Monday, December 5, 2011

Snow Day!

Today marks the first snow day of the year. Albuquerque public schools covers a large area, so even though our part of town barely received a dusting, other parts received several inches of snow. The two-hour delay at 5:30 gave way to a cancellation at 7. I, for one, am relieved because we spent yesterday skiing in 3 feet of powder at Wolf Creek in Colorado. Walking is presenting itself as a challenge and I can't imagine trying to wrangle middle schoolers in my somewhat feeble state.

So what is a teacher to do on a snow day?
  • Get caught up on grading
  • Plan, plan plan for curriculum needs
  • And...cook!!
In the slow cooker there is this borscht for dinner. I haven't tried this recipe before, but it looked promising, what with the combination of beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and a healthy amount of cloves.  I'm also hoping to get a loaf of crusty bread started as well as some sort of savory and sweet baked good. With all of that time in the kitchen, I hope I can get to the mountain of grading that also needs to be done.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mint Tulip-icious

Whether or not you are Vegan, you will love lunch at Mint Tulip, simple, vegan food done well. We just finished up the vegan burger and a grilled veggie sandwich. The veggie burger was a lovely shade of pink thanks to the sweet beets. With the regular burger fixin's and some vegannaise, it was very satisfying. The grilled sandwich had tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes and what I think was cashew cheese. The bread was perfectly toasted and the cheese added a nice flavor. Strangely, what really stood out for me were the sides. The potato salad was perfectly balanced with mustard and not-too-mushy potatoes. The pasta had a lovely earthiness from (roasted?) mushrooms that added a depth and intensity not usually found in a pasta salad.

The aesthetic reminds me of places we used to frequent in Portland and Seattle--good colors, quiet music and a lack of pretension. Their hours are 10-4 Monday-Saturday and dinner is served on Fridays. Tonight's menu includes polenta with grilled vegetables and a faux meatloaf.

I sincerely hope that their location near campus (2110 Central) and word of mouth will help them stay in business for a long time to come. While I am not usually out and about during lunch hours, I think we'll get here when we can. Vegan places are few and far between here in the land of carne adovada and posole and I welcome Mint Tulip with open arms!

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Most Assuredly Fall

It's 5:30.

It's dark.

I rode home in driving sleet.

This mac and cheese recipe is in the oven and the fire is going in the woodstove.

It's definitely fall around here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Catching Up

I've been away from the blog for quite some time now. Teaching has been occupying most of my waking hours and, sadly, left little time for writing. As the seasons are turning and things are settling down on the work front, I'm hoping to be able to write more often.

Since the last post, not too much has happened. We're down to one chicken--Buffy couldn't take the summer heat. Chippy is still clucking on and we're getting the most delicious eggs. The garden has been hit by frost. The last remaining butternuts won't make it and I wasn't able to salvage the last of the tomatoes. We've had a good run, though, considering my lack of garden attention. Here is a pic of some of the squash:
Overall I think the volunteer butternut brought in ~10 good-sized squash. Not bad for not even trying!

The haphazardly planted flowers are saying their good-byes, too. The cosmos and zinnias are finished but these are still blazing on:
I planted a "save the bees" mix from Botanical Interests and wasn't sure what was going to come up. The cosmos, zinnias and India blankets did the best. I should snag some of their seeds for next season!

Here are some long overdue pictures of our new back wall. We are so glad to have some privacy and the wall acts as a sound barrier, too.

Yes, the fence around the coop looks pathetic. Chippy figured that out right away and we've given up on trying to contain her for now. She's a free-ranger, that's for sure. The bottom of our shoes can attest to that!

We asked to have hooks for the ladder installed when the wall went up. Clever us! Thinking ahead really paid off this time.

In other Lean-to news, the North Valley Dirt Park opened just a few weeks ago. This is a county-owned and managed project that is just a few miles up the road. It is behind a community center and offers  spectacular dirt riding, from the pump tracks to the table top jumps to the bmx practice course. If you are unfamiliar with a dirt park, it's a place to ride bmx, dirt jump and mountain bikes. We are almost always the oldest people there by about 20 years and I am invariably the only woman. I've had very incredulous looks by the adolescent males at my bike and I, but that usually stops after they've seen me ride. One young person even told me I was "shredding it." Hah!

