A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.

There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.

—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)



If married life were a stone crock, filled slowly and methodically with the vital ingredients that eventually transform a food from raw to fermented — wholesome, nutritive, and new — then Mark and I just started chopping the cabbage that will one day, God willing, become sauerkraut. Likening marriage to sauerkraut may very well be the worst analogy I have ever conjured, but if I have learned anything in my twenties it's that you have to do whatever works. Thinking of marriage in food terms provides a measure of calm for my aching heart. As I have relied so heavily on my husband's strength of heart when I feel anything but strong, it seems the best I can do is offer food sustenance. 

The truth is I have hardly felt myself since returning from The Vacation About Nothing. The foremost thoughts that fill my brain are deep feelings of longing for my family, most especially for my sister who is becoming a nun. (At first I wrote 'feelings of loss' but quickly corrected to 'feelings of longing' because this is not death; this is not true loss). I have sobbed with abandon at night on my husband's chest, quietly wept in the middle of the work day, and cried joyful tears during moments of peace in the Mass. I know the proper words are forming in my heart and will make their way here, but today is not that day. Instead, today is a day for writing a bit about the fermented Meditteranean pickles we made a few weeks ago. They take 20 minutes to prepare and will carry you through a month in the refrigerator. No matter what the month holds, you will have pickles.

Throughout our summer blog posts, we peppered in mention of Lehman's Hardware, a truly exceptional homesteading / off-grid hardware store back home in Ohio. They sent us a 3-gallon stoneware fermentation crock for putting away food for the winter sans refrigerator. Three gallons of anything is a seriously hefty portion, so we decided to practice with a 1/2-gallon of something that would not get us sick if we screwed up. (Although, a few years ago I made a questionable batch of sauerkraut that sat on the counter for weeks and my dad still ate the whole thing in one go.). This recipe calls for the cucumbers to spend three to four days on the counter and then — once they are up to your pickled liking — place them in the fridge. You could even scale down to a pint jar if you have just one cucumber and not ten, like we did. Refrigeration acts as a preservation method rather than using a hot-water bath or pressure canning. Avoiding use of the stovetop was a very important consideration for us in the camper. An average pickle benefits greatly from zesty Mediterranean spices, something I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Jerusalem. Really, the world is your pickle oyster.

makes 1/2 gallon jar

5-6 sliced cucumbers, not too seedy
1 bunch fresh dill
1 T. dried dill
1 T. dried coriander
2 bay leaves
7 cloves garlic
1 t. dried fennel
1 t. salt
6 or so cups of water, for brine


—Sanitize your jar by filling it up with boiling water and allow to sit for a few minutes. Dump the water just before filling with ingredients.
—Bring water and salt to a boil. This is your brine.
—Meanwhile, fill your jar with spices first, then sliced cucumbers. I was liberal with spices, and frankly could have added more. 
—Slowly and carefully pour the brine over the cucumbers, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. 
—Set pickles out on your counter and taste one on the third day. If you want them more pickle-y, leave out for another day. Otherwise, store in your refrigerator for up to a month (or so).