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Archive for November, 2008

Invasion!

ACK!  Our bathroom has been invaded.  The creatures look like they have come from the depths of the Sea or from the outskirts of Space.  

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 Last month we attended the Snohomish County Mycological Society’s Fall Show when Dylan’s mother was in town.  As always, it had a wide variety of mushrooms, which is one of the benefits of the dark wet forests in the Western Cascades.  One man was demonstrating how to help identify mushrooms by their scents.  The matsutake smell strongly of ammonia, the chanterelles smell of apricot, “the prince” smells clear as day of sweet almonds.   I am still a very timid mushroom hunter, for even though I am often sure of my identification,  I have yet to go hunting with an experienced mycologist, so with some of the “scarier” varieties I satisfy myself with the pleasure of the hunt.

However, we have found a few treasures this year.  While hiking in the 100 Year Woods in Bellingham with my sister and her husband for chanterelles,  Dylan spotted a huge mound of bright orange sulfur shelf.

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We were all quite sure of our identification of this mushroom, and the vegetarians in the group were delighted  by the intense texture and taste of chicken that the shelf fungus had after being sauteed in butter and garlic. The same day we collected some shaggy manes as well as boletes.  But I must be honest,  for the life of me I cannot stomach the boletes.  Their tendency to self digest and the plethora of gnats that live in their spongy underside just turns my stomach.  The group made a beautiful gravy with the boletes,  but I simply could not eat it.  I am usually not a picky eater either.

This past spring were amazed to find a nest of black morels growing beside our garage out of the gravel.  I can’t begin to guess how the spores got to this spot or how they thrived,  but I accepted the bounty gratefully.  We made omelets and and a Black Morel Cream sauce with shallots and garlic and poured it over flatiron steaks.

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Last week we headed up Hwy 2 near Steven’s Pass.  We took a side road called Iron Goat Trail to visit a place in the woods that is easily accessible as well as in wonderful ecological balance.  There are stands of Devil’s Club that give off the most incredible energy,  and forest floors that are covered in needles, Trillium, Wild Ginger, Violets, and healthy decay.  Amongst the obvious treasures of the forest floor I stumbled upon a stand of Golden Chanterelles,  while Dylan was off finding Lobster Mushrooms.  It was a glorious day by the Tye river in the mountains followed by an even more glorious meal made with our local bounty.

That brings me back to the invasion.  While we were at the Mycological Society gathering, they gifted all the attendees with bags of moist hay inoculated with Blue Oyster Mushroom Culture.  We have keep the bags warm and moist in our bathroom for 4 weeks,  only to find them finally fruiting on Monday.  They actually do give me a bit a strange feeling, there is a sense that soon the mushrooms will be growing out of the walls and on my skin, like some bad Sci-fi.  And though I recognize that those thoughts are ridiculous I have tried to honor them and notice why this amazing creature is eliciting such a reaction from me.

It could be its alarming rate of growth.  The mushroom clusters have at least tripled in size in as many days.  A mound that is small and bumpy and white in the morning,  will be cover with countless tiny bluish capped mushrooms by the evening.  It is a pity that the strain is no where near native.  I believe it is a tropical mushroom,  but for fun home experiments it is quite a gift.  I look forward to updating you with the rate and qrowth of the invasion as well as with recipes made with these strange and magnificent edibles.

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Synchronicity

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Isn’t it lovely when events seem to connect.  Last night after writing the post on the Elk and sharing some of my ideas about meat eating.  I randomly opened Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice.  The chapter I read was about the blood moon and she went on to describe her sentiments about meat eating which were identical to mine,  and of course more thoroughly researched and thought out.  I read amazed as she even quoted directly from a novel I had just begun reading that afternoon.  Weird! 

On the subject of meat eating there was one quote from her book that I thought I would copy here,  as it so eloquently describes what I was attempting to say in yesterdays post.

When you see everything around you (animal, vegetable, mineral) as imbued with Spirit, as alive and sentient, as carrying with it a crucial part of the Whole; when you view all of life as inextricably interconnected by a thread, a spark, of something Divine; you understand that great beautiful Creation involves Death and decay just as certainly as it involves birth and resurrection.  Everything is indebted to everything else. Every part of Creation is indebted for its life to the other parts of Creation that have died and decayed so that it might live.

-Jessica Prentice,  Full Moon Feast pg. 215

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The Gift Of Elk

gerda

Show me, oh shaman, the visions you saw

The crown that you carry, the high country law

Your power and majesty, your bugle cry

Be stronger

Be bolder

Be brave and climb high

-Nancy J. Bailey

Things have been a bit weird lately because  we’ve been waiting so long to close on the house.  My time has been being used in a very odd way.  It seems like I am in partial stasis waiting to begin the big project of house overhaul.  But I have still been making very many neat and tasty things.

Shall I tell you about the Elk?

