There are spaces in communities that are so very much more than physical structures. While they’re housed in an actual brick-and-mortar building, their reach extends far beyond the front door. They become ambassadors, either deliberately or by default, for a space and a place and a people. Villagers Urban Homesteading Supply is such a place.
Located in west Asheville, NC, Natalie Pollard’s store sells chicken feed and yogurt cultures and organic cucumber seeds, but it also is a community hub of ideas, inspiration, and creativity. Offering an ongoing, ever-changing roster of classes (I’ve taught canning, backyard chickens, homemade beverage, and home dairy sessions there, and attended MANY topics taught by others), Villagers has become a place to pick up items you might need for your home or garden while also learning about herbs for stress management, how to properly prune fruit trees, the in’s and out’s of wooden spoon carving, and what’s going on in the neighborhood and greater Asheville community in general. It possesses what I’ve come to see as invisible underground networks, similar to the way mycelium send out thousands of miles of subterranean roots in forests, connecting life and sending messages in a silent, sentient postal service, of sorts.
In addition to being a beautiful space in Asheville, expertly stocked with handcrafted items to help you around the home and garden, Villagers offers an online store, for those desirous of such items but who don’t live in the area. A few weeks ago, I was asked if I’d like to review some items, in an effort to bring attention to the availability of the online store. As it turns out, I already own many of the items available, having bought them at Villagers myself! I selected six items that I keep in regular use, and would like to share them with you here today.
I am an avid sweeper. Which is to say, that I truly, genuinely enjoy sweeping (full disclosure: I actually enjoy all forms of housecleaning/housekeeping; must be genetic, as my Pops is the same way). I have a corn bristle broom that I purchased at Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain, and use it to sweep my home, especially my kitchen, at least twice a day (when you live in the woods, with two large dogs, two indoor/outdoor cats, an active 5 year-old, and a spouse frequently engaged in outdoor tasks, you sweep. A lot.) After the sweeping is done, I reach for this dustpan and brush combo. A stainless steel dustpan is partnered with a magnet for its matching hand brush made from 100% pure light horse hair. Both have oiled beechwood handles and are handmade in Germany. Functional and beautiful make this duo a clear winner in my home. I’ve used it every day for nearly a year now, and it shows nearly no wear.
I was first introduced to Womanswork gloves several years ago, when owner Dorian Winslow wrote me directly, asking if she could send me a review pair. Every morning, I put them on and head out to the chicken coop. When I stack or bring in firewood, I put them on. When I work in the garden, I put them on. When I do pretty much any outdoor task here in the cove now, I put them on. You see where I’m going with this, right? They are true workhorses, and I can’t stress enough just how much I’ve come to rely on them (and this endorsement comes to you from a formerly avowed non glove-weaver). Crafted of form-fitting, buttery soft goatskin leather with pale gray suede split cowhide leather on the cuff, these gloves are heirloom worthy. When they need a bit of sprucing up, just hand wash them in cool water and air dry. Please note these are sized just for women’s hands (men’s offerings are also available).
I really, truly loathe waste. I make every attempt to reduce, reuse, and recycle in a nearly evangelical attempt at eliminating trash in our home. That’s why I love Bee’s Wrap so much. Crafted from organic cotton muslin, beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin, Bee’s Wrap is the most wonderful alternative to plastic wrap. Use it to cover bread, cheese, vegetables, sandwiches, pie dough-nearly anything you’d use disposable plastic wrap for you can substitute with this reusable wrap (except for meat). I’ve used Bee’s Wrap for everything listed above and so much more. I gave up buying plastic wrap year’s ago, opting instead to store things in lidded glass containers. This wrap, though, makes my work considerably easier, as the warmth from my hands causes it to conform its shape to that which it’s being wrapped around, offering up lots more shelf space in the fridge. Bee’s Wrap lasts for about a year, and can then be composed. THE! BEST!
I am a pretty diehard Rosemary Gladstar fan, and have been so for nearly two decades. The wise woman from Vermont has helped me out on numerous occasions with her sage, seasoned advice for herbal self and family care (see what I did there?!). Her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health is my go-to these days when I’m on the hunt for expert herbal advice for myself, Glenn, or Huxley. There are herbal remedies for children, men, women, the elderly, everyday ailments, body care, stress & anxiety, and more in its pages. Her fire cider recipe is the basis of my own, as is her elderberry syrup. I cannot recommend this book enough (or any of her books, truly). Indispensable wisdom for those seeking to take the reigns of their health and wellness.
Our home is only about 10 miles from downtown Asheville, but with curvy mountain roads, traffic, and well, let’s be honest, oftentimes slow Southern drivers (I like to say they’re on “molasses time”), it can take upwards of 20-25 minutes to get into town these days. Although the filters I was using for our Chemex pour-over were compostable, I still had to drive into town to purchase them, and put down around $8-9/box. These Cuppow reusable, certified organic cotton coffee cones, or “socks,” have saved me both time and money since I picked them up at Villagers. They come in packs of two and work equally well in pour-over or machine use. Empty out the grinds (I put them into the compost), give the cone a rinse, hang it up to air dry, and then use it in your next morning’s cuppa. Win win.
Like I said, I wear my Womanswork gloves for most outdoor activity. But not for all of it. And Huxley and Glenn don’t wear any gloves, unless it’s snowing/snowy outside or Glenn is working with the firewood. Suffice to say, with all the digging and tossing and playing and lifting and scooping and tugging that we three do outside, our fingernails can get a bit, er, well, less than super buff and luxe, let’s just say. Enter this sturdy, handsome little tool. Handmade of oiled thermowood, this nail brush lives on our kitchen sink counter. I’ve had it for nearly a year, and it’s just as ship shape and fine looking as the day I brought it home from Villagers. It does a serious job of getting the space under our collective fingernails back in shape. If you’ve a need for nail-cleaning in your home, this is the brush for you.
If you live near Asheville, do check out Villagers in person. Otherwise, check them out digitally. Natalie is graciously offering small measure readers a 20% off discount for online purchases. Just enter “QUENCH20” at check out. The offer will run for two weeks, through April 13th. Small businesses matter, friends. So much more than just a quaint notion, they truly are the lifeblood of communities. Villagers exemplifies the power of local businesses in a profound and abiding way, and I for one am deeply grateful for their presence, in the flesh and on the interwebs. Check ’em out, and tell Natalie & Co. I said “Hi!”
*All images taken from Villagers website.
Are you interested in learning about herbalism, but don’t really know where to start? Herb curious, as it were, but herbal wisdom adrift? Well, then here’s something just for you! This FREE mini-course, Handcrafted Herbalism, offered by my friends at nearby Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, is a solid introduction to the most important subjects herbalists need to learn: plant identification, foraging and medicine making. You’ll connect with thousands of herb lovers from around the globe and be introduced to leading herbal experts. It’s simple to enroll: click on this link by March 22nd.
The course runs March 23rd through March 31st, and is self-paced, so you can access the videos, audio, and written lessons when it’s convenient for you. Over your morning cup of tea, at night with p.j.’s on-whatever works best for you. The audio and printable lessons are yours to keep so you can revisit the material year after year.
It’s free, it’s rife with plant-based knowledge amassed over years of study, and it’s taught by highly skilled instructors, set in a beautiful setting. Go for it, friends!
It was over 5 years ago that I first heard about Daniel Tammet. An autistic man living in the UK, I came across Daniel’s story in the documentary film about him, The Boy With the Incredible Brain. Though challenged by life in numerous ways, Daniel’s autism has also given him profound intellect, including the ability to recite, for hours, a good deal of the numbers in the mathematical sequence referred to as “Pi,” as shown here. He can also master languages in hours, like Icelandic, widely considered the most difficult language to learn.
Daniel’s skills are astounding. They really invite us to consider the myriad ways in which life is balanced by struggle and reward, tragedy and triumph, and ultimately, by resilience. For me, the takeaway of learning about him was that, what might upon first viewing seem to be a disability is simply, really, at its essence, a matter of being differently abled, of orienting oneself to life in a different direction, with a different vantage point, and perhaps a different compass.
Today is Pi day. In celebration of Daniel, and difference, and deliciousness, I’d like to share with you my recipe for Carrot Pie, one of the Spring pies from my book on seasonal sweet and savory pies, A Year of Pies. Carrot pie might not be the most commonly recognized pie. It doesn’t possibly have the homey, cozy nostalgia of chocolate or banana cream pie, or the impressiveness of a mountain of meringue generously spread atop lemon meringue pie. It’s not associated with holiday baking (pumpkin), or former presidents with axes and fibs (cherry). What it is, though, is unique, and complex, and most definitely what you should be baking on this fine spring Pi day. Viva la difference!
