Archive for May, 2012

Look Sharp

Thursday evening, and as the last day’s light was waning I was towing a red kiddie trailer home (aka, The Crap Wagon as it hauls recycling, groceries, farm stuff, and soaps and sundries to market with admirable aplomb for its $20 Maxwell St. lineage). I was huffing into a headwind, heavily loaded for the seven-mile haul (no hills) with groceries for Memorial Day grilling, a BIG bag of sawdust, and a bale of straw (as Alefellow was prepping the beef chuck and pork chops to feed into the grinder for his specialty burgers, he asked… “why are there bits of straw in the grocery bag?”… hehe).  The sawdust was for the chicken run, and the straw to be doled out to nest-box lining and should see us through the summer and into the fall crop of grain… unless the spent-grain/straw-culture mushroom bag technique I try out is successful, in which case I’ll be buying at least another bale from my chicken feed guy (I alternate buying stuff from Backyard Chicken Run and Belmont Feed and Seed… both family businesses that I want to have around in the future!)… this bale I’d bartered from the mycologist at work for egg-futures, and would be the last she could spare until we can source more… which right now, is like buying winter hay.

As I ride past our studio a couple blocks from our house (where I am headed to ditch the straw and sawdust, then double-back to work on projects and the endless cleaning and organizing) a lumpy middle-aged woman in a tight pink t-shirt steps out into the street towards me.  She’s holding a tall can of something in a paper bag.  “Excuse me!? Excuse me?!”… she calls out.  Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  Look friendly, but aloof… and there’s a storm coming… need to get the bedding into the dry shed before it and I get dumped on… Me: “Mmmhmm?”  She: “You stay around here?”  Me: “Mmhm.” 
She: “You need a machete?”  Me: Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  She: “I don’t got it ON me, but…” Me, over my shoulder: “Actually, I already GOT one.”  She: “Huh?”
Me, again:”I already GOT one…”

I’m sure she though I was being a smart-ass, but she did catch me a little off-guard… and I wasn’t lying… I DO have one.  I told the story later to the fellow, who said I should have asked her, “Cane or Straight?  Because you really only need one kind…”.  It was one of my Christmas presents… the fellow found it at Maxwell St. one Sunday morning while I slept in… a cane machete with a dark rust patina to its hooked blade, and a sharp and shiny silver line where he burnished the blade with a file before he gave it to me.  The handle is wrapped in soft salvaged bike grip tape… the tape that had covered the bars of my trailer-bike back when it had bullhorns and we’d just met.  The blade he engraved with a dremel-bit: “I love your work”.  Probably one of the weirdest romantic gifts ever… and one of a million reasons why I love him.  Now if only he’ll sharpen the blades on that wood-chipper he got me this fall… and show me again how to start the dang thing, I can REALLY get some work done.

I finally found some fresh-cut hardwood logs last week, and yesterday drilled and inoculated 10 maple logs with shitake and blue oyster spawn… and have more blue oyster and also golden oyster to do tonight. The logs were from a tree that was just felled behind a house a couple blocks away, that I picked up with the trusty red trailer after doubling-back from my work-commute, switching bikes, loading the logs, parking the trailer at the studio heavily laden, and hopping back on the commuter bike like nothing had happened. This rowhouse recently sold after being on the market for the better part of a year- we’d looked at it… one of many in the neighborhood that had been recently rehabbed with nice finishes, then was vandalized and gutted by scrappers and gang hoods and selling for a fraction of the money that someone put into it. I liked it because it was close, faced a park and an elementary school, and most importantly had two city-owned lots adjacent to the west (good garden potential).

Thousands of dollars of plumbing and electrical work destroyed for at best, a couple hundred bucks of scrap… and that’s a tall “at best” with a lot of dirty work involved- carelessly ripping out pipes and wires that had been carefully fitted and threaded through conduit… skilled labor that doesn’t come cheap. The skylight of this building had been broken out causing water damage to the hardwood floors. The new tasteful tilework was gang-tagged with angry black and red paint.. 20-22-12… alphabet code for TVL. Traveling Vice Lords.
You can meet some of these charming neighbors here… or see their initials or numeric code scratched into the sidewalk… like dogs pissing to mark their turf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2UY9sjyWHw

The drywall of this house was pockmarked with holes and burn marks (the holes let us see that the developer had rehabbed this rowhouse without adding even an inch of insulation, which ended our interest in the place- we’d have to rip everything out and start over for it to be a building we’d want to own or live in), and several of the kitchen cabinets had the faces broken out. I tried not to think about what was might be on the carpet (we’ve looked at a LOT of vacant buildings over the years… and junkie-scat has its own particular sweet-stench that is hard to forget). Theft is bad enough; the vandalism was senseless. An elderly couple’s garage down the street from us was tagged with their “code” around the same time we looked at that house… I was going to paint over it after seeing this house but luckily they or the city came out to sandblast their nice stone sills before I had to be spotted covering up someone’s tag. As the neighborhood watch sign in Mrs. Davis’s window down the street says, “We ain’t havin’ it! (We Call Police).”… which is why, when I watched a scrapper tearing the steel scissor-gate off a neighboring vacant building this morning as I left for work, I stopped to ring the buzzer of one of the owner’s tenants down the street to tell him about it, and called the fellow at work to see if he had the owner’s number in his phone… you can’t put up a chain-link fence around here without the risk of it getting clipped and rolled up and cashed in at the scrapyard down the street when you’re not looking.

But wearing colors is back… red, yellow, and blue bandannas dot the city streets this spring (which already feels like summer)… which is a bummer, as I wear my Folk/People-hued bandannas in an entirely different spirit (the dusty unwashed farmer with bike-helmet hair spirit)… Although I roll up my right-pants leg, which might make me reppin’ Folk Nation (or more importantly, keep it out of my bike chain), I live in People-Land (how can anyone actually take this seriously? It’s like a child’s game, but folks… and people, live and die for it). I’m sure that this colors fad will pass when the next thing comes along and I’ll be free to once again wear the red-polka dot osh-gosh rag without worry of who I’m “reppin”… although red is the predominant color through most of my commute; that one is probably fine. I especially like the one I’m sporting today, which alternates red, yellow, and white stripes… add in some blue and purple and maybe we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya someday.



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garden of eden

I LOVE that this grandiflora rose’s name is Love. All the roses in the garden were “rescued” from Home Depot mid-season three years ago for $2 apiece… I looked for over an hour through the remaining stock to find the heirloom roses and this one modern one that were least covered in black spot… they had it pretty bad for a year or so, but now are thriving with no spraying other than a bit of sulfur that first year. She’s glorious!

Sometimes I have mixed feelings about living here. And then I sing this Mike West song from the “Redneck Riveria” album, written back when he lived with his former partner in love and music, Myshkyn, in a shotgun house in the 9th ward of New Orleans until years later, Katrina washed it away… he was touring with his wife Katie at the time with their band Truckstop Honeymoon, and their roommate spent the storm back home in the attic with their dogs. There wasn’t much to come home to other than a house full of mold and some drowned chickens in the yard… they packed up whatever they had left and now live in Lawrence, KS with their growing family (when they’re not still on the road playing shows). If we ever get properly hitched my few requirements are a bike parade beforehand, and that Truckstop Honeymoon play the reception (which will be a potluck backyard pig-roast with mismatched mason jars of homebrew or sun tea, pies galore, and at least three kinds of potato salad. I’m not a very fancy kind of girl, but have given this some degree of thought). Al Scorch will have to cover this song for us though, as they don’t do the Myshkyn-era songs anymore. I understand where that comes from, but those were some damn fine tunes…

Mike and Katie… substitute the car for a tandem-bike and this is pretty much what I’m hoping our photo would look like… haha

Garden of Eden
Jerry caught a catfish big as a dog
wish i could catch a fish like that
then he caught a flounder
a fifteen pounder
big as a door mat
it tasted sweet with a little crab meat
well, that’s what jerry said
but he showed me the spot
where that fish was caught
Jerry i’m surprised you’re not dead
oh, looks are deceiving
is this a ghetto or the garden of eden
oh, if seein’s believing
show me a ghetto
i’ll show you a garden of eden.
Patty grows bananas
and keeps an iguana
in the bird cage by the kitchen
she’s always in the garden
working hard and
bending her back and a’bitchin
“no matter what i sow
i can’t get nothing to grow
in the shade of the pecan tree
i’ve got a beautiful son
but my husband’s a bum
but that’s alright with me
’cause oh, oh, looks are deceiving…
you get home from work
you say your boss is a jerk
he doesn’t pay you what your worth
i have to agree
’cause for what you do for me
Honey, i’d pay you the earth
so we sit outside and watch the last of the light
fading from the skies
A couple of blocks away
you hear shots and say
“these are the best days of our lives.”
oh, oh, looks are deceiving
is this the ghetto or the garden of Eden.
Oh, oh, if seeing is believing,
Show me a ghetto,
I’ll show you,
A garden of Eden. “

So sometimes there are shopping carts and cardboard boxes dumped in your garden… but those shopping cart guys are the only recycling we’ve got going in our neighborhood, and that cardboard will get used to build new raised beds. One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure… and the roses bloom gloriously either way. The strawberries are sun-warmed and sweet. The sunflowers that my neighbor planted with his son last year reseeded themselves generously all over the garden, as did last year’s arugula and some of the lettuce… and everything else is a jungle of raspberry and lemon balm- and how can anyone be melancholic while wading through a thicket of Melissa officinalis? Not even I.

