Monday, May 31, 2010

sick as a dog

When a farm depends on you and you have the flu, your paradise turns into a prison. Simple things like changing out water fonts, pouring grains, moving hay bales, and feeding rabbits turn into labor instead of acts of love. When all you want to do, need to do, is sleep: the idea of walking out in the dark to secure the hen house seems plain awful. But you do it because you have to. Because there's a fox and raccoons and animals depend on me.

Chores that usually take an hour have to be spread throughout the whole day. I did things slowly, achingly slowly, between naps. Sleep two hours and water the garden, a cold shower and then bring the sheep hay. I did this while shaking, chills, and harboring an upset stomach that can't keep anything down... it makes walking two buckets of water up a short hill an epic journey of panting and cold sweat. I spent most of the past 48 hours in bed, either shaking under the covers or drenching the bed in sweat. I love this farm. I wouldn't trade in my life for anyone's but sometimes being alone is horrid.

When I was sick as a little girl my mother would wrap me up in blankets and take me out on her veranda outside her bedroom. I have such wonderful memories of feeling so weak, but so loved and safe. Last night I went out onto the rocking chair on the porch around 3AM and covered myself in blankets. I missed my mother so much it hurt. I'm 27 and miss my mom.

I am feeling slightly better. Yellow Gatorade, ice water, lots of sleep. I hope to be more of myself tomorrow. I did take off half a day for the long weekend so I hope that I can sleep in and take my time going into work. If I still feel like this I'll stay home. No point in getting coworkers sick.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

i. am. so. sick....

three weeks from harvest

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a real farm?

I mailed my first mortgage payment yesterday. I sat at my desk, wrote the check, and put a stamp on it. I have never been happier to hand out that much money. I actually woke up worrying I forgot to mail my rent check the other day, still not used to owning a home. When I realized I didn't ever have to mail my old landlord rent again, I stretched out in bed grinning like a moron. This morning I know the place is mine, at least for the next month!

Gibson's snout is still covered in marshmallow. Last night my friend Steve hosted a bonfire with some music and fish tacos. By the time it grew late and we were all out with smores and drinks, Gibson decided his taste of the iconic treat would be more fun to roll in then devour. I'm not here to judge. I'll wash it off with a warm dishcloth when he's more tired than he is now.

People have emailed me asking if the blog will continue now that I bought the farm (that never sounds good, does it?) and the answer is a resounding yes. While I may have reached a goal, the work is just getting started. Cold Antler is in its infancy right now, we're just barely breaking sod on our first year. There are fences to raise, barns to build, and livestock to acquire. I am in the first stages of getting Gibson his own flock of Scottish Blackface ewes from (who I hope will be) our sheep herding instructor. I have a small flock of heritage turkey poults coming for coworker's holiday tables. The season has barely began folks and I have so much I want to write about. I want to write about getting my first production flock, learning to shear, lambing, marketing and building a business. I want to chronicle all of this turning into something bigger than anything I could imagine now. The blog won't end until people stop reading it. (Please keep reading. I like writing.) I want to make this into so much more. It's so much to me; the wool, dirt, and words.

Every once in a while someone will say to me something like "I know you have sheep, but I was at a real farm this weekend looking at wool and..." or something to that effect. They don't mean it in a demeaning way. They know I work hard at my small freehold. Yet hearing that phrase "real farm" can't help but make me cringe a little inside. What makes a farm real? The fact that the people who own it, work on it full time? Having business cards and a sign on the back of your pickup? I'm not sure what validates reality for them. But to me, Cold Antler is definitely a real farm. I grow food for myself and customers, and this weekend several coworkers will be cracking CAF eggs into their pans and have ordered turkeys and chickens. It may be bartering and handshakes deals right now, but where else can a gal start but at the beginning?

As far as I'm concerned, if you have a backyard with veggies and a few hens, and you not only consume it yourself but others do as well (friends, neighbors, your community) you are a real farm. You are a producer. You are feeding people. You are real. Stickers on the side of your truck are optional.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

four raccoons. no foxes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

shower during thunderstorms

I am disgusting right now. Covered in the dirt, sweat, and grime that comes with planting pumpkins on a 90-degree afternoon. Planting pumpkins was the cool-down really. Before the simple task of putting ten started pumpkins into their mounds in the newly expanded section of the gardep—I had moved all the sheep's fencing onto new pasture, cleaned out the meat bird pen, and watered the screaming lettuce heads. I put new fence posts in the ground and ran fresh wire around the new pumpkins so the chickens and woodchucks would let them alone. Traps were set for the fox. Weeds were pulled from the straw mulch. Eggs were collected from the hay pile in the barn. I got lost in the effort.

