Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Making It Easier: Cherry Jelly

We've been making cherry jelly for years now.  It was one of our first consistent seasonal food-foraging-and-saving endeavors.  Free tart, red cherries are pretty easy to come by around here, we've found.  For the first handful of years we picked along a fairly busy street downtown.  It was incredibly amusing for Matt and me to watch people sitting in traffic trying to figure out what we were up to.  Every single time we'd have at least a few passersby ask us what we were picking, a couple even joined us!  It secretly slayed me that some folks didn't recognize them as cherries.  I mean, they're like cartoon cherries they're so classic.
Those downtown trees have been systematically removed over the years, but there are still plenty of tart cherry trees to be found.  Our pal Casey took us out to pick her friend's house this year and the trees were just loaded.  We picked 15 pounds, but that was just a drop in the bucket.

This was right in the middle of August though and there was a lot going on so, feeling strapped for time, we tried a little experiment.  We didn't pit the cherries.
We've always manually removed the stones one by one in past years.  Since it seemed we were trying to cram too much into our days we tossed around the idea of skipping that step this year.  We didn't see why it wouldn't work.  We strain the fruit as we press our juice anyways so....
...And it totally worked.  So, yay!  No more pitting cherries for hours, but we still get that radiant crimson glory to spread on our waffles and toast.  That's a big win!

Monday, October 30, 2017



Off to dreamland in Grandmother's pearls*.
Shift cat.
Shift cat again.
Belly, back, side, other side.
Cat leaves with utter disdain.
Belly, side, back, belly again...

Morning comes
As a lake of pearls
Rolling along the waves and folds
Of these horrid pink sheets.
Dribbled across the rug
Up and down the hall.
Sprinkled on the bathroom tile
Like confetti.

*Thank heavens they're not real pearls.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Good-Bye Good Earth Market

It is with sadness and regret that I write this post.
Our one and only cooperatively owned grocery is closing after almost thirty years of connecting people with nourishing, healthful, and local foods.
It was in the news last night and word is trickling out today.  Matt, as produce manager, has to call all the local farmers he's worked with over these years to tell them the news.  Another independent, grassroots, local business floundered and failed.  It happens every day.  It happens everywhere.
There are lots of reasons.  I think everyone who loves that place has seen the writing on the wall for a while now, actually. 
While more and more people are looking for local and organically-raised products there are also a lot more stores--even gas stations and Alberstons--that carry these sorts of products now, too.  Then Natural Grocers showed up.  Lucky's Market came in, too. Online shopping is so easy.  The Good Earth didn't rise to the occasion as far as keeping up with these competitors goes, didn't accentuate their distinctiveness, the things that made them different.  The board of directors seemed more willing to maintain the status quo than innovate and adapt with the times.  It is hard to be competitively priced and still be so tiny.  Advertising is expensive.  There was some bad advice given.  Some poor staffing decisions compounded already existing problems.  The downtown location proved to be a blessing and a curse.  A series of ineffectual general managers didn't help.
(These are just my observations and opinions, by the way, and I mean no offence to any current or past employees.)
The ship was sinking.  If it hadn't been for some last ditch financial efforts from the National Co+Op Grocers Association I think it would have actually happened long ago.
Sometimes we just have to let things go, even if it is painful.  Even if it isn't what we really want to do.
Matt and I will be fine.  He's a hard worker and will find something else.  I hope he finds something with a mission he feels as much pride and value in as he does for his local farmers.   We'll be fine.  It has been really touching that people have called and messaged and dropped by to talk to him about it, share their, oh, sympathies as it were.
I'm bummed about John Ross and his beautiful orchard in Fromberg.  He invited us out to see peak bloom and have a picnic in the orchard this year.  He toured Matt and me through the grove, talking with depth and passion about the merits of each variety.  This sort of relationship between seller and grower is something incredibly special.   It was something unique that the co-op had to offer.
I'm bummed about all the rest of Matt's local farmers, too.  Strike Farms and Gary Ostahowski, the garlic guy.  The woman with the 20+ varieties of heirloom eggplant and all the farmers that make up the Western Montana Growers Cooperative.  And all the rest.
I'm bummed that the Apple Gallery won't be included in Art Walk any more.  It was such a great space for budding local artists to display their work.  The art collections on display were consistently earthy and funky and bright--and exceptional.
I'm bummed for all the folks now unexpectedly on the job hunt.  I'm not worried though.  They'll find something.
I'm bummed to lose the community down there.  I met so many fantastic human beings through our involvement first, as customers, and later, though Matt as an employee.  What an eclectic, creative, fun-loving bunch of folks.
I'm bummed Billings didn't value the co-op model--which keeps way more money on the dollar in the local economy--as much as they value the killer deals at Sam's Club and Costco.
I'm bummed there won't be another staff Christmas party.  Matt and I had already been talking about what games were going to be played, who we might get for Secret Santa.
I'm bummed the loft won't be hosting any more vegan potlucks, lectures on tea, yoga, naturopathic medicine, or rallies for social causes.
I'm just bummed.
But nothing lasts forever.  Blessings come in disguise.  I'm not worried, just disappointed.
And grateful.  The sense of loss keeps trying to override that one.  I'm so grateful for the impact the Good Earth Market had on our life.  It brought us so much goodness, mostly in the form of people, and that remains the same no matter what happens to the building.
All photos (except the one in the apple orchard) were downloaded from the Good Earth Market's facebook page.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Growing, Eating, Saving

