Saturday, May 30, 2009

good morning from cold antler

It's Saturday morning in Vermont. That's Annie watching from the porch as I shuffle about indoors prepping the percolator and listening to the radio. She took a moment to look inside after staring down the bird feeder. She has big plans to tear through that screen and eat a Cardinal. I can tell.

Coffee's on the stove, the sun is flirting with the clouds, and I'm back in from feeding the sheep, goat and birds. Today is dedicated to some time with friends in town but the bulk of my afternoon will belong to the farm. After the last few days of rain, I'll be hunched in the garden picking all the fresh weeds and watching Finn chase the geese. He's good entertainment for tedious work.

Nothing riveting to report, but I can share that yesterday I ate my first salad greens from the garden. I brought in a bag of buttercrunch, romaine, mesculins, spinach and oak leaf lettuce and my friend Andrea and I used it as a base for our salad bar attack at the office. There's no reason why farmlife and worklife can't team up from time to time.

Friday, May 29, 2009

growing up

Thursday, May 28, 2009

loft of these hills

I'm a homebody. I like the comfort of this place. Outside a blustery wind and cooler-than-normal temperatures have all the houses in the hollow pumping woodsmoke. It's almost as if Autumn stopped by uninvited and we all welcomed him inside for the evening. I am enjoying his company along with a cup of tea, a book, and a favorite sweater. He is always welcome. Always.

Here on the mountain in my little three-room cabin there's a fire roaring. Candles light up dark corners and my dogs are asleep in the other room. On the other side of that door my sheep, goat, birds and bunnies are all resting on fresh straw with full stomaches. Knowing they are all content, makes me even more comfortable. I too had a fine meal, and after a few songs on the fiddle in front of the fireplace—I am ready for bed. Because I'm a homebody, and I'm happy to be tucked away in the highest loft of these hills.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

it's not delivery...

I have been having a recent love affair with homemade pizza. I find that making a small pizza (dough and all) from scratch only takes about ten minutes. With fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, savory sauce, garden herbs and a pre-heated oven you've got yourself fast [farm fresh] food. The dough is incredibly easy and with fresh rosemary and basil in the garden...the final product is amazing. I like baking mine in a cast iron skillet, and here's how:

Makin' Dough
1 cup warm water
1 package yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups flour

Take one cup of warm water (leaning towards hot) and pour it into a bowl, add all the contents of a yeast package inside. Mix and let stand for 5 minutes (add a tsp of honey if you want). Once the yeast has set, add your salt and veggie oil and then add cup of flour at a time as you mix it in.

Next, knead into a dough and then set it aside for a few minutes while you slice up your cheese and tomatoes. To finish it off, take your dough and make it into a circular crust shape that fits the bottom of your skillet (or your cookie sheet, pizza stone, or right on the grill). Add your toppings annd bake at 400 until crust slightly browns and the cheese melts. When I pull mine out of the oven--I set some fresh basil leaves on top. Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

trees are good for scratchin'

pasture rotation, farmers markets, and fiddles

By 8:30 this morning I'd already let the sheep out into their new pasture, bottle fed a goat, drove to Hebron and back on a hay mission, and was bitched at by a goose. Most people I know haven't even had their first cup of coffee (being a holiday and all). I however, had already slung giant bales of dead grass over my shoulder and fell through a rotten board in a hay barn. Thank goodness I was wearing knee-high boots, or I'd be cut up all to hell. I've learned farmers wear certain things for a reason.

My three-day weekend's been full of hard work, but I am starting to see the signs of repose up ahead. Thanks to this May's killer efforts, things are coming together and soon the workload will be lighter. The sheep are eating grass almost exclusively. Yesterday I moved all their electric netting to a fresh pasture and they were thrilled. Their new digs has trees, hillsides, and trees! (They love the shade and rubbing their backs on bark.) It was a bigger job than I anticipated. It involved lots of cursing and untangling Finn from unplugged netting while he followed me around the field.

But frustration aside, their rotation was so worth it. Usually I have to bribe them back into their pen at night but last night they ate so much they just trotted back to their little barn and went to bed. Easiest gate shutting in CAF history. And who doesn't like going to their beds at night, knowing those in their care are tired and happy?

The garden is almost entirely in. I planted 5 rows of corn, 12 plantings deep. That's nearly 60 stalks of sweet corn all by the wrath of one hoe over three days! My back still feels it. But it was the last big planting job. Now my time is open to just weeding and watering, tending and taming. Finns nearly off the bottle and is eating grass like crazy. When he's not on such a feeding schedule, I'll have time to possibly run back to visit my family for a weekend. I miss them.

So, with all that work put in—I decided to hit the Dorset Farmer's Market with Finn to celebrate. The kid was good at the market (generally speaking). He walked on his leash, and followed me around the stands. You'd think a girl and her pack-goat-in-training would be a novelty, but this is Vermont. He was one of three goats there...

He did try to jump on a bread table once, but I stopped him and bought some focaccia in apology... No bakes goods were trodden in the making of this blog post.

Looks like it's going to be a fine day. The sun is out, the sheep are already chewing their cud, and the garden will shortly be watered. Once that's done I think I'll finally hit the river and get some fly fishing in. Nothing wrong with ending your weekend chasing rainbows.

