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

Archive for July, 2010

Weekend Adventure: Hannegan Peak

Friday’s the new weekend, right? Well it worked out that way this week. Neil and I took advantage of a shared day off and BEAUTIFUL weather by going up to Hannegan Peak, a 10 mile round trip hike in the Mount Baker Wilderness Area. I’ll let the pictures do the talking*:

* In case this picture doesn’t say much to you at first, let me assure you that there is a black bear hiding in amongst the greenery – see if you can find his snout. This is as close to a bear as I’ve ever come; we noticed a big rustling in the plants right along the trail and expected to see a marmot or something. I couldn’t see much, but as I looked over at Neil, his wide eyes said it all. A young bear, he was just as startled by us as we were by him. A really exciting sighting, particularly since a very reputable source (my mom) told me that the black bear is my spirit animal. I have to say, after years of thinking I might be a hummingbird, this feels like a much better fit.


A pictorial homage to my dear friend and kindred spirit Nicole (aka Scoots) who forked up the money to fly across the country for a much-needed visit

This is a woman who knows
that the best air is fresh air

that Julia Child has all the answers

that our mamas are incredible women who deserve celebration
and that every good dance party should feature at least 3 costume changes.

Till next time,


Commiseration Station

It’s been a rough year.

Talking to home gardeners and farmers alike, I’ve said and heard this phrase a lot this year. A warm and early burst of Spring came to the Pacific Northwest in February, and, with visions of beautiful tomatoes already in our heads, we rushed out and put seeds in dirt, in pots, in trays.

And then the rain and clouds came.

And with them slugs, blight and stagnancy.

It’s discouraging – super discouraging – to see your cabbage plants start to look like Swiss cheese and your tomatoes barely growing. Even though we planted lettuce seeds in February, we didn’t have a salad until June. And last weekend’s garlic harvest revealed that the crop is covered in a fungus, Garlic Rust. Still edible (and delicious), but we can’t save our own seed for next year.

So there you have it.

And it’s happening to everybody. I’m putting this out there because 1) I’ll admit it: Misery loves company; there’s a certain calm and validation to be found in realizing you’re not alone in your struggles 2) The learning curve is absurdly steep, and this season has been an incredible lesson during which 3) I’ve been able to rely on the veggies we’ve grown and those from the amazing farmers in our area And 4) Between 1, 2 and 3 we’ve got a great opportunity to bitch about what’s going on in our gardens and our fields – then learn about it, recognizing each other as resources (and support systems) – and keep trying.

So feel free to use this as continued motivation or even an open forum. Like I said, misery loves company, and I’d love to hear what’s totally failing in your garden. So long as you garnish it with some successes. Because they’re there, and I’m finding they often outnumber the failures in reality if not in brainspace.

Here’s my good news:

The sun and heat have made an appearance now, however unconvincing. And things are beginning to grow – we’ve already had sugar snap peas and kale, potatoes and onions, beets and cauliflower, strawberries and raspberries too. And now slowly, the Summer veggies. Beans and zucchinis are starting to show their faces, preparing to offer their usual midsummer glut. And our (2nd annual) garlic harvest was a beautiful get-together, with great new friends and delicious food and drink.

This afternoon I’m going to begin sowing seeds and planting starts for our Fall garden. Hard to believe it’s already time to look towards what we’ll be wanting to eat in October, but it is. In go the broccolis and cauliflowers, the kales and turnips, hopefully some fall sugar snap peas.

It’s looking less and less like we’ll be able to rely on what happens in a “typical year” to plan our gardens and our farms, as flukes and irregularities become the norm. (my as yet non-existent farm has long been called Se La Vis Farm) Continued failures might be the only real guarantee. And still, there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing. Because working with food and the earth in this way is, to me, such a rich and connective act.

