Fall Inventory 2014

Well, things are still busy. And money is still… hm, well. But as everyone keeps reminding me, and what is very true (and reassuring), we have plenty of food. In fact, based on my annual November inventory, we are better than ever, and we will have enough food to last us until March, at least. What’s especially reassuring is that based on our inventory (and I’m not including the meat, even though we just added a quarter of a cow to our freezer), we shouldn’t need to go to the grocery store except for incidentals for months. The rest of the year we work our asses off, and hardly ever sleep, but for the next four plus monthes, I won’t have to do anything except thaw out what we want to eat and throw it in a pot. Woohoo!

Canned goods (in pints):
22 Tomatoes
10 Green Salsa
9 Red Salsa
2 Peach Salsa
13 Green Beans
38 Misc. Pickles
20 Misc. Pickled Peppers
2 Zucchini Relish
8 Spaghetti Sauce
5 Veggie Soup
6 Chicken Soup
2 Beef
6 1/2p Peach BBQ
1 1/2p BBQ
1 1/2p Hot Sauce
7 1/2p Plum Sauce
6 Pickled Garlic Scapes
17 Misc. Jam
6 Apple Sauce
4 Peaches in Sauce
2 Apples in Sauce

Frozen (in quart bags):
4 Cauliflower
5 Broccoli
10 Corn
4 Green Beans
23 Green Peppers
17 Snap or Snow Peas
2 Spinach
2 Lima Beans (in gallons, actually)
4 Blueberry
2 Shredded Zucchini
2 Paw Paw
11 Peas (shelled)
9 Carrots

3 gallons Dandelion Wine
1 gallon Elderflower
1 gallon Strawberry
1 gallon Plum

And lots of beans! This is about 90% of our harvest, I would say. Some are still drying in the garage.
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These are a variety called Good Mother Stallard.
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These are called Bird Egg.
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These are called Calypso.
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And these beans might look like plain old beans, but in fact they are one of my favorites, Vermont Cranberry. They have a really subtle beautiful pattern.
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In total we grew 8 varieties of beans, including the old standards, black, kidney, and cannellini. The only ones still out in the garden are Scarlet Runners, which are really beautiful. Pictures still to come!

Posted in Seasons, Tales of Cooking, Tales of Eating | 1 Comment

It’s Not Enough

And my final word (for now) on the subject of not making enough money. Please keep in mind that I went to college for fashion, was trained to sew professionally, and have been sewing in total for at least 20 years. As I stated yesterday, even if I am producing beautifully made unique products and selling them online, I cannot pay myself more than minimum wage because at the end of the day I cannot outcompete a similar, if lower quality, item that was made in a factory somewhere else in the world. I can’t. And if you think you can work 40 hours a week, making minimum wage, and survive, I am laughing my ass off at you. I truly am. 40 hours a week, 52 weeks in a year, at $7.25 an hour, comes to $15,080, and that is before taxes, with zero sick days, zero vacation days, zero time off.

People cannot live off minimum wage. They just can’t.

When I was writing what I posted yesterday, I had intended to put in a bit about how I now think about my time, mostly as an apology to the people in my life who I have been snapping at lately when they make what are actually very helpful suggestions about how I should be spending my time. But somehow I just couldn’t fit it in to what turned out to be a rant about labor.

My time now is valued by the minute, and by the dollar. Every minute of my day I am making a decision about what is most critical for me to be doing with that minute. Let’s keep on with this assumption of me making minimum wage: for me to make enough money to get by in a month, and please understand that this is get by at a bare minimum, bills paid, food purchased, pets fed, miscellaneous expenses like oh that bit just fell of my car which by the way is falling apart, or needing more soap. This is not going out, buying anything for myself (including things I really need, like new shoes), or any of what you might call “entertainment expenses.” To do that, at minimum wage, I personally need to work, at minimum, 55 hours a week.

If I plan to have any extra money, in order to buy those new shoes, or put something aside against the day when an even bigger piece falls off my car, or hell, have to deal with some other kind of emergency, we’re now up to at least 70 hours a week, which is about the maximum I can seem to manage while still getting at least 5 hours of sleep at night and maintaining a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene.

The rest of the hours I have to make very careful decisions about. Out of the 168 hours in a week, 70 are taken up by work, and let’s say I have a really awesome week and get 7 hours of sleep a night, so that’s another 49 hours. That leaves me 49 more hours for life. As we all know, life includes running errands, paying bills, washing dishes, eating, showering, etc., all of which take up an enormous amount of time. I personally like to throw in some time for social interaction. I also choose to spend a lot of my “spare” time growing and putting up food, because I find this really helps with the whole not very much money situation. We spend much, much less on food than most of the people we know.

So when it comes to those extra minutes, here’s what’s going through my mind: I could do something to improve my business (which I really, really need to be doing), I could do my laundry (for once), or I could clean the house, throw the ball for the dog, spend time with my partner, fix any number of things in the house that are broken, clear out the herb garden, deal with the aphid problem, put up the pile of peppers sitting on the counter, organize my ridiculous mess of a work room, get rid of the pile of stuff we don’t need that’s taking up space in the hall, pet the cats, try and fix my sewing machine, talk to my parents, send emails, call the doctor like I need to, start that bartering group we keep talking about, deal with insurance stuff, and oh my god I could go on like this for an hour. In fact I’ve been wasting very precious time writing blog posts for about an hour. And that’s one less hour I will get to sleep or spend time with my partner or clean the house, because at the end of the week, that’s what it comes down to- I need to finish sewing this, because yes, I really do need that extra $30 in order to pay rent tomorrow, and maybe I am exhausted and have consumed way too much caffeine and am not taking care of myself, and maybe it is already 2 AM, but what choice do I really have?

