Tuesday, December 30, 2008

yeah, I know...

...it's been way to long since my last post. But here is a gratuitous picture of Éamonn as an apology.

We had some...interesting news come to us soon after my last post and so life took over a bit and have been neglectful in blog town.

Andy and I moved into out apartment 9 years ago this month. It's the bottom apartment in a three-family home one a quiet dead end street about a mile walk from downtown. We had friends living on the top floor and other friends were moving out of this apartment so we moved them into their new house and moved us into this apartment. It is spacious as far as as 850 square feet can be - good flow, hardwood floors, and surprisingly low rent for the area. We wanted to move before Miryam was born but it didn't work out and so she was born in a birthing tub in the living room. We tried again to buy a house before Éamonn was born but, again, it wasn't to be and he was born in the same tub in the same living room. We got really close to buying two different houses but it seemed like the starts just weren't aligning properly. We kept waiting for the "sign from the universe" but began to doubt that it would come. But even though there was no yard, many cracks in the paster walls and a moldy basement, we loved the location of our little home here and the rent, as I may have mentioned, was just right.

Well soon after the last post here we got THE SIGN. Or rather, we got the letter from the landlord saying we needed to be out by the end of February so he could renovate. Sort of the same thing. See, the cheap rent came along without a lease.

Things were grumpy. Things were anxious. Some people un-named may have wanted to freecycle all the the family's belongings and take of to Ireland... But it looks (finger's crossed) like we have found a home. It's not the "forever" house (there's room for chicken's and a big garden but no goats or other big projects), but it is lovely and I am holding my breath until the papers are signed.

I feel a bit out of practice with the blogging but I'm back on the horse and as soon as I send Andy out for a new cord for the camera I'll get some pictures to upload that are more exciting than the moving boxes I am currently starting at.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


the creme de la creme.

I'm pretty sure that I was the last to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but even with all the talk about it I still managed to be surprised when Barbara and her family visit Ashfield, MA which is just 15 minutes from my house. If you have read the book you'll remember that they visit a farmer that has a beautiful greenhouse full of early tomatoes and lives in a small round house with a living roof. Well what is not mentioned in the book is that Amy and Paul not only grow tomatoes but have a small herd of jersey cows that is completely pastured and they sell the most amazing raw milk.

I have wanted to make butter for years but finally getting the River Cottage Family Cookbook sent me over the edge and I special ordered 3 gallons of cream. Hello! Only one gallon was for me, and the other two were for my good friends, and fellow crazy-project-planning friends Meg and Victoria. The plan was to make some raw, cultured, pastured butter (which costs the weight of your first born child in gold at the store). I did some math...actually the mathematician I am married to did some math...and it looked like we would get about 4 pounds of butter from each gallon.

mixing up the cream

I wish I had taken pictures up at the farm - it is a really magical spot in the woods - but it was raining and foggy. Meg and I drove up with our broods, had some yummy breakfast at Elmer's and then picked up our gigantic amount of dairy products. In addition to our cream we each also got some whole milk to drink and yogurt to each and help culture the cream, and I got some half-and-half for some amazing hot cocoa I was seeing in my future.

thicker than whipped cream
this is when I slowed my mixer

I used these instructions for the butter making though I only added 2/3 of a cup of yogurt for the whole gallon - it seemed like a lot already. Meg went totally Nourshing Traditions and just left it out on the counter. We need to have a taste test (in the name of science of course) to see how they differed.

the butter milk has separated from the butter

We set up both our mixes and tried to watch for when to slow the mixing down but, of course, Mtg's went from "not yet whipped cream" straight to "big mess all over pantry". Luckily Meg has a dog who made short work of all the mess at ground level.

the big mess

We made two batches each and then salted the butter (I only salted one half to leave the other for baking) with some fancy crunchy fleur de sel. I weighed them out into 8 ounce log-shapped portions (adorably on a baby scale) and then wrapped them in parchment paper and put them in a gallon freezer zip lock. They should be good for about three months but with how much I ate that first day I might go through it a bit quicker...

