Saturday, January 29, 2011
Up in the loft, I broke open bales of hay and remembered. We are now reaching the bottom layers of hay that we put up two summers ago. Amazing that the dried grass is still green. I noticed some of the loft floor bare, for the first time since the summer afternoon we loaded up all that hay. I remembered Sean and Jason, all the kids and me, sweat dripping camaraderie, and the fragrance of sweet summer pastures, sunshine and clover. I remembered Tim and Bob, working the night duty with the kids, me and Philip, trying to get the hay up off the lower field before the rain hit, even if it meant working by moonlight and headlight until who knows what time.
I broke open a bale of hay and stuck my face into the middle of one of the flakes. (Good thing I don't have allergy troubles!) The sweet smell was faint, but still there. I don't know why, but it made me cry. A terribly sweet ache.
Sheep and goats were thankful for their food and I noticed that several of the ewes are getting nice and round.
When I went out to give Ribeye, the steer, and Priscilla their water, I noticed that the light of the sun was coming in from a different angle now. It looked more spring-like, even if it didn't feel that way. I guess some bird noticed as well, because I heard her sing and it was a spring song.
This is the time of year I always begin to ache. My Texas upbringing has set inside me some internal calendar that says end of January and early February is time to get out, prepare garden beds, soak up intermittent sunshine. Yesterday my Austin, Tx sister told me she was working outside in tank top and 70 degrees at the Natural Gardener, a premier organic gardening nursery where she is employed. She told me they are already eating all sorts of goodies out of their display garden.
My cold has turned into an achy cough and being sick and desperate for sun and gardens makes me homesick for my mom and dad. So I decided to cook up a meal for us that would help me at least taste and smell my Texas roots.
Arroz con Pollo.
Our dear friend from Journey's End Farm gave me some chickens they raised. A good old stewing hen is perfect for this recipe. Certainly nothing fancy, or difficult, but the smell is heavenly and I promise it will warm you up if you are needing some hope of springtime.
two stalks of celery
two or three carrots
Chop up the vegetables and saute until the onions are nearly translucent. Add to the pot (I was using a giant wok, but a dutch oven would be great, as you will need a lid):
4-6 cloves mashed garlic
1 cup of rice (brown rice will be best, white rice will get too mushy)
Stir the garlic and rice until you notice the rice begins to toast, it will change color slightly.
Add 1 TBSP cumin powder. Yum. The smell takes me straight back to Mexico.
Add 1 can of crushed tomatoes, or two or three chopped tomatoes if you are making this in the summer time. I also add one chopped green pepper and one bunch of chopped up fresh cilantro (which is absolutely essential to this dish.)
At this point, place your chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture and salt and pepper to your taste. Pour in at least three cans of water or broth, making sure that the rice, vegetables and chicken pieces are covered with liquid, top it off with a lid and simmer until the chicken is tender. A stewing hen will take a bit longer than your boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I assure you it will offer significantly more flavor and vitamins! Especially if said hen was allowed to free-range and eat a healthy diet, including bugs and grass.
If you want, when your arroz con pollo is almost done, throw in a cup or two of frozen peas. I meant to do that and forgot. It was good anyway!
We made a pot of black beans to go on the side. I made extra so we would have enough for a couple of other meals. Just soaked the dried beans, then covered them with water, added a chopped onion, some garlic and salt and pepper and cooked them until tender. I love their purpley black color.
We have a few more weeks of winter to muddle through, but the reward is immense, if we don't give up. Dogwood and redbud, watercolor washing over our fields and ridge, peepers and warm nights, black soil and seed packages.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Today I started to feel a bit better. Patrick went out to the barn to move a couple of animals around for me and hopped down a one foot step. He landed on his foot the wrong way and we spent the evening in the ER. Broken ankle. Just a small fracture, but needs to be in a cast and will be out of commission for a few weeks. Four to six weeks.
Yikes! What will I do without my right hand man? I have a feeling that his time of weakness will give a couple of other kids the opportunity to shine. Poor guy.
Just so you know we haven't dropped off the face of the earth here on the farm. Illness and accidents are keeping us moving a little slower than I like, but not for long.
Right now I am strategizing in my head for the up and coming lambing season. We should see the first little lambs in the next week or so. I must get stalls ready for mamas.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
First, a guisado, a Mexican stew. Oh, I wish you could smell that dish. A humble dish, typically made out of pork or goat. Very common and eaten with flour tortillas, if you are in the northern region of Mexico.
