Why the long face?

Things have been quiet here for a while. This is partly because I have been pretty busy trading chunks of my life for money, and partly because it is a struggle to know what to put in words.

Honestly, this last month or two have been a little more gray than vibrant, like someone adjusted the saturation down just slightly. The garden is there, but I am not passionate about it. It does not really need my passion at the moment, so it works out.

Much of my mental energies have been spent on side-work, and making sure I have a good handle on all the stuff happening in and around the world. The picture I get is blurry, dark, and grainy. It looks like there will be more suffering and pain, more injustice, more wealth and power for the wicked, more depravity for the depraved, more hunger for the hungry. But before you think that those things are what bother me most, let me tell you what does. It grieves me that I don’t know if I can be Christ in dark times. I am hesitant to help, I worry about money, and am disconnected from those around me. Knowing that a rough spot lies ahead forces me to acknowledge my spiritual weakness. I am not sure I can overcome my selfishness when faced with the needs of others.

I have been reading about the saints. Everywhere in the history of the Church is written the stories of those who have lived in poverty in order to provide for others. These are our examples of Christ in the world, those worthy to be followed. But when I think about myself, doing these things, I think “what about my family?”. I make excuses.

Now, I know the answer, but it is hard and somewhat sobering. I give everything away. But not immediately to people I know, but in my mind, heart, soul, to God. If God needs these things he has trusted to my care to be used elsewhere, I need to be ready to allow that transfer. It is more than just acknowledging that everything I have comes from Him, it is actually practicing the act of giving it up, giving it away. In my head, I imagine that I am faced with an obvious need for a car, and I practice giving my car away. The same for all that I have: computers, house, job, money. I let go. But this is the sobering part. I can’t do it. The individual “things” are hard but possible, but the whole? Every thing? I can imagine a disaster where everything is destroyed, and that would not be so hard. But to be faced with the choice, and giving everything freely?

So this is what troubles me. I am attached, afraid of being attached, and convicted about being attached.

But it is not all gloomy. I know that I am where God wants me to be. He may test me, but I really do trust him. I may fear that he will redeem all that he has entrusted to me, but I also have that whisper in my soul that comforts me with promises of love.

This is a spiritual exercise, a practice on the road to Calvary. I won’t know if I am fit enough until I hit that part of the road. Lord have mercy.

Heavy reading, idle hands

Along with the gardening this summer I have been doing quite a bit of reading in areas that I don’t normally read. It started off in the spring with “An Underground History of American Education”, and has lead into various other alternative voices and perspectives of history, education, and economics. I never really enjoyed reading history or politics, so this was a new direction. The difficult part, and part of the reason that I do not write much about it, is that it is disturbing to dig into the history of our systems and difficult keep an upbeat perspective. Now we can look back on the ideas and thoughts that were prevalent a century ago and see how wrong or misguided they were, but our world today is still run using systems that were based on those ideas that we find so disturbing now.

One of the impressions that I am getting is the brokenness (sinfulness?) of systems. At the beginning of the development of a system (at least in modern history), whether it is political, financial, or educational, there is generally some good intent or altruistic motives. Over time, that good intent, which was attached to some individual or individuals, is supplanted by institutional goals that do not necessarily reflect the intent of the individuals who are now running the system. The system has a life of it’s own, but those that are the agents of the system do not steer according to the original passion, so the system drifts, and is easily diverted by those that would use the system for their own purposes. In some cases we now have monolithic systems of which we don’t even understand the original intent, but which are kept in place because those that control the system benefit through it regardless of how beneficial or effective the system is.

I am even tempted to say that systems are infernal tools for maximizing the effectiveness of vice. It only takes small suggestions in key places to turn a system towards malevolent intent. One proud and selfish leader can cause misery for millions, but is soon overthrown. A few dozen chairmen, or board members with minor bouts of selfish ambition, greed, or cowardice can cause generations of misery for hundreds of millions, if not more.

What better places for demons to play? We wonder why we do not see more overt demonic activity in the world today, but there is no need here. It is through the subtle manipulations of organizations that we are possessed. Everywhere we look we see huge systems for controlling the population, from education to economics to opinions and beliefs. Overt demonic activity is still powerful in some places where the predominant beliefs lead to a fear of spirits, but here we have TV, consumerism, nationalism, and the pursuit of leisure. We would call an old-school demon possession a trick, a fake, or a “condition”, not a thing to be feared.

See what I mean about staying upbeat? So my current question is: “what do I do with this?” I am still working on that, but one of the directions is to remain focused on the life around me. I have a sphere of influence, and within that I will be Christ. While it is helpful to understand the underpinnings of our society, it can also serve as a distraction from the real goal of pleasing God, and being love. But I still say RESIST!

I am still at the beginning or in the middle of some big ones that may not be finished until well into fall. It is good for me, even just the challenge to remain focused, and to question my inputs.

