Archive for October, 2011

The Ghost of Halloween Past

Lil' Isadora, Halloween 2007 (age 2)

Where did this girl go???

Back to the present, we’ve hastily aborted all costumes pertaining to Astrid Lindgren.  It’s a good thing I publicized that grandiose intent, so that you can all witness how sometimes the best-laid plans fall apart when reality steps in.  Oh well.  The ruse is up – some of my very best plans never make it to fruition. I will, however, report later on the lovely Laura Ingalls and Big & Little Lumberjack pair that will be marching the Trick-or-Treat route this year.

In unrelated news, the sewing classes are starting to fill up, so if you have intentions to be present, best to sign up sooner rather than later.  Are you local(ish)?  I’m working on a Class Schedule Page on the blog where you can find all of the details – new classes are being added all the time!  Click on the “Class Schedule” link at the tip-top of the page to check it out. (should be up momentarily!)  AND, I’m starting a Class Schedule newsletter, in case you want a magic email notification when new classes are added.  Sign up for that here:

Whew.  Happy Halloween from all of us!



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Breaking Madison News: I’ve begun offering classes.

Saturday, Nov. 12


Learn to Sew (better)

(later that day)


Make a Pile of Mittens

Head to the Five Green Acres Facebook page for more details.  Hope to see you there!

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In which I reveal my kitchen secrets

These are a few of my favorite (culinary) things…


This homely, bulbous mass of intense flavor is like celery, only MORE SO! I use it in lieu of celery by simply slicing off a portion, (1-2T) cutting or peeling the skin away, and finely dicing.  The rest of the bulb gets thrown back into the fridge where it keeps nicely for quite a long time.  This bulb was plucked from my garden yesterday, the last of a small bunch I’ve harvested over the summer.  They need a pretty long growing season, so I’d like to suggest (to my future self) not harvesting any of them till mid-late Fall.  Celeriac.  If celery is a quiet whisper, a pale, anemic hoarse croak of flavor, celeriac is a SHOUT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS! (so a little goes a long way and a single bulb will fill a generous many celery needs)

2. Whole Nutmeg

It was an earth-shattering moment the first time I took some cookbook’s suggestion and picked up some whole nutmeg.  It is absolutely nothing like that pale powder shoved into the Durkee jar labeled nutmeg;  you would never pick out the two as being related in a line-up.  Get yourself a whole nut, grate it with your microplane or fine grater, close your eyes, and smell.  That’s our nutmeg ritual – the kids come running and we all pass around the fresh-grated nut and inhale.  Bliss!  When you’re ready to open your eyes, delight in the beautiful swirly pattern hidden inside that unassuming nut exterior.  Really, could your eyes and nose derive even a fraction of this pleasure from the bogus jar powder?  No.  Treat yourself – it’s such a visceral pleasure.

3. Homemade chicken stock

I took the suggestion of The Splendid Table‘s How To Eat Supper cookbook and left the skins of the onion on before tossing them in.  Use any chicken bits you have, though the ones with bones might pack more nutritional punch.  We have a whole freezer full of chicken carcasses – what remains after we cut off the thighs, breasts, legs, wings of the fresh-butchered birds- which we prize for stock-making.  The idea was to make up a bunch and preserve it in the pressure canner, but the stars have not yet aligned to make that happen, so we are content to throw some chicken in a pot of water, simmer it for awhile, and call it the foundation of Supper. The leftover bits from a roast chicken make a wonderful stock, too.

4.  Miso paste

As easy as throwing a chicken carcass into a pot of water is, sometimes there’s not even time for that.  Sometimes, all that lies between making a real supper or copping out with a frozen pizza is the (instant) option of miso paste.  I often use it in lieu of chicken stock.  Use it carefully though – adding it to a boiling mix will kill off all the beneficial bits.  I usually add just the required amount of water for the recipe, then stir in the dissolved miso at the very end when I’m seasoning the dish.  Delicious, packed full of health – what’s not to love?

5. Whisking

I chucked the flour sifter after reading something about whisking instead.  The real estate that opened up in my cupboard was quickly put to better use and the whisk inventory was doubled, allowing for a spare.  Measure out your dry ingredients, whisk, and call it good.

