Category Archives: GYPO: The Book

Last Blog Post (For a While, at Least)

The Get Your Pitchfork On! blog is three years old! I have faithfully updated it every Sunday since January 2012, even during graduate school. I am proud of myself for that. But doing so takes a lot of time and, because of said schoolwork, the things that have gotten pushed aside—playing fiddle, hiking, writing for publications, and making collage artworks—are starting to get impatient with me. And I’m starting to feel their absence. I’m also hoping to embark on a new project in 2015 and want to make room. Not sure what the next thing is yet—a job? A book? Whatever it is, I feel the need to create a vacuum for it to fill.

If you are a subscriber to this blog: THANK YOU. Please stay subscribed; once I have news I will certainly share it here. I will also continue to update the GYPO Facebook page and website. If you have been a guest post-writer: Thank you! You took some of the pressure off me and added a welcome breadth to the content and voice of this blog.

When I decided to suspend production of the GYPO blog, I started reading old posts. It’s kind of like a photo album and diary. Here are some of my favorites:

Phynn and the Baby Chicks. Boy, that dog was a pain in the keester, but she was smart.

Peepee. You never know what will thrill a three-year-old.

Organic Gardening: Not the Hippie Lovefest It’s Made Out to Be. Pretty much speaks for itself.

How Many Seeds Make a Plant? One of those moments when I was certain there was a place for GYPO in the world.

K&M Wellness Retreat. Our farm was a respite from the cruel world for more than just Mike and me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines. A fun week in my life—the publication launch of Get Your Pitchfork On!

Farm-Inspired Art. Our farm inspired lots of people to create.

A Heart of Cheese. In which I compare my dual-heritage of Minnesotan and Wisconsinite.

The Art of Value-Added Products. This is the first in a series of pieces that got “picked” up by Handpicked Nation.

It’s Not the Size That Counts. How big is your bar?

Raising Rural Children. One of my most search-engine-driven posts.

Team Players. One of my few purely “Kristy Spouts Off” posts, about our polarized politics.

Celebrating 40 Years of the Encyclopedia of Country Living. An homage to the book that made GYPO possible.

Mending Day. One of the posts written in Portland, where it was more of a challenge to comment about living in the country—since we weren’t!

Seed Catalogs A-Go-Go. A compendium of companies, sorted by state.

Is Homemade Jam a Bargain? A cost-benefit analysis.

Cottage Industry Laws. Part of my transition into writing about food systems, inspired by my graduate work.

Until next time ...

Until next time …

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Foiled by a SmartAppliance

I’ve talked up my crafting friend Ivy in Get Your Pitchfork On!. She can make anything! She made a poppyseed cake covered with daisies when Mike and I celebrated our wedding in Portland. She lines up rocks and leaves on her tables and her walls. She doesn’t just make fruit jam, she adds things like cardamom and lemon rind. She has a special egg-scrambling technique, which I have documented but haven’t shared with you yet. In due time.

In May, Ivy and her friend Ria came out to visit. Ivy brought a special gift-project: wool mittens! She had knitted them already and wanted to felt them in our washing machine. It was funny to try on mittens on a brilliantly sunny and warm day.

They're kind of big!

They’re kind of big!

Kristy Athens

Wool mittens and lilacs–not usually in the same picture

Note to Wool-Felters: Don’t try to felt wool in a new washing machine!

Ivy’s usual method is to dump extra-hot water into the drum and add the unfelted mittens, then agitate until they have shrunk down to the desired size. We bought our washing machine last year, shortly after moving to Wallowa County. It has a computer. It sounds like a arcade machine when you turn it on. The lid locks while it’s running. This machine determines the size of the load by weighing it, and if there isn’t enough in there it won’t run. It wouldn’t run.

Ivy tried a couple different methods to fool the machine into shrinking our mittens. Eventually, she gave up, hauling four sopping, still-oversized mittens upstairs and hung them on the porch rail to dry. She brought them back to Portland and washed them in a dumber machine, and they came back to us just in time for cold weather!

I hope you all have such a gifted, crafty, and generous friend!

I ❤ Ivy

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My Husband, Pickle Fiend

Everyone has a favorite food. For some people, it’s fried chicken. For some, apple pie. For my husband Mike, it is pickles. Mike can eat anything pickled, anywhere, any time.

