Friday, July 30, 2010

agricultural update


Lurking under the leaves…one of the bigger watermelons.



A cantaloupe on the left and a watermelon on the right…



A wee tiny watermelon.


100_2183 Another cantaloupe/watermelon buddy combo.

There are others…This was not an exhaustive chronicling....


Our first ripe black raspberry. It was tasty!



The second ripe black raspberry. Almost ripe. I left it alone.


Also, I think I figured out why Maggie isn’t dropping weight particularly quickly. We went out this evening (saw “Inception” – WOW, loved it!) and when we got back, Maggie was out on the lawn chewing on something…crunchy. Apparently she’s been able to make up for the cutbacks in the food dish by eradicating the population of something or other – I’ll probably find a head or little tiny feet out in the lawn tomorrow, if anyone cares for a fuller report.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

fruity pebbles

This post has nothing to do with breakfast cereal. I needed a title for the post, and that’s what came out of the oracle’s mouth.

So. Today dawned gorgeous, As Usual. And As Usual, my day began at 5:20 am, when the sound of Charlie’s body slamming the bedroom door finally dragged me up from dreams. We have this whole routine: he body slams. I ignore. He body slams. I ignore. Kevin sleeps through all this. And eventually, I give in.

Now, what he wants is to be fed, of course. But I scoop him up and toss gently deposit him out on the deck. And then I go back to bed.

AREN’T I MEAN? If Charlie had opposable thumbs, this is what would happen…

In other news.

I’m three runs away from the half marathon. Today’s run was a
s-l-o-w half hour – about a 10:40 pace. I had to make myself slow down, because my recent runs have been getting fast – Tuesday’s was at a blistering (for me, anyway) 8:42 pace – and my hamstrings have been bitching about it. The last thing I need now is to injure myself. This Sunday, I have the longest run yet – 14 miles, It will take me nearly three hours. After that, it’s a couple of half-hour runs and then, showtime.

Another ten pounds of blueberries found their way into our freezer today. I didn’t have the orchard to myself this afternoon…a few rows away, a mother pleaded with her children: “Olivia! Help Mommy pick blueberries!”  A few minutes later: “Where’s your sister???” …followed by “DON’T EAT THOSE! PICK YOUR OWN!” and topped off by my personal favorite, “Olivia, put your pants back on!”

This reminds me of a meal, long ago and far away, with a college boyfriend and his family. He was the oldest of six, and the youngest, coincidentally also named Sarah, was a toddler. Sarah knew about silverware, but was having none of it. Wanting an unmediated experience with her food, she buried her face in her plate. “Sarah…use your fingers…”


Our raspberries aren’t ripe yet. But these, from the orchard, were…


And out on the lawn, the watermelon pod-people are getting huge, and making more babies every day.


I swear, they are up to no good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meeting Notes

Are we all here? I call this meeting to order.

Chair’s Remarks: Today’s pictures are all courtesy of The Google. Thanks, fellow humans with cameras!

Agenda Item 1. The Red Berries

I saw these guys on a run several weeks ago, and I’m seeing more of them crop up along a dirt road about a half mile from our house. Oh Joy! They are red baneberry (Actaea rubra).

Parents of small children: you know how it’s standard Parental Policy to warn your kids about Not Eating Red Berries? Turns out this is a good policy. Two of these can be fatal to a little kid. Trained herbalists will know all sorts of useful things you can do with this plant; since I’m not an herbalist, let’s just leave it that this one’s not a good snack food.


Agenda Item 2. false solomon seal berries

Here is a great example of things getting even cooler, when you look closely.

false~solomons~seal Now, isn’t this lovely? These clusters of golden berries? Watch what happens when you lean in closely:

false solomon seal false solomon seal closeup false solomon sealThey’re kind of speckled! I believe they eventually go entirely red. I laughed out loud when I saw this.

Agenda Item 3. trillium seed pods

Y’all remember trillium?

trillium_erectum_mthomas_lgThese were among the first wildflowers to get going this spring. And, as I never tire of telling small children, lean in and get a good whiff of that flower. Mmmmm…smells like rotting meat. Tasty.

