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Injured By Marmalade

I wish that was a joke. But seriously, folks — marmalade HURTS!

Making it, that is.

We have two orange trees that produce quite abundantly, despite our complete lack of knowledge about how to help them. So I’ve been staring at a pail of oranges on my kitchen floor for some weeks, now, wondering what I’d do with them. Then I remembered my book, The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, and settled down to making orange-lemon marmalade:











You see all those little orange halves. They all need to be juiced, and then all the pulp, seeds, and membranes need to be scraped from the peel. That’s where the injury comes in.

My left hand develops repetitive injury pain very quickly. So the scraping of the orange insides after juicing completely inflamed my tendons. Drat!

And I forgot to add the lemons, so it will just be orange marmalade, which is fine by me!

My next recipe to try is orange slices in honey syrup, which I can’t imagine eating in anything, but can’t wait to see in a jar! I was planning to make candied orange peel, but no more wrist action for me.

So that leaves me with lemon and orange curd. No complaints here, since they are just about my favorite citrus things on earth!

I’ll post pics of the marmalade when it’s finished! Until then, no more typing. . .


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The Blessing of Oranges

Before we moved into this house, I was unaware that oranges were a winter fruit. They are orange, bright, and filled with sweetness — qualities I associate with summer fruits. Besides, you can get them year-round, right? So how’s a girl to know when they actually like to grow?

Two years in, I am starting to mosey on over to the two orange trees growing on our property. I took to the plum and peach right away, but the citrus scared me a little.

Here’s what I learned the first year:

Lo and behold! Orange trees need water. So in the second winter, we got some fruit worth eating.

This year, after being conscientious about their needs, we have amazingly sweet and juicy oranges. I’m kind of knocked out by them, actually.

Yesterday, for example, I stood by my manual juice extractor, and squeezed around 80 oranges or so to get a quart of fresh orange juice. It’s a lot of work, but my Lord! What flavor!It’s like miracles happening right in front of me.

So today, I say a big prayer of thanks to the orange-huice plant in the sky, for bringing such a reminder of warmth and flavor into a very rainy winter.


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Locally raised grass-fed beef

A colleague of mine gave me the brochure for Alhambra Valley Beef, a ranch producing grass-fed, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free beef that is located in Martinez. I am very excited to go visit the ranch and set up a relationship with them. Unlike other wonderful options like Marin Sun Farm, you can pick the cuts of beef you want, and still pay from $4.99 for ground beef to $8.99 for London Broil to $16.99 for Filet Mignon (not that we eat any in that price range).

I am thrilled to support local ranchers, and more humane cattle-raising practices! Contact info: Alhambra Valley Beef, Darryl Pereira, (925) 228-6560. Martinez CA 94553.



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Chickens 3; Vegetables 0

Happy New Year!

Now that it’s almost February . . .

I haven’t been posting much lately, and the reason is

that I’ve been in despair about our little farmette. Here’s the situation:

In December, and again in January, I laid out winter crops in seed flats. I covered them from cold weather, watered them, kept building the sheet mulch beds to receive them. And sure enough, up they sprouted: Detroit Red and Chioga beets, a few varieties of Nante carrots, swiss and red chard, laccinato kale, some varieties of Romaine lettuce.

Once they reached a good 2-3 inches, I planted them in the beds. Within a week, they were decimated. Destroyed. Eaten down to their roots. Each time, it was a month-long investment lost. The problem? The chickens flew over the two-foot fence we had up around the vegetables and ate it all.

I got discouraged enough to stop trying until I could come up with a plan for a higher fence that I could still get in and out of easily. In the meantime, we kept letting the chicks out into the backyard when we were home.

Yesterday, B (she of B.I.N.G. and O. fame) flew over a six-foot fence into our neighbor’s yard. Luckily, The Wife was home, noticed she was gone, and found her. (And equally luckily, that particular yard belongs to a deserted house, a victim of the recession — so there was no animal next door to eat our chicken).

But that did it. No more chickens in the backyard. This weekend, The Wife is going to extend the run about 10 feet in another direction, so that they can have as much space as possible, and still be contained. Hopefully then I can start planting without dreading future signs of destruction.

So. New Year, new plans, new food production. Here’s to growth!

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Goodbye, my beautiful tomatoes!

