Dark days of winter with a thankful heart

I was recently asked to do a program at our county library next spring about eating local on a budget. A few days later, I came upon an eating local challenge called the “Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge.” The challenge, from Urban Hennery blog, is in it’s 5th year and asks bloggers (and others) to:

Cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients, write about it on your blog and email your happy recapper a link to your post. It’s really that simple, but at the same time, it can really be that hard

I cook many meals a week using local ingredients, but I will take this challenge on with the goal of having a meal a week that is all or nearly all local. I love the idea of creating a record of eating local in our area, what is possible, and how I did it. I think a lot of people know that eating locally sourced chemical/GMO free produce and pasture raised protein is the way to go, but don’t know how to start. Maybe blogging my way through local winter eating can inspire someone. I am sure I will find inspiration from the others blogging on the challenge. The challenge runs from Sunday, November 27th, 2011 to Saturday, March 31st, 2012.

The recaps of the challenge will be posted on the “Not Dabbling in Normal” blog.

Today, our national day of Thanksgiving, we shared a meal with family and friends and much of it traveled a very short distance to our plate. We have everything to be thankful for. My appreciation of this holiday as deepened greatly over the past 5 years. When you play a part in producing your food or even know those who do, it makes you truly grateful there is a harvest. Farmers give thanks year round for the blessing of their labor and the miracle of the soil. I made stuffing this morning. My first step was to go out and harvest celery, sage, parsley, thyme and rosemary. I chopped all this along with onions and garlic from our farm. I then sautéed everything with spicy Italian sausage and roasted chestnuts from local farmers. The “outsourced” part of this stuffing was dried cranberries and the ingredients for the bread I baked. I am thankful for the good healthy food, but most of all for my friends and family I shared it with.

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On The Road

We just have set out for the 8 hour drive to Seven Springs, PA for the Mother Earth News farm fair. My goal is to blog updates using the “Blogsy” iPad app as a electronic journal of the trip.

At the beginning of this year my husband told me that since I turn 40 on October 7, he would take me anywhere I wanted to go. I thought about it a lot, and decided that I wanted to attend the fair. No Paris, no India, just Pennsylvania. I love to see new places, but I hate to travel. I am also painfully aware of the limitations of my body. Too much is just too much and then I cannot enjoy things. Fibromyalgia can be a real bitch. It is also very hard to travel with my daughter’s food allergies. She cannot have gluten, dairy, legumes (soy!), corn, melon, fish, hazelnuts, cashews, and kiwi. Trust me when I tell you that she can have basically nothing besides fresh fruits and veggies not listed as allergens. Any prepared product has about a 95% chance of having an allergen. Luckily, since we are going to a sustainable living fair, the food will be a little friendlier. Regardless, I have packed a cooler full of food, baked goods, and have even brought a rice cooker to make sushi rice and pasta. Pretty involved for a four day trip and another reason we stay relatively close to home.

So we have an eight hour drive today, followed by three nights at a beautiful mountain resort and the opportunity to hear people like Joan Dye Gussow, Joel Salatin, and Frances Moore Lappe. I am looking forward to attending seminars about soil microbes and no-till gardening (of which I am already a big fan)–just to name a few. The “fair” is at the resort and will be physically manageable for me. An indoor pool will help me relax painful, contracting muscles.

I am very excited– much more excited than I have been about anything in a long time. Best of all, my mom, dad, and nephews are meeting us there. Seven Springs, PA just happens to be about halfway between Westpoint, IN and Antrim, NH.

Big City

We took a short vacation to Chicago last week. Despite the record heat, we had fun and saw and experienced some amazing things. We saw our own veins under a special lens, saw Peter Pan soar through the air over our heads, viewed 4 states from the the 94th floor of “big John,” rode in the worlds fastest elevator, were face to face with a Siberian tiger, ate out-of-sight food from a world renowned chef, were rescued for the extreme heat by handmade Mexican paletas, and were moved by the art in the US’s largest museum of Mexican art.  It was definitely a break from the “norm” for us.  After 2 days we were itching to come home.

I am a country girl to my very core.  The last day, the heat “broke”  (low 90’s compared to the previous days highs over 100 and heat index of 116) and we spent the afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The taxi driver dropped us off at the farm part of the zoo (actually outside the zoo grounds) and it was a sensory feast for me.  There was a beautiful teaching garden and I was transfixed by every crop.  I could have stayed all day.  I watched a sow with too may piglets to count, take a break and get a shower before going back to her piglets.  This was an attraction because such scenes are exotic to city dwellers.  To me, this is my backyard.  I am incredibly blessed.

I can’t help it.  Big cities strike me as an intricate and well-directed play.  The 4 inch stilletos and fancy suits are costumes and the huge buildings are the overblown set.  What are all these people doing really?  It’s a pageant.  I feel like life is passing them by.  Life in the city is so much about the appearance of things. Meticulous primping and positioning to win a horse race with no real prizes.  I also see the huge rift between the haves and have nots.  Those who were delivering the food, driving the taxis, cleaning the rooms, and stocking the selves were so much more real to me than the “important” people prancing around in their beautiful plumage.

Nowhere was this rift between real life and pageantry more evident than American Girl Place.  Many of you know what that is, but for those that don’t–it is a HUGE store filled with American Girl dolls and every possible outfit and accessory you can imagine.  You can have you and your dolls hair done there, have a meal or tea with your doll, and get your picture taken with your doll.  Lily was so excited to be there (for the first time), and I felt a bit bad for her having gotten saddled with a mom immune to all the doll hysteria.  There is no part of me interested in her having matching clothes for her and her doll or talking about the intricacies of which outfit is the best. As we checked out, I chatted a bit with the young lady at the register.  She was obviously an immigrant and I asked her how bizarre this was to her.  She kindly agreed that it was pretty strange, careful not too betray her workplace.  Shelves were being quickly stocked and everything was being kept in perfect order by a team of Latina ladies. Imagine coming here because you have no other way to support your family and end up working in a giant store selling outrageously priced dolls to overdressed kids and their parents.  How bizarre.

So now you know.  I have little interest in a life that is mostly pageantry and I think these city people are fools.  I think they have been there so long that they are all drunk on the kool-aid.  They are stars on “The Truman Show” and don’t know it.  Real life is happening around them and they are worried about accessorizing.  I am being too harsh probably, but it makes me sad.  Chasing brass rings gets you nowhere.  It is an artificial world and getting caught up in it is such a colossal waste of time.  I guess I am glad they are drunk on city pageantry.  No way would I want all those people invading my nirvana.

Onions and the High Tunnel

onion plants planted outdoors in raised beds to the right, in the high tunnel to the left.

For the most part, I learn by doing. I read enough to get an idea and then take off. The high tunnel has taught me a lot this year and onions might be one of the more interesting lessons. The “Bridger” onions from Johnny’s Seeds we’re seeded last fall. They sprouted and grew to the size of regular green onions from the store. They hibernates the worst of winter away and then took off in late February. I pulled a few here and there in May harvested them in early June when they announced they were finished growing. Onions announce their harvest date by letting their tops fall over. When the greens are on the ground, they are done growing.

In earliest April, I planted onion plants in the high tunnel and also in the raised beds outdoors. To my surprise, the onions planted outdoors have done much, much better than their high tunnel counterparts. I can only attribute this to temperature. The onions outdoors have had a wet and mostly cool spring and the high tunnel onions have been warmer. The lesson I will keep is to seed storage and bunching onions in fall in the high tunnel for spring harvest and plant onion plants in the main garden in spring for summer harvest.

Onions are actually harvestable at any stage. Although they are not done growing, I pulled some avocado sized red and white candy onions from the outdoor raised beds to quarter and cook on the grill tonight along with a whole chicken and the first of the zucchini (from the high tunnel). They were delicious and a special favorite of Lily.

High Tunnel Update

Now that it is May, I think an update on the high tunnel is in order. I could not be happier with it and am so glad we have it. We enjoyed fresh veggies from the tunnel all winter. Nothing grows in January and most of February due to lack of light, but we were still able to pick spinach and carrots. It’s amazing to me that the kale and spinach I seeded last August have fed us from September to now and are still going strong. The only crops that were sown in fall and did not winter over was the lettuce and broccoli. Here are some of the crops that have done particularly well:

Spinach–sown in August and picked through the winter, still going strong

Lacinato Kale—ditto

Arugula–I planted a fall bed, ripped it out in March because it got woody and seeded another patch

Swiss Chard–fall crop did great, died back almost completely in the harshest winter weather and then some came back–interestingly enough the plants that came back were the white veined ones

Claytonia–sown 12/31 and harvesting heavily for the past month, still going strong

Strawberries–transferred “the volunteers” from the main garden in September and we started harvesting this week! The bed outside is just starting to flower.

Cilantro–I’m have blogged about this previously. Cilantro overwintered and we were able to harvest in the fall and then again in late March. Now, I am starting to rip it out as int gets overgrown and am planting new plants outdoors.

Carrots–perhaps one of the best crops. I seeded them in August and more in late September. The August planting was perfectly timed. The carrots were sweet and beautiful. I was able to harvest through the winter and the ones we seeded on 12/31 are growing beautifully. The ones seeded on New Year’s Day are getting close to harvest.

Onions–we have been harvesting bunching onions through late fall and still are. The “Bridger” onions from Johnny’s Seeds sown last fall are already knob sized and will give us a nice crop of early storage onions.

Peas—the peas seeded on New Year’s Day are producing now.

Potatoes–I planted some fingerlings in very early March and they are big and beautiful. They look like outdoor plants do in late June. Flowers will be here shortly. Interested to see how quickly we can start harvesting. Between these and the beds of storage potatoes outside, we should have a nice staggered crop. Stay away potato beetles.

And more–we also have had numerous radish harvests, have beautiful cabbages and broccoli coming along, and are picking dandelion greens, raddhicio, and chicory as well.

Lettuces–stunning and almost no bugs. Sure seems to me that one of the greatest advantages to high tunnel growing is the early start you get when the insect pressure is very low or even non-existent.

The only true fail we have had is our plastic has been badly ripped on one side.  We did not do enough to secure the plastic that meets the ground on each long side. The crazy March winds tore it badly.  I took this kind of hard until I found out that one of my neighbors greenhouses had all the plastic torn off by straight line winds.  That was the night that the tornado hit about a 10 minute drive from here.  I now count us lucky that is all that happened.

This week we rolled both sides up and took the plastic of the ends.  We ran green fencing to keep the dogs out.  The summer crops started to go in about a month ago.  It is amazing.  Here are some photos I took yesterday: