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Ed’s Corner

It’s About Time

We think we can manipulate time, twist it like a Gumby, do whatever with it.
For example, we say we can save it, spend it. But I don’t know of a time bank where you get time interest from the time you put into it.

You can have a great time, a terrible time; we believe we can even make time; take time out; be on time; waste time; lose time; run out of it; squeeze time.

To me, time is:

now….now….now….now….now….now…. You get the idea. We live only in this moment, this now.

Good news!

There are a lot of moments in front of you. You are blessed with many possibilities and choices of how you want to be or what you want to do in the next many moments. Yes, the choice is yours: what will you make of the most precious thing you have?

This month of October is glorious in so many ways. I hope you will choose to “spend” your time with your children out-of-doors.

The Season of Squash

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, describes one of fall’s most notable vegetables and some imaginative uses for it.

If summer is the peak in the circle of the seasons, then winter is the valley, and fall is a gentle stroll downhill into the land of winter. Fall is a season that brings no promises, but instead, it gives a lot on the spot. To compensate for cooler weather, it warms us with colors of gold, orange, rusty browns and reds, and nourishes us with an abundant harvest. The dominant taste of the season is sweet. Fall treats us with the sweetness of ripe wine grapes, fresh apples and apple cider, roasted squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnip. Towards the end of the growing season, peppers in the garden turn not only red, but also sweet; so too do many leafy greens, as temperatures drop.

There is a lot one could do on a nice fall day, and there are lots of ways to engage children in seasonal activities. So much can be done with just some winter squash and pumpkin (which is also a type of winter squash). One could carve a pumpkin of course, visit a farm for a pick-your-own pumpkin event, decorate the house with pumpkins or squash, or use them as materials for craft projects.

Any type of pumpkin or winter squash will bring the feel of autumn into our homes, but gourds are especially sought after as a seasonal decoration. While not edible, they can be used to craft functional objects; such as birdhouses, bowls, vessels for liquids, instruments, or even gnome homes. With a little imagination they can be turned into improvised toys. Their unusual shapes will make our kids think of dinosaurs, daisies, dumplings, swans, and who knows what else.

A French heirloom pumpkin, Rouge vif D’Etampes, also known as a Cinderella Pumpkin, will transport us into the realm of fairy tales without the magic touch of the Fairy Godmother. It is a fairly large pumpkin of vivid orange color, with a flattened and heavily lobed shape, resembling the fairy tale carriage of Cinderella–hence its name. I imagine it would be fun to use one of these to create a carriage for a favorite doll or a dwelling for a magical creature visiting your backyard. According to some sources, this variety had been cultivated by the Pilgrims and served at the second Thanksgiving dinner. Besides being the perfect pumpkin pie ingredient, it can serve as a lovely biodegradable serving dish for a squash soup. If simply put on a table or shelf it will be a statement in itself. Another French variety, Musque de Provence (or Fairytale Pumpkin), has similar great looks and qualities.

The sweet harvest is waiting to be embraced in the kitchen too. Winter squash can be enjoyed simply roasted, or mashed with a bit of cream and a dash of nutmeg for a side dish, used in soups, or in muffins and sweet breads. Acorn Squash or other smaller types like Baby Hubbard and Japanese Futsu can be filled with a variety of stuffing and baked. The flesh of pumpkin and succulent winter squashes works well as a filling for pumpkin pie. Seeds and fiber of any edible winter squash can be used for stock or as a snack for a flock of chickens. Pumpkin also offers edible seeds that taste great roasted. Aside from the high fat content, pumpkin seeds have abundant protein and lots of trace minerals (zinc, manganese, magnesium, copper and iron.) Even better for seeds than pumpkin is Kakai Squash. This medium-sized, slightly oblate squash with orange and dark green stripes is grown and valued for its hull-less or naked seeds. Instead of a shell, the seeds are covered with a thin cellophane-like membrane. Since they do not require shelling, one is tempted to eat them fast, and the possibility of overeating is very high for everyone who loves the taste of freshly roasted pepitas. If there are any left after snack time, they can be used as an addition to your granolas, salads, pumpkin soup, breads, or rolls.