Then, I got to work on a Bear in Burgundy, using my version of the Frugal Gourmet's Beef in Burgundy recipe. It smelled even better!
The kids and I sampled a little taste, but tried to hold back, as company is coming, and everyone knows that stew is better the next day...
We all agreed that it tasted exactly like.......beef.
Here is my recipe for the guisado. If you don't have bear meat, find a few better friends. Or substitute pork or beef. Or goat. Or lamb.
1 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic
1-2 lbs cubed bear meat
1-3 TBSP oil or rendered bear fat or bacon grease
1 TBPS cumin
salt to taste
1 pint canned tomatoes
Heat a large frying pan or dutch oven. Add oil. Brown meat. When meat is almost brown, add onions. When onions are translucent, add garlic and spices. Saute a couple of minutes, then add tomatoes and a quart of water. Simmer for 45 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in a tablespoon or two or roux (butter and flour cooked together, to thicken up the stew).
Warm tortillas are a great accompaniment, along with a nice salad on the side. Crusty bread would be good as well. Very simple and very delicious.
Bear in Burgundy recipe another day.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Today was a lovely Monday.
Busy with barn work, housework, business work, me picking up our nearly 2000 lb order from Dutch Valley, people picking up their orders of grain and other ingredients from me, phone calls, attic work, laundry.
My favorite part of the day was when I headed out to do some barn cleanup all by myself. There are days when I want to be with everyone, working together, and then days like today. Washing down manure, raking up hay, cleaning out water troughs felt like meditation.
Quiet. Peace. Sometimes I forget that our barn is one of my very favorite things. As I wheeled the load of manure out to the compost pile in the garden I smiled as I wished hopeful thoughts about our spring garden. The day was so mild (low 40's) it was hard not to dream about gardening. It felt like winter wasn't interminable.
Of course, I didn't get my hopes up too much. We are in Virginia now, not Texas, and springtime has a ways to go before she gets here. As I type, a thick snow is falling, quietly blanketing the farm. After such a productive day, I feel much more equipped for another round of winter. But wouldn't it be nice if spring came a little earlier this year than last? I would love to be planting peas and onions and spinach.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Yesterday morning was an incredible exercise in luxury.
I woke up, made coffee, then went back to bed to finish a book.
During most of our busy season on the farm there is no opportunity to hang out in bed reading. Bakery hours are early hours. So are markets. Right now Mary is taking care of the early milking, so I did the unthinkable and stayed in my nightgown for hours, finishing up a Dan Brown book recommended to me by Thomas.
Most of the kids spent the night at a friends' house. Rose and Sophie had a sleepover here and fed themselves cereal for breakfast and painted fingernails, read books, played games and otherwise entertained themselves.
What a surprise when I was chatting with Rachel on the phone (myself still clad in sleep clothes) a car drove up to the house.
I hang up, quickly dressed and went down to greet our Nepalese acquaintances who were hoping we had a goat to sell. I wished I could sell them Angel, who is a real thorn in my flesh, but as she is Maggie's dear one, I told them we were all out. They would have to wait until next summer to get a butcher goat from us.
They saw chickens running around and asked if I would sell them one.
We chased and caught eight birds, they put them in their trunk to head home for a big feast. I felt happy to be able to offer them something they would truly appreciate. And didn't even have to pluck the birds or gut them myself.
All the exercise in the mild air gave me energy to go back inside and work on housecleaning. When the kids got back yesterday evening, they came bearing the gift of bear meat. A portion from the gift given them by a neighbor.
Patrick cut the fat off and I put it on the stove to render while we read a few chapters of At the Back of the North Wind. It smelled like bacon. By the time we said our prayers, the grease was rendered. Bits of cracklings were floating on top. I skimmed them, strained the fat into a mason jar, and salted the crispy leftover bits. The boys and I munched on them while watching Greeks and Spartans fight it out over the lovely Helen.
I have eaten bear stew once, but never prepared the meat. Of course, in my humble opinion, most anything fried in fat with a little salt tastes pretty good to me. Little bits of fat fried in fat are especially good (ever had chicharrones in Mexico?). The boys and I were surprised at how sweet the crispy meat was. Did this bear eat a lot of apples in an old orchard?
Part of me finds it kind of hard to eat bear meat. It is not a part of my culture. However it is a part of my culture to not be wasteful, and if someone hunts an animal, eating it makes for a better economy. I have eaten rattlesnake, alligator, squirrel, wild pig and who knows what else my dad brought in to supplement the pastured beef and venison we grew up on.
Bear meat and fat were very important parts of the culture in the early days of our country. Smelling the aroma of the rendering fat on our stove last night made me feel connected to an earlier time.
We have a nice amount of bear meat in our fridge waiting to be turned into some kind of stew. Should I go french, and make a burgundy, with mushrooms and red wine? Irish, with potatoes and parsnips and carrots? Mexican, with cumin and hominy and a jalapeno? Indian, curry style?
Our life, pre-farm, living in the northern NJ suburbs in a cute little neighborhood, or in a historical neighborhood in urban Fort Worth, a boulevard lined with big trees, edged sidewalks and dog walkers, seems so very distant when I think about the rarity of reading in bed, chasing chickens for someone's supper, and rendering bear grease.
All in a day's work.
Friday, January 14, 2011
At least it felt almost balmy as I milked Coco late this evening. Rachel and Jason invited me out to supper, just the three of us, to Maw and Paw's Diner in Eagle Rock. I considered a salad, then decided on the cheeseburger. What else does one eat at Maw and Paw's Diner? We enjoyed each other's company and laughed a lot as we consumed those burgers.
I didn't feel like going out to milk, but Coco came up to the back door and stood there so patiently...
After building up the fire, I grabbed the warm wash rag (for udder cleaning) and a nice stainless steel milk bucket and grabbed the grain. Some for her, and some for Priscilla. Mary stood to the side and watched curiously. All seemed so still on the farm. No other movement from the rest of the farm animals. They were tucked in the barn. Not a breath of wind to chill my bones or tangle the willow tree.
The moon is larger than half. I suppose she will be full middle of next week? The weather man suggests that we have a few days of warmer weather ahead of us and I am so very relieved. The respite gives all of us a little extra boost so we will be ready to endure the next onslaught of bitter weather. If Priscilla is going to have her calf, one of these warmer days would certainly be nice, now wouldn't it?
Folklore suggests that full moons bring on births. No research to back that up. Actually, research seems to indicate that the moon cycle doesn't appear to affect labor and delivery. But it gives us something to talk about, anyway. Let's not tell Priscilla anything about that research and see what she has to say.
PS I went back to read some of last year's blog posts. I typically do that to see what weather patterns we were experiencing, or where we were on the farm cycle twelve months ago. Or twenty four months ago. It was amazing how painful it felt to read about such ordinary trivial farm activities. Grief is so ongoing. Even with trivial stuff happening now, and a few normal moments. I guess a year ago I never really believed we would ever be going through normal farm life, milking, seeing the moon change, watching the seasons move forward, and be doing it without Philip. Sometimes I feel guilty for moving forward. Other days I realize it is the only thing for us to do. This morning I had a chat with him, as I sat in front of the woodstove with my coffee and Bible. I told him how much I miss him and how painful it is to see the kids move forward without their dad. I told him how thankful I am that he is no longer in pain. I asked him a few questions and listened for the sound of his voice. It was there, but quite faint.
This morning's Psalm was Psalm 16. I remember reading it just days after Philip's death. Here are some scriptures that rang out for me:
"The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup, you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed I have a beautiful inheritance."
I can't believe that it is possible for me to say that my boundaries have fallen in pleasant places after the death of my husband, the one who loved me and our five children. It is surreal to say that I have a beautiful inheritance after such a horrible thing happened to our family.
But it is true.
I would give just about anything to have things be back to normal, but they won't ever be back to the old normal ever again. Even so, with pain and tears that still surge most every single day, I can wholeheartedly say that when I look out over our fields, when I sit with the children around our table or around the fire with a story, when I squat down to milk Coco and hear the stream of pure milk, I believe I have a wonderful inheritance and indeed, my lot and portion in life has fallen within a lovely boundary.
Isn't life full of perplexing paradoxes? And a plethora of emotions?
Now the silence of the evening has been replaced by yipping coyotes in the distance and howling dogs in the yard. The fire is roaring, the house is warm and peace reigns. For the moment.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Today I paid bills and did other seemingly meaningless chores. Made a delivery of our delicious lamb which seemed much less meaningless. Happy to have yummy food produced on our farm available for others to enjoy.