Maybe I could manage my time better, I mean, I really shouldn’t be sitting here blogging, but please, please, accept my apologies when I snap at you for suggesting I do one more thing with my time. Please understand that when you suggest I stop sewing for a few minutes to stretch and do some yoga so this severe pain in my back goes away, I really, really want to do that, but am afraid that it will result in me staying awake until 3 AM instead of 2 AM. It’s all about the minutes. All those minutes, and how you spend them.

And yes, I know I could go out and get a different job and make a little bit more money, and maybe this is what I will one day do. But the prospect of choosing between the thing I love- the thing I truly love doing, more than anything else, and having enough money- well, suffice to say it breaks my heart. I’m not looking for pity, I made this choice for myself- I just felt the need to spell all this out, as an apology, as a thank you to all the very well meaning people in my life who I know care about me and hate to see me stumbling around with so much caffeine in my system and not getting enough sleep, and who I know only want the best for me- but also as a very, very angry outpouring for all those people in the world who think you can live off of minimum wage. This is for every person who goes around saying people who are making minimum wage and not getting by just aren’t working hard enough, because that is the biggest pile of bull shit I have ever heard. This is for our completely unfair and biased system that rewards people for fucking other people over and punishes those who are truly talented and hard working. Because seriously, and excuse me if I sound like my teenaged self, fuck capitalism. Fuck it. It doesn’t work for people, actual living breathing people, and it never has.

It is so far past time for a change it’s not even funny.

Posted in Life, Self Employment, Sewing, Skills, The "System" | 1 Comment

Complaints

So yesterday I was posting about activism and feminism and really in the back of my head, the whole time, was this increasingly frustrating feeling that I am just going about things the wrong way. And here is my disclaimer from the get go: No, I am not looking for career advice. I am so far from wanting to hear more advice about what I should do to make more money that I could scream. So please, allow me to rant without feeling compelled to tell me what I should be doing instead. I do have a plan, even if I haven’t revealed it to the world.

What I have been thinking about is that, and I could be wrong about this, a big part of my not making enough money is that my work is simply not valued. My time is not valued. And I can’t get over this nagging suspicion that a part of that is because what I do is a traditionally “feminine” profession. I’m a seamstress. I make clothes. The irony here is that at one point (in the Renaissance, which is even funnier) it was considered to be a men’s profession- tailors were always men. Women might embroider or make shirts or something, but actual clothing? Made by men.

But now clothing is either made by women or by small children in other countries. And in both cases, their work is not valued as highly as men’s work, even if sewing is a fairly skilled profession. Can piecework be done by someone who has little to no sewing experience? Yes. Is it dramatically higher quality when done by someone (such as myself) who knows what they’re doing? Absolutely. But does the pay reflect that? Fat chance.

Some examples. And because I have done zero research on this subject, if you happen to belong to one of these professions, please, PLEASE, feel free to correct me. Traditional men’s (labor) professions: fixing cars, electricians, contractors, painters, carpenters. Just off the top of my head. I know people who do most of those things, and they may not be the richest people in the world, but they have a hell of lot more money than I do right now. What is a starting hourly wage for a knowledgeable electrician? Anyone? I just googled it and the internet says $25.75. I have no idea if that’s even vaguely accurate but that is WAY more than I make for sewing. Shit, that’s more than I was making sitting around in an office all day. According to the internet, I could be a fucking coal miner and make over three times as much as I’m making now.

And yes, I know, there are ways I could be making more money sewing. That is not (currently) my point.

Every weekend I work at the Renaissance Festival I get asked the same question over and over and over. And over. I mean it, all fucking day long I get asked the same question. Why does this cost so much? Why is this clothing so expensive? And all day long I say the same thing: because I made it, and I thought it might be nice to be paid fairly for my time. I try to say this in the politest way possible, and I do the whole schmoozy sales person thing about it being unique, and locally made, blah blah. But really what I am telling this person is that I had this funny notion that I might deserve to make money (and not even that much!) for my labor. Another friend and I were discussing this issue and she said she doesn’t even bother to be polite about it anymore. She said she’s started to answer, when the question is posed by a child (which is often the case), “it’s because someone your age didn’t make it.”

And oh god did I think that was just about the funniest thing I had ever heard. I mean, not because child labor is funny, because it’s actually one of the worst things on the planet. But because it so perfectly sums up the artisans’ dilemma, particularly when your product happens to be clothing. I stopped doing alterations and custom sewing SPECIFICALLY because I was exhausted by constantly hearing, “well, why should I pay you to alter this when I can buy a new one at WalMart for less?” And tired of answering, “well, why don’t you just go do that instead of wasting my time?”

Let me break something down. Say I’m selling a dress on Etsy. A fairly simple dress. That dress required about 2 yards of fabric, which was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $4-8 a yard. Say I used a coupon, so it was $4. And it was probably made by child labor, for me to only pay $4 for it. So already we’re off to a bad start. And then it took me at least 4 hours to make that dress, including finishing all the seams and HANDSEWING the facings because I am a professional and take pride in my work. Even if I am to be paid minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, we are up to $29, plus materials, so $37, not counting other expenses like thread, costs like overhead (sewing machine repairs, electric bills, the fact that I work out of my house), OR the time I spent creating the Etsy listing, the percentage Etsy takes for listing on their site, or the time I spend communicating with customers, packaging up the damn thing, and mailing it. I decided to charge $40 for this dress because at the end of the day, is anyone going to pay more than that? Is anyone even going to pay $40 for a dress they could, in fact, buy from WalMart for $15? People get very high and mighty about not supporting child labor, and isn’t it the worst thing ever, but I have yet to see a true sea change in regards to people spending money like they care. There may be the exceptions (and I sell them clothing every weekend), but they are the exceptions.

The long and short of it is this. I love what I do. I mean, I really, truly, love what I do. But it is not, and cannot be (at this level) a lucrative profession, because my time is not valued. If I were to be paid what I think I am worth, at least $20 an hour, that dress up there would be $100, at least, and no one would ever buy it. Ever! And it’s for the reasons I stated at the outset: I’m doing work that is typically done by women or children- work that is not valued as highly as work done by men, particularly men in first world countries.

Before people collapse into paroxysms about how they couldn’t afford to buy clothing if it was actually valued at what it should be valued, let me ask you one question: how much money have you spent on coffees in the last year? How much money have you spent on new phones? On your cable bill? Most people in this country spend more money on a cup of coffee than I make for an hour of my time.

Does this make any sense? Does it?

Posted in Feminism, Self Employment, Sewing, Skills, The "System" | 3 Comments

In Need of Posting

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time, not because I haven’t wanted to, because I have, desperately, wanted to sit and capture some of the millions of thoughts that constantly seem to race through my head, but because I honestly haven’t had the time. On the one hand, my exit from my more or less typical office 9-5 is still the best decision I have ever made- right now I am sitting, sipping tea, and typing; when I finish I will head outside for my morning chores, and will pause to listen to the birds in the woods as I bring water to the chickens, and I will think it is another beautiful morning. But on the other hand, I have been faced with the increasing realization that no matter what you do, at the end of the day you are expected to pay rent, and taxes, and that even working flat out for 70 hours a week won’t be enough.

This morning I finally watched the video of Emma Watson speaking at the UN, and it confirmed something for me that I’ve been feeling for a long time. In part because I simply am working, all the time, but in part because my stress level regarding working, all the time, has me afraid to look, I’ve been avoiding the world more and more. For some years now I’ve been deliberating retreating from the world’s problems. It was partially self defense- there have been many times in my life that I have been crippled with sadness by the things that go on in this world. And it’s partially this overwhelming feeling of being disenfranchised, that I have no power, and that anything I do won’t make a difference anyway, so why should I keep throwing myself against that unforgiving wall.

I set out wanting to write a post about my need for some new kind of activism. I’ve been cherishing my retreat lately, my increasing distance from the daily news, my only vague awareness of the horrors that only seem to be multiplying as each day passes. I’ve retreated, after all, into a world where by and large I don’t have to deal with those issues, or at least I can pretend I don’t. But over the past months I’ve realized more and more that there truly is no retreat, and what I’ve been in is denial. And even though I have no idea what it will mean, I need to figure out something I can do to respond.

I realize I’m being vague here, and it is deliberate- I don’t want to list the things that are currently horrifying me, because I don’t want this to turn into a conversation about one problem or another, or about whether the things that are horrifying me are horrifying anyone else. I’m sure anyone who may be reading this could pick any number of items out of the current news and find plenty to be horrified about. There’s plenty to go around. The conversation I was hoping to have was about how we react to it- what can we do?

I think of all the traditional forms of protest, of the marches and the standing around waving signs, and I think, well, that can’t be it. Certainly those things can garner a certain level of attention, but it struck me the other day that I had completely forgotten about Occupy Wall Street. Remember that? That was a thing. That happened.

And I think of all this new “activism,” this constant posting and reposting things to facebook and twitter and wherever the fuck else people are posting these days. I particularly think of how fickle that form of- well, I’m only calling it activism for lack of a better word- is. I spend far too much time scrolling through the news feed, and I too often see the same exact person contradict their own posts from the week before because of some new video or who knows what that’s surfaced on the internet. And I’ll admit to learning some new things this way- by seeing other people’s posts- I did after all follow someone else’s link to the Emma Watson video this morning, and would not likely have come across it otherwise, given my general aversion to reading the news.

But all of those things are so quickly forgotten. Can you remember what people were posting about a few months ago? Can you even remember what you were enraged about on facebook last year? I can’t say that I do, though it probably had something to do with food or agriculture issues, since it’s me. But really, what form of lasting change can be sought through a medium that is, by definition, the complete opposite of lasting? In addition, a site like facebook is self-filtering. I’m not going to see posts that are very different from my opinion, because I don’t choose to be friends with people who are (very much) different from my opinion. Why would I? And even if I was- even if people were posting things that just might change my mind about something- what would induce me to click on them? So as a tool for change, no, I don’t feel social media is exactly what I’m looking for.

And I have no idea what that leaves. For years now I’ve been thinking, well, just live by example, and that’s enough. And maybe it could be, if I wasn’t working my ass off and still not having enough money to even go out for a drink and tell everyone about how wonderful my new life is. It’s not exactly enticing to tell someone to quit their “real” job and start a life of self directed independence if you can’t pay your rent on time. So that’s a challenge in itself.

Yesterday I walked down the street in town for the first time in a very long time, on an errand. I used to do this all the time, but for one reason or another lately my trips to town have been hit and run- get in, get what I need, get back to the sewing machine. And as I was walking and admiring the beautiful fall weather I realized I hadn’t changed out of what I had been wearing that morning- when I was still on site at the Renaissance Festival. I’ve posted before about how Monday mornings at faire are basically the equivalent of having a very large house with a lot of roommates, in that everyone creeps down from their rooms in their pajamas and sits around drinking coffee and talking and milling about. I was wearing leggings and a t-shirt dress that constantly falls off my shoulder, neither of which matched, and a pair of flats that are completely falling apart. I was also fairly dirty, because, well, being on site tends to lead to that. I was not wearing a bra, or make up, and I may or may not have brushed my hair recently. But it hadn’t occurred to me to do anything different, because I was still in faire mode, and by faire standards I was actually kind of dressed up.

I nearly had a moment of panic as I walked down the street- what if I saw someone I knew? What would they think of this wanton bra-less exposed shoulder dirty fingernails look I was sporting? And then I thought to myself- isn’t this what I’ve been advocating all along? That I want to live in a world where I am as comfortable in my day to day life as I am when I’m on site?

So maybe feeling comfortable with myself, as I was, and walking down the street was a small step, but this morning, faced with this abyss of how can I change all the shitty things that are happening in the world, at least it feels like a start.

