Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Curse of the Sasquatch Hunter

Brief Update:
All is well, mostly. Christmas morning was interrupted by a belligerent sasquatch hunter who promised to put a curse on Dad when Dad made him leave the property. According to this man, who appeared to be in his 50s, thin, gaunt, bearded and dressed in tattered clothing, Sasquatch walks the woods enrobed in a cloak of light so as not to be seen by Homo sapiens. Luckily, however, the footprints are indeed visible to the naked eye. The 'squatch hunter was asked to leave because he was scaring some customers.

Today is the first day of sun in a week or more. The overcast, rainy and snowy weather has made this world seem at times dangerous and dismal. I woke up to a quiet cove covered in snow. The morning sun cast long rays over Franklin Mountain in the distance. I could see illumination through the branches of tree skeletons, a bright mountain against a thick dark blue grey sky. ominous. I thought of my mortality. Winter is set.

Jenna has the flu, which also reinforces my mortality. We wear our masks and annoint her with all manners of healing substances: homeade chicken soup, elderberry syrup, vitamins galore, oscillicoccinum, lavender oil. We quietly pray to someone that full health is reinstated very quickly. Godspeed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Wilson Touch

Do you like creamy sweet things? Do your body and psyche both start to crave rich fat-infused treats about this time of year? Do you gag at the thought of drinking raw eggs?

If you answered "yes," "yes," and "yes," in that order, then this recipe is a Christmas present for you!

My sweet neighbor and friend, Illiana, is from Costa Rica. (A lot of people move to Shelton Laurel from Costa Rica. Just kidding.) Everything that hails from Illiana's kitchen is very, very excellent. I'm not sure what's going on in there, but it's like she has some special touch that automatically imparts deliciousness on everything it comes in contact with. I will call it The Wilson Touch.

A few weeks back I drove over the mountain to pay Illiana and her husband James a visit. We talked, laughed, played with the cats, and, of course, ate awesome food. I nearly overdid it on ropa vieja, a slow cooked beef dish, in which the meat is infused with juicy, tomato-y savory flavor-y greatness. Rice and fresh salad accompanied and rum cake and rompope followed.

"What the heck is rompope?" you might be dying to know. Well merry Christmas because I am telling you right now.

Rompope Recipe from Illiana

1 can (or about 14 ounces) coconut milk
1 can (or about 14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (or about 14 ounces) evaporated milk (or equal part fresh whole milk)
1-3 cinnamon sticks
vanilla extract to taste
nutmeg to taste
1-1/2 cups rum


Place the cinnamon stick(s) in the whole milk (or evaporated milk) and bring to a low boil. Turn off heat and let the cinnamon infuse into the milk for a few minutes.

Strain the milk. Add the coconut milk and the sweetened condensed milk to the cinnamon infused milk and whisk. (You can adjust the thickness of the drink to your preference by using thicker or thinner coconut milk, or by adding a little corn starch. If you are going to use corn starch, put it in when the milk is heating.)

Add 1 or 1 1/2 cups rum, vanilla, and nutmeg to taste. Put the cinnamon sticks back in. Chill completely.

Serve alone, on the rocks, in hot coffee, in hot chocolate, in the morning, in the evening. Whenever and whatever. My favorite is in hot chai tea.

This drink is thick, creamy, fatty, sweet and spiced with some of the world's finests. It is the perfect comforting treat for this time of year and like a golden gift from the angels themselves for those of us who, for one reason or another, can't bring ourselves to accept the raw eggy factor of our popular holiday drink entitled "eggnog."

Rompope is a Costa Rican party drink. Illiana says you can find it at Christmas, birthdays, Quince An~os (that's a big birthday celebration for turning 15- kind of like our Sweet Sixteen), and other special occasions. Different families and individuals have their own variations on the recipe. I happen to be fond of it exactly the way Illiana made it. She graciously gave me permission to share here, so thank you Illiana, for gifting my handful of readers with a sort of virtual version of The Wilson Touch. And Merry Christmas to all of you who answered "yes," "yes," and "yes" at the beginning! (And to the rest of you crazy eggnog drinkers too.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Portraits of Hopey at Rest

No need to worry. I have not gotten any weirder than I used to be. I am not "that person."  Please just allow me this brief moment of indulgence in the utter regal cuteness of this one plott hound who I may or may not love to the moon and back. I swear she just gets better by the day.