It was one of those long evenings. I just kept working until it became dark. When the light was gone I locked the birds up in their coop, shut the door on the rabbit barn, and grabbed my banjo and set it by the glass doors. We had a date on the porch later.

The farm has no air conditioning. Just cold showers, ice cream, and a Westinghouse Fan from the 40s. It was a hot one, this day. By the time I came inside to make a coke float to cool off I realized it was probably going to be my dinner, so I didn't mind the extra scoop of Wilcox ice cream. It tasted amazing after all that. I drank it like I had never been thirstier. I will be eating much healthier when the garden is in full bloom and my freezer is full of chickens and rabbits, but today, I lack perfection. Lacking perfection is the rule around here.

Before my shower and after the farm was tucked in for the night, I went out on the deck to pluck a little with Gibson. Gibson sat beside me while I rocked in the plastic rocking chair and played the banjo. We both watched the sky light up with heat lightening. Then clouds swirled over the nearly full moon and we watched the wind move the grass. Thunder started to growl, somewhere far off. I played a waltz, slow like. "Lie Down," I asked Gibson and he obliged. Probably more out of weariness then obedience. I played lazy music and together we watched the storm come; a gift and respite.

I love thunderstorms. I think anyone who makes dramatic changes in their life does. For what is a thunderstorm than a loud change -all force and circumstance? It's scary and chaotic but most of us find such peace and beauty in that angry dance. I think that's because we know It's impermanent. We savor it while we can, knowing the whole time the danger will pass. Why can't we sit back and do that with all of life's changes? Aren't they all scary and fleeting? Aren't they all collateral damage in a better life? I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that even when life runs feral it has redemption in the aftermath.

My friend Paul once said, "Shower during thunderstorms. Makes you feel rich."

I love that.

my pup shines

photo by tim bronson

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

good morning from cold antler!

Monday, May 24, 2010

three dead

I woke up around quarter to five to the sound of John crowing. Little did I know, that was the last time I'd ever hear him. Soon after his crow there was a squawking and screaming of birds and I raced to the window to see feathers flying and a flash of red fur. A fox had come. Again.

At 2 AM I heard the screams from the coop, and ran out into the night to see two ducks running madly and three chickens loose. Everyone was running for cover and I was only able to catch one duckling. All I could do was save what was inside and hope the fox wouldn't return till the following day. I placed the one duck back inside, reinforced the door with wire, and went to bed...dazed, heart beating, and sweating.

In the morning I ran outside with my rifle, hoping for a lucky shot. I fired it twice in his direction but no luck. I was aiming down at the ground anyway. I wanted to scare him off, knowing a kill was impossible at this point that morning. My beautiful young rooster John had been taken, so had a fat orpington. A brave fox for sure to take a duckling and two giant birds. I looked around for survivors, saw the story of the struggle everywhere in feathers. The yard was littered with the cape and tail of John, and the golden plumage of my laying hen. The other birds who escaped ran to the safety of the sheep pasture, fenced and among giant ovines. I hope they are interested in self preservation enough to stay there.

I'm buying a trap at lunch. Three dead birds, at least.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

a fine long day

It was a long day in Jackson. My morning started around 6 AM (I slept in) unloading bales of mulching straw and preparing a big quiche for my folks, who were coming for a bon voyage brunch before heading back to Pennsylvania. I was deep into my morning routine; headphones on, water buckets in each hand, walking up to the garden to check on yesterday's new transplants of basil and mentally planning-out the pumpkin patch. Because I'm so behind in the garden this spring, I bought eighteen started pumpkins from Gardenworks. I hope to plant some heirlooms I got as well, but I wanted the insurance of time lost. A few hours of hoeing, some fences, mounds and compost and I'll be ready for October.

My folks showed up around 10 and we ate out on the deck, enjoying the farm below us. Winthrop already learned that the deck means free lunch, so he ran right to us while we dined and just stared silently. My dad through some bread and the geese honked and hollered and before you knew it it was bedlam. Away from the fray were the six meat bunnies now weaned from their mother, and the ducklings who have moved outside and are always together. Gibson started rounding them up, nonchalantly. I really think he'll be a fine working dog. If he knows to run around flocking stock and not to run at it, it's a good sign.

