Friday, December 31, 2010


My computer seems to have a mind of its own today so, rather than try to type when it doesn't want me to, I'll just leave you with a couple pics and some recipe links.

Happy New Year and Happy Eating!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stacking Functions

In Permaculture there is a principle of stacking functions--getting the most out of one element. This might be keeping chickens for both eggs and manure (and entertainment!) or planting something that is edible and a natural mulch. I was looking at our property (all .07 acres of it) and thought of our front fence.

In its own ramshackle way it serves a few purposes. One, it is our firewood for the winter. With southern exposure the green wood gets plenty of sun to dry it. It is also conveniently placed so we can easily traipse out to retrieve it. (Of course just about anything would be considered convenient given our small lot.)

Second, the woodpile provides a privacy screen. Eventually we would like to have a latilla fence, but in the meantime, this woodpile will do just fine, thank you. We are situated right on a corner and, although our street is not busy, I like having just a touch of privacy. I also like the idea of our view changing as winter progresses and the wood pile dwindles.  The neighborhood kids might find that intriguing once we get the front garden growing. Little by little the veggies and fruit trees will be revealed, not to mention a glimpse of the chickens out back! Makes gardening sound fun, almost magical, even.

Third, I think some wildlife is also finding the pile a cozy place to spend the winter. My hope is that snakes and black widows will find it utterly inhospitable. I realize that  I am in total denial and, when I have to collect wood, I will be sure to wear gloves and carry osha root.

Fourth, it looks pretty cool if you ask me. How many woodpile fences have you seen?

And, lastly, where else could we put 2+ cords of wood on our postage stamp of land?!

Of course our wood stove is still waiting for a chimney and a hole in the roof to accommodate said chimney. Until then the "fence" will maintain its current height and continue to season in the sun harboring who knows what from the animal kingdom. Here's to stacking functions!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nothing Says Winter Like Soup

With the Voluptuous Vegan in hand, I made homemade stock and her Cream of the Harvest soup. Full of butternut squash, sweet potatoes and a garlic/ginger spice puree it was sweet yet warming. I mostly followed the recipe, but left out the parsnip (I was out) and substituted chile powder for chile paste (I was too lazy to make it.). Homemade peasant bread rounded out this perfect lunch. This loaf was made with a combination of wheat and rye flours. Hearty and delicious. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just a Couple of Chickens

Photo courtesy of Corinne Tippet and The Free Rooster

I have had the good fortune to spend part of my break reading Just a Couple of Chickens:Raising Poultry and a Family in Hard Times by Corinne Tippet. Corinne and her family embarked on a poultry-raising adventure that rivals anything that Lane and I have set out to do in our own haphazard way. Living on 2 acres in northern New Mexico, Corinne decided to raise about 100 birds (pheasant, chickens, ducks, quail, geese and partridge) for eggs and feathers in one fail swoop. Her book is a memoir of that time as well as the impact the economic meltdown had on her family. Additionally, there is a bevy of information on raising poultry at the back of the book, which I found very helpful.

Written with humor and wit, Corinne details this chapter in her life in a way where I felt I was hearing the story of a good friend over tea. Her writing style is full of self-deprecating humor and told with hysterical recreations of dialogue. I could hardly put the book down and laughed out loud on more than one occasion. (If you've ever been stuck in the mud or spent time with poultry, you'll laugh too!) Corinne's entrance into the world of poultry reminded me of the many projects Lane and I have accomplished that usually turn out alright in the end but have a lot of missteps and mayhem along the way (ie buying our house sight unseen and then navigating the system to get it liveable). I feel as though we are kindred spirits.

Corinne and her family now live in Portland, OR and hope to have chickens again someday. She blogs about her life at The Free Rooster and has a new book (or two) in the works. Albuquerque Public Library carries Just a Couple of Chickens and I've spotted it at Miller's Feed in Los Ranchos, too. Oh, I failed to mention that she self-published this book. She's got spunk, I tell 'ya!

Busy in the Kitchen

Wearing my Arizmendi  tee I baked away Christmas Eve day. Arizmendi is a bakery cooperative located in San Fransisco where our good buddy Diane is part owner. If you click on the About Us page, she's the one standing in front of the door. She's a really cool gal and even makes trips to New Mexico to go cycling with us!

But I digress...

In preparation for a dinner gathering  I made roasted chickpea "nuts" from the Voluptuous Vegan cookbook, kale chips from Smitten Kitchen, and this ancho chile pumpkin pie. This was my first time making all of these things and they turned out pretty well. The nuts are a touch chewy and the kale is oh-so delicate (but delicious!). The pie was done entirely from scratch (crust and pumpkin puree included) and we'll see how the whole thing tastes in a few hours. Here is a picture of my first pie:

I could use a little work on the crust, but I think it will be the right balance of sweet and spicy. The dinner is Indian-themed so it should fit right in.

I also baked another loaf of peasant-style bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I was wary of the wet, unkneaded dough, but I think the breads turned out pretty good. I'll have to work on my boule-shaping technique.

I tested the sauerkraut and I think it's ready. Out of the crock and into the fridge it went. I think I overdid the salt in the brine but we'll give it a real shot sometime next week. Speaking of brine, I also made two pickles--beet and daikon radish. Delish, delish, delish.

Note: The pie turned out pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. It wasn't spicy enough, though, so I think next time I'll add more ground chile.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Communing with Nature

So, the title of this post may be a tad misleading. Going to a ski resort is not exactly communing with Nature. We drove there, rode a chairlift (albeit wind powered) and skied down on fiberglass boards strapped to our feet. John Muir and Thoreau would not be impressed.

Being up in Pagosa Springs/Wolf Creek, however, is stunning. The views from the top of the mountain were spectacular: the sky was wide and blue and snow-capped peaks stretched all the way to the horizon. I could almost understand people who risk their lives to mountaineer. I don't have any photographic evidence of this landscape because the camera was left in the car. It's pretty hard to operate when your fingers are frozen and/or in gore-tex mittens.

Despite the chairlift and madness at the base, the fresh snow and glimpses of green peeking out from the snow-laden conifers were refreshing. We usually ride the side of the mountain that is devoid of people. The terrain can be steep and the snow deep, but the serenity is well worth it. As we carved in and out of the trees and over squirrel tracks I realized we were in nature. There were times where we thought we might have even been outside of the ski boundary, it was that quiet.

Unlike last time we were up there, we didn't stay in a hotel. Sure there were lots of options--the spot we called home last weekend or the green-built, hot-springs heated, wind-powered fancy hotel. No, we communed with nature a bit more--from the inside of our station wagon. With poorly cut curtains and our camping pads stuffed in the back, we snuggled under our down comforter while also wearing fleece pants, down jackets and beanies. I wasn't cold during the night, but the frost on the inside of the car indicated how cold it was outside. Luckily Pagosa Springs had decent coffee and a great bakery to warm us up after we broke down "camp."

The drive home was through fields of  sage and cholla cactus with incredible rock formations as a backdrop. Although observed from a speeding car, the beauty of northern New Mexico was not lost on us. There's talk of heading back up there again next weekend, depending on the next storm system to come through. You can bet we'll be glad to be back in nature and this time I'll take the camera.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the Homesteading Front

 Although there's sauerkraut fermenting in the kitchen and chickens scratching out back, not much else is going on at our wee little homestead. Canning has come to an abrupt halt and I've become stingy with putting jam on my toast because I don't want to run out of preserves. Silly, I realize. There are more jars of jam than we should rationally consume in one year, but they seem so precious. I feel like that about the veggies we grow, too. In fact, I still have about a cup's worth of black-eyed peas we grew in Austin that I can't seem to cook up. I think about the time and energy it took to grow them and to simply devour them doesn't do those little legumes justice.

When cooking homegrown veggies I'm conscious of eating every last bite but, the strange thing is,  I rarely feel this way about food that we didn't grow or put up ourselves. While we limit food waste and compost what we can, I don't feel the need to eat every last grain of rice, every last bite of mashed potato or lick the plate clean. I do savor every bite and enjoy the pleasure of eating but without the same elevated feeling as when I've grown it myself.  I'm grateful for the work of the farmers who grow this food for us and I think I need to give it the same reverence as I would my homegrown stuff.

In other homesteading news, it's been gray and overcast for a week, which is a great time for bread baking! So far this week I've made whole wheat pita and pizza. The pita was a great addition to a Greek-inspired menu that included slow-cooked lamb from our CSA, orzo, spinach and green bean Fashoulakia.  The pizza had roasted carnival squash, caramelized onions, walnuts and parm. cheese. Garlicky kale and pickled beets rounded out the meal. Tomorrow I'm going to try my hand at homemade pumpkin pie using a real pie pumpkin and crust from scratch. Keep your fingers crossed!

I picked up Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Hertzberg & Francois) from the library and can't wait to get some big batches of dough going so we can have homemade bread multiple times a week. I want to get that routine down because my work/class schedule from March-May is totally nuts and we'll need some good food routines in place if I want to cook.

March-May is also planting time around these parts. I hope I can carve out some time between work and classes to really get our garden going for spring. I'm tired of the bare yard--the tufts of vetch and winter wheat are a nice touch, but I would love some veggies!! Patience, I know. And planning--my downfall. I'm notorious for spending months on a plan and then, at the last minute, throwing the plan out the window for something to be happening now. I like results. Usually this ends up in a half-baked attempt and then having to redo it later. (i.e. the raised beds in the parkway garden in Austin that I dug in 100+ degree heat and needed to rebuild a month later. Not my finest moment.)

