Skip navigation

This weekend I am in Belton, Texas, just north of Austin, participating in my 17th Mother Earth News Fair. In addition to doing 3 presentations, I have also been invited to record several podcasts on various poultry-related topics.

 

For me, these events are all about sharing. I’ve learned a lot over the 11 years we have lived on our off-grid homestead, and I appreciate every opportunity to share what I’ve learned, and to learn from you. So many of you are trying to make changes in your lives, to do things a little differently according to your values and hopes for the future.  Life is changing as time goes on, but I will continue to write and speak, as part of my own ongoing process of learning.

 

Here are 3 handouts I often include when I do these presentations. Feel free to download and use them. The sourdough bread handout offers my method of developing a wild-yeast sourdough starter. For those of you considering starting out with poultry, check out my planning worksheet which will help you get off to a good start. And the Craft Distilling handout includes a list of helpful resources, such as books and government websites.

 

 

Sourdough presentation handout

Poultry from Scratch September 2016

Distilling resources TX

 

If you are in the area, I would love to see you at the Fair this weekend. At 11:00 today, I will be talking about sourdough bread. At 5:00 I will be on the main stage for my Craft Distilling presentation. And Sunday at 2:00 you can find me at the Livestock Conservancy stage talking about free-ranging poultry.

 

The Mother Earth News Fair is a terrific event, chock-full of workshops, live demonstrations, exhibitors and vendors, and an amazing bookstore. It’s a beautiful day, so come on out to the Fair!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had quite a few speaking events this year, but the one coming up this week is something a little different. My friend Lisa Kivirist invited me to be part of a unique panel discussion as part of the Women in Sustainable Agriculture (WISA) conference in Portland, OR. I truly feel honored to have been asked, and am looking forward to the discussion, meeting more authors, and sharing the various passions we have related to writing and sustainable agriculture.

 

This event is happening this coming Thursday, December 1. The following is from the WISA website:

 

Farmer Author Roundtable – 7:30pm to 9:00pm

The written word mixed with a passion for a healthy, local food system can be a transformational and engaging combination, a tool we can all tap into to share our farming and food stories with the public. Join us for an intimate evening with a talented and diverse group of female authors championing the stories of sustainable agriculture. From memoirs to cookbooks, history to how-to, these women write from heartfelt experience that both fuels the movement and in various ways adds to a diversified livelihood and income mix. Come for inspiration and ideas to launch your own writing endeavors. A book signing will follow the discussion. Faciliated by Lisa Kivirist, author of Soil Sisters, Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring & Rural Renaissance

Participating writers:

  • Natasha Bowens, author of The Color of Food
  • Lisa Kivirist, author of Soil Sisters, Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring, Rural Renaissance
  • Betty LaDuke, author of Bountiful Harvest: From Land to Table
  • Claudia Lucero, author of One Hour Cheese
  • Gabriele Marewski, author of Farm Business in a Binder, Farm Production in a Binder & Farm Hospitality in a Binder
  • Melissa Matthewson, freelance writer
  • Nancy Matsumoto, freelance journalist, contributor to Civil Eats, Food & Wine, Edible Manhattan and theAtlantic.com.
  • Victoria Redhed Miller, author of Craft Distilling, Pure Poultry
  • Carolyn Sachs (State College, Pennsylvania); co-author of The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture
  • Julia Shanks, author of The Farmer’s Office; The Farmers Market Cookbook
  • Kirsten K. Shockey, author of Fermented Vegetables
  • Rose-Hayden Smith, author of Sowing the Seeds of Victory
  • Rebecca Thistlethwaite, author of Farms With a Future, The New Livestock Farmer

LOCATION:Double Tree Hotel

DATE:December 1, 2016

TIME:7:30 pm – 9:00 pm

For more information about the WISA conference schedule, click here.

As you know, my third book is now officially in process. The working title is “The Homestead Hearth: Naturally leavened bread and a wood-fired oven.” At long last, I am writing about a  serious passion of mine: Sourdough bread. Part of the book will be about baking with a wood-fired oven, but most of it will be about “real” sourdough bread; that is, bread that is raised with a wild-yeast sourdough starter, instead of commercial yeast.

