cooking to impress

In the past two weeks I have ventured into a place I often steer far far from. Unless you count the occasional chocolate cookie baking, my place in the kitchen is most often in front of a tub full of dishes. Nick has been the cook since we started dating. Before I met him I had my dear mother, then I had Smith College dining facilities. Then I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and made myself steamed edamame and a side of toast for dinner, washed down with a glass of OJ. Nearly every night. I have never given two cents for cooking for myself.

Nick swooped into my life in 2008 and saved me from what looked like certain New York induced starvation. Through San Francisco, France, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Vermont he cooked. And I washed up. And we were grateful for the other's compliance.

There has been a lot of indoor-time for me lately. Nick has been working twice as hard on the farm, and I have been told by my midwife to lay off the heavy lifting. So, no hay bales, no feed bags.  As I sit here in farm exile, growing ever more pregnant, I contemplate, often, the thousand ways I wish and want to be a better woman for my son. I want my son to think of his mother as a cool cucumber, not one with a fiery temper. I fantasize that I'll play him bedtime lullabies on the piano. When we brake bread around the breakfast table I want it to be of my own creation. The chocolate caramels that he requests for his birthday will be my special recipe. I want my son to see me change the flat tire on the side of the road in lieu of AAA. I want him to think I am the fastest runner in the land. When we go for walks through the back forest I need to be able to tell my son which tree is a hophornbeam and which is yellow birch. The lasagna that I layer ought to be made with the cheese I made and the spinach and tomatoes I grew.

In short, I want to be my son's superhero. I want him to think of me as the most capable of humans. Just as much as any mother or father has before me. I have one thousand flaws. My inability to cook is just one of them. But it has the most obvious and straightforward fix. So, I am cooking, baking, steaming and souping. I made the aforementioned lasagna yesterday.  I've put a couple of quiches under my belt. I tried, and failed, making a dutch baby and then a pfannkuchen. I've made a good lentil stew. I baked my first two loaves of whole wheat bread this week. On the same day that I made a meltinyourmouth cream caramel. Tomorrow I am baking challah for shabbat.

I am learning. And by the time this babe is off breast milk and into the wild world of food he will at least be able to turn to his mother for something more than a steamed bowl of edamame and a plate of toast.


Hawkeye and Lucky

There is something about this pup and that kit that remind us of the other. And it isn't just their affinity for destroying nice household things, like rugs and chair legs.

Losing Lucky fox was one of the hardest hits we have taken as a couple surrounded by animals. There is something of indescribable Luckyfox spirit in our new puppy Hawkeye. They have the same fascination for Rudy. They get nervous and run for cover (Hawkeye to our legs, Lucky to the belly of the couch) when somebody knocks on the door. They are both land sharks when they're awake and little soft kittens when they are sleeping. We were as  curious about Lucky's future with the chickens as  we wonder about Hawkeye in the coop.  Just as Lucky did, this puppy has joined our family without a second's hesitation.

He even wakes me up the same way the fox would, by eating and pawing through the snarls of my yellow, pillowed hair.


old man winter

It hasn't stopped snowing since the storm started last night. The fields that were so close to bare are covered once more. The weather man on Vermont public radio told us, in a lengthy allegorical tale (that is typical of his weather reports) of Old Man Winter, the rock musician, who was coming down to Vermont from Québec to play a farewell tour this week.

Last spring my sister sent me her copy of a volume of Mary Oliver's poetry for my 28th birthday. She marked a couple of poems which she insisted I read. The following has been floating in my head these past days.....over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
                                        -Mary Oliver New and Selected Pomes: Vol 1



A couple of things about Friday.

I can eat an impressive amount of cake for breakfast.

I have rearranged our two room house obsessively for the last week in very early preparation for our son.

The time is nigh for us to grow up and buy a bed frame.

Nick is a horrible audience for when one wants to play dress up. He barely looks up from his book, but he says I look beautiful in everything.

In the last 24 hours I have stepped my bare feet into cat pee and puppy vomit.

We have a wonderful amount of eggs coming in from our spring-looking chickens...and nobody to sell to.


the un-pretty, and a love of farming.

