North Country Farms

Blog: Food for Thought

The Best Part of Me.

Another Mother’s Day has passed. Being a mother I find the holiday a bit overdone and commercialized. Yet I relish celebrating the fact that being a mama is the most fully fantastic aspect of my life. Truly. I live my life with every intention of being a conscious and good person. No where is that more challenging than in the realm of mothering. When my children were little, sheer exhaustion made being present and aware often second to just getting through the day with them fed and bathed without a meltdown – theirs or mine. Now, the challenge with young adult children is to let them forge their own paths with simple support and a minimum of interference. I have never been able to control them, babies or adults, I can only hope for appropriate modeling or a modicum of influence. Things shift with older children–mine are 31, 28 and 24–and it is in ways that, for me, have been about reaping the rewards of those years invested when they were wee ones. It is a source of wonder to me that all three are sensitive, smart, caring, loving individuals with contributions they share willingly with the world. Just as they openly and sweetly share their love and affection with me. I’ve said it before and I shall say it again—my children are the best part of me.   a few years back

Mamas All Around the World

My world today is plentiful, peaceful and perfect. This amazing fact made me thoughtful of the millions of people whose day today is anything but plentiful, peaceful or perfect.

Once my mind wandered in this direction, I found myself focusing on mothers around the world caught in the brutal reality of war. Mothers who want nothing more for their families than shelter from the shocking atrocities taking place all around them. Who want their children to be in the state of innocence that ought to be every child’s right. Mothers who want enough food for their children’s bellies to be full before sleep at night. Mothers who should be able to visualize a future for their children that is worthy of them. Mothers who are valiantly attempting to be everything for these children while their fathers are fighting for them. Or fathers and uncles who have died in this quest. Mothers sending their sons off to the insanity of war. Mothers who are fleeing their homes and violence I can barely imagine in order to find some semblance of safety.

To these mamas I send all my prayers for peace. Peace for them in their daily lives. Lives that should be so much more simple and full than they currently are. At the same time, I bow my own head in sheer gratitude for the kind of day I am having.

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A Rainy Day

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Just what is it about a rainy day? Especially after weeks of bountiful beautiful sun. We pull in. We become more still. Introspective. On the farm, there is little we can accomplish outside. So the house becomes my world. My home. My cozy home. Soup seems so right. Reading under a soft blanket is just the ticket. Tea tastes better than ever. The sound of the rain is soporific, soothing. Looking out the windows of my world for the day, the green is vibrant. The gardens seem to be drinking in the water like they only do with gentle rains. The sound track of the day is both the earth and me sighing.

Fields of Plenty

I’ve been reading 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. Sigh. Seems like a wish that is just a whisper on the trade winds, lost in the shortsightedness that is so-called progress here.

 

 

SPANISH CHARD SQUARES

 vegetable oil to coat baking pan

one package of spanish rice

one bunch of swiss chard

two beaten eggs

one cup shredded monterey jack cheese

one cup shredded cheddar cheese

freshly ground pepper

salsa

Preheat oven to 375 and oil 8 inch square baking pan. Cook rice according to directions. Steam chard until soft and drain well. Chop chard well and put into bowl. Add the eggs, cheeses, cooked rice and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Put mixture into baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool for another 20 minutes. Cut into 16 squares and serve with salsa for dipping.

Say Good-bye

Say Good-bye to Packaged Foods

My recent goal has been to say good-bye to packaged foods. For two simple reasons.

I live on an island. The recycling program is abysmal. I actually have nine bins for recycling. Nine. Glass. Glass refundable. Plastic refundable. Plastic #1 and 2 only. Aluminum cans refundable. Tin cans. Newspaper. Scrap paper. Cardboard. All to be resorted almost daily, because such an inane system is hard for our guests in our farm stay cottages to comprehend. And all to be taken to the transfer station weekly. And then who knows where exactly it all goes from there. I would like to believe it really gets repurposed, but remain somewhat skeptical. So, what is left goes into the landfill. A landfill which is dangerously overfull, while the County endlessly debates where to put the next one. Even after recycling, there is at least a garbage can a week that goes out to the curb to get taken to that bulging landfill. So, the actual packaging of packaged food is an important issue for me.

I want to live a long and healthy life. In order to help that goal along, I am a compulsive label reader. The labels on most of the packaged foods are downright scary. I cannot even pronounce much of it, must less comprehend what chemicals are in it attempting to masquerade as food. Buying less processed foods is healthier and surely more delicious.

