Field Notes: End of March

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Alder catkins and their new tiny red cones.

Yesterday was bright and sunny after four days of rain, and it felt blissful. It’s raining again today, and though dreary, it’s still welcome. Any drought or warning of such has been downgraded, and we are at normal levels of water after an almost year-long dry spell. However, does that mean normal for this time? I went to see some waterfalls the other day, and they were running well but nothing out of the ordinary. In the past, I have been blown away by the sheer force and amount of water raging through our waterways this time of year. But still water is everywhere, thank goodness for that. I’m already thinking about this season’s mushrooms, as last year was bereft of them.

Spring soldiers forth. In the woods, by the melting vernal pools, the wood frogs and peepers are out. I hear the wood frogs from a distance, sounding like a flock of hens quietly clucking in the swamp. When I reach them they are suddenly quiet; when I walk away they begin again. Snow is still melting off, it’s wet and slushy and holds old footprints, feathering at the edges, soon to disappear. Water is everywhere, rushing through the rocks. Ducks, Buffleheads perhaps, screech and fly away as soon as they hear me venture anywhere near them.

Along the river, a juvenile eagle soars, which is always thrilling. If you’ve seen bald eagles then you understand: they truly are majestic. They are extremely large, so much so that you immediately know you are seeing an eagle, and not, say, a vulture. We are lucky enough to see these creatures along the Hudson River now that they have made a healthy return from the brink of extinction. Bald eagles are easily recognized in their adult plumage as the white head is very striking. The juvenile is dark-headed, and has a mottled breast, and not quite as immediately noticeable but for its size. I must have startled this bird from seeking out a deer carcass we passed earlier that was being torn apart by a wake of vultures. Eagles are fish hunters, but they don’t pass up the opportunity of scavenging.

As I walk watching the land wake up, I’ve been asking myself what truly matters? As I ponder this, I conversely ask what doesn’t matter? Does mattering matter? Some things don’t need to matter because they just are. Being is important enough for the wood frogs and the peepers, eagles and vultures. So: what does matter? I find my mind starts to obsess about the things I should be doing, or attaining, but when I stop to observe my surroundings, I realize that the things that I thought were so important really aren’t. And that those things we all know to really matter: our health, our loves, our integrity, are easily enough tended to if we let them just be.

Random notes:

I often walk on local naturalist John Burroughs’ old homestead and land, Slabsides. I just finished Burroughs’ first book, Wake-Robin. Our library has a large collection of his work and books on his life and the history of the area. They are having a series of talks on American naturalists this month, and on April 21st the topic will be Burroughs and his life.

This week I read Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. It was perfect quick read, and in essence was about asking who we are, as individuals, and what matters.

Apparently, what’s important is also in the stars. Isn’t it always?

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Puffed Grain Granola

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I’ve been noticing lots of talented cooks I know using puffed grains in their granola or as toppings. I love Glutton For Life’s Rice Crispies, a savory topping made with puffed rice. Kaela of Local Kitchen uses puffed grains in her granola I found out the other day on Instagram. I thought I’d share my take on it. I’ve been making this for a couple of years now—I buy puffed grains in big bags and keep them in plastic Cambro bins. There are no oats in this at all. There is also no dried fruit. We like to have it with yogurt, fruit and jam. But it’s also good as a snack on its own!

This batch is big and lasts our family of three for at least a week. We eat it a lot! My son loves it because, I’ll admit, it’s sweet. You could tone down the honey if you don’t have a sweet tooth, but I haven’t tried it. I have tried it with sugar, and it doesn’t work–the honey really binds it and makes it crunchy. I have yet to try it with maple syrup, but now that I have my own I might be inclined to squander some on it just out of curiosity. I like a heavy sprinkle of cinnamon on the tray because it turns it a nice brown color. The smoked Maldon salt I put on everything—I do recommend a bit of salt in granola. It always gives it a lift. Let me know if you try it, and if you makes changes to it!

