Monday, June 22, 2015

It is not worth the effort...

I was at the farmers market this weekend and was walking through all the stands and looking for something for the kids. We ended up buying some bread from the cute little Iranian lady who has some awesome and exotic offerings. If you like garlic, stop by her little table. Anyway, there was man in his fifties selling some little apple turnovers. I took a look at the label and saw the first ingredient listed as "pie crust" so I asked about it.

"What fat do you use in your pie crust?" I asked.

He looked shocked and took a minute and said, "I don't think I know what you mean."

Hmmm, I tried to think about the way that I should ask, "Well, do you use oil, butter, or shortening in your crust?"

He looked at me said, "I just use commercial pie crust, store bought. I always keep some in the fridge. You know, the "Our Family" brand. It is pretty handy. It probably has lard in it. That's what my grandmother used."

"Well, in that case, I am not interested. It is probably soybean oil. Thanks anyway," I smiled and walked away.

He took a little step away from his table and followed me saying, "Why would it be oil? That's not what my grandmother put in it."

I kept walking but I answered over my shoulder, "When you go home, check the label. I bet it's soy bean oil and we don't eat soy. Have a good day!"

He wasn't having any of it, "Then what do you use?"

I was not in the mood to argue but I answered anyway, "I make my own from scratch and use either butter, palm shortening, or real lard."

He finally stopped following me, "Well, that would be a lot of work, too much work, it would not worth all that effort to sell here at the farmers market."

I just kept walking, I smiled, but I kept walking. I was really, deeply bothered by that statement. I will never understand things like that. He was trying to sell his food, why would I want to buy the same generic crap I could buy at the store? People know that their grandmother, if they are old enough, or their great-grandmother, used to do things differently. They know it was more work but for some reason that is all they can see. They think it is just as good as the unfold and bake refrigerated pie crust. You can tell yourself that it is just as good except that is total nonsense. I am calling you on your crap. 

You want to know why my food tastes better than yours? It is because it is food. You can tell yourself that it is pride that makes it possible for people to fill the seats in the expensive restaurants when your canned cream o'barf chicken breast recipe is just as good, but deep down you know that is a bald face lie. It might not be easier but it better. When people east something I have made and they tell me how much they enjoy it, they always ask, "Is it easy?" No. But that is what makes it special.

Don't tell me that it takes too much time. That is another line. Let me tell you. We have a farm with mowing and an apple orchard to care for and a cow to milk twice a day and I have eleven kids and a book contract and I homeschool and my husband works 35 miles away from here and has to commute. I still cook. You know what else? Your great grandmother had more kids, more chores, fewer resources, no appliances to speak of, and put more meals on the table than you do. Don't tell me that it was easier for her. I process four gallons of milk into cheese a day in addition to all the cooking for a dozen people three times a day. I feel for your grandmother because she did not have the tools I have, the least of which is a dishwasher.

If I am going to eat food, it has better be worth it because I think I deserve it after a long day. I think my kids and my husband deserve it. I don't eat out unless it is as good (or better) as something that I make at home and I don't by processed food at the store because I know it is not. Food does not have to be expensive or fancy it just needs to be food. I mean real food, not refrigerated pie crust. Maybe you will have pie less often, maybe you will have to practice to learn how to make it, but I promise you that will only make it more special and it will be worth the effort.

Food is worth the effort because people are worth the effort, most definitely worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

After the rain...

I have always found rain refreshing, probably because I am from Colorado where we get it but not often. I know that I love the clean smell but probably not to the degree or in the way that my husband did. He worked downtown in the trade center and he said it was such a relief when it rained in the summer because the hot asphalt alleys reeked of urine and he just wanted the smell to wash away. There is a smell that rain has and it does not matter how dirty your city is, the rain can make it smell new and fresh. But then there is another smell, the smell of damp potting soil. It is earthy and warm smelling and it smells clean and fresh that is something like the rain but not quite. Except here, the rain makes everything smell like potting soil. It is funny and surprising because it is a new thing. The rain smelled woodsy, like a forresty kind of smell, if that in anyway makes sense. Now it smells like potting soil.

I suppose it has a lot to do with the different way in which we are using the land now. We have a cow and a steer and they are being rotated through the open areas so they always have fresh lush grass to much and lay down in. They choose to lay under the apple trees when the sun is high (though it is never very warm here) but most of the time they like to lay where the grass is thickest and tallest. I can watch them chew their cud while lounging in the grass like toddlers playing with their food.


Anyway, today was cool and cloudy when it was not actively raining. Everything feels damp here which is something to get used to when you are used to a dry climate. Our drinking glasses sweat, the toilet tanks sweat, the Berkey sweats, and the railings going upstairs feel clammy. They always feel this way when the humidity is really high like this. When I wake up, I can feel the dampness and everything smells like potting soil. These are the days when I know that my hair will be all kinds of crazy. Curls that are hydrated don't mind a little moisture but this is something else.


In Colorado, if the kids spilled water outside, it would be dry within half an hour. If I hung sheets on the line, the first would be dry by the time I hung the last. Here, clothes take all day if there is no breeze. The pools of water that condense on the Berkey need to be wiped up because they won't dry on their own. But since we don't really even need to water, that is not such a bad trade off. In Colorado, we could never have grass like this. My kids can't even kill this grass. Here we beat the forest back when in Colorado we would have killed for a single tree.

I went out with Ben for a walk after the rain and just smelled everything while the water from the grass creeped into my shoes and I thought about these differences. Everything is different here. I would say that we aren't in Kansas anymore but really it is that we are not in Colorado anymore. It is a fresh start in more ways than one.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Witch hazel hacks...

Claudia is delicious to bugs, good thing I have witch hazel!
If you know me in real life, you know that I always have witch hazel around. I use it for a lot of things. One of the really great things about it is that it is really safe, which is important to me because I have small children who do cray cray things like eat things that are not food. It is so safe that some people even drink, which I do not recommend because it cause stomach upset (see HERE). You can ditch some of the toxic or pricey things you are using for cheap witch hazel and even be better off for it. Here are some of the best things that witch hazel can do for you.

1. Facial astringent. Why are you spending money on expensive natural facial cleansers, or worse yet, nasty chemical ones? Get yourself some basic witch hazel and some nice biodegradable cotton pads and wash your face (or your teenager's face) with plain old witch hazel. If you have problem skin with a lot of blemishes, drop in a several drops of Tea Tree Oil essential oil to give it extra punch. If you have rosacea or delicate skin, switch that out for a bit of lavender oil and soothe your irritated skin.

2. Underarm deodorant. I know, this sounds crazy, but hear me out on this one. When I took my kids to the Grossology Tour back in the day, I learned some very important things. Okay, the most important thing is not to go to one of those exhibits if you are pregnant, but it is not the only thing. A major takeway was the experiment to try using baking soda under one arm and baby powder under the other for a natural deodorant. In case you did not know, each by itself does not work but together they do a fair job of both absorbing moisture and odor. This is a big deal for those of us who don't want aluminum based products and who might be sick of oil stains from the homemade coconut oil concoctions. Guess what? If you use some of that witch hazel that you made up for you face on a pad under your arms, you will kill germs that cause odor. Top off with either natural deodorant or a homemade powder blend and you are set. I know I freaked you out a bit with that last one, sorry. But it still works.

3. Insect bites. I like in bug central but that's cool because I know how to ease the itch. If you have mosquito or fly bites that are keeping you at night, give them a good wipe down with witch hazel on a little cotton pad and get yourself some real relief. I am not even kidding here. You have to try this. By the way, I heard this from my grandmother back in the day and stopped trying it once I was a teen. Then I was awake one night with mosquito bites on my feet and I remembered and tried it and slept. I convinced my teens to try it and lo and behold, sweet, sweet relief. If you especially allergic and your welts get very big, keep the witch hazel in the fridge and the cool temperature will bring down the heat in the bite. Promise.

4. Postpartum pain. I know, I am onto creeping you out again, too bad. Keep some witch hazel in the bathroom and a little sleeve of cotton pads with it. Set the soak pads on your postpartum pad and feel the relief. If you have help at home, keep it in the fridge because it works better. Makes a huge difference, believe me. Speaking of pregnancy...

5. Hemorrhoid itch. I know, I am all kinds of awful here. Anyway, pregnancy is just one of the many causes of that terrible itch and witch hazel is the cure. By the way, in case you did not know, those pads from the drug store are pretty much just witch hazel which means that you use those same pads in your first aid kit. You know, like I am about to tell you about.

6. Wound cleaning. It is really important to gently clean out scrapes, cuts, and all manner of flesh wounds and witch hazel is a great way to do that. It hurts much, much less than rubbing alcohol which means if you use it on your kids, you will traumatize them less. A jar of pre-moistened pads for hemorrhoid use can be kept in your first aid kit for quick access.