Carrot Pie (from A Year of Pies, Lark, 2012)
One of my favorite aspects of going out for Indian food is the array of desserts available. My pie tribute to carrot halwa-a mixture of carrots, dried fruits and spices- this recipe pairs the sweet vegetable with classic Indian flavors of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. Think “pumpkin pie goes to Mumbai” to get a sense of its flavor profile.
Makes: One 9-inch pie.
You Will Need:
Basic Pie Dough
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 1/4 teaspoons salt
-1 cup butter (2 sticks), chilled and cubed
-3/4 cup ice water
-1 pound carrots, scrubbed and ends removed
– ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
-1 cup whole milk
-1 teaspoon ground cardamom
– ½ teaspoon ground ginger
– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
– ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
– ½ teaspoon sea salt
-3 eggs, separated
Prepare the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, incorporate the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, but with several pea and lima bean-sized butter bits in the mix.
Slowly drizzle in the ice water. Stir with a mixing spoon until the dough starts to clump. Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and fold it together into itself using your hands. The dough should come together easily but shouldn’t feel overly sticky.
Divide the dough in half and shape into two flattened disks. Wrap each dough ball in cellophane (or, my preference, reusable eco-friendly Beeswrap!) and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan. Remove one disk of the dough from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into the prepared pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch and crimp the edges decoratively. Prick the bottom of the crust about 6 or 7 times with a fork, then place the crust in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, then remove the crust from the oven, leaving the oven on and reducing the temperature to 375 degrees F. Remove the dried beans or pie weights and parchment. Cool the crust completely before filling. Use the other pie dough within 2-3 days, or store in a airtight container in the freezer and use within 6 months.
Prepare the filling:
Cut the prepped carrots into ¼-inch rounds. Steam them in a saucepan with 1 inch of water for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain off the water in a colander, then puree the carrots in a blender or food processor until completely smooth (you may need to add a bit of water to ensure uniform smoothness).
Add the sugar, milk, spices and salt to the carrots in the processor and puree until well combined. Pour the mixture into a medium-size bowl.
Whisk the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl until blended. Using either a whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until foamy.
Whisk the beaten egg yolks into the carrot puree until well blended, then whisk in the beaten whites. This isn’t a soufflé, so don’t worry about being gentle with the whites when you incorporate them into the puree.
Assemble the pie:
Pour the carrot purée into the prepared piecrust. Set the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the 375 degrees F oven for 40-45 minutes, until the filling is set. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
*Variation: For a more traditionally-spiced pie, omit the cardamom and black pepper, increase the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon, and add ½ teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground cloves.
One of the area’s most comprehensive conferences on all things natural, green and growing happens this weekend, and I’m beyond honored to be included in it. I’ll be a first-time speaker (though many time attendee) at the Organic Grower’s School happening on the UNC-Asheville campus (my alma mater!) this Saturday and Sunday, March 12th and 13th.
There are 15 different “Tracks” offered at the conference, truly offering something for everyone (a “soup to nuts” approach to organic agriculture, as it were). They include: Gardening, Mushrooms, Soils, Livestock, Sustainable Living, Farmers-Beginner, Farmers-Int./Advanced, Community Food, Permaculture, Herbs, Sustainable Forestry, Homesteading, Cooking, Poultry, and Voices From the Field. My workshop, entitled “Hosting On the Homestead,” is offered as part of the “Homesteading” track, and will take place on both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00-12:30. If you’re curious about multiple uses for your homestead, this is the class for you.
If you’ve never been to the OGS before, you’re in for such a treat. The wealth of information, presented by seasoned, experienced teachers, is staggering. It’s the mother lode of organic practices. If you’ve attended in years prior, you know what I’m talking about. I do so hope to meet some of you there, whether you take my class or not (but you should, it’s going to be fun, I think, I hope-I’m pretty goofy, so, I’m fairly certain there will be some degree of silliness, but lots of information, too, because I value your time!).
To purchase tickets, view the full schedule, and have any other questions you might have answered, jump on over to the Organic Grower’s School website. Spring is in the air, and this conference is just the thing to get you jazzed for the growing season to come.
*All images above courtesy of OGS.