Decadence
By
Hand

Some of my recent spoons..

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Here are some spoons from the last few weeks. Most are made of ash. There is one cedar spoon, one birch, and one hickory. The two sauce dishes are white oak.  I wish that I would have gotten some pictures of others that i sold before being able to do so. All of the white ones were simmered in milk to create a casein-based polymer on the outside. The others were oiled with food grade drying oils which will polymerize in a month or two.

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I have six classes scheduled at North House Folk School this year.

I loved teaching my two classes at North House last year, and am looking forward to the ones for this year! There are links to each class on my classes page. To check out all of North House’s classes, go to northhouse.org.

 

Exploring Fermented Foods

Thu, May 01, 2014 – Fri, May 02, 2014,  Fermentation…not just for brewers anymore! These days, fermented foods that can be easily prepared in the home are increasingly popular, as people begin to appreciate the healthful and delicious qualities of this ancient method of food preparation. In this overview course, you’ll explore the science behind fermentation & various cultural traditions that employ these methods of food preservation. You’ll prepare kraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, idli, and dosas, all easy ­to ­love and delicious recipes that provide a great spring­board into the wide world of fermented foods. End the day with a smorgasbord of fermented foods provided by your instructor, and leave inspired to ferment further! You will also take home several samples to get you fermenting with excitement.

 

Northwoods Cuisine: A Wild Culinary & Ecological Experience

Fri, Jul 25, 2014 – Sat, Jul 26, 2014 Experience Northwoods cuisine like never before while we expand the realm of possibilities for “local” food. This course is both a culinary experience and field-based exploration of the boreal forest. On the first evening, we will consume an interactive tasting menu with 12 courses, comparable to a fine dining experience that will feature dishes sure to expand your palate. Woven into the evening will be discussion of food chemistry and physics, natural history, sustainability, foraging and wild crafting, cooking styles and techniques as they relate to each dish and the ecology each ingredient was derived from. Some dishes will be new recipes inspired by the ingredients themselves. Other dishes will employ methods and styles of regional cooking from around the world, utilizing the ingredients that exist in the northern environment. The next day, we’ll head into the field for a plant-walk in several habitats, learning how to identify and sustainably harvest the ingredients we experienced the evening before, along with an overview of the ecology and natural history of the area. This promises to be an unforgettable and unique experience on the North Shore.

You’ll taste the unexplored ingredients that you may have hiked past while but never realized the culinary potential therein. Develop a deeper connection to the environment through ingesting what is around us in delicious and new ways. Note, with prior notice, we can accommodate gluten-free and dairy-free needs, though the kitchen is not gluten-free for those with extreme sensitivities.

 

Soba: Preparing Japanese-Style Buckwheat Noodles

Sun, Jul 27, 2014: With the proliferation of overly processed gluten­free products on the market, traditional possibilities are often overlooked. One such ingredient is buckwheat: a grain­like seed with diverse uses, including as the original alternative to wheat flour. In this class, we will make gluten­free buckwheat noodles, which result as a thin, versatile and delicious noodle. This is a typical Japanese noodle that has been eaten since the early 1600s. Once familiar with the process, you’ll be able to make these noodels in your own home. We will use the noodles to make a meal with an array of cold and hot soba dishes to enjoy together. Please note, although the dishes prepared in this class will be gluten-free, the North House teaching kitchen is not a gluten-free kitchen for those with extreme sensitivities.

 

Butchering Sheep and Goats at Home

Fri, Oct 03, 2014 – Sat, Oct 04, 2014: With an eye on self-sufficiency, more people are raising sheep and goats at home for pleasure and for meat. However, good eating requires more than just animal husbandry skills; it requires skilled butchery to make use of the whole animal. We will discuss the equipment needed to properly butcher these animals, anatomy in relation to cooking methods, and storage possibilities for the end product. The instructor’s goal is to get students acquainted and comfortable with the butchering process for home. The instructor will also show different ways of butchering for different cooking styles and needs. As a class, several cuts of both lamb and goat will be prepared and shared in a community meal at the end of class. Students will take home additional meat.

