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Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

I hate being cold. I mean, I really, really, hate being cold. And it is really cold in my apartment. And definitely in the handsome fella’s house. Old houses are notoriously not well-insulated. And mine is no exception. Add to that the historic windows the historic district commission won’t allow us to update, and, well, it’s cold AND windy in my apartment. At the moment, there are fleece blankets covering the windows to keep the worst of the drafts out. Unfortunately, every time the wind blows the fleece blankets blow into the middle of the room. Which can be a hazard. But I haven’t had the time or the inclination yet to put that stupid plastic sheeting stuff over the windows (that stuff is outrageously expensive for just being glorified plastic wrap), and so I sleep with four quilts, a comforter, and the two cats for warmth.

I was thinking, as I was lying in bed this morning trying to steel myself for the cold, that people had to be a lot better about this cold thing before there were well insulated houses with functional windows. I mean, people used to have to go outside to pee. Some people still go outside to pee. So, how did they keep warm? Cause let me tell you, I’m wearing an awful lot of clothing these days. Current count: five layers. I could put on a few more, if I needed to. But there must be something to it beyond layers of clothing.

Every fall, as winter approaches, I typically gain at least five pounds. Sometimes it’s a little more or less. I used to get upset about this, being a girl raised in America, but eventually I decided it’s just normal- my body is trying to bulk up for cold weather. For most of the fall, I crave fatty foods like you wouldn’t believe (unless this also happens to you). For a few weeks just before it really got cold, I ate ice cream. Lots and lots and lots of ice cream. And even now all I can think about eating is cheese, or cream, or steaks with lots of fat, or bacon, or cheese, or some kind of soup with cheese. Or homemade mac and cheese…

I restrain myself, however. I am too much a product of this culture to, at this point at least, just let myself eat whatever I want. I think I’m afraid that if I eat nothing but fatty foods, I’ll gain the weight for winter and then not lose it again in the spring. Plus, I will admit I’m just afraid of looking fat. I already get freaked out about looking pregnant whenever I have a big meal. I know this is silly. I know I am not an unhealthy weight. I mean, maybe I could lose a couple extra pounds around the hips, but whatever. Extra padding for when I run into things (which I always do. Huge klutz). And in the summer, no problem, I’m usually below the standard weight for my height.

But can you imagine a normally fairly average to small sized girl suddenly putting on like 15 or more pounds for the winter? How people would react to that? I did put on that much extra weight once, during my last semester of college (when I lived on pizza), and I thought I looked horrible. My face looked puffy all the time. Given, that was weight gained from pizza, and not from healthful fats like those in meats, but still.

I don’t actually know the first thing about this subject, which is why I’m so curious. Did people used to gain a lot of weight in the winter? I can’t imagine how they could, when winter was the time of the least available food, and is also the time you burn a lot of extra calories trying to stay warm. So how did people stay warm? Were they just used to it? Was their blood thicker? Or their skin thicker? What is the secret, dear internet? A very cold girl wants to know.

In the meantime, I am going to be eating a lot of really creamy soups, and lots of things cooked in bacon fat…

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So I’ve been catching up on the C-Realm podcast, and in his recent conversation with James Howard Kunstler he brings up the concept of nostalgia for the present. Now this is a concept I had never heard of before, but apparently it’s what happens when many people find out about peak oil. If you aren’t up on these things, peak oil is what happens when we run out of oil.* Which is happening (or has probably already happened, and now we’re just using the last dregs) right now. And when we run out of oil, all the things we’re used to go bye-bye. Cars. Things from opposite sides of the country, such as tomatoes from California, and computers, and all kinds of other fun things.

Nostalgia for the present is what happens when you start thinking about a post-peak oil future, and start missing the things you have now that won’t be possible after whatever collapse is coming, you know, happens. Apparently most people freak out when they first hear about peak oil, and this is one of the symptoms. I’ve been thinking about peak oil for a really long time, so I never had a freak out. But I do have the nostalgia.

