31 October 2010

Save its life!

When there’s food in the fridge or on the counter that’s getting weary, it’s time to get creative and find ways to save its life.

I had a batch of pears from our food co-op purchase that were suddenly all very ripe. Those got chopped into hunks and put in a pot with a few wrinkly apples, also chopped into hunks, cooked and mashed with the potato masher. A run through the food mill into the slow cooker with a dash of cinnamon and a shot of honey, several hours heating with the lid off to cook off the excess liquid, and we have 3 jars of pear/apple butter - a jam substitute or flavouring for plain oatmeal.

Earlier this week, half a head of cabbage went in the pot with garden beets retrieved from the freezer and a pot of borscht was made: some was eaten, and the rest packaged into portion sized dishes in the freezer. They’ll make good lunches for me.

The rest of the cabbage, some potatoes, celery and wrinkly carrots are simmering on the stove this afternoon with onion and garlic into a cabbage soup. I may be the only one willing to eat it, but hey, I like cabbage.

The remainder of the weary celery is in the dehydrator, destined to become celery salt and possibly dehydrated vegetable soup ingredients.

It’s just a matter of paying attention and taking a few extra minutes to rescue something that is getting overripe – better that it be food than compost, and better that it be people food than animal food, if possible. It doesn’t take long, if you’ve already got the cutting board out, to chop up the rest of the celery and put it in the dehydrator. If you’re in the kitchen anyway, simmering the fruit and pureeing it is not much extra trouble – and the slow cooker can reduce it down without any real supervision at all on your part.

Having the right tools is a big help – the food mill, slow cooker and dehydrator are important members of the Food Rescue Squad – but having the right mindset is the most important thing.

26 October 2010

Restoring history

The Canadian Production Wheels, like Jaqueline, the newest addition here, were built mainly in Quebec. The Canadian Production Wheel Lovers, on Ravelry believe that this wheel was made by Frederic Bordua in Quebec, likely between 1875-1908. My aunt reminded me that Apple Jack, my beloved grandfather, was born in 1909 – so this wheel is about even a little older than he would be!
With much help from the people on the Ravelry group and other spots on the web, I have jumped in and done the refinishing and repairs on the wheel … and this is the result:

Before & After shot:

Close up of the wheel uprights (and you can see the Babe in the background!):

Cobbled together for a test run:

Close up of the repaired flyer:

… yes, that is yarn on the flyer.
You know what that means? She works.
29 hours after arriving here, Jacqueline spun yarn. The Boy took video … have a look.

24 October 2010

A truly fabulous day: the blessings of friends

I had a super fun day visiting with a fibery friend who drove out from town today with a specific mission: she has decided to make a list of "50 things by 50" (her birthday is in a year). When she was gathering suggestions of things to put on her list (cliff diving and tattoos were definitely out, she said) I suggested shearing a sheep – and offered that she could shear one of mine, and keep the fleece for her present. She thought this would be absolutely fabulous – and hey, if someone else wants to do the jobs I have to do anyway but considers the work to be entertainment, well, who am I to argue? :)

Today, she and her husband came out, along a friend and the daughters of the two families. We had a great time visiting while my friend learned to shear, with hand shears, the old fashioned way. After the first lamb was all tidied up, there was a second volunteer … and since the kids were all out having fun and nobody was in a hurry to go, the second lamb was shorn in a team effort by both ladies – while I sat with my feet up on the barn railings! This is my idea of a great day – someone else shows up to do my work, I get to visit, and everyone has fun! The kids played on the hay bales and went exploring at the creek, the wool was packed into bags, we warmed up with tea, and everyone headed back to town happy. I can’t wait to see what my friend makes with this wool – she is a superb spinner and knitter and will no doubt make something fabulous.

Just as those friends were heading out .. another friend pulled into the driveway. He had been to an auction today, old buggies and horse tack such, and at the end of the auction there was something that he thought I might like. If I didn't want it, I was to say so, but it was a gift for me if I did think I might enjoy it.

