Food is an enormous part of our daily story. We need it to survive, yes, but it has also become synonymous with community, family, and connection. Food, both giving and receiving, is an act of hospitality and love. It’s a peacemaker; a medium for sharing story with one another. It’s the language of love and humanity.
When I set out to build a self-sustainable lot, and to become as self-reliant as I could in the wildwood—food, and the way I think about food had to undergo a radical change.
I have always been a foody. There were droughts in my time and access to food and the love of cooking, but I’ve always been what you might call, an eater. I love the story of food, the experience, the sensory journey of eating. I’m an unapologetic hedonist. I’m a storyteller, therefore I eat, I drink, I travel, I enjoy the pleasures of the world and my body. All of these experiences end up in my writing.
Writing sensory details from the world means imagining it, then living it, then recounting the discoveries in my work.
When I bought the Elder Glade and began prepping to live a mostly secluded and simple life of writing, I knew I’d have to make some changes to how I access and source my cooking products, as well as increase my knowledge of gardening, storing, and foraging.
When I was a kid we kept livestock and gardens. I remember the long hot days in the kitchen during canning season. I recalled the godawful canned recipes passed down for generations not meant for the true enjoyment of meals, but for the sole purpose of preserving harvest. I hated it. All of it. And I swore I’d never do it again.
Tick tock. Thirty years later, I’m singing a different tune, such as “Thanks for teaching me canning when I was a kid.” All knowledge is useful eventually, right?
That being said, there’s no way in hell I’d ever eat that nasty spaghetti sauce again. I’m not joking when I say, retch-worthy canned harvest goods lined much of our pantry.
It was time for a revolution in preservation, and my sourcing choices. It’s all about the ingredients, right?
One of my favorite pastimes when I lived the city life, was trying out new restaurants. In fact, I had one of the best exploration partners in, Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail. We checked out a new dessert menu almost every week for months at a time, jumping all over the city looking for new chocolate and or the best whisky. To this day, Jordan is the only person who’s been able to out-chocolate me, and he still has the best palate for single malt scotch, or imported whiskeys of anyone I’ve ever met.
I had my go-to places, and my go-to types of cuisine, but what I really lacked was an understanding of the farm to fork process as it pertains to city dwellers. I had a frame of reference as a child for livestock slaughter, and garden work. I even had a frame of reference for catching my daily limit of salmon all through the summers in Alaska, or sighting a caribou in the rifle scope.
But as a city consumer, I was able to block out a lot of information…like the colossal and grotesque amount of waste produced by the restaurant industry, and the largely ignorant or easily confused republic of fellow consumers. (Just ask any five restaurant patrons what gluten actually is, or how many plastic straws end up in the ocean) I myself, have been oblivious to a lot about the food industry.
Most terrifying and disappointing about the American food industry as a whole, is the waste. Not just in by-product, thrown away food, single use plastics, and containers—but in transportation of out of season ingredients, and over-sized corporate food manufacturing infrastructure. It’s grotesque.
Let me be perfectly clear – I am a consumer. I love out of season produce. I adore imported ingredients I can’t find anywhere else on the planet. I cherish amazing packaging. I get a buzz when I discover a new product, or a neat new ingredient with which to be creative in my kitchen. LOVE IT! I equally love being able to dine out at new spots, try new cuisine, or spend time with my friends, a bottle of wine, and a fabulous meal I don’t have to cook or clean up after. I love to indulge. I admit, I love the good life.
I don’t expect to change my love of these things, nor do I plan to give up my process of collecting the new and unusual hedonistic experiences; food or otherwise.
How then, can I reconcile my differences with the love of the food world, and my distaste for the waste?
My plan was to split the difference.
At first this seemed a simple challenge; lower my own personal carbon footprint, be a wiser consumer, produce/contribute to less waste, and build the Elder Glade to become a provider of food and essentials for myself and my neighbors. Then, I would hopefully still be able to enjoy my dining out experiences, and product explorations. ALL THIS: while also keeping my number one objective in mind and perspective--to live as a full-time writer and publish my books.
I would be more careful about my choice of products, suppliers and source materials. I would cook more. I would share out my recipes. I would develop my own recipes for canning and preservation that I would actually enjoy eating and sharing. I would ask my restaurant if I can take home kitchen prep for composting and feeding my livestock. I would recycle as much as I can. I would grow food, raise animals, and create a pocket of renewable resources. This would contribute to a lower footprint, as well as to my goal of being a self-reliant writer in the woods.
If the primary goal is to be able to write more, then the secondary goal was to be able to live a full and delicious writer life without contributing to more waste than I’m balancing out, or feeling like I’m giving up all the awesomeness that is indulgence.
