barn windows.. and staying out of debt.

I was in a Big Box superstore  the other day. I try not to go into these places too often as they confuse me. This one was bigger than my wee farmy.  Much bigger. Filled with the most curious collection of useless objects.  AND it had christmas music screeching and shoving me into a scurry.  Christmas Carols In November make me want to Bite Someone’s Head Right Off!

I will tell you why I was in this Mammoth of a Store.  You know I avoid them like the plague preferring their small familiar dusty predecessors. But I was on my travels last week, and  I needed to buy a book. I cannot function unless I have a book.  Words are like my air. Books are my television. My handbag has to be big enough to contain a book, a camera,  a wallet and a lipstick.  I read every day. I read before I go to sleep, while I am waiting in a cue, on the plane, in the bus, on the train, in the car (when I am a passenger of course), I can read and walk the dog at the same time.  I can read and cook at the same time. Well, you get the picture. Now, I knew that that night I would finish my current book and I cannot sleep if I have just finished a book. I MUST start the next one first. This is just how it is.  I was slightly panicked.

So I asked Third Son to take me to the book store. He told me the bad news. Both of the BIG book stores in his city had closed recently. There were no others in the town.  No book stores at all.  We stared silently at each other for a minute. He knew that this was not good. We would have to go to one of the big bad stores, maybe they would have books, he said hopefully. 

The second Big Scary Box Store  we went to did have books, they had  twelve books as a matter of fact, and I bought the two I had not read. Did I also mention that I am not a discriminating reader. I read anything I can lay my hands on.

So I took my two books to the check out and began what I imagined would be a simple transaction. The girl sharply scanned the books and  then brightly asked did I want to sign up for a store credit card and receive eighteen percent off my current purchase?   I said to the girl, who was a cheerful blowsy wee thing with heavily made up eyes. I said,” No thank you, I only buy something if I can pay for it.” She looked at me like I was spouting Greek.

She blinked.  “But you would,” she spluttered, “with your credit card and you get eighteen percent off your current purchase”   She looked at my two little books then back to me.

“So do you want  to sign up for a credit card and receive eighteen percent off your current purchase?” she said again, more clearly this time.

” No, honey”, I told her gently “that is borrowing money.  I don’t need to borrow money. I only buy something if I have the money to pay for it.”

” Oh,” she stared hard at her  screen as though it would give her a prompt. Completely at a loss.

I said to her carefully “Why would I buy something I cannot afford.”  Someone turned the volume up on the Christmas Carols.

The skinny lady behind me in the queue, shoved her over laden cart closer to me and started the queue shuffle. I whipped my head around to her and stilled her with one of The  Looks.

“You know what I mean?” I said to the girl.  She cast panicked looks around.  “If I can’t afford it, why would I buy it?”

Skinny Lady began to loudly rummage in her handbag, bringing out her fat purse. Full of skinny credit cards no doubt.

“So you won’t be wanting to sign up for a store credit card  and get eighteen percent off  your current purchase?” the girl said hopefully.  I shook my head and tried REALLY hard not to sigh.

“That will be 18.95” she squeaked and took a deep breath. “Would you like to purchase one of our store bags for 95 cents and receive a 5 cent discount every time you shop with us again?”

Her screen prompt was not helping her. She ran out of breath.  Third Son wandered off towards the doors. The Christmas soundtrack paused between tracks.  Suddenly I felt sorry for her. Maybe she wouldn’t spend her entire life in debt. Maybe she would resist the lure of The Card held out by a faceless myopic banker who would live off her interest for the rest of her life.

I took out a twenty and gave it to her. She gave me my change, concentrating hard on the palm of my hand.  I smiled at the girl and then just for good measure I smiled slowly at the skinny lady. I jammed my new books into my handbag and turned to leave.  Though I knew perfectly well that if there had been a bell on The Girls  counter she would have been bashing at it in seconds desperately calling.  NEXT! NEXT!

c

PS Above is the new rake for the hay! Well, new to us. It is looking lovely in the last of the light on a lovely Thanksgiving evening.  Ni Night.  Have a lovely Green Friday tomorrow.

Day for Giving Thanks is Tomorrow

All of my American readers will be frightfully busy.  Kitchens will already be groaning with fresh food, the clank of saucepans being heaved up out of the  pot cupboard that can never stay straight. ( Just shut the doors fast with your foot.) They  will be sorting the ingredients for Gramma Emma’s special recipe for beans that must be replicated at all costs or worrying that Cousin Bob will cry into his four fat chins if they swap out the mashed something for mashed something else.   And who would do that to Cousin Bob.

