Food

Our Candy-free Halloween Party

Last year I wrote about what I wished Halloween could be for our family.  I dreamed of a day when we could enjoy the spirit of Halloween in community without the abundance of candy and general tone of consumption.  I wanted it to be filled with joy, excitement and good wholesome fun.  This year, with the help of a friend, we were able to realize my dream!

Our gathering went like this:

4:00 – Gathered and greeted each other
4:15 – Made Halloween lanterns using recycled jars, tissue paper, wire and watered down white glue
4:45 – Ran Races, including a monster eyeball race (carry an olive on a spoon), three legged race, and potato sack race.
5:05 – Played Games, like tossing a beanbag through a pumpkin’s mouth, pin the tail on the cat and a spider ring toss.
5:30 – Pot Luck Dinner
6:00 – Bobbing for apples
6:15 – Pumpkin Pinata that was filled with raisins, fruit leather and non-edible treats like pencils, erasers, stickers and stick on moustaches!
6:30 – Spooky forest walk where we followed the trail to view the candlelit pumpkins each family carved and brought with them and the children carried their Halloween lanterns!
It was a busy evening for me, being the one to direct the action.  But it’s what I love to do.  Sometimes I struggle with the balance between being the leader and being the mom.  But Rob was there with me, so he could be there for the children when I was otherwise occupied.
The races were a riot!  There were no prizes, and that was fine.  The best part was that the adults wanted to be part of the fun too!  One of my friends requested an adult sack race – what fun!
The pinata was a great success!  The boys and I made the pinata the week before Halloween by using paper mache over a balloon.  We were sure to make it strong since we knew there would be lots of children wanting a turn!  We painted it orange and added a traditional pumpkin face.  The children had a great time taking turns to whack it.  Seems we made it strong enough, as it was the fourth round through all the children when it finally burst!  I will never forget the look in the child’s eyes who burst that pinata.  She was so excited and pleased with herself!  The children were each given a small bag to collect one of each of the things that had fallen.  They were so wonderful about it.  There was no pushing, shoving, crying, or any other negative feelings.  I saw children sharing and helping each other choose what items to take home.  It’s amazing what candy frenzied sugar greed does to an atmosphere!
The children really loved bobbing for apples.  This is a holiday tradition that isn’t done anymore for ‘safety’ reasons.  I’m not too sure what the safety concerns are…drowning?  swapping germs?  eating healthy food?  This was reported to be my children’s favourite part.
The forest walk at the end of the evening was particularly magical for me.  With the ‘work’ done, I was able to be more present to enjoy the experience.  The children’s lanterns flickered down the path as we stopped to admire each others pumpkin carvings.  The children enjoyed seeing the pumpkins so much that we decided to walk to trail twice!  This was a beautiful shift for me from what is usually a rush to knock on a door to trick-or-treat, completely ignoring the pumpkin sitting to the side of the stoop.  We were able to enjoy each others artistry!
Despite the rain and cold damp evening weather, after the last family had left, we decided we needed to do it again next year!  Perhaps next year will be bigger and better!  Getting more people involved will help to diversify the event, and take a bit of the performance pressure off of me.  I am ever grateful to my friend for helping me put this together and hosting this party.  Not only that, but her willingness to contribute and participate full force in my vision was amazing.  I hold deep gratitude for all who attended as well.  Those families willing to step into the edges, making bold choices to diverge from mainstream culture.  Halloween night this year was everything I had hoped for and more!  I feel truly blessed…
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Nut Cracking!

They saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them…so we’ve all decided to go a bit nuts around here!  We purchased a nut cracker last year, which never made it out of the box.  This year, we had a big crop of walnuts as well as some pecans and heartnuts we purchased from a nut farm we visited recently that were sold in their shell.  The children have been having a great time cracking nuts on the back deck.  Makes for a reasonably mess free snack…a quick sweep and we’re done!

The nutcracker we purchased, called “Grandpa’s Goody Getter” is very easy for them to use.  It automatically sizes the nut and requires very little force on the lever to crack the shells.  Even my three year old is able to load the nuts and crack them himself.  The black walnuts are a bit more difficult, since the shells are harder and thicker.  My five year old cracks the walnuts, with everyone else standing well back to help prevent shards of nutshell hitting someone!  The children feel so good about participating in the process.  There is something about mining the nut themselves that definitely adds to the allure.

