Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food in Due Season: Radishes

This time of year I always have an abundance of crisp, refreshing radishes. Because radishes grow best in cool weather, they are a treat limited to spring and fall. They are easy to grow and can be planted in April for a spring harvest then again in late July through August for an autumn harvest. I usually plant radishes in the spring and let some of them go to seed for a fall harvest. If you want to save seed from them, you need to grow only one type because they will cross pollinate.

Radishes are also good keepers. If you harvest them in the fall and store them in a cold root cellar or refrigerator, they keep into the winter. The leaves of radishes can be prepared as greens or added to soups, though I prefer the more pungent taste of kale or turnip greens. The immature seed pods can also be eaten. I just tried them for the first time, sautéed with a little garlic salt and served with soy sauce. They were rather nice. Next time I will try them in a stir fry.

Radishes are a snappy addition to a salad. They form the basis of my personal favorite salad—radish arugula salad.

Radish and Cottage Cheese Salad

1 or 2 radishes, chopped
A few slivers of onions
1/3 Cup small curd cottage cheese (Homemade is best. Recipe to come later this week, and you don’t need a herd of goats to make it.)

Late Summer Variation:
Add ¼ cup chopped cucumber

Fall and Winter Variation:
Add 3-4 leaves arugula
And ¼ cup finely chopped cabbage or Chinese cabbage

Mix. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Repeat for additional servings.

“The eyes of all look to thee, and thou givest them their food in due season” (Psalm 145 [144]:15).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Word of Encouragement

Discouragement is a regular part of life. A project started with energy and enthusiasm becomes drudgery in time. Even things we do for fun will be almost impossible to face on some days. What should we do when discouragement strikes, take a step back? Walk away completely? Take a deep breath and throw ourselves 100% back into the project? How you answer that question depends both on personality and circumstances.

But here is a bit of encouragement to keep going.

First of all, take that deep breath, both physically and spiritually. Where ever we are and what ever we are doing, a deep breath and a brief act of turning to God don’t take any time and both are wonderfully refreshing.

Be honest. You don’t want to do what ever it is you are doing. It won’t work to lie to your self about it. You have to come to grips with your feelings before you can move on.

Be cheerful anyway and keep going anyway. It came as a surprise to many people to find out that Mother Teresa went through years of spiritual darkness and feelings of being abandoned by God. Yet she kept going and kept smiling, and by the grace of God she accomplished amazing things. Who knows what God wants to do with you?

“In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Reflection on Rain Drops

Outside a cold heavy rain is falling. It is dark, but only dreary if one chooses to see it as dreary. It speaks of rest and refreshment. Nature is slowly winding down as she prepares for her yearly rest and as she refills the reservoirs that were spent in the summer’s heat and drought. She lulls us on to join her. But we with our electric lights and our computers refuse her invitation. I often wonder if we are missing something when we refuse the invitation, something that would give us health of mind and body. The more I try to live according to the rhythm of the seasons the more I am sure that we are.

Productivity and efficiency have become modern day idols. We are like the people of ancient Israel who profaned the Sabbath with their incessant trading. “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale…?” Amos 8:5.  Only we have gone so far away from the Lord that we no longer even ask the question of when—our stores are open 7 days a week, sometimes even 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year. And we sacrifice ourselves and our fellow human beings on the altar of these false gods.

Perhaps the heaviness of mind and body that comes so naturally on a rainy day is God’s way of calling us back from the treadmill, slowing us down enough that we draw breath and see, if only for a moment, that life is so much more than our endless schemes and projects. Perhaps we can take a moment of stillness to remember that we are called into relationship with the Living God.

So drink deeply whenever it rains for however long you can spare and be refreshed like a lush, green plant growing and thriving in the rain.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Food in Due Season”—Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is one of my favorite vegetables. It is a type of beet that is raised for its leaves and stalks. I plant it in the spring for a continuous harvest throughout the summer and into the fall. It can also be planted in a greenhouse in the fall for a winter harvest.

