beautiful things

we made a cookbook!

natural simple healthy
By Erin Martineau an...

Anne and I decided to eschew the big box stores and do some creative things for Christmas gifts--Anne felted soap, made liquid soap, and baked cookies, and we both worked to create this cooking guide, entitled Savor: Natural, simple, healthy.

It's a little book filled with tips about really easy ways to prepare fresh food, and lots of photos to whet your appetite.

If you click on the picture to the left, you'll be taken to the website of Blurb, which printed the book.  You can click through the first 15 pages and get a taste.  And if you like, you can order one!

It was a fun and relatively easy project, and we were thrilled with the quality of the photos and with the book as a whole.  If you ever want to make your own book, you can just use their free software, your own photos, and their page templates, and hey, presto!  You've made a book!  And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I'll walk you through the process.

antiphons and anticipation

CHS Melrose chapelThis is the first Advent season that I've ever really paid attention to, probably in my whole life.  The quieting down of farmwork, and shorter days, have made our time in chapel all the more prominent these last few weeks, and for that I'm glad.

Sister Helena Marie, a classically trained musician, has created beautiful "Offices" for us to observe throughout the four weeks of Advent.  (An Office is a daily prayer, sometimes called the "Liturgy of the Hours" or the "Divine Office". They are sung at specific times of day; for example, Lauds in the morning, Vespers in the evening.)

For our Advent worship, there are specially chosen psalms and antiphons (short phrases sung before and after a psalm, that frame the text), and carefully selected hymns.  For some reason, I find this manner of worship inviting and meditative, which is so wonderful after all my angst about religion and "The Church" for the last twenty-five years!  Perhaps it has something to do with the intimate nature of the setting; we are usually only six or eight gathered in this little chapel.  The energy that's created when people are fully present and focused is a powerful thing.

plainsong Lauds

We sing "plainsong," which is an ancient musical form developed in the early days of the church, and then elaborated over time.  Lines are sung in a kind of chanting style, sticking mostly to just a few notes, except for a few more elaborate phrases that mark feast days and special occasions in the church calendar.  

And of course, the Advent candles.  Four, each one symbolizing one of the weeks of Advent; we light one the first week, two the second week, and so on.

Advent is a time of waiting, preparing.  I think I was particularly primed for Advent, as I had been desiring to turn inward, to start meditating...and to stop checking websites for job listings and real estate, to stop pushing and prying and trying to force the future to make itself plain to me ahead of time.  I'm thankful for the prayerful practices of Advent that have helped me turn away from my frenetic worry and toward stillness.

simple Advent centerpiece

Here at the farm, the Sisters have a different way of anticipating Christmas.  We don't decorate the tree, or sing carols until Christmas Eve.  We don't exchange presents.  There's no stress of dealing with shopping crowds or harried clerks.  Instead, the Sisters contemplate and pray.  The snow adds a blanket of quiet beauty to the woods.  The winter solstice, happening today, marks another turn, and we begin another anticipation, of the longer days that are coming, of the seeds that will need to be started and nurtured, and eventually planted . . . but I'm learning that you have to go easy when anticipating--if you're not careful, you can throw yourself all the way clear to May, with the advent of asparagus and green leafy lettuces.  In the same way, most of us spend so many weeks anticipating Christmas, to the point of focusing all our attention on the 25th, on gifts and feasts, and lists and shipping . . . and speeding past the pleasure and fullness that comes from waiting, from savoring the present moment.

The time for celebrating is coming, but it's not here yet.  We are still in the darkness, our faces illuminated by candlelight, singing, and waiting. 

ebb and flow, garden-style

My first iMovie project: a chronological slideshow of the main garden here at Bluestone Farm.  You can watch the garden spring up, bloom, flourish, and then subside.  Reminds me of an ocean wave, the ebb and flow, but with moving at garden speed.

All the usual caveats: I'm just playing with photography, and I can see that there is much to learn.  These pictures were taken with an iPhone 3G, before the camera upgrade, so many of the pictures are blurry.  I plan on working with a better camera for subsequent efforts.  I came up with the idea for this project only in September, and could have created better continuity among the shots if I had envisioned this project back in March.  And I now see the value of keeping detailed records of where the shot is taken, what time of day, and other situational information; it would be a cool project to create a similar slideshow as if it was timelapse photography, with each shot taken from the same precise spot, at the same time of day.