While munching on a handful of pumpkin seeds the other day, I found myself thinking about winter, and realized that I felt a certain melancholy about it being just around the corner. I sometimes find it hard to enjoy fall, because winter is next, with its cold and short days. But I’d like to be fair to this season of abundance, so I am reminding myself of all of Fall’s sweetness and gifts; stay in the moment, stay present to all of the beauty that is in it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

 (From A Fresh Pumpkin)

Do not discard seeds from your pumpkin intended for carving. You can make a Jack O’ Lantern and a great snack from the same pumpkin.

Scrape the seeds from the pumpkin with a large spoon. Clean away the stringy flesh. Rinse the seeds with water if needed. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and let them dry for several hours in your kitchen or on a sunny spot outdoors. The seeds are now ready for roasting and seasoning.

I prefer my pepitas dry-roasted without any seasoning, but they can be flavored with a variety of spices.  Most children will appreciate Pumpkin Spice Pepitas.

Dry-Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Preheat the oven to 300F.  Spread the seeds in a single layer on a prepared sheet pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Seeds should be golden and crunchy when done.

Pumpkin Spice Pepitas

  • 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 – 1 ½  teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt

Preheat the oven to 300F.  Combine all ingredients and spread in a single layer on a prepared sheet pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through.

 

Bring on the Barberries

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden introduces us to a superfood found growing by some of our favorite hiking trails.

Barberries are an introduced plant in our area, having escaped captivity and made their home at the edges of our woodlands.

Straight off the bush, the small elongated red berries tend to be rather tart, but they can be pretty tasty when they are prepared correctly.  However, I eat them straight off the bush, regardless of their flavor.  They are such a potent superfood, that I don’t mind the flavor.  I rarely pass a bush without helping myself to a few berries.  It is as though I am taking a supplement.

Barberries are remarkably high in antioxidants.  They have been measured at 9 times that of Goji berries.  For this reason, they are a good anti-cancer food.  Naturally, they help build the immune system.  During the winter months, they are a good source of Vitamin C.

As I mentioned in my last Barberry post, these berries have been clinically proven to be highly effective in clearing up acne.

Now, as we head into winter, Barberries are once again coming into season.  If I can gather enough of them, I will usually make some Barberry butter, which can be used as a sauce over ice cream or as basting sauce for chicken, duck or fish.  It is excellent just spread on bread.

Upcoming Fall Events

24th Annual Food and Farmers Festival this weekend

When: Saturday, September 23rd, 11 am – 4 pm

Where: The Hungry Hollow Co-op Market @ 841 Chestnut Ridge Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

Join us at the co-op’s annual celebration of farmers and local food producers, featuring live music, grilled local food, organic cotton candy and popcorn, nature walks, hay rides, cider pressing (with us), and more!

Admission to this fun family event is free and your support of the co-op and local food producers is very much appreciated.

       

Green Meadow’s Fall Fair – Hope to see you there!

 

When: Saturday, October 7th, 10 am to 4 pm

Where: Green Meadow Waldorf School @ 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

Join us for Green Meadow Waldorf School’s annual Fall Fair. We’ll be there pressing apples into cider and welcoming autumn back into our lives. A wonderful family event with activities for all ages! Stop by any time between 10 am and 4 pm. Additional details can be found here.

See you there!

Our Fall Open House

 

When: Saturday, November 4th, between 1 and 4 PM – by appointment 

Where:  Meet at the Lower School Building @ Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY

The best way to learn more about The Nature Place is by coming to an open house. We’ll take you on a tour of camp, give you a full picture of what we do and why we do it, and answer your questions about the ins and outs of camp.

Please email us in advance at camp@thenatureplace.com to set up your appointment.

