Standing in the Shadows of Greatness  

Posted by Dave in

I stand breathing, high up on a hill. The night is deep, and the huge starry sky dwarfs the tiny countryside that spreads out in all directions before me. The moon is not yet up, and the inky ridge to the east merges into the sky with a barely discernible line. From somewhere near its base, the quiet rumble of a train. Nearby, there is no sound. Not even a breeze stirs the stubble of last year's cornstalks. Tiny clusters of light mark distant villages and seem a dim reflection of the brilliant stars all around me. Traces of the men who settled this land, now nearly forgotten.

I am not of the village, though my house is there. I am not of the villagers, though I pass among them and am not a stranger to them. I am of the land, this land, and the villagers are but a part of the land.

I know the land by its rises and vales. I know it by its shape and its textures. I imagine touching these burly cornfields, my hand following down the hill and up the smooth, fallow slope of the next. I feel the lone oak at its top. Every hollow and rise is familiar to my touch. Though I've walked among the trees below, I know them better by their feel from above. I imagine, for a moment, that this is, in part, how a god might experience a world, from above, not detached, but rather as a part of the world.

Occasionally a tiny light, a car, silently moves along a distant hill as a villager travels on some mission or other. Most of the villagers rest in their homes. Great men may be among them, but for now all is tiny beneath the sky. Sadly, most of the villagers live tiny all their lives. Like ants, they rarley, if ever, take time to ponder the hills they live amonst. They don't wonder why they were born here and not elsewhere. The village seems to have been here always, and they cannot conceive it otherwise.

Though many of the villagers are relative newcomers to the area or even sons of those who came later, there are yet many names that are the same as those who cleared these fields. Many of them bear the names of the men whose homes were the first to stand there, though most of the villagers no longer know or remember the men who came first.

These men were not village folks meant to live in gatherings and maintain routine. They were men who knew feeling of freedom. Some one of them must have stood on this hill, just as I do, and felt the land below. There were no light below to mimic the the stars, but the land must have seemed nearly as deep as the sky. Like me, his day was spent in work, though his was greater than any found today, but in the eve, when work was through and he gazed out over the fields he had carved from the rough woods, he not only knew the feel of the land from below, but also from above. To know the land that closely he must have felt not as mere god, but as close to the Creator as a man can feel.

---I wrote this over twenty years ago, probably in the winter of 1987. I was commuting to and from a corporate job 60 or 70 miles away in the city, and was yearning for the connection to the land I had grown up with. It miraculously survived as a handwritten scrap amongst the detritus that follows me, and I found it while packing for my upcoming move.

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I Will Pass This Way Again  

Posted by Dave

Well, in true backpack fashion, I have decided to move to new digs after all of my firewood is in for the approaching winter, and after all my preparations are complete. My cabin and my woods and my gardens are preparing for the proverbial winter's nap. My children are happily ensconced in their new schools; and in the face of the worst financial crisis in recent U.S. history my fiance and I are finally ready to make the big move. We have found a great little piece of bottom land and our financing is in place. The only holdup is the present owner's finances. He is upside down in his mortgage, which means he will owe a bit even after the sale. We await the verdict of his bank. The lovely Kelly, my beautiful fiance, is soon to be my trophy wife. She is a reward I probably do not deserve. Even as we speak, she is hard at work making things happen. It can't be too soon, as my children eagerly await, nay badger me incessantly, as to when we will all be a family together.

And I, I am preparing to leave my beloved mountain. It has been a sanctuary, a nursery, a recovery room, my shelter, my studio, my food and heat supplier, my personal energy supply, and in every deeper sense of the word, my home. I will miss it even as I embrace my new life.

I remember a bit of an ancient poem - perhaps Li Po (?):

"We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains"

I have made much of my life and much of my living by traveling and being at home wherever I find myself. But the operative word is home. I have always sought a proper home and even have believed I had found it a few times, but in every case I have been mistaken or for some reason I have had to move on. But even tumbleweeds need roots to live and to continue the cycle of life. It is time I really sink these roots deep into the earth that my family may flourish and grow. My children have begun to come into themselves as human beings, and I am afraid that much of their legacy remains to be created. This mountain I have always returned to as home, but it is time to leave this place on this mountain. I have been known as a ridge runner and as a hillbilly, and I'm too old a dog to change that. I never did before, even when I worked in cities or had to wear a tie. I will be bringing that to my new home, and it will better for it. It may not be "Galt's Gulch" just yet, but please stay tuned because it is going to be great ride.

Foodies, survivalists, campers, and just plain folks looking to eat well and healthy on an ever tightening American budget - grab your backpack and get ready to UNITE!. In just a few weeks another adventure begins with a new focus, a new purpose and new approach to old fashioned American Ideals.

Thanks for your patience while I retool.

