Sunday, January 25, 2009

“It’s a fine line between falling and flying”

-Cloud Cult, Hurricanes and Fire Survival Guide

Whit and I went to Boston this weekend. It almost didn’t happen. For one thing, Ginger the cow is eminently due with her first calf, and I, being the control freak that I am, almost couldn’t leave the farm in the capable hands of my husband, Kyle. For another, the sheep are so close to lambing that they need to be monitored at least four times a day. In this arena, I am truly needed, because if they are in trouble, my hands are smaller and can get the lambs out if they’re in the wrong position inside of their mothers. And lastly, Greg, who spent the summer with us and was planning to visit, hit a deer and totaled his Jeep. It screwed up his plans to visit the farm, and he had no way to get from Burlington to Jersey, on his way to a semester abroad in Tasmania.

It worked out, though, and we ended up staying with her friend in a cute little apartment in Newton Center, right outside of Boston. We had exactly 25 hours in the city, exactly 25 hours enough for me, before returning to this rural haven.

I love to people watch, and the T subway system in Boston is perfect for this. In a six foot area, you can hear three different languages and see nine different types of fashion, from Goth to Punk to Prada to Patagonia. There are entire conversations being carried out, like no one else is there, riding along with you, on cell phones and in face-to-face conversation. Ninety percent of the passengers are hooked into music, off in their own world, on their way to wherever.

We took the Orange Line to my favorite part of the city, Chinatown. I love it here-the raw ethnicity of it, the privilege to have access to ingredients that I can’t find anywhere else, even in Burlington, to cook my favorite food and being immersed in an element completely unfamiliar to me. Whit has never seen me in an Asian supermarket before. She’s only seen the frugal me, the coupon budget oriented-justify every penny me. When we hit that market, I was a little insane. We had just fifteen minutes before they were going to shut the door on us. We found another couple of gringos, raiding the aisles rich with sauces and noodles and chicken feet and preserved eggs, and we called questions to each other- “have you found any ginger?” “no- have you found the fish sauce” “it’s near the Sriracha.” “What are these? Fermented lettuce? I’m getting it.”

Whit followed with the cart, and green bean vermicelli, candied ginkgo, ground bean paste, palm vinegar and galangal root found its place in the cart. At the end of fifteen minutes, we (meaning I) had filled the shopping cart full, and we headed to the check-out as the lights snapped off, plunging the store into darkness. I took a breath, grateful that we hadn’t missed the store’s open hours; Whit was grateful that there were only fifteen minutes of misery to have endured.

We searched quickly for a place to eat-mainly because we both had to pee pretty badly. Luckily, we stumbled onto a Vietnamese restaurant that had been listed in the Zaget’s guide. The food turned out to be just plain awesome. We ordered enough food for four people and paid $30. Admittedly, the noodle soup had beef in it that we both didn’t care for (are we just spoiled with the taste of grass-fed beef?), but everything else was spot on. From pickled lotus rootlets to spring rolls in peanut sauce, we ate and ate and drank mango shakes and fresh limeade.

After eating for about an hour and a half, we hopped on the Green line to Whit’s friend’s apartment. I was pretty much ready to pack it in for the night, and I thought maybe that it would be a great idea for me to just go to bed and read so Allie and Whit could talk but Allie wouldn’t have it. Nope, I could’ve done that if I had stayed at home, she said. I was going out with them. Allie, Adam, Whit and I went to a small little bar on Beacon Street called Union City and sat and talked about the perils of having new jobs just out of college and what to do in this economy. Everywhere around us were boutique stores and beautiful clothes, with no one to buy them, all with 75% off signs attached to them. I tried hard not to worry about these people sitting here with me, with their new jobs, knowing how much hope and energy that they were full of.

On the way back out of the city toward home the next day, we sat on the commuter train; Whitney was obsessed with finding a song with the lines “I’m sick of being sick and tired.” She put her iPod on and started searching through the songs. “Is this it?” and then she gives me the one of her ear buds, and I start sharing the music. We’re listening, while outside, Boston is flying by the train’s windows, late winter light streaming in, and the tick of tracks becomes the song’s bass. I feel like I’m in a movie. Like I’m close to flying.

At home, Brad and Kyle are making dinner. I tell them of our adventures, and they listen. Brad asks about the subway doors and the gates to get into the subway and the colors that delineate the different trains. Then, Greg arrives, having been rescued by Whit who has spent yet three more hours in the car to get him from Burlington. All of a sudden, we’re all here, in this one place, laughing, and talking, and wondering where the next adventure will take us. We fall back into a comfortable routine of board games and banter, animals snuggling close, shutting out the cold January winds and chill that surround the house. Silently, I begin planning an Asian feast for the next evening’s meal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Behind the Scenes

It’s amazing how much time I spend looking at the posterior ends of things. At the hospital where I work, people are constantly asking me to check to see whether Jill the cat is really Jack, or Thomas the guinea pig is really Thomasina.