Ed’s Corner

To those of you who are reading our blog for the first time, welcome! To those who are long-time readers, it’s good to have you back. Each year, when I am called to prepare my contribution for September’s issue of The Dirt and its corresponding blog post, it is a tell-tale sign for me that summer is over, and it is time once again to enter the magical and transformational season called ‘fall’.

As many of us know, beyond our personal, unofficial signs of fall’s arrival, there is in fact an official beginning to the season. This year, the autumnal equinox occurs on Friday, September 22nd at precisely 4:02 PM, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. On this day we will have equal parts night and day. From then on, nights will slowly become longer than days, until we arrive at the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice in December. From there we begin the slow lengthening of our days as the cycle through the seasons continues.

With the thought of this cyclical, circular motion in mind, I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote following our last day of camp, just a bit over a month ago. Though the season has begun to turn, the memory of that day is still just as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. It is one that I will hold dear as we enjoy each changing season, until we arrive at glorious summer once again.

 

Love Is All Aground

On the big field, on the last day of camp,
without fail, we take time for goodbyes.
Holding hands, we form one large circle
that this year held one final surprise.

With all of our campers and counselors
each holding the hands of two others,
no matter how many, how far afield,
we always find room for each other.

Once our living circle has formed,
the center we share gives us reason
to recall all the circles we have in our lives:
the earth, the moon…the seasons.

We may feel a little bit melancholy,
knowing this summer’s camp is now done,
but we take solace in the circle of time:
we’ll be back, under next summer’s sun.

As we stood hand in hand, I became aware,
my eyes tracing our ring, start to start:
though our ‘circle’ may not have been perfect,
it did form one great, perfect HEART.

The tipis that still dominated the field
had sent us a little astray,
enough to dimple our circle of souls
in this wondrously suitable way.

I was called to the middle to share
some meaningful, well chosen words.
I had them scripted, but this surprise heart
had rendered them moot and absurd.

All I really needed to do
was point out the heart we had made,
shaped by our own hearts and hands
though we hadn’t known what was at play.

Love and tears suffused the air,
the oohs, the ahhs were all profound.
We’ve always known our camp is Love —
here the proof stood on the ground.

 

 

Black Walnut Riches

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden describes the ways he makes the most of this sure sign of autumn.

Every fall, beginning in mid-September, I gather the black walnuts that litter the ground like green and black tennis balls all around our neighborhood. I try to gather the green ones, as they are less likely to contain the ubiquitous husk maggots. I remove the husks (usually by rolling them underfoot until the husks split) and put the nuts on a tray to dry them out, either in a low oven or in my dehydrator. After the initial drying I leave them sitting on a wire rack, to cure for about six weeks. Around Thanksgiving time they are ready to use.

To make use of the husks, I put them into a large bucket and pour on hot water. After a while, the water turns a deep, blackish brown. I pour it through a strainer into a second bucket, then use it to dye clothes or to stain wood. It makes the best tie dye effects.

Once the nuts have cured, I begin using them in my recipes. If I need nuts in my pastries, I’ll use either hickory nuts or black walnuts (or both), secure in the thought that they are fresh and haven’t been irradiated, like so many commercial nuts. Besides, black walnuts taste great!

The most challenging part is opening these tough shelled nuts. I use a strong knife and a hammer to split them in two, and then some snippers to remove the remaining shells (see below).

I encourage you to explore the many uses of one of nature’s many autumnal gifts.

Back to School

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, recalls daydreaming during class in Catholic School, and what his Third Grade Nun had to say about it…

It happens at the end of every summer. Come September, there is the ritual return to school. The beginning of my third year at Catholic School was much like the year before. Marching in well-ordered lines from the playground/parking lot into the tan-bricked school building and up into our first-floor classroom, we were returned to our formal training. Ricky Cramshaw, Cousin Buzzy, and Cindy Maloney were across the street at the public school, which was called the Washington Avenue School. But I was sent to the Sacred Heart of Jesus school, where my mother Tessie hoped I would be inspired to lead a sacred life. My dad, Walt, didn’t care which school I went to, as long as I skipped as many days possible and spent them in the woods.

