Another Day of Liiiife

Is it crazy that in this time where COVID-19 is meant to be stopping everything in its tracks, I feel busier than ever? There are so many online offerings, so many sources of information/education/inspiration (of varying qualities), so many important people that I want to check on, near and far. (Not nearly enough hours in the day to connect with everyone I care about.)

I notice in myself a tendency to overconsume and overdo, just as in regular life, even while “regular life” is up in smoke. This will be an exploration for another day, because this blog commitment can easily become another way of overloading myself.

For now: Note the irony, because I believe that the frenetic pace of modern life is part and parcel of why we collectively required a pandemic-level disaster to get our attention.

Today, our governor issued a “hunker-down order” as we’re jokingly calling it, because of the folksy (read: confusing) way he put it in his press conference. (I’m glad we can still go outdoors and take walks and bike rides. On the radio I heard that Britain’s prime minister put some new stringent requirements in place, saying people can only exercise outdoors once a day.)

It is a strange new world we’re living in. I was operating in hypervigilant mode for much of last week, and that is starting to abate. Meanwhile I’m eager for sunlight to return after a string of cloudy/rainy/sleety days. I’m also eager to get some garden plants in the ground. It seems more essential than ever to grow some of my own food.

AND it seems more essential than ever to support local farmers. In the absence of a winter farmers’ market, where I usually get my spring plants, I can still connect personally with the farm community to get some things to eat and plant.

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Parsley and cilantro too.

Just today, in advance of the “hunker-down order” taking effect, I drove up to my friend Laura Karr’s farm to get some spinach, lettuce, kale and other seedlings. She let me snip some fresh greens for supper as well. We kept a good distance between us instead of exchanging our customary hug.

I’m so lucky to have these connections and the flexibility to make such a trip right now. (Local folks: you can email her at kgacresfarm@gmail.com to see what all she has available.)

20200322_183023 (768x1024)Gratitude: I woke up with this old song in my head: “I just want to celebrate another day of living. I just want to celebrate another day of LIIIIIFE.”

And check my fave bright sunshiny sweatshirt worn on a dreary day. I got it at a thrift store in Phoenix years ago (actually in December! but it seems like years ago!).

Tip of the Day: This comes courtesy of my friend Merry, an energy healer. If you have trouble sleeping (as I often do), it might help to do a little release ritual at bedtime to let go of excess energy and stuff that doesn’t belong to you. Try repeating to yourself something like: “I release all excess energy from my field,” and “I release all emotions and energies that aren’t mine from my field.” (Field just means your body and energy.) I tried it last night and it really helped.

Resource of the Day: Local people: definitely check out KG Acres, Laura’s farm, and other Indy Winter Farmers’ Market vendors who have alternate ways to keep you fed. If you’re interested in growing some of your own food, check out the Gardening Guru Exchange for tips and info.

Got a good tip or resource? Put it in the comments, or message me. And thanks for the sweet notes saying how this blog is useful to you. It really means a lot that people are reading and resonating.

Till next time….

Grief in the Time of…

How is it for you? Are you feeling like the floor under your feet has turned to water?

Myself, I can’t keep a thought in my head today. My short-term memory is shot. My muscles are all in a bunch. It was a day to get back to work after taking time off for my 96-year-old father-in-law’s funeral (a whole other surreal COVID-19 story). I pulled it together for a few hours, with effort–and with the support of my management team, who are wonderful people, who are reeling themselves.

Grief is part of my disorientation. Not just grief over our family’s loss, but grief over the “new normal” that so far feels anything but normal. In my area we are not (yet) on lockdown, but are instructed to stay at home unless we need to go to work, buy groceries, or get other necessities.

I know that many are dealing with greater losses and unspeakable pain, but my private grief is this: I miss my routine, my work camaraderie, my writing group, my yoga buddies, and the studio where I practice yoga several times a week. I miss knowing I can give a friend a hug without hesitation. I miss feeling like I know what to expect in the near future (even if that sense of security was always an illusion, at bottom.)

As my manager put it, “We are all mourning the loss of life as we knew it.”

And we had the first COVID-19 death in my county a few days ago. It feels horribly sad: The person’s partner could not be there, because of being quarantined at home. The couple had to say their goodbyes via iPad. Can you imagine?

(If you are experiencing deep sorrow, you may be interested in this Community Grief Ritual happening remotely on Friday.)

We have to be strong, kind, and brave now, and lift each other as best we can. On my neighborhood Facebook group, someone has changed the banner photo to a drawing of children in a sunlit field and the words “Tiny Acts of Kindness.”