Lane's been doing his fair share of homesteading projects, too. He's been putting the sewing machine to work mending clothes and sewing curtains for our station wagon--our winter "camper." He's also finished our fence, built a ton of shelves, worked on the cars and preparing for our wood stove chimney installation.

So, I guess things on the home front haven't been that quiet after all.  Many of these things have become such a part of our everyday lives that they don't seem so special or out of the ordinary. If you had asked us 4 years ago while living the urban life in Portland what we'd be doing now, living in Albuquerque with 2 chickens and a 900 square foot house would probably not have been our answer. But, here we are enjoying our little life in the North Valley. We hope life is good for you, too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Break

Friday, at 12:45, officially marked the start of my winter break: a respite from syllabus deadlines and no where in particular to be at 8:15 in the morning. Delightful.

By 2:00 Friday we were on the flanks of Sandia, alpine touring. Lane was on his split board, I on my randonne skis. The powder was about 2 feet deep and we blazed a trail up to some cat tracks. After we passed the jump-building, whooping sledders and snowboarders it was fairly serene.  Two hours of huffing and puffing, with the moon rising and light fading, we were rewarded with a smooth trip down to our car, surfing the powder and laying fresh tracks all the way.

Saturday we tried to make it back to Sandia, but to no avail--the road was impassable and even a snow plow was stuck. (At least this is the version the sheriff shared with us.) After scouting out a few other spots which proved unskiable, we decided to head home and pack up the car for an adventure. Five hours later we were in Pagosa Springs, Colorado soaking in a natural mineral pool. Wolf Creek Ski Area is just 23 miles from Pagosa Springs and has some of the best powder skiing we had ever experienced. Sunday would be no different.

Up at 4:30, we fixed a nice cup of tea and began the slow, snowy ascent to Wolf Creek pass. The pass would be closed from 6:30-8 for avalanche control and we didn't want anything to come between us and the fresh powder. Pulling into the parking lot around 6 am, there were just a few crazies like us and the resort staff. It was still snowing.  By the time the lifts started at 8:30, our car already had a few inches of fresh snow. We couldn't wait to hit the slopes because even the groomed trails would have plenty of  powder. In the trees it was thigh-high and light, my fat skis and Lane's powder board floating on the surface, the first evidence that people had been there.

Our legs burned from working our way down the mountain yet, when the upper part of the mountain opened that is accessible only by hiking, we were game. Our last run of the day involved a brief, but steep, post-holing hike to waist-deep powder. I have never experienced anything like it. Exhausted and elated we cruised back to the lodge, to our waiting Subaru and Pagosa Springs for tacos and a soak in the pool.

We could barely move the next morning, which was a great excuse to get back in the hot spring and spend the morning in the local bakery, eating cinnamon rolls and pumpkin muffins. No matter how many times we tried to get riled up about heading back to Wolf Creek, our bodies protested loudly so we pointed the Subaru south and cruised into the North Valley where the snow had melted and the temperature was unseasonably warm.

Since we left, Wolf Creek has had almost 3 feet of snow and it's still falling. I'm seeing another Colorado adventure in our future....

Thanks Winter Break.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Bosque

It's sandhill crane season again. Standing 4 feet tall, these majestic birds winter in New Mexico, much to our delight. There is something so incredible about these creatures, with their prehistoric calls and imposing frames. Much of the time we spot them in empty fields along the Bosque and in open spaces in the North Valley. When they take off they are truly a sight to behold.  Magnificent. Today I was lucky to have two soar right over my head as I pedaled to the Bosque. It looked something like this:

Not only did I see those beauties, but we were treated to a juvenile Cooper's Hawk and  a porcupine at the Bosque. A porcupine!! It was lounging in the top branches of a cottonwood and was much larger than I had expected. From a distance it looked to be between 1-2 feet long. Incredible. Even though we are technically in the city, the Bosque allows for so much wildlife to thrive and have a place in our bustling town. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What's on the Menu

This is for our dear friend who is curious what will be on the menu tonight if he comes to dinner.

  • Sauteed garlicky kale
  • Homemade pickled beets
  • Cumin roasted carrots
And dessert is yet to be determined.

We'll save you a seat!

Storage Solutions

This post is going to be heavy on the pics, light on words. I'd like the photos to speak for themselves. We have been living without some storage solutions for a while and this weekend Lane worked especially hard to build and install various shelves and a closet. He used reclaimed barn wood for everything but the dowels on the closet and towel rack. Hooray!  We have places to put our stuff!

Our "closet" before.--Note the bikes lined up. We need a shed!

Now isn't that better?
Bathroom trim and a towel rack. The trim is from reclaimed barn wood, too.

Our vintage tile shower. This was *not* a project of the weekend. I just didn't think you'd seen it yet.

The new shelves have opened up the counter which is really nice. The clutter can really get to a person. 

Last, but not least, a way to organize our shoes, helmets and the like. This really cleans up our dining area and gives the semblance of organization.