So I was making scalloped potatoes and using my son’s knives. Can you guess what happened next? Yes. You are right. I cut the finger. Really cut it. And I am quite the bleeder so I had to call in a Troop. Who was kind enough to be my hands. And I talked this very young fellow through making Mama’s Scalloped Potatoes.
As he was dealing with the garlic, I reached for the mandolin to cut the potatoes, I have never used a mandolin before. Surely I could do this one-handed. Wow, what a gadget! They are so sharp and make short work of the potatoes AND another finger on the other hand. Next time I am going to bring my own knives. By now I had both hands bandaged and needed more help.
To assemble the scalloped potatoes. Grease your dish, and wipe with a sliced piece of garlic. Layer thinly sliced potato, onion and cheese and pepper ending with potato and cheese. Half fill the dish with cream.
Cook in a moderate oven for about two hours, slowly, until tender and tasty.
Ava wants a taste.
We had the Scalloped Potatoes with grilled lamb chops that had been lightly sprinkled with sea salt. Bowls of Mama Coleslaw. Now, my darlings, I am talking with limited fingers! Taking off the tips of your fingers is not a comfortable style. Ow. So I write again tomorrow.
A broken window in California.
So, I have relocated. I am out in orchard country now. Soon we will plant the cuttings I brought from my garden for Third Sons herb garden. Then I am taking on another supermarket, with a better list. I am getting good at this. My son is a great cook too so he is fun to shop with. The chilli bin/cooler, that travelled across America ahead of me, has been opened and we will be grilling lamb chops this evening. Sorry John, I know it is below freezing and has been snowing out there and you and Daisy are in a winter routine but out here in California it is a beautiful, calm, clear and sunny day!
College Girls with Scabby Knees.
That was yesterday and this morning I have a tired brain. Soon Third Son will come and collect me and carry me off to the Central Valley. It is a four hour drive and he is one of those drivers who you have to bribe to stop along the way for photos! He likes to get into his car and drive to where he is going without stopping!
Tonight we shall commence to COOK!
I have reached SACRAMENTO and have been gently transported to the Big House somewhere up in the hills.
But today it is quiet and I will soon crank the big empty kitchen into gear. You will be thrilled to learn that I have joined the masses and am forced to BUY my own food. No gardens and freezers and cupboards brimming with home grown food. Now I shall have to go out and shoulder my way up a Californian supermarket aisle and find some food in there. Yesterday was not a big eating day. This morning has dawned clear and bright and I am in the mood to make a Monster Mama Salad.
So as soon as one of these sleepy buggers gets their sorry arses out of bed (I am still in a different time zone in my little Paddington Bear Brain.) I shall request a driver and a super market and then we will make a Monster Mama Salad with Omelettes and caramelised onions for brunch. Tomorrow is the wedding! So I want everyone well fed and ready for the big day.
The garden here is all trees. Beautiful.
It interests me that so many people do not cook. In fact there is a whole generation of people who do not cook. How they sustain themselves I do not know! However the kitchen in this house in the hills is huge and purring quietly, in anticipation of a big wake up!
Actually it is me who is going out West. On Wednesday. The Matriarch and I (in my favourite role as the Handmaiden) are flying out to California to attend her eldest son’s wedding and then I am sloping off to visit my son and his family. Would you like to come along? Oh? Really?! Cool. There are some lovely images I want to collect for you on the travels. Plus visiting my Third Son and his lovely wife will be all about the food and the garden. I am FedExing lamb overnight to their place, with honey and lavender jelly. So we will be cooking Mama food every day. And I will have a team there so we can blog much more efficiently.
As you know I prefer not to eat processed foods and travel is always a whole day – we have a two hour bus ride to the airport in Chicago, then a 4 hour wait for the plane, then we fly to Denver then on to Sacramento. After all that bananas get kind of boring. So you and I can research the airport food and Celi Diet options. (I tried on The Dress – a Vintage crochet silk, hope I don’t pull a thread!!- and it is still just a teensy bit snug).
I actually love airports and planes and travel. I love the anonymity of the crowds. The bustle fades off into white noise and I do some of my best work in the cafes, restaurants (and OK – bars!) in those dark corners of airports. The Matriarch is a great reader and can sit for hours with a book so we are perfect travel companions. So Wednesday if all goes well I will be writing to you from the airport.
Secondly I am still writing The Big Work and I think it is important that I do keep adding to it every day, so I am working on ways to write on the move. Taking the lap top is only one part of it. I have to take my scene by scene worksheets and my notes. So much for travelling light. But taking the laptop means I can take you on my travels. We will see about the packing tomorrow.
