Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eating Locally

I have been gradually working towards a more and more local diet since moving to Dancing Rabbit.  I've spent large parts of the season trying to grow my own food, which is part of the reason it's taken me so long to finish building my house.  I've got the vegetable gardening down pretty well and am able to produce a lot of my own veggies throughout the season and even into the winter such that I rarely, if ever, buy vegetables from the grocery store.  I rarely buy fruit, but will stock up and preserve it when it is available locally or on farm.  Strawberries, black raspberries, grapes, and gooseberries are the only things I've been successful with so far.  A few crops like peaches, seem really difficult to grow here organically.  Pears and apples are slightly easier, but my trees are only just getting to fruiting age, and I know they have problems with disease in wet years as well.

Abenaki Calais flour corn
This season I experimented a bit with growing flour corn, with the idea that I might try to produce my own grain to take the place of the rice I buy on a regular basis.  Corn is a crop that is fairly easily grown here, can be productive, and can be stored for use throughout the year.  I do eat corn a lot in my diet already and imagine I could shift my diet pretty easily to have it replace rice.  People like Michael Pollan rant against Americans being entirely made of corn because of the large amount of high fructose corn syrup found in the foods they eat.  I don't think my desire to increase the corn in my diet is deserving of the same critique.  Corn was a staple food of Native Americans living all over North America for thousands of years, and although they didn't chemically alter it to extract corn syrup, they did chemically alter it to make it more nutritious in some ways, by a process known as nixtamalization.

Nixtamalization involved boiling dried corn kernals with wood ash and leaving them overnight.  Then they would wash out the ash and grind the corn into a wet flour.  The boiling and soaking with ash caused the corn to break down somewhat, making it easier to grind.  It also gave the corn a distinct flavor that was the result of the combination of the corn and the lye in the ash.  If you've ever tasted the difference between corn in cornmeal or cornbread and that in tortilla chips or tamales, you probably know the flavor I'm talking about.  Above is some of the corn I grew this season.  I ended up with about a gallon of grain from a small bed of corn, and I plan to nixtamalize it and use it to make tortillas and tamales.  I am just waiting on getting the right kind of flour mill for the wet corn kernals. I could dehydrate the corn after nixtamalizing it and then grind it into dry flour, but I've heard it is much better to make food from the freshly prepared kernals.   In Nicaragua, the women get up at the crack of dawn every day to make tortillas.  I remember watching the family that took care of the farm I worked at nixtamalizing corn over an open fire. Maybe someday I'll have enough corn to do this on a regular basis.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This season: a review

Pug the pug visiting my house and looking for handouts
I haven't really been posting much this season because I've been concentrating on other things, but I do have a lot to talk about now. I've been gradually finishing projects on the house and am now pretty much done with it. There are a few other finishing touches to add, like a stove for the kitchen, the first floor ceiling, a bit more soffit, and the railing for the stairway, but pretty much everything else is done for now.

I had to spend some time resurfacing the earthen floor since the light clay straw insulation sort of failed and had sunk about an inch all around and was cracking in many places. I'm hoping the floor had sunk all it was going to sink, so that when I added the layer on top it wouldn't sink again in time. We'll see, but everything looks fine so far. If it doesn't work this time I'm going to tear it up and put in foamboard insulation.   The picture above shows the entrance pad with tile laid into the earthen floor in the higher traffic area.  I also laid tile into the kitchen area part of the floor.
I finished all my curtains myself in the early spring and got them all up.  It was good to refamiliarize myself with a sewing machine.  The warm windows fabric does make it a lot easier though.  I'm really happy with how they turned out and how they work!  They make the place have much more contrast and give me a sense that I'm in some other country, which is what I was going for.  The picture above also shows the wood rack I built for my firewood, with bin on the bottom for the big stuff and shelves for kindling above.  Of course I've only lit a couple fires so far this year because the weather has been either warm or sunny, and my thermal curtains are keeping the cold out.  I reorganized this part of the downstairs for the winter, complete with comfy chair for sitting by the fire.