December 21, 2011

Holiday Cheer and Light and Hope and ... Losing It, Again

I've sat down maybe seven times in the last two weeks to write something and every time I have, what comes out is some permutation of: I'm so, very, ridiculously, incredibly, totally, freaking, busy.

Sometimes, it happened a few paragraphs in,  other times, it was the first sentence. Some pieces started out being about how to manage it all (as if I know). Others were just screeds of complaining with sidebars of to-do lists and most, maybe all, had this annoying martyr undercurrent that I feel flowing more readily than I would like these days.

Eventually, I scrapped them all. Because I'm not telling you something you don't already know. You're likely very, ridiculously, incredibly, totally, freaking, busy too

Here's a secret: We all are.

I never want to become one of those "busy" people, you know the ones -- the ones always talking about how busy they are?

Because those people are likely:

a) trying to sound important (because very important people are always very busy);

b) using it as an excuse of some kind, often for being flakey or just plain inefficient;

c) as a vehicle for recognition of some kind, exposing some deep self-confidence void ("Oh, I have so much to do!" = "I do so much and get no thanks for it so I'm trying to get you to acknowledge how hard I work so I can actually feel some modicum of self respect."); or

d) too busy to think of anything else to think about, thus, leading lives obviously full of pure drudgery.  

So, I've been trying, grasping really, to find some balance with the busy-ness in our lives. Because, this, friends, is the slow part of our year. And if I'm borderline now? Wait until Jacob is in the field all day (i.e. not helping with Willa) and we have seeds to plant and plants to transplant and veggie deliveries to make and turkeys to feed and grain to plant and lentils to roll and ...

I start to hyperventilate just thinking about it.

And then, add to that, the prospect of a pregnancy or a second baby and I'm certifiably nutso.

Hence, the grasping. Because the truth is, I wouldn't change a thing. I wanted it all and I got it all. I have the career and the small farm and the husband and the small town and the awesome kid and even the cute neurotic dog.

But that doesn't mean I can't lose it every once in awhile.

I wanted to be able to tell you I've found some sort of lesson in it all. But things don't always wrap up as nicely as we'd hope.

It was all coming to a head last week and so on Willa's and my morning walk, I planned to take all these photos of this amazing frost that was blanketing our little town and write a post about how stressed I was, but isn't it grand when nature makes you stop and leave the chaos behind for a moment? 

I tried, several times, to stop and gaze at the sparkly white trees, the blue sky, the hot white sun streaks coming through the snow, and breathe. But it was ass-cold and my hands were freezing, and Willa fell asleep fast, (that's another post. Right now, the only way to get her to nap, and thus, get me some uninterrupted work time, is to walk her down in the stroller.) so I took a few hurried shots and heeled it back to the house to cram in a few hours.

Then, by that afternoon, I'd come down with what could have only been the flu and spent the next few days struggling to a) not throw up and b) not freak out about the million things I should be doing instead of laying in bed in a fever-induced coma.

By the time I came out of it, I was drained and weak. But, my to-do list was not. It was full and strong and looming.

Jacob had done a fantastic job at the care and feeding of the child and the house, but I was impossibly behind on work and the 10,000 other things that needed to be done.

For a moment, I thought about writing a piece about how isn't it beautiful it can actually be when, just when you think life is crazy, your body forces you to slow down? As if it's saying "Hey girl, think you're in control? How's this for a lesson in slowing down and letting go? You can't even control your bowels, let alone your day."

But, by the time Thursday arrived, I had hit the wall. A big, merry, crafty, homemade, work-at-home, stay-at-home, make-everything-from-scratch, try-as-I-may-cannot-find-any-goodness-or-grace, solid-as-a-rock wall.

And when Willa fought going to bed that night, I just laid in bed sobbing and gritting my teeth, sobbing and gritting my teeth, sobbing and gritting my teeth, while she kicked and played and cried a little and played some more.

Then, she patted my tear-drenched face and said "Mama?" And I wondered how she'd tell her therapist about it some day.

"Well, my Mom smiled a lot but she acted angry all the time."

It's all just terrifying, what we expect of ourselves in this modern life. Especially women. Especially mothers.

And on top of all we do, it seems cruel to also expect us to have grace and calm when we can't handle it all. We have to give ourselves permission sometimes, to let a few things go -- including our sanity. It doesn't mean we're really crazy. It doesn't mean we can't do it all. It doesn't mean we're not thankful for all we have.

It just means we're just freaking exhausted -- too exhausted to be thankful, to find meaning in the crazyness, to stop and drink it all in.