The third thing, and probably the first thing you thought of, is leaving the animals. This takes some organisation. I am not irreplaceable and John will take over. So I am busy making sure that everything is at hand for him, and especially that Daisy is very secure. I have separated the calves from Hairy M’Clairy so he cannot bully them and steal their food. I have organised it so that they all drink from one big central tank placed in a shared corner of the fields and the barn, which will be easier for John to fill with the new hose. All their entrances and exits are logical and secure. I have been feeding them on John’s time scale for a while now, so they are used to a very early feed and a very late one. The birds are all free range with an emphasis on free, so they are easy. TonTon and Big Dog get a dog-walker. She will come every lunch time to take them for a big walk. As long as she carries his frisbee TonTon will follow her anywhere. Who knows what Big Dog will do. John will do the morning and evening walks after feeding out. Hope he can keep up.
So there you are. You are in the loop! TonTon knows something is afoot..
Hope you all had a great weekend.
My first real holiday job when I was 15 was cleaning in a private surgical hospital. I wore a green nylon uniform, with two pockets and my school shoes. (We only had two pairs of shoes in those days and I could not wear netball boots to work.) When you become a cleaner, secret doors are suddenly revealed, previously hidden in full view. The cleaners cupboard stores shelves of cleaning equipment, all in their proper places, the low sinks for filling buckets plus a higher sink for washing hands. Mops, and brooms and all manner of paraphenalia directly related to the job at hand. The cleaners tools.
These broom cupboards were little kingdoms, everything was scrupulously clean and everything was in an order that allowed the rotating cleaners to be as efficient as possible. The objective of the cupboard was clear and transparent. It was not pretty. This was for loading your trolley and going out to clean. You made a plan, your had your tools, you did your work. But unless you looked for them, you would not notice the smooth clean doors to the ugly cleaners rooms. The general public chose not to think about the cleaning ladies in their green uniforms on their knees mopping up whatever was spilt then disappearing back behind those hidden doors to dispose of the nastiness.
Every surface in that little hospital was scrubbed or wiped absolutely clean every day. Every floor cleaned, every window sill, window, cabinet, doorway, even the underneath of every bed, not just the floor under the bed, the underneath of the bed. I used to empty a huge number of rubbish bins. I emptied these little bins into big bins then all those big bins went onto a trolley and I dragged it outside and emptied them all into an even larger bin. It struck me that no-one thought further than the first little bin. They threw the unmentionable finished-with smelly object into the little bin and it was immediately out of sight and out of mind. Forgotton. Sometime in the morning the bin was suddenly empty and sweet like roses again.
A man once walked into a ward where I was cleaning. The wards had four beds each, with curtains and little bedside cupboards. All the stuff we expect in a 70’s surgical ward, in the times when a real live nurse took a patients pulse by pressing his wrist and holding her little watch. Due to the time of day there was noone in there except me, cleaning the handbasins. He walked in, looked about, called out, ‘Is anyone here?’ I looked up. His eyes did a 360 of the room without pause then he turned back to the door and said to the person in the corridor as he left, ‘No-one here’. I listened to their footsteps walk further down the corridor. Then went back to rinsing, wringing and wiping.
Sometimes we just don’t see what is right in front of us. We keep rocking along in a particular direction, and we might get to read only half the signs, we are going so fast. How often do we sit down and think. What is my objective? Am I wide awake? What is the theme of my life? Why am I doing what I am doing? What did I just see? What kind of person do I want to be? How do I do that? Where are my tools?
I was watching a documentary the other day that was all doom and gloom about fossil fuels running out. That we cannot keep farming the way we do. Our little farms are history. We have watched docos on the evils of Genetically Modified foods, and what it can do to our genetic makeup just by eating those foods. We watch docos on pollution. How all that dirty sparkly stuff in the air is blocking the sun. The bees are dying, our fields are being systematically destroyed by big business. The earth is heating, the earth’s core is cooling. Millions of years of topsoil soil decimated and rendered innert in a few years.Water is turning bad. Monsanto is taking over the vegetable seed market. Organic and heirloom are a dying breed. The people are rioting. We do not know what to believe. Every written piece has an agenda. These documentaries are shot fast and and expertly cut to frighten us or to intimidate us by the might of our enemy and to frighten us into accepting our fate. The only thing left to do is wring our hands. Wrong.
