• Dog’s Naturally Magazine

    A terrific new magazine on holistic dog health! Click here to visit Dogs...Naturally.
  • Recent Comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 16 other followers

  • Visitor #:

    • 46,017

Reclaiming Balance

Saturdays have become my chore days since I’ve been working full days every other day of the week.  Come Friday I am so exhausted that there’s just no way that I can do anything mentally taxing on Saturdays.  Plus by then my house is a complete disaster, the fridge is empty, the dogs are going stir crazy and I’m on the verge of completely losing it.  In fact, the last two Fridays in a row I think I did take a bit of a dip off the deep end.  Amazing what exhaustion can do to one’s perception of reality.

I didn’t get a lot done today, but I did manage to get the dogs well exercised and make it to morning Market in London.  This is the first time I’ve been to the London market since last spring.  All the local markets are now closed, so I have to drive the 50 minutes into London to get my “local” veggies.  I was happy to find several well-stocked stalls of produce, as well as other goodies, still available outside of Covent Gardens.  Even better, the produce stalls were all either no-spray or certified organic.  For some reason I have been really craving fresh greens and was delighted to find salad greens still available.  I also bought a bunch of leeks (to chop and put in the freeze), some carrots, radishes, tomatoes and apples.  These are nice additions to my stores of squash and potatoes!  I should be able to make up something tasty with all that.

I also picked up milk today, at last.  The last milking I had ended up going bad before I could do anything with it.  While usually raw milk turns itself into cheese when it sours, for some reason this pail-full developed a really off smell that convinced me to pour it down the toilet.  The lid had been off slightly and I suspect it got contaminated.  I did drink a little to test it and it seemed fine (and I didn’t get sick), but I decided better safe than sorry.  Tonight I am absolutely going to get the milk processing before bed so this doesn’t happen again.  A week without milk, yogurt or cheese was a very long one indeed!

I had hoped to get some cooking done today but I just wasn’t up to it.  In fact, it’s only 8:15 and – once I get some cheese started and the rest of the milk bottled up – I’m going to bed.  I really hope that I can sleep tonight.  Last night I tossed and turned, dozed and started, all night long. After a week of extreme sleep deprivation, I was simply too tired to sleep!

Today I was a useless mess.  Now, I will admit that this is not simply because of long hours and little sleep.  I have some things going on in my personal life that are really taking the wind out of my sails.  But there’s a feedback loop happening here: the joyful part of my life that kept me energized enough to work way too much has been damaged by working those very same long hours.  The wonderful balance that I had this summer, the balance that created space for people and relationships that made me so happy, is now gone.  And as a result, despite really loving my job, I’m miserable.  Life is about more than work.

Ironically, this is not the first time I’ve arrived at this point.  I recall very clearly right now hitting a similar wall with my last full-time job.  Exhausted and frustrated with no time for anything else in my life.  Crying driving in to work.  Crying at work.  Arriving home and crying in my car until my landlord came out and helped me into his kitchen and poured me a couple of very stiff drinks and fed me Cheerios.

No landlord here to get me drunk this time, but I have myself – wiser and more experienced now.  Actually, part of me is even analysing my personal experience and placing it in the context of my examination of Capitalism.  According to Marx, the only real source of profit is what he called ‘surplus labour.’  This is the labour you get out of a worker above and beyond what it costs to maintain that worker.  The more surplus labour you can get, the more profit you have.  This is why companies move to developing countries, where the cost of maintaining the worker is so low.  The other way to maximize this surplus is to get as much work as possible out of your employee.  This is what happened when I was working at my last job, and it’s happening again now.  I am paid a fixed salary for a job, and then I work as many hours as is necessary to do it.  These hours are simply way more than I ever expected.  I doubt I even make minimum wage.  And the way to keep people willing to do this excess work is to maintain a high enough level of unemployment that they are afraid to quit.

Despite this fear (which I do feel), I have come to the decision today that I need to reclaim the balance in my life.  I want to get back to having space in my life for joy.  For cooking, and eating with friends. For yoga.  For playing with my dogs.  For love.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Don’t worry, I am not going to quit my job.  I love teaching and am really looking forward to my next courses.  My students are a lot of fun and I’m learning more than I ever did as a student.  So all round it’s a great experience.  However, I simply cannot maintain this pace. Especially not at this low salary (did I mention that I have a part-time job on top of teaching full-time, and still can’t make the bills for this falling down house?).  I’ll hang in until April, but next year I am going to do something else.  At this rate there is no way I’m going to finish my dissertation in time to apply for full-time jobs for next fall, so I will need to work part-time again.  But for the low salary, I am going to find a job that requires much fewer hours.  I was thinking of finding a non-profit that could benefit from having someone with writing skills, or something like that.  Indeed, perhaps such an experience will improve my teaching skills down the road, giving me insight into the world of non-profit, which I have never worked in.

This decision feels good.  It gives me light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully will help me find the balance in my life again.  I don’t know what I’ll do or where I’ll live, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.  For now, one day at a time.  Once I can find that inner balance again, and hold true to myself, the universe will provide.  It always has, and I have no doubt it will again.  I just have to have faith in myself.  I will start tomorrow.  For now, goodnight.  I am looking forward to a peaceful night sleep.

Food Is My Anchor

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday.  Not the kind that solves all of life’s problems and allows you to live happily ever after.  I’ve been waiting for that epiphany for years and suspect it will never come.  No, this epiphany was just a small one, but it has led to some serious reflection and, although it’s really too early to tell, perhaps somewhat of a paradigm shift.

I had a tough day yesterday.  While I took Saturday ‘off” to catch up on house chores (and spent the entire day hauling wood, and working on my house & in the kitchen), I put long academic work days in on Sunday (8 hours), Monday (10 hours) and Tuesday (18 hours).  This after working every day the previous week.  Not surprisingly, by yesterday morning I was a mess.  I haven’t felt that bad in a long, long time.  Exhausted and frustrated, I choked back tears on the way to work.  Well, actually I let them flow, worried that if I held them in I’d end up bursting into tears in the middle of a lecture or some other horror.

There’s a reason they call what I’m doing the ‘sessional trap’, for that is exactly what it is.  I’m working way too much to get my dissertation done, and as a result am not going to be eligible to apply for full-time jobs for next year.  Not to mention that last week I found out that the position I had hoped would be opening up likely won’t.  And while I really love teaching – I mean, I am enjoying this more than anything else I have ever done in my life in return for a pay cheque – the thought of doing another year of sessional work is overwhelmingly depressing.  Despite how much I’m working right now, I’m not even earning enough to make ends meet.  To be financially solid, I’d need to add one more course to my workload.  I simply cannot imagine doing this without going insane.

As such, as I was driving in to work yesterday, I was trying to envision other options for my life come April.  Exhausted as I was, everything looked pretty bleak.  I saw myself in the sessional trap for years, wasting away, my dogs getting old without ever getting a chance to seriously work sheep.  Or even get exercise.  Me getting old without ever… well, doing anything else but work.  Yes, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself!

Once in London, I remembered that I needed to pick up cream for my class. I bring a kettle and a coffee maker to class, and provide light snacks for my students.  Bringing snacks for 25 students when I can barely pay rent is not exactly a financially savvy thing to do, and I’ve debated with whether or not to continue.  However, I strongly believe that eating together, and eating good healthy food, is necessary for this type of setting.  Without something to prop them up, they simply cannot make it through a 3 hour class.  So I’ve been going to the market and picking up big baskets of pears or apples, or fresh bread and the like.  And I’ve noticed a huge difference in their ability to participate and last the full length of the session, not to mention a lovely atmosphere in the classroom as they gather around the coffee pot, and discuss philosophical topics while  munching on local fruit.  Every crumb and drop is gone by the end of class, so clearly they need it.

Not wanting to risk the political implications of bringing in raw milk, every Wednesday morning I’ve been stopping into a health food store and buying a small bottle of Harmony cream.  Yesterday, however, I was very tempted to skip getting the organic cream in a glass bottle and just grab a bunch of creamers from the cafeteria.  In my miserable, self-pitying state, I thought I could cut myself some slack just this once.

I thought about it, and thought about it.  And then I realized that this just made me feel more miserable.

So I turned a few blocks early and stopped in to Lyn-Dys’s health food to buy cream.    There was one bottle, and it was marked down half price due to a pending expiry date.  Perfect.  Serendipity?  I then poked around the store for a few minutes and spotted some fair-trade, organic bananas.  I decided to get a bunch of those as well.  I almost never buy bananas, but figured the students would enjoy and I’d hold a couple back to make muffins for next week.  Bananas are good brain food after all.

As I got back into my car, I noticed that I was feeling a lot better.  I’m sure in part that talking to another human being after several days of complete isolation helped quite a bit.  My solitary life in the country can get downright lonely when other things get out of balance.  But I think what really made me feel better was sticking to my guns about food. I wrote in my last post that I can’t bring myself to buy industrial food because of the knowledge I have about it’s social and environmental destructiveness, but I realize now that this is not exactly it.

Perhaps it’s not it at all in fact.  I realized at that moment that the reason that I am sticking so doggedly to this way of eating is because, sometimes, it’s the only thing I can do that seems to make any sense.  It’s something I can control.  Something I can believe in.  Something I can do to slow the out-of-control spiral our world – and at times, my life – seems to be caught in.