Taking a walk and looking at sparkly, frosty trees isn't going to immediately change how tapped out I feel. Neither is forcing myself into some sort of reflection. Nor is that half hour of yoga I try to shove into my day.

And that is perfectly OK.

Because those things aren't meant to magically make my life manageable. They're about the effort you put in to just do them. Just like yoga, or meditation, life is practice.

It's not always about getting it right. Sometimes, it's about doing it at all and that is perfectly enough.

And with that, I'll leave you with a few of the photos from the week and a Christmas wish -- that you let yourself lose it, just a little, even in the midst of all this holiday sparkle and cheer.

November 28, 2011

Warning: After Butchering 98 Turkeys, You May Need Gumbo and Paper Christmas Trees

Let me start by telling you that over the last week, we killed and processed 98 turkeys, delivered them across the state (Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman, Missoula and then back to Great Falls for those who missed the first pick up), hosted the 12 people it took to get the dirty job done, cooked Thanksgiving dinner, shot and processed a deer, went to a birthday party, had two final dinner guests on Saturday and then collapsed in a catatonic heap yesterday.

So, forgive my absence here as of late, as well as the reliance on somewhat blurry photography. It was all really that fuzzy. The camera doesn't lie, you know.

It started early the Saturday before Thanksgiving when the turkeys met their maker. People started showing up around 8 a.m. to get the job done. We had lots of help from many, many cool people. It never ceases to amaze me that people will come this far, in this kind of weather, to do what can only be described as terrible work. But they do. And they seem to have fun, no less. There's an unmistakeable camaraderie surrounding the whole thing.

From once-strangers to dear friends, the people who help us do this work are the true heroes, in my mind. By the end of it all, we feel closer to our food, to our community and to each other. There's just something about it.

After all the plucking and scalding and eating and playing music and sleeping on floors was done, our volunteers went home and we loaded said turkeys, now plucked and in pretty little bags into a refrigerated trailer and traversed the state, delivering 1,300 pounds of Thanksgiving.

Jacob tends to channel all of his stress into the actual slaughter of the birds, the equipment, the weather, the process, the help. The days before turkey slaughter, he's the one who's nearly crippled with stress. But, that's the fun part for me -- the hosting, the helping, the company. Also, it's not my thing. Jacob has it handled, and that allows me to relax a little. (By the way, if you'd like to watch a (somewhat graphic) multimedia project on the subject, check out this piece from our very talented and dear friend Anne Medley, from the 2009 slaughter.)

The delivery, on the other hand, is my thing and my nightmare. I have a handy spreadsheet that helps, but our customer list is always a moving target and I'm in charge of being friendly and doing math at the same time. I'm really good at one of those things, but terrible at the other, and for some reason, combining them makes my head inch toward explosion.

Then, there's this question of how many turkeys we have to sell. We have 98 turkeys and most are spoken for, so it's a tight margin. My worst fear is running out of turkeys and ruining someone's Thanksgiving because we can't get them a bird.

Then, people who are on the list don't show and people who are not on the list do show and my numbers get jumbled and I start to panic.

This year, because I erred so far on the side of caution that would keep us from overselling, we ended up coming home with about 10 extra turkeys. Which is fine -- they just went in the freezer for Christmas sales -- but two things: 1) We really need the money and 2) I'm still having nightmares that someone out there was expecting or wanting one of our turkeys and didn't get one because either we couldn't find them or they couldn't find us.

During the delivery, I ended up in a flood of phone calls and text messages, Facebook notes and emails, feeling like a bit of a stalker by the end of it all. I actually called one customer at work because I couldn't get her otherwise, and told her receptionist that it was urgent that she call her turkey farmer.

That's how crazy I get about all of this.

So, on Thanksgiving, we cooked one of our own small turkeys and laid low. We had offers to go other places, but we wanted a quiet day and we really wanted to actually eat the fruits of our labor. We needed a reminder of how worth it they are -- for us and all the work we put into them, and for our customers, who not only pay a premium price, but who also are patient with the process it takes to get the birds to them.

It takes real commitment sometimes to eat locally. It would be so much easier and cheaper to go to the store and buy up a turkey of your choosing, walk it to the counter and check out. Easy, peasy. But, not as tasty, or as fun, I hope.

These birds really are worth it.

I won't go so far as giving this guy a name or showing you his papers (hilarity here, by the way), but I know he was raised humanely, killed humanely, ate great food and lived his life out of doors. And, I know he was a tasty, tasty bird.