Our teachers were called Nuns, and they were women who wore black and white robes with hats that were called Habits. Ricky observed that they looked like penguins (and they did, sort of). My First Grade Nun was an elderly woman who didn’t seem to know why she was there. My Second Grade Nun was an exceptionally short woman, who was one of the toughest Nuns I ever met. But the Third Grade Nun was just the opposite. She was tall and gentle and she sang out constantly—beautiful psalms and hymns while we were doing lessons. She even taught us to sing. She was the first woman teacher at this school whom I was not afraid of.

During the first week of school, I found myself assigned to a desk near the window. The maples had yet to turn and the squirrels were busy running about the branches and pulling on fresh, new acorns. No matter what the subject, my thoughts drifted away and out the window, first to the squirrels in the trees and then further on to the woods back home. At mid-morning of each school day there was a recess, wherein all the kids were marched out to the hall and then each one took a turn to visit the bathroom, whether you needed to or not. On the third day of third grade, when we marched out to the hall, this singing nun (whose name was Sister Barbara Ann) stopped me and looked into my face and said, “Master Stead, for the past three days I have seen you stare out the window and drift away into the trees out there.”

 

I nodded my head in agreement, since there was no sense in hiding what she already knew. But then she said this, “And I can see by your face that you go beyond the trees to some other place.”
Again, I nodded, but I was now scared that she could see inside me.
She said, “Where do you go?”
I spoke slowly and said, “Up the mountain to look for animal tracks.”
“What kind of animal tracks?” she asked.
“Squirrel, opossum, coon, cat and dog.”
“Why?”
I told her, “Because that was how nature writes its story.”
She looked at me and her face was full of wonder. She said, “I’ll tell you what, Master Stead, when I see that look in your eyes and think you are searching for animal tracks, I won’t call on you, OK?”
I nodded my head in agreement.
Then she said, “But sometimes I will need to call on you to help me answer things about places and arithmetic and about double negatives…”
I said, “I ain’t got no double negatives.”
She smiled and said, “I don’t got no negatives neither.”

She then stood up and sent me to the bathroom. And for the rest of the year, I knew there were times when she saw that I was looking out the window, and she did not call on me. Sister Barbara Ann was my first favorite teacher, for letting me go away when I needed to.

The Way We Cook

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, serves up a thought-provoking piece about the ‘ways’ and the ‘whys’ of cooking, along with a refreshing recipe for an autumnal equinox elixir of sorts.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are, ” goes Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s famous aphorism. Besides being a lawyer and a politician, Brillat-Savarin was also a gourmet and one of the founders of the gastronomic essay genre. I can’t resist mentioning the charming and very long title of his famous Physiology of Taste, published in 1825. The full French tittle is Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savants.

Brillat-Savarin’s famous quote popped into my mind during a cooking class this summer while I was listening to an exchange between a group of campers. Inspired by what I heard, my thoughts went in a bit of a different direction. I was thinking something along the lines of “tell me how you cook, and you will tell a lot about yourself.”

The cooking class conversation involved a group of teenage campers. As one boy was chopping onions, a few pieces fell to the floor, and some jumped from the cutting board to the table. This minor mishap resulted in some friendly teasing from fellow campers. The camper was jokingly called a messy cook. Luckily, he did not feel intimidated, and he had the perfect answer for his friends: “Well, my mom always says that there is no good cooking without a mess in the kitchen.” It did not end here. Another camper offered a very different quote from his own mother: “My mother says that it is very important to always be organized in the kitchen.”

