Monthly Archives: June 2015

The year of the Pig – Part 2: A Week of Francis (Summer Solstice Version)

So we’ve been eating Francis for about a month now. I can’t say it’s been wall-to-wall pork (or even wall-to-wall Francis). There have been a few sausages from Seed To Sausage, an a roast chicken in there. But this past week, I cooked a 4lb ham and this is what we’ve gotten out of it, so far:
 
Friday, June 19th: Braised ham (with potatoes, parsnips, and Various Cooking Greens)
Saturday, June 20th: I… think that was red-lentil curry with lots of (slightly woody) rappini, since that particular leafy-green/sprouting-broccoli has started bolting like there’s no tomorrow. It was… not a big hit. I mean, it tasted good, but the texture was a little bit… twiggy. This is why I started uprooting the rappini plants. I think they’ve served their time, and it’s appropriate to put some more heat-loving crops in the place they were previously occupying.
 
Sunday, June 21st: We didn’t eat at home, but I threw together a couscous dish (see below) that we ate later in the week.
 
Monday, June 22nd: Couscous with pork and (frozen) broccoli. This was basically “We have had a hell of a weekend and are stressed all the heck out” food. Not comfort food. Just food that would provide a heap of protein and some carbs (and some veggies) without too much effort or thought process needed.
 
Tuesday, June 23rd: Ham sandwiches on home-made bread (clearly) with red onion & rainbow chard, plus a “kale” salad made with the last of the rappini (which I’ve mostly pulled up in the interests of planting more squash) plus some crumbled walnuts and dried cranberries. Partially, this was because it’s easy to make sandwiches and salad for four (technically salad for five, actually), and partly because we had a power-outage yesterday that lasted 3-4 hours (nothing spoiled – the ice cream even stayed solid), right over the dinner period. I figured that sandwiches were a good bet.
 
I’ve still got a fair bit of pork left over, even after making a couple of sandwiches for my lovely wife to take to work this morning, so I’m thinking we can probably make it stretch quite easily to the next Fabulous Friday Dinner (which might be a shoulder roast, this time ’round) by doing a noodle dish tonight (ham + garlic scapes + cilantro + rainbow chard + some egg-drops, fried up with glass noodles in some sesame oil and soy sauce) and maybe a pork-heavy chili for Thursday (that would also use up some of my last remaining tomato preserves and some of the weird “prickly-mustard” that (a) is also starting to bolt, but (b) seems to do best when cooked low-and-slow in a liquid).
 
So that’s what a week worth of Francis looks like.
Other weeks will look different.
Like maybe we have pork chops one night, and/or bacon one morning, but the rest of the week is pasta with alfredo sauce, salads made with garden greens, nuts & dried fruit, or bean-based dishes that include onions and kale sauteed in bacon grease and grain cooked in bone stock. I’m hoping that, as the garden continues to produce delicious edibles, we’ll spend the summer eating veggie-heavy meals.
Part of this is just: Yum, veggies. Part of it is trying to squeeze the most of our garden plots while they’re still producing lots of food and have the sun and the rain (and the nitrogen-fixing power fo the legumes) help keep them recovering and keeping on.
Part of this is: hydro is expensive. The rates just went up again, and the less often I use the oven the better. If I can get the hang of baking bread only once a week (unlikely) or baking it during the same hours that I’m roasting or braising a large cut of meat, that will help use the energy efficiently.
And, yes, some of it is wanting to make the meat last for as long as possible. I’d really like it if, in spite of not buying much meat to suplement it, our half-a-pig lasted the whole year (so until mid/late May).

Summer Solstice Garden Tour 2015

Hello again!
 
So Summer Solstice has come and gone (and we’re in the long slide towards the dark again, but it’s easy to ignore that when Bountiful Season is basically upon us), and the garden is starting to offer up food that isn’t made entirely of leaves.
This is very exciting, I don’t mind telling you.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do another Garden Tour post, partially in response to Erica’s (May) photo tour invitation, and partially just because I like showing off. To that end: Onwards!
 
