Rosaly’s Farm

I like our town.

When we first moved here, It was essentially throwing a dart at a map. “Well, what’s in between Maine and Vermont? Oh, ok. How about… this place. They have a book store.”

We’re now coming up on our first year here and I’ve found out a little more about the place. Home brewers, biodynamic farms, large scale composters, and more raw milk than I ever thought possible. We accidentally landed in an oasis of agriculture. You’d think that the Granite State wouldn’t have all that much going on for agriculture, but I think that actually is the reason for the diversity. All the thousand-acre plots of corn and soy are out in the Midwest where you don’t have to worry about hitting a boulder every ten feet. Without the pressure of subsidized farming, small farmers are free to create pretty diverse systems.

One of these small farms is Rosaly’s Farmstand in Sharon.

They’re a small biodynamic farm that mostly deals in flours and fruits. First, let me say a few things about its aesthetic value…

Jaw dropping. They’ve got a southwest seat on the slope of Temple mountain, which makes it ideal for both growing and gawking. The most interesting part of the whole property is an ancient brick farmhouse that overlooks the fields. Huge windows and flagstone courtyards make me swoon. It’s still used as a house, though, so we respectfully kept our distance.

The best thing about it, though, is the “you pick” policy that seems to apply to everything on the property. Since it’s mostly fruits and flowers, and those both do a whole lot better on the plant than in storage, they only pick a few bouquets and bushels for those who don’t have the time to wander through the rows. If you do, though, you’re doubly rewarded by the experience and the couple of dollars per pound you save on the price. With this opportunity in mind, we decided that this was going to be a fresh fruit kind of winter.

Over a few weeks, we picked about seven quarts of blueberries. Separating them was simple enough, and the same with rationing them. We just filled five quart-sized bags with the berries and marked them for the months when we’d use them. If I got a little parfait happy one month, then I just had to deal with running out before the end of the month. My goal is to keep building these seasonal food systems into my life. Not only will it make sure that we have good food for the cold times, but it’ll also build up my awareness of how much I use and convince me to waste less. It’s a whole lot easier to restrain yourself when you can see your whole store of food for the winter laid out before you.

There were still opportunities for less utilitarian systems, though. Like I said, flowers were a big part of this place. Now, I didn’t used to be a believer in flower vases in the home. Sure, I would pick a mason jar of wildflowers here and again to spruce up the place, but generally thought that paying for flowers wasn’t for me.

Well, I guess I was wrong.

I heard once that going to an art museum on a date was the best way to discover that person’s taste. You get to see what they avoid, what they appreciate, and what moves them. This exactly applies to picking flowers. There’s seems to be an expectation that certain presentations are supposed to always be a surprise, but I think it’s a mix. Getting both of you involved in picking music, food, and decor really gets some interesting things out on the table. It’s also really exciting if you meet back up and you’ve picked a lot of the same things.

So, come visit some time. Play your cards right, and there might be some pancakes.

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No Plan-Cakes

I was once accused of being an anarchist for not liking to use recipes.

I don’t know what it is about them, I just have a hard time following a recipe from beginning to end. I see the proportions and think, “Man, I’m gonna want twice as much pepper as that. If this is a savory dish, why isn’t there more garlic? Maybe some red wine will help deepen things a bit. I know! CUMIN!”

I think I just know my taste. Maybe hard of tasting, but I really prefer things heavily spiced and herbed. Ninety percent of the time, I find that a recipe will taste a bit bland to me if I follow it all the way through. It’s also been easy enough to change things around to my taste when just cooking generally, since I can taste on the go as things are melding and add things on the fly. Baking has always been an exception, though. It’s always been a bit intimidating, since the answer isn’t really revealed until the end. This means it’s always been off limits as far as my jazz cooking goes.

Until today, that is. I decided to rage against recipes by making a floury thing that didn’t need a recipe. My main goal was to make something that packed a lot of nutrition into a little package. What I had was six grain flour, trail mix, oats, butter, whey, yogurt, honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and spices. Everyone was called to serve.

