Thursday, June 30, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/30/05


This Way To The Hen Houses

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/29/05


It's Best To Cut Hay On A Hot, Sunny Day

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/28/05


Last Of The Hay Bales: We Start Cutting Today

Monday, June 27, 2005

Recipe: Big, Soft, and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Raisin Cookies (and How To Hug a Sheep)

Chocolate Chip Sheep and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Big, Soft, and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Raisin Cookies - FarmgirlFare.com
Soft and chewy with a crisp, buttery edge, the whole wheat flour adds extra flavor.

My first experience with lambing, back in 1996, was quite an adventure, especially since I had never before witnessed anything being born.

A big, black-faced Suffolk named Sophie was the first of my ewes to give birth. And she had quadruplets. Which is extremely rare in sheep circles. Two of the lambs didn't survive, but this is not uncommon.

The two that did had black heads, black legs, and white bodies covered with darling little black spots. Curled up together, they looked like two scoops of chocolate chip ice cream, and I immediately started calling them Chip and Chip, or The Chippers. This was nine years ago, and Chip and Chip are doing just fine.

The Chippers are boys, and unless one is in need of a ram, all male lambs on a farm are routinely castrated when they are very young. They are then called wethers. Wethers are fattened up and eventually relocated into somebody's freezer. Except the lucky few like Chip and Chip.

Daily Farm Photo: 6/27/05


Sweet Teddy Boy

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/26/05


Glance & It's Mundane; Look & See Reflected Beauty

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/25/05


J2 In The Cat Cabin: Where's Breakfast?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/24/05


Makeshift Fence

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/23/05


Camouflaged Garden Toad

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/22/05


So Often I Forget To Look Up

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Loving Leftover Pizza


Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza

The only thing better than pizza you made yourself is leftover pizza you made yourself. It's true. If treated properly, a day old slice can easily taste as good (or even better) than it did the first time it came out of the oven.

There are people who refuse to eat any leftover thing. I think they are crazy. (And they probably do not cook.) I adore homemade leftover anything. How can a person not love something so perfect? With leftovers, everything is done! You do not have to cook them. They do not make a mess of the kitchen. They require no thinking, as in, What in the world am I going to have for dinner? And most of all, you are able to enjoy your wonderful food even more the second time around because you are not already full from having nibbled and sampled your way through its initial preparation. Leftovers are a cook's dream. After a long and tiring day, leftovers can save your life.

Many foods actually taste better after sitting around for a day or two: shortbread, chicken salad, herbed yogurt cheese, and of course nearly any kind of soup or stew or chili.

Restaurant leftovers are not the same as homemade, but they do have their own unique virtues. Restaurant leftovers can transport you places. Say you are visiting New York City and it is your last day there. You decide to pop into the famous Carnegie Deli for a corned beef sandwich before heading to the airport. You sit at a table and munch on half of your enormous sandwich, blissfully absorbing this true New York experience. Later that night, when you are back at home in the kitchen, jet-lagged and exhausted and starving, you can eat the other half while you reminisce about your trip and marvel over the fact that just several hours earlier you were on the other side of the country. (Or you can pull out your leftover half sandwich on the plane and make all of the other passengers jealous.)

Leftover pizza is one of my favorite foods, and I will happily eat it for days on end. By leftover pizza, I do not mean a cold slice for breakfast, though some people find this a real treat. I still remember a girl in my junior high school whose family went out every Thursday night to the best pizza parlor around. Every Friday she would bring two pieces of leftover pizza to school for lunch, and she was the envy of the playground. But everyone knows that even pizza that has been sitting around all morning in a locker is a million times more exciting than a tunafish sandwich and an apple.

Junior high playgrounds aside, I want my pizza hot. I like the cheese melted and the crust to have some crunch. I will often stick a half-eaten slice back in the oven to crisp up the crust and re-melt the cheese.

Any kind of pizza can be returned to its original state of piping hot perfection. The trick is all in how you handle it. Leftover pizza should be treated with a respect that borders on reverence. It should never, ever see the inside of a microwave.