Healthy, local, ethical food gives me something solid to stand on.  Cooking, baking, preserving.  Fermenting.  Eating.  This gives me a base on which I can build the rest of my life.  It gives me a platform upon which to rest.  I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone else, but it is now quite clear to me.  I hear people every day lament that they don’t have time to cook or prepare food from scratch, or go to the market.  Letting these things go, these essentials to life, is giving up a basic element of control.  The most basic perhaps, and intimate; the control over what we put into our own bodies.  Giving this up is giving in to the system, the system that demands that we work such crazy long hours, that we live apart from those we love, that we put off doing the things we hold dear in our hearts, often until it’s too late to ever do them.  The more I study the structure of our extremely messed up social system and the more I understand the forces that tear apart all that once made sense in the world, the more I need to hang on to this.  To food.  Real food.  I’m not supporting it.  It supports me.

The Struggle Continues

I had an interesting dream last night.  I was living in some kind of two story apartment, or possibly house, and when I came into the living room & dining room area, it was almost completely empty.  There were a few pieces of furniture and a picture or two, and that was it.  While a bit stark, it had a calming and zen-like atmopshere.  I thought to myself, ‘I’ve done a good job here.  Now to work on the next level’ and I headed upstairs where a considerable amount of clutter still waited.

My life, once again, has moved into a phase of uncertainty.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that this is a pattern.  A pattern that comes from having contract work that lasts only 8 months, followed by four months of unemployment.  Repeat.  And whenever I feel uncertain, I get a strong desire to clean, sort, and purge.  I think it’s a displaced outlet for a need to control but an inability to do so.  As the dream suggests, I have accomplished a lot in that department, but there’s still more work to do.  This weekend I’ve been tackling my to-do list with quite the fury.

While it is not even quite November, I’m already worrying about April.  Time is flying by at an insane rate and I’m having to make decisions about my next step before I’ve even completed the first half of this one.  Jobs are starting to be posted, future opportunities discussed.  The most likely scenario is that I will be doing contract teaching at the university again next year as it is highly unlikely that I will find full-time work at this point.  The competition is too stiff, and without publications in addition to dissertation in hand, I just don’t measure up.

While I absolutely love the courses I’m teaching, the prospect of doing this for another year is at times depressing.  I’m working very long hours for little more than a poverty line income, and have a schedule that makes it just about impossible to have any balance in life, let alone finish the dissertation or get things published.  I must teach at least five courses or I cannot make my rent.  To put things in perspective, a full-time work load for faculty is three courses, and most find that exhausting.  I have no time for a social life, no time for my dogs.  No time even for food prep, although I’m trying to do something about that this weekend.  I have been managing to make one large something every week – pot of soup, a casserole, or whatnot, that I end up eating all week, along with fresh cheese, yogurt and soaked oatmeal.  Throw in apples and pears, and the occasional pepperette from Fieldgate Organics, and that’s my diet.  Oh, and I keep finding loaves of bread in the freezer, thank goodness.  I don’t remember when I last had time to bake bread.

Despite all this, I refuse to break down and buy industrial food.  Well, I have eaten the occasional meal at the cafeteria, but this week it was only once.  Otherwise I am still managing to stick to my principles.  The main thing that keeps me going is that I know too much about what’s in industrial food.  To me it simply is not food – it’s toxic chemicals.  That, and it’s a system of oppression, marginalization, and environmental destruction.  When I look at it, I can picture the people, animals and land that suffers due to it’s production.  Or rather, I cannot NOT picture it.  My mind floods with images.  That makes it easy for me to avoid, for the most part.  And when I do give in to spontaneous hunger, I usually feel gross enough afterwards to get back on track in a hurry.  Not to mention the guilt over the ridiculously wasteful packaging I end up staring at afterwards.

I think things will get a bit easier as I get better at organizing my classes, and also as I build a library of lectures and readings that I can implement.  Right now I’m doing everything from scratch.  The learning curve I’m on is tremendous, and I’m actually really enjoying exploring all the material I need to know in order to run my courses.  In the long run, this will serve me well.  In the short term, I feel like I’m trying to jog up Mount Everest.

Yesterday I took the whole day off from any academic work, and just focused on getting caught up around my house.  I finally got around to ordering wood for the winter (the main source of heat in this house!), and spent several hours moving and stacking the equivalent of three pick-up trucks worth of wood.  I had three more loads delivered today, which is waiting on the lawn.  I’m not sure my back is up to moving any more wood today, however.  Perhaps tomorrow.

