Ed’s Corner

The Fifth Season

Well, we all know we have winter, spring, summer and fall, but did you know there
is a fifth season? It’s Sugaring Time. Coming right between winter and spring, it can last for 2 weeks or close to two months.

It’s all dependent on the weather. Cold nights and warmer days are what’s needed for the buckets on our maple trees to fill with the clear, sweet liquid we call ‘sap’. We then boil the sap until it turns into that amber aristocrat of all sweets – maple syrup!

I hope you can make one of the two maple sugaring programs we will be offering this Saturday, February 24th. The purpose of the program is to give you enough information to identify a maple tree, show you how to ‘tap’ it, how to collect the sap, and how to boil it down to maple syrup. Each family will take home a sheet of instructions and your very own spout.

Sugaring is a great family activity – everyone can get involved in some way and the syrup you’ll make will be the best syrup you’ve ever tasted in your life!

Looking forward to seeing you as we celebrate our fifth season.

Pine Resin

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden, points out the many properties and potentials of pine resin…

During the winter months, when most signs of life have disappeared, I make good use of our local evergreens, particularly the ubiquitous White Pine. Besides having vitamin rich needles that make a tasty tea, it drops hundreds of pine cones.  Most of them are usually spattered with droplets of dried Pine resin, which can be scraped off and collected.

Pine resin is a very useful substance to have on hand. To begin with, it is highly flammable, which makes it very useful in fire making, especially when using damp wood. I’ve started a fire in a rain storm using pine cones and birch bark.

The resin can be melted down and used as an adhesive or a water-proofing sealer. By adding different fillers, we can create various media and glues. Hardwood ash, for instance, will make a hard epoxy-like adhesive. The addition of beeswax will create a more malleable medium, similar to tar.

The medicinal properties of Pine resin are extensive. It is anti-microbial, an anti-fungal and a pain reliever (especially for arthritis). It can be dissolved in oil to create an infused oil, that can be used in the treatment of chest complaints and cold symptoms.

These amazing trees have many more uses, including as a food.

In the February Thaw

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, continues his story from last month, about mysterious happenings in the Ramapo mountains…

There had been an early February thaw long enough that most of the snow had melted off and there was a lot of critter movement. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, had come out and wandered about, staring at their shadow in the bright winter sunshine. Then they went back into their dens, because seeing their shadow meant winter would last another six weeks. But if it is a long mid-winter thaw, the groundhogs hang out for a few days and poke around for something to eat. Deer mice come out and hurry about looking for food with no fear of snakes, as the snakes don’t travel far from their winter dens. The mice do need to keep a watch out for raccoons, foxes, coyotes, weasels and hawks—but at least not the snakes. Raccoons and skunks take long naps in the cold weather; not quite hibernating, but long enough to make them very hungry when they come out from time to time. Trappers of these animals bait their traps with oil of anisette, which smells like licorice and is a delicious attraction for hungry coons and skunks.

Geoff Masters went walking along beneath one of the terraces of Torne Mountain to ‘freshen’ up a few traps with some lore he carried in an eye-drop bottle. It was a mixture of anisette, tea tree oil, and skunk urine. The coon population was very much on the rise, so he was doing his best to capture and kill as many of them as he could. The fur was worth as much as $15 an animal, and the meat was the secret ingredient for the Ramapo Burgers, cooked up at his cousin’s Burger Shack. It was the second day of a February thaw and it was early, just past sunrise, when Geoff came around a clutch of boulders along the south slope of the ridge, and nearly walked headlong into a man coming from the other direction. They were both startled and they both stepped back and stared for a moment. This man wore a canvas backpack and was carrying a wooden handle with a curious metal hook at the end of it. The man smiled and said something about it being a nice day for a hike. Geoff agreed and they walked past each other.

But Geoff only went a few feet and then hunkered down and waited behind a large egg-shaped boulder. He feared that this man was a trap stealer and that his curious stick with the hook on it was what he used to snap up the traps he stole. So, after a few minutes, Geoff followed back to track the man. But as he came around the place where they first met, he saw that this man had not gone on down the trail, but instead had gone up the cliff side. Geoff followed up the cliff just a bit and then, out above him, he saw the man setting up a little place, and then proceeding to sit down and watch the broken load of rocks, with the sun on his back.

Later, Geoff said to Uncle Mal at the paint shop, “Mal, I spied on this fellow for at least half an hour and all he did was sit and watch those rocks.”

Mal said, “Was he crazy?”

Geoff shook his head and said, “Except for the watching the rocks thing, he seemed sane enough.”

Me and Ricky where listening to the two men talk about this from where we sat on a heap of canvas drop sheets petting Old Mike, the Shop Dog. Ricky said, “Uncle Mal, how could you tell if a fella was crazy?”

Mal said, “By his behavior, by the way he acts.”
“My Gram says, one man’s crazy is another man’s normal.”
Mal looked down at him and said, “Your grandmother talks to trees so I don’t think she’s a good judge of crazy.”