By the way, a special thanks for kind words and encouragement to "The Elementary". Everyone should check out her blog "Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering" and be prepared to get warm and cozy. Just don't forget to check back here!

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The Gathering Storm  

Posted by Dave

As I sit here in the dark, with just a faint glow lightening the east through the rain, I try to reflect. It is 6am, and I have one kid gone on the school bus and another to get moving shortly. We have a good hot breakfast each day and now I have to cook twice. I still have dishes to do before I leave for work. I can't believe it has been so long since I have posted. I can't believe I have strayed so far from my original mission in writing this blog, which was to share my experiences with the great food available locally and in season, hence less expensive and healthier for my, and hopefully your, family.

I am still passionate about that. So passionate that cooking for my family has been taking precedence over writing. Writing is a joy and a release, but with the frenetic activity of getting kids back to school, a new town job, and looking for new digs, I haven't been able to allow myself that pleasure. We have had some exceptionally wonderful meals lately as the produce right now is killer, and the new ideas and experiences I am getting with Chef Dato continue to inspire.

I have lately been remembering what I love about the restaurant business. Even when I had left the business for a few years and worked in the corporate world, I found myself in the kitchen whenever a client lunch had us in some fine dining place. I was fortunate that my business partner and friend Tony was also a foodie, though he never understood how I could end up in the kitchen and leave him to entertain the clients.

A restaurant kitchen is a war zone, a dinner rush is a battle, the ultimate adrenaline burst. Pure testosterone. The pecking order essential to operations and etiquette be damned. The customer in front are almost superfluous as their orders and the perfection and timing of each dish a foe to be dispatched. I imagine the great medieval battle, with men rushing at each other in awful waves of humanity. Dealing with the immediate foe, the one in front of you, while simultaneously preparing for the ones in your peripheral vision. Your station, your duty reigns supreme. There are no friends during battle. A friend who impedes your progress or timing is the same as an enemy. Often I have seen hot pans deliberately thrust across the forearms of cooks who impeded another's progress, razor sharp knives dangerously close to another's fingers, airborne stockpots the size of cannonballs. A kitchen is full of hot objects, sharp objects, heavy object that can be thrown. More to the point, it is full of people that are serious about their mission and woe to anyone, even a friend who gets in the way. After the battle and after the cleanup and aftermath, when the dead have been buried and the weapons readied for another day, then is the time for camaraderie.

After closing many cooks gather in bars to decompress and to share war stories, to plan strategies for upcoming battles. Besides, who can sleep when the adrenaline is still coursing through your exhausted, aching body? With the long workdays, with hours that necessarily coincide with the rest of the world's leisure time, cooks have no time for a "normal" social life. They generally associate with other cooks. Or not at all. I myself have always preferred more quiet reflection. I like to sit in the dark, alone, and lick my wounds. I swallow a couple of aspirins for my aches, then fall into bed, dead weight until morning, my last thoughts the promise of coffee.

I am drinking that coffee now, as I prepare to awaken my son for school. As I head out for another battle, thinking about my mise en place, my place in the world, I know it is a young man's game and I am not young anymore.

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A Lunch That's Short On Time, Long on Flavor - Savor the ultimate Summer Treat, a Tomato Sandwich  

Posted by Dave in , , , ,

Its Saturday, a workday like any other, and yet the kids and I still have to eat even when we are busy. We also have to feed our souls. Here is the ultimate solution to the busy summer lunch - a tomato sandwich.

Now it is not even worth beginning without fresh tomatoes straight from the garden, so warm and full of sunlight that they are about to burst. Choose one that is almost too ripe, so soft that it start to split just from the pressure of picking it. Be careful it doesn't fall off the vine as you reach for it. At this point of the season, the variety of the tomato hardly matters - Brandywine, Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter, a Lemonboy or Cherokee Purple, even those unidentified generic 'tomato' plants you picked up down at the local WallyWorld and planted amongst the weeds off the back deck. What matters here is the ripeness and your awareness and appreciation of the imminent end of summer.

Pick your bread. It should be soft and absorbent to pick up all the juices that are welling out of that perfect tomato. A good choice is my Daily Bread, or even some of that store bought white stuff. This might be the only real use for that stuff. Don't try to get all fancy and use a crusty artisan bread here, don't even toast it. It has just got to be soft.

Butter just one slice, preferably with Homemade Butter, but again, since the tomato is the star, you might cheat a little and still get a good result, but only if you have to. This is to be the top of your sandwich. You may add a bit of mayo here too if you like, and sometimes I do, especially if I have recent made it and have a little left, but its not absolutely necessary.

Now lay your bottom slice of bread on a plate close to your cutting board and prepare to slice that beautiful fruit. Use the sharpest knife you have, with smooth serrations if necessary, and try to preserve that precious juice. Try not to smash your tomato as most of the flavor is in the juice not the flesh as some folks may seem to think. Let them think it and keep the juice for yourself, summer is too short to argue. If you lose precious juices onto your cutting board carefully pour them onto you bread before arranging you slices of tomato. Afix the top slice and enjoy. Savor. Mop up any excess juice with more bread, and wash the works down with cold milk, Fresh Farm Milk.


