North Country Farms

Blog: Food for Thought

Autumn Equinox and Balance

The autumn equinox has arrived. Summer’s long days are noticeably shorter now. And the ocean already has a bit of a nip at the end of the day, as well as its first swell of the season. The light is lower and with that slant it feels distinctive to this time of year. The sweet subtleties of the seasons on glorious Kauai.

We have begun again to seed some vegetables that do better in the cooler weather—kohlrabi, leeks, cabbages, broccoli, carrots.  You will see the upper garden, on the left as you come into our driveway, is all freshly dug and ready to receive both seeds and seedlings. It feels like the turning of the page into this new season.

The Autumn Equinox is the date when night and day are nearly of the same length and the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward (in the northern hemisphere). This represents the first day of autumn. When I was reading about the Equinox this week from several sources, there was a reoccurring theme in the various essays and articles which really touched me.  This theme was balance.

As there are equal hours of day and night, light and dark, so we strive to balance our own worlds.  Attempting to stabilize the energies, of outward, physical, yang manifestation and inward, psychic, yin creativity.  Working to have breathing-in time, in response to all that breathing out.  Summer is such an outer time—going at full tilt, traveling, later hours, more visiting.  Now, our energies naturally start that inward pull, as the daylight hours shorten. The balance. How can we balance all the elements of ourselves and our lives? Our personal needs with the commitments to the outside world.  Our receiving with our giving.  Our quiet amidst the din. Our doing with our being.  I know when I achieve that state of balance I feel my finest. I suspect this is true of all of us. In my yoga practice, the balance poses remind me of that ever-present need for being poised, stable and steady in my daily life.

This is potentially a powerful time to examine balance in our lives—how best to come to that place as a perpetual practice. May this fabulous full moon and autumn equinox serve to help us in this process.

May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest,
may earth’s weather turn kinder,
may there be enough food for all creatures,
may the diminishing light in our daytime skies
be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance
in our hearts.

yin yang

Every Stage is the Best

I am always the first perhaps-annoying person to remind parents when they are totally tapped out and running on empty with their children that each time is magical and not to be rushed. Not to wish for the next stage to arrive too expeditiously.  I’m the one quick to tell parents when they are wanting their child to talk, to potty train, to read, to get their license, to head off to college–whatever the next stage they see as somehow a relief or a change–that the moment will surely arrive, and, most likely, way too soon. It took my until my third child to really ground in  that elusive notion.  Now, that third child is 20. And, as I look back at photos of all three of my children as little ones, I simply cannot fathom the speed of the thousands of days that have brought us to this point.

I reveled in the newborn phase, celebrated the crawling, laughed out loud at the toddler antics, smiled through my tears at the first days at school,cautiously celebrated the teens, offered advice and dried their tears during their new found independence while holding them close at the same time. Every stage is the best. Now, I shall readily admit that perhaps, at this point in my life, I have some selective memory operating in my middle-age brain. But, even digging deep and pulling up the feelings of those sleepless nights with a teething baby or those sleepless nights awaiting the phone call to hear that a teenager had safely arrived on the other side of the world, I hold those moments as sacred. As sacred as the ones I recall of a relaxed afternoon on the beach playing with my toddlers or an enchanted evening deep in conversation with a teenager full of thought.

The days are sometimes long and hard, but the years whiz by at overwhelming warp speed. Each moment is a gift. Each stage in our children’s lives and our lives as parents is to be relished for just what it is — part of the immensely complex and intricate path we have chosen. That path is full of twists and turns, hills and valleys, long days and often longer nights, but it is blessed. I have no desire to hurry it, even though I can taste the joy of being a grandmother! Every stage is the best. I can bask in this one of having three amazing twenty-somethings for a while with joy!


Responsibility Rant

A story caught my interest and subsequent puzzlement and even anger today.   The family of a 7-year-old boy in West Virginia sued the child’s elementary school and collected because the child jumped off the swing on the playground while being Superman and broke his arm. Consequently, the swings in the whole state are being taken off the playgrounds. Playgrounds in elementary schools without swings?!  Bizarre.

What strikes me as simply strange is our unwillingness to take any personal responsibility. For anything. We want someone else to fix it for us. Handle it for us. Tell us what to do. Tell us how to do it. When to do it.

