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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The View From The Top

A while ago the guys went for a hike to the top of the rimrock, that cliff-like formation you can see at the top of the blog. Just thought you'd like to see the view from up there.

Below you can see Coyote Creek which runs though the valley. 

        There's our place with the fence around it. In the distance are some old adobe buildings, some of which the owner is slowly restoring.

Below is another view, looking toward the mountains across the road. We have a neighbor up there somewhere. Don't you love that blue sky?

The house is partially hidden behind that tree in the foreground. The Growing Dome sets just outside the fence.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Repairing the Growing Dome

Back at the end of September I had a dismaying phone call while we were in Michigan. Some of the cows had found a way into the Growing Dome, lumbered around inside for a couple of days and you can guess the aftermath. You can read about it here.

We were pretty much cleaned out produce-wise and most of the left hand side's raised bed was destroyed. It took us a while to figure out that the ducting under the dirt was smashed, too. A 900 pound Angus steer will do that.

 The ducting goes under the soil. A solar powered fan pulls air through the ducting, helping to keep the soil warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

 Here's the end of the ducting on the "good" side of the dome. The fan pulls air through the ends near the water tank, under the soil and out through the fan.

That silvery stuff is like bubble wrap with a shiny side. It helps insulate the north side of the dome and reflect light and heat from the sun.

It had some rips after the steer break-in so I fixed it with good old duct tape. I probably could have waited and bought some silver tape, but just wanted it done.

So we dug out the ducting and put in new stuff. By "we," I mean mostly Tom and Z did the shoveling. I did a little here and there, but they should get the credit. I had the job of gooping up the join at the left side with caulking, wrapping it in duct tape and plastic.

That's as far as we have moved on the repairs so far. But now for the good stuff: Below is a "survivor" lettuce from the bad side of the dome. I've harvested leaves off that sucker for almost a month now and it's still growing strong.

We have some stuff growing in the intact bed on the right side of the dome as you walk in. I planted late, but even so, everything is doing okay so far. Below is, from the top, Arctic lettuce, broccoli and spinach. I will be separating and/or thinning these guys pretty soon. You can't see the beets and brussels sprouts which are teeny and on the other end of the bed.

Here's a close up of the spinach. I think I will do both thinning (and eat the pickings) and also some relocating as they get larger.

Today it was in the low 40's when I took these photos, yet near the water tank, it was plenty warm. This is where I have some Earthboxes planted with herbs.

A friend says that temperature must be wrong, but I brought in another thermometer and it was the same. I think the combination of black water tank and sun coming straight at it makes it hot there. It's only like this in the winter, though, when the sun is flatter in the sky. The dome's perimeter temps are in the 70's. We are lucky to have 305 days of sun a year, so lack of sun is not much of a worry.

The solar powered water pump filters the water. I had some plants in there last summer, but they have died off. The goldfish are doing fine and don't mind the cold at all.

For me, I can't wait until spring when everything is up and running again. Man, I can just taste those homegrown tomatoes!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quilty Pleasures Wednesday: I Miss Road to California!

Each year toward the end of January one of my favorite quilt shows, Road to California sets up shop at the Ontario Convention Center.  It's gigantic in scope, with exhibit halls overflowing with quilts and more quilts, wearable art, and vendors from all over the world offering enticing stuff that you never realized you needed!

And I need it all! 

They also have classes offered by the quilt world's luminaries. I've missed "Road" for a couple years now and plan to visit and maybe take a couple classes next year. 

So I must content myself with photos of this year's winners. It makes me feel energized looking at these quilts. Some I know I would never do because they would take a long time, but others give me a little kick in the seat that says, "You could try this."

Here is a link to this year's winners:

And this is my favorite, for today, at least. Beth Nufer of Brookings, Oregon you are my new quilt hero. Look at those flying diamonds and the mariner's compass blocks scattered over the quilt.  The quilter is Shelly Knapp, who is Beth's frequent collaborator. Below the photo are Beth's words about this quilt, which is electrifying.