“She says crazy is something only people can be, animals don’t go in for being crazy.”
Geoff laughed at this. He said, “She’s got a point there.”
Ricky looked into Old Mike’s fuzzy, black face and said, “You ain’t much crazy, Mike!”

Mal said, “Yes sir, the old lady’s right about that. Crazy is something we humans take credit for.”
He then looked at Geoff and said, “But I wonder if this here fellow sitting up on those rocks in the thaw ain’t watching for snakes…”

“Snakes?” Geoff said, “Why would a man watch for snakes in February?”
Mal shrugged and said, “I don’t know, but last month the boys found a froze-up black snake down by the river and that don’t seem right either. You think this fellow might have something to do with that?”

Geoff shook his head and said, “I don’t see how the one thing is connected to the other.”
Ricky looked up and said, “My Gram says everything is connected to the other.”
Mal said, “And she’s the woman who talks to trees, boy!”

And Ricky said, “She likes the oak trees and says they’re the smartest. Pine are serious and the Birch are silly.”

Mal shook his head and told us to go out and talk to some trees. We did, but I couldn’t help to wonder if he wanted us out of there so they could talk some more about this mysterious stranger, up in the mountain staring at snake dens.

Be Straw Free!

Sondra Grewe deGraft-Johnson and Emily Selover invite us all to join in saying ‘no, thanks!’ to plastic drinking straws for the entire month of March, and hopefully beyond…

Hey All!

Ayla and Daniel’s lingering questions about how to choose sustainability in a word that prioritizes plastic, especially when in the midst of life’s challenges, got us thinking and got us inspired. We’re here to propose a simple way that you can reduce your waste, increase your mindfulness, gently educate others, and build your own momentum in creating a life with less plastic….


Its as simple as that! When getting a drink to go, don’t grab a straw. When ordering a drink at a restaurant or requesting a round of waters, just make sure you add, “no straws, please”! As soon as you start to pay attention to plastic straws, you’ll notice just how ever-present they are – and it’s a little scary (you can read some facts and figures here). But it’s also a great exercise in mindfulness and its an empowering one too! You can keep track of how many straws you deny, and you’ll know exactly the difference you’re making :). Plus, spread the word to friends and family, and watch your simple choice have a ripple effect. We’re even making little cards to put at the end of our table when we go to a restaurant that will say “no straw, please!”, hoping that these will spark conversation and pre-empt any unwelcome straws from ending up in our drinks. We are so excited to have fun with this idea! Will you join us?

We’ll be sharing our straw free escapades on social media with the hashtag #bestrawfreeNPDC and hope you’ll follow along and share your own experiences as well.

Sondra and Emily



Garbage Can Challenge – February Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber and Daniel Bieber write in collaboration this month, catching us up on their family’s mission to reduce their waste, and sharing some of the critical questions that’ve been on their minds and in their hearts.

As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, sometimes life throws you a curveball. Then you have to put down some of the other balls you’re juggling in order to focus on an important or unexpected challenge. This month was just that for my family. All is OK, but for a while it wasn’t – we were all in crisis-mode, overwhelmed by a family emergency. Naturally, this took our time and attention away from the rest of life, including our garbage challenge. Despite giving myself permission to buy certain ‘easier’ (but more heavily packaged) items, we didn’t exceed our goal tremendously – 3/4 of our garbage can was full instead of the hoped for 1/2.

It was harder than I thought it would be to go back to buying certain things that I had worked hard to give up. I found myself with a new level of anger about just how hard it is to get away from plastic. There’s got to be another way to package food!

Feeling lost in a sea of thought and plastic, I began to wonder: ‘Why is it so challenging to live a zero/low-waste lifestyle’? And ‘How do people do so when life presents a challenging, time-consuming event, or when all of life is an overarching state of crisis (i.e., poverty)’?

These thoughts led me to more thoughts:

What happens when our ideals meet reality? What do we do when stress, busyness, or struggle consume our ability to fully engage in our ideal? How do we compromise what we think is right with what is possible? And, what kind of culture requires that we must give time, money, and energy to be less destructive? What sort of society ask us to choose between dealing with life (a new baby, sick family member, overwork, poverty, illness, etc.) and having the time, money, and resources to be a less destructive consumer (to buy the right package-free products, to grow/make as much as we can, etc.)? I know that when the sh*t hits the fan in my life, I fall back on take-out food, whatever’s easy, and rely on meeting my needs through the fastest, least thought-consuming means of survival.

Being able to spend energy on reducing our household waste is a wonderfully privileged endeavor. It means we’ve had the time (albeit fought-after and fleeting) to think about more than how we’ll eat, live, or get through life to the next day. And what does it say about us (human beings, America) that to live eco-consciously and natural resource-consciously is positioned generally as either the lofty choice of the urban/suburban middle/upper class, or the non-choice of the poor, rural subsistence-farmer?

