Category Archives: Traditional Ways

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

A Very Cranberry Christmas

Chutney in Bowl

Chutney in Bowl

(This article also appeared in the Waterboro Reporter newspaper, soon to be found online, but for now check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheWaterboroReporter)

Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of another holiday season, singing along with the carols playing non-stop on 94.9 WHOM (if you live in Maine), finishing up our shopping and wrapping of presents, and turning thoughts toward special holiday foods.

Yes, this is the season of Christmas cookies, nut bread, fruit cake, and eggnog. Peanut brittle, peppermint bark, snickerdoodles, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Depending on our family traditions, we may enjoy turkey, ham, lasagna, baklava, corn-bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, or those glorious Franco-American pork tourtieres.

And anything cranberry.

In my family, a traditional treat is cranberry bread. My mother serves it on a silver tray at her Christmas Eve dinner of fish chowder and crackers, jello fruit salad, and homemade sour pickles. Cranberries are fun to string together and hang as a garland on the fir tree. Frozen into an ice-ring, cranberries add a splash of color to a holiday punch bowl. Added to champagne cocktails, frozen cranberries not only keep the beverage chilled, but look very pretty rolling around in the glass. (A mint leaf provides good contrast, too!) There are cranberry sauces and jellies, cranberry pancakes, and don’t forget cranberry nut muffins with a little spread of butter to warm up chilly winter mornings.

There is something just so festive about those bright red berries that contrasts with the uber-whiteness of the snowy winter world outside!

As more and more people are coming to realize that eating locally with the seasons makes sense from a health and environmental perspective, here in New England we can feel confident about choosing cranberries in late fall and early winter. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries–along with blueberries and Concord grapes–are a native North American fruit. Native Americans used the cranberry in a sort of protein bar called pemmican which was made of crushed berries, deer meat, and melted fat. They also used the berry as a dye and as a medicine. Later, American sailors took cranberries with them on sea voyages to stave off scurvy as the cranberry has a high vitamin C content.

Cranberries are also grown commercially right here in Maine. According to the Maine Cooperative Extension, cranberry production is a new “old” industry since cranberries were grown here in the past, disappeared in the first half of the 1900’s, and then experienced a rebirth in the 1990’s when new commercial production began. Last year, I bought a ten-pound box of the ruby-red berries from a local food co-op organized by Ossipee Towns for Sustainability (check out their Facebook page). The group orders from Crown o’ Maine Organic Cooperative which markets products from Maine growers.

I had good intentions when I bought those berries, but somehow after sticking that box in my freezer I forgot about it…until last week. All of a sudden, as we rounded the corner to Christmas, it hit me. Cranberries! I decided I wanted to try making chutney to include in my Christmas dinner menu and also to give as handmade gifts. It doesn’t get much more local than your own kitchen, right?

I searched the internet for a recipe, found one I liked on the Ocean Spray website, gathered my ingredients, and set the pot to boiling. The first batch came out a little more runny than I wanted, but the flavor was tangy-sweet and spicy. Making a few modifications the following evening, I ended up with a firm, spreadable chutney with a glorious dark garnet-red color and just the right blend of spices. I can’t wait to serve this with my Christmas turkey, not to mention all the leftover turkey sandwiches!

If you would like to try it yourself, here is the recipe.

Shelley’s Second-Batch Christmas Cranberry Chutney

1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar
2 cups frozen Maine cranberries
1 cup vinegar
1 cup raisins
½ cup small dice apple
½ tsp each allspice, ginger, cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

Put sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking. Pour into glass bowls and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Stir before serving to show off all that chunky deliciousness.

If you like your chutney more saucy, reduce cooking time. The longer you cook, the more “set” your chutney will become. Happy holidays!

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Harvest Minestrone Soup

Harvest Minestrone Soup

A good pot of soup, thrown together from a harvest of fall vegetables and herbs. In my last post, I promised a recipe. Here is how I created my tomato, veggie, and herb minestrone soup yesterday.

