Just Like the Good Old Days

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Goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, and Queen Anne’s lace fill meadows that only a few weeks ago held daisies and St John’s Wort. Everyone is cutting hay again for what seems like the sixth time this year. The western fires have buried us in chest burning haze, erasing our bluebird sky and green mountaintops for the time being. I can only imagine how unbearably thick it must feel at ground zero, 3,000 miles from here. The leaves are beginning to change color in small pockets here and there. It actually began a week ago before turning the calendar to August, and is even more prominent now. 

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While our winter squash patch continues to recklessly flourish and appears supreme at quick glance, it is fruiting slower than normal and I find myself wondering how substantial this critical-for-us harvest will be. We are drowning in tomatoes and have been harvesting basketfuls from the garden even earlier than was normal for our Connecticut plot. I think this is what I love so much about growing food: the brand new relationship each year to a new hosting of plants that teaches and expands and finds me out there multiple times a day cheering on and encouraging a collection of leaves and fruits in a way that would invite suspicion from a fence-peering neighbor, if I had such a thing. If you stopped by, I would invite you into the garden to unabashedly share in the revelry as well as the trepidations. Just ask the few people that have visited this summer… no shame I tell you. I guess it never gets old that a couple handfuls of seed (and a pile of potatoes) bears enough fruit to sustain us and others. 

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On Friday my husband picked up our yearly two bushels of peaches from a formerly local to us farm, and I am about to embark on my annual Peach Week, preserving these beauties in a myriad of ways, culminating in a fresh peach galette to welcome our daughter home for a much needed visit. Even more than the peaches, I value the farmer who grows them telling my husband that while recently in the orchard noticing things were near peak, and he thought to himself: These are looking so good; it’s time to get Adam his peaches! After many years, our exchange is ritual at this point. I used to pick them up myself, but he knows we’ve moved and our new routine looks like me calling in early august to check in on the crop and reserve our desired share, and he helps us time it just right so my husband can pick them up as he departs from his workdays in Connecticut and heads home to Vermont. This farmer even does us the courtesy of picking them a touch prior to perfect ripeness as he knows the journey they’ll take and that I'll need a few days to work through processing them all. Staggered ripeness is so helpful to me, as is laying them all out single layer as soon as they arrive to prevent bruising and uneven ripening. I’m a stickler for peach handling and feel it pays off to take such care. 

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I hope your garden is overflowing and any necessary crops are secured with farmers who are able to fill in your gaps. A farmer that can look you in the eye and say “see you next year” as you depart. Who knows, maybe soon we’ll even return to sealing the deal with a handshake, just like the good old days. 


Bones Deeply Warmed

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Cherry preserves, pineapple sauce, cherry pie filling, blueberry pie filling. 

IMG_5512Cherries from a local farm, pre pie filling. 

I am taking an Instagram break this summer which is giving me some time to focus on projects here, listen to my own thoughts, and lengthen my days. Yes, lengthen my days. For the first few weeks I still had the app on my phone and found myself checking in (lurking) once in a while. Sort of defeats the purpose. I have since removed the app and my world is palpably quiet. I'm not one who struggles with perceived negative dynamics of Instagram (don't have other social media to include), so I wasn't needing a "break" from conflict or harshness; it's just that Instagram is the loudest, busiest part of my life and I felt called to know what my days would feel like without it for a decent amount of time. It's been so nice, and truly, my days have lengthened and softened remarkably. Suffice to say, I will be sharing many photos in this post as I still enjoy taking them, and my camera roll has been filling up!

9A205619-598F-4912-B053-275222B1ACCE-2Blueberries by the wood stove... July in northern Vermont. 

2021 will be the year we light the woodstove at least once every month, maybe twice. Twice was the case for July, and I am sure it will be at least twice in August. Cool, autumnal August. I imagine more years will follow similar to this, but lighting the woodstove twelve months out of the year is new for me and feels worth noting. A local friend told me she recalls a year in which snowflakes fell from the sky every single month. If it weren’t for needing to keep gardens alive, I wouldn’t mind seeing that. 

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Speaking of the garden, I’ve noticed tomatoes are beginning to ripen and corn is reaching overhead. Soon. We’ve already frozen many gallons of broccoli, and peas are coming in now. I planted them a little late so they are a week or two behind. August and September are full throttle harvest months which at the moment I welcome. These last weeks have felt relatively restful with the rush of spring and planting season far behind us. Our squash patch has a garden of its own this year and is taking advantage of the unbridled space. 

