Get Real! Dinner Edition

I was invited by my friend Adrie to join a little blog party series called “Get Real!” A handful of bloggers are going to write about a variety of different topics related to homemaking, and how that really looks in our lives. I thought I’d come out of semi-retirement to join in because if there is one thing I like, it’s being real. 

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Today we’re to talk about dinner. Here’s what I have to say: I like it simple, I like it planned, and I like it by 5pm. My great dream in life is to actually sit down at 5 for a meal that is perfectly cooked by a relaxed chef (could that be me?) and with a family that is scrubbed and smiling. But the sun has been shining kind of late in the day, and that’s such a fine time to take a walk and let the family freely unwind, that well, we eat before 7 and that does just fine.

I meal plan once a week, and archive those plans, just in case next time the week of March 24th rolls around I want to just repeat the genius. I often tell folks that meal planning is my secret to eating well on a little. I flatter myself that I am a little famous amongst my flock for being the most frugal shopper. Meal planning is one secret. The other is not buying much food. My husband likes to ask once the groceries are unloaded, “Did you get anything to eat?”

While on the subject of dinner, and speaking of getting real, I’d like to confess that my name is Kyce and I am on a Special Diet. There, I said the words I never thought I’d have to utter! It wasn’t so bad. Nor is the diet. It’s been a week since we began eating what you might call Hard Core Nourishing Traditions. You know, GAPS. No grains or potatoes or pinto beans. Gallons of bone broth. 4 dozen eggs a week. Yogurt cultured almost past recognition. Fish oil for breakfast.

There is something radical happening in my kitchen right now. The amount of attention and care going into preparing our food is not tiresome or restrictive, but enlivening. Our food deserves this level of commitment, and I feel blessed to find myself giving it. It is very reminiscent of my last special diet, aka the plastic fast. Remember that, old friends? During that time I felt this amazing feeling of “Wow, I didn’t even know it was possible to live like this!” and I’m feeling the same way now: If I always thought I had to eat grains with my meals, and it turns out I feel great without them, what else do I believe that isn’t really true? 

Also, it’s kind of fun to try on this super-bad-ass and a little most-high kitchen persona. I’m, like, one of those people that can go through a bottle of apple cider vinegar in a week, now. Whoa.

What else? Pretty much a crockpot of bone broth is going round the clock. All our nuts are getting soaked and slowly dehydrated in the pilot light warmed oven. I’m fermenting vegetables–and I’ve always wanted to be not just a person who fermented veggies, but also ate them, and here we go, it’s happened. Every mason jar in my house is being used not for jam but for tallow and chicken livers. Kefir is around the corner, though I swear I’m not doing kombucha. But I will trade chicken stock for it.

I’m far from perfect. Let’s just say it’s good luck that the invitation to write this post didn’t come in the midst of one of our special mac and cheese diets. I have many dear friends that have been on the journey of eating as well as possible for a long time, and they have inspired me along the way, even as I’ve resisted–for a whole host of reasons–major changes. I’ve always done my best while staying within my comfort zone, and felt it good enough, so this is a radical new direction for me and my family. And yes, it is stretching my frugal ways, and asking for certain compromises. For instance, half our milk is raw goat milk, but not organic. The other half is organic but not raw or grassfed. What a problem, right? I try not to feel too sorry for myself.

Who knows how long this will last or where it will take us, but for now, it has been healing on many levels. Like Sandor Katz says in Wild Fermentation about fermenting, it’s kind of like “a health regimen, gourmet art, multicultural adventure, form of activism, and spiritual path all rolled into one.”

There’s so much more to say–about the commitment we make through our food, and about extending that commitment not just to our own health, but the planet’s. Perhaps another day, but just know that is on my mind right now.

In the meantime, I need a home for my sourdough starter if anybody in the hood is interested. It makes very, very good bread, if memory serves.

Any revolutions brewing or fermenting in your kitchens? Share the good word, please, without fear of being real, and then stop by the other blogs in this series to see what they’ve got going on:

Plain and Joyful Living ~ Hullabaloo Homestead ~ Our Ash Grove ~ This Blessed Life~Fields and Fire~ Shivaya Naturals

 

You Know You’re Really Into Waldorf When…

…A light hearted look at how far we can go–not that I, or anyone I know has, ahem.