The very best thing to do, of course, is to reheat your pizza in a very hot oven for about ten minutes on a baking stone that has been allowed to heat up for at least half an hour. It should be loosely covered with foil so the cheese does not get too brown. Pizza reheated this way can often be passed off as freshly baked.

This method is fine if you have the time, and it is a nice way to heat up a chilly kitchen in the winter. But if it is summer and you are starving, you can turn to the toaster or convection oven and achieve spectacular results.

For several years I reheated my pizza on an inexpensive round pizza stone in an ancient monstrosity that I believe may have been the world's first combination microwave/convection oven (using just the convection mode of course). The numbers one through five on the keypad were broken, and on rainy days it would lapse into a coma, but one learns to work around these things. When the Start button finally quit working, the old warhorse was bid a fond farewell and replaced with a DeLonghi Convection/Toaster Oven that is absolutely adorable and a whole lot smaller. It makes beautiful toast (very handy as the toaster died recently, too) and half a loaf of my sourdough onion rye fits exactly between the two top heating elements. It will hold two large slices of pizza, but not the big round pizza stone. No problem.

We headed to the home improvement store in search of 8-inch, unglazed ceramic tiles to create a homemade hearth. Less than three dollars later, I had three pieces of tile cut to perfectly fit inside my new little oven. To reheat pizza, I let the tiles heat up at 400 degrees on the convection setting for at least ten minutes (longer is better if you have the time), and then I lower the temperature to 350 and slide in the slices, covering them loosely with foil. Ten or so minutes later (cooking time depends on the thickness of the pizza), the cheese is bubbling and they're ready to eat. More pieces can be reheated while the first ones are being devoured.

So now you know what tastes even better than homemade pizza. And if your pizza is so delicious that it looks like there won't be any leftovers, you can quickly remind everyone that they need to save room for dessert, especially when it is a new twist on an old favorite. But that's for next time.

Daily Farm Photo: 6/21/05


Straight 'N' Narrow Filet Beans: A Tiny But Tasty First Harvest

Monday, June 20, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/20/05


A Safe Place To Rest

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/19/05


Farmhouse White Cooling On The Counter

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/18/05


Russian Tarragon, Rosemary, Clary Sage, Greek Oregano, & Lemon Balm
(all started from seed)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/17/05


Patchy Cat Keeps A Lookout

Thursday, June 16, 2005

My Favorite Easy Pizza Dough Recipe

Caramelized Onion and Garlic Three Cheese Pizza Recipe, plus tips for beginners on how to make great pizza at home.

Swiss Chard and Artichoke Pizza? Oh yeah. Recipe here.

I recently received an e-mail from a friend saying she had just made eight pizzas for her husband's birthday. "I'm so glad you told me to start with pizza dough," she said. So am I.

Whenever someone tells me they want to try baking bread but have no idea how to begin, I suggest they make pizza dough first. This is the equivalent of learning to bake biscuits or scones before attempting Danish pastry and eclairs.

The thought of baking your own bread can be a little frightening. It's time consuming, and numerous things can go wrong. Then if the end result is disappointing, there's never enough time to turn around and bake another loaf.

Daily Farm Photo: 6/16/05


Front Yard Gate

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/15/05


Peek-A-Boo Beagle

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/14/05


Nero Di Toscana Cabbage

Monday, June 13, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/13/05


Heart Rocks

Sunday, June 12, 2005


A Pile Of Spring Onions

Onions In The Garden


A Pile Of Freshly Harvested 2005 Spring Onions

What food lover could survive without onions? They appear raw and cooked in zillions of dishes, and yet so often they are taken for granted. Even serious cooks rarely consider their onions. They are merely a pantry staple: good for storing, fairly cheap, and available all year round. But storebought onions can be disappointing, as they frequently have either no flavor or are unpleasantly strong (the latter I find to be especially true with red or purple onions). They can be soft and discolored and look as though they've been bashed around. Years ago I experienced a mind-boggling moment when I complained to the clerk in a supermarket produce section about the sad state of their onions. "That's because they're from last year's harvest," she explained. "They've been sitting in a warehouse for eight or nine months." No wonder they looked lousy.