Caveats completed. I hope you enjoy the show, and that it gives you a taste of the beauty I've been privileged to behold these last eight months.

Bluestone Farm, Eight Glorious Months from erin martineau on Vimeo.


breathing in this vivid world

I often feel like such a newbie here at the farm, having so little experience with growing things...  I think this is why I enjoy my time in the kitchen so much, as it's one place where I can bring a little skill.  This week I made a wonderful beet soup, and a gratin made from Osaka purple mustard greens (the gratin was a modification of this recipe).  I can't take too much credit, though: it's pretty hard to ruin a dish here, given the quality of the ingredients!~


Gingery beet soup
Roast a bunch of beets (scrubbed, trimmed, and then in the oven at 375 for 1.5 hours in light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper). When beets are done: In the bottom of a soup pot, sautee two big onions (chopped), and when they've sweated a bit, add a little garlic and two tablespoons of grated ginger.  Add a quart of soup stock, and then add the beets.  Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.  Let sit for 1/2 hour.  Then puree; to serve, add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.  Delicious!!


But back to being a newbie:  A friend came to visit me at the farm this past week, and after I showed her around the gardens, and explained the tasks we're currently occupied with, she asked if I had gardened much before moving here. The answer is no: I'd pretty much had zero experience gardening.  She remarked that it seemed kind of overwhelming, and I realized that during our walk I had been spouting off all these little bits of information that I've learned: the names of different varieties, how to plant or tend certain vegetables, how to put the garden to bed.  Hearing her reaction, at the end of the tour, I first felt happy to realize how much I've learned in the last six months, but, then, I worried that I was presenting gardening in a way that was alienating, rather than inviting and accessible to anyone.  

It's true that farming engages with a great quantity of information--practical, scientific, historical, experiential.  But I do think that we all can grow food, and that we can learn a little bit at a time.  I'm lucky to be here with people who've been learning through direct experience (and reference books) for the last five years, and so I can learn from them, as I go.  I can talk about many of our crops here, but have direct experience only with a few of them: I've really only planted onions, celery, garlic, and beans.  I listen and ask a lot of questions, and I take comfort in the fact that I can look up information on the internet, if I need to remember how many inches apart something should be planted.  In fact, I carry my iPhone with me at all times, and refer to it in all sorts of situations...Such as: can you store apples and onions together in the barn?  No, apples give off a gas as they ripen which will hasten the aging of other vegetables...Or: how much mulch should you apply around the base of a tree?  Ideally, for young trees, all the way to the drip line (as far out as the branches stretch), but not up along the trunk of the tree, because that can rot the bark at the bottom of the tree...And so on, and so on.  

So, I've been feeling pretty secure knowing that I can look up information that I don't readily remember or know off the top of my head.  But then, when I went to start writing this post, I spent about half an hour trying to figure out the correct spelling for a tree that's common around here, and my guesses were so, so, so unbelievably wrong!  And my newbie-ness just became plain as day once again.  (I had heard people refer to the tree, saying something like "wingawanamus"...and after much searching I finally found the species they were talking about, the Winged Euonymus tree.  LOL!).  This tree turns amazing magenta, pink, and fucshia colors in the fall.

Winged Euonymus, in fall

It's amazing how much I don't know.  It's humbling, exciting, frustrating....  I'm humbled by it, realizing that I could continue farming for the rest of my life and always have more to learn. There's the basic information about plants--the qualities of the different varieties, what they need and who they like to live near. About how to plant:  where, how far apart, what time of year, under what conditions.  Then there's information about soil health, mineral composition, soil amendments, manure, mulch...  And then there's the whole world of biology, how plants actually grow, what kind of beings are alive in the soil, what they do and what they need, the process of photosynthesis...And the list goes on and on.  But the truth is that I could grow lots of things with just a basic level of information.  Although there is tons to know, you don't actually have to know a lot to start.

And it's entirely exciting, at the same time.  I feel like a little kid sometimes, exclaiming, "Look at that!"  I mean, who knew that brussel sprouts grew under the stems of leaves, in the "armpits"? That carrots can be four or five different colors, all in the same vegetable?  Atomic Red carrotWho knew that asparagus stalks, when left alone, can grow four feet tall, with delicate fronds and small berry-like seeds?  Who knew that you can harvest a few leaves at a time from a kale plant, and have that plant feed you for months and months?  I am astonished by the beauty and the design of the natural world, and my appreciation just grows and grows...