This is what I love about Thanksgiving. It is about people.  And about People and their Food.  (And, at the table of The Matriarch, a glass of lovely chilled white pinot gris.)

There are no painstakingly wrapped presents, no shopping campaigns to find something for someone who has every something you can imagine, no gaudy blowups deflating slowly outside the door, or lights flashing or not, no dressing up or guilty spending, or pressure to buy or terror of  competition.  Thanksgiving is not a Main street day. It is not a High Street day or a Mall day. It is a Kitchen day. It is a Dining Room day.  Our Dining Room.

It is largely ignored by the money hungry Big Box Stores (who try to cash in with Black Friday .. we are having a Green Friday).  In fact most of the stores already have Christmas Carols shrieking like reluctant bullies in the background. Halloween  stuffed back in the  store rooms with undue haste and Christmas lights blaring out into the night.

But Thanksgiving sits proudly and quietly stuffing its face, in its own house. Ignoring the ignorance of the ignorant and loving them for it too and knowing that this day  is just food and family and friends.  It is not tinny or commercial. We LIKE that the stores skip straight over Thanksgiving from Halloween to Christmas. Because Thanksgiving does not belong to big business, it belongs to us.  You don’t have to be rich to have a lovely lovely day of Thanks.  You don’t even need a big family or lots of friends.  There is always something to be thankful for.  Always. Even in the darkest of our dark times (and everyone has them, I could tell you stories that would take the curl straight out of your hair). There is always a lovely little glowing space for thanks, a wee shiny rock of thankfulness sat out there on a tiny sheltered shelf waiting to be seen, collected and stored in our pockets, where we can hold it in our hands like knowledge. And keep it.

Whether your gathering is large and rowdy with a Big Fat Turkey and marshmallow stuffing followed by flaming pink desserts,  or a small juicy duck cooked with orange and pine nuts accompanied by roast potatoes crisped in the duck fat and  a fresh spinach and lettuce salad, (that I will very thankfully gather from the garden.) Whether it is colorful and pretty or plain and tasty.  Maybe just ordinary and not even particularly bright. 

It is still our Day of Giving Thanks.

Thanksgiving.

Thank you.

c

Walkabout on the Farmy!

Yesterday afternoon Mary’s Cat, Thing Two, TonTon and I walked the fences checking for holes. Naturally we had company.
Thing Two and Mary’s Cat were particularly vigilant about checking fences. They like everyone to be in their proper places. Speaking of which the chickens are behind bars again until the ground is frozen. I am going to put the mulch around the vines and fruit trees and they have a history of scratching it all out.  So this is lock up time again for them. To say they are not thrilled would be an understatement! THING two seems to need to test the wire for strength!

Daisy still plays with her rocking horse, because no-one will let her have a real horsey.   She has had this rocking horsey since she was a calf. It used to be on springs and she liked it better then because it would play back, but she is a big cow now and it is a little horsey so it lost its spring!!.
Queenie wants a turn, but Daisy does not like to share. Queenie has her own toy. Now, is it just me or do you think that Mama (right) is looking fatter?! Remember she had quads (four lambs) last time. I am rather hoping she does not do this again. That was a messy day! This time she is due from mid January on. Actually I think Hairy MaClairy is looking pregnant too!! There is no real grass left in the fields so I have to consider bringing all the stock in or risk over grazing, which will be to the detriment of our spring growth.   But I believe animals need lots of natural light  so I hate to bring them into the barn until I have to. They have extra feed in the barn with their doors open but the sheep are not interested yet. And the weather is still so mild.

All the fences are secure.  No holes. Walkabout is over.

We can get some work done now.  Time to make bread.

c

Treasures from California

Before I take you outside for an inspection of the Farmy, I want to show you a treasure I found in California. A beautiful girl took me to a Fantastic Second Hand Shop, I think it was called a Consignment Store. Look what we found:

I used to use one in Italy when I worked over there but Lost it somewhere along the way.  It just fell through the cracks of time. 

And just when I need a real Parmesan Grater for my own Parmesan cheese, one turns up on a dusty shelf behind all kinds of junk in the shop of my dreams!  Like my well worn Italian one,  it has a little drawer and is perfect.

I brought a little cheese out from the cheese cupboard to show you.  We found this big white bowl  in the same store too. 

How about that for pretty!