112 in x 112 in Winner of $150.00 for 1st Place: Innovative, Large, Pieced
Sponsored by The Quilt Cupboard

Entered by Beth Nufer (Brookings, OR)
Made by Beth Nufer
Quilted by Shelly Knapp
Started in 2009, Finished in 2009
Design basis: Mariner's Compass Quilts by Judy Mathison
Artist statement: I made 45 degree templates, totalling 80 pieces to complete the central design. I increased the squares in small increments as they went out from the center. The mariners compasses were appliqu├ęd on some and pieced on others all around my original design.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Waking Up To Surprise Snow

The weather forecast said we'd have some snow, but not much. That usually translates into no snow at all, so we were surprised to wake up to something pretty. 

This was the view from our bedroom balcony looking north. It was still snowing in the mountains up there. That translates into good business for the ski resorts in Angel Fire, Sipapu, and Taos.

 Looking down into the yard I like how the snow enhances the flagstones. How about a quilt with that flagstone design? (Yeah, let's just put that on the ideas list.)

When I looked straight down from the balcony, this is what I saw.

It'll all be gone by tomorrow, with temps in the 40's today and the wind blowing like a ten year old boy trying to put out his birthday candles.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Going to Town

It's been windy for the past three days, wind so loud it sounds like the ocean's waves crashing on the beach. The power goes on and off, and everything I touch gives me a shock.

So I went to town to touch base with friend Ann, pick up a few items at Wal-Mart, and have linner (It was between lunch and dinner) with Tom at Cocina de Rafael.

Here's a photo of my closest town, Las Vegas, New Mexico.

If you want to see more, watch Red Dawn or No Country For Old Men.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stars in My Eyes-Quilty Pleasures Wednesday

I love scrappy stars: liberated, non-liberated, wonky, precise and any other way they might be aligned. I've made stars as parts for a quilt.

But I've never made an entire star quilt. I've been anguishing over starry quilts for a while now, an angst that began when I learned how to make liberated stars, Gwen Marston style.

Then I saw this post today and it just makes me want stars even more.  Is there a Southwest Scrappy Star quilt sometime in my future? But when? So many ideas, I am overwhelmed!

I want to send out an "Hola, chica," to Jodi at the Pleasant Home Blog, who got my mind churning on the stars idea again. I love her blog because the photos are delicious, inspiring, and she has some awesome tutorials.  She's what I would like to be when I grow up!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day

Sandia Road
 The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. ---Martin Luther King

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A few weeks ago I was having an adventurous time at Trader Joe's. It was the Friday before the New Years' weekend and the place was packed! We were like Trader Joe's sardines, but sardines that talked:  "Excuse me, pardon me, whoops, should have signaled! Sorry, did I just run over your foot? I mean, your fin?"

A sidebar: The Santa Fe Trader Joe's has a significant number of shoppers wearing black clothing and black berets. It must be the artsy influence.

Okay, back to the story. In the produce area a large crowd was gathered around a table, exclaiming, "I've never seen that before! So that's how they look!" They were talking about Brussels sprouts still on their stalks, like natural, man.

I bought a stalk for nostalgic purposes because once I had grown Brussels sprouts and I now had some just beginning to poke up through the dirt back home in the Growing Dome.

When I got home I planned to cut them off the stalk and roast them like I usually do, tossing them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and leaving them in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. They are lovely like that.

But  I saw something dangling from the end of the stalk and it was a recipe from Trader Joe. So I decided to give it a try.

First I rinsed the stalk of sprouts, wrapped the wet stalks in plastic wrap and microwaved them for about 3 minutes. I think that's to par cook them before roasting. Below is a photo of how I wrapped the stalk to preserve the heat and moisture from washing them.

Please excuse the old Silpat mat. I need to buy a new one.

In a small bowl I mixed 1/2 cup maple syrup (I used the real stuff) with 1/4 cup olive oil. I unwrapped the sprouts, discarded the plastic wrap and brushed the maple syrup/olive oil mixture over them. I sprinkled them with salt and pepper to taste. 

