Monday, July 26, 2010

And your mind is moving slow

We saw these fantastical mushrooms this past weekend growing in an oldish oak forest that, according to family lore, hadn't been logged in around 100 years. They were growing in a pile of oak leaves and were so brilliant as we went by that I just had to get out and snap. There were two clusters of them and I wondered if there would be more and then I wondered...could we eat those puppies? When we came home we did a little research and decided that the answer was...maybe. And that's the trouble with wild mushrooms, isn't it. Some of the most deliciously edible fungi have a deadly poisonous or not-quite-deadly poisonous look alike. In this case we think we're looking at either the delectable and amazing Chanterelle or its poisonous look alike the Jack-O-Lantern. Of course not being a mycologist, not even really having a clue, makes it impossible for us to take the chance and try them.
Wild mushrooms are an authentic wild food that people have been identifying and harvesting properly for thousands of years. But there is always that story that a friend told you, or that you read on that most unreliable of sources the internet, that describes the wretched deaths of the famous wild-food guy and his entire family and all their cousins after they ate the incredibly deadly amanita muscaria that they thought were wood ear or hen of the woods or something perfectly wonderful to eat. And then there are the hallucinogenic mushrooms which look like button mushrooms or puffballs, both highly prized culinary ingredients. One bite of these delicate little morsels and you are off, laughing at the way the lamplight falls on the floor or how the cigarette smoke leads!!
For me, mushrooms are impenetrable mysteries that are best left alone and while I grow food, harvest eggs and honey, can, freeze, dry and participate in all sorts of food gathering and preservation I plan to do my mushroom hunting and gathering at Hannaford.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Watermelon For Breakfast

I read the other day that the northeastern part of the United States has had over 12 days of 90 plus degree days so far this month and that July is officially the hottest month on record. But not only that. July is now the hottest month on record around the world. Even more startling, 2010 is now the hottest year on record since the 1880s when meteorologists began keeping records of temperatures around the world. It's been hot in Europe where we expect heat in the south of France, southern Spain and Italy, but not in the UK or mainland Europe. Most of Europe is forecast to be warmer into October and even Scandinavia is preparing for a much warmer fall. If you live here, I don't need to tell you how hot it has been in North America. Day after day of 85 degrees in the morning with 80 percent humidity and very little relief in the way of rain or breezes flowing down from Canada have made life in the northeast, in particular, a little uncomfortable for those of us who have been accustomed to much cooler temperatures. Although I recognize that very hot years occur with regular frequency and temperature anomalies are part of the meteorological landscape, the data is pretty clear that we have moved into new, hotter territory. Coping with these temperatures can be challenging for everyone and I think that now, maybe more than ever, we all need to come up with a low to no energy plan for staying cool when it's beastly hot outside.
There are literally tomes of information on the web on how to keep yourself cool without air conditioners or even fans and I don't need or want to reiterate any of the mechanical methods for cooling your personal space. I have another tactic that I want to share: cool the inner space. Perhaps you've heard the adage; warm the person, not the room in reference to efficient space heating? Apply the same principle when you need to cool down.
During these sultry days of July when I wake with grainy eyes and sore muscles from wrestling the pillows all night long, watermelon for breakfast is like a balm. There is nothing quite like a slurpy, drippy, sweet melon to make you feel like another 90 degree day is doable, maybe even enjoyable as long as you don't have to do anything. If you can find a cool, shady spot outside, under a tree, take a book, a glass of something cool and a pile of delectable pink smiles in a bowl and you might just survive the heat and humidity of this wretchedly hot month. But even if you can't find a shady spot outside and you are sweating it inside somewhere, drinking cold drinks, and eating cold foods will lower your internal combustion engine's temperature from Overheating! to Tolerable. You can hang out on your sofa, easy chair or bed eating watermelon and drinking ice water or lemonade and the effects are the same as if you were outside on a chaise lounge. Other cooling foods include red and green grapes, cucumber salad and any citrus-ade. I stay away from any foods that require a lot of energy to digest; digestion creates heat in the body and makes you feel warmer. And more sluggish, if that's possible in this heat!
There is a scene in the film Like Water For Chocolate where the family, who is living in pre-industrial Mexico, soak their bed sheets in cold well water and hang them outside, creating a sleeping area with the sheets for walls. They eat watermelon that has been stored in the well, pink juice dripping down their chins. They bathe in cool water before sleep and as they sleep amongst their wet sheets, the cooling night air flowing over sheet and body alike, they rest, their inner space cooled by watermelon. We in the northeast can take a lesson from those who have always lived with this kind of heat and humidity; cool the inner space. Rest during the middle of the day. Sleep outside. Eat watermelon for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hey, Honey

We harvested some honey today! Our one year old hive of Russians is doing well and we felt confident enough in their winter honey supply to take a little bit of their golden yumminess. At first I thought it was going to take forever AND be sticky AND inefficient but it was only sticky.
Drew and I pulled three very full frames of capped honey from the second super in our hive; thank goodness for manly muscles, those things are weighing a ton these days and I couldn't have moved that top super if my life depended on it. The bees were extremely docile and I didn't feel like I needed to smoke them very much at all. Which was good since the smoker kept going out on us.
Drew went to the office and I set up shop on the kitchen counters. This consisted mostly of me putting the frames in their plastic bucket on the counter, wandering around trying to find my bee books, frantically searching YouTube for the great honey extraction video that I had seen last year and wondering how the hell I was going to get all that honey out of those frames!
Eventually I came upon a sort-of plan and Ivy and I uncapped the frames and let the honey drain into a food-grade plastic bucket for about an hour. While the honey was draining we decided to try a strainer method over another container, so we rigged an old hanger to cradle a very small mesh strainer put bits of comb into the strainer and let it drain. Meanwhile Ivy discovered that by gently scraping downward on the comb with a rubber spatula we could get the most honey out of the comb with almost no damage to the comb itself. I realize that the ideal is to return the frames to the hive with the comb intact. Ha. Ha. Anyway, after several hours of draining and straining we ended up with a half-gallon of honey. I'm elated at our success.
The hive looks fantastic. There are probably 50,000 bees in there as of today and four supers full of brood and honey. I expect I'll have a swarm next year as they will be ready to create a new hive somewhere. Maybe we can catch it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Hay Bales of Jefferson County

Driving home through the idyllic dairy farming country of St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties today, I realized how fortunate my family is to have access to a rural property and the unchanging landscape that accompanies it. Oops. Did I say unchanging? Oh, well, what I really meant was almost-always-changing-landscape. Whether it's the new Walmart that popped up in Lowville or the closing of the entire downtown of the village of Hammond there really is always something new to observe, like it or not.
My favorite time of year is the spring. Once May hits, I can drive northward and look around, eagerly anticipating some new sight. Now is the time to check out my maple syrup supplier just outside Boonville and see how the season treated him and what the new prices are. June and July are when I crawl down the back roads of St. Lawrence county like a back alley user, eyeing the various farm stands; seeking out the special red onions, the delicate green beans, the deeply grooved and wonderfully orange squashes, the pinky-red potatoes. August is when I watch the Wide Load trucks snake through the villages ferrying their cargo of turbines, blades and pedestals for the wind farm that seems to be continually in progress.
Although I love seeing all of these things and feeling, however inaccurate it may be, a part of the scene, in the last several years my favorite new sights have often been the new Amish farms that are springing up in certain sections of the North Country. Gorgeous, pastoral and utterly picturesque in their anachronistic way, they are instantly recognizable by their square, white farm houses, fantastic hand-hewn barns and black buggies parked in the yard. The scene is nearly identical from house to house; horses swishing their tails under a stand of trees, waiting for the ten or twelve year old boy who is responsible for tedding the hay that day to hook them up to the tedder and drive them, four abreast, over the field. Chicken coops fashioned from old silo roofs sit near the barns, accessible to the small hands that gather the eggs each day. Laundry hangs on the line, cows graze over acres of grass and always, always there are children. Playing on the porches, in the yards, near the barns, on the wood-piles, under the laundry hanging on the line. The reproductive abundance of an Amish family is limited only by the age of its parents and the little ones are evidence of their deep love for one another and their adherence to a natural order that has been discarded by our culture.
As I drove through Jefferson county today, I realized that I was seeing, through the hay in the fields, a time-line of farming. At first I saw huge, rounded tubes of hay, shrink-wrapped in white plastic. They lay on the fields, buttressing a barn or corn field, like giant plastic worms. They were hideous and huge and so white and they looked terrifically alien on the land. Next I saw round bales, laying hither and thither on fields. None of these were wrapped in white plastic but they did have some sort of outer layer wrapped around them in order to contain their bulk. They looked much more comfortable in their surroundings than the wormy tubes of hay but still looked larger than life. Next came the massive, square bales stacked in giant towers at the edges of fields. Each of these looked monumental and exceedingly dangerous if the right wind came along. These pyramids of hay were much more familiar to my eye, being of a certain age, and I didn't immediately discount them as new-fangled as I did the plastic wrapped bales. Finally, I observed a stack of hay that I had never seen before. I realized that what I was seeing was the product of medieval agriculture. The centrally stacked hay; gorgeously symmetrical and placed perfectly across a field for as far as the eye could see, hundreds of stacks all harvested and placed by horse and human, working together to create the feed that would warm the barns over the winter. It was interesting to suddenly realize that I had done a historical study of the gathering and stacking of hay in about twenty minutes, in the same county by people who were quite literally neighbors of each other. Amish farmer living peaceably in an 18th century fashion next to the guy with the humongous round baler and combine who lived right next door to the guy who was square baling his hay and having his crew chuck the bales onto the back of a moving hay wagon. A very cool way to reinforce the idea that there are so many different ways to do the same task and that each one works. I must admit to a soft-spot for the Amish stacking methodology and think that, eventually, we will return to that very method. You can't make massive round bales of hay wrapped in plastic without lots of cheap energy and we don't have much more of that.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In a low energy future...I'm toast