I’m lucky: my immediate neighborhood is already tightknit. But I suspect this period of uncertainty will draw many more people closer together. I hear stories of people talking with neighbors they haven’t seen in years… supplying toilet paper when a friend’s stocks are low (yes, it’s a real issue!)… and willingly going into the grocery store to shop for an elderly couple sitting in their car afraid to enter the store. Total strangers, mind you. People in general are being soft and caring with each other.

This thing we are going through together–affecting all of us, the entire world–has the potential to open us up, if we let it.

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Pea shoots, chickweed, salad burnett from my backyard

Are we self-perceived rugged individualists/proud nationalists evolving into a global community with the help of viral activity that shows us how truly interconnected we are?

Lest you point to ugly behaviors we might see in our social media feeds, consider this. For every mean story that gets magnified and reposted and outraged over (oh how we love to be outraged!), there are thousands of tiny acts of kindness that go unmagnified. And big ones too. We may be wired to notice and dwell on the ugly (negativity bias, anyone?) but we can train ourselves to see and celebrate and savor the good.

Gratitude: My major gratitude for a dreary day was the first chickweed harvest of the year. Chickweed grows abundantly, for free (they don’t call it a weed for nothing). It is a succulent little salad addition. I also celebrate the harvest of salad burnet that wintered over in my garden tower, and Austrian winter pea shoots that I planted last fall.

(It just occurred to me that I could have added chives to my salad too, but I spaced it.)

Tip of the Day: Forgive yourself everything. Others too. Practice radical compassion. If ever the phrase “Life’s too short” applied, I would say it does now. Not sure how? Here’s Rick Hanson, one of the wisest teachers around, on the subject.

Resources of the Day: I thought I would post some food options today since that is a basic need we all have, and speaking for myself, I can get triggered if I feel like I will run out. There is an abundance of food available. Indy-area people: Check out Becker Farms (local meat/eggs), Indy’s Food Coop (organic produce and more), Azure Standard (bulk items and more–there is a local drop but it is national).

Here’s a list of places where students can be fed while out of school because of coronavirus.

Also check out this marvelous recipe compilation, offering many great ways to use up nonperishable items you might already have on hand.

Till next time, friends. Feel free to comment with more resources, tips, or anything else you want to say.

To Pause and Give Thanks

Gratitude is not just a seasonal thing for me. I look to be aware of the blessings in my life all the time, the better to enjoy them. Lately I’ve been taking a few minutes before I eat a meal (when I remember to!) to celebrate all the contributors to my food.

I will look down at a humble bowl of oatmeal with raisins and almond butter and pause for a second. I will think (or say), Thank you! I love you I love you I love you! And then, if I feel like I have the wherewithal in this moment, I get focused and consider:

  • the farmers responsible for growing these oats, grapes, and almonds
  • the bees that pollinated them
  • the sun and rain
  • the worms and microscopic wee buggies that do so much unseen
  • the people involved in processing and transporting
  • the folks at my local food coop where I bought these foods.

Thank you, I love you!

What’s really fun is to look down at a meal and realize how many personal connections it embodies. I’ll think: Oh yum, I get to eat Amy’s spinach (from South Circle Farm) or Randy’s squash (from Stout’s Melody Acres). The celebration feels even more expansive when I know my farmer. And the food tastes better too.

Today’s lunchtime moment: thanking Earl (Blue River Natural Foods) and his pastured hens for the beautiful eggs, Laura (dear friend) for the tomatillos that went into my salsa verde, Matthew (Big City Farms) for the gorgeous carrots.

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Local eggs cooked cooked “over hard” and topped with homemade salsa verde, with dilly carrots and spicy sauerkraut on the side.

Also Joshua and the folks at Fermenti Artisan for the spicy Latin American kraut known as curtido. And…myself for the small part I played in planting and harvesting dill from Seven Steeples Farm, where I sometimes help out Mike, the farm manager.

Thank you, I love you!

No matter where the food comes from though, this mindful, grateful state brings texture to a meal. A good thing, to pause and give thanks.

Foraging on Two Wheels

Yesterday evening I joined Greg Monzel and friends in an activity combining two of my fave things to do: riding my bike and foraging for wild edibles.

It had been rainy all day and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. Especially since—even though I love cycling—I had never mounted my bike on a car carrier to drive it somewhere. (The foray started at White Pine Wilderness Academy, which is not in my neighborhood.) I also had to go to my local bike shop and get lights mounted (another first: cycling after dark!)

It all turned out to be worth the effort: I got to hang with some excellent folks, experience the woods after dark, and taste some interesting things. I was not brave enough to munch on a pillbug, however. Save that for another day.