washing the butter

The butter is so deep yellow because the cows are fed only grass (and hay in the winter) and it is slightly tangy from the culturing and it is so...buttery is the only word I can use to describe it. I learned so much about butter in my researching this project. I had no idea that because 80% fat is the lowest threshold for butter in the U.S., butter-makers actually add water to bring the fat content down to 80% to save money. And that many add food coloring to give it that yellow-look. Not my butter. All there is in there is good cream and good salt.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

corn maze

I uploaded some more pictures from Columbus Day weekend and was reminded that we also went to Mike's Maze on one of the clearest and more beautiful Autumn days I have experienced. Farming is a difficult livelihood in our modern times and more and more farms are need to diversify to make a living and stay on the land. One farm in the area makes and amazing corn maze each year (take a look at aerial photos here) and has a few weeks in Autumn when they are packed with visitors.

They sell pumpkins and squash and have a "corn cafe" with grilled corn on the cob, caramel apples and the like. Miryam was especially enamored with the pony rides. She's decided that we should take riding lessons together in the spring and I am all for it. There is a local farm that forms classes based on skill, not age, which would put us in the same class to start.

The maze was actually more fun last year - the theme was music - the maze was shaped like Luis Armstrong and you had a list of familiar songs to take with you. All along the paths there were these little places where a string was hung horizontally with metal tubes hanging off it. You were given a stick and when you dragged it down the line of tubes it made music and you had to name the song from your list. (did that all make sense?). Each tube was a different note and if you dragged the stick at the same speed the distance between the tubes would create the right pauses and rhythms. It was so much fun. This year you mostly got points for finding each of the boxes as you went around. There wasn't much of a game too it. Apparently the farmer's son (who used to design the games) went off to college... We did get enough points, however, to take out own pumpkin home. Miryam has claimed it as the first pie pumpkin of the season.

This year we spent much less time in the maze and much more time playing in the bales of hay. I remember reading Sarah Plain and Tall as a child and because she missed sliding down the sand dunes in Maine they set her up a hay-slide instead. Well we had out own hay slide and it was great but boy do those bits of pointy hay get into your clothes! I think the writers of those romantic stories that talk about young lover taking a "tumble in the hay loft" have clearly not tried it themselves. Ouch!

p.s. I know that all the photos are of mimi but it was one of those family-visit weekends where all the pictures seem to be posed...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autumn is apples

Though I love my place on the Earth during all seasons, Autumn is an especially lovely time to be in New England. Not only are the colors amazing but there are so many community/agricultural events to fill your days and keep you outside when the weather starts to remind you of how nice it is reading a book under the feather comforter. Many of these, for our family at least, revolve around apples.

We innagurated the apple season with a trip to a local orchard that was new to us. A few of the local schools take field trips there and we decided to take a visit with our good friends Meg & Thom and their girls Aviva and Liesl. Meg and I met around three and a half years ago when she hired the midwife I studied with to attend her birth. They had just moved to the area and Miryam was half a year old when Aviva was born and so we got to know each other quite well during those early mama months. Our second children were born within two weeks of each other and now when we are together we are quite out numbered.

The apples went into 2 dozen jars of apples sauce and two apple crisps (yum). It took us two days and we clearly will need more apples sauce to get through the winter. I trying to find the guts to commit to making some more but it is such a production. Next year we need to make sure to completely clear the whole weekend for saucing, have the papa's around t0 help with the littles and some hard cider and munchies to keep our strength (and courage) up.

The following weekend Andy's mom came for her traditional Columbus Day visit and we traveled to our usual orchard. It's up high in the hills with a great view but the apples were a bit sad this year and difficult to pick as they were so high up. They also are a "spray all we like" orchard and were more than doubly more expensive than our new "low-spray" orchard.