At rest with Ruby

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rat's nest

Literally. I stepped into the Airstream yesterday to take a mini-step on the GIANT-SIZED CLEAN UP that I have barely commenced in there. It was nearly dusk, and the camper is still unplugged, so I waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimness of the musty environment. It took me a few minutes to realize that the LARGE MASS of stuff spilling out of the closet wasn't just some normal mess, like a shirt or a mouse nest. This one had turds the size of my pinky fingernail, and when I reached in to the closet to extract the mass, I discovered it was like a seemingly endless cavern. God help us all. Rat's nest. This one proved to be a sizable gom of:
                     pink insulation
                     a teal colored scarf tube I knitted a few winters ago
                     a snake skin

Readers may or may not be aware of the following highly boring trivial fact about me: I hate cleaning. It is among my least favorite ways to spend time, particularly when the junk to clean is a) moldy and b) rodent infested. (I know, shocking.) My beloved Airstream, at present, meets both of these disgusting criteria. How could my sweet little winter home from just a year ago be so awfully dank and vile?

Do not worry. I will handle it. I removed the massive tumor which was the rat's nest and set a trap with peanut butter. I took my baby step in cleaning, which was removing a couple of bag loads of stuff from the closet to organize and tuck away in the currently rodent-free safety of my brand new house. Once I finish evacuating all of my belongings from the ole Lady, I will bleach, scrub and repaint her in preparation for next spring's possibilities, which may or may not include a variety of most interesting guests.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Getting my bearings: Take 2

Another way I need to get my bearings is to try and figure out where I am in the passing of time. Time is funny because it passes yet loops back around, sets the pace yets seems to change paces, seems straightforward but can be really disorienting. It marks our lives. Dormancy breaks and gives way to growth. Growth gives way to fruition. Fruition gives way to harvest. Harvest gives way to death. Death offers dormancy. I move through the cycle again and again, each time finding my bearings within each season.

Ritualistic repetition saves me. In the spring I hunt morels and take my first plunge into the vital icy water. It is spring. Mid summer Sally and I visit Mount Mitchell and pick Hypericum graveolens. August 2 I swim in the French Broad at dark after launching a raft with morsels of the garden harvest. At Thanksgiving I cook greens, bread and pumpkin pie to contribute to the family dinner. We eat the same things every year. The same people prepare the same dishes. I jump in the creek before or after dinner, and everyone asks "Was it cold?" to which I sometimes reply, "Does a wild bear shit in the woods?"

In December Sally and I set aside an entire day to bake a large batch of biscotti. We 10 times the recipe that Jude gave me years ago. We both bring a mix cd that we made and snacks to carry us through. We run a tight ship. Each year we choose a secret ingredient to put into the biscotti that our recipients are to guess. The recipients expect this and guess with enthusiasm. Our biscotti day is always called The Biscotti Bake-Off. It is supreme fun. Certain individuals always stop by the Inn where we are baking and sample the end pieces.

This year's biscotti bake-off fell early due to travel plans. I realized that traditions like this one not only warm my heart (and fill my belly), but they give me my bearings. Another year has passed. We are doing what we do again, and we are different and the same as we were last time. Somehow it really helps.

Biscotti recipe is here:  biscotti recipe click here!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting my bearings, "Take One"

A common scenario around here- White Rock quadrant topo map laid out in front of wood stove for studying
When you're me, it can be hard to get your bearings. I swear I was born turned around. I'll think I am going this way, and I end up over that way. Directionally speaking. In my family it is one of the biggest jokes for someone to say "Why don't you ask Dana for directions?" When I got my driver's license as a teen ager, the first place I wanted to drive alone was my best friend's house. I had been spending copious amounts of time at her house since first grade. I got the keys, got in the car, turned it on, and drew a blank. I had to go back inside and ask for directions to Kerry's house. They thought I was kidding. I was not. Probably on the standardized tests I did poorly on any problem solving that might have had to do with spacial relationships. It's just plum not my forte.
Nothing could challenge my sense of directions more than making my home in these mountains. The terrain dips and curves and you lose sight of this and find yourself around the bend gazing upon that. The only comfort for a directionally challenged person such as myself is the age old rule of "if you go keep going downhill you will eventually come to water." Following bodies of water always leads to a branch or, if you're really lost, the river. In this day and age there are so many roads cutting through the land, even through this remote section of Appalachia, that I have never had to go all the way to the river to get my bearings. But I have had to stop someone on the road and ask about just exactly where I was...
Needless to say, figuring out just exactly where I am in relation to other places where I might sometimes be takes me a whole lot of studying. Now that I have a home of my own, I am more determined than ever to get some inking of a bearing. I've been spending a lot of time studying on the topo maps I have and walking- starting at the house and going in each direction to just get my bearings. Believe it or not, even walking the property line can be confusing. (It's a pretty great problem to have!)
This morning I walked the property line to see what mountains I could see to the west, and then again to the east and to the north. To the west is Rich Mountain and Mill Ridge and the road that goes to my family in Hot Springs. I can see it in the distance from part of one of the ridges of my property line. To the east and north is Sapling Mountain, which divides Chapel Hill from Big Laurel valley. To the north is Franklin Mountain, which divides 212 from 208 (on the way to Greeneville).

Sunrise casting shadows over the west side of Sapling Mountain
Hopey is hard-wired to know where she's at
One of the many things I admire about people around these parts is everyone seems to know exactly where they are, how they got there and how to get where they are going. People can tell you the names and histories of the mountains, roads, old farms and hollers- the same way they can tell you who lives where and the family relations of everyone who lives everywhere (it seems). And history. I truly admire the apparent success of the oral passing along of local history and geneology.

When I meditate on getting my bearings, what I end up pondering about ends up being more complex than merely figuring out which gorgeous mountain I can view from which vantage points. It is more complex than learning which trees flower or fruit during which weeks of which months and which mosses send up spores in November. In this modern era of fast paced movement and seemingly limitless access to world-wide information, I find it increasingly difficult to keep track of my bearings. How exactly am I fitting into this world I live in? What is my relation to this technology or that strange modern custom? Should I go down this road with the rest of them to stay connected to my species, or will we all find ourselves too far away from the water because we forgot to follow the first rule of being lost? I think I will spend my entire life trying to get my bearings. Does that seem tedious? I think it's exciting. For example...

Who knew this club moss was sporing out in November?

Coming atcha soon: Getting my bearings, take 2.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Thing" update

Saturday morning, November 17 2012

First off, welcome to our world, Lucy Dixon, a human child who was born yesterday to wonderful parents Jude and Paul!

Now, back to the "thing." It has been identified as a cocoon, and I have returned it to the cold outdoors to hopefully resume its natural life cycle. At this point, I am thinking it is a luna moth cocoon, based upon world wide web investigative work I have done this morning (that and the fact that Pete Dixon- no relation to Lucy- informed me that indeed it was a cocoon.)  It is my sincere wish that the "thing" will go back to sleep, unharmed, and emerge when it is god's time. I apologize to all involved for the interference.
(*Note, click the word 'work' above for a link.)

Could this be the "thing?"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mystery of the "thing"

Ladies and gentlemen, might I borrow your attention for a moment to describe to you a most curious mystery of nature to which I am at present referring as the "thing?"
It was almost a fortnight ago when I found myself the fortunate handler of "the thing." It came into my possession as an accidental byproduct of carrying an armload of firewood into the house from the out-of-doors. If memory serves me, which it sometimes does and sometimes does not, I discovered this "thing" somewhat nestled between layers of stacked firewood. (I keep my reserve of stacks of firewood beneath a somewhat sizable hickory, which may be neither here nor there in context of this story, but is the truth nonetheless.)
Allow me to describe this delightful "thing" to you briefly. It is roughly the size of a large pecan (with hull), and not round but not flat. The color is a tan brown, and the texture is like a sort of paper, but not just one layer of paper but rather several. There has grown upon the outside of the "thing" a bit of moss, and there is a dried blade of grass plastered to one side of it. For all practical purposes, it can be described as tasteless and virtually odorless, although when wet with saliva it emits a faint fruity aroma.
Being a rather curious woman, I carefully retrieved the "thing" from its previous location and brought it into the house for observation. I placed the "thing" in a half pint sized glass jar and loosely put a lid on top. At random since that day I have gone to jar, opened the lid and stood for observation. Until today, the "thing" remained still and unchanged.
This evening, however, upon returning home from a long day away, I was drawn by a pull of nature to the jar on the countertop which held the "thing." I removed the lid and listened carefully, for a thought I heard a rustling within. I removed the "thing" from the jar hesitantly and cautiously placed it on the counter. Not only was it rustling quite audibly, but the "thing" was moving its case around from within. I watched with wonder as this "thing" rustled and bumped atop the counter.
I suppose something will emerge very soon. I wish to give this creature adequate oxygen and space to manuver once it does emerge, (for what I know not, as I feel quite certain I have forced its hatching by bringing it into the warm house as so many Americans are forcing paperwhites this holiday season.) I transferred the "thing" into my 4 gallon ball jar and loosely placed the lid over top. I will watch and wait for the mystery to reveal itself.
Godspeed, "thing."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Postcard from Daylight Savings