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Morning Thoughts  

Posted by Dave

Dawn is that magical time daylight meets, overlaps the truths of the night.. Before they are bleached out in the harsh light of day. When your night time thoughts, beliefs and ponderings are still alive and colorful. When disbelief can be suspended and truth is still personal and not imposed upon you. When prejudice and habit have yet to awaken.

I generally get up before the sun, and it is in that time that I reflect and collect myself and prepare for the day. It is in that time that I often feel the clearest in my direction and in my life, before the world's obligations begin to take precedence.

Two months ago, I would never have believed we would be leaving our mountain and starting a new journey. In all my travels, both literally and figuratively, I have always sought a home base. For a while, this mountain has been my center of operations, but I now believe it has simply been main camp, and it is time to strike out again.

To that end, I am repacking my Backpack Bistro, double checking my bugout pack, and heading out. I will be posting on our progress, and soon we will be back to our focus on wholesome food that can be prepared anywhere and will appeal to nearly everyone - well at least my family, and, I hope, yours.

Thank you for the emails, and please don't hesitate to hit the comments. Watch for the real opening of our store soon, along with information and sources to help you build your Backpack Bistro as well fortify your home base. Oh, and my book, "The Indigenous Gourmet Walks Through the Seasons" is close, but still holding out on me. When I get it just right I will post some excerpts and maybe some sort of a bonus for those of you who subscribed to me early and have stuck it out while I have been finding my way in this new (to me) electronic world.

Now, if you'll excuse me I have a farm to find and a fresh, natural food supply to re establish.

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Last Night as I was Sleeping - by Antonio Machado  

Posted by Dave

Written in 1903 by Antonio Machado. Translated and recited Robert Bly.

Seriously, Nothing Flows Uphill (and we are at the bottom)  

Posted by Dave in

As often happens in life, we have suffered a series of setbacks here, and have been unable to post. Rampant development is rapidly destroying much of the rural countryside in western PA, and it seems we are the latest folks to be "developed out". Without going to great detail, in the last short while we have seen clear cut logging next door, a newly senile landlord with no respect for personal privacy and who hates children and folks who have no practical knowledge of, say gravity, building a series of water control ditches which will catch little or no water and send said imaginary water into places where water is undesirable. (In fact the only place where there really might be water, it is going to be directed into my foundation.) My garden, my pasture, my house and my home are for all intents and purposes destroyed. Since I have been on a long term lease, (operative term lease) we are probably going to be removing to another site for our homesteading lifestyle. Until then I will blog when I can, and in the meantime, at least we will get back to the backpack style of cooking. Remember, my original premise was that anyone can cook a good meal for themselves and their family anywhere they happen to find themselves. New posts with this in mind soon, I promise.

In the meantime, I have taken a town job with a great local chef who still cooks real food rather than reheating pre-made meals from a factory. Check him out here or stop by if you are in the area. You won't regret it, I promise.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to pack.

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Eat a Peach, But Wear Your Helmet  

Posted by Dave in

I woke up dreaming of peaches. Again. My part of Pennsylvania is really only blessed with peaches, good peaches, only but rarely. since time immemorial we have spent the spring watching for and protecting against the frost that nearly always comes after it has been just warm enough to bring out the peach blossoms. By this time of the year especially at my elevation, we pine for that elusive perfect peach. We are fortunate, however, to be just to the west of a great fruit growing area.

Chambersburg Peaches have always been the standard for us, the peach we admired and wanted to grow. About this time every year, the highways around here begin to have makeshift signs advertising the local produce - but not local peaches. The signs brag about having brought back Chambersburg Peaches. Although technically within the 100 miles many of the Local Eating Challenges, these were for much of my childhood, considered almost an imported food. More accessible than the fabled Georgia peach, they were also in better shape having been picked riper and shipped from a shorter distance.

The area around Chambersburg is of a warmer climate, influenced by the not so distant Chesapeake Bay and sheltered from the cold winter winds by the very mountains I call home. Many of the old orchards seem to have gone now, but still the fame and legend of Chambersburg Peaches mean late summer to me.

Every year my family would buy a bushel basket of peaches, especially Chambersburg Peaches, and my Mother would prepare and can them in quart mason jars. These would line the shelves in the basement along with quarts of tomatoes from the garden, and pints of beets, green and yellow beans, pickles both sweet and dill, relishes, piccalilli, chow chow, various jams and jellies, and a lot of other things that escape my memory now and yet sustained us through bleak winter and reminded us of the need to garden in the spring as they slowly disappeared.

