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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.

This Little Piggy Went to Market…

I just got back from visiting the Aylmer and the St. Thomas farmers’ markets.  The one thing that I miss about being a CSA member is going to market, and I’m glad that this year I’ve been able to sign up for the Tuesday pick-up so that I can still go to Saturday market.  The bustle and friendliness of these places are just so wonderful, and I really miss the experience on weeks that I don’t go.  Today was the first market day I’ve made since early May, and in fact just the second one this season.  I will be going most Saturdays from now on, however, as I don’t expect to be traveling on weekends for some time (as I keep saying, mostly in an attempt to make it come true I think!)

I started by going to the Aylmer market because this is where I wish to buy the bulk of my purchases.  This market is only three years old, is small, and is still trying to build up a following.  I also like going there because there is at least one stand that offers a nice variety of organic vegetables.  Today I bought strawberries (3 quarts), 3 zucchinis, a quart snow peas, a head of lettuce, a bunch beets and one cucumber from them.  The cost: $16.50, most of which was for the strawberries.  A pretty good deal in my opinion, considering it is all local, organic and sold by very nice people.  There’s something in the experience of buying at farmers’ markets that, to me, adds tremendous value to what I am purchasing.  A value that can’t be found in supermarket foods.

I poked around the rest of the market and ended up buying three quarts of pod peas, two pints of raspberries and a quart of new potatoes.  I really hesitated over the potatoes as the pesticide load on non-organic potatoes is pretty scary.  But I’ve been craving potatoes all week, and I’m hoping (fooling myself?) that the little, new ones might not be as toxic.  They sure look tasty.  Next week my organic stand will have potatoes and I’ll stick to organic ones for the rest of the season.  Potatoes and apples are two of the worst foods for pesticide use.  Naturally they are two of the easiest to get locally, something I struggle with in the heart of winter.  I’m glad I can put that debate aside for a few months, starting next week.

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s on your food, here is a great website that explains the pesticide residue on most common foods found in our food system.

I am now having a cup of tea (and writing in this blog) to rest up before tackling the mountain of food I just brought home.  I also hope to do some work in the garden.  Today is chore day, and while I hope to do some writing in the evening, I intend on spending the afternoon getting on top of my house.  There’s much to do in addition to food processing: laundry, compost emptying (which should have been done a month ago), and soem garden weeding.  While I didn’t buy any more food at the St. Thomas market, and just drove there to see what they had to offer, I did end up buying a couple of perennial flowers for the garden.  Why, I don’t know.  Despite my promise to myself to just “let it go” when it comes to the yard, I couldn’t resist buying these pretty plants. I don’t even know what they’re called, but they are a variety of black-eyed Susan that will spread easily and add a lot of colour.  I will be able to dig some up and bring them with me when I move, and leave enough behind to keep the garden pretty.

The main reason I bought these flowers is because I had such a lovely discussion with their grower.  In addition to the two daisies, I also bought a deep purple calla lilly for the house.  They are not from a big nursery full of anonymous plants.  He clearly has a passion for his plants, and had carefully and tenderly raised each one.  I had only been looking, but walked away with an arm full of plants after our pleasant chat.  There’s something about the person to person interaction that, as I said before, makes these purchase more enjoyable and special.  I can’t put my finger on why, but I do look forward to visiting his nursery to see the rest of his collection.  And no doubt, I’ll be coming home with more plants when I do.

On that note, I had best get going on the garden and in the kitchen.  I certainly have my work cut out for me!

Back to Unstuffing…

Well I am back in Niagara for a few days, helping put on a party to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday.  He actually turned 70 last month but my mother was away cycling around France.  Plus it’s easier to organize a party in June when you want to hold it in the garden, and you are inviting people who need to travel.

I rushed around quite a bit the day before leaving and got my strawberries done, my bread baked (although that ended up being a disaster and I’ll need to make more when I get back), and all my spinach cooked up. I made a large batch of spinach soup and threw it in the freezer along with the strawberries and bread.  The rhubarb is just going to have to wait until I get back early next week.  Fortunately rhubarb keeps well.

