Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall Wedding With a Tiny Footprint

Yesterday was a big day around the farm.  We had offered the space as the venue for a wedding.  After lots of running around and prep,  it turned out to be a beautiful day with loads of sunshine, soft breezes, fall colors, and a light rain that began as the party ended.  These are just a few of the almost 200 photos that I took yesterday.

The ceremony was in mid-afternoon, and the light was perfect.  We keep some areas of our lawn longer than others to promote more native grasses.  B had mowed an entrance aisle, and exit aisle to our big red maple, where the chairs were situated in a semi-circle around the tree.

Once the ceremony was complete, everyone filed out into a mingle area just in front of the house for cocktails and appetizers.  All of the furniture was rented from a vintage shop.  Each of the guests received a favor of a blue mason jar with their baby picture attached to it.  They just needed to find their jar, and it served as their drinking glass for the evening, which they then took home.  All of the food was sourced locally and prepared by an area chef.  The lovely bouquets, centerpieces, and arrangements had wildflowers from an area florist and all of the greenery was picked on the farm.

There were game areas all over the yard where people could mingle and play until the dinner bell rang and we proceeded into the tent for dinner and dancing.  There was a photo guest book where each guest could write the bride and groom a message on a chalkboard and have there picture taken as a remembrance.

The night with lit mason jars floating from the trees was balmy and the rain held off until the very end of the evening.  With the exception of beer bottles, there was virtually no waste.  The napkins were all cloth and the dishes china.  As we walked around this morning, there was almost no indication that the yard had been full of people just hours before; except for hay bales scattered sporadically around that served as seating for guests at play. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Random 5 Friday

1.  Good Eats:  We jumped into Fall with both feet on Sunday.  We started our week on the equinox itself with our dinner club (The Tastebuds).  This was a most auspicious, beginning of our week with a kicked up picnic theme  full of gourmet treats and the dearest of friends.

2.   New Venture?  We are hosting our first wedding on the farm tomorrow!  Yesterday was filled with deliveries and set-up with the bride and groom.  The weather looks like it is going to be perfect; a warm fall day and crisp fall evening lit by floating mason jar lights.

3.  Truckin:  Between school, and soccer and volleyball practice, I've driven over 250 miles this week.  I know this may not sound too bad, but we do not live in that big of a town (not more than about 10 miles to get from one side to the other)!  I can not wait until the kids are at the same school next year.

4.  Dunzo:  Though I do not want to rush cold weather, I am increasingly ready for a first hard frost (followed by Indian summer) :), a little allergy relief is much needed!

5.  Ready: I am ready for a relaxing fall weekend...well after the wedding :)  Wishing the same for you!

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumnal Equinox

Today at 3:44 pm is the Autumnal Equinox.  For some it is a feast day, and for others, just another day.  For me, it marks the beginning of my favorite time of year.  All of the hard work done this year culminates with the beginning of this season.  We harvest, store our bounty, and prepare the outside of the farm for its rejuvenation period over winter.  It is a time when all of the windows are thrown open, sweet spicy aromas waft from the kitchen, the colors are brilliant and the light is intoxicating.  We find ourselves winding down and the focus becomes hearth and home.

As I pulled out of the grocery store this morning I was facing North.  To the East, the sun was at about 3:00 and rising, to the west, the moon was at about 9:00 and setting.  The Yin and Yang of mother nature.  It is a time of thankfulness and for celebration in the golden light.  Happy Equinox!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Random 5 Friday

 1.  After a three year hiatus, this year we brought back the Hillbilly Tomatoes.  Still by far our favorite, and they are just getting ripe.  Our crazy season has left us with late and only moderately producing plants, so I think that we may just end up with about a dozen quarts.  I may hit up the farmers market to supplement so we can put more away.

2.  You never know what you are going to find while walking around the farm.  This little snapping turtle that B found this morning in the garden, was a bit out of place, and is swimming inside for the least until the kids can take a peak at it.

3.  Aren't firsts wonderful?  After many years searching and scrimping by without, we are now the proud owners of our first and forever tractor for the homestead!  Sorry for the blur in the picture, but the first driving lesson went fabulously, and Charles was burning rubber!

4.  This time of year is my absolute favorite and as we head into the equinox this weekend, I am decking the house with the beautiful feelings of fall.  As I picked Charles up at soccer on Wednesday, the sun was as large as I have ever seen it while it was setting.  The fall light is just magical, wouldn't you agree?

5.  Today was crazy hair day at school.  Whatcha think??

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Food As Totems and Power


I am coupling the next two readings in my Blog Camp Goes to MIT class.  The topics involved a continuation of the paradoxes and dilemmas that we began last week, and next weeks food and power.  I know that preparing for the wedding that we are hosting on the farm next weekend, will take my focus away from next weeks reading, so I did it a little early.