We also used up one of our Thanksgiving vegetable shares for our meal and the winter squash made this here delightful pie. (Recipe here.)

I broke our hand mixer a few weeks ago, so Jacob had to whip the cream by hand. It took much longer than he expected (but about as long as I expected, which I told him, of course.)

My Dad came over for the meal and brought his own homegrown scalloped potatoes and ham and, more importantly, played with his granddaughter while her Mama cooked.

Friday, Jacob went hunting and got the aforementioned deer, while Willa and I stayed home, trying to get back into somewhat of a nap schedule (impossible) and getting Christmas going in the house.

We don't have many Christmas decorations and haven't really ever decorated since we married and moved to Conrad. The first year we were here, we spent the holiday in Salt Lake City where my Dad was in the burn unit at the University of Utah, recovering from a pretty traumatic farm accident that ended up in him losing his leg. (I did, however, come home from Salt Lake after one of my stays with Dad to find that Jacob had put up Christmas lights to cheer me up. I could have kissed him.) The second year, we'd just had Willa and I was too busy figuring out how to take care of a newborn to pay much attention to decking any halls.

But this year, I must have the spirit in me or something because on Friday, I got all crafty up in here.

It's amazing what a little red yarn, a yard full of pine cones and a hot glue gun can do.

And then, looking at the insane pile of magazines we regularly accumulate, I got a flash of inspiration from my childhood, vaguely remembering making Christmas trees out of a Reader's Digest, maybe in 4th, or 5th grade?

I looked it up and of course, Martha had a full tutorial.

It became an obsession for me, folding these little trees, one I even partook in while we had company over for dinner.

But just look at these things!

They're part modern/recycled decor, part nostalgia for 4th grade, part sparkly, lovely, holiday cheer. They take impossibly long to make, but I can't seem to stop now.

Someone told me I should just be watching TV on the couch after the season we'd just had. And believe me, I tried. But, this craftiness is way better. It's an inertia thing. After all that doing, doing, doing, it seemed impossible to just stop and sit down. I needed something active and relaxing.

Enter the magazine trees (and the Pandora Ella Fitzgerald holiday station.) Willa and I have been folding and singing, folding and singing, pretty much nonstop since Friday.

And, I think we're starting to inch back to normal because of it.


Leftover Turkey Gumbo

I sometimes cook up a turkey just so we can have gumbo the next day.

The basic recipe here is from Emeril, but I've modified based on other recipes and the input of a good friend who's a southern cooking phenom.

It's taken me awhile to get this down and it turns out differently everytime -- which I sort of dig. There's a certain terroir to it, a taste of place, as it were. The final product depends on so many variables -- the  kind of bird you have, what you seasoned the turkey or the broth with, whether you have white wine or red (or sometimes, I sub beer), what kind of sausage you have, etc.

It also depends, big time, on the roux.

Making the roux can be way time consuming, but it's so worth it. And, the time spent slaving over a hot stove makes this meal feel special, somehow. (Best praise ever: "You got a good scald on this.")

And, for goodness sakes, how can you go wrong when you start a recipe by frying flour?

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups frozen okra
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup worchestershire sauce
dash cayenne (to taste)
1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kiebasa, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices
3 bay leaves
6 cups turkey stock (made by submerging turkey carcass in stock pot in water and boiling for two or so hours)
leftover turkey meat, about 3 to 4 cups
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped green onions

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, combine the oil and flour and stirring slowly and constantly for 20 to 25 minutes, make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and continue to stir for 4-5 minutes, or until wilted. Add tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the sausage and bay leaves. Continue to stir for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the stock, worchestershire and white wine. Stir until the roux mixture and stock are well combined. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Add the turkey and the okra. Simmer for 2 hours. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Remove from the heat . Stir in the parsley and green onions. Remove the bay leaves and serve in deep bowls with rice.

November 6, 2011

The Race Against Winter

This weekend, we got our first snow. And then, we turned back the clocks.

Our race against winter has ended.

I'm not sure we lost, but it certainly doesn't feel like we won, either. I'm guessing it never does.

The last two months have been an impossible scramble to put up as much food as possible, glean as much as we can, harvest, market, disk, plow, pull and prep and then just the frost imps -- as my little Goddaughter calls them -- to do their work.

We harvested our last crops last week and then we *took off,* on a big trip to see Jacob's brother get hitched. As we drove away from the farm -- the first time since February we'd left it for more than a weekend -- the transition was palpable.

Because so much of what we do is determined by season, by sun and snow and frost and daylight we are forced to completely re-think our daily lives each time we turn from summer to fall, from fall to winter, winter to spring and spring to summer.