Lots of Pics Behind the Cut

New Moon – Rose Moon / Strawberry Moon Begins

The roses are bursting into florid bloom righ tnow. (And, okay, have been for a while). The strawberry plants are setting fruit (so’s almost everything else, but the strawberries and serviceberries are the ones most likley to be ripe in the next two weeks, so…)
I have been harvesting actual food frmmy actual garden for a few weeks now, putting some of it up in the freezer and eating a lot of it fresh, too.
The pole beans are starting to need something to climb (besides each other and the fava bean stalks), the peas and favas (and rappini – woops) are blooming and the bees are visiting my garden. The trellis has yet to be built, but it’s getting towards the point where it won’t wait any longer. we may be able to score some free lumber from up the street (some friends have extra left over froma project) which would definitely help.
The heat has hit, and the humidity with it. The Mystery Greens have turned out to be mustard – prickly leaves which I need to harvest and start cooking. I was thinking of doing something like sag masala or something with them.
 
This is the beginning of “Much Too Much” season, as Tamar at Starving Off The Land would put it, the wanton bride that is Summer. My bioregion is a good 6-12 weeks behind the South-English one where the Wiccan year-wheel was devised. You don’t even have scilla and snowdrops around here at Spring Equinox, not typically, let alone daffodils. So it feels strange to be calling Summer Solstice “midsummer” as if it had been sunny, steamy, and fruitful for two months already rather than just barely into the hot and heady.
 
None the less, energetically speaking, things are taking off. (Maybe that’s just Mercury being out of retrograde, I dunno). Our Archivist has a little bit of interim work and a lead on a longer-term paid contract, which is great news. My wife is ever-so-slightly drowning in army boots and army hats and othe army stuff that needs repairing before tourist season really gets going. Even some of my projects are starting to bear fruit (by which I mean “generate money” or otherwise see results). My chapbook made it off the press, for example, and a few people have picked up copies already.
 
Magically speaking, I’m feeling a push towards a certain kind of glamour – which I’ll probably be blogging about in a little bit, so just bear with me – and have been working a lot of candle magic lately – mostly for other people, though I should aim some to my immediate household as well, and sooner rather than later.
 
I have a ham thawing in the fridge, which I probably won’t get to cook until Friday night (good timing), when I’ll put it with the last of my carrots, my very last apple, one of my numerous cooking onions, and as massive a kale-and-fresh-herbs salad as I can manage. (It’s funny. I’m not sick of greens by any stretch of the imagination – we eat those all year here, thanks to the chest freezer – but I’d really, really like to have something else – snow peas, or shelled fava beans, for example – to add to the salads and stir-fries and such-like. That’s still a few weeks away, though. 😉
 
Anyway. Moving right along.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Terroir and Humanity

Neat thoughts. Go take a look.

Hearth, Hospitality, and Home

My fingers are ringing with the bright chill of peppermint and rosemary essential oils. There’s lavender mixed in there, too, and white vinegar, and salt. I swear, the idea was just to deoderize (ye gods) a tea towel and some of my dish cloths, but I wound up sloshing the last of it across my steps, pouring out protections just ’cause I can.
 
That’s the lovely thing about herbal magic. Generally speaking, if it’ll cure a cold or sanitize a diaper, it’ll probably also work in protection magic. That’s how it goes, right? If mint and birch will open up your lungs again, by breathing the steam or drinking the tea, then maybe hanging a bunch of them (to dry, yeah) over your threshold will keep the sickness from your door in the first place. Maybe it’ll keep other bad stuff away, too.
 
So that – along with putting the coffee on – was what I did before 8am this morning. (I know, I know, a whole heap of you folks have to be at a desk by 8am and were doing this with the sun barely over the horizon, but we run on a slightly different schedule here).
 
I’m going to spend the day (a) prepping my set list and numbering chapbooks for my show, but also (b) catching up on various house-wifely and kitchen-witchly tasks that have been needing some attention. Stuff like re-stocking my beeswax candle supply (since I’ll be lighting my altars tonight anyway), doing the laundry in the hand-crank machine, feeding & weeding the garden, patching my wife’s skirt, plus the usual daily tasks like dishes (endless dishes…) and dinner.
 

