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.

Winter Salads

I love summer salads, especially if I have freshly picked tomatoes and other garden goodies.  But what’s an old girl to do in winter when tomatoes have all the flavor of just-washed socks?

Well, create winter salads, of course.

Start with fall veggies, especially those that store well.  Chopped red cabbage is my favorite salad base.

Sprouts are a good fresh addition in winter.  Broccoli and radish sprouts add a flavor kick.  Bean or alfalfa sprouts have a milder flavor.

Beets are always on the menu here.  I canned several dozen pints of honey and spice pickled beets over the summer. I also like just plain canned or frozen beets, especially dressed with spice and a flavorful olive oil.

It might seem redundant, but homemade sauerkraut makes a good addition, too.

Starting with the chopped greens (or red) base, there are a lot of options.  This is one of my favorites: chopped red cabbage, homemade sauerkraut, chopped canned beets, and sharp cheddar.  I add seasonings and some small sardines on the side.

Before you judge, consider that this salad has everything—fresh veggies, an acid (it can be vinegar, tomato, or kraut), a sweet (beets, apples, grapes, cranberries), protein (cheese, sardines, ham, leftover roasted chicken), and a savory.

My favorite seasonings are Loaded Bagel from Spices Etc. and Fox Point from Penzey’s.  Chopped onion and flaked salt work well, too.  Onions, like beets and cabbage and potatoes, are a winter staple.

It may be cold outside, but with a little thought and spice, you don’t have to do without flavor or salad.

PS: A new planting of onions are growing in the garage.  I’ll keep you posted.

Winter Greens

I had great plans to grow cabbage and lettuce in my garage this winter, but here it is the first day of winter and I haven’t planted a thing.  Fortunately for me, the food system is still intact.  From the local grocer, I have a ready supply of red and green cabbage and, for the finicky man, iceberg lettuce.

And I’ve sprouted broccoli seeds on the counter top.

I’ve been sprouting seeds for decades.  Even in a studio apartment, one can have fresh sprouts.

I’ve tried half a dozen different sprouting methods, including stackable trays, cloth bags, and screened jar lids.  This year I added a new type of lid, Masontops Bean Screens.  Don’t let the name fool you.  The holes on the wide-mouthed jar tops are small enough for any type seed.  The hard BPA-free plastic design allows for easy rinsing, draining, and aeration.  I like the Bean Screens so much, I gave away my perfectly serviceable plastic screen lids.  The Masontops are all I need, although I may need another set of them.

I love the spicy flavor of broccoli sprouts.

“Too spicy,” says the finicky man.

He has finally agreed to try other types of sprouts, so I’m picking up alfalfa seeds and red clover. I’m mixing up my own salad mix, too.

We eat a lot out of the canning pantry in winter.  I’m glad to have the jars of fruits and vegetables.  But with sprouts, I still get raw, fresh veggies and the feeling that spring will come again.

Now, how big a field would I need to grow my own sprouting seeds?  And is it too late (or too early) to plant onions in the garage?

Waste Not

I didn’t grow up during the Depression.  I have enough to eat, comfortable shoes, and the right coat for the weather, so my habits aren’t from want.  I’m not sure where it comes from, this aversion I have to wasting anything.

I recycle paper, cardboard, glass, tin cans, and the food garbage in my kitchen.  I’m experimenting with new ways to compost.

I give stuff away to people who might have a use for it…or who might just be throwing it away for me. I frequent the thrift stores, but not to buy.  They know my name when I drive up with the contents of yet another cabinet or closet, and they don’t bother to ask if I need a receipt.  I’m not doing this as a tax write-off but as an obsession to waste not. I have a list of takers, including a place in Tulsa that recycles cloth.

My man thinks recycling is inefficient.  It may be. But he doesn’t complain when I use every bit of a whole chicken: frying chicken legs, thighs, and wings; making a casserole or chicken salad from the breast meat; and making broth and soup from the carcass and remaining bits.  He probably doesn’t realize that I skim the hardened fat from the broth and use it for sautéing. Now, if I could just figure out how to dry the bones and grind them up for the garden!

Instead of questioning why I try to use all the bits, I want to get better at it.  And in case you’re wondering, the hallways in my house are clear. This isn’t hoarding…unless you count books…but using, sharing, and giving.

What are some of the things you use, and how, that most people toss to the side?