Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stellar Day so Far....

Wow, did I accomplish a lot today!
Started off getting up early to catch Nigella on Food Network. Now that I know she's on at 7:30am on Saturday, it makes my inability to sleep in past 7 no matter what something to be celebrated rather than reviled. While I watched Nigella make sticky toffee sauce for her late night ice cream (yes, it was as porntastic as it sounds) I mentally evaluated our egg and milk situation to determine if a walk through the newly frozen tundra to the farmer's market was in order. I determined it was not, so I poured myself another cup of coffee and settled in. After Nigella was done, I switched over to VH1Classic for the 80s nostalgia video hour, and Rebby got up and made breakfast. It was equally porntastic having bacon and eggs and homemade potato bread toast while watching Frankie Goes to Hollywood(though not the X rated version of Relax)
After breakfast, we each got to work on our chores: Rebby sanding and mudding the walls in the foyer, and me cleaning out and reorganizing the kitchen drawers and cabinets. I didn't even realize that was my chore for the day, but once I started with one I had to go and do them all. I can't begin to tell you how great I feel about it. Especially the loathed and feared JUNK DRAWER which I would only ever open to quickly toss in a rubber band or twist tie. I removed EVERYTHING from the drawer, tossed most of it, and organized what I kept into little plastic takeout containers. One for rubber bands, one for twist ties, one for miscellaneous hardware, one for corks and stoppers and beer growler lids. I also moved the keys and toothpicks there from the dishtowel drawer so now it can be ALL ABOUT THE DISHTOWELS. And potholders. I also designated one drawer exclusively for baking items, including the cake decorating tool set I bought five years ago and have yet to actually use. This is the year, my friends. I am going to learn how to pipe a damn icing rose.
After my cleaning and organizing frenzy, I dived headlong into the bread baking. Last week I sort of spur of the momently went trolling the internet for a potato bread recipe for three reasons: 1-I wanted to use up some sprouting potatoes; 2-I wanted to use up some souring milk; and 3-I wanted to have some bread that Rebby and I would want to eat jelly on. You see, for the second year in a row Rebby has received several jars of gorgeous home canned jams and jellies from relatives for Christmas, and we are just not jam and jelly people for the most part. I was feeling really bad about it and wanted to try to make an effort, so I thought a nice pillowy potato bread with butter and jam might be appealing. After checking out a few recipes, I settled on this one. It has the bonus feature of containing a small amount of lard, which I am absolutely convinced based on empirical study makes everything taste better. So I tried it last week and let me just say--it is beautiful, wonderful bread. I don't know what kind of loaf pan this woman has but there is in my opinion waaaaay too much dough for one loaf. The first batch I made two smallish loaves, and this time I made one largish one and six sandwich buns. It's fairly easy and the dough is nice and soft and a pleasure to knead, so I might just make this all the time. At least as long as I have some potatoes and a little bit of milk in the house.
Simultaneously while making the potato bread, I made some Swedish rye. I had a bee in my bonnet to make a Swedish rye because a)I bought that special loaf pan from IKEA and b)I bought some salmon to cure and I wanted to have an appropriate bread for it. Again I scoured the internet for a recipe--nothing looked right until I plugged DARK swedish rye into the google. Then I came up with this. I really like the fact that the recipe contains more rye flour than white, while most use the rye only as a flavoring. It seemed like an absurd quantity of bread, though, so I halved the recipe. And at that point I kinda fucked it up, because while I made a point of writing out all the halved measurements before hand, I didn't go through and adjust in the recipe so when it said to combine the liquid and yeast with 2 cups rye flour and 1 cup white, I ended up with a solid mass instead of anything that would ever get "foamy". I let it sit (can't really say rise) anyway and then worked in the remaining ingredients, kneaded it, shaped it into a long roll, chucked it in the pan, and hoped for the best. After the pan rise it didn't look much different, so I was pretty convinced I was going to end up with an inedible brick. Once it got in the oven, though, everything became light and almost a little airy, and oh so incredibly fragrant. It's a pretty sweet bread, but boy howdy is it good! I will have it with some jam for sure.
