Tag Archives: progress reports

May Long Weekend in the Garden – A “Productive Home” Post

So! Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing, and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity. It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
IN THE GARDEN there has been sprouting and there has been planting! Of both seeds and starts! And there has also been (a tiny bit of) harvesting! Because perennial food crops are fantastic!
 
PLANTED:
I picked up some starts from the local Home Hardware (I’m not choosy). Purple basil, peppermint (I seriously managed to kill my peppermint last year – possibly due to drought, or possibly due to poor management – so I’m trying again), Lebanese cucumber, yellow bell pepper, and yellow cherry tomato. I got them in the ground early this afternoon, along with planting some golden zucchini seeds. We’ll see if they come up.
 
I’ve got scarlet runner beans and butternut squash, along with a “perimeter fence” of daikon radish (I’m hoping the long, thick tap-roots that develop will help keep water in, and invasive runner roots out, of the in-ground bed where I grow my cucurbitas and all my nightshades) planted as seeds, and have some probably-butternut squash coming up from compost-seeds already, which is nice. My rainbow chard is popping up all over, and I spent part of this afternoon transplanting it into more orderly rows (yeah, I’m doing rows… ish. I want my chard to have lots of room to get big and gorgeous and start thriving). My kale – which is, in theory, the Tuscan Black variety (Cavalo Nero) – seems to have sprouted, too, which is nice. I’ve been thinning out the self-seeded mustard greens a LOT in order to give the chard and kale some room to grow. Mustard, I’ve decided, makes a lovely “baby green” for salads, but isn’t something I love as a cooking green, partly because it bolts so darned quickly. It makes for decent sprouting broccoli when it bolts, though, so I’ll have to leave some to mature. 😉
 
The as’kebwan’ (sunchokes) are starting to sprout (again – I dug up a bunch earlier, as I needed to get the last of last year’s harvest out of the ground, once it had thawed – they’re great, by the way, and finding their way into a lot of stew and “potato” salad).
I have no idea if my (new to me) raspberry bush is going to flower this year. Or any year. But fingers crossed?
 
READY TO HARVEST / HARVESTED:
I have tonnes of rhubarb (and sage, and winter savoury) ready to harvest. Along with some frozen rhubarb left over from last year. Uhm. So, as I’ve previously mentioned, I need to make some pies. Or at least a Rhubarb Cafloutis or a crumble or shortcake or something. It makes a great coffee cake (I use the recipe in Company’s Coming “Muffins and More” for cranberry coffee cake, and just use diced rhubarb in lieu of cranberries) and, now that I have eggs in the fridge again, I may just go that route as it packs easily for lunches.
 
The sage has been getting picked and chucked into braises, fairly frequently, but I haven’t been doing a whole lot with the savoury. The dandelion greens and Vietnamese garlic (the tops, not the roots) have been getting added to pastas every so often, but (weirdly?) I’m concerned about using them up too quickly (or at least before the garlic starts to scape).
 
OTHER:
I turned the compost (first time!) and edged the in-ground beds (front and back). I’m happy with how the compost is doing. I put stuff like pizza boxes and newspapers in the compost heap in order to add carbon to a pretty “green stuff” heavy heap (at least I think it’s heavy on the green stuff, as it’s mostly spent coffee grounds, old tea bags, egg shells, and veggie ends) and its rotting into oblivion along with everything else, which I assume is a good sign.
Also, there are wriggly worms in the compost (and even in the raised beds!) and the soil in the back yard’s in-ground bed (which, until Wednesday, the compost heap was sitting directly on top of) is dark a relatively easy to turn – unlike the dirt in the rest of the yard, which is pretty compacted and mostly supports stuff with deep tap-roots, like dandelions.
 
 
IN THE KITCHEN there has been baking and fermenting!
 
FERMENTS:
I’m drinking a LOT of kombucha lately. Partly because I’ve been home, sick, this past week, and drinking Lots Of Fluids has been a significant part of the bill, and partly just because it’s hot out now, or reasonably so, and I’m wanting cool bevvies, rather than hot ones (at least when I’m not hacking up a lung. Appetizing, I know). So I’ve been topping up my kombucha bottle a lot more frequently. NOTE: This makes for a less sharp kombucha which, with my love of the sour stuff, isn’t really what I’m going for. It’s still good, it’s just “lighter” than I like. I continue to cut it with a cup or two of lightly sweetened, long-steeped hibiscus (raspberry/pomegranate/etc) tea, as I like how that works out.
 
I’m continuing to make dairy kefir. My wife won’t touch it in terms of using it as a yoghurt substitute, but she likes it fine in baked goods, so I’m using it a lot in pancakes and coffee cake and similar. Even in bread (see below). I’m making Very Small Batches, and hoping I can get back to the stuff I was making in winter, where it would separate really evenly into curds and whey, and I could get super-thick “kefir cheese” (more like yoghurt or sour cream) that way, while using the whey in things like bechemel sauce or briases. Today, I made chocolate popsicles using (1) chocolate chips, (2) coconut milk, and (3) kefir. They probably won’t be solid until tomorrow, but they should be VERY delicious (and not overly sweet, which is a help when you want something refreshing on a hot day) if the liquid mixture is anything to go on.
 
I (finally) drained my sour kraut crock and packed the fermented cabbage (which is crunchy and done, but also salty AF, holy moly…) into some big mason jars and put it in the fridge. Time to start using this stuff on sandwiches. (Conveniently, I have some beet-and-bean spread sitting in the fridge that will work really nicely with this).
 