We went down to the Cambridge Farmer's Market after brunch. Sunday in Cambridge was sunny and beautiful. When I got out of the truck with Gibson a horse and buggy drove by. Not Mennonites, just locals in a cowboy hat and Harley Davidson Tee Shirt. I scooped Gibson up in my arms and walked him over to the market.

We met some local farmers, and snacked on some homemade gelato. The market was small but had everything from bedding plants to dried herbs, local free-range meats, and live music. I got to meet some neighbors who raise angus and they fed Gibson some liver brownies. (Which made them instantly his new favorite people.) I want to talk to them more next weekend. Livestock neighbors already on the market scene are people worth getting to know. I would have stayed there all day. It was hot though, and my folks were ready to head home. We said our goodbyes and the visit was over. I hope they had an okay time.

AFter the socializing was over Gibson and I drove up to Hebron to get hay. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. The sun high, sky blue, truck singing the Carolina Chocolate Drops (which I'll be seeing live next weekend!) and by the time the truck was loaded and I had my regular chat with Nelson Greene: I was ready to relax a little. It was Sunday, after all.

Instead however, I gardened and started that pumpkin patch. I took Jazz and Annie for a walk while Gibson napped, enjoying their stately and level company. I never realized how calm and dependable my dogs were till a puppy came into my life. Jazz is as warm and affectionate as ever before, and as peaceful as a zen monk. Annie is a goofball, but still my girl. We sat outside to play some banjo tunes. I'm not great, and play the same waltzes all the time, but they never complain. I was quite happy there. My old dogs by my feet.

I called it quits after that. I roasted a chicken I harvested two days earlier, and had a fine dinner with plenty of leftovers to pack for lunch for the week. It was a usual Sunday, but felt longer, perhaps because the days themselves have more light? It may also be the way I fill them: outside with constant lists and chores. I make time to soak it all in, eat some ice cream, watch the fireflies... but I am happiest busy and useful. Be of use, I say. Be of use and everything else falls into place.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

i am a farm dog

I am a farm dog. I chase chickens, herd ducks, and growl at sheep. I roll in the grass, guard chicks, and dig holes. I am not scared of geese (I don't care what you heard) and I laugh in the face of danger. I don't care for leashes, but I'll tolerate them when we're in town. I am a farm dog. I ride shotgun in the truck. I like the way wind feels from a dashboard cockpit. I am so helpful. I am the lynchpin of morning chores (I don't care what you heard) and I think the geese may be evil. I run so fast. I run fast uphill, and downhill, and over streams and past the barn. I am a farm dog. I eat with joy. I play without apologies. I bark like the whole world listens. I sleep like I own gravity.

I am a farm dog.

There are other things to be. They are all rubbish.

my great grandfather's table

tables and pumpkins

My parents brought my great grandfather's kitchen table to the farm. It's one of those great 1940's metal tops and it's in divine shape for it's age. They also brought an old steamer truck that was sitting in their house when they moved in, so lord knows how old that is. Slowly through acquisition and attrition this place is turning into a home. In a few hours they'll drive over the to farm from their hotel in Cambridge (I don't have television or air conditioning) and we'll sit out on the deck to a breakfast of farm eggs and pancakes and then head over to Gardenworks to look at the dried flowers, food, farm animals, and groceries there. It's a local foods cornucopia, that.

Life here in Jackson is starting to fall into it's own rhythms. Morning chores are becoming the familiar dance steps I always knew. I am losing that puppy paranoia where you need to know where your new dog is every second and worry everything is going to kill him. Gibson is growing up healthy, spunky, and quick. I found out that the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials are being held on my birthday this year. What a way to celebrate. Now, just three years after sitting on the sidelines I'll be there as a club member with my own up-and-comer. I can't wait.

I need to get pumpkins in the ground. I may not have a giant garden yet but the idea of not having my own pumpkins is sacrilege. This year's garden is small compared to last, but is thriving. My heirloom lettuces are looking wonderful, my la rattes are up, and my Amish snap peas are starting to climb. I put tomatoes in yesterday. I'd say the space I'm growing here is about 5'x18' and if it was up to me I's triple it to start. I just don't have a rototiller or much time till June 1 hits and all my manuscripts and edits are in. After that, watch out.

Friday, May 21, 2010

remembering elkmont

the fireflies are everywhere tonight.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

keeping watch

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I have been drawn to sheep ever since farming became a reality in my life. I was pulled to them for the same reason most of us form relationships: affinity, tangibility, and proximity.