I baked them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. They came out nicely roasted, with some of the outer leaves crispy, which I like, with a slightly sweet taste. 

Here's how they looked out of the oven: Look at how the syrup has caramelized a bit.

You can serve them like this and your diners can hack off what they want from the stalk, Henry the 8th style, or you can do the honors and serve in a dish.

I love roasting Brussels sprouts. They have a nutty, slightly sweet taste that is not at all like your Irish mother's sprouts which were boiled within an inch of their lives.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Deaths of Two Buddies


Last week two of The Angus Boys met their maker. We built a corral for their demise, and they walked right into its confines, waiting calmly.  They didn't know the end of their lives was about to happen, and that was fine with us.

But let me back up this story and tell you how this all came about: After reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Pollan's other book, In Defense of Food, I became more aware of what we were eating (ask Tom about my food lectures), and when we moved to this Northern New Mexico ranch, we decided to buy foods from as close to where we live as possible.

The Omnivore's Dilemma follows the food trails for four different meals. One food trail Pollan travels is the industrial food chain, based mainly on corn. His visit to a feedlot should be read by every meat-eater in order to understand where our industrialized meat comes from.

He contrasts this with a pastoral way of producing food, visiting small, local farms where animals are humanely raised and slaughtered. There, the consumers know their farmers.  Pollan calls it “relationship marketing,” in which customers' personal relationships with the farmer from whom they purchase their food will cause farmers to possess greater integrity and produce higher quality products.

 Enter The Angus Boys:

April 2011
 We bought our steers mainly to keep the grass on our property down, which would protect the house from wildfires. The break we received on the property tax (for grazing animals) was an added bonus. I considered the steers a mowing squad with benefits.

All along, though, I reminded myself that these steers would be meat someday. That didn't stop me from naming the first steers we bought: Mignon and Sir Loin. The Black Angus fellows came a few weeks later and were identified with ear tags, so they were called by their numbers.

Mignon and #31 were the personality kids: curious and friendly. They were the leaders of the Boys, and that's why we decided to kill them first. They got the axe first not to punish them, because to me, punishing them would be to put them in a truck and take them to an auction, after which they would probably end up at a feedlot eating corn (which cattle are not evolved to eat), getting a stomach ache, diarrhea and infected eyes and wondering what the heck they did to deserve such treatment. I wanted them to have a humane death. That sounds like an oxymoron, but read Pollan's book and you will understand what I mean.

So the Mobile Matanza truck came last week from Taos. It's run through a federal grant in cooperation with the Taos Economic Development Corporation. The Matanza Unit provides jobs for the butchers and inspectors and allows farmers to go direct to market, eliminating the middlemen and making small farming more profitable and more attractive to folks living in the area. Many ranchers out here are "land rich" and "cash poor, " so any way they can save on transportation and intermediary costs is a good thing for them.

On the left is Marlene, one of the butchers. Right: USDA Inspector Philip

The Mascot, who had a skinny figure even though he travels with a butcher shop
 Philip, the USDA inspector who travels with the unit, says there are sixteen mobile slaughter units operating in the United States. Nine of those are USDA-inspected. Throughout the entire process, the inspector watched and sometimes took notes. He monitored the outside temperature, checked the welfare of the cattle, watched to ensure that the killing was humane and monitored the cleanliness of the butchering.

His professional watchfulness over only two cattle made me realize that at a large meat facility, this kind of thoroughness probably doesn't happen. And that's why there are all those e-coli watchoutforthemeat! recalls.

The steers were waiting. Their buddies were hanging out, herd animals to the end.

They were shot using a .22 Magnum rifle and immediately went down. Mignon's legs twitched a little, but the inspector said that sometimes happened. He was brain-dead as soon as the bullet hit. Their jugular veins were cut and there was lots of blood. I didn't think you would like that part, so there are no photos. Chains were attached to the legs and the carcass was winched into the truck.