Speaking of sandwiches… I tried making a sour dough starter. It.. was not that? successful?
I separated out into Kinda Brown Water on top, and sludge on the bottom. Except, when I drained off the water, it was actually pretty bubbly and fermented-looking. So… It sort of worked? Maybe?
Basically, I poured the entire ferment into my most recent batch of bread, along with 2tsp of dry yeast, so while it was doing its thing, I don’t actually know if it was lively enough to lift a whole new batch of dough.
Yeah.
I’m learning to make sour dough from books like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and I’m not too quick on the uptake. I don’t usually (yet) start making my bread dough the night before I actually want to bake it, and I’m realizing that if I want to do sour dough, that’s how it’s going to go. Or else I’m going to be starting the chef – like maybe making a chef from equal parts kefir and flour and water, which I’ve done, but am not entirely sure about (my wife liked it. I wasn’t too keen on the texture, which was a lot denser than I’m used to, but it was flavourful and made an acceptable sandwich, so it did the job) – at breakfast, and baking the bread after dinner. This is, by the looks of things, a bit of a slower process than the “only takes 2 hours” version using dry yeast woken up in sweetened warm water. So we’ll see. I’d like to keep this up, just because it would be nice to not need the dry yeast, eventually. But, for now, I’m really glad I have some on hand.
 
BAKING:
The entirety of this week’s baking has been the above-mentioned bread and rhubarb coffee cake. There are a couple of chicken legs baking in the oven right now – although that’s more like a “confit de poulet” than a “baked goods” kind of thing. It’ll be dinner along with some left-over potato salad (not made with sunchokes, or even at home, but left over from a catered lunch at a place where I was temping) and some wilted greens (as in: dandelions and garlic greens. I want that sorrel to successfully germinate even more now… Hm… a little lovage wouldn’t hurt, either…). Big Plans for this weekend include a new batch of bread (made with dry yeast, I have zero doubt), a further rhubarb Thing (maybe muffins), and cookies or cornbread. Probably not both.
 
 
GENERAL HOUSEHOLD STUFF:
Put together a care-package for someone who helped do the C-16 rally on Parliament Hill the other day. (Pasta, crushed tomatoes, salsa, tinned tuna, tinned soup, and 2L of pumpkin-coconut-lentil stew that I made with the stuff I had lying around).
I haven’t been gleaning a lot yet this year. I’ve got dandelions growing in my raised beds, so we’re just harvesting them like any other intentional crop. The the local fruit trees (my favourite cherry, plus tonnes of serviceberries) will be fruiting in about six weeks, and so will the red currants, and I’ve been watching their progress with GREAT interest. (The alley raspberries are about to flower, though they’ll take a little bit longer to fruit). I’m hoping the garden will keep us happily in greens all summer (and fall, and into the early winter…) with lots to spare for the freezer, so I’m not worrying too much about foraging for wild greens right now.
Went grocery shopping! I’ve been on “milk and eggs only” for 3-4 weeks, after a fairly lean winter. We’ve run out of a few things that I’ve been putting off replacing. It’s really nice to have cooking oil, mustard, mayonnaise, chocolate chips, and a bunch of other “not 100% necessary” things again. Plus I bought chicken. 7 chicken legs for $10. I have no idea if that’s a good price or not, but I’m really happy to have 3 meals for two + a chicken leg for some evening when I’m on my own over here, sorted as the greens start to come in. There’s still a lot of dry-goods to replace (particularly flour, but also honey and some basic baking things), and I want to re-stock on chicken and fish in one big go, though I suspect that will happen at Costco or similar, rather than ordering another half a pig. (Yet. We’re still finishing our first one). We’ve got a gallon of maple syrup due to arrive some time this coming week, which I’m looking forward to. I want to try using it more frequently in my baking.
As per usual, I’ve been offering the first slice of every new batch of bread to my gods and ancestors + Anybody local who wants to partake. Now that I’ve got the compost turned (and regularly watered – thanks to the neighbours who are okay with me using their hose), I can use it as an offering place for more stuff, should I happen to have it. The compost heap makes a great offering altar, just because it’s got All The Things in it – heat and wetness, earth and air, and movement, and change, all going on at once. If I manage to successfully make mead (hello, summer fermenting project), some of it will be going in there.
We turned the heat off. (Technically this happened a week ago, but close enough). It’s been wonderful to sleep with the windows open again!
I moved the fig tree outside. My landlord’s husband and I stood outside, drinking coffee and chatting about gardening. He said the fig tree needs a bigger pot (again), and that going around the edges with a big knife will help keep it from becoming root-bound. Which, admittedly, it might already be. But… we’ll see. It’s not technically ours, we’ve just been babysitting it for two years.
 
ANYWAY. That’s the state of the garden and the rest of the household for the moment.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

New Year New You 2016: Week 18 – Body Time + Taking Stock

I’m doing Miss Sugar’s New Year New You Experiment in Radical Magical Transformation (again) because I find it’s a really good way to kick my own ass into getting things done. You should try it!
 
Instructions: “Do I think you need to know how to quiet your mind and focus to do magic? Yes!” So, take a minute to empty the “old crap” out of your brain, so there’s “room to let new crap in”.
 
Tarot Card: For this prompt, I’m strongly inclined to go with Temperence, given its connotations of balance, of pause and reflect, of integration. But I could have just as easily gone with The Hanged Man with its connotations of edges, of new perspectives, even night vision (king of insight…), the clarity that can come from taking a minute to look at things from all angles, to wait and see. Likewise, the Seven of Earth – the suit of embodiment, its number linked to both hope (the Star) and action (the Chariot) – that urges us to look at what we’ve accomplished while reminding us that change takes time would also be an appropriate choice.
 
So someone (Parneet from Chai Chats, iirc) once very effectively explained meditation as “This is not Mind Time. This is Body Time”. Like, rather than focusing on Emptying Your Mind, the whole point of meditation (sitting quietly style meditation) is to check in with your body and connect with yourself physically. That’s what the whole “focus on your breath” thing is about.
Me? I spend a HUGE amount of my life in Mind Time. Hours and hours spent sifting through thoughts and cognitive patterns, dealing with a lymbic system that is sometimes No Help At All and trying to forge new habits and pathways by rote and force of Will… But Brene says “We move what we know from our heads to our hearts through our hands” and so Body Time is a needed thing, as well.
 
