Spawn: Packing for the Distance
The short list includes cell phones (they can use them! it's not like a regular race! they won't chat, but they could!), VHF radio, flashlights and headlamps, GPS, two personal locators with strobes (clipped to their persons at all times), a SPOT personal locator (operating all the time; it's how we track their position), a tablet for additional navigation, a biggish lithium battery and a pair of portable (deck-of-cards size) power packs, plus AA and AAA batteries, plus multiple nav-light backups. And compass, watch, and paper charts just in case.
This is essentially the same gear they have carried for years; I don't know how the windsurfing guys manage to pack even a severely slimmed-down version of these essentials.
But given that this year's adventure races along for another 900 or so miles, the Spawnsters will be carrying back-up back-ups, and considerably more food.
From my end of the lab, provisioning seems just about as important as any of the many aspects that can make or break an adventure race.
Neither TwoBeers nor Moresailesed is what dog-trainers might call "food motivated." I have witnessed Moresailesed consume more than one full meal at a setting, but both sailors can actively forget to eat for long stretches of time.
So I've made it part of my brief to supply the living bejeebers out of 'em.
The gold-standard for past contestants is the MRE: Meals Ready to Eat, as designed by the US military. I got a stack of them, complete with the nifty little tab that heats water so they are indeed READY to eat.
Then there's the high-protein Mac and cheese cups, a wide variety of snack bars, flavored rice, instant noodles, summer sausage, peanut butter, homemade chocolate bars. home-brewed trail-mix, and instant oatmeal.
Stowing it on the boat is not part of my job, but I sure hope they can put this stuff away.
The Would-Be Farm Rhubarb
My gardening heros, the Davises from Denver, used to send me homemade jars of rhubarb in exchange for some favor or another.
I don't remember the chore, but I do remember the treat: that nearly chalky, stringy goop with a sour/sweet flavor that reminds me so much of springtime in the North Country.
I know, sounds delish, right? But no, it is.
Consulting my notes, I see that it took me until 2017 to put in rhubarb plants at the Farm. It takes them a couple of years to get their feet under them, but they've done quite well. Enough for us to have a half dozen or so desserts in the last couple of years.
But is that really enough Rheum rhababarum? No.
Still, it was an extra surprise bonus that we acquired another patch of rhubarb this past summer.
The nearest small town (pop. 650 people) did earn a mention in a Neil Young song, but frankly, the Would-Be Farm is located somewhere just this side of Beyond. The wild-and-wooly frontier nature of the place is mostly lovely, but it does have the occasional drawback.
For instance, our former neighbors just to our north...nice folks, perhaps, but considerably more gun-happy than makes us entirely comfortable. Sure, fire your gun at a target, a varmint, dinner. But random gunfire? Combined with a LOT of empty bottles and very loud (and frankly awful) 1970's rock'n'roll? Oh boy.
So for the past couple of years, when these neighbors were in residence, my favorite skipper and I simply avoid the north section of that one field. Discretion being the larger part of not catching a piece of lead.
It's not generally part of the culture out there near Beyond to call the coppers. Or at least not until things have escalated to the sort transgression that does deliberate physical harm. Holding a hootenanny at midnight on a Tuesday, well that's annoying, but live and let live. Letting your toddlers run loose at night –– well, that goes too far.
Anyhoo. Those lively neighbors with the large supplies of ammo moved along, leaving a "For Sale" sign behind them.
Things sometimes work themselves out.
Which is how the Would-Be Farm grew a little over the summer. We gained an additional 40 or so neglected old apple trees, an open field, and a honking big patch of rhubarb.
Mr. Linton has been fishing pretty regularly, though because of last summer's red tide, he can't bring anything home. Social distancing is easy on the water.
And naturally, he has a lot of boat-work to fill his days on shore.
The two 2.4 Meter boats (one fresh, one experienced) are slowly coming into alignment. Jeff's re-rigged the older boat so that it's indistinguishable from the newer one. Fresh paint, fresh lines, carbon-fiber bits and bobs. He orders stuff on-line and obsessively checks delivery times. He splices lines while watching Bosch in the evenings.
Given that many of our upcoming regattas have been cancelled, he seems content.
And me, I'm always looking forward to a chunk of time in which to write but as it happens, I've been distracted by real life. It's hard to make up a story more exciting than the news right now.
So instead, I'm doing a lot of reading (check out my goodreads shelf for the bookwormy details).
And making stuff.
We're avoiding the grocery store –– taco Tuesday involved some freezer-burned ground beef that I might normally have donated to the fishes, but it tasted fine with the fresh greens from the garden –– and keeping our IRL social distance from the world. I've become a big fan of FaceTime right now for actual social interaction. Yay internet!
I'm hoping to settle into whatever this new normal is and get back to my keyboard sometime soon, but in the the meanwhile, as they say in one of my favorite movies, "Rule #32: Enjoy the little things."
Wishing you safety and kindness from here...
Scientific name: Sapindaceae Lichi.
