Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Exciting Changes at the Milkweed Mercantile

It has been almost two years since I've posted anything here. I was very overwhelmed, and my mother's voice, saying "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" was running through my head.  Perhaps I should have listened to Dorothy Parker, who quipped "if you can't say anything nice, come sit next to me."

Anyway, here we are.

Today is a cold blustery day - the wind is whipping outside, our dog Virgil is snoring softly in his bed here beside my desk (there is something very cute about a snoring dog!), and we are warm and cozy in our strawbale home. Our woodshed is full, our pantry is stocked with dozens of jars canned with summer's abundance, and we have some great soup simmering for lunch.

This is Virgil W. Milkweed, who wandered into Dancing Rabbit in March of 2016. We're so happy he did!

But what I really want to talk about is the new Milkweed Mercantile Cooperative.

In February of 2016 we had an Economic Summit here at Dancing Rabbit. Dozens of ideas were being brainstormed - how to bring more business to DR? At the same time, Kurt and I were at the absolute end of our proverbial ropes - we were exhausted, and worn out, and extremely overwhelmed. When we mentioned that we were considering closing the Mercantile because we could no longer do it ourselves, the cry went up: "Save the Mercantile!"

Somehow, when we weren't watching, the stars had aligned and the right people with the right skills had arrived and made a home at Dancing Rabbit. And after almost a full year of weekly meetings, lots of paperwork, conference calls with non-profit groups supporting cooperatives, a few tears (mine), a fund-raising video/prospectus and lots of new systems, a new business was born.

We now have a Board of Directors, all members of the Milkweed Mercantile Cooperative, and all of whom make their homes here at Dancing Rabbit. Kurt and I are two of the ten members of the board. We are maintaining ownership of the Mercantile building but have sold the business to the Cooperative. This is tremendously exciting for us - we are each hoping to find the "simple country life" we had been looking for when we first came to DR 18 long years ago. In retrospect, I can see where the time went - the first eight years were spent launching the village of Dancing Rabbit. We took two years off to help my parents before they passed away, and then spent three years constructing the Mercantile building.

The last seven years have been a wonderful whirlwind of guests, seminars, great meals, great friends, entertaining and hard-working work exchangers, and many great memories. We are looking forward to many more!

Next week Kurt and I embark on the first vacation we've been able to take together in three years. We'll rest easy while lounging in the sun, knowing that there is a full team of skilled and enthusiastic folks running the place in our absence. And between April and October we'll be right here in Rutledge, welcoming you to the new and improved Milkweed Mercantile. We feel quite sure that if you liked us before, you'll love us now!

Below is a list of our founding board. I apologize for the lack of photos - we'll have to work on that. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know (alline at milkweedmercantile dot com).

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all this summer/fall at the Mercantile!

Founding Board

Alline Anderson
An early arrival at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Alline has spent the last 17 years building a home, a village, and a life. Combining her experience in customer service & retail management; knowledge about keeping travelers satisfied & happy gleaned over 30 years as a volunteer Sierra Club trip leader; and interaction with hundreds of DR visitors, Alline developed the systems, policies and menus that have earned the Mercantile its top-notch reputation. Alline created the Mercantile's Artist-in-Residence program to bring more art to the village, and DOGtoberfest to raise much-needed funds for shelters in our area. She is the unofficial birthday cake queen at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as well as the culinary powerhouse behind the growing and ever-popular Mrs. Milkweed’s line of jams and pickles. Alline will continue in her roles as baker, merchandise buyer, special events coordinator and schmoozer.

Lucas Berard
Workshop coordinator, tour guide, and jack-of-all-trades, Lucas is a former Military Policeman (Marine Corps and Army), and an active member of Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Lucas brings lots of experience to the table, having worked in healthcare accounting and program support for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a combined four years of experience in food service management. Both friendly and professional with every guest, he often leaves them with a strong impression - especially when they ask him about how he came to live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage! In February 2015, he was featured in a viral video (over 2.9 million views on Facebook) produced by AJ+, a popular social media news source. He has also shown aptitude for online marketing and outreach, having designed and executed a successful crowdfunding campaign to build a labyrinth for the community in 2015.