This particular transition, from busy summer to busy fall to slow, cold winter can be excruciating.

It happens so gradually, and yet so suddenly.

The last deliveries are made, the last harvest is in, the last jar of tomatoes is on the pantry shelf and even the last of the frosty beets are dug.

The farm drifts to sleep, leaving us to wonder now what should we do?

Then, we spend then next two weeks trying to shake the feeling that we forgot something. Jacob paces around the house and I try to assuage his concerns, all the while know that we're both dealing with a constant ringing in our heads of: There must be something that needs to be done right *now.*

But there isn't.

I'm so glad we spent that first week of transition traveling. We had a lot of time to talk about the season -- what we did right and what we did wrong, and we had time to reconnect -- even *gasp* talk about topics other than the farm.

And, we also got our hearts totally warmed, twice, by two spectacular accolades this last week -- accolades that make us feel inspired, humbled and honored.

First was the Sustainable Agriculture Award from AERO - the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. It's hard to describe what AERO is sometimes. It's not hard to describe what the organization does.You see their work all over, whether you know it or not, from community-based weatherization projects to the Abundant Montana local food directory, to farm and energy tours to specialized training for farmers and ranchers. But, what AERO is is harder to describe.

Both Jacob and I have served on the board. I'm on the board now, as a matter of fact, and I joined purely because I wanted to have these people in my life and in my work. I wrote and recorded a commentary on just this subject for Montana Public Radio (read the piece here.)

It's an organization that flies under the radar a little bit, which I really like. It's not flashy and press-conferency (and I saw a lot of those in my days as a journalist) and it's not combative or negative. It's all about positivity and solutions and support for good work. And, because of that, it attracts a unique membership. The group is intimate and yet welcoming and made up of passionate, selfless, caring, creative and truly, some of the most courageous and innovative people in the state.

That's a long way of saying, we were so, incredibly honored to get that award, and presented by two of our best friends no less. We drove away from the annual meeting with our framed award and it took both of us at least 50 miles to stop talking about how we felt we didn't deserve it. But goodness, the fact that those people in that room, people we respect so much, thought we did deserve it, will keep us inspired and working for years.

Thank you.

Then, we were featured by Farm Aid, another great organization working on behalf of family farmers, as "Farmer Heros" -- along side some pretty amazing people (Will Allen, MacArthur genius). You can read the profile here.

Talk about putting a (turkey) feather in your hat.

Meanwhile, from the adventures of Willa the farm kid, here's a Public Service Announcement on being bear aware this fall.

October 25, 2011

Of Canning and Combines

Dear Tomatoes, 

I know I waited for you all summer and I know I complained last season because you were so damn slow and I wanted you so badly and I know in January I do nothing but lament the fact that I have none of your T for my B and my L, but now, with chapped hands and the smell of simmering sauce still in my hair, I say to you: 

Good riddance.


This weekend, the forecast called for a hard freeze and that meant the pressure was on to finish up a few key tasks on the farm. Namely, tomatoes and tomatillos in the high tunnel and chickpeas in the field.

Let me tell you, Willa is a big fan of the tomatillos.
So, Saturday, Willa and I gleaned all we could from the already frozen-black vines in the tunnel and on Sunday, we spent the morning canning tomatoes and tomatillos.

After 8 hours (and a 4 a.m. wake up), this is what I had to show for my toiling and boiling.

As I've written about before, I'm more of a blanch-and-freeze kind of girl (although I've recently been turned on to dehydrating and I think I'm hooked). Every year, I vow not to can tomatoes. But, I somehow convince myself to try one more time. And again, I am reminded of why I'd rather not, thank you very much.

Tomatoes are why God created dehydrators. And the "canned vegetables" aisle at the grocery store.

After my morning, I needed sun and dirt and so I just barely made it to the farm in time for one last round with Jacob on the old Massey 510 -- the machine my grandmother bought in the 70s and the combine I rode around, and around, and around, in as a kid with my Dad.

Dad came out to help and waved at me, laughing, while I drove the combine into the yard. "Now, that's a sight," he said.

I really love the combine. There's something about the whir and the belts and threshing and the chaff and the motion. I just dig it.

So does this guy.

Isn't it funny, how a life you never imagined can turn out to be so perfect.

October 5, 2011

Chaos and Order and the Beauty of Chaos and Order

I've said before that farming is really an exercise (often futile) in managing chaos.

Weeds overtake your vegetables. Hail destroys your wheat heads. Frost zaps your cucumbers. Coyotes eat your turkeys.