Body Time is hours spent making thumbprint shortbread cookies and vegan ginger snaps. It’s the repetitive work of chopping food for large-batch cooking and canning, and the over-under-around-and-through of knitting a shrug worth of garter stitch, the back-and-forth of weaving, the twist-and-fling of spinning on a drop spindle. All those “stimming” things that keep me level and calm and focused when anxiety and ambient noise are threatening to carry me away.
Body Time is pausing to feel my feet, set my roots down into the ground, it’s taking a minute to breath extra deep, into the spots in my hips that aren’t always there, all the way down into my shins, to feel with my whole body. It’s doing a little shoulder-focused dance to help my spine straighten and my stiff, aching lower-back muscles loosen up.
Body Time is letting myself enjoy a kiss, lean into a touch, feel everything all the way down rather than shying away from sensation. It’s paying attention to sensation, to wants and desires that show up physically, adding new techniques to the tool kit of Things That Help Me Stay and then actually using them when I need them.
 
Body Time is, to be honest, still a work in progress, but it’s getting easier. Some days, the part of my brain that insists that experiencing desire is, in and of itself, monstrous, something to be ashamed of, something that it’s abusive and wrong to even voice… some days, that part of me still does the driving. Although I’m getting a little better at wrestling the keys back and feeling my way into my own frame again.
I have made progress on this front.
I am having an easier time recognizing that I’m loved and cared for. I’m having an easier time holding two hard, sad things in my hands at once while still continuing to actually move forward. My year-at-a-glance horoscope for 2017 includes the phrase “happiness is an inside job” which… on the one hand: Duh. On the other hand: This suggests that I’ll be working on “How to get to Happy” for a little while longer. But there’s been movement. I feel like I’m part-way up the mountain and, while I’m not there yet, if I stop for a minute and take a damn breath, I can look behind me and see that I’ve actually gone a fair ways so far. This is good. I’m not quite at the Queen of Cups “end goal” of my project, more like a conscious embodiment of the Page of Cups while still trying to navigate the Knight of Cups‘ characteristics in a way that includes good boundaries and self-compassionate caution instead of EITHER “flinging myself off a cliff” (the eyes-wide-shut Relentless Hope that is sometimes part of the Three of Fire) in the name of “earning” the love and belonging one craves OR the kind of walled-up paranoia that can lead one to freezing everybody out and being lonely and hungry all the time (the emotional equivalent of the Four of Earth).
Fingers crossed that I can pull this off. ❤

Full Moon – Long Nights Moon Crests

So… People – like alive-human people and non-human/non-corporial people, have been looking out for me.
 
I’m saying “me” rather than “us” because my lovely wife’s Big Client is still a bit up in the air with setbacks and deliveries that aren’t delivered yet, and we will basically have two weeks or less to make 600 units all by hand (I fear I will need wrist braces by January 1st as a result of this, send halp), provided all the components arrive by Saturday. Which is… not guaranteed. :-\ Me, on the other hand? I went from having three bookings in December to having a couple of weeks (cumulatively, not all in one go) of work. Hallelujah! People have been feeding me – bringing little boxes of hors d’oeuvres to the house, or calling me up to let me know about the restaurant nearby who is giving away boxes of frozen smoked-chicken bones for stock-making, or dropping off a bottle of wine “for you and the missus” or a giant plate of free lunch + dessert at the desk where I’m temping for the day – all week. It’s been a lovely reminder of “You’re taken care of”. (Thanks, Everybody).
 
There is a crow who has started hanging out a little more directly in our back yard (compost offerings – because I actually did get off my ass and build a compost heap a week or two ago – for the win, basically). We are thinking of doing marinated chicken hearts on skewers – think balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and a little oil – and leaving one out for the People as an offering. I suspect it will go over well.
 
I have sorted out how to get the kefir to do what I Want (stir well, once a day, for 3 days, then seal and let sit overnight. Voila! Well-separated kefir curds and whey). I’ve been draining off the whey and using it to make cakes and pancakes and similar, and have been straining the curds through a plastic strainer and using it in place of chevre (it’s a little less crumbly / more spreadable than chevre, but that’s a feature, not a bug, from my perspective). I’ve stirred it into borscht (my poor wife – she can smell the ferment, but the taste is all “milk gone off” to her palate) and will be blending a bunch with some salt, rosemary, and oregano, to offer as “cheese spread” at our Winter Solstice shindig this year. The sour kraut is still waaaay (ha! “whey”) more salty than sour, but the sunchoke/as’kebwan’ pickles… seem to be doing… something appropriate (we’ll try them again in a week).
 
I said, in my previous Lunar Cycles post, that my goals for this cycle included:
 

Be patient with myself, but don’t stop making progress;
Practice being kind to myself, while recognizing that “being kind” is a very different thing from “being an enabler” (Be My Own Mommy, as I once said to a friend who needed a fresh set of eyes on a tarot spread she’d done for herself);
Do the things that make me happy: knit/weave/sew, cook/preserve/ferment/bake, keep writing poetry, take baths and read novels and light my altars on the regular, spend time with the people I care about… You know, all the good stuff.

 
…And, while I’ve managed to make myself feed myself well – lentil soup is kind of a life-saver for that. It takes 20 minutes, and it’s Real Food TM, and comfort food on top of that – it occurred to me, this morning, that I am maybe not being all that kind to myself. All that horoscope stuff, from a couple of weeks back, about reaching out for support when I need it was kind of brought home today.
I’d asked a friend if she was okay listening to me talk (again) about stuff that’s eating my brain (again) and whether or not she might want a break from that, and I didn’t hear from her for a couple of days, and I was all set to send an apology note saying Never Mind, basically, and she phoned me and told me that I can always talk to her about anything, and that she loves me a whole bunch, and seriously… I was sitting on my couch, just about in tears, because I’d thought I’d been asking too much and I hadn’t been at all. O.O It brought me right back to all that stuff I said about “notions of whether or not I ‘deserve’ help/kindness/rest/pleasure/care in the first place”.
It’s mind-boggling, when I actually think about it, how much my own version of “self care” looks more like the kind of “tough love” that’s enforced with a hammer.
 