Another project I worked on today was going through my cookbook shelf and pulling out an entire file box of books to give away. I'll be posting a list sometime soon to offer to friends first...there are some real goodies in there that I just don't really ever refer to and would like to share with someone who might use them more often. Rest assured, I still have more cookbooks than will comfortably fit on a five shelf IKEA bookcase. But now I can at least get them all jammed in there. Might try for a second cull after I organize them into categories.
While the breads were baking, I cleaned out the fridge and then applied the cure to my salmon. I neglected to get any fresh dill, so instead I decided to keep it mega local and just use some seeds I harvested from the garden--dill, fennel, and coriander. So I crushed them up in the mortar and pestle and added them to the salt, sugar, and black pepper. Rubbed it all over the salmon, wrapped it up tight in plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge for 5 days or so of curing. So excited.
By this point Rebby was ready to call it a day, so she showered and we hopped in the truck to visit Home Depot for some potting soil. Apparently no one told the Home Depot Garden Center that it's seed starting time because all their big bags of potting mix were out in the uncovered, unheated garden center. Rebby had to dig through a small snow bank to pull out two bags, which were frozen solid. We brought them home and set them on a trash bag in the living room in front of the wall vent to thaw. We also brought home some kind of lambourghini of ladders....after being on my little apartment sized ladder mudding the ceiling all day, Rebby decided to invest in something more home ownery. This one can apparently telescope to 15 feet if you want. Wow.
The frozen potting soil sort of put a damper on my seedling enthusiasm, so I decided to give myself the rest of the night off to play around on the internet as long as I washed the dishes. Which I did. I also listened to this really awesome podcast interview with Sandor Katz the Wild Fermentation guy. His way of speaking is simultaneously soothing and exciting to me, and he's got what I would consider vital information. Listen to it if you have the chance.
I'm feeling really excited and inspired by life right now, despite all the kinda crappy weather and bad news in the world. Hope I can hang on to it!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Garden Dreamin

There may be four feet of snow on top of my garden right now, but inside the house I have lots of things to remind me of the promise of spring.
This is our new compost turning fork, direct from the Black Forest:
made in the black forest
It is such a gorgeous tool, and so well made. I am embarrassed to tell you how much I love this thing. I just wish that I could even SEE my compost bin right now, let alone go and flip toss the compost around. Soon, soon.
Here are my seed boxes, all organized:
There are ALOT of varieties of seeds in there. I have all their names in a spreadsheet organized by family. One of these days I'll take out my seed starting date chart and organize them by when they should be started and when they get to go in the ground.
I didn't take a picture of it, but Jennie got me one of these for Christmas. It is one of the best gifts I have ever received, I think. I have been saving all the newspaper and packing paper and brown paper bags that somehow accumulate in the house despite my best efforts to keep them out for a big pot making party sometime soon. Making plant pots out of trash! What could be better!
Garden Dreaming
This is not even all my seed catalogs. These are only the ones I picked up at PASA. I really can't order too many more seeds, but I do need to get some herb seeds (how do I not have dill seeds? criminal!) and a few flowers. I am most excited about the Turtle Tree Seed Company. They're biodynamic and the turtle woodcut on the cover is so damn cute I can't resist.
I'm plowing through the Keep Chickens! book--it's very inspiring. And the Bushy Mountain Bee Farm catalog is a thrill too. Unfortunately, the city of Pittsburgh has just decided to pass a confusing and restrictive urban farming code that might prohibit me from getting chickens or bees. What?!? I am so going to that hearing. Luke ain't shuttin down my farm before I even start!

An Omelette and a Glass of Wine(or, bottle of beer)

I'm really working on the eating what I have thing. Last night, I made myself a totally passable sloppy joe (well, the first pass was just ok, but once I looked on the internet for homemade manwich recipes I realized what I was missing was vinegar and brown sugar) using up some ground beef, half an onion, a few pieces of frozen diced hot pepper from the garden, and a jar of tomato paste. Not to mention a couple slices of the really good whole wheat bread I bought almost two weeks ago at the East Liberty Cooperative market that is still kicking on account of the fact that I have been keeping it in the fridge. (we don't eat bread fast enough in this house to use the bread box. that's why when I bake bread I make little loaves, and why this is perfect for us)
Tonight after putting in a herculean effort to wash ALL the dishes and clean all the counters, I wanted something easy that would not make a giant mess. A look in the fridge revealed I had some lettuce that really needed to be a salad ASAP and a dozen eggs. Further investigation revealed four sundried tomatoes and a half empty freezer container of arugula pesto from this summer's harvest. So, inspired by MFK Fisher, I set out to make an omelette dinner.