Mix together the following:

1 quart of quartered fresh tomatoes and juice or stewed tomatoes
1 cup of diced onion
cloves of one garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 medium radicchio chopped
1/2 cup chopped mixed garden herbs: oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, savory, etc.
1 medium zucchini, sliced
2 tsp salt
1 can of light or dark red kidney beans, not drained
optional: pepper to taste
optional: throw in one chili pepper whole

Add water to almost cover if the tomato juice isn’t quite there. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer, covered until veggies are tender.

I was quite impressed by the flavor of this soup without having to add any vegetable bouillon, but save any leaves or onion tops, etc. for a future soup stock. This soup was delish sprinkled with a little bit of feta cheese.

We Are All Blemished: Lessons from Canning Tomatoes

Big Pot of Tomatoes

Big Pot of Tomatoes

A First Thought

Dear Reader:

‘Tis the season for harvesting and preparing for the long months ahead when fresh produce in our gardens is only a sweet memory. Since my tomato plants do not produce much more than garnishes for a few late-summer salads, I trucked on over to nearby Porter, Maine for a bushel of canning ‘matoes f0r $15. Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever grow that many tomatoes for that price, so I consider this a great bargain. A couple days later–up to my elbows in skins and seeds and juice and pulp, listening to Windham Hill Christmas c.d.’s (yes, a guilty pleasure of mine come fall before the craziness of the real holiday zaps all the fun out of it), and putting up stewed tomatoes–a realization struck:

We are all blemished, and that doesn’t mean there isn’t goodness in us.

Blemished

Blemished

See, I was cutting out the bad, dark spots on the canning tomatoes which are, by their very nature, second-best. Flinging skins and blemished fruit into my compost container (an old, blue metal pot that belonged to my grandmother and reminds me of her every single day), I couldn’t help but think about how tempting it would be to throw out the entire fruit because it wasn’t perfect. We like perfect. Somehow, nowadays, we expect perfect. What a waste it would be, I thought, if we missed out on all that goodness beneath the surface just because one of the fruits had a spot or two on the outside!

People, too, are not perfect. Friends have character flaws. Community members drive us crazy sometimes with their idiosyncrasies. Some of us talk too much. Some of us are nosy. Some of us are controlling or passive aggressive or maybe annoyingly passive. Like the tomatoes, though, we have goodness inside us if others are willing to dig beneath the surface and take a look at our sweet, juicy centers…

A bushel of tomatoes and herbs from the garden.

A bushel of tomatoes and herbs from the garden.

Well, you know what I mean.

I like people. I also like to criticize people. Taking a lesson from today’s processing, I am going to try to stop focusing on the flaws and concentrate, instead, on finding the goodness.

Of course, once in awhile you just gotta toss the whole rotten tomato into the compost bucket. Even then, however, there is usefulness. A little time in the elements, a little rain and a little sun, a bit of time to rearrange the old molecules and voila! Up pops a new tomato plant from the pile of refuse. It’s probably not pleasant to be rejected, tossed away, and forgotten; however, there is always hope for change and renewed vitality and goodness. If this happens to you, don’t give up. Use your time alone to let your thoughts and attitudes compost. Let the goodness in you spring up from those tiny seeds.

Of course, if the thought of this doesn’t appeal to you, I have advice: Don’t be a rotten tomato!

All Jarred Up

All Jarred Up

A Second Thought

Canning tomatoes is a fairly easy, but long process. So is developing your character. And remember, we can’t all be tomatoes. Some of us are bitter mustard greens. Others are spicy hot chili peppers. Some are tart lemons, cool cucumbers, sweet blueberries, humble potatoes. Throw a bunch of us into a pot, and something happens–something like this tomato, veggie, and herb soup.