7. For cleaning earrings. It is important to clean your ears and your earrings frequently to avoid problems with your pierced ears. Take them out once or twice a week and soak them in a bit of witch hazel in the lid and while you are doing that, be sure to swab your lobes.

8. Cleaning your eyeglasses. A lot of the store bought glasses cleaners are terribly poisonous and I am not the kind of person to want to keep them around. Switch them out for a bit of witch hazel on your microfiber cleaning cloth and get squeaky clean glasses with no toxins.

9. For that matter, clean your computer screen with it. It works. Won't poison your kids. #FTW

...and last but not least...

10. To reduce inflammation in injuries. This is another instance in which it might be a good idea to keep a jar of pads around. If someone slams a finger in a door, stubs their toe, drops something heavy on their foot, or other minor but painful injuries with swollen skin and especially if the skin is broken, get that witch hazel out. The tannins in it will reduce the swelling and it is well known as an antiseptic. You can kill two birds with one stone.

Got any hot tips using witch hazel? Spill!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ten things the locals won't tell you about the Keweenaw...

Just looking at the neighborhood.
All small towns have their own culture and rural America is reticent to let you in if they do not know your daddy, and maybe not if they did not also know your daddy's daddy. but the Keweenaw Peninsula has it's own it's own flavor and it's secret. No, really. If you do not know, nobody gonna tell you. Seriously. Except me but I am not a local, I am married to a local.

1. People have property the size of subdivisions in the 'burbs. No kidding. I did the math and I realized that Ben's relatively small piece of the world covers a staggering 280 parcels the size of the my old house in the city. If you add in the neighboring pieces of property owned by an uncle, and aunt, and a cousin and suddenly we have a borough. Some "neighbors" who live down the road from us have 300 acres and a single house sitting on it. Because, that's my yard, yo. Really, that is my yard in the photo above.

Ahhh, deer season...uh, I mean, flu season again! 
2. Hunting is an affliction. There is this little wink, wink, nudge, nudge business about the flu around during hunting season. How can you help it if your boss gave you the same bug that he had? Better just go home and rest in a comfy chair, in the barn on the east 40, the with the a door cut in the back wall so that you can shoot the deer that walk past. Which actually we have, soooo. The folks that live in town (that is, a collection of a couple hundred houses but not even a gas station) come on out to their deer camp and set up shop. They look pretty good given how bad they have a fever for white tail. 

3. The road signs come down in November and all the park equipment is put into storage. It might seem strange and maybe like a little bit overkill when it is chilly and there is only a few inches of snow on the ground, but it is so, so, so right. Those signs will be pointless in a few weeks because they would buried under the snow. Might was well take them down and give them a coat of paint. Once it starts snowing, it won't stop until May. I am not exaggerating, our last snow was May 19th. Those cute pictures you share of you shoveling six inches off your driveway make us laugh because that's how we celebrate the first day of summer.

Check out my driveway in February.
4. Nobody is thinking about the fact that you can't find your way around without the signs. Keweenaw winter is not for the faint of heart. Do you even carry snowshoes and emergency heat with you in your vehicle? I bet you don't even have snowpants on when you drive! Might was well be naked. I mean, really, why are you even here if you can't find your way through all the snow and the white out conditions?

5. Speaking of white out conditions, the rumble bars are there so you can tell you are still on the road. When all the roads look like that photo above, you can totally drive off the edge into ditches or the soft, deep snow and then you will really have trouble. The rumble bars have different pitches so that you will know if you are crossing into on coming traffic or heading right off the side of the road. We got your back.

Behold, Infernicus, who staves off icy death!
6. If you cannot light a fire, go back to civilization. I am not trying to be mean, I am trying to save your life. Up here people heat their houses with wood that they haul in from their hundreds of acres, split, stack, and dry. At my house, we have two stacks because one is "stove wood" for my kitchen wood burning stove and the other is giant freaking logs that get dumped into Infernicus. We keep a steady fire burning from October through April and then occasionally in the summer, just to take the chill out of the air. You know, because the overnight lows in the 40s can make the house a bit on the cool side.
"Kids, as soon as I clear off the car, we can go to
the July 4th parade." Just kidding (not kidding).
7. The only reason that this place isn't thick with tourists in the summers is because of the winters and that is how the locals likes it. Come on. If you knew that there were miles of unspoiled beaches and gorgeous hiking trails where you can wonder alone for hours on end, would you want to come? Yeah, that is why they tell you about the snow. (The snow it totes real, though.)