Mid summer update

There has been a lot going on this summer, but not much motivation for writing about it. The garden is doing well, and producing a good amount of food for our table, but it is clearly too small. But then again, we have still not really hit the tomato season yet. We have had a few handfuls off the vines, but the cool June, and cool nights for the last month or so have slowed down production. This cooler weather trend has affected the curcubits as well, and so far we have had only two cukes off the vine. I can see that we may not end up with a very good harvest if the nights continue to be so mild. My dreams of pickles lining the walls of our basement are fading. On a positive note, the small chilies, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Jalepeños have produced well so far, and are drying, pickled, or frozen (respectively). The kale is continuing to produce, and we have harvested 3 cabbages, one of which was enormous at 10 1/2 inches across and I am guessing around 7 pounds. Bea found that she is allergic to the bean vines by harvesting several pounds last week. She will need to wear sleeves and maybe gloves for the next round of picking. The leeks are still getting taller, and are around 3 feet at the moment. While the last minute potato experiment seems to be doing alright, the corn experiment right next to it does not look too promising. We have ears and tassels, but everything looks stunted and yellow. The variety has bantam in the name, but I don’t think it means the entire plant stays under 6 feet tall. A fun surprise was the hops! We planted it and let it go where it wished this year, not knowing how well it would do. It has produced quite a few cones, and the first harvest is drying now. I am not exactly sure what I will do with them, but I know people who brew, so I might send them directions west.

On the animal front, we picked up 9 more chickens from a retiree that had too many bantams. He just loves birds, but was getting to old to move all the cages indoors in the winter, so he switched to the smallest bantams he could find. The population got a little out of hand, so he he asked my friend Jason at Tractor Supply if he knew anyone who would take some, and Jason gave him our number. These little Dutch Bantams are only 7-9 inches tall, and the 4 roosters were full-grown and feisty. They are slowly integrating with “the ladies”, who now seem like amazonian giants. We don’t think we will keep them all, but at the moment, they are producing eggs and entertainment, so they are earning their keep. Ah, eggs. Our ladies just started laying last week, and their eggs are the same size as those from the mature bantams, only brown. They will start laying larger eggs in a few months, but right now we have the novelty of feeling like giants eating 3-5 eggs in the morning with our toast. We also have the 3 rabbits, but I am leaning towards shipping them off. They may be soft, but they sure are not doing anything to pay for all the feed they eat. We have contact with a girl that raises meat rabbits, so maybe we will give away some that we have in favor of some that can “make meat”.

Our freezer is slowly filling with harvested produce and berries. When apple season comes around we will look for windfall apples for making applesauce and cider, and stock up on vegetables that can be stored. We have been drying chilies, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, mustard seeds, coriander, and oregano. Our perennial bunching onions have grown in nicely, so they may be next. The bulb onions are all pulled out and hanging in braids in the carport, thanks to Ariana. She already knew how to braid them! We have noticed that we are missing garlic, so we will be putting that in this fall for next year, along with lots more onions.

I could keep rambling on and on about the garden, and plans for the homestead… but I won’t. We will be pretty busy the next several weeks with family arriving back, and visiting, as well as some serious camping. Things won’t settle down again until near October, which is feeling too soon at the moment.

Cilantro consumed

Originally written May 19th, but I can’t remember why I delayed posting. Maybe something to do with the garden.

Our cilantro, planted back in February was coming to the end of it’s sheltered domestic life, and there are no tomatoes or peppers in sight. So we decided to find another use, and plant more out-doors. I harvested every part of the plants for the following cilantro heavy meal. Although the leaves are the most used, all parts have the fragrance and flavor that I love, so I chopped, cleaned and crushed the stems, stalks and roots and used them for seasoning the carne asada and the rice. I saved the leaves for garnishing the meal itself. It was a great meal.

Carne Asada


2 pounds flank or skirt steak, butterflied

4 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chile pepper, seeded and minced (if canned chipotle is used, adobo sauce can be added)
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed (best to lightly toast the seeds first, then grind them)
1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

Lay the flank steak in a large glass bowl or baking dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the steak. Make sure each piece is well coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.

Preheat your grill over medium-high flame. Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade. Season both sides of the steak pieces with salt and pepper. Grill the pieces for a few minutes only, on each side, depending on how thin they are, until medium rare to well done, to your preference. Remove the steak pieces to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal.

Adapted from here

Flour Tortillas

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons good quality lard or manteca (butter can be used for a richer flavor)

2/3 cup water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Heat the water and lard, or other fat, over low heat, or in a microwave until it has melted. Gradually stir the liquid into the flour and form into a dough by hand. The result should be a dough that is neither wet nor dry and crumbly. If it seems too wet add a little more flour; if it is too dry add a little more water. Knead the dough very briefly, then allow it to rest for 1 hour. Divide it into 14 pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into little balls between the palms of your hands, then cover them with a slightly damp towel, and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes, and up to an hour and a half. This will allow the gluten to relax and make them easier to shape.

Roll the dough into rounds 6 ½ to 7 ½ inches in diameter using the technique described above. Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. When the skillet or griddle has preheated, place one of the rolled out dough pieces on it. Within about 30 seconds it should start to bubble and some little brown spots begin to form on the bottom. Flip the tortilla over and cook another 30 seconds. By this time it should start to puff a little more, and the other side will develop light brown spots. Flip the tortilla again at which time it should immediately begin to puff, sometimes into a large, nearly round ball. When the tortilla has fully expanded, remove it from the heat and place it in a tortilla warmer or wrap it in a thick towel. As you proceed, adjust the heat based on the above description. For example, reduce the heat if after about 30 seconds the bottom of the tortilla is beginning to char, or raise it if nothing much has happened. Repeat the process for the remaining tortillas.

Adapted from here

Cilantro Rice

3 cups rice
Juice from one lime or 1/4 cup cider vinegar
Water enough to reach the first knuckle on your middle finger
1/4 cup coarsely chopped and crushed cilantro stalks (about 1 inch long so they can be easily removed)

Place rice in pot (medium sized dutch oven or aluminum cook pot) and rinse twice. Add lime juice or vinegar and fill water to the first knuckle on middle finger. Place on high heat until boiling, and reduce to low. Cook on low for 15 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Black Beans

4 cups cooked black beans (or 2 cans)
1 cup marinade from carne asada

Combine beans and marinade and cook for about 20 minutes, or until you are quite sure the beans are soft and the meat juices are cooked.

Spring tour

Well, how about I give a little tour of the things that are growing in our yard right now, eh? Right this way…

First up we have the peas. These are first in line because they are the most vigorous growers in the ground so far this year. Here we have Super Sugar Snap in the foreground, and Golden Sweet Snow behind. They are still a little close together, but I will wait and see this week and then decide which ones can be culled. The Super Sugar Snap we bought last year when we were planning our garden at the other house, and they were cheap because they were the previous year’s seed. I over sowed them, hoping to counteract any viability problems. It seems to me that they all germinated just fine, so I have already thinned them once, and may do it once more. You can just barely make out the radishes that are growing “inside” the pea tent. I put them in there hoping that they would reach maturity before the peas obscured the sun. I think it will work!

Now we will move on to the turnips (Milan Purple Top) which went in at the same time as the radishes, having a similar growth habit. We don’t really know what we think of turnips quite yet as we have never eaten them. This crop will determine whether we grow them again for fall, or ever.

And then we have the onions that were started indoors in February. They are thickening up nicely and seem to be thriving. We have onion sections on each end of this first bed, and will have another section or two in the other beds for the sets. There are also a few other things in this bed, but I will wait until they are a little further along before I introduce them.

That is it for the veggies for now. I have a lot more still under the grow lights, and as tiny sprouts in parts of the garden, so they will make their debut soon.

There is more than vegetables growing in our yard… We have fruit trees and bushes too! The apples are showing buds, although it looks like out yield this year will be very light. It is to be expected for newly planted young trees, I am sure. I am not sure which tree this is, but it could be one of either Jonathan, Golden Delicious, or Matsu. We have a map that gives the varieties of the fruit trees and bushes, but Bea has it filed away somewhere (we will dig it up later in the summer). They all have reddish orange flowers, but very different bark.

A little farther along in the bloom are the cherries! Three of the four have blossoms, but only two have more than a couple. Two of the cherries are Regina and the others are Montmorency and Stella. Again, I am not sure which is which at the moment…

One look at these and I am very excited for the future promises of this tree in spring! I also note that cherries have a peculiar growth habit. They look very much like alien growths early on with tentacles and red glands.

Of the four blueberry bushes, only one is flowering this year. While I am happy for the advanced sexual maturity of this one plant, I am sad that I will have to remove any flowers that bloom in order to admonish it towards enhanced root growth. Next year will be the same, and by the third year, I hope my patience will pay off. This too is a specific variety of blueberry that will have to await future identification.

In addition to our “edibles” we have some more functional plants. There are the Cascade hops. Although it is a well known variety used for brewing beer, the primary objective was lots of large leaves. Bea ordered 6 rhizomes and has buried them in strategic places to enhance or obscure aesthetic features of the yard. The plan is to erect a trellis over the cement pad that used to be covered by the pump house and well. The trellis is not there yet, but the hops are going in anyway and we may end up with a large green spread where the cement used to be. We will keep them cut back, and put in the trellis in the fall for next spring. Some of the others are along the boundary fence to create a wall of green. If we end up with hops to harvest, I know a few people who brew that would probably welcome them into their wart. I do have a picture, but they just emerged from the ground and are hard to see. As they are one of the fastest growing plants you can get, it will not be long before I can take a good picture.

