Sunday, November 29, 2009

Local Thanksgiving: Dark Days Challenge

We had a wonderfully quiet, almost 100% local Thanksgiving this year--following on the heels of a combination of travel to various conferences by both the adults in the family, work crises that took a lot of time and emotion, and lots of random busyness and its attending crankiness. It was lovely to take a day off just to cook, play games, and eat.

We have a tradition of splitting our Thanksgiving feast into two meals. This plan works well for both cooks and eaters.

For lunch, we made a thick apple-butternut squash soup enriched with local onion, cream, and hot pepper as well as some non-local spices such as ginger and cumin.


David fried up some fritters made with wild rice and frozen corn. The rice, while not local, is sold by the sustainable White Earth Land Recovery Project, an American Indian organization dedicated "to preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage."

native fritters 2

It seemed especially fitting to recognize the importance on native harvests--like wild rice but also corn and winter squash--as well as American Indian cooking traditions. The recipe for the fritters can be found in the beautiful new book, Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions.

* * *

At suppertime, we had our main meal of local turkey, pickled lemon cukes, pickled garlicky green beans...

turkey with pickles in bowls

...roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes-and-turnips, and cherry jam (instead of cranberries--which we could not find locally).  The dressing was made from cornbread (the gorgeous Indian corn we grew in our backyard!), assorted winter greens from our backyard garden, CSA carrots, sage and rosemary from our herb plot, local eggs, lots of local mushrooms--plus local oysters!  We ran into them at the very last moment--and it was absolutely kismet.  Oyster stuffing may become a tradition in our family.

thanksgiving table

The meal was served with a local white wine. When David first handed it to me, I misread the variety and honestly thought it said it was Vinegar. Luckily, it was a delicious, perfect-with-turkey Viognier.

To end the feast, David made a not-pumpkin pie using the recipe on the back of canned pumpkin. He made a few exceptions: first, he used pureed butternut squash and carnival squash which he baked himself. Second, he replaced the canned evaporated milk with a mix of milk and cream from our Amish dairy supplier.


The pie was fabulous--a little yellower than pumpkin pie but sweet, light, and delicate. We served it warm with whipped cream.

We enjoyed the rest of the evening in front of a fire in the fireplace, sipping our wine and reconnecting.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buy Nothing (tm) Day

Celebrating Buy Nothing Day?

Be sure you check out this brilliant advertisement from Amazero. (And be sure to pronounce that adVERTizment while you read.)

Check out the customer comments at the bottom, such as this one: "I bought my daughter NothingTM for Xmas--and now suddenly I'm the world's best mum! If you're a parent, take my advice and make sure you put NothingTM in your kids' stocking this Christmas."

Even the "people who liked this also liked..." section is hilarious.

(And thanks to Fake Plastic Fish for steering me to this site!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Peek, if you expect to get a present from me...

Green Bean over at Green Phone Booth is way ahead of me when it comes to getting her holiday handknits ready to present. Check out her adorable presents and the excellent rhyme she's concocted to keep us entertained and inspired.

Me? Everything is still in the works. Nothing is finished. And that is where you can join me--in holiday crafting, in medias res, and in a complete panic.

First up is a present for my mother-in-law, a delicate woman who loves sparkly things and is one of the most appreciative recipients of handknits I know. For the last three years, I've knitted her incredibly detailed shawls with silk and beads. This year, I figured she needed something different. When I saw the pattern for the Scallop-Edge Beaded Necklace in 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders,I knew it would be perfect for her.

grandma's necklace

What I did not expect it that it would only take a few hours to make! I immediately whipped up one for my own mother:

mom's necklace

Of course, neither of these necklaces have clasps sewn on yet...

My mother has gotten some fairly labor-intensive knitting presents for the past three years but both my father and brother have gotten the shorter end of the stick. They've gotten simple scarves and the like. This year I'm determined to use the time I've got on making up a little bit of the difference.

For Dad, I've made a Hemlock Ring Blanket from designer Jared Flood at Brooklyn Tweed. While the knitting is finished, it is very much unfinished. I can't imagine that this lumpy blob will turn into the lovely blanket of the pattern--but I am always amazed by the magic of wet-blocking wool. I'll keep you posted.

dad's blanket

For my brother, who I do hope has taken the instructions above and has not continued reading, I'm making perhaps the most complicated thing I've ever made--although I certainly did not realize that when I started it! I won't give away what it is, just in case (unless you are on Ravelry). But it involves two lines of provisional cast-ons, colorwork ribbing combined with cabling without a needle, picking up stitches in the round, grafting, and a bazillion kinds of increases and decreases. Here's what it looked like this morning, after at least three aborted attempts following utter failures:

brother's gift

I have a little thing finished (except for sewing in the ends) for my partner David. Can I actually keep it a surprise until the holidays? (I assume he did not heed the instructions in the title since he never gets anything handknit by me now that he can do his own beautiful knitting.)

