food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Archive for March, 2010

At A Crossroads

It’s a crossroads kind of day.  A day where winter squash, last season’s gentle giants, met the early risers – spring-green nettles – at my breakfast table.  A day where the temperature inside our yurt at 9:30 this morning was a cool 35 degrees (we don’t live in an ice chest, I swear; it’s just well-shaded in the morning … it now reads a balmy 43) and where the sun is shining brightly enough now that I’ve put our [covered] tomato starts outside for some warmth.  A day that hints at two layers, not three.  I’m ready to get out in it – to plant some fava beans, go for a run, bask in the vitamin d glory of it all (I was always that kid who started wearing shorts just as the slush of melted snow vanished … it’s genetic, alright?). 
But before I do, some ideas and questions I’ve been tossing about in my brain lately (hazy outlines only – the crossroads might seem like a time for swift decision making and clarity, but we’ll just have to save that for spring): 
* HOME: Where to find it, how to make it – and who with?   Looking to curb my tendency towards long-distance relationships (friends, family, hell – Neil, too), and finding myself confounded by geography time and time again.  
* HEALTHCARE: I have one fewer tooth in my head this week than I did last.  It wasn’t a surprising – or even an upsetting – development really, but it has my mind buzzing around what I feel like I should expect from – and give towards – my own healthcare, insurance, etc.  My experience with low-income clinics is growing – and has been largely positive – but many of these places are not accepting long-term patients (they’re at capacity already) and only take emergency cases as walk-ins.  Meanwhile, my skepticism with the national debate is growing; what are my options? What are yours?
* HOMEGROWN/LOCAL GRAINS: There’s a growing interest in knowing where our brussel sprouts, peas and tomatoes are grown, but what about our barley, oats and wheat?  I went to a small-scale grains workshop this week at a great local resource/working farm called Inspiration Farm that was really inspiring.  Most of Whatcom County’s wheat comes from Canada and the Midwest, but there are several movements towards becoming grain independent in this area.  And that can begin as a simple 10×10 plot of rye.  I’m going to give it a try this season, experimenting with oats and quinoa.  We’ll see what happens!
Onward and outward!  Here comes Spring!

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.  ~Nadine Stair

Visual Updates

Keeping the words to a minimum, I wanted to show my completed hat project.  You may have noticed that it’s not actually a hat; I noticed that too.  Turns out that’s as far as the yarn went – I spun it pretty thick, and it was just enough to make a headband/ears-warmer deal, which I’m pretty stoked about.  The yellow is fading a bit from it’s bright turmeric-y beginnings, and now has some neat color variations.  I used cream of tartar and alum powder (both found at the grocery store) as mordants, substances that help set and brighten the color of natural dyes. 
I’ve already started my next project, although I’m still not so sure what it will be.  This I do know: it involves more thinly spun yarn and a new color.  Updates on this (and a ridiculously beautiful and soul-reviving roadtrip with one Caitlin Dronen) to come!

What the Pho?

I’ve got good news friends. Hailing from Vietnam, the stomach-warming, nose-drip-inducing, spirit-lifting soup we know as Pho is surprisingly easy to make.  And as the cold Pacific Northwest rains sneak their way back into this ridiculously warm and dry winter we’re having, it always feels like just what the doctor ordered.  It requires a couple of semi-obscure ingredients (though, in this vegetarian version, beef brisket is not one of them – you’re welcome), but nothing you’d have to go to a specialty store to get.

So cozy up in the kitchen, listen to the raindrops fall, and try this recipe:  (adapted from

* I read a posting that said she used Chinese 5 Spice instead of the individual spices listed and it turned out great – could be easier!


1/3-1/2 package rice noodles

chunks of deliciousness: mushrooms, carrots, tofu, bok choy, you name it!


chopped scallions

cilantro, basil

bean sprouts


Hoisin Sauce

Sriracha Chili Paste

  1. Fry the onions, garlic, shallots and all of the spices in a little oil on high heat until the vegetables begin to char. (If you don’t want cloves and cinnamon sticks floating around in your soup later, you can strain them out later or tie them up in cheese cloth and add them after the broth – I usually keep them in)
  2. Add the stock (and soy sauce if you want – depends on how salty your stock already is), turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes (Add carrots and veggies now if they need a little extra cooking time to soften).
  3. Taste your broth and see if you like where it’s at flavorwise – If not, give it some more time to let the spices sink in.  If so, turn the heat back up and throw the rice noodles in once the water is at a boil.  At this point, you can turn the stove off – rice noodles cook quickly and can get kind of gluey if overcooked. (If you have any quick-cooking greens, or mushrooms or tofu that just need to be warmed, throw them in with the rice noodles)
  4. Once the noodles are soft, serve the soup hot covered with sprouts, fresh herbs, chopped scallions and that incredible Hoisin/Sriracha combination.
  5. Let your nose drip and think of all the homegrown veggies you’ll be able to throw in there come Spring!

Results? Adaptations?  Warm thoughts (typing in a 45 degree yurt at the moment …)?

Happy March.   love.