I know I am the first to be guilty of prettifying the farm through the eyes of the blog. I can't imagine many would come here to read about cow shit every day even if that is the very fiber that makes up my  every-day. The farm isn't all ripe purple and red tomatoes and buckets of beans and wonderfully coiffed sheep and fresh milk. A lot of the farm is. But more than a fair amount is cow shit.

Tuesday was a wet day. Here we are a day shy of the Ides of March and the Vermont countryside is amidst a desperate battle between Spring's coy calls and Winter's melting end. One day it will be 50°F and sunny, the next 15°F and bone gray. Tuesday was 48°F and raining. The two elements created a firestorm of melt for the snowpack on the hill. We decided to head to Montpelier for a day of errands to avoid the drear of the rain. We got back from our day of no-responsibility in time for evening chores and to discover the sheep, chickens, and cows all standing in 4 inches of completely sodden hay. The sort it looks at first that you can step onto but no sooner have you done so then your poorly shod foot has sunken into a bath of what can only be described as poop water.

A flood of poop water through our three most dependable stalls. We had, we quickly and sadly saw, chosen the location of our winter manure piles poorly. They had created dams and funnels for water where they would be most destructive. Our barn and our animals sit at the bottom of a series of hills raising nearly 600 feet above. All of the snow from the top had been melting all day from the rain and the warmth and was gushing downhill. The torrents of melted snow had been so fierce that the road to the barn was nearly impassible, streams had cut violently through the packed gravel so that we were nearly unable to get home from town.

Half of this rush of water was busy destroying our road while the other half was diverted to our barn and through the manure pile. This is how our animals found themselves standing in what was essentially sewage.

The temperatures were starting to drop with the sun and of course we couldn't leave our animals standing in this mess. So we got to work digging trenches to re-route the coming water and forking up the sodden hay to allow the water in the stalls to drain too.

We hadn't thought chores would be so laborious so we were there without headlamps. All but one of the far lightbulbs in the barn were out. We worked in the fading light and then in darkness. We worked by familiarity with the barn and by feel.  Our boots slogged through water to determine where it was and where it needed to go. I allowed myself more than once an un-small amount of pity for having to be pregnant and work so damn hard and be so damn cold and wet. We forked and dug until our hands were frozen and our eyes were dizzy from the strain of the dark. We had diverted most of the water. We had made dry beds for the sheep and cows. Nick's face was literally covered in the poop water (from digging trench) and my legs were drenched.

We both reeked like the wrong end of a cow.

We counted bailing twine and tools with our hands in the dark to make sure we weren't leaving any traps for our sweet beasts. Hammer, hoe, shovel, push-broom, fork and 8 strands of twine. Then we walked the quarter mile uphill to home together. We unceremoniously bathed the shit off. We ate pasta and let our sore bodies fall asleep amongst the soft creatures of the housecats and dogs.

This is the part of farming that never gets any photos. Partly because it's ugly, and also because there is no time or place for a camera.

This is the part of farming that binds you to your herd and makes you question your career decisions and makes you grateful for your love of farming.


pictured, not pictured

We inexplicably adopted a German Shepard puppy last week. He is very tiny and disturbingly cute. He sleeps softly and sweetly for about 2-3 hours at a time and becomes a miniature land shark of all bites and play when he is awake. Including at 1 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 5 o'clock in the morning.  I have diagnosed Nick and I as border-line masochists. What else could explain for the addition of a puppy just 3 1/2 months shy of having a baby?

1. The fields and forest have been melting at an un-alarming, happy-for-spring rate. So we walked the pastures yesterday to envision the summer rotations. The snow was still too deep for our new puppy so he slept in Nick's sack wrapped in a blanket.
2. Checked the new top fence. Still looking sharp and square. Ready for the cows.
3. An aproned 22 week belly.
4. Rudy and Hawkeye
5. Carrots and (not pictured) onions are the only vegetables we have left in the cellar. We finished the last of our potatoes today and put an order in for 20lbs from a neighboring farm. Must plant more this year.