Posted in Feminism, Life, Self Employment, The "System" | Leave a comment

And On

I feel fortunate, in that I feel I’ve reached a point where I more or less know what I’m doing. Certainly, I have my moments of doubt- I still get a little fuzzy when it comes to ordering a pig, because I’m still not entirely clear on the cuts, and could probably do with some research on that account. When I went to pick our very first harvest of cauliflower, I was fairly unclear, because I’ve never grown it before, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell if it was ready or not (still not entirely sure???).

But at the end of the day I’ve got it down. Eight (nine?) years ago I started working on a farm in the summers, and I started learning what to do with all the bounty. When I talk to someone who is new to this sort of thing, particularly someone who is not crazy, I always tell them to start by canning a few jars of tomatoes. It’s relatively simple, it’s hard to mess up, and there are always more tomatoes (well, except for the past two years, which have been wet and seem to be somewhat anti tomato). These days it’s like, oh, it’s this week? Better do such and such. Though I have an odd sense that there’s more I’m supposed to be doing, only I can’t put my finger on what. I think I’m jumping the gun a bit, and thinking I should be canning tomatoes at this point- only, as I said, another lousy tomato year seems to be in the works.

The funny thing about canning is this: at times you find yourself canning things you have no particular intention of eating. As I mentioned the other day, farm to table means using what’s around. For example: last year I went to pick peaches with a friend. I don’t even like peaches. In fact I particularly dislike the flavor of peaches, even the smell. But there were peaches to be had. And so I canned peach salsa, which is tolerable, because it tastes more like hot peppers, and because I can give it away for gifts. But I also canned peaches, with the intention of making pies for people who like peaches. Guess who hasn’t bothered with making peach pies? Yeah.

I inventory our canned and frozen foods twice a year- once about April (or June) to see what’s left from the previous year, and once in November to see what we’ve accomplished. This year when I did inventory I realized we had more pickles than anyone in their right mind should have. Than a one person pickle eating household should ever possess (did I mention I also dislike pickles? Even more than I dislike peaches). Why do we have all these pickles? I guess we just went a little crazy- there were piles of cucumbers, and what does one do with piles of cucumbers? You make pickles. That’s about it.

But we also had peaches, and apples, and soups, and BBQ sauces, and strange and sundry things I had looked up in the canning book when faced with piles of produce and thought, hm, sure, I’ll make that.

It’s the one real flaw in the putting up your own food process (well, aside from the late nights and crazy amounts of time). Sometimes you make things you don’t actually want to eat. It perplexes me, because there are plenty of things I do want to eat, and don’t seem to have time to make. I’d like to harvest our oregano, for example, and dry it and put it up for use in the non summer months of the year. But I never seem to get around to it. But I did manage to find time to make a strawberry chutney that I not only have no particular intention of using, but in fact probably messed up so it’s not even usable. Go figure.

There are many things I wish we made ourselves, so I could stop buying them. I read something the other day about a woman who stopped going to the grocery store, I mean really stopped, for a whole year. And I think what I buy at the grocery store, and really I could make a lot of those things. Bread. Pasta. I have the means to do so- I just never seem to have the time. Even though last year I made peach BBQ sauce that we’ve never used…

There will always be things I either can’t make or am not going to take the time to make. I’m pretty sure I can’t make salt. We’re not in the right area. I would one day like to build some kind of hothouse for lemons and limes so we can grow those and therefore not need to buy lemon or lime juices. But in the meantime. I’m never going to make soy sauce. Or (probably) grow curry. We don’t have the space (or time) for a cow or other milk producing animal, and I’m a complete failure at making cheese, so that’s something. Same for meats, and grains. I’m not trying to grow every single thing I eat, really, but I do wish I could avoid the grocery store, which only seems to get more excessively expensive with every visit (whereas we just bought half a pig for less than a few grocery bills).

I may be adept at canning tomatoes and green beans and jams without even reading the recipe, but there are some things I still need to work on. Balance. Balancing out needing to use up the gigantic pile of whatever on the kitchen table (cucumbers) with what we might actually use (bread). Figuring out what else I can make, instead of buying. Using my own herb garden, which is always sorely neglected. These things take time, I realize. And when I look back at the way I was eating not so long ago, I have made enormous strides.

It just annoys me to go to the grocery store. And to have so many jars of pickles. But what else can you do?

Posted in Farming, Ingredients, Seasons, Tales of Cooking | Leave a comment

Wherein I Admit to a Guilty Pleasure

Several years ago a person I sort of vaguely knew and had met once at a party ended up on a reality show, namely Next Food Network Star. A bunch of us decided to watch, because really, we live in a small town, and people we sort of know ending up on major television networks is rather rare. And since then, I find I keep watching the show. Why? I have no idea. Generally reality competitions annoy me to death because you can see how the producers are manipulating the contestants and people get all whiney and backstabby and really, just YAWN. But I keep watching this one.

I think it’s probably because I spend most of the time fantasizing about having my own cooking show. I have no delusions that I’m a talented chef, or even vaguely capable of the type of cooking typically expected on this show. They regularly ask the contestants to do all sorts of things I’m completely baffled by. And making food in that time frame? For a hundred people? HA.

No, I love cooking because I take my time about it and listen to music and drink a lot of wine. Anyone who has watched me cook (or waited patiently for dinner) knows I really, really take my time about it. But if I did, for some reason, have a cooking show, or a youtube channel, or some such, I know exactly what I would do.

You see, on the show, they ask everyone to have a point of view (POV). And every single season, someone comes along and says their POV is farm to table. And every single season, they immediately cook something that cannot possibly be farm to table, at least by my standards. I’m sure they have good excuses- they have a limited pantry available to them, after all, plus they’re in California, where there are many more things available at strange times of the year than we have here in Maryland. But still. It’s the sentiment.

Because farm to table to me, after my limited number of years doing pretty much that exclusively (about 6-8, depending on your definition), means using what’s around- not pulling some recipe out that you always make in the same way, all the time, because that’s just the way you do it.