 

Salumi: Traditional Dry Curing Methods

Wed, Nov 19, 2014 – Fri, Nov 21, 2014: A historically home­-based craft and staple of diets and life the world over pre­twentieth century, cured meats and fish have sustained humans and cultures for generations. In this class we will reacquaint ourselves with the traditional knowledge of meat preservation with recent scientific understanding threaded throughout. You will learn how to dry ­cure whole cuts of pork, using the Italian method of salumi, which differs from other methods of meat curing because it uses no smoke. Instead, whole cuts of meat are salt ­cured, providing a simple and relatively easy introduction to meat curing that can be applied to a variety of animals. On day one, we’ll discuss the tradition and science of the process to develop our understanding. On day two, we will start with a side of pork to break down to whole cuts for curing. Dry curing, done with whole cuts, makes for a simple introduction to meat curing which can be applied to a variety of animals. On day three, we will start the cures using three main ingredients: salt, meat, and time. Your materials fee includes dry cured meats to take home as well as a shared celebratory community meal.

 

Pork Butchery for Home Use: Nose to Tail

Sat, Nov 22, 2014 – Sun, Nov 23, 2014: Ever wanted to go whole hog? In this class, we will spend a day learning and discussing the anatomy, cuts, and corresponding cooking methods of pigs. On Day 2, we will use this knowledge to break down a pig together as a class using the traditional American style of butchering, which notably includes boston butt, picnic butt, ham, side, jowl, blade steak, etc. We will then prepare our cuts and enjoy a sumptuous meal we create as a class that you can re-create at home, honoring the pig by eating every last bit, nose to tail. Students will also go home with pork cuts and sample preparations.

Setting up at the winter farmers market in Indiana…

winter winter2I’ve been selling at the winter farmers market in Bloomington, IN with friend/farm mate, Cathy Crosson. The winter market is less attended than the summer market, but between the two markets one can go to market here year-round. Spoons, small sauce dishes, cutting boards, pecans, and elder flower salt and rose salt have all been selling well. Many people are interested in classes, as things have came up in conversation. I carve some spoons between customers. I enjoy the regulars and the new faces.

Salumi: my second time teaching at the North House Folk School

northhouse3I was filled with excitement for this class in the weeks leading up to it. I purchased a Duroc pig from a local farm and slaughtered it at home. I froze it and packed my class materials. I did a few small things to the van before the trip, only to have serious vehicle issues right before Chicago. When this happened, I was able to drive to the county where my parents live, which is four hours south of Chicago and an hour from my home. I then borrowed my dad’s car and tried again… I proceeded to hit a snowstorm after midnight and decided to sleep until it slowed down. I woke at 6 a.m. and drove on. When I made it to Duluth, MN, I thought that I was home free, that I was going to make it to North House with plenty of time to set up and get back to Duluth to pick up Brit. I was then T-boned by another driver who did not look my way before pulling out. The car was badly damaged and had a (still) frozen 250 pound pig in the back, along with all my course materials. I was able to get a rental, which I had to switch the pig and other things over to. During this time the muscles in my back started to get somewhat tight. I picked up Brit who had flown from NM to MN and got the shuttle to Duluth. This was the beginning to her Thanksgiving holiday break. I got to North House fairly late and brought in most of the class materials. It was so cold out that we decided to just keep the pig in the trunk rather than move it for the night. We were able to stay in a cabin a few miles from the school, which was really nice.

photo courtesy of Garrett Conover of North Woods Way

photo courtesy of Garrett Conover of North Woods Way

I had a full class! We started at 9 a.m. The morning consisted of discussion covering anatomy and physiology of the pig, as well as how its growing conditions and diet effect the taste of the final product. We talked about the differences in American style butchering techniques, which is very reliant on the saw blade, and European styles, which mostly only use knives and is referred to as seam butchery. We discussed historical curing situations and modern curing chambers.