I also emptied my composters, sifted out the good compost, turned what remained and put it back into the bins.  While doing so I went through my refrigerators and pulled out all the composting veggies I had never gotten around to cooking or preserving.  Such a waste, but there’s something very calming about looking at an empty fridge for me right now.  A full fridge screams food chores, and I feel guilty and tired just thinking about all that I *should* be doing.  Last week – for the first time – I didn’t even have time to process my milk.  Two liters of cream and 6 liters of beautiful, fresh milk, all went sour.  Fortunately the dogs and cats thought that was pretty delicious, so it don’t go completely to waste.  I have another milking waiting right now, but I will get to it today.  Just as soon as I finish un-burying my kitchen.  What a catastrophe!  But I did some work on that as well yesterday.  And again this morning.

While I don’t know where I am going to live past April, I am fairly certain that it won’t be here.  This is a beautiful place to spend the summer, but I shouldn’t be even staying here this winter.  The house is in such bad shape that it is becoming unhealthy.  One of my near-future chores will be to dismantle one of the bedrooms because the roof is leaking badly enough that things are going to start to mould in there.  I’ve been pestering the landlord to fix it since May, and a couple of weeks ago he said he simply was not going to do it.  I guess he’s just waiting for it to collapse completely.  That very well may happen – last winter the soffits blew off on the north side of the house, and the whole roof looks like a saddle.  Shingles end up all over the lawn every time a windstorm comes through.  So I need to get my stuff out, and seal it up that room, and hope the leak doesn’t spread.  I have to seal all my windows too, which makes me cringe.  You know how much I hate buying anything plastic, and I know of no other alternatives for sealing windows.  And there are a lot of windows in this house (one of it’s best features).

Just an aside, while I complain about the state of this house, I am sitting by the fire, looking out through a panorama of windows at a stunning valley of fall colours.  I live in a falling down shack, but I have a million dollar view and that really makes up for a lot!

Because I don’t know where I will be in the spring, I couldn’t bring myself to spread my nice compost on the gardens here.  Even with good soil, they produced very poorly, being too shaded.  So I put it in a large rubbermaid container and will tuck it away in the shed for now.  Likely I will bring it to my parents’ house for their gardens.  I have more or less commandeered the vegetable garden at their house, and last weekend planted garlic and onions while I was house & dog sitting for them.  I can’t seem to not grow something, even if I don’t have my own yard!  I didn’t get to eat much of what I planted this past summer but my family sure enjoyed what came up.  That made the effort very worth while.

One other important task I got done yesterday was getting my dried herbs into jars.  This is actually a fairly time-intensive process.  Between the herbs collected at my CSA, and the few that did well in my garden, I managed to harvest quite a good haul of rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, and mint.  I have a little oregano and Anise Hyssop as well.  And parsley.  I also have a nice little stash of camomile, lavender and calendula for teas.  I had bunches of all these things hanging around the house.  Now nicely dry, I had to pull the leaves off their branches – all done over a few sheets of clean paper – and then pour this into tightly sealing jars.  I didn’t preserve any herbs last winter and I really regretted that, so made it a priority this year.  Herb gardens are easy to get going and produce prolifically with little effort.  They also grow well in containers.  So while I didn’t get any veggies going this year, at least I accomplished this much.

Well, time to get down to my courses. I hope to finish up around 6pm tonight so that I can spend some time getting a nice venison stew going (thanks to the kind man who delivered my wood for the bonus of a couple of nice venison steaks!), and perhaps a pot of soup.  And of course a batch of cheese and butter.  I also have some red peppers cut up, waiting in the fridge to be turned into jelly.  If they haven’t started to rot, I hope to get to that too.  Next weekend, maybe I’ll get a chance to bake bread.  Fingers crossed!

And Another Month Flies By…

Goodness, I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since I last wrote.  Again!  I haven’t even logged in to check my comments in so long that WordPress has significantly overhauled some of its major features and I hardly recognize the place!

So, what have I been up you ask?  What has kept me from tending to my poor, neglected blog?  The short answer is: Life.  Life of a working person, that is.  The big change from being just a grad student, with a nicely flexible schedule and an ability to work to the beat of my own drum.  Now that I’m teaching (more than) full-time, and also in a relationship, I find myself scrambling desperately to keep on top of the domestic side of my life.

In other words, the reality that most people live is now staring me directly in the face.  Or rather, it’s pulling the rug out from under my feet.  The reality that our society is structured around fast food and harsh cleaners and cars and power tools and purchasing and lack of exercise, all to make time for work and some semblance of a social life.

Not that this comes as any surprise.  I knew this, and expected this, and braced myself for this.  It’s what I have been talking about, reading about, writing about for the last three+ years: the (near?)impossibility of working full-time and eating locally and ecologically.

