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.


Blogger Jana said...

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

I'm going to post this on my blog-so insightful!

May 10, 2010 at 9:26 PM  
Blogger Artful Gathering said...

Yeah.... well said Jenna! You go girl!

May 10, 2010 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Well said.

It takes a bit of work but the feeling of satisfaction is so worth it.


May 10, 2010 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger Meredith said...

My favorite post by far. Thank you Jenna.

May 10, 2010 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Norma from Misty Haven Alpacas said...

I'm reading your blog and celebrating along with you as you pursue this real and honest life of yours. You have an inspiring commitment.

May 10, 2010 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Angi said...

Really love this post! So inspiring!

May 10, 2010 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger karl micheal said...

I so enjoy reading of your coldantler adventures. I grew up in the country in Florida. I grew up having gardens, chickens, goats and was taught by my mother how to garden, prepare chickens for cooking, milking goats and of course cooking and sewing when needed. I so enjoy your blog because it brings back good times. I would love to learn the bread baking and cheese making!! Keep up the wonderful posts Jenna.

May 10, 2010 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Beautiful, Jenna. One night, I told a guy I was dating that I had to bake bread. He asked, "Why?" I must have looked at him like he was crazy. I said, "Because I'm out of bread." He snorted and suggested I go to the store instead and not bother with the mess in the kitchen.

I dumped him.

May 10, 2010 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger ThePoolRoom said...

Beautifully written, Jenna.

I love your divorce statistic - very quotable. I would add, though, that the rate would drop 37% if that loaf was prepared and baked by the husband.

And yes, I am male :-).

May 10, 2010 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger Liana Harlan said...

I'm a vegetarian and even though meat isn't for me, I love to hear when people make a humane choice for meat. I wish more meat eaters were just aware of the whole process like you are. Thank you thank you thank you. You totally rock.

May 10, 2010 at 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like so many others, I loved the line about divorce! I also have recently entered into the world of chicken butchering and really have to admit that there is a perfection in raising, dispatching and eating your own food. Even if it doesn't taste better it is better.

May 10, 2010 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Ha! I wrote a whole blog post about how baking bread saved my marriage... or at least kept me out of hot water with the hubby :) I say I have to agree with your decline in divorce rate theory.

Love to read your posts knowing that they are coming from YOUR VERY OWN FARM!!! I've never been so happy for someone that I've never met before :)

And congrats on Gibson. He's a cutie.

May 11, 2010 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Rabbit said...

let me shout from the rooftops...blessed to have these moments. Thank you for sharing and more to come.

May 11, 2010 at 12:56 AM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

As I explained to someone else late last week, here in British Columbia, Canada, I am in the land of the tree huggin' granolas. Looking after ourselves in a responsible way is mostly the status quo.

I bake my own bread, we compost and put those nutrients back into the organic garden in our back yard. I can jam, pickles, salsa and more, in the summer. I use cold water on wash. I have low flow showers and toilets. I use cloth shopping bags and arrange my errand in the most fuel efficiant way possible. We recycle everything that can be recycled.

Are we perfect? Hell no, but it's the honest effort that counts. I sleep better knowing I did my part to be true to my prairie roots, where we look after the land and the land looks after us.

We are all stewards of this earth. We'd do well to remember that.

May 11, 2010 at 1:17 AM  
Blogger Maryland Sled Dog Adventures said...

With the unusually warm temps we've had this spring, we've been lucky enough to have our first salad from the garden already!

May 11, 2010 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I loved the post, as usual Jenna. Thanks for sharing your life with those of us trying/wanting to head in a similar direction.
Now if only my garden would sprout.

May 11, 2010 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Lovely post

May 11, 2010 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Sharon Stanley said...

just wanted to say i bought and completed your book....almost all in one fell swoop! it was a great read and i highly recommend it...i would like to post something on my blog about it if thats ok...i have lived on a dairy farm with my husband and two boys now for 27 years and happily learned a thing or two (or three!) from you and that was fun. it's a good primer for anyone yearning for the country. oh, and this post...well done, well said and well eaten i'm sure...loved it! sharon at

May 11, 2010 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

Another beautiful blog....I am trying very hard to live the same way. It isn't always easy, but it is always gratifying. And for that I am thankful!

And I love to bake bread! Just the smell of it makes me happy!

May 11, 2010 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger cindycolombo said...

Thank you Jenna. I get beat up allot by some people in my circle who tell me that the way I eat is for the elite and that I can do it because of where I live and how much I make. Telling them I did it when I made much less and was on my own falls on deaf ears. It is about choices, and more of us making those choices will make it more affordable to those who do make much, much less. We choose to have 1 car, take the bus have no TV, not cell phone, and spend that money on good REAL food. and NO I don't consider a single one of those things a sacrifice, in fact I would love it if we could figure out a way to get rid of the car altogether. It is about personal choice, it isn't for everyone, I don't attack people who choose not to do it, but it makes me so mad that many people who decide not too seem to feel they can attack me by calling me elitist.
Sorry, guess had some steam to blow off there

May 11, 2010 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger cpcable said...

As usual, beautifully well-written. Thanks, Jenna.

May 11, 2010 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Funny Ernie said...

Good post. I wanted to mention, though, that we butchered 7 of our meat birds this weekend (on Mother's Day, no less) and for one of the birds we skinned it. My hands were tired of plucking. Wow! That is so much faster. Hubby had the bird skinned and cleaned before I'd finished plucking one bird. We got the idea from a U-tube video done by the Custer Family Farm (from somewhere south). I thought you might want to give it a try sometime.

Regarding your brilliant comment on divorce, I think if we did any one domestic thing and focused less on our careers and money the divorce rate would go down and happiness/contentedness would go up.

May 11, 2010 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Funny Ernie said...

One more thing: Everyone has such great comments today! It's only 9am and I've already had a good laugh!

May 11, 2010 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger panthercreekcottage said...

Amen sister!

May 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Chicky said...

Just yesterday, I quickly scurried from the hospital (where I work in the Human Resource dept) on my lunch break, intent on purchasing more chick feed for our four (quickly) growing chickens (the first for both me & my soon-to-be-hubby). I was wearing my typical, nice "office" attire (skirt, button-down shirt, & hose; whereas my more regular, & preferred, dress is jeans, a tee, & flip flops) & walking through the feed store. I immediately thought of you. :) Thanks for the great inspiration!

May 11, 2010 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger spike said...

I can really relate to what you are describing in your blog here. Last night I made a toasted walnut arugula pesto for my pasta. The arugula has been taking over my garden. I also made a salad with bib lettuce, spring onions, daikon radish, fresh dill...all from our small urban garden. It is so satisfying to grow your own food! I look forward to having animals sometime soon to complete the meals.

The time and aches spent in the garden are so worth it. Forget about's good for the soul!

May 12, 2010 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

Amen to breadbaking.

May 12, 2010 at 7:05 PM  
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May 12, 2010 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Mother of Chaos said...

A loaf of bread in the oven also helps to gather the kids around the table - even the pre-teens who are just SO too cool for (pfffft!) eating with their {Dramatic! Eye! Roll!} families (heavvvvvyyyy siiiiiiigh...)

May 13, 2010 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger Judy Hamilton said...

Your post entirely embodies what I most believe in: that it is our choices that define us, not only as individuals but as a society. I too heave a tremendous sigh of satisfaction in documenting exactly the progression of each item on the dinner table, and in having taken part as completely as possible.

And yes! There is nothing elitist about having your hands in entrails...indeed, it is more cave-woman-like, and more honest to boot.

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