Yesterday I went out to hay and water the animals. Dark gray clouds covered the Jefferson National Forest to the north, but brilliant sun broke through over the farm, causing snow flakes to sparkle like diamonds.
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.