Happenings: February/March

What’s Happening? What a weird word – I can’t help it, how did it come to be (to hap)?:

happen (v.)

late 14c., happenen, “to come to pass, occur, come about, be the case,” literally “occur by hap, have the (good or bad) fortune (to do, be, etc.);” extension (with verb-formative -n) of the more common hap (v.). Old English used gelimpangesceon, and Middle English also had befall. In Middle English fel it hap meant “it happened.” Related: Happenedhappening. Phrase happens to be as an assertive way to say “is” is from 1707.
And not to be confused with What’s Happening!! with Rerun and Rog and Dwayne…(man, I loved that show as a kid – both Josh and I did – ha! There were way too many sitcom’s when we were kids).

All that to say – what is happening around the Rock Bottom Homestead?

  • Well, tomorrow is first bread delivery day! Bread, with maybe some pizza dough, and amazing sourdough crackers. What does this entail for us? A ridiculous amount of dough being worked today to sit for its long proof so it gets all super yummy for tomorrow’s bake. It also entailed a good amount of new equipment – a proofing refrigerator, rattan baskets with linen liners, beeswax covers, 50lb bags of flour in new wheelie containers, a new fancy lame (to score the bread), a new bread stone (Josh managed to break the old one in a practice bake), bread bags, dough bags, and a few other random paraphernalia. He still needs an apron and a new scale but other than a continuous replenishment of flour – he’s good to go! I’ve been privy to many a practice bake and this guy does not look like he’s practicing any longer – he’s got the moves and the dough is divine (his sore shoulders and rough hands prove he’s working hard! ha!). Leftover bread has been made into bread crumbs, croutons, and saved for (mostly savory) bread puddings and soups.
  • I have been visiting the local Swap Shop (though we can’t help but call it a shack, it’s a garage at our Transfer Station for goods that might be useful for someone else). My recent treasures are old punchbowls to be used as cloches in the garden and baskets for egg, herb, and other vegetation collecting. It’s a touch-and-go kind of place. Sometimes we find great treasure, like a giant roaster (it’s like a crockpot but big and metal and for roasting – I do whole turkeys in it!) or a dehydrator, or chairs and table, or board games (or duplicate board game pieces!), or books – many books, and glassware. Josh thinks I’m a hoarder because I take all kinds of vintage glassware and sewing machines (we currently have 4, and 2 small tabletop ironing boards) but I have a fantasy I’m going to open up some kind of fancy junk/book shop (I haven’t even started collecting stock, just trying out treasures I admire).
  • So – on the calendar are the pruning and 1st tapping days: February 29 and March 1st. Join if you like, come and help if you want some hands-on pruning someone else’s old apple trees and new fruit trees, or want to see some old-skool tapping (not wooden spiles old-skool, but still a backyard version of metal spiles and buckets). Josh is only tapping 10% right now as a starter to see how the flow is – but let us know if you are coming and there will be hot coffee and a pot of something for lunch!

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Monday Thoughts

It snowed. It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl. The snow looks light and the sky dark, but in fact the sky is lighter than the snow. Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than its illuminator. The classical demonstration of this point involves simply laying a mirror flat on the snow so that it reflects in its surface the sky, and comparing by sight this value to that of the snow. This is all very well, even conclusive, but the illusion persists. The dark is overhead and the light at my feet; I’m walking upside-down in the sky.   ~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Wild Child Farm, Pittston, ME

 

Officially Officialness

We’ve been busy around making things sort of officially official – branding ourselves, as they say (shudder). Remember, this is a bare-bones operation, no fancy stuff here. Logo, new address for this blog (now rockbottomhomestead.farm), stamps, bags and a bread delivery next week! We’ve upgraded supplies for breadbaking and are considering sourdough pizza dough and flatbreads for options. Homemade Pasta plus a variety of bready bits like hamburger buns, biscuits, and Duende is very excited to offer cupcakes! Ha – somehow we’ve stumbled into being a bakery though that is just a ‘new’ affair to add to our repertoire.