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get baked, crust-punks!

I’ve been in home-baked limbo for awhile. I killed my starter long ago, sometime between the move from Hyde Park to Bridgeport, then was oven-less in our loft for awhile, then had a brief but steamy no-knead fling… but now I’m back to the real thing! I’ve now got two new starters, a wheat and a rye chef for making levain chillin’ in the fridge, and have made a sourdough pesto rye loaf (and am now in the pesto donut hole- used the last of the frozen stuff from the fall, and am far from having fresh basil ready to make more. Will taste all the sweeter when I do!) and sourdough wheat pizza.

My bread bible is Bread Alone (Baking with Julia is my favorite pastry primer, alongside the Tartine pastry cookbook), along with some photocopied sheets from a Peter Reinheart workshop on whole grain breads at an IACP conference that was held at my culinary school while I was in Chef Kelson’s baking class- work for free on a Saturday and meet a bread-guru? Don’t mind if I do! And someday, we’ll get to employ the knowledge in Kiko’s book there to build a clay oven (and warming bench!) for breads, pizzas, and casseroles… till then, it’s the trusty baking stone, spray bottle, and cutie-pie vintage Chambers oven for the win.

It (or rather, they, as we’ve ended up with two of them, the copper-colored one that came with our cooktop, and a stainless one we rescued from a date with the curb… both Craigslist finds. Someday we’ll have a kitchen big enough to stack them and have the double-oven I’ve always drooled over…) was made in the early 1950’s in Shelbyville, IN, and will probably still be baking away when my grand-nieces are ready to learn. I love well-made things, that pre-date planned obsolescence. It’s fairly efficient too- well-insulated with rockwool, plenty of thermal mass in the cast-iron floor, and the kicker is that the switch to shut off the gas to the oven also closes a damper in the bottom to seal off the inside- a little like a space-age straw-box cooker. They were advertised to “Cook with the Gas Off!” and were designed so housewives could put a casserole in the oven, bake for a specified amount of time, then shut-it off, go get your hair-did, pick up little Johnny from Little League or Susie from knitting class, or whatever… and dinner would be hot and ready as soon as Dear Darling stepped through the door and changed from suit to sport jacket. The culture may have changed, but the utility has not…

I have a freezer-full of spent grain from the fellow’s wheat-beer brew last Saturday ready to turn into sourdough spent grain bread from those recipes for the Nite Market this weekend… we’ll also have jars of herbal tea (lemon balm, raspberry leaf, mint, and rose blend from our gardens), honey, jars of sage-lemon wine mustard, some other Alewyfe Farm preserves and salsas, hopefully another batch of caramelized onion confit, canine cookies for your dog friends, and some strawberry-porter chocolate cupcakes for sale, with tasty adult beverages to share as well! We’ll be at the ReBuilding Exchange from 6-9 this Saturday along with 40 or so other food artisans, and it’s a private event so there’s a $2 membership fee at the door. More details here!


Don’t be fooled by the flier… this shot is from the last Nite Market back in the fall, when those jars of green tomato salsa and raspberry jam were still warm from the canner! We’ll have a few jars this time around and they’re still summer-fresh!

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First, the ugly. This is a cottonwood tree. It’s stately, huge, and we enjoy its shade and the gentle quaking of its heart-shaped leaves. Yesterday we watched a pair of woodpeckers cavort around its massive trunks, and then a young squirrel, also searching the thick peeling bark for snacks. There are many dead and hollow branches, that besides threatening to fall on our house, porch, woodshed or beehives, have sheltered birds, squirrels, raccoons in the time that we’ve lived here. This tree also has an even darker side than the potential to smash our little house to smithereens or at least take out our power if it ever falls in the wrong direction. It provides fuel for arsonists.