I remember when I made the decision to birth my first baby at home 27 years ago. With that decision came an enormous responsibility to be informed and aware. Informed about the process of the pregnancy and the potential for situations to come up in labor and delivery. My family and many others were stymied by this choice of mine. Their take on it was that the doctors know better. Forget that my body knew what to do. Forget that I took weeks choosing a midwife whom I felt was competent and capable. Forget that I had all intention to manage this pregnancy and birth with minute attention to my and the baby’s well-being. Forget that we arranged a back-up in the event of any emergency. It was simply not appropriate to take on all that responsibility. It was, however, just peachy to give all that responsibility to someone else. Someone I could sue if things went awry.

On the farm here we step up to take responsibility to nourish our gardens. I’ve been told that all that time and attention could be lessened by just using chemical fertilizers. They are, after all, made to do the job we take hours doing by tending our compost piles, spreading the compost, turning the beds, hoeing and hand weeding the rows. But, we want that responsibility. We embrace it. The buck stops with us, barring any of the myriad of happenings that can befall the fields that only god can administer.

I sometimes joke that I missed my chance at the jackpot of lawsuits when that same homebirthed firstborn son was about 18 months old. He was happily ensconced in the seat of a grocery cart in a lovely small gourmet grocery shop in suburban Connecticut while I perused the produce. Without warning the wheel fell off the cart sending Sky tumbling to the floor along with some Granny Smith apples. I picked him up, kissed the bump on his head and sat right down on the floor and nursed him, reminding him that he was just fine and drying his little tears. Within moments I was surrounded by management from the shop who ushered us into the office and proceeded to gush all over us with their apologies. I thought they were so kind, and, indeed they were. But, the underlying tension was more to gauge my potential to sue them for the faulty cart. Followup phone calls came from their attorneys inquiring as to his well-being. All I might have wanted was a free pass for their scrumptious cheeses!

It is our responsibility to eat well and consciously. To find the diet and path that nourishes our health. To learn to listen to our own intuition and our own bodies. It is neither the drug companies nor the doctors’ job to do that for us. The miracle of pharmaceuticals and physicians to step in when balance is lost or the situation is dire is irreplaceable. Just as irreplaceable is our own accountability in taking care of ourselves on a daily basis.

Shit happens. It happens to even the most wonderful people. It happens to little boys pretending  to be Superman on playground swings and little boys munching on Granny Smith apples. In these litigious days, it is our responsibility to watch out for ourselves. To empower ourselves and our children to make intelligent decisions for our own well-being. And to carefully weigh the options before casting blame and looking for compensation beyond ourselves.

Honorable Profession

I’ve been re-visiting a book by Michael Ableman entitled Field of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey to the Frontiers of American Agriculture. It is a fine read by a man who has devoted his life to small farms in our country. I’m enticed to read page after page of his prose—his stories of farms that have survived the storms of development and corporatization of food supplies. He strives to demonstrate by these stories that “farming is not just some lowly form of drudgery, but that it is an art and craft and an honorable profession. . .that good food is more than just about the confluence of technique and fertile soil, that it is the result of men and women who love their land, and who bring great passion to working with it.”  This is the new agrarian movement he sees sweeping the country.  How I wish more of this movement would find a foothold on the beautiful agriculture lands here on Kauai.  Seems like a wish that is just a whisper on the tradewinds, lost in the shortsightedness that is so-called progress here.

And, so we carry on here at North Country Farms in this honorable profession, while fewer and fewer folks are allowed that privilege here on this expansive and expensive island. I cannot solve that political and financial conundrum, but we can continue the intention that grounded this beautiful piece of land and my family in the love of growing food over 20 years ago. I can say that it is a livelihood that finds me at the end of every day tired and pleased, albeit sometimes frustrated at the never-ending list of projects to complete.

This summer has been so full of fine weather, making the usual summer doldrums retreat in the wake of the plentiful gentle rains. We are successfully growing things that usually balk at summer — like abundant lettuce and greens. And the new vegetables that Sky has brought into our rotation are growing gloriously under his tender care — like red long beans, purple scallions and fennel. We are looking for new sources for seed, Sky being particularly interested in heirloom varieties and their potential for seed-saving. We are exploring the no-till method in the style of John Jeavons for our smaller gardens. It is an ever-evolving process with golden intention and grueling work.