Dear Zoe,

The postcard you sent me from Utah was weird. The best part was the caption on the back which read, "The is mine is the largest man made open-pit excavation in the world..." Hey Mountain Press Prints, get an editor!

Back to the Blue Ridge, this damp dingle finds itself visited this morning by a most lovely gentle blanket of ambling fog. It rained in the night, and the air is cool and moist. It snowed last week 3 inches, before the leaves were even finished falling- what an odd display of burnt oranges and ruby reddish browns in a vast sea of snow white! The weirdest thing is that the snow didn't even freeze kill the garden; once it melted, the basil was still green. The killing frost came quietly and uneventfully three days later and was offhandedly noticed by gardeners in this holler in the Saturday morning hours.

Daylight savings morning finds all but the tightest gripping leaves fallen to the forest floor, and the trees across the holler appear as bare bones, revealing all manners of squirrel and hornet nests previously sheltered from view by summer's green cloak. I am (obviously) relishing in this extra hour to enjoy the warm cozy ambience of my home in this protected cove, the bone warming heat radianting from the wood stove, the loud snoring of the aging plott hound, the type of quiet created by the absence of a group of humans.

This day's agenda is sparse. Harvest celery and carrots from the garden. Spend the day with my sister. Make chicken pot pie from scratch.

I hope you, and whoever else might be eavesdropping on this postcard (hee hee), are enjoying the shift in time this morning. Godspeed.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

First Asian Herb Harvest Underway

I grew 2 short rows of ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) at the request of a local chocolatier friend who uses the herb powdered in his chocolate bars. This is an Indian herb, very commonly used in Aruvedic medicine, that whose optimum growing conditions are warmer and drier than our Appalachian climate offers. My personal philosophy lends itself to want to focus on growing things that are more perfectly adapted to our climate, but I figured I would slap up two terraces on my south facing hill and try this herb as an annual. I began digging the roots Sunday morning, quickly but carefully unearthing what ended up being surprisingly large roots for a single season's growth. I worked until it started raining miserably, and I will resume the harvest when the weather clears.

Ashwaganda means "horse smell," and from this experience, I can tell you it is aptly named. The aroma of the fresh roots is potent, hopefully indicative of the medicine. This root is a renowned tonic, supposedly endowing energy, stamina, potency and stronger immunity upon its recipients. A traditional preparation is an infusion in warm milk with honey. Living just over the hill from some primo milk cows and around the mountain from several beekeepers, I am excited to try it out this winter on myself.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Me and Angelo

My precious Godson and I, hunting mushrooms with his mama.

Notice the smiles.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An hour past dawn

black and white of the neighborhood opsrey
perched on a dead locust
gazing upon Creation

black and white
river meets mountain

hazy orange glow, ruby sourwoods
white pines hold blue green steady

His kind hands gently roll up the fleecy fog, making way
for Day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Visions from the boardwalk: Crossing paths with Queens

The family beach trip was a four-generation whirlwind of

playing            eating               swimming              safety monitoring               sunburning           cleaning up         cooking

salt air exhaustion            logistical orquestrating                arguing            laughing           drinking                

My nephew, the rosy, tousled wave swimmer

alligator watching...                           You get the picture. There was nary a moment to pause and ponder, as some of us who reside in tucked back mountain hollers are inclined to occasionally do, and the time went by in the blink of a saltwater bloodshot eye.

We returned to our various homes fatigued and suntanned, to settle in for the fall of the season, the lengthening of the night, the survival of another dark spell. I returned home with visions from the boardwalk burned upon my memory like the sun upon my pale spots. Tired, hungry and bleary-eyed children, rosy from the sun and surf. The ever-lengthening shadow of my sister and I holding hands on the way back to the car.
The straggling train of eclectic and wonderful human beings that is my family. The perfect and soft breeze drifting across the dunes, upon which thousands of Queen Butterflies travelled tirelessly south, their family path crossing ours at the boardwalk. Like us on our mecca to the source of all life on earth, the Queens didn't stop on their journey south to ponder what they were doing. And that didn't make their flight anything less than absolutely stunning.

