Book Glut

I’m not sure how this happens, given the fullness of my life, but somehow I manage to knock back a surprising number of books. Maybe it’s just the decision to do so. Or, oh right. Maybe it’s directly proportionate to those enormous filth bunnies under the couch. Bigger the bunnies, bigger the books.

Lately I’ve been on yet another Wendell Berry bender. I’m mostly done with Home Economics, with the long sought What Are People For just barely cracked. Both are essays, as most of his books seem to be. I’m realizing that my beloved The Unsettling of America is a rare gem as a singular, spanning, cohesive argument. He says in the intro to Home Ec that his essays are experiments, a way to test out an individual thought or argument. That makes sense, as a budding writer I get that. Still, the enormity of The Unsettling is so satisfying, it’s hard not to want that same perfect reading experience over and over again.

Home Ec covers a range of loosely related subjects. A few weren’t that interesting to me, but on the whole it’s classically great Wendell. The Two Economies has been my favorite so far, in which he describes what we consider the economy as just a small economy within what he calls the Great Economy. He explores some religious issues in this one, quotes quite a bit from the bible which only Wendell Berry can get away with in my book. He talks about the critical importance of recognizing and revering the enormous mystery of the world/universe. Recognizing that we can only ever know just a little part of things. He talks about religion as a way of bowing to that greater mystery, which I found interesting since I have always thought of religion as the complete opposite, arrogantly assuming it understood the mystery. But I do see where he’s coming from, and it helps me to have a little more respect for religion.

I think I might have to take a break before moving on to What Are People For though. I’m feeling a bit overdosed on my man. He’s the boss, for sure, but he’s so effing cerebral, geez. That’s partly what I love about him. I love the way he can just lay it out, so completely covering every detail in perfect order, with all the ends tucked neatly in. God to be able to think like that.

On the other hand, I do think a little like that, and I wouldn’t say it’s always enjoyable. Maybe it’s just my recent decision to try to connect more with my heart energy and let go some of that thinkingthinkingthinkingclickclickclick. I need more reverent poetry at this point in my life, less complex dissections of the modern world. (Fortunately my man Wendell writes poetry as well! How can he do that?????)

What I really need is some Mary Oliver. She is like cool water running over sore feet. And Gary Snyder. I just borrowed Axe Handles from a friend. Looks great so far, more my style than his more famous Turtle Island. There’s even, get this, a poem about Wendell Berry! Of course they would have hung out, but I didn’t know that. Awesome. Imagine kickin’ it with Wendell and Gary.

I recently finished Gary Paulsen’s Clabbered Dirt/Sweet Grass, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s an almost lyrical account of farming in America circa 1920’s. It’s the era Wendell always waxes on about, described in intimate heart-wrenching poetic style. This one sparked an interesting thought process which is really the subject of another post, but here’s the gist: Where the fuck are all the babies and toddlers in literature? Every single human being starts there, and yet can you think of any books that have babies or especially toddlers in them? I mean occasionally there’s a book about a woman having a baby, but even that is extremely rare. And other than those few, the only kids in books seem to be at least 5.

In Clabbered Dirt, the only babies or toddlers mentioned are in the stories of farm accidents. Aunt Dora who’s baby fell into the pig pen. Nothin’ left to bury but an arm.

Shit man.

I don’t really like to give negative reviews, but then, aren’t they just as useful? The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren was disappointing. I actually bought it new (online– sight unseen for some reason) and can’t even get through it. No offense, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. But, there’s nothing to offer either. It’s magazine writing. Tediously substance-less. God, I shiver just writing such a scathing sentence. I know some people really enjoy that kind of reading as a way to just relax with a book. I wish Ms. Warren the best and if anyone had a happier experience with this book, please leave it in a comment. Maybe it’s just me?

I also bought new Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by the pop-superstars of our weird subculture– Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen. That I don’t regret. Partly just because I love those guys and will support whatever they do. Making It is a pure project book, covering everything from butchering chickens to homemade hand lotion. All the instructions are pretty basic, and a lot of the material has been covered dozens (if not hundreds) of times before in homesteading how-tos throughout the ages. But never before with such spunky style! And they do throw in some fun odd-balls like homemade altoids and the triumphant oyster shell oil lamp. I wish I had read their astute section on laundry soap back before I had to find all that out the hard way. The part about using straight olive oil as a body wash was fascinating. They maintain that you don’t need soap, that oil strips dirt. I tried it, I’m not entirely convinced. I felt perfectly clean enough, but then the instructions are to scrub deeply and you can get reasonably clean with just hot water if you scrub enough. Again though, I love the way they try to get back, waaay back to the beginning of a thing. Why make olive oil soap if you can just use olive oil? I myself only shower once a week, so I feel soap is in order.