The bulk of the reading on paradoxes came from Cheap Meat:  Flap Food Nations In the Pacific Islands.  I had very mixed feelings about this book.  The authors both redundancies and justifications quickly became tiresome.  I was however introduced to the meat flap industry and how these cheap meats are sold off to make sure every ounce of profit can be gained from a pieced out carcass.  They are cheap enough that most of the impoverished islanders,  not only buy them, but have had them so ingrained in their eating culture, they enjoy and depend on them.  This in great part results in the terrible obesity problems of the area, specifically the people of Papua New Guinea that were a focus of this book.  The information was dense with much detail about the processors and the traders.  

One concept that really stuck with me was the thought of food as totems.  "The fact that some eat flaps and others avoid them is recognized not just as a reflection of personal preference (as, perhaps, with eating or avoiding broccoli) but as a mark of group membership.  Simply put, flap eaters are seen as distinguished in important ways from refusers.  In this regard, flaps operate much as do 'totems'."  and   "Totems are potent objects, often animals or plants, that serve to define groups and identities---both in and out of themselves and in contrast to those of others."   Food is more than just nutrition, it is an identifier of status, tribe, culture, and power. 

When looking at the chapter from Sidney W. Mintz's  book Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom she speaks a lot about the "inside meaning" versus the "outside meaning" of power.  The inside meaning is what it means to the people who are consuming, while the outside meaning is what meaning is taken by those in control.  I think this was best illustrated when discussing the military during World War II.  What better venue to show this than large volumes of soldiers who are regimented to when, where, and what they eat.  I found it especially interesting that these soldiers, coming off of the Great Depression, were now in a situation where they were not only getting three square meals a day, but they were served meat 21 times a week! "They were also given vast quantities of coffee and sweets of all sorts; there were sugar bowls on every table, and twice a day, without fail, the meal ended with dessert.  They ate what they were given; what they were given was decided by power holders who functioned outside the army and outside their direct experience."  Power.  Just as the soldiers during the war experienced power with their food, those stateside had their own experience through rationing. 

 Through all of this, one company grew dramatically, the Southern based Coca-Cola Company.  Soldiers were not given soda, but it was readily available to purchase.  A General Marshall, in order to keep a supply of Coca-Cola available at the front, "gave Coca-Cola the same status in the wartime economy as that occupied by food and munitions.  Coca-Cola was thus spared sugar rationing.  In all, sixty-four Coca-Cola plants were established in allied theaters of war."  Now talk about not only power, but establishing a culture, a headline, a totem.  Soda become more main stream versus a periodic treat.  Now we have generations of soda drinkers, further exacerbating our addiction to sugar, and now the even worse for us sugar substitutes. Quick poll,  how many of you when looking for cola, ask for a Coke?  It is a totem.

Another example of this idea of power can hearken back to the people of Papua New Guinea.  Brisket was popular to be ground as hamburger in first world nations.  There was a call for concern about nodules that were found in the meat.  "This left Australian meat processors with a great volume of low-value beef clogging their freezers."  So it was thus introduced to the pacific islanders who developed a taste for it.  "once nodules were no longer declared a health hazard, the brisket trade immediately shifted back to North America.  Significantly, we were told, the sudden withdrawal of brisket left Papua New Guinea with 'a big, gaping desire'."  enter meat flaps.  Does not this whole debacle wreak of food being used as power?  It was given, then taken away, leaving those in it's stead with a craving that was ultimately to be satisfied with an even cheaper, less healthy, substitute.   

Interesting to look at the influencers isn't it?  I look forward to learning more about the industrialization of food and then moving into culturally authentic food.  How do we put all of these pieces together to form where we are today?  More importantly, we can better understand where we are headed, and what we can do to make positive change.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Random Five Friday

This week we are really getting into the groove of Fall routine.

1.  Confession:  I love to bake treats.  I think it is fun to have fresh cookies for the kids after school.  I bake often.   I made the commitment to myself a long time ago, that if we were going to have cookies in the house, then I would bake them versus store bought.  But mostly, I have a horrible sweet tooth, and if I want a little confection then I need to bake.

2.  Recipe:  Along with the above confessed sweet tooth, I found this recipe.  I was intrigued with the herb infused brown butter in the base.  It was absolutely amazing, it made the flavors of the cookie just sing.  I can not wait to try other infusions!

3.   Wildlife around the farm:  We have had a mama and now not so small baby deer living here all year.  At least, they are frequently here and have been seen anytime of day; morning, noon or night.  As we were taking our evening walk last night, one of the flower beds (more weeds a natural garden), had two distinctly matted down areas that were not there the previous day.  I think our little friends are bedding down closer to the house.  I love our silent companionship.

can you see the matted down spot from our visitor?