First, I chopped up the sundried tomatoes and soaked them in a little hot water to soften them up a bit.
pesto and sundried tomatoes
Next, cracked three eggs into a bowl and whisked them really well with a little pepper and salt. That's the classical French way, but I guess you can add some dairy if you want.
eggs, butter, pesto
I melted a nice chunk of bougie Euro butter in my thrift store Revere ware small skillet. It's a perfect omelette pan.
croutons, butter
In the small cast iron skillet in the back, I tossed some bread chunks with a little olive oil, black pepper and garlic to make croutons for my salad. And use up some more bread.
Back to the omelette--there aren't any more pictures because you really have to pay attention and work smoothly when doing an omelette. Pour the well beaten eggs into the very hot melted butter and swirl it around the pan so that a thin skin forms quickly on the bottom. Using a spatula, lift up and tilt so that the liquid egg spreads underneath, puffing the omelette up. If you are brave or super confident, you can flip it. I don't go in for that. I just keep lifting and tilting until the surface is almost dry, then I slide it out and turn it VERY quickly to finish cooking on the other side. Then put your fillings in. I spread a nice layer of pesto and sprinkled on the tomatoes, then slid the omelette out while folding it over. It came out absolutely beautiful if I do say so myself.
Backing up: before I started melting the butter in the pan, I made a really simple really dairylicious dressing for my salad. Into a small mixing bowl, I put about one clove of crushed garlic (I just used the crushed garlic that stayed in the bowl after I tossed the croutons) about a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a teaspoon of vinegar, a tablespoon of buttermilk, a pinch of basil, and a nice grinding of black pepper. Then for kicks I grated in the last of a tiny piece of horseradish cheese from the farmer's market. Whisked it up good, tossed it with the lettuce and croutons, and I was good to go. MFK Fisher would call this a perfect dinner for dining alone, though she would have a glass of white wine while I had a Saranac India Pale Ale. Yum.
I enjoyed this dinner while listening to Moment of Forever by Willie Nelson. It seems to have gotten a lot of bad reviews, but I think it is a fantastic record. Check it out.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings, That I Just Made Up

So I walked down to the East Liberty Cooperative Farmer's Market this morning and ended up with a stewing chicken. For some reason chicken and dumplings was the thing that the stewing chicken brought to mind for me. So I started to look online and in all my go to books for a good recipe.
Apparently what I think of as chicken and dumplings is really something else, because I couldn't find any recipes close to what I was thinking about. I am gonna guess that the recipe that was in my mind was something perhaps off a Bisquick box? I feel like my mom might have made it, or maybe it's something I had in the any case, in my mind it had peas and carrots and potatoes and drop biscuit sorts of things on top. With paprika.
Since I couldn't find a recipe that was like that, I just made one up. And I am eating it right now and OMG, it is so good. It is EXACTLY what I wanted. Here's what I did, so you can do it too if you want (or I can do it again later in any case)
First, I stewed the chicken.
Stewing Chicken
I smeared some bacon grease left over from breakfast in the bottom of the dutch oven, cut/tore the chicken up into chunks, tossed it in to brown ever so slightly, then added some onion, garlic, parsley, sage, thyme, black peppercorns, salt and water. I simmered that gal for about five hours. It smelled delicious the whole time.
Eventually it was to the point where the meat was literally falling off the bones in shreds. At that point I pulled the chicken and stuff(most of which had pretty much disintegrated) into a bowl to cool. I removed about half the broth left in the pot, strained it, and, transferred it to another bowl.
Chicken and Broth
When the chicken was cool enough to handle, I went through it BY HAND removing meat from bones. This was slightly gross but important. About half of the meat went back into the pot, and the other half into a storage container for some other use later.
