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the carharts

So, I’m washing my carharts tonight.  That may not seem like a big deal… BUT you don’t know how long its been since these pants were washed.  I am, in fact, a little ashamed.

I may or may not have packed them up when i moved to michigan…. dirty.

I may or may not have worn them to help kill a pig in July before I left.

They weren’t worn the whole time I was in Michigan, so that’s a plus.

But they may or may not have been washed since I’ve been back.

You don’t want to know what has died while I’ve had these pants on.  Or how many vegetables washed.

So, I’m cleaning.  I’m really worried I won’t love them the same anymore.  I mean, they fit my body perfectly.  They retain their shape once I take them off.  AND, they are so stretched out they now require a belt, which makes me feel like I’ve lost some libbys (phonetic pronunciation of “lbs”).  I’ve been informed that my pants are gross – which they are – so they are now in the washing machine.  Alone.  Because none of the other clothes weren’t willing to brave the suds with my pants.

I made my sister take my picture in my pants, just in case they fall apart, or shrink and no longer fit.

and then there is this little gem

Now I’m also making challah bread as a peace offering to my sister and her family A) for humoring me by taking ridiculous pictures of my antics B) for letting me use the washing machine C) for letting me keep my silly self in their house

rabbits

Of all the projects or things that I’m doing right now, the rabbits are the thing I feel best about.

In general, people are kind of put off when I tell them I raise meat rabbits.  I get one or more of the following reactions:

“You kill them yourself??”

“You actually eat them??”

“I couldn’t do it!!”

“That must be really hard.”

You know what, it is hard.  It is supposed to be hard, and I cry every time I participate in the harvest.  There is nothing easy about death when you actually open yourself up to dealing with the reality of it.  I understand why people say that it must be hard, but it leaves me frustrated at times.  I mean, I raise these rabbits, feed them good food and tons of vegetables.  I hug them, I keep them healthy and safe.  And at the end of their time, I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare myself to participate in the natural order of life in the most respectful way I know how.  And when it is all done, and I’ve thanked each rabbit for its life, and I sit down to enjoy a meal, I eat it honorably and savor everything that went into putting it on my plate.  There is nothing that I do that I feel better about than this.  And there is nothing more meaningful to me than honoring life and death.

I mean, half the people that stick up their nose at me eat meat regularly.  Meat that was raised living in its own feces, being fed food it is not supposed to eat, pumped full of medications, and being slaughtered disrespectfully and thoughtlessly.  Preachy much, Alice?  Well, its righteous anger I have, so I just might not apologize.  Not very many people “don’t understand” when you say you raise pigs for bacon.  And let me tell you what, I’ve seen plenty of pig kills.  In fact, I watched the kill and evisceration of the three Cackleberry Farm hogs just today.  They are huge – person sized.  And their insides look just like ours.  And when that shot fires, and the pig falls, I consistently have a profound visceral response.  It is hard no matter what, regardless of whether or not they are furry.

Rabbits are kind of the perfect pet for me.  They are efficient, snuggley, and LOVE carrots.  They grow quickly, reproduce regularly, and make the cutest babies OF ALL TIME.  Did you know that rabbits actually convert food to meat at a better ratio than a beef cow.  Yep.  And in way less time and space.  Plus, I can keep rabbits in the city.

I got a doe and buck from sweet Becky, my yurt-mate and farm comrade from Oxbow last year.  The buck is an old friend, and the doe is from their backyard gang.  I like to give my rabbits “old” names.  So, I gave my nieces the task of naming my white meat rabbit mama.  They thought of some pretty great ones.  Lots I couldn’t use because I might need them for naming my future children.  But they settled on Anne.  It is perfectly plain in every way.  It suits her well.

This is Eddy.  Formerly “Edith” (rookie mistake). He is from Becky’s and my first litter at the yurt.  Son of Snuggle Pants and a Champagne d’Argent buck.  He has always been my favorite.  In fact, he and I may have had a photo shoot entirely of me squeezing him with arms in the air and chubby cheeks right up to my face.  He looked just like a little gopher.  It was actually pretty much the same picture that exists at the end of this post with my new favorite baby.

We are best friends.  He makes me dinner.

And clearly Eddy is pumped to be in my arms, you know, with ears pinned back and everything.

Whatever, he loves me.

I pretty much have the rabbit breeding thing down.  I might put it on my resume.  I mean, I’m sure a good meat rabbit mama is naturally inclined to have big litters, but I do think my technique of rabbit husbandry is particularly effective.  These are the 9 little nuggets that were born 3 weeks ago.  Fairly recent picture.  Can you imagine how cute they must be in person?  When they nestle into your sleeve when they’re 2 weeks old, or hop around the cage with their ears up straight when they are just big enough to venture out of the nest box, or eat carrot tops standing on their back legs with paws up by their face???  I am so in love.

I’m thinking of raising meat rabbits for real.  Right now, its a matter of: buy supplies to build cages -OR- save for rent.  So the rabbit empire will likely be put off until spring.  But seriously, it is going to happen.  I’m going to make millions.  I will be charging for the meat, the poop, the pelts, and the snuggles.  Yep.  You want to hold them, you gotta pay for it.  A buck a snug (unless I really like you, then, its a gift).  GENIUS.  But more than the cash money making, I just really love rabbits.  I mean, LOOK AT THEM.  That is love.

You want your own now don’t you?  Well, for a small fee (footing all the start-up costs yourself), you too can become a satellite location.  Tempting, eh?

Every batch I bond to one; the one that is better (cuter) than all the rest.  I told this one, Peter Rabbit, that if it was a girl it had a better chance of survival.  If it isn’t, or if it isn’t big enough to keep, well then I hope I have someone to help me out on harvest day.  But by the time the day comes, its usually easier.  They don’t really fit in your hand anymore and they are kind of just another rabbit.

excitement. as evidenced by our crazy faces.

Alice VanderHaak R.D.

You heard it here first!

That’s right, those are letters behind my name.

I’m calling for a cease fire on the compulsive running, canning, preserving, working overtime, and piano playing.

It’s official.

I passed.

I am a Registered Dietitian. I have a license number.

Another one bites the dust on the life “to do” list.  Crossing it off with a sharpie RIGHT NOW.

And how do I celebrate?  In style, of course.  In Florida to lay on the beach, get a massage, ride bike/long board, sleep, and surf with my sister.  Goodbye real life for a week.

This month has been pretty busy already:

9/3: Welcomed baby Eleanor Gray into the family.  Congrats to my sister Nikki and brother-in-law Ben.

Pretty stinkin’ cute

9/4: Passed my RD exam

9/5: Hopped a plane to Florida

Where lots of the following occurred:

9/7:  Baby bunnies arrived back in WA! (bunny post to follow shortly!)

9/8:  Alice attempts to go surfing!

I premeditated a number of excuses to use if I chickened out:

hurricanes

rip-tides

sharks

waves too big/too small

i can’t swim

i’m scared of the ocean

brian coudn’t take me

no board

I didn’t need to use a single one.  Not that I stood up or anything.  The board I was using wasn’t really waxed, so it was pretty slick.  But I did paddle out and then come back in.  Hey its a start!  And I was only mildly panicked!  So that is success right there.  Because, yes, I am scared of being in the water.  I won’t lie.  I think I might have to do a little more than paddle out to be able to cross surfing off my list.  But if I never get the chance again, at least I can honestly say I tried it once!

I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief and enjoying my days in the sun.  Tomorrow is my last day here.  I’m sad to leave, but anxious to keep moving forward!

Yahoo!

brew baby

What do you do when you have boxes and boxes of really juicy yellow plums? Plums too juicy to dry, can, or preserve. What about when your sister is canning quarts and quarts of juice and you don’t drink juice because you’ve been corrupted by working in a berry processing plant?  What do you do with your share of the fruit when there’s no other option?!?!?  You decide to have a brew baby.  Pretty genius I thought.  People must make “cider” out of plum juice all the time?  Right?

yellow plums of unknown variety

[Insert Internet Search Here]  Turns out not really… for a lot of reasons.  Acidity, sugar content, pectin, tannins – they’re all a little stacked against you with plums.  BUT – there was some evidence that its been done.  And well, I’m going to do it too.  I hesitate to even mention that I have a brew baby in the oven.  The likelihood of it working out is minimal – even with the obsessive amount of sanitizing I did, and the self-control I had to not lick everything.  In three months I’d love to give myself a modest pat on the back while I pour you a glass of boozy goodness.  “Oh this old thing” I’ll say nonchalantly, “I just thought this sounded good and threw it together last August.” But I can’t keep these things to myself, my patience is minimal, and maybe if everyone puts out their positive energy… it will work out???  If nothing else, we can all mourn together.  And laugh at the fact that I had the audacity to think that just because I can invent something spectacular like candied fennel means that I can just brew on the fly.