Okay, so July is more like this.
8. Okay, the real reason people don't come in the summer is the mosquitoes. They are so freaking thick that in the evenings, we can hear them humming outside. Yeah, it is like being surrounded by tiny zombies, a kind of weird I am Legend where we try to keep them out at night. And day. And like, always. But if Yoopers are a tough breed, Keweenaw folks are made of steel. Actually, they are made of copper, but that is a different story.

Just walking out to get the mail. If I do not come
back in thirty minutes, I was consumed by insects.
Carry on with out me!
9. If you don't have a passing understanding of Finnish language, you are in trouble. The street signs in town are in both language and people will expect you to know what street they mean if they use the Finnish and not the English name. Remember that no one explains things? You are pretty much expected to know and use words like paija and kiitos and how to properly pronounce pannekakke. If it were hard, then Finnish would not be the first language of the whole country...Okay. You have a point.


10. There is the Upper Peninsula and then there is the Keweenaw. It is not just the snow, though this places gets twice the snow of the rest of the UP so if you can't hack Escanaba, do not even come here. People here are loyal to the place where their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents grew up. If they can't find it locally, they really don't need it. They are home.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Once in a lifetime...

I was out in the barn with my husband this weekend. I was waving a dirty dishtowel over the cow. I keep it hung out there by the milking station so that I can wave it over the cow, and over myself, incidentally. I get bitten terribly while I milk. My hands are covered with mosquito bites and the tiny little scabs from fly bites. I was wearing my paisley muck boots, super cute ones which I love, and my milking sweatshirt with a hood. I wear a hood because I have long curly hair down to my waist and the last thing I want is the cow hitting me with her dirty tail and getting, uh, stuff in my hair. Anyway, since the biting flies were fierce, I was trying to help her relax enough to let down so that I could be finished with the milking faster. I sing to her and I rub her udder from the top down to the bottom, like I have done when I was pumping breastmilk. How crazy is that? But it works and that is the most important thing.

It is more than the cow. We have an apple orchard and we were thrown into learning how to care for hundreds of heirloom apple trees, some which only grow here locally and have unusual names which mean nothing outside of a very tight circle. We have summer apples and you might think that all apples are fall apples but you would be wrong. These are summer apples and they are special. Then there are my favorites, ones with Barbie doll pink skin and flesh and the juice that stays this electric color even when made into jelly. These are just pink apples here. Then there are the apples that are best after the first frost and which do not keep but need to be picked and processed that day. Everything stops then, we work through a couple of hundred pounds of apples in the course of two days. It is not easy but it is definitely worth it.

I have a dog now. Who could have imagined that?!
It really is unreal. I grew up in a large metropolitan area. I hung out at the cool coffee shops and took cabs and trains and wore white tights and Doc Martens on my first date with my husband. I remember one time when I was out shopping with my husband and he was carrying our oldest son in his arms and I was carrying out second oldest in my belly that was at the cute baby bumb but not horrifyingly giant pregnant stage. We were standing on the curb outside the cute LoDo bookshop where we had picked up some philosophy books for him and an artisan bread baking book for me. We had stopped for designer coffee (of course, back then, mine was decaf) and paid way too much for an Italian soda for the oldest, then the only, child. Somebody stopped to tell me what a beautiful family we were. I think of that moment often because I told her, "But it is not going to stay the same for long, after I have this second baby, everything is going to change. This is an exciting time." I had no idea what would change and how it would change us. I can now see things from the other side.


That baby I was waiting to meet is now a strapping teenaged son of six feet tall who can handle a tractor so well that the old men here are impressed. I know because they tell me. I am not hanging out downtown with my cute husband, I am hanging out in the barn in my pyjamas and muck boots. I think if I was pressed for a way to describe it, I would say that the change is surreal. I'm not even sure how it all happened only that it did. I now hang out in the barn and I make cheese and I am planning my whole fall around the apple harvest.

You know what it reminds me of? It is like that song from "One in a Lifetime" from the classic 80s band Talking Heads. You know. Whose beautiful house is this? How did I even get here? I am, just as the song says, just letting the days go by. We were going to write our names in the stars but instead we are writing it in apples and milk. Somehow everything is different and somehow, it is the same as it ever was. This is pretty much the anthem to my life. I had no idea it would sound like this.


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