Category Archives: sweat

Coastline Children’s Film Festival: Feb. 3-12, 2012

PDF download:  CCFF BOOKLET (schedule, films shown, etc.)

This is a shout-out to you locals and near-locals.  The Second Annual Coastline Children’s Film Festival is due to begin on 3 Feb in seven locations in Southwest Michigan (90 minutes from Chicago, 45 from Grand Rapids, 30 from South Bend and Kalamazoo).

The mission of the Coastline Children’s Film Festival is to bring high quality independent films and animation for children and young adults to Berrien County and to present them – on the big screen – as shared theatrical experiences for the whole family and community. Recognizing that film and animation are still among the most accessible and innovative media for the communication of stories and ideas, both historical and contemporary, the CCFF also sees the provision of educational opportunities as central to its mission.  Alongside the screening of animated and live action films, features, shorts and documentaries, our festival participants will have the opportunity to learn about the history of the medium, as well as the craft of filmmaking through hands-on workshops and filmmaker presentations.

And:  all the films are FREE!  Over 50 films (full-length, short, and in-between…animated, documentaries, films) for children aged 2-18…in seven different venues in Berrien County, Michigan:  Benton Harbor:  ARS Gallery and at the Citadel Dance & Music Center;  St. Joseph:  Krasl Art Center and at the Box Factory for the Arts;  Bridgman: Bridgman Public Library;  Three Oaks:  Acorn Theatre; and New Buffalo:  New Buffalo Performing Arts Center.

Two of the films are quite well aligned with what I try to do here on this blog:

There are workshops, too, for older children:  they’ll learn the structure of a story, storyboarding, visual story telling, film vocabulary, writing, directing, cinematography, & editing. They will also learn the vocabulary of each film, as well as different roles in the art of filmmaking, e.g., cast, crew, & director’s roles, etc.

This is all very exciting for us, and for children in general.  I will admit to an aversion to most modern movies aimed at kids:  every single one seems to have the same plot (bunch of mismatched characters on a mission from point A to B) and the same annoying hypertalkative sidekicks.  This film series is a bit of a pushback against the standard fare; perhaps it’s more highbrow, but then again shouldn’t we expect more for our kids?  I know I do.  So come join us if you can.

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On home-grown flour

Painted Mountain flour corn, seed gifted generously from Mike.  Riffing off my last post:  One cup medium-fine corn meal in four cups boiling water equals polenta; one cup medium corn meal plus three cups boiling water equals grits.  See how easy this all is?

One of the things most surprising to those considering a “local” diet is how truly dependent their normal diet is upon flour.  Though flour can be made of any grain, it’s wheat we Westerners are terribly dependent upon…surely there’s a way to grow one’s own?

I suppose there is; in point of fact, on commercial farms, spring wheat and regular rye are commonly grown between vegetable rows where I live (the wheat grows quickly, and its roots hold down the soil between the plastic-mulched crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.).  But wheat is not the normal commodity crop ’round here (ugh, we plow down our vineyards and orchards to grow corn and soy with shocking regularly here because–get this–we can’t find enough people to pick the grapes and fruit! sigh; this is a staggeringly sad factoid in a state with chronically high unemployment).  I’ve tried my hand growing hull-less oats and rye and buckwheat; all grew.  Dang, though, you need LOTS of grain to feed your own humble self.  My grains simply aren’t grown at that scale.

Child amongst the dent corn, August 2010.

However.  I do grow corn.  Armed with a handful of seeds in spring and with a $20 corn grinder in winter, whammo:  I am self-sufficient in dried corn and corn flour.

Can I just say there is NO good way to photograph this thing in action, at least not by me, not in this kitchen.  It is a corn grinder, and I do not lie that it cost $20 plus shipping: do the googles or the amazon to find it your own self:  I got the one with the deeper hopper.  BE WARNED it is not good if you’re looking to grind your own wheat flour:  it’s great, though, if you just want cornmeal on occasion, or wish to crack some corn for your chickens.

I grow dent corn, flint corn, and popcorn.  (I don’t grow sweet corn; it’s too easily had locally to make it worth my while.)  All can be ground; all make a decent flour.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange both offers all kinds of corn AND gives a whiz-bang what-for lesson of which type is used for what:  go see for yourself.  And because I am a fool for polenta, I bought a packet of SESE’s Floriani polenta-specific corn to try this year.

This cheap thing is great for home use.  After about five passes, the meal is perfect for a good polenta; after four, it makes great grits…and I’ve used it for bean flours (garbanzo, black turtle) too to good effect.  Oh, and I’ve ground up rice in it too:  rice mush makes a great breakfast!