But much is still left to knit. On top of my brother's present, my 10 yo son has requested I make him the balaclava-like Black Prince Hood for Hanukkah. I have something in mind to knit for an additional little present for my mother (one of these?).

Wish me luck!

I'm looking forward to seeing all the handmade gifts folks come up with for the season!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eating Local during the Dark Days of Winter

This year's celebration of the eating local during the Dark Days begins this week. While finding local produce seems easy during the abundant harvests of late summer and early fall, the pickings start getting slim once the temperatures drop and the amount of light lessons. The annual challenge put forth by the (not so) Urban Hennery helps motivate eaters to keep up the work and realize that what sometimes seems hidden is in fact its own kind of abundance.

Eighteen months ago, we started a tradition of Eco-Shabbat, or Sabbath for the Earth--a continuation of Earth Hour. We were originally inspired by Melinda at One Green Generation to have an evening off the grid. We've enjoyed the candlelight dinners every fall, winter, and spring--but during the summer, we usually loose our way when the sun provides the light to allow us to continue full speed ahead. Darkness doesn't point toward a slowing down until it is almost time for bed.

But now that the "Dark Days" are back, we've started again. Our No Impact Project helped us adopt the practice again more regularly this season. The official project guide gives a variety of helpful suggestions for ways to mark one day a week as an eco-sabbath.

For our recent Eco-Shabbat, we pulled the only successful spaghetti squash out of our garden and baked it up.  We served it with a sauce made of red peppers (from our amazing CSA), which we dehydrated last summer.  Dried peppers simmered in water--just as simple and plain as that, and yet it was astoundingly delicious.

For a side, we cooked up some mixed greens with an onion and some garlic from our CSA and from the farmer's market in town.

We also served a home-canned jar of "Not-So-Sweet Bread and Butter Pickles." The recipe can be found in the excellent canning guide The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market.

For our dessert beverage, the adults at the table sipped our sickeningly sweet but oddly charming homemade Rhubarb Liqueur.  This little taste of preserved summer was a lovely ending to the evening.

dark days 1

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DIY : Green and Thrify Shopping Bag Tutorial

For a while now I've been fascinated with Transition Towns and especially the concept of "reskilling"--and I've been hard at work to learn new things to make our family and community more independent of oil. I've also tried to be active in the environmentalist movement, greening my daily life as we work towards both small individual changes and larger political efforts which can respond to the climate crisis and to environmental degradation.

Of course, many of the things I've tried to learn in the last few years have to do with food and fiber. Everything from fermenting sauerkraut to spinning alpaca, from learning how to can to learning how to weave have been on my agenda.

Today's new skill: basic sewing, using a sewing machine.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

While I was completely intimated for months by the machine sitting in a corner of our finished basement, when my 10yo son and I pulled it out and pored over the instructions, it suddenly seemed quite straightforward.

Following the diagrams in the manual, we threaded the bobbin and the top needle. And honestly, although it only took us seconds, THAT was the most complicated thing we did.

Last time we went to the local thrift store, everything was on sale for 50% off the usual thrift store prices. In addition to a queen-sized quilt for our bed, assorted dress-up goodies for Halloween costumes (including a pair of very cool women's boots for our son's musketeer get-up), and a metal file box perfect for storing seeds, we picked up a handful of tank tops in a variety of sizes.

When we picked up the shirts, we were thinking about the t-shirt bag my son made at the Green Festival in DC last year. It is just a gray t-shirt with the arms cut off by a 9yo, sewn together on the bottom by the adult coordinator. He then drew a picture of a cornucopia on the front to decorate it:

green festival bag

Every time we use the bag at our local co-op, the grocery store, or at the farmer's market, someone comments on how clever it is. Many people have told us over the year that we should sell them. (Well...that would require actually making them.)

Since last year when my son made the bag, I've seen the idea online everywhere from No Impact Man to Martha Stewart. But I kept staring at the sewing machine in fear. Could I do it by hand, I wondered? Would the seams be strong enough?

