Category Archives: random thoughts

Cob Oven Story

Update: July 15

So yesterday (Bastille Day!), I fired up the oven again for the pop-up farmstand, but also because I didn’t want to admit defeat. I really stoked up the fire and burned it for four hours before daring to put anything in. When I did (rhubarb tartlettes), they were charred within two minutes. It was really effing hot in there. I tossed some figs and goat cheese, and then squash blossoms stuffed with goat feta, then some gifted plums from the cutest student visitors ever. Perfect. After the farmstand, wrapped up (thanks to everyone who came, sorry it was so disorganized), I made a nest of greens and cracked a duck egg into it (yum!). Then I made pizza and it came out great. Then a mulberry strawberry pie (holy f!), then overnight an olla filed with black beans and dried chilis. This morning the olla was still hotter than hell and the beans were perfectly cooked. What I’m saying is: i love the oven.

Ok, my mom keeps asking to see it. So here we go…

I’m really tired, so I’m just going to show some pictures and tell you how we made this oven.

First, I scrounged a bunch of urbanite (rip-rap, busted pieces of concrete) and piled them into a pile. Then threw some gravel in between the cracks. This was all free and took about a day.

Then Sadie and Emma came over and we made the oven. S and E have made ovens before and are really hilarious and fun people.First we made a cob layer over the urbanite to even it out. Cob is made by digging up some clay soil, adding sand, then water and mixing it with our feet on a tarp. After we slapped the cob on, we poured some beach sand on top of that. Remember that during this entire process we always felt a little insane.

Then the void was built out of sand plus water.We were using that Kiko Cob Oven Book.Sadie also watched some youtube videos.

Oh wait, I forgot, before that, we laid down the firebricks. Kissing the bricks. We did the layout about five times before it worked. And you’re probably wondering: how is it that void is so damn circular….

Sadie’s some kind of math whiz, and she made one of those compass things out of chalk. Note that the fire bricks are nicely laid out and smooth.

Then the void was mounded, wrapped in wet newspaper.

Things got messy and I stopped taking photos, but basically, we mixed mud/cob and formed it around the void. Like three inches think. Then we stopped and were tired. It’s actually a lot of work. A few days later, we met up again and added another furry layer of mud mixed with straw. We punched door out of the now hardened dome and all the sand poured out. We shoveled the rest out with our hands. Who needs some sand? I have three buckets of it. Just let me know.

Then the oven dried for 10 days. The big day was upon us on Monday. S and E came over and we started burning wood in the oven. Scraps from Wooden Window (clean, i swear). We burned for two hours. That’s supposed to be enough. It was really hot in the belly of the beast, and the whole oven got warm. We were so excited for this pizza.

Note that that pizza “peel” was made while we burned shit, out of an old table, cut with a sawzall. Very rustic.

This is when I had to admit that the door was going to be a major stumbling block. That is, there wasn’t a very good one, so the heat escaped too quickly. And I had to perform a pizza partial abortion (squeamish, don’t look).

Of course we were delirious with hunger by this point, soaked in smoke, and so we ate the raw pizza abortion. Not bad.

We learned a couple things;

1. need a door

2. need to burn with the fire for longer before scrapping out the coals

3. need a table and workspace. as usual, it was like a terrible novella camp set-up out there in the garden…

4. pizza is advanced topics, especially when thrown right onto the bricks. emma’s rhubarb crisp turned out great.

Okay, going to sleep. But remember: we will be burning that bitch again and hopefully pulling out some goodness. I have plans to make little rhubarb tartlettes and maybe figs seared with goat feta and gt honey….Come by tomorrow (wednesday) 5pm-7pm for the farmstand and cob oven crisis 2. I’ll be selling t-shirts, honey, preserved lemons, salad mix, and turnip greens.

Techno-phobe

hello, it’s your techno-phobe farmer here. i let my domain name, http://www.novellacarpenter.com expire. I arranged to have it transfered, so that’ll happen eventually but in the meantime, set your links and browser here: https://ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com

thanks!

and thanks to everyone who came out to the farm for the tour and pop-up farm stand, it was an amazing day….

Half Way There, oh oh

Did you see it? I was in the paper of record and then I got to do a guest blog, too.

It has generated some hate. Scroll down to comments. I know I could just erase their crazy talk, but somehow, I kind of love them. They’re like, “Hmmm, maybe she doesn’t know rabbits are kept as pets. I’m going to set her straight.” People: I know you keep rabbits as pets. That’s great! It’s not like I want to eat your rabbit. Christ.