I liked sheep, always have. As a spinner and a knitter I find the fact that I can make hats and scarves out of what eats grass in the backyard nifty. And it’s not just the fiber fix either—sheep have always brought out a stillness in me. Their presence is stoic, but warm, like your Norwegian grandfather after Thanksgiving Dinner. So the pull to be around sheep was always there, but what made me actually acquire some was the ease in their care. Out of all the animals at Cold Antler, the sheep are the lowest maintenance. They need little more than grass, water, and the option of shelter. They are hearty and health care is basic and cheap. They aren't big like cows or horses, so for livestock they can make a backyard or a small pasture home if you're willing to buy hay. They don't eat much.

Their wool feels like October. Sometimes I touch them to remember when I am lonely.

When out in a field with my sheep I feel as if I am sharing some moment with the ages. A bond between two animals so ancient it’s engraved on pottery and stone walls. We have been living side by side for a long time, and they have been keeping us fed and warm since long before our great great grandparents rose for work. Sheep have been watching over us just as much as we have been watching over them. It’s a partnership I mean to honor and continue as a shepherd in the 21st century. We may have electric fences and ride out to the field on ATVS, but we still hold that crook in our white-knuckled fists and holler “Away to me!” to our fine black dogs. And the moment of tension and electricity when a border collie bursts away from his handler to gather is beyond me or them. It's everything. When a sheepdog runs from you, time gasps.

We are a part of a tradition and an oath. I will keep it long as I breath.

little man, big truck

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the new hive is installed!

The new hive is installed, and Lord do I hope they stay. There's always a chance your bees will decide the hollow tree across the street or the neighbors' old rusted pickup range would make a better home. Unlike other "livestock" we never really domesticated bees, we just learned how to make them comfortable. I hope mine agree their small home (loaded with feeder pollen) will do. It's good to have a hive back on the land. It's been a long time since the last one got destroyed by a bear, and this one will be surrounded by an electric fence. Wish us luck. We like honey around here.

stop making fun of my banjo

First published on the Huffington Post. July 16th, 2008
I recently discovered this little eco-gadget that let's you listen to all you're favorite music whenever you want (for as long as you want) on 100% renewable energy. It's this amazing nature-based technology that requires no offshore drilling, leaves no trace of Co2, and even polar bears occasionally enjoy them. It's cordless. It's free. And you can paint the tips all sorts of fancy colors. You know where I'm going with this.

Yes, gentle readers, your hands.

It's time we put down our ipods and picked up actual instruments. Stop listening to all that music and start making your own. I'm serious, dust off that guitar you haven't touched since college or finally order that banjo you've been joking about for the last six years and take on the completely green alternative to cds and turntables. It'll help reduce your energy consumption, save you a little money, and possibly help you get email addresses at that next impromptu-bonfire party. Score.

I am not going to follow this declaration with any statistics. Mostly because that would be ridiculous. We do not need numbers to back up the fact that your Martin DM uses less electricity than your stereo that takes up the same amount of shelf space as a bullmastiff. And even if your stereo is attached to a solar panel or a wind turbine - playing your own music still wins. Hands down. Here's why.

You and I, we live in an ear-budded world. Everywhere you go, from farmers markets to subway stations - America is plugged in. I think all that internal rocking out throws us inside our heads and outside of our communities. Something we all enjoy occasionally, but imagine the people you could meet and the kilowatts saved if for just one day every machine that plays music was turned off because people where making their own?

So what if you can't read music, never held a pick before, or think a fiddle and a violin are two different instruments? There are a million books, online classes, DVDs, and other resources out there for wannabe bluegrass kings. Get that used mandolin off eBay and figure it out. Even if you pull off a few simple songs you'll get the very real sense of accomplishment your day job skipped town on years ago. Plus, learning music uses all sorts of new parts of your brain you forgot you had. It requires determination, dedication, and possibly the help of members of your community. You know, actual people, and that's something you can't get from iTunes. There's the guy on Craigslist you bought the banjo from, the kid upstairs who offered to teach you the basics, and the jam you found on that will take you under their wing and then out to the pub. Opting to participate in the world of music instead of passively observing it gives your mind a workout, new friends, and you'll learn a new skill to boot. When was the last time you could do all that without involving paperwork and merit badges?