Very soon it will be tree pruning time (the peaches, pears, and plums all need to be ‘topped’), the old apples shaped – cutting off the dead wood. The grapes and hydrangea cut way back. High on Josh’s list is cutting scions this year for grafting. And then – it’s maple sugaring time! We’re amping up our game this year. Last year we tapped about 20-25 taps, and this year we’ll likely be able to do 50-75. We made enough for us to last about 6 months (we did give and sell a few pints) – it sounds crazy to go through that much syrup but we use it for coffee, in baking and cooking. It gets used as our primary source of sweetener. When we don’t have that we use local raw honey (we really love Tom’s Honey – you can find them at the Portland Farmer’s Market). We are considering bees of our own but not quite yet. They would be great for better apple pollination so it’s another step we’re almost ready for.

In between pruning and sugaring – it’s seedling time! Again, last year, Josh made some great shelving with adjustable lights and heat pads so that we can make our seedlings happy and strong. I’ve yet to successfully get strong enough onions from seed (they end up working as companion babies in the garden but never really get to be actual onions, I end up throwing all their little starts into my pickles by the end of summer). We keep renovating all the rooms, however, and so I am running out of spare rooms to put the seedling shelves (the porch would be great but is really only 2 season, Winter not being one of them, and we’re not plastic encasing people). I think this year we will try and house them in the unfinished laundry room. I thought when we moved out here I’d be a beet and squash farmer. I could see myself out there nerding out on hand-pollinating my squash blossoms. The first year we put our garden way up on the hill where it was hard to water (dragging a giant apple cart full of buckets of water was not the best) and though everyone told me it wouldn’t happen – I got weird mutated hybrid cucumbers (a cross between pickling and round lemon) that tasted fine but were not pretty to look at (I should have practiced my hand-pollination on those). My beets never came up, and my squash had the worst case of cucurbit and squash bug infestation EVER! All the books and the blogs and the stories tell you NOT to spend $400 on seeds when you first start homesteading but I will officially say – I don’t regret it. I made A LOT of mistakes and I learned a lot. Sad to say my romantic dreams had to change – but I still love the success of my potatoes and corn, herbs, tomatoes and garlic, green beans and dry beans, and finally carrots (that last one took forever for success). I still have terrible luck getting peas in on time (always coincides with school travel and I miss my window), and the cabbage moth decimates my cruciferous and brassica every year. My other nightshades – peppers and eggplant perform ok but not as great as I’d like and I swear I just can’t grow spinach. I am a little too successful at radishes but it’s mostly because I use them as companion planting and let them go to seed (the early pods are great to pickle but then the radish itself isn’t really edible, I had a 3lb one last year- all woody and split and ginormous), but the bees really love the blossoms (I’ll go off more on companion planting as we get closer – it’s a preoccupation of mine). All this talk of seedlings, I might have to go add to my FedCo and Baker Creek order…

Duende is excited to be growing a batch of catnip for both her and the cat (I wonder if that will make him more amenable to her dressing him up in handmade clothes – she will tell you all about her Cat Clothing Design business, if you like!).

I think there is just enough time in this Winter to crochet a new batch of dishcloths, a new french press cozy, potholders, handwarmers, and finish another rug.

Happy Wishful Spring Thinking!

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Rock Bottom Recipe: Winter Fish Pie

The cold crisp days desire a lot of one-pot hearty meals. And we supply. To be honest, I was hoping to be a little snowed-in this season because I have a lot of reading and writing to do (between my own PhD dissertation, tutoring, teaching assistance, and as a recent art agent, I somehow have inherited a lot of sitting/writing work) so preparing a complex meal just isn’t in my schedule.