 

This is the overview of the book, written as part of the book proposal process:

 

Is there any other food that evokes pleasant memories, warm feelings and emotions more than bread? The most basic of foods, everyone loves bread but many people are intimidated at the prospect of making their own bread at home. Still, with “artisan” bread, craft bakeries and wood-fired pizza so popular these days, you might be wondering if you can re-create these fabulous breads at home. Naturally-leavened breads in particular have captured the interest of home bakers. But isn’t relying on wild yeast, and maintaining a sourdough starter a complicated and time-consuming process? What the heck IS sourdough starter anyway?

The Homestead Hearth blends the author’s journey toward energy independence with her fascination with traditional homestead skills and love of good food: in particular, sourdough bread. From hand-building her own wood-fired oven, to cultivating a sourdough starter, to learning how to bake a wide variety of sourdough-based breads, the author’s curiosity and fearlessness come together to share with readers the magic of sourdough without the mystery. Plus, adding a wood-fired oven to your homestead lets you take one more small step toward less dependence on fossil fuels.

Topics include:

  • The advantages and challenges of working with your local “wild” yeast

  • The wood-fired oven as part of your self-reliance toolkit

  • An overview of wood-fired baking

  • Low- and no-gluten baking with sourdough

  • Many recipes adapted for use with sourdough, including bagels, flatbreads and skillet breads

  • Science alert” sidebars for those interested in more of the scientific details; the main text will be kept as simple as possible to minimize the intimidation factor

  • Chapter-end summaries to briefly review the main things to remember

The Homestead Hearth inspires readers to step out of their comfort zone long enough to discover the benefits of baking with sourdough. They will learn how to cultivate a reliable, low-maintenance sourdough culture that can be used for a wide variety of breads. Pizza and bagels, flatbreads and loaf breads, even gluten-free breads – You become the artisan when you make your own naturally-leavened bread, and The Homestead Hearth shows you how.

me-doing-poultry-talk-in-pa-2-2016-sm

Poultry Unplugged talk, Pennsylvania September 2016

Fresh from my 4th appearance at the Seven Springs, PA Fair in September, I am heading out to Topeka, KS Friday, October 21, for another weekend of fun doing presentations and a book signing. This is my 5th MEN Fair this year and 15th overall, and I truly enjoy these events more each time.

 

sourdough-finished-on-peel-smSourdough bread baked in wood-fired oven

 

In addition to my Craft Distilling and Poultry Unplugged talks, this time I will be doing a 3rd talk, Sourdough is not a Flavor: Naturally leavened bread, simplified. As you may know, I have become a serious sourdough bread baker over the past few years. Last year, I started building my first wood-fired outdoor oven, using clay dug near one of our ponds as well as other materials scavenged from the property. It has been (and continues to be) a steep learning curve getting used to cooking in this oven, but the results have been fantastic.

 

second-pizza-on-hearth-sm

Pizza just put on hearth

As you probably also know by now, this oven and sourdough bread are the subjects of my next book, which is in process. So this is a tiny preview of that book. I am also looking forward to questions from the audience, as this will help me better understand the audience for my book and clarify the direction I will take it.

 

The challenge for me with this talk is trying to encapsulate this subject in a 1-hour presentation. It sounds like a long time to be on a stage talking, but believe me, it goes by quickly. I am going to focus on the basics of creating and maintaining a sourdough starter, and an overview of the fermentation process involved with naturally-leavened bread. I will, of course, be continuing this discussion on this site and on Facebook, so please post your questions or use the contact form to let me know what you’re most interested in learning.

 

See you in Topeka this weekend!

When I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I had to submit both a title and synopsis for my planned work of fiction. I didn’t have much time to plan or prepare to write before I started (see previous post), so when all was said and done, the story differed a bit from the synopsis. I’ve revised the synopsis to more accurately reflect the completed draft, and here it is:

 

Inseparable

Part One: Mothers and Daughters

Part Two: Daughters and Mothers

Part Three: Sisters

Synopsis

Emily and Elizabeth Palmer are twin sisters in their early 20s. Like many twins, they have been compared all their lives, although they are actually quite different in some ways. After a falling out between Emily and their alcoholic mother Ellie, Ellie confides to Elizabeth that the twins actually have another sister. Ellie gave birth to triplets but gave up one of the sisters for adoption; read the story to find out why!