David (Cob) Carleton
Cob has been maintaining the storefront aspect of the business, observing what products customers do (and don’t) want, and looking for new products which align with our values as a business. Cob also restocks the shelves and tends bar, and serves as our Treasurer.  A long-time member of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Cob also developed and runs our local public market and bulk grocery store, currently serves on the Village Council, and handles the bookkeeping for several organizations.  Cob previously spent nearly 30 years serving as the Executive Director for multiple not-for-profit professional and trade organizations.  Cob also has experience raising and tracking active children, baking, and brewing great beer.

Nik Garvoille
Chef, webmaster, and graphic designer, Nik has spent years developing innovative menus and elegant presentations. Nik excels at taking what is in season, and delivering delicious meals which meet diverse dietary restrictions and budgets. Nik originally came to the Mercantile as a work exchanger, and also spent ten days as a Mercantile Artist in Residence, using his time to create painting pigments from natural materials found on Dancing Rabbit land. Nik is the designer behind the Mercantile website and Mrs. Milkweed's labels.

Katherine Hanson
Pizza bella, kitchen wrangler, and co of all trades, K-star pitches in wherever needed, and keeps us on our toes.  No stranger to good cooking, Katherine is a former vegan caterer and has since expanded her skillset to include gluten free delicacies and seasonal veggies from her garden.  As a trained facilitator, she guides our decision-making meetings with humor, compassion, and focus, always helping us to bridge any differences in our opinions and perspectives.  Katherine has served on the Dancing Rabbit Village Council, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Center of Sustainable and Cooperative Culture, the non-profit arm of the community.  Cheerleader, friend, and all around ray of sunshine, she puts smiles on everyone’s faces.

Kurt Kessner
Owner of the eponymous building firm Kessner Construction, Kurt built the Milkweed Mercantile, incorporating Alline’s design ideas, to showcase natural building techniques and alternative energy solutions in a comfortable setting. “Uncle Kurt” has been the ever-friendly and helpful person behind the bar for the past seven years, while also seeing to the physical maintenance and upkeep of the building.  Kurt’s background includes over forty years of experience in the building trades and a stint in the Peace Corps teaching building mathematics & carpentry practicals. Kurt has a degree in counseling, picks a mean guitar, and can back up a truck and trailer like nobody's business.

Rae Machado
Innkeeper and detail tracker, Rae ensures all guests have a 5 star experience during their stay at the Inn.  As our President, she makes sure everything keeps running smoothly and that we’re planning and scheduling far enough ahead to meet the demands and expectations of all our customers.  Rae’s background includes 17 years working in the hospitality industry, building her own natural green home, Video Production and Voice Over and working on educational outreach for the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

Aaron Murphy
Television professional and videographer, Aaron is working on improving our social media presence and presentation, customer research, identification of expanded opportunities and markets, and overall promotion of the business in our region.  A creative thinker and idea generator, Aaron ensures we don’t get stuck in any box.  He also has a passion for supporting social justice and environmental activism.

Bob Rouse
Bob keeps the welcome mat clean, cleaning and polishing with the attention to detail you might expect from a professional sailmaker.  Bob was a key member of the construction crew when the Mercantile was first built, and has intimate knowledge of all of its systems and idiosyncrasies.  In addition to keeping things ship shape, Bob has developed solid relationships with many of our local neighbors and landowners, and serves as an unofficial envoy to the larger community, keeping us up-to-date on local news and concerns.

Brent Whistler
Serial entrepreneur, software developer, and general problem solver, Brent’s analytical skills have been helpful for developing internal policies and procedures, determining what issue to tackle next, and what to pass off to a professional.  Brent implemented the new point-of-sale system currently in use at the Mercantile, and has been helping us create procedural documentation to improve our flexibility in staffing as well as our group knowledge.  Brent has previous experience managing the customer service experience for Fortune 500 customers of a major software company. He’s also started and continues to operate a small web-based service business.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What to Read When the World Feels too Rough...

Hi friends.

I listen to the news on the radio, and feel like I've been punched in the stomach. Friends share good things on Facebook, but also share news about Syrian refugees, or Black Lives Matter protesters being killed in Minneapolis, both of which leave me in tears. Oh, the world is in a sorry state. As much as I want to remain engaged and informed, sometime it is all a bit much. So I take a break and dive into a good book, and lose myself for an hour or two.

I often prefer dark, depressing books. But in times like these, I need something that will make me feel better and lift me up, prepared for whatever awaits next.

Below is a list, in no specific order, of books that I really liked which happen to be positive and/or have a happy ending.

All descriptions are taken from Goodreads.com (if you're a Goodreads member, "friend" me so that we can trade book lists!).