Soup

Soup

Tomato Canning Tip

To easily peel tomatoes for processing, wash them thoroughly, remove any major blemishes, and put them into boiling water for three or four minutes. Remove them and put them in cold water in your sink for a few minutes. The skin will crack or loosen, and when you take them out of the water, the skin easily slips off the fruit. You are then able to get to your canning.

Or soup making. I will post a recipe for the tomato, veggie & herb soup next time on Localista.

May Flowers & Other Nice Things Around the Yard

Red Hawthorn --Crateagus iracunda

Red Hawthorn –Crateagus iracunda

So I’ve become interested in learning the names of plants growing wild around me. I “blame” (in the best, most thankful way) this on a local herbalist/organic farmer, Cynthia, at Piper’s Knoll Farm just over the town line in neighboring Newfield, Maine. Cynthia has begun offering monthly foraging and identification walks, and after participating in the first one a week ago, I’ve been compulsively LOOKING.

A simple walk up the road now becomes a wild-things expedition. This week I was drawn to the white flowers on this shrub, and, looking more closely, I was captivated by the dark pink anthers clustered in five pairs of stamen on this red hawthorn. NOT that I knew it was a red hawthorn. I had to go home and look it up. Which is fabulous fun, kinda like a treasure hunt, so thank you, Cynthia!

I don’t even have to walk up the road to explore the wild things and not so wild things around me. So what else is growing around my yard right now?

Two days from Memorial Day, the garden boxes begged me to plant something even though it is risky here in Maine to jump the gun. At the Newfield Farmer’s Market this morning, I couldn’t resist purchasing the first few plants–a lavender perennial to go next to the French tarragon, three varieties of tomatoes (going into the box over the septic tank in hopes the heat will appeal to them), a green bell pepper, and a sage. Except for the lavender, they all went into that same box so I could cover them with a sheet last night. I may be impatient, but I’m not completely out of my mind.

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Neighbor Debbie was kind enough to give me a lemon balm from her garden, so I stuck that in the garden box as well, right next to the chocolate mint. That mint will be watched, of course, as we all know how they like to spread and spread.

Now for Mother Nature’s garden beds. These plants live near or beneath the beech trees in front of my house. It’s a forest in miniature!

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria virginiana

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Partridge Berry (Squaw Vine) Mitchella repens

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Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule

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Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia

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Starflower, Trientalis borealis

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Canada Mayflower,Maianthemum canadense

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False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum

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It is so much fun to walk around the property now. I am determined to get myself a plant identification guidebook, though the internet is a great resource, as is Neighbor Debbie who has documented many of the native plants species over the past couple of years.

What do you have growing wild in your yard? When you find a minute to take off the gardening gloves and set down your trowel, drop me a line. Remember, it doesn’t get more local than your own back yard.

Between the Ears

Cool School

If Our Current Education System Implodes: A Radical Idea for A Local, Sustainable Alternative.

A letter to our local school board was sent out this week from our superintendent. Basically this letter talked of the dire budgetary issues the school district is facing, the major cuts in funding from the state, and the need to reduce staff and increase class size, cut already strained programs and services, and further erode our school’s ability to educate our children.

If this trend continues, we may be forced to look for alternatives–and soon.

I have a radical idea for education in a local, sustainable community if the time comes that we can no longer afford the system we have today. I suggest that in addition to parents teaching their own children at home, teachers also open their own small schools in their homes similar to the daycare centers and preschools that are so ubiquitous in our society now.

Granted, I haven’t asked any teachers if these ideas could ever work, but if we can educate our pre-schoolers at small, home-based schools, why not elementary-age students? Why not teenagers? There could even be a certification process, for the ease-of-mind of those parents who don’t trust their own judgement.

Here’s what I like about the idea: Self-employed teachers, greater school choice, walk to school choices (as the small-schools would be scattered throughout many neighborhoods), leverage to kick the trouble-makers out if they chose not to behave and learn, smaller classes, and greater flexibility. Teachers could choose to focus on the kind of education and populations they are most interested in serving. They could, if they wished, coordinate activities and lessons with other small-schools in their area. And the best teachers could command the best salaries. And the best students would be wooed by the schools. And a parent wouldn’t be hindered, necessarily, if he or she did not have money. Agreements for bartering and exchange of services could be worked out or parents could simply chose to educate their own children.

