Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tending Fires, Dutch Babies

 I've been striking a rhythm of extremes lately. Obsessive focus, extreme neglect. One ball high in the air, the rest scattering at my feet. It's no way to live, really. But for better or worse it seems to be my most worn route until I short circuit every few months from the laundry that's never put away, the stacks of books that remain out and open, the overgrown beds in front of the house. Then, like a madwoman, I make lists and set up 20 minute blocks to be used explicitly for this, for that. I clean and organize, feeling lighter with each this and that checked off the list. Through these manic episodes I am enlightened again and again with the truth that although my passion may lead me elsewhere, a life of singular focus is not one of health for me

 In the evenings, and sometimes mornings, too, I've been squeezing in games of cribbage with Craig. A nice walk in the woods here, a trip to sit under the apple tree there. Sitting amongst the chickens for lunch a few days back I thought with both surprise and regret about when last we had made time for a meal outside. The days are shorter and chillier now, our window closing, and I wonder- were all those things that shaped my priorities worth it? I mean, what even were they? Too often my passions squeeze out the things that ask less of me but are just as important. True downtime, communion with nature, books, yoga, writing that isn't instantly gratifying, i.e. not blogging- allowing my thoughts to really dig deep and root before they bloom and are put out there.

 I don't know that there's balance. Sometimes I feel like I'm running from fire to fire, tending to them just before they snuff out, and that life is just that way because of how many interests I hold, because of the weight of the particular interests I hold. But I do know that as I feed one part of myself and neglect the others I start to go off kilter. I find it difficult to be the person I want to be in my family. I find it difficult to source the energy needed to do all the shit that no one wants to do but someone must do when one decides to live on a farm. I find it difficult to hold thoughts that go longer term and are more complex than what are we going to scrounge out of this pantry for our next meal?

 So what gives? How does one tend to all of one's fires?
 Milla recently answered a few questions about her writing and I thought I might do the same, although I must say she always seems to have her ideas much more fleshed out than I do so I feel a little hesitant! But here goes.

 What am I working on?

Right now I'm working on opening an online space to sell some of our wares. It is the big singular focus right now. I feel equal parts excited and wholly inadequate. And as a means to creativity, I'm working on balance. There are other things that I want to be working on but have yet to find a way to siphon time over to them. I came up with a concept for a children's book a while back but have yet to really work out the story and I would love to find the time to do that. I'm also trying to get my piano lesson business off the ground. So far, I have 1 student and 1 flier in 1 co-op up. Progress though!

 How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Honestly, I just feel like I'm not there yet. There being so mindful and connected to my homesteading life and my writing life that I'm able to connect those two and write in the powerful way many of the farming/homesteading writers I admire do. I don't mean to get down on myself; I just find that those who farm/homestead and also write seem to really connect larger, more complex issues- things beyond just the day to day on farm life. It's what I want to do, it's what I'm striving to do, But it's definitely a process.

 Why do I create what I do?

In the beginning it was about connection and sort of a show of love for this life we had created. Now it's a place where I go to scratch this writing itch that has been getting stronger and stronger over the past few years. It took me a while to openly admit that I would like to write a bit more creatively, a bit more meaningfully but I can say now- I want to write! And I want to write well! I've also discovered that I write to figure things out. In the process of trying to say things the way I want to say them, I've so many times come to understand my thoughts in a more complex way. Writing helps me understand myself.

 How does my writing process work?

My writing process has always been a rather painful one- at least to those around me. I can take hours to write something very small and insignificant because I can be so particular about how something is worded. If I can't strike the tone I'm going for it can take forever. And, once I start, I like to finish because 9 times out of 10, if I come back to finish something I wrote earlier my mood has changed and I can't get back in the flow. My draft folder might as well be a trash folder.

I write best in silence and with an open ended block of time. i edit as I go, rewriting or editing, I go back to the top and reread the entire thing to make sure the mood of what I'm feeling and trying to express is maintained. I like to write the way I would talk and if something doesn't read that way- I chisel away at it until it sounds like the inside of my head. The funny thing is that it doesn't always lend itself to readability. Many, many, many times I've had Craig read something for me and he can't make sense of what I've written because brain thoughts don't always equal good written thoughts. But, for better or worse, it is my process.

And because if I'm going to have you here to read my ramblings for this long I might as well feed you..

 The third installment of Great Eggspectations...and it's a baby!

 Dutch Baby

A dutch baby is a delicious and simple puffed skillet pancake. It grows to epic proportions in the oven and is always a treat to see once removed. It's also a great way to stretch your prized pastured eggs when feeding overnight guests.

4 just gathered eggs
1 cup raw milk
3/4 cup spelt flour
a pinch of salt
4 tablespoons local butter

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Crack 4 eggs into a medium bowl. Whisk until fluffy, about 1 minute. Whisk in milk. Whisk in flour and salt.

In a medium, oven safe skillet, melt four tablespoons butter. When butter is melted completely, brush around bottom and edges of skillet. Slowly pour butter into bowl while whisking batter.