In the afternoon, the cutting began. I gave the class the option of people taking turns cutting while I verbally walked them through or me cutting while explaining and displaying proper technique. People suggested I demonstrate. We butchered with the intention of curing, so we kept muscles whole.

The morning of the second day, we finished the remaining butchering and began the cures. We weighed each cut to figure out how much salt and curing salt to add.

In the afternoon, we had a meal together of cured meats, as well as some fresh meats from our pig, including a thick cut pork chop. Delicious.

 

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Maclura pomifera (Osage orange) might be edible and may be delicious..

In 2005, I watched a documentary on Pacific Islanders. In the documentary, a fruit called breadfruit was discussed as being a significant food source for the people of those islands. In Jared Diamond’s Collapse, he writes about pits of fermenting breadfruit after storms destroyed everything on the island. The people in the book would live off of the fermented paste until they could get things growing again, because the buried fermented paste was edible for well over a decade.

While driving past a park in the fall in Indianapolis later that same year, I spotted hundreds of fruits laying on the ground by a creek. “These look sooooo much like breadfruit,” I thought.  I quickly pulled over, and ran to the tree. I knew that they were Osage orange but there was remarkable similarity to my limited knowledge of breadfruit, that I simply hadn’t associated before this point. This was/is the largest Osage orange tree I’ve ever seen, adding to the surreal-ness of it all. In my excitement, I talked to some people in town who had done some foraging. In a somewhat belittling attitude (maybe shaming me with their own previous excitement and then failures), they told me it was a waste of time because the fruit was too waxy, too full of latex that gums up everything that it touches. Usually, I perservere in trying things that could maybe fail, but the reprimand sunk my Osage ship.

A couple years later at a Christmas gathering in 2011, my uncle told me a story from his work as a field biologist for the DNR. According to him, there where some students from Nepal attending Eastern Illinois University working on a project with him. While driving down a two-track, they got excited when seeing a tree fruit. “Cutter fruit, cutter fruit!” they yelled. My uncle asked them if they were referring to the green fruits that they had just passed, and they assented, so he pulled over for the students. When the group got out to survey the fruits, the students agreed it looked like cutter fruit. My uncle told them about the latex inside, and they agreed that cutterfruit has a latex inside. They said that when it is processed they cover their hands, knives, and cutting board with oil to keep every thing from getting gummy.

I am unsure if the fruit they were referring to was breadfruit, since breadfruit is a tropical fruit. I think maybe it was another similar fruit of the same family, but its another reason to look into osage orange. Polynesians gave up rice production when expanding out of southeast Asia in order to grow breadfruit which was better suited to the islands they would inhabit. Osage orange, breadfruit, and some fruits from Nepal are all in the Moraceae family. This is the family of figs and mulberries. In fact, I usually spot Osage as having a very similar growth habit as mulberry but with more golden colored bark. There are some thousand species of trees and shrubs in that family.There are a lot of edible species for both humans and other animals. The leaves and shoots of many members of this family are used for tree hay for livestock. There are few poisonous species, a notable one that is used for poison darts in the South American rainforest.

Many members of the same genus as breadfruit are described as milky and chestnut flavored. A lot of the genus has oil rich seeds. Squirrels go through the hassle of ripping open osage for the seeds, which suggests a high caloric value of the seed.

Cooking methods for breadfruit and relatives commonly involve fat in some way. There are many recipes for quick cooking in high temperature fat, as well as many with the fruit being slow cooked in fat such as in a pit roast. There might be some people reading this thinking that if Osage orange had edible uses, then Native Americans would have used it. Looking at foods utilized by different cultures can be very interesting. There are mushrooms revered in France that are rarely consumed in China and vice versa, due to the preferable cooking method for the mushroom and the commonality of the method in that area. So I would suggest that Native Americans may not have valued or utilized Osage, like other cultures have.

Breadfruit like many fruits seems to be available fresh for a short time of the year, and at least in Polynesia when used as a staple, the fruits were fermented. Some things I’ve read suggest that they are harvested somewhat under ripe. If trying out Osage, I’d suggest trying to harvest them under ripe, preferably before they begin to fall.