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
     Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner in Plainview, Indiana is home away from home for Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.  Dubbed "The Supremes" by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they’ve weathered life’s storms for over four decades and counseled one another through marriage and children, happiness and the blues.
     Now, however, they’re about to face their most challenging year yet. Proud, talented Clarice is struggling to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities; beautiful Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair; and fearless Odette is about to embark on the most terrifying battle of her life. With wit, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together three devoted allies in a warmhearted novel that celebrates female friendship and second chances.

 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
     “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….
     As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
     Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
     Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
     On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.
     A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
     And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Everyone's favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over.
NOTE from Alline - the TV series was pretty much perfect, but to read the story is to fall in love with Matthew, Marilla, Gilbert, Miss Stacey, and of course, Anne, all over again.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.
NOTE from Alline - a book about books and the people who love them? Could it get any better! Yes! This is such a good book!


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
     Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
     What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?
     As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears.
     Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.
     What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.
     In short, it's about everything.

She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
     In this sequel to the top-selling A Girl Named Zippy, the woman rising heroically from the couch is Zippy's mother, Delonda. After years of languorous existence, this oversized couch potato emerged from the den to pursue a higher education. Delonda was well read but in other ways seemed ill suited for college: This middle-aged, 260-pound coed had a husband who disapproved of the entire venture, no driver's license, and almost no money. Like its predecessor, She Got Up Off the Couch holds our attention with its sympathetic rendering of idiosyncratic family characters. Hilarious; heartbreaking; ultimately empowering.
     In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
NOTE from Alline: you don't need to read A Girl Named Zippy to appreciate this - in fact, I like this one even better!

 Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Friend by Christopher Moore
     "The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years -- except Biff, the Messiah's best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work "reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams" (Philadelphia Inquirer).
     Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior's pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there's no one who loves Josh more - except maybe "Maggie," Mary of Magdala - and Biff isn't about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.
NOTE from Alline - this remains one of my favorite books - it is laugh-out-loud funny!
 A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman (Note from Alline - it's pronounced "Ooo-vah")
     Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
     Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.
     This is a feel-good story about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
     At an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that "food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were." Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told. Beginning with Reichl's mother, the notorious food-poisoner known as the Queen of Mold, Reichl introduces us to the fascinating characters who shaped her world and her tastes, from the gourmand Monsieur du Croix, who served Reichl her first soufflé , to those at her politically correct table in Berkeley who championed the organic food revolution in the 1970s. Spiced with Reichl's infectious humor and sprinkled with her favorite recipes, Tender at the Bone is a witty and compelling chronicle of a culinary sensualist's coming-of-age.
NOTE from Alline - The first chapter is impossible to forget - it's fantastic!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

France, Lebanon, Bombs and Sadness...

It's a beautiful Saturday in rural Missouri - a brisk wind, crisp cool air, leaves of all colors swirling around. The Dancing Rabbit Board of Directors, lovely human beings all, are here for the weekend. The Mercantile (i.e. me, with assistance from Kurt and dish washing by Katherine and Mae) is providing the meals.

And in Paris, bombs are going off and people are dying. Last Thursday there were bombings in Beirut, where 43 people died and 239 were wounded. Today everyone's Facebook feed features a "bleu, blanc et rouge" flag or a shot of the Eiffel Tower. And while I think this is an honorable tribute to the people of France I wonder where is the empathy for the people of Lebanon? Sadness all around. Pain, suffering, and no answers or solutions.

Times like these I find myself incredibly grateful for writer Ann Lamott. I don't believe in Jesus, or God, but I do believe in the faith of Ann Lamott. Here is what she posted on her Facebook page today:

I wish there was a website we could turn to called, "What it means, What is True, and What to do." Lots of very tense religious people are going to insist that their Scripture answers all these questions.

That's nice.

Lots of them will try to hustle us into joining them in Vengeance World. As that had just been so helpful before, right?

So where do we even begin today? What do we do when it feels like we are all doomed, and the future will only be worse, and we can't remember anything that ever helped us come through? From high school philosophy, I remember that Francis Bacon wrote, "'What is Truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer." It seemed the ultimate truth, at sixteen years old.

But I think we can do better than that. We have shards of truth, and we can gather them up, bits of broken mosaic tile that shine.

We know that this is a very dangerous place, that we are an extremely vulnerable species, that Cain is still killing Abel.

We know that "Why" is not a useful question; and "Figure it out" is not a good slogan.