I have a weird relationship to my own desire. This is something I should probably expand upon in a post on Syrens (I’ll write it, eventually), but the short version is that, while on some level I do understand that it’s okay to want things, to want people, to say what I want, etc, etc, there’s a significant part of my brain – one that has easy access to the proverbial car keys, so to speak – that is very, VERY convinced that none of that is okay at all and… I’m not sure what to do about that. Especially when so much of what I try to do about that falls the fuck apart when it bumps up against someone else’s triggers or traumas (we are all the walking wounded on this bus, basically. By and large, I think that’s a feature, because we’re actually willing to talk about that stuff, but, holy moly, can we ever hurt each other by accident…)
My not-so-secret secrets are sending me a million “are you sure about this” messages. My heart hurts and don’t even know what the Right Thing to do actually is.
 
I stepped outside, just for a minute, last night to look at that big, bright full moon, the one I made promises on, 50 weeks ago, a year ago. I’m still not done all of the writing prompts and, at this point, it’s going to extend into 2017. I can live with that. It feels like there’s still a long way to go.
 
 
~*~
 
Motion: I have not been doing a lot of motion these days. It’s winter, and on top of that, I’m broke. Going to a dance or to the swimming pool, is… slightly more expensive than I can handle right now. $5 is slightly more than I can handle right now. I’ve been walking to temp bookings, and friend-dates, for a significant chunk of the past two weeks, and that’s been great. I haven’t had to take the bus (I will be, tomorrow), and I’ve been getting 40-60 minutes of walking time in, most days. I had a tiny dance party (to this) in my kitchen. But I have mostly been hunkering down in my bed/bath/chair and trying not to go outside if I don’t have to. That said? I am also noticing that I am getting physically stronger – more upper-body strength and more arm-strength and that, at least, is pretty great. 🙂
 
Attention: I have been digging through my own brain. Again. Trying to sort through some reoccurring feelings. They’re still there. I’m not sure what to do with them. They’re not surprising(and that’s kind of a piss-off), but at least the cycle of working through them is taking a couple of days,rather than a couple of week s(or a couple of months). I’m sort of hoping that this bodes well for getting to the point where, when Those Feelings come up for me, I can be like “Oh, hey, Those Feelings. I see you’re back. It’s okay that you’re back. Although I need to point out This Thing and This Other Thing. Remember those? Those are still relevant and also true. remember? Yes? Okay, great. Good talk, everybody” in… a couple of hours or, even better, couple of minutes or seconds. That would be really, really great. Getting there? I think I’m getting there.
 
Gratitude: All the free food I’ve been given this week. For the onions that a friend, who has too many onions, is willing to off-load into my fridge (and who also had a word with me about how Lefty People who train themselves to be aware of privilege often pull towards “It could be SO much , worse” to avoid acknowledging that the situation they – or, in this case, I – are in? Still really, legitimately sucks). For the salmon hors d’oeuvres from another friend, which will grace my Winter Solstice table. For the two friends who, separately, made sure I knew that the cafe up the street was giving away soup bones for free. For the friend who bought me a sandwich and spent an hour catching up with me. For the friend who treated me to sushi and an hour of her company, yacking about writing. For the friend who asked if I’d proof-read the magical elements of their book manuscript (long distance, this time) for realism. For the wife (of four years, next week!) who slow-danced with me to our wedding song in the living room. For the twitter conversation about “stimming” and autism coping mechanisms that made me wonder (again) about the make-up of my own brain. For the friend who told me that I deserve happiness and to love myself. For the friend who called me, early on Wednesday morning, to tell me formally that I can talk to her about anything, that she loves me, that it’s not “too much” to ask for support. (Seriously, I just about cried).
 
Inspiration: Well, there’s this. Also, I’ve been given Book Recommendations for YA novels, and I’m looking forard to hunting those up. 🙂 Whee! 😀
 
Creation: I made a really cute toy owl for my nephew! Their name is Twilight, and they are various shades of blue with pink accents! The nephew in question is going to be two in April, and will be becoming a Big Sibling in mid-February, and I was thinking that it was probably a good time to introduce a nocturnal buddy who likes to hear about dreams (and scary things, and things you don’t think you can talk about with your parents). I’m really pleased with Twilight. 😀 My wife is suggesting that I make similar stuffed toys to look like our three birds. It might happen. Probably not this year, though. 😉

New Year New You 2016: Weeks 14 & 15 – Searching for a Sign + One Small Step and Then One More

I’m doing Miss Sugar’s New Year New You Experiment in Radical Magical Transformation (again) because I find it’s a really good way to kick my own ass into getting things done. You should try it!
 
Instructions: “Now would be a good time to check in with your personal Powers That Be (PTB) about your goals. […] How do your PTB’s advice change your approach to your goals?” PLUS “We’ve spent a few more weeks thinking, planning, and doing magic. Now it’s time to return to the task at hand: doing the work necessary to accomplish our goals.”.
 
Tarot Cards: Eight of Vessels (Week 14) + Two of Earth (Week 15).
 
So. I spent the past month-and-a-bit avoiding my tarot cards. A mixture of being afraid of what they’d tell me and being afraid of how I’d mis/read things (the stories in our heads are frequently how we interpret readings for ourselves, and it’s easy to read worst-case scenarios AND wishful-thinking daydreams into what the cards have to say).
None the less, messages have a way of getting through.
A huge part of the Queen of Cups Project has been, basically, answering the question of “How do I get to Happy?” Miss Sugar talks, occasionally, about Radiomancy – the practice of seeing what pops up when you spin the dial, put your playlist on shuffle, or otherwise just see what songs are screaming at you from the airwaves.
I’ve been getting these two a lot. Plus this came across my desk this morning.
Gosh, do you think someone is trying to tell me something?
>.>
 
Yeah.
 