After about 5 minutes of research I was completely overwhelmed by all the information about brewing and the lack of information about plum booze.   So I stopped reading.  I knew enough, and any more would just make my brain implode with the need to have it all figured out.  Besides, people have been doing this kind of thing for hundreds of years and it just works out?  Just leave it at room temperature for a while and you’ll be fine?  (now why does that sound familiar….)

What I did learn is that the equivalent of plum “cider” is called Plum Jerkum.  Nothing can be a cider unless it has apple juice in it.  I know that now.  I’m not really sure why it isn’t a wine… probably because wines are complicated, and this isn’t?

I found a recipe from the sands of time, written in old English.  It pretty much said “put plums in a barrel of rain water and wait.”  Perfect.  If that works, then CERTAINLY I can make a palatable beverage.

There’s a reason my former yurt mate nicknamed me “fire butt.”   No no no… not because my booty is bumpin’ – because I get an idea and I run with it.  If I get it in my head that I’m going to do something, you better believe that with a stubborn vengeance I’m going to start it.  Like I have a “fire under my butt”  (as evidenced by moving to oxbow, getting russell, meat rabbits, flying to florida etc.).  I, however, called her the follow through.  I can make things happen, but I can’t always finish them.  I need all you finisher people in my life to help me out when I use up all my energy getting started.  So, of course, I headed to the brew store first thing the next morning, asked some pretty stupid questions and got some unhelpful answers.  Whatever.  I didn’t need help.  This is a journey of self-discovery, a brewing walk-about if-you-will.  I bought just enough equipment to make it work.  No need for frivolities.  This is a set-it-and-forget-it project.  I want to feel like I’m roughing it – scraping by – you know, making something out of nothing.  Like its going to be amazing and I didn’t even really try.  I may have sanitized a turkey baster to use in a pinch because I didn’t have any tubing, though.

I chose my yeast and read the recipes they had posted at the brew store for cider and for wine.  I read them over and over again.  There are so many ingredients you can add. Things to change pH, to encourage your yeast, or to add acidity or tannins to make your brew more complex.  This is not the information I needed.  Nope… I did not need more options.  So, I made my plan. I’ll choose a little of column A and a little of column B and my super scientific recipe will be a precise measurement of…..

plum juice, yeast, and sugar.

that’s it.

that is all I could be bothered with.

brand spankin’ new carboy

hands-free juicing set-up. this is the life.

The yeast I chose can be used for cider or wine.  It produces a more sweet than dry beverage and will ferment only up to 12% alcohol.  When the alcohol content exceeds 12%, the bacteria can no longer tolerate the environment and die.  So if your sugar content is high enough, they don’t fully ferment it, leaving you a sweeter jerkum as opposed to drier (this is just me making an educated guess about how it works… sounds right though).

You can pretty much find anything on the internet.   My research methods professor would croak if she knew how I went about gathering this data… because although wikipedia and discussion boards aren’t that reliable, maybe I succumbed to the pressure of the web-surfing believe-anything-you-read culture fondly known as present-day america for this project.

What is hard is finding a good picture of what five gallons looks like in a 6 gallon carboy.  I intended  to measure out the volume of the water I put in the carboy as I filled it for sanitizing.  I intended, being the key phrase.  Really, like with so many of the details of this project, I just couldn’t be bothered.  Instead I used the “eyeball” method.  Yep, you know the one where you attempt to keep your figures spaced equally as you move them down what you’re measuring.  I think I did fine.  I think it doesn’t really matter.