Those jars represented a form of security to us, although I admit I didn't much think about it as a kid. In fact, I used to sneak the occasional jar to eat, though unless we were low on something mom never really cared as long as it wasn't wasted. As I got older, I even came to use them as a form of currency.

It was a time when gas was cheap and country boys would get together to race whatever jalopies the had cobbled together. Often we would help some town kid with a better budget than ours, and we would secretly be reverse engineering the fancy parts they had so that we could go faster. Physics was second nature to us, as we couldn't help but explore how and why things worked. Our homemade cars with their homemade parts were often the winners over the shinier models.

Still, machines break. Often an exuberant Friday evening would result in a Saturday morning engine change. In those day we could get a used engine from a junkyard, add all our "performance" parts, and stuff it into our cars. Now what does this have to do with peaches you are asking. Well hang in there.

Lifting a 500 pound engine requires either machinery or a hand full of good friends, a chain and a locust fence post. Even friends need motivation for that kind of work, especially early on a Saturday morning. To alleviate that, I would pass the word that I was making PEACH PIES for anyone who came to help. Early Saturday afternoons, my folks would come home to discover a gaggle of greasy farm boys each eating his very own peach pie made from peaches I had copped from Mom's stash in the basement. I also discovered that rolling pie crust is a great way to get grease from under your fingernails.

Nowadays, I refuse to use the "all vegetable shortening" I used then since I have figured out some of that science (hint don't eat anything hydrogenated, heck it just sounds scary). I now use an all butter pastry recipe, and although I am still experimenting with it, I give it here as it is at least decent. Give it a shot and let me know how it works or how you improved it. Hit the comments!

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On Finding a Peach Left For My Morning Delivery  

Posted by Dave in

As dawn pushes the mist
I behold a golden orb.
A perfect peach, a blushing beauty,
Swollen with pride.
A gift from an unseen friend,
to break the fast of an early traveler.
The milk of human kindness runs golden down my shirt.

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Blackberry Shortcake  

Posted by Dave in

This recipe really works for almost any soft, fresh or well drained canned fruit. It also can work with thawed and drained frozen fruit. Try it to use up those peaches going soft on the table or a can of pineapple for a treat in the deep winter too.

  • 1 Cup Self Rising Flour
  • 6 TBS Butter (about 3/4 stick if you are using store bought)
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 3/4 cup cold milk
  • Vanilla (optional)
  • 1 - 2 cups Blackberries (or other drained fruit)
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Melt the butter and pour in to a 8 or 9 inch cake pan. Swirl the butter around the cake pan to cover the bottom, set aside, but keep warm.

Combine the flour, sugar and about half of the milk in a large mixing bowl, and stir until well combined. Then add the remaining milk and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla now if you want. It is not necessary, but does add a bit of a treat. Pour the batter into the center of the cake pan with the melted butter, but DO NOT stir or mix. The butter will be forced up and around the batter and some will even run over the top (yum).

Carefully place the berries on top of the batter, covering evenly, but DO NOT stir or mix.

Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until golden. (Do the toothpick test to see if it comes out clean).
The fruit will have been covered as the cake rose, and will have created a filling for this moist and buttery treat.

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Zucchini Bread – World’s Simplest  

Posted by Dave in ,

This recipe is so simple and it can be adapted and modified to your liking. Not only is it a great way to use up all the summer zukes (they epitomize the feast or famine cliché, don’t they?), it can be made with just a spoon and a couple of bowls and a box grater, so it is great for kids just learning to bake.

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups grated fresh zucchini
  • 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

Mix in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle baking soda over the mixture and mix in.

Add the flour, a cup at a time.

Divide the batter equally between 2 buttered 5 by 9 inch loaf pans and bake for about an hour or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean.

Cool in pans for 10 minutes or so , then flip onto wire racks and allow to cool thoroughly before cutting.

Makes 2 loaves.

  • A bit of cinnamon or nutmeg can be added when you add the flour. Also try chopped nuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins or other dried fruit.
  • You could use a food processor to speed grating the Zuke, that way you can make a bunch of them and freeze for the long winter ahead.
  • Mix any leftover grated Zucchini with a little flour and eqq maybe a little Parmesan and fry in a skillet till golden for nice breakfast or side dish treat

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That's (Rural) Life  

Posted by Dave in

Okay folks, sorry it has been a while since I have posted, but it has been so hectic around here. Without going into long detail, my family has been a bit under siege on just about every front lately. Yeah I know, poor pity us, you just filled up with gas and it looked a lot like your mortgage payment - if you are lucky enough not to have an adjustable...