On a run last week I was beyond-delighted to come across some trillium that had gone to seed. Naturally, I had no camera, and besides, I’m mad at our camera anyway, so here goes with the stolen borrowed pictures:

Trillium seed pods

Agenda Item 4. The Spider 

This beauty is hanging out inside our screened-in porch. Apparently it’s a Pisaurina mira.

pisaurina miraMy spider policy is simple. If you are outside the house, you are a beautiful creature of god, and I salute you. If you are inside the house, you are food for the vacuum cleaner.

Meeting adjourned 6:20 pm.

Monday, July 26, 2010

mmm, barbecue

Yesterday we had big plans: attend Harpoon Brewery’s Championship of New England BBQ Festival. Our friends Chris and Jenn of Howling Hog BBQ were competing. We missed this last year, so were were primed this year. (That link, incidentally, is for their Facebook page…their blog should be showing up on the blog roll at right…)

But first, a few random pictures:


This wood pile started off the summer as logs, primarily from a few trees we needed to remove last summer in the construction project. Kevin’s been going out several times each day, for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (depending on how hot it is), to manhandle ‘em. First he chainsawed them into short logs (“rounds”, for you non-woodstove afficionados), and more recently, he’s been splitting them into firewood. What a stud.


Moi. What you are supposed to be appreciating about this picture is my outfit. Is it not fab? I’ve had that jean jacket since I was 17. You can hardly tell, can you, just how awesome my sneakers are. Not to worry, this post will have more pictures.

OK, let’s get to the barbecue competition. It’s held in Windsor, a little more than an hour north of us, on the grounds of the Harpoon Brewery. It draws HUGE crowds for around here. I overheard event staff saying they had 5,000 people on Saturday. We knew that Chris and Jenn and their teammates would be crazy busy all day Saturday, preparing stuff for the judges, so we showed up yesterday, when we knew they’d be able to vend some of their tasty bbq goodness. Oh, and baked goodies, too.


That’s me, chewing on some of their delicious beef brisket, which earned them a 10th place ribbon (out of 40-odd competitors, I believe) this year.


Random crowd scene. Those clouds were scary, but it only rained a tiny bit.


Another random crowd scene. Nice trees, huh? Locusts, I believe. Somehow neither of these pictures shows the two things Jenn and I noticed most about the overall scene: one, the number of Very Pregnant Women. And two, the number of DOGS. SO many dogs. Lots and lots of dogs of all sizes and shapes.


Hey, there are my shoes.  I’m sitting in front of Howling Hog’s tent. And I’m eating possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever had. Bacon baclava. I’m not sure who made it. It wasn’t actually that good – instead of “yum! baclava! and is that bacon? wow!” it was more…”what is this…this is weird…I don’t feel good…”


Me and Jenn. Nice hair, Sarah. Actually, later on in the day, a complete stranger walked up to me and complimented me on my hair, so that kind of balances things out a bit. It’s hard to fully take credit for something like  that – I mean, all I do is Not Cut It. If you want to look at fabulousness, though, look at Jenn, who’s one of my favoritest people ever. In addition to being a great cook, livestock guru, and community development pro, she’s also a talented potter. And she’s working on her black belt in karate. And I’m probably missing about five things you should know about Jenn.



That’s Chris, Jenn, and Wendy Boucher of Feeding Friendz, at the awards ceremony. Let’s show Chris a little lovin’ too – another one of my all-time favoritest peeps. Chris and I went to Antioch together (Antioch New England Graduate School, environmental science) – we started in the same semester. I remember sitting with him in his car in the school parking lot one day, listening to a CD of some outstanding blues guitarist, and it turns out it was Chris. Man, these multi-talented people I have as friends…I really need to get my game on.

Feeding Friendz, incidentally, completely cleaned up at the awards. They got four ribbons in a row yesterday, followed by some kind of ginormous Center of The BBQ Universe award, pictured below.


I believe that had I wanted to actually touch that trophy, I would have had to pay a dollar.

Well, that’s all I got for now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

silly wabbit! this IS the fun part!

Years ago, when I was living in Jackson Hole, my friend Michele, a former river guide, took me out on the Snake in her inflatable boat. Now, prior experiences in whitewater have inclined me to stick to my default setting of worshipping big rocks.