Yeah, okay, I know lychee-tinis are SO 2012. But a lychee smoothie? With vanilla almond-milk and crushed ice?
Lychee warm from the tree, with the leathery rind splitting under the pressure of a thumb?
Or a plain frozen slurry of lychee, gobbled straight from the cup?
Some fruits are easy: drop a loquat seed –– Japanese plum, or Eriobotrya Japonica –– into the ground and before long, you have fifteen of the things (maybe fewer if you were a more conscientious weeder, but there you go...). And likewise, buckets of the nice juicy yellow fruit. We eat them straight off the tree, bending at the waist to avoid the unavoidable sloppy drips.
So many shirts at our house have been transformed into "work shirts" by the application of loquat juice.
Other fruits –– once you see them as fruits –– are even easier to grow. Try stopping staghorn sumac (Rufus typhena).
Plant blackberry canes, forget about them, come back a few years later and they (Rosascea family) have established a stable government, border security, and a thriving economy.
Others, like apples at the Would-Be Farm, are fussier and more delicate. In Florida, I think the fussy ones are the lychees. (We'll avoid the idea of citrus, what with canker and citrus greening and my neighbor with the Roundup through the fence.)
We've planted a couple of lychees, but they break your heart: plenty of leaves, but year after year no fruit at all. Mr. Linton occasionally brandishes the loppers and tells the tree: "Fruit or these. Your choice."
Over the past ten years or so, when the weather and the trees actually do produce a crop, roving thieves have stripped the tree of fruit overnight. Seriously, stealing fruit from my very lawn. It's enough to make a mare bite her colt.
The Would-Be Farm: Fruit!
I've since became an enthusiastic customer of St. Lawrence Nurseries, where the trees are bred to survive the harshest of North Country weather. We made sheltered havens where we've planted heirloom apples, pears, hazelnuts, elderberries, basket willows, and, the point of the blog: aronia berries.
Aronia is the formal name for what is sometimes known as a "chokeberry." (NOT a "chokecherry," btw) It's a small, hardy, brushy tree that bears dark little fruits. They are quite astringent until ripe.
Scientific studies show that it's bursting with super-fruit power, and I'm hoping for an aronia cordial or a mixed berry pie next fall.
It's not an easy lot, trying to be a good sapling on the Would-Be Farm. You'll have to survive lots of rain, or not enough rain, plus biblical-level plagues of insects and marauding deer. You'll get ignored and crowded by weeds for months at a time.
But when fruit arrives, as this aronia did this past autumn, a young sapling can expect a bit of a party.
Hurrah the Aronia! Nice work, little fella!
Hope you are having a decent winter up there! You'll be getting a birthday cake of fertilizer in April! Yay you!
Thanksgiving: Orphan Dishes
Not that any of us should wait for a special day to recognize the good fortune and lucky stars that has got us this far so far.
But tis actually the season for this sort of thing. Plus feasting.
Ah, feasting. We have missed a few years of Thanksgiving in the States. So the groaning board seems novel this year, despite its familiar elements.
In England, I discovered that treacle cake was in point of fact, a too-sweet syrup-drenched wet bread mess. Such a disappointment after all those jolly British boarding-school novels!
Wet breads. Gah.
*In strict honesty, I know some people make stuffing more often than once a year. I dated a boy who made StoveTop at least once a week. For himself. Still, there are stuffings and StoveTops, and the latter does not make or break Thanksgiving.
Anyhow, the single element that proved it was Thanksgiving in Mumsie's house? Oyster stuffing. Technically a wet bread, the recipe includes saltines, "dots of butter," oysters, milk, salt and pepper, all baked in a casserole.
Mumsie's cousin Shirley (Hi Shirley!) continues to make this family dish for Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania.
I haven't had the heart to make it –– or mincemeat for that matter –– absent my mom.
Well, that and my casein intolerance thingie. Making oyster stuffing my orphaned orphan dish.
Plus, we get our money's worth out of that bubbling vat of peanut oil.
Perhaps as time marches along, I'll see the evolution of the meal go farther yet afield. Tofurky maybe, or into the funky Cajun science of the turducken. Both of which appall my Yankee sensibility even as the latter –– wet bread filling notwithstanding ––does pique my curiosity.
Well, I promise to be thankful if I have the chance to see that.
You never get a chance to make a second impression.
In Mount Dora, FL, this is a restaurant.
I went instead to the Goblin Market. It seemed more to my taste.
Ah burdocks. I wrote about these plants before; we are still waging war on them at the Would-Be Farm.
In springtime, they are among the first plants to push green leaves out of the ground. They are unmistakable, lush and green. They grow everywhere, including in a ring around the area where we burn them in the autumn.
This spring, I harvested a few. And by "harvest" I mean "dig up, kill, and eat without prejudice."
Burdock is widely used in Japanese cuisine. I didn't have sake, soy, or much else, so I cooked it as I might have done with a carrot or some lotus root.
