Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bringing Home the Bacon

Even though we slaughtered over two weeks ago, all the bits of the pig are always hanging around for the longest time, being cured, and ground, and whatnot. I always love opening my fridge and seeing an entire pig belly sitting on a tray when I go to reach for the milk in the morning. However, with four children and a busy life it finally was on a Sunday that Ben and I sat down together and sliced the bacon.

Bacon really is a drawn out process, and I even though I have always loved bacon, I never appreciated that real bacon is never an instant product. It also doesn't look all bright pink and watery and come in a package that you have to open with scissors. Also it requires patience. If you are a ribs or pork loin kinda person than instant gratification is truly yours. You cut open the pig and there they are, all ready to eat. But bacon is still a good week off (at least).

Ben likes to slice it himself because even though he lets me sharpen my butcher knives and cut up pigs he knows that putting me in front of a twirling electronic blade is a recipe for a fingerless wife. Ben did great job of slicing it and now we have it all safely packed in the freezer.

I suppose if we were truly enterprising I would be curing a prosciutto and gratification would be further delayed another six months. The best stuff takes the longest. That's the irony of it all. Italians, who are generally known for their passionate temperments and inclination toward impatience, are the artisans of some of the best aged meat and cheese products in the world, and also the culture which gave birth to the Slow Food movement. Any food that you have to take months to make and can be consumed in a manner of seconds requires a reverence for nature's cycles, and a true spirit of humility. After all, when was the last time you tucked into a panini and someone yelled at you to appreciate all the work that went into it?

Really when I think about it, my bit of work as pork processor was fairly minor, the final motion on the assembly line. It was Andrew who hauled feed and slops to a pen full of excitable pigs in the freezing cold for months on end who is really the only person truly capable of understanding all the work that went into this bit of bacon.

p.s. Annie, I posted a humility picture just for you. That's our living room torn apart by Zita and Julia while we were slicing the bacon. ;)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Open Shelving and Hippy Kitchens

Today I had my first stint of my once-a-week baking for our local cafe. The owner, Wendy, is a passionate woman, dedicated to building a restaurant that is not only sustainable but also a gathering place for the communitiy. It is a place where connections are made and friendships forged and all over good food and beer.

I laugh that this is almost my first post college job, other than grading papers part-time and doing and learning all the million jobs that come with homemaking, real homemaking that is, not of the cocktail and cigarette variety. The best part was getting to use the restaurant kitchen which is full of what every real homemaker needs or at least acsess to. Most most middle class modern kitchens are made to keep things behind cupboard doors so you don't use them and honestly, ovens are for cooking freezer pizzas.

After being in the cafe kitchen tonight I was reminded why open shelving was one of my favorite patterns in Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language. It is so much more accommodating to the cook to have everything within sight and easy reach. Who wants to go pawing behind a door of a dark too deep cabinet?

Anyway, as we are renting for the time being I will just have to make do. At least I can console myself with the wonderful collection of hippy kitchens here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Global cooking, unschooling and the care and feeding of nine year olds.

Nine year olds are feisty argumentative creatures and I have been banging heads with Angelica ever since she turned nine. ( Ben will tell you it has been going on a whole lot longer :) While we are both strong personalities it did help to realize that part of this comes with the territory. They are discovering that they are part of a big big world and are ready for big things because, they are really becoming "the big kids."

This, as a home/un-schooler, is a great challenge. How to make the world bigger when frankly we are, well, home so much. This is especially frustrating in the colder weather when we lose much of our outdoor time, hikes, etc.

We made a trip to the library three weeks ago and got out a wonderful, wonderful book (which I am seriously considering buying because I guess the Strasburg library will not let me renew it indefinitely), The One World Kids Cookbook. Angelica instantly loved the idea of cooking some meals for us and the recipes are very simple for children to understand. I also love that in the book they show children cooking over hot pans and doing all sorts of wonderful dangerous kitchen things that so many children's cookbooks forbid. (of course the children are school age, not three-year-olds) It also opened up a wonderful venue for discussing the third world, economic differences between our country and many impoverished nations, geography and history. Who would have thought cooking could teach so many lessons.

Angelica has cooked a Somalian curry and a Greek salad with tadziki so far. It has really boosted her confidence in the kitchen and when she had a friend spend the night this past weekend they even made crepes together. The picture above is her with the pizza she assembled when I was out last thursday night.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Several times this winter I have looked out my window to see these huge black clouds of birds circling my house and then all of a sudden they will descend on our yard and eat something in the field for a minute or so and then will all fly up at EXACTLY the same moment and rest in the oak trees behind our house. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. It almost makes time stand still. I finally looked it up online.

They are starlings and it is a phenomena called murmuration.

They apparently do this when they get ready to roost for the winter. My little photo does not begin to do it justice but an amazing video of it can be seen here.

Ronia's little mat by our bed is next to the window where Angelica feeds the winter birds by throwing birdseed out onto our porch roof. Angel I was trying to catch her watching the birds on camera but she turned around when she heard me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Hike

We had a sixty degree winter day the other week so we headed with some homeschooling friends to the first part of the Signal Knob trail at the George Washington National Forest. The intention was only to go as far as a spring at the end of the first part of the trail.