To wit: one time in ‘96, during a tubing party on the Farmington River in Connecticut, I was dumped out of my tube in a churning hole of froth, and barely managed to get back in. A year or two later (coincidentally, on a visit to Jackson Hole), I went into hypothermic shock and had to be dumped out on the banks.

Let’s just say, I was a little apprehensive about going out with Michele.

So we’re drifting along. It’s an utterly flat section of water, no drama whatsoever. Ahead in the distance, I see the faintest suggestion of ripples in the water. ‘OH NO!’, says I to Michele. ‘INCIPIENT RAPIDS!’

Unfazed, Michele steered us directly toward them.


Silly wabbit”, she says to me…this IS the fun part.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when Kristin, an old friend, came to visit, accompanied by her seven year old daughter Lily. We had lunch, I showed them the house (which they hadn’t seen since we put the addition on), and we got all caught up. And then we set off an adventure to visit Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane.

Figuring at least part of our journey would be on dirt roads, I volunteered the use of Kevin’s 4WD and we carpooled. Now, y’all know that I pretty much lead the life of a hermit, right? I’m not used to “people”. Let alone, “people in the car with me”. So I immediately went into brain-lock autopilot and accidentally got on the highway, which plays no role in how you get from our house, to South Newfane.

The ensuing improv added 14 miles to our trip, but – ever resourceful – we labeled it “fun country drive” and I got to learn about how various roads in Dummerston are connected to one another.

Eventually, we got within striking distance of our destination, only to find…cue the forbidding music…the Williamsville covered bridge was out.

bridge out

We would have to follow the detour signs.


What follows is a journey not just to the promised land of fields of lilies, but through the forbidding terrain of My Psyche. Buckle up.

Part One: Hooray! An Adventure!


The beginning’s always fun, isn’t it? There is so much to be discovered! This will be great! Wheeeee!

Part Two: Apprehension

Baker Brook Road, our detour route, started ascending pretty quickly, and pretty quickly, I remembered the Vermont Gazetteer, tossed in the back seat of my car. The car at home.

uh oh

You know, there’s a reason I don’t know my way around Windham County back roads. Have you seen a Vermont dirt road in mud season? or in the middle of winter? Have you seen my Honda? It has the clearance and horsepower of your average turtle.

Right around now is when I started hoping that the road crews had been thorough in their placement of detour signs. 

Part 3:  From Flow, to Uh Oh

So we’re bombing along on our adventure, balanced on the razor’s edge of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coins “flow” – that sweet zone where you’re feeling fully immersed and focused. If it were any easier, you’d be bored. If it were any harder, you’d be frustrated.

And that was when Kristin noticed a tiny, hand-painted sign saying “lillies” telling us to take a left, while up ahead, an orange “detour” sign beckoned.


We took the left! We’re breaking the rules! We’re off the map, and we don’t even have a map! Waaagghhhh!  Plus, you see all these contour lines we’re crossing? We’re going up a super-steep hill! with no shoulders! Thank heavens we’ve commandeered Kevin’s truck. Note to self: my next car will be manual transmission all-wheel drive.

Here is where I noticed that my capacity to embrace the unknown is right up against my tendency to throw up my hands in panic. Good to know. Let’s get a crowbar in there and create some room to maneuver.

In the meantime, our road T-dead-ended into a new road, and somehow (I forget how – it was probably Kristin’s doing) we knew to turn left.

Part Four: Monkey Mind


By now we knew we were on the original detour route. This entailed a long descent through the woods – huge maples shading us, farmhouses and fields tucked away here and there. Gosh, was it beautiful. You’d think I’d be able to enjoy the journey at this point, right? You’d be wrong.

My monkey mind was chattering away about what a pathetic loser I am. How come I panic at the least sign of trouble? How come I don’t know my way around my own neighborhood? How come I never go exploring? How will I ever learn new stuff, if I’m not willing to get lost? BLAH blah BLAH blah BLAH blah BLAH.

I vocalized this for Kristin’s entertainment. Well, let’s hope she was entertained. If I can’t make a funny story out of this, WHAT’S THE POINT?