These websites did help me out a bit with my sugar situation.  You take the initial specific gravity of your “must” (unfermented brew, I believe).  I think it’s a wort if you’re making beer?  I really don’t know, I’ve read too much in the last day.  Anywho – you take an initial reading with a hydrometer, (which is like a magic wand, floating there in its case like a sugar thermometer)  and it more or less measures the sugar content of the must – which in turn allows you to estimate alcohol potential.  When you take a reading of the finished product, you can calculate the actual alcohol content.

I knew I’d need to add sugar, but not any idea how much.  Of course some random site told me that 14.2 ounces of sugar would increase my specific gravity by 0.005.  Of course I believed  them, of course I rounded that number, and of course I should’ve added it and checked a few times instead of dumping all the sugar in at once.  But guess what?  Of course my specific gravity was exactly where I wanted it to be.  I’m a genius.  That, or, I don’t have a stirring utensil, and the “slosh it around” mechanism may not thoroughly mix things.  Whatever. If it fails, I’m out a day in the kitchen, a bag of sugar, and a packet of yeast.  Oh… and… half a bottle of sanitizer.   Its whatever.  Its going to be amazing.

the “slosh it around” stirring method

warming up the yeasties! (with a large and long spoon – sterilized half-way up)

I really don’t know when it will be ready.  I’ve read way too many different timelines with primary fermentation lasting any number of days/weeks/months.  So we’ll see.  Or we won’t.  My expectations are low.  My sister said it best (great minds think alike, you know), “If its palatable and you can get a buzz, it’s good enough.”

She also told me that if I fail my RD exam, maybe I should just become a brew master.  I should probably add that to my life dreams list.  Then I would be required to fail my test and become one so I can cross it off.  GENIUS.  Again, I’m just impressing myself with my great ideas over and over again.  I mean,  imagine if this – the ultimate brew experiment – works out. Imagine what I’ll be able to make with a real RECIPE.  Magic.

So, please cheers to my brew baby tonight.  And save your wine bottles!  If the world is good to this brew, this brew will be good to the world.

The yeast babies should start getting wild within the next 2 days.  Bubbles galore are in my future if I didn’t fry them with too high an initial temperature.  Maybe the song I sang to them before bed will do the trick?  I’ll keep you posted on their progress.  And if you don’t hear anything, don’t ask.  It is probably a failed experiment.

hugs & songs & positive vibes. also a great temperature checking method – very scientific

Day 2:  Help!!! My brewing experiment is about to explode?

That was the title of an email sent this morning by my sister to one of her friends that brews.  I guess I shouldn’t have waxed poetic about my brew attempt so soon.  She woke up this morning to a fizzing sound and watched as the airlock shot 5 feet in the air releasing something of a foam geyser from the carboy and depositing plum juice residue in her hair.  Whoops.  Turns out, foam happens.  I may have overdone it on the late night singing to my yeast.  They’re happy, they’re healthy, they’re fermenting away.  I guess the temperature was just right?  Just for next time, I won’t put the airlock in until after the aggressive foaming subsides.  The learning curve on this one is so steep.

The foaming finally died down enough to put the airlock and plug back in.  Now the yeasties are producing CO2 at a steady rate, the bubbler making music like a metronome.  Like my baby has a “heartbeat.”  If this works, I sense a tradition being “born.”

I think I’ve taken this metaphor too far.

done

rich in food

Everything in my life currently is uncertain.

I’ve been back in Washington for just over a month and I still feel like I haven’t settled in yet.  I spend 3 days a week in SnoValley, hanging out and working markets for Oxbow.  The rest of the time I typically spend living in a hot pink room in my sister’s basement.  Sometimes I housesit, sometimes I babysit, sometimes I do farm work, and sometimes I paint houses.  What I really should be doing is studying and applying for a fancy girl job. I have no idea where I will work or live… or what I’ll live in.  The current dream involves a beautiful (likely “project”) sailboat filled with potted herbs and a freezer on the dock – but who really knows.  I like the idea of being mobile and settled at the same time.  To be able to kick off on Friday after work but never really leave home.  When else will I be 24, single, and unattached to a piece of land ever again in my life?

When I told Adam that I was waiting for life to come together, he told me that my life is always together. Its my journey, and its together – that right now is just a time of saying goodbye to some things and getting started on some new.  What he doesn’t know is that the truth in his words made me cry.  I don’t do well in transition, and I don’t do well with unknowns.  Sometimes I don’t know how I became so blessed to have so many beautiful people to speak into my life.