Matt covered the peppers and eggplants, but picked all the tomatoes in advance of the frost. The green ones are ripening in the spare room.  The red ones are being gobbled up so fast I'm wondering how much sauce we'll actually get this year.
Potato curry with peanut and garlic
We're doing our first wave of canning tonight.  We're starting with jelly.  I'd like to reclaim the freezer.  Currently it is chock full of bags raspberries, currants, and strawberries.  Not to mention a giant jar of cherry juice.  That gifted bag of gooseberries from the in-laws, too.  Jelly making is a fairly simple process and a good way to kick-off our canning projects for the year.
After the jelly we also need to get to tomatillo salsa, ketchup, tomato sauce, garlic-pepper jelly, apple pie filling, and a couple recipes we want to try out for the first time.
Matt prepped and froze a couple dozen ears of sweet corn in the last days of summer.  I've already got three cups of chopped jalapenos in there, too.  It has been an excellent pepper year.
Rhubarb wine is bubbling in the corner.  Eggplant is on the menu every single day--and I love it.  Some of the potatoes have been harvested--and eaten--but the majority are still in the ground.
We're not pressing cider this year.  I've got mixed feelings about that.  It is always a really fun day.  We drive out to Park City and hang with Josh and his dad, taking part in a seasonal rite that's been going on for generations out there.  But it is also a lot of sticky work and between picking, pressing, cleaning, and the drive it takes quite a bit of time at a point in the year when we're feeling overrun with things to do and worn out by summer fun already.  So I'm bummed, but relieved in a way, too.  We pressed so much last year that we still have enough to eek by for a second year.  At home one of our apple trees fruited for the first time this year.  We ended up getting one lone apple!  But, it was a start!
Cider pressed in fall 2016
The raspberries need some attention.  Matt thinned the oldest canes out--much to Ginger's chagrin since it rather ruined her Raspberry Fortress.  They've done well since we planted them that first summer.  So well they've outgrown their support structure, spilling out into the walkway.  So out with the old, in with the new.  They're getting new posts and stronger wire.  We also need to build some sort of trellis for the grape vines we planted out front this year.
Lots to do yet on the saving end of things, but our growing season is wrapping right up.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pinch Me: Camping in the Dunes