I put them into a bucket of water and then first scrubbed the clay dirt from the roots before peeling them like carrots. I sliced the roots into slivers, and sauted them with apple slices and maple syrup.
It was a little tough, a little subtle, and It didn't make our top ten list of exotic delicious items from the farm (Pureed hickory-nut frozen dessert, anyone? Maple syrup perchance? How about apple-wood smoked fish? Or milkweed greens? Or wild free-range turkey? Ahhhh.), but Mr. Linton allowed that –– all things considered –– we wouldn't starve if we were left with only burdocks to sustain us.
Happily, there are other crops on hand. We had our first mushroom from last year's plantings.
The single mushroom –– shitake –– was delicious, even to me, and I do not like mushrooms as a rule.
And <insert sound of heavenly choir> the asparagus yielded a sampler this spring.
Other good news from the Farm: several of the plants that looked dead at the end of last summer's drought have returned from Underworld. The spirit of Spring springs eternal.
We all have the one friend who appreciates fine food. The one who seeks out and enjoys beautiful meals, and then describes the food in such glowing terms that it makes a person want to try these epicurean delights.
My pal L. does this for me. Thanks to her, I have reconsidered my prejudice against casserole dishes, as well as things described by the term "fusion," along with my longstanding self-imposed prohibition against eating named internal parts of animals.
When dining with L, it's all, Truffle fries? Sure! A flight of chicken livers? Irony aside, why not! Haggis? Hmm, okay maybe I will order the nips and tatties instead, but yay!
She's a fearless and adventuresome eater who has changed my mind about ever again putting something infused with anything of a fungal nature onto my plate. (I used to be all "HECK no!" Now, it's "Maybe!"); not to mention introducing me to the wonders of caramelized onions. Yes, I am rabidly anti-onion, but L. has shown me that when sufficiently cooked, their evil nature bends a little.
L. makes me almost wish that I too could enjoy her favored dish of lobster mac and cheese. Despite the fact that only one of its ingredients is digestible to me. (Gluten me no gluten! Pasta is Italian for "good.")
She does it through pure enthusiasm and artful photography.
I call it food porn, which doesn't mean it's not tasteful and that I don't myself kind of want to post mouthwatering photos.
But I just don't really seem to have the knack.
The Would-Be Farm: Aw Nuts.
The Would-Be Farm has good bare bones: open fields for hay or grazing, a pond, neglected groves of apple trees and ground that seems to be ready to welcome new fruit saplings, plus random raspberry patches and mature stands of mixed hardwoods.
While we worked hard to start a bed of asparagus and establish new orchard plantings in the spring of 2015, we were also ready to reap rewards planted maybe fifty years ago.
I don't know if it was deliberate or just the natural progression of land converting itself back into wilderness, but dozens of big hickory trees dot the landscape.
Some of the trees are crap –– for my purposes, at least, bitter-nut hickories are on the short list for the chainsaw. I'm thinking the bitter-nut logs might make some mushroom spawn quite happy come springtime. But shagbark hickories produce nuts sweeter than pecans. And we have some hunormous shagbarks.
With their sinister tails a-twitch, a squadron of squirrels watched as we filled a bucket of the first nuts to drop from the trees. We could reach only a few nuts still on the branches: the grand-daddy trees go 100 feet, with the canopy starting 50 or 60 feet up.
If we'd been able to stay another couple of weeks, foraging every other day or so, we could probably have held off the local rodentia and harvested enough nuts to feed a big crowd. As it was, we brought home a decent haul. The squirrels' resentment was palpable.
Strange but true: hickory mast (that's the term for "the fruit of forest trees") was once a staple in American diets. Native Americans and early European settlers made a sort of nut broth that they used for soups, porridge, and the like. I imagined it would turn out something like almond milk.
I didn't have the patience or the gear (an enormous mortar and pestle system for crushing the nuts and shells is the key element) to make a traditional soup, but I was determined to try my own version. I figured I'd start by extracting the nutmeat.
The first lesson: the outer husk of the hickory nut will stain your hands (just as black walnut will). The rusty-brownish mark will persist for more than a month, Lava soap and various cleaning solutions notwithstanding. Even through gloves.
It's a labor-intensive process, but in the end, I had a bowl full of juicy nutmeat, which I puréed in as little water as possible. The result was not much like almond milk. It was a buttery, rich liquid with the consistency of heavy cream.
I used a cup or two of the hickory cream in roasted-pumpkin soup (sorry, no photos. Didn't last long enough. Nom nom nom.). I think it might be even more amazing as a base for chowder. I froze a portion of the cream after mixing it with some powdered cocoa and sugar and then used the stick blender and some of that (insipid) almond milk to make a dessert the consistency of soft-serve ice-cream...No pictures of that either; it wasn't a visual wonder, even if it was a delicious treat.
So, in all, kind of worth the effort. And the nut shells will flavor the smoke for the next batch of smoked fish.
Even if the former owners of the Farm planted those trees deliberately, I don't think he or she could have imagined how they'd be appreciated all these years later. Which is one of the lasting charms of a farm.
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