I simply cannot agree with the argument that these foods are easier and faster to prepare. What could be so difficult about having some brown rice cooking while you sauté some cut up chicken and add some vegetables? Or remembering to soak some black beans the evening before and adding vegetables, some chicken broth for a divine soup? I just don’t get it. Making your own broth to add is also easy. You have bought and roasted the chicken–simple enough. Just put the carcass into water the next day and cook low and slow for several hours. These seem to me to be enjoyable and rewarding efforts.

Buying in bulk has become a more attainable goal. Even our local supermarket has a bulk section. Besides, those jars lined up on the pantry shelf with rice, oats, nuts. beans, granola and the like in them are so aesthetically pleasing to my eye. So much more so than the garish packages. Vegetables and fruits have no packaging! And we should be eating more of those. And, while I am on that, don’t bother with those plastic bags for those. Just take your cloth shopping bag into the store and put all fruit and vegetables into that. I just line my produce drawer in the fridge with a kitchen towel and the fresh foods go right in there sans plastic bags.

We cannot heal all the woes of the world. But, there are some simple ones we surely can have control over. And what comes into our homes and is consumed by us is one of them. Next time you go to the market, stop and think. This time  make just one choice differently of something not packaged. Next time two. And, before you know it, you will have significantly reduced the packaging that comes in and out of your home.

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Is It Really Possible??!!

Is it really possible that just a few days ago I turned 65??!! The sheer volume of the number boggles my mind. Remembering how ancient that seemed just a flash ago make me realize just how those years have whizzed by. In a blink.

Wasn’t I just this one year old child in a post-war boom, a golden era in which to grow up?
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Wasn’t I just this high school student, so sure I was going to be a famous writer in New York City?
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Wasn’t I just this carefree career gal flying off to ski holidays in Europe?
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Wasn’t I just this young mama with a miracle in my arms?
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I was all of those. Still am — somewhere inside. All have shaped me into the woman I am today. Life has been kind to me. My experiences have been mostly gentle, even those that weren’t.

Happy Birthday to me. May I be the wise old crone writing years from now —- didn’t I used to be that 65 year old with so much energy to give and so much love surrounding me??!!

P.I.S.S.

I suffer from PISS — Post Iniki Stress Syndrome, so aptly coined by my friend who rode out Hurricane Iniki with me on September 11, 1992 here on Kauai. It was a Force 5 hurricane, as direct a hit as one tiny island could take. NOAA has said it is the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Eastern Pacific . We hunkered down in our strong post-and-beam home, built with intention, love and hundreds of hurricane clips. We survived relatively unscathed when our island was utterly devastated and thousands lost everything. The basic infrastructure of the island was destroyed — no water for a week, no phones for two months and no electricity for three months. The storm shook me to my very core. To this day, winds blowing over 15mph or so make me uncomfortable.

But, I must say, ignorance is bliss. In those years, we had no television and no internet in our home. So, the first we heard of the storm was pre-dawn when that same friend who told me we have PISS, woke us up to say there was a storm on the way. It being my daughter’s 6th birthday, she and I were both in denial. My friend, however, originally a native of New Orleans, brilliantly ignored my pollyanna attitude and took our van and was first in line when day broke to get plywood to board us up. I remain grateful to her to this day. Nowadays, thanks to the internet and social media, I have known about the two hurricanes swirling out in the Pacific and contemplating their track towards the Hawaiian Islands, for days and days. Days and days that I have been been in active anticipatory anxiety. I know there is nothing I can do. I am prepared, at least in a practical fashion—plywood on hand, plenty of food, containers for water, etc. But, practical is not what rules my stomach, which has been swirling as much as these two storms.

So, I compulsively check the NOAA website, watching and praying for a downgrade, a change in course, anything to indicate we won’t be slammed this week. All the while, knowing how fickle these fits of nature are. Yup, I am a PISS sufferer and that’s my story. If  you are so inclined, picture these two storms, Iselle and Julio, being non-events in my life and the life of precious Kauai. If you pray–please start immediately.

 

iniki

Overwhelmed

I have always been one to shy away from utilizing that much-overused word. Overwhelmed. Yet, I find myself in such a state recently.

I sat down to write a very long-overdue email to a friend. I had avoided writing her as I did not want to have the entire communication be my whining.

So, I decided to take a deep breath, open a cold beer after this hard hard day of work on the farm, and list things that are going okay to counterbalance all that is currently not.

I am healthy.
I am loved.
I have more-than-enough to eat.
I am financially stable.
My children are all of the above also.
The ocean is calm and clear.
I can take time to dip in it.
The farm continues to provide abundance even while fighting a multitude of pest invasions.
My cottages are booked.

