Thursday, October 31, 2013

A "Little House" Halloween

I am so pleased with my Halloween costume this year.  Frankly, I usually don't do much in the way of dressing up.  I might throw on my old witch's hat to greet trick-o-treaters at the door.  But, oh, not so this year!  This year I went all out and made myself a Little House on the Prairie themed costume.
The bulk of it I stitched up at the sewing retreat with my mom a few weeks back.  I ran around in the bonnet quite a bit of the time I was up there.  But it proved to be a bit of an ambitious project for a weekend retreat and so there were a few things I had to finish up on the dress at home.  Like making my first buttonholes.  And hemming and dying the dress--which I'd made in white fabric because it was all I had.

The buttonholes shocked me in how well they came out.  I'd been pretty nervous about them, especially since they are right down the front of the dress--front and center.  But, as it turns out the hook and eye closure at the waist was the one I should have been stressing about.  That was much trickier than I expect.  Go figure that I'd be worrying about the wrong thing.

So far only a couple people have pegged my Laura Ingalls Wilder homage, but the rest have been within the ballpark--a milkmaid, a pilgrim, an Amish girl.  That works for me.

I plan to incorporate the dress into my regular wardrobe after its use in the holiday festivities.  I think without the apron and bonnet it looks like a pretty normal dress.  I mean, maybe not the most modern of fashion, but hey, when have I ever been on the cutting edge of fashion!?!  I am so pleased with the dusky color of blue.  I adjusted the levels of dye several times until it was juuuuuuuust right--not bright like the sky, not dark like cobalt, but, right in the dusky middle.

It also probably goes without saying that the apron will get normal, every day use in the kitchen after Halloween, too.
The bonnet....well, gosh I adore a bonnet.  But, as much as I find them beautiful and charming I just don't think I can pull that off in my every day, modern life.  But, you can bet that I am pretty over-the-top enthused about wearing it all day today without anyone batting an eye.

I even made the shoes--little leather slippers I sewed from a kit more than a decade ago with my sister, Lisa.

I've always liked Halloween because I always liked to play "dress up."  And I am sure having LOTS of fun playing dress up today!
So, a very safe and happy Halloween to all of you from my Little House on the (Montana) Prairie!

An Integral Thread - Inspiration Thursday

"You are an integral thread in the divine web of life" - Sara Avant Stover

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Photographic 10-Pack

I walk past an ivy covered brick wall on one of my route home from the library.  I noticed it had started to change color.  The textures and colors were quite pleasing to my eye.  I like how they cascade in little ribbons of leaf.
The birds (and squirrels) made short work of my sunflower seeds.  That was my intention, but I was surprised by how fast they were gobbled up.  The squirrel could eat almost a whole head's worth of seeds in one sitting though.  Its interesting to watch how the different birds take advantage of it.  Like the squirrel, the house finches and house sparrows just sit and go to town on the seeds.  The red breasted nuthatches and black capped chickadees swoop in quickly, snag a seed, and then leave just as quickly.  They make countless short trips to the buffet instead.  Its neat. 
Matt made bagels.  He's been on a bread-making kick, of which I am a wholeheartedly supportive taste test subject.  
We moved the Scrabble board out to the patio to enjoy a bit of the sunny autumn weather.  Matt built us a fire since I tend towards being cold all the time.  I enjoy games.  I enjoy fires.  It was a perfect pairing.
I finally hung the birthday bunting across the gate that separates the patio surround and the yard.  I used to have a set of prayer flags there, but they were ripped up by a storm sometime last year.  The bunting I made is just the right length for the gate.  I wish I could claim that was on purpose....but it was just a lucky coincidence.
Its very possible that we grew "too many" carrots this year.  We've still got a 12 foot by 4 foot bed of them we've not even touched yet.  But, they store well enough so...we shall see.  I picked about 15 pounds of them over the weekend from our other 12 foot by 2 foot patch of them.  They are so sweet and delicious.  We're quite pleased with how long and straight they are too since we planted them in soil that had been very recently unearthed from the sod.
Matt and I both adore snap dragons.  I think maybe we should plant some around our place.  The bees seem to love them, too.
We're enjoying the fall colors.  Matt has a particular fondness for trees and bushes that turn red.
On Sunday we took a nice long.  It was at least 65 degrees F outside and sunny as could be.  The weather report indicated that our sunny autumn day would be followed by a snow storm and cold snap that very evening so we wanted to get out and enjoy every minute of warm, sun we could.  I also swung in the hammock while Matt collected leaves.
A cooper's hawk down the street from my house.  It was drinking out of a puddle when I spooked it by walking down the street.  I've never seen one from quite so close.  I did watch a sharp-shinned hawk (the smaller, nearly identical cousin of this hawk) kill and eat a sparrow in my garden once, but never a close encounter with a cooper's hawk.  Isn't that eye something!?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It Snowed!