My other nephew, fearless.

Notice my 2-yr-old godson leading the pack, way up ahead.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Album Review: Old Light: Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds


Never mind that she was my college roommate. Never mind that I adore her and that I am an extremely loyal person. Nevermind that this type of music happens to be right up my alley. The new pre-released cd, Old Light: Songs from My Childhood and Other Gone Worlds, by Rayna Gellert is a work of musical art that is well worth your time and attention. So listen up!
Rayna has been playing, performing and recording old-time and old-time related music for at least the better part of 2 decades. Starting with her childhood (her dad is traditional fiddle and Banjo player Dan Gellert), and continuing through college and beyond, Rayna has performed in a variety of venues- from Warren Wilson contra dances, to touring with the Rhythm in Shoes dance company, to playing with the Freight Hoppers, to singing and fiddling with bad-ass girl band Uncle Earl, to guest fiddling with Toubab Krewe- and more. Rayna has filled the need in many-a-situation as a fiddler/ guitarist/ vocalist who is classically trained and old-time raised and thoroughly studied and practiced in tradition.

After about 20 years, Rayna has ventured out into a new realm: Old Light: Songs from my Childhood and Other Gone Worlds, is her debut as a songwriter and artist of her complete own accord and right. Consisting of about half original and half traditional songs, this album is completely original. Arrangements are fresh, thoughtful and spot-on. It struck me both during the live performance at the pre-cd release show and listening to the album that each note, each intonation, each pause in this music is complete with intention and integrety. It seems to me that Rayna is presenting this music with complete respect; since the work is a marriage of tradtional music and candid originals, listening is like bearing witness to a beautiful balance being found between respecting tradition and making one's own mark.

The content of the album focuses heavily on memory, and thus to me has an overall thoughtful and slightful melancholic demeanor. Let me be clear- not every song is about memory, and not every song is sad. However, even with the most upbeat of traditional songs, we are still struck with the sense of the passing of time and the ways our world is drastically different than it was when the song was first sung. Some of the original songs definitely explore the dark side of memory. Several songs dip into the realm of memory loss,  inspired by a "creative conversation" between Rayna and author David MacLean, who has completed the memoir The Answer to the Riddle is Me about his experience with amnesia. And there are two extremely creepy traditional murder ballads, one of which has haunted Rayna since childhood. (When I say creepy, I am talking very dark, very creepy and very haunting.)

The instrumentation on Old Light is fantastic- it is a perfect selection of musical sounds, and each musician is doing just the right amount. From the banjo paired with the trumpet, and the BUMPIN DRUM SOUNDS on "Nothing," to the hair-raising guitar off-notes on "The Fatal Flower Garden" and the subtle and appropriate usage of an organ on several tracks, Rayna demonstrates her keen selectress skills.

And the voice. You just have to hear it. Rayna has a voice that is timeless, ageless and starkly beautiful. Her voice presents each song as an honest expression of the depth of human experience. Calmy, openly, beautifully. Like I said, you just have to hear it.

My favorite song on the album is probably the opening track, "Nothing," but honestly, I find myself singing most all of them quietly as I go through my days this season. Old Light is my soundtrack for this autumn- the season of remembering.

(ps- You can supposedly listen to a song from this album by "liking" it on Facebook. I don't know anything about "liking" something on Facebook, but here's the link: Like it! It should be worth the effort.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Field and Forest: An Equinox Mead