On the farm, every morning when I do chores, I scrape the manure from the cow stalls into the gutter. While preparing to shovel it all outside, I’ll glance at the back end of the cows, to look for signs of heat- to see whether it’s time for them to be bred artificially. This usually entails remembering to call the number pasted onto the fridge for the “Vermont calf makers,” where my call is automatically recorded. Magically, a technician will appear, with frozen straws of semen from bulls that live as far away as California, ready to be implanted into the willing cows.

Sometimes, I’ll whisk a hen from the floor of the coop and inspect to see if she’s laying eggs. You can tell, ya know, whether she’s taking a break and just eating grain, or contributing to the daily haul of eggs, just by looking at her cloaca (Latin, for sewer), where an egg comes out the same place that she defecates.

These days, I’m pretty careful to look at the flock of sheep’s behinds, as they’re starting to bag up and get pink back there- at least if they’re ewes. I want to know who’s close to birthing (lambing), so that I don’t inadvertently turn them out into the cold after their night sleeping in the barn, and the newborns have that to face as their first full day of experience on earth. Technically, I’m looking at udders and vulvas, but still…

In the winter months, I also find myself looking a lot back toward the east, back toward the light, and admiring the sunrise, out the back door near Michael the horse’s stall. The cold and grey of winter is tempered by the pink streaks of clouds hanging low along the valley, warning of storms and their chilly winds. It’s beautiful and makes me smile.

Looking back on this year, I can say that we had a good year. I was not burned out going into the season, and I was not burned out in the end. I enjoyed the people who were here helping us farm, and overall, things went well.

We had some downfalls. The hay was not good during the beginning of the season; due to too much rain and too much time in the field before it was cut (the cows are actually staging a hunger strike right now). The second cut is good, though, so I think it will do the pregnant ewes a great deal of good in the nutrition department.

A coyote killed many of our sheep (perhaps as many as 15), and at least four sheep got tangled in old wire and died. The coyote was eventually killed, and the wire removed.

The sweet corn delayed ripening, so that it cross- pollinated with the Indian corn and was starchy and inedible. The cows were happy…

My beloved House Hen died, after at least 12 years of age. For those of you who do not know House Hen, she was attacked by an owl and left debilitated about 10 years ago. After recuperating in the house in a box for about two months, she was put outside. That night, she was on the back step, waiting to come in for the night. Every night after, when she was unceremoniously dumped outside to brave the morning hours, she appeared on that step, waiting to be scooped up and put in her cockatiel cage in the dining room for bed. It’s hard to believe that it’s possible to become so attached to something like a chicken, but it happens and on a farm it’s typically not a great thing to get in the habit of doing.

Everything is always beginning and ending here, at a rapid rate. There isn’t a day that goes by when something doesn’t begin its life or meet its end, from the cherry tomatoes harvested for the market to the newly hatched white goslings, tucked away in the hay barn by their watchful parents.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chilly for Chili

During this time of year, when we’re privileged to just nine hours of sunlight a day, getting out of bed at 5 am is a struggle. To make it easier, I do everything in a routine, so that I know that once I’ve done the things on the list I’ve made, I’ll be warm, awake, and caffeinated. My list is something like: Get out of bed. Find clothes before I freeze to death. Walk downstairs and flip the damper open on the woodstove. Start the coffee. Turn on the porch light so that the Wild Child cat will come in from the cold and eat. Feed the woodstove. Pour coffee. Read or write something, usually about food.
Eating is harder for me in the winter, too. A challenge is to eat as much as I can from what we’ve stored of summer and fall’s harvest, but still, there are some key ingredients missing. Like fresh, ripe tomatoes, or a radish, snapped crisp and cold from the ground.
Mom made us this dish for Christmas brunch. It’s milder than most chilies, making it a great addition to the rest of the morning’s offerings. I use some of my canned or frozen spaghetti sauce or roasted tomatoes instead of store-bought stewed tomatoes.

Serves 4-6
For Base:
§ 1 onion (about 1 ½ c) chopped
§ 1 sweet pepper (about 1 ½ c) chopped
§ 4 tsp minced garlic
§ 1 tbsp olive oil
§ 2 cups kidney or black turtle beans, cooked
§ 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
§ 28 oz chopped tomatoes or home-made spaghetti sauce

For Meat:
§ 1 pound ground turkey
§ 1 tsp ground cumin
§ ½ tsp ground oregano
§ ½ tsp ground tumeric
§ ½ tsp dried basil
§ 2 tbsp chili powder
§ 1tsp kosher salt
§ ½ tsp fresh ground pepper

For Garnish
§ chopped cilantro
§ chopped red onion
§ grated cheddar cheese
§ lime slices, cut into small slivers
§ sour cream
§ chopped jalapeno peppers

Mix meat together well with spices.
Sauté onions, green pepper and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add meat mixture and cook until browned.
Add vinegar and tomatoes and cook over slow heat for 20 minutes.
Add beans and cook 10 minutes longer
Serve over fluffy white rice and top with your choice of garnishes.