And that brings us to our last stop for today. We also have some beautiful volunteers. I say volunteers because I do not remember seeing these lady’s leaves last summer. I won’t say they were not there, but we were definitely pleasantly surprised when they arrived. There are another few mixed in with the yucca, and they really do not look too comfortable there.

Thank you for joining me, and I hope yo have enjoyed your tour. Make sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out and buy worthless pieces of junk that you will either throw away, or store indefinitely, but never use. Ba-bye!

Spring vigour

Our tomatoes are growing up (sniff). It makes me so proud of them. All 54.

Cilantro is doing dandy. Not sure when I will start clipping tastiness from them, but it looks like they will be ready before June.

I did trim the unruly onions in preparation for their final digs. They look so butch. As of this afternoon, they are in their big-boy bed. *Sigh* It seems like almost yesterday that I saw them take their first clumsy stretches towards the light.

Fortunately we were able to sprinkle them liberally on our potatoes that evening.

Spring in swing

Things are getting busy here. I have “installed” one 4’x18′ bed, and am partway through a second one of similar size. We will put in at least one more in the next week or so, and possibly another 3-4 in May (at least that is the plan at the moment). The plants are all growing as they should, and the onions have been out-doors for about a week now, hardening off. We have started on the next round of seeds, and should start the direct seeding of the beds once the snow threat is gone tomorrow. Actually, most of the peas, and some radishes are in a small bed at the end of the clothes-line, and the peas should be popping up any time now. The radishes are planted behind/north of the peas and should grow and mature fast enough that the peas will not interfere. We may end up with a nice pea tent in June. We have 100+ onion seedlings and 30+ sets to put out, along with some leeks. The leeks are looking pretty weak, but I am not sure if it is because they take a long time to mature, or if they really should already be in the ground. I have kept both leeks and onions trimmed, but it is time for another. Bea started broccoli, basil and celery early this week, and has pots ready for flowers.

Bea has filed the remaining seeds based on when they should be planted, so we now have a schedule to keep. I was trying to keep track, but after 27 pots of tomatoes, 6 eggplant, 24 peppers, 38 onion, 18 leek, and 8 Chichiquelite Huckleberry, I grew weary and overwhelmed trying to determine what was next, and how much to start. It is the first year, so next year should be easier.

And… we have chicks! Bea stopped by the feed store to see what they had and came home with 4 Rhode Island Reds, 3 White Rock, and 3 Black Sex-link (Black Star). They are very cute and it is always amazing to see how early they act like chickens. They naturally scratch when they eat, pick on each other, preen, hop onto a roost, and compete for food. The kids get endless entertainment from digging worms to feed the chicks and watching them chase each other around, fighting for the tasty morsel. Also interesting is that the chicks are not really that interested in the boxelder bugs that we have wandering our house, are only slightly interested in the Japanese lady beetles, but go crazy at the sight of a worm or slug. And they are only 5 days old. Those are some strong instincts.

In preparation for the future chickens, I have made the first step towards a finished coop: I put in the posts. That was last week, and I am still gathering info on the amount of lumber/materials needed to move on to the next phase: the floor. We have 5 weeks or so before the chicks reach outdoor size and constitution, so I will be working on the coop and the run in parallel to the gardens.

There are a few items we would like to grow, but have either neglected to order them, or do not have a firm plan for them, even though they are sitting in the cheese drawer of the fridge:

  • Hops (in the fridge)
  • Raspberries
  • Gooseberries
  • Black currants
  • Peaches

We are still not sure these will all make it into our ground this year (even though I still have hope). The hops will definitely go in, but the arbor that we intended to build may not. It will be a lot easier to put in the aesthetic elements once the production is in place, I think. As the hops grow, we will be able to split/transplant them as needed in the following years to places where we want shade in summer.

Seminal arrival

Our Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds order arrived today. Instead of the 60 seed packets we we expected, there were 78! It looks like we will be flush with tomatoes, green, yellow, orange, pink, and purple ones. Bea is very excited and started going through and taking notes for each variety from the catalog. Now comes the hard part… deciding when and how we will plant them. We will not be able to plant them all, and we still do not have the exact plan for the beds yet. So the next step is to determine which ones need to be started now, and get them in the plugs. I know onions and leeks are on the list, and we will start figuring out which things will be late summer plantings, rather than early spring.

A few of the varieties I am personally excited about:

  • Purple Tomatillos
  • Charentais (European melon)
  • Chichiquelite Huckleberry
  • Tal Jalepeno
  • Cherokee Chocolate tomato
  • White Wonder watermelon
  • Hartman’s Giant amaranth