If the green house is cold enough, the plants can then be transplanted in the spring and allowed to go to seed. Chard is a biannual plant. That means that its life span goes over two years. It must go through a cold period in order to go to seed. However, Ohio winters are too harsh for it to remain in the ground outside and survive. Chard will cross pollinate with beets and with other varieties of chard, so if you are raising it for seed only let one variety go to seed a year.

Chard is mild vegetable that works well in stir-fries and soups. Here is a soup recipe that I came up with from ingredients on hand and found quite tasty:

A Hint of India Soup

1 medium onion                                  2 T butter
8-10 Swiss chard stalks                       2 T oil
1 stalk celery                                       1 t turmeric
1 cup millet                                         ¼ t ginger
6 cups chicken broth                           1 T tahini (sesame paste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the chard leaves from the stalks and set aside. Chop the stalks into approx. ¼ inch slices. Chop the celery and onions. Heat the oil and butter, add chopped vegetables and millet. Fry until millet is turning golden and vegetables are tender crisp. Add the broth, and spices. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and allow to simmer for 25 minutes. In the mean time, chop up the chard leaves. Add the leaves during the last five minutes of cooking. Adjust seasonings to taste.

I suspect peanut butter would work in place of the tahini. There is something about millet that calls for a hint of nut.

“The eyes of all look to thee, and thou givest them their food in due season” (Psalm 145 [144]:15).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Music as Music Was Meant to Be

One of the highlights of my year is going to the U.S. National Mòd, a competition of Scottish Gaelic poetry, storytelling, and song, which is held each September in Ligonier, PA. After an intense weekend of fellowship, friendly rivalry, storytelling, music, music, and more music, I come home feeling refreshed and enthusiastic, not just about Gaelic but about life. What happens at the Mòd that produces that effect?

Well the Mòd isn’t just a competition; it is a gathering of enthusiasts of a rather specialized subject. And though the competition is stiff, it is the enthusiasm for the subject that carries the day. That alone is something to be treasured. We all need enthusiasm, but enthusiasm in isolation is a rather dull thing. And competition without camaraderie might feed the ego, but not the soul.

There is also the pleasure that comes from live entertainment. The competitions are worth hearing in themselves. I always have a couple of non-Gaelic speakers with me. All of them have wanted to come back again. They even enjoy the story telling. Live entertainment has something that listening to a recording will never have: That is the presence of the person of the entertainer and a spark of interaction between artist and audience.

What I enjoy most about the Mòd is the cèilidhs, both official and unofficial. A cèilidh is a social gathering with an exchange of music and possibly storytelling and dancing. The music at the cèilidhs is good and the atmosphere is fun. Many of the songs people choose have choruses that the group can join in on. This is entertainment as entertainment was meant to be: alive, personal and in community. This is how human beings enjoyed music for thousands of years.

Today we can listen to what ever we want, whenever we want. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be able to do that. But in the old days when people wanted music they made it themselves, or gathered together with other people who made it. Perhaps the music wasn’t as good as a professional musician can make it, but I believe it enriched them in other ways that we are often missing in the modern world.

I think that is why I come home from the Mòd refreshed. Music always refreshes my mind, but music given and received in community with others—as music was meant to be—refreshes my whole person.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Easy Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

I used to think that cheese making was some esoteric art that only the brave would attempt at home; but in the days before refrigeration, cheese making was a common household task. Soft cheeses are incredibly easy, delicious and versatile. The first cheese I ever made was a Middle Eastern yogurt cheese that a Jordanian friend told me how to make.

Here is all you do:

Take a quart of plain yogurt, add salt to taste if desired, place in a muslin cloth (a white cotton woven dish towel will do), tie it up into a bag, and hang it on the faucet in the kitchen sink over night to drain. The result is a soft spreadable cheese. Serve it plain or herbed with pita bread or crackers. Try it on graham crackers with a bit of jam for an instant cheese cake. Use it in recipes for a low fat alternative to cream cheese.

Store bought yogurt will do as long as you make sure that it doesn’t contain gelatin. Yogurts often contain gelatin as a thickening agent. The whey will not drain out of the yogurt if there is gelatin in it.