My Eight of Water story is, basically, “Gotta let this one go. No fixing it. Time to start again. Put your energy somewhere else” like, say, feeding your whale heart and nurturing relationships with people who actually care about you. Combine that with all the “Femme Emotional Labour” and “Trojan Horse Boundary Crossing” stories I’ve been getting linked to, of late (or, y’know, all freaking year…) and, yeah. The Eight of Blooms (top, right) is the pearl found (at last?) after going through a lot of oysters. All those discarded heart and vulva shapes ringing a treasure found by moonlight, by shining a light on all my old patterns and assumptions. The “rebirth” of the Eight of Vessels is a reminder that there will be other chances, that it’s hard to be happy when you’re fussing over every little thing in order to “make” yourself worthy in the eyes of someone who, when you get right down to it, messed with your head and took advantage of you, no matter how much of a compassionate lens you can view that through.
 
So that’s the information I’ve been getting.
 
How does that translate into One Small Thing I can do to push towards my goal?
My Queen of Cups goal has been to become more receptive, to understand that I’m actually loveable and worthy rather than just some fuck-up who has too much privilege and too much monster-brain to warrant being cared for without having to seriously earn that stuff. So…
I mentioned feeding my “whale heart”. That’s a Life Coaching thing, my “new Way of being/operating” that is self-compassionate, and doesn’t truck with people who won’t step up to meet her needs the way she steps up to meet theirs. The one small thing, the moment-to-moment practical thing I can do to feed my Whale Heart is to practice being kind to myself and doing what’s actually good for me.
Yes, it’s totally a challenge – I’m something of what Nydia Dauphin calls a “high functioning self-neglector”. Way more likely to make food if I’m feeding someone other than myself. Way more likely to swallow the worst of my feelings and focus on others than make them listen to me whine (uh… this entire blog notwithstanding…) – but it’s also necessary. So. Things I can do right now along those lines?
 
Start the latest batch of stock + process a bunch of sunchokes/as’kebwan’ for the freezer. This will make it easier for me to make meals later on.
 
Put dinner in the oven (I dug through my meat bin, in the freezer, and pulled out a tiny roast. This, with some sunchokes/as’kebwan’ will be a good start to dinner. I can throw in some frozen veggies or pickled beets and sour kraut (if they’re ready) for veggie content) and make myself Real Food instead snacking on crackers until my wife gets home to start cooking. It’s not quite making Real Food For Just Me, but it’s a step in that direction.
 
Bake something (probably soda bread and/or brownies using whey and/or Gone Off Milk). This will be creative, plus it will mean easy go-to food available for lunches and snacks over the next few days. It will also clean out the fridge a bit, which won’t hurt.
 
Do 10 minutes of yoga (child’s pose, plank, tree, warrior pose in one direction, Goddess pose, warrior pose in the opposite direction, downward dog, heart-melting pose, child’s pose again), possibly while humming. This will work my body, strengthen my arms and my core (good for my back), remind me to make music and let me move energy through my body.
 
Start anointing my heart chakra with “Unveiled” – a limited edition perfume/magical oil that Miss Sugar made, years ago – to help me see what I usually can’t/won’t see, the bad stuff I wish wasn’t there, but also the good stuff that I’m too prone to ignoring or refusing to allow in.
 
Wish me luck!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

New Moon – Long Nights Moon Begins (Looking for Patterns, Setting Intentions)

Welp. It’s freezing rain today.
It had to happen some time.
There’s snow on the ground, though it’s been hovering around Freezing for days, and a lot of it has melted. I have sunchokes and pumpkin to process for the freezer (today, ideally),and more sun-chokes in the garden that I hope (uh…) I’ll have the chance to dig up before the ground freezes solid. (Note: If it does freeze solid, they’re not going to be hurt by staying in the ground all winter and getting dug up for fresh veggies in early April or something. It would just be nice to have them available sooner than that). I have kombucha, sour kraut, kefir, and lacto-fermented sun-choke pickles all doing their thing on my “fermentation shelf” (AKA: the top of the chest freezer). The sun is noticeably heading towards Already Set, Doll by 3:30 in the afternoon (so, y’know, about 2 hours from now), even if it isn’t actually Full Dark By Four PM yet… but it’s coming.
 
A lot of my horoscopes have been talking about money, lately. Money, value, blocking myself from Getting What I Really Want, making sure I get paid for what I do, stuff like that. The rest have all been about Self Care, topping up my metaphorical/spiritual larder, reminders not to be All Things To All People all the time and about how “self care” isn’t just about pleasure (though pleasure is important!) it’s also about things like “asking for help when you need it” and “being vulnerable and telling people stuff they don’t want to hear (like “no”)” and “taking Actual Care of your body, by feeding yourself, doing your physio, and bathing”.
Radiomancy is another story, and I will talk about that in a post of its own, but that’s been happening, too.
 
My wife and I have both been self-employed for three years now. (I was self-employed for another two years before that, but now it’s both of us). The lunar cycle overlaps Winter Solstice is not generally an easy time for us. There’s emotional stuff, old traumas starting to holler and the work of pushing back against all those meta-naratives (accurate or otherwise) that our families-of-origin like us least, are happier spending The Holidays without the low-income, queer-A-F, freaky people around. But, money-wise, it’s difficult, too. My main source of income is modeling. At schools. All-of-which are in exams starting in about 10 days. Some Decembers, my wife is up to her eyeballs in custom leather gift-orders, and other years… crickets? and she never knows what that’s going to be until it happens. Things will probably be fine. But right now? They’re feeling kind of dicey. I’m wondering how many family members will Hate Me For Ever if I fail to send them xmas presents. Wondering what kind of solstice party I can throw on no money and all-home-made food[1].
 