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Freedom Rangers arrived, and the inside of our newly built summer coop for the layers. 

In the early morning I head out to feed the animals and give the pigs a scratch behind the ears. We welcomed fifty meatbirds a week ago and they are doing very well tucked into their spacious brooder. We went with Freedom Rangers this time and I am pleased to say all fifty are still with us and thriving. We didn’t have big losses with the Cornish Cross as many others report, but there is no denying they are an odd, unnatural feeling breed to raise. I am enjoying these slower growing, more chicken-like Rangers. Our layers have been moved to their summer coop with rotating pasture, and if I’m being honest they haven’t taken very well to it. Disruption in routine and familiarity I suppose. They’ll figure it out, and maybe even come to appreciate their new (improved!) summertime setup.

323194D5-92E6-4C2D-BA5D-B75F4F0CDDCEVisiting family helped harvest the garlic scapes a few weeks back. Much appreciated!

Like many of you, we have our attention toward winter. Finishing firewood, preserving food, and watching our window for outside projects quickly closing. I imagine we’ll have a hard freeze within the next six weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few snowflakes within eight. Lately I’ve been wondering if living with such pronounced seasons makes time pass more quickly; just when you’re settling in, the wind picks up and carries you to the next with little warning. 

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IMG_5335Harvesting cucumbers and carrots as needed, and homegrown pineapple from my sister's house in Florida. It ruins you for grocery store pineapple!

I awoke at 3:00 this morning feeling ready to start the day so that is what I did. By 10:00 my work for the day was done so I settled into a comfortable chair for an indulgent weekday morning chapter in my book… okay, two chapters. Uncle Kurt stopped by for a short visit. In a few minutes I’ll take a drive to the farm to pick up our milk for the week and by the time I return home, it will have chilled enough to light the woodstove. We'll settle in for the evening, bones deeply warmed as only a woodstove can do. Outside the window, cool rain waters the gardens, again. 


Checking in... Hello!

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We have been given the rare gift of a long, dry, warm spring this year, which has provided perfect terrain for checking many projects off of the outside list, and very little time for indoor pursuits such as writing. The summer-like weather has come with a cost, of course (more severe than an abandoned blog); it has put us in near-drought status earlier than most are accustomed to. Imagine, wells nearly dry before June roses bloom. Just as things began to feel desperate, two days of steady, gentle rain. The perfect kind of rain that waters deep yet is easy on the soil, not washing seeds from the rows you carefully placed them in. Sweet relief, for now. 

The garden is nearly planted, with only cucurbits awaiting their turn in the ground. They will go in today, then I will look forward to a day or two of resetting the house. Soon. May and June is such a wild ride.

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My nest is empty once again as our daughter ventured off into the world of politics and government and making a home of her own, far from the quiet of northeastern Vermont. We have enjoyed our unexpected time together this past year, but now it is time for her to move on and pursue the life she’s envisioned for herself, which seems to include things beyond raising pigs, hauling sap, and digging potatoes. She spent much of this past year exhaustively reading the news each morning. Not just typical news, but that with a scope far beyond the soundbite headlines that find their way into the average person’s purview. Now, as part of her job, she starts her day doing the very same thing: reading the news. Only this time, instead of reporting the highlights to our pup Scout, she reports directly to the Senate. The icing on the professional cake is that she spends another part of her day writing press releases and speeches for the majority and its leaders. Occasionally she’ll send us a link to something she’s written that can be found in the press, or seen on TV. Last weekend we took the longest day trip in history and visited her new place. She has made a warm and charming home for herself, preparing meals in the evening and making sure to relax on the weekend. It’s been a long road for these young adults exiting college at the height of lockdowns and unknowns, I am grateful to see the veil beginning to lift, as healthy, fulfilling lives slowly resume on the other side. 


We'll Do Our Best

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Our resident woodcock has returned. Before coltsfoot, before peepers, before green grass, there is the unmistakable and hilarious ground level peeent, peeent, peeent, followed by a melodic twirling in the sky as he ascends and descends in an impressive attempt to woo the ladies. Spring is here. 

