Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Year's Mullet

(Before: the demure folksinger.)

Usually when people ask me what this blog is about, I mumble something about, "my life and stuff", which is a fairly accurate description. If pressed, I could probably rattle of a few choice words like "The natural world, homemaking, herbal stuff, personal style, books, spirituality…", but really, "my hair", sits squarely among the most enduring topics of this blog.

At least once a year, I post some sort of harrowing tale about haircare, or more often, the lack thereof. I've posted about dry-shampoo, the-no-shampoo-method, generally never washing my hair, the environmental and emotional perils of dip-dye, and of course, my signature hairstyle (Can one actually call the length of the front-half of one's hair a style?): also known as bangs (or fringe if you're British). These posts seem to always mention the dichotomy between my being sort of obsessed with my hair, yet in a very abstract manner, where I absolutely refuse to spend any time, energy, or money on it (But will devote the time to bitch about it on the internet?).

One side-effect of my love-hate-hair-relationship seems to be that whenever my hair is just about perfect, the perfect length, texture, color, whatever, I get fixated on changing it somehow. I was, for instance, really happy with how my hair was right before I bleached the s*** out of it and dyed it crazy mermaid colors. Similarly, whenever my bangs reach what seems like the perfect "70s-folk-singer-length", I get the overwhelming urge to chop them into a short 90s length, at the risk of giving myself a great and wonderful mullet.

I would blame my most recent encounter with scissors on the concussion I got on Friday, but this seems to be an annual event now.

(After: intense forehead glare.)

Anybody else rocking a fairly awesome bowl-cut-mullet?

ps. In case anyone is wondering when we might get back to regular programming with actual posts, I'm sorry to say I don't have an ETA for anything but pieces about my cats and hair. If you're lucky, I might move onto posting about my dislike of confessional memoirs and preoccupation with embroidering things of absolutely no consequence.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kettu And Kissa

This is another one of those instances where you non-cat-lovers might want to stop reading right now. This blog I mean. Why are you even here? Just kidding. I totally understand that cats aren't everyone's bag. Well, actually I don't understand it at all, but each to their own weird ways, I say.


You might remember that a while back, I did a little post about the differences and the similarities between Charlie and myself, which was pretty fun. And since I'm sure all of my readers have been dying to get to know my cats better, here's a few select details from the rich tapestry of their feline lives.

Kissa means "cat" in Finnish.

Kissa is 4-years-old.

Kissa has the loudest purr, like a small engine.

Kissa is a little neurotically clean.

Kissa is a scaredy-cat.

Kissa is Kettu's best friend.

Kissa likes yogurt.

Kissa likes to smell the flowers.

Kissa looks like a great horned owl.

Kissa is a puker. Always has been. She's the eat-and-puke-and-repeat-cat.

Kissa thinks Charlie's beard is her mom.

Kissa skulks.

Kissa fights dirty.

Kissa likes sleep in places with room for one only.

Kissa likes to disrupt work, wherever it's happening. She's like a superhero in a world where work is evil.

Kissa likes to sleep in the closet.

Kissa eats kibble. And yogurt. And warm bread. And sourdough starter. And the occasional meat, or fish treat from us. She does not butcher her own meats.

Kissa's constantly worried that things are gonna attack her. She's not paranoid.

Kettu means "fox" in Finnish.

Kettu is named after Fox Mulder. And 'cos she's crazy like a fox. And also orange...

Kettu is 2-years-old.

Kettu has a silent, deadly purr.

Kettu is a daredevil.

Kettu is Kissa's arch nemesis.

Kettu is curious.

Kettu likes oats.

Kettu is a killer (in spite of our best efforts).

Kettu likes to fight.

Kettu likes to attack things.

Kettu is a martial arts expert.

Kettu likes to sleep in bed. And in this box that used to house Argentinian pears.

Kettu says hi to everyone when she comes into a room.

Kettu trots.

Kettu is kind of dirty.

Kettu's tail is always pointing straight up and curled to one side or another.

Kettu likes to sleep in a nest made out of hay in the yard.

Kettu eats moths. And has horrible moth breath afterwards.

They both know how to open doors, but can't figure out how to close them.

They're both expert cat burglars, when it comes to heated rooms and pantries full of sacks of oats.

They both like to sleep on your chest.

They both pull down things like sweaters and shirts, from chairs and shelves to sleep on.

They're both scared of the chickens, but unmoved by deer.

They both know how to say "Mamma!" when they come in the room.

They're both willing to compromise to any lengths to stay warm in the winter.

They're the opposite of each other, but the best of frenemies.

That about sums these glorious beasts up. Got pets? Are they dogs? Just kidding. Sheesh.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

St. John Saves The Day

I'll admit it, I've been in a rotten mood lately.
It's the same old pressures of summer livin' out here, about which I feel like I've written at length already, but which right now are just the reality of my day-to-day.