I said to John, as I watched ‘This is terrible, what would we do without our tractor? Do we have to gather our own seed? We have to fight this. Why don’t people see what is happening.’
He exploded. John the Silent one just exploded. He was sick of all these scare mongers he said. Making money out of terrorizing people. ‘You know why we do what we do?’ he said ‘Because it is Right. What about doing something because it is Right! We aren’t out to save the world, just these fields. This barn. Because it is the right thing to do’ He had just bought an armload of his work clothes in off the clothes line, he threw them on the couch and began to fold in angry jerky movements. ‘How about doing it because it is right. Instead of because they tell us to. How about that?’
I had not seen the cleaners door right next to me. The door into our theme. Once I began to apply that question ‘Is this right?’ to my smallest actions and purchases, my animals and trees, my basement shelves full of food and freezers full of clean meat, my old people, my children. My rubbish bin. It was all immediately clear. Tiny bit at a time it slotted into place.
Is this right? Some of it is. Each of us has a different right. So many people ask me why don’t you eat processed food, are you some kind of weirdo? You are in America now. Damn foreigners. Why won’t you feed your cows corn, don’t you want fat in your meat? Why don’t you spray your vegetables, don’t the bugs eat the leaves. It is irresponsible not to kill them. Don’t they have bugs where you come from? Why do you do all this the hard way, the old fashioned way. You can’t do that. You know there is a gadget for that. Why not just turn the heat on or use the dryer. Cake is fine out of a box. Milk is bad. Eggs are diseased. This is just the way it is done. It is what it is.
We all have our own theme. Yours will be different from mine. Your ways of mitigating waste and excess from your life will be different to mine. Your ways of finding good safe food are different. Some people can do stuff on a grand and amazing scale, some people go down in flames still not sure what the hell happened. Some people just take a small corner of their lives and make it right, then go on to another one and align that too. Some people are doing it gently and privately, some fast and out loud. Some people like me are very slow learners. If we were all the same and all agreed with each other all the time – the world would be a very very boring place.
I am going to go back into my metaphorical broom cupboard, with my eyes wide open, then look carefully at the shelves and make sure that I am doing the right things, with the right tools, in the right order to achieve my objective.
What is my personal, just for me, objective? I thought you might ask that, so I pondered on this for a long time. It is hard to articulate but I need to try. You cannot even write a book without a theme. A life surely needs a few decisions.
Smile to the next cleaner you see. Thank you darling.
Last night it was windy and one of the loft windows was not quite shut. Open a slither. The wind knew this and changed direction in the night creating quite the atmospheric whine and call through this tiniest of gaps.
I was up in the night, and I never turn lights on as I walk through the house, so it was very dark, there was only the slimmest of moons blowing the clouds. There had been the sounds of coyotes calling and scrapping earlier and I thought how much like the wind they sounded.
I looked out the big dark french doors in the kitchen, towards the barn, as I filled my glass with cold well water. We don’t have big exterior lights like most farms as they are a waste of energy and disrupt an animals sleeping cycle. So it should have been pitch black. But there was a light on out there. Right in the back of the barn. Weird. The howling got a wee bit eerier. I know I turned off the lights. My fear of fire in the barn is so vigilant it is physical. I watched the light for a minute sipping my water then decided to put on my big dressing gown, leggings, hattie and jacket over my nightie, find my gumboots and go out and turn the light off. All dressed up I went out onto the verandah and was putting my bare foot into a boot when I noticed that the light was off again. Had I imagined it? There was that eerie wind noise again, this time in the trees.
Well, I was dressed already so with my trusty torch, that will float without going off, if it falls out of your boat into the sea, TonTon and I went out to investigate. In the barn I switched the big overhead lights on and prowled about. The calves were sleeping, Big Dog thumped his tail from under his blankets, the sheep shuffled about and Daisy as usual was standing looking over her gate, patiently watching. Is it morning yet? The guineas peeped from the rafters, Houdini, her chicks so big now that she has to spread her wings to cover them all, which looked very uncomfortable, dipped her head in warning.
All seemed well.
I looked past Daisy at the switch for the back pen lights, which is just inside a side door. It was off. Though OFF in the US is the opposite of OFF in NZ. I can’t tell you how often I switch a light ON as I leave a room. ‘UP is OFF right?’ I asked TonTon rhetorically. All questions to animals are rhetorical. ‘Bedtime’ he said and left the barn.