Yes, I have been sticking to my guns – to the best of my ability – and still buying and eating local food and preparing everything from scratch.  But twice out of the last three days I drove into campus for work I ended up having to buy my lunch.  It was gross and I hated it.  And I felt disgusting afterwards.  I have now eaten every scrap of food I cooked and froze over the summer and have nothing left in the pantry other than basic stores and ingredients waiting to be turned into meals.  In fact lunch on Wednesday was tomato sauce poured over rice I steamed while getting dressed for work.  That was all I could come up with!  (but just reminded myself that I can make tomato soup from this sauce in the blink of an eye – lunch for next week!)

So this weekend – Thanksgiving Weekend – I am staying home, alone, and trying to resolve this dilemma.  I had a couple of very tempting invitations for the weekend: spending it with my wonderful man – who I miss constantly due to the 8+ hour drive that separates us – or going home to visit my family and enjoy my mother’s fabulous cooking.  Instead I am here, doing my best to get on top of my house and pantry while simultaneously trying to catch up with the never-ending, constantly growing pile of academic and teaching work inundating my desk.

I started by doing some basic cleaning and taking stock of my fridge, which was full-to-bursting with produce waiting to be turned into something tasty.  Last week was the last day of my CSA so the constant flow of fresh, organic veggies into my home is going to stop.  Good thing too, as I have done nothing with the last three pick-ups and am sadly having to compost way too much of it.

Last night, too tired to cook, I plopped myself down in front of  The Price of Milk, a quirky, fun love story from New Zealand (funny how I suddenly have a thing for romances…), opened a bottle of wine, and peeled 7lbs of beets that have been collecting and waiting patiently in my fridge for weeks.  This morning I grated them (with my food processor), salted and sprinkled them with caraway seeds, and packed the whole red mass into my new 1 gallon ceramic crock.  The idea is to make sour beets a-la Wild Fermentation.  From what the book says, using fermented beets is how borscht was traditionally made.  Seeing as I love borscht, and that I had a ton of beets, I thought this would be an interesting experiment.  By the time I finished shredding and packing them, enough juice had been expressed to cover the beets.  So no brine was necessary.  I just put a plate on top of them and weighted it down with a large jar of water, then covered the whole crock with a cloth.  Now I just sit back and wait.

Emptying my fridge revealed another 10 large beets so I need to find other things to do with these wonderful root veggies.  I will likely just boil some and eat them with butter.  And I’ll chop some into a fresh batch of fermented veggie ‘kraut.  And the rest I’ll roast with garlic and eat with a balsamic & olive oil dressing.  Simple, but delicious!  I think I have the recipe on here already somewhere.  I’ll put up the link under my recipe tab if I find it.

My fridge also contained two rutabagas, which I am going to shred and ferment as well, just to experiment.  Perhaps I’ll steam a cup or two to enjoy with butter.  I also have half a bushel of tomatoes waiting to be turned into sauce, about 25 pears waiting to be canned, two baskets of plumbs withering away waiting to be turned into sauce, and half a bushel of red peppers waiting to be made into jelly.  Oh, and four egg plants that are starting to droop.  Likely I’ll turn one or two into ratatouille, and the rest I’ll roast and freeze to use later.

I really don’t know when I’ll get all this done, but I’m hoping it will be this weekend.  I tried to also do academic work (and still may do some reading this evening.  Then again, maybe I won’t!), but I have a huge list of things that need doing around the house.  So instead I chipped away at that as well: laundry, cleaning, sorting the shed so there’s room for the patio furniture and boxes of kindling, putting away the patio furniture, boxing up the kindling, cutting the lawn and moving several car loads of wood.  Amazingly I got most of it done today.  Not surprisingly, I’m beat and ready for bed by 9pm.

I knew the food-centered lifestyle I have chosen would be tough to maintain once I went back to working and having a life beyond my writing.  But I am determined to make it work. I have the advantage of having had three years to learn many of the skills I now possess, making cooking and preserving much easier now.  Most of it is so routine that I can whip off a batch of cheese or butter or soup without much thought.  Still, I am finding it tough to keep up.  And it’s going to get tougher.

If I don’t write for a while, don’t worry.  I have not given up.  I’m just setting this aside, along with a few other things, in order to make food first.  But I’ll be back.  Perhaps even tomorrow.  Or maybe in a month.  Until then!

Settling Into Routine

Hopefully a quick post as I really should be working.  Well, I’m actually shifting from one job to another and thought I’d write to help clear my brain and get it ready for its new task.  I am a terrible (TERRIBLE) multitasker (multitasking is a myth!) and it’s not easy for me to focus on more than one thing at a time.  Well actually it’s impossible (scientific studies back me up on this!)  So it’s quite a challenge for me to work both on my dissertation, and on designing and preparing my courses.  Just trying to shift from one course to another is difficult enough for my obsessive brain.