I started laughing when I heard them talking about this in the podcast, because it’s another thing I don’t really think about. It’s one of those things that occasionally crosses my mind: maybe other people don’t think about these things. Maybe other people don’t constantly go through their day thinking things like, “I wonder what would happen if I didn’t have a blender?”

More common forms of nostalgia for the present tend to be about more basic daily items. Ah, I wonder how hard it will be to get by without hot showers whenever we want them. Man, wouldn’t it suck to have to walk outside in the cold to go to the bathroom? How do we store food without refrigeration? And what did we do before high speed internet?

My most common thoughts tend to be more about the unusual things. I spend a lot of time wondering how we’ll get by without scissors. And how to make knives. And shoes. I’ve lived without hot showers, or heaters, in places where you have to walk outside to go to the bathroom and have to haul water if you need it for cooking. I’ve peed in buckets and emptied it out in the morning because it’s too cold to go outside. I’ve slept in all my clothes in an attempt to stay warm, and woken up to wash my face with frozen water. I’m choosing not to live that way at the moment, and every night before I go to bed (especially at this time of year, when it’s fricking freezing outside) I am very thankful for gas baseboard heat I don’t have to pay for. But I know I can do it the other way if I have to.

Other people are going to have a much harder time. It fascinates me endlessly when people start freaking out about not having the internet. I kind of love not having the internet. I dream of being able to go away to places where there is no internet access. I get so fricking tired of being chained to my email server. I want to be in a place where no one can contact me except the people I like very much, who don’t want much more from me than to know if I feel like coming over for dinner. I kind of look forward to a life not complicated by all this… stuff. Except maybe the heat. And my sewing machines. And the immersion blender.

I do feel a constant pressing need to learn how to do other things, however. Like make some kind of tool to cut things with, because eventually my scissors and knives will give out. I don’t even know how to start a fire. I was watching the neighbor build up their woodstove the other night and thinking, wow, I really have got to figure that one out. Because there you have your heat and your cooking covered, all in one. But how does it work? I know there’s a trick to piling up the logs, but hell if I know what it is.

And how about those shoes? What do we do when boots wear out, and it’s snowing? Native Americans must have had something on their feet to keep their toes from falling off. It’s the same imperative that makes me want to farm so badly. I want to know how to grow food without the inputs. I want to know how to skin an animal, so we have something to eat. I want to know how to cook a beaver if necessary, dammit.

But that doesn’t mean that in the meantime I’m not going to be really, really thankful for my laptop and baseboard heat…

*It has been pointed out to me that this is an inaccurate description of peak oil. Peak oil is actually, as you could imagine, when we surpass the peak amount of production we could ever have. So about half of all the available oil in the world. When this happens, oil will become more and more expensive to extract and eventually will become so prohibitively expensive that it will be as if we have run out of it. Though we can never, in theory, actually run out of it. Comes down to the same thing though. Look it up!

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It’s cold. Well, it’s not that cold, we still have a high of 60 on most days. But yesterday was windy and drizzly and even if the high was 60, it was depressing outside. And that means one thing. Soup.

Oddly enough I used to not like soup. I still don’t really like soup, at least soup that I haven’t made myself. People at restaurants usually put weird stuff in soup. But last year, for some reason (possibly due to the purchase of my wonderful, wonderful immersion blender), I got on a kick and started making soup. Lots of it. And it looks like this year will be no different.

The thing I love about making soup is that it doesn’t require a lot of effort. I can roughly chop the ingredients, throw them in a pot, and sit and do some sewing while they cook. Then, five minutes with the immersion blender and presto, SOUP! And it’s warm and delicious, and I can put backerbsen (wonderful German soup crackers) in it.