We know that the poor, the innocent, babies and the very old, always bear the brunt.

So where do we find grace and light? If you mean right now, the answer is Nowhere. It's like after a child dies. Grace always does bat last, and the light always overcomes the darkness--always, historically. But not necessarily later the same day, or tomorrow, after lunch. Wendell Berry told me 25 years ago, in Advent, the darkest shortest days of winter, "It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." But it is only November 13! It gets even darker.

What is the answer? Gandhi is almost always the answer. Jesus's love for the poor and refugees is the answer. Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold dark days doesn't hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soupçon of solace to our souls. People living on the streets could really use your old blankets and jackets.

Grace will always show up in the helpers, as Mr. Rogers' mother used to tell him in times of tragedy. But today, right now, if you have a nice bumper sticker that explains or makes sense of what happens in Paris, it's probably best if you keep that to yourself. It is definitely best that you not share it with me. It will cause me to get a tic in my eye and will guarantee that the next time I see you, I will run for my cute little life. Everyone in his or her right mind will. So how do we even know truth, in the midst of b.s. and lies?

What is true for me is that the shootings at Sandy Hook were the actual end of the world, evil or at least the most extreme mental illness made visible. There were no answers that day, the next day, the day after that. Well, you could go to certain web sites and Twitter posts, and I will not name names, and be told how stupid you were not to see that there was only one appreciate truth. Reload! But again, that was not helpful. What was helpful was that we stuck together in our horror, grief, anxiety and cluelessness. We grieved, we feared, we despaired, and raged, prayed; we reached out for any help at all; and these were appropriate responses. I am going to recommend that we do that today, and tomorrow. Wounds and trauma revealed were healed; eventually. Some of us couldn't eat at all, someone of us binged, some of us couldn't turn off the TV, some of us couldn't turn it on. Those were all appropriate. We felt like shit, and let some time pass, talked and stuck together. And day by day, we came through.
Talking and sticking together was the answer. It honest to God was. We were gentler, more patient and kind with each other. If people are patient and kind, that's a lot. It means something of the spirit is at work. For me, that is grace made visible. It doesn't come immediately, and it doesn't come naturally. What comes naturally is, Shoot the mo-fos. So when we could, after Sandy Hook, we paused, breathed, sighed, gasped at the rising numbers. Nothing changed legally, not one word, but we came through. Hearts were healed, imperfectly. People walked, lived fully, and even danced again, after bad psychic fractures that did not heal quite right, and that still hurt some days.

We will again, but it takes time. I so hate this! Hate this, hate this, hate this, and do not agree to this, but have no alternative, because it is Truth: it will take time. Today, we try to keep the patient comfortable--ourselves, our beloved, the poor. 

We're at the beginning of human and personal evolution. Whole parts of the world don't even think women are people. 

So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. This is a blessed sacrament. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless. 

I have no answers but know one last thing that is true: More will be revealed. And that what is true is that all is change. Things are much wilder, weirder, richer, and more profound than I am comfortable with. The paradox is that in the reality of this, we discover that in the smallest moments of amazement, at our own crabby stamina, at kindness, to lonely people who worry us, and attention, at weeping willow turning from green to gold to red, and amazement, we will be saved.

 Then, there was this comment (on A.L.'s FB post) from an American living in France. It made me feel a lot better. At least for awhile.

Melanie Sims Maxham
Melanie Sims Maxham What We Are Doing in Our Part of France

Today, even though we did not really have the heart for it, we went to the Christmas market in our small village in southern France. It was fairly subdued, and the village gendarmes were not only visible, but e
manating watchfulness.

But then, a small terrier tried to menace the tiny, placid donkeys in the Christmas exhibit, and got the surprise of his wire-haired life when a little goat jumped over the hay-bale barricade and gave hilarious chase. Small boys hooted and the owner of said donkeys and goat had to catch the goat. He scooped the goat up under an arm and placed him back in the hay-bale pen, while the terrier found a pile of something atrocious to roll in.

We bought a tiny handmade cloth star for the Christmas tree we will have later. Will used all of his spending money at once, buying three unpainted santons to be decorated at a later date. He chose a dog, a boy carrying bread, and a woman with her hand on her hip, "because she looks like a mother". I had to smile.
Then we came home. And although we don't feel very festive, we made a Thanksgiving dinner and we ate it. My mother and step-father are visiting us, and they leave tomorrow. So we are thankful, and we celebrated, and it was good.