Bringing children as close as possible to food production has wonderful results.  My children eat more healthy food directly from our property than they ever would from their dinner plate.  Participating in the harvest has an amazing way of making food taste better!  It has been amazing to see how trusting them with a bit of responsibility has allowed them to blossom.  I am able to step back and watch them help each other.  When children feel valued and respected, they are able to value and respect others.

Hunkering Down

Harvest season has been a long haul this year.  I have had a hard time keeping up with everything, from the influx of fresh food, to the realizations that we need to move on to bigger and better things.  The crux of our business is from the two greenhouses Rob and a friend took on as well as a small acreage at a different site. The reality of trying to balance home life, Rob’s full time job, the vision for our property, the gardening projects offsite and other (numerous) commitments we both have outside the house has been trying at times.  At times it has been overwhelming!  I have never resented abundance before and feel embarrassment over the feeling.  The bushels and bushels…and bushels of food kept appearing, and along with them the commitment of work needed to preserve the food, and as the days ticked by the smell of rot crept in as we failed to keep up with it all…not to mention our impressive crop of fruit flies!

Rob is amazing at getting things done…especially when it comes to processing food.  He is often the one coaxing me out of my reading chair in the evening to process this or that.  As a result of nearly two months of work (salsa, salsa verde, a variety of soups, dried tomatoes, fruit leathers, fermented tomato sauce, fermented beets, stewed tomatoes, watermelon jerky, sauerkraut, fermented hot pepper sauce, dried pears and apples) I believe that tonight will be the last night of this very long haul!  We are left with cucumbers to turn into a fermented relish and a few more watermelons to dry into jerky.  Mind you, our back porch is covered with squash and pumpkins that will need attention, but not for a while yet.  We have some space before we have to deal with them.  I see it as time to recover from the marathon this has been!

I am excited that this day signals the ending of a very difficult chapter in our life.  A chapter where we were required to keep going despite the protests…from our children, our bodies, our minds and our hearts.  It is time for us to pull in our roots.  As a plant prepares for winter, we too shall bring back our extended selves.  It is time for us to recuperate.  It is time to start enjoying the abundance of our harvest.  We have such a high yield!  And we have certainly gained more than just edibles this year.  While reflecting on this past few months, it is hard to miss the fact that it was not the processing of food that was actually causing us stress.  At the edges of the stress, we realized that it was that the food preservation had to be squished in around all the other things.  The stress came when it couldn’t be the focus we needed it to be.

We have learned so much from the past few months.  We set out in the Spring with the goal of figuring out what it is that we wanted to do with ourselves.  Our plan was to have one crazy year to try things out and see what came of it all.  We wanted to gain clarity about what we wanted to do with our lives.  How did we envision our future?  What were our real goals?  We aimed to hone in on our holistic goal.  After a lot of hard lessons, what we want to do is now clear.  We want to be homesteaders living debt-free.  We are not sure just how this will manifest, but more than ever we are eager to find as many ways as possible to integrate all the parts of our lives.  What this year has taught us is the true value of integrating, not segregating.  We want to be farming our own land, producing our own food, and using our energy and creativity for our own goals.  As we wind down the busyness, slowly pulling inward, we have the opportunity to hunker down, turn inside and to each other to begin visioning how we make our dream a reality.

Apple Grape Fruit Leather

This past week when visiting friends, we were offered some of the grapes that were growing as a carport.  What a beautiful gift to be given!  I took a bag full.  They also offered us some apples from a tree that had split and fallen down.  I’m amidst so much processing of food at the moment that I didn’t take too much of either offering.  What I did take however, I turned into something wonderful!

I juiced the grapes and then poured the remaining mash through a strainer, mashing it with a spoon to extract as much juice and fine pulp as I could.  I ended up with 24oz. The remaining pulp was enjoyed by my chickens!

Then I took 24 apples, cored them and put them through the food processor, mixing them with the grape juice to help the processor blend the fruit better.  I blend the fruit until it is very smooth, like a store bought applesauce texture.