So last night at our CSA pickup I spotted leeks. I’ve never really used leeks for anything, because the only recipes I ever see that call for leeks are soup recipes. And so I decided to finally make the famous leek and potato soup. Interestingly enough this is the first recipe in my Julia Child cookbook. She calls it the primal soup: the soup that all other soups are based on. And so it is fitting that it is the first soup of the season (ok not counting that chicken noodle). It starts with the ingredients:

My work surface is always limited by the space my computer takes up, but I’m listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on tape, again, in preparation for Friday (when the movie comes out, for you non-nerds). I usually listen to audiobooks or podcasts while cooking, as this keeps my brain busy while my hands are working. Anyway, ingredients included potatoes (including four varieties of potatoes), leeks, onions and garlic. The recipe didn’t call for garlic, but I can’t understand soup without garlic, so. And the addition of onion was actually one of the variations, so it’s not the original primal soup recipe, but.

So all of these ingredients go into the pot. I wasn’t sure if you were actually supposed to use the leaves of the leeks, so I used about half of them and decided to see how it would go. Julia seemed to imply that you used the leaves, but she’s not always clear- she said to use the tender green parts, but then also had you washing the leaves, presumably to use them. You don’t have to chop things beautifully for soup, which is one of the features I love. They’re just going to get mashed up anyway. I think I might have added too much water, but I was thinking I was using more leeks than Julia called for, so I added an extra cup or so. But then the soup seemed kind of watery. I don’t know.

Here it is in the pot, post immersion blender:

The green color I think is from the leek leaves. This is also my brand new soup pot (thanks mom!), to replace my old one, which was kind of thin bottomed and usually resulted in the soup burning. I am so excited to finally have a decent pot, which is even bigger than the old one. The little flecks you see are probably from the potato skins. I don’t believe in peeling potatoes before you use them. One, this is a waste of time. Two, this is a waste of nutrients. Most of the nutrients in potatoes are in the skin. The only other ingredients were a bit of salt and pepper, and some cream, though I just used my wonderful whole, fresh, raw milk.


And there’s the soup in the bowl. It has a kind of creamy texture, which I guess is the potatoes. And the taste is kind of oniony. I didn’t realize leeks were so similar to onions, but I guess it makes sense as they are in the same family. My eyes were streaming like mad while I was cutting them up, that’s for sure. I actually had to run into the bathroom and rinse my face to get it to stop. The smell is so strong! My whole house smelled like leeks. I’m sure they’re even better since they were so fresh. The thing I love about Julia Child recipes is that they really are simple, if not for technique, then for ingredients. Two or three ingredients, and no more seasoning than salt and pepper. It let’s you taste the actual vegetables, rather than being overwhelmed by the spices. And now I’ve got about a gallon of soup in the fridge, which I will be eating for the rest of the week. Sigh. Anyone hungry?

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Who’s ready for a break from all these depressing thoughts? Yes, that would be me. It’s cold, the heat in my apartment isn’t working, and I was not ready for any of this. We’ve had such an unseasonally warm fall that I was caught off guard when suddenly it dropped to 50 last week. I went from a tshirt to a winter coat, literally within 24 hours. I need time to prepare! And I need this stupid cough to go away, it’s driving me nuts.

It’s time for: favorite things to do with winter vegetables!

My all time favorite is to cut up lots of root vegetables, throw them on a cookie sheet with a little curry (or, alternatively, cinnamon and nutmeg), and bake. They look so pretty, and they taste like candy:

This collection contains beets, watermelon radishes, sweet potato, potato, carrots, and possibly butternut squash but I can’t remember.

It’s super easy (aside from the cutting up part), and you can also eat them with rice or couscous to make them last longer. You can also cheat and just cut winter squashes in half, scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits, slather with butter, and bake. You can then eat the meat out of the shell with a spoon. Sprinkle a little cinnamon for some extra special flavor.

