Getting a Closer Connection to My Food

Gardening, foraging, gleaning, making things from scratch.

Frittata
This morning’s breakast: a frittata with home grown onions and broccoli, homemade cheese, and eggs from my neighbor’s chickens.

This morning, for breakfast, I had a frittata I made with onions and broccoli from my garden, eggs from my neighbor’s chickens, and Chaource cheese I made myself three weeks ago. (The only reason the eggs came from neighbors is because my 17 chickens aren’t laying yet.) I could have added chanterelle or gypsy mushrooms I foraged for and froze last autumn or morel mushrooms I forged for on Friday. (That would have been a waste of the morels.) Or I could have made blueberry muffins from scratch, using blueberries I picked and froze last summer and sweetened with honey from my bees. Or a smoothie made with those same blueberries, two strawberries from my garden (only two are ready right now), and yogurt I made myself.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized how much of my food comes from my own sources or resources. Last night, I made a batch of pickled broccoli stems with more of that garden broccoli and dill from my garden. The tomato sauce and pickled green beans I canned last winter are still forming the basis of pasta meals or snacks and hors d’oeuvres for dinner guests. The cherries I gleaned last summer are still in the fridge in the form of cherry chutney that goes very well with roast or grilled pork, turkey, or chicken. I’ve got five kinds of homemade cheese in various stages of ripening in my wine-fridge-turned-cheese-cave or refrigerator. I’ve got mead made from honey from my bees fermenting in my pantry closet. In my garden, the broccoli and onions are ready for harvest and I pick them right before I eat them. Soon I’ll also have tomatoes, peppers, green beans, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, corn, melons, zucchini, and potatoes, not to mention marion berries, ligon berries, and black-capped raspberries. And it I get back into the forest for a hike at just the right time, I can pick thimbleberries right off the bushes.

Chickens Eat Weeds
My chickens love to eat weeds. They’ll be making eggs in about 2-3 months.

I’ve discovered that I can turn weeds into eggs by feeding them to chickens and coffee filters into vegetables by composting them into a rich garden soil.

I spent literally hours traipsing through forest floors tangled with the debris of fires a year or more ago, looking for the morel mushrooms only found this time of year. Although I found a few — enough for a small side dish or pizza topping — I was competing with people who had a lot more experience than me and consider myself lucky to find ones they obviously missed.

It also takes a long time and makes a big kitchen mess to make cheese from scratch.

And gleaning cherries after harvest? Do you know how frustrating it is to see a perfect one just out of reach up in a tree and not be able to close your fingers around its stem?

Which is why people ask me why I bother. Why not just go to the supermarket and buy whatever’s there?

The only thing I can come up with is the feeling of satisfaction I get from knowing where my food comes from or what’s in it, and having a very active role in obtaining it, putting it on the table, and serving it to my guests.

Foraging for mushrooms, which I hope to blog about later in the week, is especially rewarding. When I say I spent hours searching, I’m not exaggerating. I went out into three different forest areas on four different days and came back with just five mushrooms, one of which is tiny. Yet the excitement I felt when I saw the biggest one cannot be overstated.

There’s something about having this closer connection to my food that I really like.

Next spring’s challenge: tracking down the wild asparagus that supposedly grows in the Chelan area.

What do you think? How involved are you in obtaining and preparing the food you eat?

Paying It Forward: Retro Dinette Edition

When a Craig’s List sale isn’t exactly a “sale.”

Years ago, when I lived in Arizona and was nearing the peak of my writing career, I had a lot of disposable income. Before I began dumping it into aviation and what would become my third career as a helicopter pilot, I invested that extra cash in real estate. One year, I bought a condo in town to use as a rental. The following year I got more ambitious and bought a property with a two bedroom, two bath house and a four unit apartment building on it.

The apartments, which were studios, were functional and cute. They were all furnished; the previous owner had lived in the house with her grown son and rented the apartments out to an assortment of low income folks and winter visitors. The furniture was the kind of stuff you’d find at a garage sale. In fact, that’s where most of it ended up since I wound up refurnishing every unit with southwest style lodgepole furniture made on order by a small company in Phoenix. I was trying to make the place a little more upscale, hoping to attract a different sort of tenant. (For the record, I count that as one of my failures.)