Finally, the pile of tank tops hanging on the chair in the dining room pushed me to haul out the machine, steel myself for the task, and finally try it out.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

And you know what? It was FUN--and incredibly fast and easy, and totally addictive. Within the hour, my son and I had made a huge collection of bags.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

All we did was turn the t-shirts inside out, then line up the side seams of the tank top. We were very casual and simply used the thread we had on hand rather than trying to match the shirts. We sewed once across the bottom of each tank top with a straight stitch and once across with a zigzag. (I'm sure that sewing twice across with straight stitch would work perfectly, but we wanted to play around with different stitches.) We sewed the lines immediately above the line where the shirt's hem ends. For brand new sewers, this works very well because the seam lump lines up with the side of the sewing foot to keep you going forward in a very straight line. Remember to start and end your lines by stitching backwards just a few stitches in order to anchor the ends. After the sewing is done, clip the end threads and turn the bags right side out.

We chose to use tank tops to avoid having to deal with the top at all--but if you have t-shirts in hand, simply trim the sleeves and scoop the neck enough that you have something to hold onto. No need to sew anything or hem anything. Check out the links of instructions above if you have any additional questions.

Some of the shirts we used were women's petites. Some were men's extra-larges.

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

Some of the shirt we sewed inside out to get a smooth bottom (like the pink bag), and a few we left right side out before sewing (like the blue one):

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

We also played around with a few fancier tops, just for fun.

One is a more delicate stretchy tank which I used to carry my knitting today:

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

I love the lacy camisole! I decided to hem it from the outside in order to let the lacy trim at the bottom remain a design element. (My naughty brain imagines filling it with two huge and juicy cantaloupes.)

Sewing Up Shopping Bags

Some of these bags will become "wrapping paper" (or rather, gift bags) for presents this holiday season. After they do their duty as present holder, recipients can use them again and again as they do their shopping.

These bags are a fabulous way to learn to sew--fast and laid-back enough that if you make a few mistakes, it really won't matter. And at the end of your sewing practice time, you're left with reusable bags great for shopping or gifting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

After days and days of clouds and rain, the sun has emerged and our neighborhood seems to have escaped from the encroaching fingers of winter for a few more days.

We've been celebrating these moments of sun by cooking meals with with our solar oven:

solar oven

Yesterday we managed to squeeze two meals out of the brief hours we had.

First, a lunch of pita pizza--small pitas left over from a hummos fiesta the other night, some leftover spaghetti sauce, a topping of mozzerella and parmesan cheeses, and a liberal sprinkle of dried oregano.  A very easy lunch that basically just needed to heat up.

solar lunch

For dinner, we cooked some pre-soaked dried limas in the solar oven and served them with spicy sauerkraut we made last year.  A very plain but wonderful meal, meeting the need for non-fussy preparation while "Papa" is away at a conference for almost a week.

Of course, the problem with solar cooking dinner during this season is that it is basically dark by 4pm and therefore the meal has to be finished cooking by then.   Although we held things for a little while, we had finished our leisurely meal by 6pm and really could not imagine anything but reading in bed and going to sleep early.

Today we reheated some chicken for lunch.  My son was eager to bake something sweet in the Sun Oven--cookies or pumpkin bread or something--but the clouds began to roll in a little in the afternoon.

Tomorrow, the two of us are headed to a talk about making school lunches healthier.  My homeschooler laughs as he points out that at HIS school, lunch is almost always fairly healthy for the student, the teacher, and the planet.  Do you think the public school system might be interested in investing in a few Villager Sun Ovens?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Dinner Diaries

I recently read Betsy Block's wonderfully entertaining book The Dinner Diaries:Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World. Although I was initially drawn to the book because I had heard that it was a funny food memoir, I found it to be a much more useful book than I had imagined.  Yes--it is charming and warm--but it also engages food politics on many levels and will make readers think more seriously about the ramifications of our decisions about eating.

Block writes the book as a memoir of her own personal quest to improve her family's diet.  She lets us know her struggles and her families, and she allows us to celebrate with her.  This narrative style allows the author to pass along a great deal of information without it ever seeming the least bit moralizing or preachy.

Block introduces her readers to all sorts of food issues.  Should we cut down and/or elminate meat?  Should we remove dairy from our diets?  What should we do about sugar?  How can we handle our own uncertainties about the answers in the face of social/community resistance to change?

My favorite section is her discussion of fish.  While eating more fish is initially on her list of things to do to improve her family's diet, she then learns more about the mercury content of most fish as well as other pollution issues.  She then discusses overfishing and endangered varietes.  Block winds up with an effort to find sustainably-raised local fish.  It is a tying together of many of the concerns raised throughout the book.
The book is not without its problems.

Block tells an absolutely wonderful story about Gandhi--one I had never heard before.  When a mother brought her young sugar-obsessed son to the master in order to have Gadhi himself correct his eating habbits.  Gandhi told the family to come back again in three weeks.  When they did, he told the boy simply not to eat sugar.  When the frustrated mother asked why he couldn't have just told her son those same words three weeks before, Gandhi responded: "Because three weeks ago, I was still eating sugar."