Not Pictured:
1. The young steer who belongs to the neighboring herd who will not be fenced in. He stands in the middle of the dirt road, about a mile shy of our house, every night. I call him the Sentry.
2. My disappearing toes.
3. The beginnings of Mud Season. Holy hog I thought driving in the snow and ice was bad. We have to drive, like most in Vermont, 3-8 miles (depending on if you need to go North/West or South/East) on dirt, which is now, MUD, to get to pavement. It makes driving most like a video game. My forearms are finding their milking muscles again with the force needed to hold the steering wheel on a straight course.
4. The space heaters that do a terrifically inefficient job at keeping the milk-room pipes from freezing have been off for f.i.v.e. days.
5. The raven with a hurt wing that is sitting in a tree by the barn in the rain. Nick wants to rescue him and I think we should all be allowed to die in peace.
6. The darkness of the new daylight-saved mornings.
7. The puppy that likes to sleep in the nest of my hair and softly hiccup through the night.


a familiarity with dying

It has been awhile since I have had to deal with death on the farm. Nobody died today. Nothing to worry about. But while we were in North Carolina last month I walked into the presence of death immediately. Such a presence is unavoidable on such a big farm as the one down there. When we first arrived and were going pen to pen to say hi to all our old (animal) friends we came across a dead Pickle. Pickle had been one of the sows we worked with for many a litter of piglets during our tenure. Her death had been natural and by the looks of it, quite peaceful. We found her cold, lying amongst a bed of leaves, her big pigged brethren nearby. It was sad, but it wasn't shocking. I have found too many dead livestock in my days to count. And when you are raising several hundred hogs and several hundred cows as they do at Cane Creek, its going to happen...often.

Dead I can do well. Dying, I can't handle as gracefully. I cannot do anything for the dead animal, but with the dying animal there is hope, there is opportunity to save and to love.

The above calf was found, dying, in the pasture, on one of our recent mornings in North Carolina. He looked to have been abandoned by his mom. Elizabeth called Nick and I to say that she was going to intubate a calf and if we wanted to learn how, now was our chance. We scuttled to the far side of the farm where Elizabeth was with the calf, milk replacement and tube. We lay his wondrously heavy body down on my lap and Elizabeth showed Nick how to slide the tube down gently through his throat so we could get some milk replacer into his dying body in hopes of reviving him.

Milk replacer isn't realistically going to do squat if the calf hasn't had any colostrum. Elizabeth told me not to get attached (she knows me very very well). But I sat there in the sun and massaged his throat and kissed his head and tried to cure him with sheer will. I had Elizabeth's warning floating somewhere in the back of my brain but nonetheless logistics buzzed quickly through...We were headed to New York the next day and I wondered if Ayana could have cows in her apartment building even if dogs weren't allowed. I thought about the 10 hour drive ahead and how many times we'd need to stop to let him out for pee breaks. I wondered if calves were as good driving companions as piglets. I wondered if they could be house broken and if we would keep him in the living room or bedroom when we got home and that maybe Rudy would give him one of his dog beds.

He died quickly.  Before I had the chance to name him and cancel our city plans and convince Nick that we needed to put all this love into an animal we would then need to slaughter for beef a couple years later.

I still haven't found a comfortable place on the farm between loving the animals and distancing myself with their deaths. Our farm will grow bigger this year when our cows calve this spring. It will grow bigger still the following year with more calves and then lambs. It is not sustainable for our farm or my well being that I allow myself to be so attached. I do think it is vital that farmers shepherd their flock with a conscience and with love but we can't be stop-and-drop-everything-animal lovers for every being. There isn't enough time in the working day. I need to pick my favorites and my battles and distance myself from emotionality of it before it consumes me and I can no longer farm.  I am working on it, even if by appearances of this blog you would doubt it.


Hudson Valley Seed Library

I spent Friday afternoon rummaging through my seed box to see what we still needed to order (more KALE! more flowers!) and what we had plenty of (winter squash and tomatoes). I think seeds, seed packets, and seed catalogues are inherently beautiful as they come with them the prospect of the growing season. BUT I think that the Hudson Valley Seed Library does a particularly careful and beautiful job at seed packets and I wanted to share. They are an online only (no catalogue = no dead trees) seed library based in New York's Hudson River Valley. They have the normal runofthemill heritage, non-GMO seed collections available for purchase. What stands out is their Art Packs. They commission a bunch of artists each year to create new packs for various seeds. They are a bit pricier than the normal seeds. An art pack for dino kale goes for $3.75 while the regular unembellished pack goes for $2.75. I thought they'd make awful sweet presents for friends with gardens this summer.

Happy Monday. Nick and I are going all the wee way up to Burlington today to scavenge bus parts for the 1977 vw we are having slowly restored (mainly rust but also including a proper back seat so we can strap a car seat in for the bébé). I know it's pitiable but I've been looking very forward to this trip to the big city all week long.

Amendment!!!! this post that I read over a year ago slipped into my subconscious and I am shamed to say I didn't even realize or acknowledge that I had essentially copied the photos, one for one. Thank you Sophie for introducing me to the Hudson Valley Seed Library and my apologies for being so thick about where I find my inspiration.


naiveté and sugaring

At the end of last week the forecast for the following 10 days looked perfect for sugaring. That assessment is according to myself and my beloved, who have never tapped a tree in the entirety of our worthless lives. I have been leading the maple syrup charge this winter, insomuch that I have read The Maple Sugar Book by the Nearings and have come to the conclusion that it doesn't seem so hard (on a very small small scale) but requires much patience. I quickly became the in-house expert.

So, we got ahead of ourselves and the weather and started scrambling around for buckets last weekend. Ethan said that Clinton may have some old buckets for sale. Kyle said his uncles probably did. Nick said we might want to check with Sam. After several nervous and furtive calls went unanswered I took my mother in a snow storm 20 miles south to the nearest hardware store to buy some cheap modern plastic buckets. At this point I was just picturing sap streaming down every maple behind our house and I couldn't bare to let a natural sugar supply slip from my hold any longer. Mom and I came back with 10 buckets and 10 taps and 10 lids, a special tapping drill bit and $150 lighter. The new metal buckets would cost twice that.  Obviously this could become an expensive endeavor fast so next year I will begin my calls for used buckets much earlier.

On Sunday as we were about to go tap we were told by Sarah that she thought we were too early. Sam wrote to say the same. Justin called to say so too.

I started to feel quite embarrassed about my excitement and sugaring naiveté  Apparently, you don't want to tap too early as the tree will begin to heal around the tap hole immediately and that leaves you with only so many weeks of usable tap. Plus the neighbors will just have another reason to think of you as the asshole from the flatlands. Apparently the weather needs to be 6 degrees warmer than it said it was going to and the sun needs to be out to warm up the trees and on and on and on.  I wish we had some sort of mentor here in Vermont for instances like this, where we feel utterly new and completely stupid. The complexity of sugaring and the nuances of reading the weather and the trees isn't something you can just learn from a book.

Despite the collective neighborly opinion that we were too early we decided to put up one tap (above!) just to see how it is done. We were going to use being too early  to our unprepared advantage and start planning in detail which trees we would tap and how we would boil the sap to syrup.

Our next-door neighbor very kindly offered us the use of his meditation cabin for boiling down sap. It was perfect, I wish I had snapped a photo of it. A small wooden room with one wall made entirely of mismatched windows. It had a window seat long enough to recline upon and an upright cylindrical wood stove. The walls were peppered with various artifacts from his travels to India. He and Nick started a fire in the stove and put a pot of boiling water atop, to test how quickly it would heat up and how easily it would boil.

I'd imagine there is little doubt as to where this is going.

Nick left to do nighttime chores. I went to start cooking dinner (we were having all the immediate neighbors to dinner). The owner of the meditation cabin went into his house briefly to feed his cats and dog.

Before any of us had time to react the meditation cabin cum sugar shack was enveloped. We aren't sure quite how it happened. But happen it did. Quickly and silently and methodically as only fires can do.

Once the fire was discovered there was nothing we could do but watch it burn. Fortunately nobody had been sleeping on the window seat. No cats were curled up by the stove.  There was a solid foot of snow surrounding the cabin and forbidding it to spread to our homes. So we watched, in complete disbelief. The five of us who spend our days weaving amongst one another on this little hilltop community, watched it burn. And then we ate dinner together and laughed at the absurdity of the night and felt the gratitude that our first fire on this farm was so harmless.

Now we have burnt to the ground the only shelter, stove, and pile of wood, we had at our disposal for the season.

I am not optimistic about how the rest of this "season" will follow. I think we may just bite the bullet and buy syrup from any one of our well-seasoned neighbors again this year. I want to limit the number of times we publicly embarrass ourselves. We will try to put a little time and distance between us and this first fiery attempt.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...