Posted in Homestead

The Busy, Busy Summer

It has been an incredibly busy summer and here autumn is in full swing. Homesteading here is a pleasure and our first farming season was wonderful. In June, I was terribly discouraged, even considering giving up. I had started gardens six times bigger than any of our previous homesteads and was upset that I wasn’t able to keep up by myself.

Enter angels in cars and vans with backpacks and stories and ideas and joy and youth. Becoming a WWOOF host has been great fun. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an amazing program; “The new backpacking across Europe,” according to my husband. A woman in her thirties with a master’s degree and a desire for a new career, new life, searching for herself (and a liberal cowboy). A young woman fresh out of college, feeling the peer pressure of starting a career, but really wanting more freedom and a homestead, fulling embracing her apron strings. A young man straight out of the military with some serious soul searching to do. A nineteen year old with ambition and wisdom beyond her years, with a great desire to change food deserts and start a farm. My last woofer is here now, a 6’7″, hungry, twenty year old basketball player. He is here for two weeks helping me put the gardens to bed and to prepare the homestead for the colder months. We will then have our house to ourselves again, and then will welcome more young, future homesteaders here in the spring. We have a greenhouse now, are adding extensive raised beds, and are putting in a vineyard with fifty-five vines. The help will be most welcome! I am eternally grateful to all of them. http://wwoofusa.com

These shelves are now much more full than when we took this picture!

I remembered exactly why we put up food! After a few years of slacking, the empty grocery store shelves of early spring reminded me. This year we put up over four hundred jars of food, have a full freezer, and root cellar vegetables. Our garden is still filled with root crops. Medicinal plants fill the front garden. All of these gardens were prairie and shale. I am enjoying teaching my techniques to create prolific gardens. A book is in the works.

So many projects planned! Rain barrels, greenhouse beds, raised beds, and a modern root cellar addition to the house.

Baby lambs will be born any day now at our friend’s farm. The same gal we got two from all those years ago before we lost everything. Here, everything is restored. All things that are taken from us will always be restored. I have started weaving and will be selling my work. I work at a local winery on Saturdays as their in-house sommelier, and I just love it. I have visions of making our own wine from our own vineyard and using the pressed off wine grapes to dye our own wool from our own sheep and then spinning it into lush yarn to weave my own creations. Homesteading allows so many opportunities for creativity and peace.

Coming upon my eight year anniversary writing this Farmgirl School blog, I contemplate our journey. From farm to rented farm to apartment to urban farm to here- this beautiful spot on earth, and realize that in the craziness of the world, and elections, and pretend pandemics, and social media…there is no place like home. And may that home always be a homestead.

We found this street sign while out on vacation. How perfect if we lived on this road!
Posted in inspiration

Seasons of Vineyards and Life

Memories rise to the surface as I swirl my glass. Cascades of great times trickle forth. I can still hear their voices above the murmur of reality. I can hear Steve’s laughter above clinking glasses and conversation. Above the too-loud opera and our off-key singing in his living room or ours. In restaurants gathered with great food and wine. Skipping arm and arm to the wine bar we loved so. The one we took our sommelier classes together at. Discussions with the owners of the upscale place where we gathered weekly with other wine lovers over dinners with renowned wine makers from around the country. Tears accompanied by tapas and wine at a nearby wine bar where Steve and I whispered our deepest traumas and biggest dreams.

I remember his smile and sweet demeanor as he picked up my three rebelling teenagers and took them to see how coffee was roasted. To the park to run around and talk openly. Off to make pottery. How he tried to show them how important they were. Steve looked every server in the eye. “I appreciate you.” he would say in a low, meaningful tone. Everyone he encountered. He just wanted to speak life to them. To show them their sheer importance just being here.

Then came our sweet Lisa. Pixie blond and petite. A wine lover as well and off to elope and California they flew. They reveled in discovering their spirituality, and learning, adventuring, studying, being, loving each other fiercely. Driving Doug and I up the coast to eat great seafood and visit dozens of vineyards. Nights of discussions and joy.