I give to you the Anarchist Pancake.

Here’s what I did, as far as I can remember:

  • I put about two cups of six grain flour, 1/2 cup of rye flour, and 3/4 cup all purpose flour in a bowl.
  • I decided I wanted it fluffy and added 2 teaspoons of baking powder.
  • I usually add melted butter for any kind of pancake, but I decided to fold in a half stick like you do with biscuits. Why not?
  • I then blended 1.5 Cups of greek yogurt, half a banana, a Tablespoon of Honey, and a teaspoon of vanilla and added that as the liquid. Luckily, it was the consistency that I was looking for.
  • I then remembered that eggs would be a good addition. I put two in.
  • I knew that I wanted chunks of stuff in there, so I added I bag of dried fruit that I got as a free sample and the last of a bag of chocolate chips.
  • I figured I wanted a little more spice, so I added cocoa powder, ground cloves, cardamom, and ground chicory root.
  • I thought I was going to be having oats for breakfast, so I had set a cup of them out to soak for the night. It became clear that I was going to eat this thing, so I threw the cooked oats in.
  • I remembered that I would need some salt, so I dissolved about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in some water to make it easier to mix it in.
  • I could tell that it needed to be sweeter, so I added a Tablespoon of Grade B syrup.

After all that, I decided that it was going to be pancakes. I have to say that they turned out pretty well.

The one thing I did notice was the sheer amount of batter that I had at the end. That’s one thing recipes have on me. I’m so into big servings and having leftovers that I always make about a gallon of whatever I’m making. This can be a problem if we’re trying to ration ingredients. You know what, though? These ingredients were all waiting around, sad that they weren’t getting used. I gave them a new home.

It’s in my belly.

Pretty good neighborhood, too.

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Ends and Beginnings

Whoo, buddy.

A lot has been happening. The best thing about it is the little bit of time I have and the no bit of money I have, which makes for the perfect environment to untangle my thoughts and experiences. Where to start…

It’s winter and I’m pretty happy.

There’s something about walking around in the winter. There’s this kind of instant camaraderie that connects anyone you meet while walking to town in February. It’s like we’re in a special club of people who can get through the cold weather just fine, thank you. This is what made camping in the winter so incredible. No one does it, so everyone that does instantly shares an intimate connection.

I guess the only other thing I can say right now is that I’m really into the whole period between the 17th and 18th centuries right now. I’ve been driving around a lot, delivering maple syrup, and I’ve been blazing through the library’s audiobook section. So far, I’ve caught up on everything from Sherlock Holmes and the Great Gatsby to Catch 22 and A Confederacy of Dunces.

What really got me going, though, was picking up Robinson Crusoe. What does it mean when I find myself constantly wanting to be in his shoes?

A cave house with stores of powder and shot, fields of corn and rice, herds of goats that you tamed and bred, and the means to make your own raisins.

That kind of sums up what I want to do. I know I’m being a little short sighted and the idea of not speaking to another soul for some twenty years would be a little rough. This raises an interesting point. Would he have done it all if he weren’t alone?

I think the allure of this story for me is the idea of being able to do something without the influence of anyone else. Not in a “Now I can do whatever I want, No Pants Dance!” kind of way, but just being able to get lost in a task for no other reason than the intrinsic motivation of it. Not thinking, “Boy, I hope that Dan really likes these raisins.” Maybe I’ve just had too many rough room mate situations.

I think this speaks a lot about my personality, though. If I’m delighted by the idea of being stranded on a tropical island, does that mean I can’t stand to be around other people? Maye that’s a bit extreme. I like people a lot. I think it’s more accurate to say that I care so much about people, that I can lose track of myself in them. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. What to do, what to think. Ultimately, though, I’ve found that moving towards being who I am is better for everyone.

Especially me.