Whenever I get this way, it's important for me to remember to just ground out, to go outside, make something...

Sometimes I just need to actually get my fingers in the soil, at others collecting plants and making medicines, or just cooking for folks.

Looking for our first eggs, shaking down tiny, cherry-sized plums from the trees into a basket, planting new starts and seeds for winter greens, all suffices well.

These little projects take enough concentration to let me focus and drift away at the same time, allowing for that hard-to-define mental space in which I can relax, unwind and let go. It can be hard to muster the inspiration at first, but it's always worth it in the end.

The other day I was biking home from work I noticed that the bright yellow suns of St. John's Wort had finally opened on the one patch here on the island I've seen. It just so happens to be close to the edge of someone else's yard, or let's be honest, halfway in it, but I've been known to nip a few along my way and that particular day, was struck by the idea that making this particular medicine would benefit my spirit and provide me with tincture and skin oil in the future.

St. John's Wort is one of those plants I feel really connected to. For a number of years now, I've used it as my main beauty moisturizer, thanks to an introduction from my friend Amber, who makes and sell gallons and gallons of the stuff. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Never one for much of cosmetics and fancy products, a simple oil is the perfect thing for my body: it's nourishing, healing, rich and delicious and comprises of exactly two ingredients. Word to the wise though: it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

As for tincturing St. John's Wort: there's no better cure for the blues in all of the herbal realm, in my opinion, but again, a word of warning: it can reduce the effectiveness of your hormonal birth control.

Having never made the oil before, I tapped into some instruction and instinct and now have two jars of golden sun liquid on the windowsill. It's so easy, chop a little, bruise a little, cover in oil, set in the sun…

There they sit now, serving as a good reminder of the power of making a little something for yourself amidst the madness of daily life.

What have you been making?

ps. Sauerkraut making is a perfectly grounding experience ;)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bon Nuit, Mon Petit Chou

You would not believe to hear me speak it, but I took French from third grade until sometime in high school. Thanks to the rigidness of the Finnish education system and the novelty of French as a first foreign language (usually we start taking English in third grade), or perhaps just to my own brand of learning through experience and not rote, my vocabulary and conversational skills are about the level of a two-year-old that's oddly fond of colloquialisms and adverbs.

One of my all time favorites, just happens to be the endearment:"My little cabbage." There's something so much sweeter about it than "honey", or "dear", or "sweetie"…I mean, who has affection for cabbages, a vegetable often considered pedestrian peasant food, paling in the light of zucchinis, arugula, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes…

Admittedly, cabbage revival must surely be on it's way since the trend-vegetable status moves on in the brassica family from kale to kohlrabi, but still comparing your beloved, or dear child to a cabbage? Not the most obvious choice, yet perfect. After all, cabbage is an excellent choice for salads, soups, ready to be stuffed and baked, sweet, yet savory. It's also chock full of vitamins and minerals and has some serious impacts on one's cholesterol especially when consumed raw.

I come from a cabbage-eating people. Root crops, cabbage, and rye were the staple foods of my people for untold centuries. Growing up, I had a certain adolescent dislike for it, considered mundane, boring ingredient, but these days it makes me think only of comfort foods, the signature finnish cabbage dishes.

This summer I was really proud to grow four big, beautiful green heads of cabbage in our own garden. I swear, I could practically hear my ancestors cheering me on, except for the fact that it would not be a very Finnish thing to do. Maybe nod not-entirely-disapprovingly?

Growing cabbage for me is like putting money in the bank, because we have it often in the from of sauerkraut, or rather fusion sauerkraut-kimchee: regular cabbage with some of the kimchee spices and additions of our own. This recipe is cobbled together from my friend Callie's fermentation classes, Nourishing Traditions, Wild Fermentation, imagination and many odd experiments. It's one of the most consistent homesteading things I do, making this dish, and we eat it at almost every breakfast on our tortillas, and sometimes…our oat meal.

There's been a lot of articles popping up on the healthful effects of fermented foods, soI hope I don't have to extol their benefits for anyone, but if you're curious there are plenty of resources online to learn more about the wonderful things they do to your digestive system. Trust me, you're gonna love this recipe:

You will need (at the very least):
one largish head of cabbage

Some mason jars (preferable 1/2 gallon and quarts)
something to pound with (not metal)/ a wooden spatula

fresh ginger
fresh turmeric
garlic (not too much-it tends to slow down the fermentation process a little as it's antiseptic)
red pepper powder
a few green onions
a few carrots

for the busy/lazy fermenter (that'd be me!):
or juice from some kraut you had before

Cut up your cabbage in half and then chop it into strips from each side of the stem, or whatever way you cut cabbage. Put in a bowl (preferably) a flat-bottomed one. Sprinkle some salt on it. How much salt, you ask? Enough to taste. Stir and let it sit, white you go gather your other ingredients, or watch a movie, or weed your garden. After a while you'll notice that the cabbage starting to sweat. That's as good a time as any to start pounding.