The dirt park has been a great way for us to get more in touch with our community and it is good fun to be out there with the youth. As a middle school teacher you would think I would get enough of that during the work day, but in this environment it's a totally different story. One of my favorite things, though, outside of picking up on tween slang, is seeing how much we improve week after week. I can jump my bike higher and further than when we began and my confidence is improving. While I'm no where near doing 360s or "one footers," I'm having a blast. And it's fun to go wearing my cardigan:

See that guy in the back? I can do that, but on a smaller scale. :)

The last few evenings we've been at the park until dusk and I'm already mourning the loss of sunlight that will come with the change in seasons. I hope that I can finagle my work schedule such that I can still get a few laps in before sunset.

We've also been enjoying revisiting local restaurants, like Thai Vegan.
The P.E.T (pumkin, eggplant, tomato) dinner combo is great!

Yet I'm lamenting the fact that I've been so exhausted that cooking really feels like a chore. Today I woke up with the woodstove raging and rain pelting our windows. It was a perfect kind of day for lots of tea drinking and veggie chili making. I think  more days like that are on the horizon. I've got to use up all of that butternut squash somehow!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Putting It Up

This time last year I was canning like mad: pears, peaches, prickly pear, plums. The pantry shelf was full and I felt oh-so self-satisfied.  This year,however, I've done practically nothing and last year's jams and preserves are down to a mere handful.

What's the change this time around? Instead of putting up food for us, I'm teaching my middle school outdoor education students the art of canning. With a parent volunteer each student took home 1/2 pint of loganberry jam and today we canned 16 half-pints of prickly pear. I can't exactly call that one jelly, because I'm not convinced it's going to set. It might end up being 16 half-pints of prickly pear syrup. They'll love it just the same.

The Householder's Guide to the Universe comes to mind often these days. Harriet Fasenfest devotes quite a few pages to the notion of working part time, so one can household the rest of the time and I can see why. I've been putting in 10-12 hour days at work and then a few more grading papers at home. It's exhausting and doesn't leave much time for canning or even cooking, for that matter. I'm missing the summer afternoons where I'd start pizza dough at 4 to have for dinner that night and be able to tend to the garden properly. Now I'm just thankful that the tangle of tomatoes are finally ripening and that the volunteer butternut is still chugging along. It's a big mess, with a giant sunflower toppled over into the whole shebang. It has a certain beauty, and the bees and goldfinches love it, but it is a reminder to me of how much I work, how little time I am spending at home, and how I do miss being in the garden and the kitchen on a daily basis.

Don't get  me wrong, I really love what I do. I get to teach middle schoolers about convection currents and ecosystems; pythagorean theorem and variables. It's just that I'm seeking some sort of balance. It'll come but by then we'll be in the dead of winter with only dreams of spring ahead.

Happy harvesting and preserving to those who are in a state of abundance!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Winter Squash in August

I've always found it funny that winter squash is ready to be harvested in summer. I get that its name comes from its ability to be stored through winter and for that I am very grateful. Our volunteer squash are doing very well and the other day I harvested two butternuts and one acorn squash.

The tomatoes appear to be waiting for cooler weather to ripen. Note to self: a glacier tomato is probably better suited to cooler climes.

The sunflowers are really putting on a show as are the cosmos. Things are looking really good here, despite my inattention and downright neglect.

Speaking of neglect, we pretty much forgot we planted two cherry trees a few weeks ago. They were in bad shape by the time we got to them this past weekend. I think they may be able to be resurrected. I see now how permaculture's notion of zones really comes into play. The closer the zone, the more likely you are to visit it to maintain that zone's vitality. Maybe the ditch is just too far for us to have plants we really have to care for. 

In two days our middle school is having a cooking-from-scratch extravaganza. We'll be making pizza, mozzarella, pesto, oven fries and homemade vegannaise. I hope I can get my mozz. technique down tomorrow night because my first attempt was nothing like cheese. I think I need to heat the milk a little higher and maybe more slowly. Keep your fingers crossed! We'll be using convection ovens, conduction stovetops, solar ovens and an horno. This is to prep us to watch What's on Your Plate? a documentary made by two adolescent girls in Manhattan.

Also at school our 45 6th and 7th graders and I built 10 4'x4' tables using power tools and elbow grease. They turned out beautiful and funky and the kids looked great working at them today. They have such confidence and pride in this type of work. My outdoor ed class is also looking forward to building the school chicken coop, which we hope to start next week.

Busy, busy, busy around these parts.

And it's raining!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's On My Mind

When I last posted, we had had three good monsoon rains. Since then we have had next to zero precipitation and no rain of any consequence on the horizon according to the weather report.