I love this story with its message that we need to live up to all we expect our children to be.  But what Block says after this story is that while it is important that we be role models, her chosen way is to eat candy (fair-trade chocolate) with her husband after the children are in bed.  Her reasoning?  "We're the parents here" and "some things in life should be adult only."  In other words, she chooses to be a good role model to her children's faces but not a good role model after dark.  As she says, "We'd rather lie than argue."  I'm not sure Gandhi would approve.

There are a few other places where I disagree with Block.  For example, I do not believe that our vitamins should be coming from either pills or foods "fortified" with added chemicals.  Real food grown in real soil seems like a better answer for our health as well as for our planet.

I was also a bit irked by the often-contrived efforts to make nutritional advice seem to be riddled with contradiction and conflict.  She paints the nutritionists and the locavores are actively working at cross purposes.  As she writes early on, the two groups are in opposite corners of a boxing ring and what the first group says are fighting words.  For example, the locavores are "telling us to eat locally and in season,, which obviously rules out most of what the nutritionists advised"--which is to eat less meat and more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  The Ethical Eaters are in another corner altogether.  While this portrayal of people at odds makes for a great story, it just doesn't work like that very often.  Yes, sometimes you have to choose between a sprayed apple from down the road and an organic one from China.  But that doesn't mean the basic ideas are not in harmony.

Despite these reservations,  The Dinner Diaries is both an entertaining and informative read.  Check it out!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where You Have Been

My father's most significant bookwas published twenty-five years ago. To celebrate, the publishers released a new edition and the professional organization of which he has been active for many years held a special session during its annual conference to honor his contribution.

This particular annual conference has been important to my father for almost fifty years.  He has even served as the organization's president. And as he says, Dad has even given his two children to the profession.  Both my brother and I are in the same field of academic study.  This conference is always a family reunion for us.

Unfortunately, Dad has been quite sick for the last two annual conferences. In the fall of 2006, we wondered if he would be able to attend at all, ever again. After a diagnosis of cancer followed by a complication-ridden treatment period, this year Dad was able to return this year in full and healthy glory.

He participated in several sessions honoring living presidents of the organization and remembering influential historians who died this year. This kind of personal relationship-based story-sharing is definitely one of my father's strongest suits. But he also was active in the academic scholarship side of the conference--something he really has not been able to participate in the same way in recent years. It clearly brought him great joy, but I think it meant even more to his friends.

The meeting was a homecoming--and a goodbye--all wrapped into one.

During the session about his book, Dad laughed and said that one always hopes that any acknowledgment of lifetime achievement is premature.

He also said that after listening to other academics laud the book he wrote and praise the impact his scholarship has had on the field for the past three decades, he felt a bit like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.

Dad ended his comments saying he wanted to be able to say, like Tom Sawyer, "I ain't dead yet; I was only off being a pirate!"

And just as Tom's Aunt did, we all laughed and cried and hugged him, hoping to hold on to him for a long time coming.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ma and Pa

ma and pa

On October 30st, 1993, David and I had already been friends for a couple of years and very very close friends for several months. We studied together (he learning anatomy while I read about hegemony) and cooked together, walked to school together and stayed up late together. But we were not dating.

We figured it out the next morning--October 31st.

On Halloween, we attended a party together in costume. I (always a witch) held hands in front of my friends with Paddington Bear. No one said anything. I gloated to some friends that we were now together--and the answer I heard from everyone was a sarcastic, "We've known that for months!"

Ever since, David and I have celebrated our dating anniversary on Halloween. We always love handing out goodies in costume while drinking champagne by candlelight.

This year David and I decided this year to dress as Ma and Pa Ingalls.

In our neverending quest to hand out non-candy, non-plastic goodies, we passed out large jingle bells to trick-or-treaters this year. I filled my apron pockets full so I would be prepared for every knock on the door.

* * *

After the evening revelries ended and our son went up to bed, David and I celebrated together for a few more minutes, dancing in the dining room to Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel."

So rock me momma like a wagon wheel,
Rock me momma any way you feel
Hey... momma rock me
Rock me momma like the wind and the rain,
Rock me momma like a south bound train
Hey... momma rock me

The jingle bells in my apron pockets and our squeaky floor boards combined to punctuate the music.

* * *

Here's the slightly racy video from OCMS, which always instantly transports me back to my childhood in rural North Carolina. (I was always shooed away from booths like this which came to the traveling fair.) Thanks to Sharon for sharing it with me and her other readers.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


jack o lantern


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