Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Twas the Day After Christmas...

The buildup to Christmas always seems exhausting, no matter how much or little I do to prepare for it. This year, of course, I focused on my holiday baking for the market, though I tried to save some for friends near and far.

Come the day after Christmas, though, I'm ready for the peace and quiet of a cold winter's day, particularly if it comes with light snow as it did today. It's the kind of day I need to get myself back on an even keel after too much holiday indulgence.

So though I did get a start on the week's baking for market -- the last baklava, dough for buckwheat cookies and cheese crackers and croissants -- I also pulled out a recipe for a pasta sauce with root vegetables from Recipes From the Root Cellar, used it to clean some tired old vegetables out of the refrigerator (along with spinach-infused water from another dish last week and a jar of home-canned tomatoes), and set it to simmering on the stove while I worked.

Hours later, the sauce has thickened, deepened in flavor, and created a deliciously tempting aroma throughout my home. Now all I need to do is cook some pasta, shred some cheese, and wait for the Renaissance Man to show up.

Here's hoping you all had a joyful Christmas -- and are ready for a little quiet before the New Year sets us on the treadmill yet again!

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fall Cleanup

The snowstorm that blanketed communities north of us yesterday left us with just a couple of inches on top of ice -- not too bad, until you consider the howling winds and the sub-zero wind chills.

The official first day of winter might be one week away, but the season has decided to slip in early and give us all reason to stay inside and get cozy. And I'm happy to do that: I've had the oven up to full steam to bake baklava and biscotti for the Woo's Brews Grand Opening later this week as well as to bake baklava, cookies, and bread for market. I even put a pot of vegetable stew on Sunday evening when the chill first hit and have been enjoying that ever since. (It's good to start using what's in the freezer and the pantry!)

But a part of me regrets the early snowfall. Why? Now I can't find the last remaining vegetables in the garden!

I am terribly slow at cleaning up the garden in the fall, and this year, with a few root crops planted for late harvest, I really let things slide. Somewhere under all that white stuff there are some beets, parsnips, rutabagas, and salsify roots -- not to mention kale, chard, and cabbage that might be well frozen at this point. I've recently picked up a couple of books on winter vegetables, and I'm inspired to cook, but if I can't unearth my treasures, what can I do?

So I'm cleaning up in other areas:

--I finally wrote up an article for The Ethicurean about Olney Friends School. I attended a summit there in late October, partly looking at the school's future but also exploring larger issues of sustainability, and I was impressed with their farm and connections to local food.

--After four and a half months of silence, I've finally caught up the farming blog, if only to post the last photos and give a cursory summary of how the season sped to a close. I hope to sit down and write up something more encompassing about what I learned this year (and post it at The Ethicurean), but I'm taking small steps...

--I'm working my way back into my pile of books on food and farming. As mentioned above, I've found two delicious cookbooks -- Recipes From the Root Cellar and The Winter Harvest Cookbook -- and I hope to review them for both The Ethicurean and for the Local Roots newsletter in the next couple of weeks. I've also got another gardening book to review, plus Gene Logsdon's latest, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind (easily the best farming title ever).

--And the first seed catalog -- from Fedco -- has come in, so one of these evenings, I'm sure I'll curl up with it and start my list, then start winnowing said list when I compare it to what seeds I already have on hand. Because it will be spring again before you know it...

There's always plenty to do to clean up around here!

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Baking a Moment to Enjoy

The snow and the sub-freezing temperatures have become constant companions this week, giving me yet another reason to be glad that I'm baking for a living these days.

They also bring the desire to bundle up, to get cozy and warm, and to watch the world and appreciate the moment. So I'm going to share some of the little joys of baking that I may note in passing but too often take for granted:

--the fragrance of yeast as it blooms in warm water
--the airy soft powdery feel of freshly milled flour (especially spelt!)
--the velvety texture of bread dough as the gluten begins to weave its magic and brings a loaf together as I knead it
--the sweet little ache in my arms after kneading dough, lifting flour buckets, and more, simply because it reminds me that I am, in fact, strong enough for this work

--the aroma of different cheeses as I mix them with herbs and combine them with bread dough
--the stinging sharp whiff of a freshly cut onion, soon tempered through heat and oil into a carmelized sweetness
--the tempting perfume of bread as it bakes and browns
--the piercingly sweet blend of freshly grated orange peel and crystallized ginger in a favorite cookie recipe
--the rich, bitter scent of the freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee that gets baking mornings off to a rousing start
--the pleasure of combining seasonal vegetables with different cheeses and herbs in ways that people are surprised to discover they love!
--the honeyed seduction of baklava
--the warm sweetness of spices: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves
--the sigh of relief when the day's baking is done

There are definitely worse jobs in life!