The thing that made it all worth it in the end was our picnic of sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, apples picked minutes before, cold cider, and burning hot, fresh cider donuts. Very dangerous and very delicious. Miryam also got to test out her tree-climbing skills. Apples trees are clearly the best for climbing and our house has exactly zero climbing trees. I consider tree-climbing an essential skill for childhood so we made sure to get lots of practice at the orchard.

These apples were snacked on throughout the week (and many were found half eaten and forgotten throughout the house) and then made into a double batch of apple butter. It cooked and cooked and cooked in Meg's oven and tastes delicious. I have big plans for fresh bread, butter and apple butter breakfasts this week.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

brother and sister

This is what happens when papa takes the kiddies to the coop. Éamonn is very lucky to have such a sister. He's starting to get a bit more "fun" for Miryam to play with and he is so big and strong we aren't terribly worried that she is going to break him. The newest game is to have mama pop him up in the laundry basket so she can bring him toys and tell him stories. My mom taught me that trick when Miryam was small - when they are big enough to sit up, but too small to crawl their toys are always rolling away from them, but in the basket they stay nice on your lap, you stay cozy on these autumn mornings, and your big sister can give you a puppet show.

Does it get better?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

syncronised sleeping -

- our family's new sport. This is how I found miryam and Éamonn in bed the other night - in the exact same position. I am constantly amazed in the ways that they are so different and so alike. Daily I look at Éamonn and say either "that's so new, your sister never did that" or "wow, I totally forgot Miryam did that all the time".

I'm currently enjoying a weekend with just my little boy. Andy took Miryam down to Maryland for the weekend to visit his family and go to a wedding. I just couldn't see driving 6 hours with a baby in the car or spending the cost to fly. Instead it's an Éamonn and mama weekend here. It's been really wonderful - I'm not lonely like I would be staying home by myself because Éamonn is great company but it is so much quieter and calmer with only the baby to pay attention to. Last night I got him into bed before eight and stayed up late cutting out denim for a wrap skirt I have been meaning to make for a while. It was nice to start a project and feel pretty confident that I could finish it without interruption. I got all the fabric cut out and tidied up my mess before crawling in bed with my warm snuggly baby in what felt like a giant bed. Perfect.

Today I got together with a few other mamas to dye some clothes for the kids. They are now washing and drying awaiting our reconvening for a sorting-out and pizza get-togther. I am feeling so rejuvenated, this is just the weekend I needed.

On a crafting note, these are some blankets I made for Éamonn just before he was born. They made from white handkerchief weight linen trimmed with cotton. I used this tutorial for how to attach it and they came out lovely. Perfect for a spring/summer blanket when he needed some coverage from breezes and sun but I didn't want him to get too warm. Next summer I'd like to make Miryam a long sleeved swim suit cover up out of similar linen and trim it the same way.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

blueberries and building

I'm a bit behind here. Andy has started back at school teaching and tutoring and Miryam started preschool this week so lots has fallen on me day-to-day which leaves little time for blogging. I have been thinking about homeschooling Miryam because the private progressive school are so amazingly expensive and because it would fit our lifestyle well, but it seems that all of her friends are now in school (some of them full days even) and so she is lacking for play friends. The local school has a 2.5 hour 4 days a week preschool that we could afford and we felt like that is a good middle ground for us. It is play-based which is important to me - if anything children need to play more not less - and they play outside except in the most extremes of weather. So ideally I'll take Miryam into school in the morning, bring Éamonn home for a nap and have an hour and a half or so to myself 4 days a week. I'd like to use some of that time for staying up to date with this little blog here but also for sewing and working on the Herbal Medicine for Women course that I have been slowly working through this past year. This week, however I have been spending that time cleaning, washing dishes and now trying to figure out what to do with a bin full of dirty cloth diapers and a broken washing machine. eek.

In any case...several weeks ago we went blueberry picking. Grandma, mama, papa and the kiddies. Many blueberries were consumed, 17 pounds were picked and locally made blueberry icecream was enjoyed.