So off went the big lights and back to the house we trudged. I took off my layers and back to the bedroom. A quick look out the window and the light was back ON! What? At this point I decided I was probably bonkers. Off the proverbial rocker. It was 3 am anyway, John would be up in an hour, he could check it on his way to work. I thought about going up to the loft and slamming that window shut but then forgot about it as I climbed into bed already falling back into sleep.
This morning the light was OFF again. John had not seen anything amiss.
I sat on the pile of straw and puzzled, watching the animals eat their morning hay. Then Daisy went out her back door walked around into her little paddock and looked back in at me through the side door. Of course. (lightbulb goes off (which means on) in my head -‘scuse the pun). Remember this photo of Daisy yesterday. Well, look above her left ear. You will see the bottom of the light switch. Below her chin is her favourite gate to open. We have not got around to changing the latch on that one, it will be fiddly, so I have heaved a whole lot of straw against it. But she plays with the latch anyway. It is her toy.
As I watched her watching me, I realised that she must have been playing with the gate in the night (she just puts her nose under the hook and wacks up smartly, laughing at me I am sure). Then apparently she had spent quite some time trying to heave the gate open. The bales had shifted but not given in. This is the clean maternity pen, on the sunny side of the barn. It is out of bounds, it has to be kept scrupulously clean for newborns.
Then she must have got bored and begun to rub her head on the door jamb and was turning the light on and off, on and off. THAT COW! Also, you can see an enormous nail very close to the light switch. She must have been rubbing her head very carefully up and down on that light switch.
Now what do I do? Can you imagine the groans and shouts from the others in the barn, trying to get a decent nights sleep and Daisy playing with the lights. That Cow!
Did you ever see that movie Dusk ’til Dawn. Well, a day on the sustainable, self sufficient, old fashioned farm is Nothing LIKE that!!!
It starts at dawn. John leaves for work in the dark at 5am. I talk to you guys and catch up with my messages until the sun comes up. I make bread and drink coffee. I watch the sunrise from my front porch.
I feed the cats, the dogs and the chickens. Then the dogs and cats and the chickens and I feed the sheep and the cows. I puddle about and do the mornings chores. Houdini is already out with her babies. Somebody is just not paying attention to her lessons.
Have you met White Cat yet? He is a long haired Himalayan who thinks he is a barn cat, so he has to be shaved two or three times a year! The mess this cat gets into is pathetic. Today he is looking quite respectable. A ridiculous cat to have in the country. Not my fault – he was here before me. White cat and The Big Dog are the original animals.
Just when you thought it was safe. Daisy is watching.
The chooks are thrilled that the corn has been harvested. Good pickin’s for a chook out there. I never lock them up now. Not until next spring when we plant again. They take themselves in to roost at night.
This morning I am mowing and weeding the asparagus. Later in the afternoon I feed out again – hay and beet shreds with eggs and garlic. Baby Bobby and Queenie have their own wheelbarrow but Bobby likes to eat with Mama. Hairy McLairy has a thing or two to say about that but always loses. The Bobby is growing.
Mary’s cat is wondering.. is it wine o’clock yet? He whines. No, Not yet.
I shoveled manure for the compost piles on and off today but have spared you the images. There is a lot of winterising to do. Preparing the barn for the animals and preparing everything else for the freeze that will come. Bringing in all the big pots. Daisy watches. And my hose has finally given up the ghost so I have started carrying buckets of water to the troughs today. It is not shopping week so we make do.
The sun goes down as I am out there finishing up. John will not be home for an hour or so yet. So c’mon Kitty, must be time for a wee drinkie before making a lamb curry for dinner. The bread is on its second rise. We can sit on the verandah and watch the sun go down.
After dinner I will put the sourdough loaf in the oven to cook. TonTon and I will go out with the torch and check that everyone is where they are meant to be. Then we tuck the Big Dog up in his blankets for the night. He sleeps in the barn and likes to be covered up completely, even his head, he will tuck his head under as I arrange the blankets and stays like that until I open the barn up again in the morning.
Many years ago, John found Big Dog beaten and wired by the neck to a fence, at a construction site, almost strangled. Just a pup. This must have been over ten years ago. Now he sleeps on a fleece of sheeps wool no less. The Big Dog loathes having his photo taken. He hates the camera, and gives me the most baleful look before he turns his tail and lopes off. He thinks dogs that sleep inside are sissys and refuses to come in except when a really nasty storm is coming, then he will condescend to go into the basement, that is how we know it is going to be bad.
And so another day .. yesterday.. gently passes.
This page is dedicated to our Mum on All Souls day. Her name was Mary.