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On days like this I wonder why we greet the first day of spring with such glee, yet dismiss fall’s first day as just the awful downturn into winter. The spring equinox is muddy, cold, and grey and the trees have no leaves; fall is brighter and warmer, green and gold and full of food and life. It is the second harvest (the first is Lammas in early August) and the promise of a healthy winter. At Spring the stores are low, at Autumn they are bursting– I’m running out of shelf space.

By common law tradition, the autumn equinox is a “quarter day”– Michaelmas or the feast of the angels, a time for fairs, marriages and pay day.

I sit here writing this at approximately the moment of Equinox (and by the way, when did we start thinking of the Equinox as a “moment”), looking at the astonishing blue of the sky and the clarity of the light. There is nothing like the clear intensity of light on a cool autumn day.

I run my hands through the beans drying on the counter, loving the gentle music they make. The rattling of beans on the vine is one of those sure signs of autumn. Every year I face the dilemma– mix all the varieties together, or separate them? This year I’ll separate by color only- reds in one jar, whites in another. I grew Christmas Limas for seed for Peterson Garden Project; they’re all supposed to go to next year’s garden, but I think I’m going to need to siphon off a half cup to cook (for science, ahem). Plus 25 to grow in my own garden. The rest will go back into the project (pinky swear).

It was such a Sconeday– crisp and still– so I made scones– a rolled raspberry version made with half white and half oat flour. It seemed appropriate to use the last of summer’s raspberries, frozen since July, for the first day of autumn. I flavored them for the memory of summer-with orange zest, orange extract and coriander, and glazed with a little bit of peach preserve left over from the peach syrup I made a few weeks ago.

The afternoon will be spent transplanting two small caryopteris bushes to a sunnier spot in a friend’s yard, where I think they’ll thrive better than in the shady spots they inhabit here. She’ll get some divided white iris and phlox as well. I’ve run out room to divide in my own yard, and can’t bear to just toss them. The weather is slated to warm up later in the week, the perfect transplanting formula.

I’ll walk to the lake, as always, towards the end of the day, to honor the horizon and to hear the sound of angels’ wings that is the waves rolling onto the beach.

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I went to my first swap this past April. I had heard of swaps but didn’t find one in my area until a friend found this one on a MeetUp page and told me about it.

Swap July 2013

Swap July 2013

The organizer set up a few guidelines and the rest is history. She holds it once a month.

There were a few guidelines to follow:

  • No money was allowed – this is all about the trade and bartering with what you have for what you want/need.
  • Items should be sustainably-minded. Something you have grown in your garden, something you conned/cooked/brewed/baked/preserved/dried, etc. Something your animals made (goat milk, hen eggs, lamb wool, etc.) Something you sewed/knitted/re-purposed, etc. Items to do with sustainable interests are also good (Mother Earth News magazines, cookbooks, cooking/camping gear, etc)
  • The items you should leave at home: this is not a garage sale, items should be about sustainability. Leave the knick-knacks at home.

Once we set up, we were allowed 15 minutes to walk around and check out the items other people brought so we could see what we were interested in.

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Each month I have been posting about the swap over on my personal blog. About a month ago I realized that I hadn’t posted about the July swap and I thought it would be a good topic to post here. I have known the swap and barter system is out there and alive, and I realize that there may be others out there that are interested, but don’t know were to look or even how to get started.

Here are the other swap posts I have done”

Here are a few places to look to find swaps in your area: Note: I will add additional information to this post as I find it or as people comment. (updated 19 Sept 2013)

Would you go to a swap if you had one in your area?
Are you participating in a swap in your area?

Please use the comments to let others know about how to find a swap. If you out there participating in a swap, please comment with the general area you are in and add a link to the swap information.

Sincerely, Emily

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My mother died when I was 22.

Not an auspicious start to a post, is it. But I promise not to be depressing. I’m just back to the fallible parent theme.

My mother was a wonderful cook, and a much better baker than I’ll ever be. But there are standard family dishes that I make much better than she did.

