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Archive for the ‘Western Massachusetts’ Category

Stopping to smell the roses, I guess. I get to ride through some lovely landscapes between work and home.

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A coworker of mine has goats, and she very generously brought in some milk for me last week. It sure felt like very precious cargo as I carried it home- what a treat! I probably would have cast some sidelong glances at someone who was lovingly cradling a jar of milk on the bus like I was. I mean, yeah, I looked like a weirdo.

Anyway, I decided to make yogurt. The idea of making yogurt and cheese is very appealing to me, but the thought of going to the grocery store and buying a half-gallon of milk and then making yogurt out of that has always seemed not that exciting. I don’t know. I just couldn’t get into it. So this was my chance!


To make yogurt, you heat your milk up to 120 degrees, add a couple tablespoons of already-made yogurt, and then keep the mixture at about 115-120 degrees for six to twelve hours.

In order to maintain the temperature, I put the jar full of hot milk in an insulated cooler with two jars full of water as hot as the tap gets. I did a little research online before launching this experiment about ways to do this, and the jars-of-hot-water-in-a-cooler method seemed like the simplest. So that’s what I decided to do, and I filled up the jars and tucked in the milk for the night and went to bed dreaming of delicious, creamy, homemade yogurt.

The next morning I scampered to the cooler and, wiping some excited spittle from my chin, cracked it open. And what did I find? A jar full of lukewarm milk! It was absolutely not yogurt, nor did it have a single yogurt-like characteristic. So, I refilled the jars with hot water and let it sit for the day, thinkin a little more time would do the trick. I got home from work really late that night and went to bed again, having by that point completely forgotten about the yogurt. The next morning, a solid 36 hours after starting the experiment, I finally gave up and put the milk back in the fridge.

I really, really didn’t want to just throw the milk away. I mean, it came from someone I know. So I turned it into a quiche (which was extra-delicious, by the way) and now I’m just really hoping I don’t get food poisoning. How’s that for an illustrious ending to the story?

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Like a lovely green tunnel. I love the bike trails in the spring!

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So, the rows aren’t exactly straight, but look- peas! I planted sugar snap peas and shell peas, so I should have a nice variety in a few short weeks. I can’t wait for sugar snaps right off the plant, and last year the shell peas I’d frozen were a highlight of my winter. So, these little plants are super-exciting. Look at them go!

 

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People get really, really excited about fiddleheads, which I think is mostly a function of fact that they’re pretty much the first thing available locally in the spring, and also because they’re foraged and therefore something of a novelty. If someone tells you that fiddleheads taste like asparagus, that person should be treated with distrust. They do not taste like asparagus- only asparagus itself carries that distinction. Fiddleheads do taste very green, though, which is very welcome by the time they find their way into the stores in late April or May.

So, I’ve only ever seen very simple preparations for these little ferns. They need to be washed and trimmed and cooked thoroughly, since I’ve heard they have the potential to make you sick. But what doesn’t, really? Boil the fiddleheads for five minutes or so and then saute them briefly in some butter with garlic, and they’re pretty tasty. Not asparagus tasty, but they do remind you that asparagus is right around the corner!

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This week is Bike Commute week, an annual event that I decided to get a little more involved in this year. This has gotten me thinking a lot about bicycles and why I love them. In fact, I spent most of my ride home a week or two ago counting all the reasons I love bikes. 

Bicycles are such elegant little machines. When you’re on a bike, you just hum along so quickly and quietly, and the only energy you use is from your own body. It seems almost ridiculous to mention the environmental benefit of bike-riding, because that’s such an obvious reason to ride a bike. But hey! It’s serious stuff.

You can actually carry a lot of stuff on a bike.

Riding a bike is a good opportunity to examine the countryside- you see things you would never catch in your car. Last year I saw a family of bobcats while I was riding through Hatfield. Bobcats!

Bike-riding is so, so fun. Is there anything more delightful than spinning down the road on a warmish spring day, with the sun and the wind on your face? There’s no reason that only kids should get to enjoy that feeling. And even in the dead of winter, when it’s so cold that everything is completely still, there something special about moving quietly through the freezing air on your bike. And that’s something that doesn’t happen when you’re trudging along on foot or cranking the heat in your car.

Bikes are for everyone. You don’t need any special equipment (except a helmet), or spandex, or to be part of a club.

I guess the real reason I love my bike is that feeling when you see the light turn green ahead, and you decide (responsibly!) that you’re going for it, and you crank away (carefully!) and you make it, and you just sail through the intersection (while looking both ways!) and you just think, “YES!!”

So, back to the environmental piece for a minute. Michael Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times sunday magazine a few weeks ago called “Why Bother?” which, like a lot of his writing, was mostly about gardening and food. But in it, he writes about Wendell Berry’s concept of the “cheap energy mind,” which basically is the mindset that most Americans have that takes cheap fuel as a given when making decisions, which I’ve been thinking about in terms of transportation. Most people don’t think of their bikes, or their feet, as a primary means of transportation, because fuel has been so cheap for so long. Well, why can’t we be a little more deliberate in our decisions about how we get around? Why do our cars have to be the only way we can think of to transport ourselves? Why should bicycling be this segmented activity that we only participate in during designated leisure or exercise time? When did anything other than driving become something like a novelty to so many people, when bicycling is actually so practical? I hope that Bike Commute Week will connect the dots for some people here in the Valley, and get some more people out of their cars and (safely!) onto their bikes.

If you live here and feel all inspired and fired up about bikes now, take advantage of the events being offered this week all around the Valley. Find out more about MassBike and get involved. And, at the risk of quoting Queen, get on your bikes and ride!

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I signed up for a plot at the Northampton Community Garden this year, so now I have my very own little 20×20 space to grow whatever I want. There’s a picture of it. That compost barrel was left by the previous tenant, which was an unexpected bonus. Ok, so maybe it’s not breathtaking quite yet, but rest assured that in a few short weeks it will be.

The truth is that I’ve been super anxious about the garden, probably because I imagined that there are lots of really experienced gardners all around me, and I fully expected to be mocked and derided by them for making foolish mistakes. Emily and I were joking that I should do all my gardening by headlamp to avoid prying eyes, but the plan is complicated by my failure to actually own a headlamp. God, I am the worst gardener! Plus someone would probably call the police if I was stumbling about with a headlamp on in the middle of the night, and that would be even more embarrassing than putting in my snap peas too late.

On Saturday I raked up the hay left behing by the previous gardener, loosened the soil with a fork, spread and spaded in some compost from Martin’s Farm in Greenfield, and raked it all smooth. On Sunday I put in peas, both sugar snaps and shell peas, and bok choy, spinach, and swiss chard. Very exciting. Oh yes, very, very exciting indeed.

I should say for the record that everyone I’ve encountered there so far was supernice and helpful. They did not seem interested in identifying my weaknesses and drawing attention to them for their own amusement.

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