Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Berries.

berries

I’ve noticed a funny little trend with regard to my body and its food cravings: if I didn’t have a calendar to refer to, I could pinpoint late February/early March without fail, because every single year, this is the 2-week window in which I start craving berries like you wouldn’t believe. Blueberries and blackberries are the most-craved of the lot, but I certainly wouldn’t be averse to wild strawberries either. Why this ache happens like this every year, I have no idea, though it may have something to do with the fact that by now, I’m thoroughly sick of winter vegetables like cabbage, kale, and various roots, and am aching for something more luscious and lively.

Don’t get me wrong: I do love the acres of pickled cabbage and canned tomatoes that have sustained us over the colder months, but let’s just say that I have some solid plans for preserving significantly more fruit and such over the summer this year.

Our little village only has one real grocery store, and it takes full advantage of the dominion it holds by jacking up prices like crazypants. I managed to pick up a couple of small containers of blackberries and blueberries for only slightly less than the value of one of my kidneys, and the smoothie that ensued was the stuff of legends.

ingredients

I didn’t actually measure anything when I made this, but this is an approximation of what went into it:

  • A large handful of blueberries
  • A large handful of blackberries
  • Enough almond milk to cover them
  • A few tablespoons of coconut milk
  • A couple of tablespoons of fat-free blueberry yoghurt
  • Dash of cinnamon

My hand blender swirled and pureed all of this into a gorgeous purple concoction, which I shared with my husband because I adore him and he puts me to sleep every night by rubbing my hands and telling me stories about ducks. Yes, he’s that perfect, and has absolutely earned half of my super-smoothie any time.

smoothie

Considering how much I love berries, and how ridiculously expensive produce is at the supermarket nearby, I’ve been considering different ways to bulk up my berry stores for next winter. We’re fortunate enough to live near some farms where we can go to pick our own produce, but they also jack up prices for the many tourists and campers who spend summers up here. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find roadside stands where people sell some of the fruit they’ve picked, and the local organic farm is putting together a CSA box this year as well, but I’d really like to take full advantage of our land and plant some bushes.

Since we live in hardiness zone 4b and have a fairly short growing season, I think I’m going to aim for a few hardy varieties of blackberry, some Saskatoon berries, lingonberries (hey, if they can thrive in Norway, they’ll do well here), gooseberries, low-bush blueberries, honeyberries (haskap), and maybe some currants. Oh, I’ll have to plant some raspberries for Sir N as well. By planting all of these, with their staggered ripening times, we’ll be in berry paradise from early June straight through to late September.

Ohhh the smoothies there shall be…

Waldorf Doll, Take Two

Just a quick update: after making the mini-dolls, I decided to try my hand at a full-sized one. This little faun girl is a bit larger than I’m comfortable working with (she’s nearly 16″ tall!), so I’m going to aim for 12″ to 13″ from now on, but I had an absolute blast making her.

Continue Reading »

When it comes to creative pursuits, I’ve always preferred to work in three-dimensional media. Drawing and painting are fun and all, but as far as artistic skill and confidence are concerned, I’m never happier or more grounded than when I’m working with both hands, coaxing shapes out of clay, wax, wood, or stone.

I didn’t have much opportunity to sculpt after I left art school, as the cramped quarters I lived in didn’t really allow me space to fling supplies around. There was also the fact that I needed to work about sixty hours per week to make ends meet, which didn’t leave much time for creative endeavours. Drawing and writing were more portable pursuits, as I could fit a sketchbook or journal into my bag and park myself in a cafe to work, and over the years, visual art took a back seat to my writing work. Don’t get me wrong—I love to write, and I am beyond delighted that I can make a living by playing with words and coaxing stories from the ether and onto paper (or screen), but in the quiet, in-between hours, you’ll always find me making something with my hands.

My mother taught me how to crochet when I was five or six years old, and I started knitting a few years ago, so I’ve been playing with yarn and various hooked or pointy instruments for over thirty years now. I’ve found that I’m happiest when making things that are as utilitarian as they are beautiful, so items of clothing, blankets, embroidered pillowcases and the like make me smile because they’re useful and beautiful. What was it William Morris said? “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Right. Couldn’t agree more. In retrospect, that’s probably one of the main issues I had with art school: “prettiness” for its own sake doesn’t do anything for me; things I make need to serve a purpose beyond just being “pretty”.

doll-in-progress

In the vein of useful prettiness, I decided to venture into a realm that I’d never explored before: doll making. Many of my friends are new parents, and one of my dearest, closest soul-sisters recently gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Since she’s a crunchy granola mama and will be homeschooling her little one, I thought I’d make him something sweet and cute in the form of a Waldorf-style doll. These dolls embody everything that’s beautiful and wonderful about Waldorf education; a style that I’d have chosen if I’d had kids of my own. Gentleness, imaginative play, natural materials, and softness, all rolled into a soft, cuddly friend.

