Rolling into December in a warm spell here in northeast Missouri, we’re working through the last of our tomatoes and peppers, picked green and slowly ripening indoors since first frost more than a month ago. They’re nice to have, and Sara has put up several rounds of tasty roasted sweet peppers, but I notice that I don’t have the same craving for them now as I did when they were fresh off the plants. On the other hand, the remaining fresh kale in the garden, and all the potatoes and other roots in the cellar, seem like just the thing. One season feeds into the next, and our daily mix of foods evolves.
Ted here to offer you the latest from Dancing Rabbit this week. One of the biggest events of the past week took place at the new Community Building in Rutledge, where Javi showed a slideshow of his wildland firefighting journey out in Washington State last September. Miles of hose laid and picked back up, days of grubbing out smoldering embers of tree roots under the surface, and epic slow-motion flyover-shots of air tankers dropping their suppression loads filled the hour of presentation, after which Javi did a Q&A session. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an uptick in local volunteers for these crews in 2018…
Honestly I’ve never seen so many people gathered at one time in Rutledge before (I heard that some folks from neighboring fire departments also attended), and it was a treat to see so many, of all ages, meeting here for any purpose here in our rural locale. I guessed at least 200 were present, including Rabbits. Some of the local folks also kindly offered cookies and snacks after, to bring the evening to a sweet close. I don’t know if I’d want to do the work myself, but I was definitely inspired by the sheer scale of the mountains, forests, and smoke plumes Javi lived amongst out there.
Javi has also been an Ultimate (frisbee) enthusiast lately, scheming along with new resident Angela Johnson to organize either games or throwing drills nearly every day in the latest warmer spell. I’m thrilled, given my love of running and chasing flying plastic discs with friends. There have even been a number of pond dips after some games on the slightly warmer days. I joined one polar dip, and that was enough for me for a while. Despite loving it after I jump in and clamber back out, I usually have to work hard to get myself to take the plunge when the water is icy cold.
As we enter winter I’m looking at a couple segments that bridge my time between now and our community retreat in February. For the next couple weeks I’ll be consumed by an electrical installation in the newest house start here, the Gil’s house, and I’ve been reading up on the latest iterations of the electrical code.
Then I head to Chicago and the East Coast for some visits with family and some time at my mom’s house in Virginia facing what to do with my father’s legacy of books. He died a year ago September and was an historian who collected books on his various sub-topics of interest. Books were the wallpaper of my childhood and I still struggle to keep my own collection in check, but I’m keen to find good homes for the collections he developed, where they’ll continue to bear intellectual fruit.
If there is anything I’m most drawn to at the moment, though, it is finishing the contours of our home’s earthen berm with stone and soil. We expanded indoors into our home’s addition in 2012, but only this winter will we finally get to experience the building’s thermal performance as designed, the mass of the added earth outside sheltering the lower walls and reducing heat loss.
I’ve been squirreling away at it for the past month and have just about brought the berm up to full height all the way around. I once briefly traveled across the island of Bali in Indonesia, home to some of the most beautiful terraced, hilly, agricultural landscape I know of, and fell in love with the idea of building terraces like topographical lines on a map. In their bare stone and soil state, my curvy, dry-stacked stone terraces are not a lot to look at, but I’m so excited to plant the numerous terraced beds with cascading flowers and vegetables come spring.
This week I finally got around to rough-measuring the volume of my various firewood stacks prepared for this winter. I came up with about one even cord stacked for the kitchen’s cooking and heating (on the wood cookstove), and about three and a quarter for our house’s rocket stove, plus various collections of kindling. With that in hand I can see what we go through this winter and thereby estimate our consumption, which is the sort of essential data we are trying to produce here in the village. Other buildings here have weighed all the firewood they burn to produce an even closer measure, but at least I’m getting a start.
Our educational non-profit, the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture(CSCC), beat its fundraising goal for Giving Tuesday (a fundraising day for non-profit organizations) last week with the generous help of a matching donor. To all those who have donated to CSCC, we thank you for helping us continue our work.
I recently made “slow” mozzarella cheese for the first time, based on a friend’s interest (and persistence). Yet another one of those unexplored tasks in life that I hesitate on, but find not too challenging when I finally overcome my inertia and get started. It is a basic renneted cheese that, once formed into cheeses from curds settled in baskets, is allowed to ferment in its whey for 12 hours or more. Once it achieves a certain threshold of acidity, immersing it in hot water turns it into a molten mass whose stretch and texture is wound into balls of finished cheese floating in a slightly salty brine. I sent some home with the friend who had helped me make it, and we disappeared the remaining ball in our kitchen at dinner that night. Fresh mozzarella is a different beast from the kind one typically finds for sale in this country, delicate and mildly sweet; my primary disappointment is that there wasn’t more to eat.
As a side bonus, I had a small pot of raw milk that did not fit in my cheese pot for the mozzarella make. I semi-intentionally left it to sit out on the warming shelf above our cookstove for a day, at which point I finally looked up the recipe for clabber, the name for the curd formed by spontaneously fermented raw milk. Once hung for a day in cheesecloth to shed its whey, and lightly salted, the result is a delicious spread very akin to cream cheese. If this is indeed the “first cheese” humans would have discovered, I can see why we’ve stuck with this whole domesticated animal thing. It is just absurdly tasty. And again, disappeared quickly and left me wanting more.
At this point I’m just a little sad that we’re near the end of goat milking for the season, but also a little thrilled and terrified that we may have twice as many milk does next year. The new additions are this year’s half-size kids, with a Nigerian Dwarf buck as the sire, so their milk will be less in quantity but higher in butterfat and sweeter, from what I hear. All of which is exciting for next year’s cheese, but also means I might need to scale up in cheese-making paraphernalia. Winter research awaits.
I hope all you readers out there are well-stocked with winter abundance and ready for a little more time in contemplation through the darker months of the year. I’m still headed into winter reluctantly, but take heart at the thought of the garlic we planted last month, setting good roots into the soil right now to be ready for a burst of green growth in the earliest warmth of 2018 when the season turns ’round again.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.