6. Engage the senses

This one’s sort of redundant, having waxed on and on about the intense sensual pleasures of celeriac and fresh nutmeg, but I did want to mention this one thing:  I feel like I’m doing my best work as Momma when we casually meander through the aisles of fresh produce and bulk spices of our grocery coop and take the time smell what we’re putting into the cart.  Fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and cinnamon all got special attention in the store yesterday from our noses – big and small, and I felt like a really good mom.

7. Hidden greens

Swiss chard, kale, collards…all are fair game for tucking into the sauteed onions and garlic that are the base of nearly everything I cook.  Lasagna, spaghetti, enchiladas, or anything that starts with cooking diced onions in oil can usually expect to include finely chopped greens sauteed in the mix.  It’s a sneaky way for a mom to add some green veggies, but that’s part of my job.

8. Lemon juice with greens

I read somewhere that citrus helps our body better process the good stuff in those greens, so it goes without saying that each time I add those finely chopped greens to the saute, I also squeeze a lemon over the top.

9.  Lemongrass

Did you know it freezes well?  Yes!  Please don’t let me forget to harvest mine before the big frosts come.  Please and thank you.

10.  Delicata squash

I grew some this year, but didn’t photograph any?  Maybe because we inhaled it.  This is a variety of squash with a thin skin – so thin that you need not peel it before cooking, because it becomes just as tender as the flesh. When I do peel something, it’s reluctantly, so taking squash off that list of obligatory peeling is dynamite.

And you?  What’s your greatest kitchen secret?  Favorite tool?  Technique?  Do share!



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Seed Saving for the Crazy-Busy

Harvest time always hits me with such a panic.  The boundless ambition and energy that embodied the Spring garden have left in their wake the inevitable results of such unbridled enthusiasm – an exhausted, overwhelmed, can’t-eat-another-bite ghost town garden.  From mid-to-late summer, it’s a lawless place, overrun with weeds and regret and I-should-really-though-I-know-I’m-not-going-to-so-I’ll-just-feel-bad-about-it-alls.  Getting the bounty out of the garden and through the door is hard enough with such sapped energy reserves; taking the time to save the seeds?  Yeah, right.

Our first winter out here was spent with my nose in this book for a little while…or just long enough to realize that there was so much more to seed saving than just collecting the seeds and planting them the following year.  It intimidated the hell out of me, quite frankly, so I chucked the book onto the tip-top of the bookshelf till I was better seasoned.  The Seed Savers Exchange is a noble organization, I reassured myself, content to buy all of my seeds from them for awhile.  But the price tag for putting in the garden this year was a shock.  Medicinal herbs, annuals, native plants – they made for a hefty bill when added to the already-generous vegetable seed order.  Still, that was rather offset by my sales of seedlings at the Farmer’s Market, so I put it out of my mind till a friend asked me to save some zinnias for seed when I came to clear-cut them for wool dyeing.  Aha!  So I bought some paper lunch bags, threw in some mature plant heads, hung them up, and left them for dead.  They’re still there, in a growing chorus of similarly-abandoned plant material.  I hope that one of these days, I’ll have nothing better to do than revisit them, separate all the dried plant material from the seeds, then pop them in a cute manilla coin-size envelope.  (because I think they’re adorable, those envelopes, and I’ve been searching for an excuse to get some)  If such an opportunity does not arrive before the Spring, well, then I guess I’ll play it by ear and maybe plant the seeds amidst all the other dried parts and call it mulch. And then?  If they don’t come up exactly like their parents?  Well, then I’ll write it down for next year.

I did get that book back out, though, to consult it for the tomato saving instructions.  They involve squeezing out the seedy pulp, leaving it sit for a few days to get moldy, then washing away the moldy gunk, leaving only the viable seeds behind and successfully breaking through the seed coating.  I got the idea to try it after Grandma snuck a couple of my heirloom tomatoes into her pocket to save for herself.

Speaking of Grandma, who’s faithfully served potatoes at every single meal since the beginning of time, (like any god-fearing woman should) I’d like to report my first-ever successful potato harvest.  Delightful Yellow Finns commingle quite beautifully with All Blues, don’t you think?  And since I make it a point to never peel my potatoes, those blue ones make the most magical purple whipped potatoes you’ve ever seen.

Joining the spuds in the larder this winter are these sweet potatoes.  A fair-to-middling harvest, but good enough for me to write off as a success.  Back to Grandma – she has a hot tip about covering the row with clear plastic to make it extra-toasty for these heat-seekers.  I’ll be pestering her for that this winter when I’m hatching my garden plans.  And back to “larder” –  that’s a word I’m working to put in my everyday vocabulary.  Imagine the change that would manifest in our pasty-white food culture if the concept of the larder became mainstream.  Imagine!

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It looks to be an Astrid Lindgren Halloween.


From the very first time we read  The Tomten, we knew we had one in our midst.  (If you’re not yet familiar with the benevolent gnome-like guy who tends to the livestock, speaks their language, and fends off foxes, secretly, through the piercing cold of winter, run out to your local library this minute and pick up a copy.  We also love The Tomten and The Fox.)

If you piece together all the evidence – the innate rapport with animals, the short stature, the affinity for porridge, the long white beard – you’ll no doubt agree that Master Errol bears a striking resemblance to the Swedish elf.  (except for his nose, which we trust will grow to Tomten stature as he ages)  When I came upon Elizabeth Zimmermann’s knitting pattern for the Tomten jacket…well, it was settled.  The Boy would be The Tomten for Halloween and every time he donned the jacket thereafter.  I think it was about a year ago that I decided this – I was spinning my way through the giant bag of random grey wool that came with my used spinning wheel and the serendipity of it all made way for the logical conclusion of a handspun, handknit jacket.  Which I am still nonchalantly working on, though Halloween is but a mere week away.  The wool is not the softest, but it is sure to be strong and pill-resistant – perfect for outerwear like this.  I plan on lining the jacket with some kind of fun fabric from my stash, eliminating the itch factor completely.  I also plan on finishing the hood, knitting the sleeves, and sewing in a zipper. And the hat!  Also handspun, (from a delicious red blend of corriedale wool) it’s a pattern I’m making up on the fly, with mixed success.  Still, it will be warm, soft, and satisfactorily Tomten-like, come Halloween.

I think it was Amy Karol’s blog, Angry Chicken, where I first learned of the quirky fellow.  And I don’t know how many times I had read The Tomten before it clicked that the author, Astrid Lindgren, was the same Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame.  Aha.  Well, it just so happens that we’re happily nestled within the pages of Pippi right now, and after some gentle persuasion, The Girl agreed that the freckled heroine would make the best choice for a Halloween costume.  And as such, my evil plot for a book-born, Astrid Lindgren Halloween shall come to fruition, though the “handspun, handknit” part of said plan might have to be amended for constraints of time and reality.  (I had entertained visions of knitting mis-matched Pippi stockings, long ones.)

Evil plot alert:  Isadora’s Halloween celebrations begin in two days and we’ve not even assembled a single freckle of the costume. Mount the troops!


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{this moment} I see you!

– Via SouleMama  –

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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Stan-and-Lily who?

Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Stan-and-Lily.

I got the voicemail message amidst a rush of chaos.  It was my friend Lee, wondering if we might be interested in a pet goat and…. “Hell no!” I’m sure I shouted, not even listening to the entirety of the message.  I did NOT want to get a reputation as ‘the people who will take any old unwanted animals’, and a goat?  I knew all I needed to about goats – they like to jump fences and climb on top of cars are therefore out of our league.  I didn’t get a chance to return the phone call before an email message from Lee went out to a handful of local folks, describing the situation.  Stan, a sweet goat, and Lily, a beautiful silvery grey sheep, it said, needed a new home. Their owner was moving and was hoping to find a home for both of them together – they are quite attached to one another.  They really are the sweetest animals, the note went on, having both been bottle raised from the start.  They are accustomed to having lots of human contact–they thrive on it, in fact–so a family with children would be ideal.  (imagine all the invisible fingers pointing at my family)

No way, I thought.  I do not want a goat.  But my interest was piqued with the mention of a sheep.  Silvery grey?  Sounds lovely.  All of my sheep are white.  No way.  Not interested in a goat.  These thoughts swam through my head over the next few days, as I moved the sheep to a new pasture, noting all the stems they left behind.  As I cursed the thistle that was sprouting up with a vengeance.  I wish those sheep would eat that thistle, I thought.  Wait a minute.  Would a…..goat… eat that?  I nearly stopped in my tracks while my mind raced forward a million miles an hour.  Could a goat fill in the missing notes of my near-perfect pasture harmony?  Would it eat the tougher plant parts the sheep disdained?  Clean up the woody branches of small bushes in the way of my poultry pen?????!  Hot damn!

Well.  Now I was more than interested.  I put a call in to Lee, left her a message apologizing for not returning her call earlier.  When she called me back, I bombarded her with a slew of questions.  How old was the sheep?  A little over a year?!?  (I had pictured her as ragged and ancient)  How was the goat with fences?  He’s trained to an electric fence?  His current owner takes the two for walks down the road without a leash? Really?  So you’re sure he wouldn’t try to get out of his fence and run away?  Okay – here’s the clincher:  does he eat thistle? Most of the probing specific questions were answered by the pair’s owner herself.  “Yep – he should eat thistle.  I don’t see why not,” she assured me.  Well then.  I made the phone call to Andrew, whom I had not mentioned any of this to yet.  I started by recounting my “Hell no!” stance and then brought him through the meandering route of reasoning I experienced.  “Yes, they’re free,” I told him.  “And she’ll deliver.”

This was at the end of June.  (Can you believe I had been holding out on this good news for so long?)  Stan and Lily arrived on a Thursday night and walked into our lives like they were long-lost friends.  They really are the sweetest ungulates we’ve ever met, greeting us with calls of “Hello, Gorgeous!” and nuzzles any time we’re near.  That they were ungulates, though, and not people, was a bit of a surprise to them.  That first 24 hours was a nail-biter.  Stan’s first move, upon being corralled in the portable electric net fence, was to chomp down on the top strand.  “NO!” I shrieked.  He was so startled by the shock that he scaled the whole thing without a moment’s hesitation.  Shit.  What did we get ourselves into? we asked each other.  The two were quickly moved into the orchard, conveniently enclosed within an eight-foot woven wire fence.  Lily baa-ed constantly for the next few hours, longing for her familiar spaces; it was fitful sleeping all around that night.  The next day I declared “quarantine-schmarantine” and decided to forgo the recommended separation from the rest of the flock.  The orchard was out of grass for them to eat, having been mowed down by the other ewes days earlier.  I thought that putting them into a bigger enclosure (of two portable fences) with the others would make them feel more secure.  But trying to get them down there, from their space in the orchard to less than 100 yards away?  That was the trial that turned all the confidence I had amassed as New Farmer on its ass.  Stan (the GOAT!) walked right down there, without a care in the world.  He followed me into the enclosure, where the other sheep swarmed us, hoping for grain, and stayed there as I let myself out.  “Please don’t jump out,” I chanted.  “Please don’t jump out.”  Miraculously, he didn’t.  Lily had taken off to the front porch, where she was insistent upon coming into the house.  “I’ll just sleep at the foot of your bed – it will be fine,” she seemed to say.  “You don’t understand – I don’t belong out there.”  I went to get my secret weapon:  dried corn.  My sheep would climb to the top of our two story roof if I led them up there with corn.  Anyone with a bucket of corn need only to rattle it to transform themselves into the Pied Piper of sheep.  “CORN?” Lily said with disbelief.  “I’m to follow you because you have CORN?  Don’t you know that my last owner grew cherry tomatoes for me?  (Where is she, by the way?  And who the hell are you?) Stop this nonsense and let me inside.”  I let only myself inside, ready to weep.  Oh, I had had it so good before!  I knew how to work my sheep, had them figured out!  And now?  I had a wild card, this girl who didn’t know how to play by sheep rules.  My last ditch effort, before throwing myself off a cliff, was to get the harness that came with their gear.  I put it on her and started to gently lead her out to pasture.  She dug in her heels, literally, and thrashed about. The entire painstaking journey to the pasture took at least 10 minutes.  “Oh,” I cried,” I’m so, so sorry.  But you have to learn how to be a sheep.”

And she did.  Or a sheep crossed with a big, wooly teddy bear.  And Stan?  I’m not so sure he knows that he’s a goat.  He has not scaled any more fences, climbed on top of any of our vehicles, or sadly, eaten a lick of thistle.  I curl my lip and growl at the prickly leaves as I walk past, on my way to the pasture, but all that melts away when I’m greeted by my friends.  Stan may not get that he’s a goat but he knows what he really is – our BFF.  (Best Friend Forever, of course)  Let’s just keep the “goat” part to ourselves, okay?

P.S.  Kindly refrain from offering us your homeless or unwanted animals.  Our resolve to say no has worn down completely.


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