Give corn-growing a try this year, or, barring that, use your muscles and grind your own.  Trust me, the taste of freshly-ground corn is worth the turn!

On the one-cup cooking lesson

October-seeded radicchio, slowly forming heads in the newer greenhouse.  Winter requires lots more patience than summer gardening.

Since the gardening tasks are rather light right now, my time and efforts have naturally moved indoors.  And my favorite place to be indoors is the kitchen, that careworn farmhouse kitchen which drastically needs an expansion to make it truly inviting and efficient.  Though I may find it wanting, I do enjoy working here.

One cup.  She likes wearing her hospital bracelet (shrugs).

And since she’s been able to stand, I have involved our daughter in the daily cooking and making that takes place in this kitchen.  It started small; she could pour and stir at 2-1/2, of course.  Now that she’s nearing 8 (!!) she is able to cook certain things, start to finish, like eggs many ways or roast chicken with minimal involvement from me.  But now I am requiring her full mental abilities in cooking:  I am having her memorize recipes and formulas.

Before you call social services, let me simply state that I am having her do things she likes to eat.  And because I am leftover-phobic, I have her make the small portions of bread-y things for the daily dinner.  This stress on “not too much” is where one-cup cooking comes in.  And because our winter meals tend to be soup or stew, the added bulk of breadstuffs helps weigh out the meal.

Like most kids, she’s a carboholic (and like most parents who watch their weight, her parents are carbophobic), so that one cup usually means flour.  One cup of flour (semolina or AP) plus one egg plus one egg’s worth of both water and olive oil makes a mean pasta…plus, she loves the French rolling pin.  One cup of flour plus one cup of milk plus one egg and some melted butter makes a nice crepe batter, shaken up in a mason jar…she’s good at flipping them.  One cup of flour plus two cups of cooked potato make a lot of gnocchi, enough for two dinners for us.  One cup of whole wheat flour plus a little salt and dried herbs, even some grated parmesan and enough water to hold it together make lovely crackers in the pasta roller.  And one cup of flour plus half a cup of chopped cold butter plus an egg’s worth of ice water makes a great crust for her favorite leek tart.

The one-cup rule applies to lots of other things too:  one cup of beans soaking overnight.  One cup of rice and two cups water in the rice cooker is plenty.   One cup of ground meat is enough to flavor any sauce or chili, or to make mini-meatballs (with a half cup of breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it together).  I could go on.  Basically, my goal is to have a child who is actively engaged and confident in the kitchen…and teaching her to be thrifty along the way shouldn’t hurt her.

I am always surprised when parents shoo their kids out of the kitchen.  Granted; she’s not interested in cooking every day, but I do encourage her to stick her head in to see what I am doing.  She does have setting/clearing the table duties, so she’s never without something to do, meal-wise.  But how else are they going to learn unless they break something or make a mess or burn something?  It’s how we all learn, and yes, it’s messier and slower.  Allow some time, and take a deep breath.

(Now, if only I could encourage my husband to cross the kitchen threshold on occasion…but that could be a slippery slope leading to his wanting to garden.  Uh, maybe not.)

On home-crafted gifts

NOT our soap:  our camera is lost somewhere amongst the kitchen clutter.  Image from here.

Normally my kitchen and my garden are my queendoms:  places where I reign supreme, and often quite solo, in my tasks.  This holiday season however I have company in the kitchen, and it’s welcome, it’s crowded and sometimes it’s a bit loud with our quarrels…as queen, you see, I am not very used to challenges to my authority.

We make all kinds of goodies this time of year.  This year, we’re experimenting with goat’s milk soapmaking.  I used one cooked/heated recipe with beef tallow that I found in the back of my favorite goat-y book (Goats Produce Too), and Tom made an uncooked one with cocoa butter and olive oil.  Soapmaking, despite its outcome, is a sloppy endeavor.  Tom made wood box frames for the molds: you unscrew them once the soap has hardened.  Oh, and one thing we hadn’t considered?  Soap needs to cure for about a month before use!  whoops.

My daughter and I have been making gifts for the CSA and for her teachers.  Our weekend task was chevre truffles and spiced chevre balls (okay, the latter needs a better name; basically they’re my regular herbed chevre rolled in a powdered spice/salt mix, bite-sized, entirely too edible).  We also made more cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) and we canned it so it doesn’t need to be eaten right away.