August 20 found me swimming with friends and family at the creek, harvesting and spinning two frames of honey that dear Mr. CR brought to the house early the morning before, and then harvesting boatloads of pears to the light of the setting sun.
I will never forget that pear harvest. Ruth and Dan Gallagher drove by as I harvested, stopped and tailgated it with me for a good long while. It was Dan's birthday, and he sat on the tailgate of their Honda Element, looking at fluffy innocuous clouds move across the sky over there in Tennessee, where the sun always sets- first turning pink, then brilliant shades of lavender and purple. We admired the Spider Lilies, one of Hot Springs's botanical anomolies- a species which started in someone's garden and has made itself at home here and there over the years all over the valley. It stands in the company of other naturalized plant forms- mahonias, Japanese maples, campion. The spider lilies put out leaves early in the season and then disappear only to shock us all with their brilliant bright red spidery long fingered flower blooms the third week of August. Their emergence always coincides with the first wind of late summer which blows walnut leaves in greenish yellow swirls lightly through the warm sunlight. Inevitably that wind stops me in my tracks, and I watch the walnut leaves beginning their descent, and I think: how did it happen so fast?
This particular evening, Dan was in excellent spirits, as was Ruth, and we picked pears, talked, laughed, and loafered around that tree until night fell. They convinced me to drive my Subaru right up under the tree, stand on my car, and then pick the big fatty pears which were too high to reach. It was a good move. All bags, buckets, boxes and tubs in sight were filled with the bounty in no time flat.

It is September 20 now, and the pears I came home with that night are officially either consumed or put up. First came the pies about 3 weeks ago. There were several, and they were damn good. Then came the chutney, which you can read about a couple of posts ago, the canning of which went flawlessly, thanks to the company and spur-of-the-moment tips by Susie.

Yesterday came the mead. As it were, after the pies and the double batch of chutney, there were still quite a few pears to contend with. I ate them freely- with yogurt, with cheesy crackers, with chocolate, alone, with a meal. Biting into their cool juicy sweet flesh was a gentle delicacy- a perfect nourishing treat for a late summer morning, afternoon or night. But there were so many, and I just couldn't work through them fast enough. I didn't want to do any more canning (I don't know how you people do it it drives me so crazy) and dehydrating is not the best option for so juicy a fruit. So fermentation it was. And I thought what with two good damn neighbors having stocked me up this summer with more than enough honey, it would be mead. And then I thought I would doll it up a bit with some sort of spice to make it a nice winter time sipping wine, and it was decided- the gorgeous bright red ripe berries of the keynote understory species all up in this dingle- the mighty Lindera benzoin- spicebush!

I enjoyed the lovliest September 19th wandering around field and forest harvesting pounds upon pounds of these berries. What a delight it was to slow down and mosey. I spent hours picking, mosying, watching, listening. I found so many cool things in the woods while daudling.

The great thing about this project is that it required no peeling! I simply weighed out the pears, crudely chopped them up and tossed them into the pot, poured the water over the chopped fruit, then cooked them for a while. After I turned the heat off, I added the berries, and then left the concoction overnight to steep and cool off. This evening, I strained the fruit off the water, squeezing the liquid out of it for flavor, and then strained and skimmed the liquid several times. I dissolved the honey in a little bit of water, and added it to the pear spicebush juice, heating it all up to about blood temperature. At that point I transferred the sweet juice into a 2-gallon carboy, added champagne yeast and closed it off with an airlock. It is working its little self away in the work room as we speak. I am aiming for the first little drinkypoo at Christmastime.


10 pounds ripe pears, unpeeled and chopped
1 pound spicebush berries
1 1/2 gallons spring water
2 quarts raw honey
1/2 package champagne yeast*

*If only some Asheville hippie or DudeBra would get off his ass and start a company producing and packaging local wine yeast everything that went into this mead could have been entirely local! Someone, please, just do that for next time.  It coule really nicely supplement your Further Tour parking lot hacky sack sales. Thank you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Perhaps it is being driven by hoarding tendencies that began as a two year old when I refused to eat for days, screaming that we must save our food because the world is going to run out. Or maybe the root of it is guilt from the fact that even with 20 acres of land, we are well into September and all I have managed to put up for the winter is 5 quarts of blanched beans in the freezer. It could be for the love of a project or simply the fact that pear chutney is such so darn good over spring nettle and potato fritters. But whatever the reason, the driving force is apPEARently a strong one. I have spent the past 5 hours peeling and finely chopping pears from my favorite pear tree in Hot Springs. And I have so many more to go!

This is after spending about a two hour session picking them a few weeks ago and after dear friend Eliza spent an evening individually wrapping about half of the them in newspaper to minimize rot. I thought my mom was going to partner with me for this project, but everytime I call my PEARents to talk to her about it, they are just so dang busy. (Oh, what a PEAR those two are!)

So as of bedtime tonight, I have enough finely chopped pears for two batches of chutney and stilled enough peeled ones for several pies. And there is still a box of whole unpeeled pears left in the pantry, which I am thinking might become pear mead that I can bust out at wintertime PEARties...