Two weeks ago the men went to the the gorgeous, dry and more scantily treed Eastern Cascades, just north of Wenatchee. They went in search of “the mighty Elk” as Dylan calls it. Last year we were so lucky to have half an Elk thanks to the good shot of our close friend Steven.  I never knew what a blessing having wild game would be.  Of course, since moving to the northwest we have stocked up on crab, salmon and shrimp,  but this was the first red and wild meat I have had.  Being raised vegetarian,  I still struggle a little with idea of hunting.  I especially cringe at the hunters who hunt for mere sport, those that get cougar tags on their licences, or shoot bears for thier hides and do nothing with the meat.  That sort of gross disregard for life is an affront to my very sensitive make-up.  But as it stands I eat meat now, and feel that it is an important part of my diet.  I have reconciled myself to the very nature of life, which is that life eats other life.  In my opinion the eating of a carrot or the harvesting of a whole plant is a death no less significant than that of an animal.  I feel that merely because the plants life force is not as easily recognizable to me as that of a fellow mammal does not mean that the plant does not have the same innate will to live that all of us animals do.  In the end I feel that if I am to eat meat that I would much prefer being connected to the death in some way,  and never contributing to the massively inhumane practices of the commercial meat industry.

On that note, before Dylan went hunting the first time, we sat down and had an intense talk over how I needed him to behave and handle the meat if he or Steven were to shoot one.  I was adament that I couldn’t handle any belittling of the carcass, no silly pictures, no red-neck gloating.  This was of particular importance to me as he was to be accompanied by our very “Texan” friend.  I was surprised at how both of them were so willing to understand these terms and I privately asked Dylan that if he were the one to do the shooting if he would please sit with the animal and thank it and honor its life.  I don’t believe that a blessing somehow  makes the animal “OK” with its death.  I am sure it would choose life everytime,  I simply feel that it is better to be aware that you have killed something that would just assume live.  It is a hard issue,  for even as I write this and am grateful for the freezer full of meat,  thinking of the life that was lost brings images of grave pain and sadness into my mind.  But again, I must recognized this as apart of the cycle and accept it. 

 In the end it was Steven who shot the animal.  I simply did not expect him to take the time honor the animal but  he returned home and offered up  a story of how he went and sat beside the animal for some time and stroked it and thanked it.  It was such a wonderful surprise to know that my wishes had been carried out without me having to ask. 

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Sometime ago we used the last of that Elk meat,  it would have been used sooner but I portioned it out slowly. Two weeks ago hunting season was upon us again, the men set off, four in the group this time,  they were not having any luck this year and then it happened.  5 hours after shooting had stopped Dylan’s dad stumbled upon a dead Elk in a dense thicket, it had been killed only that morning.  The men came and sat in silence for some time as they decied what to do.  The Elk had not been tagged nor gutted and it had been several hours since shooting stopped, if they left it over night the meat would be spoiled.  In the end they figured someone had made a poor shot from too far away and had not been able to track to the animal.  After much deliberation they decided that it would be better to take it than let it die for absolutely no reason.  I guess they confronted some difficult moral decision making,  about proprietorship,  and the morality of taking an animal which they did not shoot.  It took them a bit of time to relay the whole story to me as they felt ashamed.  I know these men though,  Dylan won’t even download music he hasn’t paid for because its stealing,  so I am sure they addressed the issues and made a wise decision.

In the end we were all gifted with another beautiful Elk to last this next season and fill our freezers and bellies.  I have many things to make yet with the gifts of this beautiful animal.  I have done the research and feel safe making bone broth with the elk bones, as there has never been a case of chronic wasting disease any where near Washington.  And we saved all the scraps to make Jerky.  Steven decided he would tan the hide this year and I look forward to getting to try my hand at it next year.  Aside from burgers and roasts we have already cooked Elk Sirloin Steaks and  Elk Carne Guisada.   Carne Guisada is a Mexican stew mainly found in Central Texas.  It is amazing.  The best I ever had was from a truck that sold tacos in a bowling alley parking lot in Austin.  It is made with beef traditionally but I thought it would be amazing with Elk and I was right.  This is the recipe I came up with.  I use a method of stove top and oven cooking that gets great results for stews and pot roasts, it decreases cooking time and the possibility of burning.  Adjust seasoning as needed to fit your palate.

 

Elk Carne Guisada

2lbs Elk meat cut in 1 inch cubes, coated in flour

2 onions diced

2 potatoes 1 inch dice

2 ribs celery sliced

2 TBSP tomato paste

2 TSP cumin

2-3 jalapenos* chopped fine

1 TBSP Chili Powder

3 cloves Garlic smashed

1.5-2 cups broth or water

Salt and Pepper

*don’t worry about the amount of jalapenos, the long cooking time greatly reduces the heat

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a heavy, deep dish with lid, preferably cast iron, brown the flour coated meat in oil in two batches on high until all sides are are somewhat evenly browned.  Remove from pot and add onions, garlic, celery and saute until translucent.  Add cumin, chili powder and jalapenos,  saute 2 minutes.  Add potatoes, meat, broth, salt and pepper to taste and bring contents to a simmer.  Once simmering cover dish with two sheets of tin foil and press foil so it touches the top of the contents of the stew,  place lid on top of foil and place into hot oven for 1.5-2 hours.  Stir occasionaly and add more liquid if the mixture becomes too thick.  Serve on warm tortillas,  with freshly minced onions and cilantro,  grated cheese, and your favorite fresh salsa.  Enjoy!