Elizabeth struggles to decide whether to tell Emily, even though Ellie made her promise to keep her secret. Elizabeth tells Emily, and the twins decide to look for their sister without telling Ellie. An odd coincidence results in the girls meeting their sister, Marisa, who had always wished she had a sister. Sadly, Elizabeth and Emily learn that Marisa is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Their all-too-brief interaction gives all three girls new perspective on their identity as individuals, and the true meaning of family.

After Marisa’s death, Elizabeth and Emily find that they have more in common than they imagined. After all, they are no longer “twins;” they are simply sisters. As a result, their relationship grows deeper and more loving, not only with each other but also with Ellie.

More to come; stay tuned!

vicki-color-small

I know, I know, you haven’t seen the story yet. I have been asked several times lately how I came to write this fictional story, as well as what I’m going to do next. So here goes.

 

Back in October 2011, I went to a writer’s retreat in southern California, hosted by Marilyn Friedman of The Writing Pad. This was a weekend event in the 29 Palms area up in the hills near Los Angeles. I had been looking for a writer’s conference or retreat to go to, and chose this one partly because Adair Lara (author of Naked, Drunk and Writing) was one of the teachers attending.

 

We did a number of writing exercises over an intense two days. Many of them were of the free-writing type, where we chose a topic and wrote for, say, 10 minutes. Then we read what we had written and received feedback. (I love this kind of exercise.) One of the things I wrote had to do with myself and my twin sister as children. At the end of the weekend, Marilyn suggested that I write a longer piece about my sister and I, but with us as adults this time.

 

I thought about this all the way home. I had never really seriously considered writing fiction, but I was inspired with the idea to the point where I couldn’t focus on much else. More or less on a whim, I decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and try to write my story.

 

participant_180_180_white

NaNoWriMo basically challenges writers to write 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November. I got home from the retreat on October 28, so I had barely 3 days to get myself ready. I came up with a title (“Inseparable”) and a synopsis. I had no idea how to do things like develop characters, and had little time to do it anyway. Many hours were spent over those 3 days just organizing the story; my hope was to keep the thing moving along and have it reach a natural conclusion by the time I reached 50,000 words. I had a large cork board which I had divided with masking tape into 4 horizontal columns representing the major story parts. I then used colored index cards (one color for each story line) and plotted out the story.

 

Then I started writing. As many of you know, I prefer to write my drafts longhand. I have found that I am actually more productive this way, even though it means spending more time later typing it all up. What worked for me in this case was to look at the board in the morning, decide which scenes I was going to work on that day, and then just sit down and write. I set a timer for 10 minutes and wrote steadily till it went off. Then I reset it and went on like that. It was actually quite easy to write around 2,000 words at a sitting over about 90-120 minutes this way.

 

winner_180_180_white

 

There were 4 days in November (Thanksgiving for example) when I did no writing at all, but I still got to 50,000 words by November 28. Then I pretty much set it aside and left it alone; I had thought up no plan at that point for what (if anything) I was going to do with the thing. About 3 weeks later I got a contract for my first non-fiction book, Pure Poultry, and the novel was pushed even further down the priority list.

 

I’m not really sure what prompted me to pull out this file and revisit the novel just now, but I did. Interestingly, as I read through it, I discovered that much of what I wrote 5 years ago seemed to parallel things going on in my life today. I read through the whole thing in one sitting, then went back and began to revise. One thing near the ending seemed particularly trite to me (“cringe-worthy” as my niece Chaidie put it), so I re-worked that until it made more sense to me.

 

So now, as I prepare to travel to Pennsylvania for a speaking event later this month, and am assembling the proposal package for my third non-fiction book, I also find myself oddly drawn to this fiction project. An important next step will be getting additional eyes on it and feedback. Like poetry, I never really saw myself as writing fiction. But I’ve had a deal with myself over the past several years; to pay attention to inspiration, and act on it when it arrives. There’s a reason why I dusted off this file when I did, and I intend to see it through, wherever it may lead.

 

 

OK, so this is a very tiny peek. When it’s published I’d like you to buy the damned thing , so you can’t reasonably expect me to give a lot away now. I’m going to milk the excuse “It’s just a draft” for all it’s worth.