She’ll never know of course, so no sheepish “sorry, Mom, your Shepherd’s Pie is dry.”

Now my mother-in-law, this is something different. She’s very much alive, and teaching me how to cook Chinese. Last fall she came over and showed me how to make Luo Bok Gao (turnip cakes– you may have had these if you’ve had dim sum). She brought three different kinds of rice flour (on this week’s theme) and we used daikons from the local grocery, but it just didn’t taste right, and they were very gluey.

Then, last year, I found seeds from Kitazawa seed company, which specializes in Asian vegetables, for actual luo bok, called Korean Turnip on the label. These are, essentially, 2 pound radishes, with a consistency somewhere between radish and turnip. So I pulled my mother-in-law’s recipe, and a recipe pulled off the internet, and landed somewhere in between.

Result? Restaurant quality luo bok gao, way better than mom’s

Awkward.

Homemade Luo Bok Gao

Ingredients:
2 ½ lbs     (1 lb)     Chinese turnip
1 ½ cup     (¾ c)    gluten-free rice flour
3 Tsp     (1 ¼)     corn starch
2 tsp     (¾ tsp)    salt
2 tsp     (¾ tsp)    sugar
½ tsp     (¼ tsp)    white pepper
1 ½      (1)    Chinese sausage, chopped to small pieces and fried (if you don’t have this sweet, dense sausage available, a cheap, mild salami is a good substitute– the fattier the better)
2    (1)    small dried shitake mushroom, soaked in water for 1 hour, then cut off stem and diced
1    (1)    green onion sliced
¼ cup    (¼ cump)    shrimp, diced
1 ½ cup    (¾ cup)    water (approx.)

1. Peel and grate the turnips into a pot; add a small amount of water. Bring it to a boil and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, add more water if needed.
2. Grate the mixture with an immersible blender and then add the Chinese sausage, green onion, shitake mushroom, shrimp, and carrot into the pot.
3. Add salt, sugar, pepper, turn to low heat, and continue to stir.
4. Gradually add the rice flour to the mixture. Do not add it all at once.
5. Add some water and the corn starch, continue to stir. Mixture should not be runny or solid. Add the meat and vegetables.
6. Grease a non stick cake pan (about 8 inches) or casserole dish, pour mixture into pan to a one-knuckle depth, and steam for 40 minutes. To steam: use a large steamer or a wok, add water to the bottom and support the pan with a small rack. After 40 minutes, insert a toothpick in the centre, if it comes out clean, the Turnip Cake is ready.
7. Let cool. To serve, slice and pan fry until golden brown. An 8″ cake yields about 9 small slices. Serve with any traditional sauce.

This recipe makes two 8″ cakes.

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Lammas, hmmm. I didn’t know much about it until Alexandra suggested it for one of our Sunday Photos themes.

As I think about Lammas, I think about growing up in a small town in Wisconsin with all the farms nearby. I think about how important the harvests were and how, not that long ago, neighbors and families would get together to help each other with the harvests.

Look! ZucchiniI think back to how things were done just one hundred years ago, here in the U.S. and even centuries ago in Europe and other areas. Things where very different. People just didn’t drive into town to buy everything they needed; they were growing it. Whether it was wheat or corn, or something else, it was very important for survival. With these harvests came traditions, like Lammas

While many things are really getting crispy in the garden (ahhh dead!) I can still honor the things that I am harvesting right now, and give thanks to the grain in my cupboards that I use to make bread and other things. I can think about the harvest and Lammas, as I mix up a loaf of bread.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am also be thankful for the things I am harvesting and putting into our meals every day. Peppers, Kale, Okra. Cucumber. I can also preserve some things to grace our table another time. I will save seeds for another planting and look forward to another harvest. Traditions continue. Plans are made.

