It’s a chilly morning but not cold enough to warrant a fire. It might get there in about an hour, with a cold rain and light wind outside, sometimes a fire is more important for morale than heat. On a drab weekday morning like this, I try to avoid lighting a fire just for mental warmth. It only feels cold because summer just ended, because if I woke up to a 35-degree morning in late January, you couldn't pay me to light a fire in the cold morning dark.
I know there will be so many mornings ahead where I'll be elbow-deep in the wood stove at 5AM, arranging detritus and lighting matches in the dark - but not yet. Real cold is weeks away, so this morning is an oversized hoodie, heated throw blanket, hot coffee, and a kitten in my lap purring as I write. I'm plenty warm.
I do go to my Bunbaker wood stove though. I crouch to open the baking box door and pull out a small bundle of aluminum foil, still warm to the touch. Inside are three medium-sized scrubbed golden potatoes, which I set into the box raw last night with the intention that as the fire slowly burned out it would cook the vegetables by my 4:45AM wake up, and it had.
I smile because it still does it for me, this feeling. In my cold hands are three hot potatoes and they are ones I grew myself, washed the dirt off myself, and now was cooking in my own domesticated fire I keep in an iron cage in my living room (and you people think falconry is dangerous?!) and soon they will make a breakfast that feeds more than my body. It fuels the entire intention of my life.
It’s a trick I learned a few winters ago. (I’m sure you could accomplish the same results by setting the foil in a dutch oven on top of a woodstove overnight, too.) Yes, they are cold but they aren’t meant to be eaten cold. It only takes minutes to turn them into the most delicious breakfast side on the planet. I usually scoop the mash out of the skins into a small bowl, add a cracked egg, some garlic and butter, and then shape into little Pattys as if they are potatoes meatballs and fry them up. I squash the balls flat with my spatula and fry them up in whatever oil I have around, or butter if I'm feeling decadent. I make this and scramble some of my hen's eggs with a little cheese and bagel seasoning and I have a breakfast I start salivating over just thinking about it.
I feel like I don’t write enough about my life everyday as a homesteader, not like I used to. Honestly, the reason is simple; what used to be an idealistic dream I was working towards is now just my everyday life, and while I am still updating the blog here and there, it’s usually either a vent for frustration and fear (there’s been so much of that these last two years) or intense writing projects like the River Diaries. But today I am just going to update on what is exactly happening around here yesterday, today, and tomorrow - a 72hr whirlwind of country living. This may be a little long, but my mug is full and this kitten is nearly asleep in my lap so I can't really leave for a while...
Let’s start with hawks: because just as I was writing this, all bundled up on the daybed, I heard the fuss of panicked chickens and barking dogs! I looked out the glass doors and saw a flash of feathers! The blur of brown, tan, white and gray! Either a coopers hawk or small red tail was out stalking my birds! I only caught a glance as it flew away and perched close. Too far to set my hawk trap, and close enough to still see. I sigh like a gal stood up on prom night. I'm a falconer without a bird and despite my hours spent in the car trapping for the last two months, no luck. Compared to the last decade of trapping birds for falconry, this is the least number of juveniles I have noticed passing through on their migration?
Yesterday, Leigh, a fellow falconer and good friend called and told me he had a juvenile bird sitting in his backyard watching his falcons and hawks, come get it. I was at his backyard with a loaded trap in about twenty minutes, and sure enough when I arrived there was a beautiful, absolutely STUNNING young red tail with badger white streaks over his eyes and a blue beak sitting near his mews....
and when I tell you my heart melted the same time the rate increased… it was love, baby. I waited an hour and a half for that bird to test my trap, which it did twice before flying away. This sport is heartbreak 90% of the time, but that's hunting. So still no luck but they exist, and they are out there, and maybe if I’m lucky one will hunt with me this winter. I remain hopeful.
The day before, I dug up the potato patch! It didn’t perform as well as I hoped, the goal was 50lbs from the farm and I think once the box was weighed it maxed out at 23lbs? I updated the books in my head. It meant next time I go into a grocery store, I need to grab at least 10lbs the next three trips, depending on what’s on sale.
Grocery shopping has become so different over the past few years for me. I can’t afford things I used to be able to buy without thinking. Sometimes I splurge, but when I think of the things my ex and I would buy on Hannafords trips when this home had a second income... hoo! Premade foods, fancy sauces, ice creams, snacks, fancy juices, hell.. even fresh produce is a rarity now. I only make money if the people that read my blog and follow my social media choose to reach out and purchase something, and lately it’s so rare I have to hold onto money with a frugal intensity that would make some of you blush. So I have to plan out food in advance in ways some people haven’t in generations:
Enter the Winter Larder.