For this doll, I ransacked my closet for fabric bits and clothing items I’ll never wear again. A super-soft cotton/silk blend white tee shirt was dyed with tea and cabbage for the doll’s skin, and a snagged silk stocking became the tubing for the doll’s head. Wool roving that I’ve been spinning into yarn was appropriated for the stuffing, and bits of yarn left over from knit socks and hats became hair and a crocheted toque (or “beanie” for the American crowd). An organic cotton tunic was repurposed as yoga pants for the wee doll, and his sweater was created from a piece of cotton arctic fleece. All were sewn by hand, which is so much more fulfilling for me than just running something through a machine: every stitch is a meditation, and the tactile experience is so enjoyable.

I’m immensely fond of this little guy and can’t wait to start the next one.

doll-in-sweater

Midwinter Contemplations

Midwinter

The winter solstice was two weeks ago today: Yule, the shortest, darkest day of the year. The day in which the slumbering earth takes its deepest snooze and then cracks an eye open to acknowledge that light is returning, and spring is just a few months away; something we’re all immensely grateful for. That isn’t to say that we should just curl up and hibernate until spring’s tendrils peep up through the snow again—far from it. It’s at this time of year that many of us feel most attuned with spiritual matters, be that contemplating the various holidays celebrated this month, considering how many people are in need (whom we can help in various ways), or just meditating on our own shadows.

When the days are long and dark, it’s difficult to avoid facing the shadowy aspects of self and nature. Our ancestors would have spent many months preparing for winter, knowing full well that they could die from cold exposure, hunger, malnutrition, or illness during the dark half of the year. We’re fortunate that we have thermal blankets, electric heating, and a supermarket just a few minutes’ walk away, but they didn’t, and I honour them for their fortitude.

Fireside-knitting

It’s in this dark time of the year that I’m most inclined to hunker down and just block the world out for a while. Although I do venture outside into the snow for exercise and fresh air, I have to admit that on days when it’s -35C, all I’d really like to do is curl up by the fire and be quiet and domestic. Knitting, darning socks, mending clothes… all those little-yet-important tasks that get set aside for seemingly “more important” matters get tended to when gales howl and snow climbs halfway up to the windows. I actually treasure this time, as I’m given an opportunity to step away from my computer-based work to do the womanly tasks that I’ve always enjoyed, so. I even have a large basket of ironing to tackle soon and I’m downright gleeful about it. Maybe I’m channeling a bit of Frigga these days as I revel in all things home-related?

Is it silly that sometimes I envy those friends of mine who are full-time homemakers? Sometimes I’ll read blog posts by my LDS friends in which they talk about how they’ve spent their days baking, sewing, knitting, or tending their gardens, and as loath as I am to admit it, I actually feel a pang of envy. Starting up a new business requires a lot of work, and both graphic design and writing need time, creativity, and energy in order to yield results that we can be proud of, and that takes a lot of time away from domestic work.

Frigga

You know, it’s funny: when I worked in public relations and event management, I had the opportunity to travel and meet interesting people, and my merry little income allowed me to splurge on shoes, designer lattes, cute shoes, and vacations fairly regularly… but none of that was anywhere near as rewarding to me as the first time I canned tomatoes, or when I saw the first stalks of hand-planted amaranth rising up from my garden in glorious purple spears. I’d love to get to a point where I can spend more time on homemaking and less time plopped at my desk, typing feverishly. How hilarious is it that in this modern era, where most women are delighted to be able to earn a living on their own, I yearn to be a housewife? *chuckle*

(Yes, I’m feeling terribly contemplative right now and am determined to find a way to balance it all.)