Well anyway, as my son is crying about the frog he just volunteered to let loose in our creek and my daughter is lamenting the seeming destruction from a devastating septic tank and water purification project that has left virtually no part of our woods, yard, creeks, field, picnic area, and life untouched - even as I contemplate everything that has piled up - I suddenly realize...that's life, man. I know it is a bit trite to say that I counted my blessings, but it is true. I have most of my health, good friends and more importantly my kids are still free to catch frogs and lightning bugs. I am still engaged to the single greatest woman in the world (really, I checked). We still have our raw milk and most of our foods is still local and seasonal at a time when most folks are paying a premium for those things if they can even afford the luxury (like the folks who are paying tens of dollars to have raw milk delivered, clandestinely, or travel many miles to get fresh berries that we can pick on the way up our lane). The woods and the yard will grow back. My friends and family will survive and thrive as long as I keep the will and, I suppose, the faith.

Everybody gets a little down sometimes, but I wouldn't trade living in the country, in this country, close to the land and close to my family, for all the money we owe. I hope John Boy Walton is proud...

I promise more informative stuff soon, recipes, techniques and the all important backpack. No I haven't forgotten it, I just want to make sure I get it right for you. Also, look for the book soon. "The Indigenous Gourmet and his BackPack Bistro Walk Through the Seasons" is due in ebook form soon. Print copies with beautiful color photos taken by the lovely Kelly, suitable for coffee tables and art houses everywhere, is not far behind!

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Not My Typical Berry Picking Adventure  

Posted by Dave in

The character of the blackberries varied from area to area. When I had first started picking them, they had seemed rather uniform in size and shape. The only difference I noticed between them was the level of ripeness each berry had achieved.

As I picked all the ripe berries from each spot I moved to another. Gradually I noticed that some berries, while of similar size, were composed of more, but smaller, individual seeds while others were larger than average, but with fewer seeds. Others, even when ripe were small and hard. On tasting, I found these to be tart and strongly flavored. These grew in an area that was sunnier, and so, I surmised, drier. But then, just beside these, and in almost the same mini-climate, were blackberries that were longer and larger and composed of larger seeds. These literally fell off the bramble at the slightest touch. Often the act of picking one caused several to fall beyond reach into the depths of the brambles. When tasted, they were so juicy and sweet as to seem an almost different breed of berry altogether. I was tempted to risk the scratches and thorns to reach the fallen ones and not waste a single drop of the glorious nectar.

A few steps more and I discovered similar gorgeous berries. They were not as long, but rounder, with the seedpods just as full and heavy with juice. There were more of these ripe berries here, as if no one had dared to pick them. I hesitated a moment as if I were about to profane their virtue. Gently I reached and found resistance. I pulled harder, and again harder. Even the greatest tug could not free them as they would not give up their hold on the vine, but instead squashed into my fingers leaving only pulp and juice. Licking my fingers to clean them, I tasted what I felt must surely be ambrosia. I paused. Surely this was reserved for someone other than the mere mortal I was. I reached again. Greedily I began pulling at them as if milking tiny but succulent breasts. I sucked my stained fingers as the deep purple juice ran down his arms and chin. In a frenzy, I reached again and again, pulling and sucking, I continued until there were no more.

Standing there breathing heavily, my blood pounding in his ears, I felt at once a deep love along with the exhilaration of an intense lust. I had never felt so whole before, or more alive. I felt the heat of passion combined with the comfort and safety of the womb. I felt that for the first time I really understood everything, and yet could never express what I knew to anyone - a deep sadness tempered with the calm satisfaction of really belonging and perhaps really mattering to the universe. Seeing a patch of grass in the shade of a nearby grandfather oak, I collapsed and fell into a deep, profound sleep. Dreaming of the Blackberry Shortcake I would make with the berries I had found.

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Searching for the Milk of My Youth and of Human Kindness  

Posted by Dave in

I originally started this blog to document and share my experiences as I return to my roots in the country and in the kitchen. You see, I grew up in a rural area, with a depression era mentality. Even though it was the 1960's and 1970's, we grew and foraged much of our food, and we purchased seasonal produce from local farm stands and canned or froze or dried it for the upcoming winter. Stocking our pantry was as much a part of the daily rhythms as the the sunrise or the need to eat. Anyone can tell when its suppertime without a clock, and so with blackberry time or any other time we were aware of. The years were filled as a progression and and our pantries expanded and contracted with a regularity of a long comfortable breath.

As the years went on, like most kids, I left home and headed for the city, and so gradually lost touch with much of my food supply. Oh, I still picked berries and made my own jelly, but it was easier to spread it on some of the cake like substance the chain stores market as bread. I grew my garden and canned a few tomatoes, but the bulk of my winter vegetables came out of a can rather than a mason jar and were grown in some anonymous distant place rather than out back.

Blessed with such a healthy childhood I took for granted my reasonably decent health. But Occasionally I noticed how many of the folks I worked with battled chronic weight issues, or had minor skin ailments, or perhaps high blood pressure. Health issues were often the topic du jour around the coffee pot as everyone stuffed themselves with "healthy" bran muffins rather than the ubiquitous offering of doughnuts. Some of the younger trendier types even eschewed the coffee for a nice morning pick me up of diet soda of even water flavored with some artificial stuff I could not spell much less pronounce.