With internet and iPads and curricula out there, do we really need to shove our kids into sprawling industrial-era school buildings for six hours a day? Do we really need to spend all that gas money hauling them back and forth five days a week?

I think this could certainly work for K-8, but school would not necessarily be organized according to age or grade. Students could learn in multi-age classrooms.

Maybe high school could be in the former elementary buildings with sign-ups for classes and open campuses, similar to the way adult education is organized now? Maybe there could be internships and apprenticeships and pick-up softball games and/or a bunch of intramural teams that get together at the community fields/elementary gym to play games instead interscholastic sports? Of course teachers could offer music and art lessons–or just about any kind of special interest out there. Jewelry-making? Why not! Animal care? For sure!

How about converting some of the sports fields to school gardens? What about a school-run vegetable stand or Community Supported Agriculture program? Students could have even greater educational opportunities in the areas of agriculture, cooking, marketing,retail management, accounting, and more.

I’d also be inclined toward voluntary but rigorous exit exams, providing motivation for those who wish to enter college.

How would we pay for this kind of education system? Well, how do we pay for daycare and preschool? Charitable organizations and churches would, probably, offer to subsidize some schools that fit their mission-statements. Those with means and inclination may offer scholarships.

Perhaps there could be some assistance via local taxpayer money for those families who cannot afford the cost, but with all the savings in retirement, benefits, heating, gas, building maintenance, state and federal mandated programs, etc., and with all the choices that would be available, we could probably afford it.

I’m not saying this is ideal, but it can’t be much worse than what we are looking at if budgets continue to take hit after hit, year after year. Teaching, as a profession, will be radically different, but I hate to see teachers lose jobs and our students continue to lose the opportunity to learn from talented individuals because those teachers are let go or choose to leave for more lucrative, stable professions.

Some teachers might see this as an opportunity for self-determination in their careers, and I think the earning potential could be similar to what it is today (which isn’t great, let’s face it). If a teacher had space for fifteen students at $200 per week, that’s $156,000 a year gross.To compare, average daycare costs in the U.S.A. are $11,666 per year or $972 per month.

Hefty tax deductions for parents with children in school would make sense, as well.

All this is very radical, but not that long ago in our history, one-room schoolhouses were the norm. Prior to that, children were taught at home by parents or tutors. In ancient Greece and Egypt, teachers gathered a group of students who learned, literally, at their feet.

All this underscores my fundamental belief that education takes place in one space: between the ears of the student, most times with the guidance of a teacher or teacher-parent. You don’t need a sprawling building with little boxy rooms and a gymnasium and a cafeteria for learning to take place. A kitchen table can work just fine.

Vegan or Paleo or Something In Between?

Green Smoothie

Green Smoothie

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite bloggers–Shane at GroundtoGround.org–recently wrote about a “new” protein option: mealworms. Yes, mealworms. Of course, eating insects isn’t really a new concept at all. It is very, very ancient. And this leads me to a topic that I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks, human diet.

http://groundtoground.org/2013/01/30/how-prepare-eat-mealworms/

What is the optimal sustainable diet for human beings? Can diet cure disease, especially those pesky autoimmune diseases that seem to be arrowing through our populations with debilitating, even tragic, effect? Will a diet that includes plenty of animal product ultimately destroy the planet? Or, looking at this from another angle, will a diet that restricts meat in favor of water-and nutrient-sucking monocrops like grains destroy the planet? Is it wrong to eat something with a face? And how does all this relate to the goal of living locally?