Retro Dinette
The table and chairs pose for a Craig’s List photo against my garage door. One chair was in perfect condition while the other had some upholstery issues. And yes, they are kind of ugly.

I did keep a few items, including a drop-leaf formica table and two vinyl-covered chairs. I don’t know why I kept them; maybe they reminded me of my childhood? They were certainly from that era — the 1960s or maybe even earlier — and well-made. They eventually wound up in my Wickenburg hangar where the table became a stand for my small hangar fridge and the microwave I kept on top of it. The chairs didn’t get much use.

When I moved out of my Wickenburg hangar in September 2013, the table and chairs were packed into the moving truck along with boxes of household items and other better furniture. They were unpacked into a hangar in East Wenatchee, where they sat with my other furniture until June 2014. That’s when they moved again, this time into my new home in Malaga. And it might come as no surprise that my little fridge wound up on top of the table again in my big garage.

As anyone who has been in my garage can tell you, I have a lot of stuff. Too much stuff, in fact. I’m one of those people who holds onto things if I think they might have any use at all in the future. (This also explains why I still own the Jeep Wrangler I bought new in 1999, the Honda S2000 I bought new in 2003, and the Yamaha Seca II I bought new in 1993; heck, I do use them all. It also explains why I have such a big garage.) Little by little, I’ve been selling off the stuff I no longer need/use/want. When I bought a nice rolling media cart at a school sale last year and the little fridge went on top of that, I no longer had any use at all for the table. So I listed it on Craig’s List.

I should mention that I tried to sell it last year, too. The table is probably considered an “antique” and it likely has some real value. I think I listed it for $80 last year but didn’t get a single call.

This year, I listed it for $40. It’s not as if I needed the money. It’s just that when you list something with any value for free on Craig’s List, you get all kinds of weird characters competing to claim it. I didn’t want to deal with all that.

I got a call from a girl who was interested but unable to come see it. She said she’d call back but I didn’t hear from her again.

Then I got a call from a guy in Seattle — a 3+ hour drive from here — who was very eager to come. He called at 3 PM on a Sunday and asked if he could come that night. I suspect he realized that the table had some value; maybe he even knew where he could sell it to turn a quick buck on the west side. I said, “You want to drive all the way out here for a $40 table?” He hesitated and then said, “I like retro furniture.” But I guess I’d planted a seed in his head. Was it really worth six to eight hours of a day to scoop up this bargain? What would gas cost? And what if the condition of the table wasn’t as good as he expected? He told me he’d call back. I never heard from him again.

I renewed the listing on Craig’s list. Another girl called. In all honesty, it could be the first girl. She lived in Chelan and could come Monday after work. She got out at 5 PM and would be here by 6. I didn’t tell her that it would take more than an hour to get here from Chelan.

She showed up at 6:45, still dressed for work, full of apologies. By that time, I had the garage door open for her. As we walked to where I’d stowed it in the back of the garage, a small pickup truck with a cap pulled up. She told me her parents had come in case she couldn’t get it in her car. That meant two vehicles had made the hour+ drive from Chelan. Soon we were all in the garage looking at the table.

I struggled to figure out how the supports for the drop leafs worked and finally succeeded in raising one side. It was a cool mechanism that I had completely forgotten about — the legs of the table actually slid out on a wooden track. (Seriously: they don’t make stuff like this anymore.) Her mom sat in one of the chairs. We chatted. I asked her if it was for her first apartment and she said it was.

I thought back to my first apartment. I was 20 years old and right out of college. It was a big studio with a separate kitchen in a not-too-savory part of Hempstead, NY. From my 6th floor window, I could see my old college dorm just a few miles away. I’d struggled a bit to furnish it with a combination of used and cheap new furniture, none of which I still own. I remembered the excitement of those days, of starting a new life away from home and school, of earning a living for myself. Every day was an adventure or challenge. I seldom had more than $20 in my pocket and liked to hold onto it as long as I could.

So when she handed me the $40, I told her to keep it.