This is actually our second snow of the season here, but the first that seemed like a real hint of the coming winter.  Its slippery and brisk out there!   And what a stark contrast to the sunny 65 degree F day we had on Sunday!  Ah, bless that extreme Montana weather.  I cannot imagine it any other way.
My porch rail and evergreen trees this morning.

Cinnamon Dusted Bananas

We try to eat fruit with every breakfast.  Its a light, refreshing, tasty accompaniment to pretty much every breakfast.  We try to mix it up--things like a dish of applesauce, a fruit smoothie, fresh strawberries from the garden, or a sliced banana lightly sprinkled with cinnamon.  We hadn't had the later in a really long time.  So long, in fact, that I'd quite forgotten about it until Matt put it on the table over the weekend.  Its a surprisingly fancy taste for such a simple addition.  The aromatic spice of the cinnamon mixes well with the creamy, sweet flavor of the banana.  Goes great with fresh sourdough toast with strawberry preserves, too, I might add.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Homegrown Meals

I've said it before, but I will say it again: Homegrown, seasonal type cooking makes me so happy and satisfied its just unreal.  I never knew how much I could enjoy certain foods until I started eating them, more or less, only when in season.  Yay, eggplant season!  Yay, tomato season!  Yay, pepper season!  Yay, strawberry season!  Yay, zucchini season!  Yay, asparagus season!  Yay, grape season!  You get my point, I am sure.

It makes me savor the experience knowing it will be another year before it comes round again.

We very rarely make a meal solely from home produced goods--oil and salt being the notable sticking points that leap to mind.  But, every year we are getting more and more self-reliant and, we hope, continually conscious of where our food came from by tapping into our Montana-made producers.

And it makes me happy.  And hungry!
Breakfast Burrito:  Locally made tortilla with three types of homegrown potatoes, homegrown onion, and homegrown Red Mexican Beans topped with homemade hot sauce made with homegrown peppers and homegrown garlic.
Vegetable Hash: Homegrown onion, three varieties of homegrown summer squash, locally grown bell peppers, and store-bought beans.
Vegetable Soup:  Homegrown carrots, homegrown spinach, locally grown lentils, homegrown onion, homegrown potatoes, combined with homemade stock made with predominately homegrown veg scraps.  
Off The Grill:  Two varieties of homegrown summer squash, locally grown peppers, and store-bought tofu and mushrooms.
Fried Eggplant with Gnocchi and Red Sauce: Homegrown eggplant breaded with store-bought nooch and homegrown herbs, gnocchi made from locally grown potatoes, and served with tomato sauce from homegrown tomatoes and homegrown herbs.
Vegetable Hash: Homegrown peppers, homegrown onion, homegrown potatoes, homegrown eggplant, and homegrown summer squash.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Aspen Removal

I've decided that I just don't think aspens have any business being planted in yards in town.  They are so pretty with their white bark and tendency to grove up and those leaves that shimmer in the wind in a very striking fashion.  But, oh how they take over....which may be fine in a forest, but is a pain when it is happening in my yard.  This would be another of those things I notice all the time now that I have seen it.  Entire yards being taken over by little, six inch tall aspen trees.  Its not just ours.  They're everywhere.
When we bought our house there were seven aspens.  They probably would look really nice all in a little grove, but for whatever reason they were all separate, save two that are paired up.  Another two of them were just the scrawniest little trees, that though tall, were hardly more then sticks.
Patching the sod.
And so we took some of them out this spring.  Or, more accurately, Matt took them out this spring.  I did little other than photograph it.  We did keep the big one in the front yard and the three big ones in the back yard, including the two that were paired up.  They little twigs though...they had to go.  They were just so randomly placed and not all that striking.  Matt made the project coincide with ripping out sod to expand the garden.  As such, he took all that sod and was able to patch the holes in the yard where the aspens had been.
By now, with a summer's growth behind the sod, you'd be hard pressed to find the places in the grass where the scrawny little trees once were.  The yard looks much more open without them and it is a heck of a lot easier to mow without the aspens and their brick edging to avoid.
But, we're still fighting aspen seedlings.  We probably always will be.   When we pulled the pepper plants after the first frost I found one seedling that had managed to camouflage itself in the peppers and thus was--though spindly--over two feet tall.  The trees we pulled out were repurposed as part of our bean tepees.
Matt and the two trees he so ruthlessly yanked from the ground.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pesto Corn

Matt and I had corn from our garden to eat and no butter to put on it.  But, necessity being the mother of invention and all that we came up with an alternative that has already become a household favorite.  Pesto corn!

