Potato Peel Challenge

I had only five things on my to-do list today, one priority item, three important items, and one with a question mark.  Guess which got done first!

Yesterday, I canned eight jars of my Pontiac Red potatoes.  I love this variety because they’re tasty and they reach maturity before the weather gets hellish in Oklahoma.  The smooth-skinned reds steam well, and they’re lovely cooked with green beans. They hold together when boiled.

I also grow russets. They, too, are good steamed, but I like the way they break down in soups.

The Pontiac Reds canned beautifully.  I was pretty sure they would.  What I didn’t know is if the russets would turn to goop in the canning jar.  I had to find out. The priorities could wait!

Russets are tricky in Oklahoma.  They take longer than the reds to mature, and it gets hot before they get much size on them. I harvested a lot of small russets.

Anyway,  I had a question to answer and a lot of small potatoes to peel.

The first thing I realized is it takes much longer to peel a lot of little potatoes than it does a few big ones.  There’s also more waste, because the ratio of peel to potato is greater in the small ones. Little potatoes are harder to hold on to when you’re going to town with the peeler.  But I got the job done.

It was worth the effort. Canned baby russets look beautiful in the jar.

I’m thinking that next year it might be a good idea to get the russets in the ground in January or February, maybe under a thick coat of straw.  But that’s an experiment for another day.  Today, I’ve got to tackle a few more things on my to-do list.

Garden + Pantry = Tacos

When I think about food preparedness, I don’t see a basement filled with freeze-dried meals.  I see a sensible plan that includes pantry, shelves of home-canned produce, root cellar for storable foods, sprouts on the counter in winter, a garden and farmers’ markets in summer, DIY skills, and a community of likeminded people.  As with any worthwhile endeavor, there’s more than one path to food security.

When it’s cold outside and time is short, I stir up pantry meals with a side of greens.  Right now, though, garden produce is coming in.  Some meals are all garden, like yesterday’s new potatoes and green beans.  Today’s lunch was a hybrid meal, part garden and part pantry,

On my way home from yoga this morning, I was wondering what to do with the half package of taco shells in the pantry.  Chicken tacos, that’s what!

My friend Phyllis grew a lot of onions.  I didn’t get mine in the ground this year. Thankfully, she shared.  I have tomatoes coming along nicely, green ones, but I picked up a few pounds of ripe ones last week at the farmers’ market.  Add chicken, some fat for sautéing, homemade salsa from last season, and some good cheese. Yep, I had everything I needed.

I have an abundance of seasonings, food for the taste buds and the soul.  One might even call me a seasonings hoarder, except I use them up and I share them.

I sautéed the onions, added leftover chicken meat, and seasoned to taste.  If you don’t have leftover chicken in the fridge, use canned chicken.

I warmed the shells, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese and set it all on the table with the salsa. It was as delicious as I hoped it would be. And simple.

This winter, when there are no more tomatoes ripening on the counter, make sure you have a few jars of whole, canned cherry tomatoes in the pantry.  They taste almost as good as the freshly chopped tomatoes we ate today. Almost.

After the Flood

It has been a while since I’ve been here. I could say it’s the busy time of year, but for me, all times of the year are busy.  I write, I run a household, I raise and preserve a good deal of my own food, and I have friends and family to whom I willingly give some time.

I could blame all I have to do, but it would be a lie.  What it is, is the weather.  Just past the halfway mark, we’ve already had a years’ worth of rain.

I prefer rain to drought because I live on high ground and I’m terrified of wildfires.  And war. Politics and weather!  It’s all enough to make one feel anxious.

One night a couple of weeks ago, we got seven inches of rain here, and two more inches in the two days following.  Now, I’m not going to complain.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  The creek behind my house didn’t overflow onto my garden.  My chickens survived the deluge.  It seems selfish to say that all I suffered was anxiety.

I had no television reception or WiFi, but by the back window I had a Hotspot.  My eyes were glued to videos of houses slipping off their eroded banks into the Cimarron River, of barges loose on the Arkansas and crashing into the dam downstream.  All this misery!  But humans are nothing if not resilient…and dangerous.  How much of this have we brought on ourselves?

Following every rain since, I’ve had to go out into the garden and scoop dirt on exposed potatoes, but they are lovely potatoes, and they will be dug in their good time.

I’ve discarded old tomato cages that loosen their Earth Staple moorings and fall over when the ground gets soft.  Now I use deep stakes, nothing fancy.  It works, and I’ve harvested my first Mexican Midget tomatoes and Jimmy Nardello peppers.

Life is as good as you make it.  Being anxious doesn’t help, even if you can’t help being anxious.  But there’s a remedy.  Go out to the garden.  Count your chickens and gather eggs.  Make a meal for someone.  Give some of your fresh produce away.  Breathe deeply.  Love.

How Do We Coexist?

Two evenings ago I was a hundred miles from home, wearing the raw silk suit my man brought home for me from an art show and that I rarely have a reason to wear. I was sitting at a table with two other poets and their spouses, eating steak and salad and trying to ignore the desserts on the table, waiting to hear which excellent poets, writers, and artists would win an Oklahoma Book Award.

I was a finalist in the poetry category for my collection, Not a Prodigal.  I signed a few books.  I talked to poets and writers, my people.  We shared hugs and good wishes.  I didn’t win, but a friend, Hannah E. Harrison, did, for her picture book, Friends Stick Together.