Nor Josh’s – for someone who has recently made the transition from office job to homesteading, he’s not considered downtime. He’s been renovating the house as he can (first the ‘dining’ room, now he’s dismantling our sad little ‘laundry room’ which is also a second bathroom, yes – right next door to the first, and desires to be a storage space for fermenting supplies/equipment and possibly a darkroom), I think the 2 season front porch is next – which desires to be 4 season as a mudroom and grow room for the seedlings (at least until I get a greenhouse). As you might have seen, he’s also been baking a lot – A LOT! Beautiful sourdough boule’s everywhere! We had to upgrade his supplies this week – rattan bread proofing baskets with liners, bulk flour, and various bread-nerdy tools (lame, scrapers, couche, beeswax covers, linen towels – he needs an apron next). Please feel free to volunteer yourself as an official taste-tester, I could use some help!

So, this week we found ourselves hungering for something simple but rich and hearty: Fish Pie it is. As with all our recipes, this is easily adaptable to tastes and sizes. Enjoy!

Colcannon Fish Pie

1 lb. firm white fish (we used haddock, but cod, pollock, halibut, etc would work), cut into 4-5″ pieces
1 6oz tin of Bar Harbor Wild Herring Fillets (w/ cracked pepper, or any smoked fish), drained
1 Md onion, diced (I was out so did without, but it’s a nice addition in general)
1 Tbsp diced garlic
2 Lg carrots, split into long quarters and chopped (I could see 1.5 cup frozen peas being an option, too, or a good handful of chopped parsley added with the bechamel sauce)
1 Lg celery stalk, split in long half and chopped (to be honest, I didn’t have any so I added a tsp and a half of celery seed to carrots and garlic while cooking)
2 lbs. baking potatoes, chopped in 2″ cubes
1/2 head green cabbage (about 1 lb), chopped
2 bay leaves
glug of olive oil
approx 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, maybe a little more for bechamel or topping the pie
3 cups Milk
salt & pepper
1/2 cup flour (or chickpea flour for GF option)
SERVES 6-8

Short version: This is pretty much a 3 step process before baking but not as crazy as it sounds. Essentially you will take your potatoes and make mashed potatoes out of them (adding in the cabbage when you boil the potatoes, mashing them all together with butter and milk, s&p) – this makes a great meal if you have leftover mashed potatoes or colcannon (if the former, just blanch or steam the cabbage and add to mashed potatoes, if your leftover colcannon has cheese in it, which ours sometimes does, all the better). Then you cook the veggies/ add the milk and bay, then the fish cook til firm – set aside – adding a bit of fish milk to the mashed tatas, make the bechamel with the rest of the fish milk, 1/4 c butter and flour, add the veggies/fish into the sauce, top with the potatoes in a greased baking dish, add pats of butter, s&p, and bake for 25 min. at 400 degrees.

Long version:
* Boil potatoes and cabbage until tender. Drain, reserving a little liquid just in case/for later and mash with 3 Tbsp butter, s & p. Set aside. (This is your colcannon)
*In a deep pan, add a glug of olive oil, mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery), garlic – saute until fragrant. Add white fish but move veggies around to be on top of fish as much as possible, can layer thinner pieces of fish on top if necessary. Add milk, bay leaves, s&p. Bring to simmer, let simmer 2 min. then cover and remove from heat (fish will continue to cook in the hot milk for a few minutes).
* Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and using a slotted spoon or draining utensil, move the veggies and fish to the baking dish, adding the smoked fish – mix gently to even out across the bottom of the dish. Add a little fish milk to colcannon and set the rest aside in a large measuring cup or bowl.
* Heat 1/4 cup butter on Med-High, melt and add flour, whisking vigorously. Cook for 2 min then add fish milk 1/2 cup at a time, continuing to whisk and adding milk 1/2 cup at a time until you end up with a creamy sauce that will pour nicely but isn’t too thin. If too thick add a little potato water or more milk if needed. Add on top of veggies/fish in dish, mix in gently.
* Dollop colcannon on top of bechamel mix, spreading carefully to cover. Add a few pats of butter to the top. Bake 25 min or until the top is starting to golden and the sauce is bubbling up a bit. Serve with buttered bread if you like (very gratuitous but delicious).
* Makes great leftovers – reheat in oven with foil. If refrigerating ceramic or glass baking dish, let come to room temperature before baking. Stay Cozy!