Obviously, I can’t answer all these questions in a single blog post. Heck, I probably couldn’t even scratch the surface in a single book. Here is what I’ve been reading and watching and thinking and doing this January:

1. Started out by watching the film FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD at the local library. This is basically the story of a man who was overweight and suffering from an autoimmune skin disorder who healed himself on a juicing fast. Theory: concentrated nutrients in the juice plus cleansing allows the body to heal itself. http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/

2. Watched the film FORKS OVER KNIVES which explores the idea that diseases can be eliminated or controlled by rejecting processed foods and animal products. http://www.forksoverknives.com/

3. Watched the film FOOD MATTERS which attempts to show that our highly-processed, chemicalized diets are causing health problems and gives solutions for healing. http://foodmatters.tv/content/about-the-film

These three films pretty much advocated for a diet VERY strong in minimally-processed, plant-based foods. Diabetes, heart-disease, hypertension, cancer, inflammation, etc. were all cited as consequences of our unnatural diet. I have a pesky asthma problem that I’ve been trying to heal for years now. I was excited to watch these films, and thought…well, maybe. I knew I wouldn’t go to straight juicing, at least if I could help it. For one thing, I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a good juicer. For another, it just seemed a tad drastic. So I decided to give the vegan way of eating a try.

No. I have to go back even further.

A few years ago, I tried a macrobiotic diet which is almost vegan. It does recommend fish and shellfish products in moderation. While I liked the weight-loss that occurred and the energy I felt, my asthma did not seem to respond at all after seven months and my skin took on a rather sickly pale, yellowish tone. Soon I added meats back in my diet while continuing to eat a lot of veggies and fruits. I also began the process of trying to eat from local sources, including eggs, milk, and meat.

Cut to the present. So, vegan eating would be a challenge for me on a philosophical level. Rice isn’t grown in New England, right? But I went ahead and started cooking some of my old macro foods and tried some new vegan recipes. They were delicious, but no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t feel satisfied. This was different from the macro…because I was getting no seafood? Really? And as I continued to cook some local meats for my family, I noticed how those foods began to smell better and better to me as time went on.

Then, almost two weeks after giving up animal foods, I came down with a rip-roaring virus. I ached from the deepest part of my bones all the way out to my skin. As soon as I had some appetite back, what did I consume? Homemade chicken soup and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream! I either craved those animal foods because there was something nutritionally necessary in them or else I was still detoxing and craving what was bad for me. Which was it? As my grandfather used to say, damned if I know!

I thought I’d continue with the vegan diet for awhile, treating my body like my own little pet test rat. I sat down to watch an episode Peak Moment Television (check it out…very cool!) while eating a vegan lunch of mushroom/garlic/onion fried rice on a bed of arugula, and pow! A title caught my eye: The Vegetarian Myth. Wait a minute, I thought. Myth?

4. Scarfing down my rice and greens, I watched while the host of Peak Moment Television interviews Lierre Keith on her book, The Vegetarian Myth. Then I downloaded the book to my Kindle and have been reading it as voraciously as I had eaten that pint of Chunky Monkey ice-cream a few days before.

Talk about blowing the vegan theories out of the water! It wasn’t exactly all new to me, either, as I had read about Weston Price and his studies on traditional societies and their diets years ago. The skinny on the myth? Humans need meat. Oh, and civilization and agriculture are going to ruin the environment. Hmmmm. http://www.amazon.com/Vegetarian-Myth-Food-Justice-Sustainability/dp/1604860804

5. Because I just can’t leave well-enough along, I had to google “vegetarian myth debunked” and discovered a plethora of counter-arguments. Try it! Oh, the fun we could have arguing about diet, nutrition, sustainability, civilization, animal rights, and justice.

***************** long pause*************

What did I eat today? Steel-cut oats cooked in a slow-cooker with chopped dried apricots and dates and a banana. Coffee with soy milk. Baby spinach, leftover rice, and macrobiotic nashime veggies: onions, squash, carrots & kombu (a seaweed) cooked slowly on the stovetop with a couple inches of water (really, really delicious, I kid you not).