4.   To Market:  We have made two deliveries of garlic to our local market, and today they have asked for us to bring in bunches of Dinosaur Kale and a sample of our Rainbow Swiss Chard.  Such an exciting new relationship is developing, I can not wait until next season!

5.   Generosity:  We are absolutely floored and humbled at the kindness of family members.  The ability of such overwhelming generosity of spirit is a trait that we strive for every day and hope that we can emulate for our family.  (more later)

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happiness Is....

......being able to capture a shot in the two minutes that the early fall light looks like this in my kitchen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Garlicy Kind of Day

a little of the preserved garlic spread made an appearance at B's birthday dinner last night :)

Since it was going to be close to 90 degrees yesterday, we decided to give the tomatoes that are oh so close one more day on the vine.  So what should we do?  Working on getting our masses of garlic preserved seemed to be a good place to start.  A week or so ago we ordered an egg incubator so that we could try a batch of black garlic.  B filled it last night and by bed time we were confident that the temperature was regulating appropriately and we put it out on the porch.  Today the porch has the subtle smell of garlic wafting in the breeze.

I was messaged by the local grocery looking for more garlic (that was 60 heads that they sold in just shy of 3 weeks!)  I had another 35 heads that we dropped off today.

We peeled about 4 lbs worth of cloves and canned 6 half pints of preserved garlic.  Oh my goodness, this is the most decadent, spreadable, tasty stuff in the whole world, and I am tempted to use every last bit of our garlic to just make this!  We got the recipe from Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook site.  B does a lot of research on different things around the farm and time and time again, regardless of what he is looking for, this site pops up, and the advise thus far has been great!  As you can see the theme of the day was garlic, today....tomatoes!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Random Five Friday

This week has just flown by, with the holiday Monday, school and fall sports in full gear, I can honestly say that I do not know where the week went....but I am happy that it is Friday!

1.  We have one of B's veterinary school roommates staying with us this week.  He is in town for a certification class.  It has been about six years since we saw him last, so it has been fun!

2.  B attempted an eradication of the troublesome ground wasp nest late last night.  Several of the extension services recommend pouring soapy water into the nest as a natural way to rid yourself of them.  It was both amazing and a little intimidating that the seemingly small area easily took up 18 gallons of soapy water last night.  Yikes!  We will see what today brings!

3.   School began Tuesday for Charles.  Last night he came home and informed me that he wants to join band this year.  He has never expressed any interest in the instrument opportunities that he has had in the past so I am excited for his enthusiasm.  His instrument of choice....the oboe!  I asked him why and he said that it just sounds awesome....and he could blow the longest into it!  He did make me aware that I had to be very careful of the mouth piece....because if I broke the reed it would cost $30 to replace.  I can not wait to see him tackle this new challenge!

4.  I wrote my second assignment for our Blog Camp goes to MIT class.  It has been a really great feeling to be 'back in school' again.  It is amazing how immediately reminiscent it felt while reading the assignment and then converting my thoughts into a mini term paper.

5.  After several months on the programs committee for the Eco-Justice Center, I was invited to apply for a board seat.  Yesterday afternoon, myself and a friend of mine were both oriented on our responsibilities.  A new adventure beginning.
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Paradoxes & Dilemmas

This weeks Blog Camp Goes to MIT assignment involved four readings all with the question what are our food dilemmas now?  Interestingly, the readings spanned a great deal of time, from 1942 through as current as 2011.  These writings can be broken into say three food groups;
  • diets- fads and why we are so susceptible
  • production- a trichotomy between mass production, crop manipulation, and hunger
  • culture- the significance of food through time and how it is viewed
I have found over the last several years that my focus has been firstly on learning and teaching my family about healthy food systems, and has grown into how to disseminate that information through our local community, all while knowing baby steps start at home and ripple out from there.  It is alarming that as a result of how our food is produced; stripping it down one nutrient at a time, a reliance on processed foods, and a generalized lack of food sense,  that our children are now expected to have shorter life spans.

Let's start with the first 'food group' ~ diets.  In Michael Pollan's article dated October 17, 2004 titled Our National Eating Disorder printed in the NY Times, he discusses multiple thoughts regarding diet over time.  He begins the article and weaves throughout reflections on the almost knee-jerk reaction that people have when accepting and trying each and every new 'fad diet' out there.  At the time this article was written, it was the height of low/no-carb dieting.  But there are mentions of other doctor or dietitian recommended eating methods, and basically "Americans will get behind any diet as long as it doesn't involve eating less food."  That is truly and honestly it.  In this super-sized, fast, pre-packaged society that we live in it is far too easy to take the path of least resistance...especially if it is advertised as wholesome.  In order to produce the most for the least our crops have been bred, fertilized, and insect repelled so much that the nutrition has been almost completely stripped from them.  But hey, that is a-OK, because when these raw materials are processed, they are 'fortified' with things to reintroduce some fragment of what we have depleted.  Why are we so married to the latest and greatest diet craze?  I'll come back to a solution in the third 'food group'.

