amie_cello_forFMMusic is such a large part of our lives. Amie is playing classical pieces that truly ask the best of her. It is a marvel to see her small fingers dance on the fretless fingerboard, touching each note. Her playing folk with some of the kind folks of the 12 Georgia is a lot of fun. So far, the guitar sings Twinkle Twinkle and House of the Rising Sun. I love it when she practices. When I bring her with me to visit our friend Rebecca, we bring her cello and she plays. Rebecca, who can no longer speak, studies her intently, like she is trying to engrave her, or her song, in her memory – I like to think so she will remember them on the other side of life.

As for myself, I never had any musical education and can’t even read music, but I do have a good singing voice. Never very confident, I’ve always kept silent, but now I am changing my mind about that. I may never play the cello, but I can honor the world with my song and tell story and make beauty that way. So I picked up my courage and sang, full-breasted,  “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” for Rebecca. Apart from my closest family, she was my first audience and she liked it very much, I could tell.

Because it is for the world I want to sing, I want to sing songs from all over the world, songs that go way back or way deep too. Right now I’m learning Gaelic “Song of Amergin,” which according to some sources means “Birth of Song”. It is an ancient wizard riddle that may go back to the 4th or 5th century. The language is wicked hard to pronounce and then to memorize, and so are the subtle pitch changes, the unexpected melodies, and the tremelos. I take it line by line and it becomes an invocation. My guide on this song too is Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance (she sings it here, but I wish it didn’t have the ever louder background music).

With song comes wine. We measured the specific gravity of the crushed grape juice (1.04 for the Malbec, 1.08 for the Cabernet), then put the yeast to it. We need to feed it in a months time.

The mead I made in September has cleared a lot. This is the bottle (front) in September:

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It’s much lighter now. Here’s the bottle next to the year-old, wholly clarified mead:

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The bottom is a moonscape of dead yeast people and quaintly coalesced beeswax. But something else in the yeasts must make them consume and break down the color. I need to learn more about this because a bottle of homemade mead is always an occasion for storytelling.

Not wanting to disturb the sediments, I used the thief to extract some and tasted it: just right, still enough sweetness left. I filled a couple of glasses and here’s to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!
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This mead is done! It was made with raw honey and champagne yeast. After more than a year in the carboy, I bottled it. It is quite dry, with that typical, somewhat surprising mead flavor reminiscent of honey. it can age some more in the bottle. Look how clear it is, compared to the next batch!

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I also racked the two 3 gallon carboys that I put together with the winterkill (hence pasteurized) honey at the beginning of August. One went into a fresh 3 gallon carboy (not pictured) – I had to top it off with brandy, since after leaving the lees (thick layer of dead yeast at the bottom) I no longer had 3 gallons. The other one went into two 1 gallon carboys and the leftover 3/4 gallon went into a bottle for immediate consumption. These are obviously very young and the taste isn’t as developed yet, but I hope after this thoroughly oxygenating operation, they’ll start up again. If they do, I’ll select one or two to add fruit. If they don’t, I’ll make one into a metheglin by adding spices. They’re sitting on my bedroom dresser, so I’ll know if they start bubbling again soon.

This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

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But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

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… in the rain forest of Panama!

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More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.

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This has been/still is a hard winter. It’s been one snow storm after another, with long stretches of below freezing temperatures.  Three weeks ago I caught a bug which developed into pneumonia – hence the silence here – and now that I’ finally up and about, Amie caught something as well. That’s how it goes. The winter was hard on the bees as well: all three colonies are dead of starvation in boxes still half full of capped honey.  They just didn’t have the chance to break cluster and move toward the honey.

But things are stirring. Before yesterday’s snow flurries we actually saw dirt. Then it got covered up again, but all that should be washed away by tonight’s rain and tomorrow we may see some outdoor activities. I plan to wash all the seedling trays and pots so I can start the basement garden. If I’m up for it, I’ll also clean out the chicken coop: there’s some good compost in there after months of deep litter.

A couple of days ago I (hot-water-bath) canned the sauerkraut that had been fermenting in big jars on my counter for seven weeks. I usually don’t can kraut as it pasteurizes it (duh!) and kills off all the good bugs. Still, I had too much of it to keep in the fridge, and as I’m the only one who eats it round here, I decided to reserve one jar for the fridge and can the rest.  I hope the canning doesn’t make it too soggy. I like it crunchy.