You're trying to brake the integrity of the cabbage, as well as squeeze some juice out of it. So pound hard. Think, spices in a mortar. The more you pound the faster and better the fermentation process, but, fear not, if you have somewhere else you need to be, there's a short cut. You'll still want to pound a spell, though. Alternatively to pounding, you can also use your hands to "massage" the cabbage.

When it's good and soggy-seeming, add your other ingredients: grated carrots, finely chopped spices and garlic, green onions cut to strips. Mix in the red pepper, add more salt of your can't taste it (the salt helps it not go bad while it ferments, but too much can stall the fermentation process). Stuff in jars. Depending on what you've got to pound with, a spatula might work good in the jars.

Here's the tricky part: in order for your kraut not to go bad and grow nasty molds, you'll need enough liquid to cover it. Most of the time, my pounding efforts don't quite yield that much so I top it off with either juice left over from kraut we had, or…kombucha! This does raise the price of your kraut slightly, but it speeds up the process and helps guarantee the right result. Fermentation that is. Another way to do this is to make a salt brine, which is what you do for a lot of other fermentation projects.

Put the lids on the jars, but don't screw them on! Set in a nice warm (but not hot!) spot. Check your kraut daily and press down any floaters. In a day or two you should have a nice bubbling action and a delicious smell of…farts filling your kitchen. Trust me though, it's so worth it. After it's clearly fermenting you can start tasting it. Once it's to your liking put it in the fridge, the cold will stop the fermentation process.

Like all my recipes, this one is to-taste and the measurements are not that exact, but you know what? It's really hard to mess up fermenting cabbage. In case you think you've managed such a feat, here's some trouble-shooting tips:

"It's not fermenting! No sour smell, no bubbly-action."
-Make sure you didn't put in too much salt. If you think you did, no worries, just add some more cabbage until the ratio seems more pleasant. You can also "inoculate it" with kombucha.
-Is it too cold in your kraut-spot? Make sure your kraut is warm, but not too warm.

"There's icky mold on top! I'm throwing this away!"
-Don't do it! Just skim the mold off the top. I promise you, anything under the surface is fine.

There you have it. Personally, I can't think of a better way to ground yourself than making some lacto-fermented products. Let me know how it goes…

Edit: As a kindly Sara points out in the comments whey works for liquid as well. Also, it can take anywhere from a few days to a weeks to have your product properly fermented, but the effects should be apparent in a few days.

Ps. I also know a poem in French about a crab named Balthazar who lives on a black beach on the shore of the Sea Of Malabar, but sadly, it has never been pertinent...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mountain Sound

Last weekend, I went up to Mt. Baker, or Komo Kulshan, to celebrate some birthdays under the Super Moon, with a coven of rather wild witchy women.  Watching the moon rise up in purple haze, as we drove through the valley, and hitching itself to the peak of this mountain, the second of the twin giants that dominate our Eastern horizon, I was reminded again by how mysterious and magical mountains and rivers are to me.

Coming from the land of flat, monotonous landscapes and gently rolling, wooded hills, I'm forever awestruck by the rugged white peaks to whom the clouds cling onto, their steep sides and, steep precipices and boundless views.

I doubt I'll ever get used to it. This aspect of my home state is something I continue to be amazed by. Not just how much natural "wilderness" there is here, but also how varied it is.  Within a couple of hours driving range from our ferry-landing there are two different mountain ranges, the wild shores of the Pacific Ocean, the high desert of Eastern Washington and a plethora of rivers great and small...

There are different climates and micro-climates, rain shadows and banana belts and places where the rain never seems to seize. There are strange dichotomies, like the one we encountered on hour short hike at Artist's Point: record snow and more or less nowhere to walk without gear, but the air so warm you could hike in snow in shorts and a tank top.

There's also an endless variety of flora and fauna, similar species that are subtly varied depending on their altitude, being born and dying, flowering and fruiting, waking up and going to sleep earlier or later in the season depending on where they are.

Everywhere I've been here, I've encountered species that are new to me, familiar critters in unfamiliar places. I'll probably never really know this land within its arbitrarily drawn borders, that contain Avalanche Lillies and Huckleberry patches, and Jays and loud loud Ravens.

This is a state where, given enough time and rain, everything here turns green. It's a thought that occurs to me often in the seemingly endless weeks of midwinter downpours.

You can taste that rain, each time you eat the landscape, feel it when you dangle your feet in snowmelt.

It's the state of water, a land of clouds, Washington, and as a friend pointed out on the river bank on Sunday on its mountains, that water meets the other three elements, the earth from which they push up from, the air which their peaks reach and the volcanic fire that continues to bubble and boil inside them. Magic.

How was your weekend?