Since we have so much pesto--and pesto has oil in it--we thought brushing pesto onto our ears of corn would do the trick as an alternative to butter.  And boy did it!    I sprinkled a little salt on mine, too.  It was heavenly.  And so simple.  It also made the corn look quite pretty, I thought, with the flecks of basil clinging to it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Thousand Lives - Inspiration Thursday

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads lives only one." - George R. R. Martin

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Work and Leisure

Matt is reading a new book by Michael Pollan called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.  I haven't read it yet, but plan to eventually.  I've enjoyed every thing I've ever read by him and I fail to see why a book about cooking--something so dear to our household--would be any different.
Already though its got me thinking.

Matt read me a passage that was discussing work and leisure in a section analyzing our relationship to cooking.
Pollan posits that by definition leisure is about consumption whereas work is about production.

This notion sort of blew us away.  So much of what we consider our leisure activities are certainly considered "work" by the vast majority of people I know.  Some have outright told me so.  Beyond that, if that weren't the case I would see all my friends and family out digging in the garden, yielding carpentry tools, stirring the bubbling canning pot, behind the sewing machine, and so on.
In our modern perspective it just "makes more sense" to hire out those tasks to someone else thereby leaving one more personal time for leisure activities.
I was working on some of the finishing touches of the dress I started at the sewing retreat and I realized there was "no point" to my behavior.  Economically it makes no sense.  I could go to the thrift shop and get a dress in under five minutes for under five dollars.   I could take that time and read a book, play board games, go to a play, etc.  Or I guess I could watch some of the four hours of television that the average American watches each day, according to the A.C. Nielsen Co.

Yet, there I was at my sewing machine because it makes me happy.  That is the point, for me.  All this work makes me happy--happier than just buying it would.  Its about the satisfaction and pride and accomplishment of it all.  The doing-it-myselfness.  I admit that I am pleased whenever someone says "Oh, I really like that skirt/dress/jam," and I can reply, "Thanks!  I made it myself."
By a more standard western attitude it would make more sense to just get a better paying job and pay someone else to do all the "dirty work" behind my canned goods, dresses, dish cloths, etc.  Beans at the store are pretty cheap, after all.   The thrift stores abound with dresses and dish cloths and curtains.  With the time and effort it takes to keep ourselves supplied with bread, chapstick, applesauce, juice, and pie, tomato sauce, dried herbs, etc. we could work more outside the homemake more money, and simply buy ourselves everything.  Frozen pizza, a new computer, hair conditioner, every book on my wishlist, bakery bread, a TV that isn't decades old, Frank's Red Hot.

But, that isn't the point.  Even if I could have "more" I think it would feel like less.
Our "work" enriches our lives in untold ways that could never be compensated for with store-bought equivalents.  Never.

I would never see the delicate purple flowers on the mint and pick them to enjoy in my tiny table vase.  I would never see our friendly neighborhood squirrel gorging on the "bad" apples we'd picked, but not used for canning, and left on the porch with the intention of throwing them in the compost bin.  I would never know about the crazy ways that slugs can expand and contract themselves.  I wouldn't be allowed to experience strange, exotic varieties of food like Hutterite soup beans, French fingerling potatoes, Cherokee purple tomatoes, etc.  I would never know how much planning and skill goes into the making of my clothing.  I would never appreciate things like I do now.
And we have fun doing it all, for the most part.  I guess we're strange for making "work" our "leisure" activities of choice.  But, we then again, we knew that we were strange enough already.   I've never forgotten two of my favorite Amish sayings,  "Work makes life sweet," and "Pride in your work puts joy in your day."

Matt and I made a list last Friday night of all the things we hoped to get done over the weekend.  There was an awful lot of production in there, under the "guise" of leisure, and little consumption.  I won't lie.  A couple things on the list did seem like work, but once we got started we found ourselves enjoying it.  But, even still, I don't think work can be avoided in life, really.  Work at home to produce the things you need yourself while enjoying the radio, the sun through the windows, the birds at the feeder, at your own pace and direction... or work away from home under someone else's direction and orders to pay for all those thing.
I, for one, find the home work much more affirming, sustaining, and pleasing.  It is a satisfaction based in self-reliance and having the skills that slowly are becoming lost arts.  I am glad we're striving towards more of the former and less of the latter.  Regardless of economics and social norms I can see the point.