Oh, and a natural ground turkey burger that tasted heavenly.

Between all the information about fat-soluable vitamins only found in animal foods to endothelial cells that heal only in the absence of animal foods I am a mixed-up, don’t-know-which-way-to-look-for-my-food human being.

And then there is Shane with his mealworms. Sigh.

A quick poll of my social media friends yields practical advice. Eat in moderation. Every body is different. Do what works for you. We are designed to be omnivores. Put bacon on everything (Good one, Scott C!)

Finally, I have to also think about my localista endeavors. The most local diet I can get in Maine is going to have to include animal foods, plain and simple. My local area is rocky and hilly…suitable for grazing animals but not necessarily for raising a lot of rye and wheat. Definitely no brown rice. I also have come to understand (or believe) that a sustainable agriculture necessarily includes animals in order to create a closed-loop system. In other words, we need something to eat the grass we can’t digest, to turn that grass into food we can digest, and to provide nutrients in the form of manure back to the earth. On this point, I have to agree with Keith rather than the vegan-diet proponents.

Perhaps–in order to heal a chronic condition or to detox from a western-style diet high in processed foods and chemicals and too much meat and cheese from nasty feedlots and meat-processing facilities, antibiotic-pumped cows and debeaked chickens and pigs laying in their own filth–a juice fast and vegan approach is a way to reboot. Then, when health is restored, eat foods from local, sustainable, organic farms similar to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Nix the processed stuff. Go extremely easy on the sugar. Eat lots of vegetables and local fruits. Meats and fats in moderation.

Like Michael Pollan concludes in his book In Defense of Food, perhaps the best prescription for a fairly healthy individual is “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Perhaps.

What do you think?

Small Town on a Waterway

july 18 2012 084
Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

I Used To Love My Smith-Corona

I Used to Love My Smith-Corona

Dear Reader:

I was thinking about typewriters the other day. Looking through electronic file after electronic file for a certain Christmas story I wrote five, no, seven years ago, I thought, “It was better when we had typewriters; instead of copying from floppy disk to dvd to thumb drive to external hard drive, instead of moving from computer to the new computer to the next new computer, we had paper copies. In file folders. In a filing cabinet. Easy.”

Back in the olden days–pre-1992, let’s say–I wrote on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter my parents bought me for college. Actually, I wrote first drafts with pen and paper and only committed work to type when it was good enough for final draft. I still have these papers. They are hard copies. In files. In my filing cabinet. Not lost in a maelstrom of bits and bytes spiraling out of control on the hard drive of the elderly and ailing (slow) computer up in my office or here on the laptop or stuck on floppy disks in various hidey-holes in my desk…somewhere.

I’d argue without reservation that paper is a better system, except there was that time I let a friend read a story and she lost it until it reappeared five years later, stuck inside a July Vogue which she’d been reading out beside her pool that summer. I suppose the possibility of physical misplacement is as much a problem as losing those electronic files.

Plus, I can’t blame the computer for my disorganization. After all, I could print out a physical copy of everything for “just in case.”

But I miss the typewriter. I miss correction fluid. I miss lining up the paper and rolling it over the barrel. I do, in fact, have an old manual typewriter of my grandmother’s in my office, sitting atop a filing cabinet along with a copy of her self-published collection of local stories and recipes. It used to sit in the old “office” at my grandparents’ house, the room that used to be a front porch, the room where I used to plug in my Smith-Corona and type stories and papers for college classes. I can smell that room if I think about it long enough. Heavy smell. Like ink. Like some sort of oil. Like stacks of old papers.

I can’t type on this old machine. It needs repair, the keys are sticky, and who knows if you can still get ribbons for it, but I love that it is there, a talisman, a symbol of a different time. When things were not so easy. No auto-correct, for one thing. Editing marks, for another. A deliberateness born of necessity, fingers certainly not tapping out any old thought that crossed the mind. Not so easy to erase a word, a sentence, a paragraph, entire scenes.