Are there any organized Lammas celebrations happening in your area?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

 

 

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Lammas, the first harvest of the year, is the “loaf mass” because it marks the wheat harvest. The festival’s counterpart, Beltane at the beginning of summer, the planting of the crops and the marriage of the god and goddess, is full of promise and joy. Lammas is bounty and joy, but melancholy too, as the god begins to prepare for his yearly sacrifice and death, and the goddess begins to remember her anger over the loss of her daughters.

In modern patriarchal theology we think of lightning as a phallic manifestation, but I like to think of August storms as the fury and despair of the goddess who cannot save the earth her daughters from their imminent death, year after year after year. She brings us daily bounty, more than we can use, as both fruited gift and fruitless bribe. It means the downward slope towards the frozen midwinter is beginning.

Lammas Salad
10 Golden beets, blanched and sliced thin
3 small beets, blanched and sliced thin
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
1 green pepper, sliced very thin
1-2 ears of corn, nibletted and blanched
3 apricots, diced
1 mildly hot pepper, seeded and diced (this year I used Beaver Dams, but I’ve also used Shishito)

Macerate (i.e. soak) the cucumber in a couple tablespoons of honey and salt for 1-2 hours. Macerate the apricots and shishito peppers in cider vinegar for 1-2 hours. Drain and rinse just before mixing up the salad. To blanch the beets, trim the roots and stems (peeling optional), and drop them into actively boiling water for no more than 5 minutes. Allow to cool, then slice. To blanch the corn, slice the niblets from the cob, and drop them into actively boiling water; leave until the color deepens (a couple/few minutes at most).

Mix everything together with a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. (Make it yourself.)

I like this as a side with crab cakes.

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Lammas, or August 1, is the first of the harvest festivals. You’re probably picking more than you can eat all at once starting now.

***

For me (Alexandra), Lammas marks the moment when the gardener is forcibly reminded that she is not actually in control. Plants go wild, as if they know (and I suppose they do), that summer is coming to an end, and they better get all their growing done!

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***

When ever I (Sincerely, Emily) visit my parents up in Minnesota this time of year, I am always amazed at the lush, full, green garden. In our area we are starting to plan our fall planting. I cut back my tomato plants a few weeks ago and they are growing, but I don’t seem to be harvesting much or anything. The Armenian cucumbers are still growing well and the okra is starting to produce. Just patiently waiting for some cooler temps so the pepper plants will start flowering again.

Star of David okra

Star of David okra

***

What are you harvesting?

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As I was getting the beds ready for our guests a few weeks ago, I was looking, specifically, for a few more of my Gram’s embroidered pillowcases. I love using them in general, but really wanted to have them out for my mom and my niece.

“A crust that’s shared is finer food that a banquet served in solitude”

I enjoy the things that I have from my parents and my grandparents. I enjoy things that I have picked up at estate sales and yard sales. Things from the “past.”  Some of these things have stories to tell, others have memories attached.

When I was 10 years old, we moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota and my Gram moved with us and lived with us for several years. After Gram moved out and I got older I spent more time with her and learned to crochet and tat and knit.

I remember my Gram always had some sort of handwork she was doing. Whether it was knitting, crocheting, tatting. sewing, quilting or embroidery, there was always something to work on in the evening after the dinner was served. After the dishes were washed.  After we were in bed.

As I went into the drawers in search of more pillowcases I found other beautifully made items from Gram and my other grandmother. I also came across things they had collected over the years. I already have a number of linens out and on top of dressers and tables, but I decided to change a few of them so I could enjoy more of the beautifully handwork.

I am always amazed at the quality and beauty of each piece as I look at them. They make me think of my Gram, Grandma and the other people that made them. I wish I could turn back the clock to questions about each item, but I can’t. There are so many varying styles, I just don’t know who made what.

I know that the card table cloth in this last photo was made by Gram. As I look at each of the fabric circles I wonder where they came from. An old dress, an old shirt, my dad’s pajamas? I am sure if she was sitting right her, I could hear the stories.