I have interest in the edibility of Osage, yet I don’t eat many carbohydrates which leads to me missing the optimal time for harvest. Not eating many carbs reduces my investment in osage, but intrigue and curiosity still drives pursuit. I was only able to harvest mature fruits this year. hunting season and simultaneously settling into a new home caused me to miss them at their under-ripe stage.

This year, my experience with Osage consisted of the following: with the fruit cut open, you can see the milky latex. It smelled of citrus and was faintly sweet. The inside has two parts. One part is the core and is starchy, akin to a baking potato. The other was a starch/citrus hybrid (citrus isn’t actually in the same family). I cooked a little of both, but cooked more of the starchy core. I fried them in some pasture raised pork lard. The flavor was like a mix of slightly undercooked potato with eggplant. Most of the citrus-y notes were gone. I would like to try making the fermented paste next year.

Les chanterelles sont arrive’es!

The last really good chanterelle year in Indiana was 2009. That year Eli and I filled a burlap coffee bag with chanterelles in about two hours. We also found numerous black trumpets at the same time. Indiana has been in a drought since 2005. The years since 2009 have been very very dry, while the air has been its usual 90% humidity. With the ample rain fall this year, the chanterelles have been out!

chanterellesYesterday, Eli and I were able to fill a shopping bag. I had been out   a number of times previously and found a decent number. The previous times were not accompanied by the wasp stings that yesterday brought though. We would have filled a number of bags yesterday due to the profusion of mushrooms out, but had to cut it off after about an hour. I got attacked by some wasps and ended up with about fifty stings. I’m not allergic, so I was just in pain and felt a little wonky in my head. I’m hoping to go out some more this week

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If going to look for chanterelles, you should look through a field guide or two to acquaint yourself with Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms. I have known others who ended up harvesting the bioluminescent mushroom along with chanterelles. Don’t harvest chanterelles off of wood! Unless vomit and diarrhea are your thing.

Keep an eye out for Black Trumpets when out. They are also a chanterelle but are black and grey. They are pretty tasty too, especially after having been dried.

I’ve been finding the best patches on the north side of a well forested hill in Bloomington. Like in the picture below…chanterelles3chanterelles2

Fruits at my dad’s home

fruits2When Eli and I last visited my family in Illinois, it was great to see Eli exploring my dad’s yard for fruit. It was a magical place to run around when I was a small child. I explore it now, but with much added height since I was Eli’s age. When I was little, I remember the blackberries canes and foliage being so thick that I would hide in them during hide and seek (they are a thorn-less variety). Though I may try to make such attempts I am sure parts of my 6’2″ frame will remain visible. There are an amazing amount of species of different foods on one town lot, that feels huge to a little one. With my change of vantage point I am pretty impressed with how much he has fit into a small space, while continuing to add more.

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When I lived there as a child, we had 5-7 different fruit trees, grapes, gooseberries, black berries, strawberries, red raspberries, and black raspberries. In the last few years, my dad has added elderberries, blueberries, a few more grape varieties, more cherry trees, more strawberries, dewberries, almonds, apricots, and some others as well. His yellow maple fell last month, so while losing shade on the south-side of the house he did gain some more space for food bearing bushes and trees. We’re planning on getting some juneberry cutting off a very old bush in my aunts yard on my next visit.

While we were visiting last time we helped plant some more asparagus and more red raspberries that my dad had ordered. Some trumpeter vine had gotten out of hand and started taking down his raspberries. The golden rod had overpowered a lot of the asparagus.

Seeing his place and thinking of my grandiose dreams of what I would like to accomplish with land leaves me anxious to get started.fruits3

 

Juneberries, aka Serviceberry, aka Saskatoon

Eli JuneberryJuneberry 1juneberry barkMmm… Anthocyanins.