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Imbolc

What a good time to celebrate – smack in the real depths of winter, where here in New England many call the ‘winter season’ November through March (though we all know well and good it can snow in October and April, too!). But February 2nd is the technical midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.

I have always been especially connected to Imbolc, even before we celebrated the ‘seasonals’. My ancestors knew I was a woman and a witch. I was born and served out my childhood in Pennsylvania where Groundhog Day is centered (years ago doing some research I vaguely remember some other areas with other large rodents to foretell the weather – Badgers maybe in Staten Island?) and it has always been my favorite holiday. C’mon, a furry-faced little critter deciding our fate?!! I’m sold. Except for Punxatawney Phil, no one is really exploited or neglected or has a history of annihilation, so that makes it a pretty solid celebratory day to me (and really, for a groundhog, I bet Phil’s got it pretty cozy).

We prefer to celebrate our mid-winter with a little Scotch tasting party. We started around 2012 and we’ve only missed one or two, I think, since. It’s a lovely gathering, mostly people who like or are intrigued by Scotch (which many also happen to be close friends – great minds and all), some fancy foods (sometimes I try and steer for traditional Scottish or hearty fare and sometimes not, depends on if I find that something is supposed to be tasty with Scotch!) and a relaxed atmosphere. Josh likes to talk about Scotch so he introduces each with a little info where we can all get a glimpse of different regions and years and other taste factors. Everybody brings a bottle to try and we generally all learn something new.

This year we decorated the windows with magickal alder branches (the goddess tree with deep affinity to the faerie folk and properties to help overcome obstacles) and twinkly lights, made a vat of Chicken Pate and Pickles, Josh’s yummy Sourdough loaves, Scotch eggs and Fermented Mustard, Colcannon (or a version of Clapshot), Roast Pumpkin Mash with Sage, Cranberry Beans with Cider Syrup, Molasses Spice Cake, Apple Crisp, and guests brought delicious hummus and veggies, sexy cheeses, and a Chocolate Zucchini Bundt cake – AMAZING!! It was a nice spread, great conversation, and many many Scotch’s. What a way to survive the Winter! Thank you all so much! It is a holiday that is, in all its kookiness, close to our hearts – Happy Mid Winter!

 

Rock Bottom Recipe: Rock Bottom Lentils

Just in time for weekend planning – we’ll start a little tradition that every Thursday or Friday a recipe will be posted. Dishes that quintessentially make up our household. We are omnivores but I am quite skilled at turning many dishes into vegan or GF (feel free to ask if you don’t see correlating substitutions – I’ve probably made them at some point and have some insight). And though we do eat meat, we are not afraid of vegetables or vegetarian dinners. I think everyone is different and magickal and special and has their own food interests and preferences. I like to think I am sensitive enough and savvy enough to offer something for anyone.

This particular dish is a staple here – it’s relatively simple, very hearty, and pretty affordable. It’s one of those crazy dishes that doesn’t sound all that exciting but every time we make it, we are so happy once we take a bite and wonder why we thought we weren’t going to be satisfied. I hope you enjoy it – I tend to make a vat and then we forage from it for the weekend. Just a tip: I tend to ‘wing it’ when cooking (not baking, there I’m more of a stickler for the recipe) so don’t fret about small changes to the amounts, just do what feels good.

Rock Bottom Lentils

  • 2 cups lentils du puy (it really makes a difference to have these little green and black speckled wonders – they cook up fast and tasty)
  • 2 Large (28oz) cans of roasted diced tomatoes or 1 quart home canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped – all with juice, plus same amount of water (refill cans or jar)
  • 1 Medium onion, chopped (and optional, many times we omit because the child doesn’t care for them)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • salt/pepper
  • Optional spices: bay leaf, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 2 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried thyme) – or 4 sprigs, 2 tsp chili powder

Steps:

