DSCF4258

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.

DSCF3592

Drawing the labels: each label is unique.

DSCF3602

Using the thief to taste and create the right mixture.

DSCF3604

The wine tasting is an event worthy of paparazzi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 The wine is siphoned into the bottles.

DSCF3613

Corking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Corking.

DSCF3621

The first bottle to be given away.

DSCF3631

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.

DSCF2307

DSCF2191

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.

DSCF2194

The purple loosestrife and the goldenrod are blooming (*), and the sumac is on fire (**). Life is good.

I’m researching axes. I am sorely lacking in axe skills, which I think are the perfect skills to have: good for fitness through meaningful physical work, good for the mind as an exercise in mindfulness and purpose, and a skill to have down before the time it becomes necessary – a hard winter, a lot of trees down, TEOTWAWKI. At first I thought I wanted an all-purpose Hudson Bay Axe, recommended by Alex Leavens, whose axe skills video I’ve been studying. Though I’d still like one of those, I am now thinking I’d like to learn to handle a splitting axe first: an axe with which to split, not chop wood, but not a maul, which is too heavy for me. I’m thinking a nice long handle and a head that’s 4 lbs. max. I’ve been eyeing the Granfors large splitting axe, or maybe it’ll be the small one… We’ll see. I like to take my time choosing.

We’ve also begun talking about goats. Amie is of course all for it. She has already drawn the layout for the shelter and “play pen”. DH is cautiously interested, not so much for the milk or meat, I think, but for the shrub-eating capabilities (we spent two days battling the blackberries up front).  I’m the one who will be doing all the research.

I’m giving away three of the five kombucha mothers I made two weeks ago. Due to the high temperatures the teas basically jumped from tea straight to vinegar. It’s not a loss: the vinegar goes into the chicken’s water and into a jar for when I need it, and the mother pieces made vigorous “babies” for giving away. One mother I had to throw since it had mold in it. The fifth one I’m keeping to try another brew.

(*) The bees’ favorite nectar plants. They’re bringing in lots of honey now.

(**) I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain and knew I’d not be harvesting staghorn sumac berries for sumacade. Berries for eating or steeping should be harvested after a long dry spell; rain washes away the taste. That didn’t, however, stop me from driving to the landfill and harvesting 5 gallons of spikes (or panicles)  for smoker fuel. Dried sumac berries are good fuel, burning long and smoking cold. The area where the bushes grow is a busy road where trucks pass, so I wouldn’t harvest there for sumacade, spice (zatar) or medicinal purposes (it’s a powerful antioxidant). I do know a patch of sumac that is away from traffic and herb/pesticides. I’ll harvest those when it’s dry again.

DSCF2174

Handling these makes your hands slippery smooth and the sour-sweet smell is divine.  On the other hand, any small cut will start smarting from the acid. You also need to resign yourself to getting lots of bugs, some biting, some not, on you as you wade through the bushes or cut up the panicles.

DSCF2178

I cut away as much of the stems as possible, then spread the berries (with smaller stems) on screens that I put in our attic, which is warmer and drier than anywhere else in the house. When it gets really hot up there the fan comes on, making it a perfect drying area.

 

The kombucha SCOBY started as a quarter coin (the mother) in a store-bought bottle. I put it in a pint jar with Indian Chai, where it grew a second layer (SCOBY baby) on top which soon occupied the entire surface. Then I moved it again to a large cookie jar, where a third layer (SCOBY grandchild) quickly formed on top. That’s three layers. Here they are, peeled apart.

DSCF1978

I brewed four teas: one Indian Chai, an old Assam, a new Assam,  and one Irish Breakfast, each with 1/4 cup of cane sugar. Once they cooled down to room temperature we were ready to start brewing our first kombucha teas.

Handling the SCOBY, pulling it out of the jar and inspecting it for mold (none, it was very clean) was an interesting tactile experience. Organic is a good word. To know that it is a living, growing organism or rather, coalescing population of living organisms added to the awesomeness.  I then peeled the layers apart. That too was neat: they formed distinct layers (“generations,” in essence) which came away easily.

I put the first baby (the second layer) back into the now very acidic brew that the SCOBY had been growing in (adding some tea and sugar) as a hedge in case the other mothers perish in their new jars. Then I put the original mother (oldest and smallest generation) into the Irish Breakfast. I cut the third, largest and newest layer, into three and put each piece into the Assams and the Indian Chai. Each SCOBY was accompanied by a cup of the original, acidic brew.

DSCF1981

Like this, I see, if they all thrive, I’ll have lots of SCOBYs to give away!

Literally taking off.

DSCF1963

By monopolizing the entire surface of the liquid, the SCOBY created an air-tight seal. The yeasts underneath kept on going, producing more CO2 than could stay dissolved in the ferment, so the gas started to push the SCOBY up. I pushed it down into the liquid, and it will floating on top again, even thicker, in a few days.

We’re (hopefully) at the tail end of the second  heat wave of the summer. The house, after accumulating heat over the past days, hit 88 at 3 pm, with 70% humidity. Outside, in the shade, it reached 97F (36C) . But it seems I’ve acclimatized. I wouldn’t say that I was comfortable, but it was bearable to do some chores inside and out, like feeding the hens, hanging the laundry on the line. Around 5 I headed outside to water the garden and to harvest some more beans, etc.

Yesterday I spent two hours in the afternoon weeding the haricots verts bed and harvesting 3 lbs. of beans. That evening, Amie and I enjoyed a meal almost entirely grown on our property (all except the butter, salt and pepper):

DSCF1842

The kombucha mother is loving the hot weather. Compare:

DSCF1837

 

Kombucha mother yesterday

DSCF1844

Kombucha mother today

It smells divine. I can’t wait to brew me some tea.