In times like these, I have to cling to something, something to make me feel safe.  And that something for me is food.  Although everything is up in the air and major life transitions are happening, I am well-fed and on the road to a winter full of abundance.  I am rich in food.

Every week I come home with so much bounty.  I feel safe taking care of myself this way.  Beautiful artisan bread, smoked salmon, hand-made pasta, fruits & veggies.  So much of what I get I’m able to barter for, which is amazing.

And so, the squirreling away begins.  I do it almost frantically, urgently, as if there is an end point, and when I reach it, I can take a deep breath and everything in life will make sense.  When I can sit back with a nice cold bevy and gaze lovingly with pride and admiration upon my freezer and shelves of canned goods.  I know things don’t work like that.  I won’t one day shut my freezer door and seal my last jar of tomato sauce as the harvest moon is setting and awake the next day to a job offer and a place to live. But it is a nice thought.

Things really aren’t that bluesy.  I am actually enjoying this responsibility-free (to some degree) time in life.  It is fun to dream of all the possibilities, and to take time to refocus on who I want to be I where I am going.  The world is such a beautiful place and it is an honor to be a part of it.

I must applaud my diligence in the kitchen so far.

I’ve taken home cases of apriums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and garlic scapes.

I have a bag each of dried strawberries and cherries, and two bags of dried apriums.

I have pints of canned tart cherries, sweet cherries, and brandied cherries.

Two batches of aprium jam and two batches of aprium mustard (that’s right – you heard it here.  Thanks to Amy Pennington in her book Urban Pantry)

And, let us not forget, 9 pints of dilly garlic scapes.

There are now bags of frozen berries and cherries in my freezer as well and pasta and fish galore.

Next come plums, peaches, nectarines, blackberries and blueberries.  And soon I will tackle the veggies: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, zucchini, cabbage, greens, and beets.  Hopefully a deep breath before the tomatoes come on, and another before the winter squash.

It is a totally different experience to feel the season from this storing up standpoint.  I can’t wait to both grow and preserve.

Tomorrow, I am crossing another thing off the fancy list.  I’m buying a brand-spankin-new upright freezer.  My very own.  I may not have a home or job, but I will own a freezer.  And that is happiness.  You can believe that my evening will be filled with careful consideration of which foods belong on which shelves.  Perhaps labels even.  There will be organization in my freezer.  It will be glorious.

And…. I’m also getting meat rabbits again!

Here is the backbone of the hutches.  This week I have to get wire and put them together because the plan is to pick up the rabbits this weekend.  It will be nice to have them.

So much excitement over here.  More pictures to come.

welcome home

you CAN taste garlic in your mouth if you rub it on your feet… with your nose plugged – even if you have coffee breath.

i learned this this morning when i was attacked by my sister while i was minding my own business.  these are the things that make me happy to be home.  even if i have a garlic foot.

full heart feelings

Today was a great day.  It started out right with me knowing I’d be having a pretty easy day at my internship.  Plus, it was sunny, and I didn’t start til 9. So after sleeping in and eating a delicious breakfast, I headed out the door.

I’m in my long-term care rotation.  I love the people I work with, but there is a reason that this isn’t everyone’s favorite rotation.  For the sake of not being eternally linked to an opinion on the issue, I will refrain from sharing in writing – though I would at any point in time be more than willing to tell you about it.

Anyway…

At morning meeting, it came up that one of the residents who was on a no-added-salt diet was having some troubles with fluid retention and was found to be eating fries the day before.  So… My preceptor of course said she would do a little sodium education which, of course, fell to me.  I was kind of dreading it and put it off as long as possible.

Now is where the story gets good and my heart swells just thinking about it…

So I went into his room with my handout on sodium, introduced myself and the “so I hear you’re having some trouble with retaining some fluid…”  We talked salt for a bit.  I was wrapping up and told him that if he had any more questions the RD was always available, and that I would be done on Friday.  One thing I’ve learned is that these people LOVE to hear about your life.  So of course it followed that I would be done with school in 3 weeks and driving back to…. Washington?!? That always gets ’em interested.  So after explaining that no, I didn’t have a job, he went into this long story about the “first recession” aka Great Depression, and he’s telling me about jobs and working and somewhere in there he says “farm.”

