In which we are enchanted

In which we are enchanted

How much more mysterious and magical the world looks in black & white!

We’re moving. Again. Packing up all our worldly junk and putting it in storage.

You see, while we now have a home for the Ladies, it doesn’t include a house for us, so we’re off to transitional housing to plan our next move. Hopefully the final one….

If you’ve ever packed up everything you own, you know the best part is that all sorts of forgotten treasures are found. Which is exactly how I re-discovered my enchantment with Thomas Moore.

Thomas Moore is a contemporary writer and lecturer whose life follows a route like my own; filled with seemingly random twists and turns. Beginning his journey as a monk in a Catholic religious order, then becoming a student obtaining degrees in theology, musicology and philosophy, working as a therapist and finally an author, Thomas Moore is a man who is willing to live the questions without needing to know the answers first.

His most famous books are Care of the Soul and Soul Mates, but the two that most feed my soul are the The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life and The Education of the Heart. I found The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life first and of course had to plop down in the middle of the action for a quick skim. Here I found interesting observations about that uneasy tension between dreams and practicality so especially polarized in our American culture.

Most of us struggle to balance these equally important needs. For some, the standoff is more difficult than for others. A rare few are so blessed they are completely certain of which road they must travel and set right off on their journey. Along the way, they find doors that open just when they are needed, but even for these lucky ones, the door opens not one second before the darkest hour has been endured. Give up too soon and live with regret forevermore.

Including enchantment in our lives requires a willingness to embrace solitude and quiet and forces us to relinquish the need to know everything that’s going to happen next and why. Enchantment is a place where everything is gray and to appreciate it you must have faith that you will understand when it’s time.

People must have excursions into enchantment to survive:

“The soul has an absolute, unforgiving need for regular excursions into enchantment. It requires them like the body needs food and the mind needs thought. Yet our culture often takes pride in disproving and exploding the sources of enchantment, explaining away one mystery after another and overturning precious shrines, dissolving the family farm that has housed spirits of civility for eons, or desecrating for material profit a mountain or stream sacred to native residents. We have yet to learn that we can’t survive without enchantment and that the loss of it is killing us.”

Most people dismiss the need for enchantment as irresponsible, childish or silly; yet why?  Practicality and Enchantment are not opposing forces; in fact they serve one another:

“It isn’t easy to discuss enchantment in a disenchanted society, one that suffers the lack of a deep, solid, communal fantasy life, because enchantment stands our usual values on their head. What is central in the hardcore, hardware, hardworking world of the disenchanted has little or no place in a soft life of enchantment, and what is important to the charm of daily life may appear as a distraction to those who are dedicated to the kind of seriousness that excludes enchantment. Yet there is no essential conflict between enchanted living and practical, productive activity; they can serve each other: one delighting the spirit of ambition, the other comforting the heart.”

Food is a source of enchantment. For example:

“As a therapist, I’ve worked with people who feel their lives are meaningless, aimless, and generally depressed. In a number of instances, after discussions of family and tradition, these people have brought soul into their lives simply by phoning a mother, father, or grandparent and asking for some old family recipes. The familiar but forgotten smells and tastes restore (the meaning of the word ‘restaurant’) a long-dormant element in the soul – a comforted childhood, a feeling of belonging, the support of religious and cultural traditions, and family stories and personalities.

Is superficial and simple less important than complicated and academic? What feeds the soul is always simple; it’s buzzing human minds that love complexity.

 “Over the years, when I’ve lectured on food, cynical listeners have complained that I’m reducing psychology to the themes of modern living and gourmet magazines. When I first heard such objections I felt defensive and concerned. Was I not being clear about the depth of these issues? Then I realized that magazines about food and home may be more important, even if they are intellectually light, than thick tomes of research and philosophy. Now I don’t mind being associated with books of recipes and advice about furnishings and entertainment. Of course, they can be superficial and middle-class, but their simplicity is not a sign of their insignificance.”

And, how true is this?  The extra time real food demands of us is not wasted but serves the soul.