Below are some photos from the evening. Sadly I didn’t get any of us on two wheels. You’ll just have to take the dorky bike helmets as evidence that we really did cycle to our destination, before dismounting and exploring.

Greg showing ??

Greg showing us polymnia canadensis, or white flower leafcup, which has some medicinal uses

Greg is an herbalist with a passion for learning, which makes him incredibly knowledgeable about plant lore, uses, history, and science. Also, the muck boots were a really good idea. I may have to practice cycling while wearing mine.

Maria inspecting winged euonymus

Maria inspecting winged euonymus

The berries are not edible, but I believe there are some medicinal qualities to certain parts of this plant.

Mighty burr oak

Mighty burr oak

This was the first of several oaks we assessed for acorn availability and tastiness. I ate part of an acorn before realizing that it’s best to leach the tannins out first. Oops! Nice texture, though!

Greg with promising fungal find

Greg with promising fungal find: Could it be the medicinal turkey tail?

While we were standing here, Maria found a step-by-step turkey tail identifier on her smartphone. How’s that for appropriate use of technology? Unfortunately we still could not definitively ID this fungus.

A closer look: might be turkey tail, a mushroom known for its immunomodulating effect

A closer look: possibly turkey tail, a mushroom known for its immunomodulating effect

No one was brave enough to take a bunch home to make into a decoction. But I did learn that ALL mushrooms have beta-glucans in their cell walls, and this is one of the things that gives them immune-boosting properties. (Tip: Cook shrooms for a long time over low heat, with water—that’s the key to accessing the beta-glucans.)

Shaking the pawpaw tree

Shaking the pawpaw tree

We struck out on pawpaws, but I’m told the week before, there was quite a haul.

Wood nettle. Watch out: It bites!

Wood nettle. Watch out: It bites!

We may be gathering seeds of this plant in a week or two. Yum!

Did I mention that “Fall Foraging Forays—Bicycle Edition” is a whole series, and you can drop in on the rest of the sessions? Check out Greg’s website for details.

Fomenting the Ferment

Fermentation on Wheels rolled into town over the weekend. Tara Whitsitt has been driving her mobile fermentation lab cross country since October 2013. As soon as I heard she was coming to Indy, I knew I had to make it to one of her events.

Fermentation on Wheels, a 1986 International Harvester school bus converted to a mobile fermentation lab

Fermentation on Wheels, a 1986 International Harvester school bus converted to a mobile fermentation lab

Tara’s mission is to initiate more people into the wonderful world of fermented foods (like sourdough breads, kefir, sauerkraut, wine, and kombucha). So far her tricked-out bus has traveled over 12,000 miles to share the love.

Tara with pawpaw vinegar

Tara with pawpaw vinegar

Saturday she did a fermentation workshop, which I hear was fabulous. Sunday evening, Seven Steeples Urban Farm (see my earlier blog post about them here) hosted a potluck and culture exchange. That’s where we met Tara and her beautiful kitty.

Tara's cat Franklin is her traveling companion.

Tara’s cat Franklin is her traveling companion.

We had a terrific meal together that included loads of fermented drinks and veggies, some from the pros: Joshua Henson of Fermenti Artisan brought cultured ramps and daikon radishes, along with water kefir lemonade and a bunch of other delicious stuff. There was also a popular fermented drink called beer.

After we ate, it was time to check out the bus.

Inside the bus, where all kinds of groovy stuff ferments!

Inside the bus, where all kinds of groovy stuff ferments!

“I really want to spur the movement of getting back in the kitchen and doing things with our own hands instead of relying on other people to do it for us,” Tara told us.

All across the country, she’s been partnering with farmers and homesteaders to turn local harvests into something out-of-this-world delicious. People give her their home-canned peaches, for example, and bushels of chili peppers. She dried the chilis and used them in kim chee, and they are also a key ingredient in her peach-habanero mead.

Peach habanero wine-in-the-making

Peach habanero mead-in-the-making, with blackberry mead at left

We sampled kombucha, miso, and a mysterious drink of Tibetan origin called “jun.” (Instead of the black tea and sugar that make up kombucha, jun favors green tea and honey.)

We sniffed three types of sourdough starter, each with a different backstory. For example, the Alaskan sourdough came from a person in Portland whose great-grandmother had made it in the 1900s in Alaska. White flour and milk were the original ingredients, and that’s what Tara feeds it to this day. The starter is a key ingredient in creamy sourdough hotcakes favored by Alaskans.

No wonder she calls her starter cultures “heirloom” cultures: They’re completely different from something purchased online, typically made in laboratories.

Eating food from a starter passed down for generations is like wrapping your grandmother’s Afghan around you. Versus a Kmart coverlet. One is imbued with love and history. The other with factory threads and who-know-what labor injustice.