The cancer caught up to Lisa. How she ran from it. Eight years of joyful and full life after diagnoses. And into the night she went. How Steve wept. He took his own life. A year ago this month. Two years ago she left. Four years since our last visit. Oh, how time flies without us knowing.

I swirl the garnet liquid and think of my friends as I turn up Andrea Bocelli and whisper to them through the veil. Beautiful memories. Beautiful people.

I often wonder why I am so fascinated by wine. I am not a particularly big drinker. I don’t stay out late enough to be an employed sommelier. But there is something about the chatter of leaves in autumn through the grapevines and rows of gold. Something about the fruit hanging voluptuously and sweet from vines. The hope in a sprouting vine in spring and the serenity of winter snows atop skeletal vines. Drinking the labor and gifts of the vineyard. Each decision of the vintner adds to the flavor of the wine. Every element of weather changes the taste. A wildfire will impart its smoke on a chardonnay nearby. The late frost will leave a year without. And some years will be so glorious that feasting and hard work will fill the days and nights.

I took my farm interns (now friends) with me to a local winery for crush. Our late freeze here in the valley left us all without fruit. Just beyond the mountain, near where the wildfires burn, is an oasis of Colorado wine country not known by many. The owners of Legatum purchased half a ton of gorgeous white grapes, La Crescent. We met them at the winery to help.

Five gallon buckets were filled with grapes from the container that filled Cindy and Rich’s truck bed. Into the destemmer they went as two others transferred the thick pulp and sugary sweet juice to the press. Everyone moving in tandem to keep the process moving. 200 liters of honeydew colored juice filled a tank and the process of PH and yeast began to create a luscious moscato-style wine.

I feel such joy and peace standing between rows. I feel life and giddiness. An unexplained spark. Thick red grapes pouring out of the destemmer. The aroma of malolactic fermentation. Wine is not just about preserving a fruit. It is not just about creating a drink. Wine amplifies life and family. Feasting and celebration. A combination of earth and spirit, the hope of spring, the pride of harvest. The seasons of the vineyard following the seasons of our life. Igniting my spirit. I raise my glass to Lisa and Steve. Sip for them. And pursue my dreams because I am alive.

Posted in Farming

Dreaming of Vineyards

Have you ever stood in front of a row of grapes? The crisp lines marching up hills? The leaves lovely in autumn? Have you ever sipped a glass of wine in a vineyard and thought of the journey from planting to harvesting to magic in a glass?

Temecula wine country in California

Something about it fascinates me. I am a one-glass-of-wine a day kind of girl, but I appreciate that glass of transport. I have taken some amazing sommelier classes that helped me see, smell, and swirl my way to unlocking the mysteries of one of the oldest drinks in the world. The rings at the edge of the glass speak of vine age. The color foretells wine age and varietal The smell whispers terroir and place and of oak barrels or steel. The taste goes on about the farmers, the roses at the end of the rows, of the farms nearby, of the toil and prayers and careful blending, and the people who made it.

Napa Valley

I’ve long dreamed of a vineyard. I have read more books than I can recall on the subject. I know we should try to run our rows north to south so they gather as much sun as they like. I know they like difficult soil. I know they need a longer growing season. The very soil that is so difficult to grow crops in here is the very same that grapes would love. Spreading their long roots into the limestone earth gathering nutrients and flavors of our home.

Northern California

We have explored many a vineyard with different friends through Napa Valley and Sonoma, through Temecula, and New Mexico. And down the road to local wineries with fine and different varietals and blends and unique Colorado flavors.

We think and we ask questions of other wine makers, of vineyard owners, of Mother Earth. Could we sustain a vineyard here? Would it be too much work for me? Would it cost too much in water? Eight gallons of water per week required. We scarcely get rain. A local winery will buy all of our grapes. But you know me, could I make good wine from my own grapes? Would the start-up cost be exorbitant?

Life is an adventure. If you have a dream, just go for it!