We have had an unusually warm March. Myself and others find ourselves outside most days, wandering around a little aimlessly, unsure of where to begin this early. Be careful. It looks promising, but more snow will come. It will freeze again. And don’t forget about the mud. And so, we dabble. There are always more projects than time, so we pick and choose tasks that can endure a little snow, freezing, and mud. It’s too soon to step into the garden, so we work in the greenhouse, build a new summer coop for the chickens, upgrade chicken tractors for meatbirds, gather fencing supplies for other projects. There is always plenty to do during any season, even false spring. 

We are in the heart of maple sugaring season! What a strange, slow year it has been. I don’t have any final numbers to report yet, but I can say that we are grateful for the surplus of syrup held over from 2020. We made the decision to tap fewer trees this year than we are equipped to; just something in the air felt little off. Maybe because 2020 was such a mast year for us, all beings are looking to relax a little in 2021. It’s nice to have some years feel extra in many ways; it allows for other years to be more restful. 

I’m already looking forward to preserving less this harvest season. In some instances it’ll be because we simply put up enough to last two years, in other instances, some things although delicious, didn’t really feel worth the summertime labor to produce. We’ll still be sure to put by all that we need plus some, but I won’t be focusing much on novelty this year. 

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Adam has been felling diseased beech trees this winter. From the Great Lakes to New England there is something happening with beech trees. I am not an expert on this, but my understanding is that a particular insect first breaches the bark, then a pathogen comes in and attacks, resulting in dark-spotted, scaly bark, and inevitably, a dying tree. This combination is spreading rampantly and there does not seem to be a fix other than culling the infected trees to help prevent spread, and being grateful beech makes excellent firewood. We have many beech trees in this predicament, as do most in this region. It is devastating, they are beautiful trees that contribute greatly to our forest food supply.

Sometimes I am asked if it has been hard for my husband to return to the place he grew up, all those teenage shenanigan memories and such. Truth is most of his friends have moved on; there’s not much that keeps people of recent generations here. I’d say the hard part for him has been returning to a forest unrecognizable to his boyhood self. Aside from the ruthless logging that has become the norm, it is the notable absence of old growth forest he mourns ("old growth" being relative, because by the late 1800s, 80% of Vermont's forests had been shorn; nearly everything below 2,000ft). He tells stories of beech trees so wide you could hardly wrap your arms around them; the trunks covered in scars from bear claws hurling their way up to the canopy to gather tasty beechnuts. Hemlock stands so dense the forest floor remained in darkness throughout the day. He notes the absence of a hunting culture so prominent it felt like a state holiday. Many things are different now, even if to me (a lifelong southern New Englander) it still feels downright remote and wild here, he sees and feels the changes. Change is inevitable, of course, sometimes for the better and sometimes it feels like a loss. I suppose solace comes in knowing that we have committed our time here as one of healing and growth. A rehabilitation for critters of the two-legged, four-legged and winged variety, and all manner of flora and fungi. Our efforts won't heal the world, but we'll do our best to heal a small corner of it. Who knows, maybe a few of those beech trees will survive and when I am an old women, wandering the woods collecting sap, I will notice bear claw scars on the trunk of a tree so wide I can hardly wrap my arms around it. 


I'm Sorry, I'm Not Taking Questions Right Now

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Sitting at my desk in the afternoon, next to a western facing window that I’ve opened to enjoy the 45º degree day, I notice a dark brown shrew, two stories below, scurrying across the snowy field. Back and forth, to and fro, round in circles, this way and that. Little guy reminds me of myself and so many other humans I’ve observed recently, emerging from hibernation with a kind of disoriented enthusiasm; too excited to put our finger on exactly what we’d like to do with the first warm and sunny days, so we run about chaotically, hoping to not miss a moment of it.

After that wonderful taste of what is to come, temperatures dipped back down to single digits, whiteout snow moved in, as did 25mph sustained winds. Oh, March! I don’t mind it so much. Permission to continue hibernating  is about the only direction I am good at following. With the sap buckets frozen and winds too strong to ski or do much of anything outside, our winter weary bodies needed to move in some kind of productive way, so we spent most of the weekend spring cleaning. We could not go so far as to wash window exteriors, but we did tend to as much as we could on the inside. Carpets shampooed, lampshades wiped down, chandeliers washed, wall art cleaned, baseboards and radiators washed, bookshelves vacuumed and deeply dusted, interior windows and sills cleaned. All kinds of things that aren’t necessarily addressed weekly, but do need to happen once in awhile. 