I take heart in knowing there are other small farms with people who also believe in this model, who have the energy and passion to carry on in the face of mammoth inappropriate corporate mega-farming. People with the same mindset and heart who also feel that their efforts are vitally important. Sharing their path and their passion gives me glimmers of hope. Communities are enriched by farmers and we, in turn, are surely uplifted by the community.

The Empty Page and the Power of Words

It is of concern to me that, while I love to write, the empty page often glares back at me with a sneer and a smirk. It is taunting me with threats that what I write is not particularly interesting. That vast unfilled paper has been known to laugh at my attempts to be passionate, perky or pertinent.

When I was a freshman in college, I had an English Composition teacher who was the wife of the notable American author John Cheever. That fact that she was a miserable alcoholic and most likely jealous of the young fresh aspiring writers in her class only occurred to me many years later. Then it was purely her ripping criticism of me that mattered. She gave us an assignment to write a poem in the style of e.e.cummings. I was ecstatic. He was then one of my favorite poets and I was both excited and eager to take on the task. In fact, I wrote a couple of poems. Ms. Cheever took my creations and held them up before the class. My heart skipped a beat, thinking perhaps she was about to laud my fledgling efforts. But, no — she told the entire class that this author had nothing better to write about than herself. She waxed on about the pathetic poetry I had poured myself  into, as I withered, wilted and just about wept in my seat. It is no understatement to say that day in that class sowed the seeds of self-doubt in me as to the worth of my writing. I composed very little until many years later. And what I did write I never shared.

Now, with the inevitable perspective that those years brings, I can only imagine Ms. Cheever’s own jaded issues and even view her with more compassion than she bestowed upon me. I still am baffled as to her insistence that worthy writing should not be about oneself. In fact, at eighteen years old, what else did I have to reflect upon? And, it still remains clear to me that writing from one’s own experiences brings a light to the work that illuminates both the piece and perhaps sheds some of that light on the process for the author and the reader at the same time.

I write for me. I share it because I have received so much from the writings of others. And I’m not just speaking here of only famous books, nor necessarily even of published pieces. Although I devour books, magazines and newspapers constantly, I also read several blogs. Those authors are some of my favorites. They fearlessly share themselves, their mundane experiences, their epiphanies, their challenges, their successes and mostly their feelings. That inspires me to slog on, blog on.

The writings I filled several spiral-bound notebooks with during my teens are long gone — mistakenly thrown out by my mother in a move. How I would love to see them now. To get a peek at the precocious girl who gushed prolifically about those intense feelings of those tumultuous years would be such a window into myself. I would, however,  be much easier on her than the cynical Ms. Cheever was. I’d be so careful not to judge the immaturity contained in those profusions of passion she spilled onto the pages. I would rein myself in with full awareness of the power of my words to impact her confidence in her writing.

So, here I am — sticking my tongue out at those sometimes mocking empty pages I have yet to fill and hugging that young woman who was just doing what she so dearly wanted to do — just write.

Banana Muffins

the muffin munchers circa 1992

While Nell is away, I find myself stretching to remember the era when I pulled off three healthy meals a day, with copious amounts of snacks in between, for a family of five and lots of friends of all sizes. I rest on her culinary laurels when she is on the farm and in the kitchen. Since this summer finds her far away and creating those culinary delights for clients, instead of the lucky ohana, I am pulling out some old tricks.

First stop—banana muffins. I remember days when, fresh out of the oven, these were devoured by my children and their friends, as they skipped off to play on the farm or in the woods and stream nearby. I have several different approaches to them, but this is a favorite. I’ve tweaked it some from the fabulous cookbook by the folks from Earthbound Farms called Food to Live By. This cookbook is crammed with wonderful fresh family food recipes, as well as the sweet story of this farm family and their adventure in organic farming.

When you find yourself with an abundance of ripe bananas make this treat. And enjoy!