Puffed Grain Granola

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

6 cups of puffed grains—whatever you want, I use a mix of wheat, rice, kamut, corn and millet

½ cup honey

½ cup coconut oil

1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup sunflower seeds, roasted unsalted

1 cup sliced almonds, whole almonds, walnuts or a mix of your favorite nuts

(optional: sprinkle of cinnamon and smoked maldon salt on top)

Heat the honey and coconut oil gently, either in a microwave or stove top, and pour over the ingredients. Stir to coat. Spread on a tray lined with a silpat. Sprinkle with cinnamon and salt. Bake at 350 degrees  for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and crisp. Let cool in pan for 15-30 minutes so it hardens, then remove to an air tight jar so it won’t lose its crispness.

Field Notes: Maple Trees

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Monday was the vernal equinox, and though we had a lovely day on Tuesday, the past few days have been brutal and fierce. The mornings run twenty degrees, but the howling wind sets you back another ten degrees. I usually walk down by the river, but the winds whip down the carved channel of the water, and it takes no prisoners. Tuesday was the kind of spring day I like best: the snow melted in the sun, the sound of dripping is everywhere, no wind, and here and there I would see things that had lost their blanket of snow: tulip bulbs sending leaves out, the daffodil buds still sheathed in a thin membrane—will they unfurl? Or is it too far gone? The chives, bursting forth, a little worse for wear, bent and stunted by the cold snow. I even saw my first robin, hopping on the ground, his dear profile immediately recognizable.

After twelve years of being here, we finally got around to tapping some of the magnificent maple trees on our land. I must say that although I like maple syrup very much, I was a little hesitant to drill holes in our trees. Especially after reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohleben. A friend asked: doesn’t it hurt the trees? I’m sure it does—isn’t it a wound? Isn’t sap just the blood of a tree? Sounds particularly dastardly to bleed something so you can boil it down only to pour it on your morning porridge, doesn’t it? Perspective can be difficult sometimes. Most documents I referred to on this acknowledged the possible damage to a tree, though the wound will heal over. As the  trees leaked into the bucket, I thanked them for their sap, though I wasn’t sure what I could give in return. My continued reverence?

I have a deep love for trees. They ground me. When I am walking, though I notice small things here and there, the trees are really what are with me every moment. They are constant. I form relationships with some. Sometimes I take a moment to visit with certain trees I am particularly drawn to, or sometimes if my mind is racing with things I have to get done, I stop and put my hand on a tree to remind me where I am. There is a double tulip poplar that I love—two huge straight poplars coming out of the same spot, shooting into the sky. And there are trees I remember that are now gone, like the old gnarled beech tree that looked like an elephant, or even the mulberry from ages ago, in my back yard, the one I used to climb and eat berries from all summer long. I feel like trees are the whales of the land, deep and mysterious and knowing. Forests always have a certain depth and mystery to them that I feel can be attributed in a great part to trees.

Some of the trees we tapped have been generous—the ones on the driveway, in particular, probably because they are warmer, the snow has been cleared off their roots and the sap is flowing busily. The trees that are further off, and still under snow, are not as forthcoming. Still, I was able to collect a few gallons, and I spent that spring-like Tuesday boiling it off on my propane grill. Maybe not the best or least expensive choice, but the fire pit is still under a foot of hard snow, so propane it would have to be. I started the sap to boil at 9 a.m. By noon it was starting to turn golden, and smelled absolutely delicious: caramel, vanilla and that telltale maple smell. I tapped only sugar maples, as the reds had already begun to bud, and they say that leads to “buddy” smelling syrup. The sap had boiled off quite a bit of water by about two o’clock. I finished the syrup on the stove top for another hour. The resulting syrup was lighter than I expected, and the yield was higher, though I might have not boiled it down enough. But it was sweeter than I expected as well! I had some for breakfast, on yogurt, and it was truly a treat. Bless those trees!

 

Goose Egg Pasta

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Did you know it’s egg season? That idea always cracks me up. (Ouch, bad joke, but it’s true!) Anyway, the daylight hours are getting longer—today is the vernal equinox—and the chickens are getting back in the groove. I’ve been getting some beautiful chicken eggs from my neighbors, pictured on the left. I always enjoy getting duck eggs, center dozen, and found some the other day from Glenerie Farms in Saugerties. They also had goose eggs, which were a spectacular treat. I don’t need to tell you which ones they are. I was pretty shocked to hold one in my hand. Geese only lay about thirty eggs a year depending on breed, so around now is when you might be able to get your hands on one. The egg weighed 7.4 ounces. Without the shell, which I had to crack open with my large knife, it was 6. The yolk is a monster. The egg is mostly yolk, and the white is somewhat thin. I have read that when hard cooked the white is strangely translucent. Not clear, but not a truly opaque white like a chicken egg.

