Get Real: Work Edition

What is the work I do each day, here in the life I have been given to live?

There is one task that guides all others: to create in my home a microcosm of the world I wish to inhabit. And so each day I take up the jobs of nurturing children and self, husband and community. I strive to use resources wisely, and reverently, and to give thanks and offer prayers to the holy ones.

I work to sweep and wash, so that there is order and beauty all around us. I work to make small things from scratch: a meal, a dress, a poem, a song, so that we are nourished body and soul. I work to understand the mysteries, and to honor them. I work to listen to the inner glimmers of my inspiration, to let them gestate and, in their time, be born. I work slowly, each year with stronger faith in the eventual unfolding of my dreams and destiny. I work with a compass in my hand, following it in the direction of wholeness.

And how do I do this work?

I do it by trusting in the cycles of life, which sometimes guide me to rest and be still, and sometimes move me to create and build and work harder than ever before. I do it by eating eggs for breakfast, and by getting a good night’s sleep. I do it by being curious, and by following one interest to the next, even when it brings me back to the place I started from. I do it by letting go of my ambitions to be the best, or famous, or rich, and exchanging them for the ambition to be present and in my integrity. I do it by being a little on the type-A side.

I do it imperfectly, with many small failures that, when I persist and practice, yield unexpected success. For though I have faith, I a still delighted when the spinning wheel gives yarn into my hands, when I don’t lose my temper, when the seeds I plant take root in garden soil, when the children follow my guidance, when my beloved community of friends gathers at night and our laughter fills the air.

My tremendous sense of purpose as a homemaker–a human being blessed to be employed almost entirely in bread labor, or work that is essential to life, but not necessarily paid–comes from a feeling of having both a responsibility and an opportunity. I am given the gift of living this good life, and in return I work to do it justice.

And so each day, the world I make, and that you do, too, becomes more and more the world we all seek to live in.

*** 

This is the latest installment of Get Real, a series of posts being written by a group of amazing women bloggers. Each week, we visit a different topic related to homemaking and how it is we do it “all.” The collected wisdom that has been generated from our different but similar vantages has been such a joy to read, and I’m honored to be among them. Please do visit their posts this week!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.shivayanaturals.com

http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/

http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/

https://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/

http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/

http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

 

 

 

 

Get Real :: Housekeeping Edition

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I can’t think of any other work in life that is more like Tai Chi than housekeeping. The home is a body, animated by all this energy flowing around in the form of people, movement, stuff, and the elements. There is a constant interplay between order and disorder. My job as head housekeeper of this joint is to engage with all that moving energy, and use my own life force to keep the energy of the house balanced. It is a constant ebb and flow.

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Something important is happening here, and I know better than to disturb it.

I’m not a natural at this. I love caring for my home. I consider it a spiritual practice and am deeply fed by the rhythms of it. And I also get tired of it. After all, it is endless. I’m philosophical about housekeeping because I know that while my idea of bliss is two hours to clean with no one underfoot, it will look like nothing happened within minutes of my family’s return.

Our house is as much a living entity as all the people who live in it, and it’s natural flow is towards disorder. While I work daily to maintain a certain amount of order, I do not delude myself that we aren’t just one very fun afternoon away from disaster at any given moment. No matter how constantly I clean, I am trailed by two busy little children, a husband, and of course myself, and together we undo all that is done. It is the ultimate in impermanence. I am at peace with this.

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As clean as it gets. No matter what I do, there’s always a mason jar on the counter with unidentifiable contents.

But enough musing! I have two time tested and much beloved secrets to keeping this ship afloat. In fact, I’ve already written about both of them, so I’ll just give the links and cross my fingers that you’ll indulge some Vintage Old Recipe. It’s good stuff!

As my friends know, I am religiously devoted to my housekeeping rhythm. I’ll update the original post only to add that last fall I got super angsty and wrote up a day by day breakdown for the month that tells me exactly when to do which job that might otherwise get forgotten in the general upkeep: mop on the second Tuesday of the month, organize the toy shelf on the fourth Wednesday, clean the fridge the first Monday, and onward ad nauseum. Those jobs sometimes happen when my calendar tells me they should, occasionally I do them early or skip them for a month. Sometimes the fridge get’s a little funky before it’s day to be cleaned comes, but for heaven’s sake, who cleans a clean fridge?

My other secret is the revolutionary Clean House 1-2-3 technique, which you can read all about here. Basically, less stuff equals less mess. Give it a go.

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How nice that you can’t see the collection of dusty ephemera on top of my dresser (out of frame). Or the collection of banjo and mandolin cases behind the chair.

In parting, I just want to mention a cautionary tale told by my friend’s mother who related to me with dismay that she spent most of her life “pledging the furniture.” Is pledge some kind of polish? I think about Dee when I feel not inspired but enslaved by the constant cleaning. That’s when I stop, make a cup of tea, watch the kids play without following them around with a sigh and a broom, and do some knitting.

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Where do you keep stray balls of handspun and seeds and, um, what is all that stuff?

The truth is, while we need our homes to be well cared for, we also need to plant the garden, make things with our hands, read stories to our children, go for walks, indulge a burst of creativity, visit a friend. The house will wait, life will not. I try to remember to live it. My home is most beautiful to me when it is filled with the good things we do in it. We live here, I remind myself. This glorious mess is a sign of all that our love is capable of.

