Why I Say No

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Susanna and Belén with their cousins, preparing for their garlic/book/jewellery/cookie/hot chocolate sale.

Isn’t it lovely to look at your children play on the other side of a triple-pane window? You can watch them, imagining nothing but delightful sounds, until you think you might burst with pride and contentment. It’s the kind of thing that brings on nostalgia even in the present moment. See over there? That’s Matteus dropping marshmallows into his sixth cup of hot chocolate and there’s Bella the Business Woman hunched over the cash box. Susanna is bowing her 49th rendition of Maple Sugar in hopes of attracting more customers while Belén runs toward the street with a hand-painted sign hoisted overhead. From my vantage point inside the house it appears to be the quintessential childhood sale. Well, maybe, except for the table of garlic selling out at two bucks a head. It’s all very sweet, observing this memory in the making. And then–you know where this is going don’t you?–the door opens and the spell is broken.

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Garlic harvest (I grow a hard-neck variety called “Music”)

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In the next moment everything changes. The girls report the hot chocolate is getting cold. Vivi wakes up and I run back to her room while a second batch of hot chocolate boils over on the stove. By the time I get back it looks like a volcano has erupted and chocolate lava is flowing from the stove-top halfway across my kitchen. Just then Eli, the two-year-old, walks right into the warm puddles and suddenly vomits. My sister swabs the floor like a sailor, swishing around white curds with her chocolate-stained towel, and suddenly I remember Susanna’s skype lesson. “Tune up! Tune Up!” I yell, while trying to get her inside. The lesson starts at four, so we have a few minutes to set the computer up; I stumble over USB cords and a mike, Tara gathers up the the load of soggy towels, Vivi starts crying and wants to nurse, Susanna is ripping through a fiddle tune twice as fast as normal–nailing every other note, more customers arrive on our front lawn, and then the Skype call comes through.

“How are you guys today?” asks Susanna’s teacher on the monitor.

“We’re… um… okay,” I say because I’m not sure where to start. She’d only get confused If I tell her how much better everything was when it was on the other side of the window.

That night, once the profit is tallied (they made over $100 to send to our Haitian sponsor child) the four cousins reminisce about their successful day. But not for long. Susanna has a question for me.

“Mom?” she asks. “Can we have a baking day tomorrow?” She’s already got posters for the next bake sale ready. (She makes at least two or three a week–an act of extreme optimism–in case her mother should ever acquiesce.)

The answer is No. No. And No. Because even though affirmation is politically correct, and heart-warming blogs encourge us to be willing, to be open, to say yes, to consider opportunity, to go for it, to risk, to embrace life, sometimes a no is okay.

Once everyone is tucked in bed and I get under the covers fatigue settles in. I think about the sale and how it was one big yes out of the thousand nos I give daily; it was creative, it was productive, it was fun, and I’m glad it happened. It also reminded me precisely why I say no the rest of the time.

Tricia

Ps. Susanna got her surprise party after all! I told her we would be traveling the 2 hours to Grandma’s to help her clean her house. You know, scrub walls and wash floors. Instead, when Susie opened the door she was greeted by cousins (some from 750 miles away!), friends, and even Mary, her birthday twin.

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Susanna and Mary (daughter of my dearest Bonnie) were born hours apart. Even though we live far from each other they’ve shared several birthdays, but this one must be the most special.

 

 

Power-trip cure, ferments, and chive blossom vinegar

Know anyone who’s on a power trip? Someone who needs to be taken down a notch?

There’s a remedy for the power-hungry and those with an inflated ego. It’s called subbing in a grade nine classroom. I am convinced even CEOs of multi-million dollar companies would tremble before a class of belligerent 15-year-olds, given the opportunity. I like to think my people skills are up to snuff, but last week they were put to the test. After spending an afternoon with hormonal, hyperactive young men and woman my perspective on life, and who I was, warped. Think of plastic in hot oven.

