Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tennessee Love

Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center
A couple days ago, when the south part of Knoxville got hit by the incredible hail storm--"hail the size of baseballs"--I realized that I've lived in Tennessee for fourteen years (it was probably just as I was saying, "I've never seen anything like this, and I've lived many years?!"). I've never lived anywhere else longer, and it's grown on me; I've grown to love it, especially after getting to know places like Beardsley Farm, A Place of the Heart Farm, and Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center.
A Place of the Heart Farm

This has been a somewhat difficult week: we lost electricity on Wednesday, and only had it back for a couple hours late last night, just to lose it again in the early morning. There's some damage to the house and our cars, but it's relatively minor; the experience has been more disorienting than anything. However, we went to a farmer's market preview, and got beautiful bread and a couple produce items. A farmer even gave us a small head of lettuce for our lunch salad when we said we didn't have power.
It may be a few days before I post again--even if we get electricity back today, I'll spend a few days catching up on cleaning, laundry, grading, and re-planting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beautiful beginnings of four of my favorite books.

He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.

See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folks are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father had been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.

Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would hvae been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't been president or if I hasn't been the offspring of Jews.

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare to now.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart

Today was mostly sunny, and then the late afternoon and evening unexpectedly turned into thunderstorms and rain. Thinking about the sunshine, I decided that this poem by Richard Siken, from his book Crush, would be appropriate.

Visible World

      Sunlight pouring across your skin, your shadow
                                                                          flat on the wall.
               The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs.
You had not expected this,
                       the bedroom gone white, the astronomical light
                                                            pummeling you in a stream of fists.
       You raised your hand to your face as if
                       to hide it, the pink fingers gone gold as the light
streamed straight to the bone,
        as if you were the small room closed in glass
                                                    with every speck of dust illuminated.
        The light is no mystery,
the mystery is that there is something to keep the light
                                                                                 from passing through.


Before yesterday, I'd only had ramps once. We were on a day-trip to Nashville (three years ago), and saw them on sale at Whole Foods; I didn't think much of them, but Matt knew exactly the kind of delicacy that we'd found. 

Since first tasting them, I'd been on the lookout for ramps, but  hadn't been able to get any until this weekend. As we were digging up the succulent ramps, I couldn't help but be mindful of over-harvesting. I want the ramp spot to provide people with this spring-time delicacy for years to come, and  I feel like we were almost too greedy, taking not just he leaves, but the bulbs, too. 

I hope that this year isn't the last time that we have ramps, but I'm willing to forego them if it means preserving them for the future.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pressure Canning Adventures: Vegetable Stock

A month, or so, ago, I agreed to teach a pressure canning class in the summer; it sounded so easy--just teaching a single-item pressure-canning workshop with tomatoes. We'd just gotten a pressure canner, and it was gracing the kitchen with its shiny presence; I had read the instructions, and everything made perfect sense. I had seen fellow bloggers' posts about pressure canning, and the process seemed very clear. I felt ready. I felt ready, that is, until the pressure canner was actually on the stove, and I had to begin the process; then, at that very moment, some little voice inside of me commanded me to be terrified of pressure canners. Once I put the couple inches of water into the canner, once I filled the jars half-way with water, and began bringing the contents to a simmer, I understood all the fears of pressure canning. "What if it explodes," I said to myself, "what if it doesn't work and never achieves the pressure?" "What if my jars all break once it reaches pressure?" All those people who had come to my canning workshops and told me that they have a pressure canner, but are too intimidated by it, suddenly made sense. I swear, if I hadn't spent 4 hours making vegetable stock, I would have stopped right then and there...
The pressure canner, next to two 7-quart pots of stock.

I also knew that I couldn't back down because I had to learn how to pressure-can before I could teach others how to do the same--and overcoming my irrational fears of pressure canning meant that I could dispel similar fears in others.
(I don't know if the pictures quite portray the stature of this pressure canner. It's not only large, but it's also made of cast aluminum, and thus quite heavy. This model also doesn't have a rubber gasket to create a seal between the canner and lid; the six thumb screws hold the lid in place.)
One jar of stock among others.

The weight is on, and the pressure rising
So I took a deep breath, and started the process.