How do you cook? Do you follow a recipe without changing anything? Do you read recipes for inspiration, then close the cookbook? Maybe you don’t use recipes at all. Do you usually stick to several well-tested recipes or does your repertoire always involve something new and adventurous? Do you wash the dishes continuously or do you let them to accumulate? How do you feel about immersing your fingers in sticky dough? Would you avoid a recipe because its preparation comes with a lot of mess? Do you like having company or help while cooking? Are measuring tools your friends or are you just fine without them? Do you plan menus well ahead or just go with the flow?

We are all different and we like to do things differently. The kitchen is not an exception. I always try to remember this when I cook with kids.  When deciding how to engage our children in cooking activities, what tasks to delegate or share, we have to, of course, consider their age first. We need to ask ourselves, ‘what are they able to do and what activities would they enjoy?’. Some children prefer little tasks and want our help, others want to do everything by themselves. Repetitive tasks work for some, but not all. A quiet, patient child will enjoy neatly forming piece after piece of dough into a desired shape. A high-energy, active child will prefer working with a mortar and pestle, or to invest a lot of energy into cranking a manual grinder. Some prefer to imitate the parent and do exactly as told. For others, open-ended tasks are more suitable.

Let’s remember that cooking is a sensory experience. Consciously incorporating this aspect into our projects works especially well with young children. Let them smell, taste, touch, and explore texture. They will take in much more than we would expect.

When we cook together, we cultivate not only good eating habits, but more much: patience, perseverance, creativity among others. We have the opportunity to teach our children about environmental responsibility, the nutritional value of foods we make, and even time management. Cooking also creates an opportunity to improve hand-eye coordination and fine motors skills. Observe your kids as they roll out dough, pour, spoon, chop, measure, decorate, spread, or peel. Do they need help? Are they more skilled than a few months ago? Hands-on experience with food preparation makes for adventurous eaters. By involving children in an activity that makes a difference, we help to build their self-confidence. Most importantly, cooking is a bonding opportunity with our kids—an opportunity to cultivate social skills. We cook together, and while we chop and stir, maybe even teenagers will open up. Maybe we will hear something unexpected; maybe we learn something new about our children. (And, of course, there is a possibility that none of this will happen, but we will still have a nice meal!) It is never too late to start to cook, and never too early to begin to cultivate a lifelong habit of those long conversations in the kitchen.

 

Pear and Lemon Verbena Soda

Summer meets fall in this refreshing drink. Lemon verbena brings the taste of the warm season, pear: the promise of the upcoming harvest. As we say goodbye to the summer and welcome the fall, this is a great drink for the last outdoor gathering of the season, or the celebration of the fall equinox.

Older children should be able to prepare this recipe without help (make sure to supervise them when they handle hot water.)  Ask the younger ones to squeeze out the lemon juice, to measure out the liquids and the sugar, to stir the sugar into the hot tea and watch it “disappear”. Don’t forget to let them smell and touch the fresh herb!

6 sprigs of fresh lemon verbena, about 5’’ long
5 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 bottle of sparkling pear juice

Pour boiling water over lemon verbena. Let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea. Add sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let the tea to cool.

When ready to serve, put a few ice cubes into each glass. Pour in one part lemon verbena tea and one part sparkling pear juice. Garnish with slices of lemon and lemon verbena leaves. Enjoy!

Ed’s Corner

I hear people discussing it in our co-op grocery store. Or while waiting to pick up their children from the school parking lot.

The fall –  how long it has lasted, how gentle the temperatures have been and the colors, especially those colors. The reds are so deep it seems like if you touched one your finger would just keep sinking in. And the yellows! Touch one and it feels like your finger might spark! And many trees are holding their leaves longer, releasing them not in a windy maelstrom of hundreds at a time, but slowly, sometimes in small groups; at times, one or two.

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There is lately, in the public school arena, much talk and strong feelings about the Core Curriculum: what should children know? Let’s test them! And then have teachers teach to the test, and then, be sure to test the teachers to make sure they are doing just that.

