Friday, September 15, 2017

If You Bake It...

It was around 4PM when I was just about ready to set the first Jackapple Cake of the season into the stove. I was so proud of it—not only because it’s a family tradition—but because the apples I had diced for the pie came from a tree I planted the year I bought this farm, 2010. It took that many years for the small tree to grow and beat fruit. That apple tree made it despite the winters, the sheep eating at her bark, and the thousand mistakes a new farmer makes... Still, the apples were strong and crisp and green. They made it to the family cake. I was about to slide it into the oven when the phone rang.

My phone is old and loud. It’s a big yellow, rotary, wall-mounted device that the prop department for Stranger Things used, exactly. Only mine has the bell tensions permanently set to the loudest setting and actual clanging bells roar when it alerts. It is right by the stove. I jumped. It was Mark.

Mark and his son Wyatt were having dinner and wanted to invite me over. Mark and Patty Wesner are family. Patty met me at a book reading years ago, around the same time I planted that apple tree - and it’s the only place in Washington County I feel as home at as my own. She taught me to ride and drive horses. Mark taught me to hunt turkeys and all the names and music of the songbirds that were background noise before I knew the musicians. They mean the world to me and right now while Patty is in California with her new granddaughter (Congrats!!!!) Mark is running the farm mostly by himself. Looked like he wanted some friends in the farm house.

I explained I was JUST setting a cake into the oven and could I bring it as dessert around 6? He said that was fine but they were pouring drinks at 5 so I better hurry. With the cake baking and the house starting to smell like seven years of delicious passive planning - I called the dogs and we headed outside.

Evening chores are a delight in the fall. There is none of the stress of evening dairy work - since the does are being dried off. The weather was too warm still to worry about bedding a fire down or stoking a new one if I wanted to leave... 

Side note: I know some people are perfectly okay with having a roaring fire in their homes left unattended - but I am not that person. If I want to leave for any extended period longer than an hour in the cold months I won’t do so unless the fire is down to coals. I share my house with two un-crated border collies, 2 cats, and depending on the season - chicks, lambs, kids, or Lord Knows What else and adding a raging fire to the unchaperoned mix seemed like a bad decision.

...So there was no fire chores, no dairy chores, no extra house work as the dishes were done while the oven pre-heated. So the dogs and I went about feeding evening hay and grain, checking animals and their water and bedding, and then half an hour later the cake was out to cool and the animals sated. The cake felt like a prize because it was.

Over at Livingston Brook Farm mark was skillet-frying up some Highlander burgers, from a shaggy steer our friend Brett raised near Lake Placid. Tomatoes, lettuce, and onions from his garden were set out on a beautiful plate. Bourbon was poured and we talked and caught up. I’m 35 and this is an ideal evening, hell and ideal day. I spent the morning doing the work of helping turn lambs into meat - humbling and tough work but the traveling butchers were kind and the animals a respectable weight.

After that I worked on design, on making soap, and the other errands and chores a life piles up. Point is the day included hard work of farm, mind, and craft. I ended it with the celebration cake and planned on just having a slice in front of a movie to wind down the night. Instead I got a full meal with close friends. If you bake it, dinner invites will come.

There is still a lot of winter prep ahead. I need to get in firewood, stove repairs, more animals butchered and delivered to customers, hay packed, and the regular bills and responsibilities paid. As of today the farm is solvent - my loftiest goal for years. But until a landfall of luck falls it’s scrappy work making it every month. What I can celebrate is that I am getting better at this - at the time management, budgeting, self promotion, and quality of work and words. More importantly, I have not given up. I don’t plan to. I hope seven years later that tree is still bearing fruit and the home and my life is healthier, happier, and makes me feel ever safer and more proud.

And there’s still cake.