Gee, what do you think I said?

It's an antique Canadian wheel - from Nova Scotia, he said, though I looked and it has no maker's mark (not at all uncommon for these wheels). The wheel itself is straight and unwarped (not at all common for antique wheels!), though it sits unevely in the supports and there's one loose spoke, but those are minor issues and easily fixed. The flyer (the piece where the wool is wound onto the bobbin) is cracked and damaged and has no hooks, but I’ve tested the space with my standard Ashford flyer assembly (which is a ‘spare part’ type thing that I can purchase fully made), and it fits! I can see how to fix this wheel up and make her productive again – and I am unimaginably happy. I know my friend was pretty sure I’d be pleased … but I doubt he has any idea how truly, deeply thrilled I am that someone would surprise me with such a fabulous, much-wanted, and absolutely perfect gift right out of the blue!

Many spinners say that their wheels choose their own names – and this one most certainly did: she is Jacqueline (pronounced the Acadian way, Jack-eh-leen'). My generous friend’s first name is Jack – just like the beloved grandpa for whom my farm is named - and so this wheel is named for the thoughtful, open-hearted person who carried her from the auction block to her new home.

I am so blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful friends. I love my life.

09 October 2010

“But it’s all so much work!”

Lots of people shake their heads at me because I “do so much work” – generally suggesting that I’m slightly nuts to do so much ‘from scratch’ or for going without convenience tools like a dryer. So, I figured today I’d document what it is that I really do (on a busy kind of Saturday), and see how much work it actually is and how it feels.

Now, although I plan to get a fair bit done today, I’m not overextending  as I’m still recovering from the flu: although I am overjoyed to simply be upright and mostly functional, my energy levels are still pretty low, so I need to move slowly and not do any heavy physical stuff. So everything I do today will be accomplished in first or second gear only. Also, I’m home by myself, the rest of my nuclear family having headed to Manitoba for a family visit that I opted out of: after 2 weeks off work with the flu, I really didn’t feel right taking more time off, besides the fact that the long drive and whirlwind visit is probably more exertion than is good for me just now.

So …home alone, puttering around, gettin’ stuff done. What’s it look like? Here we go:

To start the day, my parents stopped by to drop off some pies (and ingredients for MORE pies!) for Thanksgiving – they are headed out of town, and this was their gift to us. Cool! So I got to visit with them for a bit, which was nice. By the time they left and I finally got moving it was a little before 9.

First order of business was laundry: I re-rinsed the load I’d forgotten in the washer yesterday and while that was spinning, gathered up some more to go in for the next load. Meandered to the kitchen and started the coffeemaker, then changed loads in the washer and hung up the clean stuff inside (there wasn’t much, so this was a quick 3 minute job).

Now to the kitchen: I retrieved my Carla Emery Encyclopedia of Country Living and looked up some pickle recipes. And browsed, as always (it’s a great book). While pondering my options, I sliced and tossed into a pot the few tomatoes that actually ripened this year (just chunked and threw in the pot with a bit of water), added some seasonings, and set it to simmer. Pondered some more. Put a bunch of canning jars in the dishwasher and started it. Scrubbed off the ceramic water filters (since I will need a lot of water today and I want the Berkey filtering as quickly as possible) and refilled the reservoir. Set one batch of brine to boil and sat down to read my knitting magazine.  By now it’s about 10, and I’m happily sipping coffee and drooling over gorgeous pictures of sweaters and yarn.

The tomatoes finished simmering around the time the next load of wash finished, so I shut off the burner, put more stuff in the washer and headed outside to hang up what was done. It’s a lovely day outside, and perfect for drying clothes – there’s a bit of a breeze and it’s cool … they should be dry in no time … although they’ll just stay on the line until I feel like taking them down, I expect. Which might be tomorrow.