 

twins-with-stroke

So… Working title is “Inseparable.” Here is the opening paragraph of Part One:

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am a BAD MOTHER. Yes, smack your lips over that one. I used to think I was at least a decent person, but never, not even in my most wildly self-congratulatory mood did I ever convince myself that I was a good mother. Hell, I never should have gotten pregnant in the first place, I mean, how stupid is that. That man never cared about me, he just said the right things, what I wanted to hear, what every girl who wants to be a woman thinks she wants to hear, the things that somehow distract your attention from the risks of unprotected sex.

 

That’s it for now, I’m busy writing! Post a comment or shoot me a message on Facebook if you want to read more.

On Saturday morning, I was heading down toward Sequim (or Sin City, as we like to call it) when I was unavoidably detained. About halfway between the house and the gate, a tree was down across the road. Not that huge of a tree, but I knew before getting out of the car that it was too big for me to just move it off the road by myself.

 

Tree across road

A little geography: To the left in this photo, a few feet off the road, there is a steep drop-off into a canyon. To the right is the stump end of the tree, about six feet from the road. (It appears to me that the tree was struck by lightning in the storm last Thursday.) The real problem was that most of the length of the tree, the top end with all the branches, was hanging over the edge of the canyon.

I walked back the quarter mile to the house to grab my Swedish bow saw. David was out of town, and we have a rule about not running things like chain saws unless there is someone else around. I picked up this bow saw for $10 at an army surplus place, and it is amazing. The blade is about 30″ long and is super-sharp. It is my go-to tool for cutting anything more than about 1″ diameter.

To digress briefly about tools… I should explain that I have always had a particular affinity for hand tools. There is something about using hand tools, a rhythm, a pattern, a sound. Don’t get me wrong, power tools definitely have their place, and I do use them. But whenever possible I always seem to choose the hand tools first.

Back to my action-packed tree saga! Since I had an appointment I couldn’t spend a lot of time dealing with the tree. I cut it on the downhill side (to the left in the photo) and was then able to move the 16′ piece to the side of the road and drive on.

Tree in 4 parts

Later I loaded up a cart with my trusty ancient Workmate, the pickaroon, leather gloves and a bottle of water. I really didn’t expect I would be able to haul that thing uphill; it’s an alder that turned out to be over 60′ long, green and very heavy. Luckily the first part of the drop-off wasn’t too steep, so I was able to scramble down a little ways and cut off another 12′ section and haul that out. The rest of the tree was fairly easy to muscle up onto the road. The photo above shows the whole thing, cut into 4 sections.

Saw and pickaroon

Then I started cutting it up. With my hand tools. The pickaroon (with the wooden handle in the photo above) is very handy for grabbing a log without bending too much, and the Workmate was just perfect for holding the logs at a good working height. Once I had trimmed off all the side branches it all went fairly quickly; in fact, I was amazed that the entire job took only a little more than an hour and a half. Damn good workout, too.

The photo below shows the stump end of the tree, up on the Workmate; this piece is about 12′ long, 9″ diameter and very heavy.

Fat end of tree

It seems odd that a tree over 60′ long can be reduced to about 2 cartloads when it’s been cut up. The photo below shows the whole thing, some in the cart already; altogether about 400 pounds of wood, which will be premium firewood when dry. Oh and the smaller branches will be used for fuel in my outdoor oven! This is how I like things: nothing goes to waste, including my time and energy.

Tree cut up

I simply adore my hand tools. Still dreaming of setting up my own forge so I can make and repair my own tools one day. In the meantime, every time I encounter a challenge like clearing a tree from the road, I feel a little more confident that with some time, effort and a few good hand tools, I can easily and safely tackle just about anything.

 

Moliere's Muddle poster with white background jpeg

 

Olympic Theatre Arts in Sequim has a darling little tradition of offering a “specialty drink” during each of its shows. This drink is intended to fit somehow with the theme of the show. It’s a fun way to make the show a little more memorable, as well as generating sales to benefit this wonderful non-profit community theatre.

 

In another I-have-no-idea-what-possessed-me moment, I volunteered to come up with the specialty drink for OTA’s summer show, Scapino! For some reason I decided at the outset to concoct an original cocktail, something I had never done before. I did quite a bit of reading about how to combine acidic things with sweeter things, counteracting one thing with another, and like that. (I know, I know.) Information overload for sure.