Later, a friend called to confirm the details of a fermentation workshop I was leading at her permaculture institute. She reassured me about the presentation and told me not to get too nervous. “I’m not worried,” I told her, my recent teaching experience fresh in my mind. “Talking to a room full of adults keen on cultivating bacteria sounds dreamy…”

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Kefir, flavoured with orange juice concentrate, ready to be bottled for its second ferment.

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Susanna, and her friend Kirsi, enjoying some “orange crush” kefir. My kids are very skeptical when I promise something will “taste good”. This time they agreed with me and were asking for more.

Besides sharing some homemade kefir at the workshop, I talked about fermenting salsa. Remember the stuff I made over two months ago? It had so much garlic and cilantro, I wasn’t sure it would ever be edible. Now it’s mellowed considerably and I wouldn’t think of composting it. (Something I had considered with all thirteen jars.)

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Mellowed salsa… this one took a lot longer to ferment than other batches (because of the garlic/cilantro), but you can see the air pockets indicating carbon dioxide–a by product of lactobacillus bacteria.

Long Keeper tomatoes: these were harvested last summer and kept perfectly in my neighbours basement until now.

Long Keeper tomatoes: these were harvested last summer and kept perfectly in my neighbour’s basement until now.

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Fresh tomatoes (Longkeepers and store-bought) with 1/2 cup of fermented salsa–a gateway food to the world of ferments.

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Make-shift salsa tasting station

And lastly, because some of you will soon be able to harvest chive blossoms, here’s a picture of some vinegar I infused last year. It’s easy to make–just throw blossoms in white vinegar (I add a few sprigs of thyme) and wait until the vinegar turns a brilliant pink. I infuse my vinegars for about 2-4 weeks. Strain, cap, keep, and share!

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I took this pic last summer: chive blossoms infusing in vinegar on the left (with a jar of olive oil behind them); finished blossom vinegar on the right. You can leave a few blossoms in for aesthetics–but the vinegar will last longer if you strain them.

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Our first local salad (from a greenhouse) of the season, with chive blossom vinegar, olive oil and salt. I don’t even bother mixing up the dressing before hand, it just dirties another dish.

Have a springy week!

Saluting all substitute teachers, everywhere,

Tricia

PS. I didn’t tell the whole subbing story. After I came home from school I talked with mom, and my mother-in-law. Both of them said they would pray for me the next day. I was grateful for their concern but not terribly confident anything would change. The next day, the class that had given me so much trouble previously was practically comatose. I was so so confused/amazed/thankful I actually asked the principal (I had to find out who he was first) if he had talked to the students about their behaviour. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. End of story. 🙂

Fermented Salsa

I named this blog experimentingaswegrow for good reason.

My first trial jar of fermented salsa, with the accompanying mess in the back ground.

My first trial jar of fermented salsa, with accompanying mess in the background.

When I told Stan I was planning to make fermented salsa with last season’s tomato crop (waiting patiently in my neighbour’s basement freezer) he raised his eyebrows. “What’s wrong with good ol’ fashioned canned salsa?” he asked. It’s a fair question, but my answer has more to do with why I’m interested in the fermented variety:

  • Fermenting preserves food with less energy and labour than canning, or refrigeration
  • Fermented food is alive; canned food is boiled to death. When healthy bacteria is allowed to grow it produces lactic acid–a natural preservative that improves digestibility and vitamin absorption. Almost every traditional culture around the globe incorporates fermented food into their diet (kimchi, chicha, sauerkraut,etc.)
  • Fermented salsa tastes like fresh salsa

The fourth bullet point, which deserves its own paragraph, is creativity. I find it outright impossible to follow a recipe. I’ve made an earnest effort to heed exact measurements and ingredients on numerous occasions, but I always end up slipping in an extra teaspoon of spice, a little more butter, a little less sugar…  Despite inconsistent results and longer prep times (tasting, adding, re-tasting, and adjusting, takes way more time than simply following instructions) I am hopelessly incurable. I call it Recipe Defiance Disorder.

In that sense, fermented salsa is right up my alley; it doesn’t require exact measurements (unlike canning). You simply make up a fresh salsa, throw it into jars, let it ferment, and then store in a cool spot. It sounds so simple, it’s hard to believe I spent hours reading books and researching online until I was confident enough to give it a try.

There are many different recipes online so I won’t add more to the cloud, except for outlining the basics:

  1. Chop up fresh salsa ingredients (I used frozen tomatoes. They are easy to peel if left in a bowl of hot water for a few moments)
  2. Add salt – the salt keeps unwanted bacteria from proliferating before the lactobacilli culture kicks in.
  3. Add whey – You can make your own whey by straining some natural, full-fat yogurt.
  4. Pour salsa into clean jars and let it sit at room temp. for a few days. Store salsa in a cool place.

Here are some pictures from the process:

Yogurt draining to make cheese and whey

Yogurt draining to make cheese and whey

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Yogurt cheese–what’s left of the yogurt after the whey drains.

The yogurt cheese (top right) put to good use!

The yogurt cheese (top right) put to good use!

Raw ingredients from first batch of salsa

Raw ingredients from first batch of salsa

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I put way more cilantro, garlic, and jalapenos in my second batch. The flavour is intense now, but I am hoping it mellows with the fermentation.

Freshly made salsa, ready to ferment.

Freshly made salsa, on third day of ferment. I will let them sit on my counter for a day or two more until I can taste a bit of a tang and see more bubbles coming to the surface. Then I will transfer the jars to cold storage.

… I wondered (for a moment) if I should wait to post this until I open a perfectly aged jar of salsa… but I’m too impatient. Ahh, so much for writing with the voice of authority. Check back in two months for an update!

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Speaking of updates, if any of you are lying awake at night wondering how my cowl turned out, you can now rest peacefully:

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Are others of you preoccupied with Susanna’s herbal ear oil and lymphatic massage? We continue to faithfully administer both to her, every night. Her hearing still isn’t perfect, but she has not suffered another ear infection (it must be the garlic and oregano!) and her ears are finally starting to pop, indicating movement and drainage (it must be the calendula and massage!)

Experimentally yours,

Tricia

Natural ear care: homemade herbal oil drops and massage

Susanna can barely hear; I can barely talk.  If I get right up close, and talk into her ear with my gravelly voice I can usually get the message across, but the situation is frustrating–and worrisome. My voice will be back within a few days, but her hearing may not.

Last week I went to an ENT specialist who told me her second set of ear tubes had come out, leaving fluid trapped in her inner ear. Instead of making an appointment for another surgery to insert a third set of tubes (and increase the risk of scarring), he suggested we wait for three months to see if her situation will improve.

“Right now we are coming to the end of the worst season for ear infections,” he said. “Let’s see if she can stay infection-free for the next three months and then we will re-assess our options.”

I gripped the wheel the whole drive home, my mind spinning through ideas to keep my little girl healthy. I knew the fluid in her ear not only causes hearing loss, but also provides the perfect medium for another infection to grow.

By the end of our two-hour trip home I decided I was going to make some natural ear drops. I called the ENT’s office to run my idea by the nurse and she told me I could try it, but that it certainly wouldn’t accomplish anything.  I thanked her kindly, hung up, and set work.

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Natural Ear drops for Susanna

  • 3 tablespoons of minced garlic (an anti-bacterial agent commonly used in ear remedies )
  • handful of dried oregano (also anti-bacterial)
  • handful of dried calendula (to stimulate the lymph system)
  • olive oil

I poured olive oil over the ingredients until they were just covered; set the pot in a bigger pot with water; and gently heated it on the stove for about an hour (or two?).  Then I turned off the stove and let everything infuse for the next 12 hours at room temperature.  After straining the botanicals through a fine cloth, I poured the pungent oil into bottles and labeled them.

Garlic/calendula/oregano ear drops

Garlic/calendula/oregano ear drops

After we administer 2 or 3 drops of this oil, we also give her a lymphatic massage to encourage fluid drainage.  I admit, it does feel a little hokey, but almost every time we do it she reports shortly after: “I can feel tickling, like it’s moving inside.”  Let’s hope so!

The following video instructs how to do this kind of massage and gives more background information.

And, for those of you who could care less about any kind of herbal remedy, and are only here to see a picture, or read a story about your grandkids, this is for you.

Last Thursday, 9:30am:

Susanna’s sitting on the couch with a handful of gold fish crackers–her breakfast–and looks at me as if she suddenly thought of something important.

“Hey, Are we supposed to be at school?”

“Yep.  It’s a school day.”

“Well, why aren’t we going?”

The flu.  That’s why.  Our family of four was hit with it at the same time and though the girls are feeling better now, and probably could go to school, I don’t have the energy to get them ready.  On a good day, it’s a formidable task; requiring enough cajoling, nagging and hassling to move a small mountain.  Today I couldn’t do it. So instead we did this. (See agenda below).

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Originally, Susanna had written “WE DID IT” at the bottom of her list, as if simply surviving was a great success.  Sometimes it does feel like that, doesn’t it?

Wishing you, and yours, sharp ears …and if you  must be sick, a cozy day like this one.

Tricia

ps. #9 refers to the “Grandma’s attic” series by Arleta Richardson–another set of books we are enjoying right now.

Hope

I gathered more than enough parsnip seeds from my garden this year, so I liberally sprinkled them on the frozen ground.

Belén: I want to throw the seeds everywhere and have a really wild garden–flowers and peas and carrots and lettuce and parsnips all mixed up…
And she did just that.

Lettuce and parnsip tops gone to seed, stuffed in a pail, and stored for a day such as this one. (‘Not sure why the squash racquet came along for the ride.)

Garlic: the only thing I planted this fall that I had to muscle into our cement hard garden soil. The rest of the seeds are lying on top of the soil, waiting for it to heave with the freezing cold, and then soften with the snow melt and spring rains. At some point after this process I’m hoping they’ll find themselves in the right spot to germinate.

The snow falls down around us as we jam our our numb fingers into the seed packets.  After twenty minutes of scattering seeds we’ve planted a good chunk of our garden.  And our hands haven’t touched the soil.

Is this hope, or what?  Perhaps, it’s just laziness.  Maybe someone will leave a comment saying that fall planting is an effective gardening practice and that they’ve done it successfully for years.  I have read snippets on the internet about gardeners in our climactic zone who plant lettuce after the ground freezes so I decided to try our luck with a few more vegetables (snow peas, carrots, parsnips, echinacea, ground cherries).

We mostly planted seeds harvested from our own garden; ones we have plenty of, so I didn’t feel wasteful powdering the soil with them.

Check back after the spring thaw to see if it worked!

Update:

Veggies that worked perfectly–lettuce, garlic, parsnips, herbs

Veggies that kind of worked–carrots, snow peas

Veggies that got lost or didn’t germinate–ground cherries, echinacea

Pickled garlic, trampolines and chicken coops

Remember the pickled garlic we made and wondered what we’d do with?  Here it is slivered up on my breakfast wrap.  Both Stan and I were pleasantly surprised by its debut onto our table.  The crunchy bursts of flavour were just about right–they didn’t burn down the throat but carried enough of a punch to make it worthwhile.  I ate two cloves this morning with my wraps and washed it all down with a cup of hot mint tea.  I’m feeling confident the tea will help with my breath.  If it doesn’t, don’t tell me.  Ignorance is bliss… and it means more pickled garlic another morning!

Conclusion from the pickled garlic experiment:  It’s so easy, and tasty, it would be silly not to recommend it.  The only caveat is having enough fridge space to store a few jars.

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Last weekend we gave Susanna an early birthday present: a trampoline.  (I’ll spare you the pre-purchase dialogue between Stan and me.)  In any case, she was delighted with her gift and kept gushing about how our backyard is like an amusement park.

“We’ve got got so much to do now.  There’s the trampoline… and the chicken coop!”  A few minutes later she said it again, tacking the chicken coop right next to the trampoline.

No offense, C and S!