Going through these linens from time to time always gives me a glimpse into the past and makes me smile. I had hoped when my mom and niece were her that we would have had time to sit down and look at them all together and talk about some of them so that my niece would have a glimpse into the past also, but there just didn’t ever seem to be enough time. We will get to it one day.

Do you have linens that cherish from the past? Do you use them?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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Deprivation

I fasted this year for Ramadan.

Well, I fasted the first day of Ramadan.

Okay, I ate breakfast around 7:30 a.m. (well after sunrise), and then did not eat or drink anything until about 6:30 that evening (well before sunset). So I didn’t even do it right, and it was hard.

I’ve been trying to do this for several years (on the theory that I’m not Christian, and yet celebrate Christmas, nor Jewish yet attend Seders, nor Wiccan and yet spout nonsense. You get the idea.)

I’ve never made it past 3 p.m. before. It’s not so much going without food–that’s easy. No drinking, however, is murderously hard. I found myself thinking, hmmm if I take a shower and water flows into my mouth–who’s to know? (God, Xan. God will know.)  I figure, hey, if 1.3 billion people can fast for a month, I can do it for a day. And should– one should understand 22% of the world’s population I think. Next year I’ll add the prayers if I can figure out what they are, and maybe an Eid feast. Not sure I’ll ever make it a full month, even with the promise of a blow-out feast at the end.

Holiday rituals have always been an impenetrable mystery to me, growing up as I did in a household that maintained holiday externals, like decorations, while excoriating the religious underpinning (like God). Ritual is lacking in the lives of seculars like me. And rituals involving deprivation– Lent, Ramadan, Passover, Yom Kippur, are especially unavailable-it’s hard to deprive yourself in isolation. Deprivation binds you with the others thus afflicted; on one’s own it can seem a little silly. I guess this is what makes Weight Watchers work.

Next up on the deprivation list? There’s always No Buy February, but closer in the calendar is Yom Kippur. So–no activities “exercising control over one’s environment” on Yom Kippur? Impractical for me to follow that one every week, although weekly Shabbot proscriptions are a rather lovely binding ritual if done in community.  And then there’s Lent– surely I can deprive myself of something that I get to choose for a month? Even if it’s just me?

And I already know those prayers.

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I grew up on the prairie. Our house in central Illinois was literally the last house in town when I lived there, with a cornfield across the street. We walked through it, skated on it, rode through it on combines pulling tassels off every other row. Although my personal mythology maintains that I am from Philadelphia (where I actually only lived for 9 years as a child), in fact I’m a daughter of the corn. The other day some east coast transplant was “charmed” by my midwesternisms.

Blame it on the corn.

Corn is an amazing plant. For one thing, there is no wild corn. It is possibly the most domesticated organism on the planet. Archeologists have identified domesticated corn as old as the oldest identified human settlement in the Americas, but have never found its wild parent.

I first planted corn in my backyard garden 6 years ago for the  Growing Challenge, which is to plant something new every year. (This year it’s celery.) I made the classic corn newbie mistake–having grown up in corn country I naturally planted a row of corn. However, in a small backyard, you can’t plant corn in rows. It won’t pollinate properly.

Enter the Three Sisters, which is corn, beans and squash, planted together. It is a traditional First Nations companion planting technique (planting compatible plants together), using the attributes of each plant to strengthen all three. This is the grandmother of companion planting. Some plants go well together –carrots and onions love everybody; strawberries love borage; and of course the Three Sisters. Just google “companion planting” to find examples.

Some reasons to companion plant: nutrient enrichment, pest control, mechanical. (Um, mechanical?) Back to the Three Sisters: the beans are there because they restore nitrogen to the soil. But the corn and the squash also have “mechanical” purposes– the corn stalks act as bean trellises, and the squash acts as a mulch, keeping the weeds down.