Luckily we have the acequia, but after the fire at Las Conchas, the acequia water was not its usual color. For a day or two it ran very silty, almost a terracotta color, and then it ran a dark, dark brown, which is unusual. This weekend it was back to its usual coloration so we felt like we could irrigate with it. Lane and I were concerned that the added silt would suffocate the plants that get covered in water during flooding. Saturday we gave the yard a good soaking and the plants are perking back up again. The butternut is seriously taking over the yard and most of the sunflowers are in bloom. Pulling up to the house after a day at work has been lovely with all of the yellow blossoms bobbing in the breeze.

Two of the Stella cherries in the guerrilla orchard did not break dormancy so the nice folks at the nursery replaced them with two more Bings. Those were planted yesterday and I am sure feeling it today. I'm really not meant to wield a pick axe.

Speaking of work, middle school starts in two days. Two days!!! I've been frantically preparing my classroom and long range plans to get ready for the Big Day. Our first two days are pretty unique. We're heading to the UNM ropes course and climbing wall for community-building and a whole lot of fun. I've heard that some of the younger students at our school are already talking about doing the ropes course when they are in middle school. I hope we can keep the tradition alive!

Our first two days on campus will also be exciting. The 6th and 7th graders will be building their own tables! Last year's 6th grade built their own desks, but since we'll be switching rooms we thought tables would be better to have that whole community feeling over the, "hey, that's my desk" sort of thing. I'll post some pictures when they finish.

The start of the school year is always stressful for me. I want the first days to be near perfect and to make sure I have all of my routines and procedures down pat. The first day of school is so crucial for establishing boundaries and expectations and I do not want to blow it. No way. This is the first year for MMCS to have a middle school and I want it to go well.

Part of the other planning I'm doing is for our outdoor education elective. This first trimester is called "Working with the Land." We're going to build the school chicken coop, cook in the solar oven, build a solar dehydrator and begin planning the middle school garden. There is also orchard maintenance and native bee research to be done. If anyone out there has relatively easy plans for solar dehydrators, please pass them along in the comments. These kids are handy with all kinds of tools, but any project that requires a pneumatic nail gun may not pass the safety board.

I'm also on the lookout for fruit leather recipes where I can use the solar dehydrator. Prickly pear, apple or quince recipes are top of the list as they will ripen about the time we'll finish up the dehydrator. I hope.  

And, finally, my sister has just had her first child. She's the first (and will be the only) in our immediate family to have kids. Cameron Elizabeth came into this world without too much of a struggle and is doing well at home in Virginia. My sister sends me pictures daily which I very much appreciate.

This time last year I was working part time and a full-time grad student. Time moved more slowly and there always seemed to be opportunities for leisure. Now I'm a full time teacher and the pace of life has picked up a lot. There are many things I had hoped to do over the summer but didn't get to. I haven't planted the fall garden (which is buried under the butternut) and hope I will have time for jamming and putting up all the goodness that comes at the end of summer. The pantry shelf is looking pretty bare.

On the transportation front, my intention is to bike commute every day and I really, really hope I can stick to it. Our house is less than two miles from school, so it would be downright shameful to drive. I even have a bar-mounted coffee cup holder. If that doesn't motivate me, I don't know what will.

So as we get into the new routine, posts may slow down for a while. Be patient. We're still working on the lean-to and cooking delicious things but we may not be able to sneak a moment to tell you about them. We'll get there. Promise.

Enjoy the tail end of summer, I know I am!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome Monsoons!

In what has been an extraordinarily dry summer, we have finally gotten some rain. In the last week we have had 3 good monsoon storms and haven't needed to access the acequia for irrigation. The yard is so happy and the butternut acts as though it is on steroids. It is truly taking over the yard and we have at least 5 squash getting bigger every day with more on the way.

In other news, we are in the process of putting up a block wall on the property line behind our house. We took the rickety wooden fence that was there are returned it to its original home on the east side of the property. I'm looking forward to training some honeysuckle and (hopefully) some berries up that fence. While some may find fences to be too claustrophobic, I find them comforting. They embrace the property and provide a snuggled-in sort of feeling. I'll post pictures as the project progresses.

Keep your fingers crossed, as I am, that the rains will continue. We have a long way to go to break this drought!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures in Solar Cooking

Earlier this week I borrowed a solar oven from school to begin trying it out before I use it to teach my students in the fall. I have to say that so far I am in love with solar cooking. I've made brown rice, baked potatoes, a luscious gingerbread and right now there is a millet-rice dish doing its best under less than-ideal conditions. The afternoon clouds are rolling in. (Please say they'll bring us rain!)