We froze half and used the rest for jam (14 half pints) though I wasn't terribly pleased with it. I made it with a friend who wanted to go with the no-sugar pectin so it is just sweetened with honey but the texture is not my favorite and it just doesn't taste the way I want it to. Not bad at all just not perfect. I worry that I am just being crazy about it because I like to do things the old-fashioned traditional way but this no-sugar pectin just isn't my cup of tea. Ah well. Live and learn. This summer has been a great lesson for me in preparing and storing foods - I'm sure next year will be even better.

We also spent a weekend while Andy's mom was visiting to make a bean bag toss...thingy for our friend Max who was turning 3. It's hard to see from the pictures but each hole is ringed with light green paint. The back legs are on a hinge so the can fold up or fold out to any angle your want to make it harder or easier. We delivered it and Miryam and Max had a great time trying it out. I loved it so much that I think we'll make another for us in the spring.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the beach

Sorry for the silence - after the cherries we went to the beach for 4 days, followed by a visit from Andy's family, followed by a visit (still in progress) from a childhood friend of Andy's. They are taking off to New York tomorrow morning for a baseball game. Though neither are Yankee fans they want to see a game the last season on Yankee Stadium and so are having a guy-weekend together.

The beach was a lovely spur of the moment vacation. Things had been so busy and we kept saying "when [thus and such] is over it will be much calmer" but then a new thing would appear and it would be busy-ness all over again. So we cleared some days and took of for Cape Cod. The weather was perfect - clear blue skies, low humidity and the beach on the oceanside had a great sandbar which let us walk out pretty far and calmed the waves alot.

We also found message in a bottle if you can believe it! Andy and Miryam were playing in the water, looked down and there it was. It contained a note saying that it had been thrown in from a Rode Island beach about 4 days before, with a phone number and 3 dollars. It turned out to be from a fisherman who told us to "take the money and go on a vacation"!

It was a much needed break and afterwards we came home rejuvinated and ready to receive our guests in a less harried fashion.

Monday, July 14, 2008



So there we were, innocently strolling through the farmer's market when we can upon a stand with cherries. "oh" we though to ourselves "we love cherries". We were alerted by the farmers that this was the only week they would offer cherries...

Apparently we loved cherries enough that we bought a whole box for about 70 percent less than if we bought the same amount in pint/quart form. That being said, we bought a box of cherries. It looks even bigger in real life. I'd say two cubic feet or so.

Did I mention that I don't have a cherry pitter? Did i mention that due to circumstances beyond my control I would be the only one processing this box of cherries? Let's not talk about it anymore - it was quite a 12 hours let me say....

To anyone reading this who loves me, please feel free to send me a cherry pitter for my birthday.

In the end we do have two jars of cherries in brandy (yum) and two gallons of halved and pitted cherries in the freezer. I'm half seriously considering making a fruit cake this holiday season. I was thinking of making it very traditional and very local and very alcoholic. I think it might be yummy if I avoid green cherries (what is that all about anyway?)

Hopefully the chest freezer will make an appearance this week and I can once again have ice cubes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I'm enamoured with pantries and root cellars. I would love to be able to put up enough food to last us through winter or, at least, to make up a big portion of our winter fare. Things feel very fragile in the world now and since I have had children I feel such a strong need to be able to provide for them and protect them in the most basic of ways - making sure that (whatever happens) we have a home and food to eat. We envision someday having a smallholding like Rebecca and Dan from Sallygardens, get the mortgage paid off and be as sustainable as possible. I don't need to live off the grid, but I would like plans in place in case of calamity - a stocked pantry and a wood stove with a supply of wood included.

Because we aren't quite there yet I am using this time to practice and learn new skills. My friend Laura came out from Boston this past week so we could do some "putting up". I have canned before (apple sauce and tomatoes) but both of those only need a big pot of boiling water. We had planned on caning peas and that required a pressure canner. For some reason that seemed intimidating (and possibly dangerous?) but it was no trouble at all once we deciphered the instructions written in teeny tiny type.