I’ve been using the same dusting spray recipe for years, but have recently changed it up a bit. I’ll include it here in case you’d like to make some as well. As usual with this sort of thing, test it on a small inconspicuous spot before dousing your precious Eastlake with it. 

 

Dusting Spray

2 cups water 

1/2 cup vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

10 drops cedarwood essential oil

10 drops patchouli essential oil

15 drops orange essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle, shake well. Be sure to give it a shake once in a while when using, as it does not contain chemical emulsifiers to keep it blended. 

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A few months ago, nearly a year into the pandemic, I was having one of those days where it felt like a hundred years since any of us really had any time to ourselves. Normally this isn’t a big deal, but it is something you become aware of when togetherness is forced. Our house is small by American standards for three adults living and working from home, with the supplies of a dozen indoor winter hobbies, to boot. Quarters can feel a little tight sometimes. One Sunday morning while making breakfast for my family, frustrated by my dysfunctional kitchen, I blurted out in response to being asked what felt the tenth question of the morning (it was probably the second... it’s been a long year): I’m sorry, I’m not taking questions right now.

Silence fell on the room. I wasn’t being rude, I also wasn’t being very helpful. My family initially did not know what to make of it. I didn’t know what to make of it! The nerve! I’m sorry, I’m not taking questions right now. Who says that? Well, on that particular Sunday morning, I did. After a moment of stunned silence, my family erupted with praise for such a statement, such a boundary. Who could really argue with it? In fact, they were inspired. What!? We can say that? That’s an option!? 

Of course! We’re all designing this pandemic life however as we see fit, and in that moment, I was not fit to answer questions. 

I’m sorry, I’m not taking questions right now, has become our line in the sand. The single phrase has now been adopted by all family members. We don’t abuse it (that would be rude), but it’s our individual ace of spades when a little space is needed during a long winter, and an even longer pandemic. 


2020 Food Preservation: Year in Review

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Daylight strengthens and lengthens, slow and steady. Sitting at my desk in the early morning, I watch a fox scurry across the field, through the cedar swamp, and into the woods. It’s always a treat to catch a fox sighting. I was thankful for my tardiness in opening the chicken coop on this day. 

February asked very little of us. Things felt quite and restful. There was plenty of desk-work countered by plenty of  physical activity, which makes the desk-work portion of things more tolerable. I can’t recall a single whopper of a snowstorm this year, yet somehow our camp chairs are nearly buried. I keep saying this winter feels so gentle, but looking at the snow covered four foot tall chairs, I wonder if other beings feel differently than me. 

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Seed starting will begin in earnest soon and that has brought me to a place of final reflection on 2020’s garden and harvest. Mostly in terms of preservation. Everyone has their own thing they doubled down on in 2020, mine was food preservation (and perfecting homemade pizza). I was particularly interested in storing a wide variety for the long winter, knowing we’d likely still be hunkered down due to virus restrictions. I thought variety would help keep things interesting. It did! But as these things go, I may have been a little overzealous and perhaps too experimental in some areas. Let's review.

This overview will not include the perennial staples we preserve and store every year: potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, peas, corn, green beans, salsa, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, relish, peaches, apples, pears, shredded zucchini, berries + a myriad of berry products, cabbage, kraut, applesauce, kale... I’m sure there is more I’m forgetting. 

Let’s get to the new things preserved in 2020, and discuss if they will be making the preservation cut moving forward. 

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Jalapeño Poppers, Eggs, Roasted Juliet Tomatoes, Canned Green Beans & Potatoes

 

Newly Preserved in 2020

 

Jalapeño Poppers - We made a test batch of these early in the season with young peppers and they were amazing. Then I let the remaining peppers continue to grow and hang on the vine for the rest of the season, hoping to do one massive batch in the fall, which we did. Then about a week later we took some out of the freezer to sample, and the peppers were so hot they hurt. The filling was delicious, but the peppers were inedible to us. I don't normally grow hot peppers, so I did a little reading and learned as hot peppers mature, the heat intensifies. Those early summer peppers were just babies on the heat index!

Repeat? Not sure. There is a pepper out there called Notapeno that has all the appearance and flavor of a jalapeño, without the heat, maybe that’s more our speed. The filling was excellent though and they were fun and convienent. 

 

Frozen Eggs - I like to keep a few first year layers in our flock, so running the risk of no eggs in winter is not a concern. Maybe freezing eggs was just a 2020 thing. Mostly I did it to feed back to the chickens; they enjoy a warm winter treat of scrambled eggs cooked in lard.