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy the recorded music you own. Lord knows I've got so many cds, records and computers blaring here at the cabin, it's borderline indecent. But ever since I started teaching myself the fiddle and banjo - the electronics have been on less and less. When I come home from work the first thing I want to do to unwind is, well, hang out with the dogs. But the second thing, is sit outside on the porch and pluck a few songs on the banjo. Sure, it may look and sound a little...inexperienced. But, all mocking of peers aside, I'm getting more relaxation and general fun out of learning old waltzes then I've gotten from any new pop album in months. The hardwiring is different, and I like that. Plus, it's nice knowing I don't need to recharge it every 45 minutes.

So in a world that's swilling energy like a fat kid sucking back a snackpack, why don't you and I grab our guitars, go outside, and enjoy some tunes without being hooked up to the city grid? We can revel the company of new people, dive deep into a creative outlet, feel something emotionally tangible, and end our day feeling pretty damn satisfied for pulling it off. And those are things we just don't get enough of when our hands are tied.

pickin' print from yeehaw industries

the flock on the hill at dusk

Posted on this very blog, September, 26th 2007:

the big one

I just want to be a shepherd on a hill. That's my life's goal.
A flock of sheep.
A hill.

Friday, May 14, 2010

a heavy may

The past week took me down—a little too much is happening all at once here. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, in the last few weeks I have: bought a farm, moved, unpacked, painted a kitchen, prepared to install a hive of bees, slaughtered chickens, started another twenty chicks, planted a garden, started tilling more, cooked all meals at home, kept a near-daily blog, tended a farm's daily needs, finishing edits on one book while finishing a manuscript on another, am hosting a photo shoot this weekend, have my parents coming to visit next weekend. I also have more guests possibly over memorial day, repairs, magazine articles, home projects, and I'm raising a puppy. I also have a 40-hour work week at the office, leaving 4:45 AM - midnight to do everything else....

When I say I'm overwhelmed, I mean it.

It's all good stuff, great stuff really, but for girl to juggle all that: the pressures of publisher deadlines, the office politics, a farm, I have found myself worn just as thin as I am pulled every May. May is the month gardens hit the dirt, chicks hit the heat lamps, and new animals meet the farm. All the other events are happy accidents and big life changes. Please don't think I am complaining, I am just a very tired girl. Sometimes just crashing on the couch instead of posting on the blog is the extra 45 minutes of rest that maintain my sanity.

I'll be on a more even keel by June. Just getting through. Patience is appreciated.

photo by tim bronson

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


true story

The paperback of Made From Scratch is out now, and the new cover shows me driving down the road with a car full of livestock. It's a cool illustration, but this photo from the recent move to the Jackson farm proves it's based on a true story. Actually. I've moved all my animals in the station wagon at some point (Save Gibson, who has only been here a week, and has only been in the truck). Puppy aside: all my sheep, my goat, ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, bees, and 17 jillion bags of compost and bedding plants have been farmed in the station wagon. It took me five years to pay it off. It's dented, stained, smells funny and looks a horror. It's a damn mess. I love it.

That's me at the wheel (forgive the hair) transporting my small flock from Vermont to New York. My friend Zach took the photo while we navigated through Shushan to Cambridge. It was a fairly calm ride, and as you can see, Sal and Maude are showing us their better halves as they stare out the back window. Luckily, no cops stopped us. I'm not sure where the law stands when it comes to sheep trafficking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

an introduction

Monday, May 10, 2010

the story of a salad

Tonight for dinner I ate a simple salad. Greens, shredded cheese, chicken breast, and honey mustard dressing with a side of bread. Nothing fancy. But this dinner, as humble as it is, stands for so much more than a full stomach. This salad contains a chick I held in my hands, flour that sifted between my fingers, milk I stirred over the stove into stretchy mozzarella, and greens bought at the supermarket with organic stamped on the side. It's a collection of work, and choices, and young life, and a bloody death.

This salad inhales and exhales; it is so alive.
Every bite is a story.

I know the chicken part, which I raised here on Cold Antler and harvested on Saturday. It was my third of this crop. I have ten left to dispatch. With every bird I get more comfortable, more adept, and thus, more kind to the birds. The thank yous are sincere, the sacrifice is real, and the work is precise. I end each chickens life quickly as possible and without remorse. My birds all live a good life, and are now totally free range. I gave up on the tractor and simply let them strut around the coop and sprawl on the lawn. They seem happy. They are like the laying hens, free and sassy. I'm proud of what I've raised.

I now own boning knives and butcher string. Who knew?