Shredded Chicken
Then I added the veggies--2 carrots, about four small ribs of celery with tops, four or so large mushrooms, three small potatoes, diced, a medium sized onion, and about half a cup of frozen peas.
Into the Stew
I let them cook in the broth a while so the potatoes and carrots could start to get tender. I also squeezed half a lemon in, because I think lemon and chicken go really well together and I had half a lemon in the fridge. You don't need it.
Then I mixed up a simple drop biscuit dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 pinches salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons lard (you could use butter if you are not fortunate enough to have lard)
whisk the dry stuff all together and then rub in the fat with your fingers. When it is all mixed in and the flour feels kind of uniformly heavy, add two cups of buttermilk. Mix it with a wooden spoon and then drop by half cupfuls over the top of the stew.
Put the lid on the pot and continue to cook over medium heat while you preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When it is ready, put the pot in and bake for about 15 minutes, till the dumplings are firm and starting to brown. Then you sprinkle paprika on top.
Oh Yum
It will be thick enough to eat with a fork, but you can use a spoon if you want to make sure not to miss anything. Enjoy.
Dinner is Served


Happily, my first day back from PASA is a snowy day off. I'm taking advantage of my fervor to get some projects going that will help us eat better for the coming weeks and also help me fulfill my pledge to use what we have. Another thing that helps with that, of course, is the fact that getting to a grocery store this afternoon is out of the question. The more I can eat from our stores here at home the better off I'll be (and the less I'll have to navigate the tricky icy streets out in the world in SNOWMAGEDDEON2010) I hiked out this morning to the East Liberty Cooperative Market after reading a blog post that they were open this morning since they got snowed out yesterday. Turns out the egg lady, who I was hoping to see, didn't make it, but I came home with some coffee, some mushrooms, some garlic, a cabbage, a pound of ground beef, and a stewing chicken. The chicken has been simmering away in the dutch oven with some bacon fat, garlic, onion, parsley, sage, thyme, salt and peppercorns ever since, and the meat is just starting to fall off the bones. Later I'll shred it and strain the soup and add some veggies and top it with dumplings. Southern style. Also on the horizon is a batch of bread dough and pizza dough, and maybe even an apple pie if I am still feeling up for the challenge. I really gotta take the Christmas tree down though....
In the meantime, I put up a batch of sauerkraut to start working. Since I conceived this as a sort of recipe blog, I figure I should put a sort of recipe up once in a while. So here goes.
Lacto-fermented, Oh So Good For You Sauerkraut ala Sandor Katz:
1 head cabbage (for this batch I used a savoy, which I wouldn't normally. it juiced up real nice though!)
shredding cabbage
about 2 tablespoons of salt (I use this nice red Hawaiian sea salt because it has minerals in it. Sea salt is best, Kosher salt is OK, iodized table salt is BAD!)
red salt
Flavoring (you can use no flavoring, or caraway seeds, or juniper berries like I did for this batch, or apples, or garlic or ginger or hot peppers. whatever you use, put in less of it than you think you might want as the fermentation will intensify)
So. Grab a big bowl and shred the cabbage really, really fine. You can use some core as long as you can get it sliced thinly, but don't try to shred up the very thickest pieces in the middle. Those should go in the compost. Here's halfway through the usable parts of my savoy:
about halfway
When you have shredded all the usable bits, add your flavoring(if you want any) and start squeezing away. You want to squeeze and squeeze and mix and squeeze until you have just about as much liquid as solid. The cabbage will start to feel and look like sauerkraut already.
Squished with Juniper Berries The salty liquid that comes out is called brine.
Next, you want to pack your kraut very tightly into a clean crock or jar. I have these nice crocks I got a million years ago at Kaufmann's or something that at the time I thought I would use for flour and sugar and coffee. Now I use them for fermenting veggies, just like grandma would. Really punch it down so that the brine comes up over the level of the veg. This cabbage was so juicy that the brine spilled right over the crock before I really got to pack it in there. Thankfully I anticipated this and placed the crock in the bowl to pack it.