Repeat? Yes. A handful of quarts is plenty. 

 

Roasted Juliet Tomatoes - I picked up this idea from Crystal over at Whole Fed Homestead and holy heck these are wonderful. To be honest I’m not as smitten as most are with the Juliet tomato for fresh eating, but this application is divine and we love them as winter pizza toppings, in risotto, or tossed into pesto-cream pasta.

Repeat? Yes! Might even increase the amount we roast/freeze.  

 

Canned Green Beans & Potatoes (single jar combo) - I’ve seen quite a few people doing this and it looked like a handy combo to keep on the shelf. Honestly canned veggies are not our thing but I do see value in keeping a small selection of jars in stock. This sort of item is considered emergency food for us. I did just one canner full (seven quarts) and it will probably last us three years. A jar here and there during power outages and that’s about it.

Repeat? Yes. But it will be some time before we need to replenish. 

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Peach BBQ Sauce, Zucchini Fritters, Canned Chicken, Breaded Summer Squash

 

Canned Chicken - Another thing that is handy to have for emergencies, so I do see value in it, but it is not our go-to for chicken. The two of canners I did will be plenty for a couple years at least.

Repeat? Yes. When needed, to keep a small inventory on hand for emergencies. 

 

Canned Corn - This was another 2020 thing. I never can corn, but last year I did. Haven’t even tried it yet, but I do like knowing it is on the shelf. We prefer frozen corn to canned if given the choice.

Repeat? Probably. Can’t think of a reason not to keep a few jars on hand for emergnecies. It will be a few years before we need to replenish.

 

Vanilla Pear Butter - Heavenly. The house smells amazing when making it, and the flavors softly deepens in storage. It is a little specific in that it does not pair that well with meats or yogurt like so many fruity things do. It really just wants to be served on a hot biscuit with butter. I will pay careful attention next time I make it so I can share a recipe.

Repeat? Absolutely. 

 

Fermented Cherry Tomatoes - Super delicious with a champagne-like effervescence, but they sort of disintegrated quickly, leaving you with mostly tomato skins to enjoy if you wait too long to get through them. Very good though in those early freshly fermented days. 

Repeat? Maybe a quart or two for fun atumn eating, but won’t carry them into winter.

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Pickled Mixed Vegetables, Fresh Herbs - Frozen, Frozen Cauliflower, Fermented Cherry Tomatoes

 

Peach BBQ Sauce - I wasn’t sure how much of this we’d use, but we’ve come to use it quite frequently on pizza. We toss cooked chicken in the sauce and use it as a topping along side bacon, mozzarella, and creamy homemade ranch dip for the pizza sauce. It has become our favorite winter pizza combo.

Repeat? Yes! 

 

Zucchini Fritters - Another 2020 thing. They're fine, and they cook up great in some lard/cast iron, but not really worth the time and effort it takes to prepare them in summer. It didn’t feel high value enough to plan on spending time next summer making them.

Repeat? No, not for the freezer. We’ll still enjoy them a few times in summer, but I won’t go into production making dozens.

 

Frozen Celery - What a handy little thing this is. It does seem to brown a little, but I prefer it to dehydrating for quick additions to soups and stews. Retains flavor really well. Does not stay perfectly crisp when thawed so don't expect that, but if using for cooking, works great. 

Repeat? Yes. Can’t believe I waited so long to try freezing celery. 

 

Pickled Mixed Vegetables - Well, we haven’t cracked open a jar of these yet so I guess that’s an indication whether I’ll make them or not. I guess we just prefer fermented veg to canned/pickled. Another one that can be chalked up to overly ambitous 2020 food preservation.

Repeat? Not likely. 

 

Breaded Zucchini/Summer Squash (frozen) - Repeat caption from Zucchini Fritters. Not high value enough to devote precious time to in summer. They are good though!

 

Frozen Broccoli - We’ve frozen broccoli before, but never quite to the scale we did last year. I do a very quick blanch to prepare for freezing, which seems to be enough, but does not make for mushy spears. They are tender though, which we like. Passs the butter.

Repeat? Yes. Especially in the quanity we put up. It’s been great to have so much broccoli in the freezer this winter. 

 

Frozen Cauliflower - Same as broccoli. Grew more than ever, froze more than ever, delighted in every spear of roasted cauliflower and baked au gratin this winter.

Repeat? Yes!