Farm to table, in my opinion, is being forced to make something with kale because there is so much fucking kale in your garden you don’t really have a choice. Farm to table is going through the random crap at the bottom of your freezer, realizing you have a hanger steak, don’t have the faintest idea what a hanger steak is or how to cook it, and looking it up and making it anyway. Farm to table is endlessly making pickles even though you don’t really like pickles because, well, what the hell else are you going to do with all those vegetables?

On the shows (and by this I really mean just about every show that ever has claimed to do farm to table, or seasonal, or local), they always produce these involved recipes with a ton of ingredients, and every time I’m watching and thinking, don’t have that, don’t have any way to get that, those two things don’t grow at the same time, etc etc. Maybe it’s all fine if you live in California and have access to some kind of specialty store that has fancy things, but here in the more or less middle of nowhere, I a) would have to drive over an hour to get this shit and b) don’t have the money to drive over an hour anywhere, or to buy said shit. When I’m eating farm to table, it’s because someone gave me a ton of green beans and they were free and guess what! We’re having green beans for dinner.

And if I had a cooking show, that’s exactly what I would do. I would have a limited pantry of super cheap stuff that most people either have around already or at least can afford to buy (list to follow), and I’d be forced to make dinner based on whatever I can find. In the summer, that tends to be tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and green beans. Ad nauseam. In the winter, it’s whatever I dig out of the freezer, which can be equally challenging. Example? When I realized I had completely forgotten an unholy quantity of frozen snap peas at the back of the freezer, the week before our snap peas came on (and boy did they come on. I never knew I could invent so many ways to cook snap peas).

That’s the show for me. Hell, that would be the cookbook for me. I am so tired of paging through cookbooks and going, don’t have that, can’t find that, that costs a fortune… even though I generally sit down on Sunday nights and plan meals for the entire week, I still don’t have access to most of the random ingredients recipes call for. Last night I decided to make a cauliflower couscous, because we have an excess of cauliflower, and I knew I had some couscous somewhere in the cabinet (because I can buy it in bulk, and it’s cheap). But it also called for dates and fresh parsley. Dates? Come on, where do you think I live that I can procure dates? Really? At least I’d normally have fresh parsley, but alas, ours got eaten by weeds, and is not really functional for picking. So what did I do? I substituted curry powder (which we buy once a year, in bulk, from a local vendor) and dried marjoram (ditto). Voila. Couscous. What is farm to table? Making the most of what you have, when you have it. And loving every minute of it.

If I had a show (and if someone wants to shell out the money to sponsor my youtube show, please speak up)(or a cookbook), I wouldn’t be preaching recipes. I’d be doing the same thing I did when I started writing a cookbook all those years ago- giving suggestions for what to do with what you can find. It may not read like a recipe, but I’m going to make a broad and likely unfair statement and say that only people with money can follow recipes. For the rest of us, particularly those of us with oversized gardens, we have true farm to table: “Honey, we’re having salad for dinner again. Please eat this god damn lettuce because there’s no more room in the fridge.”

The list of things I would have in my pantry if I had a cooking show (subject to editing):
– Flour, including cornmeal
– Oil, including olive, veg., canola, and MAYBE seasame
– Soy sauce
– Salt, pepper
– Dry carbohydrates, namely bulk rice, pasta, couscous, or similar
– Honey (which I buy locally anyway) and sugar (bought in bulk)
– Lemon and lime juice (wish I could grow these!!)
– An array of spices, including but not limited to vanilla, curry, various chili powders (which I swear I will make one year), cinnamon, nutmeg, garam masala, ginger…
– Vinegar (red wine, clear, apple cider, and basalmic)
– Coconut milk (also wish I could grow!)

What would be in your basics only pantry?

Posted in Cookbook bits, Farming, Ingredients, Recipes | Leave a comment

Missing You All

I haven’t been able to blog for ages, and it’s driving me mad.

On so many levels, things are the way I hoped they would be. I work from home, doing something I love, and never seem to get tired of; I spend plenty of time in the garden, and canning, and cooking, and all those things related to food.

But unfortunately that’s about it.

The downside, and it is, really, an enormous downside, of working at home as a seamstress is that it doesn’t pay very well. And this is really very little to do with the type of sewing or blah blah, it’s just that people don’t want to pay money for sewing. Certainly there are some things I could be doing that would earn me more money, but they’d also be much higher stress and involve doing things I find exhausting and unpleasant. I could be sewing custom wedding dresses, for example. You can make bank on custom wedding dresses. Unfortunately it requires dealing with brides (no offense, brides, but really). I do not have the patience level to deal with brides.

And so I soldier on, never having enough money to leave the house (more on that later), and not blogging, because, well, it’s not adding income. And just about everything I do these days needs to a) add income or b) save money (for example, canning).

But the frustrating bit is that while I’m busy sewing and pulling weeds and canning, I’m thinking of a million things I’d like to blog about. Why? I haven’t the faintest. I don’t have any particular sense that my blogging about the dinner I made or the weeds I pulled is going to change the world in any particular way. But I have a powerful need to write about it, none the less. It’s making me crazy that I’m not writing about the hanger steak I cooked the other day, for example. Or the wilt in our tomatoes. Or the new blackberries we put in. Or the fact that my chicken is molting in July, when for the past three years she has always molted in September. Or that the bees are disappearing and by the way there are also no butterflies?

There are a thousand things I want to write about, and believe me, I’m thinking about them all day long, because sewing does not use the part of the brain that thinks about things to blog about. I’ve been thinking I need to get some kind of brainless job that does not require two hands just so I can get paid to sit at a desk a few hours a week and sneakily blog. Believe me, I love sewing, but there’s that tricky thing where you need both hands. Weeding causes similar problems. Thank goodness for audiobooks, because even if I can’t write, at least I’m enjoying a remarkable number of books this summer.

All this is to say, I’m taking an unsolicited break from work (GASP) to write a few things before my brain explodes. Don’t expect much from it. Don’t expect it to continue, especially because faire starts in five weeks and HA if you think I’m busy now- well. More tomorrow.