As with all other vegetables, good onions are worth seeking out. Find them--hopefully organically grown--at a farmer's market or grocery store that buys locally and seasonally. Of course the best tasting onions of all are ones that you have grown yourself.

Onions in the garden are low maintenance and easy to grow (and they just happen to be one of the world's healthiest foods). Anyone can produce a delicious crop as long as they follow my cardinal rule: Never ever start them from seed. Do not allow yourself to be seduced by the alluring names and tantalizing descriptions in seed catalogs (Red of Florence--very rare! Topeana Lunga--popular with Mediterranean chefs!) for you will only be disappointed in the end.

It only took me several growing seasons and at least two dozen packets of seeds to finally face the truth: This is never going to happen. Onions simply take too long to mature. But after years of harvesting what looked like a basket of cocktail onions, I refused to give up. Instead, I began to order fancy onion sets along with my seeds. (Onion sets are tiny onions grown in cramped quarters so that they are forced to mature while remaining small. When replanted in your garden, they will develop into full size onions.) Unfortunately this was another bad idea, as the sets always arrived far too late in the spring. I just ended up with pricier cocktail onions.

I now get my onion sets from three large bins at the local supermarket. These magically appear in front of the store each winter, always in the same reliable and thrilling varieties: White, Yellow, and Red. For less than two dollars, I can buy a couple of hundred and plant them whenever I want. It took me a while to get over the feeling that this was cheating, but I now realize that any onion in the garden is better than none at all--even if it comes from a bin at the supermarket. When buying onion sets, look for bulbs about the size of a dime.

If, despite my warnings, you truly feel that everything in your garden must be started from seed, including the onions, then I wish you luck--and suggest you start the seeds for next year's crop today.


White Spring Onions In My 2005 Garden

Onions will do best in full sun and loose, fertile, well drained soil. Mix in compost or well rotted manure if you have it. Kelp meal is a wonderful thing to add to any garden soil (and you can also feed it to your critters). Planting your onion crop consists of simply poking each little bulb about an inch into the ground. If, as I do, you garden by the moonsigns, you will want to do your planting during a fertile day in the first quarter.

You can arrange them in neat rows at least six inches apart or scatter them among your other crops where they will act as a natural insect repellent--just don't put them next to asparagus, beans, peas, or sage. If you do not have a garden, you can plant several onions in a large pot and set it on your front porch or your back steps or out on the fire escape. Water well, and continue to water at regular intervals if you don't get much rain. You can use a natural fertilizer such as manure tea, compost tea, liquid kelp, or fish emulsion on your onion plot if your soil isn't the greatest, but just don't overdo it. Too much fertilizer will produce lots of leaves and small bulbs.

Refreshing little green shoots shoots will soon appear. If you are growing a large crop, mulch with grass clippings or hay, as onions do not compete well with weeds, and carefully weeding 100 feet of onion plants is not a fun thing to do. You can also side dress with compost at this time. If weeds are not a huge problem in your garden, a thick layer of compost will often act as an adequate barrier against weeds. Pull out or snip weeds at their base in smaller plantings (you want to avoid bothering the shallow onion roots when weeding).

Growing a cover crop--such as beets--between rows will help to shade out weeds. Other companionable cover crops to grow among your onions are carrots, turnips, and kohlrabi (so delicious and so easy to grow from seed--I prefer the purple variety). You could alternate rows of onions and one or more companion crops. While I've never had much luck with carrots in my garden, I do grow several types of beets each year. The baby greens (which are often purple or red) are delicious and beautiful additions to salads--and they're extremely good for you, too.

If your soil is nice and fertile, you can also grow early lettuce among your onions. This is a great way to get double duty out of your gardening space. Simply scatter the seeds once you have planted the onion bulbs, lightly covering them with soil, then harvest baby lettuce plants as the onions need the room.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of growing onions (along with other members of the allium family), is that diseases and pests rarely attack them. I did know someone who was plagued by an onion-trashing rabbit, but this problem was remedied with a quick blast to the bunny and a delicious braised rabbit and baby onion dinner.