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L.S.A. Album!!!

I have to pay for those exclamation marks, you know. They were necessary.

So, I’m super excited about this.  Before I get into details, though, let’s meet Alan.

I met him through my friend Twon Schroedoer  during a potluck at my brother Mike’s house. This exact situation is how about 90% of people in Indianapolis know each other. All I knew at first was that he and his then-girlfriend/now-wife, Alida, used to live in Chicago and used to be in the band 1997 together. When I heard both of those things, I thought “Whoa, cool!”

Over time, I got to know him better through various Know No Stranger events. He’s an honest, caring, and hard working friend who loves his wife, his friends, and his community. He also holds the world record for the longest hug with his friend, Doug Pierce.

Before the L.S.A. album, he had been playing the role of Indy’s super accessible recording expert for anyone who wanted to put something out there. The first time I heard his recording/producing skills were on the album “Yellow Snow: A Midwest Christmas” He made a call for Indianapolis musicians to write a few Christmas songs each for the sake of building something awesome.

And it was. Not only were these really talented people writing really awesome original songs, they we’re mixed at a level that sounded SUPER professional. I think everyone had been working with four track recorders and such up to that point and this album really blew everyone’s minds.

I worked with him on recording three songs during one trip home, which gave me insight to his process and his talent. He has a unique ability to give direct feedback and suggestions while still giving whoever he’s recording complete control of the music. It was an awesome experience.

It was a little over a year ago that I heard word of the L.S.A. compilation. Alan sent messages to all the Indy musicians who he thought would be interested, calling for original songs for an album to raise money for the non-profit group Loving South Africa which is part of Loving Accurately Ministries of Indianapolis. Their goal to motivate and awaken churches in the Indianapolis area to get directly involved in aid to South Africa was inspired by the pastors’ personal experience living in Kwazulu-Natal, the AIDS epicenter of the world. 55% of all South African’s living with AIDS live in Kwazulu-Natal.

  Alan took on organizing, recording, and mixing this album so that all of the money made from sales could be donated to the LSA organization to fund aid projects. The album is so awesome in so many ways. I’m honored to be a part of it and I’m psyched to get it out there.

Check it out!

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Taking Time

I found myself thinking about donuts recently. There was a time when we worked on a farm and every day on the way home, we would pass a Dunkin’ Donuts store. After a ten hour day of heaving, hefting, hauling, and horses, the neon pastries sounded like the best thing on the planet. We resolved to have a day where we’d wake up early, buy a dozen of our favorites, and eat them in bed. The plan worked splendidly.

Recently, though, I remembered that the gas station near our house was also one half Dunkin’ Donuts store. I thought, “Man, it was kind of silly that we drove to the other one all the way across town when we could’ve just walked around the corner.”

Then I started thinking that it was actually odd that there is no difference in the food served at either location. Then I thought how odd it was that there was no difference between the donuts we got and the ones I could buy back in the Midwest. Same experience, different climate zone. Convenience.

Terrible things have been done for the sake of convenience. Food, energy, education, medicine. Every industry had been polished by our ever-increasing need to have things quickly and homogeneously. I mulled over this idea of the negativity associated with convenience in my last paper on biological ties to behavior.

I remember my friend Jose finishing up the last portion of the Wilderness Survival Immersion Project where he spent three weeks in the woods, surviving on the primitive skills that he’d learned up to that point. He’d described how strange it was to leave that experience and jump right back into society.

“It was strange getting in the car. Like, ‘Whoa, this is really comfortable’ and then going into town and seeing everything was crazy. Everything was High-Res, like my vision was still really tuned in and I was still really aware of everything. It was kind of overwhelming.”

So, there’s the big thing: Awareness. We’re conditioned out of it.