Posted in Self Employment, Sewing, Tales of Writing | Leave a comment

2013 Books in Review

Ah, New Year’s Eve, that time of year when we sit back and reflect… on how many books we read in 2013. It was a pretty good year for reading, so far as things go, but an even better year for listening, as I invested in an audible account (I actually recommend it, you get a ton of deals, and you actually get the files), and did most of my “reading” while I was working. But I managed to get through a fair number of paper books too (yay!). As per usual, I don’t list the multitude of cookbooks, instructional books, and other non fiction that I regularly skim through in my ongoing quest to produce all of our food. Though I should mention the book I referenced the most this year was Long Way on a Little by Shannon Hayes. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking to learn how to better use their meat. We’re currently eating our way through the beef section and I have yet to find a bad recipe.

Hm I just looked and last year I read 21 books and this year only 18, and most of those were kids books… hmm… maybe I didn’t read as much as I thought. At least I listened to 19.

Items of note from this year… it took me a LONG time to get into the Poisonwood Bible, and then I loved it. I have yet to not like a Kingsolver. Was surprised to like Atonement but it wasn’t the most amazing read ever. Favorite of the year would have to be the Change series by SM Stirling, which I would be reading a lot faster if only I had the time… apocalypse and RennFest, you can’t go wrong.

I still feel like I’m missing a book or two, but I just can’t figure out what they would be. Hm. Mom, did I borrow anything else that I would have given back?

Dance of Dragons, George RR Martin
Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes (repeat)
Locavore Adventures, Jim Weaver
Dies the Fire, SM Stirling
Curing Tooth Decay, Ramiel Nagel
Company of Liars, Karen Naitland
The Witches, Roald Dahl
The Gremlins, Roald Dahl
Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Roald Dahl
Someone Like You, Roald Dahl
Kiss Kiss, Roald Dahl
Atonement, Ian McEwan
The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau
Dangerous Angels, Francesca Lia Block (reread)
The Protectors War, SM Stirling

This was the first year I went a little crazy with the audiobooks, and given that I spent most of my time at the sewing machine, most of my “reading” was actually listening to audiobooks. So I listened to:
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (reread)
A Storm of Swords, George RR Martin (reread)
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis (reread)
Foundation, Mercedes Lackey
Intrigues, Mercedes Lackey
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin (reread)
His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), Philip Pullman (reread)
Arrows of the Queen, Mercedes Lackey (reread)
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (reread)
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (reread)
Reserved for the Cat, Mercedes Lackey
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (reread)
The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (reread)
American Gods, Neil Gaimon (reread)
Home From the Sea, Mercedes Lackey
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (reread)

If you’re curious, here’s last year: 2012, the year before 2011, and even 2010.

You can read about my cousin’s adventures in reading (she read so much more than me I am somewhat embarrassed) over here, plus links to lots of other bloggers and their books.

Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

Winter Inventory

Canning Inventory 11/14/13
4 pints pickled jalepeno
5 pints spicy pickles
2 pints zucchini relish
1 pint bread and butter pickles
1 pint pickled beets
2 pints pickled garlic scapes
12 pints dill (??) pickles
5 pints pickled veggies
9 pints dill pickles (with actual dill)
Pickle total: 41 pints

12 pints green beans
14 pints zesty salsa
1 pint spicy salsa
5 pints peach salsa
4 pints spaghetti sauce
14 pints tomatoes
5 pints chicken soup
8 pints beef stew
2 1/2 pints hot sauce
1 1/2 pints barbecue sauce
8 1/2 pints peach barbecue sauce
6 pints apple sauce
4 1/2 pints apple sauce
5 pints peaches
4 pints apples
7 pints strawberry “jam”
3 pints blueberry jam
1 pint lilac jelly
1 pint violet jelly
6 1/2 pints flower syrups

Jar total: 153, which does not include: things we gave away, things we already ate

Freezer inventory 11/14/13 (in quart bags)
8 peas
9 green beans
31 green peppers
12 corn
3 shredded zucchini
2 paw paw
4 spinach
8 cups pumpkin
11 blueberry
1 raspberry
2 carrot
3 cauliflower
3 broccoli
1 bag ravioli
15 quarts chicken stock, 3 beef, 3 fish

20131114_231859

Other:
12 pints refrigerator pickles
1 gallon lilac wine
1 gallon blueberry wine
3 gallons dandelion wine
Loads of potatoes and onions and garlic
Big jars of dry black beans, kidney beans, cranberry beans, shield beans, and one heirloom called jacob’s cattle.

Compare to 2012 (an incomplete list, I have no idea why I never typed it up):

1 gallon lilac wine
1 gallon strawberry wine
3 gallons elderberry wine
2 quarts strawberry vodka
1 quart plum vodka
15 pints tomatoes
6 pints pickled beets
7 pints spaghetti sauce
22 pints various salsas (including peach!)
3 pints peaches in booze
9 pints green beans
10 pints pickles
4 pints zucchini relish
1 pint 1 half pint pickled hot peppers
4 half pints hot sauce
6 half pints barbecue sauce
6 quarts refrigerator pickles
6 quarts refrigerator kohlrabi pickles
2 quarts tomato conserva (paste)

Posted in Seasons, Tales of Cooking | 1 Comment

The Ever Changing Landscape –or- Why I’ll Never Get Another Job

I’ve been (as is normal) going back and forth on whether to keep up this blog or not. I think the verdict is not- I won’t take it down, but I don’t feel like I have a lot to say right now. I’m thinking a lot of things, but more and more they have less to do with gardening and food and more with lifestyle and having a small business and being off the radar. And really I could write a lot about all of those things, except that living life and having a small business and staying off the radar tend to, well, not lend themselves to much in the way of blogging. Perhaps I’ll change my mind. But for now, I will leave you with these parting gifts- the changes I’ve seen in myself, aka why I could never go back to having a “job.”