This weekend we:
Prepared and processed tomatillo salsa.
Picked three varieties of mint, washed it, and put it into ice cube trays to freeze.
Reorganized the freezer since the one upstairs was bursting with bags of spinach, corn, zucchini, pesto, and the like while the chest freezer downstairs was half empty.
Washed the bed sheets and another load of laundry and hung them out on the line.
Listened to music.
Sliced apples, made syrup, and canned apple pie filling.
Walked around the neighborhood-- twice.
Harvested all our potatoes, washed them, and put them into storage.
Watched a Ken Burns documentary called The Dust Bowl.
Put sage we'd been drying into quart jars.
Harvested more sage and hung it to dry.
Hemmed a new dress.
Sorted and weighed the beans we'd had spread out to dry.
Soaked and cooked a big pot of our Red Mexican Beans.
Practiced yoga with a new DVD from the library.
Cooked and ate some fabulous meals like stuffed quesadillas, eggplant-peanut soup, biscuits and gravy, and potato-leek soup.
Mended a pair of pants.
Sketched the garden.
Planted 120+ bulbs of garlic.
Thawed frozen tomatoes and processed into tomato sauce.
Made hot sauce.
Checked out books at the public library.
Filled a few bulk jars at the co-op.
Read books.
Watched birds, squirrels, and other small wildlife.
Baked focaccia bread.
Made sourdough starter.
Work and leisure all wonderfully mixed up together.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Year's Worth of Pesto

Basil and nuts all ready to get transformed!
We picked and processed all of our basil for the year.  Matt now tells me that between basil pesto and garlic scape pesto we have enough pesto to last for a whole year, if we eat it twice a week.  Sounds good to me.

For the record, we don't, generally, eat pesto twice a week, but its nice to know I've got the option.  Oh, how I enjoy me some pesto (which is funny because I used to hate it)!  Last year we ran out of pesto far too early.  Thankfully the season of garlic scape pesto comes on earlier than the basil pesto is ready so it all worked out.  We planted our garlic over the weekend so we have garlic scape pesto to look forward to again next spring.

We've found through experimentation that pesto is surprisingly good on a variety of things, too:  French/garlic bread, roasted veg, corn on or off of the cob, added to marinades, soups, etc.   I used to think it was just for pasta!  Ha!
That would be about seven cups of freshly made pesto right there.  We again used our silicone cupcake pan to make individual meal sized pucks of frozen pesto.  It makes it very easy to store and serve.

Friday, October 18, 2013

GNP Day 8: Flathead Lake, Carousel Ride, Railroad Earth

One last GNP sunrise.
After our stay in Glacier National Park we planned to make a one night stop in Missoula in order to catch Railroad Earth who were headlining the annual River City Roots Festival.    I don't think we've missed a RCRF in a good number of years.
The drive from Glacier to Missoula was quite impressive.  We took a route we'd never driven before and it followed the shoreline of the massive Flathead Lake.  I had no idea how big that lake was, I guess.  It was enormous!  The area is loaded with cherry orchards, too, growing those regionally famous Flathead Cherries.  We stopped at a farmer's market and got ourselves some.  Oh boy, were they tasty.  So juicy and red!  I could probably eat myself sick on them.  But, we just bought a little bag so all was well.
Flathead Cherry Orchestra
When we got to Missoula we discovered our friend, Sean's, bluegrass band was playing before Railroad Earth in a little bar down the street from the festival.   The band moved up to Missoula not long ago.  We miss seeing them play regularly around town so it was a real nice surprise that we got to see them as we were passing through town.
Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails superjam.
In addition to catching a bonus bluegrass set we also took a ride on an astounding carousel.  Each horse is unique and ornately carved--all of it done by hand.  Learn more about the history and work that went behind it here.
Hannah is riding Koko, I am riding Sweet Sue, and Matt is riding Prairie Rose.  Matt really wanted to ride a dragon, but there was some reason he didn't that escapes me now.  Maybe they didn't go up and down like the horse.  Or maybe it was a size limit thing.   I don't remember.  I also don't remember the last time I rode a carousel.  Probably in my youth at the county fair.
We are just big kids at heart--a fact that makes me happy.  When Hannah suggested a ride it took no convincing on our part.  In the video above you can see Matt's big beaming smile and hear Hannah's gleeful peals of laughter.  I think one is never too old to play.  I think that keeps a person young.
After the spin around the carousel--which went really, really fast as it spun, I might add--we walked back up the hill to the main stage to take in some Railroad Earth.  That band fills me up with warmth.  They started with Seven Story Mountain and since we'd just been traipsing about on the mountains it seemed quite fitting.  Actually, other than perhaps their namesake tune they played nearly all of my favorites.  I didn't see any tapers at the show so I am not sure it lives on anywhere except in memory.  That makes it simultaneously more special and just a bit sad for me since almost all the concerts I see are recorded and shared (all legally) allowing me to relive the good times and good tunes all over again and again.
Maybe someday I'll play my flute half as good as Andy.
Hannah, Matt, and I meandered back to Hannah's place after the show in the cool of autumn night oh so happy.  And ready to go home.

And THAT is how my Glacier trip ended.  It was a cherry on top of an already unbelievably good sundae.