Gradually the years went by and we all aged, and more than a few of us passed from the standard illnesses of the industrial age, cancer, diabetes, heart disease. We all accepted these losses as part of the attrition of life. Like the divorces and corporate failures we endured them and moved on.

So now I find myself back in the country, in the mountains of my youth. And I begin to rebuild and restock my pantry. But my blackberry patches have been replaced with condos and my walnut trees cut for some fool's firewood. Little by little I begin to rebuild worn out soil, to search out foraging spots. I reach out to find local sources of the food I need to feed my family, only to find many of the old farms and farmers gone. Those that remain are beset on all sides. Market forces and big agribusiness have all but eliminated all the sources of local food. Tomatoes are available year round, but even in August are not from around here. Even the laws are seemingly against simple local food.

Recently I was looking for a farm to buy milk from directly. Most of the farms I worked on or around in my youth have been replaced by Housing developments and blacktop, so I asked at the Mountain Herb Shoppe when I went to buy some multi-vitamins for my kids. The folks there were so nice, and really wanted to help, but there simply was no farm locally that was selling milk directly. The reason it seems, is a fear of raw milk.

As a kid we generally drank fresh milk right from the farm. Those days we knew each cow by name and habit, and if anything was off in her health or behavior, we were sure to investigate. and if anything accidentally fell into the milk, we fed it to the calves after a serious scolding against our carelessness.

Daily we brought our jugs and, at the end of the evening's milking, we filled them from the bulk tank, a stainless steel refrigerated tank that held all of our, and the cows, efforts. The milk was fresh and creamy. Though the tank had a motorized paddle that stirred the milk to cool it more quickly and to keep the cream from separating, an hour or two after it was in the bottle, it need to be shaken to remix the milk and the cream.

Sometimes we would draw off the milk from a tap in the bottom of the jug and take the cream fro our coffee, or to make butter or ice cream, or even for whipping and serving on dessert. The skimmed milk that was left was not completely free from cream, and still tasted nearly as rich as the store stuff anyway.

Seldom was it ever wasted. Even though in its raw state milk tends to not stay fresh as long, it was not as nasty nor as harmful as the store bought stuff when it was "sour". It could still be used as sour cream or in a recipe where the slightly off taste would be noticed, heck, you could still drink it, especially if you added a bit of flavoring like chocolate or a bit of vanilla and sugar. Worst case, the dog would promise undying loyalty for just a taste.

Store milk is another story. First off, the store stuff is nowadays produced on farms that milk in a continuous, 3 shift day, from cows that are given drugs to speed their production of milk and so require more than the morning and evening milkings traditional for thousands of years. The cows are more or less simply an input in an industrial process and not a member of the extended family as were most of the cows on the farms of my youth.

Next this milk is Pasteurized, or cooked, to kill any nasty germs that may have fallen into the milk. This could happen in the barn, in the tank, in the truck on the way to the factory, or during any one of the many processes through which it undergoes. To be fair, this could happen, and probably does happen on smaller farms. but the ability to oversee and correct such problems is worse on an industrial scale. In addition, the cooking creates a nearly sterile product that has a much longer shelf life to enable shipping long distances and sales for a longer period of time.

The milk is also mechanically separated from its cream, much of it being diverted to other products and uses. A portion of the cream is forced through small screens under high pressure to break the fat particles into unnaturallly tiny pieces that can not separate when they are added back into the milk at controlled ratios to create the various percentages of milk from whole, one percent, two percent and so on.

Trouble is, the Pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria as well, and without the enzymes and bacteria that have for thousands of years helped people to digest the milk, many folks find they can not drink milk at all. Some yogurt companies have made fortunes by adding the same bacteria back into the milk and loudly proclaiming their health benefits. (They are probably right, but why kill them in the first place? But I digress). In addition, the smaller particles of cream can pass through the stomach lining of many humans and cause even more health problems.

But you see, as a large scale industrial material, milk is a controlled substance. That's right. That white liquid is subject to search and seizure and can even be classified as a hazardous waste if it has been produced, sold or consumed outside the system.

Now, I have never been any kind of an activist. I prefer to take care of my family and friends, educating as many as I can reach, but never overstepping the bounds of social propriety. I don't view store milk as a poison. It is convenient and easily available and better than nothing. But I prefer milk fresh from a farm I know, and that is now illegal in much of the country. Similar battles are cropping up in other types of food as industrial meats and vegetables are being eschewed for locally produced varieties, even as the terms "organic" and "natural" and others are coopted and diluted by the same large concerns. Caveat Emptor. But the buyer can not beware if he has no choice. I don't care if you drink cooked milk, why do you care if I drink mine raw?