1. Monday morning breakfast
During the faire season we do this thing on Monday mornings called Bazaar. People bring their stuff and it’s sort of like a mini flea market, but more importantly, there is breakfast. The best potatoes and bacon and eggs and baked goods you could imagine. And everyone gets their plates and hunkers down around a picnic table and proceeds to devour way too much food and way too much caffeine, all out in the perfect autumnal sunlight, which is filtering down through the canopy far over our heads.
Come back in two hours and everyone will still be sitting there. Not always- sometimes we wander off because there are pressing business sort of things to take care of, but mostly, still sitting there. Just talking. Drinking more caffeine. Dogs are wandering about. Children. Once there was a puppet show. But there is an ease to it, and I put this one first because I am never so perfectly aligned with the world as I am after Monday morning breakfast. Everything seems completely in harmony. And it has something to do with the freedom of it. What are you doing at 11 AM on a Monday morning? Because I suspect its not sitting out in the sun watching the dogs and the children run around, drinking tea and having amazing conversations. But that’s where I am.
In a place like a Renaissance Festival (and honestly I have no idea what the other shows are like, but I get the feeling it’s similar) there’s this overall sense of community, of camaraderie, among the people who work there. And it’s hardly like we’re working there, sometimes. Not because we don’t do work- my caffeine fueled all night sewing binges can attest to that- but because most of us aren’t really thinking of it as work, as in, this is the time I am at work, and this is the time I am myself, at home, living. For most of us (and I’ve asked around), it’s more like- well this is just my life. And on weekends people show up and we sell them things and they leave again- and on Monday we sit back and talk about it. These benches, these open pathways, are our living room. These other people are our housemates. I may need to go back to my booth and do inventory, but you can’t call this a job- after all, I live here.

2. The Ease
We were walking up to breakfast on site one morning and a friend said, hey, what happened to your skirt? I had been wearing a rather loud cherry print skirt the night before, but at the moment I was wearing black leggings (with holes in), a tshirt, and a green sweater (with even more holes in). And I shrugged. I hadn’t put it on because the benches were wet and I didn’t want to get the skirt wet, and really in general hadn’t felt like buttoning it. As we walked away, the handsome fella said, you know, she’s right, normally you won’t leave the house without a full outfit, including accessories. You won’t even go to the grocery store without putting on a dress.
And I said, well, it’s only breakfast, but what I meant was, I didn’t feel like I had left the house.

3. The Average Day
To be honest, it’s rare I do “dress” anymore. And that makes me a little sad, because I have a lot of awesome dresses, but it just means I get way too fancy to go to the little local bar up the street. In reality, here is my day: I get up when the handsome fella does, so he can go to work. I feed the animals. I read emails/blogs/the internet for about an hour, while I drink a cup of tea, and maybe have some breakfast, and wait for my psychologically disturbed cat who will only eat if you sit quietly with her to finish her breakfast. I take the dog out and we wander the yard and play ball and maybe I putter in the garden, pull some weeds, harvest something. One morning recently I stood there for about twenty minutes (throwing the ball) mentally playing with the Tetris puzzle that is crop rotation and enjoying a “breakfast cocktail.” I get the mail. I wash a few dishes or throw in some laundry, and make a second cup of tea. I start working around 9 or 10 or sometimes 11. I work for a few hours and go down and have lunch with the dog, and watch half an episode of something on tv. I go back up to work and get in a solid 5 or 6 hours before the handsome fella gets home, and I make us dinner, and work for maybe another hour or two, and we hang out and put up food and work in the garden and watch tv while I do handsewing. In the winter we play endless rounds of Carcassonne and put together puzzles.
It’s rare (outside of faire season) to leave the house more than twice a week. I do the domestic things- run errands and buy groceries and whatever. We have dinner with friends. We take mini camping trips to the mountains. But mostly my life is sewing and chickens and food, planning out dinners, and throwing the ball for the dog. My breaks from work are standing out in the yard, drenched in sunlight, thinking about next to nothing, drinking tea. All day I listen to music or books. I’ve listened to more books this year than I’ve read, because I have 8-10 hours a day of “reading.” If I have to work at night I watch a movie. I sometimes work long hours and often work weird hours (Sunday afternoons) and for nine weeks out of the year I’m hardly at home, but then I have Monday breakfasts and Saturday night late night singing and laughing and talking. In the off season I bake and can vegetables and figure out new and exciting ways to roast large hunks of meat. I love dinner parties. We make wine and piddle with new trellising techniques or building a second chicken house. Is this a job? Sure, if you feel the need to call it that. But for my part, I don’t differentiate between one part and the other, between where “work” starts and life takes its place. They are one and the same. Or can you hang out with your dog in your backyard while you’re at “work”?

4. The Most Awesome Job Ever
The only time I really feel like I’m at a “job” is on weekends at faire when the people show up. I have to wear certain clothes. I have to hide my cell phone. I have to work certain hours, and if I want to go hide in my room and take a break, I can’t. It’s the only time I sometimes feel a little constrained, but there’s a lot to make up for it.
One day this past season, a guy actually said to me, wow, you must have the worst job ever. He was being completely serious. At the time I was lacing his fairly attractive wife into a bodice. I just looked at him, and looked at his wife, and said, are you kidding? I mean, really. The only real “job” I have is to hang in our booth all day and help women get dressed. I get to make them really happy. Everyone that walks out of our store in an outfit suddenly feels great about themselves- confident, and gorgeous, and ready to have a really, really good time. And I helped them with that. Women who often don’t get to feel that way- can feel really good about themselves in garb. We actually have kind of a reputation for being the store that can fit all sizes (or nearly), and the store that will make you feel really comfortable about getting dressed up. And that’s my job! When I’m not helping someone get dressed, I get to talk to people, joke around, have a good time, people watch, and yes, I get to start drinking in the late afternoon as long as it doesn’t affect my ability to work. Oh yeah, and did I mention everyone around me is having a great time, so its kind of hard not to have a good time too? Really? Do you get to do this at your job?