Lastly I want to tell you about The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I found a stack of quality books by a trash can a few months back, this being one. Several people I admire have told me this is one of their favorite books ever, and I’ve meant to read it for ages. It seemed that it would be too much, too heavy a read for an always exhausted mama, but it has turned out to be just right. After two months I’m only halfway through (I read it in one or two page increments at the end of my unbelievably long days, while I wait for My Man to finish up putting the 4yo to sleep). It’s substantial enough that it gives my brain the most lovely un-parental feeling of actual use, but not so deep that I can’t get a foothold. It’s the perfect balance for me. And I might even finish it someday.

If that wasn’t enough of a book binge for you, here’s a few past book reviews:

Ode to realBooks

Up Tunket Road

Anything But the Kitchen Sink

Book Review: Up Tunket Road

I just finished this one. Took me something like two months to read, which I consider a good thing! More bang for my buck. It was a great read, and I was sad to finish it.

Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader by Phillip Ackerman-Leist is a personal account of building ‘the good life’ in rural Vermont, mixed in with a more philosophical look at the history, current expression and future of homesteading.

But that’s not what makes it good. It’s never about content is it? It’s the style of delivery for me, and I really enjoyed Phillip’s voice. For one thing, his otherwise fairly scholarly work (he is a professor) is peppered with grandpa jokes. Goofy puns like starting the book off with “Prologue, But Not Clearcut” (it took me a minute too). While I don’t generally go for the grandpa humor myself, this made him seem extremely human. Like a sort of annoying but endearing friend. ‘Oh no, not the prologue joke again. Phillip.’

I also really enjoyed his humility. So often these kind of books go on and on about how they did this and that amazing thing and how you should too. Phillip kept it very real. You can tell that both he and his wife are two of Those People, who can run from dawn to dusk, survive on a perpetual 5 or 6 hours of sleep, and love it. And they do accomplish lots of great stuff on all that energy. But he spent a large portion of the book describing in detail all the local people who had taken them under their wing, shared knowledge, tools and time.

In fact, a central and overriding theme to this book is the importance of community and interdependence as opposed to the classic homesteaders independence. I am so happy to see the concept of interdependence rising in the DIY world lately.

Another thing I loved about this book is that he has a wife, and you can tell he adores her and thinks she kicks ass. You can really tell that they are honest and equal partners in their adventures. This is another thorn in the side of many homesteading classics. (I love the Nearings’ books, but you can imagine how their relationship went. He talked. She listened. Not that Helen Nearing wasn’t totally kick ass too, but I wonder how much Scott knew that…)

I would love to read the same story from his wife, Erin’s point of view, who stayed home to take care of the homestead and raise their 3 kids. But until she takes up the pen, or computer herself, I’ll be quite happy with her man’s version.


Anything But the Kitchen Sink

Okay, I’m done talking about cleaning. For now. Honest! I have lots of other interesting things to tell you. And I realize I’ve been text heavy lately, so let’s see some pictures, right?

Let’s start with my garden, which is a heap of righteous green glory. I can’t believe I am eating out of my garden in January, it’s divine. I have cabbages bigger than your head, a bit of broccoli left, snap peas barely surviving the frosts, salad greens if I could want to eat them, garlic and onions putting on heft (though not bulbing yet of course) and don’t forget collards, as always, pumping out the food in dark green form. If I had planned better, I could have had carrots, spinach, beets and chard right now too. It’s crazy. Winter is actually the favored growing season here, because the buggies are scarce. And it’s not like up north where a winter garden is just harvesting what grew in summer and fall. No, cold season crops really grow here in winter. In fact, my Lousiana planting guide says I can start planting my spring crop of all the above mentioned vegetables anytime, though I just can’t make myself do it quite yet. We have some very warm days, but still plenty of frigid days. I might plant a row or two when I head to the garden later today, but mostly I think I’ll wait another week. Then it’ll begin a whole new round of green yumminess.

Speaking of green, I feel compelled to tell you about my tomatoes. Before we left for our 3 week Christmas trip I called my Southern gardening guru to ask what I should do about my two huge healthy looking tomato plants, loaded with green fruit. It was really my first success with tomatoes down here, and I was heartbroken to be leaving them. I asked whether I could harvest the green tomatoes and leave them somewhere cool where they wouldn’t freeze in hopes that they would be ripening just as I got back. He said not so much, they’d ripen in a week or two and I’d come back to a rotting pile of gross. He said he’d just leave ’em in the ground and pray. Having no particular anybody to pray to, and vaguely remembering the one time I tried growing tomatoes in Cordova (under plastic, but they still didn’t ripen before the freeze), I decided to buck his advice. How just like me.