It's been in the upper 90s during the day for over a week now. The night temperatures have been staying around 70 and while there is a break in the action forecast for tonight, next week's temps look to be cruising in the high 80s for much of the week. I wish I could say that we've kept a low energy profile during this wretched period but it would be a lie. We've kept ceiling fans, a box fan and a table fan running pretty much continuously and while I've taken measures such as closing drapes during the day and opening the house up at night to cool it off I've also turned on the whole house filtration/fan system that brings the cool subterranean air from the basement up into the rest of the house on the hottest of days. Can't wait to see my next electric bill. Frankly, the high humidity combined with the scalding temperatures makes it feels like Alabama around here. I've been trying to figure out how to stay more comfortable when it's this hot, using as little energy as possible and can't quite come up with a scenario that works. We did move downstairs to the finished basement which runs about twenty degrees cooler than the rest of the house. We did lay around like wet rags, drinking gallons of fluids and resting for three days. But that only goes so far with three normally energetic and busy children. For the last two days we decided to hang at the YMCA; running and swimming in their extremely high-energy facilities. And it was great. I rationalized that we were staying cool with hundreds of people rather than just cooling our house with five people...
We haven't had rain in days and days and I've needed to water the garden every morning in order to save the cool weather crops like cabbage and brussels sprouts and lettuce. But did I use rain barrel saved water for this task? Oh, no. I ran the hose. What does this say about my future viability quotient? That in a hotter world I am resorting to using electricity to pull the water out of my well to water my garden. There is so much I could address here about my prospects in a low energy future but I'm too hot.
In the garden the corn looks sun scorched and the potatoes appear to be protesting in the form of wilting greenery. The basil is pathetic, the beet greens are looking as if they've been attacked by a blow-dryer and the cosmos blooms are anemic. The cheese pumpkins, however, look fantastic and the tomatoes have lots of beautiful blossoms and I saw little purple flowers on the beans the other day so we may have dilly beans this winter. I, however, am a wilted, wiped out mess. Nothing can stop me in my tracks like heat and high humidity can. Normally, I'm buzzing around the house in a non-stop fashion tending to various and sundry chores and child or animal related crises or must-respond-to events or requests. Once the mercury rises above 82 though, it's a different story. I just can't deal. I mean, under normal conditions I understand how rest and relaxation are supposed to work, just not as they apply to me. But now, when the temperatures are practically unbearable, all laundering has ceased. The vacuum remains silent. Books are strewn everywhere. The dust bunnies are gathering forces and planning their siege. Dog and cat hair clump on the rugs and furniture. The children's bathroom is vile. I did shake out the floor runners yesterday but it was so exhausting I needed to lay down and rest for fifteen minutes. Thank God for the dishwasher or the dishes would be piled from here to kingdom come. Slovenliness ain't looking so bad right now. I guess the big question is: does one get used to the heat, eventually? If not, in a low-energy future where the heat and humidity reign..I'm toast.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sharon Leaves the Bordello

There has been a smack-down in the blogging world; Sharon Astyk, Peak-Oil and Sustainable Living Blogger Extraordinaire has left the Science Blogs domain. Why? Because Seed Media, owner of Science Blogs, has allowed the nefarious and evil-doing Pepsi Co. to PURCHASE the right to blog as a FOOD AND NUTRITION contributor on their site. Let's get this straight. The company that has inserted itself into school cafeterias across the nation, the company that is the central evil-doer in the film Flow which is about the lack of access to clean water in poor and developing countries (, the same company that helped to undermine breastfeeding in those same now a food and nutrition contributor on what we thought was an even-handed science forum.
Since my brain is fried from the week of 90 plus degree temperatures, I cannot even come up with the words to describe what I think is the worst component in this scenario. (And, of course, we all know that these temperatures have nothing to do with climate change. The industry paid scientists and government shills told us so.)
Is it that Pepsi, along with Nestle and Vivendi, are trying to purchase all of the world's potable water in order to sell it back to us in plastic bottles? Is it that now, now that public opinion has swung in a health-seeking direction, Pepsi is pulling their soda product from schools by 2012; not because it's right or because it's in the best interest of children but because educated parents are demanding it and therefore it is the best thing for the bottom line. Or is it that Pepsi's paid marketing and sales people cannot possibly also be nutritionists and therefore are highly unqualified to be writing a food and nutrition blog for a science forum. I can't decide. It's probably all of those things together. Or maybe it's the fact that I'm sick and tired of not knowing who to trust; who is being paid off by whom. Who is behind the curtain pulling those levers. Living in a corrupt world, trying to keep your personal integrity and hold onto your principles can be exhausting. I applaud Sharon for doing what she knew what right and leaving the Pepsi bordello.


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