When batter is mixed, slowly pour into skillet and place gently in oven. Cook for 23 minutes, or until very puffed and golden brown. If it's your first dutch baby have every gather around when you pull it out of the oven. It's grand, puffy size quickly deflates once removed from heat.

Serve with syrup and fresh fruit to keep things traditional. Or, take a page out of our book and saute apples or pears to serve on top. If you're more inclined for savory dishes, add a 1/4 cup of grated sharp cheddar to the batter and serve with sauteed kale, apples, and/or sausage.

Monday, September 29, 2014

(Selfless) Fresh Apple & Seed Bread


Never has there been a more selfless loaf of apple bread in the whole of our family history.

In August Craig and I took to the Whole30 diet somewhat briefly, somewhat halfheartedly in hopes of resetting and perhaps discovering any food sensitivities we might have in the process. I expected to confirm my suspicions that sugar makes me feel terrible. (It does.) I wondered if I would find all that milk and butter I see dancing around Luella's head every time I look at her completely out of the question. (I did not. Our future milk cow remains Very Useful.) I however did not worry about grain. And yet. Here I am a month later newly identified as Grain Sensitive, Self Diagnosed. I feel crazy and still test my grain intolerance every few days, and every few days I watch the shape of my abdomen contort into that of someone 20 pounds heavier. I think, I must be making this up! Craig assures me I am not as I stand in front of the mirror for the hundredth time questioning the shifting dimensions of my body.

So here I am, in the land of apple breads and fall pies, trudging my way through the process of relearning how to feed myself and my family. And while I do find the prospect of a future without a decent sandwich in it hugely disappointing, I can't say enough for the newly added vitality to my life. I'm wary of going so far as to say I'm gluten free; it is a hysteria I'm not yet ready to align myself with. But I can say this: I have a severe physical reaction to grains, gluten specifically, and for now, I'm healthier without it. And so my apple loaf, from me to you. Because everyone that can enjoy it, should enjoy it. Even my rotten grain-able family. Hot from the oven, slathered in fresh, local butter.

Fresh Apple & Seed Bread
adapted from My Bread by Jim Lahey

2 cups + 2 tablespoons bread flour
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups local apples
1 cup + 1 tablespoon local apple cider
wheat bran for dusting
thin apple slice (cut horizontally from the middle of an apple), seeds removed
additional flour for dusting, rice flour is ideal although any flour will work

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in apples.

With a wooden spoon, stir in apple cider. Dough should be sticky, similar to a biscuit dough. If it remains dry, add more apple cider 1 teaspoon at a time.

Cover bowl with a large towel and tuck bread away somewhere warm, ideally around 70 degrees, for the next 12-18 hours. The warmer your rising spot, the shorter the rise; the cooler your rising spot, the longer the rise. I personally prefer a cooler rising spot with a longer rise. The rise is complete when long strands of batter stick to the side of the bowl when you pull the dough away.

Generously dust countertop with flour and turn dough out of bowl with scraper. Begin pulling outside edges of dough to center, creating overlaps with each new section, until all edges have been pulled and tucked into the center.

Dust a large tea towel with a layer of flour, followed by a layer of when bran. Place bread SEAM SIDE DOWN on wheat bran/flour/tea towel. Wrap bread with tea towel and allow to rise for an additional hour, or so. Second rise is complete when dough doesn't bounce back after being poked with a finger.

Half an hour into second rise, preheat oven to 475 degrees* with rack in lower third position, and place a covered, heavy pot inside. All to preheat for at least half an hour.

When second rise is complete, unwrap dough and remove VERY HOT pot from oven. Carefully place dough into pot SEAM SIDE UP and press thin apple slice into the center. Cover pot and return to oven for 45 minutes. Remove lid and cooke uncovered for 5 minutes, or until crust is a deep brown.

When bread is done, carefully remove pot form oven and transfer bread to a cooling rack. Allow to rest/cool for at least 1 hour.

*I bake this bread at 465 but the method from the book suggests 475. Make your own call based on your experience with your oven.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Shorter days are here. We're sleeping lateish without a 4:30 a.m. sun to rouse us; the baby who's not so much a baby at all anymore goes to bed without having to wonder why anyone would be tucked in with a sun outside their window. Despite a hard frost last week, one that unceremoniously had me say goodbye to zinnias and basil and all those warm weathered things, there remain some survivors. Some still (always?) green tomatoes, mint, lavender, oregano, thyme, kale, chard, and a few willful flowers are all that's left. The garden still calls; we can't yet shutter her for the season. But there are windows for cobbled together cold frames and greenhouses in the barn, some seed garlic on the counter, and a few nights ago we officially welcomed the chilly season with a pot roast of our homegrown potatoes and pastured rabbit.

Pull the dried beans off the vine. (Forgive me- we overzealously pulled the green ones as well.) Bless the poor rooster whose tail feathers fell in sync with the burning maple leaves. Offer everyone you see a kitten; the cats' numbers are growing, HELP. Put another kettle on, have another cup of tea. Talk cover crops and Next Year and piano moving so we can finally get that wood stove in the living room which reminds me.. Wood. We really need some. Freeze the squash, can the pumpkin, ripen what you can.

Leaning into fall, with a single toe still in summer.