But guess what? It worked! I think he was imagining tomatoes on the verge, you know, when they start turning white-ish? But mine were solid green rocks. Also he was probably imagining them in a warm room, but I left them in my neighbors shed (with the instruction to eat any that ripened). The first batch was just ripening when we got back, and they are still slowly ripening. Granted, these are not flavorful vine-ripened fabulousness. They actually taste about like supermarket tomatoes (for the same reason). But hell, it was that or nothing. I did by the way, fry my share of green tomatoes and experimented with them in general cooking. Green tomato salad? Pretty darn tasty with a good garlicky vinegrette. Green tomatoes in gumbo? They blend right in, almost okra-ey, but without the slime. I have a batch of green tomato jam in progress, but honestly it doesn’t smell that promising.

What does smell good are the muffins I made this morning! Cinnamon Crumble, we’ll call them, though what they really are is leftover granola muffins. I’ve mentioned before that I keep a jar in the freezer where I deposit half finished bowls of soggy granola. With a 3YO around, there’s quite a few of those. I worked hard to make the granola, and it ain’t free either, what with all the organic nuts, oils and high quality sugar. When the jar gets full I make bread, pancakes or muffins. I’ve been working on the recipe and this morning’s was perfect. They’re not overly sweet, but the sugary crumble gives it an extra decadent punch without turning it into cake for breakfast. Unless you’re 3, and manage to peck all the crumble off half the pan of muffins before yer mama catches you. Grrrr…

Cinnamon Crumble Muffins (wink)

makes one dozen very tall muffins

  • 1 pint jar (2 cups) leftover granola and milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup oil (don’t be afraid of olive oil for baking btw, it works just fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup white all-purpose (plus 1/2 cup or more if necessary)
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder (I know this seems like a lot, but it wasn’t too much)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4-1/2 cup raisins (optional)

for the crumble topping

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oats

Butter your muffin tin generously. I never used to use butter to grease pans, but have since realized that it does a much better job than oil and makes a delicious crust to boot.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Beat all the wet ingredients together, whisk the dry ingredients together, then fold the dry into the wet. Add the extra 1/2 cup or more of white flour until you have a thick batter. You should be able to scoop it with a spoon like soft ice cream. Fill the muffin cups to the brim, and then even a teeny bit more. This recipe fit (barely) into my tin, which I think has 1/2 cup sized cups.

Dump all the crumble ingredient together in the empty batter bowl and mash/stir until thoroughly incorporated. Sprinkle onto muffins. It will seem like way too much, but keep trying to pack it on there. As the muffins bake and expand, the tops will suck up the crumble and it will be perfect! Pat the tops so that the crumble stays put. If you really can’t fit all the crumble on, save it in your freezer for your next batch o’ muffs.

Pop into the oven. After 10 or 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350. Starting at a high heat like this helps make your muffins nicely domed. Bake another- oh hell I don’t know, I never time ’em- 10 minutes? They’re done when the tops feel springy, stick a butter knife in if you’re not sure, there should be sticky crumbs but no batter clinging.

Cool on a wire rack, where the 3YO can’t reach if you want to have any crumble left for anyone else.

While you’re munching, how about a few book reviews? I’ve kept up with my Mornings are for Books concept, partly by allowing myself to buy books. I interlibrary loan some, but don’t hesitate much to buy ones I think I’ll want to keep.

I bought and read Harriet Fasenfest‘s The Householder’s Guide to the Universe in November. Great choice. It is a lovely synthesis of practical things such as gardening advice and recipes, with her very personal and honest account of becoming a householder. Just the sort of writing I most adore to read in the AM hours. The link takes you to some of her articles for Culinate, which is also otherwise a great local/groovy food site.

After that I gorged on Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Dorina Allen which I got for Christmas, much to my amazement. It’s not like I asked for it. I hadn’t even heard of this book, which is so very, very right up my alley. It is pure old timey food porn. So full of gorgeous photos that the book itself weighs almost five pounds. The link up there is actually to Amaz*n, so you can get the “peek inside.”



Now I’m on Living with Goats by Margaret Hathaway (link is to her blog). When we were up north at my in-laws, I met a woman who kept Nigerian Dwarf goats and it really amped my goaty fantasies. It was at their otherwise fairly awkward neighborhood Christmas party, I was politely chit-chatting with people I didn’t know, and a woman across the table said, “Oh, didn’t you come out to see my goats once?”

My ears perked, did she say goats? “Umm, no, you must be confusing me with my sister-in-law. I would definitely remember that, I love goats!”

All of a sudden, a whirlwind swept up around us, separating us from the babbling crowd. All the “oh and what do you do? mmm, hmm, how interesting” disappeared and her eyes locked mine, “You love goats?” she said already coming around the table toward me. Goat people are hilarious.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “Goats are great, smart and friendly, more like dogs than other farm animals. I really want to have a couple of milking Nigerian Dwarves when we go back to Alaska. But don’t tell my husband that!”