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The thing I love most about this time of year is not simply that it’s faire season. And it’s not that the days are cooler, which is what everyone else seems so excited about. I don’t mind the heat, just as I don’t mind most any of the changes of the seasons, except maybe the really bitter cold of winter when it drags on through March and the heat is struggling to function in my house. No, the thing I love most about the close of summer is how saturated everything seems. The colors, maybe because the sun is at some low point in its orbit or who knows what, just seem so much richer at this time. When I look out the window it’s almost as if everything has been bathed in a golden glow, with colors so deep you could stick your finger in and eat them. The sky is the same, a rich wealth of spotless blue, completely soaked to bursting with color.

The cool air is nice as well, because I do love waking up under a comforter, cozy warm, after months of lying uncovered and sweltering all night. Cuddling instantly becomes a thousand times more pleasant, when sharing body heat becomes a comfort rather than a burden. When I woke up this morning I didn’t want to get up, not just because I didn’t want to face another of the weeks that left me feeling stupefied and crazy like last week, but because I was having an intriguing dream about breaking into some rich person’s fundraiser and co-opting it for our own purposes which had something to do with releasing whales from captivity. And I had a closet full of dresses I would kill to own in real life. And the comforter, which I finally put back on the bed, was soft and thick and I had built myself a little nest in my sleep, with a kitten curled up on either side of me. Getting out of bed to suddenly be hit sharply over the head with the list of things I have to worry about seemed entirely like a bad idea.

I have never been able to satisfactorily describe why fall air smells so different from other air, why the feel of fall coming on incites some kind of deep emotion within me. I have always been fascinated by the change of seasons, and when I was 14 or so it led me straight into Wicca, a religion that above all was based on the change of seasons. I started practicing just before Mabon, the fall equinox, and even though I have long since lapsed, I still can feel the fall equinox coming like there is a ticking counter in my bones that will go off on that morning. It is a time of immense change. Spring might slip more or less unnoticed into summer, but summer, the most brash of the group, must go out with a bang. The air literally hangs heavy with portent, with signs of what will come in the months ahead. There is an urgency in the air that speaks to me of cold and the coming snow and pumpkins and squashes and other fall vegetables, and whether I’ve stored enough to get us through the winter. That’s what this time of year has been about, is still about, for those of us who follow these sorts of things. It’s a last rush to get everything up before everything dies back, otherwise we will be starving come March.

One of the students did the usual and gave me this kind of aghast, terrified look when I told her I ate by the seasons. That what I eat six months from now is entirely dependent on how much time I spent this summer storing and canning and freezing and preserving. I didn’t point out to her how much easier it is when I’m not the one doing the growing and harvesting: all I have to do is pick up my vegetables and take them home and cut them up. The invention of the freezer prevents me having to do as much work as I would have in the old days even without counting the farming aspect. It is immensely easy to freeze vegetables, far more time consuming to can or to ferment. And I can buy frozen meat and dried beans and rice and pasta all winter from the various co-ops I belong to. I don’t have to worry about smoking or salting meat to preserve it, or laying up stocks of dried grains and hoping against hope that they won’t mold or become infested with bugs or mice or something else which will eat them before I can. When you start to think about it that way, I’ve got it incredibly easy.

Which still doesn’t stop everyone I know from complaining whole heartedly that they don’t see me for about three months just at the end of summer. I usually try to restrain myself from pointing out that they are more than welcome to come over and help me preserve, in fact, there’s not much more that I would like than having people coming over to help with the preserving. But short of that, yes, it is true that during the last few months of summer you are going to be hard pressed to convince me to come over and watch movies when I have 20 pounds of tomatoes to put up for the winter. It’s a personal choice, I know, and it’s not that I don’t miss my friends. It’s just that I know that come January, we are going to be spending most every night together, all cozied up on the couch under piles of blankets, drinking the cider I’ve been fermenting with all the time in the world to reflect on the changes of seasons.

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When I woke up this morning it was still dark. I was meant to go to the farm, but without moving I could tell it was pouring, and, apparently, while I’ve been sleeping in late after my all-nighters sewing (sleeping in late means I sleep til 8:30 or 9), it’s started staying dark until after 6. It was actually cool, and I was glad I had turned the fan off before going to bed, because sometime in the night I had even pulled the blanket up over me. I am such a pansy when it comes to cold.