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  1. You cut out screen time for your small children, then recorded music and stories, then picture books, then talking too much to them at all.
  2. If you must say something, you sing it on a pentatonic scale, or get the message across with a nursery rhyme.
  3. You replace all the plastic toys in your house with natural toys, then replace the natural toys with homemade toys, then replace the homemade toys with sticks and stones.
  4. Your children wear three layers of wool in any month containing the letter “R.”
  5. Not even your closest friends and family know what color your baby’s hair is because they have never seen him without his hat on.
  6. You get into celebrating seasonal festivals like the lantern walk because they seem earth based and groovy, but before long start alarming your husband with the annual family Christmas Pageant, not to mention the pictures of angels and the Madonna hanging in your children’s room.
  7. You use regular easter egg dye to dye play silks and yarn; your easter eggs will be colored with onion skins, spirulina, and beets, thank you very much.
  8. Your child thinks cd’s are “rainbow mirrors” left by fairies.
  9. You do not flinch when telling fairy tales to your five year old that involve wicked stepmothers requesting the heart and liver be cut from her step child’s corpse. In fact, you consider such stories “soul milk.”
  10. When a good rebellion is in order you sing the ABC song to your two year old, read picture books featuring animals dressed as humans, and serve fish on chicken day. Even Waldorf mamas need to get wild!
  11. You go from thinking that Waldorf is extreme and rigid, then intriguing and mysterious, then common sense. Not that you know how to sum it up quickly for the curious mother at the park, though. If you had to, you might say something like this:

“Waldorf” is not something that happens at a special school, or when very expensive toys are present, or when certain rules are followed. It lives in the hearts of caregivers who strive to be worthy of imitation, who respect childhood by not imposing adult thinking onto its dream like qualities, who protect their children’s senses from over-scheduling, media, and consumerism, who honor play and imagination and movement as the foundation for genius, and who feed their children’s developing bodies, minds, and spirits by offering them the right stuff at the right time—soul milk, yo. And that’s just the beginning, because if there is one thing I can say for sure about Waldorf, it’s that it is imbued with layer upon layer of meaning. Yes, it can be annoying, threatening, and a little, well, ridiculous. But if there has ever been a larger, sweeter onion to peel the layers back on, I have yet to find it.

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Got any other good ones about what Waldorf is, or how to know when you’ve gone too far?

Gardener’s Guide to Marriage

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A little more snow came our way, and I was sent alone into the mountains to see how a half foot of powder felt beneath the old skis. Well, they still glide, I found. The forest is still lovely. And as I flew along the pristine glory of it all, I was still in the pissy mood I’d left town in.

I’d been fighting a bit with The Man of the Place the last few days. We’d been sick, sleepless, grumpy. I was a little perturbed, in fact, that he had insisted so emphatically that I take the skis and go. If there was something to not be perturbed about, I didn’t know it. Every word we spoke was another hot piece of kindling for the imminent marital immolation.

I wanted to break out of the cycle. I knew we had to, and had faith that we would (we’ve been at this 15 years). I just couldn’t seem to remember how. As I skied along, I reviewed my nice long list of insightful points to make, rational arguments to show that I was, in fact, quite right to be perturbed about the socks left on the floor, the incessant music making when the dusting needed to be done, the long naps when my list showed other things needed doing. Or whatever it was that started this fire. If it was even my fault, which I was sure it wasn’t. And now I had proof!

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This being a powder day in the mountains, my thoughts mercifully wandered. I began thinking of snow melt, and springtime, and the garden. And then I thought of how in the garden, you’re not supposed to battle every bug with soap sprays and neem oil or boxes from the nursery filled with ladybugs. You are, in the words of Carole Tashel, not meant to struggle against natural forces much at all, but to “focus your efforts on enhancing unstressed plant growth: improved soil quality, proper watering, companion planting, preventing stress, etc.”

And Ding Ding Ding went the wise mind of the girl moving as one with her skis through the forest with snow falling all around. I didn’t have to win the fight! I didn’t have to come up with the magic bullet that would end all fights forever. I didn’t even have to fight. Instead, I could direct my efforts at enhancing unstressed growth. On love, on kindness, on respect. I should focus, as Eliot Coleman puts it, on the “insusceptibility of plants rather than the killing of pests…an approach that is plant positive rather than pest negative.”

I flew back up the trail, blissed out by the snowscape, the excercise, the revolutionary applications of gardening genius to marriage.