 

We bottled the wine (which was pressed, see here, and racked, see here earlier). We ended up with 29 bottles,  8 of Cabernet Franc, 10 of Merlot and 11 of a 70-30 mix. My MIL, FIL and SIL were here, as well as our three NYC friends, and we put everyone to work.

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Drawing the labels: each label is unique.

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Using the thief to taste and create the right mixture.

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The wine tasting is an event worthy of paparazzi.

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 The wine is siphoned into the bottles.

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Corking.

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Corking.

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The first bottle to be given away.

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I’ll publish the labels tomorrow. Some of them are hilarious!

An acquaintance some time ago took me up on my offer of a kombucha mother. They accumulate in my fridge and I had sent a call out. I gave him the mother with all the instructions and he said he would take care of it. A week later I met him and asked about his kombucha. He said, oh, he had forgotten all about the mother and it had died.

I was pretty upset about it. These mothers are alive. They live and breathe, as the video below shows.

On this rainy day, reading Thompson’s Growth and Form (“Nature works true to scale, and everything has its proper size accordingly”) while  listening to Beethoven’s Seventh, second movement (Allegretto) over and over again and sipping sumptuous kombucha tea (I’m getting the hang of it). All three are sumptuous, of course, but one is cerebral, the other mournful, and the other playful.

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August is all about food. All the colors are coming in now: deep green collards and brussels sprout leaves, yellow squashes, red tomatoes, orange peaches, purple eggplants, and blueberries are holding in there. The bees are turning the orange and yellow nectar (over)flow into oodles of honey. At the end of the month there will also be crisp apples.  Then the mushrooms will start rising up…

I am making food with the help of living organisms. A thick, moist sprouted whole wheat bread with lots of egg in it.  Kombucha tea with peaches going into secondary fermentation for carbonation and flavoring. Pickled cucumbers with the kombucha vinegar (pasteurized by the canning process). I want to try my hand at kimchi too, and will make sauerkraut as soon as my CSA box brings a fat cabbage head. In the meantime, I’m also experimenting with a biscuit roll. I follow my friend’s recipe but with jam instead of cream filling and it comes out just like my grandmother used to make it. It means a lot to me that the five eggs are “homegrown” and the jam homemade, from local plums, in this case.

Amie and I got books on goats at the library and getting goats seems like a whole new challenge. Goats were on our mind so much yesterday that when we read, in a beautiful book on flowers, the following quote:

– A flower is a leaf gone mad with love –

we attributed it to “Goatee,” then laughed and read the name right: Goethe.

Handling food, living or just plucked or dug, I think of how they’re all of them – roots, leaves, flowers, fruits – about always more life and sex (“love” in Goethe’s romantically correct jargon). This in turn proved the perfect mindset for me to read, in Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearbythe chapter “Ice.” It is about starvation and death and whiteness at the North Pole. The kernel is the story of Atagutaluk, who was trapped, with her family, in the frozen wastes. They ate the dogs, their clothes and shoes, then the children, the companions, the husband. She was found just in time, barely alive, a skeleton herself and “not human anymore,” she warned her rescuers. Solnit pairs the stories – for there are so many versions, each their own story, really – with fairy tales and myths of women  floating, steeping in the ocean, stripped to the bone.

What struck me was the contrast of this, my life of abundance, and Atagutaluk’s starvation. And how for the plants and animals in the world it is all about love/sex/more life, while for us the world is all about food. In some stories, Solnit points out, the heroine is restored (Atagutaluk’s story, and the folk tale the Skeleton Woman). But in others (the creation myth of Sedna), she remains at the bottom of the cold Arctic sea, afloat in a continual kind of dying, and the needs of the humans who tell the tale are addressed instead: out of her come the walruses and seals that feed them.

It is hard to tell where this leads, because it leads into so many directions. One is that I am thankful for the plants and animals that preserve my life. That, knowing who grew them, and where, and how, makes my thanks more concrete and thus more sincere. That perhaps my thanks returns something, puts some flesh back on those bones. That, at a minimum, the one who feeds me, regardless of whether I deserve it or not, is not forgotten at my table.

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