I listened for a few moments longer, debating whether I should even bother going to the farm since it was my last day for the summer anyway, and really I should finish prepping for the students coming back, and then I realized that the rain I was hearing was not only outside the windows. I had forgotten to put the bucket back on the stairs in the foyer. Shit. It has been raining inside my apartment for about a month, and the management have yet to figure out the cause. My guess is the antique roof. My house is over 150 years old, after all.

Possibly needless to say, I stayed home for a few hours trying to deal with the mess. At least this leak is in the foyer rather than say, the last two, which were in the kitchen and in my roommate’s bedroom. Alas, this meant I missed my last day at the farm. I’m giving up my workshare because between the students coming back this Saturday and the Renaissance Festival starting the Saturday after, I will be working. Non-stop. We’ll see how the blogging fares when things really get going.

I had intended to write a lovely post about how wonderful it is to wake up in the cooler mornings. I love cool mornings because they remind me that faire is coming up. Even when I lived in Georgia and we didn’t have pleasant cool mornings until October, when we finally got them my brain kept whispering, it’s time for faire, it’s time for faire. The magical thing about the MD faire, to me, is its setting. I love to visit the grounds in the off season, when there’s no one there, especially right after faire closes at the end of October when the leaves are turning and everything feels so crisp and sharp. The faire grounds, which are permanently set up with the mis-matched wooden houses that serve as booths, are set in the midst of a forest. These are not trees that sprung up after the area was cleared, these are fairly aged trees that faire was literally built around. I kid you not, there are several trees that grow in the middle of our booth. They’re tall, strong, trees, and above your head in the early morning while sweeping out the booth you can hear the crows overhead calling to one another, and watch the light filtering down in patches of green and gold through the crowns of leaves far above. A tree frog fell on my friend’s head once, and I’m sure there is a whole other world of life up there, ignoring the goings on of the dressed up patrons below.

I can’t think of a better word than “magical” to describe the experience. When you step into faire, you feel that you have stepped into an actual village. The buildings were all constructed by their owners over the years, and so are all wooden, in all different sizes, with bits tacked on as the owners needed more space. There are random turrets and balconies and canopies, and while I haven’t the faintest idea what a medieval town would really look like, I can’t imagine that the chaotic cluster of haphazard buildings is terribly far off. The trees give you the impression that it has been here for ages, though it has only been 34 years. I haven’t been to too many other faires, but I’m told none of them have this same sense of stepping through time when you arrive, and that most of them are in big sunny fields with pre-fab aluminum booths. I can’t even imagine. If they ever move the MD faire, as they’ve been talking about doing, I think I’m going to cry for a month.

None of this has anything to do with food, of course, except that my fall is always overwhelmingly dominated by faire. It makes being a foodie difficult, because fall is the time when I’m supposed to be storing food non-stop. And I am, or I’m trying at least. It’s led to a lot of sleepless nights, that’s for sure. Between sewing and trying to process all the vegetables that come through my kitchen, I haven’t had time for much of anything else.

Here’s the current list of things I need to get done this week, just to share. Keep in mind that all of this has to fit in between the hours of 7 PM and whenever I finally pass out from exhaustion:

– Make tomato sauce for storage
– Finish making salsa for storage
– Can more tomatoes
– Make muffins from the pulp of the fruit I juiced
– Roast edamame (which also includes shelling them, which takes ages)
– Freeze more squash, eggplant, and peppers
– Make more pasta
– Figure out where I’m going to put all this frozen stuff as the freezer is already packed
– Start making cat food (if possible)
– Go picking to get more fruit and make more jam
– Look up a recipe for ketchup and try making that
– Attempt to make a second batch of wine (thinking fruit this time)
– Try to figure out if there’s something else I can can now that I’ve figured out how not to be intimidated by my intimidating pressure canner
– Make salsa verde from all the tomatillos hanging out in the fridge
– Make pesto

Ha! All this, and it’s not even serious harvest season yet! I also left off the pile of sewing I have to do: three more dresses and several pairs of pants for the booth, finishing up some custom orders, pants for the handsome fella, putting grommets in my new corset, and a vest for my stepdad if I can fit it in. And you all wonder why I’ve been out of touch lately.