We both have CSA shares at different farms out here. Laura's also has a delivery out in Summerville where she lives but she comes back west where her family lives to do some pick-your-own throughout the season. Both farms had peas in season so we went to her farm with the little ones and picked several quarts of shelling peas. Éamonn slept in the Mei tai on my chest and Miryam, who was not in a picking mood, mostly fed pea pods to the goats and their two new kids.

The next morning we rode over to my farm to pick my share of shelling peas and then home again to shell and can. Boy do I wish we had some goats to feed the pods too - I'm sure they'll make nice compost but it seemed such a shame to through them all in the bin - so beautifully green and crunchy. We shelled and shelled and shelled and were able to put up 8 pints of peas which felt good for our first go at it. Laura's farm allows you to pick more then your share if you pay extra by the quart, so I think next year we'll go out a bit earlier in the pea season and pick more. When were were there the peas were almost done. This year we'll get a better idea of how quickly we go through thinks like jam and peas so next year we make a more educated guess of how much we need.

To be honest, I don't really like canned peas, though Miryam and Andy love them. We did the raw pack method which hopefully will keep them from that over-cooked-mooshy-awfulness that I associate with canned peas.

Éamonn, Miryam and a Big Bowl of Peas

Also, on the "putting up" front, we are purchasing a chest freezer to share with our friends who live a short walk from us. It will live in their basement and we'll each have an inventory of what belongs to us. I had great visions of freezing a bunch of berries for the winter but didn't even think about how teeny my freezer is. At this point we had to sacrifice ice cubes for the third gallon of strawberries - a worthwhile trade but I could really use and ice tea if you know what I mean...

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm taking the challange

, a blog I recently found, is hosting a challenge the month of July throw away less trash in a month then would fit in a standard 32 gallon trash can. Andy was willing to give it a try so starting next Monday (our regularly scheduled pick-up) we are going to clear out all the waste baskets and start fresh and see if we can make it through the month. We guessed that we fill a can an a half or so in a month and we feel pretty sure we can cut that down within the limits of the challenge. With the new baby and Andy being so busy with the school year ending we have been eating a bit more take-out and having coffee from the shop and so there is more trash then we would usually create. I think this challenge will help us be more mindful again. We compost kitchen scraps, use cloth diapers, cloth napkins, rags instead of paper towels and try to keep the packaging down but I know we can do better.

Our trash pick-up is weekly so we'll empty the can on Monday and not bring it out again for 4 more weeks. We will, however, send out the recycling every week because that really builds up quickly. If we were paying for our pick-up (which is included in our rent) we would hire PedalPeople which is a company that picks up trash and recycling by bicycle (and is actually cheaper than the trucking company). It is so inspiring seeing them riding down the road with the trailers - what a great vision of what we can do in the future to conserve resources. And, hey, they certainly don't need to pay for a gym membership with that job! They also empty the cans downtown which makes me very proud of my city for hiring them.

On the re-usable item front, I bought a thermos/mug at a local shop to keep iced coffee and tea in and it has been working fantastically. We make coffee at home a lot, but sometimes having an iced coffee made by one of the local roasters with the tiny ice while walking around town is just a great treat. I always felt guilt about the plastic cup and now I can have my coffee without the worry, and it stays cold for hours. Lovely.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


We have a CSA share and were very pleased to read on the u-pick board "Strawberries - one quart per share". It was a perfect day for being out in the field and all too soon we had picked our share (and eaten our fill as well). We had so much fun, and the berries were gone before bed time so we made a plan for some serious picking this weekend when Andy's mama (Bubbie) was coming into town.