After several weeks you will have a bonus crop: you can snip some of the leaves and enjoy the best scallions you have ever tasted (although technically these are not true scallions). When flower stalks appear, pinch them off so the plant will send all of its energy into the bulb. Or you can allow them to bloom into what a friend calls "martian flowers" and just take whatever you get from the business end.

If you are like me and always cram too many onions into your plot, after several more weeks it will become painfully obvious that you are never going to get a four-inch wide onion in two inches of space. Do not despair, for this greediness is what creates your second bonus crop: your baby onions need to be thinned, which means that you will be able to take pleasure in an early harvest and still have plenty left for later.

Tiny slices of freshly picked spring onions are wonderful in absolutely any kind of salad. But to truly celebrate their delightful flavor, I urge you to try one of my very favorite recipes--Three Onion & Three Cheese Pizza. Click here to read all about it.

If your garden gives you more spring onions than you can use right away, you will be able to store some for later. Once they get to the mature stage (when the tops start falling over), you will need to "cure" them. This simply means pulling them up so that the sun can reach the bulbs. Let your onions cure right there in the garden for about a week. If rain is expected, move them to a porch or open shed or other covered airy spot. You want the tops and papery skin on the bulbs to be dry and crinkly. Snip off all but about an inch off the tops, store them in a cool, dry place, and relish the thought that come autumn, you will be able to breeze right by those sorry looking onions in the supermarket, knowing your delicious homegrown bounty has been safely secured.

Daily Farm Photo: 6/12/05


Greek Oregano Soaks Up The Sun

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/11/05


Cluck, Cluck, Cluck

Friday, June 10, 2005

Daily Farm Photo: 6/10/05


Early Morning Spiderwort

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

That Outfit Could Kill You


Freshly Mulched Sweet Pepper & Lettuce Leaf Basil Seedlings

How did those pioneer women do it? Apart from Calamity Jane (who I'm not even sure would be considered a pioneer), women in early 20th century rural America did not wear pants. They wore dresses. Take Little House On The Prairie for example. Did Ma ever do anything in a pair of overalls? Of course not. Those women cooked, cleaned, milked the cow, planted the garden, butchered the hog, mended the fence, helped build the barn, took care of the children, and fought off Indians--all while wearing a dress.

Life back then was not easy. Pioneer women were hard-working and tough, and they often died in childbirth. They were truly remarkable. But the bravest thing any of those women ever did was step into that dress each morning. And how do I know this? Because I am sitting here at three-thirty in the afternoon, groggy and completely discombobulated after a two-and-a-half-hour, totally unscheduled nap. My day has been shot to hell. Why? Because this morning I put on a dress.

My usual farm attire is some sort of shirt and a pair of denim overalls. When the weather is warm, I might put on shorty overalls, but there are a lot of things around a farm you really shouldn't do in shorts. In this heat and humidity, though, I find the mere thought of heavy overalls unbearable. And so I switch to dresses--sleeveless cotton jumpers with a tee-shirt underneath. They are comfortable, easy to work in, and are slightly cooler than pants. If there is any wind, you can lift the skirt a little and enjoy a refreshing breeze on your sweaty legs.

So there I was, in my comfortable dress, sweating profusely as I stood in the blazing sun mulching tomatoes and peppers with a cart full of sheep manure I'd mucked out of the barn. This is hot, tiring work, but it also very rewarding because you know you are taking care of so many things at once: the barn gets a little cleaner, the plants get fertilized, the garden soil is improved, and potential weeds are smothered. The day was going well, and I was feeling good. I would be finished soon, and then I could hide in the house for a while and start working on that post about curry dip.

When the cart was nearly empty, I felt a sudden, unmistakable, piercing stab--on my butt. Stung! Ouch! Without thinking, I twisted around and started batting my hand at the back of my dress, knowing a wasp had flown up it. This was a very, very bad idea--and I should have remembered that from the last time I did it. Stung again! OUCH! Then a non-stop Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! interspersed with a few choice words as the poison spread, the excruciating pain intensified, and I staggered into the house.

