Tag Archives: winter

A First Week of Firsts: 2012

The chickens started laying again this week after a couple months off. We got our first egg on Jan 2 and our second egg on Jan 5, quite possibly from the same chicken, but the others should follow before too long.

We don’t light our chicken house because we think it’s good for the hens to follow their natural cycles and take a break when the days get short. I once asked a group of students what natural phenomenon determines when chickens lay eggs during the year and one thoughtful student (whom I imagine was a woman) wrote, “They start their cycles in the spring and go through menopause every fall”! Imagine menopause on a yearly basis! The answer is the amount of daylight but maybe mini-menopause is accurate in its own way.

Another first this week was spotting a bald eagle over the meadow yesterday. I noticed a very large, dark bird flying overhead with a flash of yellow and pointed it out to Peter and John, who were taking stock of our materials pile for an upcoming building project. John said he thought he saw its white head and Peter, a birder, said it flew like an eagle rather than a turkey vulture and that it would have to be a mature bald eagle to have a white head. I’m not sure whether the yellow flash I saw was its beak or the sun on its head but it was a thrill to know an eagle is circling Stonebridge in this new year.

This week has been warm, in the 60s, which is a high temperature for Colorado’s Front Range in January but not terribly unusual. I’ve been wanting to take a little drive in the mountains; with such nice weather, yesterday was the day for my trip. The sky was clear and the afternoon sun on the peaks magnificent. I couldn’t quite capture it because I couldn’t quite reach it—the highway just didn’t take me close enough yesterday. Here’s a pic from the pull-off where tourists stop to take their photos with the Estes Park sign. I thought about erasing the yellow curve markers but that’s the reality of a mountain highway—lots of signs to tell you what to do and how to act in the natural world.

With the warm weather, the ground has thawed a bit so this afternoon John and I dug some leftover carrots for winter meals. They look fresh and will taste good tonight with our lentil walnut burgers.

Walking back to the house, we heard the shriek of red-tailed hawks and then some sounds we hadn’t heard before, like squealing more than cries. We saw a pair of snowy winged red-tails circling each other in what might be a mating dance and then they both dove to the earth, perhaps to “have a moment,” as John said. I don’t know the mating habits of red-tails but I loved hearing their banter on this clear January day.

 

 

Snow comes tomorrow, ending our lovely warm first week. As Front Range farmers always say, we need the moisture, so snow is not unwelcome. John’s laying in wood and I’m taking stock of the New Year, loving the slower pace of a January retired and revitalized for what comes next.

 

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Still Winter Granola

Those of you who don’t live along Colorado’s Front Range of the Rockies would probably be surprised at the vicissitudes of our winter weather. Last weekend felt like spring with sunshine and highs in the 60s. Now it’s bleak winter again: highs in the teens today and ten below zero tonight with just enough icy snow falling to make the roads slippery and dangerous.

As one friend wrote this morning, it’s a good day for seed catalogs. I agree, but since we sent in our orders last week, I’m making granola instead.

I started making my own granola several years ago and couldn’t believe how many years I’d wasted buying granola. As many of you undoubtedly know, making your own granola is really easy, but even better than that, you can customize your own recipe in so many ways, why settle for less? Ingredients, sweetness, texture, and, best of all, toastedness are all under your own control. To make granola, all you need are ingredients—most of which you can buy in bulk, a large baking dish, and half an hour when you’re hanging out near the kitchen taking care of some other domestic task like balancing your checkbook, folding laundry, sending emails, or writing your blog lol.

To me, granola is SO 70s, part of the “back to the land” and “natural foods” movements that inspired me as a teenager. Unlike my memory of my first quiche, I can’t remember exactly when I first tried granola but I did make “Back to Nature” granola cookies in high school from store-bought granola (or “store-boughten,” as we say in our family).

I like making granola because it combines two kinds of activities: mindless and mindful. When I’m mixing the ingredients, I like to be mindful of the textures involved: the round flakiness of the oatmeal with the shredded flakiness of the coconut, the precise size of the walnuts chopped in my vintage chopper, and the smoothness of the honey drizzled gently into the oil and vanilla.

But once granola’s in the oven, you don’t have to think much about it, just enough to stir every five minutes or so until the end, when you better get mindful again or you can ruin the whole batch. The last few minutes are when you need vigilance to attain the perfect shade of brown and crunchy texture for your personal granola. No one can put that in a recipe—you have to discover that for yourself.

This past Christmas I gave my daughter and son-in-law—who have a beautiful new house with a perfect kitchen for cooking—my granola recipe and bulk bags of ingredients. They made their first batch right away and now can adapt the recipe to their liking.

Also last Christmas, a dear friend gave us a huge bag of homemade granola, a wonderful gift because she’d used walnuts AND almonds, honey AND maple syrup, while I always use just one nut and only honey, since we’ve got our own farm hives. It felt luxurious to eat such exuberant granola, a welcome change from our own.