And I just know that next year’s tomatoes are going to be incredible.

love and learning curves,

The Great eSCAPE

I’m not one to pick favorites (though I did find myself trying to rank berries the other day – blueberries reign supreme at the moment, if we’re talking strictly domesticated berries – throw in the wild berries around here, and it’s a whole different ballgame).   ANYWAY …  I think pickled garlic scapes are my favorite canned good.  Scapes are the curly-q flower stalk the garlic plant sends up shortly before the bulb is ready to harvest.  They are so tender and mild, but still have a good garlicky kick.  Add a cayenne pepper for spice and some dill seed (or weed) for that pickle-y taste, and you’ve got a cure for the winter doldrums. 
After a canning session last night, our cupboards will be stocked with 12 more jars of pickled scapes, and yes – we’re willing to share.  But if you find yourself in the lucky position of having an overwhelming excess of scapes, try out the recipe here from a blog called The Deliberate Agrarian.  Enjoy! 


Last night hope meant realizing that, while the slugs have eaten more of our cabbage than we have and while I can’t quite figure out if our tomato plants want to live or die, the dinner I prepared was made almost entirely with ingredients from our garden.  

New Potato Salad with Parsley and Garlic Scapes, 
Massaged Kale Salad, Green Salad with Nasturtium Flowers,
 Raspberries and Strawberries. 

Weekend Adventure: Bike Trip!

Washington, I knew you had it in you!  Neil and I took a chance on the dreary weather we’ve been having lately and went on a bike trip last weekend.  And we were rewarded for our risk taking!  The 4th of July holiday carries a literal cloud over it in the Pacific Northwest, which may only catch people’s attention because this is one weekend they’d love to be grilling camping boating etc without getting poured on.  Be that as it may, the odds of a firework show sans-precipitation around here are pretty slim.  But we went for it anyway, biking out to Deception Pass, camping at the State Park there, biking out to Port Townsend and back on Saturday, and coming back home Sunday.  All in all, it was about 140 beautiful (and rain-free!) miles or so – definitely the longest bike trip I’ve been on – and I loved it.

So here’s what I know: 
1) I am super smitten with my new bike.  
2) Padded biking shorts – not optional!
3) Once you get into the 40+ miles/day range, it is possible (and recommended) to eat your weight in trail mix. 

awesomely staged pre-ride shot – here we go!

the post-bike relaxation trifecta: cribbage, trail mix, and a 3-serving sized box of wine.  

Weekend Adventure: Concrete

A couple of weekends ago, Neil and I went on an excursion to the town of Concrete, a small semi-industrial town about an hour south-east of Bellingham along the North Cascades Highway.  Concrete, formerly “Cement City,” finds itself along the Skagit River, and tucked between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan.  In short, it’s beautiful.  

The reason for our trip was an incredible farming opportunity offered by a landowner in the area.   Really incredible: 

Seemingly too good to be true, except for the fact that it wasn’t.  The only pesky problem is that the town of Concrete has just a handful more than 800 people in it.  And though my past hometowns have included such places as Goshen, Ohio and Royal City, Washington, I’m not sure I’m ready to be in such relative isolation again.  
So it’s that persistent quandary: the perks, conveniences and social outlets of more urban living vs. the space and freedom that rural living affords to create a simpler (and, to me, a more intuitive) lifestyle.  So, what’s it going to be – a farm or friends?  Unfortunately, land prices closer to population centers in this area make it feel like it does have to be an “either/or” situation.   I know it’s not that cut and dry, and it certainly has me ready to dust off the idea of a collective farm and look at it more closely and seriously.  I also want to be a part of reinvigorating the idea of the farm as a central member of the community – a gathering place, a place to work teach learn experiment provide eat grow harvest celebrate.  And I am continually inspired by the many examples I see of this happening across the country.  
I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but in case I’m not:  Please please support the local farmers in your area;  they are some of the most hard-working, intelligent and committed people you’ll have the chance to meet. Their work and their products are so often undervalued and taken for granted, but they provide much more than food for their communities.   Can’t wait to join their ranks.