Tag Archives: solstice

If Life Gives You Apples . . .

Or when it doesn’t give you cranberries, make apple salad for Thanksgiving.

We host Thanksgiving for family and friends here at Stonebridge. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s all about the food, most of which we grow ourselves. This year, the potatoes, parsnips, leeks, carrots, winter squash, and pumpkin all came from our fields.


We don’t grow cranberries at Stonebridge, so every year my mom makes her cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner. Sadly, one of our aunts passed away in North Dakota days before Thanksgiving and my parents had to make the long trip back for her funeral. They would spend Thanksgiving with one of our cousins and head home the next day.


Rather than try to approximate my mom’s cranberry relish, I decided to use what we had in the cold room of the barn: organic apples from the fruit shares we offer through Ela Family Farms on Colorado’s Western slopes. Our last box included three kinds of apples in three colors—yellow Golden Delicious, green Granny Smith, and reddish-yellow Fuji—perfect for a beautiful apple salad with walnuts. I cored, chopped, and dipped the apples in lime juice to prevent browning, and tossed them with an olive oil/apple cider vinegar dressing and toasted walnuts. The salad wasn’t the same as my mom’s cranberry relish, but it was delicious and something fresh at the Thanksgiving meal is good to balance the other heavy foods.


[Did you know the USDA is considering allowing a genetically modified apple into our food stream? The reason for the genetic modification is to prevent browning, but if it’s allowed, you won’t know your apple is genetically modified since food manufacturers don’t need to label their products as such. Browning prevention is clearly aimed at mass food preparation– including restaurants, school cafeterias, manufactured apple products like applesauce and potentially even baby food–since it’s hardly a problem for home consumers. As with all GMO foods, we need to question whether the supposed benefit they offer is worth the health and environmental risks. You can learn more here—and tell the USDA by December 16 that the so-called Arctic Apple isn’t something you want to eat.]

Everyone at our table loves Thanksgiving stuffing, so it’s a mystery why we don’t make it at other times of the year.  I use grated carrots and sliced leeks from the garden, along with chopped hazelnuts from Oregon, vegetable broth, and bread cubes for ours. This year, my sister volunteered to make gluten-free cornbread with corn kernels for our stuffing. What a difference homemade cornbread makes to the stuffing! She made it a few days ahead so that it could dry in cubes. (When you’re chopping vegetables for the stuffing, be sure to prepare some extra for a Stonebridge Post-Thanksgiving Shepherd’s Pie, recipe below).

With our brother-in-law’s pumpkin bread, my sister’s whipped yams, our friends’ roasted Parmesan parsnip fries, an all natural turkey from another’s friend’s store, Stonebridge mashed potatoes, vegetarian and turkey gravy, John’s wheat crescent rolls, spiced carnival squash (the recipe’s in my book,  A Bushel’s Worth), pumpkin pie from our own Winter Luxury pumpkins, and another sister’s gingerbread cookies, we feasted in the Sunflower Community Room and toasted our dear Aunt Del Vera, a farm girl with city ways. Dark-haired with big brown eyes, she was a beauty who made every occasion of our childhood visits to North Dakota a special one.


Our Aunt Del Vera is on the right. We will miss her laughter and elegant ways!

Thanksgiving Day was warm enough for a walk around the farm between dinner and dessert, but a few days later, the arctic cold came down from North Dakota and settled in for a long stay. With the farmhouse warmed by our woodstove, we put our Thanksgiving leftovers to good use, especially in our vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (recipe below). The below-zero temperatures stayed around for almost a week, making outdoor work less appealing and providing the perfect excuse for holiday gift crafting by the fire.

Now the weather’s warmed again and we can venture outside without wearing so many layers. Yesterday we found our Winterbor curly kale had held up well under row cover during the terrible cold. John and I are anticipating our solstice celebration next Saturday with good food and handmade gifts. Our town paraded last weekend as usual, a sign that flood recovery is underway. We hope that these busy holiday days regenerate all our spirits and bring solace for our losses with the help of community, family, and friends. Happy Solstice!


Stonebridge Post-Thanksgiving Vegetarian/Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Preheat oven to 375. Oil one three-quart or two one-and-a-half quart casserole dishes (if you make two, you’ll have one to take to a friend’s).