Maybe someday, someone will invent a retro-looking computer, one that sounds like real typewriter keys when you hit the letters and dings! when the cursor jumps down to the beginning of the next line. If I get totally nostalgic (and find myself suddenly flush with cash) I could buy something like the beautiful old machine in the picture below.

It can be ordered at myTypewriter.com. In the meantime, I’ve learned my lesson: print out a hard copy and file it away “just in case.”

As for going local on this one, I’ve found office and school supplies to be a challenge. Discount/salvage stores like Marden’s and Reny’s sometimes carry notebooks, pens, rulers, cards, and craft items. However, this is pretty hit or miss. Locally-owned specialty and gift stores in larger towns and cities often have cute file folders, notebooks, pens, and stationery, but they are just-as-often often pricey.

Most recently, I noticed a couple local crafters at the Newfield Farmer’s Market were selling homemade cards and fancied-up notebooks–good possibilities, but where did those underlying notebooks and paper come from? China via Walmart?

I’d really, REALLY like to find paper made here in Maine. Maine was once a booming paper-making state that employed many citizens with good-paying, good-retirement, good-benefit jobs until outsourcing pulled the pulpwood out from under the the workers. How about repurposing some old mills to make specialty papers and cardstock from recycled materials? How about hemp paper? Save our forests and boost our economy. While we’re on the subject of actually producing things again, how about revitalizing our textile manufacturing, too? Like paper, fabric can be made from recycled materials and hemp. And what about shoes…?

Before I get too far off-subject in a rant for local manufacturing, I will end this post. One thing at a time, right? Take a look around your neighborhood, village, or nearby cities; you may luck out and find a great local source for your writing/office supply needs. If you do, drop me a line and a link. Localistas, unite!

Presto Pesto!

and Other Ways of Preserving Your Bountiful Garden

Homemade herb-drying rack made from a stick and some yarn. From left to right: thyme, French tarragon, chocolate mint, and rosemary.

Dear Reader:

This year’s garden was a great success. One giant sunflower produced fifteen or twenty blossom/seed heads and provided the early autumn garden with a showy display. The straw bale gardens gave the tomato plants a much-needed boost of sunlight along with the nitrogen fertilizer and carbon from the straw, and we had plenty of Early Girl and heirloom tomatoes to slice for sandwiches, chop for salsa, and wedge for salads.

Black-eyed Susans are still blossoming out there along with the deepening pink of Autumn Joy sedum. Even the new female Winterberry is bejeweled with deep red berries!

Bread & Butter Pickles

Cucumbers were so abundant this year I was able to make a few pickles. Pickling was surprisingly easy and amounts to nothing much more than chopping and slicing veggies and herbs, making a brine out of salt, vinegar, sugar and spices, and pouring the brine over the veggies in glass containers. These Bread & Butter Pickles came out very crisp and white where I’d always been used to softer and more yellow, but the flavor was intense and delicious.

I found my recipe in a 1980’s Betty Crocker Cookbook, but Mother Earth News Magazine has a good starter article right here online plus a heads-up about a book outlining small-batch pickle production (say THAT ten times fast).

An excess of tomatoes from my parents’ excellent garden up n’oth became hot, spicy pasta sauce. The process for the sauce is simple. Boil water in a big pot. Dump in the tomatoes and wait 30-40 seconds. Lift tomatoes out with slotted spoon and dump into cold water in the sink. After a minute or two, slip skins off tomatoes and cut into fourths. Throw into large slow cooker pot with onions, garlic, chopped veggies like zucchini, hot peppers, green pepper. Add salt, dried herbs or fresh herbs to taste. Add cooked meat if desired. Let it simmer for about seven hours. You can also add tomato paste to thicken it if you like. The sauce can be frozen in freezer bags or containers.