Nature gives us chaos. We try to make order. We level ground. We plant in neat little rows. We build tall, straight fences.

I think about chaos and order a lot on the farm -- the quest for one, the fight against the other -- and how really, we shouldn't try to make it an either/or thing.

Life is sometimes about order. Sometimes it's about chaos. For me, farming is teaching me how the two can coexist.

Because on the farm, it's just as easy to find perfect order...

As it is to find perfect chaos.

And both are perfectly beautiful.

(Vegetable portraits by Jacob Cowgill. See more on the farm's Facebook page:


Speaking of chaos, we celebrated Willa's entrance into the world this weekend.

The day was filled with friends, family, a parade and *several* puppet shows. It was quite a party.

I found myself teetering between inexplicable joy and tearful nostalgia.

It's unavoidable, and perfectly OK, a friend told me, for these first few birthdays to be a little bit about you becoming a mother, just as much as they are about celebrating the person who made you a mother.

Two things, then, were worth marking with hours spent making carrot cupcakes:

  • Motherhood is a humbling, flailing, incredible, strengthening, awe-inspiring, didn't-know-I-could-do-that, kind of thing, and

  • The world is quite certainly a better place with this little person in it.

September 28, 2011

One. Whole. Year.

Seriously though.

How did this...


September 20, 2011

Three, Warty, Wonderful, Years

Three years ago today, we were here.

One year later, on our first anniversary -- and wrapping up our first year farming -- we spent the evening pulling winter squash out of the field by flashlight, saving it from an impending frost, while our perfectly cooked pot roast went cold on the kitchen counter.

Last Saturday, we spent the morning in squash patch again, cutting bulbing fruit from thickening vines. It's become somewhat of a tradition.

This year in particular, it felt symbolic. It was therapy. It was good to be outside, watching nature do its spectacular fall magic and letting my body work again. As we cut and stacked and searched and cut and stacked, I had time to think. About frost and loss. Fertility and fallow. Marriage and motherhood.

About fragility.

And how quickly it can turn to toughness.

About beauty.

And how it deepens with time and imperfection.

About resiliency and steadfastness.

Fitting then, that when I got home, our dear friend Michael (read him here and him and his awesome wife here) -- the wise man who, three years ago, in front of God and Mother Nature and friends and family (and nearly the whole town of Dutton), pronounced us husband and wife -- sent us a link to this essay, written and read, by dear friend of his:

“On Cold-Weather Vegetables” by Katrina Vandenberg in Orion

Perfect timing.

September 17, 2011



What a word.

To miscarry

I imagine a running back, grabbing a football straight out of the air, fumbling it and watching it drop to the grass. Or a waitress, balancing a tipping tray of food, stumbling a little and then hearing tumbling glasses and steaks and potatoes plunking to the floor.

Miscarry – as in in whoopsies, she missed that carry.

The medical term, however, isn't any better: Spontaneous abortion. For one, the connotation is terrible. As if, somehow, you chose it, scheduled it or it's somehow political or violent. But even leaving that loaded a-word aside, it's still wildly inaccurate.

There's nothing spontaneous about it.

Miscarriages happen slowly, or at least mine have, with a spot in the morning and then one in the afternoon. Hours feel like days. Checking, second-guessing, listening to every creak or twinge in your abdomen, wondering if this is it, or if you're OK, or if baby is gone already and you just don't know it.

Then, the hours can actually turn into days – real days. Days of waking up wondering if today's the day it will happen or if today's the day the spotting will stop and you'll go on to get bigger and better. You memorize the numbers to keep your sprits up: 20-30 percent of all women bleed during pregnancy and of those who do, 50 percent go on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies.

But when the spotting starts coming with a low backache and little shooting pains, the reassurances turn pale and in creeps that heavy anticipation of the sadness – sadness you know you'll feel, sooner. Or later. No one can tell you.

Then the pain comes and you know it's over. Or almost over. Or starting to be over. From there, it can be another few days. Cramping and crying, cramping and crying. My first one came with contractions I could time. This last one just happened, painfully, but not excruciatingly. It happened all day long, in between lunches and snacks and packaging veggies for delivery and among games of peek-a-boo and friends and family stopping by to make sure we were all OK.

Because of all of that, this one seems easier to handle. No less sad, just less heavy.

With the first, I felt even more broken than I do now. It was our first pregnancy and one that came after many months of trying and failing, trying and failing, the overwhelming fear of infertility building with each month.

And then, Miscarry. As in, maybe my body's not meant to carry anything at all.