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I’m super busy getting ready for the Renaissance Festival, and have finally caught myself up on my scheduled posts. Oops. So today you’re getting recipes! We totally made roasted vegetables last night, as they are a great thing to make when you have quantity of something and need to use it up before it goes gooey.

Mid-Late Season
Exceedingly functional Oven Roasted Vegetables
Lots of vegetables of choice (eggplant, zucchini, squash, pepper work well)
Olive oil
Seasoning of choice (recommended: fennel with late season vegetables, like hard squash and root vegetables, or red pepper flakes and oregano for mid-season)

1. Chop vegetables. Place in large bowl, coat with olive oil and seasoning.
2. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Allow vegetables to soak up oil while preheating.
3. Spread on aluminum foil on baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until vegetables begin to crisp. Store in aluminum foil in fridge.
4. For use on pasta, sandwiches, salad, sandwiches. Also can use chili powder for seasoning and use in fajitas. Super useful if made in large batches.
5. Alternatively, you can put the same ingredients in packets of aluminum foil and throw them on a grill, with similar results. Grill for 30 minutes or until blackened, and serve in pita bread with tahini sauce.

Tahini Sauce
1 ½ tbsp tahini (jar kind)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp liquid sweetener or sugar
1 tsp water
pinch of garlic or chili powder (opt)

Whisk ingredients until mixed, add additional water or olive oil to read desired texture.

Ratatouille-ish
The basic concept of ratatouille is eggplant, zucchini, and tomato, with your traditional Italian seasonings (garlic, oregano, basil, rosemary, garlic). I prefer to make my own version, and sometimes I’ll scrap the whole eggplant concept and do the same thing with a mountain of sautéed bell peppers or artichokes. Basically, whatever is available in quantity.

Olive oil
Garlic
Eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, broccoli
Several tomatoes (about as many as you have vegetables)
Seasoning, plus salt and pepper

1. Saute garlic, and pepper if using. Add vegetables, season, and cook several minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and cook until most of liquid is absorbed. Serve over pasta.

Recipes for loads of veggies
Summer Salsa
Tomatoes (using heirlooms will make it much more exciting. And artistic)
Peppers, onions, lots of garlic, jalapeños or other hot peppers
Optional: black beans, chickpeas, corn
Lime juice
Oregano, black pepper, other seasoning

1. Chop chop chop. I almost always have a movie on in the background while making salsa because it involves extreme amounts of chopping.
2. Drain tomatoes. Chopping them into a strainer is a good plan. Then mix them with other ingredients. Add lime juice to taste, it helps tie the flavors together. Drain and rinse the beans before adding if you are using canned.
3. Add a tiny pinch of sugar, which will cut the acid and help it keep longer. If you are eating it all at once this is unnecessary.

Baba Ganoush
Because somehow you always end up with ten pounds of eggplant.
Eggplant
Garlic, and more garlic
Seasoning, to taste

1. The basic concept here is to mash the eggplant. There are a variety of methods here, but the majority of them require roasting or sometimes boiling the eggplant first (after you’ve cut it up a bit) until it gets nice and soft. Then you can scoop the flesh out of the skin, and squish it with a utensil, or throw it in the food processor.
2. At some point you also want to squish in lots of garlic. Voila! The idea is to make a mashed substance similar to hummus, only it will look like cat sick. Tastes delicious though, and is a fabulous way to use up eggplant.

Exciting things to do while chopping vegetables
1. Argue with a friend over protest techniques
2. Talk on the phone
3. Listen to lectures or books on tape
4. Watch an interesting documentary
5. Dance around (while not stabbing yourself)

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