Apparently this is a yearly threat. Our elderly neighbors send their grown sons (who still live at home) out in the early morning to turn on their sprinklers so their lawns, and their down of cottonwood snow are not a target for neer-do-wells (which is a nicer name than I called them to one of said sons. He nodded in agreement). A few years ago Mrs. D’s yard was set ablaze, and her dog house caught on fire. I said that if I caught them doing it again I’d feed them to my dog… We were lucky, that only our mulch path was a target, and that we live in a brick house… our next door neighbor on her way home from church, an 83 year old vision in an aqua suit, wearing chunky heels with her jacket draped over her walker, shook her head and said that it was “Just ugliness and the devil”.
I am definitely planting that woman some tomatoes and a salad bed in her yard this summer- she offered that I could put in another garden bed on her side of the fence last fall (our yard is pretty maxed out until we finish the house and don’t need a truck-sized aisle down the middle). She said she’d have her son hose down our front yard when he did hers “if we didn’t mind”… no, ma’am, we would not. But luckily it rained all night and into the morning, so hopefully that’s all of that kind of drama we’ll see this year. The log border and cardboard under the new raised beds I just built on the side lot was still smoldering in the afternoon until I dumped buckets of water on it… hopefully the biochar will fuel some explosive flower growth in the future to combat the ugliness of bored youth and destructiveness.

Here’s the bad… bad dog that is. I promised pics… here is the aftermath when she broke into the chick brooder. No chickies were harmed, just slobbered on and scared. Whew! Close call. The door was closed, but the “secret door” to the basement from there was open, as was the rear basement door since we were doing yard-work and had to get the reel-mower out. The dog was smarter than us and waited until we were out of sight to commit her caper.

They’re getting big… much bigger than this! They’ve graduated to the little big-girl coop (the tractor) which we moved across the yard into the dog-free chicken/garden compound… I took the floating row cover off and top-dressed the garden with compost yesterday, and am planting out seedlings today… hopefully the pepper plants survive the stomping that Bella gave them- I absentmindedly set their seed-flat on the bench, which she hopped up onto to get a better view of “her” chickens. Oh dear. Sometimes I want to wring her cute little neck… but she’s just a dog. Why should some dirt and plants be different from others? Gotta stay three steps ahead…

Here’s the good part: 8 cu yards of composted horse manure and straw delivered to our side lot for a steal! Bella didn’t help me spread it but she thought it smelled great.
And the start of the side lot garden, which will be a mix of edibles and ornamentals:

Alright, off to the house to feed the dog, feed and water the chickies, plant some broccoli, cabbage, and kale seedlings, seed potatoes from last year’s tiny crop, and some bean, squash, and melon seeds, bake a sourdough pizza to go with the stew in the crockpot (and add in the last of the summer’s dehydrated eggplant and last year’s parsnips) and pasta salad in the fridge to feed the guys who are jacking up the roof on our house today, and then phone-interview a potential intern this afternoon. Whew! And this is my day off. :-) Such is the life! Hopefully we wrap up in time and have the energy to go see Al Scorch (ha. Scorch.) play a free show tonight… I could use some banjo/fiddle/bass pick-me-ups!

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Hoo Boy!

Updates coming soon… we’ve been busy bees lately, with rain-collection apparatus construction (the barrels have been joined by a 275 gal. tote on the porch and a 500 gal tank out back, which filled in less than 48 hours off ONE HALF of our roof.  That’s a lotsa water!), general rehab work, tending to four healthy and one sick chickie-teens (she’s almost ready to rejoin her sisters, but she had us worried there for a minute!), trying to keep the dog from obsessing too much over said chickies (which she thinks are the best things ever invented and has proven that she prefers them to popsicles… luckily only for licking but boy, did that give us a scare)!  It’s a short story, but one I don’t have time to tell just yet.  But soon, dear friends, I will sit and fill you in!  Soon.  Right now I’ve got 80 chicks to broker (a friend works for a suburban school district and has a district-worth of kindergarden life-lessons to re-home)… email me if you want straight-run, week and a half old leghorn babes and can pick them up- he’ll be dropping them off to us on Monday… luckily not all of them, as we’ve found farm homes for many already.  Then home to take pictures of the tree that needs trimming, mulch to wrangle, mushroom logs to drill and innoculate, a dog that needs 95#’s of love and walkies, coops to carry, fence to finish, brush to chip, plants to plant, and two teensy patches of lawn out front to attack with the trusty reel-mower.  I’m covering those suckers with mulch and plants as soon as I can get some to show up here…

And tomorrow, volunteers and interns will join me to redistribute Mt. Compost into orderly raised beds down at The Plant… stop by between 10-5ish if you’d like to help, and bring tools if you have ’em!  We got 32.5 yards delivered today, and can’t wait to turn that pile into plantable beds!  Pictures coming soon, promise.


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