 

Fresh Herbs, Frozen - This was a fun experiment. I froze a variety of herbs that to me, don't dry that well. Chives, cilantro, parsley. I have loved sprinkling fresh (sort of) chives over baked potatoes! Also froze a special Scarborough Fair blend of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. These all dry perfectly fine, but it's nice to freeze some for adding a fresh green finish to stews and roasts. Herbs just need to be chopped and frozen. Works best to use hard sided containers rather than a freezer bag. 

Repeat? Yes!

 

Frozen Mixed Vegetables - The darling of my 2020 preservation efforts. My favorite part was that it comes together throughout several months: peas, corn, green beans head to the freezer as usual, when they are harvested, then you just prepare the carrot element when you can (I didn’t get to it until after Thanksgiving), and mix everything together. To prep carrots I diced, blanched (they can handle a longer blanching than most veg), ice bath, drained, flash froze on baking sheet. Then, working quickly, I dumped all of the frozen items into one big bowl, mixed it up, then refilled the bags everything was already in. You’ll need and extra bag or two to accommodate fo the addition of carrots. These have been great for shepherd’s pie, soups, and as a buttery side dish. We love them.

Repeat? Yes! These are a top must-make item moving forward. 

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I’m glad to have tried so many new things last year, we made some great discoveries! I’m also glad we did not love everything, because it means I will not be carrying the work of this entire list into the next growing season. Cheers to the year garden and harvest season ahead! 

 

 


February Greetings

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One more month of deep winter, then the pace will pick up quickly. I am grateful to have the month ahead, to continue resting my bones and tending to indoor projects. Soon enough we’ll hit the ground running outside and I will do my very best to not get too caught up in the pace, to tilt my chin toward the sun once in a while and bask in the gentle beauty of a Vermont summer day. We have several years still before our dream for this place is fully realized; the sooner I can adopt an abundance of patience with the ever-growing list of plans and ideas, the better. I think I am beginning to turn the corner on it.

This winter has been one of ease. It snows most days, with just enough accumulation to cover the previous day’s roadside kicked-up grime. The temperature has mostly remained cold enough for mud to not be an issue. In the woods there is a couple feet of snow on the ground, a modest accumulation for the first day of February. 

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In the morning I walk up to camp, early enough to catch the sunrise over the eastern ridge. I stand in the very spot we hope to have a cabin someday, and I wonder if this is the year that project will begin. There have been many reasons we’ve pushed it to the back burner, but maybe we need to focus on reasons to push it to the front. 

We have been eating well this winter! The larder is still over half full, with only a few winter squash spoiling before we could reach them. The loss of those few have been the reminder I’ve needed to focus on cold room veggies for the immediate future, taking a break from our reliance on convenient frozen veggies. It is just so easy to grab a bag of broccoli and toss it in a pan to quickly cook; no wrangling impenetrable squash flesh and hour long roasting. But we need to be grownups now and work a little for our meal. I see quite a bit of squash cooking in our future. I have no regret about the volume of broccoli and cauliflower we grew. Beans, peas, and kale, too. Corn we purchased from a local farm. We will appreciate having those frozen veggies still in the freezer come April-June, past any reasonable survival date of most squash and before the garden is producing in earnest. The availability of vegetables frozen at peak freshness as well as the many shelf stable varieties tucked into the cold room, are such a nice compliment to one another and deliver uniquely to our food supply.  

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We have a nice amount of snow in the forecast which I am excited for. Nothing like the hush of a snow day. This year we are able to enjoy such days on skis, meandering through the woods around our home and beyond. We’ve rented nordic ski packages for the season, which was a shockingly good bargain, and have been swoosh-swoosh-gliding every spare moment we can find. I hope winter finds you well, in whatever form you enjoy it. 


Same As It Ever Was

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There is a tradition here on the ridge that includes walking "the square" on New Years Eve. A two mile square-ish loop of dirt roads, containing three houses in total (two with year-round residents), that for some reason draws ridge-folk even beyond these few homes. A respectable walk with a couple of hills decent enough to feel your heart work. Pretty views, even on a dark winter night. Especially on a dark winter night. One of the roads is generally not plowed, but this year’s lighter snow pack makes it passable to those inclined. 

The waning near-full moon brightened the night, casting shadows across snowy roads in the form of humans, four legged friends, and century old maples. On this clear, starry night, Mars perched visibly over our little home’s rooftop in the western sky. Glowing orange in the distance, seemingly content in its beautiful loneliness.

