"Creative Sustenance" began simply. It was the title I gave to one of my facebook photo albums, wherein I shared images and brief descriptions and recipes of food I had foraged, gardened and prepared. I liked the name because it referred not only to creation of the final dish but also to the interesting ways that some ingredients might be acquired. The name also speaks to ideas and things that connect with but also go beyond food, things that sustain us in other ways, things like community and nature and art.
But practically speaking, Creative Sustenance is a blog and film project about food. We'll be celebrating what were at one time much more widely used methods of acquiring, handling, preserving and preparing food, as well as movements and trends that have become fashionable again. We've all heard or read phrases like "sustainability", "farm to table" or "urban poultry" so much that they hardly merit a yawn anymore, but they nevertheless describe ideas that are still a lot of fun to dig into. Phrases like these have gone from being trendy buzzwords to commonplace language, and I think that's a good thing. How much more fantastic is it that, for example, "urban poultry" is evolving from being a fringe activity by a few nonconformists to something that more and more people (and cities) are seeing as a practical and not uncommon activity in their neighborhoods.
We'll be producing and sharing the video series here. Josh Kufahl is our talented film producer and a like-minded foodie himself.
Cooking. Yeah, there will be recipes, there will be pictures, there will be food porn.
We'll be giving the occasional heads-up on worthwhile foodie news in the area, and maybe beyond.
We're also working on a program of educational courses and opportunities to get your hands dirty with classes on butchery, foraging, cooking, preserving, and so on.
-- David Smith
The 'About' section is a bit of a pain in the tail. The tiny figure on my right shoulder cringes a bit at the need to talk about myself, while the tiny figure on my left shoulder says, "Don't leave that out. More, more!" I'm hoping that most people know, and will forgive, that the 'About Us' page is by its nature a bit of an exercise in self-absorption. Here goes…
Many of my favorite earliest memories connect to food and the idea of self-sufficiency. A few of those recollections:
- Being five years-old and lying in a the field for hours next to our house, munching on sweet, purple clover flowers while searching for a four-leafer.
- Holding the flashlight for my Dad while he speared gunny sacks-worth of bullfrogs around the lake we used to camp at on weekends (we ate lots of frogs' legs).
- Catching monstrous snapping turtles in my home-town of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, that I'd butcher for my Grandmother to cook.
- Eating crackers with sausage and cheese as a 7 or 8 year-old with Dad in the predawn darkness of the front seat of our car as we waited for first light to allow us to hit the woods for a morning of squirrel hunting, the results of which might become that evening's dinner.
- Spending an entire morning on a camping trip in "The Willows" flowage near Rhinelander, Wisconsin, collecting hundreds or thousands of ants and grasshoppers to roast over the fire for lunch (the ants were not good, the grasshoppers were).
- Losing myself in books on the mountain men of the old west, and trying to live (at least in my imagination) and eat like they did…no four-legged, winged or swimming critter was off limits. And while the mountain men may not have had Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus in their saddlebags, I carried it with me everywhere.
As an adult my career path took a few twists and turns but an appreciation for food and a more natural lifestyle were always close by. I earned a Masters Degree in Art History with a graduate thesis on a heretofore unknown folk or "outsider" artist, my granduncle Lester Smith. I was able to get Lester's life and work a small measure of academic recognition, and his biography included in a couple of folk art encyclopedias. But in addition to his art work (he was an exceptional woodcarver and knife maker) one of the things that always attracted me to Les was his mountain man's lifestyle and knowledge of how to live off the land. He was also an amateur taxidermist, storyteller and creator of mythical beasts, in much the same spirit that loggers of the late 1800s/early 1900s created mythical creatures that were purported to roam the north woods. His most famous critter was the Stumpjack, a modestly sized beast with attributes of several different animals and which became something of an informal mascot for the town of Ladysmith all those years ago.
I opened a coffee house in 2006 and named it Stumpjack Coffee Company. For five years Stumpjack was judged by many folks to be the best coffee house in the region. I'm very proud of that project, and hope to resurrect Stumpjack sometime in the near future. It was during the life of Stumpjack that I returned to my modest culinary roots (I'd also worked in restaurant management and as a line cook) and took it to places I was unable to go when working for someone else. At Stumpjack we had a very small kitchen with very modest equipment, but we were able to put out some wonderful food…locally sourced, organic, super fresh, beautiful, creative and experimental. I was able to do the kinds of thing I wanted to do, and it was so very satisfying.
Unfortunately, during the time Stumpjack was in operation I also had virtually no time for anything else. Eighty to ninety-hour work weeks left little to no time for foraging, gardening, hiking, fishing or hunting. My wife and I were burned out. So we closed the place, immediately dug up the backyard and planted a garden; started hitting the woods again with bags for mushrooms, garlic mustard, ramps and nettles; dusted off the fishing gear and oiled the guns; and began planning new projects that would take advantage of our larger interests and expertise, as well as the things we learned with Stumpjack.
So here I am today, a cook looking to possibly re-open and redefine a restaurant, a writer and former teacher looking to share knowledge and skills, a woodsman and forager looking for some like-minded spirits to hit the trail with. Welcome to Creative Sustenance. I hope you enjoy what you find here and that you'll join the conversation.
Josh likes to ride his bike and wants a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas.
Here's Josh auditioning for the role of Duke Williams in the big budget movie remake of the 1965 Gilligan's Island episode "Big Man on Little Stick".