And I realize, glimpsing how little I know, that I'm also a little frustrated...I wish I had more time every day to read all the books on my nightstand, to sit down and talk at length with the Sisters here about their experiences farming, to go to local and national conferences about farming and the good food movement, to explain to everyone I know about what I'm learning about the production and politics of food and the implications for our health, our economy, our environment, our world...

So I go to bed each night, amazed and a little dazed at how little I know.  It's a good feeling, when all's said and done.  While it can be overwhelming to be such a newbie--and not just in terms of farming, as I'm simultaneously a newbie at living in community, at spiritual practices, at believing in abundance, at integrating scientific knowledge into my worldview (I mean, have you seen Carl Sagan's series, "Cosmos"?  Holy Moley!!)--I'm also thankful to be so inspired, to be experiencing so much joy in learning, to realize that as I'm turning 39 this year, I am breathing oh so deeply in this vivid world.  The colors, beauty, scope and scale astound me. There is so much to learn.

speeding by

Life on the farm is packed: early morning singing in chapel, caring for our animals, harvest and food preservation, noon chapel service, a community lunchtime meal, afternoon break and more work hours.  Then evening prayers and a light dinner.  The days and weeks just speed by...

But on Sunday afternoon, after our "house meeting" when the Sisters and other residents discuss and make decisions about farming projects, events, and day-to-day schedules, Anne and I stole away for an afternoon walk.  And I think I'll have to make a practice of it, because to stroll through the woods acquaints me with a whole other part of the farm, slows me down, and makes me appreciate this place even more.

The Community's property is about 23 acres, and we cultivate less than one acre (which makes our harvest, and the fact that we sustain ourselves primarily from our own crops, all the more impressive!).  Throughout the property there are about 300 maple trees, which the Sisters tap to make our own maple syrup. 

This photo is of an area that separates the farm and a playing field used by the Melrose School, a dayschool that shares the property. The ground is fairly bare, with few shrubs or mid-sized trees.  From what we've been learning about edible forest gardens, the forest would probably be healthier if it had a wider diversity of species to help protect and nourish the soil. 

A few years ago, one of the Sisters began planting fruit trees in the meadow below our main garden, which abuts this part of the forest.  We currently have at least two varieties of pear trees, apple trees, and a peach tree, as well as hazelnut trees in the nearby vineyard.  We're thinking about how to cultivate this lower meadow with a wide variety of fruit and nut trees and other edible plants.  If we can successfully "build into" this transitional space between the garden and the forest, we will be able to harvest many foods and materials without the intensive labor required by farming.

In this photo, Anne is looking down upon the playing field and the woods beyond.  It's such a serene place.  I can just imagine building a little strawbale house near this field, in the woods on the periphery...and the snowy silence down here in the wintertime.






Walking back up to the farm, up the winding road that takes you to Farrington's Pond and then into Connecticut.  It's a bit of a shock when SUVs come barreling around this corner, rushing on their way, totally out of sync with the pace and peace of this area. Sans traffic, you hear the wind, the leaves falling, the chickens clucking, the sound of shovels hitting soil.  And then a big noisy car or truck will drive by, and you realize that we're living cheek-by-jowl with suburbia.  Or, really, that suburbia is speeding by us, oblivious to the quiet beauty and slower rhythm of this place.

I think that all those lovely manicured lawns that you can see on your way down the hill, when you get into town, would make great vegetable gardens.  Imagine if we were all growing a little bit of food, we could share seeds and tools, and have the pleasure of eating food we've planted and watched mature...imagine if we all were connecting with our neighbors around the activity of growing food.  Rather than spending big bucks on lawn care, and the costly and toxic pesticides that are part of that whole operation, we could use our yards for food.  This idea of "yard sharing" is becoming a reality, organized through new media--check out this site that connects people who have yards with people who want to garden.  

There's something about getting your hands in the dirt, about shuffling in the leaves on the forest path, about imagining new life in a plot of land that gets us to slow down, to see the way the light falls, to be creaturely.  I'm grateful for Sunday afternoons, and how they help catch me from just speeding by...