So to celebrate the last day of January by warming up our kitchens as well as our palates, I’m including my Stonebridge Farm granola recipe below in the hope you’ll share your own granola recipes, favorite ingredients, and innovations.


Stonebridge Farm Granola

4 cups organic rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup coconut flakes (I use 2/3 cup shredded and 1/3 cup larger flakes)
1 cup chopped nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans
2 Tbl of seeds like sesame, ground flax (or wheat germ)
¼ cup honey (1/3-1/2 cup if you like it sweeter)
¼ cup safflower oil (or same as for honey, plus some for oiling pan)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp good ground cinnamon like Vietnamese cassia
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit like cranberries or cherries or apples

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Very lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish and mix first 4 ingredients right inside the dish. If you’re using larger coconut flakes, you may want to reserve them because they brown more rapidly than the shredded kind.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes.

Take out of oven and stir well.  (Add large coconut flakes now if you’ve reserved them.)

Bake 5 minutes, remove, and stir. Repeat. (15 minutes total).

Sprinkle cinnamon over granola and mix well.

Mix safflower oil, honey, and vanilla in a two-cup measuring container with a pouring spout and pour uniformly over granola. Mix well.

Bake 3 minutes, remove, and stir.

Now comes the mindful part. Bake another 1-3 minutes depending on your oven and how brown you want your granola. I’d suggest baking for one minute, checking and stirring, and then repeat until you’re there.

Once you’ve attained perfection, stir well, being sure the granola isn’t sticking to the dish. Cool a few more minutes and stir again. If you don’t stir a couple times initially while it’s cooling, it’ll stick to the dish.

If you like your granola chunkier, you could mix 1/8 cup honey with 1/8 cup oil and drop in spots to harden some of the granola into chunks during this cooling period.

Once cooled, add fruit and mix.

Store in gallon glass jar or container.


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Still Winter

In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone.

Christina Rossetti,  1830-1894

It’s January, and still winter. Still winter because nothing is moving. The ice in the ditch is frozen; we have to haul water for the chickens in a bucket filled from the kitchen tap. Laundry freezes rather than dries on the line. I pin towels and socks as quickly as I can but my fingers numb and slow me down. At least the sun is shining. At least the snow stays in the mountains for another day.

In my grandmother’s diaries, she starts each entry with a weather report. Farmers depend on the weather so recording its changes helped her mark the years, but in rural North Dakota, the weather meant something more.  My grandparents lived in the country so snowstorms meant no trips to town and no visitors dropping by until the weather cleared.

One entry makes me smile at the typical understatement of her voice:

Sat Jan 29, 1966: This morning it’s 40 below so won’t be very warm today.

In my grandmother’s make-do world, “Won’t be very warm” means “Won’t be going anywhere today.” I can imagine her watching the wide wintergray sky from the kitchen window while she baked her weekly loaves of bread. She was a slim woman and in her later years, never seemed to get warm. For her last Christmas, we gave her a thick wool sweater to take away the chill; after she died, the smell of her face powder lingered for years.

Winter in North Dakota is unforgiving. An incautious mistake—an empty fuel tank, bad tires, turning down the wrong dirt road–can mean death in a blizzard that shrouds the prairie in icy white. And winter stays into spring there, as my grandmother’s diary confirms.

Fri March 4, 1966: 12 degrees above hi for today. It’s nice here today but not so warm. Is close to zero. We were lucky to miss being in the storm the last three days. Some lives lost in S. Dakota.

I baked a pie.

Here and on the next page, my grandmother tucked two newspaper clippings about the days-old storm.  “Snows Wrath on Our Path” warns one. “Holy Cow! No Snowplow!” cries the second.

Luckily, my grandparents missed that blizzard and got to town so that my cousin could try on the dress our grandmother had been sewing for her of “tissue gingham.” But, Grandma Smith admits again in her understated way, “The wind was so howling, I didn’t like it.”

Christina Rossetti wrote the Christmas poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” as an allegory of the life of Christ. I learned the poem in junior high choir as set to music by Gustav Holst and never forgot its austere yet eloquent first verse. I think of it often in January when it’s still winter.

I think too of my grandmother, watching the sky for snow and waiting for the roads to clear so that she could venture into town to visit family and buy supplies, perhaps even some fabric for my Easter dress in Colorado.

Here at Stonebridge, winter is a time when both the land and the farmers rest, at least until it’s time to plant onions in the greenhouse. The land sleeps under a coat of white and the frozen ditch quiet silent in its banks. But even in the stillness, small movements stir the air. Wooly mice and voles tunnel under the snow for harvest remains; red-tail hawks with their snowy breasts survey the fields for any movement that portends dinner.

And inside the house, the busy-ness of our lives turns inward: we knit, spin, write, and plan the next season’s gardens. With the fire glowing in the woodstove and the root cellar stocked, we are safe in our farmhouse, waiting and watching for spring.

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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

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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

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