This is a perfect example of the lovely, and possibly vexing (particularly if you’ve invested money), way children’s minds work.  The chicken coop was on its way to the dump when we said we would give it a home, in hopes our town’s bylaws will change in the near future.  It is nothing more than a few crude boards and chicken wire sitting on a patch of grass that gets mowed very infrequently.  And yet, it apparently rivals a brand new trampoline for play-appeal.  Oh, and I almost forgot the box the trampoline came in…

Why our house reeks: freezing and pickling garlic

Look at this picture.  Does it send chills up your spine?  It did mine.  All of my precious garlic that I had seeded a year earlier, tended, weeded and carefully harvested, looked like this, last week.  Eighty (I saved four) moldy garlic cloves is almost enough to drive me to despair.  Almost.  I found this web site, with lots of good information on storing garlic and even it’s chemical make-up, and we went to town.  The winds must have been blowing just the right direction that day, because the girls bought into the idea that peeling garlic in an assembly line could be fun.

I was so proud of my monster cloves.

There’s absolutely nothing like gardening to take you down a notch!  Now I know that you need to let your garlic cure long enough so that when you cut the dried tops and root hairs off, your fingers don’t smell of garlic.  Let’s just say I’m going to be fanatical about the curing part next year.  (I must have had beginner’s luck in previous years.)

We peeled and processed garlic for a number of hours; all the while our furniture, walls, and clothes were soaking up the fumes.  A day later I left the house, returned and opened the door then staggered back.  It was like walking into the mouth of someone who eats pesto for a month without brushing their teeth.

We threw most of it into the food processor, with some olive oil, to freeze for later use.

If you try this, make sure to score it with a knife before putting it into the freezer.

So, what started out as a catastrophe, turned out not too badly.  This winter I will be thankful for the little cubes, when all I have to do is open a ziploc bag for my requisite garlic.  And, this morning I may have just secured a trade with my friend Shanon.  She’ll give me some fresh bulbs for some frozen minced garlic.  There’s something special about this time of year, where people exchange and share garden produce like a busy day on Wall Street.

I also tried pickling a few jars.  Now that’s my kind of processing!  I filled the jars with cloves, covered with red wine vinegar, and put them in the fridge.  They’ll be ready in 2 weeks–and last up to a year in the fridge.

pickled garlic

While we furiously stuff the jars, Stan asks, “How exactly are we going to eat these?”

I assure him confidently, “Oh, on everything!”

And now I’m wondering, is that true?  How do you eat pickled garlic?

*Important info:  after all of this happened I talked to a local garlic guru.  She told me if I had just set the bulbs out in the sun, and peeled back the black, fuzzy, layer, they would have been fine…

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This past Sunday we decided to take our canoe out for one more paddle.  We went to a lake we had never been on before, hoping to scout it out for a backcountry trip next summer.  The night before we left, we printed off a vague map of the area, from Google, and planned to do some bush whacking to see if we might be able to portage to a few smaller, more remote lakes.  Half-way through the day we docked on the shore of the big lake that we started out on.

We docked here for a break.

Stan and Belén went on a little hike and graciously left Susanna and me with the bear spray (and Susanna’s lungs).  Both she and I were feeling sleepy so we cleared a spot of the underbrush and made a little bed for ourselves in the spruce needles and moss.  It was one of those rare times when you are with one of your children and you are really there–not thinking about what task you need to do next, or replaying a past conversation.  (As I said, a rare time.)  We were flat on our backs, lying on the ground, when Susanna said, “It’s like we’re at a resort.”

“What do you mean by resort?” I asked her, looking at her dirty face, the reeds that almost hid the lake from view, and the decomposing logs strewn around us.

“Like in Mexico, you know, a resort.”

“Mmm…”  I wasn’t quite sure what part of our scenario reminded her of the five-star, all-inclusive property we had stayed at in the Mayan Riviera (to attend my brother’s wedding).  There was no one serving cocktails here, in fact, there was no sign of any humans at all.

We were looking up at this…

… and both of us were very relaxed, so I guess she was right.  It was kind of like a resort.

(Note to self:  remember this before pressing the “accept charges” button for another exotic holiday.)