Here’s the How To:

Corn

• Make a mound, about 12 to 15” across. Corn will send out “adventitious” roots, these are roots that crow from the stalk, sideways into the soil, strengthening the plant.
• Plant seeds or starts (corn starts shouldn’t be taller than about 5”) around the ring, about a hand span apart
• When you plant corn in a raised bed or other small area, it needs to be very dense to pollinate properly.
• Corn can be planted anytime from early May to early/mid June. Best are varieties that mature in 85 to 110 days.
• Corn is ripe when the silks are very dark and a little dried-out looking. You can tell corn has been properly pollinated because the silks will turn pale pink, and then gradually a deep mahogany.

Squash

• Plant seeds or starts directly into the center of the mound. I usually plant 3, and then thin them when the plants are about 3 weeks old, to get the strongest plant.
•It’s best to plant out squash after June 10, even seeds, because late May and early June is when the squash vine borer  (SVB)moths lay their eggs.
• In small gardens, you’ll want to train your squash. In large gardens you can let it go crazy.
• Squash will be the last thing to get ripe.
• You can use summer or winter squash. If you do a summer squash make sure it’s a vining one like Patypan, not a bush one like zucchini.

Beans

• Plant pole bean seeds directly when the corn is 8” to 10” high. If you plant your beans too early, it will get taller than the corn very quickly.
• Purple beans, with purple vines, are easier to see on the green corn stalks

Variations:

• If you have SVB then you shouldn’t plant squash for two years. Use bush beans as the third sister.

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“Mom” is Mei, my mother-in-law. After literally decades of resisting to teach me how to cook like the old country (China), she up and calls me so she can come over and show me how to make lo bak gao, Chinese turnip cakes. Who knows how her mind works.

I picked her up and brought her home, where she was aMAZED to find out that we have rice flour. Yes, Mom, Chinese people live here, of course we have rice flour.

You have to understand that my mother-in-law is VERY old country. She does not hold with new-fangled inventions like vegetable peelers to peel the lo bak (daikons or Korean radish). “Take off too much! Scrape with knife! Is better!” She also wouldn’t let me use my grater, instead insisting that I chop the lo bak with a knife because “too much cleaning up.” Of course, then she criticized the size of the pieces– too big! Yes, Mom, if you let me use a grater to, um, grate the vegetables then they get, how can I put this…,um, grated.

My mother-in-law does not let anyone in very often. It is very difficult to get her to talk about the old country, where she lived through two wars, may have been a bartered bride (we’re a little unclear on this), and spent many years as a refugee. But every now and then she decides I need to learn something, and we get to sit and work together. The stories come out, and she answers questions about China and her childhood.

Sadly, her lo bak gao is not very good. I now know why. She wouldn’t let me salt the water (but then complained that the finished product needed salt). She wouldn’t let me grate the vegetables. She used hot water to create the batter (this makes it sticky). She let the batter sit too long (ditto). Here is the modified recipe:

Toisanese Lo Bak Gao (Turnip cakes)

1 large Lo Bak, Daikon, or Korean Radish
1 Chinese sausage (This is a very fatty, sweet, pork sausage. Get these in Chinatown. The ones from the specialty market are not the same)
1/2 c. pork, any cut, cubed
1/2 c. each rice and corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
Salt to taste

Peel and grate the lo bok. Boil until soft in a large pot of SALTED water. Drain and set aside. (I may do a test to see if I use this water for the batter, if that helps the texture of the finished product– someone experiment with this for me!) Cube the pork and sausage, and saute in a large pan in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the lo bak and saute until very soft (pictured is the cubed lo bak–this is not cut small enough). The lo bak should be well coated with the oil and drippings from the pork and sausage.

Oil or spray a square or round baking dish, and fill to halfway with the lo bak mixture. Set aside. Mix the flours, salt and cold water to form a thin batter; pour over the lo bak until just covered.

Steam until firm, about 15 minutes. I use a vegetable steamer from the Chinese market; you can also steam them in a wok with a steamer insert, or just rig a large pot or frying pan.

Allow to cool. Cut into slices or slabs and eat as is, or you can brown it a little by frying it lightly in oil for a minute or two.

We had left-over lo-bak mixture and used it the next day over rice with a little soy sauce. Delicious.

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