I also spent some time finishing unpacking my kitchen.  It’s pretty much all set up now, although I am missing some important items (such as my cutting knives) which means there is still another box of kitchen stuff somewhere in storage, yet to be found.  My goodness I have a well stocked kitchen!  I love it though.  The more I cook, the more I am enjoying cooking.  Bread failures aside, I am becoming more confident and exploring new and more complex recipes.  I love that I almost always have the tools – and typically the ingredients – to make things right on the spot.

Still, I have a bit too much stuff in the kitchen and some of it is going to be donated.  Unpacking these new boxes created some havoc and clutter in my living space, which is driving me nuts.  My (now former) roommate is a very tidy person and we kept the common area of the house quite clear of clutter.  I really enjoyed that and will continue to ensure that the house is as empty as possible.  I will not be bringing in any new furniture to the living room, for example.  It’s quite sparse now but I’m sure a bit of artwork on the walls will warm it up.

With all the extra storage space I now have, I have pulled everything out of my bedroom and am sorting through that, piece by piece, as well.  I had to keep everything in the one room for the past year: my office, my bedroom, my clothes, my dog stuff (crates, toys, towels etc.), my tools, my furniture projects, my empty storage boxes, extra furniture I didn’t need because the room came furnished, and so on.  Despite the rather large size of the room, it was depressingly cluttered.  Now it is much, much emptier!

After moving things out of my bedroom and into other parts of the house, I am pulling the things out of the back of my closet and other nooks I’ve stuffed them into, and looking at what I haven’t used in the past year.  I am going to go through all of what remains and either put it to use, or donate it.  My nicely empty bedroom is once again cluttered, but this time with distinct piles.  One of clothes, one of books and papers, and one of general stuff.  I have a whole house to set up – if I can’t find a use for something now, it has to go.

Fortunately there’s not really that much stuff (other than the papers) as I have been diligently been working at this de-stuffing process for over a year now.  Still, the struggle continues.  Perhaps it’s never ending in our consumer society. Try as I might not to, I still end up buying stuff – sometimes even new stuff, like the dairy thermometer I picked up last week.  But that I will definitely be using for my next culinary adventure: Cheese!  Oh, I’m so excited.  But more on that next time…

Shifting to Summer

Well so much for my hopes of a slow, lazy summer!  That said, it is nice to not have to set my alarm – ever – and to work at my own pace throughout the day.  But boy is there a lot of work to do!

My first big project is to get my things out of storage, unpack and set the house up now that my roommate has moved out.  I’ve been doing that for over a week now and the place is still chaotic!  But a least my kitchen is back to being fully functional, if still a bit messy.  I’m also trying to spend at least 5-6 hours a day researching and writing, and the rest of my time is dedicated to the animals.  Most specifically I spend a good 3 hours or more a day exercising, training, feeding and hanging out with the dogs.  Just with these three tasks, my days are full to bursting.

I have sadly had to give up the idea of doing anything with the yard and gardens around this house.  Being away for this past month with no-one keeping things up has simply set me back too far.  It took me 5 evenings to get the lawn back in order, and reclaim just one of the garden beds.  I simply don’t have enough time, or energy, to do anything more.  If I had been thinking, I would have hired someone to at least cut the lawn while I was gone.  Then again, I don’t have that kind of money to throw away on something like keeping grass short.  So my much lowered goal for the property is to keep the grass short and turn over the composters, and that’s about it.  If I do manage to get a couple of pots of herbs started, that will be a bonus.

In addition to setting up my kitchen (which has been a lot of fun!) I’ve been doing a fair bit of cooking.  For one, I picked up two CSA shares three days apart, and had to do a mad scramble to get through most of it, and process what I couldn’t eat.  Then there’s the milk influx, which is fantastic.  Nine liters last week, 11 this week.  Finally I defrosted my big freezer and gave it a good cleaning.  It’s contents all fit in my fridge freezer – minus a duck, which I then had to cook.

Cooking a duck felt somewhat overwhelming so I put it off and put it off.  After three days I knew I had to do something with it, or throw it out!  I couldn’t bare to do that as this poor animal gave up its life.  To compromise I cut off the breast meat and grilled it, and fed the rest raw to the animals.  Ross dog turned up his nose (he’s becoming increasingly picky, which is both worrisome and annoying), but everyone else thought it was delightful.  The cats in particular devoured it and pestered for more.  I like to be able to feed them a good variety of meats, so it was nice to provide them with some free-range duck.