The truth is that this positioning is somewhat contrived. It is a by-product of the super influx of consumerism that has taken place over the course of just a few decades. In generations past, it was commonplace to re-use goods to the end of their life before disposing of them; and even then, to repair broken things instead of buying new ones; and to shop second-hand goods rather than purchase brand new ones. But as of late, new things–plastic things–have been made so inexpensive, things bought online and shipped from far away have become so cheap, packaged food has become so ubiquitous and is sometimes the only thing found in so-called ‘food deserts’, that suddenly it appears as though there is great effort and expense required in choosing other options. In some instances, that may very well be the case. But in many other situations, those other choices – to re-use something until you can’t re-use it anymore, to wrap a gift in newspaper rather than buy new wrapping paper, to opt-out of using a plastic straw (more on this below), or to take public transportation – still exist and are simpler than our consumer culture would lead us to believe.

So we ask ourselves: how do you catch a curveball while juggling? How do we reach for an ideal when mired in the reality of life? What it all comes down to, we’ve been thinking, is that we each just have to do our best and sometimes we have to temporarily shift our expectations. We’re asking ourselves, what are the simple tactics, the things people have been practicing for generations, that can be chosen even when we don’t feel like they’re making a huge difference. The important thing to keep in the back of our minds, is that every little bit counts.

With love,
Ayla and Daniel


Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, takes stock of her lifestyle around food and cooking, and encourages us all to embrace simplicity…

How we manage our time is an important factor in our daily lives. Re-evaluating my daily routines, I came to the conclusion that I have been spending way too much time with cooking and subsequent kitchen cleanup.

It was time to simplify my kitchen activities. Inevitably, many questions crossed my mind: How do others do it? What is wrong with my approach to daily food preparation? How can I simplify things for myself while still serving a homemade meal for my family every night? Is more planning the answer? More improvising? Would an instant pot save me? Or should I start cooking huge batches of food that will last 2-3 days?

I considered the eating habits of my family and those around us. As eaters, we are global citizens for sure. We have access not only to local and seasonal produce, but fruit, vegetables, spices, seafood etc. from all over the world. Without having to travel, we can enjoy cuisines of different nations in local restaurants.

In our culture, eating has become much more than sustenance. We don’t only eat to provide nourishment for our bodies—sometimes we eat for the sake of the experience itself. We try exotic foods we haven’t had before.  We are drawn to haute cuisine offering combinations of flavors and textures that are intriguing, surprising, even provoking.  Celebrity chefs often take dinning to conceptual levels where cooking borders art. A chef engaging in molecular gastronomy seems to be far removed from a cook. They are partly an artist, partly sort of an alchemist trying to extract the true essence of the ingredients. These chefs might serve things that go far beyond unusual: flavored airs and vapors, or a hot cauliflower ice cream that melts as it cools. These are exciting trends, but they certainly can not be reproduced in my kitchen, and to me they stand in sharp contrast with food as a necessary fuel for our bodies.

In the past, just several generations back, homemade food was the only option for most people. As I wrote last month, it was mostly women who cooked every day. We would probably label the everyday food of those days as a simple and possibly boring fare. The majority of households had access to only seasonal and local produce, which meant that the menu was simple and without too much variety.

Food that was relatively expensive, rich in calories, and required elaborate cooking methods, was reserved for special occasions and holidays. Wait! What? Realizing all this, I came to understand the root of my cooking problem: We eat almost every day, as it was a holiday. We need to simplify.

The question that needs to be answered is how to embrace simplicity without the feeling of loss. If simplifying feels like “giving up” something, then it is not sustainable long-term.

I have decided to give it a try. Simpler cooking and eating saves time, money, and environmental resources. Simple meals and simple techniques make it easier to pass on cooking skills to my children. And most children will certainly enjoy a piece of roasted chicken served with plain rice more than my elaborate chicken biryani that (beside the monetary expense) comes at the cost of half a day of my time anyway.

Like trying to appreciate the overlooked details of everyday life, I will try to value earthy, rustic, and simple foods because they fit into the puzzle of a wholesome life.


This is a simple porridge-like dish made with coarsely ground yellow corn marketed as polenta (although polenta is really the name of the dish). I prefer to use organic polenta found in the bulk section of health food stores.

This recipe serves 4.

For the polenta:
1 ½ cup polenta (not instant polenta or ready-made polenta)
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Serve with:
1 cup feta cheese or blue cheese
1 cup sour cream

In a heavy saucepan, bring water to boil. Gradually add polenta, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add salt.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until polenta starts to thicken (about 5 minutes). Cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Polenta is done when texture is creamy and it starts to pull away from the side of the pan.

Divide polenta onto four plates. Top with cheese and sour cream. Serve immediately. For a dairy-free meal use caramelized onions as a topping.