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The Hope That Scat Brought

The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its choke cherries, lips to kiss good-bye,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.

-Robert Frost

Late this past August Dylan and I went to visit the land and to gather some apples and Asian pears from the heavily fruiting trees.  Many of the apples had already fallen to the ground, but there were still more hanging high in the old limbs.  I can’t begin to guess how old the trees are but the they seem to have been there a very long time due to their size and the amount of moss that grows on their branches.  Near the house grows a solid green apple,  and back near the goat house is a red apple and beside that is a beautiful pink and yellow variety.  It was a hot afternoon and Dylan and I began to gather the bounty from these beautiful trees.  I headed over to the red apple and and lo and behold right where I was going to place my foot was a pile of this.

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I understand that in modern society  one does not go about getting excited about animal droppings,  but I never did fit well in modern society.  Upon the discovery I excitedly called Dylan over to inspect my find,  we could see that the Bear had been gorging on all of the apples including the Asian pears, for under each tree we found numerous piles of this apple laden scat.   The bear had also apparently stuffed what ever apples were in his reach in his mounth and taken bites in haste for there were many apples on the ground that had very clear teeth marks,  some of them were not even browned yet.  It is wonderful to know that even down in the valley amongst a small grouping of minuscule acreages that the bears still roam. 

Of course this does make me feel a bit sad as well, for I understand that as we move in,  and bring our cats and possibly a dog someday, that no bear would come near our trees,  I can only comfort myself knowing that in the Pacific Northwest apple trees are plentiful and feel so blessed knowing that at sometime my apple trees feed not only us,  but the beautiful black bears that yet survive in the Cascade Range of Washington.


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The Beginning

random_summer_2008_0171I’ve begun this blog as a practice, a way to enhance my learning process and share with others the trials, successes and failures of small scale homesteading. We began this journey three years ago with a dream of owning land and connecting with it daily and building our life around our connection to that land. The idea has morphed many times based on what is actually available to us as first time buyers with no money for investment. The dream of wild acreage has been put aside for a couple of years, thanks to the last eight years housing troubles our options for buying land on credit and building were pulled from beneath our feet right at the critical moment when we put an offer in on 33 beautiful forested acres. So the dream changed, we decided upon smaller acreage and it would have to have a house already on it. After crying and rearranging our dream we found the piece of land for us, a small, three acre farmstead in need of much work after years of neglect. The land has many heirloom fruit trees including D’s favorite, Asian pears, a creek that runs all but a month out of the year and a house in the shadow of Whitehorse Mountain in the North Fork Stilliguamish River Valley. Out our windows looms the lowest altitude glacier in the lower 48 states. It is a rocky peak covered in countless waterfalls that flow to the river that is only a two minute walk from the land.

 

The land itself if covered in countless blackberries, and although blackberry was my first herbal ally, my first duty will be to remove all the bushes I can to make room for a goat paddock and create healthy land to begin replanting. The journey will be long, the house needs much work, the land needs ample help to reclaim its balance, and I am in desperate need to live closer with the land. Here’s praying for a mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship between us all.

 

I intend to fill this blog not only with the stories of the home remodel and the land restoration but with my experiments in small scale susatinabilty. From trials in lacto-fermenting, wine making, farming, wildcrafting, hunting, food processing, canning, food preservation, mushroom hunting, crafts and fine art, the creative process, home herbalism, cooking and anything else that suits my fancy. I hope you enjoy.

Listen With Your Heart

-Edna Jaques

Go out, go out I beg of you,

And taste the beauty of the wild.

Behold the miracle of Earth

With all the wonder of a child.

Walk hand in hand with nature’s God

Where scarlet lilies brightly flame.

Make footprints in the virgin sod

By some clear lake without a name.

 

Listen not only with your ears,

But make your heart a listening post.
Travel above the timber line,

Make fires along some lonely coast.

Breathe the high air of snow-crowned peaks,

Taste fog and kelp and salty tides.

Go pitch your tent among the pines

Where golden sun and peace abide.

 

Follow the trail of moose and deer,

The wild goose on her lonely flight.

Savor the fragrance of the wild,

The sweetness of a northern night.

Drink deep of distance, rest your eyes

Where centuries of peace have lain.

And let your thoughts go winging out,

Beyond the realm of man’s domain.

 

Lay hold upon the out-of-doors

With heart and soul and seeking brain.

You’ll find the answers to all life

Held in the sun and wind and rain.

Where’er you walk, by land or sea,

The page is clear for all who seek.

If you will listen with your heart

And let the voice of nature speak.

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