I noticed the bright moon up in the sky as I went out and about. Rising in the early afternoon. Waxing. Hopefully I will be sound asleep when she sets in the wee hours.
Wind blew down a gate in the evening. Coco and Mary were happy about that, and spent the day with the rest of the herd. Patrick fixed it for me this afternoon. Maybe the wind has gone to other regions. The house seems warmer, so she must be taking a break.
I am trying to live hopefully today. Hopeful that spring is going to return. Hopeful that green grass will once again grow. Hopeful that we will learn new ways of living, the six of us on our little farm. Hopeful that joy will erupt, just like daffodils and willow leaves and gentle calm breezes and spring peepers.
Something about the regularity of the moon cycles gives me hope.
FYI, I am always astonished this time of year to see the morning sun rise over the south ridge instead of the east meadow. How weird is that? Guess it made me think that a little flexibility in my expectations might be called for.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Ladies came over for our Bible study tonight and we had scary wind noise as the background music. Fires blazed, but a little chill crept in around the edges anyway. Those gals are such good sports. We drank our hot tea and caught up with each other. Patrick introduced one of the women to Mary, the new heifer. All the ladies oohed and aaahed over my bedroom transformation and laughed when I told them how I threw deconstruction debris out the window.
I am so thankful for the relationships we have built here on this farm. Those ladies have paused Bible study to go watch me deliver baby goats. They have prayed for cows with mastitis. They ignore kitchen disasters involving canning and jam making. Well, they don't really ignore, they usually pick up a washcloth and jump in and help me finish what I am in the middle of.
These ladies allow one another to be real. And true. And honest. I just have to say I am grateful for my friends. The ones who come here for Bible study. Tonight we didn't do much Bible study, but I know we covered really important stuff. (I am also grateful for those friends who never talk Bible with me, but love me anyway!)
Friends on the farm help me know we will make it through, no matter how hard and long the wind blows.
Now I better run put some more logs on the fire. Thankful also for friends who gave us so much wood for the winter!
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sorry, kids, looks like there won't be a snow day tomorrow. But since we cancelled our other evening activities tonight, in case of bad roads, I was able to make a veggie stir fry, help get Maggie situated with civics homework, listen to Nora read and help Rose practice for the spelling bee. A nice little gift of margin.
Sometimes, like this evening, milking doesn't offer me poetry or spiritual insight. It just has to be done. However, I did make a point of smelling Coco's nice coat, essence of hay, clover and grass. A note of sunshine offering hope. She is one sweet smelling cow. I am glad to have milk streaming into the house. Not too much, since we want to make sure Mary gets a good start. But enough to notice kids' dairy consumption has increased about 100%. Enough to inspire me to take the Ricki Carroll Home Cheesemaking book to bed last night to review and dream and hope that this might be the year of the camembert. Or cheddar. Or manchego.
If nothing more, looks like yogurt will be happening this week and butter next. Maybe some fromage blanc for omelets. And if I get the mill tuned up and ready to grind wheat and spelt, plenty of milk will go into Milk and Honey bread.
Thank you, God for Coco!
Friday, January 7, 2011
As I headed to the barn, I noticed the waxing crescent moon dipping down in the west, but just barely. She was trying hard to be seen, but the snow and clouds were like a veil.
When I got to the barn, I remembered why it is so good for me to milk Coco: the stream of milk in the bucket, the feel of Coco's warm flank, the soft sounds of cattle and goats and sheep, busily munching their supper of hay, the sight of Mary, scampering around the stall, until she made her bed in a nest of straw.
All is calm.
After saying my goodnights to the animals, I walked up the driveway to the house. Snowflakes fell on my hair. The air smelled pure white. The moon was a little lower in the sky and she and the stars were rather bundled up. I could barely make them out.
The house was warm and smell of venison and onions greeted me as I entered. Here's the recipe for the taco stew we and the girl's friends enjoyed for supper:
1-3 lbs ground venison depending on how many hungry teenagers sit at your table
1-2 onions, chopped
Saute meat and onions until onions are tender and meat is almost browned. Then add:
2-4 cloves minced garlic
canned tomatoes, crushed or chopped
cumin, a generous amount-2 TBSP or so
chili powder, if you wish, 1 TBSP or so
1 can hominy (0ptional, but delicious)
chopped green chili, fresh, frozen or canned
a cup of water
After the stew simmers for a half hour, more or less, add a bag of spinach.