Because if we don't go to the market, buy a little lopsided star, laugh when the terrier gets his comeuppance, and eat our meal with gratitude, then the terrorists have truly won.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say, "so it goes." Let's hope that tomorrow is a more gentle kind of day.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Joy of Chutney

Some people like fall because of the changing leaves. Some enjoy fall because it signals the coming of cold weather and the ski season. But me? I like fall, and the threat of frost, because it encourages my gardener friends to harvest all of their green tomatoes. Bowls and buckets of green tomatoes, more than they could ever use themselves. And, being the gracious and generous people that they are, they bring them to me, with pleading look in their eyes. (Thanks, Alyssa!)

I make Green Tomato Chutney with these little green jewels. I simmer them with some onions, raisins, a little brown sugar, some apple cider vinegar, cinnamon and other spices for a few hours. The aroma that fills the Mercantile is absolutely mouth-watering.

What to do with chutney? Originally from India, chutney is generally defined as a condiment consisting of some combination of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and/or spices. One afternoon we tried a bunch of different chutneys in grilled cheese sandwiches. When the chutney combines with melted cheese, crunchy buttery bread and some sort of meat...well, a little slice of heaven. See recipes and ideas below.

Baked Brie with Jam and Nuts
An amazing appetizer for holidays, and easy enough for casual occasions. Use a sweet jam or a spicy chutney – both work beautifully! A note on puff pastry: it sounds intimidating but is simple simple simple. Try this and impress yourself!

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 (8-ounce) round Brie cheese
1/3 c. jam or chutney
2 Tb. chopped walnuts or almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease with cooking spray.
  3. Lay the puff pastry onto the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Center the Brie wheel onto the pastry – leave the rind on.
  5. Spread the jam/chutney evenly over the top of the Brie.
  6. Sprinkle the walnuts atop the jam.
  7. Fold the puff pastry over the top of the Brie, sealing all openings.
  8. Bake in preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Chutney Burger Sauce
This is so good it’s gonna change your life! Use it on burgers, sandwiches, as a dip for fries, more.

¼ c. plain yogurt
¼ c. mayonnaise
2 Tb. prepared mango (or other) chutney
1 tsp. curry powder, divided

Mix together; chill until needed.
Note: You may also use all mayonnaise, and leave out the curry for a more straight-forward
chutney-esque flavor. Experiment and enjoy!

Chutney and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
These sandwiches will change your life. Seriously.
  1. Start with great bread - sourdough, whole wheat studded with nutty bits, rye, challah…
  2. Choose up to three ingredients, including one cheese (see below for ideas)
  3. Slather the outside of two pieces of bread with butter.
  4. Place one butter-side down in a frying pan on medium heat.
  5. Place half the cheese on the bread, add the other ingredients, and then place the remaining cheese on top of the pile. This extra cheese helps the bread and the ingredients all stick together.
  6. Top with the other piece of bread, this time butter-side up.
  7. You may want to put a lid on the pan to help the cheese melt in tandem with the browning of the bread.
  8. Carefully flip the sandwich over when the first side starts to crisp up and turn toasty brown.
  9. Replace the lid while the second side cooks. Don’t let it burn!
  10. Serve with fresh fruit and pickles. The contrast of flavors will make you very, very happy.

Some of our favorites (or, the ones we’ve thought of so far).
    • Ham, Sharp Cheddar, Cranberry Chutney
    • Prosciutto, Mozzarella cheese, Tart plum jam
    • Roasted chicken, Goat cheese, Apple Chutney
    • Brie, Chutney, Nuts
    • Hot Pepper Jelly, Roast Beef, Bleu Cheese
    • Herbed goat cheese and apricot jam

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cappuccino Brownies. They're Really All You Need!

Hi friends,

Oh, I have such good intentions. All day long, as I wander from my house to the Mercantile to the garden to the clothesline and back to the Mercantile, I write this blog in my head. And in my head it is positively brilliant! However, when I finally get time to set it down and post it, I'm just not that dependable. The posts stay in my head, where they eventually dissolve into dust and dreams...

In the meantime, May is almost over. It's been a surprising, delightful and busy month. We've had the great fortune to host some spectacularly lovely guests. The strawberries are bursting out of the garden - bright red and delicious. We've managed to keep the robin's eggs out of the hands of the children; three fat, awkward and beautifully clumsy babies fledged last week. Jody (the innkeeper) and Sandy (the massage therapist and Jody's assistant) are keeping the place spotless and running beautifully. Nik makes bread every Wednesday - the place smells like heaven.