Despite the various names, I’ll be referring to these berries as juneberries, mostly because that is the name that I first learned them as, and that is usually when I eat them – in June. They are amazingly common in some cities and are found in a lot of the wild in the places I frequent. I’ve eaten most of them in Bloomington, IN due to the sheer number planted for landscaping. There are definitely over 200 bushes in town, and every year I notice a new bush I hadn’t seen the year before. The university just planted a ton more after expanding the outdoor sports area. Most of what is planted is a bush type, which I am happy for as they are easy to reach and you can access the fruit from all sides. There are some 30-40 foot tall juneberry trees by a parking garage, that you have to utilize the various floors of the parking garage to harvest from.juneberries2

The bushes are extensively planted because they require little care, with the ability to prosper despite plants under and around them, and they also have pretty flowers.

The berries look a little like blueberries, but reminiscent of an apple on bottom from the remnants of the flower. Being in the same plant family, it is also not surprising to find hints of apple in the taste. It’s like mixing blueberry, apple, and some nuttiness. Usually when biting into a juneberry, you end up biting into the seeds as well, making it taste like pie in your mouth. In my first few years in Bloomington, Eli and I were of the few people harvesting anything more than a nibble. People would walk by attempting to convince us that they were poisonous. Eli, as young as two or three years old, would explain that they were in the Rose family which contains no poisonous plants (though I’m aware the seeds contain mild cyanide, it gets excreted by your lungs during respiration). More people have been nibbling every year and some have started to harvest for storage. With the amount that are in town I am glad that others are eating them too. If Canadian growers are successful in marketing them as a superfood, then there might even end up being some competition for them.

eric juneberriesThis year we ended up with over 20 pounds brought home to preserve. There were countless pounds more that ended up in our bellies. We dried a lot of them. I am planning on making condiments with them along with some mulberries and cherries, but more on that later.

The nutritional composition of juneberries is similar to that of blueberries (even the spellcheck tries to make me change juneberries to blueberries). They are high in riboflavon, bioton, manganese, and iron. But aside from that, they are super delicious, prolific, and freely available.

A Little Bit About Me…

“…taking what nature gives us and doing as little as possible to it to make it the best it can be.” (Salumi)

This blog is to show my work in progress on making a handmade life. My interests are multifaceted but overlap to a large degree by revolving around food in some way…the harvesting, and processing tools and techniques; cooking, including styles, techniques, and different implements used; food fermentation, preservation techniques, and vessels; plant identification and use; hunting, fishing, and trapping; woodworking of bowls, spoons, wooden buckets for fermentation, wok steamers from local wood, utensils, serving dishes; and blacksmithing knives and tools. These aspects combine for a low-tech but rich life, with a deep connection to and knowledge of the local environment, as well as a specific taste from localized cuisine (i.e. wooden buckets as vessels for fermenting local foods with local bacteria).

I grew up at the edge of a town of 600 people, a little redneck riding around in three-wheelers, going squirrel hunting, and fishing for catfish. Industrial corn and soybean fields surrounded the town. Until the 70′s, the town didn’t have all the roads paved and people still had their own well water and outhouses. My family had large gardens and lots of different fruit trees, bushes, and brambles. We’d collect chestnuts and pecans every year as well. It wasn’t a place of my dreams (due to serious drug issues in the area, and not much intact nature besides the river region), but it was a great place to grow up. My family didn’t have a lot of money, which I appreciate, as it afforded a greater degree of manual intelligence. I am also grateful for my parents trusting me to help at a young age, which allowed for learning and for gaining dexterous abilities.

My family relocated when I turned 16 and we moved to the biggest town in the county, which still only contained 4,900 people. This town was fully surrounded by fields. For most of high school, I skated and went to punk shows. There wasn’t a lot to do in that area, and a lot of other people turned to drugs, which I decidedly stayed clear of. While in high school, I was somewhat unsure of specifically what I wanted my future to look like. I thought that I’d like to live in the city for a spell to meet like-minded people and to work on activist projects. I wanted to travel and work to help others, with dreams of a life in a rural area.