Fortunately I am not allergic to wasp stings. And I sort of remembered what to do:
Throw down hat, gloves, and sunglasses. Tear off dress so you can get a good look at your rapidly reddening rear end in the full-length mirror. Gulp down two antihistamines (also known as sleeping pills) and a handful of herbal anti-inflammatories to keep down the swelling and itching. Three sprays of
King Bio Bug Away under the tongue. Break open two of those creepy looking Sting-Kill vials of bright green liquid and apply them to the stings to ease the pain. Wonder when or how or if you will ever be able to sit down again. Do a web search on "wasp sting" and "treatment." Find a lot of talk about agonizing death. Find a website called ehow ("Clear Instructions On How To Do Just About Everything") offering some bizarre home remedies and a few helpful ideas, like ice. Sprawl on the couch with a napkin-swaddled ice pack, gingerly switching it back and forth from one tender cheek to the other.

Lie there suffering, trying not to get pissed off and thinking about the ehow site. Wondering if maybe there really is a stinger still in there. And so just to be sure (even though it doesn't make sense since you were stung twice), stand with backside to the mirror and "scrape the skin with a dull butter knife" (thus effectively removing all the green pain medicine you just applied.) Contemplate other suggested remedies. Figure what the hell, and decide to administer one more treatment (again with backside to the mirror)--all the while not believing that you are actually rubbing a fresh clove of garlic on your butt.

Realize the only thing left to do is go back outside (sans dress), pick a lot of strawberries, and proceed to self-medicate by inhaling a large bowl of sliced strawberries and French vanilla ice cream in roughly six seconds. Collapse in a sugar- and sleeping pill-induced stupor on couch.

Wake up two and a half hours later, noting with satisfaction that pain is bearable and redness and swelling have gone down considerably. Assume it must have been the ice cream and strawberries. Contemplate a second dose. Stumble over to computer and begin to type.

Maybe I'll get to get to the curry dip tomorrow.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Strawberries


Ripe & Ready To Pick

There is nothing like a strawberry. No one ever bites into something and says, "This tastes like a strawberry," unless it is a strawberry. But sadly, most strawberries today do not even taste like strawberries. As with so many other foods, they have been manipulated and modified so much that they only look pretty and travel well. Flavor is barely a consideration. I saw some strawberries for sale at a megamarket the other day that were literally so gigantic they just looked weird. And I bet they probably were tasteless.

Perhaps it is because of this lack of flavor that strawberries are often subjected to needless abuse in the kitchen. Even I once made a baked strawberry pie, complete with instant tapioca. I now realize this was a mean thing to do. A good strawberry should never be cooked. The exception, of course, is strawberry jam (which I adore), but I cringe each time I read a recipe that calls for more sugar than berries. Instead, try simply mashing a few very ripe strawberries with a fork and spreading them on a slice of toast or a warm scone. If you do decide to try your hand at making jam, be sure to include some underripe berries, as they are full of pectin and will help the jam to thicken.

One of my cookbooks claims that the strawberry is "America's favorite berry," and I think that everyone must have at least one vivid strawberry memory. Joe has reminisced more than once to me about the time, years ago, he and a friend accidentally walked into a formal, private party at a Miami yacht club. Despite being sunburned, windblown, and severely underdressed, he managed to procure a glass of champagne and pounce upon an enormous bowl of perfect strawberries without being noticed.

My most vivid strawberry memory is of strawberry pancakes, which our family must have eaten on dozens of weekend mornings during my childhood. They were very thin French pancakes (I suppose that technically they were probably crepes) liberally doused with melted butter, sprinkled with powdered sugar, covered with halved, just-picked strawberries from the backyard, and then sprinkled with yet more powdered sugar. They were not stacked, but were arranged neatly in a circle over a large dinner plate--thus ensuring maximum butter and sugar coverage. The pancake batter was mixed in the blender, and the recipe was so simple even my little brother was an expert at making them. They were cooked on a rectangular electric griddle, six at a time, and you knew exactly how much batter to pour out for each pancake because the griddle was clearly marked from years of using it for nothing but those pancakes.

The powdered sugar came out of an ingenious contraption I had completely forgotten about until today. It was a tall, white plastic thing with a small, airtight lid and was a combination storage container and server. I think it was Tupperware. You turned a little crank and perfectly sifted powdered sugar snowed out of the bottom and onto your plate. Because these pancakes were so thin, even a small person could eat a dozen of them in a sitting. When it wasn't strawberry season, we ate them with just the melted butter and powdered sugar--never with maple syrup.

Sliced strawberries served over really good French vanilla ice cream is a wonderful thing. And while I would not pass up a homemade strawberry shortcake if somebody handed me one, lately I have found myself becoming more and more of a purist when it comes to my garden bounty. In my opinion, the best way to savor a batch of luscious strawberries requires doing nothing more than making sure you have clean fingers and a plain white dish. Even chilling them seems to steal away some of their flavor.

Unfortunately, to find a good strawberry these days, you must look to your own garden or a farmer's market. And if you are going to eat only one food that is organically grown, make it strawberries. When grown commercially, strawberries are subjected to more herbicides, pesticides, and other poisons than any other food. Years ago I read that in one laboratory test, a single commercially cultivated strawberry was found to contain residue from 22 different toxic chemicals. That doesn't even seem possible. What is more ridiculous is that it is easy to grow delicious, organic strawberries--even on a large scale.

Anyone can raise their own strawberries. If you do not have a garden, you can buy a special strawberry planter and produce a decent little crop in about one square foot of space. My edible garden is made up of twenty-two 4' x 8' raised beds, and my current strawberry patch takes up one of the beds (plus some overflow I can't bear to pull up). It was started in 2001 with 25 plants I ordered from
Pinetree Garden Seeds: 15 Honeyoye and 10 Sparkle.

For planting and growing guidance, I turned to my trusted copy of Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening and Landscaping Techniques. I also amended the soil with natural rock powders and mulched with hay and lots of sheep manure (which I know makes everything I grow taste sweeter). I make sure the plants are well watered each August and September, which is when berry size for the next year's crop is determined. After a few hard frosts in late fall, I mulch the entire bed with a thick layer of hay and uncover it in early spring.

I have had no disease problems, and apart from a few bugs, the only real "pests" I have to contend with are the wild turtles. I have never seen a turtle run except when it was hurling itself toward a ripe strawberry. They are very sneaky, but I have caught more than one turtle nestled in my strawberry bed, happily munching away, berry pulp dripping out both sides of its mouth, so absorbed in its bliss that it was totally oblivious to my presence. Once I even busted a female turtle laying eggs in my garden.

Despite turtle attacks, last year I harvested seven gallons of beautiful, delectable berries from that one plot. It was more than we could eat, and I froze many of them in single layers on baking sheets, and then packed them into plastic zipper freezer bags. Once the last berries were picked, I refreshed the bed by pulling out most of the plants so it will keep producing for a few more years.

I also started a new strawberry bed this year. I was at a Garden Club plant sale in April and could not resist buying three plastic grocery bags bags that were each simply labeled Super Strawberries 7/$1.00. They had obviously been dug up from a club member's garden that morning, and now they are flourishing in mine. I can't wait to taste the first harvest.

In the meantime, my old plot has fewer plants this year, but they are loaded with sweet, ripening berries. Their thick fragrance rises up to tantalize me each time I walk by the bed. Today was the first real harvest--I picked well over a quart of berries and only a few had bite marks. (The chickens will get these--no strawberry goes to waste around here.) Today was also the hottest day of the year so far--90 degrees in the shade and very humid. It is too hot to cook, and nothing sounds good anyway. But I've just come up with a perfect idea for dinner. All I need to do is wash my hands and grab a plain white dish.