My seed catalogues for 2014 have begun to arrive, and I’ve been dog-earing pages, circling items, and making notes about the different things I hope to plant in a few months’ time. Granted, we’ll have to clear a lot of bracken and amend the soil a fair bit to get things going to where we’d like them to be, but all will happen in good time, neh? These darker days make us impatient; leave us champing at the bit to do something, to engross ourselves in projects as we yearn for the light to return and growth to spring up from the soil once again… but all will come in good time. For now, we can plan, and draw, and bask in the beauty of hearth and home. I shall spin and knit, brew up some stunning soups, crack open a jar of summery preserves, and appreciate the wild beauty of this land, as well as the dear friends and family members whom I share it with.

Cranberry-chutney

There’s an itchy spot on my left hand, in the webbing between my index finger and my thumb, and I’m delighted that it’s there.

Okay, maybe “delighted” is going a bit too far, but even though it’s a bit irksome at times, the itch itself was caused by something rather wonderful: I made a holiday wreath this past weekend, and some prickly pine needles jabbed into that webbing and gave me a rash. This may not seem like anything that’s particularly unique or unusual—after all, people make holiday wreaths all the time, right?—but there’s something rather special about this particular wreath: I made it to hang on the front door of my own home.

My. Own. Home.

For someone who has been living in rented apartments for the better part of 17 years, this is really quite monumental. The wreath is made from evergreen boughs that I gathered from the woods behind our home, and the branches I didn’t use for the wreath were placed in a vase for a table centrepiece. I’ve drawn bits of beauty from my land and gathered them into my home, to decorate it in celebration of a holiday that never meant much to me before I met my in-laws, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

6:47 AM.

Dawn rose a little over an hour ago, and I’ve been out of bed for around 45 minutes. The birds woke me from my dream-journeys—or rather, Ava the dove woke me with the eager early morning coo-cooing that she does, as though she’s delighted to discover that another day has dawned—followed by the sparrows, who flew over me in the half-light, requesting kisses and snuzzles before curling up in my palms to doze a little while longer. I lay on my back for a little while with a little brown bird in each hand and a smiling white dove on my chest before giving them all some millet and leaving them to their own devices.

Ava

Miss Ava.

It’s a cooler day today, and the weather outside is just chill enough to require a bit of bundling up if one is going to sit outside for a bit (which I’m fond of doing in the early hours). Wrapped in a hoodie and soft blanket, with a steaming mug of lemony tea, I perched myself on the back balcony to watch the world wake. There’s a mated pair of red-tailed hawks that dwell in a large tree just across the river, and to watch them waltz in midair is truly a sight to behold. Thick, wide wings catch the breeze as they circle and swoop, returning time and again to their aerie. Their dance seems to be reflected in the leaves of our quaking aspens, shimmering silver-green as they flutter and tremble with even the slightest breeze. By contrast, the river nearby seems to be nearly lethargic, swollen as it is from recent rains; it’s meandering lazily, seemingly oblivious to the creatures that bounce and sway around it.

Sitting here, watching all of this unfold around me, I am filled with a sense of gratitude more immense than I could ever put into words. We live in paradise.

Let me place a bit more emphasis on that:

We. Live. In. Paradise.

Petite Nation

Granted, some people might consider a true Eden to be a place where the weather is always warm, and the landscape is lush with fragrant blooms, but our little patch of boreal forest is absolutely perfect for us. Tucked away in the woods as we are, we have the opportunity to watch wildlife in its natural habitat, like the flock of 40+ turkey vultures that floated in the pre-storm high winds last night, or the plump little porcupine that ambled its way along the road a week or so ago. In addition to the fauna that’s so abundant here, there’s also a wealth of flora to celebrate in. Being out here has allowed me to rekindle my love affair with trees, and I’m reveling in every second of it.

“The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.”

–  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having been a rather solitary, strange child (who subsequently grew into the solitary, strange woman penning these words), my companions were the trees around the many places I lieved, and the animals I befriended in and around them. Instead of watching TV or going to the pool in summertime, I’d pack a little bag with snacks and drinks and haul books up into a tree, where I’d spend as much as possible until I was called down. On rainy days, I pored over encyclopedias and “fact” books, learning all I could about the magnificent beings that towered overheard, creating such a glorious canopy. Being out here in the wild presents a new opportunity to immerse myself in all things arboreal. There are species here that I’m just getting to know, and others that I’m still trying to identify, and I’m also doing a fair bit of research on the trees I’d like to introduce here—I need to make sure they can be added safely, without any negative repercussions to the natural balance.