Now there is one other treasure that I found in California but you and John will have to wait to see them. Third son is going to ship them to me.  Fingers crossed!

c

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig.

I am home again.  As you can imagine it has been a busy day today.  All the animals are present and accounted for except for a few of Houdinis  chickens.  TonTon has already forgotton I had been away. Mia (little ewe) was immediately at her special door waiting to come out and play. But the look on Daisy’s face! Not impressed At All.  She reached her huge head over the door, nudged my shoulder with her nose and  burped at me. Just burped into my face. Case closed, she said.

On the way home from the airport, quite a long drive, John told me that he had a surprise for me at home.  He had bought me something very special.   Something exciting. Something I will just love.  

Yes you are right. It is a haybaler. It is just the right size for HIS tractor. He saw it for sale on the side of the road and .. well, you know the rest. He hitched his checkbook out of his pocket then hitched the baler to his work truck and towed it home.  He is very pleased with himself. And he bought the rake as well, but the rake does not have a bow. I guess he knew the Jig was up by then.  At this very moment he is putting the baler back together after he took it apart to see how it worked! 

If all was fair in love and war I would buy him a single cow milking machine for HIS UnBirthday present!  Daisy is still unimpressed. But she will be impressed when she gets to eat the sweet alfalfa hay that John will harvest, next summer.  If John can work out how to untangle the strings.  I find it is best to leave the men alone when they get their strings tangled!

Tomorrow if it is fine I will take you for a walk around the Farmy and we will do a proper inspection.  I think I might light the fire this afternoon though, it is getting a wee bit chilly don’t you think?.

c

Following a Mandarin through a massive Californian Packhouse

We are going to follow a mandarin today.   We are going to visit a fruit packhouse, it is my last day in Central California. Nothing you will see  is sustainable or organic and absolutely nothing is old fashioned. But interesting nevertheless. 

This packhouse  packs the Cutie mandarins.  Mostly I am interested in the architectural shapes created in a packhouse. They are designed specifically to be efficient, so everything is refined right down to the essentials.  Also the grading machines themselves are created with extraordinary precision. On walking into the packhouse we were hit with a fresh blast of citrus.  If they could only bottle that scent! The fruit is washed and scanned and runs along these lanes and onto the grader.

This packhouse is  400,000 square feet. Each fruit drops into its own individual cup and travels along the grader. 

500 fruit per minute per lane, 10,000 fruit per minute on this one machine! In its own cup the mandarin is pre graded for blemish, colour,  density and weight.  Then onto another belt and sent through a wall, in a river of orange, to be waxed then onto the next series of graders that grade for size. 

None of these images can capture the vastness of this arena of fruit. Each piece of fruit can be graded multiple times depending on the market. The girls do a last quality check before bagging. This packhouse that sends your Cuties to your supermarket is absolutely pristine. I was very impressed. 

Automation everywhere.

The bagging machine is behind glass and fascinated me!

And off to the market.there is always a shadow..

c

Roast: Slow Roasted Lavender Lamb with a side of Joy

YES! The big day has arrived! We are going to slow roast some lamb. This roast will have three layers of bright joyful lavender notes. Almost provencal actually as I shall also add a little rosemary and garlic. I want the scent of the herb in each different prep step of the lamb. Each separate preparation  adds another note. I call this layering.  Like the perfume! I am sure there is some fancy-pancy culinary term that I don’t know!!

The first layer of lavender was introduced in the field.  You will remember that this roast (aka a Murphy) was grown on our own fields of fresh green clover, lambsquarters and grass. Every week they were fed garlic, cider vinegar, yoghurt  and thyme for  health. In the last 6 weeks I introduced piles of lavender tips to this mixture.  So the first layer of seasoning comes from the field.

The next two layers of  lavender  are added in the RUB and then the CRUST.

THE RUB: Lamb Massage!  I bought a lavender plant when I arrived in California. We used branches of it to smoke the prime rib last night and the rest will be snipped for tonight’s lamb. Poor little denuded lavender. Third son will plant it after I have gone and nurse it back to health.

Salt, pepper and chopped lavender and rosemary are massaged into the meat then I cut little slits and poke in lavender and rosemary tips. Then grab some good big unchopped hunks of the herbs and  press  all over the meat. Wrap the lot tightly in plastic wrap to keep all those scents inside, and sit for a few hours in the fridge. 

OK after a few hours bring the roast back to room temperature, and pat dry.