Just as with water-bath canning, it is important to get the jars hot before filling them. Jars are definitely made to withstand high heat, but don't do well with quick temperature changes and can break because of temperature shock. Jars are half-filled with water, and then placed into the pressure canner (which is filled with 1.5 or 2 inches of water); the whole thing is then brought to a simmer over medium-high heat. It's not necessary to sterilize the jars ahead of time, as they will become hot enough during pressure canning to kill off any and all unwanted bacteria.
Once the contents of the canner were happily simmering (not to self--this takes longer than expected), I took out one jar at a time, emptied the water, and filled it with near-boiling vegetable stock until all the jars were full. Then, I screwed the lid on, turned up the heat, and waited for the steam to vent for 8 minutes before putting the weight on. Once the weight was on, the pressure started rising. I had to regulate the heat a couple times to make sure that the weight wasn't "jiggling" too often--this indicates that the water is evaporating too fast, as the weight "jiggles" to release steam and to keep the canner from overshooting the pressure.
Once the gauge reached the appropriate pressure, I started the timer--35 minutes for vegetable stock; afterwards, I just turned the burner off, and let the canner de-pressurize on its own overnight. All seven quarts of the vegetable stock sealed quite firmly, and I'm looking forward to having those to use throughout the next few months.

A few things of note: because this was my first time handling the pressure canner, Matt helped me throughout the process--he encouraged me, read and re-read instructions, helped me screw on the lid, fill the jars, etc. If you're tackling pressure-canning, I highly recommend doing it with a friend. Secondly, the process took a lot longer than I expected, just because I wasn't quite sure what to expect: the canner took a long time to come to a boil, to come to pressure, and to de-pressurize. When I started out, I thought that I'd be able to just pop off the lid once it was done, and to take out the jars for instant canning gratification. But that's not so. The large warning label on the lid of the canner warns not to take the lid off too early, lest you want to acquire steam burns; thus, I decided to wait to extract the jars until the following morning. This means that if I'm teaching a class on pressure-canning, I will need to build in the time to let the canner come down to normal pressure.
Overall, I'm so glad that I tried pressure canning now, so I can have plenty of practice before I am canning corn and tomatoes. I wasn't thrilled about canning the stock (I make bullion to use in soups, usually), but it was worth it to have the practice.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strawberry Jam Canning Workshop

I am happy to announce that after this short April hiatus, the canning classes will resume next month! During the May canning workshop we will be making strawberry-vanilla bean jam. This jam is a variation on the sweet classic of spring: the vanilla beans add a nice depth to the already flavorful (locally-grown) berries.

The class costs $20 (payable in advance of the class date) and includes a print-out of basic canning instructions and the recipe, and a jar of the strawberry jam. The class is appropriate for any level of canning enthusiast.

The class will take place in the Turkey Creek Earth Fare community room on Saturday, May 14th from 1:30-4:30 PM.
The class will be capped at 12 people. You must reserve your space in the workshop through purchasing a "ticket" through the PayPal link (you do not need a PayPal account to buy). Also, RSVP to me, the instructor, to let me know you're coming. Space in the workshop is not guaranteed if you have not reserved your spot. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

I'm looking forward to strawberries and the workshop!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Concept of Happiness

Bertrand Russell opens his book The Conquest of Happiness by suggesting that we are all familiar with happiness and unhappiness and that we can identify these emotional states in ourselves and in others, but that we are often at a loss to find the sources of these states. Russell stakes out what he sees are the causes of both happiness and unhappiness with the idea that helping folks to recognize the sources will help them to live their lives in a way that will heighten the chances for happiness. It isn't enough to just try to be happy, we must avoid unhappiness as much as strive for those things that make us happy -- family, productive work, individual interests, and so on.

In sources of unhappiness, Russell writes four general maxims:
1. remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself
2. don't overestimate your own merits
3. don't expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself
4. don't imagine that most people give enough thought to you to have any desire to persecute you.

I like these maxims because they remind us to be aware of two things: that our judgments of ourselves are often stilted in our own favor and that our vision of others is often clouded by this. Russell asks us to be more aware of who we are in relation to others and to be vigilant in taking others into consideration.

*I had originally planned a much longer version of this which included some thoughts on Aristotle and some lines from Nietzsche's Ecce Homo. That version was scrapped because this draft had been languishing in the FLP ether for too long and it became obvious that I would never have finished the whole things as I had envisioned it. mr

Urban Land Scouts--Fed by the Land

Jeff Ross, discussing the onion

When I earned my Urban Land Scout Level 4 badge last year, I didn't know much about foraging. Well, I knew something--just enough to put a few things on the Urban Land Scouts map, and know that I could handle the thorns of the wild blackberries in order to make dessert out of them. I also knew that there was wild garlic growing around our neighborhood, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
I was looking forward to yesterday's workshop as a kind of chance to re-affirm my level 4 badge--I definitely wanted to learn more about the edible things that could be foraged in the urban and suburban environment. Once Jeff Ross, the garden manager from Blackbery Farm, started talking, I couldn't help but try to hurriedly write down everything that he said. In the hour and a half of the tour, we barely made it outside of the grounds of Beardsley Farm; in that time, Jeff identified at least twenty five different edible or useful wild plants, and discussed some of the lesser-known points of a couple cultivated ones. In the picture above, he's demonstrating that the stringy roots of onions--the ones most people usually cut off and discard--have a lot of the great onion flavor, and taste incredible when flash-fried.