See, I feel better already.
Count your blessings. Even when you might be overwhelmed.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

lee on fourth birthday. another doll!

 

How many times did I hear that query? I never had an answer I could articulate. My only dream “career” was to be a mother. That called to me ever since I can remember. Dolls were my choice of toys. When someone in my neighborhood had a baby, I was the first youngster at the door to see that miraculous little being. Babysitting was my first job at the tender age of 12. When my nieces and nephews were born, I was the willing and excited Auntie. But, somehow, even in the 50s and into the 60s, I was aware that those asking the question were looking for something more serious in a response.

lee with nephew adam and niece parrish

 Time marched on. The question kept coming at me. Especially after graduating from a fine high school and looking at colleges. I still had no answer. So liberal arts it was, at a small women’s college in New York. That proved interesting and even fun, but uninspiring. I was anxious to get out into the world and away from academia. Took my two year degree and moved to New York City and set about looking for and apartment and work.

I thought I could write. Poems and essays came easily to me. Pouring my teenage heart out on paper refreshed and renewed me. However, that was squelched quickly by a freshman professor who took my latest piece and held it up to the class and proclaimed it “the work of ego.” She was appalled that what I had written was about myself, my own thoughts. Looking back now, I ponder what the hell else did I know? I was 19. My own feelings and reflections were all my inexperienced and unworldly self could relate to.

lee with sister pat and niece lisa and nephew haig

 So, I went to a summer of secretarial school. Managed to acquire some mad typing and dictation skills, since it became clear I was not going to set the publishing world on fire, as I had hoped. Hired by a television station in their advertising department and with a studio apartment I could ill-afford, I was where I wanted to be—single, employed and living in New York City.

 This job was pleasurable and exciting. It also introduced me to the woman who is still my dearest friend, whose desk was next to mine and to whom I instantly related, although our backgrounds could not have been more diverse. From this job, I worked my way into the wild world of advertising in the early 1970s. (Think Mad Men!) Eventually, I made my way into a lucrative and stimulating position in the media department of Grey Advertising. Then into the newly hatching world of buying services, with a job more on the cutting edge of media purchasing and with a salary I could barely believe I was worthy of!

new york city. in my office at independent media.

 This whole upward profession spiral led me to a marriage with a dashing handsome top-level executive 16 years my senior. Short-lived, but loving and full of lessons for me. When that folded, I was left heartbroken and truly wondering if advertising was the profession I wanted to continue in. Clearly the answer was no.

 What did I love to do? I had spent all these years in advertising, just being carried along with the fine flow of it all. Enjoying it, for sure. But, my 20s were over, my marriage was over and I was over it.

 I love birds. I love flowers. These remembrances of what had made me happy as a little girl came before my consciousness as a step in reclaiming myself and my life.

 What followed was a job at the Audubon Society, at a greatly reduced salary, back in secretarial work. But, I was happy to be working for such a great organization with people passionate about what they did every day.

I spent my spare time volunteering at the New York Botanical Society. I took calligraphy lessons. I cultivated the great circle of friends I had met. I was content.

 Just when I least expected it, another wonderful man entered my life. We courted while backpacking, camping and exploring beaches near the city and as far away as the Caribbean and Hawaii. Having moved in together and spending lots of time at home and entertaining, I reignited my love of the kitchen. This segued into my own catering business, run out of our apartment. Once more, I had stumbled onto something to make money which also made my heart sing.

 This romance bloomed into marriage and my original calling was tweaking my biological clock. I wanted to be a mama–really badly. Enter firstborn son in July after 36 hours of labor in our hot apartment . Exit thoughts of trying to run business and be all I wanted to be in a mother. Fortunately, my husband was bringing in sufficient funds in a commercial acting and modeling career to support this, both practically and emotionally. Win-win.

sky 1983

 The brownstone in which we rented was sold. We were bought out of our rent-controlled lease and, after looking at co-ops in the city, decided on a move to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, with an easy commute for him and a small town life of biking, walking, library, beach for us all. Small town has a small sweet health food store. Son is old enough to consider the notion of baking for that store. At home baking business is born, with baby strapped to me while working and on the back of my bike while delivering. Life is beyond grand.

nell 1986

 And that age-old urge is coming on me again as son turns two. And, so it was that my daughter was born, in our cozy house on a stunning September evening.