Calendula in the Herb Garden

Perhaps the most successful of my garden experiments this years was the herb box. Along with the sunflower mentioned above, I planted fennel (see Grand Fennel-ly ), rosemary, and basil. In the front of one perennial bed, a French tarragon comes back and grows bigger every summer, and down at the end of the driveway beneath the forsythia bushes my friend Sandi kindly divided for me, a hardly little thyme comes back year after year after year.

This year, I decided, I would preserve a bit of these herbs to see me through a winter season of cooking. The basil were huge. I grew weepy just thinking about pulling them and throwing them on the compost as I’d babied them through the first rough month of transplant shock, daily watering, and Japanese beetles. One night seemed to be threateningly cold, and so, fearing frost, I gently pulled up the basil and placed each one its own plastic grocery bag. These I crammed into the mudroom until I could figure out when and what to do with them.

Poor basil in the mudroom

Friends, let me tell you, basil fresh from the garden has a powerful odor! Neighbor Debbie stopped by and thought the mudroom smelled like old shoes. Hmmm. Hopefully the basil doesn’t taste like dear daughter’s gym sneakers. I rather thought the mudroom smelled wicked “herbal” and prayed no-one dropped over and came to a wrong conclusion about my gardening activities. All legal, I promise!

Ingredients for Presto Pesto

A week or so later, those basil plants were still sitting in my mudroom and beginning to look a little wilty. The predicted frost never materialized, and I gritted my teeth wishing I’d left my herbs in the dirt until I figured out what to do with it.

I knew I had to come up with something and fast, or else the poor plants would end up on the compost pile after all. A mid-week visit to my good friend, Donna D, prompted me to share some garden tomatoes and a large sprig of the basil. Donna D, in turn, gave me a cube of her homemade basil pesto and–bless her soul–a recipe to go with it. Voila! I had the answer to my herbal error.

The recipe calls for using a food processor and blending ingredients very slowly and deliberately. I don’t own a food processor. I do, however, own a blender. After trying with no success to puree basil leaves, garlic cloves and walnut in the blender with no liquid, I gave up and dumped in the olive oil and grated Parmesan and turned the blender on to puree for about three minutes. Presto Pesto! was born.

Pesto in ice cube trays

The trick to keeping the pesto for future use is simple: ice-cube trays. Empty your ice-cubes into a plastic container in the freezer so your family doesn’t throw a hissy-fit when they are looking to cool down their apple cider/workout water-bottle/iced coffee/red-wine-that-really- shouldn’t-be-chilled-but-whatever. Wash the ice-cube trays and dry them. Pour prepared Presto Pesto into the trays. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When frozen, pop out of trays and store in zippered freezer bags (or leave in the trays if you have extras for actual ice-production).

The pesto can be thawed and used later. I made four batches of Presto Pesto! with my starting-to-wilt-and-wither basil plants, and these batches filled two ice-cube trays. I think it must be fairly economical as those little jars in the grocery store are quite expensive (local big-box supermarket has a 4.5 oz jar for $3.29.) I used only a portion of a bag of walnuts and one wedge of Parmesan cheese. Pesto does take a bit of olive oil, but it is cheaper if you buy it in those big cans unless you are a stickler for extra-extra virgin fancy stuff.

Following is friend Donna D’s recipe just as she gave it to me. But to make it Presto Pesto! simply ignore the persnickety instructions about careful and slow blending at just the right moment and just dump the whole thing together in the blender and let’r go.

BASIL PESTO

1 1/2 c. basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 c. thinly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. olive oil

Puree first three ingredients in food processor until it forms a thick paste. Add the Parmesan cheese very slowly. Then add olive oil and mix until the consistency of creamed butter. Put a film of oil over top. Cover and refrigerate or freeze in ice-cube trays.

That’s it, Dear Reader! Whether you are preserving the garden by pickling, drying, canning or freezing, it is so much fun to go shopping in your own pantry during the winter months…Outside the Box.

Drop me a line and tell us about YOUR preserving projects this year. It’s always fun to hear someone else talk for a change.