The second 'food group' I will touch on a bit is production.  Margaret Meade's 1970 piece on The Changing Significance of Food, looks in depth at our implementation of mass production and how that made it easy for us to manufacture "on terrifying scale, foods and beverages that were guaranteed not to nourish."  Once again seeing that easy and cheap ingredients can make a lot of filler disguised as 'food product' (haven't you seen that phrase on a label before)?  As a striking counter balance to this wealth of efficiently used farm land and production capabilities, is the fact that there is still so much hunger all over the world, as well as here at home.  "Those who are not fed will die, or in the case of children, be permanently damaged.  We must balance our population so that every child that is born can be well fed. We must cherish our land, instead of mine it, so that food produced is first related to those who need it; and we must not despoil the earth, contaminate, and pollute it in the interests of immediate gain."   This can in part begin to be accomplished by looking to and finding value in more local agriculture (small family farms) and eating a diet based more on seasonally and locally available foods.

In Mark Bittman's NY Times article A Food Manifesto of the Future, he points out several key areas that can help us begin to re-focus our priorities.  "Markets-from super to farmers- should be supported when they open in so-called food deserts and when they focus on real food rather than junk food."  During the research for a Co-op grocery store that we are trying to get open in our community, it was found that a large section of our town was considered a food desert.  Though it includes a very wide demographic, the inner city is wholly included in it.  People having good food choices in close proximity to their homes is vital in building a healthier future.  "Encourage home cooking. (Bittman says), When people cook their own food, they make better choices.  When families eat together they're more stable.  We should provide food education to children."  It is shocking how many children can not identify a raw vegetable!

I know that there is a major complaint out there that produce from the farmers market is not financially feasible for many families.  What we have been learning since we began this journey is to look.  There are many amazing foods available at very inexpensive prices.  Buy in the season and put it away.  If canning is too expensive (equipment is an initial investment), most things can very effectively be blanched and frozen.  As an example, we bought 3 dozen ears of sweet corn from the farmers market yesterday for $7.95.  This netted us 20 pts. of corn at 39 cents for 16 oz.  A typical can of corn is 12.5-15 oz.  This is a tremendous value for something that tastes astonishingly better than what you can buy at the store....for more money.  What did we invest?  An hour or so of family time to get it done...not a hardship.

Our third 'food group' is one of the most important.  It involves the culture of our food, how we eat and the importance we place on eating.  Michael Pollan discusses the "French paradox".  This is a fascinating concept to me and over the last year I have read a great deal on the subject.  As I discussed here and here a defined food environment is where eating is about taste, savoring, enjoyment, and mostly family and friends.  Portions are controlled, food is eaten slowly, snacking with the exception of the  goûter (what we call linner..the little meal between lunch and dinner) is taboo, and kids are exposed to a variety of foods and expected to eat what they are served.  As an experiment, we introduced the concept to the goûter last year and the kids were excited for it every day.  This summer I let it slide a bit, and one of the first things that I heard the kids discussing with the return of school was that they would get their linner back.  Hmmm, feeling a little guilty here, but I am thrilled that it made such an impact.  They eat their meals better and without complaining, and they do not snack in between (so they are hungry for their meal).  Though we in the US have regional specialties and dishes, we have no defined food culture, no standards for the importance of the meal and how food is to be enjoyed over conversation and not just inhaled without tasting, so we can move onto the next event.

As you can see from this not so brief dissertation, that there are many dilemmas when it comes to food.  I have not resolved any of them here, just pointed out some of my ongoing concerns.  If we want to reverse the growing trend of shorter life-spans and earlier onset of disease, we should look closely at what and how we consume that stuff that sustains us, and maybe aspire to do it more thoughtfully.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chili, Pie & Tradition, Oh My!

We could not have asked for a more perfect night for the chili cook-off.  At just under 100 guests, half of who were kids, the farm hummed.  The kids just ran and played, while the adults socialized, ate, and enjoyed a libation, or two.  We had eight chili entries this year and five pie entries. 

Everything went very smoothly with the exception that a game of capture the flag went awry after a brief interlude with a ground wasp nest (I guess that turned out to be a good, yet dangerous place to hide the flag).  Thankfully, everyone is just fine, but there were some stings to the evening.  All upset seemed to fade in memory as the sky darkened and the glow sticks emerged,  we had our own little fireflies running far and wide. 

The chili winner was a White Chicken Chili and the pie winner was a Gin and Juice.

Congrats to all of the winners, and a special salute to our wounded (stung) warriors....
Chili Cook-off 2013, over and out!


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