The cheese was nothing more than a gallon of pasteurized organic milk dumped into a steel pot over medium high heat and stirred with nothing but a tablespoon of citric acid till the thermometer hit 85 degrees. Then a small 1/4 cup solution of water and a quarter of a crushed rennet tablet were added and mixed in. As the milk curdled around 115 degrees, I pulled out the white curds with a slotted spoon and set it in a cheesecloth lining a pyrex bowl. I squeezed out the water, zapped it in the microwave a few times, kneaded it like bread will the ball turned shiny and smooth and salted it. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge. It keeps well long as the air stays away.

The greens are just plain old Earthbound Farms from Shaws, an industrial organic joint as big and loud as any conventional farm, but at least the slew of chemical pesticides and fertilizers were spared from the acres they grew on. As were the workers who had to pick them and work in those fields weeding. At least my dinner wasn't forcing a person who could be a friend to inhale things with warning labels.

It cost 99 cents more than the alternative.
Most people spend more on tolls.

The bread was kneaded last night as I listened to this American Life on the radio. It was made from a local mill in Vermont and sweetened with local honey. I don't even think about baking bread anymore. It is just something that happens, like rain or Seinfeld reruns. The way it smells in the oven makes my house feel like I lived in it for a hundred years. It makes me so happy to know it's in there. It's good for the soul of the place, and my own.

You know, I really think if every house had a loaf of bread in the oven the divorce rate would go down about 27%.

The point of this post is not to boast, or guilt, or condemn conventional food. I am not interested in green elitism, nor do I tolerate the argument that healty food is only for the rich. I am not rich, and there was nothing elitist about standing outside in the cold rain pulling white feathers off a dead bird hanging from a tree. The point of this post is to share the story of one meal and how all those small ingredients turned into voting ballets. How all those small choices meant chemicals were pulled off a few acres, and a bird felt sunlight and stretched her wings, and a cow wasn't force-fed hormones and antibiotics, and cheese wasn't shipped 1500 miles on a truck soaking the curds in petroleum. It helped employ my neighbors, and bees, and kept the distance between me and this dinner's history a little thinner. And while yes, there are contradictions and imperfections in the meal (as well as my fair share of fuel and consumption)—it is a meal trying to be something else:

A little safer. A little kinder. A little smarter.

And I'm not asking you to raise meat, or stir curds, or buy organic, or shop local. I'm just explaining that there's another way to sit down at the table and feel full. And to honestly admit, right here, right now, that that was the best damn salad I have ever eaten. It was more than dinner. It was my the rest of my life.

Sometimes a good story is all it takes.

specials board hanging in the kitchen

the new guy

My internet is down at the house, has been since Saturday morning. I'm not sure why. It's frustrating. It's why we went through a weekend without updates at CAF, and for that I apologize. I wanted to just send a quick update about the dogs since people have been asking how they are getting along. There seems to be some concern about Jazz and Annie adapting to the new puppy?

So far, so good. Annie plays, sleeps, and entertains Gibson best she can and Jazz tolerates him with his nose in the air. There have been as many warning growls for stealing food and biting tails as necessary—but so far not so much as a snap at the little guy. We all spent the weekend together, at home, and while I won't let the three alone unsupervised yet, there hasn't been any signs of danger in their pack. I think we'll be okay.

Friday, May 7, 2010

annie in the kitchen

puppy chores

I just came in from morning chores with Gibson. The little guy is coming along brilliantly. We had a rough first night, but that was to be expected. He howled and screamed like a caged science monkey and I got 45 minutes of sleep. The next morning (get this) I was too tired to drink coffee, and brought him to work sans caffeine. He slept on a dog bed by my desk all day, getting loved up by co-workers and friends. Today he'll join me as well. I love that he can be near me.

He and I have gone outside both days for the morning chores. He follows me around, nipping at my heels, as we feed the chickens, ducks, and venture into the barn for the rabbits. He just trots by my side, amazing a husky owner that he doesn't run away into the woods....

As we crested up the hill to feed the sheep, I stopped and scooped him up into my arms. My three sheep aren't dog-broke, and are not going to be herded by a new puppy. In fact, they'd happily head-butt him out of this world. So I held him in my left arm as I threw the hay into the pen. His eyes were locked on the sheep like they broke his brother's leg in an Italian restaurant. Without blinking, he let out a low, hilarious, puppy growl. A sound I never heard him make. I broke out laughing, and gave him a squeeze. He just chased and played with all the other animals and people, but get three sheep in front of him and it's business time. I kissed his black head as we walked down the hill together, in my arms.

He's going to do just fine.