Looking back on my writings from a little over a year ago, I noted that I was entering 2020 with a drive and clarity that hadn’t been felt in a few years. A welcomed awakening after a chapter that included a slow goodbye to my father, sending our one and only off to college, and packing up and moving our household and my parents’ household. Those years were about getting through, for merely keeping heart and mind afloat. On the cusp of 2020, something had lifted. I felt lighter. Clarity returned and with it, possibility. I stepped into the new year blindly optimistic. As 2020 quickly unravelled before the world’s eyes, I managed to hang on to that initial feeling of drive and clarity. For reasons I am not clear on, those feelings remained throughout the year and resulted in more than a handful of wonderful things that happened in our family's life, despite the very real challenges we all faced. We had the most abundant sugaring season to date, I was accepted into nursing school (specifically for hospice nursing; in the end I decided not to attend at this time), we grew the most productive garden of our lives, we unexpectedly welcomed our daughter home, and we had the pleasure of watching her creatively launch her post-college career amidst a pandemic. I relaunched my own business in a way that feels incredibly fulfilling and sustainable. We made it to the other side healthy and intact. 

There were challenges, of course. Like you, I miss friends and family. I miss faces. I miss babies knowing that I am smiling at them. I’ve seen first hand the devastatingly swift here today gone tomorrow nature of this virus, and I’ve seen others barely miss a beat. 

Early reviews of 2021 are not exactly glowing, but we continue to make our small life here, and we continue to steel ourselves in the face of the unknown as best we can. Which I suppose is the same as it ever was. Tomorrow we’ll enjoy a day of snow; we haven’t had much of it this year. Maybe I’ll make pumpkin pie. 


Things Will Be Different This Year, But They Will Be Memorable

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Snow of any substance has yet to arrive on the ridge. I don’t mind, we have through April to collect all of our snow here, so there is plenty of time. Each day that we are not buried is another day outdoor tasks can be tended with ease. I’ve yet to pull up the stakes in the garden and would like to take care of that. I still need to mulch the garlic. Yesterday, new internet was installed, and with satellite being our only option here, we have a new wire that must be buried between the barn and the house. It cannot wait until spring as it runs right through one of our plow lines. Little things that may not seem terribly pressing, yet knowing we still have a few days to punch the list is helpful. 

This morning I’ll drive our daughter to the airport and we won’t see her until sometime in January. Work is taking her to Georgia for the senate runoffs, which in a normal year would find her zipping home for Christmas (and her Christmas Eve birthday), but that is not an option in 2020. She’ll hunker down in warm Savannah and we’ll send her one hundred photos of a white Christmas. It is disappointing, but isn’t disappointment relative at this point? I recall one particular Easter of my childhood when my grandmother was hospitalized; we all wanted to be with her, not home stubbornly preparing our usual Easter dinner dictated by tradition. It just didn't work that year. I think my mom and her sisters felt bad for us kids, plucked from our usual customs, but as for me, my sister, and our cousins, we remember it as the fun year we had Chinese takeout for Easter dinner, plunked coins into hospital vending machines for sugary treats, and spent the day with Mema. 

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I guess when I think about the upcoming holidays, it does not feel like the time for me to wallow in one more thing not taking place in 2020, but to appreciate the fact that our little family has deeply rooted traditions worth missing. How cool is that? I can’t complain too much that my daughter is in Georgia when I know too many people going into this season with their loved ones no longer on this earth. Sure, it’ll be a little sad, but we’ll celebrate in January when she returns. We’ve already decided on our holiday mashup dinner: our traditional Christmas prime rib with all of the Thanksgiving sides (we usually have different Christmas side dishes), Christmas Eve birthday cake for dessert, and New Years champagne for sipping. That doesn’t sound too shabby. 

Adam and I will still carry on our traditions with just the two of us, because we are able to and we should! Emily will have a balmy southern Christmas with coworkers who are in the same boat. I imagine that just as she did with her college roommates, she will gain the reputation among coworkers as being the one to bring a live sparkly tree into the office or house. 

Things will be different this year, but they will be memorable. And isn’t there something so fitting about packing up 2020 in a totally upside down kind of way. 

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I have been working on something new for many months now, and I am ready to share it with you. Welcome to Hearth & Home. There were some early peeks on Instagram that are fun to check out, they can be found under #northridgefarmhearthandhome. You can join anytime! 