We served the stew with a little cheese sprinkled on top and sour cream and tabasco sauce. Quesadillas on the side. We could have added black beans if I had them ready.
It was perfect food for a table full of very silly children who really should spend another hour or so outside to use up even more hyper energy!!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I remember many times in my childhood my mom would get a notion and a few hours later the furniture would be completely rearranged.
We had little to zero money for interior decorating, but Mom, being a professional artist, would creatively change things up to give everyone a fresh perspective.
This morning I woke up exhausted and drained. Again. Thought I might be coming down with a cold so I called my friend and cancelled our barn cleanup. Drank some tea, read the Psalms for the day and took a nap.
During my naptime, I prayed for inspiration, something, anything to get me out of this slump. After a cup of coffee and some food, inspiration struck me. It was time to reaarange my bedroom.
Our bedroom had a closet jutting out into the middle of the room which made furniture settings rather limited. It also cut out a lot of light. Philip and I had wished to knock it out for over five years, but never got around to it.
I decided that if I waited for the Christmas decorations to be completely put away, the laundry to be finished and the paperwork caught up, I might never begin. So I emptied the closet of all clothes and shoes and other odds and ends, threw everything on the bed, grabbed a hammer and a maul and got to work.
Twelve hours later, I can barely move. A hot epsom salt bath is waiting for me. I just took some ibuprofen.
And I have a new room in which to sleep. And a completely new attitude.
I yanked, banged, ripped and threw all the sheet rock and framing boards out my bedroom window onto the deck. It was very hard work. I decided that even if there were many things in my life I couldn't change, the closet wasn't one of them. Many things require patience, trust, grace and longsuffering. Tearing out a closet doesn't.
I set the Pandora Radio on Fernando Ortega, and comforting hymns with piano and guitar comforted me as I threw all my angst into very hard, messy work. Maybe others would think that sweet music about how much God loves me is strange accompaniment to grunts and heave ho's and hammering and screeching nails.
It seemed perfect to me.
The head of the bed is in the closet (what formerly was the closet.) My new writing spot is on the other side of the room. Bookshelf is flip flopped.
I feel a bit more in control of my life (well, at least my bedroom) and joy-filled. Much happier than this morning. I feel loved. Cared for.
And sore and ready for a nice hot bath.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Grief group is sponsored by Gentle Shepherd Hospice and led by counselor, Martha Furman. It is free and open to anyone suffering loss of spouse, friend, family member, child. There are folks of all ages. Group is offered on Mondays and Tuesdays, noon to 1:30. I don't go every week, but try to as often as possible. I never get there on time.
Martha gives each of us the opportunity to share about our loved one and what we are feeling at the moment. When one gentleman, whose wife died of cancer last summer, spoke about how she came down with her illness last winter. He spoke about the visceral response he has to the winter cold. It made me cry to know that someone else feels what I feel. It made me feel less alone and less worried that something is wrong with me. When someone else shared about how hard it is to do the things that their spouse used to do for them, I felt less alone, thinking about how guilty I feel because I don't have it in me to be fun for my kids at the moment.
When I shared that a lot of things hurt these days and I feel like I have been grieving for a year, since last December when Philip's health took a sharp dive, and how I haven't felt much joy or happiness for a few weeks, no one, not even the licensed professional counselor told me I should buck up, look on the bright side, or just try harder. They all reminded me that we go through the cycle of grief repeatedly, sometimes daily hitting the different stages of grief and healing, and to not be too hard on myself, and to rest when tired because grief is exhausting.
Martha also reminded each of us to avoid guilty feelings when we see others whose paths appear more difficult than ours. She reminded us to be open to feeling our pain so that we could move on, instead of get stuck in an eddy because we try to block our emotions.
So how is this good for the farm? I think it is good for the farm because it is good for me. And good for my children. Tomorrow I plan on getting up, donning dirty clothes to go shovel manure out in the barn with another widow friend who lost her husband several years ago. Grief group teaches me to reach out when I have a need. Being with other folks farther down the path teaches me that it won't always be this hard, but they remind me that what we are going through right now IS hard and we don't have to feel crazy because it hurts.