She was surprised and asked if I was sure. I told her I was and that it was my housewarming gift to her. I told her that when she was ready to replace it, maybe she could sell it for $100 and put that towards the new set.

Her dad loaded the table into the truck and I carried over one of the chairs while she took the other one. They slipped it inside and closed the cap on the truck. We chatted for a while about the winery down the street and I urged them to come back there for a tasting one weekend. And then I shook her hand and wished her good luck.

Gotta pay it forward.

The funniest thing to me about the whole exchange? None of them so much as mentioned the elephant in the room: the helicopter parked in my garage.

Spring Has [Finally] Sprung at the Aerie

After a long winter and several “false springs,” spring has arrived with a vengeance.

It was a long, cold winter here in Central Washington State.

(At least that’s what they tell me. I wasn’t around. I went south and suspect I’ll be doing that most winters.)

Snow off roof
This Mavic Pro image, shot one afternoon not long after my return in March, shows the snow that slid off the roof and accumulated in front of my garage doors during the winter. There was an even bigger pile on the south side of the building, which has a bigger roof.

The cold reached deep enough into the ground to freeze the water lines running to the homes at the end of my road. The snow fell in storm after storm piling up and eventually sliding off my roof into big piles on the north and south sides of my home. And in March, which is normally when the weather starts getting good, every night temperatures dipped below freezing, stalling the wakening of the orchards. Even in April there were bouts of cold weather — as recently as last Monday, I woke to the sound of wind machines in the cherry orchard near my home.

Balsamroot at my House
Perennial balsam root, a native plant, started blooming in April and was finished by mid-May.

We had a few warm spells in April that fooled a lot of us into thinking that spring had finally arrived. The local supermarkets and big box stores opened their garden shops and began selling flowers and vegetables for planting. I planted some cold-weather plants — brussels sprouts and broccoli, for example — that survived through subsequent cold spells, as well as some herbs, such as basil, that did not.

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms on one of my two young cherry trees. I might actually get fruit this year!

I worried about the cherry trees, knowing that a serious frost could impact my clients’ orchards and, ultimately, the number of contracts I’d get for my summer work. The cherries bloomed and were sufficiently pollinated, although some clients in Quincy had early fruit drop and decided to skip a season.

Last week, spring seemed to finally take hold. After a few cold nights and chilly, rainy days, the temperature began to rise — by about 10° each day! By Sunday, it was in the 80s and I found it necessary to adjust the irrigation in my garden to provide my vegetables with enough water to grow.

Meanwhile, mother nature had watered the rest of my property. The wild grasses, sagebrush, and wildflowers took off in a wild growth spurt that I didn’t even notice until it was time to mow a path to my Lookout Point bench. The point is in the northwest edge of my property, positioned just before the land drops off into a wildlife corridor owned by the local utility company. Since most of my 10 acres is natural vegetation, I need to mow a path from my driveway to the bench to access it. I have a string mower I use for that but it needed a new axle after I ran it over with my truck. (Note to self: do not park anything in front of the truck’s garage door.) By the time I picked up the mower from the repair shop, the grass was 18 to 24 inches high in some places. I got the mower started and used it to mow my way down to the bench, mow around the bench, and mow a wider path back. I suspect I’ll have to mow it two more times before autumn.

Path to my Bench
The path I mowed down to my bench. I could not believe how tall the grass was along the way.

I began a wildflower class with the local college’s continuing education program. Every Tuesday evening we meet on a trail in the foothills to discuss, dissect, draw, and identify flowers. Most, if not all, of the same flowers grow around my home.

I’ve also started mushroom hunting, although I was apparently too early for the elevations I was hunting at. I suspect I’ll do better later this week.

My garden has taken off — and so have the weeds between the raised beds. Every morning I spend about 30 minutes pulling weeds and feeding them to my chickens.

I’ve caught two bee swarms (so far) and I’m ready to spilt the two healthiest colonies.

And this moment, as I type this, every single window in my home is wide open to let fresh air in. I haven’t heard the heat kick on in over a week and I suspect I won’t hear it again until autumn.

Spring is finally here — and not a moment too soon. Now let’s hope it sticks around for a while. I’m never in a hurry for summer.