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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The New Hunter Gatherer

What I Have Been Learning These Last 18 Months

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 06:58 PM PDT

I have been doing, rather than writing. I have apologized enough for my absence; what I really must do is try to convey what I have been learning.

I have learned that if we have grace enough to accept the discomfort, the unfamiliarity, we can find bounty in what we otherwise might have seen as limitation. We can insist on a lettuce salad in January and find blandness, or we can instead find the song in the celery salad with a tart and pungent mustard vinaigrette. If we eat apples and bananas in June, we will miss the impossible perfection of a tiny scarlet strawberry.

We have chosen more work, more change, much training in new skills. We have given up bland, predictable, empty. In the small amount we now take, utilize, receive, we now have true abundance. FULL. We are full. We experience change, seasonality, lack of things we once depended upon, as the fullness of possibility. Everything is available to us if only we accept what is here.

So last year we bought a cider press. A strange thing for those who live full time on a boat perhaps. We tasted one glass of the nectar of this contraption and, like Rapunzel's mother, knew that whatever price, however foolish the quest seemed, we MUST do this. So we did. We asked the man who built the press, lovingly, with local woods and inlay suited to fine furnishing, where we would get apples, since we live in the middle of the water. He laughed. He told us all we had to do was ask. And indeed, all we had to do was ask. We gleaned about 1000 pounds of fruit last year--apples, pears, plums. Most were fermented into wine and cider, some we drank fresh and canned for eating throughout the winter. There is an abundance--just ask.

This is not a good apple year, though we have found some and currently have two carboys fermenting. But we learned something else this Spring, just as our patience with apples and cabbages was wearing through. I must be channeling Rapunzel's mother, because I had the most intense craving for nettles you can imagine. People say cooked nettles resemble cooked spinach, but to me that is only in the way that a McDonald's burger is somehow teasingly related to a grass-fed burger off of a live fire. Nettles are so alive, so green, that they dance on your tongue. And, as it happens, they make a beer that will blow the winter cobwebs out of your nooks and crannies. So not enough apples for a year's worth of wine? No matter, really. This year we will make more nettle beer.

And we will make more spruce tip beer. More like a porter, almost chewable, this is the antidote to no oranges. Because, how ridiculous is it really to eat citrus at 48 degrees north? Spruce tips, and all new evergreen growth (those soft yellow-green ends on each branch) are not only edible, they are highlyantiscorbutic. That is, they are high in vitamin C and whatever else prevents scurvy--because I don't think we really know what does that, not completely, or else the traditional Northern peoples who at times of the year only ate fat and flesh (think the Inuit) would have perished from scurvy long ago. That's too long for me to discuss in this overview, but clearly they weren't getting ascorbic acid. And we are told this is something we need daily, because it is water soluble. But I am wandering . . .

For sour, because we do need sour, we eat sauerkraut and season with apple cider vinegar. I do hope to get enough apples for cider this season to devote a carboy to vinegar--something I really don't want to buy if I can make my own.

Funny how we have to meet the tastes' needs with what we have at hand--sweet is easy, from our berries and stone fruits, apples and pears. And many things have parts with different tastes . . . one-stop shopping of a different sort.

Bitter, for me, is dandelion greens, another deep need that has flourished. Other greens, of course, will fill that need. But dandelion is king. And, if we miss the moment for the greens, we can make wine, dig roots, come at the greens again in the Fall.

Pungent has shifted though. Somehow the hot peppers that seemed right in Miami are not the thing for me here. Instead, we have fallen in love with horseradish, buying whole untamed roots that look like small heads streaminggnarly dreadlocks, grinding them and submerging the mass in brine. Horseradish with shortribs, horseradish with shrimp, horseradish to clear the sinuses. Horseradish is as sweet as it is spicy, sometimes catching me when I am not paying attention, because I am tasting sweet then get sucker-punched by the sharpness underneath.

Umami, meaty, savory--the meat of our land. Brothy, like a winter's warming soup. No challenges here, with wild and farmed within minutes of our home. New tastes, like elk and geoduck keep us moving and flexible. We eat meat, we flavor with meat. It is the anchor of the meal, even if you can't see it. The serendipitous effect of last-night's salad mingling on the plate with this morning's fried eggs--that is our Umami.

Salt, well, we live in salt, we breathe it. We eat oysters and glasswort and kelp. Salt is our blood. Maybe even more so for living on a boat, but I would venture that most of us on the Peninsula are replete with salt . . .

People have asked me if I am going the Weston A. Price Foundation conference this year. I have learned so much at the ones I did attend, and I would go again, but life is keeping me here. The land and the wind and darkness are my teachers here. This winter they taught me a big lesson, a hard and necessary one--they whispered (I hear Miss Clavel here . . .) "something is not right." I looked inward, past the melancholy brought into painful sharpness by the grey of the sky, and saw what I have been skirting for years, a metabolic imbalance that I could address, would address. Letting most things unfold, allowing change to grow out of new circumstances allowed me to see what I could exert my will upon, indeed, that it was appropriate to do so. For the last nine months I have been learning everything I could about thyroid and adrenal (and other hormonal) issues. I have been experimenting with herbs, glandulars, foods, more sleep. I have kept careful notes. And I have been getting better. There is more clarity and evenness in my days, my skin, hair, nails and weight are happier. I keep at it.

Who can say what the dark of the coming winter will bring? A new test, I am sure. More learning. Who knows? The shadows? We shall see . . .

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