Green Beans & Summer Squash with Pine Nuts

This is an easy and quick side dish that takes advantage of the bounty from your summer garden. Pine nuts are a little expensive, but you only need a handful to make this dish outstanding. Plus, in many parts of the country, you can harvest your own pine nuts. Here is an entertaining but useful guide I found on harvesting pine nuts:

Recipe for 8 Servings:

  • 1 lb fresh green beans- small French style are best but others will do
  • 2 medium summer squash fresh picked with soft skins
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup raw pine nuts
  • 1 small or 1/2 large red onion
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional: Fresh chopped garlic and/or fresh thyme, savory, or sage from your garden

How to cook it: Clean and trim the green beans. Cut squash in half lengthwise and then slice into half moon shapes. Slice the red onion in half and then slice into half rounds and pull apart the sections.

Heat a small pan- cast iron is best if you have it. Roast the pine nuts with a dash of salt, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Once they are lightly browned and have started to give up a nice toasted nut aroma, remove from heat and crush gently with the back of a spoon. The idea is to have some of the nuts stay whole and others crumbled so the flavor can infuse the dish.

Saute the onions in a medium-hot saute pan until they start to become translucent. Add the beans and squash and saute until the veggies start to soften and give up their juices- 5 minutes usually does the trick. If using fresh herbs add at the same time as the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pine nuts just before serving so they remain crunchy. You can prepare this dish in advance and reheat and toss in the nuts just before serving.

Variations: You can use zucchini, red pepper, eggplant, or other veggies that are in season. For another great color contrast try yellow wax beans with sliced red bell pepper, or purple beans with Zucchini

What makes this dish so healthy: The green beans are easier to digest than dried beans, and are high in calcium, potassium, and B-complex vitamins. By using fresh veggies and cooking lightly the vitamin content will be at its peak. The pine nuts are rich in Oleic acid which helps reduce bad cholesterol, and are very high in vitamin E, manganese, and B-complex.

Cider Pressing in the Revolution

Boxes of organic apples

Fresh picked apples, ready for the crush. 1000 lbs in all!

This post is rather long because in it I will share almost all of my secrets for making really Bitchin’ hard apple cider. But, I tend to ramble on, especially when its a subject I love. And the world is in a pretty fine mess right now, and plenty of people are finally getting pissed off about it. I cannot help a few reflections as I record the details of making cider. For example, hard cider helped fuel the American revolution, as it was cheap and easy to produce, and early Americans who mostly lived off the land did not have the resources to produce beer. It was a poor persons drink, but it did not depend on anything imported from Europe, thus appealing to the pioneer spirit of independence and self sufficiency.

I plan a cider pressing event every year.. I have done this since 2006. This year preparations went almost effortlessly. Equipment was reserved on my first choice of dates. The scheduled day was weeks earlier in the season, which boded well for apple quality and chances for good weather. For the past 6 years, it has rained for every pressing except for one. Apple prices have been stable for years. I had a good feeling about 2011, or cider press #8 of my cider brewing experience.

Kevin tasting home fermented cider

My friend Kevin enjoying the taste of my home brewed hard cider- he tells me its the best he’s ever had in America!

Meanwhile, politics today, which I have been keeping my head down about for the past few years, have all of a sudden exploded with activity, and hope. I have always been an activist, but for many years I have limited myself to “armchair activism”. I always vote, even though I rarely like the choices. I make a several calls a month to various elected officials on issues of concern. While a CEO I worked 60 or 70 hours per week, which left little time for much else. During those years I did fight attempts by big business to keep organic standards for beer watered down by allowing pesticide sprayed hops in organic beer. We actually won that fight, and all USDA certified organic beer will finally, really be organic by January 2013. It gives me hope that the current struggle over big banks and the top 1% holders of wealth in this country can indeed affect change for the better. But I have not done any marching in the streets since the 90′s when I worked for Greenpeace and volunteered for the Ruckus Society.

Having been there and done that, a part of me longed to drop everything and drive to Oakland to join the throngs in the streets and feel that powerful wave of change.. and what I hope will be a revolution, a paradigm shift, and end to the modern capitalistic feudal society we are living in. On the other side of that coin, I am repeating history in another way: dropping out of the daily battles of the corporate world, going back to the land, trying to lower my impact on the earth and build a stronghold for my family and friends in the revolution to come nurse their wounds should the need arise.

Which brings me back to cider pressing! Hard cider is one of the easiest fermented beverages to make, as long as you have good equipment. And the fresh juice, if consumed within minutes of pressing, is so tasty it tingles on the way down. Hard cider is really a simple beverage to produce, yet as with many other things, there is a challenge to achieving greatness. I have high hopes for batch #8, because this year all of the details fell together just right. Apple quality is good, the right equipment is in place, all of the cleaning and prep work was done ahead of time, participants are lined up, and plenty of food and beverages are lined up to keep our energy and spirits high. Because apples are fresh and plentiful in the fall, and the equipment is expensive to buy or rent, this is a once a year project, so for it to be successful its important to get the details right!

First of all, the apples chosen are key to making great cider. Variety is more important than cosmetics in this case. In fact, you don’t want the picture perfect apples you find in a large grocery store. Although such apples look great, chances are they have been handled too many times and have sat around too long, plus they cost about 3 times as much as cider apples purchased in bulk directly from a grower. Since apples grow all over the country it should not be too hard to locate a source, unless you live in the deep south. Mine come from a local farmer in the Santa Cruz area. His family has been farming apples for about 100 years, and his apples are organic. This year we are crushing Pippin, Granny Smith, and Jonathan apples. These are all good cider apples because they produce a decent flow of juice but they are not too sweet. I like my cider nice and tart!

Tub filled with apples

It is important to clean the apples before crushing.

We rinsed the dirt off in one tub, then rinsed them a second time in a mild solution of Potassium Metabisulphite.. this kills the wild yeast and other germs. I’ll talk more about the wild yeast issue later.

Cutting out the bad apple parts

Cutting out the bad apple parts

Because we are after the juice, we are not worried about any scabby parts or even a small amount of worms. Those will be left behind in the pulp, and will compost just fine. If there are any rotted bits, those should be cuty away, or else the rotted flavor and bacteria could taint the cider. Our friend Eden makes quick work chopping out the rotten bits- if only it were so easy to chop away the rotten elements in our country like over-bloated banks and corrupt politicians!

Next in line of importance is the equipment. There are actually a lot of options here, and I have tried many of them. But if you are going to press 1000 lbs of apples and you have one day to do it, renting the right equipment is the best way to go. Most homebrewing shops rent equipment that can be used for crushing and pressing apples. I rent mine from Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz CA

Apple crushing machine

Apple crushing machine

Once the apples are cleaned they have to be crushed. This crazy looking machine is basically a giant stainless steel apple blender. They cost about $1000 new, or you can rent one for $50 or $60 a day. It can crush almost as fast as you can throw the apples in. There are hand crank versions that cost much less, and have a slower throughput. Plus they take a lot of manual labor. But, they will work without electricity, so a hand crank crusher would be a good thing to have if technology fails and we go back to the dark ages. If you search around on the web, you can find other ideas for crushing apples. If you only have a small amount of apples, a large food processor would work. Or, you could try the medieval approach: Take a 3 foot long 4 x 4 piece of wood or a hardwood log of about the same size. Pound a bunch of 4″ nails about halfway in so they stick out like flat-headed spikes about 8″ up one end. Fill a 5 gallon bucket about halfway up with apples. Then just pound them into a rough pulp with your handy “apple mace” Raawrrrr!

Clean glass carboys

Big glass jugs- called “carboys” are cleaned and ready to accept fresh pressed juice. These are 5 gallon jugs. Two factors really make pressing day go smoothly. First, clean the fermenters ahead of time. You will be too busy processing apples to clean them on pressing day! Second, sanitize them on pressing day (sanitizing must be done shortly before use to be really effective), with either an iodine, acid based, oxygen based, or peroxide based sanitizer. Do not use bleach.. unless you fancy chlorine tasting cider! Its also a good idea to make sure you have plenty of cleaned airlocks, stoppers, blowoff tubes, and a funnel and strainer ready to go. Also needed- containers to catch the fresh crushed apples and the newly pressed juice. I like stainless steel best, but clean food grade plastic buckets will do. The acidity of apple juice can react with aluminum, so please don’t use it.

Pressing apples with a bladder press

Pressing apples with a bladder press

After the apples are ground into a pulp, they should be pressed as quickly as possible. There are many different ways to squeeze juice from pulp. A simple way could be a colander and cheesecloth.. but this is not an efficient extraction method. The yields would be low, and the amount of effort would be high. Not worth it unless you are only doing 10 or 20 pounds of apples. So we skip right to the best technology for the volume we are pressing: a water bladder wine press. There is a lot to like in this press: because it uses water pressure there is little grunt effort involved in the squeezing part. You don’t need power either. You simply hook up a garden hose, and as long as you have water pressure of at least 30 psi, you will have an easy and efficient pressing.

Dumping apple pulp

Dumping apple pulp

Dumping fresh crushed apples into the bladder press. 4 Gallons of pulp is heavy when it is dripping with juice!

Fresh pressed juice

Fresh pressed juice

The fresh pressed juice exiting the press. There is nothing quite like the flavor of fresh pressed apple cider!
In my experience, a decent yield is 90 lbs of apples to make 5 gallons. With the bladder press this year we yielded 5 gallons for every 70 lbs. The $60 a day rental cost paid for itself because out of 1000 lbs of apples we yielded 20 more gallons, about $140 worth of cider considering the total project cost (equipment rental, apples, and yeast).

Mixing fresh pressed appletini's

Mixing fresh pressed appletini’s

As cider pressing day progresses, the hoe-down spirit gets ratcheted up a notch: Fresh pressed juice and good whisky or vodka make amazing appletinis! Our friend Jordan was eager to put his bar tending prowess to work, and a good time was had by all!

Pouring fresh pressed apple juice into a fermenter

Pouring fresh pressed apple juice into a fermenter

As the fresh pressed juice is collected, we pour it into cleaned and freshly sanitized fermenters. By sanitizing everything (including the funnel and the screen insert), we are reducing the risk of funky bacteria spoiling a batch. It is almost impossible to keep it really sterilized.. but since we are using lively fresh yeast the yeast will grow quickly and inhibit other bugs from taking hold.

Flask of fresh yeast

Flask of fresh yeast

Next on the list of necessities is yeast. This is a giant flask of yeast, enough starter culture to inoculate up to 50 gallons. I made this starter with one $6 vial of liquid yeast 2 days before pressing day. As soon as it started bubbling I started feeding it apple juice (from a sealed jar so it was sterile). On pressing day we fed it more fresh juice so we could be sure we had enough- our total yield from 1000 pounds of apples ending up being about 70 gallons. We needed to pitch about 7 liters of starter, or 500 ml per fermenter. To stretch the starter, we added fresh juice every time we removed 500 ml to pitch, and that yeast stayed highly active and lively all the way through.

Pitching yeast

Pitching yeast

I mentioned the wild yeast issue. It is perfectly true that you can make hard cider without adding yeast. I have done it before. There are some risks however. The wild yeast could be an unfavorable strain, perhaps from bread baking nearby, making an unpleasant tasting cider. Or, you could just end up with a bacterial infection, resulting in a bad batch that has to be tossed. Or possibly made into vinegar. Since we spent about $400 on apples and equipment rentals, I decided not to take the chance. This year, we add yeast to every fermenter of cider.

Ready to ferment

Ready to ferment

Once the yeast is added, its time to ferment. The little doohickey on the top is an airlock. It allows the CO2 and other gasses produced during fermentation to escape, while preventing any nasties from getting in. Something to keep in mind is that the foam produced in the early stages of fermentation often gets high enough to need an exit path from the fermenter. In this case, a tube that runs from the stopper to a small container of sanitizing solution or sterile water will collect the excess foam without creating a pressure buildup, which can lead to a fine mess!

By the way, it is fine to use a plastic carboy as Kevin is doing. If so, it is very important that food grade and preferable BPA free plastic is used, that the interior is scratch free, and it has not been used for anything toxic.

In 6 to 48 hours the fermentation will be visibly active. Ideally, it should start in 12 hours or less. Choose a spot that is dark, or at least out of direct sunlight. You want a temperature range of 65 to 75 ˚F for the best results. The really wild and crazy part of fermentation will slow down in 3 to 5 days. After a few weeks, it is a good idea to rack (siphon off) into a clean fermenter. This will leave the sediment gook behind, which will make a cleaner tasting product in the end. The gook is a tan colored mud at the bottom of the fermenter which is mostly made up of dead yeast, apple solids, and apple tannins, all of which can make the cider cloudy and less tasty. So, you can technically skip this, but the quality will suffer, and after all the hard work of pressing, why skimp the details later?

Spent apple pulp

Spent apple pulp

Once the pressing is done we had a few apples and literally a quarter ton of spent apple pulp. The apple pulp composts really quickly, so most of it went into the heap for next years garden, and the apple trees we plan to plant in the spring.

Chickens being fed apple pulp

Chickens being fed apple pulp

The chickens really love the apple pulp too. We fed them as much as they could eat. Party animals!

Bobbing for apples

Bobbing for apples

A good ole cider pressing country hoe-down would not be complete without a round of bobbing for apples! Its much harder than it looks. After the fun was done, the last remaining apples are made into pie. What could be better!

So every available container was filled, and the day was a resounding success. Not only was the weather perfect and the yield terrific, but we finished the job in a record 6 hours! We celebrated with more appletinis, hard cider, a Mexican Vienna style lager, and beer brats. At the days end our spirits were lifted, we were tired from hauling apples, juice, and pulp, and only some apples and maybe a few brain cells were hurt in the process.

So friends, now you know the basic secrets to great cider making. If you have any questions, please send them my way.

I want to thank everyone who participated, and especially:

Georgina: Awesome photographer!
Aaron (Groggy Swagger): For chipping in a little extra effort and cash (since I am unemployed)
Eden and Allison: for keeping the food train on schedule
Jordan: For the wicked bartending and for being the drunkest one (it was his birthday)
Patrick: For rocking the barbecue, being an awesome husband, and keeping spirits high!

For further reading and expertise on the subject of cidermaking at home, these are the best books in print:

Yummy Food and Beer Mingling

Bitchin Ideas: Food and Beer Mingling

One of my favorite things to do is start with awesome beer and food ingredients. Then add some of the beer to the food I am making. Then serve the beer with the food. The easiest, most delicious combination that is a pretty regular feature in my bitchin kitchen:

Mexican Farmhouse Beer Butt Chicken Taco Dinner Served with Dark Mexican Lager Homebrew

This dinner is awesomely bitchin, will please just about everybody, and is not too much work on fiesta day if you prepare the beans, salsa, and rub ahead of time. Of course, if you brew your own beer, that will require a few months of lead time.. but you could just go out and buy some Negra Modelo and have this feast in a couple of days! Some parts of this meal, like the beans, need advance planning. You could get by with a can of refried beans, but by doing that you are missing out on a incredible flavor experience- not to mention better nutrition!

Mexican Farmhouse Beer Butt Chicken Tacos Dinner

To do this meal right you will need to prepare all of the different dishes plus brew the beer. So it takes a few months of planning, unless you already have the beer. Whenever I brew my Negra Modelo homebrew clone I find it is the perfect excuse to whip up this dinner and have an impromptu fiesta!

In addition to the recipes that follow, to assemble the tacos you will need fresh corn tortillas, fresh whole limes, shredded Mexican blend cheese, and if you can get it, some fresh Quesero crumbled cheese. For the tortillas, I love the LaTortilla Factory handmade style that have both corn and wheat, and come in a few flavors including green chile and chipotle.

Delicious! Beer butt chicken tacos with fresh guacamole and roasted heirloom tomato salsa

If you have prepared the beans, chicken, and salsa ahead of time, and your home brewed Negra Modelo is ready to drink, putting this meal together is a snap. While the chicken is roasting, throw together the Guacamole:

Follow the links to get the various recipes:

Negra Modelo Clone Homebrew Recipe

Slow Cooked Refried Black & Tan Beans

Beer Butt Barbecue Pollo Asada

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Quick Chunky Guacamole

The Butchering

I must warn you: the following account is fairly graphic and may upset some readers. Please stop reading if you find butchering or blood offensive!

I killed 2 young roosters tonight. It was a primordial, gut wrenching, deeply profound experience. Hours later, I still feel greatly saddened by the deed. I feel relieved to have done it after many months of knowing I was ultimately going to become a chicken butcher. I eat meat, and if I am going to look myself in the eye and continue to do so while professing to be a conscientious consumer, it has become essential for me to have more of a hand in the process of bringing food to the table.

Our chickens are not being raised for meat, and I’ll likely wait for the Zombie Apocalypse before I intentionally raise animals for food. We are raising a self sustaining laying hen flock. This means the young roosters must be culled, before they fully mature. Otherwise we would have a heck of a lot of rooster fights on our hands, we would be allowing them feed that might deprive others, and our coop would rapidly become overcrowded.

I had decided to go through the process of butchering from beginning to end. To the purpose of maximizing the resource, the roosters should be done in as soon as they have nearly reached full growth. If they are going to be good eating, it is essential that they are killed before they reach sexual maturity.

I did not feel ready for this… But would I ever? All of the chickens are mostly really sweet tempered at a young age. I spend many minutes every day just watching their antics. The pent-up exuberance when I first open the pop door to let them out of the coop in the morning. Once the immediate crazy hunger of first morning is sated (I always bring scratch that they gobble up speedily), they engage in mock battles and race around the chicken yard, sometimes even catching flight for a dozen yards or so. These birds have a pretty good life, as far as chicken lives go.

The chicken I buy in a grocery store likely lived 8 weeks or less, in closely confined quarters. That big juicy breast meat came off a bird that probably could barely walk by the time it was slaughtered. It definitely could not fly!! In contrast, my birds spend every day outside, they get to scratch and dig for bugs, and I feed them fresh greens and organic feed every day. They are actually pretty spoiled. Killing them was so intense it was almost.. Or maybe it was… A religious experience.

For the past week I have been getting ready. Although I have participated in chicken slaughters as a kid growing up, I have never purposely killed an animal myself. As a teenager I went deer hunting once and had a clean shot at a deer, but could not bring myself to take it. My purpose then was not strong enough. My purpose now was just about ready. I had to do this, to take responsibility for my own sustenance, to gain a full, first-hand understanding of how meat comes to the table. No, I am not ready to harvest all of my own meat. But every bite I take henceforth, will be properly revered, knowing the sacrifice that is made to provide it.

I have studied the books, web pages, and YouTube videos on the most humane way to do the deed. As a kid, it was a simple matter of holding the head down and then quickly chopping it off. Death was almost instantaneous. But imagine the slaughter yard, where 30- 50 birds are butchered in one day. Each new chicken sees the scene and becomes terrified. So instant death that is a complete surprise is just a little better.

I settled on a killing cone, a metal cone that the bird is placed in upside down. Being upside down causes blood to rush to the head, sometimes knocking them unconscious, but at the least making them kind of woozy. I also decided to do the deed at night, while they are naturally docile. And while the other birds are sleeping, because I did not want to cause a full scale panic.

When Patrick came home from work today I was finishing the hand made killing cone and I told him today was the day, that 2 roosters would be killed. He nodded, and then got a little quiet, and walked over to the chicken yard and stood there watching the birds.

I came over and gave him a hug, saying, ” are you sure you are O.K. with this?”

“Yes… It’s just that they are so sweet at this age.”

We agreed that I would do this alone, because he was not really ready to make that big a leap into the more hardcore aspects of homesteading. I completely understand, and have zero resentment. I have had plenty of time to prepare myself, plus I had the childhood experience that somewhat prepared me. Patrick works a full time job, thus cannot go full immersion as I have done.

So.. Killing cone was done, and hanging above a plastic bucket to catch the blood. I had a big pot of water heating to dip the birds for defeathering. Two just sharpened knives rested on the large granite cutting board next to a vat of ice water and another bucket for the feathers and guts to be collected. It was 8 pm, and the moment had arrived.

The chickens were all sleeping and had gone to roost an hour before. The first rooster barely stirred when I lifted him from the roost and took him away from the coop. I held him close to my chest, and I could feel his heart beating rapidly. I knew it was going to be hard, but at this point, I was nearly in tears. I was about to make the ultimate betrayal. At least this killing would be done with love.

I hugged the little guy one more time, took a deep breath and squeezed out a tear, then grabbed his feet and hung him upside down. He let out a small cheap, which just about broke my heart, and flapped his wings a few times, then went limp. It was almost as though he was offering himself to me. This rooster was the low one, the youngest and bottom of the pecking order. He had already had a rough time amongst his mates, so maybe death was better. Thinking this did not make it any easier.

I put the little guy headfirst into the killing cone. I think he finally realized what was coming, but stayed pretty mellow. I had a huge lump in my throat, butterflies in my stomach, and tears in my eyes. The moment had arrived, and I had a moment of panic… Could I do this? I knew I had come to far to go back, and there was no other option but to proceed. Hesitation would just make it worse.

With a deep breath, I picked up the large knife, grasped the roosters head to expose the neck, and deliberately sliced his throat as hard as I could. I actually sliced his head right off, and it dropped in the bucket with a thump. Blood spurted out from the just severed neck, a brilliant crimson red. It always looks darker on film, but this was almost neon bright. There was not much of it.. A cup, perhaps. The death convulsions were silent, and brief, then he was still.

My heart jumped into my throat and I experienced a wave of nausea. Was this how it would be every time? Goodbye little rooster. Your life shall not be in vain, and you will be celebrated and honored as you provide sustenance to my family.

All my apprehension did not adequately prepare me for the real thing. It was harder than I expected. Was it this hard for everyone, or am I just more sensitive than most people that do this? For millennia, humankind have killed animals for food. It is only in the very recent history of a species that the vast majority of us have become disconnected from the act of butchering our food. Unless you are a sadistic killer the task of butchering is not pleasant. I can understand why most would rather buy a plastic wrapped package than go through the experience.

But as painful as it is, I would make the same decision again. It is the right decision, one that brings me closer to reverence of the animals I have chosen to eat. Coyote, bobcat, raccoon, all would eat you, chicken, if I do not.

The hardest part: I have one more bird to kill. This one is much, much harder. He is a little bigger, and squawks as soon as I grab him, and struggles a lot. Again, I hold him to my chest, with tears in my eyes. I am determined to give him love before I end his life. He will die an honorable death, even though he is just a rooster. I will shed tears and offer a prayer. In my life, he will be remembered, unlike so many nameless faceless creatures that wind up in meat cases in Safeway, Costco, and all the other food factory sellers.

Again, I drop the bird into the killing cone. Again, a brief struggle. Even when he stills, this guy keeps his eyes wide open and stares right at me. So hard! I bite my tongue, grasp his neck, slice the head clean off as cleanly, quickly, as humanely, as possible. Again, the deed is done. I am not crying like a baby, I am a tough girl and strong. But I shed a few tears, and again offer a prayer to Gaia of thanks

The plucking and gutting are awful tasks that take three times longer than the actual slaughter, especially considering I hand plucked both birds. But they are not so hard; they are just the tedious part to the job. Stripped of their feathers, the roosters are really small compared to the plump birds I am used to picking up at the local grocer. These guys actually fought, ran, flew. I will eat them just the same, and they are young enough to still be tender.

As part of the circle of life, this slaughter is a milestone to me, but it pales to insignificance in the scheme of modern daily lives. Most chicken slaughters are factory jobs, the peak of efficiency and pretty low on the scale of humanity. My mini slaughter was profound to me, and will forever change my attitude about the morsels of meat I choose to eat.

7 years ago I ended over a decade as a vegetarian. I felt some shame in this change, but the experience of 10 meat free years gave me a perspective that I am grateful for. I honor and respect all the lives that end for my nourishment. I try to balance my intake of flesh, and remember with every meal how lucky I am for this sustenance. Meat is an easy diet for good health- good quality meat is incredibly nutritious and hard to match from the vegetable world. By learning how to butcher my own, I have brought myself closer to true self sufficiency, and closer to the spirit of life.

Will I do this again? I do not relish the thought, but I know that it is an important part of the lifestyle I have chosen. A few times a year, there will be roosters to cull. I could give them to our Mexican neighbors for cock fights, but a merciful death seems more humane than a life of fighting and likely a violent death. I hope it will be easier the next time, but deep inside, I know it will be just as hard for me, and it always will be.

One of the small roosters after butchering
The little guy after butchering.

In Memory of My Father Peter Whitney Slayton

For Family and Friends of my dad, I am grateful I have the opportunity to use this web space to share some photos of my Dad throughout his life, and some of his poems. Please share your own memories by posting your thoughts at the end of this blog.
Peter Slayton doing what he loved best: playing music
Peter Slayton doing what he loved best: playing music

When dad passed away on September 16, 2011, I wrote this poem:

For Dad

Maybe you have gone, but you will never really leave
I will always be who I am because of your part in helping me grow
Learning to drive in Vermont winters.
Discovering science, helping you count transistors.
Your gift of a scientific mind lives on in me
I never stop questioning, exploring, analyzing all I see
Maybe we were not always there for each other
Both stubborn independence Vermonter to the core
Half of my life I have been three thousand miles away
No matter the distance, through the years, we talked often
Over the years I struggled to understand your mental illness
In my youth my pride would not let me see
Your honesty, you never hid your flaws like most of us do
They were just a part of you
Part of why your daughter is so proud of you
You always were, and always will be
In my heart.

Visiting my dad in the hospital, August 2011
Visiting my dad in the hospital, August 2011


Beginnings and endings,
The sweet kiss of love
That turns and bites the hand as if a viper.
The never-numbered salvations
That have turned into a damnation.

Then I see how eagerly
Green life springs from the folds of the earth,
And life fights the only truth that was ever, death.
I think that maybe sorrow won’t hurt us forever
Life will spring eternal,
Rebirth, the strongest force.

Another picture of Dad playing banjo- sometime in the 80's
Another picture of Dad playing banjo- sometime in the 80′s

Dad at the beach, with his 3rd wife Barbara
Dad at the beach, with his 3rd wife Barbara

Dad sporting his wild mountain man look
Dad sporting his wild mountain man look

Enjoying the Bread and Puppet Circus, the politcally satirical puppet theather event that rocked Glover Vermont's world in the 70's, 80's, and 90's
Enjoying the Bread and Puppet Circus, the politcally satirical puppet theather event that rocked Glover Vermont’s world in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s

Dad loved camping, and truly loved the beautiful forests, lakes, and mountains of Vermont
Dad loved camping, and truly loved the beautiful forests, lakes, and mountains of Vermont

Down at the farm in Duxbury VT, late winter or early spring. I lived with dad here in a trailer under the shoulder of Camel's Hump mountain.
Down at the farm in Duxbury VT, late winter or early spring. I lived with dad here in a trailer under the shoulder of Camel’s Hump mountain.

The Good 'Ole Slayton Boys: My Great Uncle Charlie, Dad, and Grandpa Ron
The Good ‘Ole Slayton Boys: My Great Uncle Charlie, Dad, and Grandpa Ron

Considering how many months of snow Vermont has every year (especially in the 80's) I am amazed I can only find one picture of dad in full coverage snow. Well, here it is!
Considering how many months of snow Vermont has every year (especially in the 80′s) I am amazed I can only find one picture of dad in full coverage snow. Well, here it is!

My father, Peter Slayton: all 6' 3
My father, Peter Slayton: all 6′ 3″ of him, before his back injury!

Dad showing off the organic veggies stand sign. Even back then, organic veggies were not just for hippies!
Dad showing off the organic veggies stand sign. Even back then, organic veggies were not just for hippies!

Dad and Great uncle Charlie.. true blue Vermonters foa shoa!
Dad and Great uncle Charlie.. true blue Vermonters foa shoa!

Dad at his wedding with Barbara. Thats me in the shades peeking from behind, back in the late 80's or early 90's
Dad at his wedding with Barbara. Thats me in the shades peeking from behind, back in the late 80′s or early 90′s

Chopping wood with his brother in-law way back when.. late 70's? Early 80's?
Chopping wood with his brother in-law way back when.. late 70′s? Early 80′s?

Dad and Grandpa, must have been in the early 70's
Dad and Grandpa, must have been in the early 70′s

Peter Slayton- His high school graduation picture!
Peter Slayton- His high school graduation picture!

The last time I saw dad, in August 2011. Visited with my Mom, a rare chance to be with both parents. Mom and Dad split up when I was two. Thankfully, I don't remember the details! I am grateful that Mom and Dad remained friends, and Mom sang beautifully at Dad's memorial service.
The last time I saw dad, in August 2011. Visited with my Mom, a rare chance to be with both parents. Mom and Dad split up when I was two. Thankfully, I don’t remember the details! I am grateful that Mom and Dad remained friends, and Mom sang beautifully at Dad’s memorial service.

The Circle of Life

Today is my youngest sister’s wedding day. It is also my father’s birthday. He would be 68 today, if he had not passed away last Friday. It will forever make September 24 a bittersweet day, a good thing, mostly: a day to remember people I dearly love.

My sister Jessie marries Peter

My youngest sister Jessie is 13 years younger than I. When she was still very little I left to live with my Dad and his second wife. And I was off being a young adult in Boston by the time she was turning into a young lady. Even though I do not know her as well as I know my other 3 sisters, I love her dearly. I am thrilled for her and Pete, whom she has been with since her first year of college and all through medical school.. 12 or 13 years. They have been engaged for about 6 years.

I feel a lot of kinship with my youngest sister, even though we are almost a generation apart. Jessie is very bright, hardworking and ambitious. You could even call her stubborn. But it took those qualities to get through medical school and to achieve that huge dream of becoming a homeowner. Stubborn and ambitious: two characteristics I am blessed (or cursed!) with as well. I have tenaciously applied those attributes to many projects, the most significant one (so far!) being the founding of the organic brew supply co-op.

Peter is one of the most outgoing, warm hearted people I know. He shares these qualities with my late father, in addition to sharing a first name. Pete’s grin is infectious, and he has a knack for immediately putting you at ease.. Actually he seems to turn a dull or somber occasion into a fun time, seemingly effortlessly. His character is the perfect balance for my very serious, forthright, and caring sister Jess. I am so happy and proud of my youngest sister and my new brother in law!

Jessie and Pete bought their house in the spring of 2010, around the same time Patrick and I purchased our own house. They love to ski and mountain bike. Patrick works for a bike shock company, and biking is something we love to do together. Although we rarely get to see Jessie and Pete since we live on opposite sides of the country, we always have a great time when we do get together.

It is a bittersweet day as I try to come to grips with the empty space I now have in my life since my Dad’s passing. Somehow I never even realized what a presence he was until he was gone. Life is a circle of birth, love, and death, so I know it is somehow fitting that a new chapter in my sister’s life opens while a chapter in mine has closed. The time spent in Vermont through the wedding and memorial service has brought me closer to family and long lost family friends than I have been in many long years. For this I am blessed, and grateful.

The circle of life turns once again.

Hello, Mr. & Mrs. Janowski/Wadsworth

Goodbye Peter Whitney Slayton, Beloved Father

At the Memorial Service, my aunt Gayle sang a favorite song of my Dads. It was the last song I heard him sing, while visiting him in the hospital in August.

Aunt Gayle sings

Life’s Railway to Heaven Lyrics

Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer so brave
We must make this run successful
From the cradle to the grave
Watch the curves, the fills and tunnels
Never falter, never fail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail

Oh, blessed Savior, thou wilt guide us
Til we reach that blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In God’s grace forever more

As you roll across the trestle
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide
You behold the union depot
Into which your train will glide
There you’ll meet the superintendent
God the Father, God the Son
With a hearty, joyous greeting
Weary pilgrim, welcome home

* Refrain *

Eco-Homesteading Has Come Full Circle

Chicken Coop and Veggie Garden
Chicken Coop and Veggie Garden in Our Back Yard

I have been so focused on setting up my own mini farm for the past 6 months that it took a trip to Vermont to visit my ailing father to make me realize how trendy the homesteading movement has become.. again. There are new magazines devoted to special niches in the homesteading scene.. I picked one up called Mary Jane’s Farm to read on the plane. I was attracted to the feature article, “Girl Friendly Chainsaws”.

I was very disappointed. The article in question was 1 page long, with a second full page devoted to a model posing with a chainsaw. Even with my limited experience with chainsaws, I was appalled after a quick read. The article does little to cover safety, which should be the top priority, especially since chainsaws are the most accident prone of home power tools. Yet there is an extensive, 4 page illustrated article on how to make a super ugly skirt out of a T-shirt. Not very practical knowledge, and making less practical clothes (skirts) out of one of the most practical garments in a farm girl’s wardrobe (T-shirts) completely misses the point about farming. Farming is backbreaking, but very rewarding work, and most craft skills in a farmer’s repertoire have more to do with building chicken coops and preserving the harvest than sewing miniskirts. The point is, this magazine was all style and little substance, a trend I find alarming.

Still, if curiosity gets the best of you, see for yourself:

But I see it all around me, now that I am looking. Suddenly its “cool” to raise chickens, or have a veggie garden. That is awesome. Not so awesome: the ads on Craigslist for unwanted chickens and coops.. folks diving in headfirst not realizing what a time commitment it is to have a successful garden or tend to farm animals. Seeing this makes me realize how fortunate I am to have a rich tapestry of life experience to draw on as I begin my journey as a nano eco-farmer. So many kids today grow up with no experience or exposure to homesteading arts beyond what they see on TV or see on a weblog. And it breaks my heart to witness the sheer naiveté with which some new generation folks are going “back to the land”.

I grew up in Vermont on a huge piece of land.. I think it was 100 acres. This was purchased in the late sixties during the back to land movement by a group of people- might as well just call them hippies- including my mother. My earliest memories are of living in an army tent eating oats and honey, and of being chased by an aggressive rooster when I was 2 or 3 years old. By the time I was an older kid, houses had been hand built, and around our house my mother had an least an acre of land devoted to a vegetable garden. We had chickens, goats, and pigs too. Weeding, harvesting, feeding animals, participating in the chicken slaughter, and helping with freezing and canning were part of my childhood chores. There are some old faded pictures at my moms house that I hope to digitize and share one day.

For now here is a picture of me and my mom, from the fall of 2008.
Mom and me.. Yep, we're tree-huggers from way back!
Yep, we’re tree-huggers from way back!

Back in the day, the family veggie garden provided pretty much all of the vegetables we needed, plus chicken for the dinner table, eggs, goat milk, and the occasional pork from pigs raised on the farm. Everything was organic, ages before the word organic became the latest hot marketing term and actually meant something which to me is very profound, even to this day. Organic was a way of life. It was the act of giving back what we took away, and nothing harmful added. Even then, I had developed a sense of a personal ecosystem, where as much as possible I lived in harmony with my immediate environment.

It was not without problems and difficulties. I spent almost 25 years of my life avoiding pork because of the traumatic experience I had when the family pig Esmerelda was served at the dinner table. We were awfully poor. Before the expansive veggie garden was established there were years when I actually felt hunger.. not very common for Americans today. Back then I was grateful for a bowl of rice. Fortunately these really lean times were short lived and I was raised for the most part on a very healthy diet of organic and chemical free food, lots of fresh Vermont air and sunshine, and a loving family.

I attribute my reasonably good health at the ripe age of 44 to this excellent and back then uncommon diet growing up. I have no serious health problems despite having spent 15 years in a very stressful company building environment. I could stand to lose a few pounds. I drink a little too much. I balance these all too human faults with an excellent diet, sunshine and exercise of the manual labor kind, and a loving family.

I feel a kinship with those of my peers, few and far between, who shared a similar experience growing up during the 60′s and 70′s and are now involved in the current Eco-homesteading trend. Those of us who were graced with that early experience have a deep understanding of the fundamentals of organic farming and animal husbandry. Although I have spent most of my adult life away from such activities the learning curve has been swift now that I am spending most of my time growing things and tending chickens. The early experience has given me some fine instincts for it, even though I had years ago convinced myself I had a black thumb and could barely keep a houseplant alive.

Over the years I have continued to dabble in home crafts of all sorts. Homebrewing was of course the most involved of these pursuits. That got way out of hand, and I founded the organic homebrew supply company Seven Bridges Cooperative with some other like-minded homebrewers. As those of you who know me know, I was the main driving force and creative person behind the Co-op for 15 years. I left due to the stress that was getting too intense as the business got ever more successful. Sewing was a huge preoccupation of mine through my early years, which led to my first career as a fashion designer. That skill came in handy during my years in the environmental movement, as I was often called on to make banners of all sizes. Though the years I have also dabbled in fermented foods, making tofu and tempeh, building structures and developing basic handywoman skills.

Now, I am producing some beautiful crops on a very small scale. It has encouraged me to dare to dream of actually earning my income from this beautiful pice of land. For now, my husband and I are eating very well on a tight budget due to my success at coming full circle as an eco-homesteader.

Organic heirloom lettuce and arugula thriving on our mini farm
Organic heirloom lettuce and arugula thriving on our mini farm

Goodbye CEO, Hello Chick-Chick

Dear Diary,

Er… just kidding! The last time in my life that I wrote about myself was back in my teens.. almost 30 years ago. So coming back to a blank page to record stuff that is just about me still feels a bit like writing a diary.

Amelia Rules

All about me!

Just over 3 months ago I found myself abruptly unemployed from a career that had me working an average of 60 hours a week plus it consumed almost all of my creative energy. 15 years is a long time to go without more than 2 weeks off, so I allowed myself to spin my wheels a bit. And the story of how I went from being a founder & CEO of a million dollar company to a housewife and micro farmer is a story that will have to wait. Feelings are still too ragged on that subject, and there are still some unresolved issues. I am sure that when I tell that story, it will be here.

Me as the business manager

When I was a CEO

For now I am in the process of reinventing myself. the first part of that process is rediscovering what it is I really really like to do. And I have much to be thankful for.. a beautiful home in the country (mostly owned by Wells Fargo) with 3 acres, a dog, 2 cats, and 19 chickens. That keeps me pretty busy. In fact, I am not sure how I will find the time to start working again, so I have been figuring out how to make a living outside of the working world. Some of those ideas are even starting to work out!

My first big project was.. our wedding! Patrick, the love of my life, has been there for me through a divorce and all the ups and downs of life for the past 6 years. I don’t know what I would have done without him through the stress of leaving Seven Bridges. We bought our home together last year. So we finally decided to formalize our partnership when I suddenly had loads of free time…

After the wedding Pat had to go right back to work. So I got busy in the garden, and built a chicken coop

The Coop

We have access to nice wooden shipping crates for free. I have been using them for planting boxes, and just starting making some into mini chicken coops:

Mimi Coop

Mini chicken coop made from a crate

I have started to sell these on Etsy and Craigslist. They actually account for the first true off the farm income to date!

I am working up plans for a slightly larger but still portable coop that I can deliver for $300- $400. Eventually I’ll have eggs to sell. And maybe baby chicks. Possibly veges too.

My favorite name so far for this chicken business is “Chick Chick”