 I had become all I wanted to be when I grew up–a mama with a loving husband who was a doting dad. But, small town Connecticut was becoming — well, small. We dreamed of a place where the children could grow up with more land, more sun and less clothes! The real estate market was bullish, the house sold the day it was put on the market. We packed up all our stuff in storage, crammed a van full of the four of us and headed cross country. The leap was huge.

And it landed us on Kauai, where we still are, 27 years later. We had enough saved to buy land, build our home, guest house and barn. We then consider, once again, just how to generate income. “What shall we do now that we are grown up?” Well, first let’s plant a garden and orchard for us. Oh, people really want this fine fresh organic food? Business is born, as is second son, in our newly built home on another sultry September afternoon.

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bay 1990

1992

bay sky nell 1992

The marriage did not last. But the business has, in the full and fine intention in which it was created. And has expanded to include rental of the guest house and expansion of the organic farm. It is a full-fledged eco-tourism destination on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. We grow food for our community and let visitors get a glimpse of a sustainable lifestyle. It is a right livelihood.

And, now, at almost 65, I still wonder what is next? Now that I am really grown up. Kind of. And still my greatest joy, even after crafting all these opportunities in my life to provide abundance, is that I am a mama. All I ever really imagined myself being. So, I could never give an answer to that somewhat-annoying question I was asked so many times “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But, somehow it worked out perfectly at each and every crossroad in my life.

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bay nell lee sky 2013

Travel. Yes, please.

My extensive and eclectic travel bucket list got reduced by two lines this year. And both were trips that have me running out of superlatives in attempting to describe them. I will give it a go here…

September 2013 found me onboard the luxury charter yacht Surfbird for a 17 day trip down the Inside Passage– Ketchikan, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington– with seven other dear friends. A trip that dreams are made of. (Full disclosure: my daughter is the chef on this boat!)  http://surfbirdcharters.com/

A more beautiful motor yacht would be hard to imagine. Surfbird is 120 feet long with four staterooms designed and decorated with ultimate comfort and taste in mind. The salon and dining area are both cozy and elegant at the same time, an effortless mix.

We fished, we kayaked, we hiked, we watched humpback whales, dolphins, and sea birds for hours. Sometimes we did nothing at all, but sit on the deck in a contented daze, watching the light play on the water as we motored along. Books were read and shared. Board games were played in the evening and laughter was the soundtrack.  Each night found us anchored in another quiet cove—us and the sunset. The food was beyond divine (remember the disclosure above!)– three meals served to us each day. The entire crew wanted nothing more than our  group to be fully engaged and happy.

Some of us initially thought the trip was going to be too long–Surfbird’s usual trips are in Southeast Alaska for 8 days–but when we arrived in Bellingham each and everyone of us could have just kept on going.

I was not home from this epic adventure for two days, still digesting the experience, when I got an email from an old friend who lives elsewhere now asking if I wanted to go on a rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. What could I say, but YES!

He was putting together two motorized rafts of 10 guests each for an eight day trip of 279 miles through the Grand Canyon with a guide he knew who works with Grand Canyon Expeditions for April 2014. http://www.gcex.com/

I have just returned from this wild and wonderful adventure. I felt daring to take it on and dazzled by it all. The Canyon left me speechless and even teary at times. I was humbled and happy the entire time. Our 37 foot motorized rafts were the ultimate in both comfort and safety. Our guides inspired trust immediately, a must for the sometimes-intense rapids we got to run. They were experienced and enthused by their hundreds of trips down the river. Their story telling was captivating, their knowledge of the geology and history of the canyon was vast and fascinating. We floated quietly, we amped up for rapids, we took hikes up side canyons and swam in aqua waters, we slept under the stars and ate fabulous food prepared three times a day for us. The group was harmonious and upbeat and even included several musicians who serenaded us around the campfire at night. The canyon changed each of us in subtle sweet ways.

Something of note in both of these mind- and heart-bending trips was that we were all completely unplugged for the duration of the trip. No phones, no internet, no television. Just wholesome and fully fine fun. Plenty of time for personal introspection and interpersonal interaction.

I am not sure what trip is next for me. But, I know that the bar has been set mighty high after these two!

Breathless.

I return home to Kauai where the shades of green are numerous and the air so moist and soft. I still dream of the ochres, deep reds, and burnished golds of the Grand Canyon walls. I am taken back to a time just days ago when the dry desert air baked my skin. I still feel the icy chill of my dips in the clear blue Colorado River. I hear the trade winds blowing the palm trees outside my window and the sound evokes the echo of the river’s rapids. The song of the Shama Thrush, so melodious and merry, recalls to my memory the trill of the Canyon Wren. I have been in the canyon so grand and it lives in me.

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