In point of fact, I find that it helps if not all gifts need to be eaten right away:  like the canned cajeta, the truffles and (cough) balls are frozen.  So is the chicken liver pate and the goose rillettes; hiding under their layer of clarified butter and gently frozen solid, these jars’ contents won’t expand  and break upon freezing.  It also helps a tired queen stage her production throughout this busy season.

I like sharing my kitchen for this gift-making.  But does it mean I need to clean up twice the mess?  Uh, yes it does.  Happy crafting, all.

On the hidden farm

Anything hiding in the new greenhouse?

In one of his books, Eliot Coleman (my winter gardening guru, often mentioned here) talks about looking for “the hidden farm” on his own organic farm.  His land is in Maine, and they grow intensively (great soil plus close-spaced plantings and quick cycling of crops).  How can he possibly squeeze more production out of the land he already has?  Is there another farm hiding there somewhere?

How about the old still messy one?  Tomatoes (back left wall) in mid-November count I think…

One of his thoughts for “the hidden farm” is to set low hoops on outdoor (normally dormant) garden beds, sowing them with cold-loving quick lettuces and the like outside the bookends of first and last frost, like right now.  The advantage of low hoops are fairly obvious.  With cheap and easily moved materials, he is able to eke out more crops on land that was otherwise dormant.  Another thought is turning one of his cold (unheated) greenhouses into a cool greenhouse:  minimal heating (to 35 degrees at night) means he can get three crops in the time that a cold one gives him two.

Even if we’re not bent on feeding the masses or making pots of money, it behooves us all to consider “the hidden farm” within our own gardens.  Granted, Coleman mostly speaks to professional growers, though his Four Season Harvest remains the exception for “I should try that too” accessibility.  You might not on your own need to cycle three crops in one garden bed.  But what about two?

Listen:  I come at succession planting mostly out of thrift.   I am thrifty with my time, and thrifty with my seeds, and very generous with beneficial, free(ish) things like compost, mulch, rain water and volunteer plants.  It only makes sense that I yank out a plant that’s on the slowing side of production:  more stuff needs to grow, right now!  And (there’s always an “and” when I enumerate my garden tactics) more plants in a tighter space means less weeding and mulching for the time-pressed gardener.

That big thing in the back is cardoon.  It and its close relative the artichoke love the greenhouses.

So I often look for my own hidden farm, and this year I’ve begun to capture some path space between the greenhouse beds.   Shoot, things want to grow there anyway, why not make it official by closing off the last two feet or so of the path?  Oh yeah:  the one problem is that half of both greenhouses are prone to flooding, west to east, and blocking off the water’s flow isn’t my best lightbulb-y idea.  But the north halves of both greenhouses are mostly game.

And here we are on the bed opposite.  See what I mean about standing water?

Another hidden-farm idea I have put into practice is not a terribly radical one.  It just has to do with my compost pile location.  Granted, my “pile” occupies a space 10’wide and 15′ long and 4-5′ high…it’s kinda big in other words.  But I have been moving its location annually, and sowing nutrient pigs like winter squash and corn in its former location.  Those ground-based beds have the best soil on our land, I tells ya.

I also appreciate a vertical farm and grow lots of things on trellises, even if they’d rather flop all over my precious horizontal real estate (I’m looking at you, butternut squash and sweet potatoes).  My trellises range from simple teepees out of twigs to structures made out of recycled irrigation piping to repurposed cattle fencing.  I am also a huge fan of this netting: weave it over the top rail that of a 2×2 wood frame and you’re golden.

Anyway, the off season for many of us gardeners soon approacheth!  Time to start noodling around, trying to find a hidden farm or two of your own.  You’ll have lots of hours before the shovels come out again.

Does global warming count as a hidden farm?  This is by far the latest I have harvested tomatoes.  The bread just came out of the hot oven, now the toms and the cauliflower will join the pot of beans in the medium oven.  It is odd doing all this work in a t-shirt this late in the season.  I could even still hear the tree frogs.

On fall planning

Half bushel (with chickens):  good year for apples here, 7 bushels out of one tree alone

The one redeeming thing about the end of the growing season is that it is the end.  If your harvests were banner or bupkis, Next Year remains perfect–and perfectly successful–due mainly to your experiences with this current one.

So, onward, planning.

