Sunday, January 30, 2011

What am I doing here?

Just how did I end up in a chilly cabin on stilts in the middle of the woods?  Pure backlash against 20 plus year of ultra-urban living?  Time will tell if I overestimated my need for quiet and privacy, but a primary reason we ended up here is food production.

For years, Aaron's dream was to have a farm.  I always said living on a farm sounded pleasant, so long as I didn't have to do any farming.  But I wasn't willing to run off to the country with Aaron.  We had a kid, and nothing changed in my thinking until we went to visit my friends' beautiful farm.  We had enjoyed visits there before, but being there in the dirt, the green, the calm, and catching a glimpse of the natural rhythms of farm life while I was still flush with the hormones and emotions of new motherhood changed everything.  In that state I was able to listen to my heart (something I'm not always so good at), and it told me "this is how I want to raise my child."  So I told Aaron, "Ok.  Let's do it." 

Then I went and read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilema" and got all fired up reading about the elegantly engineered ecosystem that is "grass farming".  And here we are.  (Not that we have the land needed for cattle, and, at this point, we'd be happy just to produce some eggs and root vegetables for our family.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kill, Daddy, kill!

The other day, Forest announced he would like to go and see some "real live aminals."  I assumed this was inspired by the Barney DVD called "Lets Go To The Farm" that keeps him company while I put Walker to sleep.  Barney and his cheery cohorts collect eggs, make ice cream, and thank sheep for their wool.

"Oh, like on your DVD?"

"I want to see real live aminals so we can eat them."

"Really, what animal do you want to eat?"

"A pig,"  and here he got quite excited, "Maybe if we see a pig in the driveway, Daddy can shoot it, and then we can eat it."  The driveway business is because whenever we see wild turkeys out the window Aaron and I talk about how tasty one would be.  So I guess Forest is on board with the family gun.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The family gun

While I was away this weekend with the kids, Aaron went out and bought another gun.  This one is a .22, and when I asked why he needed it, Aaron replied, "Don't think of it as my gun, think of it as the family gun."  Who ever would have thunk I'd end up in a household that has, among other guns, a family gun.  Apparently, it is perfect for learning to shoot with.  Aaron would like me to get adept with it and is hoping, eventually, I will hunt with it.  He also plans to teach the kids when they are old enough.  (He owed his first .22 when he was eight and shot his first deer at ten.)  For Aaron, hunting is all about procuring food.  For me, well, color me ambivalent.  I believe I should be willing to take responsibility for my actions, which, as a meat eater, means being willing to kill animals for food.  But I really don't know if I can.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday afternoon

Pinprick-sized snow flakes are falling.  Forest just asked for scissors to trim his painting.
Walker is sleeping, and it is so quiet I can hear the beans bubbling on the stove.  The day is gray, but my mood is not.  Despite the clutter on every available surface (including the floor), it feels cozy in the cabin.  I should be cooking, cleaning, unpacking (boxes), packing (for a weekend in Cambridge), but as I was about to tackle the dishes I paused to look out the window.  The snow, the trees, and the quiet stopped me.  It is peaceful here.  Brooklyn feels like another dimension.

Walker woke up.  Time to tackle the dishes et al.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Care and feeding

Our off-the-grid set up requires lots of care and feeding.  Here I am watering our batteries. We have eight batteries with three cells a piece. Each cell has a plate that should never be exposed to air. We have to monitor the water levels and pour in distilled water as needed. The safety goggles are so that if pressure has built up in one of the batteries and it spews sulfuric acid when I unscrew the cap, I won't lose my vision. It all takes longer than you'd think. Note, too, the red fleece pants, pink piping and all. Never wore them much in Brooklyn, too red, too warm. Now they are in heavy rotation.

Speaking of care and feeding, I think the cold and the long nights are scrambling my brain. Here is what I cooked today: millet for breakfast, crème fraiche (my first foray into making cheese), whole wheat bread (two loaves), corn griddle cakes for lunch, pain au chou (aka cabbage loaf), and, for dinner, crepes to have with the butternut squash gratin I made yesterday. Here is a loaf of the bread and the “yogotherm” in which the crème fraiche is setting. 

Aaron spent the day winterizing--putting plastic on windows and sealing up spots where daylight (and cold breezes) come into our cabin.  It's suppose to get down to -1 tonight.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Silver and gold

When I was a kid this song worried me: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” What if your old friends were crummy friends? What if the new friend was gold, not silver? But even as I questioned the song, I heeded it as important wisdom. Well, a new pot has come into my life, just days after the handle of my go-to pot broke. If you know me, odds are, you know my pressure cooker. I sing its praises loudly and often. Then, an amazing good-bye gift arrived yesterday in the mail: a 7.6 quart dutch oven. (Thank you, A!) I took it out of the box and started mulling possible inaugural dishes. What could be special enough? This evening when I had way too many butternut squash cubes stuffed into my handle-less pressure cooker for any sautéing to happen, I hustled the new pot onto a burner and transferred some of the squash into it. So much for pomp and ceremony when the right pot comes into your life.