Part Five: VICTORY!

Suddenly, I saw a steel-deck bridge up ahead. I immediately recognized it, as I’d seen this bridge plenty of times from the other side. I actually know where I am! Hooray!


From here, we were back on the normal route, and we made our way to Olallie with no further Drama. And thus concludes the tour though my psyche.

As your reward, I will now show you the pictures Kristin took with her amazing not-one-but-two cameras.


Me and Miss Lily.



lilyeleanor   MOM! I asked Kristin to take this one.
Please note the name of this hybrid, ahem.



Lily got into some milkweed pods and I dissected one to see how it’s coming along.  Later in the summer, the outer husks will open up and the wind will carry all these seeds away on silky puffs, which you see here. They’re still kinda sticky.





See the bee?


lily and kristin

Lily and her mom.




Is this heaven, or what?

And then we picked blueberries – just a few, as this place charges an arm and leg for their blueberries, no offense – and I ate a whole entire pint on the way home. Yum.

Thanks for visiting, Kristin and Lily! I had fun! Let’s get lost again sometime!

Happy trails, everyone…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Area woman eaten by giant mutant squash plant


Pictured above is Sarah Brennan, moments before a heinous attack by what appears to be an agricultural experiment gone horribly wrong.

Brennan, 42, was a neophyte gardener who had only recently learned to tell the difference between the cantaloupe and watermelon plants she and her husband, Kevin, planted in their Westminster garden a few weeks ago.

The Brennans little suspected that the beautiful, 4” diameter flower shown here... 100_2126

…was that of a rare, man-eating mutant melon/squash hybrid.

Ironically, Brennan had just photographed her husband standing next to the unusually large plant, commenting that it seemed poised to sneak up on anyone who might choose to take a nap in the nearby hammock.

mutantkiller Little did she realize that she herself would be the nefarious mutant’s first victim.

“I’m too shaken” to comment, said Kevin to this reporter.

In other news


Baby eggplants, and jalapenos, in today’s CSA haul. Also, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, arugula, mizuna (don’t ask), santosai (ditto), green beans, red dandelion, and zucchini. The zucchini still had its flower on, which looked remarkably like that of our mutant friend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

blueberries and random philosophizing

O Happy Day, it was cooler today, so I finally busted out and did one of my favorite things to do in the whole wild world: blueberry picking. Hooray!


I went to GMO, just down the road. In years past, I’ve gone with a friend to the Miller Farm, also just down the road, but I actually kinda prefer this place, shhhhhh… No particular reason. Well, maybe the fact that a few years ago, Andrea Darrow was busy making peach preserves and had too many peaches to deal with (how does that happen?), and SHE GAVE ME an ENTIRE BOX of peaches. Oh My Word, were they good. I cut them up and froze them and had them in smoothies for MONTHS. So I do tend to give her my blueberry business.

GMO is a low-spray operation, but they’ve got an uncertified organic field across the road from where most people go, and that’s where I’ve gone the past few years. I had the place to myself for most of the time. Well, I shared it with a bunch of bees, but we didn’t bother each other. 

I picked nearly three gallons, which together weighed just over ten pounds.


I didn’t think to take this picture until after I’d packed up a ziploc (shown at left). This is a lot of blueberries! They were $1.95 a pound, so just over twenty bucks. A steal, if you ask me. Hey: I got to spend time alone in a sea of blueberry bushes, listening to birds and insects, feeling the breeze, and enjoying a Vermont summer day, PLUS I get to keep the blueberries? DEAL.


Although this may seem like a lot of blueberries, I plan on getting more over the coming weeks. We’ve got a regular Sunday pancake ritual, plus smoothies, to sustain.

By the time I got home and busy putting them away, the sun had emerged from clouds and the cats were grateful to come inside and sprawl on the cool floors.


Do you see Maggie, in the background?

Kevin came in from some work-related meetings soon after, and we went outside to check up on the pod people. I mean, the melon/ cantaloupe patch. Don’t ask me why I say “pod people”. There’s just something vaguely ominous about this patch. It’s just so…LUSH.  And the watermelons are growing really fast! Well, they could be growing slowly, for all I know of watermelons. They are growing discernibly bigger, every day, let’s just put it that way.