P.S. I've been getting emails and comments about Finn. Finn will be back! Right now I have a small sheep pen and a few unelectrified fences the ovines mind, but no goat ever would. I need to get set up for him and that means money, effort, and serious fences. If I took him today he'd have to be alone in his own enclosure to be safe, like a chain link dog pen, instead of with other animals like he should be. So I am getting some real fences put in with electric tops and when they are ready for goats: he'll be here! I promise!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

puppy shots!

photos by tim bronson

he's here

Monday, May 3, 2010

behold a dark horse

I recently got a feature article printed in Paste Magazine, about my one true love, the Gibson J-45. If you want to read something totally unrelated to farming, but still 100% jenna. Check it out at the digital issue below. Skip to page 44.

Behold a Dark Horse

gibson flies in this week!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

poultry swap haul!

my first farm chicken dinner

I am a 8-5 corporate employee, so weekends like this are when I get the bulk of my farm work done. When the combination of beautiful weather, a project list, and an event like the annual Poultry Swap all collide in 48 hours—I'm in my own personal bubble of agricultural ecstasy. So when Saturday morning arrived, sunny and full of promise, I was in rare form. I wanted to celebrate the day, my first real full day of work on my own farm. No errands, no plans, just me and this land. As I pulled on my rubber boots I felt as excited as a first date.

It all started with the chicken tractor. I walked outside and eyed up my pile of scrap wood and chicken wire. All I needed to build was a small open-air pen without a bottom. It's only purpose is to let the meat birds eat and fertilize the grass, while feeling sun and fresh air. Hopefully it's something predators can't get into easily and ends up being light enough for one person to drag easily. The poultry-moving device doesn't have to look pretty, it just needs to keep my thirteen cornish rocks in one confined grassy spot until I see fit to move them to another. Hammer in hand, away I went.

In a few minutes i whipped up a sorry looking pen. Aesthetics aside, it worked just fine. As I was moving the five-week-old chickens from their coop pen into their brave new world I could not help be be impressed at their size. In just over a month those cute fluffy yellow chicks were beasts! Time, care, and two fifty pound backs of feed gave me these white giants. Maybe it's the small farmer coming out in me, but as I moved them to pen to tractor I thought...I wonder how they'll taste?

So I decided to find out. I could harvest one bird and prepare it for my evening meal. After all I had all day, didn't I? It would be good practice too. If I planned on selling my chickens to friends and coworkers, or even giving them as gifts I would need to get decent at the nuts and bolts. So I put a canning pot on the stove to heat up 145 degrees, and went back to the tractor to pick out dinner. I was going to slaughter, cook, and eat my first farm-raised chicken.

For those of you who think this may be morbid, or sad, please don't. Cornish rocks are 100% food animals, unable to survive a few weeks past their 8-10 week harvest time due to their giant frames. If they aren't killed swiftly for dinner they'll usually die of heart attacks, organ failure, or broken legs. Now at about 3 pounds each, and all white feathers and bright eyes, my birds looked nothing like victims. They were happy, clean, birds. Instead of growing up in a dark factory with 10,000 other birds—these guys were living with 12, under my careful watch. They were living exactly the life I felt farm animals should live: outdoors, on green grass, seeing sunlight, and chasing flies. I picked up the fattest bird, held it by its feet (which lulls them instantly into submission), and walked it over to the chopping block. Here we go.

I thanked the bird, almost at a whisper, then with one swift hatchet move and all was done. No squawk, no pain, just over. I tied it upside down to a tree limb and let it bleed out. The boiling water had been moved from the stove, to right next to the stump, so as soon as the bird was empty I dumped the whole thing in the water and counted to sixty. When I pulled it out, the feathers came off like velcro, peeling off with just the slightest friction left to hold them to the skin. Just five short minutes ago this bird was blinking its eyes—now it looked exactly like what you'd see hanging on the streets of an Asian market.

Wow. How fast the animal turns into the recipe.

After the bird was cleaned of all feathers, I took a boning knife and removed the feet like Steve (my friend and Chuck Klosterman assassin) showed me. I followed his lessons and had an open Butchering Basics book by my side as well. Within a few moments the bird was eviscerated and ready for my kitchen. It looked exactly like what comes out of shrink wrap at the grocery store. I placed it in a big pyrex bowl of ice water in the sink and let it chill down to 40 degrees.

While it soaked I went outside and got to work on the garden. I expanded it a little, making room for the heirloom veggies I had ordered and was excited to finally taste. La Ratte potatoes, Dragon Tongue Beans, and pickling cucumbers were just some of the new additions I was planting this year. Seed Savers' Exchange offered these packets of heritage farm favorites and lettuces so I bought them. I had the seeds and the potatoes shipped to the office a few weeks ago. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the fact I had a pound of rat spuds delivered to my desk. Yup. I had veggies, meat, eggs, and flour back at the new farm house. I was learning the fine are of really eating in.

I also started to see the Deer Tongue, Red Velvet and Arrowhead lettuces seeds I had ordered starting to sprout. The onions and Amish Snap Peas were also coming along well. As I sling my hoe it hit me that I could throw a dinner party here, featuring my own salad, veggies, roasted bird and warm bread... As sweat literally stung the corners of my eyes, I stopped planting, leaned on my hoe and took that notion in. I just stood there and satiated a bit. The garden rests on the flat bit of land above the farm house and below the sheep field. I closed my eyes and let some wind hit me. I heard the bees roaring in the apple trees above me. Joseph bleated for grain. Down by the well spring the geese were eating lush grass. The surviving chickens in the tractor were fat and now dust bathing in their shade. The place was thriving. I was thriving.

This little farm will feed me. It'll hurt, and burn, and cause sore muscles and sleepless nights but it will continue to feed me. That simple truth, is everything to me. Because darling, don't you realize that everything that any human being ever accomplished: from symphonies to atomic bombs was done because someone else was growing their food? Because someone else was doing the work that kept them alive? I prefer to cut out my middlemen. I want to be responsible for me, whatever that happens to be.

Between gardening breaks I brined the bird. I was following the step-by-step instructions in the newest issue of Cook's Country. I mixed a half cup of sugar and a half cup of salt into water and let the bird soak in the fridge for an hour. While the bird took in all that moisture and flavor: I went back to the garden to work. I knew I was getting a sunburn but didn't care. It's not good, I know, but after this winter it was a sadistic thrill to feel hot skin. I buried the chicken head, feet, and offal into the dirt below the garden soil. It would continue to feed me, and the soil, as compost.

When I couldn't take the heat, I went into the kitchen. It was in the mid-eighties outside but inside was a cool 68. I'd swill water, clean up, and go about more prep work. I took the bird out of it's brine bath and toweled it dry. (The dogs were very interested in this part.) Then I got out a honey mustard herb rub and some olive oil and massaged it into the meat. The magazine said to poke holes in the skin when doing this, so I did, and then placed the chunky little bird in a roasting pan, breast side down at 375 degrees. I would flip it and crank it up to 450 in about 45 minutes.

I went back to my work day. I finished up in the garden, fed the rabbits, collected eggs, and started preparing for the Poultry Swap in the morning. I had to clean out the back of the truck and get cages out of the barn for the Guinea fowl and meat rabbit buck I hoped to buy. When all was set for a day of bartering and haggling— I returned to the kitchen for more water, forgetting what was in the oven. I was blown away by the smell. My. Dear. Lord.

It was amazing! The place smelled of smells I never knew but always wanted, was starving for actually. Maybe it was the heat, or the work outside but that chicken roasting in the oven was tantric. I peaked in the oven and heard the crackling and smelled the herbs and fat. It was browning and bubbling. This was going to be amazing. Any yuck factor from the first phases of the meal was forgotten. All was excitement now. And after all that sun and work, I was famished.

When the day was done I took a long shower and changed into a sun dress instead of my usual farm clothes. I sat down outside on the deck to, as expected, a marvelous dinner. It was hands down the best chicken I had ever tasted. Sweet white meat and crispy skin and just a hint of herbs. On a bed of greens with some honey mustard dressing, it looked almost fake. I was impressed with myself for pulling it off, but also shocked that what had yellow feet and clucked a few hours earlier now was on the end of my fork. I felt the same way I did when knitting my first hat, or eating my first tomato. I had made this meal, really made it. I ate a third of the bird that night. I savored it, every single bite. I looked out over the farm around me sighed deeply.

I felt damn lucky. Yes, I had worked hard for the meal, and hard for the farm, but I felt lucky to have been able to reign in my wit and resources at the same time this place was available at the price it was. A perfect storm of timing, and recession, and evictions and now even births and deaths had all lead up to this chicken dinner on this deck. I felt it all the way into my bones. They shook.

I don't know why anyone needs to go across the globe on vacation. You want to really change your life? You want to be forced to slow down, think, and question the meaning of your existence? You want to better know how you fit into the story? Then buy a chick for 1.75 at Tractor Supply and follow a recipe. The whole world begins and ends there.

Saturday, May 1, 2010