Although I am overwhelmed by the scale of this project and my peeling hand is stiff and sore, I am looking forward to the chutney, pies and mead, and I am PEARfectly happy to share the chutney recipe with you. It came out of the Ball Blue Book for canning, and it rocks my world. It goes a little something like this:

Pear or Peach Chutney

4 quarts peeled, pitted and finely chopped pears (or peaches)
2 to 3 cups brown sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 Tbs ginger
2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic minced (optional)
1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
5 cups vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Simmer until thick (takes a good while). Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust 2-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Yields about 7 pints.

It seemed a little crazy to be peeling all those pears by myself today for hours upon hours, but hey, that kind of craziness is just PEAR for the course.

Thanks to my food preservation insPEARation, Beth Trigg, for calling me and providing good conversation and moral support during the final stretch of today's chopping. And for Jessie Lehmann (aka Lil Razz) for being PEARticularly funny with the puns...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Coming up on September 9th

It's going on the three year out mark from 9-09-09,* which brought a terrorizing 3am electrical hailstorm to this small holler, scaring the daylights out of all residents and nearly washing me and my Airstream away. I was only halfway joking when I told my neighbor RM today that three years out I am finally beginning to recover from the stress of the storm; for example it can rain and thunder without me going into fight or flight mode...

It is hard for me to believe that in less than three years I have bought land here and now live in a gorgeous house on it, with a (currently) functioning kick ass water system and a good start to a garden. I never would have suspected on that bizarre morning of September 10, 2009,amidst the 2 ft deep drifts of quarter sized hail and the overpowering smell of shredded pine needles roaring down the new river that was created overnight, that I would be here today as a land holder and homeowner. So much has happened since then.

This evening I walked to the Sunset Spot and drank in the beauty of this place that I am beginning to call home.

May this September 9th bring unexpected delights. If you need to find me, I'll be the one sweet talking

*For more about the freak storm of 9-09-09, click here and here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Serotinal #1

Lughnasa 2012

See the flowers, so faithful to Earth.

We know their fate because we share it.

Were they to grieve for their wilting,

that grief would be ours to feel.

There's a lightness in things. Only we move forever burdened,

pressing ourselves into everything, obsessed by weight.

How strange and devouring our ways must seem

to those for whom life is enough.

If you could enter their dreaming and dream with them deeply,

you would come back different to a different day,

moving so easily from that common depth.

Or maybe just stay there: they would bloom and welcome you,

all those brothers and sisters tossing in the meadows,

and you would be one of them.

                                                                    -Rainer Maria Rilke

We brought flowers and vegetables from our gardens and arranged them on a raft I built for the occasion. We made sure we were good and grateful for the generosity of the soil and the good fortune of rain this year- then we swam the colorful raft out into the middle of the French Broad and let it go at dusk. Homemade peach pie, ice cream and strawberry wine followed on the bank of the river.


Bring on the harvest!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Serotinal #2

Night falls earlier; the descent of the season is upon us. 
Dusky serotinal light show behind hickory

Stay tuned for Serotinal #1

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 1

August 1, 2012.
Feeling the drone of the summer heat- the quirky cadence of the nightly cricket number, followed by foggy humid mornings and sweaty days, the sun moving a little lower across the late summer sky- Thor rumbling his evening prayers of lightening and rain and then night falling sooner than it seems it should. I decided I should switch up the routine a little today. Although there was mowing to do, and erosion to control and firewood to restack and weeds to pull, I went ahead and stopped doing chores at about quarter of six this evening and at six I set out for a little adventure.
My props:
-Eastpack backpack containing a rain jacket, a bottle of water, some nuts and raisins, two empty plastic containers for gathering in case I found anything good, a camara and Newcombes Wildflower Field Guide
- a machete for bushwhacking ease
- a flask with Rebel Yell
- cell phone
My companion: Hopey, the ever-ready plott hound

We set out through the woods, and the first thing I found was a tulip poplar that had fallen in one of our recent storms. There was usnea growing on the trunk and all the branches, and I am fresh out of usnea tincture (there is always somebody calling for that stuff), so I worked up a dripping sweat gathering a big bundle. I wasn't working hard or anything, it was so blasted muggy.