Posted in Entertaining, Food/Wine (and preserving)

The Forest Feast and the Underground Supper Club

the forest feast

I have found the most beautiful cookbook.  It is called “The Forest Feast” by Erin Gleeson.  You can taste the food and smell the forest and celebrate with friends as you flip the pages.  Cool cocktails and interesting takes on vegetables wooed me into the check out line with it.  I have spent hours lost in its pages.

dinner

I bought it to challenge me.  Sometimes I make the same vegetables in many of the same ways as I always have.  Corn with butter and salt.  Broccoli with  uh…butter and salt.  How about broccoli roasted then tossed with blue cheese and pine nuts?  I served this dish with curried salmon and salad when friends came to dinner and the dish positively melts in your mouth and screams for great red wine.  Cauliflower steaks with cheddar and chives.  Cucumber and strawberry salad.  Paprika and cinnamon crispy carrot slices.  Sangria.

dinner party

It inspires me, as so many things out there do.  Shyanne and I have long dreamed of a supper club.  Wildflower and Fawn, after our respective Native names, would be its moniker.  Supper clubs are frowned upon when serving wines and food in a non-commercial kitchen and charging.  But, yet we dreamed.  Four courses, from scratch, organic, local ingredients, wine pairings, my creative take on main and side dishes, and Shyanne’s extraordinary flair for desserts.  A multi-star experience of fresh flowers, laughter, fine china, and delicious food and drinks.  A quarterly event.  A way to express our inner chef/sommelier/baker/entertainer without the restaurant.

The first one filled up in a matter of days.  The next is Memorial Weekend.  The ideas and inspiration keeps gathering force like stardust, and enchantment is all around.

 

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

The Snobby Homesteader’s Wine (boxed and oddly delicious)

wine

I do enjoy a glass of wine at dinner.  Sitting in the restaurant that my daughter, Emily, works at enjoying a small pizza and the house wine is enjoyable to me.  I told one of my friends who was there that the wine wasn’t the best, most award winning, but it was quite good, and really quite excellent with food.  I have a reputation for being a wine snob.  I am not proud of this, but I also am not drinking the mass produced style wines.  Concannon or Mondavi?  I’ll pass.

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I wasn’t always this way.  I didn’t start drinking any type of alcoholic beverage until I was twenty-seven years old.  And my first tastes of red wine were enjoyable as long as they were kind of weak.  Then I started tasting nuances that I really enjoyed as we began hanging out at the wine bar with friends more; dried fruit, molasses, vanilla, the taste of hot summer sun in the Andes…I have quite an imagination.  I wanted to know more about these tastes and was fascinated that a bottle of wine will taste different depending on what day you open it.  Terroir became a puzzle, a mystery of place and time,  or wine maker, and harvesters, of weather patterns, of flavor.  A few beginning sommelier classes made me even more obsessed and probably obnoxious to drink with.  Then I became a homesteader a little more seriously.  Which means that gone are the days of my beloved wine club.  No more cases of various wines being delivered up the front walk.  It was an expensive year this year and two hundred dollars being withdrawn every couple of months takes a chunk out of wood, rent, and chicken feed money.

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I passed the boxes in the liquor store on my way to find something else.  I never give boxed wine a second look.  The Black Box brand is pretty good and I have drunk it before, but off hand, I never really consider boxed wine a go-to for dinner.  But there were some new kinds there that had big notifications on their boxes.  “Gold Metal” and “Platinum” and the Pinot Noir touted “45 Gold Metals from Wine Enthusiast”…I backed up and swiveled towards the mystery boxes.  Bota Box was an eco friendly and highly awarded boxed wine.

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Eighteen dollars.  Now, I spend around $14 on one bottle.  I am not always home at dinner time, I do not like vinegary wine, and I am the only one who partakes in a nice glass at dinner in our home (Doug’s more a beer man.) so that last glass in there often goes to waste.  Well, not to waste but into the red wine vinegar mother (click here to see how to make your own red wine vinegar) and then I need another $14 bottle of wine for the next week.  The boxed wine has four bottles in it, all sealed up nice and protected from oxygen, which is what turns it into vinegar, and will last up to four weeks.  Huh.  Funny the things homesteading with little cash will inspire you to try.

franzia

“Look at the Franzia, it’s cheaper,” says my ever cost conscience non-wine connoisseur.