If you don’t want to waste the mineral rich whey, drain the yogurt into a bowl. Whey is delicious used in place of the liquid in breads and quick breads. I have used it successfully in place of buttermilk for pancakes and soda breads. Whey is acidic like buttermilk so it reacts with baking soda to leaven the bread for similar light and delicious results.

Do you want to start right at the beginning and make your own yogurt? That is almost as easy.

To make yogurt:

Heat the milk to 180°. This heating will help the yogurt to thicken properly. Cool the milk to 110°. Add live yogurt culture. You can use plain store bought yogurt for this if it says on the package that it contains live culture. Or you can buy culture packets for an initial batch and then use your own yogurt to culture future batches. Use ¼ cup of yogurt per quart of milk.

Let the milk stand undisturbed in a warm place or place in a thermos to hold the temperature. Most recipes say to let it stand around 8 hours, but I have had better results leaving it longer, between 16 and 24.

Homemade yogurt does not contain and thickeners or emulsifiers. Your homemade yogurt will likely be a bit thinner than store bought yogurt, especially if you are using goat milk.

The most important thing to keep in mind with yogurt or any cultured cheese is that you are working with living organisms that need certain conditions to grow.  The culture used to make yogurt needs a warm temperature to thrive. If the temperature is too cool the culture will not grow and you will end up with sour milk instead of yogurt. But too hot of a temperature will kill the culture. The ideal is to keep the milk between 90° and 110°. Cultures like this are called thermophilic or heat loving.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Limitation As the Stuff of Art

Ah, a blank piece of paper, a two hour time slot totally allotted to writing, the rare treat of a quiet house … Shall I work on one of my novels, on one of the philosophical ideas I would like to develop, or come up with something informational or pithy for my blog? The possibilities are endless when you have a blank piece of paper and a blank time slot. But why does it so often happen that the end result is a blank mind?

It may be that the blank mind is a direct result of the endlessness of the possibilities. There is nothing for the mind to fix on and to form. Human beings are by nature limited, but with the wonderful capacity to work within the limits of their nature and environment. The modern world is rife with devices to overcome the limits of nature and environment. We have airplanes and air conditioning. The modern mind is conditioned to believe that any sort of restraint is an attack on personal freedom and creativity.

“If you can imagine it you can achieve it. If you can believe it you can become it.” Thus, proclaimed an inspirational poster that hung in my room when I was a teenager. That isn’t true, and I wish some one would have told me that it's not true in a constructive way when I was still young. As I get older, I wonder if the limits of our personalities and circumstances are obstacles that we must overcome to achieve our dreams or the material that we were given to create a unique work of art where dreams and reality are interwoven in a kind of tapestry or dance. I think that the latter view is healthier and more exciting.

Life is like art. The artist and the artisan work within the limits of a given medium. Watercolors have limits and possibilities that acrylics do not have. The limits of watercolor, as well as its possibilities, give it its particular beauty. Wool produces artifacts of a certain kind. Wool has its own beauty and usefulness. It cannot do the kind of things that clay does, and we are grateful for that.

Let us not waste time and energy fretting that things are not as we wish that they were. Let us instead start molding the clay that we have into beautiful new pottery.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Planting for a Fall Harvest

Whenever I talk to people with the survivalist mentality, they are always interested in learning that I live off grid and raise a good portion of my food. “How did you get so prepared for the coming food crisis?” one person asked with astonishment.

I don’t raise food because of any sense of impeding disaster, but I do think that as our society becomes dependent on fewer and fewer farmers who are based further and further away the population centers that rely on them, we do make ourselves more vulnerable to natural, economic and political disruptions. These disruptions have a way of making people think about where their food is coming from. Recent news on the economy and earthquakes on the East Coast might have you thinking about starting a garden or wishing you had planted a bigger one. Or if you want to do it for any of the many other good reasons to start a garden, it is probably not too late if you start today, especially if you have a cold frame or a green house.