White oak—a rare and endangered species—is a safe bet, and we can benefit from its sweet, edible acorns once it start to produce in the future. I’m looking into hybrid hazelnut shrubs that are hardy for our zone, and I’d love to get some nut-bearing pine trees on the property as well. Beeches are already around so we might add a few more (mmm… beech nuts), but since neither of us are terribly fond of fruit, we’ll skip the fruit-bearing trees and aim for berries instead. There are so many indigenous varieties that would work well on our land, from luscious raspberries and blackberries to gooseberries, currants, and Saskatoon berries.

Berries and perennial veggies are dreams for another day, though. Today, it’s all about listening to the trees and learning their songs.

Trees and Light

Sprouts, Despite the Snow

Baby sunflowers

Baby sunflowers!

We’re now halfway through April here in the wild weld, and although I spent a lazy afternoon sprawled upon a sunny beach last week, we were gifted with another solid snowfall just a few days ago. Fortunately it’s not going to last—it’s quite balmy outside and the sun has already melted a fair bit of snow—but I’ve been a bit anxious about whether I’ll be able to plant my vegetables and herbs by the end of May.

Of the 80+ varieties of plant seeds I have at hand, I’ve only started a handful: I wanted to see how quickly they’d sprout, and whether some of them were even still viable. I’d forgotten about a couple of heirloom tomato seed packs I’ve had for a while, so I planted those to see if anything would grow. Thus far, two tiny sprouts have appeared, so that seems promising.

Lettuces

“Luscious Lettuce” seed mix from Urban Harvest, sprouting

The “Luscious Lettuce” mix I planted went absolutely crazy and sprouted within 48 hours: I’ll be dividing those plants between family members for their gardens, as I don’t think I’ll be able to deal with over 100 lettuce plants in my own. That mix, according to the Urban Harvest website: “…contains 10 varieties of green, red, frilly, oak leaf and speckled lettuces for the true lettuce lover.” Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? I have some black-seeded Simpson lettuce and wild arugula sprouts beginning to pop up as well.

The sunflower seeds I planted sprouted within 48 hours as well, as did the “Feed the Birds” mix, which has quinoa, wheat, barley, and millet in it. We’ll plant those around the perimeter of the grounds and allow the plants to go to seed so the birds can peck at them, and I’ll be planting cornflower and borage around the vegetable garden to attract bees and butterflies. Hooray for pollinators!

Spinach and beans

Tiny spinach sprouts and unfurling climbing beans

It’s important to keep detailed notes about the plants in your garden, whether you grow your own from seed, buy seedlings from a farmer’s market or garden centre, or even if you trade plants with other people. Take note of the date you planted your seeds, the type of soil you started them in, when they sprouted, how many were viable, etc. If you’re working with seedlings, measure them at the time of planting and then note their growth and yield throughout the season (first flowers, first fruits, first harvest, quality of yield, etc.) This information is invaluable for informing future purchases, as you’ll probably want to stick to plants that have grown well in your garden.

Wheat, barley, quinoa, and millet

Wheat, barley, millet, and quinoa sprouts

I have seeds for tomatoes that are great in salads, others for paste, some for canning, and some for juice. One of my cucumber varieties is ideal for pickling, and of the many bean varieties I have, some will be used solely as fresh haricots verts, while others will be allowed to ripen and dry on the vine for soups and such. Keeping notes will allow me to not only determine my favourite varieties, but also to recall the placement of each plant in the garden: it’s important to rotate your plants so they can draw maximum nutrition from the soil, but just as some species can’t be planted next to one another without one of them dying off, they also can’t be planted in the same soil one year after the next. For example, you can’t plant beans in a bed that held garlic or onions the previous year, and you’ll run into problems if you plant carrots in the space where you had dill growing the year before. Be as aware of the “bad neighbour” plants as the best companion plants, and you should be fine.

Parsley

Parsley, basil, and oregano

Looking at the wee sprouts growing in the egg cartons around the house, it’s difficult to believe that they’ll be large, lush plants in just a few months, but I am eager to watch them grow, and to celebrate the life-giving nourishment they’ll provide for my family. In the meantime, I’ll sneak the occasional sunflower or arugula spout as a snack: I can always pop a new seed or two into the soil to make up for it, right?

Lemon trees

Baby lemon trees

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers