Where Once a House Stood

Our house is a warehouse.  It is nothing more than a vessel of storage.  There are onions covering the downstairs floor, awaiting my construction of a commercial-grade drying rack of immense proportions.  Upstairs, there are green plant-like things looking tired, dry, and done, hanging upside down from every possible tie-off.

Upon close examination of the house, there are indicators of the original intent of a home.  A peek past a wall of canned tomatoes reveals what most likely was a perfectly functional kitchen.  A simple reshuffling of buckets of kale exposes a passageway, which in all likelihood, was explicitly intended to guide the weary to their sleeping quarters.  These were once called bedrooms because the rooms generally contained beds that were not hidden behind more buckets of fluffy white stuff that approximates some wistful northern attempt at cotton.  The dining room table hides beneath the “yield of the day.”  This could be bags or buckets or boxes of produce.  And we are talking serious quantity here, not one zucchini and a handful of carrots, fresh from the corner grocer.  No sir.  Our table is starting to buckle in the middle, and if it doesn’t implode soon, then it will be a miracle.  Do I need to mention that there is no room for eating at the table?

All through late winter and early spring, I tolerated our living room and comfortable seating area in the sun, being owned by wooden planks bearing none other than rows of seedlings and the ubiquitous watering can, so that I could make myself useful should I ever wander into the living room.  No room for humans (“what do you think this is, a house?”).  I felt that this imposition was a mere temporary inconvenience, hardly worth the bother in the greater scheme of things.  But looking at life now, I wonder how differently things might have transpired had I been more assertive, had I for instance, suggested boundaries as part of the bargaining process which pre-dated this project.  Would it have been unreasonable of me to expect to return to a recognizable home, after toiling away the day for a handful of berries so the children can have a “sweet” before bedtime?

And the worst is that it doesn’t end.  The other day, in a desperately furtive attempt to open up some living space, I started to pack the grow light up to the shed, when Suzanne caught me and stated without uncertainty that she needs the grow-light imminently to start the “Indoor Garden”!

Gerard’s Blog: Savour Flavour

It’s happening.  I’m developing a taste for the subtle flavours.  I can eat a boiled vegetable with no seasoning.  I love the taste of a tomato off the vine. Try a kohlrabi today; peel it, slice thinly, eat slowly, savour the crispness and rush of liquid as it flows across your parched and desirous palate.  Meat and fish are great, as is, seeping in their own juices. Skip the gravy; save it for the nearly rotten meat, when you need to hide the rancid taste.  Use gravy in the way perfume was once used to disguise body odor.

Salt is a cover; it is there to disguise flavour, not enhance it.  Same for sweetness.  And pepper and curry and cinnamon and nutmeg and all the rest.  Rise up people and revolt!  No longer allow yourselves to be chained to culinary tradition, which encourages the bathing of food with herbs and spices, such that you will be indifferent to the plethora of food mediocrity.  Good food has its own good flavours.

Gerard’s Blog: Unnatural Born Killer

Maybe I’m not cut out to live off the land.  I’m certainly not taking full advantage of the opportunities which are being presented to me.  This morning I swerved the truck to avoid a few young grouse, filling their gizzards with pebbles from the road.  And a couple of weeks ago I nearly sunk the boat in my effort to avoid a gaggle of darling ducklings that darted in every direction I steered.

Why is it that I am not searching out these circumstances as opportunities, as gifts to me, the purported self-provider?  Is it innately instinctual to exhibit this aversion to dietary road-kill?  How can it be that we are almost willing to die in avoiding a collision with an animal, only to go home and load the gun for a fruitful hunt?  How interestingly peculiar (note that I did not say, “hypocritical”?) that we might spend weeks nursing an injured rabbit back to life, only to spend another portion of our recreational time in the pursuit of snaring rabbits.

As a minimum, we might wave away this peculiarity with the suggestion that it is powerfully compelling, and certainly endearing, to nurture and love; on the other hand, for the omnivores and carnivores amongst us, there is apt justification for the phrase, “food for thought.”

Gerard’s Blog: Animal Kin-dom

I’ve got a sore forearm today.  Reflecting back, it’s the rhubarb to blame.  Or maybe the size of the knife.  My advice is that if you have to spend all morning chopping 5,000 times in rapid succession, then choose a small knife.  Better still, build a factory.

So, we need a ton of rhubarb.  This is washed, chopped, packaged, weighed, frozen.  Then, most is juiced into a vinegar-substitute so that we can have cheese.  Today, my arm is questioning the relevance of cheese.

In fact, this project is making me question eating.  Sometimes I feel as if more energy is utilized in the gathering and processing of food than what could ever be sequestered from the consumption of that produce.  As I shrivel away, with the gnawing background of unrequited hunger always lurking, I feel that this journey is going backwards from what nature intended.  Don’t bears just eat and get fat for winter?  You don’t see them chopping rhubarb, thinking this will be really delicious in January.  And moose just eat, get fat for winter, deal with whatever as it comes along, tolerate and expect the more lean diet of winter in trade for a delicious Fall of gorging and growing and whatever else moose do in the Fall.  It is a sad day to realize that, in life, we don’t so much emulate the great beasts of this planet, as we do this one pesky critter, as we “squirrel” away food for the winter.

Gerard’s Blog: Road Rave

So, it’s official: Suzanne is the only member of the “100% club.”

These trips out of town are just not conducive to the local diet.  I lasted till the kids had wings and yam fries and pizza at Earl’s, when the combination of hunger and weakness of conviction overpowered me.  And the food was, well … delicious.  It was zesty, and the relative newness of the salt was notable enough to surprisingly create an evening’s worth of thirst.

And for breakfast, I tried to delude myself into thinking that the eggs and sausages could be local.  But again, the salt kept the truth not far from the surface.  And since the cat was out of the bag, I tried coffee.  It was surprisingly unrewarding and the taste rather alarming, so I soon reverted back to my cups of straight-up hot water, Zenning in the bestowed purification.

I thought there would be more guilt.  And likely, had I “cheated” while in Dawson, there might have been cause for reflection, personal evaluation of self-worth and the like.  But, travel presents a practical excuse for indulgences of this sort.  Thank goodness for travel.

The kids were quick to indicate to me that dietary guilt was an imperceptible emotion for them, nowhere on the radar.  And, of course, that is the way it should be.  This is not so much a challenge; it is really only an exercise in discipline, designed to inspire thought and conversation, designed to promote the healthy benefits of regionalization, but designed also to teach us appreciation for an infrastructure that allows such diverse dietary options.

Gerard’s Blog: Momentary Meltdown

Last evening presented an opportunity for us to explore our inner emotions.  And our motives.

It came on the heels of a heavy load of processing cauliflower into paste, to be used as a dough substitute.  And then a huge topping of dishes before bed.  This was all tempered with the message that was intended to be optimistic but proved catastrophic, that we would only need two more such evenings to provide us with enough “dough” to allow us the privilege of one pizza a week for the next year.

A notable benefit of childhood meltdowns is the necessity, eventually, for a rational conversation.  We actually experienced that benefit rather soon, perhaps too soon for the “rational” part.  But life, after all, is not scripted.

All kinds of cathartic comments were delivered during that evening of emotional venting.  Sam kept saying, “I didn’t sign up for this”, which was then followed up with, “it’s a good job that I have a summer job, so I can afford to eat now, but how am I going to keep from starving when I go back to school?”  Tess revealed that her recent walks to town were for the primary purpose of acquiring a cheeseburger, to dampen the craving fire in her belly. Kate was dreaming of chocolate.  All were feeling victimized and wanting escape from the extra chore burden.

As always, the morning presents a more encouraging future.  The promise of less mundane chores is acceptable.  The imminent trip to Whitehorse for myself and the girls will come with a welcomed reprieve from the diet.  And most importantly, everyone has been heard, and there is an understanding that despite the circumstances of the day, we are united in our efforts to sort this out together

Gerard’s Blog: Moo-vers and Shakers

Don’t be surprised if you notice that our children have Popeye forearms.  It’s the cow that’s responsible.  And that’s even without the milking responsibility.

Once the milk enters the house, the action begins.  One sentry awaits the definition of the line, as the cream rises.  Then there is the careful skimming and separation of this precious, precious stuff.  Some of it will be destined for creamsicles, some for ice-cream, some for butter.

After appropriate warming, the jar of cream is shaken vigorously, for longer than you want, the contents first turning a tinge of yellow, then magically transforming into clumps of butter.  This needs separation from the buttermilk, washing and containment.

Meanwhile some of the skimmed milk is warmed, stirred continuously, and kefir is added.  The watchful waiter of the next few hours has first dibs on yogurt.

And then there are the frothers.  Milk is heated, stirred and frothed with vigor.  Everyone likes hot frothed milk.

So this house is comprised of skimmers, stirrers, shakers, frothers, and scrubbers.  Kudos to the cow.

Gerard’s Blog: Can’t Take It Out on the Diet

There’s a problem with this diet.  There is no capacity for fine restaurant dining, nor even for terrible take-out.  There can be no “just get yourself a snack at the bakery” comments … unless those words are truly meant to hurt and torture.

There can be no utterances of “we’ll pick up some highway food on the way out.”  There can be no energy drinks or Red Bull to help on those late-night, wintry returns from Whitehorse.  There can be no bag of grapes or chips or Doritos or Cheezies, just sitting on the passenger seat, awaiting the ultimate fulfillment of their anticipated destiny as you devour them.  Let’s make no mistake about it, there will be no devouring.

And what about travel?  Should I book an extra seat for the cow?  Are you allowed, even in the depths of thirst, to milk a cow on the plane?  How can I politely decline the warm Air North chocolate chip cookie with a smug demonstration of my bag of carrots?  No one will understand.  Not even me …

Gerard’s Blog: Confessions of a Serial Diluter

I’m on a dishwater diet.  Our fridge is a ready source of jars and containers, all of which get emptied, cleaned and refilled, on a regular basis.  So my new thing is to search out the nearly empty containers, add some hot water, stir or shake, then drink it.  Yum! And when that is emptied, I serially add more water, each time diluting the contents and virtually gifting myself with an altogether new flavor.  Then I move on to the next surprise jar.  The variety is endless and sometimes the experience can be downright exhilarating.  Everyone should be doing this!

Of course, I’m mostly (but not exclusively) referring to dairy products, since our fridge is now devoid of store-bought staples.  But, since I’m being so open, I’d best give full disclosure and right now admit that this dishwater diet is not entirely a newly acquired skill.  Even before Suzanne’s influence on me, I was known to indulge in the “serially diluted experience” (a.k.a. “SDE”) with the ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jams, honey, blender contents and virtually anything in the mixing bowl.

Generally, and needless to say, this is a privilege of the dishwasher of the day, which means that once this secret is out, no family will ever again have that age-old struggle to find volunteers for that duty.  Problem solved!

Gerard’s Blog: The Body’s Hunger Games

There’s an emptiness in my belly.  Some might call it hunger, but I feel that the word “hunger,” is not quite complex enough to explain what I feel.

There is an abundance of food in the house and I seem to graze on carrots and broccoli all day long.  We’re going through the better part of a dozen eggs a day.  There’s moose and fish and even sheep.  Tomatoes, radishes and lettuce stalk me wherever I go.  My wife keeps suggesting that we have to eat more cabbage and that turnip greens are good too.  And she likes to remind me that while working in the yard, I can nourishingly nibble on the wild strawberry blite… which seems to be actually everywhere, once your eyes are trained.

So, I am experiencing a disconnect, a personal quagmire:  while gorging on food, I feel as though I am suffering from starvation.

I think it’s the salt.  Or the sugar.  Maybe it’s the bread, the pastry, the cereals, the grains, the bagels, the toast, the chips, the cookies, the muffins, the chocolate, the coffee, the nachos, the pizza.  Basically everything!  So, the only option is to embrace the subtle tastes, of which there are many, while ignoring the lure of the strong, flavorful tastes, familiar to me from a long life of culinary decadence.  That should be easy.

Gerard’s Blog: Innovation Appreciation

I am learning so much. It is consoling to come to the realization that all is not lost; as my body shrinks, my mind expands.

I am increasingly appreciating the value of societal structure. Take farming, for example. We, as you know, have already spent some effort at berry picking, fighting the wilds and relentless foes, while never being certain of the profitability of the venture.

Most recently, though, we have been exposed to the greatest invention of all time: just bring the berries to your home and cultivate them there! These people have it all figured out. Bigger and better and more berries can be grown right on your doorstep. What could be wrong with awakening in the morning, stretching your arm out the window of your home, returning it with a handful of juicy berries, lovingly growing right outside your window?

And, of course, the same can be appreciated of chickens, goats, cows, pigs and all the garden vegetables. Clearly, people’s adaptations have been driven by need. I wonder what interesting adaptations this house will witness over the winter …

Gerard’s Blog: Finding Out What’s In Store

What I’m learning is that stores were invented for good reason.  They were not invented singularly as a retail opportunity.  Like banks, they were invented with the needs of the community foremost.

Right now, I’m suffering from the lack of a store.  The problem is the sheer bulk of produce that is available at this time of year.  So the store’s purpose of “storage” is desperately needed at our house.  Our living quarters are being overrun by heads of cabbage.  I look for a pot and find it filled with forgotten string beans, well along in the process of ripening the very air I’m wanting to breathe.  In deep hunger, I open the fridge only to be confused by the unknown array of jars and containers, in some stage of experimentation.  I close the fridge and eat a carrot, which I happen to find on the stairs, or in a pocket of one of the starving children.  For thirst…well, there is always water.

The math is frightening.  Normally, stores protect the public from math, so without them, we must do our own calculations.  And what I’m learning from this preliminary research is that we simply do not have the room to do this.  We will need hundreds of pounds of fruit and vegetables.  We have three freezers.  Does that mean that we have to process and condense and dehydrate and generally desecrate every bit of texture and flavor in order to survive this trial?

Suddenly, this food experiment of Suzanne’s is taking on a whole new flavor.  Not only will the house become our store and warehouse, but the people in the house will become pickers and packers and washers and sorters and canners. But only if we want to eat …

Gerard’s Blog: I’se the B’y That Catches the Fish

I grew up in Newfoundland.  I ate fish every day.  When we had free time, we fished.  Alternatively, we would collect mussels or clams, or if we wanted something different to do, we would hike into the hills to go fishing for trout.  As young men, when we went camping, it was up the river to fish for salmon.

The beginning of summer vacation was always hallmarked by parties at Caplin Gulch, while we fished for … caplin.  If the caplin was in abundance (as it always was), we would use the surplus in our vegetable gardens as fertilizer.  Or we would add seaweed to the soil, which was a “byproduct” of our fishing.

Breakfast was most frequently fish. My mother loved to fish and we lived on the banks of a salmon river.  Throughout the summers she would often fish early in the morning, so we could awaken to the smell of frying trout.  Failing that, she would fry up cod’s heads. Or salmon.  Sometimes, there would be “fisherman’s bruise,” made from the leftovers of the previous evenings supper.  Since we ate fish every day, it always gave us a moment for reflection when others would specifically mention how they were having fish because it was Good Friday.  For us, every day was Good Friday.

So you can imagine the shock when I came to the realization that I don’t like to fish.  I’ve been thinking the thought for a few years now.  I’ve been reminiscing about my exploits of the past and I’ve been wondering whether it was the fish I was seeking, or just the food, or perhaps the camaraderie of my buddies.  Or was it just the expectation, the alternative of being a “non-fisherman” being too sacrilegious to even contemplate?

I’ve been trying out the words lately, saying things like, “I only like fishing when there are fish.”  In other words, I’ve been fishing for responses, testing the waters before coming out of the closet with the admission that I don’t like to fish.  So, that’s it then.  I don’t like to fish.  Can’t help it.  Ancestors, don’t roll in your graves, or haunt me tonight (or for all eternity for that matter!).

Because of this diet thing, there has been a certain amount of pressure for me to fish, since fish is local.  Tried a couple of times for whitefish.  None.  Tried for grayling, but could not disguise the fact that mostly I just want to drive the boat.  It’s hard to catch fish if the line doesn’t touch the water…

But last night, last night I caught two grayling!   And we fried them up and ate them and they were delicious and they brought back a flood of fond memories and now I think I’ve got grayling figured out and so am thinking about fishing, looking forward to it actually.  So now I am confused, my conviction is being tested.  Could I, in fact, enjoy fishing?

Gerard’s Blog: Berries Bite Back

I’m having renewed doubts today.

We spent a couple of hours yesterday, hunting for raspberries. And raspberry picking, as most of you will know, is not necessarily joyful picking. The raspberry’s preferred terrain is mostly upturned mounds, often around deadfall, stumps, and hidden ankle hazards. And then they immerse themselves amongst the nettle and the roses and other prickly deterrents. Oh, and as if that is not enough, they arm themselves with thorns, and guard their territory with a mass cooperative of thousands of stinging insects, all working in noisy unison to minimize my joy with the process. The whole thing feels conspiratorial, personal.

And afterwards, while soaking our feet in the healing river, we look in the pails, dreamily thinking of the jams and pies, when all this becomes ruined by the horror of the moment. Less than a liter apiece is our yield! And that is even before we remove the twigs and leaves and abundance of bugs and spiders. There are definitely going to be some desperate evenings come January…

Gerard’s Blog: Symptomatic Addict

I’m up early today.  While I’m sipping enviably on a sweet cup of steaming kohlrabi, it isn’t that which motivated my arising.  It was the myalgias; the pains in my hamstrings and low back were relentless, nagging and unrelievable.

No caffeine for one week.

Just to ensure that I wasn’t ignoring my body’s indication that I was in the last throes of the dying process, I googled the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.  It’s all there.  The headache (which has now dissipated, thankfully).  The profound sleepiness.  The constipation (which we’ll just acknowledge and move on…) The lack of concentration (Ah-ha! So that’s why my boat hit that rock in the river yesterday.)

And the muscle pains and cramps.  There, in black and white for all to see.  The affirmation that the source of this pain, my pain, is identifiably harmless, and that all this will be temporary, is reassuring.  All I need now will be positive affirmations and indifference to taste, to make it through the next 51 weeks.

Gerard’s Blog: Everything in the Kitchen Sink

It’s the dishes that are the killer.  No one saw that coming.  Tubs for gathering, bowls for holding, cookie sheets for drying, pots for simmering, slow cooker for condensing.

But nothing compares to the dairy processing.  Jugs for milk, containers for cream, yogurt, kefir and whey.  There are containers to be shaken for butter and jugs to be skimmed for cream.  Then there are containers to store these things.  Not to mention containers for cheese of different varieties.  The cows own the fridge!

And everything needs to be washed.  That’s where the children and I come in (Yippee!). The only alternative is a kitchen without room, a kitchen with every conceivable counter space occupied by some reminder of food preparation.  A kitchen with splatterings of ketchup in the making, a kitchen of strainers and cheese cloth, a kitchen of pots and bowls and jugs. And all this is awaiting a miracle, a miracle that falls squarely on the shoulders of the kids and me!  (Did I mention that Suzanne refuses to own a dishwasher!)

Gerard’s Blog: What’s Up, Doc?

I’m on my fourth cup this morning.  Not coffee.  Not tea.  With the nagging headache of caffeine withdrawal foremost on my mind, I have been searching for that ideal substitute.  I’ve learned that heat is important to my constitution, so the kettle is on.  And while hot water works, it is rather bland, with just a hint of sweetness in the boiled water. (Is that true, or is it possible that my taste buds are already adapting and searching for something … anything?)

My current cup is flavoured with a carrot.  Previously today, I’ve tried broccoli, spruce tips and cauliflower.  I am immensely reassured by the experimental power within my range.  I’ve learned that, while always surprising, the flavors are never distasteful, perhaps because of the familiarity to those foods.  And the flavors are dose dependent:  more carrot, more flavour.  Furthermore, the flavours continually change during the steeping stage, such that every sip offers a fresh surprise. In the mornings I need liquids, so the extent of this tasting extravaganza is limited because of my consumption haste.  But by afternoon, I will take the time to sip and steep.  Perhaps I will invent something and call it soup.

Gerard’s Blog: I Found No Thrill On Blueberry Hill

I read a quote the other day, which fairly represents the current state of things in our house:

“She wanted a puppy.  But I didn’t want a puppy.  So we compromised and got a puppy.”

So, last night, after Suzanne prepared a delicious supper of local everything, we were instructed that there was no time to relax.  Why, ripe blueberries have been spotted in the hills!  All hands on deck!  Man your posts!

Fortunately, part of the preparation for this year involved gorging ourselves with “store-bought” ice-cream, so there are no shortage of plastic tubs in the house.  Empty tubs.  Tubs that are supposed to be filled.  By us.  Oh, joy upon joy!

So, off we go.  Lovely evening. Beautiful on the hill.  No wind, few mosquitos.  And there were berries, yes. Patchy. Small.  But, berries undeniably.  We set to work with dreams of bounty that would supplant any winter cravings for oranges or grapefruit or pineapple or grapes.  Why, we would imminently be rich in produce, capable of spending a winter of movie-watching with blueberries as our popcorn substitute.

The problem with gathering is the concept of value for time.  My time.  Is this a real problem or merely a personal misconception?  Or could it perhaps be familial?  After an hour I found one of the children sitting on the moss, dreamily listening to her audio-book while petting the dog.  I found another sprawled out on a sunny bank, the telltale sonorous breathing explaining all.  Meanwhile, I had taken a preference to looking for the mother-load of berries, hiking and exploring, being lured by the adventure, actually doing something.  As for berries?  Needless to say, we will be returning to the hills.

Gerard’s Blog: On Day One

I woke in a sweat this morning, feeling like I had missed the plane or like the phone was ringing in the middle of the night.  No plane.  No phone.  Just “Day One” of Suzanne’s year-long local diet commitment.  Just the beginning of sacrifice and hunger.  Just the beginning of caffeine withdrawal, bread dreams and sugar cravings.  This is just the beginning.  So, I sweat.

But it does make one wonder why anyone would commit to this and toss away a perfectly comfortable life.  And then drag the rest of the family into this nonsense with luring promises of renewed appreciation for quality food, and improved health, and all the meat you can eat.  And the unforgettable opportunity to browse in the forest for anything edible.

Are the rest of us committed to this?  Not really.  The kids mostly want to support Suzanne, and I mostly want to, well, support Suzanne.  But total adherence to this diet?  No salt?  No chocolate?  No cake or pie or bagels or pancakes or cereal or coffee or burgers or pepper or nuts?  This is nuts!  It was Bob Dylan who wrote that “people who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”  I guess we’ll see about that.