Lots of Extra Brine
The last step is to weight the kraut down below the level of the brine. I use an old sauerkraut jar that just happens to fit exactly into the opening of my crocks. It's like synchronicity. If you are not so lucky, you can use a plate that fits into the opening of your kraut vessel, or a clean rock, or if you aren't too freaked out about plastic--a storage bag filled with water. The idea is to keep the kraut submerged under the level of the brine for about 5 days. I think I remember reading that Sandor sometimes just remembers to push it down a couple times a day and doesn't therefore need to weight it down, but you want to be safe the first couple times at least. So find something that will work for you.
Weighted Down
Put your crock or jar in a warmish spot in the kitchen and check every day to make sure your cabbage is totally submerged. If it seems dry and pushing down on the weight doesn't work, you can add a little salt water, but try to avoid that if you can. If it's the summer time and you have bugs flying around, cover the whole apparatus with a cloth. In winter it's not much of a problem.
In five days you will have a delicious and extremely healthful condiment. You can pack it into a clean jar and store it in the fridge at this point, or let it ferment a bit longer if you like a sharper flavor. Temperature will affect the amount of time it takes for a good ferment, so if it's really cold you might want to let it go longer. Some people never even put it in the fridge and just eat it out of the crock on the counter if it's not too hot out---if you make a tiny amount like this it might be all gone before you need to worry about refrigerating it. People say you should eat some lacto fermented food with every meal to help keep your digestive system in check. I am going to try harder to follow this maxim starting today.

PASA Day Three

Saturday we woke up and peeked out the windows at SNOWMAGEDDEON2010. The truck was barely visible under a mountain of snow. Hotel maintenance guys were making valiant attempts to shovel and plow so the guests could get around. I went to check out while rebby dug out the truck.
Lots of people were advocating just staying another night, and apparently that's what lots of people did. We had a dicey situation however because rebby was scheduled to fly to Atlanta out of Pittsburgh at 12:15 Sunday. So unless she got the OK from her boss to stay, we were headed home one way or another. Just about everyone we talked to or head or texted with had a different opinion. Our final call was to attend the morning workshops we wanted to attend, get our lunch, do some last minute shopping, and then head home on the highway. (adding about an hour to the trip but eliminating a lot of scary twisty mountain roads)
So we had our continental picnic and then headed to our first workshops of the day: beekeeping for me, and shiitake mushroom cultivation for rebby. I am absolutely convinced that beekeeping is the right thing to do and especially after the workshop, absolutely fascinated by the social organization of bees, but. SO paranoid about beestings. I am not allergic and honestly, the last bee sting I got I barely even felt. But still. Scary. The fellow that gave the talk was very encouraging though and I think I am really going to pursue it. I'll start with going to a Burgh Bees apiary visit and see what happens. Woo!
Rebby was all about the mushroom cultivation. We're going to have so much going on this year!
Our next workshops were directly across from each other, and coincidentally, pretty much diametrically opposed. I went to a talk by Lee Reich called "My Weedless Garden" and she went to a talk about year round backyard food production. My talk was extremely entertaining and pretty much everything he said made good sense to me. When rebby and I met up to compare notes, it turned out that the people talking to her advocated double digging while Lee advocated no tilling at all! Funny. It makes good sense to me that flip tossing the dirt around activates the weed seeds and if you disturb the earth as little as possible they will be less likely to germinate. I'm on his side.
His method is similar to Lasagna Gardening which is kinda what we did with our raised beds, so it's pretty much what we've been doing. He got me really excited about drip irrigation, though. That's a big project for this year.
Next was lunch time, and it was awesome and delicious. We ended up sitting at a table with a couple who have a few acres in Export, PA, where they have apple and chestnut trees. The woman had gone to a talk about biochar and told us some about that. Also at the table was a Mexican family who were farming in upstate NY, a PASA staffer from the Pittsburgh office, and a really awesome Mennonite man who told us some things about canning and recommended dwarf apple trees. Even over lunch we were learning!
I ran out of the lunch room to get my last minute purchases before the market closed, and then rebby and I packed up some snacks and hit the road.