So thrilled to see so many new fiddlers out there! You won't regret it, and just wait till you're playing Blackest Crow on your porch. That song, and so many other mountain ballads, fill your heart up. You'll see. Before you know it you'll have a dozen tunes memorized, and you'll be ordering Gid Tanner CDs from Elderly. I can't wait to hear about your first tunes. You guys who are learning need to keep me posted.

...Speaking of Elderly, I see they have a bunch of vintage fiddles for sale in their used section. Some are reasonably priced too. If anyone of smaller stature is still looking—I though this one was nice. Too small for big hands, but perfect for a petite woman or younger teen. It's kinda pricey ($225), but in the land of violins, not bad for a great European handmade instrument. Click here to see her.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

may the fiddles rise again

In that photo you're looking at the twenty dollar student fiddle I learned to play on. That's my old lawn in Idaho, and three summers ago I learned how to play with that beginner instrument, and on that very grass. I never played before, but thanks to a great instruction book and CD (and a healthy sense of humor) I am now a happy addict. I play everyday, help new fiddlers get started, and can't imagine a life without rosin in my pocket and a violin neck in my left hand. I'm inviting you right now, to join our club.

Playing the fiddle is easy. It really is. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There are just four finger positions, and one of the four isn't touching anything at all, just playing the string itself. So really, you only need to learn where to press down on three places. That's it. And get this: it's the same on every string. Cake.

I'm telling you people, if you're willing to laugh a lot, and put up with squeaks and squawks - you'll all be fine fiddlers in a few months. You won't have to spend money on lessons, and you don't need three hours a day to sit with your violin. Just a twenty dollar instruction book, a CD player, and fifteen minutes a day. Fiddler's Summer isn't going to be me teaching you. It's about you teaching yourself, but with the help of a whole community of beginners around the country, and a place to ask questions and get help when you need it. Above all, it's about learning some musical self-sufficiency. The ability to play a song without earbuds or an outlet. Hell yeah.

So, this is how we'll get started. If you want to sign up for Fiddler's Summer leave a comment in this post. In your comment leave your name and location, and your history as a musician. If you don't have any musical history, this will be easiest on you guys. Since the book we're using is meant for total beginners who can't read a note--you guys got it made.

After you sign up:

1. Buy, beg, or borrow a 4/4 violin and bow. Some people hit up Ebay and found some student violins under 50 bones. There is no reason to blow $400+ on an instrument right now. If you like playing your student model, you can always trade up later.

2. Promise me you'll dedicate fifteen minutes of practice everyday. That's it. You can play longer, sure, but you need to promise me that fifteen minutes minimum every single day if you sign up for Fiddler's Summer. It has to be a daily thing. It's that everyday dedication that makes music. Take it slow, and with a smile.

3. Pick up a copy of "Old Time Fiddling For the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen. It's an amazing intro to Southern Mountain style and reading it is fun and warm. Amazon's got it, as does his website: nativeground.com. This book will be your teacher. It comes with a CD so you can hear songs played slow and fast. It also gives a great introduction to the culture, history, anatomy, and world of Souther Mountain fiddling.

4. Get an electronic guitar tuner, some decent rosin, and a spare set of strings. None of this should be expensive either. A cheap guitar tuner costs 15 bucks, Hill Dark Rosin costs about 10, and Anton Breton Perlon strings can cost less than 15 a set. These three things will make your 50 dollar fiddle sound like a 350 dollar one. I suggest going to Janet Davis Music online for all three. If you're too worried to string and tune it up yourself. See number 5.

5. Find out where your closest music store is. You might need their help getting started with strings and tuning. Get out the phonebook, find someone around you who knows violins, and put their number on the fridge next to the ambulance and poison control digits. Google "Your-City-Name-Here Luthier" and see if anyone builds or repairs violins in your hometown. They'll be happy to help you get started.

6. Get excited. Go watch Cold Mountain or Songcatcher tonight. That'll be you kids in a few weeks. I promise.

From here, we'll start with tuning, and getting to know the instrument and the musical history. But we're not there yet. Right now we're just getting pumped up, and learning what a violin neck feels like in our garden-dirtied hands.

I will say this. Just have fun. Pride is dead, so let yourself fall in love with the idea of being a mountain fiddler. You don't need to be sawing out the Devil Went Down to Georgia to be a bluegrass musician--you need to love what you're doing, and make people sing or dance. Bonefide fiddlers are people who love to play, and play for that love. In a few weeks of practice there isn't one of you that won't be able to whip out a tune, if that's what you want.

The end of this will come around July 4th. We'll post links, audio clips, or YouTube videos of our playing--and for everyone who posts a clip or video of themselves, we'll all vote on the best new musician and that person will be getting a fine prize from me. I'll mail the 'winner' a CAF gift basket complete with Vermont goodness (Like Maple Syrup, a Wayside Country Store T-shirt, Some of my sheeps' fleece, etc) and a signed copy of Made From Scratch with some chicken feather bookmarks.

How's all this sound? And hey, if you tried growing peas, you've already done something harder.