I also tried an 18-hour sourdough from this nifty site, but after the dough was done fermenting, it was too overcast to use the sun oven. I baked it up in the regular oven and it was one of the best loaves I've made in a long time. I think I'll make some more dough tomorrow to try again.

The best thing about using the solar oven is that it keeps the house cooler than it would otherwise. With temperatures in the upper 90s, I'm glad for any reason to keep the interior heat to a minimum. The second best thing, well, maybe it is a tie for first, is that the solar oven doesn't use any nasty fossil fuels! 

I also like that it forces me to think ahead: a pot of brown rice takes two hours (three if I preheat the water in the solar cooker) and the gingerbread took an hour and a half. I get to really think about what we're going to eat and how much time we need. It slows life down a notch. Maybe once school is back in session, this might pose a challenge, but I'd like to see how long we can maintain using the sun oven.

 I'm going to need to work on my timing. At this time of year, rain clouds generally roll in around dinnertime. With the current drought and only one good rain to date, I've forgotten about these regularly scheduled monsoon clouds. When I put out the millet/rice about an hour ago, the clouds were puffy and plenty of blue sky could be found. Now it's very gray and rain just may be in the forecast. I wonder how much longer beyond the 2 hour suggested cooking time it'll have to stay in the cooker.

Add a fourth thing I like about the sun oven--the lack of predictability! I'm not ready for sun-cooked dinner parties yet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Burst of Productivity

I'm not sure if it is the influence of coffee, the cool mornings, or Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe, but I had a burst of productivity this morning. I've made yogurt, the laundry's out to dry, the solar cooker is preheating, and pizza dough is rising. It's not even 10 o'clock! Now if only I could maintain this frenzy to get me through a paper about which I've been procrastinating!

Here are some pics of the garden and yard from this morning:

I borrowed this solar cooker to practice before I use it in our environmental ed. elective. It got up to 300 degrees yesterday!

Cosmos in bloom

This sunflower is narrow on top, wide on the bottom. It makes a perfect shade umbrella for the chickens.

One of the sunflowers in front of the house. Bonus points if you can spot the honeybee!

These were supposed to get much taller, but I think I planted too late, or it's just too hot.

I've been watching hummingbirds, goldfinches, native and honeybees work this sunflower from the kitchen window.

The butternut that is taking over the garden. This works well for my lazy gardening style as I didn't plant it in the first place!

Two of the lovely butternuts that are doing well so far. We've avoided the squash bugs as of yet. Thanks to the chickens and the interplanted tomatoes perhaps?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Low-tech Greywater System

Letting all the dishwater just run down the drain is such a waste. It's not hazardous and therefore still has purpose. While you wouldn't want to bathe in it, the fruit trees certainly don't mind being soaked by this greywater. Our county has codes for those folks who wish to put in an intricate system. We, on the other hand, prefer to do things a little more on the low-tech side. Here is our kitchen greywater "system":

Yup, just a bucket under the sink drain. It's that easy! When it fills up, we just walk it out to the yard and deposit the water under the trees. This is a great way to supplement our weekly irrigation and the "waste" water gets used for a good purpose.

Speaking of a good purpose, in the bathroom we have a similar set up. The water from the bathroom sink gets diverted to toilet flushing. With our low-flow toilet, it doesn't take much greywater to do the job.

We're also going to set up a catchment in the shower and put that water to good use. At our house in Austin we ran a hose from a sump pump out the exterior wall. Any water that was still sitting around at the end of the day got pumped out to the pecan trees. You don't want your greywater to sit around for more than a day, then it gets septic (and really stinky). We're not ready to drill another hole in the wall, so a tub in the shower will have to do.

In Austin we also hooked up our washing machine to a 50 gal trash can and put a spigot in the bottom. A hose was attached to the spigot and it ran out of the garage and to the large shade trees in the front yard. We would move the hose around after each load to make sure the trees were getting equal access to the water.

When we used this system before, it really brought to light just how much water we were using on a daily basis. When you're hauling out a five-gallon bucket sloshing-full of dishwater a few times a day, in all types of weather, you can't ignore your usage. As a family of 2, we don't use much, but greywater recycling was a great way to see how we could reduce our use even further.