5. The Things I Don’t Have to Do
Be anywhere near a computer. Show up at particular times (except for those few weekends). Go to a staff meeting. Lie. Ask for money (ugh, non profits- over it). Beg for money. Pretend I give a shit about something, or am something that I am not, in hopes that someone will give me money. Deal with horrible nasty people who I hope will give me money. Tolerate assholes (except some occasional drunk people). Paperwork. Sit in an office. Go to staff meetings. Work when I’m sick, or sad, or otherwise not up for working (mostly). Pretend. I never have to pretend.

6. What I Actually DO
At the end of the day, I have produced something. Some days I get a little down about what I produce- I mean, it’s not like Renaissance costumes are really direly important to the future of the world. And certainly if the shit hits the fan they will be completely useless. But I am making something. I can measure tangible progress by the movement of big piles of fabric to hangers. I love finishing a garment. I love seeing all the clean, finished edges. I love the shapes. I love everything about it, and it gives me so much pleasure to see something hanging there, on the rack, something that I made, something that someone will wear. At my old jobs I never felt like I was accomplishing anything. Sure, we’d hold an event, people would come, and maybe there would be that occasional moment when someone would come up to me and say that something they heard had changed their perspective, but by and large, nothing changed. I worked for years and years and years thinking that what I was doing was going to change something. But it never happened. And I think I finally accepted that I was deluding myself, that I was never going to change anything organizing my safe little programs behind a desk.
I like to think I’m not deluding myself, now. I’m definitely not changing anything working in my pajamas in my sewing room. I’m not changing anything by living by example (which I used to tell myself was really a thing, ha), because either no one knows that this is what I do or they think I’m insane. The fact that I’m always broke probably doesn’t much help in promoting the lifestyle, either. But I’m doing this for selfish reasons. I wasn’t doing much to help the universe when I was dead to the world because I resented what I was doing so much. At least now I love what I’m doing. I can figure the part about saving the world later.
At breakfast, someone said to me, “It’s just so amazing to be with people who get to earn their living by doing things they really love.”

7. The Truth
For whatever reason this faire season I got into a hundred different conversations about how faire was where we could all be ourselves. And it’s true, and since being home, this has become even more abundantly clear to me. As I said earlier, being at faire (when we’re not open), I never think twice about what I wear. And at home I get very carefully dressed to go to the drug store. I find going to the drug store rather stressful, actually. Suddenly I’m worried about what people think. What do they think of how I’m dressed? What do they think of what I’m buying? Even going to the bar with friends I will stress over what I’m wearing- and for good reason. The wrong outfit and I spend the entire night fending off critiques and questions and just plain sneers.
But it’s not just the clothing. At faire I will run and jump and climb things. I spent one morning randomly jumping from bench to bench. One night I got a little crazy and decided to do acrobatics from the stairs in our booth. You know. In general I feel a little wild and free and myself. More completely myself than I am at any other time of the year, when I am watching what I say, and acting all demure, and not randomly dancing on the benches just because I feel like it. I love living in a small town, don’t get me wrong. But you say the wrong thing in a small town, and the whole fucking town knows about it within hours. It’s exhausting, trying to gauge who I can say what to in case it gets around and destroys something, ruins a relationship, whatever. At faire? Even if someone disagrees with me, they’ll leave me be. At faire, you are who you are. You can be out at faire. You can be a freak. You can wear glitter and sequins to breakfast or you can wear the rattiest clothes known to man. You can be all of the things you have always had to hide, out of fear, and not be afraid, but be celebrated.
And everyone is probably weirder than you anyway, so whatever you get up to? It’s all good.

8. Living
And there’s one more bit, about what I think of as the “faire personality.” We don’t see each other for the better part of a year. And even during the nine weeks of faire, most of us only see each other on weekends. And yet, when I meet someone, it’s like fireworks going off. We go from hi, nice to meet you, to having really intense conversations within minutes. Not every time- sometimes there are some really awkward, so, what do you do? kind of conversations going on. But so many times I’ve been listening to or pouring out a life story, things I would never talk about in other circumstances, to someone I just met. I’ve always been the kind of person who just plunges in when I feel a connection. Forget about convention or caution, my instinct is almost always right. And a lot of the faire people are like that, too. We have to be. We only have that one shot- nine weekends, or sometimes less- to make connections. If you tried to make friends the conventional way, you’d never get there. As it is, I feel closer to people I’ve met at faire (and spent far less overall time with) than some people I’ve known for years.
And you can’t be fussy about goodbyes. I’m not so good at this one, yet. I tend to linger. But you have to get good at trusting. At knowing that yes, you will probably see them next year, and you can pick up your conversation right there. Or maybe not. Maybe you won’t see them again. You never know what will happen. But that’s life, regardless, and if faire has taught me anything, it’s that you need to be good at letting go. Our time is short. So the time we do have should be as honest and real as possible. Why waste time pretending to be something else? Why spend your precious few hours on something that doesn’t make you happy, that doesn’t fulfill you, that doesn’t make you dance and sing with joy?
A job is something you can walk away from. A job is something you’re just doing, because you have to, and you do it for a certain number of hours and then you leave. What I’m doing, I’m doing basically all the time, and it blends seamlessly into the rest of what I’m doing. I do accounting in the morning and then go to breakfast and then go back to the booth to set up. I hang out with friends while I’m “working.” At home I sew and then I wander downstairs to put in a load of laundry. This isn’t a job, this is my life. And I don’t think I could ever give it up.

And last but not least, I am still going to be publishing. A long time ago I wrote a novel, and I want it out in the world, even if it’s not worth publishing through the normal channels. So I’m publishing it as a blog, and if you want to continue to read words I wrote, you can follow along here: Leaves are Falling, One by One.

Posted in Community Eating, Life, Self Employment, Sewing | 2 Comments