Now: onto food. I’ve gotten used to feeling vaguely hungry. Which is a good thing for any chowhound. It means I can wait for something really good to come along. Which it did. Check out this beauty!


A friend came by and bestowed a couple chantrelles on me. I promptly fried them up with some chunks of poached rabbit (ahem), sprinkled some parsley over the top, and there you go, heaven on a fork.


Served with potatoes (running low) and kraut. For dessert: Bebe’s ricotta (she’s a wizard in the kitchen, her cloven feet really don’t impede her at all) topped with peach preserves. Heaven.

Speaking of kraut and whey. I attempted to make chickweed kraut. There’s a scrambling mess of chickweed near my office, and I heard you can make a fermented product out of it. I chopped the chickweed, added salt, poured in some whey, then poured in some liquid from a batch of “real” kraut. After a few days I sampled it. It’s actually kind of good. Chickweed has a nice grassy, springtime flavor to it. And don’t worry–it’s not just cat pee–I washed it, OK?

End of Winter Challenge

Dudes. My pants don’t fit! I think I’ve been eating too much. It’s really gross. So, for the next two weeks, I’ll be revisiting my lovely 100-yard diet from the summer of 2007.

Rules and motivations are slightly different. Let me explain.

Motivations:

1. Too much Chinese food giving me a muffin top, and extra fat layer is making a strange rippling feeling when I walk.

2. Almost spring, time to clean out the whole system. I’ll be using an herbal “deep cleanser” if you know what I mean. It’s been at least five years since my last intestinal cleanse.

3. Bill’s on vacation so I can stay focused.

4. Not getting any younger.

5. Reading Tom Brown, the wilderness survival guru and loving it. Though he looks a little pudgy in his author photo (how can this be if he’s eating acorns and wild nettles all day long?), he’s reminding me that my body is a tool for living, not a carcass for hiding out in. Or something like that.

Rules:

1. Food from the garden only. No Chinese take-out. This includes: rabbit, vegetables, Bebe’s ever-loving milk, cheese, and sorbet (maybe this won’t work to melt pounds). I am going over to Hank’s for dinner, so that’s my one exception.

2. Wild-foraged food okay. Includes ‘shrooms, branches, nettles, and sea salt.

3. Pantry food okay that I’ve grown or picked myself: applesauce, tomatoes, pickles, olives.

Don’t worry: I’m no longer drinking coffee, this is going to be painless.

There, I told you, so don’t let me cheat!! This starts tomorrow, Thursday, February 25, ends March 11.

Animal (hide tanning), Vegetable (fermenting), and (fruit) Miracle

If the New Year is getting you excited to learn some new skills, I have a couple fun classes and things to suggest.

1. Scion Exchange

Berkeley, San Jose, Sebastopol, and many more! 

If you have fruit trees, you can graft different varieties onto your tree! Last year, I went to the scion exchange in San Francisco and got some crazy kinds of fruit trees to graft. Sadly, not one of the grafts took, even though I spent hours going to the scion exchange, whittling scion wood and cleft grafting onto my pear and apple trees. The year before I had four take. Clearly I’m getting all Flowers for Algeron on the grafting tip. I need to brush up!  That’s why I’m so psyched that again the scion exchange is coming! This year, it’ll be in several places, I’m going to the one in San Jose on January 9th, because it’s at an urban farm that sounds mighty wicked.  

For more info about dates and times for the scion exchanges, see the California Rare Fruit website.

2. Rabbit Hide Tanning Class with Tamara Wilder

Ghosttown Farm, Oakland, CA

Feb 6-7, 9am-5pm (Saturday & Sunday)

Braintanning is a natural, beautiful & soft method for tanning furs.

In this two day class, participants will partake in the whole process—from prepping and fleshing the pelt to smoking the softened fur.  Tools and materials will be provided and some softening tools will also be available for sale.

Domestic rabbit furs will be supplied.

$120 per person   

Bio: Tamara Wilder has been demonstrating and practicing ancient living skills for the past 20 years.  She is the coauthor of the book Buckskin: The Ancient Art of Braintanning and regularly teaches seminars on stringmaking, braintanning, firemaking and other ancient technologies across Northern California.  More info at www.paleotechnics.com  

If you’d like to sign up or get more information, email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com. 

*Never mind if you don’t keep rabbits, the concepts in this class apply for all kinds of hairy critters, including squirrels and roadkill. Tamara is a total bad-ass. 