I'm going to be thinking about this stuff for a long, long time. And definitely planning to go again next year!

PASA Day Two

What I didn't mention about day one is that we had breakfast at the Blue Dog Diner attached to the Autoport Motel and Lounge where we stayed. They don't really have any info on their website about the diner, but let me tell you it was delicious. Homemade white bread toast, farmfresh eggs and bacon, and really good roasted potatoes. Rebby had oatmeal. When we got to the conference site though we discoved that there was a free continental breakfast so the next two days we opted for that. So Friday we rolled up and got some coffee and bread and yogurt and boiled eggs and cheese and fruit and picnicked in the hallway. (one big problem I would have to mention is the lack of available places to sit and eat for meals that weren't in the main hall. People were jocking for position against the wall) After finishing our breakfast we took our seats in the Presidents Hall for the opening remarks.
Everyone who spoke was very inspiring---the new Dean of the agriculture school at Penn State, the new head of the PA Dept of Agriculture, and the Board President and Executive Director of PASA. The main event for me and Rebby, though was Michael Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotechture. He gave a wacky, entertaining and inspiring speech that was about a lot of things besides Earthships. Mostly about the fact that government regulations which are supposedly there to protect citizens generally keep citizens from doing what they want to do. I gotta say a lot of what I heard at the conference had something to do with "know the laws, but don't let them stop you from doing the right thing." If I had to pick one message to sum up the conference, that would be it.
Michael got people all riled up and then it was time to grab our bag lunches and head to the first set of workshops.
I went to a really, really informative talk on Biodynamics. I've been interested in it since I somehow stumbled upon this book way back in the late 80s. My first attempts at a garden at the original Melwood house were inspired by this book. Biodynamics has a lot of really intuitive components and some sort of out there components, but it was in general a fascinating introductory lecture. The main thing I took away from it was to think of the whole farm as an organism. Biodynamic farmers believe for instance that if you feed your animals(which could include worms eating scraps from vegetables produced on your land, or chickens and horses and cows and goats grazing it)from your land, they will poop out what is needed to fertilize the land. That's why you should not feed animals grain from somewhere else, and why you should use manure or compost produced on your farm. Fascinating. The whole burying dung in a cow horn for half the year thing is a little harder to follow, but apparently it works. And I really like the idea of paying attention to the spiritual needs of the garden.
While I was learning about Biodynamics, Rebby went to a talk on edible forest gardens. She was definitely convinced by what that man was saying and has a lot of ideas to incorporate in our garden once we officially get the deed to the land. I can't wait!
We opted out of the PASA awards banquet and instead headed off on our own for dinner to Otto's Pub and Brewery for dinner and some local brew. By the most magical of coincidences, my old Albuquerque roomie Sean was there having dinner with his family! Also magically, his parents are the owners of the restaurant. What?!? I totally picked it based on the fact that we wanted some local beer and local food. In chatting with Sean, we uncovered the fact that his college buddy Jeff designed the menu at Otto's, at the Autoport, and the original menu at the Quiet Storm back before I was involved. And, he is currently in the kitchen at the Penn Stater where the conference was being held. I couldn't make this stuff up. Anyhow, we had an awesome talk with Sean and some incredible food and beer. I drank the Schwarzbier at the restaurant with my steak frites and local mushroom and cheddar puff pastry appetizer, and then we brought home a couple bottles of Jolly Roger Imperial Stout. Holy moly is it good. Rebby had a brisket sandwich and a Red Mo which she then brought home a bottle of as well. Amazingly good times.
We made it back to the hotel before it got too snowy and turned in early.

What I Learned

So, we made it back from the PASA conference yesterday despite SNOWMAGEDDEON 2010.
I just have to say that even though State College and surrounding areas got almost 2 feet of snow, all the roads were completely clear all the way to Cranberry. Granted we were mostly on highways, but even the little roads through tiny farming communities on the way to I-80 were absolutely clear. Once we hit the "big city", it was like no efforts had been made whatsoever. That's all I'm gonna say about that. Except that despite the harsh weather and the fact that we were completely unable to get the truck anywhere near our street once we got home (we had to hike in with our bags, and then rebby took the truck over to Melwood and got dropped off by a friend)Rebby is getting on a plane to Atlanta in fifteen minutes. I on the other hand am stewing a chicken, making bread and pizza dough, making saurkraut, taking down the Christmas decorations, and writing to you.