My head is still spinning a little, not just from the sheer amount of information Jeff presented yesterday, but with the knowledge that it was only the beginning. There is so much more to learn! I'll leave you with a picture of my notes--maybe you can make some sense of them. By the end of the workshop (on the following page, not pictured), my notes deteriorated into exclamatory remarks, such as, "Forsythia is NOT edible!! Pea tendrils are delicious! Let your collards go to seed and eat the florets!" Let me know if you have any questions, and keep in mind that a lot of the notes are specific to Beardsley. (Also, I probably misspelled or mis-wrote a few things....)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

African Yam Soup

There are many foods and flavors that systematically avoided until I became vegan. Until about three years ago, I refused to eat greens (raw or cooked), beans, peanut butter, popcorn, onions, anything spicy...(the list is quite long--too long and embarrassing for me to flesh it out here). When I became vegan, that all changed, almost overnight; when I stopped eating meat and dairy, I suddenly wanted and loved all those things that I'd previously refused to eat. From the way that I lovingly talk about massaged kale salad, you'd never be able to tell my previous mis-inclinations. Every now and then, however, when I read a new recipe, I am filled with the old qualms--especially if it's a soup recipe that includes ginger, garlic, cloves, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, chile powder, cayenne pepper, orange juice, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, miso and peanut butter. Oh, did I mention that once I categorize a spice as either sweet or savory, I have a hard time using it for its opposite purpose? So when I saw the African Yam Soup in The Artful Vegan cookbook (the ingredients of which are, for the most part, listed above), I was intrigued, but very hesitant. How could orange juice and cinnamon ever go together with onions and tomatoes?!

Here's the truth: I'd recommended this soup to a friend a couple months ago, when she'd gotten into a food rut, and had all these extra sweet potatoes sitting around. I thought: this soup sounds so adventurous; maybe she'll try it and tell me how it tastes! Well, my friend loved the soup (and at the time I thought she was crazy). It took me these couple of months to work up the courage to try making it, and I'm sorry that I've waited this long. Once everything is cooked together, the soup gets blended, and served with cilantro and roasted peanuts. We stirred some leftover black beans into it--just for added texture--and ate this soup for lunches last week. It was spicy, and tangy, and satisfying; the orange juice and cinnamon that I was worried about so much gave it that extra depth and interest. 
And the soup also gave me a chance to use one of our last jars of spicy tomatoes that we put up last summer. Next year--as I've told myself numerous times already--I'll put up more tomatoes, and keep the recipe to this soup marked and on the ready once autumn begins.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

I've been thinking about posting some more poetry, and simply couldn't help myself with this one. I've always been rather neutral towards Robert Frost, and now, suddenly, I can't stop reading his poems--especially those that are new to me.

Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea),
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

It's that time here in Knoxville; even though the official Last Frost date is about a week off, I don't think we'll have another frost before then. Plant those beans!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Urban Land Scouts--Seed Bombs

Last year, when Katie Ries was showcasing her Urban Land Scouts exhibit, I had just gotten a Shitty Summer Job, and could only make it to one of the events. It was then that I vowed that if the Urban Land Scouts were to ever meet formally (or informally), I'd be there. I have been fortunate to attend the weekly evening workshops at Beardsley farm for the last couple of weeks, and am starting to look forward to the rest of the meetings even more.
At the workshop yesterday, we made seed bombs (and no, they're not nearly as violent as they sound--just balls of compost, clay, and seeds). As much as I am excited for and supportive of the Urban Land Scouts, I have to admit that at first, I wasn't looking forward to making these; they seemed haphazard and unimportant. However, as my hands sank down into the bucket of compost and clay, as I began mixing and forming the seed balls along with my seed-ball-forming team, I started to understand the process in a different way. First of all, it was just that--a process; I got to spend time with fellow scouts, talking and keeping my hands busy. And as Katie said, the seed bombs are a hopeful gesture--they are little parcels of seeds that go where a gardener wouldn't, and they provide edible plants for an uncared-for space. Because seed bombs are (often) not tended by anyone, they are at the disposal of nature's cycles; when it rains next, the seed bombs we launched last night will start disintegrating, and some seeds will (hopefully) begin germinating. I think that my initial hesitance about seed bombs was about just this: I was only in control of depositing them, but not much else, and because it's my first year growing anything, I've wanted to have control over the plants at every stage. With seeds sown outside of my control, I don't have a say, and so can only observe what happens. And I think I'm fine with that.

(And this part is more for my records than anything else, just in case I want to look in on some of the seed bombs we threw last night: in the planter on the side of the Technology Center; in the raised beds in the front yard of an abandoned house, the old playground, the abandoned school..)