This kind of fall reminds me of a fleeting and wild thought I had years ago: every school curriculum, call it ‘Core’ or something else, should include, at each grade level, a course or set-aside time, outdoors, naturally, throughout the school year, in every season. Through interaction and experience with the earth – its seasons, customs, and rhythms – each child would have the opportunity to develop a true sense of place and belonging. Of course there would be a test, to be taken frequently:  a) Show up  b) dress for the weather.

My wife, Jill, attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. One day each fall the school’s chimes would ring out at 8 am, the signal for a tradition called Mountain Day. Everyone knew it would happen in autumn, but not when. On this day all classes were canceled, and students climbed up nearby Mount Holyoke for a day spent outdoors, sharing time in nature with friends.

I have often thought that in businesses, schools and such, the concept of a ‘Well’ Day’ is equally important as that of the ‘Sick’ Day. Strongly recommended in this ‘Well’ Day would be a nature component, visiting a nearby park or tending a community garden. A ‘Well’ Day might sometimes include taking your child out of school for the day to accompany you outdoors.

I have a feeling that incorporating ‘Well’ Days into the year will result in less ‘Sick’ Days being used.

Perhaps you have seen recently in the news that all REI stores will be closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

And, the company is specifically encouraging its employees to get out into nature on that Friday!

Yea!, REI.

Why don’t you join me and all the REI employees as we forego shopping on that day too, and go outside instead?

Burning Bush

Cooking with Children, a Double-edged Sword

Cooking with children may seem like a double-edged sword. There is fun, joy, creativity, playful learning, etc. on one side and usually a big mess on the other. We all remember cooking together that resulted, among other things, in water being spilled all over the floor, in vegetable peels scattered around the kitchen or in the kitchen island covered in flour and little fingers coated with sticky dough. After recreating order from the chaos around us, we might be tempted to ask ourselves: “Was it worth it?” After short hesitation, our inner voice will hopefully answer: “Yes, it was.”

I consider cooking with children an investment into their future and mine. (Selfishly hoping that maybe one day I will be able sit down to a nicely set table and enjoy a meal prepared by my children.)

When I cook with children, on the practical level, I teach them a life skill. I am empowering the kids by giving them the ability to take care of themselves and possibly others. But on the way towards the meal, as they help to prepare it, they also learn where food comes from, how it is grown and what it takes to grow it. Those who know how long the road is from a seed planted on a farm to a dinner on our table, will appreciate the food, the environment and labor of those who work with nature to grow food.

Depending on your priorities, you may consider cooking with children also a real life application of math skills (when measuring, doubling or downscaling a recipe), a practice of eye–hand coordination (think chopping, grating etc.), lesson in cultural history (Where does bread come from?) and science (What does the yeast do?), or an exercise in finding balance, in this case between flavors, textures, aromas and colors. I like to tell myself that I am doing all of the above and thus contributing to my children’s wellbeing and holistic understanding of the world.

Before involving children as helpers in big cooking projects, it is nice to empower them by letting them create a simple meal they are able to make (almost) all by themselves.

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I ‘d like to share a recipe for a simple seasonal salad we made out of the season’s last baby greens harvested in our garden on an unusually warm November day. Children will be thrilled to get their hands wet when washing the greens, make the salad spinner spin and prepare the dressing using a low-tech shaking method. Have more dried cranberries handy than needed for the salad, some will get “lost” along the way.

 

Salad for the Fall Season

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For the salad:
6 cups of mixed baby greens (our mix included several types of lettuce, arugula, mizuna, and baby kale)
1 crispy apple, chopped into small chunks
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts, preferably toasted

Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, put through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper

Wash the greens, then dry using a salad spinner.
Put the vinaigrette ingredients into a small mason jar. Close the jar and shake for 30 to 60 seconds.
Place the salad greens and apple chunks in a bowl, gently toss with the vinaigrette.
Sprinkle with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.

This salad makes a nice seasonal lunch, and although simple and easy to make, it is good enough to deserve a spot on your holiday table. Enjoy!