I carried on to the sunset spot where I found the blackberries are no longer for picking (oh well), but the view is still breathtakingly stunning.I figured I would bushwhack down through the brambles to an old run down farm in a meadow that I love walking to once and a while, and then take a certain gravel road I know home. Well, I found a 4 wheeler trail through some steep dark piney woods, and I supposed that was as good a way to go as any. I found a lot of mushrooms I don't know the name of and some beautiful specimens of cardinal flower, a late summer blooming native flower so brightly red and surprising it will stop you in your tracks. I followed a little branch down farther and farther through some lovely dark woods, while thunder rumbled in the distance and the air stood hushed and still.

Eventually I came to a caved in cabin and then a barn, and another barn. Then I caught a glimpse of the blacktop road, and realized I was turned around. I came to the river, realizing I was trespassing on someone's farm, and took my boots off and rolled my pant legs way up so I could cross without going closer to the house to walk the bridge. I don't know whose property it was or if they were likely or not be the type of people who would be comfortable with a sweaty machete wielding girl emerging from the woods in the mid-evening.

I knew I was on NC 212, but I didn't know whereabouts on the road I was, so I guessed that going left would be a quicker way home. Finally I asked a lady passing by how far I was from Belva, and realized that I was far enough from home that I might not make it by dark. I don't mind walking at night, but as it turns out Hopey is really dumb with road walking. She kept standing in the middle of the road and not really even moving as the occasional fast moving car or truck sped around the curves. I decided to do the safe thing and call my neighbor MM to see if I could get her to pick me up. Not a problem. The me of 10 years ago would not have called for a ride. (Well, the me of 10 years ago didn't have a cell phone.) But I was not ready to potentially watch Hopey get squashed by some speedy commuter in front of my eyes tonight. No-sir-ee.
Moonie arrived in a few minutes, and toting homemade cupcakes to boot.

All and all the adventure was good, if not cut a little short due to my strange sense of directions.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Garden, July 2012

Even though I ain't got a name for it yet, I have begun my herb garden, which will hopefully, a few years down the road, provide local, safe, healthy, potent and effective formulas using both Chinese and native herbs. Most of these herbs are perennials, and some of them require 3 to 4 years to maturity before harvesting. Of the Chinese varieties, I am wanting to focus on tonics, but I am also willing to try whatever thrives in this climate. So far I have planted sections of: Salvia militorriza (Dan shen- red rooted sage), Platycodon grandiflorus (Jie geng- balloonflower), Codonopsis pilosula (Dang shen- poor man's ginseng), Astragalus membranaceus (Huang qi), Scutellaria baicalensis (Huang qin- Baikal Skullcap),  and Mentha haplocalys (Bo he- Field mint). In the nursery waiting to be planted out are more- Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Gan cao-Chinese licorice), Angelica sinensis (Dang gui), Ligusticum jeholense (Gao ben-Chinese lovage), Calamus, Chinese violet, Chyrsanthemum morifolium (Ju hua-Chrysanthemum), and Ginkgo biloba (Bai guo). Coming soon are Paeonia lactiflora (Bai shao- Chinese peony) and roses.

Western herbs so far in the garden are Calendula officinalis, Eschscholzia californica (California poppy), and Mentha spicata (spearmint). There are tons of herbs growing wild here in the woods- more than I can list here.

I have begun forming raised beds in the garden for the perennial herbs. These are planted and then will be relatively undisturbed (save for weeding) until harvest. Between the beds is either sheet mulched with cardboard and wood chips or saw dust or sowed in clover for mowing. My plan is to keep making more raised beds over time until I have worked my way far up in the clearing in the cove until it tapers to woods. There is more sunlight in the front, closer to the house, and further up it is shadier and more moist. As of July this year, I have a pretty good start, although in my perfect world I would have had more time this month to keep creating and planting beds. I have been overly consumed with water infrastructure issues that automatically take priority. Luckily, it has been raining regularly for the past couple weeks, so I have not had to worry about watering.
Codonopsis trellises with Maypole in the background

Raised beds so far

Skutellaria- Huang qin
Salvia- Dan shen

Ballonflower- Jie geng

Calendula patch

In addition to the herbs, I have enough garden veggies for one plus occasional company- tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, beans, squash (delicata and yellow crookneck), lettuce, arugula, kale, chard, carrots- as well as flowers for pretties.

I'm having a blast with the garden. Come by and see me. And give me tips!