2 cups thinly sliced leeks
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
2 cups chopped curly kale
1 32-oz box veggie broth
4 cups mashed potatoes
Parmesan or other cheese, optional

Saute leeks in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until golden. Add carrots and sauté one minute. Throw in hazelnuts and add curly kale. When the kale is softened, pour in 2/3 box veggie broth. Simmer for one minute. Moving the veggies to the edges of the pan, add 2 Tbl flour to thicken the broth.

Pour filling into prepared casserole dishes. Top with mashed potatoes (two cups each, if splitting into two dishes). Sprinkle with cheese, if using. Bake 30 minutes, until sauce is bubbling.

To reheat second casserole, bake 30 minutes at 375, until bubbling.


Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Almost Solstice, Almost Snow

Last night, the first snow fell at the farm since October. We got almost a couple inches, but it’s a pretty dry snow that isn’t going to leave much moisture behind. Still, we’ll take it.


Besides the moisture, I wanted a little more snow for a picture today of the tree line along our Rough and Ready ditch. I found another of my old postcards, one that always reminds me of the farm this time of year. I thought I’d get a shot in the snow to compare them but, as you can see, the postcard scene is much snowier.


I like the two figures walking out in the snow. Maybe they were looking for the great-horned owl like I was yesterday at twilight after hearing it hoot in the trees on the other side of the Rough and Ready. I walked across the wooden bridge to the flowers and found the owl in a willow along the Highland Ditch above the garden. It saw me, too, and flew away in a high-winged flap more like shirking my company than escaping any danger I might present.

I was walking out to give the chickens some scraps and check on John, who has started the granary renovation project. His better-than-farmpentry skills come in handy for adding a front porch to the building. Eventually, it will have two doors, one for each room that we hope will house writers and others.


The sun’s coming out now, so we’ll have a couple light hours before the almost-solstice sunset. In previous years, I could hardly wait to turn around the shortening daylight, but this year, I’m not in a hurry. On these brief days, the light seems all the more a gift, a good reason to celebrate this ancient holiday along with all the others.


Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

A Season of Gratitude


I had these cards made recently by a local letterpress artist and I’ve been leaving them in stores and posting them on bulletin boards wherever I think the message might be appreciated as a reminder that “fourth quarter,” as the marketers say, is more than just a time of shopping frenzy. The message is also directed at our national political scene, where decisions are being made that benefit those who already have so much rather than showing compassion for the common good.

December can be depressing when gift-giving becomes a stressful burden rather than a way to show love, friendship, or appreciation of community. I know many people who bow out of giving gifts altogether, and I understand why they’d choose not to participate in the craziness that gift-giving has become. But for those of us who do give gifts, it is easy to forget why we’re doing it in the first place: to show gratitude to the people in our lives who care for us and make our lives better.

For me and many people I know, giving a gift means making a gift or giving a gift from the earth that they tend (like honey from bees or herbs grown in a garden). Making gifts takes more time than money, so often the “value” in that type of gift isn’t readily recognized. One year my daughter and I spent hours making hand-beaded candy canes to tie on the packages we sent out of state. When I asked later how the recipients had liked the beaded canes, the answer was, “Oh. We didn’t notice them. They must have gotten thrown out with the wrapping paper.” Not the right folks for that particular gift. Although it would have been nice for the candy canes to have been received with joy, the pleasure was in making and giving them, and we were the ones to receive that.

One year when my students organized the Why Shop? Week consumer awareness project I wrote about in my last post, several of them were interviewed on a national radio program, where they advocated giving handmade gifts as a way to avoid participation in dubious consumer practices. When they were asked by the radio host, “What if your friends don’t like homemade gifts?” the students happily answered, “Get new friends.”

At 18, that may be possible. At middle-age, we’ve made many of the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives; some craft and some don’t. I am grateful to the people in my life who do make gifts. To me, a homemade gift or card always says, “I took this time to think about you and I enjoyed making this for you.” That doesn’t mean other gifts aren’t thoughtful or welcome, but as a handcrafter myself, I do appreciate the sentiment behind something homemade. I know that handmade gifts take time for planning and designing, gathering of materials, and the crafting itself, often in many different steps.

This year one of our friends referred to his wife as a “one-woman craft factory” in her making of beautiful photo cards and felted soaps for family and friends. I don’t think he meant that she didn’t enjoy it but rather that she had to be well organized. For me, that sounds more appealing than going to a mall in the hustle of cars and frenzied shoppers looking for deals on the season’s latest trends. The popularity of the handcraft web-shop etsy shows that many people agree with me and would rather support a handcrafter than plunk down money at a big-box store.