Today, however, is Thursday, and there is very little time for prattling on about life on the prairie. Instead I'm sharing the recipe of today's Mercantile treat: Cappucino Brownies. Holy smokes, you're going to want to name your children after these brownies. 


Photograph by Romulo Yanes
Cappuccino Brownies
Makes about 24 brownies

From Gourmet Magazine, 1991

Three layers of deliciousness; they’re frosted with cream cheese and coated with an espresso-spiked glaze.

This recipe looks like a lot of ingredients and a lot of work - it is neither. And the results are TOTALLY worth it.

Butter and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan
Preheat over to 350°

For the brownie layer
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped

For the cream cheese frosting
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, SIFTED
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the glaze
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water

Make the brownie layer:
  1. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate with the butter and the espresso mixture, stirring until the mixture is smooth. 
  2. Remove the bowl from the heat, let the mixture cool to lukewarm, and stir in the sugar and the vanilla. 
  3. Stir in the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition.
  4. Stir in the flour and the salt, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the walnuts. 
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake the brownie layer in the middle of a preheated 350ºF. oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it.
  6. Let the brownie layer cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Make the cream cheese frosting:
  1. In a bowl with an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  2. Add the SIFTED confectioners’ sugar, the vanilla, and the cinnamon, and beat the frosting until it is combined well.
  3. Spread the frosting evenly over the brownie layer and chill the brownies for 1 hour, or until the frosting is firm.

Make the glaze:
  1. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate with the butter, the cream, and the espresso mixture, stirring until the glaze is smooth, remove the bowl from the heat, and let the glaze cool to room temperature.
  2. Spread the glaze carefully over the frosted brownies and chill the brownies, covered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut the brownies while they are cold with a sharp knife and serve them cold or at room temperature. The brownies keep, covered and chilled, for 3 days.
NOTES: I usually keep some Sharffen Berger chocolate on hand, but had run out (and where the hell are you gonna find that in Rutledge, Mo.?); I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead. I also used salted butter (instead of unsalted). And since Zimmerman's was fresh out of Espresso powder I used Mt. Hagen freeze-dried coffee in its place.  The results were divine.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Mighty Morel Hunter Recovers from Her Crabbypants Attitude

Hi friends,

Oh, it has been such a long time since I've written. I've been going through a rough patch lately. Thinking about how to describe it makes me feel a bit whiny and ridiculous, but I've been thinking that I'd like to share more reality about ecovillage life (and not just the happy, kumbya moments) so here we are.

This June will mark the 16th anniversary of our arrival at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. What an absolutely amazing journey it has been. And what an emotional roller coaster! Living here, intentionally, with (at first) eight people and now almost 60, is quite possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done. Conversely, it is also one of the most rewarding and gratifying. Learning to (or at least attempting to) communicate in a clear, non-judgmental manner is hard work. I fail miserably, often. Another challenging aspect is the huge sense of loss that I feel. So many people have come and gone in the last 16 years. So many relationships forged over tears and laughter and songs and gardens and canning green beans. So many memories made, and so few left here with whom to share them.

The challenge of how to preserve the history of Dancing Rabbit, what to keep, what to let go, and how to share that history without boring everyone to tears is something I think about a lot. There are so many touching, or funny, or frustrating stories about every single person who has lived here that I don't know where to start. Every person who has spent time here has contributed something to the evolution of the village, and has helped it become what it is today.

We continue to host hundreds of visitors each year, primarily from April through October. It can be exhausting. After five years of running the Milkweed Mercantile and answering the exact same questions every morning at breakfast to a new set of inquisitive, earnest guests has worn me out. I feel like I've lost my zest, my energy, my sense of "me." I feel like I've become one-dimensional, viewed only as 'Eco Woman.' What happened to all of my other passions, interests, quirks? They have all been subsumed by Dancing Rabbit and the Milkweed Mercantile.

Fortunately, just as I was beginning to truly hit the skids emotionally, the Universe glanced over and said "Hey there - you need some help!" I received an email from a woman named Jody who asked about our Innkeeper position. Her experience was exactly what we've been looking for for the last five years. I could not believe that she agreed to come and spend the entire season as our Innkeeper. She has been here for five weeks now, and I'm starting to feel the craziness ease. I may not have to start a new blog entitled "Mrs. Crabbypants Explains It All To You" after all.