This week I am focusing on my fall vegetable crop. Normally I don’t plant this late, but this year has been exceptionally dry, and the late July planting did not germinate well. Today I planted more beets and turnips to add to my July planting. My July planting of radishes flourished in spite of the heat and drought so I am both harvesting and planting radishes this week. Lettuce and spinach will be planted in the cold frame and greenhouse in September. The arugula that I planted in the spring went to seed; there is wall to wall arugula carpeting in the bed where it was planted. I will be leaving some in the garden and transplanting some to the greenhouse.

As a new experiment for this year I just planted bush beans. I never would have thought of planting them this late, but I get emails from my county extension office that has a gardening timeline for local gardeners. According to the timeline we should be able to plant green beans (bush not pole) and still get a harvest before frost.

If you want to start a fall garden, but you don’t know for sure what will grow in your area, most seed catalogues and many seed packets show maps of the different planting zones and include planting dates for the different zones. You can also check with your local county extension office. Our extension office website has a wealth of information for gardeners.

Enjoy your garden and trust in the Lord for all things, survival or otherwise.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What Is Simplicity?

“What is simplicity? That can be your first blog!” my friend exclaimed. She had just asked me to pray for her because she felt called to simplify her ever-expanding homeschooling book collection.

Strangely, or providentially, enough, I had decided earlier in the day to start a blog focusing on the theory and practice of whatever it is that I do. I am not sure what to call it because some people will understand me if I say locally based, green living. Others, who would dismiss me as a left-wing nut when they hear that kind of language, would understand me if I say I am writing about the practice of evangelical poverty and asceticism and its relationship to the concept of subsidiarity. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as a part time hermit and goat-herding philosopher, thereby ensuring that everyone of whatever theological and political persuasion thinks I am a nut.

Therefore, I had already settled on simplicity as a focus when my friend made her prayer request. This started a conversation and reflection on simplicity. We hear the word all of the time; we use it all of the time; we think we know what it means; but do we? Sometimes when city people come to the farm they say things like, “How wonderful to lead such a simple life!” Others have a way of saying, “You make your own maple syrup?! Wouldn’t it be simpler to go to the supermarket and buy it?” The first group of people might mean that life is simple because it has fewer distractions or that there is a closer connection to primary goods like food without the middle men of truckers, supermarkets, etc. The second group means that making syrup involves a long process of many labor intensive steps as opposed to buying the syrup in one step. Both use the word “simple” in valid ways, but they imply radically different lifestyles. If one accepts along with the great spiritual thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian that simplicity is a virtue, what does it imply concretely for a choice of lifestyle? In order to answer that question in the particulars of our own lives, we must consider what simplicity is and why it is something to be sought.

To be simple is to be without division. It is to be whole. The starting point for simplicity is in the heart, soul, and mind. It must find its outward expression in the material surroundings, but the material surroundings are neither its origin nor its end. One may have the urge, whether of grace or of nature, to simplify but become so focused on the material that the reason for simplifying is lost. I like cleaning out my closet frequently because an over abundance of clothes distracts and burdens me. But the cleaning out of the closet can itself become a distraction and a compulsive activity. The freedom I seek in simplifying is lost because I have made a little idol out of the act of simplifying. I choose a rural lifestyle because I believe that the modern world has become so complex and so far removed from the primary world that it threatens our psychological and spiritual health, as well as the health of the Earth, our home and the home of our children. But sometimes I get so caught up in the dynamic of avoiding waste or raising food that I threaten my own psychological well being. This is not simplicity. Simplicity must have its origins in the interior life of the heart, mind and soul. It must arise from wholeness of purpose and person, otherwise it becomes just another complex ritual.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt.22:37-39). This is a singleness of purpose that encompasses all of life. This is vibrant life-giving simplicity. It may find expression at one time or in one person’s life in the act of making maple syrup; for a different time or a different person it may mean buying or giving it up all together. That might sound complex but it is not. It is simply having the strength and the wisdom to recognize and act on the understanding of ourselves and our neighbors as the image of God, called to share in the fullness of His life. The strength comes from action the wisdom from contemplation. Life lived to the full requires both. Anything that distracts and divides us from the fullness of life for which we were created takes us away from wholeness and simplicity.