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Year in the Headlights

Good grief, would you look at that? It's December already, the snowflakes are starting to drift down, and it's time to celebrate the anniversary of this blog again.

How do I even begin to express the whirlwind of experiences, the major changes in my life in the past year? In some ways, things don't seem to have changed much at all -- I'm still living comfortably, though as simply as I can (and needing to tighten the belt a little more for winter) -- but the differences in my worklife and in my personal sanity have been enormous and all to the good.

Obviously, when I wrote up last year's review and goals, I knew what I was planning behind the scenes: an all-out switch to farming, baking, and focusing on local foods. On the whole, I met those goals -- I worked eight months at the farm and am continuing to expand the baking business -- but as you might expect, nothing turned out entirely as I expected, and I ran headlong into several tough realities:

--Starting your own business requires a lot of time and effort, and there's no guarantee of making major profits.
--It's very difficult to make a living at farming without having supplementary income.
--Trying to do everything I want to do -- growing food, baking, writing -- means I still don't have time for everything.
--The business of food is a fickle one, subject to customer desires and demands and never the same from week to week.
--There just ain't enough time in the day.

That said, I surely wouldn't go back for anything!

Now, as winter draws near and the urge to hibernate becomes almost irresistible, I feel like my work is rather like this garlic plot, one of the last things I worked on at the farm this season. I planted row after row of garlic, covering the cloves with plenty of soil and grass mulch, then let it get a brief start in the late autumn warmth before it grew dormant for winter.

I've planted plenty of seeds this year and opened myself up to possibilities, but over the next couple of months, I'll just have to wait and see what grows from all of that. I know I'll need to find a better balance in the coming year, but what that balance will be, I just don't know yet.

What do I know?

1. I will have less space for my own gardens this year, not more. The large garden plot will not be available next year, due to forces beyond my control, and plans to expand another plot have been set aside for another year. That means that I will have to plan next year's crops much more carefully -- for what will be used most, what will be shared, and what might be sourced elsewhere.

2. I still want to farm, though I may have less time to do it. The OEFFA Male is eager to have me return for a second year, but I also have possibilities with a couple of other farmers. Given the increase in gasoline prices, distance will certainly be a critical factor, as will income, crops, and time I can break away from baking. Lots to ponder there.

3. The baking business is already expanding, and while I would like to find another outlet for selling baked goods (since sales at Local Roots have hit a plateau for the moment), I also still don't want to bake full-time. With the market being open four days a week, I'm currently baking every day, but I think there are ways to arrange my schedule so that I'm not chained to the oven. Will have to wait until after the holidays to see how that works out.

4. Somehow, I need to make a little more time for my writing again. I had thought that would be a more major part of my business, but it has fallen almost completely to the wayside this year. The farming blog fell apart in late summer due to technical difficulties and then lack of time to pick it back up; my writing for the Ethicurean has dropped to a trickle, despite having things I want to write; and this blog has suffered its own silences from time to time. Winter should be the time to get back up to speed, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

5. Food preservation continues to be an important part of my "Independence," so I intend to keep that up somehow amid all these other plans. For now, though, I want to focus more conscious attention to eating what I've put up for winter. It's always been there for convenience and in case of hard times; this winter, that will be put to the test. Time already to start cleaning out the freezer, I say.

6. I'd like to get back to reading in my chosen fields. I've been too exhausted mentally lately to want to read books on gardening, farming, or food in general, but before next season begins, I'd like to work through the pile I have now as well as sit down with the classic The One-Straw Revolution, a book that the OEFFA Male referred to frequently this summer. I still have a lot to learn!

7. And I really need and want to get a better exercise schedule in place this winter so that I'm in good shape for next season. Included in that is developing a more satisfying and mindful yoga practice -- I need to remember to take time to breathe, not just rush around and work, work, work.

What an amazing year it's been. Yes, it did turn out "better" than what had come before. But there's always room for improvement.

And there's time to rest. That time is NOW.

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