Friday, November 30, 2012

Cranberry Orange Sundaes

Photo by James Barker

There are cranberry bogs in west central Minnesota. For several years, a friend brought us cranberry sauce made from berries he had picked himself in the swamps near his house. I don’t have the time in October and November to pull on my knee high boots and slog through the freezing swamps near our house, but I do love cranberries.

Two years ago, we planted four high bush cranberry bushes. They haven’t thrived, but they are still alive, finally outgrowing the weeds that threatened to engulf them. This year, we had ten berries on our bushes – a beginning.

I am eagerly awaiting next fall’s crop because I love cranberries. My favorite cranberry sauce requires a food processor or a meat grinder. I haven’t made it in a long time because and we lost our meat grinder in one of our moves years ago. Every Thanksgiving, I bemoan the loss, but I don’t think of it early enough to order a meat grinder on line and you just can’t find them in stores anymore. This fall, a friend brought a meat grinder converted to a table lamp into the shop where I am a partner. I thought aloud about buying the lamp and reconverting it to a meat grinder. My friend laughed and the next day she brought me a meat grinder.

So this year we had cranberry-orange sauce for Thanksgiving. It tastes bright and fresh with turkey. It’s tart and sweet flavors combine wondrously with plain or vanilla yogurt. But the really magical combination is cranberry-orange sundaes where the sauce complements the cold sweet of vanilla ice cream. Frozen cranberries in the freezer and a meat grinder in my cupboard mean that we can cranberry sundaes (either with yogurt or vanilla ice cream) any month of the year. Perhaps we should plant a few more high bush cranberries next year.

Cranberry – Orange Sundae
1 package fresh cranberries
1 – 2 oranges
¾ cup sugar

Grind the cranberries and oranges (peel included) in a meat grinder or food processor. Mix in the sugar. Refrigerate. This sauce tastes better the next day.
Serve on yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The soul of my computer

When we got back from our last trip, my computer was dead. It wasn’t a catastrophe because I had backed up everything on my external hard drive so that I’d have access to all of my writing and photos in St Louis.

Dave took the tower down to our computer repair shop and when it was done, I brought it home and connected all the wires. The screen came up with all the appropriate icons and programs, but the soul of my computer was gone. My daughter’s laughing faces didn’t greet me from the desktop. Gmail didn’t know who I was. Ten years of manuscripts were missing. Two and a half years of photos of my grandsons were gone. All the files were empty.

Dave’s laptop and my computer use the same operating system and are pretty much the same in many ways. But my computer always opened photos with Microsoft Picture Manager and we worked well together. Dave’s computer favored Serif and I couldn’t use it at all. The book I’m writing was only three clicks away in my old computer. I need ten double clicks to find it on my external hard drive. This computer tower hunkered beneath my desk is not my computer!

I know that I can reload everything from my external hard drive back onto my desktop, but I won’t. The external drive will become old storage like the 3 ½” floppies I have in a fire proof safe under my desk – archived, but not easily accessible. Ten double clicks is too cumbersome for files I use daily or weekly. Gradually, I’ll even forget what files are on my external hard drive.

Gradually, my computer will develop a soul again, but it won’t be the same computer and it won’t have the same soul. I won’t accidentally run across the letter from the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer accepting my article on natural dyes. I won’t glimpse Newton and the cat BC playing when Newton was a puppy or a single thistle blossom glowing in the late afternoon sun.

I am a different person than I was last year or five years ago, and so, my computer will have a new soul, and by extension, become a new computer. Today, I will begin by finding a new photo of my daughters to smile out at me from my desk top.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Late harvest

Mullein in late summer

The leaves are gone from the trees, only the brussel sprouts remain in the garden, cold nights freeze the ponds. Fall is well settled and winter is creeping closer. This morning I picked fresh green mullein in our pastures. The sheep don’t particularly like the fuzzy oval leaves, but I love them – for dyeing.

Common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is my favorite dye plant. With copper sulfate as a mordant, I can produce a beautiful mossy green fiber from a handful of leaves and a skein of my favorite yarn. To dye with mullein, the wool must first be mordanted. A mordant is a metal salt that helps the dye color attach to the wool fiber. Without a mordant, most natural dyes yield beige.

I simmer two pounds of fresh leaves in a big dye pot for thirty minutes (you can also use dried leaves). Then I strain out the leaves and add copper sulfate to the dye pot. I stir until the blue crystals are completely dissolved and then submerge 2 pounds of freshly washed wool. I then simmer the wool for thirty minutes, turning the mass occasionally to expose all the wool fibers to the mordant and to the dye liquor. For more information on dyeing with natural dyes, see From Sheep to Shawl: Stories and Patterns for Fiber Lovers.

There is something deeply pleasing about dyeing wool our sheep have produced with a plant that grows naturally on our land. This morning as I walked the fields in search of mullein, I appreciated the scent of the manure Dave spread on the fields yesterday, the cool autumnal breeze on my face, and the sight of our sheep lying in the sunshine, the colors of their patched coats blending into the brown grasses.

I haven’t stepped back in time – I’m wearing a polar fleece jacket and carrying the mullein in a plastic bag, but I did leave my cell phone in the house and I’m not rushing off in the car. Today I am fully at home on the farm, appreciating and using one of the last green plants we harvest in the fall.