In the woods, living by the little bit of gear that you’ve crafted, you’re tuned in. Your entire body is tuned up to help you survive. Your vision is clearer, your hearing is better, and your memory is more exact. With more convenience, these senses get diluted. You don’t have to focus as much when everything is clearly marked with bright signs and clear pathways straight to it. Focused hearing is no longer needed for survival and is used just for communicating. Your memory gets spotty from never having to suffer the consequences. Even if you leave your lunch behind when you go to work, there are grocery stores, vending machines, and delivery services available if you don’t decide to take the extra ten minutes to turn around to get it. If you somehow miss your exit, despite the four signs leading up to it, it only adds another five minutes of driving to your trip. All of these built in second chances keep us from feeling the consequences of our actions and keep us from planning ahead.

Naturally, I think about the implications on food culture.

People are living meal to meal, not because of shortage and poverty but because of too much convenience. Why do I need to think about baking bread a day before when a loaf of bread is two dollars? Why should I worry about canning vegetables in the summer when I can get produce at the grocery store in the dead of winter?

Three reasons. The first is energy. Think of all the energy in the form of electricity and oil that goes into the making and shipping of food at an industrial scale. You can take that out of the equation and replace it with your own energy to plan and work ahead to make the things that you need in your life and to make sure that come from near by. Honestly, though, this point has been argued for decades and doesn’t seem to be working. The global energy crisis is too vast to be felt and care about in daily life and will always lose against general convenience.

So let’s talk about quality. With time and know how, I can turn three cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast into a loaf of bread that I would expect to pay five dollars for. The ingredients cost me the change that I gather from my pockets before laundry day. While this is an argument that feels much more relevant, it still tends to lose in the face of convenience. After all, what I’m saving in money I’m paying in time and the cheap loaf of bread isn’t poison.

Beyond the quality of the finished product, though, there is the quality of the experience.

This is what changes minds. If you make something yourself, it might take a while before you can get the same quality that you would demand from a professional. What’s remarkable, though, it the reluctance to throw away that bad loaf or that kind of wonky box or that bag that has some uneven stitches. There’s a pride in being able to make something. It’s the side effect of testing our skills and seeing them work. There’s something phenomenal in that.

So, yes, you can argue that making things yourself has less environmental impact and that you stand to save some money, but it’s the personal impact, the feeling of empowerment, that changes minds and behaviors.

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Keene Pumpkin Fest

Part of my heart is as soft as dumplings for local festival traditions. Naturally, when I that Keene has been putting on a pumpkin festival for over 20 years, I was into it. This was how the initial conversation went.

“What’s at the pumpkin festival?”

“Pumpkins.”

“What’s the reason for having the festival?”

“Pumpkins.”

“Ah. Is there anything we should bring?”

“Pumpkins.”

I thought I was kinda getting my leg pulled at first, but he was right.

First, there were a lot of pumpkins. Each year, they take another shot at the world record for the most jack-o-lanterns in one spot at the same time. They’ve broken it a couple of times, but I’m not sure who the current record holder is. What’s really important, though, is the reason for this festival.

There really isn’t one.

Sure, there’s food.

And Keene is a pretty cool place to convene.

But, man, there were SO MANY PEOPLE!

Got me thinking about festivals in general. Before, I would always assume that the size of the crowd reflected how worthwhile the event must be. A huge crowd at a band must mean that their music is awesome. A large crowd at a coffee shop must mean that they have chairs that are really good at helping you with sitting down. Seeing the pumpkin fest changed this for me, though.

Don’t get me wrong. It was awesome. I’m not trying to set this up as a “this-thing-was-not-good-but-all-these-people-showed-up-WTF?” kind of rant. It was awesome seeing the pumpkin towers.

Also, it was great to have something to look forward to with friends. Especially when there’s sushi that uses local, wild mushrooms (Shout out to Vendetta in downtown Keene)

It’s actually this second part that makes the whole thing worthwhile. The social aspect of any event, from the World Cup to The Jumping Frog Jubilee of Calavaras County, is a place for people to gather. There’s something about being in the same place with crowds of people while everyone’s focusing on the same thing, even just a little. In this case, Keene had decided that it would give the community the gift of a festival, with little more than some jack-o-lanterns at it’s heart. The healthy community did the rest of the work. I love this process so much! The healthy community responded to a small bit of stimulation and made itself a pearl.

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Snow and Soup

Winter is long and winter is cold and winter is expensive.

All of these things are true and all of these things are unpleasant.

With all of this in mind, though, I still crane my neck and squeal at the first flakes that mark the end of autumn. It means sweaters and stews and baking and sledding and long hikes with no one else out in the woods. I’m really into it this year.

I think this is partially because of how psyched I’ve gotten about cold weather adaptation. I’ve continue to work the stand at farmer’s markets as the days have gotten colder, leaving me with nothing to do but thicken up my blood. My body complained at first, begging me for more layers or for just a quick trip inside, but I didn’t really have a choice. A few days into it, I noticed that I was still just wearing a jacket while everyone was burrowing into their parkas and chattering their teeth.

“Awesome!” I thought, “I’m finally that guy! I’ve never been that guy!”

I’ve always been the blue-lipped skinny kid losing feeling in his fingers after sledding for half an hour while husky, bearded men grabbed trout out of the river with their hands. I realize now that my syntax makes it seem that those two events always happened at the same time, but that’s not really what I meant. I only thought about these men as I fought the cold and envied their imagined hardiness. I’m not doing daily polar plunges or anything, but I at least feel good about going glove-less in November.

But that’s all a long tangent to today, the day that Peterborough, NH, the place I live now, got it’s first snow of the year.

And a real snow, at that! I was expecting a few flakes to melt and be forgotten, but we’ve already got four inches! This required a proper ceremony. Luckily, I’d just gotten a bunch of free parsnips the other day…

About three-and-a-half pounds, actually. Since the connection between soups and snow for me is so strong, I thought I’d best not put this off any longer. I got to work on a creamy parsnip soup by first trimming a little over two pounds of them down before cubing and roasting them in a bit of oil at 400 degrees for about a half hour.

Also, note to whom it may concern: I learned tonight to always take extra care in washing your root vegetables before cutting them. Nothing sinks the heart faster than the crunch of gritty loam under the blade of a newly sharpened knife.

Also, the recipe didn’t call for it, but I’d already made up my mind that this was going to be the winter of a thousand roux and thought this was a good place to start. While the parsnips were happily roasting away, I took two tablespoons each of king arthur flour and bacon grease. I now wished I’d used a lighter oil, not for flavor but for color. It was a bit hard to tell if I had moved from white to golden roux when the whole thing started out as beige. I’m definitely not regretting the flavor, though.

As far as I can tell, it was a success. It didn’t separate into weird clumps of make any acrid smoke, so it met my two criteria for success! I also realize that a bacon grease roux is not at all photogenic, but I’m just so damn proud of this thing.

Soon after, I had sauteed an onion with a half-stick of butter in a large stock pot, and added to that the parsnip cubes for about five minutes. Once things seemed to be getting along alright, I added two quarts of stock. One turkey and one beef, just because that’s what was thawed. I let that come to a boil, then homogenized the whole lot with a soup blender that my neighbor friends kindly lent me last minute.

Up to this point, only a little pepper had made its way in. This isn’t really my style, so I got to work while everything was still hot. As far as I can remember, here’s what I added.

-A few pinches of cayenne

-Two teaspoons of grounds pepper. Maybe more.

-At least 1.5 Tablespoons of sea salt. Maybe more.

-The roux I had made.

-About a tablespoon of powdered garlic.

-A pinch of both nutmeg and cardamom.

-About 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast.

I think that’s it. I got almost four quarts out of it. We ate one tonight with some sour cream, chives, and shredded cheese, paired with some home-baked bread and one of the last bottles of our first home brew.

Welcome to winter.

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