3. Sauerkraut Making on Valentine’s Day

Biofuel Oasis, 1441 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

February 14, 11-12:30

$25

Come on down the Biofuel Oasis and learn how to make sauerkraut and ginger beer from my friend Leslie, who is mighty knowledgeable about all things fermented. We’ll supply all the raw materials to make a jar of kraut and a bottle of ginger beer to take home to your loved ones–with tastings in between. 

Register here; and while you’re there, check out all the other cool classes like Keeping Chickens and Ducks, Greywater, Backyard Beekeeping, Mushroom Cultivation, and Rabbits!

And then there were three

I started this week with six goats and now there are three.

Yesterday Moses came over with his friend and whole family and we sent Eyore/Pretty Boy “back home” as Moses put it. Moses is the owner of a liquor store a block from my house. He’s was a goat farmer in his country, Yemen, and so my goat’s death was swift and painless, facing east, and filled with prayer and respect. Still, it was really intense and sad, and I must admit that killing my little goat made me seriously question the wisdom of eating meat.

My friend who raises pigs and treats them like her children until slaughter time confessed to me that she’s going to get out of the pig business. It just breaks her heart. So all you vegetarians:  don’t think that just because I raise meat animals, I’m a remorseless meat eater. In fact, because I am so close to it, I almost begin to feel resentful of meat eaters who blithely eat lamb and never have to think of the fact that a little cuddle-butt had its throat slit so you can vaguely enjoy a gyro.

futurewether

After Moses left, taking his share of the meat and all of the offall (!), I went out to the garden and processed the goat hide. It’s really beautiful and soft, black and white, and so I want to save it. I stretched it out between some boards and scrapped the fat and meat off it. In a few days, Tamara Wilder is coming to teach a class at my farm about animal processing, so I hope to get tips from her about how to braintan the hide so becomes soft and supple. She is a wise woman, and will be demonstrating in the class humane ways to kill animals, and respect them by using all of their parts.

That night I went to do a reading at Mrs. Dalloways Books. I found myself getting choked up while reading the section in my book, Farm City, about killing my Thanksgiving turkey. I actually had to go through my thought experiment again to re-teach myself how I came to justify eating meat. The biggest one is simply economic: farm animals reach an age when they become a strain on the budget of a farm–it’s either eat them or lose money feeding them. Since, as we’ve learned (ahem) that a farm is defined as producing food not feeding pets, I had to make the decision to harvest the male goat.

Then I remember that keeping animals is a way of life for me, and many other people. I like being around farm animals, I raise and breed my dairy goats, and they will occasionally have male offspring that I can’t keep. From these males, then, their meat will sustain my life. That is why I’m so glad Moses–fount of goat farmerly knowledge–comes over to help. And because I know the whole story of meat: joyous birth, happy goat playing, naps in the sun, I often choose not to eat very much of it.

The other two goats that left the farm–Orla and his daughter Milky Way–didn’t “go home”. They went over to 18th Street, at my new friend A’s house. I’m so excited to have a fellow goat farmer only ten blocks from my place. We have plans to share buck service and milking and going on feed runs. Orlie and MW seemed very relaxed about the journey over to their new digs. Before long they were eating and pooping and seemed to be settling in. I’m always amazed how adaptable goats can be.

IMG00003

I milked Bebe this morning, letting her know that I was sorry about her son’s departure. She stared forward, chewed her cud and let down six cups of creamy milk, more than usual, because this time I got her son’s share too. And for that, I was thankful.

Class Info________________________

For those of you who might be interested in taking the animal processing class: Tamara coming to GT farm this upcoming Sunday, Sept 13. The class will focus on how to humanely kill a chicken, a rabbit, and how to use all of the meat, bone, fur and feathers from these animals, as a way to truly respect and thank them. Each participant will get to process their own animals. It will be truly empowering. Class will start 10am and last the whole day, and costs $100 which includes all materials, and you will go home with the animals you processed.

Here’s the agenda:

10-11am: Introduction and check in, things to think about, etc….

11am -1pm: Rabbit killing and processing

1-2pm: LUNCH (cooking hearts & livers) cook pre-killed rabbit in some way

1pm: put fat on to render

2pm: pour off fat into containers

2-2:30 construct racks and string up rabbit skins to dry.  Demo of stages of tanning.

2:30-3:30 killing, plucking & processing chickens

3:30-4:00 finishing up and farewells

There are a few slots left: email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com if you’d like to sign up.