Every winter now, by Thanksgiving or earlier, this farm has all the food and supplies it needs to not have to leave the house to buy a single grocery for about four months. If sales are good, I still do go out and buy fridge things like milk, cheese, and maybe a whole chicken or beef roast or something like that, but everything that's actually necessary to eat a warm, nutritious, filling meal every day is already here.
Ergo, potato math. I like having 50lbs of spuds, minimun, to set a side for a winter. It’s such a fortifying and energy-rich food, like this morning’s breakfast of fry up and eggs. Protien and carbs, with a side of hot coffee... That’s what a woman wants after an hour of lugging buckets and hay bales and tending an entire farm in a chilly rain! And knowing I grew the spuds and raised the birds that laid the eggs!
It still fills me with that weighted-blanket kind of pride, that rush all of us homesteaders chase. I grew this. I am taking care of myself, my body, my farm, thanks to the farm itself. And beside those potatoes in their basket under the kitchen table is a pile of butternut squash, also grown here. It’s my favorite winter squash! And without sounding too much like I’m about to embark on the Oregon trail, here’s an example of other food that’s been stocking up in my larder since July and what I still need to stock up on:
75lbs of white flour (25 to go, and bulk yeast for freezer)
20lbs sugar (mostly for baking and coffee)
7lbs coffee (3-5lbs to go)
23lbs potatoes (27lbs to go)
15lbs rice (15 to go)
50lbs butt nuts
10lbs pasta (10lbs to go)
10lbs peanut butter
and so on...
You get the idea. There's plenty of canned soups, instant coffee creamer, noodles, pasta sauces, canned veggies, broths, and frozen veggies too. There's boxes of biscuit and pancake mix, oatmeal, and frozen pounds of butter in the freezer. There's hopefully going to be a budget for a few whole frozen birds and roasts, for feast days like Yule and Imbolc. But you get the idea, this house becomes a grocery store and farmers market by the first snow. It's one of the ways I can afford to live here full time. You can't have it all, and for me that means planning to eat, and eat WELL, on $1or less a day come snowfly so all the soap and meat shares and freelance work I sell can pay to literally keep the bank threats away and lights on. Eventaully this frugality will help me not just "make it" but thrive. Save money, repair things like the heating system and roof, and if I ever find a woman to move in before the apocalypse we could make this place Xanadu.
Depending on your own life experience, this could sound bleak or genius. I don't have that pesky preference to be comfortable so many other people have, so I don't mind typing in a cold house this morning. I have plans to eat a fry up soon as I hit "publish" on this post. Then a day of working on some pet portraits and soap orders.
I think if you saw me sauntering through the aisles at Hannaford with a cart full of staples and canned goods in my worn jeans, riding boots, sweater, work pants, and my wool hat you'd think "Now there's a woman who has hawks and potatoes on her mind..."
I’m also experimenting with some potato-based yeast projects for bread recipes, playing around trying to collect natural yeasts for baking, not necessarily sourdough level—I just want to be able to bake bread with my stash of flour even if I run out of store-bought yeasts. I consider this wildly entertaining. I’ll keep you posted.
I hope to get a deer this year. Even a small doe could mean 40lbs of venison in the freezer. I have so many game cookbooks I could dive into! Actually, I might go hunting later today with my shotgun, just for cottontails. If nothing else I can fry up the back straps and save the legs and heads for my future bird.
Honestly, there have been harder years. Over the years I have gained so much knowledge about everything from furnace repair and plumbing to smarter ways to buy groceries. The fact that my firewood is in and that much food set aside feels so good.
I am actively trying not to fall back into that fear-mindset, which is pretty hard to avoid with even a passing glance at the headlines. There's currently a volatile situation in the Middle East that could escalate to concerning levels, an ongoing war in Ukraine, climate change could bring anything this hurricane season, and the US and Russian governments just tested their National Emergency Alerts... you don't have to be a doomsday prepper with a bunker to raise your eyebrows, just literate.
And not to be a scold, but listen, EVERYONE who is head of a household should have a few months of food and clean water (or a way to purify water near you or from a rain barrel, pond, etc) set aside. It's basic common sense. I plan for me and any friends or family that might need a warm, safe, place to retreat to - be it during a bad breakup for a long weekend or in case of a serious power outage. It's simply how I am built. All I want to do in life is take care of people that walk through this door.
Well there you have it, where the farm is at. I can't possibly write anymore this morning because my kitten has risen, my tummy is grumbling, and I have a day of planning how I am going to make money, tend a farm, mail some orders, heat a house, keep clients happy, feed myself, and then tuck into the evening with a warm fire and new romance novel. That's not a bad Tuesday. And if I am lucky, I could catch a hawk! I always bring a loaded trap when I run to the post office or hardware store. I always keep that hope alive.