When we stopped to fill our bottles my friend and I noticed that there was a beautiful rock formation we had never seen before ascending before us to a large outcropping . The children all decided quite suddenly to scale it, scrambling up rocks off the trail to the top of a large bluff. Before we knew it they were at the top and we followed in an awkward pursuit, babies on our backs. The view from the top was quite beautiful since the trees, without their vernal dress, could not obstruct the mountain on the other side of the gorge

I never knew these rocks were so close to the trail because I usually hike it during the summer months. It always amazes me how the seasons reveal a place so familiar to you, anew. What gave me pause to think, however was that, while my friend and I commented on how we had never noticed this formation before, we were content to simply take it in with our eyes.

It is children who are always willing to turn their gaze to some new thing, and then, to pursue it and glory so fully in the very gift of it. It was because of them them that we experienced the beauty of that place so fully. Unforntunately I left my camera in the car but here are some photos with the winter hikers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

These are the dollies I made for Christmas this year. I never got a good photo of them finished. My mother in law gave Angelica a book on how to make these years back and we finally learned this year.

Quick news from the homestead:

Rain again, still no snow in this strange warm winter.

Ronia learned to wave. She waves at everyone now. Yesterday she waved rather helplessly at her father as her four year old sister carried her out of the bathroom and into the living room.

I learned to fishtail braid on a Rapunzel doll no less. My hair is finally long enough to pull back again but it will be a while before I can fishtail it.

First week of pig slaughtering is behind us. Two piggies down, four more to go. I rendered lard and made stock yesterday. I'm really mad because I was doing too much and it got too warm because I was impatient at one point and so while creamy white, it is not as odorless as it could be. (oh to answer questions: We unfortunately do not have the resources to save pigskin. (not enough manpower to dunk the pigs into the vat of boiling water, however we did save the cheek meat this year! .... and Maggie, you can come by and bake bread whenever you want but set aside two days and spend the night because it is a long process. )

Day's begun. . .

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I woke up this morning planning to go to the grocery store and shop. My parents left last week and I am all off my schedule of shopping which is usually Thursday or Friday depending on our milk pick up. Yet another part of my suburban breeding is my tendency to go to the store when I am out of a few basics. It really is rather absurd and I am trying to curb this habit.

As it so happened I also remembered that I am helping butcher our pig this weekend and we have a whole half of a pig coming. When I opened my freezer I realized that it was time to make space and lo and behold I didn't have to go to the store at all.

Out of the freezer came the hidden bounty. I made two pots of stock (pork and fish respectively) patè, malfatti (spinach ricotta dumplings), and potato ham frittata, and a batch of cranberry almond bread. I also soaked the beans and fed my starter for baking bread tomorrow.

Of course I spent all day in the kitchen minus a brief homeschooling hiatus. On the other hand to really make the most of one's cooking I have found that you need to spend at least one day a week making your basics anyway. Stock, beans, sourdough. All the time intensive ingredients you need to throw together quick meals that have that slow flavor. So it was gratifying to realize that just because I don't have apples and lettuce it is no reason to fly out the door and spend money.

Looking forward to sourdough pancakes in the morning.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A bed for Julia

I bought this frame from the bargain basement antique store in Strasburg. It was about 26 bucks. Ben made me bed slates out of our wood scraps out back.

stripped it. Cost- one buck in babysitting fees to my nine year old.

made a mattress out of a thrifted curtain and the stuffing from Julia's old bed (which was really an old futon on the floor.) Here Julia is testing it for me. Ronia wants to help too! Cost two dollars for the curtain.

The bed is painted green inspired by Carl Larsson's children's beds in their home in Lilla Hyttnà, Sweden. Cost 10 bucks in paint plus one buck in babysitting money to my six year old. Oh and one pretty glass jar full of q-tips is smashed while said six year old decides to entertain the baby by throwing all the toilet paper rolls around the bathroom.

All finished! Julia has a new bed and is no longer climbing into our bed at 2 am. Ronia has her very own mat for napping on made of futon remnant and we are all sleeping better! Total cost 40 bucks!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Okay so everything is still feeling new and different and I owe a big thank you to my husband who understands these things we call computers.

Messing with my blog here. I need to get my husband. My computer skills make me want to weep.

I found that photo of Julia and it made me melancholic for spring. I am very happy on the other hand that Julia is four now and not two anymore. That was a year of tantrums such as I pray we will never see again. You would never think it to see her all sweetly wrapped up in that blanket. . . . .

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Nonno dishing out the polenta. We miss you already!

Ronia in her new Generation Y diaper cover. I really like these. They have a little flap that holds the prefold in place and come in many groovy prints.

Julia turns four!

Been spending my time winding down from Christmas guests, gearing up for homeschooling which we start up again next week, and refinishing a youth bed I bought for Julia. I am trying to photograph my progress, so I'll try and post some photos soon.