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I decided to leave the neem oil spray in the shed when I put my skis away that afternoon. Something had shifted and I found myself on the other side of the fire, able to be affectionate and loving and not burning with my need to be right. I could be love-positive rather than bicker-negative. And so I was able to shine with that light of love, and, most wondrously of all, to be received.

And there it was, rising from the ashes: the shared heart — this garden– that has been built from our long togetherness.

You know what? It’s okay to have a few bugs! It’s okay to have weeds! The permaculturists remind us that the problem is the solution, that the weed makes good tea and the bug is a messenger. We can welcome these things not as the End, but as part of the forces of life.

The work we are given to do as partners in relationship–not just with our beloved, but our children and community–is simple. We can feed the soil, nourish it, offer the many small gestures it needs so that it may be fruitful and generous in return. Build it, rejoice in it, give thanks for it. It all turns on affection.

Now if we can all just agree that I’m right I’ll be quiet.

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If you receive this in your inbox, as I think most of you dear readers do, did you know you could just hit reply to leave a comment? Very painless, and likely to produce a positive feedback effect of slightly more frequent writing on my part, maybe even once a month! Plus, I like to know who you are, and to be able to follow your adventures, too.

Words from the Willows and Other Wise Women of Winter

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After a grouchy week I went down to the river by myself. It was dry, but beautiful. I sat quietly amongst the dry leaved willows, shoulders tense and brow furrowed with whatever angst I was carrying around. After a while I heard my voice say out loud, “What do I need right now?” Sometimes I manage to remember that bad moods and behavior are a symptom of something that needs attention–be it in my children, myself, the crazy world. Usually the answer is something along the lines of “love.”

This time, I was pretty sure the answer was going to be something more like, “I need time alone! Time to write, time to sew, time to clean the damn house!” But those familiar whines were drowned out pretty quickly by these five words:

“I need to let go.”

Really? Again?

Yes. And it’s not just the willows giving me this message.

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My friend Becca wrote these amazing words about motherhood during the fall, and they moved me then and move me now. She writes:

“I work when I can, paint when I can, try to keep up my relations with family and friends, try to keep a house and little garden, and often these things fall short.  Mostly I am a mother.   I learned this new role hard way, the way only a new mother can learn things… by trying to be my old self and to be a mother at the same time. With those expectations came many disappointments.  I guess I eventually realized that it might be better if I just tried to be a mother first and the other things would fall in where they may.  As soon as I relaxed into this new reality of myself, I began to relax and enjoy motherhood. “

Her words are simple and eloquent and come from a deep-heart place. I am so grateful to share this mothering journey with her.

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I have also found a new friend and companion in  The Mother’s Wisdom Deck. An old friend illustrated it, and two souls that feel kindred to me wrote it. They make no bones about the complexity of motherhood, and created the deck to, as they say, “shed light—and beauty—on the deep soul work that mothering entails.” My mothers’ circle is currently using this book/deck as our guide; each of us takes a turn leading the monthly group around a theme we draw from the pages according to what moves us on a personal level, and then bring it alive for each other.

This recent post on their blog, Mothering With Soul, speaks to the grief and sadness I feel during this dark time of year–Demeter’s season. It is a beautiful reflection on the loss inherent in mothering. While this story is about childbearing losses, even when our children are healthy, we mourn the loss of our former selves, or the child we imagined, or ourselves as the ideal mother.

“All of my losses have shown me this incredible gleaning underside, if I am willing to be curious, to to see the vibrant underworld, hidden from sight. In the height of grief, there can be no digression from its unrelenting presence, but when the grief settles, one can explore, with new urgency, what matters most.”

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Follow it up by reading Teach Your Daughters Wailing: The Power of Mourning Women. It will make sure you never choke back tears again!

What wise words are finding their way to you, these day?

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These pictures are from a Thanksgiving hike in Arizona, by the way. Posting unrelated images with your Deep Thoughts is a side effect of only blogging once every 8 weeks or so. See you in February, she signs off with a grin!

October Travel Notes

Here we are — the long river of summer slowing into the still eddies of late fall.

 I am sinking into it little by little.

Tending the small things close at hand.

Walking the path I am given to walk, and marveling at how far it has carried me.

How good and full this summer and harvest season have been!

How sweet it is to pause and rest. To be quiet and take it all in.

Do nothing extra friends, and be well.