I'm a lucky human being.  I've been blessed enough to visit loads of stunning, fascinating, glorious places--Yellowstone, Switzerland, San Diego, Bavaria, the Grand Canyon.  I've experienced a lot of neat things--took the stairs at the Eiffel Tower, fished the Pacific Ocean, saw the lights in Times Square, tip-toed up Angel's Landing, heard a glacier crack and moan.
So, this is a pretty bold statement, but....backpacking in the dune field at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve might be my coolest singular experience to date.
Yellowstone will hold fast to my heart overall--we've had far too many days and nights together for her to be unseated just yet, possibly ever--but goodness me!  The dunes!!  The dunes!!  They were magnificent.  I was floored.
I was unprepared for hiking in the dune field in a couple of ways.
First, it was difficult.  Much, much more so than hiking an equivalent distance/elevation change on the firm, rocky trails where I spend most of my time.  Just as playing beach volleyball is harder than playing in a gym the sliding surface of the sand really upped the ante on that hike. 
A friend who had also hiked the dune described it as akin to trying to go up an escalator moving the wrong direction.  I had to agree.  Sometimes it really was two steps forward and one step back.  As we neared the high point I was struggling--feeling the weight of my pack all the more as I fought for balance and momentum in the shifting sands.
Finding the resolve to push onward when things are hard has to be one of the great lessons I've learned while hiking.
Second, I was also mentally unprepared.  I'd never been immersed in a landscape like the dunes.  I struggle again, just now, to convey my thoughts on this. 
The 30 miles of the dune field is a vast, ever-changing canvas.  Climb up on a high dune ridge and the scene opens wide, rolling away to the mountains in the distance, dune after dune after dune.  The sameness, the expansiveness is captivating. 
Look closer and each dune is a unique personality, revealing a soft side here, ripples from the wind-tides there, scattered with tiny footprints from invisible night creatures.
I knew it would be breathtaking to behold.  It is a national park after all.  Never the less I was absolutely stunned.  The dunes are gorgeous from a distance...
...and kept getting even cooler and more striking as we hiked into their midst.
Though it was less than a 24 hour foray into the dune field it proved to be a rather glorious display of nature's dramatic shifting moods.
We hiked in to the dune field accompanied by a strong breeze and light drizzle, sand whipping our faces.
We peaked out on the ridge separating day-use from overnights under a sapphire sky littered with puffy, white clouds.
We hunkered from a forceful gale bowing the tent and dusting everything--everything!--with blowing sand.
We ate dinner under a ceiling of impenetrable grey.
We slept under a dome of stars on the leeward side of a 500 foot dune.
We woke surrounded by a most otherworldly mist which had rolled in overnight.
We bounded down the dunes hooting and hollering, packs and all, under an increasingly hot, blazing sun.
I know some folks think "bad" weather like wind and rain ruins an outdoor adventure.  I've come to realize that they're actually just one more component of the adventure.  I've learned to like it.  To revel in the wild-ness.  I mean, if I wanted complete and cozy comfort I could have stayed home... 
That is the second great lesson hiking has taught me.  Some of the most formative, illuminating experiences come in the form of trials and testing circumstances.
Matt lamented that the cloud cover would interfere with our intentions for stargazing, but as there was nothing to be done about it we just went about making dinner--the winds had mellowed enough to consider boiling water--and watching the storm swirl about, lighting flashing on the distant horizon.  We sat in the tent--as a shield against the wind--with the door wide just watching the scene roll and unfold.  The storm was all around us, but the worst had passed. 
And then, after sticking around long enough to enhance the sunset, the clouds took off and the sky was wide and clear.  We pulled the sleeping bag out of the tent and right onto the dune.  We snuggled in our sleeping bag sharing oooohs and aaaaahs over one shooting star after another until we drifted off.
After waking on the dunes--our sleeping bag sodden from the moisture in the air--we spent the morning exploring what I can only describe as something from another world.  Another planet.  The mist would roll up the dunes in waves, we could see them crest the ridge until the dune was completely swallowed up by the sea of white. 
Like islands the peaks of distant dunes would emerge only to disappear again moment later.  It was unreal.  We sipped our tea atop one tall dune watching the scene change as the sun rose and burned off the shroud of vapor.
And then, just like that, the mist was gone and the sun was strong in the sky.  We clamored all over the place--running, cartwheeling, moon jumping down the steep dunes over and over again.  I felt like a kid at the beach.
That night under the stars and the following morning in the mist was something I'll never forget--or be able to convey properly.  I fail to come up with the right words--euphoric, unbelievable, transcendent, spectacular, mystical, humbling, dynamic, sacred, enthralling, surreal, unfathomable, magnificent.
I guess I'll try those.