 
Maybe it’s because Mercury is (fucking finally) out of Retrograde, and the conversations are flowing more freely again, or maybe it’s because I just read S. Bear Bergman’s Blood, Marriage, Wine, and Glitter, but I’ve been thinking (and talking) a lot about hearth, hospitality, and family of late:
Talking with a friend, as I taught her to spin, about “career housewifery” and how some people are happiest and most fulfilled when their paid work is, at most, part-time and, frequently, piecework or casual hours.
Talking with my mom about both my sister’s new baby and my (and my wife’s) new, recently-relocated girlfriend and realizing that my mom is handling the reality of my polyamoury really quite well.
Understanding, more and more, how much hospitality matters to me, how much it feeds me on an emotional, heart-and-soul level, as well as how much it touches on, and overlaps with, my faith and what, in turn, that means in terms of being welcoming and offering people my spare bed to sleep on, whether or not I necessarily want to hang with them for the next 72 hours, or whatever. All that stuff from The Oddyssey, where you invite someone[1] in, feed them a really good meal, and then get around to “So, who are you, anyway?” that’s really relevant here.
 
So much of my day-to-day work/Work is… care-taking. The sheer weight of gratitude when my girfriend gets the interview, my friends (plural) come out of their surgeries safely, my brother gets to change streams, my extended fam gets to keep its reunion for another year. That my devotional candles include my gods, my ancestors, and one dedicated to “family and friends” – to my leather/glitter family close and distant. That the garden I plant, that is connected to and is-flat-out my gods (Misha, Mattaer, in particular), that connects me to my farming (and primarily maternal, though paternal too) ancestors, that I harvest with feeding The Multitude in mind, that it was built by that family (the soil, the bedframes, even some of the plants). That the garden I planted for beauty and the bees is made up almost exculsively of plants given to me by glitter-fam, wine-kin, leather-crew.
 

“Masha, my own, my littlest sister,” the matron called down. “Take this with you.”
She bit off her yarn in her teeth and tossed the red ball to Marya, who caught it and squeezed it like fruit at the market. The yarn was softer than any wool, expertly spun, thick.
“It will always lead you back, to your country, to your home. I make all my children’s stockings with the stuff, so they will know how to come home[…]”
Deathless (Catherynne M. Valente)

 
A million years ago (AKA 2004), in an entirely different house and an entirely different life, or close to it, I commented to one of my witchy friends who’d come for Summer Solstice (a week after I’d moved in) that my religion is garden-kitchen-table religion. It’s the feasting and the feeding, the communion of wine-and-weeding, weekly brunches in untidy homes because family doesn’t care about the mess; of potluck feasting and gifted jars of fruit-butter; of “I can stretch dinner for an extra person” and “Ye gods, please take this bag of zucchini/rhubarb/mint/tomatoes off my hands”. It’s the holiness, and wholeness, that are passed hand-to-hand along with the gravy, the green beans, the goodie bags. It’s the protections stirred into the soup, spun into the yarn, sewn into the patches. Every stitch to keep you safe and bring you home again.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] And, yes, there’s a bit of a “vetting process” as to whom you invite in. In the case of Ancient Greek Nobility, it was “Does he [always he] own his own his own warship? If yes, clearly he’s The Right Sort.” But it’s just as easily understood as Bear’s “shaking the queer tree” method of couch-surfing and finding couches for others to surf based on having a friend in common, wherein said friend’s existence is a tacit approval of both the person who needs the couch and the person who has one available.

Clearly You Need To Know What I Ate Tonight

So today was a day of sending out job applications and returning library goodies. But I made the time, once the rain had let up (for now – I’m hoping pretty strongly that we get a little more rain overnight) to get all of my glorious, gifted plants into the ground – mostly into the front yard, where the card-board weed-smothering boxes are rotting nicely and doing their job, but are also soft enough to dig through and get to the (mostly clay, rocks, and broken glass) pre-existing soil underneath. Thank you, days of rain, for helping that along! 😀 Into the back yard went garlic chives and apple mint, and I took a few minutes (okay, a good half-hour) to spread the sauce tomatoes out just a little bit and give them some trellises to lean against.
That’s part of why I want the rain. I want the tomatoes to be happy. (Mainly, I admit, so that they produce a tonne of fruit, but hey. Benign self-interest?)
 