 

Harvest Swap

Come and get some plums!

Dear Fellow Preservers of the Harvest,

You are cordially invited to a Delectable Harvest Swap in which the bounty of our gardens, barnyards, orchards, and wild lands will be celebrated and shared.

Consider this your advance notice to put up extra of whatever putting up you do. Bring that extra bit you know you can’t use, and let it be your currency to barter your way to a dream pantry while spending a morning amidst fabulous folk. 
  

Wondering what to bring? 

Whatever you’ve canned (according to Dept. of Ag regulation specs, please!)—chutneys, jams, fruit butters, sauces, salsas, whole fruits, pickles, but also vinegars, condiments, fermented fare, dried fruits, cider, chiles, and garlic. Not a big canner? How about baked goods, salves, tinctures, honey, soap, seeds, dried culinary or medicinal herbs…or whatever your homemade, homegrown, or wild harvested specialty is. Oh, and don’t forget pumpkins, cabbages, and other fresh fall crops.

Register here: Santa Fe Harvest Swap

Learn more about food swaps here: Food Swap Network

Happy High Summer days, and see you on the flip side!

Kyce and Erin

 

Archiving the Apricots

The glorious days of fruit season are upon us again. It’s been a few years since we had a really good one, with all the trees bending low with the weight of  heavy fruits. Across Santa Fe, grocery store shelves are sold out of jars and lids within hours, and the sound of ball jars pinging sealed can be heard ringing out.

It’s been a couple few years since we had apricots to speak of, some say a decade has gone by since the sight of fallen apricot covered streets and gardens graced our fair villa. So much happens in a decade! I can’t help but reflect on how we grow between each cycle of harvest and preservation, gleaning our fruit, learning new ways to preserve it, and ripening into our ability to put everything else on hold because the apricots must be put up today.

From the fledgling days where we nervously try to get every last air bubble out of our jars, to the experiments with fermented chutney or hard cider, we are always in some state of beginners mind when it comes to putting up the harvest. And we are also rewarded for our efforts, becoming more and more skilled with each go round. The fruit teaches us, and brings us gently into the fold of radical homemaking. How can we say no to this gift from the trees, the bees, and the magical year that it all bears fruit?

Because I know I’ll forget between now and the next apricot year, here’s a little log of what’s gone down in my kitchen so far.

First, the canning. Here’s a blurry, satisfied, late night shot of some of it. I wasn’t super creative with my jams this year–next time I’ll make spiced ginger or rosehip-clementine-apricot jam like my friends did. Me, I’d just cook down the fruit as it fell (I call it “splat-ripened”) or was picked, then either make a simple pomonas pectin jam (my attempts at homemade pectin have flopped–advice?) or apricot butter (fruit and sugar in the crockpot till cooked down and darkened) depending on how much time I needed to buy myself.

I stopped myself after 45 jars, because really there is too much of a good thing and how much can we truly eat when so much fruit is still ripening on the tree?

Next I got to work freezing the choicest fruit–Just ripe enough to be heavenly but not even close to mushy. I dumped the fruit into a big bowl filled with water and a few teaspoons of citric acid (ascorbic acid from Vitamin C capsules would also be great) to keep them from discoloring. Then split, pitted, and frozen on cookie sheets and then stored in bags or containers.

Not pictured is my apricot brandy–a gallon jar filled with ripe, whole fruit, covered in three cups of sugar and cheap vodka. Already the smell of this brew is positively ambrosial, but I think I’ll give it a few more weeks for kicks. Strain as well as humanly possible. This is another place to get more creative–anise stars? Cinnamon sticks? Since we don’t really drink much brandy, however homemade-ish, I’ll be giving pretty little bottles at Christmas time. Also, next time I’ll be sure to use an organic, quality vodka.
Totally new for me this year is drying fruit. We don’t have a dehydrator, so it always seemed sort of off limits. Funny how the simplest things that you know are as ancient as mankind can seem like the most impossible. In my ’80s edition of Putting Food By there was a little note about how Ferminia Chavez of Las Trampas, New Mexico sun-dried her apricots thusly: Add two table spoons of kosher salt to a gallon of water. Dip the ripe fruit in, then split with your fingers, take out the pit, and turn the fruit slightly inside out. Then put in the sun till dry. I thought to myself, if this worked for Ferminia Chavez just up the road in Las Trampas, why shouldn’t it work for me?