By taking on more of the challenge of self-reliance—I would then be able to appreciate and enjoy the delicacies this world has to offer in a way that is more mindful and sustainable. It would also mean a shift to finding more meaningful experiences, which would force me into a realm of higher quality products.
I accepted this personal challenge in 2016.
Turns out, it was a lot harder to do in real life than it was on paper.
Baby steps to be self-sustainable, and living smaller on less:
I took up beekeeping and gardening. I planted the first round of grapes, hazelnuts, cherries, and roses. I tested the garden the first year—it needed a revision of layout and organization by the second year. I also realized my soil was deficient in nitrogen and potassium from the heavy rainfall of my region. So, I took my first crack at aquaculture; farming trout. I wanted to create a cycle of water from the fish to the nitrogen starved garden. (First year aquaculture fail)
I started raising chickens for eggs and fertilizer. I’m working on a better composting method (my current method attracts wild animals, so it’s not going to work long term). I began to work on foraging (blackberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, mushrooms) and local trade and barter (fruit from friends and neighbors).
Meanwhile, I’m cooking a lot more. I love cooking, so that’s the fun part. Because I’m working at being more sustainable long-term, I feel like I can justify more of the special ingredients I like to work with; imported cheese, wine, sake, chocolate, salt, and whisky. And because I’m working toward a better overall sustainable practice, my intermediate ingredients I try to source either locally, or from suppliers with methods I can get on board with. (Things such as vegetables, roasted coffee (still has to be imported raw), fruit, spices, and meats (local beef, and seafoods).
Still, all of this effort has to fit within the scope of an indie writer’s budget (primary goal) therefore, sometimes, I have to slide off the plan and buy cheap, or in bulk. I hate to admit it, but in super tight budget windows, I do make a trip to Walmart or Target. Sometimes it can’t be helped. This works in a different way though; my mileage to town is about an hour each way, so having a well-stocked pantry means fewer trips to town, less gas used, and more time writing. It sucks to buy in bulk at Walmart, but in the end is sometimes hits all the target markers for the primary goal--writing.
Cooking more, especially more outdoor cooking, has brought me back to a sense of full circle with my ingredients, and my childhood. Getting back into making bread, learning more about multiple types of fermentation, experimenting with homemade mead, cider, wines, and liquors, and even diving into the world of cannabis cuisine has totally blown my mind with the potentials of living a rich hedonistic life in the wilderness without a sense of losing any of the good things.
In the future I may need to split my time between the world outside and my little bubble in the woods. Research and travel, and the need for adventure will call me out of the wild, luring me with the promise of new discoveries. But if I can manage to keep myself supported at least half the year with these methods so my impact is lesser when I’m out in the world, well, I’ll be okay with trying to do my part in preventing unscalable waste, while also working to remind myself about the inter-connectivity of the planet, and my hungry palate.
I realize I’m a woman with large desires, both of mind and body. I dream big. I imagine big. I drink well, and eat well. I build things.
Working toward self-sustainability is my plan to be able to live affordably on a writer’s budget, and also to live as a human being that balances out my overall impact. As a woman with large appetites, all appetites, this means giving back as much as I consume.
I don’t have all the answers today about how to do that. It’s a work in progress, and I’m enjoying the challenge. I get better at it every year.
In the meantime, this post is to set the stage for the “A Palate for Life”, and “Recipes” categories on the blog. I’ll be posting the foods I cook or create. When I have better ways of validating the source materials, I’ll let you know how I come across my ingredients, and what makes them unique.
For example: I’m currently practicing cooking with the apple butter I canned last fall. This means experimenting with all sorts of new dishes to incorporate the spicy sweet apple butter I made from apples given to me by my neighbor down the road. I’m also in the middle of bottling the blackberry liqueur I made from foraged fruit.
To explain the importance of these recipes and the flavor experimentation: I’ll connect the recipe and ingredients to where they are used in my books as world-building concepts, scene accents, and or post-book products and recipe cards. Much of what I taste, eat, smell, or indulge in ends up in my writing, and or on complementary note cards to support my works of fiction. This adds an element of realism to my books and characters, because we as humans, are so connected to food and the experiences of what we consume. (IE: the apple fritters Sybil, and Fable eat in Sinnet of Dragons, or the breakfast eel scene in Murder of Crows, etc.)
These foody adventures, what I’m eating, drinking, creating in the kitchen will be found under A Palate for Life, and Recipe tags.
Please feel free to write in with requests or suggestions. I’m always on the lookout for new techniques, ingredients, and products. Tags for social media: #ElderGlade #cottagestead #PalateforLife