But my final garden task for the day – with the possible exception of taking a bucket of water out back and giving the tomatoes a drink – was to trim the rappini (which, given that we’re pushing Summer Solstice around these parts, is definitely starting to bolt) of its flower stalks (AKA “sprouting broccoli” or “broccolini”) and to cut a few bunches of fresh herbs, as well.
 
As you may have guessed, I’m really excited to be eating regularly (maybe even frequently – like: several times per week, so far) from the garden.
I’m also, in an entirely different way, kind of excited – or at least proud of my self – for cooking legumes from for-real scratch. As in: not just lentils, but the kind of (Great Northern, in this case) beans that you have to pre-soak, and that will give you about 3C beans for the price of one, by the time you’re done with them.
 
Partly for Year of the Pig reasons, partly for financial reasons, and partly for various health-related reasons, I’m trying to incorporate more beans-and-grains dishes into what we eat. Sometimes this means that the grain in “served on a bed of _________” becomes a mix of grain and short-cooking legumes (usually black lentils and pot barley, sometimes quinoa or white basmatic rice + red lentils) done in bone-stock, and that lets me “get away with” using half a cup of left-over roast rabbit/chicken/pork for the “meat” part of the dish without scrimping on the protein in a dish for 3+ people. Other times it’s less about being “sneaky” and more about just doing a vegetarian (ish – I do tend to cook my grains in bone stock, so…) dish for the sake of expedience and/or keeping the heat out of the house.
This was the case with tonight’s dinner.
 
Ingredients from the garden:
Sprouting Broccoli / Rappini
Greek Oregano
Sage (lots)
Basil
Winter Savory
Vietnamese Garlic greens
 
The rest:
A few stalks of asparagus (foodland Ontario for the win – I still have about half a pound of the stuff in the fridge)
Red quinoa (from somewhere south of the equator, I’m sure) + Great Northern Beans (from Saskatchewan) cooked in home-made bone-stock a couple of days ago
Black “beluga” lentils (likewise from Saskatchewan)
Dried cranberries (from California, no doubt)
Black pepper, prepared Dijon mustard, pinch of salt, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, a hint of maple syrup, and a pinch of nutmeg
 
 
I steamed the garden stuff while the lentils cooked (meaning: during the last 10 minutes of the lentils cooking), then tossed everything together in a bowl and mixed it until I couldn’t see any streaks of mustard anywhere.
It made enough for two adults plus one lunch, but we managed to get it to stretch to three (slightly smaller) adult-sized meals (plus one lunch) with the addition of a little more raw asparagus. If I’d really wanted to, I could have thrown in some of my (few) remaining walnuts and/or a few raw pumpkin seeds as well. That might have been a good idea. I find myself craving toast or some other munchable thing to fill in the gaps.
 
The salad came out tasty, just piquant enough (for someone who likes piquant – roughly 1/3 of the green stuff was fresh herbs, plus the mustard and balsamic are heavy hitters in the flavour department as far as I’m concerned) and was enjoyed by all. Had I known that I was going to be feeding three people tonight (woops), I would have cut an extra handful of rappini and made extra black lentils (I started with ¼ C raw black beluga lentils and, in retrospect, would have been better going with upwards of a ½ C of same).
All that being said: Not bad, for a dish that combines “what needs using up” with “what needs pruning”. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

The Year of the Pig – Part 1: The Garden Accompaniment and Some Formal Disclosure

So, in addition to having half a pig – Francis – in the freezer (minus two pounds of bacon – we sent one with our archivist when she moved, as you do), we also have a back yard garden. Which I’ve been yammering about pretty-much endlessly since we put the raised beds together and got the soil trucked in.
See, the other part of this year-long (or however long Francis lasts) adventure in local critter is local veggies. And, yes, we’ve been doing the “eat local, ideally” bit for quite a few years now. I seem to recall blogging about Give Cabbage a Chance back in, what, 2011? And now here I am growing it. Or, rather, growing its relatives: Red Russian Kale, Rappini and, if my guess about the Mystery Greens is correct, either Mustard Greens or Collards (not sure which, don’t entirely care).
In addition to finding out just how much pork my family of rotating adults can eat in one year without getting desperately sick of shoulder roasts, I’m also trying to find out how much food I can produce (and preserve), in my lackadaisical manner, over the course of one growing season.
 