 

Then I looked at the Wikipedia page about Scapino, since I knew basically nothing about the show and thought it might help me get some idea for the drink ingredients. Scapino is a comedy set in Italy, and based on a play by Moliere. So right away I was thinking of how I could use both French and Italian ingredients. (Seriously, I don’t know what possessed me.) Also, Scapino seems to be a character known for making confusion out of just about everything; hence, Moliere’s Muddle.

 

Anyway, it actually didn’t take all that long to decide. I’d never used Campari before, although I knew vaguely that it was a famous Italian liqueur; you know, one of those things that have a long list of super-secret ingredients that leave you wondering which of them is responsible for the bright red color… for the French element I chose Lillet Rouge, a wine-based aperitif. I’m not sure why I decided on adding my homemade ginger liqueur but it seemed to me that the relative sweetness of the liqueur nicely offsets the bitter edge to the Campari. Plus, I just like ginger liqueur.

 

Considering the show is happening in July, when the weather can be expected to be warm, I was trying for something not  too high in alcohol and definitely not too sweet. Interesting challenge to have it be fairly fruity without being overly sweet, but the Campari balances that out nicely.

 

A week ago I made samples for the OTA office staff, and received an all-around thumb’s-up. So naturally I went and volunteered to be in charge of the specialty drinks for all 8 shows in OTA’s upcoming season. Hey, you never know, if I can keep coming up with interesting drink recipes, my publisher might just want to print a new edition of Craft Distilling!

 

In the meantime, the poster above lists all the ingredients in Moliere’s Muddle. Do come see the show and try one (or several) cocktails. Scapino opens this Friday, July 8, with a preview show on Thursday. More details are on the OTA website, or you can phone the office at (360) 683-7326.

It’s discouraging to me that there seems to be an increasing tendency to lower expectations in our society. This can easily be observed, whether in young children or the leaders of the land. We’ve all heard phrases like “dumbing it down,” “leveling the playing field,” “lowest common denominator,” and many more. They all add up to one thing: Lowering expectations. I think that is very sad, as well as a dangerous precedent.

A phrase I’ve heard recently (although I’m sure it isn’t new) is “No expectations, no disappointments.” I get what this means: The less you expect, the less likely you are to be hurt or let down. I can’t fall out of bed if I sleep on the floor, right? I wouldn’t argue the truth of this concept; however, I do believe that by adopting this attitude, we cheat ourselves out of a lot of possibilities. Sure, something bad could happen to me, but what if I’m wrong about that?

Some of my friends who are parents of 20-somethings complain that their kids are apathetic, that they seem to have no hope for the future. The attitude of “What’s in it for ME?” is common. “I might as well not work, because Social Security isn’t going to be there for me years from now.” I can understand this outlook. It just proves my point that when expectations continue to be lowered, the loss of hope is the price we pay. We simply can’t afford that.

We need young people to grow up believing that integrity, compassion and kindness matter. That it is sometimes necessary to choose an action (or lack of action) simply because I believe it is the right thing to do. Even if you are no longer young, these things matter. In fact, these choices are critical. People tend to live up (or down) to expectations. By raising expectations instead of lowering them, we send the message that “I believe in YOU. You are important in the world simply because you are here.”

Everyone deserves opportunities. Everyone deserves to find those possibilities. Everyone deserves the chance to discover his or her passion, abilities and purpose, and to use them to contribute something of lasting beauty and value in the world. Isn’t that what we all want more than anything? To believe that, even if I am not the one who discovers the cure for cancer or who writes the prize-winning musical or who has the most money, I am here because I have a contribution to make. Grasping that belief allows hope to enter the picture.

We’re living in a sound-bite society. “You have thirty seconds or less to get your message across; the viewer’s attention span is very short, you know.” (Another example of lowering expectations.) This is especially evident in this presidential election year. I say, give the viewer a little more credit than that! Make the message more meaningful, not less. More personal, not less. More challenging, not less.

No expectations, no disappointments? Don’t you believe it. Raise the expectations of yourself first, and prepare to discover the height and width and depth of who you are, and what you can accomplish, right there, where you are today.

It certainly isn’t easy to find a balance between expecting too much and not enough. You’ll make mistakes. But eventually you will find yourself looking forward to getting up the next day and trying again. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Strive for excellence, absolutely! But don’t expect perfection. Do expect more, and better, of yourself and others, and see what happens next.