Category Archives: Inspiration

Glimmers of spring

This weekend, it got up to 70 degrees here.  I know, that’s evil of me to say when half the country is still buried under epic amounts of snow, but it really was like waking up from a long nap and being greeted with a warm cup of tea and a copy of The New Yorker (okay, maybe that metaphor was a bit me-specific).

And so, while it’s back to the realm of the freezing, I’m staring at the daffodils poking their heads out in search of longer days and commiserating.

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I’m attending TedxManhattan

On February 12th, TedxManhattan is hosting a conference entitled “Changing the Way We Eat” and just got accepted as an attendee.

Besides a great excuse to head up to New York, I’ll get to hear some awesome speakers on the sustainable food front and hopefully network with some other farmers and restaurant owners trying to do the same thing.  I’m very excited.

This sounds like the perfect pre-planting motivator!

And now for the 2011 resolutions…

The 2011 outline is more of a plan of what we need to do vs. a list of what things we want to be better about or what skills we want to learn.  The following is a more personal, more optimistic look at what I’d like to do better in the coming year.

1. Cut back on waste: An article on a local gal who managed to cut her garbage down to only 2 bags in two years has me inspired.  To start, I need to end my dependence on ziplock bags and cellophane, and start using all those travel coffee mugs I own when I go to a local coffee shop instead of opting for the paper cups.  And no more plastic utensils.

2. Buy less stuff: It seems like every time I try to solve a problem, I end up buying something off the internet (to create less waste, I bought reusable fabric sandwich bags for Alston).  I don’t need to own every single book on farming they sell through Amazon, I could actually go to the library and then only buy the ones I really love.  I own enough clothing.  There, I said it.  Okay, so maybe a pair of work boots, running shoes and Birkenstocks are in my future (Scout having eaten the latter two), but then I really need to stop.

3. Pack lunch 3 days a week: If things go even moderately close to plan, we’ll have an abundance of food this year, so I have no excuse to eat out for lunch every day.

4. No meat of unknown origin: I’m never going to be a vegetarian, but the more I learn about meat production, the more I can’t bring myself to eat conventionally raised chicken, pork or beef.  So my new rule for 2011 is that if I don’t know how the animal was raised, I’m ordering a salad (the one exception being when I’m a guest in someone’s home – etiquette trumps self-righteous food rules every time).  This may turn out to be my accidental diet (until we slaughter our first pig and I’m awash in bacon).  We already do this in terms of grocery shopping, and I abide by Only Buy Organic, Grass-fed Dairy but I allow myself to eat cheese of unknown origin while out at restaurants.  Let’s see how the meat thing goes before I stumble into vegan-dom.

5. Bake bread once a week: Pre-Alston, I used to bake bread every week, and I need to get back on that train.  It’s just so easy and so much tastier.

6. Master soufflé: I’m going to have a lot of eggs in my life, so I may as well learn how to show them off.

7. Hike once a week: At first I went to type “Hike more” but that would imply I did any hiking at all in 2010.  There are some lovely woods around the house, so at least once a week we should shove the toddler in the back pack carrier and take a walk in the woods.

8. Dry our own beans: Because it would be awesome.  And delicious.  Also, this one involves self-restraint, as it means I can’t eat all the beans fresh.  Have I mentioned how much I love beans?  Hopefully I’ll make hoppin’ john on Jan. 1, 2012 with my own black-eyed peas.

9. Learn to pressure can: Yes, this will necessitate a purchase, but I do have a June birthday [insert giant husband hint here].  We lost way too much freeze space to tomato sauce this year.

10. Make next year’s Christmas gifts: Jam and pickles for everyone!

11. Read more books: Just because it’s on Netflix on Demand doesn’t mean I need to watch it, no matter how tired I am.  I think 1 book a month is more than doable.  Sounds like I should get a library card.

12. Make our own cleaning products: Enough paying an arm and a leg for Mrs. Meyers when I just need distilled vinegar and lemon juice most of the time.

That’s one a month (can you tell I’ve been reading The Happiness Project?).  How ’bout you, other than the usual Save Money and Lose Weight.  My favorite from years past was do at least one cultural thing a month (museum, concert, art opening) – we only made it to April but it was a very enjoyable resolution.  Ah, my “city life” resolutions (go to yoga 4 days a week, walk for all my groceries) and how I kinda miss them.

What didn’t make the resolution list

The long term goal is to be as self sufficient as possible.  However, I know myself well enough to admit that there are certain creature comforts I’m not going to give up, regardless of how at odds they are with my desired lifestyle.  I spend so much time talking about what we are doing or what we plan to do on the farm, it’s only fair I admit to what we’ll probably never do.

Fruits and Veggies I can’t grow: I can’t help it, orange juice is my coffee.  And a fruit smoothie isn’t the same without bananas.  And my child loves pineapple.  I will never grow any of these things in Virginia, but I’m not willing to give them up either. What I am willing to do is only eat strawberries in June (and raid my freezer and jam shelf the rest of the year), and likewise eat seasonally all the other fruits and veggies we can grow here.

Exotic food stuffs: Will is an insufferable human being if he hasn’t had a full pot of french roast by 10 AM.  I’m a tea drinker myself.  Will’s a vanilla guy and I’m all about chocolate.  Add to this an assortment of nuts and spices and we’re back out of the realm of the locavore.  Sure I can grow my own chamomile, and forage for black walnuts, but there is no way I’m roasting barley and pretending it tastes anything like coffee.

Baking soda and powder: Nothing at all natural about either, but they are just too convenient to give up.  Sure, someday I’ll try and use natural yeast as a bread starter, but I won’t be adulterating my muffins, brownies or cookies any time soon.

The internet: I can’t quit you.

Skin care products: I use local bar soap and endeavor to make my own cleaning products out of vinegar (not that I made the vinegar, but baby steps), but I’m still a touch vain and after an adolescence riddled with pimples, you’ll have to pry my face wash from my cold dead hands.

Disposable diapers: When Alston was a baby, we used cloth diapers through a service, but once he started walking we’ve been all about the Seventh Generation disposables and wipes.  And it really is so much easier.  I’d like to think that I’ll go back to cloth when we someday have the next one, but now that we live too far away for the service, the prospect of using my own washer kinda grosses me out.

L.L. Bean and J. Crew: I hope to learn to knit, but I’m never going to make my own clothing.  In fact, I’d jump for joy if I could even sew my own curtains, so it’s a safe bet I’ll never make a pair of shoes.  We try to avoid buying things made in China, and go for made in the USA whenever possible (hurray for Carhartt, Etsy and American Apparel, not to mention All-Clad), but I don’t refuse to buy Alston a copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon if I can’t tell where the book was printed (and I admit to my occasional lapse of will power, like my Hunter boots).  Although I must say, avoiding Made in China is the best retail diet you can go on – it’s saved me hundreds of dollars of impulse shopping.

Wine, Beer and Booze: Virginia may be an up and coming wine region, but when it comes to wine we break our Buy American rule and head straight for France and Italy.  It is our indulgence and as wine is what brought Will to food which is what brought us to farming, I can live with the hypocrisy, assuming my glass remains full of Bordeaux.  As for beer, I’m sure we’ll home brew, but there are so many great microbreweries out there I can’t imagine us depending exclusively on our own stock.  Booze, well, I just don’t see how life in the country would be possible without bourbon, or at least I don’t want to.

Paper convenience items: We always use cloth napkins and real plates and cups (even opting for rentals for parties instead of disposables).  However, when it comes to items of hygiene, I’m not even willing to switch to handkerchiefs instead of Puffs with Lotion, so you won’t be surprised when I say using recycled toilet paper is the only concession I’m willing to make on that front.  We have dialed down our use of paper towels, but I don’t know if we’ll ever eliminate them completely.

What about you, when thinking about going more green or being more self sufficient, are you sneaking a Snickers bar into BioSphere2?

Happy Fall

Sure, it’s been raining all day, but I wanted to celebrate the coming of October with a sunnier image.


Welcome to the season of apple cider, colorful foliage, crisp mornings, sweaters but not yet coats, the end of the reign of mosquitoes, harvest festivals, pumpkin in everything from baked goods to beer, a sudden desire to go hiking…

We’ve been waiting for you.

a busted foot and a pimento cheese sandwich

In my infinite grace, I managed to destroy my foot yesterday while playing peek-a-boo with Alston.  As I was heading towards the hallway, I looked back to see if he was following me and BAM, I ran full force into the edge of the doorway, foot first.  What I thought was merely a toe-stubbing of epic proportions morphed into a big, swollen purple lump where my toe knuckles used to be, so I’ve been limping ever since.  It could be worse, I could have actually broken something (not that I’ve actually had it looked at or anything).

Still, it puts a serious cramp in the weekend plans for yard work, let alone chasing a toddler.

So now I’m sitting at the computer, eating a pimento cheese sandwich, thinking about how cool it will be to grow one from scratch.  I’ve made pimento cheese before, baked bread, whipped up mayo and grown tomatoes and onions, but I’ve never made cheese.  Or milked a cow.  Or grown wheat.  Or harvested natural yeast for a bread starter.  And while I know I am never going to press my own oil or mine my own salt, it’s still a fun goal.  To grow a pimento cheese sandwich.

it started with a book

I suppose, when you are a geek at heart, that’s how most things start.

I bought Wilson The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It.  We’d been talking, that casual way that married people who are still renters talk, about Buying a House, which became Moving to the Country.  And so I bought the book, because it was funny, we being two people who lived “downtown” and walked to work, who had a 30′ x 40′ backyard and a 10′ x 10′ garden that we never got going early enough to plant spinach or peas.  We who owned the world’s neediest beagle and had no actually life experience with chickens prior to their having been killed and plucked most conveniently by someone other than us.  You get the idea.

But we both loved food.  I guess that’s where it really started, but as this is a blog and not a book, I’ll skip the prologue and suffice it to say that our lives revolve around food.  Where it’s sourced, how it’s prepared and of course, the quest to consume the perfect meal.  As much as we both hate the term, we are foodies of the Slow Foods variety.  And what better way to be involved in real food than to grow it yourself.  Raise your own meat.  Dry your own beans.  Can your own tomatoes.

But back to the book.  Within the first chapter, John Seymour lays out what you can accomplish in any space; the city plot, the backyard garden, the one acre farm.  And then there was the five acre farm, complete with chickens, ducks, a small orchard, plenty of vegetable plots, grain fields and even a cow.  A cow!

That was it.  We were in.  And so the search began for the farm, which I quickly learned would be more of a farmette (living in the middle of horse country makes it difficult to find land over five acres without such million dollar amenities as a riding ring).  But we found it.  And we bought.  And now we have to figure out what to do with it.

And so the real adventure begins, which I hope to chronicle here.