As for my portion, I grilled it and ate it with steamed asparagus and a little bit of red pepper jelly.  It was quite delicious.  However for some reason I am finding myself quite repulsed by meat these days.  I have been moving more and more towards this over the last year.  Also I find that in the heat of summer, I rarely want meat.  So that may have been the last meat for me for a while.  Likely my carnivorous appetite will pick up again come the colder weather of fall.  Right now I cannot eat enough fresh greens.  Last night I ate a giant bowl of salad as a midnight snack before bed!  But this craving for greens only kicked in after I force fed myself greens (as I had so much in my fridge!) for a week or so.  And the new craving for veggies flared up along with my sudden revulsion of meat.

I find it fascinating how my body wants different things at different times of the year.  Or perhaps more interestingly is the fact that I notice these things.  Have I always been like this but just paid no attention to the changes in my eating patterns?  Or is my body becoming more in tune as I continue along this path of local, seasonal eating?

Today is my CSA pick-up day, and they are offering u-pick strawberries.  I am going to head out just as soon as I finish this entry.  I had planned on writing all morning, but I had a late start (I am still sleeping 9-10 hours, presumably still recovering from my month-long adventure), and I didn’t do my dishes last night.  By the time I finished cleaning, it was time to knead the bread that I am going to bake later today.  Then I cooked breakfast (spinach and raw milk cheddar omelet), fed the animals, decided to write here, and suddenly it’s 12:45.  So off to get my veggies and strawberries, then down to work for the afternoon. After dinner I’ll drive to the farm to train the dogs, which I also did last night.  As I said, so much for a slow summer!

Social Networking & Virtual Violation

Yesterday I googled my blog to find something quickly in it, and discovered to my surprise (and great dismay) that there are at least two other sites out there that are using the entries I have written.  One of these sites actually claims to be the author of the entries, has no link to this website, and has downloaded my ENTIRE blog.  I don’t mind people referring to the info I post, linking to this blog etc.  But but to post entire entries that I have written – especially the more personal stuff – and claim it as their own is not right.  I know that what I write here is in the public domain, but this still leaves me feeling violated.  I can’t explain why, but after seeing my writing on those other sites, I feel downright icky.

One of the sites is Blogged, which appears to be linked to Facebook.  I had my blog link on my FB page, and that’s likely how they got it.  On the Blogged site, they posted the front page of my blog with short experts from a number of entries, and then a link asking “if you are the author of this blog, click here.”  When I clicked, it pulled up a box that said to continue I had to authorize release of all my information to their application.  Ummm… NO WAY!  Fortunately they had a contact address, which I have written.  Hopefully they will take that page down shortly.  At least they acknowledge that they are not the author of the contents in question.

The other offending site is on a blog hosting site, presented like an actual blog.  Whoever has set it up has claimed my blog as his or her own.  No contact info, no way to leave comments or messages.  But I have found the contact info for the hosting company and have written to them asking them to take it down.  Hopefully the will also comply.

While the Blogged site most likely got my link from Facebook, I believe the second violation is likely the result of my link to Twitter, which you may notice is now gone from this site.  Twitter apparently allows re-blogging services to access your information.  I went through my privacy settings and found two places where I had allowed public access.  I had to in order to let twitter re-post my tweets here.  But allowing that also apparently means that anyone can access everything I write, not just on Twitter but apparently here too.  I am sure that Twitter is the cause of most of my problems – there are several other sites using my tweets, although they link to the original site so I’m ok with that.  Plus I write a second blog, that I did not link to Twitter, and it has no such violations even though I had it’s link on my FB page as well.  For all the fuss people are making about Facebook, Twitter appears to be worse.

Clearly you need a degree in intellectual property rights in order to safely use the internet.  Actually, I suspect that anyone with such a degree would simply not use social networking at all.  Perhaps that’s what I should do as well.  I quite enjoy Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Twitter.  But I am beginning to understand why people are so upset about their use (abuse) of personal information.  I have been starting to do research into intellectual property rights around food, and GMOs specifically, and I suspect this won’t be my last entry on the topic.  In fact, I can see my research heading predominantly in that direction once I’ve finished writing up my current project (i.e. the dissertation).

For now I’ll keep my social networking accounts, but I am going to put them both on probation.  I have removed as much information about myself as I can, as well as all links to my blogs, and have cranked up the privacy settings as high as possible.  Of course this diminishes their effectiveness for the things I’d like them to do.  I guess it’s a catch-22, and I’m not sure how to resolve it.  But for now I’m going to err on the side of caution.

Home at Long Last!

Finally back at home, sweet home.  What a trip I had!  The last couple of weeks were very busy and quite dynamic.  I enjoyed every minute (ok, almost every minute) and learned a lot with respect to both sheepherding and my food research!  Oh, and about presenting at conferences as well.  I will write more about each when I have a little more energy.  For tonight, just a quick post to get back into the habit of writing.

I arrived back to quite a jungle in my yard.  My roommate had moved out in May, and there was no one to take care of the grass and gardens during my sojourn.  What effort I put into starting a garden has been almost completely negated in my absence.  I have to say I was quite discouraged, and remain so.  I’m not sure I have it in me to fix the damage and carry on.  I have so many other things I need to be doing this summer, and establishing garden beds at a house that nobody really cares about (and that I likely won’t be staying in past this time next year) is not the best use of my energy.  But we’ll see.  The landlord did come by on Monday and hacked off the three foot grass, which saved me the time of having to do so myself.  But the result is a lawn that looks half dead, and largely scalped.  The machine used to cut it is a ‘string trimmer mower’ (see photo here), and as you can see has no front wheels.  This means that you have to hold it perfectly even to get an even cut.  This, of course, does not happen.  So as the mower bumps along, it dips down and leaves big bald spots along with taller patches of grass.  Where the dogs had flattened the tall grass, the mower didn’t trim it at all.  I spent more than two hours raking up the cuttings, and will likely have to cut the grass again to even things out.  My reel push mower is useless for this job, the grass having gotten way too long.  Hopefully I can use it to keep things under control from now on.

To be honest, I think keeping grass short is not only a complete waste of time, but an environmentally unsound practice.  I don’t mind keeping the grass trim right around the doorways of the house, or near garden beds so that you can access them, but for the most part keeping a lawn is, quite frankly, a stupid idea.  I much prefer the concept of growing food or at least a field of wildflowers for all – especially bees – to enjoy.  The book Food Not Lawns (How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community) offers a much better plan of action for your property.  And for a yard the size of mine?  A couple of sheep or dairy goats.  But of course there are bylaws against that, even out in the country where I live.  Again, stupid.  My next house will have sheep as lawnmowers – that’s a promise to myself.

So this week’s gardening time will be spent resurrecting the lawn and weeding the beds I had nicely weeded before leaving.  At least with all this rain that should be fairly easy.  I still have to empty my composters and work on the compost pile from last year.  Once that’s all done, I’ll see if there’s still enough time to plant anything!  I still would like to get some herbs going, but food crops are likely not going to happen again this year.

Fortunately my CSA is going strong and I picked up a wonderful load of food on Tuesday.  This week’s haul included of course lettuce and spinach, but also radishes, green onions, beets, rhubarb, sugar snap peas, herbs, and…strawberries!  Oh my these were good.  Yes, past tense – they didn’t last long.  What a delicious variety too.  I will have to ask for, and take note of, the variety for future reference.  I have learned that all strawberries are not alike, and it’s good to know which ones are to your taste for future planting plans.

I now have a fridge full of fresh food and I need to get down to cooking.  Also, I was welcomed back with fresh milk!  So much milk right now that I was able to get a whole milking just for myself.  That’s nine liters.  What can you do with 9 liters?  Well, for starters I skimmed off a full liter of cream and am going to make butter.  I turned 4 liters into yogurt (curing as I type) and the rest I am drinking.  Oh, how glorious to be drinking milk again.

I’ll sign off now as I’m still very tired and want to get an early night sleep.  In closing I’ll bring your attention to this study of two calves raised by Michael Schmidt – one on raw milk, the other on pasteurized.  The one raised on pasteurized milk ended up sickly, anemic and underweight.  Of course because of the small scale, the ensuing evidence would be considered “anecdotal” by ‘experts’, but the results are in keeping with other raw milk studies I have examined, most notoriously (and sadly disregarded) that of Pottenger’s cats, briefly summarized here.

Notes From The Road

I am writing this entry from the Laurentians in Québec, about an hour north of Montreal.  I am at long last visiting my dear friend Renata (of RenataMosaic), who moved here 1.5 years ago and whom I haven’t seen since she left!  I have not had email or cell phone access for over a week, and I have to say it’s been rather nice!  But back to reality, and time to catch up on my blog (as well as my writing, email and so on).

I just spent the last 5 days training the dogs at a sheepdog clinic in the eastern townships of Québec.  You may recall that I attended this event last year, and I’m really glad I came back for a second round.  This time I got to spend 5 days training with the 2008 international supreme sheepdog champion Kevin Evans.  What a treat!  Despite my concern about cold, the weather actually ended up being a bit on the hot side for training.  The sheep and dogs tired quickly, but I still came away with my head full to bursting with new ideas about how to advance my dogs and my handling skills.  I can’t wait to get practicing as soon as I get home!  First I’m going to have to wait for my dogs to wake up.  Their brains are full as well, and since they’re the ones who had to run full tilt after sheep in the hot afternoon sun, they’re beat!  But in a good, happy tired dog way.

My efforts to make this trip as low-impact as possible have been thwarted by time, space and information.  For one, I simply did not have enough space in my car to bring a cooler full of meat for the dogs.  As such, I had to buy meat on location, and because of the hours of the clinic, the long weekend and the limited hours of the local abattoirs, I ended up having to go to Loblaws.  Not only is this expensive, but the dogs end up eating factory farmed meat wrapped in plastic and styrofoam.  How do I hate this, let me count the ways!  The factory farmed meat (chicken & beef) make me cringe, but the alternative is kibble which is worse.  With all the research I’ve done on how damaging this packaging is, I just hate myself for adding even a single styrofoam tray to landfill, let alone four of them.  And likely there will be a few more before I get home.

And then there’s the carbon footprint caused by driving 12 hours with a very full car, and at times even running the air-conditioning (necessary for the dogs when it gets too hot inside the car).  But at least with my own food, I was able to avoid making any fast-food or industrial purchases.  So far.  I packed enough food for the first week, and was delighted to find a fridge at my disposal so I didn’t have to constantly buy ice for my cooler (which would of course have come in plastic bags).  I even had enough food left over to bring with me to St. Adele and contribute to breakfast and dinner for a day or two.  Lunch and two dinners were provided at the clinic, and while not all the food that was provided was local, it was all cooked from scratch.  And they did serve one of their own lambs on Saturday night.  Delish!

I also managed to find the last few items I needed for my trip second hand or borrowed from friends and family, so I was able to avoid buying anything more for my time away.

From here things are going to get tricky.  Renata has done quite a bit of scouting in this area and has been able to find some local and organic food, but not much this time of year.  And I’m going to be spending the weekend in Montreal at conferences, which always offer a challenge when it comes to food.  I am going to have to think carefully about how I’m going to manage this.  As it stands, I still don’t even know where I am going to stay, let alone where I can find local, ecological food.  Most likely I’m going to have to set aside my rules for a few days, but at least I should be able to find at least some local cafés and restaurants in which to eat and avoid the big chains and fast food.  Any suggestions?

This morning Renata and I started our day hiking the dogs for several hours through the woods.  It was only a 15 minute walk from her door to the head of the trail.  It was so hot I thought I’d melt, but the dogs led us to a river with pools deep enough in which to swim.  Soon we were all in, dogs, clothes and all.  Paradise!  We decided to hike out in our bare feet, an experience I haven’t had before.  It felt wonderful to crunch through the leaves, while sharp twigs and pine needles served as instruments of shiatsu massage.  At one point we encountered a small bog.  We hesitated, then stepped in.  Have you ever stood barefoot in a bog?  It feels wonderful!  Especially on such a hot day!  It didn’t matter that our feet got dirty, because we could just step into the river and be clean again.  I was left contemplating how much we’ve lost touch with our environment simply by wearing shoes.