Well, it did.
It happens that Mr. Old Recipe has all sorts of magical things in his collection, including an old screen door and matching glass door. He raised the screen onto bricks over a concrete “collector,” I spread the fruit out like so, and we set the glass door on bricks over top. Even with cool days and plenty of clouds and occasional showers, the fruit dried within three days.

The pros will say it’s best to not have the fruit directly in the sun where they lose some vitamins. But I thought of Ferminia and didn’t fret too much about it. Perhaps a bit of cheesecloth over the top? Or a window/door with frosted panes? On a warm, dry day, I’d say this would have worked fine in the shade, too.

Look at this gold! My friends, it tastes even better.

I thought at first that the salt bath was some old-timey way of keeping the color pure, but our friend Alberto who knows everything said it was to draw the moisture out for better drying. Those old timers weren’t born yesterday, I guess.

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What are you doing for the first time this year in the food preservation department? What works for you every time? What should I know about storing my dried fruit? What’s your favorite way to make apricot jam?

Gift from the Chama

We traveled to the Chama, some friends and I.

Her beauty rose to meet us as we dropped into the arms of rock walls of layered time, through dusky green tides of rolling desert, to the river flowing like blood in a beating heart.

The land opens and we behold the rainbow of shifting light, clouds passing over, wind brushing the tops of willow thickets.

We behold all this, and remember that just as the land contains such beauty, so too are there blessed places hiding in our own souls. Wild places, where everything–drought and rain, rock and cottonwood, flowing water, and light, so much light–exists to make us whole.

We come to this place, and grace comes to us.

Reverence fills our thirsty hearts, awe floods our humble lives. And in the grace of this place, we deepen into the grace of ourselves. Those hidden canyons that are timeless, that belong to the sacred.

We come and in coming find joy–communion, laughter, song, feasting. And more than a few rattlesnakes.

We delight in our togetherness, and the many lights shining out of our circle, lights that have found one another, and so grown brighter.

 We celebrate our families and friendships, our blossoming children, our musical menfolk, and another year around the sun (that would be me!)

Most of all, we celebrate the life giving waters of our dry land.

Oh Chama River, what a gift you are indeed.

Ways to Spend a Summer Day: Washing Woolens

Remember woolens? Those hats and sweaters and whatnot you meant to wash in May?

We pulled ours out of the four corners of the house in the last round of summer sorting (which is always a good way to spend a summer day). Then, one day when the girls were done getting pruney in the kiddy pool under the apple tree, they watched with wide eyes as I squirted soap and vinegar into the still warmish water and dumped the whole wooly pile of that winter gear in.

We got in and did a grape stomping style gentle agitation, and it was a sensory treat so beautiful I wished I had my camera, but then within minutes the water turned rich brown then black, and I was glad I didn’t. But oh, how satisfying.

The water got pumped out onto the apple tree, as usual, and I rinsed everything in the washing machine and put it through the spin cycle before spreading flat on towels to dry.

And there it is. Just about everything woolen I have made or been given over the last few years. Now squeaky clean for a someday winter day.

Home on the Range

We took Miss Shelley, our 1971 VW camper (hands up if you cruised one of these when you were a kid) with a rasta stripe, for a little spin up country, round about the Spanish Peaks in Southern Colorado.  We retraced our footsteps from long ago, places we visited as young herbalists newly in love, then a little older, then pregnant for the first time, now a family. Still in love, it seems.

We’ve known this land in many lights. This time it was overflowing with green plants. Some places burned down last summer and were springing back to life. There were bears in the thicket and turkeys on the run, arnica and red clover blooming to make a gal swoon. One favorite place, an aspen covered mountain, had been eaten alive by bajillions of caterpillars that left not a green leaf in sight. But oh, the birdsong in that place! Mountains we once climbed still pierced the sky, and we were content to tell stories of what it felt like on their summit.

We had hard moments, good moments, and plenty of time to move between the two spectrums. We walked the trails, dug in the dirt, shopped for produce at SuperWalmart (whoa!), made stick houses, tied bonnet strings just so, bickered about whose turn it was to keep the children from wandering into the forest while dinner cooked, and practiced positive thinking when that seemed like the hardest thing to do. We went to bed together with the sun, and felt at home in our little home on wheels. At home with each other, at home with the land.

And that’s the story of how we added another layer to our migration through this life.