The vinegar is too much for me. I can eat one baby dill. Occasionally. My Uncle Rick lived in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, and ordered his Old Fashioneds with a pickled Brussels sprout. When I was visiting and working on Get Your Pitchfork On! at my grandma’s place, I ordered the same simply because I loved my boisterous uncle and his passion for this lowball cocktail floating an enormous tiny pickled cabbage that took up half the glass. But I had to choke it down; those layers and layers of leaves can soak up quite a lot of vinegar! When he and my Aunt Betty sent me a jar after my visit, Mike ate them all.

Mike eats pickled beets. He eats pickled cauliflower. Pickled asparagus. Watermelon. Maybe not pigs’ feet. But maybe he’s just never tried one.

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County's Magic Garden

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County’s Magic Garden

Mostly, though, it’s cucumbers. When we sit down at a restaurant for any kind of sandwich, the order of operations usually goes like this: Place napkin on lap. Add condiments to sandwich. Offer pickle to Mike.

This summer we had three different jars of pickles in the fridge at the same time. Wouldn’t want to run out.

Our friend Sara gave us some extra cukes from her garden, and Mike didn’t waste any time.

Before

Before

After

After

Those jars lasted about 17 days.

On a trip to Portland, Mike received a jar of pickles from our friend Brooke, who had made them with her grandma. Mike’s never met a pickle he didn’t like, even just a little bit, but he’s still raving about those pickles. I’ve heard him drop the word “best” about them. They have a secret ingredient, which I’m not at liberty to disclose. The jar of leftover brine is still in the refrigerator. He doesn’t have the heart to throw it out.

Beloved brine

Beloved brine

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Hiking in Hunting Season

As readers of Get Your Pitchfork On! know, my opinion of hunting has changed since I was twelve years old. If an animal is being killed for sustenance (not a trophy), I think it’s a reasonable activity. Still, as someone who likes to walk in the same natural areas as the hunters, it’s a source of anxiety.

I spent my first year of college in the north woods of Minnesota, at a German-immersion extension of Concordia College (this is a story unto itself). The orientation instructions I received in August advised me to pack an orange or red hat for hikes in the woods. My suburban mall-girl, lake-path-walking mind reeled. I could get shot? On a hike?

Since then I have, of course, been on lots of hikes wearing blaze orange. When Mike and I had our re-grouping period in Portland and I had to buy a rain jacket for bicycle commuting, I chose a bright orange one in hopes that I would soon need it for autumn hikes in the country.

And, here we are.

Even the dogs have gotten in on the act!

Even the dogs have gotten in on the act!

One afternoon in late September, an SUV pulled into our driveway. I went out to see who it was. A 30-ish man got out of his truck, gave me a nod and said, “Ma’am, I would like to request permission to hunt on your land on the deer opener, which is Saturday, October Fourth.” Must have been ex-military.

I explained that we didn’t own the land, and our parcel doesn’t go up into the trees, anyway.

“There are an awful lot of houses around here, to be shooting a rifle,” I said. He nodded again and politely took his leave.

After a while, I felt like maybe I was overstating my case. I mean, yes, the woods backs up to the farmed acreage that surrounds our house. But, was it really possible to be hit by a stray bullet?

A few days ago, I had my answer. Mike returned from a walk with the dogs, carrying an arrow. It had been stuck in the ground at an angle. Sailed downhill from the woods above us. A bad shot? Can one accidentally discharge a compound bow? We’ll never know how it got there, but it got there.

That looks sharp

That looks sharp

The chance that Mike or I or one of the dogs would have been standing in that very spot at that very moment is remote. This incident won’t keep me from walking our field, nor does it change my view about hunting. But—be careful out there, friends.

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Surprise Imnaha Apricots

As I’ve chronicled in previous posts, I have been struggling to get my kitchen groove back ever since we had to sell our land in the Columbia River Gorge. I never been much of a cook, but I had developed skills in baking and canning while on our land. When it went, so did my desire to carry on in the kitchen. Until I have my own house and garden, I imagine this will continue—I’m not heartbroken anymore, just waiting to settle in again.

However, a couple of weeks ago my colleague Sara (who has a great blog about her grass-fed beef operation) brought in to the office a box of apricots. I could feel my canning fingers get twitchy. I got home with those beautiful fruits and easily located our old country-living bible by Carla Emery on the bookshelf. It felt good to crack it open again. I had notes in the margin about canning peaches, so even though I’ve never canned apricots I had an idea of what lay before me.

Imnaha beauties!

Imnaha beauties!

 

You "can" always count on Carla

You “can” always count on Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hauled the canning equipment from the basement and tried to estimate how many jars I would need. I put them and the lids (which I still had from making jam last year, happily) in the dishwasher to get them going, and started washing and cutting apricots. I didn’t bother to peel them, like I would have done with peaches.

I prefer to pack fruit with water rather than simple syrup (sugar). I’ve found, at least with peaches, that the water turns into a delicious “liquor” that is as much a treat as the fruit itself.

IMG_3670

Ready to can

IMG_3677

Ready for February!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wax poetic in Get Your Pitchfork On! about the joy of opening a jar of peaches in the winter. This February, we will have vibrant orange apricots, grown in the nearby Imnaha River Valley and picked by a friend, to brighten a cold winter’s day.

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Food Libeling

I got a check in the mail the other day. $8.57.

photo

A year ago, a case was decided against PepsiCo for misrepresenting “all-natural” Naked Juice, which actually had a few synthetic ingredients in it, including (according to this website) “Archer Daniels Midland’s Fibersol-2 (‘a soluble corn fiber that acts as a low-calorie bulking agent’), fructooligosaccharides (an alternative sweetener), other artificial ingredients, such as calcium pantothenate (synthetically produced from formaldehyde), and genetically-modified soy.”

I honestly don’t remember how I learned of this class-action lawsuit, but I had indeed downed a few bottles of Naked Juice between Sept. 27, 2007, and Aug. 19, 2013, most of them at airports when I was on tour to promote Get Your Pitchfork On!, because it was one of the few remotely healthy items available. So, I filled out a claimant form.

This lawsuit—and its $9 million settlement (of which $3.12 million may go to the attorneys)—is chump change for PepsiCo, which denies wrongdoing and blames the lack of a federal definition of “natural” for the misunderstanding. But it’s indicative of the “food fight” that’s ramping up in the United States over who makes our food and what’s in it. Labeling efforts in New England, California, Washington and now, it appears, Oregon to identify genetically modified organisms in processed food are only the beginning. While I, personally, am less concerned about the health effects of GMOs and more concerned with the business practices of their parent companies (a big statement, I know), I do applaud this movement to know what’s in one’s food. It’s an old fight (think The Jungle by Upton Sinclair) and an important one.

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Athens Sisters Tame the Wild West

I had to go to Portland on Thursday because I’ve been accepted into Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project roster. More on that in a future post! After I put this in my calendar a couple of months ago, my sister called to see if she could visit the same weekend, as it’s right before her birthday. At first I thought it wouldn’t work, but then …

“Why don’t you meet me in Portland, and we’ll drive out together?”

So, she did! She hasn’t been in Eastern Oregon much, so we made a lot of stops. The first was supposed to be The Dalles, but on the way I realized we were passing Mosier. Mosier + Summer = Cherries. Change of plans!

Good day for driving

Good day for driving

Cherries!

Cherries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love that Mosier has this roadside stand, from which they peddle mountains of cherries in little paper sacks. I bought a pound of Bings and a pound of Rainiers. I took a few steps and realized that was not nearly enough, turned around, and bought an additional four pounds!

When we finally hit The Dalles, we were ready for lunch at the Baldwin Saloon. Whenever I go to Portland I gorge myself on Japanese and Indian food, and any kind of seafood. Wallowa County is great for local meat (especially grass-fed beef), handmade chocolates, and rye whiskey, but has some gaps in its repertoire. So the obvious choice was the bouillabaisse.

We stopped in to say hi at Klindt’s Booksellers, where I signed copies of Get Your Pitchfork On! at last year’s book fair, and found my book in their front window display! Pretty great.

Yum

Yum

Klindt's Booksellers

Klindt’s Booksellers!

Two hours later: Pendleton. I passed the drive-time singing along to old cassette tapes, and was glad to take a break to show Linda the requisite sights of the site of Ye Olde Round-up.

Hamley's, of course

Giant cowboy boot in front of Hamley’s, of course

By the time we got to La Grande, almost everything was closed! We walked up and down Adams and pressed on–we were starting to want to get to our destination. The drive into the Wallowa Valley was marvelous. It’s fun to share such a beautiful place with someone you love. Happy birthday, Linda!

The remnants of the road trip

Remnants of the road trip

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Dust

I had a little time off from school, so I made a beeline for my other desk—the one where I make collage artwork. I hadn’t visited it since January, when I made some valentines for my Etsy site. Our household was in dire need of new thank-you cards, and I was more than happy to do something that did not involve a computer.

I noticed that everything on my desk had a fine layer of dust on it. I opened a drawer and found that everything in it had a fine layer of dust as well. I laughed—even down in the basement, where we hardly go, there is dust!

Living in the country means living with dust. I knew that from being in the Columbia River Gorge. In Get Your Pitchfork On!, I talk about the cloud of dust that careened toward our house every time our neighbors went up or down their driveway. It’s compounded on this, the “dry” side of the state.

This was the best demonstration I could provide ... we just had a few rainy days

This was the best demonstration I could provide … we just had a few rainy days!

During our first warm spell, the people from whom we’re renting this house sent us a note explaining where to install the air-conditioner unit, which is in storage next to the furnace. “It helps keep the dust down,” they said.

Mike and I are not fans (pun intended) of air conditioners. We will open all the windows, except those facing the road, and just keep wiping it off. I do worry about our electronic devices, but what is the point of summer weather if you can’t have fresh air?

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New Shelf Talkers

I was buying some books for grad school at The Bookloft, when I suddenly had an idea. Tourists who come to Wallowa County over the summer and get romantic notions about moving to the country are great candidates for my book. How could I get them to notice it?

“Would you be willing to put up a shelf-talker for Get Your Pitchfork On?” I asked Mary, the owner.

“Sure!” she said. “I’ve already moved it up here.” She pointed to a special display for books written by local writers. I’m officially a local!

I went home and re-configured a flier I use for farmers markets, et voilá!

TheBookLoftGYPO

In case your micro-vision isn’t what it used to be, the headline reads: “Want to move to the country? Read this book first!”

Just wish I’d thought of it sooner! If you want one to bring to your local bookstore, gardening store, feed store, or any store that carries books, please contact me with your mailing address at kristy @ kristyathens.com. I’ll send one and include a small gift for you!

And keep shopping at those independent bookstores! None of this would have happened on Amazon.com.

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Cottage Industry Laws

One sunny morning last autumn I went to the farmers’ market for pumpkins, eggs, and whatever vegetables were still available at this, the final market of the season. One of the more prominent booths, Magic Garden, featured friendly elderly ladies offering produce, dried herbs, and a dozen different types of relishes and sauces in home-canning jars.

“We can do this now,” one of them said brightly while passing her arm above the display, “thanks to that new law.”

Magic Garden market booth

Magic Garden market booth

The law to which the vendor referred was Oregon HB 2336, signed in 2011 and implemented in January 2012, which allows farmers to process their own produce in a limited number of ways, and then sell directly to consumers in a farmers’ market setting. Previously, the canning would have been required to occur in a licensed commercial kitchen.

I talk about value-added products in Get Your Pitchfork On! and in a blog post—it’s a great way to improve one’s profit margin and reduce food waste from spoilage.

The Magic Garden is an effort of the local Methodist church to provide a farm-to-school experience for the students of Joseph Charter School. They function solely with volunteer work and donations; all of the proceeds from the market booth go directly to the cost of seeds, infrastructure and other materials. None of the wares at the market were technically for sale; any money given by customers was donated.

Until HB 2336 became law, the Magic Garden’s offerings were limited to excess unprocessed vegetables that hadn’t been fed to the schoolchildren. Once it was legal to process the produce, volunteer gardeners gleaned their plot more heavily, wasting less edible material and increasing the amount of money they could raise for the organization.

Gleaner's Relish

Gleaner’s Relish

Similarly, HB 2872 loosened the restrictions on small and medium-sized farms that raise poultry for slaughter. Farmers may now sell up to one thousand poultry (chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, or guinea fowl) directly to consumers, exempt from Oregon Department of Agriculture fees and continuous USDA inspection.

These two recently passed laws make it easier for small and mid-sized farmers to sell their produce and, thereby, make a living (though their income from such is capped at $20,000). Most states also have a version of this law on the books. This type of legislation begins to address the inequities in agriculture policy that are rife in the United States. Current USDA policy, most notably under the “Farm Bill,” directs most of its support and subsidies to international corporations. The policies of the past forty years have left smaller operations struggling to make ends meet, resulting in a lost heritage—younger generations are encouraged to leave farming as their career and consumers lose their contact with the sources of their food—as well as a lost quality of food. The prospect of state-level exemptions and other legislative strategies that temper the inequities codified by federal law are an important step toward reforming the Farm Bill itself.

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