Now, this is not Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the Blogging Version. Although, I kind of hope I wind up with something like that by the end of this. 😉 We’re not growing the vast majority of our (vegetative) food in two cubic yards of trucked-in garden soil. But I do want to see what I can produce in that two cubic yards, both in terms of how long I can stretch the harvest of those cool-weather leafy greens (currently the only harvestable veggies in the garden) and also how much I can produce, primarily through trellising, in the way of winter squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and zucchini (and tomatoes – but that’s a whole other story).
 
I’ve harvested rappini three times, so far, and snipped the greens off some (perennial) Vietnamese garlic maybe twice. This means we’ve had rappini in dinner three times, and Vietnamese garlic in dinner twice. But it also means I have five cups of blanched rappini already frozen for winter use. It doesn’t sound like much. In reality, it’s not much. But it feels like a really good start.
I’m also – because this is the way of things – trying to use up the last of my 2014 preserves. Having spent the winter feeding our Archivist (who has some food allergies), it’s not surprising that what I’ve got lingering just happens to be stuff she can’t eat without getting sick. Now that she’s off and moved, I’m trying to remember to include things like tomato sauce and salsa in our regular meals (her allergy is not to tomatoes, thank goodness, but it’s going to mean some recipe tweaking in a few places).
 
I want to point out – “for the record”, I guess – that I have a fair number of privileges that let me run this kind of experiment. The main one being that I have a tonne of time on my hands. I work casual hours as a model (think 30-40 hrs/month, rather than per week) and otherwise mostly do freelance work from home. A significant part of my “job” is keeping us fed, by hook or by crook, and being able to do so from a pre-paid stockpile of animal protein plus a vegetable garden that’s been set up in good, clean (trucked in) garden-dirt, rather than from dandelion greens and wild grape leaves growing in the lead-contaminated soil of our freeway-adjacent neighbourhood, is kind of a load off my mind. I get that most people – most people who work one or more day-jobs outside their homes, most people who have a bundle of little kids or sick parents or other family members to look after – don’t have that kind of time. And a great many of us, particularly in urban neighbourhoods, don’t have that kind of space, either. It’s all well and good to talk about window-boxes and making sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter, but there is a massive difference in what you can grow – without a lot of know-how or bags of Miracle Grow – in two cubic yards of soil versus in pots that are small enough to fit on a balcony. Having done both, the difference is already staggering, and I’ve only harvested cooking greens so far.
 
So that’s my bit of personal disclosure, in relation to what I’m hoping to learn/grow/create/discover (how many more inspirational words can I tack onto this plan?) over the course of the coming year: I have tonnes of time on my hands. Let’s see if I can’t parlay that into having tonnes of (almost free[1]) food on my hands thanks to growing a garden and preserving what I grow.
 
And, with any luck, the food that I grow will go very nicely with the food that I bought, in the form of Francis (and also a monthly bunny from our Rabbit Lady), not so long ago.
That’s the third part of this experiment. Can I (continue to) use a set collection of fairly specific ingredients – pork, rabbit, broad beans, snap beans, snap peas, various cooking greens, various summer and winter squash-type-creatures, tomatoes, and various herbs – to keep a couple of adults in meals without us going bonkers due to lack of variety?
Only time will tell (but I’ve been pretty good at it, so far).
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] If, by “almost free”, I recognize that I’ve dropped probably $50 in seed-starts and seeds, and considerably more than that on garden soil. I’m aware that, for the next year or three, I’m probably making up in “free” food what I lost by diverting hundreds of dollars of grocery money to the Dirt Fund. Like I probably harvested $6-$8 worth of rappini today. Bringing the total up to about $20 of “free food” that we’ve eaten or preserved from the garden so far. That is less than 10% of the cost of the soil in my garden beds. But if I can keep harvesting rappini – and kale, and chard, and tomatoes and zucchini and winter squash – from my garden, and pull 50 harvests of about that size? I’ll have “paid off” my garden start-up costs in one season.