This year, I am grateful for the many wonderful gifts made for us, from the inspiring quotation handwritten on paper to the soaps and bath salts and confections we’ll use everyday to the adorable ornaments made with care that will decorate our home to the handcranked wool socks that will warm our feet. Let’s think of this time of year as the “Season of Gratitude” when gifts of all kinds show gratitude in both the giving and the receiving.  And let’s extend that practice of gratitude all year for the gifts we already receive every day: the gift of love from the special people in our lives and from the earth that sustains us.

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Filed under sustainable agriculture, women's writing

Another Year Ends and Begins

We woke this morning to our first real snow of the season. Given that much of the country has been stunned with storms, our snowlessness has been a bit odd, but now we’ll have a white New Year’s.

The last week of the year always seems a conundrum. The calendar year is coming to a close but the days have been lengthening for over a week now, creating a kind of temporal overlap with one sense of time ending and another beginning.

Our lives too are moving in both directions, one toward closure of 2010 with its many challenges and changes, and another toward initiation of not only a new farm season—our 20th—but a new addition to our house. In fact, John and Joe and Peter are pouring cement footers right now. John and I are also anticipating the coming year as the last year for one part of our lives, so 2011 will be a unique time of exchange between old and new for us.

Why doesn’t the end of the year correspond to the earth’s own solstice? Perhaps the ancient peoples who created the lunar forerunners of our current Gregorian calendar meant this overlap to remind us that life is always ending and beginning.

With the lengthening daylight following the solstice, our thoughts and plans turn to projects or changes we want to achieve in the coming year—our New Year’s resolutions. In this last week of December, which the Romans named after the last of the ten months of their year (“decem” is Latin for “ten”), the sun’s later drop below the horizon pushes us forward toward a new sense of accomplishment.  Without the lengthening light, we might just sleep away the New Year.

And so we list our plans and hopes and dreams for the next 365 days of our lives. My first resolution is to enjoy the coming year by focusing on what’s ending without worrying too much about what’s beginning, to not let the ebb and flow of 2011 knock me into the undertow. I need to remember that this will be a year of exceptional change that I have desired and initiated and so should welcome even within the midst of some tumult because I hope to emerge in a new place a year from now. That’s all.

And a second resolution is to keep making time for this blog.

So if you haven’t started your list yet, take this time of endings and beginnings to ponder where you want to be in a year and how you will get there.

What’s on your list of resolutions?

Snowy Steps to Stonebridge


Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

Coming on Christmas

It’s coming on Christmas/ They’re cutting down trees/ They’re putting up reindeer/ And singing songs of joy and peace

Joni Mitchell, “River,” Songs of a Prairie Girl

This year’s winter solstice turned with a lunar eclipse on a cloudy night as the earth’s shadow spread across a full and luminous moon. Now that we’ve passed the turnaround time, we move forward to our Christmas celebrations with family.

John and I don’t have a Christmas tree this year, or at least not a pine-boughed tree with a star on top. We haven’t had a tree for the last three years because we’ve been travelling at Christmas.

When we have had a tree, it’s come from our own farm, one planted by nature that’s managed to grow without irrigation or human tending. Our Christmas trees are Charlie Brown trees, lopsided and thinly branched but still fragrant and fresh.

One year we cut our tree at Thanksgiving so our little nephews could help. We loaded the kids in the wagon and pulled them to the place along the irrigation ditch where our chosen tree was leaning over the bank. When our brother-in-law saw the much-anticipated tree, he suggested we could cut it down with a nail clipper.

I like a real tree in the house with our handmade and childhood ornaments, but this year seemed to call for a simpler plan, so I put up three smaller trees instead.

The first is a metal tree on the desk with antique glass ornaments, many of them found on the landing of a friend’s New York brownstone years ago. His elderly neighbor had died and her family had left boxes of interesting items for the other tenants to inherit. I was visiting that June and no one else wanted the old ornaments, so I shipped them home. They remind me that life is transitory and that things are meant to pass on, even if you don’t know where they’ll end up next.

The second tree, a gift from my sister, is a Scandinavian candelabra covered in paper greenery and decorated with simple wooden ornaments. It’s flanked by mushrooms of various sorts, symbols of good luck according to German tradition. I like the idea of mushrooms at this time of year, woodsy and brightly capped in the forest, marking a season that seems to call for luck.