Once the squash was done, I figured I might as well use this already oiled pot for braising the kale and beet greens:

Don't get me wrong, I still love my pressure cooker and will probably still use it on a daily basis, but, it is no longer the only pot in my heart.

Meanwhile, a phenomenon from this summer is recurring. After spending lovely time with local friendlies, I'm left with an over-sized, dense mass in the center of my chest pulling me and the corners of my mouth down. Forest got nervous at how little I was smiling at dinner. When I explained to him that I was missing people in Brooklyn, I couldn't hold back the tears. The lump is a bit lighter now, but still with me.  What I couldn't figure out as a kid is that the song is missing a syllable (in deference to the melody).  It is a song about new and old friendships, not about the friends themselves.  Of course people can't be automatically more valuable because you met them first, but friendships are a different matter.  The time you spend together and the span of time over which you know each other are precious beyond high-priced metals.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I haven't written because of the shooting last week.  I have nothing insightful to say about it, but haven't wanted to chirp away as if nothing has happened.

I'm sad for the victims and their families.  Sad about the state of mental health services in this country.  Sad about the state of political discourse in the country.  And sad that such violence is nothing new.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I have my own car for the first time in my life.  Aaron and I owned two cars together, a Volvo for one year back in '05 and then the Subaru Outback we bought to come up here last summer.  The Outback has been Aaron's commuting car, and now, as of yesterday afternoon, I have my very own silver Subaru Forester.  Tomorrow I'm registering the car, getting plates, and then Midcoast Maine is my oyster.  The laundromat, Hannafords, our village store, there'll be no stopping me.  Yes, that is the up side of being here for two weeks here with no car: pure joy at the prospect of buying groceries at will.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Milk, long time drinker, first time pasteurizer.

Raw milk is legal in Maine.  We were happily buying it at the village store for the whole family until we heard a story on the radio about raw milk that made us rethink giving it to Forest.  (Walker hasn't gotten to cow's milk, yet.)  We still buy raw milk for the grown ups because it is seriously delicious and I can tolerate its lactose.  Today, we ran out of kiddie milk.  So, being car-less, I went online for instructions and pasteurized the NC17 milk.

You simply have to heat the milk to 142 degrees for 30 minutes or 162 degrees for 15 seconds, and then cool it down as fast as possible.  I'm sure the 142 degree route is better, but with the kids waiting for breakfast, I went for speed.  Once it was pasteurized, the magic was gone.  It tasted just like regular, supermarket milk.

My "quick-cool" method:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

!Danger !Warning !Caution

Despite the teasing it has earned me, I always read manuals.  How else would I know not to blow dry my hair while sleeping?  But now I'm way behind.  The manuals that come with this cabin are epic and, as it turns out, frightening. Our generator's manual comes with 3-tiers of "safety message alerts."

"!Danger:  You WILL be KILLED or SERIOUSLY HURT if you don't follow instructions.
!Warning:  You CAN be KILLED or SERIOUSLY HURT if you don't follow instructions
!Caution:  You CAN be HURT if you don't follow instructions."

And here is a sample warning:
"! Warning: !
The engine exhaust from this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm."

It's all fun and games until somebody blows up or gets terminally ill.

Monday, January 3, 2011

So far so good

Yesterday marked my one week anniversary as a Mainer.  I arrived a bit worried, not about liking Maine in general, but about how the cabin would feel in the dead of winter.  The propane lanterns seemed awfully dim to me this past summer, and I find poor lighting depressing.  I also hate to be cold.  (One might ask why I opted to move to an off-the-grid cabin in Maine.  I certainly have.)  Much to my surprise, the cabin feels cozy, not oppressive, claustrophobic, and bleak.  What a happy relief.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Unlike the undifferentiated muddle of so many other years, much of 2010 will stay with me. What with having a baby in February, 
 in May packing up our apartment for subletters and moving our household to Maine for twelve weeks, 
then unpacking our apartment and settling back into Brooklyn in August, and Aaron getting a job in October that started in Maine in November, there a lot to set 2010 apart. I guess I might not remember September.  September was pretty chill.

Last night, as we were sitting on the sofa watching the fire and glancing every so often at the clock while waiting for midnight, Aaron and I reviewed the marathon that was 2010 and committed to taking it easy this year—apart from the care of two small children; learning how to garden, make cheese, make bread, can, pickle, and smoke food; getting a cat, a dog, a goat, and some chickens; putting a foundation under our house; building a mudroom, a shed, and a chicken coop; putting up walls in our cabin; weatherizing the cabin; and, as per our New Year's resolution, meditating regularly.

Happy New Year!!! What's your New Year's resolution?