“It’s no accident that in our disenchanted times we have found hundreds of ways to short-circuit the production, preparation and eating of food, and so it makes sense that to re-enchant our ordinary lives we could approach the supermarket, the kitchen, and the dining room differently, realizing that the extra time real food demands of us is not wasted but serves the soul.”

Evening is a social time for the cows. The little ones scamper and play, tails flagging, wild eyed and silly or sometimes they are lazy and nap flopped together in a big, congenial heap. The Ladies are busy munching, grabbing their evening meal, especially when the weather is as stiflingly hot as it has been recently. To avoid the heat, they do most of their work in the cooler air of early morning and twilight, spending their afternoons napping in the  groves of shady trees.

And so this evening, we ponder the importance of two words rarely used anymore – enchantment and delight. Yet that’s exactly what I feel every day as I stand in the special glow unique to summer evenings, pumping water into the trough and watching the cows graze their favorite evening pasture. My chattering mind cannot overcome the magic and finally gives up. We are completely content, the dueling parts of my brain and I, if just for a little while. And, that enchanted moment is what gives me the desire to get up early and do all the scary, mundane, dirty, repetitive and/or unpleasant things I have to do.

Delighted.

The little ones scamper and play, tails flagging, wild eyed and silly

in which we savor a big night

in which we savor a big night

Sometimes you find a small, unexpected treasure and it stays with you for a long time.  A book you find in a waiting room or airport or maybe a movie you never cared to see but coincidentally happens to be the only watchable thing on as you surf by.  It captures your attention somehow and is exactly what you needed at that particular moment.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this little pleasure years ago, but since then it has become a favorite that I haven’t tired of yet.  I’m talking about Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s jewel of a movie, Big Night.  Every time I see it, there’s something more I didn’t catch the last time. But I warn you: do not watch this with an empty stomach!  The food is beyond beautiful – so much so, I immediately had to have the cookbook.

The movie inspired cookbook, Cucina & Famiglia, is another gem and is one of the most used books in my library. I’ve given the pair (DVD & book) as wedding gifts on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, they’re not both so easy to come by anymore, making them even more special when you do find them.

The book features little stories introducing each recipe and chapter. These stories each offer a glimpse into the lives of the Tropiano, Tucci and Scappin families and recall fond Italian immigrant food  memories. Plus, the recipes are good. Really good.  I’ve not cooked my way through the entire book yet, but I’m getting there. Surprisingly the one recipe I have not made is timpano. It’s impressive and a rightful star in the movie; I’ll leave that one for you.

As my tomatoes are forming on their vines, soaking up all that summer sunshine needed to ripen them into their undisputed place as garden royalty, there’s one thing I am really, really waiting for.  A little impatiently, I might add.  If I had to choose only one tomato-y recipe to bring summer to life all year long, it would be this recipe for uncooked fresh tomato sauce.

This recipe makes four servings, but I had no trouble bumping it up and freezing it in one cup batches. Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on the recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough.

What a treat to whip a container of this out of the freezer for a quick, fresh pasta, pizza or bruschetta that tastes like the tomatoes were literally just picked warm from the summer sun. The only thing that can improve it is home-made pasta and a really good Parmesan or pecorino. Don’t chef this one up until you’ve made it once just this way – it is perfection in its simplicity.

Eating a steaming bowl while looking at a foot of snow on the ground outside is almost as good as hitting the lottery. Almost.

Home-made pasta, last summer’s uncooked fresh tomato sauce from the freezer and some good quality Parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

In which we begin a new round of hellos

In which we begin a new round of hellos

Our Ruby and her newborn heifer

Our poor Ruby. It’s been so hot and the flies this year aren’t ordinary flies – they’re superflies!

Ruby’s been heavily pregnant for forever it seems, her udder and belly growing more swollen each day.

Usually good-natured and upbeat, I don’t think Ruby would mind my telling you she has been a little cranky lately.

Oh, she’s always sweet to us, but look

Hello, hello!

Ruby's pretty new baby girl

out any lower ranking Lady who gets in

Ruby’s way. Mostly Ruby’s gentle sister Sally.

Thank Goodness for Sally, look what I found this morning at breakfast….

Our Love 'em & Leave 'em Rocco

I also want to be sure to thank our first time dad Rocco for his contribution to this wondrous event.

Of course Rocco, rake that he is, is too busy chasing after his newest Lady Sprite to be bothered with any messy duties of fatherhood.

But that’s ok, Ruby has everything under control. She’s a great mom.

After our struggles with little Spritzer, glad to see this one's already a Hoover!

Being born is tough business - curling up for a nap

In which Sprite gets game

In which Sprite gets game

A one year old Sprite the day after her 11 hour drive to our farm. A little tired?

Sprite is a cow we brought from New Hampshire.  She came to us with her mother Hannah, sister Ruby, aunt Sally and brother Hodil.  From the first day on our farm, Ruby, Hannah and Hodil were tight and Sally and Sprite were a bit out of the loop.

Sprite is very sweet and friendly but is always a bit odd in an endearing sort of way.

Right away, Sally made friends with the cows already living here, and made great progress climbing the social ladder.  Sprite was less fortunate; she was younger and less confident and stayed right where she was – at the bottom.

Sprite started doing everything opposite the other cows to avoid conflict – she ate while they were busy doing something else. She never got the choicest bed or was the first to eat the tastiest bite and she had long since stopped trying. She was our loner.

Gradually, Sprite became friends with Femme. Femme is a kind girl and her sister & pasture mate Bling, entertaining as she is, can be a mean girl sometimes.  Bling wasn’t all that keen on this development, but in time, she came to be Sprite’s friend too. Sort of.

Her new role as a mom proved to be a little challenging for Sprite.  She had no problems having the baby, she watched the baby,  licked the baby and made all the right noises, but just didn’t want to stand still to nurse the baby. This became a vicious cycle as Sprite’s udder then became very swollen and painful which REALLY made her unwilling to let the baby touch it.

So, things weren’t going well – the baby kept going off by himself and he wasn’t getting enough to eat.  We tried milking her and nursing him but that was a bit of a circus; after all our effort, he just didn’t want to drink from a bottle. So,  I brought them into the barn and locked them in together.  I really was beginning to lose hope that this little guy was going to make it.

Oh, the difference a few weeks makes… this little guy is always up to something!

Well, they both seemed to have figured things out because he’s doing really well – he’s a very smart, chubby and sassy boy.  The only cloud casting shadows on his little world is that he had no playmates.  So, I took last year’s heifers  and turned them all out together.

These girls are still playful enough to enjoy giving Spritzer (yes, that’s his name) a run for his money. Well, you should see young Spritzer out there chatting up his ladies…. very cute.

Spritzer’s aunt Saralee – she’s just his speed

But the unexpected result of this arrangement is that Sprite is in her glory.  It’s so entertaining to watch her chase those girls around – they’re all scared of her.  She goes WAY out of her way to chase them for absolutely no reason except that she can.  She is the unchallenged Queen of the pasture for the first time in her bovine life.

Sprite’s very pleased with herself; I’ve never seen her so enthusiastic about life.  She’s actually got swagger….

And, here they are… Sprite & Spritzer

The undisputed Queen of an empire of children – patroling the premises for potential misbehaviours by her subjects

In which we give thanks for fast food of the slow kind

In which we give thanks for fast food of the slow kind

Last Summer's Roasted Tomato Ketchup - I still can't believe how useful this was!

Yesterday, after a long day,  I was able to make an awesome supper of pan seared Devon steaks, salad and a pasta side in just 20 minutes because of my well stocked pantry.  Sorry, I was starving to death and taking pictures before wolfing it down just didn’t enter my mind. Sad because this meal was beautiful as well as tasty.

Thanks to my new and improved steak cooking skills (thank you Alton Brown), my freezer full of well raised beef, and my pantry full of last summer’s bounty, I was able to revert to the all-American can & jar method of cooking and had it on the table in no time.

The difference is that in my house, those convenience food jars are filled with preservative free, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables either from our garden or local farms.  Yes, there was a bit of a learning curve, yes I had some failures, and yes I invested some time and money but there’s no turning back for me now. The improvement in flavor, value, nutrition and sustainability is unbelievable – I’m hooked!