Should I remind you again that now’s the best time to make garden beds?  (I am such a nag, I know…that, and I am prone to ignoring my own advice.)  The winter’s freeze/thaw action will sweeten that soil, erasing some of the damage that making the beds does to soil structure.   (Tip:  feeding those soil creatures with lots of compost then tucking them in under a thick bed of mulch will make the new soil quite a hospitable place to the microorganisms, worms and insects that help make soil fertile.  Feed them to feed yourself.)  You can also save yourself some shoveling by doing a lasagna bed:  atop a patch of lawn, put down cardboard or newspaper, rake on some leaves, grass clippings; throw down some compost and maybe a touch of soil to hold the whole thing down…next spring you can plant in it.

One of a dozen new trees in the side 40

Also, now’s the time when many garden supply stores are trying to unload unsold products, like fruit trees.  One of the biggest obstacles to the success of young fruit trees and fruiting bushes is inattentive watering during their first year:  when getting established, the trees require weekly waterings…something a forgetful gardener might miss if she’s planted her trees in the spring (trust me here).  Planting them in the fall is actually easier.  Trees quickly become dormant, and fall/winter/spring precipitation will eliminate most of the need to water.

We’ve recently had a prolonged Indian Summer with its deep blue, perfectly clear skies and wonderful exuberant colors on the remaining leaves.  The leaves literally rain down:  all windows being wide open, we hear them pinging the house’s metal roofs ticktocktick.  We wait for them all to fall, perhaps not quite so patiently, before we do the last lawn mowing.  This one is the best for the compost pile:  so many mulched-up leaves, so much long grass, so few weed seeds.    It’s a great garden mulch too…and even those new trees could use a touch of the stuff.

I like the pace of the garden in the fall; I like fall clean-up.  There’s something satisfying about knowing I don’t need to weed for the next few months ahead…that, and my spring garden still looks perfect….

On listening to the harvest

You certainly don’t need it, but this laser-operated heat gun is a nice thing to have. 

It’s another In-Between Sunday.  Sundays are my busiest:  four of my six CSA subscribers get their deliveries on Monday, the Loven is firing, and there (as ever) seems to be a lot that needs harvesting and processing.

It’s a full-on sensory experience, the weekend harvesting and cooking.  The smells and sights are sometimes taken for granted.  Other things, though, require the ears, and some actually require a bit of sensory deprivation.

So I stand at the butcher block, goggled eyes and gloved hands separating about 20 red serrano peppers from their seeds and membranes.  Today I’m making this year’s hot sauce.  This year, it has peaches in it, because, well, why not?
I stand, listening to Harry Shearer, and think about how much busier I will be next weekend.  I haven’t sat down all day and it’s 4:30 in the afternoon:  it’s, in other words, a fairly typical Sunday for me.  Next week, though, the apples and the grapes will be ready.  I need to put the little crops away like all this hot sauce.  There won’t be time when the juicing and the cidering and the saucing starts.

We grow in pairs (Asiminia triloba)

Little crops:  it was a bit of a surprise, but our pawpaw trees are producing fruit!  Never heard of a pawpaw?  More of us should grow them.  I lovingly took our one ripe fruit to a group event yesterday, passed out some of the creamy flesh, then promptly ate the rest of it myself.  Supposedly they take about 14 years to fruit but ours have been in the ground for only 5.  Black blossoms graced its midsection this spring; I held little hope.  Don’t doubt a native tree, I guess.  We harvested three Hass avocado-sized pawpaws this year.  I can’t begin to tell you how lovely this one fruit was.  They should be more widely cultivated, though I can see why they are not:  the beautiful seeds took up most of the cavity.

As I sit listening to Shearer’s weekly outrages, I am listening to the Loven’s fire crackle.  Five loaves are rising in their pans:  I am thankful it’s cool, slowing their expansion, because the wood is taking a long time to burn down.  There’s not much you can do to hurry that wood, though my husband has stuck a small fan in front of the open oven door.  It happens on occasion, but sometimes the loaves fall before the oven is ready.  Sigh.

I also listen to the Close-Enough Cassoulet bubbling in its pot.  Six types of nearly-dry beans got harvested from the garden early this morning, making a trip in the cast-iron pot with bacon ends and onions/garlic and bundle of fines herbes.  Now it’s almost time to drop in the chicken legs and locally produced Mettwurst.  I set it on the stove to a light boil:  this Dutch oven will get topped with breadcrumbs and stuck into the Loven for our dinner.  It will go in the back, behind the loaves, with dinner’s two baguettes hogging the front section.  It’s a nearly empty oven.  Two pans of tomatoes are waiting to take their overnight turn.  Even if it’s not too busy, it’s still a good day.

Pre-bubbling cassoulet, fallen loaves, and overexposed sourdough baguettes.  Awfully hot to actually adjust a camera, I must say.