This is the biggest one.

Over the course of about fifteen minutes, we counted about fifteen watermelons.


This one still has its flower attached to its bottom.


Kevin’s more practiced than I at spotting them, so at first he saw them all – and he EVEN spotted a “lizard”, which I was able to catch sight of – it was a huge red eft! Hooray! In our melon patch! This led to Kevin doing some Monty Python riffing…”she turned me into a newt, she did…I got better…” After a few minutes, I landed some first sightings myself, and felt a lot better about my Nature Observing Abilities.

The bees were busy with the cantaloupe flowers. Cantaloupes have both male and female flowers. And, according to the University of Minnesota’s Extension Office …


…those flowers “have a pollination window of one day. Pollen must be transferred from the male flower to the female flower on this day for seed set and fruit development.”  So we’ve got our fingers crossed!

And then what.

And then we practiced making out and getting pictures of it, but most of them didn’t turn out right.


Like, where am I in this picture?

And then we cooked out on the grill, including zucchini from our CSA, which was fantastic, and grass-fed beef from a farm up in northern Vermont – a little far, but it’s available at the food coop in Brattleboro, so it’s easier to go get. (We also get grass-fed beef from Sweet Tree Farm, but they have very limited hours to go buy it…) High Meadows Farm, which is located at the top of that super-steep hill I go up on my longer runs, has a little sign out that says “grass fed beef – order now”. We should look into that. My only concern is, I don’t think I’m up for ordering say, half a cow. Hm. I should give them a call.

Not that you asked, but here is a very brief history of Me, and Eating Meat.

In college, grossed out by dining hall food, I became a vegetarian. Just the “no meat” kind, as I believe myself to have (genetically, at any rate) come from a long line of dairy farmers and have no lactose issues and LOVE cheese, any kind, you name it, I’ll eat it. (One of the few areas of food where it doesn’t matter how weird and stinky the food is, I’m game. Smells like a fourteen year old’s gym shoes? With green stuff growing in it? Bring it on!)

Now, every year and a half or so, I’d get this intense craving for red meat – probably the anemia talking, as I am prone to anemia – and this usually would find an opportunity for expression on say, family holidays, so I became famous (translation: my Aunt Susie would notice and ride me about it) for being a “steak-eating vegetarian”.

My reasoning behind not eating meat was primarily ethical. The environmental considerations were a factor, too (the “16 pounds of grain per pound of beef” argument, plus the “poop run-off” issue, etc. etc..) On the ethical front, it was not so much that I believed people shouldn’t be eating other sentient beings. It was more, if you’re going to do it, do it. You should be prepared to take full responsibility. Since I didn’t have the guts to kill my own meat, I figured I had no business paying others to do the dirty work.

In 1997? 1998? I think 1998. I was on a business trip in Seattle. And I had been feeling so weak, so tired, so hungry ALL THE TIME. My boss’s wife actually asked me if I was pregnant, come to think of it. So I’m on this business trip. In a restaurant. And I realized, I need meat. Right now.

Thus ended the vegetarianism.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I could eat all these other foods and get adequate protein…But I really dislike a lot of those foods, and you know what else? Heavy sigh. I’m kinda lazy. I have enough trouble cooking the amount of food that I currently cook. And the whole “don’t eat it unless you yourself butchered it” idea? Yet another compromise I’ve made. Although I do pay attention to where it’s coming from.

Where I’m at now is that I generally only eat local organic-or-close-to-it chicken, pork, and beef. For beef, it’s got to be grass-fed. No feedlot food for me, thanks. I’m by no means totally consistent. We’ll throw pepperoni on pizza and I have to be honest, I have no idea where that pepperoni is from… OK, note to self, investigate “cleaner” pepperoni.

And I have friends and loved ones all over the spectrum on this one.

I’ve got vegetarian, including vegan, friends and family. As well as loved ones who raise and butcher their own meat. My soul sister/wife Michele hunts and butchers elk, deer, antelope, etc. and she’s got more than one freezer full of meat. For her, butchering is a sacred responsibility.

So that’s today’s ramble. Hope you enjoyed it.