My plan of attack is to get up in the morning and spend (at least) two hours every morning working on my dissertation.  Then I stop, do some house chores, walk the dogs, eat etc., then settle into course work for the afternoon.  I’ve actually been doing this for several days now and am finally starting to see some positive results.  Today, for example, I actually got some WRITING done, rather than just thinking, reading and internet surfing.  It’s taken me all week just to get my brain back in gear around the chapter I’m working on.  That will teach me to take such a long break!  It’s been great, but it would have been better had I written down everything that was in my head prior to going on vacation.  I had done a lot of research, and now I’m having to review most of it again before I can remember my arguments and formulate my thoughts.  It’s coming together though.

This morning I didn’t wake up until 8am.  Yes, I know, what a slacker.  I’ve been trying to be working by 8am at the latest, earlier if possible.  Waking up late meant that the dogs were restless to start their day.  Making them wait 2-3 hours at that time before feeding them is just a recipe for being pestered and annoyed by pacing, chewing and other unsatisfied dog noises.

So I decided to do my morning chores first, and then to write.  This is why I’m finishing my morning writing session at 2pm!  It’s going to be a long day…

After letting the dogs out and getting dressed, I started on my chores.  Food chores to be specific.  Yesterday I started several fermentation projects and today they needed to be moved to their next step.  First, I checked my cheese.  Yesterday afternoon I had warmed five liters of milk to 86F, added my cultured buttermilk starter (different from real buttermilk – see below) and put it all in a large bowl to set.  To my surprise, it was completely clabbered (solid) this morning.  Considering how cool it was last night, I did not expect this.  I still have no idea how to predict milk fermentation behaviour.  I transfered the curd to some cheese cloth to drain and there it now sits.

I also started a pot of soup stock – using up all the whey I had in my fridge – and got a batch of sourdough bread started.  I am going to use the whey from this latest batch of cheese, instead of water, for this bread.  I’m curious to see what will happen.

Two other projects on the go are a batch of muffins made with spelt fermented for 12+ hours in real buttermilk (i.e. what is leftover from making butter, which I made last night), and a chocolate sourdough cake made with my leftover sourdough starter.  I will post both recipes if they turn out.  I’ll know more shortly!

I also spent some time in the garden, which is a complete disaster right now.  It has really become overgrown in my (both mental and physical) abscence, and is largely drying out as we’ve had no rain in a couple of weeks now.  So I went out with some scissors and harvested my lemon balm, catnip and anise hyssop.  All three bunches are drying in my upstairs bedroom now.  I have discovered that drying herbs upstairs works better as the air tends to be dryer than on the main floor (likely due to bathroom and kitchen steam).  I trimmed back my other herbs, and hand cut the grass around my herb bed.  Oh, and I gave everything a good drink.  Except, of course, the grass, which remains the bane of my existence!  I really need to cut the whole lawn (yes, AGAIN), but that will simply have to wait. Perhaps I’ll try later this evening.  We’ll see.  Considering my late start to the day, it may have to wait until the weekend.

Once all of the above was done (and dogs were fed) I sat down to write.  I actually have been working since 10:30 am, or nearly four hours.  Not all has been productive, but I now feel like I have some momentum going that will hopefully carry on tomorrow.  After going to market that is.  Now I am going to check on my food projects, move my computer to the dining room table where my course prep books and notes are waiting for me, and carry on.  I have a whole bunch of photos downloaded and will try and get at least a few posted this evening.  Until then!

What a Summer!

Yes, I am still alive!  Life has just been so busy that I simply have not had time to write.  Fortunately it’s all been a good busy. I’ve been on a camping trip, farm sitting, cooking, eating, spending time with friends and family, training my dogs and preparing to start teaching next week.  In the midst of all this I’ve started a new relationship, which, as I’m sure you know, tends to divert the attention considerably!  Hopefully my life will settle into a little bit more stable of a routine now that work is starting up again.  Hopefully.

This summer has been one of the best of my life.  Certainly the best in recent memory.  It’s been absolutely wonderful spending time with the people I care about, sharing my home and food, and generally having a very good time.  My life has consisted of little other than work for years now, and I didn’t realize how much that was wearing me down.  I feel human again.  I sure hope I can hold on to this for the coming year as it’s going to be very stressful.

On the food front, I’ve been experimenting with cheese making and really enjoying the results.  So far even my mistakes have been quite tasty.  I’m learning that things turn out quite differently depending on the ambient temperature and humidity levels, and also on how long I let things set.  Also the age of the milk seems to make a difference.  Cheese made from very fresh milk is much milder than that of milk that has been sitting in my fridge for a few days.  Cheese made in really hot weather has a stronger taste that that made on a cooler day.  I expect professional cheese makers work hard at strictly regulating temperature and humidity in order to produce the exact effect they are looking for, but I don’t have the time or energy to do so.  So I just warm my milk, add some cultured buttermilk, and let it sit until it clabbers.  Or separates.  Then I strain.  And eat.  Yum.