The third tree sits on our oak sideboard and, like the second tree, celebrates my Norwegian heritage. My father made it decades ago from blocks of wood and dowels painted green to imitate the prairie trees of branches or tumbleweeds gathered by Scandinavian homesteaders to decorate their sod homes or cabins, real trees being hard to come by on the prairie and too precious to chop down for holiday cheer.

Mine is filled with painted wooden ornaments from Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Russia, and others made by my grandmothers from woven straw or silvered nut shells or colorful candies melted in the small tin molds used to bake the Norwegian butter and almond cookies called sanbakkels. These precious ornaments remind me of my grandmothers, who always made the most of the little they had on the North Dakota prairies during the Depression. And at the top of the tree hang my childhood mittens, one for me (the other lost) and a pair for my doll.

When my daughter was in elementary school, she was asked to bring an example of a family holiday tradition, so she took the prairie tree, which is as close to an ethnic heritage as we can get on my side of the family, not counting our ubiquitous English side that’s reflected in this country’s language and laws. Like many families of mixed immigrant backgrounds in the US, our customs are practiced most consciously at holidays, especially regarding food. The aforementioned sanbakkels filled with lingonberry jam is one; making lefse, the thin potato pancakes of Norway, is another.

John and I took on this tradition several years ago when our friend Julie shared her lefse recipe with me. Rather than start with whole potatoes, this recipe uses natural instant potatoes, saving hours of labor peeling, boiling, and mashing potatoes for the dough. Tonight we’ll mix the dough and tomorrow we’ll roll and cook the lefse to take to my sister’s for dinner.

I’ve inherited my Norwegian grandmother’s wide, round lefse griddle, fancy rolling pins, and flat stick that slides under the lefse to flip onto the other side. My grandfather made that stick from a yard-long ruler, undoubtedly one given away by the local lumber yard, which he had whittled to a point on one end, but I’ve since bought a thinner stick that makes the job a little easier. Even with instant potatoes, lefse-making is a big job, but you can’t buy lefse as good as homemade. We’ll spread it with butter, brown sugar, or jam for our Christmas eve meal.

A simple tree of sticks; old ornaments that are still treasured; a treat of potatoes and butter from our family’s past. These holiday traditions seem right for our lives on the farm. They remind us that we come from hearty stock, from people who made the best with what they had, as we celebrate in these last, short days of December before we snuggle in to January’s frosty blows.


Filed under memoir, sustainable agriculture

In a Week, We’ll Have Turned Around

In a week, we’ll have passed the solstice, the turnaround time of midwinter when the sun is at its greatest angular distance from the earth’s tilt. “Solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  For almost two weeks before the winter solstice–which in the Northern hemisphere is between December 20 and 22–the sun sets at the same time each evening; the same is true for sunrises following the solstice.

This stasis feels like the earth is stuck in the sky because the sun doesn’t seem to move. It’s like we’re waiting for something to happen. No wonder ancient Northern people brought evergreens and holly into their homes and lit candles during the long nights until spring came again. No wonder the early Christian church chose this time of year to celebrate Christmas.

Usually by mid-December on Colorado’s Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the weather’s cold and even snowy, with the sun barely strong enough to give light, let alone heat. But the last few days have been in the mid-60s and we haven’t had a real snow yet.

To say these days are unseasonal seems a euphemism, for it’s not just the temperature that’s off. With this warm weather, it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas is only a week and half away. At a little local second-hand store where I donate and shop because it’s run by a non-profit serving women in our community, the clerk whispered yesterday, “This weather’s been bad for Christmas shopping.”

I’m sympathetic to their dilemma, but snow would be good for another reason. As farmers, we’d like some moisture on the fields. We may get our wish tonight with first rain and then a projected accumulation of 1-3 inches of snow. Maybe that will pick up holiday shopping. I know the trees will like it.

John and I celebrate the winter solstice, a time we take a little get-away together, not going too far, just far enough to relax, enjoy some good food, and think about the coming year. The winter solstice is our half-year anniversary too, so spending time together on the longest night of the year seems fitting. We also celebrate Christmas with our children and our families, but the solstice helps us gain some stasis before those busy days when we may lose sight of each other for a little while.

I like having a celebration that is truly seasonal, based on the relationship of the sun and earth and the felt experience of light and warmth, darkness and cold, as they balance our days here at the end of the year. Looking out the window, I can see by the bare trees against the wild blue-grey sky that we’re about to turn around again, a reminder that we will travel together through this time of stasis to movement once more.

Click on the photo to see the full image & again for zoom


Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture