating, aside from any social-economic-political-environmental reasons is that this will be the side effect either way.  And that this may just teach you, if you listen closely, how to eat as you need to in order to feel alive and joyful.

Because chicory is truly and amazingly healthy to eat; but that is not the reason I came to endear it.

Everyday

Yesterday was just an everyday kind of day, so quiet and good.  Home until the late afternoon, we did school-y stuff by the fire and read books and ate soup, then went to the thrift store and with minimal stress came home ready to be costumed for Halloween.  It rained off and on, as it has most days lately, and even though I have a few piles of winter squash to go grab and some perennials and trees I need to plant and green tomatoes to harvest, I have taken a BIG break from the garden these past few weeks.  It takes a different momentum to get out and work in the rain, even when I know from experience that it is almost always as nice as working under the hot summer’s sun.  I have really just needed some down time, some sit in my living room time.  It’s been good.

I’m not sure if it is the turning of the seasons, the quiet force of rainy days, or the pull of the cosmos, but there has been a whole lot of introspecting happening over here.  This is how my mind works as it is, but the never ending analysis of life and all that it encompasses can lead to many places and it isn’t always so self centered.  There is just this heavy weight that wants lifting, and I can’t help but feel like now is the time.  It is not exactly liftable, but I  am graced like never before with a refusal to let it be a burden anymore.

The air is so fine, each moment I breath it in, I don’t want to waste any of it.

We all know that feeling.  We know we should really be living with it as our mantra at all times; but life is life and we are all human and so many of us were raised by broken people who inadvertently broke us a little bit too.  It can be hard to take hold of each moment, for whatever that moment is, and just live it.  Live it without the voices in our head, without the pain of the past, without the worry over the future, just live it.  Without judgement of ourselves or of others blurry-ing the clear moment of time we are standing in.

Hard–even impossible–at least at every moment, save for those highly evolved souls amongst us.  But I’m fine with my ordinary self and my everyday life, I know that just being here and experiencing it makes me and it extra-ordinary, even if I fail, repeatedly, to do each bit right.

Do you know that, really, about yourself, deep down?

Because knowing it, and embracing it, and being ok with it all, it helps you keep going.  It helps me, at least, say to myself and the world, I will take a little more of that.  I deserve a little more of that.

And I will give a little more of that too.  I am afraid, but I won’t let that stop me.

Everyday.  Everyday.  Everyday.