Banana Maple Walnut Muffins

2 cups flour ~ 1 1/2  tsp baking powder ~ 1/4 tsp baking soda ~ 1/4 tsp salt ~ 1/4 tsp ground ginger ~ 1/4 tsp cinnamon ~ 2 large eggs ~ 1/2 cup pure maple syrup ~ 1/2 cup brown sugar ~ 1/3 cup milk ~ 1/4 cup canola oil ~ 1/4 tsp vanilla extract ~ 1 1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 4) ~ 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375. Line 12 muffins tins or grease tins. Place flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Place eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, and  vanilla in another bowl and whisk to combine. Add bananas to wet mixture and stir just to combine. Fold in walnuts with spatula and don’t overmix. Spoon batter into muffin cups and fill to the brim. Bake until they are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean – about 20-25 minutes. Delicious! I had too many today with coffee!


Kids Grow Up – and do the damndest things!

Remember that show ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things?”  Well, if you do, you are dating yourself, but nonetheless, I remember it from my youth. It was cute little ones, saying cute and sometimes outrageous things.  Now, my kids are grown up and how that happened in just the blink of an eye is utterly beyond me. And, now they do the damndest things.

Take my amazing 23 year old daughter, Nell, for example. She is the chef this summer on a private charter yacht in Southeast Alaska. That is outrageous for starters. But, not the point of this, really. This week she managed to slice her hand open with a fish filleting knife while in the wilds of SE Alaska.  This was not your average ouch-I-cut-my-finger happening — she has had plenty of those in her culinary career — this was a wow-we-have-to-get-you-stitches-NOW happening. Float plane called by captain on the radio, Nell flown to Sitka, stitched up and flown back to the boat. All good, yes. But, happening miles and miles away from her mama. Cell phone conversations in emergency room. Very calm and collected daughter. Very stressed and sad mama. Daughter concerned about meals having to happen on the boat without her. Mama concerned that daughter is alone.

My children have grown up. Sometimes I believe they have done so in spite of me and my mama shenanigans. It is totally impossible for me to stop being their mama. It is out of the realm of possibility that I could be anything but fretful during this experience of Nell’s, despite her mature and composed demeanor throughout the entire thing.

Kids grow up. And they do the damndest things. And sometimes far away from their mama. Sigh. Why did no one ever tell me about what it would look like to be the mama of grown kids off in the big wide world? In fact, now that I mention it, no one ever gave me the map for this wild ride at all!  But, despite floundering through it day-to-day all these years, it still remains my most treasured path. And my children still my cohorts in this crazy-beautiful-heartfelt course.

Slow Down

SLOW DOWN.

Slow down in your life. Watch where you are going. Focus on what you are doing.  Slow down on our road and in the farm driveway. Watch for other cars and animals and kids. Slow down on the highway. Watch for the other guy.  SLOW DOWN. Really, what’s the hurry, anyway? I know my attention is pulled in several directions at once, much of the time. Now, I’m a great multi-tasker. But, how often do I really need to do that? How much more pleasure might I get if I just gave attention to one thing at a time. Would my day be less stressful?  Perhaps. If I’ve learned anything recently, it is just to pay attention and SLOW DOWN. When I’m walking down the stairs, I need to be walking down the stairs. Not thinking where I’m headed when I get to the bottom. When I’m slicing carrots for dinner, I need to be slicing carrots for dinner. Not thinking of what comes next in the recipe process.  When I am driving, I need to be driving. Not doing anything else.

Forgive my slight rant here. But, I feel certain in sharing this that I am not the only one who needs to be reminded.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

And now that you have taken a deep breath — What’s for dinner tonight?

If you have never tried fennel before, please do so. I shied away from it for a long time, but am glad I have busted another culinary myth. Fennel, when cooked, does not have an overbearing licorice flavor. Rather it is more subtle and complex. Raw it is refreshing with citrus and arugula in salads. But, try this simple delicious way to prepare it –

BRAISED FENNEL

2 fennel bulbs, quartered

2 tbsp butter

Cup of chicken or vegetable broth

½ cup grated parmesan

Saute fennel in butter for five minutes. Add broth. cover and cook over low heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese and toss before serving. Great with pork, chicken or fish.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the

time we have rushed through life trying to save.