Now here's the part that surprised me: As soon as they were dead, I was not as sad for them. Their spirits had left their bodies, and from that point on, Mignon and Number 31 were just meat. When I die, I will leave the same way, and only my shell will be left.

A steer is in the truck now

Then the butchers went to work, removing the hooves, head, hide, and guts. Those they left at the ranch and we had to decide what to do with them. We took the cheeks off the heads to marinate for an upcoming dinner. Everything else was left for the coyotes, ravens, magpies and crows. And the vultures.

MBB and I took a look into the butchering process. MBB said, "Dexter." I heard the "Sweeney Todd" song over and over in my head.

The butchers carefully sawed the carcass in two and moved it into the refrigerated room just behind them. There it was cleaned with organic apple cider and will be transported to the cut and wrap facility in Taos. I have a "cut sheet" to order the steaks, roasts, and other stuff we want cut to order. We will keep a half beef and I've sold three quarters so far.

Marlene, one of the butchers, had me sign some paperwork when they arrived and asked me how I was doing. I confessed to being sad and she said that was normal. But she told me to keep this in mind: "These steers had a good life here," she said. "You saw to their welfare and took good care of them. Now they will be taking care of you."

Thanks, Mignon and Number 31.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter is Icy Hot

While it's 84 degrees in parts of SoCal and people are wandering around in their shorts, here in Northern New Mexico winter is acting pretty much according to season, with 40's to low 50's during the day and teens and 20's at night. As long as there's sun, I'll be okay.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona

“I was standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona,…..”

Winslow, Arizona is familiar to everyone who has heard the Eagles’ 1970s hit song “Take it Easy.” The town should be better known, however, for its La Posada Hotel, where we stayed this past December.

 The last of the Harvey House hotels, La Posada was built in 1930 when Winslow was an important railway stop and the largest town in Northern Arizona. 

 Architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed the hotel, decorating with original Navajo rugs and Pueblo pottery. Now the lobby and hallways are filled with amazing paintings, photos, and sculpture created by local Southwestern artists.

It's like living in an art museum.

Many famous actors and celebrities stayed there because it was THE place to stop when traveling through Arizona on the Santa Fe RR back then. Closed in the late 50s as rail travel declined, it was turned into an office building.
La Posada was restored and reopened in 2006. Tom and I ate at their world class (well, that's what they say on the website and yes, the food is good) restaurant last year and this time decided to get a room.  

When we got there, our reserved room had been changed twice, and Tom was very disappointed to learn that one of those rooms had been the John Wayne room, named, as others were, after famous actors who had stayed there. He complained the whole night about being in the Lionel Barrymore room.     

 “Who the hell knows who Lionel Barrymore is anymore?” he whined and rhymed.
Our room was small but cozy, and everything had been updated, yet preserving the old-time pre-WWII feeling. We had dinner and breakfast (check out the Yelp reviews), and in between roamed the halls, fabulously decorated with original rugs and other art..
I had time after dinner to sit in what used to be the ballroom and drink a blue martini.

The Navajo rugs can be bought right off the wall for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, while more affordable ones from Oaxaca, Mexico, can be found in the hotel's gift shop.
We spent a comfortable night with heat that worked and even a flat screen TV. In contrast to one reviewer’s comments about the trains running by and disturbing their sleep, we slept fine. Winslow is, after all, still a functioning train depot. 

 We left regretfully early after breakfast, anxious to make it home in one day.     Tom, still disappointed about the John Wayne room, paused on our way out, noticing the names of the other rooms on our floor.
“The hell with John Wayne!” he said,  pausing at a room two doors down from ours. “Next time, I want to sleep in Jane Russell’s bed!”

The poor man is becoming more delusional every year.

On our way out of Winslow, we took the obligatory picture of Miss Pearl, not standing on the corner, but sitting. She is an anxious traveler, and I don’t think she was too interested in the Girl in the Flat-Bed Ford.