I moved to Indianapolis, IN upon graduating high school. I was involved in a number of activist projects there as well as with some international solidarity campaigns. With each passing year, I grew increasingly wearier of city life. In the beginning of my boredom with the city, I found three 60-acre patches of woods and roamed them regularly while carrying my newborn child in a sling. I set out to learn as many plants there as I could, as well as their edible and medicinal uses. I began to develop a plan for getting land much sooner than previously anticipated. I wrote out the things that I wanted to learn and the tools that I thought that I would need. The list has changed some over time, with items being added or excised. It’s a diverse list of skills that will combine into one interlinked system. I neither want a hippy place to just sit and bliss out nor do I want to fumble my way through and be like Christopher McCandless (Into The Wild), consisting of all drive and little skill or wisdom.

Punk’s DIY (Do It Yourself) ethics sadly don’t seem to move beyond silk-screening your band’s shirts, setting up your own tour, and assembling your own records and artwork. Usually when DIY in punk goes beyond that, it leaves a lot to be desired. There are so many useful dying crafts in this world, though fortunately many of them are currently being saved and revived with societal trends. When I began trying to learn various crafts was when some of those crafts were beginning to bud again. Information on various subjects is more readily available now. It seemed when I started, there were only really technical manuals written long ago or modern pieces with barely any information to go off of, due to the author knowing little about the subject they were writing. Now, there are a lot more intermediate level books and papers, which has increased my levels of understanding.

In trying to continue in this direction, my son, Eli, and I moved to Northern Minnesota early last year. In 2010 and 2011, Eli and I had spent time in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. We’ve been to the Ashland, WI area for the Traditional Ways gathering, as well as to visit friends. In Michigan, we would visit the Martha Wagbo Nature and Education Center and explore all the local natural areas. All were beautiful, but ultimately Minnesota had the most of what I wanted. The water is very clean with less fish advisories than other places. It’s the southern limit for a number of boreal and sub-boreal fish that have spawning runs, and there are four salmon species in Lake Superior. There is the one million-acre Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe Area. North House Folk School is in Grand Marais, MN. There are abundant amounts of deer and other wildlife. There are a lot of people in the area with extensive knowledge on traditional crafts. Northern Minnesota feels like the place where my interests can bloom and coalesce into a fun and fruitful lifestyle.

I currently have an apprenticeship with Jarrod Stonedahl (woodspiritgallery.com). He lives near Odanah, WI with his family. He is an amazing and very knowledgeable green woodworker (“green” meaning fresh cut wood). He makes his living off of his wares and teaching. Since 2009 when I began attending and leading a few workshops at the Traditional Ways gathering, of which he is an organizer, I have been longing for an apprenticeship with him, so I am very excited to learn from him directly.

I was recently accepted as an instructor at the North House Folk School (northhouse.org). This fall 2013, I will be teaching a class on food fermentation, and a class on the breakdown and dry curing of a pig. Beginning in 2007, I’ve led plant identification walk focused on edibles and medicinals, and taught classes on creative uses of wild edibles and food fermentation. I’ve taught many other food related classes as well. I look forward to continuing with sharing information and skills both formally and informally.

While trying to live locally, I want to do it in a way that expands what is available to me, in a way that closes the fewest doors. If done with creativity and openness, increasing local aspects of my life can help create a more diverse and delectable diet, sense of place, and mental stimulation. With research of international techniques, the utility of locally available mammal, bird, fish, and plant species becomes infinite. Some foods are culturally avoided or were never explored by immigrants due to the food being outside their food prep context. I envision my approach to life as if (immigrant) families from various places in the world moved to the Northwoods and searched for the flavors, techniques, and cooking implements of home with the foods and resources available locally and began sharing those tastes and techniques. The resulting mish-mash is my goal. Influenced by and respectful of tradition, while weaving all into a coherent system for my particular location.
I envision my approach to life as if families from various places in the world moved to the Northwoods and searched for the flavors, techniques, and cooking implements of home with the foods and resources available locally and began sharing those tastes and techniques. The resulting mish-mash is my goal. Influenced by and respectful of tradition, while weaving all into a coherent system for my particular location.

In the end, the open-source sharing of my skills and knowledge with others who share these interests is of utmost importance………