There is a local organic farm that has u-pick but they charge a dollar more per pound if you bring kids (!) so we went to a no-spray farm down the road from my mom. The farm happened to belong to the family of one of Andy's students and so we were able to chat with his dad in the field a bit. They plant different varieties of berries so that they ripen through the year. Ours were Cavendish - apparently they aren't usually sold because they are very soft and don't travel well. That was fine with use because they were pretty much just travelling to our bellies. We made short work of it and had almost 30 pounds in about a half an hour. My mom, Andy, Miryam and I picked while Andy's mom entertained the baby. The weather was perfect (we usually come out on the hottest day in June it seems) and I was impressed with Miryam - she picked the whole time and really had a feel for perfect ripeness. I was worried she would get bored but she was a proper strawberry picker and filled her basket over and over.

I treated myself to a new pairing knife from a local knife-maker because I knew I was in for some work when we got home. The knife is gorgeous, hand forged with a rosewood handle and fits perfectly in my hand. Apparently, with proper care this is the only paring knife I'll ever buy which in fine by me. I have been trying to "buy less, buy quality" and only purchase things that are beautifully crafted, practical and will last for ever with proper care. I remember as a child having visions of a home where everything was hand-made in it - every bowl, blanket and piece of furniture (though I never could figure out how to get a hand-crafted toothbrush...) and that daydream continues now. In theory, all I really want are beautiful, artisan made items but sometimes I feel the pull of the retail-therapy-impulse-purchase that will will bring such little joy after the immediate buzz. We go to lots of fairs and such during the year and I, invevitably, see some of the same crafters over and over and wish I could spend lots of money on them, when I often only invest in one small thing - I really should set aside some money during the year so that when the fair season starts I have some money to spend on some quality tools that I lust after year after year. It's so much easier to grab a cheap-o plastic one when you see it on the rack at the store. It's all about mindfulness and not always doing the first, easiest thing. And having pride in, and respect for, your tools no matter how humble. I'm learning and practicing...

So. Strawberries. I hulled all 27 pounds by hand and fell in love with my new knife. I froze 3 1/2 freezer bags, gallon sized, for future use. Last year I made the mistake of throughing them in the bag fresh (which made one bit lump that had to be chizled to make smoothies) but this year I remembered to freeze them separately first on a baking sheet before adding them to the bag. I'm trying to pick and freeze enough berries for smoothies so I don't need to buy any until the berry season starts again. But with the space those strawberries takes up leaves me thinkin' I need a chest freezer.

I also made jam for the first time (delicious), dipped a bunch in chocolate (hello.), and ate the rest with fresh scones for breakfast.

I have truly experienced the strawberry.

p.s. the pictures are from picking at the CSA. My marathon strawberry day has no photographic evidence because I was so caught up in the experience and covered in berry juice.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

potting up the herbs

Because there isn't enough space for a garden here we have experimented with both container gardening and a community garden plot. The garden gave us the most veg but since Miryam was born it was too tricky to drive up to tend, water and weed with her and once she was in motion she mostly got into messes eating dirt and straying into other folk's gardens. And we found that what is "garden" and what is "path" is not very important to little ones.

So now we get most of our growing vicariously through our farm share at our local CSA and grow a few herbs at home. This year I had a very willing helper for the potting up.

We have most of the herbs we use except for basil which we get, in large quantities, from the farm for pesto later on. New this year is a Sungold cherry tomato in a hanging pot. Apparently they can tumble down instead of climbing up. We pretty much only eat tomatoes that are local and in season so I am looking forward to stepping out on the porch to harvest and munch each day.

Miryam potting up the lemonbalm.

We also have a lemon balm plant which is yummy in lemonade. We also made a bunch of simple syrup and I have my grandma's old juice press just waiting to smash some lemons so we are absolutely ready for lemonade season.

The rosemary looked a bit onely in it's pot so miryam decorated it with some pebbles.

About this time Éamonn woke but was content to nurse and then lay in the pram watching the wind blow through the maple leaves...

...and fall peacefully asleep.

I'm looking farward to doing some larger scale garden in the next year or two but for now it was great to get my girl out growing food with me. She loves watering them each day and helping to pick what we need for meals. This is a small start in helping her learn about food, where it comes from, and why we are thankful.