Let me preface this.  A lot of elderly people mention “the farm” when I talk with them.  I usually try to get them to say a bit more about it.  Just the other day I had a woman tell me all about pig lard and how a pound really wasn’t that much for this-and-that recipe she was listing off – and for a household of people.  My response of “Oh, I agree” is probably not approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – but hey – I’m just an intern (my excuse for anything “unorthodox”).  Anyway, when I mention farming to these people, they usually don’t engage me in a conversation about my farming.  They brush me off a bit when I try to relate to their experiences, tell me something else about their farm (usually pigs or dairy or corn…) and that ends it.  Kind of like I don’t really understand.  Something was different today though.

So I prod.  “Oh, you farmed?” I say. “What did you grow?”  Vegetables and onions, he responds.  Now I’m VERY interested.  “On how many acres?” I ask.  10-20.  Hmmm… this just might be my kind of guy.  So he tells me about the service and how he returned and farmed his father’s land for awhile and how his mortgage was $15 a month and how he sold it only after about 10 years or so.  He grins with squinty eyes just like mine – he can tell I know.  We bond.  Me in slacks and him in his wheelchair.  Then I push it one step farther… I knew there was a connection.  “You must have used a cultivating tractor,” I say.  Oh yeah – this thing his cousin jimmy rigged that they pushed.  And here it comes…… He says:  Then… in 1951… we drove down to Florida.  [Insert:  Me with BIG eyes, taking a sharp breath, fully knowing that the model G was made from 1948-1955.  My hand goes to my heart but in a “keep talking, I think I know what you’re going to say” kind of way.  – Yes.  It was very dramatic]  He says, we bought an Allis-Chalmers [my eyes get bigger if its possible] Model G.  I throw my head back in a “you’re KIDDING!” type of reaction, my foot may stomp the floor, and I exclaim “that is my FAVORITE tractor.”  He grins that great smile with the squinty eyes.  He shakes his head in disbelief.  He can’t believe it and neither can I.  He says, you know it?  I say, “Know it? That’s what we use!”  We both just grin some more. We both shake our heads again.

So we talk for 45 minutes about implements and cultivation. About the PTO and how the power is measly and about the duster he rigged for the cauliflower.  You ever grow cauliflower?  he asked.  “Oh yeah!” I say.  Its hard work, he responds.  We both just nod.  We talked about Cubs and how parts are easier to find, but that the tractor isn’t really all that much more powerful.  He tells me about the Cletrac, which I’ve never heard of.  I tell him I want a “G” more than anything else.  I tell him they sell for upwards of $2,200 dollars.  I tell him all the new small farmers are using them and they’re hard to find.  He tells me he paid $500 for his when it was almost new.  We talk about muck farming and the soil in Washington.  We talk and talk.

Eventually I leave.  It was lunch.  We just laughed and grin – neither of us believing the coincidence.

After lunch the nurse stopped my preceptor and I in the hall.  “Mr. W would like to speak with the Dietitian,” she says.  “About anything in particular?” I ask.  “Nope, just said he’d like to talk to her” responds the nurse.  “Probably about tractors” my preceptor says with a funny look.  “Maybe about sodium!… but probably about tractors” I say.

I went back.  “You know, I got to thinking… how long before you leave?” he asks.  “There’s this tractor supply store up in Grant you’ve got to visit.  Its a nice drive and it won’t cost you $100 in gas… maybe $50 though,” he says sheepishly.  He proceeded to give me directions and tell me all about Grant and the acres and acres of muck in the area.  “So lots of people use ’em over there on the West Coast?” he asks again.  I tell him about organic farming and CSAs and what the young people are doing – about how everyone loves the “G.” We talked some more and I said goodbye.  I want to drive up there and take pictures just to show him, but I don’t think I’ll make it.  Its quite the drive.

I don’t think my heart has felt bigger in a long time.  I hope his family has heard his stories.  I wish they knew what it was like to drive a “G” and work the earth.  So that when he told them his stories they could just grin at one another like we did.  So they could just understand each other.  I’m sure they have squinty eyes to match his and mine too.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll take my pictures of our “G” just to show him its real.