“I have Nigerians!” she said, elated. And that was it, the deal was made. We spent the next half an hour in impenetrable goat-talk, and made a date for a goat visit a few days later.

She had a small flock of something like 8 Nigerians. She wasn’t milking at the time, but she does the once-daily milking that I had read about on Fiasco Farm. I am very intrigued by that idea, especially since it doesn’t require taking babies away from mamas, something I’m not sure I have the hutzpah for, but also because once a day is a lot less time commitment, and do we really need all that much milk anyway? She also gave me courage about the goats as “browsers” idea which I kind of relied on in my goat fantasies. Hay would be very expensive as the sole feed in Cordova, no one around grows it, I’d have to ship it all in from the more pastoral parts of Alaska. But weeds and brush we have! In spades. (I have since read in a paper on goats as land clearers that said a goat’s natural diet is 82% “browse” and only 18% grass…)

Talking to her got me started on a heavy duty scheming streak. I have done a bunch of research since, and I’m pretty fired up. I decided it was time to buy myself a book.

Living with Goats is definitely a beginner book. Really I’d have to say it’s more of a schemer book. If you were really getting goats, you’d need something a lot more thorough. But since I am just scheming, it’s perfect. I do wish I had just interlibrary loaned it though, I don’t suspect I’ll need it for reference much.

Whew! I had more things I wanted to tell you, about non-sewing projects, and homemade antlers for Bambi-obsessed 3YOs, but it’ll all have to wait. I’ve got to get out to my garden before it’s too late!

Happy Saturday!



Ode to realBooks

I love books. And by “book,” I don’t mean iBook, or kindle, or anything having to with a screen. I mean real, live books, with smooth pages, crinkly spines, and that ethereal smell. Something to curl up with.

I love reading a good book. Almost nothing sweeter. But even beyond reading, I just love books. This is something My Man and I have always bonded on. You can never have too many books. A sprawling bookshelf makes a perfectly sumptuous wall covering.

We aspire to having a library when we’re old. His side will cover environmental and social politics, anarchist theory, civil disobedience, Jack Kerouac and zen buddhism. Mine will cover every possible aspect of homesteading and homemaking, food politics, wilderness theory, and of course every book ever written by John Steinbeck. Our library will have two giant comfy chairs, facing each other, so we can keep each other’s toes warm as we read away our elderly days (in between cross country road trips in our homemade gypsy caravan).

In the meantime, I try to slip book reading into my already bursting life whenever I can. As you may remember, I gave up an illustrious morning blogger career earlier this summer, and made the pact with myself to instead give whatever morning time I might be afforded to books. It’s been great. Although the Babe’s budding routine of letting me get up 40-60 minutes before him has not been sustained (weep) I usually manage to get in 15 or 20 minutes of reading before he gets too fussy.

Enough that I burn through books faster than I can afford to buy them. So, recently I turned to an old friend– Inter-Library Loans. ILLs for short. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s one of the few brilliant things America does with it’s tax dollars. You can get more or less any book ever published delivered to your local library, for free.

I just got my first batch of four books (they arrive so much faster here than in Alaska!)

Goat Song by Brad Kessler is a lovely morning read. I can’t decide if it makes me want to have goats more or less. He is certainly poetic about being a goatherd, but also makes no bones about the work and heartbreak involved.

Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland looks like I might have to buy it. I love this kind of food, but it’s not something that I have any instinct for. I need recipes. And his recipes look to be better explained than most (there’s nothing I hate worse than a too spare recipe. It’s all about technique, baby).

I also got To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food by Cindy Burke and Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass. Nothing to report on these two yet.

What are you all reading and enjoying lately? Any recommendations for my ILL list?



The Mad Farmer Poems

I fell for Wendell Berry’s new book in October. We have one of those gorgeous small neighborhood bookstores near our house that the Hubby coerced me into entering. I knew what would happen. I would fall in love. With some book I suddenly wouldn’t want to live without. Bookstores are a unique torture for me. And I did, of course.

Could you resist this book?

Ole Wendell is my second favorite non-fiction writer (after my beloved Sandor Ellix Katz) and I had wanted to delve into his poetry for some time.That’s all well and good, but even worse, this book is a non-standard size- extra tall, and slender (do I need to explain this special allure?) and has woodcuts in it. Oh dear, and I am a sucker for woodcuts.  So I blew $25. And I don’t regret it.


Been meaning to share with y’all a slice of this mouth-watering pie ever since. And by the way, if you’ve not gathered from other pages herein, my fave of his books, an absolutely astounding work, is The Unsettling of America. Find it. Read it. Tell me the man is not brilliantly eloquent.

And for now, here- taste this.

The Man Born to Farming

by Wendell Berry

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?