It’s not all doom and gloom around here, mind you.
I have gorgeous new cookbooks (Batch, by the couple who run Well Preserved, and A Taste of Haida Gwaii: Food Gathering and Feasting at the Edge of the World by Canadian poet Susan Musgrave – the latter of which is almost more like a memoir told through recipes) to pour over, budding friendships (and old ones <3) to nurture, a wife to laugh with, and paycheques coming in (hurrah) for the past few weeks of modeling work.
 
Long Nights Moon is all about sorting through things and finding patterns. (And we humans just looooove finding patterns!) As Mecca said, on Twitter, the other day: If Scorpio Season is all about digging secrets out of the muck and dragging them up to the surface, then Saggitarius Season is about shining a flashlight on that stuff, rather than sweeping it all back under the rug. Yes, for sure, there are frequently riches hidden in that muck. But there’s also a lot of crap to be thrown out, or otherwise composted into something better. (Which, P.S..? I still don’t have a compost heap in my back yard. After two years in this house… Hm… Time to get on that, I think…)
I’ve been avoiding my tarot cards for a month or more – for pretty-much all of Scorpio Season (didn’t even do a birthday reading for myself) – afraid of what they’d tell me. Well. Messages come through in other ways, but I think it’s time for some confirmation. Time to pick that deck (those decks…) up again, and see what stories they can tell.
 
Some of my secrets… aren’t really secrets. They’re just another step in the long (longer than I like) process of having to come to terms, over and over, with letting things (and occasionally people) go. But others are… news-and-not-news to me. Finding out exactly why I have such a problem with being told to Do Your Self-Care, and how much that relates to (internalized?) ableism, and notions of whether or not I “deserve” help/kindness/rest/pleasure/care in the first place. The difficulties I have with self-compassion. The fears that are still living under my skin, as much as I’m trying to repair them.
 
Goals for this lunar cycle:
Be patient with myself, but don’t stop making progress;
Practice being kind to myself, while recognizing that “being kind” is a very different thing from “being an enabler” (Be My Own Mommy, as I once said to a friend who needed a fresh set of eyes on a tarot spread she’d done for herself);
Do the things that make me happy: knit/weave/sew, cook/preserve/ferment/bake, keep writing poetry, take baths and read novels and light my altars on the regular, spend time with the people I care about… You know, all the good stuff. 😉
 
What intentions/goals are you setting during this New Moon around How To Deal with the secrets you’ve learned about yourself? What are you deliberately shining a light on? (What’s that thing out of The Omnivore’s Dilema? “No better disinfectant than fresh air and sunshine”? Or, as Brene Brown puts it: “Shame can’t thrive without secrecy”).
 
 
~*~
 
 
Motion: I am getting stronger. I can still only do Plank for one minute at a time, but I can do it starting from my toes, rather than from my knees, which is a big improvement. I can see muscle developing in my arms, which is exciting. I’m taking the bus more often, these days, but still get out to walk a fair bit. There’s a dance coming up in a little less than a week, and I’m looking forward to it.
 
Attention: Pulling the threads of this year’s Learning Process together, noticing the stuff that keeps popping up on my radar and trying to braid it all together.
 
Gratitude: I am SO FUCKING GRATEFUL for my larder (link actually goes to someone else’s post about their larder, but the concepts she’s discussing are ones I try to work with). My months worth of flour, oil, sugars, frozen veggies, jars of jam and fruit butter, crushed tomatoes, bags of lentils, dry beans, pasta, and grains, the kombucha that can be used as lemonade or vinegar depending on how I want to mix things. The only groceries on my Must Buy list (er… right now) are milk, eggs, and coffee, and that should stay the case for at least another couple of weeks (toilet paper will eventually be on there, too). We would be in a lot of trouble if didn’t kitchen really well-stocked with stuff that we actually eat (and that I actually know how to prepare). Also grateful for: Friends who check in with me about how I’m doing, send me Hello notes on FB or through email, tell me they miss me. For a wife who loves me to bits. For other friends who tell my why they never got back to me about The Thing and, as such, put my weasel-brain to rest on the subject of “did I do something wrong”. For parties. For dancing. For the little blue bird who chirps at me all day (and, okay, fine, for the other two birds as well, who are totally napping right now). For clean sheets to snuggle under. For gentle temperatures as the dark sets in. For my mom, who has offered to buy us a bed for our guest-room as an xmas present (Which is pretty amazing, I have to say). For friends who get as excited about pickling and knitting and so-on as I do. 🙂 Lots and lots of good things in my life.
 
Inspiration: All of those above-mentioned friends who like to pickle and preserve and ferment in their kitchens. ❤
 
Creation: Wrote three new (drafts of) poems! The plan is to take myself somewhere (most likely the dining room table) and write some more poems today! I’ve been working on my latest weaving project. In fits and stars, yes, but still! Weaving! I’ve also been poking through my fabric stash and seeing what I’ve got in there that I can use to make presents for people (shift dresses, vibrantly-patterned neck ties, fancy handbags) using what I already have.
 
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Honestly, a pretty good. I’ve done it a few times before. But it’s really nice to be able to bank on having a budget for cheese and wine and non-home-made crackers to top things up. Right now (almost a month in advance, I realize) the menu looks like:
Garlicky Hummus
Red Lentil Dip (with nutritional yeast & dried tomatoes, among other things)
Kefir-cheese spread with herbs (probably rosemary, basil, and thyme)
Chokecherry chutney (AKA plum relish, as you will)
Bread, possibly baked in a round pan and torn up so it looks Fancy-Rustic
Crackers?
Lacto-fermented sunchoke pickles
Vinegar-pickled beets (from a friend)
Tomato-Peach salsa?
Creton (a Quebecois spread made with ground pork, cream, onion, garlic, and tortiere spices)
Various Cookies (we’ll see if I have butter to do shortbread, but I can do ginger snaps and other goodies)
Chocolate bark with walnuts and apricots/cherries
Mint-chocolate cupcakes OR wacky cake?
Kombucha
Raspberry Ginger Peach “friendship tea” (you make tea on the stove with whole spices thrown in)

Adventures in Cheese-Making, Part Five: Kefir (this time with kefir grains!)

So I’ve started making kefir.
Kefir isn’t technically a cheese (although, strictly speaking, none of the cultured dairy I’ve made, including the ricotta, has been “cheese” because none of it has involved any kind of rennet? Who knows), but it is a cultured milk product that is vaguely related to yoghurt, so I’m putting it under this heading.
Why Kefir? My wife, who is generally not a fan of anything less cheese-like than old cheddar or a fairly firm blue, asked me this the other day. It is, after all, basically just milk that’s Gone Off in a very specific way. Here’s (essentially – I’ve expanded it a little bit) what I told her:
 

So, I love yoghurt. I love it on pancakes. I love using it instead of sour milk to make coffee cakes and muffins and stuff. I love it as a base for a creamy salad dressing for winter veggies[1]. I love it with maple syrup and frozen service berries as a breakfast. It’s fantastic. It’s also expensive as fuck. Plain yoghurt that isn’t full of thickeners, but also isn’t Organic, runs about $3/kg. A kilogram of yoghurt, at my house, lasts about 2 days, if I use it as a breakfast food. Longer if I use it as a topping or a dressing, but it’s primarily a protein source and major meal component, when I have my druthers. I’m not down for spending $10 a week on yoghurt. But I’m buying a $6 gallon of milk every week anyway and, over the summer, I was having about 1L of every gallon go bad on me. So I thought: Why don’t I make yoghurt?
Except that, every time I try to make yoghurt[4] all I get is a skiff of yoghurt floating on top of a litre+ of whey. Not helpful. That, or I thicken the milk with powdered milk (not cheap) which gets me yoghurt, yes, but it gets me chalky yoghurt that I don’t want to eat as a breakfast food.
So I decided to look up mesophilic[5] dairy cultures and try my hand at those.

 
And try, I did!
My first attempt was actually using powdered “kefir starter” which… works. Ish. But the kefir I got wasn’t very thick. Basically, a powdered starter will only ferment the milk up to a certain point, and that point was a little runnier / more watery than I liked.
But then! A friend of mine arrived at my birthday party (about 2 weeks ago) bearing a jar of milk for me. Floating in the milk were a few tablespoons of kefir grains happily getting their ferment on. 😀
Woohoo!
So, as they say, it was on. I set the jar down on top of my chest freezer (warm, out of direct light, not likely to get knocked over) and let it do its thing for a few days. The kefir grains did their job fantastically (maybe too fantastically?) and I wound up over-fermenting things just a little bit.
This isn’t the end of the world, especially if you’re wanting thick kefir to begin with, but it did mean that – after I poured off most of the whey (kefir totally separates into curds and whey, fyi – it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong, that’s normal and your kefir is okay) – I actually had trouble separating the curds, which I wanted to use in lieu of chevre, from the kefir grains (which you have to strain out, so that you can ferment more milk).
 
Kefir grains, by the way, are a SCOBY. They’re like the weird jellyfish/pancake thing that develops in, and creates, kombucha, but rather than being a jellyfish/pancake, a kefir SCOBY is dozens (or more!) of translucent little blobs like tapioca pearls[6].
 
So I bugged my fermento/DIY friends on FB and they all gave me suggestions for how to handle this little problem.
What I ended up doing was the easiest option possible.
I transferred everything except the poured-off whey (more on that in a follow-up post) into a larger jar – the one I’d first fermented sour kraut in, as it happens (don’t worry, I washed it VERY well to avoid flavour-crossing) – topped that jar up with milk, and let it sit, covered in a clean dish cloth, for another few days.
After enough time had passed that my ferment was starting to separate, I poured off some of the whey, but kept some in the jar. I shook everything up a little bit, and then tried straining the grains again.
 
Behold!
 

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn't do well with metal equipment) and a plastic funnel to strain kefir into a 1L mason jar.  Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn’t do well with metal equipment) a plastic funnel, and a wooden spoon to gently strain kefir into a 1L mason jar. Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.


&nbs;
Suffice to say, it worked.
What I ended up with, once I’d strained the kefir into a clean, 1L mason jar, was about 3C of drinkable fermented milk. (If I want something more like a cheese, I would need to ferment my kefir longer, drain off more of the whey, and put a little more work into pushing the curds through the strainer to separate them from the kefir grains).
 
Which brings me to: So, How Was It?
 
It was. Fermented. It was really fermented.
See, I’ve been drinking a lot of those 1L bottle of “yop” style kefir that you can get at the grocery store. I love them, they are delicious. But they’re also pasturized. Meaning that, yes, they’re not fizzy. But, more to the point, they’re not actively boozy anymore.
That’s pretty relevant.
Especially when you’ve (mixed it with some maple syrup and (fake) vanilla extract, and) packed it as your lunch f
or a day of modeling. In a high school. For an exam.
>.>
Yeah.
I’m a light-weight, but I didn’t think I was that much of a light-weight. O.O
 
I’ve since learned that Kefir isn’t a “beginner” pro-biotic ferment like Sour Kraut. It can give you headaches and digestive issues for the first few days, if you’re not used to it, and it’s… wise to start slowly. So maybe my having started with 2C of the stuff had something to do with why I was dizzy. Then again, maybe the kefir, alone, wasn’t enough food to cover an afternoon of physical labour and rapid changes in planes/levels (lots of 30-second poses) and I should have brought nuts or other carbs with me as well. Not sure.
Regardless, the very definite alcohol smell threw me for a loop.
That said, I’m still enjoying it. (Felt weird about having it on school grounds, which I’m pretty sure is Not Allowed, mind you). It fizzes on my tongue like a weak mimosa, if that helpful for giving you an idea of what the ferment level is. 🙂
 
Beyond that? If you have Texture Issues, kefir may not be for you. At least not as a beverage. (As a beverage: Shake it well, but not TOO well, because even after straining the grains and a lot of the whey out, and storing it in the fridge, a jar with a lid screwed on will be under pressure! Let the gas off every 1-2 days or so to avoid exploding jars). It’s grainy. Tiny curds suspended in liquid. Not smooth like the grocery store stuff (I don’t know how they get it smooth, but I suspect it involves some kind of thickener like carageenan). You might enjoy it as a cheese spread though, maybe blended with garlic and thyme to be used a bagel or as a topping for beets, or else sweetened and baked into a torte or even used as frosting for red velvet cupcakes.
 
I’m currently drinking the last of my first batch of kefir, while my second batch ferments away in its jar on top of the freezer. I look forward to incorporating kefir (and kefir products – like strained soft cheese, or using the whey to kick-start other fermenation projects) into our meals. 😀
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Combine diced raw apples and steamed diced celeriac, toss with plain yoghurt plus some prepared mustard and ground nutmeg. Serve. It’s amazing. Also works for khol slaw with carrots and cabbage. Also works as a cheaper-than-goat-cheese topping for boiled beets and/or perogies.
 
[2] Possibly because I was drinking iced herbal-fruit teas (no milk), rather than hot chai (which I put milk in), and that was just enough of a change for me to lose a litre every week to spoilage[3].
 
[3] Not the end of the world. I can use gone-off milk to make coffee cakes, same as I use yoghurt. But I don’t necessarily want to be baking in August, either.
 
[4] Which is thermophilic, meaning that you have to heat the milk up and keep it at a fairly consistently warmer-than-room-temperature, but cooler than the “keep warm” setting on my slow-cooker, temperature while the culture is doing its thing.
 
[5] Meaning that the culture does it’s thing at room temperature.
 
[6] Which you can also use to make water kefir, coconut milk kefir, and, in a neat twist, even grape juice kefir (apparently). A friend of mine has heard tell of fermenting grape juice kefir for a day or two specifically to stain the SCOBY grains purple so that they’re easier to see. I haven’t tried this, myself, but I’m kind of curious. Could I make a cherry-berry “country wine” cordial using kefir grains? Inquiring minds want to know!

Full Moon – Squash Moon Crests

It’s Saturday night and the moon is round. Most of my friends in Toronto are getting their velvet chokers on to watch the Drunk Feminist Films showing of The Craft (and I’m following it on twitter because, in spite of not having watched it in my teens, I still rather adore that movie and the general (and generally gothic) aesthetic of 1990s teen witchcraft).
The jerusalem artichokes are flowering, the squash (all two of them) are in, and I’ve bought four pie pumpkins with-which to make pumpkin butter. I am waiting for the as-yet-to-materialize (I don’t mind) frost to arrive. My wife and I have spent most of the day loafing around and just had late-night (for us) grilled cheese + tomato soup dinner. It’s a weird mix of “we have not gotten nearly enough done” and “oh, thank fuck” over here.
 
I’m having a serious surface-area problem in my kitchen. Most of the counter is covered in pumpkins and small appliances (and dirty dishes, but they are not a huge percentage of the stuff, unexpectedly), and my shelves are overflowing with preserves and kombucha (which is probably vinegar by now, but works quite nicely when cut with soda water – I’m wondering if I could tincture stuff in it for a way-less-alcoholic-than-vodka option… Hmmm…), also we brought the plants in, so the floor space is limited, too. O.O
 
I’m thinking about time.
About things ending.
About things NOT ending.
I’ve got maybe two more life coaching sessions left, and I feel like what I’ve tried to accomplish through them (a) is working, but (b) is not going to be anywhere near a done deal by the time my 37th birthday (and final coaching session) rolls around. I’ve got about eleven weeks before the end of 2016 (er… maybe ignore that if you freak about late-December stuff?), by-which-point I’d like to be done my New Year New You project for this round which… will be cutting it close, to say the least.
Autumn is the season for letting things go, but I’m watching myself dig my nails in deeper, dig my heels in elsewhere, hold things at arms’ length like “Why is this happening now?” Trying to discern what I actually want. Trying not to jump in too fast, make assumptions, or flee in terror over imaginary things.
 
Horoscope from Chani Nicholas is telling me that I need to focus on work – on the day-to-day of doing my “chores”, but also on The Work that I’ve been doing all year, and on “work” in the sense of “career” which, in my case, is probably modeling? That and/or working in my wife’s shop. Honestly, this particular topic (in a Jupiter Return year, no less) has always kind of baffled me? My “Year At A Glance” in the We’Moon calendar is all “What kind of wealth do you want to accumulate?” and I’m all “??? This is even a thing???” Second Chakra Stuff. I don’t even know. :-\
ANYWAY.
I am clearly done like dinner. Birthday party for a 71-year-old sky diver tomorrow.
 
Goodnight, kiddies.
Meliad, the Birch Maiden.
 
 
~*~
 
 
Motion: Lots of long (1hr) walks of late. Spent a week not doing Plank, and my back was Not Impressed so, lesson learned there. :-\
 
Attention: Reading “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo. Trying to up my self-awareness game, notice and name my feeelings, try to spot my own repeating patterns before I get too sucked into them. Trying to notice it when I get Emotionally Stormy around self-inflicted feelings of obligation, so I can sort out where I need to draw a line or step myself back. It’s… sort of working so far?
 
Gratitude: Getting to sleep in late. Snuggling with my wife. Being taken out for a fancy dinner by someone cool. Friends getting good news. The chance to talk about symbolism and celery root (not of celery root, mind you, though maybe we could have?) with a (probably queer, probably femme) cashier at the grocery store this afternoon. My wife making sure we ate dinner, because sometimes I totally fall down on that front. Hot baths.
 
Inspiration: Femme Rage. No, seriously, that’s pretty much where it’s coming from right now.
 
Creation: Finished the pink shrug, finally, and even wore it out and about the other day. Beyond that, though, not feeling super creative right now.