Full Moon – Lilac Moon Crests

Miraculously, there are lilacs still blooming. The mind boggles. The moon has also reached its fullness for this cycle, and we’re just getting started on the last leg of the trip towards Summer Solstice and the kick-off of Strawberry Moon. And my strawberries are, indeed, starting to set fruit. Not much fruit – they’re rather new, after all – but fruit all the same! 😀
 
Our girl has made her move to Toronto, and is starting to find her feet there. My wife and I are trying to regain our equilibrium without her physical presence and, I admit, it’s hitting both of us a little on the hard side. Thank the gods for text messaging and skype, is all I’m saying. The last time I did long-distance, all I had to work with were long-distance phone calls, and those add up fast. O.O
 
The garden is, for the most part, thriving. My rainbow chard is having Issues, and 3/4 of my cucumber starts have given up the ghost. But everything else seems to be doing quite well. I’ve harvested rappini twice, already, including enough to start freezing some for winter. It’s a weird feeling – equal parts exhilleration and “what planet am I on” to be thinking seriously about the winter food supply a full six months before that’s going to be an issue. But I suppose that’s normal for most of the planet, and most of human history, so I’ll probably get the hang of it eventually.
I can’t help wondering if this is part of how “thinking in spiral time” (as Starhawk might put it) works. Thinking months and months ahead of schedule, planning where you’re likely to be, and what you’re likely to need, based on the corkscrew curl you’ve just come out of, and that patterns of them stretching into the past.
I know it’s been “unusually cold” this past week or so, and I’m wondering if I go back and check my other Lilac Moon posts, if I’ll find similar notes about the state of the thermostat going back three, four years to when I started keeping track of these things. (I know that a frost-threatening cold snap near the beginning of September no-longer comes as a shock… maybe there’ll come a time when this doesn’t, either).
Regardless, I’m hoping to build a trellis in the next week or two, as the squash and beans have all started sprouting, and I’m hopeful that, once the warm weather and sunshine come back, they’ll start growing in earnest and I’ll need that trellis to lift them all up.
 
My front yard has been converted into a (somewhat wilting) flower bed, made up mostly of donations from a couple of specific friends who have tonnes of garden goodies to offload onto anyone who wants them. (I now have wild ginger – which, I gather, you can actually harvest, scrub, grate, and dry in order to use as actual ginger in cooking and baking and such – and hope to be adding ostrich ferns to the perennial bed as well).
 
I only half-regret missing the Witches’ Sabbat. I gather, from a friend who attended, that it was just as awesome as I expected it to be, BUT it also poured down rain all weekend, and I’m kind of glad that I missed out on camping (and dancing, and circling) in a downpour. I gather next year’s theme is “curses and protection” so it’s looking like I’m going to try and get to it in 2016 – useful information, to be sure, plus hey: I now have a “four person” (AKA: 1-2 people and their stuff) dome tent, courtesy of our Archivist, so I’ll have somewhere to sleep if I can’t get a cabin.
 
Having flipped the calendar over to June, it’s time to start shifting little packages of Pig from the chest freezer to the fridge-top freezer, in an effort to make actual use of them and not let an entire half of a pig go to freezer-burn out of neglect. I had the opportunity (I bought 125L of top-soil from a grocery store, which required delivery, so…) to buy up about five months worth of (white) flour the other day, so I’m set on that front. I’m keeping an eye on things like pot barley, and recognizing that I need to plow through my last six cups of bone stock (in the fridge),, if only because – in spite of up-ending 2-3 big bags of bones into my raised beds, all of a month ago – I still have two huge bags of bones taking up space in my freezer, and I need to turn them into stock ASAP. This is what happens when you buy bone-in meat, kids. Bear that in mind…
 
Anyway. I have dinner to make, and a dance-party to hit up in about an hour.
Time for me to get on out of here.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.