A long evening, and it was past midnight when Dale and I finally left the turnpike, navigated a stretch of shoulderless highway, and turned onto the dirt and gravel that takes us home.  We fell into bed, exhausted.

About six, I heard my name, and in that haze between sleep and waking, I thought it was a dream. But I heard it again, more insistent. My husband was standing at the window pointing to a charming young raccoon, a slash of black and white across his face, who was trying to figure out how to get into one of the chicken pens.

I let Nike out.  She sent the raccoon back to his hollow tree along the creek bank.  She enjoyed the run and a perceived victory.  On this day, no harm was done.

There’s a balance between the wild and the kept on our place.  I had to kill a sick opossum last year.  It broke my heart.  I have to keep my cats in the house and my chickens in covered runs to save them from the opossums, the raccoons, the coyotes, and the hawks that share this space with us. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We all belong here.

On this rainy Saturday, I slipped into jeans and tee shirt and heavy Carhartt hoodie and went out to inspect the fences, rake away hay to see if there were entry points into the runs, and to carry stones and blocks from the piles I’ve collected to shore up weak places.  It was a good day’s work.

Like my literary life and my farm life, the natives and the immigrants on our place coexist.  It is not without questions and occasional struggle, like when I’m hauling a big black snake out of the chicken pen and dropping her over the fence, knowing she’ll be back.  But I’m willing to do the work to make it work.

If only political parties, countries, armies, and religious sects would do the work they should so the world could coexist as we do right here, in Oklahoma, on a rugged square of clay and trees and water.  It requires give and take and a lot of hard work.  There’s drama and heartbreak, fear and fatigue sometimes, but mostly there is contentment and beauty that I wish all the world could share.

Buying Local

I buy as much of my produce at the farmers’ market…actually at two or three farmers’ markets in my area…as I possibly can.  I’m not doing it to be kind, although it is a good thing to buy from local producers.  I buy local to insure that local farmers can earn something for their work, so they don’t give up farming. I need them!

For several years, I placed a monthly order with the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  It was an Oklahoma treasure–grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and eggs, cheese and yogurt from grass-fed cows, freshly made peanut butter, locally grown and ground corn meal and flour.  And that is an abbreviated list.  I placed my last order near the end of 2018, laying in a store of staples that last month.  I miss the cooperative.

Most of the cooperative’s producers are still working, still showing up at farmers’ markets.  Most of them are too far from my home for me to enroll in their CSAs.  But they are out there.  If you are near them, give them your business.  And I will give my business to the farmers within driving distance of my home.

As the climate continues to change, and as agri-businesses corner markets, and as our president gets into trade wars and alienates neighbors who grow a lot of the produce we eat, it will be up to us to feed ourselves and our families.  Am I being gloomy?  I feel gloomy.  But my neighbors and I plant our small gardens.  I have a new asparagus bed, and the old one just produced its first stalk of the season.  Potatoes and onions are raising their green heads out of the dirt.

We raise chickens and goats and pigs and turkeys.  And some of us are experimenting with winter gardening.  We can’t control the weather, the geo-political climate, or the price of land, but we keep trying.

Where did all this come from?  Thanks, Rick Reiley, for passing on the piece from Two Sparrows Farm.  I don’t know if I agree with everything the author says, but there is plenty of food for thought here.  And, yes, we need that kind of food, too.

The End of the Road

 

Root Soup

After an art show weekend on the road, and an icy road, to boot, I needed comfort food today. Although I usually follow an 8-hour diet, I welcomed us home with breakfast.  My girls lay eggs even in winter, so I fried some of them up in a little local butter.

In return for their gifts, I cleaned and refilled all their water founts, put fresh hay in coops and runs, and treated them to a mealworms-and-milo snack.  When they’re happy, I’m happy.

Because it is still icy outside, I made a big pot of root soup for lunch.  The roots on hand were yellow onion, orange carrots, and russet potatoes.  I didn’t puree, but the russets break down pretty well.  I seasoned them with a little salt and Penzey’s Sunny Paris.  I added a bit of ham toward the end. Delicious!  And there’s plenty left for tomorrow.

Food can hurt or heal. I pay attention to what goes in our bowls and on our plates.  But sometimes, it is comfort one requires.

Stay warm and well fed, my friends.  And even on wintry days like this, get up and move around.  Movement, too, gives comfort.

Sauerkraut Meditation

What do you do when your nonstop-talking grandson comes to visit?

Play piano and sing.

Get on the treadmill at 1.5 miles per hour for three or four minutes, four or five times, between Tonka Truck races.

Read picture books aloud, Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants three times and Ninja at least twice.

Eat scrambled eggs and raisins.

And while ns-t grandson watches Sesame Street for his meditation, you make sauerkraut for yours.

Here is my simple kraut-making method:

Wash head of cabbage,  Cut into quarters, cut out core, then cut each quarter in half.  Slice each eighth thin, salt, and mash with a wooden masher or whatever tool you have available.

For one head of cabbage, use 1  1/2 tablespoons sea salt.  As you pound the salted cabbage, it releases its liquid.  Pack into wide-mouthed jars and press until liquid rises above the solids. I’ve found a typical three-pound head of cabbage needs two wide-mouthed quart jars, each packed about a half to three-quarters full. This prevents spillovers.

Use weights—glass or unglazed pottery, or a cleaned rock, if that’s what you have—to hold the cabbage under the liquid.  Put lids on the jars.  Either you will need to release the gasses each day or use lids with a gas escape of some sort.

Start tasting the kraut after the third day.  When it is to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy, usually in 3-10 days.