Please visit my other blog, The Raw Milk Underground for news and views as I have time to post them, and in the meantime please visit The Weston A. Price Foundation and for more and better information. Everyone who eats is being dragged into this battle, and even if you don't know it, decisions are being made for you that could affect your health more than any other single thing. What you eat is ultimately more important for your health than any vitamin or exercise program.

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How To Relate to Animals, Part 1  

Posted by Dave in

WARNING: The following post contains scenes of graphic (and hopefully humorous) violence. Further, it may contribute to the portrayal and perception of "Ugly Americans", especially as related to rural living. Any views construed to be against animals are not the views of... OK, maybe they are...

Ok, so we don't get a lot of company up here. Friends speak of the drive, or the weather, but perhaps there is another more subtle reason. Let's talk about last evening.

My daughter had a town girlfriend up for a play date, and by coincidence another adult friend stopped up for a surprise visit and found me cleaning up tiny mouse droppings from behind the toaster. Since I was also in the middle of making supper while simultaneously preparing several dishes ahead for the freezer, I continued to work while the other adult played with the children and pretended not to notice.

My cabin is actually a series of additions to an original small cabin, and there are a few places where the occasional field mouse sneaks in for a small taste of whatever the children drop on our floor. I am not really a messy pig. No really. Seriously.

Anyhow, while I listened to the chatter and worked as quickly as I could, I raced around the kitchen rattling pans stirring pots and searching for ingredients. Upon discovering I needed an onion, I slipped on my work boots and ran out for it. Getting out there, I chased an errant jake turkey out of the garden, grabbed my onion and raced back inside.

A pot of chicken stock was boiling a bit too hard, so without removing my boots, I stirred down the boil and reduce the heat. I turned away for a moment to check on the kids, and when I turned back, a movement on the wall behind the stove caught my eye.

Now, in the interest of full disclaimer, I feel compelled to admit that, like Indiana Jones, one of my few irrational fears is snakes... Like the large, dark one that was now crawling from behind my stove and headed across the counter between my fancy vinegars and up behind my corner cupboard. Startled, I called for my friend to take the children and leave. Although neither she nor anyone else could see the snake, she shot me a look of irritated disbelief, rolled her eyes and went, taking everyone into the living room.

Using the chicken tongs, I grabbed the tail of the rapidly disappearing snake and pulled. The irritation of the snake manifested in a reversal and striking motion (rather than an eye roll), so I quickly (understatement) flipped the snake onto the kitchen floor.

Now at this point I need to add that most of what follows was related to me after the fact, as I have little or no direct recollection of many of these incidents. So as the snake tried to decide whether to strike at me again or to head underneath the freezer or the refrigerator, I made the decision for it and began to try to jump onto its head with the heel of my boots. The dance which ensued can best be described by the steady stream of obscenities that issued from my mouth as I alternately jumped up to avoid the snake's parries and down in the attempt to catch its skull. At least once, it caught on my pant leg and was flung into the air only to turn, ready to strike again. Alarmed by the commotion, my friend came out to the doorway, and seeing the battle, shouted "Use your Knife!!"

Rather than explaining the foolishness of that suggestion, I - apparently - calmly, explained that I would if it weren't trying to bite me, and continued to jump and lunge like a scene from Riverdance while she beat a hurried retreat back to the living room and began to hug herself and rock on the couch, with her feet well away from the floor I hasten to add.

All epic battles do eventually come to an end, and this was no exception. As I hurriedly picked up the still twitching carcass with my tongs and headed outside, I passed through the living room. The scene there is testimony to something, but as I have not yet finished analyzing it, I leave it to you to judge. The adult friend and the other town kid were huddled together on the couch, shaking, while my daughter sat calmly texting someone on a borrowed cell phone and my son was loudly complaining that he wanted to finish playing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I cleaned up the mess and served dinner quickly, trying to distract. But our company seemed to have no appetite, and quickly left. Even though I noticed the mouse sized bulge in the belly of the snake, I can't help but wonder how long it will be before we have company again. Good thing I love the solitude.

P.S.: For those who may be harboring thoughts that I may be "anti-reptilic", or that I have commited a hate crime, I hasten to add that this morning I rescued a yellow box turtle from a blind curve on the road to town. In fact, some of my best friends are reptiles...

Does that help fix my Karma?

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How to Read the Weeds and Learn a lot About your Soil  

Posted by Dave in ,

As I look over the sad scene of destruction that is, or rather was, my garden, I can't help but notice that the weeds are doing well despite the demolition work of the deer, and the poor soil. I remember that the soil can be "read" by paying attention to the weeds that grow there. Often the best plots are those that can support a lot of weeds. After all, if weeds can grow there untended, your vegetables, with the added attention and care that you can give them should thrive!