To Not Feel Acquainted with Boredom



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Recent days have felt equally restful and productive. Small tastes of snow here and there, plenty of rain, too. Adam broadforked the garlic beds two weekends ago, despite damp soil. I came in behind him and raked the beds smooth. Then we waited. Just two or three days of sunny weather would dry things enough for planting, but those days never came. The garden has yet to dry out. We’ll be planting garlic this weekend regardless; there is no time to be particular about soil dampness at this point. 

One thing I’ve observed since living here, is that people - men in particular - never seem to inquire about whether or not you’re a hunter. They just assume you are, and jump right into asking how’s hunting going this year? Our new UPS driver introduces himself as Keith. Within a few minutes I learn he has sole custody of his four year old daughter. He seems rightfully proud of his little girl and his dedication to her. He tells me he loves coming up to the ridge, that he has many memories here as a boy. In fact, it was his grandfather that sold this land to my husband’s grandmother more than half a century ago. He tells me that right in the very field we were standing, where our house now resides, his grandfather would take a twelve point buck each autumn. I just shook my head. I think he could tell by the look on my face that we do not see those same yields today. I am still acquainting myself with the differences between hunting here and in Connecticut. Sugar maples fill this hillside, which do a wonderful job of feeding humans, but they are not a food source for deer. We have no oak trees in this region, a primary food for deer further south. We add nut trees to the landscape, but those will mostly be enjoyed by animals in a lifetime separate from my own. 

A man came to inspect our oil tank per the order of a new Vermont law. The inspection took all of sixty seconds, the conversation about hunting, power outages, and deer camp took another thirty minutes. This man shared that he went ahead and bought himself a camp over in New Hampshire, just south enough to ensure plenty of acorns for the deer population. He primarily hunts there now, and has already taken one deer with bow so far this year. 

While the deer may not be as plentiful here, I do appreciate the culture of how’s hunting going this year? It feels familiar. 

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I intended to write a proper end of season garden post, to share the highs and lows as well as lessons learned, but I see the calendar is quickly ticking by and my time for writing here is never what I hope it will be. To sum things up: the garden this year was unbeleivably generous to the point of overwhelm. Every day I weeded, fed, watered, observed, and gathered. I kept pretty good notes and records and am grateful for the information it provided, with so little effort on my part. Weighing and recording harvests is more about discipline than added work. It took maybe an extra minute or two and nearly every time I set a basket of produce on the scale, I wondered why I’d never done this in prior seasons. It is such good baseline info to have. So, in a nutshell, we grew over 1,100 pounds of food in a 45’ x 80’ second year garden. I feel pleased with that. In time, the soil will improve and in turn so will our yields. But gosh, there's really nothing to complain about. Our greatest pest pressure was Colorado Potato Beetle, which were hand picked in both beetle and larvae stage daily without fail. We would not have had a potato harvest without hand picking. All brassicas were protected with row cover, which allowed us to grow more broccoli and cauliflower than ever before. Gorgeous heads, free from cabbage worms. Peppers started the season strong and I was feeling optimistic, but they just kind of petered out and failed to fruit plentifully. Research suggests it might be attributed to intense heat and drought right at the point of flowering, prohibiting decent fruit set. I’m not sure. Peppers have always been such a garden staple harvest for us, there is much to learn about growing them in this new climate. There were plenty more highs and lows, but to be honest, as immeasurably grateful as I am for this year’s garden, I am completely over the work of it all, and even my words on the matter feel tired.

Instead, I revel in the wonder of dozens upon dozens of colorful jars, gallons upon gallons of frozen fruits and vegetables, and a cold room filled with potatoes, winter squash, onion, garlic, carrots, and ferments. 

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Today I trimmed dried leaves and roots from the last of the onions and brought the many bulbs down to the cool basement for storage. Aside from planting garlic this weekend, the onions were my final task. Oh! Except for shelling dried beans. I need to do that, too. And get all of our cooking herbs from stems to jars. And if there is a deer or two to process... well, I suppose we are never quite done. That is okay. Having purposeful, seasonal projects helps me to feel alive. I am not after a feeling of busyness for the sake of busyness, it’s just nice to enjoy the work at hand, and to not feel acquainted with boredom. 

Snow is falling gently, and the woodstove has our little home so toasty, even the furniture feels warm to the touch. It’s been a good day here, I hope things are going well for you, too.