IMG_4728I wish I could say I had something terribly cool to swap with Tara, but she wasn’t all that keen on my dairy kefir grains (of unknown origin: a friend of a friend gave them to me). So, I purchased a rye starter that hails from Brooklyn. As we speak, I’ve got sourdough rye bread dough fermenting on the counter. I’m using Tara’s instructions and recipe: Fingers crossed!

The Miracle of Seeds

I’ve been thinking about how tenacious life is, encapsulated in a tiny seed. Some seeds I plant, but others sprout all on their own.

I’m probably the only person on my block who gives a cheer when she sees these coming up.

Lamb's quarters

Lamb’s quarters

These are lamb’s quarters, considered a weed, but deliberately planted two years ago in my garden. This is the second year they will have reseeded, and I can’t wait to taste them again when they get a little bigger. (They’re terrific fried crispy in my cast-iron skillet, with a couple eggs cracked over them. And incredibly energizing, as all edible weeds are.)

Here is part of another patch of self-sowing plants that are on their third (or fourth?) year of growing freely in my garden: arugula.

Arugula volunteers in leaf mulch

Arugula “volunteers” in leaf mulch

I wasn’t sure they would come up this year because I mulched so heavily last fall with shredded leaves. But lo: I pull away the top layer and find them rooted right in the leaf mold.

Miracles like these show up all the time, if we know to look.

“There is no way to re-enchant our lives in a disenchanted culture except by becoming renegades from that culture and planting the seeds for a new one.”

Thomas Moore, author and psychotherapist

Perhaps growing food for people in need would fall under this “renegade” notion? Here is a seedling started by a southern Indiana farmer and planted by a volunteer for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

Cabbage seedling planted by a volunteer at a food bank garden

Cabbage seedling planted by a volunteer at a food bank garden

And one more: Late last fall I blogged about starting Austrian winter peas and my happiness at their growth in cold weather. They are generally not grown for a pea harvest, but intended as a cover crop with benefits—pea shoots are sweet and tender.

They didn’t do much during the winter, but this spring they are the healthiest of plants in my garden. I have snipped them nearly every day as salad and smoothie additions, and they are growing as fast as I can cut!

Austrian winter peas in spring

Austrian winter peas in spring

With seeds on my mind, no wonder this statement in a new mother’s Facebook post snagged my attention:

“I did not know until I got pregnant that the first organ to develop is the heart. It’s as if a heart seed gets planted and from the heart grows the human.”

Laura Henderson, founder of Growing Places Indy

Miraculous.

A Mycological Field Trip

Yesterday we drove down to southern Indiana to visit Magnificent Mushrooms, Eric Osborne’s hub for all things mycological. Located outside of Paoli, IN, this growing business offers products and information for the would-be home mushroom cultivator.

That turns out to be us: we came home with three kinds of spawn to put to work here on our wee homestead: “old faithful” shiitakes, Lion’s Mane, and King Stropharia (winecaps).

I will keep you posted on our efforts to expand our food production into the fungal kingdom! I’m a bit concerned about keeping Kitley (our outdoor cat) and his pals away from the logs and woodchips we’ll use as substrate. As I understand it, mushrooms are tolerant of many things…but they probably wouldn’t want to drink cat pee or get all clawed up, any more than I would.

Old Faithful is a strain of shiitake that is slightly furry. Here it is growing off a block of sterilized, inoculated grain.

Old Faithful is a strain of shiitake that fruits in a slightly furry mushroom. Here it is growing off a block of sterilized, inoculated grain.

I’m most excited about attempting to grow winecaps, also known as “the garden mushroom” for its friendly affinity for the vegetable garden.

Bags of King Stropharia spawn

Bags of King Stropharia (winecap) spawn

We plan to try starting it not only in our backyard beds, but also in a low-lying place in the front yard. A natural bowl beneath the sweetgum tree is often waterlogged, and Eric said this kind of spot is perfect for winecaps.

As for Lion’s Mane, I’ve never eaten it, but Eric says it tastes like “heaven on earth.” It’s a pale blobby mushroom that looks a bit like some oceanic organism. Or maybe a cartoon nose.

Eric and I petting a Lion's Mane mushroom.

Eric and I petting a Lion’s Mane mushroom.

Eric sells his harvest to area chefs, so if you’ve eaten a mushroom dish at a Bloomington restaurant, you may have sampled his wares.

He also offers cultivation workshops and consultations. In partnership with the Hoosier Mushroom Society and the state department of health, he’s developed a certification course for wild mushroom hunters, which would allow them to comply with regulations around selling their harvest.

Speaking of: Know any good morel hunting spots?