And now, off the pull supper out of the oven so I can share dinner with the children, then story time. Roasted chicken, green beans from summer and sweet potatoes from a farmer friend. Organic carrots and lettuce from Kroger. Another day in the high forties makes me think that spring is on the way, but alas, we have weeks and weeks to go. However, I have deep faith that at some point, the warm will return for a nice long season, the grass will green and hopefully we will be out there in the daylight, planting garden.
PS If you are getting tired of gloomy posts, maybe you should come back around May...
Monday, January 3, 2011
One of the verses in Psalm 68 speaks of being exulted before the Lord, and filled with happiness and joy. I told the Lord I was so far from being filled with happiness and joy, it wasn't funny. I asked him to intervene and help me know what to do to be lifted up out of the post-holiday grief slump.
I spent a little time researching eco-friendly bread packaging. Answered a fraction of the waiting emails. Deleted a bunch of emails. Then put on my muck boots and went out to the barn
After a few minutes of housekeeping in Coco and Mary's stall, I determined to pick up a little windblown trash from the gully. Then proceeded to pick up trash and organize the tractor shed a little bit. Then got to work shoveling out the milking stanchion that has not been used as a milking stanchion for several months.
After a couple of hours, things looked a bit better and I felt infinitely better. I called up a friend to ask her if she would like to come and shovel manure with me this week. I poked around trying to find the sheep, whom I hadn't seen for 36 hours.
When the girls got home from school, I sent Rose out to search for those woollies. She couldn't find them anywhere, so we set off to the woods to see if they had escaped. Once we reached the high point of our property we could see them come over the crest of the upper hayfields.
Where had they been?
Rose thinks they were made invisible for a little bit to force her and Nora and me to take an afternoon walk up to the woods.
I was thankful for work for my hands that helped keep me from sinking down lower than necessary. Disappearing and reappearing sheep, bellowing cows, prancing Mary and at least partially cleaner surfaces all helped to make me feel better.
Supper was good, too.
We had Venison and Broccoli Stirfry with jasmine rice on the side.
Nunnally's deer steak, cut into small pieces, marinated in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, toasted sesame oil and lemon juice, stirfried with mounds of broccoli.
Now, early to bed, to meet another new day.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Mary cried out, "Mary!"
I thought that was cute, naming a little calf after herself, but she assured me the name wasn't hers, but was after Mary, the mother of Jesus, since little calf was born so near Christmas Eve.
How could I resist?
So Mary is Mary, but the other one.
She is so adorable. With the blessed warm weather, I have let her and Coco hang outside the barn the last two days. No matter how sad one is, it is impossible not to laugh when watching the healthy little thing tear and frolic around the yard. She curls her tail up, gathers up her feet and leaps into the air as if bitten by a snake. Then runs as if chased by wild coyotes. Then whirls and saunters, never straying too far from placid Coco.
We have decided that Mary is the closest thing to pink that could happen in an organic heifer. Rose pink, kind of like the crepey cloth made into a great grandma's thin housecoat, the dressy one with lace around the edge of the sleeve.
She is the most lovely of lovelies and I am happy she was born. Being forced to go out to milk is good therapy for me and I feel certain that the timing is providential.
Seems like the mastitis has been cured, what with Patrick's diligent help with massage and milking and hot cloths. And Mary's diligent help in nursing.
The barn kitties believe this just might be the best holiday ever since they and the dogs are getting the milk until all sign of illness is over. Actually, I did strain the milk tonight and put it up for us, since it seemed perfect with no sign of colostrum or mastitis.
A warm wind blew in a thaw and my eyes are relieved to see earth. The kids are relieved to see the pond begin the thaw, hoping that in a week or so it will refreeze into a smooth surface. The house is warm. I am grateful for the break.
But now, for a recipe or two. And for the record, any meal conjured up with my dear friend Holly is pretty much the best. And having Kathryn hear to help chop and listen and eat and drink and share abundant gifts is dessert. And seeing the kids play and romp and build and design is heavenly. Truly. Max and Patrick built a castle fort, and I wish you could see it.
Venison Tenderloin with Port reduction
First, we sliced the tenderloin into rounds, 1 1/2 cm thick, give or take and dusted them with whole wheat flour. Holly seared them in a hot skillet with a light coating of oil, until just barely done.
Then, Holly cooked up a small amount of bacon and crumbled it. While she did that, she put on a cup or so of port to reduce. That means, put it in a small saucepan and let it simmer/boil to let a third to half evaporate. You could use red wine.