* Footnote: I kid you not--half an hour after I finished writing this post I went out to water the garden and found a turtle three feet from my strawberry bed. First one I've caught this season. I shrieked "Oh my god!" and it ducked into its shell. I then picked it up, marched across the farmyard, and deposited it just outside the gate into the hayfield, pointing away from the garden. It probably wasn't far enough, but I was in a hurry. I knew I should have left those bite-marked berries as decoys.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Farm Photo: 6/3/05


Happily Munching Spring Grass

An Unexpected Beginning


Alison and newborn baby Beattie

One of the most interesting aspects of farm life is that it is totally unpredictable. The sheer number of jobs to be done, projects to be tackled, and emergencies to be dealt with ensure that no two days are ever the same. Boredom doesn't stand a chance.

This lack of predictability can of course be rather frustrating. Nothing should be assumed. Routine is never guaranteed.

I long ago accepted the fact that trying to arrive anywhere at a specific time is pretty much impossible. Making a dentist appointment is a nerve-wracking experience. Long range plans are pointless. Don't bother sending me a wedding invitation—just mail me a piece of the cake.

I'm definitely not complaining. It's just that you never know what might disrupt the day. It may be a late evening phone call announcing the surprising (but very welcome) arrival of the sheep shearer the following afternoon. Or an ear-piercing grinding of metal in the farmyard heralding the urgent need for me to jump into my Tractor Mechanic Assistant's coveralls.

A six-foot long black snake curled up in one of the hens' nesting boxes requires a loud scream, immediate action on someone else's part, and at least a quiet half hour with a cup of Tension Tamer tea on mine.

Then there was the time I was home alone one morning, glanced out the front window, and saw 17 strange cows jogging up the driveway toward the house.

Short term plans and goals are ambitious but iffy. I once came across a To Do List that was three years old and realized I could have written it that morning. It can take a while to get the less critical stuff done around here.

Which brings me to this blog. Today I decided that no matter what, I was going to finally sit down and write my first post. No more putting it off, no more worrying about making it perfect. It would be easy. I would simply write a few brief words about some food-related aspect of my day.

At one o'clock this afternoon it was 84 degrees in the shade, and I realized I really needed to harvest all of the remaining mesclun salad mix in the  kitchen garden. I grabbed a pair of scissors and two enormous stainless steel colanders and set to work.

At three o'clock, I gave in to a strong urge to check on the sheep. As I headed down to the barn where they were hiding from the afternoon sun, I tried to think how I could make picking and washing several pounds of gorgeous-but-possibly-bitter lettuce sound fascinating.

I walked into the barn and spotted it immediately: The Daily Disruption. Today it was in the form of a water bag hanging from the back end of a yearling ewe I had no idea was pregnant. I was sure our lambing season had ended almost three weeks ago. And besides, June is too late for lambs.

Twenty minutes later a tiny baby girl was born.

Apart from my being dragged across the barn during a failed attempt to move the mother-to-be into a pen for some privacy, things could not have gone more smoothly. Baby Beattie has a black face and legs and is covered with the 'chocolate chip' spots so prevalent on our lambs this year.

She's adorable, and I swear she came out smiling. She is the great granddaughter of
Doll Face, one of my favorite sheep. Doll Face is a triplet, born in 1996—the first year I had lambs. She and her sister, Mary, are my two oldest ewes, and they each had twins this year.

It is now well past seven. I am starving. There are evening chores to do. But after Mama and Baby were settled in their bonding pen, I came back to the house and got carried away writing--though not about food. I apologize if this is not what you were expecting, but I warned you how things are around here.

Actually, I think this is a perfect way to start my blog—with the unexpected beginning of a new life. I looked up the word unexpected in my thesaurus earlier, and this is what it said: surprising, unforeseen, sudden, stunning, eye-opening, astonishing, astounding, amazing, breathtaking.

Yes, that was today. And pretty much every day here. We are all constantly surrounded by the unexpected—if we just slow down long enough to notice.

I promise to write about food next time, but right now I have to go deal with the two enormous colanders of lettuce still sitting on the kitchen counter. I'm hoping I might even have time to pick a few strawberries for dessert.

If not, there's always tomorrow.


Alison & Beattie, age 3 days

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