As I survey the damage, I also see an awful lot of buttercups. Despite their humble beauty, I know they are poison to some foraging and grazing animals such as the goats we have been thinking of getting (more later). Buttercups, as well as the dandelions and plantain I see growing here are an indication of heavy soils as are some kinds of dock, which I don't see right now.

If I had the mosses may apples and joe pye weed, which I have down below but not up here in the garden area, I would know that the drainage was poor, so that is not necessarily a problem here. Up by the road I see some cornflower, and chicory so that soil must be a bit lighter, though sandy and probably not too fertile.

Oh how I long for the soil of many of my former gardens, light and humusy, well drained and rich. Usually the purslane and chicory grew right there on their own, and if the dandelions didn't, I planted them.. Not only are they delicious and nutritious, but their long tap roots reach down and break loose minerals and such that are too deep for the vegetables to reach. All of these "weeds" and some others also regularly found themselves on the menu for they are as healthy as they are easy to grow!

If nothing was growing there I'd know that the soil was not too fertile, or had been poisoned in some manner. Still, that truckload of manure I didn't get this spring when my old pickup broke down would have been well received, and I make a note to get it as soon as I can. It may be a bit late to save this crop, but the soil will still benefit from it, and can have the whole autumn and winter to digest and enjoy it and get revitalized for next year.

Now, I have to go finish picking the wild black raspberries and see if i can scare up enough to make a bit of jam. Have a safe and Happy 4th, and don't forget to ponder just what it is we should be celebrating. Hint, its not just a great burger.

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How to Make Your Own Stonehenge Type Solar Observatory  

Posted by Dave in

Ok, so I'm a week late. Last week was the Summer Solstice, and the frenetic activities that occupy the longer days of summer have proven to be a false economy. Posting has taken a step back as the added burdens of garden weeding, fruit picking, mowing and such have stepped up as we have been preparing for freezing, canning and drying the upcoming harvests. Though our garden is still dismal owing to the thin covering of heavy soil (is that an oxymoron?), and the depredations of the deer, squirrels and ground hogs. Family, neighbors and local farmers seem thus far to be having a decent year, though. Hopefully their excess will be available to help carry us through until our little plots mature and are strong enough to provide.

Often, while struggling to finish some long task at the end of an even longer day, I look up to realize that, although the sky is still light enough to see, it is long past the kids' bedtime and I haven't even cooked supper yet. I know it is summer, but proper sleep is a commodity that we are often short on as a society, and I try to keep their schedules regular.

But back to the solstice. Growing up it was a regular part of our family routine to observe the position of the sunset each evening at supper. Our table was in the western part of the house, and the fact that, by happy coincidence, our barn ran almost directly north and south, so it was easy to mark the progress of the sun as it progressed on it yearly cycle. It was as much a matter of conversation as the weather, and a part of our internal clocks. Precision was less important than the act of observation, the act of appreciation.

Our observatory was the product of years of living and watching, and a certain amount of osmosis. We just kind of absorbed the positions and related meaning. We drew encouragement in the dark days of February to note the sun had moved toward a certain point on the barn roof and spring was surely coming. Similarly, even though the days were long and beautiful, we were reminded to get the harvest ready and prepare for winter as the sun began its trek back south. Without realizing it, we were in tune with the seasons more surely than we could be if the calendar was our only regulator. Though this is just one of the cycles we are all influenced by, often too little thought or credit is given.

In the years since I left home, I have always, to some degree, paid attention to the the position of the sun. Depending on the specifics of my location, it has either been the sunset, or the more traditional sunrise. Sometimes I have simply taken note of the positions as the year progressed, making improvised observatories such as our "barn roof observatory", and sometimes I have taken a bit more time and built simple observatories.

One year I planted my green beans and pole according to my previous year's observations. I dubbed this creation "Beanhenge". Other years I have stacked rocks, adjusting for precision throughout the year, only to find myself changing homes before my creation was complete.
Since moving to this current home, I have not yet had time to actually build a formal structure. Happily a combination and a few coincidences have handed me a ready made observatory.

My desk sits beside the massive stone chimney that heats our winters (and helps hold the cool in the summer), and windows wrap around me to both the south and the east. On the morning of June 21, when viewed from here the sun seems to rise between the two tall poplars that shelter my outdoor cooking area. Next December, I know if I sit here, it will rise over the very back edge of the outhouse. Once during a particularly dark year (of mood), when I first noticed this, I dubbed my "creation" with the slightly disrespectful moniker of "Sh*thenge" and the name has since stuck.

I believe everyone should be just a bit more aware of the workings of the world, and so I propose you make your own stone henge. It can be as easy as picking a spot to observe either the sunrise or sunset, and occasionally noting the difference, or it can be as complicated as getting a compass, and marking the various points from a central observation point, then making daily observations and markings. Here are some cool activities that can make it a part of your family's routine, and maybe create a tradition and a re-connection with the natural world.
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