The numbers arrived again. 10-25 percent of all pregnancies will end in miscarriage.

Research shows that 40 to 75 percent of all miscarriages are because of genetic, chromosomal abnormalities. That is to say, not because of something the mother did or didn't do.

I took some solace in knowing that all systems were a go – that we could get pregnant. But, those infertility fears were quickly supplanted with other fears. Fears that I wouldn't be able to carry.


With this second miscarriage, I know, deep down, that I can both make and carry a baby – inside and outside my womb.

But, the guilt and the wondering is still there, however faint this time. Did I run up those stairs too fast? Is that what did it? Was it the two glasses of wine I had before I knew I was pregnant? Is it a complication from my C-section? Is it because I'm still breastfeeding? Is it all the coffee I've been drinking? The stress I've been feeling? The heavy lifting I've been doing? Is my body just not ready?

The chatter can be endless if I let it.

I fought cancer in my 20s. I was a body-conscious teenager who had major issues about too-early development and thick thighs and a too-big chest. I've wrestled with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Because of all that, I'm afraid I've patterned myself to think of my body as something that will betray me, something that's made up of dysfunction and brokenness.

I fight that feeling every day.

After that first miscarriage and the months of trying to get pregnant while friends around me sneezed and got knocked up, I needed something to work on, so I worked fighting that feeling. And I worked on my faith. Faith in my body, in God and in goodness.

When we first found out I was pregnant with Willa, that work started to pay off. I let myself slip into hope and promise. I taught myself to believe in my body – that it was made for this baby – and I taught myself to believe that I deserved this, that my body deserved this.

Now, when I look at this perfect little being that is my daughter, almost walking and all snaggle-toothed smiles and giggles, I know there is immense beauty and goodness in this world -- and inside of me too.

I know we would have loved the two babies we lost and I think about them both often. Sad for them, sad I never got to meet them, sad they didn't get a chance. But, I also know that my family will be what it's meant to be – that there is a grand plan for our lives and it involves a lot of love and light, but also a little longing and sadness. And that is just as it should be.

This time of year, as the world buttons itself up for winter, slowing and cooling, leaves floating off branches and green dying back to brown, is a good time to remember that sadness and darkness will bring life. It's what will bring tulips and buds in spring. Fallow produces bounty next year.

It takes faith and patience and time. But, if I've learned anything I've learned that if you keep moving and keep trying and keep hoping and most of all, keep a gratitude for the love and life you already have, all will be as it should be.

Death eventually turns back into life.

Emptiness eventually turns to full.

Darkness begets light.

September 15, 2011

Quick and Dirty Update and Recipes Galore

Sorry folks. I've gone bloggy AWOL.

I can't quite give you a full-blown update on all the happenings right now, but here's the quick and dirty:

Take the regular mid-September craziness -- with the farm party last Saturday (cooking for 60 people, with no childcare, am I nuts?) and more produce coming off one small plot than one kitchen can handle, and then add that to the scramble of trying to get ahead of, then dealing with the aftermath of, the first frost (two frosts actually, Friday, Sept. 2 and Saturday, Sept. 3).

Add into that a sick baby, some health issues of my own, the temporary closure of an endeavor that is near and dear to my heart, and then, mix in a major rise! and fall in the saga of trying to find a "home" for this family and this farm.

We've been a little keyed up around here, to say the least.

But, it's starting to settle now and into a quiet, sunny autumn no less. These cool mornings and hot sunny afternoons make up some of my favorite memories and my favorite moments.

So we have that to counter balance all the stress and sadness we've been feeling. Thank God this is all happening now and not in, say January.

Soon, I'll break all of this down, but for now, that's the quick and dirty from a Life, Cultivated and to sweeten the deal, here are some recipes from our farm party. Made, of course, with all (main) ingredients (if only we could grow olives for olive oil and lemons for lemon juice -- drat) coming from our own little farm.

Bronze barley with cucumber dill dressing (By Mark Bittman)
Prairie Farro (our brand of Emmer) salad with basil and tomatoes and zucchini (This was a slight variation on the Bluebird Grain Farm recipe the link goes to.)
Black chickpea salsa (Substituting black chickpeas for the black beans, of course and in the party dish, I used half tomatillos and half tomatoes.)
Lentil hummus (only I added about a 1/2 Tablespoon of cumin)
Cabbage crunch
And, the heritage turkey

September 2, 2011

In the Weeds, Part II

I could come up with some caption here about how uphill paths are usually the ones that lead to something greater, but I think it would just come out sounding like one of those terrible motivational posters you see on the wall of a high school counselor.
The last time I wrote about being in the weeds, I was literally in the weeds.

The last few weeks though, it's the figurative weeds that have been blocking my view.

There's not much I'm comfortable writing about here just yet, but suffice it to say, the last few weeks (well, years really) have thrown us into facing big things like what "home" means and how much place matters and how sometimes, growing just where you happen to land can lead to a shallow root system.

But when the questions looming are that large and in our case, largely out of our hands, it's just easier to tackle the small things.

And, that is healthy, to a certain extent. Like, instead of worrying about where we're going to live this winter, I first work out what we're going to do with all those beets. Or, instead of stewing about whether we'll ever actually be able to own a farm or a piece of a farm, I rearrange the living room furniture again.

Jacob and I are constantly talking logistics. Logistics about the day-to-day operation of the farm, of our delivery schedule, of our upcoming farm party, of dinner and lunch and car tires and cupcakes for Willa's birthday party. Or, lately, logistics about building permits and irrigation equipment and buy/sell agreements and FSA loans and septic drain fields and backhoes and trailer houses, or yurts? or modulars? or just building a house? or finding another house in town to rent?

With each little detail, with each little patch of "weeds" we lose sight of the sky. We lose just a small bit of the big picture. Until, it's hard to see anymore at all.

In our hurry to worry about our meeting with the county sanitarian, we forget to dream about where Willa will climb trees or where we will someday sip coffee on a porch and watch the sunrise or how, with just a little piece of ground, we could change the way we, and our communities, grow, eat and value food.

I remember, sitting at at tiny kitchen table in a single-wide trailer three years ago this month -- when we first decided to farm on our own -- sketching plans for a farmstead, writing down what we wanted in a property, dreaming about what it would be like to do it, to actually farm.

Back then, we wanted nothing more than to just get on the ground, get our hands dirty.

Now that we're doing it, I'm sad to find that in all the doing and working, we've squeezed out that sense of imagination, the craziness, the hope and the promise.

Today, the weeds cleared and for a few hours -- hopefully more -- I felt a little of all of that creeping back in.

And dang, it feels good to dream again.


What do you do when you get into the weeds?

August 22, 2011

Pickling (Zucchini), Pitting (Cherries) and Picking (Guitars)

This time of year brings a funny feeling to the farm. The cooler nights and morning give everything a little hush -- a hint of the slowing down fall is about to bring.

But there is also a palpable anticipation in the air. You can almost hear the tomatoes turning, the wheat ripening, the zucchini multiplying and multiplying ... and multiplying again.

And so, the frantic plant, harvest, weed schedule has turned to a bit calmer one of  harvest, water and preserve.

One of my biggest tasks this time of year is figuring out what to do with all the goodness coming out of our ground.

I don't can, for a few reasons. I would like to, but every fall, it just seems too daunting. The hot water, the pressure, the skinning, the peeling, the whole botulism thing.  It's all too much.

A few years ago, I spent three days on 16 quarts of tomatoes -- tomatoes I wasn't sure wouldn't kill me in January when I opened them -- and decided to go a different route.

So the next year, we invested in a freezer -- a big one. I blanched and froze and blanched and froze and then just started freezing whole (freeze whole tomatoes, seriously. It's so easy.) If you have the freezer space, this is really the way to go.

And I learned to pickle. And pickle. And pickle.

There is no limit on what you can pickle and it's such a tasty way to preserve vegetables. I do some canning of pickles, but that can make things a little soggy and you're still dealing with the hot and the pressure and whatnot. So last year, I went strictly fridge pickles. Crispy, quick and easy to do in small batches when I have just a handful of cucumbers or zucchini or peppers to use, but not enough to justify a huge batch of canned pickles.

So, the Pickling part of the headline goes like this...

Here's the standard recipe I've been using for refrigerator pickles. (Meaning, pickles stored in the fridge. This is not a canning recipe. If you're wanting to can some dill pickles, try this recipe.)

1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp peppercorns
1 ½ tsp. dill seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp red chili flakes
Fresh dill head or two and the weed as well
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, whatever you're pulling at the moment
1 ½ cups white vinegar
1 ½ cups water

Combine the water and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. While you're waiting for that to happen, put the salt, peppercorns, dill and garlic on the bottom of a jar or two. Then, load in your cukes or veggies.

Pour the boiling brine over the veggies, cover and cool. Then move to the fridge. The pickles should be about ready in one week.

