down home

BREWING + CANNING | A HOMEMADE LIFE

 
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A few years ago, we approached an extremely talented artist about crafting a logo for our new blog, the concept of which boiled down to this: A Homemade Life. It was an ideal we aspired to, which inspired us. We'd traveled a good bit, ventured out of our respective comfort zones, and met a lot of cool, very cool people doing & creating cool, very cool things. That is to say, they were spending their lives not so much as consumers, but as producers (who also enjoyed the distinct pleasure of consuming the wonderful things they were producing). We wanted a piece of that pie. And starting a blog (this blog) would allow us to document our journey, while surely keeping us honest along the way. 

The final illustration that landed in our inboxes was a pure manifestation of what we were reaching for: ingredients fresh from the field, and a well-loved cast iron for cooking them; an abundant honey harvest to enjoy with homemade bread; jars, jars, many mason jars; and, of course, home-brewed beer. It really is a lovely image, and fortunately enough, one that represents many of the experiences we've enjoyed over the past few years. Still, in the interest of keeping it honest, it's important to admit that those experiences don't just happen everyday. For instance, we hadn't canned any tomatoes for two years despite our frequent vows to do so. As for home brewing, that had only happened three times in two years.

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...until last Friday! Sometimes you get an opening to Make Things Happen, and Make Things we did. The reality, we've found, is that such self-reliant tasks often need a bit of outside help to actually happen. Like when your boss at the vegetable farm generously allows you to take home two crates of tomato seconds, free of charge; and when your parents let you invade both their kitchen and garage for the day, filling the air with the swirling aromas of tomatoes simmering & hops thrown into the brew kettle. 

So, Sam cranked the hours away with The Squeeze-O — an incredible, old-fashioned tool lent to us by the same generous veggie farmer mentioned above. I settled into the familiar routine of cleaning, sanitizing, brewing, and then cleaning & sanitizing some more. It was a wonderful day devoted to All Things Homemade, right down to the lovingly-knit wool cap that I wore all day (thank you, Sam!). Now, there is tomato sauce put up in the cupboard for winter; there's beer, too, just waiting to be bottled. 

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—M

WHEN MAMA VISITS

 

I have joined a troupe of millions of others: those of us who have Flown The Nest. Sure, sure, this isn't news. I've been far from the Midwest, absent of the daily comforts of my truest true home,  for many moons. Seasons have blossomed and gone dormant. It's not often that I get a taste of home, though it does happen. The allure of this Vermont dairy goat farm is enough to bring our Ohio family + friends our way. Likewise, I remain prepared on a moment's notice for the chance to head westward — straight into my grandma's arms, directly onto my parents leather sofa, or swiftly into my mama-in-law's garden. To convene with any of our seven siblings over food + shared memories of childhood; honestly, is there anything so good? Rejoining physically with our two families is a desire that all but consumes Mark's and my thoughts. Farming together in Vermont is one step along the way to our enormous dream of creating a haven of animal + earth where we all live. Yes, all of us. A family compound, not unlike the sort that still exist the world over. While we work towards that someday reality, we (try to) accept the necessary distance and give thanks to God for the occasions when we are reunited. Reunited like we just were with my mama, who spent four blissful days with us. How to speak of the joy to be found when mama comes to town . . . 

I have written plenty about my mom, the undisputed queen of my heart. And still it is not enough. I could share a recipe for a cake or write about the farm, but all I want to write about is my love for the woman who raised me. Do you know this feeling? Is there someone, or many someones, in your life for whom you are eternally thankful? From the moment I picked her up at the airport, we resumed wherever it was we had left off. Over the course of four days, I learned about all the happenings of our extended family. We baked a rhubarb + black raspberry tart, plus an almond raspberry cake, and we ate a whole bag of jolly ranchers . . . for good measure. She cooked potato soup + her impossibly good buttered rolls to share with our friends. Every morning we'd have tea and coffee with broccoli + cheese omelettes that I'll never be able to make as well as her. Our last supper together was a pork roast from one of the farm's pigs, along with heaps of homemade sauerkraut. For us spoonful-of-peanut-butter-on-the-way-out-the-door folks, these four days of home-cooked goodness were divine. But vying for my favorite part was the afternoon where mama and I curled up on the couch and watched The Man from Snowy River while it snowed outside the windows. Several nights we prayed the Rosary together, a blessed experience of mother and daughter and Mary that my words could not possibly illustrate. She even woke at 5:00 a.m. to milk the goats with us! No moments of potential togetherness went missed.

She left traces of herself everywhere, as she is oft to do. She and I share a love of gift giving, so when she wanted to gift Mark and I a vintage copper skillet, we lovingly accepted with the knowledge that it will become a family heirloom. Now each time I use it, I think of her visit. I picked out a vintage chrome toaster while out and about with her that we put to use straight away with butter + jam toast. Similarly, when I look at the handstitched clementine quilt at the foot of our bed, it can almost feel as though she is still here with us. Almost. These are just objects, true, but they are objects with special meaning. I would be remiss if I did not praise my incredible husband, who went so far as to sleep on the couch so that his mother-in-law could sleep in our bed. In his words, "we all just really took care of each other." His love of sharing can stop me in my tracks. But, then again, we're dreaming and working towards a family compound, so togetherness is non-negotiable.

It feels important to chronicle the visit, a visit that we desperately desired and were divinely afforded. But I also write this with the hope that it sparks in you a keen appreciation for the ones you love, be them near or far. It's never going to be a bad idea to tell them so, or to hug them tightly. 