A few weeks after Jody emailed, I received an email from Sandy. She is a massage therapist, a yoga teacher, has worked at a B&B and at a retreat center. She wanted to come work with us, too.

And now, I hardly know what to do with myself. Jody and Sandy have things handled. I'm going through my yards-long to-do list and actually getting things done and checked off. It is really, really great. I am starting to smile again, and am no where near as crabby as I used to be. I haven't made anyone cry in days.

  After an hour of searching in all the wrong places we finally we found this (above) - signs that there had been morels here, but that we were too late.

Yesterday Kurt and I took a few hours to take a walk in the sun and search for morel mushrooms. While we only found six, that is so much better than the last time I went. That time I only found one, which I then LOST on the walk home. Six is a veritable feast! I am very happy with six.

 And then, the mighty morel hunter triumphed - score!

While we were out on our walk I got to play around with my new camera. Look at this moss! In real life it is very, very tiny. So cool! (I was documenting the huge lack of morels in that particular area...)

On our way by the old pond we noticed this gang of tadpoles. I don't know if you can tell just how huge they are. They look kind of like zombie apocalypse tadpoles, but I'm guessing they are bullfrog tadpoles. Seriously, they are HUGE!

 The branch shown above with the Godzilla-like tadpoles is shown in the photo below right smack in the middle for size reference. See what I mean? Aren't you just a teeny bit worried about poodles and small  children living at Dancing Rabbit? If they get near that pond, there's no telling what will happen!

Our food cooperative hosted the visitor group (11 adults, 5 kids) in addition to our seven members for dinner last night and lunch today. OMG. It was like a horde of locusts swooped through and ate everything. This morning when Sandy, Ross and I were making lunch, we just went through the fridge and kept adding things to the peanut-sauce-and-veg-over-rice schmoo. Potatoes? Great. Carrots? Perfect - put 'em all in. Half a cabbage! We need it. Old green beans that might have a bit of mold here and there? Heck, cut out the bad parts - we're desperate here! Fortunately this visitor group is made of astonishing human beings who are incredibly good natured. They are a pleasure, and they are helping me remember why I'm here.

I hope to write more often, to add a more day-in-the-life stuff. There's so much to tell - life is NEVER dull here!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!

Hi friends,

It's been almost a year since I last posted. It is amazing to me just how quickly time rushes by - each evening I think to myself "what the heck did I do today?"

I've taken such a long break unintentionally - I write this blog in my head all the time, but just don't take the most important step of actually typing. Thankfully, no one can read my thoughts, at least not yet.

I've been rather overwhelmed at trying to have a sustainable life. Which is a kind of crazy position to be in. Running a "sustainable" business, living in a "sustainable" community - whew! It is all exhausting! So I've been re-examining my boundaries, my perfectionism, my desire for guests to have just the "right" experience. I still don't have all of the answers I'm seeking, but at least am actively LOOKING!

Speaking of looking, we're on the hunt for an innkeeper this summer. It's a paid internship - while we'd love someone with experience what we're really wanting is someone the the desire to be here and do the job well. Look for a link on the Mercantile website soon. If you know anyone who you think might be a good fit, please have them contact me. We require a 3-month (minimum) commitment.

We've been so all-consumed with the Mercantile that our home has slowly turned into the Mercantile store room and the place where we sleep. We are endeavoring to change this, to make our house back into a home. Kurt is finishing the construction bits one by one - he just made a gorgeous window sill for our bedroom windows out of oak from the tree we had to cut down last summer. Now he's working on finishing all of the sheetrock that has been sitting here, mudded and waiting for paint all of these years. I've finished almost all of the thermal shades, which has come in handy during this bitterly cold winter.

Each Friday a group of us meet informally in the Mercantile in front of the fire for Tea and Conversation. Last Friday's topic was economic development at DR. It was a fascinating discussion; two fun things to come out of it are a Mercantile/Critters Goat & Chicken Bootcamp, and the beginnings of a food preservation collective. I am excited to see where these ideas will go!

Here is my favorite Facebook share of the week:

and a song I find beautifully haunting (a cover of a Bjork song, from the Jane Campion TV Series Top of the Lake, which also stars Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter):

That's all for now. More soon, I hope!


Currently 36°. Snow predicted for today. Tonight's low: 12°