~Will Rogers, Autobiography, 1949

Yoga in Life

Yoga has been an integral part of my life for many years. I first discovered the joys of the practice when I was pregnant with my oldest son, Sky. That was over 26 years ago. Depending on where I have been in my life, I have had diverse immersions in my practice. It was challenging to find time to devote to yoga with three little ones and a farm to start and house to build! But, now I find the spaciousness in my life to include yoga, virtually daily. But, it looks different. By that I mean the thrust of my practice has been recently to bring my yoga to my life, not to have to set aside time to do my asanas each day.  How does that look? It means when I’m at the sink doing dishes, I am aware of how I’m standing. —Are my feet firmly planted on my wood floor? –Are my shoulders dropped? It means when I am walking down the beach, I bring my attention to the front of my body and lengthen it intentionally. It means when I feel like reacting to something in my orbit, be it a person or an event, I consciously take a deep steady breath before responding.  It means when I sit down to eat I attempt to do it mindfully—saying a quiet prayer of gratitude for the food, for the farmer who grew it, for the sun and rain that nourished it.

Mindful eating focuses our attention on the tastes, smells and sanctity of food. It’s one

of the simplest ways to improve digestion and delight the senses.”

From the book The Joy of Mindful Eating.


I still adore a wonderful yoga class, as well as solo time reverently spent moving through poses. And I am in constant appreciation to the amazing yoga teachers I have had in my life who have helped take my practice to deeper levels. But, it truly has come back, at this plentiful and pondering time in my life, to me. To my responsibility to bring it all home, each and every day, in each and every way. Yoga is about strength and flexibility, but not only in our bodies—in our minds and spirits as well. And it comes through in finest fashion when we are in a place of conscious mindfulness.

sometimes

Sometimes the enormity of just how much I love my children overwhelms me. This week the loss of a vivacious young woman in the community in a car crash focused all that love into a pinpoint of poignancy. I was deeply sad. And deeply glad. Sad for her senseless and early death and the mammoth void her family must be experiencing. Glad for the love the surrounds me. Truly aware of taking the time to listen to my children. To talk and share with them.  To remind them of their inner beauty and worth. To hold them, either in my arms when possible, or in my heart when they are far away. And to remember to take none of it for granted. Ever. And, then to take that intense and joyful love and spread it around some.

The night of the car accident I had dinner with a dear friend and she turned me onto a vocalist I had never heard, Beth Nielson Chapman. I immediately bought two of her albums on ITunes. Playing one that next day, which was a quiet and pensive one around here, as we all integrated the news, I wrote down this part of the lyrics of one of the songs _

“Life has  taught me this –

Every day is new

and if anything is true

All that matters when we’re through

Is how we loved.”


Fear Less, Hope More

“Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more;

Love more, and all good things will be yours.”

namaste

This quote, apparently an old Swedish proverb, I found when I googled “positive thinking.” I’ve been working on the notion of envisioning more hope and happiness in the world, instead of taking on all the negativity that is currently so pervasive and somewhat popular.

I am all-too-aware of the state of the planet. One would have to be completely unconscious not to feel the wounds of the world–from the oil spewing in the Gulf of Mexico to the hate spewing in the Middle East. And I am surely clear that the choice I made many years ago to live on Kauai, where the impact is softened by the pristine environment and purposeful aloha spirit, has made my personal world more isolated and insulated. But, the savvy and smart me knows scoop and much of it is not pretty.

My thoughts have spun around and around and landed me in a place of renewed energy. Energy to live my days with honesty, humility and humor. To really be attentive to making the simple act of me-being-me count for something in this world where madness and greed have run amok and seemingly eclipsed kindness and goodness.

In my approach to each aspect of my life, I am choosing to fear less and hope more. Not in a vacuum, but backed by solid acts of caring, of conscious consumerism and activism. Activism by my lifestyle, grounded in compassion and awareness. Awareness of the insanity that is prevalent in this world and my antidote to it of choosing the high path every day, in every moment.  Whining less and breathing more. Talking less and saying more. And, above all, and perhaps the most healing of all–loving more.

Note to Self

It seems time is flowing at a pace that I often find unbelieveable.
This came to my attention today when, upon my return to the farm,
I saw this bromeliad blooming again –
bigger and better than ever before.

another year, another bloom

It only comes on once a year – in the early summer.
Seems to me it just bloomed its subtle riot of soft color.
But, no, another year has indeed passed.
Note to self: treasure each moment, hour, day.