This makes for a thinner and more flexible end product.  I poured the mixture (done in two batches) out on Excalibur teflex sheets to dehydrate at 145˚ for 45 minutes to warm it up, then at 115˚ overnight.  This technique drastically reduces drying time, but doesn’t heat the food enough in the initial 45 minutes to ‘cook’ it, so it remains a raw food.  The result was great.  If I were to make it again though, I would use less apples for the amount of grape juice I had, just to make it taste more like grapes.   If I didn’t have too much to do already, I’d be out there foraging for more grapes and apples!

Harvest Season

At this time of year, harvest is abundant!  Processing food for the winter months is all consuming and the incoming volume of produce seems relentless.  We have been working our way through bushels of tomatoes, peppers, apples and cucumbers that have blessed our counters.  It’s hard to see that volume of perishable food as a blessing when you’re drowning in domestic tasks, but it truly is.  We have such gratitude for the fresh fruits and vegetables that have come to us from toxin free environments and loving hands.  In the midst of feverish attention to kitchen tasks, I am trying to stop and remind myself that this food will sustain us, that my work now will be what sustains us.  The process of storage and use undulates between stressful and easy.  The beauty is in this binary relationship of catching and storing energy for later release.  This burst of hard work makes room for the more laid back introspective months to come.  I love the ability to pop down to the cellar for a jar of this or that in the winter, opening a jar of homemade whatever brings back a rush of summer in the midst of snow covered branches.

There are other harvests happening at this time too, as we take stock of how we spent our time this past year.  We have been noticing which things we’ve put our energy into that were fruitful and which were not.  It is in the harvest season where we already begin to dream ahead to next spring, postulating on which plants to keep and which to replace with something different.  Did we have enough of this or too much of that?  We are also thinking on our time as a commodity as of late.  Looking at how we spend our minutes, with too much of this or too little of that.  The beauty of harvest is that even though our hands are busy, we are set to a task which helps our busy minds sort out the emotional harvest of the year.

Anticipation

We lost a great deal of our orchard blossoms early in the season during a frost.  It was a disappointing day.  We tried hard to save them, throwing a sheet over each tree, which knocked off some of the blooms in the wind before we decided to remove them.  After the frost hit, Rob got up before sunrise and misted the trees in an effort to prevent the frost from doing damage, a trick we learned from an excellent DVD we own called, “The Permaculture Orchard.”  We still ended up losing most of our fruit.  We have some pears coming on and a few apples.  Last year we were only able to harvest four pears and four Asian pears.  It looks like we’ll have an equally scant year this time around.

We have many interesting and different varieties of fruit.  Apple, pear, plum, corneilian cherry, paw paw, chum.  We are eagerly anticipating the year when we can sample all of the different varieties, selected for winter heartiness, disease and pest resistance.  I can’t wait for the day we have to give fruit away because we couldn’t possibly consume it all!  But this year, I look forward to sampling whatever our orchard offers us, no matter how small the yield.  There is nothing quite like biting into something you’ve grown yourself.

Sunshine through the Rain

I sat down at my machine intending to finish off a blog post I started last week.  I was about two thirds of the way through it, when I heard raindrops begin to hit my window and a rumble of thunder rolled though the room.  My mood dropped.  After putting the children to bed, I raced outside to hang the diapers in the (what was then) sunshine.  Wanting so badly to get in and write, I hurried through the job, which still delayed me ten minutes from my post at the computer.  Every minute counts when I’m racing to finish things during the hour and a half of rest time after lunch.  I was worried that I might not finish the post before the children were finished their rest.

Upon the arrival of rain, I again hurried outside, feeling grumpy and annoyed at having to spend another ten minutes taking the now even more wet diapers from the line.  This was made worse by thinking of having to hang them out again on racks in the basement for a net loss of 20 minutes over what it would have taken if I had just hung them out in the basement to begin with.  Grumbling to myself while I stuffed the diapers and clothespins in their respective baskets, I started to notice the feel of the raindrops on my skin.

Then I noticed that the air had grown more fresh.  The negative ions were working their magic.  My thoughts were on the feel of gentle raindrops kissing my arms and face.  The rain brought me back to the present.  It was then that my thoughts shifted to thinking about places where they would give anything for a taste of this rain.  In California, four years of drought have climaxed into wild fires which are destroying their food bearing landscape and along with it, the crops, the soil, countless livelihoods and food security for much of North America.

I suddenly felt much better about bringing in my diapers from the rain.  I shall finish my other post tomorrow…