I thought the best thing to do with at least one of them was to make fresh pasta. The ratio for fresh pasta dough is 3:2, three parts flour to two parts egg. So this equation was easy: if my egg was six ounces then my flour ratio was 1.5 times that, or nine ounces. I added a pinch of salt, and proceeded as usual in my pasta making. I like to mix it in a bowl, because that old school right on the table thing is a mess, although that’s how my family did it when I was a kid. I rolled it out using my pasta machine, but hand cut it into thick noodles—not quite pappardelle. After cooking them, which took all of two minutes, I tossed them with butter, parmesan cheese and a little bit of cooking water. Served with chopped parsley and fresh pepper, it was a study in simplicity.

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Food Notes:

I suggest following Glenerie Farm on Instagram (@gleneriefarm) right away, as they have baby goats right now, and they are SO adorable. It’s a beautiful farm with chickens, ducks, geese, goats and horses. The animals are so well taken care of that you can feel it. A place so nice that E.B. White would have enjoyed writing about it.

Also, for the first time I tapped a few trees on my property yesterday. I don’t know why it took me so long–I have so many maple trees! Always planned it, never got around to actually doing it. A friend handed me a few spiles with tubing attached, and I figured even though it is late in the season, it was high time I explored this. I’ll keep you posted!

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Field Notes: Third Week in March

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On Tuesday, a historic storm descended that unloaded almost two feet of snow in this area. You can’t imagine—the amount of snow is so significant, that all everyone says is so much snow with a glazed look in their eyes. Between the vernal equinox this coming Monday, and that pesky daylight-saving time last Sunday, this is shaping up to be quite a week. Daffodils had been starting to bloom and the red maples’ buds were beginning their flush of red, and there was a palpable worry about this very early spring that the whole country was experiencing. Then this crazy March snowstorm came! Which is very much March, don’t you agree? It snowed all day long, and the winds were treacherous. I stared out the window for large chunks of time, mesmerized by the white screen of it that blanked out the house across the way. Every so often I would see a bird dart by, and I would wonder what it was like to be out there in the storm.

The whole week revolved around the storm. The day before we prepared, and I went for a long walk knowing I would be immobilized for a few days. The day of we stayed in almost all day, aside from one or two quick forays. The day after it was still cold and a little mean out—walking in the knee-deep snow is no fun—but we did manage a bit of sledding. On Thursday, the sun finally broke out, school reopened, and it seemed like the world was getting back to normal. I went out in search of some cleared space to walk in, down to the Rondout section of Kingston, where Rondout Creek feeds into the Hudson. Filled with history, and slightly desolate despite efforts for it to be revitalized, I walked by the old buildings that used to house so much industry, the brick kilns, and passed over the old train tracks. Some sidewalks were cleared and some not. A red-tailed hawk flew by and landed in a dead tree by the river. I even passed a man who I regularly see on the trails I frequent, seemingly having the same idea as I by walking there. We nodded to each other quietly, as solitary walkers do, lost in their own reveries.

Today I remembered that the train tracks are usually plowed for service vehicles, so I took a walk along there. The snow was glittering, and big icy chunks from the plow and the passing trains formed walls alongside the cleared gravel. The sky so amazingly blue today, and the trees, heavy with buds, bending and swaying in the cold wind. The constant sound of dripping was everywhere, even though the temperatures are still so low. The birds seemed patient in the dense brush, waiting for the snow to melt, practicing their song for spring. Cardinals mostly, with their persistent and brash song, so bright against the white snow. I even saw a bluebird, alongside the junco and titmouse. Redwing blackbirds and their watery liquid trill lingered around the icy patches of wetlands. A hawk soared over and then slipped through the trees. Everyone is waiting for the snow to melt.