One very basic word of advice for those just beginning: stick to the simple.  My first year canning, I was resistant to “geese in dresses” style of country food. In my quest to be super modern, I tried plenty of complex, expensive and hard to source gourmet recipes.

Jam from rose petals is a lovely idea, but when it comes to every day eating, my family prefers jam that tastes like sun ripened fruit, not perfume.  There’s only so much rose flavored meat glaze and seltzer/jam spritzers (good ways to use jams & jellies) we can use and fridge space is at a premium. So, floral flavored jams are out. (Don’t think that’s ended my plans for dandelion wine and nasturtium capers this summer though).

Lesson learned, the things that make my every day life easier are the plainer things.  The more basic the recipe, the more flexible and useful it is as an ingredient. Let the quality of the ingredient shine – seasonings can be adapted later.

Some basic home-made love I can no longer live without:

  1. Roasted corn relish
  2. Home made chicken and beef stock
  3. Rendered smoked lard or bacon grease
  4. Fresh tomato sauce, frozen
  5. Strawberry Jam
  6. Peach Jam
  7. Roasted Tomato Ketchup
  8. Hot Sauce
  9. Roasted Peppers in Oil
  10. Onion Marmalade
  11. Preserved Lemons
  12. Home made pickles
  13. Plain tomato sauce, canned
  14. Apple pectin stock
  15. Roasted beets buttered, diced and frozen
  16. Blanched green beans, frozen
  17. Good quality cultured butter preferably home-made
  18. Greek style yogurt, again preferably full fat and home-made
  19. Beef and pork purchased directly from my favorite farmer by the quarter or half

Start (slowly & simply) now by making a short list of basics used regularly in your Go To recipes. Prepare now by gathering your supplies and having them ready to go when the harvest hits (always sooner than you think).  I recommend starting with the most basic, inexpensive and comprehensive of books, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Spend your time and energy on recipes you know you will use.  I won’t sugar coat the part where the peeling, slicing and dicing is time-consuming and spending a few hours in a steam filled kitchen in the middle of August isn’t my first choice for fun ways to spend a summer day.

By spending your time on projects that you will definitely use, the payoff is obvious right away and you will appreciate the kitchen boost again and again.  I swear, after enjoying your bounty for a winter, next April you will  be revving your engines for next canning season!

Salsa made from our roasted corn relish. Fresh corn from our garden truly is summer in a jar all winter long.

In which we honor our mothers

In which we honor our mothers

“God could not be everywhere, and therefore he created mothers.”

-Jewish Proverb

I always worry about jinxing myself when I make large statements like this, but we have been so fortunate with our new mothers.  Being a new herd, most of my cows are having calves for the first time.

It truly is amazing – how DO they know what to do?  But so far, they all have.  Oh sure, we had bits of confusion here & there, but honestly, they’re all old pros now.

I scoured my photo files and still, there are a few important Ladies missing.  My apologies to those not present – it’s not lack of love or beauty but opportunity.  Let’s admit it, some of you girls are just hams and some of you are not.

Thanks Moms be you two-legged or four!

Happy Little Group, 2010

Best Friends Success & Zay Become First Time Mothers Together

Zay Loves her Boys... and Boys love Zay

Our Matriarch, Hanna. Hanna is mother to our Hodil, Ruby, Sprite and Hannahbelle

Molly and Rocco called to each other across this field for nearly a week until finally Molly lost her voice. Now, before you think I ripped them apart too soon - they were together until Rocco was over 6 months old. They're both REALLY loud and bossy talkers....

Typical Molly and Rocco - always some pose or another....

Hannah & Hannabelle - how cute is this? Hannah is such a proud mother.... this is Hannahbelle's second day

Ruby & her first baby, Regina. Regina is about one hour old....

Zay and Axel share a private moment....

Zig loves his sweet mom Success....

Bling & her first calf Little Bess... Bling's such a happy Mom

Femme and her first calf, Fannie. Lucky Fannie - Femme loves being a Mom!

And, a new favorite thing for me,  it’s Simple Lives Thursday!  This great blog  rounds up a collection of great ideas for creating and enjoying a simplified, less industrialized life each Thursday.  Check it out here – lots of fun surprises!