The last batch I made separated overnight and had such a strong flavour (the milk had been sitting out for several hours in very hot weather before I added the buttermilk) that I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat it.  I had poured it into the colander lined with cheese cloth and tasted it.  Oh dear…had it gone bad?  Thinking I wouldn’t eat it, I left it in the colander rather than tying up the cheesecloth and hanging it.  My plan had been to feed it to the dogs for dinner.  Well, to my happy surprise, the curd drained much better this way and produced a lovely, even, granular but moist texture.  And while the flavour was strong, mixed with honey, walnuts and sliced peaches it was fabulous.  I ate it for breakfast for the next three days.

I also learned, through discussion with a group of farmers around the campfire at the Canadian National Sheepdog Finals (which I attended two weeks ago with my wonderful new… um, man? boyfriend? partner? I’m going to have figure out an appropriate ‘label’ to use here) that cream turns into butter best at 58F.  I am going to see if I can put that to the test later today as I have two quarts of cream in the fridge waiting to be churned.

I also have a lot of cabbage, a pile of beets and a few other things filling up my fridge that need to be processed.  I think I am going to make a new batch of sauerkraut with them.  And perhaps some lacto-fermented beets.  These will be a little fussy as I’ll have to peel and shred quite a few rather small beets, but the results sound tasty.  This is also how to make a traditional borscht, which I’m dying to try.  I was very excited the other day to find a new pickle crock at Berryhill in St. Thomas (a great little store for serious traditional cooking equipment, including an enviable array of cast iron pots and pans).  I have been wanting a good size crock for a while but have been hesitant to use the ones I find at thrift stores; I’m always worried they’ve been used for something other than food and don’t like the idea of doing a caustic, lengthy fermentation process in a container that could have traces of something toxic in it.  So now I have my new crock and I don’t have to worry!  I will fill it with cabbage and salt and see how it works.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted on these experiments.

Before going on our camping trip I managed to put up 11 liters (quarts) of peaches for the winter.  This was the product of two 11-quart baskets of peaches that I purchased while on a short visit to Niagara.  As usual they ripened faster than I expected and I lost about a quart’s worth due to lack of punctual processing.  But it has been worse in previous years.  I’m happy to have this many put aside as canned peaches remain one of my favourite foods in winter.

I’m not sure what else I’m going to put up for this winter.  I still have nearly a dozen quarts of tomato sauce, and given how busy I am going to be over the coming weeks, I may just leave it at that.  I’ll be sure to make some roasted tomato sauce and put that in the freezer but that should do me for the season.  I hope.  Maybe I’ll make a little more.  I’ll see how much time I have.

I’m also planning on making some wooden crates and storing potatoes in my scary, damp, dirt-floor basement.  Apparently it’s ideal for storing potatoes (and not much else!).  I’ve never been successful at keeping potatoes over the winter, but I read a little more about it this time and hopefully things will go better. I also need to get a lot of leeks into the freezer, and perhaps some roasted red peppers.  I’d like to make some red pepper jelly too. Oh my!  Still a lot to do.  But the harvest is only really just getting started.

Well that’s all for now.  I have more stories and lots of photos, and will do my best to get them posted soon.  No promises, but I’ll try!

Is Corporate-Free Food in Danger of Annihilation?

I am becoming increasingly concerned by the level of corporate control over our food that we are now experiencing.  There have been a number of news items this week that have really brought this home.  First, earlier this week the CBC did a short segment on Project Water, an initiative in Toronto with the focus of getting drinking water to the homeless during the heat of summer.  Apparently dehydration is one of the leading causes of death in this population.  Getting water to them is a laudable undertaking, but the project is doing so by distributing bottled water donated by several large corporations.  This makes the corporations look good (helping save homeless people), and is a cheap and effective way to accomplish the goals of this project.  A win-win situation, no?

No!  First of all, water should be FREE, and available to all citizens of this country.  Canadians pride ourselves in our vast supplies of water (which are not as vast as we believe, but that’s another discussion).  So why are citizens of Toronto dying of dehydration?  And why can only corporations come to the rescue? There’s something seriously wrong here.

Furthermore, by the end of this summer, the byproduct of this undertaking is that over 1.2 MILLION plastic bottles will have been distributed across Toronto since the project’s inception.  As only 7% of plastic is ever recycled (and in fact it’s only ‘down-cycled’ into lower grade products), this means 1,116,000 more plastic bottles in our land fills.  This system also creates (perpetuates) a dependency in the homeless, who must wait for corporate donations and then volunteers to have time to pass out these bottles.

I wrote to this project and asked if they would consider fundraising for water fountains as a means of providing a much more environmentally and socially sustainable system of keeping the homeless hydrated.  I was pleased that they responded promptly, but disappointed by the reply.  They plan on continuing with their project (after all, Nestle is investing heavily in recycling) and that if I want water fountains, I should lobby politicians.

I don’t mean to denigrate this undertaking as it’s goal is most definitely worthy.  I wrote hoping that, over time, others will voice similar concerns and eventually they may reconsider their approach.  Perhaps Nestle (which seems to be the real driving force and control behind this water project) will build the water fountains in a true act of Corporate Social Responsibility.  But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Another news item that caught my attention this week is this article on the sugary drink ban taking effect in San Francisco.  Mayor Gavin Newsom has banned the sale of “non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water” in vending machines on city property.  Furthermore, “juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered” and there should be ‘ample choices’ of “soy milk, rice milk and other similar dairy or non dairy milk.”

The purpose of this directive is to combat obesity and improve health in the population.  Once again, a laudable goal.  So what’s my concern?  For one, soy is just as unhealthy as well as socially and environmentally damaging as soda-pop.  This is a great article on the ‘dark side of soy’, which explains how – unless eaten in traditional fashion, i.e. small amounts of fermented (organic) soy – soy has a “deleterious effects on thyroid, fertility, hormones, sex drive, digestion, and even its potential to contribute to certain cancers.”  Huge portions of the Amazon are being destroyed to grow soy, not to mention the hundreds (thousands?) of square kilometers of it that surround my house, forcing out small organic farms and toxifying the environment and local water system.

Second, the juice sold will be pasteurized which turns it’s natural sugars into monosaccharides, or simple sugars.  Additionally, most of the enzymes and vitamins are long gone in industrial fruit juices.  Effectively these juices are not much different than drinking pop.  Here’s an interesting little article that summarizes this nicely.

Replacing pop with soymilk is essentially replacing GMO corn with GMO soy.  Replacing it with juice is again switching from one industrial process to another.  It’s a win-win for the corporations, while we are the losers.  And possibly most disturbing of all is that every one of these products comes in non-biodegradable, single use packaging that will end up in landfill within minutes of being opened.

Once again, what about installing water fountains?

The problem is that water fountains make a publicly owned commodity (water) accessible for free to the public.  How can corporations make a profit from this?  They can’t.  And politicians rely on corporate donations to stay in power.  If Mayor Newsom tossed the corporations off city property, I’m sure you can guess who the next to be tossed would be!

Have you noticed that all the water fountains have disappeared, along with public phone booths?  I have only just recently become aware of this, and what it means.  It’s hard now to get a drink without corporate “help”.  Try it in a public space.

The final and possibly most disturbing piece of news I heard this week is this case of Major Mark Tijssen who butchered a pig on his own property and gave half to a friend.  After being tipped off of this “plan” by a neighbour, the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) hid in trees – yes, you read correctly – and waited for Tijssen to finish butchering the pig.  As his friend left the property with her portion, the MNR arrested her.  They also arrested Tijssen for “illegally distributing un-inspected meat.”

I cannot believe that the Canadian government can put time, energy and resources into arresting one person for butchering one pig for his own consumption on his own agriculturally zoned property, when our entire food system is falling apart.  When Canada only has 30 days of food stored should we face a national emergency.  When farmers earn a below-depression era income and farms are foreclosing in record numbers.  When Canadians are suffering industrial food related chronic health problems in epic numbers.

While all this is going on, MNR officers are hiding in trees outside people’s homes making sure they don’t eat without the intervention of corporations.

I find myself more and more concerned about events like these. I love how I eat and I want to move more in the direction of self-sufficiency and, more importantly, of natural eating.  I want to consume animal products from animals that live happy, stress-free lives, and I want to eat fruits and vegetables grown as close to biodynamically as possible.  These foods simply cannot be produces on a large-scale, or shipped long distances.  No corporation is going to make money doing that, and as such they are doing their best to make this kind of food production illegal.  Indeed, our entire lifestyle is completely dependent on fast, cheap food.  Dismantling industrial food would bring capitalism to its knees.  By recent corporate and government actions, apparently even having a small section of the food system independent of the agro-industrial complex threatens to do the same.

In his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Joel Salatin warns that despite “all the foodie fluff and eco-local buzz, in the final analysis the imbedded, heritage, transparent, truthful food system is in danger of annihilation.”  And as I watch Obama appoint Monsanto agent after Monsanto agent to his administration, I worry that we are indeed headed in this direction.