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Carbonara-ish Dish

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I’m always surprised when I read those articles that say people don’t really cook much anymore, even though we are more obsessed with food then ever. How do they survive? I cook throughout the day, every day. But, we all like different things, and I’m not surprised by people who don’t like to cook. For example, I hate painting. I’m in the midst of painting the hallway, and soon will do the bedroom after having done the whole kitchen, and I struggle with it. The result is always worthwhile, but the process is just dreadful. I figure that’s how people feel who hate to cook. They want to eat, but they don’t want all that other stuff. I happen to like all that other stuff: thinking about what I have, and what I can make with it, food shopping, food growing, all the prep, the presenting, the eating. Even the cleaning, to some extent, is pleasurable, but when you cook a lot you also clean a lot, and I’ll admit that can be tiresome. Although there’s nothing nicer than a crisp clean kitchen.

My kitchen works in a pleasurable flow that many have described as an ecosystem. Maybe people are not cooking enough to create that flowing system, where meals come out of others. If you are a constant cook you know this feeling already. What’s nice is that everything gets used, and there is little to no waste, which is another thing all of us should be concerned about. I am so curious about how people eat on a daily basis. Although I love seeing interesting ideas from brilliant chefs, it doesn’t really thrill me like the quotidian. It’s not mundane. Sometimes the everyday things are a little extraordinary.

Like the dish pictured above. A carbonara-ish dish, that is a great example of putting together the disparate scraps that surround you. In this instance, a cast iron pan with bacon fat from the morning’s breakfast. A small dish of slightly dried chopped parsley from last night’s dinner. A bowl of spaghetti sitting in the fridge from dinner a few days ago. Salt, pepper and parmesan cheese that are always around, waiting to serve. The pasta is heated up in the fat, a few ends getting crisped up. Then tossed with the rest of the ingredients. I made it for myself, but everyone else in my family asked for some. I didn’t get much in the end.

Food Notes:

Interesting article. Makes me think about how eating gruel every day might be better for you than following your cravings.

Field Notes: Second Week of March

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Late winter is my favorite time to go off trail. It’s the only (snowless) time of year when the poison ivy doesn’t rule the landscape, and the ticks aren’t too active. I went for a wandering hike the other day, and, after falling twice in the leaves, I knew I had gotten a tick. Sure enough, when I got home, I found one crawling on my ankle. It’s already time to be more careful.

The walk, however, was still worth it. It felt fruitless at first. I climbed a rocky hill overlooking a rushing stream, and when I got to the top, I felt let down. It was a scrabbly spot that felt wrong somehow—the initial feeling was of disarray, unwelcoming even. I felt distinctly agitated. It was a high peak but packed with downed trees, and lots of spindly young ones, many of which were broken. As I struggled to walk through the mess, it dawned on me. The area must have been hit by a recent windstorm, or even tornado cell, as there were trees and branches both new and old everywhere, and it soon became clear to me that this area had been recently devastated. Was I feeling the devastation? I moved on, still feeling uncomfortable.

Down a sloping hill, wending my way through the tree carcasses, I heard some running water. When I happened upon a gentle stream I suddenly felt a warmth, a feeling of goodwill and welcome. The upset I had just felt melted away. This spot had not been devastated. It was a sheltered valley with a wide stream meandering through it, with bright green mossy rocks strewn throughout. It was practically asking me to have a seat. So, I did, on a large tree that crossed the stream (which had fallen long ago, smoothed and bleached by the sun), and I listened to the water rush by, gurgling melodically. It was warm and sunny, and just a soft breeze barely stirred the air.

That’s when it hit me that land has feelings. There is consciousness everywhere you go. Every time I go for a walk, it’s different. When I go on a regular route, at a regular spot, it’s like we are friends, and we are together again. I know this space, and it knows me, weather permitting, of course. We all have our moods. When I visit a new spot there are feelings to deal with—does this place feel bleak? Tortured? Sad? Pleasant? Welcoming? Friendly? When I am in a special spot, I can feel it right away, it just feels right. That day, sitting on that log, I felt like I had made a new friend. I knew right away that I wanted to see it again some day soon.

Other Thoughts and Notes:

I have Biocentrism on order from the library. I’m fascinated by the thought that consciousness might be what we are made of, not matter.

Have you ever read anything by Robert MacFarlane? I love his book The Wild Places. Highly recommended.

Here’s a great post from Eve at The Garden of Eating on what you can do to prepare yourself for this inevitably bad tick season.

Random writing link: I loved finding this article this week ab0ut unfinished stories, and why you shouldn’t worry about them being unfinished.

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More mysteries in the woods.