I don't really know where to start. I think that the PASA conference was a game changer for me, and it isn't even all about the workshops or speeches. Just being around all those farmers who care about the earth and the future was inspiring in a way I can't really describe. Walking down the hallways past people selling seeds and tools, past Amish farmers and Mennonite women, past other urban squatters like us. I learned about a new Food Studies program at Chatham, and got a big bottle of liquid fish emulsion for free from a nice guy who got really excited about our future farm.
There were a lot of people there, and there were plenty of times when it seemed overwhelming. For the most part though, everyone was friendly and we met and talked with and learned about people doing similar and very different things with the land.
We ate amazing local foods, and got to bring home some lacto-fermented ginger carrots and daikon in a glass jar, and sprouted spelt pita chips with black bean hummus, and roasted tamari almonds and chocolate covered raisins, and perhaps the best cheese I have ever tasted (or at least it seemed like it at the time) from an Amish man who conveyed his love for his cows and dedication to making the world better wordlessly as he handed me a sample. I picked up an obscene number of seed catalogs (especially for someone who has already received two seed orders!) and we got a pile of informational booklets from the cooperative extension and others. We bought some books too---CheeseMaking and Chicken Keeping and Country Skills. I've got a lot of reading to do.
Our first day at the conference was an all day food preservation seminar, broken up into four parts. The first part was all about canning, and the woman who delivered the talk was so down to earth and excited about it that she really took away my last vestige of fear. We are gonna can the hell out of this garden next year, lemme tell ya! Next up was freezing and drying, with which we were largely familiar. Except this woman takes drying to a whole other level by making her own soup mixes and drying refried beans! Cool. She showed a very simple solar drying rack that rebby could build in an afternoon. She advocated the use of silpats, which thanks to Juli I now have two of, for drying herbs and fruit leathers and other small or liquidy items. Woo! I am excited.
The woman giving this part of the presentation as well as the next (on lacto-fermentaion) is a hard core Price-er, so some of what she was saying got slightly cult-y. I am generally pretty aligned with what they believe but I get a little creeped out by the way their eyes get when they are talking about bone broths and raw milk. Anyway, the next part of the talk after lunch was about lacto fermentation and we are already totally on board with that. I am a saurkraut master, though I haven't made any in a while (I'm changing that today!) I was pretty excited about her super easy instructions for making yogurt using raw milk and a thermos, though. I might try that today too. She shared with us some ferments she had done including a pineapple chutney and a ketchup which were interesting ideas. It got kind of awkward when she insisted that since it was a "hands on" workshop people had to come up and make saurkraut and salsa and chutney even though she had left behind some of the ingredients and most of the audience was clearly losing focus. Plus, it was wicked hot in that room. But we survived, and then came the session about curing meats. Justin Severino was supposed to give the talk but couldn't make it, so a really awesome young farmer named Brooks put it together and laid down some serious knowledge. He and his wife and son have a farm with a meat CSA, and they cure mostly pork but also some beef products. He made simple meat curing sound just as easy as the gravlax I made twice last year---and really it's the same thing. Meat, salt, spices, and time. I can't wait to give it a try!
The last session of the day was our old friend Don Kretschmann talking about root cellaring. He shared some really useful ideas and information, including the fact that most things (root vegetables, at least) do best with high moisture. I was convinced of the opposite! So basically we can put our root vegetables in the little room at the bottom of the storm cellar stairs and we should be fine. Crazy. We do still want to fix up the storage room at the front of the house under the porch at some point, though. It's got shelving in there already and (I think) a dirt floor which is apparently best for regulating humidity. He also suggested burying your roots in layers of dry leaves. Wow. It was all so exciting and applicable!
After all that learning we had an amazing local foods dinner and then we were pretty exhausted, so we went back to the hotel rather than staying for the band. A pretty sound sleep and then it was day two, featuring a keynote by Michael Reynolds. My Hero.