The beauty of growing your own food is that you really get to cherish the rich flavor of the produce. The sad part about growing your own food (and committing to eating only locally-grown produce) is that there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to tomatoes. At least to tomatoes by the truckload (which is the way I like ’em).


I picked the last of them this weekend. Next weekend I’ll dig up the vines, let the chickens at them, and then put them in the compost pile.

On Saturday, we made pizza with homemade pesto sauce and some roasted tomatoes I had in the freezer. As soon as I bit that little slice of heaven, I knew that I hadn’t roasted enough tomatoes for the winter. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get pounds more at the farmers’ markets in the next few weeks.

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In Which I Get to Feel Righteous about Eggs

I was roaming around my favorite farming websites last night, when I came across this quote from the always fabulous Homegrown Evolution folks:

An AP reporter just called to ask for my comment on the recent egg recall. He asked if I thought more people would start backyard chicken flocks. I said yes, adding that I believed that a “distributed” form of agriculture, i.e. many more people keeping small numbers of animals rather than small numbers of professionals in charge of tens of thousands of birds, would lead to greater food safety. Backyard flocks can get infected with salmonella. But if my birds get infected only two people get sick rather than 2,000. I can also keep a better eye on my flock’s health and rodent issues than can a minimum wage employee in charge of 10,000 hens. A small farmer has the same advantages–literally fewer eggs in one basket.

I love this one, too:

a chicken is a bird and  . . . birds in nature have access to dirt, bugs, sunlight and vegetation. To keep them in battery cages under artificial light is a kind of arrogance, an assumption that we humans know exactly what a chicken needs, that we have a “wisdom of our own.” Admittedly, a chicken is domesticated animal, but that doesn’t give us the right to make the kinds of sudden, radical changes in animal husbandry that have been made in the past hundred years

I’m such a wuss that I feel bad about keeping my five chickens in their ample run instead of letting them out all day to destroy my plants and dig ankle-twisting holes in which to bathe themselves with dust. So when I think of the stress millions of chickens live in. . . Well, let’s just say I eat less chicken now, and when I do, I try and know as much as possible the conditions under which it was raised.

Lest I sound too proud of myself

let me admit that I reread a section of The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Embry this morning, and realized I could be making our chickens sick by not cleaning their feeder and waterer often enough, and by constantly putting new feed on top of old uneaten feed (which she quite clearly states you should NEVER do).

There’s always more to learn. That’s what I know.


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Farming Has Changed Me

Summer has ended

In my very urban, very busy life, I have a full-time job that works on an academic schedule. So mid-August means I return to another routine, one that doesn’t leave a great deal of time for farming, meandering, hanging out back with my family, listening to them play as I weed or water  or plant or study what’s growing.

In the past, I have let that change in schedule (from summer to Fall) mean that I move at a much faster speed, and that I neglect my self-care, and neglect the things that bring me joy.

Learning to Stop

But these last nine months turning gardening into farming have changed me. This weekend, faced with an impossible deadline (of my own making, I might add), I simply decided to stop. Stop trying to cram four days work into two, stop avoiding my family in order to get work done, stop rushing through my days at home in order to complete work elsewhere. I just stopped, and made another decision: I am not going to be that person anymore.

Instead, I spent the day finishing the chores for the week (laundry, meal planning, cleaning the house), finishing up my canning for the week (tomato sauce, pesto, plum jam, dried plums), and preparing for my son’s birthday party. I cooked and cleaned and just relaxed into the day. And it culminated in a small, casual gathering of people closest to us eating red beans and rice and homemade ice-cream cake in celebration of our shining sun of a boy.

I am no longer willing to make myself sick and unhealthy in order to make a deadline. I am no longer willing to avoid my family when they are around me. Something has got to change, and since the job is a necessity for the time being, the change will have to be in me, rather than in the external circumstances.

I am deeply happy when I am in that less-than-one-tenth-of-an-acre, examining the bark on the apple trees, encouraging the tomatoes, marveling at the cucumbers and how quickly they appear. I love digging into the compost bin and smelling that rich dirt smell that happens under the right conditions. I like talking to my chickens and chasing them away from the roots of the orange trees.

How can I have more of this peace, and less of the rushing? I don’t know. But I know which feels better, and that’s the direction I’m going to go toward.

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