This makes about one large jar. If you have more than that to pickle just use equal parts water and vinegar for the brine and use the spice mixture above as a guide for how much of what to put in each jar.

(This is adapted from this great recipe from this great site.)

Next up: Pitting.

Because I love in January having a little piece of summer in my house somewhere, I'm a sucker for preserving not only what comes off our farm, but also what is fresh and local from friends and neighbors.

Last year, I bought a case of peaches the day I went into labor. I knew, when I bought them, with plans to go home and freeze them, that somehow, I was jinxing myself. I was right. They sat there for two or three days on the counter by the time my friend Steph found them when she came in one day to check on things. She took them home and froze all of them, then brought them back to my freezer.

Now every time Willa and I munch on those peaches, I am reminded about how important community is, and in particular, how important community is in how we feed ourselves and each other.

That's a big message for a few frozen peaches, I know, but they carry it well.

So, back to this year's fruit preserving. When my friend at the Orchard at Flathead Lake said she was sending some organic cherries across the divide, I snapped up a 20lb box.

Whoa boy. That's a lot of cherries.

I gave a few pounds to friends and then one night, when my baby was finally asleep, I set out to pit the entire remainder of the box and get them frozen.

But, I had no cherry pitter. So, I improvised, thanks to some wisdom I found in an online cooking forum somewhere. A beer bottle and a chopstick.

The top of this beer bottle is just perfect for pitting. Plus, I had to first drink the tasty brew to make room for all the pits. You just place the cherry on top, find the bottom center of the cherry and push the pit through. Voila.

Then, once you have them all pitted, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for a few hours (at least 2) before packing them into freezer bags.

Oh, cherries, you are just gorgeous my friends.

My other super handy trick, thanks to the interwebs, is vacuum sealing without a FoodSaver or the like. Take a regular freezer bag and a straw and insert the straw in the very corner of the ziploc. Suck all the air out via the straw and zip! a pretty-close-to-airtight container.

And, now the Picking.

I'm glad to say that by "picking" I mean playing music, not picking vegetables or worse -- weeds.

One of the things we've really been struggling with these last few years on farm is how to balance work and the other pursuits that are important to us -- things like music and reading and hiking and writing, running and yoga-ing and creating.

Both Jacob need these things to recharge, to feel whole, but we're also the type of people who do, do, do, and work, work, work before we allow ourselves any space or time to do any of that recharging. And, because there is no end to the doing and working, we seldom find time for any of this. At the end of the day, we're both so exhausted, nobody has any energy for anything. (I'm guessing we're not unique in this predicament.)

I'm pretty sure I learned this from my parents and I'm certain growing up on a farm contributed. You can imagine I do not want Willa to inherit this and so we're trying to be better models for her.

The last two years were pretty much a bust in that department, but I'm happy to say this year, we're doing much better.

We've been camping twice this summer, hiking at least once. We've been to the pool three -- three -- times and we've been better at making time for friends and family. And, every once in awhile, we even play a little music. Here's a photo (the sweetest of the summer in my mind) to prove it:

August 13, 2011

A Mighty Wind

A few days ago, we were sitting outside having dinner. It was a perfect, quickly cooling late summer evening but I was a little scrambled.

Our outside table sits just under a tree I hardly ever notice, actually.

It has been a ridiculously busy few weeks with guests and festivals and harvesting and work. All while trying to maintain a semi-regular home existence for us and the bean.

Sunday, we'd just gotten back from a wonderful, but busy, weekend at the cabin and I was focused on getting the baby fed, bathed and in bed while I unpacked, cleaned and readied for another farm trip (We're now selling bulk heritage and ancient grains at the Tuesday market in Whitefish, about 3 1/2 hours across the mountains.)

During dinner Willa was distracted, looking up and squealing, instead of eating.

"Focus Willa," I said, a little flustered. "Here, have some more rice."

 A gust of wind kicked up and her attention turned skyward again.

Ugh. Kid. Just eat.

Then, I looked up. The silver leaves quaking in the wind framed by a blue, blue sky. Another gust blew through, ruffling Willa's hair and replacing the hot summer air around us with an almost-fall coolness.


Willa and I met gazes, chins still pointed to the tree and she looked at me as if to say, "See Mama!? That's what I was trying to show you."

Oh, how beautiful the world can be if you let yourself see it through younger eyes.

Like the wonder you can find in a cold mountain stream. Or heck, how just a rock from that stream can be the most fun thing you've ever held in your hand.

Or, the simple pleasure of a discovering a sprinkler on a hot summer day.

And then hanging out in the spray for a few minutes to cool off.


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