THE CRUST

My mother coated the lamb in a thick layer of salt.  A similiar principle is used when roasting a whole salt encrusted fish. It holds in all the juices and creates a good crust. Lamb does love salt.

Often, I coat the  skin with a crust of wholegrain  mustard, peppercorns, garlic, lemon, salt and olive oil.

Today we are going to brush the lamb in a Lavender and Rosemary Mayonnaise.  This will  hold in all the juices and adds another lavender note. The egg in the mixture will help the crust adhere to the meat.

Lavender Mayo.

Make this in the food processer.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of flax seeds
  • 1 small  teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 6 or 7 Lavender  and Rosemary tips

Blend egg yolks  and garlic first until good and fluffy, then drizzle the oil in slowly, slowly,  then pulse in the herbs, lemon, flaxseed and salt and pepper. Brush this all over the top of your roast. Keep some for later as well. 

Pour a cup of water into the roasting dish. Surround your roast in whole onions and garlic and more green lavender and rosemary. Allow 25 minutes per pound.  This roast is about 6 pound. So 30 minutes at 400 then down to 325 for 2 and a 1/2 hours. Keep in mind that the meat will keep cooking after you have removed it from the oven to rest.  Every time you check it, throw a few more sprigs of herb in there and continue to brush with the mayonnaise to create a very popular thick crunchy crust.

About an hour before you eat, hook out all the left over burnt sticks from the herbs and add your potatoes and vegetables to the dripping. Cook with the meat for maximum taste and crunch. (After I transfer the meat to another dish to rest I also transfer the potatoes to another roasting dish so they keep crisping while I make the gravy.  mmm GRAVY!.. Homer Simpson Voice)

When you can poke a carving fork into the meat and turn it easily, with no deep red juices flowing you are cooked.  Lamb prefers to be cooked to a slight blush of pink. Now rest –  no not you, the LAMB! 

Now, we make the GRAVY!  Don’t forget the sweet chilli and marmite!

As Bad Baby (Beautiful Daughter)  would say “Nom Nom Nom”..

c

What’s for dinner Mama? Fish?

Crostini, using home made rosemary bread, demanded something special,  so tonight we are starting with  ChgJohn’s  Baked Brie with Caramelised Onions. This was just divine. The guests just woofed this down. ChgJohn told me to make TWO!

Third Son is grilling Prime Rib on his customised grill which is a pretty jazzy affair!

Because Company was coming  I made dessert! A very rare occurrence.  Apple Tarte Tartin adapted from this gorgeous Tarte Tartin recipe. Afterwards I had to sit down and write the recipe down for everyone!  They picked the plate clean.

And just because we can, here is another shot I took today of a koi, in  a local koi pond. Third son is building a pond and we were doing research..  Imagine just swimming about in a pool all day!

c

Missing the Farmy

So we have gone in search of some animals. Central California has a few animals.

This is not Daisy.

City Horsies. 

I am sure that Hairy MacLairy would be more than happy to visit here though. This one is the best indication of the air quality out here. The valley has huge ranges on either side and the smog just hangs in here.   I suppose it is a combination of very dry silty soils and the industrial level of  residual spray dusts on the surrounding orchards and fields. Not an easy  place to breathe.

Oh and I must tell you. (you will be so proud..) I have discovered The Food Channel!!! Woohoo, Iron chef here I come!

c

Steak and Cheese Pie around the pool in the Californian Fall.

My son’s wife, who loves good food, has been patiently waiting for me to cook a Steak and Cheese Pie.  There have been jokes about me using a steel glove in the kitchen from now on. So I sat by the pool for a while. Sitting by the pool in November! When I was feeling brave enough I diced the steak very carefully. 

My son has requested that we cook the meat in the crock pot as he likes the steak to be at the melt in your mouth level. So we are going to do this in a new way. I pan fried the meat first, and added Soya Sauce, Balsamic, Worcestershire and Beer.  Then it cooked in the crock pot for the day!

I made pastry in the food processor the usual way. Freezer cold butter, twice as much flour, a little salt, chilled water. Whizz. Whizz.   Push into a ball. Wrap and back into the fridge to wait.

Caramelised onion with red wine and rosemary. (This is a side dish) 

You all know how to construct a pie. Sfter fter pouring in your meat and gravy into the pastry dot the meat with small cubes of a strong cheddar cheese, then the pastry.  I will not go into details. This was served with rosemary potatoes.

Sorry John honey, but we are eating our steak and cheese pie out beside the pool. It is another stunning  California day. But at least I am not bleeding!.

c