  •  Complicated version: saute onions, cumin, cardamom in olive oil in Medium pot until fragrant. Add lentils and garlic and saute another 2 min (less ‘complicated’ version – don’t do this, just add everything to the pot at once, and yes, we have used schmaltz/lard/bacon fat at points to saute with, as well).
  •  Add rest of ingredients and bring to barely a boil, let actively simmer until desired consistency (we like it thick and soft but still soupy, these lentils retain their shape even when soft which is nice). Should take about 45 minutes.
  •  When ready – salt and pepper to taste, remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs if used.
  •  We serve it over jasmine rice with an extra swirl of olive oil.
  •  Extras: If you just need a little ‘more’ – or if you’ve had it for 2 days and want to re-excite it, it’s great with a side of sausage or with an egg on top. It’s even good on toast.
  • Serves 8 (w/o rice, 10 with). Enjoy! I think I’ll go make a pot of these yummies right now…I’ll post a pic when it’s done!

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Year of the Rat

hmmm, let’s hope the rats are fortuitous and not rampant in New England carrying ticks and getting into stuff…I can think of some political rats that I could do without, as well (pretty much anyone that doesn’t respect other humans, including women, children, LGBTQ, other nationalities or lovely skin colors, mindsets, ecologists, artists, or anyone who freely thinks and cares about the world) so I will consider this more a Hindu mythological rat which helps us all overcome whatever obstacles we need to hurdle this year. Happy Lunar New Year! (yes, we’re heathens, we celebrate almost anything fun and positive…)

So, as a new start to a new thing (isn’t every day a new day of a new year?) the To-Do list is never-ending but always new. We are updating the house (always – it’s a process house, healthily reviving an old 1840’s small ‘farmhouse’, read: cape with small additions). Right now the ‘dining room’ – which we named Stan has new sheetrock (and removal of paneling, and a covering of the old front door, we took out the not original – not good – built-in, and will have a new coat of primer by Monday), and then we can move in the books (a new built-in bookshelf will be built this Spring) and the record player and piano. The other end of the house is quite heavy with all the goods from this end – very cramped and crowded and crazy. The new tv ‘snug’ has a new rug and soon a new little couch to make cozy but limit our screen time, and an expansion of our studio/ office will help to get more arting and writing done. The only thing left in the new bathroom is some trim and to finish 2 strips of wallpaper. And in the kitchen, the window sills and framing. The floors will have to wait until the end of Winter, too. Too many things to do! And before you know it, it will be sugaring time (I will keep you updated on that – many have expressed interest in helping out or watching the boil).

Josh continues to perfect and learn his sourdough technique (we have lots of baby starters if anyone wants one! they are lovely, let me know!). There are pumpkin seeds drying on the shelf – and new fantasies of planting small fat pumpkins amidst the cornrows. A new batch of turmeric tagliatelle rests in the pantry and I’ve got a pate and fermented mustard to prepare for Imbolc (where can I get quail’s eggs around here for wee Scotch eggs?). The snow is melting (another January thaw? grrr) a bit, and the child is rushing to save her faerie igloos but the Winter walks have been just stunning – lots of tracks, and rich blue skies.

May your every day be a new day to overcome.

MidWinter

And so we continue, here in West Gardiner, Maine – the ebb and flow of the January thaw, then a freeze, some snow  -and snow sledding! If you haven’t had the experience of a lovely little sledding party here at Rock Bottom – do consider it – it’s a nice affair, a pot of something hot and yummy on the stove, always coffee, generally beer or Scotch, and 3-4 short runs that are fun – You can race each other – taking the jump through the grape arbor, or take a more meandering slide down the hill on the new track that winds around the apple tree. We’re thinking of this Sunday if we get the snow we’re promised – January 19 – contact us for more info or RSVP, fun for adults and smallish children: homesteadrockbottom@gmail.com or call us if you have our number. Wish for Snow!!

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Wheat Dreams

In the Winter it’s all about planning and dreaming. We plan for chickens (and a new chicken coop), we plan expanding the gardens to include more rows of dry beans, we plan on shaping the blackberry aisles and adding medicinal and dye plants to the sundial garden. We plan for seedlings and a smokehouse. We dream of a greenhouse and a barn and french drains. We dream of new siding for the house and a wood cookstove.