It almost seems criminal given our drought conditions to just let this stuff head off to the water treatment plant after just one use. We need to stretch our water as far as it can go and this is one small way to accomplish that goal.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Garden in July

We've both been pretty bogged down with work and school, so no adventures to report. Also, most of the public land in NM is shut down due to fire danger. We're grateful for a proactive plan, but we miss getting into the mountains. We have not had precipitation of any significance for months. We need it to rain! Today the forecast is 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Our sincere hope is that the thunderstorms come with drenching rain and not with fire-inducing lightning.

We are so fortunate that the acequia is still going strong so we can irrigate. The trees look great and the apples are coming along nicely.

The volunteer butternut squash is going like gangbusters and threatens to completely crowd out the tomatoes which came back from the dead. Maybe the shade from the squash keeps the tomatoes comfortable in the 90+ temps of the afternoon.

We also have some gigantic sunflowers around the yard that were not planted by us. Thanks to the birds and other critters.

All of this vegetation is helping keep the chickens cool, too. We've been letting them free range in the hopes of some yard maintenance. They've been happily devouring wheat and many of the weeds. Miraculously they stay away from the squash and tomato plants. Maybe once the tomatoes ripen, they will be vulnerable. They are also tromping all over the vetch, which at least gives the appearance of the yard being more manageable. It also helps the flower seeds that were sown in the spring to get enough sun to grow. I'm constantly surprised at how much the chickens enhance our landscaping experience. All of this foraging has also resulted in absolutely delicious eggs with beautiful, golden yolks. Bonus!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mushroom ID

Imagine our surprise when we came upon these mushrooms near our irrigation ditch. (Sorry about the picture quality, but it was near dusk.) I thought mushrooms made their presence known after a rain, or in moist areas. This spot is anything but moist. True the acequia is nearby, but I can't imagine there is any moisture in this spot, especially because we haven't had a drop of rain in eons.

The tallest stands at about 12 inches and there was another beginning to emerge to the right of these. Note the spores at the bottom of the picture. Other than their height, the other thing that was astounding was that the grey/white caps actually come off!

This photo does not do this 'shroom justice. The red rust color of the cap was brilliant. This pic taken with the flash gives you a better idea.

I tried to id them last night, but to no avail. If anyone has any insight, please leave a comment.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Progress in the Yard (or Lack Thereof)

This summer we've had a pretty hands-off gardening style. I'd like to think it's intentional experimentation, but mostly it's neglect. With the exception of the weekly watering and fairly regular weeding, we let things run their course. The vetch is truly out of control: it's rapidly going to seed and starting to climb into the fruit trees. The fescue is nearly as tall and has also gone to seed. The wheat is also ripening nicely, which the chickens truly appreciate. The veggie bed has greens going to seed (which is intentional) and a volunteer squash and melon of some kind doing their best to crowd out the tomatoes. I am fascinated by the plant dynamics but the yard is truly unruly. Here are the hens set free from their run to help maintain the jungle:

Making their way through the wheat, fescue and sunflower forest

Wednesday we ate the last peach from our tree. It was heavenly. Here it was just before we reverently devoured it:

Garnet peach

Two turnips are still buried and I really should uproot them. They are not meant for near 100 degree heat. One of the 5 tomatoes has two wee fruit growing and the mystery squash should start blossoming any moment. I also spotted basil I had forgotten about. Along the perimeter of the lot we've also planted some giant sunflowers. They are hitting their growth spurt and I can't wait to have 8-10' flowers bobbing their greetings when in bloom.

The one spot we can't neglect is the guerrilla orchard. It needs to be hand watered about twice/week. Although next to the acequia it doesn't have direct floodwater access, so we hand water. There are 4 cherry trees currently as well as a handful of sunflowers. This whole thing is situated next to a west-facing block wall. The radiant heat can really speed up evaporation and transpiration, so we have to be more diligent in our care.

Although our yard will never make it into some glossy gardening magazine,we like it this way. We have great habitat for insects (and even a toad), pesticide-free fodder for the chickens, a cool microclimate where the vetch is and some food for us. It all works out.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Real Food Nation

If you are anywhere near Santa Fe, Las Vegas, NM or any points in-between you must stop in at Real Food Nation to get a bite to eat. After mostly mediocre dining experiences in LV, Real Food Nation was a welcome find along Interstate 25. The interior is relaxing and the outdoor patio looked welcoming, too. The landscaping is edible and beautiful. Everything we stuffed into our hungry bellies was delicious and obviously made from scratch with love. They always have vegetarian and vegan options as well as a fair amount of gluten-free bakery items. Check out the farm out back, too, or go by in the evening for the Supper Club. You won't be disappointed.

We love you Real Food Nation!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Sorry about the whiny tone in the last post--it's been hard to have this apartment-style living knowing the garden has been growing.

We had some business to attend to in Albuquerque this morning, so we headed down and I got to spend most of the day with my hands in the dirt. We harvested 5 giant purple-top turnips, 3 bull's blood beets and plenty of mustard greens and spinach that are really on their last legs. Our neighbor who's been minding the place enthusiastically took home most of the harvest. We also have a lot of quelites, or lamb's quarters, popping up around the lot. They'll be good when we get back this weekend.

We have a volunteer melon and two squashes of some kind. They sprouted out of the compost (unsifted, clearly) that I added to the beds. I'm curious what they will become. My money is on a canteloupe and a butternut squash. 

Beyond the volunteers, a few additional surprises greeted us on our little homestead. The first were the size and color of the peaches--they were far larger than I remembered  and their color is a deep red-orange. I guess that's why they are called Garnet peaches. They have really persevered through this hot, windy spring. A few more weeks and they'll be ready, I think.

The vetch was nearly 4 feet tall in places and the winter wheat is near harvest. I see some wheat-berry salads in our future....The vetch, while out of control, has provided great habitat for ladybugs, praying mantis, butterflies and honey bees.  So, while it's beautiful in its own right, the vetch is also providing other garden benefits.

The best surprise of the day, however, came from the apricot tree. Throughout the spring I watched as each young apricot fell from the tree, either due to late season cold temps or the spring winds. Imagine my shock when I spotted a perfectly lovely apricot hanging from the end of one of the topmost branches! It has been there all along, and I never noticed. It felt ripe enough, so down it came and made the swift trip into our bellies. While not the best apricot we've ever had--it was a tad dry and lacking in sweetness--it was delicious because we grew it. Maybe that's too self-congratulatory, especially when I didn't even know of its very existence, but there really is something special about eating fruit from your front yard.

The apples are well on their way, too and I will post some pictures when we're back on the homestead with a camera and its respective cable.

While it was lovely to bask in the garden's glory, it also involved plenty of weed-pulling. Lucky chickens now have plenty of greens. This one-day fix should last me through the week, so I promise not to whine anymore about missing the garden. It's only a few days away.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Miss Our Garden

There, I've said it. We've only been gone ~10 days, but I miss our garden, darn it. And the chickens. And our wee house. And the fruit trees. And the acequia. And the vetch and wheat which grow taller (and wilder) every day. I miss our neighbors, too.

One more week and we'll be home.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Forest Fires and Natural Gas Don't Mix

Just north of Las Vegas, NM a large forest fire, the Track fire, is burning. The last time I checked it was only 5% contained. Forest fires are devastating on many fronts and, most of the time, it seems the devastation is confined to only the area of the fire.

Well, this is certainly not the case. The Wallow fire in Arizona has been sending a smoke plume over large distances, effecting the health of thousands and even forcing some aircraft to change course. The same fire also threatened the electricity grid as far east as Texas. The Track fire has closed the interstate between Raton, NM and Trinidad, CO. It has also wreaked havoc on natural gas lines.

According to this report, the fire burned gaskets on one of the pipeline valves, shooting a  15-foot plume of fire into the air. This has alarmed gas company officials who are planning to shut off the gas to the town of Raton. It is possible that this shut off could impact service here in Las Vegas, about 100 miles away and at all points in-between. I've been thinking about the implications of this for people and businesses who have gas stoves and hot water heaters. Could the quality of care be effected in hospitals and nursing homes? What about the need to maintain a clean environment in restaurants?

If the gas is shut off here, we were told the only thing effected will be the hot water heater. Luckily we can take cold showers and use the coffee pot to make hot water (or the electric stove).

For those who have solar hot water and electricity off the grid, they'll be cooking and cleaning just fine. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come.

Eating Local Away from Home

I just polished off a delicious brunch, made mostly with local food. I may yet lick the plate.

Las Vegas,NM, where we're living for the next 10 days or so, is in the throes of a drought. Water restrictions have impacted the whole community and it is a topic of conversation with almost everyone I've met. Most people lament their brown lawn and dying flowers. Business people wish they could water the ornamentals to keep their storefronts looking nice. At the farmer's market a week ago, the egg vendor thought the pickings might be slim from produce farmers due to the water restrictions, and the fact that there just isn't water to irrigate. That could explain why he and one other farmer were the only two vendors that day.

I feel profoundly lucky that we have the acequia in Albuquerque to keep us irrigated and our garden and guerrilla  orchard thriving. That luxury does not exist here.

Despite the water issues, you can always rely on local plants to get by, especially what some might label "weeds." Since they are native, they are able to withstand the conditions of their geography and weather unfavorable conditions. Some people might loathe such weeds, but I think of them as delicious! At Saturday's market I purchased a large bunch of lamb's quarters, called quelites here. Lamb's quarters are a member of the goosefoot family and exist pretty much everywhere around the world. The goosefoot family even includes quinoa.

Without a toaster, I fried up some whole wheat bread from Sage Bakehouse in Santa Fe and topped it with quelites sauteed with garlic, onion, and shiitakes. On top of that I put two over medium eggs from some local hens. The eggs are ungraded and so beautiful in the carton: white, shades of brown and blue-green; different sizes all. A touch of salt and pepper gave it a little zing and boy, was it delicious!

I was still able to have a tasty meal with local ingredients even though things are not looking good water-wise. I think the quelites really made the dish and I plan to look for more at this afternoon's market. We might need to get used to eating the weeds, or at least change our thinking about them. If the water situation worsens, they may be one of the few greens we can cultivate/forage with which to fill our bellies.

For other weeds you can eat, you can go here or here

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where Have We Gone?

Just a brief update.

Lane's organization asked him to work in Las Vegas, NM the next few weeks so that's where we are at the moment. We've shifted lodging from a hotel, where I couldn't cook, to a studio apartment. I made red curry tofu with brown rice and lamb's quarters last night--so divine after a few days of only eating out!

While Lane is off visiting patients, I'm at "home" studying and prepping for next school year. Such the exciting life we lead.  Our fabulous neighbors are helping out at the lean-to, irrigating and minding the chickens. We are so grateful!

Las Vegas is an interesting community of about 20,000 residents. It is home to my current university, Highlands, as well as New Mexico's only remaining Carnegie Library. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Highlands employs the same number of people as the Wal-Mart (300). Hmmm.

The history of Las Vegas includes being a trading spot along the Santa Fe Trail. This built up the railroad industry at the turn of the century which is why you can find quite a bit of Victorian architecture around downtown. From my experience this is rather unusual in New Mexico, where adobe revival is the predominant architecture. 

Las Vegas has a natural food store which I think I've been to at least twice a day and two farmer's markets a week. We've tried many of the local restaurants and so far our two favorites are Beans and Sweets for the made-from-scratch soup and chocolate chip cookies and the El Fidel restaurant for from-scratch cooking and baking using locally-sourced ingredients when possible. The pasta dishes we had were incredible (and vegetarian!) and the ice cream and sorbets are made in-house.

The film scene is alive here with a drive-in theater open Friday and Saturday, a one-screen theater downtown, movies twice a week in the summer at Highlands' campus and  movies in the park at the Carnegie Library. Not bad for a town of 20,000.

As we have opportunities to explore the area I will post any excitement or adventure that pops up but for now, I have to hit the books!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Colorado, Ho!

Our summer started with a bang. Our friend Diane came in from San Fransisco and within hours of her arrival, we headed the Subaru north to Colorado for a camping/mountain biking adventure. When we take trips like this one, we have a general idea of where we'd like to go, but it's very flexible. We can do this because we camp on BLM and National Forest land. Reservations are not required and we can set up camp wherever there is space. Our first night we found a spot off of Hwy 160 in the National Forest. The sun rise slowly illuminated a rock outcropping across from our site and the birds flitted around singing their morning song. From there we went towards Cortez, CO where there are 100s of miles of mountain biking in the area.

After a very mediocre breakfast at Mr. Happy's (yes, that was the name of the restaurant) and nixing riding at the Canyon of the Ancients due to overcrowding, the three of us rode some sweet single track just outside of Dolores. Here are some pics from that ride:

We saw a coyote just after snapping this pic!

You may be wondering why on earth we carry such huge loads on our backs. Lane and I have had a few close calls and even had to spend the night on the side of a mesa while out in the backcountry. We'd rather be prepared than caught without provisions so our packs hold layers, tools, tubes, tires, water and plenty of food. Many mountain bikers tend to see how fast they can ride the trails. If you choose to ride that way, you don't need to pack too much stuff. We like to take our time, stop to admire the flora and fauna and eat more than some carbohydrate and sugar-rich goo. This extends our ride time significantly. With a great map we really enjoyed the 15 or so miles of riding we put in that day.