—S

A NICE SPOT FOR A REST

 

Having emerged on the other side of kidding season's busiest week—still standing, if a little wobbly—we decided that our only day off together in weeks would be for one thing only: Rest. We slept until our bodies woke us at the luxurious hour of eight (!); and then parked ourselves, along with our trusty french press, on the couch for the remainder of the morning. A hot water bottle (outfitted in Sam's latest woolen creation: a turtle-neck cover, knit with yarn that she bought from a sweet, elderly sheep herder at the Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference) made a worthy companion for our sore muscles. A little later, a berry tart from a beloved cookbook provided more comfort yet. 

Even after a particular difficult stretch of work—during which we welcomed more than one hundred kids onto the farm, tended to several goats with health issues, and saw our days routinely stretch well over twelve hours—it is easy to be called to gratitude for all that we have. The work that we have to perform is meaningful to us, and this temporary state of weariness comes with an enduring sense of satisfaction. We are humble witnesses & facilitators of a rush of new life into the world and into our lives, and the challenges that manifest during that process are cause for even greater appreciation of when things do go well. 

This all goes without mentioning how incredible it is that we, as farmers, are even able to enjoy a day of rest together during a busy time. We are oh-so-aware that a consequence of realizing the dream of farming your own land is the death of the day off, as well as any other workplace-related benefits, for that matter. But the skilled hands around us now, together with the people who had the vision & gumption to start a farm-creamery business that employs people like us, make possible each treasured day of rest such as this. That such an occasion takes place alongside a warm fire, with food in the pantry, in a home that we love . . . it calls to mind a blessing that Sam's dad says before nearly every family meal:

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"


—M

INSIDE OUR RENOVATED HOME ON WHEELS

 

We have arrived. The view looks like burdock- and nettle-covered fields, and two buckling kids — Satchmo and Smithers, respectively. It looks like three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears bringing life and buzzing back into an unused 1986 camper; it looks like home for now. And our home's name is Pink Cameron.

To inhabit a new space is quite strange a thing. Muscle memory has yet to develop, so you hit your head on new things, and your reach for something on the counter falls an inch too short. Your body feels different in your bed, or maybe it's that your bed feels foreign to your body. Our life here has become an amalgamation of all of the things we imagined, and many that we did not.

If you have been following along with this blog for a little while, you read and witnessed our first impression of the camper. Paring back our belongings was an interest of ours, and we have both long dreamed of a composting toilet outhouse, but to claim that we chose this situation would be a falsehood. The truth is that we are extremely grateful for hot water, derive pleasure from lighting, and see nothing wrong with having a bookshelf devoted to vinyl and books. Camper life lends itself poorly to all of the above. Or at least this camper. We said yes to this opportunity because what we wanted most of all was to immerse ourselves in this dairy goat farm while not entering into poverty getting there. The owners at Consider Bardwell generously offered us their camper, on their farm, with a no-holds-barred approach to renovation.

Many skills were acquired along the way; many came too late. We yelled and cursed and sustained countless minor injuries. Without further adieu, a glimpse of Pink Cameron's interior from Dark + Outdated to Light + Fresh!

A few moments, even if brief or rare, have had us feeling like vignettes from a Wes Anderson film: lying on our bed that buts up to the window, reading and rereading recipes from a favorite cookbook while our cat sleeps on the shelf above, our transistor radio relaying all the daily happenings. These moments do exist, and we want to acknowledge their goodness; they are pure in spirit and leave us refreshed. Moments of genuine connection as husband and wife and members of the planet drive our will to make this work—to make Pink Cameron our home.

There are other moments, peppered in more frequently—yet disorienting all the same—where things go wrong. The times when you catch six mice in a day and wonder if the eyes of every mouse bulge out of their head when they die. Or when you have not yet built your cat an outdoor enclosure, and so resign yourself to a litter box that will live at the foot of your bed. And when the fuses and the wires and the converters and the lines exceed your level of know-how by so great a score that you live without electricity or a refrigerator. This all goes without mentioning that hearing, “Wow, you're still painting the inside?” was something of a daily phenomenon.

Wherever we haven't used parts from the farm's equipment shed to smatter together a makeshift version of Whatever-It-Is-We're-Building, we have more-than-likely gone without. Example: we built an outdoor shower using felled logs for the four posts, baling twine for supporting the shower curtains, and rocks from the forest as a drainage base. However, we have yet to begin building our composting toilet outhouse, opting instead to run one-hundred yards down the road to the farm whenever nature calls.

Here we cook most meals over an open fire—a few successes; several flops. We tried potatoes wrapped in foil thrown straight in the embers, and they came out charred to the point of inedibility. Rice came off the fire grate perfectly, as did green peppers—which blistered in sizzling, not smoking (!!) olive oil. Laundry gets washed by hand and dried by the wind. So do our dishes. Slowly, the cadence of daily life is making sense.

Our shelves are decorated entirely with things we use & consume: mason jars full of provisions, spices, and baking supplies; an oil lamp; a few dishes & cooking utensils; a ukulele & a few of our favorite books; our begleri and briki from Greece, plus a carpet from our time in Turkey. The wind chime that our farm friends gifted us is singing a gentle tune in the afternoon breeze and this place is beginning to feel like a home. Perhaps it is because of all the time that we spent trying to make it so. Perhaps it is simply because we have electricity and a functioning refrigerator. Either way, we have arrived at a moment of gratitude & satisfaction—however humble it may be. Here's to a tiny camper nestled in the great outdoors.


—M&S