Winter is cozy and fun (and not so cozy but oh so fun on the sledding trails!) and dreamy and yet deliberate. We roll out a long brown paper drawing of our land we made the first year with pencil scratchings, erasures, redrawn lines and added trees. It’s our working ‘map’. Then we budget out some ideas, make new monthly goals and try to stick with them as best as life will let us.

Right now, inside – we’re negotiating how we eat and what we are willing to pay for, either in time or money. The former we have more of than the latter. So we turned our attention to our wheat products. I love the wheat culture here in Maine – it’s historical and regrowing – heirloom wheats from Aroostook, Maine Grains leading the charge, collected and ground in Skowhegan. We’ve been going to the Bread Fair for a couple of years and enjoy supporting the movement. In general, we try and stick to local – when we can’t do Maine Grains (which also do amazing oats, polenta, and mixed berries – I always get a bag of each at the bread fair and can get the oats at WF), we use King Arthur. I love the co-operative businesses, the B corp’s, the collectives…especially any system that keeps New England farmers farming.

We bake – for the celebrations we baked a zillion cookies. Sometimes we bake cakes (last week was a chocolate sour cream cake with beet cream cheese frosting, and an apple cake for friends). We make pancakes and muffins occasionally. Josh is particularly adept at scones – yum.

We tried out a bread maker from a yard sale and fell in love – perhaps, maybe cheating, maybe I’m okay with ‘modern’ homesteading, maybe I’m still in charge of the ingredients and the understanding of how they work and we only ever use it for regular slicing bread (and yes, it is still miles better than anything we’ve ever bought presliced, on the shelf, we can never go back) so that’s already been a regular staple. I make some of our dinner breads (ciabatta with tomato and olives, rustic boules, baguettes) but not as often as I should. Josh and D make pizza dough and biscuits almost every weekend and have now turned their attention to tortillas (flatbreads used for everything from scooping stew, to wrapping around roast chicken, to naan substitute, to quesadillas) and pasta (so far we’ve made tagliatelle – beet, turmeric, and spirulina for my mother for Solstice, farfalle, spaghetti, and rough cut egg soup noodles) – and we are never going back to shelf pasta. So fun, so good, so easy – and takes no longer than any other regular dinner we make. We make double batches so we eat some fresh and we dry some (we dried the tagliatelle on the pasta racks overnight, and the farfalle in the dehydrator – worked great) for nights we don’t have a lot of time. We finally began our own sourdough starter (in my defense, we’ve started a few times in the last 20 years but never consistently – we’re hoping this is the time!).

There are times when we (mostly me) go gluten free (it’s good for me, with the Lyme and what not to take a break from inflammatory foods) and I am adept at buckwheat flatbreads, almond flour (and parmesan) pizza dough, GF fruit crisp and pie crusts, even chickpea flour gravy but I resist the idea that there are ‘substitutes’ for good bread. I just ‘buck up’ and do without.

All I know is – it’s been fun and reinvigorating in the kitchen for the whole family to dig in and make more of our foods together. I’m dreaming we start making crackers and oatcakes, and more and more kinds of dreamy pasta.

2020 Vision: Beginnings

And so we begin. Well, we’ve already begun – just a few years behind us deciding how and what we were going to do but now is the down and dirty time of it all. Now that we are all home full-time, our homestead will have all the care and attention to blossom!

A dear soul we know gets what we are doing (which is rare in our world, though we hope to expand our circle to those who ‘get it’ or at least appreciate it and want to share in it) and wished us well on our journey with this poem – I think it sets us up nicely. Thank you.

Robert Bly: Clothespins

I’d like to have spent my life making
Clothespins. Nothing would be harmed,
Except some pines, probably on land
I owned and would replant. I’d see
My work on clotheslines near some lake,
Up north on a day in October,
Perhaps twelve clothespins, the wood
Still fresh, and a light wind blowing.