I took some of the plums which Max and Patrick picked last end of July and Kathryn and I made into brandied plums. They were damson plums. After five months in the brandy, the plums shriveled up to half their size. I took around a half cup of the plums and cut the meat off them and chopped it up. Also took a knob of fresh ginger and minced it. Holly added the plums and ginger to the port as she finished preparing the venison.
Right before we served our midnight meal, she poured the port/plum ginger sauce over the platter of venison, sprinkled bacon crumbs on top and generously salted and peppered. I wish I could embed the scent into this blog post. It was SOOOO good!
NOW, for a couple of sides, we made oven roasted sweet potato fries, sliced into finger length sticks, tossed in a little olive oil, then roasted at 450 until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Sea salt on top.
And Creamed spinach.
Here's my recipe: Saute two or three cloves of minced garlic in olive oil or butter. Add a huge mound of spinach and sprinkle with a little salt. As soon as the spinach wilts, you can serve it as is, and it is the most delicious, but we wanted to gild the lily. As soon as the spinach wilted, Holly added some cream and a couple of pinches of curry powder, just to give a subtle nuance. The curry powder off set the fruity ginger and the earthy venison in an amazing way. The sweet potatoes were perhaps a divinely inspired counterpoint.
I so hope you have friends who can access some deer tenderloin for you, for it is the penultimate organic, free-range red meat. And other friends who will stand around your kitchen with you concocting gourmet feasts. We were satisfied with that feast. And I am wondering when we can prepare it again. But first, another dear friend shared some locally harvested bear meat and now I am dreaming of bear bourgignone. What do you think?
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Patrick milked for me this evening.
Thomas brought in the firewood for the night.
Maggie, Rose, Nora and Mary married Fred the dog and Tabby the cat. Again.
Max helped wherever needed. Kathryn and I set up food: sushi and potstickers for the first course.
We joined around the table and remembered the bests and worsts of 2010. I was interested in the lists. We thanked God and tucked into food. Kids then went outside and lit the bonfire to roast their marshmallows and Kathryn and shared champagne by the fireplace, hashing out important stuff.
We then sliced italian sausage, cheeses (special raw milk cheddar, some rare french stinky cheese, an artisanl goat cheese) and set it out with fruits and freshly milled whole grain breads, made into crispy toasts.
Kids came in for course #2 and we shared our wishes and prayers for 2011. As we scarfed the delicious bread and cheeses and olives, Holly arrived.
Yeay for Holly.
We enjoyed course #2 and she and I put our heads together to concoct course #3.
Pan-seared venison tenderloins with port reduction with fresh ginger and brandied plums from the farm.
Creamed organic spinach with a lot of garlic and a pinch of curry powder, the sweet one.
Piles of sweet potato fries, roasted in the big oven, with more olive oil than needed and plenty of real salt.
Kids rejoiced in fire and corn syrup and coyotes and stars outside as we women rejoiced in kinship inside.
All sat around the table for the midnight meal. We toasted. We discussed things we learned in 2010 and some of what we wished to learn in the new year. We delighted in the most amazing of tastes. Is it possible that 7 or 8 years ago, teenager Holly was in my kitchen, learning to cook the basics, and now, years of shared kitchens later, she shares tidbits she is learning in real culinary school as she prepares our dinner and I sit and drink wine???
Maybe tomorrow, if I drink enough coffee and you ask, I will share recipes for this evenings feast.
This morning I went out to the cemetery and wrote Philip a letter. And wrote a list of highlights and lowlights of 2010 and what I dream for in 2011. A bitterly painful day was redeemed in the presence of my dear women friends. With background music of children, playing in the other room with their dear ones. Sparkling cider flowed. More food than necessary was consumed.
The bitterness is tempered by abundance. What gifts we have been given.
May we find a way to return the favor in 2011.
And may each of us enjoy the peace and grace that comes by living in community with others. What a marvelous gift. Thank you God. Messy. Not so perfect. Often rough around the edges.
But there is not another good that is any better.
As we say goodnight to a painful year, I look forward to another one. Probably filled with plenty of pain. But knowing that after this past one, we can count on LOVE. Plenty of it. In the form of our friends, our family, our neighbors and customers and other farmers and church members. Even total strangers.
Welcome, New Year.