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If mama wants to sew and the kids want to play, why on earth would I stop them? 

Get Real is a series of posts by a group of amazing women on a variety of topics related to homemaking. Please do visit the other blogs in the series!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.shivayanaturals.com

http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/

http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/

https://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/

http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/

http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

Get Real: Garden Edition

I garden because my mother taught me to, and because it is one way I know to live well upon the earth, nurturing the place we call home by keeping it fruitful.

I garden because of all the things I do with my hands, tending seeds and nurturing soil is the thing that feeds me body and soul, while honoring all that is holy in this world.

Hello green tribes. Can't wait to see you again this year.

Hello green tribes. Can’t wait to see you again this year.

My garden has a life of its own. At this time of year, it feels as if it is springing forth as if of its own accord. Yes, it is my efforts planting seeds and preparing beds and dreaming that will manifest it, but these things flow through me rather than because of me. I am a servant to the seeds.

And so I can begin humbly.

Humility is good when you garden in a little barrio in Santa Fe, capital city of the dusty, dry, windy state of New Mexico. It reminds you to put your labor into cultivating a few patches of rich earth, so that, as my friend Erin says, they really sing. Humility teaches us that to get that song in the right key all we need (all!) is patience, persistence, and passion. Humility reminds you that though there is indeed a bright area under the clothesline that would, if tilled and watered, quadruple the size of your arable land, it might be wise to wait. And wait.

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Humility is its own kind of seed, and it’s fruit is called grace. At this point, I can say that is the main crop in my garden.

Over the years I’ve slowly shifted away from ambitious plans to “grow all our own tomatoes and greenbeans and kale so I can be a survivalist and sock it to the man,” and towards something more holistic: I’m going to make this garden as healthy and fertile as I can, because that is healing to me and the planet.

The rain does come.

Last summer was probably one of the greatest fruit years in New Mexico I will ever see. It came in the midst of devastating drought, at a time when most of us were despairing of ever again seeing a decent harvest from our fruit trees. Watching it unfold–the blossoms and green fruit, the waves of ripening cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and apples all summer long, the harvesting and preserving that brought my community together in a spectacular way–I felt myself to be in the midst of a favorite dream, the kind where we really are able to be self sufficient based on the gifts of this high, dry land.

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So I know that it comes, but I know not to take it for granted. For now, I’m grateful to have these years of apprenticing myself to this particular patch of land and the gifted gardeners whose experience guides me. Because I’ve got a long way to go.

This year, my garden reflects my growing understanding of Biodynamic practices. I’m planting seeds according to what sign the moon is in. My mom and I spent an hour this spring mixing up the famous horn manure potion and using a juniper branch to “spray” it on the soil. After a period of no-till gardening, I’m double digging my beds again. My main fertilizers are compost and fermented herb teas  (while we have an impressive bin of biodynamically prepared compost in mid-decomposition, we were, as usual, about six months too late for it to be ready this year).

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Right now I’ve got beds with cover crops on them, beds with sheet mulch, beds that overwintered greens, and beds that exist only in my imagination. Maybe I’m hoping that one of these will prove to be the golden key to abundant harvests, or maybe I’m just not sure what I’m doing. When I figure it out, then it wil be time to build those new beds under the clothesline.

This is the first year that I’ve been serious about starting seeds inside. I was convinced by a friend who demonstrated how much easier it is to germinate and establish tiny seedlings in flats rather than in huge beds that are impossible to keep moist and protected from spring winds. I don’t have a greenhouse, which seemed like a deal breaker, but then I realized I could just bring the flats in and out each day. While I’m hoping my puny tomatoes and chiles beef up by the last frost date, it is the thickets of greens that are most fun to nurture this way.

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I’m getting better at refining my succession planting, and intercropping. My goal has shifted away from having enough garden space to grow everything in one explosive season (in New Mexico, explosive seasons usually refer to forest fires, and a big summer garden means big summer water bills), but rather to have small, well tended areas for year round gardening.

And so I’m always wondering: How much do we need? How can I work with this land to provide it? Will rain ever come and fill our cisterns? Should I just get a CSA? Work at the farmer’s market in exchange for food? Move to the Northwest? Stay tuned, friends. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you’d like to share any of the secrets you’ve gleaned from your own garden and efforts as a gardener, please, please, do.

::

If interested in Biodynamic gardening, I recommend this book, which takes something that can be virtually incomprehensible and makes it beautiful, simple, and irresistible. If you want to give the cosmic rhythms a chance, get yourself a copy of the Stella Natura calendar. And lastly, if you live in the Southwest, I recommend taking a summer long hiatus from any blog outside the four corners region where an unwitting glimpse of the harvest basket or pantry will make you want to throw in the trowel and cry. Instead, subscribe to Seeds and Stones and 6512 and Growing. You will still get annoyed at what these chicas pull off, but at least it’s to scale. Since it’s still early in the year, I’d say it’s safe to read the other posts in this installment of Get Real. Prepare to be impressed.

Plain and Joyful Living

Shivaya Naturals

Hullabaloo Homestead

Our Ash Grove

This Blessed Life

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?