“Oh, heck no.  I am not drinking Franzia.”  Who the heck does he think I am?

bota box

I chose an award winning boxed wine and imagine it to be like the demijohns of red wine that the Italians fill up at the local winery and took it home.

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Again, I rarely find that “Oh My Gosh, this is awesome wine!!!” and it is always a treat when I do but I want a good wine that goes well with food or on its own with a good book.  The Pinot Noir, the Sauvignon Blanc, and the Merlot have all delivered on that.  I am impressed.  The boxed wine is affordable, more eco-friendly, and good?  This is a win, win, win situation.

A few nights ago I cut through the restaurant kitchen with Emily to help her load the baby into the car after she got off work.  I looked up to see their house wine.  Franzia.  I had to just shake my head and laugh.

 

 

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

Wine 200

grapes

We bartered for a class each.  I would teach her beginning herbalism and she would teach me beginning wine.  She reminded me of my ballet teacher in college or my sixth grade teacher.  She kept snapping at me.  She said, “What do you smell?”  Then just as quickly, “YOU ARE TAKING TOO LONG!”  “Uh,” I replied with a squeak, “I smell…red.”

I then took a set of sommelier wine classes from a teacher that taught for a rather big wine school and now works for a winery in Napa.  Much better.  Among giggly, well traveled, interested people, I learned more, and more about how I learn.  We were to smell upwards of forty different wine glasses filled with everything from dirt to ammonia, from lemon to grass, and memorize scents.  Smelling the wine is a way of tasting it and a lot can be determined by the sniff.  One can tell if oxygen got in (vinegar).  How the wine maker prepared it.  Whether he chose Sur Lis (placed on yeast to sit and create a creamy taste), more tannins (that pucker taste) means longer with the skins,  and what kind of oak was used.  Whether it grew in limestone or in a rural area.

wine

In a comfortable atmosphere I breathed in deeply from the glass of wine and closed my eyes.  I could smell cinnamon, and figs, currents, and sunshine….touch of vanilla.  I smell sunny days and atmospheres, like France, and a later harvest.  It is not right or wrong.  I am not going to be a sommelier for a living.  I can smell Autumn in Tuscany along with fruits and spices and Slovenian oak and not get scoffed at.  It so increases my enjoyment of the wine, isn’t that what wine is for?

Choosing a wine for food can be daunting.  But it is simple.  Think of common tastes.

A creamy sauce might want cream from the oak of Chardonnay balanced with its tropical fruit to cut the richness.

However Chardonnay will make a salad taste metallic, better to drink a crisp Pinot Grigio to bring out the freshness.

One wouldn’t want to mix a bold, knock your socks off, Tempranillo with say….a light broth because you would lose the taste of the broth!  Better to mix it with a flavorful marinara sauce or barbecue.

On the same note, one wouldn’t want to drink a Moscato, in all its sweet glory, with a big bowl of stew because you would lose the wine.  It would taste like sweet water.

So choosing wines that are the same “strength” as your dish helps balance the flavors.

Those that prefer red wine but are drinking a “white” dish could opt for a Pinot Noir.  It is more subtle than Cabs and has lovely earth and cherry flavors that work well with nearly everything including spicy foods.

Ideas:

Oyster mushrooms with butter and Parmesan over linguine and Chardonnay

Mushrooms in a thick sauce with seafood and tomatoes loves Nebbiolo

Dessert loves Champagne

Chef salad and Pinot Grigio

Potato Cheese soup with Chives and a red blend

Flourless dark chocolate cake…not too sweet…with Moscato

Tomato soup and Merlot

Spicy mole sauce over trout and Pinot Noir

Fruit Salad and Sauvignon Blanc

Root vegetable stew and Cabernet Sauvignon

In the end….drink what you love!

Toast to life!  Cheers!

Click here too read Wine 101.