Back to the kitchen to run the tomatoes through the food mill (I love, love, love my food mill – it saves me so much food prep time), pour the resulting sauce in a jar (retrieved from the dishwasher, now steaming), scrape the seeds and peels into a bowl for the chickens, and rinse off the things I’ve used so far.

Poured another cup of coffee and read some more Vogue Knitting. Realized I probably need more brine than I made, so added to the batch and boiled it up again. Topped off the coffee and sat down to read some more. Just as the brine boiled, I finished my first pass through my magazine and decided I should actually eat something before I go outside. Shut off the burner, poured a bowl of cereal and another mug of coffee and came to the computer. Time now: 11 am.

I’ll spend another forty five minutes or so here while I have my coffee, check Facebook, and write this … then I’ll head outside to pull up carrots. I really need to hack all the quackgrass out, but I’m not up to that yet, so it’ll just be a carrot-harvesting day. Well, carrots and the quackgrass and weeds in their immediate vicinity, but no big mattock work today.

How do I feel so far? Very relaxed. I haven’t moved at more than a comfortable meander all morning and I have a jar of tomato sauce, a batch of pickling brine, clean canning jars, and some clean laundry to show for it.

The laundry’s done and my coffee mug is empty, so it must be time to go outside.

I came inside at 1:20 with a large bowl of carrots (the weeds and carrot tops got fed to the sheep). By 3:30 the carrots were all washed, sliced, loaded into jars (with jalapenos, garlic, and onions), doused in brine and in the canner boiling. While the canner bubbled away, I tidied up and swept the floor … and noticed the crock of lacto-fermented pickles. I had intended to stop at 4:00, but it takes a lot of time and natural gas to heat up the water bath canner, so I figured I might as well can some of those pickles while I had everything going. Rummaged around for more jars, loaded them up with pickles, and started the next batch processing. Put even more pickles in jars, and finished cleaning up while the water bath burbled. By 6:00, everything was done and cooling on the counter – except for the jar that broke. (Never had that happen before – it broke in the canner, and I came back to discover pickles floating around in the water bath. Weird.)

So, it’s 6:06, all the work for today is finished, and my evening is free. I think I’ll check out some things on the web, eat some supper, and do some knitting while I listen to my audio book. I

Today was a fairly busy kind of Saturday, but I’m not exhausted and there was no stress at all: I took my time doing every job, and the only significant physical exertion was lifting the pickle crock up off the floor, that and the fact that I was on my feet quite a bit. Still, there was never any pressure, no rush, no hurry, and I had the freedom to choose which of the many jobs that need doing I would do today.

It’s a good way to spend a day.

04 October 2010

Being a soft-hearted farmer

Sharon Astyk posted this today:

Blackberry is elderly, and there's a good chance he'll spend this winter the way he did part of last winter. Victim of the other roosters, and run down by the cold, eventually I moved him into a box in the woodshed with a bantam hen to keep him company. I don't really want a rooster in the woodshed for the winter, any more than I really wanted to go out in the pouring rain to gather up soggy poultry. But the chances of Blackberry going under the knife are nil. If the woodshed it must be, so it will be.

The real farmers who read this may well be rolling their eyes at me. This is proof I'm not a real farmer, right? After all, real farmers have to make their bottom line, they don't have room for all this messy sentiment.

Blackberry, however, is special. He is beloved. And the very fact that a rooster could be beloved, to me, seems a good sign - it means we are being attentive. We are watching closely enough, that we know our creatures well enough to develop relationships. And we know our economic realities well enough to know that we cannot allow relationships to emerge in every case.

I do want to stand up for sentiment in agriculture because I would argue that our industrial society discourages real sentiment, the emotion that emerges from knowing things, and exchanges it for sentimentality. This is an exchange that runs deeply to our detriment, in part because it enables us not to know things.

The love my children and my husband and I have for a rooster who gives back more than ordinary chickens is a way of expressing the love we have for our farm in general - fierce, protective, passionate. The whole thing is alive, and sometimes to keep it living we cannot do everything we'd like to. But we can pour out our love in selected places, keep an honest and just relationship with even the animals that don't get all our love, and pour into the land and its creatures the complex realities of our passion and sentiment.

Oh, yes.

I replied:

Around here, we call it 'winning the Immunity Challenge' (not that we ever watched Survivor, but we did get the general gist of the concept around the water cooler at work). There are some animals that just ... earn their retirement.

We have a hen, "Little Red", who is ancient by chicken standards (she was probably 2 when we inherited her from neighbours who were moving away , and that was 5 years ago), and she'll never go in a pot. When she passes on, she'll probably get a marked grave, of all things. Most of the other chickens we don't even recognize much less name - and if they die, well, the carcasses get tossed on the compost pile with minimal ceremony. But not Red. She is a character. Just the other day I was outside knitting and she actually jumped onto my lap! What a cool chicken she is. I’ll miss her when she’s gone.

And then there is the LGD who is getting on in years ... he will be given a dog house with plenty of straw and 'senior dog rations' until he breathes his last, even if he hasn't got it in him to chase coyotes anymore – because he has earned that through years of service to us and his flock. If his life becomes nothing but suffering, we will pay the extra to have the vet come out here to ease his passing, rather than subjecting him to the trauma of leaving his home, so that our guardian dog's last sight is of his beloved flock and his people. He, too, will have a marked grave, and we will cherish his memory for years to come.

The sheep ... well, they're too valuable as meat, even the ones we love - so the wonderful ewe with OPP will have a quick and merciful death at the hands of our trusted butcher and we will honour her life by making the best use of all of her ... maybe we'll ask for her horns so we can make buttons or something, but she has to go. It would not be a kindness to let her slowly suffer from lung troubles, and OPP does not affect the value of the meat - so we do her the most honour by making full use of all she has to offer us, and keeping her suffering to a minimum.

It seems silly, on the face of it, to care for our creatures so. We are soft hearted, but I don’t think that is a bad thing – it helps us to honour the animals in our care. I think it was your kids, Sharon, who said "all meat has faces". When we know the faces of our meat, when we honour them with a clean, quick death and our gratitude at the table, we do right by the creatures we are responsible for. When we grant retirement status to those animals we have a soft spot for, it's part of the same attitude: we remind ourselves that these creatures have value, that their feelings - even as animals - matter to us, and that we wish to give them the best care we can.

I think it makes us better farmers, if we care for our animals' comfort. It helps us 'hear' them when they voice their distress, because we are used to listening to them as ‘real voices’ – not just a mindless bellow. Keeping their feelings in mind when we design their shelters and plan their feeding ... caring that they have good lives - even if they are normally short ones - means that we are good husbandmen (is there a gender neutral term for that?).

Industrial scale farming has no place for caring for the animals. Real, family scale farming does. I think it’s a good thing.

02 October 2010

Knitting: Swirl Neckwarmer

A Facebook conversation about knitting turned into a trade: she’ll sew a skirt for me, and I’ll knit a neck warmer for her! We both feel like we’re getting the better end of the deal – which is pretty much the definition of a successful swap. :)

I knit from the Swirl Neckwarmer pattern – and may I just say how truly awesome Ravelry is for finding patterns! I used some heather green 100% wool yarn that I had in my stash: 2 ply mule spinner yarn from Custom Woolen Mills, made from local wool on antique equipment by really neat people (I’ve been there for a tour … awesome place).

I only used a single strand of wool, unlike the doubled strands the pattern recommends, as the yarn I had was sufficiently bulky on it’s own. The Brioche stitch is amazingly voluminous, which means it will trap air and be nice and warm, which is the point. My crochet skills are not quite as amazing as one might hope, so the edges of the finished product actually swirl out a little more than in the original, but I’m considering it a design feature.

Will post a photo when I get one uploaded. It was really a fun knit, worked up very quickly and easily … highly recommended.