Feeling the call of the open road (and the incredible riding) we continued northwest to Fruita. That night we camped on BLM land and experienced the most incredible windstorm. It must have been gusting at least 50mph throughout the night. Diane was in her tent, with grit blowing in through both the fly and tent wall. Lane and I were in the back of the Subaru and the wind was so powerful it rocked the car enough to wake me several times throughout the night. Incredible.

This should have been an omen of what was to come. When we got to Fruita the wind had not let up at all. Dust devils swirled around the trailhead and they sky was beginning to be obscured by blowing dust. Not willing to be deterred, we rode some of the trails at the Kokopelli trail system. This is some of the most lovely single-track riding we've ever done. Some of the trails are right on the rim of the canyon above the Colorado River. The views are stunning and the wild grasses and wildflowers were incredible.

You can't tell here, but it was gusting like mad!

Redrock, juniper and wild grasses made up most of the landscape
One of our favorite trails is called Horsethief Bench. To get there you have to carry your bike down (and then up) a steep, boulder-ridden incline. The last time we did this our bikes were vintage steel, fully rigid and extremely heavy. This time our chromoly steel hardtails  were significantly lighter. I had no problem hauling my bike up and down this part of the trail.

This snake was pretty friendly. Can you identify it for us?

The wind blew all day and the sky became more and more the color of sulfur. It may have saved us from a major sunburn, but it became clear that camping in that wind again was going to be in tolerable. So we said farewell to Fruita and headed back towards Cortez.

The next few days we rode the Phil's World trail system which is absolutely mind-blowingly incredible. Although the lot was packed, we hardly saw anyone on the trails. The climbs were reasonable, the downhills fast and the giant whoopdeedoos on the Rib Cage were epic. All of us were smiling from ear-to-ear on that one.  We also saw a horned lizard, which was a first for me.

It doesn't get much better than this!

This is why our rides last so long. After nights of camping and days of riding hard, this nap was well deserved!

Don't get too close to that cactus, Lane!

Diane taking one for the team. What a trooper!
Part of our time near Cortez we found the village of Mancos. What a pleasant surprise! Mancos has a fantastic bakery, Absolute, that serves the most delicious breakfasts. If you get a chance to go there, have the veggie stack: hashbrowns, eggs any style,  topped with sauteed garlic & veggies like spinach, tomato and red onion with a dusting of parmesan cheese. You won't regret it. Mancos is also home to a few art galleries, the Fahrenheit coffee shop, and Zuma natural food store. The Mancos state park also has yurts you can stay in, which is a nice touch. Sadly they were all reserved while we were there.

While in the area we headed back to the Canyon of the Ancients to ride the Sand Canyon trail. This trail system has a decidedly different feel to it than the adrenaline rush of Phil's World and Fruita. You can feel the history there and the presence of people from long ago. Some ruins still remain and are accessible off of spurs from the trail. About a mile or so out, we saw our last hiker. The day was warm, with very few clouds in the sky and we were fairly exposed in the canyon. At mile 3.2 my bike odometer broke and we were hoping for a 15 mile ride. The trails so far were not marked very clearly and we were relying on the odometer to keep up with our position on the map. Several times during the ride we all remarked about how easy it would be to get turned around out there: the rock formations start to look the same and with the twists and turns in the trails, it's hard to keep track of your bearings. Luckily, the GPS saved us when we got confused with the map and a quirky trail marker. With our brains baking and water starting to run low, there was some confusion at a trail marker and we did some back tracking. The bonus was getting to ride some great slick rock twice and spotting the parking area from up on the trail. That ride really wiped us out, but it was gorgeous and a place of reverence.

All along the trail we had seen some brightly colored collared lizards skittering off the path. One even greeted us when we got back to the car.
After 6 days on the road, we decided to head back to Albuquerque via Pagosa Springs. We hadn't had a shower since leaving New Mexico and our weary muscles needed a soak in the hot mineral bath. Being clean was such a joy and I think I had my best night's sleep that night in the National Forest outside of Cuba,NM. Before Diane left we hiked Embudito Canyon on the west side of Sandia in Albuquerque. This hike was pretty exposed most of the time and we were all exhausted and cooked taking Diane to the airport. Here are some pics from the hike:

A great way to start summer, indeed!